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Susan Grant
author of aviation romance

 

A modern woman
A 19th century rogue
A love transcending time itself


Hurled back in time when her jet crashes, fighter pilot Carly Callahan is rescued by handsome and aristocratic pirate Sir Andrew Spencer -- only to discover she's the loot in a long and bitter feud. When the baffling familiarity they share flares into passion, Carly finds that the only treasure in jeopardy is her heart.

 

 

ONCE A PIRATE
FEBRUARY 2000
ISBN 0505523647

 

Once a Pirate

 

Once A Pirate was my second manuscript but my first published book. At my first writer's conference, Emerald City in Seattle, fall 1997, I went to a workshop where editor Gail Fortune of Berkley spoke and said that time travels were hot. As she spoke, I came up with a one-sentence idea: a woman fighter pilot crashes into the sea and is rescued by a pirate in the regency era. I loved the idea of the modern, technology-loving woman plunged into a time devoid of it all. I wanted her to be a warrior who'd be forced to survive using her wits rather than weapons. I scrawled the first lines of what was to become Once A Pirate on a cocktail napkin on the flight home!

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awards       

Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist, 1998 and 1999

The Romance Journal Francis Award, Best Time Travel -- winner

Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence -- finalist

RIO Award of Excellence, Best Paranormal (finalist) and Best Debut (finalist)

PEARL Award -- Best Time Travel -- 1st runner up

PEARL Award--Best New Author 2000

Beacon Awards -- finalist

Golden Quill Awards -- finalist

RRA-L listserve Best Alternative Reality Romance -- finalist

Orange Rose Contest for Published Authors -- finalist


kudos

Once a Pirate Fans of high-sea adventures will enjoy Grant's debut time-travel romance.  Grant's background as a U.S.  Air Force pilot brings authenticity to her heroine. 

-- Publisher's Weekly

“Five Hearts!  Once a Pirate is the best romance I have read this year.  Susan Grant has a bright future ahead of her, and I hope she can write fast." 

-- The Romance Reader

"Pure entertainment.  A strong Road Romance with enjoyable characters, delicious chemistry, and the kind of interesting secondary characters needed to round out the story.  Sit back and enjoy this one -- it's lots of fun!"

-- Laurie Gold, All About Romance

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Once a PirateChapter One

The storm lifted the F-18C fighter jet like a child's toy, plucking the aircraft from the clouds and tossing it into the wind. Lieutenant Carly Callahan braced herself. In the space of a heartbeat, the single seat jet plunged three hundred feet, and her stomach hit her ears.

Exhilaration blended with her shock. "You call that turbulence?" Carly bumped the throttles forward and pulled back on the stick. "There. Kid stuff."

In answer, clouds engulfed the fighter and snuffed out the stars. Rain hissed in fitful bursts. Carly returned her gaze to the radar display, where pinpoints of light marked the other jets in the VFA-60 squadron, the Jolly Rogers, as they flew toward the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, almost twelve hundred miles off the coast of Spain. Ahead thunderstorms showed up as blurred splotches of yellow and red -- if they showed up at all. She'd trust the radar in combat any day, but it sure as heck was a crummy way to choose the best route through the weather.

Nights like this over the Atlantic Ocean demanded stamina, patience, and precision -- skills that came easily to her after five years as a navy pilot. But tonight, after only two hours aloft, she was worn-out.
The flight surgeon had warned her about this.

And lectured her just last week on the physical consequences of emotional exhaustion. But in the end, the doc had surrendered to her cajoling and cleared her to fly.

The sea was the best medicine.

Mom was gone, Rick, too. For once, Carly looked forward to her mandatory six months of carrier duty. She planned to forget her troubles, lose herself in the busy days onboard the city-sized ship. There'd be plenty of company, male company. Good times...but no time to get close. Not what the doctor ordered, but exactly what she needed. It'd be a long time before she allowed a man close enough to hurt her. The door to her heart was boarded shut. No Solicitors.

Trespassers will be shot.

Lightning flashed, intense and painful. Carly blinked away white spots and flickering black specks. Harmless static discharge fanned out over the cockpit window. Eerie and curious, the blue fingers of St. Elmo's fire crept toward her.
The radar display flickered.

"Don't do this to me," she muttered through clenched teeth. Without radar to guide her, it would be impossible to avoid the thunderstorms. They could rip an airplane apart.

Procedure dictated that she radio her flight leader. Her finger hesitated over the mike button. She detested asking for help. Not because the men in her squadron would think less of her -- they'd earned each other's respect years ago -- but because she'd rather rely on herself. Less risk when you didn't depend on anyone else. Or expected others to keep their word, to follow through --

She gave her head a curt shake. "Jolly Roger One, this is Jolly Roger Four."

"Go ahead," crackled the voice in her headset.

"My radar's acting up. Are you painting anything on yours?"

A static-filled silence, then, "Stay on your heading. There's one mother of a boomer to the south. After that it's clear sailing."

Carly exhaled. "Roger. Thanks."

Incredulous, she watched her radar display dim, then go dark. She was flying blind.

This is not good, not good.

"Jolly Roger One, this is Jolly Roger Four," she stated calmly.

A burst of static.

"Jolly Roger One, how do you read? I've lost radar, need headings."

A prolonged sizzle, then a few clicks.

"How do you read?" she persisted, urgency slipping into her tone. "This is Jolly Roger Four. Does anyone read?" She pounded the instrument panel with her gloved fist. St. Elmo's fire erupted into shards of light and streamed down her arm to her chest. Prickling and burning, it coursed through her. Every hair on her body stood on end.

Her fighter plowed into a raging wall of rain and hail. She fought the bucking jet, using everything she had to keep the wings level until she burst out of the clouds into the stark, starry night. The silence was overwhelming. It should have been reassuring, but it wasn't. She listened to her ragged breathing and the pulse hammering in her ears. It was quiet.

Too quiet.

Crap. Both engines had flamed out.

She accomplished an emergency restart, moving the throttles to the OFF position and then forward. The balky turbofans did not respond. She eased the jet into a shallow descent and tried again. Nada.

Cold trickles of fear seeped into her. No time to be scared. "Mayday, mayday."

No reply. Carly attempted the sequence for the third time. Start, start, start, please start.

Fifteen thousand feet and dropping.

Dread pooled in her belly. Then anger. This can't be happening. Why won't the buggers start!

Eight thousand...seven thousand....

Start, start, start.

Fury dissolved into grim resignation. She prepared for ejection -- stowing loose equipment, tightening her seat harnesses and oxygen mask, lowering her visor, mentally reviewing the ejection procedure, all while dealing with two engines that were deader than a week-old steak.

At least she wasn't loaded down with armament or missiles. One less thing to worry about when the jet went down.
That is, if she didn't break her neck on the way out.

Punching out of a plane was a risky deed on the best of days. Tonight was not one of them.

One thousand...eight hundred....

She blinked perspiration out of her eyes and pressed her back into the seat. Now!

She blasted from the jet like a bullet from a gun. Sheer acceleration punched the breath from her lungs.

She met the storm head on. Rain battered her helmet. Icy needles scoured her unprotected neck. The muscles in her back stretched to their agonizing limit. Tumbling, she clutched for a handhold but caught only fistfuls of wind. Then the parachute opened, jerking her upright seconds before she slammed into the sea.

Frigid water sheathed her in agony. Darkness, pressure. Her lungs burned as she fought the almost unbearable urge to inhale. She desperately pedaled her arms and legs. Couldn't tell up from down.

Her panic rose like bile. Don't want to die.

Then her training kicked in. She forced herself to be still and let her buoyancy bring her to the surface.

She burst through the waves. Her life raft, straining on its tether behind her, inflated automatically with a screeching hiss. She quickly discarded anything that might puncture the raft when she climbed in -- her sodden parachute, the notepad she'd forgotten was strapped to her thigh.

Her oxygen mask was filling rapidly with seawater. Gagging, she tore it off and tried to raise her rain-streaked visor. It was jammed. Her throat and nose were on fire. The wind shrieked, mocking her.

Man, if this wasn't hell, it was a good facsimile.

Gulping cold, rain-splattered air, treading water, she pulled off her helmet, then wished she hadn't. Rain pummeled her face, half blinding her, and the frosty wind numbed her ears and cheeks. She groped behind her, clawing the tether into her hand. The ragged end fluttered in her fingers. No raft! Her stomach clenched with fear and frustration.

A piece of timber drifted by, then another. Wood? This far from shore? Well, it beat treading water. She waited for the next one to roll by, then seized the cold, splintery hunk. Grateful for the chance to catch her breath, to gather her wits, she closed her eyes.

But several rhythmic nearby booms jolted her upright. Wind carried the odor of burning wood toward her, from where two hulking forms pitched on the waves, ghost-like in the pre-dawn dimness. A green-orange flash arced between them, rocking her insides with another resounding explosion.

Ships! Old-fashioned wooden ships, with tall masts and rolled up sails. She blinked to focus. The smaller one listed at an impossible angle, its sails engulfed in flames.

She was hallucinating…or she'd landed in the middle of a B-rated, 1940s pirate movie.

Either way, your number's up, Callahan.

Swells pushed her closer. She heard shouts and screams. Male voices. A series of pops sounded suspiciously like gunshots.

Not the kind of rescuers she had in mind, but beggars couldn't be choosers. "Help!" she cried, waving one sluggish arm. A swell toppled her piece of wood. Somehow, she hung on. "Help! Please, I need help -- !" Her head slammed into a whirling chunk of flotsam. She fought an unnerving sensation of falling, but the black void rushed up to meet her and swallowed her whole.

 

   

 

Andrew Spencer froze, cocking his head. "Did you hear that, Cuddy? A cry."

"My ears ain't as good as yours," his first mate replied, following Andrew's gaze to the battered Merryweather. "From the water, you suppose?"

"Aye." Andrew shielded his eyes against the rain and urgently scanned the swells. "'Tis her. She's jumped ship. But I cannot see fifty paces."

Again, he cursed the poor light. The Merryweather rolled to her side, her flames turning the swells the color of blood.

Blast the fools for attacking, giving him no choice but to return fire. Now his prize, Lady Amanda, had fallen into the sea. Bloody hell. If he were to kill an innocent, he would be no better than the duke.

"Please, I need help -- !"

Andrew swerved his gaze toward the faint, unmistakably female cry, his heart leaping. "There!" Just off the bow, a small body clung to one of the timbers rising and falling on the swells. "Have the men hold their fire, Mr. Egan," he said, wrenching off his boots.

"Hold fire!" Cuddy shouted. "Hold fire!"

Andrew tossed off his coat, his cravat, his gloves. Then he sucked in a mighty breath and dove into the sea.
Surfacing, gasping from the cold, he grabbed hold of the timber. "I've got you, milady. 'Tis far too stormy a night for a swim." He wrapped one arm under her chin and drew her close. Weighed down by wet clothing, her limp body offered no resistance.

Dread shoved aside the triumph, the relief he had felt upon spying her from the deck. "Come on, stay with me!" He could not afford to lose her. Urgency drove him toward his ship with powerful one-armed strokes.

Breathing heavily from his dangerous ascent up the rope ladder, he allowed two men to haul him the last few feet to the deck.

Cuddy steadied him by gripping his shoulder. "Is she dead?"

Blinking seawater out of his eyes, Andrew scrutinized the pale, shivering girl in his arms. Blood trickled from a cut just above her right ear. As he scanned lower, expecting to see twisted, sodden skirts, he found trousers and boots. "No, she's alive," he said, admiring the soul who had thought to disguise her as a man. The stinging rain kept him from further inspection of her odd attire. "I'm bringing her inside straight away. Keep watch for Paxton's other ship."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Andrew bellowed across the deck to his steward, "Mr. Gibbons! My quarters!"

"Aye, Cap'n!"

Andrew held Amanda close to his chest to shelter her from the curious stares of the crew. Some men snickered as he passed by. He could hardly blame them, considering her grotesque black boots and the odd-looking flag and snippets of fabric sewn to her short brown leather coat. Wherever did she obtain such garments?

He kicked open the door and strode through his makeshift study to the aft bedchamber. Gibbons's heavy footfalls sounded behind him as he gently settled Amanda onto his bed. Andrew inspected her injuries, probing cautiously for broken limbs.

Gibbons's dark brows lifted. "I'll fetch clothes and blankets. Bandages?"

"Not necessary. There's a scrape and a small lump, nothing more, thank heaven. I'll need fresh water to clean the wounds." Andrew straightened, massaging the sore muscles on his forearm. "And I could use a brandy, if you would be so kind."

"Aye, Cap'n."

   


Something was tapping her cheek. Carly flicked her hand in the air as though shooing off a fly. "Go away."

"I think not, milady," rumbled a deep, rich voice.

Pain streaked across her scalp and lodged behind her right eye. She felt weak, nauseated, and her stomach lurched ominously. Moaning, she brought her fists to her forehead. Nightmarish scenes roared through her mind. The storm, the ejection. She'd fallen into the sea --

"God's teeth, woman. You had me worried."

Slowly, she lowered her hands and opened her eyes. A broad-shouldered man leaned over her, concern evident in his blue-eyed gaze. He must have pulled her from the ocean. Even with hair hanging over his forehead and water dribbling down his nose and chin, he was a hunk. If you had to be rescued, it might as well be by Adonis himself.

"You saved me," she murmured. "Thank you."

"Are you back with us, then?"

She nodded, smiling. An English accent, too. Boy, this was getting better by the minute.

Cupping her chin with a callused hand, Adonis turned her head one way then the other, his expression of vague amusement transforming into a dark and calculating scowl. Sudden awareness of her vulnerability ignited her fear.

"What's wrong?" she blurted.

He lowered his hand. "I'd imagined a different wife for Richard."

Richard? He couldn't possibly mean her ex-fiancé Rick Harwood, grade A jerk.

"You're a little long in the tooth for the duke," he went on. "I was told you were fifteen, which, as it stands, is years older than his fancy." He shrugged indifferently. "No matter. You're an acquisition, a pawn in his chess game. Once Richard acquires your fortune, your looks will mean little to him."

What fortune? What was he talking about? A queer edginess forced her mind back to survival. She gave the dimly lit, stuffy room a quick and thorough scan. There was an open door opposite the bed. It led to another shadowy cabin. A possible escape route, should she need one. The furnishings were antique -- lanterns, a bolted-down brazier and old clock. The bed was attached to the ceiling with ropes, allowing it to swing as the ship rolled.

Everything resonated with an inexplicable familiarity. Which made sense. She'd seen similar pieces in the maritime picture books she compulsively collected.

"This ship is beautifully restored," she said, willing the anxiety from her voice. "Do you use it for charters? Or fishing, maybe?"

"Fishing?" Adonis crossed his muscular arms over his chest. He was looking at her like she was from another planet.

Okay, so he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, but he'd been heroic enough to rescue her, so she might as well try to get along. Offering a conciliatory smile, she held out her hand. "Lieutenant Carly Callahan. I don't believe I know your name."

He coughed out a laugh.

"Is something funny?"

"Aye."

Carly jerked the wool blanket taut with white-knuckled fists. Was it possible to go from gratitude to fear to exasperation in the space of two minutes? "Who are you?"

He inclined his head in a mocking bow. "Sir Andrew Spencer."

Bitterness leftover from her dirt-poor childhood -- and from the man who had so recently spurned her -- coiled its fingers around her stomach. She'd bet Andrew Spencer was nothing more than a conceited, titled aristocrat playing war games on an antique boat.

"I trust you recognize me?" he inquired crisply.

"No. I'm afraid I don't."

He snorted. "Mr. Gibbons!"

An enormous black man with a cottony mop of white hair emerged from the room next door, startling her.
"Have Jonesy secure the guns," Andrew said. "Then join Cuddy at the helm."

"Aye, Cap'n." Gibbons collected a wet towel and a bowl, then backed toward the door, nodding respectfully. "Good evening, Lady Amanda."

Carly blinked. "Who's Amanda?"

"I fear you have been knocked witless," Andrew said, chuckling.

"I may have been knocked out," she shot back. "But I'm not witless." Gingerly, she probed the matted hair above her right ear and winced. "And I'm not Amanda."

"I see. Then how do you suppose you came to be swimming in the middle of the ocean?"

Talk about witless. "My plane went down near your ship. You must have heard the crash." She pointed to the patches sewn on her flight jacket. "Look. Says right here -- Lieutenant C. Callahan. U.S. Navy pilot."

"I am in no mood for this child's play," he said, bringing his face close to hers.

She caught his scent -- masculine, a hint of sweat, brandy, the sea. His unkempt brown hair curled around his collar, and she doubted he'd seen a razor in at least a week.

"Your time would be better spent pondering the seriousness of your situation, Lady Amanda."

She tore her gaze from the whiskers on his jaw and met his glare. His pupils were dilated, turning his disconcerting blue eyes into unyielding black orbs. Her heart skidded to a stop.

Oh, God, he was a drug runner. Or maybe he wanted to salvage the downed jet and sell the parts. One thing was certain: she wasn't going to stick around long enough to find out.

She shoved the blanket to her waist, pushed herself upright. He reached for her. She blocked him with her arm, and he grabbed her wrist.

"Taking your leave already?" he drawled.

Run! her senses screamed, but there was no way around him. Okay, Carly, time to think your way out of this -- and fast. She swallowed, cleared her throat. "I'd like to use your radio to contact my carrier."

His scowl deepened. "Who is Ray Dio?"

"Radio," she repeated as though to a child.

They looked at each other long and hard then shook their heads in identical displays of bafflement. He released her wrist, but only after gaping at her wristwatch as though he'd never seen one before.

Several shouts echoed from the deck, reminding Carly of the sinking sailboat. "By the way, what happened to that other ship? Was there an explosion?"

"Not that I am aware of."

"Were there any survivors?"

"You."

She stared at him blankly -- then she opened her mouth.

He held up one hand. "Enough! You will send me to an early grave with your ceaseless babble."

Andrew could not imagine what her father, Lord Paxton, had been thinking when he'd hired her governess. An uneducated native of the colonies, no doubt, given Amanda's odd accent. Jamming his fingers through his hair, he paced briskly, no small feat considering the narrow space between the bed and the wall. Blast her incomprehensible chatter! He reached for his decanter, filled his glass with brandy, pausing to contemplate the woman in his bunk, who was anything but fifteen. Hair the color of moonlight spilled from her braid, a few silvered strands sticking to her moist, flushed cheeks. Her fine-boned hands were clenched.

'Twas disconcerting, but he felt as though he knew her, although, to his knowledge, they had never met. "Milady," he said quietly, "when you are not reciting gibberish, you are quite an enchanting creature."

Her golden-brown eyes darkened with fury.

Andrew smiled and took a sip of brandy. After sighting the Merryweather off the coast of Spain, he'd dispatched two men to Malta on one of the longboats. By now, they were well on their way to London -- and Richard -- with the ransom note. 'Twas long overdue, but the duke would pay. Aye, he would pay for the lives he had destroyed. Finally, Andrew had gained the upper hand, possessed what the duke so desperately wanted. Ah, how he looked forward to dangling the sweet bait all the way to Emerald Isle.

First, however, he must determine whether a second ship had accompanied her. If he crippled another of Lord Paxton's vessels, it would further disgrace Richard, demonstrating the cur was incapable of protecting his future father-in-law's interests. Sighing contentedly, Andrew nursed the pleasant thought.

The smell of wet wool reached his nostrils as he settled onto a chair and propped his rugged boots on the bed. "Now, I will ask the questions, milady."

In response, she folded her arms over her chest and thrust her chin in the air. He chuckled. It would not take long to whittle the chit down to size. Indeed. In a scant two minutes he'd have her bawling like a babe.

 

   


"Carly Ann Callahan, Lieutenant, 242-54-1879," she repeated calmly.

Andrew shot to his feet, nearly knocking the chair over. A muscle in his jaw twitched, but his hand was steady as he poured another brandy. He'd expected a spoiled but submissive young girl, not this stubborn woman who willfully stood up to him. No woman had ever dared defy him; not even the spoiled bitches of the ton.

They had been at this for over an hour, and she hadn't given him a snippet of useful information about her father's ship. When he informed her that she'd been kidnapped, she'd prattled on and on about strange laws, Warsaw conventions, prisoners of war. By God, she'd insisted that she'd fallen into the sea from a flying machine!

"Just let me use the radio." She watched him expectantly. "And maybe I can help you find your friend's ship, okay?"

"Who the bloody hell is 'O.K.?'" She'd mentioned the initials a dozen times. For the life of him, Andrew could not recall an acquaintance of Richard with those initials. "Oliver...Oscar...."

"I don't know who you're talking about." Her long lashes framed eyes that were wide and without guile.

Her innocent look. He detested it.

"Quiet!" This was maddening. Perhaps her head wound wasn't the cause. Perhaps she was daft -- a family weakness. He recalled the gossip he'd heard years ago about her deceased mother's antics. After a sip of brandy, he resumed his inquiries with a tenuous grip on his composure. "Shall we try again? When did the other ship depart India for England? What is the name of the vessel? What goods do they have onboard?"

"Carly Ann Callahan -- "

"Blast you, woman!" He slammed his glass down. He'd been too easy on the wench. Time to switch tactics.

Strolling to her side, he lowered himself to his knees. He touched his fingertip to her temple then traced the line of her jaw. She shuddered, but the two clenched fists in her lap indicated her resolve.

"As I've said, I'm holding you for ransom." His voice dropped lower. "Your intended, Richard, the duke of Westridge, will hunt you down. Oh, but we'll lead him on a merry chase first."

"Look, you have the wrong woman. Let me go."

Undeterred, he lifted a lock of her damp hair, rubbed it between his fingers. "Oh, no, sweeting. Not when I am so close. So close...." He leaned closer, until he was certain she felt his breath against her chin. "You will bring Richard to me. He needs you to breed his heir. Are you looking forward to that, Lady Amanda?"

She stiffened, and a part of him wondered why. Until now, she had held up magnificently under his barrage. Perhaps there was something in her past, something she wished to hide. Delighted, he reloaded and fired the next salvo: "Spineless Richard. A little boy masquerading as a man. Ah, my lady, do you long to see your belly swell with his child?"

She swallowed hard. Her gold-flecked eyes misted over as she pressed her palm to her stomach. For a long moment there was silence between them. Then, for the first time, she glanced away.

Andrew reared back. Bloody hell. What had he said? His chest ached with the vulnerability, the grief in her eyes. What had caused her such misery? And what made him want to take her into his arms and comfort her?

No! She was no different from the duke's well-bred companions who had ruined him, the flighty aristocrats who had turned their backs, while Richard destroyed the only two people Andrew had loved.

No, he would not waste his pity on Lady Amanda.

Shoving himself to his feet, Andrew raked the fingers of both hands through his hair. "Don these dry clothes and return to my bed. Do not move from it." Shaken by his reaction to her, he shouldered open the door to the forward cabin and kicked it closed behind him. He shrugged off his soggy shirt, yanked on his greatcoat and stormed outside to the deck.

"Cap'n'!" Andrew's cabin boy slid the last few feet down the rain-slick mast, landing deftly on his feet. "Mr. Gibbons told me all about it! Everything she said!" As was usually the case, of late, Theo's declaration ended in a squeak. The lad cleared his throat and deepened his voice. "Conked in the head, she was. In all my days, sir, I've never heard stranger words."

"In all your days, Theodore?" Andrew repeated, amused.

"Aye, Cap'n." Hands clasped behind his back, Theo mimicked Andrew's stance, while attempting to keep up with his long strides.

"I've quite a few years on you, lad, but I agree wholeheartedly. ' Tis nonsense befitting the wards of Bedlam."

 

   

 

Carly sagged forward, seeking peace in the darkness of her palms. It hadn't been easy, but since returning to duty, she hadn't let her sorrow interfere with flying, nor had she allowed herself to dwell on her loss. But this man had nearly toppled her with mere words and a cold-hearted stare -- eyes pierced with a bitter grief that echoed her own.

Hell, that was his problem, not hers. She threw off the scratchy blanket, staggered across the cabin and cautiously opened the door to the adjacent room. He was gone. She stepped inside, memorizing as many details as she could. Paneling covered the walls and matched the antique furniture, which had to be reproductions, because the pieces were in mint condition. Burgundy curtains ran the length of one wall and half covered a rack that contained silverware, glasses, and decanters. There was a desk, several armchairs, a quilted blue satin robe tossed over one of them, and a brass-trimmed trunk.

Adrenaline pumped through her veins as she lifted the weighty lid and rifled through the trunk's contents. Clothing, period costumes of some kind. Slamming the lid shut, she turned her attention to the desk. A lamp and a half-smoked cigar sat next to a veritable mountain of leather-bound books. She bypassed the volume opened on the desk, The Elements and Practice of Rigging, Seamanship and Naval Tactics, and peered inside the lamp illuminating the pages. Inside was a stubby, yellowish candle, not a light bulb. Chewing on a fingernail, she glanced around the room. No plugs, no switches, no phone jacks. Not a single sign that the twenty-first century existed here.

Maybe the storm hadn't taken out the ship's generator.

Maybe there was no generator.

Dread crawled along her spine, chased by her eerie, ever-present déjà vu. Fingertips trembling, she brushed the throbbing lump above her ear.

Could she be dreaming this? Reliving some past life?

Yeah, right. This isn't the Twilight Zone. This is real life and you're in a heap of trouble.

She resumed her search of the desk, finding old-fashioned pens, a seal with a fancy crest, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles, but no electronics, no portable telephone, and no radio transmitter. A worn black book sat next to a bottle of ink. The captain's log. She swished through the dog-eared pages, reading as she went. Most of the records centered on one man, the duke of Westridge, and more recently, a woman, Amanda Paxton -- who Andrew thought she was! Carly dislodged a quaint London Times clipping announcing Lady Amanda's engagement to the duke of Westridge. The ensuing entries, meticulous notes, detailed plans to abduct the woman.

Carly's heart sped up. Is that what Andrew intended to do with her? Kidnap her?

She nervously skimmed to the last page. January 23, 1821. Today's date, she realized belatedly, but one hundred and eighty years in the past, matching the time frame of the other entries.

Written on pages that looked...new.

Carly shuddered and shoved aside the log. Another fake antique. She inhaled a calming breath then opened the outside door and stepped down to the deck. The storm had passed, but the spray-laden wind was strong enough to push her backward. Eyes watering, she squinted at the early morning sky, praying that maybe, just maybe there would be a helicopter circling, search lights, anything. But only Venus hovered above the silvered horizon.
Swells slammed into the ship and spray slashed horizontally over the deck, whipping her hair across her eyes. She pushed the strands aside to find dozens of men leering and laughing at her. Scruffy and hard-eyed, they looked like a gang of bikers minus the Harleys.

"Get back to work, the lot of you!" Andrew shouted, evidently not noticing she was the focus of their attention. In quite a different tone, he addressed the silver-haired man standing next to him. "Let us get underway again, if you please, Mr. Egan."

The older man cupped his hands around his mouth and called out a series of rapid-fire instructions.

The ragtag group sprang into action. Men scurried up and down the swaying masts, yelling incomprehensible orders one after the other as they loosened the main sails. Like enormous sheets hung out to dry, the sails thundered in the wind then billowed and stretched taut. Ropes uncoiled. More sails unfurled. The ship tilted to one side, and the wind caught and lifted her like a graceful bird.

Once a PirateAwed, Carly grabbed the polished wooden railing with both hands. A sailor, no more than a boy, clambered up the tallest mast. He tore down a tattered English flag and fastened another in its place. Unfurled, the black canvas snapped in the wind, a grinning white skull above two swords.

A pirate's flag.

A shiver of fear and dread raced along her spine. "God help me," she whispered, and made the sign of the cross.

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