From the beginning where Shalyn wakes to find herself in the handsome Captain Seanessy's house. She has no memory of who she is, past the certainty someone is trying to kill her. After trying to ascertain her circumstances, in desperation she slips into Seanessy's room while he is sleeping:
She steadied her pulse and breathing. She needed answers even more than she needed clothes. With no choice, she abandoned the clothes closet and returned to the bed. She climbed a top. Light as a whisper, not touching him at all, she straddled the sleeping giant. She held her small weight poised as the razor-sharp edge of the blade rested a hairline from his jugular vein. She knew the exact point to cut and with how much force.
She knew it from experience.
The same hard-earned experience guided a keen intelligent assessment of her victim. Unusually tall for a man—he would be awkward and slow. Sleeping on his back with his hands behind his head as if he had not a care in the world. As if he might wake whistling. He had impressive biceps, and the telling display of athletic veins beneath sun-washed skin said these muscles were well exercised. The uncommon strength could only be got by simple hard labor. No doubt he was dull-witted to boot.
No matter. The numerous scars on his upper arms and shoulders suggested that while he might be a veteran fighter, he had been frequently wounded. Long blond hair as straight as straw seemed to indicate he was indolent and slatternly. The stranger's rugged features were handsome and striking: a broad forehead, a long face, thick bushy brows, and high cheekbones, prominent large nose, strong square-cut jaw, and generous mouth. This was of no import. Only his answers mattered.
Seanessy's dreams filled with images of the girl he treasured, Ram, his much-loved brother, and his nephews, little Sean and Joshua. They swam in the sea as Chinese junks filled with dark-skinned people surrounded them, shooting poisoned pellets from blowguns while laughing at their frantic struggle. The laughter sounded louder than a wailing wind.
In this dream he watched from his ship's bow, tossing coins in the air, as O'Connell, Clives, and Wilson shouted from his side. He couldn't understand what they were saying. He only knew the desperation to save Joy and Ram arid their two boys more precious than any other life, and a mounting terror as the coins kept landing facedown.
"Kill first! Wonder later!"
The amber gaze watching him narrowed, before she realized the man was dreaming.
A dream changed, altered, grew, with the sudden feel of a slight weight riding him. Hot and always filled with lust in the mornings, Seanessy's dream faded, changing with images of Molly's red hair, her plump figure riding him as his hands curved around her heavy voluptuous breasts.
He opened his eyes.
Only to see this was not Molly. His disappointment felt swift and powerful as he woke to see thick and crinkled gold hair tumbling over a nightshirt, framing a flushed face and brillant amber eyes. Absolutely dazzling eyes, he saw. Paper-thin, raven-black brows arched over the shining pools, the color startling against the gold-blond hair: He felt the slim thighs a hair's breadth from his skin. Heat grew in that mercilessly thin space where they almost touched.
"Child, I like my women wanting, but comely as you are, you look too young and definitely too frail." He sighed and relaxed into the pillows, closing his eyes again, trying to remember who she was. "I'd likely rip you in two."
This made no sense to her, and her brow creased with confusion. Seanessy's mind was coining fully awake, but he still could not remember where he had seen the girl before. He opened his eyes again and demanded, "Who the devil are you anyway?"
"Your worst nightmare, blackguard," she responded, pressing the dagger to his skin. "Do not move. I will happily slit your throat."
He could barely see the blade but he felt its cold sting. The girl's voice held a curious blend of accents, English and some unidentifiable lilt. He abruptly placed her in memory. "Why it's you!" He looked at her angrily. "I knew you would be trouble." He wondered out loud as he looked about the room again, "Where is Tilly?"
This made no sense. "Tilly?" -
"You have at least met her? Well, curse the good woman to hell and back—"
The knife pierced his skin. "I am not interested in this Tilly. I do not think you grasp my eagerness to use your weapon. Shall I show you, blackguard?"
His hazel eyes narrowed with annoyance. "So you want to play with danger, do you?" Seanessy seized the offending hand in a hard grip. "Well, listen up, child: you have mounted me naked as I slept and though, normally," he said as his gaze dropped to a tempting peak of breast beneath the thin cotton of his shirt, "I wouldn't be interested in sinking my flesh into a battered bag of thin bones, you're a bit more than passing fair, child; I suspect you'd do in a pinch."
She first was confused, a confusion quickly overcome by shock. Why, he talked of rutting! With her!
Color shot to her cheeks and all of it evidence of fury. More when he added, "And the pinch of it is, child, this waking heat in my loins and an otherwise empty bed."
"You dare threaten me with rutting!"
"Rutting?" He almost laughed. "Pigs rut, child, I—"
She never let him finish, for she never warned twice. A swift jerk of her arm between his thumb and forefinger freed her wrist in an instant as her other clenched fist shot straight and swift and strong, landing a goodly blow at his throat. His neck collapsed painfully and he choked, sitting up to cough.
"What the blazes!"
The girl was trained in the Oriental art.
Seanessy's face changed with his astonishment. More as she leaned over to calmly set the dagger down on the bed. She did not need a knife to kill him. Had she wanted to, the blow at his throat could have been his end; he too knew the move well.
"I do not need a weapon, I need some answers and you will give—"
He never let her finish. He snapped his arm up to his side. Instantly her hand shot out with a quick slice that, had he not anticipated it, would have cracked bone. As it was, a slight jerk made her hit air, while a twist brought her arm behind her back with force, and before she could adjust to his speed, his free hand had struck her at the elbow. She gasped as her arm bent back. His strength knocked her forward to lay on his chest with her arms trapped and held tightly behind her, and knowing the impossibly long legs were far more deadly than her arms, he wrapped his legs around them, pinning them firmly to the bed, her body to his.
Never had Seanessy enjoyed anyone's surprise more.
She could not breathe, then she was breathing too fast. She tried to control it, but this was not possible with the shocking sensation of being held so tightly against his strong body. Hot waves of shock emanated from every place their bodies touched, pulsating most from the vulnerable apex between her legs where she felt his hardness. Her breasts pressed against his chest. A hot congestion grew there, and breathlessly she lifted her head to meet his laughing hazel eyes, realizing their mouths were but inches apart.
"Your Oriental masters should have told you that as pretty as these tricks are, they are no match for a good London street fighter. Though really, child, my mind is as anxious as my body to learn what you will do now."
Her stomach turned queer somersaults as she felt his hard throbbing heat between her legs, somersaults that melted into an alarming hot gush.
A deep husky groan rose up, and to her innocent ears, it sounded like the growl of a wild beast. She tried to hide her fear, her training demanded this, but it appeared in the color rising on her cheeks.
Color he mistook for passion. "Aye, there's the pinch of it again." His tone changed completely. "Actually, it's rather surprising to me, too. I'd never suspect you could incite much more than my aggravation. You're really too young..." And he could feel, "How slim you are!" Regaining his composure, he added, "But being a generous sort, if you just lift up about an inch, I might be kind enough to return the pleasure." He watched as something strange entered her eyes. Suddenly he realized it was fear. "Of course, the alternative is begging for my mercy. And put some sincerity into it."
A neat row of small gritted teeth concealed a fierce and swift panic as she spat, "I beg for no man's mercy!"
With her arms and legs trapped and with a small pained cry, she threw her head back and smashed her forehead into his nose. An abrupt, deep grunt sounded as he released her arms and legs. Instantly she rolled in a circle off the bed, landing catlike on the floor.
Breathless and dizzy, she listened to original and very colorful curses, mixed with warm amusement, ending at last in, "I deserve no better, I suppose, for not throttling you from the start." He chuckled again and reached out to pick up an apple from the fruit bowl. Looking her over he asked, "Really, I'm curious. I never heard of any woman being accepted for the training. Where did you learn it?"
She made no response. Her eyes widened as he pulled himself up, easing his back against the headboard before returning his gaze to her. Large white teeth bit into the succulent fruit. All the while, she waited, poised and tense and ready to defend her life against his next attack.
"I was in the Japan Isles," he said, thinking to ease her distress first, before he hung Tilly over a pit of snapping gators for allowing this. What time was it anyway? He looked past her to the mechanical clock on the hearth. Kyler already had ten men watching the bastard at the Connaught. Cherry Joe and Knolls would have gotten the dynamite by the tenth bell.
They'd set the explosion on the duke's ship, the White Pearl, for the twelfth bell, so as to leave no doubt of timing. They'd give his French duke the rest of the afternoon to think about it. He'd exchange introductions later this evening.
His trigger finger ached even now with eagerness.
Kill first, wonder later, and curse the bloody consciousness that sparked doubt! If he didn't shoot the duke, then according to Wilson, in order to get O'Connell his seat in Parliament and four years of shipping free of all British tariffs, he'd have to spend the next several months in the South China Seas until he somehow managed to blow up this mountain-high supply of opium.
Odds were he'd probably kill the duke first. Never mind the precious parliamentary seat, 'twill be for you, Joy, for you. He still had trouble imagining a man so stupid, so utterly mad as to threaten the life of Joy. Joy! Of all the women in the world! He knew maybe a thousand men who would kill anybody for looking sideways at the girl; himself and Ram included.
There were still many hours to wait. He forced his thoughts back to the immediate circumstances, trying to keep in mind the girl's fear.
"Yes. Well. A number of years ago the boys and I—my crew," he explained casually as if they now sat chatting over tea and cakes, motioning with the apple as he spoke, "were sailing the Orient, the Japans specifically, exploring possible trade opportunities and routes. We sailed into a tiny port at a remote fishing village for some repairs and whatnot. On one of its sandy beaches we saw a group of men performing a strange dance, each man synchronized with the next and the whole thing remarkable for how very slowly it transpired. As if time itself had ceased. Always curious, I inquired as to the nature of the queer dance form. I was told the men were monks of an old temple housed nearby, that they practiced tai chi, the ancient Oriental art of defense.
"Needless to say, the boys and I found considerable humor in the very idea of a defense relating to the strange slow dance. Against the protests of my interpreter, I approached the man leading the dance. A man named Hiroko. I asked for a demonstration of its application to fighting. He refused. He said the ancient art had no application to fighting; it was used only for defense, and besides, he rather doubted an Englishman, any Englishman, being a lowly uncivilized barbarian who did not own the sense or consideration to bathe, could benefit from a demonstration of the ancient art. At length we agreed on a payment and Hiroko, half my size and weight, gave me a demonstration of the strange dance's rather startling application to fighting. I returned to consciousness the next day
"Again Hiroko refused my request for instruction. Not for all the jewels in the Kyoto, he said, as productive a use of his time 'as tossing cups of water into the ocean.' The ancient art was taught from boyhood, the training had far more to do with the mind than the body, and I, being a barbarian, could certainly never benefit. Finally, a price was set. I stayed six months with that man, and teach me he did." With feeling he added, "I think I learned more in that six months than many men learn in the whole of their lifetime. For instance, child: I know you did not learn the Oriental tricks in an English seminary for girls."
Her eyes held his for a long moment before looking away, surveying the surroundings for something, anything familiar. A mind-numbing weariness washed over her; she fought it back. The depth of her confusion scared her; she didn't know anything but that she had to escape.
She had to run.
He studied the girl: bare feet spread and arms slightly raised, looking more ridiculous than Blackbeard in a nightshirt and cap. She rubbed the palm of her hand against her forehead, a gesture of distress. Rather extreme distress. He saw her fear now, and the sight of its magnitude brought an awareness of the herculean effort she put to hiding it. Perhaps they should ring for breakfast. The brat could certainly use a decent meal.
"So where were you in the Orient?"
She did not understand the question, yet alone his changed manner. Where was she in the Orient? Malacca, but—
She shook her head, hesitantly as if trying to clear the incoherent jumble in her mind. All she knew was that someone was trying to kill her.
There was only one person with her and he could do it.
She turned to flee.
"Oh, for God's sake," he swore softly as he came off the bed and pretended to lunge for her. Anticipating the strike of the hard sole of her raised foot, he was not disappointed. He caught the small foot, aiding its flight into the air. She dropped backside to the ground, but used the defeat to roll backward, legs over head until she was upright again, though crouched, her toes holding her weight, her hands lightly touching the cold floor.
"You're very good, child. I am impressed."
She took one look, her eyes widened dramatically to accommodate the magnificence and wonder of his unclad state, the erect and engorged manhood—he was quite naked!—far more threatening than the bit of amusement and much larger flash of irritation in his hazel eyes. For a long moment, she was utterly transfixed by him, it, that part, the novelty of its transformation, a previously unimagined horror.
"You suffer a deformity!" A grotesque deformity, she saw, swallowing her fear with effort."Like a demon, you are!"
He followed her wide-eyed gaze to discover the genesis of her words. His eyes narrowed as he chuckled meanly at this, probably the last thing he expected from the wench. "I might have known that on top of a battered and beaten bag of bones, the foulest and most ungrateful disposition, you'd be a virgin to boot. Listen, child: where did you come from? I'll pay a handsome sum to send you back—"
She did not wait for him to finish. She sprung high in the air, the first leg lifting her, the second leg kicking up to his stomach. Ever quick, he leaped back just in time; catching her foot in two hands and using brute force, he blocked the thrust of her practiced kick.
Yet she had even more reason to fight now. The giant's amusement, a sound as deep as the ocean and yet as light and carefree as a mockingbird, still sang through the room when her clenched fist shot up to his throat again. He ducked, so her fist hit the hard corner of his chin. The strong grip eased from her foot, which raised in a quick hard punch to his mid-section. She heard his satisfactory grunt as she swung around, meaning to follow through with a series of hard, rapid kicks until the giant dropped. His arm shot out and curved around her waist. He flung her bodily through the air to the bed. Facedown and on her stomach, she. started to roll out of it only to feel his full weight come over her, his huge hands and legs pinning hers.
She felt the great heat of his body, the hideous stiffness of his enlarged loins pressed against her buttocks. She knew fear. Breathing fast and furious, her heart pounding savagely, she held perfectly still, waiting for his next move. It took her by surprise.
She felt the tension in his great muscles, and he held still as if collecting his senses. Then she heard a great husky groan. To her utter shock, he lifted partially from her, separating their bodies by half a pace and releasing her hands but for the briefest moment. She started to roll out from under him but already it was too late, for he tossed her up higher on the bed, spun her around, and neatly, quickly pinned her arms and legs with his, holding her trapped and immobile.
Fear and disbelief mixed as his hard-muscled thighs nudged hers apart and wider still, so that his thighs crossed over hers and his thick shins held hers hard to the bed. Again.
The intimacy of the position felt so queerly, inexplicably embarrassing! Every strained nerve of her body leaped where he touched her, which seemed to be everywhere and all at once. His hard staff burned through the cloth of the nightshirt on her abdomen and stomach, she felt it, while his rib cage brushed against her breasts. That strange tingling congestion rose there again, gathering and growing as she forced herself to met his bright, wild eyes.
"So, my audacious chit, will you answer the question?"
She shook her head, the movement making her aware he had a good portion of her hair caught in his hands.
"You won't say? Why not?"
"I don't know! I am so confused! Who are you?"
"Call me Seanessy." The hazel eyes made a brief study of her lips: wide, sensuous, colored like late summer strawberries, and he groaned, glancing away of necessity. What the devil was the matter with him? Comely, aye, but the rest of her a battered bag of virgin bones. "Dear Lord, where did you come from?" In an apparent shift of subject, "What do you mean, you don't know?".
She shook her head, squirming to escape the unbearable sensations brought by his weight and heat, only to realize this was not a good thing to do. Hot shivers raced down: her spine. "I do not know," she cried breathlessly "I do not know!"
Seanessy focused long enough to grasp what she meant. He would swear she lied, but her own confusion and desperation gave him pause. "Do you mean you truly do not know where you learned the Oriental art?"
She shook her head.
"And how did you land on rny doorstep?"
"Your doorstep? I don't know what you mean! Please," she pleaded, "I am confused. I do not know you or what I am doing here; this situation is so strange to me. Like a nightmare! I woke in a strange room—there is something wrong. Someone is after—" She did not trust him to finish. "I found you sleeping here. I thought I could get answers from you-—''
"By putting a dagger to my throat?" He almost laughed. ''You have a lot of pluck, girl."
"I don't know who you are or what I am doing here. You took my clothes—" -
"What? I? Take your clothes?" He looked as if the mere idea offended him, and it did. "I saw what you had to offer, and believe me, it was hardly enough enticement. Besides, nefarious as my reputation is with women, I at least like to know their names before I part them from their clothing. What is your name?"
The awful truth overcame her at last A truth infinitely more terrifying than everything that was happening to her: the giant's weight or heat, the ease of his humor, or even the oddity of his deformity. The horror seized her, like a jolt into a nightmare played in the light of day.
She did not know her name.
Seanessy saw the alarm in her face and said after a sigh, "I knew you'd be trouble."
He drew a sharp, almost painful breath. He needed to get a grip on the desire her slim form not only incited but somehow kept inflaming. Men were such beasts really, separated from their animal natures by the thinnest of lines—-this unlikely brat was very nearly pushing him over it. He forgave his apparent weakness but only after deciding he'd better send for Molly before seeing his agents.
Returning to the less immediate problem, he offered, "1 found you yesterday, apparently badly used: beaten and half-naked, dropped like a parcel on my doorstep. In your hand was a slip of paper that had my name and address on it."
He watched as she took this in, her expression revealing her shock. "I don't believe you!"
"Its validity does not depend on your belief. Of course, I've heard a hard blow to the head can result in memory loss, and you have had a mean whack. Though I've never known anyone so unlucky as to actually have it happen to them."
The short speech did not seem to eliminate her terror, and assuming the magnitude of this discovery had subdued her as well, he lifted his weight to touch the visible bump on her head. A mistake, for instantly her elbow shot up to land a hard blow to his chin. He suffered the briefest moment of surprise, which she used to try to scramble out from under his weight, but the beast's speed utterly defied his size. His weight came back solidly, his long forearm pinning the undersides of her arms entirely.
"This has got to stop," and now he meant it.
"I cannot breathe," she lied, desperate to be free. Her body seemed completely untroubled by his deformity, his huge staff pressed hot on her abdomen. A curious tingling tension pulsated from the spot, she felt an almost irresistible urge to writhe and twist beneath him, and it scared her. "I beg you!"
"We've gone from battering to begging me in the space of a moment. Really, I have more fun under cannon fire. Considering how frisky you are in the morning, I'm sure you'll be surprised to know I like a strong cup of tea before I take a beating. Look, I want to let you up, I do. But you will have to promise to behave."
She absorbed part of this speech as he spoke but it required effort. The man's language flew in the same amazing speed with which he moved, all of it dancing, spinning, flying with remarkable agility. She understood only that she'd kill the monster if he let her up and this time she would not underestimate him. She nodded.
The cool air brushed against her skin as Seanessy raised off her, sitting back on the bed, needing a good long minute to recover and trying to ease the ache and the inexplicable race of his pulse.
"So which was it: you do not know or you will not-"
A rock hard heel landed; in the vulnerable spot beneath his ribs. Then another and another. Seanessy grunted again, the last grunts expelled with a soft curse. His hand snaked out to catch her foot, but too late. She leaped from the bed and stood poised, obviously ready to fight.
He came off the bed so quick and fast, she had not time to take a single step back. Mercilessly strong arms seized her weight and stopped her scream as he tossed her back to the bed and hard, knocking the wind from her lungs. Before she could even think to roll out, his weight returned. "Another forfeit," he said, piqued and irritated.
"Now listen," he said in the tone of an exasperated parent. "I am going to let you up. But if I have to chase you around the room or tackle you again, I'll know that—virgin or no—you enjoy it, that what you really want is the consequences of romping half-naked with a man with a good deal of heat in his loins. Understood?"