The fine hairs on her neck prickled, and her instincts flared to life, warning her to flee. Whatever business these pirates had with Charles Mitchell was best left between them and their Maker. She glanced at the tavern door, mentally calculating the odds of sneaking inside now without notice. Quite poor, considering the angle at which Charles stood. But with the pirates’ backs to her, it was now or never.Just as she crept from behind the barrel, Hatchet sidled up behind Charles and clasped his upper arms in an iron grip, both men now facing her. The deadly glimmer in the pirate’s eyes halted Mercy in her tracks, and she crouched lower.“Tarnation,” she grumbled under her breath while peeking over the top of the barrel.Charles grunted in shock, before he struggled to break free. His fair skin paled a shade further when Victor grasped a handful of his shirt. “What can I do for you, Victor?”“Well, you can start by keeping your fucking mouth shut,” he said, slamming one fist and then the other into Charles’s jaw in rapid succession.The dull thud of bone on bone rippled through Mercy, and she shuddered as blood spewed from Charles’s battered mouth. Well, that had escalated quite quickly. She clasped her hands to her chest, praying for Freya’s guidance. Should she hold her tongue or scream? Would anyone come to her rescue? Not likely, given the boisterous patrons of The Black Serpent. No, best to remain silent. They wouldn’t kill the man in an alley, would they?“I’ll keep it shut,” Charles said, slumping forward. “Tell me what I’ve said wrong, and I promise not to say another word.”Good man. Yes, listen close and keep your mouth shut.Victor sank his hand into Charles’s hair and yanked his head up. “Stop spreading filthy lies about your wife and daughter, you rat bastard.”Charles snarled, his lip curling in an unsightly manner. “Eveline isn’t my daughter! She’s Deveraux’s bastard.”Mercy shoved her fist into her mouth. She had met Eveline the day she moved to Devil’s Cove. Her aunt had hoped they would become friends, being of an age with one another. But then Charles Mitchell had sent his daughter to live at the priory under Brother Anselm’s care and renamed her Grace. An odd business, that. Or, perhaps not so odd, considering this bit of news.Without warning, Victor pummeled Charles in the stomach with so much force that the man doubled over and vomited with great, heaving gulps. The second he recovered, Hatchet held him up for another round of beatings from Victor’s effectual fists. He was relentless, pounding his victim without mercy until he hung like a rag doll in Hatchet’s firm grip.Bile threatened to choke her. Despite years of working in her uncle’s tavern, she’d never witnessed a beating as prolonged and vicious.Victor’s shoulders heaved with every breath, and he shook out his hands before taking a step back to assess the damage. “Not another goddamned word, Charles,” he said, motioning for Hatchet to hold up the man’s lolling head. “The next time I catch wind of your rantings, you’re a dead man.”Mercy gasped then sank to her haunches. Stupid mistake! Blood rushed into her ears, and her heart thundered with each passing second. Had they heard her over Charles’s groans and feverish pleas for mercy?“Drag the bloody blighter home, Hatchet, and leave him on the doorstep.”She closed her eyes and rocked softly, tapping her head against her knees as she counted to twenty. Please go away. Taking one final, deep breath, she opened her eyes—and screamed.Victor pressed his hand against her mouth, muffling her cries as he hauled her to her feet and backed her against the wall, covering her body with his. She stiffened, unable to move a single inch. His touch was firm but exerting only the requisite pressure to ensure her compliance. Pressing his lips into a grim line, he regarded her with his emerald eyes.The hue was unusual, so calm, almost beckoning her to lay down her defenses. Oh, dear, she shouldn’t gaze into his eyes. But he held her head in place, so she glanced down instead and was met with a view of his cracked and bloodied knuckles.Her stomach lurched, and she struggled to break free from his hold, using every ounce of strength she possessed.“Calm down before you attract every bloody man in the tavern,” he said, his gaze steely. “I won’t hurt you. Do you hear me?”She nodded vigorously while tears stung her eyes. What would he do to a nosey young lady who’d witnessed his ruthless deeds?“I’m going to remove my hand so you can answer my questions. No more screaming. Or I’ll be forced to cover your mouth with mine.”His mouth on mine? Better than his bloodied hand, but no, feeling his lips pressed against hers would not be good. Well, it would certainly feel good, but it would not be good. Because he would wish for more. And more, until … Questions? The pirate wanted to ask her questions? She nodded again.His brow furrowed. “How much did you see or hear?”What did he expect her to say? Every single blow of his lethal fists upon a man half his size. Secrets capable of destroying Eveline’s already tenuous reputation. Threats against his victim’s life. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, and she swallowed hard before finding her voice.“Nothing,” she whispered, avoiding his piercing gaze. “I didn’t hear or see anything, I tell you.”He chuckled, drawing her gaze back to him. A wisp of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he studied her face, and a blush heated her cheeks. She was a horrible liar.“Good girl,” he crooned, rubbing the soft pad of his thumb absently over her cheek. “I believe you. What’s your name, lass?”She breathed for what felt like the first time in five minutes and inhaled a rich mixture of sandalwood and his perspiration. His eyes burned with desire as they dropped to her mouth, lingering there for a few heart-stopping moments before he met her gaze again.Her belly quaked under his possessive stare. Goodness, he wanted to kiss her with those full, supple lips … and a small part of her longed for his kiss, to feel the warmth of his mouth. ’Twas useless to deny her physical attraction to the man. But succumbing to his charms would be foolish. He would only offer a taste of passion, bringing her ruin and shame. Yet, she couldn’t fight him off if he wanted to take her innocence in the dark alley, so why did he not ravish her?Instead, he traced his thumb along her jaw until his hand threaded into her hair at the nape, holding her prisoner to his steady gaze. “You tremble in my embrace. I would never hurt a woman or force her into submission. Do you believe me?”She nodded, though, in truth, her instincts warned her otherwise. He had brutally beaten another man only minutes before. And he was first mate on The Savior to the Devil himself, a renowned pirate. She didn’t wish to reveal her name to him. Best that he forget her.“Come, tell me your name, sweet lass.”
EXCERPT #2:“Why have we stopped searching for Mercy Limmerick?” Hatchet asked, pounding his fist on the table. “She’s the key to breaking the curse.”“Give it up, man!” Victor snarled. “I’m through with hunting for a unicorn. Devlin needs us, here and now. I won’t abandon him when he’s days away from achieving his own goals. One week, that’s all he needs to reclaim his title and land.”Hatchet leaned over and poked Victor in the middle of the chest. “I’ll never give up, and neither should you.”Victor clamped his jaw tight and stared into his tankard. His friend stood and stalked out of the tavern, leaving him alone with his damnable thoughts. His hands trembled as he lifted his drink, intent on drowning his sorrows, but he found his glass was empty. A full tankard of ale slammed on the table in front of him, and he stared after the fair-haired waitress walking away.When had she returned from her clandestine meeting with Lady Bellamy?Dammit. He couldn’t tolerate secrets and needed to know what business the witch had with his mistress. He sipped his ale and bided his time, watching her like a hawk as she made her rounds. When she passed him again, he stood and walked in her wake. Before she entered the kitchen, he grabbed hold of her wrist.“A word, if you please,” he said, ushering her to an alcove in the rear of the tavern. He backed her up against the wall.Her amber eyes danced as she lifted her brow. “What can I do for you, my lord?”“Don’t, my lord, me,” he growled.She was a sassy little one with a smart mouth, goading him. Others might not care if she meddled with their lives, but he did. This was a serious matter, and he planned to settle it without further delay.“What business do you have with Lady Bellamy?” he asked, watching her body language closely. “You sold her a potion, didn’t you?”Her eyebrows crinkled at the crook of her nose, and she glanced away. “No, I didn’t.”“Do not lie to me!” he barked, employing a tone he reserved for intimidation.His harsh words reverberated between them, and she met his gaze dead-on, the heat of her anger fanning over her cheeks. “You must inquire with the Lady if you wish to know more about our dealings.”The chit sold illicit goods yet laid claim to a code of honor? That was rich. Well, he was a pirate. Everyone and everything could be bought for the right price. Her code be damned. She would not evade him so easily.“Sell me what you sold her.”Biting her bottom lip, she considered his request for a long moment but finally shook her head. “I’m afraid not. If she were to find out, my reputation would be ruined.”But, of course, the lady was a shrewd businesswoman. He could hardly blame her. Still, he would get what he wanted. Answers.“Come, no one has to know but us.” He leaned in, and his lips grazed her earlobe. “I’ll pay fifty times your normal price. What say you?”Her breath hitched, and he pressed closer still, enjoying the subtle pressure of her breasts against his chest, the wild clattering of her heartbeat. She smelled of vanilla and cinnamon, unbearably sweet, and he ached to taste her pert lips. He must kiss her—or go mad.“Deal,” she whispered, gazing at him through hooded eyes. “Now let go of my wrist so I may fetch the vial in my pocket.”He released her begrudgingly and stepped back, folding his arms over his chest. “You carry potions on your person?”“One never knows when a gentleman may be in need of a love potion,” she said tartly. She stuffed her hand into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out a vial, offering it flat on her palm. “That’ll be five pounds.”His stomach dropped. Oh, hell! A love potion. He owed Hatchet one shilling. What if the bloody stuff worked? Before arriving in Devil’s Cove, he’d dismissed any suggestion of the supernatural. But firsthand experience while living at the haunted manor had forced him to reexamine his beliefs.After snatching the vial, he held it up. The oily amber liquid sloshed from side to side, but it filled only half the container. “Lady Bellamy paid two shillings for this? It isn’t even full. Does it work?”The chit waggled her eyebrows, a slight grin forming on her lips. “Why don’t you have a wee taste, and in a few minutes, we’ll know? But don’t forget to gaze into my eyes while I whisper words of sweet love to you.”“Perhaps I shall,” he said, pretending to pull out the stopper.He lifted the vial to his mouth, and her lips parted, drawing his gaze like a moth to the flame. Her heated stare met his, setting his heart rate skyrocketing. She desired him, though she would deny it, no doubt.“Or perhaps not, Mercy mine,” he said, running his thumb over her supple bottom lip and grinning at her shocked expression.In a flash, her hand shot up to slap him, but he was faster. He caught her wrist with his free hand, brought it to his mouth, and kissed the delicate skin on the inside, seeking her pulse point. Did her heart race as well? His lips grazed her bracelet and the blue amber stones embedded within it. Blue amber…The lass tugged her wrist, seeking to escape his iron grip, but he wouldn’t relent. He held her securely while he studied the unique bracelet, entranced.“Let me go,” she hissed, yanking free of his hold. “You got what you wanted, now pay me.”She was right. He had gotten what he sought—and so much more. After tucking the love potion inside a pocket of his coat, he fished out a five-pound note and laid it in her trembling hands. “Don’t spend it all in one place, lass.”“You’d best leave, or you’ll be late for your tryst,” she said, stomping away.Fuck his tryst with Lady Bellamy. Excitement buzzed through him, and he fought the urge to shout in triumph as he sat once again to enjoy another ale.The tavern wench answered to Mercy, dabbled in witchcraft, and wore a bracelet adorned with rare blue amber stones. The amber tears of Freya? God in Heaven, it must be she. All this time, she’d lived right under his nose in Devil’s Cove. Christ, had he truly found her?