A Lady At Last
Raised as a pirate’s daughter, Amanda Carre has never been tutored in the finer social graces. Alone in the world, she has never depended on anyone, until fate intervenes in the form of Cliff de Warenne, who rescues her from a mob at her father’s hanging. Now she must set sail for England to find the mother she never knew, and her chaperone is an infamous ladies man...
He is also the greatest gentleman privateer of the era. Honor demands he see this beautiful wild child to London and into her socialite mother’s arms, and Cliff must deny any attraction to her. Aware that she is utterly unprepared for a debut in London's ton, his only recourse is to become her guardian and champion her transformation into a lady—and find her a suitable match. But with every passing moment, it becomes harder to deny an explosive passion—until Amanda makes her stunning debut and takes matters into her own hands. A lady at last, his heart is about to be tamed...
*a note to the reader—this is an unedited, unrevised version of the scene.
Amanda awoke, tensing.
Outside of her cabin’s porthole, she heard sabers clashing.
They were under attack? And she had slept through the assault and boarding? She leapt from her bunk, reaching for her sack. She quickly loaded the pistol then tucked it into her pants. She seized her sword and shoved open her cabin door.
Her cabin opened onto the starboard side of the ship. No enemy was boarding from that side, in fact, nothing but the iron gray ocean could be seen. Swords rattled and clashed from the main deck and then she heard de Warenne.
“Thrust true,” he advised. “Steady and true. Do not bend your wrist.”
Beginning to understand, Amanda hurried around the cabin. She halted, seeing de Warenne and Alexi fencing. De Warenne was allowing the small boy to test his skills, she realized. And he was very agile for a boy of eight.
And de Warenne was a good teacher, pushing his son but not so much that he would tire and despair. And her heart ached. She remained motionless, watching him now that he was thoroughly occupied and could not remark her interest. She had to ignore the hurt. The anger was so much easier, so much better—it was what he deserved.
He was a bastard, a cad; he was a fancy, snooty gent with snooty, snobby airs; he slept with ladies but she wasn’t good enough; he wasn’t kind, he was mean and cold and cruel; she hated him.
If she told herself often enough, maybe she would eventually believe it.
He saw her and signaled to his son to desist. Alexi put the sword down, breathing hard but grinning. De Warenne’s gaze took in the pistol in her waistband and the saber she held. Then his gaze lifted.
I hate him, Amanda thought. He would take a fancy lady to bed, but not her; she wasn’t good enough for him. She strolled forward. “Your son will be a good swordsman one day.”
His eyes were guarded. “Yes, he will. What is that?”
She slowly raised the saber. “My sword.” She smiled at him. She was very adept with a saber. She could beat Papa. Fencing wasn’t about strength; it was about balance, agility and skill.
“Do you wish to fence? Your blade isn’t blunted.”
She smiled again. “I heard the blades and I thought we were under attack.” She took her pistol and laid it aside on the deck.
His eyes widened. “So you came up here to help my men defend the ship?”
“Of course,” Amanda said softly, “I am no weak kneed gentlewoman to swoon at the sight of battle. But there will be no swordfight. And I am rusty—I haven’t had a chance to fence in a very long time. Do you care to engage?” She asked, and not giving him a chance to respond, she stepped forward and aggressively thrust her blade.
He reflexively blocked the blow. “Your sword is not blunted, Amanda,” he said carefully.
She felt her lips widen—her teeth gritted there. She thrust again—he parried. “I won’t draw blood, de Warenne,” she said, but she thought, maybe she would draw blood—just so she could see the look in his eyes. A terrible excitement consumed her. With it was her rage. She thrust and he parried but took a step back. Elated, Amanda went on the offensive. His eyes widened but he merely blocked each blow, allowing her to drive him ruthlessly and rapidly back into the larboard railing.
She laughed, triumphant. “You can do better than that, de Warenne! Surely you are not afraid of my naked blade?”
“You remain very angry with me. I understand,” he began.
She was furious. He knew nothing! She thrust and he parried; she feinted and then slipped through his defenses, instantly cutting a long line into his fine, fancy shirt. She withdrew, smiling and heady with the scent of victory. “You understand what?” She asked sweetly.
He glanced at the long tear, appearing very surprised, and then he slowly looked up at her.
“I did not draw blood,” she said, exhilarated now. She laughed at him.
“You were fortunate,” he said, color flooding his cheeks.
“No, I was careful; I chose not to take your blood, de Warenne!” She thrust so swiftly that before he could defend himself, she had taken the top three buttons off of his shirt, causing it to gap open, revealing the two thick muscles of his chest.
Above them, someone laughed.
And de Warenne was disbelieving.
“Fight, de Warenne,” she said fiercely, panting. She was determined to savagely exchange blows—she would ruthlessly engage, there would be no quarter! “Or show your men that you can be outplayed and outfought by a child?”
He suddenly thrust.
Amanda blocked the blow, but barely, and he thrust again and again, driving her back across the ship before she even knew what was happening. In mere seconds, she had her back at the rail and sweat was pouring down her body, pooling between her breasts and legs. She was even more furious than before at his display of skill. But then, she had never really thought she could defeat him.
He smiled. “Come now, darling. I have no wish to fight with you, especially as your blade is not blunted. Besides, we both know you cannot best me.”
But she would try and she would make him sit up and take real notice of her. She was not a fancy lady but she could match him in every other way. Amanda growled and attacked. She thrust hard and he met her every attack, taking a step back, a step aside, until they were moving rapidly in a vicious circle of hard blow after hard blow. Iron rang. Sweat burned in her eyes. Of course he was master here. She hadn’t expected to win. But she wanted to somehow hurt him. There was nothing she wanted more—she wanted him to feel what she had felt, damn him!
Her arm was aching now. She was at her physical limit. But she would not give up, oh no. “Damn you!” She gasped. And she halted, pretending to be exhausted and ready to submit to his mercy.
He bought her game, relaxing, a grin appearing on his handsome face. “Well done,” he began.
Amanda feinted, thrust and sliced off the rest of his shirt buttons. He was so surprised he simply stared down at his shirt, now shredded in two. Then, slowly, he looked up at her. His blue eyes were brilliant, hot. But he slowly, boldly smiled.
He wasn’t angry. She understood the heat. A huge and savage sense of triumph rose up in her. He might not want her with his fine intellectual mind on a fine sailing night, but oh ho, just now, she had provoked him so thoroughly that he wanted her right there, right then. She knew, beyond any doubt, that reason had been conquered by lust.
“What’s wrong, de Warenne?” She murmured seductively. “Maybe it isn’t a fancy lady that you really want.”
Before she had even delivered this last call to arms, he attacked—and he had the edge of both shirt and chemise hooked over his blade, and with one flick of his wrist, blunted tip or no, her clothes would be ripped in two.
She stilled, breathing hard, her body pulsing in frenzied excitement. “Go ahead,” she managed. “Take my clothes.”
His face hardened. He slowly lowered the big blunted tip of his sword between her breasts. “I believe we are done,” he said harshly.
She stared at the tip—then lifted her gaze. “I am not done.”
His brows lifted. “I have my blade against your heart, darling. In actual battle, you would be dead.”
“In real battle my opponent would cut my shirt and chemise from my body,” she flashed. “Preferring me naked!”
He jerked, their eyes colliding, and he flushed.
“Most men would prefer me warm and alive in their beds,” she added tauntingly.
His eyes blazed. He removed the sword, tossing it aside and it clattered across the deck. “You have won, Amanda,” he said. “I concede defeat.”
He was turning to walk away. Amanda thrust, catching the top buttons of his breeches and cutting them free. He froze.
“Maybe,” she said softly, “my opponent would be as easily deceived as you have been—and throw his sword aside too soon, falsely thinking himself in no further danger. Maybe, in a real battle, skill will have little to do with the victory. Turn around,” she ordered.
Incredulous, he faced her.
She could not keep her eyes on his face. His breeches gaped indecently—she knew he did not wear drawers from the predawn swim she had witnessed—and she had revealed an interesting portion of his anatomy. More interesting was the rigid line so visibly swelling there.
Her blood drummed in her veins and swelled in her own body. Aware of flushing, she pushed her blade against his heart, somehow tearing her gaze away from his manhood and lifting it to his face. “Yes, I win,” she said flatly.
He was breathing hard. He was finally furiously angry with her—and she was savagely elated by that, too. “Yes, you win. You have defeated me. Now what? Will you skewer my heart for how I have hurt you? When all I have wished to ever do is see you safely to what is left of your family?”
Some of the tension of the battle eased. Some of the hot hunger was replaced. Dismay warred with guilt.
He turned and began to walk away, then quickly returned to her. Before she could move, he had seized her wrist. “Put down the damned sword. I wish to speak with you privately and it is not a request.”
In that instant, she understood that she had pushed him too far. Her exhilaration was rapidly fading. She lowered the sword and he released her, gesturing angrily towards the captain’s cabin. She started forward with growing trepidation, putting the sword down on the deck. She suddenly became aware of the utter silence of the ship.
Every hand had come on board, almost three hundred men—to witness her insane attack on their captain.
He clasped her shoulder and propelled her into the cabin.