Marcus Thorne, a notorious pirate who has taken land and become a highwayman, vows to uncover the secrets of the Royal Navy and exact revenge against the man who stole from him. Instead, he captures the enemy’s daughter and keeps her as his prisoner to satisfy the debt. Isabelle Stanhope sees her captor, this mysterious masked man, as a savior. She’d much rather be in his company than participate in the marriage arranged by her father.
Can keeping her prisoner set things right for Marcus, or is he about to suffer another theft—his heart?
Someone standing next to Isabelle pushed her forward and she stumbled into another highwayman. He grasped her shoulders to keep her from falling. As soon as she gained her bearing, she took one step back and looked at the large man. Shaky breath caught in her throat. Black silk cloth covered the top part of his face—save for the eyes—which served as a mask as it hid his true identity. Once-white linen stretched across wide shoulders and broad chest, opened at the throat to display sun-bronzed skin. Black jackboots and breeches molded his powerful legs. An ebony wool tricorn decorated with a feather as black as the silken mask topped his equally dark head. And he was muscular beyond belief!
The fearsome highwayman who’d forced them out of the stagecoach stepped next to the man still holding onto her arms. “Captain Hawk, all the passengers are here, sir.”
A gasp caught in her throat. Captain Hawk! Here stood the very person responsible for killing her father. Rumors about a retired pirate who’d turned highwayman had spread through England, especially after her father and his friends had died.
Desperate to stay strong, she squared her shoulders and met his hooded gaze. The captain’s mouth dropped opened. His stare touched every part of her from the top of her bonnet down her body to her booted heels. Did he know she was Commodore Stanhope’s daughter?
“Very well, Simon.” Although the captain spoke to his crewmember, Hawk’s eyes never left hers.
Slowly, the leader of this ruthless gang of cutthroats grinned. “Who do we have here?” He swept his gaze over her once more in leisure.
“I—I—I—” She couldn’t tell him her real name. He might remember her father, then she would end up with her sire’s doom.
“Miss, will you please remove your bonnet?”
“Sir, I don’t see why I need—”
He stepped closer and yanked on the silken pink ribbons securing the bonnet to her head then pushed it off. She reached for it, but the bonnet fell by her feet as the wind blew unbound curls against her face. His eyes widened.
Fear suffocated her. Why did he act in such a manner? Perhaps she would indeed have to defend herself against him.
“What’s your name?” His voice boomed louder than before.
She gulped, praying the Lord would forgive her for lying. “Miss Stan—ley. Belle Stanley.”
Seconds ticked into incredibly long minutes of silence. Only the wind slapping through the trees and the softening cries of the stagecoach passengers blended together to disrupt the stillness.
Finally, the captain’s jaw hardened. “Miss Stanley, what is your purpose for this trip?”
She gnashed her teeth. Curse those stubborn highwaymen thinking they owned the world. “I—I’m on my way to New York to settle my father’s affairs.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from England. I arrived just this morning.”
“Why would any father send his daughter across the sea during turbulent times such as these?”
“My father didn’t send me. He’s dead, if you must know.”
His gaze swept over her again as his finger smoothed across his thick, black mustache. “Tell me, Miss Stanley. How long ago did your father die?”
She hesitated, knowing she couldn’t tell him the truth. “Just a few months past, sir.”
“Indeed?” He folded his arms across his wide chest. “Has the length of time for mourning changed? The last I heard, a family member wore black for a year.” He motioned his hand in front of her. “Yet there isn’t a stitch of black on you. Can you tell me why that is?”
She fought the urge to slap his arrogant face. He was correct, of course, and his sharp wit made her pause. Why couldn’t she think of an impressionable answer? It was as if a fog consumed her mind.
The wind lifted the midnight black hair resting on the back of his nape, and blew the edges of his opened shirt. A square jaw and thick neck emphasized his masculine build. Indeed, men would fear the captain even without his mask, but Isabelle couldn’t allow the horror stories to make her cower.
Beside her someone nudged her arm. She glanced toward the person. Mrs. Winters, her companion, gave her a small nod. So relieved the older woman wasn’t dead, Isabelle wanted to throw her arms around her companion, but before she could, Mrs. Winters cleared her throat, stepped closer to the captain and aimed her gaze toward him.
“Sir, you must forgive Miss Stanley for not being in proper mourning attire. There was hardly time, and certainly no funds. Her father didn’t leave a shilling for her in London, which is why she had to sail to New York where he resided. Once she receives money from his estate, she will purchase suitable black gowns, I assure you.”
Tears of respite stung Isabelle’s eyes. She’d have to thank her companion later for coming to her aid and thinking up the lie so quickly.
The tilt to Hawk’s head and his dark scowl showed his irritation as his gaze pinned the older woman. “Pardon me, Madame. Who are you?”
“Mrs. Winters. I’m Miss Stanley’s companion.”
“Ah yes, I see.” His face hardened. “If you will, Mrs. Winters, don’t speak until you are spoken to.”
The older woman gasped. “Why I never—”
“I’m quite certain you are correct, but then you have never known anyone like me.” He took several steps back to look over his prisoners. “And I hope all of you learn your place posthaste.” The volume rose in his voice. “Because you are all my prisoners, you will follow my rules or end up with the fate of your stagecoach driver and guard.”
Isabelle let out a rushed breath. Why had she even dared hope the leader of this group of men would have any morals or show a shred of kindness?
Amongst those standing with Isabelle as prisoners were a widow and two older gentlemen. The woman sobbed into her handkerchief, wrenching Isabelle’s heart. Her older companion, Mrs. Winters, clutched shaky hands against her bosom, her face deathly pale, mirroring Isabelle’s own fear. Highwaymen violated women and took much more than their dignity. She vowed she would not let Captain Hawk take hers.
Hawk turned to one of his men who stood by the stagecoach. “Simon, escort the prisoners to the wagon so we can take them away.”
“Aye, Captain.” The other masked man motioned his pistol in the air. His long, dirty blond hair waved in the wind. He smirked, displaying a full set of yellowish-brown teeth. Everyone fell into step and walked in the direction Simon indicated. As Isabelle shuffled a couple of feet, Hawk strode to her and grasped her elbow.
“Miss Stanley, you won’t be going with them.” The corner of his mouth lifted slightly. “I have a more suitable place for you.”