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Excerpt for The Pirate's Defiant Houri by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Lis’Anne Harris’s gorgeous storytelling will sweep you away!”

~ Valerie Bowman, Best-Selling Historical Romance Author



She covered her face with both hands to hide fresh tears. “Once we reach your castle in Ireland, you will leave me in Ethan’s care so you will no longer have to spend another moment in my hideous presence.”

“Joanna.” Richard crawled onto the bed. Plucked the cat from her side, avoiding its deadly claws, and set it outside the cabin, quickly shutting the door. It immediately commenced loudly meowing to be let back in. Richard returned to Jo. Pulled her into his arms and held her close. “I do not want to be rid of you. I want you.”

“Want me for what?”

“In my bed. In my arms. Every night.”

She rubbed the space between her brows with an forefinger. “I do not understand. I am already in your bed and in your arms almost every night. I am sorry I have become a tiresome burden you must care for through my horrid sickness.”

Richard tilted his head away from her crown to suppress his frustrated sigh. “You misunderstand. You deserve an honorable gentleman. Not a dirty, filthy pirate to wed and bed you.” He pressed his lips to the top of her head wishing he could hold her just this way for the rest of his life. No other woman had ever felt more right.

“Wed and bed? How could any man want to wed and bed the person I have become? A total waste of human flesh.”

Richard pulled her up so her face was mere inches from his. “You have no idea.” His flesh tingled at the prospect of pressing his lips to hers. “Every jack aboard this ship would wed you in a heartbeat if you so much as gave him a come-hither glance.”

She opened her eyes. Green with flecks of gray orbs met his. “No. That cannot be true.” Her nose wrinkled.

He lowered his mouth to hers and showed her in the only way he knew to prove it to her. Her lips trembled beneath his. Richard’s heart ached for the fresh pain he had caused her. “I never again want to taste your tears, my lady. If you will allow it, I will move heaven and hell to bring you nothing but pleasure and ease for the rest of our lives.”

Joanna traced her fingertip over his lips. It sent a ripple of desire down his spine. Her eyes began to glaze over. It seemed the opium had taken longer to work this time. “You love me?”

Love? It was not an emotion he planned to ever fall prey to. “Love is for fools.”

The Pirate’s Defiant Houri, 2nd Edition

Copyright © 2018, All rights reserved.

by Melissa A. Woolard writing as Lis’Anne Harris



Editors: Nancy Johns & Julie Fisher



Smashwords Edition, License Notes


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, incidents, and places are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, locales, or actual events is coincidental, save those events and persons known to be of historical relevance.



The Pirate’s Defiant Houri, 2nd Edition © 2018

Print ISBN: 978-1-9809583-2-1

Ebook ISBN: 978-0-4632092-4-0



Sweet Liberation, 1st Edition © 2012 Lis’Anne Harris

Original Print ISBN: 978-0-9850690-4-9



Cover © 2018 Melissa A. Woolard



The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our society. The transcribing/scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without explicit permission is theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use an excerpt from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact lisanne@lisanneharris.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s creative rights.



http://LisAnneHarris.com


Contents





Title Page

Author’s Note

Acknowledgement

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Epilogue

The Captain’s Dangerous Hoyden, Chapter One

About the Author

Daring Damsels

Book Two

Updated and Revised Edition 2018

The Pirate’s Defiant Houri

Lis’Anne Harris

Author’s Note


Source for historical harem practices in the Turkish Grand Seraglio:

Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier



Acknowledgement



This one’s for you, Mom. Thanks to you, Aunt Beth, and Lauri, I became a historical romance junkie at a very early age. I am so thankful you gave me the wherewithal to write my own stories. You’ve given me the confidence to put myself out there and supported my every plot and premise no matter how hair-brained or far-fetched. I love you to infinity and beyond!

Chapter One

Bentley House, Mayfair

September 1784


Joanna swung her fist with every ounce of strength she possessed. An electric shock of pain raced through her knuckles. His head snapped back with a grunt. Her spurt of satisfaction was short-lived as another brute wrapped his arms around her waist. She gritted her teeth and tried to twist free of the black-hearted foreigner holding her prisoner.

Panic crawled up her spine.

Her bedside lamp hit the floor as she kicked out. Glass shards skittered across the polished wood. Oil fumes permeated the air.

She dug her teeth into the hand over her mouth, gaining a moment to ground out, “Why?”

“Well, well, Joanna.” Her step-brother’s ugly, whiny voice stopped her struggles. “Surprising to find you have somewhat of a backbone after all, though little help it does you.” His hand whipped dismissively through the air. “Gag and tie her up. It appears my sister is not anxious to meet her intended.”

This couldn’t be happening. “For the love of God, Horace, tell me why are you doing this to me? Who is my intended?”

He turned back, an expression of utter contempt contorted the features of his pock-marked porcine face visible in the glow cast by the flickering hall light. “You shall soon find out.” His evil laugh shocked her to her core. “Your father owed me more than the pittance he left. I am taking my share.”

“How could you expect to inherit something to which you have no right?” A sob of pure terror threatened to choke her.

A jagged streak of lightning split the night sky through the bedchamber window, its earsplitting thunder vibrated within Joanna’s chest. Her step-brother startled at the sudden noise. He wouldn’t answer. He knew she was right.

Horace Pecklewhite narrowed his bulging bloodshot eyes. “Her prince awaits. Take her away.” He sneered.

“Who?” What prince? One man shoved a wad of linen sheeting into her mouth and tied a strip of material around her head to hold it in place. The other brute trussed her like an animal. Wild desperation, abject fear, utter despair sank in as they hauled her through the darkened halls and out the stately double doors of Bentley House. Rain soaked her navy-blue riding habit, mixing with the tears trickling down her cheeks.

They tossed her in the waiting coach as if she were nothing more than old luggage. Her back hit the bench; pain radiated down her legs. She struggled to sit up and watched her home disappear from view. None of the servants, sleeping peacefully and tucked away under the eaves on the fourth floor, could’ve heard her brief cries for help before she was silenced.

Lizbeth. Dear God, how she needed her sister. Surely her brother-in-law Robert could put a stop to this, but they had no clue this devious plot was afoot.

Pain screamed through her arms wrenched at an awkward angle behind her back. She slid and bounced on her seat in the hack as it careened wildly through the streets of London. Joanna caught glimpses of the men in the passing street lamps and the last bit of hope of convincing them to free her died.

She eyed them with alarm, noting their odd clothing and turban-wrapped heads. They wore over-long beards and were swarthy complexioned. Unnerved by their blatant disregard, she closed her eyes and laid her head on the cracked leather seat. The moment she had retired for the night and heard the key turn in the lock of her bedchamber door she knew something dreadful was underway. It all made sense now. All the clues to her impending demise had been there if she’d only understood the significance of her step-brother’s newfound preoccupation with all things Turkish.

The ominous clink of the key locking her bedchamber door as Joanna slipped beneath the covers of her bed sent warning bells clanging through her mind. She should’ve left off the dratted stays, the tangled knots of the lacing dug into the small of her back even now. Five minutes more and she would’ve been out her window and down the ivy-covered trellis. Five minutes more and she would’ve had the bit between the teeth of her beloved Annan. A stinking five minutes more and she would’ve been on her way to Lizabeth in Cornwall.

Robert had tried and failed to win the court’s guardianship appointment. Joanna silently railed at the corrupt British judicial system. No doubt her step-brother easily bribed the judge presiding over her stewardship.

She hadn’t a clue what awaited her. A shiver of fear rippled down her back. The stench of rotting fish gagged her behind the rag stuffed in her mouth. The unmistakable sound of lapping water indicated the Thames nearby. She tugged at the rope binding her wrists, but the rough hemp scraped her flesh raw. There had to be some way out, some way to save herself.

The coach came to a rocking halt on its squeaky springs. The smaller man flung the door open and stepped out while the other hauled her from the bench. He slung Joanna over his shoulder and carried her onto a wharf where the masts of large ships loomed like an eerie forest of giant straight-limbed trees. She twisted her head from side to side trying to spy anyone who might help her. None but a few drunken sailors stumbled aimlessly in the rain. Her whimpers were lost in the whipping wind and waves lashing against the hulls.

They carried her onto the deck of a mid-sized ship then down to a dark cabin. Her captor dropped her onto a soft bed. He lit a hurricane lamp swinging on a pivot affixed to the wall. The yellow glow of light illuminated her captor’s black eyes and shaggy beard. She stiffened when his rough hands touched her ankles. A moment of relief flooded through her whilst the rope binding them was cut and he released her bound wrists. The pain of stabbing needles struck when she attempted to bring her numb arms back to her front. Joanna spat on the man the moment he removed her gag. “Filthy pig. May you rot in hell for your part in this evil deed.”

A lecherous grin, revealing a row of perfect white teeth, split his face. Joanna recoiled. He spun on his heel and left. The cabin door shut and a key turned in the lock. She was left cold, wet, and alone. Within moments the loud clatter of a heavy chain rattled and rocked the ship.

Blood returned to her tortured extremities. Joanna rolled off the bed and tried to lift the door latch, even knowing it was useless. She ran to the bank of windows at the rear of the cabin, opened one pane and stuck her head out. Nausea roiled in her belly at the great distance between her and the water below. ‘Twouldn’t do any good to jump unless she was ready to commit suicide—she didn’t know how to swim. She looked upward and gasped. A row of men stared down at her, no doubt prepared to recover her if she dared to take her chances in the river.

Deflated, Joanna pulled her head in and latched the window. There wasn’t anything for it but to wait until they reached land to find a way off the ship. She curled up on the bench seat below the windows, shocked at how easy it was for her loathsome step-brother to do this to her. If only her father hadn’t died…if only Lizbeth and Robert had succeeded in gaining her guardianship…if only she had thought to eavesdrop on Horace at every opportunity.

If only…

A key jiggling in a lock roused Joanna from semi-wakefulness. The rising sun bathed the cabin in hues of peach. She swung her legs over the edge of the seat and brushed her tangled hair from her eyes. A brightly dressed dark man entered with a large tray. He placed it on a very low table surrounded by cushions set in the center of her prison. The exact opposite of the man last night, this one smiled rather benignly at her.

He bowed low. “Vali Ahad Zevcesi, welcome aboard the Seven Winds.” His voice was melodic and heavily accented. “I am Akbar. Mahamet, Jani, or I will serve you and see to your needs. Jani will arrive shortly to begin your personal care. Whatever you desire, ask and we will provide—if possible.” He bowed then started to back out of the cabin.

“Wait. Where are you taking me?”

“To the prince, Vali Ahad-i-Sultanat Ahmed. He has provided his private ship and personal cabin for your comfort.

“Prince Ahmed?” Joanna couldn’t have been more taken aback. “I do not understand.”

Akbar directed his reply to the floor. “Your guardian has contracted your marriage to the great prense. The ceremony will take place upon your arrival at Topkapi Palace.

Joanna jumped to her feet, choking with outrage. “No. I did not agree to this. Horace cannot. He is not my legal guardian.”

“I know nothing of the details, Vali Ahad Zevcesi.” The man hurriedly bowed his way backwards toward the door again. “Please eat while the food is hot.” He closed the slab of wood in his face leaving her to fume with impotent rage.

She dashed around a desk and the ridiculously low table to the cabin door. She lifted the latch as quietly as possible and slowly opened it a crack to make sure no one stood on the other side. The dark companionway was deserted. Creeping out, she wasn’t sure which way to go, but up. If she could make it to the rail unseen, jumping into the Thames was her best hope of escape and survival. Surely a fisherman or other vessel could save her before she drowned.

The creaking of the ship hid the sound of the squeaking boards beneath her booted feet. A glimmer of light illuminated the steps to the deck above. She dashed up them, then cautiously pushed the door open to peep her head around. Several Turkish men pulled ropes here and there, but none noticed Joanna. Her navy-blue riding habit helped her to blend in with the waning shadows cast by the yellowish glow of lanterns swinging to and fro on hooks.

Slinking out of the door a little way, she discovered the man behind the great wheel of the ship stood a few feet above her on a higher deck. All he had to do was look down and she was caught. Joanna ducked behind a barrel and bit her lip, her heart about to beat right out of her chest. The lights of London glowed in the distance. She couldn’t see any other vessels near enough to rescue her before she sank like a bar of soap to the bottom of the bath. What she needed was a large enough piece of wood to hang onto to keep her afloat. An oar from one of the boats lying on its side was her only option, but there was no way to reach one without being seen.

She’d have to run, grab, and jump. No hesitation. No second-thoughts as she climbed over the rail.

Joanna took several calming breaths to slow the rate of her pulse. Craned her neck to see the man at the wheel. His attention was diverted by another. She dashed from her hiding place, raced past piles of rope, barrels, and dodged lines running from rails to the sails.

She lifted the oar from the boat, surprised by its weight as she dragged it with her the few steps to the side of the ship. Joanna screamed in holy terror and kicked, dropped the large paddle and clawed at the arm around her waist. Her captor pulled her back, away from escape. He easily hauled her over his shoulder and carried her to her cabin prison. He flung her onto the bed. She bounced and hit her shoulder hard into the wall. Tears of pain and frustration flooded her eyes. The door slammed shut and the sound of the tumbler setting the lock seemed to echo in her ears.

Screams tore from her as she bounded from the bed and destroyed everything she could get her hands on that wasn’t nailed down.

The red and black sheer curtains draping the hideously overcarved built-in bed hung in tatters. Billows of white and blue silk reminiscent of clouds and sky hanging from the ceiling looked like a raging tigress had shredded them. She kicked the tray of food with a spurt of satisfaction and watched the coffee pot sail across the room straight through one of the stern windows. The shatter of glass surely caught the attention of the men on the upper deck.

A wardrobe and a silk privacy screen sat opposite the bed. She ripped her fingernails down the cloth, ruining the sultry scene of naked women lying about a large pool.

The door opened.

She jumped over the pillows scattered on the floor to put the desk between her and whoever entered. If she could find a dagger, she’d use it. Joanna ripped a drawer from the desk and threw it at Akbar and another man approaching her with hands up, placatingly.

Her blood roared in her head, her chest heaved. They said something… Probably words to try to calm her. Make her see reason. Joanna pulled out the other drawer. The bigger man dove across the desk and knocked her into the bench seat at her back. The wind whooshed from her lungs. She gasped for air, eyes wide with fear.

Akbar grabbed her arms and raised them above her head allowing great lungfuls of precious oxygen to fill her chest. The Goliath of a man tied her ankles together with a length of torn silk plucked from the ceiling. In a matter of seconds, she was trussed up once again and lying on the bed.

Hot tears burned the back of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. “I will never submit. Never.”

Akbar exited the cabin.

Goliath bowed low to her. “I am Mahamet. I have been assigned to your care and training. I am sorry this marriage was not of your choosing. We believe you will change your mind as you come to see how beautiful our way of life is for the wives of Prense Ahmed. Please let us show you the way.”

Joanna clamped her teeth so hard it made her cheek hurt. “Never.”

Mahamet sighed. He bowed again and backed out of the room, leaving the door open. Akbar returned with an odd contraption with several long tubes sticking out of it. He pulled a chair up to the side of the bed. “I am sorry, Vali Ahad Zevcesi. You have given us no choice.”

He used a stick lit from a lantern to put fire to a small bowl on the side of the etched brass vase-like thing. A sweet curl of smoke rose lazily from what she now realized was some sort of pipe. Akbar drew a mouthful and blew it straight at Joanna’s face. She scrambled to the furthest corner and hid her nose and mouth in her hands, tied at the wrist.

“Nooo. Please…no.” A strange dizziness swirled in her brain. She didn’t know if it was from holding her breath or the effects of whatever he was forcing her to draw in. Strange feelings crept through her limbs, like her muscles turned to jellied aspic. Joanna’s hands fell away. Her head felt too heavy for her neck to hold up.

The tears she’d held back fell freely as a devastating mixture of fear and freedom enveloped her.

She became peripherally aware of the two men and a young girl stripping her clothes off, placing her in a warm bath. Joanna tried to open her eyes, but it took entirely too much effort. She ineffectually slapped the hands away intimately washing her. Drifting in and out of awareness, she knew they had succeeded in bending her will to theirs. What they planned to do to her she had no clue and really didn’t care.

Yellowish-orange light penetrated the backs of Joanna’s eyelids. It took monumental effort to lift her lashes. Her gaze landed first on the white-washed wooden ceiling. It wasn’t in the least familiar. At whose house had she slept? She didn’t recall leaving home. Joanna wrinkled her brow at the bizarre sleep she’d had. What on earth would make her dream her step-brother had sold her into a Turkish harem?

The smell of coffee permeated her senses, and though she wasn’t fond of the brew, her mouth was so dry she’d happily chug it. The clinking of china turned her head. She attempted to sit up, but her hands were stretched above her head and tied to the bedposts. Dread filled her. She yanked on the pieces of blue silk holding her fast.

Joanna squeezed her eyes shut, praying in earnest for the nightmare to end. “Please, please, please, let this all just be a bad dream.”

“Good morning, Vali Ahad Zevcesi.” She knew that soft voice dripping with honey all too well.

“No.” She shook her head in denial. This couldn’t be real.

“I will untie you if you promise not to fight or destroy everything in the cabin. No trying to escape.”

The man looked and sounded pretty bloody real to her. What was she going to do? There had to be a way to gain her freedom. Lizbeth would be sick with worry and fear. Robert, as a viscount, could surely petition the king to demand her return, but how would they even know what had happened to her? How would Horace explain her absence when her sister arrived to take her to their modiste as planned today?

Vali Ahad Zevcesi…”

Joanna turned her jaundiced gaze to Akbar. She had no choice but to acquiesce lest he drug her again. Part of her wanted those feelings coursing through her veins once more. She’d never been so free and contented in her life. But that was exactly what they wanted. Her docile and incapable of defending her right to control what happened to her own body.

“I will not fight or destroy everything, I promise.” She forced a fake tear to slip down her temple to prove they had subdued her.

He wore a white turban wrapped about his head. A billowing white shirt hung past puffy white pants gathered at the ankles. A red silk sash was tied about his waist and red beaded slippers were on his feet. His delighted smile didn’t put her at ease as he no doubt intended. Akbar untied her wrists. Relief washed through her.

Her arms ached from hours of being held in one position. As she brought them down, she rolled to her side and sat up. “What in blazes?” She stared at the clothes they had put on her. A long colorful skirt so sheer she could see her thighs through it. And a blouse that was naught but a wisp of cloth hanging from her shoulders, barely reaching to the bottom of her bare breasts.

“What have you done to me?” Joanna cried as she stood.

“Only begun the procedures necessary to prepare you for your marriage. We have many lessons to impart and must begin immediately if we are to have you ready in time.”

“What procedures? What did you do to me?” She was afraid to know where they’d put their hands. But she knew something didn’t feel right under the skirt. Her skin felt weird as the fabric slid against her flesh.

“It is customary for women to be denuded everywhere but their heads. The valide sultana, the Padishah’s first kadin, wishes the wives and odalisques in the harem to be plucked instead of shaved so there will be no accidental cuts, and it will not be necessary to remove your hair daily.”

Denuded? Did they pluck all the hair from her legs? Under her arms? Horror filled her. They had no right.

Joanna dashed behind the screen and lifted her skirt. Shock buckled her knees. She caught herself from falling with a hand on the rim of the bathtub. They had completely defiled her. She ran out and caught Akbar off guard. Beating with her fists on his chest and arms. Screaming, “You had no right. What in bloody hell makes you think you have the right to do this to me?”

He tried to capture her hands, dodging her fists. “You belong to Prince Ahmed and it is our custom.”

“He does not own me and your customs are filthy…depraved…untenable.”

Arms like bands of iron encircle her, trapping her in an embrace from which she couldn’t break free. Her legs flailed uselessly.

“Stop it, leydi. Now.” The sing-song in Mahamet’s voice was gone, replaced with a tone that brooked no argument.

If she didn’t calm down, he might tie her up again. “All right.”

She relaxed and he let go. She crossed to the window seat and tucked herself into the corner, pulled her knees up to her chest to hide her near nudity. Joanna stared out to sea, praying for liberation from this nightmare. How was she going to survive this until she found a way to escape? Dear Lord, give me strength.

Someone sat down near her feet. “Your outrage over this is meaningless. It is the way of the harem and so you will become accustomed.” Akbar pleaded with her. “Please do not fight us.”

Joanna lifted her chin from her knees. Beseeched him with her eyes and words. “Escape with me. I can take you to my great mansion in the countryside. You will love it there and will be far happier living free than fearing for your life at every turn.”

The eunuch gave her a sad smile. “He would find us and send terrifying soldiers to kill us and those who helped to keep us hidden from him.”

“This world is big. I am sure my brother-in-law knows of a place the prince would never find you.” She dropped her bare feet to the plush gold carpeted floor. She grabbed his hands from his lap and shook them, imploring him.

Mahamet pulled the desk chair around to face her. “Leydi Joanna. We do not want to leave the harem. You will understand once you see the beauty and luxury. I promise you will fall in love with your new life and your great husband. One day you will be the head of all the kadins and will be loved, respected, and praised by all.”

Joanna slumped, realizing it was useless. She would have to bite her tongue and bide her time.

Akbar rose from the seat and took her hand. “Come.” He indicated she should sit on a cushion at the table. He tugged her down beside him. “Please eat while the food is warm.”

A very young boy garbed in the same garish livery slipped in and quietly shut the door behind him. He wore a red turban over his curly black hair, a pair of bright red taffeta pants, a white heavily embroidered shirt, a yellow sash tied about his waist, and blue pointy-toed slippers. He looked very familiar.

“Oh, dear God.” He was the girl who had bathed her in her dreams. He appeared around two-and-ten years old. He came to sit at the table with them. Mahamet introduced the boy with the face of an angel. “Jani is your personal servant. He is trained to arrange your hair and apply your henna and kohl as well as bathe and dress you.”

Joanna stared at the two. “A boy helps me in my bath? What is wrong with you people?” Both males simply stared back.

“You have nothing to fear. Jani is a full eunuch and has been since the age of ten.”

“How does his nationality figure into this?” These people and their customs were unfathomable.

Mahamet’s eyebrows rose. “A eunuch is a male who has been castrated.”

“Castrated? Like a gelding?” That couldn’t be right. At the man’s nod, Joanna snorted with disbelief. They were absolutely insane. “Why? Why would a man do that to himself?” She rubbed her fingers on her forehead.

“He did not do it. His master had it done to him so that he would have no urges of a sexual nature and therefore could be trained to serve in Prince Ahmed’s harem as a personal servant. You must treat him as you would a lady’s maid. Akbar and I are also eunuchs.”

Joanna shook her head, trying to understand such a barbaric practice and the unnecessary reason behind it. “Why not just have female servants see to the personal needs of the women?”

“They also serve in the harem, but male eunuchs are stronger and more capable of protecting the odalisques from defilement should an invader breach the security of the harem.”

Joanna breathed deeply through her nose to calm her pounding heart. If she didn’t escape, how on earth could she reconcile her life to such an untenable existence? How many women were in this harem place and why on earth did Ahmed need another one? The threat of defilement must be great to have to resort to castrating men to use as ladies’ maids. “Then send in a woman to see to my needs.”

“I am sorry, Vali Ahad Zavcesi. You are the only female on this ship. The female slaves of the harem must remain in the harem. We have each been chosen for our special areas of expertise in training the new wives for the prense. He especially selected Jani for his unique skills in dressing you and applying your henna and kohl exactly how your husband, Prense Ahmed, wishes it.”

“Cease calling him my husband.” Joanna closed her eyes in frustration.

“Yes, Vali Ahad Zevcesi.

“What does that even mean?” She threw up her hands, exasperated.

“It is your title as his wife.”

“I am not his wife and I never agreed to this marriage. Are women in your society so disrespected? Are women allowed no rights in your country? I will never willingly marry with Prince Ahmed.” She shook her head for emphasis.

“I understand this was not your choice, but women in our culture have their lives decided for them. I have heard in your country daughters have always had their husbands chosen for them, also, so in this respect we are no different.”

Joanna massaged her aching temples. She silently railed against fate, mankind, God for doing this to her. She was Lady Joanna Marie Bentley, daughter of the late earl of Bardwell, and heiress to a large fortune. How could this happen to her? She gritted her teeth.

Apparently, no man alive considered what a woman wanted. Arguing with the servant availed her nothing. Their lives weren’t their own to rule, as hers wasn’t. From her perspective, however, a huge difference existed. She would somehow gain control of her own life. If eunuchs chose to be subjugated it was their choice. A mind with a strong enough volition could find a way. Desperation and determination coursed through her.

Defeated for the moment, she moved on. She had to pick and choose which battles to wage. Some were clearly unwinnable. “Address me as my lady in whatever language you choose. I want no part of his title.”

Akbar bowed his head. “Very well, benim leydi.

“Where are my jewels?” The contents of the pouch she had tied about her waist beneath her riding habit was all she had left of her mother.

Jani answered. “They are in a box in the vanity drawer.

At least they hadn’t stripped from her the only piece of home she had left. Thirst and hunger got the better of her. She reached for the cup of coffee Mahamet poured, fully intending to find a way off this bloody ship.

How in the world was he supposed to rescue an English chit from the arms of a Turkish Prince? If not for his school-hood chums’ plea for help, Captain Richard Trevanion would have been settled back in Cornwall by now, not posing once again as his alter ego, Tony Trevlac, to gain access to Topkapi Palace.

He still contemplated a plausible reason for visiting the Sultan of Istanbul. Though he had traded with the man in the past, the only thing in his hold worth offering was a small chest of rare gems taken from a Spanish galleon two months ago. He hoped the sultan would be suitably interested, thereby gaining him an invitation to the palace. It was a weak plan at best.

Richard knew where the seraglio was located, having been entertained by the sultan on numerous occasions, but of course he’d never been behind the well-guarded harem walls. He would be able to disguise himself as a Turk with ease, considering his darkly tanned skin gained from crisscrossing the open seas for the past decade. His black hair and brown eyes would make him look a natural. And by the time he reached the palace, his growing beard and mustache would help further his deception.

If all went according to his plan, he would be asked to stay the night and enjoy the sultan’s generous amenities. Under normal circumstances, the scantily-clad dancers would be a most pleasurable diversion, but not this time. Not while he contemplated the myriad ways the Sultan would choose to put him to death should he be caught stealing the Prince’s intended bride. Tony Trevlac would never again find safe passage through the Ottoman Empire, but, he’d had no intention of donning that guise again anyway.

Richard was tired of aimlessly roaming the world’s oceans. Bored with finding a greedy mistress in every port. His ancient castle on the Cornish coast called for him to restore it and settle into sheep farming. Perhaps rebuild the wheelhouses of the abandoned tin mines. It was a good solid plan only interrupted by the urgent pleas from Robert to rescue his sister-in-law from the harem. Once this deed was done—or he was dead trying—he envisioned a future of quietude and domesticity. Pirating pirates had finally worn him out.

Someday he would make a trip to London during the Season to find a suitable wife, but not for many years to come. He was in no great hurry to marry having seen his father waste away, lose interest in everything and everyone at the death of Richard’s mother. ’Twould make no difference who he picked for a wife anyway. He had no intention of losing himself in one and ignoring his children like a lovesick fool.

“What is wrong, Captain?” William Corydon, his first mate, called up from the waist, taking the seven steps to the quarterdeck in three. His shaggy light brown hair whipped about his lean, sun-reddened face in the wind.

“Nothing. Why?”

“Well, the scowl upon your brow was mighty fierce, my friend, whatever you were thinking. Still is.”

Richard shook off his past. He cast his gaze out across the deck of his ship and lovingly caressed the smooth spokes of the great wheel. “I believe this will be my last voyage, Will. I have more than enough wealth and three estates I would like to see grow and prosper with my guidance. ’Tis time to transition into the next phase of my life.”

“We had a feeling you did not intend to sail again after we arrived in St. Ive’s. If not for Trevor and Robert’s request, you would not have, would you?” Will lifted one corner of his lips in a half-grin.

Richard tilted his head. “That obvious, was I?”

“The last year or so your itch for a good fight seemed to dim. Mark thinks the only reason you continued pirating was for the men.” He opened a storage box and removed a knotted rope and hourglass. Will appeared not to expect a response as he went about his task of determining their speed.

Richard stared after his first mate and wondered if he felt the same. Would he quit the sea, too?

Markus Willoby, his second mate, came to relieve him of his position behind the wheel while Will counted the knots in the rope he’d thrown off the back of the ship. “Speed?” Mark asked.

“Seven knots.” Will glanced back at Richard. “What manner of vessel is the Turkish ship, Seven Winds?”

“I do not know. Trevor did not take the time to find out before they hurried out of London to find us in St. Ives. I know your thinking. If it is a barque, we may only be a day or two behind at this point, but if it is a barquentine, it could be five or six days ahead of us. I am sure the prince would not have a corvette for his own personal use—‘twould not be majestic enough.”

Markus grinned. “I hope there is a lady somewhere who will thank you mightily for saving this wench.”

“I will be thanked, but not in the way your rutting mind dwells on.” Richard chuckled. “I really am sorry your wenching was cut short in St. Ives, but you will have plenty of opportunity once we have rescued the damsel in distress and return to Cornwall.”

“So do you really believe you will find a way into the harem?” Markus gazed at Richard, skepticism quirking one brow.

He shrugged. “My perfect record for stealing other men’s possessions unscathed might finally come to a bloody end.” While he didn’t particularly want to die, at least he wouldn’t leave behind a grieving family.

A pair of piercing blue eyes stared out at him as he reached for the spyglass in the binnacle cabinet. The oddly colored stow-away darted out past Richard in a blur of dark brown and tannish cream. The feline jumped to the rail at the left front on the quarterdeck and sat there, proudly, for a few moments as if surveying its domain.

It dove from the rail toward the larboard companionway door below. A bellow of rage drifted up. Richard chuckled as he stepped over to the edge to peer down. The cat had attacked the feather sticking from Albert’s tricorn once again. She was halfway to the fo'c'sle with it sticking from her mouth, pouncing from barrel to crate to pile of rope along the way.

“Give it up, man.” Richard called down with a laugh. “She is going to steal it every time.”

The old, crusty salt was sprawled on his back, angry red scratch marks streaked his bare, darkly tanned arms. “Mangy beast. I’ll catch ‘er an’ wring ‘er neck. See if I don’t.”

Richard chuckled. “Ten guineas she is hale and whole when we reach St. Ives.”

Albert climbed to his gnarly bare feet. Slapped the hat on his thigh. “Yer on.” His toothless grin split his wrinkled face. Hitching up his worn black knee breeches with one hand, he plunked the hat on his bald head with the other and set off toward the proud feline.

Times like these were what Richard would miss the most. He loved every single member of his crew like family. With that thought, the idea of an annual reunion ball was the perfect way to keep them close. On the heels of that plan, the reaction of his Cornish neighbors to a swarm of pirates descending on the coast brought a deep chuckle up from his gut.

He rubbed his hands together. Richard couldn’t wait for the shenanigans to begin.

Chapter Two


Joanna awoke to the sound of splashing water. The night had not given way to dawn, yet someone was behind the screen filling the bath. “Who goes there?”

Mahamet appeared with two empty buckets in hand. “It is time for your morning cleansing.” He continued into the companionway and shut the door behind him.

Jani stepped in, helping her to rise from the bed as if she were an invalid. He led her behind the screen and reached down to grab the hem of her sheer gown. The one he had pulled over her head before retiring the previous evening. She swatted his hands away. “I am not helpless. I can bathe myself.”

“It is my duty, benim leydi. This is my task in the harem, to care for the one I am assigned.” The young eunuch’s jaw set at an obstinate angle as he reached for her hem again. Joanna twisted away and bumped into the edge of the tub and fell in with a splash. Jani almost fell on top of her, gasping as he caught the opposite rim. Water dripped from his eyelashes, nose, and chin.

The eunuch scrambled to stand up then took a towel and dried his face. He crossed his arms over his wet shirt and drew in a loud breath through his nose. Joanna narrowed her eyes and twirled her finger in a circle. He turned his back on her and she righted herself in the tub and drew off her soaked shift. It landed with a plop when she dropped it over the edge. She hugged her knees to her chest. Jani picked up a soft cloth and soap. She yanked them out of his hands. A war of wills ensued—he refused to leave, and she refused to relinquish the items.

Was this skirmish one worth fighting? Joanna knew this was a minor skirmish, yet she wasn’t about to give in. She stared Jani down until he turned his back. Joanna smiled in triumph then scrunched her face as he sat on a three-legged stool and constantly agitated the water with the fingers of one hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Keeping the djinn away.”

“The what?”

He shrugged a little. “Evil spirits”

What a strange notion. She lifted her brow at the back of his turbaned head. “How old are you, Jani?” Joanna tried to relax, but it was impossible. She hurried through her bath.

“I am seven-and-ten summers, benim leydi.”

Joanna’s jaw dropped. Three years younger than she, yet not even the faintest glimpse of manly facial hair, nor the deepening voice that normally appeared by the age of four-and-ten.

“You will become accustomed to us in time, benim leydi. We eunuchs can be your most trusted friends and allies in the harem.”

“Ally? That sounds rather ominous.”

“Some of the houris can be somewhat spiteful and jealous of the prense’s chosen couch-mate. Especially if he appears to spend an inordinate amount of attention on one more than the others. It is good to have a friend whom you can always count on to keep you safe.”

Good heavens! “Do they kill each other?”

“Sometimes.”

Dear Lord. It was a good thing she had no intention of ever stepping foot in the harem. No doubt the other women would eagerly plot to kill the prince’s newest conquest. “Do you serve other women?”

“No. You are my first and only assignment. I have been sequestered in the eunuch’s wing, learning the ways of personal care under the tutelage of Jevher, the kizler agasi.”

“Men are born to be men.” Joanna shook her head. “Human male castration cannot be good and right.”

“In that, I believe all eunuchs who did not choose this way of life would agree with you, benim leydi.” A wistful note colored his soft effeminate voice.

“Some eunuchs choose to become eunuchs?”

“Yes. For some boys and grown men, becoming a eunuch with the hope of serving in the Grand Seraglio is a far better life than the one to which they were born. Even though we are servants, our life is one of security and comfort many of us would not have any other way.”

Joanna’s heart grew heavy. She couldn’t comprehend a life of such bleak prospects that a person would willingly submit to castration. It was one thing to do it to a stallion. Pure bloodlines mattered. And sometimes it was plain necessary to tame difficult to handle males. Not at all natural to do it to a human being.

Jani held up a large length of plush toweling, hiding his face behind. She stepped out and turned her back to the cloth and wrapped it around her from shoulders to ankles. He led her to the vanity bench.

“You must grow accustomed to us, benim leydi, for all the females in the harem must be prepared to be summoned by Prense Hakan at a moment’s notice. If we fail in any way, he will kill us.”

Joanna rolled her eyes at him in the mirror. “Seriously. I would appreciate less hyperbole and more honesty.”

He shook his head, sadly. “I do not know what means hyperbully. I only ever speak truth.”

Great. Now she had to live with their deaths on her conscience. So be it. Escape was her only option, though ‘twasn’t fair at all that they should die because of her.

“You will not go above without a burqa, or yashmak and feradge covering you from head to toe, but here in the cabin, the prense has instructed Akbar and Mahamet to begin your training so you will be ready to receive him when you arrive at Topkapi Palace.” Jani smiled into her eyes, peering over her shoulder.

He gently pulled a brush through her damp blonde hair, drying the tresses with a soft cotton towel as he worked out the tangles. The eunuch deftly separated her hair into many braids, looping each to the top of her head, securing all with an emerald-encrusted comb. Jani opened a vanity drawer and withdrew a small jeweled case. He flicked a small clasp and the lid popped open. The bristled tip of a small brush was dipped into the container of powdered kohl and drawn around her eyes.

The transformation into an exotic being with sultry hazel eyes was both fascinating and horrible. The line connecting her brows changed her into a freakish ghoul. He applied some sort of red dye from a small corked jar to her lips, making them stand out, the color of ripe strawberries.

The young boy gathered several items on a sliver tray and stepped from behind the screen. “Please come this way and lie upon the cushions, please.”

“Why must I lie on the floor?” Joanna worried about what he intended her to wear this day. Hopefully something far more substantial than yesterday’s scandalous attire. “Where are my clothes?”

“I must apply your henna which will take several hours.” Jani placed the tray on the low table then arranged the pillows for her.

“What is henna and exactly where do you intend to apply it?” She stood her ground far away from the pretty man-child. The thought of him looking at her nudity, touching her body anywhere other than her hands, feet, face, or hair was untenable.

“It is a beautiful red stain used to make artful designs on your hands, feet, and other feminine places. Please, benim leydi. Please do not make this difficult.” He worried his dark hands together, pleading with his soft doe eyes.

She shook her head. “I cannot let you. You have already violated my feminine places. I promised not to fight Akbar again, but I will break that promise if you try to force me.”

He sighed. Nodded his head as he walked by her and out of the cabin, shutting the door behind him.

Had she won this fight? Probably only gained a day or two of respite. Joanna turned to the wardrobe and searched for clothing pieces that weren’t so sheer she could read through them. The door creaked open and she whirled about. Mahamet entered.

“I am sorry, benim leydi. We have our orders to use whatever means necessary to prepare you.” His sing-song voice grated on Joanna’s high-strung nerves causing her muscles to clench in fight. “You are making this more difficult for yourself, and us.

The look of sincere sorrow in Mahamet’s black eyes sent a shaft of sympathy through her, but she couldn’t lie down. She backed away as he advanced on her.

Mahamet’s smile was intended to comfort. “Please do not fight us for it must be done.”

Joanna kicked Akbar in the shin. It hurt her toes, but she continued on, screaming, biting, and throwing punches, yet he once again easily overpowered her. ‘Twas a totally unfair fight given she barely reached the height of his shoulder.

Akbar arrived with the pipe again.

“Nooo.” Joanna moaned. “Please do not drug me.”

“I am sorry, benim leydi. You have shown us you cannot be trusted to lie still and you must for Jani.” Akbar set the thing he called a hookah on the table then helped Mahamet tie her to the bed.

Within moments she was floating on a cloud of euphoria. No worries, no anguish. She no longer cared what they did to her. None of it mattered.

The Seven Winds cut through the sea with record speed according to Akbar.

Joanna hadn’t spoken a single word to him, nor Mahamet, since they had violated her with their unspeakable practices. She did converse with Jani, but only when utterly necessary. He had suggested she take the air on deck. Joanna listlessly followed Akbar when he came to escort her.

She stood at the starboard rail unappreciative of the spectacular views around her. They had passed through the Strait of Gibraltar near the northern coast of Morocco into the Alboran Basin. The sun blazed over the dramatic vista of green verdant land covering the mountains to the north and south. Joanna cared naught.

Stifling heat enveloped her inside the hideous black burqa. The cloth was made from a single swath of heavy wool and allowed nary a wisp of wind to cool her perspiring flesh. Akbar wanted to take no chances she would seduce the men above deck. He said no woman could be trusted not to tantalize a man with her seductive charms.

Joanna wanted to scream at them for their ludicrous beliefs but knew it to be futile. Why should they listen to anything she had to say? Even in England no man alive would consider her intelligent enough to make her own decisions. Most Englishmen thought of women as mere chattel, belonging first to their sire then to any other male relative if her sire was deceased. Ultimately, she became the possession of her husband.

Her father had been of the rare breed who’d treated his wife as an equal. At least she assumed he had. Mayhap he’d been no different from so many who held their families under their thumb. Mayhap her childish mind didn’t register the deeper nuances within her parents’ marriage. She didn’t want to think about it. She must hold on to her innocent recollections of their perfect, loving relationship. To do aught else would destroy the sweet memories she’d need to sustain her if she failed to escape. Daydreams of riding Annan across the hills surrounding the Bentley family estate brought a small smile, the wind whipping her hair, the feel of the mare’s powerful muscles beneath her thighs tearing over the ground. Those remembrances were all she had to keep her until the end of time. Dear God, she missed her horse almost as much as she missed her sister. What would become of Annan? All her dreams of breeding her rare Turkmenian Akhal-Teke mare to a superb Arabian stallion turned to ash.

A small derisive laugh escaped her throat. Annan had come from the land to which Joanna was exiled.

She stewed in the afternoon sun. Sighing heavily, she gazed around her. A number of swarthy men were scattered about the deck. One man stood apart from the rest on a higher part of the ship at the stern, near the great wheel, issuing orders in an unintelligible language. He must be the captain. The problem was they all looked alike to her. Not one blonde, brown, or red-haired man on the ship. None were clean-shaven. They all had black hair with white turbans and long black beards.

Not a single crewmember gazed her way…as if she didn’t exist. Joanna almost wished she didn’t. She needed the sickeningly sweet smoke from the hookah. Despair clawed at her and she tried to focus on finding hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

If she could escape the ship when they made port, surely she could trade passage back to England with a few of her gems. She’d have to observe the ship’s nighttime ritual to decide how and when best to make her move should the opportunity present itself.

Mahamet came toward her. She turned away, angry and ashamed at what had been done to her. Both men attempted to teach her the proper way to eat with her hands, how to speak Ottoman Turkish, and the customs and practices of the harem. Most importantly, they tried to instruct her in the ways of seduction.

Jani couldn’t understand why benim leydi did not wish to become the wife of the great Prense Hakan who would one day be the all-powerful Padishah. All women of Turkey would envy her, and trade places with her if they could.

Joanna remembered the darkly handsome prince with whom she had danced at her come-out, totally unaffected by his seeming charm and good looks. If there were another woman in his own country willing to take her place, they could have him. She didn’t care if he were the last man on earth.

Akbar, upset and fearful, begged and pleaded for her cooperation, but Joanna’s stubborn streak and strong will became a stone wall neither man could breach. So Akbar blew smoke in her face almost daily. Nausea roiled in her belly every time she returned to harsh reality from the cradle of pure bliss. She hated that she wanted it. Had come to depend on it to survive each day.

Mahamet bowed low. “Please to follow me, benim leydi, back to your cabin. The evening meal will be served in a short while.” He led Joanna down the companionway and she followed like a lost lamb, praying the hookah would be there, waiting for her.

Jani stood inside the cabin door to remove her burqa. She brushed perspiration from her forehead and spoke to Mahamet for the first time in almost a sennight. “May I be allowed to go up this evening to see the stars?”

His brows shot half-way up his forehead. A broad smile lightened his dark features. “Of course, benim leydi. I will come back for you when the moon has appeared, and the stars are shining bright.”

Joanna absently nodded in agreement, more concerned with convincing Jani to get Akbar to bring her the pipe. She rapidly whisked the bits of cloth from her body before the youngest eunuch could assist her.

Sinking into the waiting bath, she squeezed her eyes shut to stop the tears stinging the backs of her eyes. Tomorrow was the day Akbar assigned to pluck her again, and she didn’t want to think about it. The shame of it wouldn’t leave her mind in peace. “Jani, I need smoke.”

He froze mid-step with clothes in his arms. He turned to her with sorrow in his eyes. “Oh no, benim leydi. I feared this would happen.”

“You know what tomorrow is?” Joanna buried her face in her drawn-up knees. “I cannot bear the thought of it.” Her tears fell as she tried to force her body to produce goose bumps to stop the creepy-crawlies tormenting her flesh.

Dry heaves mixed with her sobs. She raised her eyes to the pretty eunuchs. Whatever Jani saw sent him running.

Mahamet appeared at her side, kneeling beside the bathtub. He covered her with a long towel and scooped her into his arms. Carried her to the bed.

Joanna curled onto her side, huddling under the cloth as shivers racked her body, dying inside. She just needed a little so she could think, make a plan. Mahamet moved aside and left the cabin. Akbar took his place.

“I am so sorry, benim leydi. You have become addicted from only a small amount which is extremely unusual. Tomorrow we will begin the process of weaning you from the opium.”

“Please…” She took the tube from his hand and held it to her lips, drawing in blessed relief as he put fire to the pipe. Jo held the smoke in her lungs as long as she could, knowing it would bring the fastest, most lasting pleasure. Exhaling as slowly as possible, she knew she had to break free from the powerful drug and find a way home against all odds. “I will do it.”

“You will do what, beim leydi?” Akbar asked with a helpful look.

“Overcome.”

“Very good, benim leydi. That is exactly the spirit you will need in the days and weeks ahead.” He put the flaming stick to the bowl once more as he watched her with dark, benevolent eyes.

Joanna closed hers. Visions of escape filled the blackness behind her lids.

Prince Hakan watched the great Bosphorus River through the large sparkling windows of Topkapi Palace, impatient for his ship, Seven Winds, to arrive. It was unrealistic to expect to see it so soon, but he was anxious to feast his eyes once again upon his lovely Joanna, the only female he’d dreamed of since the night they’d danced together.

His. The thought sent a surge of triumph through him.


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