“Why, mon chéri? He is not a man you should want to marry.”
Peggy had been asking that very question of herself since agreeing to marry Monsieur Gustav Demont. The answer was that she wanted a home and family of her own, and Gustav had been the only man brave-or foolish-enough to ask her. Or more to the point, since she had come of age to marry, he had been the only man brave enough to try and court her with two of the most notorious Barbary pirates as her guardians and surrogate parents.
“Uncle Edward,” Peggy began but was cut off by her uncle’s thunderous glare.
She glared back but relented. “Eddie,” she said sweetly, using the name he preferred. “I love him.” Eddie humphed, and she swallowed the lie. “Or should I call you Captain Peri, as we are still on board the Coral Sea?”
Peggy didn’t love the man who had taken her virginity the day before they reached port. Never had. Oh, she had liked him well enough. Or she had until she had given him her innocence. Now she didn’t know what she thought of the man she had agreed to marry. But now was not the time for doubts. She had charted her course and needed to stick to it. Especially, in the face of her formidable parents.
“You should let me slice him up into itty-bitty pieces, and then feed him to the fish.”
Peggy whirled around and glared at her other guardian and surrogate parent, Jocquelin Malveaux, the Coral Sea’s first mate, and her uncle’s lifelong friend.
“Papa, you will do no such thing. I chose Gustav.” And there was no going back on that decision now, no matter how many regrets she might now harbor. “He wants to marry me, and he wants to start his own shipping company.”
“With our ships,” Eddie yelled from behind her.
Peggy cringed and then turned to face him. “Eddie. . .”
“Don’t you Eddie me, Margaret Renée Hennessey. The only reason that man wants to marry you is so he can get his hands on my ships, and you know it.”
She did know it. Or least Peggy knew it now. Gustav had bragged about how the two of them would build the largest shipping company in the world. And even though he hadn’t said as much, Peggy knew he planned to build that company from the four ships she would inherit when her uncle Edward died.
Of course, he hadn’t told her about his grand plans before she had agreed to be his wife, or before he had deflowered her. And the truth was, she still didn’t know how she felt about him after he had laid out his plans for their future.
For ten years she had followed her two guardians as they played at gentlemen pirates. Or privateers, as they mostly did their marauding for King and Country. Although, it was questionable as to whose King, and whose country they were in the service of most of the time. Nonetheless, she had been raised as an able body seaman on board the Coral Sea. Just one of the four ships her Uncle Edward Hennessey, third Earl of Kiterman owned and operated. But only the Coral Sea was a pirate’s ship. The other three were legitimate merchant ships that just happened to smuggle the occasional cargo between France and England. Ships she was destined to inherit someday. Which she fervently hoped was a long way away.
“He has plans of his own, that do not include any of your ships,” she refuted, even knowing that what her two surrogate papas were saying was probably true.
Eddie glared back. It was obvious he wasn’t buying her lies. But he had always been the one that had been able to tell when she was lying to them.
“Where is he?” Eddie demanded.
“On the quarterdeck,” Joc said.
“Papa, no,” Peggy snapped, and then flung her arms out to block his exit from the captain’s cabin.
“I’m not going to kill him, chéri. I am just going to talk to him,” Eddie said.
She stared into his cerulean blue eyes, so like her own. At five foot eight, the two of them were on an equal height with one another. In fact, they looked so much alike, with their fair skin, and honey blond hair that most people thought they were father and daughter. And neither of them had ever been able to lie to the other one. Finally, she nodded and lowered her arms. He went to walk past her, but she caught his arm and stopped him.
“I don’t want you hurting him either, Eddie. Not one hair on his head is to be touched, or I will never forgive you. Do you hear me?”
“I’m not going to touch him, little girl. I’m just going to have a long talk with your intended is all,” he said, then patted her hand where it lay on his arm.
After he walked out, Peggy turned to Joc. “Eddie wouldn’t hurt your homme, chéri. If we wanted him dead, Gustav would already be food for the fish.”
Peggy tilted her head way back to meet the cold brown eyes of Joc. Unlike her and Eddie, her French papa as she called him in private, was a huge man. At half a foot over six feet, Joc had the dark coloring of his Creole heritage, and the cultured French accent of being raised in Paris by an aristocratic father. His shoulders were twice as wide as hers, and he had the look of a man who wrestled bears as a hobby. Which meant most people with any intelligence gave her French papa a wide berth. But Peggy wasn’t most people, and consequently had no problem standing up to her surrogate father.
“Then why does he hate him so?” Peggy asked.
Joc hesitated then looked away. “Your father is in port.”
“Oui, chéri. He is here on business with the English,” Joc replied.
Marcus Hennessey was an ambassador for the English government. And according to Eddie, a pompous know-it-all. He was also the man who had abandoned her as an infant with no explanation to anyone, just packed her off to live with her Uncle Edward the day after Peggy’s mother had died from complications after giving birth. And he’d had very little to do with her in the one and twenty years of her life.
“And what does my father being in Tripoli have to do with my fiancé?” she demanded.
Joc took a breath. “He told Eddie that Gastav is working with a Frenchman. A man by the name of Guerrant.”
“So,” Peggy said, becoming frustrated.
“I know of this . . . Guerrant. He was part of the Committee of Public Safety during le Terreur.”
A cold chill raced up her back. She had heard stories of the Reign of Terror in France. But Joc’s family had lived it. And many of them had died during it.
“That doesn’t mean. . .” she started but stopped. If Gustav was working with a man like that, then there was every reason in the world for her parents to be concerned.
Spinning around, Peggy rushed out the cabin and toward the companionway leading to the quarterdeck. She could hear the raised voices of Eddie and Gustav even before she reached the stairs.
Her temper exploded, and she took the stairs two at a time with Joc close on her heels. Peggy raced across the deck to the railing and spotted Eddie and Gustav by the port railing, arguing with each other. She took a step toward the ladder to the main deck when a shot rang out.
In horror, she saw Eddie jerk to the side and fall over the railing and into the sea. Peggy heard a splash even as she screamed and bolted for the stairs. But before she could reach them a second shot rang out, and she saw Gustav stagger then collapse on the deck. And then a third shot echoed from the direction of the wharf, and something wheezed past her head. By the time she turned around she saw Joc staggering backward, a bright red splotch blossoming on his chest.
Peggy’s foot slipped and she tumbled down the stairs, landing hard on the deck. Bright lights flashed in her eyes, and then darkness enveloped her.
“It was your father,” Joc insisted from his bunk on the Coral Sea.
Peggy had never loved her father. Hell, she barely knew Marcus Hennessey. But the idea that he had killed his own brother, and her fiancé was crazy.
“Why would he kill Eddie and try to murder you?” she demanded.
Joc hesitated. “I overheard them arguing the morning we made port.”
Peggy raised her eyebrow. “They were always arguing, papa. I don’t remember them ever being in the same room when they didn’t argue about one thing or another.”
Joc sat up and turned toward her. He had been lucky, the shot that struck him had hit his shoulder, and had not been serious. “This was different, chéri. Marcus told Eddie to end his pirating. That Sir Walter with the Home Office was ending the privateer’s charter. And that if Eddie did not agree, then Sir Walter would put a stop to it for him.”
Peggy’s body began to shake, and a coldness crept over her. “That does not mean that my father killed Eddie.”
Joc laid his hand on her shoulder. “A witness saw a man fitting your father’s description firing a rifle at the Coral Sea when Eddie and I were shot.”
Peggy gazed into his eyes as a red haze descended over her. “And Gustav,” she added absentmindedly. It had taken more than a day for her to even remember that her fiancé had also been killed. And about a minute to realize she was more relieved than grieved at his murder. But it helped to heap his death on top of the murder of her beloved uncle.
“I want to talk to this witness,” she said.
“He is being held in the hold,” Joc replied. He took a breath then asked, “And then?”
“If we find proof that my father had Eddie murdered, and tried to murder you, then I will find him, and this Sir Walter, and make them pay for their crimes,” she vowed.