An outcast on the high seas . . .
The son of a proud naval dynasty, Gabriel Hawkins was born to command the sea, until he leaves the Royal Navy in disgrace and is disowned by his family. As captain of his own ship, he’s earned his living in ways both legal and illegal, and his experience makes him the best choice to ransom an aristocratic beauty captured by Barbary pirates.
Having avoided the traps of convention and marriage, Lady Aurora Lawrence is horrified by the prospect of spending her life as a harem slave. Her only hope of escape is a quiet, steely captain who has a history with her captor—and who will do anything to free Rory. Together they undertake a dangerous mission through troubled waters—and encounter another kind of danger as attraction burns hot within the close confines of his ship. But even if they endure the perils of the sea and enemy lands, can their love survive a return to England, where the distance between a disgraced captain and an earl’s daughter is wider than the ocean?
Praise for the Rogues Redeemed series
“A compelling story that neatly balances dangerous adventures and passionate romance.” —Booklist
“A thrilling, romantic tale.” —Bookpage, Top Pick of the Month
“Putney’s multifaceted and well-developed characters add depth to this romance, which is complete with the trials of war and the promise of future series installments.” —Publishers Weekly
An excerpt from Once a Scoundrel by Mary Jo Putney
Lord and Lady Lawrence were enjoying a pleasant afternoon in the library when the letter arrived. The butler himself delivered it to the earl. Sylvia Lawrence glanced up and saw that the missive was wrapped in stained oilcloth and must have traveled a great distance. “Is that a letter from Rory?” she asked eagerly. “We haven’t heard from her in so long! Is she coming home?”
Her husband unwrapped the letter and read it with a deepening frown. Then he swore with the vibrant profanity that only one person ever invoked. “Your daughter, Lady Aurora Octavia Lawrence, has gone and done it this time!”
“She’s your daughter, too,” Sylvia pointed out as she began to worry. “What’s wrong?”
The earl snarled, “The letter is from the British consul in Algiers. Your damned daughter was captured by Barbary pirates and they’re demanding an outrageous ransom to return her!”
Sylvia gasped as levity was replaced by horror. “How is that possible? I thought the Barbary pirates had given up their thieving ways after the Americans fought them and forced a treaty.”
“The pirates of Barbary are not great believers in treaties,” her husband said bitterly. “The consul says she’s unhurt, but she’s locked in a harem and will be sold into slavery unless she’s ransomed.” His voice rose. “Fifty thousand pounds! Fifty thousand pounds!” He slapped the letter onto the desk, sending a fine goose quill pen flying. “Well, they can damned well keep her! I’m not paying a ha’penny to get the girl back.”
“Geoffrey, you can’t possibly mean that!” Sylvia gasped. “Our youngest daughter! Rory was the delight of your life.”
“Until she grew up, and she’s been nothing but trouble ever since.” He scowled at Sylvia. “She won’t make a proper marriage and she’s spent her inheritance from her great uncle on her travels. She’s a clever minx. Let her get out of this scrape on her own. I can’t afford her anymore.”
“She’s our daughter!”
“You think I don’t know that?” His initial rage was cooling and there was pain in his eyes. “I may be an earl, but I can’t afford a sum that large. It took me years to pay off debts left by my father, and you know the amount of the mortgages we’ve had to take out to establish the rest of those eight children you had.”
“You had something to do with all those children,” she pointed out dryly. “We’ve been blessed with eight healthy, charming, intelligent offspring. Which of them would you give up?”
He sighed. “None, but giving them the futures they deserve has exhausted the family resources.
There simply isn’t the money available to pay such an enormous ransom. Not even for Rory.”
Sylvia bit her lip because she knew how difficult it had been to raise the money to establish the older offspring. “But slavery in Barbary, Geoffrey! That’s not a scrape—it’s disaster! Just think of the horrors she might suffer!”
His mouth tightened. “She’s pretty enough to avoid the worst atrocities. She’ll probably end up as chief concubine of the dey of Algiers. I’m sorry, Sylvia. Rory has made her bed.” His voice broke and his pain showed. “Now she must lie in it with whatever man is willing to pay her price.”
The countess cringed. Geoffrey had decided that the ransom was impossible and he wouldn’t lift a finger to help Rory. She closed her eyes, shuddering as images of her youngest filled her mind. She loved all her children deeply, but Rory had been such a golden, happy baby. That was why Sylvia had named her Aurora, for the dawn.
Aurora had quickly become Rory as her daughter had grown into laughter and mischief. Yes, she
sometimes got into trouble, but that was because of her appetite for life. There was no malice in her.
Sylvia knew her husband. Now that Geoffrey had analyzed the situation and decided there was nothing he could do, he would close the door on Rory and concentrate on problems closer to home that he could solve. He’d bury the fate of his daughter so deeply that he wouldn’t feel the pain, except in his nightmares.
But that didn’t mean that Sylvia must do the same. She’d heard of a man who was good at dealing with difficult situations. An aristocrat with connections to people in all walks of life. She’d call on him in the morning. Perhaps—pray God!—he knew someone who could bring her daughter home.
Meanwhile in the Mediterranean:
A shattering impact rocked the ship violently, jolting Rory from sleep. Shouts and gunshots drowned out the soft night sounds of waves and creaking rigging. Dear God, a pirate attack? The Devon Lady should be safe in the mid- Mediterranean, but that gunfire was very real.
She slid from her narrow upper bunk, heart pounding. Her companion, cousin, and friend, Constance Hollings, stirred in the lower bunk, coming awake more slowly. “What’s happening, Rory?”
She peered out the porthole, squinting to decipher what she saw. Her stomach clenched when she saw that a long, low galley had rammed into the Devon Lady, its battering ram crashing over the top deck and locking the two ships together. Rope and grappling hooks had been up hurled into the deck of the schooner, and pirates were swarming aboard. “A corsair attack!”
Feeling sick, she continued, “Remember the conversation we had with Captain Roberts over dinner the night we sailed from Athens? You asked what we should do if pirates captured the ship. He laughed and said that wouldn’t happen, but if it did, we should dress in our most expensive clothing and look as if we’re worth being ransomed.”
Grimly, she opened her small chest and located a silk gown by touch, then yanked it down over her shift. Constance rose and fastened the back, then dug into her own chest for clothing.
Rory added her best jewelry, then sat on Constance’s bunk and tugged on sturdy half boots in case she ended up having to march across desert sands in whatever she was wearing tonight. As she rose to help her friend dress, she said, “I’m going to take a few things like my notebooks and pencils in case we aren’t allowed to come back to our cabin.”
Having been raised in a doctor’s household, Constance said, “I’ll pack my medical kit. There may be men wounded in the fight.”
Besides her notebooks, Rory tossed her jewelry box into her canvas knapsack, hoping it would be interesting enough that the pirates would ignore the notebooks. Then a wide brimmed hat and long cotton scarf to protect her eyes and face from the ferocious Mediterranean sunshine.
She was slinging the bag over her shoulder when the door to their cabin was wrenched open and a richly garbed and turbaned pirate stormed in, others behind him. He barked brusque words and made harsh gestures that were clearly orders to go with him and his companions.
She followed quietly, her heart pounding as she was marched through the dark, narrow passage, then climbed the ladder to the main deck. Face set, Constance followed. Moonlight revealed the aftermath of battle. The crew of the Devon Lady was gathered in a tight knot ahead of her, and some were wounded. Merchant ships like this one had crews of only a couple of dozen men, and she knew them all, from Captain Roberts to the young cabin boy.
Constance swore under her breath and moved toward the wounded crewmen. When a corsair tried to stop her, she glared at him and brandished the roll of bandages she carried. He stepped back and allowed her to continue. She dropped beside an injured sailor and went to work.
Rory was led to a heavily armed man who wore richly colored layers of clothing, topped with a turban and a lavish, fur-trimmed burgundy red robe. This must be the reis, the captain of the pirate galley. He was broad and intimidating and had a scar curving down his left cheek into his beard. His eyes looked surprisingly light, though she couldn’t tell the color in the darkness.
His gaze moved over her, coldly evaluating clothing, jewels, her ringless left hand, and the body beneath her silk gown. “I am Malek Reis, the master of the Middle Seas,” he barked in accented French. “Who are you? A great lady or a rich whore?”
She raised her chin, refusing to look cowed. “I am Lady Aurora Lawrence, daughter of a great English lord, Earl Lawrence,” she said in her most aristocratic voice. “He will pay a good ransom for me, but only if the ransom includes my cousin, Lady Constance Hollings, and the crew of this ship.” She gestured at the knot of sailors.
The reis’s eyes narrowed. “Why would he care for such common men?”
“My father is known for his sense of justice. These men have become my friends, and I insist they be freed with me.”
“You insist . . . !” He laughed nastily and reached outto her. . . .
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About Lindsay McKenna
Mary Jo Putney is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has written over sixty novels and novellas. A ten-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA, she has won the honor twice and is on the RWA Honor Roll for bestselling authors. In 2013 she was awarded the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Though most of her books have been historical romance, she has also published contemporary romances, historical fantasy, and young adult paranormal historicals. She lives in Maryland with her nearest and dearest, both two and four footed. Visit her at maryjoputney.com.