London, July 1815
As he strode along Whitehall, Morgan repressed the urge to whistle a jaunty sea shanty. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, and the world was, in general, rather excellent.
There was nothing like a brief spell in prison to put one’s life in perspective, and he’d done a great deal of thinking while locked in his cell on Martinique. He’d returned to England with two specific goals: seduction, and revenge.
Although not necessarily in that order.
After almost two years traveling the globe with His Majesty’s Royal Navy, he was back in London and buoyed by the fact that the revenge part of his plan was about to take a significant step forward. Robert Dundas—Viscount Melville and First Lord of the Admiralty—had finally agreed to disclose the identity of the mapmaker whose incorrect chart had been the cause of Morgan’s shipwreck and subsequent detention six months ago.
Falsely accused of being an English spy by the island’s sadistic French governor, Morgan had spent each and every day of his incarceration vowing to exact sweet revenge on the cartographer responsible for his suffering.
The error suggested a shocking lack of competence. Sandbars, it was true, could shift position over time. Entire bloody island chains could not. The defective map had borne the name of an engraver, “R. Crusoe” of Bury Street, Bloomsbury, but no mapmaker of that name existed in London. The pseudonym—employing the name of Daniel Defoe’s fictional castaway—was clearly someone’s idea of a joke.
Morgan hadn’t found it remotely amusing.
But now, as he approached the Admiralty offices, a smile curved his lips. Today he would finally get some answers. And when he discovered the man behind that dangerously inaccurate map, he would track the bastard down and make him suffer.
He had no intention of subjecting the culprit to the same brutal hardships he himself had faced—starvation, beatings, unbearable thirst. He was nothing like General Jean-Luc De Caen, his captor, who’d treated Morgan and his crew with the utmost cruelty.
He just wanted an explanation. And an apology.
And then he’d punch the idiot in the face.
He’d lost weeks of his life in that sweaty, stinking hellhole of a prison. The least he could do was give the man a broken nose or a couple of cracked ribs, a few weeks of painful discomfort in return. That would be justice.
Morgan’s fingers curled into an anticipatory fist.
Yes, such a revenge was rather petty, but he didn’t care. It was the principle of the thing. Maps were supposed to be trustworthy. The Admiralty had no right using someone so lackadaisical, nor sending their fleet out with sub-par navigational aids. Men’s lives had been put at risk.
His own life had been put at risk, and he would have been very cross indeed if he hadn’t made it back to London in one piece to fulfill the other promise he’d made to himself.
This second part of his plan—the seduction—might well prove the more difficult, but he’d always relished a challenge.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if he’d wanted just any woman in his bed. His dark good looks and cheeky smile had always made him a favorite with the ladies. Coupled with the resplendent blue and gold of his captain’s uniform and the whisper of his heroics against Bonaparte, and he was well-nigh irresistible.
To every woman except one.
The one he wanted.
The one who’d haunted his nights and invaded his dreams for years: prickly, studious Harriet Jane Montgomery.
His sharp-tongued, lifelong obsession.
The rivalry between their two families had shaped their interactions ever since they were children. Over the years it had developed into a kind of gleeful antipathy, a never-ending game of one-upmanship that neither side would ever consider abandoning.
They’d teased each other with challenges and foolish bets, and the words “Go on, I dare you!” had been a constant refrain throughout his boyhood.
Sometimes they’d been uttered by one of his brothers, or by Carys, his sister. But when they’d been thrown at him by a Montgomery, especially in Harriet’s prim-yet-mocking tones, the challenge had been impossible to ignore.
I dare you.
Those three words were the reason he’d broken his wrist the summer he was ten, why he’d almost drowned in Trellech’s moat, and fallen from countless trees, ledges, and battlements. They were the reason he’d been scratched while trying to pet a leopard, and pecked while trying to pluck a feather from Geoffrey the peacock’s tail.
There had always been a prize to play for—the literal spoils of war. His brother Gryff had stolen Maddie Montgomery’s shawl and flown it in triumph from the battlements of Trellech Court. Morgan had filched Harriet’s favorite drawing pen, the one with her initials engraved in the silver, and thrown it in the stream.
But then Harriet had punched him on the arm, her eyes suspiciously bright with tears, and Morgan’s chest had tightened with something he rather feared was guilt. Because while he thoroughly enjoyed seeing her angry and irritated, he hated to see her genuinely upset.
When he heard Harriet’s deceased mother had given it to her, he’d felt like the lowest heel. He’d scoffed that he’d lost his own mother too, and he didn’t place such import on stupid pens . . . but his hitherto-dormant conscience had pricked at him.
He’d felt so bad, in fact, that he’d slipped out at dawn the next morning and waded into the freezing water to retrieve the damn thing, courting pneumonia, and cursing the bollock-shriveling cold with every step.
Since Harriet was one of the hated Montgomerys, he couldn’t simply send it back to her with a note of apology. A Davies never apologized to a Montgomery. So he’d been in a quandary as to how to return it.
In the end he’d done it anonymously. He bribed two of the village boys a shilling to say they’d caught it in their net when landing a trout, and sworn them to secrecy on pain of a good thrashing if they ever revealed they’d been given it by him.
He shook his head wryly at the memory. Their sparring had continued right up until Morgan had left for war.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the thought of claiming those three kisses was the reason he was still alive. He’d been determined to return to London and make Harriet keep her end of the bargain.
He knew she wouldn’t have forgotten their parting words. And while he was desperate to claim his prize, the chance to torture her, just a little longer, had been impossible to pass up.
Racing to her doorstep the moment his boots had touched dry land would have betrayed his eagerness to a humiliating degree, and so he’d forced himself to bide his time. To that end, he’d been back in England—clearly alive and well—for a month now, and although he’d finally seen Harriet at Gryff and Maddie’s house party in Wales a few weeks ago, he’d studiously avoided any mention of their scandalous bet.
He hadn’t mentioned it when he’d seen her at Carys’s wedding to Tristan either, and the omission had driven her mad. He’d watched her bite her tongue a hundred times, clearly on the verge of broaching the topic, and then losing her nerve.
It had buoyed his spirits immeasurably.
Still, he couldn’t tease her forever—as much fun as that might be. They were both back in London now, and it was time to stop playing childish games and end the torment. For both of them.
Because imprisonment had granted him a shocking epiphany: He needed Harriet Montgomery.
In his bed.
In his life.
True, they rubbed each other the wrong way, but that constant friction created a delicious kind of heat—a heat he planned to kindle until it burst into flame. He knew perfectly well how good the two of them could be together. Not just physically, but intellectually too. They shared a quick wit, a love of the absurd, a thirst for knowledge and adventure.
Harriet, of course, would need convincing of their compatibility. They’d been enemies for so long that irritating each other had become a habit, but the glint of attraction in her eyes whenever they spoke was undeniable. He would show her they could be more than adversaries. Much more.
Their three kisses would be just the beginning. He wanted all of her; body and soul. Nothing less than total surrender would do.
But first, the matter of that misleading map.
The steps of the Admiralty loomed in front of him, and Morgan took them two at a time. His brisk knock was answered by a grizzled old seaman in the uniform of a midshipman, who lent him a friendly smile.
“Captain Davies? His Lordship is expecting you.” Morgan removed his hat, tucked it under one arm, and followed the man along a series of sumptuously appointed corridors until he was ushered into a small private room.
Viscount Melville, a stately man in his early forties, stood behind a vast leather-topped desk, but it was the unexpected second occupant of the room who garnered Morgan’s immediate attention.
His heart stilled in his chest.
Lord Melville cast him a smile of welcome.
“Ah, there you are, Davies. You’re acquainted with Miss Harriet Montgomery?”
Copyright © 2023 by Kate Bateman.