Mistress by Magick

Mistress by Magick

Mistress by Magick

Jan 20, 2014
Harlequin/Carina
Book 3 of the Magick Series

Excerpts

Chapter One

 

The Arcángel

Lisbon, Portugal

May 1588

 

“I tell you, capitán, no other commander in the fleet could have done it.” Diego Domingo, first lieutenant of the Arcángel, gazed about the lantern-lit deck with a blend of amusement and awe. “Dios! How did you manage to convert this looming fiasco into a brothel?”

Carlos Alejandro Angelo de Zamorra, the Scourge of the Spanish Main, lounged against the forecastle gunwale of his stolen English galleon and grinned with lazy satisfaction.

“It’s easy to start a brothel, amigo, when you know the right whores.”

Diego threw back his head and laughed. His laughter mingled with eddies of animated conversation from the glittering throng of aristocratic guests swirling across the gun deck below. From the quarterdeck above, the lilting strains of a galliard floated over the balmy night.

Calyx inhaled deeply from his cigarro and savored the biting sweetness of New World tobacco curling around his tongue. It was his latest vice, acquired while he patrolled the warm turquoise waters of the Spanish Main.

“Besides, Diego,” he murmured, “the señoras are my gift to the good people of Lisbon for hosting the floating disaster of this Armada in their harbor these many months. For them, the women come free of charge tonight. So we can hardly call the Arcángel a brothel, si?

“Si, capitán, as you say.” His primero crossed himself with a pious air. “After all, we are one of the foremost galleons of this holy Enterprise.”

The irreverent knave broke into another merry peal of laughter. Calyx grinned around his cigarro. Through a cloud of fragrant smoke, he scanned the crowded expanse of decks, masts, rigging and artillery before him.

He barely noticed the bevy of dusky-skinned beauties in their colorful gowns—the most expensive whores in Portugal—their indolent fans wafting in the warm spring air.

Instead, Calyx assessed the armed men stationed discreetly on the fighting deck, the sentries he’d posted near the lethal demi-culverin cannons and the hatch where powder and ordnance were stored.

No English spy would slip aboard on his watch to work mischief on his ship.

At least not yet.

Even the company of his fellow officers—noble captains from the assorted galleons, galleys, galleasses and hulks cobbled together for this Armada—only heightened his vigilance. Calyx was too keenly aware of their simmering resentment over his leading role in the coming venture. Their pride chafed at being forced to defer to a half-English pirate. These men would never thank him for leading the powerful armored crescent of the Spanish fleet through England’s tricky coastal waters to her vulnerable shores.

To the contrary, he knew a few Spanish dons who would cheerfully kill for the honor.

And every man, woman and child in Lisbon knew the mighty Armada would finally launch tomorrow. For a saboteur, tonight would be the night to strike.

If not for the king’s ransom in Spanish gold he’d been offered for the coming slaughter—to say nothing of his own hidden agenda—Calyx would have gladly given up the Arcángel’s place in this ill-omened venture. He’d cast the horoscope of this Armada. He hadn’t seen planets aligned so disastrously in his lifetime.

But he could hardly share his arcane knowledge with his pious godfather, the man who relied upon divine intervention to fill the gaping holes in his invasion strategy. Philip would have them sail at once, and their dithering new Admiral of the Ocean Sea had finally issued the orders.

Frowning, Calyx scanned the tide of chaos below, where a wave of late-arriving guests disembarked from the longboat. Men in jewel-studded doublets and formal uniforms scaled the ladder to the deck. The ladies in their billowing skirts and farthingales were winched aboard giggling in the chair.

As his watchful gaze skimmed the process, a vivid splash of crimson snared his eye. A solitary lady had spurned the protracted nonsense of the chair to scale the ladder under her own steam.

Undaunted by billowing yards of ruby damask and the frothing layers of petticoats beneath, she’d deftly flipped up the encumbrance of her wheel-shaped farthingale to climb unimpeded. She shimmied up the ladder in a flurry of petticoats lavishly trimmed with gold damask.

As he stared, the lady slid a shapely leg sheathed in silk stocking and gartered in scarlet ribbon over the gunwale, then scrambled nimbly onto the gun deck. There she stood, unconcerned, gracefully settling the superstructure of farthingale, petticoats, gown and overskirt around her. The costly sea of crimson-and-gold settled demurely into place over neat vermilion slippers.

Calyx was riveted.

Along with every other red-blooded male on deck.

As a sea of heads turned toward her, the lady in red shook open an elegant fan of Venetian lace. The fashionable accessory obscured her features—a subterfuge that both frustrated and enticed. Her entire bearing proclaimed her utter indifference for the sensation she’d created.

Already the unmistakable murmur of scandal was sweeping the decks. The deep rumble of masculine appreciation underscored a sea of hissing whispers. Not all the women aboard his ship were whores. Lisbon’s devout señoras would never forgive that shocking display of silk-clad thigh.

To say nothing of the crimson garter.

Calyx himself was certain the searing sensuality of the image would be permanently branded on his brain.

He hoped the lady would not be dismayed if the rapier-sharp tongues at his fiesta left her reputation in tatters.

Indeed, she seemed remarkably undaunted by the prospect of social ruin. Already a short, stocky figure in a lavish uniform strode forward to greet her, arms flung wide in welcome. With utter composure, the lady extended an elegant hand for his kiss.

“Well, well,” Diego murmured in his ear, making Calyx twitch. He’d forgotten his primero’s presence. “So the lady of the hour arrives, and our esteemed admiral himself rushes to welcome her.”

With difficulty, Calyx tore his fascinated gaze from the scene below, where the scarlet lady had been rapidly enveloped by the Armada’s senior officers. She reminded him of a trim pinnace, fast and fleet like any good scout ship—enclosed by the lumbering galleons of the Spanish fleet.

“The lady of the hour? What the Devil do you mean by that?”

“Can it be you don’t know?” Beneath a jaunty cap of russet velvet, his friend’s brown eyes danced with mischief in lean suntanned features. “Truly, amigo, you must spend less time in your cabin buried in star charts, gears and wheels, and more time in the taberna drinking good Spanish wine with your friends.”

“I stand corrected.” Calyx swept him an elegant leg. He and Diego had sailed together for years, but not even to his trusted right hand would he divulge the alarming omens he’d seen in their planets.

Sailors were a superstitious lot. They fought to join Calyx’s crews because he was a skilled captain and his ships were considered lucky. Whatever calamities befell the coming venture, he intended to sail the Arcángel and her crew deftly through them—unless his angels and his luck utterly deserted him.

“Indulge me, Diego.” He waved his cigarro toward the lady who’d captivated the entire senior command. “Who is she?”

Diego pursed his lips beneath his graying mustache.

“She’s our benefactress, or so they whisper. A French countess—one of the Catholic faction—who fled south to escape the turmoil in Paris. On his deathbed, her elderly husband changed his will and poured his entire fortune into Philip’s coffers to support the English conquest. They say he did it at her behest.”

“Generous of her.” Calyx inhaled a mouthful of fragrant smoke. His practiced gaze ran over the countess’s trim, sophisticated figure.

The deep crimson damask that encased her lush curves appeared costly enough. But to a pirate’s eye, the fiery starburst ruby glittering against the breathtaking swell of her creamy breasts appeared a bit too brilliant.

He wondered if the countess’s jewels were counterfeit. If so, perhaps she regretted the madcap impulse that had poured her widow’s inheritance into the bottomless hole of Philip’s war chest.

But the lady appeared anything but melancholy. He could see naught of her face from this angle save the brim of a stylish French hood framing a rather stubborn little chin. But as the visiting capitán of the galleass Girona lingered over her hand, the husky chime of her laughter floated over the din. The don looked captivated as he gazed into her face.

Evidently the French countess had just made another conquest.

Calyx realized he too was staring at the mysterious beauty, cigarro dangling neglected from his fingers. Grunting, he knocked a burning cinder from the tip into the night-dark sea.

“Tell me, Diego. What’s the name of our alluring French widow?”

“Jayne Boleyn, the Comtesse de Boulaine.” Diego had a sailor’s inveterate love of gossip. His comprehensive knowledge of the social fabric aboard ship and in port stood Calyx in good stead.

This time, he wondered if his primero had made a rare mistake.

“Boleyn? That can’t be right. Elizabeth Tudor’s mother was a Boleyn—the ill-fated Anne, who lost her head for witchcraft and adultery. It was the scandal of Europe, si? There was some relation called Jane, I seem to recall, somehow mixed up in the escándalo. But that was fifty years ago.”

Diego raised a callused finger. “But Anne Boleyn was raised at the French court, eh? Her father was the English ambassador in Paris. There was a bastardo or something, later ennobled by French Louis, who chose a Catholic wife. The old Comte de Boulaine sprang from that connection.”

The older man paused. “Besides, Lady Jayne there is Ingleza. She only married into the French Boleyns.”

“An Englishwoman? Loyal to Spain, against her own Queen?”

“Ah, there was some royal scandal at the Tudor court, quickly hushed up. Young Lady Jayne was bundled off to Paris and a hasty marriage to the old Comte.” Diego tutted. “Imagine! The poor muchacha was booted out of her homeland and married off to a gouty old invalid. There ought to be a law against it.”

Cristo!” Calyx muttered. “Not surprising there’s no love lost between the countess and her old sovereign. Even so—an Englishwoman aboard my ship?”

“What are you going to do, pitch her over the side?” Beneath his mustache, Diego’s lips quirked. “You’re half-English yourself, amigo.

Calyx’s gut knotted, as always at any mention of his antecedents. If the rest of Spain knew what he did about his father’s fate, he’d lose his command and the King’s commission. Not to mention the finca—his rural estate in Castile, the childhood prison he would not miss—and the damned title he despised.

His father must be turning in his grave, the old devil. Not that Calyx cared.

Rodrigo, the old Conde de Zamorra, had repudiated him.

The title and the finca could go to Hell, as far as Calyx was concerned. The Arcángel was all that mattered, the life he’d built for himself with his own blood and sweat after he lost the privileged life of a Spanish grandee.

That was what he stood to lose, along with his royal patron and the letter of marque that lent the protection of the Spanish navy to his risky ventures on the high seas, if the incendiary allegation of his English mother’s infidelity slipped out.

The exposure would ruin him.

“Never fear, Diego.” Beneath his primero’s sharp eyes, his mouth curled in a mocking smile. “If I pitched our Ingleza overboard, I’d have the entire Spanish command howling for my blood, by the look of it.”

Below them, the tall capitán of the San Juan de Portugal was leaning to murmur in the countess’s ear, one swarthy hand curled intimately around her elbow—a bare inch from the enticing swell of her breast. As he watched, Jayne Boleyn tapped her fan playfully against the importunate hand and slipped away. In a swirl of scarlet damask, she reclaimed the admiral’s attention.

But she coupled the maneuver with a coy backward glance that pulled her spurned suitor after her like a lodestone, undismayed by her graceful rebuff.

Smoothly done. Calyx grinned appreciatively. Clearly the countess knew how to manage her admirers.

“You’re intrigued by her, of course.” Diego nodded. “Like every other red-blooded male who crosses her path. She has quite a reputation with the señors, that one—nearly as bad as your reputation with the señoras! Even before the old Comte died, her string of lovers included the most influential monsieurs in France. King Henry himself was said to be taken with her, if you can credit it.”

“Oh, I can credit it,” Calyx murmured, fascinated by the scandalous beauty holding court below. Clinging to the admiral’s arm, she’d managed to detach herself from the rest of her admirers. Together, the pair drifted toward the fighting deck, high and private in the stern.

He’d yet to see her face, but the very air around her sparkled with charm and wit. How effortlessly she enchanted everyone around her—even that stiff, pious prig of an admiral.

The Comtesse de Boulaine moved with a languid sensuality that drew men after her like a compass swinging to true north.

Yet to his eye, her casual progress toward the less populated decks seemed far too purposeful. There was nothing aft to interest a lady—except the officers’ cabins, including his own. Could she possibly be so brazen, so hot-blooded, that she sought an assignation with the Admiral of the Ocean Sea in another man’s bunk?

If so, the lady’s audacity was staggering—and his admiration for her sexual appetite knew no bounds. A woman of Jayne Boleyn’s spirit and passion had no business in the bed of a timid-hearted monk like Don Alonso. That liaison would be a crime against nature—especially when Calyx himself was more than willing to oblige her.

One last tumble before the protracted abstinence of a sea voyage. His angels must be watching over him.

Grinning, the capitán of the Arcángel took a last pull from his cigarro and flicked the burning stub into the briny deep.

“Come, Diego,” he murmured. “Go down to the orlop deck and check on the sentries at the powder store and the gunroom. Any man asleep or drunk on duty will answer to me.”

“Si, capitán.” Diego’s brown eyes gleamed. “Where should I find you if there’s a problem?”

“Don’t look for me, you old salt.” Anticipation and arousal simmering in his blood, Calyx aimed a friendly clout at the older man’s shoulder and strode past him. “Tonight I plan to savor the warm hospitality of England.”