Escape! It was all she could think of, all she could
dream. The word possessed her, crowding her thoughts and
blotting her senses until it formed a prison all its
own.Silver Jones sank down on the low wooden cot in the
corner of the rat-infested storeroom. Her blood still
pumped from her latest unsuccessful effort: stacking heavy
wooden crates and boxes one atop the other; then climbing
the unstable pyramid to the small dirty window a dozen
feet above her head.
This morning she had finally succeeded in prying open a
side door, and though she hadn't found an avenue of escape
and only succeeded in tearing her nails and bloodying her
fingers, she did find enough boxes in the adjoining room
to build her shaky ladder.
Damn it to hell! Silver slammed her slender fist against
the cot, then cursed again for her self-inflicted pain.
She'd been so sure that once she reached the window she'd
be able to squeeze through the opening and make her
escape. Instead she'd discovered, even as slenderly built
as she was, the opening was just too small. Hours of
shouting for help had only made her hoarse.
Silver released a weary sigh and glanced at her dismal
surroundings. Along with the heavy boxes and her narrow
wooden cot, a chipped pink porcelain water pitcher sat in
a basin on an upturned crate next to a partly burned
candle. The place smelled moldy and abandoned. Flies
buzzed above a tray laden with a half-eaten crust of bread
and an empty bowl of mutton stew.From the corner of her
eye, Silver spotted the gray-brown fur of a rat as it
skittered behind a hogs-head barrel in the corner, and
clenched her teeth to stifle a scream. God, she hatedthe
dirty little creatures. Bugs and spiders she could stand;
there were lots of them where she came from. And lots of
them here in the hot and humid climate of Savannah.
But rats--even tiny little field mice--were another matter
Silver shivered as the race raced by just a few feet away
and eventually disappeared. Ignoring thoughts of when it
might return, she ran her fingers through her hair,
tugging at a snarl here and there, and worked to comb out
some of the tangles. The long, usually glistening silver
strands that had inspired her nickname hung in grayish
ropes around her face. Her low-cut white cotton peasant
blouse and simple brown skirt, the uniform of the tavern
maid at the White Horse Inn, where she had been working,
were stained from the grime that covered the walls and
floors and torn in several places.
At least they hadn't mistreated her. Just spotted her in
the tavern, then waited in the alley until she finished
her duties and left for her small attic bedchamber above
the carriage house in the rear.
"It's her all right," the tallest man had whispered, just
before his hand clamped over her mouth. Using the heavy
weight of his body, he had forced her up against the
building. "Hair as pale as spun silver, eyes like soft
brown velvet, skin so fair and smooth makes a man itch to
"Don't get any ideas," Ferdinand Pinkard warned. "You know
the deal--the girl goes back in good condition. There'll
be no reward if she's been harmed."
"Bloody hell!" Silver cursed behind the man's foul-
smelling fingers. Struggling wildly, she lashed out with
her slender hands and feet. One solid blow connected with
a heavy calf, eliciting a yelp of pain and a string of
oaths, and her free hand clawed the side of the tall man's
face. With vicious determination, she sank her teeth into
"You damned hellion!" He shook her so hard she feared her
neck might break.
"You'd better behave yourself, Miss Jones," Pinkard
warned. The chill in his voice sent a tremor of fear down
her spine. "It's a long way back--plenty of time for a few
minor bruises to heal."
Wiping at the blood on his cheek, the tall man tightened
his hold. "You damnable she-devil." Lacing his hand
through her hair, he jerked her head back until tears
stung her eyes.
"Careful, Julian." Pinkard's voice rang with a note of
sarcasm. "We wouldn't want His Lordship to be displeased."
There were four of them: two burly sailors, the tall,
spidery man with the rancid breath who held her, and
"How did you find me?" Silver asked through clenched
teeth, fighting the pain in her arm that the man called
Julian twisted up behind her back. "How--how did you know
where to look?"
One of the sailors, a big, red-haired, mustached man,
chuckled softly. "Pinkard could find the last rat on a
sinkin' ship. That pale hair o'yours--and a face just as
perty--you weren't hardly no trouble a'tall."
Silver felt a wave of despair. She had come so far, been
so sure this time she would succeed. She wasn't really
afraid; she knew exactly what these men wanted. Though
she'd done her best to throw them off her trail, she
should have known someone would find her.
She should have known he would never let her go.Arms bound
behind her, an oily rag stuffed into her mouth and tied so
tight she could barely breathe, Silver had little choice
but to let Pinkard and his henchmen drag her into the
darkness of a waiting carriage. Stay calm, she told
herself over and over. Keep your wits about you. You've
come too far to fail now.
Working to control her pounding heart, she leaned against
the padded wall of the sleek black carriage, listening to
the clatter of the wheels against the cobblestone streets,
then to the whir of wooden spokes as the road became a
dusty lane. She should have kept running, should have gone
She thought of the misery she had left behind and could
almost taste the blood in her mouth, feel the heavy blows
of his fists. How many times had she suffered his abuse?
How many times had she quietly submitted, believing she
somehow deserved it, sure each time would be the last? How
many times had she rebelled and fought him and in the end
endured far worse?
Silver watched the passing blur of darkness outside the
carriage window. God in heaven, would this nightmare never
It hadn't taken long to reach their destination--an old
abandoned warehouse somewhere distant from the docks.
Pinkard had locked her in, leaving her bound and gagged
all night just to make his authority clear. Her arms and
mouth felt numb by morning, her tongue dry and swollen.
She wished she could cry, but she didn't dare. There
wasn't room for weakness, wasn't room for tears.
In the early hours of the morning, Pinkard returned with
one of his men, bringing water and something to eat, and
releasing her from her bonds. They had come each day
since, always careful, never sending a man alone, never
allowing her to get too near them. They'd been schooled
well--the man who would pay for her return had told them
in no uncertain terms exactly how desperate she was.
Major Morgan Trask strode the long wooden dock toward the
ship Savannah, just arrived from Charleston. As always, he
admired her low, sleek lines, her graceful bowsprit
arching out over the water, the two tall masts of stout
spruce that soared upward into the dark night sky. Above
them, clouds covered the moon, and a heavy drizzle hinted
at a mild spring storm.
Morgan had owned the 145-foot topsail schooner for the
past six month, but he rarely captained her. He'd given up
that wandering existence last year since the profits he'd
long saved and invested had made him a wealthy man.
As he strode the dock, Morgan caught his reflection on the
surface of the water, his tall, broad-shouldered image
rippling with the incoming tide, his dark blond hair
mussed by the wind. Over the years he'd grown used to the
jagged scar that marked his cheek, but he found the
military uniform he now wore, with its garish gold bars
and shiny brass buttons, far too pretentious. He much
preferred the dark brown breeches he usually wore at sea,
often without even a shirt.
But the Texians--as the newspapers sometimes called them
and they often called themselves--had insisted on the
formality of his rank. "It just wouldn't do," Stephen
Pearson, President Lamar's representative, had said during
his most persuasive visit, "for a civilian--a man not even
a citizen of the republic--to be involved in a weapons
negotiation with the British."
They'd decided on the temporary commission of major in the
Texas Marines. A man with enough rank to command respect,
but not so much that the British liaison might feel
The offer the Texians made had intrigued him from the
start. It was a chance to sail the seas again, a chance
for a little more adventure. But the real motivation for
Morgan's acceptance of the Texians' proposal was his worry
for his brother.Always brash and impetuous, Brendan Trask
had been intrigued by the vast landscape and the limitless
possibilities the young Republic of Texas had to offer. He
had left Georgia two years ago and promptly enlisted in
the Texas Marines. Now he was on assignment in Mexico,
where his countrymen had gone to assist the Federalist
rebels in an attempt to overthrow the Mexican government,
a constant source of harassment for the fledgling Texas
Republic. Brendan was bound to be in the thick of it. This
trip would give Morgan a chance to check on him, assure
himself that Brendan was safe.
Morgan climbed over the port taffrail onto the deck of the
Savannah, nearly empty of crew since most had gone ashore.
He had bought the vessel on a whim--not that it wasn't a
damned good investment. Owning the schooner had been a way
of keeping in touch with the sea that had so long been his
home. Now he was glad he had.
Morgan strode the deck toward the wheelhouse, looking for
Solomon Speight, the man who usually captained the ship on
her trading voyages along the coast. Morgan spoke to Sol
only briefly, while the lanky gray-haired man collected
his gear and left to go ashore.
"It'll be good to have a little time off," Sol said with a
smile. He shook Morgan's hand and walked toward the rail
with a rolling seaman's stride. "A man needs some time to
himself once in a while."Morgan didn't believe a word of
it. The sea was in Sol's blood; he was the kind of man
whose bones would wind up in Davy Jones's locker. Morgan
trusted him implicitly, but the Texians had insisted
Morgan command the ship himself. Besides, it would be good
to leave the comforts of his Abercorn Street mansion,
leave the demanding schedule of his cotton business behind
and take the helm of a ship again.
"Good evening, Major," came a voice from the ladder
leading down to the main salon, an elegantly appointed
room where the captain and first mate and any passengers
who might be aboard took their meals. Paneled in oak with
carved built-in hutches in each corner, the room centered
on a heavy oak table and chairs. Behind it lay the plush
captain's cabin and another small room that adjoined for
the steward or cabin boy. "I'm Lieutenant Hamilton Riley.
I'll be your attachÅ½ for this leg of the journey."
Riley climbed down the ladder, and Morgan shook his hand,
noticing the slim but confident grip. "Nice to meet you,
Lieutenant. Anything new I should know?"
"Nothing important. Trip appears to be pretty routine. We
meet the Brits in Barbados, trade the cotton for sugar,
the sugar for guns, then take the arms on down to the
Yucatâ€¡n. The Texas troops are holding their own, but these
additional weapons will certainly be useful."
Riley looked no more than twenty, though Morgan knew from
his file that he was twenty-three. With his sandy hair and
light blue eyes, Ham had the look of an innocent--which,
even after his years at West Point, in many ways he was.
"We should be ready to leave in two more days," Morgan
"That's fine. We've plenty of time before our scheduled
rendezvous. In fact, we'll probably arrive well before the
"Any other Texians coming aboard?" Morgan asked.
"There'll be five of us in all, counting myself. I
understand you'll be sailing with a crew of fifteen."
"That's right. She'll carry as many as fifty, but I don't
expect a difficult voyage, and the fewer people involved,
The young lieutenant grinned, exposing a dimple in his
cheek that made him look even younger. "Quite right, sir."
"If you need me for anything else, you can find me in my
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant said with a smart salute.
"And you can cut all that military cock and bull right
now. A simple 'yes, sir' from you and your men will do
"Yes, sir," he repeated, snapping another salute. Then his
ears turned red with embarrassment.
"That's all, Lieutenant." Morgan fought a smile of
amusement as Hamilton Riley turned and hurried up the
ladder.After crossing the salon to his quarters, Morgan
sat down at his desk and began going over his orders and
any last-minute details he might need to know before their
departure. As soon as the rum in the hold had been off-
loaded and replaced with cotton, they'd be on their way.
Morgan almost smiled. After the hectic pace he'd been
leading, he looked forward to a few restful weeks at sea.
He could almost hear the sound of canvas snapping in the
cool dawn breeze, see the clear blue waters of the
Caribbean rushing beneath the hull. Morgan could hardly
"Better wrap that blanket around ya," the red-haired
sailor warned. "It's startin' to rain pretty hard."
Though the scratchy wool itched something fierce, Silver
did as she was told. Maybe they would leave her hands free
to hold on to it, and she could find the opening she'd
been seeking, catch them off guard, and make her escape.
"Not a chance, girlie," the one named Julian said, yanking
her arms out in front of her and lashing her wrists
together. He stuffed his dirty handkerchief into her mouth
and tied another around her head, securing the first one
They tossed the blanket over her shoulders but left her
head exposed to the wind and rain as they tugged her out
the door. Dodging the rapidly growing puddles on the
muddy, water-soaked street, they made their way to the
carriage some distance away. By the time the men had
Silver settled across from a dry Ferdinand Pinkard, her
blanket had fallen in the mud and been left behind, and
her clothes and hair were plastered wetly to her body.
Though the other men's eyes homed in on the soft mounds of
her breasts, the way her skirts clung to her hips and
thighs, Pinkard just smiled.
"You're looking a bit bedraggled, my dear. Let's hope the
good major can provide a change of clothing.
"Damn you to hell! Silver silently raged. If there were
ever a man on this earth who deserved the wrath of the
Lord, it was this one. Dark-complected beneath his pencil-
thin mustache, the Spaniard was as heartless a pursuer as
ever she could have encountered. Back home she'd heard his
name often. He was a man who hired himself out for a
price, and no job was too demeaning, no task too
The carriage pulled up at the docks, the door swung open,
and the three men who rode outside lifted her onto the
street. Pinkard pulled his narrow-brimmed hat down low,
his long black cloak more firmly around him, and followed
"Watch your step," Julian warned, jerking her roughly over
the rail of the ship and onto the deck.
"We've something to discuss with the major," Pinkard told
a sandy-haired man in a dark blue uniform.
"He's in his cabin," the young man said. "Whom shall I say
"Ferdinand Pinkard. Tell him I've a treasure of some worth
that belongs to a friend of his."
The soldier eyed her curiously, taking in her wet clothes,
bound hands, and the gag in her mouth. With a sympathetic
glance, he went below, only to return a few minutes
later. "He says you can go on down."
"Thank you." Pinkard turned to the others--"You two wait
here"--then to Julian, who gripped her arm in a
deathlock. "Let's go."Down the ladder, across the salon, a
quick knock on the low wooden door, and a deep voice told
them to come in. Juilan thrust her through the opening,
making her stumble; Pinkard stepped in behind her; then
Julian walked back outside.
"What the hell's going on?"
Silver's brown eyes swung to the tall dark blond man with
the scar on his cheek who surged to his feet at their
"Salena," Pinkard said to her, using her given name, "this
is Major Morgan Trask, recently of the Texas Marines." He
arched a thin black brow in amusement and looked at her as
if expecting her to give a formal greeting in return. "I'm
afraid Salena can't answer," he said to the major, "but
I'm sure she's pleased to meet a man who was once her
Silver cursed behind her gag and tried to kick the
Spaniard in the shins. She got a ringing slap across the
face for her effort. The tall major's brutal grip on
Pinkard's arm and his hard warning glance stilled the blow
that would have followed."I asked you what's going on,"
the major said. "Now either you tell me, or I untie the
girl and she tells me."
"I wouldn't advise that if I were you. Salena has a
"So it would seem."
"The friend I'm speaking of is the earl of Kent."
The major seemed annoyed by Pinkard's game. He was a tall
man, well built, without an ounce of excess flesh. The
scar on his cheek gave him a hard look but didn't detract
from the strong line of his jaw or his straight patrician
"What's she got to do with William?" he asked.
Pinkard chuckled softly, and his thin mustache tilted up
in a crooked half-smile. "That dark-eyed, vile-tempered
bundle you see before you is none other than his
daughter." He untied the gag and pulled it from her mouth.
Silver cursed him roundly and tried to kick him
again. "Major Morgan Trask meet Lady Salena Hardwick-
Jones."Morgan's practiced eye moved over her. She stood no
taller than the average female, but the way she lifted her
chin and squared her shoulders made her seem so. Her
stringy gray-blond hair clung to a pair of smooth pale
breasts that rose and fell above the low-cut bodice of her
"My name is Silver Jones," she said. "I work at the White
Horse Inn on Bay Street. This man is out of his mind."
Morgan's mouth twitched in what, under different
circumstances, might have had the makings of a smile. Even
with her dirty face and soggy garments, he couldn't miss
William's defiant stance with its healthy dose of
arrogance or Mary's big brown eyes and thick-fringed
lashes. The slim, straight nose and delicate cheekbones
were all Silver Jones.
"Silver, is it? Not Lady Salena?" The last time he'd seen
William, Morgan had been a youth of fifteen. The earl of
Kent had been a friend of his late father's, friend and
mentor to him. Salena had been a toddler, smiling and
climbing up on her father's knee.
Then William had broken with family tradition and set off
on his own. He bought a tiny island in the West Indies
named Katonga that he had never seen and sailed away to
run a plantation. Time and again Morgan had wondered about
him but had never taken the time to visit.
It was beginning to look as though he'd finally get the
"I told you my name is Silver. I work at the White Horse
Inn. These gentlemen are mistaken."
Morgan ignored her, turning his attention instead to
Pinkard. "What exactly is it you want me to do with her?"
"Take her home," the Spaniard said simply, "which, you may
rest assured, will be no easy task."
Morgan fastened his eyes on Salena. Wet clear through, the
bodice of her blouse revealed a pair of pert pink nipples
that had hardened against the cold and a waist so narrow
he could span it with his hands.
"Why did you run away?" He forced his eyes back up to her
face and noticed the dirt that smudged her chin, covering
a dainty cleft in the center. A tinge of pink crept into
her cheeks, as if she knew where his eyes had been.
"She's bent on marrying a man her father deems unfit,"
Pinkard answered for her. "Some ruffian who passed through
on his way to the States. Her father forbade the marriage,
so she's run after the scurvy fellow."
"You're a liar, Pinkard," she spat."And you're not Lady
Salena," Morgan said mockingly. "You're just Silver Jones,
a hardworking tavern wench who's here only by mistake."
Silver didn't answer. If Morgan Trask was a friend of her
father's, there was nothing left to say.
"Why come to me?" the major asked Pinkard.
"Believe it or not, beneath all that mud, Silver is a
beautiful young woman. There are few men I'd trust to see
her safely returned."
"You mean there are few men you'd trust to get her there
unharmed so you can get paid."
Morgan had known Pinkard and his sell-his-soul-for-a-
dollar business dealings for years. He wasn't surprised to
find him returning a runaway girl to her grieving parents
for money--but he was surprised to find the wayward young
lady was Salena Hardwick-Jones.
"My sources tell me you're headed for Barbados," Pinkard
added. "Katonga isn't far out of the way. You can return
the girl and pick up my money. And William will see you're
taken care of as well--unless, of course, you want me to
"Not a chance, Pinkard. An hour with you is just about all
I can stand."
Pinkard let the words pass. "Then you'll take the girl
"I seem to have no other choice. I'm not about to leave
her with you and your thugs. She may not whet your
appetite"--he glanced once more in the girl's direction,
at her nipped-in waist and the alluring curves of her
breasts and thighs--"but I don't doubt the others would
find her a tasty morsel. I'm surprised you've been able to
keep them in line this long--assuming you have."
"I assure you the lady's virtue remains intact. William
was quite adamant about that." He arched a black
brow. "Speaking of which, I hope I can count on your
loyalty to William to overrule the sexual prowess women
seem to find so attractive in you."
Silver glanced at Morgan, who shot her a look that told
her exactly the appeal she held for him. She was dirty and
ragged and rain-soaked. And she hadn't bathed in a week.
"Don't say it," she warned, watching his eyes move over
her soggy clothes and matted hair. Handsome or not, he was
just a man. What he thought of her meant nothing.Morgan
"Take care, Major," Pinkard cautioned as he turned to
leave. "She'll do anything to keep from going back to
Katonga. I'd watch my back if I were you."
"I'll keep that in mind." The major's look said Pinkard's
warning concerned him not in the least.Good, Silver
thought. A man who underestimates his opponent is the
easiest to defeat.
"You know where to find me," Morgan finished. "I'll have
your blood money ready and waiting when I get back."
"You do that, Major. Both William and I are more than
grateful for your assistance--even if it has been given
with some reluctance." With a last glance at Silver,
Pinkard walked out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
Morgan turned his attention to Salena Hardwick-Jones.
Though she held her head high, there were smudges beneath
her eyes that betrayed her fatigue, and her wrists were
chapped and raw from the too-tight bindings. His brows
drew together as he assessed the red mark across her cheek
left by Pinkard's hand. The bastard hadn't the conscience
God gave a snake.Pulling open the door, he leaned into the
passageway and caught the attention of Hamilton Riley, who
sat waiting in the salon. Morgan explained to him about
their newest traveling companion, then asked him to have
Cookie, the ship's cook, heat water for a bath.
"She'll need something dry to wear," Morgan
added. "Jordy's about her size. Get something from him."
Jordan Little was his cabin boy, a youth of just thirteen.
Once the tasks had been set in motion, Morgan stepped back
inside and closed the door. "We need to talk, Salena."
"My name is Silver."
He watched her for a moment, noting the rise and fall of
her high, round breasts, the color that tinted her cheeks.
Even tired and bedraggled, and wet clear to her bones, she
had an air about her. Morgan scoffed at the idea of
aristocratic bloodlines that William held so dear, and
yet . . .
"If that's the name you prefer--"
"It's the only name I'll answer to."
Morgan ignored a pinprick of anger. If he just took it
slowly, made her understand that her father had only her
best interests in mind, the girl would soon settle down
and accept the inevitable."
If you promise to behave, I'll cut your bindings."
Silver nodded. Morgan slid a small stag-handled knife from
the sheath at his waist and slit the leather thongs that
bound her wrists. She glanced toward the door."Don't even
think about it," he warned.
"I was just hoping the bath would hurry." It was a lie,
and they both knew it."You father was a friend of mine,"
he told her, hoping to ease the moment. "We knew each
other in London." But at his words, she grew only more
tense. She glanced away for an instant; then her brown
eyes fixed on a point on the wall above his head.
"What are you planning to do with me?"
"I'm going to take you home."
You're going to try, Silver thought. "I don't suppose
there's anything I could say to change your mind."
"I owe your father. It's a debt I've never repaid. Seeing
his daughter returned to him safely is the least I can do."
A shiver raced up Silver's spine.
"You're cold." Morgan stepped toward her, but Silver
instinctively stepped away. "I was just going to get you a
"The bath will warm me enough."A soft knock sounded at the
door. The major opened it, and two young seamen walked in,
one with a heavy copper bathing tub, the other carrying
dry clothes tucked beneath his arm and two steaming tin
pails. The cabin boy, a youth with auburn hair, freckles,
and wide hazel eyes, arrived with a pot of tea, cold
chicken, and cheese.
Silver had to admit the bath and food looked good. As soon
as she was clean and dry and had eaten her fill, she would
plan her next move.
"I'll be just outside if you need anything," Morgan told
her when the men had left. He stepped out into the
"Thank you, Major." It was all she could do not to smile.
The man underestimated her sorely. She'd be bathed,
dressed, and away before he knew what had hit him.And hit
him she would. One solid blow to the top of his dark blond
head, and he would be out for the night. She would do her
best not to hurt him, but he had left her no choice.She
shivered inside her wet clothing and glanced at the
steaming hot water. In the meantime, she looked forward
with relish to the moments she would spend in the tub.