I’m delighted to announce publication at the end of this month of my 24th book and 9th historical romance, Devil’s Prize.
Set against a background of the Revolutionary wars with France, Cornish smuggler Devlin “Devil” Varcoe braves ferocious winter weather and revenue men to fetch the contraband on which Porthinnis depends for survival.
Though drawn to Jenefer Trevanion, whose father finances the smuggling operation, Devlin is bewitched by beautiful wild-child, Tamara Gillis.
When fire destroys her home, killing her father, Jenefer is forced to work in the pilchard cellars.
Meanwhile, craving Tamara for himself, Thomas Varcoe, bitterly jealous of his brother, plots to kill him.
Rejected by Devlin, a pregnant Tamara is pressured by her mother to marry Thomas.
Betrayed by Thomas and captured by the customs cutter, Devlin negotiates freedom for himself and his crew by volunteering to rescue a British agent from France only to be caught in the worst storm in living memory.
It is only when he faces death that Devlin finally recognises the love he never believed he deserved. Then, within sight of the beach, disaster strikes, and he faces a terrible choice.
He stayed where he was, holding the door and trying to ignore the quick clench in his gut. His attraction to her was wrong for both of them. He had plans for his future and they didn’t include her. He frowned.
“Are you mad, coming here like this? What do you think you’re doing?”
She swallowed. She had expected him to be surprised even irritated. But surely he realised she would never have called on him at home unaccompanied, not without a very good reason. “Getting wetter and colder, and wondering why I bothered.”
“Tamara, if this is your idea of a game - ”
“I don’t play games, Devlin. Not with you.”
His expression signalled disbelief. “Oh no?”
She tossed her head impatiently. “Of course I tease you. How else am I to get your attention? But I’m here now because of something I heard. Something you should know about. It’s important.”
“It could have waited until morning.” Damn the girl. What was he supposed to do? Shut the door in her face? Jenefer Trevanion wouldn’t dream of pulling a trick like this. She was a lady. While Tamara – how in the name of sweet Jesus did you describe Tamara? Able to mimic decorum when it suited her, her behaviour the rest of the time was determinedly unconventional. Yet for all that there was nothing common or vulgar about her. He almost wished there were. For then she would be easy to ignore, forget. Instead she had worked her way under his skin like a barb. Nuisance, irritant, impossible to dislodge she was …herself, unique. And should not be here.
“Oh yes?” Scorn lifted her brows. “I should call on you in broad daylight with all your neighbours watching? They’d enjoy that. Besides, how often are you at home in the daytime? If you’re not on a run you’re out fishing.” She shivered. “Look, are you going to invite me in or shall I just stand here and tell you? Of course it will be all round the village by tomorrow. But if you don’t mind everyone knowing your private business...”
“God’s blood, girl.” He wrenched the door wide. “It’s you they’ll be gossiping about.”
She shrugged, tilting her chin defiantly. “They’ve been doing that all my life.”
Ignoring the shadows in her eyes, telling himself they were caused by the wavering candle flame, he sucked in a ragged breath and clenched his teeth in frustration. Nobody had ever wrong-footed him the way she could – and did.
“If your parents had known what they were getting,” he stepped back, indicating with a jerk of his head that she should enter, “they’d have drowned you at birth.”
“Just think what you’d have missed.” She sailed past him, her shoes squelching as she snapped the umbrella closed and leaned it against the wall. Instantly a puddle formed on the wooden boards.
Closing the door he raked a hand through tousled curls still damp from his own soaking. “Do they know you’re here?”
He shot her a warning glare. “Your parents.”
Her brief wry glance gave him the answer. She fumbled the buttons on her coat, her fingers stiff and clumsy. “They’d only worry. Besides, this has nothing to do with them.”
“For heaven’s sake, it’s not even six o’clock yet.“
“But it’s dark. Tamara, you shouldn’t – “
“Do stop fussing, Devlin. I’m not a child.”
His gaze flicked from her heavy-lidded green eyes to her full mouth and down to the curves beneath her close fitting coat. He bit back an oath. She was young, not yet twenty. But she was right. That teasing gaze, husky voice and deliciously rounded body were certainly not those of a child.
She had come here of her own free will and more or less blackmailed her way inside. Trying to protect her reputation – such as it was – had won him no thanks. Indeed he had been ordered to stop fussing. So be it. She could go to the devil. Was probably well on her way already. Why should he worry? She was nothing to him. Oh no? His inner self mocked with bitter amusement. She fired his blood that was all. No, that wasn’t all. She was wild and unpredictable and he had trouble enough in his life.
He’d been enjoying women since he was fourteen. He’d learned how to give pleasure as well as take it: a valuable lesson that made conquest easy and left smiles and sighs when he moved on. But none had touched his heart. Nor would she.
Finally managing to unfasten her coat she pulled it off and dropped it across the table. Her hair hung about her shoulders, sodden tresses dripping water down the creamy swell of her breasts and soaking the lace that edged her bodice. She raised one arm to lift the dark curls off her neck and in the lamplight raindrops glistened on her face like diamonds.
As she looked up he turned away, his teeth clamped so tightly that his jaw ached. Deliberately increasing the distance between them he crossed to the hearth and dropped another log onto the bright flames.
“You might at least offer me a towel.” She forced the words through cold-numbed lips.
Anger roared through him: at her for coming here, at himself for being unable to retain his habitual detachment. She had invaded his home and when she had gone he would still see her here, still smell her delicate floral scent with its hint of lemon. So many of the women he went with smelled of fish. Snatching up the towel he had used he tossed it at her. She flinched as she caught it then swayed.
Devlin cursed under his breath. Her cheeks were pale as candle wax. “Here.” Grabbing her upper arm he pulled her forward. “Sit down before you fall down.”
“I’m perfectly all right.” But the words lacked her usual bite and she sank without protest into the wooden armchair. She just needed a moment and she’d be fine. Coming here had seemed the logical thing to do. She had a genuine reason. And an opportunity to see him alone if only for a few minutes was not to be turned down. Yet though she would cut off her tongue sooner than admit it, stepping over the threshold had taken far more nerve than she expected.
With his back to her he poured a small measure of cognac into a pewter mug then pushed it into her hand. “Drink this.”
She peered into the mug then up at him. “What is it?”
“Poison, what else? Surely your mother has warned you about men and their wicked ways?” Hearing the sarcasm in his tone he took a deliberate breath. “It’s cognac. Think of it as medicine. It will stop the shivers.”
Raising the mug she swallowed a mouthful, coughed, and pulled a face. “Ugh. It’s like drinking fire.” She thrust the mug at him.
Devlin found her violent shudder oddly reassuring. He had expected her to be accustomed to spirits. Most of the villagers used them as a cure-all. Brandy was rubbed on the gums of teething babies, added to bedtime milk to make children sleep, swallowed to ease hunger pangs, relieve the grief of bereavement or blot out the wretchedness of poverty.
“But it does the job. Are you feeling better?”
“I’m perfectly well, thank you,” Tamara lied. She tipped her head sideways and began to rub her hair with the towel, drawing on every ounce of willpower she possessed to force back the horrible dizziness. She was wet and chilled despite having run nearly all the way. Her heart was racing and though warmth from the brandy was creeping through her limbs, her head still felt light and strange. She needed a moment, just a moment, then she’d be fine.
Devlin watched her, relieved to see colour gradually returning to her cheeks. He knew all the little tricks that women employed to attract men or convey interest. He’d been a target more times than he could count. But there was nothing of the flirt in her action. In fact she seemed so absorbed in her own thoughts he might not have been there. What was she doing? What game was this? I don’t play games with you, Devlin. Exasperation flared – directed at himself as much as at her. Like hell she didn’t. He tried to look away but found himself transfixed by the gleam of her skin in the fire’s glow: soft curves and secret hollows, highlights and shadows. A log settled and flames rose. The soft sound broke the spell and increased his anger.
“Well?” His tone was brutal.
She looked up with a start. Her eyes were wide green pools, deep and
mysterious. Eyes a man could drown in. “This important information?” Even to his own ears he sounded unnecessarily grim. It was safer that way. “Are you going to tell me, or am I supposed to guess?”