At Her Pleasure

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-09-01
  • Publisher: Harlequin
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No more Ms. Nice Girl. Thanks to Nicole Howard's accommodating ways, her life has delivered a whole lot of disappointment. Armed with a pirate queen's autobiography--aka a girl's guide to seduction and sexual empowerment--Nicole heads to the Caribbean determined to unleash her inner diva for a steamy adventure.Hottie Ian Marshall and an almost-deserted island are the perfect ingredients for a little no-strings action.In fact, this fling is giving her everything she ever wanted... and then some. Once their sensual games are over, however, will she be able to walk away from the best sex...ever?


The sunset on the ocean streaked the sky with pink and gold and turned the sea a deep vermillion.

The color of passion.

The color of romance and love and all the things that weren't a part of Nicole Howard's life right now. And maybe never would be again.

She leaned on the rail of the yacht and stared out at a horizon as empty and featureless as she felt inside. Maybe agreeing to come on this vacation with her friend, Adam Carroway, hadn't been such a great idea.

With his usual persuasiveness, Adam had made the trip sound like the perfect way to recover from losing both her lover and her job in the space of a week. They'd sail to a remote island in the Caribbean, do some diving, look for some shipwreck Adam was wild to find, get some sun and forget all about life back in Amity, Michigan.

But forgetting was proving a lot harder than Nicole had expected.

"You're thinking about him again, aren't you? Stop it."

She turned and saw Adam emerging from the ship's cabin. Broad-shouldered, barrel-chested and tanned from hours sailing on Lake Michigan, he looked nothing like the university history professor he was. Ten years older than Nicole, he had been at various times her roommate, confidant and best buddy. She thought of him as the big brother she'd never had.

He came to stand beside her on the rail. "You should have let me pound him one. Then at least you'd have the memory of him groveling to cheer you up."

She shook her head. She couldn't imagine Dr. Kenneth Brambling, chief of Amity Surgical Associates, groveling. When she'd first taken the job as nurse for the busy surgery practice, she'd been intimidated by his dignity. Later, when they'd become lovers, she'd been caught up in the aura of power with which he surrounded himself.

Only recently had she realized Kenneth's dignity was merely arrogance, and the power an inflated sense of his own importance, and a callousness that had shocked her—and broken her heart. "Beating him up wouldn't have gotten either of us anything except maybe a lawsuit," she said.

"Might have made him think twice about cheating on another woman."

"I doubt it." As soon as she'd gotten over the shock of learning that she wasn't the only woman sharing Kenneth's bed, she'd uncovered all sorts of deceptions the good doctor excelled in, from exaggerating reports to insurance companies in order to receive higher reimbursements, to lying to his partners about the real reason he couldn't attend a staff meeting—because he'd been occupied with his latest girlfriend. The man was an accomplished liar and it was cold comfort to know she wasn't the first fool he'd deceived.

She'd emerged from the affair doubting everything from her physical attractiveness to her judgment. Though she knew Kenneth was in the wrong—he was the one who'd cheated and lied—she couldn't help but wonder if she was also to blame. Maybe if she'd handled things differently, she wouldn't have ended up so hurt.

"Here, I brought you something to take your mind off the jerk." Adam pulled a slim paperback from his pocket and offered it to her.

"What is it?"

"Some background info on where we're going and what I hope to find there."

Adam had tried previously to give her more details about their destination and the shipwreck he was searching for, but once he went into academic-lecture mode her eyes glazed over and she'd refused to listen further. She didn't carewhythey were headed to this deserted island, only that the island was far from Michigan and her problems.

Expecting a boring academic tome, she took the book and studied the cover. A lurid watercolor portrayed a scantily clad woman standing on a gallows.Confessions of a Pirate Queen?she read the title, amused. This certainly didn't sound like a textbook.

"Passionata, aka Jane Hallowell, was a female pirate in the early 1700s, based on a previously deserted atoll that came to be known as Passionata's Island—our destination on this trip," said Adam.

"A female pirate?" This definitely piqued her interest. "Were there really such things?"

"Definitely. The most well-known is Anne Bonney, but there's also Mary Reade, and Grace O'Malley, the daughter of a pirate who followed in her father's footsteps." He tapped the cover of the book. "But Passionata was in a class by herself."

Nicole turned the volume over and studied the painting of a full-rigged sailing ship with a Jolly Roger flying from its mast. "How so?"

"For one thing, she was one of the most successful. She and her all-female crew liberated merchant ships—mostly British— of millions of dollars in cargo, from gold coins to imported spices." Adam had warmed to his subject now, assuming the tone of a professor lecturing his students.

"I guess that kind of money will get you talked about," Nicole said.

"It wasn't only the money people talked about." He grinned. "Passionata had an interesting approach to life."

As if being a female pirate wasn't interesting enough.

"She was known as quite a seductress, and advocated ideas that were shocking for their time. Supposedly some of the highest members of British society secretly came to the island, seeking her advice on the art of seduction."

Nicole studied the cover illustration again. "So is this one of those tabloid tell-alls about her sordid life?"

"This book was supposedly written by Passionata herself while she was awaiting trial in Newgate Prison in 1715." He tapped the cover again. "Read it. I think you'll find it interesting."

She nodded. She'd brought a couple of novels with her, but none of them had been able to hold her interest. What she really needed was something to help her get over the failures she'd left behind. She could approachConfessions of a Pirate Queenlike one of those self-help books everyone swore by. A woman who'd succeeded in a male-dominated field might have some handy career lessons to impart, and a pirate queen who was also a known seductress could surely teach Nicole a few things about charting her own course in her relationships with men. She lay back against the pillows in the narrow bunk in the ship's cabin and read the opening lines with interest: I, Passionata, the most famous lady pirate, stand as a witness to the power of woman. It is this strength that has made the men who govern the laws of the land tremble in fear before me. It is this mastery and my audacity in using it that has led them to seek to silence me on the gallows. But as long as I have breath I will speak, so that others, women and men, may learn.

I am Passionata, and this is my truth.What exactly did the lady pirate mean about "the power of woman"? Weren't women of her day more powerless than most? As much as Nicole could recall from her college history courses, in those days women weren't allowed to own property or sign legal documents. They were at the mercy of their husbands or male relatives.

Things had changed a great deal for the better, but she had to admit that one of the things that had hurt most in the whole debacle with Kenneth had been her own feeling of powerlessness. He had held all the cards. When she'd learned of his infidelity and lies, she'd wept and ranted and made demands—all of which he ignored with an unsettling calmness that only made her feel more out of control.

Then he'd fired her, and there'd been nothing she could do. He'd pointed out—also with chilling calm—that as owner of the business he had the right to hire and fire anyone he wished, at any time, for any reason. Besides, he'd added, everyone knew about their affair and that it had ended, and she didn't want to stay around to become the object of office gossip, did she?

Ha!Too bad she didn't have the option of turning pirate and making Dr. Ken walk the plank! I was born Jane Hallowell, daughter of George Hallowell, a successful merchant, owner of a half-dozen fine merchant ships. I was no great beauty as a child, but as I matured I was endowed with a handsomeness that attracted men.

One of these men was a pirate. His name does not matter here, and indeed, I have vowed never to speak it again. He wooed me with pretty presents and exciting tales of his adventures on the seas. He mesmerized me with smooth words and aroused in me feelings I had never experienced before. He stole my virtue—nay, I gave it gladly, knowing that I was in love and one day would soon wed.

What a naive child I was! On the very day when I waited on the docks for my lover to arrive and take me away with him forever, I learned that my father's fleet of merchant ships had been attacked, and had suffered a grievous loss. My poor father wailed and buried his face in his hands. When I asked who had done this thing, he uttered the very name of my pirate!

The man I had loved, to whom I had given my all, had never loved me. He had used me to learn the secrets of my father's business—the routes of my father's ships and their cargos. He had struck like a cobra, taking all, destroying my father.

Destroying me.

Or so he thought. But I would not be destroyed. Not when the creditors came to auction the house and all our belongings. Not when my father took his own life by shooting himself with a pistol. I died, too, then. Jane Hallowell died.

But Passionata was born. Fascinated, Nicole read on. She learned how Passionata took her father's last remaining ship and sailed to the pirate's haven of Tortuga, where she searched among the brothels and bars for other women like herself—desperate women with nothing to lose and a determination to take revenge on the male sex who had used them so cruelly. From one of the women she learned of the deserted atoll where she made her headquarters and began almost sixteen years of seduction and destruction. Yes, we were women. The so-called weaker sex, without the physical strength of men. But we have something greater. We have the mental stamina that only women have.

And we have the one weapon that can bring all men to their knees. For every man—as long as he is a true man, and not the other kind, who, indeed I have found to be great allies—will succumb to the power of a woman's sexuality. Since Adam bowed before Eve, men have always been defeated by this power.

I have devoted my life to teaching all women who want to learn how to use this power. A woman who knows the power of her own body will never be at the mercy of a mere man again. Nicole reread these last words out loud. "'A woman who knows the power of her own body will never be at the mercy of a mere man again.'"A man like Kenneth,she thought.

She eagerly turned to the next chapter in Passionata's tale. Adam had told her she'd enjoy the book, but he probably hadn't anticipated she would take it so much to heart.

For the first time since cleaning out her desk at the surgical center, she began to feel hope. This book—and this vacation on the island where Passionata had made her home—was Nicole's opportunity to start fresh. She'd devote this time to learning what the lady pirate had to teach her, and she would never be "at the mercy of a mere man again."

Ian Marshall moved through the packed marketplace in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, easing around clots of T-shirt-clad tourists and craning his neck to see into the vendors' stalls, while at the same time trying not to appear too interested.

"Come and see. I have nice souvenirs for you." A man with Rastafarian dreadlocks motioned him toward a table of wood carvings. Ian shook his head and backed away. The vendor picked up a carving and advanced toward him. "You like a little smoke? A little ganja? I have a lighter for you." He slid down a panel at the bottom of the carving of a man and revealed an oversize penis-shaped lighter.

Ian shook his head and darted away, only to collide with a tableful of straw baskets. "You want to buy a basket?" the woman asked, never missing a beat as she straightened her wares. "Very beautiful. Very useful."

Ian stopped to consider the baskets. He could probably use something like this, to store food or collect specimens. And hehadalmost upset her stall. He picked up a large round basket. "How much for this one?" he asked.

She named a price that sounded more than reasonable. He quickly paid her and moved on. He didn't have much time and he still had a long list of supplies to obtain. He was going to be on the island for three months and had to take with him everything he'd need to survive. The guide at the wharf had told them there was a surplus store near here that could outfit him, and he'd cut through this market thinking it was a short cut.

Bad idea. He couldn't move two steps without someone imploring him to come inside their stall and "Just look." And every minute he lingered here was costing him. He'd agreed to be back in two hours to board the merchant ship on which he'd booked passage. They would drop him off on the island in the morning. If he didn't show up, they wouldn't hesitate to sail without him, and his work would be delayed.

Up ahead, past the cluster of stalls, he spotted part of a large overhead marquis. Could that be the place he was looking for? Head down, he moved as swiftly as he dared through the crowd, deaf now to the cries of the vendors.

A dark hand reached out and grabbed hold of him. When he tried to shake it off, the fingers tightened around his arm.

"You don't want to pass up what I am offering," said a honey-smooth voice.

Annoyed, he glanced to his right and found himself staring into a pair of intense black eyes. They belonged to a woman wearing a red and yellow headscarf. Her face was smooth and unlined, but those eyes looked as if they'd seen a lot. "Come in here," she said, pulling him toward her stall. "I have something for you."

"No, really, I don't have time—"

But already they were at the door of the little shack that served as her shop. "You will not regret making time for this."

Excerpted from At Her Pleasure by Cindi Myers
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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