The Brazen BrideBy: Stephanie Laurens
He was startlingly,
His face, all clean, angular lines and sculpted planes, embodied the very essence of masculine beauty—there was not a soft note anywhere. Combined with the muscled hardness of his body, that face promised virility, passion—and direct, unadorned, unadulterated sin.
Such a face did not belong to a man given to sweetness but to action, command, and demand.
Chiseled lips, firm and fine, sent a seductive shiver down her spine. The line of his jaw made her fingertips throb. He had winged black brows, a wide forehead, and lashes so black and thick and long she was instantly jealous.
As usual her instincts had been right. This man was—would be—dangerous. To her peace of mind, if nothing else.
Men like this—who looked like he did, who had bodies like his—led women into sin.
And into stupidity.
December 10, 1822
One o’clock in the morning
On the deck of the Heloise Leger, the English Channel
Hell hath no greater fury than the cataclysmic storms that raked the English Channel in winter. With elemental tempest raging about him, Major Logan Monteith leapt back from the slashing blade of a Black Cobra cult assassin. Raising his saber to counter the second assassin’s strike, using his dirk, clutched in his left fist, to fend off the first attacker’s probing knife, Logan suspected he’d be learning about the afterlife all too soon.
Winds howled; waves crashed. Water sluiced across the deck in a hissing spate.
The night was blacker than Hades, the driving rain a blurring veil. Falling back a step, Logan swiped water from his eyes.
As one, the assassins surged, beating him back toward the prow. Blades met, steel ringing on steel, sparks flaring, pinpricks of brightness in the engulfing dark. Abruptly, the deck canted—all three combatants desperately fought for balance.
The ship, a Portuguese merchantman bound for Portsmouth, was in trouble. Logan had been forced to join its crew five days before, when, on reaching Lisbon, he’d discovered the town crawling with cultists. Battered by pounding waves, buffetted and tossed on the storm-wracked sea, as the deck leveled, the ship wallowed and swung, no longer held into the wind. Whether the rudder had broken or the captain had abandoned the wheel, Logan couldn’t tell. He couldn’t spare the time to squint through the rain-drenched dark at the bridge.
Instinct and experience kept his eyes locked on the men facing him. There’d been a third, but Logan had accounted for him in the first rush. The body was gone, claimed by the ravening waves.
Saber swinging, Logan struck, but immediately was forced to block and counter, then retreat yet another step into the narrowing prow. Further confining his movements, reducing his options. Didn’t matter; two against one in the icy, pelting rain, with his grips on his dirk and his saber cramping, leather-soled boots slipping and sliding—the assassins were barefoot, giving them even that advantage—he couldn’t effectively go on the offensive.
He wasn’t going to survive.
As he met and deflected another vicious blow, he acknowledged that, yet even as he did his innate stubbornness rose. He’d been a cavalry officer for more than a decade, fought in wars over half the globe, been through hell more than once, and survived.
He’d faced assassins before, and lived.
He told himself that even as, teeth gritted, he angled his saber up to block a slash at his head—and his feet went from under him, pitching him back against the railing.
The wooden scroll-holder strapped to his back slammed into his spine.
From the corner of his eye, he saw white teeth flash in a dark face—a feral grin as the second assassin swung and slashed. Logan hissed as the blade sliced down his left side, cutting through coat and shirt into muscle, grazing bone, before angling across his stomach to disembowel him. Instinct had him flattening against the railing; the blade cut, but not deep enough.
Not that that would save him.
Lightning cracked, a jagged tear of brilliant white splitting the black sky. In the instant’s illumination, Logan saw the two assassins, dark eyes fanatically gleaming, triumph in their faces, gather themselves to spring and bring him down.
He was bleeding, badly.