Only With Your Love by Lisa Kleypas





  To Pamela Bergeron with love…

  Carpe Diem!



  Prologue Together they lay in the tumbled bed, listening to the…

  1 Before ten minutes had passed the sounds of combat died…

  2 The sight of Griffin threatened Celia in every way a woman…

  3 Swift footsteps sounded behind Celia. Suddenly she was hauled off…

  4 Celia perched on the edge of the bed, nibbling a…

  5 When Celia had found her balance, Griffin let go of…

  6 “Regardes, I have put on weight.” Celia twisted to view…

  7 “How is he?” Celia stood in the doorway of the…

  8 Someone walked into the bedroom. Justin recognized the sound of…

  9 Astonished, Justin tried to take stock of the situation. Obviously…

  10 The three days that followed Justin’s departure may as well…

  11 Justin stared at Legare without expression. “Antoine Bayonne, isn’t it?”

  12 Curbing his impatience, Justin hovered at the side of the…

  13 Celia’s progress had been slow and uncertain, for she could see…

  14 After Celia’s tears had dried, she felt more at ease…

  Epilogue Celia walked across the sand alone, luxuriating in the balmy…

  About the Author

  By Lisa Kleypas

  Praise for Lisa Kleypas


  About the Publisher


  The Gulf of Mexico

  April, 1817

  Together they lay in the tumbled bed, listening to the creaking of the ship. Celia rested quietly against her husband’s chest, looking around the elegantly fitted cabin with a touch of wistfulness. In the long days since they had set sail from France the cabin had become a safe cocoon to her, a place she did not want to leave. A different world awaited her in New Orleans, one she was not at all certain she was prepared for.

  “We are in the Gulf now,” Philippe said, easing her from his chest and sitting up. The muscled surface of his back rippled as he stretched. “The journey is almost over, Celia. We should be home this very night.”

  “Home,” she repeated with a forced smile.

  Sensitive to the lack of enthusiasm in her voice, Philippe turned and looked down at her, bracing his hands on either side of her slight body. Modestly she rearranged the ruffled neckline of her nightgown and pulled the sheet higher over her breasts.

  “Celia,” he said tenderly, “there is nothing to be afraid of. You are going to love New Orleans. You are going to love my family.”

  “If only I could be certain they were going to love me!”

  Philippe’s family was one of the most renowned in New Orleans. His father, Maximilien Vallerand, was a powerful man, a Creole aristocrat with vast wealth and political influence. In addition to his plantation he owned a small but profitable shipping business. In fact, the vessel they were on, the Golden Star, was a Vallerand merchant ship.

  “They already love you,” Philippe said with a smile. “They know all about you. After I finished my studies in France and returned to New Orleans, I could talk about nothing but you. And I read your letters aloud—”

  “Philippe!” she exclaimed, a horrified blush flooding her cheeks. Emotions had always been difficult for her to express. To think of her private feelings being aired in front of Philippe’s family—

  “Carefully edited versions of your letters,” Philippe said, and grinned at her affectionately. “Certain parts I reserved for only myself.”

  Celia stared up at him, entranced as always by his coaxing smile. He was the only man who had ever been able to reach beyond her shyness. Gentle and patient, he made allowances for her that no one else did. In the past men had been attracted by her looks but were always discouraged by her withdrawn manner. They had no way of knowing it was fear, not indifference, that made her so awkward and quiet. But for Philippe it was unimportant that she was not flirtatious or seductive.

  “Did you tell your family I was a…an old maid?” she asked.

  Philippe laughed. “Twenty-four isn’t old, chérie.”

  “Oui, for a woman it is!”

  “You could have been married long ago had you wanted it.” He bent over and nuzzled into the soft curve of her neck. “You are a beautiful woman, Celia. You have no excuse for being so shy.”

  “I’m not beautiful,” she said gruffly.

  “Yes, you are. Extraordinarily beautiful.” He smoothed her long hair, which glinted with the silvery-gold of moonlight, and stared into her soft brown eyes. He brushed a kiss over her lips. “And even if you weren’t, I would still adore you.”

  Celia was filled with happiness as she looked up at him. Sometimes it was difficult to believe he was really hers. He was so handsome, with his thick black hair and blue eyes. She had never thought a man could be at once as strong and tender as he was.

  “Je t’aime,” she said, her voice soft and loving.

  “No, no,” he remonstrated with a smile. “English from now on. In the Vallerand household it is used at least as much as French.”

  Celia gave him a mock scowl and replied in her faulty English, “But…it sound better in French.”

  “Yes, it does,” Philippe agreed with a smile. Carefully he pulled the sheet from her hands and eased it down to her hips. She stiffened and he laughed softly, his hand skimming over her meagerly clad body. “Still shy with me?…I won’t allow it, chérie. You know me well enough by now to be certain I would never hurt you.”

  “I-I know you through letters, and chaperoned visits,” she said breathlessly, doing nothing to stop the exploration of that warm, gentle hand. “But we have not spent much time alone together, Philippe, and…” Her words trailed away as he fondled her breast through the folds of her nightgown.

  “And?” he whispered, staring into her eyes.

  Trembling, she slid her arms around his neck, forgetting what she had been about to say.

  His lips curved with a smile. “It is only because I love you so much that I’ve been patient with you. I want you, Celia. It has been torture, sleeping in the same bed with you and not making you my wife in truth. The vows have been said, and you belong to me till death do us part. But you asked me to wait, and I agreed because I didn’t want you to be afraid of me—or of the intimacies we’ll share.” He kissed her forehead gently. “We’ve waited long enough, ma chère.”

  “I…I feel the same, but—”

  “Do you?” he murmured. “I don’t think so. You’ll have to show me.” He lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her.

  She protested feebly, understanding that Philippe’s patience had finally run out. “Philippe, you have been so kind—”

  “I don’t want to be kind anymore. I want my wife.” His hands swept over her body, cupping her breasts, pulling at the twisted fabric of her gown. “Show me, Celia,” he whispered against her neck. She shivered at the scratch of his unshaven jaw, and turned her mouth to his.

  Suddenly there was a loud rapping on the cabin portal.

  “Monsieur Vallerand! Monsieur!” a young midshipman called out, his fist hammering on the mahogany paneling. There was no mistaking the terror in his voice. Celia stiffened in alarm as Philippe leaped from the bed. Not bothering to put on his breeches or even a robe, Philippe opened the door a few inches. “What is it?” he asked tersely.

  “Captain Tierney sent me to warn you…” the boy said, gulping for air. “American-made schooner in distress…We went to assist…They just hoisted the Cartagena flag.”

  Before Philippe could utter a word the boy dis
appeared, shouting hoarsely. Beyond the door there was an explosion of noise and movement. “Boardaway!” someone was calling. “Boarders on the starboard bow!” Celia could hear the sound of gunfire and the clash of swords coming from the deck. The ship was under attack!

  Startled, she lifted a hand to her throat, feeling her pulse thrash underneath her skin.

  “Pirates,” she managed to say.

  Philippe did not deny it.

  Thoughts whirled through Celia’s mind. She had heard of the privateers who sailed against Spain with letters of marque from Cartagena. They prowled the waters of the Gulf, the Bahama Channel, and the Caribbean. She had heard the stories of their robbery and cruelty, how they tortured their victims, the horrible things they did to women. Fear rose in her throat, and she swallowed hard to keep it down. No, it can’t be real, she thought. It is just a nightmare…oh, let it be a nightmare!

  Philippe was yanking on his breeches and boots and shrugging into a white shirt. “Get dressed,” he said shortly, and fumbled in a built-in rosewood cabinet for a brace of pistols.

  Teeth chattering, Celia hopped from the bed to the floor, abandoning her modesty in favor of haste. Feverishly she searched through the trunk where some of her clothes were kept and found a blue damask gown. She nearly ripped her nightgown as she pulled it off, then yanked the damask over her body, not bothering with undergarments. Her pale silken hair flew in wild locks, falling over her face and neck, trailing down to her waist. While she searched for a ribbon to tie it back with, she heard bloodcurdling yells from above, and she quivered violently.

  “How could this happen?” she heard herself asking. “How could Captain Tierney not know they were pirates? Why aren’t we firing any of the cannon? Why—”

  “Too late for cannon fire. Apparently they’ve already boarded the ship.”

  Philippe strode to her and took her hand, and Celia looked down as she felt the cold press of metal in her palm. He had given her a dueling pistol, a flintlock made of blackened iron! Slowly she raised her eyes to his.

  There was a strange look on his face…alert, urgent, fearful. She supposed she must have appeared dazed, because he shook her gently, as if to bring her to attention. “Celia, listen to me. The gun will fire only once. If they come in here…you understand what you’re to do with it?”

  She gave a slight nod, her breath rattling in her throat.

  “Good girl,” Philippe murmured, and took her head in his hands, kissing her hard. She accepted the pressure of his lips docilely, still numbed by the realization that it was all really happening. It was too fast—there was no time to think.

  “T-tell me it will be all right,” she stammered, clinging to the front of his shirt. “Philippe—”

  He wrapped his arms around her, holding her to him. “Of course it will,” he said against her hair. “Don’t be afraid, Celia. I—” He stopped abruptly, giving her a crushing hug before releasing her. Stepping back, he turned to leave the cabin.

  Silently his name formed on Celia’s lips. Philippe. As he walked away from her, the shadows in the companionway enveloped him in darkness. He did not look back. She was seized by a horrible premonition. “Mon Dieu, I’ll never see you again,” she whispered, and she felt her knees begin to wobble. Stumbling to the door, she bolted it with shaking hands, then backed into the corner of the room, the pistol cradled against her breast.

  Chapter 1

  Before ten minutes had passed the sounds of combat died away and hundreds of footsteps seemed to pound the deck. Celia remained in the cabin, longing to open the door and see what had happened. But all she could do was wait with terrified anticipation.

  She stiffened with alarm as heavy feet walked the length of the companionway and the door rattled. “Locked,” a voice growled. Celia jumped as a blunt object crashed against the other side of the door, splintering the fine paneling. Swiftly she readied the gun to fire. Another sharp blow, and the hinges creaked in protest.

  Celia used her palm to wipe at the cold sweat on her face. She raised the barrel of the pistol, pressing it to her temple. At the touch of the metal to her skin, thoughts raced through her mind. If Philippe had died, she would not want to live. And if she did not use the gun on herself now, she would face a horrifying fate at the hands of the sea bandits. But something inside rebelled at the thought of pulling the trigger. She took a deep breath and steadied her hands.

  The door crashed open. Frozen, she stared at the two men who stood there, both swarthy and unkempt, their matted hair held back with kerchiefs, their faces sunburned and stubbled. The shorter of the two held a cutlass in his hand, while the other clasped a bloodstained boarding pike.

  Dropping his cutlass, the small but sturdily built man stepped over the sill at the bottom of the doorway. He licked his lips and watched her with keen eyes. “Put it down,” he muttered in a thick American accent, gesturing to the gun.

  Celia couldn’t utter a word. Now, her mind insisted, end it now…But her arm lowered to her side. In a flash of self-hatred, she realized she was too much of a coward to take her own life.

  “I’ll stake me share of th’spoils now,” one pirate said to the other. His mouth split in a yellow-toothed grin as he walked toward her.

  Automatically Celia raised the gun and squeezed the trigger, feeling as if some force outside herself was guiding her actions. The bullet that should have ended her own life buried itself in the man’s chest. A crimson flood spread over his unwashed shirt. Blood spattered everywhere, and Celia heard herself scream as the body crumpled at her feet.

  “Little bitch!” Enraged, the other pirate grabbed her and threw her against the wall. The pistol fell from her hand and clattered to the floor. Her head hit the hard surface, and she half-fainted, sinking into a world filled with gray mist. She moaned as she was dragged through the companionway and up to the main deck, where she was dropped to the yellow planking. The ship rang with the sound of voices, and barrels and boxes being moved across the deck. There was a strange smell mingling with the scents of salt water and sea air.

  Blinking hard and pushing herself up to a sitting position, Celia saw one of the pirates drop a crate of chickens, some of the live cargo taken aboard to allow the crew of the Golden Star occasional rations of fresh meat. The crate broke open and the frightened birds scuttled in every direction, causing an outbreak of laughter and swearing. As she looked at the scene around her, Celia put a hand to her mouth, afraid she was going to be sick.

  There were bodies everywhere, with gaping holes, partially severed limbs, and glassy stares. The deck was coated with blood. She recognized some of the lifeless faces…the ship’s cooper, always so cheerfully busy with his hoops and staves; the sailmaker; the cook; the boy who had served as tailor and cobbler; some of the officers with whom she and Philippe had shared meals. Philippe…Frantically she crawled toward the bodies, desperate to find her husband.

  A booted foot shoved her back to the deck. She cried out in pain as a hand tangled in her hair and jerked her head back. Motionless, she stared into the cruelest eyes she had ever seen. The man was smooth-shaven and darkly tanned, his jaw thin, his nose a decisive point in a sharp-featured face. His hair was dark reddish-brown, pulled back in a neat braided queue. Unlike the others of the boarding party, he wore well-made clothes that had been tailored to fit his wiry body.

  “You cost me a good man,” he said in a crisp voice. “For that you’ll make amends.” He inspected her slim-hipped, small-breasted body with an asexual glance. She tried to push down the hem of her gown, which had ridden up to expose her bare feet and calves. He smiled, revealing a jagged line of teeth. “Yes. You’ll serve as entertainment for my brother André.” His hand tightened in her hair, bringing tears of pain to her eyes. “André needs a steady supply of women. Unfortunately they never last long with him.”

  One of the pirates approached them. He was a stocky young man with heavily developed arms and chest. “Captain Legare, the best of the cargo should take well nigh a
n hour to unload. Not much gold, sir, but some fine dry goods, cinnamon, brandy, oil in jars—”

  “Good. As for the remainder of their crew, lock them in the hold. We’ll set fire to the ship when we put away for the island.” Legare shoved Celia at the young man. “Bind the wench and put her in with the spoils. We’re taking her with us. And tell the men not to touch her. She’s for André.”

  At the mention of the Star’s crew, Celia had begun to struggle. “There are some still alive?” she gasped.

  The young man dragged her away, seeming not to hear her.

  “S’il vous plaît, aidez-moi,” she begged, writhing in his grasp. Realizing he could not understand her, she switched to English. “Please help me. My husband is maybe still alive…He…he will make you rich if you help us. He is a Vallerand, Philippe Vallerand—”

  “If he’s alive, it won’t be for long,” the pirate replied coolly. “Legare leaves no one behind. He’s very thorough. Haven’t you heard of the Legare brothers? They own the Gulf. Only a fool would try to cross—”

  He was interrupted by her cry of horror. “Philippe!” She struggled so frantically, clawing and biting, that he let go of her with a curse. Celia scrambled to a body slumped over the railing. “Oh God, Philippe!” The shirt over her husband’s back was soaked with blood that seeped from a pike wound. His eyes were closed, his mouth frozen in a deathlike grimace. Sobbing, she searched for a pulse in his throat. There was no sign of life. As she tried to ease his body to the deck, the pirate seized her again.

  “This is your husband?” he asked contemptuously. “Fine ransom I’d get for a dead man.” With one efficient shove, he sent Philippe’s body hurtling down to the ocean, where it splashed and floated among the other corpses.

  Celia could not breathe. A wave of blackness seemed to rise up from the deck and smother her. Helplessly she collapsed in the pirate’s arms, letting the darkness cover everything.

  Locked in the belly of the ship with the booty taken from the Golden Star, Celia awakened slowly. Her hands and feet were tied. Groaning faintly, she sat up and squinted through the darkness. She could see nothing. Exploring cautiously with her feet, she gathered she had been set among a pile of crates, barrels, and casks. The rise and fall of the ship betrayed the fact that the pirates’ schooner was making considerable headway. Captain Legare had said something about an island. She wondered dully how long it would take before the ship came to anchor there.

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