Sarah Campbell left her idyllic island in the South Pacific during a daring rescue. She hastily married the dashing captain, Nathan Shelby, (aka. Hassan Aziz) to avoid a life in captivity on the Barbary Coast. They fell deeply in love. With the perils of that adventure finally behind them, they sail to his home—England. They hope to enjoy their life together there. Little did either know that Sarah’s journey is far from over.
Sarah is eager to learn all she can about this confusing modern society. Nathan worries about how his friends and family will receive his gentle wife if they discover her exotic upbringing. He also fears that the Admiralty will order him back to war, leaving Sarah to navigate the treacherous waters of the complex English society on her own.
What will happen to his beautiful new wife if he is not present to guide her through the social minefield of Regency England? Nathan knows Sarah will struggle. He has no idea that her life will be in danger.
April 30, 1814, Portsmouth, UK
Don’t bring Sarah to England. Nathan Shelby sat up sharply when his friend’s warning thundered in his mind. The dawn’s faint light filtered through his cabin. He knew it was early because he hadn’t heard the ship’s bell, and it always woke him.
“Te tatarahapa nei au, e Da,” Sarah Shelby mumbled in her sleep. Her face wore a pained expression that mirrored the agony in her voice. Still, Sarah’s exquisite face made his heart race. Nathan loved everything about his bride’s appearance—her thick, auburn hair, her deep blue eyes, and a smile that warmed his heart every time she offered it to him.
“Sarah,” Nathan whispered.
She mumbled that pained expression again.
Nathan caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. “Sarah, wake up,” he said a little louder.
Sarah breathed sharply and stared at her husband as though he caught her committing a crime. She smiled a moment later. “Good morning, Cattin. You sleep good?”
“I did.” He frowned at Sarah’s sudden change in demeanor. “You had that dream again. Will you tell me about it?”
“It just dream.” She sat up and kissed her husband as if the dream hadn’t occurred.
Nathan pursed his lips. “Perhaps. You’ve had this dream every night since we left Algiers. You know you can confide in me, and you should because I am your husband.”
“I know. I sorry I wake you.”
“It is no matter.” Nathan flicked the blanket off him. “I must begin my day.”
“It early. You stay a little longer?” Sarah laid down, making no attempt to cover her bare chest.
Nathan chuckled as he balanced himself on one elbow while his finger traced her luscious breast. “You are a temptress, Sarah Shelby.” He leaned down and kissed her tenderly. His loins protested, yet he reluctantly pulled away. “Alas, I cannot remain in bed this morning.”
Sarah blinked several times with worry. “You cross with me?” she asked in a little voice.
“No, sweet one. I am not cross with you. But I am needed on the quarterdeck this morning.”
“But bell not ring.” She was quick to point out.
“You are right; it hasn’t rung yet. I must report to my watch early today. Tide permitting, we will go ashore this morning.”
Sarah’s face was the image of elation. “Aye?”
“Aye,” he mimicked her reply. “Let me pass so I can dress. Please sleep a while longer if you wish.” Nathan kissed her again before climbing over her. He covered his bride’s chest with the blanket and headed to his dressing room with a lantern in hand. Nathan emerged a few minutes later donning a pair of tan breeches, a white peasant shirt and a pair of slippers. He quickly tied his rich brown hair at the base of his neck with a leather string. He set the lantern on the table and returned to his berth. Sarah was awake with her gaze fix on him. Nathan leaned down and kissed her again. “I will see you in a few hours.”
“I be ready.”
Nathan opened his cabin’s hatch and smiled at his trusty bodyguards. Luke Finch and Tristan Thatcher stood on either side of the hatch. “Good morning, gentleman. I trust your night was uneventful.”
His bodyguards saluted their leader in unison. “Good morning, Captain.”
Nathan stood six foot, two inches with broad shoulders. Luke and Tristan were almost a half a head taller, and their shoulders were even broader. Nathan recruited them when they were all captives in Algiers. They eagerly signed on to be his bodyguards, but they had been much more during their time serving with him on the Barbary Coast. Not only did they protect their captain; they kept his ship safe.
“All is quiet, sir,” Tristan reported.
“Everyone on deck is eager to go ashore,” Luke added.
“Indeed,” Nathan laughed to himself. He silently noted that they picked a perfect day to drop anchor in Portsmouth Bay. There was not a cloud in the sky that morning. Every member of his crew was in friendly spirits as they worked together to prepare the ship for their arrival. It was a homecoming that none of them ever thought they would experience. Until a month ago, Nathan and his men were on a perilous mission on the Barbary Coast to put an end to Algiers seizing British ships and enslaving everyone on board. He freed over seven-hundred British citizens, and now it was time to return home.
Everyone on deck donned Ottoman clothes. Nathan chuckled to himself as he pondered how the Portsmouth residents would react to his crew’s attire. Having spent years working as a Barbary Coast corsair, he and Dr. Hyatt were the only ones who owned Western clothing. The rest of the crew made do with tunics and Ottoman trousers. Their hair and beards were long and unruly because no one had the tools to maintain them, let alone a blade to shave their beards completely off.
Nathan scanned the horizon and grinned when his eyes fell on his fleet of ships. His alter ego, Hassan Aziz, and his life as a Barbary Coast corsair faded into memory. Nathan couldn’t deny that he had done well as a privateer. He left England a poor second son and returned home almost five years later with five ships and enough wealth to live comfortably for the rest of his life. His gaze drifted to the shore. Nathan marveled how little Portsmouth had changed, at least from a distance, if it changed at all. The red brick buildings lining the shoreline still looked like a fortress.
Nathan approached the wheel. “Report,” he said in his stern voice.
“One hour to full tide, Captain,” reported an officer with honey-colored hair.
“Take her in.”
“With pleasure, sir.”
Sarah couldn’t go back to sleep. Not after Nathan, or Cattin to her, informed her that they would go ashore this morning. She had always been curious about his people, and she constantly peppered her husband with questions about his friends and family. He did his best to answer in a way she could understand, but Cattin’s descriptions were beyond her comprehension. Sarah’s imagination helped to fill in the gaps, at least a little. The English were a noble people; she concluded. They would have to be because that was the kind of person her husband was. He lived in a village much like her own on her beloved island, Tivatoa. The people in her village were her family. Everyone worked together to collect and prepare food. Sarah’s thought rested on Cattin’s family. Besides his parents, Cattin had a brother and a sister. She hoped his parents would accept her, yet she readily admitted that not all parents welcomed their child’s lover into their family. She hoped that if they didn’t accept her now, perhaps they would once she proved herself.
Sarah bounded off the berth and grabbed the lantern sitting on the dining table. She hung it from the ceiling and retrieved her clothing choices, comprising of her blue paru, or a small cloth that tied around her waist, a muslin robe, a brown muslin tunic, and Ottoman Trousers or loose-fitting pants that tied around her waist and gathered around her ankles. Sarah tried on each one. She wore Ottoman clothes whenever she was on deck with her husband, however, none of her choices seemed appropriate this time. The robe practically swallowed up her petite figure. The tunic and the Ottoman trousers had the same affect. Sarah knew Cattin wouldn’t allow her to leave his cabin wearing only her paru. Her gaze drifted to the trunk sitting in the corner of the storage room. The smile lit her face as she reflected on the day she met Cattin.
Sarah took the lantern and returned to the storage room. Kneeling in front of the trunk, she placed the lantern beside her, lifted the lid, and reached for the white gown laying on top of the other items in the chest. Sarah returned to the dining area with the lantern and dress. She rehung the lantern and laid the gown across the table. “I have been told that this is the latest Parisian fashion. I would like you to wear it,” Cattin said when he offered it to her on the day they met. The dress wasn’t nearly as interesting as the royal blue and gold cloth that became her favorite paru. If Sarah had her way, she would wear nothing else. Sadly, she sighed, Cattin warned her that English society would demand that she adapt to their ways. Sarah held the dress up to the light. It was a pretty gown, a confection of white silk with intricate lace adorning the scoop neckline with short puffy sleeves and a flowing skirt. The tailored parts of the dress still felt confining to her. The airy fabric was a greater concern because it didn’t conceal her body. She glanced over at Cattin’s chair and reasoned that wearing this dress would please him.
Nathan returned to his cabin a few hours later. His crew and passengers were already starting to disembark. Unsure what they would eat once they went ashore, Nathan arranged to have breakfast brought to his cabin before leaving the ship. He grinned when his gaze rested on his Polynesian bride.
Sarah spun around slowly. “I look appro… I forget word.”
“Appropriate.” Nathan bit the inside of his mouth to stop himself from laughing. Half of the dress’s neckline was in its proper place. Sarah’s six-petal flower tattoo showed proudly below the edge of the sleeve while the other half hung loosely over her shoulder. At least the low hanging sleeve concealed the matching tattoo on her other arm. The transparent fabric couldn’t conceal her paru tied around her waist. Nathan was sure Sarah’s nipples would be equally plain to see had not her loose-hanging auburn hair been draped over her chest. Sarah’s incomplete attire was not her fault. Nathan had acquired two trunks of gowns while patrolling the Barbary Coast. There was not a single undergarment among the gowns. Even worse, Nathan didn’t have a hat or a pair of shoes to offer her. Sarah didn’t seem to care about covering her head or her feet.
“Cattin, I look appropriate?” Sarah asked sweetly.
Nathan didn’t have the heart to tell her that the dress didn’t suit her. She reminded him of a brightly colored bird trapped in a gray world. All he could do was smile.
Sarah’s heart sank when she spotted Cattin’s initial reaction to her attire. She expected the dress to please him, yet his frown conveyed his displeasure. “You not like dress?” she asked in a timid voice.
Nathan caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. “The dress is lovely, but I regret you are missing a few articles of clothing.”
“What I missing?”
“Well.” Nathan grinned. “You are missing a stays, a chemise, and stockings.”
“I wish I did.” Nathan kissed her tenderly. “As much as I want you to wear this dress, I think it would be better if you wore this formless robe instead—at least until I can purchase the rest of your wardrobe.”
Sarah expelled a sigh of relief. “I not like dress. It hard to move in it.” She lifted her gown. “You can see my paru.”
“Yes.” Nathan laughed, handing the robe to her.
Sarah happily lifted the gown over her head and laid it over the back of the chair closest to her.
Someone knocked on the door moments later. “Finish dressing,” he said before approaching the hatch. He paused long enough for Sarah to slip the robe over her head and her arms through the sleeves, sending the skirt tumbling to the deck. Sarah straightened her skirt and swished her hair just as Nathan opened the hatch. Their friends, Abigail Randall, Tess O’Shea, and Tess’s daughter Molly, turned away when Nathan opened the hatch.
Abigail spun around and offered him a warm smile. “Oh, you are home. Your guards told us you were in your cabin, but we feared...”
“You were otherwise occupied,” Tess interrupted in a faint Irish brogue while pushing past Nathan.
It relieved Sarah to discover her friends each wearing Ottoman trousers and brown tunics. Abigail arranged her flaxen hair into a bun; Tess’s ebony hair hung loosely down her back. Molly wore a green tunic. Someone tore off the sleeves and shortened the shirt to accommodate Molly’s four-year-old figure. The shirt still enveloped the child.
“Sarah!” Molly broke away from her mother and bounded over to her friend.
Sarah squatted to greet her young guest. “Good morning,” she said as Molly attempted to wrap her arms around Sarah’s neck.
Tess glared at Sarah and grabbed her daughter’s hand before the two could embrace. “Come along, Molly.”
“You come too.” Molly reached for Sarah’s hand as Tess led her daughter to the table.
Sarah waited until Tess and Molly sat before taking a seat beside them.
Nathan’s breath hitched when Tess sneered after her daughter climbed onto Sarah’s lap. “Good morning. I am surprised that you are not wearing your dresses today,” he said to Abigail.
“We wanted to wear ours, but I worried about wearing them without proper undergarments,” Abigail replied.
“I regret I have none to offer you as I am limited by my acquisitions.”
“You need not apologize, Captain Shelby. I hope that I can purchase clothing before I meet my family.”
“I promise we will not leave Portsmouth until we acquire everything we need.”
Abigail lowered her gaze to the rough deck boards. “I regret I don’t have money to pay you.”
“You need not worry about that, Miss Randall. I have plenty of money to cover our purchases.”
The tension on Abigail’s face drained. “You are too kind, sir.” She smiled with relief.
“Are you hungry? Our breakfast should arrive shortly. I also invited Mr. Montgomery to join us.”
“Splendid! I am so very fond of him.”
“So am I,” Nathan agreed.
John Montgomery arrived as if he heard Nathan’s summons. He too donned a tunic and a pair of Ottoman trousers. His sandy hair and beard seemed less unruly that morning.
“Good morning, Mr. Montgomery.”
“Good morning, Captain Shelby, Mrs. Shelby, ladies, and Molly, of course.” John looked directly at each person as he greeted them.
“You are just in time for breakfast,” Nathan said as his crewmen arrived with their meal. They quickly set up the table; Nathan invited the rest of his guests to join Sarah and the others.
“May I escort you to breakfast, Miss. Randall?” John offered.
Abigail hooked her hand around his arm. “Thank you, Mr. Montgomery.”
Nathan waited until his guests were seated before lowering himself in his usual chair at the head of the table.
John glanced over at Sarah. “Good morning, Mrs. Shelby. Are you in health?”
“Aye. I canna wait to see England.” Sarah beamed.
“Sarah rose earlier than usual this morning.” Nathan winked at his wife.
“I think you will love England.” John stated.
“Oh, aye. Cattin say England is beautiful.”
“And so it is. That is doubly true about the country.” Nathan looked directly at Abigail. “That is where your family lives. I think you will enjoy living there.”
“I am certain I will,” Abigail forced a smile.
Sarah’s lips parted when Abigail fidgeted with her fork; Cattin rubbed the back of his neck, each wearing a nervous expression. She understood Abigail’s concerns all too well. They were both about to begin a new life in a strange land. Both would live with strangers. Cattin’s uneasiness, however, puzzled Sarah.
“Captain, should we bring anything ashore?” John asked.
“It is unnecessary. We will sleep aboard until I secure passage to London. I would also like to take a few days to purchase clothing and other needed goods before we depart. We will explore Portsmouth today.”
Abigail looked up from her white plate. “We’re not going straight to the country?”
“No. I need to report to the Admiralty first. We’ll depart for the country after I finish my business.”
“How splendid. I have always wanted to see London,” Abigail beamed. “Will we arrive in time for the season?”
“We will.” Nathan confirmed.
“Will we be able to attend a ball?” Abigail asked.
“Hmm. I am uncertain about that, Miss. Randall.” Nathan’s expression hardened. “While I believe you had proper training, Sarah and Tess are not ready to enter society.”
A frown settled on her face, “I understand your concern.”
“I promise all of you will have the opportunity to explore London.”
“How long will we be there?” John asked.
“Only for a few days. I am eager to reach my home as quickly as possible.” Nathan answered in a terse tone.
“I understand,” Abigail forced a smile, her chin dipping to her chest.
Nathan knew it disappointed Abigail to learn that they would not be spending much time in the capitol. Tess said nothing as she picked at her fish with her fork without eating it.
“What about you, Miss O’Shea?” John asked. “Do you have family in England?”
Tess tore her gaze from her plate. “Molly is me family. Don’t you worry about me; I will find a way to survive. I always do.”
“I believe you.” John laughed. “You strike me as a very resourceful woman.”
“That, I am.”
“What about you, Mr. Montgomery? Have you any family in England?” Nathan asked.
John grimaced. “Well, Captain, I hoped I could talk with you in private after breakfast.”
“You may. Before we adjourn, I would like to offer the ladies some advice.”
“Of course,” said Abigail. “I would appreciate any guidance you can offer.”
“Tell no one about your recent experience in the harem.” Nathan looked directly at Tess and Abigail. To Sarah he added, “Say nothing about your life in the South Seas.”
Sarah nodded, wondering if Cattin was ashamed of her.
Nathan’s hardened expression softened slightly. “I caution you for your protection. The English people are set in their ways. They will reject you if they learn about your exotic past. Miss. Randall, may I suggest you invent a husband if your experience in the harem compromised you? Say whatever you wish, I will not reveal what I know.”
Abigail sunk into her chair. “I understand. Thank you for your advice.”
“I appreciate your understanding.” Nathan reached for Sarah’s hand under the table. “Do you understand my reasons?”
Sarah nodded, even though she didn’t understand the full meaning.
Nathan wiped the corner of his mouth. “If you will excuse us, I must have a word with Mr. Montgomery.
Nathan and John adjourned to the railing on the quarterdeck. A thick layer of clouds had settled over the town and across the horizon. Only a few people remained on deck. Nathan glanced over at his friend who stared blankly at the town in front of him while holding his breath without realizing it. “What can I do for you, Mr. Montgomery, or should I ask what’s next?”
John expelled a sigh. “That is the reason I wanted to speak with you. I would like to join your crew. I’m not a proud man, sir, and I’m not afraid of hard work. I also know my way around the surgery.”
“I believe you would work as hard as any of my crew. However, I do not see you swabbing the deck or furling sails. I could use a valet though. While on the ship, I would appreciate you serving as a chaplain. I’m certain that Dr. Hyatt would gladly accept your help when you are not assisting me. In exchange for your service, I will take you back to the United States—that’s if the Admiralty forces me back to war.”
“That’s very generous of you, Captain Shelby, but I left the United States because there is nothing left for me there. I am honored to serve you.” John beamed.
“You understand that I will be sailing to America to fight a war against your country. I’m certain that may present a conflict of interest.”
“I cannot deny that a part of me agrees with you, but I am English born. That makes me an Englishman as much as an American. I hope the war will be over before we arrive. In the interim, I am honored to serve you in this capacity. I should warn you; I’ve never been a valet. I’m not even certain what they do.”
“I’ve not had one for many years; so, we will learn together.”
“It would be my honor to serve you, sir.”
“Then we’re in agreement.” Nathan retrieved a pouch from his pocket. “This is for you. Consider it a modest thank you for what you did for Sarah.”
John gasped when he saw the gold coins contained within the pouch. “Thank you; I can’t accept this money. Giving me passage to England is more kindness than I could ever repay.”
Nathan raised his hand when John attempted to pass the pouch back to him. “I insist you keep it. Your council to Sarah comforted us more than you know.”
“I am delighted to help; I only wish I could do more to ease Mrs. Shelby’s pain. As I mentioned before, her wounds are deep. Does she still have distressing dreams?”
“Regrettably yes. I am confident that they will pass. Sarah only needs time.” Nathan said with a rueful smile.
“It’s a pity the admiral ordered you back to war. Does Mrs. Shelby know?”
“No.” Nathan sighed. “I don’t have the heart to tell her. I plan to appeal my case to the Admiralty. I pray they will release me from the navy.”
“I hope so, for your sake. You earned your freedom,” John said.
“God willing. I hate the thought of leaving Sarah alone here.”
“Your family will care for her—won’t they?”
“I hope so. There is no one else,” Nathan said. “I suppose we should join the women.”
Molly and the women were already standing beside the bosuns’ chair. Luke, Tristan and a few other members of his crew assembled to assist them into the jolly.
Nathan’s breath hitched when he spotted Tess’s scowl as she glared at Sarah laughing with Molly. It wasn’t the scowl that unnerved him. For a moment, Tess’s disdainful expression reminded him of a hardened murderer. Tess admitted she had killed before. Would she kill again, he wondered as he pondered the adage: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?
Nathan and his former paramour parted friends during their journey to England. The demands of his work prohibited him from spending much time with Tess and Abigail, save during their evening meal.
Tess was civil to Sarah whenever he was present, but he didn’t know how Tess treated her whenever he wasn’t. Sarah never complained of Tess’s behavior. His uncertainty only added to his dread of leaving Sarah behind while he returned to war.
Shelby knew his men were loyal to him. One command from him would have his ship leaving English waters with no questions asked. Desertion would keep Sarah safe, yet he could not bring himself to do it.
Sarah approached her husband and looked at him with trusting eyes. “We go, Cattin?”
Nathan offered his bride a weary smile and took her hand.