SCANDAL in Boston

SCANDAL in Boston

PROLOGUE

San Francisco, 1848


Max tied his horse to the hitching post outside his brother's home.  After a heavy sigh, he made his way up the steps.  Charlie, a neighbor, greeted him at the door, then introduced him to the congregation of friends who had gathered for the funeral.  After they each offered their condolences, he was given a detailed account of how his brother and sister-in-law had met their deaths in a wagon accident just a few miles outside of town.

The crowd suddenly fell silent as they turned their attention to the back of the parlor.  Max followed along and in the far corner, he saw a young girl standing at attention beside the Pastor.  Her blonde curls fell to her waist and she held her chin confidently high.  Yet, she stared at the dual caskets before her with tears streaming down her cheeks.

The scene tugged at his heart. “Who is she?”

“That’s Devora,” Charlie replied. "Lawrence and Annie’s eight-year old daughter.”

“Their daughter?”  Max felt a sharp pang of guilt not realizing until now how many years had passed since he last saw his brother.

The pastor began the ritual.  He spoke highly of the couple and credited them for their contributions to the community.  Women cried during the ceremony and men had a difficult time concealing their emotions.  Max kept his sights on the young girl the entire time.  She hadn’t flinched and barely blinked as her pitiful gaze remained fixed upon her parents.  Within the hour, everyone bowed their head to recite the final prayer.

Slowly, the mourners walked out of the parlor, yet they assembled by the doorway and began discussing which family was best suited to take the girl into their home.  They were a tight-knit group, close and caring as each of their reasons came from their heart.  Max remained silent.  He was still watching his niece who hadn’t budged from that spot in the corner.  But she suddenly looked up and her vibrant blue eyes caught his.

For a few moments, they exchanged an inquisitive stare.

“Dorothy and I were closest to her parents,” Ben said.  “We have plenty of room and our children are only a few years younger.”

Betty stepped forward.  “We have three sons and I always wanted a daughter.”

“She’s going to live with me," Max told them, silencing the group.  "I’m taking her back to Boston with me."

Maximilian Thayer was a strapping man in his early thirties with powerful shoulders, a trim girth and an air of distinction that usually remained undismayed even in the most critical situation.  His facial features were just as striking with sharp blue eyes and raven black hair and mustache.  Like most young boys raised near Boston Harbor, his career had been predetermined by his father, and his father before him.  Seafaring was the only life Max had ever known.  His consuming passion for the wind and sails was the reason he never married and never stayed in port for more than a day or two.  Sailing was his love and his life.  Until he saw Devora’s precious face.

Six months later they docked in Massachusetts.  Max wasted no time selling his schooner to the highest bidder and he bought a good amount of ocean frontage just south of Boston Harbor.  He built a stretch of wharves, several warehouses and commenced the Thayer Shipping Company.   During the next few years, he added more warehouses and expanded into the shipbuilding trade with his own line of hand-crafted frigates and clippers.  Even he never imagined the wealth and power that would result from this impulsive endeavor.  Or that his reputation, according to a few reliable sources, would ever exceed Commonwealth's, a dominating corporation located several miles north.

And he never regretted forfeiting his sailing career to care for his niece, except perhaps, when one of his treasured ships strutted towards the inlet like some tantalizing strumpet enticing every sensibility away from him.

CHAPTER ONE

Boston Harbor, 1858

As the sun rose to its peek on the fifteenth of June amidst transparent blue skies and a warm, tropical breeze, Devora stood at the end of the pier.  She gazed longingly at the noble vessel heading towards the harbor, yet it was the thought of seeing Lucas again that caused her cheeks to flush with excitement and thrilled her right down to her toes.

The Primrose glided across the quaking waters, swiftly, with a gallant wind at her heels.  Layers of silk white canvas billowed proudly from the ship's raking masts like great puffs of cumulus clouds.  The full-rigged clipper proved a magnificent sight, stunning, with her sharp, thrusting bow arching two meters higher than her stern.  The polished layer of copper sheathing her hull seemed to ride the tips of the waves, barely touching the peeks of whitecaps.

Lucas, the helmsman, stood erect at the wheel box, managing the wooden disk skillfully as he guided the ship towards the channel.  When he caught sight of Devora waiting for him on the pier, he smiled and touched his forehead in a loving salute to her.  She waved back excitedly and clung to the wooden post in heated anticipation.

As the sleek clipper approached, the crew scurried around the deck like ants on a mound, preparing to jibe. Rudy and Harlow cleaned the sheets, Timothy prepared to trim the mainsails and Tony gave the boom ropes slack. Lucas held the wheel steady, attentively waiting for the return signal from the crew. Once given, he yanked the tiller to windward and the heavy wooden boom swung across the ship to port side. The vessel trembled and quaked as the winds and momentum thrust her bow westward into the channel.

Devora suddenly tightened her grip around the post and her enraptured gaze dropped into a frown. "Trim the mainsails, Timothy. Hurry, or she'll run aground on the shoals." Her back stiffened expectantly, but Rudy shoved Timothy aside to do the task, himself, and Devora caught her smile back. And she laughed out loud when she saw Rudy cuss the younger man out.

Lucas was laughing, too, and he waved to her now, motioning for her to meet them on the docks.

"C'mon, Digger!" She raced towards the small cabin on the wharves with her faithful companion, a large golden retriever, scampering along beside her.  She flung the door open.  "Uncle Max!"  When he didn't answer, she dashed over to the main warehouse with Digger in hot pursuit.  Inside, the foreman was busily inspecting a packet of blueprints.  "Garvey, have you seen Uncle Max?"

He shook his head indifferently.  "Not since this morning." "The Primrose just entered the inlet.  Lucas is back!"

"Well, I'll be..."  He took his cap off and scratched his bald head in disbelief.  "The ship wasn't expected for another week."

"They were pushing eighteen knots!"  And she raced away.

The Primrose entered the landing.  Rudy tossed one of the docking lines to her and the other to Digger and she quickly fastened them both to the metal cleats.   "Well, what do we have here? You’re a sight for sore eyes, Devora.  You haven’t grown much, but you sure get prettier and prettier."

"And the Primrose gets faster and faster, Rudy.  How on earth did you make such good time?"

"Lucas had her in full-sail all the way.  Pushed her to the limits and makin' use of every breath of air.  Don’t know what his hurry was.”  He wrapped a burly arm around her.  “In my mind, only a woman could drive a man to such reckless impatience."

She laughed at him and ran up the gangplank.  “Lucas!”

He rushed over to her, caught her in his arms and twirled her around. “Have you been waiting on the pier for me since I left?”

“I told you I would.  Did you miss me?”

He let her feet touch the ground and looked into her beautiful blue eyes.  “Words could never describe how much, Devora.”  And he crushed his mouth over hers, kissing her with such urgency she thought she would lose her mind.

When he finally released her, she touched his face as though still in disbelief that he was truly here.  He was tall and dashingly handsome with sunlit hair that fell disheveled to his forehead as he gazed down at her. “These ten months have been unbearable without you, Lucas,” she whispered as she hugged him tightly. “It felt as though you were never going to return to me.”

He ran his fingers through her blonde locks. “Nothing could ever stop me from seeing you again, Miss Thayer." And he kissed her again, still in disbelief, himself.

“Uncle Max is in the cottage,” she told him. “He wouldn’t be too happy seeing us together like this.”

Lucas kept her close to him. “I don’t want to hide this from him any longer. Now that you’re eighteen, he shouldn’t have any objections. Besides, he probably sensed there was something between us. We spent nearly every moment together last summer.”

“Under his vigil watch,” she added. “I don’t want to keep it from him either. He and I have always been completely honest with each other. But I don’t think he will take it very well, especially with you gone months on end. He was merchant before remember? I’m not happy about that part either, Lucas. I wish I could go with you on your excursions.”

He lifted her chin to catch her eyes. “Someday you will. Max promised upon my return, I would be assigned to the Viking which takes shorter trips to and from the southern states. This way, we won’t be apart for more than a week or two.” Digger planted his paws on them as though wanting attention, too. Lucas laughed and rubbed behind his ear. “Let me grab some things from my cabin and we’ll talk to Max about it right now.” He kissed her again and went down the hatchway.

Devora wandered over to the helm, Lucas’ place of duty, and lovingly slid her hand over the smooth wooden wheel. Then, she leaned over the railing, staring dreamily out at the vast ocean that stretched far beyond the horizon. She was deliriously happy and she knew with Lucas, she always would be.

Before meeting Lucas, she knew nothing about love except that which she had for her uncle and her desperate yearning to sail. Even when Rudy first introduced her to him, she didn’t ignore the fact that he certainly was handsome, but she merely viewed him as another dockhand. It wasn’t until they worked closely together that she discovered how easy he was to talk to and how kind and hard-working he was with a playful sense of humor that always made her laugh. That’s when she found herself making every excuse imaginable just to be with him on the docks.

Then, on that fabulous day in May, he finally found the nerve to ask her to take a walk down the pier with him and she discovered that he’d been thinking about her as much as she did him. That’s when all kinds of new sensations started filling her with a thrilling curiosity about what she was feeling and such an overpowering ache to be near him even more.

She gathered a deep breath of air and let out a contented sigh. Digger started growling, but she was too engrossed in her own whimsical thoughts to pay him any mind.

"Why Princess, what a pleasant surprise," Captain Rance Montgomery said as he slithered from behind the hatchway door.

The man's voice pricked her skin, like the sound of a deadly rattlesnake. She whirled around, fully prepared to thwart him off, but her fear stuck in her throat with the mere sight of his grisly face. She remembered the feel of his thick sweaty arms bounding her and the smell of rancid whiskey as he savagely tried to kiss her. He looked even larger than she remembered, like a grotesque monster, and she stared at his gold parrot earring, the one that had dangled in her face two years ago when she had viciously fought against him.

He stepped towards her yet hesitated. Digger stood between them. The golden retriever snarled a deadly warning, letting the man know that he was perfectly willing to sacrifice his life to protect his beloved friend. But Rance charged forward and hurled his hard, leather boot into Digger’s side and the pup squealed as the impact threw him across the deck.

Devora's eyes ignited. She pounced forward, aiming sharp nails at the man's face. Rance caught her wrists and yanked her arms behind her until she, too, squealed in pain. He pulled her to him, pressing his body indecently against hers and cackling in the same hideous way that had haunted her every nightmare. She opened her mouth to scream, but he tightened his vise-like grip, choking the breath from her.

"Shall we finally finish this little game in my cabin, Princess?"

Digger had gathered his senses and leapt forward with a ferocious growl. He clamped his sharp teeth tightly around the man's arm, ripping his sleeve and cutting into his flesh. Rance cursed the animal and threw his knee into the dog's side. Digger got up again, but Rance seized a wicked-looking dagger from his belt.

Lucas grabbed Rance from behind and yanked him away from Devora. He shoved him against the wall and slammed Rance's hand into the rough boards of the portal until the dagger dropped to the ground. Then, he drove a hearty fist into the man’s face. Rance keeled over but caught himself on the railing. He wiped his chin with his sleeve, saw a good amount of blood and charged forward. But Lucas' next blow came swift and clean, then another and still another until Rance's limp body fell to the deck, unconscious.

Lucas stood over his captain to make sure he'd had enough.

Devora ran into his arms and buried her head into his chest, thanking him in between her sobs.

He held her close and tenderly stroked her golden locks. "It's all right. Digger would have taken him down if I didn't."

She looked up at him with tearful eyes. "He...he tried this before. A few years ago. I didn't know he was still on board."

Lucas’ face grew dark. "He will never touch you again, Devora. You have my word."

She squeezed him tighter, soothed as much by the adamance in his voice as the strength of his embrace. But her eyes suddenly flew open in panic. “Oh, Lucas, he'll be madder than hell when he comes to! We have to tell my uncle what happened before that beast has a chance to make up his lies."

"Let him say whatever he wants. Captain or not, I wasn't about to let him hurt you."

She pulled away from him and tugged on his arm. “The bastard had it coming to him, but you could get into a great deal of trouble over this unless we tell my uncle exactly what happened. Knowing Rance, he's likely to press charges or something vicious like that and I won't have you punished!"

CHAPTER TWO

Max stood inside the cabin, staring at the envelope of money on his desk as though it were the devil, himself. He had just returned from the bank and saw the Primrose enter the docks. It was time for him to face Rance Montgomery. He despised the man and had barely refrained from killing him once before. His only consolation now was a scheme of his own that would prevent him from ever showing his face in Boston again.

When the cabin door opened, Max swung around angrily, expecting Rance to be standing there. But Devora flew into his arms and his fury turned into alarm. "What's wrong?"

"Lucas just did a very brave thing, Uncle Max. I was on the ship and..."

“Where’s Rance?” Max growled.

"On deck unconscious from our brawl, sir,” Lucas told him. “He'd been drinking."

Devora squeezed her uncle tighter. "He was going to use his knife on Digger. If it weren't for Lucas, he would have killed Digger.”

"Take her to the tavern, Lucas," Max instructed. "Wait for me there."

But Devora didn’t like the expression on her uncle’s face. “No, we’re staying here with you.”

Max wiped the remnant of tears from her cheeks and his vision cleared as his eyes rested on her. "I want you to go with him, Dev. I'll take care of this."

He motioned to Lucas again and she finally went along with him. After they left, Max picked up the porcelain lamp on the table and hurled it across the room. He sat down at his desk and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to ease the murderous thoughts on his mind, thinking of what could have happened if Lucas wasn’t there. And again, he wished that he’d killed Montgomery two years ago.

Yet, had he done that, he would have lost Devora for good and keeping her was the only thing that mattered to him. If he could control his temper for just a while longer, Rance would be out of their lives forever. He intended to send that scoundrel back to California with a ship of his own and one large, final payment to end this scheme. He glanced at the thick envelope on the desk. If things went as planned, he would never have to worry about him coming near Devora again.

Rance suddenly burst through the door. "Where's that damn helmsman! I want him thrown in jail for assaulting his superior. In California they'd lynch a man for less!" He stormed over to the table, seized a full bottle of whiskey and gulped the liquid down.

Max watched him silently, noting the man's swollen eye, the smear of blood oozing from his lip and the torn shirt sleeve dangling from his arm. But his glare lingered on the slim gashes across his cheek. "This isn't the military. I'll take care of Lucas."

"That sonuvabitch nearly broke my jaw! And if I ever see that filthy beast of hers again, he'll get a good taste of my dagger."

Max clenched his fists. "They will both be kept out of your way. I have something else to discuss with you...a proposition of sorts," he added with the proper amount of intrigue.

Rance propped himself on the counter and placed the whiskey bottle down beside him. "A proposition? I'm willing to listen, Max, as long as I still get the usual payment."

He needed every bit of restraint he could muster. "This is going to replace our previous agreement. My offer includes your own sailing vessel and a final payment of fifty thousand dollars. And you only need to abide by two conditions." He waited yet already felt a heavy burden being lifted from his shoulders as the other man's grin turned greedy.

"Fifty grand, eh?"

"That's twice the full amount. And you'll have your own ship. That would bring in quite a profit whether you decide to use her as a runner or sell her." But the man hesitated. Max knew why and he silently cursed the bitch who had initiated this blackmailing scheme in the first place. He realized then that killing Rance wouldn't satisfy him half as much as murdering Lydia Corbett.

"I don't know…" Rance rubbed the back of his neck, uneasily. "Lydia wouldn't want me to make any decisions without consulting her."

"Damn it, Montgomery! I'm giving you the chance to take the money and run. Your only other choice is to go back empty handed and tell Lydia to prepare herself for a battle. Devora is old enough to choose for herself where she lives and with Lucas' testimony and every other seaman in New England on my side, I'll easily get a court order to keep both you and Lydia from ever seeing her."

"Hold on, Max, before I agree to anything, tell me about the conditions."

He narrowed his eyes. "First, you take both the ship and the money and head back to California. I don't want you anywhere near Boston, not for the rest of your life."

Rance raised a suspicious brow. "And the second?"

"Lydia cannot have any contact with Devora whatsoever. I want her to put this matter out of her mind and leave us be. I think the money should satisfy her." He gathered the envelope in his hands, baiting the other. "I'll give you a down payment and when Lydia agrees, she'll receive the rest."

Rance took another swig of whiskey, trying very hard not to show his delight. "I want the Primrose. And that helmsman. Keep the rest of your crew, but I want Lucas on my ship as first mate so I can teach him a thing or two about discipline and respect."

"No!" Max slammed his fist down on the desk. "You can have the Primrose. I hadn't planned on that ship, but Lucas stays with me! I won't subject him to your barbarianism."

Rance jumped to his feet. "Then the deals off. If I can't have him on my ship, go ahead and try to get a court order. It won't matter what anyone else says. Lydia is a damn good actress. There won't be a dry eye in the courtroom after she begs the judge to let her see her long-lost daughter. And afterwards, I'm sure Lydia would be able to convince your little princess to come to California with her. Your niece would bring in quite a penny at her brothel."

Max had lost the bluff. Rance knew as well as he did that in spite of who Lydia Corbett was, in spite of the fact that he'd raised Devora, himself, and that the woman had been blackmailing him for years, the judge wouldn't hesitate granting Lydiathe right to see her own daughter. And from what he knew of her, she would not only allow Rance to rape Devora for a price, she would do exactly what he said and try to lure her to California. For the past ten years, he's expended every energy and more money than he cared to admit preventing Devora from ever knowing the truth.

"I can't force Lucas to take this voyage, but if he agrees, I refuse to pay you or Lydia one cent until I know for certain that he made it safely to California. In one piece! When I hear from Lucas, himself, I'll get the money to you."

Rance started for the door. "I’m heading over to Shirley’s place. When I get back you can let me know what the bastard decides and you can help me pick the rest of my crew."

"Rance!" Max pointed a threatening finger at him. "Stay away from Devora. There's no way in hell I'll let you live if you touch her again."

Max poured himself a drink after Rance left. He had to keep the truth from Devora, using any means in his power. If she ever found out it would destroy her and all that she's believed in these years about her parents. His bluff to obtain a court order was out of the question since she would inevitably learn the truth.  But if they kept to their original agreement, Rance would still have the freedom to come and go out of the harbor whenever he chose and the next time, someone might not be there to protect Devora.

His only hope was Lucas. The boy had taken quite a risk to come to Devora's aid. He could see last summer that Lucas was attracted to Devora and moments ago, he saw a keen purpose on the younger man’s face. Perhaps, if he explained the situation, Lucas might agree to this.

Yet, knowing Rance, it would be like sentencing the young man to death.

Devora raced into Max’s arms when he entered the tavern. "I was so worried about you, Uncle Max. I never want to see you that upset again. I'm sorry about what happened. If I had known Rance was still on the Primrose, I would have stayed away...as far away as possible." She clung to him. "You're not angry with Lucas, are you?"

"No, Dev, I'm grateful to him for coming to your aid. I would like a word with him, though. Would you mind staying here a while longer? The men are getting a bit rowdy, but it'll only take a few minutes." He told Rudy to stay with her while he and Lucas left the tavern.

She watched them go, struggling to make some sense out of her uncle's reaction. She had never seen him like this before, the glint in his eyes at the cabin and now, some sort of controlled anger that she worried would be misdirected towards Lucas.

Rudy saw her distress. "Don't worry about Max. He'll take care of that good-for-nothing Montgomery. He should have done something about him a long time ago. I doubt we'll be seeing him around these parts again."

"But why does he want to talk to Lucas?” she asked. “If Uncle Max wanted to thank him, he would have done so right here, in front of everyone."

“Well now, they say somethin' good always comes from somethin' bad. If all this frettin' is for Lucas, take heed, Missy. The lad may seem quiet and reserved to most, but you’ve spent a good amount of time with him. He's strong and got a lot of guts with a damn good head on his shoulders. He can handle whatever life throws his way. Mark my word, he'll come out of this ahead in the end." He watched Devora wring her hands with worry and lifted a brow. "Huh, guess he’s way out ahead already."

She pulled away from him and ran out of the tavern. She dashed down the street towards the wharves with Digger panting to keep up the pace. She reached the cottage and peered through the window, determined enough to follow them here, yet not brave enough to burst in on them quite yet. She saw both men standing in the living room, facing one another. Her uncle was talking, although too softly for her to hear. She watched Lucas. There was anger on his face now, but he just stood there with his fists clenched tightly at his sides, taking in whatever her uncle was saying to him.

She headed towards the front door. She wouldn't allow her uncle to punish Lucas. She never understood why he would ever consider hiring Rance. The man was a privateer, working for whatever company that paid him. Her uncle was always particular about his runners and yet, he always hired Rance to make one run every year from Boston to California and back. Never on the same ship, but always that one run. And she's heard the rumors about how harshly Rance has treated his crews in the past. Her uncle never allowed that type of conduct from anyone else. He was such a fair man in every aspect. Except when it came to Rance Montgomery. And that gave her good reason to worry now.

By the time she reached the front porch, Lucas was walking out of the cottage. She backed away at first, trying to read his somber expression. He climbed down the steps without noticing her there, as though dazed by the lecture he'd just received.

She couldn't stand it any longer. She ran to him and hugged him tightly. "Lucas, what is it? What did Uncle Max say?"

He wrapped his arms around her. "It’s all right, Devora."

But his voice was laced with that same stoic undertone that her uncles had held at the tavern. She studied his tanned face, searching for some sort of clue. "Please, Lucas. Tell me what he said."

He looked down at her and smiled. “He said that he named the Primrose after you, but you’re by far more beautiful than any flower grown.” He kissed her tenderly. “Let’s take a walk down the pier.” He kept his arm around her and Digger led the way.

They talked for hours by the water then wandered into town. They walked by all the shops, greeting store owners’ and conversing with those they knew. Finally, they had dinner together at the Colonial Inn. They never discussed the events that had happened earlier and neither seemed in any hurry to return to the wharves. So, as the night grew late, they sat on the pier again watching the moon rise high above the ocean waters.

It was well past midnight when Lucas reluctantly told her that he should take her back to the cottage. He stood up and helped her to her feet. They gazed at one another under the moonlight, then Lucas slid his hand through the softness of her hair and leaned down to kiss her. Her arms instantly roped his neck and they fell lost in one another.

When they finally stood in front of the cottage, Lucas took her in his arms again. “When I first saw you, your beauty and spirit simply took my breath away. I waited forever to see you again, a lifetime it seems, and now I have to go…”

Her eyes widened. “You’re leaving?”

“I’ll be gone for several months again and it wouldn’t be fair of me to ask you to wait for my return.” He brushed the back of his fingers over her flushed cheek then traced her lips with his thumb. “But I’m hoping you will.” He leaned closer and whispered, “I love you, Devora. Please promise me you’ll wait.”

She could barely breathe let alone get the words out. “Oh, Lucas, of course I promise. I love you, too.”

He kissed her once more then he held her close as though reluctant to let go of her. Finally, he bid her goodnight and left. Devora was unable to move or breathe as she watched him go.

Then, the anger set in. She threw the cottage door open, stormed inside and found her Uncle sitting at his desk. "I saw them loading supplies on the Primrose earlier. Who did you hire as Captain of the ship?”

“Let it go, Dev,” he said without looking at her.

“Rance is taking the ship back to California, isn’t he? And you’re forcing Lucas to take that voyage with him."

Max deliberately kept his eyes on the paperwork on his desk. "The matter has been settled."

Furiously, she marched over to him, gripped the edge of the desk and glared at him until he lifted his head. "I want to hear you say it, Uncle Max. Instead of reassigning Lucas to another vessel, are you forcing him to stay on the Primrose with that bastard?"

He set his pen down. "It was his decision."

Her eyes caught fire. "What other choice did he have?" She waited for his answer again, then threw her hands in the air in a fit of exasperation and furiously paced the floor. "You said you had good reason for hiring Rance, but I still haven’t heard one. He's a drunk for God's sake and you know as well as I do, he's out for revenge against Lucas. He said you had promised that he would be assigned to the Viking which is due at the end of next week. You broke your promise to him."

"I said the decision has been made.” Max stood up and gathered his papers together. “I don't want to discuss it anymore."

She stood there glaring at him then ran into her bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her.

Early the following morning, Devora sat at the end of the pier. The crashing sound of the waves helped block out her thoughts as she stared at the water with Digger's muzzle nestled in her lap. She had avoided her uncle, who was on the dock right now helping the crew and bending over backwards for that bastard Rance. She hurled a stone and watched it skim across the waves.

She desperately wanted to seek Lucas out once more before they loaded the Primrose, just to hold him and kiss him before he left. But she simply couldn't bring herself to do it. Because of her, he was being forced into taking this voyage and the mere thought of it sent tears to her eyes again.

A bell rang. Devora jumped to her feet and gripped the wooden post. Her pulse raced as swiftly as the currents when the ship drifted away from the dock towards the channel. Rudy hoisted the mainsails, but her vision was fastened on the stern. The mizzenmast blocked her view. She waited impatiently as the Primrose grew closer, floating evenly over the gentle waves. At the mouth of the channel, the vessel veered southeast and Devora caught her breath.

Lucas stood at the helm, watching her. The light breeze rippled through his white silk shirt and tousled his hair as he watched her, too. That hot excitement swept through her again, searing her face. It was a fabulous sensation, one that she knew would consume her every time she thought of him, every time he glanced her way or gazed into her eyes. She said a silent prayer to keep him safe and another to bring him back to her.

As the distance grew between them, Lucas touched his forehead in a loving salute to her. She reached up to wave, but her hand fell over her mouth with a horrifying thought. What if she never saw Lucas McDaniel again?