Aboard her privateering ship, The Seaflower, Captain Imena Leung is the law. Ashore she answers only to her liege, Duke Maxime. They are a powerful couple, with an intense attraction neither can disguise nor deny. As a nobleman, Maxime is destined to wed strategically, so his seductive advances must be purely for pleasure. And what self-respecting pirate denies herself any pleasure?

Their delicious dalliance is prolonged when Imena is forced to abduct Maxime to thwart a political plot against him. At sea, with a stunningly virile man bound and held in her private quarters, Imena can imagine—and enact—any number of intoxicating scenarios.

The heat between captain and captive is matched only by the perils that beset Seaflower and her crew. Violent storms, marauding corsairs and life-or-death sex games on a desert island—how fortunate for the seemingly insatiable lovers that danger and desire go hand-in-hand.

Buy Now

Order from: Indiebound | B & N | Powell’s | Amazon
Audiobook available at Audible.com, read by Phoebe Stewart.

EXCERPT

c. 2010 Victoria Janssen

Chapter One

The Lady Diamanta threw a gold-and-ruby pomegranate at Maxime’s head. He ducked, but it still clipped the top edge of his ducal coronet and spun into the wall of the receiving room before hitting the floor and spinning to a stop.

“My lady,” Maxime said, “I understand you’re disappointed–“

A hand blown goblet whizzed by his ear; he flung up his hand and caught it before it could shatter against the ducal throne behind him. “Now, wait,” he said. “That was a particular token of my esteem–look, it has all these beautiful cloudfish etched into the bowl–“

“F–k you!” the Lady Diamanta screamed.

“I’m afraid not,” Maxime said. “I did not agree to this marriage. Therefore I will not marry you.”

Diamanta vibrated with rage, her slender fingers clenched upon the next gift, a handful of ebony hairsticks topped with gold knobs, the rich coppery-red gold of the far south, seldom seen in the duchies. She snarled, “You have no choice in the matter.”

“On the contrary,” Maxime said. “I am a Duke of the Realm. I may marry whom I please. My charter clearly states–“

“You will marry at the king’s command,” Diamanta said, her voice going cold. She set the hairsticks back on the table, but continued to fondle them, as an archer might fondle arrows. “If you refuse me, my life will be ruined.”

“No, it won’t,” Maxime said. “You hate me. You’ve hated me since we were both fourteen.” He set the goblet on another table, out of her reach.

Diamanta licked her lips. They were plump and pink and inviting. Her fingers trailed along the table and lightly caressed the marquetry lid of a box of caraway comfits before returning to the hairsticks. She said, “My feelings don’t enter into it, nor do yours. I am wealthy.”

“So am I.”

“That’s why we belong together. That’s why I am to be a duchess. My father’s wealth will provide a substantial dowry for the crown, and for your duchy as well. I’ve been trained from birth to manage a duchy and its interests.”

“You won’t be my duchess,” Maxime said. He clasped his hands behind his back. The elaborate rings he’d worn, hoping she’d see them as the respect he intended for her, dug painfully into his fingers. “My refusal has nothing to do with your management skills. I am despondent you traveled all this way. I informed the king weeks ago I would not marry you, or anyone of his choosing. Perhaps you could convey this to him directly.”

“You are a fool,” she said. “Our marriage could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. I would increase your wealth beyond anything you can imagine. You may have two heirs of me, or even three. And I would not restrain you from your…interests outside of the marriage bed, if you would extend me the same courtesy.”

She’d just stated his worst nightmare. Slowly, he shook his head.

He held her gaze. She held his. Slowly, she released her grip on the hairsticks and trailed her fingers up her ribcage and over her bosom, perfectly displayed by her low cut purple gown. It was one of the finest bosoms in all the duchies. She lifted a brow. Maxime shook his head.

Diamanta took one of the hairsticks and briskly used it to tidy dislodged strands of her platinum-pale hair. She remarked, “You would have been lucky to have me. You’re not such a prize, you know. No matter what the women of the court say of your…endowments.”

Being a Duke was not nearly as pleasant as many might assume. “I’d rather not be a prize in a contest,” Maxime said. “You will of course accept my gifts, which express my regret in refusing our betrothal?”

Diamanta cast a glance over the tables spanning the room, each one laden with silks, jewels, sweetmeats, and exquisite handicrafts. Thirty matched tourmalines were arrayed on black velvet and surrounded by twists of intricate lace. Whole pears, glittering with an armor of sugar crystals, spilled from a brightly polished silver bowl, and a mixture of saffron pastilles and candied violets adorned a perfect marzipan replica of the king’s castle. A tiny yellow bird with an orange beak warbled sweetly in its bamboo cage, and an albino monkey sat on a realistic carving of a tree, eating a grape.

Diamanta fondled a distinctly enameled sweet box, this one the most valuable of the lot, containing as it did candied lumps of a balsam imported from the other side of the world, which Maxime had not yet released to a general market. Feigning reluctance, but picking up the palm-sized box, she said, “I suppose they will have to do.” She gestured to her silently waiting maid, whirled in a swirl of silks, and exited.

When the door closed, Maxime sank into a chair and scrubbed his hands over his cropped dark beard. He’d barely escaped a fate that made him shudder inside, that being a lifetime of brittle politeness and brittle, obligatory sex with someone with whom he never wanted to converse. Being threatened with such a marriage was one of the things he’d managed to avoid while still merely Lord Maxime of the Coastal Protectorate.

He was lucky the king hadn’t had him drugged and forced to speak vows. He cast a glance at his wineglass, remembered Diamanta had passed near it, and poured the remainder of the wine into a potted tree.

The monkey ate another grape.

He’d thought he had more time.

Until five months ago, he and his duchy had been treated as a client state in all that mattered. As the son of a duke murdered for unspecified acts of treason, Maxime’s position had been precarious. One false move, or even a whim on the part of King Julien, and he would have been swept from power, perhaps executed. For that reason, he had never married, and made certain never to sire an heir or indeed any child. He’d been left orphaned when his own parents were killed. He wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone, either the initial pain or the subsequent subjugation to another.

He’d wanted to be his own man when he proposed marriage, free to ask because it was what he wanted, not because it was required of him. He’d wanted to marry a woman of his own choosing, who would share in ruling the duchy with him, as his parents had shared. He wanted a lover and a confidant, and he wanted those things with legal status that no one could take away. He’d waited years for the privilege of being to marry as he wished.

This business of being a Duke was not all that he’d hoped it would be. It was more of a binding than a privilege.

While he was still merely a lord, his unmarried status had been allowed, and even encouraged. Now, though, the dukedom was restored to him. His marriage had become a matter of concern to the king, a concern that grew steadily more pressing. Letters and messengers had been succeeded by the actual appearance of Diamanta as a potential bride, and he didn’t doubt other “choices” would soon arrive at his castle gates. He needed to marry soon, before the king took stronger action.

He would have to approach Captain Imena Leung.

For the thousandth time, he cursed himself for employing her soon after they’d met. If he’d known she would be so scrupulous about separating pleasure from her business relationships, he could have tried some other method to get to know her. It was too late now. He had to work with what he had, and if he wished to escape being married off like a virgin princess, he needed to work quickly.

He hadn’t wanted to rush something so important. Again and again he’d delayed, out of fear he’d make a mistake and lose any chance at her forever. Now he had no choice, and for that, he cursed Julien as well as his own cowardice.

Captain Leung was due back in the duchy this week, after a visit to her parents in the Horizon Empire. He would speak to her then.

#

Captain Leung seized one end of her trunk and hauled it across the bamboo decking towards her bedroom door. “I’ll visit in the spring,” she said.

Her father stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Let me call a servant to carry your trunk.”

“Quickly,” she said. She didn’t actually want to manhandle her trunk all the way across the palatial houseboat, up the stairs to the maindeck, and then down to the waiting cargo skip. She lowered it to the deck.

Her father smiled and gently stroked her arm with his large, calloused hand. To most, his dark-skinned, elaborately tattooed face with its odd pale eyes was frightening; to her, impossibly dear. “Imena, you don’t have to leave just yet. Your mother and I–“

Imena crossed her arms over her chest. “It was her idea to marry me off.”

“Well, you are past thirty now, and–“

Your marriage wasn’t arranged for you,” she pointed out. In fact, her father had been a prisoner of the imperial navy; his love match with her mother, his former captor, was still a scandal, decades later.

“That was different,” he said. “Utterly different. We want to do the right thing for you. We don’t want you to grow old alone.”

“I’d rather marry one of Mother’s lapdogs than one of that crew of–“

“Imena!” her mother said. Standing in the doorway, dressed in full regalia as an admiral of the fleet, she looked much larger than she actually was; the immense pile of her hair atop her head added to the illusion of size, but not as much as her posture and air of command. Three snub-faced dogs with silky black and white hair snuffled at the hem of her deck-length robe. The fourth flung itself onto a pillow on the deck, resting its head on its paws. She said, “They are all respectable men; you won’t have to suffer for your choice as I did. I had them investigated very carefully. Any one of them would make a fine husband for you.”

“I don’t want–“

“I spoke to all of them first, as well, and made sure to impress upon them how closely I’ll keep my eye on them,” her father said. He stroked the long knife he wore at his hip. “I’ve seen that these arranged marriages often work out well, much better than you would think at first. Most of the marriages in this port came about that way. If you would only reconsider–“

“I don’t want–“

Her mother said, “You’ll never find a husband at sea, or among the foreigners. Be reasonable. Let us find a suitable man for you.”

Apparently, her mother’s own husband didn’t count as a “foreigner.” “I don’t want you to find a suitable man for me.”

Admiral Leung’s cheeks colored with anger. “Imena! I am your mother. It’s your duty to obey me in this.”

“As you obeyed your parents?” Imena asked. “I’ll see you both in the spring.” She bowed to her parents, stepped over her trunk, pushed past her mother, and climbed up to the deck. She’d catch a ride in the cargo skip rather than wait for more formal transport.

At least on her ship people listened to her.

REVIEWS

Coming Soon

FABRICATING THE WORLD

Fabricating a Plot-Generating World by Victoria Janssen

The novel I’m currently writing for Harlequin Spice, tentatively titled The Duke and The Pirate Queen, is a sequel to my first book for the line, titled The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover.

The books are set in a fantasy world that’s loosely based on our own; the cultures depicted in The Duchess were mostly similar to eighteenth-century Europe, but the characters also visited a more cosmopolitan, Mediterranean land with elements of several centuries and countries. In that novel, I introduced Captain Leung, a mercenary ship captain employed by Lord Maxime. At the time, I had no firm ideas for her homeland, other than that it would have elements of the Chinese Empire of the fifteenth century, which I’d been reading about in Gavin Menzies’ 1421: The Year China Discovered America. Also, I planned for her to be mixed-race.

Here’s a description of Captain Leung: “A bald woman stood in the doorway, her scalp completely decorated with blue and white and red designs; tattoos…Below, her feet were bare, exposing more swirling tattoos.  She was the tallest woman he had ever seen…Her eyes…were a startling, mossy green, like sunlit water, contrasting starkly with her honey-colored skin.”

Though she had a role in the plot, it was a secondary one. However, I had created her intending that she would, eventually, end up marrying Maxime, another secondary character. (Yes, the dreaded Sequel Bait!) Because she was a sea captain, I couldn’t resist putting her into a plot full of elements from classic pirate novels and sea adventures.

Because the novel is set in a fantasy world, I’m using a different approach than I would for a historical novel. I’m building the plot — and the world – in tandem. Elements of Imena’s character exist because they are useful to the plot as well as interesting to the reader. Some aspects of the world she lives in exist because they create barriers against her goals, and Maxime’s.

It’s been a synergistic process. The purpose of the novel was for Imena to marry Maxime. What barriers would stand in their way?

I began with two elements. First, she had been a pirate or a privateer. Second, her father had come from a distant land. I chose privateer (in government pay) rather than pirate (freelance) because it seemed like a more honorable role, and one that could be more easily resolved at the novel’s end. However, while being a former privateer is an excellent job qualification for working as Maxime’s spy, it could be a flaw for a future duchess and thus a plot complication. The king who ruled Maxime, in particular, could be unhappy that she’d been chosen. This became the major exterior blocking element of the story: someone is actively trying to prevent Maxime from marrying outside the kingdom.

I also knew that Imena was of mixed race. I chose to utilize this as both exterior and interior conflict. The exterior, again, was easy; Imena is a foreigner, which might be a conflict of interest if she became involved in the politics of Maxime’s duchy. For even more exterior conflict, I went back to her homeland. What if the empire in which she’d been born was prejudiced against foreigners, and marrying foreigners? What if her marriage prospects at home were also limited because of her foreign father? From that idea, I worked backwards and created laws that would limit both her and her children if she stayed in the empire and married there, giving her a reason to want to marry Maxime aside from her desire for him. I thought more about her father and mother, and how their experiences as a mixed couple would affect the ways in which they attempted to find a husband for their daughter. I also considered how their choices would conflict with Imena’s, and how she would feel about this, and how all of these elements could be thematically important.

As I progress in writing the novel, I expand on these ideas, weaving them in and out of the “action” plot, which is rife with tropes of sea adventure novels. I give more depth to the tropes in ways that enhance the main relationship plot: the pirates abuse their prisoners because they are pirates but also to intensify Maxime and Imena’s emotions for each other. A storm moves the plot in a new direction, but how the characters deal with its effects also provides a vehicle for more emotional interaction.

Essentially, I am making up the details of the world as they’re needed in the plot; but I’m also creating details that support the plot as well, and generate new aspects of the plot. It feels a bit like juggling, if I could juggle for more than about two seconds.