Lady Letitia Howard was never going to get used to the tropical heat of the Caribbean. She lay in her bed, thin nightgown already soaked with sweat despite the fact the verandah doors were thrown open to try and let some of the night breeze into the room. The mosquito net surrounded her, necessary she knew but it just served to make her feel hotter, more suffocated, imprisoned.
Her late husband had brought her to this wild place, and now he was dead she was looking forward to returning to the cool civilized rooms of her London house. The man had been a fool. He should have known he wasn't strong enough to withstand the rigours of a long sea journey followed by a totally alien climate. He had succumbed to a fever within months of arriving. Letitia, on the other hand, had proven to be as strong as an ox.
However strong she was, the nights were long, lonely and unbearably hot. When the windows and doors were left open like this, the strange sounds of insects and night creatures were deafening.
At some point that night she must have dosed off, because she awoke with a jerk. The candles were still burning, casting eerie shadows on the white net surrounding her and she thought she had been woken by a sound; not an animal sound, the sound a person would make. She lay frozen on her back, nightgown twisted around her, trying not to breathe.
Then she heard it again; a shuffling, clothes brushing against skin.
"Is someone there?" she asked bravely.
And out from the shadows came a voice, a deep male voice, causing goosebumps to rise on her skin.
"Don't move," it said.
It was an uncivilized voice, low and rasping and commanding.
"If you do as I say, you will come to no harm." He had an unmistakably refined English accent. A very small comfort.
She sat upright, defying his command not to move. "Show yourself," she said, sounding more assertive than she felt. "What are you doing in my room?"
She peered into the darkness beyond the netting and saw a shape moving towards the bed. He was tall and broad and she shivered, wrapping her arms tightly around her legs. Then there was a glint of steel and the netting was abruptly slit with a violent ripping noise and two sun browned hands roughly tore the delicate material from the bed.
Letitia froze with fear and gazed up at her potential assailant. She had never seen him before but she knew who he was. She could see the infamous tattoo on the left side of his bare neck.
"The Black Orchid," she said staring at him with wide eyes.
"Thomas Ashdown at your service ma'am," he said smoothly, almost bowing.
She had heard so much about him even before she had come to Barbados, and to find him standing at the end of her bed in the dead of night was a surprising turn of events to say the least. Why he was named after a flower, she had no idea. He was tall, well over six feet. He was broad as well. She could see his wide shoulders straining the white linen of his shirt and from the way he was standing, hands resting high on the posts of her bed as he looked down on her, she could see his arms were muscular. But it was his face she found herself staring at. His head was shaven which accentuated his fine cheekbones and even in the flickering candlelight she could see his eyes were bright blue; unusual in a man so dark.
She was sitting in nothing but a thin nightgown, alone, completely defenseless, with a strange man looming over her, gazing at her with a worrying glint in his eyes. And to her horror, she felt a fluttering of excitement.
He continued to gaze down at her, a slight smile on his lips. In all her imaginings she had never pictured a smiling pirate. She had pictured pirates with long flowing hair, gripping cutlasses in their teeth, growling grim obscenities, but had never imagined them to be flesh and blood men, with well bred English accents. The Black Orchid sounded like he was from the Home Counties, but he most definitely did not look like he was, despite the grin.
"What are you doing in my room?" she eventually asked in a quavering voice. His silent unabashed regard of her was making her nervous.
"Your husband owes me," he said.
"My husband is dead. He died two weeks ago."
"I know, but he still owes me."
Letitia had a creeping feeling about what the repayment might be. "He had many debts," she said. "He left me with just enough to return to England."
"'Tis a shame," he said softly, smiling again. He had the smile of a wolf, slow and filled with self-assurance. His gaze travelled over her body. She felt like helpless prey and she shivered again, but not just from fear. He reached down and touched her bare foot and she jumped.
"You have very pretty toes," he whispered, running a finger across them.
He could not have shocked her more.
His blue eyes darkened as they ran across her body again and the room suddenly closed in on them as the candlelight flickered. It was just her and him and the bed and her breath caught in her throat. No one would ever know, she found herself thinking. She suddenly felt a desire to see him without his clothes, to find out what those muscles looked like uncovered and as if he had read her mind, he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. His skin was dark from the sun and his chest was strong and defined. A slight covering of dark hair spread across his flat nipples and narrowed into a line down his belly disappearing into his britches.
"I am sure you can think of a way to repay your husband's debt," he said in his rich cultivated voice. The contrast between what Letitia heard and what she saw was creating a strange fire in her belly.
Then suddenly, the sword glinted in the candlelight once again and she was reminded that he was dangerous and according to legend, very violent.
His rough fingers grasped the hem of her nightgown and he gently thrust the sharp blade into the fine linen. She fell backwards and with a horrified gasp watched the pale material rip the entire way up her body slowly exposing the creamy curves underneath. His dark eyes feasted on her flesh as it was revealed to him and he yanked away the remaining shreds of her nightgown so she lay on the bed completely naked, frozen with fear and a strange kind of excitement. As he stared at her she could feel the stirring in her loins coil tighter. Right from the moment she had heard his rough voice come from the shadows, her loins had been hot and burning, and now she was squirming against the damp sheets, unable to control these novel sensations.
She looked down and saw that her nipples stood out impossibly erect despite the heat of the thick air, and when he noticed them too he licked his lips, the gleam of a predatory animal in his eyes. The light of the candles reflected in the sheen of sweat on his strong brown shoulders as he leaned towards her. She shuffled further up the bed, her escape thwarted by the mahogany headboard.
"Please," she whimpered, "What will you do to me?"
His eyes were almost black now and his hand strayed to the waist of his breeches. She could see how the rough material strained over his crotch and her eyes widened.
"You were married," he growled, "You must know," and his hand stroked over his huge bulge as he continued to stare at her nipples.
"My husband was ….a small man," she said, watching him slowly unbuttoning his breeches, her voice catching in her throat.
He laughed. It was not a joyous sound, but one full of experience and bitterness and some pain. "Did he pleasure you?" he asked, his hand gliding across his hard abdominal muscles, snaking along the scar that ran diagonally across his torso.
Despite her fear she was shamefully desperate for him to touch her. She ignored the question. How could she answer it when she had nothing to compare her husband to? She suspected the brief fumblings her and the Viscount had enjoyed in the dark every now and again were not what this man defined as pleasure.
Rather than answering his question, she merely looked up at him, helplessly aroused. She wanted his hands on her. She wanted to feel his mouth against hers. She wanted to find out what was beneath those straining breeches, but he continued to stand at the foot of the bed fixing her with an unreadable gaze.
Then suddenly he was gone. He stealthily pulled on his shirt and disappeared through the open verandah doors. There was the sound of rustling foliage, then a thump as he landed on the ground and then nothing. Just the loud whirring of the cicadas and the beating of her heart.