Echo in the Wind
England and France 1784
Cast out by his noble father for marrying the woman he loved, Jean Donet took to the sea, becoming a smuggler, delivering French brandy and tea to the south coast of England. When his young wife died, he nearly lost his sanity. In time, he became a pirate and then a privateer, vowing to never again risk his heart.
As Donet’s wealth grew, so grew his fame as a daring ship’s captain, the terror of the English Channel in the American War. When his father and older brother die in a carriage accident in France, Jean becomes the comte de Saintonge, a title he never wanted.
Lady Joanna West cares little for London Society, which considers her its darling. Marriage in the ton is either dull or disastrous. She wants no part of it. To help the poor in Sussex, she joins in their smuggling. Now she is the master of the beach, risking her reputation and her life. One night off the coast of Bognor, Joanna encounters the menacing captain of a smuggling ship, never realizing he is the mysterious comte de Saintonge.
Can Donet resist the English vixen who entices him as no other woman? Will Lady Joanna risk all for an uncertain chance at love in the arms of the dashing Jean Donet?
Bognor, West Sussex, England, April 1784
Except for the small waves rushing to shore, hissing as they raced over the shingles, Bognor’s coast was eerily bereft of sound. Lady Joanna West hated the disquiet she always experienced before a smuggling run. Tonight, the blood throbbed in her veins with the anxious pounding of her heart, for this time, she would be dealing with a total stranger.
Would he be fair, this new partner in free trade? Or might he be a feared revenue agent in disguise, ready to cinch a hangman’s noose around her slender neck?
The answer lay just offshore, silhouetted against a cobalt blue sky streaked with gold from the setting sun: a black-sided ship, her sails lifted like a lady gathering up her skirts, poised to flee, waited for a signal.
Crouched behind a rock with her younger brother, Joanna hesitated, studying the ship. Eight gun ports marched across the side of the brig, making her wonder at the battles the captain anticipated that he should carry sixteen guns.
She and her men were unarmed. They would be helpless should he decide to cheat them, his barrels full of water instead of brandy, his tea no more than dried weeds.
It had been tried before.
“You are certain Zack speaks for this captain?” she asked Freddie whose dark auburn curls beneath his slouched hat made his boyish face appear younger than his seventeen years. But to one who knew him well, the set of his jaw hinted at the man he would one day become.
“I’ll fetch him,” Freddie said in a hushed tone, “and you can ask him yourself.” He disappeared into the shadows where her men waited among the trees.
Zack appeared, squatting beside her, a giant of a man with a scar on the left side of his face from the war. Like the mastiffs that guarded the grounds of her family’s estate, he was big and ugly, fierce with enemies, but gentle with those he was charged to protect.
“Young Frederick here says ye want to know about this ship, m’lady.” At her nod, Zack gazed toward the brig. “He used to come here regular with nary a con nor a cheat. He’s been gone awhile now. I heard he might have worked up some other business—royal business.” He rolled his massive shoulders in a shrug. “In my experience, a tiger doesn’t change his stripes. He’s a Frog, aye, but I trust the Frenchie’s one of us, a free trader still.”
She took in a deep breath of the salted air blowing onshore and let it out. “Good.” Zack’s assurance had been some comfort but not enough to end her concerns. What royal business? For tonight, she need not know. “Give the signal,” she directed her brother, “but I intend to see for myself if the cargo is what we ordered.”
Without seeking the position, Joanna had become the smugglers’ master of the beach, responsible for getting the cargo ashore and away to inland routes and London markets with no revenue man the wiser. She took seriously her role to assure the villagers got what they paid for. Their survival depended upon it.
“Zack, will you row me to the ship?”
“O’ course, if ’tis what ye want.” The frown over his hazel eyes revealed his displeasure, but Zack knew an order when he heard one, no matter how politely it had been phrased. He would never question her authority in front of the men.
Freddie lifted the lantern from the pebbled beach and slid open the metal cover on one side. A small flame flickered into the Channel, alerting the ship the coast was clear of the Riding Officer. The dying rays of the sun still danced on the rippling water, but the lantern’s light would tell the ship’s captain all was well.
Joanna got to her feet, tugging her felt hat over her ears and tucking strands of her long red hair beneath the brim. The hat and Freddie’s borrowed shirt and breeches rendered her one of the men. Even though his jacket was a bit short, she dare not borrow clothes belonging to her older brother, Richard. He knew nothing of her nightly pursuits and would not approve.
“I’m going with you,” said Freddie.
“All right, but stay in the boat.” When she’d decided to help the villagers in smuggling goods that kept brandy and tea flowing to England’s wealthy and food on the tables of Chichester’s poor, her younger brother had insisted on becoming her partner. Still, she tried to keep him from danger.
Out on the water, the ship’s crew lowered three longboats into the water, then scurried down manropes slung over the side. Dropping into the boats, they began to accept barrels and chests lowered from the deck.
With a word to her men, Joanna climbed into the small rowing boat at the water’s edge. Her two companions followed, and Zack pressed his strength to the oars.
With the first of the longboats loaded, the French crew pulled away from the ship, rowing hard toward the beach. Their boat passed her smaller vessel and she gave them a studying perusal.
Their bright neck scarfs and knitted jerseys, coupled with the set of their caps, rendered them decidedly French.
To a man, their hair was long and loose rather than plaited in pigtails as an English sailor might wear. The knives at their belts, their narrowed eyes and sneers made them appear cutthroats. Of course, to them, she and her brother were no more than young English “rosbifs” who had no understanding of a ship like the one on which the Frenchmen served. In that, they would be right.
She shivered and turned away from their harsh glares to fix her eyes on the ship and her mind on the task ahead.
The French brig loomed large as they drew close. A frisson of fear snaked down her spine when she looked up to see an ominous figure standing at the rail.
Like an apparition, he was dressed all in black, his features lost in the shadows beneath his tricorne. Even his hair, tied back at his nape, was black. One side of his coat was pulled back to reveal his hand resting on a pistol. From his waist hung a sword with a golden hilt.
She could not see his eyes, but she felt his penetrating gaze and shuddered. He appeared more pirate than merchant.
Most of the time when I read a series book, the first book in the series and the couple in that first book, remain my steadfast favorites throughout the series. This isn’t to say that I’ll not fall in love with characters in following books in the series, but the original couple normally remains my favorite. This did not happen this time. In To Tame the Wind, we met Claire and Simon, and against all odds, with him kidnapping her, I still cheered them on. They became a favorite story couple for me. With Echo in the Wind, they’ve been toppled from the pedestal that I put them on.
“Like an apparition, he was dressed all in black, his features lost in the shadows beneath his tricorne.”
I fell totally head over heels for Jean Donet, Claire’s father. This is his story, who finds love for the second time with Lady Joanna. Once again, we are treated with Ms. Walker’s writing, and the seemingly effortless way she weaves her fictional characters in with real history and real figures from our history. I almost feel like I’m going to have to take an exam when I’ve finished. After reading one of Ms. Walker’s books, I have to stop and let my brain process the story before starting a new book. This author is highly recommended, I can’t even give her enough praise to do her writing justice. Reviewed by Cyrene