Read Beyond paradise Online

Authors: Elizabeth Doyle,Copyright Paperback Collection (Library of Congress) DLC

Beyond paradise

This book made available by the Internet Archive.

St. Pierre, Martinique, 1662

Ever since Sylvie's engagement, Martinique had become infested with handsome men. Why had she never noticed this before? She wasn't really sure. Until recently, she had never even thought about men. She came from a poor but noble family, and was very proud of that. She wanted to be a good daughter. She wanted to perpetuate her family's tradition of gentility. It wasn't that she was forced into compliance, it was what she herself wanted—to make her family proud. And when she thought of men, it was only in light of seeking a husband who would not be beneath her, who would not bring her family shame. She had long anticipated the day her marriage would be arranged, for then she could have children, raise them well, and carry on her family's noblest traditions.

But now that a wedding date had been set, something strange was happening to the island. It was as though men were dropping from the sky, all of them handsome, well

dressed, and knee-shakingly virile. Sylvie looked around her. Where had they all come from? On some level, she realized that they had always been there. But why hadn't she noticed them before? Why had it never occurred to her that she was surrounded by outrageously, immorally attractive men? Was this normal? Were other islands like this? When had Martinique become the hiding place for men who had been tossed from other countries for posing a threat to other bachelors?

Sylvie rode her horse at a trot through the open fields of pineapple, the wind catching her cinnamon hair, lifting it into a swirl above her head, and then dropping it. Her horse, Monique, was a soft-maned mare of little value. But to Sylvie, she was a prize, for she had kind eyes and an even, considerate trot. The two of them moved quickly enough to create a breeze, but they did not speed, as Sylvie was in no hurry to reach the future. She was in a state of mind to take things slowly. She saw the village up ahead, and pulled Monique to a halt before she could be seen. There they were. All of those breathtaking men who were plaguing St. Pierre. They really had a lot of nerve.

She could see Jervais Tremblay, the pirate hunter. Pirate hunter! Now, that was a brave way of life. She wondered how many battles he had fought, how many dangerous men he had toppled, and what he did all day to make his arms bulge out so enticingly. He was a huge man, surely the tallest on the island, and nearly as wide as he was tall. His shoulders were rocky, his arms like giant, knotted logs. His chest was hard and round, his legs too shapely for his breeches. Every time she looked into his black eyes, she felt silly, like a playful little girl begging for attention. His black curls were tied sensibly behind his head with a bow, so it was easy to see his face. And what a face it was. His jaw was hard, his forehead broad. He had the kind of features which could not


be passed on to a daughter, for they were so distinctly large and masculine. And not once had any of his battles left him with an unsightly scar.

Every time she saw him, Jervais was grinning. It was as though his face were always frozen in the midst of a laugh. It was as though he wanted the world to know that he was confident enough to find great humor in everything which came his way. His enemies would never see him crying, only chuckling. He noticed Sylvie out of the corner of his eye, but did not wink. It was not masculine to wink. A real man does not flirt; he demands. When he wants something, he takes it. He does not ask. And what is flirting, if not asking for a reply?

Jervais kept one booted foot propped on a fishing dock, and turned away from Sylvie as though he had not seen her. Once again, he seemed to be laughing with his sailing friends over some irresistible joke. She wondered whether he was pretending it was funnier than it really was, using their tales to enhance his striking pose.

Sylvie bent her head in shame. Absently, she stroked Monique's neck, thinking herself rather a fool. She had brought that rejection upon herself, she supposed, that evasion of her gaze that told her plainly she sought his attention more boldly than he sought hers. Surely, Jervais knew that she found him dashing. She had never intentionally made it known, but surely, a man could sense these things. Was that the reason he had so coldly turned away? He wanted to make her beg for his attention. This, of course, she would not do. After all, she was not even supposed to find him handsome. She was supposed to be planning her wedding. To have been caught glancing in his direction was almost as mortifying as having her wantonness rejected. She did not know which made her feel worse.

Another handsome man walked by. And then another. She was beginning to ask herself questions she had never

asked before, such as, Do I prefer tall or short men? Blond or brunette? There were so many choices, so much variety. What was happening to her? She had to remind herself to think bland thoughts, think very bland thoughts. Clutching Monique's mane, she looked around for something completely unappealing to distract her. Her eyes flitted about from fine physique to fine physique, until at last they rested on something utterly uninteresting. She sighed in her relief. Her heart was losing its flutter, her mind was settling down. Yes, there was absolutely nothing even remotely stirring about the form which now held her eyes. There was no worry that she would be tempted into flirtation, or driven to girlish impulses. She had never seen a man so drab in all her life.

Unfortunately, she noted with a squint, she was looking at her fiance.


Sylvie turned away with a yank of the reins. She was in a panic to race home before Etienne could see her, and she would have to, heaven help her, talk to him. But her exit would not be a flawless one. Jervais Tremblay was able to remain nonchalant when a lady as appealing as Sylvie was staring at him from across a crowded road, but he was not fool enough to let her go. The moment he saw her mare spin around, he excused himself from the crowd and called after her. Sylvie was not planning to look back, but something made her turn. And when she saw that it was Jervais and not her fiance who summoned her, a bright smile came over her face before she could stop it.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?" he asked with a broad grin, as though he had not snubbed her moments ago.

"I am going home," she replied flatly.

"Then may I escort you?" His bow emitted an air of sarcasm, it came so unnaturally to him, but it served to appease Sylvie's fondness for good manners.

"Very well," she replied, swinging herself down from Mo-

Elizabeth Doyle

nique. As she coiled the reins around her wrist, she wondered whether she was required to mention her betrothal at that very moment, whether she must always alert a single gentleman to her engagement in the very first moment of banter. Surely not. Did she have to begin every discussion with a description of her marital status? Perhaps betrothal was something better worked into the conversation at a later point. Was there a time limit? What if a half-hour passed, and she had not yet mentioned it? Would that be too long? Would he then accuse her of hiding her unavailability? Surely, there was a rule about this sort of thing, but she couldn't think of it.

"You have a fine mare," he observed, a distinct swagger in his stride. He was too muscular to move with grace. He seemed proudly aware of his rocky thighs, which slowed his every step.

"Well, I already knew that," Sylvie teased, flashing him the smile for which she was famous. It was an honest grin, a look that told the world she was neither above nor beneath anyone.

Jervais was not unaffected by that smile. Nor was he able to ignore the fabulous blue of her eyes beneath strikingly dark brows. He had followed her, thinking he would renew his brief acquaintance with a pretty girl. Now he was faced with his first glimpse of a spirit that could melt his heart. His cocky expression softened. "You shouldn't ride her so hard," he said, patting the horse and offering her a thorough scrutiny.

"I know how to handle my horse, monsieur," Sylvie replied, somewhat offended.

"Better than most women, I'm sure." That much, he would give her. "But a horse is really a man's animal."

Sylvie dared not ask him to elaborate. She had spoken with him for less than a minute, and it was already time for a hasty change of subject. "So why are you following me?" she asked.



Jervais tried to laugh at her candor rather than reply, but her firm stare let him know that he would not escape so easily. He chuckled for as long as he could while he tried to think of a good reply. Somehow, because I was hoping to talk my way into your bed, didn't seem entirely tactful. Instead, he blurted out, "I enjoyed your company the last time we met, and thought I Would do so again." His smile was so forced that it looked evil. Clearly, he was not comfortable with courtship. Evidently he was more confident when he was at sea.

"You're a terrible liar," Sylvie told him, with absolutely no apology in her bright expression.

"Liar?" he asked, grinning in return, touching his massive chest as though his heart had been stabbed.

"Yes," said Sylvie, "I think you are not being honest with me.

It was impossible, he realized, not to feel at ease with this woman. Sylvie Davant seemed the most open woman in the world. A strong breeze made her red-kissed hair fly near his face, and he swore he smelled flowers in it. "Not being honest?" He laughed. "How could you say that?"

Sylvie tapped the mole at the corner of her mouth. "I think there must be another reason for you to follow me," she said, "I think . .." She tapped gaily on her chin, pretending to examine his motives through the tough layers of his skin. "Yes, I think you must want something from me," she said at last.

"Want something?" He chuckled nervously. "More than to make your acquaintance?"

"Yes, I think so," she replied brightly, "but what could it be? Let me think." Though her legs were not long, her strides were surprisingly swift. There was a lot of power in her compact stature. The brutal sunlight danced on her soft hair, making the sun seem friendly, when really, the natives knew it was a cruel, hot beast. The fierce wind was only a tease,

Elizabeth Doyle

for it brought no relief from the blistering heat. But it swept at the skirt of her plain, brown gown, making it whirl about her ankles and threaten to lift to her knees. Jervais had never met a woman who made him feel so cheery. She could even turn the unfeeling elements into friends. "Perhaps you are hoping to beg coins from me," she suggested jokingly.

"Well, I'm glad you brought that up," he said with a lift of his thin, black brow, "for I have been feeling rather poor." He slapped the pouch at his side, pretending it was empty.

In her laughter, Sylvie showed her magnificently straight teeth. Once again, Jervais was taken aback. "Is it so wrong," he asked in partial earnest, "that I should want to meet you again? I am, after all, at sea for months on end. It's not often I get the chance to meet a... beautiful... lady." He was going to say pretty, but had decided, against his instincts, to exaggerate his flattery. It was unlike him, he knew. He did not like to buy a woman with flattery and jewels. He liked to demand her. But in this case, he was struggling mightily with himself, for he knew that there was danger in his usual direct approach. Some women could be strong-armed into loving him, even charmed by his demanding ways, but others could not. And he could not bring himself to take any chances with this one. He wanted her.

"Do you really spend months at a time hunting pirates?" she asked excitedly.

Without knowing it, Jervais had just managed to catch Sylvie's attention and interest more effectively than anything he could have planned. He had mentioned the one thing he had to offer Sylvie that few others could. He was an adventurer, and on the high seas no less.

Jervais detected a change in her. Her breath was hinged on his answer. "Of course," he boasted, casting her a curious, sideways glance. Was she really so impressed? Could it be



this easy? "It can sometimes take weeks to close in on a pirate ship. And if we can't catch up to it, we need to corner it. All of that is even before the battles begin," he added, flexing his arm just a little.

Sylvie had been on a ship only once, and that was to move from France to Martinique. It had been a miserable voyage, for she hadn't been allowed to stay on deck, where she could hear foul language and be seen by drunken sailors. She had been forcibly cooped up in her cabin the entire time, where the air was wet and the walls dark. She had been on the ocean, but had felt as though she were in a cave. All she could do was dream of what the waters must have looked like at night, and listen to the faint singing of the men on deck as she tried to close her eyes in bored, tedious slumber. Ever since her arrival on the island of Martinique, she had sworn to herself that the day would come when she would ride the deck of a ship, and see what it was she had missed. As a woman, she knew her dream was unlikely to come true, but she would not accept that fact. "How do you pass the time at sea?" she asked eagerly, trying to taste the experience through Jervais's words.

Unfortunately, this was one question Jervais did not want to answer. He could see that Sylvie was a casual and understanding soul, but he could not bear to tell any woman, no matter how free-spirited, how he and his mates really behaved at sea. "We, uh . . ." He fumbled uncomfortably with the pistol at his side, as though it could save him even from awkwardness. "Well, we, uh, are mostly too busy slaying pirates to spend any time frolicking," he lied.

"Slaying them?" Sylvie asked with a little wrinkle of her nose. "I thought your job was to bring them to the island for trial."

He laughed, though Sylvie could not see what was funny.

Elizabeth Doyle

"Well, if they come peacefully, then we take them captive. But you obviously haven't met many pirates, if you think they're inclined to come peacefully."

"No," Sylvie admitted disappointedly, "I've never met a pirate."

"Ah, you see?" he explained proudly. "That's the problem with ordinary civilians. You don't like it when we return with pirates' heads on sticks, but I assure you, if any one of you was out there fighting them, you'd sooner kill than be killed."

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