tagNovels and NovellasTaming the Duchess de Montfort Ch. 01

Taming the Duchess de Montfort Ch. 01


One: Aboard the Roi de Soleil

Captain Beaumont of the French ship Roi du Soleil lifted the crystal goblet of wine and stood as he proposed a toast.

"To a safe journey home, and to our lovely guest," he offered to the ship's officers assembled around the sumptuous dining table. "A lovelier ray of sunshine has never graced our humble ship."

He bowed his head in the direction of the Duchess de Montfort. She was indeed a stunningly beautiful woman. No doubt that fact explained at least in part her popularity in the court at Versailles. Her features were delicate and aristocratic, with striking green eyes and silken light auburn hair. Her lips were full and gave her mouth the appearance of a slight pout. Her alabaster skin was smooth and unblemished, at least in part a result of her unusual habit of bathing frequently, and she eschewed the heavy make-up favored by other women at court who were not similarly blessed with perfect complexions. The tightly corseted mounds of her splendid bosom were barely contained within the bodice of her elegant gown, a sight that surely enhanced the spell under which she charmed the gathering. She acknowledged the captain's compliment with a polite inclination of her pretty head as the officers stood and raised their glasses to her.

"I must say we are all most impressed with your bravery and grace in undertaking this voyage, Madame," Beaumont continued after the men resumed their seats. "Not many women would have the courage you have shown."

"Merci, Capitaine," the Lady replied. "I have always wanted to visit my holdings in the New World, and when you offered your ship to me and my entourage I was pleased to accept. It has been a most enlightening journey. I had the greatest confidence in your assurance that we were in no danger from buccaneers on this voyage, and you have proved true to your word."

As they spoke the first course of the meal, turtle soup, was placed before them.

"Precisely, Madame. Those dogs would not dare to attack a ship of this size and armament. We could sink any of their meager vessels in a trice," the dauntless captain boasted.

"Well, it would be only what the animals deserve," she said. "Hanging is too good for them. I have heard that they commit unspeakable acts on their victims. I understand that you have brought more than your share of the beasts to the gallows."

"Madame is too kind, but I do admit to having made some small contribution to the safety of these seas," he replied. In fact he had brought a couple of minor captured pirates to justice, but the stories of his exploits had become somewhat embellished by the time they traveled back to France and circulated around the court. Beaumont had certainly done nothing to disabuse people of their grandiose impressions, which made him quite popular with the ladies of the French nobility.

Beaumont had had his sights set on the Duchess de Montfort since her husband, the Duke, had died in a riding accident les than two years earlier. Lady Therese du Maurier had been eighteen years old when she married the Duke de Montfort, a wealthy and powerful man of fifty-six. They had only been married for four months and had barely consummated their marriage when he met his untimely end. After a dutiful year in mourning she had emerged as a bright star at Versailles. The ease with which she had made the transition from newly grieving young widow to a center of attention at court caused a considerable amount of gossip among the nobility. Of course, gossip and intrigue were the lifeblood of the court at Versailles, and envy of her wealth as well as her beauty undoubtedly fueled the rumors. But she was, in fact, self-centered and ambitious, planning to increase her fortune while strengthening her influence at court. The highest ranking of the aristocracy had been pursuing her assiduously since her return from mourning, but she was considered to be haughty and unapproachable. The spoiled princess manipulated her suitors shamelessly, and discarded the undeserving like a soiled handkerchief. Attracted by her fortune and her looks, Beaumont believed he could succeed where the less worthy had failed. His reputation as a dashing sea captain and pursuer of buccaneers made him the envy of men and the object of female ardor.

As the plates were removed and the next course was served, the Duchess de Montfort remarked,

"My compliments on your cook. Are all of the King's navy so well provisioned?"

"Sadly, no, Madame. We obtained this man as a matter of the purest luck," he said, indicating the fellow carrying one of the trays of plates. "At our last port of call our cook went ashore for provisions and never returned. Whether that was the result of rum or foul play I cannot say. But further evidence of the fact that the good Lord favors the French came in the form of this man, who presented himself at the dock and inquired as to whether we might have a berth for an honest cook. Since we were to sail within the hour we gladly took him aboard. I'm pleased you find his work satisfactory."

"Indeed, quite so," the Lady said. "Could you have him come over?"

"Mais oui, Madame," replied the Captain. "You, Cook, come here. The Duchess wishes to speak with you," Beaumont ordered.

"A votre service, mon Capitaine," the man responded as he quickly obeyed.

The Duchess regarded the tall, handsome man and commented, "He doesn't look much like a cook. All my cooks are red-faced and fat."

"It must be the life at sea," the Captain chuckled.

"How long have you been a cook, fellow?" she asked.

"Since I were but a boy, yer Ladyship," he said, bowing as he spoke.

"Well, the food is satisfactory," she offered, "so far."

"Thank you most kindly, your Ladyship," he bowed again.

Having finished with him, she returned to her plate without further comment. The Captain took the hint.

"You're dismissed, Cook," he ordered.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," the cook backed away, bowing again.

"There's something odd about that fellow," the Duchess remarked, "but his cooking is worthy."

Resuming their conversation about the activities of the sea rovers in the Caribbean she prompted,

"Tell me about your perilous battles with the pirates, Captain."

"Oh, no, Madame, modesty forbids. I am only doing my duty," he demurred.

"Well, is it true then, what they say about the horrors to which their captives are subjected?"

"They are indeed cruel brutes, Madame. I'm afraid the account of their vile acts would be much too shocking for your delicate sensibilities," the Captain warned.

"Have you ever heard of the buccaneer Antoine Renoir, Captain?" she asked. "It is said he is particularly diabolical in his treatment of female prisoners. And I've heard he is quite a formidable maitre des armes."

"Well, I don't know about his swordsmanship, but most of the tales of pirate exploits are highly exaggerated, Madame. My guess is that if this Renoir exists at all he is probably a filthy brute who has merely benefited from bonne chance so far. When his luck runs out he will end up on the gallows like all the rest."

"Well, as I said, hanging is too good for them. I dare say they deserve to be drawn and quartered," she said. The Captain thought he detected a note of eagerness in her tone when she said 'drawn and quartered'.

She added, "Perhaps we shall see Captain Renoir or some of the other beasts on this voyage, and have an opportunity to watch you dispatch them to the bottom of the sea."

In fact, the Captain hoped the opportunity would not present itself. Although his ship was indeed much larger than any pirate sloop and more heavily armed, he knew that victory was never assured. In any case, his own experience in direct combat with pirates was non-existent, and he preferred to leave it that way.

"Although I welcome any chance to sweep these outlaws from the seas, your Ladyship's safety is my only concern on this voyage. Let's hope we do not see Renoir or any other pirates near this ship."

If Beaumont and the Duchess had been paying attention to the cook as he placed dessert on the table, they might have noticed the faintest smile tug at the corners of his cruel lips.

"Ah, chocolate," remarked the captain as he lifted his spoon, "one of the many treasures the New World has to offer."

Some of the other treasures the New World had to offer were exotic herbs from which the voodoo women on Hispanola prepared potent drugs. The chocolate dessert contained such a drug, which the cook had also placed in the stew he prepared for the rest of the crew. Within an hour everyone on the Roi du Soleil was in a deep sleep, where they would remain for twelve hours.

After checking the ship to make certain that all the crew were asleep, the cook, who was also known as Captain Antoine Renoir of the pirate ship The Golden Sword, went on deck and swung a lantern over his head to signal his crew. As he waited for his ship to slip out of the darkness, he lighted lanterns along the deck to guide them. When the smaller pirate ship came alongside, he dropped lines to the waiting crew, who secured the ships together. As the first mate climbed aboard the French vessel he greeted Renoir.

"Good work, mon ami. It is ours, and without a shot fired," said Jean-Pierre.

"I told you it could be done. You owe me a tankard!"

"Gladly, old friend."

Over the next hour the buccaneers transferred everything of value to the Golden Sword. The cargo included several chests of treasure containing silver pieces of eight and gold doubloons, pearls, emeralds and topazes, as well as many barrels of rum, tobacco and cocoa.

As they prepared to free the lines and leave the plundered vessel in the night, Renoir said to Jean-Pierre,

"One more bit of treasure to take, and then we are off."

He moved quickly along the corridor to the suite of cabins that housed the aristocrat and her servants. Pushing open the door he found the Duchess and her ladies-in-waiting lying unconscious around the room. A tub with water in it indicated that the noblewoman had recently finished a bath. Renoir shook his head in scorn for the extravagance of a freshwater bath onboard ship. The Lady was lying across her bed, where she had collapsed when the sleeping draught had taken hold. She was dressed in a long-sleeved velvet sleeping gown for protection against the chill of the night air, and her hair had been brushed and put up with combs. The buccaneer lifted the unconscious beauty and threw her over his shoulder. As he carried her up on deck he could feel her warmth through the nightdress and his nostrils filled with the scent of her body fresh from the perfumed bath.

"What have we here, Captain?" Jean-Pierre asked with relish.

"A little prize for our diversion, my friend. It will be amusing to tame this green-eyed cat."

He lowered the sleeping Lady over the side to waiting hands and climbed after her.

A few hours later the Golden Sword put into the hidden cove on Tortuga and its cargo was unloaded. Therese du Maurier, the Duchess de Montfort, was locked in a small cottage in the pirate compound and left to recover from the sleeping potion while Renoir and the raiders got some much-needed sleep.

Two: Tortuga

Renoir rose in the late afternoon and went to check on the Duchess. When he was still fifty yards from the cottage where the Lady was imprisoned, he knew she had recovered fully. He could hear her screams and the crash of objects being thrown against the door.

"Open this door immediately!" she yelled. "Who dares to lock me up?"

Renoir smiled as he approached the door. He did so much enjoy a woman with spirit. He knocked gently on the door to get her attention. There was sudden silence from the other side, then she said,

"Who's there? Where am I? Why is this door locked?"

"Good morning, Madame. I wish to welcome you to our humble abode," Renoir said in his native language.

"You are French," she said. Then after a pause, "Do you know who I am?"

"Oui, Madame. Vous est une beau femme."

"I am the Duchess de Montfort!" she replied with a stamp of her slippered foot. "Where are my ladies-in-waiting? Where is Captain Beaumont?"

"You must not concern yourself with that, Madame, they are far from here."

"This is an outrage. Release me at once," she commanded through the door.

"Je regret, Madame, ce n'est possible."

"Who are you? What is it you want? Am I being held for ransom?" she asked.

"All in due time, Madame. I will see you in a little while," he said as he began to walk away.

"Wait, don't go!" she called. "You haven't answered my questions!" But he was gone.

Later that evening Renoir, Jean-Pierre, and six others of the crew passed some time drinking rum and smoking pipes of tobacco from the plundered ship. The Duchess had been brought to the cellar in the main house and left there to wonder about her fate.

"Well, mes amis, I think perhaps our guest is ready for some visitors, n'est-ce pas?" said Renoir.

"I know that I'm certainly anxious to meet this treasure face-to-face," remarked Jacques.

"You won't be disappointed, she is a beauty," Renoir assured him.

"True," agreed Jean-Pierre, "I have seen her."

"And a spirited thoroughbred, too. Taming her will be a pleasure," added the Captain.

The pirates occupied a compound of buildings that had been a plantation belonging to the former governor of the island. After they seized the estate in a raid they had discovered a large room in the cellar of the main house that was equipped as a dungeon, complete with torture equipment that the governor had used on captured buccaneers. It was in this room that Therese du Maurier was now held.

As the men approached the dungeon faint sounds were heard coming through the small barred window high on the sturdy oak door. The captive girl was praying, and they listened for a moment to the rapidly chanted Hail Mary before Renoir smiled and nodded to Jacques, who lifted the heavy beam that barred the entrance. The hinges creaked as the great weight swung outward to reveal the interior, lighted only by a glowing fireplace. Moving shadows flickered around the room as Jean-Pierre held up a lantern and entered. At the far end, the Duchess de Montfort stood in her green velvet nightdress, her arms chained to the wall above her. The light played across her beautiful face as she looked anxiously toward the open doorway. Her struggles had caused one of the combs in her hair to come loose, and shiny auburn tendrils hung down in disarray.

As they entered the dungeon the men did not speak to the bound noblewoman, nor did she say anything. As she watched them move about the room she tried to determine what their intentions were in bringing her to this room. She thought perhaps they hoped to frighten her in order to get her to agree to a large ransom. They were a rough-looking bunch, and she was indeed frightened, but she was determined not to let it show. If it was ransom they sought she was prepared to pay for her safe release, but not any more than was necessary.

"You there, you men," she called, trying to keep her voice steady. "What is the meaning of bringing me to a place like this? I am a Duchess, and this is an outrage!"

The lack of a response worried her, as she hoped to engage them in a dialogue.

"Answer me!" she demanded. "Who are you? What do you want from me? Is it ransom you want?"

Still there was no response. One of them threw some logs on the fire as others lighted candles around the room. The fire flared as the wood caught, and soon the room was flooded with illumination. In the brighter light she could see that there were eight of them, with rings in their ears and tattoos on their bare muscular arms. Several had large daggers in their belts. She thought they might be pirates, but having never seen buccaneers before she couldn't be certain. What was certain was that they appeared even more dangerous than they had at first. They stared at her intently as they approached, and she resisted the urge to shrink back against the wall behind her.

She tried to speak, but her throat was dry and her voice came out as a hoarse croak. One of the men took a ladle from a bucket of fresh water on the table, and held it to her lips. She drank eagerly, water running down her chin to drip onto the front of her gown. She gathered her nerve and spoke in the most commanding voice she could muster.

"Who are you? Do I know you? You look familiar," she asked, addressing a tall, handsome one who seemed like he might have been the leader.

As he spoke he stooped slightly into a submissive posture and said, "Would your Ladyship care for a bit of dessert?"

"Mon Dieu! The cook!" she exclaimed.

The men laughed at her surprise and Renoir said,

"Yes, Madame, the cook. On board the Roi de Soleil you seemed quite interested in meeting pirates. I hope you are not disappointed."

"You are pirates, then," she said.

"Antoine Renoir and crew, a votre service, Madame," he said with a bow.

"Renoir!" she gasped.

"C'est moi."

Still maintaining the tone of an aristocrat used to being obeyed she demanded, "Such insolence! Release me at once," and pulled on the chains that held her arms.

"We do not take orders from you, Madame," he said.

"Am I being held for ransom?"

"No, we are not after ransom," he replied.

"If not ransom, then why am I here? What do you want?" she asked warily.

"You are a very beautiful woman, and we are men," was his answer.

Her eyes widened and her heart began to race as the meaning sank in.

"No! You wouldn't dare! I am an aristocrat. You will all hang if you lay a hand on me!"

"We will all hang in any case, Madame. They can only kill us once," one of the other men replied.

"You will be drawn and quartered," she threatened.

"Ah, yes. On board the ship you seemed to think that was the fate we deserved. What was the name you used for buccaneers? 'Animals' I think it was," Renoir said.

She was silent for a moment, then she made a desperate offer.

"I have a great fortune. I can arrange for a large ransom if you will let me go unharmed."

"No, Madame, you are all we want," Renoir said, dashing her hopes.

"I would never give myself to a man such as you!"

"Perhaps," the diabolical Captain replied. "We shall see."

"You may have the power to torture me, but you do not have the power to gain my consent."

"We do not require your consent, Madame," he reminded her. "But you will give it, I assure you."

"I warn you, sir, you are far too bold!" She could not believe he had the nerve to suggest that she might give her consent. She was certain that even if they beat her she would not relent. Whatever vile indignities they forced on her she knew God would forgive her if it was done against her will; she would become a martyr for her virtue if need be.

After another moment of silence, her fear and anger burst out.

"You filthy dogs! How dare you? How dare you!" and with that the enraged beauty kicked at Renoir with her slippered foot. Although the blow connected with the pirate's leg, it caused him amusement rather than pain and the men laughed at her futile attempt at resistance. Renoir stepped closer and touched her smooth cheek as she flinched and tried to pull away. He noticed a fine gold chain around her neck, and he grasped it and lifted up the small crucifix that hung down into the deep cleavage between her breasts. It was warm from her body, and he held it in his fingers for a moment before he yanked it from her neck. She gasped in shock, and he said,

"You won't need this, my Lady," as he tossed the shiny artifact onto the straw-covered dirt floor of the dungeon.

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