Once a Mistress

Digital Re-release
June 2017
ISBN-10:  0998949507
ISBN-13:  978-0998949505

Samhain Retro Historical
December 2011
ISBN: 978-1609289072

Original Release
January 1999
ISBN: 978-0380804443

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All the money in the world can’t give sheltered heiress Diana Covington what she really craves—adventure. A dutiful daughter living on a lush Jamaican estate, she knows she will someday inherit her father’s fortune and marry a man of his choice. But even she can’t escape tales of the dashing pirate El Moreno, the Black Spaniard. She fantasizes about the daring rogue sweeping her off her feet into an exciting life of high seas romance to help to shorten the tedious days and the long, lonely nights.

Those daydreams give way to harsh reality when Diana is kidnapped by a ruthless pirate named Marcus. This isn’t the Caribbean excitement she’s been craving at all.

Alex Rawnsley has been given a mission: to bring the pirate Marcus to justice. His heart hungers for vengeance as he dons his disguise as the infamous El Moreno, but his plans to defeat his nemesis are complicated when faced with a headstrong beauty who needs rescuing first. Once Alex has her under his protection, he and the sharp-tongued Diana butt heads again and again—when they’re not sharing blistering kisses.

Alex must maintain his identity as the nefarious pirate while keeping Diana safe, but resisting her sweet allure to get her home untouched might be the most challenging test of all.








Finalist RWA Golden Heart

"...the perfect mix of excitement, romance, and a just plain good story." - Long and Short Reviews

Excerpt from Once a Mistress

Chapter One

Jamaica, 1680

At last he knew the name of his enemy.

From the shadows of the garden, Alex peered into the ballroom and studied the faces of the couples who danced past the open doors. His mouth watered for the taste of revenge.

A laugh rippled from the ballroom as two people stopped in the entryway. With a low curse he retreated behind a large hibiscus bush, standing motionless until they moved on. Then he slipped from his hiding place and lingered in the shadows, where he continued to watch.

Henry Morgan passed by the doorway. Dressed in fine scarlet silk, the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica had even deigned to wear his wig on this occasion, rather than the pirate bandana he so preferred. Alex stepped forward, then halted. He glanced from his casual black shirt and the dagger in his boot to the dark-skinned servant guarding the door.

“Blast,” he muttered. “Look this way, Morgan. See me.”

Morgan spoke to the lady on his arm, his booming voice merging with the music and rendering his words indistinguishable. Then he moved away.

Alex stabbed a hand through his long hair and let loose a harsh breath. “Bloody hell, Morgan. At this rate, I’ll be captured and you’ll have to preside at my execution.”

The sound of footsteps brought his head up like a wolf scenting prey. A tall woman with hair the color of a sunset swept out of the ballroom. With a quiet oath he pressed himself against the stone of the house and became one with the darkness.


Diana Covington stormed out into the garden. She snapped her silken skirts and kicked a nearby frangipani bush, scattering leaves everywhere. Papa’s business partner or not, one more interruption, one more suggestive leer, one more secret fondle, and Lord Chilton would lose a body part.

She stared at the damage she had wrought on the shrubbery and released a shaky breath. Then another. Closing her eyes, she tilted her head back, inhaling the loamy scent of damp earth as a soft breeze teased her hair. Insects sang their mating songs, playing harmony to the music drifting from the ballroom. Her shoulders sagged.


Her eyes popped open, and serenity shattered like glass. Slowly she turned, as if to face the executioner.

From the doorway of the ballroom, Chilton’s nasal tones trumpeted into the night. “Here you are, my dear. I knew you must have fled to escape the wretched heat of the ballroom.”

She bared her teeth in a parody of a smile. “Quite so, my lord.”

“You cannot wander the gardens alone and in the dark.” Chilton sauntered toward her, a tall, thin man who dressed the fop and wore a blond, curling wig that fell over his shoulders. “I insist on accompanying you. A gentleman would see to your safety.”

“That will not be necessary, my lord. I was just returning to the dancing.”

He stepped in front of her as she tried to slip past him. “Stay, my dear. Enjoy the night air.”

“I have had enough.” Once more she tried to pass.

“But it is so dreadfully hot inside.” He held her arm with one hand and traced his fingers down her throat with the other. “Surely you, too, are feeling the...heat.”

“Stop it!” She peeled his hand from her arm as a barber would a leech. “I will thank you to keep your attentions to yourself!”

“Cease your maidenly protests, my dear.” He stepped close to her, his sharp features demonic in the eerie shadows of the garden. “There is no need to play the innocent. I know that you came out here so that we might be alone.”

“You are mistaken.”

“Am I?” He loomed over her, and she fell back a pace. “You are a woman of passion, Diana. You crave my attentions as a drunkard does his ale.” He advanced on her. She retreated until the harsh bark of a tree bit into her back. Here in the privacy of the garden he grew bolder. Here in the darkness anything might befall her.

Chilton trapped her with his body, bracing his arms on either side of her head. He bent toward her, his overwhelming cologne contending with the odor of his seldom-washed flesh. “You want me, Diana. I can see it in your face.”

Diana tensed at the lust that thickened his voice. She took a deep breath, her nose wrinkling. Grasping her skirts, she inched them up and moved her knee into position just as Chilton placed his hand on her breast.

“See how you tremble at my touch,” he whispered.

She dropped her skirts. “Don’t touch me, you lecher!” Jerking her arm upwards, she landed a spectacular blow to his nose with her flattened palm.

With a howl he clapped both hands to his face. She dodged around him. She took two paces before he grabbed her arm in a bruising grip and yanked her back against the tree. “You bitch,” he panted. With one hand he held a lace handkerchief to his swelling nose while he boxed her in with the other. “Lecher, am I? How dare you? You, the daughter of a common seaman!”

“I dare,” she snapped back. “Now release me, or—”

“Or what? You will scream?” With the deadly grace of an adder he tossed aside the bloody handkerchief and closed his hand over her windpipe. He squeezed until her eyes widened in alarm. “So easily could I crush your throat.”

“My lord, you misunderstand,” she rasped. “I am to meet someone...” His fingers tightened once around her throat, and she gasped for breath.

“I see no one else. Perhaps your swain has deserted you. All the better for me.”

“Nay, he comes. I swear he does.” She added a touch of disdain to her voice. “He will kill you if he sees us thus.”

Chilton’s nasty laugh echoed through the garden. “Where is this lover of yours? This man who would take you from me? We are alone.” Sliding his hand from her throat, he coiled his fingers into her hair. “I will have you here and now, my love. Then your father will certainly accept my suit.”

Her jaw dropped. “Your suit? You wish to marry me?”

“Of course. But Frederick keeps putting me off.” He touched his wet mouth to the bare skin at the base of her throat, then raised his triumphant gaze to hers. “After I have breached your maidenhead, he will have no choice but to see us wed.”

Diana stared at the man she had dismissed as a foolish fop. Before her very eyes he had transformed into a creature she didn’t recognize, someone dangerous and evil. Fear gripped her with icy talons. “My father will never agree to it.”

“He will see us wed,” Chilton assured her with cool menace, “or he will see his precious daughter’s reputation torn to shreds when word gets out of her whoring ways.”

“I think not.” The deep voice rang out from behind Chilton. Hope swelled in Diana’s breast as a man in black clothing stepped from the shadows. He stood half a head taller than Chilton, and his shoulders looked capable of supporting a cask of rum each. His white smile gleamed from the darkness shrouding him. “Should you harm this lady, I shall dispatch you to hell with all expediency.”

“Who the devil are you?” Chilton demanded.

The stranger ignored him in favor of Diana. “Darling, are you all right?”

“’Tis about time you arrived!” she cried in the voice of a woman who had waited too long.

“Do not be angry, my sweet.” He stepped forward. Grabbing a handful of Chilton’s coat, he thrust him aside like a discarded neck cloth. The nobleman stumbled and crashed to the ground. “I was unavoidably detained.”

Diana stepped away from the tree. Moonlight filtered through the leaves to sparkle off the gold earbobs her savior wore. His dark eyes gleamed with mischief, and his black hair hung loose to his shoulders. His simple clothing marked him less than a gentleman, but he was all that stood between her and a future as Chilton’s unwilling bride.

“Have you nothing to say, my sweet?” the stranger prompted. “I pray no angry words will pass your lips.”

Chilton scrambled to his feet. Diana darted close to the stranger’s side, and he settled his well-muscled arm about her waist. “I am not angry,” she said.

“I am,” snarled Chilton. He attempted to straighten his crooked wig. “I demand you unhand my future bride.”

The stranger looked at Diana and arched an eyebrow. “You would marry this?”

“I would rather swim naked through sharks.”

He swept his gaze over her body. “A fascinating image.”

“Diana!” Chilton’s voice cracked with outrage. “Such disgraceful language shames you.”

“Are you still here?” The stranger regarded Chilton as if he were a mongrel pup that had followed him home. “I suggest you leave now.”

“Do you know who I am?” Chilton sniffed and looked down his beak-like nose. “I am a peer of the realm, you baseborn cur. And who might you be? A stable hand?”

“No.” With a smile, the stranger drew a pistol. The barrel of the weapon gleamed in the half-light as he pointed it at Chilton. “I am the man who will blow a hole through your empty head unless you take yourself off. Now.”

Chilton’s jaw worked as he stared at the pistol. The stranger cocked the weapon, and the click of the hammer made Chilton jump as if he had already been shot.

“I suggest you hurry, my lord.” That white smile flashed again. “I think I feel my finger slipping.”

Diana snickered as her thwarted suitor fled the garden as fast as his legs would carry him. Her rescuer chuckled as well and uncocked the weapon with an ease that betrayed his experience in handling it.

“That went well.” He shoved the pistol into the black sash around his waist and looked down at her. “Are you unharmed?”

“Yes.” She pushed away from him. His arm fell from her waist, but the heat of his touch lingered. “Thank you, sir, for helping me. Lord Chilton was becoming most persistent.”

“Chilton?” The way he spat the name made her fall back a step. “That was Chilton?”


His expression hardened as he followed the nobleman’s path with his cold-eyed gaze. “Chilton,” he whispered.

Diana shivered from the icy rage that cloaked the word. She realized that she knew nothing about this man. What if he was dangerous? Her heart pounding, she asked, “Who are you?”

He paused for a long moment. When he spoke again, his words were calm. “Does it matter?”

“I would know the name of the man who rescued me,” she said softly.

“You may call me Alex.”

“I am Diana.” She took a shaky breath and continued, “While I thank you for your intervention, I would know its cause. You are, after all, a stranger trespassing on my property. Perhaps you mean me harm.”

“Would you believe me if I said I do not?”

“I would.”

He chuckled. “You are a most trusting young woman.”

“Do not mistake trust for stupidity, sir.”


Holding out a hand, she warned, “And do not mock me.”

“Of course not.” He clasped her hand and brushed his lips over the back of it, the gesture oddly aristocratic for one not of the gentry. “Do you need an escort back to the ballroom? I will be happy to offer my services.”

A blush crept into her cheeks, and she tugged her hand from his grasp. “Lord Chilton is by nature an arrogant coward. He would not want anyone to know that I had refused his advances. Or that another man had sent him scurrying off like an insect exposed to light. I shall be quite safe.”

“I understand.” He glanced down at his plain, serviceable black clothing. “You do not wish to be seen with a man of my class.”

She bit her lip in consternation. Her encounter with Chilton would have damaged her reputation, but entering the ballroom with a dangerous-looking man like he would start the tongues wagging for certain. “Thank you for your concern, but I believe ’tis best we part here. I can handle myself.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her.

She correctly interpreted his skepticism and tilted her chin with pride. “If you are thinking of the incident with Lord Chilton, I was about to extricate myself when you appeared. You gave me no chance to do so.”

“Oh? And what would you have done, dear lady, if the fool had done...this?” He took her by her shoulders and yanked her against his body.

She curled her fingers into the muscles of his chest and gave him a sweet, innocent smile. “I would do this.”

She stomped her foot. Hard. He moved his own just in time. She fell against him, and they both went down in a flurry of petticoats and curses.


Alex relished the jolt of pleasure as her feminine body sprawled on top of his. She struggled to sit up, muttering unladylike oaths under her breath as she regained control of her layers of skirts. Then she pushed her hair out of her face and gave him a look of triumph from her perch astride him.

He wanted her.

The thought struck hard and without warning, like a shot to the broadside. Denial followed. He had no time for a woman, nothing to offer her. He could not afford to be distracted. Not when he sought a murderer.

“Are you all right?” She tilted her head, her lips curving in an impish smile. “I did not mean to injure you.”

“You did not.” The words came out more harshly than he intended. He regretted the necessity, but reminded himself that it was best to deny his desire now, in its infancy.

“I disagree.” She raked his supine form with obvious pride. “You, sir, are bested.”

He rolled, toppling her to the ground. Pinning her under him, he immobilized her flailing limbs with ease. “Am I?”

“Release me at once.” She squirmed. “Sir, this is not the act of a gentleman.”

“Who said I was a gentleman? You are certainly no lady.” He grinned down at her. “Perhaps I acted precipitously in coming to your rescue.”

She glared at him. “You are no better than Lord Chilton.”

He stiffened, a chill entering his blood. “Had I been Chilton,” he breathed, “you would have found your skirts tossed long ago and your maidenhead a mere memory.”

He released her and stood, holding out a hand. She took it, and he hauled her to her feet. Then she pulled away and began to fuss with her gown.

As he watched her slender hands straighten her clothing, he tamped down his sexual urges and focused on the matter at hand.

“Please accept my apologies,” he said. “I did not intend for things to go so far.”

“Oh?” She brushed clinging soil from the back of her skirt with a vicious swipe of her hand. “And just what did you intend?”

“I need your help.”

“Do you?” She bent to examine a piece of torn lace hanging from the hem of her gown. “In what way?”

“I must get into the ballroom.”

She glanced up at him sharply. “Why?”

He hesitated. “Does it matter? I thought that since I helped you out of a difficult situation—”

“You bounder!” She straightened so fast he expected to hear her spine snap. “You used me!”

A disavowal hovered on his lips, but she continued before he could express it.

“I thought you were being chivalrous...” She pressed her lips together, as if she had betrayed a confidence. “Is that the only reason you aided me? To make me so grateful that I would help you get into the house?”

“Of course not.”

“And what do you intend to do once you have gained entrance to my home? Steal the silver?”

“Bloody hell,” he muttered.

“I will bid you good evening, sir. And I will be sure to alert the servants that there is a trespasser on the grounds!” She spun away from him in a swath of upswept skirts and bouncing curls.

He grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop. His own temper simmered. He had risked discovery to help her. His very life hung in the balance.

“You ungrateful wench,” he growled. “I just saved you from losing your virtue to that strutting popinjay, and this is how you thank me? What would you do if I had saved you from drowning, toss me overboard?”

“Do not be ridiculous.” She tugged at her arm. Unable to break his grip, she sent him a look of cold fury. “I would tie the anchor to your feet first.”

He narrowed his eyes. “That mouth of yours will get you into trouble.”

“Not as much trouble as you will have when I scream.”

As she opened her mouth to carry out her threat, Alex pulled her close and stopped the cry with a kiss.

The taste of her exploded through him, as exhilarating as standing barefoot on deck while a storm rocked his ship. He rediscovered the thrill of pitting his wits and his will against an impressive force of nature as he held this spirited young woman in his arms. With such a woman a man could be tempted to forsake even that most demanding of mistresses, the sea.

The idea so unsettled him that he jerked away from Diana as if she were the devil’s own daughter. She stared at him with eyes the color of storm clouds. A flush graced her cheeks, and her lips, moist from his kiss, parted.

He wanted her, but he could not have her. He retreated behind the rakish facade that had always served him well.

“Now that was surely a proper show of gratitude, my sweet,” he drawled. “But despite your lusty eagerness I must take my leave. Mayhap we will meet again.” He ignored the shock that swept across her features and sketched a mocking bow. It was better for both of them if he disappeared from her life.

Turning away from her, he melted into the night.


Diana stared after him, straining to see some trace of him in the shadows. She found herself touching her lips with wondering fingers and snatched her hand away before turning back toward the house. She would tell her father about the intruder. And she would have the servants beat the bushes for him. With their muskets. Aye, and she would be gracious when they flushed him out like a frightened quail, and she would listen to his pleas for mercy.

She was, after all, a compassionate woman.

Lost in her fantasy, she wandered back into the ballroom. She smiled and greeted her way past the guests, inquiring after her father’s whereabouts. One of the servants mentioned that he had called for port to be served in the study. She left the ballroom and headed to her father’s private sanctum.

As she approached the study, her steps slowed. Her ire faded to be replaced by chagrin. As angry as Alex had made her, he had helped her out of a dangerous situation. Did he really deserve to be shot for trespassing just because his mocking remarks had sparked her temper? After all, if he had intended to harm her, he could have done so while she lay helpless beneath him.

The memory of his kiss rose in her mind. His mouth had felt softer than she expected, and when his lips met hers she realized how truly dangerous he was. He was the type of man that a woman might beg to seduce her...

“Explain these documents to me at once!” Her father’s voice thundered through the hallway, jarring her from her musings.

“Really, Frederick, at times your actions are of such a common nature.” Chilton’s high-pitched tones brought a frown to her face. She thought the man would have taken his leave by now. Would she never be free of him? She edged closer to the door of the study, which stood open a crack.

The rustling of paper broke the silence. Then came Chilton’s deadly hiss. “Where did you get these?”

“You know where I got them,” her father answered. “Did you really expect to keep this from me?”

“You had no right!”

“I had every right!” Frederick Covington’s answering roar could have rattled the pictures hanging in the hall. “These documents, written in your own hand, are proof of your dealings with Marcus. You know Sir Henry Morgan as well as I, Chilton. What would our esteemed lieutenant-governor think of your activities?”

“Morgan is hardly a consideration.”

“Hardly a consideration!” Her father’s voice rang with incredulity. “The man has made it his personal mission to rid the Caribbean of piracy. Every plundering wretch in the area has either turned himself in for pardon or taken himself into hiding for fear of Morgan’s wrath. And you say the man is hardly a consideration? You are either extremely arrogant, Chilton, or else you are a fool.”

“Who is the fool here, Frederick?” Chilton’s silky tone sent a shiver slithering down her spine. “You and I are partners. Do you really believe that Morgan would consider you innocent in this matter?”

“He will,” came the immediate reply. “And had he not already left for the evening, I would prove it. I am known to be an honest man. My good name is my protection.” Her father paused. “A pity you cannot say the same.”

“I give no credence to the ranting of a low-born wretch such as yourself, Frederick. You are not fit to utter the Markham name.”

Half a breath from flinging open the door in defense of her sire, Diana froze when he spoke for himself.

“I may be a ‘low-born’ wretch, Chilton, but my daughter is not. As you are well aware, my late wife was the daughter of a Scottish nobleman. Diana inherited great wealth through her, in addition to the substantial dowry I intend to bestow upon her. However, a man who associates with the likes of Marcus would not do as a husband for Diana. Kindly do not press your suit again.”

Chilton spluttered in response, but Diana lost interest in the conversation. One thought blazed across her mind and brought a wide smile to her lips: Chilton would no longer bother her.

She started back to the ballroom, so happy she wanted to dance. Chilton could no longer offer for her. Frederick Covington did not tolerate dishonesty, and if Chilton were indeed linked to the pirate Marcus, then he certainly lacked scruples.

Her father’s sterling reputation could withstand a little tarnishing. But the Markham name had been sullied when Chilton’s father committed suicide after gambling away the family fortune. Only Frederick’s belief that the son should not pay for the sins of the father made him take on Chilton as a partner.

She entered the ballroom. The blaze of lights and lilting music raised her spirits higher. Once her father reported Chilton’s activities to Sir Henry Morgan, the persistent nobleman would be punished for his crimes. He would no longer seek her as his bride, and her father would be lauded as the hero who exposed the villain.

Satisfied that her unwanted suitor would plague her no longer, Diana tried to lose herself in the dancing. But beyond the garden doors the night beckoned, seducing her with the memory of a dark stranger’s kiss.


Copyright © 2017 Debra Mullins
All rights reserved

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