Lady Pirate by Lynsay Sands

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Valoree no longer has to masquerade as her murdered brother and scourge the oceans as Captain Red. She no longer has to command his pirate band in a quest to regain his birthright. She has been named heir to Ainsley Castle. But no executor would ever hand over the estate to an unmarried pirate wench and her infamous crew—no matter to whom she’d been born. And the will distinctly states that in order to inherit, Valoree must be married to a nobleman . . . and pregnant.

Upon learning that, the virgin captain is ready to return to the seas—but her crew has other ideas— and for those rascally cusses she would do anything. If they could find a way to put on her a sweet face that would fool the ton, she would handle the rest, even with a drunken prostitute as an “aunt” and her merry cutthroat crew as “servants.” But to herself she swears one thing: she will only marry a man who fires her blood, a man who is not afraid of a . . . Lady Pirate.

Source: finished copy from Harper Collins for review purposes–Thanks so much!

Five years ago, Valoree lost her only living relative, her brother, a privateer for the British. Jeremy had raised her on his ship after her parents died and they had nowhere else to go, the whole time disguising her as a boy. When he was brutally murdered, she took up his fight and became captain to try to avenge his death.

Now, after having sailed the seas disguised as her brother’s avenging ghost and finally telling the crew that she is a woman, Valoree and her crew want to return to her ancestral home to retire (which was something that Jeremy had promised them). In order to claim her property, Valoree is told that she needs to be married and pregnant or have a child by her next birthday. So the hijinks begin.

There was so much to love about this book. First of all, it was hilarious. Second, even though she disguised herself as a man, her crew, now knowing she’s a woman, still had a lot of respect for her, which, as a big ole feminist, I LOVED. Overall, the characters were fantastic: the two main characters, Valoree and Daniel are a lot of fun, though I did want to knock their heads together a little, as well as her merry band of misfit pirates and her “aunt”, who was found in the streets and is being paid to be her chaperone.

I have read a lot of regency romance, but this book takes place before the regency, in the late 1700s (it’s never specified the exact time, which kind of makes me loco). This period is quite different from the regency because people are wearing wigs and makeup (and this leads to some seriously funny scenes), as well as huge big dresses and men looking like dandys. There was one scene where I had to suspend disbelief because the two main characters are waltzing, which would be impossible because you simply could not waltz during this time without permission from the ladies at Almack’s (or so I’ve been lead to believe through my extensive regency-era reading) and this is never even mentioned or alluded to in the book.

Back to the plot. Valoree needs to find a husband, and quick, so she has to put herself out there for the sake of her men to find someone who she thinks will allow her to continue to make her own choices and live a separate life, after he gets her pregnant, that is. She meets Daniel, and their attraction is immediate, but she refuses to even consider him because he too strong willed to allow her to continue living her life the way she chooses.

Lady Pirate is just such a fun ride of a book. There is romance, mystery, laughs, weird social conventions, and deep abiding loyalty, respect, and love for a Lady Pirate. I loved how Valoree defied all expectations and she has become a feminist icon for me. This book also lead me to look into Lynsay Sands’ backlist and I’ve begun reading her Highlander series, which is also a riot. Sands is definitely going to the top of my TBR.

4.5/5

excerpt

The Caribbean- late 1700s

The water was flat as a looking glass, capturing the moonlight and stars that twinkled down from above and reflecting just enough light that the ship gliding ahead of them appeared black and ghostlike in the darkness.

From her position at the front of the small dugout canoe in which she rode, Valoree motioned, and the men at the oars immediately slowed their rowing. At another signal, the sailors raised their oars out of the water, and the craft slid silently up beside the larger craft.

Immediately those on the left side of the canoe with drew hooks on long ropes and sent them whistling through the air to catch on the rail above. For a moment they waited, staring breathlessly up the side of the large galleon and holding the lines, allowing their craft to be dragged along by the larger ship’s momentum. At last, when a hue and cry failed to arise, all eyes slowly returned to Valoree.

She stared back, knowing these men all saw her as a slender young man- little more than a boy, really. All of them but Henry. He alone knew that their deceased captain’s younger brother Valerian, who had served as a cabin boy these last eight years, was really a girl. Of course he knew; he’d been the one who had suggested the charade so many years before, when he’d realized that Jeremy- his captain and her brother- intended to keep her aboard a ship full of pirates.

Aye, these men all thought her a lad, young and untried. And yet, they had vowed to follow her. Only a desire for vengeance could make these two dozen men, cutthroats and hooligans all, follow someone they had always looked upon as a green lad, a little brother or son to be coddled and spoiled. And vengeance they would have.

Glancing down into the water, Valoree took in her reflection. Her body was slim- she was lean rather than muscular- and it trembled with anticipation. For a moment she imagined that her eyes were no longer those of the youth who had moved easily among these men, laughing and chatting as she’d gone about her chores. Nay, her eyes now seemed old, hard, bitter with fresh loss. A loss these men shared as well.

Her brother had been a good man and a fair captain, and his ship, the Valor, had been the only home most of his crew had known for the last eight years. The men who now accompanied her were the last of that crew. She glanced around at them, then back at her reflection.

Though her shirt was her own, she now wore her brother’s breeches, along with his hat and jacket. Jeremy’s boarding ax and pike were hooked through the thick belt at her waist, and a brass-barreled flintlock was sticking out of those baggy, too-large pants. The captain’s cutlass rested in its sheath where it hung at her side. She had taken his clothing when she had sworn vengeance for his death- and she had not bathed since.

Every inch of her body, every item, every inch of cloth, wood, and metal was covered with its owner’s dried blood, as were Valoree’s face, hands, and feet. Even her long hair was crusty with the stuff. Though it was normally a vibrant, fiery red- as her brother’s had been- it was now streaked through with crimson, marked by the red blood of her brother’s death- a reminder of her vow.

Her brother had not died easily. He had not died quickly. He, along with the majority of his men, had died slowly and in torment. And for that, Valoree and the remainder of Jeremy’s crew had vowed, these Spaniards would pay.

She glanced toward Skully and nodded. The cadaverous man immediately reached for his tools, and Valoree turned her back as he began to bore holes in the bottom of their craft. She regarded her crew, awaiting their reaction. She did not have long to wait. Skully was still working on the second hole when the last of them turned to her in understanding. In their faces she read approval and a grudging respect. To reassure them of her intent, she half hissed, half whispered, “We take this ship or we die. There is no escape. We fight not only to avenge the deaths of good men, but for our lives.”

“For our lives and vengeance,” Henry vowed beside her in a hushed tone. His words were immediately taken up by the others.

“Life and vengeance!”

She relaxed somewhat at their acceptance, an odd calm overtaking her as she silently watched Skully finish boring the holes in the bottom of their boat. The holes were relatively small, but even so, by the time he had started on the sixth, the boat was already gathering water and beginning to sink.

As Skully hurriedly returned his tools to his satchel, Valoree drew her brother’s cutlass from its sheath. Moving to the side of their slowly sinking ship, she led the men in a stealthy climb up the side of the Spanish galleon. Her bare hands and feet moved surely up the rope until she reached the top, the others close behind. Pausing there, Valoree peered over the side and glared about.

Several men, taking advantage of the night breeze, were sleeping out in the open air of the deck. Valoree glanced toward the helm and smiled grimly upon seeing the helmsman. The man, while still at his post, had nodded off and was now dozing away his shift, sense less. There was no one to give an alarm. The Spaniards would be taken completely by surprise.

Slipping silently over the side, Valoree hunkered low, sticking to the shadows. Her men followed. As the last of them slid to the deck, she gestured silently, dividing them into two groups with one simple wave of her hand, then gesturing for one group to stay above deck, while directing the others toward the dark hole that was the entrance to the cabins. They all began to move at once, separating and moving all over the ship. The men above deck positioned themselves among the sleeping Spaniards, ready to set to work, but waiting the few moments necessary to allow those men slip ping through the hole to reach their targets, lest some sound or death cry warn their enemies below.

Leaving the rest of the crew to the others, Valoree moved stealthily toward the helmsman. She had nearly reached him when something startled the man awake.

Drawing a sword, the Spaniard peered blearily at her. She froze, but his gaze found her anyway. Taking in Jeremy’s bloody clothes and her red hair flowing about her blood-streaked face, he blinked.

“Rojo… El Capitan Rojo?”

Valoree stiffened at the words, recognizing the name the Spanish used for her brother. Captain Red, because of his red hair.

“Regresa del muerto… El Rojo,” the man whispered faintly, then straightened abruptly, shrieking. “Regresa del muerto. El Rojo!”

His cry awoke others nearby, and the sleepy-eyed men turned to gape at her in horror. The helmsman’s cry was taken up again and again. “Regresa del muerto. El Rojo!”

For a moment, everyone was still. The others she’d brought with her, startled by the shouting, turned to peer at Valoree. She drew back, annoyed, then peered about at the frozen tableau. Her crewmates seemed as transfixed as the Spaniards. With a glance at the near est of the men, she snapped irritably, “What the devil is he saying, Henry?”

Drawn out of his startled state by the question, the quartermaster relaxed and grimly smiled. Then he shrugged. “He’s thinkin’ ye’re yer own brother, Captain Red. He’s thinkin’ ye’re back from the dead. He’s screamin’ “Back-from-the-Dead Red,”” he explained. The cry continued around them.

“Regresa del muerto. El Rojo!”

“Back-from-the-Dead Red?” Valoree repeated, then frowned at the terrified Spaniards. “Well, at least they shall know why they die”. Raising Jeremy’s cutlass, she advanced on the helmsman, but much to her consternation, the man immediately dropped his weapon. For a moment, Valoree was nonplussed, but the sudden chorus of metal against wood drew her attention to the fact that every Spaniard aboard the ship was now giving up his weapon unasked, all dropping them to the deck floor.

“What the devil are they doing?” Valoree cried in dismay. “Are they not going to fight?”

Henry glanced around, then turned to face her. “Well,” he drawled, scratching at his ear. “I’m thinkin’ they’re thinkin’ that since ye’re a ghost and all, there ain’t no sense in afightin’ ye. Most like they think we’re the rest of the men that were kilt… and ye cain’t kill someone what’s already dead.”

“El Rojo.”

Valoree glanced up at hearing again the helmsman’s terrified murmur. The Spaniard was now tugging his pistol free and dropping it on the deck beside his sword. Throughout, he continued mumbling, “Regresa del muerto. El Rojo.”

Before she could decide on a course of action, a scuffle at the entrance to the cabins drew her attention. Valoree glanced over as the men who had gone below returned, pushing several captives ahead of them. The first was obviously the captain, and he looked angry. He also looked willing to fight, Valoree saw with relief. At least someone would. It was hard to take revenge when the enemy refused to fight. She wouldn’t simply kill unarmed men; that was not fair. She was just about to move to confront the Spanish captain when the helmsman spotted his commander. He immediately shrieked, “El Rojo! Regresa del muerto!”

The captain started to glance toward the man, but his gaze caught and stayed on Valoree. The whipping wind filled the cloth of Jeremy’s jacket, making her appear larger than she was, and she had to fight to keep her bloody red hair from covering her eyes. She pulled Jeremy’s hat down further onto her head and glared at the Spaniard with hatred. The man gaped, then murmured, “El Rojo?”

“S’aai,” the helmsman cried. “El Rojo, regresa del muerto.”

“Shut up!” Valoree said in a growl to the mouthy sailor. She was sick of hearing those words. Stark terror entered the captain’s face as well. “Tell him to shut up, Henry,” she said hurriedly.

Henry translated the order into Spanish, but the panicked helmsman could not have obeyed had he wished to. He seemed able only to repeat himself over and over. Irritated, Valoree drew Jeremy’s flintlock pistol and shot him.

The man dropped to the deck with a shriek, grabbing for the wound in his leg.

As if that were the signal for some preplanned form of action, the Spaniards all made a sudden exodus to ward the sides of the ship. Taken by surprise, Valoree and the others could only watch in amazement as the crew of the galleon, as one, cast themselves screaming into shark-infested water.

Cursing under her breath, Valoree stalked to the side of the ship and peered down at the men in the sea below. They were thrashing about in the water, moving in the general direction of the nearest island. “The gunny cowards,” she muttered.

“Aye,” Henry agreed. He and the rest of the men had moved closer to peer down at their fleeing adversaries.

Slamming a palm down on the rail in frustration, Valoree cursed. “Jumping rather than fighting, can you imagine?”

Henry shook his head. “Spineless Spanish bastards.”

Sighing, she frowned at the water below. A moment later, One-Eye let out a dismayed oath. Glancing up, Valoree peered over at where he was pointing. The helmsman was on his feet, and had hopped to the side of the ship. He was now balancing himself precariously on the railing. As she watched in amazement, the man hefted himself over the side of the boat to land with a splash in the water behind his comrades. It seemed that swimming with sharks was more attractive than keeping company with ghosts, even for the wounded man.

“Ye want we should shoot them?” One-Eye asked with little enthusiasm.

Valoree shook her head in disgust. “Leave go. They are not likely to make it to shore. ‘Sides, none of them bore the scar.” She desired revenge, but there was no pleasure in killing cowards.

The others nodded in agreement. Besides, this was apparently not the ship of their true enemy. One of the few things they had learned from Jeremy, ere he took his last breath, was that the Spaniard who had ordered the torturous deaths of her brother and so many of his men bore a scar in the shape of a question mark on his neck. And the captain of this vessel had borne no such scar.

Sighing, Valoree straightened and turned to survey the Spanish galleon. “Well,” she said softly, “it would seem we have a ship.”

“Aye,” Henry murmured. “That it would.”

“Have we enough men to sail it?”

Henry surveyed the small number of their remaining crew. “Aye,” he said. “Enough to get to port and pick up more men… Captain.”

Valoree glanced at him sharply. “Captain?”

He nodded solemnly. “Aye. Of this, the Valor II. I’m thinkin’ we’ve got us a fine captain. Ye’ve the spirit, the courage, the determination… and, better yet, ye’ve already got yerself a reputation and title.” When she looked bewildered, he shrugged. “Ye’ve already taken yer first ship. If any of those men out there survive their swim, all will hear about their terrifying encounter with Back-from-the-Dead Red.”

Valoree rolled her eyes and glanced at the others. All of them were standing about, nodding in agree ment. It seemed she had not only stepped into her brother’s clothes, but she had also stepped into his command. Back-from-the-Dead Red, indeed. Thanks to a load of superstitious Spaniards, she was now the captain of some of the most bloodthirsty cutthroats it had ever been her misfortune to meet- if she wanted them. She was only nineteen. That was young to be a captain. But then, Jeremy had been only eighteen when she had helped him purchase and outfit the Valor. And as for her gender, they already thought her a boy.

Seeing her hesitation, Henry moved closer. “Now, think on it for a minute before ye go making up your mind. Cap’n Red – yer brother Jeremy – he did this only to make some money; then he planned to go claim your family estate, set it to rights, settle down, and start a family.”

“Aye, but – “

“But nothing. Now that dream is yours.”

Valoree blinked at that. “What mean you, now that dream is mine?” she asked suspiciously.

“I mean, with him gone, ye have to make his dream come true for him. Claim the inheritance, settle down, start a family.”

Valoree was silent for a moment, then frowned. “But I do not have the money to – “

“Well, that there is true enough. That was what Jeremy was doin, earnin’ the money to claim the estate. It’s not been lived in since ye was a wee babe. He said he needed a fair sum to put the place to rights.”

“And he had earned it,” One-Eye put in bitterly. “More than enough to claim the land and set it to rights. We were all to have homes there,” he reminded her. “He promised all of us a cottage and a little plot of land. He – “

“The boy knows all about that, One-Eye,” Henry interrupted, silencing the first-mate.

“Aye, I know.” Valoree sighed. “But the Spaniards took the riches when they killed Jeremy.”

Henry nodded. “Aye. And that means we would have to start over.”

“Start over!” Valoree glared at him. “Eight years it took my brother to acquire that money. Do not tell me you now want to waste another eight years.”

The man hesitated at that, then cleared his throat. “Well, now, I been thinkin’ on that, too. It occurs to me that out there somewhere is a Spanish galleon with yer brother’s treasure on it- or someone who knows where it is. If we could just manage to find that…”

“The Spaniard with the scar!” Valoree exclaimed. Henry nodded solemnly.

“We could kill two birds with one stone. We could have revenge and settle down in England all nice and proper, too.”

“For life and vengeance,” she murmured thoughtfully.

“Aye,” the quartermaster agreed. “For our life, and Jeremy’s vengeance.”

daphne

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