The Nature of a Lady (The Secrets of the Isles #1) - Roseanna M. White
19 JULY 1645
THE WATERS AROUND SCILLY
He was a prince at sea. That’s what John Mucknell shouted whenever battle was upon him.
Even before he’d stolen the East India Company ship, against whose deck his feet were now braced. Even before he’d presented himself and the John to the exiled Prince of Wales, offering their services against those blasted Parliamentarians who had taken over their country. Even before he’d been knighted and named vice admiral of this new royal fleet.
Pirate fleet, the enemy said. Mucknell’s lips twitched up as he watched the enemy craft close in. He was a prince at sea, a cockney. And, yes, a thief and a pirate. But it was the blighted Roundheads who had forced him to these straits. When his rightful sovereign was forced to barricade himself on an island to escape his enemies and found himself in desperate need of supplies, what course of action was there but to rob the ships passing by? And if the richest prizes were usually from the East India Company, under whose banner Mucknell had worked and kowtowed for so many useless years . . . shame, that.
“Admiral?” His first mate slid to his side, keeping his voice low. “There’s no way we’ll be able to slip by them into the harbor.”
“Nay.” Mucknell didn’t even need to raise his spyglass to see that three Parliamentarian ships had completely cut off the path to his base in the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall. He’d met the Constant Warwick once already today, near Land’s End, and they’d both gotten in a few good shots.
Shots that had left them both weakened. But the enemy had now rendezvoused with the Cygnet and the Expedition. And Mucknell’s fleet . . . well, they were pirates. There’d be no help for him, unless he could lure the enemy into range of the isles’ batteries, but that wasn’t likely.
“Our course of action, sir?”
The wind blew, snapping the sails taut overhead and lifting strands of hair from Mucknell’s shoulder. His mouth ached for a sip of rum, but he’d not indulge it, not until this crisis was well past. His fingers twitched over the pommel of his sword. His mind, sharp and fogless, spun through what he knew.
His hold was loaded with the booty from a significant haul—one that the Prince of Wales would be most eager to receive: much-needed supplies of food and cloth and metal, casks of wine, spices.
Mucknell’s fingers traced the circle of the pommel. Silver and more silver. Some of which he’d decided wouldn’t be among the cache he turned over. He’d branded his own name on the crate, making it clear to his men that this one wouldn’t be off-loaded with the rest. It was a man’s right, after all, to take a fee. And his would be the pieces already engraved with his wife’s name, as if they’d been made for her.
His gaze flicked toward St. Mary’s Island—so close, but too far to be of any help. Was his Lizza there, watching from a lookout? Or at their house on Tresco? She never breathed a word of her distaste for his new career. She just went where he asked her to go. Uprooted herself from their comfortable, if bare, life in London and followed him here to the very edges of England.
In moments like these, he knew she deserved better than a scoundrel like him for a husband. But she’d never say such a thing. Not his Lizza.
He’d get that silver to her. And the rest of the supplies to his prince. He’d outfox that triple-strength enemy bearing toward him. Somehow. He’d win. Because Vice Admiral Sir John Mucknell might be a pirate, but he was blamed well the best pirate these waters had ever seen.
As the closest of the enemy ships drew near, he pulled out his sword and held it high—the signal all his men would recognize as their cue to man their stations. And he shouted the words that were their battle cry.
“I am a prince at sea! I am the proudest man upon the face of the earth. I am an Englishman, and were I to be born again, I would be born an Englishman. I am a cockney. . . .”
He could feel the tension in the air that whipped around him, feel the energy of his men as they laid hold of their ropes and ammunition and torches and aimed the twenty-one guns on the starboard side toward the enemy, who had spilled