stormy persuasion Page 19

He snorted. “No, just absurd.”

“But you’ve never been at sea this long to know, have you?”

“I was just exaggerating, my way of letting you know what I think of your father.”

“Oh.”

A compliment to Anthony’s prowess in the ring, or a slur? It was unusual to see someone at odds with her father. Her instinct was to defend her parent, but she held her tongue, recalling how rough that fight had been. She supposed Nathan was due a little grouching about it, at least until he was fully recovered, even though by the sound of it he’d started the animosity in the first place. Of course, she didn’t know what that had been about. Yet.

“Now I’m craning my neck in the opposite direction,” Nathan complained. “At least come sit over here.” He patted the spot next to him on the cot.

“On a bed? With you? That’s far beyond the pale of inappropriate and isn’t happening.”

“Close the door first. Who will know?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Stop trying to seduce me.”

He shot off the bed and didn’t stop until he was leaning into her. “But it’s working, isn’t it? If you’re going to admit to anything, darlin’, admit you want me as much as I want you.”

Oh, God, did she? Is that what these feelings were? No wonder she was so confused and excited by him by turns. She’d never experienced desire before.

He’d pushed between her legs even though her skirt wasn’t wide enough to allow him to get that close. She didn’t know how he’d done it until she felt his hand on her outer thigh—against her skin. Steadily moving upward and bringing her skirt up with it.

Simple instinct moved her hand to his to stop its ascent. And it worked, he just didn’t take his hand away, and she would remember later that she didn’t either. She was too deep in the throes of anticipation. Yet the fear of discovery was present, too, with the door wide-open, when anyone could pass by and see them. But it didn’t occur to her yet to simply push him away.

His cheek rasped across hers before he bent his head to breathe deeply by her neck. “There it is again.” His lips brushed against her skin as he said the words, causing gooseflesh to spread, leaving a trail of tingling sensations across her shoulders and back. “The smell of ambrosia.”

“Jasmine,” she corrected breathlessly. “And vanilla . . . with a touch of cardamom . . .”

“Then it’s just you, that’s ambrosia.”

He leaned up, was suddenly staring deeply into her eyes. He did that for the longest moment. Such intensity! As if he were trying to see into her soul. Then he kissed her with such passion it took her breath away.

“I’m going to hate m’self for this moment of gallantry.” His words brushed against her lips. “But if you don’t leave this second, I’m going to carry you to that bed. That’s a promise, darlin’, not just a warning.”

Sanity returned with a vengeance, crimson embarrassment with it. But he didn’t move back so she could get down from the bench without sliding against him. She heard the groan as she did, just before she ran out of there.

She stopped at the end of the corridor near the stairs, and the trembling set in. She put her back against the wall and closed her eyes for a moment. Her cheeks were still scalding hot. What just happened?! But she knew, because once again she hadn’t got a chance to ask a single pertinent question. He’d found the perfect way to avoid that. He was chasing her away with sex. And what would have happened if she didn’t leave? Would he really have made love to her?

Oh, God, she wasn’t even near him now and yet that single thought made her knees go weak.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Nathan left the storeroom before he demolished it. What the bleedin’ hell was wrong with him to let her go like that? She’d been his for the taking. He’d seen it in her eyes. And a woman always got soft and friendly—and trusting—afterward. Which is exactly what he needed. But getting angry at himself for letting her go pointed out just how much of a fool she was turning him into.

The saner thought was that he needed to stay far away from her. He’d been managing to do just that, knew very well she was trouble in more ways than one even before her father convinced him of it. Yet he still couldn’t get her out of his mind, had found himself thinking of her at all times of the day. He did want her. There was no denying that. He just couldn’t have her, and he needed to keep that fact uppermost in his mind.

They could not be left alone again. Today proved he couldn’t keep his hands off her when they were. The only way to make sure she stopped tempting him like that was to give her the truths she wanted so she’d stop seeking him out. So he went up on deck where he expected to find her. She was there, looking calm and composed. He wasn’t, so he decided not to approach her yet and moved to the stern of the ship and took out the extra spyglass Artie had found for him. The first mate was there, too, doing the same thing.

Yesterday Nathan had seen the captain surveying the ocean with a spyglass as well. But James hadn’t mentioned the ship that had been trailing them the night the stowaway had escaped, and it hadn’t been sighted since then. He’d surprised Nathan by volunteering information of a different sort, saying, “There’s a Yank aboard named Boyd Anderson who you might want to have a chat with. Spends a few days seasick every voyage, which is why you might not have noticed him yet. But he can steer you to the people you need to discuss your plan with after we arrive. Might save you some time.”

“Appreciate it, Captain.”

“Don’t mention it. Some Yanks do come in handy occasionally—good God, I need to bite my own tongue.”

And he’d left with that odd statement.

Now, Artie lowered his own spyglass and, noticing Nathan, asked, “You’ve been watching for them, too, mate?”

“Curiosity compels me to.”

Artie nodded. “No further sightings. They either got what they were after, gave up—or they know where The Maiden George is heading, so they don’t need to keep us in view.” Then he grumbled, “The day was when we would’ve circled behind and boarded them—or blasted them out of the water.”

“Really?”

The first mate snapped his mouth shut and marched off, obviously unwilling to elaborate—or realizing he shouldn’t have said that. Nathan turned to pursue the subject, but spotted Judith instead. She wasn’t looking his way but was watching the fencing match between her cousins on the main deck. Leaning against the rail, her back to it, her arms crossed, her red-gold locks were whisked about her shoulders and back by the wind. She was so engrossed in the match that she might not even know he’d come on deck. He could keep it that way—if his feet didn’t have a will of their own.

He stopped two feet away from her and watched the fencers for a few minutes. It immediately became apparent that Jacqueline Malory wasn’t just amusing herself; she actually knew how to use that thin rapier in her hand. The lunges and feints, the quick responses, she wasn’t giving Andrássy much of a chance to do anything other than defend himself.

Incredulous, Nathan asked, “Just what sort of tutors did you girls have?”

“Normal ones.”

“Normal for whom? Pirates?”

Judith burst out laughing.

He glanced at her. “What was funny about that?”

“You’d have to know the particulars,” she replied, still grinning. “So tell me, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

“Is that a trick question I shouldn’t be falling for?”

“No, but when Jack played that wishing game, she decided she wanted to be a pirate. Of course, she’s outgrown that notion. Thankfully.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, quite.”

“Yet it appears she mastered one of the skills of the job.”

Judith giggled. “I know.”

“Did you as well?”

“Goodness, no. We shared the same tutors since we live close enough to. We merely altered the weeks and subjects, one week at my house for literature, geography, and several languages, then the next week at her house for history, mathematics, even a smattering of political science, then my house again, et cetera. We just differed in our personal curriculum. She was interested in fencing, pugilism, and becoming a crack shot, all of which her father was happy to teach her. I was interested in needlepoint and learning to play an assortment of musical instruments. And you?”

“The rudiments of a general education taught at a local church. But I don’t believe that she took up pugilism. There’d be no point, since it’s not something she could ever make use of.”

He caught the smile on Judith’s face, which she wasn’t directing at him since she’d yet to glance his way even once. Then she confided, “I would agree with you if I hadn’t seen her in the ring with her older brother. Jeremy can easily hold his own in a fight. He is like a younger version of my father, but she was still able to beat him. Speed and a few tricks can counter size and brawn.” Then Judith laughed. “Of course that only works once. Onto her tricks, Jeremy didn’t let her get away with it twice.”

Jack might be a few inches taller than Judy, but Nathan still couldn’t picture what she had just described. But it did make him wonder if Judith might be good at lying, too, or just good at exaggerating. She still wouldn’t look at him. Didn’t trust herself? He started to smirk but ended up groaning to himself. He had to stop thinking she was as attracted to him as he was to her. It might even just be a ruse on her part to get him to confirm her suspicions. And why didn’t he think of that sooner?

A pretty older woman appeared on the quarterdeck, elegantly clad in a hooded, green velvet cloak that she no doubt wore to protect her coiffure from the wind.

“Your aunt George?”

“Yes,” Judith replied.

Noting the woman’s serene expression as she watched the fencing, he said, “She doesn’t mind her daughter’s antics?”

“D’you really think she could be unaware of the lessons Jack had from her father? Of course she doesn’t mind. She’s proud of all of Jack’s accomplishments, from never missing what she aims at with a pistol to her grace in a waltz—speaking of which, do you know how to waltz?”

Startled by the question, he quickly turned to look at her and saw she still wasn’t looking at him. It was starting to annoy him. “Why would I? If you’re going to dance, it should be fun.”

“You think waltzing isn’t fun?”

“Course it isn’t, it’s just what you nabobs do to make sure you don’t work up a sweat. I’ve seen it. There’s nothing fun about it.”

“You won’t think so after I teach you how. We’ll have the lesson here on the deck.”

He snorted. “Not bleedin’ likely. You can’t single me out like that.”

“I won’t. I’ll get Jack involved and a few other sailors, so it will merely appear as if we’re just amusing ourselves to counter the boredom of the voyage.”

“Do whatever you like, but you can count me out of nonsense like that.”

“On the contrary, I’m going to call in my beck-and-call card and insist you learn some manners—at least how to treat a lady. We’re merely going to start with the waltz.”

“Why? Once I’m off this ship, I’ll never be around ladies again, so your lessons will be pointless. And besides, d’you think I’m not aware that a lady is never left alone with a man? That she has a chaperone at all times? Maybe it’s you who needs some lessons, darlin’.”

“Our circumstances are—unusual. Or would you rather I ask my questions in front of an audience?”

“You’re doing a good job of pretending I’m invisible right now, aren’t you? We’re talking and we’re not alone. Keep it that way and I won’t think you’re seeking me out for more—”

“Stop it!” she cut in with a hiss. “The things you say, you know they are inappropriate.”

He chuckled. “But it doesn’t appear that we need to be alone for me to say them. Or would you like me to leave until you have someone else standing here with us? An actual chaperone? Like you’re supposed to have?”

He probably shouldn’t put her on the spot like this. She might be blushing now, but she was unpredictable, too, and adept at turning the tables on him.

“I wasn’t suggesting the lessons on proper etiquette begin immediately,” she said stiffly. “In fact, right now you’re going to tell me why you looked so sad the night I thought you were a ghost.”

“We’re back to that?”

“Yes, we are, and no evasion this time.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

“Answer me,” Judith demanded when Nathan stood there without saying a word.

He said instead, “I wonder what Artie and Henry are arguing about.”

“You’re changing the subject?” she said incredulously. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Exasperated, she followed his gaze. “You’ve been on the ship long enough to know those two are always arguing about something. It means nothing. They actually enjoy it. What you may not know is they are not only The Maiden George’s first mates, but Uncle James’s butlers at his house in London. Yes, they share that job, too. They’re also best friends, though at times, like now, it appears otherwise. They used to sail with my uncle. When he retired from the sea—”