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Richard’s fingers tapped impatiently on the table as he waited for the women. A half full glass of red wine occupied his other hand. He and his senior crew had been waiting ten minutes. He was debating whether to send Mark to knock on their cabin door, he had grown so bloody impatient.
Ships needed order.
He did not tolerate tardiness.
He’d not intended inviting them to dine with himself and his staff this evening. He’d presumed he might ask them once or twice on the journey, but he’d had no intention of setting false expectations on the first night. Yet Miss Martin’s distress this afternoon had moved him. He’d felt sorry for the girl, being ripped away from all she knew and sent abroad to who knew what. His offer had been made in a moment of weakness, but those feelings had passed long ago and now he was just angry that they would respond to his offer by arriving late.
The door was knocked gently a moment later. Richard nodded at Mark Bishop, telling him to get up and open it.
When Catherine and her daughter entered, instantly their impertinence and his impatience was cast from his mind. He should have sent Mark. He should not have let them cross the deck alone. Miss Martin looked three times lovelier than she had this afternoon. Her eyes were no longer red-rimmed, and her hair, plaited in several strands and piled high, revealed the pale perfect skin of her shoulders above the low neckline of her shimmering blue evening dress.
If a man’s tendency were toward perfection––the beauty in art and sculpture––Miss Martin was the epitome of it. His crew must all have dry throats and be licking their lips with want beyond the door.
He, Mr Swallow and Mr Prichard rose, as Mark moved to draw out a chair for Miss Martin, and Mr Swallow did the same for Mrs Martin. Catherine was also in fair looks. One could never doubt from where Miss Martin gained her beauty. Serenely the governor’s wife took the seat between himself and his captain at the circular table, while Miss Martin was seated between himself and Mr Prichard.
Richard wished then he’d seated Miss Martin opposite so he might look at her more easily. As it was he turned to her mother, retaking his seat and asking her if she had found their cabin comfortable. He noted as he did so, there was whiteness at the corner of her lips and a slight look of tiredness about her eyes. He feared she was going to be prone to sea-sickness. It was bad enough having women on his ship, let alone ill women. The ship was currently a little protected by the shore and although you could feel the swell, it was a gentle rock. Tomorrow they would break out into open sea and be swayed by the tropical currents. Tomorrow he’d know how well, or unwell, the women were going to travel.
“Did Mr Bishop speak to you about the key, Mr Farrow?” Catherine said.
Richard allowed his lips to lift into a slight smile. “He did, I have it and shall pass it on to you if it makes you feel safer, Catherine.”
“It does, Mr Farrow.”
He supposed it must be daunting for a woman to travel aboard a ship containing more than thirty men, with a daughter to protect and only a maid for company. And yet they had not had to, they could have waited for another ship. It was a little late to ponder the reason she had chosen not to wait, though. Perhaps he should have considered it when the Governor had bribed him to take them with a promise of payment in kind. Women were bad luck he didn’t want them here, but the promise of a business deal was worth their weight, and more, in gold.
“May I suggest, Catherine, that during the journey you remain in your cabin as much as possible. The deck of a merchant ship can be dangerous.”
“But we need air, Mr Farrow,” Miss Martin stated, turning away from the conversation she’d begun with Mr Bishop and Mr Prichard, proving her ears had been focused on his conversation. “We cannot spend months cooped up in a tiny cabin. We shall need some exercise.”
He turned and looked into Miss Martin’s blue eyes, they shone with intensity, intelligence and a firm spirit.
The girl was ready for a fight.
Usually he would willingly engage in an argument but then he noticed the blue of her dress exactly matched the colour of her eyes. One could not argue with artwork, her beauty was too stunning. He let his lips lift in a smile again. “Miss Martin.” He nodded to acknowledge her comment, a subtle recognition that his conversation had not been addressed to her.
She blushed, looking suddenly vulnerable and young. She was young, he remembered – he had started to forget.
It was said in Calcutta that as a child Emma Martin had swum naked with her father’s Indian servants, worked with them, played with them. Clearly there was still wildness in the girl, as he’d thought earlier. Now it was simply hidden beneath the veneer a governess had painted over it.
“What if Mr Bishop agreed times of the day when he may escort you? Would that suffice? An hour in the morning and afternoon?”
“But then I shall never see the stars.”
A strange feeling stirred in his stomach. There was just something about this girl, you could admire her as a work of art, but she was not sexually appealing beyond that––too thin––too fragile physically––and yet there was that something glowing inside her which he could see in her eyes. Passion––fire––and it flickered there now, burning bright and challenging him, speaking of a longing and a depth of feeling and emotion he rarely knew.
She reminded him of himself as a youth, energetic and angry, though she had no cause for anger bar her dislike of him. She was loved and protected. As much as people had discussed her wildness they equally talked of the Governor’s refusal to discipline the girl; she had been gently led onto the right path, not beaten toward a new direction. But still, yet again, he felt a moment of weakness.
“Then one of us will escort you on deck after dinner also, Miss Martin, if that is what you wish, but I would prefer it if you were never on deck alone.”
She nodded, realising perhaps she had won as much ground as she was going to get, admittedly far more than he had intended giving.
The rest of the evening was spent in flippant discussion, minding all social etiquette, Mrs Martin asking questions of his crew. While Miss Martin, more silent, responded when spoken to, answering the questions his men asked, expressing her lack of knowledge about England. He hadn’t realised she’d never been there. He hadn’t known she was born in Calcutta. She’d been what, a girl of eight or nine when he’d first known her. A thin child with large blue eyes, clutching her father’s hand when she’d accompanied him to the East India Company’s office, when Richard had been a clerk there. No wonder leaving India was a wrench, no wonder she was angry.
He decided to try to be a little more tolerant of the girl in answer.
Dinner with Mr Farrow and his senior crew had been tolerable and as it drew to a close Mr Farrow invited them to dine again tomorrow. Then he stood, walked across the room and took a key from the drawer of a cabinet. When he came back he handed it to her mother. “As you requested.” He bowed slightly, as her mother rose. They key had been a silent signal that they should leave. Emerald stood too, and then chairs scraped about the table as the other men stood.
“We shall not be able to entertain you every night, Catherine, unfortunately.” Emerald watched Mr Farrow, as he made it clear that they would not be welcome at his table every evening. She did not care. She would be more than content never to speak with him.
Mr Bishop had walked across the room and opened the door onto the deck.
“Goodnight.” The word was spoken in a chorus from the men about the table.
Emerald followed her mother across the cabin. Mr Bishop followed them out onto the deck, offering to escort them, if they wished to take the air for a while. Emerald glanced at her mother, seeking permission, but her mother looked so tired still, Emerald did not like to leave her alone and so she declined.
When they sat down on their beds inside their cabin, in privacy once more, Rita explained what the boy who’d brought her meal had told her about how the ship ran. He’d said he would wake them for breakfast at nine after the rest of the crew had risen and bring fresh water for them to bathe. Then bring their breakfast to the cabin. If they had any linen to be washed he’d take it.
Emerald looked around the narrow cabin. The wooden boarding closed further in, squashing her – crushing her. She longed for the bright colours and lush scents of India. She missed home and her father. His last embrace wrapped around her again. Tears blurred her view of her mother undressing. Emerald rose and turned. Rita undid the buttons at her back, then the lacing of her corset. Emerald slipped off her dress and her underwear. Silence filled the space about them as they all prepared for bed.
When they were settled beneath the sheets, her mother extinguished the oil lamp.
Emerald turned her back on the moonlight stretching through the window into the cabin, faced the wooden-boards of the hull and quietly let her tears flow, clasping her father’s handkerchief and listening to the masculine voices in the room next door as the ship tried to rock her to sleep, swaying with the movement of the waves it passed over.
Every day they travelled she would be further from India and closer to England, and there she would have to fulfil her duty and marry a man she did not know.
To be continued…
To read the Marlow Intrigues series, you can start anywhere, but the actual order is listed below ~ and click like to follow my Facebook Page not to miss anything…
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Passionate Love of a Rake #3
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5
The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5
The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback and, yes, there are more to come 🙂
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark