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When Richard returned to the sickroom – now jokingly known as the women’s cabin below decks – he was tugged there by a relentless magnetic force which would not let him forget the proximity of Emma Martin. Just as though he was the needle of a compass and she true north. He found her sitting up, propped against a bank of pillows, as her mother was in the opposite bunk, while the maid lay in an upper bunk leaning on one elbow looking down at her mistress’s daughter.
He was greeted with Emma’s bright warm smile.
“Good morning, Miss Martin,” he said, the joy of his answering smile sounding in his voice as he let the door of the narrow cabin fall shut behind him.
“Good morning, Mr Farrow. Mama said you have sat with me for hours through the last two nights as did Dr Steel, she says it was the two of you who pulled me through my fever.”
Emma did not remember then… It was probably a good thing. Much better that she could not recall all the things he had whispered to her in the middle of the night.
Her hair was clean and neatly brushed now, and plaited in a single thick rope lying over her shoulder, across her breast, hanging to her stomach.
An image of her hair forming a curtain about them as she rode him slipped through his head. Cursing inwardly, his smile fell. He had been too long at sea – such fantasies would only make this journey harder and seem longer. It would make the rest of the damned journey unbearable. “You are welcome, Miss Martin.” He nodded at her then turned to her mother. “Catherine, Good morning.” He looked up and met the maid’s gaze. “Rita.” She declined her head in deference. He looked back at Catherine. “How are you all this morning?”
“Hungry,” Emma breathed emphatically behind him.
He turned and looked at her. “Are you?”
“I am starving.”
“Even I am peckish,” her mother said from the other bunk. “We have had nothing to eat in hours.”
Emma was still a little flushed, instinctively he reached out and pressed his palm against her forehead, she was hot but not burning, and she was lucid and smiling. His heart thumped steadily. She smiled at him, an understanding smile, as his hand fell away. Perhaps she remembered something of those late hours.
“What do you fancy?” he said, enchanted by her, enthralled by that damned smile, those bright blue eyes holding his with such intelligence and innocence. She trusted him now. He saw it there for him to read. She liked him.
“Just bread,” she answered, “with marmalade, do you have any? Oh and I fancy fruit, have you any fruit on board? Or will it all have spoiled?”
“We have some mangos in syrup. Would they do you?”
“Oh yes, they sound lovely.”
“Good, and I believe I can conjure up some marmalade too.” The other women agreed on bread and he went to sort it out, diagnosing himself slightly mad, his heart drumming in his chest, with lightness rather than weight. Was he really taking the women’s breakfast order to his chef? Surely that was his cabin boy’s job, the lowliest of his crew. He was not slightly mad, he was descending into insanity.
He spent half the day with the women after that, giving in to his urge to see and care for Emma. He ate with them and Emma had not lied, the fever had made her ravenous and thirsty. She ate three thick slices of the bread he’d brought and a bowlful of mango and drank three cups of sweetened tea on top. He watched her with amusement, listening to her mother talk and the maid eating quietly. Then he’d given them an hour or so to rest and returned later with a book in his hand to read to them, helping them to idle away the hours. He’d sat as he’d done at night, in a chair beside Emma, leaning back casually with one ankle resting on the opposite knee and the book, gripped in his right hand, on his shin. His left hand was gripping the edge of Emma’s bunk to hold himself steady as the ship gently rocked.
He was reading Gulliver’s Travels, which her mother had begun, but for the other women’s benefit he’d started it again. It was a very gentlemanly pursuit, reading to women, he’d sat in friends’ houses as a child, listening to their father’s read on a quiet evening. His own father had never done it. He had never done it before, and yet he’d cast the image as an idyll in his youth. All he needed now was a hearth, dogs and a number of children and he’d satisfy the picture of a homely man.
Laughter rang in his thoughts even as he read. What a damned bizarre thought. Children…
He was not a homely man. He was an adventurer, restless, always hankering for more, more of everything, and yet oddly in that moment he was not hungry for anything more, he was content. There was no burning need, no nagging frustration.
There was always frustration within him – a battle to achieve more. But it was not there now. Contentment created a very new and odd sense of peace.
Something warm lay over his left hand which held onto Emma’s bunk. He looked down as Emma’s fingers squeezed his, gently, with a sensitivity that denied her age.
He looked at Emma. Emma? Since when had he begun thinking of her by her first name only? Her gaze met his and she gave him a closed lip smile.
“Carry on, Richard.” It was her mother who spoke.
He’d stopped reading. He looked back at the book and carried on. Emma did not lift her hand. While he read on his heartbeat lifted to a steady thunder of warm pain swirling in his chest. Her mother couldn’t see the intimate touch she was bestowing on him. He ought to lift his hand and break it. He did not.
Nor did he look up to see if the maid was watching. Instead he let Emma’s touch reach into his soul as he read on. He was mad. Duncan ought to lock him up before he did some harm here. Only harm could come from it surely? He did not want a wife. She had a betrothed awaiting her in England.
Emerald fell asleep listening to Richard’s voice – content – happy. He was sitting so close she could smell him. The musky scent of salt air, a fresh breeze and Richard. His smell was familiar now, it engendered a sense of safety, as did his strength. When he had helped her in the night she had felt the muscle beneath his clothing.
She liked him now. He’d been kind and thoughtful – to all of them. He need not have cared for her himself, but he had.
She’d not remembered what he’d done when she’d woken this morning but as the hours had passed memories had returned – of being braced against him as his scent and his strength surrounded her and he’d whispered gentle reassurances.
Warmth flooded her, a gentle heat. It was a knowledge of something new and growing.
She tried to remember why she had hated him. She’d always thought him handsome. Her friends had swooned over him every time he stepped into a room, fluttering their fans to draw his attention. It was partly his affect on them that had made her hate him. He’d received their adoration with rigid dismissal, coldly ignoring them with his arrogant manner.
Where was that coldness now? No where. It had gone; like a mist blown away on the strong sea breeze.His arrogance was a determined strength and self-assurance – she had clung to that strength and his self-assurance had carried her through the night.
He roused her a little from her dreaming, turning his hand beneath hers and threading their fingers alternately, a reassuring, intimate gesture which they should not share. She did not open her eyes but pretended to stay asleep, knowing her mother lay close and could not see.
It was more than like. She craved his company, and his rare smiles. She wanted to hold his attention. He had become a prevailing wind she wished catch in her sails so that his strength and assurance might carry her along.
When she woke an hour or so later, he’d gone and the empty chair beside her bunk taunted her. She wanted him there.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperbackand, 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