The Truth by Jane Lark ~ a free book exclusive to my blog ~ part sixteen

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The Truth

© Jane Lark Publishing rights belong to Jane Lark,

this should not be recreated in any form without prior consent from Jane Lark

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 67, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Richard

Duncan had replaced Richard earlier and taken the next watch upon Miss Martin. But having grasped a couple of hours rest Richard returned to see how Emma fared. It was six in the morning and if Duncan didn’t need him Richard’s next aim was to go up onto the deck and relieve either Joseph or Philip, whichever of them wished for a rest.

When Richard entered the narrow cabin for his sick sailors, Emma’s eyelids fluttered open.

Her skin was a deep pink instead of its usual striking pale and the whites of her eyes marbled with red veins. Her fever had heightened, then, despite the dose of stewed bark and laudanum.

Duncan rose, holding another vile of the stuff in his hand. Richard leant across him and pressed a hand to her forehead. It was very hot.

“Papa?”

Richard cursed.

“Mrs Martin,” Duncan whispered through the corner of his lips, gesturing with his head towards the other lower bunk.

Richard glanced over his shoulder. He had not thought she would be awake, the women had had a disrupted night, yet Catherine was awake and she looked at him with fearful questioning eyes. “Forgive me, Catherine.”

“Nonsense. I have told you not to worry. How is Emma?”

“Not good,” Duncan answered, looking back.

“Is she delirious?” Richard asked as he watched Duncan.“She was lucid earlier.” His mind was full of the whispered conversation they’d had last night, her desire for something more. She’d said it in the day cabin over a week ago too, that she wished for more, more than the marriage she did not care for, the marriage which had been planned for her in England.

He recalled his own youth far too well, the mirror image of hers, with its parallels and yet complete contrasts. He’d been restless and hungry for more than the life that had been planned for him would ever offer. He’d wanted wider horizons, excitement, challenges and adventure. That hunger had taken him to Calcutta as a humble clerk, where he’d begun  working for her father in the East India Company offices.

His father had not been willing to accept Richard for who he was. His father had hated the son who did not conform to the mould life had cast for him. Richard had never been loved as Emma Martin was, not that he cared for it, or needed it. He’d never known it. You did not miss what you’d never had.

“Her fever is worse?” her mother asked.

“It is.” Duncan looked from Catherine to Richard. “Her temperature has been rising rapidly since you left her.”

Richard turned fully back, looking at Catherine. “You are not to fret, Duncan will have her right. I’ve never known him lose a man.” That was a lie, he had lost men. On a trip to America, three years ago, four men had died in the throws of fever, but they had passed due to a plague that had spread. Another man had died following a severe head wound, when a wave had knocked him against a bulwark. His scull had been badly smashed.

Catherine’s eyes closed, she was grey, weakened by sea-sickness on top of her illness. He could see she was dying now. It was etched in the creases of pain on her face. Charles Martin had a lot to answer for – letting these women travel half way across the world with only each other for protection. Richard looked at Duncan.

What the hell would the Governor of Calcutta think if both his wife and daughter died during this journey! Richard had been a damned fool to take them with him. How would he tell the Governor?

Emma began shivering again. Duncan leant over her. “Can you sit up, Miss Martin?”

“W-where is m-my f-father?”

“Near,” Duncan reassured, lying through his teeth, it seemed neither of them feared their souls if it comforted the women. “I wish you to drink this, Miss Martin?”

Duncan sat on the edge of the bunk and put his arm about her shoulders, as Richard had done the night before. But Emma pushed his hand away. “Who are you? What are you doing? What are giving me? No!” She was panicking.

“It is Dr Steel, Emma.” her mother called, from the other side of the room, her voice breathless and weak, “Remember, sweetheart? Let him help you.”

“Mama?”

“I’m here, darling, but poorly too. Just do as the doctor says, he’ll get you well again.” Catherine sounded afraid it wasn’t true, but her intervention succeeded. Emma’s fingers gripped Duncan’s hand and then, as in the night, she guided the bottle to her lips.

A pain pierced Richard’s chest at the memory of her slender fingers gripping his hand.

Her face screwed up when she tasted it, then she pushed it away. “Miss Martin.” Duncan insisted in an authoritative voice. Her head turned away when he lifted the vile again. “You need to drink it.” Duncan insisted.

“It tastes horrible.”

“Emma, darling, drink it, do. You need it to make you better. Please, dear? You must.” her mother urged.

Emma clutched Duncan’s hand again, brought it to her lips, then drank the fluid in one go. “Yuk.”

Duncan pressed her shoulder. “Good girl.” Richard had seen him display the same gesture with his young daughters. He was treating Emma like a child.

Even so envy lanced through Richard, rippling in his blood. Hell, he had no reason to be envious–the woman was nothing to do with him in reality. But here, on the ship, and in this room, reality seemed very far away. Here they were suspended in time, locked away and lured into a false sense of what was real.

“I need the chamber pot,” Emma whispered.

The devil be damned.

Duncan looked up, “Richard, you are going to have to help me, it’ll be far easier if you do. I cannot wake the maid. She’ll be in no fit state to help for a while. She was retching half the night herself. If you take one arm, I’ll take the other. Miss Martin can lift her nightgown herself.”

Good God, he could be no more intimate with the woman. Was the Almighty determined to torture him? Or the devil, dancing about in hell, amongst the fire, merely awaiting Richard if he cracked. He was trying to do his best by the girl and ignore his growing attraction.

“Very well,” he agreed. He could hardly refuse, without her mother wondering why. He moved from behind Duncan, to come to her other side.

She looked up, her glassy, shimmering gaze meeting his. “Mr Farrow,” she said instantly. There was an odd relief in her voice, it warmed him. No it did not warm him, it cut through him like a hot knife through butter.

“Miss Martin,” he whispered back in acknowledgement, smiling, as much to himself as her, as he freed his gaze from hers and helped her move her slender warm legs, then clasped her upper arm. Her arm was very slender, his fingers wrapped about it fully and crossed over, and her skin was hot and she smelt of woman. Duncan took her other arm.

“Are you ready, Miss Martin?” Duncan warned signalling to Richard to take her weight. Then they lifted, helping her to stand on her feet. She was unsteady and swaying but her legs held her up, she did not crumple.

Typically the ship rocked sideward, the waves were not as high now and therefore the shift not so violent, but, still, she fell against Richard, thrown off balance. He gripped her arm more firmly, and whispered to her ear. “Hold steady, we’ll have you back in the bunk in a moment.”

“I do not feel well,” she answered. The pitch of her voice only spoke to him, in the brisk, enquiring and telling way he had become used to, as though she had forgotten that her mother and Duncan were with them.

“I know, but you’ll be fine soon if you do as Duncan says,”

“Will I?”

“You will.”

“Who is Duncan?”

She was not lucid. “Dr Steel, to you, Miss Martin.” A smile twisted his lips. Even half mad with fever she amused him.

“Dr Steel, ah yes, I remember him. The man with the foul liquid.”

“Him indeed,” he glanced across at Duncan smiling

“The man who has your other arm,” Duncan responded.

“Dr Steel?” Her glassy gaze turned to him.

“The very same.”

Crushed together in the narrow centre aisle, they guided her to the closet in the corner. Duncan leant to lift its lid.

It was far easier for men; you could give a man a bottle and he could piss while in his bed if he could not move from it.

“You’ll need to turn about Miss Martin and lift your nightgown,” Duncan explained. “We’ll avert our eyes.” Richard smiled again as she turned about on her own, tottering a little. She caught hold of his arm for a moment when the ship swayed. He lifted his gaze to the corner of the cabin, where the ceiling met the wall.

He heard the cotton slide up her legs, brushing against her skin. It was an erotic sound. It brought back his damned dream, not that in his dream she had been wearing a nightgown. It was the thought of her naked legs that did it–the long, slender, naked legs which he’d glimpsed last night when she’d kicked off her sheets.

He breathed deeply clinging to his sanity.

“Will she recover, Dr Steel?” her mother asked in a frail voice. Duncan must be looking in her direction. Richard couldn’t without seeing Emma, so he did not turn.

“I have faith in it, Mrs Martin, as you can see she is still capable enough, despite the fever. She is far from a such serious state that we must worry.”

Duncan was still lying. Richard had seen men with fevers like this die within hours. It depended upon how it developed. Death could come quickly or slowly with fever, or not at all. He prayed not at all.

“I am finished,” Emma said to the air, though they’d known it because they’d heard her. God he wanted to laugh, if anyone had spoken of this scene to him two months ago and said he’d be here in it, in this predicament, he’d have called them stupid.

“Make yourself decent, grip our arms and we’ll get you back to bed,” Duncan said in his doctor’s voice.

Her fingers gripped Richard’s arm tightly, and she pulled herself up. The strength in her grip encouraged him. Surely she was still too strong to weaken from fever.

God Richard was believing Duncan’s lies now because he’d become so attached to the girl.

When they helped Emma back to the bunk, Richard’s sex starved brain conjured up indecent and inappropriate images as he lifted her bare feet back onto her bunk and glimpsed her naked legs–especially with her mother in the room.

He let Emma go and excused himself. He’d leave Duncan to tuck her back in and replace the pole to stop her falling out of the bunk. Catherine looked up at Richard as he mumbled his parting words. He nodded at her, but turned and walked out swiftly without acknowledging her further, guilt whipping at his back. Emma was barely out of the school room. Duncan was treating her like a child. She was the governor’s daughter. He should not want her like this, and certainly not be thinking about it when her mother lay in a bunk near her.

He was angry with himself, frustrated and… still half aroused.

He made his way to the deck, snapping at an idle crewman who did not deserve it because he’d been working half the bloody night. When Richard reached the quarterdeck he sucked in a long breath of salt tasting air, glad to see the light and feel the wind. Dawn had fully broken and the ship was swaying and rocking but not violently. Waves slapped at the hull rather than threw themselves on his deck. The rigging above him creaked, and the sails snapped with the sound of whips as the wind pushed them to-and-fro. The sounds and feelings were like a child’s cradle. It soothed him. He felt at peace with the elements to master, he always had. Perhaps he was a little mad but he loved the sea.

He climbed up to the poop-deck and cast Emma Martin from his mind. “Which of you fancies a rest?”

“Both of us,” his Captain answered dryly. “What of the women?”

“Do you wish for the truth?”

“Of course,” Philip, who stood at the wheel, answered.

Richard looked at him, then back at Joseph. “The fated ill luck of having women aboard has fallen on them. They are all worse. Miss Martin is delirious…” He glanced at Philip, then looked back to Joseph, making a decision as he did so–to tell the whole truth. “Mrs Martin is at death’s door… and the maid,” He heard the depth of concern in his pitch, which was too morose, and lifted it, jesting, “is blessedly just sea-sick.” He laughed, mocking his stark feelings, wondering at the emptiness inside him, then looked at at Joseph and Philip once more. “Yes,” he answered the questions in their eyes, his voice sobering again. “It is the truth. The governor’s wife is dying. But you are not to say a word of it. Duncan told me days ago and she admitted the same to me. She was ill before she boarded, she hopes to survive until England at least, even to return home. Duncan thinks it unlikely she’ll live through the journey. Miss Martin does not know. Do not tell her.”

“God in heaven,” Joseph whispered.

“Quite,” Richard replied. “Now, who is taking a rest? I daren’t lose you both with Mark resting also. Whoever is left may take a break when the quartermaster returns.”

“Let Philip have it, I’ll wait.” As ever sacrifice fell to the captain.

“I’ll take the wheel,” Richard said, striding forward as a desire to take on the power of the sea raced through his blood. He needed something he understood–something familiar. He gripped the wheel and braced his arm. Philip released it. Immediately the sea fought back against Richard’s grip. It became the usual battle of wills. Richard held the wheel steady, his determination greater than the sea’s efforts to put the ship off course.

“I’ll see you in an hour or two,” Philip said, over the sound of the sea slapping at the ship and the wind whipping at the sail.

“Take longer,” Richard answered. “We are nearly through. It’ll do no harm. I’ll send someone to wake you if I need you.”

As Philip descended from the poop-deck, Joseph laid a hand on Richard’s shoulder. “She’ll be better in a day or two.”

He was referring to Emma.

Richard continued looking at the helm, and said nothing. He sucked in a deep breath. Joseph’s hand did not release his shoulder.

“I feel responsible,” Richard said to the wind and the spray dampening his face.

“That you are definitely not.”

“God, can you imagine sailing into Calcutta with the news, as the governor comes to welcome us home. Good-day Governor, your daughter and your wife are both dead. Bad luck at sea I’m afraid, you should never have put them on a bloody ship to travel half-way across the damned world.”

The grip on his shoulder firmed.

He and Joseph were of an age, they knew and understood one another, they always had. Joseph had been with him since the beginning.

“You like the woman, do you not?”

“His wife? She’s pleasant, who would not?”

“His daughter!”

Of course Richard had known Joseph was speaking of Emma, Richard simply did not wish to talk about her. His sentiment towards her was a raw thing, rare and unexpected. He could not explain it, nor understand it. It was something… living… it breathed inside him and ate him whole. It was infatuation, enthrallment. Sexual desire. Lust. The later explanations were the only definitions he knew, and yet it did not feel like those–not wholly like that.

What was a man to do when he’d held a woman in her shift and helped her use the closet and gripped her shivering, frail, barely clothed body to his chest in the darkness, in the middle of the night.

“It comes upon us all at some point, my friend…” Joseph’s fingers released Richard’s shoulder.“…this sudden madness you cannot explain and before you know it you have a shackle about your leg and a wife about your neck.”

“Believe me, it is not like that,” Richard answered steel in his voice as his gaze clung to the horizon.

“No? We will see,” Joseph answered, then changed the subject.

To be continued…

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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

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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 paperbackand, yes, there are more to come  🙂 

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For

  • 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

About janelarkhttps://janelark.wordpress.coma writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories

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