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Emerald’s fingers lifted to brush something from her forehead when she woke. It was cold and wet–a rag had fallen on her brow. She was hot, very hot, the air itself felt as though it was burning and she couldn’t catch it in her lungs. She was suffocating; the hot air pressed down on her. She saw red and light images moving about from behind her closed eyelids, people, no not people, angels, walking about with their wings folded. The red turned to white everywhere. She began shivering then, shivering with cold and they were not angels it was snow. Snow had fallen in Calcutta. Her father had a painting of a snowy landscape. He had said snow was very cold to touch. She opened her eyes catching a deep breath, not knowing who she was or where she was. The room was dull grey. The light was fading. The room was narrow and small. Something was above her, the ceiling within an arms length. She felt trapped, imprisoned. She sucked in a deep breath then cried out, suddenly afraid and screaming into the air of the small unfamiliar room.
“Hush, you’re mother’s asleep.” A deep voice resonated through her head, ringing in her ears. Pain throbbed. She could hear her own blood beating. It was deafening. It hurt to breathe. It hurt in every nerve, every limb and every muscle. She wanted to cry from the pain.
“You need to drink.” The voice said. She thought she should know it, but she couldn’t quite catch a hold of the memory, her head was in so much pain. “Sit up a little. Take the medicine and then you need to drink the water.”
“Do I?” she murmured.
“Yes, you do, Emma. You need to do everything that I and Dr Steel say, do you understand.”
I? I? Who was I? “Dr Steel?” she whispered.
“My doctor, you are on my ship and in my care and you are damned well going to conquer this bloody fever. Do you hear me?”
“Drink this medicine, disgusting as it is, and then some water.”
She moved as his arm slid beneath her shoulders, lifting herself and pressing to his chest. Her cheek rested against clean fresh cotton. He smelt of sea and air. Mr Farrow, his name returned to her mind.
She gripped his hand and a small bottle pressed against her lips. She drank. The bitter liquid ran into her mouth in a rush as he tipped the bottle. It was revolting but she remembered the taste, she had drunk this before.
“Now have some water.” His deep voice ran through her veins.
The water was cool and refreshing. She gulped it, taking several long sips. Then he drew it away. “Not too much, I don’t want you to be sick. You need to keep it down. You can rest again now.”
Suddenly she was free of him and cold again, lying amongst a tangle of cotton sheets that clung to her skin. She was in so much pain. A sob escaped her lips, she rolled to her side and returned to the whiteness and the angels walking through Calcutta.
Emma was fractious and rolling about, tossing the sheet off as fast as he could put it on. Her arms and legs flailed as she murmured God knew what, waging a bloody war against her fever.
He’d admitted to himself over two hours ago, he was scared. They’d fought the elements of The Cape with an entire crew. She was fighting her storm alone, wrestling with death.
They’d left the worst waters behind hours ago. Half the ship was at rest, worn out by their battle. He’d slept five hours through the afternoon and then come here as soon as he’d woken, praying the news was good. It was not. She was worse again, far worse.
Duncan prophesied that if she survived the night she’d probably recover but he’d equally said there was a strong possibility she might not survive it. Richard’s heart had felt odd ever since he’d heard those words, like it was hanging in suspense, waiting, not knowing whether to beat or not. Yet it was beating in a steady rhythm which he felt in every artery as he sat here beside her, watching her breaths, counting them, fearing each one would be her last.
She could not die. No man could have that much ill luck – to lose a man’s wife and daughter in a single voyage – because he was certain he would lose her mother during their journey. Catherine looked weaker by the hour, just has her daughter had become increasingly delirious.
For God sake, he looked aloft, lifting his gaze to the Almighty, not using his name in vein but calling upon him. For God sake, this could not be. He would not let it be.
What was he, the master of death now? Richard mocked, looking back at the young woman in the bunk. Her skin was scarlet and when her eyes had opened they had been bright, vividly shining with fever and unseeing. She could be within minutes or hours of death, or her fever could peak and she’d ride the crest and return to them.
Her teeth started chattering again and she groaned, not awake but in a half dream like, half trance like state.
Duncan had spread a poultice on her wound a few hours ago, trying to draw out the poison in her blood and placed the damp cloth over it, which Richard had been rinsing out and replacing at intervals. She kept pushing it off.
He wished she’d just lie still.
Her leg flung off the covers and hung over the edge of the bunk again, his gaze lifted from her naked shin to the lower thigh that dangled before his eyes, a slender long limb, pink with fever. He rose and lifted her leg, placing it back beneath the covers. Her skin was hot and yet like silk, and her scent high yet sweet and tantalising. He’d never smelt a woman’s scent as sweet as hers. It was a heady drug to a man’s senses. It teased – and tempted.
He sat down and his heart thumped hard in his chest. “You had damned well better survive, Emma Martin,” he whispered in a determined voice.
Her mother slept behind him in the lower bunk and her maid in the upper one. He could hear their breathing and the creaking of the ship, the latter sound a familiar comfort, the former a disturbing intrusion.
He had not wanted them on board.
“If you make me give your father the news that you’ve expired I shall not be happy,” he concluded, redeeming himself in his eyes as he pressed the damp cloth against her forehead again.
“Father,” she answered on a breathy groan, rolling away from him. She’d spoken of her father often in her torment and called for her mother. Other names he vaguely recalled from India had passed her lips too, her young friends. Mentally she’d been back in Calcutta. He wished she was there now. He wished she had never set a foot aboard his ship. He would never forgive himself if she died, that was a simple fact. He had become responsible for her. The weight of it was the tight grip about his heart.
He decided she ought to have more water. Duncan had bid him to get her to sip it often. He lifted the pole from the edge of her bunk and let the loose end drop to the floor, then rested one hip on the bunk as he’d done half a dozen times tonight. “Emma?” he said quietly, “you need to have another drink. Will you sit up?”
He watched her face in the light thrown by the oil lamp he’d hung up. He was leaving it burning constantly tonight so that if there was any change in her condition he’d be easily alerted. Not that Duncan could do much to help her if she worsened. She either survived now, or she did not.
“No,” she moaned, pushing him away.
“Yes,” he said in a firmer tone and set his arm beneath her shoulders to help lift her head.
“I want to go home, Mama, to India,” she sobbed as he cradled her head in the crook of his arm. She ceased resisting and rolled into him, grasping his shirt where it hung loose at his side. “May we go home?”
Compassion filled Richard He’d never known an emotion like it. It poured in to him, like it ran from the lip of a jug and he was the cup it filled. His arms surrounded her, and he held her tight. “You’ll get home, sweetheart. You will. We’ll get you home one day. But for now just drink the water and then we’ll get you to England safe and later we’ll get you home.”
He let her go and leant back to pick up the metal cup. “Here.” He held it to her lips.
Her warm fingers gripped the back of his hand, as they’d done time and time again tonight. Her touch had become a familiar thing. Her hot breath brushed the skin on the edge of his wrist as she opened her mouth to drink. Her temperature was intense, like a furnace burned inside her. She gulped the water, he let her have several mouthfuls then took it away and drank the last himself, before setting it aside. Drinking the water which she’d drunk, felt like drinking communion wine – it was probably a sacrilege to say so, but it touched him somewhere in his soul.
When he began moving off the bunk she grasped his shirt more firmly. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me. You’re all I have.” It was a statement of madness, the fever speaking, she didn’t even know who he was and yet the pain in her voice made him stay. He brushed her hair back from her brow. It was tangled and wild, matted with blood, sticky with salt from the waves on deck and dampened by sweat and the cloth he’d lain over her forehead.
“Hush,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
She pressed into his side, clinging like a barnacle to the hull of his ship, this girl who knew what it was to love and be loved so much so she would sacrifice herself, her desire for more, to please her parents. She had boarded this ship for her mother, not for herself. She would probably even take the last foolish step and marry her parents’ choice for her, to make them happy.
How different it was to the life he’d known, he’d severed any contact with his parents at one-and-twenty and walked away. He would never have done what they’d wished. Yet they had never liked him let alone shown any love to him.
She gripped the material of his shirt tighter, the material brushed his skin as her fingers curled into a fist. His stomach muscle became taut. She started to bloody shiver again.
He held her closer.
He would be inhuman not to feel for her. He was human. He was a man, made of blood and bone and flesh – sinful – lustful – damned – flesh.
He should move. His body heat was only heightening her fever.
He did not, saint like, he stayed where he was, fighting for his sanity – or sinner like.
He nursed the strange mix of lust and emotion in his stomach and chest as he let her cling to him and he stroked her hair in reassurance, murmuring soothing platitudes and promising all would be well. He could not leave her fighting this alone.
Even if she survived, though, all would not be well – her mother was dying and there was no denying that.
When Duncan touched Richard’s shoulder to wake him a few hours later, Richard was still sitting, on Emerald’s bunk with his back against the supporting pillar and Emma’s head pillowed on his stomach as his hand rested on her hair.
Thank God it was Duncan who’d seen him thus and not her mother.
“Richard.” Duncan acknowledged in a whisper, neither his voice nor his face showing any sign of judgment as he leant over and pressed his palm to Emma’s forehead. “She’s cooler,” he stated in a swift jubilant announcement as his hand lifted and drew back. “The fever’s broken.”
Richard’s hand slipped from her hair to her forehead. She was. It had. He couldn’t even begin to describe the rush of relief racing through his blood. He felt like weeping as he lifted her off him, then he climbed off the bunk. “She was distressed,” he said in explanation to Duncan, not offering anymore words. He wished to be out of the cabin, he needed to be alone. He needed to be somewhere where he felt able to express what the hell had been going on inside him tonight – with a shout, or a growl or a fist slammed against the table in his room, or… tears.
But before he could leave the room, Duncan gripped his forearm and stopped him. “Richard, those of us who know you well can see what is happening to you, especially those of us who have experienced the same. I shan’t judge you for falling for the girl.”
“Is that what I am doing?” Richard answered dryly, pulling his arm free. “Thank you for informing me.”
Duncan laughed softly. Richard did not.
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