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Richard woke. There was a noise in the day cabin, a woman’s sobbing.
Oh God, Emma was crying, and she must be in the day cabin, he would not have been able to hear her if she was crying in her own cabin on the opposite side to his. For some reason she had come out of her room.
His heart held still as he listened for a moment, not knowing what to do. But then it pounded. He sat up, moving the sheet aside. He had to do something.
But surely she had not walked across the deck at this hour to reach the cabin, she must have unlocked the adjoining door on her side.
A bitter resignation clasped within his chest when he picked up his trousers. He was not the best man to provide comfort, he was not the most sensitive, and yet for weeks now he had been submerged in a sea of sympathetic feelings for her – because he’d discovered what it was to love. He could not hear her sobbing and stay in his room, it was beyond him, even though he knew how foolish it would for them to be in the day cabin together, alone at night.
But who was to know, as far as anyone else on the ship was concerned they were in their cabins, and her door was locked.
He put on his trousers and buttoned the flap, then pulled a shirt over his head. He left it untucked, and open at his neck without a neckcloth and he did not bother with stockings but turned the key in his connecting door and went into the day cabin. Moonlight illuminated the room, and Emma. She was sitting on the floor, with her head resting on her knees, as her back pressed against her cabin door.
He said nothing as he walked across the room, but the floorboards creaked beneath his bare feet. She did not move or stop crying, though he sensed she heard him approach. “Emma.”
She looked up, eyes wide and sparkling with fluid, acknowledging the fact he stood there but nothing more. She had no words to express her pain, anymore than he could find them to comfort her.
He dropped to his haunches, then turned and sat next to her, pressing his back to the closed door as he reached an arm about her and braced her shoulders. She fell into him, accepting his physical comfort. Her arms embraced his midriff, and her head rested against his shoulder. They sat like that, her heart breaking in his arms for an hour perhaps–he had no track of time.
He stroked her hair. “I know it hurts, Emma. But the pain will grow more distant with time. You’ll survive this, sweetheart. I promise. And I will send word to your father. He will come for you as soon as he hears…” His words went on, trying to offer what reassurance he could.
When her sobs eventually subsided, she did not move, but continued to hold him for minutes more with her head against his chest, as though she listened to the pace of his heart.
“I want to go home,” the words were said against his chest.
“I know, darling,” his fingers brushed her hair back from her forehead. “I’ll get you there.”
Her head lifted and she looked in his eyes, with that inquiry and intelligence that was individual to Emma.
Without thinking, he leant forward and touched her lips with his, he meant nothing by it, it had been a response to an instinct that he’d let lead him. But she pressed her lips back against his, and her fingers slid into his hair and pulled him closer.
Before he knew it, his hands were pressing to her back and holding her there as his lips parted and his tongue swept into her mouth. The kiss took on a life of its own, his restraint of weeks broken. She was willingly giving, and seeking. Her small breasts brushed against his chest through two thin layers of cotton, her nightdress and his shirt. There was the warmth and softness of her body. Her tongue circled and fenced with his, then parried, pressing into his mouth. The craving inside him had a dark, dangerous intensity. He longed to lay her back on the floor and continue this to its conclusion. It would ease her distress, and appease the painful frustration he’d felt for weeks. But it could not be done. She was an aristocratic, genteel woman, unmarried, and a virgin – yet one day. One day he would have her as his wife, and in his bed.
He broke the kiss and pulled away. Her gaze asked him, why?
“Emma, darling, this can go no further, we must stop. It should not have begun. I should not have kissed you. You’re grieving. I need to let you do so. I will say nothing to you yet. Take what time you need. We will talk about this when you feel a little better. But in the meantime, know I will do anything that I can for you, but I will not risk your reputation. No matter how much I wish to I cannot show you affection before the crew, we must remain distant from one another before others.”
Her gaze held his, her pupils wide dark pools of jet.
The words that he should not say spun through his head. He had no right to say them, but he couldn’t hold them back any longer. “I love you. I have done so for weeks. I shall give you space and time. I will not speak yet. But I will do so when the time is right. I know you said you did not look for marriage, and yet you are promised to this man in England. But I cannot let you agree to have him. There is something between us that will not be denied. You long for something more from life, I know, and I can give you that. I can give you more than this man who is a stranger to you. We can travel. I can show you places, give you the enlightenment and knowledge you long for. Will you listen to me then, when the time is right for me to make you an offer?”
Her checks flushed, he could see it even in the moonlight leaching the colour from her skin. She nodded, “Yes,” and slid her fingers into his hair, then pulled him down so she could press her lips to his.
He gave himself into her hands and kissed her in return – but he held himself back, taking nothing more than she gave. Just a kiss, just the knowledge of returned affection, just the pressure of her body against him as his hands rested on her back.
He had never felt hungrier for a woman in his life as he let her go. “You should get into your bed, Emma.” Before I can no longer stop myself from doing what I should not.
She smiled, accepting his hand. He stood and drew her up. Her grip on his hand reminded him of the nights they’d spent in the dark when she was ill. How many weeks would he have to wait until the next time he could touch her? Becoming selfless was a bloody curse.
She lifted on to her toes and kissed his lips again, as her free hand braced his neck.
The hunger inside him rose to the fore and he leant her back against the door, letting go of her hand and instead cupping her bottom and pulling her body flush to his. The vision of her from the recurring dream he’d had for weeks flooded his mind, slender legs wrapped about his waist as she lay beneath him.
“Emma,” he broke the kiss, feeling himself harden for her, “you need to go.”
She pressed one last kiss on his lips then obeyed, slipping free of his hold and then opening her cabin door and going into there. The door shut behind her.
His fingers clasped in his hair. This was torture.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama, like Victoria and Poldark.
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
The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75 now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉
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