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“Are your possessions ready to go ashore, sir?”
“They are. You may have them moved.” Richard faced his quartermaster, meeting Mark’s gaze. “Also you may remove yourself from the ship. You are relieved of your service.”
Mark’s skin, which was tan from their weeks at sea, turned white, and his mouth opened to speak but no words came out.
“Did you think there would be no reprisal?” The anger inside Richard glowed like ash at the bottom of a hearth. He did not think his fury would ever be extinguished, his loss and remorse would certainly never cease hurting him and so if this was cruelly vindictive he did not care. “You should have remembered it is not Joseph who owns this ship. However, I am not dismissing you. It will serve as punishment enough to tie you to the land for a few months.” Mark’s colour returned as Richard continued. “You know, I take it, that if you had not intervened, Miss Martin would be my wife.
“Send someone to hire a carriage and have my own and Miss Martin’s luggage removed to the dock then report to my shipping office. You will work there as a clerk for now.”
“Sir.” Mark bowed saying nothing. At least he still had the common sense not to risk raising Richard’s anger any farther.
“Go then,” Richard barked with a look that told Mark to run before his sentence of administration worsened.
Mark bowed again then turned away.
Richard turned too, to face the cabin doors. Emerald was in her cabin. In minutes they would be ashore. His heart hit like a fist into his ribs.
He glanced about the other ships in the dock. Their masts rocked as they swayed on the water. This had been his life for years. The sea. Trade. But now he was going back to a world he had run from so many years ago he could hardly remember it. He had been away too long to even imagine the scene of his return and he had not even tried because he had not wanted to think of it. That had been easy enough with Emerald and her mother distracting his thoughts. They had kept his focus on other things than himself. But now…
He was not a man who suffered with fear, it was the reason he had come this far; he would take any risk because he was not afraid of fate or failure. Yet today, the rate of his heartbeat and the clasping feeling in his stomach and his chest shouted fear. It had been creeping up on him in the last few hours. Whispering as he had tried to sleep and then gripping about his throat today.
In his mind’s eye he saw Emerald talking to the others and not looking at him.
Last night the knowledge that he had lost her had merged with memories from the past becoming tangled up like rope. “You are not worthy!” “You will never match up!” “No one shall respect you!” His rational mind had been fighting those words since he had woken and his emotions had mingled with them and applied the words to Emerald.
But he was worthy of her. He was. And he was going to sit her in that damned carriage in a moment and talk sense into her. He must make her believe that he loved her. She had to marry him, he could not live with any other conclusion.
The crewmen walked past carrying his possessions in trunks. He had no idea how long he would be in England.
“There’s a swanky carriage on the dock, Mr Farrow, sir. Cap’ain’s gone down to speak to some posh looking ‘ouse-servant. Lilly-livered looking ‘e is. Said ‘e was after y’ur ship, Sir. Mr Bishop told ‘im ‘e’d found it.”
Richard turned and looked at the sailor. “Thank you, Smith.” He was not interested in their gossip. Joseph could handle whoever it was… But.
A thought slipped through Richard’s mind. Swanky…
He turned to look. His hands gripping the rail as suspicion lanced through his chest.
Bloody hell. No.
The glossy black carriage that stood a few feet away from the bottom of the gangplank had a mahogany and satin wood motif etched into the panel of the door depicting a gilded coat of arms – and the carriage driver had been looking for Richard’s ship…
The dock was a crush of men who were busy unloading or loading but Richard saw Joseph speaking to a man in grey livery who stood with a stiff back. It was one of those servants who thought themselves important because they were attached to such a grand man. Richard would guess that grand man was inside the carriage too. The conclusion was obvious.
Richard strode across the deck to reach the gangplank, setting men out of his way with a firm hand on their shoulders. His gloved hand slid over the rope as he walked down. “Mr Swallow!” he shouted when he neared the dock. “Mr Swallow!”
Joseph looked back as Richard stepped on to the cobble. He knew from the look in Joseph’s eyes that his guess was right.
“Miss Martin’s, relatives are here,” Joseph said as Richard got closer to him.
Damn it. For God sake. For years fate had been on his side but now it seemed to have turned against him. It is because I am back here. The evil in his head whispered. He ignored the thought and looked at the servant, fighting the urge to throw his fist at someone.
“Since receiving your letter and that from Mrs Martin, they have been awaiting the ship’s arrival.” Joseph continued to explain. “They were notified when we reached London last night and have come today knowing we would dock.”
Richard did not bother speaking with the servant, he strode past him to the carriage and opened the door. Warm air swept out, with the scent of idle luxury that recalled memories of Richard’s boyhood. There were hot bricks on the floor under the occupants feet, and the impeccably dressed man on one side held a stick with a silver top that contained lavender. The Duke of Sunderland. He appeared to be around Richard’s age.
On the other side of the carriage was an older man and a woman of lesser rank by the look of their clothes.
“Your Grace,” Richard stated, letting go of the door and bowing slightly. If he wished to win Emerald back now he must do so through her family, they were now the damned gatekeepers and she was meant to marry this duke. But he had not expected the Duke to be young. Nor expected the sudden kick of jealousy as the man got up and then climbed out of the carriage. “I am Mr Farrow, owner of the shipping company. It was I who wrote to you of Miss Martin’s situation. It is good of you to come in person.”
The Duke offered his hand to Richard. He had a strong handshake, he was blonde haired, blue eyed and square jawed and Richard had an instant dislike of them. He did not want to let Emerald ride off with this man.
He wished he had not sent those damned letters.
“It is the least I could do in the circumstances.”
Richard had deemed the Duke a pompous ass in his mind, but probably unjustly, the man had come to the dock to meet Emerald.
“I have brought Miss Martin’s uncle with me,” the Duke said, “her mother’s brother, Mr Coomb and his wife.” Mr Coomb and his wife were currently climbing out of the carriage.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr Coomb, Mrs Coomb,” Richard bowed his head to them. “Miss Martin’s luggage is yet to be unloaded but she is ready to disembark.” What else was he to say. Go away.
“Splendid.” The Duke said. “Well then, that is excellent. Would someone fetch her, or should we come on board? She can come with us now and her luggage be sent on. The burden is off your shoulders, Mr Farrow.”
Richard did not want the burden taken from him, the idea of it shuddered through him. Nor did he like passing her off to strangers. They did not know her and she would not know them. He had imagined taking her to the mans’ house and being asked to stay and he had intended to accept that offer for a few days until she was settled… To just let her go….
Then there was the new fear that she would see something in this man that she had not seen in him. The fear that had been pressing about his neck on the deck was now strangling him with a firm hold. He was losing her forever. But he had no choice. Any complaint may bring about her ruin. He should have no interest. He should want her gone. She ought to be nothing but a passenger to him. “I shall fetch her.” Richard bowed again, more deeply, though it cut at his pride, but he did it for Emerald’s sake. He did it because he would need to win her back through the Duke. Some how… There must be a way. He did it because Emerald was more important to him than anything else.
When he turned back towards the ship he caught Joseph’s gaze and saw the look that recognised Richard’s unusual submissive approach,and the reason for it.
Richard’s strides were long and quick as he clasped at the ropes on either side and climbed the gangplank, wanting as long as he could get with Emerald.
Numerous men amongst the crew had stopped what they were doing and were looking at him. His bowing on the dock had screamed to them what had been going on. Now the whole ship knew his interest was fixed in Emerald’s direction. The only people who did not know were her family.
He did not bother barking at the men, but focused his mind on the minutes he would have with Emerald.
Richard stood before her cabin obviously about to send the men in to collect her luggage. Richard lifted a hand to tell him to wait. “The Duke of Sunderland is here to collect Miss Martin. Please to talk to his servant to find out the address for her luggage. They will have it sent on later.”
Richard knocked on the cabin, his mind screaming. You have lost her! You will never see her again! Never!
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last book in the Marlow Intrigues series out in May and available to preorder
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
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
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