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Authors: Marie Caron

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BOOK: A Captain's Destiny
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“Quiet! Quiet, Sir, or you will find yourself in contempt of court,” the judge announced, slamming down his gavel as he glared back at the Frenchman, who slowly lowered his boney ass to the chair behind him. Satisfied, the judge turned to Jack. “If you have something to say in your defense, then I will hear it,” he told Jack, looking down his long thin nose at him.

The Frenchman could be heard talking under his breath, but Judge Houghton ignored him as Jack approached the bench, looking the judge in the eye. “First of all, no evidence was found on my person. If I stole a purse from Monsieur Richelieu, then where it is? And second, I am an old friend of your daughter’s…that is, your
daughter. I am sure she will vouch for me.”

The magistrate’s eyebrows rose. “If what you say is true, then I don’t blame you for speaking up. If not, then you will most assuredly spend the rest of your days wishing you had not tried to fool me, young man. I will not allow this city to become overrun with thieves! Take the prisoner back to his cell for now. Next!”

As his accuser rose, sputtering and shaking with anger, Jack was escorted out of the courtroom to await help from Lady Katherine Conlon.

By suppertime Jack was beginning to wonder if she still considered him a friend. Surely she remembered him. He hadn’t forgotten her for one moment. In fact, he gave her credit for the man he had become. Knowing her had turned him from a disreputable youth into a trustworthy young man. Even her real father had remarked on the change in him. “Being responsible for her care has made you grow up, my lad. I worry less now that I know you will be around to look after her,” John Conlon had told him one afternoon, as the older man lay on his sickbed.

“I promise to always take good care of her,” Jack had vowed. John Conlon had died less than a month later; the day after Katherine turned six. Not long afterward her mother had remarried, and her stepfather had taken his new wife and stepdaughter to England. After all these years it was possible that Katherine didn’t remember him. He prayed that wasn’t the case.

* * * *

By the time the torches in the prison wall had been doused for the night, Jack had lost hope. He was just dozing off, when he heard the sounds of people approaching…footsteps and keys clinking. A soft glow turned into bright light that made him squint, and then, there she was. Standing beside her stepfather and the jailer, both men holding lanterns aloft to light their way along the dark, dank hallway, Katherine appeared in the gloom like some avenging angel.

“Jack, is it really you?” she asked, a smoky vision in gray and purple satin, her dress and petticoats swishing as she moved closer to his cell. She was wearing a dark hat and little black gloves too, and Jack couldn’t help staring at the lovely woman facing him through the cell bars. His Katherine was all grown up.

“Get up and come forward, Sir, so that she may see your face,” her stepfather ordered, and Jack, who had already risen from his cot, stepped up to the bars.

“Jack, oh my God it is you!” the angel wailed, and that was enough for the magistrate to order that Jack be released from jail.

He was given back his cloak, coin purse, sword, pistol, and other personal belongings, and then he was escorted outside into the cold night air by the judge and his stepdaughter. Waiting for them was a fancy carriage belonging to Judge Houghton, and together the three rode to the judge’s residence.

While they were bumping and swaying along the rutted road, Katherine commenced to fill her stepfather in on her previous relationship with Jack, and then Jack explained his business in Ceylon, or as much as he dared. Soon they arrived at Judge Houghton’s townhouse located in the most prestigious part of Colombo, the capital city.

Katherine’s mother had died five years previous, and it was clear that Judge Houghton and his stepdaughter were at odds over something, although Jack had no idea what it was. Her curt answers to the judge’s questions, and her flashing dark blue eyes had given away her temper and brought back memories of their youth. Even though many years had passed and she was a woman now, Jack had not forgotten the determined look she had gotten when she didn’t get her way. She had been a little hoyden at times, and at that moment he wouldn’t have wished to be Judge Houghton for all the coffee in Ceylon.

Jack was shown to a guest room by one of the servants, and after cleaning himself up as best he could, he joined the judge in the library, where the older man was smoking a pipe. A glass of amber liquid sat at his elbow. A fire burned brightly in the large stone fireplace, while a turbaned servant stood to one side of the large mahogany sideboard, looking expectantly at Jack.

“Please be seated. May I offer you a drink?” the judge asked, waving a hand toward the dark-skinned servant.

“Yes, whatever you’re having will be fine, thank you.” Jack perched on the edge of a high-backed chair near the fire, feeling more than a little uncomfortable. This was not the sort of place to which he was accustomed, nor the sort of company he usually kept. He was handed a glass of the local wine, which he downed quickly. His throat was parched from his sojourn in that abysmal jail cell, but mainly he hoped the liquor would help steady his nerves. The manservant quickly refilled Jack’s glass.

“That will be all for tonight, Ajith,” the judge told the servant, who then bowed and backed out of the room, closing the doors behind him. “It was lucky that you ended up in my courtroom, young man,” the judge commented in between puffs and sips.

“Yes, it truly was.” Jack couldn’t have agreed more.

“Is your home still here in Ceylon?”

“No. Although I spend most of my time at sea—I own a shipping company—I make my home in Hawaii. After my father died, I had no other relation here, so I decided to seek my fortune elsewhere. I find the climate in Hawaii to be much more to my liking.” The extreme heat and humidity of this region were two things Jack did not miss.

“I see. Your business is shipping?”

“Yes. I am the owner and captain of the
Lady Elizabeth
, named after my late mother. I transport cargo all over the world,” he said proudly. He ran a legitimate business, but this particular endeavor, which had recently brought him back to Colombo, might be considered by some to be less than honest. Not that it was his fault. Last year he had taken a large shipment of cinnamon from here to London. But when he and his men had returned to Ceylon, the grower had refused to pay what he owed, claiming the cargo had never reached London.

So, just two days earlier, Jack and two of his best men had relieved the plantation owner of the money owed them, and now they wanted to get back to Hawaii, where the money would be dispersed among the crewmen who had served on that voyage. That was why being arrested for the trumped up charge of petty theft had been so upsetting. If the real theft was discovered and connected to Jack and his men, he’d be back in jail, and even Katherine wouldn’t be able to get him out.

The older man went on drinking and smoking and didn’t speak. And after a few quiet, awkward minutes for Jack, he decided to take a chance and ask the judge a somewhat personal question. “I couldn’t help but notice that Lady Katherine was upset about something as we rode here in the carriage.”

“You could tell?” the judge asked, eyeing Jack curiously.

“Yes. I remember that her eyes get very dark when she’s angry, and she always bites the inside of her cheek when she’s trying to hold her tongue.”

“You have a good memory, Captain O’Bannon.”

Judge Houghton looked at Jack with even more interest, and Jack wondered what he was thinking. The truth was he hadn’t forgotten anything about his dear, sweet Katherine, but he didn’t dare display such a personal attachment to her. After all, she was a member of the upper class, while he was just a businessman. There could never be anything more than friendship between them. And yet…

The judge interrupted Jack’s wayward thoughts. “You may also recall that Katherine is very stubborn. She and I have been having a slight disagreement.”

“About?” Jack dared to ask.

“As you know, she is of marriageable age—has been for some time—and yet she has turned down several very appropriate suitors. So…I have had to arrange a marriage for her,” he finished slowly, as though he regretted it.

Jack was glad he’d finished his drink, otherwise he would have choked on it. “Eh…you arranged a marriage between Katherine and what lucky man, if I may ask?” Jack asked through gritted teeth. He tried to sound calm, although the news made him feel just the opposite.

“Uh…he’s a wealthy, foreign-born gentleman…highly thought of in London society and favored by the Queen, or so I’ve heard. He recently purchased a tea plantation near Kandy, the old capital. He intends to make his home there half the year…and the other half in Paris,” he replied haltingly. The judge was obviously trying to assure himself that he’d made the right choice for his difficult stepdaughter.

“I see.” Jack held his temper in check. He didn’t want an arranged marriage for her, but he had no right to say so. He knew Katherine well enough to know that she would hate being told who she must marry. But more than that, since seeing the woman Katherine had become, Jack was now even more in love with her.

The judge cleared his throat, looking as though something sour was stuck in it, and Jack guessed there was something more…something he wished he didn’t have to admit to Jack. Seconds later Jack was kicking himself for being right.

“Actually, you know the man. It’s Richelieu, the man who claimed that you robbed him.” The judge waved his hand as if to dismiss the idea. “I’m sure it was an honest mistake. He must have mistook you for someone else,” he added, but no amount of excuses could dampen Jack’s rage.

“That French fop? Why, that’s lunacy! He’s no match for your stepdaughter, Sir. He wouldn’t make a good match for a swine!” Jack was beside himself with anger, but not so far gone that he didn’t notice how much his remarks rankled the judge, whose face was now florid with ire. “I have spoken out of turn, and I am sorry, Sir.”

“As well you should be! You may be an old friend of Katherine’s, but this is no matter of yours. Besides, the arrangements have already been made. They tie the knot this Saturday.”

As the two men adjourned to their rooms for the night, Jack was seething inside. If he had anything to say about it, Katherine wouldn’t marry that spineless shit of a man…not Saturday, not ever! But just how was he to stop her?

Chapter 3

The next morning when she asked after their house guest, Katherine was informed that he’d left very early. She was very disappointed.
He could at least have taken the time to say good-bye
, she told herself as her maid helped with her toilette.

At breakfast her stepfather said he had a full day in court, after which he was going to have dinner in town with a colleague. He didn’t mention Jack, and she thought it best not to mention him either. After all, she didn’t want the judge to think that she actually cared what Jack did one way or the other. Yes, she had done Jack a favor by vouching for his character, but only because he had asked. He was of no real concern of hers. At best, he was just an honest, vagabond sea captain; at worst…well, there was no telling what sort of miscreant he was. She had heard tales of such men; he probably had a woman in every port. Even though she had known him as a child, he was not a member of her social stratum. She was better off without him in her life. She’d probably never see him again, and good riddance.

She spent her day snipping spent buds and reading in the rose garden, and after having dinner alone in the dining room, Katherine decided to go to bed. For a while she tossed and turned, wondering just what sort of life Jack led. What sort of wonders had he seen on his voyages? Her mind created lush landscapes filled with tropical flowers, verdant valleys, brown-skinned natives, pastel-colored sunsets stretching across azure seas, and vast, dark, oceans rolling under a canopy of sparkling stars. As she imagined the places Jack had been, and a big part of her envied him. If she were a man, she could sail the seas, or do anything she chose to do. But she wasn’t a man, and her future had already been decided for her. She would marry a virtual stranger, someone of whom her stepfather approved, and she would bear her husband’s children, and live wherever he decreed they should live. Her only alternative was to spend her days here in this house as the judge’s companion. Then, when he died, she would live alone, a dried up old maid with only her dreams to take her away from her mundane existence. A lone tear rolled down Katherine’s cheek. It was quickly joined by several more, and soon she was sobbing into her pillow.

The tears didn’t last long before she was swiping at her face with both hands. This was not like her. She wasn’t the sort of person to simply sit still and let others plan her future. Her father had often called her willful, and as a young child that was precisely what she’d been. But back then she’d had Jack to watch over her, to keep her out of trouble. Now she had no one…at least no one who shared her
joie de vivre
, and that was what she wanted most. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask? She’d had many suitors since her coming out at the age of eighteen, but they had either been too old and staid in their ways, or too young and self-indulgent to suit her. Up till now she’d avoided marrying someone she didn’t love, and she wasn’t going to give in now. So what if she was almost twenty-six? Marrying Richelieu was out of the question. She would rather die first!

The only course left to her was to run away. If she could make it to the docks, she could stow away aboard one of the cargo ships. Once they were far enough from land that turning back wouldn’t be an option, she would reveal herself and offer the captain money to pay for her passage. As she pondered just how she was going to make her escape, her tears stopped, and soon her eyelids grew heavy and closed. She was half asleep when she heard a strange noise. Someone was in her room. Was it her maid, come to check on her? Maybe the judge had come in to say good night? He never had before, but there was a first time for everything, wasn’t there?

BOOK: A Captain's Destiny
6.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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