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Authors: Marie Caron

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BOOK: A Captain's Destiny
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Katherine sat up in bed and opened her mouth to call out, only to have something shoved between her teeth. She was being gagged. She struggled to take it out, digging her nails into her attacker’s hands, but her wrists were quickly bound, and then her ankles were tied together too, even though she squirmed to try and free herself. The next thing she knew, she was wrapped head to toe in a blanket and thrown, head-down, over a very broad shoulder.

Chapter 4

August 1844, on the high seas

Today the ship rocked calmly back and forth, and Katherine was finally able to get out of bed and walk about the cabin without risking life or limb. On tiptoe she looked out of the small porthole, hoping to spy land. But all she could see was blue sky and even bluer water. She wasn’t sure how many days had passed since she’d been brought aboard the ship. Since that first night, the sky had been as dark as ink, and the sea had been so rough that she’d had to cling to the bed or be tossed about the room like a pickle in a barrel. Of one thing she
was
certain; the ship had traversed many miles by the time her abductor finally came to see her. But she was ready for him…at least with her tongue.

The cabin door had barely opened, when she laid into him. “How dare you touch me, you swine! My stepfather will see you hanged for this…you…you abductor of women!” she cried, unable to think of words harsh enough to describe how she felt about the person who had perpetrated this crime against her person. As a large man ducked his head under the doorway, Katherine drew the blanket closer around her, knowing it could not protect her from his advances, should he make any. He was tall and broad shouldered, and he seemed to fill the entire doorway. Katherine shivered from the inside out.

Suddenly he chuckled and shook his head, brushing a dark lock of hair from his forehead as he stepped into the room. In that instant she saw his face clearly for the first time, and for the moment all thoughts of protecting herself vanished. In fact, she almost dropped the blanket as she recognized the man before her. “Jack, is that you?” she asked incredulously.

“Yes, tis me, Katherine,” he replied, as he moved closer to where she sat on the bed.

“What is the meaning of this?”

“I am keeping you from making a terrible mistake,” he simply stated. Then he stood there with a smug smile on his handsome face, while she gaped at him.

She felt angry and shocked to think that the boy she’d known, the boy who’d protected and nurtured her, would do this to her. Then it dawned on her. His opinion of her was obvious. She might be much older than the last time they’d met, but she could see that to him, she was still just a child. And in her billowy night rail, with her hair falling down and tangling about her face and shoulders, she couldn’t blame him for thinking so. “What mistake?” As she considered his words, she felt some of her anger abate. But she still wasn’t happy to see him.

“The marriage, Katherine. I can’t believe you would actually commit to marrying that simpering pansy! He’s no match for you, and you know it,” Jack stated as he stood facing her.

The blanket slipped off her shoulders, and his eyes followed it, causing her to blush. “It just so happens that I was planning to run away before the wedding,” she said more quietly. She sought something on the floor, rather than look into his eyes.

“Aha! Then I was right to rescue you,” he stated, sounding satisfied.

“You should not feel so proud of your accomplishment, you scoundrel! Taking a defenseless woman from her bed in the middle of the night is no great feat, Jack. Besides, you have forgotten something very important. I cannot go around in this nightgown in front of your men, or in front of you for that matter,” she pointed out, as she gathered the blanket closer. “So you may as well return me to my home.”

“You are mistaken, my lady. I brought along some of your things,” Jack told her, pointing to the trunk in the corner. “As for the rest of your belongings…I’m afraid you won’t be seeing those or your home for quite some time. Now that me and my men have what we came for, it behooves us to get as far away from Ceylon as possible.”

“What! Where are you taking me?” She gave him an infuriated look, while he merely smiled at her.

“Someplace far away.”

“This is ridiculous! You can’t simply take me wherever you please. I demand that you return me to my home at once!” She stood, glancing toward the door and then at him.

Jack grinned and shook his head. “No,” he replied with a grin, as if to say he was enjoying her spunk, but there was no way she was going to escape.

“Then I will gladly see you hang!” she yelled. And then she flew at him, her nails raking the skin of his tanned neck.

Jack easily removed her hands from his person and threw her onto the bed. She glared up at him, her nightgown shoved up to the middle of her pale thighs. Seeing his eyes dart to her bare legs, she quickly pulled the gown down around her ankles. Then she grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around her, making certain she was once again covered from neck to toe. All the while Jack watched her, his eyes gleaming.

“You’ve grown up to be quite hot-headed, haven’t you, my sweet Katherine? I much prefer a spirited woman,” he said, winking at her.

“How dare you! I am not
now
, nor have I ever been,
your
sweet anything!” she snapped at him, her blue eyes aflame.

“Whether you are or not, remains to be seen. In the meantime, you had better eat the food that’s given you, or you will surely starve,” Jack informed her, nodding toward the untouched plate on the table beside the bed.

“I would
rather
starve than eat any food of yours,” Katherine spat, and then she picked up the plate of bread and cheese and threw it at him. He jumped out of the way and was out the door a split second later, leaving Katherine to stare daggers at the closed door.

* * * *

Dressed in one of the gowns Jack had brought for her to wear, Katherine flounced back and forth across the cabin’s floor, talking to herself under her breath. “He’s the most arrogant, self-serving, impossible man I have ever met!” He had stolen her from her home and kept her locked in a cabin for days, probably weeks, and now he expected her to dine with him as though he were her host instead of her abductor? How utterly absurd. True, he had been thoughtful to bring her clothing, but she wasn’t about to give him credit for that one polite action. Everything else he’d done proved he was a man with no scruples, and she wanted no part of him. If he thought she would honor him with her presence at dinner, he would have to think again. She would stay in this cabin until they reached land…even if it took forever. He was certainly not the polite, well-mannered boy she remembered from her childhood, and she intended to let him know how she felt about the man he’d become.

There was a rap on the door, but Jack walked in before Katherine had a chance to answer. She stopped pacing the floor and drilled him with a look. “I am not accustomed to dining with the riffraff of the world,” she said haughtily, her nose in the air as he held the door open, obviously expecting her to join him. One of his crewmen had informed her of the captain’s plans that they dine al fresco on the main deck. Now here he was, expecting her to give in to his ridiculous offer. Well, hell could freeze over before she gave in to him.

“Forgive me, your ladyship.” Jack’s smile was polite and he didn’t even try to hide his smile as he bowed from the waist. “I am not accustomed to being turned away by a woman. And I thought you might be tired of being cooped up in my cabin, but apparently I was mistaken. I shall dine alone this evening, but I assure you I will find feminine company aplenty in the next port,” he said, and then he began backing out of the room, obviously keeping an eye out for flying objects headed in his direction.

Earlier that day she had hit him in the arm with a smartly thrown shoe, and recently she’d struck the cabin boy in the noggin with the book Jack had sent her as a peace offering. If the poor lad refused to wait on her ever again, she wouldn’t blame him. However, she quickly considered her options, and concluded that it would be foolish to continue such behavior.

The truth was she yearned for sunlight and fresh air. Oh, how she craved them. The door had almost closed, when she called out to him. “Wait! I have changed my mind. I do believe I will dine up on deck after all.” No matter what his reason for making the offer, it would do her more harm than good to refuse. That he was a flirt and a disreputable cad was obvious, and she figured his every move was meant to take advantage of her situation—a lone woman among thirty or so randy men was at risk of rape at the very least—so she must keep her guard up. But she also knew that she needed sunshine and fresh air in order to remain at full strength. Even though she was no physical match for him, or any man for that matter, she needed to be in top form if she was to escape. And, as soon as they reached land, escape was what she intended to do.

*

“Right this way, my lady,” Jack said, smiling as he waved her before him. He was feeling much more relaxed now. Jack hadn’t mentioned it to her earlier, but he’d also wanted to get as far away from the judge as possible, lest the man have his head lopped off and put on a spike for abducting his stepdaughter.

They climbed the narrow stairs leading up to the quarter deck, her in front and Jack right behind her, his eyes affixed to her round little derrière as it swung to and fro.

She was a delectable little tart, of that he had no doubt. In fact, he wanted to taste her more than he’d ever wanted any woman, but so far he’d allowed her to keep her virtue. He did so out of respect for the friendship they’d once shared, and because of the promise he’d made her father on his deathbed. But he wasn’t sure how much longer he could control his lustful urges. With her bosom heaving and her cheeks and neck flushed pink with rage, she looked even more desirable.

It wasn’t that he’d led a celibate life. In fact, he’d had many women in his thirty-four years, but he’d never felt the affection for any of them that he felt for
this
woman. He truly cared what happened to her. And God how he wanted her! How he wished she’d marry
him
, instead of that French fop. But a person of her status would never think of marrying someone beneath her station.

Or would she?

He was going to give her time to think about it, to get to know him again, and then maybe he’d get his wish.

Chapter 5

Once on deck, Katherine understood more thoroughly just how dire her situation was. As far as she could see in any direction there was nothing but blue water and bluer sky. She was very far from home, and she had no idea exactly when they would reach land, or what she would find there when they did. She needed to find out as much as she possibly could about their destination.

Jack pulled out a chair and she accepted it graciously, her eyes scanning the table as she sat. The meal consisted of scones with currents and butter, cabbage with salted ham, and generous wedges of a kind of fruit she had never seen before. And there was vanilla custard for dessert. The offering was splendid considering their surroundings. She had a feeling this wasn’t the same repast given the crew, and a part of her wanted to feel grateful that he’d thought to provide her, above all others, with such a fine meal. But another part of her demanded she not feel anything toward him but hatred and loathing. The food was probably part of his plan to seduce her. After all, the scoundrel had brought her here against her will.

“Eat something,” he said, and then he began shoveling food into his mouth.

Katherine watched him with disdain, while she took delicate, small bites. The drink, a dark red wine mixed with something, which she couldn’t discern, rolled pleasantly over her tongue, and soon she was drinking more than she was eating. It wasn’t long before she was feeling quite relaxed.

“Tell me, Captain, how long before we reach our destination?” she asked, looking over her wine glass at him.

“Another week or two, depending on the weather.”

“Another week or two! I cannot stay on this abysmal ship that long. I shall go mad!”

“Then you will be pleased to know that I intend to make a stop along the way, tomorrow, if the weather holds. You may wish to go ashore and stretch your legs a bit,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

The mention of her legs made her blush, as it would any true lady, while the thought of actually getting off the ship made her heart leap for joy. If she had to stay cooped up on this ship for even another day, she wasn’t certain what she might say or do. Besides, stopping somewhere might present her with a chance to escape. She immediately decided to take him up on his offer. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind going ashore for a while,” she told him, trying to sound only slightly interested.

“Good. We will be there well before sunset tomorrow. Would you care for more wine?” he asked, but he was already filling her glass.

“Yes, thank you.” Feeling a little better about her situation—at least she had escaped marriage to a man she loathed—Katherine finished her meal and her wine. But now she was feeling too warm. “I think I’ll take a turn about the deck,” she said, fanning herself as she rose unsteadily to her feet. The deck pitched sideways and in the blink of an eye Jack was there to steady her, his hand gripping her elbow. “Thank you. The sea seems to be getting rougher,” she mumbled as she tried to put one foot in front of the other. She wasn’t doing a very good job. She stumbled. “Oh!”

“I’ve got you, Katherine; just lean on me,” Jack said, his other hand at her waist. “I think you should go below. Let me help you.”

She didn’t want him to treat her so familiarly, but under the circumstances she had no choice. So she let him guide her down the stairs and into the cabin. “I’ll be fine now. I just need to lie down.” She had no one to blame but herself; she’d had too much to drink, and now she would have to pay for it. She would undress and get into bed. By morning she would feel much better. Dropping her shawl onto the bed, her hands went to the laces of her dress. When her hand met his where it lay at her waist, she turned and looked up at him. Why was he still there? “Will you please leave so that I may undress?”

BOOK: A Captain's Destiny
12.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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