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Authors: Marie Caron

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BOOK: A Captain's Destiny
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This reminded him that he wanted to write a letter of thanks to Captain Spencer, the commander of the Royal Navy ship who had rescued her. John also wanted to inquire about the body of the pirate. The story he’d been told was that a few of the outlaw’s cohorts had survived and had somehow spirited the body away before the ship was blown to Kingdom come. It was a bit of a mystery, but one he could put aside. What was important was that Katherine was safe and sound, and now it was his duty to see her make a respectable marriage, as soon as possible.

It was, therefore, very good news when his manservant announced that Sir Anthony Spencer, 5th Earl of Lisle, had arrived and wanted to speak to him privately.

Chapter 11

In a large house on the north side of the island of Oahu, Jack lay in bed, his nut-brown chest bare except for a white bandage. He sat up when his old friend limped into the room carrying a tray containing a steaming bowl of soup and thick slices of bread.

“Is there any word?” Jack asked, as Jim set the tray on the bed.

“Aye. She’s at home now, where she belongs. Ye and ’er were never meant to be. Let ’er go, lad,” the gray-haired man advised him in a fatherly tone.

Jack smirked at the man’s audacity, knowing he meant well. “Have you ever been in love, Jim?” He could still picture Katherine’s smiling face, her look of awe when he showed her the huge cavern, and when he’d first taught her what it was to be a woman. That second night on the island he had poured his heart and soul into her, and she had responded with equal passion, just as he’d known she would.

“A’course I ’ave, lad, and it was most painful. Ye be better off without ’er, Jack. Women are all the same; they whine ’n cry when they don’t get their way. And when ye give in to ’em, they take everything ye ’ave an’ run off with some other bloke,” he said, shaking his head.

Obviously he was thinking back to his own experience, and Jack wasn’t having any of it. “No, Jim, Katherine is not like that. She’s good and true.”

“Ye may think what ye like,” Jim said agreeably. He had waited until Jack began to eat, and now he turned to go. Jack saw Jim hesitate in the doorway and suspected he had more to say.

“Eh…I hate to mention it, but the men want to know when they’ll be gettin’ their share of the payroll. Will ye be going back for it soon?”

They had been at their hideout for several weeks while Jack recovered from his injury, and the men were getting anxious. Jack wasn’t surprised, as they hadn’t been paid in months. Though they had shelter and food, it wasn’t the same as having money in their pockets, and Jack knew it.

“Tell one of the men to saddle my horse.” He had money hidden on the island. He would pay the men out of his personal stash. Riding to get it might prove painful, but anything was better than sitting here thinking about Katherine and what could never be.

“The sawbones said ye wuz to stay abed for another week, Jack.”

“The sawbones is a charlatan,” Jack responded, as he gobbled the rest of his meal. He hadn’t felt hungry, but he figured he needed his strength if he was to repay his men—and not just for the wages they had been denied. They had saved his life, and he would see them paid handsomely for it…even though he felt his life wasn’t worth a farthing now that Katherine was no longer a part of it.

“Aye, Captain,” Jim said, hanging his head as he acknowledged that Jack was the boss, and therefore would do whatever he wanted to do.

Jack got dressed, adding his well-worn great coat over his leather jerkin. The snug-fitting tunic would help protect his chest, and the coat would keep the water off him. The ride would be a long and dismal one, over a road that was little more than a footpath in good weather. Now, due to the seasonal rains, it was a nearly impassable bog. Such a journey in this steady drizzle would do nothing to lift Jack’s spirits, but his men deserved to be paid now, not in a month when he might be able to retrieve the money from the cave.

As he saddled his big roan, he considered what Jim had told him. Deep down inside Jack knew that the old salt was right; he and Katherine were never meant to be together—now even less than before. He wasn’t just a thief. Now he was an abductor of women, and he would have to remain dead to the world, or risk being hanged without benefit of a trial. His future as a fugitive from the law was not the sort of life she deserved. What Katherine deserved was fine clothes, a fine house, and healthy children. He could, he was certain, give her children—he might already have, if the fates were truly cruel—but, that aside, she deserved a husband who could hold his head up in society, not one who had to hide his face in disgrace. She deserved the best life had to offer, and she could have that now that she was away from him. Once again Jim’s words echoed in his ear, and Jack’s heart felt like it was being pulled from his chest.

Kicking his horse into a gallop, he forced himself to admit defeat where his lady love was concerned, but that didn’t keep him from thinking about her and wishing things could be different. Katherine might be exactly where she belonged, but his love for her would never die.

Chapter 12

Time seemed to go by in the blink of an eye; one day her stepfather was telling her she must think of her future, and the next he was introducing her to the man who would be her husband…whether she liked it or not.

Katherine had been stunned at first, wanting to protest the unfair arrangement on the one hand, yet knowing she had no real choice in the matter on the other. It would do no good to mention the fact that she had no desire to marry…ever. Remaining unmarried at her age was totally unacceptable as far as the judge was concerned. So what else was she to do?

Judge Houghton had the answer. Living as they did, in a close-knit society, in the resplendent luxury of a far-off British colony, her chances of meeting someone acceptable to her were highly unlikely, thus her only alternative was to marry the first man who asked. That man was none other than Captain Anthony Spencer, the man who had rescued her from the villain, Jack O’Bannon. When her stepfather informed her at dinner one evening of the deal he had struck, he was obviously very pleased with himself.

“The captain is now an earl with a grand estate in Bedfordshire, my dear. Yet he is willing to overlook your…ah…situation and give you his good name. Eh…I think you should thank him,” he cajoled, giving Anthony an apologetic smile and shrug when she didn’t immediately speak.

Katherine was at once shocked and then appalled that she was being given no choice in the matter. “No!” she cried, shooting up from her dining chair so rapidly that it fell over, clattering onto its back on the marble floor.

One of the servants rushed to her side to right the fallen chair, and once it was set straight, the judge told the footman to leave the room. Providing the servants with gossip was not something either of them wanted to do.

“Please sit down, my dear. You are being disrespectful to our guest. He has traveled a long way to make this offer. The man clearly had his heart set on marrying you, and I think you would be wise to accept his gracious offer. After all, you are tarnished goods now, daughter, and damned lucky to have any decent man ask for your hand,” he finished hotly, wiping his florid, damp face with his napkin.

Katherine collapsed back into her seat, and their guest gave her an understanding look.

“I can assure you, Miss Conlon…Katherine…that I have the utmost regard for you. Obviously I am familiar with the distasteful experiences you suffered at the hands of that dog, O’Bannon, and I find no reason to hold you liable for his actions. I am an earl with all the privileges that title affords me. I can marry whom I please, and by doing so erase your unfortunate past. You will never want for anything,” the nattily dressed man stated calmly, his blue-gray eyes smiling at her from his pink face.

He was blond and fair, the total opposite of Jack, and he looked less like a sailor than anyone Katherine had ever seen. But she had heard about his stellar record with the Royal Navy. He was a decorated hero, even more so since he had destroyed the
Lady Elizabeth
and most of her crew.

After that horrendous day, her stepfather had informed her that Anthony had taken the survivors back to England to stand trial and that a few of Jack’s men had escaped. No one had any idea where they’d gone, and though she could speculate, that episode of her life was truly over. She knew that her stepfather thought she should be glad for it, but Katherine simply couldn’t forget the ecstatic awakening she had experienced in Jack’s arms. Was she never to feel that again?

Shocked by this sudden proposal, and by the fact that it was coming from the man who had more or less killed the love of her life, Katherine blinked mutely at the captain cum earl.

Apparently he thought her silence meant she was willing to listen, because Anthony continued. “I have a lovely country home in Bedfordshire where we can live, or there’s Houghton House in London, which your stepfather has so graciously offered us.”

Katherine rallied a bit and managed to ask, “What will you do now that you’re no longer in the navy?” Knowing he must love the sea, she hoped he planned to take long voyages without her. Her face fell when she heard his reply.

“I plan to become a gentleman farmer. Perhaps I’ll raise horses, as it is a pastime which pleases me. It would also please me greatly if you would consent to be my bride,” he added, smiling at her.

“Katherine, he is willing to overlook your…uh…unfortunate circumstance,” the judge almost whined.

They all knew to what he was referring—she was no longer a virgin. Why must that be so damned important to everyone? Huffing out her frustration, Katherine scooted back her chair and made to stand up again, determined to announce her intention to remain unmarried, until doomsday if necessary. Let the gossips talk about how she’d been ruined beyond reparation. She didn’t care what others thought of her.

Before she could rise to her feet, her stepfather put a firm hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down in her chair, scowling at her.

“I don’t think you could do any better, miss, and I have no intention of allowing you to wither here on the vine, letting the gossip continue to cause me even further embarrassment. Now, my dear, leave us, so that his grace and I may discuss the terms of your marriage contract.”

Feeling trapped in a nightmare, Katherine almost ran all the way to her room.

Chapter 13

Six weeks later Katherine and her new husband were on their way to London aboard a cargo ship loaded with tea, coffee, cinnamon, and other spices. Their wedding had been a rushed affair held at Houghton Manor in Colombo, Ceylon, attended by her stepfather’s business associates, his banker, legal representatives, and their wives and children. No one had dared to snub the judge, so though the attendance was one-sided, there had been about one hundred guests. Captain Spencer, whose family resided in or near London and could not come out on such short notice, still seemed happy that the wedding had taken place in Ceylon. And though Katherine thought his attitude a bit odd, she didn’t question him about it. If Anthony didn’t mind that his family was not in attendance, it was fine with her; she didn’t have to pretend to feel joy she didn’t feel.

She’d had misgivings concerning their wedding night, at which time she was certain Anthony would expect to receive his just reward for marrying a woman who had fallen from grace, such as herself. Katherine had been right about his intention to mark her as his own, but he hadn’t figured on her ability to feign illness. She complained of stomach distress and nausea and even managed to throw up a few times. And thus she was the only one who lay in their wedding bed that night and for the three days immediately following the ceremony. On the fourth day they set sail for England.

Katherine was relieved to be on the ship where she could continue her act. Little did he know that rough seas didn’t make her sick; they only made her job easier. If she could just reach England without having to endure the touch of a man she detested, then maybe she could rid herself of this husband she’d never wanted in the first place.

“I swear the captain is going out of his way to locate every swell,” she moaned one afternoon, her left arm thrown across her brow as she lay stretched out on the only bed in their cabin.

Anthony, who had been mopping her brow with a cool, damp cloth, suddenly threw it down with disgust into the ceramic bowl on the washstand, and glared down at her. “If I thought you were going to be sick every day after I married you, I never would have asked for your hand,” he spat angrily.

“I am sorry, Anthony, but I can’t help it if I feel sick,” she whined as the bed tipped to and fro. “Maybe a cup of tea and some dry bread would make me feel better,” she suggested, looking up at him from beneath half-lowered lids. The ship was rolling back and forth, back and forth, and he had to hold on to the rafters in the ceiling in order to remain on his feet.

“Very well. I’ll see what I can do,” he said, and then he zigzagged out of the cabin.

Katherine immediately got up and rushed to use the chamber pot. It would never do to allow Anthony to see her getting around on her own. For her act to work, he needed to think she was totally incapacitated. Thus, she was back in her bed before he returned, the covers pulled up to her chin.

Once they reached England, she planned to get an annulment. That would be a fairly easy thing to do if the marriage had never been consummated. Surely Anthony wouldn’t protest, once he saw how determined she was to end the marriage. After all, he was an earl. Surely he could find someone else to marry. With her stepfather far away in Ceylon and unable to interfere, she had a chance. In England she could start again. Maybe she could get a job as a governess or a companion. She wouldn’t care what the job was, as long as she didn’t have to marry some man she didn’t love.

Anthony hadn’t been gone long when the ship began to lean more to one side than the other, until Katherine could barely keep from rolling out of bed. Suddenly she heard a loud, groaning sort of screech as though the ship had run into something. She could hear shouting and much running about above her on the deck, and just then the cabin door opened and Anthony stuck his head inside. “What was that noise?” she asked him before he could speak.

BOOK: A Captain's Destiny
5.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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