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Authors: Becky Lee Weyrich

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #FICTION/Romance/Historical

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BOOK: Hot Winds From Bombay
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“Please tell me if I’m out of bounds in asking, Mr. Hazzard… but might there be a young lady who has prompted these domestic designs of yours?” the captain asked.

Both Persia and Europa leaned slightly forward, staring at Zack. The silence that followed, although brief, seemed interminable to the pair. Zack, aware of their reactions, squeezed Persia’s hand under the table and offered Europa a smile that promised much.

“Aye, Captain. There is.”

“And have you spoken for her already, lad?”

Zack cast his eyes down and shook his head, smiling sheepishly. “I’m afraid I haven’t worked up the courage yet. You see, we’ve only known each other a short time. I fear she’d turn me down flat, and her family would probably cast me out and order me never to return again. There are certain manners to courting, as I’m sure you know.”

“That’s very decent of you, Mr. Hazzard, to take the family into consideration,” Mrs. Whiddington said. She was feeling much relieved, assuming that he spoke of a Boston girl. But she added, just in case, “I would certainly not take kindly to any man who tried to sweep one of my daughters off her feet without the proper amenities being seen to first.”

“Exactly my point, Mrs. Whiddington. But it’s difficult for a seafaring man to court a lady properly. We haven’t long ashore.”

“You certainly haven’t,” Persia put in. “And I think that we’ve spent enough of it over Sunday dinner. Mother, do you mind if we go out for a walk?”

Before Mrs. Whiddington could answer, Europa piped up, “Seton and I will join you.”

“I suppose that will be all right, as long as you girls wrap up warmly. Seton, you and Mr. Hazzard bring them back home well before dark.”

“Of course, Mrs. Whiddington,” Zack answered for the other man.

Bundled and mufflered, the four young people set out for a brisk walk. The afternoon was fine, with a bright sun making the snowbanks gleam as if diamonds were buried in their depths. Many other townspeople were out for their Sunday-afternoon constitutionals. But Persia barely noticed them. The man whose arm held hers consumed her full attention.

“Are you really planning to buy land and build a house, Zack?” she asked.

“Yes. I am.”

“Here in Quoddy Cove?”

“Possibly.”

She paused a moment before working up the nerve to ask her next question. “For us?”

When he looked down into her upturned face, his dark eyes made contact with such an impact that it jolted her almost as sharply as his first kiss had.

“Now what would make you think a thing like that, Miss Whiddington?” His voice was husky, playful.

She forced her gaze away. She didn’t want teasing. She wanted serious discussion.

“It’s just that, as you said, you don’t have long ashore. I think we should be direct with each other. I have been. But I’m not sure about you.”

He covered her hand with his, stroking gently. “Persia, my sweet, you can’t imagine how I feel…”

“Zack!” Europa hailed from right behind them, interrupting. “I’m freezing. Seton has come up with a grand idea. We’ll stop off at Jefferd’s for a mug of hot cider. Hurry along now, both of you.”

Persia saw a frown crease Zack’s brow as he replied, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“It’s perfectly acceptable, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Persia told him.

That wasn’t what was bothering him. He was afraid that someone at the tavern would say something to the girls about his wager. Then he decided that it might not be a bad idea after all. He would show those land pirates that he was well on his way to winning the bet. And he’d let them guess which woman would soon be his bride.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Some hot cider will taste good about now.”

The tavernkeeper, giving Zack a sly wink, showed them to a rough-hewn table in the back corner near the fireplace, where great logs of oak crackled and hissed on the hearth.

“Spiced cider all around,” Zack ordered.

“Yes, sir, four mugs of sweet apple.” He moved off to fill the order.

“Well, isn’t this nice!” Europa enthused. “Now, Zack, you must tell us all about yourself. Father kept you so occupied all through dinner that I felt like you were
his
guest instead of
mine.”

Zack felt Persia bristle beside him and touched her hand under the table.

“What would you like to know, Europa? I’m twenty-six years old. I was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and ran away to sea when I was twelve. I’ve been shipwrecked twice and barely escaped being eaten by cannibals on the isle of Borneo. That’s about it.”

A general gasp went up around the table. Europa reached over and took his hand. “You poor, brave man! However did you escape?”

He smiled, wondering what Europa would say if he told her he bedded the chiefs daughter and thus enlisted her aid in escaping the tribe’s big black pot. No, he decided, he’d better keep that story to himself.

“I managed to slip past their guards and steal one of their boats. Luckily, I spoke a ship out of New Bedford after two days on the open sea. I was sunburned, thirsty, hungry, but I still had my head on my shoulders.”

The young lawyer across from Zack was wide-eyed. “I can’t even conceive of living such a dangerous life, Mr. Hazzard.”

“Please, it’s Zack. And I think your life here is every bit as dangerous as mine, Seton.”

The man blushed and laughed. “Sure it is! I could get captured by Aroostook Indians walking to my office some morning!”

Zack leaned across the table and lowered his voice to a whisper as if he didn’t want Europa and Persia to hear. “It’s not Indians a man has to watch out for in the woods around here, my friend.” He glanced at one sister and then the other and said hoarsely to Seton,
“Women!
The woods are fairly crawling with them. And they jump out and grab you on dark nights.”

Seton chortled loudly, causing heads in the pub to turn toward their table. “I wish you’d tell me what woods you’ve been walking in after dark, Zack. I’ve been out beating the bushes and I can’t scare any up.”

“Beating the bushes,
Mr. Holloway?” Although she refused to commit herself to Seton, Europa considered him her own private property. That he would even joke about such a thing as trying to interest other women was an affront to her pride.

“A figure of speech,” he said apologetically. “I’m sorry, my dear. I simply forgot myself for a moment.”

“You two are planning to be married, aren’t you?” Zack inquired.

Suddenly, Europa and Seton looked at each other. At the same instant, he answered, “Yes,” while she said, “No.” Zack looked from one to the other, waiting to hear the true answer.

“Well, I suppose the idea has crossed our minds,” Europa finally admitted. “But there’s plenty of time for us to decide. We’ll both be here. Seton never goes
anywhere.”

The way she said it wounded Seton deeply. He started to rise from his chair.

“Where are you going?” she demanded.

“I’m going
somewhere,
Europa!”

“Sit down! You can’t leave me like this.”

“Oh, but I can. And I intend to. I certainly wouldn’t want to bore you any further.”

He was up and moving away from the table as the barkeep brought their steaming mugs and set them in place.

“Seton, for heaven’s sake,” Europa whined. “You’re being silly!”

Seton took a step back toward the table and grabbed her arm, his fair face suddenly dark with anger. “Don’t ever call me
silly!
Do you hear me, Europa?”

“Yes, Seton,” she answered in a submissive whisper. “I’m sorry. Truly I am.”

But he was not finished with her yet. He had spent years courting the fair Miss Europa and had taken all the indifference and abuse he could stand. He should just walk away, but, God help him, he loved her. Maybe it was meeting a man like Zachariah Hazzard that brought out his more assertive side, or maybe Europa had simply gone too far this time. Whatever the case, he meant to have his say and settle the issue of their marriage once and for all, here and now. He faced her squarely, his face hard.

“Seton, whatever has come over you?” Europa asked, almost thrilled by this sudden change in her beau.

“Just hold your tongue, woman, and listen to what I have to say to you!”

Persia and Zack were all ears, immensely enjoying Europa’s distress and Seton’s sudden show of male dominance.

“I have been very patient with you, Europa. For over three years now I have waited and watched, fetched and carried, been mocked and maligned by you.
No more!
I will not have a wife who plans to use me as a doormat. I
am a man!
I intend to marry you, Europa Whiddington. You will agree this moment, and you will be happy with me. I may not lead an exciting, adventurous life, but I know how to love a woman and love her well.”

Both Europa and Persia caught their breath at Seton’s sudden outspokenness. Zack laughed and said, “Well spoken, friend.”

But Seton didn’t seem to see or hear any of these reactions. He plunged on. “Now, Europa, I demand an answer! Will you marry me?”

Europa was close to swooning. Never had Seton or any other man addressed her so harshly. If he was this forceful now, what would he be like on their wedding night? A delicious shudder trembled through her whole body.

“Well?” He gripped her shoulders, refusing to allow her to turn away from him.

“Yes, Seton. Oh, yes, I will marry you!”

Zack and Persia voiced their congratulations and toasted the newly engaged couple. Everyone in the tavern had heard, and a cheer rang out.

The barkeep brought another round of cider, on the house. When he set down the mugs, the man leaned down and whispered for Zack’s ears alone, “One sister down, one to go, Mr. Hazzard.”

Zack turned and smiled at Persia, who was all dreamy-eyed with happiness for her sister. “Yes,” he said to the man who was holding his pouch. “One to go.”

“What are you murmuring about, Zack?” Persia asked.

“Oh, nothing, my sweet. I was just thinking how crowded it is in here. I’d hoped we might have some time alone together.”

She was drowning in his eyes and never wanted to come up for air. “Yes. I had, too.”

“I have a room upstairs. It would be quieter.”

The very thought of going to a man’s room shocked her. “We can’t leave Europa and Seton.” But even as she voiced her weak protest, the other couple were excusing themselves. They, too, wanted privacy.

“You don’t have to be frightened, Persia. I won’t try to take advantage of you. I promise.”

“Oh, I’m not frightened,” she said with a weak laugh. Actually, she was quaking in her fur-lined boots. “It’s just that if anyone should see us… Mother would die!”

“There’s a back way. No one will see us.”

Persia had run out of excuses, and her resolve was crumbling fast. Besides, Zack had said he would be leaving soon. She wanted a commitment from him every bit as much as Seton had wanted it from Europa. This might be her only chance.

“I understand,” Zack murmured in a disappointed voice. “I won’t press you, Persia.”

Without a word, she stood and offered her arm for him to lead the way. She was nervous, uncertain, terrified of being alone with him. But at the same time, she wanted him with everything in her. And she had promised herself that she would never keep a man dangling and wondering while she manipulated him the way Europa had done Seton.

“You’re sure?” he asked.

She answered him boldly. “Very sure!”

Chapter Eight

Persia’s heart was in her mouth by the time they reached Zack’s room on the second floor. In spite of what he’d promised her, someone had seen them climbing the narrow stairway from the pantry. The man who had served them cider in the taproom below had cast a leering stare their way as they started up.

“Don’t worry about him,” Zack said as they hurried down the dim hall toward his door. “He won’t say a word to anyone. Barkeeps are used to this sort of thing.”

His turn of phrase bothered Persia. “What
sort
of thing?”

“Don’t be upset. I didn’t mean it that way. What I meant to say was that people who run inns have a broader view of society and morals… Oh, forget it. Just come inside.”

He realized he was getting himself in deeper and deeper. Just get her into the room. Then the need for words would cease. He hadn’t decided yet how far to press her. He didn’t want to scare her off, but he must make it very plain to her that there was no backing out, that he considered her
his
already. Now that Europa was spoken for, his course was set and Persia was his destination. Should he make shore and plant his standard this very afternoon? The idea was enticing.

He had to admit that the entire outcome of their walk pleased him. From the first he had been far more taken with Persia than with her haughty older sister. Although he still could not conceive of himself with a wife on a long-term basis, a temporary marriage of convenience to Persia Whiddington struck him as a most enchanting prospect. Their marriage would be followed shortly by his departure for sea once more. It would be easy enough after that to lose himself in the wide world. Perhaps he’d leave the ship in Naples and sample the charms of the hot-blooded Latin women Enrico Sorrentino raved about before signing on with another crew. At any rate, he would win his bet and get to bed this fire-haired beauty in the bargain.

“Come in. Come in,” he insisted as she hesitated at the threshold.

Persia, too, was laying her plan of attack. She loved this man, and she didn’t intend to let him get away. Still, she would not stoop to trickery, as Europa had told her most women did. No, she must be honest and above-board with Zack. But she must be firm, too. She meant to know his intentions this very day. Never mind courting; there wasn’t time. Their parents would hear two proposals this evening, if she had her way.

Zack stood in the center of the tiny room and stripped off his tailed coat. His scarlet greatcoat had already been flung across the bed.

“Let me help you out of that,” he offered, reaching to accept her fur-lined cape.

Persia clasped it to her for an instant, remembering that underneath she still had on the revealing gown she’d worn at dinner. It was one thing to wear it in company, but quite another to stand alone before Zack, knowing that he was the type of man who undressed women with a mere glance.

At her hesitation, he said, “You aren’t cold, are you?”

“No.” Reluctantly, she gave up her wrap.

Zack tossed it next to his, then came back to stand before her. Slowly his eyes traveled over her, as she had known they would, taking in every detail of her face and form. Her breath froze even as her temperature climbed when his gaze paused at her breasts, encased in the thin material that was cut shockingly low to reveal a creamy expanse of bosom. She felt her nipples hardening against the soft fabric. Could he see? Her face flamed at the thought.

“You are a beautiful woman, Persia Whiddington. Perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.” He reached out and curled one wisp of hair around his finger, tugging her gently toward him until she could feel his breath on her lips. “You’re
exotic,
that’s the word I’ve been groping for. You’re the northern lights—bright, ever-changing, vibrant, and exciting.”

She made no answer. There was nothing to say, and no voice with which to say it, anyway, as his words seemed to caress her physically. She could only stand there mirrored in his dark gaze—listening to the words she longed to hear, feeling his hand stroking her hair, breathing in his spiced, masculine scent.

“I’m going to kiss you,” he said in a husky voice that steeled her for the promised intimate contact.

When she closed her eyes, ready, he said, “Not this very minute. I want you to think about it, mull it over in your mind just the way I’m doing. Imagine it, feel it in the deepest parts of you. When my lips touch yours, when my tongue caresses you, I want you to want me… to need me… the way I need you. You see, this kiss will be special.” His gaze had her locked in an embrace, stoking her deep-burning fires. “This kiss, my love, will be the one you’ll remember on the coldest nights when your bright hair has turned silver and you are trying to conjure up in your mind what love was like when it was new and fresh and so sweet it made you ache inside.”

She
was
aching! How did he know?

He let the curl drop from his fingers and clasped both hands about her beribboned throat. His touch was cool, his hands hard and strong. With his thumbs, he kneaded the underside of her chin, forcing her lips closer still to his. He bent to her, holding his open mouth barely the breadth of a hair above hers. Her lips parted, waiting for his. The next words he spoke flowed into her mouth with a warm rush of breath.

“I want to marry you, Persia. I can’t go back to sea without knowing that you’ll be waiting when I return. I’m sorry there’s no time to court you, to win you, to flatter you, and bring you pretty presents. But if I leave now, you’ll be another man’s wife before I return. I couldn’t stand that. I need you too much.”

“And I need you, Zack.”

Her earnest, fervent whisper was the last sound in the room before flesh met flesh in a communion of physical need and emotional desperation so profound that both of them felt the impact like the sudden jolt of lightning.

Zack tore free for an instant and stared down into Persia’s wide, adoring eyes, his own registering disbelief. “My God!” he breathed before taking command of her lips once more.

In that instant, he came to realize what Persia had known all along… that their relationship was not of the moment, but for all eternity. He would marry her, yes. But he could never go away with no intention of returning to her. He wanted more than a few days in her bed. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in her heart. This was a whole new experience for him. Never had he been conquered so suddenly, so totally. The wager meant nothing any longer. All that mattered was that he have this woman, now and to the end of time.

Persia, locked securely in Zack’s strong arms, could feel his heart pounding against her breasts. The sensation added a oneness to their kiss, as if they were no longer two people, but a single pulsing entity, forever welded by love and desire.

His forceful hands cradled the small of her back with a touch that was both commanding and gentle. Then, as if they were exploring the miracle of femininity for the very first time, his fingers searched her back, her bare shoulders, her arms. She trembled as his touch streamed fire over her body, and pressed herself more securely to his chest. She could feel the pulsing heat from his loins. This new experience frightened her for a moment. She tried to pull away. But Zack’s hold on her would not be denied. His tongue did tantalizing, delicious things to distract her from her momentary fear. She relaxed once more and allowed herself to savor, to enjoy.

His lips left hers for a moment, pressing against her ear. “I want to make love to you, Persia,” he whispered. As he spoke, his hand found her breast, stroking it with such a knowing boldness that she went weak in his arms.

“I can’t stop you,” she murmured. “I can only beg you not to allow me to give in.”

He drew away and stared down into her flushed face. “I don’t want you to
give in.
I want you to be ready for love, too.”

She laughed softly. “Oh, my daring, I am! Without a second thought, I would let you strip away my gown and do as you please with me. But…”

He smiled and kissed her nose. “But
Mother would die?”

“Exactly, I’m afraid.”

She sighed, and her peaked nipples brushed his chest. He shuddered and moaned with desire and frustration. Righting her, he put her at arms’ length and reached for his coat. “Home before dark was the admonition, I believe.”

“Well
before,” she added.

“I’m used to taking orders, but not from mothers. Still, I suppose I’ll have to this time. Mark my words, though, woman, you’ve laid the groundwork for a long and strenuous wedding night.”

Laughing aloud, Persia threw her arms around Zack’s neck and hugged him. “Oh, I hope so! I’m looking forward to it. Truly!”

“I’m happy to hear that. But first I must ask the captain for your hand.” Zack looked worried. “What do you suppose he’ll say?”

Persia tugged his cheek down to her lips and kissed him quickly. “Darling, don’t fret. He’ll say yes, of course. What else can he do once Seton has asked to marry Europa?”

Her bright tone did little to dispel Zack’s doubts. “I hope you’re right, my love.” Suddenly, he looked down at her and his eyes blazed. He grasped her in an embrace so tight that she could barely breathe. “He
must
say yes!”

Both couples arrived home at the same time. Both sisters were beaming with secret happiness. The four of them entered as a group, so that no one would have guessed that they had gone their separate ways for most of the afternoon. Mrs. Whiddington gave her daughters close scrutiny, but nothing seemed amiss. And it wasn’t quite dark yet.

Europa nudged Seton, prompting him to speak. “Mrs. Whiddington, could I have a word with the captain?”

“I’d like to speak with him, too,” Zack added, somewhat chagrined that he had let the other man get ahead of him.

“Well, my word!” exclaimed Victoria. “I’ll see. He’s working in the library.”

She came back a moment later and told Seton to go in.

Leaving their beaus to the task of convincing their father that he must give up his two daughters—both in the same day—the girls hurried upstairs to their separate rooms. They barely spoke, each seeking privacy for her dreams.

While Persia lay across her bed upstairs, hugging a pillow, gazing at the ceiling, and going over every detail of the afternoon with Zack, he sat below, awaiting his turn in the captain’s library.

The dainty chair was far too small to hold his large frame comfortably. He perched on the very edge, rehearsing what he would say to Persia’s father. She was so young, and he ten years older and worlds apart from her in experience. Would that be a reason for Captain Whiddington to turn down his petition? No! It couldn’t be! The captain himself was a good deal older than Mrs. Whiddington, anyone could see that. It made sense for a young woman to marry an older man—one who was mature, stable, and well able to provide for her.

The library door opened after a short time and Seton Holloway hurried out. He looked pale and shaken. He spoke not a word to Zack but nodded, grabbed his hat, and left. It didn’t look good.

“Please come in, Mr. Hazzard,” the captain ordered, unsmiling.

Zack didn’t like it. Captain Whiddington had called him by his first name at dinner. Now suddenly the man was all formality again.

The captain indicated a deep leather chair for Zack and took his place behind his massive, heavily carved desk. The lamps in the room were turned low, and the green glass shade on the one nearest Whiddington cast an ominous glow over his stern face. Zack felt his throat muscles tightening.

“Well, Mr. Hazzard, speak up. I have work to do tonight, and young Holloway has already taken up more of my time than I can spare with his mindless chatter.”

Mindless chatter?
Did that mean that Captain Whiddington had turned down Seton’s plea for Europa’s hand? Zack wanted to ask, but he didn’t dare. Perhaps the pot roast at dinner had disagreed with the captain’s digestion. Something had happened. He certainly was not the jovial man he had been a few short hours before.

“I’ll get right to the point, sir.”

“I hope you will.”

“I realize that I’m practically a stranger to you, but I hope you won’t hold that against me. In all modesty, sir, I’m a hardworking, ambitious man. I know what I want and I will get it!”

“Your point, Hazzard?”

Zack held his breath for a moment, steeling himself to say the words—not because he didn’t mean them, but because he suddenly knew fear for the first time in his life. Fear that Persia’s father would turn him down flat.

“I want to marry your daughter, Captain Whiddington.”

The wind whipped outside, rattling the tall windows at the end of the room. Other than that, there was not a sound. Zack’s heart pounded, and his palms grew clammy as he waited for an answer.

“You’ll be going back to sea soon, won’t you?”

“Yes, sir. It’s my life.”

“And what about my daughter then?”

Zack almost answered that he hoped by that time Persia would be carrying his child and would have that to keep her happy and occupied while he was away. But discretion stayed his tongue. He answered simply, “Before I leave, she will have a home—our home. And I’ll see that she never wants for anything.”

“She’ll be wanting for a man. What will she do about that for the two, four years you may be away?”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but what did
your
wife do?”

Captain Whiddington suddenly looked down at his desk and shuffled some papers about. “She suffered a great deal, I’m afraid.”

“But she is a strong, faithful woman, and she survived.”

“Aye, lad, well put.”

“Your daughter is every bit as strong.”

“And does she love you?”

“I believe so, sir. She says she does, and it’s in her eyes.”

“I can’t say this comes as a surprise. I saw the way she looked at you at dinner today. A woman can speak volumes with her silent observation of a man. It is, however, quite sudden. I wish there were more time.”

“I wish that, too, sir. But if I stayed ashore to court her properly, I’d lose valuable time working my way up the chain of command. You understand that, don’t you?”

BOOK: Hot Winds From Bombay
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