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Authors: Brenda Hiatt

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BOOK: Ship of Dreams
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Not that she cared—not now. Soon enough, she would never have to worry about such things again. Ignoring the hollow ache in her heart, Della tiptoed past the dining room, then up the stairs to her room. Kent would likely retire as soon as the doctor had gone, so she didn't have much time.

Just inside her doorway, she stopped. Where was her satchel? Quickly, she searched the room, only to discover it was neither under the bed nor in the wardrobe. Kent must have had it taken to his room, she finally realized. That would complicate things further ... but no. She'd have had to go there anyway, to get the money she needed for train fare.

Cautiously she stepped back into the hallway and looked in both directions. Which room was his? Slowly, quietly, though every nerve screamed for her to hurry, she peered into first one room, then another. If she were stopped, she feared she'd never again summon the courage to leave.

Ah! The third door she opened, the second one down from hers, revealed her satchel on the edge of a four-poster bed in the center of the room. Glancing around, she saw that it was indeed a masculine chamber, richly appointed in mahogany and deep green fabrics. She breathed deeply. Yes, it even smelled faintly of sandalwood—of Kent—though he couldn't have inhabited this room for half a year.

Soon, all too soon, she would never smell that scent again. The thought brought unbidden tears to her eyes. Was she really doing the right thing, wounding them both for the sake of Kent's worldly advantage? Such things mattered little to her ... but she knew they were important to him. He'd been bred to wealth and influence. They were his birthright, and she had no right to deprive him of them.

With shaking hands, she quickly opened first one drawer, then another. In the desk by the window, she found what she sought—fifty dollars in bills. Tucking them into the pocket of her skirt, she went to the window and peered out into the darkness. No convenient tree limb stretched within reach. She'd have to return to the other room to make her escape.

Again she tiptoed down the hallway, trying to ignore the searing pain in her heart. She was doing the right thing. She
must
be doing the right thing. As she put her hand on the knob of her former room, she heard voices at the foot of the stairs. With a gasp, she turned the handle and whisked inside, closing the door as quietly as she could.

She listened for a moment, but heard no sound of footsteps on the stair or landing. The voices were muffled now, but she thought she could barely distinguish Kent's among them. Perhaps the doctor was even now taking his leave, which might mean Kent would come upstairs at any moment. If she was going to leave, it had to be now.

"Farewell, my darling," she whispered to the closed door. "I'll love you forever. Try to forget me, so you can go on with your life—the life you were meant to have."

Breaking on a sob, she hurried to the window. As before, she first threw down her satchel, then clambered over the sill herself. In the dark, it was harder to gauge the jump to the tree branch than it had been before—and her vision was further obscured by tears, now flowing freely. Impatiently, she dragged her sleeve across her eyes and leaped. And missed.

She caught the branch with her right hand, but her left flailed wildly. Frantically, she clawed at the branch, but her left hand came away with a handful of leaves—and then she was falling. In the split second before she hit the ground, she had only time to wonder what Kent and his family would think when they found her in a heap on the ground. She tensed for the impact.

"Got you!" Instead of the hard ground, strong arms broke her fall. "It's a good thing only my leg was broken, isn't it?"

But even as Kent spoke, her weight overbalanced him, and he fell in an ungainly heap, with her atop him—just as he had in their cabin aboard the
Central America
.

The moment she caught her breath, Della scrambled up. "Are you hurt? Your leg—"

"It's fine. The doctor says I can even dispense with the crutch in a week or two. Della—" He tried to rise.

She helped him up, without thinking. Then, "Kent, what are you doing out here? How did you know ...?"

"Charles suspected, and it seems he is still more perceptive than I. Did I ever tell you that you remind me of him sometimes?" The moon and the light from the windows showed his smile, but also the shadowed confusion in his eyes. "Della, why? I thought we had agreed to face down the society snobs together."

Suddenly her flight seemed more cowardly than noble. Still, she tried to explain. "The more I thought about it, the more unlikely it seemed. I knew I would be miserable, and it seemed inevitable that I would make you miserable as well, at the same time alienating you from the world where you belong."

"So you were leaving, to go—where?" To her surprise, his expression was sympathetic rather than condemning.

"Ohio," she confessed. "If I still have family there, it seemed a place to start. From there—I don't know. I ... I was going to take the midnight train."

Now, though, she would not be on it. A different future awaited her—one by Kent's side, but rejected by his peers. She sighed, both relieved and depressed.

"Will the noon train tomorrow do instead?"

She blinked up at him in confusion. "What?" Would he let her leave after all? Was he ... was he sending her away? Though she'd thought it was what she wanted, her throat tightened in sudden pain.

"I'd really rather have a couple of days to put everything in order," he said, in a perfectly calm, conversational tone. "But if you're as anxious as all this, I'll do my best to be ready to leave tomorrow morning."

She stared, incredulous, comprehension beginning to dawn. "You can't mean—?"

"I finally realized that you were right. You'll never be truly happy in New York—and neither will I. I've changed, Della, thanks to you. The money, the position, the privelege—everything I grew up with seems hollow to me now. I want to see more of the world, to explore new ways of doing things. Together, we can do just that."

"Then—" she still scarcely dared to believe—"then you'll come with me?"

He nodded, his eyes holding hers so that she could read the love there. "Charles will handle the New York office while I develop a new branch of Bradford Shipping—a railroad branch. Will you help me, Della?" Now his eyes held a plea that went far deeper than his words.

Suddenly, Della understood. He wasn't asking her to stay in New York with him. Instead, he wanted to go adventuring—with her by his side. In answer, she pulled him to her for a lingering kiss that he returned, with mounting enthusiasm.

"May I carry your luggage upstairs, madam?" he asked with mock formality several moments later.

"I'll carry it myself," she replied with her heart lighter than it had been in weeks—perhaps years. "You still have that crutch to manage, remember?"

They reentered the house by a side door, and Kent wordlessly led Della back to his room. For a long moment they stood, just inside the closed door, gazing hungrily at each other. Then Kent gestured toward the bed. "What will we do with all that space?" he asked with a grin.

"Let's experiment."

Between kisses, they quickly stripped off each other's clothing, their urgency mounting. How long had it been? But Della's mind was too focused on Kent, on the pleasure to come, to count days. The bed, that beautiful, enormous bed, beckoned. She sat down on the edge of it to pull off her stockings—the only garment she still wore—then grabbed Kent's hand to pull him down next to her, being careful of his wrapped leg.

With a chuckle, he stretched his length beside her, taking her into his arms again. "Like this?" he murmured, then rolled atop her. "Or this?"

"Mmmm ..." His body felt heavenly against hers, but she pushed against his shoulder, rolling him onto his other side, in the center of the bed. "Perhaps like this."

"Or even this." With a heave, he rolled further, until she was on top of him. Each motion tantalized her senses, her breasts brushing his chest.

"This will do—for now," she said, then began to move, teasing him with her body until his eyes began to glaze. Finally, with one swift thrust of her hips, she impaled herself on him.

Together they gasped, then their mouths met, fastened, and they became one. Rocking, writhing, in moments they both spiraled up to the peak, to explode in an ecstasy both had thought they would never experience again.

Even before her body stopped shuddering with pleasure, Kent again rolled Della over, still deep within her. "Now let's try it this way," he suggested, supporting himself with his arms and his good leg.

Now they took the time to pleasure each other more thoroughly, hands and mouths caressing, exploring curves and hollows, until finally they mounted to another crest and together sailed over its top.

Sated for the moment, they lay side by side, still joined, to gaze lovingly at each other.

"Kent, I wish I could tell you how happy you've made me," Della breathed.

"You've just shown me," he said with the smile she loved.

She smiled back, her heart in her eyes. But then practicality intruded. "Oh! How is your leg?"

"I forgot all about it." He grinned fondly at her, then sobered. "I think you've cured me, Della—in more ways than one. You've shown me that money isn't everything, and that what seems most valuable on the surface is often only fool's gold. Love is what really matters."

With a sigh of pure contentment, she snuggled against him and they began to plan their future together.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

 

While Della, Kent, and their personal story are fictitious, the events and people surrounding them were real. All of the ships mentioned were actual ships and most of the characters were actual passengers aboard them, including the Eastons, the Birches—even the canary. My goal was to tell an engaging story rather than to give an exhaustive account of the
Central America
and its fate, which is elsewhere recounted. Therefore, although I have remained faithful to the historical sequence of events, I focused on those aspects that best fit my story and limited myself to what my characters would have experienced during the voyage, sinking and rescue and I took a few dramatic liberties. (For example, I added Kent as a fourth man on the real raft carrying Dawson, Grant and Tice.) I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to the San Mateo County Historical Museum and the accomplishments of the
S.S. Central America
Project, which were of great assistance when I began my research. Addie Easton's diary, which resides in the Library of Congress, was also of immense help. I'd like to dedicate this story to Captain Herndon (for whom Herndon, VA was named) and the other valiant men and women aboard the
Central America
, who were the true heroes and heroines upon whom I based Kent and Della. May you never be forgotten!

 

 

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Visit Brenda Hiatt's website at http://www.brendahiatt.com for more information.

 

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BOOK: Ship of Dreams
11.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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