Beautiful Tempest Page 11

THE NEXT DAY, JACQUELINE didn’t doubt her mystery man had deliberately left the ball prior to the unmasking. She’d kept track of him in the crowd for a while, noting that he didn’t ask anyone else to dance after he returned her to her parents. They’d been surprised when James had asked him his name and the fellow replied, “Your daughter is amused by mysteries so I’d prefer not to tell you right now.” He’d bowed to the ladies and walked off, and since James had taken off his own mask by then, Georgina and Jack had laughed at his thunderous expression.

She couldn’t get out of her mind the man’s risqué suggestion that they meet after the ball. Daring stuff, his willingness to risk her father’s finding out that they’d gone off together. Which made her think again that her mystery man didn’t really know her or her family, and, more to the point, the many rumors of the more lethally unsavory sort that still abounded about her father.

But then one of her other beaus finally got up the nerve to draw her away from her parental shield, and once he did, the others formed a solid barricade on the edge of the dance floor to request their dances before she could return to her father’s side. She found that so amusing she forgot about the daring stranger for a while. Until the unmasking and finding out that he wasn’t there for it.

She was still intrigued and incredibly excited about her rendezvous in Hyde Park today. She was also glad to have the ride on her agenda to distract her from her father’s having left for the Caribbean early that morning. A fait accompli, so she shouldn’t still be miffed that he hadn’t let her go along, but she was. After all, she was the one who’d been directly victimized by those damned pirates, so she should have a chance to get her own sweet revenge against Bastard, while her father took care of the culprit who’d pulled Bastard’s strings. But so much for her wishes . . .

She was already dressed for her rendezvous in a deep blue riding habit, the only darker-colored outfit she was allowed to wear. Carrying the feathered hat and jacket into the dining room, she wondered if she could manage to eat anything before she left the house. She scoffed at the notion of being nervous about meeting the stranger again. She might be heaping more importance on this ride than she ought to. The stranger might have a physique to admire, but he might also have the visage of a toad.

That thought made her laugh aloud, which was when Amy Anderson appeared in the doorway, still removing her gloves. Amy had brought her twins, Glorianna and Stuart, with her, but then she would never have heard the end of the complaints if she hadn’t. They were the same age as Jacqueline’s twin brothers, and those four loved getting into trouble together when Amy and Warren were in London. Stuart and Glory were already rushing past their mother to the stairs.

“Eating alone?” Amy said as she took the chair next to Jacqueline.

Amy was Jacqueline’s cousin and had become her aunt as well when she’d married Jack’s uncle, Warren Anderson. Amy sailed with her husband, even raised her children at sea, bringing along first their nannies, then their tutors. But Warren’s ship had departed that morning, along with Boyd’s and Georgina’s, all sailing with James back to the Caribbean, and none of them were taking any women along.

“You missed my mother. She’s off having lunch with Aunt Roslynn.”

“I did think she might need cheering up, which is why I stopped by, but I’m sure Ros will see to that.”

“And you don’t need cheering when you get left behind?”

“It’s actually the first time Warren has sailed without me since we married. When I was expecting, he stayed home with me for the duration.”

“So you’re as miffed as I am not to be included?” Jack asked.

“No, but if you are, then maybe you need cheering up more’n your mother.”

“So everyone keeps telling me,” Jack mumbled.

“Then let’s start with you telling me who he is?” Amy said with a grin. “I’m dying to know.”

“Don’t be so cryptic, Cousin.” Jack rolled her eyes. “I’m not a mind reader.”

“You’ve met your true love.”

Jack’s eyes flared. “Bite your tongue, I did no such thing. Take it back, Amy, right this minute.”

Amy frowned before admonishing, “Well, don’t get upset about it. I know you didn’t want to meet him during your first Season and maybe you didn’t actually meet him. Maybe you only encountered him in passing so he didn’t make an impression on you. You didn’t even see him? Maybe he only saw you and hasn’t started the pursuit yet?”

“That’s enough maybes, thank you very much. If you’ve just cursed me by saying I’ve found the man of my dreams, I’ll never forgive you.”

Amy tsked. “I didn’t. There’s been no wager, I assure you, and I’ve learned my lessons about not pushing things along by betting that they will happen. I just had one of my feelings, and you know they aren’t always spot on the mark. It might not even have been about you. The family assumes you’ll be next to the altar, so I was only guessing. It could be Jaime.”

Jacqueline didn’t believe a word of that, but as long as her cousin didn’t make one of her infamous wagers that she never lost, then Jack wasn’t going to worry about it. Especially since Amy’s premonitions weren’t always time-sensitive. If Amy was predicting that Jack would find true love, it could happen next year or the one after, which would be on Jack’s timetable and suit her just fine.

But Amy could be a font of information of the mysterious sort, too, which prompted Jacqueline to suddenly ask, “Have you had any feelings about my father or your husband and what’s going to happen when they reach the Caribbean?”

“Nothing like that powerful feeling that something bad was going to happen when you all set sail for Bridgeport, Jack, which is why I’m not worried about their trip.”

Well, that wasn’t satisfying. It could mean they wouldn’t come to harm, but it could also mean they weren’t going to succeed in finding the culprits. If she had just told her father immediately about that damned original note from Bastard’s boss while they’d all still been in the Caribbean . . . No, her father would have walked straight into a trap and would still have left her behind somewhere. But she should have told him as soon as they got back to London; then he would have been gone for a full month by now instead of a few hours, and she would only have to wait one more month to find out what had happened or was going to happen, rather than two or more. She growled to herself because there was no winning for her in any of those scenarios.

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