Beautiful Tempest Page 42

Most of the crew were dressed like normal English sailors, were even barefoot like her. A few weren’t; of the more flamboyantly dressed men, one wore an ancient green satin coat, tattered and frayed, and another, a dirty white silk shirt, with a saber hanging from each hip. They gave her such leering looks it caused a slight shiver down her back. Satin Coat even had four pistols stuck around his belt.

“You’re allowed to ask why I haven’t waited for you to seduce me,” Damon said from behind her.

She choked back a laugh. “I don’t care why I’m out here, just that I am.”

“Really?”

She glanced back to note his frown. “Fine, if you’re dying to tell me, go ahead.”

“I’m not. We can discuss where you got those britches from instead.”

She turned around to face him. He was looking down at the new floral-patterned britches. “I finished making these yesterday out of one of the dresses you supplied.”

“Those were expensive dresses.”

“Stop trying to evade. Why am I suddenly only safe at your side?”

“The pirates have been lusting after you ever since they saw you dripping wet after Mort and I fished you out of the ocean. They keep trying to get past my guards.”

“But you warned them off.”

“They’re pirates, Jack, the dregs of the Caribbean. They aren’t known for being loyal under any circumstances, but certainly not to me. They’re merely along for the ride.”

“Explain,” she demanded.

“Then let me be blunt. I can continue to fight them off and risk failing or give them a reason to back off for now.”

“What reason?”

“They need to think you’re sharing my bed.”

Her eyes flared. That was a little too blunt. “That’s not happening!”

He feigned a sigh. “I wish you wouldn’t say that so adamantly, but I did say they only need to think it’s so. The pirates know you stabbed me, and two of them saw you sleeping in your own cot rather than my bed. Perhaps if you made an overt gesture of affection toward me out here on the deck, the pirates will think you’re my woman.”

She gave him a suspicious look. “If this is some convoluted plan you dreamed up just to get me to smack my lips to yours, that’s not happening, either.”

He grinned. “If I thought that would work, I would have tried it long before now. So, no kiss?”

“Not one.”

A much louder feigned sigh. “How disappointing.”

Turning the conversation to a safer topic, she asked, “Why don’t you train some of your normal crew to man the wheel?”

His answer was surprising. “That my only helmsman is Mr. Thomson, who takes over for me at night, is all that’s keeping the pirates from mutiny. They can do most of the work on the ship as they did on the way to London, but they became suspicious when I hired a new crew there, so they don’t even bother to help now. But none of them knows how to chart the course or man the wheel, so for now, they think they still need me.”

“That’s why you won’t let me steer? You don’t want them to know I can?”

He grinned. “I’m actually looking forward to the day you can prove it, but yes, if you can, I don’t want them to know it.”

“Mutiny? Really?”

“It’s possible sooner or later. They’re eager to get home, but they’re more eager to get their hands on you. They could just keep Thomson alive to steer for them and tie the wheel down while the wind is steady from one direction or drop the sails when it’s not. Poor Thomson won’t get much sleep in either case.”

“That’s sooner. What’s later?”

“Once we reach the Caribbean and they start recognizing islands, they’ll figure out they can finish the trip without me.”

“Then shouldn’t we get rid of them before then?”

“Funny you should mention that. . . .”

He didn’t elaborate, only laughed. She gritted her teeth. Sometimes he was forthcoming; other times, too damned tight-lipped. But she hated it when she amused him like this without knowing why.

“Seriously, Jack, the best way for you to stay safe is to pretend that you are sharing my bed.”

She could indeed, and all sorts of things popped into her head about what he was suggesting. Touching him intimately, under duress, of course, but she still got a little excited over the carte blanche he was giving her.

“Are the pirates on the deck watching us now?” she whispered.

“A handful are.”

With no hesitation at all, she moved a little closer to him and raised a hand to his shoulder, slowly moved it up his neck and into his hair. It was softer than she’d imagined. She ran strands of it through her fingers several times before she caressed him behind one ear.

Damon made a sound that told her he liked what she was doing. “If I were steering a carriage instead of a ship, I would have wrecked it by now. You’re a wicked woman, Jack.”

She threw back her head and laughed.

Chapter Twenty-Seven


JUDITH RAN INTO THE house on Berkeley Square, not waiting for Nathan to help her out of the coach. Henry was in the hall and immediately nodded toward the parlor because that was where Georgina was.

Amy and Katey were on the sofa with her. Amy stood when she saw Judith, saying, “Katey and I moved in with Aunt George to keep her company, since our husbands are both with Uncle James. Welcome back!”

Judith smiled slightly at her cousin and her half sister, but she moved to kneel on the floor in front of Georgina and took the hand that wasn’t holding a brandy snifter. She noticed that all three women had snifters. Was this how they were getting through this nightmare?

“You’re back from your wedding trip early,” Georgina noted in a lackluster tone.

“Mother wasn’t going to tell me any of this,” Judith replied, guessing Georgina might be a little foxed. “But I suspect she’s been as frantic as you are, so she gave in and sent word to me a few days ago. Nathan and I came straight here.”

Nathan appeared in the doorway just then, but seeing the room filled only with women, he told Judith, “I’ll collect your mother. She’ll be annoyed that we’re here and she’s not.”

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