Beautiful Tempest Page 45

That subject was guaranteed to dump cold water on both of them. It certainly worked for her. But he was only guessing that Jeremy was her brother, and she still didn’t want to admit to Damon that he had two of her father’s children to barter with. So she didn’t answer immediately while she ran a few other possibilities through her mind. Jeremy’s best friend? Or . . . ?

She finally said, “He was, still is actually, one of my suitors.”

“A penniless suitor?”

“I exaggerated. He isn’t entirely without means. Only Percy is.”

“Too old for you, isn’t he?”

“Gads no, did you see how handsome he is?”

“No, actually. The lighting wasn’t good that night on the riverfront, and he was too bruised the last time I saw him, but what did you expect? He’s a very big man. It took quite a lot to take him down. Now don’t start again,” Damon added when she stiffened. “I confess, I haven’t seen him since last week, so the bruising is probably gone, but I doubt his ribs have fully mended yet.”

“Show me.”

“No.”

“Then I don’t believe you.”

“But I’m to believe you? That you would bring a suitor to a rendezvous with another suitor?”

“To make the masked mystery man jealous, why not?”

“Because you’re too blunt for a ploy like that, Jack.”

“In matters of the heart, I can be brutally blunt, I agree. But I also wanted to see which one of them would be more jealous of the other.”

“Process of elimination?”

“Exactly.”

“But you told me you weren’t really whittling down your list, or were you lying when you said you refused to marry this year?”

Did he have to remember everything she’d said? “It was time to figure out which suitors would wait around for me to try again next year, and which ones I should warn not to.”

“I thought you warned them all not to pursue you?”

“And have no fun a’tall?” It occurred to her that he was using this conversation just to find out things about her that she wouldn’t otherwise admit to. “Get off me.”

He put his cheek to hers again and said softly, “We’re still in the middle of a battle of sorts.”

She snorted. “No, we aren’t. I stopped shouting long ago.”

“You still did me damage.”

“How?” she demanded.

“Your nails.”

She winced to herself, having forgotten about that. Served him right, though, for turning that conflict on the desk into an embrace where her hands could reach some part of him. But she wasn’t hurting him now and stayed very, very still to get him to release her.

Nonetheless, she couldn’t resist softly reminding him, “I hate you.”

“I promise you won’t always. Does that make a difference?”

“A promise you can’t keep? No difference a’tall.”

“But already you don’t hate me as much. In the Caribbean, yes, your rage was beyond containing after you found that bloody ransom note. You would have killed me then in an instant. But what you feel now is only an echo of what you felt then. Why don’t you admit it?”

“You ought to stop thinking you know me when you don’t. Now let me up!”

He sighed again, deeply this time. When he inhaled, his chest pressed more tightly against hers, making her nipples peak, which shot heat up her cheeks this time. But he rolled to the side of the bed and got up. She rose more slowly, propping herself up on her elbows, and then was trapped in place, watching him remove his shirt and examine the damage her nails had done. Good God, she had to stop seeing him half-naked like this. Even aware of that, she couldn’t manage to look away. But finding him so blatantly masculine, so incredibly attractive, brought her anger back. It wasn’t fair!

And why the devil wasn’t he angry? It certainly wasn’t in his tone when he merely said, “I should cut your nails.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

He glanced back at her with a grin. “That might be fun. But be easy. You’ve—mostly—been behaving, Jack. Resist being stubborn for once and keep the bed for yourself. As you can tell, it’s more comfortable.” He put a hand up to forestall her getting back into high dudgeon. “I meant alone. I’ll use the cot.”

Well, that seduction did get her the bed at least. She laughed to herself before she turned over and got comfortable. But tomorrow, one way or another, she’d see her brother.

Chapter Twenty-Nine


YOU MIGHT BE GETTING your feet wet on this ship, but if you really want a career on the sea, you’ll want to sign on to a ship that’s going to see more of the world.”

Jacqueline had coaxed Jackie to sit with her on the quarterdeck while she ate the lunch he’d brought. She was giving Damon the cold shoulder again. She’d asked him first thing that morning to take her to her friends. This time she didn’t get an answer of any sort.

She had noticed him watching her a lot more today than usual though. And while he asked her a number of questions of little import, he gave up rather quickly at trying to get a response.

“Do your family’s ships sail to a lot of countries?” Jackie asked.

She smiled at the boy, but since they weren’t quite alone and she didn’t want Damon hearing her answer, she whispered, “Skylark Shipping is the name of their company, and yes, they have traders who sail to all parts of the world, even the mysterious Far East.” Then she raised her voice to a normal level. “This ship, on the other hand, is doomed. There’s no future on it for you other than a nautical education.”

“How is it doomed?”

“Even if it doesn’t get blown out of the water at the end of this voyage, your captain still doesn’t have a long future ahead of him. I’d be surprised if he survives the year.”

Jackie didn’t appear frightened by her prediction that the ship was doomed. He just looked avidly curious. But he frowned at her prediction for his captain. “That isn’t nice, m’lady.”

Scolded by a child. She almost laughed. “D’you know why I’m here, Jack?”

“So you do still have a voice?” Damon said directly behind her.

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