Captive of My Desires Page 32

She glanced at Drew upon hearing that, but he just smiled and sat back to watch the reunion. Richard leaned toward her. “And may I say how lovely you look tonight, Gabrielle.” He eyed her simple pink ball gown with the dramatic décolletage. “I imagine our captain provided your attire as well. He wants to enjoy himself tonight.” Richard winked at her. Gabrielle blushed, but she didn’t try to speak to Richard privately again. Drew had to have some reason for including Richard other than she’d be glad to see him, and that reason worried her.

The food arrived soon after Richard’s arrival. It took four crewmen to carry in the assortment of platters, and one came in with an armful of wine bottles. Richard, glad to be out of the hold, started drinking more than he ought to. Gabrielle barely touched the wine herself.

Drew had ordered excellence from his cook, and by far it was not a meal one might expect to have at sea. Roast beef offered with two different gravies, glazed onions and carrots, three different rolls to choose from, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, and even a salad topped with a creamy garlic dressing. Gabrielle was going tohave to find out how Drew’s cook managed to keep lettuce fresh at sea, she really was.

The mood turned quite festive with such hearty food before them. It even began to feel like a real celebration. Richard relaxed and amused the group with his usual banter. Gabrielle stopped worrying that he’d been brought there for some ulterior reason. And even Drew seemed to be enjoying himself.

“By the way,” Timothy said to Drew during a lull in the conversation. “On one of those ships we spotted

briefly right before the storm, the lookout swears he saw your sister and brother-in-law on its deck.” Gabrielle blanched, hearing that. Drew, on the other hand, burst out laughing.

Drew began, “I hate to say I told you so—”

“Yes, I’m sure it breaks your heart, so don’t,” Gabrielle cut in tartly, thoroughly annoyed by his amusement. “The lookout was probably mistaken anyway.” And Richard joined in, “Oh, I say, is that Lady Malory he’s talking about?”

“Oh, good grief, Richard,” Gabby snapped. “Forget about her!” Her friend winced, but then shrugged. “I’vetried, Gabby. Really I have, but I just can’t forget about my one true love.”

Drew sobered now and demanded, “Is he talking about my sister?”

“Why yes, he is,” Gabrielle fairly purred at the captain, though her eyes were glaring at him. “Fell quite head over heels for her. Won’t listen to sound advice, like her husband is going to break every bone in his body if he gets anywhere near her.”

“James will have to stand in line,” Drew growled as he stood up and took a step toward Richard.

That was unexpected and had Gabrielle instantly regretting that she’d provoked him. She leapt between the two men to try to defuse what she’d instigated.

“Oh, stop it,” she told Drew. “Georgina nearly slapped Richard’s face off the last time they spoke, so nothing untoward has or will ever happen between them. She’s a bulwark of resistance where any other man is concerned, simply because she loves her husband. You ought to know that.” It was a tense moment. Drew obviously took protecting his sister seriously. Every line of his body said he was ready to rip Richard apart with his bare hands. But hewas paying attention, thankfully, and Gabrielle’s last remark took the edge off his anger.

“I could have done without that reminder,” he said as he moved back to his seat.

Richard had drunk too much wine to be wary. “You should have let him have at me, Gabby,” he said.

“He’s been itching to ever since he thought you and I…” The thought made him laugh before he finished it.

“That isn’t why I wanted to rip your head off,” Drew replied rather calmly, considering the subject matter.

“Ah, that’s right, it was because you couldn’t remember why Gabby can’t go back to England.” Gabrielle drew in her breath sharply. “Richard, that’s enough.” But Drew sat forward to ask, “Why can’t she go back?”

“With that rumor making the rounds that she’s a pirate? Give it a good guess, Captain. I’m sure you’ll

figure it out.”

Gabrielle sat back and closed her eyes. She had a feeling she knew now why Richard had been invited to dinner. Drew had been fishing for information, obviously, something he thought they were keeping from him. Instead he had caught the one subject guaranteed to bring her anger back in full force.

Chapter 40

TIMOTHY TRIED TO REDIRECT THE CONVERSATIONto neutral subjects, but only he and Richard participated. With Drew just staring at Gabrielle, and she just staring at her plate, the tension in the room could have been cut with a knife. They left soon after, with Richard making a joking comment about being eager to get back to the hold, where the air wasn’t so frosty. Her anger had prompted that remark. With her scandal on the table, as it were, there was no way Gabrielle could conceal that anger from the man who’d caused it.

Alone with him now, he sat back in his chair, his glass of wine in hand. And he was still just staring at her. Waiting for her to explode? Another few moments and she probably would have.

But he lifted a tawny brow first and said casually, “Odd how I wasn’t the only one to guess, isn’t it?”

“Guess?”

“Or maybe not so odd,” he continued in the same tone, as if she hadn’t raised a question and wasn’t glaring at him. “I mean, look at the company you keep. And how often did you visit them in the seedier side of town?”

She snorted. “You don’t know where my friends resided, and besides—”

“But I do,” he cut in. “I followed you one afternoon. Not for any reason other than I was bored that day and, well, maybe a little curious. I must say I was a bit surprised at how easily you and your maid rebuffed those ruffians who tried to make your acquaintance that day. Thought I might have to reveal myself to intervene, but no, I suppose I’d back off, too, if I had two women angrily swinging their purses at my head. It didn’t take me long to realize you must be used to that sort of attention.” She vaguely recalled the incident he was talking about, the day she’d gone down to the wharfs to warn Richard that Malory was going to murder him if he even so much as saw Richard again. She’d been very upset with Richard, enough to take it out on anyone who tried to delay her from reaching him so she could tell him just how upset she was over the very real threat now hanging over his head.

But what the devil did any of that have to do with the scandal that Drew had left her with? Or was he just trying to delay addressing that, or hoping he could entirely avoid giving her a reason for what he’d done? It was even possible that he didn’t have a reason, that he’d just done it on a lark.

And then, in the same casual tone he was maintaining, he said, “You know, sweetheart, if I didn’t make those assumptions about you myself, I never would have kissed you that day we went to the park.” That was so unrelated in her mind to the subject at hand that she couldn’t fathom why he’d even mention it to her. And then she realized that the “subject” hadn’t really been introduced yet, so he was talking about something else entirely. Or was he?

A bit confused now, she demanded, “Why?”

“Because if I thought you were a virgin, you’d be off-limits to me. So I convinced myself you weren’t, for the simple reason that Ihad to taste you. To be honest, it was driving me crazy. Perhaps you can understand that, now that you’ve had a taste yourself?” She glared at him, causing him to shrug. “No?

Well, at the time, I wanted you to have the morals of a pirate, because I knew that was the only way I could have you.”

“And because of whatyou wanted, it was perfectly fine to ruin my good name in the country of my birth?” she fairly shouted at him.

He sat forward so abruptly that he sloshed his wine on the table.

She mimicked what he’d said that night at the ball. “ ‘I wouldn’t count on it, unless his father doesn’t mind pirates in the family.’ ”

He laughed. “I was merely joking. And you said it yourself, that it merely embarrassed you.”

“Of course it did, but no one there took it as a joke, you ass. What you said made the gossip rounds immediately. Everyone in London thinks I’m a pirate now. Because of you!”

“But youare a pirate.”

“No I am not!”

She hadn’t meant to say that and give up her ruse this soon. But she’d let her anger get in the way because hestill didn’t look the least bit contrite over what he’d done.

Defensive was all he looked, and sounded, when he pointed out, “What the hell do you think stealing my ship was, if not pirating?”

“Just desserts!” she snapped back. “You made sure I couldn’t make a good marriage in England, so I took your ship as payback.”

“So that was all lies you fed us, about your father needing rescuing?”

“No, that was killing two birds with one stone.” She smirked. “A perfect solution for two dilemmas.”

“One dilemma. You said that you prefer the islands. That’s where you should have looked for a husband, not in England.”

She gasped. Was he really trying to remove himself from blame with an excuse like that?

“It was my father’s wish that I find a good match there. It’s his hopes, as well as my own that are going to be crushed when he finds out that isn’t possible now.”

“He aspired too high for a pirate.”

Her eyes rounded incredulously. “And you think that exonerates you? Forget about my father for a moment and consider what else you did with yourjoke. My mother’s good name was without blemish.

So was mine, for that matter, but in fact there’s never been a scandal associated with her family.

However, in blackening my name, you’ve also dragged hers through the mud.” Was that finally a remorseful blush rising up his cheeks? Obviously not, because all he said was, “Then she shouldn’t have married a pirate.”

It was the last straw. She stood up and leaned across the table to shout at him, “She didn’t know, you bloody bastard! He took pains to make sure she never knew. I told you that! He took pains to make sure no one in England knew, and why, you might ask? To make sure her good name was protected! But without a moment’s hesitation, you just blew all his efforts out of the water, didn’t you? On a lark. No, wait, what did you call it? A joke!”

He actually flinched, then said with a sigh, “For what it’s worth, that wasn’t my intention, so I suppose an apology is in order.”

“You suppose?” she bit out. “Well, Isuppose you won’t be surprised when I don’t accept your apology.

There’s nothing you can do to make amends for what you’ve done, well, unless you help to rescue my father. Then I might, though probably won’t, butmight forgive you.”

“Done,” he said without hesitation. “But there’ll be no ‘probably’ about it. When he’s freed, we’re even.”

Chapter 41

GABRIELLE WENT TO SLEEP THAT NIGHT ON HER BLANKETS,a little in shock. She’d said nothing else to Drew, too afraid he might change his mind. She hadn’t expected anything to come of her threat to not forgive him unless he helped her rescue her father. She wasn’t even sure why she said it. His cavalier attitude up to that point warned she’d be wasting her breath. But, good grief, he’d actually accepted.

After the shock wore off, she had to allow that his guilt must be a lot worse than he’d let on to her. Or maybe he didn’t really think there’d be any danger involved. She probably should warn Drew that he could be risking his life and his ship. Pierre was a real pirate, after all, not just a dabbler like her father, who was really a treasure hunter at heart. But if she warned Drew, he might change his mind.

It wasn’t much of a dilemma. She’d have to mention it. It would be dishonorable not to. But she was going to wait and see what ideas Drew came up with first for the rescue—just in case he backed out on the deal after she explained fully what he was getting himself into.

The surprises didn’t end with his proffered help. The next morning on his way out the door, he told her,

“We have a deal, so I’m going to call on your honor, if you have any, and request that you stay away from the hold. Your crew will be released soon enough. You don’t need to help in that regard.” All of which made no sense to her until he continued out the door—and left it open. Giving her freedom of his ship? Incredible! But before she started jumping for joy, she examined what he’d just said. Her crew would be let go, but let go for what? To be transferred to the nearest jail? Or to help with the rescue?

He was gone before she could ask, and frankly, she’d rather savor her triumph for a little while before she found out if she still had another rescue to accomplish. But really, Drew would be a fool to not make use of her men, now that he’d agreed to help. Surely he realized that at least.

She didn’t bother to change clothes, to take her first steps outside of her brief prison. She was still wearing the dress she’d been supplied with for dinner last night, had been too dazed to even think of changing out of it to sleep. She got curious looks from his crew. Apparently, Drew hadn’t told them yet that some of the pirates were no longer being detained under lock and key. But none of them tried to stop her, and after she moved to within sight of Drew, the matter was settled in their minds that he had allowed her the freedom.

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