Gentle Rogue Page 16

"Would you put out the lamps, Georgie?"

She groaned and was afraid he'd heard her when he sighed and added, "Never mind. You're already abed, and we wouldn't want to test the fates that put you there on your first try."

Her teeth gnashed together. So he'd gotten the blasted gibe in anyway. The man was a devil clear to the core. She almost said she'd see to the lanterns anyway. She'd show him that the fates had nothing to do with her and her hammock. But she'd have to open her eyes to do it, and he wasn't in bed yet and covered up. And coming face-to-face with him undressed . . . Well, she'd be smart not to.

But her eyes cracked open anyway. The temptation was just too great to resist. And besides, if the man was going to put on a show, she reasoned, he ought to have an audience to appreciate it. Not that she did. Certainly not. It was just curious fascination, not to mention self-preservation. She'd keep her eye on a snake if it was this close to her, wouldn't she?

But as interesting as she found this unusual experience, she wished he'd hurry up. She was starting to feel nauseous again, and this time he wasn't even close to her. Lord, but he had nice buttocks. Was the room getting hotter? And such long legs, such firm flanks. His masculinity was overwhelming, blatant, intimidating.

Oh, God, was he coming toward her? He was! Why? Oh, the lantern over the tub. Double-damn him for frightening her like that. When he doused it, her end of the room darkened. Only one light remained by the bed. She closed her eyes and kept them closed. She would not watch him getting into that heavenly soft bed. What if he didn't use a cover? The moon had already risen, had lit the deck above quite brightly, and was bound to light the cabin through that wall of windows. She wouldn't open her eyes again to save her soul. Well, that was a bit extreme. Maybe just to save her soul.

Where was he now? She hadn't heard his feet padding back toward his bed.

"By the by, lad, is Georgie your given name, or just a pet name your family has burdened you with?"

He's not standing right next to me, stark na**d. He's not! I'm imagining it, imagining the whole thing. He never dropped his robe. We're both sleeping already.

"What's that? I didn't hear you, lad?"

Didn't hear what? She hadn't said a word. She wasn't going to, either. Let him think she was asleep. But what if he touched her to wake her, just for her answer to his stupid question? As tense as she was right now, she'd probably scream her head off, and that just wouldn't do. Answer him, you ninny, and he'll go away!

"It's my given name . . . sir."

"I was afraid you'd say that. It really won't do, you know. Why, I've known females to call themselves that, short for Georgette or Georgiana, or some other godawful long name. And you wouldn't care to be likened to a female, would you?"

"I never gave it much thought one way or the other," she replied in a fluctuating tone, half growl, half squeak.

"Well, don't worry about it, lad. It might be the name you're stuck with, but I've decided to call you George. Much more manly, don't you think?"

He didn't give a fig what she thought, and she cared even less what he thought. But she wasn't going to argue with a na**d man standing only inches away from her.

"Whatever pleases you, Captain."

"Whatever pleases me? I like your attitude, George, indeed I do."

She sighed as he walked away. She didn't even wonder why he was chuckling to himself. And despite her firm resolve, after a moment her eyes cracked open again. But she'd waited too long this time. He was in bed and decently covered. But moonlight did indeed flood the room, so she had a clear view of him stretched out on his bed, his arms crossed behind his head, and smiling. Smiling? It had to be a trick of the light. And what difference did it make anyway?

Disgusted with herself, she turned over to face the corner so she wouldn't be tempted to look at him anymore. And she sighed again, unaware that this time it was a purely deflated sound.

Chapter Eighteen

Georgina had had the worst time getting to sleep that night, but the next thing she knew, the captain's voice was calling, "Show a leg, George," the age-old sailors' adage that meant shed the covers quick and get moving. She blinked, and sure enough, daylight filled the cabin, bright enough for her to suppose she'd overslept.

She located the reason behind her lack of sleep and found him dressed, thank God, or at least partially so. Breeches and stockings were better than nothing. And even as she watched, he slipped into a black silk shirt similar in style to the white one he'd worn yesterday, though he didn't lace up the front closing.

The breeches were black, too. Give him an earring, and the cursed man would look like a pirate in that billowing shirt and tight pants, she thought uncharitably, and then sucked in her breath as she noticed he was wearing an earring today, a small golden one just barely visible under the blond locks still disarrayed from sleep and not combed back yet.

"You're wearing an earring!"

That brought those bright green eyes to her, and the affectation she considered his most arrogant and irritating habit, the raising of just one golden brow. "Noticed, did you? And what d'you think of it?"

She wasn't awake enough yet to think of being flattering instead of truthful. Baldly, she said, "It makes you look piratical."

His grin was positively wicked. "D'you think so? I would have said rakish myself."

She caught herself about to snort. She managed to just sound curious instead, "Why would you want to wear an earring?"

"Why not?"

Well, he was a fount of information this morning, wasn't he? And what did she care if he wanted to look like a pirate, as long as he wasn't one in actuality?

"Well, come along, George," he said briskly now. "The morning's half gone."

She gritted her teeth as she sat up, swung with the hammock a few times, then dropped to the floor. He called her George with a good deal of relish, it seemed, as if he knew how it would irritate her. More manly sounding indeed. She knew of a number of Georges called Georgie, but not another female other than herself with that shortened name.

"Not used to sleeping in a hammock, are you?"

She glared at him, really fed up with his inaccurate assumptions. "Actually—"

"I could hear you tossing about all night long. All that squeaking rope woke me a number of times, I don't mind telling you. I trust that's not going to be a nightly occurrence, George. I suppose I'd have to

offer to share my bed with you just so I won't be disturbed."

She blanched, even though he sounded as if he'd hate doing it. She had little doubt he'd do it anyway, and insist, no matter her protests. Over her dead body.

"It won't happen again, Captain."

"See that it don't. Now, I hope you've a steady hand."

"Why?"

"Because you'll be scraping the whiskers from my cheeks."

She would? No, how could she? She might get sick again, and she could just see herself puking in his lap. She'd have to tell him about this propensity she had for getting nauseous when she got too close to him.

She groaned inwardly. How could she tell him something like that? He'd be so insulted, there was no telling what he'd do to her. He could, after all, make her life utterly miserable, much worse than it already was.

"I've never shaved anyone, Captain. I'd likely nick you to pieces."

"I sincerely hope not, dear boy, since this is one of your duties. And as a valet, you'll have to improve.

Notice I've had to dress myself this morning."

She was going to cry. There was just no way she would be able to avoid getting close to him. And he'd eventually notice that she had a serious aversion to him. How could he not if she ran for the chamber pot several times a day?

But maybe it wasn't him. Maybe she was seasick. When she'd sailed the eastern coast with her brothers on short runs and never suffered it? When she'd crossed the ocean to England without the tiniest upset? It was him. But she could tell him she was seasick, couldn't she?

She felt much better suddenly and even smiled as she promised, "I'll do better tomorrow, Captain."

Why he just stared at her for a long moment before answering curtly, she didn't know. "Very well. I have to confer with Connie, so you've about ten minutes to fetch some warm water and dig out my razors.

Don't keep me waiting, George."

Well, he was certainly put out that he'd had to dress himself, wasn't he? she thought as he slammed the door behind him. He hadn't even bothered to put on boots. She hoped he got splinters in his feet. No, he'd probably make her pick them out.

She sighed, then realized she had the cabin to herself for a few minutes. She didn't hesitate to head straight for the commode. If it weren't for Malory's blasted time schedule, she wouldn't chance it. But she'd never make it down to the hold to the chamber pot she'd hidden away there, not in the ten minutes allotted her to fetch the water for his shaving. Nor could she wait until she was finished shaving him. But after this, she was going to have to work on getting up before he did so she had more time.

James slammed back into the cabin the same way he'd left, with a lot of noise, the door hitting the wall this time. He expected to startle Georgie and meant to, her with her unexpected smile that he'd felt clear to his gut. Well, he'd startled her all right. If the color of her cheeks was any indication, she was going up in flames of mortification, too. But he was still the more startled. What a bloody dense ass he was, not to have considered how a female pretending not to be a female would manage such things as bathing and nature's calls, even changing her clothes, on a ship full of men. By moving her into his cabin, he'd given her more privacy than she would have had otherwise, but that was for his sake, not hers, part of his game. There was still no lock on the door, no place where she could be assured of a little privacy.

With his mind centered on getting her pants off, he really should have considered these things. She must have, before she decided on this pretense. And it would be a safe bet that his cabin was not the place she had determined would offer the least risk of discovery. He'd more or less forced her to take this chance by rousing her from sleep and ordering her immediately to her duties. It was his fault she was now hiding her face against her pretty bare knees. And there wasn't a bloody thing he could do abouther embarrassment, and still keep up the pretense. If she really were a George, he wouldn't back out of the room making apologies, would he? He'd treat the matter as nothing out of the ordinary, and it wouldn't be, if she were a George.

But she wasn't, and by God, there was nothing ordinary about this situation. The darling girl did have her pants down, and his senses had been relishing that fact since he'd stormed into the room.

James rolled his eyes ceilingward and stomped around the bed to find his boots. This is too much, he thought. She smiles at me and I get aroused. She sits on a bloody chamber pot and I get aroused.

"Don't mind me, George," he snapped out more sharply than he meant to. "I forgot my boots."

"Captain, please!"

"Now don't get missish. D'you think the rest of us never have to use that thing?"

Her groan told him plain enough he wasn't helping, so he simply got out of there, slamming the door once again, and carrying his boots out with him. He was afraid the incident was going to be a setback for him.

Some women could be peculiar about such things, like never wanting to set eyes again on a man who'd witnessed their embarrassment, or caused it. And a man didn't have a prayer if he happened to do both.

Bloody everlasting hell. He had no idea how this girl would react, whether she'd laugh it off, blush for a few days, or dive under the nearest bed and refuse to come out. He hoped she was made of sterner stuff.

Her masquerade suggested she had courage and a good deal of audacity. But he just didn't know. And his mood took a swing for the worse that he was having any kind of setback at all, especially after the progress he had made last night.

Georgina wasn't thinking about hiding under any beds. Her options were quite clear. She could jump ship, keep company with the rats in the hold for the rest of the voyage, or murder James Malory. And the last had the most appeal no matter how she looked at it. But when she got up on deck she heard that the captain was passing out punishments left and right, and for no good reasons, or, as one sailor put it, because he had a barnacle up his arse. And that, translated simply, meant he was displeased about something and taking it out on anyone foolish enough to cross his path this morning.

Some of the color that had still been riding her cheeks receded immediately. By the time she got back to the cabin with the warm water for his lordship's shaving, she decided that he just might be more embarrassed than she was . . . well, not more. No one in the entire world could ever have been more

mortified than she. But if he had felt even a tiny bit of that, then she could live with it, she supposed, especially if it had so upset him as to put him in a black mood.

Of course, that reasoning gave him a sensitivity she wouldn't have thought him capable of. His reaction was directly related to hers. If she hadn't behaved like such a ninny, missish he'd called her, then he would have thought nothing of it. But he knew he'd embarrassed her worse than any of his taunts could ever do, and so he was ashamed to have done it.

The door opened hesitantly a few minutes later, and Georgina almost laughed when the captain of the Maiden Anne actually stuck his head around the door to see if it was safe to come in this time. "Well, are you ready to cut my throat with my own razors, youngun?''

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