Gentle Rogue Page 24

"Perhaps one of the Hawke's prizes?" Connie grinned. "I wouldn't be surprised."

"Then it's just as well she's about to leave."

"Why?" Connie asked. "The Maiden Anne never sailed under her own name. And since when wouldn't you welcome a little diversion, such as being accused of piracy when there's no proof to back it up? You passed up the opportunity for a little sport at sea—"

"With reason," James reminded him. He wasn't about to put his little Georgie at risk for a mere few hours of stimulating adventure. "And actually, I'd rather not be bothered just now, either."

Connie turned as he accepted his drink. "You are looking rather complacent. Any reason in particular?"

""You're looking at a man about to commit himself, Connie. I've decided to keep George around for a while. And don't look so bloody surprised."

"Well, I bloody well am surprised, and with reason. The last woman you sailed with . . . What was her name?"

James frowned at the question. "Estelle or Stella. What difference does it make?"

"You decided to keep her around for a while, too. You even allowed her to decorate this cabin with these atrociously mismatched pieces—"

"I rather like this furniture now that I've grown accustomed to it."

"You're deliberately missing the point. You were well pleased with the wench, generous with her to a fault, but less than a week at sea with her, you turned the ship around to dump her back where you'd found her. Such close confinement with her had driven you crazy. I'd say I was safe in assuming that after all these weeks of being cooped up with the brat, you couldn't wait to get away from her now that we've docked."

"So George is a much more charming companion."

"Charming? That saucy-mouthed—"

"Watch it, Connie. This is my soon-to-be-mistress we are discussing."

Conrad's brows shot up. "You're going to go that far in committing yourself? Whatever for?"

"Now that's a stupid question," James replied irritably. "What the devil do you think for? I've grown fond of the little Yank. She might not show her sweet self to you, but George has been decidedly agreeable to me ever since we did away with pretenses."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you the man who swore off keeping mistresses? Something about their always getting marriage-minded, despite their protests to the contrary? You have faithfully stayed clear of commitments for a good number of years, Hawke, and I might add, without ever once lacking for female companionship when you wanted it. Damned less expensive, too."

James waved that reasoning aside. "So I'm due for a change. Besides, George isn't the least bit interested in marriage. I set her straight on the subject, and she hasn't said another word about it."

"Allwomen are interested in marriage. You've said so yourself."

"Damnation, Connie, if you're trying to talk me out of keeping her, you bloody well can't. I've givenit a good deal of thought this last week, and I'm simply not ready to see the last of her yet."

"And what does she think about it?"

"She'll be delighted, of course. The wench is quite fond of me as well."

"Glad to hear it," Connie replied dryly. "So what's she doing over on yonder ship?"

James turned around so fast, he nearly tipped his chair over. It took him a few seconds to scan the deck of the American ship before he saw what Conrad had seen. Georgina, with the Scot standing behind her.

She appeared to be talking to one of the ship's officers, possibly even her captain. James had the feeling she was acquainted with the chap, especially when the man gripped her arms and began to shake her, then, in the next moment, pulled her close to embrace her. James shot to his feet, seeing that. His chair did tip over this time.

He was heading for the door, swearing under his breath, when Connie remarked, "If you intend to fetch her back—"

"I intend to break that chap's face, then I'll collect George."

James hadn't stopped to reply, was already out the door, so Connie had to shout after him, "You'll find it a bit difficult doing either, old man! The ship's already cast off!"

"The devil she has!" was heard from out in the hall, and then as James appeared back in the doorway to stare out the windows at the slowly departing vessel, "Bloody hell!"

"Look on the bright side, Hawke," Connie said without the least bit of sympathy. ''You would only have had a few weeks more with her, until we returned to England. Even if you had considered taking her

back with you, from what you've told me of her aversion to the motherland, she'd never have agreed—"

"Blister it, Connie, the wench has deserted me, and without a by-your-leave. Don't talk to me about problems I might have faced, when this one's knocked me on my arse."

He ignored Conrad's derisive short. He stared at the now-empty berth next to the Maiden Anne andstill couldn't believe Georgie was gone. Just that morning she'd awakened him with her sweet lips on his, her little hands holding his face, and what he thought of as her take-me smile, the one she bestowed on him only when they were abed, the one that never failed to stir primitive urges he'd never even known he possessed. Gone?

"No, by God," he said aloud, then pinned Conrad with a resolute look that made the redhead groan.

"How many of the crew have gone ashore?"

"For God's sake, James, you can't mean to—"

"I bloody well do mean to," James cut in, the anger that was starting to rise reflected clearly in his tone.

"Get them back while I find out what I can about that ship. I mean to be on her tail within the hour."

* * *

Georgina defied her brother Drew's order to get herself to his cabin as soon as his back was turned.

He'd already promised her a walloping that would have her standing the whole voyage home. Whether that was just his anger talking, or he really meant to take his belt to her, she found she didn't much care at the moment.

Oh, he was indeed mad, furiously so. She'd merely surprised Drew at first when he turned around and found her standing there grinning at him. And then he'd been alarmed, assuming only some grave catastrophe could have brought her to Jamaica looking for him. When she'd assured him no one had died, his relief turned to irritation. He'd shaken her then for scaring him, but just as quickly hugged her because he really was relieved not to be hearing bad news, and, of course, the fact that she was his only sister and well loved had a little to do with it. It was when she'd casually dropped the news that she'd just returned from England that the shouting began. And this was one of her more mellow brothers, the most even-tempered next to Thomas.

Unlike Warren, who had an explosive temper that no one cared to get on the wrong side of, or Boyd and Clinton, who were too serious by half sometimes, Drew was the devil-may-care rogue in the family who had women chasing after him by the hordes. So he out of all of them should have understood why she had thought it necessary to chase after Malcolm. Instead, he'd been so angry, she'd almost seen some color in his black eyes. If she got a walloping from him, she could just imagine what she'd get from Clinton or Warren, her oldest brothers, when they found out. But she didn't much care at the moment.

She hadn't realized when she'd become so excited upon seeing Drew's ship and had rushed right over to her, that the Triton was making ready to depart, had in fact cast off her lines while Drew was still ranting and raving. She stood at the rail now, the sparkling Caribbean waters separating her from the Maiden Anne more and more, frantically searching the deck of the other ship for a last sight of James.

When she did finally see him appear on deck, his golden hair whipping about in the breeze, those wide, wide shoulders that couldn't be mistaken for any other man's, she could barely breathe for the lump that rose in her throat. She prayed he would look her way. She was too far away already to shout and hope to have him hear her, but she could at least wave. But he didn't look out to sea. She watched him leave his ship, move off briskly down the wharf, and then disappear into the crowd.

Oh, God, he didn't even know she was gone. He probably assumed she was somewhere on the Maiden Anne, assumed she'd be there when he returned. After all, her belongings were still there, and among them the cherished ring her father had given her. She hadn't known there would be no time to collect them, not that she cared about them at the moment. What was tearing her up inside was that she'd had no opportunity to say goodbye to James, to tell him . . . what? That she'd fallen in love with him.

She almost laughed. It was funny, it really was. Love thine enemy—but not literally. A hated Englishman, a despised, arrogant aristocrat, and he still got under her skin, still worked his way right into her heart. So stupid to let that happen, but so much worse if she'd actually told him. She'd asked him one night while his arms were around her and his heart beat steadily under her ear, if he were married.

"Good God, no!" he'd exclaimed in horror. "You won't see me ever making that fool's mistake."

"And why not?" she'd wanted to know.

"Because all women become faithless jades as soon as they get that ring on their finger. No offense, love, but it's bloody well true."

His comment had reminded her so much of her brother Warren's attitude about women that she mistakenly drew her own conclusion. "I'm sorry. I should have realized there had to have been a woman you loved at some point in your life who betrayed you. But you shouldn't blame all women for the unfaithfulness of just one. My brother Warren does exactly that, but it's wrong."

"I hate to disappoint you, George, but there was never a great love in my life. I was speaking of the many women whose unfaithfulness I know of from firsthand experience since I happen to be the one they were unfaithful with. Marriage is for idiots who don't know any better."

But she'd already had a feeling his answer would be something in that vein to begin with. In that he was still so much like her brother Warren it was uncanny. But at least Warren had an excuse for swearing he'd never marry, for the abominable way he now treated women, using them without ever letting them get close to him. He'd been hurt really badly once by a woman he'd intended to marry. But James had no such excuse. He'd said so himself. He was simply what he'd told her he was, a reprehensible rake. He wasn't even ashamed of it.

"Come now, lass, the lad's nae really going tae beat ye," Mac said, having come up beside her. "Ye've nae reason tae be crying. But best ye get yer-self below like he said. Give Drew a chance tae calm down afore he sees ye again and has tae hear the worst of it."

She glanced sideways as she swiped at her cheeks. "Worst of it?"

"That we had tae work fer our passage."

"Oh, that," she sniffed, thankful to have something else to think about, and that Mac assumed she was merely upset over Drew's anger. She added with a sigh, "No, I don't suppose his knowing that willgo over very well just now. Is there any reason we have to tell him?"

"Ye'd lie tae yer own brother?"

"He's threatened to beat me, Mac," she reminded him with a measure of disgust. "And this is Drew, Drew , for God's sake. I'd just as soon not find out his reaction if he learns I've slept in the same cabin

with an Englishman for the last month."

"Aye, I see what ye mean. Sae maybe a little lie wouldna hurt, or just the omission that we were robbed of our money. Ye've still the others tae be facing yet, after all, and their reactions will be even worse, I'm thinking."

"Thanks, Mac. You've been the dearest—"

"Georgina!" Drew's voice cut in with clear warning. "I'm taking off my belt."

She swung around to see that he wasn't doing any such thing, but her handsome brother looked as if he would if she didn't disappear, and quick. Instead she closed the distance between them and glared up at the six-foot-four-inch tall captain of the Triton.

"You're being an insensitive brute, Drew. Malcolm married another women, and all you can do is yell at me." And she promptly burst into heartrending tears.

Mac snorted in disgust. He'd never seen a man so quickly disarmed of his anger as Drew Anderson just was.

Chapter Twenty-seven

Georgina had been feeling somewhat better, certainly much more optimistic about the rest of her brothers' reactions after Drew proved to be so sympathetic to her heartache. Of course, Drew thought all her tears were over Malcolm. She saw no reason to tell him that she never even thought of Malcolm anymore, except when his name was mentioned. No, her thoughts and emotions were centered on another man, one whose name had never been spoken other than to explain he was the captain of the

ship that brought her to Jamaica.

She felt bad about deceiving Drew. More than once she had thought about telling him the truth. But she didn't want him to be angry with her again. His anger had really surprised her. This was her fun-loving brother, the one who teased her most, the one who could always be counted on to cheer her up. He'd managed to do that. He just didn't know what was truly depressing her.

He would know eventually. They all would. But the worst news could wait awhile more, until the hurt had a chance to heal a little bit, until she found out how badly the rest of them were going to react to what she saw now as a minor thing, at least in comparison to what she would have to tell them in a month or two when they demanded to know whose baby was stretching her waistline. What was it James had said about his brother Jason? He frequently flew through the roof? Well, she'd have five brothers doing it.

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