Gentle Rogue Page 6

"Is that all?"

"Ye dinna sound verra impressed."

"I'm not. That girl might be a bonny lass now, but she wasn't always, and what good are her fair looks when she's wasted the best years of her life." A rude sound interrupted her, but she chose to ignore it.

"And she might have money of her own, a right comfortable amount, but just now she doesn't even have enough to buy her passage home. Her looks and means don't change the fact that she's a fool, and stupid, and gullible, an ill judge of character, and not very smart, and—"

"Ye're repeating yerself. Stupid and not very smart—"

"Don't interrupt."

"I will when all ye're doing is blathering. Now yer tears have stopped. Start looking on the bright side."

"There isn't one."

"Aye, there is. Ye wouldna have been happy wi' such a low, vile . . . cur, was it?"

Her lip trembled a little trying to smile, but not quite making it. "I appreciate what you're doing, Mac, but it's not helping with all that I'm feeling right now. I just want to go home, and hope to God I never meet another Englishman with their oh-so-proper speech, their blasted unshakable composure, their faithless sons."

"I hate tae be the one tae enlighten ye, hinny, but every country has its faithless sons."

"Every country has its brick walls, too, but I wouldn't marry one."

"Marry a ... Now ye're blathering again, and what's this fixation ye're having wi' brick walls, I'd like tae know?"

"Just take me home, Mac. Find us a ship, any ship. It doesn't have to be an American vessel as long as it's sailing for our part of the world and leaving soon, today preferably. You can use my jade ringto buy the passage."

"Are ye daft, lass? Yer father gave ye that ring, brought it all the way from—"

"I don't care, Mac," she insisted, and she was now wearing the stubborn look he was beginning to really dread seeing. "Unless you're willing to turn thief and steal the money, which I know you're not, it's the only thing we have that will buy us passage. I'm not willing to wait until it's earned, I promise you. And besides, the ring can always be bought back when we get home."

"It's just this quickly ye decided tae come here, lass. Ye're supposed tae learn from yer mistakes, no'

jump right in tae making the same ones."

"If you're preaching patience, you can forget it. I've had six years of patience, and that was my biggest mistake. I intend to practice impatience from now on."

"Georgie . . ."he began warningly.

"Why are you arguing with me? Until we sail, you're going to have a weeping woman on your hands. I thought you couldn't abide female tears?"

Female stubbornness was far worse, Mac decided, so he gave up gracefully with a sigh. "When ye put it that way . . ."

Chapter Seven

A skyscape of sailless masts didn't guarantee there would be at least one ship, out of so many, sailing for Americain the near future. You would think it would. You might even consider it a sure bet.Georgina would have lost the wager if she had thought to make it.

Most of the ships that had come in with theirs last month had long since departed for other ports.

Discounting those ships that refused to take on passengers, there were several American vessels still remaining, but none anticipated a return to her home port before next year, too long a voyage for the newly impatientGeorgina. And the one ship that was scheduled to sail directly forNew York, which was close enough toBridgeportto be ideal, wasn't sailing anytime soon, according to her first mate. Her captain apparently was courting some English miss and had sworn he wouldn't set sail until he was married. Which was just whatGeorginaneeded to hear to make her rip up two dresses and toss the chamber pot out the window.

She wanted to leaveEnglandso badly, she was already considering an eight- to ten-month voyage on one of the American ships scheduled to depart within the week, and this after only a few days of trying to find passage. When she told Mac that on the third morning, he came back a few hours later with the names of three English vessels departing the next week. He hadn't mentioned them sooner because he had figured she would discount them out-of-hand simply because they were English and crewed entirely by Englishmen, and escaping all things English was just as important to her right now as getting home was.

And discount them is exactly what she did, and quite rudely, too. It was then that Mac hesitantly mentioned an alternative she hadn't considered.

"There be a ship sailing wi' the morning tide. She willna take on passengers, but she's needing a bo's'n . .

. and a cabin boy."

Georgina's eyes widened with interest. "You mean work our way home?''

"It was a thought, better'n spending half a year or more at sea wi' a lass practicing impatience. "

Georginachuckled at the emphasis he put on that, accompanied with rolling eyes. It was the first thing she'd found amusing since she discovered Malcolm's betrayal.

"Maybe I'll do less practicing once I'm on my way home. Oh, Mac, I think it's a wonderful idea," she said with sudden enthusiasm. "Is it an American ship? Is she big? Where's she bound for?"

"Slow down, lass, she's no' what ye think. She's the Maiden Anne out of theWest Indies, three-masted and spanking clean. A real beauty. But she has the look of a refitted warship still heavily armed, though she's privately owned."

"AWest Indiesmerchantman would need to be well armed if she frequents those pirate-infested waters.

All of our Skylark ships that sail theCaribbeanare, and yet they're still occasionally attacked."

"True enough," he agreed. "But the Maiden Anne isna a trader, at least no' this voyage. She willna be carrying cargo, just ballast."

"A captain who can sail without making any profit whatsoever?"Georginateased, knowing how that fact alone would annoy a man who had sailed thirty-five years on merchantmen. "He must be a pirate."

Mac snorted. "He's a mon sails on his whims, going wherever the mood takes him, sae says his crewmon."

"The captain's the owner then, and rich enough to keep a ship just for pleasure?"

"Sae it seems," he said in disgust.

Georginagrinned. "I know how that concept pains you, but it isn't unique by any means. And what's the difFerence if she's carrying a cargo or not, as long as she gets us home?"

"Aye, well, that's another thing. It'sJamaicashe's bound fer, no'America."

"Jamaica?" Some ofGeorgina's pleasure in finding a ship dimmed, but only for a moment. "But Skylark has offices inJamaica. And isn't it the third port on Thomas's schedule? We could conceivably arrive there before he departs again, and if not, Skylark has other ships that put in toJamaicafrequently, including Boyd's and Drew's ships, not to mention my own." She was grinning again. "At the most we're talking only a few more weeks' delay in getting home. That's better than half a year, and certainly better than staying here another day."

"I dinna know, lass. The more I think on it, the more I'm thinking I shouldna have mentioned it."

"And the more I think on it, the more I like the idea. Come on, Mac, it's the perfect solution."

"But ye'll have tae work," he reminded her. "Ye'll have tae run the captain's messages, bring his meals, clean his cabin, and whatever else he requires. Ye'll be kept right busy."

"So?" she challenged. "Are you going to tell me you don't think I'm capable of such simple tasks, when I've scrubbed decks, cleaned cannons, scraped hulls, climbed rigging—"

"That were years ago, lass, afore ye started looking like the wee lady ye are now. Yer father and brothers indulged ye, letting ye climb all over their ships when in port, learning things ye had nae business learning. But this be working and living alongside men who dinna know ye, and who canna know ye. The job isna fer a lass, and it isna a lass ye can be if ye take it."

"I didn't miss that point, Mac. So my dresses will have to be left behind. Certain assumptions are automatic when breeches are worn, as we found out. Put a boy in a dress and you see an ugly girl, a girl in breeches and you have a pretty boy. And after all, I did right well that night—"

"Afore ye opened yer mouth or looked anyone in the eye," he cut in to remind her sternly. "Yer disguise dinna last beyond that."

"Because I was trying to pass for a man, which wasnt very smart now that I think of it, not with this face.

All right." She stopped him from interrupting again. "So you tried to tell me and I wouldn't listen.

Don't belabor the point. This is entirely different, and you know it. A boy can have delicate features.

They often do. And with my height and slimness, timbre of voice and''—she looked down at her chest—''some tight binding, I can easily pass for a boy of nine or ten."

She got a disgusted look for that assumption. "Yer intelligence will give ye away."

"All right, so a brilliant twelve-year-old who's slow in maturing." And then quite firmly, "I can do it, Mac.

If you didn't think I could, you wouldn't have considered it."

"I mun have been daft, I surely was, but we both ken who be responsible fer that .''

"Now, now," she chided, grinning. "I'm only one wee lass, soon to be one wee laddie. How difficult can I be?" He made a very rude sound. "Well, look at it this way. The sooner I get home, the sooner you can wash your hands of me."

This time a mere grunt. "That's another thing. Ye'd have tae keep up the pretense fer a month or more.

That's a long time tae be finding a private spot tae tend nature's calls, when a mon can just stand wi' the wind at his back and—"

"Mac!" She actually blushed, even though with five brothers who sometimes forgot she was around, she'd heard and seen just about everything a girl shouldn't. "I didn't say there wouldn't be some difficulties, but I'm resourceful enough to overcome them, whatever they are. Unlike most girls, I know a ship inside out, including the area sailors tend to avoid. I'll manage, even if I have to make use of a rat-infested hold.

And besides, if I am found out, what's the worst that can happen? Do you honestly think they'll kick me off the ship in the middle of the ocean? Of course they won't. I'll likely just get locked away somewhere until she docks, and then given the boot. And that would be no more than I deserve if I'm careless

enough to give myself away."

It took a bit more arguing back and forth before Mac finally sighed. "All right, but I'll be trying first tae get ye on wi'out yer having tae work. They might be agreeable tae that if I decline any pay, and they think ye're my brother who mun come wi' me."

One velvet brow arched, while laughter lit her eyes. "Your brother? Without a Scottish burr?"

"Stepbrother then," he allowed. "Raised separate, which willna be questioned considering the age difference."

"But I thought they need a cabin boy? They're more likely to insist if that's the case. I know my brothers wouldn't sail without one."

"I said I'd try . They've still the rest of the day tae find another lad fer the job."

"Well, I hope they don't,"Georginareplied and meant it. "I'd much rather be working on the crossing than doing nothing, especially since I'll have to be in disguise anyway. And don't think to say I'm your sister instead, because if they won't take me on to have you for bo's'n, then we've lost the opportunity altogether. So let's get going before the job is taken."

"Ye'll be needing clothes fit fer a lad."

"We can buy some on the way."

"Ye"ve yer things tae dispose of."

"The landlord can have them."

"What about yer hair?"

"I'll cut it."

"Ye willna! Yer brothers would kill me, if they dinna anyway!"

She dug the woolen cap she'd used before out of her trunk and waved it under his nose. "There! Now will you quit nitpicking and start moving? Let's go."

"I thought ye were going tae stop practicing impatience ," he grumbled.

She laughed as she pushed him out the door. "We haven't sailed yet, Mac. I'll stop tomorrow. I promise."

Chapter Eight

Sir Anthony Malory signaled to the waiter for another bottle of port before he leaned back in his chair to stare at his older brother. "D'you know, James, I think I'm actually going to miss you, damn me if I won't.

You should have settled your affairs in the Caribbean before you came home, then you wouldn't have to return there now, just when I've gotten used to having you around again."

"And how was I to know the infamous Hawke's demise could be arranged so easily, so that I could remain here?" James replied. "You forget, the only reason I came home a'tall was to settle the score with Eden. I had no idea that he was about to marry into the family at the time, or that the family would decide to reinstate me now that my pirating days are behind me."

"Presenting the elders with a new nephew in Jeremy helped the matter along, I'd say. They're so bloody sentimental when it comes to family."

"And you're not?"

Anthony chuckled. "So I am. But you will hurry back, won't you? It's been like old times, having you around again."

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