Stormy Persuasion Page 10

“Only if she could catch me.” Jacqueline grinned.

“I really wish Roslynn and Jaime were better sailors so they could have joined us.” Anthony sighed, but his spirits were too high to dwell on it. “But with the Yank indisposed for a few days, I intend to make the most of this rare situation. After all, how often do I have my two eldest daughters to myself?” He raised his glass of brandy high. “Here’s to seasickness!”

“That’s not funny, Father,” Katey said, quick to come to her husband Boyd’s defense.

“I thought it was,” James remarked.

Andrássy arrived a few minutes later. He knocked. James merely called out for him to come in. Their new cousin was formally dressed in black with a short cape with a pearl clasp and snowy cravat under it, and he was still wearing his sword. Even his greeting to everyone sounded a little too formal, or perhaps he was merely nervous.

With a smile, Georgina got up to lead him to one of the chairs, inquiring, “Is your sister coming?”

“No, she feels uncomfortable joining the family for dinner because she is not one of ‘us’ and doesn’t want to interfere or be a burden. In fact, she insists on repaying you for your generosity in allowing her to travel with you by working for her passage. Perhaps in the galley or—”

“That’s highly irregular and certainly not necessary,” Georgina said.

“Actually, it is. Catherine can be quite mercurial”—Judith and Jacqueline looked at each other and rolled their eyes—“and she will be calmer if she keeps busy.”

Was that really Catherine’s idea, Judith wondered, or was it Andrássy’s? If it was his, that might be why his stepsister was so angry tonight. Put her to work like a scullery maid?

Georgina must have had the same thought because she sounded a little annoyed when she replied, “She’s not a servant and won’t be treated as one.”

“I tried to tell her exactly that,” Andrássy said. “I just worry if she is too idle—I wish we had thought to bring material she could work with on the ship. She’s highly skilled with a needle, even makes all her own clothes, she loves sewing so much. So if any of you ladies need any clothes repaired, Catherine would be delighted to help in that regard at least.”

“I could rip a few seams, I suppose,” Georgina replied with a grin.

A few people laughed. Judith held her tongue and shook her head at Jack to keep her from mentioning that Judith could use a seamstress. She wasn’t about to saddle herself with Catherine’s company before she had a chance to form a better opinion of the young woman—if a better one could be had.

But the subject changed with the arrival of Artie and Henry announcing dinner. They got stuck in the doorway, both trying to enter at the same time. Which didn’t surprise anyone other than Andrássy. Those two old sea dogs might be the best of friends, but a stranger wouldn’t figure that out with all their bickering. Part of James’s old crew from his ten years on the high seas, they had retired when James did to become his butlers, sharing that job and this one, too, both acting as his first mates for the voyage.

They all moved to the dining table as the many platters were brought in. Andrássy was quick to pull a chair out for Jack and then sit in the one next to her. A little too quick? Judith wondered if she was going to have something to tease Jack about later.

Judith wasn’t hungry because she’d already had samples of tonight’s fare when she’d visited the galley late that afternoon. She noticed that Katey, seated beside her, was also picking at her food, but for a different reason.

“Worried about Boyd?” Judith guessed.

Katey nodded. “I hate seeing him so miserable. You’d think after so many years at sea he would have conquered his seasickness by now.”

“I don’t think it can be conquered.”

“I know.” Katey sighed. “I just wish—you know he used to have his ship’s surgeon make him sleeping drafts so he could just sleep through it. I offered to do the same for him, but he refuses because he wants to stay awake and talk to me. Yet he’s usually too sick to say a word! So I end up sleeping too much, like I did today. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight now, while that is the only time he does manage to sleep.”

“At least his seasickness only lasts three to four days. But didn’t you bring any books to read while you keep him company?”

“I didn’t think to, no.”

“I did and I just finished a very good one. I’ll go fetch it for you in case you do have a sleepless night.”

“Eat first,” Katey insisted.

Judith grinned. “I did this afternoon.”

Telling her father she’d be right back, Judith slipped out of the captain’s cabin. A few lanterns were lit, but they weren’t needed with the deck currently bathed in moonlight. She caught sight of the moon in the eastern sky and paused. She wished it were a full moon, but it was still lovely. After she got the book, she decided to go to the rail for an unobstructed view of the moon before returning to her family. But as she hurried back upstairs, she dropped her book when she slammed smack into a ghost. And not just any ghost, but the Ghost.

Chapter Twelve

All she could do was stare at him as light from a lantern on deck illuminated him. Hair as white as she remembered and floating about his shoulders. His eyes a deeper green than she remembered. And tall. No, taller than she remembered she realized now that she was standing next to him, six feet at least. He was too close. She realized he’d grabbed her shoulders to keep her from tumbling backward down the stairs. But he should have let go of her now that she had steadied herself. Someone might come along and see them. Someone such as her father.

With that alarming thought, she stepped to the side, away from the stairs, and he let go of her. All she could think to say was “You’re dead.”

“No, I ain’t, why would you say so?”

“You don’t remember?”

“I think I’d remember dying.”

“We met a few years ago in that old ruin in Hampshire, next to the Duke of Wrighton’s estate. I thought you were a ghost when I found you there. What are you doing here?”

It took him a moment to connect the when and the where, but when he did, he laughed. “So that’s why you seem familiar to me. The trespassing child with sunset hair.” A slow grin appeared as his emerald eyes roamed over her, up, down, and back up. “Not a child anymore, are you?”

The blush came quickly. No, she wasn’t a child anymore, but did he have to look for the obvious evidence of it? She shouldn’t have left her evening wrap in the cabin. Her ghost was a common sailor. She shouldn’t be talking to a member of the crew for so long, either. Devil that, he was fascinating! She’d wanted to know everything there was to know about him when she’d thought him a ghost. She still wanted to.

To that end, she held out her hand to him but quickly pulled it back when he merely stared at it. A bit nervous now that he didn’t know how to respond to her formal greeting, she stated, “I’m Judith Malory. My friends and family call me Judy. It would be all right if you do.”

“We aren’t friends.”

“Not yet, but we could be. You can start by telling me your name?”

“And if I don’t?”

“Surly for an ex-ghost, aren’t you? Too unfriendly to be anyone’s friend? Very well.” She nodded. “Pardon me.” She walked over to the railing. She gazed at the wavering reflection of the moon’s light on the pitch-dark ocean. It was so dramatic and beautiful, but now she couldn’t fully appreciate it because she was disappointed, much more than she should have been. She almost felt like crying, which was absurd—unless Jack had been right. Had she really fancied herself in love with a ghost? No, that was absurd, too. She’d merely been curious, amazed, and fascinated, thinking he was a ghost, that there really were such things. Even after Jack and she were older and admitted he couldn’t really be a ghost, it had still been more fun and exciting to think of him that way. Yet here was the proof that he was a real man—flesh and blood and so nicely put together. Not as pale as she remembered. No, now his skin was deeply tanned. From working on ships? Who was he? A sailor, obviously. But what had he been doing in that old ruined house in the middle of the night all those years ago? The ghost had told her the house was his. But how could a sailor afford to own a house?

She was more curious about him than ever. Unanswered questions were going to drive her batty. She shouldn’t have given up so easily on getting some answers. Jack wouldn’t have. Maybe she could ask Uncle James . . .

“Nathan Tremayne,” said a deep voice.

She grinned to herself and glanced at him for a moment. He was so tall and handsome with his long, white hair blowing in the sea breeze. He was standing several feet from her and staring at the moonlight on the ocean, too, so it didn’t actually appear that he had spoken to her. But he had. Was he as intrigued with her as she was with him?

“How do you do, Nathan. Or do you prefer Nate?”

“Doesn’t matter. D’you always talk to strange men like this?”

“You’re strange?”

“A stranger to you,” he clarified.

“Not a’tall. We are actually old acquaintances, you and I.”

He chuckled. “Telling each other to get out of a house five years ago doesn’t make us acquainted. And why were you trespassing that night?”

“My cousin Jack and I were investigating the light we saw in the house. That house has been abandoned for as long as anyone living can remember. No one should have been inside it. But we could see the light from our room in the ducal mansion.”

“And so you thought you’d found a ghost?”

She blushed again, but they weren’t looking at each other, so she doubted that he noticed. “When we saw you there, it was a reasonable assumption.”

“Not a’tall, just the opposite.” Was that amusement she heard in his tone? She took a quick peek. It was hard not to. And, yes, he was grinning as he added, “You drew a conclusion that no adult would have come to.”

“Well, I wasn’t grown yet. That was quite a few years ago. And you were holding your lantern so that its light only reached your upper body. It looked as if you were floating in the air.”

He laughed again, such a pleasant sound, like a bass rumble. It shook a lock of hair loose over his wide brow. His hair wasn’t pure white as she’d thought. She could see blond streaks in it.

“Very well. I can see how your imagination could’ve played tricks on you.”

“So why were you there that night and looking so sad?”

“Sad?”

“Weren’t you?”

“No, not sad, darlin’.” But instead of explaining, he said, “Do you really believe in ghosts?”

She looked up and saw his mouth set in a half grin and the arched eyebrow. Was he teasing her? He was! She also noticed his green eyes were gazing at her intently. Quite bold for a common seaman if that’s what he was. Quite bold for any man, actually, when they’d only just met—that first time didn’t count.

In response to his teasing she said, “Jack and I admitted to ourselves a few years ago that we’d been mistaken that night. But we continued to refer to you as the Ghost because it amuses us. It was our special secret that we only shared with our younger cousins. It was much more fun to say we’d found a ghost than the new owner of the house. But you can’t be the owner of the house. What were you doing there?”

“Maybe I like secrets as much as you do.”

On the brink of discovery and of clearing up a mystery that had intrigued her for years, she was more than a little annoyed by his reply. “You really won’t say?”

“You haven’t tried convincing me yet, darlin’. A pretty smile might work. . . .”

Judith went very still. So still she thought she could hear her heart pounding. She couldn’t believe what had just become crystal clear to her. She knew who he was. It was that second instance of his calling her darlin’. She’d been too flustered to pay much attention to it the first time he’d said it, but this time she remembered where she’d heard it before. A mere two weeks ago from a man who she suspected was far more dangerous than a vagrant.

The moment it had struck her that night of how odd it was for a vagrant to be drinking French brandy, she had known he wasn’t what he’d first seemed to be. But that wasn’t all. He claimed to know the abandoned house better than she did, so he’d either been staying there a long time or had visited it more than once. His putting a lock on a door that didn’t belong to him. His coming out of a hidden room where he could have been storing smuggled or stolen goods. And his warning her to tell no one that she’d seen him there. All of it pointed to his being a criminal of one sort or another.

Of course she’d told Jacqueline about him in the morning, and of course Jack had agreed with her conclusion and suggested she tell Brandon, who could prevaricate a bit and warn his father without revealing that Judith had had a run-in with a criminal in the old ruin. Before they’d left for London, Brandon had told her he’d spoken to his father and assured her they’d catch the smuggler red-handed that very day. So what was he doing here, on The Maiden George?

He appeared to be waiting for her to answer him. She did that now, hissing, “You deserve to be in jail! Why aren’t you?”

Chapter Thirteen

Nathan was taken aback by the girl’s angry question. He almost laughed at how close to the mark it was, yet it didn’t make sense. Nonetheless, the instinct for self-preservation kicked in, and quickly.

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