Stormy Persuasion Page 27

Anthony sat down on one of the sofas, stretched his arms over the back, and asked, “So who is our culprit? I’ve a mind to tear him limb from limb just for sneaking into Judy’s room, much less for stealing from her.”

James tsked. “He’ll need to be in one piece when we turn him over to the authorities when we dock.”

“Then just a few minutes with him. Really, James, you can’t tell me you aren’t just as incensed that the blighter would dare—”

“Course I am.”

Anthony rolled his eyes at that calm reply. He should have known getting James to show what he was feeling was next to impossible. He’d tried, and failed, often enough in the past.

Boyd, looking grim now, returned with Katey, and they both joined Anthony on the sofa. Boyd had seemed the least disturbed of all the family members when he’d learned about the robbery. After so many years at sea, he traveled with nothing of real value that couldn’t easily be replaced, and he had tried to convince Katey to do the same. So it was odd that he now seemed more disturbed than anyone else. Georgina noticed it, too, and moved over to perch on the arm of the sofa next to her brother to quietly question him.

Jack was standing next to Judy and leaned closer to her to whisper, “Who do you think it is?”

“I’m more curious to know why your father hasn’t given us a name yet.”

“Because we wouldn’t recognize it if he did. Do you know all the names of the crew? I surely don’t.”

“Of course, I didn’t think of that,” Judith whispered back, then sighed. “I’m letting my suspicions run amok today. This is all so disturbing.”

“Worse than that,” Jack growled low. “We’ve never been robbed before, neither of us. I bloody well don’t like how it feels.”

“But the thief has been caught and we will soon have our jewels back. You shouldn’t still be so angry.”

“Can’t help it,” Jack mumbled.

Artie arrived, four sailors with him. Nathan was one of them. Judith’s pulse picked up at the mere sight of him, but she was overcome with shyness, too, after what they had done last night. She still cast him a smile, but it faltered when she saw how tight-lipped he was. And he hadn’t noticed her yet. He was staring at James, as were the other sailors.

James walked over to the sailors and held out the amber ring. “Recognize this?”

He didn’t seem to be asking any one of them in particular, yet Nathan answered, “Why would I? I’m not your thief.”

“Yet it was found under your bed. Dropped it by accident, did you? Didn’t hear it fall and roll out of sight? Rather careless, that.”

Judith blanched, every bit of color gone from her face. She was too shocked to remain quiet. “My God, a smuggler and a jewel thief! How could you?!”

Nathan didn’t reply, but his emerald eyes weren’t so lovely when they narrowed in anger. They were downright menacing instead. Because he’d been found out obviously. She was going to be furious as soon as she stopped feeling like crying.

“A what?” more than one person asked.

Catherine’s timing couldn’t have been worse when she added, “That’s the man who entered your cabin, Judith, with a bowl of milk for that kitten you adopted. He was quite surprised that the room wasn’t empty when he found me there working on your gowns.”

Judith was even more horrified to realize Nathan had probably robbed her before last night and had still made love to her. Icing for his cake? Or was that so she’d defend him in case this very thing happened? He’d had plenty of opportunity these last four days to rob them. She’d given him that because of the kitten. Had he used the animal as a ploy, in case he got caught alone in her room? It was a perfect excuse, wasn’t it? And she’d played right into his hand, insisting he bring her milk. And last night he hadn’t said he wasn’t a criminal, only that if he had been, he wasn’t one now. The man played with words, and they’d all been burned because she was gullible enough to trust him!

“Why didn’t you tell us he was a smuggler?” James asked her.

Judith’s cheeks turned bright red as she was forced to confess, “Because it was just a suspicion. I thought I could keep an eye on him and ferret out the truth.”

“He tried to buy your silence, didn’t he?” Georgina said gently. “By toying with your affections?”

“Seducing me into silence, you mean?”

“Well—yes.”

“I’ll kill him!” Anthony snarled, and shot off the sofa.

“Wait!” one of the other sailors said.

But James was already grappling with his brother. “Not now, Tony. Jewelry first—then you can kill him if you’ve still a mind to.”

The other sailor spoke up again, this time in a tone of disgust. “You nabobs are a bleedin’ odd lot. Nate’s no thief. I can vouch for that.”

James pushed Anthony back before he turned to the man. “How?”

“I’m his first mate,” the man said proudly.

“Are you now?” James said, and then to Nathan, “And how many more of my crew were previously yours?”

Nathan looked beyond furious, so it was just as well the other two sailors were holding him now by the arms. “Just Corky, and leave him out of this.”

“It makes sense that you’d have an accomplice, a lookout, as it were. Lock them both up,” James said to Artie. “The ladies don’t need to be present for the questioning.”

Chapter Thirty-Four

“Just let me at him for a bit,” Anthony said to his brother as he paced the floor of the captain’s cabin. “I’ll get the location of his hiding place out of him.”

James raised a brow at him. “I thought you were done with that grudge.”

“He robbed my daughter. It’s back in spades.” Anthony looked over his shoulder at Judith, who was sitting on the sofa between Georgina and Jack, being consoled by them.

James’s arms were crossed and he was leaning back against the door in a relaxed stance. But he was obviously blocking the exit, his not-so-subtle way of letting Anthony know James wasn’t going to let him rip anyone apart just yet.

James said, “Artie is getting the rest of the ship searched, though considering our thief is a carpenter able to create his own hiding places, that’s likely a useless endeavor. But I’m still going to give Tremayne a few hours to figure out that the only way he’s not going to rot in an American prison is if he cooperates by returning the jewels and appealing to our mercy.”

“No mercy, James,” Anthony warned. “Jewels back or not, he’s still a thief and deserves to rot. And he’s a smuggler. He’ll be lucky if he ever gets out of prison.”

James chuckled. “The Yanks aren’t going to imprison him for thumbing his nose at English revenuers. They’re more apt to pat him on the back for that. Besides, our smugglers aren’t a cutthroat lot, they’re merely a result of high taxes, protesters as it were. You could even say they are revolutionaries. They’ve taken up the gauntlet to help others. Jewel thieves are a different breed. They steal just to help themselves—or when they have no other choice.”

“What the deuce does that mean?”

“Kindly recall that Danny, my daughter-in-law and your niece by marriage, was a thief. So you are aware that extraordinary circumstances can force someone to do something they’d rather not do.”

Anthony snorted. “That is not the case here. The man’s not a pauper. He’s got his own bloody ship and a rich property in Hampshire.”

“Exactly.”

“Eh? Now what are you getting at?”

“Settle on one or the other, Tony, not both. If he’s the thief—”

“If?!”

“Then everything else he’s said about himself is likely a lie,” James continued. “Consider this, a thief who gets easy access to wealthy people’s homes because he is a carpenter. He hears about our trip and that four wealthy families will be on board and a carpenter is needed. Rich pickings all in one place. Sounds like a thief’s dream come true, doesn’t it? And free passage to a new continent where he can rob some more before he returns home to England. All plausible. But what isn’t plausible is that he’s gentry and a thief. The man’s a damn good liar though. You realize he would never have come under suspicion if that ring hadn’t fallen out of his stash without his noticing before he hid the rest. Foiled by a bit of carelessness. Bloody rotten luck, that.”

“Makes me sick to my stomach that he lied about The Pearl,” Boyd put in as he came over to join them. “Well, a ship he even invented a name for. And, no, I’m not seasick again,” he added testily before one of his two standard ribbers thought to mention it. “I was looking forward to helping him recover his ship in New London.”

“Am I the only one who wasn’t gulled by him?” Anthony demanded.

“Give it a rest, Tony,” James said. “Tremayne—if that’s his real name—is not a stupid man. He wouldn’t have done what you’re thinking.”

Anthony didn’t deny his other suspicions. “Wouldn’t he? He had the gall to rob her, so I can’t believe that’s not all he stole from her.”

“Ask her,” James said simply.

“The devil I will,” Anthony replied uncomfortably, glancing behind him at Judith on the sofa. “That would be Roslynn’s department and she’s not—”

“George,” James called out. “Ask her!”

“George doesn’t know what we are discussing,” Anthony hissed.

“Course she does,” James replied. “You mean to say Ros can’t read your mind as easily as George reads mine?”

Judith had heard them well enough. When her father was angry, he was rarely quiet about it. “The only thing he seduced out of me was my friendship—and trust,” she said hollowly. “He convinced me of his innocence when he’s not the least bit innocent. I should have followed my instincts. I never should have trusted him.”

“It’s not your fault, sweetheart,” Georgina assured her. “He fed you a tale designed to appeal to your kind nature, so of course you’d believe him.” Georgina added pointedly to James, “We all did. And he’s had enough time to stew. Wrap this up, James, so we can put it behind us.”

• • •

The ship’s brig was more a cooling-off room for members of the crew who got into fights or just needed a mild reprimand. It wasn’t set up for an extended stay. It could only be called a brig because its door was made of iron bars. It was actually a tiny room, one of four, in the hallway by the galley, where the cook had been storing sacks of grain.

Corky was using one of the smaller sacks as a pillow for his head, not that either of them was sleeping. Two narrow shelves or benches were built into the walls on either side of the five-foot-square room. But what they couldn’t be called were cots. Yet they’d have to serve as such. There was nowhere else they could sleep other than on the floor.

There wasn’t even room enough to pace in, though Nathan felt more like smashing his fist through a wall. He’d never been so angry at a woman in his life. The rest of them had behaved no differently from what he’d expect of nabobs, but Judith? After what they’d shared, how could she think he’d steal from her? From her! Being falsely accused didn’t even compare to what he felt over that betrayal. But it was his own fault for trusting an aristocrat. Now he might have to spend the rest of his life in prison because of that error in judgment.

“I’d like to know who set you up so we know who to keelhaul afterwards.”

Corky wasn’t taking their incarceration seriously yet, but then his attitude was based on their innocence and the certainty that they’d be released with profuse apologies as soon as the real thief was caught. But there was evidence, which meant people were not going to look any further when they believed they already had their man.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an afterwards, at least, not for me,” Nathan said, gripping the bars in front of him and giving them a hard shake, but he got no satisfying rattle out of them. “You, they’ll have to let go. They don’t imprison men for confessing to friendship.”

“At least Artie left us a lantern. Surprised he did, after that angry look he gave you. Speaking of which, have you made an enemy you failed to mention?”

“Other than Lord Anthony, you mean? No, not that I know of. And as much as I don’t like that lord, he wouldn’t set me up by placing a missing ring under my bed. He’s more direct, favoring revenge with his fists.”

“He prefers Sir Anthony.”

Nathan turned around. “Who does?”

“Sir Anthony does. He’s the son of a marquis, so of course that makes him a lord, but according to the second first mate, he prefers to be called Sir Anthony, since he actually earned that title himself.”

“I don’t give a bleedin’ damn what he prefers.” Nathan sat on the bench across from Corky. “I was more likely picked as the culprit because aside from the two first mates, I’m the only other member of the crew who claimed a bed away from the main quarters. Planting that bauble in the communal area wouldn’t have fingered anyone in particular as the thief. But planting it in my room points a finger directly at me.”

“I’ve gotten to know the men,” Corky said in a thoughtful tone. “Was feeling them out to see if any might want to join us on the trip home. Never would have guessed one of them could be cunning this way, much less be a bleedin’ jewel nabber. If I had to make a guess—”

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