Stormy Persuasion Page 33

“Neither were you,” Boyd replied.

“But that wouldn’t stop me from ramming them out of the bloody water.”

“Not with Jack on board you won’t,” Georgina admonished even as she put her arms around James.

James conceded that point, correcting, “Or from boarding them.”

Judith couldn’t bear it, knowing how frightened Jack must be, remembering her own terror when she’d been abducted right out of Hyde Park. Watching her aunt and uncle, she knew they were just as frightened. James just dealt with it differently from most people. He’d move heaven and earth to get his daughter back—and demolish anything that stood in his way. She knew he’d rescue Jack. But at what cost to himself? His only real chance was to get to Jack before her abductors reached their destination.

She moved over to speak with Artie for a few moments before Clinton approached James to assure him, “We might be able to find you a ship before yours is seaworthy again. I’ll send men tonight to the other harbors along the Sound. We probably won’t find a new one, but I’m sure we can locate a captain willing to sell his. It still won’t be soon enough for you to catch up to them.”

“I can’t count on that,” James said. “I bloody well wouldn’t sell my ship for a rescue that means nothing to me, so I don’t expect anyone else to.”

“No, but you’d help,” Georgina said. “You’ve done it before.”

“In either case, I’ll rouse our shipyard employees to get to work immediately on your ship,” Thomas offered. The calmest of all the Anderson brothers, even he looked grim tonight.

James nodded, but Warren added as Thomas left, “It’s still going to take several days or more. It won’t be the first time I’ve assisted in dry-docking a ship, though it’s much easier to do at our shipyard. Everything needed will have to be hauled here. We’ll just need to dismantle the wharf to make room. As soon as the tools get here, we can get started on that.”

Drew remarked, “You instead of money, James? You know who that sounds like, don’t you?”

James shook his head. “Lacross is in prison for life. It’s not him.”

“Are you sure? How do you know he didn’t scheme his way out? And don’t forget a few of his men escaped that night we rescued Gabby’s father. One might be trying to get revenge for Lacross.”

James snorted. “That was too many years ago, Drew. Besides, you really think that pirate had any friends? Most of his men were coerced to work for him toward the end, your father-in-law included. This was Catherine’s doing, for her father, whoever he is.”

Drew conceded with some exasperation, “It was just a thought. I don’t like not knowing exactly what we’re up against.”

“Neither do I,” James said, then peered at Drew’s wife. “I don’t suppose your father was planning to attend this reunion and is just late getting here?”

“I’m sorry, James, no,” Gabrielle replied. “He got his hands on a new treasure map recently, which means we won’t see him for months.”

James was reaching an explosive point, being foiled at every turn. He started ripping up the wharf with his bare hands long before the workers got there. It was painful watching him as the hours passed, because he knew—they all did—that tomorrow would be too late for him to catch up with Catherine and her cohorts before they reached St. Kitts. Even if a ship could be bought, it wouldn’t happen soon enough.

And then The Pearl sailed into the harbor.

Chapter Forty-Two

“Of all the bloody nerve,” Anthony was saying while he held Judith protectively close to him. “Sail in as bold as you please when he expects a noose to be waiting for him here?”

At least half of them had moved down the dock to where The Pearl was being directed to an empty slip. James had confirmed Nathan was on the ship after he put his spyglass away, but he said to his brother, “Kindly remember that’s no longer the case. Stop grousing about one thing when it’s another thing that’s got your dander up. And do not antagonize him. I need that ship, preferably with his cooperation.”

Judith didn’t understand why Nathan was even here. She’d sent Artie to find him up the coast, hoping Nathan would be willing to help with Jack’s rescue. But Artie had returned just as The Pearl was sighted to tell her that he hadn’t been in time, that Nathan had already sailed.

She searched for Nathan on the decks, but all she could see were men in unusual uniforms who looked nothing like sailors. “He’s brought the military with him?”

“Looks like some of our local militia boys,” Clinton confirmed, recognizing one of them.

“Ha!” Anthony crowed. “So he’s spent the last few days in chains after all.”

“You better hope not—for James’s sake.”

“Why?”

“Because right now your brother has a ship and a captain on hand to negotiate with, which is much more than he had a few minutes ago. But if this captain is under arrest, then his ship will be locked down until after a trial.”

“That won’t stop my brother, Yank.”

“You might want to remember this is Georgina’s hometown. He won’t want to be outlawed from it.”

With a hard stare from James, Anthony held his tongue for the moment. One of the militiamen jumped down to the dock to tie off the ship. James and Boyd went to help him when it appeared he wasn’t sure how to do it. A wide ramp was dropped for debarking. But before any of them could board the ship, a few horses were led off, already saddled, then the militia followed.

Anthony stopped one of them. “Is Nathan Tremayne under arrest?”

The man actually laughed. “Arrest? The man’s a hero. He helped New London take down a band of thieves who were operating right under their noses for a damned decade.”

Well, that explained why Nathan was bold enough to sail into Bridgeport, Judith thought. He didn’t just have the local militia on his side, he had them with him!

“Tony, for the last time . . .”

That’s all James said, but it had Anthony snarling, “I get it. So he told the truth about his ship being stolen. That changes nothing—”

“Then give it a little more thought, because it does.”

“A welcoming committee? I’m touched.”

They turned. Nathan was standing at the top of the ramp, arms crossed, tone icy. He looked ready for a fight. And Judith couldn’t take her eyes off him.

“I’d like a word, Tremayne,” James said as he moved halfway up the ramp.

Nathan didn’t change his stance or step aside from blocking the way onto The Pearl, didn’t even acknowledge that he’d heard James. But he was staring at Judith now, who still stood with Anthony’s arm tight around her.

James, glancing between them, asked, “What did you come here for?”

Nathan’s eyes moved back to James. “New London is full of whalers. Hard to get a full crew there that doesn’t want to be off chasing whales instead and I’ve been trying for two days. These militiamen figured I’d have better luck in their town, getting the last few men I need, even offered to help get us this far by way of thanks.”

“So you’re just here for a crew?”

“Just that. Disappointed I’m not in chains instead?”

“Not a’tall. We found out who stole the jewelry tonight, but that’s not all she’s guilty of. I need your ship to take us to the Caribbean. I’ll—”

Nathan’s harsh laugh cut him off. “I’m not helping you bleedin’ Malorys after what you did to me.”

“That’s—unfortunate—considering you were assisted out of that predicament by someone on my ship.”

Nathan gave James a long, hard look. Whether he read anything into that statement was unclear. Judith did. So did Anthony, who was swearing under his breath now.

But Nathan’s next question wasn’t odd, since they were all still wearing their evening apparel. “You’re having a ball on the docks tonight?” A glance down the pier. “Or a war? What happened here?”

“My daughter has been abducted. The bastards went out of their way to make sure I couldn’t follow immediately.”

“Judy’s cousin Jack?”

James again glanced between the Nathan and Judith who were staring at each other, before he made the decision easier for Nathan by saying, “I’ll pay you thrice what your ship is even worth.”

“Some things don’t have a price,” Nathan said angrily.

James took another step forward. “You really don’t want to know the extent I will go to, to get my daughter back. Take my offer, Tremayne. It’s more than fair, and it even leaves you to captain your ship, which isn’t actually how I’d prefer it, but I can be reasonable.”

“As long as you get what you want?”

“Quite right.”

Nathan didn’t answer for a moment, which was better than another outright refusal. But Boyd came forward to sweeten the offer, saying, “I’ll even throw in a full cargo, once you return us here. Give you a taste of the trader’s life—if you haven’t tried that yet.”

“Us?”

“My brothers and I. Jacqueline is our niece. While we’re not incredibly fond of our brother-in-law, we’d rather he not be exchanged for Jack. So we need to recover her before that happens.”

“You’re the ransom?” Nathan said to James.

“Yes.”

“Our—your mystery ship?”

“Undetermined, but possible.”

Nathan glanced down at the dock at so many expectant faces staring back at him. His eyes lingered the longest on Judith, again, but he stiffened when he stared at Anthony.

Yet he told James, “Come aboard, alone, if you want to hear my terms.”

Judith let out her breath in relief. Nathan was agreeing, just with stipulations. Which was fine. At least he was going to help! But of course he was. He had his own agenda, might still be furious with all of them, but he had a good heart. And as long as The Pearl got under way soon, it still had a chance to catch up with that ship before it even reached the Caribbean, so both Jack and James could come out of this unscathed.

On the ship, Nathan led James to the center of the deck, where they couldn’t be seen from the dock. James had already guessed: “I suppose you don’t want my brother to come along?”

“Correct. He isn’t setting foot on my ship—ever.”

“If that’s all it takes—”

“That’s not all. You can bring only three Andersons with you. Counting you, that’s the number of men I still need to round out my crew. You can choose, but you might want to check if one of them can cook.”

James rolled his eyes. “So we’re agreed?”

“If you can supply my new cabin boy—Judith.”

James went very still. “And I was so hoping I wouldn’t have to kill you.”

“That’s not negotiable. And don’t be a hypocrite. I overheard Artie teasing your wife about the time she acted as your cabin boy, when you knew she was a female but she thought you weren’t aware of it.”

“I ended up marrying her,” James growled.

“Beside the bleedin’ point. Those are my terms, Viscount Ryding.”

James didn’t answer for a long moment. He finally said, “You have a cabin for her?”

“Yes, one. The rest of you will have to sleep with the crew.”

“Then let’s be clear. If she agrees to this nonsense, and the decision must be hers, you don’t touch her, not even by accident. I’ll need your word on that.”

“Agreed. But if you’re leaving it up to her, you might remind her of the Bargain she struck with me—tit for tat is owed.”

James just narrowed his eyes before he left the ship. He pulled Judith aside to explain Nathan’s demands and what he’d said about their Bargain. Anthony joined them before she could give her answer.

“Well?” Anthony asked. “Are we going or is he still sulking over a few hours in your brig?”

“His terms are, you don’t go—but Judy does.”

“Like hell she does!” Anthony snarled. “This isn’t a bloody pleasure jaunt. She stays here with the rest of the women.”

“I’ve already accepted his terms.”

Judith put her hand on her father’s arm. “I was going to insist on it myself,” she said, not even sure if that was a lie. “This is Jack we’re talking about. I’m going. I’ll just gather a few things and be back before the supplies are loaded.”

She started to leave, but heard behind her, “Damnit, James, why didn’t you just toss him in the water and take his bloody ship?”

“Because his chums are still here, who hail him a hero and have the authority to gather the entire town against us. We aren’t getting Jack back if we’re tossed in jail instead. Judy will be fine under my protection.”

Would she? She’d seen the anger in Nathan’s eyes. He might have kissed her earlier tonight, given her such hope because of it, but he was still so furious with her. And she couldn’t see that ending, not when he’d just included her in his terms to help them. Tit for tat? Or just payback for her and her family’s accusing him of something he didn’t do?

Chapter Forty-Three

“You missed a spot.”

“This floor isn’t even dirty!”

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