Stormy Persuasion Page 5

“My father was unarmed. It was murder.”

“And is that what you had in mind for Grigg?”

“I want to kill him, yes, but in a fair fight—with my bare hands.”

Burdis actually laughed. “Look at yourself, man. D’you really think that would be a fair fight? I’ve nothing against revenge. I feel the need for it m’self occasionally. But I’ll have Mr. Grigg caught and hung long before you can get your hands on him. He is my next quarry, after all.”

“And I’ll be dead before you catch him.”

Burdis refilled Nathan’s glass before he replied, “You misunderstand why I’ve brought you before me. I’m going to give you the opportunity to thank me one day.”

“For what?”

The commander opened a drawer to retrieve a clean, unfolded piece of paper that he set in front of him. He tapped it. “This is a full pardon already signed, an opportunity for you to start over with a clean slate. But it’s conditional, of course.”

Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “Is this some joke?”

“Not a’tall. This document will remain with me until you fulfill the terms, but it’s a legitimate offer.”

“You want me to catch Grigg for you without killing him? You really think I could resist the temptation if I get my hands on him?”

“Forget about Grigg! I told you, assure you, I’ll see him hanged for you.”

For the first time, Arnold Burdis didn’t look or sound so cordial. Nathan was done with second-guessing him, other than to say, “You sound angry.”

“I am. My man guarding your ship was killed, left floating in the water where your Pearl should have been.”

“You’ve lost my ship!?”

“I didn’t lose it,” Burdis growled. “It was stolen, and, no, not by Hammett Grigg. We caught one of the thieves. Nicked as they were sailing away, he fell into the water and was recovered. We gave chase, of course, probably would have caught them, too, if we’d known their direction. We searched up and down the coast, while they did the unthinkable, sailing straight out to sea and beyond.”

“Who were they?”

“They’re not Englishmen, but they’ve been stealing English ships for some ten years now, just so sporadically, and never from the same harbors, that no one linked the thefts. At first they were just taking the vessels offshore and sinking them, but then they decided to have their revenge and make a profit at it.”

“Revenge?”

“It’s a couple of Americans who bear a grudge against us for the last war we had with their country, which orphaned them. They were just children at the time, which is why they only got around to getting some payback a decade ago.” A folded note was tossed at Nathan. “Those are the particulars I got out of their man. My superiors don’t give a rat’s ass about this crime ring targeting our harbors. They only want you and your ilk. But I don’t like having my toes stepped on, and these thieves did that when they killed one of my men and stole my prize right off my docks.”

Nathan raised a brow. His prize? “Tell me you’re not asking me to bring my ship back to you.”

“No, if you can recover The Pearl, she’s yours again, but good luck with that. They refit them with new paint, new names, then auction them off to their unsuspecting countrymen, who actually think they are legitimate shipbuilders. And they’ve gotten away with this for years. But you’re going to end it. It won’t be easy getting the Yanks to do you any favors, but you’ll need to figure out a way to get the authorities over there to work with you in closing down that operation. That’s my condition. I want a letter from an American official stating that the thieves have been arrested and put out of business.”

“That’s all?” Nathan rejoined drily.

The commander’s eyes narrowed with the warning. “Don’t even think of running away once I give you your freedom for this task. As I mentioned, I found out more’n I expected to about you, including that you have guardianship of your two remaining relatives. I would hate to see your nieces end up paying for their uncle’s crimes. So do you agree to my terms?”

“For my freedom, did you even need to ask?”

Chapter Six

In Grosvenor Square, at the home of Edward and Charlotte Malory, most of the extensive Malory family in England and a few close friends were gathered for a send-off party for Jack and Judy, who would be sailing in the morning for America. The crew was already aboard The Maiden George, the trunks had already been delivered. It only remained for the seven members of the family bound for America to row out to the ship at dawn, too early to expect good-byes at the dock, thus the party tonight.

Glancing about the room, Judith was looking for Brandon so she could ask him what had happened with the vagrant. She’d told him that she suspected the vagrant was a smuggler, and Brandon had assured her he and his father would send the man packing. But it appeared her cousins from Hampshire weren’t going to make it tonight. She wasn’t surprised, when she and Jacqueline had visited them so recently and they had already given Jack their good wishes for the trip.

Derek had even told Judith, “I bet your mum will change her mind, so I’m going to wish you a wonderful voyage, too.”

“I wish Amy were saying that,” Judith had replied, and she hadn’t been joking.

Derek had laughed. “Yes, that would guarantee your sailing to America, wouldn’t it?”

It would indeed. Amy never lost a wager. Judith realized she should have asked Amy to bet on it before she’d sailed with Warren. Maybe Amy had and that’s why Judith was going now.

Jacqueline came up beside her and said in an annoyed tone, “He shouldn’t be here when he’s not a close friend of the family and only your mother knows him.”

Judith followed her cousin’s gaze and saw Roslynn fussing over Lord Cullen. “But now we all know him, and besides, my mother is right. It was quite thoughtful and gallant of him to come here tonight to wish me well on my voyage when he must be in pain from his injury.”

“He’s here because he’s got his heart set on you and your mother’s got her heart set on him for you. Tell me your heart’s not getting set here, too, when you and I swore not to marry this year.”

Judith grinned and teased, “Now that I’ve met him again after all these years, I have to admit he turned out rather handsome, don’t you think?”

“If you like dark red hair and pretty blue eyes. Flirt all you want, just no falling in love yet.”

“Stop fretting. I’m not eager to get back here because of him when we haven’t even left yet.”

In a corner of the room, Boyd joined James and Anthony, who were looking at the Scotsman, too. Anthony was saying, “Ros should’ve confessed what she was up to, trying to match him with Judy. But I’m not complaining when he managed to bring peace to the family by getting himself laid up. But if it weren’t so obvious that my baby ain’t interested in him, I bloody well would.”

“Noticed that,” James agreed.

“He’s head over heels for her, though,” Boyd put in.

“And how would you know anything about it, Yank?” Anthony asked.

“Because as a last resort, Jack and I tracked him down and asked him to feign an injury to help Judy convince her mother to let her go to America.”

“That splint on his leg is wrapped up rather tight for a fake,” James remarked.

“It’s not a fake,” Boyd said with a grin. “The man is as clumsy as an ox. He got so excited by the scheme he really did fall off his horse and break his leg.”

James rolled his eyes.

Anthony said, “I see I’m going to have to have a word or two with Roslynn, after all. What the deuce could she be thinking, matchmaking our daughter with such a bungler?”

“It was a brilliant plan, though, you have to admit,” James said. “The broken-limb part. You should have thought of it, Tony.”

“I didn’t even know about him, so how could I?”

“Just remember you owe me one, both of you, the next time you lay into me,” Boyd said before quickly walking off.

“Did he just goad you?” Anthony said with an incredulous laugh. “And with a smirk, too!”

James shrugged. “He should know by now that I have a faulty memory when I find it convenient. And my memory will definitely be faulty when it comes to being beholden to an Anderson—wife excluded, of course.”

Lord Cullen didn’t stay long, shouldn’t have come at all when his doctor had ordered him to stay off his feet for three months. After Judith thanked him again for coming and wished him a swift recovery, Jacqueline steered her toward their mothers.

“D’you feel the excitement?” Jack asked. “We’re going to have a grand time, you know. I feel it, I’m bubbling with it.”

“You’re bubbling with triumph, not excitement. Note the difference.”

“Pooh, whatever it is, let’s go share some of it with your mother. She might have given in when she learned the Scot won’t be here for the start of the Season either, but she’s still not happy about it or what she termed our ‘collective tantrum.’ And if she’s not happy, then Uncle Tony won’t be getting a nice good-bye from her tonight, and he’ll be in a rotten mood the whole trip.”

Judith blushed at that statement as Jacqueline dragged her across the room to their mothers. Despite how brazen Jack could be at times and how used to it Judith was, she believed some things just shouldn’t be mentioned or even alluded to, and what their parents did behind closed doors was definitely one of those things.

Both girls walked up to Roslynn and put an arm around her waist. Judith was now as tall as her mother at five feet four inches and had the same sun-gold hair streaked with copper, but her father’s exotic cobalt-blue eyes, a stunning combination, or so her family liked to remind her. But Judith’s features also resembled her mother’s. She had a heart-shaped face and finely molded cheekbones, a small, tapered nose, even the same generous full lips. Jacqueline, on the other hand, looked nothing like her mother. She didn’t inherit Georgina’s diminutive height. She was taller at five feet six inches and had James Malory’s blond hair and green eyes, but her features were uniquely her own: a pert nose, high cheekbones, a stubborn chin, and a mouth far too sensual for a woman.

Her lips were turned up now in a smile meant to melt hearts. Few people were immune to it, and Roslynn wasn’t one of them, but she still admonished her niece, “None of that now. You won’t be cajoling me out of this snit.”

“Are you sure?” Jacqueline asked. “I haven’t heard your Scot’s brogue yet to prove you’re in a snit. But Judy won’t take my word for it, so a little reassurance from you before we sail is in order.” Then, in one of her more serious tones: “Don’t make her suffer because there’s been a little dent—”

Georgina cut in with a gasp. “Jacqueline Malory! Not another word!”

Jacqueline merely met her mother’s eyes with a steady look that offered no apology. She was protective of family, always had been, and most particularly of Judith. It wasn’t the first time she had stepped up to be Judy’s champion, and Roslynn loved her all the more for it.

“It’s all right, George,” Roslynn said, and then to Jack, “You’ve made your point, sweetheart. And I wasn’t going to let my darling leave without my best wishes.” Roslynn leaned her head toward Judith’s. “You can have fun. In fact, I want you to enjoy every minute of your trip.” But her tone turned stern when she added, “But don’t you dare come back in love. You will wait and fall in love here. And that’s the last I’m going to say about it.” But Roslynn ended that with a smile.

Jack still leaned forward around Roslynn and said to Judith, “You didn’t tell her?”

“Tell me what?” Roslynn asked.

Jacqueline chuckled. “We’re not getting married this year. Next year maybe, or even the year after that. We’re in no hurry to. Really we aren’t.”

“It’s true, Mother,” Judith confirmed. “The fun is going to be in the trying, not the doing.”

As the girls moved off to circulate about the room, Roslynn remarked to Georgina, “That was no doubt word for word from your daughter.”

“I quite agree,” Georgina said.

“But they can’t be that naive. When it happens, it’s going to happen, and there’s not a bloody thing they can do to stop it.”

“I know, but still, I wish Jack had let her father know that was her intention. James has been masking it very well, but he’s been a powder keg since the beginning of this year, with the thought of Jack getting married by the end of it. He’s not going to deal gracefully with her falling in love, you know.”

“You think Tony is? He used to only visit Knighton’s Hall a few times a week, but it’s been daily for several months now. He wants to stop time from advancing but he can’t, and he’s extremely frustrated because of it. Truth be told, that’s why I didn’t want to delay Judith’s Season here and hoped she would favor young Cullen before it even began. The sooner Judy gets married, the sooner my family can get back to normal—until Jaime comes of age.”

Georgina laughed. “You really should have owned up to that sooner, m’dear.”

“Prob’ly.” Roslynn sighed. “I swear, our husbands were never meant to have daughters. Sons and more sons would’ve been fine, but daughters! It was just asking for trouble. I fear for their suitors, I really do. Our men don’t have the temperament to just stand back and let nature take its course.”

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