Stormy Persuasion Page 6

Chapter Seven

Judith tried to mask her smile when she and Jack moved away from their mothers. She was starting to feel some of the excitement that had infected Jacqueline. And her cousin was so proud of having been right, she might as well have been crowing with it. To keep her from bragging with an “I told you so,” which would have annoyed Judith because she’d heard it so often, she put a finger to Jacqueline’s mouth when she started to open it.

“Don’t say it. Let me. You were right—as usual. My mother is not angry at me for the way this turned out, so the burden is gone and now I can fully enjoy the trip.”

“I wasn’t going to mention that,” Jacqueline replied, and turned Judith around to face the parlor’s double doors. “Who’s that and why does he look familiar?”

Judith saw the man then, a stranger, elegantly clad if not quite in an English style. He wasn’t wearing a greatcoat, but a cloak edged with black ermine. The frock coat underneath it was a bit too full skirted to be fashionable. And was that a sword poking out from under the cloak? He appeared to be a foreigner, but Jacqueline was right, he did look familiar. And they weren’t the only ones who thought so.

Their uncle Edward put his finger on it, taking a step forward to say in his typically jovial tone, “Another long-lost relative? Come in!”

Everyone more or less turned in unison to see whom Edward was talking about. The young man at the door seemed embarrassed now that he was the center of attention, and perhaps a little overwhelmed, with so many people in the room. Even though Judith doubted that the tall, handsome young man was related to them, she didn’t think her uncle had been joking. But then, when did her uncle ever joke about family?

And the stranger didn’t dispute her uncle’s conclusion. In fact he appeared rather amazed when he replied, “How did you know?”

Judith’s cousin Regina stepped forward, grinning. Jack’s brother, Jeremy, stepped forward, grinning. Anthony just stepped forward. They all resembled the stranger with their exotically slanted, cobalt-blue eyes and raven-black hair.

“Another Malory,” James stated the obvious in his drollest tone.

The young man looked directly at James and, not seeming the least bit intimidated by him as most men were, said, “No, sir, I am not a Malory. I am Count Andrássy Benedek, of Hungary.”

“Are you now? A blood relation nonetheless. Tell us, which Stephanoff you are descended from?”

“Maria—apparently.”

“Our grandmother Anastasia’s grandmother?” Anthony remarked. “You don’t sound too sure.”

“I obtained the information from my great-grandfather’s journal, which is only a memory now.”

Anthony began to laugh. “Another journal?” At Andrássy’s curious look, he added, “We found one, too, some ten years back, written by my grandmother Anastasia Stephanoff. Prior to that, it was only rumored that Gypsy blood ran in our family.”

Andrássy nodded. “I had never heard of this Stephanoff ancestor. I don’t believe my late father was aware of her either. Gypsy bands pass through Hungary, never staying long. I have never met one myself. So for me, there was no rumor or other clue until I found the journal. Ironically, I might never have known of it, or had a chance to read it, if my stepsister hadn’t found it in our attic while she was hiding there during one of her tantrums, but that is some unpleasantness I don’t need to burden you with.”

“Another time, perhaps,” Edward said as he stepped forward to lead Andrássy into the room. “What happened to your ancestor’s journal? Why don’t you have it anymore?”

“It perished in the fire that destroyed my home and all my family heirlooms.”

“How awful,” more than one person said.

“You’re destitute?” Edward asked.

“No, not at all. My father might have distrusted banks, but I never shared that sentiment. I had an inheritance from my mother. May we speak in private?”

“No need, m’boy,” Edward said. “Everyone in this room is a member of our family.”

That rendered the young man speechless, but then all four of the eldest set of Malory brothers were present: Jason, the third Marquis of Haverston and the oldest, Edward, the second oldest, and James and Anthony. Their wives were present, too, and most of their children, including their children’s spouses and a few of their older grandchildren. More than twenty Malorys had shown up for Jack and Judy’s send-off, and the young count was obviously overwhelmed.

“I had no idea,” Andrássy said, his blue eyes moving slowly about the room, a little glazed with emotion. “I had hoped I would be able to track down one or two of Maria’s descendants, but . . . never this many. And you don’t even seem surprised by me.”

Edward chuckled. “You aren’t the first member of this family to show up full grown, my boy, albeit one more distant than we might have expected. And I am sure we are all interested in hearing what you read in the journal about our great-great-grandmother Maria Stephanoff.”

Anthony handed Andrássy a drink, which he merely held as he spoke. “The journal belonged to my great-grandfather Karl Benedek, Maria’s son. Karl’s father, understandably, didn’t want to speak of his indiscretion with a Gypsy woman, and he didn’t until the night he thought he was dying. Maria’s caravan was merely passing through and he allowed them to spend one night on his land. She came to him and offered herself in payment. She was young and pretty, but he still refused her, until she said a son would come of it. He had no children, even after going through four wives trying to obtain one. He was desperate enough to believe her that night, but come morning he was angry over what he guessed was a deception.”

“But it wasn’t a lie?”

“No, it wasn’t. Somehow Maria knew and swore she would bring him the boy when he was born. He still didn’t believe she was carrying his child, but just in case, he refused to let her leave. He kept her a prisoner until exactly nine months later when she gave birth to a son. He let her go, but he kept his son, whom he named Karl. Maria said the boy would be able to find her if he ever needed her, no matter where in the world she was. Such an odd thing to say. My great-great-grandfather never saw her again and did not tell his son, his only heir, about her until the night he thought he was dying.”

“Did he die that night?” James asked curiously.

“No, not for another ten years, and he and Karl never spoke of his strange tale again. But when my great-great-grandfather did die, Karl went in search of his mother, Maria. He found her in England, still traveling with her band of wandering Gypsies. Her granddaughter, Anastasia, had just married an English marquis.”

“Wait,” Jason spoke up with a frown. “That can’t be all that Karl wrote about Anastasia’s husband. Merely that he was a marquis from this country?”

“No, Christopher, Marquis of Haverston, was the name written in the journal. I went to Haverston first, only to be told the current marquis was in London. I was given this address, but I almost didn’t come here tonight since I am only passing through England on my way to America to search for my stepsister Catherine’s real father. I had planned to get her settled and out of my life before I tried to find any descendants of Maria’s here. I simply couldn’t resist the chance to meet at least one of you before I left England.”

James guessed, “I’m beginning to suspect we don’t want to meet your stepsister?”

Andrássy sighed. “No, you don’t.”

“Not to worry, dear boy,” Edward said. “My brother James deals remarkably well with difficulties that arise in the family, so we’ve learned to leave such things to him, trivial or otherwise.”

By the young count’s expression he had obviously taken offense. “I didn’t come here for help. I am capable of dealing with my responsibilities and she—”

“Yes, yes, she’s your albatross, we get that,” Anthony said, putting an arm around Andrássy’s shoulder. “But you haven’t heard my brother complaining about being your champion, have you?”

James raised a golden brow. “Give me a moment,” he said, but was ignored.

Anthony continued, “As luck would have it—ours, yours, who knows—we happen to be sailing for America in the morning. You’re welcome to join us. No need to say another word about your sister if you’d rather not. Think of it as giving us a chance to get to know you a little better, and vice versa. You might want to consider it fate that led you here tonight.”

Andrássy didn’t agree, but he didn’t decline, either. And before he decided either way, the rest of the family wanted a chance to speak with him. James and Anthony stood aside, watching how readily the family took to him. Jack and Judy had him cornered now.

“They’re going to talk his ear off,” Anthony remarked.

“Jack will,” James agreed. “She’s rather good at that. And if she thinks he ought to come with us, the matter is as good as settled.”

“You don’t doubt he’s one of us, d’you?” Anthony inquired thoughtfully. “You weren’t exactly throwing open those beefy arms in welcome.”

“There’s no harm in checking into his background,” James replied. “I’ll ask Jeremy to see what he can find out about him while we’re away. But considering we’re heading into Anderson territory, it might not hurt to have another Malory relative, however remote, on our side.” James paused a moment. “On the other hand, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to stick him on a ship with us. Once he gets to know us, he might want to run in the opposite direction.”

“Speak for yourself, old man.”

“Regardless, it’s been known to happen. And on a ship, there’s nowhere to run.”

Anthony chuckled. “Do we need to wake up Knighton tonight? Get rid of all our aggression before we sail? Might work for a week or so.”

“No need. I had a ring installed in The Maiden George’s hold for us. I do like to plan ahead.”

Chapter Eight

“You sure you want to do this, Cap’n?” Corky Menadue asked hesitantly as he stood with Nathan on the London dock.

Nathan smiled. “Get my ship back? Damned right I do.”

“I meant work your way over to the colonies.”

“I believe they call them states now.”

“But it ain’t like you couldn’t pay for passage instead,” Corky said, and not for the first time.

Nathan looked down at his first mate. He had inherited Corky when he’d inherited The Pearl, but he’d known the older man most of his life. Corky had been Jory Tremayne’s first mate, and Nathan had pretty much grown up on his father’s ship—until Jory had kicked him off it. Such impotent rage he’d felt back then, but nothing he’d said or done would change Jory’s mind. It was for his own protection, Jory insisted, as if Nathan couldn’t protect himself. And he was haunted by the thought that his father might still be alive if he had been there the night his father was shot.

“Forget about Grigg! I told you, assure you, I’ll see him hanged for you.” Not if Nathan could find him before Commander Burdis did. But he had a ship to find first.

Nathan reminded his old friend, “The other vessels aren’t leaving for another week and they’re not bound for Connecticut, which is where I need to go. This one is actually going about fifty miles west of my destination. Damned lucky, and about time some luck came my way. Besides, time isn’t on our side even if I wanted to waste the coin on passage, which I don’t. The Pearl will be sold if we don’t get there soon.”

“I’m just worried about your temper. Last captain you took orders from was your father and that was five years ago. D’you even remember how?”

Nathan barked a laugh, but Corky added, “And this captain is some kind of nabob, if you can go by the high wage he’s paying us. And I know how you feel about nabobs.”

“You don’t have to come along, you know,” Nathan told his curly-haired friend.

“And what else would I be doing until you come back with The Pearl?”

After Burdis had released Nathan, he’d found Corky and most of his crew in the haunt they frequented in Southampton, where Nathan had settled after leaving Cornwall. At first they’d been shocked to see him and then quite rowdy in expressing their relief that Nathan was a free man. After he’d been captured by the revenuers, they hadn’t expected to ever see him again. He didn’t begrudge them their escape the night his ship and cargo had been confiscated. In fact, he was fiercely glad they had escaped because they wouldn’t have been handed the boon he’d been given. He still couldn’t quite believe he was walking free again.

Burdis turned out to be not such a bad sort—for a nabob. He’d arranged for Nathan to have a bath, a good meal, and his personal belongings returned to him, even his pistol. Then they’d transported him to his home port of Southampton.

After telling his men what had happened and what he had to do now, they’d wanted to snatch a ship for him that very night. He’d been tempted, but with the commander’s terms still fresh in his mind, he’d had to tell them no, that he needed legitimate passage.

“If you steal a ship other than your own, our deal is off,” Burdis had said. “No more breaking laws of any sort for you, Captain Tremayne.”

Too many bleedin’ conditions, but he was going to abide by them since it meant a shot at getting his ship back.

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