Stormy Persuasion Page 9

As Nathan continued to scan the wharf with the spyglass, he found it a bit disconcerting to come across a fellow with a spyglass of his own trained right on Nathan. No one he recognized, well dressed in a greatcoat, a gentleman by all accounts. The man gestured to his head, as if tipping a hat to Nathan for having discovered him spying on The Maiden George. The man was even smiling before he put his spyglass away and got into a rowboat that took him out to one of the other ships.

Many ships were anchored in the river, unable to dock yet. Southampton’s port was crowded, too, but nothing like London’s. Weeks could go by before a ship could get a berth in this town, or so he’d been told.

“See anything interesting, Mr. Tremayne?”

Nathan glanced at the sailor who’d come up next to him. He’d said his name was Walter. Nathan knew him in passing from Southampton, but then the whole crew had been hired out of Southampton.

“No, just someone a little too interested in this ship. He actually had a spyglass trained on us.”

Walter shrugged. “So? Just looking for someone.”

“I suppose.” Nathan glanced down at the stretch of water between the ship and the dock.

The longboat was halfway back to the ship, and it wasn’t full of passengers after all, just four men and five ladies, not counting the sailors rowing them. He figured a few of those people could be ladies’ maids and valets. Most of the people he’d seen on the dock must only have been there to see their family or friends off, because they were now getting back into carriages.

“There don’t appear to be many passengers,” he said.

“Well, it’s a privately owned ship designed to accommodate family comfortably. The captain had her built to his specifications. All of the main cabins are like rooms in a fancy hotel.”

Nathan knew how lavishly appointed the cabins were. He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, but he hadn’t been able to resist inspecting The Maiden George when he’d been docking The Pearl next to it for the last year.

“You’ve sailed on her before?” Nathan asked Walter.

“A few times over the last decade, and I’m glad of it. I actually gave up the sea, but I’m always up for a voyage on The Maiden George. It pays too well to turn it down, and it’s never boring. Did you not wonder why the purse was so high for this crossing?”

Nathan hedged. “Well, this is my first time across the Atlantic, so I had nothing to compare it to.”

Walter chuckled. “It’s triple the standard, mate. A pity she leaves her berth so rarely, or I’d be rich by now.”

“If she doesn’t get much use, why does the owner even keep her?”

“Because he can.”

“Merely for convenience?” Nathan said. “That isn’t normal, is it?”

“Not even close to normal. But then, neither is the captain. That’s him there, Viscount Ryding, just one of many titles in his family.”

Nathan followed Walter’s gaze back to the approaching longboat. Now that the sky had brightened and the boat was closer, he could make out the occupants more clearly, but he looked no farther than the large man in the front of the boat. Blond, with broad shoulders under a greatcoat, he was the bruiser who’d rescued Nathan on a whim. And his dark-haired brother was in the boat, too.

Nathan’s sinking feeling returned. He’d actually hoped when they hadn’t boarded last night that the owners weren’t going to sail with their ship. Many didn’t, merely hired captains for them. But it looked as if his luck had just taken a swing for the worse, and now he was going to have to make himself scarce, at least until they got out to sea where it would be less likely that they’d toss him overboard. Up in the rigging would suffice before they boarded, and he might even stay up there for the duration of the trip down the river.

It didn’t matter which of the two was the captain. They were both nabobs and he’d struck one of them. And even if he could somehow make it right with them, he was still going to hate working for a lord no matter how long the trip took. The nobility had a whole different way of thinking compared to ordinary men. As different as night and day. They could take offense at the simplest thing that wouldn’t normally raise a brow. You wouldn’t even know you were insulting them until it was too late.

Then the sun rose over a couple of buildings in the east to cast a beam along the water. Copper hair lit up like a flame in the sunlight and instantly drew his eyes. The young woman ought to have been wearing a bonnet to hide magnificent hair like that, but she wasn’t. She was old enough—eighteen, nineteen?—to have her hair done up fancy, but it was simply tied back at her nape. Because it was so long, the wind still tossed it over her shoulders. Her clothing, though, was clearly that of a young lady, a blue velvet coat tied at the waist, a white fur cape that merely capped her shoulders, ending only halfway down her arms. But it was her beautiful heart-shaped face that tugged at a memory that wouldn’t quite surface in his mind.

“The red-haired wench, she looks familiar.”

He didn’t realize he’d said it aloud until Walter admonished him, “I wouldn’t be calling that one a wench if you don’t want to end up in the ship’s brig or worse. The cap’n’s a fair man, but he can be a might touchy when it comes to family, and she’s probably a member of his. Never seen him take on passengers who weren’t related to him in one way or another.”

A whole ship full of nabobs? Corky had been right. Bleedin’ hell. But he assured the sailor, “I meant no disrespect.”

“Was just a friendly warning, mate. You know how that family is. Very, very protective of their own.”

“I wouldn’t know. Never heard of the Malorys until I signed on and was told the captain’s name.”

“Really? Thought everyone knew who they are.”

“So they’re famous? Or notorious?”

“A little of both.” Walter laughed as he walked away.

Nathan hightailed it over to the rigging and started climbing, determined to postpone his next meeting with the Malorys for as long as possible.

Chapter Eleven

“I hope you are no’ going tae prove as stubborn as your cousin,” Nettie MacDonald said as she entered Judith’s cabin to help her prepare for dinner.

Roslynn had insisted on sending her own maid on the trip to see to both girls’ needs. Nettie was more a member of the family than a servant, so Judith was delighted that she was accompanying them. Nettie was the only maid aboard. Since The Maiden George didn’t have an abundance of cabins Georgina and Katey, Judith’s older sister, had elected to just hire maids when they reached Bridgeport, but then they both had husbands who could help them dress on the ship if they needed assistance.

“Jack is always stubborn,” Judith replied with a grin. “But what’s she being stubborn about tonight?”

“Wouldna let me touch her hair. Wasna going tae concede on wearing a dress either till I put m’foot down. Told her I wouldna be washing those breeches she loves sae much if she didna at least dress proper for your dinners.”

Jacqueline had also had ship togs made for Judith, not that Judith planned to wear them if she didn’t need to. She’d rather deal with her skirts whipping about in the wind than feel self-conscious in sailor’s garb. But Judith had already braided her hair for tonight, quite in agreement with Jacqueline that putting her hair up in her usual coiffure on a ship was just asking for it to be blown apart by the wind. However, she moved straight to her little vanity and sat down, just to make Nettie happy, and the old girl did smile as she unbraided Judith’s hair and started arranging it more fashionably.

Although Judith’s cabin was a decent size, it was still rather cramped with a full-size bed, a wardrobe, and a comfortable reading chair, a little vanity, even a small, round table for two, and her trunks, which had been pushed up against one wall. But she didn’t plan to spend that much time in her cabin. Today had been an exception. With most of the family unpacking and recovering from the party last night as well as the early-morning departure, she’d spent most of the day reading and resting. And getting her sea legs, as Jack called the adjustment to the constant motion of the ship.

Judith didn’t mind that at all. In fact, she was exhilarated to be on a ship again. Possibly because she liked sailing even more than Jacqueline did. It was too bad Judith’s mother and sister didn’t, or she might have had more opportunities to sail with her uncle over the years.

She was looking forward to joining her family for dinner tonight in her uncle’s much larger cabin and seeing their new cousin again—well, she assumed Andrássy and his stepsister would be invited to dinner. And Nettie made sure Judith looked as if she were going to a formal dinner at home. Her gown, sheer white over blue silk and embroidered with lilacs, wasn’t new, but her new wardrobe for the Season hadn’t yet been finished because her mother hadn’t expected her to need it for another month. She’d still brought all of it along, which was why she had twice as many trunks as Jack did, clothes to wear on the ship and for the first few days in Bridgeport, and a full wardrobe that still needed a seamstress to put the finishing touches on it.

“There, you look lovely as always, lassie,” Nettie said when she had finished putting up Judith’s hair. “I’ll get a sailor in here tomorrow to dig out your jewelry box. I’m no’ sure why it’s packed wi’ the unfinished gowns.”

“Because I didn’t think I would need it until we get to America and I don’t, not just for family dinners, so there’s no need to unpack it.” Judith hurried out of her cabin before Nettie disagreed with her.

Closing her door, she jumped in surprise when a woman behind her said much too sharply, “Move out of my way!”

Judith immediately stiffened and turned to see stormy gray eyes pinned on her. The woman’s brown hair was bound up tightly, and the angry expression on her face prevented Judith from determining whether she was pretty or plain. The woman was angry because her way was blocked for mere moments? Judith couldn’t imagine who she was, and then she did. Andrássy’s stepsister, Catherine?

She opened her mouth to introduce herself, but Catherine was too impatient to let her get a word out. “Nearly knocked me over and now you just stand there gawking? I asked you to move!”

She was about to shove Judith aside when Jacqueline yanked her own door open behind them and snarled into the narrow corridor, “No screeching on the ship! Learn the bloody rules before you embark or get tossed overboard.” And Jacqueline promptly slammed her door shut again.

Trust Jack to say something outlandish when she was annoyed. The woman’s face turned red. Judith had to get out of there before she burst out laughing, which would only make the situation worse. But poor Andrássy! He hadn’t been joking last night when he said they didn’t want to meet his stepsister, and now she knew why.

She squeezed past Catherine and ran upstairs to the deck before she did in fact giggle. She waited there a few minutes for Jacqueline to join her.

“I suppose that was the stepsister?” Jack said as she came up the stairs.

“That red velvet she was wearing doesn’t bespeak a servant from the galley.”

Jack huffed, “If she was heading to her cabin, let’s hope she stays in it permanently. I heard every word. Rudeness like that—”

“Usually has a reason.” Judith put her arm through her cousin’s as they headed up to the quarterdeck. “Her face was pinched. It could have been from pain, rather than a horrible disposition.”

Jacqueline tsked. “You always see the good in people.”

Judith laughed and teased, “And you always try not to!”

“I do not! Besides, more often than not, first impressions are accurate. However, I’ll reserve judgment this once, but only because I know you want me to.”

A few minutes later they entered the captain’s cabin. Accessed from the quarterdeck with only a few steps in front of the door that led down to it, they didn’t knock. James and Georgina were on the sofa, his arm around her shoulders. Anthony and Katey were already present and sitting at the long dining table.

The large room resembled a parlor. A long sofa and stuffed chairs with two card tables were on one side, and a desk long enough to hold the charts was on the other side by the dining area. An intricately carved partition in one of the back corners closed off the bed from the rest of the room. The long bank of windows in the back had the drapes open, revealing the ocean behind the ship and the moon shining down on it.

That was Judith’s favorite place on the ship. She loved to stand and gaze out of those windows. During the day the windows offered a wonderful windless view of the ocean, and at night, if the moon wasn’t hidden behind clouds, the view was almost breathtaking.

After giving her father and sister quick kisses in greeting, she moved to the windows. She couldn’t actually see the moon with the wind currently taking them on a southwesterly path, but its light was reflected on the waves.

Jacqueline had joined her parents on the sofa, and Georgina, glancing at the pale green gown Jack was wearing, teased her daughter, “I’m surprised you’re not in breeches yet.”

“The Scot wouldn’t let me,” Jack grumbled. “I’ve a mind to bar my door.”

“Nettie means well, so why don’t you try a reasonable approach instead.”

“Reason with a Scot?” Jack said, looking directly at Anthony as she did.

Anthony burst out laughing. “Ros would box your ears for that slander if she were here.”

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