Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(3) by Lorraine Heath
She opened her eyes to the expressionless man sitting across from her. If he thought anything at all about her outburst, he didn’t show it.
“You don’t need me to get you to Scutari. You can purchase passage—”
“I wish to journey on my schedule. I want to get there quickly. I don’t intend to stay long, but it’s imperative that I—” Damn the tears that once again threatened. She was stronger than this. She would be stronger than this. She swallowed. “—visit with my fiancé and return home before the Season begins.”
A handkerchief, surprisingly white and pressed, appeared before her, held in a large roughened hand. She took the offering and dabbed gently at her eyes. “Thank you.” She looked down at the scarred table, then lifted her gaze. “I didn’t expect this part to be so incredibly difficult.”
“How long has it been since you saw him?”
“Four years, almost to the day. I saw him off at the railway station on the morning that he and so many others in service of the Queen began the journey to the Crimea. He looked so incredibly dashing, so confident. Promised to be home in time to go pheasant hunting . . .” She cleared her throat. “I’m frightfully sorry. I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this.”
Especially when his eyes held no compassion, no warmth. She didn’t know why he’d bothered to offer her the handkerchief unless it was simply that he couldn’t abide tears.
“Have you ever been separated from anything, anyone you held dear?” she asked.
He clenched his jaw, and she quickly shook her head. “I’m sorry. That was a silly question. You’re a seaman. I’m certain your life is filled with separations.”
“Where I’m concerned, don’t be certain of anything, Princess.”
“I told you that I’m not—”
She saw triumph light his eyes. He’d baited her, and her anger had shoved her sorrow aside. What sort of man was he? Compassionate one moment, distant the next?
Very primly, she folded the handkerchief and extended it toward him.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’ve not handled this encounter at all well. As I said earlier, I wish to hire you to take me to Scutari. I’ve heard you have a remarkably fast ship and you are an exceptional captain.”
“True on both counts. But I transport cargo, not people.”
“I’m willing to pay handsomely for your ship and services: two hundred pounds.”
She’d shocked him. She could tell by the way that he slowly trailed his gaze over her, without insolence, but with a new measure of respect, as though truly seeing her for the first time.
“That’s a good deal of money,” he finally said.
“Enough to make you go to Scutari, Captain—” She shook her head. “What is your last name, if not Crimson?”
“Jack will suffice.”
“I couldn’t be so informal.”
He plopped his arm down on the table, palm up. “Give me your hand,” he ordered.
His eyes held a challenge that she couldn’t mistake. She saw no harm in doing as he asked. She was wearing gloves after all. Taking a deep steadying breath she placed her hand in his.
Before she could blink he curled his long fingers around her wrist. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he began releasing the buttons on her glove with his other hand.
She watched in horrified fascination as he leisurely peeled off her glove and set it aside. With no request for permission, he lightly trailed his fingers over hers, then circled them around her palm, following the various lines as though he expected them to guide him somewhere. His fingers were callused, rough, scarred. She doubted he ever wore gloves.
“Your skin is like silk. Your fiancé is a very fortunate man,” he said, his voice scratchier, rougher than it had been moments earlier.
“Not as fortunate as you might think.”
He didn’t question her further, but rather he seemed enthralled by her hand, by the lines that traversed her palm. “There is very little room on my ship for formality,” he said, returning to her earlier comment regarding how she was to address him. “You would have to sleep in my cabin.”
“But surely you would not be there.”
With no rush, he lifted his hooded gaze to hers. Her heart was pounding so hard that she wondered if he could feel it in the throbbing of her pulse at her wrist. “Not always, no. But I would eat my meals there. Study my charts there.” A heartbeat of silence. “Bathe there.”
She swallowed hard. She could be on deck when he was bathing. Besides, how many baths would the man need in the week or so it would take to reach their destination? “I’m sure we could work out a suitable arrangement.”
A corner of his mouth lifted. “It’s bad luck to have a woman onboard. My men would not be particularly pleased by your presence. You would have to remain very close to me so that I could offer you protection.”
He was striving to manipulate her now, seeking to intimidate, to make her wary. She had four brothers. She knew how the game was played. “I sought you out because I’d heard that you were somewhat of a hero—”
He tightened his jaw, narrowed his eyes, and she realized he wasn’t at all pleased with that characterization.
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