Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(20) by Lorraine Heath
“We’d appreciate that,” Anne said, interrupting what she was certain was going to be Martha’s refusal to allow him entrance. Martha gave her a confused look, but Anne was fairly convinced it was the boy’s pride speaking up.
He walked in with his uneven gait, and she could see now that his leg was severely bowed.
“Have you been with the captain long?” she asked.
“Ever since he saved me from the shark,” he said with no inflection, as though he might be saying that the captain had merely spread jam on his toast. He concentrated on pouring the water into the bowl without splashing a single drop.
She waited until he was finished to inquire, “The shark?”
He faced her. “I was born funny-lookin’, no one wanted me, so they used me to bait the sharks.”
“I don’t understand.” Although she feared she did, and the thought horrified her.
“Tossed me in the water. I didn’t know how to swim then, but the cap’n taught me later. Anyway, I’d thrash about. They’d pull me out when the shark got close enough so they could spear it.”
She heard Martha gasp. As for herself, she thought she might be ill. “And the captain?”
“They were sailin’ by. He jumped in, cut me free, and took me aboard his ship.” He grinned mischievously. “Then he fired a cannon, blew their boat out of the water. Sharks had a feast that day.”
“I see.” Her stomach had tightened into a painful knot. To think she was angry because her father wanted her to begin making the social rounds again, to attend balls, soirees, and dinners. She wasn’t in danger of being eaten.
“Will ye be needin’ anythin’ else?” he asked, as though he hadn’t just told her the most horrific story she’d ever heard.
“No. Thank you.”
He doffed his cap and limped from the room. Once he left, Martha sank into a chair. “You don’t suppose all that was true, do you?”
“Why would he lie?”
“Sympathy. Or perhaps he simply enjoys spinning a good yarn.”
Anne crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s strange, Martha, but I can very well see Captain Crimson Jack jumping into the sea to save someone.”
“You’re not starting to fancy the fellow are you?”
“What? No.” She walked to the windows and gazed out on the choppy water. “I have, however, decided to wear my proper dinner gown.”
Martha made a snort of disapproval, but Anne couldn’t have cared less. Tonight she would pay her debt. Get that matter over with, so he would leave her alone, because the more she learned of the captain, the more he intrigued her. And that path could only lead to disaster.
She’d dressed in an exceedingly distracting sleeveless gown with a low décolletage that bared a good deal of her alabaster skin to his discerning eye. The only thing that pleased him more was the appreciation that had lit her face, tipped up the corners of her mouth, when he’d entered, because he, too, had taken the time to dress appropriately for dinner as though he were attending an affair in London.
Jenkins had done a superb job of arranging the dinner: starched white tablecloth, two flickering candles, fine red wine, and four courses that would have done Mary proud. Not that he was particularly hungry, except for feasting on the sight of Anne. He considered revealing his musings out loud but he suspected she would see it as false flattery. If he was learning anything at all about her it was that she seemed unaware of her allure. She was modest in the extreme and that made her so much more captivating.
The only thing that ruined the tableaux was the rapid clicking of knitting needles as her blasted maid sat in a corner keeping watch over her mistress.
“I’m quite impressed with the fare,” Anne said after taking a small bite of the glazed chicken. “I’d not expected such fine accommodations.”
“I spend a good deal of time away from ports. A first-rate cook was on the top of my must-acquire list when I gained my own ship.”
“Your crew is exceedingly polite. I’d feared they might be a bit rough.”
“They can be when the situation warrants.” He studied her over his wineglass, wondering where she was going with this. “I have the luxury of determining who I hire. I’m quite particular. If I’m going to be in the company of a man for months at a time, I want to at least like him.”
“You seem rather educated.”
“My father insisted.” He swirled his wine, and within the vortex he could almost see what his life might have been if his uncle hadn’t killed Tristan’s father. “I had a tutor for the longest. Then when I was fourteen I went to sea.”
She leaned forward. “Why?”
“Why does any young man go to sea? For adventure.” Although in his case, it was to get beyond his uncle’s grasp.
“From what I can gather, you certainly found it. The lad, Mouse, told me that you saved him from being eaten by sharks.”
Tristan downed his wine and poured himself some more. “You know that boy didn’t talk for weeks after we brought him aboard. Now he’s a regular magpie.”
“So what he said is true?”
Her brow was furrowed, her concern evident. He’d planned to use dinner to charm her into his arms, not discuss the brutal aspects of his life. “We were off the coast of a small island in the Pacific. Because he was born imperfect, he was thought to have no value. We were leaving the island, when we spotted them hunting for sharks. I couldn’t very well sail away without doing something.”
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