Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(31) by Lorraine Heath
She’d seen him very little since leaving Scutari. She’d almost forgotten that he was a man accustomed to being obeyed on all matters.
Martha opened the door wider, and he strode in. She was surprised by the newly acquired deep lines on his face, as though he wasn’t sleeping any more soundly than she. She didn’t want to admit how many nights she had contemplated seeking him out, asking him to simply hold her while she fought for sleep. His gaze traveled over her, and he seemed none too pleased by what stood before him. She straightened her shoulders, angled her chin. She had a right to grieve, but this journey was supposed to allow her to put it all behind her. Why didn’t it?
“You’re wasting away,” he said.
Self-consciously she plucked at her skirt. The dress did seem looser than it was when she wore it to travel through the streets of Scutari. “The sea is not agreeing with me. Why are we stopped?”
“I have a surprise for you.” He tossed a bundle of clothes to her. She juggled them before finally securing them in her grasp. “Put those on.”
It was a small bundle. She peeled away a pair of trousers and a shirt. “These are britches.”
“I’m not in the habit of carrying around items without knowing what they are.”
“Ladies do not wear britches.”
“Those who wish to look out from the crow’s nest do.”
She clutched the garments to her chest. Opened her mouth. Closed it. Was he implying what she thought he was? “How do you propose I get there?”
He said it with such assurance that she couldn’t help but laugh. “And if I fall?”
“You won’t. You’ll be secured with a rope and I’ll be there with you.”
She shook her head. “It’s far too dangerous.”
“You never struck me as cowardly.”
“I’m practical,” she bit out.
“Scared,” he taunted.
“I’m not.” He made her feel like a child, but it wasn’t the height or the climb that terrified her. It was the thought of falling, not to the deck but into his arms.
“I’ll show you a view of the world you may never have an opportunity to see again.”
“I can’t parade about in trousers in front of your men.”
“They’re all below deck, except for the three I need to assist in getting you into the crow’s nest.”
“Will they be climbing with us?”
“No, but we’ve rigged a winch and pulley. Someone has to man it.” He touched her cheek with a featherlike graze. “Trust me, Princess.”
Hadn’t she from the beginning, when she’d had no true cause to except for another’s word? But always something about him, something deep within him had calmed her nerves, quieted her doubts. If she believed in magic, she’d consider that he might be a sorcerer weaving his spells over her. But if nothing else, the state of his back proved he was merely a man.
“I’ll need a few moments,” she said flatly, quelling any anticipation she might be feeling at the prospect of what she was about to do.
“I’ll be waiting.” He headed for the door, stopped, glanced back. “No shoes. It’ll make it easier. But do wear gloves.”
He quickly left. She met Martha’s gaze. “Do you suppose I should wear a corset with this attire?”
Martha smiled. “No, m’lady. I suspect for this adventure, it would be best if you wore as little as possible.”
When she was finally in the shirt and trousers, she felt rather very much like a heathen. A rope threaded through loops on the trousers kept them hugging her waist. She had to roll up the hem to prevent herself from stepping on them. Now her ankles were exposed. Scandalous. The shirt was loose, the linen fine, and it felt almost as though she wore nothing at all. Martha had braided her hair, securing it with the leather strip she had yet to return to the captain.
She had no cheval glass in which to peer. Martha removed the captain’s shaving mirror from the wall, but it only provided glimpses as though she were pieces of a puzzle and not the whole.
“I’m certain my appearance will suffice,” she said succinctly. After all, what did her clothing truly matter when she would never again see these people once she got off the ship?
He was waiting for her on the deck. His feet were also bare, and her toes curled at the intimacy. His feet were long, slender, as bronzed as his face. She’d never looked at a man’s feet before—not even her brothers’.
With his bare hand, he took her gloved one, and she had an irrational urge to remove the protection so her skin would touch his. Ludicrous. Where were these strange notions coming from?
He led her to the mast where the crow’s nest perched near the top. The sea was calm, yet a slight breeze gently lolled the ship. She craned back her head. “It’s so high.”
“Imagine the view.”
Shifting her eyes to his, she could see within his blue depths that he understood her hesitation. He wasn’t mocking or chiding. He was waiting patiently for her to gain her resolve. Taking a deep breath, she angled her chin. “I don’t want to imagine it. I want to experience it, to see it.”
With a jerk of his head, he signaled Mouse and Jenkins over. They brought with them the lassoed end of a rope. Strips of what she was fairly certain had once been woolen blankets were wrapped around it, offering a bit of padding. She raised her arms and the captain lowered it over her, securing it beneath her arms.
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