Read In the Commodore's Hands Online

Authors: Mary Nichols

Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance

In the Commodore's Hands (8 page)

‘It very nearly did not. I was in despair.’ She had calmed herself enough to look at him again.
The steely look seemed to have gone from his eyes. Perhaps it was difficult to maintain when you were in pain. But the pain had been there before the coldness, she realised with a sudden flash of insight. She wondered what had caused it and remembered it was not so long since he had lost his wife.

‘We were pursued by the owners of the uniforms we were wearing,’ he went on slowly. ‘I had locked them in a room at the inn near the prison, but they must have managed to spit out their gags and raise the alarm. Once they had been let out they would soon have found spare clothes and set off in pursuit. I knew it would happen, but I thought we would have time to effect the rescue and be on our way before they could catch us, but everything took longer than I expected.’ The long speech had been an effort and he stopped to catch his breath. ‘But all’s well that ends well.’

‘But it is not at an end, is it?’ she queried. ‘France is still suffering, King Louis and his Queen are still being vilified and my brother is still in the thick of it.’

‘I regret I cannot, for the moment, do anything about that.’

It was meant to be a joke and she dutifully laughed. Was this stiff Englishman capable of
humour after all? ‘I think it would take more than one or even two brave Englishmen to remedy the situation in France,’ she said.

‘No,’ he said wryly. ‘But perhaps three or four might do it.’

She stood up, still smiling at his little sallies and wishing she could make him see how very grateful she was. She wished she could heap all her jewels and money on him, but that would leave her and her father impoverished. Besides, she felt sure he would be affronted. ‘I will leave you to rest now and go and see how my father is.’

His right hand lay on the cover of the bed very close to her hand. On an impulse she picked it up and pressed her lips to the palm. ‘Thank you,’ she said and fled.

He lay there, looking down at his hand as if it did not belong to him. What, in heaven’s name, had prompted her to do that? He came to the conclusion she was simply overwrought, and who would not be, given the circumstances? She would be able to relax now the danger was past and look after her father. What would the pair of them do when they landed in England? How much money did they have? Could they maintain themselves? Did they have friends
they could go to? Or would they throw themselves on the mercy of Earl Wentworth?

The Earl was not the one who had banished his daughter—he had long gone—but his son and presumably Lisette’s uncle. Jay hoped that if Lisette appealed to him, he would be welcoming. Why was he bothered? He had fulfilled his task and brought them out of France—did they expect anything more? But the fact that she was related to the Wentworths could not be banished from his mind. Did wickedness run in families?

He was tired of lying idle, in danger of letting the past overwhelm him. He needed a distraction. He shouted for Sam, who appeared almost immediately. ‘Yes, sir?’

‘Get me a clean shirt and coat. I’m getting up.’

‘Sir, I don’t think—’

‘I did not ask you what you thought, Sam, I bade you find me clothes.’

‘Aye, aye, sir.’ Suitably admonished, Sam did as he was bid.

Jay sat up and swung his legs over the side of the cot and looked at his crumpled nether garments. ‘Breeches, too, I think. These have got blood on them.’

The breeches were changed for another pair in dark blue and a clean shirt, being loose, was
easy to put on, but the coat was another matter. It was tailored to fit and it would not go over the bandage and trying to force it was a painful business.

‘I knew you should not try to dress,’ Sam said. ‘Lieutenant Sandford is easily able to sail the ship.’

‘Of course he is. It is what he is paid to do,’ he said sharply. ‘I do not mean to take over from him, but I do not like to be below decks when we are under sail. It feels wrong. The weather is warm, I will go without a coat. Pray tidy this cabin while I am away.’

‘Aye, aye, sir.’

Jay went on deck and stood breathing in the salty air. It was like being back in the navy, except the ships he had commanded in the service were considerably bigger than the
Lady Amy
. His father was not normally extravagant, but in this instance he had been; though small, the yacht was luxuriously appointed for passengers. Lisette and Hortense would be comfortable in the main cabin and the Comte and his grandfather sharing a slightly smaller one.

He paced the deck, noting the crew were going about their duties cheerfully and efficiently. All sails were set and they were tacking into a wind on their starboard side. Lieutenant
Sandford approached him. ‘We should reach the Kent coast by dark, sir. Do you wish to put in at Dover? the tide should be with us at dawn.’

‘I think not. Carry on round the coast to Lynn, as long as the wind is fair. We will be home all the sooner.’

‘I wondered if the passengers might wish to go to London.’

‘The Comte is not fit to go anywhere with only his daughter to help him. If they want to go to the capital, then it will be after the Comte has recovered some of his strength at Highbeck.’

‘Miss Giradet might not wish to be so far from London and her compatriots.’

That had not occurred to him; few people refused an invitation to Blackfen Manor. His mother’s hospitality was legendary. ‘I will speak to her about it.’

He returned to the lower deck and knocked on the door of the Comte’s cabin, guessing she would be with her father.

Lisette, who had been sitting beside her father’s bunk watching him sleep, rose and went to the door to find Jay standing there in breeches and a shirt. He wore no coat, cravat or headgear. His injured arm was strapped across his chest underneath the shirt, the empty sleeve
of which hung at his side. He was a little more covered than he had been when she had visited him in his cabin, but he still brought the heat rushing to her cheeks at the memory of what she had done. Kissing his hand like that was the act of a wanton, as if she were throwing herself at him, when in truth it was simply that she could not find the words to express her gratitude.

After rushing from his cabin, she had shut herself in with her father to calm herself and decided she would have to try to avoid Jay Drymore until they landed and parted, but in the confines of a small ship that was going to be difficult unless she stayed in her cabin. Even that would not work, because he could come to her. Here he was, looking at her as if nothing had happened, making her heart beat too fast for comfort.

‘Papa is sleeping,’ she whispered.

‘Then perhaps it is a convenient time to take a turn on deck.’ He kept his voice low. ‘I wish to speak to you.’

‘Oh.’ Was he going to mention it? Had he taken that kiss as an invitation and was here to claim his reward? Or was he going to tell her he was disgusted with her? ‘I do not think I should leave Papa. He might wake…’

‘I will ask my grandfather to bear him company and I will not keep you above a few minutes.’

There was no help for it. She stepped into the passage and closed the door gently behind her. He followed her up the companionway on to the deck where they found Sir John standing at the rail, looking for his first glimpse of England. He readily agreed to go down and sit with his friend.

‘Now, shall we take a walk about the deck?’ he said. ‘The sea does not make you feel ill?’

‘Not while it is calm.’

‘You are comfortable in your cabin?’

‘Yes. I had not realised a small vessel such as this could be so well equipped.’

‘It was built to my father’s design. Have you made many sea voyages?’

‘I used to go with my parents when Papa went trading, but not for many years. My mother’s death hit him hard and he would not leave Villarive.’ The conversation was so normal, so unexceptional, an exchange of pleasantries, no more, but it was an effort on her part. She was waiting with trepidation for him to state the true reason for wanting to speak to her. It was not to discuss voyages and trade, she felt sure.

‘I understand.’

‘Yes, of course. You have suffered loss yourself.’ Now she was becoming personal and that she had never intended. Since the advent of Jay Drymore in her life, she had started to speak and act without thinking and she did not seem able to cure herself. ‘I am sorry. I did not mean to remind you.’

‘Do not keep apologising,
mademoiselle
, or thanking me. There is no need for either.’

‘Oh.’ Now he
was
referring to that kiss. As a rebuff it could not have been more plain. She wished the deck would open up and cast her into the sea, she felt so mortified.

‘I wish to know your intentions,’ he said, apparently impervious to her discomfort. ‘When we reach England, I mean.’

‘Intentions?’ Oh, this was dreadful. What did he expect her to say? Did he think she was asking him to…? Oh, no, she could not. Somehow she managed to regain her composure and stiffened her spine. ‘My intentions are my own affair.’

‘Of course.’ He bowed stiffly. ‘You do not have to tell me of them, but it has been pointed out to me that you might wish to go to London and in that case, we will need to put in to Dover, or alternately sail round the Kent coast and up the Thames. At least that way, your father
would be saved an uncomfortable ride in a public coach, but it would take longer.’ He paused while she wondered what was coming next. ‘I have to tell you I am reluctant to do either because the Comte is so frail. He requires careful nursing and time to recuperate and I am sure my mother would welcome you both at Blackfen Manor. There is ample room and he will be able to regain his strength in the peaceful surroundings of Highbeck.’

Her whole body sagged. Why was this man constantly surprising her? He must have a disgust of her and yet he was so concerned for her father he would overlook that and continue to help them. If she accepted, she would be even more in his debt. And she would see even more of him. Did she want that, considering she was always embarrassing herself—and him?

‘I do not live at Highbeck,’ he said, as if he could read her thoughts, which disconcerted her even more. ‘My estate is a few miles distant. You will not be bothered by me.’

‘Bothered by you, sir? Why should you bother me?’ She spoke more sharply than she intended. ‘I fear I am more of a bother to you. You have exceeded all that could have been expected of you to rescue Papa from almost certain death and been wounded in doing so. We
are alive and free because of you.’ She paused and gulped hard. ‘If my father were well, I would say that was more than enough, but as you are right and he needs to recuperate, I will be pleased to accept your offer to go to Highbeck for a short while, always providing your parents will have us.’

‘Good. I will give orders to Lieutenant Sandford to bypass Dover and sail round the coast to Lynn. The wind is favourable at the moment and we should make good time.’ He bowed and left her.

She continued to stand at the rail, watching the sea glide past the hull. Behind her was France and the life she had known, where until recently she had lived in luxury, helping her father manage the estate, at peace with those around her. Before her was the land of her mother’s birth, a land she had never visited and knew nothing about. Would they be made welcome? Her father would never approach her mother’s family, she knew that. Could they make a new life for themselves? Where? That question had been occupying her ever since she came on board. They would have to husband their resources, because the gold and jewels she had brought out of France were all they had. Jay
had taken that worry from her, at least for the time being.

She would write to her brother and tell him what had happened and maybe he could arrange to sell some of the artefacts in the château and smuggle some money out to them. Perhaps she might even persuade him to join them. It would be good for them to be together again as a family and Michel could find a way of earning enough money to support them. She could find work, too. With so many French
émigrés
coming to England there would surely be a need for translators and teachers of English. They could live independently and not have to rely on the charity of people like Jay Drymore and his parents. It was one thing to be grateful for a favour—a huge one, it was true—and another to be dependent on him.

She looked up to see the white cliffs of England on their port side and a harbour which must be Dover. There was more shipping in the straits than she had noticed before; it was a busy seaway being the only route, apart from going round the north of Scotland, to pass from the German Ocean to the Atlantic and places beyond. She watched as Lieutenant Sandford issued orders and the crew scrambled aloft to adjust the sails to take them past Dover and
round the coast of Kent. She felt the turbulence under her feet as the helmsman altered course. The wind became much cooler and she shivered in her thin gown and wished she had thought to bring a shawl on deck.

Jay rejoined her. ‘We shall soon be sailing northwards,’ he said. ‘And the air becomes cool as night approaches. Allow me to escort you back to your cabin.’

‘Thank you.’

He preceded her down the companionway, then turned and held out his hand to steady her. Below decks it was considerably warmer, or was it simply his proximity that was making her feel hot? She rescued her hand from his. ‘You will find England several degrees colder than France and will need warm clothing,’ he said as they reached her cabin door.

‘Yes, I guessed it would be. I have packed for it.’

‘Good. It is almost supper time. It can be served to you in your cabin if you wish, but I hope you will join us in the mess.’

It would have been churlish to refuse. ‘Thank you. I think my father would prefer to stay where he is, but I will join you when I have made sure he is comfortable.’

He reached past her to open the door, then
bowed and returned to the deck. She went into her cabin to find Hortense sorting clothes. ‘The evening air is cool,’ the maid said. ‘You should have come down earlier.’

‘I was talking to the Commodore. He has invited us to Blackfen Manor. He says his parents will welcome us and Papa can recover there. I have said we will go.’

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