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Seger, Maura

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Flame on the Sun by Maura Seger

"I'VE COME TEN THOUSAND MILES TO SAVE MY FAMILY'S SHIPS. NO MAN WILL STOP ME NOW."

So Erin Conroy declared as the Yankee shipping heiress arrived in Japan to discover that Storm Davin, the proud Southern Aristocrat she had refused to marry eight rears before on the eve of the Civil War, now controlled the fate of her bankrupt legacy.

The beautiful but spoiled young girl Storm remembered had grown into a woman of rare courage with a spirit valiant enough to face the challenges of an ancient empire swept by the winds of change. But was she bold enough to confront the bittersweet promise of love once lost yet never forgotten?

Erin raised her fists, pushing against the wall of Storm's chest.

Seizing both her hands in one of his, he compelled her to admit the uselessness of her effort. . . . When she once again stood quietly under his touch, he tipped back her chin and coaxed her into meeting his gaze.

"You can't escape me, Erin. You were always meant to be mine.''

His implacable determination frightened her almost as much as the clamor of her own body. What for her would be the supreme act of love would be for him no more than a weapon for achieving vengeance. How could she look into his eyes afterward and see the callous satisfaction she was certain would be there?

Yet even as she tried again to flee, she sensed that he was right There would be no escape.

A Tapestry Book published by

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020

Copyright © 1983 by Seger, Inc.

ISBN: 0-671-49395-7

First Tapestry Books printing September, 1983

Printed in the U.S.A.

 

For Anne and Brendan Jones, my parents, who never said, "Stop daydreaming."

Chapter One

"I wish you would reconsider, miss. Yokohama is no place for a lady on her own." Captain Foster stroked his trim white beard anxiously as he spoke. Beneath his peaked naval cap, his gray eyes darkened with worry.

Not even the excitement of a successful voyage or the prospect of shortly going ashore in a fabled land few Westerners had ever visited could improve his mood.

During the long months at sea, he had done his best to convince his lovely young passenger that she was embarked on a futile and dangerous journey. It was unlikely that having failed to convince her in the past, he would do so now. But for the sake of his conscience he had to try one last time.

Erin Conroy listened to him patiently despite all the distractions offered by the harbor teeming with proud clipper ships and square-sailed junks. She understood that the captain spoke from genuine doubt about her safety, so she did not resent his well-meant advice. But neither did she have any intention of following it.

Behind her lay months of arduous travel from her home in Boston to the enclave perched on the edge of Japan, between the flat green sea and the distant snow-covered peak of Mt. Fuji that seemed to guard the very edge of the world.

Ahead lay the objective that had kept her going despite grave uncertainty, exhaustion, fear, and more often than not, just plain boredom. She was not about to turn back now.

An onshore breeze redolent of salt water, fish and seaweed ruffled the ebony hair pulled back in a neat chignon at the nape of her neck. Her creamy skin held a slight, sun-warmed glow. The slender oval of her face was set off by a high brow, straight, slim nose and dimpled chin whose firmness hinted at considerable inner strength. Her mouth was wide and generous, given to frequent smiles. Crystal blue eyes set off by pure white flecks sparkled as she strove to reassure the captain.

"I appreciate your concern, but as I have explained before, there is no alternative for me but to go on. This is the only chance I have to rebuild my family's fortunes. I can't abandon it simply because there is some danger involved. Besides," she added teasingly, "I am not alone. Mrs. Gilhoully is a formidable companion."

Captain Foster snorted, not at all convinced that the middle-aged Irishwoman could keep her young mistress out of trouble. Although she did try. He had to give her credit for that.

His first glimpse of the pair had been on the dock at San Francisco harbor when Erin came to negotiate their passage on the
Pacific Star.
A gin-sodden young sailor had declared his desire to spend some time—and money— in the young lady's company. For that, he had earned a sharp crack from Mrs. Gilhoully's parasol and the warning, rendered in unmistakable terms, of what would happen to him if he didn't retreat at once.

As a loving husband with three daughters of his own, Captain Foster had no patience for such low-life. But he could at least understand the n'er-do-well's infatuation. Erin Conroy was an enthrallingly beautiful young woman.

Despite the austerity of her navy-blue serge skirt, plain white blouse and maroon pelisse, the perfection of her tall, slender body was impossible to hide. Perhaps in part because she steadfastly refused to lace, a fact which the captain privately applauded. All too many young women seemed bent on constricting themselves to the point where they could do little but lie about on settees and occasionally swoon.

Not Miss Conroy. Each morning of the voyage, no matter what the weather, she had walked the deck eagerly. She became such a familiar sight to the crew that they even grew somewhat accustomed to her stunning good looks. At least enough to engage her in friendly conversation under the watchful eye of the captain. To the horror of the formidable Mrs. Gilhoully, she soon joined them in practicing knot tying, fishing, singing sea chanties, and the few other diversions available in the midst of the seemingly endless Pacific.

By the time they had made port the day before, there was not a man aboard who hadn't developed a soft spot for the beautiful young girl. More than a few had approached the captain to ask if he might not be able to convince her of the foolhardiness of her venture. But it seemed that was not to be the case.

Giving in with ill grace, Captain Foster muttered, "Aye, the two of you must surely be a match for whatever this godforsaken country can serve up. That poor fellow—the shogun, is it?—had better watch out. You'll charm his rice fields right out from under him while Mrs. Gilhoully holds off a whole army of those Samaritans I hear are supposed to be so tough."

"Samurai," Erin corrected gently. "At least that's what the book I've been reading calls them. It's by Mr. C. P. Hodgson, the British consul in Nagasaki."

Captain Foster's scowl deepened. The English had earned his undying enmity when they sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. More than two years after the conclusion of that blood-soaked blot on the nation's history, he was still not prepared to forgive them.

"Whoever they be, do you think you might at least allow me to provide you with an escort to the consulate?"

Erin was not dismayed by his gruffness. She suspected the captain used much the same tone with his daughters. At twenty-four, with her parents dead at the beginning of the war and her last remaining uncle in his grave almost a year, she was not opposed to a little cosseting.

"I would be most pleased, sir. Mrs. Gilhoully seems about to join us, so we should be able to leave whenever you choose."

The iron-haired, amply built woman who plodded purposefully toward them across the deck was completely swathed in black. Her plump face with its red cheeks, small mouth and piercing eyes appeared unrelentingly stern.

Out of long habit, she frowned at her mistress. But there was no malice in the look, as quickly became apparent when she murmured, "Here you are standing in the sun and wind again, like as not adding more freckles to your collection. Can you never remember to put on your bonnet?"

Erin shook her head cheerfully. "I've been leaving it off for the last eight years, Meg. You should be willing to admit by now that I'm a lost cause."

The older woman sighed mournfully. "The good Lord alone knows what will become of you, Erin Conroy. Traipsing halfway across the world to this heathen country." She shivered as delicately as her considerable bulk allowed. "Twenty-four years old and still no sign of getting yourself a husband and settling down to have the children I should already be looking after. It was bad enough when we were in Boston, but now..."

She broke off, distracted by the appearance of several people on the dock beside the clipper ship. "Oh, sweet heaven, there's some of those yellow devils now! Mary and all the saints protect us!" Determinedly imposing herself in front of the younger woman, she did her best to shelter her from the unseemly sight.

Erin peered around her shoulder eagerly. Months of reading everything she could get her hands on about the mysterious inhabitants of the Kingdom of the Rising Sun had only fueled her desire to see them for herself. But at first glance, they were undeniably disappointing.

There was nothing in the least exotic about the half-dozen men approaching the ship. The large number of Chinese thronging San Francisco had accustomed her to the idea that people came in other shades besides white, black and red. So although the men did not precisely resemble the Orientals she had seen, their color and the almond shape of their eyes were no great surprise.

Neither were the black trousers, frock coats and top hats they wore, which would have looked perfectly at home in Boston's Quincy Street. Even their expressions were recognizable. They glanced up at the clipper ship with shuttered gazes that did not quite mask a hint of great excitement and interest. She had seen that same look on her father and uncles when they were contemplating an attractive business opportunity.

A sigh escaped her as she took in the final, all-too-familiar detail of their accoutrements. Each carried an overstuffed briefcase undoubtedly full of forms.

"Customs officials," Captain Foster grumbled. "They'll be wanting to levy tariffs on my cargo."

"Can they do that?" Erin asked.

"Aye, according to the treaties negotiated with the various Western countries that trade here now, a portion of each cargo's worth goes to the shogun. In return, he keeps the port open and maintains order." Grudgingly he admitted, "I suppose it's a fair arrangement. Leastways, there seems to be plenty of money being made on both sides, so I don't rightly see how anyone can complain."

Erin was glad to hear it, since she had come to Japan precisely for the purpose of making enough money to prevent the bankruptcy of the Conroy shipping line. Her task would be difficult enough; if there was any breakdown in the local markets, it might become impossible.

"I'm sure you'll be busy for some time, Captain, so I won't keep you." Graciously thanking him for making the long voyage both safe and pleasant, she took her leave. It was difficult to say good-bye to a man she had become genuinely fond of, but over the last few years she had learned to accept such farewells as an inevitable part of life. With his final admonitions fading behind her, she stepped lightly down the gangplank.

"Will you look at this?" Meg muttered as they settled into the jinrikisha a young officer had secured for them. Her disapproving gaze focused on the backs of the two men pulling the conveyance. "Whoever heard of using humans to do the work of horses?"

Erin had to agree that the sight was distressing. But she was well aware that knowing as little as she did about conditions in Japan, and Yokohama in particular, she was in no position to complain.

"Perhaps it's a question of having to make do with what is available," she suggested. "There does seem to be a great deal going on here."

That was putting it mildly. Single-story wooden buildings were packed so closely together that their sloping tiled roofs nearly touched. They framed the narrow street crowded with merchants, sailors, missionaries, diplomats and unabashed opportunists, all looking to benefit from the inevitable chaos created by the confrontation of two vastly different cultures.

Tantalizing aromas wafted from the closely packed buildings and stalls they passed. Erin recognized the scents of tea and rice, jasmine and hyacinth mingling with the other, less pleasant odors that were inevitable in any place of dense human habitation.

Almost all the people they passed were either peasants dressed in simple homespun cotton garments, straw hats and sandals, or both Japanese and Western businessmen dressed in subdued suits of black or gray wool. Only a few of the more obviously affluent merchants preferred the robelike garments she had learned were called kimonos, made of crimson, yellow and indigo silk richly embroidered with gold and silver threads. Along with the vibrant banners advertising wares and the displays of goods artfully arranged on outdoor counters, they transformed the street into a colorful open-air market.

A babble of voices in at least a dozen languages rose on every side. Two textile dealers, one Japanese and the other Prussian, were managing to communicate in a medley of Portuguese and Dutch while striking a deal in Mexican piastres.

BOOK: Seger, Maura
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