Lucky's Lady (The Caversham Chronicles Book 4) (10 page)

"I don't see where that makes it similar. You had family to care for you. I did not."
"Lia was all I had. My aunt didn't want us. She begrudgingly allowed us to live there the few months we did. And even then she did it because it gave her access to the funds my sister and I inherited." Lucky remembered being ill and his nurse, Maura, dying trying to get him food. It wasn't until much later when he asked Lia about the memories that he learned the truth of it. How his aunt had tried to have them both killed.
"We didn't even have that. George and I had no place to call home. For months we slept in an empty barrel in an old warehouse, till we were discovered and had to move on. I stole food to feed us because my brother didn't have the heart to do it. So it's safe to say we didn't have a similar upbringing, Captain."
"I've given you leave to call me Lucky. Why won't you?"
She refused to look up at him, and continued with her notes on the last item under discussion. "It makes me uncomfortable."
"How so?" He could tell she struggled to find the right words, as though she were tempering her reply. He wanted to get her to open up to him and not keep him at such a distance. Especially since that day on the gangway of the
Ajax.
She dipped her pen in the inkwell and tapped the droplet of excess ink off, then went on with her notations. Just when he thought she was ignoring his last question, she replied while continuing to write. "It denotes a level of familiarity that I am not prepared to engage in. I believe we should keep this a professional relationship. You are our
client
Captain Gualtiero."
"From the moment we met three days ago," he whispered, not wanting to disturb the men working in the antechamber, "I sensed something different about you. When you nearly fell and I... held you, I felt it. Something passed between us. Look at me." She lifted her gaze and the shock on her face from his intimate address told him she was as flustered as he. "Can you tell me, honestly, that you did not feel it as well?"
For whatever reason, it took her a moment to reply and Lucky took that as a good sign. "I—" she stammered before closing her eyes and breathing slowly. When she opened her eyes, her heart was telling him one thing while she spoke something entirely different. "I will remind you again that I am a
married
woman. So do not presume to speculate that I am unhappy in my relationship with my husband. I am not. Mr. Watkins is a very fine man. I owe him a great debt of gratitude, one I can never repay in this lifetime."
"I notice you don't say that you love him."
Her gaze turned fiery and she hissed, "I do love him, Captain."
Finally. A true emotional reply. He felt she'd been hiding her real emotions from the moment they'd met. And now that he had this little breakthrough he couldn't let it end here. He had to know if what he suspected was true. Wanted to hear it from her lips. "Like a father? Like a mentor?"
He leaned closer until his face was mere inches from hers and he felt her uneasy breathing and saw the hollow in her neck bob as she swallowed hard. He was close enough that only she could hear, as his voice dropped to just above a whisper. "Or a lover?"
The shock on her face said it all for him. He now had the answer to his question. She and her husband were not currently lovers. That isn't to say they'd never been, but she was a woman who needed a man as much as he wanted her.
But now he felt conflicted. Yes, he'd broken through the hard veneer of her reserve, and now that he had, he found himself wanting to love and cherish her, as she should be loved and cherished.
    
I
t was as though he could see into the private world that was Mary's relationship with her mentor, friend, and father-figure, Spenser Watkins. And if this man, a stranger to their village, could see it how many others could as well? Could that be why the odious constable made repeated offers of a lurid affair? Did she somehow appear desperate since the children were taken away?
She hated that this stranger had brought her to the verge of tears. Especially after all the years of tempering her emotions and responses, to be a better business partner for her husband. Six-plus years of defending and protecting the decision she made to accept Mr. Watkins' proposition, could be brought down with one reckless mistake on her part. Now that the solution to her problem is at hand, she had to think this through carefully. All it would take is one accusation of adultery to ruin her world. Mary-Michael had to be very, very careful. Or she could lose everything because of a handsome Englishman who had a very high opinion of himself. And she could not let that happen.
It was very likely that he'd never been refused when he set his sights on bedding a woman, and that confidence was a great part of his charm. But just being in his presence flustered her. Sometimes she caught him studying her and his look made her insides as gooey as Sally's taffy.
Mary-Michael decided before she met this man, that if she were going to go through with this, it had to be with someone she felt an attraction to, and until Captain Gualtiero introduced himself, she had never met a man who stirred any romantic sentiments in her. In fact, just the week before, she wondered if such a man even existed. Especially as she considered Mr. Watkins' idea, and began to think about the traits she wanted from potential father of her child.
She wanted a handsome man, healthy in appearance and of fine form; and he had to be intelligent and industrious as well. But the most important criteria she'd decided upon, and Mr. Watkins agreed with her, was that the man not be from their community. She didn't want anyone ever speaking of their temporary liaison and suspecting himself the father of her child. This was her most crucial criteria, the one thing she was unwilling to compromise on.
No, she would do this on her own terms, and with a man she felt an attraction to. Not that she'd ever consider him, but the mere thought of someone like Potts touching her made Mary-Michael's skin crawl.
And this Englishman made her entire body quiver with excitement. Just now, when he whispered the word
lover
, she felt the junction between her legs grow moist and sensitive. She needed what he could give her, and she now knew he was willing. The more she thought on it, the more it looked as though this was not just the only way, but also the perfect way, to have the baby she wanted so very much.
But she still could not afford to lose control of her emotions, and she did not want him see this longing, no desperate, side of her. Mary-Michael swallowed the tears. "You know nothing about me. Nothing. My marriage is none of your concern."
He just leaned back in his chair and stared at her. The square set of his chin jutted forward in what she read as a superior smirk. "You might be married, but you're not a wife in the true sense of the word. I can tell."
It only took a moment for her entire body to fill with red hot anger at his insult. "Why, you... forward... and... arrogant man!" They had to finish working on these order sheets and she needed her wits about her. "Just stop it," she hissed. Carefully, she set the pen in its holder and placed her hands flat on the desk, maintaining tight control of her every action. Her words were stern, each word enunciated so there was no misunderstanding them. "Stay out of my marriage. No matter what happens between us, do not speculate about my marriage at all. Do you understand? I am so tempted to tell you to go to... to... Hades." She slapped her palm across her mouth.
Oh, dear Lord, had she said that out loud?
If she lost the contract, she'd have to explain all of this to Mr. Watkins.
He laughed. A warm, deep laugh with a smile that crinkled the corners of his dreamy brown eyes. And she groaned from her mortification.
"Ugh." First he insults her, now her customer was laughing at her. She swiped at a tear with a fist. "Look what you've made me do. Now I have to go to confession again." Mary-Michael scanned the ante-chamber to see if Andrew or Robert heard what had just transpired between them, not seeing either man, she stared up at the copper-tiled ceiling over her head willing the tears away and ignoring the captain's soft chuckle. "Yes," she whispered. "I wished you to Hades, and I will likely spend an eternity in purgatory if I don't confess it. But I suppose I should wait until next weekend, because before this transaction is through, you will likely push me to say or do more things that I normally would never say or do."
He looked so amused, so sure of himself it was unsettling. "I think it's quite likely," he whispered as he, too, checked the other room for eavesdroppers. "Especially if I have my way. Because, as wrong as it is, I can't deny that I want you, Mary."
Avoiding his eyes, she pushed back her chair, took a deep breath, and stood. "I... Please... Excuse me," she said as she all but ran from the room.
This madness had to stop. She really, really needed to focus on work right now, and get this tedious part of the job done. So why did she want to cry? She felt as though she were succumbing to a deep frustration and sadness. Was it over her situation? Or could it be that she was finally close to having that which her heart most desired—a babe of her own.
Mary-Michael owed her livelihood to Spenser Watkins. The reward of her marriage was the opportunity to learn from the man everything she needed to know to design and build ships. It was what she'd dreamed of doing as a child, and she had for the past seven years, six of them as his wife. Yes, the captain was attractive, and yes, she felt something... intense and elemental, toward him. But the only thing she wanted from him was the one thing her husband could never give her.
She dried her eyes, and looked into the mirror to make sure she wasn't blotchy from crying. Damn the man for flustering her. While his presence alone set her on edge, knowing he had the same carnal desires as she, was too overwhelming to contemplate. But more important than that, the realization she might actually stand a chance at achieving this dream, was making her giddy and nervous at the same time. Combined, it was almost more than she could take right then.
She splashed cold water on her face. Heaven knows she wasn't one of those girls who cried prettily. Mary-Michael had to get over this fear and nervousness if she held any hope for luring Captain Gualtiero to her bed. When he left on Monday morning, she wouldn't see him again for a year. It wasn't much time, but according to Becky, it only took once for her, and when she realized she was pregnant she and Mr. Parks had a hasty wedding.
While there were no hasty weddings in her future, she prayed before the captain left he would have given her a gift. Then she, too, will get to experience her body growing and changing as she carried a babe, and the joy of holding her own son or daughter as it nursed from breast. Why, the thought alone was enough to make her want to start on her project right then.
But she couldn't. She had to finish the specifications lists and draw the final copy the shipbuilders and other trades would use. Come Saturday morning, Mr. Watkins would leave town for a few weeks, and she would make herself available to the Captain for a few days.
With her resolve set to get her work done first, she opened the door and stepped through, slamming face first into a solid wall of masculine chest. Muscular, masculine chest. Make that a finely attired, exotic-smelling, face-high, muscular, masculine chest. The captain grabbed her shoulders as she pushed away. He fell back onto the wall in the narrow hallway and as he went over, he took her with him.
She couldn't breathe, couldn't think. His thick, beefy arms wrapped around her protecting her for a moment, until she realized there were others in the building. Mary-Michael righted herself, and the captain's hands still rested on the exposed skin of her forearms, sending a flood of molten heat coursing through her body. She couldn't get away. Couldn't escape the heat. It was as though the blacksmith's forge was inside her, consuming her from within.
"I'm sorry," she began, "I..."
"My fault entirely," he murmured. Somehow his arm had wrapped itself around her waist, and it continued to hold her firmly in place against him. He lowered his voice so she alone could hear. "I came to see how you were. I was getting worried."
"My men!" she whispered, her eyes wide with fear.
Oh, God, what if someone saw them?
When the captain dropped his arm, she pushed herself off that powerful, too-attractive chest, straightening her blouse as she turned and walked away.
She heard the door to the privy closet click shut as she passed Andrew, Robert and William Bailey, standing at the large drafting table. Because of the position of Andrew's desk on the other side of the wall, she was sure they saw nothing, but they could have heard any conversation, had there been one.
Mary-Michael gave them an embarrassed half-smile acknowledging the awkward situation in the hallway, then strode into the office to stare out the window at the work going on down in the dockyard. Some sixty yards away, Simon had a team of horses harnessed and lined up to connect the traces to the chains that would lift the rudder onto
Carolina.
She watched, still fascinated even though she'd seen it nearly a hundred times. She clutched the window frame as she stared, unfocused really, out into the yard. Her emotions were getting the better of her, and she had to rein them in. This man made her thinking scattered and when he looked at her it caused her to lose her focus. She had to remember she was a professional. This was her business.
The employees would begin talking and she stood to lose their hard-earned respect. She couldn't allow that to happen. She'd worked too hard to get this far, only to see it fall apart because one man flustered her.
She had to give Captain Gualtiero an ultimatum. This verbal sparring and innuendo on both their parts had to cease immediately. He either did as she demanded and behaved himself while in the presence of her employees, or she would have her husband complete the contracting and selection processes.

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