Her husband chuckled. "I taught you well, my dear."
Sally walked in with a fresh pitcher of water with sliced lemon and two glasses with big cut pieces of ice. She poured their drinks and said, "Dinner is in thirty minutes, Miz Watkins."
"Thank you, Sally."
Her husband swallowed deeply from his cold drink and held it as he stared at her in an odd way. "I want to know if you've given any thought to what we discussed the other day, Mrs. Watkins."
"Regarding what, sir?" she asked, though she knew exactly what topic he meant to revisit.
"Regarding you getting your heart's desire."
Mary-Michael sighed and turned to stare out the window at the lengthening shadows of the trees on the bricked streets. "I'm not sure I can do it."
"You could if you met the right person." He sipped from his glass again. "We will need to find you this right man soon. I never know when I lay my head down at night if I'll be picking it up the next morning. If you want your babe to carry my name, you should do something about it soon, lass."
He obviously saw her slowness to reply as a need for more time to think on the subject. What her dear mentor and husband could not know, was that she'd already begun to consider his plan during her walk home. First, she wondered if she could possibly do it at all. And secondly, there was this unexplainable attraction she felt toward the Englishman. If this is what Becky had meant when she said Mary-Michael would know it when she felt it, then she was certainly
something. That was the only reason she was considering doing this.
She wondered what it would be like to create her babe with this man, the one whose name she did not remember.
"I would never push you to do this," Mr. Watkins said, "except I know my days are now numbered."
"I never thought... That is, when we wed, I... I didn't think I would care, or that I would desire a child as much as I do." She wiped at a single tear, unwilling to cry over this again. "And now... after Rowan and Emily, I just don't think... I could go through falling in love with other little ones, only to have them taken from me again." She swiped at one more falling tear, then another and another. "I miss them so much."
"As do I lass."
"Sometimes I feel this desire for a babe has me so envious of my own friends that I avoid them. I know they sense me distancing myself from them, too. It's not that I'm not happy for them, because you know I am." She wiped again. "It's just that I'm so jealous of their happiness I've thrown myself into my work even more and given up their company so as not to feel my own pain. It's a self-centered jealousy that I fight, sir, and I'm not sure that those selfish emotions are something I should feel if I want to be a good mother."
"You are the least selfish woman I know, Mrs. Watkins, and you deserve this child of your heart." He sat back and closed his eyes. "Besides, you wouldn't be feeling those conflicting emotions if you had a child."
"But what I have to
to get this child of my dreams means committing a grievous sin." She could never take a sin as enormous as this into the confessional. At least not in Indian Point, both priests knew her personally. She'd have to go into Baltimore. And after? Even after confessing, for the rest of her life, while she enjoyed the beauty of motherhood—if she were so blessed—she will always know in her heart that she'd sinned to create her little miracle.
"Is it a sin when I am willing it? Did not Sarah give her maid, Hagar, to Abraham to conceive his children?"
"Yes, and it broke Hagar's heart to give over her son to Sarah after his birth."
"You will not have that issue if the father of your child is someone who isn't from here," her husband countered. "We can go to Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington, or even New York if someone from Baltimore is too near for you to choose." She wiped her eyes, thinking about the gift her husband was giving her to allow this. "I will help you all I can, Mrs. Watkins, but I must know you want my help."
Through her tears, she nodded. "I may not have to go that far, sir. You can tell me if you approve of Ian Ross's partner tomorrow, for he is someone... I might consider."
He finally smiled. "Well, I hope he is a handsome and intelligent specimen, for I cannot have a son or daughter of mine be anything less than both!"
Mary-Michael gave her husband a nervous laugh. Mr. Watkins was sure to find fault with the English captain, a man whose touch still burned her hand when she thought of him. She would just have to remind her husband that he told her she was the one to do the choosing, not he. And she chose the dark-haired, dark-eyed Englishman who stirred up a whirlwind of confusing feelings in her.
fter dinner she discussed with her husband all the items she'd written down from her conversation with the Englishman regarding the two new builds the man requested. Mary-Michael thought to sketch out some rough designs for their meeting the next morning, so she excused herself from the table, telling Mr. Watkins she would like to have something to show their potential client when they met.
She went up to her room and took a seat at her dressing table, then untied her hair-net and let her braid drop down her back. Lifting her fingers to her throat, she unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse. The upstairs room's two windows were wide open, but since there was hardly a breeze moving outdoors, none moved in the house. The heat caused a sheen of perspiration all over her body. She parted her bodice, then lifted an ivory handled fan and began trying to cool herself off.
If it was this hot in June, God alone knew how hot it would be in August.
Moving to her desk, she set up her paper and graphite pencils, and began to think on what to sketch for this friend of Mr. Ian Ross. Two more clippers would be good for business, giving her crews steady work for the next year and a half. Not that there was any lack of business. In fact, just the opposite. Watkins Shipbuilding was currently running easily one year for delivery, even though she promised the Englishman under twelve months. She'd have to put the word out for more qualified tradesmen because she really wanted to build these two boats before Mr. Watkins could no longer assist her in managing the yard, which could happen at any time.
Mary-Michael went over and over the conversation with the Englishman and she kept coming to the same conclusion. She was certain she did not mistake his desire for speed and efficiency, and given the specifications from Mr. Ross, she knew they were of one mind when it came to design. For the past six years she'd been giving the customers what they wanted in their new builds, but she got the impression the Englishman and Mr. Ross were willing to consider some of her more innovative ideas and plans.
Her passion was designing clippers. Ships that had sleeker, faster hull designs with sail plans that would best utilize the wind. She loved dreaming up composite material designed to reduce weight and allow for more cargo.
was her life's work.
There were only a handful of shipyards in the area that built these ships, though it seemed each year one or two more got into the business. Especially since the demand for the speedy cargo carriers was increasing almost daily. The only other shipyard out on the point with them, Barlowe Marine, focused solely on military-type vessels, heavy and armed from stem to stern, as the owner had a previous career with the government as a naval architect. Though well-constructed and of different design, they were military ships designed for the navy, and not true clippers.
Watkins specialized in cargo carrying clipper ships, where the amount of goods transported and the speed in which you got your cargo to the owner, determined how much money you made. Speed. It was important, but not the primary consideration in her designs. Optimizing the cargo space and making the loading and unloading of cargo easier and more efficient was as vital to turn-around time and profitability as speed.
Safety, speed, optimization of space. That's what she wanted to give this client. And hopefully he would give her a babe in return. Even as she wanted to cry for baby Emily and her brother, Rowan, she smiled and placed her hand over her womb and imagined the possibility of having a child growing within her soon.
Mary-Michael returned her attention to the drawing and tried to remember everything the Englishman said. She began to draw a hull, a bell bow, the jibboom, knightheads, keel, and stern. Her pencil flew across the sheet, as she added deckwork and masts and rails. Spanker to flying jib, she gave her new creation full sail. She marked the hull for copper sheathing and for drama she added waves and clouds against a stormy sky. The deck arrangement was a basic deck house with rear cabin, as she was still unsure which actual layout he'd prefer. He mentioned two full cabins on each as a preference, but Mary-Michael didn't know if he wanted them separated or side by side.
She stared at her creation, her heart swelling with pride. She loved drawing ships under full sail. For her, they came alive on the page. When she began drawing ships as a child, she could imagine herself standing on the fo'c'sle deck looking out into the ocean and watching the waves as they parted under her bow. Even now, she could almost feel the wind in her hair and the spray on her face as the bow sluiced through the water.
She could imagine it, just as much as she could imagine a babe in her arms this time next year. And both this drawing and that child of her dreams might become reality if Mr. Watkins sold the deal to the Englishman.
he following morning at precisely eight, Lucky entered the offices of Watkins Shipbuilding resolved to never again think the inappropriate thoughts he had the day before about the wife of the shipyard owner. The village church was empty when he'd gone in the night before. Seeing no priest with whom to speak with, he'd lit a candle and said a prayer for Maura, the little babe he'd wanted to raise as his own until learning of his sister's loss, then begged God for strength and wisdom in dealing with this attraction to a married woman, and went on his way. He'd then spent the rest of the night thinking about it, and concluded that no dalliance with this woman would be easy. His business was at stake here, and an affair with this particular woman could cost him and his partner their ships.
No matter that the desire to be near her was almost painful, no temporary affair was worth so high a price.
Which meant he was not to focus on her perfectly symmetrical full lips nor the expressive golden-brown eyes under her perfectly arched brows. Nor her round face which dimpled adorably when she smiled. Yesterday, she'd had her auburn hair tied back and coiled under a net, which led to at least one hour of contemplation last night as to how long it was, and whether it was wavy or straight. Then he wondered what she would wear and how she'd style her hair today before squashing those thoughts and reminding himself that he had everything to lose if their affair turned sour.
When he entered the antechamber to the offices that held the drafting tables, Lucky had his answer. She stood with her back to him, as she leaned over one of the tables. Wearing light gray breeches over her slightly curved backside with black boots, they did not hide the fact that she was slender and tall for a woman. She had a pink short-sleeved jacket fitted over a white high-collared shirt. As he visually caressed the bare golden skin of her forearms, his mouth suddenly went dry and the tickle in his throat began to rise. He coughed, gaining her attention. When she turned to him, she smiled, revealing those enchanting dimples. His chest tightened and his heart began to race.
So much for resolutions of thinking only pure,
thoughts about another man's wife––even after sitting in church the night before and vowing before God that he would be on his best, most gentlemanly behavior around her. It did no good because his sleep had been peppered with erotic dreams all night long about having her dark red hair fanned out on his pillows, her body writhing beneath his while he thrust into her until they both reached completion.
"Good morning, sir." Her golden-brown eyes shone bright as the smile broadened, revealing those even white teeth that he longed to part with his tongue.
Oh, God. Mercy. Please.
He forced a cheerful reply. "Good morning to you, too, Mrs. Watkins." She came forward and, wiping her hands on her trousers, she held out her hand again for him to take. He noticed her hand was stained dark gray, likely from the graphite pencils she'd been working with, but he took it anyway. Anything to touch her. Anything to untie the lace netting holding her braid coiled at the nape of her neck and run his fingers through her hair. But he hadn't been invited to touch her hair. Only her hand.
"I have been working on a few preliminary drawings since you left yesterday and I'm excited to show them to you." She took her hand back and his felt the absence of her warmth. "But first—," She turned to the open door of her husband's office. "I have someone for you to meet." Pushing the door open further, she motioned for him to follow her. "Mr. Watkins, our potential client has arrived."
Lucky entered the office behind Mrs. Watkins and noticed immediately the slight figure of an elderly man behind the same desk where Mrs. Watkins had sat just yesterday. Lucky stepped forward and nodded his greeting as the older man rose and stretched out his hand. It was cold, the skin dry and thin with an ashen hue and Lucky sensed the man was not long for this world.
But that didn't make coveting his wife any less sinful.
"Have a seat and tell me how Hamish's lad fares," the gray-haired gentleman asked. Lucky noticed that Mrs. Watkins had backed out of the room and closed the door silently behind her, leaving the two men alone. He wondered why she'd done that since she would be the designer on the project.