as you can see, is one hundred and sixty feet, has a raised quarter deck with two cabins and crew quarters below." She led the way down into the saloon. "Since you're looking at one hundred and eighty feet, my recommendation is a long, raised quarter deck." She met his gaze again but she was in control of her emotions this time, because she was talking about one of her creations, her life's work. "You have the room for it. And within that long deck, you can have two very large cabins, or four nice-sized cabins. You could also make them smaller, say six or eight small cabins, with just berths to sleep up to four in each."
"Neither of us plans to transport passengers. That is not our business. But we did both want two well-appointed, large cabins." He looked around at the furnishings of the saloon. "I think a common area such as this with a dining table and library would be nice." He ran a hand along the leather cushions and looked up at the skylight. "Brilliant idea."
"Thank you. Tell me what you think so far." It was easier for her to think of him as just another client, rather than someone who rattled her nerves. Someone whose very presence made her skin hypersensitive to his proximity and made her heart race each time he looked her way. She hoped these feelings would subside the more she worked with him and was around him. So far what she was finding was the opposite. In fact, the more time she spent with him, and the more comfortable she got being around him, the more her entire body would quiver under his scrutiny. She sometimes caught him eying her in an odd manner and it discomfited her. Yet she desired it. Wanted more of it.
"I'm very impressed." His words sent a swell of pride surging through her. His hand trailed along a fiddle rail of the bookcase. "The fittings, the brass, leather, and ivory are exceptional, but what I find the most impressive are the innovative changes made to the placement of galley, the hold for livestock, and cabins. I'm sure I will be equally surprised when I see the below deck areas."
"I hope so," she replied. "We are very proud of the work we do. Customization to the client's needs is not an obstacle to doing the job."
After looking through the cabins and seeing the finishings, they went topside again to see the steering deck arrangements, the wheel, the wheel housing, and mechanicals. Then they began their tour below in the various cargo holds.
"Even though the hull and supports are of solid wood," she began, "I like to use iron knees for stability." He appeared to not understand so she explained. "When we build longer ships, we need extra strengthening on the long axis, so I use diagonal bracing in here and extra keel pieces in the keel construction." She continued toward the center flooring where the mainmast tied in. "My design also uses side keelsons, to strengthen the bottom under the mainmast."
Mary-Michael stopped to point out rib construction and placement. "I'm not sure that you can tell, but as we move forward, rib placement is closer together, adding strength to the entire structure, most especially to the keel. Doing this reduces the severity of hogging a great deal, but cannot eliminate it entirely."
She looked to the captain, trying to gauge how likely he was to allow her to experiment with the construction of his ships. "Captain, I have an idea that I would like to try, and if you are willing to allow me to experiment, I think your ships would be perfect for testing my latest idea."
"What would that be?"
"I would like to try alternating wooden and iron ribs in your hull structures. I believe it will make the structure even stronger. And as we are building two sisters of exact same length and appointments, I think building one with and one without the iron would definitely allow me to monitor how they handle and how they weather over the years." Mary thought he looked interested, yet skeptical. "There will be no difference in the cargo capacity, no difference in cost to your company, as this is something I am currently researching for future ships I design."
"Will it add much weight to the structure?"
"Not enough to be significant, I assure you." He studied the ribs in front of them.
was a fine ship, one of the finest she'd built to date, one which he could surely find no fault. Just when she thought for sure he would pass on her proposition, he surprised her.
"I will try your idea, on one, mine. For Ian, give him the conventional wood, and we shall see if there is any difference in how they handle and weather as they age."
Mary-Michael's heart soared. She released her pent-up breath. Relieved that finally she'd found someone who believed in the science of architecture enough to trust her design.
"Thank you, Captain. I appreciate you allowing me to build this."
"I think your idea has merit, Mrs. Watkins," her client said.
"I would think that if you sent me a letter each time you had hull work done, detailing the degree of bend in the keel, or if there had been any warping, that would be enough for me to continue my research on preventing hogging. I do believe over time we shall see more iron used in hull construction of the ocean-going sailing ships. Iron hulls are already in use in paddle wheelers and canal barges. I truly believe the innovations that are in the works for ship design and building will revolutionize the industry."
Captain Gualtiero followed slowly as she led them back toward the ladder. "I agree, Mrs. Watkins."
She motioned for him to go ahead of her. "You go first."
"That goes against my code of chivalry," he replied.
"Oh, go on." She nudged him, hoping to get another look at his well-muscled bottom while he climbed, something she'd never considered before meeting this man.
"What if you fall?" He placed a foot on the lower rung and grabbed a rung above his head.
"I haven't fallen from a ladder in the nearly seven years I've been here, Captain. I won't be falling today, I assure you."
"Before I go up, I have to ask how you came to know so much about naval architecture and mechanics. I took courses in both at University and would never have thought of half the innovations you have."
She returned question for question. "How could you have studied it at University and
know what I know? I sometimes wonder what I could have done had I been born male and had the means to a formal education."
Mary-Michael knew not everyone had the capacity to understand the things she did. But she had to believe that any man who went to University surely had the capability to understand. This man took university level courses on the subjects that she could only study on her own, with Mr. Watkins' help and encouragement until he could teach her no more. The captain had no idea how fortunate he was, and how she envied him that.
When the captain reached the deck, and Mary-Michael thought she heard him mutter something about being glad she wasn't born a male. She pretended not to hear it as she put her pencil in her mouth, and her note pad under her chin to begin her climb up the ladder. She'd done this same thing hundreds of times, and never had the thought of a man's gaze watching her as she did her job affect her in this way before. She felt a bit like a tasty morsel about to be pounced upon by a starving man.
Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the light, when they did she straightened her blouse, and came to stand beside him. "I told you. I do this every day." She led the way to the gangway. "Is there anything else you'd like to see? We can take the skiff and row around the hull if you'd like." As she took the first step onto the plank, a wave hit the boat and she teetered backward. Instinctively she threw her arms out for stability as she always did when that happened. She'd been in no real danger of falling, yet her companion instantly grabbed her by the waist and pulled her against him, leaving her no time to protest.
After the initial shock, she inhaled and caught the scent of his citrus and spice soap. Not the usual bay rum scent so many men over-indulged in. No. Captain Gualtiero smelled fresh and...
Oh, heaven above, he smells so good.
His rock hard chest felt safe and secure, and though she already had both through her marriage to Mr. Watkins, she suddenly craved them from this man without knowing why. His forearm was bare where it snuggled under her breasts, having rolled his shirt sleeves up hours ago when the temperatures began climbing into the usual summer heat of the Maryland coast in June. For just the smallest fraction of a moment, she felt him rest his chin on her head as he expelled a deep breath.
Being enveloped by his massive arms felt so right, almost as if they fit like two pieces of one puzzle. But the reality was that no matter the safety and security her heart desired from this man, she was married. And though she might need him for one very important thing, she could never allow her heart to belong to him because of the vow already made. With a regret he would never know, she pushed away from his embrace.
She struggled to find her voice, as his scent still lingered on her blouse. "That was quite noble of you to attempt to rescue me, though I was in control the entire time."
Captain Gualtiero looked confused a moment and Mary-Michael continued, hoping she appeared as confident as her voice sounded to her own ears. "The plank is going nowhere, it's fixed in place." She pointed at the steel hooks holding the end of the gangway onto the rail of the ship. "And, I
how to walk on a bobbing gangway."
"Tell me, Mrs. Watkins—" He matched her sarcasm with his own, "do you know how to swim? Because I would really hate to ruin my favorite boots by diving in to rescue you."
She sent him what she hoped was a frosty glare as she turned and climbed back onto the plank leading to the dock. "Of course I can swim." She strode down the narrow plank of wood and onto the dock. He fell in place beside her as she walked toward the office. Once outside the main doors, they stopped. She didn't see any reason to re-enter the warm, stuffy building when there was a perfectly nice breeze outdoors.
"I believe I have enough to start on your drawings tonight. Could you plan on spending several hours tomorrow—perhaps five or six—going over a list of accessories, appointments and finishes?"
Please say no. Let this be something you allow me to finish on my own because you do not have the time.
She still felt his touch under her breasts and his scent still lingered in the air around her, both of which caused her to feel unsure of her ability to stay detached and still do that which was necessary to get her a babe. "To speed things along, I'll see if I can find the lists from
"What time would you like me to arrive?"
She wondered how early he rose, then decided not to inconvenience him too much. "How about eight in the morning? If we're fortunate we can get through all the lists tomorrow and I can finish the drawings in a few days. Hopefully, Friday afternoon you can sign off on them, so the process can begin." She then remembered what Mr. Watkins had asked her to do before letting their client leave today. "Captain, what do you prefer as a main course for dinner on Friday evening?"
His gold-flecked, brown-eyed gaze met hers, and he smiled. "I'm sure I will enjoy whatever you choose."
"But this celebration is in your honor," she reminded him, "I would have Sally make your favorite dish." For as much as she knew it was sinful to desire this man as she did.
"My favorite dish is whatever you select." He then lowered his voice to just above a whisper when he said, "I want what you want." He looked around as if to make sure no one stood near enough to overhear him. He leaned toward her as he spoke, and Mary-Michael felt the warmth of his breath in her hair as he added, "Always remember that, Mrs. Watkins. I want what you want." That said, he smiled, then walked away and left her standing where she was, still quivering inside, and her heart still as unsettled as the bay in a storm.
The moment he was gone Mary-Michael ran up the steps and into her husband's office so she could watch him walk away. Lord help her, but he was handsome, with his dark good looks and confident manner. And, did she just hear what she thought she did? Was that an attempt to flirt with her? If so, he was making her eventual seduction of him easier than planned.
He was also taller than she by a good head, and he had a way of making her feel dainty and feminine when she knew she wasn't. If he was flirting with her, it must mean he found her at least somewhat attractive. Didn't it?
If she had this man's son, she prayed he would have his father's height, build, and handsome visage. The captain was certainly healthy-looking, and with that rugged appearance it would make it easier for a son to find a wife one day.
Once he was out of sight, she plopped into her husband's over-stuffed desk chair. Her chest tightened as she struggled to get a deep breath. Could she love a child again? Risk her heart again?
She thought about Rowan and Emily and instantly her eyes welled. Her arms ached to hold them again, and she wondered where they were. Surely they'd made it to Tennessee by now. It's been almost three months since they'd gone. She still missed them terribly, and she prayed constantly that the brother and sister would grow to love their uncle and aunt. And that they never be haunted by the loss of her and Mr. Watkins, just as she was haunted by the death of her parents. Granted she might have been older when her own parents died and had more years with them, but Rowan was a smart little boy and she feared him having confusing memories. Mary-Michael certainly had many happy ones of the two children—until the day she got the message from Father Douglas that the next of kin had traveled from the Tennessee mountains to fetch them. Instantly her world had grown dark. For two weeks straight all she did was cry. Then, slowly, the tears subsided, though easily brought back with a mere thought. After the children left with their maternal relatives, Mary-Michael began to pacify herself in the darkness of her room with crying into a second pillow and squeezing it tight until she fell asleep.