Lucky's Lady (The Caversham Chronicles Book 4) (9 page)

"Just like a man to turn puppy-dog eyes to a woman in order to get what you want." She led the way past the stable, where she noted the absence of the buggy. "Victor must still be with Mr. Watkins. Which is fine, for we can walk and get home almost as quickly. Though we never say that to Victor, who believes it is his main service to us to present Mr. Watkins and me as Indian Point's original 'People of Quality'." She grinned at her companion inviting him to share in her amusement.
Once onto the street, she prayed Constable Potts was nowhere nearby. The last thing she needed was to have him see her walking with a man––even if he was a client. The constable still hadn't quite gotten over her last, most vehement, refusal of his offer of an affair. Truly, the man repulsed her, even though he was charged with protecting their little village. She'd warned him just last week that if he continued in his pursuit of her, she would tell her husband and he would see to it that he was replaced. The threat seemed to work, but it had only been a few days. She was sure the man was just biding his time again, thinking to catch her unawares and press his illicit suit again.
Captain Gualtiero lagged behind a few feet. She'd prefer he walk with her and not behind her so they could carry on their conversation. Mary-Michael turned and looked back at him. "Are you coming, Captain?"
He showed her an infectious, boyish grin. "I'm right behind you," he called out.
    
T
he view from Lucky's position, watching Mrs. Watkins' bottom as she walked, only verified that this Mary-with-two-first-names was quite fetching indeed, with her trouser-encased bottom swaying unintentionally as she moved. As she worked her way through the bustle of the dockside foot traffic he watched as again and again, she greeted one person, only to have another call out to her from across the road and she'd respond with a wave or a hello.
Once they passed the densely congested dock area for a more residential one, he fell into step with her.
"Most of the residents here in Indian Point have either worked for my husband or had family members who worked for him," she said. "He's been an important part of the community for many years. You wouldn't know it by the looks of it, but our small village is home to two shipyards, both doing well." Pride for her home lit her whole face as she spoke of it. "I'd like to think we're doing something right over here in our little corner of the Chesapeake."
She slowed her pace as she passed a dry goods store. "Most of the residents are born here, live the entire lives here, and eventually grow old here. Either working in the shipyards, or in the businesses supporting our shipyards, it's really all there is to do here. We train for this our entire lives when we are young, then we apprentice and eventually teach the younger ones if we ever master our trade. Most of the girls I knew as a child have remained here in the village, or nearby."
Soon, they turned into the front garden of a quaint little wood-planked, two story house. Freshly painted a pale yellow, the house had pristine white shutters with matching trim and a wide porch that wrapped around the corner on one side. A low whitewashed picket fence completely enclosed the yard. A wooden rocker and a chaise furnished one corner of the porch with a small table between them. The garden itself, though minute in comparison to what he was accustomed to, was in complete bloom with a riot of colorful flowers in every shade imaginable bordering the front and the walkway up to the steps. It was a warm and welcoming abode. One a bright young woman would be proud to have tended.
"Welcome to our modest home, Captain Gualtiero." Mrs. Watkins led the way up the few wide, shallow steps to the front porch and door. "Now you know where to come for dinner tomorrow night. It's quite an easy walk to the office, yet Victor insists on driving me, even though I could use the exercise."
"Perhaps he's concerned with your safety."
"There's nothing unsafe about our little village, Captain. Victor thinks it befits Mr. Watkins' station in the community to have a driver take him everywhere, and that supposed courtesy extends to me as
Mrs.
Watkins." She met his gaze from across the room. "Though I keep telling him, I'll get fat if he drives me everywhere."
She opened the door and held it for him, something he was going to have to get used to with this odd, but very attractive, young woman.
"Sally," she called out, "I'm home."
From another room a voice responded. "Been waitin' on ya ta get here. I'll bring out yer plate."
"We have company, Sally," Mary-with-two-first-names replied. "Can you make it two plates?"
"Yes'm." A portly older black woman came into the room wiping her hands on her apron. "I should probably make it three as I expect Mr. Watkins and my Victor any moment as well."
Mrs. Watkins, or Mary as he was now starting to think of her, poured them two glasses of cool water with pieces of ice and sliced lemon floating in it, and handed him one. She gulped down half her glass, then refilled it again.
Ice in a beverage was unusual. He lifted his glass and inspected it before he drank. "This is far more refreshing than any fruity concoction I've ever had at a mid-summer ball."
"She can do the fruity concoctions, too, if you'd like, but Sally wasn't expecting I'd bring a guest, and cold water is my preferred drink." Mary-Michael closed her eyes and swallowed. "Unless it's cold out, then it's hot tea or warm milk."
"When we moved to England, I learned to drink tea with milk in it."
"Yuck," she said.
"It is an acquired taste," he said, "and a common drink for children."
Sounds of hooves coming up the bricked drive stopped under the portico, letting them know that Mr. Watkins had arrived. He didn't have her all to himself any longer.
"Sally, they're here." Mrs. Watkins called out.
Lucky leaned against the door jamb to the saloon while his hostess opened the door for her husband. Watkins walked in and saw him immediately, coming forward to shake his hand.
"Mr. Watkins," his wife said, "when Captain Gualtiero informed me that he had no luncheon prepared for him aboard his vessel, I invited him here to share ours."
"Fine thing you did, too, dear." The gray-haired man settled in a chair in the saloon. "A man cannot think when he's hungry, and I'm certain you two are far from finished yet."
"We still have two more lists to go through," his hostess said. The topic turned to work for Mr. and Mrs. Watkins. "Andrew was still at work at the table, though he was about to go eat. Robert was working on payroll. He had a question for you about a statement from a supplier. I was unable to answer him and told him I would mention it to you. He asked if you might come in today."
Watkins listened with closed eyes as his wife chattered. "I told him I did not think so, and went back to working with Captain Gualtiero. The captain and I covered a lot of ground this morning. I do believe we can finish the lists this afternoon. The other two are not quite as lengthy as the first."
Mr. Watkins asked detailed questions about their morning's work and, satisfied that his wife was able to handle the task, he encouraged her to continue in the same fashion until the two other lists were finished. Mrs. Watkins looked his way, the shy smile on her face trying to hide an emotion he couldn't quite put his finger on. Was it sadness?
Lucky sipped from his glass. "You need not continue calling me captain. It's so formal, and I am, if anything, a casual man. I would be happy if you would both call me Lucky." His hope was to get closer to Mary. He knew after yesterday that she was keeping him at a distance, and he wanted closer.
Mr. Watkins smiled and opened his eyes, replying first. "If that is what you wish, then that is what I shall do. Although, Mrs. Watkins is less likely to do so." He chuckled when she looked embarrassed. "She is so proper, my little wife. I think it was the influence of the nuns at the children's home, and the school she attended. We've been married now for just over six years and she has yet to call me by my Christian name, though I have requested she do so long ago."
Interesting,
Lucky thought once the shock subsided. He hoped his facial features didn't show his surprised reaction, and that his hosts didn't perceive it in a negative or condescending way if he did. He sipped his water again, to regain his bearings and tried to temper his reaction. He addressed Mrs. Watkins proud that his voice remained level. "You were raised in a children's home? Is that like an orphanage?"
She blushed as she kept her gaze downcast at the glass she held. "Mr. Watkins and Father Douglas changed the name officially to, Mary Star of the Sea
Home for Children.
Almost all residents are over the age five, and we reside there until we are old enough to work or marry, then we move on to other housing arrangements. We all get basic education, some of the boys even go on to college.
"And my husband knows all this as he was also raised there. He currently is on the Board for the Directors for the home, and changing the name of the place was the first thing he asked of the Bishop. And I cannot agree more. It is difficult enough going to live there as a scared child when you have lost your family. To learn that you will be placed up for adoption immediately upon arrival is a terrifying thing. Living away from our family took some getting used to early on, but the home was all my brother and I had." She ran a finger around the rim of her glass. "Our parents died when I was eight and my brother was ten. Of Yellow Fever. George and I were orphaned, so we went to live at the church."
"Amazing," he replied, honestly impressed. "So how did you get your education?"
"The church ran the home and the school as well. Both George and I received fine educations."
"Mrs. Watkins' brother is a priest at our church here," Mr. Watkins added.
Lucky already knew this from what he'd witnessed yesterday. "Wonderful. You must be proud of him." His mind swam with what he was learning about her. But it wasn't really just about Mary-Michael Watkins. This was about her entire self-made family. Her husband, her brother, her friends, and from what he witnessed on the walk over, a large part of the population.
She nodded again, but this time she met his gaze and gave him a slight grin, revealing only the partial dimple in her left cheek. He supposed no one would ever notice it because it was such a tiny hint as to her true emotion. But
he
noticed. He did not want to forget a thing about this amazing young woman that he was coming to care for, not just lust after. "But I am equally as proud of Becky, Cadence, Melody-who is now known as Sister Elizabeth, and Andrew and Robert at work. You see, over the years a few of us... we've become a family of sorts. We might not be blood, but we are a family."
Sally reentered the room to tell them luncheon was served. None too soon by the looks of it. Mary was looking somewhat uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. Once they were seated, she asked him about his parents, and Lucky related how he, too, was an orphan. "My parents died when I was seven. I don't remember them at all. They died in a fire. My sister is eleven years older than I, and we went to live with our aunt and cousins for a short time immediately after. Then my sister married an Englishman and they brought me to live with them. My sister and her husband had the raising of me. He also raised his two sisters. One of them, Sarah, is Ian's wife."
"How did you come to meet my friend Hamish's son?"
Thus began the tale of meeting Ian at Oxford on the first day of astronomy class. Lucky shared how they both gravitated toward each other, not because of upbringing or class, but because they had unconventional ideas and fiercely independent attitudes. They also discovered that they both had a love for sailing.
As they grew older, the drive to succeed in everything they did led them into a venture that had recently opened to the few who possessed the motivation, assertiveness and endurance to make it work. Of course it helped to have the right backing, both financial and legal, which Lucky had with his family.
Mr. Watkins got a far-away look. "The lad was so angry at his father for sending him away. Did he ever get over the hard feelings toward his da?"
"I think he did," Lucky said honestly. "Though, you could ask him when he returns with me next year."
The elder man nodded. "His father loved him very much, ye know. It near broke his heart to send him away. He wanted the lad to be prepared for the day he'd take over the title. Even if it meant sending him back to that mean old goat grandfather of his."
"Ian lived with his aunts, because his grandfather wouldn't have him at all. The aunts provided for his education. The grandfather never acknowledged him as his grandson, much less the heir he was supposedly being groomed to become. It was well-known to all that he would inherit as soon as his grandfather passed."
"From what Hamish told me of his brother and his father," Mr. Watkins said, "it's a wonder a man as kind and honorable as my friend came from the same blood."
Lucky nodded. The rest of their luncheon passed quickly, and soon he and Mary were back in the office at Watkins Shipbuilding going over the rest of the details on the finishings list.
During a lull in the conversation, Lucky had hoped to make small talk and learn more about Mary-Michael. "I would never have known that you had a similar childhood to mine," he said.
"What makes you think we did?"
"You and I were orphaned at about the same age." He'd hoped the similar beginnings might soften her resolve against him, but it didn't seem to be. Mary-Michael Watkins was making it very difficult for him to breach her defenses. She was friendly with him, but only to a certain point. She seemed to be doing her best to keep him at a polite, professional arm's length. He wanted nothing more than to be given a reason to be impulsive and uninhibited, because he got the feeling she had never done anything like it before in her life.

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