Authors: Virginia Henley
Every hour of the day found her climbing to the widow’s walk to see if she could glimpse the
but each time she was disappointed. Perhaps he wouldn’t come to her rescue, perhaps now that he had had his way with her he would discard her as his brother had.
She came down from the widow’s walk around midnight. She hadn’t expected to see the ship in the dark, but the smallest light in its rigging would have been visible. She closed the French doors which led out to the small balcony and with a troubled heart began to undress for bed. A light tapping on the windowpane set her
heart thudding. She threw on her red velvet bed gown and prayed that somehow Spider had managed to again escape.
The tall, black-clad figure of Rory Helford stepped into her bedchamber, the streak of white hair at his temple identifying him immediately even in the dim light.
“Oh, Rory, I’ve been watching for you all day. I had given up hope.”
He grinned at her. “I do my very best work under cover of night.”
“Rory, I have no one else to turn to. Will you take me to London?”
He laughed with delight, lifted her in his arms, and swung her about. “At our last meeting I told you it was inevitable that you would sail with me.” His teeth nipped her ear and he whispered, “Can’t I persuade you to sail to the Baltic Sea or the sunny Mediterranean?”
As she kicked, her bed gown fell open to reveal her lovely slim legs. “Put me down this instant, Rory. I have to get to London because my young brother has been sent to Newgate Prison.”
He suddenly noticed all her baggage stacked and waiting.
“Oh, everything is in such a bloody, rotten mess,” she wailed. “I sent my brother Spencer to London to pay off the mortgage, but it seems your brother was one step ahead of us. He acquired our property for himself. When my brother returned by ship to Falmouth, he was followed to Roseland. My husband commands a swine called Oswald. When he stripped and searched my brother, he naturally found the money on him. He swore he was just taking him in for questioning, but when he didn’t return, I went to Falmouth and discovered they’d sent him to Newgate. Ruark was actually there in Falmouth. How could he have let it happen? I would have trusted him with my life once. How could I possibly be such a poor judge of character?”
Reluctantly Rory set her on her own two feet. “You have no trouble reading me like a book.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He indicated the mountain of luggage. “You were very sure I would come for you, my beauty.”
“No, to be truthful I thought you too had loved me and left me.”
“Cat, my darling, if you think our brief encounters can be called loving, you have an awful lot to learn.”
His outrageous words did wicked things to her body as she remembered
the delicious forbidden wild feelings his mouth on her body had evoked. “Rory, I swore I wouldn’t commit further sins with you,” she cried.
His mouth curved into a hungry, sensual smile. “Then you’ll have to unswear it, won’t you? You’ll have to come now under cover of darkness, but we won’t sail until the morning tide. …” His voice trailed away; implicit in what he said was what would happen between.
“You intend to take me like a piece of pirate booty, don’t you?” she demanded.
He was so tall she had to tip her head back to look up at him. In that moment he was the most wickedly desirable man she had ever seen. He reached out and took her shoulders between his powerful hands, but held her at arm’s length so he could look deeply into her eyes. “Cat, don’t be a hypocrite. Whenever we are within a hundred yards of each other, our bodies scream with desire. You know that if you put out your fingers to touch me, I am hard as marble … and I know if I put out my fingers to touch you I would find you wet and hot for me. We are two of a kind … made for each other. We fit together perfectly, magically, as a sheath fits the sword for which it was designed.”
He lowered his head and took her mouth. It was an act of dominance and submission, each exulting in their chosen role. “Let there always be truth between us,” he murmured against her lips.
“I’m finished with Ruark,” she admitted.
“I love you, Cat,” he vowed.
’ll carry everything outside and send two of my crew for your trunks. Are you ready?” he asked her quizzically.
She threw her gray cloak over her bed gown, picked up the jewel case which always held her rubies, and nodded.
“Most women wouldn’t give up Helford Hall and a title so easily. It seems you’re ready to leave without a backward glance.”
“Things aren’t important to me, Rory. It’s people who matter. I’ll miss Ebony, but he and the pony will be well taken care of in the Helford stables.”
Much to her surprise, Mr. Burke appeared to help Rory carry her trunks outside. She shook his hand warmly and thanked him for everything he’d done for her, then she bade him goodbye.
“It’s not goodbye, my lady, it’s only
May the road rise with you, and the wind be ever at your back, and may the Lord hold you in the hollow of his hand.”
was not hidden up the Helford River but rode the low tide off the beach below the hall. When they were safely aboard, he looked down at her and said, “You know your way to my cabin.”
She hesitated for one or two heartbeats. Rory Helford wasn’t
asking. It was his ship and he was the master. If she went along to his cabin now, she was giving her consent to everything that would happen between them this night. She took a deep breath and with deliberation moved along the companionway to the cabin of Black Jack Flash. She stayed in the outer cabin, for at this moment she didn’t think she could face the scarlet silk bed.
Rory Helford was so much more relaxed and informal than his brother Ruark. One or two of his belongings were left about negligently and this quality endeared him to her. Lord Helford was so damned rigid about everything, no wonder he couldn’t allow her to bend the rules. She picked up a black leather vest and took it to the wardrobe. When she opened its door, she saw again that every article of clothing he owned was either black or white. Of course it was done on purpose, for dramatic effect. The streak of white hair against his shoulder-length black curls made an impact on her every time she saw him; the clothes would be an added contrast.
When she finally heard his light step outside the cabin door, she knew a moment of panic. He threw open the door. His tall body filled the frame. He looked at her tenderly and held out his strong hand. Slowly, trustfully, she placed her hand in his and to her great surprise he did not lead her to bed, but drew her close to his side and led her up on deck.
They walked to the rail in companionable silence. The stars were like diamonds scattered across black velvet. The breeze lifted and teased their hair and made the ship creak and groan softly as the water slapped against the hull. It was such an exquisitely beautiful night that it brought a lump to her throat. She turned to face Rory and said, “I’m so very afraid for Spider.”
“I know,” he said softly. He gathered her in his arms and she buried her face in his big shoulder. “I won’t lie to you, love, Newgate isn’t like Sunday school. Some parts are better than others, of course, so it all depends where he’s lodged. One good thing about it, though, you’ll be able to visit him and give him some money. Believe me, the place isn’t run for charity and you have to pay a garnish for anything and everything. I only wish I could take care of it all for you, but I’m not supposed to be in London, I’m afraid, I’m supposed to be in Holland.”
“I’ll go to the King,” she swore.
“Sweetheart, I’m certain Charles will help you, his weakness is pretty women, but remember he owes the Helfords much. Don’t
give him more than you want to, whatever that may be,” he advised.
“Thank you for your good advice,” she murmured wearily.
“Cat, I don’t have to warn you about London, do I? You’ve been there before? I know you’ve more guts than a slaughterhouse, but the city and its inhabitants are both filthy and debauched and it’s not just its whores who are peppered with disease; half the nobility at Court is rotten with it.”
“You don’t need to warn me of its wickedness,” she assured him.
He grinned. “It’s not wicked. You and I are wicked. It’s evil. There’s quite a difference.”
“I’ll be careful,” she promised him.
“I’ll come to see you at Lil Richwood’s as soon as I return from Holland.” He took her hand. “Come, let me take you to bed now, love. We can talk in bed.”
Cynically she thought that was just one of the things men said to get you between the covers. “How long until we sail?”
“We’ll go out on the flood. Three more hours.”
She let him lead her down to his cabin. My God, the way Rory Helford made love, he could make three hours feel like three days … and nights!
The bedroom was as dramatic as Black Jack Flash himself. Her feet sank into the thick pile of the black carpet, which came up between her bare toes. Her red bedrobe made her look as if she belonged in this exotic stateroom. She watched Rory casually disrobe and prop the red silk pillows up for them to lounge against. His body was magnificent, with a splended breadth through his chest and shoulders. His whole torso was bronzed from exposure and his flesh had a smooth, hard surface. He patted the place beside him and she blushed as she undid the buttons of her bed gown.
The moment she let it slip to uncover her breasts his eyes rolled to the ceiling as if he had just entered a state of bliss. She giggled. “Rory, you do that just to make me laugh.”
“And it works every time.” He smiled.
She felt shy as she slipped into bed with him, but he gathered her up and sat her between his spread legs. He stroked her hair and his beautiful voice murmured in her ear. She couldn’t believe it, he really did want to talk.
“Cat darling, the very heart of every binding relationship between a man and a woman is sexual, but I want us to have more
than that. I’ll give you all the love and laughter you can handle, but there are other things I can give you. You need my understanding, my friendship; you need my money, my strength; but most of all, right now you need my protectiveness. Tonight, more than anything else in the world, you need to be held.”
She leaned back against his powerful strength and closed her eyes. She thought, Oh, God, Rory Helford, I could love you so easily.
He murmured against her hair, “I won’t always be able to be there for you, though I would wish it otherwise, but tonight I
here for you. I’ll listen if you want to talk, I’ll be your rock if you just want to lean on me … and if you want me to blot out everything, I’ll give you a loving that will render you mindless.”
During the course of the next three hours he did all three. She fell asleep in Rory’s strong arms and never felt him quit the bed to go up on deck. For the first time in weeks she slept peacefully without the disturbing nightmares.
When she opened her eyes at dawn, however, and tried to arise, she fell back with a groan. Nausea had swept over her the moment she had tried to sit up. She prayed that the seasickness would pass. She’d never live down the embarrassment of fouling his cabin again. She moaned softly as Rory entered the room carrying a breakfast tray for her. “Oh, Lord, you’ll have to take that food away if you don’t want to see me disgrace myself again.”
He set the tray down outside the door and came back to the bed. He gently brushed back her tumbling curls and grinned. “A pirate’s woman can’t suffer mal de mer, ’tis unfitting.”
“I’m usually a very good sailor,” she said weakly.
He lifted her feet back into the bed and covered her tenderly. “Lie back until it passes. We are in no hurry. I have to arrive at the London Pool in the middle of the night then leave immediately. I never anchor there—’tis too much of a trap. I’ll go and get you some dry biscuit and a little dry red wine.”
Inconsequently she said, “Your eyes are as green as emeralds.”
He shook his head. “They’re really hazel like yours; it’s the sea that turns them green. On land they are quite brown and nondescript.”
“Rory Helford, there is absolutely nothing nondescript about you; you display like a peacock.” The nausea returned and she closed her eyes in misery. As he shut the cabin door a fleeting
thought came to her which she adamantly denied to herself. Of one thing she was absolutely certain,
she was not with child!
Later in the afternoon when she felt better, she strolled up on deck to get the fresh, exhilarating sea breeze. She watched Rory covertly. He was such a handsome devil. He laughed with his crew, tossing gibes back and forth, and yet she knew that in a fight he would be a deadly, dangerous opponent. Beneath the devil-may-care attitude was the strength of coiled steel and she would bet her last crown he had a keen, cool, convoluted mind. One equally capable of dabbling in intrigue, setting traps, or plotting the downfall of an enemy. Spying would be child’s play to Rory Helford.
She remembered the King had hinted that her husband went on spy missions. Could it be that the two brothers worked for opposite sides? She shuddered slightly. Her blood always raced with excitement at the mere hint of danger.