Read Commanding Heart Online

Authors: Madeline Evering

Commanding Heart (15 page)

A short hour later, Catherine arrived
unannounced at the home of Phillipe duMont. She had taken great care with her
dress, choosing a blue silk gown that accentuated her eyes, as well as her
figure, with its low cut neckline and empire waist. Her hair was arranged in a
loose bun at the nape of her neck, creating an elegant – and suggestive –
effect. Catherine paused a moment before alighting from the carriage. Welcoming
any further advances from duMont was distasteful in every way – but Catherine
could see no other way to gain access to the information she wanted. With firm
resolve she gritted her teeth and made her way to the door.

To Catherine’s great surprise her
summons was answered not by a servant but by duMont himself. Philippe’s eyes
flashed surprise at finding Catherine before him but his smooth mask quickly
returned. He leaned against the great carved door in casual attitude, his
golden hair and green eyes set off by his white shirt, ornate brocade vest, and
tight knee breeches. Catherine knew his appearance would thrill other women but
she could feel only revulsion. Through enormous effort Catherine masked her
true feelings, even as his hungry eyes took in every detail of her appearance.
“Mademoiselle Gibson,” he said with a husky drawl, his eyes lingering on her
breasts; “To what do I owe this great pleasure?” Catherine stifled her dismay
and returned his look with a dazzling smile of her own.  “My father is out
today and I thought I might seek some… entertainment for myself. I hope I do
not intrude?” Philippe duMont’s eyes flashed wickedly at her words; he
straightened and led Catherine inside, firmly closing the door behind her.

“You do not intrude, Miss Gibson.
Indeed you are a most welcome visitor” duMont said, a dark smile playing about
his lips. He paused in the entrance to his study and devoured her with his eyes
once more. Catherine’s courage faltered a moment at his wolfish look but she
quickly recovered and resumed the charade: “I am glad, M. duMont. You assured
me that I should treat your home as my own and so… here I am” she finished
coyly. A wicked glint flashed in his eyes but duMont said nothing in response,
he simply led Catherine into the study. Catherine looked around in false
admiration and was about to speak when she spotted movement from across the
room. To her great astonishment, a furious looking Captain John Knight rose
from a chair near the window and crossed to her in an instant.

Panic raced through Catherine’s mind!
What could Captain Knight be doing here? And how much of her conversation with
duMont had he overheard? As he stepped closer, Catherine knew the answer to the
latter question. Knight looked down upon her with something akin to disgust on
his face. His sharp eye took in her dress in one swift glance; Catherine was
mortified by her appearance and what Knight must think in consequence. She
struggled to remain calm while duMont watched their reunion with wry humor.
“Miss Gibson” duMont said with slow deliberation, “Of course, you need no
introduction to my guest.” Knight continued his dark look a moment longer then
offered her a stiff bow in greeting; “Miss Gibson” he said “What a surprise to
meet with you here.” “C...Captain” Catherine returned with effort, “How….. nice
to see you again.”

Catherine looked up anxiously into
Captain Knight’s familiar face, greedily taking in the sight of him once more. Her
eyes swept over every feature; the curly waves of his jet black hair, the
strong aquiline nose, the sharp cheekbones, and of course, those penetrating
black eyes. A mixture of delight and agony flooded through her at being in the
same room with him again. An uneasy silence descended as they both struggled
with their inner thoughts. duMont alone among the three was enjoying the event,
studying his two visitors with great interest. Catherine recognized the sharp
look on duMont’s face and knew that she must act quickly or all would be lost.
She lifted her head proudly and addressed the captain with all the haughty
disdain she could muster; “And how is your ship, Captain? I trust you are
enjoying the welcome relief of shore after such a tedious time at sea?” Captain
Knight’s eyes widened in surprise at her conceited speech. Though he retained
his composure, Catherine could see the muscle in his jaw working furiously as
he chose his reply; “Indeed, Miss Gibson, it is a relief to have reached Jamaica… and to be free of the many burdens of the journey.” The words hit Catherine like a
physical blow. Knight’s cruel speech was well deserved after her own hateful
words and yet Catherine could not help but be hurt. She reminded herself that Knight
did not know she was acting a part – that her appearance and actions with
duMont were all in an effort to discover information to help the English – but
that gave Catherine cold comfort as she stood there bearing the brunt of Knight’s
animosity and lost regard.

“I am sure you and M. duMont have
much to… discuss” Captain Knight said sharply. He turned to duMont once more and
said flatly: “Your candor has been very helpful,
monsieur
. I hope you
will continue to cooperate with His Majesty’s Navy in future.” Philippe duMont
smiled wickedly at Knight before responding; “But of course, Captain! As a
Frenchman enjoying the protection of a British colony, how could I do
otherwise?” “Indeed.” Knight responded with barely concealed disgust. Then,
with no word of farewell to either Catherine or duMont, Knight turned on his
heel and left.

Catherine watched through the study
window as Knight’s horse was brought forward by a groom. M. duMont moved to her
side and also watched as Knight made his exit. “A very proud man, I should
think” duMont said carefully; “Not a man one would want to… disappoint.”
Catherine nodded her head in agreement, fighting back the tears that stung her
eyes. She could not let down her mask of indifference, could not allow herself
to lose this opportunity with duMont. Captain Knight might revile her, but she
knew her cause was right. With a gaiety she did not feel she turned to her host
and gave him another dazzling smile. “Enough about Captain Knight, Monsieur
duMont. Come, let’s take a moment together on the verandah. I want to learn all
about you.”

Chapter XIX

When Catherine returned to her
father’s house she felt exhaustion greater than any she had ever known before.
Her mind was in chaos and her heart was in torment. An afternoon spent in
fawning admiration of someone as unpleasant as Philippe duMont was trial enough
– but to be caught at the task by Captain Knight was torture. As the carriage
came to rest at the entrance, the thought of entering the house and resuming
the charade with her father was unbearable. Catherine asked the footman to tell
her father she would walk in the gardens a while before joining him, then she
set off wearily to seek a few moments solace.

The carefully manicured garden was
one to be enjoyed from a distance as it offered visitors little in the way of
restful repose. Catherine walked the paths but a short time before the heat of
the place drove her to seek the cooler temperatures of the shore. She cut
across the great manicured lawn and made her way to the sea’s edge. Here, the careful
layout of the garden was no match for the power of the sea; nature held mastery
over this land between, allowing only those things to grow and flourish that it
chose. The naturalness of the spot was like a balm to Catherine’s bruised
spirit. She stood looking out to sea with longing as a soft breeze stirred the
maram grass underfoot. Waves lapped gently at the white sand and Catherine
could not resist their cool invitation. She removed her silk slippers, tossing
them carelessly aside, and stepped into the refreshing calm of the ocean. With no
regard for the exquisite silk of her dress she remained at the water’s edge,
salt water licking at her hem as she walked the length of the beach. Catherine
breathed deeply, delighting in the freshness of the salt air and this quiet
moment of freedom. Reaching the farthest limits of the shore line, Catherine paused
a moment before turning to retrace her steps. Abruptly, some sixth sense told
her she was not alone. Whirling around in alarm, Catherine was astonished to
find the figure of Captain Knight striding towards her. For the second time
that day, Catherine gaped in wonder.

“Captain Knight” she said
breathlessly, “What are you doing here…” her words were cut off as Knight
reached out and grabbed her by the arm. “You little fool!” he bit out harshly,
“What are you playing at with a man like duMont” His dark eyes blazed fire and
Catherine felt a tremor of fear run through her. She had never seen such a
savage look on Knight’s face, had never heard such contempt in his voice. Catherine
wrestled a moment to free herself but to no avail; her struggles only served to
strengthen Knight’s hold and deepen the intense look of anger on his face. The
ridiculousness of the situation made Catherine’s anger grow to match.  For
Captain Knight to challenge her actions as though he had some claim to her was
a mockery. Catherine had been left to shift for herself in an impossible
situation. She had no friend, no refuge, in this horrible situation, but
instead of shrinking from her fears, Catherine was doing everything in her
power to regain control. Knight might not know the truth behind her actions but
that still did not give him the right to judge her. The strength of her
convictions stiffened her pride; she offered no further resistance but stood
firm, face upturned in challenge, ready for battle.

Captain Knight was taken aback at once
by the fierce spirit of this extraordinary woman. She stood unflinching before
him, prepared to meet his challenge with verve as great as his own. Knight had
never met her equal. The realization took the sting out of Knight’s anger. He
drew a long breath and finally released his hold on her arm; “I apologize, Miss
Gibson. I have no right to accost you in this manner.” At her release, Catherine
made no move to retreat. She rubbed her wrist absently then offered Knight a
challenge of her own:

“Why have you come?” she asked
simply.

Knight did not speak for a long
moment. He did not entirely understand his motives himself. What compelled him
to seek her out after their disastrous encounter? He watched as the breeze
touched tendrils of Catherine’s hair, teasing them gently around the planes of
her face. She was a vision of loveliness, but he knew that was not what drew
him to her time and again: it was her strength. Her courage and generosity knew
no bounds and she always acted with bravery and selflessness. That was why her
behavior at duMont’s had driven him mad. To see a woman of such character
submit herself to the indecent attentions of a man like duMont was unbearable. 
At the time Knight could only feel bitter disappointment in Catherine but he
soon came to realize something was wrong with the whole affair. There was no
way a woman of her integrity would change so radically – she had to have
another reason for being there.

“I came,” Knight said softly, “because
I am worried about you. I think perhaps you may need an ally.”

Catherine’s breath caught at his
words. She had been determined to keep her distance, to protect her heart from
this man, but the thought of his help, of having someone who understood what
she was up against, was too tempting to resist. “You are right, Captain”
Catherine said slowly, “I do need your help. I think there are some things I
should share with you.”

Knight led Catherine to a nearby stone
promontory and the two settled next to each other. Haltingly at first, then
with growing confidence, Catherine told Knight of the conversation she had
overheard between her father and duMont, and of her suspicions about their
involvement with the French ship. Knight listened earnestly but said little as
she related her story. Catherine realized that she was only confirming details
that the captain already suspected. “I decided to investigate the matter further,”
she continued, “And so I have spent the past days examining my father’s papers
in his absence. Today I found something that seemed at odds, a business entry
related to the building of a dock.” Knight’s eyes widened at her words.
Catherine noted his interest and continued; “The sum seemed completely out of
proportion to the dock that currently exists on my father’s estate. I looked
through his papers further and found a connection between this dock and M.
duMont’s company,
Les Enterprises duMont
. It was duMont’s business that
supplied the materials for this unknown construction.”

Catherine colored at the mention of
duMont’s name. Knight’s observant eye caught the blush and he supplied the next
part of the story himself; “You found a connection to duMont and so you went to
his home today to see what he might reveal with a bit of artful persuasion.”
Catherine could not meet the captain’s look as she remembered the encounter.
“Yes” she said quietly. Captain Knight sighed deeply at her answer. “Miss
Gibson,” he said with worry, “You are playing at a very dangerous game.
Philippe duMont may seem a foolish dandy but he is not, I assure you. The Admiralty
suspects his involvement in a number of serious crimes – including the murder
of a British agent.” Catherine paled at his speech. Knight saw how his words
had hit home and he continued with quiet firmness; “You must promise me that
you will leave this matter alone. You mustn’t have any further involvement with
duMont.”

Catherine stood up, smoothing her
gown with shaking hands as the gravity of his words sunk in. She moved a few
paces away, composing herself, before she finally turned to face Knight; “I
wish I could give you that promise,” Catherine said ruefully, “but I am afraid
that my involvement with duMont must continue. We are to marry. My father has
offered him my hand as a reward for keeping quiet about the French ship.”
Knight’s face darkened and he leapt to his feet, swearing under his breath. He
strode several paces away then turned once more, his face wreathed in contempt.
“This is unspeakable” he said with anger. “What is Gibson thinking? How can he
endanger you so carelessly?” Catherine could say nothing in reply; the truth
was that her father was driven by motives unfathomable to a man of honor such
as Captain Knight. Pausing at last in his angry march, Captain Knight turned to
Catherine, concern and determination reflected in his face: “All will be well,
Catherine. I will see to it personally. I will not allow you to be hurt.” The
kindness in his tone was almost Catherine’s undoing. A mixture of hope, sorrow,
and fear played about her face. She wanted to believe him with all her heart but
she knew the situation might be more than even Captain John Knight could
overcome. She was her father’s to command as he chose. If he said she must
marry, then so it would be. With no other home, no other protector to champion
her cause, her fate must follow her father’s wishes. Catherine looked away with
pretended calm and said; “You needn’t worry, Captain. I am quite capable of
taking care of myself.” Knight raised a hand to her chin, tilting her face to
his once more. He held her gaze a long moment, stroking the soft line of her
jaw with his thumb; “Are you certain?” he asked, his dark eyes speaking
directly to her heart. Catherine’s knees buckled weakly and she took a small
shaky breath before replying; “No” she said with a bitter laugh, “No, I am not
certain at all.”

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