Read Commanding Heart Online

Authors: Madeline Evering

Commanding Heart (7 page)

Words failed Catherine as she stood
locked in his gaze, unspeaking. After a long moment, Captain Knight gently
released his hold on Catherine, but his smoldering eyes never left her face.
Freed from their close contact, Catherine took a step away and attempted to regain
some semblance of order over her thoughts. “You….you agree to help me?” she
stammered questioningly; “You accept my proposal?” Captain Knight replied with
a broad smile; “I believe that is what I said, Miss Gibson.” A look of sheer
delight came into Catherine’s face, her eyes glittering like jewels: “Captain
Knight, you are most generous” she said earnestly as she starred into the warm
depths of his dark eyes “I shall never forget your kindness.”

“I believe the kindness is all yours,
Miss Gibson” Knight replied quietly. “Leave the matter with me and I will let
you know when I have some response to your request. Now, if you will excuse me,
Miss Gibson, I am afraid I must return to ship’s business.” Catherine nodded
her agreement and moved to the door of the cabin, reeling slightly at the
unexpected turn the interview had taken. At the threshold, Catherine paused,
elated by her success but shaken as well by the intimate turn the interview had
taken. She turned and gave Knight a polite bow but retreated before her eyes could
meet his once more.

The door closed firmly behind
Catherine. For a long moment after, the captain continued to stare at the place
where the young woman had just been. At length Knight returned to his maps but the
meaning of their contours and symbols long evaded him; his mind was too
occupied by other, troubling thoughts.

Chapter IX

The buoyant mood Catherine felt that
morning carried through the rest of the day. The world seemed a better place
all round and Catherine fairly danced as she went about her usual rituals onboard
ship. It was not until the afternoon was drawing to a close that her attention
was finally caught by the hurried preparations that many of the crew seemed to
be making. Catherine located her uncle near the mizzen mast and moved to his
side. “What can be afoot, Uncle?” she asked; “The crew seem in a great hurry?”
Lieutenant Matthews turned to his niece and gave her a solemn look: “The
weather glass has been dropping all day. I’m afraid we are in for a bit of a
storm, Catherine.” A look of concern crossed Catherine’s face: “Will it be
bad?” Catherine asked in some dismay. Although she had become very comfortable
onboard ship, Catherine knew that it was due in large part to the very calm
seas they had encountered thus far. She was uncertain what kind of sailor she
would make during rough weather. At that moment, Captain Knight came forward to
join them. He rapidly passed instructions regarding the rigging of the sails to
Matthews and a number of the other men. They all set forth in haste to perform
their individual tasks. It was then that Knight finally noticed Catherine; “Miss
Gibson,” he said in his low voice, “I am afraid we are to see some unpleasant
weather. Ship’s duties will prevent us from dining in my cabin this evening. I
hope you will accept my sincere apologies.”

“Of course,” Catherine replied
quickly; “But may I ask, Captain, what exactly should I do to prepare? I am
somewhat uncertain how to weather the storm.” The captain gave her a reassuring
look. “All will be well, I assure you. But it would be best for you to go below
to your berth. I will have the cook send supper to your room directly – we must
put the galley fires out as soon as possible. Then you should stow away any
loose items in the room. The rest we must leave to the storm’s discretion” he
finished with a slight smile. Catherine’s eyes were wide in her face as she
listened to his recommendations. Her uncle’s grave look and the preparations
the captain suggested spoke of the seriousness of what they were to encounter.
Catherine nodded her head in acknowledgement and the captain turned away, hastening
to the next station on deck awaiting his orders.

Catherine remained on deck for
another hour watching in frightened fascination as the skies darkened and the
sea changed from sparkling blue to angry grey. What had been a peaceful day,
bright with sunshine, was now a malevolent thing, charged with raw power and
fury. Thunder rolled ominously and lightning rent the skies while huge rollers
tossed the
Triton
about like a child’s toy. Angry spray hissed against
the ship’s sides and crashed over the deck in foaming waves that snatched at
anything – and anyone – not firmly attached. The motion of the sea soon became
so rough that Catherine could no longer remain in position without the support
of the ship’s rail. Several times she was tossed roughly aside as an angry
swell struck the
Triton
. Catherine knew she must heed the warnings of
Captain Knight and her uncle and seek refuge in her cabin, but the thought of
leaving the relative security of the group on deck for the emptiness of her own
cabin filled Catherine with dread. As the ship’s motions grew more erratic and
the work of the hands became more urgent, Catherine knew she could no longer
delay. A violent crack of thunder was followed by several flashes of lightning.
The heavens opened and huge rain drops began to fall leaving Catherine no
choice but to make way to her solitary cabin while the storm raged above.

Below deck, Catherine quickly moved
about her room, returning books, sketchpads, pencils and other items to the
trunk at the foot of her bed. She cast a careful eye around the room,
determined to be prepared for whatever the storm would bring. As the porter
arrived with supper, Catherine could the feel danger of the swells that struck
the ship with violence. “The storm is worsening?” she asked the porter, trying
to quell the nervous tremor in her voice. “Aye, it ‘tis” he replied with great
calm: “Don’t worry though, miss. The
Triton
and the captain have got us
through many a spot of weather before this” he said, and left to attend his
duties.

Alone in her cabin, Catherine
nervously moved from chair, to trunk, to bed, uncertain of what to do next. She
ate a little of the food the porter had brought, then began pacing the tiny
room once more. Catherine felt relieved that her motion sickness did not return
despite the rough motion of the ship. In its place, however, was a feeling of
great anxiety that Catherine could not dismiss. There was a violent energy to
the wind and waves like nothing Catherine had ever experienced before. The
storm felt like some ancient portent, signaling the coming of a great change. A
shiver slid down Catherine’s spine at the thought. She determined to take her
mind off of the tempest outside and settled down with a slim volume of poems. Her
attempts to read, however, were short-lived. The rough motion of the vessel and
the sound of the wind grew in violence. Struggling to stay in place, Catherine cast
her book aside and determined to prepare for bed. The thought of being under
the covers gave her a small sense of comfort, a reminder of times spent with
her cousins, hiding under their beds during summer storms. Catherine laughed at
the childish notion and opened her trunk quickly and began her night’s
preparations.

Staggering under the pitching motion
of the ship, Catherine finally managed to exchange her linen gown and
petticoats for a loose cotton nightshift. She freed her hair from its primly twisted
plaits, leaving the long tresses hanging in a golden curtain to her waist. In
the mirror Catherine could see what a riot of curls the plaints had created.
She stuck her tongue out at the sight and turned to the sanctuary of her bed
prepared to ride out the storm. At the same moment, a huge surge struck the
ship, sending a shuddering groan throughout the oaken timbers. The floor suddenly
shifted under Catherine and she fell sideways, knocking against the desk with great
violence. Catherine cried out as she landed roughly on the floor, a sharp pain
spreading through her arm. In agony, Catherine cradled the aching limb and struggled
to regain her feet. The pain was quickly replaced by a feeling of shocked
surprise when she was suddenly picked up bodily from behind. Catherine spun
around, her breath catching, as she found herself held in the firm embrace of
Captain Knight.

“Are you hurt,” he asked hoarsely,
his face mere inches away from hers. “I heard your cry as I passed…. Are you
hurt?” he asked again, his words carried on ragged breaths. She could not
answer, could scare breathe at finding herself in such close proximity to the
captain. Catherine was pressed against the full length of his body, the rain water
of his oilskin jacket seeping into the cotton of her nightgown. Her face flamed
at being found in this state of undress, but the rough motion of the ship and
Captain Knight’s imprisoning embrace kept her from drawing away. She starred at
Knight mutely for several long moments before she could finally answer his
question.

“I… I fell,” she said in a hoarse
whisper, her wide blue eyes starring into his with growing alarm. “I fell and
hit my arm… but I am alright…” she could not think of how to continue, of how
to escape from this strange, unwonted embrace. Held close against Knight’s
chest, Catherine could see glistening jewels of water caught in his jet black
hair, its silky texture slick against his brow. In breathless fascination she
watched as droplets fell, coursing their way down the angular planes of his
face to trace the fine lines around his mouth. More disturbing, however, were
the dark flames that burned within his eyes.

Captain Knight slowly pulled one hand
away from Catherine’s waist and ran it down the length of her injured arm. The
heat from his fingers burned like fire as they traced a careful path across her
forearm. A faint mark was already apparent on the surface of the skin and
Catherine caught her lip between her teeth as his fingers brushed over the
spot. Knight heard her indrawn breath and starred at her once more. “It is not
broken… you will be fine” he said, his dark eyes glittering wildly. “There will
be a mark, but you will be fine” he said again, his voice rough and uneven.
Catherine could only give a tiny nod at his words. Knight’s eyes roved over the
features of her face, taking in the beautiful eyes, the cheekbones with their
high color, and the golden tumble of curls that hung freely down her back. His
eyes flashed a warning but before Catherine could free herself his mouth came
down upon hers in a punishing kiss.

A riot of sensations crashed over Catherine
as Knight took possession of her. The feel of his hot, demanding mouth on hers
sent waves of desire through her body. She struggled to remain controlled but
as his hands slid across her back and tangled in her loose hair, Catherine
sagged against him weak with desire. Nothing in life had prepared her for the
raw intensity of this moment, the burning flame that threatened to consume them
both. The heat from his body felt through the thin fabric of her gown sent
shockwaves through Catherine. This was madness and she should stop him, stop
herself from responding, but Catherine found she could not. Instead, she
clutched at his shoulders for support, her heart hammering within her chest as
she eagerly returned his kiss.

In a sudden, rough motion, Captain Knight
pulled away, holding Catherine at arm’s length. The two panted for breath,
neither speaking, only staring at the other. After what felt like an eternity,
the captain spoke brusquely: “Miss Gibson… I beg your forgiveness. I should not
have….. I beg your forgiveness” he said again, then turned and left the room as
suddenly as he had entered.

Catherine felt another wave of shock
pass over her as the door clicked firmly closed. She reached out blindly, grabbing
the bedpost for support. Trembling in every limb, Catherine settled at the foot
of the bed. After a long time, she slowly lay down and drew up the covers. The
ship continued to rock in violent motion the remainder of the night, but
Catherine scarce noticed. She lay awake until the storm broke near dawn, seeing
nothing in the darkness but the black glittering pools of the captain’s eyes,
feeling nothing but the touch of the captain’s hands.

Chapter X

The morning after the storm,
Lieutenant Matthews hurried to Catherine’s cabin to check on his niece.
HMS
Triton
had weathered the storm well and Matthews was anxious to know
Catherine had done the same. At his knock, he heard slow movements from inside
and after a long time the door finally opened. A pale, wan Catherine stood
inside, blue eyes deeply shadowed in an ashen face. She held her left arm
carefully and Matthews could tell she was in great discomfort. The lieutenant’s
look of good humor was quickly replaced by one of grave concern as he took in
the spectacle of his niece. “Catherine!” he exclaimed, “Are you unwell? You
look a fright.” Catherine smiled weakly at his words: “I will be fine, uncle. I
had a small… mishap last night but I will soon be right as rain.” “What on
earth happened?” Matthews cried in distress, moving inside to get a better look
at the girl.

Catherine’s mind raced at his
question: What had happened, indeed? She had spent the entire night thinking over
the strange scene with the captain; his unexpected actions, and her even more
unexpected response. She flushed deeply in remembrance of her wanton behavior
and tried to clear her thoughts once more; “I struck my arm, Uncle. I fell and
hit the desk but I am quite well this morning.”

Matthews could clearly see that she
was anything but well. He clucked like a mother hen, leading her carefully to
the bed and sitting her down. “Stay right there, miss” he ordered. “I am going
to fetch the surgeon to take a look at that arm. Damn me for not checking on
you sooner. I am so sorry I did not come to you earlier Catherine, to see you
were safe…..” “Uncle!” Catherine cut in, wishing desperately to end this
interview, “Please, do not trouble yourself, or the surgeon. I am quite well.
But I do think that I might spend the day here in my cabin, to… to rest a bit…
if that is alright?” She looked at him with such pleading in her eyes that the kind
man could not refuse. “Certainly, child, certainly. As you wish,” he said kindly.
“But I insist on checking in regularly to see how you get on!” “Of course,”
Catherine said as she got to her feet and led her uncle to the door. He gave
her a gentle pat on the cheek and left her alone with her thoughts once more.
Catherine closed the door firmly behind Matthews and rested her head against
its hard surface: After a storm like this, how did one begin again?

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