Lucky's Lady (The Caversham Chronicles Book 4) (8 page)

Mrs. Watkins dipped her pen tip into the ink and tapped the drip back into the inkwell. Returning her focus to the drawing, she said, "I am almost finished with this one, then I'll start a cross section elevation of the hull after we compile the finishings list."
He looked at the closed office door. "Is Mr. Watkins in today?"
She shook her head. "He had a meeting this morning in Baltimore, and left me here before sunrise. He may come in later this afternoon for a few hours, depending on how he feels."
As they spoke, Mr. Nawton and two other men arrived to take up their positions at their respective desks and tables. Mrs. Watkins introduced the men Lucky hadn't met the day before, telling him that one man was the accountant and the other the shipyard's crew manager. The crew manager took a pencil off his desk and with a pocket knife began to sharpen the tip over a wastebasket. He then lifted a sheet of paper and went outdoors.
"This afternoon is payroll closing." Mrs. Watkins continued to go over her penciled lines with ink, making it an official copy. "Hours get calculated today and the men get paid tomorrow. He's off to collect the past weeks' hours from all the shift supervisors.
"Oh. I remembered something we forgot to discuss yesterday." She pointed to an unfinished section on the drawing. "We forgot to talk about mast composition. I know you'd listed a single tree mast. But I can do composite steel and wood. There are benefits and problems with both."
"What are benefits to the composite?"
Thus began a detailed conversation explaining the structural strengths and weaknesses of each. In the end, he'd decided on composite because of the controlled breaking points. If a mast were to break, which was inevitable at some point, with a composite the damage could be somewhat controlled. Repairing a composite mast required only sections of trees, not an entire tree trunk, which were becoming more difficult to find in certain ports around the world. Especially as the trees used for masts had to grow on the lee side of a hill so as not to have the prevailing winds twist the trunk, leaving the grain as straight as possible in nature.
It seemed to Lucky that the more time he spent in the company of Mrs. Watkins, the more fascinated with her he became. As a naval architect, she possessed an intelligence in the mechanical arts that went far beyond his comprehension. That in itself was amazing, as she'd never had a formal education. He was truly in awe of her capabilities.
Mrs. Watkins completed the drawing while he watched, then removed the apron and placed it on the wall hook next to her table. "Can I get you a cup of tea before we move into the office? I'm having one myself." He nodded and after accepting the beverage, he followed her into Mr. Watkins' office.
There was a question he'd been wanting to ask since he saw the nearly-completed work she'd done out in the shipyard yesterday. He came right out and asked somewhat sheepishly, "The men here... they respect you? Your decisions?"
He could tell it caught her a little off-guard, but she replied quickly and with certainty. "Yes, they do. But it wasn't always so, to be honest with you. I did have to prove myself."
Lucky leaned back in his chair, sipping his sugared tea. He hoped she'd continue because he truly wanted to know about her.
She did. "When he began to.... Over the years, my husband has given me more and more responsibility for the operations. There were some here who questioned my abilities, but with Mr. Watkins' guidance, I'd like to think I've overcome their doubts." She chuckled a bit. "Of course, it didn't hurt that I had his strong support. After all, I am his wife."
Lucky couldn't address that comment directly as it wouldn't be proper, and it would surely offend the lady. But personally, he had his doubts as to the true fullness of her wifely duties, especially after what he'd heard the previous afternoon.
He had to force himself to keep on topic and not let his mind wander. No matter how odd it felt to discuss business with a woman, she was the amazing architect in charge of designing his ships, and would oversee their construction as well. Mrs. Watkins obviously knew her business and was passionate about it. He realized this after seeing the boats they'd toured the day before. Lucky didn't have any fears that the ships built here were inferior in any way because she was a woman. Watkins had told him yesterday that all of the boats in the yard right now were her designs.
He then asked about the
Ann McKim,
and Watkins proudly stated that while the deck arrangement, rigging and sail plans were all his designs, Mrs. Watkins had designed the hull all on her own and it was their first collaboration.
Mrs. Watkins pushed her cup and saucer aside and lifted the papers from the corner of the desk, handing them to him. "These are the various lists for
I thought we could use these as a template of sorts to speed the process along today."
"Don't rush on my account." Lucky wanted to stay with her as long as possible. After all, he'd be leaving soon enough.
"I assure you, I am not in a hurry."
At times he thought she sensed this spark between them, and welcomed it. Surely it wasn't his imagination. Being the gentleman he was, he would wait as long as possible before he hinted to her of his interest. And while he knew her Christian name, he'd decided the night before that inside the office she was Mrs. Watkins. It was the only way he could maintain sanity around her during this portion of the pre-construction process.
"Then my lady, I am at your complete disposal."
ary-Michael's mouth suddenly went dry and the room began to get exponentially warmer if that were possible. This man, Captain Gualtiero, rattled her as no other had ever done before. And this feeling was significantly more intense than anything her friends Becky and Cady had described. While she was certainly experiencing the racing heart and the sensation of a swarm of butterflies beating in her breast aching for release, it was this sizzling energy coursing through her whenever he was near that felt so deep and primal. She was afraid if she unleashed it surely it would consume her.
Oh, God.
Was this what if felt like to be attracted to someone? Could the captain be attracted to her as well? Did he feel the same as she? She had to admit the thought made her slightly giddy because, if so, convincing him to come to her bed this weekend would be no obstacle.
Before she made a complete and utter fool of herself in front of him, she excused herself and went down the hall to the privy closet.
This was a dangerous path. She would never have set her foot upon the first step if it hadn't been for this attraction. The attraction and the insistence from her husband that she do this now, for herself, because she did, in fact, want a child of her own so desperately. Realizing her predicament—the desire for a child before her husband died, and knowing Captain Gualtiero would leave soon—brought a familiar knot welling in her throat and a frustration burdensome enough to buckle her knees.
She held onto the wash stand in the tiny room. Lifting her eyes to the looking glass hanging on the wall, she watched her eyes fill with tears. She rubbed them away as each one spilled over. Her friends had and were continuing to have children. And she had none.
Yes, Mary-Michael had initially accepted the idea of a childless marriage at the time she agreed to marry Mr. Watkins. But somewhere in the past three years a spark had caught in her soul, and it had grown until the desire for a baby was nearly all-consuming. Early the previous year, she spoke of this change of heart with Mr. Watkins, who'd immediately said he was too far gone to get the deed done, but that he wasn't against adopting one or more of the many children from the very home from which they'd both matriculated.
At first she thought it was the answer to her prayers. Three months ago it became the nightmare that still haunted her, when the man who never replied to Father Douglas' letter suddenly appeared at the church with Father's letter in hand. This was just weeks before they finalized the adoption. The man, and his wife, claimed to be the uncle and aunt of the little ones who'd stolen her and Mr. Watkins' heart.
It had upset both of them, and Sally and Victor as well, though it was Mary-Michael who had yet to fully recover from the loss. She'd sunk into a dark chasm for a while, unwilling to meet with her friends and their children as they had nearly every Sunday since Becky's first babe was born, so all the little ones could play at one of their homes.
Then, about one month ago, Mr. Watkins had warned her that his health was declining. He told her of a way, if she was interested, in having a child of her own. One that would never be taken from her. One that would bear his name and would inherit his fortune and shipyard.
Mary-Michael had spent the past month thinking of nothing else. Until the day before, she'd thought it was never going to happen for her. Then she met Captain Gualtiero and now could think of nothing else. This is when she'd begun to think of the possibility of Mr. Watkins' plan, as sinful as it sounded.
She laughed as she remembered asking God to show her what path was the right one—committing a sin, or being faithful to her husband and their marriage vow. Mary-Michael never thought the answer would come in the form of a British sea captain who was a part owner of a shipping company, a man that drew her to him so magnetically that her steely reserve was helpless to resist.
Captain Gualtiero—Lucky—looked virile enough to... She closed her eyes. She had to quit thinking such things. Unless she was really going to follow through with it.
Mary-Michael bent over the edge of the counter before she hit the floor. Several deep breaths later and she was almost composed again. It would be too easy to succumb to daydreams like other young women when she looked into the captain's eyes. She wasn't in the position to allow herself the fantasy of a normal marriage bed. Not while Mr. Watkins lived.
She couldn't think of a life with another man while her husband lived, and she would never regret her years of marriage with Mr. Watkins for the future it provided her. She prayed daily for the return of his health and many more years of learning the trade at his side. Yet she also realized that she must reconcile her conscience to the fact that she needed something the captain could give her, and she needed it soon, so any child she might conceive could bear her husband's name.
After a few more deep breaths she felt ready to return to her husband's office and back to work with the captain and those blasted lists.
Three hours later, only one of three was near completion and she was ready for luncheon. She leaned back from the desk and stretched her arms in front of her. "Are you as hungry as I am?"
He nodded.
"Then let's take a break and come back in an hour or so."
When he stood, he came over to her and assisted her with her chair and for some reason her gaze focused on his hands. They were beautiful hands. A working man's hands. The breadth and length of the back of his hand and his fingers were fascinating. The roughened skin of his palms embraced her bare forearm when he assisted her to stand beside him and she felt that same shocking current as she felt the day lightning struck the mast on
as she stood close by. That day, she was thankful for her life. Today, she was thankful she was alive. She froze. Trembled, as she felt the blood rush to her cheeks. Surely her face must be as red as her hair, for it certainly felt that way.
"Would you like for me to get your jacket?" He glanced at the coat rack in the corner where one of her many summer jackets hung.
"No. Thank you. I'm not cold."
"You just shivered." The look of concern on his face as he held her gaze was enough to make her turn away.
Not from the temperature, I assure you.
She wanted to say it but instead, she said, "I've been sitting too long." Mary-Michael took her favorite parasol out of the umbrella holder in the corner.
"What plans do you have for luncheon?" The captain held out his arm for her as she came from the office.
"I usually go home." She told Robert she was going to eat, and took the captain's arm as he led the way down the stairs and out to the sunlight. "What plans do you have for luncheon, Captain?"
"I will be fortunate to find a piece of hard tack and an orange left from breakfast in the galley aboard Avenger."
"Where is your cook?" She popped open her parasol to shade her face from the summer sun.
"Likely off with my first officer, starting to replenish the stores. I came with a light crew of forty men. Most are ashore somewhere on leave. Some return to the boat at night to sleep, but most have found a bed that doesn't sway beneath them. They will all be back on Sunday before we depart on Monday's first outgoing tide."
"You sound certain of their return. What if they decide they like the freedom of living in a new country?"
"My crew are all good, loyal men and professional sailors. They could have jumped ship in any port in the world and yet they are still with me."
"Right. Well then," she mused, then changed the subject. "Since there is a chance that you have no meal awaiting you aboard your ship, you are invited to come to our home for luncheon, Captain." She turned her head and gave him a suspicious little half-smile. "Though, I am almost certain that was your intent."
Those strong, full lips of his on his short-whiskered face were so terribly attractive. And his eyes. She could drown in those pools of gold-flecked coffee. The man was so charming, she was certain he'd cultivated the skill specifically to get his way with women. And with her feelings rattled as they were, she didn't understand why she'd invited him to her home for lunch. She almost wished she hadn't asked him, though now that she had, she certainly couldn't renege on her offer.
He feigned a shocked look. "Me? Manipulate a woman to gain a meal?" He shook his head. His collar-length wavy hair, roguishly out of fashion as it was, moved freely in the breeze as he made his lips curve in a wry smile. "Guilty as charged, my lady."

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