"Aye."Meg sighed. "I do not understand why she is so set against marrying him. He isperfect for her. My John …" she paused, flushingslightly, then continued, "Well, John isa nice youngman, but he isno match for her."
"Not yet, " Henry agreed quietly. "Buthe’ll become stronger.
He is still quite young. He needs a little seasoning, is all – seasoning he never wouldhavegothad he married Valoree. She’d havestepped on him andkept him there under her footuntil his spirit died."
They both turned to glanceat Petey ashecameout intothe hallto make that announcement.
"Good. The potion worked, " Henry murmured wearily.
"Aye, " Petey agreed quietly. "But she ain’t gonna likeit much when she wakes up andfigures outwhat we did."
"It’s for her own good, " Henry said defensively. "We’re trying to save her from making amistakeshe’d regrettherest of her life." Turning, he peered downthe hallway toward thekitchens.
"One-Eye! Skully! Bull!"
The three men came out of the kitchens on the double, a questionin their eyes. But only One-Eyeaskedwhatthey were allwondering. "Is it done? Did itwork? "
"Aye.Bull, go fetch her outto the carriage. Skully, help Meg bundle upsomeof those fine dresses for us to take with us."
"What do you want us to do? " One-Eye asked, moving up beside Petey as the other two men and Meg moved off to do whathe had asked of them.
"We needto move thechests out and make sure everything is locked up tight. Who knows how long it will take ere we convince those two they are meant for each other? " Henry paused, clicking his tongue inirritation. "And I’d best send a message to Beecham, tellhimwe’re off to thecountry for a bit.
This town house is paid up for another five months and hemight wonder if we just disappear."
"What about Thurborne? " Pete asked as Bull carried an unconscious Valoreeout of the salon.
"We’llcollect him afterwe get the captain backtothe ship, "
Henry announced, reaching to openthedoor for Bull, only to freezewhen a knocksounded onthe other side. Bullimmediately changed direction, turningaway from the door and continuing across the entry arid on into the library with Valoree. Henry grabbed Petey’sarm and pulled him outof sight on the otherside of the door, then gesturedfor One-Eye to openit.
Daniel rapped hiscane on the door, then set it onthe ground andturnedto peer idlyup the road as he waited for it to be answered. Hewas running a bit late. He hadhoped tohave all his questions answered and to have gotten here by noon, but the answers he had received to his questions had not been satisfactory. He had wasted the whole morning and a good portion of the afternoon finding out nothing. So much for his hopes of being able to sort out the mess that seemed to be swirlingaround Valoree.And it seemed to him to be a rather huge one.
First, there was the matter of Back-from-the-Dead Red. The king had finally heard that Lady Ainsleywasin London insearch of a husband. He was demanding answers now regarding her brother’sdemise, or lack thereof. Daniel had rather hoped the manwouldn’t findout for a bit longer. At least until Daniel had gotten her to trusthim and give up her stubborn resistance to marrying him. He knew if he didn’tget her to agree before she found outabout his past, she probably wouldn’t trust himenough afterward.
Daniel grimaced at himself and the spot he was in. He had never before beeninterested enough in any womantodo more than offerher a quick roll in the linens – or possibly two. Yet here was a woman who wanted that roll andnothing else, and he was theonewho wanted more. Hell, hewanted it all.She was unlike any woman he had ever met. She was strong, intelligent, decisive. Herespected her. He also wantedher with an ache that was beyond anythinghe had before experienced. The last two weekshadbeen hell. He hadthought that was sodamn clever when he had decidedthat hewould use her desire for him to crumble herdefenses and convince her to marry him. If he had realizedtheagonyof torture hewould becausing himself… Well, hell, he stillwould have gone aheadwith theplan. He waseven beginning to think it mightbeworking. Or perhapshe wasjust foolinghimself, he thought wryly, and sighed.
Thiswoman was a magnet for trouble, though. Firstthere was the king and his desire to solve this Back-from-the-Dead Red business; then there werethe rashof accidents aroundher. They had decided at the timethat she was knockedoutthat she had probably walked in on andsurprised someoneout to rob her. And heprobably wouldhave been satisfiedwith that if it werenot for the carriageaccident.That had bothered himagreat deal. And the description her men had given of how it had occurred was positively worrisome. From what was said, it hadalmost sounded as though the crash was deliberate. Daniel had been doubtful enoughof itsbeing an accident, and he had decidedto look into it.
But Valoree’s "servants"had beaten him to it, alreadytalking to everyone he had thought to ask – from the various household help of each place on the streetwhere the accidenthad taken place, to the owner of the wagon itself. They had all mentioned that a fellow with a patch over his eye, andamateof his who was as bigasa mountain anddark as death, had been by to ask the same questions. Daniel had at once recognized the descriptions as fitting two of Valoree’s rather disreputable manservants. He hadalso learned from the owner of the wagon that thefellow withthe patch onhis eyehad mentioneda fireat the town house latelast night.
It hadall only left Danielmore convincedthan everthat there was something goingon, but he hadn’t a clue exactly what or why – just that Valoree was asmuch amagnetto trouble asshe was a magnetto him. And that he had best resolve all this soon, before someone gotkilled – or he diedfrom unsatisfied desire. Hejust had to convince her to marry him; thenhe could lay hiscards on the table, tell her all, and together they could work out everything.So today he was determined toget herto agree to marryhim – even ifhe had to blackmail her with his knowledge that shewas Back-from-the-Dead-Red to doit.
The opening of the door drew Daniel fromhis thoughts, and he turnedto find theservant Valoree calledOne-Eye peering outat him.The man’s one good eye widenedincredulously at the sight of him; thenhe slammed the door in his face. Astonished, Daniel could hear excited chatter from the other side of the door.
Unfortunately, the wood muffled it enough that he couldn’ttell whatwas being said.
Shaking his head in disbelief, he rapped firmly on the door again. It opened almostat once thistime, and Daniel arched one eyebrowwithincredulity. "Lord Thurborne to see – "
"I’m not daft; Iknow who ye are, " themanmuttered in disgust.
"I’ll seeifshe’s in."
The door slammedinhis faceagain.
Shaking his head in bewilderment, Daniel sighed and prepared to wait. It seemedthey were playing a new game. Hard to get, perhaps? Or let-the-randy-bastard-wait-on-the-doorstep-until-I’ m-ready-to-grant-him-an-audience?
The door opened again, all the way this time, and One-Eye gestured for him to enter, then peered outat the street as he did.
"Isthat yercarriage? "
Daniel glanced out and nodded. "Aye."
"Hmmm." He didn’tlookpleased at the news. Frowning, he pushed the door closed, thenmotionedtoward the door tothe salon. "Well, go onin. She’ll bealong directly."
Shaking his head, Daniel turned and walked intothe salon. He considered making himselfa drink, then decided to wait until Valoree arrived. He had barely come to rest in a chair, when her Uncle Henry entered, followed by aman herecognized asthe cook.
"Good day, Lord Thurborne. How are you? " Henry asked cheerfully.He didn’t waitfor an answer, butannounced, "Valoree willbe along in amoment, but she asked me to see toyer comfort andoffer you arefreshment, so Pete mixedup a couple ofspecial warmed spiced rums forus."
"Wannedspiced rum? " Daniel asked curiously, acceptingthe cupHenry lifted offthetrayand handed to him.
"Aye. They’rereal tasty andwarm the stomach, helpinga body torelax." He tooka cupoff thetray himself, nodded at theother man, who immediately turned toleave, then seated himself across from Daniel. Hesmiledathim overhis own cupas he lifted it for asip. "Try it. Ye’ve never hadanything like it."
Valoree felt like hell. Her mouthwas as dry asJasper’s smile, and her headfelt like it was splittingin half. Shewas pretty sure of that. Graspingitin both hands, she held on toittightly, just to makesure her brainsdidn’t fall out. Then she slowly, carefully opened hereyes – only to blinkthem closed again rather quickly.
She’d died and gone to hell for her sins. That was the only explanationfor theburning blur of light that attacked her eyes upon opening them.
Groaning, she tried to lie still for a moment, thenrealized that it wasn’t her moving; it was the bed. Dear Lord! Someone or somethingwasmoving the bed about while shelayon it. Forcing hereyes open, again, she raisedherself up on her elbows and squinted about in the hope of discovering whoit was, only tofind there was no onethere. Itdidn’ttakeher poor woolly mind more than aminute or two afterthat before she realized thatthe bed she layin wasn’t thehuge four-poster fromthe townhouse, but thewee hardcot of a ship. Her ship. She was on the Valor, and that was what was moving.
Howthedevil had shegotten here? she wondered, dropping weaklyback onto herbunk. The lastthingsheremembered was … Hmmm. What wasthe last – Oh, aye! Beecham!She hadbeen about toarrange things with Beecham. That was it.But then Meg hadcome in, and then Henry andPetey had brought the tea. Only it hadn’tbeen tea. At least hershadn’t been.Henry had fixed her some of his special hot spiced rum and – Hereyes blinkingopen again abruptly, sheroseup inthe bed like the resurrected dead, roaring at the top of her lungs.
"Soyou decided tokidnapthe twoof us and forceusto wed? "
Danielasked in disbelief.
Henry shifted.He stood afew feet fromthe bed, where Daniel now sat rubbing his sore head. "Aye. Well, she’s too damned stubborn to marry ye elsewise, and you two belong together.
Ye’re perfectfor each other.Just being around ye hassoftened her up some already. And ye need a woman who will be a challenge, else ye’d lose interest right quick."
Daniel raisedhis head to stare at him. "You know so much about me in sucha short time? "
Henry shrugged."Yelearn to take the measureof folk right quick in ourline of work."
"Speaking of which, whatexactlyis your lineof work? " Daniel asked silkily. Henry pursed his lips, considering the matter briefly, then shook his head.
"Ithink I’ll just let you and the captain sortthat oneout."
Daniel grunted, then pressed his hands to either side of his head. "What the hell was in that damndrinkyou gave me? "
"Head’sbothering ye, huh? " Henryasked solicitously.
Daniel impaled him with his eyes, then suddenly frowned as a thoughtoccurred tohim. "How did you getme out of the town house withoutmydriver causing an uproar? "
"A chest? " Daniel cried.
"Aye." Henrygrimaced athisupset. "We put ye in Valoree’s dress chest and carted ye out."
"And Valoree? " he askeddryly.
"We wrapped herina tapestry."
"Great, I…" Daniel began, thenpaused as a sudden bellow, not unlikethesound awounded bear might make, reached themfrom the nextcabin. "Correct me ifI am wrong, "hemurmuredwith sudden amusement, "but I do believethat was your name she was singingout in her softvoice."
Henry’s mouth tightened, his eyes narrowingon Daniel atthe comment; then he signed and turned toward the door.
"Just amoment." Danielstood, grabbing at the nearest itemat handto steady himself. Itturnedout to be achair.He waited until the other man had turned back questioningly, then said, "Whatever yougave me hasleft me with a weak stomach.If I do not get out on deck and breathesome freshair soon, youwill be sending someone in here to scrapethe contents of my stomach off the floor."
"Go ahead, " Henry told him. "Ye’re not a prisoner.Ye’re a guest." Then he left, closingthedoor behind him.
Daniel stared at the door inamazement for a moment, then shook his head. "A guest.Of course. Ido not know why I thought otherwise." Shrugging, he started cautiously across the floor.
Henry wasn’tquick enough. Valoree was off the bedand on her third shoutfor the man by the timeher cabin dooropened and he stuckhis head warily inside. Spying her standing, graspingthe edge of herdesk for balance as she tried toshake off the last of the effects of the drug he had given her, the man forced an innocentsmile. "Aye, Captain? "
"Don’t you ‘Aye, Captain’ me, you – " she began, taking a threatening step toward him; then she paused to grasp the desk againas the room swayeddangerously about her. "What have you done? " she snapped. Then, beforehecould answer: "Never mind that.I cansee whatyou’ve done. Well, it won’t work.How farout of portarewe? "
Henry didn’t question howsheknewthey had left the London docks.She hadlived on a boatlongenough totell thedifference between the relativecalmof a harborand the roll of the sea.
"About aday out, " he admitted. Her mouthtightened.
"Well, you get your arse upthereand tell them toturn the ship around. We’re going back!"
"Ah, now, captain-girl, " hestartedin awheedling tone. It died as her gaze narrowedon him.
"Stow it, Henry. I’m so mad at you I could – " She almost seemed tochoke on her anger, then waved him awayin disgust.
"Getout! I’ll give the orders myself.Butknow this, Henry: you men haven’t stopped anything. I will return and I will marry Beecham. Allyou’ve managed to dois delay it."
Henry hesitated, then twisted and backed out of the cabin, closingthedoor quietly behind him.
Muttering underher breath several things she wouldlike to do to the man, Valoree made her way cautiously to the chestbythe bed and kneltbeside it. Throwingit open, sherifled through it brieflyuntil shefound her knee breeches, whiteshirt, boots, belt, and short waistcoat, then began to undress where she sat, transforming from Lady Ainsley into Captain Valerian in amatter of moments. Then she crawledback to her feet and stumbled for the door, pausingonly to grabup her cutlass, knife, and pistol on the way. She needed some fresh air, or she’d surely puke up whatever it was Henry had put in her drink – if there was anythingleft in her stomach to heave out, whichwas doubtful.