Daniel wascoming from the kitchen, where he had been trying to sortout yet anotherdisagreement betweenPetey and Eleni, when hespied his mother bearing down on him like anavenging Valkyrie. Cursing under his breath, he managed a weak smile.
"Mother. Whendid youarrive? Someoneshouldhave informed me youwere here."
"Iwantedto see Valoree first, " she announced. "Then I went to speakwithMeg. And now I wouldhavea wordwith you. At once, "she addedfirmly, and turned on her heel to lead him into hislibrary.
Daniel followed curiously, vaguely amused at the way his sweet, slightly connivingmother was storming ahead of him. But hishumor turned toshock themoment he closed thelibrary door andshe whirledon himina fury.
"I have never beensodisappointed inyouin mylife, Daniel!"
she cried. "What have youdone to that poor girl? "
"Who? Valoree? "He blinked atherin bewilderment. He had never before heard his mother raise her voice above a mildly strident tone inhis life. Lady Thurborne was ever sweet and gentle, using trickery to get her way, as most ladies did, rather than straightconfrontation."I married her, Mother. That is all I have done."
"Thatgirl is miserable."
"Nonsense, " he said irritably. "Where isshe? "
"With her dance instructor, " she announced with adisgust that madeDanielfrown."And thatis anotherthing Iwould talk to you about. Whyareyou forcingher to take lessons? "
He released a short laugh at that. "I am not forcing her, Mother. She wants to learnto be a properlady."
"A proper lady? " She gasped in horrorand he scowled.
"You knowwhat I mean."
"Aye, " shesaid slowly andalmost sadly. "I do know what you mean.’Tisno wonder she feels asthough youdo not think she is goodenoughfor you."
Amazement filledhim."Did she say that? "
"Not inso many words, butI gather thatMegfearsshe feels that way."
"Well, it is not what I intended.I justdo not wish her to be embarrassed or uncomfortable in society. She – "
"Shespeaks several languages quite fluently, " Lady Thurborne interrupted, and he turned toher in amazement.
"Aye."She nodded slowly."And the fact that youdo not know that tells me that you have not eventalked to Valoree about her ‘lessons.’ "
"Ijustassumed – " Hescowled, then shook his head. "I willtell MasterThomas he need notcontinue the languagelessons."
"Youneed not bother, " Lady Thurborne said dryly. "Valoree senttheman off the first day."
Closing his eyes, Daniel sighed."Tell me."
"Itwould appear that your Master Thomas explained toher on his firstday here thatshe was a woman, andtherefore inferior, butthat hewould attemptto force some intelligence intoher poor female mind."Daniel wincedatthenews, and his mother nodded.
"Asyoucan imagine, Valoree took exception to that and told him, in Latin, that she had learned her languagesas a child under her brother’s tutor, thenhadcontinuedthem well intoherteens under her brother’s tutelage. She toldhim that shespoke Latin, German, and Frenchquitefluently, and thatif he ever spoke to her in such a way again, she would cuthis tongueout and shove it down his sorry throat. Your Master Thomas apparentlyturned quite pale at that and left. He has notreturned since."
Sighing, Daniel began to rub hisforehead agitatedly. "Well, someone should have told me she could speak – "
"Whichis the music instructor? " she interrupted, and he paused in hisrubbing toeyeher warily.
She nodded. "Master Carson has not beenhere since the third day."
‘Tellme, " Daniel repeated, moving around his desk to sink wearilydown into a plushchair.
"From whatI gather, hestartedher on the lute forthe first two days, then decided she had absolutely no talent and switched to the harpsichord.Unfortunately, his method of teaching was to rap her knuckles with the handle ofhishorsewhipwhen she hitthe wrong key.The third time herapped her so, Valoree smashedthe lute over his headandtold him that ifheever showed his face here againshe would stick his whip handleup his – er – well, you get the idea. Heleft at once and did notreturn."
Daniel snapped his lower jaw, which had dropped open upon hearing this news, then arched one eyebrow suspiciously. "What of the danceinstructor? "
"I told you, sheis with him now.Apparentlyhe has not given herany trouble yet."
"Thank God, " Daniel muttered, thenscowled."If she had told me she could speaklanguages fluently, I neverwould have hired Master Thomas.And hadshetold me about Carson rapping her knuckles, I certainlywould have handled it, but – "
"She did not need you to handle it, " Lady Thurborne said heavily. "Shecanhandle herself. That is the point."
Daniel stared at her blankly for a moment, obviously not understanding her meaning. Atlasthe began, "Aye. Well, I shall arrange for new tutors onthemorrow, but – "
"Daniel!" she cried in exasperation. "You have not heard a singlething Isaid!"
"Of course Ihave, she… Oh, well, of course, shewill notneed alanguage tutor, I hadnot realized that she was fluent inthe languages, but a music and dance instructor would – "
"Why did you marryher? "
He blinked at the question."Ihardly think – "
"You married her because she was strong, independent, and different from alltherest of the women of the ton, didyou not? "
He smiledwarmly, hiseyes beginningto sparkle. "Well, yes, I – "
"Then why are you nowtryingto turn her into another one of thosevain, fecklessfemalesyou despise so much? "
Daniel blinked in amazement at her words."Iam not – "
"Aye. You are. You are trying to turn her into somethingshe is not. And inthe process, you are making herfeelthat she herself isnot good enough."
"She wants to learn. She – "
"Have you askedher if she wants to learn? Obviouslynot, or youwouldhave known she is fluentinseveral languages, " she pointed out.
"Well, how was Ito knowthat? She did not protest when I suggested it, and she is not shy withher opinions. Just look how she handled thosetutors."
"Oh, Daniel." His mothersighedunhappily."Howdid you, my son, end up this dense? "
"What? " He stared at herwithanger.
"There is a vast difference betweenhow she willhandle you andhow she will handlea tutor. Your opinion matters to her.
Theirs does not. Atleast your opinion probably did matter to her.
By now, Iwould thinkshe is beginning to resent you."
"Resent me? Whywould she resent me? " he asked.
"Meg says youhavetaken hermen away."
Daniel rolled his eyesatthat. "They are not toys, Mother. I cannot ‘take them away.’ "
"They are her crew."
"How the hell wouldyou know they are her crew? " he askedin sudden realization. It was her turn toroll her eyes.
"Meg told me."
Daniel eyed her warily. "And you do notmind? "
"Mind? " Shelaughed slightly. "Shegot youbefore a minister, did she not? Anyone who could manage that is the perfect daughter-in-law for me.Besides, youneed a strong woman or you would be miserable. Now give her back her crew."
He shook his head."Ihavenot – "
"Daniel, Megsays thatthe men see Valoree astheir captain, but that the way they seeit, you, as the husband, are above her.
Therefore, youareabovethem and herboth, so they listento you rather thanher. Do younot see? You have taken all authority away fromher withouteven trying, and she has no way to fight it."
When he remained silent, a small frown tugging athis lips, she added, "Meg also told me that you hadsent arequest to the king for an audience."
His eyebrowsrose slightly. "Aye."
"And thatyou have not mentioned it to Valoree."
"I do not wish to upset her, " he said dismissively. Lady Thurborne glared at him in exasperation.
"This is what Imean, Daniel. You must not treat her so. She can handle a little upsetand more."
"She wasill onthe trip backtoEngland. Feverish and weak, andshe is with child. Iwill not have her upset."
LadyThurborne’seyes widened in amazement. "With child? Valoreeis with child? Has she said so? "
"Nay." Hefrowned. "She may not evenrealize it. Henry isthe onewho told me."
"Henry? " she screeched."Henry told you thatValoreeiswith child? How onearth wouldhe knowand she not? "
Daniel grinned at heroutrage. "Henry isthe one who tended to getting her what she needed aboard ship all these yearsas she pretended to be a man. Heknew everytime She had the flux. He says she has always been as regular as the tide, but she has missed two sincethe wedding. Ifthenextone does notarrive, then we can be pretty sure she is with child."
Lady Thurborne dropped weakly intothe chair in front of his desk. "Andhe does notthink she knows? "
That question made him frownslightly. "He isnot sure. No one has ever actually sather downand discussed the facts of lifewith her. All sheknows shehas learned frommen’sbraggingas she grewup, when they thought her a man."
Lady Thurborne made a faceat that, then said, "Daniel, you have to straighten things out. If she is with child, she should know. And you really cannot exclude her from everything like this."
Sighing, he rubbed his forehead again, then nodded."Aye. Of course. Iwill talk toher. I – "
Acrash in the hall outside his library made Danielpause. The scream thatfollowed had him on hisfeet and hurrying to the door. Throwing it open, he gaped atthe screaming man holding his ankleand rolling about on the marblefloor at the baseof the stairs.
"It’sbroken! Youbroke my ankle! You – "
"That’s less than youdeserve, ye weasellybastard!" Valoree roared, starting down the stairs toward him.
"What the hell is going on here? " Daniel shouted, drawingthe attentionofbothhiswife and her dance instructor as he strode outof the library, his mother hard on his heels. "Valoree, get down here! What did you do? "
"Oh, my lord." MasterHendersongasped, grabbing at hispant leg. "She broke my ankle, my lord. Look. How canI teach with a brokenankle? She has ruined me."
Shaking himselffree, Daniel peered at his wife questioningly while hismother knelt to examine the man’s injury. He knew bloody well Valoree wouldn’t have thrown the fellow downthe stairs without a good reason, and judging by her furious expression, itwas adoozy.
"Beingtheignorant femalethat I am, my lord, " Valoreequoted herlanguage instructor sarcastically, pausingat the bottom of the steps toglare overHenderson at herhusband. "Icannot besure, but mayhapyou canclear the matterup. Is it normal to dance so close that a man’s chest rubs against yours? "
"She islying! I was teaching her proper dancing."
"Or how about his lips slobbering over my neck? Is that proper? "she continued.
"Lies!" hescreeched despairingly.
"And is his handreallysupposed torest on – andsqueeze – my arse? "
"It is not broken, " Lady Thurborne murmured, straightening from the instructor with distaste. "Just sprained."
Eyes narrowing, Daniel bent towardtheman, only to pause and whirlasthe door suddenlycrashed open behind him and Jasper stumbled throughit. IgnoringDaniel, he paused before Valoree, pantingheavily.
"What is it? " Valoree asked sharply as Henry followed, Meg on hisheels.
"Trouble, " Jasper said in a gasp, out ofbreath from hisrun.
Trouble did not begin to describe what they found when Valoree, Daniel, Henry, and Jasperrowed thedinghyback out to the ship and climbed aboard. Jasper had said that Richard had sent himafter her becausetwo of the men, Jacksonand Chep, were fighting. But during the time it had taken for Jasper to row ashore and fetch them back, the two-man fight hadturned into a free-for-all.EvenRichard was nowbusy bangingheads.
This, of course, was exactly the sort ofthing for which Valoree had been waiting. But beforeshe couldact, Daniel had snatched Jasper’s flintlockpistol out of the waist of the man’s breeches and firedit into theair. Theblast it made brought the fighting to an abrupt halt, and the men turned slowly one after another to warily eye her husband.
Valoree hadjust begun berating herselfforbeingtoo slow and letting Daniel take control, when he turnedtowardherandsaid quiteloudly – loudly enoughfor everyman present to hear – "I believe these men and their behavior are your responsibility, wife."
Valoree’s eyes widened at that, her jaw dropping slightly in amazement, for the behavior goingon today was all hisfault.
Then he winked, a gentlesmile tugging at his mouth ashe added, just as loudly, "You are their captain."
He stepped to the side then, leavingher tostare at hercrew for a brief momentbefore gathering herself together. "Who started the fight? " she askedatlast.
Chepstepped forwardalmost at once. "Me. I threwthefirst punch."
"Nay, it wasme." Jackson elbowedhim aside to take his place.
One man afteranother then began to stepforward, claiming theyhad instigated the whole affair.Valoree nearly smiled atthe loyalty hercrew had to each other.They hadsimply been pent up on the ship too long. They needed to let off some steam, andthe fight had given them thechance. None of them wanted Jackson or Chep flogged for giving them that chance.
"Enough!" she shouted, working at keeping her face stern. "It is obvious you do nothave enoughto keep you occupied. Since you all haveso much energy, I’m thinking we shouldcareenthe ship."A groan wentup all around, but Valoreeignored it and glanced aroundfor her secondmate. "Richard."
"Aye? "The man moved to her side at once.
"Make sure everything’sstrapped down, beach her, heave her over, and careen her.I want every man here working onthis."
Nodding, Valoree glowered at the rest of the men. "We won’t be here much longer. No-Nose should return soon with the message from the kingand then we’ll head for London and you can allhave leave. Inthe meantime, if Ihear ofanotherfight out here, I’ll flog youall. Understood? "