"Aye-aye, Captain, " was murmured back at her. Valoree nodded, then turned and walked silentlyback to the rope ladder they hadusedto mountthe ship, aware that Henry, Daniel, and Jasper were following.
"What is careening? " Daniel asked quietly later. They had returned to thecastle, assured Megand Lady Thurborne that all was well; then Daniel had asked Valoree to join him in the library. Nowhestood on one side of his desk, with her onthe other, as heawaited he answer.
"Careening is when you run a boat ashore, heelher overon her side, and scrape the barnacles and seaweed off her bottom.
Sometimes scraping doesnot suffice and they have tobe burned off.Once the men havefinished withthat, they will caulkany of the leaks theycan, replace rotten planks when caulking will not do, andseal it."
"It sounds alarge undertaking."
"It is. But it is necessary if you want to move fast – and pirates have tomove fast."
Daniel shookhis head. "Youarenot a pirateanymore, Valoree.
You are Lady Thurborne."
"Aye, " she agreed calmly. "But I had to have them do something, elsethey’dkilleach other outthere."
Hemust havenoticed the way shewas glaringat him, for he frowned."What? Youare looking atmeas ifwhat happened out there today were my fault."
"Aye, "she agreed.
"Well, " he contended, "that fight was certainly not myfault. I wasn’t even there."
"Aye. But you are the one who insistedthat we sail here to Thurborne, thenanchor off your beach." Whenhegazedat her blankly, she shifted in disgust. "Daniel, those men have been stuckon that boat for more than a month and ahalf."
He tapped his lips, thinking, then sank back into his seat unhappily. "Aye, of course youare right. Ididnot thinkabout that." Sighing, helookedup ather."You, of course, had thought of that, but did notbotherto mention itto me. Am I right? "
She gavea briefnod.
"Why did you not saysomething? "
"You did not ask."
"Valoree." His mouth twisted inirritation. "You could have told me anyway."
"Aye, Icould have, " she agreed grimly."Just as you couldhave askedbeforetaking over my ship."
Daniel leaned backin his seat to eyeher silently. After a few moments, he capitulated.Moving forwardto resthis armsonthe desk, hesaid, "Assoon as this careeningbusiness isdone, we will sail downto London so that themen mayhave some leave.As you say, we can wait just aswell there as – "
When he suddenly paused, Valoree tilted her head, wondering at histhoughts. "What isit? "
"How did youknow that I hadsent arequest to thekingfor an audience? "
She snorted. "Yourmother told me that you had sentNo-Nose to her with a message informingherof our marriage and taking up residence here."
He raised an eyebrow. "So? "
"So you would hardly tell her, and neglect the king, " she pointed out. "Really, Daniel, I do not know why you married me when you think me such anidiot."
His eyes widened in surprise. "I do notthink you an idiot."
"Oh, aye, " she agreed sarcastically."Andthat wouldbe why you hiredthose bloody instructors, and thoughtto takeovermy crew? "
"Nay, I…"He paused then, obviously thinking. "I am sorry, Valoree, " he saidat last. "It would seem Ihave not been going about this verywell.I thought – "
"You thoughtto turn me intoone of those brainless twits that flit about the ballroomsin London, " she interruptedfuriously, all thepainshe had not really realized she had been feelingcoming out."Well, you canstick that plan in your cannon and shoot it, my lord, becauseI have nointerest. And you can try to take over my menif youlike, butyou will have abattleon yourhands.
That crew is the only family Ihave."
"You have menow."
"Oh, aye, " Valoree agreed."If I learntoplay the harpsichord and dance. Well, I don’thaveto do that forthem, and I don’t wantto do that foryou." Turning onher heel, she startedforthe door.
Daniel was after her at once, hurrying around hisdesk and reaching the door in time to prevent her opening it; he placed a hand against it over hershoulder.Pausing, she stoodstubbornly facing thedoorand refusingto look at him.Danielsighed, then raised his otherhand tothe door, movinghis body closer until he was pressing against the lengthof her.
"Ido not give adamnif youcan play the harpsichord, " hesaid quietly, leaning hischeekagainst the backof her head. "I do not careif you can dance, either, though itwouldbenice to dance with you."
"Then why – "
"I am a fool; that is why, " he murmured by her ear, then lowered his hands to clasp her shoulders before sliding them downaround her waistto draw her stiffbody backagainsthim.
"My motherwasright. Idetest allthose simpering, sad creatures of the ton and always have." His handsslidup to cup her br**sts.
"Your independence, strong will, and intelligence are what attracted me to youfromthemomentyou asked for a rum at Whister’s.But itscaredme, too."
Valoree startedto arch into his caress, butstilled and tried to turn to face him.Danielheld her in place withhis hold on her br**sts. She turned her head, trying to look at him, her lips opening tospeak then, but he silenced herwith a kiss. Ravishing her mouth as he slid a hand downbetween her legs, he pressed herbackagainst him.
"Daniel, I – " shebegan as soon as he broke the kiss, but he covered her mouth with one handand began tugging herskirts up with the other.
"Shut up, Valoree and let me talk foronce, hmmm? "he chided gently. She stiffened, but relaxedagain and nodded. He released her mouth to use bothhands to drawher skirts up between them as he continued. "Your independence and even your crew mean that youdo not really need me."
"Nay, " sheprotested at once, trying to turn toface him again, but Daniel stopped her by grasping her legs. Hehad bent slightly behind her to find the bottom of her skirts, and now clasped her just above the knees, keeping her facing the door. When she stoppedtrying to turn, he started to straighten, drawinghis hands up as hedid. But while he could keepher facingthe door, hejust couldn’tkeep her quiet. As shewriggledunder the glide of his fingers over her skin, she whispered, "I need you. I need a husband andbabe to inheritAinsley, just as you need a wife and babe toinherityour grandmother’s bequest."
"I need you for more thanthat, Valoree, "hesaid against her neck.
"M-more? "shemurmured distractedly as he caught her atthe h*ps and drew herlower body away from the door slightly, even as he pressedher upper bodyagainst it.
"Aye.Ifind myself having strong feelings for you."Reaching between them, hebeganto work at thefastening of his breeches.
"Ithink – Nay" – he sighed, pausing to leanhis head against hers – "I know Ilove you."
"You – " Valoreebeganin amazement, thengasped and bit her lip as he suddenlyslidintoher from behind.Herhandsclenched into fists against thedoor on eitherside of herforehead, and she moaned as heslightly withdrew.
"I love you, " he repeated in a voice that almost sounded pained.He pushed into heragain."I love your body. I love your laugh. I loveyour passion. I love yourintelligence."He thrust inside of her and withdrew as he spoke each sentence, then added simply, "I love … you."
"I – " He stopped moving withinher as she startedto speak, waiting, and Valoree hesitated, then tried again."I…I – care for you, too, "shegot out at last, rolling her eyes at her ownwords evenas Daniel suddenly leanedweaklyagainst her. He uttered a shaky laugh.
"Just what every man in love wants to hear." There was amusement in his voice, butpain, too.Valoree triedonce again to pull away and facehim, but once again he stopped her."Nay."
Hepressed a kiss to the back ofher neck, then reached up to begincaressing theflesh of her br**sts andbelly again."Ican wait. You need notlie to me, " he murmured, resuming againthe rhythmhe’d begun. "Butweshall make a vow. I will try not to take over, or treat youlike anidiot or child, and you will nottell me that you love me until youmean it. Deal? "
Valoree knew a good deal when she heard one and noddedat once, then turned to peer at himinsurprise when hesuddenly withdrew from her.Grabbing her hand, Daniel pulled her to his desk, cleared one end of it with a sweepof his free arm, then pulledher intohis arms for a quick, hard kiss.Amoment later he turned heraround, bending herover the desk, tugging her skirts up, andthrusting himself into her.
It felt to Valoree almostasif he werestakinga claim, gaining control the only way hecould, sincehe had promisedto try not to take over. Atfirst shelay still against thedesk. But ashebent forwarduntil his chest was against her back, one hand snaked aroundto slide between her legs, and he began tocaress hereven as he nipped at hershoulder through her gown. His mouththen moved up to herear. Within moments hehad her panting and thrusting back into him, giving asgood as shegot until they both found satisfaction.
**** Valoree caught herself humming under her breath as the carriage rolled along, and she paused abruptly, shaking herhead with a laugh. She had beendoing thatalot lately – humming a cheery tuneas she wentabouther life.She felt happy. Things weregoing well.
It had been a littleover threeweeks since Daniel had confessed he loved her. Now thatit wasoutin the open, hisattitude and behavior toward her hadchanged. She hadnever really noticed, but until that day, he had only actually shown anything approaching affectionfor her whentrying to get under her skirts.
The rest of the time hehad worn aslightlycynicalsmile, as if he found her, and everything else, terribly amusing. It had made him seem slightly distant, aloof. Not that she had recognized it atthe time, but now she did. Now she saw thedifference. Everytime he looked at her now, there was love in his eyes. When he smiled, it wasasoftersmile, full ofemotion. Heno longerhid from her.
He also nolonger triedto takecharge. She had been in obvious control of the men since thatday, something the Valor’s crew seemed toaccept without aproblem.She supposed it helped that Daniel had handed her backthat power with his loudcomments on the ship about their beingher responsibility, but whateverthe case, she gave them their orders and they listened without question.
Valoree had alsofoundsomething withwhich to fill her time.
Much to Daniel’s everlasting horror, it was bees. Honeybees.
Valoreehad discovered them duringa visit with Daniel to see Lord and LadyMobley on the neighboringestate. The invitation had arrived a few days before Daniel’s confession, butit wasn’t until after that day that Daniel decided to accept it. Valoree suspected it was his attempt to prove that he wasn’t ashamed of her.She, on the other hand, had agreed to prove thatshe could act like alady. They’dhad a wonderful time.
Well, all right – notwonderful. Valoree hadbeenbored totears until Lady Mobley had taken her outto see her bees. She had been smitten with them from the first. She wasn’t sure why.
Perhaps it was theconstantrisk of being stung. Or the quiet that hadto be kept around them to avoid instigating an attack. Or maybeit wasjust that she found, astimepassed, that she was developing a terrible craving for the sweet nectar they made.
Whatever the case, She hadpromptlydecidedthat bee keeping was how she would fill her time since she was retiring from privateering. Anyway, She had startedstudying up on the little honey makers right away. Daniel had taken it all in stride, positive she would grow boredwith her project. But she hadn’t.
Not over the twoweeks that passed beforeNo-Nose arrivedback with the king’s response, not during the couple ofdays that had followed as they hadprepared tohead to London, and not over the several days since theirarrival back in that noisy, crowded, stinky town.
They hadarrivedmidmorning, given the mentheirorders, left Richard in charge of assigning themenleave, then hadsent Meg and Henry back to the town house they had rented from Beecham, to keep up appearances. Her aunt and uncle could hardly just disappear, and certainlywould notmovein with them at the Thurborne town house – not in any normal course of events. So until Daniel could clear everythingupand they could return toThurborneCastle, those two wereto continueto stayat the Beecham rental. Which meant that Skully, One-eyed Joe, Pete, and Bull were allthere, too – backin their pinklivery and continuing the masquerade.
Daniel and she had continuedonto his town house. There he had givenheratour, introduced her to the staff, had luncheon with her, and sat inhorror as she announced her intention to make some purchases whilethey were intown. It wasn’t that she wished to spend money that horrified him.Itwas what she had told himshe intended tobuy:all the equipmentshe would need to start ahoney-making operationof her own.
She smiled to herself now as she thought of it. From his reaction that day, and thetwosince, she wasbeginning to think that Daniel hadmore than a usualdislike of bees. He really was notreacting well to the ideaof her having thousands of them. Not that she had let it stop her.Valoreehadbeen leaving the town house every afternoon since their arrival, and returning just before supper every night with more stacks ofthings she would need to runan apiary. She could hardly wait to get home and get started onit. Justthethought of all that sweet honey – The carriage came to a halt, drawing Valoree from her thoughts. Leaning forward, she peered out the window to see that they had arrived back at the town house, and she smiled in anticipation as the footman opened thedoor for her to get out.
Shecould hardly wait untilher husband saw her latest purchases.
He would turn green, she knew, and, oddly enough, she looked forward toit. Shewas findingDaniel’sdistress quite amusing for some reason.
That was probably a shameful thing to admit; no doubt enjoying torturingone’shusbandreally wasn’tagoodthing. But forsome reason, themore upset he got atthe ideaof all those beesbuzzing around, the more she enjoyed the idea. It was rather likethesatisfaction she had experienced as ayoung girl when she had eaten pickled cucumbers dripping with raspberry preserves, all to make Jeremy – who had always suffered terribly from seasickness – run for the side of the ship. This wasprobably a flaw in her personality, this enjoyment of torturing those she loved.