Bridgett sensed the tenseness of her young mistress and that she was very uneasy with this new experience but Bridgett herself having been around this sort almost all of her growing up years along the coast of England, knew that for the most part, they were in no danger. True, some of the crass sort who lived and worked around the waterfront were a dangerous lot. Some would just as soon kill you as look at you. But during the day it was relatively safe, except, of course, for the catcalls, which had to be endured. She glanced at Desiree’s face and felt she must try and ease her fear.
“Most of these men are harmless dear,” she assured with a bright smile. “They enjoy making women uneasy but to them it is merely a way to amuse themselves. They mean you no harm—some are most honorable.” Desiree rolled her eyes in disbelief and Bridgett grasped and then patted her hand. “Trust me,” She said with a laugh.
As they walked past seedy vessels, Desiree was almost set to give up, when ahead she saw not one but two fine ships. The first was a British East Indiaman, very commonplace and yet this one held the distinction of having no visible large cannons but small falconets mounted at the rail and the forecastle had been modified, obviously revamped for speed.
The second, a Caravel, was small and two-masted; built for speed and light loads. Either would be very comfortable for a long voyage and as Desiree scanned on down the docks, she could see no others worth looking into, mostly whalers and French military ships. These looked to be her only hope.
Stopping before the first ship she noted the sparkling brass fittings gleaming in the midday sun. The mainsail, which seemed to be under repair, was flawlessly white. Sailors stood precariously upon the crosstree of the mainmast and a man’s deep rich voice could be heard over the hustle of the dockworkers, giving orders to the men up above.
“Davison! Watch those lines. We don’t need that main knotted up!” he shouted.
“Aye sir,” came the reply.
Desiree could see just the top of the man’s head from down on the dock. Wind tousled light blond hair gleamed like spun gold in the bright sunlight.
“Well, Bridgett? What do you think?” Desiree asked, lifting her brows excitedly.
“I think this is what we have been searching for,” Bridgett nodded.
“I agree. I shall go and see if the captain will give us passage. If not, then that smaller one there will do just as nicely.” Desiree inclined her head toward the next ship and started away.
“Missy, don’t you want me to accompany you?”
“Bridgett! You said yourself there is no danger and these men seem decent enough,” Desiree decided as she walked up the plank. “Besides, I must begin learning to do things for myself.”
Desiree alighted on the main deck and started toward the bow, where she had seen the blond man. Sailors stopped their activities to watch her pass, smiling in appreciation at the feminine swing of her slim hips. Desiree was oblivious to this; her eyes were turned upward to the men walking agilely upon the mast above. The height was dizzying and she marveled at their balance and daring.
“And just what do you think you are doing, may I ask?”
“Oh!” Desiree chirped, as she was nearly knocked off her feet after slamming full force into the blond-headed man. Unshaken by the collision, he stood with feet wide-set and hands on hips, glaring down at her. Desiree pulled back, lifting her hands to straighten her hat and looked up at him with embarrassment and a self-conscious smile which faded when she saw the dark-brown eyes boring into her.
“I…I wish to speak with the Capitaine’. Would that be you?” she asked softly, feeling the heat of a blush come up on her face.
“I neither speak nor understand French! If we are to talk, it will have to be English,” he stated gruffly, crossing his arms over his chest with an amused, mocking expression.
“Are—are you the Captain?” Desiree stammered hesitantly, although her English was usually flawless and fluent as she had studied it for several years and spoke it quite often with Bridgett and Mary.
“That I am. How may I be of service to you, my sweet?” As he asked this, his eyes took in the whole length of her body, lingering on the modestly cut bodice of her gown where he could see just a hint of soft white flesh and the outline of the voluptuous assets beneath. Her lovely face gave away her youth and he guessed she must be at least two or three years short of a score. But her trim, shapely figure looked made for love.
His gaze came slowly back up her body and as his eyes met hers, Desiree swallowed hard. His close scrutiny had now caused her face to flush bright crimson, she felt sure. She could feel the heat coming from her cheeks. Her knees felt as though they might buckle at any moment and it took much control on her part to keep from racing to the rail and screaming for Bridgett to rescue her.
“I—I was hoping to inquire about sailing…” she wrung her hands nervously, as he continued his raking of her form with his eyes. “Booking passage to the colonies. Would you be able to accommodate my maid and myself…?” she found her voice trailing off softly at the end. She was completely unraveled and unnerved.
“Well, I’m not in the habit of taking passengers on,” he began as he took a step toward her with a dimpled grin on his clean-shaven face. The grin widened as she stepped back from him. “I find it usually makes for trouble.”
Desiree could not believe it but he took another step toward her. She took another step back and found that she had inadvertently backed herself into a stack of wooden crates. She was hemmed in on all sides. She leaned against the rough wood, putting as much distance between them as she possibly could. He was only a pace away, his eyes full of menace; at least to her meager knowledge of men they appeared menacing. She dropped her gaze from his but then her vision was filled with his broad bronzed chest. His shirt was open, showing the muscled and bulging expanse beneath a light furring of dark hair and she lifted her eyes to his once more.
He thought that the girl looked as if she were ready to burst into tears. Her gorgeous violet-blue eyes framed by sooty black lashes were wide and fearful. He couldn’t resist teasing her further. “Especially female passengers…” he rasped, raising his brows and stepping closer still until he was against her. So close to her, in fact, that he could feel her thighs pressed against his own. He paused, pulling back and tilting his head, letting his lips hover close to hers and reached out to let his hands slip about her along her ribcage, as his thumbs lightly brushed the sides of her breasts. “But if you would care to, come below to my cabin for a time, I will make it well worth your while.”
Desiree gasped in shock, turning her face away from his; his breath was warm and clean against her cheek. He made an almost animal growling noise in his throat. He thinks I’m a trollop! she screamed silently within her mind.
“Name you price, my dear. I am a very generous man when it comes to such fine quality.” His lips moved to the side of her neck and his thumbs moved over the bodice of her gown lightly.
Desiree came to life outraged by his familiarity. His arrogance made her quake with anger. “You swine!” she spat, finding her voice. “How dare you!” With a shriek, her tiny foot found his large one and she stamped on his instep with all her might.
“Damn!” he yelped, picking up his foot and falling back a pace.
The shocked expression on his outrageously handsome face told Desiree that he was not accustomed to being denied and before he could resume his assault, she struck out with all her strength. The slap could easily be heard at all parts of the vessel.
“How dare you, you slimy rogue. The likes of you trifling with me! You, you blackguard!” Desiree spat, then with both hands heaved against the stunned man, catching him off balance as he favored his aching foot and he fell back from her, tripping on a coil of rope and landing with a thud in the midst of the coil. Desiree ran around him, then along the ship to the plank and down to the dock, as the sound of riotous laughter followed in her wake.
The surprised captain lifted his tall frame from the deck and rubbed the sting from his cheek. A smile played about his lips and he chuckled to himself. He hadn’t expected that from the lady.
Laughter sounded around him and he looked up at the two men on the crosstree of the mainsail. In a fit of glee both men held weakly onto the sheet, bracing themselves against the mast. He outstretched his arms, shrugging his shoulders with a wide grin, which brought renewed chuckles from up and down the ship.
“All right, show’s over gents!” he laughed. “Let’s get this tub loaded. We sail on the morning tide or had all of you forgotten that?”
As the men resumed their duties, he made his way to the rail and watched the young lady grasp another woman by the arm and walk briskly down the waterfront. He clicked his tongue in appreciation, then chuckling to himself, went back to his work.
Desiree raced down the gangplank with her gown lifted in one hand so as not to impede her departure, head held high and back straight as a board. Her mouth was set in a grim, hard line as she snatched Bridgett firmly by the elbow, heading off down the docks.
“That lecherous swine, how dare…” Desiree fumed under her breath. “Come below, eh? Well…”
“My dear you are as red as a beet! Tell me what is wrong. What happened?” Bridgett fretted, taking quick, short steps to keep up with Desiree and prevent her arm from being torn from its socket.
“That beast took me for, he tried to, oh never mind!” Desiree shook her head, trying to rid herself of the distasteful scene. “Let’s inquire at the next ship. This time, you accompany me!” She managed a strained smile and arm in arm, the two climbed the plank to the deck of the Caravel.