Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(10)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(10)
Author: Julia Quinn

Poppy managed a half smile that was every bit a match with his. “I assure you, Captain James, I never spit.”

He laughed aloud. “Touché, Miss Bridgerton.”

Poppy sat quietly for a moment. She’d finished both rolls, but supper had not yet arrived, leaving her without anything with which to occupy herself. It made the silence awkward, and she hated that she was staring at her hands to avoid staring at him.

It was hard to look at him. It wasn’t that he was so handsome, although that was certainly true. And while Poppy was usually comfortable in most social gatherings, she was the first to admit that there were some people who were simply too beautiful. One almost had to look away, else risk turning tongue-tied and stupid.

But that wasn’t why Captain James made her feel so inept. She was pretty enough, but she was used to being around people who were more attractive than she was. London was full of ladies and gentlemen who spent hours upon hours on their appearance. Poppy could barely sit still long enough for her maid to dress her hair.

The problem with Captain James wasn’t his beauty, it was his intelligence. More specifically, he had too much of it.

Poppy could see it in his eyes. She’d spent most of her life being the cleverest person in the room. It wasn’t braggadocio, it was fact. But she wasn’t so sure she had this man beat.

She stood abruptly and walked to the windows, gazing out over the endless sea. She hadn’t had the chance to explore the cabin, not really. Her time on the bed had been spent tied up and staring at the ceiling. And when she was writing the letter to Elizabeth, she’d been far too focused on the task—and on keeping up with the clever captain—to truly examine her surroundings.

“These are very fine windows,” she said. The glass was of obvious quality, perhaps a little weather-beaten, but not warped or wavy.

“Thank you.”

She nodded, even though she wasn’t looking at him. “Are all captain’s cabins this commodious?”

“I can’t say I’ve done a thorough study on the subject, but of the ones I’ve been in, yes. Military ships, especially.”

She turned. “You’ve been aboard a military ship?”

He glanced to the side—not even for a full second—but it was enough to let Poppy know that he’d not meant to let such a detail slip.

“I’d wager you were in the navy,” she said.

“Would you now?”

“Either that or you were there as a prisoner, and strange as it seems to say this, since you did kidnap me, that doesn’t seem likely.”

“Because of my high moral fiber?”

“Because you’re too clever to get caught.”

He laughed at that. “I shall take that as the highest of compliments, Miss Bridgerton. Mostly because I know how grudgingly it was given.”

“It would be foolish of me to underestimate your intelligence.”

“Indeed it would, and if you will permit me to pay you a compliment, it would be equally foolish for me to underestimate you.”

A little thrill ran through Poppy’s chest. Men so rarely acknowledged intelligence in a woman. And the fact that it was he . . .

. . . had nothing to do with it, she told herself firmly. She walked over to his desk, set against the far wall. Like the table, it was a finely crafted piece of furniture. In fact everything about the cabin spoke of wealth and privilege. The books squeezed tightly on the shelf were those of an educated man, and she was fairly certain the carpet was imported from the Orient.

Or maybe he’d gone to the Orient and brought it back himself. Still, it was quality.

She had always thought ship cabins would be tiny and cramped, but this one was quite spacious. Nothing compared to her bedchamber at home, of course, but still, she could take ten paces between the two walls, and she’d always had a lengthy stride.

“Do you get seasick, Miss Bridgerton?” Captain James asked.

She turned sharply, surprised that she had not yet considered this. “I don’t know.”

This seemed to amuse him. “How do you feel right now?”

“Fine,” she said, the word drawn out long as she paused to take stock of her insides. Nothing was churning, nothing was queasy. “Almost normal, I suppose.”

He gave a slow nod. “That’s a good sign. I’ve seen men reduced to invalids even here in the calm waters of the channel.”

“This is calm?” Poppy asked. They might not be pitching and rolling, but the floor was definitely unsteady beneath her feet. Nothing like the times she’d been rowed out on a lake.

“Relatively,” he replied. “You’ll know rough waters once we reach the Atlantic.”

“We’re not—” She cut herself off. Of course they were not yet in the Atlantic. She knew her geography. She just had never had reason to put it to firsthand use before.

She schooled her features back into what she hoped was a composed expression. “I have never been to sea,” she said stiffly. “I expect we will soon learn how I fare.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment a sharp rap sounded at the door, and whatever he might have said was supplanted by “That will be supper.”

Poppy scooted out of the way as a towheaded boy of perhaps ten or twelve carried in a tray with covered dishes and a carafe of what looked to be red wine.

“Thank you, Billy,” the captain said.

“Sir,” Billy grunted, setting the heavily laden tray on the table.

Poppy smiled at the boy—there was no need to be rude to everyone—but he was clearly trying not to so much as glance in her direction.

“Thank you,” she said, perhaps a little too loudly.

Billy flushed and gave a jerky nod.

“This is Miss Poppy,” the captain said, laying a hand on Billy’s shoulder before he could flee. “Aside from me, you will be the only person allowed in this cabin to tend to her. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Billy said, still not looking at her. He looked downright miserable. “Will there be anything else, sir?”

“No, that will be all. You may return in three quarters of an hour to clear the tray.”

Billy nodded and practically sprinted from the room.

“He’s at that age,” the captain said with a wry lift of his brows, “when there is nothing so scary as an attractive female.”

“It’s nice to know I scare someone,” Poppy half muttered.

The captain let out a bark of laughter. “Oh, you need not worry on that score. Brown and Green are thoroughly terrified.”

“And you?” Poppy asked as she took her seat. “Do I scare you?”

She held her breath as she waited for his answer. She wasn’t sure what foolish devil had compelled her to ask such a question, but now that she had, her skin prickled with anticipation.

He took his time in answering, but Poppy didn’t think it was with the intent to draw out her unease. His expression grew thoughtful as he lifted the lid on the main dish. “Rabbit in wine,” he murmured, “and no, you don’t scare me.” He looked up, his eyes meeting hers in a startling blaze of azure.

She waited for him to elaborate, but he did not, instead ladling the fragrant stew into their bowls.

“What does scare you?” she finally asked.

He chewed. Swallowed. “Well, I don’t much like spiders.”

His answer was so unexpected she gave a little snort. “Does anyone?”

“Must be someone, I imagine,” he said with a one-shouldered shrug. “Don’t people study such things at university? Naturalists and the like?”

“But if you were a naturalist, wouldn’t you rather study something sweet and fluffy?”

He glanced down at his bowl. “Like a rabbit?”

She tried not to smile. “Point taken.”

“I’ll be honest,” he said, uncovering a small serving dish filled with parsleyed potatoes. “I don’t think either of us had a point.”

This time, she couldn’t help it. She did smile. But she also rolled her eyes.

“See,” he said, “I’m not so dreadful.”

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