Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(11)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(11)
Author: Julia Quinn

“Neither am I,” she shot back.

He sighed.

“What does that mean?” she asked, instantly suspicious.

“What?”

Her eyes narrowed. “You sighed.”

“Am I not allowed to?”

“Captain James .”

“Very well,” he said, sighing again, and for the first time his face looked almost weary. “I was not dissembling. You don’t scare me. But I’ll tell you what does.”

He paused, and she wondered if it was for dramatic effect or simply so he might consider his words.

“I am petrified,” he said with slow deliberation, “by everything you represent.”

For a moment, Poppy could do nothing but stare. “What does that mean?” she asked, and she didn’t think she sounded defensive. She didn’t think she was defensive. But she was curious. After a statement like that, how could she be otherwise?

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table as his hands formed a steeple. “You, Miss Bridgerton, are a lady of gentle birth. I suspect you’re already aware that I have some experience with this particular species.”

She nodded. It was clear that Captain James had been born a gentleman. It was right there in everything he did, everything he said. She saw it in the way he moved and spoke, and she wondered if a person could ever truly throw off the customs with which he was raised.

She wondered if the captain had wanted to.

“Simply put, Miss Bridgerton,” he continued, “creatures such as yourself have no place on a ship.”

Poppy gave him an arch look. “I believe I have already concurred on this point.”

“So you did. But much to our joint dismay, there are forces at work which precluded my being able to redeposit you ashore.”

“Forces such as what?”

He gave her a practiced smile. “Nothing you need worry your pretty head about.”

This time she was quite sure he was trying to rankle her. But his condescending statement didn’t bother her nearly so much as the fact that he’d known it would.

She did not like being so easily read.

She especially did not like that he was the one to do so.

So she smiled prettily and thanked him when he spooned potatoes onto her plate. And when she caught him regarding her with a curious expression, as if he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her nonreaction, she allowed herself some small satisfaction. But just a tiny bit, because frankly, she didn’t think she would be able to keep it off her face if she allowed herself to truly savor her triumph.

She did not want to think about what it meant that this was what now passed for a triumph.

“Wine?” The captain inquired.

“Please.”

He filled her glass, and it was all very civilized. They ate in silence, and Poppy was reasonably content to remain in her own thoughts until the captain swallowed the last bite of his food and remarked, “It’s a comfortable bed. When one is not tied up, of course.”

Her head shot up. “I beg your pardon?”

“My bed,” he said, with a little motion in its direction. “It’s very comfortable. There is a rail—you pull it up and it clicks into place. It keeps one from falling out in bad weather.”

Poppy felt her eyes widen with alarm as she turned toward his berth. It was larger than she might expect for a sailing vessel, but surely it did not fit two. He couldn’t possibly imagine they would . . . No, he would never. But he wouldn’t be sleeping there. He’d said that he was giving her his room.

“Relax,” he said. “The bed is yours.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“I’ll be on the floor.”

She gasped audibly. “In here?”

“Where else do you propose I lay my head?”

It took a few tries before she managed to get out, “Somewhere else?”

He shrugged. “No room.”

Her head shook from side to side, the motion tiny and quick, as if she might be able to jostle his words right out of the cabin. “That can’t be true.”

“There’s always the deck,” he said, “but I’ve been told I’m a restless sleeper. I could roll right overboard.”

“Please,” she begged, “be serious.”

His eyes met hers, and once again she was reminded that he was something more than a devil-may-care rogue. There was nothing amusing in his gaze, and nothing amused. “I am serious,” he said.

“My reputation—”

“Won’t change either way. If it’s discovered you’re gone, your reputation will be in tatters regardless of where I sleep. If it’s not discovered you’re gone, no one will be the wiser.”

“Your men will know.”

“My men know me ,” he said in a voice that brooked no dissent. “If I tell them you are an honorable lady, and that I sleep at the door to protect you, that is what they will believe.”

Poppy brought her hand to her mouth, a nervous gesture she indulged in for only the greatest moments of apprehension. Or at least this was the lie she told herself; she probably did it all the time.

“I can see you do not believe me,” the captain said.

“I will be honest,” she said. “I do not know what to believe.”

He regarded her for a long moment. “Fair enough,” he said, and somehow it felt like a compliment. He stood then, and walked to the door. “I will summon Billy to clear the dishes. The poor boy is beside himself, I’m afraid. I assured him he wouldn’t even know you were here, and now he’s required to carry all your meals.”

“He had to be assured that he would not see me? Am I really such a gorgon?”

Captain James smiled, but not with humor. “Any woman is a gorgon on this ship. Very bad luck.”

“Do you believe that?” Surely he didn’t. He couldn’t.

“I believe it was very bad luck that you came across my cave.”

“But—”

“No,” he interrupted with sharp authority. “I do not believe that women are inherently bad luck, on a ship or anywhere. But my men do, and I must take that into consideration. Now then, I’ve work to do. I’ll be gone at least three hours. That should give you time enough to prepare yourself for bed.”

Poppy’s mouth went slack as she watched him reach for the door handle, and he was halfway out before she yelled, “Wait!”

Chapter 5

Andrew allowed himself a long exhale before he turned around. Miss Bridgerton was standing near the bed, a nervous expression on her face.

No, not nervous. Ill-at-ease was probably a more accurate descriptor. She clearly had something she wished to say.

But she wasn’t saying it, which should have been cause for alarm.

“Yes?” he finally prompted.

She shook her head. “Nothing.”

He had enough experience with women to know that wasn’t true. “Are you certain?”

She nodded.

Very well. If she insisted. He acknowledged her evasion with a dip of his chin and turned back to the door.

“I just—”

Damn . He’d come so close. He turned again, the very model of patience.

“I don’t have anything to wear,” she said in a small voice.

He fought the urge to close his eyes, even for just one weary moment. He hadn’t thought her so frivolous. Surely she did not see the need for fancy frocks on the voyage to Portugal.

Then she added, “In which to sleep, and, well, for the days too.”

“What’s wrong with what you’re wearing?” he asked, flicking a hand toward her blue confection. The bodice was made of some sort of large-patterned lace, and the skirt was thankfully plain, with no hoops or bustles that might make shipboard life even more difficult for her.

He thought the dress looked quite nice on her. In fact, he’d entertained thoughts of peeling it from her body before he’d discovered her identity.

“There is nothing wrong with it,” she replied, “but I can’t wear it for two weeks straight.”

“My men generally wear the same clothes for the duration.” He didn’t, but his men did.

   
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