Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(15)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(15)
Author: Julia Quinn

Billy’s face went slack. “But you’re a proper lady!”

“Not all the time, apparently,” she muttered, and she dashed over to the open door to stick out her head.

“Not much to see,” Billy said regretfully.

But she still found it interesting. It was obviously the nicest part of the ship, or at least Poppy assumed it was. The hallway was not lit, but a small patch of sunlight shone down the stairwell, and she could see that the wooden walls were oiled and polished. There were three other doors, all on the other side of the corridor, and each had a well-made brass handle. “Who sleeps in the other cabins?” she asked.

“That one’s for the navigator,” Billy said with a jerk of his head. “His name is Mr. Carroway. He doesn’t say much, ’cept when he’s navigating.”

“And the others?”

“That one’s for Mr. Jenkins. He’s second in command. And the other one”—Billy pointed to the door farthest away—“Brown an’ Green share it.”

“Really?” Poppy would have thought they’d be down below with the rest of the sailors.

Billy nodded. “They’ve been with the captain the longest. He said he likes to reward loyalty.”

“My goodness,” Poppy said, craning her neck even though there wasn’t much of anything to see. “How positively revolutionary of him.”

“He’s a good man,” Billy said. “The best.”

Poppy supposed it spoke well of Captain James that he inspired such devotion, but honestly, the gushing was getting to be a bit much.

“I’ll come back for the tray in an hour, miss,” Billy said, and with a nod he dashed away and up the stairs.

To freedom.

Poppy gazed longingly at the patch of sunlight. If the light reached the stairwell, didn’t that mean one could see the sky from the bottom of the stairs? Surely it wouldn’t hurt if she took a quick peek. No one would know. According to Billy, only five men had any business in this area of the ship, and they were all presumably at their stations.

Gingerly, she pulled the door almost closed so that it was resting carefully against its frame. She tiptoed her way to the staircase, feeling foolish but well aware that this was probably the most excitement she’d have all day. When she reached the end of the corridor, she pressed her back against the wall, mostly because it felt like some subterfuge was in order. And then she looked up and angled her body toward the stairs, deciding that even a stripe of blue sky would be a victory.

Just a little farther, and then—

The ship pitched to the side, sending her tumbling to the floor. Poppy rubbed her hip as she hauled herself back upright, muttering, “Of all the—”

She froze.

The door . . .

The door she’d so carefully rested in place against the frame . . .

The lurch of the ship had pulled it shut.

Poppy gasped and ran back to the cabin, but when she pressed down on the door handle, it moved barely a quarter inch before informing her that she was locked out.

No no no . This couldn’t be happening. She leaned against the door and sank down until she was on her haunches. Billy had said he’d be back in an hour for the tray. She’d just wait here, and no one would be the wiser.

Then she thought about the tea. It would be stone cold and black as death by the time she got to it.

Somehow that seemed the worst tragedy of all.

Chapter 7

It was a strange combination of exhaustion, irritation, and guilt that prompted Andrew to hand the wheel to Mr. Jenkins and head below to check on Miss Bridgerton. The exhaustion was obvious; he couldn’t have got more than three hours’ sleep the night before. The irritation was with himself. He’d been in a foul mood all morning, barking orders and snapping at his men, none of whom deserved his temper.

The guilt . . . well, that was what had put him in a bad mood in the first place. He knew it was in Miss Bridgerton’s best interest to remain sequestered in the cabin, but he kept seeing her pained face when she pleaded with him to allow her on deck the night before. She had been honestly distressed, and it ate at his gut because he knew that if he were in her position, he would feel the exact same way.

This unexpected sympathy left him incensed. He had no cause to feel remorse over locking her in the cabin; it wasn’t his fault she’d gone into the damn cave. And maybe it wasn’t her fault that the foreign secretary had ordered him to take a diplomatic pouch to Lisbon, but that was beside the point. She would be safest in his cabin. His decision was right and sensible, and as captain, his command must be unquestioned.

But every time he tried to get on with the work of the day, Poppy Bridgerton’s sad, trembling face filtered through his mind. He started to write an entry in the ship’s log, but his quill hovered over the paper for so long that a fat drop of ink slid from the nib and stained the page. Thinking that good, hard manual labor might be what he needed, he decided he might as well go aloft, and so he left the bridge and headed on deck to climb the rigging.

Once there, however, he seemed to forget why he’d come. He just stood there, hand on the ratline, his thoughts alternating between Miss Bridgerton and his cursed inability to stop thinking about Miss Bridgerton. Finally, he let out a stream of invective so vulgar that one of his men actually went bug-eyed and backed carefully away.

He’d managed to offend the sensibilities of a hardened sailor. Under any other circumstances, he’d have taken pride in that.

Eventually he gave in to the guilt and decided to see how she was getting on. Bored out of her skull, he imagined. He’d seen the book she was reading the night before. Advanced Methods of Maritime Navigation . He himself read it occasionally—whenever he was having difficulty falling asleep. It never failed to knock him out in under ten minutes.

He’d found something much better—a novel he’d read a few months earlier and lent to Mr. Jenkins. His sister had liked it. She’d been the one to give it to him, actually, so he thought it might be to Miss Bridgerton’s taste.

Down the stairs he went, imagining how grateful she’d be.

Instead—

“What the devil?”

Miss Bridgerton was sitting on the floor with her legs outstretched, her back against the door to his cabin. In the corridor, very clearly not where she was supposed to be.

“It was an accident,” she said immediately.

“Get up,” he snapped.

She did, moving quickly out of his way as he jammed his key into the lock.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” she protested, yelping when he grabbed her wrist and hauled her into the cabin. “I just took a peek into the hall when Billy left and—”

“Oh, so now you’ve dragged him into this?”

“No! I would never.” Her manner suddenly shifted to something more contemplative. “He’s really quite sweet.”

“What? ”

“Sorry. My point was, I would never take advantage of his good nature. He’s just a boy.”

He didn’t know why he believed her, but he did. This did not, however, make him one jot less furious.

“I just wanted to see what it looked like outside the door,” she said. “I arrived in a sack , if you recall. And then the ship moved—well, it was more of lurch, really, quite violent, and I was thrown against the opposite wall.”

“And the door closed,” he said dubiously.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, obviously not comprehending his tone. “That’s exactly what happened. And I didn’t even get to drink my tea!”

He stared at her. Tea? Really?

“I almost cried,” she confessed. “I haven’t yet, you know, despite everything, and you have no idea how lucky you are that I’m not a crying sort of female. But when I was out there, and I realized my tea was going cold, I almost cried.”

She was so earnest that it was difficult to sustain an appropriate level of anger, but Andrew was determined to try. “You disobeyed me,” he said in a curt voice. “I specifically told you not to leave the room.”

“But the ship moved!”

“As they do ,” he ground out. “Perhaps you’ve noticed the ocean?”

   
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