Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(16)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(16)
Author: Julia Quinn

Her lips pressed together at his sarcasm. “I am unfamiliar with ships,” she said through clenched teeth. “I did not expect such a jolt.”

He leaned in menacingly and spoke with the same frosty tone. “You shouldn’t have been hanging out the door.”

“Well, then I’m sorry for that,” she ground out, in what had to be the least gracious apology he’d ever heard.

But strangely, he thought it was sincere.

“Don’t let it happen again,” he said sharply. But he spared her the indignity of having to respond by turning away and moving to his desk. He shoved the novel onto his shelf, not wanting her to think that he’d come down because he was trying to make her detention more pleasant. This was a ship, and bad behavior could not be rewarded. She had disobeyed his explicit instructions; if one of his men had done the same, he’d have been put on rat-catching duty for a week. Or been flogged, depending on the severity of the transgression.

He wasn’t sure Miss Bridgerton had learned her lesson—probably not, knowing her—but he rather thought he’d said all there was to say on the matter. So instead he pretended to look for something on his desk. He could only keep up such a ruse for so long, though, and she was just standing there staring at him, so he said, perhaps a bit more harshly than was necessary, “Eat your breakfast.”

And then—God above, he would swear it was like his mother was in that very cabin, yanking on his ear and telling him to mind his manners—he heard himself clear his throat, and he added, “Please.”

Poppy’s jaw dropped. Captain James changed topics with enough speed to make her dizzy. “I—all right.”

She watched him for a moment, then walked carefully—why, she did not know; it just seemed like she ought to be extra quiet—back to the table. She lifted the lid to the dish after she sat down. Eggs, bacon, and toast. Stone cold, all of it.

But beggars couldn’t be choosers, and technically it was her fault that she’d been locked out, so she ate quietly and without complaint. The eggs were less than appetizing, but the toast and bacon held up reasonably well at their lower temperatures.

She supposed she should be glad she hadn’t been served porridge.

The captain’s desk was on the far side of the cabin, so she had a perfect view of his back as he rummaged about. “Where is that navigation book?” he finally asked.

She took a moment to chew and swallow. “The one I was reading last night?”

“Yes.”

“It’s still on the bed. Do you need it?”

“For Mr. Carroway,” he said brusquely. “The navigator.”

“Yes, I know,” she said as she rose to her feet and walked over to the bed. “Billy told me about him. Your second in command is Mr. Jenkins, is that correct?”

“Indeed.”

“I suppose it is beneficial to know the names of the officers even if I am unlikely ever to interact with them.”

His jaw stiffened. “You do like to make that point, don’t you?”

“It is one of my few pleasures,” she murmured.

He rolled his eyes but didn’t otherwise reply, so she retrieved the navigation guide from the bed and handed it to him. “One would hope Mr. Carroway already possesses the skills outlined within.”

The captain made no sign of amusement. “I can assure you he possesses all the necessary skills.”

And then there it was again. That phenomenally foolish little devil on her shoulder, urging her to prove that she was every bit as clever as he. She curved her lips and murmured, “Do you possess the necessary skills?”

Her regret was instant.

He, on the other hand, seemed to relish the question. His smile was languid and vaguely patronizing, and the air between them grew hot.

He leaned forward, and for a moment she thought he was going to reach out and touch her. Instead she found herself awkwardly tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, as if her raised arm could even pretend to offer protection from him.

“Oh, Miss Bridgerton,” he purred, “do you really want to pursue that line of questioning?”

Stupid, stupid girl. What had she been thinking? This was not a game she was qualified to play, especially not with him. Captain James was not like anyone of her acquaintance. He had the comportment and speech of a gentleman, and in so many ways he was a gentleman, but he took such obvious pleasure in poking at the boundaries of polite behavior. Granted, she had found herself in a situation for which there were no rules of polite behavior, but somehow she thought that if she met him in a ballroom, he’d behave in almost exactly the same manner.

Some people broke rules.

Others merely wished to.

Poppy wasn’t sure to which category she belonged. Maybe neither. For some reason, that depressed her.

“How old are you, Miss Bridgerton?” the captain inquired.

Poppy was immediately on her guard. “Why do you ask?”

He did not answer her question, of course. He just kept watching her with that heavy-lidded stare. “Humor me.”

“Very well,” she said, when she could not think of a reason she ought not reveal her age. “I am two and twenty.”

“Old enough to be married, then.”

There was an insult in there somewhere, even if she wasn’t quite sure what it was. “I am not married because I do not wish to be,” she said with clipped formality.

He was still standing too close, and she was uncomfortably near the bed, so she tried to put a halt to the conversation by stepping around him. She moved to the window, but he followed her pace for pace.

His voice held equal parts arrogance and amusement when he asked, “You do not wish to be married or you do not wish to be married to any of the men who have asked for your hand?”

She kept her gaze firmly on the azure view. “I do not see how that is any of your business.”

“I ask,” he murmured, moving slightly closer, “if only to ascertain your skills.”

She drew back, looking at him despite all of her best intentions. “I beg your pardon.”

“In the art of flirting , Miss Bridgerton.” He placed a hand over his heart. “Goodness, you jump to conclusions.”

She fought to keep her teeth from grinding into powder. “I am not, as you have so deftly demonstrated, up to your standards in that realm.”

“I shall take that as a compliment, even though I’m fairly certain it wasn’t meant as such.” He stepped away then, giving her his back as he wandered over to his desk.

But Poppy had not even managed to exhale before he abruptly turned around and remarked, “But surely you agree that flirting is an art, and not a science.”

She had no idea what they were talking about anymore. “I will agree to no such thing.”

“You think it a science, then?”

“No!” she almost yelled. He was baiting her, and they both knew it, and she hated that he was winning this twisted competition between them. But she knew she had to remain calm, so she took a moment to compose herself. Several moments, actually. And one very deep breath. Finally, with what she felt was admirable gravity, she tipped her chin up by an inch and said, “I don’t think it’s either, and it’s certainly not an appropriate conversation between two unmarried individuals.”

“Hmmm.” He made a show of considering this. “I rather think two unmarried individuals are precisely the sort of people who ought to be having such a conversation.”

That was it. She was done .

If he wanted to talk, he could do so until his eyes bled, but she was through with this conversation. She returned to her breakfast, buttering her toast with such fervor that the knife poked through and jabbed her hand. “Ow,” she muttered, more at the surprise than the pain. It was just a butter knife, too dull to break her skin.

“Are you hurt?”

She took an angry bite of toast. “Don’t talk to me.”

“Well, that’s rather difficult, seeing as how we’re sharing a cabin.”

Her hands came down on the table with startling force and she jerked herself to her feet. “Are you trying to torture me?”

   
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