Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(7)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(7)
Author: Julia Quinn

“Your cousins?” he murmured.

“I have many,” she said, angling for an ominous tone.

Other than a slight lift to his brow, he gave no reaction. Poppy held out her now-finished missive, and he took it, giving the words one last glance before folding it neatly in half.

The motion was crisp, and horribly final. Poppy exhaled, because it was either that or cry. She waited for him to go—surely he would take his leave now, but he just stood there looking thoughtful, until he said, “Your name is very unusual. How did you come by it?”

“It’s not so unusual,” she muttered.

He leaned toward her, and she could not seem to look away as his eyes crinkled merrily. “You’re no Rose or Daisy.”

Poppy didn’t intend to respond, but then she heard herself say, “It had nothing to do with flowers.”

“Really?”

“It came from my brother. He was four, I suppose. My mother let him touch her belly while she carrying me, and he said it felt like I was popping about.”

He smiled, and it made him even more impossibly handsome. “I imagine he’s never let you hear the end of that.”

And that broke the spell. “He died,” Poppy said, looking away. “Five years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Habit or heartfelt?” she asked waspishly, quite before she had a chance to think about her words. Or her tone.

“Heartfelt,” he said quietly.

She said nothing, just looked down at the table, trying to make sense of this strange reality she’d been thrust into. Pirates who apologized? Outlaws who spoke as finely as any duke? Who were these people?

“Where shall I have this delivered?” the captain asked, holding up her letter.

“Briar House,” Poppy said. “It’s near—”

“My men will know where to find it,” he cut in.

Poppy watched as he walked to the door. “Sir!” she suddenly called out. “Er, Captain,” she amended, furious with herself for offering him the respect of a sir .

He lifted one brow in silent question.

“Your name, Captain.” And she was delighted that she managed to say it as a statement, not a question.

“Of course,” he said, sweeping into a courtly bow. “Captain Andrew James, at your service. Welcome aboard the Infinity .”

“No ‘We’re delighted to have you’?” Poppy asked.

He laughed as he placed his hand on the doorknob. “That remains to be seen.”

He poked his head out the door and barked out someone’s name, and Poppy watched his back as he gave instructions—and the letter—to one of his men. She thought he might then depart, but instead he shut the door and leaned against it, regarding her with a resigned expression.

“Table or bed?” he asked.

What?

So she said it. “What?”

“Table”—he nodded at her before jerking his head toward the corner—“or bed.”

This could not be good. Poppy tried to think quickly, to figure out in under a second both his intentions and her possible responses. But all she said was, “Ehrm . . .”

“Bed it is,” he said crisply.

Poppy let out a shriek as he scooped her up again and tossed her onto the bed.

“It will be better for us both if you don’t struggle,” he warned her.

Her eyes grew wide with terror.

“Oh, for the love of—” He bit off his statement before he blasphemed, then went on to utter something far worse. He took a moment to compose himself, then said, “I’m not going to defile you, Miss Bridgerton. You have my word.”

She said nothing.

“Your hand,” he said.

She had no idea what he was talking about, but she lifted her hand nonetheless.

“The other one,” he said sharply, then grabbed her left hand—the one with which she wrote, despite her governess’s best attempts to force her to switch—and pulled it against the bed rail. Before she could count to five, he’d tied her to the long slat of wood.

They both looked at her free hand.

“You could try,” he said, “but you won’t get it undone.” And then he smiled, damn the man. “No one ties knots like a sailor.”

“In that case, could you untie my ankles?”

“Not until we’re well at sea, Miss Bridgerton.”

“It’s not as if I can swim,” she lied.

“Shall we toss you in the water to test the truth of that statement?” he asked. “Rather like setting a witch afire. If she burns, she’s innocent.”

Poppy ground her teeth together. “If I drown—”

“Then you’re trustworthy,” he finished, smiling broadly. “Shall we give it a go?”

“Get out,” she said tightly.

He let out a bark of laughter. “I’ll see you when we’re well at sea, my little liar.”

And then, before she had the chance to even think about throwing something at him, he was gone.

Chapter 3

“Bridgerton,” Andrew ground out as he strode furiously across the Infinity ’s foredeck. “Bridgerton!” Of all the women in all the world, the one who stumbled into his cave—which, he might add, had gone undetected for a full three years—had to be a Bridgerton .

It would have only been worse if she’d been a bloody Rokesby.

Thank God he’d never used his family surname aboard the ship; his entire crew knew him only as Andrew James. Which wasn’t technically untrue; his full given name was Andrew James Edwin Rokesby. It had seemed prudent not to advertise his aristocratic identity when he took command of the Infinity , and he’d never been so glad of it before now. If the girl in his cabin was a Bridgerton, she’d know who the Rokesbys were, and that would cause a cascade of misery all around.

“Bridgerton,” he practically groaned, earning him a curious look from one of his deckhands. It was impossible to overstate just how well Andrew knew the Bridgertons, at least the portion of the family that resided in Aubrey Hall, in Kent, just a short distance from his own ancestral home. Lord and Lady Bridgerton were practically a second set of parents to him, and they had become family in truth seven years earlier when their eldest daughter, Billie, had married Andrew’s older brother, George.

Frankly, Andrew was surprised that he and Poppy Bridgerton had never met. Lord Bridgerton had several younger brothers, and as far as Andrew knew, they’d all had children. There had to be dozens of Bridgerton cousins scattered about the English countryside. He vaguely recalled Billie telling him about family in Somerset, but if they’d ever visited, it had not been when Andrew was home to meet them.

And now one of them was on his ship.

Andrew swore under his breath. If Poppy Bridgerton discovered his true identity, there would be hell to pay. Only thirteen people knew that Andrew James was actually Andrew Rokesby, third son of the Earl of Manston. Of those thirteen, nine were members of his immediate family.

And of those nine, zero knew the real reason for the deception.

It had all started seven years earlier, when Andrew had been sent home from the navy to recuperate after he’d fractured his arm. He had been eager to return to his post aboard the HMS Titania —he’d worked hard for his recent promotion to first lieutenant, damn it—but the king’s Privy Council had had other ideas.

In their infinite wisdom, the members of the council had decided that the best place for a naval officer was a tiny landlocked principality in central Europe. Andrew was told—and this was a direct quote—to be “charming.” And to make sure that Wachtenberg-Molstein’s Princess Amalia Augusta Maria Theresa Josephine was delivered to London in one virginal piece as a potential bride for the Prince of Wales.

That she’d fallen overboard during the channel crossing was not Andrew’s fault. That she’d been rescued, however, was, and when she had then declared that she’d marry none but the man who’d saved her, Andrew had found himself at the center of a diplomatic disaster. The final leg of the trip had involved nothing less than a runaway coach, the disgruntled resignation of two sub-members of the council, and an overturned chamber pot. (On Andrew, not the princess, although you’d think it had been the latter from the way she’d carried on.)

   
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