Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(9)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(9)
Author: Julia Quinn

“I’m hungry,” she said, without bothering to look and see who had entered the cabin.

“Thought you might be,” came the captain’s voice. A warm, crusty roll landed on the bed next to her shoulder. It smelled heavenly.

“Brought you butter too,” the captain said.

Poppy thought about turning to face him, but she’d long since realized that any change in position involved a rather undignified amount of grunting and twisting. So she just said, “Shall I fill your bed with crumbs?”

“There are so many interesting rejoinders to such a statement,” he said, and she could hear the lazy smile in his voice, “but I will refrain.”

Score one for him, again . Damn it.

“If you’d like,” he said mildly, “I’ll free you from your bindings.”

That was enough to make her twist her head. “We’re well out to sea, then?”

He stepped forward, holding a knife. “Far enough that one would have to be far less clever than you to attempt an escape.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Compliment?”

“Absolutely,” he said, his smile positively lethal.

“I assume you plan to use that knife on my bindings.”

He nodded, slicing her free. “Not that the alternatives aren’t tempting.”

Her eyes flew to his face.

“I jest,” he said, almost rotely.

Poppy was not amused.

The captain just shrugged, tugging the rope out from under her ankles. “My life would be far simpler if you were not here, Miss Bridgerton.”

“You could have left me in Charmouth,” she reminded him.

“No,” he said, “I couldn’t have done.”

She picked up the roll and took a bite of unladylike proportions.

“You are hungry,” he murmured.

She shot him a look that told him what she thought of his overly obvious statement.

He tossed another roll in her direction. She caught it one-handed and managed not to smile.

“Well done, Miss Bridgerton,” he said.

“I have four brothers,” she said with a shrug.

“Do you now?” he asked mildly.

She glanced up briefly from her food. “We’re fiendishly competitive.”

He pulled a chair out from his surprisingly elegant dining table, then sat, resting one ankle on the opposite knee with lazy grace. “All good at games?”

She leveled her gaze onto his. She could be every bit as nonchalant as he. And if she couldn’t, she’d die trying. “Some better than others,” she said, then finished up the first roll.

He laughed. “Meaning you’re the best?”

She lifted a brow. “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I like to win.”

“Most people do.”

She fully intended to respond with a cuttingly witty rejoinder, but he beat her to the punch with “You, I imagine, however, like to win more than most.”

She pursed her lips. “Compliment?”

He shook his head, his lips still curved into a vexing little smile. “Not this time.”

“Because you’re afraid I’m going to best you?”

“Because I’m afraid you’re going to make my life a living hell.”

Poppy’s lips parted in surprise. That was not what she’d expected him to say. She regarded the second roll, then took a bite. “Some would say,” she said once she’d finished chewing, “that such language isn’t appropriate in the presence of a lady.”

“We’re hardly in a drawing room,” he returned, “and besides, I thought you said you had four brothers. Surely they’ve managed to blister your ears once or twice.”

They had, of course, and Poppy wasn’t so high in the instep that she would faint at the occasional curse. She’d scolded the captain mainly just to annoy him, and she rather suspected he knew that.

Which annoyed her .

She decided to change the subject. “I believe you said you’d brought butter.”

He motioned gallantly to a small ramekin, resting atop the dining table. “Surely you don’t want me to toss this ,” he said, “your superior catching skills notwithstanding.”

Poppy rose and walked to the table. She was a bit wobbly, but she couldn’t tell if it was from the motion of the sea or the blood returning to her feet.

“Sit,” he said, the word more of a request than an order.

She hesitated, his politeness far more disconcerting than incivility might have been.

“I won’t bite,” he added, leaning back.

She pulled out the chair.

“Unless, of course, you want me to,” he murmured.

“Captain James!”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Miss Bridgerton, you’re made of sterner stuff than that .”

“I don’t get your meaning,” she ground out.

His lips quirked. Not that they’d ever really stopped quirking; the odious man always looked as if he was up to something. “If you were truly my match,” he said, his voice lightly taunting, “you’d not be the least put off by my wordplay.”

She sat down and reached for the butter. “I don’t generally jest about matters relating to my life or virtue, Captain James.”

“A wise rule,” he said, leaning back, “but I certainly need not feel constrained by it.”

She picked up the butter knife and regarded it thoughtfully.

“Not nearly sharp enough to do me damage,” the captain said with a smile.

“No.” Poppy sighed, dipping it into the butter. “Pity that.” She slathered her roll and took a bite. “Do you plan to keep me on bread and water?”

“Of course not,” he said. “I am not so ungentlemanly as that. Supper is due to arrive in”—he checked his pocket watch—“five minutes.”

She watched him for a moment. He didn’t look like he was going anywhere. “Do you plan to eat here with me?” she asked.

“I don’t plan to starve.”

“You can’t go eat with . . . with . . .” She waved her hand about somewhat ineffectually, not really knowing what she was motioning to.

“My men?” he finished for her. “No. We’re a more liberal ship than most, but it’s hardly a democracy. I am the captain. I eat here.”

“Alone?”

His smile was slow and wicked. “Unless I have company.”

She sucked in her upper lip, refusing to entertain him by rising to his bait.

“Are you enjoying your roll?” he asked felicitously.

“It’s delicious.”

“Hunger can make anything taste good,” he remarked.

“Nonetheless,” she said honestly, “it’s rather tasty.”

“I shall convey your compliments to the chef.”

“You have a chef aboard?” she asked, surprised.

He shrugged. “He fancies himself French. I’ve always suspected he was born in Leeds.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Leeds,” Poppy said.

“Not unless you’re a French chef.”

A tiny laugh crossed her lips, taking her completely by surprise.

“There now, Miss Bridgerton,” the captain said as she finished the second roll, “that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“Chewing, you mean?” she asked innocently. “I’ve always been rather good at that. At least since I grew teeth.”

“Sharp ones, I’m sure.”

She smiled. Slowly. “Positively wolfish.”

“Not the most appealing of images, and I’m sure you knew I was referring to our conversation.” He tilted his head to the side, which somehow made his small smile more lopsided—and more devastating. “It’s not so terribly difficult to laugh in my company.”

“The more pertinent question would be—Why do you wish me to?”

“Laugh, you mean?”

She nodded.

He leaned forward. “It’s a long voyage to Portugal, Miss Bridgerton, and at heart, men are lazy creatures. I’m forced to have you aboard, in my very cabin even, for at least two weeks. It will require far less energy on my part if you’re not spitting mad the entire time.”

   
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