by Brenda Williamson
Brinley Pageant lives a life of servitude to a bitterly cruel aunt. When her ambitious plan of escape washes away with the death of her brother, she looks to his employer, a wealthy merchant ship's handsome captain, for a way out of her dire circumstances. However, she cannot take advantage of the man she's in love with, nor can she foresee the obstacle in the way of them being together, especially when her wicked aunt sells her to a white slave trader.
Captain Lucas Pemberton has suffered a long voyage at sea lusting after the virtuous Brinley in erotic dreams. When she throws herself at him in her grief, he succumbs to her sweet innocence and takes her to his bed, not letting other commitments in his life stop him from enjoying one afternoon of making love to the breathtakingly beautiful virgin.
Caught up in her reveries, Brinley stared at Captain Pemberton on the wharf. He talked to several men, some of his ship hands, she assumed. She hesitated calling out to him. Poor, orphaned, and lacking a formal education, she knew in her heart he’d never consider her anything more than a sister to one of his crew members. Still, she didn’t let it stop her from imagining over his and her brother’s yearlong absence that things could be different.
She shook away the distracting daydreams and turned her focus once again toward the location of her brother. Everett’s whereabouts were more important than an unseemly shout she might make to say hello.
She continued skirting the crowd, moving closer to the ship. It didn’t make her overview of the men onboard any better. She looked at more sailors disembarking. As they trotted down the gangplank, their hats, coats, and beards hid their identities. For a fleeting moment, she worried she might not recognize Everett.
Nonsense. She laughed away the notion and kept looking at the men. Impatience got the better of her. She reconsidered her weak reasons for not asking the captain to help. After all, he was in charge. He’d know the comings and goings of his men. Maybe he had assigned a duty to her brother that had delayed him.
“Captain!” she shouted. “Captain Pemberton!”
He obviously heard her by the way he turned his head and looked around.
“Captain!” she yelled again, ignoring the other people that looked at her.
She waved while trying to hold her fur muff, her string-handled purse, and the enormous box of chocolates for her brother. She shook her hand in the air high enough to catch his attention. His searching gaze stopped on her. A small, niggling concern that he had completely forgotten who she was twisted her stomach into knots. Other parts of her body ached from the memories of her desires. Unable to comprehend how hard it suddenly was to breathe, she swallowed past the dryness in her throat. Her infatuation with the captain had turned into something more real than any fantasy. She found herself working words over in her head as to what she might say to remind him who she was. The awkward moment left her without a plan. Did she wave again? Was he really looking at her?
The captain’s arm went up, and he waved back. Her heart fluttered at the recognition he gave. Excitement bubbled inside her, yet apprehension clung to her every thought. She pushed through the crowd to reach him. He did the same, heading her direction in an equally hurried fashion.
The prospects of the captain being pleased to see her again thrilled her to the core. Her aunt would wallop her for her brazenness in going to the docks, let alone approaching any man. As she neared the captain, it worried her that her aunt would find out. But that wasn’t an important concern now.
Several times, she paused and looked around, hoping to find Everett on her own. Then she realized, with Everett home, she’d never have to fear her aunt’s wrath again.
Unable to see her brother anywhere in the large turnout of people, she continued toward Captain Pemberton. Each step she took, men, women, and children bumped into her. It hindered her progress. Like a fish going up stream, she walked against the current of people leaving the area.
She kept in mind her need to reach Everett. So many plans had weighed on her as she waited his return. He promised to take her away from their aunt’s house forever. Brinley’s efforts to please the woman were never satisfactory. With Everett’s wages, they had planned to buy a small cottage in the country. He would paint beautiful landscapes as he had always hoped, and she’d take in laundry and grow a garden to sell vegetables at the marketplace. Between the both of them, they’d make enough money to enjoy a life beyond the staunchness of their cruel aunt. Saddled with having the extra chores Everett had left behind, Brinley felt the burden lifting with each step she took.
“Miss Pageant.” The captain reached through the crowd, trying to get closer.
A shiver of delight ran through her. He said her name. Not her given name, but her name nonetheless. It meant he remembered her.
“Captain Pemberton.” Her heart beat faster.
With his scruffy face in need of a shave, it seemed impossible for him to be even more handsome than she recalled.
She reached for him between two men. His hand touched hers, and a tingling warmth of heat shot up her arm. She breathed a bit heavier and her face heated with a blush. A deluge of sexual fantasies she’d had of him entered her thoughts, and she stared at him, afraid he’d see in her eyes the intimacy she had imagined between them.
“Captain Pemberton, I don’t wish to be a bother, but have you seen my brother, Everett?” She squeezed through the men, closing the gap between her and the captain.
“Miss Pageant.” His hand slid along her arm and circled, taking hold of her elbow. “I was hoping I’d find you here.”
Someone bumped into her, pushing her forward. The muff and the box of chocolates prevented her from completely colliding with the captain.
“Is Everett still onboard the ship?” she asked, stepping back, looking into his dark green eyes.
A nudge of someone else shoved her tighter to him. She turned her head into his shoulder, feeling the strength of his arms protectively surrounding her. A deep breath, and she caught the scent of him beneath his winter wool coat. The hint of the salty sea clung to his clothes.
“Let’s move out of the way so we can talk,” he whispered hoarsely near her ear. “I have some bad news.”
“Bad news?” She tipped her head back, looking up at him.
With her face still close to his, she felt the warmth of his breath. His lips parted to speak, and all she could think about was what it would be like to kiss him.