Dark Historical Romance Author
Deep Blue Sea Book One of the Wayward Lords Series Chapter One ~ Arthur ~ Keeping watch from the window, Elinor lost sight of her father as the crowd of people outside Hotel l'Imprévu engulfed him like a wayward vessel upon a raging sea. The image invoked the same sickening nausea she always experienced when making an ocean voyage, reminding her with too much clarity of their journey ahead. Tomorrow, she and her parents would cross the Channel to Portsmouth. From there, the Gray family would endure another two days travel by carriage before reaching London and their home, and Elinor hoped her brother’s salvation. “Joseph…” her mother murmured from the bed nearby. Elinor started. Her mother had been in a deep sleep for nearly an hour. The silence had been deadening. Until a short while ago, her father sat vigil alongside Elinor, but had gone off in search of an apothecary and her mother’s precious laudanum. “Joseph,” she said again. “Shhh, Mama,” Elinor whispered as she resumed her chair at the bedside. “Papa will return soon.” The journey from Paris had taken a frightening toll upon her mother. Elinor and her father both were eager to return home so that her mother might receive proper medical care. The quantity of laudanum consumed by her daily was enough to alarm anyone, but the ‘melancholy’, as her mother had termed it, was obviously far more serious than simply low spirits. The door to her mother’s room opened and Agnes, their servant, came in quietly. Her expression could only be described as thunderous. “I will be happy when we can say goodbye to this godforsaken country,” she hissed. “I cannot understand one single word they utter. It’s amazing we’ve managed this long.” “Agnes,” Elinor chided. “Forgive me, Miss, but I can’t abide these French. You’d think they’d be grateful after we rid them of that tyrant Napoleon.” Agnes set the linens and kettle down near the hearth before she came to stand beside Elinor. She softened her tone and asked, “How does your mama?” “She is becoming restless again.” “That would be the laudanum wearing off, poor dear.” “Has she mentioned any other complaints to you Agnes?” “Complaints?” she answered evasively. “Ailments? Is she ill?” Elinor asked with growing impatience. “She won’t tell me or Papa anything. I thought perhaps she has confided in you.” “No, no more than nerves and fatigue. She has been very distraught over Master Arthur.” “As have we all,” Elinor sighed as she smoothed the bedcovers around her mother, while Agnes proceeded to tidy the already immaculate room. Her brother Arthur had been the pride of the family – until the mutiny. At the young age of fifteen, he was 'sent up for good' by his Latin master and told he had the potential of becoming a great scholar. Nevertheless, when war broke out with France in 1803, Arthur, as did several of his classmates, chose instead to join the Royal Navy. After working his way up through the ranks in his eight years of unblemished service, he was placed under the command of a cruel captain. One who thought nothing of flogging or depriving his men of food for minor offences. After six men lost their lives during a violent storm because Captain Froste ordered them to remain aloft, the crew organized a revolt. The Admiralty recognized Captain Froste’s mental instability, but refused to admit his actions warranted mutiny in a time of war. All who stood with Arthur were accused of treason. Many were executed, but some, like Arthur, fled to the Continent to avoid prosecution. That was when his new trouble began. “Elinor…” “I’m here Mama.” “What time is it?” she asked in a frail sleepy voice. “Not quite luncheon. Are you hungry? Shall I have Agnes bring you some tea?” “Only a little water.” Elinor fluffed the pillows and assisted her mother to sit up, the effort bringing a grimace. After she drank lustily from the glass of water Elinor held for her, she sank in exhaustion against the pillow. “Are you in pain?” “Just a little headache,” her mother said dismissively. “I will be well in a moment.” The weak smile did nothing to convince Elinor, who was certain there was more to her mother’s condition than either she or Agnes would admit. Before departing England, Elinor’s mother, Beatrice Gray, had suffered a debilitating melancholy, understandable after word of Arthur’s arrest in Paris reached them. When they arrived at their lodgings on Rue Galilée, she seemed improved. However, as the days turned into weeks and the outcome of Arthur’s case became bleaker, the state of her mother’s health began to deteriorate alarmingly. Beatrice insisted her only complaints were that of fatigue and worry and adamantly refused a doctor’s care. Neither Elinor nor her father believed her illness could be so easily explained away. “She seems weaker by the day,” her father had said one evening during their journey from Paris after her mother had retired for the evening. “Yes, she does.” Elinor had replied. “I should never have let you two come,” he said, as he buried his face in his hands. “You know as do I, Mama would not have let you come here without her.” “She can be very insistent,” he admitted with a wry smile. Elinor had changed the subject, knowing her mother’s health only compounded her father’s worry for them all. “So we are to meet one of Mr. Hurst’s ships in Le Havre?” “Yes, the Milton and a Captain Thorne.” “Does he know the purpose of our journey?” Elinor had asked with some trepidation. “No. Theodore has promised me the utmost discretion.” Theodore Hurst had been a great friend of her father’s at Oxford. He owned a vast shipping empire and had generously offered to transport them home. A large shipment returning from the West Indies was due to arrive on the day they planned to seek passage home and he had assured her Papa it would be no trouble for his flagship to make the minor detour to convey them to Portsmouth. “Where is your Papa?” her mother asked groggily, recalling Elinor from her ruminations. “He has gone in search of the apothecary.” Her mother nodded and closed her eyes. For some time Elinor sat with her mother, reading the same words in her book over and over in futile attempt to divert her mind. A knock on the door was a welcome distraction. Agnes hustled to the door and opened it. Elinor hoped the sound would not disturb her mother who had drifted into a restive sleep. After a few frustrated whispers were exchanged on both the part of Agnes and the chambermaid, the door was closed noiselessly and Elinor was motioned over by the faithful servant. “There is a gentleman below who awaits your papa.” “The captain,” Elinor replied with some concern. Her father should have returned by now. He had told her of the appointment but she thought his search for an apothecary would be brief. Already an hour had passed. “Have them tell Captain Thorne Papa is unavailable and will return shortly.” Agnes nodded and left to convey the message. “Arthur…” Her mother’s sinking whisper sounded from the bed. Elinor returned to Beatrice’s side and resumed her seat, tucking the covers more securely under her chin. She was in the grip of a dream. “My Arthur…,” she murmured, “My baby…they cannot take him away.” The last word lost on a sigh. Elinor closed her eyes to the memory of the judge declaring her brother a traitor and sending him to La Force Prison to await sentencing. They watched in horror from the courtroom gallery as the goaler dragged him away. Her mother’s strangled sobs still echoed in Elinor’s ears. Rising with a sway, Elinor walked to the window and swallowed her grief. Outside the hotel, a young girl selling flowers held up a nosegay made of yellow roses and violets for a finely dressed gentleman. As Elinor stared out at the ordinary scene, the images of the girl and gentleman blurred. Savagely, she bit the inside of her lip in hopes of holding back her tears wondering how much longer her façade of strength would last. §§§ Captain Ian Thorne did not intend to travel to Le Havre on his return trip from the West Indies. Unfortunately, the insistent letter from his employer, Theodore Allen Hurst, to convey his old college friend, Mr. Gray, and his family back to England gave him no other choice. After the Milton was safely moored in the harbor, Ian was told by his first mate, Mr. Mason, that the bilge pump was in desperate need of repairs and the crew would need at least one additional day in port before they could set sail. All he wanted was to return to Portsmouth and get his ship in dry dock, but it seemed the Fates were against him. “What do you mean, they’re indisposed?” Ian nearly shouted at the innkeeper shortly after he arrived at the Hotel l'Imprévu. “No,” the fat, greasy man said through his bushy moustache, “Indisponible. Unavailable.” “Unavailable?” Ian let out an exasperated sigh and ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “Please, Captain, come,” he said leading Ian down a hall of the elegant inn. The private parlor was well appointed with a large crystal chandelier high above the light green damask settee and chairs. Floor to ceiling windows overlooked the bustling street below, but Ian cared little for the inviting surroundings and instead paced the room like a caged animal. After half an hour, he could take no more. Who did these Grays’ think he was? A servant who could wait around all day at the mercy of his master’s whims? He yanked the bell pull, which summoned the innkeeper with astonishing speed. “I don’t have all day to waste waiting for Mr. Gray,” he began tersely. “If he returns…” Before Ian could finish his thought a young woman entered with a sure and quiet air of dignity, he halted in mid-sentence. She stood before him, undaunted by the presence of an unknown gentleman. No blushes marred her porcelain skin and no fear invaded her riveting green eyes. Her dress, a simple midnight blue gown made of the finest silk, had little adornment – elegant, understated, hanging from her graceful figure perfectly. Her long raven hair swept loosely on top of her head while curly wisps framed her beautiful face. A subtle hint of lavender wafted through the air, intoxicating him beyond reason. Ian stared mutely at the goddess before him, for the first time in his recollection feeling utterly off balance in the company of a woman. With a low austere curtsy, she said, “Captain Thorne, I believe. My name is Elinor Gray. My father should have returned by now, but I suspect he will be here directly. I realize this may seem untoward, but I was sorry to have kept you waiting so long.” Shooting a quick glance at the innkeeper, her perturbed gaze returned to Ian. She had obviously heard every word of his tirade before entering the room. “I’m sure you have far more important matters to attend to while you’re in port,” she continued with meaning. Her gaze again shifted to the portly innkeeper. “Perhaps some tea could be arranged for the captain?” The greasy little man gave a quick bob of his head and hurried out of the room. She sat down in the middle of the settee and bid Ian to take a seat as well. Although accustomed to being in command of every situation, for some reason this woman seemed to have complete authority over him. Without hesitation, he obeyed what was not intended as a command, and settled into a chair near the windows. Finally recalling himself he asked, “Do you know where your father has gone? Perhaps I can meet with him elsewhere.” “I’m not certain exactly. He went in search of an apothecary. We’re unfamiliar with Le Havre.” “An apothecary?” Studying his appearance more closely, she seemed to be considering whether or not he was a person she could trust. Ian wished he had allowed his steward to choose his best trousers and tailcoat instead of the older, slightly worn suit of clothes he often wore onboard ship. Feeling self-conscious under her bold appraisal, Ian knew instantly she looked upon him as an uncouth sailor, while, in contrast, he looked upon her with frank regard he could not suppress. “My mother has fallen ill recently,” she replied, tilting her head back with an air of superiority and looking down her nose at him. “My father is purchasing medicine for her.” “Our ship’s doctor is not with us today,” Ian offered, “but he will join us again when we dock at Cherbourg. I am certain he would gladly look in on your mother. I’ve served with Dr. Douglas for many years. I have never known a more capable physician.” “Thank you, Captain,” she replied stiffly. “I’m sure my mother will be much obliged.” For a moment an awkward silence ensued. Ian shifted in his chair and smiled. “Have you been touring the Continent, long, Miss Gray?” he ventured. “We have been abroad for a month.” Her succinct response did not deter him. “How did you find Paris?” “Quite diverting,” she replied, though her tone indicated she felt the opposite. “I do not abide their fashions, however, too garish for my taste.” Yes, he agreed, his too. Her natural loveliness required no ornament. Her simplicity in dress suited Miss Gray and spoke volumes of her refinement, far beyond anything an expensive Parisian modiste could conjure. They sat for some time in polite conversation – discussing the weather, the sights she and her parents enjoyed their tour, or the Gray’s connection to Mr. Hurst. Miss Gray offered no more than was necessary so as not to appear rude, but was not overly solicitous. And, while Ian wished nothing more than to learn all her secrets, he was certain Miss Gray would rather be anywhere but in his company. A maid eventually brought in the tea for them both, though he would have preferred something stronger. Just when Ian thought he had exhausted all mundane topics of conversation, Mr. Gray appeared at the door. “Captain Thorne, I do apologize for having kept you waiting.” Mr. Gray’s greeting had such a sincere gentlemanly courtesy that it swept away any ill feelings Ian had felt toward the daughter. The two men exchanged a few friendly words of introduction before Miss Gray interrupted. “Father, did you find the apothecary?” “Yes, my dear.” Mr. Gray removed a small packet from the pocket of his coat and handed it to her. “Captain Thorne informs me that the ship’s physician will look in on Mother once he boards at…which port did you say, Captain?” “Cherbourg. Yes, and please, do not hesitate to tell me if I can provide anything to make your journey more comfortable.” “Thank you, Captain Thorne. That is very kind of you.” Mr. Gray smiled and said, “Will you dine with us tonight, Captain?” Miss Gray had moved to the window, spine stiff and hand tightly clutching the small package. She would not look his way, apparently too engrossed in the activity outside. Out of pure spite for her disinterest, Ian immediately accepted the invitation. Her feelings could not have been more apparent had she spoken them aloud in her clear firm voice. “Good,” Mr. Gray said, “You will be able to meet my wife.” “Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have many things to do before our departure tomorrow.” “Yes, of course. I’ll see you out,” said Mr. Gray. Miss Gray turned to offer him a grave curtsy as he left. How this woman could have such an effect on him was beyond all comprehension. Unlike his old friend the doctor, Ian found little time for romantic liaisons. In his experience, women rarely engage his interest beyond a meaningless dalliance. The sea and the life he had chosen had always taken precedence. Without soliciting it, nor wanting it from outward appearances, Elinor Gray had captured his regard. Heading toward the waiting long boat, Ian hoped he might return to his ship and compose himself before seeing this extraordinary woman again. §§§ “And what is your impression of Captain Thorne, my dear?” Elinor’s mother asked her father. Beatrice felt much restored after her nap and had joined Elinor and her father in their private parlor at the hotel. The three had been discussing their journey home and the topic had turned the Milton’s enigmatic captain. “Elinor spent more time with him than I,” her father continued. Both her mother and father’s gaze shifted to her, as though she could offer some great insight. “I hardly know what to think of him,” she replied honestly. “Not quite a gentleman, but that does not surprise me.” “I think that’s an unfair assessment, Elinor. Mr. Hurst told me he’s most definitely the son of a gentleman.” “I stand corrected,” Elinor said, too tired to argue the point and not caring in the least about what anyone thought of Captain Thorne, or so she tried to convince herself. “What does he look like, Elinor?” asked her mother. “Tall, hardened features, he wears a stern expression of authority.” Not an entirely fair description of the man, she admitted to herself, but Elinor could hardly tell her parents she found this rough seaman handsome. While obviously not a man who would move in society, she could not deny his lean muscular form, chocolate brown hair, and devastatingly blue eyes had had an effect on her, though an effect she did not altogether enjoy. “Not a man I’d imagine one would like to meet in battle,” she finished, reining in her unsettling feelings. “Which, from what Mr. Hurst tells me, Captain Thorne has seen his fair share of.” “But he doesn’t belong to the Royal Navy?” asked Elinor. “No, he’s a privateer,” her father said matter-of-factly. “A pirate?” Elinor said with disgust, her attraction to the man all but vanishing. “No, my dear, a privateer, there’s a vast difference. He’s been awarded a letter of marque by the Navy.” She replied with a less than dignified harrumph. Elinor had heard tales of privateers who pledged their loyalty only to rob the spoils of the very nation they had promised to serve. Mercenaries, the lot of them! “Theodore claims Captain Thorne’s the most honorable man he’s had the privilege to know. He runs his ship with military precision according to his accounts and is completely trustworthy.” “But then why did he not do the noble thing and join the Navy?” asked her mother. “You can ask him yourself, my dear. We’ll be dining with him this evening.” When Elinor returned to her room, she let out the deep sigh she had been holding. All she had wanted to do that evening was have a quiet supper with her parents and retire to bed early. Now she would be expected to entertain this rough, albeit attractive, seaman. A man whose forthright manner she found unnerving. Elinor could feel one of her headaches coming, the kind that had plagued her since their arrival in France. Splashing cool water on her face, she made every effort to resign herself to an all but peaceful evening in Captain Thorne’s company.
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