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Emma Martin bloodstained and bruised was a humbling hit to his system. It made his anger swell in its intensity. “What is going on?” he yelled again, eyeing her with accusation burning in his gut. Why had she come out of the damned cabin? The stupid girl! She might now be dead not wounded!
She did not answer him, merely sat there, clutching Mark’s arm and looking at Richard like the Indian girls did in the markets back in Calcutta, when they shied away from him.
When he’d seen her on deck, he’d been struck by a fear he hadn’t thought himself capable of as waves washed over the rail and Mark had half dragged her to the far side where the door led belowdeck. His fear had been followed by a fuming temper. He’d been cursing all the way down here, turning the air blue with his diction.
Women should not be on a damned ship!
She is injured. The stark reminder punched him hard, warring with his anger. It was the fear that had made him so enflamed. She was covered in blood. He’d seen that even from the top deck.
What the hell had she been doing on the deck! They’d been told to stay in their cabin!
“Are you mad?” he said more calmly but still his tone was accusing and his posture tight with aggression – and concern. “You were told to stay in your cabin! Can you not listen to a damned order?” The last was cast at her with a throw of his hand.
In answer the courageous, stalwart and stubborn Miss Martin, burst into tears, turning her face into Mark’s stomach with a sob, still gripping Mark’s arm. Anger, apprehension – and envy – raced through Richard in a rush as he grasped a hold of figurative reins, taking a grip on his temper.
He was not a compassionate man, nor was he a tolerant one, but seeing this intelligent, endearing woman, suffering, cut him in half like a knife slashing through his middle. He gripped Mark’s shoulder and thrust him away.
She may not realise it in her distress but her reliance on a man of Mark’s rank was inappropriate. He took her hand from Mark’s arm and held on to it, dropping to his haunches. Her wound had begun congealing a little but it was a brutal gash. When she continued crying, he laid his other hand on her hair and pressed her head to his shoulder. She shivered and sobbed and the feeling which ran through him was one he’d never known before; a tangible care, a need to protect and keep what was hurting her at a distance.
“Miss Martin,” he said more quietly, seeking to calm her, but his voice still burned with wrought emotions.
His gaze lifted to Mark. “What happened here? Why was she on deck?”
“She hit her head!” Miss Martin waled, shouting back at him and pulling away, yet she did not take her hand from his. “Mama and Rita are sick. I was trying to help them and I fell.”
“Miss Martin was knocked unconscious,” Mark added. “As you can see the wound needs stitching. She fell down the steps into here too, Sir. I think she is concussed. She’s dizzy and not thinking clearly. Am I right, Miss Martin?”
She nodded once, then sniffed as more tears ran down her cheeks. “My mother…” she sobbed.
“Mrs Martin and the maid will be unable to manage alone in the cabin,” Mark interrupted, “I said I’d go back up and bring them belowdeck. Then I’ll leave a man down here and get back to my post. I was waiting for Dr Steel to look after Miss Martin.”
“And Dr Steel is almost free,” Duncan answered. “Mr Gibbs is nearly done.”
Richard remembered, at last, that one of his crewmen was in the room. He rose and turned with Miss Martin’s fingers still gripped in his hand, as his arm hung loosely at his side.
Gibbs’s eyes were shut, and from the dimple in his cheek, his teeth were gritted. He opened his eyes and looked at Duncan. “Will you let me have a bottle o’ rum t’ dull the pain when you ‘r done?”
Duncan laughed and Mark snorted.
“So you can fall out of your hammock and break the other arm, no,” Richard answered.
“You can have a dose of laudanum it’ll dull the worst pain,” Duncan offered. “You may come back if you need more.”
Duncan pulled Gibbs’s bandage tight and tied it off. At the same moment Richard realised he was still holding Emma Martin’s hand. He let it fall, then found his hand resting on her shoulder. He was physically unable not to touch her, concern was twisting up like a reel of rope inside him.
He’d brought Gibbs down here. The man had been thrown against a bulkhead by a wave which had crested over the deck. the same injury, or worse, might have happened to Emma.
“Sir,” Gibbs said when he stood, nodding his head and pulling his forelock with his good hand, as he acknowledged Richard then looked at Mark. “Mr Bishop.”
“Gibbs,” Mark responded.
“I’ll look in on you later, Gibbs,” Richard stated.
“Thank you, Sir, I appreciate y’ur ‘elp, I’m sorry I cursed at y’u, Sir.” Gibbs’s gaze, dropped from Richard’s shoulder, where it had hovered to avoid looking Richard in the eyes, to Miss Martin.
“You are excused, Gibbs,” Richard said in response, warning the man to keep his eyes averted. Gibbs’s head lifted and he nodded again, his eyes meeting Richard’s momentarily.
Women should not be on a ship. It distracted men.
His hand still resting on Miss Martin’s shoulder, looking at Mark, Richard said, “Go back up and fetch Mrs Martin and the maid. Then Mr Swallow will want you back on deck and giving orders. I’ll stay down here with the women.”
Mark nodded and turned immediately, following Gibbs from the room.
“I’ll look at Miss Martin,” Duncan stated when the door shut behind them.
She was silent.
Richard looked down. She was looking up at him.
Her pale hair had half fallen from its knot and bloodstained strands were stuck to her face and neck. Her eyes shimmered, fluid with tears, as her shoulder shivered beneath his hand. He wanted her. Oh God, he wanted her. It was a painful, terrible need.
“Miss Martin?” Duncan spoke, drawing her eyes away from Richard.
She was nineteen, barely out of the schoolroom really, and genteelly bred. She was not for him. He lifted his hand from her shoulder as Duncan moved to look at her forehead.
“That is a nasty gash, Miss Martin. But we’ll soon have you sorted. You’ll have a scar I’m afraid, but I’ll make it as tidy a job as I can. Would you like some laudanum to dull the pain before I stitch it?”
“Or you could have rum,” Richard jested, looking down at her again, his anger entirely deflated.
She glanced at him, smiled slightly, and shook her head, “I’ll take the laudanum thank you,” then she looked at Duncan. “I admit to being a coward.”
“You are no coward,” Duncan answered, turning to a cupboard to take out a vile. “Here. If you were a coward, you would have stayed in the cabin and let the concussion turn to sleep. Not a sensible thing to do, I might add.”
She drank from the vile then made a face. “It’s horrible.”
“No body ever said medicine was pleasant,” Duncan quipped, taking the empty vile from her hand. “Now, let’s take a look at you.”
Richard had recruited Duncan. He’d been an army doctor, but Richard had convinced Duncan to sell out. It was Duncan’s approachability that Richard liked. He classed Duncan as a friend now, as he did many of his senior men.
Duncan held one of Miss Martin’s eyes open and studied her pupil without touching the wound. “How are you feeling?” he said, checking to see if she had been seriously concussed.
“Sick,” she answered. “And dizzy? Woozy. Muddled. Tired. I am tired…”
“How long were you unconscious for?”
Richard stripped off his rough working gloves and shoved them in his pocket, resigning himself to this new task.
“Moments? I am not sure.”
“I suppose your head is throbbing?”
“Yes,” she breathed as though she’d only just realised it was.
“Well, the laudanum will work its magic soon,” he answered, letting her eyelid fall. “We shall get you sorted now and then we’ll keep an eye on you tonight, just in case there are any hidden problems.” With that he reached for the cloth Mark had left by a jug of fresh water. “I will clean you up a bit more first.”
As Duncan touched the wound her bare fingers clasped Richard’s, seeking comfort as earlier she’d sort it from Mark.
A strange sensation – a soft pain – spilled from somewhere in Richard’s midriff, warmth slipping into his blood as he gripped her cold, slender fingers in return. She was silent while Duncan washed the wound as best he could without making it bleed heavily once more.
“Sit still, Miss Martin.” Duncan took up a needle and threaded it, before tipping rum over it.
The deck beneath them rocked and lurched.
“Gibbs would call that a damned waste,” Richard said, watching Duncan brace himself, one foot wedged against the chest beside Emma.
“It is a damned waste.” Duncan answered.
“Do you wish me to hold her?”
“Unless you can order the sea calm, it may help, yes.”
Duncan had said nothing about her grip on Richard’s hand. Richard swapped her fingers from one hand to the other, bracing his own feet in a wider stance. Then he stroked her hair back from the wound and pressed her head to his hip, half-hard for her, his blood throbbing probably harder than hers. After tonight he was going to have to distance himself from the girl. The ship rocked, but neither he–and therefore Miss Martin – nor Duncan, moved.
“Ready,” Duncan warned, it was not a question, within a second of the warning the needle slid into her skin. Richard felt her jump and her fingers clutched his harder. He’d never thought vulnerability could be an aphrodisiac, but God, to have her reliant on him egged on his need. He wanted her to need him. He wanted her to want him.
“Breathe,” he said to her gently.
She did, she took a slow breath as the needle slid from the other edge of the wound and drew the skin together. Duncan tied the stitch off and cut the thread, securing it.
“Well done, Miss Martin, just three more to go I think.”
She still jumped when the needle pierced her skin for the second stitch. Richard stroked her hair as her fingers clung to his other hand – the intimacy of the gesture was more than he could bear.
He could not remember holding a woman’s naked hand before today. His intimacy with June and all his former mistresses had always been purely sexual.
Brave, bold and determined Emma Martin, did not say a word as she let Duncan work, breathing slowly to keep calm. It must hurt like the devil. The wound was bleeding again, and swollen to the size of an egg and Duncan disturbed it with every stitch.
“Done,” Duncan stated, tying off the last stitch and setting aside the needle.
Emma was white.
“Duncan, I think she’s going to be sick.”
Duncan looked at her, then immediately turned and grasped a bucket.
She let go of Richard’s hand, clasped the bucket and was sick, her head slipping away from his touch. He rested his hand on her shoulder, once more, a surge of protective emotions rushing through him again.
“You have concussion, Miss Martin,” Duncan said. “Someone will have to watch over you tonight. I doubt your mother or your maid will be well enough to do so.”
At that moment Mark knocked the door. Richard looked. Mark was carrying Catherine. She was too weak to even look up and acknowledge Richard.
“Put the ladies in the bunks in the cabin next door, I’ll keep an eye on them.” Duncan ordered.
The poor maid followed Mark, determinedly gripping the arm of a crewman, looking wrung out.
This journey was a trial for them all. They were probably bemoaning being on his bloody ship as much as he complained about them being here.
“Miss Martin, let us get you settled too, then you may sleep. You should feel a little better when you wake. I’ll sit beside you.” Duncan stated, dousing another cloth with rum before patting it over the wound.
“I shall come back in an hour to see how they fare,” Richard added. “If you need me to take over the watch before then, though, just say.”
Duncan met Richard’s gaze as they helped Miss Martin stand. The look in Duncan eyes was a question. Why?
Richard had made his opinion on having the women on his ship plain enough before they’d even boarded. He’d wanted as little to do with them as possible. But as the voyage progressed, he’d found himself increasingly in their company, or rather in Miss Martin’s company. Duncan had seen it happening. Duncan also knew how unusual that was.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperbackand, yes, there are more to come :-)
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark