The captain’s power is uncontrollable in chase or in battle, drubbing, cutting, or even shooting any one who dares deny his command.
French, Joseph Lewis (2011-03-24). Great Pirate Stories (Kindle Locations 2030-2031). . Kindle Edition.
Several seconds passed with Ana’s jaw dropped open in shock before she came to her senses and snapped her mouth shut. He could not possibly be serious. No sooner had that thought entered her head than he had her by the elbow, physically removing her from his cabin. His grip was strong, somewhat limiting her ability to resist, although he grasped tightly without hurting her. All she could do was a rather ineffective scurry to keep up with his pace.
They approached the stairs and he released her elbow but kept hold of her hand. He continued on ahead of her, leading the way while blocking her vision of what was ahead. As they approached the final stairs, he all but hauled her up on to the deck, causing her cloak to fling back off her shoulders and the clasp of her jacket to slip open. Struggling to catch her breath had Ana’s bosom heaving to the collective gasp of the sailors on deck. Captain Grey glared down at her, his eyes angry and disgusted. “Cover yourself, madam.”
If he hadn’t been so eager to remove her from his cabin, then she would not have had such a malfunction of her wardrobe. Turning her back on the crew as best she could, Ana fumbled to bring her fastenings back under control. When she turned back to him, Christian was breathing heavily, fingers flexing ominously at this sides. The look of a man who wanted to hit something, hard.
The carriage arrived at the dock at that moment but rather than waving her through, Christian grabbed her hand again, towing her down the gang plank to the jeers of the women below. Ana kept her head down as her blush rose, creeping up over her neck, to colour her fair-skinned cheeks. She was sure she must look like an overripe tomato. If he had thought to conceal her departure in any way, he was failing miserably, for now it seemed that every eye within shouting distance of the ship, was witnessing their unseemly departure. Ana no longer had the good sense to be anything other than mortified.
Once inside the carriage, she slunk back away from the window, hoping that no one was looking in their direction. Christian climbed in behind her, roughly pulling the blinds down before tapping on the ceiling with his cane. She made several attempts to begin to state her disgust at his behavior but each time she found herself biting back the words inside her head. The sheer arrogance of the man was beyond her experience. She simply could not speculate what had possessed him to manhandle her into his carriage in front of half of London? Subtlety was obviously not his strong suit. Finally, she could remain silent no longer.
“Captain Grey, I do not appreciate being treated like some sort of … of … wharf-side doxy. You, Sir, are no gentleman.”
“No, madam, I am not. And if you care for your reputation at all, it would serve you well to remember that in future.” The ice of his voice sent shivers down her spine. Ana understood now, that although he had been stern in his cabin, the undercurrent had held warmth. Now, the emotional temperature had dropped distinctly leaving her unsure what she had done wrong. As far as she could see, the fault now well and truly lay with him. If he had left well enough alone, she might have been able to slip from his ship unnoticed with her reputation in tact. Thanks to his over-zealous actions, her reputation, while earlier teetering on the abyss, was now well and truly in tatters at the bottom of a metaphorical cliff. She turned on him, her anger, before a simmering pot was now a boiling kettle, spitting and hissing within the confined space.
“My reputation is my own concern, Sir. It is your attitude that is uncalled for. I made my decision before I left Lady Katherine’s house today that I would take some calculated risks in seeking your assistance but that they would be a very small price to pay in return for Lord Ethan’s safe extrication from France. Your actions since I arrived on your ship have been far from helpful and may have exacerbated what was a carefully contained and small possibility. If you were so concerned about my reputation, you would not have rumbled about London’s docks like an angry bear.”
“I am not concerned about your reputation, Madam, although the disdain with which you treat it warrants some consideration.” His voice was far too calm for her liking. Bitterly and cuttingly cold, but calm as he stared out a window that currently held no view.
“We have already established that my reputation, and the way I choose to treat it, is none of your concern. Your actions as we left your ship have made that very clear. It is your anger and disdain that is unwarranted, Sir. What, pray tell, has put you in such a foul mood?” He turned to her with a look that had her shrinking back in her seat.
“My foul mood is the direct result of your lack of care for your own safety, Miss Steele. Reputation is a tenuous construct that is constantly at the mercy of people with limited sense and questionable morals. But your lack of thought about your safety…” He returned to staring at the window blind, his hands tense upon his cane. So much so, that Ana felt sure it would break under the pressure. There was an intense roiling emotion beneath his tone that Ana could not quite fathom but she could see by the tremor of his hand and a slight but uncontrolled shake of his knee, that he was quite undone. She hesitated a moment before leaning forward and placing a hand over his. He turned his head at her touch, his eyes focused upon her hand. For the longest of moments she was aghast at the turmoil she saw in that glance. If she hadn’t been looking at the great Captain Grey, hero of the British fleet, then she might have thought it the fear of a small, frightened child.
“Christian, I would have been fine.” Keeping her voice low and calm, she sought to reassure him. Instead, another wave of emotion washed over him. Clasping her hand in his, he pulled her suddenly to his side and she let out a small squeal of surprise as he bent over her, one hand supporting her neck while the other grasped her waist. His face loomed large above her and she gripped his shoulders as those full lips moved closer. Dark tendrils had escaped from his perfectly coiffed hair, dropping lazily across his forehead and threatening to cover his sight. She longed to move them out of his eyes, to stroke his sideboards and the shadow that extended over his jawline. His masculine scent, assaulted her causing her to close her eyes so she could concentrate on one sense at a time. When she reopened them, he was still looking intently at her mouth. Slowly, he raised his gaze to hers.
“You. Don’t. Know. That.” That fear flashed once more in his eyes and she understood instinctively, the root of it although she would be hard-pressed to express it in words. This time she did bring a gloved hand to his face and he leaned into hit, eyes closed, before turning to kiss her palm. Ana knew she should be shocked, she should pull herself from his embrace, but for the life of her she did not want to.
“I’m safe now. With you.” She smiled in reassurance but his eyes closed once more as if he were in pain. When he opened them this time they were even more dark and turbulent than before, but there was less fear.
“No, you’re not.” His lips crashed down upon hers in an instant and Ana had to wrap her arms around the back of his neck to keep her balance. Instead of fighting him, as she should have done, she pressed her body upward to meet his. A groan rumbled through his chest and his tongue darted out to tease her lips. Ana’s experience of kissing was non-existent but Kate had described the chaste kisses of her many suitors. This was not what Ana had been expecting. This was something quite extraordinary and irresistibly frightening. Her lips parted with enough of an invitation for him to slip his tongue inside her mouth. She told herself that she should be repulsed but her body was quite at odds with her mind. It seemed best not to think but to react, and every surge of his tongue had her slipping towards an uncertain point of no return.
Eventually the carriage slowed and they both became aware that the sounds and smells outside the closed doors had changed considerably. They must be in Grosvenor Square. Rather than stopping out the front of the townhouse, Taylor took it upon himself to guide the carriage to the mews at the rear. Inside the carriage, Christian and Ana pulled away from each other abruptly and returned to their appropriate seats. In silence, he assisted her to right her clothes and her bonnet, while she straightened his cravat and his hair, their movements startlingly domesticated. The complete lack of composure of the last few minutes was not acknowledged by either of them, as Taylor descended from the top of the coach, opened the door and handed Ana down. Christian followed immediately after and escorted her to the servants entrance at the side of the townhouse.
Glancing around, Ana ensured that no one was observing as she turned into his arms. She looked down at where her gloved hands clasped his strong biceps, suddenly shy. She mused that he must think her the worst sort of harlot for her behavior. She had shocked herself with her eagerness to partake in the kiss. There would not be a repeat of that kiss but she knew she would clasp it to her memory forever. Hoping for a smile, she glanced up to be faced with a look of such intense disgust that she had to step away from the warmth of his body. There was no trace of the passionately fearful concerned Christian from the last few minutes of the carriage ride. Nor could she see the authoritative and arrogant Captain Grey of the Ruby Queen. This Christian Grey was angry and disgusted with her. It was a look that she knew so well from her own mirror. Ana’s eyes glazed with angry tears. Not at him, but at herself. How could she have been so stupid?
“Please accept my deepest apologies, Miss Steele. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am for my actions.” Oh, my God. He blames me and he is right to do so. I am not fit for the company of any man. Ana felt the bile rise in her throat and the tears that threatened had become all but impossible to hold back but she would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
“You need not apologize, Captain Grey. Nothing happened of note.” She fought to keep her voice as cold as possible, trying to convince herself that her words were true. His eyes widened with shock. “Nothing at all.”
As quickly as she could, she escaped his presence and let herself into the house, shutting the door firmly behind her. In the small dark alcove, she leaned her back against the wood of the door, removed her bonnet and let out a sob as her body half crumpled to the floor. Clutching her chest, lest her heart fall from its mooring, she fought unsuccessfully to contain her emotions, crying with deep wracking breaths. She had completely lost control inside that carriage, allowing her rampant passions to rule her good sense. His disgust was completely justified and she had the terrifying premonition that she had handed him a weapon of her own making. No, she had no use for the type of reputation that he spoke of, but this…this was so infinitely worse. She sucked in air, trying to bring her shaking emotions under control. Finally, her tears abated and she calmed enough to straighten away from the door frame and ascend the stairs.
Outside the door, Christian leaned both hands on the door frame. He listened as she cried and berated himself. How could he have let the situation get so completely out of control? This was not a woman to be toyed with. In spite of her current employment, Anastasia Steele was a woman of great worth. And such passion! One who stood up to him, who took her friendships and loyalties seriously and who he felt sure would fight to right injustices. And he, the cad that he was, had taken advantage of her.
As punishment, he forced himself to stand and listen to every last tear, knowing that he was the author of her pain and by association his own. Suffering along with her until she found some release, eventually he heard her move away from the door. Now he would allow himself to suffer the even greater pain of letting her go. She was not for him. He had taken his commission as a second son should and that would have made him somewhat worthy of a lady of substance such as Anastasia Steele under normal circumstances, but since resigning his commission there were parts of his life that must remain secret. Parts that no citizen would or should understand or condone. Besides, as a bastard, albeit an acknowledged one, he was barely tolerated in society as it was and that did not bother him. But women like Anastasia Steele belonged in London’s ballrooms and drawing rooms. If she were his, she would never be accepted. Surely a man like Lord Ethan Kavanagh would see her worth and give her the life she deserved. Ethan would be a far better match for the beautiful and passionate, Anastasia Steele. No, if Christian could not have her, he resolved to step up his efforts to rescue Ethan, as quickly as possible.
Just as this thought entered his head, another one came unbidden. Anastasia Steele had taken great risks to come to him today. The type of risks that a woman in love might take. She must already have some understanding with Ethan and her request was not only on Lady Katherine’s behalf but on her own. How foolish was he not to see this before? She had returned the kiss that he had forced upon her, because she was desperate for her true love’s return. Should he be successful in this next mission, he would never mention that kiss to his friend. And although his own heart might never recover, he would see to it that her heart was restored.
Turning from the door he stalked down the pathway to the carriage. Taylor was giving him that look, the one he often had to work hard to ignore. He hated to admit that his first mate was right. Self-loathing was such a large part of Christian’s personal repertoire that Taylor’s disappointed looks were hardly necessary. He knew what a cad he really was. However, not only was he evil and unworthy, he was also a fool. He had been played. She had done what she needed to get a result. And he had no one to blame as the author of his own downfall. Given another chance, he would likely have let her play him again, just to feel the passion of her body writhing beneath his. He was a fool.
“Take me to the club.” Just as he was about to climb into the carriage he caught a movement coming from the square. Another carriage drove down the mews, passing his own and turning into the stables at the back of the Kavanagh property. A large man walked out of the carriage house a few moments later and gave some instructions to the stable boys who had come out to meet him. Christian replaced his foot on the ground and walked over to where the man stood by the fence. The other, seeming to sense his approach, straightened himself up to face Christian with a suspicious stare.
“Can I help you, Sir?” Christian felt his anger rising.
“Are you the one who drove Miss Steele today?” Christian would not take the risk of saying where. If she had taken a cab then the man need not know of her destination.
Luke eyed the stranger carefully and then glanced across to his coachman. It wouldn’t be a fair fight but he was convinced he could take them both. “What business is it of yours, Sir?”
That was all the admission Christian needed. He grabbed Luke by the collar and threw him against the fence. “You bastard. You left her alone in the city?”
Those words chilled Luke to the bone. His hands instantly rose in supplication. If this man wanted to punish him then he would take it. He stared into Christian’s eyes letting him know that he would not fight back.
Christian recognized the unconditional surrender as soon as he saw it and let go, allowing Luke to stumble back hard against the wooden fence rail. Just as Luke was about to straighten his stance, Christian pulled back his right arm and let go of a punch across Luke’s jaw. His head snapped back and he stumbled once more, his hand grasping his face.
“Come on, fight back.” Christian raised his fists and took a fighter’s stance. Luke merely stood and looked at him.
“No, Sir, I won’t. If you want to keep hitting me, then go ahead. I welcome it.”
Christian held his stance, his eyes begging Luke to fight back. Luke knew when he was watching a desperate man and he almost wanted to help the gent out. Almost.
“Why did you leave her there?” The fist came out and connected with Luke’s stomach. He double over in pain as he hit the ground and gasped out a response.
“Miss Ana would not let me accompany her to the dock. I waited and followed her down, anyways. It was only when your gent over there welcomed her aboard the ship that I took my leave. I kept the carriage exactly where she left me this morning, hoping that she would return to the same spot.” Then Luke’s expression changed to something less than approving. “When I saw you escort her off the ship…Sir… I followed you home.”
Understanding his error in judgment, Christian swallowed tightly and straightened up. He reached out a hand and helped the servant up working through an apology in his mind. Taylor strolled up to assist.
“My deepest apologies, Mr…?”
“Sawyer, Sir. Lucas Sawyer.” Humility was not Christian’s strong suit but he effected it quite well on the occasion, having been so gravely in error.
“Mr Sawyer. I am afraid that Miss Steele’s lack of a companion has had me out of sorts since she arrived on my ship. Once more please accept my apologies.” Christian waved to Taylor who immediately pulled out a purse and began to count out coins.
“Sir, there is no need for your coin here. I’ve known Miss Ana for a very long time, Sir, and while it is not my place to approve or disapprove with her actions, I know there is little I can do to argue with her. She will do as she wishes. I do, however, take the care of my ladies very seriously.” The unspoken words, ‘especially in Lord Kavanagh’s absence’ hung in the air between them.
“Quite, but I would like to pay you for information.” Luke looked shocked and then immediately angry. “No, nothing sinister, I assure you. I very much would like to know who calls on Miss Steele. Her suitors, if you will. And I would like to know who I should apply to for her hand.”
Luke looked as shocked as Christian felt. He had not been aware of his intent until the words left his mouth. Not a few moments ago, he had vowed to leave Ana to Ethan. Once he located Ethan and brought him home. Now, as he faced this man, who had such loyalty to her, he knew that he could not let that happen. Come hell or high water, Ana belonged to him. The rightness of that thought coated him with the confidence of a man who knew the courage of his convictions. Christian supposed that he should be shocked at his own assertion but it seemed a little pointless. Ana would be his. There was no other way of it. Taylor wiped his mouth, hiding a knowing smile as he rocked on his heels. Christian would remember to swipe that look from his face the next time they sparred.
“Miss Steele doesn’t have suitors as such, Sir. Only Mr Hyde.” Luke screwed up his face in disgust as he spat out the man’s name.
“Yes, Sir. Mr Hyde is the distant cousin of Miss Ana’s father, Sir Raymond Steele. He is also Sir Raymond’s estate-manager.” A complication, thought Christian, feeling his stomach churning at the fear of a battle already lost.
“Does Miss Steele have expectations where Mr Hyde is concerned?” Christian was not sure if he wanted the answer to this question. However, if Anastasia were to have already chosen Mr Hyde as her future husband, then he would not pursue his suit any further. Or at least, he didn’t think he would.
“Goodness, no, Sir. Mr Hyde is a worm of a man, if I may be so bold. Miss Ana has the measure of him and would not entertain so much as a walk in the square with the man.”
Christian breathed out a sigh of relief. “I see. Where would I find Sir Raymond?”
“During the season, Sir Raymond would most likely be found at White’s, Sir.” Christian clapped Luke on the back.
“Good man, Sawyer. I hope that you will send word to the Ruby Queen the next time Mr Hyde should call.”
Luke grinned at the Captain. “Aye, Sir. That I will.”
Ana made her way to her room, hoping to avoid both the servants and Kate for as long as possible. However, when she arrived it seemed that Kate had taken up residence on her bed again. Wiping the last of her tears from her reddened eyes with the heel of her hand, she crossed quickly to the armoire and poured cold water into the basin. She placed her bonnet on its stand and removed her cloak and walking coat, hanging both in the closet and then returned to the basin to throw cold water on her face. Kate eyed her patiently, without saying a word.
Eventually, Ana took the small cloth from the rail and dried her face, folding it carefully and returning it. Still Kate was silent. Unsettled, Ana turned to face her.
“Well, are you going to ask what happened?”
“No, thank you. You are crying. I can see that quite clearly. It is enough of an answer.”
Kate’s stoicism in the face of defeat was both endearing and frustrating. It was that quality that so often meant that she got the wrong end of very long sticks on many occasions. Ana decided to put her out of her misery.
“He has already committed to enacting a rescue himself. He plans to sail in a week’s time.” Kate looked up, a trace of bitterness behind her eyes. Ana eyed her thoughtfully, then continued. “He will also do what he can to gain you an audience with Blackheart.”
Kate jumped off the bed excitedly.
“How on earth did you manage to get him to agree? Was he very resistant to helping us? Is he still arrogantly, intimidatingly good looking? Was he very angry that you had come to his ship?”
Ana sighed in frustration. Kate’s mind was going in a thousand directions at once, as it usually did. The only thing that she seemed to hold on to with any sort of unwavering focus was her love for her brother and her hatred for Captain Christian Grey. “Yes, I met with him and yes, you are right. Handsome but cold and arrogant. He would not tell me the rescue plans. He indicated that he would visit you with more details before he departed. Other than that I have nothing to tell except that he could make no promises with regards to Captain Blackheart.”
Ana thought of all that she was not telling her friend and her tears threatened once more. Kate’s eyes widened. “Oh, my goodness. You’re upset and you’ve lost your hair comb. Did something happen on the way back? Did you get attacked by highwaymen?”
Ana felt her hair and to her dismay realised that Kate was right. It had fallen about her shoulders and she had hardly noticed. She sighed in an attempt to change the subject. “Kate, I am quite sure that if one is attacked in the city that they are not highwaymen. And no, I did not get attacked because Captain Grey insured that I arrived home safely.”
“But you were crying when you came in. My goodness. What did he do to you? The blackguard! Oooh, I shall apply to his mother, her Grace, and she will have words with him I’m sure.”
“Stop! You will do no such thing!” Ana sighed and turned away before her tears started afresh. These tears would be ones of anger and humiliation not the desperate longing of a lonely woman as those she had succumbed to downstairs. Christian Grey was an arrogant man who deserved no more of her attention and Kate’s incessant questioning would only ensure that she broke her own vow to herself. “I fell a little when I disembarked from the carriage. My ankle is quite sore and I have a headache. If you please, Kate, I would so very much like to rest a while.”
“Of course, my darling. Here let me help you.”
Kate took her hand and led her to the bed, assisting her to lie down. Ana allowed her to fuss for a moment before closing her eyes to shut out any further conversation. She heard the door close as Kate left and breathed a sigh of relief.
As she lay on her bed, Ana thought through the events of the morning. The intensity of Captain Grey had unsettled her, which she should have expected from a man of dubious reputation. If the ladies of the ton were to be believed, he had a harem of women waiting for him in foreign ports. Rumor had it that he had sired any number of illegitimate children around the globe. This was entirely possible but unlikely in Ana’s opinion. The man kept no mementos of his travels in evidence on his ship. He held no nostalgia for the spoils of his campaigns. This seemed a little odd if the man held attachments of a familial kind. A frown marred her face. Perhaps the Captain cared little for these women and their children.
Summoning her memories she recalled how each man aboard the ship was occupied in his work. There was a quiet calm as bodies moved through their tasks which had enabled her to concentrate on her conversation with Mr Taylor. Mr Taylor was conservatively dressed; clean and well kept. The Captain himself did not wear clothes that would draw attention. Ana guessed that he did not need them to draw a woman’s gaze. His height, his demeanor, his build, his unruly dark hair and his intense gray eyes were all that would be required for hearts to flutter and men to become jealous. Kate had regaled her with tales of young girls who had thought it wise to throw themselves in his path as a younger man. Before he joined the navy. She had described him as beautiful even as she railed against him. Ana knew that he was so much more than that.
Ana felt her face burn in humiliation at the memory of his advances in the carriage. The man was a rogue and a cad and she, being gullible and naive, had fallen for his advances. His anger at her was uncalled for. She was not his ward and he had no need to worry himself nor to judge her for the risks she had taken today. However, time was not on their side, if ever it had been. If Ethan did not return to England soon then Kate’s very happiness and the fortunes of the Ravensthwaite Earldom were entirely in jeopardy.