Read A Taste of Paradise Online

Authors: Connie Mason

A Taste of Paradise (10 page)

Without waiting for a reply, Sophia turned and walked away.

Chris watched her disappear down the ladder, conflicting emotions warring inside him. He hadn't wanted to see Sophia again . . . ever. She belonged in the past, one he wanted to forget.

Once he parted from Sophia today he would never see her again. It was for the best, he decided. His guilt left no place for Sophia in his life. Until he could forgive himself, he could not forgive her. Their meeting again had been a fluke, a quirk of Fate.

As Chris had learned early in life, Fate was a cruel mistress.

Chapter Five

The moment Chris saw Sophia in one of the two gowns he had purchased for her, he knew he had chosen well. She looked exceptionally lovely in a yellow-sprigged muslin gown with short puffed sleeves, modest oval neckline and fitted waist. Abruptly he frowned, uncomfortably aware that the color emphasized her sun-bronzed skin. He shouldn't have allowed her to bask those endless hours in the sun. He'd seen quadroons in New Orleans with lighter skin than hers.

“I'll leave you some money to buy a bonnet and parasol,” Chris said. “I'm rarely called upon to purchase female clothing, so you may need a few personal items I've neglected to include. You can find what you need in the marketplace in Kingston. If you're ready, I'll escort you to the inn and see you settled in.”

Sophia hugged the package carrying the second gown Chris had purchased for her against her chest. “I'm ready. You've been more than generous, considering everything that's happened between us.”

He gazed at her for a long, suspenseful moment and then looked away. “I don't hate you, Sophia. I suppose I never did, though I tried to tell myself otherwise. I wish you well in your future endeavors as long as they don't include me. You've caused enough anguish in my life.”

Chris could tell by the way Sophia stiffened her shoulders that he had hurt her . . . again. Unfortunately, it couldn't be helped. Sophia would bring him more problems than he was prepared to handle if he allowed her to creep under his skin and into his heart.

Aware that Sophia was waiting, Chris gestured toward the gangplank. “After you.”

Chris followed her down the gangplank, overwhelmed with guilt and wondering why. It wasn't as if he owed her anything.

“This way,” Chris said when they reached the quay. “The inn is within walking distance of the harbor.”

“What is the name of those mountains rising above the town?” Sophia asked.

“The Blue Mountains. The Maroons make their home there.”

“What are Maroons?”

“Not what but who. They are escaped slaves who established independent communities in the mountainous interior of the island. Besides Maroons, there are some ten thousand free people of color in Jamaica. The entire population consists of thirty thousand white masters to three hundred thousand slaves. It's not a good situation. There have been many uprisings in Jamaica's past. The militia cannot seem to prevent the uprisings despite all their attempts in recent years.”

“How awful!” Sophia cried. “People shouldn't be enslaved. Can't the British government do something to stop the situation?”

Chris gave a bark of laughter. “Slavery is still legal in most parts of the world. Still, my brother is joining a group of men in the House of Lords to push through a bill outlawing slavery.”

As they walked down King Street, the chief thoroughfare, Sophia exclaimed over some of the wonders she saw. “What is that building?” she asked, pointing to a large, ornate structure.

“That's the Church of St. Thomas, one of the oldest buildings in Kingston. The town has many fine houses, most inhabited by British plantation owners or slave traders. Kingston is a stopping-off place for slaves arriving from Africa.”

Sophia shuddered and turned her thoughts in another direction, namely the sights, sounds and smells of this tropical paradise. The scent of lush vegetation, sago palms, giant ferns and wild orchids bombarded her senses.

The afternoon air was hot and humid and fragrant with unfamiliar odors: ripe bananas, fish, and baked goods wafting from a small bakery they had just passed. Sophia stopped a moment to watch a barefoot woman with skin the color of coffee. She wore a brightly colored scrap of material wrapped around her body and balanced a basket on top of her head. A naked, brown-skinned boy trotted after her.

Sophia was so interested in the activity around her that she wasn't aware they had reached the King's Arms until Chris said, “Here we are.”

Sophia glanced up at the square two-story building. The sign above it proclaimed it the King's Arms.

“This is the best Kingston has to offer,” Chris said as he guided her inside. “While it's not up to London standards, it's all we have.”

“Ah, Captain Radcliff, welcome back. The room you engaged is ready.”

“Thank you, Ludlow. This is Miss Carlisle. She'll be staying with you until the
South Wind
departs.”

Ludlow stared at Sophia through narrowed eyes. “Is Miss Carlisle English? You didn't say. She looks Spanish or . . . Are you sure she isn't—”

Chris stiffened. “I assure you, Ludlow, Miss Carlisle comes from good English stock. Her brother is a viscount.”

Sophia couldn't imagine why the innkeeper was staring at her so strangely. Was it because she wasn't wearing a bonnet or gloves? Were the rules of Society strictly adhered to in Jamaica?

“If you say so, Captain. I don't want any trouble,” Ludlow demurred. He handed Chris the key to Sophia's room. “Number five, up the stairs and down the hall on the left.”

Chris offered the key to Sophia. “I expect Miss Carlisle to be treated like the lady she is, Ludlow. I'm paying you well to see that her needs are met until she boards the
South Wind
.”

“As you wish, Captain,” Ludlow sniffed.

“I'll hold you to that,” Chris replied as he ushered Sophia to the staircase.

Sophia watched as he reached in his pocket, retrieved a packet of papers and a heavy purse and handed them to her.

“You'll need these documents to board the
South Wind
. She's due in port in a few days. The purse contains gold coins. They're yours to purchase whatever you deem necessary,” he said. “You may take your meals in the inn's dining room or your own chamber, whichever you prefer.”

“Chris, I—”

Chris held up his hand. “Stop, Sophia, don't say anything. You owe me nothing. This is good-bye. I wish you well. I'm sure Caldwell will forgive you for running off. Whatever trouble you're in can't be that bad.”

Sophia remained mute. If she spoke, she feared the quiver in her voice would reveal her inner turmoil. How could Chris wash his hands of her so easily? He didn't seem to care about her problems. She was nothing to him—he'd made that clear.

Chris stared at her for a long, tense moment. Sophia waited for him to say something, but he remained mute, his expression unreadable, his eyes shuttered.

“Damn you,” he hissed. Then he spun around and stormed off.

Sophia dashed a tear from the corner of her eye as she watched Chris walk out of her life forever. She didn't regret having encountered him again after seven years. Her weeks aboard the
Intrepid
had brought them together unexpectedly, and she would never forget their time together.

Without knowing it, Chris had provided Sophia with a means to escape the uncertain fate that awaited her in London. With the money he had given her, she could start a new life. Chris had paid her room and board, she needed nothing else, neither bonnet nor parasol. She would hoard the gold coins and use them to live her life free of Rayford's influence.

Sophia ascended the stairs to her room. It was small but clean, and the bed linens looked fresh. She had scarcely closed the door behind her when she heard a discreet knock. She opened the door to a handsome, dark-eyed young woman of color. She was dressed in something bright that couldn't properly be called a gown.

“Master Ludlow sent me to unpack for you, mistress,” she said in a singsong voice that sounded pleasing to Sophia's ear.

“I don't have much, just the gown I'm wearing and another,” Sophia replied.

The woman's gaze found the package that Sophia had placed on the bed. “I can iron the wrinkles out for you, mistress.”

“What is your name?”

“Kateena.”

Sophia studied the woman's dark features. “Where are you from, Kateena?”

“Africa, mistress. I was stolen along with my parents and brought here on a slave ship.”

“You're a slave? I'm sorry, Kateena.”

Kateena gave Sophia a strange look, as if surprised by her compassion. “My master freed me and my family shortly before he died two years ago,” she explained. “I am now a free woman of color.” She removed the gown from its wrapping and shook it out. “I will take your gown with me, mistress.”

“Thank you, Kateena.”

Since Sophia had time to kill until suppertime, she decided to do a little exploring. As much as she hated the thought of spending any of her precious money, she needed to buy a comb and hairpins.

Mr. Ludlow directed Sophia to the marketplace, where almost anything and everything was for sale. She purchased a bone comb and several hairpins from a vendor and continued on her way.

She walked to the eastern limits of the town and discovered a fortress currently occupied by British troops. She learned from a soldier that it was called Rockford and had been built in the late seventeenth century. On Duke Street, she stared in awe at Headquarters House, an architectural showplace and the seat of government.

Sophia would have liked to explore further, but dark clouds gathering overhead cut her aimless wandering short. Besides, she didn't need to see everything in one day. According to Chris, several days remained before the
South Wind
arrived. Plenty of time to explore.

Sophia ate a solitary dinner in her room that night. She didn't feel comfortable eating alone in the dining room and had asked Mr. Ludlow to have her meal brought up to her.

That day began the pattern that lasted until the
South Wind
arrived in port eight days later. Sophia happened to be exploring the shops lining the docks when she saw the ship sailing into the harbor. Sophia had paused to watch when a sudden, unexpected thought occurred to her. She loved what she'd seen of Jamaica thus far and didn't want to return to England. She hurried back to the inn, planning her future in Jamaica as she walked. But she needed to speak to Mr. Ludlow before making a decision.

“You really shouldn't walk about without a bonnet, Miss Carlisle,” Ludlow scolded when she returned to the inn. “You look like a . . . Well, never mind, you'll be returning to England soon. I just heard the
South Wind
has arrived.”

“I was wondering, Mr. Ludlow, about the English families living in Jamaica. Do any of them have young children?”

“Many of them do. Why do you ask?”

“Do you know of any that would be interested in acquiring an English governess? I am well educated, and I've fallen in love with the island. I'd love to stay if a position became available to me.”

Ludlow stroked his chin. “Well, now, let me think. Offhand I can name three or four families living nearby that would welcome the chance to hire an English governess for their young ones. Have you spoken with Captain Radcliff about it?”

Sophia's mouth flattened. “What I do is none of his concern. If you could put me in contact with those families, I would be eternally grateful.”

“What about the
South Wind
? She won't stay long in port.”

“I understand that ships arrive regularly in Kingston Harbor. If a position doesn't become available, I can always book passage on another ship.”

“Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt, and I would be doing someone a favor. You do seem quite knowledgeable despite your rather . . . dark appearance.”

Sophia glanced down at her tanned arms. She knew her face held the same golden hue, for she'd inspected it in a mirror. “I fear I've been careless about exposing myself to the sun. The hot, sun-washed days are part of the magic of the island. Everything I've seen here so far enthralls me.”

Ludlow leaned close. “Don't be fooled, miss. All is not what it seems. The slave situation is poised to erupt into a nasty confrontation. You'd be wise to return to England while you can.”

“I'll take my chances,” Sophia replied.

“Very well, I'll send word of your availability to some families of my acquaintance. I'm sure a position can be found for you. But Captain Radcliff only secured your room and board until your ship leaves. Can you afford to remain while you seek employment?”

“I have money,” Sophia said, optimistic about finding employment soon. She didn't want to go to Chris for help should her plan fail.

“Very well, Miss Carlisle, I will do my best to help you.”

Sophia left the inn in a jubilant mood and hurried to the booking agent's office, where she presented her ticket and asked for a refund. After a good bit of grumbling, the agent refunded her the amount of the ticket in full.

The first thing Sophia did after leaving the booking agent's office was to visit the marketplace and buy a reticule to keep her money in, a wide-brimmed straw bonnet, a parasol and gloves. If one wanted to be a governess, one had to look like a lady. As for her tanned skin, she wasn't worried, for she knew the color would fade in time.

As Sophia returned to the inn, she noticed people streaming from the docking area, followed by porters bearing their luggage. Some were headed toward the inn. She paid them scant heed as she returned to her room. Her future looked brighter for the first time in a long time. If she was going to start a new life, it might as well be in a place far away from Rayford and his evil machinations.

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