Authors: Connie Mason
One by one Chris released the buttons on her shirt, baring her breasts. He felt a rush of sensation as he stared at the creamy skin of her breasts and stomach. Perfection was the word that came to mind. She arched upward, trying to escape. Pure primal savagery ripped through him at the thought of plunging his aching cock into the woman who had caused him years of anguish. He raised himself slightly and unfastened his breeches. His cock burst free, hard and throbbing and more than ready to impale Sophia Carlisle at long last.
Chris drew a slow breath, trying to calm his lust. He was a large man and he didn't want to hurt her.
“Is this your way of punishing me for Desmond's death?” she cried.
He went still. “No, Sophia, this is for seven years of living in hell.”
He kissed her shoulders, her breasts, and then caught a rosy nipple between his lips and suckled her. He heard her sharp intake of breath and smiled. “Your breasts are beautiful, perfect. Don't fight me; I'm not going to hurt you.”
He continued to lave her nipples, first one and then the other, as he slowly smoothed his hands up the insides of her thighs. Her eyes were closed, she seemed resigned, a fact for which he was immensely grateful. He had worked up an inexplicable need for the unwelcome stowaway Fate had tossed into his bed.
With one hand he parted the nest of curls at the apex of her legs; he felt the muscles of her thighs clench in response. When he slid his fingers over the pulsing warmth of her wet cleft, she whimpered. He almost burst out laughing. It didn't take much for the pretend virgin to turn into an experienced wanton.
He parted her with his fingers and guided his cock to her entrance. He would have driven himself to the hilt if something in her eyes hadn't stopped him. Fear? Shock? Disgust?
Instead, he entered her slowly. She was tight. Too damn tight. He tried to ignore that stunning fact as he pushed deeper, and then his cock reached a barrier he hadn't expected. Damnation, he had wanted to believe the worst of her! He stared down at her, his mouth agape, eyes narrowed in disbelief. He had been with too many women not to recognize a virgin. The little minx hadn't lied.
Cursing violently, he pulled out and lifted himself off of her. She tugged her shirt as far over her legs as it would stretch and scooted off the bed. He tried not to notice the tears streaking her cheeks, or the lips swollen from his rough kisses. He had lost control. That wasn't like him. It seemed that seven years hadn't been enough time for him to forget his fascination with Sophia Carlisle.
Sophia had taught him that women were heartless creatures who valued money over love. Fortunately, he had learned his lesson well. Desmond's senseless death had made Chris value physical pleasure over emotional attachment. He had vowed to avoid becoming emotionally involved with a woman again, and he meant to live by his rule.
He glanced at Sophia. She was biting her bottom lip and staring at him as if he were some kind of ogre.
“Don't worry,” he bit out. “You're still technically a virgin.”
“I told you, but you didn't believe me,” Sophia spat. “Now will you turn the ship about and return me to London?”
Chris laughed. “Not a chance, Sophia. The
is sailing to Jamaica and so are you. It's time you told me the truth about why you stowed away aboard my ship.”
Sophia shook her head mutely. At one time Chris had professed to love her, a love Sophia had wholeheartedly returned but hadn't been free to accept. Lord Desmond had been the wealthy husband her family wanted for her. Though Chris's brother was an earl, Chris had little money of his own. He was dependent upon his brother for support and thus forbidden to her, or so her father and Rayford had insisted.
Sophia wondered how many duels Chris had fought over other women while she had been shunned by Society and forced to hide in shame in the countryside. He was a splendid man, impossibly handsome, strong and powerful. He could have any woman he wanted. Why did he still blame her for something that had happened years ago?
“Well, I'm waiting for an answer.”
Smarting over his heavy-handedness, Sophia snapped, “You wouldn't be interested in my problems.”
“You're right, women are nothing but trouble. Keep your secrets,” he snorted as he stormed out of the cabin.
Casper brought Sophia a needle, thread and scissors when he returned a few hours later with her lunch. He lingered near the door, staring at her as if he wanted to say something but was afraid.
Sophia smiled at him. “Is there something you wish to say to me?”
“The crew says you're a . . . Are you really one of . . . those women?” He shifted nervously from foot to foot, refusing to look at her.
“I am a lady, Casper. Does that answer your question?”
“Aye, I knew it!” Casper crowed. “That's what I told the crew. They believe you were brought aboard for the captain's pleasure. I told them you were a stowaway. That's right, isn't it?”
“Indeed it is,” Sophia replied. “I stowed away without your captain's knowledge, although I've known Captain Radcliff for many years. You can tell that to anyone who asks.”
Apparently satisfied, Casper took his leave. Later that afternoon, Sophia found a pair of trousers in Chris's sea chest that looked too worn to be of much use to him and began altering them to fit her. Though she wasn't an expert with a needle, she had learned to do simple tasks since her family had fallen upon hard times.
As daylight faded, she had to light a lantern in order to put in the final stitches. She was just pulling the trousers on when Chris returned to the cabin. He took one look at her and burst out laughing.
“You look ridiculous.”
“Go ahead and laugh,” Sophia retorted, “but at least I'm decent.”
His gaze, hot and avid, lingered on her breasts. “Are you?”
Aware that the transparency of Chris's fine lawn shirt offered scant protection, Sophia crossed her arms over her chest. That simple act caused her newly fashioned breeches to slip over her trim hips and fall around her ankles.
Chris shook his head. “Your sewing skills leave much to be desired. I'd lend you a belt, but I'm sure it would wrap twice around your waist.”
He tapped his chin, grinned, and then picked up the scissors.
“What are you going to do?” Sophia asked.
“Cut a strip from the hem of the shirt. You can use it as a belt.”
“I can do it myself,” Sophia said when he knelt before her and raised the hem a bit.
“Would you deprive me of the pleasure of looking at your legs?”
He began cutting. Sophia squeaked in dismay when he grasped her thigh beneath the shirttail to hold her steady.
“Don't move,” he warned.
His hand slid higher.
“Stop that! I didn't give you permission to take liberties.”
“You're lucky I haven't done more than take liberties,” Chris muttered. “This is my ship. You're at my mercy.”
He stood, handing her the narrow strip of cloth he had snipped from the hem of the shirt. Immediately Sophia pulled up the breeches and threaded the material through the belt loops. Then she stuffed the shirt into the breeches and tied the makeshift belt at her waist. Chris stood back and gazed at her, an amused smile curving his lips.
“Do you feel better now?”
“Much better, except . . .” She glanced down at her breasts, aware that they were outlined beneath the shirt. This time when she crossed her arms, her breeches stayed firmly in place. “I need a jacket.”
“One of mine, I presume.”
Sophia returned to Chris's sea chest, rummaging around until she found a jacket fashioned of thick wool. “Do you mind?” she asked, holding it up to her chest.
“Not at all, but I have a better idea. I'll ask Casper to loan you one of his. It will fit you better than mine.”
Aware of where his gaze lingered, Sophia pulled on the jacket and buttoned it over her breasts. It nearly swallowed her in its enormous folds. “I'll wear yours until Casper provides me with another.”
“Pity,” Chris muttered.
Now that she was decently covered, Sophia's courage returned. “What do you want?”
Chris's brows shot upward. “This is my cabin. This is where I take my meals and sleep.”
“Where am I going to sleep?”
“You'll be sharing my cabin. I thought I made that clear.”
“Be reasonable, Chris. You know that won't work, for obvious reasons.”
Sophia turned away lest he see her dismay. It wounded her pride that he thought so little of her. He'd been wild in his youth, she recalled, but sweet and endearing. He'd sworn she was the love of his life. Ha, so much for love!
There came a knock on the door. Chris admitted Casper; he had brought their supper. The lad placed the tray on the desk and left immediately to fetch a bottle of port and one of his old jackets as Chris requested. Chris pulled two chairs up to the desk and seated Sophia with a flourish.
“Cook has prepared a veritable feast,” he said, pointing out the various dishes of meat and vegetables. “I hope you like chicken. We brought live fowl and a few goats aboard to provide meat for the duration of our journey. The fresh vegetables will only last a short time and the flour will grow weevils, so eat hearty while you can.”
“I love chicken,” Sophia replied. He heaped her plate with succulent pieces of stewed chicken and vegetables and then filled his own. She caught him staring at her and sought to distract him. “Tell me about your ship.”
is a three-masted, square-rigged schooner. She's fast and dependable, and all mine. Though she carries twenty-four guns, we've rarely had to fire them. We can outrun anything afloat.”
“Have you been a captain long?”
Chris bit into a piece of chicken and chewed thoughtfully. “I bought the
three years ago. Before that, I served aboard her for two years as first mate. The captain wanted to retire, so I found the funds to buy her. ”
“So you've been plying the seas these past seven years.”
“I enjoy the excitement.”
“Are you carrying trade goods to Jamaica in your hold now?”
“Enough questions,” Chris said. “Your food is getting cold.”
Sophia bristled at his abruptness. Chris's moods ran hot and cold. He hated her, yet he wanted her. He had disappeared from her life without as much as a goodbye. She might still be a member of Society if Chris had offered for her after the duel instead of disappearing and leaving her to face the scandal and her family's wrath alone.
“Are you ready now to tell me who or what you were running from, Sophia?”
Sophia shook her head. “I've told you everything you need to know. Tell me about Jamaica.”
“Ah, Jamaica. After experiencing the golden warmth of the island, you'll find the chill fog of England enormously unappealing. I did. That's why I'm settling permanently on my newly acquired plantation. I'm going to raise sugarcane and distill rum.”
The conversation was momentarily interrupted when Casper arrived with a bottle of ruby port and a woolen jacket. Chris thanked him, and he left immediately. Chris handed the jacket to Sophia, then popped the cork on the port while she removed his oversized garment and thrust her arms into Casper's.
“Since fancy glasses aren't part of the ship's manifest, mugs will have to do,” Chris said as he fetched two mugs from the cupboard and poured a generous portion of the red liquid into each of them.
Sophia took a sip, finding it mellow and pleasing to the taste. She continued eating until her curiosity could no longer be contained. “Why are you abandoning England for Jamaica?”
“I have no fond memories of England.”
Sophia knew precisely to what he was referring but let the comment pass. “What about your family? I know you have a brother. Did he marry Lady Grace? He was courting her when I left London.”
“Justin did indeed marry Grace. They expect a child in late fall. I have every intention of returning to London from time to time to visit my brother and his family. It's not as if I'm cutting all ties with England.”
“I'd like to sever all ties with Rayford,” Sophia muttered.
“You're referring to Caldwell, of course. Won't he be worried when he finds you've gone missing?”
“I doubt it. Can we find something more pleasant to discuss?”
Chris was reluctant to drop the subject. “I take it you're not fond of him.”
Chris watched as Sophia drank deeply from her mug. He continued to stare at her while he drained his own mug.
“I don't want to talk about Rayford,” Sophia said.
“What did Caldwell do to you, Sophia?”
Sophia stood. “I'm tired. Please leave so I can retire.”
“You may retire any time you wish. But if you think I'm going to leave, you're dead wrong. Unless a crisis arises, I'm not leaving till morning. The bunk is plenty big enough for two.”
Sophia felt her color rise. “I'm not going to sleep in your bed.”
Chris shrugged. “You can sleep on the deck if you wish. But I warn you, it won't be as warm as the bunk.”
Chris watched the play of emotion on Sophia's face. It went from disbelief to anger to determination. What a tantalizing woman she had become, but he had always known she would mature into a great beauty. No, he refused to let his mind explore further in that direction. He had put all that behind him years ago.
“You're safe with me,” Chris said, “unless you decide you'd like an introduction to sexual pleasure. There could never be anything more than that between you and me.”
“No, thank you,” Sophia snapped. “Becoming intimate with you doesn't interest me.”
Chris stalked her until he stood before her, his eyes probing deep into her soul. “I could make it interesting.”