IN THE LARGE TOWN house on Berkeley Square, Georgina Malory entered the dining room to join her husband for lunch. The twins, Gilbert and Adam, had just left the room, their empty plates still on the table, and raced past her on the stairs. At fourteen, the boys still hadn’t outgrown running to wherever they were going. She’d given up scolding them for it.
But now her mind was on her husband and his impending voyage, which she hoped wouldn’t commence before the end of the Season. So with one brown brow raised, a habit she’d picked up from him, and in a tone nearly as dry as his usually was, she said, “Another ship? Really, James, wasn’t one extra ship enough?”
James Malory looked abashed for the briefest moment when he asked, “How the deuce did you find out about that?”
“Your newest captain came by this morning with the message that he would be away for a few days to visit his family. He needs to inform them he has one more voyage to captain before retiring as they had been expecting him to do.”
James crossed his arms over his wide chest, but he was grinning now. “I can be persuasive as you well know. He was selling his ship. I wanted him and his crew with it.”
“But you already bought a second ship.”
“Contingencies, m’dear. In case I need to leave without your brothers.”
Georgina tsked at her husband as she sat down next to him. “You mean you hope for any excuse to do just that.”
“Nonsense. As long as I don’t have to endure their company for the voyage, I’m quite willing to accept their aid in this endeavor, even if they’re offering it only because their darling niece was used as bait and they want revenge for that.”
“Now you do them a disservice. With the Kidnapping foiled and the culprit’s demanding you in particular as the ransom, d’you really think they would just shrug this off as being over and done with and not give it another thought? When it could happen again? When I would be devastated if it happens again? Yes, yes, I was listening when you insisted we can’t just let this go. I even understand why you won’t let me accompany you this time.” But then she laughed. “But seven ships, James?”
“It might be eight. Nathan Tremayne has also volunteered his.”
She gasped. “Don’t you dare drag him away from his honeymoon. Well, that’s putting the cart before the horse, so don’t you dare depart England before we see Nathan and Judy married.”
“Bite your tongue, George. Watch Tony give away the bride when he doesn’t want to? I bloody well wouldn’t miss that.”
“Your brother agreed—”
“Under duress,” James cut in. “But you know how Ros can be, not to mention Judy when she puts her foot down. He was quite outnumbered in the matter of his daughter marrying Tremayne.”
“You don’t object to a smuggler in the family?”
James chuckled. “Ex-smuggler, but I confess it was lonely being the only black sheep.”
She grinned. “I think I can safely say you still reign supreme in that regard—and you loved every minute of your notoriety, don’t deny it.”
He didn’t. The ten years he’d spent as Captain Hawke, gentleman pirate, had been among the best times of his life. “In either case, Nathan’s offer was appreciated, but I already intended to decline and my third ship is a ready excuse to do so. Don’t want to ruffle Nathan’s feathers when he can be so touchy about his welcome to our family.”
“I suppose your three ships are already crewed and ready to sail at a moment’s notice? Well, after this third captain returns.”
“Of course. As are Warren and Boyd’s ships, and yours.
“Drew will be joining us, too, either here if he brings us the information he’s gathered, or in the Caribbean if he sends us a missive. In the latter case, he’ll let us know where to meet up with him. We merely await his presence or a missive from him. But he’s had enough time to find out who our culprit is. If we don’t hear from him within the month, I will depart to personally assist in the search for answers.”
Georgina had never doubted that James would return to the Caribbean for retribution. You don’t provoke a Malory in the extreme manner in which James had been provoked by kidnapping his daughter and demanding he be the ransom without bearing the consequences.
Georgina’s five brothers had also been furious about Jack’s abduction, and their feelings of guilt had only exacerbated their fury. But then they blamed themselves for Jack’s ordeal because they’d insisted she be allowed an American come-out before her first Season in London. They were still hoping she’d marry an American instead of an Englishman. If not for that, Jack wouldn’t have been in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she was stolen right out of the Andersons’ garden. And Jack’s abductors had sunk every ship in the harbor that night so the Malorys and the Andersons couldn’t give immediate chase. But Nathan Tremayne’s timely arrival with a ship of his own foiled that part of the culprit’s plan. Nathan, James, and Judy, along with Thomas, Warren, and Drew Anderson, had been able to follow the kidnappers’ ship to the Caribbean. And fortunately, Jacqueline had managed to escape on her own unharmed and had been waiting for them in St. Kitts. She’d been unable to solve the mystery, though, of who wanted James dead.
“Regarding your departure,” Georgina said, “shall we settle on one month then? That will be almost the end of the Season, or were you planning on explaining to Jack why you won’t be here for the end of it?”
“Our darling girl barely notices I’ve been in attendance at those balls and soirées,” James reminded her.
That was a very real complaint. He didn’t even try to adjust his tone to disguise it. Georgina tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it, which got her one of James’s more intimidating stares, which he knew very well had no effect on her. He certainly had planned to frighten away all of Jack’s suitors. It had taken a long round of cajoling from both his wife and daughter before James had agreed to remain inconspicuous at the parties Jacqueline was invited to. And while it was definitely hard for a man his size to be inconspicuous, he did try to keep to the sidelines, occasionally even standing outside by the terrace doors if the events weren’t large enough to have sidelines. As it turned out, Jack so bedazzled her beaus that the young lords didn’t notice him, which James found quite annoying.