“Eliza. That is your name, isn’t it?” I nodded my head, not taking my eyes off him. He seemed quite young for what I was expecting. Mid to late thirties maybe, and he certainly had that air of authority surrounding him. His hair was blacker than mine, and his eyes were dark and serious. He sat in his chair, leaning into the back of it with his head resting on his fisted hand. He almost looked bored–almost. “Do you talk?”
“Will you excuse us, Hank?” I looked to Hank. He nodded his head and left through the door we entered. When it clicked shut, the captain rose to his feet. He was a tall man, not as bulky as Hank, but he appeared strong and virile. He wore snug-fitting pants with boots up to his knees, and an off-white shirt that looked so soft I could rub my face in it. He was not particularly handsome. The lines on his face were quite hard. Actually, he made me feel scared. “I hope you’ve been treated well.”
I snorted my laugh and gave him a sharp look. “If being treated well means being knocked out and left for dead in a small, rodent-infested, smelly hole, and fed something that tastes like it has been scrapped off the floor of the galley, then yes, I think you have given us a voyage to remember.” My gaze didn’t waver. The captain just gave me a smirk and crossed his arms over his chest. His hair was just long enough to put it in a tie at the nape of his neck. Some of it had come loose, and he tucked it absently behind his ear.
“Well then, I’m glad I was able to accommodate you.” He was laughing at me. I just raised my chin and waited for him to say what he wanted to say. “You know why you are here?”
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“Eliza, do you remember me?” His voice was gentle as he ran his finger over my closed eye. I couldn’t move my head, so he continued. “I am Nash, remember? I met you at the doctor’s.” Nash. Yes, I remembered. He leant in close to my ear and whispered so only I could hear. “I’ve been William’s friend all my life. Will you trust me, Eliza?” Nash pulled back so we could see each other again. He was so close I could see his eyes searching mine for the answer he needed. He nodded his head slightly, then stood and turned back to the general and Pierson.
“Well?” Pierson asked impatiently.
“If this is how you think you can best William, then you win. You’ve beaten the girl to an inch of her life, and stealing her away from him forever should nail the coffin down tight.”
“Stop stalling. What’s it going to be? That wench will not be leaving here on the say of these papers,” Pierson warned determinedly. I heard the ruffling of the said papers being thrown and then saw some fall to the ground in front of Nash. Those were apparently my release forms. I watched Nash pick them up and fold them away.
“So be it then, but you are not coming. I will not have you in attendance on her wedding day,” Nash demanded.
“Are you surprised that a family such as mine would allow its heir to consider marriage below his class?” Yes, I was wondering, and I was a little surprised. I knew it sometimes happened for whatever circumstance–scandal, fortune hunters, or I supposed, love. But I’d never heard of such a thing being alright with the titled party. It shouldn’t surprise me, though. With what William had told me of his parents, anything was possible.
“Maybe. I expected that Payton was born a lady,” I said, placing my tea cup back onto its saucer.
“She was,” William said, rising to his feet. But before he turned to leave, he caught me unprepared by the feel of his finger lightly touching the underside of my jaw. He ran it along the bone until only his knuckle was under my chin. He lifted my face till his lovely green eyes met mine. He stared at me for a long moment. “So were you, Eliza. Don’t ever forget that.” Then he left me to my own thoughts.
The captain was close to us now, and he spoke directly to the sergeant. “These women have been paid for with the silence of our lord here,” the captain said, slightly pointing to Lord Townshend whilst speaking to the confused sergeant. “Whilst you were passed out a few mornings ago, the lord and I came to an agreement.”
“I was saving those two…” The sergeant waved his finger at us while addressing the captain, looking like he was trying to find the words to describe us.
“Women,” I said. All the males in conversation about us, as though we weren’t even there, turned at my statement. I stood up straighter. “We are women.”
“Thank you, Bree.” She took my hand in hers, and we held each other until we heard the keys open our door again, and Hank appeared before us. “Come now, wench. It’s time.”