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He needed a clever woman who would stand up to his mother, reach for her papa, and lie ravished in his bed. In return, he would bind her to him and release her spirit.
Rosemary Thayer, suddenly alone in America, could finally do as she wished. It was the most frightening and exciting thing that had ever happened to her. She intended to capitalize on the opportunity by getting away from the man who wanted to marry her, and avoid homelessness and prostitution. Marriage would come eventually, but in her limited experience, men were trouble. If her secrets were out, no respectable man would ever look at her, let alone marry her.
Lord Edward Ashton was returning to England on one of his own ships to take up the newly inherited family reins as the Earl of Ashton. He would need to marry to ensure the line, but he had his own desires in a wife that he couldn't ignore. Then he met Rosemary, full of secrets and intent on her own way, even if it risked her safety and innocence.
She would need a firm hand and, at least on the ship, he would need to take on that role for her. It would be a challenge, but as he looked into her pleading eyes, he knew he would entertain no other course. She was the woman he’d hoped to find, if she would only stop fighting him.
Publisher's Note: This book contains domestic discipline, elements of age-play, and explicit scenes. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
The knocking on the door had turned to a pounding before their manservant had reached it. Rosemary Thayer walked through the hallway to the entrance, wondering who might be calling at this time of the night. She'd been about to retire for the evening and wondered if it was her father, once again in a state that negated him capable of opening the door properly.
"Yes, sir, Miss Thayer is here." Rosemary rounded the corner, pushing her honey blonde hair out of her tired blue eyes and put her hand out in greeting. It was evident the man didn't expect her offered salutation, and it took him a moment before he reciprocated with the mere touch of her hand but nothing more.
"Now, sir, please identify yourself and pray tell what your business is at this time of the night?" Her heart was pounding, for it could never be good news.
"My apologies, Miss Thayer. I was sent here to tell you we found your father, Arthur Thayer, dead, earlier this evening."
Rosemary turned to her manservant, Tom, given he had answered the door, and silently asked him a question to which he responded with a slight shake of his head. Her father was not at home. There was a loud rushing sound in Rosemary's ears, and she didn't hear another word the young man said. The boy left. Rosemary sat for the remainder of the night before she did more than drink a little water and stare into the darkness beyond her window. The next morning, Tom and her father's attorney, such as he was, took care of the arrangements for the body.
It was all somewhat surreal, from that moment to this one, as she looked at the ship she was about to board. Once she had come to terms with her reality, Rosemary quickly put her life in a new order. The days passed in a blur, but she was well satisfied with her position today. Was it only yesterday morning Rosemary had buried her father, and was it merely three days ago, that she had gotten the news of his demise?
Her father was dead. Rosemary tried hard to put away her fury with the man who refused to consider her desires when he decided to buy them passage with a small group going west. Regardless of the universal concerns of disgruntled Indians, lack of protection or civilization, her father chose to cast their lot with those younger and more adventuresome than he was without thought to her desires, in fact, in spite of them.
"Stay if you want, but you'll do it without any funds, my dear."
Arthur Thayer had been heartless about it when she had refused to go. He didn't care about her loss of quality of life. The same parent ignored her wellbeing when he went inside a tavern to drink with money in his pocket. Rosemary had been equally callous when she heard of his demise. At least, they hadn't left Virginia yet. God, she hated him as much as she missed him.
Oh, she had loved her father, but, since she was twelve, she'd never liked him, and worse yet, she didn't trust him. This was yet another example of how selfish the man had become, and it served to demonstrate how self-serving most men were. When the message came through that he was dead, one of her early cognitive thoughts had shamefully been how glad she was he'd left the bulk of their money at home. That he had taken only enough to buy passage and supplies, including four horses and a wagon, none of which he had yet picked up when he met his Maker. Of course, she didn't tell Jacob her thoughts because he wouldn't have understood her reaction.
The morning after her father's death, she began to gather what resources she had. The funds she had saved from the household account, what she had taken on nights her father had come home having drunk too much, the money he had gotten from the sale of their property in the strongbox in his office and, finally, dealing with the wagon train. Rosemary had promptly sold all the trappings of the whole move west back to the company at a loss, reasoning that most of the money was better than none of it.
She had him buried quickly, and while it was unheard of, it was necessary. Her security had been shaken before that night, but her expectation that she would at least have someone to rely on was ripped from her fingertips. She must manage things herself now, and that sent her onto the path that, once started, was not to be retracted. She was nothing, if not practical. She'd had to be because her father wasn't. She had learned the books to ensure they didn't starve and sufficient funds were in the coffers. Her father was always a man effortlessly separated from his money. She counted the result of her efforts and was quite satisfied with the amount.
Now, Rosemary stood outside her family home for the last time, breathing in the sweet cottonwood's fragrance and feeling the warmth of a Virginia breeze kiss her cheeks as the spring morning added surface heat to her chilled body but did nothing for the frigidness inside. These things had always been comforting, but now, they only reminded her of the bitterness of her life, the continuation of her fight for personal direction and fulfillment.
Rosemary looked at Jacob, the lone servant left to her. He would get her to the docks and then go on his way to freedom to rejoin his wife, Annie, who had gone several weeks ago.
"You sure about this, miss?"
She turned to Jacob, nodding her head resolutely while feeling the fear seize her heart and tighten her chest. "I'm very sure, Jacob. I plan to see what there is for me in England." She smiled at the sad shake of his head. "I have family there who want me, or, at least, they proclaim to, and it could be quite a novelty." She reached her hand out to touch the older man's work-worn one. "I could learn to love them."
He touched her hand briefly and then snapped the reins to get the unmatched pair moving. "Well, I know they'll love you. Can't help but."
She shrugged and smiled wryly. "If not, then it will have been a great lark."
Rosemary was level-headed, but when she desperately wanted something, well…that's when her trouble began. She often took to her room to let out the anger of injustice, releasing her tantruming self, turned inward, as was always the case. Her father would have never understood. She barely did, herself. Being a female was often the best and worst of a situation. She expected no man would truly appreciate the deep-seated needs that she had secreted away.
Stephen Thayer, her father's nephew and her cousin, was evidently a good lot, according to her grandmother. When Thayer invited his uncle and herself several months back to visit him and their family, her father ignored the invitation. In fact, much to her chagrin, her father had scoffed at the mere idea, but now, she didn't have to ignore it nor would she.
Rosemary remembered her father perusing a letter of some interest as she had watched him read it several times before laying it on his desk. "Father, what letter do you have?"
"Nothing of any value."
Her father disregarded what she suspected was of more import than he had stated. The value was likely transient, subjective, its personal significance declared by the reader. Rosemary knew not to pursue the subject. Her father did not like his edicts questioned, but she calmly continued her embroidery and waited until he decided to leave the room, tossing the note into the fire grate. Luckily, the fire had died down, and the paper landed on cold ash. She retrieved it.
As you are aware, I have taken a wife, Annalise. We are awaiting our first child. As my cousin Rosemary is of age now, we would like to offer her residence in our home. Annalise would sponsor our cousin to enable her presentation to polite society, thus allowing her to find introductions to appropriate suitors in her rank and class. Our goal for Rosemary would include finding an acceptable and amiable marriage, every woman's desired outcome.
If she has her heart set on another, I would also invite that suitor, to meet him and acquaint him with Rosemary's family here. I hope you will not disabuse me of the confidence that you will visit soon. I understand the journey is long, but I have a friend who owns several ships, frigates and packet ships, and he will be happy to book your passages and ensure what comfort is available on your voyage.
It is our sincere desire that you accept our invitation. We await your reply. Please give Rosemary our fondest regards.
Lord Stephen Thayer
Her father had been in some contact with his nephew or, at least, received earlier communication, according to the note. From that moment to this, Rosemary had intended to accept the invitation, and had even thought to slip away, but was not quick enough before her father had set into motion the westward passage. She had saved the letter with its scant information of where she could find her cousin and decided that, if nothing else, she would inquire upon arrival to England. She wished Lord Thayer had identified his friend so she could go to his shipping company, but there were several, and now she didn't have the luxury of time. Her father had sold their home in preparation for departure, and the new owners would take possession in the next few days.
At twelve, Rosemary received a letter from her maternal grandmother that slipped past her father. It revealed she had family in Hampshire. Her grandmother had continued writing all these years in hopes of connecting. Rosemary began to write back. When her grandmother died, Rosemary learned that upon her twenty-fifth birthday, or when she married, she would inherit a parcel of family land. Arthur Thayer was angry his wife had not inherited, but the will gave the property to Rosemary since her own mother was dead.
"But, Father, if it is an inheritance, it isn't offered until the owners have died so how could Mother have inherited it?"
He ignored the logic and continued to rant about the stupidity of giving land in another country to a girl. Regardless of his efforts, the will was without weakness, and he could not take custody of the holding for his daughter. Rosemary was glad. Her father was not of meager means but had turned greedy over the last years. Rosemary had confided in Annie, their cook-housekeeper, of the inheritance, who, of course, had told her husband, Jacob.
Jacob turned now as the wagon approached the docks. "You can get that property your grandparents left for you."
"I'm not twenty-five."
"Not yet, but you'll most likely be married soon, anyway."
"I don't plan to purposely give up my freedom to another man until absolutely necessary, Jacob." She grinned at her servant and friend. "Unless you are available and want to come with me. I've got the ticket." She was teasing, but a small part of her would have welcomed the stability of the older man.
"I'm old enough to be your father." He chuckled. "And Miss Annie wouldn't be happy with me." He sobered. "You gonna be just fine, girl. I have faith in you. Tell me the name of the ship, again."
They continued to make stilted small talk until Jacob had to concentrate on guiding the team and wagon to the ship.
"Here we are, miss." His voice was too chipper. She wanted to cry, change her mind, and go with Jacob.
He helped Rosemary down and stood her near the gangplank while he pulled in two dock urchins to help unload the trunks. "You boys help get the lady's trunks to the room. Don't you go scampering off before the job is done, hear?" Happy with the answer, he turned to Rosemary and hugged her tight. "Now, I'm going north to Annie. She ain't too patient, my woman. You good?"
"Yes, and you have your papers, in case anyone should try to stop you. You haven't far to go, really, and you know the roads that are best to travel. Now, I know you have some money hidden, but I sent some to Annie when she left, too. I didn't want anyone to stop you and get suspicious." They hugged tightly. "Goodbye, Jacob, live well."
"We'll be praying your hopes and dreams come true. Good-bye, Miss Rosemary."
He almost kissed her hand but stopped and tipped his hat, instead. She felt the familiar stinging in her nose and behind her eyes. She heard him sniff as he got back into the wagon. He never turned around. It took just a moment before she was on the dock, truly alone for the first time in her life. The feeling was almost suffocating, and her bravado slipped. She had dreamed of this day. Now that it was here and she was waiting to board the enormous ship, she could feel panic descend.
Rosemary tried hard not to show the stress of the last few days by giving in to the tantrum she wanted to release. She knew this about herself. Sometimes she wanted to let out the little girl who was within, but she never had. She was a woman of substance, if her grandmother was to be believed. The letter her cousin had sent seemed to verify that fact. Born with English heritage, raised an American, and with a sizable amount of money in her hand and, in a few years, property. Therefore, they made her a woman of some means. Things like titles were frowned upon in America, and that was fine, but she did experience a little thrill in knowing it'd be something of acknowledged value when she reached the home of her cousin. Her life was making a dramatic change.
She let out another sigh as she thought of her current situation and looked around to hire more help. The boys Jacob had hired to help her had unceremoniously dropped her trunks and other bags and took off the moment she had paid them, ignoring her calls to wait. Now, here she was ready to board with all her goods and no one to carry them.You're going to have to be more alert, Rosemary. It would not do for you to allow others to take advantage of you, for there are far too many who would have no compunction about doing so. Her inner child had the almost undeniable urge to stamp her feet. She balled her hands into fists, instead.
* * *
Lord Edward Ashton and his valet approached one of his ships docked in Virginia. Edward watched as several strapping young boys, eager to earn a coin by carrying his trunks aboard, accompanied his valet. The diligently working lads were stacking the wooden carriers near a young woman and her luggage. She appeared to be awaiting permission to board.
The golden-haired vision glanced up at the packet boat and visually followed the expanse of it with her whole body, moving to observe the length and height of the mighty ship. Edward understood what must have been going through her mind as he always experienced the same awe at its immense size close up. A shipping magnate, Lord Ashton had partnered with Cullen Blacach O'Leary, two years ago, and never regretted it. His partner had agreed to handle things on the American side of the ocean alone, while Edward left to take care of the English end, due to the somewhat recent untimely death of his brother while in a drunken stupor at the gaming halls.
He found his attention, once again, drawn to the female passenger. The woman was speaking to several boys rather heatedly. With little more than a passing interest, Edward watched the beauty chat to her hired help. He would have turned away, except something drew him back to her. It dawned on him she should not be speaking to them at all, but this was Virginia, in America, and civilized behavior was defined differently. He had seen greater forwardness from this new country's women, but she seemed sheltered, innocent in her demeanor. The men were no less protective on this side of the ocean. Yet here she was, glaringly without security, possibly allowing her to be taken advantage of with little effort. He was surprised at the anger he felt towards the unknown companion.
He still found it fascinating that, given the opportunity, some women would take the challenge before them and push on, showing themselves quite capable, while others shied from any form of trial. Nonetheless, Edward had difficulty allowing a woman to face the challenges of life alone due to his own English upbringing. Still, the young woman was dressed smartly if plainly, without too much frill, and he doubted her escort would be pleased with her addressing any young man alone, whether they are hired to help or matrimonial suitors. Where was her errant guard? If the beauty before him were his, he would be more diligent about her safety. If she had slipped away unawares, she would feel his wrath. His loins tightened at the thought of uncovering her arse for punishment.
Edward watched a bit longer as it appeared that the drudges were contemplating taking off, prematurely, it would seem. As he approached the young woman, he looked around for her companion, surprised he still could not locate him or her. However, there were so many people milling about the dock, he could have been looking right at them and not known it.
He saw her fist clench and her body stiffen in irritation. He almost expected her to kick something or stomp her feet. She turned her head and stared at him, her prolonged eye contact considered vulgar and forward in a London ballroom, but here in the open, his response was to tip his hat boldly. She looked away but not before Edward could have sworn he saw the corner of her lip kick up in the hint of a smile. She would be a feisty one, not one to stand on ceremony and, unfortunately, that was all English society stood on these days. How refreshing for him and ruinous for her.
It would be interesting to become acquainted with this little rabbit if he didn't have a family obligation to fulfill. It was his duty to marry and produce an heir, not encourage a dalliance with a lovely, young woman on the fringe of scandal, and yet his body reacted favorably to the challenge he perceived it would be.
Deciding to throw caution to the wind one last time before taking on his Earldom, Edward walked over and spoke to the damsel, who now appeared to be inordinately distressed as she yelled after the long-departed boys.
"Madam, excuse me for my boldness, but it appears you are having some difficulty. May I introduce myself? I am Edward, Lord Ashton. Did your hirelings desert you or did they abscond with anything valuable of yours?"
"Yes, well, actually, I paid them, and they left before the job was done." The aggravation was obvious. Her cheeks flushed deeply, her deep blue eyes were snapping, and her hands were on her hips as though she were chastising him, as well. Her eyes were the same blue as a friend he knew in England. They were the only two he had met with that particular shade.
"That was your misstep, if you don't mind my saying so. You should have withheld the fee until they had completed the job. These young boys on the docks offering themselves for hire are not of the highest moral standards. Your husband should have taken care of them."
Rosemary looked at him, her growing irritation evident. "Yes, I can see that now. One would have thought them more trustworthy or at least a little more honorable."
"Why? Most people who leave from here going to England or parts beyond do not intend to return. Therefore, they're not looking for more than a one-time job."
"Ah." Her face showed understanding and frustration. Her lips protruded in a slight pout. "This leaves me in a quandary as to what to do. Shall you return to these shores, sir?"
"Oh, yes, I imagine I shall, for I have a partner and business interest on both sides of the ocean. And you? Shall you return?"
"Oh, I do hope so, for a visit, at least, but I truly do not know. I no longer have family here."
Hmm, so no husband with her then. "Let's get you more help, my dear." He smiled and realized he was genuinely happy to be there speaking and assisting her. It was a small price for the privilege. She had appeared doubtful, but his smile had been sincere, and evidently, it was enough, for she relaxed her shoulders and smiled back. Edward's valet quickly rounded up three more boys to carry the trunks and items that she had brought with her. Edward instructed his valet to pay them after they completed the tasks.
"Oh, but I shall pay them. It's surely not something I would expect you to do."
Edward vehemently shook his head. "It is absolutely unacceptable for a gentleman to ask or even allow a lady to pay for anything. It is my pleasure to choose these young men to do this task for you, and therefore, it is my privilege to pay them for their efforts. I pray you not say anything more but to accept it gracefully."
Rosemary had been smiling and nodding until he implied she did not know when to accept a courtesy and to be grateful. Her tone confirmed those sentiments and her eyes sizzled with indignation. "Thank you for your kindness. I am not in the position to refuse your offer of assistance or rest assured I would do so. I will wish you a good day, sir."
Edward missed what had happened in their conversation that would have put her on her high horse, but there she was. Women were a challenging species to understand, and here he was about to embark upon marriage to one of them in the near future to ensure his family line. The thought of more conversations as this, with another woman he had yet to determine, drove him to leave her company post haste.
He bowed in her direction. "Madam." He walked toward the gangplank, leaving her to her traveling companion who had yet to make an appearance. Edward went in search of the captain, leaving the young woman standing where he had met her. He intended to keep an eye in the direction of the chit to assure himself of her safe boarding. However, his valet, Blakely, distracted him in the care of his own luggage. Once his things had been sorted out, he boarded the ship. When Edward looked back to locate the young woman, she, along with all her trunks and bags were gone.
He shook his head for a moment and glanced around slowly, but there were so many people rushing everywhere that it was nearly impossible to find anyone in the throng. He explored the ship for a time, then went in search of his cabin. He expected his valet was hard at work unpacking his things. He would find the young woman later and introduce himself to her companion. She'd intrigued him and that hadn't happened in quite a long time. He shook his head and continued to his room.
It had been a long week of decisions already, as Edward, upon receiving news of the death of his brother, spent hours with his partner deciding what would be best for their business, which was booming. They weighed it against the needs of his family now that not only his brother but, also, his father, before him, were gone. Edward's father had died four years ago, creating the reason why Edward left for America. His brother took over as Earl of Ashton, so, despite his mother's wishes, Edward struck out to make his own fortune.
Business was good, but after he partnered with Scot-Irishman Joseph Blacach O'Leary, it became even better. O'Leary, also well known as "The Black Laird", had his own successful shipping interest, but he saw the potential for significant expansion if a joint venture was forged with Ashton Shipping. Edward saw the same potential, and after meeting every night for a week, haggling over mugs of ale, shots of sweet Irish whiskey, and savoring the smoky smoothness of Scotch whiskey, they came to an agreement.
It had proven quite profitable for both parties. Ashton-O'Leary Shipping had expanded their wealth and holdings fourfold by the end of the first year. Now, in the second year, it was becoming increasingly apparent that it would be wise to have an owner's presence on the English side to protect their interests. They had been kicking around the idea about one of them returning to London because the thievery on the docks was rising and their profits were diminishing. True, it was minimal at this point, but they did not expect the pilfering to go away, so a watchful eye and firm hand were what was needed. This change seemed to offer the perfect solution for all problems. The laird had taken to life in America well enough, but Edward had thoughts of returning home, and this afforded him that opportunity. He anticipated returning to America at some point, but he knew it would not be to stay.
Later that afternoon, Edward shook the hand of the captain, introducing himself. That good man slapped him on the back and said, "It's about time we meet. I'll take good care of you across the water and drop you safely in the bosom of Mother England."
Edward joked with the captain like old friends but found his attention shifted when he caught out of the corner of his eye the flouncing of skirts. Bringing his gaze further up the line of material, his sight landed on lush breasts appropriately covered, but the tease was still there.
"Speaking of bosom, I see your eye has already caught our young Rosemary Thayer."
"Yes, we met earlier on the dock. She had run into a little difficulty, but I believe we sorted it out agreeably. Her escort, where is he?"
"I believe it is her father. She must have a companion around somewhere, but I don't take too much notice of the civilian passengers. So long as they stay out of my way and cause no trouble, I see them little more than a mosquito on an elephant's bum, a little annoying but no real harm."
As if she heard her name bantered about, Rosemary lifted her head and stared in the direction of Lord Ashton. They stared for long seconds before Edward broke the contact with an almost imperceptible nod; he strode away in the opposite direction, leaving Rosemary's gaze behind him and feeling curiously bereft of the view.
The next morning, after a meal, Edward walked the deck of his commercial ship and breathed in the sea air. He had many things to think about and still a few plans to devise before he made land. O'Leary should be sweet-talking another smaller shipping interest about now. Edward had done what he could to sway the decision to join with them and hoped his partner could bring him into the fold. For now, Ashton needed to concentrate on taking the family reins of leadership and the mantle of Earldom on his own shoulders.
After what the physician declared a disease of the heart, Edward's father, James Ashton, died. Edward's brother took over as head of the family. Edward stayed for a year and saw his own business was growing, and so was his discontent at his family home. Charles Ashton, the eldest son, was prematurely thrust into the leadership seat to take over the reins of the family's estates as Earl of Ashton. He'd soon displayed an appalling lack of understanding as to his obligations toward the family wealth, businesses, lands, and those who survived on it.
Charles was not only a spendthrift, but he gambled and gave his money away to drink and women. Edward's mother had begged him to stay and be the anchor his brother needed, and while Edward would have considered doing it to save the family fortune, Charles would not have it. Charles had no wife, no children, therefore, no heirs. Instead of remedying the issue, he continued on his chosen path without deviation. Thus, Edward did the only thing he could do, leave the estate and the family fortunes in the hands of his brother.
Edward received the letter from his mother, a month ago, announcing Charles' death in a gambling hall. So, four short years after the death of his father and nearly three months after his elder brother Charles' demise, Edward prepared to stand in their shoes, bringing with him his own fortune.
"Good day, sir. I overheard that you own this boat. Is that correct?" The man continued without waiting for confirmation. "It is a rather good business, I would say. Profitable."
Edward assessed the man standing before him before deciding there was no harm in a little disclosure. "I have an interest, yes. Like many businessmen, I have diverse holdings, not keeping all your eggs in the same basket concept."
The man nodded and put out his hand. "Ryland, George Ryland, your lordship."
Edward looked sharply at the man. How would he know his proper address? He accepted his hand. "Ashton. Have we met before?"
"No, we haven't met, but I do know of your family in England."
"You have me at a disadvantage, sir."
"Yes, I imagine I do. But never fear, I think our mutual interests will bring us into contact again."
Edward waited for more words of identification, but none was forthcoming. Deciding he didn't have any interest in furthering the odd conversation, Edward spoke. "Excuse my manners, but I have paperwork I must attend to, Mr. Ryland. I imagine we shall meet again." Edward didn't know precisely why but he didn't care for the man and intended to keep his distance.
Edward's thoughts returned to the ancestral home. He wondered how badly his brother had left their family finances and their estate. Edward represented two worlds, family money and the wealth he had made in his own right. The old money spoke of security, tradition, and the new money spoke of ingenuity, opportunity. He would need it all to entice a member of the fairer sex to take the package deal.
Looking up, Edward took a deep breath of salty sea air and was about to go back to his cabin to make some notes when he spied a woman leaning over the railing. Could it possibly be the young woman from yesterday? As he approached, it was apparent he was correct, her figure and glorious hair, loosely bound, could only belong to Rosemary Thayer.
He looked about for her companion and saw no protector, no one except for several of the crew sniffing around her. The girl seemed oblivious to their proximity to her, and even less understanding of their intentions. He looked on the horizon past her and saw a swell of considerable size coming towards them. Seeing she was ignorant of the approaching danger, he hurried to pull her from the barrier.
"Madam," he said as he reached for her upper arm, removing her from danger. "You must move away from the railing. The water can be rough in this area of the ocean where the inland waterways we were in most recently meet the open sea. Should we have hit a swell, as is coming towards us now, you might have been thrown from the ship without recourse." As he warmed to his chastisement, he demanded, "Where is your escort?"
"Oh, it's you." Her tense stance relaxed. Her expression blanked, giving him pause before her eyes widened. "Escort?"
Relief gone, Edward saw a flicker of interest before her demeanor turned defiant. She was lucky, for if they were better acquainted, she would have reason to worry about the state of her behind. She frowned, and he saw her clasped hands squeeze tightly. Now that she had time to process things, he was positive she wasn't at all pleased to discover it was Edward before her. There was something else before her brain took over, a flare of excitement. He raised his eyebrow in hopes of communicating his impatience at her lack of response.
"Yes, my companion. She was feeling ill and went to have a lie-down. I didn't want to disturb her." She positively sniffed at him. "Not that it is any concern of yours."
He ignored the itching his hand was feeling at her behavior. "And your husband or father?"
"No, no husband...thank goodness, but a father. Doesn't everyone have a father?"
"Yes, but where is yours?" Edward made sure his look communicated his displeasure with her evasiveness and tart remarks. Damn, if she didn't have the most kissable lips he'd seen in a long time. He decided to change his tactic. "What is your name?"
"Why do you need my name?"
He had to fight the smile threatening to break free as she crossed her arms defiantly over her bosom. He half expected her to stomp her foot, her lips were pouty, already. He immediately imagined her as his baby girl. He didn't actually need her name; the captain had been accommodating and shared it with him when they boarded.
He tried again. "I see you were able to get your trunks on board."
She almost smiled. "Yes. Thank you for your assistance, but I don't want you to interpret my acceptance of your rescue as an open invitation to accost me during our long trip."
His pique was going to get the better of him soon if he didn't cut this naughty girl off. Edward looked away to corral his frustration at her defiance when he saw that fine sailor, the captain, further along the deck.
"Ah, never mind. I see the captain, and we are good friends, so I'll trouble him with the information of who you are, where your father is, and have him entreat Mr. Thayer to keep you under his watchful eye. In fact, I should endeavor to speak to him, myself." Her panic was evident as she wiped her palms on her dress.
She was comely to look at, and she did say she had no husband so looking surreptitiously was not impolite. Her golden hair fell gently in what appeared to be natural curls surrounding much of her head and lying on her shoulders. The wavy strands, much like the person they adorned, were only moderately tamed. They gave the appearance of thick silk, and he almost reached his hand out to run fingers through their chaos, but he was able to stop himself before it was too late.
English proprieties now took precedence rather than American freedoms, he reminded himself. If he touched her so intimately, no coercion would be needed for his social expectation, and personal integrity would mandate Edward offer for her hand. She was no lady of convenience. No, she was most assuredly untouched. He clenched his fists in tight control. To have a virginal woman with fire and spirit would be incredible. His cock leaped in a
Her large eyes were even darker blue now and still reflected her fear. Edward imagined her expressive eyes were the windows to her innermost thoughts and feelings. For a brief moment, he wondered what a glimpse inside would reveal. She seemed young but not too young, maybe twenty, but old enough to have a husband and plenty mature to know better than to be found alone without an escort.
She needed a spanking for her evasiveness, and for a brief few seconds, he was sad he wasn't the one authorized to give it. However, he would know soon enough who did have that authority, and Edward would make sure he had a word with whoever it was. For now, he lifted his eyebrow in expectation of her response. She licked her lips, and the wind gusted, tossing her hair and skirt as it passed. Eyes that sparkled with energy met his in the refreshing playfulness of the breeze as the air eagerly shared its frivolity before continuing on its journey.
"Your name?" He allowed his voice to reveal his impatience.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Rosemary Thayer."
"Thayer. Are you any relation to Lord Stephen Thayer, of Hampshire?"
Her surprise was evident. "Why, yes, he is my cousin. It is to him that I go." Edward's eyes narrowed, as though trying to ferret out the real story, and she must have realized her mistake, for she rushed on to clarify further. "We, it is where we are going. He is Father's nephew."
"Excellent, I am acquainted with Lord Thayer, as well. I shall like to make the acquaintance of your father, being a close relative to such a dear friend. And since we are going in the same direction, for I intend to call upon Thayer when we arrive in England, I would be most happy to offer my carriage to convey us all to his home."
"Yes, that would be acceptable, if Father agrees." She rubbed her hands down her skirts again and almost danced in place with her nervousness. "I should go back before Father worries about me. Good day."
"Yes, and please introduce me to him when next we meet."
"Good day, Lady Thayer."
She paused before answering. "Good day, sir." Her stomach cramped with the lie.