Read A Taste of Paradise Online

Authors: Connie Mason

A Taste of Paradise (11 page)

Despite being busy from dawn to dusk, Chris still found time to think about Sophia. He'd begun to wonder if sending her back to England without discovering what or whom she feared had been the right thing to do. Something or someone had sent her fleeing into the night without even a wrap for protection against the elements, or money in her pocket.

On more than one occasion since arriving at Sunset Hill, he had nearly tossed caution to the wind and rushed back to Kingston to see how Sophia was faring. But just as he prepared to leave, a new emergency always seemed to arise to stop him. Being new to his position as plantation owner, Chris had much to learn and master, and just as many problems to solve. If not for Mundo, his overseer, he would have been lost.

Today, one of his neighbors, Lord Wombly, had stopped by on his way home from Kingston to tell Chris that the
South Wind
had arrived and was slated to leave Kingston Harbor in two days. Chris wanted to ask him if he'd seen Sophia in town but stifled the urge. As the day progressed, Chris had to forcibly restrain himself from racing pell-mell to Kingston to see Sophia one last time before she disappeared from his life forever.

Several days after the
South Wind
's scheduled departure, a matter concerning the deed to Sunset Hill arose that necessitated a trip to Kingston and a visit to Headquarters House. With a list of goods to be purchased at the local market in hand, he left Sunset Hill with Mundo driving a wagon behind Chris's horse.

Anxious about the governess position she hoped to obtain, Sophia approached Mr. Ludlow a few days after the
South Wind
departed without her.

“Have you heard from any potential employers, Mr. Ludlow? I'm quite anxious to begin my duties as a governess.”

“I have indeed, Miss Carlisle. The answers to two of my inquiries arrived just this morning. Lord Castor and Mr. Humbart are both interested but can't come to interview you immediately due to pressing commitments at home.”

“How long do you suppose I'll have to wait?”

“Not long, I suspect. English governesses are sought after in Jamaica.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ludlow, I appreciate your help. It's such a pleasant day, I think I'll take a stroll.”

“Don't forget your bonnet, Miss Carlisle,” Ludlow chided. “I don't think you realize the importance of protecting your fair complexion from the sun. If Captain Radcliff hadn't told me you came from English stock, I would have thought . . .” He shrugged. “Take my word for it, Miss Carlisle, tanning as deeply as you have is not recommended.”

Sophia nodded solemnly, but for the life of her she couldn't imagine why anyone would care about her complexion except her mother, and that dear woman had long since gone to her grave. She did, however, return to her room for her bonnet before leaving the inn. She was proceeding out the door when she ran headlong into a thickset man who was entering the inn.

The man swept off his hat and bowed deeply. “Forgive my clumsiness, ma'am.”

“Oh, no, it was entirely my fault, sir.” When Sophia tried to step around him, the man grasped her arm and whirled her about.

“You!” he gasped. “Well, well, well, this
is
my lucky day. I don't know how you got here, but justice will finally prevail. Caldwell cheated me out of five hundred pounds, and you caused me a great deal of trouble, not to mention pain. I still bear the scar from your vicious attack.”

Stunned beyond coherent speech, Sophia tried to escape Sir Oscar's punishing grip. Fate was still conspiring against her. How else could she explain Sir Oscar's presence in Jamaica? How had he learned her whereabouts? Had he followed her across the sea?

“What do you have to say for yourself, Sophia?”

“Release me at once!”

“You belong to me. I paid dearly for you, and you're not escaping me again.”

People were beginning to stare. Mr. Ludlow, his face a picture of concern, hurried over to see what was causing the ruckus.

“Is there a problem, Miss Carlisle?” he asked anxiously.

“There is indeed,” Sophia huffed. “This bully has just accosted me.”

Ludlow glanced at Sir Oscar. “Oh, it's you, Sir Oscar. Welcome back to Jamaica. We have missed you.”

“You know this man?” Sophia asked, unable to believe this was happening to her. If Rayford were here now, she would gladly kill him.

“Of course. Sir Oscar owns one of the largest plantations on the island. He has been visiting England and on the recently returned
Morning Star
.”

Sophia wanted to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. If this was really happening, it was more frightening than any nightmare she had ever had.

“Do you know this woman, Ludlow?” Sir Oscar asked.

“Indeed. Miss Carlisle is seeking a position as governess. I'm aiding her in her search.”

Sir Oscar stared intently into Sophia's face. With a calculating gleam in his eye, his gaze traveled down her bare arms before returning abruptly to her face. His sly smile warned Sophia that he was up to no good. His next words proved it.

“I fear my slave has fooled everyone with her fine manners and diction. I bought her shortly before I sailed to England. She was born on the island of Barbados, the product of a white father and slave mother. Her father was fond of her and had her educated.”

“He lies!” Sophia cried. “Do not listen to him, Mr. Ludlow. I swear I am not who he says.”

Ludlow looked torn. Sir Oscar was an important man on the island, and crossing him was not a good idea. Furthermore, Ludlow had seen many slaves lighter in coloring than Miss Carlisle.

“Captain Radcliff secured a room for her,” Ludlow maintained. “She arrived in Jamaica aboard the
Intrepid
and was to leave on the
South Wind
.”

“The
South Wind
has already sailed, has she not? Why didn't the woman leave?”

“She hoped to secure a position as a governess,” Ludlow ventured.

“This is ridiculous,” Sophia spat. “I am Sophia Carlisle, my brother is Viscount Caldwell.”

“Can you prove it?” Sir Oscar asked.

“Can you prove I am not?” Sophia shot back.

“Indeed I can, Selena. I have papers to prove that I bought you from Lord Tyler-Wilford's heir.”

“My name is not Selena! I am Sophia Carlisle! You're lying. Someone please summon the authorities.”

“Miss Car . . . Selena, if Sir Oscar says you are his property, I see no reason to refute him,” Ludlow said.

“Come along, Selena,” Sir Oscar commanded with a smirk. “It was naughty of you to take advantage of my absence by running away and pretending to be someone you're not.”

“Mr. Ludlow, help me! Send for Captain Radcliff. He'll tell you the truth.”

“Don't bother, Ludlow,” Sir Oscar advised. “I'm sure she fooled the captain just as she did you with her fancy speech and manners. She's a sly little wench.”

“Oh, no, you are mistaken, sir. Mistress Carlisle is exactly who she says she is.”

Sophia sent a grateful smile toward Kateena, the only one who dared to come to her aid.

“Shut up, girl; you don't know what you're talking about,” Sir Oscar growled.

“But you haven't seen her like I have,” Kateena argued. “Her skin—”

Turning on Kateena, Sir Oscar backhanded her, sending her flying. “No one cares about your opinion, wench! Ludlow, control your slave.”

“Kateena, if you don't keep out of this, you'll find yourself without work,” Ludlow warned. “Kateena works for me for wages,” he explained to Sir Oscar. “She's a free woman of color.”

“I don't care what she is. If she interferes with me or my property, I'll bring charges against her.”

Kateena picked herself up from the floor and approached Sophia. “What can I do for you, mistress?”

The purpling bruise on Kateena's face made it obvious that Kateena's defense of Sophia would only lead to more violence, more injuries. Sophia wouldn't allow it.

“Nothing, Kateena. I can take care of myself. Thank you for speaking up, but I fear that defending me will only bring harm to you.”

Kateena shrank away, her distress palpable.

Sir Oscar began pulling Sophia away from the inn. “Come along, Selena; my carriage awaits outside. If you behave, you'll not be punished.”

For all that Sophia dug in her heels, it did her little good. With a wave of his hand, Sir Oscar summoned the slaves waiting beside his carriage to help wrestle her into the conveyance.

“No, please, I'm an Englishwoman! Sir Oscar is lying. I don't belong to him. Don't let him take me away.”

Her plea was met with stony silence. Her struggles were subdued, and the carriage rattled off down the street, on the way to hell. Or so Sophia assumed, for anywhere Sir Oscar lived had to be hell.

Somehow, some way, she had to get word to Chris. Surely he wouldn't allow this travesty, would he?

Please, God, don't let Chris abandon me
.

Chris finished his business at Headquarters House and was ready to return home to Sunset Hill. Mundo, driving the wagon with the newly purchased supplies, had already departed. As Chris wheeled his horse along Duke Street, the devil inside him made him turn toward the King's Arms. Despite his resolve to wash his hands of Sophia, he wanted to make sure she had boarded the
South Wind
as planned, and that her stay in Kingston had been uneventful.

Chris dismounted in front of the King's Arms and walked inside. He was taken aback when a serving girl ran up to him and fell on her knees. “Captain, sir, you have to help her. He took her away; there was nothing I could do.”

Chris's eyes looked into the woman's chocolate-brown eyes, and his heart plummeted. Her plea could only refer to Sophia. Damnation! What kind of trouble had the woman gotten herself into now?

“What is your name?”

“Kateena, sir.”

He lifted her to her feet. “Tell me what happened, Kateena.”

“Sir Oscar came and took Mistress Carlisle away. He said she was his slave. Tell them it ain't true, Captain.”

“Kateena, I thought I dismissed you. Why are you bothering Captain Radcliff?”

“She's not bothering me, Ludlow. What is amiss here? Did something happen to Miss Carlisle?”

“Ah, my lord. I fear we've both been hoodwinked by that impostor. She's really a slave named Selena and she belongs to Sir Oscar Rigby. I know this comes as a shock, but—”

“Fool!” Chris shouted. “How could you have been so gullible? I admit Miss Carlisle should have guarded her skin against the tropical sun, but she is indeed an Englishwoman, albeit a foolish one. I've known her and her family for many years.”

Ludlow turned a sickly green. “Dear God, if what you say is true, I've done the woman a grave injustice.”

Chris made a chopping gesture with his hand. “This is no time for regrets. Although I don't know Rigby personally, I understand his plantation lies just north of mine. How many days ago did he take her?”

Chris had heard a great deal about Rigby's cruelty to his slaves, especially female slaves. If he hurt Sophia, or subjected her to his brand of brutality, Chris vowed to kill him.

“Why, they drove off in Sir Oscar's carriage not an hour ago.”

That surprised Chris. He'd assumed the reason Sophia hadn't boarded the
South Wind
was because Rigby had claimed her first. “But Miss Carlisle was supposed to leave with the
South Wind.

“She didn't want to return to England. She said she'd fallen in love with Jamaica. She hoped to find a governess position with an English family.”

Sophia didn't need to return to England to find trouble, Chris thought, trouble had found her.

Spinning on his heel, he left the inn. If he expected to intercept Rigby before he reached his plantation, there wasn't a moment to lose.

Sophia cringed in the corner of Sir Oscar's carriage, his leering smile turning her insides to jelly. Of all the ships she could have chosen on which to hide, why did she have to pick one sailing to Jamaica? Though she recalled Rayford telling her that Sir Oscar owned a plantation in the West Indies, he hadn't specifically mentioned Jamaica. What a cruel twist of Fate.

Suddenly Sir Oscar laughed—a not particularly comforting sound. “Good things come to those who wait. You're the last person I expected to see in Jamaica, but a welcome sight nonetheless. Your negligence in letting your skin tan worked to my advantage. I had no difficulty convincing Ludlow you were an escaped slave.”

He tore off her bonnet and ran his hands through the richness of her black hair. Sophia jerked away. “Don't touch me!”

“I'm going to do much more than touch you, Sophia. I'm going to chain you to my bed and keep you there until I've had my fill of you.”

Reaching out, he dragged her against his chest. Sophia screamed as he grasped her head between his pudgy hands and tried to kiss her. His strength, far superior to hers, won out. But Sophia wasn't ready to become his victim. Clamping his lip between her teeth, she bit down hard.

Sir Oscar made a gurgling sound in his throat and thrust her away. “Bitch! You'll pay for that.”

He raised his arm as if to strike her. But before the blow fell, the carriage rolled to a stop and the door burst open. Rigby was dragged bodily from the carriage and shoved roughly to the ground.

Sophia gave a cry of gladness. “Chris! Thank God.”

Chapter Six

His face a mask of fury, Chris stood over Rigby, who lay sprawled inelegantly in the dirt. Rigby's two slaves stood nearby, doing nothing to aid their master. Attacking a white man could mean their death.

“Who are you?” Rigby sputtered.

“Your worst nightmare,” Chris growled. “If you've hurt Sophia, you're a dead man.”

“I'm fine, Chris,” Sophia called from inside the carriage.

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