Authors: Connie Mason
“If it's agreeable to Kateena,” Sophia answered, “it is fine with me.”
“That is acceptable to me, Captain,” Kateena said. “I will visit my parents while I'm waiting. They will want to know about my new employment and where I can be reached if they need me.”
“Then it's settled,” Chris said. He clasped his hands around Sophia's slim waist and lifted her onto his horse. Then he mounted behind her. “Where should Mundo pick you up, Kateena?” he asked as he settled in the saddle.
“I will wait for Mundo at my parents' shack behind the fish market.”
Chris nodded as he guided his horse into the traffic on King Street. At the end of the street, he headed north out of town.
“How long will it take to reach your plantation?” Sophia asked.
“An hour or so. Atlas is carrying two, and I don't want to overtax him in this heat.”
“I could have waited for the wagon with Kateena.”
Chris shook his head. “No, I don't trust you. Trouble seems to follow you. I want to know what happened in London to send you fleeing into the night.”
“Do you mind if we wait until we reach Sunset Hill? Encountering Sir Oscar here has unsettled me. What he tried to do to me was despicable. You can be sure I'm going to wear my bonnet and carry a parasol the next time I go out in the sun. I had no idea my skin would tan so deeply. No wonder Mr. Ludlow acted so strangely when he first saw me.”
“I did warn you,” Chris reminded her.
Sophia stiffened her spine, trying not to touch any part of Chris's body, but that proved an impossible task. The heat of his body, his strong arm encircling her as he gripped the reins, made her all too aware of him as a man. A man she hadn't forgotten in seven long years.
“This is impossible,” she mumbled.
“What did you say?”
“Riding double is difficult,” she amended.
Sophia gritted her teeth. Did the man have no feelings? Did he not know how hard this was for her? “For your horse.”
“Atlas is up to it. Relax; we still have a long way to go.”
How could Sophia relax with Chris's thighs pressing against her and his arms surrounding her? Though such intimacy might not bother Chris, it did her. She knew Chris was angry with her, and for the life of her she couldn't understand why he was bringing her to Sunset Hill.
“I should have left you in Kingston to fend for yourself,” Chris groused as if reading her mind.
“Why didn't you?”
“You're too unpredictable to be left on your own. I never expected you to remain in Kingston instead of sailing on the
“I'll return the money you paid for my passage. I asked for a refund and received it. I figured I could use the money to establish myself in Kingston. I can't go home, Chris. Once I explain why, you'll understand.”
“You fled England because of Rigby, didn't you?”
She swiveled to look at him. “Partly. Finding him in Kingston was a horrible shock to me. Surely Fate is mocking me.”
Chris gave a bitter laugh. “No, Sophia; I'm the one Fate is mocking.”
Suddenly Sophia gave a cry of wonder. “Oh, look! Flowers. Fields of them. What are they? I've never seen the like.”
“Orchids. They grow wild here.”
After a time, Sophia began to wilt under the midday sun. Never had she felt such intense heat beating down on her. Despite her best intentions, her spine relaxed and molded itself to Chris's chest. Moments later, her head bobbed backward as sleep claimed her.
Chris groaned beneath his breath. Torture had never felt so good. His thighs tingled where they touched Sophia, and his arms shook with the need to draw her deeper into the curve of his body. He had grown hard the moment he settled in the saddle behind her.
Chris didn't want to feel this way about Sophia. He didn't want to desire her. Having her in his home was going to be damn difficult; he had to convince her to return to England. His life was complicated enough without Sophia muddying the waters. If he continued with his plan to free his slaves, he was bound to make a lot of enemies.
They followed a lazy bend in the road, and then Sunset Hill came into sight. Sophia was still sleeping when Chris reined Atlas through the gate. She awoke when Casper ran up to take the reins.
“Miss Carlisle! I thought you'd left Kingston aboard the
Chris dismounted and handed her down. “It seems Miss Carlisle wished to stay in Kingston.”
Casper beamed. “Is that true, miss? Are you going to stay at Sunset Hill with us?”
Sophia blinked. “Casper, it's good to see you again. I won't be staying long. I'm looking for employment.”
Chris turned Sophia toward the house. “You'll find it much cooler inside. The heat must seem stifling to someone unaccustomed to a tropical climate. I'm sure Chandra will have something cool for you to drink.”
“Captain, you're back!”
Mundo, a dark-skinned, muscular man, came loping up to Chris, his face a mask of worry. “When you didn't return to Sunset Hill when you were expected, I thought something had happened to you. I was about to round up men to search for you.”
“I'm fine, Mundo. I was delayed, that's all. I brought back a guest. Miss Carlisle will be staying with us for a short time. I also hired a housekeeper. You're to return to Kingston in the wagon and fetch Kateena. You'll find her at her parents' home behind the fish market.”
“I'll leave immediately, Captain.”
“Mundo seems well-spoken,” Sophia said as Chris guided her up the stairs onto a wide veranda that ran the entire length of the two-story manor house. Floor-to-ceiling front windows with shutters thrown wide to admit the breeze and white frothy curtains billowing in the opening made her feel as if she had come home.
“Mundo has been educated,” Chris replied. “I freed him immediately after I took possession of Sunset Hill. He now works for wages. I rely heavily on him for the everyday running of the plantation. As you might guess, I know little about raising sugarcane and distilling rum, but I'm learning fast.”
Chris opened the door and ushered Sophia inside. She stepped into the spacious foyer, duly impressed by everything she saw. She only caught a glimpse of the parlor as Chris led her into a combination library/ study and invited her to sit down. A servant appeared almost immediately.
“Chuba, please ask Chandra to prepare something cool for our guest and to bring it herself. I wish to speak with her.”
“Yes, sir, Captain,” Chuba replied.
“Is Chuba free too?” Sophia asked.
“Not yet, but he soon will be, and so will Chandra.”
“Your home is very nice, Chris.”
“It wasn't when I first saw it. Extensive renovations were completed while I was in England. Most of the furnishings were brought over from England. Unfortunately, the previous owner was more interested in gambling and drinking than he was in running his plantation. He didn't need the income, you see, and neglected Sunset Hill in favor of other pursuits. I hope to change all that.”
A discreet knock sounded on the door.
“Come in, Chandra.”
A short, rotund woman, her face a wreath of smiles, entered the room carrying a pitcher and glasses on a tray. “You wanted to see me, master?”
“Please, Chandra, call me Captain. I don't feel comfortable being addressed as master.”
Chandra's skin was smooth as silk and the color of rich coffee. She bobbed her turbaned head and set the tray down on a nearby table. Then she turned to Sophia, her black eyes wide with curiosity.
“Miss Carlisle will be our guest for a time, Chandra. I thought she might enjoy the room at the front of the house. It faces the bay, and the view is quite spectacular.”
Chandra smiled shyly at Sophia. “Welcome to Sunset Hill, mistress. Your room will be ready soon. While you're waiting, enjoy the lemonade and fresh-baked gingerbread.” She turned to leave.
“Wait a moment, Chandra. You have enough to do without adding to your burden, so I've hired a housekeeper. Kateena will also act as personal maid to Miss Carlisle. I sent Mundo to Kingston to fetch her.”
“It's about time,” Chandra said, her boldness surprising Sophia. “You need someone in charge, someone to make this old house a home. The old master didn't care what happened to Sunset Hill, but I can tell that you do.”
“I care a great deal, Chandra. If I have my way, Sunset Hill will become home to all of us. Eventually I'll hire more servants, but until I do, I hope you and Kateena can carry on here.”
“Humph! Don't see why not. As long as Kateena doesn't interfere with my cooking, I won't interfere with what she does.”
Sophia smiled as Chandra quit the room. “I'm surprised you didn't reprimand your servant for her boldness.”
“Chandra always speaks her mind. I find it refreshing. As for the other house servants, there's only Chuba. The field workers rarely have reason to come into the house or speak their minds about anything. They've been downtrodden most of their lives. I hope to change that at Sunset Hill.”
Chris poured two glasses of lemonade and handed one to Sophia. She took a long, cool swallow. “Delicious,” she pronounced as she helped herself to a generous piece of gingerbread.
Sophia heard Chris sigh and glanced up at him. He was standing over her, hands crossed over his chest, looking far too handsome for her peace of mind despite his scowl.
“Is something wrong, Chris?”
“A great deal is wrong. You've put this conversation off for the last time. Tell me everything, Sophia, and start from the beginning.”
Sophia drained her glass and returned it to the tray. “I'm really tired, Chris. Can't this wait? The heat has drained me.”
Grasping her shoulders, Chris pulled her to her feet. “No excuses this time, Sophia.”
Sophia looked up at him. His eyes, usually as blue as the sparkling waters of Kingston Bay, had turned dark as midnight. She stared at his lips, desperately wanting to lean up and kiss their fullness. Her lips parted. She moistened them with the tip of her tongue.
Chris gazed down at Sophia, for a moment forgetting what he had asked her. The woman was a menace, he thought. He couldn't think straight when he was around her. Was she trying to entice him with her dewy lips and dreamy eyes? Well, it wouldn't work. She had drawn him into her web once, but it wasn't going to happen a second time.
Chris nearly lost the ability to think when her tongue darted out and she moistened her lips. Her tricks were as old as Eve, he thought. But despite his normal iron willpower, his head began to lower. Before he could stop himself, he was kissing her. Kissing her like a drowning man reaching for his last breath of air. To make matters worse, Sophia kissed him back, opening her sweet mouth for his tongue. She tasted like heaven. He should stop now. His head knew that, but the rest of him wasn't paying much attention to logic.
He wanted to bed Sophia.
His body ached with the need. He wanted to delve deep into her hot mouth and never surface. He wanted to tear off her clothes, pull her to the floor and rid her of her virginity. Chris had never had a virgin before, had never wanted one until now.
Releasing her lips, he clasped his hands about her waist and lifted her, setting her atop the desk. She blinked at him in surprise.
“What are you doing?”
He parted her knees and stepped between them. “What I've wanted to do since I first saw you aboard the
. What I've fought against every step of the way.” Lowering his gaze, he reached for the top button of her bodice. “I'm going to make love to you, and then you're going to tell me everything I want to know.”
Sophia scooted back. His fingers released the next button. She caught his hand; he freed it and continued on to the third button.
“Not now, Sophia.”
His mouth found hers again, nibbling, kissing, teasing, until, senses whirling, she grabbed him and kissed him back. Consumed by raging heat, Sophia felt his mouth leave hers and drift down her neck to her breasts. He found her nipple; she shuddered when he drew it into his mouth.
She probably would have let him continue if he hadn't suddenly released her and reared back.
“Damnation, this is unacceptable! I can't let this happen to me again. I killed my best friend because of you. Why did you return to torture me with memories better left forgotten?”
Yanking the edges of her dress together, he redid the buttons and lifted her down from the desk.
“Chandra will show you to your room.”
Spinning on his heel, he quit the room. Reaching for a candleholder, Sophia hurled it at him. It hit the door and crashed to the floor.
Sophia stood on the balcony outside the bedroom assigned to her and stared over the tops of lofty trees at Kingston Bay, sparkling diamond-like beneath a broiling sun. Chandra had fetched her from the study after Chris's abrupt departure and brought her here. The view from the spacious room was spectacular, just as Chris had said it would be.
As much as she would like to stay at Sunset Hill, Sophia knew she couldn't. Not as long as Chris held her responsible for Desmond's death.
Sophia was confused, however. If Chris disliked her, why had he tried to seduce her? Chris wanted her; she had felt desire in his kisses, seen his body swell with it. Yet he had found the willpower to resist her.
Sophia felt she had no choice but to leave his home as soon as she found employment. She couldn't allow her emotions to become engaged more than they already were, for he had the power to destroy her.
Sophia was still gazing out at the view, pondering her options for the future, when Kateena arrived.
“The captain said to tell you that dinner will be served promptly at seven,” Kateena said. “If you're hungry before then, I'm to ask the cook for something to hold you over.”