Authors: Connie Mason
Their gazes collided. A simmering tension stretched between them. His features wore an expectant book, his expression dark with promise.
“I suggest that you use your powers of seduction on someone who will appreciate your efforts,” Sophia sniffed.
Chris chortled. “You do tempt me, my lady, despite our complicated past.”
Sophia tried to put distance between them, but Chris wasn't done with her yet. Reaching out, he dragged her into his arms. “I wouldn't mind becoming intimate as long as we both knew it was a temporary arrangement and nothing would ever come of it.”
“Don't touch me.”
“Too late,” he whispered against her lips scant seconds before his mouth claimed hers.
She tastes like Paradise
, Chris thought as he slanted his lips over hers. One taste wasn't enough. He wanted more of her. Prodding her lips with his tongue, he forced them open and plunged his tongue into her wine-scented mouth.
A groan formed deep in his throat. He wanted her. He wanted her violently. She tasted as ripe as a warm, sweet plum, just waiting to be plucked. Was Sophia experiencing the same sensations he was feeling right now? A dark, swift heat clenched his loins. Desire stabbed deep in his gut.
Damnation! He didn't want to desire a woman he had sworn to hate. She had boarded his ship uninvited, why shouldn't he take what he wanted from her? Sophia had ruined his life, she didn't deserve consideration from him.
A sound, half moan, half protest, slipped past her lips, giving Chris pause. Bedding Sophia would make him responsible for her, and he didn't want that. He had all the responsibility he could handle right now. If only she weren't a virgin, he'd have no qualms about tossing her on the bunk and thrusting himself into her hot center.
With a reluctant growl, he set her away from him. “Go to bed, Sophia.”
Spinning on his heel, he stormed out of the cabin.
Sophia couldn't believe what had just happened. If Chris hadn't stopped when he did, she would have let him seduce her. He was as dangerous as Sir Oscar, only in a different way. This man, whether he meant to or not, could chew up her heart and spit it out without a thought for her feelings. He had hurt her once; it would be so easy for him to hurt her again.
Sophia's dismal thoughts were interrupted when Casper arrived with a jug of hot water. He bade her good night and carried the dirty dishes away with him.
There was no way she was going to sleep in Chris's bunk, Sophia decided. Lying beside him would present too great a temptation and invite another attempt at seduction. If Chris cared about her, it would be different, but he didn't.
Deciding that the deck would have to do, Sophia was relieved to find a spare blanket and pillow in the cupboard. After a hasty wash, she wrapped herself in the blanket fully clothed, lay down on the deck and tried to sleep. The deck was colder than she had expected. She scooted closer to the brazier, trying to soak up some of its warmth. A long time passed before she finally fell asleep.
Chris had intended to sleep elsewhere but changed his mind. Why should he put himself out for a woman who had broken his heart? He wasn't some green boy who couldn't control his sexual urges. He saw no reason why he and Sophia couldn't share the same bed without being intimate.
All was quiet when Chris entered his cabin. He glanced at the bunk, saw that it was empty and spit out a curse. Then he saw her lying on the deck, close to the brazier, which had little heat left in it. He approached her cautiously and leaned down to peer at her. Though she appeared to be sleeping, she was shivering uncontrollably.
Chris wasn't a mean-spirited person despite his rough exterior. He couldn't let Sophia suffer while he slept in comfort. Scooping her into his arms, he lowered her onto his bunk and pulled the covers over her. She was still shivering, Chris noted as he fed charcoal into the brazier. He hesitated but a moment before undressing and crawling into bed beside her.
Even in her sleep, Sophia gravitated toward the warmth of his body. Sighing in resignation, Chris clamped down on his lust and curled his body around hers. It wasn't long before her shivering stopped and she settled down into a peaceful sleep.
Chris was less fortunate. His body refused to relax. His erection made him all too aware of the desirable woman in his arms. The layers of clothing between them did little to disguise her delicious curves, or the fact that nothing but his conscience prevented him from using her for his own pleasure. He'd bedded women from all corners of the world, what made Sophia different?
Why wouldn't she tell him her reason for fleeing into the night?
It wasn't until his randy cock subsided and his mind shut down that he fell into a restless slumber.
Sophia woke to a feeling of warmth. Even the gentle rocking motion felt pleasant. She sighed and squirmed into a more comfortable position. The heaviness that lay across her breast and hips felt right somehow.
“If you don't stop writhing, all my good intentions will fly out the window.”
Sophia's eyes flew open. It didn't take her long to realize she was in Chris's bunk, his body wrapped around hers, his hand on her breast and his leg flung across her hips. Sophia stiffened, her green eyes dark with outrage.
“How did I get in your bunk?”
“I carried you here last night. You were shivering when I returned to the cabin, and putting you in my bed was the only way I knew to warm you.”
“You had no right.”
“Sophia, let's get this straight. Whatever I do on my ship is my right. I didn't hurt you. All I tried to do was make you comfortable.”
Sophia looked pointedly at his hand resting on her breast. “Why do you care if I am comfortable?”
“I suppose because deep down I am still a gentleman.”
“Prove it. Remove your hand from my person.”
Heaving a reluctant sigh, Chris did as she asked. Then he removed his leg and rolled out of bed.
“You're naked!” Sophia cried, shutting her eyes to hide her dismay. It had taken but one brief look to realize that Christian Radcliff was a stunning specimen of virile manhood. His power lay in his muscular torso and sinewy arms and legs. Nothing about him suggested weakness.
Sophia had always known he was exceptional, but seeing a mature Chris without benefit of clothing brought the full impact of his masculinity into focus. Dear God, he was magnificent!
“You can open your eyes now,” Chris said. “I'm decent.”
“You'll never be decent, captain,” Sophia huffed.
“I wish I could stay here and trade barbs with you, Sophia, but duty calls.” He pulled on his jacket and walked to the door.
Sophia jumped out of bed. “Wait! May I go topside today? I cannot abide being cooped up.”
Chris stared at her so long, Sophia feared he would refuse. To her relief, he nodded, albeit reluctantly. “Wait until I come for you. I want to prepare my men before I let you loose on them. They need to know that you are off limits. My crew follows orders and is well disciplined, but you're too damn attractive for your own good.”
Sophia bristled. “It would be difficult to entice anyone dressed as I am.” She whirled for his inspection. “I could pass for one of your crewmen.”
Laughter lurked in Chris's eyes. “I sincerely doubt that, Sophia. Just be sure to stuff your hair under a knit cap. You'll find one in my sea chest.”
He opened the door and was gone before Sophia could thank him.
The morning passed too slowly for Sophia's liking. While she waited for Chris to return, Casper had brought her breakfast, cleaned the cabin and performed other mundane chores.
Chris returned to the cabin shortly after she had lunched on bread and cheese. “Finally,” Sophia said. “I thought you'd never come.”
“A problem occurred topside,” Chris said. “One of the lines on the mainmast became tangled. I had to climb up and untangle it.”
“Why you? Shouldn't you leave the dangerous chores to your subordinates?”
“I never allow my men to do anything I'm not willing to do myself. Are you ready to go topside? Pull your hat down over your earsâthere's a brisk wind blowing from the north.”
“I'm more than ready. I don't mind the cold. Anything is better than staying in this cabin.”
Chris opened the door, and she brushed past him. He stood aside while she climbed the ladder to the deck and then followed. Sophia braced herself against the blast of icy wind that buffeted her. It snatched away her breath even though Chris had told her what to expect.
“Do you want to return to the cabin?”
“No, I'd like a tour of the
. I've never been on a ship before.”
Sophia was surprised at how well Chris managed his crew and ship. He introduced her to Mr. Blaine, his first mate, and pointed out different parts of the ship, offering explanations as he went. When Sophia saw the mainmast, her mouth gaped open.
“Is that the mast you climbed?”
“You could have been killed!”
“That's a bit dramatic, Sophia. I've been doing it for years and haven't fallen once.”
“Once is all it would take to kill you. You always were headstrong and reckless.”
Cocking his head, he sent her an odd look. “I could say the same about you.”
Sophia sought to change the subject. Every time their past was brought up, Chris became sullen and unreasonable. “If you have something pressing to do, you can leave. I want to stand at the rail and watch the sea.”
“I suppose you can't get into trouble if you stand here and behave yourself. If you get cold, feel free to return to the cabin.”
Sophia nodded agreement and returned her attention to the sea, clapping delightedly when she spotted a school of frolicking porpoises.
“So that's our little stowaway,” Blaine said when Chris joined him a few minutes later. “How was she? I assume she spent the night in your bunk.”
“She did, but not in the way you think, Mr. Blaine.”
Blaine sent him a startled look. “Never say you didn't tup her.”
“That's precisely what I'm saying, though I suggest you keep it under your hat. I want the men to believe Sophia is mine in every way.”
Blaine wagged his head in disbelief. “I've never known you to pass up a good thing when it falls in your lap. Give her to me if she doesn't appeal to you.”
Chris sent him a hard look. “Sophia is mine, don't forget it.” Though Chris didn't like the way Blaine was regarding Sophia, he didn't want to reveal their past relationship. It was still too painful to talk about. “Don't you have something to do, Mr. Blaine?”
“I have a great deal to do, but I'd rather watch you stare holes into your stowaway. For pity's sake, Captain, if you want the woman, take her.”
“I don't want her.”
“Tell that to someone who will believe you.”
There was no help for it. He had to tell his friend a bit of the truth. “Sophia isn't what you think. I knew her a long time ago. It didn't work out between us.”
“Did you meet her in a bordello in London?” Blaine asked.
“Not even close,” Chris replied. “Sophia is a virgin. She's running from someone but refuses to enlighten me as to why.”
Blaine stared at Chris in disbelief. “She's a virgin? How can you be sure if you didn't tup her?”
“Don't you think I can tell when a woman is a virgin?”
“Of course, but wouldn't you have had toâ”
Chris's expression must have warned Blaine he was treading in dangerous waters, for he quickly changed the subject. “Do you still intend to ship her back to England once we reach Jamaica?”
“I do. Sophia is a responsibility I don't need, a woman I refuse to get involved with again. She's trouble, Blaine. She's
“She's in trouble? How can you return her to England to face whoever is threatening her if you know she's in danger?”
“Whose side are you on, Blaine?”
“Yours, of course, Captain. I'm just saying I've never known you to throw a woman to the wolves.”
Chris returned his gaze to Sophia, wondering why he was letting her plague him, why he felt the need to protect her. Blaine was right, it was going to be difficult to return her to a dangerous situation, but what choice did he have. These were unsettled times in Jamaica. According to reports, the slave situation on the island was primed to explode.
Slaves were threatening to revolt against their white masters; it wasn't a safe place for an Englishwoman right now. Though Chris knew there were women on the island, wives of planters and such, letting Sophia remain was out of the question. Besides, she had begged him to turn the ship around and take her back to England despite the mysterious danger that threatened her.
“I'm convinced Sophia can take care of herself. From what she told me, the danger involved her stepbrother. I doubt he will harm her. Women are inclined to make much ado about nothing.”
“You know best, Captain,” Blaine said. He peered up at the sky. “Looks like we're in for a blow.”
Chris scanned the fluffy white clouds fleeing before a stiff wind. “We'll outrun it, but go ahead and make preparations in case I'm wrong.”
Blaine took his leave. Chris returned his gaze to Sophia. As if aware of his scrutiny, she turned her head. Their gazes collided, held; then his slithered away. The next time he looked in her direction, she was gone.
Sophia returned to the cabin to escape the wind, which had changed abruptly from brisk to near gale force. Casper must have fed more charcoal into the brazier while she was out, for the cabin felt warm and cozy after being topside. She began to perspire in her woolen coat and removed it. She walked to the porthole and stared out at the turbulent waves. The ship had begun to dip and rise alarmingly. She felt a bit queasy and moved to the bunk to lie down.