Cranberry Point


Content to live alone, Serena Fairbourne is a self-sufficient New England spinster. Quite by accident, she is lost in a coastal fog when an English aristocrat saves her--and soon their salty flirtation turns into tender desire. But will they be able to weather the storm of unpredictable passion?
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Content to live alone, Serena Fairbourne is a self-sufficient New England spinster. Quite by accident, she is lost in a coastal fog when an English aristocrat saves her--and soon their salty flirtation turns into tender desire. But will they be able to weather the storm of unpredictable passion?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671003401
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 6/1/1998
  • Series: [Fairbournes of Cape Cod Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.84 (w) x 4.22 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Off Cape Cod


Everything had vanished.

The pale strip of beach, and the rocks above it, the ragged wind-bent pines on the far side of the dunes, even the wheeling, diving gulls that had followed her this morning: all of it was gone, swallowed up in the wet, gray nothingness. Who would have dreamed a winter fog would come in this fast?

Serena Fairbourne held the tiller of the little singlemasted sailboat as steady as she could, her fingers numb with the cold despite her heavy mittens. She knew she shouldn't have waited so long to leave Denniman's Cove for home, no matter how good her reasons had been for lingering, just as she knew she was something dreadfully close to a fool to be out here now, alone on the bay. At least she hoped the dark green water that lapped at the boat's sides belonged to the bay, and not to the ocean that lay beyond. Please God she hadn't strayed that far with the ebbing tide, or she'd never find home again.

She shoved the hood of her cloak back from her face, straining to hear any sounds that might guide her toward the shore: the bell from the meetinghouse on the hill, a fisherman's call, even a dog barking for his supper.

But there was nothing.


She swiped a mitten across her forehead to brush her damp hair back from her forehead, the fog wet and chill on her skin. The worst thing she could do in a boat was to panic. That was what her oldest brother, Joshua, always said, anyway, and he'd been sailing since before she'd been born. She took a deep breath to calm herself, determined not to be afraid. Fairbournes weren't afraid of anything. Her brother said that, too.

But still her "The lady needs our assistance, not our insults."

"Thank you," said Serena stiffly. Too late she realized that the captain's order -- for surely the tall man must be the master -- to haul aback had been directed at his own crew and not at her, for the sloop had slowed to keep pace with her little boat, the distance between them narrowing further. Why, why had she let her temper get the better of her again? Shrieking insults across the water like a fishwife was not something to be proud of, and the tall man in black was being generous -- very generous -- to refer to her as a lady. And the dear Lord help her if Joshua ever learned of this!

Self-consciously she tried to smooth her hair, aware of how bedraggled she must look in her salt-stained cloak and muddy petticoats and hairpins sticking out every which way, and in a boat so small as to be called a peapod. She wished she could see the man's face as clearly as he must see hers, and the unevenness of her situation made her feel doubly vulnerable, bobbing alongside in the water a good ten feet below him.

"I have rather lost my bearings in this fog, sir," she began again, this time with a certain belated primness, "and if you would be so good as to advise me as to the proper direction to the harbor at Appledore, then I shall be on my way myself."

"Appledore," repeated the man, rolling the name off his tongue with a booming flourish. "Come aboard, sweetheart, and I shall carry you there directly as my guest."

"Oh, but I mustn't!" said Serena hastily. After spending all her life in a seaport town, she knew too well the perils to women who trusted strange sailors. While this captain seemed gentlemanly enough, his accent marked him as an o utsider, a foreigner, not from their county, and as for that cavalier "sweetheart" -- ah, she must be wary, wary indeed. "That is, your offer is most kind, sir, but not necessary at all."

"Not necessary, you say." He shook his head, perplexed. "Yet I cannot in easy conscience let you simply vanish away into the fog."

Serena nodded eagerly. Clearly the man didn't like being refused, but then, what man did? "Of course you can. Your pilot can tell me the way to Appledore, and that will be more than sufficient. You needn't worry over me. I am quite skillful in a boat."

That was not the truth, neither the quite nor the skillful nor any combination of the two, and Serena's conscience twitched uneasily. Like most Appledore women, she could handle a boat well enough in fair weather, but she did know when she'd crossed her own limitations as a sailor. Yet a dubious truth did seem preferable to being kidnapped and ruined and sold to some Martinique brothel, or whatever other untoward fate this man might wish for her.

"Doubtless Appledore lies just through that fog," she continued, nervousness rushing her words. "Likely no more than a stone's skip away."

But the tall stranger had no interest in skipping stones. He motioned to the sailors behind him, and instantly two long boat-hooks appeared over the side of the sloop, catching Serena's little boat and pulling it snug against the sloop's dark planks.

"No, no, you cannot do this to me!" cried Serena with growing panic, swinging her mittened fist at the nearer boat-hook. "I told you I didn't wish to come aboard, and I still don't! I don't!"

Swiftly she bent to grab her only weapon, the long-handled rake she'd used for scalloping. If she cou ld knock away the boat-hooks, then perhaps she could push herself clear enough to escape. That was her best chance, her only hope.

But now even the rake seemed to be against her. The wooden teeth snarled in the single sail's lines, forcing Serena to struggle to work it free as her heart pounded with frustration and fear. Abruptly the line gave way, and with a startled gasp she tumbled backward into the puddle in the bottom of the boat, nearly losing the rake over the side in the process.

"Let me help," said the man as he dropped into the boat with alarming agility. "Here, take my hand."

"I'll take nothing from you!" cried Serena, settling awkwardly onto her knees as she tried to untwist her tangled cloak. Her hood had flopped over her eyes, and all she could see of the man now were his buckled shoes. "And who gave you leave to be in my boat, anyway?"

"You refused my hospitality, so I took that as an invitation to try yours instead. Now come, give me your hand and we'll set you upright. There's a good lass."

She swatted away his hand so hard that the boat rocked back and forth in clumsy sympathy.

"The devil take you," she declared, trying to sound braver than she felt as she struggled to find her footing, hampered by the rocking of the boat and her twisted petticoats and the way her hood had once again fallen forward over her eyes. Blindly she groped for the rake, her fingers finding and tightening around the oak handle. "And I am not your good lass!"

But before she could lift the rake, the man put his foot squarely over the handle, trapping both the rake and her hand with it.

"Your goodness, or lack of it, is of no concern to me," he said. "Which is fortunate for you, seeing a s you seem to have precious little of that admirable quality, particularly for a woman. Especially for a woman. Now come, up you go."

Before Serena realized what was happening the man took her by the wrist and swung her up onto the bench to sit beside him, with only the tiller between them. His fingers on her cold skin were warm and strong, his touch disturbingly proprietary. With a frightened gasp she finally managed to shove the hood back from her eyes, then nearly gasped again as, at last, she saw the man's face.

"There now," he murmured, his voice low, as if sharing a special confidence with her alone. "That's far better, isn't it?"

"Better?" repeated Serena foolishly, unable to bring more than that single word squeaking to her lips. "Better?"

She was twenty-two years old, old enough, she'd believed, to have seen something of the world and the men that ruled it. But she'd never seen a man such as this one, not even in Boston, a man so supremely, outrageously sure of himself: a strong mouth and a stronger jaw, an arrogant hawk's beak of a nose, black hair and black brows and black lashes and eyes that were bluer than a summer-bright sea. And oh, the size of him beside her, so much larger, so much more grandly male that he seemed to fill the little boat entirely.

"Yes, better," he said with a mild patience that proved he was completely aware of his debilitating effect on womenfolk as a rule. "Or would you have preferred to continue drifting out to sea?"

Her first inclination was to strike him silly, to smack her open palm across his smug, handsome face. Having three older brothers had given her precious little patience with male condescension. But she'd lost her te mper once already, squalling and squawking when she'd feared their boats would collide, and she wouldn't give the man the satisfaction of doing it again, any more than she wished him to know of the strange puddle of warm confusion he'd momentarily reduced her to.

No, reason and a calm, measured demeanor would be her best weapons now. Her only weapons, really, since he'd kept his shoe firmly across the rake.

She dared to meet his eyes again, dared herself to remain unaffected. "I wasn't drifting out to sea. I was perfectly in control, excepting for the fog."

"Oh, yes, the fog." He nodded agreeably, but the glint in his eyes showed he no more believed her claim than she did herself. "So you said earlier."

She pulled one mitten off to tuck a wayward lock of her hair back behind her ear, wishing her fingers and nose weren't so red with the cold and her clothes so bedraggled. Not that she cared what the man thought of her, of coursem -- she reminded herself sternly that she didn't care in the least -- but in comparison he looked as if he'd just stepped from a carriage in London instead of dropping into her boat from a sloop in the fog on Massachusetts Bay.

His greatcoat and breeches were beautifully tailored, the superfine wool a deep, midnight blue, nothing homespun, and not the black she'd first thought. The buttons on his waistcoat and at the side of his knees -- very large, masculine knees, leading to equally masculine, muscular thighs and other masculine things she shouldn't consider -- were polished brass, stamped with tiny flowers, and his linen was the best holland, better than most men she knew could boast for Sabbath wear, and finished with a neat pleated frill at the cuffs. To dress like this he must be a prosperous captain indeed, especially considering he could not be much older than herself, and selfconsciously she once again smoothed her rumpled skirts over her knees.

"It is very bad today, most dreadfully bad. The fog, I mean," she continued, hoping she wasn't really babbling as much as she feared. "Far worse than I can ever remember at this time of year. Nigh as thick as clabbered milk."

"Indeed." The corners of his mouth twitched upward, something that Serena suspected happened often. "'Thank you' would be sufficient, you know. Or is the custom different here in your colony?"

"Of course we thank others in Massachusetts," she said defensively. "But only when they deserve it, and I do not believe that you do."

"Even when I've done exactly as you wished?"

"If you'd done as I wished, you'd have stayed aboard your own vessel!"

He sighed deeply, too deeply for any man not suffering from blackest melancholia, and far, far too deeply for Serena to regard him with anything other than outright suspicion.

"And here I'd thought I'd come to your rescue," he, said mournfully. "Playing the gallant hero and rescuing the fair maid from her distress."

"I am not in distress," she said sternly, "nor am I this wretched fair maid you fancy awaiting your rescue."

"No?" He raised one brow with feigned surprise. "Ah, sweet, how sadly then you've misled me!"

Serena's cheeks grew hot. He was not the one who'd been misled. She should have known better than to refer to herself as a maid, or rather to deny that she was one, which was not what she'd intended at all. Blast him for twisting her words about so! No man in Appledore would ever presume to speak to her like this. But then this particular man wasn't from Appledore, and he'd clearly no notion of how one addressed Miss Serena Fairbourne, unless one wished to be addressing her brothers next.

And in an oddly perverse and confusing way, Serena was almost glad he didn't.

"I have not misled you, and I wish you would stop pretending that I have," she said with as much dignity as she could muster. "Now please go back aboard your sloop and leave me in peace."

"Not possible, I fear." He sighed again, and settled his arm comfortably on the tiller between them so that his sleeve brushed against hers. "I'm not enough of a sailor to go dancing across the waves, even at your bidding. Can't you see how we're already well on our way? But once we reach your Appledore, I'll be happy enough to oblige."

Belatedly Serena realized that the boat was moving through the water, drawn by a towline that bound it to the larger sloop. With a little cry of dismay she twisted around on the narrow bench, her face to the wind as she stared back out over the stem at the white-flecked wake they'd churned through the waves. How could she possibly have let herself become so distracted by the man beside her that she hadn't noticed?

From the wind she guessed they were in fact heading toward Appledore, as he said, but in Appledore her problems would only grow worse with him beside her. After what she'd done earlier this day and where she'd been, she needed to slip back into the harbor unnoticed, to return this boat she'd borrowed and run back to her house along the back paths through the marsh to Cranberry Point so she wouldn't be seen or questioned. But to be towed in instead like a prize for everyone in town to remark would bring questions she di dn't wish to -- no, couldn't -- answer, and it would all be this man's fault.

"There now, didn't I tell you I'd rescued you?" he said, his smile widening to a wickedly satisfied grin.

"But you cannot do this!" she cried indignantly. "Hauling me off against my will as if I were no more than an old piece of lumber! It's kidnapping, you know, pure and simple! Kidnapping!"

"Oh, aye, and I'm the wickedest old Turk in creation for trying to help you. Now come, lass, sit neat beside me and tell me of this Appledore."

She glared at him, wishing he were not as big, not as charming, not as strong, not as comfortably settled in her boat as if he owned it, so that she could shove him over the side as he deserved. "What I'll tell you of, sir, is the stout new gaol where you'll be spending the night. Double walls and iron bars, and a brick floor, too, to keep you from burrowing out."

"What a disheartening beginning." He swept off his cocked hat with a flourish, holding it with both hands in his lap, and frowned a bit as if to concentrate. "Let me offer this instead:

The nymphs of Appledore are most wondrously fair,
With Neptune's own gold in their gossamer, ah, hair,
Mermaid-daughters of the mariner's keep,
Where salty zephyrs bring fresh rose to their damask cheek.

At least that fits you, sweetheart."

"What it's fit for is the rubbish heap," declared Serena promptly, but not before her own damask cheeks flushed hot to betray her. She'd never heard such nonsense before, not from a man's lips, anyway, and she wasn't prepared for the effect. Yes, that must be it: unfamiliarity. That must be all. Empty compliments were empty complim ents, no matter how prettily they were phrased nor how handsome the messenger.

So why, then, could she not bring herself to break her gaze from his?

"Rubbish?" he asked with a showy, heartfelt sigh of disappointment that still couldn't undermine the merriment in his eyes. "Considering I'd no time to beckon a muse properly, I judged it rather fine."

"Then you misjudged. 'Mermaid-daughters of the mariners' keep,' indeed! Whatever does that mean?"

"But you remembered the lines, didn't you? My humble effort cannot be so appallingly bad then, can it?"

Lord help her, he had dimples, too, charming little brackets to a smile that held altogether too much charm already. And she wished he'd return his hat to his head, so she wouldn't be distracted by the way his thick, dark hair streamed back from his forehead, the black silk ribbon on his queue fluttering in the wind.

"Oh, yes, it can." She narrowed her eyes, striving not to be distracted. "I still say you misjudged, and badly at that."

"I don't in matters of literature," he said, tapping his forefinger on the crown of his hat, "nor among ladies, either. I'm considered a deuced fine judge of both."

"Then you should know better than to go about calling decent women 'nymphs,'" she declared, but somehow her words seemed unable to convey any of the primness she'd mustered earlier. It had been much easier to do when she'd been frightened of him, and now, somehow, she wasn't. "I am not quite sure what a nymph may be, but I'm certain it's wicked. It sounds that way. Very wicked. And we are respectable women in Appledore. Excepting perhaps some of the sluttish ones that serve at the taverns."

"I shall remember that," he said without t he least contrition. "Every word. Especially that part about the sluttish ones."

"Rubbish," she said again, slipping back onto her seat on the bench beside him. "Everything you say is. Honeysweet words with nothing behind them. 'Tis all naught but rubbish."

"Then we must agree to differ, lass," he said. He brushed her cheek with his thumb, sweeping away a stray bit of her hair with a touch that was perilously close to a caress. The merriment faded from his eyes as his fingers spread to cradle her cheek against his palm. "For you are a most agreeable mermaid-daughter."

The last thing Serena expected him to do then was to kiss her. Or maybe it wasn't the last, but the first. Maybe she'd expected it from the beginning, deep down behind her conscience, for otherwise she would have slapped him outright, the way he deserved, or at least shoved him away. She wouldn't have let her eyes flutter shut as his face neared hers, or tipped her head to one side for her mouth to meet his, or parted her lips for the last, helpless sigh of protest to escape and vanish over the waves.

To let a stranger kiss her like this was undeniably wrong. Yet the longer his mouth moved against hers, the more right it felt, making her heart race and her blood run faster in her veins, and her head turn as dizzyingly light as the wisps of fog surrounding them. He might think of a dozen elegant ways to describe this kiss, but she knew only one: magic.

Yet when at last they broke apart, he had no elegant, teasing words to offer. He wasn't laughing now. Instead, his expression seemed curiously confused, almost bewildered, as he searched her face, his fingers still lingering across her cheek.

Serena's heart flutt ered oddly in her breast, a strange mixture of hope and joy. For all his teasing airs, perhaps he was no more in the habit of kissing strangers than she was herself. Could he perhaps have felt the special magic between them, too?

But if he had, he didn't admit it, instead only shaking his head. "I should not have done that, sweet," he said softly. "If you but knew the promises I've made, and now have broken...."

Swiftly she drew back from his hand, her cheeks stained bright with shame. She had been too occupied with her own position to think of his. He could be betrothed or even married, someone else's sweetheart or husband or father.

"What you must think of me," she said, her words stumbling over themselves. "Lord help me, I've never been so bold, and I must beg your forgiveness, surely I must, and -- "

"Hush." He placed his forefinger across her lips to silence her. "No begging, no apologies. A practice of mine, born of much experience, you see. I should not have kissed you, no, but I cannot in truth say that I regret it. Nor, I pray, should you."

"Nay, you do not understand -- "

"But I do, lass," he said gently. "I understand everything."

He smiled then, a smile that turned his charm bittersweet with the regret he swore he did not feel. "Now come, speak to me of other things instead. That fine bucket of cockles, shall we say?"

"Cockles?" she repeated, as much confused by his abrupt transition as by the unfamiliar word. She followed his gaze to the water-filled oak bucket of fresh shellfish that sat wedged in the boat's bow before them. "Ah, you mean the scallops."

"If that is what they're called here," he said, leaning away from her to look into the bucket.

"Scallops," she sai d again. No regrets, he'd said, no apologies: if he could do that, then so could she. She'd intended the scallops to be her alibi when she returned to Appledore, and they could just as easily serve the same purpose now. "I raked them myself this morning. 'Tis the season for them to be sweetest, you know."

"I didn't." Heedless of his fine linen cuffs, he plunged his hand into the bucket, running his fingers through the water and across the heaps of fluted shells -- rose, lavender, pale lemon, deep blue -- with undisguised fascination. "All the ones I've seen at home were only white, but these, these are much more handsome. Almost like wildflowers. But what's this?"

He held his dripping hand outstretched to her. In his palm lay a pair of shells of striated pink, shading like a sunset from deepest plum to pale rose. Though the two shells were still joined together at the hinge like wings, the animal within was gone, the concave interior empty and clean.

"A sorry catch this makes for fisherfolk," he said, tossing the twin shells lightly in his palm. "No prize for the market here."

"Oh, don't throw them away, please!" she cried, lunging for the empty shells before they vanished over the side of the boat. "I know they're worthless, but I kept them because -- because they were beautiful."

"Then so shall I," he said, his fingers closing over the shells. "To remind me of you, for the same reason."

Over his hand their eyes met again, the power of his gaze alone enough to make Serena's breath tighten in her chest. He was welcome to the shells. She'd need nothing extra to remind her of him.

But no apologies, no regrets...

"Appledore, sir, a point to th' starboard," called the sloop's pilo t from over their heads.

"Ah, sweet, so your home beckons at last," said the stranger, breaking the spell between them. Carefully he tucked the scallop shells into the pocket of his coat as he rose to stare across the water. "And a fair place Appledore looks to be. No marvel that you are so fond of it, and so eager to return. What better time for us to make our adieus?"

"But wait, captain, please," said Serena quickly as the men in the sloop pulled her boat closer. "Please, I -- "

"Not 'captain,' lass," he said as he prepared to untie the line that held the two boats together and climb back aboard the sloop. "I've no right to that title or any other, by birth or by merit. Except, of course, as a rogue. That's the one title I've earned."

"But you never told me your name!"

"And neither, sweet, did you." With the rope in his hands as a guideline, he swung himself away from her boat and climbed up the shallow footholds carved into the sloop's sides. Over his shoulder he smiled at her one last time, a smile that failed to reach his eyes. "In my heart you will always be my misplaced mermaid, beckoning from the fog, and you can think of me as your gallant savior, rescuing you against your will."

Already the two boats were separating, carried apart by the wind and currents, and belatedly Serena hurried to set her own course for the shore. By the time she could look back, the sloop was slipping away into the fog, and she could just make out the stranger's face and the hat waving in his hand.

"Farewell, Mistress Mermaid," he called, "and may Neptune always watch over you in my place."

She waved her hand in return, staring after the sloop long after it had disappeared. At last she lowered her h and, carefully touching her fingers to her lips where he'd kissed her. Then with her head bowed, she steered her course for home.

...and no regrets.

Copyright © 1998 by Miranda Jarrett

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