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The Pirate and His Lady
The Buccaneers ? 2
By Linda Chaikin
Moody PressCopyright © 1997 Linda Chaikin
All rights reserved.
BARET BUCKINGTON'S DILEMMA
Aboard the twenty-gun buccaneering vessel the Regale, its enigmatic captain, Baret Foxworth—in reality Viscount Baret Buckington, grandson of Earl Nigel Buckington II—opened his desk drawer and replaced his worn, leather-bound copy of John Calvin's Institutes beneath a sheaf of drawings. The copy of Calvin's theology along with a book of Puritan prayers were contradictory evidence revealing Baret's complexity.
Included in the papers he kept at hand were several pirated maps of the West Indies, which he had gratefully confiscated from a Spanish capitán before happily sinking the galleon to the bottom of the blue Caribbean. There were also several of Baret's better sketches that he'd done in pencil. One of them was of Emerald Harwick. The second was of the woman he had intended to marry—until she had betrayed him by marrying his cousin.
Flaxen-haired Lavender, a future duchess, was now Lady Grayford Thaxton. He knew he should get rid of the drawing, but his emotions had not yet been able to release her. He comforted his troubled conscience by telling himself that he kept the sketch only because it was well done.
The third drawing was of his staunch Puritan tutor from Cambridge, Sir Cecil Chaderton. His sharp, sanctified gaze pierced Baret's soul with scriptural conviction of the absolute holiness of the God he read about in Calvin's Institutes.
Gazing at Sir Cecil's hawklike countenance brought an unlikely half smile to Baret's face. When Cecil discovered that Uncle Felix Buckington hoped to have Baret arrested for piracy and hanged, he would be quick to remind Captain Foxworth of his past warnings against the dubious career of buccaneering. Baret's mouth curved with bitter irony.
"Warm family affection runs as deep as the Caribbean currents," he murmured. "An uncle, in order to inherit the earldom of my father, will justify his decision to hang a nephew who stands in his way."
"Har, you was sayin', your lordship—I means, Cap'n Foxworth?"
Baret glanced at his serving man, Hob, seeing a grin-creased leathery face beneath a floppy hat pulled low over shaggy white hair. His cool cotton drawers were cut off calf-length, and his sun-faded red shirt was too big on his stooped shoulders. The sleeves were rolled up haphazardly and tied into place below the elbows. He carried a gleaming coffee pot in one gnarled brown hand and a spotless captain's mug of Peruvian silver in the other.
"More's the pity I can't hang Felix instead," Baret said.
Hob scratched his chin and chuckled. "Always did think ye had a shark's sense of good humor. Aye, ol' Felix would make a pert sight, says I, but better think twice. Havin' Jamie Boy danglin' on the yardarm of the Regale be trouble enough for ye at port. If ye go to danglin' Lord Felix too, I'll be bringin' your coffee to Gallows Point. Them rascally-mouthed judges in the Admiralty Court don't have any humor."
Hob set the coffee service on the desktop and left.
Baret snapped the heavy drawer closed and locked it, then turned to an ornate peg on the cabin wall behind the desk and removed his buccaneering regalia. He slipped the wide leather baldric, containing a pair of silver-butted French pistols, over his dark head. Unlike his Puritan beliefs and the short hairstyle generated by the Roundheads, his own hair bore quiet proof of his royal blood and was worn in the fashion of the Cavaliers of King Charles II.
Catching up his wide-brimmed black velvet hat with dashing pristine-white plume, he flecked away a speck of lint and settled it on his head with a tap. He wore a matching black velvet jacket with wide lapels and a white Holland linen buccaneer shirt with full sleeves. His appearance had earned him young feminine sighs, but the reaction to his goodly countenance brought Baret more cynical amusement than it cultivated conceit.
Sir Cecil had taken laborious pains to lecture him as a growing lad about the evils of undisciplined handsome flesh. "Good looks are the devil's playground. So is idleness. It is now time for your lesson in Greek."
Baret smiled at the memory of his days in France with the exiled King Charles. He took only a sip of the coffee, then turned to leave his immaculate cabin. As he did, an accidental glance at his darkly handsome reflection in the small looking glass brought a thoughtful pause, followed by a slight frown. The frown was not at the remembered words of his teacher but at what his reflection represented in the Caribbean.
His image belonged to a stranger, not the youth he remembered under the strict tutelage of Cecil. Baret hardly knew the man in the mirror. The ruthless challenge in his dark gaze might have belonged to the pirate Henry Morgan or to Pierre LaMonte. Nor did he even try to reconcile the difference between what he had been at Cambridge and what he was now.
"You make a realistic enough rogue to gather a crowd at your hanging." A crisp voice came from the cabin door.
Baret turned toward the familiar voice. Sir Cecil stood without, wearing his wry yet affectionate expression.
Surprised and genuinely pleased to see him, Baret smiled disarmingly. "Welcome home to the Regale, my dear Cecil. I'm soon ready to sail for an attack on Cartagena. Have a seat." He gestured to an unlikely furnishing to be found aboard a pirate ship, a luxurious velvet chair that Cecil had claimed for his own in the past.
Baret turned his head and called, "Hob! Quick! Tea for the Cambridge scholar! We have a royal guest today, the gentleman who taught me Greek and—" he doffed his hat and bowed to Sir Cecil "—Spanish. A debt I can never repay."
Sir Cecil's thin mouth went down at the corner. "My one mistake." He eased his lanky frame into the soft chair, looking about.
"Seems like old times," said Baret. "I've been wondering what to do with that odious chair."
"Old times and comfortable chairs are not as easily forgotten and packed away as books—and Bibles." He shot Baret a meaningful glance.
Baret slipped from the uneasy moment as smoothly as a live wet fish, and smiled. "I'm glad to see you've returned. Your presence graces my ship with an aura of respectability. His Majesty will find the report you will write about our venture on the Venezuelan coast of serious interest—and acceptance. In light of the trouble I'm having with Governor Modyford, we'll need your endorsement."
"I dare say. There will be no more respectable reports to the king by this Cambridge divine until you quit the life of a buccaneer. The tropics are going to your head, and the gallows are waiting for your neck."
Baret folded his arms. "Now you're sounding uncomfortably much like Earl Nigel Buckington. Did you come this dangerous distance to Tortuga to have me surrender to the High Admiralty Court—or to board a merchant ship for London like a whipped puppy?"
"Discipline your tongue, you impudent rogue. Neither the Admiralty nor Nigel knows I've risked a trip to the odious Tortuga to find you and bring you safely back to Foxemoore." He smoothed the starched white shirt at his throat. "I've come on my own—and because Jette is asking for you each night in his prayers."
Baret let out a breath, more troubled over his half brother than he could or would admit. "I can do nothing for the boy yet. I've written a letter. You can deliver it for me. Along with a wood turtle that Hob carved."
"He'll be up till midnight with delight. Look, Baret, come home! The boy needs you. Your father may be dead, and Jette is only eight. He looks on you as his father. Then there's the delightful young lady Emerald, just waiting to become Lady Buckington. I would think you'd be beating your sails back to Port Royal with the first fair wind. She's as lovely as they come. Marriage will be good for you. Sell the Regale to one of your pirate friends, and let's return to Foxemoore."
Baret looked at him from beneath dark lashes, resisting the pull. He managed a laugh. "I always knew there was more humor in that mind of yours than pure Calvinism would allow. I confess I'd enjoy Jette immensely. And I've missed the schoolgirl treachery that Harwick's daughter so blatantly inflicts on me. She ought to be here now, rummaging my desk and gliding about in pirate's drawers. But—"
"Pirate's pantaloons! Is that how you envision her?"
Baret concealed a smile. It wasn't, but he wouldn't admit this to Cecil.
"She's emerging into a fair and noble young woman," said Cecil.
"I've no doubt." He tapped his chin thoughtfully, pretending consideration.
"Yet you persist in calling her 'Harwick's daughter.' Do you realize how often you say that? As though you wish her to remain impersonal. Her name is Emerald."
"I know her name."
"Then use it. You might as well call her 'Harwick's brat,' like the rest of the family."
"I've never called her that!"
"And now you're furious. Why? You care for her more than you admit, yet you are still thinking of Lavender."
"I never mentioned Lavender. As for Emerald, I know she's growing up. She's sixteen—"
He knew quite well that she was seventeen. "And three years more is fine with me."
"I'm certain it is." Cecil gave a laugh. "You'd make it ten if you could get by with it."
"You don't know what you're talking about, Cecil. I intend to marry her. In fact, I admitted I wanted her, didn't I?"
"In a small way."
"Do you call twenty thousand pieces of eight small ? I bought her." He smiled. "She's mine."
"And it's also been quiet and peaceful even on Tortuga now that she's safely on her way to England. That's just where I want her. Out of my life for three years. I need time to breathe. She can learn under the prim and sour instruction of a school-mistress, who will do her willful spirit wonders." He added with silky innocence, "And when I see her next, she will be donned in French gowns and wearing sugar curls. She'll be bowing and pleasing me, her dutiful master and upcoming husband!" His dark eyes danced. "'Yes, m'lord, no, m'lord. Why, anything you say, m'lord.'"
"Hah. You scoundrel." Cecil's eyes flared with malicious amusement. "Well, you may see your new darling much sooner than you expect, but without bowing and pleasing your conceited whims."
Baret scrutinized him with suspicion. Much sooner than you expect. Cecil had sounded too sure of matters. Baret glanced toward the door. "Don't tell me you've brought the little darling back to my ship? I fear I've run out of pieces of eight, and who can tell what knave will next wish to duel me for her?"
"No, no." He waved a hand airily. "I came alone. And if she heard you making light of your audacity in buying her with pirated pieces of eight, she'd relinquish your betrothal to the sharks swimming about and never shed a tear."
Baret leaned against his desk. "Your warm words cheer me. It's always cozy to have the girl you intend to marry so desperately attached."
"You could consider your own wealth of cozy warmth sadly lacking. From what I hear from Karlton, you sent Emerald away without so much as a ring of credential promising your intentions. Every girl wishes a ring to wave under the noses of jealous friends."
Baret glanced at the family ring on his hand, and his mouth curved. "And the Buckington ring would do well enough, I suppose. It would make Lavender uncomfortable, wouldn't it? She always boasted it was worth the crown jewels," he said with a touch of sarcasm. "I should send the ring to Harwick's daughter at once. After all, it's only been worn by family earls and countesses for generations."
Baret winced. "I guess I deserve that."
"You do indeed. If you're not serious about your claim to her, Baret, you best play the gallant scoundrel you are and do something about it as soon as possible. She's a fair child, and I won't have her hurt any more than she has been. With your growing reputation for piracy, and Emerald known to have voyaged with you, you'll ruin any further chances she has to marry a godly man."
Baret frowned, and his dark eyes narrowed. "She'll marry no one else unless I'm good and ready to give her up."
"Such conceit. You sound the viscount, to be sure."
"And I'm not ready," he stated flatly. "Of course, I'll make good. I told her that."
"Did you? Very businesslike, I suppose."
"Not exactly business." He felt unexpected irritation as though trapped by the huntsman. "Did she send you here to hound me?"
"Good mercy, no! I've not seen her, but I have spoken to Karlton. So has Lady Sophie."
"Then that accounts for it. Sir Karlton would want me to send the ring with blaring trumpets."
"Do you think Emerald is the kind of young lady to chain you to her even if she is not wanted?"
"If it's a ring she demands, I'll send her one—one from Porto Bello. And a trunk of gowns. That should keep her busy for a while. She can tell Lavender I proposed to her on bended knee with thudding heart."
Sir Cecil stared at him, interlacing his long fingers and tapping them with tried patience. "You would do well to bend the knee to Emerald rather than Lavender. Need I remind you it was you who dueled that odious French pirate Levasseur to claim her?"
"I remember quite well."
"I didn't see her chasing after you, begging you to stay, as I've seen the others—including Lavender."
Baret flipped the pen on his desk. The thought brought further irritation. "Never mind. As for Lavender, why do you persist in bringing her up? She's married to Grayford."
Sir Cecil's fingers fell still.
A moment slipped by. Baret, aware of the strange silence, looked up from the pen, frowning, wondering why the man had ceased his badgering. "One would think I'm yet a lad in knee pants the way you lecture. This is like that cramped chamber above the narrow streets of Paris. The only thing missing is my glass of milk."
Cecil laughed. "Ah! Those were the days ... but in truth, I didn't come about the raven-haired Emerald or Lavender. You won't be so pleased when you know why I'm here. I won't be sailing with you, Baret. I've just come to ask you to come home before I must come to the grief of my old age."
"The grief," said Cecil distinctly, "of seeing your death."
Baret cocked his dark head, scanning him. "So soon?" he mocked. Cecil's grim expression convinced him that he was not jesting.
Baret swept an arm about his cabin. "This, beloved scholar, is 'home.'" He looked up as Hob entered with the tea. "This is our new serving man," he said. "You've not met Hob yet. He sent the turtle the night we first arrived."
"Ah, yes ..." Sir Cecil peered down his hawk nose at Hob, taking him in from head to toe. "So this is our turtle man."
Hob's shrewd eyes danced with good humor. "Aye, I be him, says I. An' beggin' your pardon, Lord Scholar, but do ye wish a dab of sweet cream in the mix?"
Cecil's brow lifted.
"Tea it is, ye can be sure of it. An' no swish of kill-devil rum neither. Straight black tea it is."
"Well, that is something to be grateful for on this day, Hob. Have you any cream?"
"Nary a drip, ye lordship, but I be knowing of an old cow the boucaniers took from hereabouts. She's aboard the Black Dragon. If'n ye have a hankering, an' if Captain Lex Thorpe's ship ain't sailed yet, an' if the cow be in a kindly mood to give a wee bit of milk, I'll get it for ye. She ain't always so obliging."
"Thank you, no," said Cecil with bored dignity. "Black tea will suffice, Hob."
A minute later as Cecil sipped the brew, Baret watched him, again growing uneasy. "You know me well enough, Cecil. You know I won't return to Foxemoore yet. So why did you come, really, if not because Emerald sent you?"
"I told you. To convince you to hang up that baldric once for all."
"A possibility for the future. But not yet. And leave my father in chains, tormented by Spanish whips? I see no cause to give up my role as buccaneer until my father's reputation is restored and we both have audience with His Majesty. After that? I'll decide if I like the sea well enough to remain a blackguard. After all," he said lightly, "it's the one career that permits me the liberty to attack Spain. Being a pirate brings me immense advantages."
"Yes, and doubtless you'll hang for your immense advantages," his dour tutor challenged. "And I'll be below the gallows reading from the Scriptures about the due results of your sins until you cease your kicking and the vultures come to feast upon you."
Excerpted from The Pirate and His Lady by Linda Chaikin. Copyright © 1997 Linda Chaikin. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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