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Sitting beside his mother, six year-old William Longbourne grinned at the brawny waterman guiding their vessel along the Thames. "My mama and I are going to see the king!" he declared proudly.
Elissa. sighed with exasperation. "Will, please keep silent and sit still," she admonished, wishing she could temper his excitement until they safely reached the shore. As it was, he kept fidgeting and rocking the boat.
And it really wasn't necessary to announce the reason for their journey to everyone they met.
However, she might as well have wished the Seven Seas to dry up as for Will to be less boisterous on this particular occasion. After all, he had no reason to share his mother's apprehension."I can see why the king'd want to meet your ma," the waterman observed, licking his lips as he leered at Elissa.
If she had known the insolence she would have to endure from this disgusting knave, she would have taken the Puritan's boat and paid the slightly higher fare.
But she had not, so she tried to ignore the impertinent lout while keeping one eye on Will and studying the massive structures lining the river.
Mighty buildings dominated the north bank, each one seeming to demand homage to its magnificence and to render human beings insignificant. Behind these imposing edifices, a haze of coal smoke rose from the multitude of houses, as well as the industries that lay cheek-by-jowl among them.
She wondered what King Charles, restored to his throne at last, thought of the choking air or the filthy river. Perhaps he was too busy summoning busy widows with estates to manage tonotice.
She pondered the hundred things that could be going awry at home during her absence. Then she tried to force such thoughts from her mind, telling herself she would do better to prepare for her meeting with the king, which was to be this very evening.
"You keep your weather eye open when ye're on the river, me lad," the churl said with another disgusting smile that exposed his rotting teeth, "and you might see the king sooner than you think. He's often on the Thames, comin' and goin.'" "
"He is?" Will asked, looking around as if he expected to see His Majesty's boat drawing up alongside even as he spoke. "Coming and going where?"
"Ye're too young to know that," the man replied with a chortle before he hawked and spat into the river.
"Will you please keep such remarks to yourself?" Elissa ordered through clenched teeth.
"Oh, look! Look!" Will cried suddenly, rising from his seat and pointing. "There he is! There is the king!"
He started to wave frantically, leaning precariously over the gunwale. "Your Majesty! Your Majesty!"
Flinging the edge of her cloak out of the way, Elissa lunged for Will before he fell. over the side of the boat. She caught his jacket and pulled him backward.
"Keep him still or he'll be at the bottom of the river," the waterman muttered angrily as he steadied the small vessel with his pole.
"Not if you do your job," Elissa muttered. Her frown turned into a scowl when she realized the lout was staring at her chest or, more precisely, at the cleavage exposed by her gaping cloak.
She set Will beside her and wished she had worn her most plain, high-necked gown of dull gray wool instead of this dress of rosecolored brocade. She would change before she went to court.
"Are you sure that's not the king?" Will asked, nodding at a boat that was moving toward them from a short distance away.
In that vessel there was indeed a most magnificently attired man. He was clad in a short jacket and full breeches of brilliant blue trimmed with riotous and colorful embroidery. He also wore a white shirt with a large, lacy jabot and long cuffs, and he sported a hat with the biggest, whitest plume Elissa had ever seen. Beneath the hat was long, curling hair a wig, no doubt as well as a round, decidedly average male face unencumbered by a mustache.
Despite his fine and costly attire, if he had no mustache, he could not be the king.
Beside this fashionable vision was another man, dressed all in black like a Puritan, with a plain hat and natural black hair that brushed his broad shoulders. This man sat with astonishing aplomb in the rocking boat, seemingly oblivious to the smells and sights around him, or to whatever his more animated companion was saying.
As they drew closer, Elissa also realized the simply dressed man was one of the most handsome she had ever seen, with a fine nose and strong, clean-shaven chin. Unlike the other fellow, there was shrewd intelligence in his dark, inscrutable eyes and a set to his jaw that told her that it would be risky to trifle with him.
If one of the men in that boat is royalty, she reflected, it is not the extravagantly attired one.
"That's not the king," the waterman informed them scornfully before he shouted a vulgar greeting to the other boat. Its pilot responded in equally earthy terms.
Annoyed that Will had heard such language, Elissa made a sniff of disapproval.
Then the other vessel passed them, and her gaze met that of the arrogant man wearing black.
Elissa's heart began to beat strangely, and her body warmed as if... as if this man she had never seen before was touching her. Intimately.
She had not felt this way since William Longbourne had started courting her seven years ago.
No, she silently amended as she swallowed hard, I have never felt this way before and I should not be feeling this way now.
She was a respectable widow, not some ... some hussy to be pleased by the srniles of strangers, no matter how handsome or intriguing they were, or how long it had been since she had been with a man.
A Rogue's Embrace. Copyright © by Margaret Moore. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.