“Mr. Fraser will do,” Jamie assured him, taking the tray with bowl and razor in one hand. “A less seaworthy captain doesna bear thinking of.” He paused, listening to the thump of feet above our heads.
“Though since I am the captain,” he said slowly, “I suppose that means I shall say when we sail and when we stop?”
“Yes, sir, that’s one thing a captain does,” Maitland said. He added helpfully, “The captain also says when the hands are to have extra rations of food and grog.”
“I see.” The upward curl of Jamie’s mouth was still visible, beard notwithstanding. “Tell me, Maitland—how much d’ye think the hands can drink and still sail the ship?”
“Oh, quite a lot, sir,” Maitland said earnestly. His brow wrinkled in thought. “Maybe—an extra double ration all round?”
Jamie lifted one eyebrow. “Of brandy?”
“Oh, no, sir!” Maitland looked shocked. “Grog. If it was to be brandy, only an extra half-ration, or they’d be rolling in the bilges.”
“Double grog, then.” Jamie bowed ceremoniously to Maitland, unhampered by the fact that he was still completely unclad. “Make it so, Mr. Maitland. And the ship will not lift anchor until I have finished my supper.”
“Yes, sir!” Maitland bowed back; Jamie’s manners were catching. “And shall I desire the Chinee to attend you directly after the anchor is weighed?”
“Somewhat before that, Mr. Maitland, thank ye kindly.”
Maitland was turning to leave, with a last admiring glance at Jamie’s scars, but I stopped him.
“One more thing, Maitland,” I said.
“Oh, yes, mum?”
“Will you go down to the galley and ask Mr. Murphy to send up a bottle of his strongest vinegar? And then find where the men have put some of my medicines, and fetch them as well?”
His narrow forehead creased in puzzlement, but he nodded obligingly. “Oh, yes, mum. This directly minute.”
“Just what d’ye mean to do wi’ the vinegar Sassenach?” Jamie observed me narrowly, as Maitland vanished into the corridor.
“Souse you in it to kill the lice,” I said. “I don’t intend to sleep with a seething nest of vermin.”
“Oh,” he said. He scratched the side of his neck meditatively. “Ye mean to sleep with me, do you?” He glanced at the berth, an uninviting hole in the wall.
“I don’t know where, precisely, but yes, I do,” I said firmly. “And I wish you wouldn’t shave your beard just yet,” I added, as he bent to set down the tray he was holding.
“Why not?” He glanced curiously over his shoulder at me, and I felt the heat rising in my cheeks.
“Er…well. It’s a bit…different.”
“Oh, aye?” He stood up and took a step toward me. In the cramped confines of the cabin, he seemed even bigger—and a lot more naked—than he ever had on deck.
The dark blue eyes had slanted into triangles of amusement.
“How, different?” he asked.
“Well, it…um…” I brushed my fingers vaguely past my burning cheeks. “It feels different. When you kiss me. On my…skin.”
His eyes locked on mine. He hadn’t moved, but he seemed much closer.
“Ye have verra fine skin, Sassenach,” he said softly. “Like pearls and opals.” He reached out a finger and very gently traced the line of my jaw. And then my neck, and the wide flare of collarbone and back, and down, in a slow-moving serpentine that brushed the tops of my br**sts, hidden in the deep cowl neck of the priest’s robe. “Ye have a lot of verra fine skin, Sassenach,” he added. One eyebrow quirked up. “If that’s what ye were thinking?”
I swallowed and licked my lips, but didn’t look away.
“That’s more or less what I was thinking, yes.”
He took his finger away and glanced at the bowl of steaming water.
“Aye, well. It seems a shame to waste the water. Shall I send it back to Murphy to make soup, or shall I drink it?”
I laughed, both tension and strangeness dissolving at once.
“You shall sit down,” I said, “and wash with it. You smell like a brothel.”
“I expect I do,” he said, scratching. “There’s one upstairs in the tavern where the soldiers go to drink and gamble.” He took up the soap and dropped it in the hot water.
“Upstairs, eh?” I said.
“Well, the girls come down, betweentimes,” he explained. “It wouldna be mannerly to stop them sitting on your lap, after all.”
“And your mother brought you up to have nice manners, I expect,” I said, very dryly.
“Upon second thoughts, I think perhaps we shall anchor here for the night,” he said thoughtfully, looking at me.
“And sleep ashore, where there’s room.”
“Room for what?” I asked, regarding him with suspicion.
“Well, I have it planned, aye?” he said, sloshing water over his face with both hands.
“You have what planned?” I asked. He snorted and shook the excess water from his beard before replying.
“I have been thinking of this for months, now,” he said, with keen anticipation. “Every night, folded up in that godforsaken nutshell of a berth, listening to Fergus grunt and fart across the cabin. I thought it all out, just what I would do, did I have ye naked and willing, no one in hearing, and room enough to serve ye suitably.” He lathered the cake of soap vigorously between his palms, and applied it to his face.
“Well, I’m willing enough,” I said, intrigued. “And there’s room, certainly. As for naked…”
“I’ll see to that,” he assured me. “That’s part o’ the plan, aye? I shall take ye to a private spot, spread out a quilt to lie on, and commence by sitting down beside you.”
“Well, that’s a start, all right,” I said. “What then?” I sat down next to him on the berth. He leaned close and bit my earlobe very delicately.
“As for what next, then I shall take ye on my knee and kiss ye.” He paused to illustrate, holding my arms so I couldn’t move. He let go a minute later, leaving my lips slightly swollen, tasting of ale, soap, and Jamie.
“So much for step one,” I said, wiping soapsuds from my mouth. “What then?”
“Then I shall lay ye down upon the quilt, twist your hair up in my hand and taste your face and throat and ears and bosom wi’ my lips,” he said. “I thought I would do that until ye start to make squeaking noises.”
“I don’t make squeaking noises!”
“Aye, ye do,” he said. “Here, hand me the towel, aye?”
“Then,” he went on cheerfully, “I thought I would begin at the other end. I shall lift up your skirt and—” His face disappeared into the folds of the linen towel.
“And what?” I asked, thoroughly intrigued.
“And kiss the insides of your thighs, where the skin’s so soft. The beard might help there, aye?” He stroked his jaw, considering.
“It might,” I said, a little faintly. “What am I supposed to be doing while you do this?”
“Well, ye might moan a bit, if ye like, to encourage me, but otherwise, ye just lie still.”
He didn’t sound as though he needed any encouragement whatever. One of his hands was resting on my thigh as he used the other to swab his chest with the damp towel. As he finished, the hand slid behind me, and squeezed.
“My beloved’s arm is under me,” I quoted. “And his hand behind my head. Comfort me with apples, and stay me with flagons, For I am sick of love.”
There was a flash of white teeth in his beard.
“More like grapefruit,” he said, one hand cupping my behind. “Or possibly gourds. Grapefruit are too small.”
“Gourds?” I said indignantly.
“Well, wild gourds get that big sometimes,” he said. “But aye, that’s next.” He squeezed once more, then removed the hand in order to wash the armpit on that side. “I lie upon my back and have ye stretched at length upon me, so that I can get hold of your bu**ocks and fondle them properly.” He stopped washing to give me a quick example of what he thought proper, and I let out an involuntary gasp.
“Now,” he went on, resuming his ablutions, “should ye wish to kick your legs a bit, or make lewd motions wi’ your hips and pant in my ear at that point in the proceedings, I should have no great objection.”
“I do not pant!”
“Aye, ye do. Now, about your br**sts—”
“Oh, I thought you’d forgotten those.”
“Never in life,” he assured me. “No,” he went blithely on, “that’s when I take off your gown, leaving ye in naught but your shift.”
“I’m not wearing a shift.”
“Oh? Well, no matter,” he said, dismissing this. “I meant to suckle ye through the thin cotton, ’til your ni**les stood up hard in my mouth, and then take it off, but it’s no great concern; I’ll manage without. So, allowing for the absence of your shift, I shall attend to your br**sts until ye make that wee bleating noise—”
“And then,” he said, interrupting, “since ye will, according to the plan, be naked, and—provided I’ve done it right so far—possibly willing as well—”
“Oh, just possibly,” I said. My lips were still tingling from step one.
“—then I shall spread open your thighs, take down my breeks, and—” He paused, waiting.
“And?” I said, obligingly.
The grin widened substantially.
“And we’ll see what sort of noise it is ye don’t make then, Sassenach.”
There was a slight cough in the doorway behind me.
“Oh, your pardon, Mr. Willoughby,” Jamie said apologetically. “I wasna expecting ye so soon. Perhaps ye’d care to go and have a bit of supper? And if ye would, take those things along and ask Murphy will he burn them in the galley fire.” He tossed the remains of his uniform to Mr. Willoughby, and bent to rummage in a sealocker for fresh clothing.
“I never thought to meet Lawrence Stern again,” he remarked, burrowing through the tangled linen. “How does he come to be here?”
“Oh, he is the Jewish natural philosopher you told me about?”
“He is. Though I shouldna think there are so many Jewish philosophers about as to cause great confusion.”
I explained how I had come to meet Stern in the mangroves. “…and then he brought me up to the priest’s house,” I said, and stopped, suddenly reminded. “Oh, I almost forgot! You owe the priest two pounds sterling, on account of Arabella.”
“I do?” Jamie glanced at me, startled, a shirt in his hand.
“You do. Maybe you’d best ask Lawrence if he’ll act as ambassador; the priest seems to get on with him.”