By the time he turned back, I had made it out of the berth and was standing—a trifle shakily, but still upright—against the frame. He eyed me critically.
“It’s no going to work, Sassenach,” he said, shaking his head. He looked rather regretful, himself. “We’ll never stay upright, wi’ a swell like there is underfoot tonight, and ye know I’ll not fit in that berth by myself, let alone wi’ you.”
There was a considerable swell; the lantern on its swivel-bracket hung steady and level, but the shelf above it tilted visibly back and forth as the Artemis rode the waves. I could feel the faint shudder of the boards under my bare feet, and knew Jamie was right. At least he was too absorbed in the discussion to be seasick.
“There’s always the floor,” I suggested hopefully. He glanced down at the limited floor space and frowned. “Aye, well. There is, but we’d have to do it like snakes, Sassenach, all twined round each other amongst the table legs.”
“I don’t mind.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “it would hurt your arm.” He rubbed a knuckle across his lower lip, thinking. His eyes passed absently across my body at about hip level, returned, fixed, and lost their focus. I thought the bloody shift must be more transparent than I realized.
Deciding to take matters into my own hands, I let go my hold on the frame of the berth and lurched the two paces necessary to reach him. The roll of the ship threw me into his arms, and he barely managed to keep his own balance, clutching me tightly round the waist.
“Jesus!” he said, staggered, and then, as much from reflex as from desire, bent his head and kissed me.
It was startling. I was accustomed to be surrounded by the warmth of his embrace; now it was I who was hot to the touch and he who was cool. From his reaction, he was enjoying the novelty as much as I was.
Light-headed, and reckless with it, I nipped the side of his neck with my teeth, feeling the waves of heat from my face pulsate against the column of his throat. He felt it, too.
“God, you’re like holding a hot coal!” His hands dropped lower and pressed me hard against him.
“Firm is it? Ha,” I said, getting my mouth free for a moment. “Take those baggy things off.” I slid down his length and onto my knees in front of him, fumbling mazily at his flies. He freed the laces with a quick jerk, and the petticoat breeches ballooned to the floor with a whiff of wind.
I didn’t wait for him to remove his shirt; just lifted it and took him. He made a strangled sound and his hands came down on my head as though he wanted to restrain me, but hadn’t the strength.
“Oh, Lord!” he said. His hands tightened in my hair, but he wasn’t trying to push me away. “This must be what it’s like to make love in Hell,” he whispered. “With a burning she-devil.”
I laughed, which was extremely difficult under the circumstances. I choked, and pulled back a moment, breathless.
“Is this what a succubus does, do you think?”
“I wouldna doubt it for a moment,” he assured me. His hands were still in my hair, urging me back.
A knock sounded on the door, and he froze. Confident that the door was indeed bolted, I didn’t.
“Aye? What is it?” he said, with a calmness rather remarkable for a man in his position.
“Fraser?” Lawrence Stern’s voice came through the door. “The Frenchman says the black is asleep, and may he have leave to go to bed now?”
“No,” said Jamie shortly. “Tell him to stay where he is; I’ll come along and relieve him in a bit.”
“Oh.” Stern’s voice sounded a little hesitant. “Surely. His…um, his wife seems…eager for him to come now.”
Jamie inhaled sharply.
“Tell her,” he said, a small note of strain becoming evident in his voice, “that he’ll be there…presently.”
“I will say so.” Stern sounded dubious about Marsali’s reception of this news, but then his voice brightened. “Ah…is Mrs. Fraser feeling somewhat improved?”
“Verra much,” said Jamie, with feeling.
“She enjoyed the turtle soup?”
“Greatly. I thank ye.” His hands on my head were trembling.
“Did you tell her that I’ve put aside the shell for her? It was a fine hawksbill turtle; a most elegant beast.”
“Aye. Aye, I did.” With an audible gasp, Jamie pulled away and reaching down, lifted me to my feet.
“Good night, Mr. Stern!” he called. He pulled me toward the berth; we struggled four-legged to keep from crashing into tables and chairs as the floor rose and fell beneath us.
“Oh.” Lawrence sounded faintly disappointed. “I suppose Mrs. Fraser is asleep, then?”
“Laugh, and I’ll throttle ye,” Jamie whispered fiercely in my ear. “She is, Mr. Stern,” he called through the door. “I shall give her your respects in the morning, aye?”
“I trust she will rest well. There seems to be a certain roughness to the sea this evening.”
“I…have noticed, Mr. Stern.” Pushing me to my knees in front of the berth, he knelt behind me, groping for the hem of my shift. A cool breeze from the open stern window blew over my naked bu**ocks, and a shiver ran down the backs of my thighs.
“Should you or Mrs. Fraser find yourselves discommoded by the motion, I have a most capital remedy to hand—a compound of mugwort, bat dung, and the fruit of the mangrove. You have only to ask, you know.”
Jamie didn’t answer for a moment.
“Oh, Christ!” he whispered. I took a sizable bite of the bedclothes.
“I said, ‘Thank you’!” Jamie replied, raising his voice.
“Well, I shall bid you a good evening, then.”
Jamie let out his breath in a long shudder that was not quite a moan.
“Good evening, Mr. Stern!” Jamie bellowed.
“Oh! Er…good evening.”
Stern’s footsteps receded down the companionway, lost in the sound of the waves that were now crashing loudly against the hull. I spit out the mouthful of quilt.
His hands were large and hard and cool on my heated flesh.
“You’ve the roundest arse I’ve ever seen!”
A lurch by the Artemis here aiding his efforts to an untoward degree, I uttered a loud shriek.
“Shh!” He clasped a hand over my mouth, bending over me so that he lay over my back, the billowing linen of his shirt falling around me and the weight of him pressing me to the bed. My skin, crazed with fever, was sensitive to the slightest touch, and I shook in his arms, the heat inside me rushing outward as he moved within me.
His hands were under me then, clutching my br**sts, the only anchor as I lost my boundaries and dissolved, conscious thought a displaced element in the chaos of sensations—the warm damp of tangled quilts beneath me, the cold sea wind and misty spray that wafted over us from the rough sea outside, the gasp and brush of Jamie’s warm breath on the back of my neck, and the sudden prickle and flood of cold and heat, as my fever broke in a dew of satisfied desire.
Jamie’s weight rested on my back, his thighs behind mine. It was warm, and comforting. After a long time, his breathing eased, and he rose off me. The thin cotton of my shift was damp, and the wind plucked it away from my skin, making me shiver.
Jamie closed the window with a snap, then bent and picked me up like a rag doll. He lowered me into the berth, and pulled the quilt up over me.
“How is your arm?” he said.
“What arm?” I murmured drowsily. I felt as though I had been melted and poured into a mold to set.
“Good,” he said, a smile in his voice. “Can ye stand up?”
“Not for all the tea in China.”
“I’ll tell Murphy ye liked the soup.” His hand rested for a moment on my cool forehead, passed down the curve of my cheek in a light caress, and then was gone. I didn’t hear him leave.
“It’s persecution!” Jamie said indignantly. He stood behind me, looking over the rail of the Artemis. Kingston Harbor stretched to our left, glowing like liquid sapphires in the morning light, the town above half-sunk in jungle green, cubes of yellowed ivory and pink rose-quartz in a lush setting of emerald and malachite. And on the cerulean bosom of the water below floated the majestic sight of a great three-masted ship, furled canvas white as gull wings, gun decks proud and brass gleaming in the sun. His Majesty’s man-of-war Porpoise.
“The filthy boat’s pursuing me,” he said, glaring at it as we sailed past at a discreet distance, well outside the harbor mouth. “Everywhere I go, there it is again!”
I laughed, though in truth, the sight of the Porpoise made me slightly nervous, too.
“I don’t suppose it’s personal,” I told him. “Captain Leonard did say they were bound for Jamaica.”
“Aye, but why would they no head straight to Antigua, where the naval barracks and the navy shipyards are, and them in such straits as ye left them?” He shaded his eyes, peering at the Porpoise. Even at this distance, small figures were visible in the rigging, making repairs.
“They had to come here first,” I explained. “They were carrying a new governor for the colony.” I felt an absurd urge to duck below the rail, though I knew that even Jamie’s red hair would be indistinguishable at this distance.
“Aye? I wonder who’s that?” Jamie spoke absently; we were no more than an hour away from arrival at Jared’s plantation on Sugar Bay, and I knew his mind was busy with plans for finding Young Ian.
“A chap named Grey,” I said, turning away from the rail. “Nice man; I met him on the ship, just briefly.”
“Grey?” Startled, Jamie looked down at me. “Not Lord John Grey, by chance?”
“Yes, that was his name? Why?” I glanced up at him, curious. He was staring at the Porpoise with renewed interest.
“Why?” He heard me when I repeated the question a second time, and glanced down at me, smiling. “Oh. It’s only that I ken Lord John; he’s a friend of mine.”
“Really?” I was no more than mildly surprised. Jamie’s friends had once included the French minister of finance and Charles Stuart, as well as Scottish beggars and French pickpockets. I supposed it was not remarkable that he should now count English aristocrats among his acquaintance, as well as Highland smugglers and Irish seacooks.
“Well, that’s luck,” I said. “Or at least I suppose it is. Where do you know Lord John from?”
“He was the Governor of Ardsmuir prison,” he replied, surprising me after all. His eyes were still fixed on the Porpoise, narrowed in speculation.
“And he’s a friend of yours?” I shook my head. “I’ll never understand men.”
He turned and smiled at me, taking his attention at last from the English ship.
“Well, friends are where ye find them, Sassenach,” he said. He squinted toward the shore, shading his eyes with his hand. “Let us hope this Mrs. Abernathy proves to be one.”