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Authors: Stephanie Laurens

Captain Jack's Woman (24 page)

BOOK: Captain Jack's Woman
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Jack raised a brow but didn’t attempt to deny it. “You’ll stay if I tie your hands to the headboard.” When Kit’s eyes widened, he added: “Remember the last time I had you with your hands tied? This time, I’ll have you flat on your back in the middle of my bed.”

Desire flickered hungrily in Kit’s belly. She ignored it, blinking to dispel the images conjured up by his words, by his deepening tones. “There’ll be a fuss if I disappear. They’ll search the county.”

“Perhaps. But I can assure you they won’t search here.”

His glib certainty struck Kit between the eyes. A conglomeration of disjointed facts fell into place. She stared at Jack. “You’re in league with Lord Hendon.”

Her tone of amazed discovery halted Jack; her words sent a thrill of expectation through him. She was so close to the truth. Would she guess the rest? If she did, what would she think?

It was his turn to be too slow with his denial to disguise the truth. Instead, he shrugged. “What if I am? There’s no need for you to spend any of your time considering the subject. I’ve much more urgent matters for your attention.” With that growled declaration of intent, Jack stepped forward.

Kit immediately backed away, her eyes wide. He was mad—she’d thought it often enough. “Jack!”

Jack took no notice of her imperious warning.

Kit drew a deep breath. And dashed for the door.

She’d taken no more than two steps before she felt the air at her back stir. With a shriek, she veered away from the door. Jack’s body rushed past her, slamming against the wooden panels. Kit heard the bolt fall home.

Wild-eyed, Kit scanned the room and saw Jack’s sword, propped against the wardrobe. Her heart thudding, she grabbed it up and whirled, wrenching the gleaming blade from the scabbard. She presented it, a lethal silver scythe transcribing a protective arc before her.

Jack froze, well out of her range. Inwardly, he cursed. Matthew had found the sword thrust to the back of the wardrobe. He’d taken it out and cleaned it before grinding the edge to exquisite sharpness. Apparently, he’d left it out in the belief his master should carry it.

Instead, his master, in full possession of his senses, now wished the sword he’d carried for ten years and more at the devil. If it’d been any other woman, he’d have walked calmly forward and taken it. But even though Kit had to use both hands to keep the blade balanced, Jack didn’t make the mistake of thinking she couldn’t use it. He didn’t for a moment believe she’d run him through, but by the time she realized that, her stroke might be too advanced to stop, given her unfamiliarity with that particular blade, weighted for slashing swings, not thrust and parry. She might not kill him, but she could do serious damage. Even more frightening was the possibility she might get hurt herself.

That thought forced Jack to move cautiously. His gaze locked with Kit’s, steadying, trying to will some of his calm into the frightened violet eyes. He wasn’t sure how far she was from real panic, but he didn’t think she’d hand over the sword, not after his threats. Slowly, he edged around the bed, away from her. Her eyes followed, intent on his movement, clearly puzzled by it.

Her breathing was too fast. Kit tried to contain her panic, but she was no longer sure of anything. She frowned when Jack stopped on the opposite side of the bed. What was he up to? She couldn’t make for the door; he was far too fast for that. The corner of the room was just a step away; she’d already backed as far as she could into its protection.

Jack moved so fast Kit barely saw the blur. One moment he was standing still, feet apart, hands relaxed by his sides. The next, he’d grabbed the covers and whipped them over the sword, following them over the bed to wrench the blade from her hands. Over her shriek, Kit heard the muffled thud as the sword hit the ground, flung out of harm’s way. Jack’s arms closed about her, an oddly protective trap.

Struggling made no impression. Her legs were pressed against the bed, then she was toppled onto it. Kit’s breath was knocked out of her when Jack landed on top of her. He used his body to subdue her struggles, his legs trapping hers, his hips weighting hers down, long fingers holding her head, gradually exerting pressure until she kept still. Half-smothered by his chest, Kit had to wait until he shifted to look down at her before opening her mouth to blister his ears. But no sound escaped her. Instead, his mouth found hers and his tongue filled the void with brandy-coated fire.

One by one, Kit felt her muscles give up the fight, relaxing as his intoxicating taste filled her senses, warming her from the inside out. The scandalous idea of being tied to his bedhead took on a rosy glow. As the insidious effect spread, her beleaguered mind summoned its last defenses. It couldn’t happen. But she’d only have one chance to change her fate.

For one long moment, Kit flowed with the tide, then, abruptly, she threw every muscle against him, pushing hard to dislodge him and roll his weight from her.

Jack was taken aback by the force of her shove. But, instead of suppressing it by sheer weight, he decided to roll with her push and bring her up over him. Fully atop her, he couldn’t reach that particular area of her buttocks that always proved so helpfully arousing. Reversing their positions was an excellent idea. He rolled, pulling her with him.

His head hit the bedend, concealed beneath the disarranged sheets.

Kit knew the instant he lost consciousness. His lips left hers; his fingers slid from her hair. She stared down into his face, oddly stripped of emotion, relaxed and at peace. In panic, she wriggled off him. She placed a hand on his chest and breathed a sigh of relief when she felt his heart beating steadily. Puzzled, she felt under his head and found the rounded wood of the bedend. The mystery solved, she sat up and tugged him farther onto the bed, then fetched a pillow to cradle his head.

Kit sat and frowned at her threat removed. How long would he remain unconscious? Reflecting that his skull had shown every indication of being thick, she decided a tactical withdrawal was her only option. She’d tried her best to make him see sense; his actions, his words, left her no alternative but to act.

 

Late-afternoon sunlight spilled through the cottage door, glimmering along the gilt edges of the playing cards Jack shuffled back and forth. His long fingers re-formed the pack, then briskly set them out.

Jack grimaced at the hand. All very well to play at Patience; he was desperately short of the commodity. But, despite the promptings of his wilder self, there was blessedly little he could do. When he’d woken in the dead of night to find himself alone, nursing a sore skull, he’d initially thought Kit had coshed him. Then the final moments of their tussle had cleared in his painful head and he’d worked it out. Small comfort that had been. She’d stated, categorically, that she was going to cause him heaps of trouble.

Irritation itched; he shook aside his thoughts and stared at the cards.

What would she do? He didn’t feel qualified to guess, given he still couldn’t fathom her peculiar intensity over the spies. She’d threatened to go to Lord Hendon. He’d considered that long and hard, eventually quitting home immediately after breakfast, leaving his butler, Lovis, with a most peculiar set of instructions. Luckily, Lovis knew him well enough not to feel the remotest surprise. Hopefully, no other redheaded woman would call unattended on Lord Hendon.

Driven by a growing sense of unease, he’d gone to Hunstanton and put Tonkin through his paces. His message ought to have been clear, but Tonkin’s interest in his “big gang” had grown to an obsession. Regardless of orders, Jack didn’t trust the old bruiser an inch. He didn’t think Tonkin trusted him, either. The man wasn’t stupid, just an incompetent bully. He’d left Hunstanton even more disturbed than before.

The feeling that had taken root in his gut was all too familiar. Years of campaigning, both overtly and covertly, had instilled a watchfulness, a finely honed sixth sense, always on the alert for danger. With the steady drub of Champion’s hooves filling his ears, he’d headed for the cottage, watching the storm gathering on his horizon swell and grow, knowing it would soon unleash its fury, wreaking havoc with his well-laid plans. And feeling totally impotent in the face of impending disaster.

But he was used to meeting that particular challenge and had long since perfected the mental and physical discipline needed to see any storm through.

However, the fact that Kit was enmeshed in the danger, up to her pretty neck, set a worried edge on his nervous energy. Theoretically, he should have already taken steps to nullify the threat she posed. In reality, there seemed little he could do without further jeopardizing his mission. Forced to spend the hours until the run in idle isolation, he’d had time to consider his options. The only one with any real merit was kidnapping. He’d have to be careful not to be seen by any on the Cranmer estate, but he could keep her here, in safety and comfort, for a week or so, until the worst was past. If the mission dragged on, as it quite possibly would, he’d move her up to the Castle once the first hue and cry had died. There, safety and comfort, both hers and his, would be assured. She’d be his prisoner, but after the first inevitable fury, he didn’t think she’d mind. He’d ensure she was occupied.

The idea of having time to get to know Kit, of having the leisure to learn why she thought as she did, felt as she did, blossomed before him. Jack forgot his cards, mesmerized by a sudden glimpse into a future he’d never previously found attractive. Women, he’d always firmly believed, had but one real role in life—to pander to their man’s wishes. An aristocratic wife—his, for instance—would bear his children and manage his households, act as his hostess and support his position socially. Beyond that, she figured in his mind much as Matthew or Lovis did. His many mistresses had had but one sphere of responsibility—the bedroom—where they’d spent the majority of time flat on their backs, efficiently catering to his needs. The only communication he recalled having with them was by way of soft moans and groans and funny little gasps. He’d never been interested in what they’d thought. Not on any subject.

Absentmindedly gathering the cards, Jack refocused his abstracted gaze. The more he thought of it, the more benefits he saw in kidnapping Kit. After tonight, assuming they both survived the coming storm, he’d act.

Spencer, of course, would have to be told. He couldn’t steal away the old man’s granddaughter, whom he clearly cared for, and leave him to grieve unnecessarily. It would mean overturning one of his golden rules—he’d never, not even as a child, told people more than they’d needed to know, a habit that had stood him in good stead over the years. But he couldn’t have Spencer on his conscience any more than he could tolerate Kit continuing her dangerous crusade.

At the thought of her, his redheaded houri, a stern frown settled over his face. He hadn’t asked to feel about her as he did, but there was no point in denying it. She was more than the latest in a long line; he cared for her in ways he couldn’t remember caring for anyone else in his life. Once he had her safe, he’d drum into her red head just what the upshot of that was. She would have to mend her ways—no more dangerous escapades.

Would she be silly enough to try to turn some of the men against him? Jack shuddered. There was no value in torturing himself. Shutting out his imaginary horrors, he purposefully reshuffled the cards.

 

Ten minutes later, the peace of sunset was interrupted by the steady clop of hooves, approaching from the east. Jack raised his head to listen. Both the confident pace and the direction suggested George had come to their rendezvous early. A glimpse of sleek chestnut hide crossing the clearing brought a half smile to Jack’s face. He needed distraction.

George came through the door, his face set in disapproving lines.

Jack’s smile of welcome faded. His brows rose.

George halted before the table, his gaze steady on Jack’s grey eyes. Then he glanced at the keg on the sideboard. “Is there anything in that?”

With a grunt, Jack rose and fetched a glass. After a second’s hesitation, he took a glass for himself and half filled both. Was this the start of his storm?

George drew up a chair to the table and dropped into it.

Placing one glass before George, Jack eyed his serious face. He resumed his seat. “Well? You’d better tell me before Matthew gets here.”

George took a sip and glanced at the open door. He got up, shut it, then paced back to the table. He put his glass down, but remained standing. “I went to see Amy this afternoon.”

When George fell into a pensive daze and yielded nothing further, Jack couldn’t resist. “She wants to call off the wedding?”

George flushed and frowned. “Of course not! For God’s sake, be sensible. This is serious.”

Jack duly composed his features. George grimaced and continued: “When I was leaving, I got talking to Jeffries, Gresham’s head groom. The man’s a mine of information on horses.”

Jack’s stomach clenched, but his expression remained undisturbed.

George’s gaze leveled. “We were talking of bloodlines in the district. He mentioned a black Arab mare, finicky and highbred. According to Jeffries, she belongs to one of Amy’s friends.”

“Amy’s friend?” Jack blinked and the veils fell. He knew, then, what was coming. He should have guessed; there’d been enough inconsistencies in her performance. If he hadn’t been so besotted with her, doubtless he’d have unmasked her long ago. The idea that some part of him had known, but he hadn’t wanted to face the truth, he buried deep.

“Amy’s bosom-bow,” George confirmed, his voice heavy with disapproval. “Miss Kathryn Cranmer. Known as Kit to her intimates.” George slumped into his chair. “She’s Christopher Cranmer’s daughter, Spencer’s grandchild.” George studied Jack’s face. “His legitimate granddaughter.”

Spencer’s legitimate granddaughter.
The thought reeled through Jack’s brain in dizzying splendor. Stunned shock vied with disbelief, before both gave way to an overwhelming urge to lay hold of Kit and shake the damned woman as she deserved. How
dared
she take such scandalous risks? Clearly, Spencer had no control over her. Jack made a mental note to be sure the full magnitude of her sins was made clear to his redheaded houri in breeches—not that she’d get a chance to wear breeches again. She’d have to learn to take very good care—of herself, of her reputation. As Lord Hendon, he’d every right to ensure the future Lady Hendon played safe.

BOOK: Captain Jack's Woman
5.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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