Read The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) Online

Authors: Ava Morgan

Tags: #Curiosity Chronicles, #Book One

The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
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“Nikolaos is learning fast that his methods don’t work on this ship. But, Smythe, why didn’t you speak up about Lady Dimosthenis?”

The young man spoke with care. “You were stern with her. I didn’t want to appear as though I was challenging your authority.”

Was he so harsh with Lydia that even the crew noticed? To think, he reprimanded her for leaving her quarters. If she had done as he instructed, none of them would have kept their heads above water. Rhys uttered, “I have a number of things to remedy on this ship.”

Smythe scratched his neck again. “I meant no disrespect, Captain.”

“Not you, Smythe. You’ve done well. It’s others I need address.” Rhys went to check on the crewmen at work patching up the hull.

 

#

 

After Lydia moved her belongings to the corner of the navigation room, she did her best to mop water from the interior without disturbing the sensitive instruments and collections of maps and charts along the walls. As she finished tossing out the last bucketful of water, the rains returned, sending a cold, gusty downpour through the room’s interior. Swab in hand, she scurried to shut the door.

Seconds later, Malcolm burst in, ruining her efforts to keep the room dry by tracking in wet, grimy footprints. Finley followed, adding more work for her to do.

“Confound this rain, Finley. We need to set a new course away from the line of storms and pirate bays.” Malcolm reached for the nearest chart from a slot in the wall and threw it upon the table. He didn’t see Lydia behind the door.

Nor did Finley. “I told you, it’s no good if we make our heading now. The hull’s being patched. Besides, the winds blew us off course.” He removed the chart and flipped open a case built into the bottom right corner of the tabletop. A compass appeared off the southern tip of Africa. “Look. This storm’s interfered with all the navigational instruments.”

Lydia swallowed. “So we’re lost?”

Both men looked to her for the first time. Finley’s eyes narrowed. He cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t say that. Once the storm passes, the instruments should work again.”

The ambiguity of his statement left her unsettled. Malcolm rotated his column of a neck Finley’s way. Even from her vantage point, Lydia could see the blue vein pulse on the side. “And what are we supposed to do until then? Let the ship keep runnin’ adrift?”

“There’s little else we can do. The mast is down, the lower levels are flooded, and the engine is clogged.”

“For all the rarefied and newfangled contraptions on this ‘modern vessel’, I’d sooner swim to the nearest shore.” Malcolm banged a fist on the table, sending the compass back into the Atlantic. “Mayhap I’ll reach another island. Only instead of automatons, someone will have engineered a better navigator.”

Finley clenched his lower jaw. “I cannot be to blame for a sudden squall.”

Malcolm pressed on in his mockery. “I think I’ll commission her ladyship to build an iron navigator this very moment.”

Lydia grimaced at his inclusion of her in the argument.

Finley ended the conversation with a bit more refinement. “I’ll find our direction as soon as the equipment is operational. Until then, the captain has given me other work to do. If you’ll excuse me.” The nails in his boot soles struck the floor as he ventured back into the wind and rain on deck.

“Close that door,” Malcolm ordered Lydia.

She wondered if risking pneumonia from the chilling rain would be a better alternative to being in closed confines with Malcolm. The bosun appeared ready to lay waste to the little room. She kept the deck swab with her as she shut the door and came to stand across from him at the table.

He brooded over the Americas on the map, although she guessed his mind was not fixated on the Florida peninsula. “Worthless navy whelp. I have more years at sea than he. Don’t know why the COIC saw fit to have him as part of the crew. On their ‘state of the art sailcraft’ at that. Devil take him and this industrial nonsense.” Malcolm opened the compass case again and studied the needle as it moved in an endless circle. “Why are you in here?”

Lydia realized he was talking to her instead of at her. “The cabin is flooded.”

He grunted as he watched the compass needle twist its way around the eight directions. “Can your machines’ motors get the ship going again?”

“None of them are big enough.”

“Sails it is, then. I’ll get us back on course by the morrow if Finley won’t.” Malcolm stampeded his way from the navigation room.

Rain coated the floor again before Lydia got to the door. She left it open by a crack and watched the crewmen labor on deck. Behind them, the night sky merged with the black ocean on the horizon.

Another sight stole her attention. A lantern light floated across the deck and up the quarterdeck as though it were being carried by a specter. It came to a stop at the door. The light illuminated half of Rhys’ face and left the other in shadow. “Are you going to let me in?”

Lydia moved for him to enter. “I didn’t know who you were.”

“I left a cask of freshwater for you by the door.” He set the lantern on the table, along with a flask, a pewter cup, and a small platter of hardtack, an apple, and some Aspasian dried figs. “It’s all that’s available from the galley until the flooding subsides.”

Her stomach growled at the sight of the simple fare. It occurred to her that she hadn’t eaten all day. She closed the door on herself and the captain. “How are the men this evening?”

“Cold. Wet. Alive. No man on this ship will let himself be done in by a squall or pirates. Not one from the crew, at least.” His tone darkened as he referred to Nikolaos. He opened the flask and poured a dark liquid into the cup. “Every crewman gets a reward ration of rum tonight.” He held the cup out to her.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Don’t insult me, Lydia. You helped Smythe fix the water pump, thereby saving the ship.”

She took the cup. “Thank you. If you don’t mind, I would eat something first.”

Rhys closed the flask. “Of course.”

“Aren’t you having a drink?”

“I will when I rejoin the crew.”

Lydia admired him for valuing his crew and rewarding them for their hard work. Of the men she had seen in high positions, most looked down on their subordinates, refusing to regard them as fellow human beings. Rhys commanded respect, but also gave it to his men in kind. He saw them as his equals, and from what she witnessed in Malcolm, Smythe, and a few others of his crew, they were all the more loyal to him for it.

She set the cup down and began to eat. The hardtack was flavorless, but it felt good to put solid food in her stomach again after days of being ill.

Rhys nibbled on a fig. “The storm cured your seasickness.”

“Only to replace it with a fear of drowning.”

“You had that well before the storm.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve watched you cast a wary eye at the waves and brace yourself every time the ship pitched more than usual.”

“I’m not accustomed to sailing long distances. Those French pirates didn’t help, either.” It didn’t seem appropriate to tell Rhys that Galen’s fate also affected her views of sailing, so she remained silent on the matter. She didn’t want to leave herself any more vulnerable and exposed before him. “Do you always watch me so closely, Rhys?”

His dark, molten gaze was inescapable. “I find myself doing so without intention. You’re an attractive woman, Lydia.”

Warmth curled up her neck. He noticed her in a way that no man had in a long time. His direct and heated stare was ripe with desire as it traveled from her face to the bare skin peeking out from her collar before coming to settle again on her mouth. Lydia moistened her dry lips. What else did he notice? Could he somehow sense the way she was drawn to him as well?

She shouldn’t feel this way about a man so soon. Not when there were important things to accomplish, and certainly not after learning that Rhys operated as a spy for New Britannia.

“It’s cold.” Lydia followed the abrupt randomness of her words with an equally awkward move to get away from the table and find a jacket from her clothing bundle.

She didn’t get far. Rhys’ warm hand came to cover her fingers. He touched her shirt cuff. “No wonder you’re cold. Your clothes are damp.” He moved his fingertips beneath the cuff and gently rubbed the sensitive skin under her wrist.

Lydia’s senses awaken at once. Her nerves tingled beneath his touch, sending the sensation traveling throughout her body. She peered at him through her lashes.

“And you’re getting gooseflesh. You should change into something warmer.”

She knew that her reaction had very little to do with the room’s temperature. Rhys’ heated expression told her that he knew it, too. She put her hand on his, not allowing him to go further, but not pushing him away, either. Rough callouses lined his thumb and palm, the strong hand of a man accustomed to vigorous work. “I will change clothes when you leave. I don’t require assistance.”

“I wasn’t offering any.” He drew her to him, closing his arm around her waist before she could stop him.

Lydia’s palms flattened against his chest. She felt his heartbeat pulse a strong, steady rhythm. Before she could utter a word, he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her hard.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

Mediterranean Sea, coordinates unknown

 

Lydia closed her eyes as Rhys’ kiss produced a dizzying effect of surprise and longing. Feelings that had lain dormant now rushed to awaken. Her blood raced as her heart pumped a fierce beat to match his, drowning out the patter of rain and wind that battered against the ship outside. She wrapped her arms around his neck, yielding to his strength as he held her in a tight embrace.

He coaxed her lips apart with the tip of his tongue. A wave of pleasure raced to her core as she tasted him, an intoxicating, masculine mix of passion, vitality, and the salt sea. She felt the soft tug of his fingers through her hair as he tilted her head back.

“You do not kiss like a gentleman.” Her voice was a throaty whisper when he took his lips away from her mouth and pressed them against her neck.

Rhys pushed a tangle of curls behind her ear. “You don’t sound too disappointed.” He spoke low in her ear, his words carried by that sensual, musical Welsh lilt that lulled her into helplessness.

“I don’t know how I feel.” She closed her eyes again as he nibbled her earlobe. She heard the breathlessness of her own voice. “One moment you make me so—” He interrupted her with another kiss. “Disagreeable and the next—I—stop that. You’re distracting me on purpose.”

“You think you don’t distract me, Lydia?” His voice deepened with a yearning that both startled and excited her. “You’ve been my focus for this entire mission, despite my efforts to maintain priority.”

“Yes, priority. To our countries.” She broke away from him and backed away. Her body protested with an ache that left her mortified by its reaction. “We’re breaching protocol. You hardly know me.”

“A circumstance that I’ve been in the process of amending.”

“I certainly don’t know much about you.”

“You knew enough to return a kiss.” His eyes followed her towards the back of the room.

Ashamed of herself, she used her arms as a shield, crossing them in front of her chest. “I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“I beg to differ. Your actions showed perfect agreement with the desires of your mind.” His dimple appeared in the glimmer of a knowing smile. “The language of the body rarely can be hidden. One of the first lessons COIC agents are taught before being sent into the field.”

“Stop trying to impress me with your agency’s tactics.” She rubbed her forehead as a headache started to form. “My lapse in judgment is due to the day’s events. They’ve tried me.”

“No, facing danger has done away with your pretense. It took such to bring out the passion you’ve kept secret.”

His words peeled her layers of defense apart, exposing the tender core. In Aspasia she had been orderly and exacting, but Rhys brought out another aspect in her. He coaxed a daring spirit within her that sought the company of a man and the possibility of falling in love again, notions that were getting the better of her every day that she spent in close proximity to him. Her life and work had no place for such volatility, but with Rhys, those passions found their home.

She scrambled to deflect his observations. “Don’t speak to me of secrets. Today’s events revealed things about you, too. ”

He lifted his eyebrows. The rest of his chiseled features remained immobile. “Was that why my bookcase was open?”

Lydia stood at the precipice of the hole she just dug for herself. She couldn’t walk away from the edge now. “I found your COIC mission papers,” she confessed.

“You’ve been spying.” He availed himself of his ardor before her eyes, though some of it lingered in the tenseness of which he held his body and in his measured stare.

“They fell out of the bookcase when the ship took cannon fire. I wasn’t spying, but according to those documents, you were. In the Mediterranean and in East Asia, to be specific.”

“By Order of Her Royal Majesty, I’m an importer of international goods as well as secrets.”

It stunned Lydia that he didn’t make any denials. She remained at the wall. “You lied to me. You did come to Aspasia to spy.”

“My mission was to procure those automatons. Nothing else.” He reached the door of the room in two long strides. The breadth of his shoulders left little space between him and the doorframe. “I operate in affairs of state. You saw diplomacy during our negotiations, but my COIC duties can involve far more. Sometimes reconnaissance, and, as today’s skirmish illustrated, the use of force.”

She took a deep breath of tension-riddled air. “Would you have resorted to force if King Sabba refused to sell the automatons?”

“I would have made a different offer.”

“I’m hardly comforted by that admission.”

Firm resolve settled on his face, closing off the remaining traces of warmth that he’d shown her just minutes before. “You’ll have to accept that there are things about me you can never know.”

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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