Chapter Excerpt for UPON YOUR RETURN on Eat Sleep Write
This originally posted here, but I will post below as well.
October 16, 2013
UPON YOUR RETURN - chapter 2 by Marie Lavender
October 16, 2013
UPON YOUR RETURN - chapter 2 by Marie Lavender
Fara fought the darkness to the coming light. It was so easy to stay in the dark. It was comforting like a warm blanket. But, the light held such possibilities. She knew she must rouse, as if something significant lay there in wakefulness. She stirred and felt a pair of arms holding her. Then she heard a heartbeat beneath a rough fabric, felt a coarse texture of chest hair. It was so secure within that embrace.
When she finally realized it was a man who held her, she gasped and tried to retreat from the cord of muscles. She glanced up to be temporarily blinded by the lamplight to her left.
“Don't move,” said a soft but deep voice.
He spoke with the assurance of authority, and she could tell he was used to ordering people around. Well, he wouldn't order her. She lifted her heavy head and whimpered as a stab of agony sliced through her skull. Fara squeezed her eyes shut tight. It was so much easier to be left in the dark for it was as if her head was being cut with so many knives.
“I will have you more comfortable in a moment. Please do not move.”
How could she possibly move with all this pain and that large man rendering her limbs useless?
Suddenly, she felt a light cushion beneath her. The glare from the lantern came into her vision again when she opened her eyes and was then replaced by the outline of a man towering above her. She gasped and crawled away from him, but his hold on her waist hauled her back. Her head hurt so as he studied her face.
“Madame, the pain will be less if you stay still. I promise I did not bring you here to harm you in any way.”
She gradually settled back on the pillows and looked at her keeper. He was an attractive man, if one liked the rough, indignant kind. Dark layers of soft waves covered his head and ended at the nape of his neck. He was large, but slim in the right places...it spoke of years of hard physical labor.
His eyes captivated her as she studied him in such proximity. The shade of his eyes...a charcoal color; they were the most intense and unreadable eyes she'd ever seen. It was an odd, yet strikingly beautiful color for a man.
Oh, you silly girl, she thought. Really...how ridiculous for her to be wooed by only a pair of eyes. “May I ask you a question?”
“I insist you do, if you are not too unwell.” He gestured to her jaw.
Fara nodded, acknowledging the wound provided by the man named Bernard. She imagined what he referred to must indeed be a hideous sight. She looked around the room. It appeared to be a cabin of sorts. “Monsieur...how did I get here? Are we on a yacht?”
“A ship. My ship, La Voyageur,” he announced firmly with a lifted brow.
She faltered at the damning tone in his voice. It gave the impression that he was accustomed to some ridicule, but she could not fathom the reason for it. “You are a captain?”
“Mademoiselle.” She blushed.
“Ah. I knew you were too young to be saddled to one man, but thought it safer to say you were.”
“Monsieur...how long will I be here?”
He pointed to her throbbing jaw. “As soon as that is healed nicely, I will escort you to your home.”
Why, that could be days! Did he really mean to let her go, or was his intention to ask for a ransom? He had rescued her, but what if his motives were for reasons other than valor? “My uncle...he will be concerned for me. I insist you take me home now.” She realized her voice was too soft to sound commanding.
He shook his head. “I will have a message sent to him. What is his name?”
She sighed. “Michel de Bellamont.” She began to protest, “Monsieur, surely you do not intend to keep me here? That would not be right.”
“I do though. You fainted twice. I must be certain it won't happen again. That bastard hit you. I would be surprised if you didn't feel unwell. I will send the message to your uncle, informing him that his niece is in good hands. You will probably be better tomorrow. You may leave then if you wish.”
“All right, Monsieur. Merci.” He seemed to be concerned about her enough to care for her here. She still felt unsure about spending time alone with a complete stranger, especially a man, but she did not know how to convince him otherwise. He did not seem like the kind of man one questioned. And despite the fact that she'd thought he could be trusted, she still must be on her guard. She had no idea what he really intended.
He went to the door and spoke quietly to a young boy, who nodded exuberantly, and then he shut the door.
She stared at him for several moments. “What might I call you?”
He turned to her, stood straight and bowed. “La Capitaine Hill. My name is Grant though.”
Grant Hill...it was a strong name. It spoke of a good lineage, yet it had a trace of foreign roots as did her first name. There were many people in France who would discriminate on petty things such as names or appearances. “Grant,” she murmured absently, suddenly captivated by his eyes again.
“And you, Mademoiselle Bellamont?”
“My name is Fara.” Her mother had named her, had claimed it was English for 'beautiful'. No one knew that except her mother and father. She supposed most people could guess it wasn't a French name, like Capitaine Hill's. But she refrained from telling anyone because she knew how odd the French acted about origins. If one wasn't entirely French in every way, there was something low about it. It was a narrow-minded and proud society.
“Tis' a beautiful name, Mademoiselle.”
“Thank you.” She frowned. “If you are the man who came to my rescue, then why did those sailors run away?”
His eyes darkened with mischief. “They were cowards. Once they put you aside, they were quick to find out what an accomplished swordsman I am. One technique and they ran for their lives. There was no sport in it.”
She looked away. Masculine conceit was not something she wished to indulge. Men, she chided, could be so like children at times.
“Hmm...I see.” She managed a smile and looked up at him again. “I'm very grateful for your concern for my welfare.”
“A lady in distress is worth it. I was, however, worried that you might be unconscious for much longer.” He frowned. “What were you doing out there so late? You should know it is dangerous by the docks at night.”
“I know. I was to meet someone there.”
She nodded. “Oui.”
“Any man who directs a lady to that side of town at that hour is either desperate or an idiot.”
She smiled. “Well, desperation comes to mind...”
“Was he a suitor?” he inquired.
Perhaps she had said too much. “Really, Capitaine Hill. I would not think it would be of interest to you.”
“Call me Grant, Mademoiselle. I merely feel this man was in some way out to do you harm. Most civilized men would never lead you there.”
“I fear I am somewhat responsible for being there.”
An eyebrow rose skeptically. “’Twas not your suggestion surely.”
“No, but I was not well acquainted with this man. He very well could have been crazy.”
“And no doubt conniving.”
“Yes,” she replied softly. “It seems he set me up.”
He frowned. “They were hired?”
She nodded. A long silence stretched between them, but it did not bother her. She was content to lie back among the pillows. Her head throbbed, and her jaw ached terribly.
“Fara.” His need for formality after all he'd done perturbed her.
“Fara,” he repeated easily, and she couldn't help thinking how intimate her name sounded on his lips, like the gentle sigh of a lover. She winced. Dear God, what was the matter with her? She could not think such things, even if he was terribly attractive. “How long have you been in your uncle's care?” he asked.
“Since my parents died...” Her voice broke on the note and she looked to the rafters for guidance.
His hand curved around hers in a gesture of sympathy. “I am sorry. How did it happen?”
“As a child, my father traveled often on business and for that one trip, my mother went with him. I was left in the care of my nursemaid for it was only to be a short while. On their way back from Turkey, their ship was taken by pirates. Few survived.
“My parents never made it back to Marseille. I was sent to live here with my uncle in La Rochelle. The law claimed that I was to be placed in the home of the next of kin. I was eight then.”
He pulled his hand away. “And now you are of marrying age...”
“Oui,” she agreed, trying to pull away from the pain of the past. She blinked and then looked at Grant again.
His dark eyes filled with regret before he glanced away. “I, too, was orphaned at an early age.”
She grimaced. “How unfortunate for us both to have had this experience.”
He nodded, but rushed on as if to shift the conversation away from the uncomfortable subject. “Have you no suitors?”
“I've had many, but I do not wish to become a man's chattel just yet.” She did not feel that admitting her affianced state would help matters. He already knew about Monsieur Le Croix’s plot.
“Not all men are like that,” he said softly.
“I've not met one who thinks women have minds of their own!” She angled her neck to glare at him, but his face was the picture of innocence and the slicing pain suddenly shot through her skull again. She gasped and winced.
“Now, Fara. It is time for you to rest. The ache will lessen by tomorrow.”
“Oui,” she agreed. The pain was intense and she didn't feel like arguing. She laid back and realized suddenly that her corset was very tight. She felt the heat rising over her cheekbones, but she knew he would not guess at her discomfort. “Grant?”
“Where will you be sleeping?”
“Right here, if you do not mind.”
She swallowed. “Here? In this bed?” She drew in a sharp breath. Surely he was joking.
“That's right. Someone must look after you. You've had a fairly eventful evening, and if you have a concussion, I must fetch a physician right away. But, if you insist, I will find another place. Perhaps Eric will relinquish his quarters for the night...” His voice was soft, as if he was speaking to himself.
This man had saved her life and already she was pushing him out of his cabin on his ship? It did not seem quite right. “No, I do not want you to do that, Monsieur.” She sighed. “We may share the bunk, Grant. It is quite simple.” She colored beneath his gaze. “Of course, you would have to be a gentleman about it.”
“I would not encroach...” His gaze traveled over her from head to toe.
It should have made her shudder; she should have been appalled at that kind of look, but it seemed almost normal in the intimacy of the moment. She felt gratitude for his rescue, but more, a part of her was comforted by the protection he provided. And she craved that safe haven desperately, or at least to hold on for it for a while, if only for tonight.
“You saved my life. It is only right that I give you something in return, if not a good night's rest.”
“You owe me nothing, Fara.”
“Tis' not the way I see it.”
“Very well.” He began to unbutton his cravat and white shirt and threw them aside. He bent to pull off his boots and then approached her. “Is there some way I may assist you, to make you more…comfortable?”
She hesitated a moment, unnerved by his half-naked state, and then went on. “I do have a predicament. My corset...it is dreadfully tight. If you would assist me, I should be very grateful.” She watched his lips part in surprise and he swallowed audibly.
“Of course.” He waited for her to sit up, and then bent to work at the buttons of her lavender dress.
His body was so near that his clean, male scent was almost intoxicating. An additional aroma wafted about too, musky like cigars. It reminded her of the ones she smelled when she passed by her uncle's office while he met with other men for business affairs.
Her breathing came faster and she struggled to control it. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears and she half-wished it all to go away. But, she felt giddy with it too. It was almost a sense of invincibility as his gentleness was lover-like.
He eased the fabric away and when she leaned forward to assist him, he bent over her still to work at the bands of her corset and his hands splayed across her lower back.
Soon, the fabric fell away and she licked her lips, staring into his gaze. His dark eyes were bright with something she'd never seen before. His face was nearly inches from hers and she feared he might kiss her. Half of her wanted it; the other half was her uncle's voice telling her it wasn't right for unattached ladies to display such behavior. No, ’twas too soon for she'd just met this man. She cleared her throat, looking away.
He sat back, away from her. “I was thinking to give you some laudanum tonight for the pain. It will help you sleep,” he urged.
“Merci,” she replied and watched as he went to fetch it. She sighed. She would need it indeed if she wanted to sleep. She felt so heady with a want she didn't understand and she was certain his presence might keep her from sleeping. Not to mention how her head ached so very much.
When he returned, she drank the wine dutifully and set the glass on the table beside the bed. As he climbed onto the mattress and doused the lights, she wriggled out of her dress, corset and hoop skirt, leaving only her thin shift to sleep in. Her slippers were pinching her feet and so she kicked them to the floor.
She felt his presence beside her, was aware of his even breathing, and wondered if he slept. She couldn't help thinking that laying there made her feel safer than she'd ever felt in her life. Within minutes, she was claimed by a drug-induced sleep.