UPON YOUR RETURN - Chapter 3 Part 1 Excerpt on Eat Sleep Write

Upon Your Return - Chapter 3, Part 1 by Marie Lavender

posted February 9, 2013
by Adam Scull, owner of ESW

She woke slowly, the light teasing her eyes open. She snuggled against a hard, warm body and though her eyelids were heavy with sleep, she looked up into the face of La Capitaine Hill. It took a moment for her to realize his eyes, which were unreadable before, laughed at her and were creased at the corners.
She glanced around and knew instantly the reason for his ill-displayed humor. She was holding him down. Her arms encircled his neck and one exposed white thigh was thrown across his belly, which was thankfully hidden by his breeches. She felt like an imbecile, all safe and warm and curled against a complete stranger.
Her cheeks flushed and she stammered, “I-I'm sorry...” She tried to pull away, but he grasped her waist. “Grant,” she pleaded.
“I don't mind at all, Fara.”
Oui, but I do!”
“I see...but, you forget who started it.”
Her face might as well have been stained red for his teasing remarks were not helping the situation. “I know. I said I was sorry.”
“Now, there's no need for apologies, love. I am at your mercy, if you please. Please?”
For a moment, she almost took him to task for presuming she was that kind of woman. But, his eyes still laughed at her. Faltering, she slugged him on the arm. “You beast! Now let me go, I demand it!”
Seeming reluctant, he released his hold on her and watched as she gradually slid from the bed to gather her clothes to her bosom.
She was careful not to make any jarring movements as her head still ached a little. “Is there not some other place I may change my clothing?”
He laughed, a deep rumbling sound. “No, unless you want to stun my crew into submission...”
Her jaw tightened in response and she chose to ignore him. “Then you will look away like a gentleman whilst I change.”
He sighed and closed his eyes. “There's nothing like having a young woman around to revive oneself fully,” he said softly.
“I would be eternally grateful if you'd cease teasing me.”
Oui!” She checked to make sure he wasn't spying and then hastily changed. Considering she had no nursemaid to aid her, she surprised herself with her speed.
Fara slipped her feet into her slippers. She finger-combed the tangles from her hair as best as she could. “Now, I would like to get off of this...your ship, your Voyageur,” she gestured with a flick of her wrist.
He stood up and grasped his own clothing, and then quickly buttoned his white shirt, the shirttails trailing over his black breeches. He approached her, smiling when she backed away. Suddenly, he grasped her waist, pulling her toward him and seemed to ignore her squeal. He did up the buttons of her dress carefully.
She swallowed, aware that the forced intimacy between them was affecting her too much.
After he was done with her buttons, he turned her to face him again. “Your uncle, Monsieur de Bellamont, might literally kill me if I did not feed you. Come, you must be starving.”
As a matter of fact, her stomach was growling, but she didn't give him the satisfaction of having that knowledge as she followed him.
* * * *
They were each seated with a steaming platter of eggs and morning croissants and café au lait set before them, and they ate in silence for a while. After he finished, Grant excused himself to speak with his manservant standing near the door. “What do you think, Eric?”
“’Twas quite heroic what you did for her, Capitaine.”
He was not the kind to be proud of his actions, especially when they were necessitated by the misdeeds of others, in this case by a certain man who intentionally put Fara in a perilous position. “Oui...but, what do you think of her?” he repeated the question.
Eric considered while he studied her carefully. “She's young, a wee girl.”
“Not a girl, Eric, but a lady.”
“She is of marrying age?”
Oui. She is eighteen, I believe.”
“She is small for a lady of society, Monsieur. But, the picture of youth and sophistication.”
Oui,” the captain breathed, remembering the silken feel of her in his arms when he'd carried her onto La Voyageur. Or this morning, when he'd awakened to that pretty face…she'd felt so petite against him, so innocent. He was sure she was not only soft physically but emotionally. A self-willed lady used to the ways of society, but not necessarily swayed by them.
“You fancy her, sir?” his manservant asked quietly.
“Perhaps.” He studied her profile, suddenly captivated by her female aura...her mane of tresses like burnished fire and her eyes a hint of violet. Hair of fire...perhaps even a woman born of fire, a passionate woman.
His loins tightened with desire. Might he ever witness that hidden passion? Would she be as captivating a lover as a companion?
“If you two are quite finished gawking at me, I'd like to go above.” She shot them both looks of disgust.
Grant smiled. “Of course. I am sure the crew would love to see the lady I hauled onto my ship and straight to my own cabin last night. Beware of their curiosity, however. They are men who have been at sea far too long, without a woman's comfort. It would only be natural for them to wonder how their captain might have dealt with a woman such as yourself.”
“Well then, I shall remember to overlook their curiosity,” she spat back at him.
He turned to his manservant. “Eric, might you escort Mademoiselle Bellamont to the deck?”
The man nodded and murmured, “She is an outspoken lady, Maitre...”
Oui,” he agreed, and he loved it.
“Come, petite. I will show you about the ship. Perhaps you would like to meet the cook who prepared your breakfast?”
“Perhaps,” she replied and followed Eric out of the cabin.
The captain sighed. Yes, she was definitely outspoken. How had she contrived to be so when her uncle was no doubt a man who believed women were mere possessions? Indeed, he had heard rumors about Michel de Bellamont. He was a known businessman in town, and a shrewd one at that. The gentlemen who spoke of him shuddered often. One only wanted to be in good standing with the man. How had she survived, her beliefs clashing undoubtedly with her uncle's?
Fara would take him to task if she heard him say that. However, he didn't plan to hinder the person she was. He desired her and was quite amused with her strength of character as well.
* * * *
Fara was shown about the ship and gritted her teeth as Eric called her petite for the fourth time, no doubt referring to her size. “Why do you keep calling me that, Eric?”
He grinned. “It is not derogatory in any way, Mademoiselle. You are intriguing. I'm sure many men do not see you as you are. You are strong and self-willed, yet still small. Tis' a contradiction I see within you, petite.”
She nodded and decided he hadn't meant to insult her. “I would like to meet this cook of yours. He pleased my palette.”
Eric beamed. “I am glad. Come, petite. The galley is this way.”
After he had introduced her to the cook as well as many of the sailors on board, they paused by the railing on deck, overlooking the waters.
Eric passed her a look of uncertainty. “It surprises me you have not asked to leave or that your uncle did not demand your return last night.”
Confused that a man of his stature would converse with her in such a way, she stammered, “I-I as well. He is not usually that way. He is normally so protective of me. He is rather conservative.”
“I assumed he was, which is why I'm amazed you have not asked the captain to take you home.”
He was awfully forward for a valet. “I appreciate your concern. But, I do not see how it is your business.”
“Pardon me, Mademoiselle. I merely wondered.”
From his unwavering position, she could tell he and his master had a unique relationship, perhaps one of friendship more than servitude. Though Rosalie's actions toward her had always seemed maternal, deep down she'd always known it would not be proper to call her a friend. She envied that Grant Hill could be so open about the way he behaved with his manservant.
“I have never been very far from home or from town for that matter. When I was a child, I went to live with my uncle. My parents died at sea and since then, every moment of my life has been planned.” She sighed. “It is silly to say, but sometimes it is nice to do something out of the ordinary. I suppose mostly that is why I consented to your captain's actions.”
“I do hope he has treated you with kindness in my absence.”
“Do you doubt your master, Eric?”
“No, do not misunderstand me, Mademoiselle. It is simply that he has not been in the presence of a woman of your position and innocence for a very long time. Not to mention one of your beauty.”
Her cheeks warmed with embarrassment. For a servant, especially a man, to pay her such compliments was preposterous. She turned away.
“Well, he did what he had to in order to rescue me from those horrid men. I'm sure he told you of it. All in all, yes, he has been very respectful in my presence.” Very much like a gentleman, she added to herself. Or at least the way she wished she could be treated more often.
From what she knew of the man thus far, Grant Hill had protected her because he felt it was right. His actions weren't out of some social construction that demanded he behave a certain way. It wasn't as if he believed her somehow incapable.
In a way, and she didn't know how, she sensed it was otherwise.
She had never met anyone like that, willing to act on his own convictions even if he didn't happen to agree with society on the matter.
Her uncle was just the opposite. Appearance and self-preservation guided his every action. If he believed a certain decision would be viewed in a negative way, he would choose a different path. Everything he did, whether it was from a business agreement to what he would wear to dinner, was solely dependent on how other people would interpret it. It was a predictable lifestyle.
From the viewpoint of a captain or a sailor, it probably seemed very dull. While in the convent, she had often wondered if there was more to life than everyday devotions and attention to propriety. Now she could see an advantage to the spontaneity she often witnessed from children in rags playing out on the street, liberated by the lack of social constraints. Perhaps their lives weren't privileged, but they found contentment in other ways.
Though she'd always held tight to some beliefs despite social norms, she still felt she had been seeing the world through a glass bottle, somewhat distorted and hard to determine what realities were truths. Although she'd believed her reality was harsh, at least in the sense of marrying a complete stranger, there were much harsher realities for others.
Deep down, she'd always known her circumstances and fate were different from the servants in the house, but she'd always attributed it to her station.
After having known Grant Hill for more than twelve hours, she wondered if she'd been wrong to believe such. She had never considered any servant to be her equal though she treated every one with kindness. Now, as she examined the obvious respect Capitaine Hill held for Eric, and vice versa, which had surely been earned at some point, she acknowledged that her life had certainly taken a strange and sudden turn.
How long had she been so blind? Who had thought up the class divisions? Why did people accept them? What made one person so different from the next? Were they not all human?
She had never wanted to be some random man's wife; there had to be other options. Wasn't there something to look forward to besides marriage to a person of her own status? Looking across the deck at the crew, she felt compassion for them. Though each had adequate clothing, one could count a tattered appearance on every man. A pair of pants might be threadbare in places or most had patches sewn into the fabric for reinforcement. And every sailor was scruffy and dirty. She knew this was not uncommon on board a ship.
Even though they were all clothed, it was obvious they were used to living with less. Suddenly, she wanted to help somehow, if at least to improve their current condition. There was no doubt they were all used to working hard to get what they had. But, what if they were given access to a better education? Would their status still be the same or could they acquire a position like Capitaine Hill had earned?
It was a hard question. She was not used to thinking of others; it seemed there was such a thing as being too privileged. She knew what she had been pondering would not be proper to entertain openly. Her uncle wouldn't hear of it.
However, there was no harm in thinking.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to this kind of reflection,” she heard Eric observe.
She laughed, appalled that she had been silent that long. It wasn't often she had the time to reflect on anything. It was odd that she had felt free to do so aboard Grant's ship. “I'm sorry. I did not miss anything, did I?”
“Nothing important, Mademoiselle.”
“I am relieved to hear it. I do hope you are not disappointed.”
“Not at all.”
So it seemed he knew his place in several ways, yet still acted as more of a confidante to Grant Hill. It was a strange relationship. “How long have you been under the employ of your captain?”
He looked over at her, a wide-eyed look on his face. Then suddenly his lashes swept down, hiding whatever it was he wished her not to see. “It is a story that would most likely bore you, Mademoiselle.”
“I do not mind. I would like to know.” She knew little about Grant and clamored for more. It was also a widely known fact that most servants had a knack for tattling about their employers.
“I have worked for Capitaine Hill for many years, but I have been his friend for much longer.”
“Oh?” It wasn't often that a man chose a companion as his valet. “How did you meet then?”
“My master, at the time, was not the most honorable of men. He was a scoundrel to say the least. It is not as if I needed saving. I knew my way around the elements, but I served the man nonetheless. I knew my place. I was not supposed to question my master. The captain was in town often to trade and upon many occasions had called the man out about his treatment of us.
“You see, I wasn't the only one subjected to the man's wrath. There were women and children working under him as well. As you know, a man cannot be challenged based on his behavior toward his servants, but my master was not without his other vices. There was gambling and…” He stopped with a look of wariness as if suddenly aware of his audience.
“Debauchery of the worst kind. Capitaine Hill used every means he could think of to expose my master's true nature, and before long my master left town, his reputation effectively destroyed. And of course, a man without money cannot afford to pay his servants so we were left behind.”
“So you were indebted to the captain for his interference.”
“Perhaps, but there was more. He kept coming back around to see if conditions improved. He kept telling me he would help. He promised he would. And he did.”
“What happened after your master left?”
Capitaine Hill told me I could be a free man if I wished it. He could find a better position for me if I wanted it. I told him I had nothing to go back to. My family had all passed on years before and I couldn't see myself as a wealthy man, or apprenticing for a long period of time, or some such nonsense. I had no idea what I was suited for either. I had always served under someone. He said if I wished, I could shadow him for a while to see if anything caught my interest. There were many positions with the crew, or even in trade there were possibilities.
“On one occasion, the merchant we were dealing with tried to cheat us out of our share. He pulled a gun on Grant and would have killed him had I not intervened. Capitaine Hill would make me out to be the hero if he told it, but it was simple. He had become a good friend and I feared for his life. That's all.
“Afterward, he told me I'd earned all of his trust and respect and that I could leave if I truly wanted my freedom. For the first time in my life, I was allowed to choose for myself the kind of life I wished for. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I decided to stay though, and I don't regret it. I made my choice based on my own desires.
“When the captain gained greater status in society, he presented me with the option of being his valet. He said regrettably a gentleman must have an aide to do the things he'd rather do himself. Of course, a lot of things Capitaine Hill still does for himself. He defies society to a point always.”
She'd already noticed that about the man. “It is honorable that he allowed himself to befriend you as well.”
“There was more to it than it seems, petite. I like to think that fate had a hand in it, that destiny brought us to that point in time and forged the bond we now acknowledge as friendship, not unlike the same power that drew you and the captain to one another last night.”
“Oh, such idealism, Eric. Capitaine Hill was simply in the right place at the right time.”
He smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. “There are no accidents in life, Mademoiselle. Only fate.”
She did not reply, but part of her agreed with him. She had always believed in destiny, certain a stronger force existed that controlled the universe and its occurrences. Had something caused her to meet Grant Hill, or was it simply chance? She didn't know.
As the sun rose high, blessing her face with its splendor, she thought of the unbreakable bond of friendship she'd not only witnessed but heard Eric speak of in reference to his employer. What would it have been like if she had formed a true affinity with a servant in the same manner as Grant and Eric's?
Her relationship with Rosalie was the closest she had ever come to such a thing. Propriety and social awareness had prevented her from showing anything more.
She had felt more, much more for Rosalie. Indeed, she would describe it as something very akin to friendship, but she could not express such due to their different positions. Friends were made within the same social circles. That's how it was.
Deep down she knew otherwise. True emotions were not bound by social hierarchy but forged through connections. Eric and Grant had been lucky in forming such a bond. Custom might dictate that a person's title carry more importance than true and honest feelings. However, love -- either romantic or platonic -- wasn't subject to such custom. If love was real, it could not be broken. She'd always held out this hope for herself that no matter what happened, despite the obstacles, she would find that affinity with another human being. Love would prevail because it was beyond status, or pride, or anything people might use to deny it.
However abstract, love was infinite and she would find it. Of that, she knew.