Chapter Twenty Seven
Strands of my hair fluttered in the sea breeze as I waited for him aboard his ship. It was the first time I had ever actually sought him out since he’d left. Perhaps I should have gone to him when his siblings went missing, perhaps I should have offered him my shoulder in the way that he had done for me.
He opened the door to his study, his eyebrows flying almost to his hairline as he registered who it was standing on the deck of his ship.
I gave him a tired smile. “Hello, Carter.”
He quickly schooled his features, not allowing me to see exactly how he was feeling anymore. “What are you doing here? How did you get on board?”
“Those you’ve chosen to work alongside are not the brightest of the bunch. Might I come in?” I asked. “It’s rather cold out here, and as you can see, I am without so much as a shawl.”
He paused, taking in the fact that I was standing there in just a gown, my shoulders and arms bare, goosebumps jumping up all over my skin as another gust of wind blew over the deck. Silently, he stepped aside, allowing me in.
The room was smaller than his quarters back home, but considering he’d never been allowed to actually sleep in his quarters, perhaps these were better accommodations.
He closed the door, standing disconcertingly still. “What do you want, Elizabeth?”
I turned to him. “Do I have to want something in order to see one of my oldest friends?”
“Do not play games with me. I had tired of them long ago.”
I sighed. “I came here…to apologize.”
He didn’t say anything, just stared. It was unnerving. The Carter McLeod I had known had had an answer for everything. But this new Carter, this Captain, was uncharacteristically quiet.
I swallowed. “You had been my friend before I even knew what the word meant and in the past few years I have treated you as little more than an acquaintance. It was not right of me and I am sorry.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You risked your reputation and well being boarding a ship full of pirates in order to say you’re sorry?”
I picked at the skirt of my gown nervously. “Yes.”
He nodded, moving round me to sit in the chair behind a wooden desk. He began rummaging through papers, finding the one he wanted, and scribbling barely legible words over it.
I stared at the top of his head, unsure how to proceed. I wasn’t used to being ignored. “Carter, I—"
“Did you know it’s been four years?” he asked abruptly.
I blinked. “Four years?”
“Exactly four years ago today, my siblings vanished off the face of the earth. I have not heard their voices, I have not seen their face in four years.”
I dropped my hands away from my skirt. “I know.”
“Do you?” He looked up at me. “You know what today is, yet you thought this was the day—among all others—to pay me a visit and apologize?”
“I…” I shouldn’t have come. I had known that before I’d set foot on this ship.
“You may exit the way you came in,” he said, turning his attention back to the papers on his desk.
“You were right,” I blurted.
“Was I?” More scribbling.
I took a deep breath, going round the desk to stand beside him. “I ended the engagement.”
He glanced up at me with surprise, the first sign of emotion he’d shown since I came in. “You’ve not been married yet?”
“To James? Heavens, no!” I exclaimed, shaking my head. “No, no, after that night at that party…it seemed James didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. He and Gretchen had to be married not too long after. For a few years now, in fact.”
He blinked a few times before saying, “So you have come here, not only to apologize, but also to deliver me the town’s gossip?”
“No, Carter, I—"
“The door is behind you. Have a good life, Elizabeth Gallagher.”
I closed my eyes to keep my temper under control. He had every right to be angry with me and exploding on him now was possibly the worst idea ever conceived. When I was sure I wouldn’t scream at him, I knelt down so we were eye-to-eye, setting my hand on top of his forearm where it rested on the desk.
“The real reason I came here,” I whispered, “is to say goodbye. You won’t be seeing me again.”
I was struck by the brilliance of his hazel eyes when he turned them to me and I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from doing anything truly stupid.
“What do you mean?” he said, his voice washing over me.
“I mean that I am going away.”
“Going away? Going where?”
I smiled sadly. “It is better if you do not know. I just wanted to make sure I had everything in order before I left.”
His eyes darkened and he looked away from me. “Now that you’ve apologized, you feel better, do you? ”
I frowned. “Well, I—"
“I would ask that you ponder this as you flee from the perfect life that you have,” he said, his voice more heated than I could ever remember it being. “I have not thought of you as a friend of mine in a very long time. As a matter of fact, I have not thought of you at all. You have become the memory of a different man, one whose name I no longer respond to. The Carter McLeod you knew is dead. My name is Caspian Rogers, and I care not what a spoiled little rich girl wishes to do with her life.”
I stared at him with wide eyes. “Carter, I never—"
“What were you expecting from your visit here?” he demanded. “Did you think you would come here and utter a meaningless apology and I would fall at your feet?” He rose from his chair and I stumbled up to my full height, surprised to find that I was scared of this new angry Carter. He advanced on me and I took several quick steps away. “Did you think I would beg you not to leave? Perhaps you thought I would be relieved to hear you were not married to Lowrey. Perhaps you thought I would drop to one knee and humiliate myself by asking for your hand in marriage for a second time.”
My back hit the wall and I trembled as he came closer still, putting his face less than an inch away from mine, his voice huskier than before as he murmured, “Perhaps you hoped I would be so overjoyed to see you after so long that I would take you in my arms and confess my undying love for you. Perhaps you thought I would pull you close.” His hands landed on either side of me and I cringed.
“Perhaps you thought you’d come in my study,” he said as he leaned even closer, his breath searing my neck, “and I would pepper your flesh with kisses, that I would take advantage of the fact you are wearing a summer gown in the middle of autumn, that I would peal these clothes off—"
“No, Carter, I never would—"
“It was no secret that I had desired you,” he told me, his hands landing on my waist and pulling me against him. I leaned away, but it was no use. I was trapped. “I had wanted you with every fiber of my being. Every time I saw you all I had wanted was to feel your lips against mine. But that is not what you had wanted.”
I did want that, Carter, I did. But not like this, with barely contained rage vibrating in his voice.
“No,” he continued, “what you had wanted was the wealth and ease James Lowrey could give you. That was what you had wanted. And I stepped back and watched you get closer and closer to having it. Now you wish to run away from that life.” He put his lips against my ear and whispered, “But know this Elizabeth Gallagher. That warmth I felt for you existed in another lifetime. Now, when I look at you, I feel nothing.”
I jerked, the words like a slap in the face, tears actually welling in my eyes.
“Remember this wherever you go,” he said. “You are no one special to me. You are simply another enemy of the notorious Captain Caspian Rogers. That is all you have been for the past four years and that is all you will ever be in the years to come. And, what’s more, know this: I do not—will never—accept your apology. Should our paths cross in the future, allow me to offer this single piece of advice. Run.”
He pulled back to meet my tear filled gaze, his as blank as a corpse’s.
I shook my head and my voice was wobbly as I asked, “What has happened to you?”
He released me, grabbing the doorknob and jerking the door open. “Get out.”