It was an hour before dawn when the Mariner rounded the final bend before making its way slowly into the harbor of London. It had been a long wet voyage from the colonies with one storm after another plaguing them all the way. Half the fresh water supply had been lost overboard in a gale off the coast of the Carolinas, so it had to be rationed out to the displeasure of the crew.
Captain Christopher Steele sat at his desk going over the accounts from this last voyage. He had planned to turn the Mariner over to his half-brother Jeffrey as soon as they docked. He looked up when he heard the sound of his cabin door opening.
"We're just about ready to unload the cargo, Chris," Jeffrey said, cheerfully entering the cabin.
"Excellent, I've just finished going over the books, it looks like this will be a very prosperous trip despite the troubles we've had. Tell the crew there will be a bonus in it for them if they can get us unloaded by noon tomorrow."
"Are you sure you want to give up the Mariner, Chris? I just can't see you anywhere else but at the helm."
"Yes, I'm sure. It's about time I settled down and faced my responsibilities. With father dead, I must take my rightful place as the Marquis of Dartmoor."
"When are you leaving?"
"As soon as I can settle my affairs concerning the Mariner. "You better get top side and see to the unloading." As he watched his younger half-brother leave, he thought of how different they were.
Christopher was born to the Marquis and Lady Gwen who had died giving him life. As an only child growing up without a mother, he became a wild and rebellish youth. When Christopher was ten, his father's mistress Anne gave birth to a son, but because she was just a servant girl he would not wed her and make their son legitimate. The Marquis set them up in a small cottage on the estate and would visit them often. Jeffrey had the blue-black hair of the Steele's but he resembled his mother as well as having her easy going manner. He took the fact that he was illegitimate lightly and never let it intimidate him. Christopher on the other hand resented anyone who made a remark about his brother. He was always there to protect him and took him with him whenever he went off to sea as a privateer. They traveled around the world visiting exotic places. Christopher had bought the Mariner a number of years later and started a shipping business, trading goods between the colonies and England.
Christopher got up from his desk and stretched out his cramped fingers. "I guess I better pack up my gear," he murmured to himself. He glanced around his cabin, first at his sea chest and then to his bunk. How many years he'd spent here, he thought. He was going to sorely miss the sea with the wind and sea spray blowing across his brow for he would stand on the deck for hour on end. He had known he was going to have to give it up some day but he had never expected it to be this soon.
It was well past the noon hour when Christopher finally emerged from his cabin. The deck was a flurry of activity as the crew unloaded the cargo from the hole. Fat merchants waited in anticipation while the newly arrived goods were been lowered to the dock.
Jeffrey stood on the forecastle shouting out orders.
"Well Captain," Christopher said, when he approached. "She's all yours! Are you going to join me in London when she's unloaded?"
"Maybe, I haven't made any plans of yet." Jeffrey then smiled sheepishly at his brother for a moment before he asked. "Are you going to visit Cassandra while you're in London?"
"Hell no! Why would I want to visit that bitch!"
"Well, we've been at sea for several months, I just thought...."
"I can find a little friendlier piece to warm my bed than her!"
"Don't get mad at me, I just asked."
Christopher clasped Jeffrey's hand as they stared at each other in a knowing way. "Take good care of the Mariner Jeff."
As Christopher disembarked, he turned and took one final look at the Mariner, knowing his days as a sea captain were over.
Lord Thomas Denham sat at his desk going over the monthly accounts when Andrew entered and announced a visitor wished to speak with him.
"Well, show him in!" Lord Thomas said, laying his pen down and stretching back against his chair, welcoming the distraction. "Christopher! You were the last person on earth I expected to walk through that door. How long has it been, two years, three maybe?"
Christopher's long stride had him across the room before Lord Thomas could hardly rise from his desk. The two men clasped each other in a warm embrace.
"I sent you a letter but didn't know if you got it or not."
"Yes, I received it."
"I'm sorry about the death of your father, Christopher. He was a good man. Now you're the new Marquis of Dartmoor."
"That's why I'm here. I came to inform you that I gave the Mariner to my brother, Jeffrey and I'm ready to take up residency in Dartmoor, on my father's estate."
Lord Thomas motioned for Christopher to sit across from him in the leather bound chair in front of the fireplace.
Lady Margaret burst through the doors. "Why didn't you tell me my favorite nephew was here? I had to hear it from the servants! Christopher, you're as handsome as ever!"
Christopher stood up when his father's sister flew into his arms.
"Are you going to stay in London for the season?"
"No, I'm going to Dartmoor as soon as I settle my affairs in London."
"Well it's about time you came back. You must stay in London at least for Michele's debut ball."
"You know how much I hate balls, Aunt Margaret."
"But this one's for Michele, you must stay. Dartmoor has gone this long without you, a little longer won't hurt."
"I'll go tell cook to set another plate for lunch. Michele took your father's death hard. They were very close you know. Her debut has snapped her back into her old self again. I do hope you can stay."
Andrew entered and announced that lunch had been served. They followed him into the dining room. A beautiful young lady was waiting for them there.
"Cousin Christopher, mother said you were here. Please sit next to me so you can tell me all about America."
"Michele, my you've grown up to be such a lovely young lady. I hardly recognize you."
Michele blushed at his compliment. "Come and sit, lunch is getting cold. What's it like to sail on a ship, are there really red savages in America? Do they really cut people's hair off?"
"Michele!" Lady Margaret scolded. "Such questions to ask, especially at the dining table!"
"I'm sorry mother, but I have heard such stories. I just wanted to know if they were true or not."
Christopher laughed as he watched Michele's mouth form into a pout. "Yes, they do cut people's hair off," he replied, nonchalantly.
"Christopher, you're as bad as she is!"
The rest of lunch was uneventful with small talk about the upcoming ball. Christopher excused himself and made his way back to his townhouse. It was dark by the time he got settled in. He tossed his jacket on the four poster, oak bed and lit a cheroot.
Charlie entered his master's bedroom finding him sprawled out across the bed. He shook his head and began pulling his boots off.
"Who the hell...."
"It's me sir, Charlie! I was just trying to put you to bed."
"I can manage, I'm not some sniffy nose kid that has to be tucked into bed by the likes of you! I've decided to go to Dartmoor in the morning, so be prepared to leave at first light. Send my regrets to my uncle declining the invitation to Michele's ball, tell him I have pressing matters at Dartmoor. He'll understand."
"Damn it Charlie! Why didn't you wake me? I told you I wanted to leave at first light!"
"But, but sir...."
"No excuses, I want to leave within the hour. So get going!"
Charlie scampered around the room gathering the disarray of his masters' clothes from the night before.
"Go bring me up some breakfast and answer that confounded doorbell! Who would be calling at such an early hour as this?" Christopher was pulling on his boots when Charles came back in.
"Sir, there's a lady at the door wishing to speak to you but she wouldn't tell me her name. She said you would be most anxious to see her. I asked her to wait in the study for you."
"Tell her I'll be right down. Damn it, all I need is a visitor right now!"
Christopher opened the study doors and stopped dead in his tracks. "Cassandra! What the hell are you doing here?"
"Darling, I heard you were back from America and I just had to see you." In seconds Cassandra had her arms around Christopher holding him in a bear like embrace. He could see her breasts pressing hard against his chest, aching to be released from the confines of her bodice. Painful memories came flooding back as Christopher closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of how things had been between them. Mistaking his expression for one of desire, Cassandra began moving her hips in a rhythmic motion against his. Feeling his desire beginning to grow, she slowly moved his hands in a caressing manner over her voluptuous body until they reached her silky, white breasts. Her nipples were now hard and ready for his lips and tongue to tantalize them and to satisfy the urgent need to quench the desire that burned inside her. She moaned when Christopher began unbuttoning her bodice.
"Oh Christopher, Christopher, I have dreamed about us the whole time you were gone. But you're back for good now and we can start all over again, forget the little love spat we had. We love each other, desire each other...."
Christopher's mind snapped back. "What are you doing bitch?" He spat and pushed her away from him. Cassandra stumbled back in total surprise, grasping her now open bodice.
"It's over between us Cassandra, over!"
"But we were so good together once and can be again, only you can give me such pleasure Christopher, no one is your match in bed, no one!" Cassandra said, and took a step forward letting her bodice fall open for him to see. She couldn't believe he could resist her beauty.
"Yes, we've had our good times together Cassandra, and I did enjoy your body, but I want more out of a relationship then you're capable of giving. You're a cold hearted selfish bitch and I'm tired of you. I thought we had settled all of this before I left!"
"I thought you were playing a wicked little game with me, Christopher. I couldn't believe you were really serious." She said, with an innocent grin.
"Well believe it now, Cassandra. I don't play games. I only play for keeps!" He shouted. "I'm leaving London for Dartmoor immediately so I would appreciate it if you would leave my house, now!"
"You've got to be joking, Christopher. You can't tell me that you're really going to stay at Dartmoor!" Cassandra snickered before she threw back her head and laughed cynically at Christopher.
""Laugh all you want my dear, but do it somewhere else. Oh by the way, didn't I hear you're married again?" Christopher sneered.
"Well, yes but a lonely widow can't survive long in this town, and it wouldn't make any difference anyway, because he's just a sick old man."
"Goodbye Cassandra." Christopher said, and escorted her roughly out the front door of his townhouse.
Cassandra stared at the closed door in amazement. How could he do this to her, of all people! "Well, I'll get even with you Christopher. You just wait and see!"
Christopher was in his study where he poured himself a snifter of brandy and sat down at his desk. Leaning his chair he propped his feet up across the top of the desk and pondered the distasteful encounter he had just had with Cassandra. "The audacity of that woman; she never ceases to amaze me," he thought.
"Your brother Mr. Jeffrey is here sir, and wishes to speak with you," Charlie informed his master from the doorway.
"Well, show him in. Since when do we stand on formality with Jeffrey? This is the family townhouse and he is part of this family!" Christopher snapped, coming upright in his chair. "Damn it to hell! Even the servants tend to treat Jeffrey dishonorably."
Jeffrey strolled into the study with his easy going manner and handed Christopher the final accounting of their last voyage. "Even with paying the crew a healthy bonus, this has been the most successful trip yet," he said, with a smile on his face, helping himself to a drink. "With what you made on this trip, you could live very comfortably for a long time Christopher, even with paying me my percentage."
"Trading with America has become very prosperous these days, Jeffrey. You would be wise to center all your trade with them.
"I plan to." Jeffrey said and pulled up a chair to make himself more comfortable.
"I stopped by the lawyer's office yesterday after seeing Uncle Thomas and had the deed to the Mariner transferred into your name, so it's all legal now."
"I appreciate it, Christopher," he said, looking at his brother with affection. "Are you going to Michele's ball tonight?"
"No, I was going to leave for Dartmoor this morning but I was delayed by a visit from Cassandra." Christopher said with contempt very apparent in his voice.
"Cassandra! That must have been an interesting encounter. I'm sorry I missed it," Jeffrey said with a chuckle.
"Well, I sent her packing in anything but a gentlemanly fashion!"
"Now I'm really sorry I missed it!" Jeffrey said, laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair.
"I'm glad I've amused you so much!" Christopher grumbled.
The two brothers sat in deep conversation for hours before Jeffrey took his leave. Nothing the lateness of the hour, Christopher swore under his breath. So much for getting an early start to Dartmoor. He went upstairs to change his clothes deciding to make an appearance at Michele's ball before departing London.
There was a flourish of activity at the Regency Hall as the Denham's began greeting their guests who had already started to arrive. A countless number of carriages were lined up outside with anxious families' dressed in all their finery waiting to disembark at one of the most prestigious balls of the season. The Honorable Michele Denham stood next to her parents, Lord Thomas and Lady Margaret in the reception line as the many names and faces started to become a blur to her. "I do wish someone I know would hurry and show up soon," she whispered to her mother. "Do I have to stand here all night?"
"No, no only until most everyone arrives." Lady Margaret explained to her daughter and patted her on the shoulder. "I know this gets very tiresome after a while, but it is your ball Michele," she said, with a sympathetic voice.
Michele looked up with a smile when she saw her Cousin Jeffrey Steele coming toward her. "Oh Jeffrey, I'm so glad you could come!" She exclaimed and threw her arms around him to give him a big hug. "But I am disappointed that Christopher won't be here, even though he scares me a little."
"How could he scare you, you've known him ever since you've been born!"
"Well, I don't know why I feel like this, he's always been nice to me. It's just something about him. I don't know. Maybe it's because he always gets what he wants no matter who or what stands in his way."
"You know that Christopher thinks he has an urgent need to get to Dartmoor right away, that's the only reason he's not here tonight." Jeffrey stated, not wanting to talk about his brother all night. "May I have the honor of the first dance with you, cousin?"
"I would be honored, sir." Michele say coyly when she felt him raise her hand to his lips.
The orchestra began the first waltz of the evening and Jeffrey asked his Aunt Margaret if he could steal her daughter away for the first dance.
Nodding her head with approval, she watched Jeffrey sweep Michele onto the dance floor. Lady Margaret thought back to the day when Michele first came into her life. With not being able to have any children of her own, she never dreamed that she would ever be a mother, not until the day her husband came home with a beautiful baby girl. It was his sister's child born out of wedlock and her dying wish was that her child grow up without shame. Knowing his wife was barren, Lord Thomas honored his sister's last request and made her child his own.
As the Grey's entered the Regency Hall, they were amazed at the mass of people that were there.
"Squire Grey, I'm so glad you could attend my daughter's ball, it's been such a long time since I've seen you last." Lord Thomas said, when he greeted his late arriving guests.
"I'm so sorry we're late, but you know how women are, they take forever in getting ready!" Squire Grey laughed. Cassandra shot her husband daggers at his comment. "Look Robert," she said sweetly, "the dancing has already begun; shall we?"
"Of course my dear, anything you wish." They excused themselves from Lord Thomas and made their way to the dance floor leaving Kathryn by the refreshment table to stand alone. She gazed in awe at the colorful display of the dresses waltzing by. Every shade imaginable was present in some pattern or design.
"Good evening, my dear Kathryn." Roger cooed, as he walked up beside her. Kathryn turned with a look of shock on her face when she recognized the voice that was speaking to her. "Good evening, Lord Chatsworth," she stammered uneasily.
Roger escorted Kathryn to the dance floor just in time for another waltz to begin. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against him, a little too close, Kathryn thought. He began moving her around the floor with a rhythmic timing to the music. Kathryn stiffened with each turn for she could feel Roger's breath on her neck.
"Relax Kathryn and enjoy it. I am an excellent dancer if I do say so myself," he whispered in her ear. As the waltz came to an end, Kathryn spotted her best friend, Roxanne at the other end of the room speaking with another young lady. She hastily excused herself from Lord Chatsworth and made her way through the dancers to where her friend was.
"Kathryn, you look like you've seen a ghost?" Roxanne exclaimed when she saw her friend's wild expression of fear. "Maybe you should sit down for a little while and then you can tell me what has gotten you so upset."
"Oh Roxanne, Lord Chatsworth is here, he made me dance with him. His every touch makes my skin crawl!"
"The Earl of Somerset danced with you?" Roxanne asked, incredibly.
"Yes, what am I to do, Roxanne?"
"I guess you'll just have to bite your tongue and bear it if he wishes to dance with you again. He is a very powerful man, Kathryn, and not one to make an enemy of," she said, after reviewing the situation.
Kathryn scanned the room and saw no sign of the Earl. She sighed with relief and turned back to her friend. "Maybe I'm just being a silly goose, Roxanne." She laughed. "He's probably left already and I'm worrying over nothing because I don't see him anymore." Kathryn noticed for the first time the girl Roxanne had been talking with was staring at her with dismay. "I'm sorry we haven't been introduced yet, I'm Kathryn Grey, daughter of Squire Grey, and you are?
"Michele Denham, daughter of Lord and Lady Thomas Denham. I'm glad to make your acquaintance," she said with a smile. The ball continued for what seem hours for the three young women as they danced every waltz with all the eligible young men that were in attendance. Kathryn's feet ached so she declined a dance with a very handsome gentleman and decided to get some fresh air out in the gardens. She never did like being indoors for very long. Passing through the double French doors, she came out onto a balcony that overlooked the gardens. On one side of the balcony was a staircase that lead her to the next tier. Along the path she took were rows of various colored rose bushes, and when she continued down the path she could smell their sweet fragrances. The pathway finally ended at a beautiful gazebo made in an oriental design and covered in a white lattice. Kathryn entered and sat down on one of the soft, muslin cushions that were placed over the benches along the inside edge of the gazebo. Leaning back with her eyes closed, she took in all the wondrous aromas that filled the air. "What a peaceful place," she thought.
Roger stared at Kathryn in her dreamlike state while his eyes took in the way the moonlight glistened through her hair, a few tiny ringlets dangled at the sides of her face needing to be brushed away. His eyes moved lower where they settled on her firm ripe breasts, yearning to be freed from the bodice of her ball gown. Roger licked his lips in anticipation of what pleasures she could give him.
Kathryn felt a pair of eyes on her and came fully awake. "Lord Chatsworth, what are you doing out here?" She stammered and hastily stood up, ready to flee if need be.
"I have something to tell you, my dear. I had a long conversation with your father this evening and we have both decided that you will marry me," he stated, taking her into his arms. "Now I want to sample a few of your charms before we're wed!"
Kathryn gasped with horror and pulled away from him. "You must be mad, I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man on earth!" She spat back at him. "Whatever made you think I would consent to such a proposal?"
"You will agree my dear, because your father is almost broke and you don't want to see him go to debtor's prison do you?"
Before Kathryn realized what was happening, Roger grabbed her and pulled her out onto the lawn. He slapped her hard across the face leaving her slightly stunned while she stared at him in disbelief.
"You will wed me my dear, however distasteful you might think it will be!" Roger drooled, as he pinned Kathryn on the ground and held her arms above her head. He began tearing at her bodice anxious now to free her breasts.
"No!" Kathryn screamed before his mouth came down on hers to muffle her protests and his hand began caressing her soft, young breasts. Kathryn squirmed trying to break free from this madman. His mouth started to move down her neck but he felt an arm come around his throat in a vise like grip, pulling him off of Kathryn.
"The lady doesn't seem too cooperative with your advances. As a matter of fact, it looks more like rape than love-making to me!" Jeffrey said, with disgust.
"This is none of your affair you insolent young pup!"
"Well, I'm making it my affair, so unless you want me to report this to the authorities, I would suggest you leave the young lady alone and get the hell out of here!" Jeffrey retorted before helping Kathryn to her feet.
"I won't forget this young man, and you will rue this day, I promise!" Roger spat, brushing himself off and stomping across the grounds.
Kathryn held her torn bodice together with one hand and tried to fix her disheveled appearance with the other.
"It's fortunate for you Jeffrey and I decided to take a walk in the gardens or else...." Michele uttered when she stepped out from the shadows. Taking in her torn dress, Michele removed her wrap and placed it over Kathryn's shoulders.
"I don't know how to thank you both for saving me from a fate worse than death," Kathryn murmured before they made their way back to the ballroom.
"Michele, I really don't want my parents to see me like this, so would it be possible for you to call me a public carriage?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I'll take you home in my coach!" Jeffrey declared.
"Thank you very much for everything," Kathryn said, before leaving with Jeffrey.
"I'll tell your parents that you didn't feel well and have gone home for the evening." Michele said, as she made her goodbyes to her new found friend.
Christopher saw Cassandra sipping punch by the refreshment table speaking to an older gentleman and he didn't want her to make a scene here at the ball so he decided this would be a good time as any to make his departure. He walked over to the front entrance and had the servant there fetch his cloak. He had just thrown it over his shoulders when he saw Michele standing alone against the wall.
"Michele, are you alright?" Has something happened to upset you?" Christopher asked, worriedly. Michele related the incident that had just happened out in the gardens causing him to scowl deeply.
"... so Jeffrey took this Miss Kathryn Grey home, you say?"
"Yes, it was very gentlemanly of him to do so," she said proudly.
Hum. Well I wonder what had attracted Roger to her with such violence. I don't know the lady personally, but I am a little curious though." Christopher said before he gave Michele a slight kiss on her cheek and left the ball.