Chapter 12

M. Bedeau, the Charleston's cook, proved a surprisingly amiable host to what seemed to Victoria the greater part of the crew. She had seated herself, after her unobtrusive entrance, on one of the many barrels in the corner of the room and was observing their animated conversation, noting, after a while, that the men were all French. Émigrés? But so many on an English ship so soon after Napoleon's banishment?

She listened, her curiosity aroused, to each man recounting a tale of his home which, to her growing surprise, did not involve a daring escape from the over-turned country but were rather nostalgically recited stories of France in its 'jours glorieux.' In fact, judging from the impatient interruption made soon after one man had begun a tale from his childhood; these stories had been recycled several times before. A quarrel between both men seemed inevitable but the injured party, as well as everyone else, was soon quieted by some word the man in cynosure used. It was not French, Victoria's was flawless but it seemed to hold a great significance for every man. "Caldoux" or something it had been but she couldn't be sure she'd heard it correctly.

"Etes-vous sûr? Qui a dit ça?"

Bedeau had asked the questions and the man looked about to answer when someone gave a loud cough and directed them all to her person. She almost fell off the barrel in shock belatedly realizing that she shouldn't have understood a word that had been said as a blush crept up her face.

"Ne vous inquiétez pas, Jacques; Il ne comprend pas."

She hoped Jacques would accept that and stop looking at her so damned suspiciously.

"Je ne prendrai pas cette chance. Should you not be attending the captain, boy?"

It took her several moments to answer and when she did it was a stammered high pitched unintelligible thing that came out. She scrambled off the barrel to a rumbling of laughter from the Frenchmen. Stop acting so damnably nervous, Vi! They don't know you understood a thing they said.

"The captain wished for some solitude." Solitude? What cabin boy says 'solitude?' Well I haven't met many cabin boys thank you very much. She resisted the impulse to shake her head in an attempt to banish the voice refusing to give Jacques more reason for the frown that now seemed to be growing darker on his tanned face.

"But I should go and see if he wants anything." She said as she quickly made her way to the door.

"Be sure to come down for his dinner this time." Bedeau's words were said as she was leaving and she made a sound of assent before closing the door behind her.

She started to leave, ensuring that her steps would be heard by anyone who chose to listen for them and stopped only as she rounded a corner. As she expected, a head poked out of the door and checked the corridor before retreating.

She could feel her heart beating wildly as she, as quietly as she could manage, made her way back to the door. It's foolishness, you know. But it's so very exciting! Yes, of course, the excitement. The reason you're here? I came to help Angela. Yes, yes, you did. I really, really need to stop these conversations. She had reached the door and now leaned towards it slightly, not touching it but staying close enough to hear much of what was said within. She heard nothing of "Caldoux" but they seemed to be talking about the ships direction. Perhaps "Caldoux" is a place?

"Now why, I wonder, does it bother me that my cabin boy has a tendency to be exactly where he shouldn't?"

She stifled a cry as her arm was gripped in a biting hold and she found herself being led away from the kitchen.

"Why is that, Victor lad?"

The hold seemed to tighten and she wondered if he expected an answer. She glared at his inscrutable face and tried to tug herself free of his grip.

"Let go of my arm, Ardsley." She gritted out.

"No. I don't think I'm going to do that. You see, you and I are going to have long overdue conversation and I've never been fond of running after cabin boys."

"I won't run." She found it surprisingly hard to suppress a bubble of laughter at his words. Particularly as his eyes were glinting with that ferocious light they'd had on their first meeting on this ship.

"I'm glad to hear it." He was pulling her along at this point so she thought it wiser to concentrate on not tripping over something than to continue a strained argument.

His cabin reached, he shoved her inside and locked the door behind him.

"Sit." He was already walking towards a chair at the table.

"I'd prefer –

"And I still don't give a damn what you prefer, Miss Eden. Sit!"

She bristled involuntarily at his tone but acquiesced, glaring at him from across the table top. His face remained blank but his eyes were piercing and she had to force herself to hold his gaze. He crossed his arms, leaned back in the chair and asked, "Who are you, Miss Eden?"

"Well first of all, it isn't Miss Eden! I am Lady Victoria Aurelia Eden, Viscountess Ryding."

"So you're married." It wasn't a question.

"No, I'm not married; the title comes from my grandmother on my mother's side who refused to have it fall to any of the males in her family. She had a very low opinion of them. In any case the title was to fall to only the female members of her family. Of course, being male and unable to fathom this decision," She continued with a marked degree of scorn, "They wouldn't let her do it until she allowed that the land would be held by the eldest male relation until the female who held the title was to marry. Then it would be passed on to her husband. I suspect the only reason she compromised was because it was only their characters and not their business sense that she held in contempt. If that hadn't been the case, I would never have to marry at all."

"The bane of your existence, I presume." Far from taking offence at her condemnation of his entire sex, he found her tirade amusing and oddly endearing. Her cheeks had become flushed and her eyes sparkled.

"I didn't think you would understand, sir, but I thank you to keep your amusement to yourself." She snapped, daring him with her eyes to laugh. He wouldn't; he had just discounted the unsettling possibility that she was who he'd been searching for and was now prepared to discover at his leisure what lay beneath that diminutive figure.

"And why, Viscountess Ryding, are you here?"

She stared hard at him before looking down into her lap. She was biting at her lower lip, unconsciously, he supposed and seemed to be puzzling over the question.

That unsettling notion crept back but he refused to give it credit and waited. He would give her a chance to answer. That was, of course, if she intended to answer. A minute passed in silence before he prompted.


She didn't look up but uttered some faint something. And then she sniffed and then a tear. A blasted tear fell into her lap. He swore under his breath; he never could deal well with tears. Steeling himself, he said, "I didn't quite catch that."

She raised a tear stained, glaring face and all but shouted, "I said, I don't know! I don't know why I'm here. It was…it was…it's all so stupid. And now I'm here, going God knows where and no one knows I'm here and it…and it is all so horrible!" She buried her face in her hands which rested on the table and shook. She had hiccupped several times during the speech and waved her arms about and looked so utterly desolate that he felt a painful tug in his chest. She was either the best damn actress ever to leave Drury Lane or was completely serious. Either way, his instinct was to comfort her and against better judgment, he rose and came beside her, made her rise and taking the chair, pulled her down into his lap. She only rebelled against this handling for a while before letting him hold her. And then she didn't hold back her tears, they soaked his shirt front before she was reduced to sniffling. But even though at the moment she was very much like a child in his arms he could not suppress the stirrings her movements on him were causing.

She'd stopped crying for several minutes now but still had her face buried in his shirt. He could feel her warm breath on his chest and stiffened. As if sensing the change in him, Victoria looked up. And she was staring at his mouth. Why the devil was she staring at him like that? It compelled him to do stupid things. Like bending his head and taking her lips in his. He tasted them as well as the soft tang of her tears. He kissed her softly, almost pulling her up to meet him; she met his lips in their soft yet persistent sucking, reaching up to keep him from moving away. Her hands caressed his hair and urged him to continue his assault. His tongue thrust into her mouth and sought hers. She seemed to hesitate for a second before engaging in the battle he looked for. And then the kiss lost its softness and became a demanding force that assaulted her senses making her heart beat faster against his chest and causing a strange but exquisite discomfort to grow between her legs.


Lord Adrian Eden, Marquis of Fourding stared at the letter in bewildered anger; Victoria had really gone too far this time. She had left London? And for Chester? With only her maid as a chaperone?! It passed bounds! That she had tired of Dixon's attentions was no excuse for such reckless behavior. What if her aunt was not at home when she arrived? What if her coach experienced an accident and she was stranded on the road? And why Chester for heavens sake!?

But Victoria was not stupid, she no doubt planned this trip. That was it! She had planned it and Dixon offered the perfect excuse! But what did she want so far from England. There wasn't a village for ten miles around that old house. And he hadn't spoken to Augusta in years. Had Tory been corresponding? She was fond of the place. But why couldn't she have told him? He had never been unreasonable. That was what annoyed him the most; that she had sneaked off as though he would have forced her to stay had she but explained her desire to leave town. It really wasn't like Tory to leave like this…well perhaps it was…but that was one time in eighteen years that she hadn't told him what she was up to. The letter was most certainly hers…but why would she leave like this?

His mind went around the question several times before he decided he would write a letter expressing very seriously his wish that she return to London. Then it occurred to him that Chester was perhaps so far removed from everything that post might be an impossibility. He would go to Chester himself. He hadn't seen Augusta in years after all. He would go to Chester and say some very serious things to his daughter before bringing her back to London.

A/N:) Ahem…ok so I know I haven't updated in…a very long time but thank you all for the reviews and you may expect reviews for my other stories very soon. Love!


P.S: Please tell me what you think of the kiss. :)