From Chapter 7
To catch you up: Pippin has been sneaking Dash into the house she shares with her cousins in London, but their time together is putting them both in danger. This night becomes a portent of the events to come, events that will change their lives forever.
Dash sat peering into the basket and then glanced up at her. “You needn’t steal so much. What if someone notices?”
Pippin shook her head. “Mrs. Hutchinson . . . well, I fear she . . . ” She pantomimed tipping a bottle back.
Dash nodded. “Ah, she drinks, does she. Sad state to see a woman in. Sad for a man as well. Robs them of their wits and their life.”
“Well, she won’t notice if a bit of food goes missing.”
Dash dug into his pockets. “That was my sentiment exactly when I discovered this,” he said holding out a bundle in his handkerchief.
She took it and unfolded the cloth to find several squares of Turkish Delight inside. “Oh, Dash! You shouldn’t,” she said, but her protest hardly stopped her from eating a piece with relish. Then she paused mid-bite. “Did you really steal this?”
“Like I said, I don’t think the shop owner will notice a bit gone missing.” Then he cocked his head and stared at her. “What’s this? A bit of conscience from the lady living in a house she pinched right out from beneath the rightful heirs?”
“I suppose when you put it that way,” she said, looking down at the delicious bounty in her hands.
“Eat your treats, Circe. You’ve few of them in your life, from what you’ve told me.”
For when he hadn’t been filling her ears and heart with stories from the sea, she’d been filling him in on her life — so very dull in comparison—her mother’s death when she was just a girl, how her worldly cousins Felicity and Tally had joined her at Miss Emery’s after their diplomat father had determined they needed an “English” education after years of being educated by his mistresses.
There in the confines of Bath, Felicity and Tally had given Pippin hope for her future, what with their wild Continental manners and scandalous notions, that is until her father’s untimely demise had ended her first Season before it had even begun. Then worse yet, the realization that his estate was mortgaged to the hilt and the coffers emptied after years of gambling and ruinous behavior.
“Without Tally and Felicity, I don’t know what I would have done,” she’d confided to him. “I was so lonely before they came back to England. And then it was like we’d always been friends. Despite our lack of funds, our life isn’t so terrible. We have Aunt Minty to watch over us and Tally and I have our writing to keep us occupied.”
She certainly hadn’t meant to pour out her heart to him, such private matters that weren’t shared even with the dearest of friends, but he listened and coaxed her stories from her, listening to her recite her plays and short stories as if her ordinary scribblings were as magical as his extraordinary life at sea.
“The ice is thinning,” he announced after a few bites of biscuit.
“Already?” she whispered.
“Then you’ll be gone.” She shook her head. “But you promised, Dash. You promised me you’d teach me to be a proper pirate before you left.”
Dash laughed. “Ah, yes, your pirate lessons. How could I forget?”
“Yes, how could you?” she scolded, smiling at the same time. “Sailing, navigation, scuttling enemy ships, sword fighting, pillaging and the proper loading and shooting of cannons, I believe was our agreement.”
“And where do you propose we find a cannon?” he teased, his eyes alight.
Pippin shivered, for she loved that mischievous fire that illuminated his green eyes. “Hmm, finding a cannon might present a problem, but I’d agree to pillaging Almack’s for practice until a suitable twelve pounder could be found.”
He laughed, shaking his head at her proposition, but after a few moments he paused, glancing down at the floor. “I fear we will have to belay our lessons.”
“But Dash, you cannot leave,” she insisted, not even caring how it sounded.
“Aye. I must.” Then he looked up at her and grinned. “But not before I buy you a red silk dress.”
“A dress? For me?” Pippin had blushed at the notion. Unmarried ladies didn’t let gentlemen buy them clothes, unless… “Oh, I couldn’t wear it.”
“Why ever not?”
She laughed. “Because I don’t think red would suit me.” Nor would it be proper. No more than it was for her to be up here with him. Alone. Wearing only her night-rail.
He eyed her, a flash in his green eyes and a hooded expression that burned with a rare fire. “I disagree. I think you would be enchanting in red. You’d mesmerize every man who saw you.” He paused for a moment. “Then again, perhaps that wouldn’t be a good idea.”
She glanced at him. He’d changed his mind? “Why not?”
“For then,” he began slowly, “you would be swamped with offers and spending your nights with me would be poor fare in comparison.”
She waved her hand at him. “Oh, I’m hardly much of a catch.” Besides, her nights with him were all she’d ever wanted.
“Men have eyes beyond a lady’s purse, my love,” he said, his voice low and full of passion. “There are men enough in London, I would wager, who wouldn’t think twice of marrying you, penniless and as you are right now.” He paused, his hot gaze traveling from the hem of her plain yellow wrapper to the lacy neckline of her virginal white night-rail.
Oh, gracious heavens, he did desire her. He did.
“Dash, you are a terrible tease,” she said, waving him off, and hoping desperately he was one of those. The sort who could love her as she was. Poor and without a penny to her name.
But to her chagrin, he’d gone back to eating the fare she’d purloined. After a few bites, he asked, “How is it that meddlesome cousin of yours hasn’t found you a proper husband?”
Pippin groaned, and not from her lack of husband, but at the wretched word. Proper. “Not from lack of trying, let me tell you. She’s determined to marry me off to some dull earl, or at the very least, a viscount.”
“Poor, poor girl,” he said with a solemn tsk, tsk. “Nothing in your future but three square meals—without weevils I might note—and a solid roof over your head. I can see why you would find such an idea so utterly wretched.”
“You wouldn’t be so glib if it was your life,” she shot back.”I envy you, Captain Dashwell. Your freedom and your adventures. You wouldn’t marry just for money and position, as my cousin thinks is so important.” She paused for a second. “I’m trapped in this world without any hope of escape, naught but a dull future stretched out before me.”
He shook his head. “Don’t envy me, sweetheart. I most likely will end my days swinging from a hangman’s noose. In comparison that will make your dull earl look a prince.” He held out a piece of bread for her, but she waved him off, pointing at the Turkish Delight still remaining.
She gasped at the notion. “They won’t hang you, will they Dash?”
“Of course they will,” he told her.
“But after all you’ve done — for Temple and Mad Jack.”
“And I was paid for my services,” he reminded her.
Still Pippin persisted. “They would vouchsafe for you.”
He smiled at her. “They might have before …” His voice trailed off and he glanced toward the window. “But now?” He shrugged. “Two years of war changes things. We are enemies now.”
“Never say such a thing,” she told him vehemently, edging off her stool and coming to sit beside him on the cot. “I won’t let you be caught. You must stay free, you just must.”
He reached out and curled his hand beneath her chin. He held her like that for a moment, staring into her eyes as if the sight of them held more sustenance than the brown bread in his lap. “There is always a price for freedom, Circe,” he whispered. “Always.”
The word washed over her with a strange finality. It was as if it branded her future on her forehead. This man, her feelings for him, and dare she say it, her desire for him, were her ticket to freedom, but the price … the price of it could quite possibly destroy them both.