Let's Be Together (book 4)
Let's Be Together (book 4)
Author: mariehiggins
One

Thieves came in many different forms.

Captain Barrington Braxton stepped to the side of his tent by the crates in the marketplace and folded his arms, his gaze zeroing in on the pretty little thief not far from him. He smoothed his finger and thumb along his mustache and beard as he arched an eyebrow in critical assessment of the thief. In his line of work, he knew the lovely crooks were the most dangerous. The girl was slim, and dressed in the plain brown rags the ruffians wore here in Selcuk, Turkey. Innocence was the expression on her face as she watched his shop.

Chuckling to himself, he shook his head. Apparently, she was a skilled performer as well to make herself appear innocent. Out of all the thieves he had run across in the five years he’d been in the trading business, not one of them could pull off the innocent act—but this one certainly acted as if she didn’t know what she was doing. Perhaps that was why she’d caught Barry’s attention so quickly.

However, he had to give her credit. She was good. At least her wide-eye expression of interest appeared sincere as she scoped out the expensive artifacts in his little tent-covered shop. But deep down in his gut, he knew something was not quite right about her.

The evening’s dim light didn’t allow him to see the color of her eyes, but they were certainly curious as they darted from person to person who stood at his tent, then to the items for sale. Her dark brown locks spilled from beneath the veil covering her hair, and tumbled over her shoulders. Strange, but her face wasn’t covered that well, either. Most of the women he’d seen in this foreign land had the lower halves of their faces covered with a veil, and all of their hair.

She moved from her spot near one of the wagons and slowly approached his tent. His crew had helped construct this shop as they sold their merchandise this past week. The servant’s stare switched to his first mate, Jeffrey Smithers, as the man explained to another buyer where they had purchased the Oriental vases and other rugs being sold.

Barry waited for the girl to make her move, anticipating the moment she’d try to be sneaky, yet she still acted as though she were more enthralled with his first mate’s tale than with stealing anything.

The girl stepped closer. Not more than three feet away from her was a ten-inch golden statue of Pegasus. If she tried to steal that expensive artifact, Barry would tackle her right in front of everyone. He crept away from the crates, nearing the girl just in case she slipped something of value beneath her long skirts.

A few more buyers gathered around Jeffrey, listening to his first mate’s extravagant storytelling. The thief continued moving closer as though mesmerized. Would she indeed steal it, or was it her purpose to knock the statue over and break it to just take a few pieces of the gold?

Barry wouldn’t let her carry on with this innocent act any longer. His costly statue was at stake. She was within reach, and he wouldn’t allow her to accomplish her goal.

Just as the girl leaned an inch closer to the statue, he grasped her upper arm and pulled her back. She gasped, stumbled, but quickly righted herself before looking up at him. Her head veil slipped down to her neck, displaying more of her glorious mane of dark brown hair. Her eyes appeared to be blue, and very frightened. Up this close, she didn’t resemble a girl any longer, but a beautiful young woman.

“Are you addled?” he asked. “Can you not see where you’re going?”

She remained silent; only her quick breath was heard. Her gaze traveled over his face, his eyes, his nose, then down to his groomed mustache and beard before her cheeks reddened. Her throat lurched in a swallow when she continued her exploration down to his chest.

Women had examined him like a prized horse before, but none so boldly. He rather liked her inspection until he realized she might be doing this to divert his attention from the matter at hand.

Perhaps she didn’t speak English. “Answer me,” he demanded in her country’s own language. “Or are you, indeed, addled?”

A spark of awareness snapped into her eyes—which he now could see were azure like the bluest body of water he’d ever sailed across—before she blinked a couple of times and lifted her gaze to his.

She shook her head. “I, sir, am not addled. I can hear and understand you very clearly,” she said in fluent English, sounding just as British as he was.

It wasn’t very often he met a servant who could speak two languages. “Then why are you staring at me like a person gone daft?”

She lifted her chin in defiance. With a tug of her arm, she tried pulling away, but he refused to let go.

“I assure you, I’m not daft. You surprised me, which is why I was speechless for a few moments.”

Barry grumbled and pointed to Pegasus. “You could have knocked over that expensive statue, and I’m certain you don’t have the funds to pay for it.” He slid his gaze over her servants’ attire before adding, “In fact, I’m certain your master cannot even afford anything I sell.”

“Forgive me. I didn’t see—”

“Obviously.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Next time, watch where you walk. Lurk around the shops your master can afford.”

She scrunched her face in a scowl. Defiance shown in her expression. Irritated, he pulled her forward, bringing her face closer to his. A soft scent of roses enveloped him. What’s this? A sweet-smelling thief? Impossible!

“Unless, of course, you were not going to pay for the item.”

She gasped again, her eyes growing wider. “How dare you insinuate—”

“Be forewarned, I’m watching you closely. You shall not steal from me. So go dally someplace else.”

Since he said what he’d wanted, he released her with a shove. She stumbled backward, but thankfully, not to cause destruction to nearby shops.

Feeling victorious, he turned to leave but was surprised when there was a tap on his shoulder. He swung around and met the persistent stance of the young woman, arms folded across her chest; her gaze held more authority this time. What was her game now?

“I beg your pardon, but it’s none of your concern where I choose to dally.”

Her words stunned him, mainly because they came from a servant. He wanted to grin, but refused to show the playful emotion. The petite woman was brave to challenge a man of his stature. He stood taller than any of his crew by a few inches, and he’d been a ship’s captain for five years. Strange that she’d want to defy him. He’d play along just to see how far she would take this.

“Indeed? It’s not my concern?” he asked, almost dumbfounded.

“Yes. And it’s none of your concern how much or how little you think my master has.”

Could his eyes open any wider? This female amazed him and left him speechless. Usually women in this country didn’t speak what was on their mind, especially in front of a man. Surprising, but this woman actually fascinated him. He waited for her to say more; curious to what would roll off her tongue next.

She tilted her head, keeping her gaze fixed on him. “Are you now the one who is addled? Is your voice not working?” She displayed a victorious grin.

He shook his head and stepped closer. “I’m not accustomed to women servants talking to me as if I’m beneath them. I thought women in this country were meek and obedient.” He grasped her arms, tightening his grip to make certain the little hellcat didn’t escape. “So I think you should take me now to your master so I can tell him about your disrespect for those above your station.”

Color left her face, leaving it ashen. She struggled in his hold. “Please, unhand me. I’m not your property.” The tone of her demand quaked slightly.

“Not until I talk to your master.”

“Please, release me.” Her words came soft, pleading. “I shall be obedient from now on.”

He wanted to laugh over her expression this time. Her eyes begged him to obey her wishes, her long, sooty lashes batting in a steady rhythm. She was very good at this. But he wouldn’t relent.

When she lowered her head and her shoulders wilted, he grinned. The battle was over. He almost wished she hadn’t given in so soon. Thinking he didn’t have to fight her any longer, he loosened his grip. Within seconds, her foot snaked out from underneath her long skirt and kicked him in the shin. Pain shot up his leg and he yelped. He released her to cradle his injured limb. The petite woman had more power to her kick than he would have imagined.

She darted past him. He reached out the grab her, but she was too fast. The little minx raced through the crowd, dodging people on her way.

Cursing, he started out after her, but his blasted limp slowed him down. He wasn’t an easy man to injure, but she must have known right where to kick his shin to make it burn so badly.

With each step, she ran further and farther away, darting in and out of tents, avoiding running into carts of fruit and vegetables for sale in the marketplace.

He followed her path, but soon he couldn’t see where she’d disappeared to. With a loud grumble, he leaned down and rubbed the spot still smarting from her strong foot. The woman had tricked him. Obviously, she’d done this sort of thing before. And what an attitude she had!

Without meaning to, he blurted out a laugh. The little minx. He’d get her next time—hoping there would be a next time. He and his crew would be leaving for England tomorrow, so perhaps he wouldn’t have the good fortune to see her again.

Shaking his head, he turned and made his way back to his shop. He’d have to admit, chasing the imp had been the most enjoyment he’d had so far this trip, but it was time to return home to assist his uncle with the family business. It was time to give up his one true love of sailing. Instead, he must become like his uncle, wearing fancy clothes and hobnobbing with the old chaps and acting like a successful businessman. Although he wasn’t exactly looking forward to attending balls and soirées and participating in an English gentleman’s lifestyle, he’d do it because it what was required of him.

Heavily, he sighed. There was no other choice. His father was dying, and the old man wanted Barry to work alongside his uncle once his father passed on. Barry had promised his father when he left five years ago to sail a ship and work in the trading business that he would get his love for sailing the world out of his blood and return home to fulfill his duty as firstborn son.

As he walked to his shop, Jeffrey stood talking with two of Turkey’s soldiers. Barry’s heart dropped. Had something happened? Was the young woman a decoy for the true thief? If so, he’d wring her neck—after he found her, of course.

When he neared, Jeffrey grinned and pointed to him. “This is the man you seek.”

Barry stopped abruptly. They are looking for me? He hoped he hadn’t done anything wrong. If he was mistakenly accused and thrown in a Turkish prison, he’d rot there for certain.

One of soldiers stepped forward. “Excuse me, sir, but are you Mr. Barrington Braxton, the son of Mr. Edward Braxton who lives in England?”

“Yes, I’m him.”

Both soldiers bowed in greeting. “We have come to issue you an invitation from the Governor of Turkey, Graham Lennox.”

“An invitation?” Barry shifted uncomfortably.

“The governor would like to invite you to his home to dine with him this evening.”

Barry’s breath caught in his throat. Dine with the governor? How very odd since he didn’t know him. “Yes, of course. I would be extremely honored to be his guest. I thank you for the invitation.”

“The governor would like us to escort you to his home.”

“If you don’t mind, I would like to clean up first.”

The soldier nodded. “We will return in an hour.”

“Again, I thank you. I shall be ready.”

The soldiers retreated to their horses, mounted, and rode off. Slowly, Barry shook his head as he watched their horses trot out of the city’s center. Why did the governor request his presence? Hopefully, he hadn’t done something wrong. If he’d broken a law, he certainly wouldn’t be going to dine with the man. So what was important enough to get invited for supper?

The questions swam through his head, but he’d discover the answers in an hour. Too bad he was an impatient man, because the wait would drive him mad.

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