Every muscle in Marcus’ body ached when he breathed. It especially hurt to open his eyes. He hadn’t consumed so much alcohol before that it had caused such an ill effect on him. The sun peeked in through his window, making him squint. What time of the day was it? Looked to be somewhere near the noon hour. Why did he sleep so long? There was much to do.
Then he remembered Isabelle, the kiss, and the moment she thrust the dagger between his ribs. It took much effort to lift his throbbing head to glance at his wound, so instead, he moved his hands to the bandage wrapped around him. Apparently, he wasn’t dead, especially if his body screamed in pain.
Where was Isabelle? Did his men know she’d tried to kill him?
He groaned and turned his head on the pillow. The table where they’d had dinner still stood with dishes on top—minus the food. One chair lay on the ground.
Why had she wanted him dead? The way she’d melted in his arms let him know she enjoyed his kiss. But what had she said before he blacked out? Something about not meaning to? The more he thought about her words, the more he was convinced she blamed him.
The pulsation in his head intensified, and he lifted his hand to rub his temple. A goose egg size bump rose on his skull. Why couldn’t he remember everything that had happened? He did, however, recall she’d confessed her knowledge about her father’s death. If she knew he’d killed her father, why had she pretended to be someone else? Obviously, she wanted to gain his trust, which he foolishly gave.
The door creaked open and he moved his attention to the visitor. Simon carried in a tray of food. When the crewmember looked at Marcus, the man’s eyes widened.
“You’re awake now,” Simon cheered.
Marcus nodded. “That, I am, although I wish I wasn’t.”
“We thought you weren’t going to make it, Captain.” Simon placed the tray on the bed beside Marcus. “For days we waited patiently—”
“Did you say days?”
“Indeed. You’ve been in and out of consciousness for three days.”
Marcus swiped shaky fingers through his grimy strands, and the proof of his unwashed hair was a testament to Simon’s words.
“This is the first time you’ve been awake enough to eat.”
Simon helped him to an upright position as the crewmember fluffed pillows behind Marcus’ back. “I tell you, we’ve never been so worried in our lives.”
“I appreciate everyone’s concern.” Steam from the broth rose to his nose, making the mere soup smell like a king’s meal. His stomach grumbled. “Tell me, where is Miss Stanley?”
Simon’s expression darkened into a scowl. “We wanted to string her from her toenails and hang her from a tree, leaving her for the bears and wolves to feast upon. If it weren’t for Gabe—”
“You knew she stabbed me?”
“Aye, Captain. Theo caught her right after she’d done the deed and locked her in the empty room.” Simon motioned his head in the direction. “She’s been there ever since.”
“Are you feeding her?”
“Only mere scraps, Sir. Why should we waste our good food on someone we’re just going to kill?”
Although Marcus wanted to wring the woman’s slender neck for what she’d done, his gut clenched from the thought of her half starved. He didn’t know what kind of punishment to issue. Killing her was out of the question, not without fulfilling his thirst for revenge against her father.
“Simon, feed her the same thing you’re giving the other prisoners. On second thought, give her more. We need to fatten her up a bit.”
“Don’t argue with me. My mind is made up.”
“Aye, Sir.” Simon turned and walked toward the door.
“One more thing,” Marcus called out.
“Send Gabe in as soon as possible.”
Simon walked out of the room and shut the door. Marcus lifted the bowl of broth to his lips and sipped. The broth coated his stomach, making him hungry for more.
He moved his attention around the room once more. The place was a disaster. Clothes scattered everywhere. Bloodied bandages discarded on the floor in a pile as if whoever put them there didn’t think to dispose of them. Dishes from three days ago still sat on the table. Since his serving boy had died, Marcus had hired a twelve-year-old from the orphanage to do the duties of the powder monkey. Now that they were on land, Marcus had the lad help clean rooms. Unfortunately, David, the cook, had Monkey occupied of late. Marcus didn’t have time to find another boy to clean his room. Now he wished he had, only because he didn’t want to have to look at this mess until he was strong enough to clean it himself.
As the broth filled his empty stomach, ideas consumed his mind. He leaned back against the pillows and grinned. Actually, he did have a cabin boy…or girl. Didn’t matter what her gender, Miss Stanhope would clean his room and take care of him as he recovered. She wouldn’t enjoy it, but the punishment fit the crime.
He’d issue commands as if she were one of his crew members. She’d want to lash her vicious tongue at him, of course, but he’d scorn her for that, too. Schemes raced through his head, making him smile wider. The first order of business would be giving him a bath in his hip tub. Hopefully, he’d be strong enough to walk to and from the bath without difficulty.
The knock on the door brought him out of his daydreams. Gabe strode inside.
“I must say, Captain, you look remarkably better than you have of late. There’s more color in your face.”
Marcus nodded. “Simon tells me I almost died.”
“We thought you had a couple of times. Your physician stayed by your side night and day until he was certain you would live. You lost a lot of blood, and we feared the worst.”
“Thankfully, I have one of the best physicians in Devon.”
“Indeed you do.” Gabe stepped closer. “Simon said you wanted to see me, Sir.”
Marcus drank the last of his broth and put the bowl down. “Did you find anything more on the stagecoach?”
“We went through all the trunks, and found nothing. We stripped every board and cushion off the conveyance, and still nothing. I’m now beginning to wonder if the information we received was false.”
“I’m starting to wonder the same thing. I think I should threaten the prisoners again. If one of them is keeping this information from me, they may not live to see the next day.”
“Splendid idea.” Gabe nodded. “But wait until you are stronger.”
“I will.” Marcus carefully rubbed his bandaged wound. “But I know a way to recover from my injury quickly.”
“You do? How?”
Marcus grinned wide. “I’ll have a pretty little nursemaid attending me during the remainder of our journey.”
Gabe gasped. “You must be jesting. She tried to kill you.”
“I’m actually very serious. The punishment is perfect for her, don’t you think? It may just teach her humility. Besides, you or one of the others can stand outside my room in case I need you.”
His friend snickered. “I’d never thought of that, but you’re right, Captain.”
“I instructed Simon to feed her properly. After all, she needs to gain strength to be my cabin boy, correct?”
“Also, I would like you to prepare a bath for her. I want a clean smelling woman in my room if she’s going to be nursing me back to health.” He pointed to his tub. “She can use mine this time.”
“Aye, Sir.” Gabe’s hearty laugh echoed through the hallways when he left the room.
Marcus smiled to himself, pleased with his decision. Now he couldn’t wait until she started her punishment.
Isabelle’s head pounded and her stomach growled. For three days she’d stayed trapped in a room with no light, lying on a cot layered in dust. At least she assumed three days had lapsed. Time was near impossible to gauge. Particles from the air tickled her nose, and she sneezed. Groaning, she held her throbbing head and opened her eyes. A small glow peeked from under the door and gave her minimal light.Slowly, she pulled herself up to sit on the edge of the small cot. She rubbed the bruise on her jaw, the spot where the barbarian had struck her before she passed out that first night. Why hadn’t they come to take her away yet? Why were they prolonging her death?Voices in the hallway grew loud. So did the rush of footsteps.
If not for the intense pain in Marcus’ chest where she’d stabbed him, he would be thoroughly enjoying this moment right now. Isabelle was quite lovely in her gown. The color looked exceptional on her, but then red fit the character of a she-devil perfectly. Although, it was her hair that had him mesmerized. Obviously, she needed a brush, but with her wild sandy waves flowing over her shoulders, she looked young and innocent. It was a good thing he knew better.As her expression turned from fright to undecided, a thought struck him. His punishment would be torture for him, too. Having her work in his room looking this alluring, knowing he couldn’t touch her would nearly kill him.He glanced at his friend. Gabe stood by the door in c
Marcus awoke with the sun, blinking as he rolled to his side. Pain speared through him and he cradled his wound and slowly adjusted onto his back, hissing. His physician had given instructions to rest without any big movements, but Marcus just couldn’t obey. There was way too much for him to do.Beginning today, he would have a new servant. How could he lay still at a time like this?Marcus had been anxious for the new day to start and lain awake most of the night, waiting for the sun to arise. He didn’t know how he’d treat Isabelle, whether to order her around like a slave or give gentle words of encouragement. He enjoyed their verbal swordplay, and if she were truly frightened of him, she wouldn’t have such a spirited tempe
Isabelle couldn’t breathe. For the life of her, she couldn’t even move off the bed. Hawk’s tenderness and kindness surprised her. She was his prisoner, and yet he promised to assist her. Indeed, he could have killed her by now and not had a second thought about it.She should thank him, even as no more than a means of self-preservation, but with a kiss? She couldn’t possibly put her mouth on his again. Not after memories of the other evening invaded her senses every minute of the day, only growing worse now.If she did bestow a kiss upon him, would he want more? Would he trap her in his embrace and not let her go since they were on his bed? She glanced to his bandages. Hopefully, he was as weak as he’d been yesterday. W
While the captain slept, Isabelle ate her morning meal in the kitchen with Gabe present. The man didn’t say much, but at least he watched to make certain no other man touched her improperly. Once she finished eating, she cleaned up the broken dishes in the hallway where she’d thrown them at Simon, and then she volunteered to help in the kitchen. She needed to keep busy so that she wouldn’t think about what Hawk had done for her today. More importantly, her thoughts turned to what he required of her when he awoke. Unfortunately, the cook didn’t need her help for long, and she wandered into a large room that she assumed was the parlor. Gabe kept his eyes on her, his towering height not frightening her any longer.“Pardon
Isabelle kept her eyes on the lad in the laundry room as he instructed her on how to clean Hawk’s clothes. The boy’s scraggly appearance tugged at her heart, yet he smiled as he taught her about the laundry, not seeming to mind how he looked.Although she tried to listen carefully, her mind wandered back to the captain’s bath and how understanding he’d been. Several times she had to remind herself that he was a highwayman. Yet he certainly didn’t act like one when they were alone.Her thoughts came back to what she was doing as the boy dunked a shirt in the water.“Then, ye take the shirt like this and scrub it up and down. Do ye s
Turbulent thoughts filled Marcus’ head the rest of the afternoon. Isabelle remained in his mind even though she wasn’t in the room. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her eyes glistening with tears of gratitude. His lips still tingled from the memory of her brief, but earth-moving kiss, and his arms still ached to hold her.Isabelle would be here any moment with his dinner. Earlier, he’d sent word to the cook to have her bring two dinners so she could eat with him.Now he wanted to say things that would make her happy. Perhaps he’d ask about her aunt and uncle. He wanted to know more about what made Isabelle the kind of woman she was, especially since she had such a rotten example in a father. Strange thing was she didn&rs
Isabelle couldn’t stop the smile stretching her mouth. Slowly, she was making Hawk fall in love with her. She knew it by his darkened eyes and by his lazy smile whenever he stared at her. She also knew it by his kind words and gentle touch. Before he released her as his prisoner, she must make him realize how he couldn’t live without her, because she for certainly couldn’t bear life without him.She’d dressed in one of her own gowns today since she’d be working around the house. Hawk had finally left his room to take over as the highwaymen’s leader, and his slow movements let her know she should keep an eye on him and see that he didn’t overdo it today. Outside, he bellowed orders and made certain everything ran smoothly. His men were building something in the yard, and the scraps of wood t