Almost a Scandal

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Essex
in Kent’s tone. The boy believed he could smell it. And the boy was, for all his alleged faults, a Kent.
    “Then we had best ready a kedge, should the need arise. Mr. Horner, if you would? Take Mr. Worth and Mr. Jellicoe, so they may learn the benefit of the kind of preparedness young Mr. Kent here so presciently advises. And as for you, Mr. Kent.” Col swung the fullness of his regard back to Kent, who ducked his head again, still vainly trying to hide beneath the brim of his beaver hat. “If there’s as heavy a blow as you predict, then we had best clear out the lower decks of all visitors. And women.”
    A careful stillness fell over the boy as his eyes met Col’s. “Women, sir?”
    “Yes, women. Surely you noticed them belowdecks earlier? I must say I found it hard not to.”
    The look Kent gave him in answer was hard to classify. His face turned an interesting shade of crimson, and his gaze faltered, as if he hardly knew where to look, he was so discomposed. When he answered, his voice was cracked with the uneven anxiety of adolescence. “Yes. I saw them.”
    Here at last was something of the parson. “Well, we had best get them off while they can still be got off. It will be a hell of a thing to try and shift them out of here in a gale. Mr. Larkin.” Col moved to the quarterdeck rail and called to the bo’sun’s mate on duty below in the waist. “Pipe all visitors ashore.”
    “Aye, aye, sir.”
    “Very good.” Col turned back to young Kent, who was twitching uncomfortably inside a blue, hand-me-down midshipman’s coat that had to have once been Matthew’s, judging from the carefully repaired tear along one sleeve. Col remembered that night. And he could never forget that fight. “Well, Mr. Kent? Are you ready to brave the bawdy?”
    There it was again, that twitch of his lips that didn’t dare to be a smile—a familiar though more reserved cousin, perhaps, to Matthew’s mischievous grins. “Aye, sir. I suppose this is the portion of my training that falls under the heading of becoming a man.”
    The tone was so angelically bland that Col could all but see the mischievous imp sitting on Kent’s shoulder. Damn, but there was much more Kent to this boy than anyone could have thought.
    “That it does, Mr. Kent, that it does.”
    The bo’sun’s shrill whistle rent the air as Col descended the companionway ladders from the quarterdeck down two flights to gun deck level. It always amused Col that the gun deck on a frigate was an arcane naval misnomer, as the guns were all housed on the main deck above, and the so-called gun deck was instead fitted out for the accommodation of the crew. Forward of the mainmast was a large open area where the men hung the hammocks, messed, and stowed their dunnage. And occasionally, when in port, entertained.
    Although “entertainment” was probably not the best word to describe the frantic action on display. Indeed, the first sight that greeted Col as he stepped off the companionway ladder was the bare naked arse of a sailor oscillating away like a bilge pump. The fellow—Griggs, one of the quarter gunners, he thought, from this view—was pumping away into a woman who had backed up to a deck post for better leverage.
    In the middle of this affectionate display of commerce, the cheerful doxie looked over the quarter gunner’s shoulder, and tossed Col a wink. “Wanting a turn, love?”
    However much he admired her cheek and her entrepreneurial spirit, the thought was not to be borne. But before he could speak, the mischievously angelic voice breezed into his ear.
    “Is she talking to you or me?” Young Kent had stopped on one of the higher steps and was peering over Col’s shoulder at the spectacle.
    Col tried to curb the impulse—and he had never before, or at least since becoming first lieutenant, been a man subject to the whims of impulse—to laugh. Because Kent was already laughing. At himself. It was … “disarming” was the only word Col could

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