Almost a Scandal

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

Book: Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Essex
think of.
    “Me. You’re too damn young, even if you are a Kent.” Col redirected his voice at the doxy. “Alas, madam, I must decline your charming offer. All visitors ashore. Hove to, Griggs.”
    “Aye, sir, but if you’d just give us a minute to finish our business wif’ Long Peg, I’d be much obliged, Mr. Colyear.” The gunner didn’t even turn around, but kept his mind on the task, quite literally, at hand. And already, Col guessed, paid for.
    Griggs’s huffing and puffing continued, oblivious to all bystanders, until he at last began to reach his noisy crescendo.
    Col half expected the stammering return of the crimson embarrassment, but instead of prigging up like a parson, behind Col, young Kent removed his hat and laid it solemnly across his chest.
    “Devil take me if I don’t feel like I ought to take my hat off for such a biblically instructive display.”
    There was nothing Col could do but laugh out loud and listen as the boom of his mirth echoed off the curved interior of the hull. It carried over the din and caused more than one sailor to turn and stare. “Bloody hell. You surprise me, Mr. Kent.”
    “Do I?” The imp seemed to like the notion. To be sure, the lad’s face was flaming like a radish, but his eyes were dancing with familiar Kentish mischief. “I fancy I surprise myself.”
    “Not like I would, dearie.” The well-endowed piece of crumpet that was Long Peg began a leisurely tucking in of her assets. She sent a wide-toothed smile at the boy behind him. “Have a go then, ginger? I could do a little tidbit like you in a heartbeat.”
    Kent’s smile widened across a flash of teeth. “I very much doubt that, madam,” he countered with a small, elegant bow. “Though I thank you for your generous offer.”
    “’E’s too young for you, Peg,” someone called. “But you could do ’im for a wet nurse!”
    The deck exploded into ribald laughter, and the boy seemed happy to laugh along with them. He wasn’t shocked or disapproving of the men at all. He was, instead, laughing so with such jovial humor that his warm gray eyes began to water.
    “Mr. Colyear, I beg you will preserve me from such a fate. She’s as like to smother me as anything.” The boy backhanded a tear of laughter out of his eyes with the cuff of his coat. “Oh, devil take me. You have no idea. It’s all so marvelously ridiculous.”
    Col couldn’t stop the laughter that was rumbling out of his own chest. And he didn’t want to. He wanted to laugh, the way he always did with the Kents. Damn his eyes, but it was going to be good to have a Kent on board. Clearly the boy had untapped depths.
    “Visitors ashore, visitors ashore,” Larkin was bawling from aft.
    Col could hear the steady fall of the cane as Larkin beat against posts and deck beams to make himself heard and get attention.
    “Perhaps, sir,” Kent suggested when he regained his composure, “you might like me to see that the marines are mustered at the rail to prevent the men from trying to join their … companions, sir?”
    Col liked the boy more and more. Bright and pleasing, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. And something more—the ability to look ahead and see what remained to be done. It seemed like such a simple thing, but in Col’s experience, it was rare indeed.
    For the first time in a long time, Col felt some of the weight of responsibility he carried around on his shoulders ease. Remarkable. After an unpromising start to their association, the tide in the boy had indeed changed. With luck, this was going to be one hell of a cruise.

 
    Chapter Four
    “Out and down, lads. Out and down. Show a leg.” The shrill call from the bo’sun’s whistle, and the bawling of his mate, pierced the darkness of the orlop deck. “All hands. All hands to weigh anchor.”
    Sally was already out and down and up and out, and had been since five bells. She had lain awake most of the night, listening to the storm, and waiting for the marine on

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