Read Chapter One
"Feeling the shape of [the] sentences as they unfolded made this a sexy read for me, and a nice discovery as well. I'd like to read more…" Pam Rosenthal, RITA-award winning author
Originally featured in The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance.
This story had to be quite short—about ten to fifteen percent of the length of a full novel, around 40 pages—which was quite a challenge. I had just finished writing You Only Love Once, which has a lot going on in the story, so it was kind of nice to write a simple, straightforward little romance between a dashing Naval captain and the quiet widow who lives next door to him. I started with an idea of them talking over the garden wall, getting to know each other almost in the privacy of their own homes, and went from there.
Number 12, George Street, was a lovely home. It was new, built only in the last ten years, and contained all the modern conveniences, with well-fitted windows and floors that only squeaked a little and chimneys with impeccable draw. It was part of a row of terraced houses, with a neat little garden out back and smart marble steps with a blue-painted iron railing in front. Emmaline Bowen loved her little home, even though it wasn't nearly as grand as the country manor where she'd once lived as Lady Bowen. Unlike Bowen Lodge, this house was all hers. She liked being able to paint the walls any color she liked, from the bright yellow of her small dining room to the vivid turquoise blue of her bedroom walls. It was a joy to open her eyes in the morning and see that blue, brighter than a robin's egg. She often lay still for a moment, thinking that heaven must be such a color. She said as much to her maid one morning, when the girl brought her morning tea.
"Heaven, m'lady?" Jane blinked suspiciously.
Emma waved one hand, leaning back against her pillows and sipping the hot tea. "Just look at the sky! Can't you see what I mean?"
Jane peered out the window. "I see clouds. Great, rolling grey ones. The blue won't last today."
"You're old before your time," Emma told her, putting down the tea and rising from the bed. "If there are clouds on the horizon, I'd better get out and enjoy the sun while it lasts."
"Won't be long, from the looks of it," muttered Jane.
Emma ignored her, going to the wardrobe and opening the doors. She took out her favorite dress, the yellow-striped morning gown with pale green ribbons. "I'll finish my breakfast in the garden," she said. Jane merely nodded, with one more jaundiced glance out the window, and left. Emma shook her head as she unbuttoned her nightrail; poor Jane, to be so dour at such a young age. She must not have had a chance to learn one of life's hard truths—that sometimes the only way to keep from raging in bitterness was to smile and laugh, even if you must force yourself to do it.
By the time she went downstairs, armored against any grayness of the day with her bright yellow dress, Jane had put together a tray with breakfast. Carrying her own small tea tray, Emma led the way into the garden, where the sun was blindingly bright. Only if she shaded her eyes and squinted at the horizon could she see the line of gray lurking in the distance. Like the sun, she ignored those dark clouds. She set down her tray on a small table in the dazzling light.
"You'll want a parasol, ma'am," said Jane. "And a shawl."
"I shall want neither," replied Emma firmly. "I mean to enjoy the sun this morning. But since you dread the coming rain, please go open the windows to air the house before the deluge comes."
Jane peered at the sky. "Before dinner," she said grimly. "Thunderstorms, with lightning and flooding."
"Go on," said Emma, trying not to laugh. The maid cast her an aggrieved look before heading back inside. Emma settled into her seat and picked up her tea . She raised her face to the sun. Just a few minutes couldn't freckle her completion too badly, and she would regret missing the chance if Jane's predictions of thunderstorms came true.
As she sat in peaceful solitude, her ears caught the clink of china and the rustle of a newspaper from over the fence. Her neighbor must also be enjoying his breakfast outdoors. A moment later a deep voice called, "Is that you, Lady Bowen?"
"Yes, Captain Quentin," she called back. "Good morning."
"Indeed it is, although my man assures me it will rain later."
She smiled. "My maid predicted the same thing. Perhaps they are comparing notes before we wake."
The sound of his chuckle drifted across the high fence. "Ah, but Godfrey looks forward to the rain. It will wash the steps so he does not have to sweep them."
"He must mention it to Jane, who does not."
"He will be sure to tell her about the hurricane we encountered in the Caribbean Sea."
"Perhaps he had better not speak to her, then," Emma replied at once. "She will be certain it is a hurricane approaching, and wish to board up the windows."
The captain laughed. Emma felt the rich, deep sound right through her body. Captain Quentin had a very nice laugh. It went well with his voice. It was a lovely coincidence her neighbor liked spending as much time in his garden as she did in hers. He had done so many things she had never dreamed of: sailed around the Horn of Africa, been to India, seen the fantastical creatures who lived far out at sea, weathered storms and pirates and all manner of adventure. When he asked —very politely —about her own life, Emma had to laugh, a little embarrassed. She'd had no adventures. She had married sensibly, not very happily, and never traveled more than fifty miles from Sussex. They often talked over the wall that divided their properties. The captain would tell her about his adventures, and she would sit and listen, letting herself drift out of her quiet little life and imagine seeing what he had seen.
And if the sound of his voice sometimes seemed to weave a spell over her, and made her think he was taking her with him to these fantastic places… She didn't let herself think too much about that. He was being polite and friendly, sharing his tales, and she was being an idiot, wondering what it would be like to swim in the tropical ocean. To feel the warm water—as warm as any bath, he said, and as clear and blue as the sky—sluicing over her skin. To lie on the sand and stare at the stars on a moonless night. To feel the wind on her face as they sailed into the unknown.
But that's what she thought of, and what made her smile, safely hidden on her side of the brick wall. The captain would never know.
"When did you encounter a hurricane?" she asked, as much to hear him talk as to know the story. "Are they really as terrible as the stories say?"
"They are worse, and yet magnificent. The ocean itself seems to turn on you, as if it would swallow you up, tear you to pieces and fling you to the corners of the world. A man discovers his true feelings about life and death when faced by a hurricane, since he is balanced perfectly between the two, and only the storm can decide which will be his lot…"
Emma settled back into her chair and closed her eyes.