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Title: Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix)
Genre: Historical romance.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 5,930
Summary: A rewrite of the book, Catherine and the Pirate. Full summary and chapter index can be found here.



- Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix) -



Chapter 6


Catherine was waiting for a good half hour, if not longer, and in that time, her disposition slid from relieved to bored. She'd let her gaze roam over the contents and decor of Derrick's cabin at least a dozen times now, and while curiosity made her want to peek into the drawers of his desk and poke at the shelves on the walls, she thought better of it. He already thought her a nuisance, if his short way with her so far was any indication; no need to prove him right in that regard.

She sighed, and for what must have been the fiftieth time, smoothed her hands over the fabric of her breeches. Not quite the same as smoothing a skirt, but it gave her a meager something to do with herself. She stretched her legs out in front of her, peering at the lines of her thighs and the look of her borrowed boots, flexing her feet this way and that. It was a feeling she could get used to, she decided—the freedom of trousers. Though after two days in the same scratchy pair, with footwear that didn't quite fit—

The door burst open, and in came Lucas. "There ye are! I've come to take ye to yer cabin." Catherine stood, and he merrily waved for her to follow him. "This way, miss." They set off down the corridor and stopped at a narrow door maybe halfway down. Lucas opened it and stepped aside. "Here ye are, miss! Ye've the second-best room on ship."

Catherine entered and looked around her new quarters dubiously. Despite being "second-best," they looked more like third-rate. The cabin was merely a fraction of the size of Derrick's, with none of the little touches that had made his seem so nice—no curtains about the bunk, no gleaming brass fixtures on the walls, no pillows on a seat below the windows. In fact, the cabin could barely be said to have a window at all, boasting only one mere porthole and that was it. The furniture was similarly sparse: there was only a bunk, a rough-hewn trunk sitting at the end of it, a small side table with a single chair, and a downright tiny washstand holding a tin bowl and pitcher. Dolefully, she couldn't help but think of her room at High Hall, with its four-post bed and long, large windows.

But this wasn't about comfort and home. This was about Royce. She lifted her chin and managed a smile. "It will do just fine."

Lucas grinned back. "I'm glad ye like it. 'Tis Smythe's cabin, ye know."

"Mr. Smythe's?" she said, her face falling. "I can't take his cabin!"

" 'Course ye can," Lucas insisted. "He'll just bunk elsewhere. He's done it often enough."

Catherine started to argue, but Lucas wouldn't hear a word. He cheerfully asked her if she needed anything else, and then, without giving her time to actually answer, left, pulling the door closed behind him. Nonplussed, left alone in the tiny cabin, Catherine simply sank onto her bunk.

It was going to take some adjustment, that was for sure. Still, it was nothing compared to what Royce was probably going through. And simple though it may have been, it had everything one needed; she couldn't complain all that much. In a way, the sparseness combined with the wooden walls reminded her of the tree house she'd had as a child. She'd always wanted to spend one of the summer nights out there, had even tried sneaking out a couple times only to be found by a maid and led right back to her room, so perhaps this could be seen as a way of finally getting that childhood wish. And having the sea outside her window was even better than a garden, it had to be said. All things considered, it really wasn't that bad, once she stopped to think about it.

The sound of the water lapping against the hull was calming, and she kicked off her boots and stretched out on the bunk, listening to the noise as she thought back over the day's events. Derrick St. John was testier than she'd expected, and initially less helpful than she'd hoped for, but he'd come around in the end, and that was all that mattered. And despite his insistence that she wouldn't be present with him to deliver the ransom, well, it was irritatingly presumptuous of the man, but she had the entire trip to persuade him otherwise. They were on their way to rescue Royce; that was the important thing. Catherine sighed, feeling more at peace than she had for a number of weeks now, and let the tranquility of her cabin lull her into a state of relaxation.

After some time, a knock came, and Catherine blearily opened eyes she didn't remember closing. She struggled upright, wondering if she had fallen asleep, if only briefly, and pushed her hair back from her face. The knock sounded again.

"Miss Markham?" Smythe's voice was muffled by the thick oak door.

"Coming," she called. She took a quick moment to brush the sleep from her eyes, crossed the room in a mere three steps, and opened the door.

The first mate beamed pleasantly at her. A decent-sized bundle rested in his hands, wrapped in brown paper and secured with a string. "I've brought ye some clothing, just as the cap'n ordered."

Catherine took the package, almost afraid to open it. Whatever would a lifelong sailor know about women's fashion? "Thank you."

"Ye're welcome, miss. I hope 'tis yer size. I looked fer a green gown to go with yer eyes, but they didn't have one. Ye don't mind blue, do ye?" He appeared genuinely worried, and Catherine smiled, despite herself.

"It's my favorite color," she assured.

Smythe perked up considerably, looking mighty pleased with himself. "Well, then. Why don't ye go and see if it fits? Then, if ye're up to it, I can take ye fer a tour of the ship. If we wait until we're under way, it might be hours afore I have the time."

Catherine couldn't contain her excitement at the prospect and grinned. "Wonderful!" she said, and hurried to close the door so she could change.

Considering the limited selection that was generally available when it came to ready-made gowns, the first mate had chosen nearly perfectly. The dress was on the simple side, sky blue with a ruffled trim being its only real decoration, and though it was a trifle short, it fit her surprisingly well everywhere else. Minor sizing issues aside, and as much as she could appreciate the freedom of Royce's cast-offs, it was a relief to change into something clean and feminine. There was even a pair of slippers—a touch too big, but that was to be expected, if he'd gone by the way her boots looked—along with a comb and a handful of pins tucked into the bundle. When her petticoats were straight and her bodice tightened as best it could be, she brushed out her hair and pulled it back into a low knot at the nape of her neck. It was far from what her maid at home could manage—Brooks was a veritable wizard when it came to hairstyling—but she finally felt more like herself when all was said and done.

Smythe was leaning back against the opposite wall, and when Catherine opened the door, he immediately straightened, his eyes widening upon seeing her. "There now, don't ye look fine!"

She smoothed the skirt of the gown, blushing a little, despite herself. "It's truly lovely. Thank you, Mr. Smythe. For both the dress and the cabin."

Smythe waved her gratitude off. "I didn't do nothin' but spend the cap'n's hard-earned money. Ye'll have to thank him fer that. And as fer the cabin, that don't matter none at all. Little don't snore much, and whoever bunks with him gets extra portions of hardtack, besides."

"Well, still, thank you," she said. "It was very kind of you."

If she didn't know better, she'd almost think the first mate was starting to blush as well. He again waved his hand, this time towards the short ladder at the end of the corridor, and smiled amiably. "Shall we go up on deck, miss?" Catherine nodded, and allowed him to escort her down the hall.

Upon stepping on deck again, Catherine was immediately aware of a change in the atmosphere, almost as if the temperature dropped or a cloud passed overhead, and it occurred to her that the crew was staring at her in a way they hadn't before. Some even began to mutter uneasily, while others cast her looks that ranged from skeptical to downright unwelcoming. Catherine found herself rather taken aback by the behavior—earlier, when she had initially come on board, some of the crew had thrown her curious glances, but the majority had simply paid her no attention at all—and though she tried to ignore it, it was difficult.

Smythe didn't appear to notice, instead pointing out the various masts and sails, pausing to explain what each line was for—until one of them broke loose on the other side of the ship. Someone shouted, and Smythe muttered an oath before remembering who he was standing next to. Belatedly, he turned bright red. "Sorry 'bout that, miss! It just sort of slipped out. Here, why don't ye stay here with Lucas a moment while I see to that rope." He nodded to the cabin boy, who stood a short distance away, and then scuttled off, barking orders at the sailors closest to the loose line.

"Lucas," Catherine said quietly, "the crew seems uneasy. Have I done something wrong?"

Lucas shook his head. "Not that I know of, miss."

At a loss, Catherine turned her attention back to the ship and caught sight of Derrick. He was standing on the foredeck, still dressed as he had been earlier, though apparently he had managed a quick shave somewhere in the intervening time. He stared at her for a moment, an unreadable expression on his face, before looking away and quickly calling his crew to order, sending the loudest of the complainers off to do a number of chores.

Catherine looked at her companion again, a bit more severely. "Lucas, surely something is wrong. I would appreciate an explanation."

The cabin boy scratched his ear and his face turned red. At length, he admitted, " 'Tis the gown, miss."

"The gown?" she echoed. "If that's all it is, then I'll change back into—"

"No, miss. I'm afeared that won't help. Y'see, the gown bothers 'em 'cause they didn't know ye was female afore. They thought ye was a boy."

"What difference does that make?"

" 'Tis bad luck to have a woman on board ship," he said, matter-of-factly. "Every sailor knows that."

It was fortunate, then, that she wasn't a sailor and didn't believe in superstitions. She wasn't about to let a little thing like the silly beliefs of Derrick's crew make her feel uneasy. Lucas suggested they retire from deck, but Catherine staunchly ignored him, determined to stay right where she was. Once the crew got used to her, she reasoned, they wouldn't even know she was there.

But despite her determination, the men wouldn't stop looking at her. Lines got tangled, sails broke free, tempers frayed, and heated words were exchanged, almost always ending with someone or another sending a suspicious glance her way. By the end of the first hour, Catherine was certain the entire crew hated her. But the worst came when, tired of standing, she moved a bucket so she could sit on it and look out to sea.

It wasn't so bad at first. She almost managed to forget about the crew altogether, but after a little while, she got up to lean over the railing for a better view. Unfortunately, she neglected to put the bucket back where she'd found it, and a sailor, on his way to relieve the watch, stumbled over it and slammed headfirst into the mast.

"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, and rushed to his side, wincing at the lump that was already appearing on the man's forehead. Glancing over her shoulder, she found several other crewmembers gathered around. "I need some cold water!"

"Aye, aye!" one man cried, and hurried off. A moment later he returned, holding a pail, but before Catherine could say anything, he lifted it and simply tossed the entire contents over the poor sailor who was sitting on the deck, nursing his head. The man swore and sputtered, sending an angry look at the culprit.

Catherine followed suit and glared. "I didn't mean for you to empty it over him! I was just going to put a damp cloth on his head."

"Sorry, miss," the crewman said with an apologetic shrug.

Another sailor leaned forward on his toes, trying to see over someone else's shoulder. "Wonder what caused Parsons to fall?" he wondered, and at the words, everyone looked at the now knocked-over bucket.

"How did it get there?" someone asked. " 'Tis supposed to be tucked against the helm."

Catherine stared at it. Surely that wasn't the bucket she had moved to use as a seat. Surely…

But it was. "I…I think I might have moved it," she admitted.

Six pairs of eyes fastened on her in accusation. Catherine suddenly wished the deck would open up and drop her into the safety of her cabin. She cleared her throat and smoothed her skirts, hoping to remedy the situation. "I—I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—" But she never got to finish.

"I tol' ye women shouldn't be on ship," one sailor muttered to another.

"And this is proof!" added another.

"I don't know what the cap'n is thinking, but I'm not goin' to set sail with no woman—"

"Enough!" Derrick's voice cracked like a whip across the deck. "I see six men where there should be only one. Have you all finished your duties so quickly? Perhaps it is time to scrub the decks again." At that, the sailors turned to go back to their posts, though they did so reluctantly, still muttering to themselves as they went. With his crew taken care of, Derrick leveled a stern gaze at Catherine. "Go below."

"I was just—"

"As long as you are on this ship," he interrupted sharply, "you will do as I say. Is that understood?"

His high-handedness couldn't help but incense her, and she started again, determined to say her piece. "But I was just—"

He slanted a hard, unyielding look at her, his eyes glinting dangerously, and his patience clearly at an end. "If you do not go below this instant, I shall pick you up and carry you there myself."

Catherine froze and her throat suddenly closed up. Good God, he really looked like he'd do it, too. His face was set in angry lines, his voice was low and menacing, and he looked anything but sympathetic. For a fearful moment, she just stood there, frozen in place—until she felt a gentle tug at her elbow and managed to tear her gaze away. Smythe, who had been hovering nearby, promptly hustled her off the deck, muttering soothing words like "let the cap'n handle everything" and how "a nice li'l nap" would do her wonders. Catherine, suddenly reeling from the whole situation, could only let him lead her to her cabin.

Upon arriving, the first mate pointed out the fresh pitcher of water on the side table, and lingered uncertainly for a few moments until she sent him away. Almost as soon as the door was shut, she pulled off the gown, threw it into a corner with far more force than necessary, and jammed her legs back into Royce's cast-off breeches, vowing to never wear another dress again.

The uncharacteristic sentiment succeeded in surprising her, and just as she was buttoning Royce's old waistcoat around her, her lagging spirits collapsed, and she sank down onto the bunk, tears springing hot and fast to her eyes. Overcome with exhaustion and feeling entirely out of her element, Catherine buried her face in her pillow and cried.

Her world had already been shattered once by the deaths of her parents. It was only after a great many months—and with the help and support of her brother—that she had managed to mend her broken heart and reestablish some sense of normality. Royce, she realized, had become her anchor, and now, without him, her very sense of self seemed hopelessly adrift. How much longer would it be, she wondered, before she looked in a mirror and wouldn't be able to recognize the girl staring back?

She had to find him. She had to. There were simply no two ways about it.

She must have fallen asleep after that, well and truly, for the next thing she knew, she was opening her eyes to her dark cabin. A lantern had been hung on a peg by the door, and the soft glow of it lit up a plate of food that sat on the small side table. Whoever had brought the lamp and food must have also picked up her dress, for it was draped neatly over the room's single chair. Catherine sat up, blinked the sleep from her eyes, and pushed her hair from her face. The ship, she noticed, seemed to be heeling slightly to one side. Which had to mean—

They'd set sail. Catherine sighed in relief.

She stretched, made her way to the table, and lifted the plate's cover. Though the mutton stew was no longer hot, it still tasted surprisingly good, and almost despite herself, a feeling of well-being filtered through her as she ate. When she was finished, she poured some water into the wash basin, rinsed her face, then returned to her bunk.

She lay there, staring at the low ceiling, feeling the sway of the ship, and wondered what Royce must have been doing just then. He was a hearty, healthy young man, plenty capable of weathering harsh conditions, but some protective, maternal part of her couldn't help but hope he was not hungry or cold… It was a comfort, albeit a small one, to know that it was May and that the wind was not as chilled as it could have been.

Restless, Catherine sat up once again and swung her feet to the floor with renewed determination. She would find him and deliver the ransom money. No matter what it took. No matter if she had to do it herself, even. Who needed Derrick St. John, anyway? Not she, that was for sure. After the events of the day, who even wanted him?

Suddenly the cabin seemed dark and dreary. While eating, the dim glow from the lantern had been warm and almost comforting, but now it just seemed depressing. A lone light trying in vain to hold an army of shadows back.

Well. Bad luck or no, she certainly couldn't be expected to stay in her cabin for the entire duration of the trip. She'd have to face the deck again at some point, and now was as good a time as any to do so. With a bracing breath, she rose, re-pinned her hair, and headed above.

She paused on the last step of the ladder and looked up at the evening sky. A brisk wind washed the silvered deck, tugging at the sleeves of her shirt. A lantern cast eerie reflections across the night sea, and Catherine looked about cautiously, glad to see that most of the crew was below. In fact, she could see only two men, one of whom was Lucas, who nodded when he caught sight of her.

She smiled back tremulously, relaxing a little as she made her way across the deck and to the railing at the side of the ship. The wind filled the sails, swelling them into billowing night clouds overhead, and she stopped to admire the proud stance of the mainmast when, without warning, the ship lifted high on the crest of a wave. And then just as suddenly, slanted back down. Catherine barely managed to stay on her feet, only doing so by virtue of a wall she stumbled back into. But then it put hands on her shoulders, and she realized it wasn't a wall at all.

She craned her head around and came face to face with Derrick. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and she was suddenly very glad the light on deck was so dim. Uncomfortably, she disengaged herself. "Sorry," she muttered.

One warm, rough hand lingered briefly on her shoulder, making sure she was upright. "Steady there. What are you doing up here?"

She thought she detected a critical note in his voice and lifted her chin. "I was taking a walk. It's a free ship, is it not?"

He gave her a pointed look. "Only if you don't wreak havoc with my men."

Catherine's temper flared defensively. "I did nothing but move a bucket. I certainly didn't know that man was going to walk right where—"

"Easy, Catherine. I know." He took a breath. "I didn't mean to be so abrupt with you before, but I needed time to talk to the crew."

She looked down at her hands, her anger deflating as quickly as it had ignited, apprehension once again taking its place. "So…you spoke to them?"

"Yes."

"Then…they no longer think I'm bad luck?"

Derrick sighed. "It isn't that women are bad luck so much as they're a distraction. And you were very distracting in that blue dress." There was almost a compliment of sorts in the words, and Catherine blinked up at him. Had he thought she was distracting? Before she could think to voice the question, he continued. "Such a distraction on a ship can cause accidents. Which is no doubt how the superstition arose in the first place."

She looked back down at her hands, and then out at the dark sea, her shoulders slanting dejectedly. "I wasn't trying to cause any problems."

"I know," he said again. He took another breath and briskly clasped his own hands behind his back. "I hope you don't mind, but I had to reveal the reason you're on board. I think they'll be more cooperative now."

"I hope so." She rubbed her arms. "I don't think I could bear any more days like today."

Out of her peripheral vision, she could see him turn to her at that. She waited for him to say something, but he never did, and after a long moment, he finally turned to look out at the sea, himself. Catherine let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, and a silence fell between them.

Through her eyelashes, she dared to glance at him. His shirt and waistcoat were open at the throat, the wide cuffs of his jacket were turned back against his arms, and though the ship rolled with the waves, he stood with his feet planted firmly. Even if she hadn't known it, she would have been able to tell that he was in command simply by his stance and deportment. He was different on his ship, different compared to how she'd always seen him at High Hall, and for a moment, she was struck by how poorly she actually knew him.

Involuntarily, her mind went back to the earlier incident on deck. When he had threatened to carry her back home that morning, she'd thought it mere hyperbole—an embarrassing, rude hyperbole, but hyperbole all the same. But this latest threat to carry her below had seemed less like a threat and more like a statement of fact. His face had been so angry, his demeanor so uncompromising, and she'd suspected, with one more word out of her—woman or no, his best friend's sister or no—he really would have laid hands on her. The idea made heat rise uncomfortably in her cheeks. She took a breath and looked purposefully out at the night, trying to shake the thought.

Though she'd settled on it as a mere distraction, after a moment, she found herself genuinely taken with the sight before her. The velvet sky was thick with stars, spilling out across the heavens like silver embroidery in a pitch-dark dress, and she found herself honestly saying, "I don't think I've ever seen so many stars."

Derrick glanced at her, and then followed her gaze. "You can see more out here than anywhere else. It's one of the reasons I love the sea."

And the other reasons? The question rose in her mind, unbidden. A part of her had to wonder what exactly had happened to make him so driven. She tried to recall the few details she knew of his past. His father, she knew, had been captain of a ship called the Valiant. She remembered that particular fact because at the time, she'd thought it an ironic name for a traitor's ship. And a traitor was what people called Derrick's father.

It was rumored that the Valiant had joined the British for an undisclosed sum of money, hiring out like a mercenary vessel. With a sack of British gold resting in her hold, the ship had attacked an American frigate, and would have felled it if not for a French privateer that had caught sight of the cannon smoke and come to its aid. Catherine wasn't quite sure of the details after that, but once the French joined the fray, the battle swung decisively against the Valiant, and Captain St. John would never live to see another day—he perished during the battle, and only his crew lived to tell the tale.

Royce hadn't believed it, of course. He'd respected the elder St. John and had even been acquainted with him through business, and had declared that the truth would come out at the inquest. Instead, crew member after crew member stepped forward to swear that the captain had indeed taken money from the British, and then forced the crew to attack the American ship. The judge had ruled that the evidence proved James St. John was guilty of attacking a vessel from his own country—and it had branded him a traitor.

Royce had told her that Derrick felt responsible for the black mark against his father's name—that the ruling was made all the more believable by his own terrible reputation as a pirate. Catherine had always found it difficult to reconcile the quiet, reserved young man who would come to visit her brother with the ruthless, violent image of a pirate in her head, but considering the way he'd looked at her earlier…

"Do you always talk to yourself?"

Startled, Catherine blinked. "Was I talking just now?" Heavens, she hoped not. If he had heard what she was thinking…

Amusement sparked in his eyes and tugged briefly at the corners of his mouth. "Not this time, but I've heard you do it before. You also talk in your sleep."

"How do you know I—?" She stopped, remembering the stew in her cabin. "You brought my dinner."

"And a lamp." Derrick shifted, leaning back against the railing beside her, and crossed his arms over his chest. "You were having a fine discussion with yourself."

Desperately, she tried to remember what she'd dreamt about, but all she could recall was a strange muddle of sights and sounds, a vague feeling of unease, and the even vaguer sense that it all had to do with Royce. She opened her mouth and was about to retort that she only spoke to herself when there were no acceptable people around to converse with, but the ship chose that particular moment to list to the side. Catherine stumbled sharply, and Derrick again caught her before she could fall.

Her hands had instinctively grabbed the front of his jacket, and she looked up at him, her breath catching in her throat. Goodness, he was tall. After an awkward moment, she found her feet and pulled away. Immediately, he released her. "Thank you. It appears I'm not yet used to the sway of the ship," she said, and shivered a little.

Derrick quirked a curious eyebrow. "I'm surprised you aren't more familiar with ships, considering your family's business."

"I always wanted to travel on one," she confessed, "but my parents always said I was too young and it was too dangerous. And by the time I was older…well, the war had begun and Royce wasn't exactly sailing anymore." At the mention of her brother, another shiver coursed across her shoulders. Derrick took notice and frowned.

"You're cold," he said, and set about to shedding his jacket. Catherine attempted to intercede, finding the prospect of wearing a piece of his clothing unnerving for some reason, but he cut her off.

"Oh, no, that really isn't necessa—"

"Nonsense. What would your brother say if he knew I let you freeze?" Before she could open her mouth to respond, the wool fell about her shoulders. His fingers brushed lightly against her neck as he settled the garment around her, and she glanced up—and then something happened. The air seemed to thicken, and she was suddenly aware of how closely he stood. Was suddenly aware of how her heart had started beating hard against her ribs, how his hands lingered on the collar of the coat, the way his gaze flicked down to her mouth, and—

The sound of heavy footsteps scrambling for purchase on the short ladder broke the spell. Derrick straightened, dropped his hands, and took a step back a moment before Smythe appeared, huffing and puffing.

"Lord love ye, Cap'n, but the ladder seems to be gettin' longer each day."

Derrick managed a small, dry smile. " 'Tis your girth that is growing, Smythe, not the ladder."

The first mate patted his stomach fondly. "That may be, but 'tis a good paunch as protects me from the cold. When we get a bit farther north, ye'll be wishin' ye had some of this yerself." He suddenly looked between the two of them, noticing that Derrick was without his coat, and that Catherine was currently clutching it around her. It smelled of wind and the ocean and something else. Something sharp and masculine. "Did I interrupt ye?" Smythe asked. "I could go back below fer a while if ye think ye—"

"No, not at all," Catherine quickly said, putting on her most accommodating smile. She wasn't quite sure what had just happened, but better a third person was around to dispel any awkwardness. "The captain was merely explaining to me why the crew thinks I'm bad luck."

"Well now, that was right unmannerly of him, wasn't it?" Smythe shot a critical glance at Derrick, but then he sighed. "Unfortunately, 'tis also true. The men can't think when there's a woman about. It makes 'em a mite restive."

The implication in the words made Catherine bristle. "Well, I hardly see how it's the woman's fault that they can't concentrate on their duties."

Smythe rubbed a finger across his nose, as if it itched very badly. "Whose fault would it be, then?"

"Why, their own, of course," she said, amazed she had to even explain the logic.

Smythe seemed to consider this, for he rocked back on his heels and pursed his lips. But after a moment, he shook his head. "But no one would be actin' like anythin' if a woman wasn't on ship. And so 'tis obviously—"

"Mr. Smythe, I believe it's getting cold," Derrick broke in. "I should probably be seeing Miss Markham back to her cabin."

She was about to argue that she was perfectly fine, especially with his jacket, but his hand settled on her arm, right near the elbow. The press of his fingers through the wool was hardly insistent, but clearly a warning all the same, and it occurred to her that the last thing he probably wanted at this time of night was another dispute to settle. Catherine managed to swallow her urge to protest and let him lead her back toward the ladder.

"Aye," Smythe said. Apparently he had missed the subtler points of Derrick's words and actions, for he smiled amiably and waved at her. "Ye have yerself a nice evenin', Miss Markham."

Catherine turned her head over her shoulder and was just able to get in a polite farewell to the first mate before Derrick was leading her down the narrow hall to her cabin. Upon arriving, he opened the door, then stood aside. Catherine entered the room, her mind whirling, and she had the sneaking suspicion it was because of the man who had seen her there. Her arm seemed to burn from where his hand had been, and she was about to bid him a quick goodnight and shut the door when she suddenly remembered—

"Your coat." She turned, slipping it off her shoulders and holding it out to him. In the dim glow of the lamps, it was easy to recall the way he had placed the garment around her in the first place, and difficult to ignore the blush that wanted to stain her cheeks at the memory.

Derrick took the coat, folded it over his arm, and stepped back. "Goodnight, Miss Markham." Despite the formal words, his voice was low, almost husky in the quiet of the ship, and tinged with something she couldn't even hope to read.

"Goodnight," she returned, wanting to say something else, but not sure what. He nodded once, then turned and left. His footsteps receded quickly down the corridor, and Catherine remained in the doorway of her cabin for a moment, her gaze glued to the spot where he had just been. Finally, she closed the door, and in the privacy of the small room, let herself lean back against it.

What exactly had just happened up on deck? If she didn't know better, she'd almost think he had been about to kiss her before the first mate had shown up. Which was a ridiculous notion to consider—Derrick St. John kissing her. Derrick St. John kissing her. But even more ridiculous…even more ridiculous was the fact that she didn't find the idea entirely repulsive. Catherine swallowed at the thought and felt her cheeks heat up for what must have been the dozenth time that evening.

Far from repulsive, in fact…

Sharply, she shook her head and pushed herself away from the door. It was just emotional exhaustion talking. It had to be. She'd been strung tight as a violin string since hearing of Royce's supposed death, and while finding the ransom note had ignited some hope, the events of the past two days had done little to relax her. It was just exhaustion. Just frayed nerves and loneliness that was making her drawn toward Derrick. He was, after all, the only person on this ship with whom she could claim any prior acquaintance, and the one connection to her brother that she currently had.

Once she found Royce, everything would be fine, Catherine insisted. Her life would fall neatly back into place and her world would suddenly make sense again. All she had to do until then was to stay away from Derrick St. John so that she didn't risk making a fool of herself.

Fortunately, Norfolk was less than a week away.




-----

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