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The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Fourteen
“You told him what?” Ratha’s voice was low and dangerous as she growled through tightly clenched teeth, the muscles of her jaw tense and rigid as steel. Her fingers dug into the dark-stained wood of her chair like talons as fury flushed the sun-darkened skin beneath her emerald gown.
Joona met her friend’s ire unflinchingly, her mouth pursing into a long, thin line. Her green eyes narrowed, flickering with the heat of her own stubborn anger. “And just what else was I to tell him Amalee James? After he recognized you as a woman clothed as a man. An exquisite woman no less. It’s not as though I could pass you off as an ailing spinster aunt from Kerry! Your ship bears the name of my father’s, so family you must be and a cousin you are.” Joona’s tone grew sharper with every word. She would not be chastised in her own house for something out of her hands and Amalee needed to remember she was not the captain of St. Clare Manor. She held her friend’s fuming eye long enough for the lesson to sink in before allowing herself a small smile. “An eccentric cousin no doubt. Though no less loved for all your wearing of trousers.”
Amalee did not speak, but Joona felt the force of her anger diminish ever so slightly. It was enough for the moment. “He is joining us for dinner this evening, which is why a proper gown was needed. There is much he and Eric must discuss and as his ship has suffered so much damage, a fine dinner and a bevy of pretty faces is the least we can offer him.”
“Oh to be sure,” Ratha spat, accenting her displeasure with a sharp flick of her wrist. “Considering I am a husband-hunter after all.”
“Why else would you be here?” Joona challenged. “Use that mind of yours Captain please. I’ve no plans to sell you off to the highest bidder at the end of the evening, but as far as this man and his crew are concerned, you and Madeline are my cousins, and you are looking for good marriages. And as I highly doubt that this man will be pledging either of you his troth by evening’s end, all I require of you is a few hours of polite conversation and the lure of your own natural charm.”
“We need this man,” she said frankly, her features softening as she turned to look at her husband. “We need his ship. This isn’t what I wanted for your first night home. I have no wish to argue with either of you. I’ve missed you dreadfully. But this is as it must be. Just be the kind, engaging woman you are Amalee, just for tonight. He’s been at sea for months, just give him a pretty face to dream about and a smile or two. Please.”
“Of course Joona,” Madeline nodded, leaning forward to pat her friend’s hand reassuringly, her air contemplative but resolute. She shot Amalee a look of warning, plea, and reproach. “What you ask is easily done.”
Feeling a slight wave of shame lapping at her stomach, Ratha glowered at her two best friends — Eric as well for good measure — but kept any further grumblings to herself. She did not like surprises, not anymore, and for good reason.
But Joona was right, a story was needed and this was the simplest. So, she would stick to it, for the evening at least, and keep herself and her crew safe while these strangers encroached on St. Clare land. But she would watch this other captain, whoever he was, and if it was more than just a pretty face he was after, she would be happy to give him the sharp end of her blade for his troubles.
“Fine. Let’s not keep him waiting then,” Ratha said at last, reaching for her glass and downing the last of the port in one swift gulp. “My natural charm is unnaturally short-lived.”