Two Years Later
Jemima stood at the bulwark, looking out upon the emerald green land that appeared in the near-distance. The summer wind whipped at her face, her short, raven-black hair sweeping back. She had decided to keep it shorter whenever they sailed, keeping its length to her shoulders in a somewhat frowned-upon style. Not that she cared. The sailors did not mind, and neither did her husband. So, why should she? It was more comfortable this way.
In the two years that had passed since their marriage, Jemima and Simon had sailed the seven seas with barely a pause. It had opened up an untold world to her, and she had gloried in every moment of it. The new people, the new places, and the rich cultures she had experienced, was something she would not have given up for anything.
And to have Simon at her side had made it all the better. Their love had only continued to blossom and grow, uniting them in a way that she had never thought possible. They had weathered storms and hardships together and seen the most beauteous things. And they had done so, side-by-side.
Naturally, it had caused some scandal back in England, but they had not remained there long enough to bear the brunt of it. There was outcry that a lady of good standing would choose to board a vessel and take up the business of merchant trade alongside her husband. But it had soon been forgotten, as the gossip had shifted to some other poor soul.
“I thought I might find you here.” Jemima did not turn as Simon approached. Instead, she leaned back into his embrace as he slid his arms around her, resting his head upon her shoulder.
“I wanted to see it,” she replied. “We have never come so far before.”
“I thought it was due time we made some trade with America.” Simon smiled against her neck, as he kissed it gently. “Cape Verde has become much too dangerous. It is better to trade directly.”
“Can you imagine what those aboard theMayflowermust have thought, when they saw this landscape for the very first time?” Jemima sighed. “They must have been in awe. Although, it is somewhat difficult to imagine it without all of these settlements. It would have been entirely green and inviting when they saw it.”
Simon nodded. “I believe you may like it here.”
“Do you think so?”
“Oh yes, there is a liberty that we do not possess in fair England. They would likely take one glance at your hair and your manner, and find you intriguing, rather than some sort of deviant.”
Jemima chuckled. “And where might we go from here, my love?”
“To the South, to widen the breadth of our cargo. Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, we will see it all.”
“I cannot wait,” she murmured excitedly.
Simon pulled her closer. “Neither can I. Now, how are you faring, my darling? Are you feeling much improved?”
Jemima had been rather unwell for the last few weeks of their voyage, though the oceans had been unusually turbulent, so it was not such a bizarre occurrence. Many of the other sailors, even the most seasoned, had gone somewhat green about the gills. She had suspected a similar bout of seasickness.
She nodded. “A little, my love. It is better when I have fresh air in my lungs. I do not feel so poorly up here.”
“Do you want me to send for Dr. Simkins?”
“No, I do not think that will be necessary. I am much improved. It is likely just the tossing and turning of the waves.”
He smiled. “It could be something else. I have heard of sickness being the first sign that a lady may be with child.”
She turned in his arms and gazed into his eyes. “Do you think it could be?”
“I do not see why not.”
A tremor of anxiety pulsed through her veins. If such a thing were true, there was excitement to be found, but there was also fear. In the past two years, she had lost three of the children that had grown inside her. She had only been with child for around four months, each time, when they had been taken from her in the most painful way.
She could remember each one vividly. Dr. Simkins running to her side in the middle of the night, for the first one. There had been blood everywhere, and an agony unlike any other. The next time, she had collapsed on the upper deck and woken up to be told that she had lost the child. The third, they had been wandering the pretty streets of Tangiers, in Morocco, when she had been taken ill.
Local women had seen to her, on the last occasion. And they had mourned the death of her unborn child, as fiercely as she had. They had gathered around her and embraced her, as if she was one of their own. Had it not been for their encouragement and their warmth, she did not know how she might have endured that last, terrible loss.
“I have never known you to have seasickness, my dear,” Simon said. “It would seem rather more likely that it is happier news.”
“But what if…what if I cannot carry this one?” She dropped her gaze.
He touched his fingertip to her chin and tilted it up. “If this is the right moment, it will happen. I have faith that it will.” He paused. “Perhaps, if Dr. Simkins can confirm it, we may stay awhile in America. In the past, you have always endured too much strain aboard this ship. If you could rest, maybe it would be easier for you?”
“Rest here, in America?” She glanced over her shoulder at the advancing country.
“Whyever not? It would be a delay of a few months. I can send Captain Bastian on to Mexico and Venezuela and have him return for us after the child is born. Assuming that is why you have been feeling unwell.”
Jemima sighed. “But I would love to see Mexico.”
“You will, my darling. We have the rest of our lives to see everything this world has to offer. And our child will see it, too,” he said softly, kissing her on the forehead.
“Are you not afraid that you might encounter your cousin here, if we linger too long?” Jemima nestled her head into his chest.
Lord Beaurgant had managed to evade the charges laid against him, given the nature of his birth. As a highborn Marquess, there had been an underhanded leniency towards him. He had been allowed to walk free, and retain his titles, as long as he kept away from England for the ensuing five years. And so, he had handed his estate to a steward, in much the same way that Simon had, and had disappeared into obscurity.
In return for self-exiling himself, the judicial authorities had all but forgotten about him. They had reclaimed all of the stolen money that had been gained from the contraband cargo, and it had been duly confiscated. All of the funds that had been siphoned from Simon’s legitimate cargo had been returned to him, and he had used it to purchase a new vessel in his fleet.
It was this ship, the Lady Jemima, that they sailed upon now, for Jemima had struggled to remain aboard the Evening Star, after everything that had occurred within it. They had voyaged upon it for some months, before they had switched to the Lady Jemima, taking the same crew with them. Ben, John, Dr. Simkins, they were all still part of this extended family, alongside Captain Bastian.
Word had arrived about a year ago, from a friend of Simon’s, who had spotted Lord Beaurgant alighting a ship in Norfolk, Virginia. By all accounts, he had spent the previous year on the continent, moving around France and Spain and Germany, before boarding a vessel to the Americas. After that, there was no hint of where Lord Beaurgant might be.
All they knew was that he was here, in America, somewhere.
Simon shook his head. “This country is vast, my love. My cousin will have done everything within his power to keep out of the port towns, where he might be discovered. There is little chance of him being in Norfolk still.”
“I hope you may be right.” She paused. “Have you heard anything more of Captain McMorrow?”
Simon nodded slowly. “He was transferred upon a convict ship, to Australia. I believe Harry has also been taken there.”
Harry was put to trial in Bristol a few days before their wedding, though news had not reached Jemima and Simon until long after the fact. He had been sentenced to ten years, hard labor. Although, it seemed he had purchased a place for himself on the convict ship, rather than enduring the rest of that difficult decade.
“At least they will not be able to trouble us again,” Jemima said quietly.
“No.” Simon kissed Jemima on the lips, pulling her flush to his body. “No, they will not.”
Simon smiled at Jemima as they walked through the streets of Norfolk. They had docked two days ago, and had just come from the ship, where Dr. Simkins had given his diagnosis. Sure enough, she was with child, though she had been silent ever since.
He knew it could not be easy for her, after everything she had endured throughout her last three pregnancies. There had been such excitement, only for it to be snatched away so very cruelly. He had sat at her bedside then and helped her through the sadness that had followed. He had been sad, too, and had sent out his grief to the night air, letting the ocean breeze carry it away.
But now, he felt a giddiness again. In the past, he had never been eager to have children of his own, but as soon as he had fallen in love with Jemima, that had changed. He could not have imagined anything more wonderful than holding his child in his arms and seeing the perfect blend of himself and his wife, looking back.
Please let it be so, this time. For her sake, as much as my own.
“Are you well, my love?” he said gently.
She turned to him, as though she had just remembered he was standing at her side. “Yes, I am quite well. I am just deep in thought, that is all.”
“Everything will be well, Jemima. I can feel it, in my bones.”
She smiled nervously. “I truly hope so. I do not know that I could stand to lose another.”
“You will not.” He put his hand on the small of her back, to let her know he was there for her. He wanted to kiss her, but he did not dare to, with so many people around them.
“Where are we going?” She glanced around, realizing that they were walking away from the port.
He chuckled. “You will see, soon enough.”
Together, they made their way through the town, passing through the throngs who crowded the port. There were soldiers standing around, talking to the sailors who had come in on the latest ships. Simon found it curious to see everything at peace, after the turmoil that had thwarted this nation forty years prior…and Britain, for that matter. So many men had been lost to the fight for independence, on both sides. But there was no sign of that history any longer.
A short while later, they walked upon a path on the outskirts of the town, heading towards a small settlement of houses. They were beautiful, built in a colonial style, with verandas spreading around the lower floor. Jemima frowned as they neared.
“What brings us here? Are we to meet a trader?”
Simon had allowed Jemima to join him on his trade deals, for her presence seemed to make the merchants more amenable. She was sharp and intelligent and did not accept any nonsense. Usually, it was her intimidating presence and soothing tone of voice that made them agree to deals, rather than his own persuasive tactics.
He shook his head. “No, we are not to meet with any merchants today.” He led her up the path to the nearest house, his boots echoing on the shallow steps as they made their way up to the veranda. “This is to be our place of residence, until such time as you have given birth. I decided to see if there were any possible rental opportunities, even though we did not know if you were with child. Just in case.”
She stared at him in surprise. “This is where we are to live?”
“If you care for it, then, yes.” He unlocked the door and ushered her inside. The house was airy and bright, with a pretty entrance hall, furnished with elegant trappings. A chaise, a chandelier, a Welsh dresser lining the far side of the hall, and beautifully crafted seascapes of the ocean upon the walls.
“It is remarkable,” she breathed.
“I hoped you might like it.”
She chuckled. “My mother and father will take leave of their senses, if they should hear that their grandchild is to be born in America. They have already argued and argued that a ship is no place for a lady like me.” Her expression turned sad. “Indeed, my mother found it prudent to tell me that the loss of my previous children was entirely to do with those surroundings.”
Simon took her by the hand and pulled her close. “Your mother does not know what she is saying. She does not mean to be cruel, I suspect, but she cannot help herself. This is not her way of thinking. It is yours, and mine. And we should not bend to external pressure.”
“You see, this is why I am grateful that you were brought into my life,” she said, looking up into his eyes. “You have never sought to change me.”
“Nor would I.”
She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him firmly on the lips. Smiling, he kissed her back, his hands sliding around her waist as he did so. Already, he could feel the slightest hint of a rounded stomach between them, though it was not yet prominent. It might have been the result of too much excellent food, had he not known better.
Her breath quickened as she ran her hands through his hair, her mouth catching his with fervent desire. It stirred him towards his own passion. He moved his lips in a sensual rhythm, his tongue exploring, while his fingertips traced delicate lines up her spine.
Staggering giddily, he urged her back against the wall and pressed her against it. Her hands made quick work of his trouser fastenings, whilst he lifted the edges of her skirt, pulling at her pantalettes until they fell to the floor. She stepped out of them, giggling as she looped her arms about his neck.
“I love you,” he whispered. “I love you, and I will love our child.”
She smiled. “And I will love you both, with all of my heart.”
With his strong arms, he picked her up and lifted her onto the nearby table, out of sight of any windows. Sliding his hands up her thighs, he pushed her skirts with it. A gasp caught in his throat as she reached out and took him in her hand, guiding him towards her sweet warmth.
Slowly, he entered her, both of them moaning in pleasure as they were unified, body and soul. He would never tire of this…of her. No matter where they were, he always desired her. Even during the worst storm, he found himself seeking her out, as a reminder that they were both alive for the time being.
She pushed her hips against him, allowing him to sink deeper. With his hands cupping her face, and his kiss upon her lips, he pulled out before sliding back in again. She arched her back as he quickened his pace, for he knew he did not have the capacity to last long, not with the thrill and ardor of the situation.
As he sank into her, over and over, he smiled as she slid her own fingertips towards her swollen bud. Just the way he had taught her. She had learned well, wanting to know everything and anything there was to know about the art of love-making. She continued to surprise him, in the best possible way.
As her fingertips moved faster, he matched her rhythm with his eager member, gripping her hips as he thrust with all his might. A few minutes later, she cried out in bliss, her hand coming away from her most sensitive spot. Her muscles tightened around him as that wave of pleasure crashed over her, bringing him to his own conclusion.
He held her tight as he spilled his seed within her, their breaths coming in ragged gasps as they clung to one another. Only when their breathing had slowed, did he move his hips away, sliding out of her. As he refastened his trousers and helped her back into her pantalettes, they met one another’s gaze and laughed.
“Let us hope this is a sign of happiness to come,” she said softly, enfolding herself in his arms once more.
He smiled. “If I am with you, my love, happiness is already guaranteed.”
Three months had passed in the port of Norfolk. The Lady Jemima had sailed on towards South America, to explore the countries and towns there, with a promise to return after the baby was born. Jemima envied those sailors their freedom, for she felt rather constrained in this one place, unable to adventure as she pleased.
There was one consolation, however. Her abdomen was now swollen with her child, having passed the four month-mark at which she had previously lost her children. Rest and relaxation had aided her nerves, for now she was seven months’ pregnant, and the child was kicking and moving with thrilling regularity. She could not have been more delighted.
Maybe, this time it will happen.She had sent word to her mother and father some months ago, shortly after their arrival here, but she had not received a reply. That was to be expected, as it took some time to voyage between the two countries. However, it did not stop her from going down to the docks each day, to see if any word had arrived from them.
She was on her usual, daily visit into town, when she froze halfway down the main thoroughfare. A gentleman stood outside the nearby hotel. A gentleman she recognized as well as her own face. He did not seem to notice her, as she ducked behind a stationary cart.
A young lady stood beside him, and they were talking in an animated fashion. He seemed to smile at every word she said, and she was chuckling happily. Glancing down, Jemima’s eyes widened in surprise. The young lady’s abdomen was also swollen with child. She watched as Lord Beaurgant pressed his palm to her belly, stroking it in a loving manner.
The young lady looked eerily familiar. Indeed, they could have been sisters, if not twins. Her long, raven hair and her dark-blue eyes were prominent features, and though she was shorter and slighter than Jemima, the resemblance was uncanny. So, he discovered a suitable replacement, did he?
She felt even more surprise as Lord Beaurgant leaned in and placed a tender kiss upon the young lady’s lips. She kissed him back, with no sign of reluctance. Indeed, she looked rather happy, as though she were the most blessed lady in all the world.
“My darling star, I have found you at long last,” Lord Beaurgant murmured, loud enough for Jemima to hear.
“Why do you call me by such a curious pet name?” The lady giggled.
“Because you are my star. I had thought you lost, and then you walked into my life and guided me from darkness, as any star should.” He sighed. “I had such pain and hatred in my heart, for so long, but you have dispelled it all. I look at you and know I have found what I have been searching for all of these years, in entirely the wrong sorts of places.”
“You are so very sweet, my love,” the lady replied. “I am delighted to be your star, and I hope that I may always lead you from darkness.”
“As do I.” He kissed her cheek tenderly.
Jemima kept herself hidden as the two figures walked away from the hotel, making towards a waiting carriage. Only when the reins snapped, and the carriage began to retreat up the main thoroughfare, did she emerge from her hiding place.
Rushing across the road and into the hotel, as fast as her burdened self could carry her, she approached a gentleman who stood at the reception desk. He smiled as she neared, brushing a hand through his oiled, dark hair. He ceased his preening as he caught sight of her swollen stomach.
“Good afternoon, Madam. Have you returned so soon?” He straightened up, his tone polite.
“I was wondering if you might tell me who those two individuals were, who have just departed the hotel? The young lady was with child, I believe.”
The gentleman frowned. “You are not her?”
“No, Sir. I am not.”
“Forgive me, you look exceedingly similar.”
She smiled. “Yes, I suppose we do.”
“That was Mr. Sheton and his wife, Mrs. Belinda Sheton.”
“Mr. Sheton? Not Lord something?”
The gentleman shook his head. “No, he gave the name of Mr. Sheton upon his arrival. They have been staying with us for some days, to collect some goods that have been brought from England, though they are returning to Georgia today. I arranged for the carriage myself.” He looked proud. “Are you related? Would you like me to send someone to catch up to them?”
Jemima shook her head. “No, thank you. That will not be necessary. And…yes, I suppose we are related.”
“Very good, Madam. Was there something else you required?”
“No, that will be all. Thank you.” Jemima turned away from him and exited the hotel, letting the warm sunlight bathe her face. She smiled up at the glow as she closed her eyes.
If Lord Beaurgant had found himself a wife, then he was no longer of any threat to her and her husband. Perhaps, now, he would never return to England again. It certainly seemed as though he had forged a happy existence for himself, on these foreign shores. Especially if he had taken it upon himself to have goods sent over from England.
As she thought on the conversation she had overheard, she realized what had urged Lord Beaurgant away from revenge. Simon had told her the story of Georgiana Starling, and Lord Beaurgant’s love for that lost girl. He had told her of Georgiana’s pet name of ‘Star’ and how he had named his flagship in her honor, after continuing to feel the weight of her death.
He had explained how similar Jemima looked to Georgiana and suggested that might have been the reason that Lord Beaurgant had fixated upon her, for he had wanted to replace Georgiana with a young lady who reminded him of his dead love.
He has found her ghost, in the form of another. Mrs. Belinda Sheton looked very similar to Jemima, and so it stood to reason that Lord Beaurgant had seen Georgiana reflected in them both. However, now he had a willing replacement, to heal that long-held rift within his heart. In achieving that, she believed he had no further reason to pursue her. For he had his ‘Star’ once more.
Simon had also explained that Lord Beaurgant had always held him responsible for that lady’s death, and suspected that his criminal activity had been a way of subtly revenging himself.
Captain McMorrow had been a tool in that ploy, driven by greed and a desire for more wealth. She could forgive those flaws in both men—the greed, the deceit, the obsession, the pain that had set Lord Beaurgant on such a course.
With him wandering free, though in perpetual disgrace amongst society, she had always worried that he might suddenly reappear and threaten revenge upon her. After all, she had taken his wealth, and his good name, and his reputation from him. His actions had forced him into self-exile. He had deserved it, wholeheartedly, but it had exposed her to a certain, unyielding vulnerability. A notion that he might return one day.
Now, she realized, she had nothing more to fear from him. He had found a lady to wed and was due to have a child by her. Perhaps, that meant he had found peace, at last. Just as Jemima and Simon had done. Despite the terrible things he had been responsible for, she was grateful that he had achieved contentment. Everyone deserved a second chance.
Everyone except Harry. She would never forgive him for what he had done or tried to do. His actions had been despicable to the core—the essence of evil. And she felt no remorse for the fate that had befallen him. Indeed, it almost irked her that he should have been allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in Australia, where he might be permitted to start a new life. Still, at least she never had to worry about him again, for he was on the other side of the world. Where he belonged.
Against all odds, everything seemed to be turning out well, with all the nastiness of the past disappearing in time. And she could not have been happier to learn of it.
Simon sprinted towards the house, his heart pounding in his chest. One of their servants, Philip, had come to fetch him from the port, where he had been attending to trade matters. It had been five months since he had sent the Lady Jemima towards South America, and he was making preparations for the return of the ship.
He burst through the doors and raced up the stairs, following the sound of Jemima’s voice as she cried out in pain. Her bellowing shouts echoed through the house. As he reached the bedchamber, one of the servants stood in his way. Mrs. Grant was the house cook but had turned into a guard, putting a blockade between Simon and his wife.
“Is she well?” Simon gasped, catching his breath. “Please, allow me in to see her.”
Mrs. Grant shook her head. “This is no place for a husband, My Lord.”
“I will be permitted entry,” Simon replied tersely.
“This is a woman’s business, My Lord. She won’t thank you for going inside.”
Simon held his ground. “I must see her. I must be with her.” He moved around Mrs. Grant and opened the door, stepping into the room beyond. He immediately spotted his wife upon the bed, with the two midwives working away. One crouched at the bottom end of the bed, holding Jemima’s knees apart, whilst the other dabbed a cloth across Jemima’s forehead.
“You shouldn’t be in here!” the midwife at Jemima’s head snapped.
He ignored her. “Let me do that.” He held out his hand for the dampened cloth, his eyes fixed upon Jemima’s tortured face. A sheen of perspiration glistened upon her brow, and there were tears in her eyes. Reluctantly, the midwife handed over the cloth and moved to join the other woman, at the bottom of the bed.
“Simon?” Jemima whispered, gazing up at him.
He nodded. “I am here, my love. I am here.”
“I am in such pain, my darling.” She wheezed, her voice croaky.
“You are doing so very well.” Simon dabbed the cloth against her brow. “You are doing so very well, indeed. I am here. I will not leave you.”
“We need you to push now, My Lady,” one of the midwives said.
Jemima nodded, as she reached out to grip Simon’s hand. Her fingertips tightened like a vise around his, as a bestial roar tore out of her throat, her body seizing up as she pushed with all her might. No sooner had she relaxed, than the midwives urged her to push, again, and again, and again. He remained with her through wave after wave of her pain, smoothing the damp tendrils away from her reddened face.
Simon froze as Jemima sank back into the pillows, and a shrill cry cut through the air. The midwives took scissors, and he heard a quiet snip. Not quite understanding what was going on, his eyes widened as the midwives took a small creature away, placing the infant down on a pile of cloth in order to clean it. They returned a moment later and offered the child to Jemima.
“You have a son, My Lady,” the first midwife said, with a smile. “A healthy little boy.”
Jemima bundled the child in her arms, careful to support his perfectly formed head, whilst Simon sank down beside her on the bed. He put his arm around her shoulders, his eyes gazing upon the infant. Tentatively, he reached out and brushed the little boy’s cheek, prompting him to wriggle slightly.
“Is he not the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” Jemima gasped, still weary from her endeavor.
“Almost,” Simon replied.
She turned her head to look up at him. “I love you, Simon.”
“And I love you, with all my heart. I love you, and I love our dear little son.”
“Do you have a name you prefer?”
He shook his head. “You ought to choose.”
“How about…Noah? He has traveled upon a ship already and will do so in the years to come. It seems rather fitting.”
Simon chuckled, and looked once more upon his son. “Yes, I think Noah would be very pleasant, indeed.”
Holding his little family within the security of his arms, he felt as though he might burst with happiness. For so many years, he had not wanted this existence. He had not been eager to marry, nor to have children of his own, but one serendipitous event had changed all of that. Despite everything, he had found the greatest gift—a lady who longed for adventure, at his side, and was not afraid to against the grain of society. A lady with a fierce mind and a fierce heart, who loved him as dearly as he loved her.
And now, they had a child. A child who would see the world in all its glory. A child whom they would love, unconditionally. He was half of Simon and half of Jemima, and Simon had never seen anything more perfect.
For such a long time, he had thought himself cursed in the life he had been given. It was the very reason he had sought to escape it, by turning to the merchant trade. Jemima had been the one to make him realize that he was anything but. No, instead, he was blessed. And those blessings would only continue to grow, as long as he had her.
Glancing down into Noah’s eyes, he finally understood what it meant to feel complete.
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