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Clearing The Air

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Eleanor Marshall
Young Wyrm
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Joined: 10 Dec 2016
Posts: 87
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5875.00 Silver Crowns


PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:26 am    Post subject: Clearing The Air Reply with quote

Morning found Captain Marshall at Lady Howard's door. He had done his best to get some sleep and tidy himself up. He wasn't wearing a suit, as he hadn't brought one, seeing as how impractical one would prove in the jungle, but he was wearing a clean shirt and pants, his hair was combed back from his face, and he had shaved. It was a definite improvement from the night before. He clenched his jaw, unsure if he was doing the right thing, but he had taken Finley's advice to heart. They were going to be in close proximity for some weeks ahead, and it would make the going a lot easier if they got along, rather than hated each other. He drew a breath, hoping it was the lady and not the tiger he'd be facing today, and rapped his knuckles on the door.

"Come in!"

Her voice was warm, at least, though she had no way of knowing who it was at her door. Eleanor had not had a particularly good night herself. Alex Finley's well-meant words had felt more like a further scolding, resulting in her quiet acquiescence to everything he said and at least an hour of tears before she fell to sleep. This morning, she was pale faced, shadows under her eyes; her hair caught in a loose bun at her nape, her clothing far less fancy than the evening gown she had worn the night before. Indeed, she was still doing up her belt when she called out for the knocker to enter.

He hesitated a moment before opening the door. She was the only woman in their party and was likely expecting it to be Finley, not him or any other of their party. He had to bite back a lecture for her to not be so trusting, but he didn't want to start the day off on the wrong foot when he was determined to make peace. He cleared his throat to announce himself when he saw she was still adjusting her belt, not quite ready for a visitor.

"I, uh ... I'll just wait outside," he told her, moving to close the door.

"No, Captain Marshall, I am quite presentable," she assured him, but the tone was cooler than he might have hoped for. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"I, uh ..." he stammered, not quite as self-assured as he'd been the night before. He seemed to remember that he hadn't come empty-handed and held up a small, round orange in his left hand. "I brought a peace offering," he said, indicating the orange. "I can ask to have it squeezed, if you like," he added. But the orange wasn't the only thing that had brought him to her door.

Hands folded against her stomach, she eyed the orange in his hand uncertainly. Was it a peace offering, as he said, or was it a means to sweeten her toward being kept separate and useless in the eyes of his party? "I-I have not yet breakfasted, Captain Marshall," she said quietly. "Would you not rather keep it for yourself?"

"I was hoping to escort you to breakfast," he said, unsure if she understood that his peace offering was his way of apologizing and starting over. "I am sorry to say I am not terribly fond of oranges," he told her, though that might be something of a little white lie.

"You would not rather breakfast with your men?" she asked, finally raising her eyes to his. Her restless night had left its mark on her face, her uncertainty now in the face of his attempt to apologize to her more marked because she felt she knew his true feelings on the matter after last night.

"We will be breakfasting with my men," he assured her, hoping she noted the difference in pronouns. He'd noticed the signs of a restless night's sleep and knew it was probably his fault, but in his opinion, she'd needed to hear what he'd had to say, even if he had been a little harsh. "If you would do me the honor," he said, still holding out the peace offering in one hand.

"Very well." She nodded in agreement, moving to join him at the door. Her fingers curled about the orange in his hand, accepting the offering with a shy glance. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said, offering an arm, just as he had the night before. He wasn't sure what all Finley had said to her, and there was still a lot she needed to know, but breakfast awaited, and neither had finished last night's dinner. "Shall we?"

Curling her arm through his, Eleanor mustered up a small smile, aware that she was a very different person this morning to the one she had been last night. "We shall, captain," she agreed, stepping out with him into the passageway.

"I must apologize for last night," he admitted, once she had taken his arm to accompany him to breakfast. She might notice he was not heading in the direction of Second Class. "It has been a very long time since I've been in the company of a lady such as yourself," he said, though that was not entirely the reason for his behavior. The word was being used not so much as a title as a description of her gender.

"There is no need to apologize," she was quick assure him, though it was more a case of manners than her actual opinion. "I put you in a difficult situation without thinking of the consequences. It will not happen again."

"I could have handled things better," he admitted, though he wasn't sure if that was true either. "Mr. Finley was kind enough to remind me that we are going to be together for some time to come. You are as much a part of this venture as any of my men, and you deserve better of me. I would like to be friends, if you will allow it," he said, swallowing a little of his own pride to tell her this.

"Alex was busy last night, it seems," she mused, drawing him to a halt as she looked up at him. "I am aware, captain, that my insistence on accompanying you on this venture is nothing more than a burden you would rather not shoulder. You have drawn the line very clearly for me, and I will abide by it. I am sorry to have caused you such trouble. But if you are willing, I should like to be your friend, if it is possible. I am rather clumsy at being more than a casual acquaintance."

He came to a halt, turning to face her, only then realizing how tiny she was compared to him, how far he had to look down to meet her gaze. She was a tiny thing compared to him, but he sensed an inner strength she may not yet have realized. "You are not a burden, Lady Howard," he countered. "Quite the contrary, but as I have said, the jungle is a dangerous place, and I worry for your safety. That is all." Or mostly all. Would she correct him for using her proper title when she was using his?

"So I am Lady Howard today," she said regretfully. "I understand. Thank you for your concern, captain." What else could she say? The line drawn the night before seemed to have been reinforced with the sudden insistence on using her born title, and though she could not hide her disappointment, she had promised she would abide by his desire and decisions. She would just have to endure being alone among a group she had no doubt her only friend had integrated himself into with ease.

He sighed. It seemed he could not win with her. Everything he said and did was wrong. What was it she wanted exactly? Did she want him to call her by her first name then? That wasn't very proper, but he would never think to call his sister Miss Marshall. "What would you have me do? Would you prefer I call you by your first name? I am not good at reading minds, Miss Howard. Tell me what you prefer."

"What I prefer has no place in the line you drew last night, captain," she said, her voice a little stronger as she looked up at him. "You made it absolutely clear that I have no point or purpose in attempting to integrate myself into your party, that I am only tolerated because I am funding this expedition. I would not dream of making your burdens heavier, and so I will abide by your stated wish. That you now desire me to state my own preferences is confusing at the very least. What should I say? I have no wish to be scolded like a child for the third time in less than a day."
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jay said nothing for a moment, the only reaction to her outburst a tight clenching of the muscles in his jaw. "You, my dear lady, are the most confoundedly confusing woman I have ever met," he said, trying not to sound as exasperated as he felt. Nothing he said or did seemed to make her happy, and yet, that wasn't what she was paying him for. She was paying him to lead her to her father's remains and that was all. Everything else - good or bad - was extra. He had half a mind to take her over his knee, but that would be extremely improper and would probably make her cry. If there was one thing he didn't want, it was to see her tears. She was simply going to have to toughen up or she wasn't going to survive in the jungle. "However, confounded or not, breakfast awaits. Dare I assume you are hungry, because frankly, I am starving."

Eleanor's jaw clenched almost in an echo of his own subtle display of temper. "Perhaps if you were not such a confusing contradiction of a man, Captain Marshall, I would not confound you so," she shot back. "Breakfast, you say. Yes, I should eat. We couldn't possibly have me doing something so dreadfully feminine as fainting because you are too stubborn to be absolutely clear with me."

"Confusing contradiction?" he echoed, brows furrowing in irritation. He was not quite angry yet, but he was slowly working up to it. "I have been trying my damnedest to protect you, Lady Howard. I do not think I could be any more clear than that, but if you insist, I shall try. You hired me to lead this expedition into the jungle to find out what happened to your father because either you or Mr. Finley believes I am the best man for the job. The men I have hired to accompany us do not answer to you, they answer to me. I have agreed - reluctantly - that you accompany us on the journey, but you are not one of us. You are not one of my men. You are not trained for this. The dangers in the jungle are very real. There is no telling what we might encounter there. People die in the jungle, Lady Howard. I will do my damnedest to make sure that each and every member of our party gets out alive, but I will not have you undermining my authority or having a temper tantrum because things do not go your way. I do not think I need to remind you that we are not here on holiday. I have offered you my friendship. You can take it or leave it, as you will. Whatever you decide, you can be assured I will do everything in my power to find out what happened to your father. That is what you are paying me to do. I know you are hurting. I know you are worried about your father. I understand that you feel you are alone in the world, and I am trying to be polite and accommodating, but I can assure you, the jungle will not care who you are or what you are feeling. The jungle doesn't care if you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor. You are a woman in a man's world here, Lady Howard, and the sooner you understand that, the better."

For the first time, real anger flashed across Eleanor's face - anger and hurt. She had thought she was doing the right thing in attempting to integrate into his team, prepared to take orders and behave exactly as he wanted her to, but it seemed that, despite his words, she truly was nothing but an encumbrance, a burden he did not want and would not even have considered enduring if she was not paying him.

"Thank you for making yourself so clear, Captain Marshall," she said, each word clipped and harsh from her throat. "I may be a woman in a man's world, but I stepped here without being forced. I will shoulder my share of the burden, I will keep up with you all, I will not give you even a moment's hesitation in my conduct. And since you are so clear that I am not one of you - " She pushed the orange back into his hand. "Go and enjoy your breakfast with the other men, captain. I know when I am not welcome." She spun on her heel, already marching back toward her cabin, her cheeks bright more with hurt shame than with anger.

He didn't so much as flinch as she flung his words back into his face and stomped away like a spoiled child to lick her wounds in private. He didn't try to stop her either. If he had to hurt her feelings to make her understand that she wasn't one of them, then so be it. No, she wasn't one of them - she was so much better than them. A few tears and a little heartache were worth it if it kept her alive. He clenched his jaw again and turned away from her cabin to make his way to the First Class dining room to make sure they delivered breakfast to her cabin, the orange held tightly in his hand.

Alex Finley glanced up from the table where the rest of the group were beginning their meal. A concerned frown touched his expression. "Where's Ellie?" he asked, peering behind Jay as though expecting to find her there.

"In her room," he replied, tossing Finley the orange. He just barely stopped himself from telling him that she was probably having a good cry because of him. He'd probably find out sooner or later on his own anyway. He grabbed a cup and poured himself a cup of tea, though he'd have preferred a brandy or scotch at the moment.

The Scotsman caught the orange easily, glancing at it with a raised brow. "So you left her there after having words again, aye?" he said, disapproval in his voice. "On her own. While we're all here without her."

"Yes, on her own. What would you have me do? Carry her over my shoulder and force her to join us? I offered to escort her here. I even offered my friendship. I tried, Finley, but I honestly do not know what she wants from me," he said. "I assure you she won't go hungry. I'll have some breakfast sent to her cabin," he added as he claimed a seat across from Finley.

"She wants a friend in you, Jay," Finley pointed out, sipping his coffee before turning his attention to buttering his muffin. "She's not usually so sharp as to deny herself companionship without a little encouragement from others, though."

"Then perhaps she should not be so prickly," Jay replied, feeling as though it was the lady who rejected his offer this time. He had offered his friendship, and the only mistake he seemed to have made was in using her title instead of her name. What did she expect when she constantly called him captain? He was merely returning her cordiality in like.

Finley nodded to himself, aware that he would be hearing this from Eleanor's side in the not too distant future. "Somehow I find myself hoping our journey to Manaus will be shorter than expected," he commented. "I doubt either of you will notice your crossed wires until you're forced into daily contact."

"Perhaps it's better this way," Jay said, as he skewered a few slices of bacon and added them to his plate. "I need the men to respect my authority, and I need both of you to do the same. There can only be one leader, Mr. Finley. My goal is to get everyone out of there alive. That goal does not involve making friends." It was a lonely way to live, but making friends was too dangerous and sometimes too painful. "You were in the war. You know how it is," he added. "She does not."

"If I may ... what makes you so certain she's trying to undermine your leadership?" Finley asked carefully. He hadn't seen a woman trying to undermine a man last night; he'd seen a young woman attempting to make friends, only to second-guess herself and lose all confidence. He nodded at Jay's addendum. "Aye, I know it. And you're wrong there in thinking she does not. Her father was strict, a military man in his own home."

"She's not consciously doing it, but making wagers with the men. It's just ..." He shrugged, unsure what it was exactly or why he had objected to it. She was a proper lady, not a soldier in the trenches. "It's not proper."

"Ah." Finley finished his mouthful, washing it down with another gulp of coffee. "So you would prefer her to be ladylike. To be weak and feminine and everything that a woman of her rank was before the war. Yet if you accept that the war changed the world, Jay, you must accept that the women of the world changed with it."

Jay frowned as he picked up his cup of tea. "I'm afraid I haven't been home long enough to know how the world has changed, Finley." He took a sip of his tea, pausing a moment before continuing. "I'm not sure what she wants of me. I'm not even sure we can be friends." Being friends meant being equals, and as far as he was concerned, they weren't that.

"So you're holding the distance, are you?" Finley asked him curiously. "Look, I'm not saying she's in the right and you're in the wrong. I think you've crossed wires, the both of you, and you're not being clear. But I also think you need to know what you're prepared to handle in this wee relationship of yours before you can be clear with her."
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Eleanor Marshall
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5875.00 Silver Crowns


PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"She claims I drew a line, and she refuses to cross it. I'm afraid it's out of my hands," Jay replied with a light shrug of his shoulders. What was he supposed to do now? Try and apologize again? Give her another orange? Call her by her first name? It seemed everything he did was wrong. He wasn't quite sure where to go from there.

Finley's curious frown returned. "Did she give you any clue as to where she thinks this line was drawn?" he asked, tilting his head over at the captain.

"Not only is she a woman, but she is a Lady. There is a clear distinction there, Finley. She wants to be one of the boys, but she is clearly not one of the boys. How do I help her feel welcome and still keep her safe? Tell me that," Jay asked, as he cut into his eggs.

Alexander Finley actually winced as he made an intuitive leap. "Oh, tell me you didn't tell her the problem is that she's a woman and we're men," he groaned, shaking his head. "That's never going to go down well." Sighing, he rubbed his fingers against his temple. "I think maybe you're making too much of how different she is to you. So I would suggest ... ask her what she would like you to call her, tell her what you would like her to call you. Don't tell her she's a woman; she knows she's a woman. She chose to hire you because she feels safe with you already. You should try to remember that."

"I did ask her that," Jay said. "She said that what she prefers has nothing to do with the line I drew for her, so you see, Finley, it's too late. What's done is done. She may feel safe with me, but that does not mean we will ever be friends."

There was a pause. "Jay, you have a sister," Finley reminded him gently. "Has it been so long since you saw her that you've forgotten how to talk to a woman? Ellie wasn't telling you it's too late; she was telling you that she feels you don't care what her preferences might be. All you had to do was pause and assure her that her preferences do have some importance in the overall scheme of things."

Jay frowned. Yes, he had a sister, but she wasn't half as frustrating as this woman was proving to be. "I wonder what she would think if I took her over my knee," he murmured, half in jest. Of course, he would never do that. Maybe he should just kiss her. He wondered what she'd say to that, but no, that would only encourage her. But what was wrong with that exactly? What exactly was it they were both afraid of? "I am not very good at this sort of thing, Finley," he said with another sigh.

"Aye, she could probably do with a good hiding from time to time," the Scots lawyer agreed amiably. He leaned back in his chair, studying Jay for a long moment. "Well now, Jay, let's look at this, shall we? Eleanor Howard is of only slightly higher class than I am. Yet you've no trouble talking to me. So I surmise that it isn't her gender that the problem, or her class. I think you like her, and you're afraid of liking her for whatever reason. Am I right?"

"Like her?" Jay echoed, laughing. "Don't be ridiculous. I've only just met her," he said, soaking up egg yolk with a slice of bread. At any rate, he couldn't afford to like her, even if he was growing fond of Finley. What was going to happen once he'd found her father? She was going to return to England and he was going to stay in Guyana, so what was the point?

"Oh, of course." Finley smirked behind the rim of his coffee cup. "That's why you've managed to have two arguments with her in the space of twelve hours. Because you don't like her."

"Surely, she can do better than me, Finley," Jay pointed out, a little annoyed with the man's smirk and apparent amusement at the situation. There had to be plenty of men back in England who would make a good husband for her besides her bore of a cousin.

"Don't you think that's a decision she should have some say in?" the Scotsman commented. "Where's the harm in letting her get a little closer to you, Jay? After all, if you've already decided you're never going to even consider her as anything more than a pampered child, you should be in no danger from letting her relax into being herself around you."

"I never said she was a pampered child," Jay disagreed, his fork frozen in mid-air before it got to his mouth. "All I know is she is stubborn, naive, quick-tempered, and frustratingly confusing," he said, before popping a bit of bacon into his mouth.

"Aye, I'd agree with the first three," Finley assured him. "The last one is your problem." He reached out to pour some more coffee for himself. "And if you don't manage to fix whatever the problem is by the end of today, I'll be taking steps myself to make sure it happens."

"Is that a warning?" Jay asked, brows arching upwards at the man's statement. The more he talked to Finley, the more he thought he should be a matchmaker. He had already tried making peace with Lady Howard and failed miserably; he wasn't sure he was up to facing that same failure again.

"Aye, it probably is," was the mild response. Finley didn't look like the sort of man who would square up to Jay and win, but on the other hand ... he'd come out of the war intact and seemingly with less trauma, and had managed to talk O'Malley out of being an arse the night before.

"I really don't see the point. She's made her feelings quite clear. I appreciate your attempt to help, but I doubt she has any desire to see me, much less talk to me. Now, if you'll excuse me, Mr. Finley, I have a lot of work to do. Would you be so kind as to make sure Lady Howard gets some breakfast? I'm sure if I were to deliver a tray to her door, she likely throw it in my face," Jay said with an apologetic smile as he moved to his feet.

"Aye, I'll make sure she eats," Finley agreed, noting the fact that Jay seemed to have decided not to try again. He nodded to the captain thoughtfully. "We'll be at the mouths of the Amazon tomorrow, and Manaus two days after that. You've plenty of time for work, surely?"

"No time like the present, Finley," Jay replied. "Good day," he added with a nod of his head before turning to exit the dining room and go about whatever business he needed to tend to elsewhere about ship.

Whether Jay had a good day or not, Alexander Finley didn't know - he was busy himself, making arrangements to force an actual conversation between the captain and the lady. Thus it was that Crawford was the one to tell Jay that a private dining room had been hired for the evening, and escort him to it, under orders to make sure the captain thought it had been hired for the entire group. Finley put himself in charge of getting Eleanor there, ending up putting his foot down in the face of her admittedly childish objections. So, when Crawford opened the door to admit Jay Marshall, Alexander Finley was quick to exit through the same door with one last command for both of them.

"This door stays locked until you're on speaking terms," he informed the pair. "And no hitting. Enjoy your dinner." Pulling the door shut swiftly, he turned the key in the lock with a definite click.

Jay hadn't bothered to clean himself up for dinner, other than to wash his hands and face. He certainly hadn't been expecting this, and even if he had, he might not have bothered. Nothing he did seemed to please the woman, so what was the point in trying? Finding himself left alone with her was annoying at best. They both had to eat, but speaking was another matter.

"I suppose Finley is to blame for this," he muttered the obvious as the man left them alone. The man had warned him.

Eleanor clearly hadn't dressed for dinner herself, still in the clothing she had worn earlier in the day. She had been expecting to eat alone with Alex, not be ambushed and locked into the dining room with Captain Marshall, drawing her hands anxiously over her hips as she realized she had been duped.

"Would you like to kill him, or would you rather hold my snood?" she asked, surprising herself with that display of annoyed humor rather than upset anger.

"Oh, I will let you have the honor, if you wish," Jay replied, with the hint of a smirk at the corners of his mouth, despite his annoyance. "It seems we are being forced into having dinner together, so I suppose we should make the best of it," he added. "Do you think he was kind enough to provide us with liquor? This might be a long night."
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Eleanor Marshall
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm

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5875.00 Silver Crowns


PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I have not looked," she admitted, but she gestured toward the sideboard, where covered dishes lay, along with a couple of bottles. "I apologize for Alex. He does not know when to leave well enough alone, it seems."

"He means well," Jay replied in response to her apology. "Shall we?" he asked, gesturing toward the sideboard, as well, allowing her to take the lead. "I believe he is trying to play matchmaker," Jay said, curious to see what she'd say to that.

Her reaction was charmingly open, offering him a blush and shy eyes for a long moment before she recalled herself. "I asked him not to," she said in a timid tone. "I ... I would never force my company upon anyone, especially when ... if I-I liked him and he did not seem to like me."

"I never said I did not like you, Lady ..." He trailed off, frowning, suddenly at a loss as to how to go on. She did not seem to like his formal use of her title, but he did not know her well enough to call her by her given name. "I'm afraid I am not sure how to address you."

She hesitated, biting her lip. "I ... should like you to call me by my name, but I am aware that I cannot ask you to do that," she said quietly. "For your comfort, I would prefer to be Miss Howard. Lady Howard was always my mother; I am not at ease with the title."

"Very well, Miss Howard," he said, a slightly nervous smile on his face as he ushered her onward to the sideboard, where their dinner awaited. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at the social graces. My mother passed when I was still a boy, and my father was too busy trying to support us to spend much time teaching us manners," he said. Despite that claim, he seemed to have learned good manners somewhere along the way.

"Captain ..." She hesitated again, shaking her head. "I am sorry for the way I spoke to you this morning. It was childish and selfish to take offense so easily." She managed a faint smile as he ushered her to the sideboard. "How would you like me to address you, in future?"

"My given name is James, but no one calls me that anymore. I am Captain Marshall to my men, and Jay to my friends. I suppose for now, it would be best to call me Captain," he told her. It didn't seem right to have her call him by his given name, if he wasn't doing the same. He reached for the bottle that been left for them there, pausing a moment to examine the label. "I'm not sure where Finley came up with this, but it's a good vintage," he said, as he went about uncorking the bottle of wine in his hand.

"As you wish, captain." As he uncorked the bottle, she began to investigate the covered dishes. Tonight's First Class fare seemed to be roast beef and potatoes, with a mixed vegetable side, and still piping hot. "I am sorry, I must ask ... why are you so determined to keep me separate from your men and at arm's length? You must trust them, or you would not have hired them, so ... I do not understand why I must be isolated."

"Is that what you think I am trying to do?" he asked, just as he pried the cork from the bottle with a loud popping sound and moved to fill two glasses. The wine appeared to be a burgundy, though it was hard to say whether it was a good vintage or not.

"That is ... what it feels like," she said, choosing her words with care. Eleanor did not want another argument with him. "You were very ... explicit ... this morning in making it clear that I am not one of you and I cannot hope to be made welcome among you. It is very hard to be told that I cannot even hope to find a place in your ranks."

"There will be plenty of opportunity for that in the jungle," Jay said, though he knew he was at risk of confusing her further. He handed her one of the glasses. "Tell me what you think. It's a 1900 Bordeaux. Said to be a very good vintage," he said, changing the subject. "What shall we drink to?" he asked as he lifted his glass.

He certainly had confused her further, but she did not want further heated words. So, despite her bemused frown, she took the glass from him, sniffing the bouquet thoughtfully. "To friendship, perhaps?" she asked uncertainly.

"To friendship," he echoed, adding with a further smirk, "Perhaps." He touched his glass to hers before lifting it to his lips for a swallow. "Not bad. I usually prefer something with a little more of a kick, but it'll do."

Sipping her own wine, she smiled at his assessment of it. "I must confess, I am not a great admirer of wine," she admitted shyly. "You likely know more of it than I."

"I know what tastes good," he said, making no claims to be an expert of any kind. "We should probably eat while it's still warm," he added. "Why don't you have a seat and I'll bring the plates?" he asked, gesturing with a nod of his head toward the table.

"Oh! Thank you." This time the smile was warmer, more relaxed. Eleanor was glad they had managed to at least touch on the problem that was their oddly uneven relationship without anger, moving toward the table obediently at his suggestion.

He would have pulled out a chair for her, if he didn't have a plate in each hand, but if she was still standing by the time he set them on the table, he would do just that.

In actual fact, she was holding his chair for him as he approached the table, the first glimmer of her teasing smile showing in her eyes since the night before. "Your seat, captain."

"Uh," he murmured, gesturing toward the abandoned bottle and glass he'd left on the sideboard, clearly not expecting her to turn the tables - or chairs - on him, so to speak.

"I'll collect them, don't you worry," she assured him. Would he notice that this was the way he and others treated her, she wondered, gently maneuvering the chair under him until he sat before collecting the wine and glass.

Even if he noticed, it might not make him change his beliefs about the differing roles of men and women in society just yet. At the moment, he just thought she was trying to be nice, or maybe she was trying to make a point as to what a woman was expected to do in the presence of a man. "That's not really necessary," he told her, likely too late.

"Is it not?" Eleanor asked innocently. "Or is it only unnecessary because I am the woman in this room, and you are the man?" Her smile was gentle - she thought she'd found a way to make her point without making him angry. "I have hands and feet, and the ability to use them. Why should I not, when you are otherwise occupied?"

"You've made your point," he said, without any anger in his voice, though he hardly thought fetching a bottle of wine equated with what they could expect during their travels.

Her smile faded as she sat down, glancing toward the locked door. To be honest, she didn't believe Alex would unlock it until he was finished with his own meal at the very least, so perhaps she should push to make sense of the oddness in her relationship with Captain Marshall. "Why do you disapprove of me so much, captain?" she asked hesitantly. "It seems as though whenever I relax in your presence, I somehow fall short of your expectations."

"Disapprove?" he asked, taking up his fork and knife as he looked across the table at her. He was aware that he had somehow disappointed her again, but perhaps this was his chance to explain. "You misunderstand me, I think, Miss Howard," he said, careful to phrase his words so that she wouldn't get angry again. "I do not disapprove of you, and you most certainly do not fall short of my expectations. It is not that at all, but I am not sure I can help you understand."

"I should like you to try," she encouraged him softly. "I think we are misunderstanding each other, and if it continues, our journey will be fraught with anger and argument. I do not want to argue with you, captain. But neither do I wish to feel as though I am a disgrace or disappointment each time I say something that is not a perfect representation of upper class manners."

"Very well," he replied, while cutting into his roast. But where should his explanation begin? Should he start at the beginning or just tell her what she needed to know. "My father was a doctor," he started, sharing this mostly so that she would know where his knowledge of such manners came from. Though he wasn't titled gentry, he did come from an upper middle class background. "After my mother died, we were raised mostly by nannies and governesses, until I was old enough to be sent away to boarding school."
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Eleanor had not expected his explanation to begin quite so far into his past, but did not interrupt, understanding that it was a privilege to be trusted with anything he chose to tell her about his life and secrets. She simply watched him as he spoke, hoping her silence was more inviting than censuring.

"So, I am not entirely ignorant of upper class manners," he explained further. "Though it was impressed upon me at a very young age that I would never be as good as the boys who came from high birth, no matter what my father did for a living. I suppose my father hoped I would follow in his footsteps one day. I'm sure he hoped for a good marriage for my sister, as well. We must have been a terrible disappointment to him," he said, pausing a moment to chew on a slice of beef.

"I am sure you were not," Eleanor answered gently. "Though I can understand a little of how that early impression must have affected you. Yet I have known men of supposed low birth worth ten of men supposedly born higher. I was always taught to judge a man by his deeds, not his birth."

"As was I," he agreed. "But not everyone think as we do. Nevertheless, I might have followed by father into medicine had it not been for the war. I, like so many other young men, was eager for glory and adventure, but I can assure you that there is nothing glorious about war. Simply put, war is hell. We went to war boys and were quickly forced into becoming men."

"I cannot imagine what you experienced," she confessed in a soft voice. "Nor would I ask you to relive it simply for my sake. Please ... do not hurt yourself in attempting to relieve my ignorance. I would not have you suffer."

"I will not tell you what I saw and experienced there," he assured her. He had no intention of doing that, more for her sake than for his. He'd been over the war countless times in his head. Talking about it didn't change anything, but she didn't need to know the kinds of horrors he'd seen there. "I will only say that I lost too many friends, too many good men."

"And ... you believe you should have died with them?" she asked hesitantly. "That they were better men than you and should have lived while you died in their place?" It was a guess, but not such a leap as others might have thought. She had seen her own father's guilt at surviving when so many had not.

"Something like that. None of them deserved to die, but such is war. I survived, and they gave me a medal for it and told me I was brave. I wasn't brave, Miss Howard. Those boys who died were the brave ones, and sometimes ..." He paused, though she had already guessed at some of the pain that haunted him. "Sometimes I wish I'd died with them, yes. I went back home for a time after the war, but like your father, there's no going back."

"I think, perhaps, that courage is relative," she said in a thoughtful tone. "That what one man considers bravery, another considers nothing at all. But ... forgive me, I do not understand why it is you have such difficulty accepting my wish to be your equal."

"To be my equal," he echoed with a sad smile. "Miss Howard, once again you misunderstand. I do not look down on you; I look up to you. You are so much better than I am. It is not that you can never be my equal, but that I can never be yours. It is not because of society, but because of who I am, who I've become. I am simply unworthy." This was not a judgment he was making of her, but only of himself, and from the look on his face, it seemed to make him a little sad.

"I do hope you'll forgive me for saying so, but that is tosh, captain," Eleanor told him firmly. "I am not better than anyone, least of all you. And if your reason for keeping me isolated and alone is out of some misguided wish to keep me unsullied, then I consider it cruel. I am alone enough in this world. It happens that I like you very much, and I trust your judgment. If you trust your men, then I shall too. We must all be equals if we are to come out of the wilds together and unharmed."

Instead of growing angry, he couldn't help but chuckle at her gentle reprimand of him, basically telling him that everything he had just admitted or believed was nonsense. It hadn't occurred to him yet that he might be feeling a little sorry for himself; that he, too, like her, felt alone in the world, even among his men. "Well said, Miss Howard. But I am not sure that will be the case when we are faced with real danger. I mean no disrespect to you or your gender, but you simply do not have the knowledge or experience necessary to survive the jungle alone, but you will not be alone. We will be together, and I promise you, I will do everything in my power to make sure you come out of the jungle alive."

Compromise where you can, Finley had told her. Here was an opportunity for compromise. As irritating as it was to be the weak little woman who needed protecting, Eleanor could see that protecting her meant a great deal to this strange, sad man who had so caught her attention. "I will take that promise, captain, with one caveat," she told him. "That you also bring yourself out of the jungle alive alongside me."

He lifted his glass to her, as if to seal those promises with a sip of wine. "Agreed. I will do my best to keep that promise," he assured her. After all, despite his feelings of guilt over his comrades' deaths in the war, he had survived and intended to go on surviving for as long as he could.

"Thank you." Her smile was once again more relaxed as she raised her glass in return. Setting the glass down once again, turning her attention to the meal in front of her, she hesitated for just a moment before saying, "May I ask about your sister? I never had any siblings of my own - I am extraordinarily curious about other people's."

"You may, if you wish," he said, with a hint of teasing in his eyes as he left it at that, without expounding on that further. "What do you want to know?" he asked, taking a sip of his wine before swapping it for his knife and fork again.

"Her name, her age, what she is like?" Eleanor suggested hopefully, clearly delighted to have been given permission to pry just a little. "What it is like to have a sister?"

He chuckled at her choice of questions. "It is almost as frustrating as it is knowing you," he said, but the expression on his face revealed that he was teasing her a little. "Her name is Eliza. She's in Paris for now, studying to be an artist ... or so she tells me in her letters."

Eleanor pulled a face at him for his teasing comment, but smiled as he went on. "An artist? Oh, how exciting!" she enthused happily. "I hope to see her work some day. And is she happy there?"

"She seems to be," he replied as he continued to nibble at his dinner. "I have not seen her in an year or more," he added with a small frown. Had it really been that long?

"But you write to her, I hope, and she to you?" Eleanor pressed him hopefully. "Does she have a sweetheart, or is she as confirmed in her solitude as her brother seems to be?"

"We write," he assured her, but he was frowning a little again at her other question. "I am not sure," he said, furrowing his brows as he considered her question, not only regarding his sister but himself. Was he so confirmed in his bachelorhood as she seemed to think, or had he just not met the right woman yet?

"I am sure she would have told you if romance was in her mind," the young woman opposite him said, a little confused by his frown but unwilling to pry too deeply to discover the reason behind it. "You are her brother, after all. Would you not tell her if romance entered your own wishes?"

"It's been a very long time since I've thought about romance," he was a little embarrassed to admit. It wasn't the kind of question he expected from her and certainly not the kind of thing he wanted to discuss. "What about you? You must have met someone who interested you, besides your cousin," he said, reaching for the bottle to refill both their glasses.
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Eleanor hesitated before she answered, shy of admitting this. "No," she told him. "There are few men who are not already married or engaged, and ... Well, those who are not spoken for back home are the sort to remain bachelors for whatever reason. And ..." She hesitated again, blushing deeply as she looked down at her plate. "There is a great deal of competition for attention of any man these days. I am not inclined to humiliate myself in public on the off-chance that someone I may not even like might consider me pretty."

"Humiliate yourself in public?" he asked, looking confused. Why would she do that to catch the eye of a man she didn't even like? "I'm not sure I understand," he said, setting the bottle back down, now that their glasses had been refilled. He made no remark on her looks, though only an idiot wouldn't notice that she was pretty.

"There are fewer men of appropriate age than there were a few years ago," she said, trying not to draw the obvious parallel between the numbers and the war too clearly. "As a result, girls my age are behaving a little desperately in order to secure a proposal. Their forwardness is embarrassing to watch. It is not something that I would willingly engage in, just to have a ring on my finger."

"Oh, I see," he murmured with a frown, realizing the connection between the war and the smaller number of eligible bachelors. "I suppose I could have my pick then," he said, with a small attempt at humor. In truth, he didn't really think he was much of a catch.

She smiled, albeit a little sadly. "You could," she assured him. "You are handsome and gentle. Any woman would be privileged to garner your attention, I am sure."

"I'm not so sure about that," he said, picking up his glass and tipping it back for more than what could be considered a polite sip. "You, on the other hand, could have your pick of men," he said, gesturing toward her with the glass.

"I do not want to have my pick of men," she answered with a shrug of one shoulder. "I would rather be the mutual choice of one man who touched my heart. I am too much of a wallflower to be noticed enough by any man of my supposed class."

"Ah, you are a romantic, and you hope to wed for love. Now you sound like my sister," he said with a slightly amused smile, though it was hard to tell if he was amused by her romantic notions or by the fact that she seemed to have this in common with his sister.

Eleanor paused, her glass halfway to her lips. "Is it a foolish thing, then, to hope for love to begin a shared lifetime together?" she asked, more curious than offended by his smile.

"No, not foolish. Impractical, perhaps, but not foolish. One cannot live on love alone," he pointed out, though she did not seem to be hurting for money - or at least, she presumably wouldn't be if she inherited her father's estate. "I would think a woman of your standing would have no shortage of suitors. Have you found none of them even a little to your tastes?" he asked, demonstrating how little with his thumb and forefinger a mere inch apart.

"Not suitors, no," she told him, shaking her head. It was the truth - she had been courted by men she found repugnant in their own way, including her cousin. The only man she had felt even the first flicker of real interest in was sitting opposite her, and he seemed determined never to enter the description of "suitor" if he could possibly help it. "And what of you? You could have your pick - is there no woman in your sphere you might consider for a wife?"

"It is not so much finding a woman I might consider for a wife as one who might consider me for a husband," he admitted, hiding a frown behind another swig from his wine, which was not meant to be swigged. He managed to avoid her gaze, perhaps because he was uncomfortable with the question or perhaps because he might have considered her, if he wasn't so completely unsuitable for her.

"Even what little I know of you leads me to think you are being unnecessarily hard on yourself again, captain," she pointed out, setting her cutlery down on her empty plate.

"Am I?" he asked, though he didn't really expect an answer. "You see how I make my living, Miss Howard. This is not a good life for a woman and not a good place to raise a family. I do not know what I'd do were I to return home. I tried once, and it did not go well. Too much has happened."

"I think you set a little too much store on your perception of every woman in the world as being somehow delicate and in need of constant protection," she offered quietly. "I will concede that, yes, we may be weaker than men, and without the same training as men, we do need protecting in hostile environments. But women can be just as strong, and just as lonely."

His gaze flickered to meet hers, a briefly startled expression on his face at her admission, especially the mention of loneliness. "Are you lonely, Miss Howard?" he asked her point-blankly. Never mind himself; he was asking about her.

She had not been expecting him to ask such a question, nor quite so bluntly if he did, but the question was out there between them now. Eleanor found herself nodding, giving his query the honesty it demanded. "I am," she said simply. "When I say I am alone in the world, it is not simply a statement of fact. It is an accurate description, captain."

So, it seemed Finley's friendship was not enough to fulfill that loneliness, but why would it be if what she longed for was love and romance and marriage? Finley was a good man, but she was obviously no more in love with him than she was with her cousin. "If not for my sister ..." He shrugged, only just realizing how similarly alone they both were.

"If not for Alex," she agreed softly. Finley might not be her brother by blood, but he was the closest she had to family these days. She drew in a swift breath, shaking her head. "I am sorry, I have made the conversation very dull."

"Hardly," he assured her with a soft smile. "I would guess this is exactly what Finley wanted. We haven't shouted at each other since this morning," he said, that smile turning into a teasing smirk.

His smile drew a smile from her, a smile that parted into a quiet laugh as he teased her. "I suppose we should try harder then, if you truly wish to fight," she suggested just as teasingly.

"No, I was being honest when I said I want to be friends," he admitted, reminding her of something he'd said that morning, before they'd argued. "I think perhaps we are both too stubborn for our own good."

"You are probably right," she conceded, "though I do have a terrible habit of assuming that every ambiguous comment is a disguised negative assumption about myself. I suppose I am over-sensitive."

"Miss Howard, I can assure you that if I wish to insult you, you will know it," he said, that teasing smile on his face again. Maybe it was the wine, but he seemed to be more relaxed than she'd seen him, as yet.

"Ah, so you are deliberately ambiguous with everyone, then?" she asked innocently, leaning on the table in a flagrant display of bad manners but friendly companionship.

"Not everyone," he said, though he wasn't entirely sure. "I do not make friends easily," he admitted, though he and Finley seemed to have hit it off pretty quickly.

"Neither do I," she assured him. "It would appear I am in good company." She raised her glass to him, sipping the wine slowly.

"Likewise," he said, raising his glass in answer to hers and draining it. He leaned forward to take up the bottle again, offering her a refill, if she wanted it, with a questioning expression on his face.

She inclined her head, but stopped his pouring before the glass was filled again. At least she knew how much she could handle of the alcohol on hand. "You have mentioned several times that the jungle is dangerous," she said, gently changing the subject. "If I may ask ... what exactly were you referring to? I have read extensively about venomous spiders and snakes, tigers and jaguars and the like. Is it that sort of thing?"
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Oh, you know ..." He said, gesturing with a circular motion of his hand as he poured the remainder of the bottle into his glass. "Headhunters, man-eating tigers, quicksand, the usual sort of thing." He had to hide his smirk again behind a sip of wine, teasing her as he was.

Eleanor stared at him, her eyes wide with startled shock. "Head ... head hunters?" she repeated, horrified by the implication of what he was saying. She missed the smirk, offering him only the sight of an innocent young woman utterly shocked by the notion of having someone try and cut her head off in the night.

He chuckled, taking pity on her and reaching over to pat her hand reassuringly, rather than further egg her on. Other than for escorting her on his arm, it was the first time he'd dared touch her. "No, I'm sorry. I was just teasing. Do you want to hit me?"

As his admission sank in, she suddenly laughed, picking up her unused napkin to throw it at him across the table. "You are a dreadful man," she informed him in amusement. "I believed you!"

"I did try to warn you!" he said, regarding her assessment of him. He laughed as he caught the napkin, relieved she wasn't angry with him. "The jungle is dangerous, but I've not heard tell of any headhunters. To be honest, sickness is a real danger. Malaria and such. Then there's the wildlife and the weather. We'll take all the proper precautions, but the jungle is a rather unpredictable place. I would recommend you stay close and do not wander off."

"Alex did say something about having a stock of quinine among the supplies," she mused, finally putting that together with what Jay was telling her. "I think I am unlikely to wander off, unless I am answering a call of nature."

"Even then, you should take an escort. No one should be wandering off alone in the jungle. Take Finley with you, if you must, and tell him to close his eyes. I do not want anything to happen to you," he told her, quite seriously. Of course, he didn't want anything to happen to any of them, but he was especially concerned about her.

She blushed, embarrassed by the thought of needing a escort to avail herself of a little privacy in which to ... well, it was simply an embarrassing thought. But it was a sensible request, she knew. Embarrassment was nothing compared with death or serious injury. "I will do as you say, captain," she assured him, leaning back in her seat. "I understand you also have reservations about my attire. Would it relieve you to know that I have trousers and flat soled safari boots?"

"Well, I certainly wouldn't recommend hiking through the jungle in a dress and heels," he remarked with another smirk, a little amused at her question. He'd assumed she was smart enough to pack sensibly, and if she hadn't, they'd be doing some shopping when they reached their destination.

"I'm sure I could manage it, but it would not do much for our progress each day," she answered, raising a brow above her own soft smile. "The blisters would be atrocious."

"Heels are definitely not practical. Safari boots should do the trick. You want good leather boots to protect your feet from the weather and to prevent yourself from slipping," he told her, purposely not bothering to mention they'd also help protect her against snakes.

"I am sure you will fully critique my chosen clothing at the first opportunity," she said, her eyes sparkling with amusement. She could just imagine that - either he would be so careful in his words she wouldn't understand any of it, or he would be so blunt that even a child would feel ashamed of themselves.

"Before we leave for the jungle, we'll be checking everyone's gear to make sure they're properly equipped," he assured her. No one would be going into the jungle without the proper gear, so long as he was in charge.

"I also intend to have my unnecessary items stored in Manaus," she added, determined to prove that she had though all this through. "I have a waxed canvas bag to carry my personal belongings in. The suitcase is staying in the city."

He nodded, unsure he wanted to know what personal belongings she was referring to. Makeup? Perfume? Lingerie? "I would suggest you only carry the essentials," he said, as she would most likely be carrying them herself.

"I assure you, captain, that I will only bring what is absolutely essential," she promised him, and decided to push her luck briefly. "Unless you would prefer me to walk around in blood-stained knickers, of course."

His jaw almost dropped open at her candor. "I shall trust you to know what is best where female needs are concerned," he said once he'd recovered, hoping that was the end of that subject. He didn't really want or need to know about that.

Her smile flashed bright and wicked for a moment, glorying in the sight of him speechless for however short a time, before she composed herself once again. "Then I believe you may trust me to know what is absolutely essential and what is not."

"I'm pretty sure lipstick is not essential," he said, proving he knew a thing or two about the difference between women's necessary and unnecessary items. As for himself, he was going to have to decide whether or not he wanted to shave, but that was about the only real concession he'd have to make.

She tilted her head curiously. "Have you noticed that I wear lipstick on a daily basis?" she asked. She didn't, as a rule, wear make up except in the evenings, prefering not to bother with painting her face. After all, if one was supposed to catch a man with all that paint, then all one was selling was a lie by using that paint, surely.

He hadn't really thought about it much really. Her lips looked perfectly luscious just the way they were, lipstick or no lipstick. "I hadn't noticed actually," he lied, forcing himself not to stare at her lips or think too hard about how kissing them.

"I do not, for future reference," she assured him, those lips curving into the more familiar soft smile that suited her face so well. She paused, considering him for a moment. "Are you quite well, captain? You seem a little ... distracted."

"Yes, I'm fine. A bit of a headache, I'm afraid," he said, lifting a hand to rub at his right temple. "It's probably the wine," he said. Or lack of a stronger beverage.

Instantly her amusement was replaced with concern. "Oh, I am terribly sorry," she sympathised without needing a moment's thought. "Is there anything I can do to relieve that pain? Alex will likely not let us out until he has finished his own meal."

He was telling the truth about the headache, but it wasn't something that had come on suddenly, but had been nagging at him for a few days, probably due to the lack of booze. "A little coffee might help," he said, but alas, it looked like Alex had only left them with two bottles of wine. Dare he break open the second bottle?

"Perhaps some sugar might aid you a little," she suggested, rising from her seat to investigate what had been left for dessert. "Goodness ... creme brulee?"

"There will be no creme brulee in the jungle," he reminded her with a smile, amused by her reaction to the dessert. "We might as well enjoy as many luxuries as we can." There wouldn't be any privacy either, among other things. Somehow, he found himself worrying again about how she would fare.

She brought the two little dishes with their caramelized sugar tops to the table, sliding into her seat with a sweet little smile. "You seem convinced that I am used to living in the lap of luxury," she commented mildly. "What gives you that impression?"

He shrugged, unsure how to answer that. He didn't think he was consciously assuming anything, but he couldn't deny that she had money - more money than he did at any rate. "You're a titled Lady. What should I think?" he answered, turning the question around on her.

"I am used to conviences, it is true," she agreed thoughtfully. "But I have never bathed in jasmine, or eaten from gold plates. My father was a strict man, captain. He gave me nothing he did not think I had earned."

Jay frowned a little at her confession. He thought she'd mentioned something like that about her father before, but at the time, they'd been arguing and he'd been too angry to think about it much. Now, as he realized she had not had it as easily as he might have assumed, he felt a strange desire to give her the things she'd never had before. "Bathing in jasmine is not such an extravagant luxury. I dare say, you will be willing to kill for a bath by the time we return."
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 7:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

She laughed softly. "I am sure I will be perfectly happy to smell awful so long as everyone else does," she assured him in amusement.

"Oh, I'm sure we will all smell awful," he said with a chuckle. "Perhaps when we're back, you'll let me take you out for a proper dinner," he said, though he quickly realized she'd likely be leaving for England as soon as they got back to Georgetown.

She blushed prettily, her smile almost shy but for the sweet look in her eyes as she held his gaze. "If you are not sick of the sight of me by that time, then yes," she agreed without needing to consider it further.

"How could I ever get sick of the sight of someone as lovely as you?" he asked, smiling. Was it the wine that was talking or was he sincere? He had never given her such a compliment before; at least, not in so many words.

The compliment had the effect of sweetening an already sweet smile, broadening her lips as she brightened in response. "I should hope it will never happen," she heard herself answer. "For I very much enjoy your company, even when you are scolding me."

He smiled back, looking either a little embarrassed or a little amused at her statement. "I'm sorry about the scolding. I promise I'm not always so grouchy. If it's any consolation, I'm only worried for your safety," he admitted, hoping she didn't take that the wrong way.

"I do know that, captain," she assured him. "But I should rather be with you and safe, than kept apart and safe, if that makes sense at all. A few coarse words are not going to do the harm that being put on a pedestal will."

He chuckled a little at something she'd said. "I am afraid you are bound to hear a lot of coarse words on this trip. Shall I bring along some cotton for your ears?" he asked, the corners of his eyes crinkling in amusement.

Still giggling softly, she wiped her lips on her napkin. "Or perhaps carbolic soap to wash out the mouths of those who use such language?" she suggested teasingly in return. He really was awfully handsome when he relaxed and smiled, she realized, quietly acknowledging that perhaps Alex might have been right when he'd suggested she had more than a passing interest in their guide.

"You'd have to catch them first," he remarked, doubting any of his men would willingly allow that, no matter how bad their language. She was going to be the only woman among a party made up of men for at least a few weeks to come. With any luck, they would not shock her too badly.

She smiled, moving to her feet to take the empty dishes back to the sideboard. "I am glad we have cleared the air, Captain Jay," she said warmly. "I think perhaps you need not worry about being blunt with me. I would rather know in simple detail than listen to my own assumptions."

He cringed a little at her choice of names for him. He was either Jay or James or Captain Marshall, but never Captain Jay. "James," he corrected. "My name is James. Or Jay, if you prefer. My men call me Captain, but you are not one of my men."

"James, then," she said, a small flicker of triumph in her eyes as she realized that he had given her the perfect excuse to insist on something else. "And you must call me Eleanor, or Ellie, if you wish."

"Eleanor," he repeated quietly, as if trying the name out to see how what it felt like to say it. He was still smiling as his eyes followed her movement, secretly admiring the view. "Do you think Finley will be satisfied now we've made friends?"

"Well, I think he'll shut up about it if I threaten to matchmake him with a particularly unsuitable mutual friend of our families back in England unless he does," Eleanor said, leaning one hand on the sideboard and the other on her own hip as she turned to look at Jay. "I'm fairly sure the thought of living with that laugh for the rest of his life will keep him from meddling."

He chuckled again. "I'd say he deserves it," he said, thinking the man deserved a little payback for his meddling in their personal lives, though things seemed to be working out well enough so far. Even if there was never anything but friendship between them, it was better than being at each other's throats the entire trip.

"So ... tell me a little about your men, James," she suggested, returning to the table with the second bottle of wine. Alex had provided it, they might as well enjoy their evening. After all, this was all his idea.

A second bottle of wine might loosen his tongue a little more, but it was unlikely to make him drunk, though it wouldn't help his headache any. Still, who was he to complain? Not only had he enjoyed a nice dinner, complete with wine and dessert, but the company of the loveliest women he had ever been had the pleasure to know. Though he might have a nasty headache come morning, tonight was worth it.
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