Hannah crossed the threshold and was immediately engulfed in a squealing hug, and surrounded by rolling male laughter. She held on to Katie for dear life, until the squealing became a gentle rocking motion and Katie was muttering soothing phrases in her ears. Finally Hannah and Katie pulled away from one another.
"Love becomes you, my dear, but why the tears?'
Hannah shook her head, unable to articulate the surge of emotion that had flowed through her at her best friend's embrace. Katie held Hannah's chin in her hand, and tenderly wiped away the traces of tears. "We'll talk alone later, okay?"
Hannah nodded and turned to Katie's husband Frank, whom she considered to be another dear friend. He picked her up and squeezed, spinning her in a circle until she was beating him on the shoulder to get him to stop.
"FRANK!!! I'm gonna throw up all over you if you don't stop making the room spin!!"
Frank laughed but stopped spinning. He hugged Hannah hard but briefly, then smiled down at her. "How are ya, Little Hannah?"
She punched him in the arm and glared. "Ya know... you are about the only person our age I know who calls me that any more."
He rubbed his shoulder and pouted. "I am the only one willing to risk getting punched. Ow." He turned to Katie and held out his arm. "Honey... Hannah punched me." He opened big wide puppy dog eyes at her and Katie snorted.
"Don't look at me for sympathy, bub. I learned not to call her that a LONG time ago."
Frank turned amazed eyes to Jack, who held up his hands as if to stay out of the whole conversation. "I don't believe this... married less than two weeks and the honeymoon's over!" Frank pouted and plopped down on the couch.
Katie sat next to him, and he scooted away a bare inch... all the room he had to move. "No, no," he said with mock indignation. "I can tell that I'm not loved here."
Hannah dropped to the arm of the couch, conveniently pinning Frank between her and Katie. He couldn't help the smile that appeared. It harked back to the many of the times they'd shared just like this growing up.
"Heh," Hannah commented. "You know better."
Frank patted her thigh and he pulled Katie into him, curling his arm around her. "You bet I do, Little H. It's always nice to be reminded though."
Jack cleared his throat. "Been a long time since you youngsters were ragging on each other like that. Nice to see adulthood doesn't change everything."
Hannah slid off the couch and moved to give Jack a hug. "And how was your day, Hannah?" Jack asked in a private manner even though Katie and Frank seemed to be in their own world at the moment. He wasn't sure what Hannah wanted shared with them. Her answer was equally quiet, but there was no mistaking the truth of her feelings in her tone.
"It was fun, Uncle Jack... Donovan has such a sharp mind. I enjoy just being with her, even if we're discussing mundane things like dinner or the weather. And for something that she is earnestly interested in, as she is in electricity...." Hannah chuckled. "I sound like a lovesick schoolgirl with a crush."
"No, Hannah... you sound like a woman who is deeply in love, and your eyes say you have found your soul's half."
"I am Uncle Jack, and I have."
The sound of giggling and slapping brought their attention back to Frank and Katie. Hannah grinned devilishly before running and jumping over the couch to land on top of both of them, squarely between them.
"Hiya, guys! Miss me?"
Frank and Katie exchanged a look before attacking simultaneously. Soon Hannah was screaming in laughter as she was tickled from both sides. Finally, they all sat back in an exhausted heap.
"God, that was fun. I haven't laughed like that in a while."
"I doubt any of us have," Jack chimed in. He moved away from the wall where he'd been leaning watching the three of them play like kids. "I know my stomach hasn't been this sore from laughing in quite a while."
Hannah got up and moved to the kitchen, pulling out cold beers for everyone. Then they popped the tops, and scattered around the living room to settle in for some good conversation between them.
Several hours, a few beers and a platter of food later, the group was getting ready to say goodnight. Hannah was arguing unsuccessfully for Katie and Frank to take her bed, knowing it was the only place for them to sleep together. They were adamant that she keep her space.
"Hannah, I'll be fine here," Frank said, motioning to the couch.
"But... but, what about Katie? I know ya'll are newlyweds and all, Frank, but neither of you is going to be that comfortable for very long out here."
Katie laughed and took Hannah by the arm. "I'm not sleeping out here. You and I are having a sleep over."
Hannah looked at Katie, confused. "But Katie, you're married."
"Yes, and I intend to be for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I don't plan to be here very long, so we need to catch up while we can. Frank's a big boy. He'll be all right by himself for a couple nights."
"Little H, Katie and I talked about it before you came home. It's fine. I'm glad ya'll have a chance to do your girl talk." He put his arm around Katie and kissed her head gently. "You were always on my side when I was trying to court Katie, and I know my best girl has missed having her best girlfriend around to talk to and gossip with."
Hannah nodded. "Okay, then. I'd like that...." She hesitated then took the plunge and continued speaking. "Because I am going with Donovan tomorrow night, and I won't be back for a while."
Jack's eyes grew wide. He alone in the group realized exactly the implications of what Hannah had just said. Katie just squealed with excitement, and slapped Hannah in the arm.
"Ooh! And how long where you gonna wait to tell us about that, huh? And when do I get to meet this Blue Eyes?? And...."
She would have continued, but Frank took her by the arm. "Honey, I love you, and so does Hannah, but take it easy on her, will ya? She looks a little shell-shocked."
"C'mon, NahNah," referring to the very first nickname Hannah had been christened with. "Let me get Frank settled, and we'll have an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned sleepover. You grab the drinks and I'll fix us another snack."
Hannah turned to Frank and gave him as big a hug as she could muster. "Thank you, Frank."
"Anytime, Hannah. You're family, y'know."
Hannah moved towards the hallway, leaving Frank and Katie to say their good nights in private. Jack stopped her just as she reached the study, placing a hand on her arm.
"Do you have a minute, Hannah?"
She nodded, fairly certain she knew what he wanted to talk about, and knowing he deserved an explanation. She followed him into the study and took a seat, not surprised when he took the chair next to her instead of using his desk chair.
"You're sure about this... going back with her then, I mean?" It was not so much a question as it was a statement of understanding. Hannah nodded and waited for the concerns she knew were coming. Jack smiled.
"I'm glad. You two have been through so much to be together,
I think it is wise of you to take the opportunity to do so. I just hope the time period adjustment is not
too difficult for you.
"I know, Uncle Jack. Boy, do I ever," she muttered almost under her breath. "But this is something I have to do. For her... for us... I have to do this. I have to try."
"I know you do, Hannah, and I wish you the best of success in the trying." Jack stood and offered his hands to Hannah, who took them and rose to stand in front of him. He took her in his arms and hugged her tightly, depositing a lone kiss to the top of her head. "I am going to miss you, though."
"I'll miss you, too, Uncle Jack. And I imagine I'll be missing indoor plumbing and electricity before it's all said and done. But it is worth it to me to be together in more than just our dreams."
Jack smiled and eased back. "I was hoping we could discuss that in greater length and detail. Perhaps when you get back? I have several theories I'd like to talk over with you and compare notes on how things correlate."
"I'd like that, Uncle Jack.. I'm curious to know if we reached any of the same conclusions."
"All right, then... it's a date. We're set for a nice long talk as soon as you come back with Donovan." He paused and thought. "You're not gonna be gone five or ten years, are you?"
Hannah's brows rose into
her hairline. "Not to my knowledge. This is supposed to be a short trip home to
meet her folks. Should
be a few months given that we have to travel by slow boat, but not much longer
than that. I think it will be
about six months honestly. I know
Donovan wants to spend a little time at home before crossing the
"Understandable. She's not always a friendly ocean, especially the Northern part. Will you be home for the holidays, or...?"
"I don't know. I'll ask. We may have to wait until it is warmer to make the crossing bearable, in which case, we may be gone nine months. I'll talk to her at the ball tomorrow, so I can let you know before we leave."
"Fair enough. Now you better get in there and catch up with Katie. She doesn't understand what your leaving with Donovan means like I do. And I know ya'll have a lot to talk about."
Hannah reached out and hugged Jack again. "Thanks, Uncle Jack. You've always been one of the best things in my life and I love you."
He couldn't help the welling up of emotion the words caused any more than he could stop the tears from falling down his face. "I love you back, Little Hannah. Now go on. Katie is waiting and we'll say our goodbyes before you leave tomorrow night."
She nodded and took her leave of him, crossing the hallway to her room. She opened the door, surprised to find Katie already there waiting for her.
"I thought you'd be... I mean, I was trying to give you guys, um...."
"Hannah, we were together before we got married. A night apart is not going to kill either one of us. Now," mock sternly with her hands on her hips. "Where are the drinks?"
Hannah scratched her head, honestly befuddled. "Did I grab them? I think I came straight back here." She thought a moment, backtracking her steps in her mind. "I did," she said at last. "Damn! Let me go...." She started to open the door when a hand on her arm stopped her.
"No worries, hon. I noticed you walked out of there without picking anything up. I grabbed the drinks when I got the snacks. Frank helped me carry them in. Now change into your jammies, and let's get this party started."
Hannah laughed and moved to change. She was looking forward to this.
An hour later the two women sat together on the bed, drinks besides them and snacks between them. Hannah had given Katie almost the whole story of her encounters with Donovan, leaving out the time difference and the more private and intimate details. That of course is exactly what Katie jumped on first.
"Is she a good kisser?"
Hannah blinked, staring at Katie like she was some sort of alien. Somehow, that wasn't the first question she'd expected to come out of Katie's mouth.
"Excuse me?" she finally croaked out when she could speak again. She couldn't stop the blush that crossed her face or the warmth that spread through her body at the memory of Donovan's kisses, though, and Katie noticed immediately.
"C'mon, Hannah. Is Donovan a good kisser?"
"Um, why do you wanna know?" rubbing her face to get rid of the heat that was still very present.
Katie opened her mouth, then paused. "We always shared secrets and stuff, Hannah," she reminded her friend quietly. "I'm just interested because she is so obviously a big part of your life."
Hannah patted Katie's arm, suddenly aware she had hurt her friend's feelings unwittingly. "She is, and you're right. We have always shared secrets and stuff. That is just about the last question I expected you to ask me." She blushed again. "But yeah," said with a tiny smirk, "She's a GREAT kisser."
"What? I told you when Frank and I first did. In fact I told you about everyone I slept with... all three of them. So c'mon, Hannah... dish with the details already!!" But she smiled to let Hannah know that though she was interested, she was also teasing a bit.
Hannah blew out a breath, watching as her bangs flew up. "Only in our dreams," she mumbled, not sure she wanted Katie to have that many particulars.
"Oh!" Katie gushed. "That is so romantic."
Hannah's brow scrunched. "Which part? Only doing it in our dreams?"
"Well, sorta. Being able to love one another in your dreams is romantic, but waiting to get to know each other as real people is pretty cool too."
"She's worth it, Katie. I've never known anyone quite like her. She has a brilliant mind, and a fierce code of honor. It's a combination that makes her a good leader, and her men respect her for both."
"She must be... most women don't make it into positions of authority like that even nowadays without a lot of resentment."
"Well, I'm sure there's some resentment, but by and large, her crew seems to roll with it."
"She sounds intriguing. When do I get to meet her?"
"Tomorrow night at the Pirate's Masquerade Ball. I have already warned her to be prepared for your interrogation."
Katie put her hands on her hips. "You warned her, huh? And why so late? That is right before ya'll are leaving together, isn't it? Why not tomorrow morning?" She glanced at the clock. "This morning, I mean. A lot later this morning, but still today."
"You bet I warned her," Hannah smirked. "You warned me, remember? Said she was gonna get the grilling of her life from you. I thought it only fair for her to be prepared." She ignored Katie's indignant "Hmph!" and continued. "And it has to be tomorrow night. I'm not gonna get to see her until then either. She is up to her eyeballs in getting everything tied up and finished so we can leave with the tide after the ball."
"You are good and well caught, aren't you, my friend?" Katie asked, noting the expression on Hannah's face.
"Yeah, I am, Katie," she answered. "Donovan was my dream... she fulfilled my dreams in every way I could have possibly imagined. It is such a wonderful sensation, knowing that she loves me like I do her."
"I am so very happy for you, Hannah. I was worried about you for a long time, especially knowing how important those dreams were to you. I'm glad they've come true for you." Katie put her arm around Hannah's shoulders and hugged her tightly.
"Me too. I never knew love would feel like this when it finally came to me."
"Pretty great feeling, isn't it?" Katie asked with a smile.
"Yeah" Hannah answered. "One I could get used to having around for say... the rest of my life." Hannah turned to Katie and smiled, patting her leg comfortingly. "You'll like Donovan, Katie, I promise."
"I know... but I still reserve a best friend's grilling rights."
"I wouldn't expect anything less."
Neither woman was too happy to see the sunshine streaming in the window the following morning. They had spent the better part of the night talking, and morning came much sooner than they were ready for.
Hannah stumbled out of bed first and headed to the kitchen, heedless of her bed head and rumpled pajamas. She didn't even slow down at the chuckles and snickers emanating from Frank and Jack as she walked straight to the coffee pot.
"Late night, hon?" Jack asked almost sympathetically. His chuckling made it hard for her to believe the sincerity behind the query.
"Um," she managed to respond, debating the wisdom of sticking a straw directly into the pot. She decided against it and grabbed a cup from the nearby cabinet, poring enough milk and sugar in to disguise the coffee taste.
Then Hannah moved to the bar and took a seat next to Frank, sticking her nose in her coffee and trying desperately not to notice his chuckling too much. It took a few minutes, but she was finally awake enough to have both eyes open. She promptly glared at both men.
"What's so funny?" she demanded petulantly.
For answer, Jack took her head in his hands and turned her towards the mirror on the wall. Her eyes widened at the reflection looking back at her, then simply dropped her head onto her arms on the bar.
"Shoot me now," she moaned.
The two men chuckled again. "The good news is you have all day to fix it," Frank commented as he rose and put the counter between them. "The bad news is you're gonna need every minute of it."
Hannah cast him a dirty look before reaching over the counter and grabbing him by the chest hair. He howled in agony when she twisted. "You just wait til I tell Katie on you," she smirked evilly.
"Tell me what?" Katie asked through a yawn as she stepped from the hallway.
"Frank said we'd need all day to fix the mess we are now."
Katie's eyes popped open wide and she turned the outraged orbs towards her husband. Frank in the meantime was scrambling to get away, protesting his innocence. Jack wisely retired from the field and headed outside for another swim.
"Oh, did he now?"
"No, I didn't," Frank shrieked. "I was talking about Hannah."
Hannah and Katie both were doing their best not to burst out in hysterical laughter, as they slowly began to close in on him from either side. Frank, however, saw a flaw in their tactic, and went screaming out the door and down toward the beach. Katie and Hannah looked at one another then, and just howled.
"You know," Hannah said as she gasped for breath. "He really did just say it about me."
"Yeah, but he was always fun to tease, and I'm sure he had it coming... cause I saw the look in his eyes when I stepped into the living room. The thought did cross his mind."
"Well," Hannah replied turning and bringing Katie around with her so the faced the mirror together. "He probably could have had a point." They laughed again looking at the disheveled picture they made. Then Hannah turned back to the kitchen. "You want the shower first or coffee?" fairly certain what the answer was going to be.
"Coffee," Katie groaned. "Need caffeine."
Hannah chuckled. "Thought as much, but it's polite to ask. I won't be long."
After both women were more presentable, Hannah went into her room and started going through her things. Katie stood at the door and watched her mumble and frown with loving eyes.
"Nope, nuh uh, nope, NO... hmm, I'd like to but.... No, no, no, no.... uh uh, nope, no.... Guess packing to leave won't take me very long at all. There really isn't much I can take with me."
"What's up, NahNah? Can't decide what goes and what stays?"
"No, just realizing I really don't need to take anything."
Katie's eyebrows rose into her hairline. "She keeping you as a naked love slave or something?"
Hannah choked on the water she was swallowing, and her head whipped around to meet Katie's eyes. "WHAT??? God almighty, what kind of books have you been reading?"
Katie laughed though she blushed a deep, dark red. "Sorry. You were just having the oddest conversation with yourself, and when you said you wouldn't need to take any of your clothes or anything with you, I said the first thing that popped into my head."
"Uh huh," Hannah replied, still laughing a bit. "Maybe you should have been the writer. You obviously have the imagination for it."
"Be nice to me," Katie growled as she turned a shade darker.
"But I'm having so much more fun giving you a hard time."
"I noticed. But I still have to talk to Donovan tonight, and if you don't want me telling her about Racer's...." Katie trailed off, knowing full well Hannah would get the implication.
Hannah slapped the bed in frustration. "That's not fair!"
Katie grinned evilly at her. "No, but it worked."
"I hate you, you know."
"Yes, dear... I know." Katie put her arm around Hannah's shoulder and steered her through the bedroom door and out of the house towards the beach. "Now c'mon. I want some sun while we're here. We only have a few hours before we have to get ready for the ball."
Hannah looped her arm through Katie's as they ran down to the water. Frank was already comfortably ensconced in a chair with a book and a bottle of water. He just laughed and shook his head as the two women ran shrieking into the surf.
It was mid afternoon, and both Hannah and Katie lay out in the sun enjoying its warmth and the surrounding peace. Finally Katie turned to Hannah with a question.
"I'm curious about your dress." Katie rolled onto her side facing Hannah. "Mama showed it to me and reminded me that you'd had it made several years ago to exact specifications."
"Why? I mean... how did you know? How did you know you would need it, and need it to be just the way it was? Was it one of your dreams?"
Hannah turned to face Katie now, pulling down her sunglasses just slightly so Katie would see she was talking directly to her. Katie did the same and they nodded acknowledgement that their attention was focused on the topic at hand.
"Actually it was several of my dreams. And it was as clear to me as this blanket or our swimsuits or anything else here that you can see and touch and know. After I had the dream for three years running, I decided to have the dress made... hoping... knowing that I would need it one day. That it was part of my future... my destiny."
"But why so specific? Mama said it was made four times before you were satisfied."
Hannah scrubbed her hands through her hair and sat up. It had frustrated both her and Sarah O'Shea trying to come to an understanding about the importance of this dress to Hannah. Finally, though, Hannah had found a way to explain it that Sarah could accept.
"Katie, do you remember when we went shopping for your wedding dress? How we hunted and searched until we found just exactly what you had in mind? And how we had to have the saleswoman go back three times because there was something just a little bit wrong with each dress she brought out?"
Katie nodded remembering the ordeal far too clearly. For a while she had despaired of finding what she wanted.
"That is what this dress was like for me. It had to be just so. Certain material, certain cut, certain stitching."
Katie nodded again in understanding. "I can see that, I guess, but I sure don't envy you having to wear all those petticoats." She chuckled. "I wish you could have seen the customs agent when he started riffling through those layers and layers of cloth."
Hannah's eyes got big at the implication. "He didn't...?" She let her thoughts trail off, thinking of the damage that could have been wrought.
"You bet he didn't," Katie answered fiercely. "I told him that very, very bad things would happen to him if he disturbed a single thread."
"I most certainly did. I wasn't gonna be the one to explain to MY mama why almost a year's worth of work was destroyed by carelessness. I am on my honeymoon. I would like to live long enough to have a second one."
"Ooh... I see your point. She woulda made EVERYBODY miserable."
"Yep, and I made sure that agent knew it in no uncertain terms... I called mama and put her on the phone with him."
Hannah giggled and covered her mouth. "Did you really?"
"Uh huh, and you shoulda seen how careful he was when he handed me the phone back."
"That is too funny."
"Yep, it really was." Katie rolled back onto her stomach and rooted around in the bag Frank had brought her. She found her watch and jumped to her feet. Hannah looked at her perplexedly. "It's almost ."
"Don't we need to go get ready?"
"Well, the party doesn't start til eight," Hannah replied, standing easily. "But it's probably not a bad idea. It's gonna take me some time to get into that dress."
Right at that moment, Jack came to the door and called them inside.
"I guess great minds think alike."
"I guess its time to eat," Hannah smirked. The smirk turned into a full-fledged grin when the suggestion made both stomachs rumble in hunger. "C'mon," Hannah said as she snatched her towel from the sand. "I'll race ya!"
Katie squawked. "Hey, no fair! I wasn't ready! Hannah! HANNAH!!"
Hannah's laughter floated back to her as she trudged through the sand to the house.
Donovan got up before daybreak, having missed Hannah's comforting presence in her dreams. She knew it was because Katie was in town with Hannah that she wasn't here, and she was trying very hard not to begrudge Katie the time with her best friend. After all, Donovan thought, trying hard to control the brilliant smile that crossed her face quite without her permission, she's leaving with me tonight, and I will have her all to myself.
Unable to stop the giddy feeling that washed through her at the thought, Donovan whistled cheerfully as she approached her ship in the near dawn. The sailors looked up in surprised as the Captain boarded the boat. It had been a very long time since she'd been this cheerful, and never before when leaving this island to head for home.
She returned the salute of her Bo'sun's mate, and immediately headed below to check the stores. She found Mr. Merryweather with a quill and parchment, carefully going over their supplies and trade goods one more time. He looked up, and his eyes widened at the intense happiness so apparent in Donovan's very demeanor.
"Ahoy, Captain. What brings you out so early? You usually leave the final checks to me and the crew."
"Actually, I came this far below to tell you good morning, Mr. Merryweather. But I am here early to ensure that everything is set for Hannah's comfort before we sail tonight."
"I think you'll find everything in order, sir. Harold has been diligently working at all the tasks you gave him. I'm glad you chose that as his punishment, sir. It maintained morale in a way nothing else could have. And I know Harold is anxious to redeem himself by making everything perfect for Miss Hannah."
Donovan smiled. She had been fairly certain the entire crew appreciated her punishment for Harold. It was perfect for the misdeed and actually was not so harsh that it would be considered mistreatment. She knew there were many, even within the Royal Navy who tended to use their cabin boys as whipping posts or worse for whatever minor offenses they committed. She herself didn't see the point. A ship and crew handled much better when treated with respect.
She smiled at Mr. Merryweather, moving aside when a grunting crewman came down the stairs with a heavy box. He nodded at her and waited for the first mate to indicate where he wanted the container placed. Donovan watched as the man put the box down carefully and then nodded respectfully at her again before excusing himself to go back to his duties.
"Mr. Merryweather, it seems you have things well in hand. If you will excuse me, I will go check out the improvements in my cabin, and then I have several things to take care of on shore. I trust that the men will be getting some rest this afternoon?"
The first mate eased his watch from his waistcoat pocket, popping the lid and nodding approval at the time before snapping it closed. "Yes sir. If we stay on schedule, we should be done here within the next two hours and the men have strict orders to rest and relax as much as possible."
"Is the watch set for tonight?"
"Aye sir. As it has been every year. We have a split shift that allows all the men some time at the ball before we set sail."
"Good." Donovan turned to make her way up to her cabin, but stopped when Merryweather called her by name.
Her eyes widened. In all their years together, the Captain could count on one hand the number of times John Merryweather had addressed her as anything aside from 'sir' or 'Captain'.
"Yes, John?" answering him in kind and letting him know that she appreciated the fact that whatever was coming was personal and was allowing him the opportunity to speak on that level.
"I just wanted to say that I am glad you found Hannah. And to ask if you are going to fulfill the legend tonight."
Donovan smiled, and her first mate smiled back in pure response. "So am I, John. I never knew that it would be like this, but God, I am so glad it is. And yes, I am. It is time to make that legend a reality."
Donovan walked up the short steps to her cabin, hesitating at the threshold at the grunting sounds coming from within. Her men had always respected the tiny space she was able to consider her own, but it sounded vaguely like.... Without warning, she pushed open the door stopping when she saw Roberts hovering over Harold in a rather awkward position.
Neither one noticed she was standing there as the man had his back to the door and the boy couldn't see around him. She started towards them when she heard Roberts give a guttural moan.
"Come on then lad. Right there. I canna stand the strain much longer."
Harold didn't have a chance to answer as Donovan's bark rattled across the small space, nearly causing Roberts to sever the cabin boy's head.
"Aye, Cap'n?" The strain was apparent in his voice, and Donovan came around to face him when it became clear he wasn't going to turn around to face her. What she found was not what she'd expected to see.
Harold finished tapping the last wooden peg into place, and Roberts eased his knees away from the corners and gently set the down-filled mattress into the frame.
"By God, boy. I thought you were goin' ta kill me there for a minute. Good work though. The Cap'n should be pleased." He slapped the lad's shoulder before he remembered that the captain was still standing there but with a now puzzled look on her face. "Cap'n?" he asked hesitantly, not knowing if he should stay or consider himself dismissed or....
"Thank you Mr. Roberts. I will speak to you about this shortly."
Roberts hadn't survived in the navy as long as he had without understanding a dismissal when he heard one. He nodded and made his way to the door immediately. "Aye, sir," he responded. "I'll be on deck." Then without another word he exited the room and closed the door behind him.
Donovan took the opportunity to look around the small cabin and note the changes with a keen eye. Harold had done very well, doing everything she'd asked for and a few more things besides.
The room was spotless, floors and walls scrubbed clean until they almost glowed. The glass on the small window she'd added two years prior glistened and was open to allow the fresh air in. There was a second tiny closet added, and Donovan was pleased to see that it had several drawers.
How very clever. I wonder.... "Harold, who did the woodworking? Smythe or Alexander?"
"Um, actually, sir... um, well... I did."
A skeptical brow shot into Donovan's dark hairline. "Excuse me?"
Harold scratched his neck, unable to stand the strain of being at attention any longer. "Well, sir, it was my idea. I drew out what I wanted and then Mr. Smythe and Mr. Alexander helped me build it. I did most of the measurin' and all the cuttin'. They made sure it was all right before I moved to the next piece. But I did as much of it myself as I could. And I put a chest area at the bottom in case Miss Hannah needs...."
He would have continued babbling except that Donovan held up her hand for silence right then, and he stumbled to a halt. He watched as she continued her perusal, finally noticing what he and Mr. Roberts had been working on when she'd walked in.
Her tiny pallet was gone. In its place was a bed almost large enough for two people her size. Should be just right for Hannah and myself. She couldn't stop the involuntary smile that crossed her face, and didn't realize how adorably charming it made her look. Harold bit his lip to keep from laughing.
She schooled her features into a more stoic expression, and Harold was grateful for the time to get his own face under control. He was the picture of calm serenity by the time she brought her eyes back to his.
"Excellent job, Mr. Worthington. I see great promise in your future."
This time Donovan saw Harold bite his lip, though it wasn't to stop the laughter, but to contain the tears at her reference to his position as a member of her crew. Suddenly, he was less a cabin boy and more a uniformed crewman with the Royal Navy. Unconsciously, he stood straighter, and she smiled.
"If you are willing, I will recommend you for a posting to this ship as a seaman on our next voyage." She held up her hand. "Do not answer me now. Take some time to think and consider things, Harold. This is a hard life, and the sea can be an unforgiving mistress, and you have a talent with wood if you want one."
Harold nodded, then asked, "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Aye lad," she nodded. "Go ahead."
"Sir, I have worked hard and faithfully hoping that I would be considered a worthy addition to your crew. I would be honored to become part of it in a more responsible position."
Donovan noticed that he spoke very slowly and carefully, as though he had rehearsed the speech a hundred times over in his mind. She regarded him with deep blue eyes for a very long moment before she nodded.
"Very well, Mr. Worthington. You will have to continue your duties as cabin boy until we arrive back in our home port, but when we ship out on our next voyage, you will assume the position of a seaman." She paused then continued. "Do you know of anyone you might recommend to take your place as our cabin boy?"
Harold swallowed and prayed to the Virgin to spare him if his mama heard that this bit of information had fallen from his lips. "I've a brother, Patrick. He would be almost eight by the time we set sail again."
"And how would your mama feel about losing another son to the sea?"
"Well, sir, I think it will depend on her point of view that day. I know she hates it, especially considering she lost papa to it. But practically, she knows we are all better off by it."
"Then we will hope to meet the practical side when we go speak to her." Donovan nodded. "You are dismissed, Mr. Worthington."
The boy nodded and moved to the door. Donovan's voice stopped him on the threshold. "Thank you, Harold. You did a beautiful job, and I truly believe Hannah will be comfortable and happy here."
He didn't say a word, but the smile on his face spoke volumes and warmed her to her toes.
Donavan sat down at her desk, still marveling at the transformation of her cabin. What had once seemed a cold and sterile space now had the warmth of a home.
She slapped her hands on her thighs and rose, knowing she had things to finish before the evening. Donovan spotted Mr. Roberts by the mainsail, securing the ropes into place. He stood at attention at the Captain's approach.
"At ease, Mr. Roberts."
He nodded and stood at ease, resuming his work. He didn't say a word, but waited for her to speak, not sure if he was in trouble or not.
"Thank you for helping Harold, Mr. Roberts. You both did superior work in my cabin, and you have my sincere gratitude. I am sure Hannah will be not only comfortable, but well-pleased."
Donovan felt the blush on her face during her little speech and was surprised to see a matching one covering Roberts' face as well. He nodded his head in acceptance of her words.
"Thank you, Cap'n." He hesitated before asking, "Permission to speak freely?"
Donovan rolled her mental eyes. What is with my crew toady? But she nodded her head in acquiescence.
"We were all glad to do it, sir. Miss Hannah has changed something for you, and that means she has changed something for us. And it looks like the change is for the better."
Donovan never lost her stoic expression, but she felt the shock at the second mate's words down to her toes. "And you can tell this from the very limited time I have been here, and your brief meeting with Hannah?"
"Aye, sir," the man said respectfully. "The change is that obvious to everyone."
"Well then, Mr. Roberts, I commend you for your fortitude in being the spokesman."
"Only speaking for myself, Cap'n, but I think the crew would agree with me."
"Very well, Mr. Roberts. Carry on."
Donovan walked to the gangplank and spoke to the watchman on duty. "I have some business in town, Mr. Trilby. I will be back to prepare for the ball."
"Aye, sir," was all he said before Donovan disembarked and headed into town.
Debendra was waiting in almost the same spot Donovan had found him in the last time she'd come to town, as though he knew to expected her just then and had been waiting patiently for her arrival. She mentally smacked herself. He is a shaman. It is very likely he could know when I was coming. Not that my needing to retrieve Hannah's new clothing before this evening would give him any clue.
She straightened as she approached, wondering at the meaning behind his not-so-well-hidden-smile. Then she accepted the hand he held out to her and allowed Debendra to pull her into a hug.
"You look much better than the last time I saw you, my friend. Things have worked out well for you and Hannah, yes?"
"She is opening up whole new worlds to me, Debendra. Things I never... well, I am glad you and Mama approve of her. It means a lot to both of us, especially knowing how my mother is going to react."
The shaman cleared his throat almost delicately and it caused Donovan to turn a wary eye in his direction.
"Debendra?" The word was said in a low, growling voice, and it caused a shiver to skitter up the man's spine. He flinched when her fiery gaze focused on him intently. "Is there a problem?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. Can you explain to Mama why Hannah disappeared and did not nurse you when you were ill?" He saw the ire grow, and hastened to explain. "She is concerned... for you both. She says no ties like those that bind the two of you together should be severed. And yet for all intents and purposes that is exactly what it seems like has happened. Mama will naturally lay the blame for it on Hannah's shoulders, for as much as we like her, you are a daughter of our heart."
Donovan couldn't maintain her anger in the face of such direct, honest caring. Instead, she put a hand on Debendra's arm. "Take me to Mama, Debendra, and I will do my best to explain."
Forty-five minutes later, Donovan was finishing up her tale as well as she possibly could. It was impossible to explain the time difference between her and Hannah. It was difficult enough for her to understand it, and she was living it. There was no way she could make Mama or Debendra understand a concept she couldn't describe.
"So Hannah was taken away from you?"
"But you could communicate in your dreams?"
"Once the sickness was gone, yes. Just like we have all these years. I never knew how much I depended on the dreams until they were gone." The last was said in a bare whisper and Mama almost didn't hear it. She simply nodded her understanding.
"And you have found her again?" Mama asked. She didn't need an answer from the obvious reaction on Donovan's face. Blue eyes sparkled with joy and a fierce grin spread across her mouth. Mama had to smile in return just from the sheer happiness she felt radiating from Donovan.
"Oh yes, Mama. The reason she is not here with me today is that she has to prepare herself for the masquerade tonight. But she will be sailing with us after the ball. I am taking her home with me."
Donovan waited anxiously for Mama to speak. She desperately wanted her blessing on her union with Hannah. It was almost as important as her father's. She held her breath, not noticing that her leg was nervously jumping up and down.
Mama placed a well-worn hand on the jittery joint and immediately, Donovan stopped all movement. With her other hand, Mama lifted Donovan's chin until they were looking eye to eye. "You have my blessing, Donovan.... Make sure you bring here to see me before you cast off tonight."
Donovan reached up and gave Mama a big hug. "Thank you, Mama. I will. I promise."
Mama patted the taller woman's back, then gently eased out of the embrace. "Good girl," ignoring the raised eyebrow. "Now go get Hannah's clothes from Satosh and get them aboard your ship. You need to rest a bit before the festivities tonight." She held up her hand when Donovan drew breath to speak. "Mind Mama now, Donovan. I know best."
The Captain couldn't argue with that sort of logic, so she nodded her head and mumbled, "Yes, Mama."
Satosh handed Donovan a sizeable package wrapped carefully in brown paper and tied with twine then she unceremoniously pushed Donovan to the door. "Go on, Donovan," she muttered with a hand planted firmly in the strong back. "If Mama thinks I held you up in here after she told you to go get some rest for tonight, she will make me stay home tonight."
Donovan chuckled, though she truly believed what Satosh said. Mama was swift to punish disobedience, and always made the punishment fit the crime. "And how do you know what Mama said to me? Oof!" she grunted out when Satosh punched her in the arm... rather hard. She glared down into brown eyes. "What did you hit me for?"
"Donovan Scott!! How long have you known my mother?? Hmm?? I have known her all my life, thank you very much, and I know exactly what she said! There are just some things that never change!"
"Point taken. Let me go before we both get into trouble."
"Good idea," Satosh muttered, literally pushing Donovan out the door.
"Thank you, Satosh. I am sure Hannah will be pleased."
Satosh grinned mischievously in the doorway. "I think you will be even more." Then she closed the door before Donovan could process her words.
Donovan muttered and mumbled all the way back to her ship, disregarding the odd looks and stares that followed her. She nodded to Mr. Andrews who had the watch as she boarded the boat. Other than his presence, the ship was almost ghostly silent.
"Everyone resting, Mr. Andrews?"
"Aye Cap'n. Those were your orders."
"Very good, then. Carry on."
Without stopping, Donovan went into her cabin and kicked the door shut behind her. She set the package on the bed, wincing a little at the stiffness the heavy bundle had caused in her arms and elbows. She looked at it for a long moment torn between curiosity and good manners. Good manners won, though not by much, and she opened Hannah's new armoire and placed the clothing inside without opening the paper. Then she slipped off her boots and crawled into the bed, moaning at its softness. She never even felt herself drift off into a deep, peaceful sleep.
It was almost sunset when a light rapping at her door brought Donovan slowly up from the nest of sleep she'd been burrowed in. She stretched languidly, knowing from the light, unhurried tapping that there wasn't an urgent or impending disaster waiting of the other side of the door. When she noted the lowness of the sun in the sky, she figured that it was her first mate insuring that she had ample time to prepare herself for the masquerade.
Donovan padded over to the door and opened it, just as John Merryweather raised his hand to knock again. He hesitated when he saw her, trying to collect himself.
"Oh, good, Captain. You're awake." He gestured to the men who stood behind him. "We thought you might want a hot bath before you prepared for the evening."
A dark brow rose. "Are you saying I smell, Mr. Merryweather?" She didn't smile, but he could see the twinkling very clearly in her blue eyes.
"No, sir. I am saying you always appreciate a chance to take a warm bath," he answered evenly, though Donovan noted the teasing gleam in his eyes.
"Very well then, sir. Please bring it in."
John Merryweather brought the tub in and set it in the center of the room, then the sailors had a short bucket brigade as the passed in the ten or twelve buckets of warm water to fill it. Satisfied, the first mate took a look around and nodded.
"If you have everything you need sir...?" He let his voice trail off in question, and Donovan nodded. "I will be back shortly to see to the tub's removal sir. If you will excuse me?"
"Have all the men bathed, Mr. Merryweather?"
"Thank you. I will see you shortly."
Donovan lit a lamp, and quickly stripped out of her clothing. It wasn't as comfortable as her tub at the cottage, but it would do for getting her clean. She stepped into the warm water with alacrity and lathered up the cloth she had with her mother's cinnamon soap.
Within thirty minutes, she was clean, dry and semi-dressed... leather trousers, thick socks, and a coarse undershirt. She sat brushing her hair dry, glad for its shoulder length. She was nearly done when the expected knock came.
"Come in, Mr. Merryweather."
The first mate entered, resplendent in his pirate clothing. He had braided his hair, but left it unpowdered. The brass buttons on his shirt shone brilliantly even in the dim lamplight, and he held his sword delicately out of the way of the door. John felt his Captain's eyes on him, reviewing his appearance and he stood a little straighter under her scrutiny. Even when she nodded her approval, he did not relax, but stepped further into the room.
"It is nearly time for us to leave, Captain. I came to help you with your cloak, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Merryweather." She stood and put on the shirt and sash that were an intricate part of her pirate attire. Then she waited for him to retrieve her cloak and stood immobile as he swirled it into place around her shoulders. In an oddly intimate gesture, John pulled her hair from her collar before she tied the material at the neck.
The first mate lifted Donovan's blade reverently and handed it to her, and waited patiently for her to strap it on. When she was finished, she turned to him, waiting for his inspection.
"You are leaving your hair down, sir?"
"For tonight, yes. Hannah likes it this way particularly, and I do not see the harm."
"Agreed, sir." He hesitated as she turned towards the door. "Sir?" He waited for her to stop and look at him, knowing he would get a raised eyebrow for his trouble. He wasn't disappointed.
"Yes, Mr. Merryweather?"
"Well, sir, I wondered if
you planned to wear shoes tonight?" He gestured to her sock covered feet. She sighed.
"Damn! I knew there was a reason I was not completely uncomfortable. It could be worse, I suppose. I could be stuck in uniform." She sighed again, and delicately reseated herself on the bed. The sword made it difficult at best, and she eased it out of the way gently.
"Very well, Mr. Merryweather. Would you be so kind as to hand me my boots?"
The first mate went to the door where Harold stood waiting. "Fine job, lad," Merryweather exclaimed as he got a good look at the shine on the Captain's boots. "Go wait up on deck. We will be there momentarily."
John Merryweather knelt carefully at Donovan's feet, easing her feet into her boots. She opened her mouth to protest, but her forestalled her by holding up a hand. "It is my duty and privilege, Captain. I promised your father I would keep an eye on you, and I do not want to be the one to explain to Ernst Scott how his daughter was disemboweled with the wrong end of her own sword while putting her boots on."
Donovan scratched her chin thoughtfully. "When you put it that way...." She looked at him a long moment. "Did you really promise my father you would look after me?"
"Yes, sir, I did. Your father is my friend, and I owed him a debt. It was the very least I could do."
"And yet you have never once tried to usurp my authority."
"No, sir. You are still my Captain. I would watch your back in any case. I am just happy that doing my duty to you enabled me to fulfill my word to your father."
Donovan nodded and waited for Merryweather to finish pulling up her boots. "Then if I may ask a favor of you, John?"
His widening eyes were the only obvious sign of his shock at her request. He nodded solemnly. "You have but to ask, sir."
"John, you are the closest thing I have to a friend. Will you... will you stand for me... at my marriage to Hannah?"
John Merryweather was speechless. Nothing she could have said could have taken him more by surprise than the request she had just made of him. He concentrated on closing his jaw and swallowing, willing his eyes to stay in his head. Finally under control, he nodded vigorously.
"It would be my honor to do so, sir."
Donovan let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Her first hurdle was crossed and she smiled and offered her hand to her first mate. He accepted with alacrity then bravely spoke.
"You know, Captain, if Miss Hannah is willing, I think a majority of the crew would stand with you."
He almost missed the tear, but she blinked and it was gone, and she smiled tremulously. "Thank you, Mr. Merryweather. I cannot tell you what that means to me."
"You do not have to, sir. A good first mate knows these things," here he puffed out his chest. "And I am the best."
Donovan chuckled, appreciating the man's attempt to ease the tensely emotional atmosphere in the room. She clapped him on the shoulder. "That you are Mr. Merryweather. That you are." She pulled the door open and motioned him to walk in front of her. "Now let us gather our crew and go to the meetinghouse. My lady awaits." She snatched up her mask before stepping into the passageway and closing the door behind them.
They stepped onto the deck and John moved to one side as Donovan reached topside. He crew stood in a double row, waiting for her inspection, and she felt her heart swell at the sight. These were good men, and they had put themselves in her care. She vowed again to do right by them, as they had by her, and she promised herself that she would ask Hannah about having them all stand with them both on their wedding day.
Slowly Donovan walked the ranks, nodding and occasionally reaching out to straighten or inspect. When she reached the gangplank she turned to face them and spoke.
"Gentlemen, you know the rules. Tonight you are representatives of myself and this ship. All I ask is that you remember that before you do anything that might bring shame upon us. With that in mind... have a good time, and keep in mind that we sail with the tide."
The men cheered, both anxious to have a good time and ready to leave for home. It had been a long, rough few months.
"Come along then, men," Donovan called when the noise had subsided. "It is time for the pirates to join the masquerade!"
Another loud yell rose from the men and with a rousing chorus and high spirits, the pirates made their way to the masquerade ball.