Read An Excerpt
RULES OF AN ENGAGEMENT
Regency Period, Historical Romance
“Captain,” her father called, straightening, “I would like to make my way up there,” and he indicated the tallest of the hills behind them, “so I can assess where I might find the greatest variety of flora and fauna.”
Bradshaw nodded. “Major Hunter, you heard the botanist. Lead away.”
The senior officer among the marines nodded. “Stay at least twenty yards behind us, Sir Joseph,” he said, motioning to his fellows. A group of the red-jacketed soldiers trotted into the trees, assuming a half-circle pattern as they moved inland.
The captain reached back into the boat for his sword, which he buckled around his hips. Then he gestured for Zephyr to precede him. She caught up with her father as they entered the trees.
“With this army about us,” he muttered, “we won’t find anything that isn’t rooted to the ground.”
“Hopefully if the marines don’t spy anything alarming, they’ll quiet down a bit and allow us to explore more freely tomorrow.”
“Hopefully. This is the only thing, you know, that made me hesitate to embark on a Navy vessel. Too damned many rules and regulations.”
Zephyr glanced over her shoulder. In his open-necked shirt, blue waistcoat and white trousers, the sword hanging on his left hip, Bradshaw looked more like a pirate than a captain in His Majesty’s Navy. The marines were the only ones wearing their full uniforms, though even if she’d just happened upon them she would have a very good idea of who led the group.
“Oh, look at that.” Her father pulled his arm free and hurried over to examine some sort of moss or fungus on one side of a tree.
“So you don’t run hither and thither collecting sticks?” Shaw’s voice came from just beyond her shoulder.
“I’m somewhat disappointed.”
“I sketch,” she returned. “I or someone else does need to keep an eye on my father, or he’ll wander off.”
“You’re finally taking my warnings seriously, then, are you?”
“I’m more concerned that he’ll get lost. He went out looking for seedlings just outside of Istanbul, and it took me and a party of local soldiers nine hours to locate him.” By now she’d gotten past the abrupt, panicked feeling of being utterly alone in a faraway place, but at the time she’d almost wished she’d been the sort of woman who fainted and let others see to things.
“That does not make me feel any better.” He motioned behind him. “Eddings.”
The sailor hurried up. “Captain?”
“Stay not more than ten feet from that man at all times,” he ordered, pointing a finger at the botanist.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“And take a pistol in case you need to signal the rest of us.”
He might have looked after her father himself, she supposed, since as the captain had said, his orders didn’t even mention her. Apparently, however, Bradshaw Carroway had assigned himself to her protection.
They had topped the lowest and closest of the hills when one of the marines appeared. “This way, Captain. It’s safe,” he said, headed off toward the east.
“Well, then,” Bradshaw muttered. “Wait here,” he said to the rest of the party, then offered his arm to her. “It’s safe, I believe.”
It wasn’t the direction her father had said he wanted to go, but since he fell in with them, she decided not to object. Aside from that, she was curious.
They emerged into a small, level clearing, and she stopped. Before them a badly dilapidated hut overlooked the beach and the shallow lagoon below. The roof was gone except for a pair of roughly-cut beams holding up a feathering of palm leaves, while a circle of low stones approximately ten yards across lay in front of the most regularly-shaped of the openings in the walls.
Clearly the place hadn’t been occupied in some time. If anyone had been there, they would have had a grand view of the Nemesis sailing in to anchor. Zephyr started to point out that since the place had been abandoned, the captain’s caution was no longer necessary.
As she turned to look at him, though, he stepped into the center of the ring of rocks and squatted down, ruffling his fingers through the dirt and grass. A moment later, he lifted a long, white stick. No, not a stick, she amended, a chill running down her spine. A bone. A human femur, if she remembered anything of anatomy.
He straightened, facing her father. “Anything you wish to collect from here?” he asked, dropping the leg bone to the ground again.
“Actually, yes,” her father returned, going to a small, overgrown patch of weeds at one side of the square hut. “This looks to be some sort of garden. I need to collect one of each.”
Several of the sailors looked dismayed, but the marines had declared the clearing safe. Zephyr moved around behind the hut where she could see both the structure and the ship below, then leaned back against the nearest tree trunk and pulled her sketch book and pencils from her satchel.
“I told you to stay in my sight,” Bradshaw said a moment later, striding up to her.
“I was in sight of at least a dozen men,” she returned, keeping her gaze on the setting before her.
“They aren’t me.” He gestured, and one of the men trotted over to set a folding chair down beside her. “There.”
She hadn’t realized he’d seen fit to provide her with a seat. “Thank you. It’s easier to sketch on my lap.” She sat on the stretched canvas chair.
“Does your father even care that there are human bones lying about?”
“I think he was considering that if these people are cannibals, this may be the closest he will be able to get to a deliberately planted garden. He isn’t obtuse; merely...focused.”
“It is pretty up here,” he conceded, turning his attention toward the hills still above them.
“It’s beautiful.” Tomorrow she would have to bring her watercolors with her; the black lead hardly did justice to the lushness around them.
When she glanced up at Bradshaw, he was looking directly at her.