But it was Serenity that caught most of his attention. Her wrist had a delicate curve to it as she gently picked up the meat and opened her mouth for it.
White, perfect teeth flashed an instant before her lips came together to cover the fork, and she slid it slowly out. The very tip of her tongue peeped out for just an instant as she licked a tiny piece of cold gravy from her upper lip.
Never before had Morgan noticed just how arousing the process of eating could be. But with every graceful move of her body, and with every flash of teeth on her lip, he felt as though he were being tortured.
“I’m sorry it’s not more palatable,” he said, his voice strained.
“Oh no, it’s fine. Why, it’s a lot better than what Honor made after our first cook quit.
She made porcupine meatballs, and all I have to say is that the porcupine part was definitely right. I think I still have a….” she looked up at him and caught his stare. “Is something the matter?”
If you lick your lips one more time, I swear….
“No,” he said gruffly. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Are you sure, Captain? You look as if–”
“I said nothing is wrong,” he snapped with more malice than he’d intended.
Her face fell and he instantly felt like a low-life. “Forgive my curtness. It’s just been a long day,”
he offered as a makeshift excuse.
That seemed to console her. “You know, I was thinking this morning about the fact that it really isn’t right for me to take over your room. I know how men are when it comes to their territory and-”
He interrupted her with a short laugh. “Men and their what?”
She shrugged. “Territory. My brother and father get quite insane any time anyone intrudes on their private sanctuaries. I’m sure you view this room as such, and I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
Uncomfortable with her choice of words, Morgan shifted in his seat. Well, put out would definitely describe that piece of his anatomy that was currently ramrod stiff, and defying the hell of gravity.
“And where do you propose I put you?” he asked.
“I was thinking we could put a hammock up by the window perhaps.”
“Have you ever slept in a hammock, Miss James?”
“Well no, but I’m sure it’s not that hard.”
It’s harder than it’s ever been before, he thought, shifting once more in his seat. “A hammock is no place for a woman.”
Serenity stiffened at his words. “And why is that? Why is a hammock fine for a man and not a woman?”
By his face she could tell he didn’t want to explain himself.
The answer he gave her rated right up there with her father’s because I said so, and as long as you live under my roof…. “It’s just not fitting.” She set her fork down and eyed him with all the malice she felt. “Says who?” “Everyone.”
“Everyone?” she repeated, her eyes wide. “I certainly don’t say so, and I believe I count as someone.”
He had that look on his face, that exasperated, Why can’t you see reason, look that her father always got when she confronted his more ridiculous notions.
“Where do you get these ideas?” he asked after several seconds of silence.
“My ideas are my own, Captain Drake.”
He snorted. “Well then, that’s comforting. I would hate to think these novel ideas of yours are catching among women.”
Insulted, Serenity glared at him. “I’m not the only woman to hold such views. Are you familiar with the writings of Mary Astell?”
“Never heard of her.”
“What about Lady Mary Wortley Montague?”
Now that was a name Morgan knew– everyone in polite society was aghast at her exploits. “What about her?”
Her face lighted up. “Then you know her views on women. We are not addle-pated, goose-twits who have no other purpose than–”
“Goose-twit,” she repeated. “Women do have value in this world, Captain Drake. We can hold our own!”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Miss James, this is a man’s world. Women need protecting from it.”
Serenity came to her feet and narrowed her stare on him. “I’ll tell you what we need protecting from–men who think the only value a woman has is to be a pretty little decoration on their arm, or
some trophy conquest.”
True to her tirade, she put her hands on her hips. “The day shall come, Captain Drake, when woman will take their proper place in society. And I assure you that place is not the Drawing Room.”
His laughter rang out, and he applauded. “Bravo, Miss James. Tell me how long you have practiced that speech.”
She saw red.
Ignoring her, he continued to dig himself in deeper. “And who put such ideas into your head?”
“Are you saying that I can’t have my own thoughts?”
At least he had the decency to look a little sheepish. “That’s not what I meant. But let’s face facts, those aren’t the normal ideas. You didn’t come up with this mutiny on your own.”
“Aye, mutiny. You stand before me, hands on hips and defy every time held belief. If women were meant to be the equals of men, then why since the very day God gave Eve to Adam, has man ruled woman?”
She inched closer to him, her hands itching to strangle sense into his male brain. “Need I remind you, Captain, that God did not make Eve from Adam’s foot so that he could tread upon her. She was created from his side to be his equal.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and eyed her. “Then why are women by nature, by God’s own design, the gentler sex? Women faint at the slightest scare.”
Oh, how she wanted to knock the smug look off his face! He was so proud of that argument– well, she had an even better one.
“Slightest scare, Captain? I assure you, sir, that I have seen women suffer for days to bring a child into this world. And I have yet to see a woman faint during the labor of it. I beg you, show me a man who would willing bear that much pain for that many hours, and not cry out for his mother. In fact, you want to know why women have a higher tolerance for pain, Captain Drake? I’ll tell you why, it’s so that we women can put up with you men!”
By heaven, the man’s audacity knew no limits. He actually threw his head back and laughed at her!
“I don’t see the humor, Captain.”
“No,” he said, sobering– well all except the corners of his lips which continued to turn up in a smile. “I don’t suppose you do.”
Morgan tried to force the smile from his face, but she stood so proud and fierce before him that he just couldn’t. She was a rare treat. He’d never in his life met a woman who could have phrased her views so eloquently– or so amusingly. In truth he had known a few men who did just what she said, sailors who’d been wounded and had in fact cried for their mothers. “You make a most convincing argument, Miss James, but it doesn’t change anything.”
Serenity folded her arms over her chest in a duplicate of his pose, and looked away from him.
Men! Would they ever see past their own narrow views of the world? Suddenly, Morgan was beside her. He lifted her chin with a knuckle until she had no choice but to meet his eyes. Fire and longing burned in the dark depths. Morgan brushed the pad of his thumb against the soft underside of her chin. Her skin was so soft, so warm. She had a strength of courage that would indeed rival any man. It must be hard for her to face the laughter of people and not give in. He admired that in her. And he swore that he would never again laugh at her– not even if she told him that one day a woman would be Prime Minister of England.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Serenity,” he whispered.
“Then what do you want?”
To make love to you.
Morgan clenched his teeth, knowing he could never say that to her. So instead, he switched to a safer topic. One that needed to be spoken before she really did find out the truth of what he’d once been. “I want you to forget about the article you’re writing. Leave my crew alone to attend their duties.”
Anger sparked in her eyes, turning them a vibrant shade of blue. “Why?”
“Because everyone on this ship has a duty, mine is to run it, Barney’s is to keep peace, and yours is to stay out of our way.”
She knocked his hand away from her face. “I didn’t realize I was in anyone’s way.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “This isn’t a game, Serenity. You need to–” “Exactly.”
If looks could kill, Morgan decided he would now be splintered across the far wall.
“Very well,” she said, her voice ice. She moved over to where his laundry was drying. She grabbed his still dripping coat and threw it over his shoulders. “Since my job is to sit here and keep out of the way and yours is to run the ship, I suggest you get to it!”
“But nothing, Captain. Heaven forbid you leave the helm for more than a minute. Anything could happen. God could toss down a lightening bolt and set fire to the ship. A sea monster could rise up from the depths of the ocean and swallow us whole. Or, dare I say it? The weight of male egos may be so great that it plops a hole right in the center of deck and we sink from it!”
And before he could protest, he found himself standing outside in the hallway, the door closed firmly behind him.
Now how did she keep doing this to him?
Just as he turned to confront her, the door opened.
Serenity shoved his plate into his hands. “And whatever you do, don’t forget your shoe leather.”
Once more, she slammed the door shut in his face.
“Serenity!” he bellowed, knocking against the door with his clenched fist. “Open this door!”
“Go to the devil, Captain Drake.” Incensed beyond reason, he snarled, “That’s not very lady-like!” The door opened and she came at him, her nostrils flared, her eyes smoldering. “Then try this one. Go to hell, and…and rot!”
And before he could move, he once again confronted a shut door. “Serenity!” “Oh, forgive me, Captain,” she drawled in the slowest, most helpless voice he’d ever heard. “But I can’t open that huge old door by myself. Why I might actually break a nail. If only there was some strong, able-bodied man who could save me from my plight….”
Even through the door her heard her sad, melodramatic sigh.
He decided then that it was a good thing she didn’t open the door. Because right then, standing in the hallway with his coat dripping on his dry clothes, his plate in his hand, and his male-ego greatly offended, he would have probably strangled her.
But sooner or later, she would have to leave and when she did….