An Undeniable Passion Ch. 19byopels©
The next day Billy took Elizabeth out for lunch and told her everything. She sat wide eyed throughout it all, her lunch sitting before her untouched. When he had finished she sat silent for several minutes, trying to absorb it all. Finally she said slowly, "You mean, you and Ginny, aren't cousins? You barely even knew each other before you began sharing a house together?" she asked fearfully.
He nodded wordlessly. Seeing the look on her face he said quickly, "I'm so sorry for lying to you Lizzy. The whole arrangement was very innocent. Absolutely nothing improper happened."
"I believe you Billy," she said quietly. "Thank you for telling me."
"Now I need your advice, about the rest of it. What should I do? I care a great deal about both of these people and I think they belong together but Ginny's being so stubborn."
"I just don't know Billy. You can't force a person to fall in love."
"But that's it exactly. She already loves him and he loves her but she won't believe it."
"I still don't know. I don't know Captain Stratford. I only met him briefly when he asked for directions to Aurora. Of course he seemed very nice, but it was too short of an encounter to really tell."
"There must be a way..." he said desperately.
"Short of forcing her to spend time with him, I don't see how it can be done."
A sudden thought suddenly struck him. "Lizzy, have you chosen anyone to stand up with you when we get married?"
"Well, I was thinking of Ginny, partly because I thought she was your cousin, but also because she's been so nice and helpful in getting us together. Why do you ask?"
"I was thinking about asking Cap'in Stratford. If I do then they have to spend time together. They at least will have to dance together at the wedding and sit together at the same table during dinner."
"Oh Billy, I don't know. What if they get into a big fight and start yelling at each other? It would ruin everything!"
"They won't get into a fight. Even if they do get mad at each other, or rather if Ginny gets mad at him, they won't yell. They wouldn't dare ruin our day. They would just smile and then yell at each other later." He looked at her hopefully. "What do you say?"
She hesitated, but then saw the pleading look in his eye and relented. "Alright. I'll ask her tomorrow."
"Good, you ask her before I tell her that Cap'in Stratford will be standing up with me so she can't back out." He looked at her with love shining in his eyes. "Thank you Lizzy. Thank you for understanding and for helping me out on this."
"Well, isn't that what a wife is supposed to do? Help her husband? I'm just getting a head start."
After Billy saw Elizabeth back to the store he dropped by the Aurora. He knew Drake wasn't going to be happy with what he had to tell him, but it was all he had come up with.
Drake welcomed him in, and offered him a seat. "Well, did you talk to her? What did she say?"
"I tried Cap'in. I really tried. But she's convinced that you don't love her and are playing some sort of game with her. She never wants to see you again."
Drake slammed his fist on the table and cursed. "Damn. She read Violet's letter?"
"Yes, but she thinks you've just managed to fool us into believing you."
Drake sighed heavily and muttered, "What am I going to do?"
"Well, Lizzy and I have a plan."
"Lizzy? Who's Lizzy?"
"Elizabeth Robbins. My fiancée. You met her at the mercantile. She's the one who gave you directions, the one with the big diamond ring?"
"Yes, of course, yes. I remember her. Very pretty girl," he said, smiling at Billy.
Billy blushed and replied, "She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
"You said the two of you have a plan?" Drake prompted.
"Yes. Lizzy is going to ask Ginny to stand up with her at our wedding, and I would like it if you would stand up with me. That way, you two will have to spend time together. You'll have to dance together and sit together during dinner."
"When are you getting married?"
"Forrester, that's three weeks away. I was hoping for something sooner."
"Well, we're hosting a Christmas Ball on New Year's Eve. Your welcome to come to that." He hesitated before continuing. "There's something else you should know."
He looked up at the younger man. "There's more?" he asked. From the way that Billy had said it, he could tell that it wasn't going to be in his favor.
"She's being courted by someone."
Drake suddenly felt as though he had been hit in the stomach. He felt a surge of jealous rage, but managed to quell it and in a tight voice asked, "Who?"
"His name is Thomas Ogilvy. He lives on the farm next to us. His sister came over shortly after we moved in and introduced herself and invited us to a big dinner party. That's where Ginny met him."
"What's he like, this Ogilvy?" he asked.
"He's nice enough. Tall, like you, but not as big. He has light brown hair and pale eyes and is a bit older. About forty, I think. And it appears that he's quite wealthy. His house is huge."
"Has he asked her to marry him?"
"No, he's been making lots of hints about it, but she doesn't want to get married right now. She's really enjoying her independence and she loves her house. She doesn't want to give up either quite yet and she told him so. She said he seemed to understand."
"Sounds absolutely delightful," he growled.
"She doesn't trust him though," Billy added.
"She seems to keep getting involved with men who are untrustworthy," he replied grimly. "Why doesn't she trust him?"
"She suspects he's more interested in her attic than in her."
"He said privateers used to own the house and it's rumored that there's treasure hidden up there."
"And is there?" he asked.
Looking away he said, "We found some things that seem to confirm the rumors. Muskets, bayonets, fine fabrics, wine, brandy and whiskey, sugar and spices. Those sorts of things."
"But not real treasure?"
Before Billy could reply, they heard a distant muffled boom. Drake looked up to the ceiling but when he didn't hear feet running over head or anyone pounding down the stairs to his door he figured it must be nothing to concern him.
"You still have a chance with her, I think. I don't think she's in love with Mr. Ogilvy so maybe you could still win her back."
Drake couldn't help but smile. He had been worried that another man would come along that she would fall for and that when he returned it would be too late and she would be lost to him forever. It had almost happened but he had arrived back just in time.
It was then that they heard shouts and the sound of feet running across the deck. Drake had the door open and was halfway up the stairs when he almost collided with a crew member coming down. "Cap'in, there's a fire!"
Drake raced up the remaining stairs and saw that the two ships next to his were engulfed in flames and that the sails of his own ship were now on fire.
"Cut down those sails!" he shouted.
"We're trying to sir, but the other ship is so close, they're hard to get to."
He watched helplessly as the flames licked at the mast. "Cut us loose, let's get away from that other ship!" he shouted, rushing to the ropes that were tying the ship to the dock. When he reached them, he saw that the crew was a step ahead of him and were already pushing off.
A loud cracking sound filled the air and the burning mast crashed to the deck. Buckets of water were immediately poured onto it but not before it burned a whole in the deck. They made some distance between themselves and the other ship but the Aurora was not out of danger yet. The sails were still burning and another mast was about to fall.
"Cut down those sails!' he ordered again. Large pieces of burning sailcloth were falling to the deck. The men were doing their best to douse the flames quickly but Drake knew that the damage was not going to be minimal. He rushed to help the men cut the ropes that held the sails as a second mast came crashing down.
Hours later, he was buying his crew a round of ale in the local tavern. They had done a good job saving his ship and he was grateful. "What happened?" he asked them. I heard a muffled boom a few minutes before I heard you lads running and shouting."
"Some'tin exploded on t' ot'er ship, sir," one crew member began.
"We saw the flames come shootin' up from the deck," another said.
"That whole ship war in flames, right off sir. And wit' t'e other ship so close, well, she caught fire straight 'way."
Another continued the story "'tis a good thing we was at the end of the pier, it was. If we 'adn't been able to git away, we woulda' burned up too."
Drake stood and holding his up his tankard he said "Well, men, thank you for your quick thinking, and quick actions. You saved my beloved Aurora and I am forever in your debt."
"Ah, it was nut'in'."
"It was our duty Cap'in."
"We love 'er as much as you do Cap'in."
Drake was genuinely touched that the men were so devoted. He knew of crews on ships that wouldn't have cared at all and would have let her burn. It was because he treated them well he knew, but he also felt that it went beyond that. If he could get a bunch of rough and tumble sailors to love and respect him why couldn't he get the same reaction out of one woman?
"Well, she's going to need extensive repairs and won't be going back to Liverpool anytime soon. I'll see what I can do about arranging passage for those of you who wish to go back. If any of you want to stay here and try your luck, you're more than welcome. Just let either me or Simpson know of your plans," he said.
He sat down and turned to Billy. "Well it looks like I'll be staying for awhile. I guess I'll just have to make myself a nuisance as far as Virginia is concerned."
"Sir, she's given me an out-building on the farm. It's where Lizzy and I are going to live after we're married, but it's currently too small for the two of us. You could live there and help me expand it while the ship is in for repairs. That way you'll always be close to her and bound to see her often."
"Will she allow that? It is her farm."
"But that house is mine. She legally signed it over. If I say you can stay there, then there's nothing she can do about it," Billy said triumphantly.
"Forrester, you have yourself a deal," he said holding out his hand.
Billy took his hand and shook it and said, "Sir, please call me Billy. That's what I go by here and it sounds strange, you being the only one still calling me Forrester."
"Agreed, but only if you promise to stop calling me Captain. I'm not your captain any longer. Call me Drake."
Billy's eyes grew wide, "Are you sure sir? I don't want to be disrespectful."
"Yes, Billy, I'm sure."
"Alright, Drake," he said with a smile.
Billy arrived back home, still covered in soot. Virginia saw him come in the door and immediately rushed to him. "Billy, what happened? Was there a fire?"
"I was visiting Drake on the Aurora, when a ship a couple of berths over caught fire. It spread quickly and the next thing I knew, we were on fire too. The ship's alright though. She was docked at the end of the pier so the lads were able to untie her and push off out of reach of the burning ships. She lost all of her masts and sails, and there are some big holes burnt in the deck, but she can be fixed," he said.
She hesitated and then asked, "Is everyone alright? Did anyone get hurt?"
Giving her a knowing look he said, "He's fine."
Annoyed that she hadn't been able to fool him she said, "I was referring to everyone on board. I did make friends with them all, remember?"
"They're all fine too," he said. "It was amazing to see Ginny. The way everyone worked so hard to save her. Those men really love that ship and it's all because of Drake. It's rare to see a crew so devoted to their captain. It really says a lot about a man who can command that kind of loyalty."
"Save your praise of him, Billy. I don't want to hear it," she said walking away from him.
He sighed as he walked upstairs thinking, it had been worth a try. He got cleaned up and changed his clothes and found her once again in the library. "By the way, Lizzy wants to see you tomorrow. Something about the wedding."
"Oh? I'll go see her at the mercantile then. Let me know if you want me to pick anything up for you."
"Do you want me to take you in the carriage?"
"No, that's alright. I'll ride Liberty. Give her a trip to town."
The next morning Virginia pulled the split riding skirt out of her wardrobe. She had made it shortly after Billy had suggested she learn how to ride astride. She had tried it and after some practice had found it easier. Learning to shift her balance had been easy enough to get used to, the sensation of the powerful animal between her thighs was another. She pulled on the split skirt and looked in the mirror. The legs of the garment were wide enough so that you couldn't readily notice that it wasn't a proper skirt. She hesitated before leaving her room. Riding about the farm was one thing, going into town astride was another. She had never done that before and tongues were bound to wag. Well, she didn't care. She tossed her head and pulling on a warm hooded riding jacket she walked downstairs.
Out in the stable she resolutely took a regular saddle off the wall and put it on her horse. Liberty snorted and tossed her mane. She hadn't given her beloved horse a good run for awhile and she needed it. She led her out of the stables and closed the large doors behind her. Putting her foot in the stirrup she swung her leg over the back of the horse before cantering down the long drive to the road, holding Liberty in check. The horse wanted to run but Virginia wanted her to warm up a bit first. Soon enough, though, they were flying down the road, the pins fell out of her hair and it streamed out behind her like a long flame. The feeling was exhilarating. She wished she had learned how to ride like this a long time ago. As they neared the town a mixture of rain and snow began to fall. Worried that the streets would be slippery she pulled on the reins, slowing down to a lady-like trot.
The wind began to pick up and the wet snow quickly became sleet. The population of Williamsburg was too busy trying to find shelter to notice the way she was riding. She found a stable where she could tie up Liberty and pulled up the hood of her riding coat as she made her way to the mercantile.
The bell over the door jangled and Elizabeth looked up. A smile spread across her face when she saw Virginia. She came out from behind the counter and embraced her. "Ginny how are you? Bill told me you had an unpleasant visit from your former fiancé. Are you alright?" She didn't tell Virginia that she also knew all about Drake's visit as well.
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you. I was quite shaken but I'm alright."
"I'm so glad," she said with a smile.
"Billy said there was something you wanted to ask me? Something about the wedding?"
"Yes. Let's go in the back," she said indicating the curtain that hung behind the front counter. She called to her mother to let her know she would be away from the counter for a few minutes and they ducked behind it.
Virginia had never been to the back of the store before. They entered a small office and sat down. Elizabeth leaned towards Ginny and said, "First of all I want to thank you. You have been so wonderful to both Billy and I and had a great deal to do with us getting together. And all the work you've done in helping me to plan and arrange the wedding, well, quite frankly, I don't think I could have done it all without you. You seem to know how everything is to be done."
Quietly she said, "When I left England my own wedding was to have been in a matter of days, so I've done all this before."
Just as quietly, Elizabeth replied, "Oh yes, of course." Brightening she continued, "Well, what I really wanted to ask you is this. Would you stand up with me when we get married?"
Virginia's eyes grew wide. She had not expected this. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather ask someone else? A close girlfriend?"
"No Ginny. I want someone who has really meant something to my relationship with Billy and that someone is you. Please say yes."
Smiling broadly she said, "Yes. Yes, Elizabeth I would be honored to stand up with you."
She jumped up and again embraced Virginia. "Thank you. This means so much to me."
"Has Billy chosen someone to stand with him?"
"I don't think so. You'd have to ask him."
She had a strong feeling it was going to be Drake. He had made a few friends in town but they didn't mean as much to him as Drake did. She had a feeling that Billy looked upon him as a mentor, a role model.
"I hate to run, but the weather is getting bad and I'd like to get back home," she said as they emerged from behind the curtain. They could see and hear the freezing rain as it lashed the windows of the store.
"Maybe you should stay here and wait it out," Elizabeth said, looking out as people ducked under the awnings and into buildings to avoid the icy rain.
Virginia pulled up the hood on her coat and said, "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
She stepped out of the store into the wind and rain and began to make her way back to where she head tied up Liberty. She was beginning to regret not coming in the carriage as she neared the stables. A sudden gust of wind blew at her, causing her hood to fly back. It quickly changed direction and came back at her from behind causing her loose hair to fly into her face. She became disoriented and was trying to keep the hair out her face as she slipped along the icy street. She couldn't see where she was going and stepped into a deep rut in the road. Her ankle turned and she began to fall. She struggled to maintain her balance by shifting her weight but in doing so she landed on her newly injured ankle. She let out a howl of pain and put out her hands to break her fall. Just before she hit the street, a strong arm grabbed her about the waist and pulled her into the air. She had a sudden flash of almost falling in the streets of Liverpool and instinctively knew that it was Drake coming to her aid yet again. He had seen her turn her ankle and so instead of just steadying her, he scooped her up in his arms.
She tossed her wet hair back out of her face and glared up at him.
"Why Miss Templeton, how nice to see you again," he said pleasantly.
She hissed at him through clenched teeth, "Put me down!"
Ignoring her request he began carrying her through the now empty streets. Maintaining his friendly, casual tone he said to her, "It seems that you really should avoid walking in storms on icy streets. This is, I believe, the third time I have had to come to your assistance in such a situation. I should say you're pushing your luck. I may not happen to be around the next time and you could really hurt yourself."
In a most unladylike display she kicked her legs and struggled to be free of his arms, but her efforts appeared to go unnoticed by him. "Let me go! Put me down!" she demanded.
He carried her to the stables where he had seen her earlier tying up her horse. He stood by Liberty's side and asked "Can you ride with your ankle like that?"
Still twisting in his arms she spat, "That is none of your concern. Put me down and leave me alone."
He stared into her eyes, letting the love he felt for her show in his own. He gently set her down but did not release his arm about her waist. "Can you stand on it?" he gently asked.
She tried her weight on it and stumbled, letting out a small cry of pain. He gripped her tighter and held her upright. She refused to look at him and turned her head away.
The weak light of the stables glinted off something around her neck. His fingers reached out for the delicate chain and he gently pulled it out of her bodice. She tried to stop him but it was too late and soon the amber stone was resting in his palm. It mirrored his eyes and he looked down at her. She turned her head and looked away again. "Why do you wear this?" he asked quietly.