|Pirate of my Dreams
Author: Lenah. C PM
Franchesca Ashford has dreamed of going out to sea since childhood, and when she finally got the chance, she expected to have the adventure of a lifetime. What she didn't expect, however, was the handsome and devilish captain that came along with it.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Adventure - Chapters: 37 - Words: 196,274 - Reviews: 471 - Favs: 218 - Follows: 215 - Updated: 10-20-12 - Published: 08-08-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2836290
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A small golden haired angel rushed to his arms, and Grant embraced her in a crushing hug.
"It's not fair! You've only been here for two months!" Giana whined. "It's not fair, you big brute!"
How he wished to say that he didn't particularly like to leave now that he was spoiled with their company. He never really meant to be so re-absorbed to his former life during his stay; yet there were a lot of things he didn't mean to happen either—starting with that brat and the Ripner affair.
"I'll visit once I sort out some business matters. It's not like I'll be disappearing forever, Giana," he explained with a pat on her blond ringlets.
"But you and Gerry are finally at peace! It feels like we're really a family for once in a long while. Don't go! You can stay here and work here and live here."
It was tearing him apart to be explaining to an emotional twelve year old. "I can't, Giana, and I'm sorry. But this is something I must do. Tell you what, I promise to visit when you turn thirteen, alright? As long as I have breath in my body."
"But what of Miss Franchesca?" she whispered. He was starting to hate that question and bluntly ignored it.
He used Anthony Hartley's arrival as a distraction from the redheaded brat.
His eyes burned with a menacing hatred reserved especially for the man standing before him. It was the closest proximity he had with his father in eleven years. Behind the man, his mother stood silently, holding on to Gerry's arm with a fretful frown etched on her lips.
Both father and son said nothing worth a greeting or even an insult. Instead, Anthony merely offered a curt nod of acknowledgement—the very least kind of communication he allowed toward a son he had disowned. Grant did the same though he managed a haughty smirk for the sake of pride.
He saw his father open his mouth, but it was closed before a sound was uttered. Perhaps, he thought, it would be words he would be curious to hear and know for the rest of his life. But at that moment, no other word was spoken between them.
As the man walked away, Grant painfully remembered what made him leave home in the first place—to escape the slight possibility of being molded into the likeness of his father. He looked painfully at his mother who simply stared back with patient understanding. She accepted courteously when he offered his arm for a walk outside.
The evening air was cool as they strode along the terrace. They could see a good view of the beautiful garden lit with colorful lanterns for the occasion.
"I don't know why you stay with him, mother," he confessed to the woman in her late forties walking in a very regal stride. How like her to be so composed. It was a trait of Elizabeth Hartley that always confounded the very temperamental and bold Grant.
He heard her sigh. "You should not hate him so, Preston. He's your father."
"You defend him? After what he's done to you? He hardly was a father, trust me," the captain muttered in bitter disdain.
"That was all in the past. But while the past can never be forgotten by anyone, we have established some sort of peace. He never was the kind of man to show his feelings so it would seem he's cold to all of his children, but he's not heartless. Are you understanding me, Preston?"
"You are a saint, mother, that's all I'm understanding."
Elizabeth squeezed his arm. "You've always been stubborn, darling. But do hear me out. I don't like seeing this hatred you bear for your father—or anyone for that matter. It will only tear you apart."
Grant winced. "Are you still in love with him, mother?"
It was a while before he got a response. "Yes, I do. Even when he's never loved me back, even when he's been so heartless as to carry on an affair while I bore his children, or even when he seems cold and forbidding, but I still do. I've loved your father even before the arrangement for our wedding was conceived."
"But because of it, you were hurt."
"You can't escape hurt, Preston. It comes with love. When you love someone, you give them the power to hurt you. I gave my love willingly despite knowing what kind of a man your father is. Honestly, I believed I could change him, to shed some light and laughter into his life. I thought I could make him happier, and his burdens a little easier."
"But you didn't," Grant snapped, causing Elizabeth to smile.
"Oh, you'd be surprised. It's still a work in progress, dear. It's not exactly easy to change the way a man has been raised so rigidly the way your father was. He is a man who's known no love in his childhood. That shaped him to be the same man his father had been. He can't seem to get himself to be tender where his children are concerned because . . . maybe he doesn't know how. Both of his parents neither loved him."
"Yet he imposed the same misery on me and he's repeating it with Gerry—"
"Oh no, dear. He's changed where Gerry is concerned. It's still far fetched in most eyes, but he's grown softer, I assure you. More so with Giana. He's never raised a hand at her even when she's been caught with disobedience."
"Never tasted the rod eh? I remember bleeding because of it."
"He was still hard in your time. I believe it hit him hard when you ran away. It made him change. He still acknowledges you as his son—"
"Even when he stripped me off the family Bible, eh?" Grant said with scorn.
"He regretted that, I assure you."
"Well he has a lousy way of showing it." Elizabeth uttered an exasperated sigh. "I hate him for hurting you, mother. If you can't find it in your saintly soul to be even angry with him, let me."
"He stopped his affair, Preston, and he came home. That was enough for me. He doesn't love me, but it shows that he cares for our family. He's been kinder in many ways. We talk before going to sleep now, and he tolerates some jokes at the dinner table. And just so you know he apologized, showing that he respects me enough to swallow his pride and give me his rare apologies. In fact, I'm sure he'd apologize to you in time if you'd give him the chance. He's a very stubborn and proud old man—just like you, actually."
"I dread to hear that, but I suppose it is most apparent that only a devil can sire another devil given an angel for a mother."
Elizabeth laughed softly and leaned her head on her son's arm. They were taking their second round around the area. "Anthony did foolish things that hurt his loved ones, Preston, but doesn't everyone do foolish things? Haven't you?"
Grant rid his mind of the image of Franchesca in tears.
"I know you left home and rebelled to avoid being anything like him—cold, unfeeling, callous—" Grant winced, his guilt dragging on the floor as he remembered the way he treated Franchesca. Bloody hell, he was exactly like his father! The way he would coldly shrug off her declarations of love, hurt her feelings deliberately, shut her down all the time, ship her back to England just to get her out of his hands . . . He was the same despicable monster Anthony Hartley had been with his mother!
The weight of his remorse grew so heavy with each step he realized he was even more unworthy of her—not even the sight of her.
His mother must have sensed his guilt to notice his silence. "But you won't be, my darling son. I assure you, you won't be like him. You may have done foolish things, but you arenot your father."
Elizabeth Hartley smiled and patted a mildly wrinkled hand on her son's jaw. "Because I gave you my love wholeheartedly—something your father never received—and I taught you to know better."
He knew it would be an absolute embarrassment should any of his male peers catch him getting all choked up with emotion, but he didn't mind letting a tear or two well up in his eyes as he gave his mother a tight hug and a loving kiss. If he didn't make it out of the Ripner affair alive, it would be the last show of affection he could give to the woman who raised him; so it would only have to be the best that he could give—with all of his heart.
The small maze in the duke's garden allowed a secluded spot where the couple could stroll about undisturbed. Franchesca bit her lip as she and Eric walked on in a silence that was so unbecoming for both of them. He led her away seemingly to want to speak of urgent news, and it made her nervous.
"You're scaring me if you must know, Eric Danver, so if you would please oblige me some relief, do speak!"
A faint smile cracked on the man's lips but was quickly replaced with a solemn line. "How was your day?"
"Fine. I fitted my wedding gown for the last time. It should be delivered soon in time within the week. How was your day?"
"Pleasant and pensive. I thought some things out."
Franchesca nodded. "What kind of things?" Her unease grew with every step they took in tense silence until she finally felt a hand on her shoulder, urging her to stop. The grave deep green irises that gazed back at her revealed a bit of what was to come so she wasn't all too surprised to hear him speak out his mind.
"About our marriage, my darling Franchesca. I thought it through and through and decided that I will not marry you after all."
"You're joking!" she blurted out, a tingling of shock in her face. "The wedding's next week! If this is about me, I assure you, I won't get cold feet on the big day—you—you have my commitment!"
A smile was on his lips though not to ridicule her in any way. "I know you won't get cold feet, and I thank you. But I know it is not me this one" he pointed at the left of her chest—her heart "yearns to be with. It's Grant Hartley—or that Captain Maverick—"
"But, Eric, I am trying! I swear to you my contact with Grant will cease—" He interrupted her by holding both of her arms in a soothing gesture.
"I've never doubted your fidelity, Ches. You are too good of a woman to hurt anyone like that. I believe you when you say you will sever all ties with Hartley, but frankly I'm convinced that that is the last thing I want to happen."
He wasn't making sense at all! He wasn't accusing her of being unfaithful, but still he was calling off their nuptials? The pleading look told him of her confusion.
"You silly girl, you love that man despite whatever denials and attempts you may try to forget. I can see right through you, Ches, and I know that he's someone who can make you the happiest woman in the world. I cannot take that happiness from you, my dear."
"Happiness has nothing to do with anything anymore, Eric. Don't you see? A part of me will always be miserable whether we wed or not. You don't understand . . . Grant doesn't love me. He never has. I'm running hoping to catch something that isn't there. I've pushed him enough to love me somehow, but . . . it didn't work. . And—and it's not even Grant's fault if he can't love me back."
He personally didn't think so. The captain was more than captivated with the way he acted, but that was his opinion. "Somehow I am persuaded to say otherwise. Why not try again for the last time?"
Franchesca looked down at her feet. She knew that if she thought about Grant longer, she would end up in tears. "It hurts trying, Eric. Besides, what kind of a chivalrous gentleman would let a woman do the courting?" The corner of her lips twitched despite her better sense.
"Well, from the way you described him before I'd say he never was a gentleman in the first place. And it would hurt even more not to try again. Who knows . . . maybe it wouldn't be that bad the second time around."
It was madness to try again. Simply madness. But a part of her held on to it nevertheless.
Franchesca held her fiance's hand. "You are too good for me, Eric Danver. I suppose we shall stay friends now?"
"Good friends," Eric responded with a kind grin. "Mind you, we shall be the highlight of intrigue for a few weeks, and I am sure my father shall box my ears for calling off the greatest honor and privilege in the world."
"Daddy won't be pleased either, but he'll understand."
"I'll tell him it was my idea."
Franchesca shook her head. "No, I—I'll tell him myself. Daddy would be more lenient if I tell him. Now shall we return to the celebrations, Mr. Danver? You still owe me a dance, and don't you dare think you can say otherwise now that you are once again a bachelor."
Eric laughed and the redhead grabbed and clung to his elbow. They walked back to the estate with a light smile on their faces that told much of the freedom they now share as friends.
The smoldering dark eyes that caught it, however, didn't seem to think that what they shared was mere "friendship".
Grant was already at that point of frustration that he considered shoving people out of his way just to get his hand on a glass of brandy. He swallowed the amber liquid in two quick gulps. That was when he heard someone clearing his throat from behind. Since he wasn't really in the mood to talk to people as of the moment, he debated on whether to acknowledge or ignore the person
"You must be Grant Hartley? Though I'm only presuming."
The callousness in the stranger's voice made the hairs on his neck stand; he gripped his brandy glass tight before turning to face his speaker. A gold glint coming from the man's sneering grin made him wince. Two gold plated teeth along with the scar on the man's face were the distinctions he dreaded.
He stood face to face with his soon-to-be killer.
Ripner's ash gray hair was silky instead of coarse and clubbed back to give him a more formal appearance. His attire, instead of dirty sea rags, looked like fine cotton and wool, and his vest, of the most expensive silk. He looked like a different man altogether along with this new identity.
"I am he, though I'm not sure I can give the same presumption." Grant muttered dryly, playing along with the game of pretend.
The pirate grinned and took a glass of brandy for his own. "Ah, I see my reputation hasn't yet reached your ears? Mr. Johnston, a pleasure." He extended a hand. Grant coldly ignored it.
"One of your many names, I presume? In fact would you want me to spell out the others? I've heard a lot about you, and most of them are quite ugly."
"M'fraid I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Hartley," Johnston replied with an easy smile that never left his lips. It told Grant exactly the opposite—that he knew his accusations very well.
"George sent you to do his dirty deeds eh? Tell me, how long have you been slaving away for your master, doing as he bids in exchange for these luxuries. Makes you seem like a street dog, eh? Though I am only presuming of course, Mr. Johnston."
The twitch in that left eye warned him to keep a check on his tongue; yet Grant could hardly help himself. All he wanted to do was to throttle him, and send a message to Old George to leave him in peace. But knowing the nature of business he found himself tangled with, that wasn't likely to happen.
"I am appalled of your wild presumption, Mr. Hartley! Those years of trade had been a constant source of shame to me. I am now a man paying redemption for past sins. No need to bring up the ol' days."
"You're here to kill me is what you're here for if we can be frank."
For a moment Grant felt the man would gut him then and there only to be surprised by the hearty laugh.
"So it's true what I've heard. You are quite a character, Mr. Hartley," his laugh died away to a cunning chuckle. "I don't know what George was thinking in sparing you. Trying to get you to join 'im, eh? But, no, yer much too proud, Mr. Hartley. N' don't ya know . . . that pride is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason?
"You'd better keep an eye on that tongue before it gets you te too much trouble," he drawled, turning a lingering eye on the little girl fast approaching her brother.
Grant felt his innards drop to the floor, color and heat draining him as his sister came to his side ever so near to that pirate scum.
"Brother, quick! A new dance is starting; we haven't danced yet!"
She took his hand but the captain felt numb. His heart hammered madly seeing Ripner eyes beholding his radiant sister before it settled back at him. Giana frowned with confusion at her brother's lack of response until she noticed that he was priorly engaged in a conversation.
"Oh, pardon me, sir. I must be awfully rude for interrupting your conversation."
Ripner only smiled with a kindness that mockingly reached his eyes. "Why not at all, little darling. Your brother and I had just finished talking. Is it a dance that you want? You'd better convince your grouch of a brother first."
Gianna curtsied as the man tipped his head for her. It was only when the man disappeared that she dared to look at the captain. Her brother looked sick.
"It's nothing." Grant waved the issue off completely with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Now was it a dance you wanted, you ragamuffin? Prepare to be swept off your feet."
There was trouble breeding in those dark eyes, and his stiffness confirmed it. It must be that man; yet the more she thought about it with each swaying stride, the more it scared her. She knew her brother was a brave man with a daring soul no one could intimidate. Yet the man she was dancing with wasn't that invincible person but a frightened man.
It was a pleasant dance nonetheless since Grant masked his fear quickly and composed himself as he swayed to the music.
Elizabeth Hartley, resting a hand on Gerry's arm, smiled gently as her eldest and youngest child joined them.
"Giana, you must be going home now. It's getting late, and you should know better than to linger past the appropriate time," she chided with a motherly sternness that wouldn't accommodate objections. She smiled a bit when her youngest stuck her tongue out, aware of how girls her age always wish to stay past their bedtime.
Grant ruffled the young girl's hair teasingly and hugged her tight in farewell. Giana felt teary, knowing their separation would be indefinitely long. She watched as the man patted Gerry on the shoulder, reminding him to take care of mother and her while he was away. She merely nodded when Grant offered to escort them to the door.
"You behave, you ragamuffin," Grant warned his sister. "And if any boy would even look at you with admiration, Gerry will make him think twice next time."
With a sleepy yawn, Giana deposited a soft punch on her eldest brother's arm, mumbling, "You be back for my birthday or I swear I won't ever talk to you again!"
Grant raised his right hand to oath. "I promise as long as I have breath in my body." As long as I'm still alive, he thought to himself.
"Have a safe trip, Preston," his mother said, giving him a last hug.
Safe would be the last description for his 'trip' with Ripner threatening his every move, but he overshadowed this fact with a smile. Ideally, he would deal with that sordid affair outside the country and come back, but who knew how long that would take.
But it wouldn't matter how long, as long as his family was be safe from danger. Their family prestige protected them and him so far, but he wouldn't put it past Ol' George to harm them nevertheless. Justice wasn't so quick and swift when dealing with the powerful and the elite—a small bracket of privileged he was quite sure Ol' George would be part of.
"Brother, I'll escort them to the coach. You can go inside before these two ladies burst into tears." It was said as a jest, but neither of them smiled.
His last glance lingered as the three went past the large doors and disappeared before his eyes. Tom and James would make sure they safely reached home; he trusted his men to see the job through. It was with that assurance that he resumed his place beside the refreshments area for a glass of liquor—whisky this time.
It got on her nerves how people could read through her so easily. Eric was right in judging her feelings for Grant. He made sense in saying that she would be more miserable if she didn't try—just for a final closure to her feelings.
But now with her engagement to Eric dissolved, she didn't know how to act. In many ways her engagement had served as a shield from Grant. It protected her from him, and now with that excuse out of the way, she felt vulnerable to him once again.
Eric left her alone for the rest of the night, allowing more males to take the liberty of dancing with her; yet it tested her nerves every time she would accept only to see Grant just a few feet away dancing with some woman.
Her only pleasure was that the dances were short and too quick to be enjoyed. Also the women he danced with were heiresses in their own right—wealthy ladies of good descent—the same type Grant professed of not liking one bit. It relieved her somehow though a downside was that she was categorized to receive the same dislike.
Heavens, she was thinking herself to a headache! The changes were just too quick to absorb in an hour. She needed time and definitely some silence and solitude to think over her next course of action for the coming weeks.
She approached her father who stood happily discussing something about the economy with his other associates and tapped on his shoulder.
"Father, I'm afraid I'm rather tired now. And since I wouldn't want to take you away from the party, I would like to take the coach home and promptly send it back."
"Tired? It's only nine, Ches—far too early to be having tired feet!" Frederick teased until he noted the paleness in his daughters complexion brought about by a troubled mind. "Are you sick? I shall go with you—"
"No no no no!" Franchesca blurted, "You should stay, father, I deliberately dragged you away from your chair by the fireplace just to have you socialize; I shan't have my plans thwarted by my own doing, please! Stay."
She had that bossy tone on that her father couldn't stand up against. Frederick resigned with a concerned frown. "Will you be alright on your own? Perhaps I should ask Eric to accompany you?"
"No, I'd like to be alone anyway . . . before the wedding and all." She decided to break the news to him tomorrow. That way she won't spoil his mood. It wouldn't be a pleasant reaction—that she is sure of.
"Alright then, darling. Take care. I'll check on you when I get home." He kissed her brow with affection before letting her go. Franchesca returned it with a hug.
She would ask Paige about how she should deal with Grant once she got home. Paige always had nice insights to such things anyway, and the young maid knew her better than she knew herself sometimes. Acting as a source of comfort, Paige would let her lie on her lap and comb her hair to calm her. That would be the best plan for the night, she thought.
The heiress beamed with pleasant surprise, receiving the little blonde's enthusiastic hug with warm welcome.
"Good evening, Giana. Are you going home already?" Franchesca asked, curiously looking at Elizabeth Hartley. She had only met the woman a few times, but each time she did, a sense of awe would captivate her. Grant's mother could very well be the queen with the way she calmly carried herself. She noticed that the woman was slightly leaning on Gerry's arm and looked fretful.
"Little girls like me can't stay up too late. And mother's feeling tired all of a sudden so we're eager to be heading home."
Franchesca heard Gerry cursing at the turtle pace their coach was taking to arrive. He greeted her with a brief smile but he was clearly worried about the woman in his arms.
"Is your mother unwell, Giana?" she whispered, seeing her own coach appear from behind the tall trees.
"A bit. She's had a long day and I suppose she's emotionally tired to learn that brother's leaving again."
"Both of you can take my coach," she generously offered.
"Don't trouble yourself, Miss Ashford," Gerry replied with a grateful smile. Elizabeth Hartley politely refused as well.
"No, please! I insist. I am in no hurry either way. You can take my coach in the meantime and I can wait for yours and just explain the situation to the coachman. Please, I sincerely do not mind."
The grateful smile Elizabeth Hartley gave her sent a surge of pride through her body. If she would have another mother, she wanted her to be Elizabeth Hartley. The kindness she felt from her was strangely comforting.
"Thank you, my dear. You are Franchesca Ashford? My daughter and son have nothing but praise to say of you, I am glad we can finally meet. It is unfortunate however that we have to meet in this situation."
"The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Hartley. And please don't encumber yourself, I honestly don't mind. Do use my coach. It is no trouble at all."
Franchesca waved the pair good bye along with Gerry and watched the coach leave for London. She exchanged a few words with the young man while waiting.
"I'm glad you decided to give Grant a chance to explain himself," she muttered with a knowing smile.
"I'm glad you talked sense into me," Gerry admitted, "May I inquire on your early departure?"
"Oh, well, I'm afraid the men are going to wear down the soles of my slipper should I accept any more dance offers."
"Everyone wants a piece of the soon-to-be-bride before she's off the market, eh."
"Well said!" Franchesca laughed.
"A pity my brother wasn't able to snatch you up first. He would've been a fortunate man if he did. Letting a precious girl like you go would have to be his biggest mistake."
Franchesca couldn't hide the blush when the young man professed knowledge of her and Grant's background.
"You could tell him that," she said as the Hartley coach finally came into view.
She was welcomed with soft cushions inside the coach while Gerry explained the situation to the footman. He instructed for her to be taken back to the Ashford residence safely and without delay.
"Ride safely, Miss Ashford," he said, raising a hand as a parting gesture.
A wave of exhaustion overcame the heiress when she finally allowed herself to rest against the comfortable velvet seats. It was so softly padded that you could hardly feel the minor bumps along the road.
Her eyes burned slightly with fatigue and she closed her eyes to rest. In her mind, she plotted how she would approach Grant the next day to ask him not to leave. She would go to port before dawn to make sure he didn't—not without hearing what she had to say. She played the scene in her head with a smile. Grant would be angry at her for delaying him and would call her a brat. Then she would tell him that she only wanted to be his brat followed by her confession of undying devotion. He would take her into his arms and they would kiss as the sun rises.
Their happily ever after was a smooth transition to sleep, and she was already bordering on a much wanted rest when her body became aware of the gradual slowing of the coach.
Franchesca opened her lids halfway to see the trees outside her window. It stood stationary, telling her they had stopped for some reason. She had it in mind to poke her head outside the window when a loud, resonating gunshot made every nerve in her body jump and every downy hair stand.
Everything else that happened went past her in fast motion with an unknown man jerking the door open and yanking her out. His grip was deadly tight, but before she could even scream in protest a hand clamped a cloth over her nose and mouth with the same roughness. The warm curious scent the cloth was doused with made her vision falter once she caught a sniff of it.
And not before long, she forgot everything else.
L.C: Okay, take some time to soak it all in. Right.
Uhm, a bit embarrassing but I replied to one of the reviewers (can't remember which one) and I think I made a typo by referring to this story as ODAP. My head must have been in the clouds, but yeah, you should know that I meant "this" story ; ) Lol.
I know. I know. Lenah, please update FAST? Yes, I think I will. I'll try to make it within the week, simply because the next chapter is so exciting.
Many thanks to AEKubo for the chapter's (and previous chapter's) neat edits. I hope you enjoy having first dibs on every chapter :)