Abbey Carrington stood at the bow of the luxury passenger ship with her hands stuffed into a muff. For the last hour she had watched intently as the coast of southern England grew increasingly larger, as had her excitement. She had anticipated this day well over half her lifetime.
She could not suppress a faint smile that curled her lips as she recalled the things her father had told her about her betrothed. Since she was a girl, Captain Carrington had told her Michael Ingram loved her dearly and could not wait for the day she would be old enough to be his wife. Although Abbey had not seen Michael since she was a child, her papa had seen him often and swore his esteem of her was steadfast.
His assurances had been constant and had begun when, at the age of nine, she had been sent to her first school in Rome. Her father, during a visit the following summer, had gleefully told her of the betrothal, laughing gaily when he told her how fervent Michael was in his desire to marry her one day. Abbey had, of course, been surprised by that, since Michael had grimaced painfully every time she came near him on board the Dancing Maiden.Her father had next come at Christmas, bearing a gift from Michael–a violin. Suspicious, Abbey questioned why her betrothed had not written. Captain Carrington assured her that Michael wanted a well-educated wife. He preferred she concentrate on her studies and not be distracted with letters. At the ripe age of eleven, Abbey had accepted that explanation without question.
Two years later her papa had removed her from the school in Rome, complaining it was too rigid. It was his considerable opinion that a girl needed to experience life, a sentiment that Abbey wholeheartedly shared. But apparently a girl did not need to experience life so much as to warrant sailing all the way to India, and her papa had placed her in the care of an old Egyptian friend while he continued east. Depositing her in Cairo, he had ruefully told her that Michael was greatly disappointed he was detained in Spain and could not visit her as he had planned. In her adolescent fervor, Abbey was quite touched by Michael’s bitter disappointment; she had felt it rather keenly herself.
When she was older and had studied deportment and elocution in Paris until she could improve no further, she had been allowed to sail to the Orient with her papa. She remembered her father’s sad sigh when he informed her they had missed her betrothed by just a sennight, but he had waited as long as he could for just a glimpse of his heart’s love. He had left a message for her that she should continue her classical training on the violin and that he hoped she was enjoying the study of history, a subject he loved dearly. When she had voiced her doubts several months later, her father had chastized her for her faithlessness. Michael, he had reiterated, was quite steadfast in his esteem of her. It wasn’t very long after they returned to Europe that Captain Carrington cheerfully reported a conversation he had had with Michael in Amsterdam, during which the young man had professed undying love and impatience for the day he would be reunited with Abbey.
Abbey pulled her cloak tightly about her and peered up through the masts at the dull gray sky. At last deemed old enough to marry, she was now only hours away from seeing the man she had dreamed of and admired since she could remember. Her father’s constant compliments of Michael’s military career, the enormous shipping trade he had built, and the fact that he was now the very important Marquis of Darfield kept him constantly in Abbey’s consciousness. The captain delighted in relating stories of Michael’s courage in a world of ruthless shipping magnates and pirates, of fair business practices for which he was exalted among his peers, and of his relentless chase of unsavory pirates, racketeers, and injustice in general.
Her papa had been so admiring of Michael Ingram for the last twelve years that Abbey could not imagine another man who could possibly compare to him. That he wanted her as a wife thrilled her. That she might not measure up mortified her. But her occasional doubts were easily erased with a new letter from her father. The fact that Michael had never written her directly or that she had not actually seen him in all that time did not daunt her. He had been too busy building a fortune, her papa had said, so that Abbey would never want for anything. And naturally the responsibilities of his very important title did not leave him time for leisurely correspondence.
Three years ago her father’s consumption had taken a turn for the worse, and he had sent her to live in America with her aunt Nan. She had been waiting patiently since then, believing the captain’s letters explicitly when he told her Michael would soon send for her and their days would be filled with love, laughter, and strong, healthy children. She believed everything Captain Carrington told her about the man who was to be her husband.
Fortunately, in Virginia, it had been easy to wait for Michael. Abbey loved living on her aunt Nan’s farm with her cousins, Virginia and Victoria. She loved working in the fields by day and tending her small garden in the evening. With no men about the house–except for a few freed men and occasional gentleman callers–life on the farm had been idyllic. At night, while her cousins sewed and Aunt Nan painted, Abbey would play her violin. Or they would sit and talk. And when they grew tired of talking about the farm, the people in town, and the various men that called for them, they would talk of Michael.
In truth, they all dreamed of Michael. They would take turns imagining him standing at the stern of his ship, his open shirt blowing in the breeze, his long, dark hair tousled by the wind. They imagined him, his crew incapacitated, fighting off wave after wave of pirates by himself, and boasted to one another that his skill with the sword was the greatest in all of Europe. They imagined him spurning the attentions of dozens of beautiful women with the excuse that his heart’s true love was in Virginia. That particular daydream always had Victoria swooning.
Abbey dragged her gaze from the sky and looked at the coastline where Portsmouth was beginning to take shape. It wasn’t until her father’s solicitor sent word of his death that Abbey had her first pangs of serious doubt. The solicitor, Mr. Strait, was adamant that Abbey leave for England right away, as the will demanded she settle her father’s estate by marriage. Heartsick by the news of her father’s death and privately uneasy that she had not heard anything about Michael in more than eighteen months, almost immediately Abbey had begun to fight waves of doubt. What if he had changed his mind and her papa had not had opportunity to tell her?
She pulled her cloak tightly about her as she recalled the day she had pleaded with her aunt to let her remain in Virginia.
“Nonsense,” Aunt Nan had said. “Are you going to leave that poor man standing on the dock in Portsmouth waiting for you, his arms laden with two dozen roses?”
“Yes!” Virginia had cried, “he’ll have his best coach, at least the size of Mama’s parlor, with four grays waiting to take you away!”
Aunt Nan had added he would probably sweep her to the altar that very day, for he would not be willing to wait for her one more moment. Abbey had paled at that remark. Aunt Nan had read her expression and cuffed her on the shoulder, sternly reminding her it was every woman’s duty to follow their husband to the marriage bed, without complaint, and lie there patiently while he did that. Virginia and Victoria had snickered behind their hands as Abbey’s expression had turned to horror, but Aunt Nan had insisted, “You are not the first and you certainly won’t be the last woman to make do with it.”
Otherwise oblivious to the bitter cold, Abbey unthinkingly pulled her hood up over her dark head as a steady rain began to fall, and recalled how her emotions had warred during the voyage. Part of her doubted that Michael esteemed her as her father had claimed. But then again, her papa would never lie to her, so it had to be true on some level. Part of her doubted he was the heroic figure she had dreamed about. After all, how many pirates could one man fell? But her papa had said he was that and more. Perhaps the stories had been embellished, but surely they were grounded in truth.
She sighed quietly as she absently counted the masts bobbing in the port ahead. The part of her that had seen Michael through her father’s eyes all these years had finally won out over the doubts. She had nothing to fear. Michael Evan Ingram, Marquis of Darfield and Viscount Amberlay, loved her with all his heart and even now, was standing on the dock, waiting for her with two dozen roses in his arms.
She abruptly turned on her heel and marched back to her cabin. She was not going to meet the love of her life in anything less than her best traveling clothes.