Uncharted Hearts

By: Amelia Bishop

CHAPTER ONE





Early Summer, 1790

It had taken a fortnight for Mother and me to convince Father to let me sail on a merchant ship. Barely twelve hours after that I finally understood why he’d been against the idea.

He was staring at me with his jaw set, his lips firmly buried in his beard, and his eyes scrunched like when he was overcome with emotion. But more than anything, his arms gave him away: folded tightly over his chest, the fingers tight with pressure, the wool of his coat stretched taut.

The carriage stilled to a halt and he started for the door.

“Father….” I placed my hand out to halt him.

“Clayton, we’ll be late.”

“I’ll be all right, you know. I’m not stupid. I’ll take care of myself and come home safe. Please trust that.”

His brow pinched in the center, making his eyes appear still more sad. “I’d feel better if you’d agree to sail with Master Maxwell.”

I sighed, and may have rolled my eyes. He was using my obvious concern of his feelings to convince me to sail on his friend’s boring ship, moving apples and cotton up and down the coast. “You agreed I could choose for myself.”

He closed his eyes and nodded. “I did.”

Guilt surged again. He’d always loved me, and as his only child he’d hoped I’d stay home by his side. But I’d spent too many days dreaming of open ocean, and too many nights charting the sky. I wanted to travel, to navigate my own path. “I have to do this, Father. Please understand.”

He smiled then, a tight, but genuine smile. “I do. That I do.” He patted my hand and opened the carriage door, stepping out onto the street before the docks.

It was as if I were seeing it all with new eyes, each ship appeared as an opportunity, a passage to new and exciting worlds. One was a merchant ship with a foreign captain, the men speaking to each other so quickly I could not identify the language. Another was a stodgy old vessel with a wide, rounded hull, its crew almost silent as they rolled large barrels aboard with gruff efficiency.

My father pulled me along, grasping my elbow. “Clayton, we were meant to be there a quarter of an hour ago!”

I sighed, but hastened my step, repositioning the strap of my sextant case where it rested across my chest. I’d meet with his friend, but there was no way I wanted to sign on to such a dull vessel.

A pair of hands caught my eye, dangling low. A man leaned over the rail of a small ship; his hands folded loosely, one thumb idly stroking the first knuckle of the other hand. They were strong hands—calloused and rough, partly stained with tar from pulling rope—and the gentle way they rested sent a shiver of desire through me. I’d love to feel those hands running over my flesh, to see them strained and white-knuckled in the throes of passion, to hold—

“Good day, Sirs!” The owner of the hands spoke.

I glanced up, and my mouth dropped open. The man before me was gorgeous, a perfect match to those hands. His dark brown hair brushed his shoulders, loose and wild, one hank tucked behind his ear. His eyes were warm, brown, and crinkled at the corners in a secret smile. A tiny silver hoop glinted in the lobe of his left ear.

I stammered an idiotic, “Go— Good day.” And he smiled down at me.

My father groaned, clearly irritated.

The handsome man swung down to the dock, in a move so absurdly theatrical I almost laughed outright, but my attention was immediately captured by the cut of his trousers and the laugh stuck in my throat. Good lord, he was glorious.

“Peter Simpson, at your service.” He bowed, and I smiled in triumph.

Father would never be openly rude. We’d have to converse. He stuck his hand out, and Father shook it.

When Peter Simpson, who introduced himself as captain of the small schooner The Irish Lady, took my hand, I grasped it with as much passion as I could. My eyes drilled into his, and I thought I saw a flutter of desire there. I’d grown adept at reading such reactions, and hadn’t been wrong yet.

“You aren’t by chance a navigator, are you?” His gaze traveled over my sextant case, lingering a moment at my hip where it rested before darting to the chart under my left arm.

I nodded.

Father held my elbow, an attempt to discourage me from engaging any further. He’d no doubt noticed my interest.

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