A Certain Latitude

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Allen had thought Miss Onslowe had gone below, but she was on deck, lurking around the henhouse, doubtless tucking the wretched birds into bed for the night. She wore, as usual, the unbecoming spinster’s cap and a long cloak. He drew his own cloak around himself, seeking a dark corner, and wondered if she had some sort of assignation with the First Mate Johnson, who had gazed foolishly at her all through dinner.
She looked around cautiously and raised one hand to her head.
He burst from his hiding place, grabbed the cap from her head, and tossed it overboard.
 “Why did you do that?” she shrieked, much as she’d done when he’d knocked her to the deck first within minutes of meeting her.
“Because it’s damned ugly and—”
The ship gave a decided lurch. She bumped up against him, grasped his coat for balance and shouted, “I wanted to do that!”
He burst into laughter. Together they watched the white cap bob on the waves—yes, definitely waves, here—and then sink from sight.
“Damn you, Pendale.” She bent forward to unlace her boots, kicked them off, and reached under her skirts.
“What—” he watched transfixed as her garters—pink ribbons—fell to the deck and those same dingy gray woolen stockings slid down her ankles.
She hopped on one foot and tugged one stocking off, then the other, with a swish of skirts, and maybe—or did he imagine it?—a flash of white thigh.
Barefoot, she tossed her stockings overboard, where they bobbed for a brief moment before disappearing from sight.
“Well!” She laid her hand on his sleeve for balance, grinning broadly.
He’d never seen her—or any woman, come to that—smile with so much abandon, her whole face lit up. She must be drunk—that was it. She’d had quite a few glasses of punch.
“I hated those stockings. I have been praying for them to wear out. I’m glad to see them go. Now I shall be forced to wear my silk ones, like a lady.”
 “Miss Onslowe, do you imply you are not a lady?”
She ran her fingers through her loosened hair. “I do not wish to shock you, Pendale. You seem like a very respectable sort of gentleman.”
“Oh, please, Miss Onslowe, do shock me.” He grinned back. The atmosphere was becoming pleasantly erotic—a woman who, if not exactly pretty, was certainly interesting and had shown no shyness in stripping off her stockings, stood before him, her hips swaying with the motion of the ship.

© Janet Mullany 2007, 2013

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