A Fortune for the Outlaw's Daughter(10)

By: Lauri Robinson



 He told himself he was glad this woman wasn’t her and hurried up the ramp. The black-haired woman’s profession was the exact thing he was trying to save Maddie from. In all actuality, Hester and Uncle Trig had saved her; he’d just been the runner. She’d been no problem on the trip. Stayed in the cabin, reading his books on mining, although she’d never let on to that. He hadn’t let on that he knew she’d read almost everything in his cabin, either.

 Cole chuckled as he scurried across the deck to begin preparations to set sail. Maddie had certainly been different than any other girl he’d ever been around. She’d wanted less to do with men than he did women. He’d sensed that. Not only while rescuing her, but during the few times they’d conversed. They hadn’t said much to one another, usually just greetings during meal times, yet he’d noted her mind was always going, taking in the surroundings and holding on to every word Uncle Trig had said. That had mainly been about sailing or the places he’d been. Her eyes had sparkled whenever Alaska had been mentioned, and that was probably why he still thought about her. She had the fever as bad as he did.

 Cole’s thoughts shifted then. It wouldn’t be long now, and he’d be finding gold. The thrill of that put a smile on his face.

 The Mary Jane set sail while the sun inched its way into a clear sky turning a brighter blue with each minute that ticked by. Cole embraced the work it took maneuvering the ship out of the bay and setting their course north to Alaska.

 His mind was always on his job, and his heart was right along with it. The day was perfect for sailing, and the women—he figured due to the hour of which they must have crawled from their beds—had settled into the hull as soon as they’d boarded, and with any luck, they’d sleep away most of the day.

 The deckhands whispered amongst themselves, but no one made mention of the unusual cargo. To do so would have angered Trig, and no one angered the captain. Cole liked that, too, because it promised a smooth and uneventful trip.

 Hopefully.

 He still had his doubts.

 Late that night, while taking his turn at the wheel, his doubts were confirmed. Cole pinched the bridge of his nose at the commotion coming from the hull. The ruckus had been going on for some time and he’d hoped it would stop all on its own, but evidently that wasn’t to be. Since no one else seemed willing to go see what was happening he had no choice. Glancing toward Chester, the other mate assigned to the night shift, Cole nodded toward the wheel. They were in open water, but still needed to be alert. While walking toward the hull, he also glared down the narrow hallway running between the cabins. Uncle Trig or Robbie, who should have been dealing with such rumpus, hadn’t stepped out of their doors.

 He’d known they wouldn’t; it was his job to take care of anything that came about during his watch. With frustration burning his lungs, Cole started down the slope. Women and boats didn’t mix. To his way of thinking, women didn’t mix with much. They always needed something and whined until they got it. They were clinging, too, as if they couldn’t take a step without assistance. Women had their purpose, but he sure didn’t have that purpose in his life. That was why sailing fit him so well. Mining would, too.

 A man who wanted freedom and peace stayed far away from women.

 Cole stopped at the bottom of the ramp. Robbie’s cargo looked and acted like a pen of clucking hens. Half of them had scarves made of feathers around their shoulders, which they were flipping and flapping about, leaving an array of red, black, white and pink fluff floating in the air. He couldn’t see much beyond that, nor could he hear anything above their squawks.

 Sticking a thumb and finger against the sides of his tongue, he let loose a squealing whistle.

 Silence filled the hull. He could once again hear the water sloshing against the sides. Praise be. Batting aside a few feathers floating before his face, Cole attempted to release the tension from his jaw before growling, “What’s all the commotion about?”

 A buxom woman with ash-colored hair streaked with red—a horrible combination—stepped forward. “Where’s Mr. DuMont?”

 “You’re looking at him.”

 The obvious leader of the pack slapped her hands on her hips and marched forward. As she did so, she exposed a red corset, tasked with the unenviable role of keeping everything in place.

 “I mean Captain DuMont,” she retorted, stepping close enough to fill his nostrils with the scent of enough rose water to drown a rat. “I demand to speak with him this moment.”

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