Page 31

“Aye, splice and bind the ends of two ropes together so that they’re one. Join ’em together, like.”

She wondered if that’s where the word had come from, why you married someone when you joined your life to theirs. How strange; casting something she thought she knew in a different light, tracing its unexpected origins back. Here was one small, unexpected benefit to time travel: at least she was learning something. Something she would only be able to use in trivia games, but still.

“—the devil are you, Jack Winstead?” a voice called.

Jack shot over to the door and pulled it open.

“Christ, lad! Were you hiding in there? The new cook’s a beast, but he won’t eat you—”

Etta pushed herself to her feet. The man at the door was younger than she’d expected, given the deep baritone of his voice—she recognized it, though, as the one that had been booming out over the others, issuing commands, even singing. His dirty-blond hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, giving her a nice view of his round, open face and a stitched-up cut running along one cheek. He had the wide shoulders and rounded chest of a pigeon, but moved to snatch Jack’s collar like a hawk.

“I’m so sorry, it’s my fault for keeping him,” Etta said, feeling almost frantic. He wouldn’t hurt the boy, would he?

The other man looked up, releasing Jack. “Oh, beg your pardon, Miss Spencer. If he was assisting you, it’s all right.”

Jack turned back to her, eyes wide.

“He was,” Etta confirmed.

The man looked down at him. “Cook’s been calling your name for the past quarter hour. Go on, look lively, lad.”

He tore out of the room, only to have the man catch him by the collar and drag him back. Jack did his quick version of a bow. “Pleasant evenin’ to ye, miss!”

“We’ll teach that one manners yet,” the man said with a faint trace of exasperation, “though I seem to be lacking them myself. I’m Davy Chase, first mate of the prize crew.”

Etta wasn’t sure what to do with herself as he drew his heels together and gave her yet another bow—curtsy? Nod? She ran through what Jack had given her about him. Likes: music, ale, dock wenches. Dislikes: cabin boys who don’t follow orders, winters in New England, tea. Most interesting, however, was the fact that he’d been raised—fostered, really—by Captain Hall and his late wife, alongside Nicholas.

“Are you well? You gave us quite the fright,” he continued.

“Better now, thank you,” she said carefully, pleased she had managed to sound calm and collected. Maybe this would get easier, or at least more comfortable, with practice?

“I see your sister is still poorly—rather, I smelt as much as I passed her cabin. That’s a poor stomach for you.” He looked like he was fighting a small smile, and in that moment, Etta decided she liked him. “I’ve had the cook make a broth that should help settle her some. We’ll get her in shape to sail again soon.”

The sooner Sophia recovered, the sooner Etta would be back under the girl’s watchful eye. Etta needed all the time she could to win the crew over, and to turn the ship around, back to whatever port it had sailed from. Back, hopefully, to the passage leading to New York in her time.

“And you? Will you be joining us for dinner this evening?”

Etta opened her mouth to decline—exhaustion had made even her bones feel heavy, and she needed to practice speaking in their formal way before she trusted herself to hold a full conversation—but her stomach answered for her with a loud, rumbling groan.

Etta’s face flamed as she fumbled for an apology, but his warm brown eyes only lit up in delight.

“I believe I have my answer,” he said, and held out his arm.

MR. EDWARD WREN HAD CLEARLY never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Nicholas sat back against his chair, fighting the urge to knock a fist against the table and move the conversation—by force, if necessary—past Wren’s staggering tale of past valor. As far as Nicholas was concerned, half-truths only added up to a whole lie.

Glancing around the table, he gauged each diner’s reaction. From his prize crew, the men who had boarded the Ardent with him and assumed control of it, was Trevors the bosun, deep into his cups, his teeth stained with port. The man had actually nodded off, clutching a stomach distended from eating his own weight in lobscouse and buttered parsnips. To his right was another surviving officer from the Ardent’s crew: Heath, the sailing master. The older gentleman’s right ear was bandaged beneath a flop of a wig, and he spent the entirety of the dinner turning in his chair to try to hear what was being said by Miss Henrietta Spencer, who inhaled her meal with a wolfish enthusiasm that Nicholas found himself appreciating.

Henrietta Ironwood? he wondered. The old man’s letter had been vague—there hadn’t been an indication either way—but she seemed to lack the venom that pumped through the family’s heart. It was entirely possible, however, that she was the kind to nestle close before sinking her fangs in for the kill.

His eyes shifted to her right, where the newly appointed surgeon and all-around milksop, Goode, was focused on cutting his food into bites small enough for a chick.

“Miss Spencer, you haven’t touched a bite of the lobscouse. I can’t recommend it enough,” Heath blurted out, nearly shouting over Wren’s quieter tones. Nicholas had been in his position before—the agonizing ringing and temporary deafness of coming too close to cannon fire—and couldn’t fault the older man for his booming voice. “It’s Cook’s specialty.”