The night was wonderfully cool and sharp, its chill
refreshing after the close stuffiness of the dining
room, and already he was finding it easier to think as
his head, at last, began to clear. The light, crisp
wind tugged playfully at his hair and nipped at his
cheeks, and he breathed as deeply of the sweet, brisk
air as his battered, bandaged ribs would allow.
The fight, Lucy, Nelson -- God, what a day it had
been! Too much, really, to take in...
He glanced about the gardens, a small bit of the
English countryside set down in Portsmouth, and saw a
small stone bench nearby. Sighing tiredly, he made his
way to it and sat down, wanting to think, trying to
sort out the tangle of events, but, in the end, simply
letting his mind wander where it would. And always it
seemed to wander back to her...
Not until he heard the soft voice calling his name did
he realize that he was no longer alone, that the
subject of his thoughts had joined him. As he heard
his name again, he looked up dazedly and saw her
framed in the moonlight, her lovely face made
luminous, her brown eyes shining like the stars. Drawn
by a force he could not resist, he rose slowly to his
feet, his wide blue gaze fixed upon her.
She went to him at once, anxiously searching his face
with her eyes, her fears only slightly allayed.
Without thinking, she reached up and laid a small,
cool hand against his bruised cheek, resting the other
against his arm.
"I was so worried about you!" she told him. "You
looked so ill, and left so suddenly-- You are all
right, aren't you?"
Her touch at once robbed him of breath and sent a
wondrous warmth coursing through him, and a slight,
shy smile touched his broken lips. "Much better, now
that you are here," he breathed, entranced by her
beauty. All at once, though, he saw her shivering and
remembered the chill of the air. "You are cold! Here,"
he removed his jacket as quickly as his injured hand
would allow and slipped it about her slim shoulders.
It was still warm from the heat of his body, and she
wrapped it more tightly about her, feeling as if that
warmth brought her closer to him. "Mm, yes. But will
you not be cold?"
He could not imagine ever feeling cold in her
presence. "Not really. Believe me, after a night spent
on watch in a Channel storm, this is nothing."
"It must be very exciting, serving aboard one of those
ships," she breathed. "I often watch them as they come
in, like enormous birds gliding across the water,
their sails shining-- They are so beautiful!"
"Aye," he murmured, thinking the same of her. The
light breeze stirred her silken curls, and it was all
he could do not to run his fingers through their
inviting softness. "But-- the Indy is the most
beautiful of all. And the best. It is a privilege to
serve aboard her, and under Captain Pellew."
She stepped closer to him and laid both hands against
his chest, feeling the strong beating of his heart
beneath her fingers. "It must be a difficult life,
though," she said worriedly, wondering how so
sensitive a soul could survive the sometimes brutal
rigours of a life at sea. "Does it not get terribly
He gave a breathless, unsteady laugh, feeling as if he
were drowning in her gaze, her touch. "Well, it-- it
is-- difficult-- to be lonely-- when you are
constantly surrounded by men," he stammered, awash in
a tide of dizzying sensations. "I know the ships look
big, but-- well, once you fill them with a few hundred
men, space-- becomes rather tight."
"No, I wasn't talking about that," she said softly.
"Do you not get lonely for your family, or for-- your
He blushed in the moonlight and bowed his head, gazing
raptly at the small white hands resting so lightly
against his chest. "I do not have a sweetheart, Miss
Lucy. I was only fifteen when I joined the Navy--"
"So young!" she breathed in wonder, her romantic
imagination fired by the young officer. So handsome
beneath his bruises, sweet and endearingly shy, yet
capable of rushing headlong to the defense of perfect
strangers, he reminded her very much of the gallant
knights in the tales of chivalry she loved to read.
"And so brave! Yet it must be very dangerous at sea."
"Only sometimes," he breathed, raising his head and
gazing into the velvet depths of her eyes. "Usually,
we are kept too busy to consider-- hardships or
danger, and during battle there is no time to think--"
He swallowed and reached out to touch one shining
curl. "It was only in prison that I had time--"
"Prison!" she gasped in horror, clutching convulsively
at his shirt. "You have been-- in prison?"
Suddenly realizing what he had said, he exhaled
sharply and silently cursed his own stupidity. "I w--
I was taken-- by the French-- several years ago," he
stammered reluctantly, even now deeply ashamed of his
failure and certain it would taint him in her eyes.
"Each time I-- I tried to escape, they would move
me--" He winced and bowed his head, still haunted by
the experience. "Finally, they-- they gave me to the
Spanish-- If not for Horatio," he whispered, "I would
still be there."
"Horatio?" she asked. "Mr. Hornblower? He rescued you,
He swallowed hard and nodded, still not looking at
her. "He did, yes, but not in the way you mean. He and
his men were captured, and he was put into my cell--"
He tore free of her grasp and turned away with an
unsteady gasp, bowing his head and burying his face in
his hands as the pain and despair of that black time
again assailed him. "I had tried-- to escape again,
and they-- they had put me-- in a hole-- an
oubliette-- for a month-- By the time they dragged me
out, I-- I could no longer walk, and was nearly mad.
Horatio-- brought me back. Even when I thought I
wanted to die, he-- he would not let me."
"And I am so thankful he did not!" she whispered,
clasping her hands tightly together and gazing
tenderly at him, hurting for him. "Else I should never
have had the chance to meet you. Oh, my poor Mr.
Kennedy! How you must have suffered! And what courage
it must have taken to survive!"
At her words, and the sweet concern in her soft voice,
he turned slowly back to face her, deeply confused.
"You-- you do not-- think less of me, then?" he
rasped, having often enough despised himself for such
She frowned and shook her head, reaching for his hand
and cradling it to her heart. "Think less of you? Why
should I? Because you suffered, and despaired? And
because you wanted the suffering and the despair to
end?" She raised her other hand to his face, lightly
stroking his mouth. "But you were stronger than you
thought," she breathed, her brown eyes filled with
light. "Else you should not be here now, back in
service and rushing to my rescue. Oh, no, Mr. Kennedy,
I do not think less of you at all," she assured him
fervently. "Indeed, I cannot imagine anyone of whom I
could think more highly."
Stunned by her words, made dizzy and lightheaded by
her touch, he stared down at her in wonder, his soul
rising in exhilaration. With trembling fingers he
stroked her full cheek, and softly whispered her name.
Before she knew it, she was standing closer still,
their bodies touching, and was lifting her mouth for
his kiss. Unable to refuse her, he slipped an arm
about her and pulled her to him, bowing his head and
pressing his mouth to hers, wholly unprepared for the
wondrous sweetness of the moment.
She gasped and shivered in delight as his mouth
claimed hers with a delicious gentleness. She closed
her eyes and abandoned herself to the kiss, knowing
this was where she belonged.
"Archie, we'd bet-- Oh. Uh-- Oh, dear!"
As the two immediately separated, badly startled and
deeply flustered, Horatio averted his eyes and exhaled
sharply, lamenting his own clumsiness. "I, um--
Sorry," he said brusquely, clearing his throat and
clasping his hands behind his back, still looking
away. "I-- I should have-- I never meant--" He sighed
heavily and turned to the furiously blushing Kennedy,
grimacing deeply. "God, Archie, I'm sorry!" he said in
a rush. "I didn't know--" He watched as the girl
smiled sweetly and took Archie's arm. "Miss Addington,
please, forgive my clumsiness. But Mr. Kennedy and I--
It is time we got ready to leave. We are to be back
aboard by midnight, and must still secure a boat back
to our ship--" He cleared his throat again. "Look,
Archie, I shall be there, by the door, waiting. You go
on and-- and say goodbye-- I will be waiting for you,"
he said more strongly. With that, hastily bowing to
the girl, he turned and hurried away, leaving the two
"So you must leave now," she breathed, taking his good
hand between her two and holding tightly to it.
"Yes," he murmured absently, marvelling at the
lustrous glow of her soft, milk-white flesh in the
moonlight. "And yet--"
"Yes?" she whispered expectantly, gazing up at him
through wide eyes.
He swallowed hard, gathering his courage. "Miss Lucy,
I-- I have no idea h-- how long we shall be here,
but-- I--" He faltered and would have stopped, but was
emboldened by the sweet smile upon her lovely face.
"If-- if I am able, might-- might I-- Well, what I
mean is--" He drew a deep breath, and plunged on
ahead. "Would it be all right if I called upon you?"
Her smile grew radiant as his words kindled a glorious
warmth in her heart. "Oh, yes! Yes, of course! I
should like that very much!"
Shifting his hand a bit, he closed his fingers gently
about hers, still gazing raptly into her eyes. "And if
I cannot call upon you in person -- Captain Pellew
keeps us very busy -- then I shall contrive to send
you a letter. If I did that, would you write me back?"
"I should be honoured, and delighted," she declared
breathlessly, intensely aware of his touch, and his
nearness. "I shall tell you everything about myself,
everything we've not had time tonight to say-- Do tell
me you will do the same!"
"Oh, yes," he breathed, gently drawing her to him,
"everything!" Again he bowed his head and captured her
lips with his, feasting upon her warmth and sweetness.
And not once did he feel so much as a trace of the
pain that long, exquisite kiss should have caused his
Lucy and Elisabeth left the men to see if their
uniforms were properly cleaned and ready, and the
gentlemen retired to the parlour for a last glass of
brandy. Each one noted the smile Lucy gave Kennedy
before departing, and saw how his eyes followed her
out of the room. Horatio sighed and shook his head,
while Nelson chuckled quietly and seated himself in
one of Sir Robert's comfortable chairs. Addington said
nothing, but looked thoughtful.
"So, my dear Mr. Hornblower," Nelson said lightly, at
ease with the world, "I take it you and Mr. Kennedy
have a boat standing by to return you to your ship?"
Horatio cleared his throat and, sitting on the edge of
his chair across from the admiral, frowned into his
brandy. "Well, sir, actually, we-- we do not. We shall
have to engage one, which is why we must leave now--"
"WHAT?" Nelson thundered, appalled, his cry getting
even Archie's attention. "My dear young sir, I shall
not hear of it! What if there is none to be had? And,
even if there is, I know these Portsmouth ferrymen
well enough to know they shall see your need
immediately and gouge you most unmercifully! No, sir!
It will never do!"
Horatio's mouth fell open and he closed it with an
effort, swallowing several times. "But-- sir--" He
could hear the captain's voice echoing in his mind. I
shall expect you back aboard by midnight...
"Never fear, lad," Nelson said more gently, with a
knowing smile, "I shall not cause you to disobey your
orders. By midnight you were told, and by midnight it
shall be. But, not at the expense of thievery by some
ferryman. I shall escort you myself."
Again Horatio's mouth fell open, and this time it
would not close.
Archie came forward and stared in wide-eyed disbelief
at the admiral. "You, sir?" he whispered,
thunderstruck. "But-- But how?"
Nelson's smile turned impish. "As I said, I know these
ferrymen. And," he arched two brows, "they know me.
There are, you know, wonderfully practical benefits to
being a hero of the realm. And I tell you this -- if I
cannot get one of the fellows to ferry us to
Indefatigable for nothing, then I shall pay the cost
of the boat myself."
"Oh, no, sir!" two horrified junior officers cried at
once, unable to conceive of so monstrous an
"Nonsense," he announced firmly. "I insist, and I
shall not be dissuaded. This will allow me to show my
admiration for your heroics of earlier today, and it
will also give me the means of informing your captain
of the gallant behaviour of his officers."
Archie and Horatio exchanged stricken glances, each
going white and feeling ill at the prospect of telling
Pellew about the fight. Brawling in the streets of
Portsmouth was surely not behaviour he would tolerate
in his officers...
"Yes, damme, I shall take you myself!" Nelson said
jubilantly, his good eye shining. "I have always
wanted to meet Captain Sir Edward Pellew, and nothing
-- NOTHING -- would give me greater pleasure than to
inform him of the magnificent conduct of his officers!
I tell you, gentlemen, it shall be a pleasure!"
Horatio drained his brandy in a single gulp, while
Archie found a chair and sank weakly into it. A
pleasure-- for whom? Well, he had never really counted
upon being a lieutenant, anyway...
Into that silence -- Nelson triumphant, Horatio and
Archie all but sick -- came Elisabeth and Lucy, each
bearing neatly folded jackets, shirts and trousers.
"Here they are," Elisabeth announced, her smile fading
as she noted the two younger men's expressions. "Is
Horatio roused himself with an effort, rising to his
feet and taking his uniform from her. "No, ma'am," he
rasped, his throat still burning from the brandy. "We
were-- simply discussing our passage back to the
Indy." He swallowed and forced a thin, weak smile.
"Admiral Nelson has offered to escort us."
"Has he?" she asked, her smile returning. "Oh, how
kind of him!" She turned to the admiral, who had also
risen at her entrance. "Sir," she said sweetly to him,
"again you reveal your gallant nature. And I thank you
for taking our young heroes under your protection."
"It is my pleasure, Miss Addington," he said with a
bow and a smile. "We officers must look after one
another. Now, young sirs," he said, turning to the
two, "may I suggest you both get changed, that we
might be off?"
Still stunned, the two nodded silently and left the
parlour on numb legs, clutching their uniforms to them
and trying to imagine where their magical day had
gone. This was not at all how they had imagined its
Horatio was amazed at the condition of his uniform; it
had not been so clean since he had purchased it. Even
the holes had been neatly and expertly patched.
Putting it on restored some of his self-assurance. At
least he would not appear beside Nelson and before
Pellew with his elbows showing...
As he dressed, he noticed with some amusement that his
friend's mind was definitely not on either his uniform
or the ordeal that lay before them.
"A lovely girl," he remarked idly as he knotted his
"Hm?" Archie murmured, fumbling absent-mindedly with
his buttons. "Did you say something?"
Horatio resisted his impulse to laugh. "Yes, I said
she's a lovely girl. Miss Addington."
"Oh." Damnably, he blushed again. "Y-- yes. Yes, she
is. And quite--" His mouth was exceedingly dry, and he
swallowed with some difficulty. "Quite charming." He
cleared his throat, and returned to his attempts to
button his shirt with one hand. "Sir Robert is a
ship-builder, did you know that? His yard is right
here, in Portsmouth."
"Well," Horatio said, frowning thoughtfully, "this
would be the ideal place to build the ships. Quite
near the water, you know. Most convenient."
Archie swore softly, his face aflame. "I know, I'm an
"No, you're not," Horatio said consolingly, giving his
friend a brotherly smile. "And, even if you were, you
would hardly be the first man ever made an idiot by a
pretty girl. In fact, I understand the condition is
Archie smiled slightly, his blue eyes shining. "She
said I could call upon her, Horatio!" he breathed in
wonder and exhilaration. "And if I can't manage to see
her before we leave, she has promised to write me. I--
I have never gotten letters from a girl before. Well,
except from my sister, but she hardly counts."
"I am certain your sister would be touched to hear
that," he retorted, again swallowing his urge to
laugh. "Now, Romeo, you can pine for your Juliet once
we're back aboard the Indy-- You do remember
Indefatigable, don't you? Big frigate, missing a
foremast and two guns?"
"Well, of course, I--" He broke off abruptly,
recognizing his friend's teasing, and blushed again.
"You, sir, are a cad!"
"And you, sir, are making an abominable job of that
shirt!" His brown eyes gleamed wickedly, and his full
mouth curved into a mischievous smile. "D'you think
you can finish it yourself, Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy,
or shall I call in Admiral Nelson to help? Between
you, you have two perfectly good hands!"
Downstairs, in the impressive foyer, the Addington
family were taking leave of their guests, each member
with varying degrees of feeling.
"My dear young man," Sir Robert said earnestly,
holding firmly to Horatio's hand and gazing at him
with feeling, "again I find myself at a loss to
express my deepest thanks for your actions today.
There can be no repayment for what I owe you. But know
this -- you shall always, ALWAYS, have a friend in
"Sir," Horatio said quietly, embarrassed by the man's
words and warmth, "again I assure you, I do not seek
gratitude or repayment. I am only glad Mr. Kennedy and
I were able to help your daughters, though I deeply
regret that such help was needed." As the old man
released his hand, he turned to Elisabeth. "And you,
Miss Addington, I must thank you for the care given
our uniforms. I had almost forgotten what they looked
like in good repair!"
She smiled warmly. "Lieutenant Hornblower, it was the
least we could do. Believe me, I should not consider
it an imposition to purchase you new ones, considering
so much damage was done to yours in our defense. But
if a simple sewing and cleaning satisfies you, why,
then, I consider it my humblest privilege to have so
Nearby, acutely conscious that they were not alone,
yet intent only upon each other, Archie and Lucy were
exchanging farewells that both hoped would not be
final. To his surprise, she smiled at him and handed
him a neatly wrapped parcel.
"Your sonnets," she explained softly, her gaze fixed
upon his. "I took the liberty of wrapping it so that
it should not get wet in your crossing. I hope -- I
pray -- that when you open its pages, you might think
"I need no book for that," he breathed, aching to
touch her, but knowing he dared not. "Indeed, I-- I
think I shall be hard-pressed NOT to think of you!"
She smiled radiantly. "And now I think I shall watch
the ships at anchor a bit more closely. I shall have
someone point out the Indefatigable to me, and I shall
come down every day to see her. Perhaps I shall borrow
His heart leapt, and, impulsively, he reached for her
hand. "I have been given charge of loading the guns.
You can seek me there!"
"I will!" she whispered as Admiral Nelson cleared his
"I do hate to rush you," he said quietly, and with
true sympathy, "but 'tis time we were away."
Archie raised Lucy's small hand to his lips and
pressed a light kiss to her fingers. "Until we meet
again, then," he whispered, squeezing her hand before
letting it go. And his greatest joy, as he left, was
feeling her squeeze his in return.
The oarsmen grinned to themselves in the darkness as
they sent the little boat gliding smoothly across the
harbour to the big ships lying at anchor. Nelson, the
hero of Cape St. Vincent and so many lesser
engagements, Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson himself, was
their passenger! Aye, there'd be a grand time when the
lads at the King's Head heard about this!
From his seat in the sternsheets, Nelson looked at his
two young companions and grinned, then winked. He'd
been as good as his word; his name had worked its
expected magic. Once the ferryman had recognized his
illustrious patron, he had refused any suggestion of
payment, and had offered his services as his patriotic
Though doubtless this one night's work would keep him
and his crew in rum for a good many days to come...
Horatio and Archie, for their parts, exchanged glances
of boyish disbelief, still torn between their wonder
at being in Nelson's presence and their unease at
having to face Captain Pellew in their battered
states. For both of them, the night had taken on a
distinctly dream-like quality, and both feared they
would wake in the morning to find that none of it had
happened at all.
As if to convince himself that it all, indeed, was
true, Archie held tightly to the book Lucy had wrapped
for him, taking comfort in its solidity. The faintest
scent of her perfume still clung to it, and, if he
breathed just right and closed his eyes, he could
clearly picture her as she had appeared in the
gardens, bathed in moonlight, her lovely face raised
for his kiss, her soft rose lips slightly parted...
The little boat cleared the anchored frigate
Catherine, her captain answering the hail from the
watch, and then Indefatigable was in clear view, the
missing foremast lending her a distinctive profile. As
ever, battered though she was, the first sight of her
took Horatio's breath away and sent a fierce wave of
love surging through him. She was a beautiful ship,
the finest he had ever seen, a true lady of the seas.
He had never felt about Justinian the way he did about
the Indy, had never been able to think of the former
as anything save an ugly, graceless hulk filled with
the stench of evil and decay. But Indefatigable was
life, freedom, beauty and power. There was nothing
about her he did not love.
Nelson studied the big frigate with a knowing, longing
eye, wholly captivated by her. True, she had been
badly mauled, her scars showing plainly in the
moonlight, but he had to admire the ship -- and
captain -- that could take so cruel a beating and
emerge victorious. With such a frigate -- and such a
man as Pellew -- in his squadron, what feats could he
As they drew near the Indy, the expected hail rang out
from her deck, and the shore boat's captain answered
gleefully, identifying his passenger with gusto. A
long, long silence followed his declaration, then a
voice, a young midshipman's voice, asked him, with
audible shock and disbelief, to repeat himself. This
he did gladly, savouring the sound of the words.
Able to imagine the havoc erupting on deck at this
moment, Archie and Horatio both grinned broadly, each
most grateful he was not the officer on watch just
now. For someone, some junior someone, would be
compelled to run down to the captain's cabin and alert
Pellew to the fact that he was being boarded by a
certain one-eyed, one-armed admiral made quite
sociable by rather large amounts of brandy.
Oh, aye, there were worse things in life than broken
bones and bruises, to be sure!