Despite his carrot red hair, she hadn’t seen him, but he’d seen her and recognized her, and had followed, until the wily-eyed Irishman had noticed him, and so he’d slunk from direct sight, letting her go on.
She was alone with a man not her kinsman and most assuredly not her noble, poor husband. He amended that thought to “her noble husband,” for to call the fearsome earl “poor” by mistake to his face or in any way it might return to him could prove disastrous. But, he had valuable information, now, and directly sent it by his most trusted and fleet messenger, to the earl—the current whereabouts of his adulterous new countess.
* * * *
Becca laughed and Aidan’s gaze pulled back from the surrounding market crowd, to watch her do so, as she watched the cabin boy and his rat terrier run about the cursing vendors like mad to see so many new and interesting things in this Irish bay port. Aidan’s gaze captured hers.
“Laughing at me, sir?”
“No. But you’re laughing at the boy.”
“He likes it when I notice him, although I make him quite nervous. Why is that?”
“You’re a refined lady and all he’s known these last few years is my ship of rough men.”
“You never let him ashore?”
“On occasion, but I promised his mother I’d not let him far out of my sight. So, where I go, he goes. Except when I take investigative walks on enemy soil, and discover mushroom-loving nymphs in the woods.”
“Me. A ‘nymph’?”
“Oh. No. Not you. A great lady. Full of life, nearly sinfully so. Would temp a man from king and country, and the error of his ways. Or make him error against his god and all the saints.”
“That’s….” She blushed, and he added, “Even while wearing that ill-fitting, second-hand gown.”
“You had to ruin it, you vile pirate.” Heads nearby swiveled at “pirate.” “You vile pie-hater.” He didn’t seem to notice anyone else, and corrected her.
“Buccaneer. For that is what my lady love calls me, or is it ‘box your ear’?” She laughed brightly, and both the pirate and cabin boy listened, and looked at each other and shared an unspoken thought between them.
“Now, Mrs. O’Rourke, if yah are my lady, true, you must let me purchase proper clothing more befitting your lovely form and my warm regard for that shapely form.”
“Not in front of the boy.”
“You want to see milady in pretty togs, don’t’cha, lad?” The boy beamed with the most remarkable large eyes, until Aidan’s steward and steward’s mate passed by, laden with tasty provisions, completely arresting the lad’s avid attention.
“Go on, Rory. But stay with Jim, if yah do. No wandering. Aye?” Rory nodded and ran off with the dog chasing him, as Aidan and Becca walked on.
“Darling boy. How old is he, eight?” He was surprised she’d guessed correctly, then recalled she’d once had children of her own.
“Yes. Old enough to go to sea.”
“But doesn’t his mother miss him? For such an absence would break my heart.” He was already sorry for this topic.
“Plenty of lads make their way, at his age, to sea. Especially lad’s whose mother’s have gone on.”
“Oh. She’s dead.”
“Although it may not look it, he’s learning to read and do his sums, quite properly. He’s bright.”
“You know I’ve not heard one word from him, at least not to me.” Aidan stopped, as if unable to progress farther, and she waited, for he seemed in great inner pain, then he spoke softly.
“He’s not said a word since his mam died. He was there, she’d hid him well, but he saw through a chink of hole. She’d made me promise, before, to always take care of him. She didn’t have to, but I’m kind of loose-footed, as you know.” Becca nodded, and he blinked hard a few times, then he glanced about and drew her aside, “He’s mine. The lad is mine.”
There was something in her that selfishly refused the most logical and sensible next thought in the matter.
“Be-Because you take care of him?” He shook his head “no.”
“Never mention it, Becca. My men know, of course, but if anyone decides that young Rory’s the Pirate O’Rourke’s son, MY son….” She swallowed hard, barely.
“Then, my words could put that sweet little boy, in danger. Your….” Her eyes darted about at those around them, and he watched as she absorbed the fact that they, all of them, including the child, were outlaws; that there was a bounty and a hangman’s noose for himself and for any man or boy with him, and a generous reward from that obstinate English noble for the return of his wayward countess. “Are we safe here, Aidan?”
“For now, but let’s get you some proper clothes made, and you can teach my Rory proper table manners, as the lad will not heed me nor Jim in the matter. He’d do it for you.”
“He’s an O’Rourke man and he’s in love with the sparkling laugh of my buccaneeress.” And she stood there in her ill-fitted, borrowed dress, and realized he’d just said he loved her. He kissed her hand and took her shopping.