Title: Hard Hearts
Pairings: Norrington/OFC; minor Elizabeth/Will; mention of Jack/OFCs
Rating: R to NC-17
Notes: Het. Smut. Some cursing. Starts mid-PotC:DMC which veers into AU. Some PotC: AWE action is incorporated. NO NORRINGTON DEATH
Disclaimer: The PotC characters are owned by Walt Disney. All OFCs are my own creation or as noted.
Previous Chapter: Chapter 31
I had cried myself to sleep. I awoke on the couch in the salon, my neck aching from the uncomfortable angle. I blinked my eyes and rubbed my pained muscles; Illyria was gone, but she’d left the bag of clothing and a small packet of herbs. I recognized the mix from Tia Dalma’s house—they would serve well to lessen the aftereffects of my tears.
I took the herbs and the clothes and made my way to my room, where I dressed alone—in a mourning dress of black and grey—for my evening of hell, using the herbs mixed with water to cleanse my face and soak my tired eyes. Aggie knocked at the door when I was nearly finished; I let her in and remained quiet as she attended to my hair. I was not in a talking mood.
Unfortunately, she was.
“Dinner with Lord Beckett,” she clucked. “There are many young ladies in Port Royal who have been angling for that invitation for months.”
“They can have it,” I returned. “It would be my preference not to attend.”
“And what does the master think of it, I have to wonder,” she continued. “Can’t imagine as he would approve.”
I sighed and responded in a tone a bit sharper than may have been wise, “And I can’t imagine how you would think that had any bearing on my social calendar.”
“If you’ll forgive my boldness, I’ve known him a sight longer than you,” she said. “And I can see the way he looks at you. And you him. It’s not my place to judge the nature of modern courtship, but sure as I am standing here, the two of you are about it, and no mistake.”
“James seems to trust your discretion,” I said, glad to drop the charade for a time. “I hope I can as well?”
“The master can always trust my discretion,” she said curtly.
I took her meaning. I knew Aggie and Anderson would keep the secret, for James’ sake. “Understood.”
Now she sighed, finished with my hair. “Master James has not been lucky in love. It would be a right shame to see him suffer again. A right shame.” She gave me a pointed look via the mirror.
I returned it coolly. “Yes,” I said. “It would.” I stood up and smoothed my dress. “Thank you for attending to my hair. You have done a lovely job.” I turned to leave, then looked at her again. “You have done a lovely job in many, many ways, I think.”
She stood proudly. “I have certainly tried.”
I left the room and walked down the stairs. The large clock in the foyer was about to strike five, so I had an hour to kill before James returned. I stood before the clock for a long moment, trying to decide what to do.
Anderson came into the hall. “Miss Coyle,” he said, bowing. “Master James requested that you be shown the library. Was he correct in assuming that would be of interest to you?”
I smiled. “Yes, he was. When did he make this request?” Perhaps James had returned early.
“Yesterday, prior to your dinner engagement. He also mentioned that you had a particular fondness for oranges, so I have arranged for some to be brought from the market,” he said. “I will have some brought to the library.”
The library was dark and comfortable, with fine leather furniture and one particularly well-worn armchair. Anderson lit some lamps and then left me among the books; I selected a few at random and curled up in the chair. The oranges were brought in by another servant and for a time I lost myself in the books and the fruit.
I was snapped out of my literary reverie by the sound of a door being slammed so hard it shook the house. The sound of footsteps followed immediately—sure and heavy ones that I recognized as James, and faster, scurrying ones that I could only assume were servants rushing to his service. The sound of muffled voices--one rather loud--also came to my ears, so I got up quickly and headed into the hallway.
What greeted me was James in the middle of a scathing tirade, which he was directing at poor Anderson. "...and that officious upstart bastard had the gall to drag me back into that damn office and tell me how he expects a ship to be captained! Who the hell is he to tell me how to run a damn ship? I was commanding battleships while he was crunching numbers at a desk in London, that arrogant little weasel…”
I hurried forward, hoping to diffuse the situation. Anderson had quickly and wisely dismissed the other servants, so it was just the three of us in the foyer. And thank God for that, because all I could come up with to distract James from his tirade was to rush right in and stop his mouth with a kiss. After a muffled sound of surprise, he wrapped his arms around me as he kissed me back.
I broke away to put my hands on his face. “You’re all right, James.”
The anger was still evident in his eyes, but my presence calmed him. “I rather thought that was my line,” he said dryly.
“What happened?” I asked, still in his arms and not terribly interested in moving.
Conveniently, he seemed just as uninterested in letting me go, though he did loosen his embrace so we could more comfortably look at each other. “Andrew and I had finished gathering crew and we’d stopped for a drink. Murtogg and Mullroy had been sent ahead to Fort Charles and I expected there would be plenty of time to come back here—I was hoping we would have time to talk about…things before your dinner. But then two marines came into the tavern and informed me I was being summoned to Beckett’s presence. The son of a bitch summoned me to my own…to his office so he could lecture me on running a ship. And then, as if that wasn’t insult enough, he proceeded to make damn sure I was well aware of his plans for the evening, and with whom. I swear to Christ, Jane, before this is all over I will kill him with my bare hands!”
“No, you won’t,” I told him in a soothing voice. “Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, mind, but you won’t. Not without good
reason far beyond simply being a bastard.You are not that kind of man.” I looked down for a moment, feeling my heart grow heavy as I spoke my next words. “There're others, long before Beckett, you'd have killed just for that, were you that type of man. But you are not, and I am glad of it.”
He stroked my face with the back of his knuckles and gave me a wistful smile. “You’re right. And I cannot tell you what it means to me that you know that. That you know me. For a very long time, I was sure no one did.” He kissed me again, then said with a brighter smile, “You taste of oranges.”
Before I could respond, there was the sound of an uncomfortable cough. We both turned our heads to see Anderson, half-blushing and half-smirking.
“Master James,” he said. “Perhaps I should send word to Lord Beckett that Miss Coyle will not be joining him for dinner?”
I groaned aloud. “Oh, how I do wish that were the case.”
“As do I,” James said, his frown back. He let go of me and turned to face Anderson directly. “I expect I don’t have to tell you that the events of the past few minutes are a matter of the utmost discretion?”
“The high volume of your entrance notwithstanding, sir.” Anderson maintained a serious expression. “As I will recall of the evening, sir, you returned home briefly to gather some belongings. You happened to pass Miss Coyle as you stopped and wished her a pleasant evening with Lord Beckett. Why, you may have even remarked on what a singular privilege her dinner engagement was. She left the house slightly before you did, in the company of…” Anderson was interrupted when someone knocked on the front door. “In the company of the person who is undoubtedly at the door. Excuse me, sir, madame.”
Anderson opened the door and Magali stepped in, looking charming in a cream colored gown with matching hat and gloves. My hand went to my own hatless head. “Bollocks,” I cursed. “Should I be wearing a hat?”
Magali blushed a bit at my language, while Anderson appeared to stifle a laugh. “Normally, yes,” Magali said. “But given that you have just been shipwrecked and have only had time to meet with the seamstress, your breach of decorum will be forgiven. And frankly I cannot imagine any man who wouldn’t prefer your hair down.”
James made a cross face and opened his mouth to speak, but Magali held up her hand, stopping him. “In less than twelve hours, you will have her on a ship, with you, moving far away from Beckett. But for tonight, the charade will continue and you will simply have to deal with it.”
His expression was rather like a pout. “No one said I had to like it.”
“Nor, I expect, will she,” Magali said, inclining her head in my direction. “Do not worry, Jim. I will be there. Beckett will not dare to act anything but the perfect gentleman.” She glanced at the clock, which was nearing seven. “And if we are to maintain our air as a
pair of proper ladies, we must go. It would not do to be anything but prompt.”
James and Anderson walked us out, James keeping a reasonable distance to facilitate our charade should any passers-by notice our little group. He helped Magali into the carriage then extended his hand to do likewise with me. As he held my hand, he pressed my fingers gently and said quietly, barely moving his lips, “If he tries anything…”
“Stop worrying,” I responded in similar fashion. “I will see you in just a few hours.”
He sighed. “Not soon enough. Watch yourself, Jane. Mind your tongue. I will be thinking of you every second.”
My heart gave a little flip at his words, but in response I only gave the briefest of nods. Then I was in the carriage and we were off.