Plans of His Own Making
In 1808, newly promoted Captain Frederick Wentworth is impatient to have a ship. He and Commander Timothy Harville figure posing as smugglers to catch the real thing in the act will grab the Admiralty’s attention. They set out on the frigid Irish Sea at Christmastime to put their plan into action. Anne Elliot’s father is pleased to find passage to Dublin so cheap at the holidays. He is not so pleased when all are taken captive by a band of smugglers. Or rather Wentworth posing as one.
A Plan of His Own Making is a Persuasion What-If in which Frederick Wentworth literally saves Anne’s life and saves her from murderous smugglers, and in return, Anne does likewise for Frederick.
PG-17 for adult situations and mild sensuality
This story is posted free-of-charge to readers, but is understood to be a rough first draft. As it is a work-in-progress, it’s all up for grabs and is subject to change when going through the rewriting process. In other words, what you read here may not be in the final, published edition. You are free to read and link to but please do not copy any of the story. It goes without saying there will be boatloads of misspellings, grammar goofs, and the occasional glaring continuity error; these will be fixed in final editing so just read and enjoy. — SK
From last week’s post: The man did nothing for a moment. The torture built when he pulled her even closer. She tried to jerk away only to stumble against the chair. He pulled her slowly back to himself.
Wentworth tarried below deck after leaving Sir Walter. The hurt and anger of that summer sprang to a full blaze when dealing with the stupid and repellent father.
He entered the room and dismissed the guard. For some time he stood studying the bound and hooded woman.
Wentworth was sure the voice was Anne’s. The woman was her height, but more slight, more insubstantial than the Anne of his memory. However, she might be the younger sister and it would not be unusual for siblings to look and even sound very much alike. If this was Anne Elliot, he wanted to either keep her ignorant of his identity, which he could do by not allowing her to view his face. Or, if he did reveal himself, he wanted her to understand his motives were not criminal, but ultimately ones that would bring him recognition and promotion.
His resentment did not disappear, but no matter how badly she had treated him in the past, she was of the weaker sex and he needed to take some time to steady his anger. That happened quickly enough when he realised she was completely helpless and that all her present suffering was by his command.
His hand trembled as he reached behind her. It was impossible not to smell the musk of her fear. Regardless of the circumstances, this scent fear and the ghostly hint of lavender was arousing. The rough skin of his ungloved hand caught on the material of her dress as it moved down her back. He stopped at the downward curve of her waist. The ship suddenly pitched and forced her against him. Whether this was Anne or not, it had been a time since he’d had the funds to buy a bit of affection from one of Plymouth’s finer knocking shops, and the feel of any woman pressed against him was agonizing. But if this was Anne …
After an uncertain period he reached for the hood’s cord hanging down her back. His hand just happened to linger here and there as it travelled upward. The fear of an uncertain outcome stayed his hand for a time and as the chaos unfolded above, they swayed together in a perplexing sort of dance. He took his time loosening the hood. When he reached beneath it, the coarse baize was a sharp contrast to the softness of her.
He released her hands, but she did not move. With one arm firmly around her, he pulled the hood loose. His fingers grazed her neck and then he slowly removed it.
It was Anne.
Her eyes remained closed as she gulped in the cool fresh air. She whispered thanks to God. Even as she prayed, her mouth tempted him; everything about her helplessness tempted him.
He had not forgotten the pleasure he had previously taken in her embraces. He only wished this interlude could go on indefinitely.
The hood left her pale skin dusted with a fine brown powder. Tears left trails and smears across her cheeks.
In the course of their short love affair, Frederick had never seen her hair down, but in the confusion of the ship’s capture, most of the silken chestnut strands had worked loose and fell crazily about her shoulders. Though tangled and matted, it was lovely.
He cleared his throat.
There was no place to escape, so she opened her eyes.
Even the dim candlelight overwhelmed her and she blinked several times. She looked straight ahead for a moment and all she would see was Frederick’s black silk scarf. After a moment, she raised her eyes to look directly into his.
In an instant, all evidence of fright disappeared and a smile of relief lit her face.”Frederick.” Her arms tightly encircled his neck and she cried, “Thank God, you have come to rescue us,” into his shoulder.
She released him and stepped back, stumbling against the chair. The legs screeched against the wooden floor. He caught her and pulled her back to him.
There was no need for pretence now and he pulled the scarf from his face. While it was still possible, he allowed himself to touch her hair, and refresh the memory of her body willingly pressed against him. He knew all too soon, these delights would vanish. After a short time, Anne released him and looked up. Her smile was the most beautiful thing he’d seen for months. “I saw no navy ship, only the smugglers.” She laid her head on his soiled neck cloth for a moment.
She stepped back and looked up. “You are the last person I would have expected to see…” Her look of joy faded and she immediately stepped farther away. Again she stared not at his face, but at the black silk scarf around his neck.
It was clear that she was beginning to understand the circumstances. “No, my ship was a little way off. We needed to make a sudden appearance. Anne, I must ask you some questions.” He hoped the simplicity of the lie would divert her. He motioned for her to take a seat.
To his relief, without accusing him, she did. “Where are my father and Elizabeth?”
He relaxed a bit. Only Anne would be concerned about the absurd pair. “They are being well looked after. You will join them when we have finished.” He would relish the few coming moments they would share.
“Commander Wentworth, what do you need of me? I am grossly ignorant of ships and sailing, as you well know.” She looked down to her hands and seemed displeased. She folded them in her lap.
“No, I need no information about the ship, per se, but I do wish to know how you and your family came to be aboard the Bride. And I am Captain Wentworth now.” She smiled wide and nodded at the information. He was just made into the rank, and it was quite wrenching that a uniform, with its one golden epaulette perched on his left shoulder, was not practical when playing the role of smuggler.
“We are bound for Dublin for Christmas. A distant cousin has reached the age of majority and there is to be a celebration. It is for those reasons we come to Ireland. There was a falling out some time ago, around the time of my mother’s death, but it has obviously been mended.” She sighed and shifted in the chair.
“Your father, he does not know the owner of the ship?”
“No. It was my father’s man of business, his lawyer Mr John Shepherd, who arranged everything. He told father he knew of a ship that was always crossing over to Ireland, and that he could get us passage quickly, and quite…economically.”
Wentworth made a note of John Shepherd. It was only one of many names he had come to think might be important. “I find it interesting that a country lawyer would know of a regular packet for Ireland. From where did you set sail?”
She frowned. Perhaps she expected the questions to be personal rather than interrogative. “We travelled to a small place called Burnham-on-Sea. We boarded the ship, sailed for a short time, and then anchored in Minehead for the night. We stopped several places along the way. I suppose that is why the passage is so reasonable. It was not promised to be a swift journey. But it has been interesting to see the workings of the ship—”
“I’m sure. Who did you say was your cousin in Dublin?” Ever his Anne, she did not seem to be frustrated by his rudeness.
“We are to be met at the dock in the morning by a carriage sent by the dowager Viscountess Dalrymple. Her husband, the Viscount, was a cousin to my father. He died several years ago—“
“Yes, you said already that it was about the time your mother passed away.” Anne shrank back immediately at this perceived rebuke. Idiot. The death of her mother was a tragedy from which she had never fully recovered.
She gathered herself. “I heard someone speak of smugglers when I was above. Surely you do not suspect that my family, a viscountess no less, could be involved in smuggling.” The flush of astonishment on her face was lovely.
He forgave the precision of her remarks about the woman’s rank. Clearly, Anne meant no conceit, merely an unmistakable grasp of the ridiculousness of the suggestion. He laughed for the first time. “No, no, to be sure, I have no idea that someone as exalted as a viscountess is involved in the movement of contraband.”
Anne’s expression lightened and she joined him in the joke.
The smile on his face was like that of the past. It could be again the summer they met socially and walked the grounds of a fine old estate, admiring the gardens, as he made witty, and sometimes scathing observations of the guests assembled. It could be all that, but for the chaos above their heads, the hood, and the black kerchief around his neck. “When did you decide your duty to the Crown, and to your country was of no value?” This change of character broke her heart.
It took a moment for her question to penetrate. When it did, his eyes immediately shifted from the tender hazel she remembered, to the colour of a bare forest, frosted over in the early winter. The change in him shocked Anne nearly as much as the calm in her own voice.
Fear suddenly won over both reason and good breeding. “I know you are not here to rescue us.” She was glad for being seated.
He raised his hand, as if to reach out to her, but he did not touch her. “I’m sorry I had to do this to you. I had no choice.” His voice was barely audible.
Through the shock and rage, she studied this black-hearted smuggler who put her family in jeopardy. It did not surprise her that all she wanted was for him to take in her his arms and kiss her deeply.
Perhaps he felt the same and rather than give in, he turned and walked to a shelf barely hanging on the wall.
She dared to rise and follow him. Again she took a chance and touched his sleeve. “You are not a thief.”
He moved a step away. “I was not getting rich in the Navy. This afforded me more—opportunities.” He finally turned.
His hair was dirty and in disarray, he had not shaved in some time. It did not matter for he was as handsome as ever. Lamentably, he looked upon her with the same anger that had surrounded him when he took leave of her that summer. “When I left Somerset, I possessed supreme confidence that my duty to the service would give me everything I wanted. But over time, I have re-examined my naïve loyalty, and found it embarrassingly absurd.” He looked away from her.
The young man who had won her heart in ‘06 was obviously dead. He had been dazzling in his blue and gold uniform, straight, tall, and more handsome than any other man. This new man was shabby, filthy, and clothed in little more than rags. The only bit of clothes that looked decent was the heavy cloak he wore. Against it, the black silk scarf around his neck stood out markedly, and spoke volumes. It represented a man fallen from his former glory. All honour was now gone. Frederick Wentworth was merely an outlaw and a liar.
“And so I am to pity you?” The room grew warmer and the ship’s swaying seemed to lessen.
He scowled. “I ask for no pity from you.” He faced her fully.
“For these two years I have regretted my selfish caution and consoled myself that I obeyed my family and that I was right in doing it—”
“Of course you were right to cast me aside—”
“—because it was to your best ad-advantage that you not have me as a wife, as an obstacle to distract from your career. I took comfort that it was for your good—”
“—and not be attached to someone so inferior—”
“—that I should deny my need for you, my love for you in favour of your all-consuming career.” Hot tears fell from her eyes and she slapped them away.
Wentworth said nothing. He could only listen.
“I knew you would succeed, and that my sacrifice would be a small part of it. And now it is all rubbish for you are nothing more than a common thief. A liar and a thief.” The room widened, the noises grew loud again, and the ship pitched as it had before.
The shouting above took on a new urgency. He listened but did not seem alarmed. She was about to continue when the door opened. A man entered and Anne recognised his coat as belonging to the one who had been with Wentworth on the prow of the other ship. She thought it odd that he had the manners to acknowledge her as he approached Frederick. “The frigate, Abraham draws near.” The stranger looked back at her.
Wentworth’s expression hardened further. He seemed to study her, but she realised his eyes had merely come to rest on her as he considered this new intelligence. “Get the documents. Take them and yourself to one of the small boats.”
“Aye, Captain.” He nodded to Frederick, and to her, then passed through to the companionway.
Wentworth stared at the door for a moment and then came to her. “Remain here. Bolt the door. The Abraham is a King’s ship. They will see you all safely to Dublin.” A cannon fired close by. The Bride shook with two answering shots. This violent shaking threw Anne back towards the chair, and then to the floor. Instantly he was kneeling beside her. “Are you alright, dear?” He took her arm and helped her to her feet.
The confusion of men’s shouts and screams replaced the thunder of the cannon. The pounding of running feet intensified above. He made no sign that he noticed any of it. He took her gently by the shoulders. “Remember, stay down here. Please.” His grip tightened. Anne could feel his eyes examining every inch of her face. She wanted to believe he had something more to say, or something he wanted to do for her, but he soon released her, turned, and disappeared.
To obey him would likely assure her own safety, and that of her sister and father. Again, a cannon roared above. She covered her ears, and began to panic. The voices and unknown noises were relentless. She went to the door, opened it a crack, and listened. To leave the room was foolhardy. She ran out the door and up the companionway to find Frederick.
It was completely dark but bedlam nonetheless reigned. Precious few lanterns swayed wildly from their anchors; men running here and there carried several others. A mist had risen she thought, but then realised it to be smoke from the cannons. Everything took on a dull, subdued quality because of it. She stood aside, observing the chaos, attempting to get her bearings. The haze and acrid air stung her eyes and made it nearly impossible to focus.
The black, soaring edifice alongside the Bride must be the Abraham. Uniformed men were jumping several feet from the railing of the taller ship, onto their smaller one. She looked about and saw Frederick going over the side just feet from where she stood. A popping sound commenced and the lanterns each went dark. The cause was a mystery, but she knew she could not remain fixed and vulnerable in the open.
She groped her way along the rail, splinters stabbing her fingers and palms. The railing disappeared under her hand and she pitched forward. Before she fell, she caught herself. Below her she saw the two of them preparing to row away.
“Frederick.” His name came thoughtlessly to her lips.
He raised the lantern. His tender look returned. “Go back, Annie.” The little craft dipped and he struggled to keep his balance. “Go back below. You’ll be shot.”
The warning filled her with fear. It was merely feet back to the companionway, but now that she realised fully the dangers, her only escape might as well have been miles away. “I can’t. I can’t see anything. All is dark.” Her only hope was for him to take her back down.
“We’ve got to get out of here, Captain. If Harvey Fitzwilliam takes us, the whole plot is bust.” The man took a seat and grabbed an oar.
Frederick looked into her eyes. She understood he would not return to help her. He was bent on his own escape.
to be continued