Curtis Bay, Maryland, Late June, 1836
Lucky Gualtiero strode through the bustling Watkins Shipyard and watched as a hundred or more men and boys left their work stations as the day drew to an end. He knew from the position of the sun that it was nearing six-thirty, and realized he may have to wait until morning to meet with the owner. Slapping the leather folio against his thigh, he was impatient to introduce himself and speak with this shipyard’s architect on record, M. Michael Watkins. In his folio were the specifications and drawings compiled by his partner, Ian Ross-Mackeever, heir to the first Earl Mackeever, and some notes Lucky had compiled over the past weeks visiting other shipyards, as well as the letter from their creditor bank in London guaranteeing the mortgage for two new clippers.
This was the last stop of the three North American shipyards and Ian’s builder of choice, as his father had worked for Mr. Watkins before his death twelve years ago. Lucky made his way through the dry dock, looking for their offices, while scrutinizing several new vessels under construction, all at different stages. One appeared near finished and was afloat dockside, and another was just a hull up on blocks, still in the early stages of interior construction. Others were in various stages between.
For Lucky, watching the building process was enlightening, because he could clearly recognize the quality of workmanship at different stages in the construction. So far it appeared Watkins built a very fine hull from what he saw. The in-water boat had three solid masts, where one of the two on blocks nearest him awaited cladding, the copper plating used to prevent shipworm and saltwater from damaging the wood. All the wood used for hulls appeared to be solid cypress. The rudder was about to be placed on the hull in dry dock, which would be interesting to watch if he was still here when they raised it. The inner post and stern post were already affixed and the rudder–a typical gunstock shape–lay on blocks on the ground waiting for the hinge apparatus to be joined to it. Once that was done, the whole unit would be lifted into place.
He turned and kept walking toward what he thought were the company offices, a brick two-story building, and was stopped by a lad as he neared the door.
“Can I help you?”
Lucky turned to look at the most amazing thing he’d seen in his life, a young female garbed for working in a shipyard with the voice and diction of an educated woman.
His momentary shock faded and he met the golden brown-eyed gaze of a young lady. With straight auburn hair of undetermined length tied back and bound in netting, her golden-red-brown eyebrows arched delicately over an expressive, curious gaze. A sprinkling of freckles spread across her cheeks, over the bridge of her nose and up to her forehead. She stood near chin-height to him, and wore what appeared to be charcoal-gray breeches, and a short-sleeved, lightweight, dove gray jacket, that fell over the hip. Under that, a white blouse buttoned up to the chin to protect her modesty. She had a pretty face, even though her eyes appeared tired, and her smile looked almost forced.
“May I help you?” Now she sounded a tad put out that he’d kept her waiting for his reply, her wide-brimmed straw hat dangling by its tied strings from her fingers.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “I’m looking for Mr. Spenser Watkins, or a Mr. M. Michael Watkins.”
“I am Mary-Michael Watkins, and my husband, Mr. Spenser Watkins, has gone for the day.” She fumbled with her pad and pencil and her hat and jacket while she waited for him to reply.
Damnation. The first intriguing young woman he’d met in a long time and she was married. Seemed to be his luck of late. Mrs. Watkins was interesting-looking—no, attractive, very attractive. Attractive and yet… different. The rake in him wanted to see just how married she was. Maybe, if he played his cards right, he just might get–God, he hated when his friends said it–but perhaps he might get lucky.
He grinned what he hoped was his best smile. “My name is Lucky Gualtiero, Captain of Avenger, currently riding at anchor in your harbor.”
Her eyes widened, then just as quickly narrowed and she squinted as though inspecting a bug under a magnifying glass, and thought to see through him to the truth. It made him somewhat uncomfortable. “My partner and I founded Empire Tea Importers, and currently sail two one-hundred and twenty-foot clippers—”
“—that beat the Ann McKim in the Transatlantic Challenge last summer,” she finished for him.
“Aye, we did.” Lucky didn’t enjoy bragging, but in this instance he was proud of what he and Ian had accomplished. They had beat what was purported to be the fastest clipper on the ocean to date. A clipper that was built right here in this very shipyard. “My partner and I are looking to expand our tea import business by adding two more ships to our fleet. We are in the market to have some custom work done and your shipyard came highly recommended.”
Her eyebrows rose and she smiled a crooked smile at him. “Oh? By whom? McKim?”
“No. My partner, Ian Ross-Mackeever.”
“He knows of our work?
“Yes.” He saw her struggle to place the name.
She pursed her lips and squinted, apparently deep in thought as she seemed to search her recollections. “Ian Ross. Why does that name sound familiar? Likely he’s had work done here before.”
“No. His father worked for… your husband.”
“That’s right.” Recognition registered on her face and she smiled. “Ian is Hamish’s son. No, Hamish Ross worked with my husband. They were partners. Mr. Watkins still speaks of his dear friend often.”
Lucky followed Mrs. Watkins to the office. She held the door for him and he entered, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim light of the entrance hall. He paused just inside the door and waited for her. Then it struck him.
Had he lost all manners? She held the door open for him, and obedient lamb that he was, he followed her. She had to be no older than twenty-two or twenty-four and she was married to Spenser Watkins? He’d gotten the impression from Ian that Watkins was an elderly man. And what was even more disconcerting than the age difference, was the fact that she was so... so... comfortable in her position, even in her scandalous clothing. She didn’t get flustered or nervous as a young woman at home would have upon meeting a gentle man while she was alone. Alone and awkwardly dressed.
Oh, there was no lack of modesty, for she was covered from chin to toe even in this sticky heat. He was sure her baggy breeches, light jacket and tall leather boots served the purpose for working in a shipyard. That big straw hat did an excellent job of keeping the sun off her face because while she was not as milky-fair as the young ladies at home, she bore the healthy glow of someone who enjoyed the outdoors, much like his sisters.
Lucky appreciated the sway of her bottom as he followed her up the stairs, then through a narrow corridor toward a great, open ante-chamber with a bank of open doors where she motioned him in. He wondered at her position in the business as he met the gaze of one gentleman standing at a drafting table who nodded a simple greeting. The man worked on making copies of the architectural print spread before him, as two other men in rolled-up shirtsleeves worked in offices with doors also open to the main antechamber. This, he was certain, was to aid in the circulation of air for as he was quickly learning, summer in Baltimore was a hot and muggy season indeed.
Mrs. Watkins led the way through an open door, one marked Spenser Watkins in black lettering on the frosted glass pane. She left this door wide open as she went into the room. His eyes followed her trouser and jacket-clad form as she moved behind the desk. She unbuttoned and removed her loose jacket, revealing her sleeveless white, high-necked blouse underneath and exposing her bare arms. Lucky’s mouth suddenly felt dry as the desert in Africa. Not only was she beautiful to look upon, the woman was lithe, graceful, and in his opinion perfectly formed. What in heaven’s name was she doing working in a shipyard? And the men in the antechamber behaved as though her presence was normal and accepted.
“Please. Have a seat.” She motioned to a chair and put her hat on the rack with her jacket, then took a seat herself behind a large, masculine desk. She began to rifle through the drawers in search of something, then lifted out a fresh sheet of paper and a sharpened pencil.
Lucky didn’t know how to say what he wanted, and instead asked, “Will your husband be in the office tomorrow?”
If he hadn’t been paying attention he would have missed it—the change in her expression. It was so subtle, but there nonetheless. It had gone from warm and friendly to business-like and reserved.
“Yes,” she replied. “He doesn’t tolerate the midday heat very well at his age so keeps morning hours, returning home around noon. If you would rather speak directly with him, he is usually here around seven a.m. We tend to get more work done in the office early in the day when it is cooler. In the afternoon, you can usually find me out in the yard where the breeze off the bay makes the outdoors more bearable.”
Lucky nodded. What had come over him? He’d been confident in his skills to bed her only a moment ago, and now… He cleared his throat, nervous that his next words might offend her, but he’d never encountered a woman–a young woman–in such a position of leadership in a male-dominated business such as this. “Mrs. Watkins, I’ll be frank with you. I have never done business of this magnitude with a woman.”
“Not many men have.” She set aside the pencil and lifted her tired gaze to his, and recognized his hesitation. “And you are not the first to have this reaction, but I assure you I am quite competent in what I do.” She pointed at the wall of windows beside them. “Each one of those ships out there in that yard was designed by me, and built by the men who work for my husband’s shipyard. There are twenty-eight vessels of my design currently sailing the world. I might be relatively young, but I am more current in the mechanic arts as it applies to naval architecture, and the engineering of composite materials than most men currently designing clippers. If you would like references I can give you the names of boats and their owners. Some of whom still do not know a woman designed their ship.” She stared straight into his eyes and grinned. “But you know the most famous of my designs rather well, don’t you captain? One day you’ll have to tell me how you did it. How you beat Captain McKim.”
Lucky felt he was surely gaping at her, unaccustomed to such dialog coming from a woman. He didn’t want to be rude to her, but even she admitted this situation was quite unusual.
She lifted the pencil again, and rolled it between her hands. “Now, what is it you are looking for, Captain? You mentioned custom work.”
“Yes.” He cleared his throat and noticed a spark of interest rise in her expression when she glanced up at him. “My partner and I are looking for new builds. Two of them.”
She smiled. “That is my specialty. If it relieves your concerns, all business related to the transfer of funds and signing of contracts, will be handled through my husband, our firm’s legal counsel, and our accountant here at Watkins Shipbuilding.”
“Good,” he replied, relieved she’d not been offended by his statement.
She was very much professional and all business as she said, “I’d like to know what you need. What do you want in a boat? What size, type, number of masts, cargo hold, guns, cabins, construction? I engineer the design according to what your needs and desires are.” Astonished at hearing her speak, Lucky did not interrupt her, as he was eager to hear what she had to say.
Mrs. Watkins confidently leaned back in her husband’s too-big chair, her elbows on the armrests which pulled the material of her shirt tight across her slight bosom. “Here at Watkins, we craft solid wood hulls of oak, cedar or cypress, all of which is prevalent in these parts. We then sheath the hull in a fifty-fifty copper and zinc alloy, to reduce the speed of erosion. We clad on top a layer of tar one-quarter of an inch thick. The plate is up to twenty-four inches above the load waterline at aft and amid, graduating up to thirty-six inches above at the bow. All logs are milled and seasoned here on site. We have our own loggers, blacksmiths, fitters, and coopers.”
His mouth went dry and he was unable to peel his gaze away from her face as she spoke. This fascinating woman was talking to him of ship construction. At home, talk of this sort was usually left for the company of men. How on earth had she received the education necessary to do something only the brightest of men in the world could do? Still dumbfounded, he shook his head. “I’m going to admit to being knocked off kilter with your questions. I hadn’t prepared myself to discuss these things with a... a woman, and...” He felt a bit sheepish, and uncomfortable. “I don’t mean to offend you.”
She grinned at him again. A full, true smile. Her teeth were white and mostly straight and she had two dimples, not just the adorable one on the left. She was truly enchanting and vibrant, not milky-white, or rouged. This young woman radiated beauty from within, and it caused his heart to skip a beat, maybe two, even though she was married. “None taken, I assure you. If it would make you feel better, I can have my draftsman, Mr. Andrew Nawton, come in and take notes with us.”
“No,” he began, then cleared his throat, still a bit nervous as he glanced out to the drafting table beyond the open door. “This is fine.” Lucky reached into the file folder and handed Mrs. Watkins their specification sheet. “The top half—” he motioned to the upper portion of the sheet, “has our requirements. Where this section—” he pointed below that, “is a wish list, of sorts. If they are possible, we’d like to see them done also.” He pushed the pages across the desktop to her.
Mrs. Watkins scanned the pages and began to make notes. “We can do single tree masts, though I recommend composite—especially for the main and fore—simply because of the size.” She looked up at him with luminous, golden-brown eyes and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth preventing him from replying. He had to get over this fascination with her, especially if they were to conduct business. He didn’t want to offend the woman’s husband. “But we can discuss that later.” She turned her attention back to the sheet in front of her and continued to scribble her notes, then looked up at him again. “One hundred eighty-five feet is lengthy,” she said. “Depending on how she’s sparred, it could appear too long, or visually unbalanced. What’s your cargo?”
“Tea,” he replied. “And perhaps other cargo, eventually.”
“Human cargo?” Their eyes met and he understood her meaning.
“Never.” He tried not to sound too judgmental. He knew slavery was an accepted practice in the States. Even though he didn’t agree with it, he didn’t want to offend the potential shipbuilder for his business.
She exhaled a deeply held breath and relaxed her shoulders, which told Lucky exactly where she stood on the issue. And thankfully they were of one mind.
“Good. I don’t think my conscience would allow me to build for the slave trade,” she replied and continued asking him questions and making notes. “What is your timeline for delivery? We are about to have a slot open for a new build. Though only one right now, as we’re soon to have Carolina floated. Ajax is the nearly completed boat at the dock, her owner is expected at the first of the month for transfer of ownership. At the moment, construction is running ten to twelve months, and I don’t foresee it getting any faster as my yard is fully utilized right now.”
Lucky could only nod his head in agreement, still a bit unbalanced by the whole discourse. They continued their discussion on specifications and requested items, closing with Mrs. Watkins asking for a few days to sketch something he might like. Lucky, again, could only agree, so dumbstruck and fascinated by this intelligent wisp of a young woman.
“Please, come by tomorrow morning. Say, around eight. I will make sure Mr. Watkins is here. I’m certain he would love to hear how Hamish’s son fares.” She backed the chair away and stood. When she reached out with her ungloved right hand, intending for him to shake it, Lucky stared at it for a moment. At home, a young lady was never so forward as to offer her hand to a gentleman she did not know, much less an ungloved hand. It felt as though he’d entered a strange land with strange customs and courtesies. But rather than offend her, as she might be designing his and Ian’s new tea clippers, he reached out and took it, holding it lightly between his thumb and fingers.
The heat radiating up his arm from their touch jolted him, and his body reacted in ways he’d never experienced. He’d been with many women intimately, but this was a feeling beyond anything he’d ever known or felt. A warm tremor moved through him, finally settling low in his abdomen.
Before meeting Mrs. Watkins, the women he’d had affairs with never interested him long enough to want anything beyond a quick, mutually satisfying romp in the sheets. He’d never had a mistress because of his business, though he was known to visit only the finest establishments with the most-skilled courtesans his connections could afford him.
Never had he met a woman and instantly… craved.
He looked down at the tiny hand in his, which was far easier than looking into the depths of her amber-colored eyes, or focusing on her luscious pink lips. And he craved her like he had no other.
He found his tongue and thanked her for her time and promised to return in the morning. Feeling the room closing in on them, he realized that he’d completely forgotten that there was another man in the antechamber and at least two others in offices nearby. She’d made him forget the world outside this room so much that he could have easily reached down and kissed another man’s wife. And while he’d enjoyed the favors of more than a few willing wives over the years, he always had to know beforehand if the woman was in a certain type of relationship with her husband. The last thing he wanted was some lovesick spouse calling him out.
When it came to dallying with married women, the other rule he kept was never dallying with the wives of friends. And he hoped to hell Watkins wasn’t a likable chap, because Lucky definitely had to watch himself where Mrs. Watkins—Mary Watkins—was concerned. He wanted the red-headed beauty in the worst way. Right now he felt the need for a cold swim, and as water cold enough to subdue his rising ardor wasn’t likely to be found around here, a confessional and penance might do the trick.
Once he exited the building, he walked briskly toward town intending to find a confessor.
Mary-Michael closed the door to her husband’s office and plopped into his over-stuffed leather chair. Her nerves still rattled from the man’s touch. How had she maintained her calm business-like demeanor when all she wanted was to melt into a puddle of muck at the man’s feet? Thinking on it, she decided that the way he held himself, the way he spoke, dressed, and walked all contributed to the air of confidence that intrigued and aroused her. All of it together made him so… captivating.
And then he touched her. Yes, she’d held her hand out first to shake his, so theoretically, she’d encouraged his touch, but oh, heaven–Mary-Michael smiled in the empty room. That was forward!
At one point she felt as though she might lose his interest, just as she had on many occasions in the past when a potential customer discovered M. Michael Watkins was not a male, but she quickly touted her credentials and areas of study she’d focused on when learning this trade, all so as not to lose this possible sale. She knew Mr. Watkins would be proud.
Laying her head on her crossed arms on top of the desk, she heaved a deep, trembling sigh. God help her. This was not good. What was his name again, this friend of Ian Ross? He had a British accent, but his surname wasn’t English. Was it Spanish or Italian? Portuguese perhaps? She sighed as she recalled his image. He had an exotic appearance, with a swarthy, olive- skinned complexion and head full of shaggy, wavy hair. His strong square jawline and chin bore a smattering of stubble, as though he’d not shaved recently. Instead of making him appear unkempt and disgusting, it had the opposite effect on her. He appeared rakishly handsome in his finely tailored and starched white shirt, form-fitting buff-colored breeches and high black leather boots polished to a near mirror-shine–unlike her own scuffed black work boots.
The man also wore no coat, likely because of the unseasonably warm weather, but she felt sure that if he had, it would be of the same superior quality as his breeches and linen shirt. And under all that fine clothing, he looked to be well-muscled and very fit, telling Mary-Michael that he obviously spent his days working right alongside his crew.
She sat up and stared out the open windows into the busy shipyard, and recalled the full lips that had captured her gaze more than once. Mary-Michael had had to force herself not to let it linger there, for he could easily have suspected she was a woman of loose morals had he caught her. This business was hard enough for a man. The only credibility she had—and she fully recognized this—was in her marriage to her husband, one of the finest shipbuilders on the eastern seaboard. And she realized that she only had a short time remaining to establish herself before he passed away, and she would be left on her own. Which is why she could never have her reputation called into question. Ever. Not if she intended to keep and run Watkins Shipbuilding after Mr. Watkins’ passing.
Though she might not remember the man’s name, she certainly remembered his look. And the one time he smiled fully, she got a glimpse of even white upper teeth, with the lower ones just slightly, endearingly crooked. It didn’t detract from his looks at all and was perhaps the tiniest of imperfections in the most perfect specimen of man she’d ever seen in her life. Oh, and his eyes... Surely his dark brown eyes could see into her soul, witnessing all the conflicted emotion his presence created within her. Something that had never existed until he arrived. The man was unnerving and quite simply beautiful. She could think of no other word to describe him but beautiful.
Suddenly, the project her husband mentioned a few days earlier was now forefront in her mind. Mary-Michael now had to reconcile the morality of it against the reality. She was a married woman with a husband who couldn’t give her what she so desperately wanted, because that wasn’t the kind of marriage they had. And she was not willing to attempt adoption again—especially after the pain of having what was very nearly her son and daughter taken from her as they cried out for her with outstretched arms. To this very day she still cried about it, only now it wasn’t several times a day. It wasn’t even every day. But all she had to do was think about them and the tears welled.
She forced herself to change her thoughts to something more pleasant, and the image of the ruggedly handsome captain came to mind. And she thought about what her husband had recently proposed to help her achieve this one last dream before his death. If she gave birth to a son, she and her husband would have an heir for the shipyard.
But she had to conceive this child first.
Flustered with all these emotions, and unable to think clearly about work, Mary-Michael stood and collected her light jacket, ready to call an end to the long day. As she left the office, she said goodnight to Andrew, asking him to lock up on his way out. She walked through the long hallway, lined with framed drawings of the most prominent vessels her husband’s shipyard had built over the thirty years he’d been in business. She wanted to draw something on par with Olympia or Mermaid for this client. A vessel sleek and fast, able to cut through the waves and fly with wind.
Wending her way into the shipyard stable, she saw her driver busy hammering a shoe to the horse’s hoof and changed her mind. “Victor, I think I shall walk home this evening. I could use the exercise.” Not to mention the time to think on what she’d now tell her husband about the visitor and what he wanted. She also needed to reconcile these errant emotions which were sure to get her into trouble if anyone noticed.
“It’s not safe for a young woman such as yourself to go walkin’ through these streets near the docks.” Victor, Mr. Watkins’ servant for longer than she’d been alive, started his usual rant about her walking. “One never knows what mischief lies around a corner out there now-days.” He set the horse’s foot down and looked at the four to check them for balance. “If you’d give me a few minutes, I’ll have the ol’ girl between the shafts in no time, and get ya home safe soon enough.”
Mary-Michael leaned against a post and watched as he picked the hoof up again and removed the temporary nail holding the shoe, took the file from his back pocket and began to rasp more hoof away.
“Besides, I wasn’t expectin’ ya to leave early today.”
“It’s not early, Victor. Why, it’s almost time for dinner. Besides, you know walking helps me clear my head after a busy day. We have a potential new client and I want to think about some designs from the notes I took during the meeting. He’ll be coming back tomorrow morning to meet with Mr. Watkins.”
“At least get one of the lads from the Dutchman’s crew to walk wit’ ya. You know Mr. Watkins don’ want you walkin’ alone with that lawman pesterin’ you.”
Mary-Michael began the trek through the yard toward the street. “He can’t hurt me, Victor. I can out-run him if I had to.” She held up a hand to wave at him as she kept walking. “See you at the house,” she said, calling back at Victor.
Once through the yard, it was only a short eight blocks to the house she shared with Mr. Watkins, and their servants, Victor and his wife Sally. She could run the distance in less than ten minutes, but a nice leisurely walk through the wharf business area wasn’t as bad as people often thought it was. For certain there were the shady types, the drunken rogues who hung around the alleyways near the pubs waiting for their doors to open, though the constable kept most of them in line. But for the most part, people down here were hard-working, church-going people. She should know, this was where she’d grown up. Now every day she passed the dry goods store she once lived above as a child before the fever took her parents, leaving her and her brother George orphaned. This was her home. She’d never left Indian Point in her life, except to visit Mr. Watkins’ farm several times a year. Her community wasn’t as bad as Victor always made it out to be.
The houses on Washington Street weren’t like the houses further in town with lots of extra rooms for visitors. Most of these modest homes belonged to tradesmen and their families, and thus were on the small side. Though the home she shared with Mr. Watkins was one of the larger of these, it wasn’t by much. Mr. Watkins had added onto the house when his first wife Abigail had been with child, so this house had four bedrooms, where most had two or three. He’d also turned one of the two downstairs sitting rooms into a study for himself not long after that first wife passed away trying to deliver their babe. Mary-Michael had spent many hours in that study reading educational tomes from Mr. Watkins’ vast collection.
She crossed her front porch, relishing the tiny bit of evening breeze they caught up here on the slight knoll over-looking the bay, and pushed open the door. “I’m home, Sally,” she called out as she went down the hallway looking for Mr. Watkins in his study. She tossed her jacket on the banister rail and heard Sally acknowledge her from out in the kitchen. “I walked, so Victor will be along soon. He was nailing a shoe on Buttercup when I left. She must have lost it when Victor brought Mr. Watkins home at noon.” She knocked softly on her husband’s office door, and after getting no reply, she thought perhaps he was asleep. Cautiously pushing the door open, she discovered she was right. The gray-haired old man sat in his favorite wing chair in the corner, holding the evening paper, sound asleep.
His cloudy eyes opened and he smiled. “Ah, Mary, my girl. A man couldn’t have a better companion.”
“I’m also your wife, Mr. Watkins.” She poured herself a glass of water and took a seat across from him on the settee.
“Aye. You are that.”
“What’s Sally cooking for dinner?” Mr. Watkins made a great show of raising his paper and snapping the wrinkles from it.
“I don’t know, sir, but it smells delicious.”
“She doesn’t cook a thing that isn’t, my girl.” Her dear, wizened husband brought the page right up to his face and began to peruse the headlines. “So how is everything at the office?”
“It got interesting right before I left,” Mary-Michael said.
The elderly man lowered his paper enough to meet her gaze. “How so?”
“I had a visitor. An Englishman. He said he is the partner of a Mr. Ian Ross, formerly of Indian Point.” She awaited his recognition of the name and when he smiled, she knew he’d remembered. “He said Ian has inherited his uncle’s title. He is now the Earl of Something, Mr. Watkins. Your old friend’s son is a nobleman and the two men are partners in a tea importing company.”
Her husband folded the paper and nodded his nearly bald gray head. “It’s why Hamish had to send his only child to live with that old...” He cut off what he was going to call the man, likely so as not to offend her. “What did he want, this visitor. Was Ian with him?”
“No, sir, he was not.” Mary-Michael tempered her excitement and continued. “This gentleman said he admired the vessels under construction as he walked through our yard.”
Her husband’s gray eyes danced with merriment. “Did you tell him they were all your designs?”
“Yes, though you know I am uncomfortable doing so. We only spoke for a few minutes. The man said he and his partner are looking at expansion of their business. They would like two new clippers.” When her husband’s eyes grew wide with interest, she went on. “They are in need of boats that can compete in the tea trade. They’re currently sailing a pair of twenty-one-year-old clippers from Jorgensen’s yard up in Halifax.”
Mr. Watkins continued to nod, acknowledging their competitor, and she went on.
“They have one hundred and twenty footers now, and he’s looking at one hundred and eighty or eighty-five feet. With that, I can increase his cargo capacity by sixty to eighty percent and get him where he needs to go faster, but I didn’t tell him that.” Mary-Michael couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across her face.
Mary-Michael considered her words. “Well, like most men, he didn’t seem comfortable discussing business with a woman. In fact, I think he’d rather deal directly with you. And secondly, I wouldn’t want to promise any percentage increase in his profit until I knew exactly what he wanted in materials, accommodations and trim.”
Her husband chuckled. “I taught you well, my dear.”
Sally walked in with a fresh pitcher of water with sliced lemon and two glasses with big cut pieces of ice. She poured their drinks and said, “Dinner is in thirty minutes, Miz Watkins.”
“Thank you, Sally.”
Her husband swallowed deeply from his cold drink and held it as he stared at her in an odd way. “I want to know if you’ve given any thought to what we discussed the other day, Mrs. Watkins.”
“Regarding what, sir?” she asked, though she knew exactly what topic he meant to revisit.
“Regarding you getting your heart’s desire.”
Mary-Michael sighed and turned to stare out the window at the lengthening shadows of the trees on the bricked streets. “I’m not sure I can do it.”
“You could if you met the right person.” He sipped from his glass again. “We will need to find you this right man soon. I never know when I lay my head down at night if I’ll be picking it up the next morning. If you want your babe to carry my name, you should do something about it soon, lass.”
He obviously saw her slowness to reply as a need for more time to think on the subject. What her dear mentor and husband could not know, was that she’d already begun to consider his plan during her walk home. First, she wondered if she could possibly do it at all. And secondly, there was this unexplainable attraction she felt toward the Englishman. If this is what Becky had meant when she said Mary-Michael would know it when she felt it, then she was certainly feeling something. That was the only reason she was considering doing this.
She wondered what it would be like to create her babe with this man, the one whose name she did not remember.
“I would never push you to do this,” Mr. Watkins said, “except I know my days are now numbered.”
“I never thought… That is, when we wed, I… I didn’t think I would care, or that I would desire a child as much as I do.” She wiped at a single tear, unwilling to cry over this again. “And now… after Rowan and Emily, I just don’t think… I could go through falling in love with other little ones, only to have them taken from me again.” She swiped at one more falling tear, then another and another. “I miss them so much.”
“As do I lass.”
“Sometimes I feel this desire for a babe has me so envious of my own friends that I avoid them. I know they sense me distancing myself from them, too. It’s not that I’m not happy for them, because you know I am.” She wiped again. “It’s just that I’m so jealous of their happiness I’ve thrown myself into my work even more and given up their company so as not to feel my own pain. It’s a self-centered jealousy that I fight, sir, and I’m not sure that those selfish emotions are something I should feel if I want to be a good mother.”
“You are the least selfish woman I know, Mrs. Watkins, and you deserve this child of your heart.” He sat back and closed his eyes. “Besides, you wouldn’t be feeling those conflicting emotions if you had a child.”
“But what I have to do to get this child of my dreams means committing a grievous sin.” She could never take a sin as enormous as this into the confessional. At least not in Indian Point, both priests knew her personally. She’d have to go into Baltimore. And after? Even after confessing, for the rest of her life, while she enjoyed the beauty of motherhood—if she were so blessed—she will always know in her heart that she’d sinned to create her little miracle.
“Is it a sin when I am willing it? Did not Sarah give her maid, Hagar, to Abraham to conceive his children?”
“Yes, and it broke Hagar’s heart to give over her son to Sarah after his birth.”
“You will not have that issue if the father of your child is someone who isn’t from here,” her husband countered. “We can go to Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington, or even New York if someone from Baltimore is too near for you to choose.” She wiped her eyes, thinking about the gift her husband was giving her to allow this. “I will help you all I can, Mrs. Watkins, but I must know you want my help.”
Through her tears, she nodded. “I may not have to go that far, sir. You can tell me if you approve of Ian Ross’s partner tomorrow, for he is someone… I might consider.”
He finally smiled. “Well, I hope he is a handsome and intelligent specimen, for I cannot have a son or daughter of mine be anything less than both!”
Mary-Michael gave her husband a nervous laugh. Mr. Watkins was sure to find fault with the English captain, a man whose touch still burned her hand when she thought of him. She would just have to remind her husband that he told her she was the one to do the choosing, not he. And she chose the dark-haired, dark-eyed Englishman who stirred up a whirlwind of confusing feelings in her.
After dinner she discussed with her husband all the items she’d written down from her conversation with the Englishman regarding the two new builds the man requested. Mary-Michael thought to sketch out some rough designs for their meeting the next morning, so she excused herself from the table, telling Mr. Watkins she would like to have something to show their potential client when they met.
She went up to her room and took a seat at her dressing table, then untied her hair-net and let her braid drop down her back. Lifting her fingers to her throat, she unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse. The upstairs room’s two windows were wide open, but since there was hardly a breeze moving outdoors, none moved in the house. The heat caused a sheen of perspiration all over her body. She parted her bodice, then lifted an ivory handled fan and began trying to cool herself off.
If it was this hot in June, God alone knew how hot it would be in August.
Moving to her desk, she set up her paper and graphite pencils, and began to think on what to sketch for this friend of Mr. Ian Ross. Two more clippers would be good for business, giving her crews steady work for the next year and a half. Not that there was any lack of business. In fact, just the opposite. Watkins Shipbuilding was currently running easily one year for delivery, even though she promised the Englishman under twelve months. She’d have to put the word out for more qualified tradesmen because she really wanted to build these two boats before Mr. Watkins could no longer assist her in managing the yard, which could happen at any time.
Mary-Michael went over and over the conversation with the Englishman and she kept coming to the same conclusion. She was certain she did not mistake his desire for speed and efficiency, and given the specifications from Mr. Ross, she knew they were of one mind when it came to design. For the past six years she’d been giving the customers what they wanted in their new builds, but she got the impression the Englishman and Mr. Ross were willing to consider some of her more innovative ideas and plans.
Her passion was designing clippers. Ships that had sleeker, faster hull designs with sail plans that would best utilize the wind. She loved dreaming up composite material designed to reduce weight and allow for more cargo. That was her life’s work.
There were only a handful of shipyards in the area that built these ships, though it seemed each year one or two more got into the business. Especially since the demand for the speedy cargo carriers was increasing almost daily. The only other shipyard out on the point with them, Barlowe Marine, focused solely on military-type vessels, heavy and armed from stem to stern, as the owner had a previous career with the government as a naval architect. Though well-constructed and of different design, they were military ships designed for the navy, and not true clippers.
Watkins specialized in cargo carrying clipper ships, where the amount of goods transported and the speed in which you got your cargo to the owner, determined how much money you made. Speed. It was important, but not the primary consideration in her designs. Optimizing the cargo space and making the loading and unloading of cargo easier and more efficient was as vital to turn-around time and profitability as speed.
Safety, speed, optimization of space. That’s what she wanted to give this client. And hopefully he would give her a babe in return. Even as she wanted to cry for baby Emily and her brother, Rowan, she smiled and placed her hand over her womb and imagined the possibility of having a child growing within her soon.
Mary-Michael returned her attention to the drawing and tried to remember everything the Englishman said. She began to draw a hull, a bell bow, the jibboom, knightheads, keel, and stern. Her pencil flew across the sheet, as she added deckwork and masts and rails. Spanker to flying jib, she gave her new creation full sail. She marked the hull for copper sheathing and for drama she added waves and clouds against a stormy sky. The deck arrangement was a basic deck house with rear cabin, as she was still unsure which actual layout he’d prefer. He mentioned two full cabins on each as a preference, but Mary-Michael didn’t know if he wanted them separated or side by side.
She stared at her creation, her heart swelling with pride. She loved drawing ships under full sail. For her, they came alive on the page. When she began drawing ships as a child, she could imagine herself standing on the fo’c’sle deck looking out into the ocean and watching the waves as they parted under her bow. Even now, she could almost feel the wind in her hair and the spray on her face as the bow sluiced through the water.
She could imagine it, just as much as she could imagine a babe in her arms this time next year. And both this drawing and that child of her dreams might become reality if Mr. Watkins sold the deal to the Englishman.