Today I am so pleased to welcome Sebastian Nothwell to Joyfully Jay. Sebastian has come to talk to us about Take Me Like a Sailor (which we reviewed here and loved). Sebastian has also brought along two copies to give away. Please join me in giving a big welcome!
The dining room, with its theme of heavy reds, wasn’t meant to be seen by the full light of day. After Morgan pulled back the thick velvet curtains to let the sunshine in, it took considerable effort not to think of the sight before him as a blazing pit of hell. Still, the Winthrop estate didn’t retain him to advise on interior decorating. He busied himself laying out a place-setting for one. Then he had to select the appropriate wines from the cellar and direct the footmen in their delivery and placement of the dishes on the sideboard. Sir Evelyn entered the room just as Jeremy left it with a curious backward glance. Morgan shooed him away and turned a more professional expression upon Sir Evelyn.
Sir Evelyn responded with a grin. “Quite a spread.”
Morgan remained stone-faced. “Thank you, sir.”
He pulled out Sir Evelyn’s chair. Sir Evelyn thanked him and sat down. Morgan retreated to the sideboard, out of the way, but available should he require aid.
Sir Evelyn stared at the empty place setting, then grabbed his napkin up off the table. He was halfway through stuffing a corner of it down his shirt collar when Morgan cleared his throat. Sir Evelyn stared at him. Morgan made a smoothing motion over the tops of his thighs. Sir Evelyn took the hint, yanking his napkin out of his shirt and spreading it over his lap.
“Better?” said Sir Evelyn.
“Quite,” said Morgan.
Sir Evelyn picked his bread plate up off of his dinner plate and moved it off to his left. Morgan restrained himself from reaching out to move the bread plate up to its proper place, opposite Sir Evelyn’s wine glass, but couldn’t keep a telltale huff from escaping his lips.
“What?” asked Sir Evelyn.
Morgan hesitated, then made an upwards gesture with his left hand. Sir Evelyn frowned at him. He turned this frown on his place-setting, and pushed his bread plate further away from himself, towards the centre of the table. He looked back to Morgan, who gave him an encouraging nod.
With napkin and bread plate disposed of, they came to Sir Evelyn’s bowl. Morgan ladled a shallow portion of soup into it without spilling a drop.
Sir Evelyn reached for his spoon—the correct one, Morgan noted with some small relief—and dipped it into his soup.
Morgan cleared his throat.
“What now?” said Sir Evelyn.
Morgan hesitated before approaching with his hand held out for Sir Evelyn’s spoon. “May I?”
Sir Evelyn handed it over with a dubious expression. Morgan did his best to ignore him and focus on the task at hand. He found it difficult to do so, since he had to lean over Sir Evelyn to get close enough to demonstrate proper technique. The heat radiating off Sir Evelyn’s muscular back proved most distracting. To say nothing of the scent of his golden hair.
Morgan cleared his throat. “When gathering soup into one’s spoon, one ought to push the spoon away from one’s self, rather than pulling it towards.”
“You want me to push the soup away from my mouth in order to get it into my mouth?”
“It greatly reduces the risk of stains.” Morgan returned the spoon to Sir Evelyn.
Sir Evelyn took it with a sceptical look, but did as Morgan had told him. Then he brought the spoon out of the bowl to his mouth, and, to Morgan’s consternation, slurped up his soup.
Morgan cleared his throat again.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Sir Evelyn threw his spoon down into the soup with a splash. “Sing out, man! Enough with the hemming! Just tell me what you want me to do! Or show me, if speech is beneath you.”
Morgan bristled. “Very well. A gentleman never slurps. Nor does he hunch over his bowl. He sits up in his chair, spine straight, shoulders back. He inserts his spoon into his soup and pushes away from himself. The spoon is lifted from the bowl. The gentleman waits for it to stop dripping, then brings the spoon to his mouth—not his mouth to the spoon. He then puts the spoon into his mouth, up to the handle, and closes his lips over it. He brings the spoon out, keeping his lips closed. Once the spoon is fully removed from his mouth, he swallows. He does not gulp. Nor does he gather another spoonful of soup until he has finished swallowing.”
After a moment of stunned silence, Sir Evelyn spoke. “D’you have all that memorized, then?”
“Years of practice, sir.”
Sir Evelyn gave a wry smile. “Get invited to a lot of dinner parties, do you?”
“No, sir, I do not.”
Morgan had meant for his reply to sound perfunctory and inoffensive. Evidently he’d failed, for Sir Evelyn’s smile went out like a candle struck by a hurricane wind.
“I meant no offense,” said Sir Evelyn.
“I take no offense, sir,” Morgan rushed to reassure him.
Sir Evelyn took his next few spoonfuls as directed. Morgan’s gaze fell quite naturally upon his mouth. Less natural were the thoughts that occurred to Morgan as he watched how Sir Evelyn’s lips brushed over the slick silver spoon, how his Adam’s apple bobbed as the hot liquid slid down his throat, how his eyes fell shut to savour the taste, lashes fluttering.
Morgan twisted his hands behind his back and turned his eyes to the ceiling. He counted the candles in the chandelier and tried to ignore the sound of Sir Evelyn’s breath escaping in a low sigh between swallows. Sir Francis had entrusted Morgan with his son’s welfare. Miss Winthrop counted on him to make her nephew’s manners presentable by sundown. Morgan had a duty to perform. He would not fail in it. He inhaled deeply to steady himself and looked back to Sir Evelyn to find the latter staring at him.
“Are you all right?” asked Sir Evelyn, his spoon poised over his nearly-empty bowl.
Morgan coughed. “Let’s move on to the next course.”
Unsurprisingly, Sir Evelyn the sailor found the fish course familiar. He selected the correct fork without prompting. However, he showed entirely too much of his tongue in moving the morsel of fish from his fork to his mouth. Just a glimpse, really, nothing so offensive compared to his display last night, but enough to make Morgan marvel at how its tip brushed against the soft pink flesh of the salmon.
“Mouth closed, sir.” Morgan cleared his throat. “If you please.”
Sir Evelyn appeared sceptical but again did as he was told.
Morgan spent the rest of the course sweeping his eyes over the tablecloth in search of stains. He found none, save the stain on his own soul.
The next course required a change of wine. Morgan had to stand far too close to Sir Evelyn to pour it out. He tried to focus on the stream of wine flowing from the neck of the bottle and the way it swirled into the glass as he turned it. It didn’t help. Nor did the flash he saw of Sir Evelyn’s lips enveloping the rim of the glass before he turned his eyes towards the windows. The curtains could do with dusting. That was the trouble with velvet. That, and how the velvet of the curtains reminded him of the velvet softness Sir Evelyn’s curiously full lips appeared to possess. He dropped his gaze to the carpet and tried to lose his mind in the intricate Oriental pattern. It almost worked.
Some hours later, the staff set out another dinner for Sir Evelyn, his aunt, Miss Vaughan, and Morgan. Morgan himself had no appetite, his mind caught up in anxiety over Sir Evelyn’s performance.
But Sir Evelyn did not fail him. Not one crumb fell into his beard. Not one drop of soup or wine spilled onto the tablecloth. Not one utensil was taken up out of turn. Miss Winthrop didn’t have a particularly telling face, but Morgan thought she looked pleased nonetheless.
After dinner, Morgan caught up with Sir Evelyn in the hall. “I’ve made an appointment for you with a tailor. He’ll arrive at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. If all goes well, you should have a wardrobe of your own by next Monday.”
The prospect of shedding his second-hand clothes seemed to bring as much relief to Sir Evelyn as it did to Morgan.
“Though I wonder,” said Sir Evelyn after he’d given his thanks, “why you haven’t made an appointment for me with a barber as well.”
Morgan hadn’t even considered it. Which was ridiculous. It’d been nearly a century since fashionable gentlemen could go about with shoulder-length hair tied back in ribbons. Sir Evelyn’s hair ought to be cut without delay. Yet the thought of those golden tresses falling to the floor, swept away like so much refuse, sent a wave of dismay through Morgan’s veins.
“Would you like me to make such an appointment for you, sir?” he forced out.
“That depends,” said Sir Evelyn. “Do you prefer my hair long or short?”
Morgan would prefer to run those sunshine strands through his fingers for hours on end. Aloud, he replied, “I don’t see how my preference enters into it, sir.”
“I’m only asking your opinion.”
“My opinion,” Morgan forced out, “is you should do as you wish with your own head. If you’d like an appointment with a barber, you know where to find me.”
He excused himself and strode briskly away. Sir Evelyn didn’t follow.
Morgan Turner, agent to the Winthrop estate, owes everything to his benefactor. When the late baronet’s will tasks him with finding the lost heir and making a gentleman of him, he is determined to succeed.
Thirteen years ago, Evelyn Winthrop ran away to sea. Now that his hated patriarch is dead, the ancestral home he returns to is more shadowed than what he left behind. Ungrateful relations and old friends alike tie a knot of scandal and depravity only a sailor could hope to unravel. And all the while, the siren song of the sea calls him to return at the first opportunity.
Neither anticipated forming more tender attachments.
To Evelyn, his unexpectedly handsome agent is the only thing anchoring him to shore. He sees a captain’s soul within Morgan, and his heart is caught upon the hook of command—if only Morgan would return his affections.
To Morgan, his new employer’s charms threaten to tear down the thorns that have grown around his heart—thorns he cultivated to restrain his unnatural instincts.
When the estate and all who live there are threatened by a maelstrom of bitter secrets and sinister plots, it is down to Morgan to take command, down to Evelyn to hold fast, and down to them both to navigate their own treacherous sea.
Sebastian has brought a copy of Take Me Like a Sailor to give away to two lucky readers. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Tuesday, September 18th at 11:59 pm ET.
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