“Eric tells me you are to enjoy tea at his mother’s home this afternoon. Do you attend with your father?” The handsome newcomer was polite in his tone, but Su Ling detected an unusal amount of interest in his attention.
“I don’t know,” she answered in full honesty. “He does not often share his plans with me.” Or his plans for her. He assumed that because she was new to English society, she had no idea how to manage herself. She’d lived on board one type of ship or another for ten years. To think that she could not understand the niceties of appearing on time and dressing appropriately for his tea ceremony was an insult to her intelligence. But he was her parent, and she was here at his mercy. She would strive to hold back her temper.
“And does he, perhaps, know that you are here aboard ship this morning?”
Although the man’s tone was polite, Su Ling was accustomed to reading nuances in expression and tone. She read an implied criticism in the tightness of his face, for all that his tone was polite.
“Of course, he does,” she said.“I am completely safe aboard ship, and it is not your place to question my father’s actions.” Or her own.
It was a harsh response, but she’d learned young that men would take whatever authority over a woman that they could. They might say they were protecting her, but it was merely a cover for their need to be in power. And so she had learned to strike back ruthlessly when a man sought to dictate to her, even in so small a thing as a dark look.
Lord Turrock flushed, and his brows rose in an imperious look equal to the haughtiest mandarin in China. “I look to your reputation, Miss Phillips. Your physical safety…” He gestured vaguely to the rigging. “…is not in question.”
Her reputation was as the best navigator in Shanghai. If she weren’t a woman, she’d have her pick of ships. Instead, she was run off the docks and back to the temple where she’d been raised and where her father had found her. But she supposed Lord Turrock referred to her English reputation.
Rather than address the issue, she chose a different tack. “Have you ever climbed up to a crow’s nest, my lord?”
“Never,” he said as he tilted his head all the way back.
“It’s a long climb and a fall would be deadly,” she said. “But the view is the loveliest in London.”
His brows rose, no doubt hearing the challenge in her voice. “How can I resist an invitation like that?”
He couldn’t. No man could. “I’ll have to tie a rope about your chest. I will not be the cause of your mother’s tears.”
He agreed with a nod and a grin. “I put myself in your hands.”
Another surprise. Most men dismissed the need for a rope, their pride getting in the way of common sense. While Lord Turrock stepped over to the mainmast, she picked up a rope to steady him.
“This won’t stop a fall on its own,” she warned. “It’s not a net. But it will slow your drop enough that you can catch hold.”
He nodded as if he understood. He didn’t, but she liked the sparkle in his eyes.