Prologue

It seemed like it had been years since we had last seen each other. But, it had only been several weeks. He had told me sea voyages would be enjoyable experiences. After fighting off my first bout of seasickness, I would soon find myself enjoying the sea air and feeling the sun warm upon my back as the waters lapped at the hull of the ship I traveled on.

I had known this man for years, and for years he always was the one to reassure me when my confidence faltered. No matter what everyone else liked to say about him, I thought him nothing short of caring. Nothing like the distant, arrogant, pompous aristocrat everyone thought him to be.

Never listen to what they had to say, he had told me. Let them flap their mouths about this and that, this person and those people, that woman and that man, everything they say in the end will come to mean nil. And he was right.

But…then again, Major Gates had always been right.

I shook my head then, forcing out idle thoughts. Looking around the large gathering as Major Gates and I entered the room, I soon found ourselves surrounded by fake smiles once again. A light touch upon the small of my back indicated he was still close by.

He walked beside me now and as he always had, his hand gently at the small of my back, leading me through the crowd, a confident expression written upon his features. How arrogant he seemed when he wore that look.

It was that self-confident air about his person that always seemed to get the best of him. But it was something he could not help. He could not help that he was an Earl. When he had joined the royal marines, buying himself a commission as an officer, everyone seemed rather surprised. After all, he did not seem the type of man to join the military. But, to everyone's amazement, the crimson uniform only helped to enhance the air of grace about him.

Even the way he walked, his back straight and head facing straight forward made him seem all the more unapproachable. As I turned my gaze slowly to look at my fiancé as we walked. His steely cold blue eyes were fixed ahead, his small upturned nose and lips giving him just a bit of playfulness in his expression that I only seemed to notice. The corner of his lip seemed to turn slightly up in a smile as he felt my attention on him.

"Please, Romola, stop that." He said quietly. "You know it makes me uncomfortable when you look at me so intently like that." I felt his hand push me forward slightly, in the hopes of turning my gaze away, but it did not succeed.

"Why must you be so serious all the time?" I asked him. He said nothing. "Where are we going?"

"There is something I would like to ask you." He said. I nodded quietly in affirmation, allowing him to lead me towards his intended destination.

We seemed to move through the crowds as if dancing. With him standing by my side I felt more confident, more elegant, even. As it always had been with us, everyone turned his or her heads to look at us as we passed

"Romola," he whispered quietly as we walked. "You are still sure you want this?" I said nothing for a moment, turning my eyes momentarily to look at him. He had not even returned my look, keeping his eyes cast ahead of us.

"Yes, of course." I said quietly in answer. He nodded slightly in affirmation. "This engagement has been planned for the both of us since we were children. We make an excellent match, and I can think of no better man to whom I would ever marry." I could almost sense the relief pass through him.

"No matter what?" he asked me. We were approached the French doors at the other end of the ballroom. Beside them stood an elaborately decorated table full of tarts, wines and breads.

"What do you mean?" I asked him.

We reached the table. Pouring me a glass of wine, he took a glass for himself as well. He took a careful sip, all the while keeping my eyes locked on his. Slowly, as I watched him over the rim of my own glass, a smile formed on his face.

"What is your view on Naval officers?" he asked me. I furrowed my eyes in confusion as he posed the question. "Well?"

"What do you mean by asking me this question?" I said. He shrugged his shoulders, awaiting my answer.

"I've never met one to know. But, from what I've heard from your friends, they seem rather pig-headed." I said. He smiled barely, satisfied with my answer.

"Good, then I hope to have no worries." He said.

"Worries?" I asked him. "What do you mean?"

"I've received a commission." He answered. "I'm to go to Port Royale."

"Commission?" I asked him, somewhat confused. "When do you leave?"

"In two weeks." He answered. The smile wiped off my face completely. If I had not had firm hold of my drink, I would have dropped it then and there. I did not say a word in answer. "Please don't look at me like that, Romola."

"And our engagement?" I asked him, growing slightly agitated. "Did you think of that when you accepted this commission?"

"Please, lower your voice." He said quietly. I noticed his eyes scanning the crowds of people, finding more than several curious eyes fixed upon us. Drawing his gaze back to me, he smiled. "Come, let us talk outside. We're attracting more attention than needed here." I glared at him in confusion. Why had he decided to bring this new turn of events to light when he knew what my reaction would be?

He brushed past me, the red of his coat a blur as he walked towards the door. He looked back at me with an expectant look in his expression before turning back to take the door handle. Opening it, he stepped outside, holding the door open for myself. How patient he always seemed to be with me…

In perfect silence he watched me as I perused my glass for several moments, questioning whether I should even give him a chance to explain.

"Come." He whispered when he had begun to grow slightly impatient, holding his hand out to me. "Give me at least a chance to explain myself." Hesitating for several seconds, I turned away from him and placed my glass on the table beside the breads. Taking a deep breath, I relented in the end, following him outside.

Quietly, he turned his back to me, reaching out to close the doors.

"Come with me." He said as soon as he had shut the doors behind us. I shook my head in confusion, surprised with the almost pleading air in his tone. I had never heard him speak in that way before. "Come with me to Port Royale." He continued.

After those final words, he reached out and took my hands in his own, sending shocks through my body. He had never done this before. He had never even shown any interest in me…

The music playing inside was barely audible now as we stood outside, the night's stars shining brightly in the night.

"To Port Royale?" I asked him, flabbergasted. "Why?"

"Because I would be honored to have you by my side." He said in reply. "Because you will be my wife and I would have no one else but you." The earnestness in his expression I could not deny as he looked at me. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words would come.

Looking towards the doors, I found a man approaching. He had saved me from answering the Major.

"It seems the Commodore would like to have a few words. Quite a bad time he picked." Gates said, looking towards where I had locked my gaze. "I have no idea what he would like to talk about, but might as well make a civil attempt at conversation."

I nodded before posing a question. "And what is this Commodore's name?" I asked in relief, opening the door and passing through. My fiancé entered behind me, and I turned back to smile at him as I felt his hand slink its way about my waist.

"Norrington, my dear. He is the Commodore of the English Naval Fleet at Port Royale. And should you accept my invitation, he will be the one conveying us to our new home."