I'm sorry for a small delay. There's been a problem with a virus more troublesome than an ill tempered Kraken denied a lollipop by Davy Jones that needed to be isolated and beat up. It's all good otherwise. Enjoy the next chapter. =)

Chapter 19

The garden was quiet, waiting for the stars to emerge tentatively in the darkening sky. The sea breathed nearby. After a windy day, the nature calmed down, inviting all living creatures to do the same. James also succumbed to the peaceful evening. He chose the garden that faced towards the inner part of the island and away from the town to lounge in a chair declined back comfortably. His arm lay relaxed elegantly stretched along the armrest and his long fingers were motionless. A branch swayed beside him as a butterfly landed on it, folding together fluttering wings.

Renee took a seat beside him. Their elbows were nearly touching, but neither saw fit to establish an appropriate distance, reluctant to break the tranquil atmosphere by scraping a chair along the ground.

James remained perfectly still. He's been alert to her presence as soon as Renee stepped through the curtain behind him. "Miss Ash, I hope my request isn't too bold. Will you lift the veil please? I would like to be able to see your face." He made no note of the new clothing article only that it disturbed him.

Renee did. It seemed like a fair enough request compared to his more than casual, slightly ruffled state of dress. He wore a shirt opened wide at the collar with the sleeves rolled up, exposing his arms and chest. His skin was a shade darker than the material. Brown hair fell loosely around his temples. It was shorter than she remembered, but it seemed that he wasn't in the habit of cutting them down to the roots. A day grown stubble, just touching his cheek, suited him well. No doubt, he looked handsome each morning perfectly dressed and shaved, yet a few slight imperfections added charm, making him more approachable.

"Thank you." James made to further attempt to instigate a conversation, aware that she was troubled. He waited patiently until she gathered the courage to speak, which didn't take long.

The nervous, plaguing Renee an entire evening as she waited for a good moment to approach him, dissipated in his company. She remarked how she stood up to Elizabeth when he was sitting beside her and how badly she was humiliated by another young woman the same day.

"James, I must know, why have you brought me here?" she asked, shaking down a disturbing thought that perhaps miracles still existed and she was beginning to trust him. "I am not your mother, your sister or even a good friend. I am not someone you're obligated to take care of. Yet, I live in your home, enjoying privileges more than a guest should have like that box full of money."

The serious question brought him to tighten his fingers around the armrest. As he sat up straight, turning half way to face her, Renee felt an impulse to reach out and smooth the strands that were disturbed by the movement. One week was enough to learn that he rarely got any peace, and here she was, interrupting a precious moment. She was sorry that this conversation could no longer be postponed.

"I cannot define my motivation explicitly," he said. "I must have felt in your debt, having enjoyed as the same privileges in your home that you have here. You do not belong on Tortuga, this much is clear. You had to be taken away from it."

"Yes, but you must have known that it's possible to get off Tortuga, at worst as a stowaway," she said anxiously. "I could have left it. I chose not to because I have no means of surviving elsewhere. Now that you've brought me to Port Royal, I don't know what to expect. I'm not a pet you can keep feeding and sheltering. I cannot expect to live with you forever. I've been wondering every day when you will ask me to leave."

"Only a disreputable fool would ask you to leave. I have no intention of doing so." The words came out too abruptly unintentionally, and James dropped his voice apologetically. "I meant to say, your presence does not disturb me. You are welcome to stay as long as living in my home is in your best interest." In truth, her presence was enjoyable. With Renee's coming James found a reason to escape dull papers stacked in his office and come home, but he thought that it may seem too sentimental and thus false for her to hear. Appealing to her pragmatism was a surer way to gain her agreement. "I've considered a possible course of action prior to returning to Tortuga. I'm sorry that I didn't come before you've been injured. Otherwise, I've intended to discuss this plan with you. As I recall, you've spoken about your family. I would like to know, have you considered reconciling with them and do you believe reconciliation is possible?"

"I haven't," said Renee, "but, I suppose it isn't impossible." The main antagonism came from Adrian who was long gone. The last letter she received from her family dated two years before the fire at the tavern, so when he died it seemed like a dull continuation of her life among pirates. If she did return, looking more respectful than a vagrant with the Admiral to recommend her, and asked for forgiveness, perhaps her mother would be glad to see her again.

"I could attempt to locate your family should you be willing to try," said James.

"I'd be grateful. I already am. You've saved my life. However, you do have a lot of responsibilities. Won't the search interfere with your work?"

James shifted slightly, leaning an elbow onto the armrest and placing his fingers over the cheek to hide his face, uncomfortable with the praise. "It's nothing careful scheduling cannot overcome under regular circumstances. Unfortunately, the search must be postponed until we find the party responsible for sabotaging two ships in my absence."

"This sounds serious," she remarked.

"There is no reason to panic," he said firmly, downplaying the importance of the event. "The port security had been lax for the past year, which allowed thieves and bandits to get away with an awfully lot. Obviously, they've resorted to vandalism because they are answerable to the law anew. Once their resistance is broken, the port will only benefit. Nearly losing two ships, nonetheless, is an incident that calls for a thorough investigation."

"I trust that you will be careful regardless. There is too much trouble everywhere in the world. I've seen enough of it."

A reassuring touch along the top of her hand was faint, nearly accidental, leaving a tingling sensation as James withdrew his hand quickly. "I have no intention of giving up the port to the mercy of some ruffians," he told her calmly. "You have nothing to be afraid of, especially in my home. I will keep you safe."

Renee said nothing, overwhelmed that it was a promise she could believe in. The darkness snuck up on them gradually. James was a dim silhouette beside her as he rose to light the lantern. Disturbed by the movement, a butterfly took off the branch, circling around them. Maybe it was the sound of his voice that was so convincing. The smooth timbre was enveloping like the evening. A shiver ran through her as he spoke in the dim light where his voice gained an additional enchantment.

"I make no claim to your independence nor to a role as your confidant, nonetheless, I hope you will consider me to be reliable should anyone treat you less well than you deserve."

"I do believe you're reliable," she said. He was used to being trusted more often than not. She hoped that he wasn't insulted by her reluctance, but rather sought to reassure her. "I'm quiet because I'm fretting. What will happen to me if you don't find my family or if we cannot reconcile?"

"That's something we will solve once we get there, if it will happen at all," he reasoned. "I know that I can walk life only one step at a time. This was the right time to keep my promise, thus I've taken the step to bring you here. I believe life will show us what must be done next."

"I suppose you have a point," said Renee. She would have preferred a more definite answer when her life depended on the mercy of others. James could make plans for the future, but he couldn't predict it, and neither could she, even though her ring was a magical suspect. She just had to reconcile with what she had.

The flint struck the steel and the fire sprung up from the spark, gleaming mysteriously through the glass walls as James placed the candle inside the lantern. Renee felt the pang of a resonating spark; the moment imprinted into her memory forever. For the years to come, whether he was covered in mud or dressed for the ball, this is how she remembered him - standing in the flickering light that cast an amber halo around him, and the play of the shadows and light in his expressive eyes.

It had to be an illusion, nothing more than gratitude because he saved her life and attraction because he was handsome. In vain did she implore common sense to break up the charm, but the heart, living a reason of its own was soaring up and fluttering about heedlessly as the butterfly that danced around the lantern, gaining nothing but false hopes and burned wings. In a haze she heard James speak.

"I understand you're not used to seeing military as protection, but I would encourage you to seek help from the officers as well. There are many who have integrity and strongly defined sense of honour like Captain Peterson and Lieutenant Giā€¦Groves."

"You were going to say Lieutenant Gillette," she accused, holding onto the image of the troublesome man to summon a bit of indignation to keep her other feelings in check.

"I thought you wouldn't be inclined to follow my recommendation should I mention him."

"You're entitled to recommend whoever you trust the most. I have nothing to dispute with your Lieutenant Gillette," said Renee neutrally.

James saw right through her bluff. "I'm sorry his behaviour was unacceptable. His mouth sometimes runs ahead of his common sense. Nonetheless, he has all the right priorities, which include protecting civilians, and he defends these principles quite fiercely."

"I appreciate your concern," said Renee. Lack of common sense did little to recommend the man, but she didn't need to tell James that she intended to avoid the redhead. "It's kind of you to point out reliable men to me. Who else did you say they were? Lieutenant Groves?"

"I was reluctant to mention Groves because he is currently in the hospital. That being said, I trust him with my life, and he always keeps his wits about him no matter how dangerous the situation becomes."

His friend's well being troubled James. Renee nearly reached out to touch his hand the same way he did to reassure her. "I believe I know who you speak of. Katelyn told me that certain Theodore Groves was causing trouble in her ward, flirting with the female visitors much to the disliking of their brothers and fathers."

"You're quite right," James sighed in exasperation, but he appreciated a note of humour in her voice. "We must be speaking about the same person. That would be in his personality to do so, and just when I've given him such a fine recommendation."

"Don't worry; if Katelyn is the one healing him, he will soon be out of that hospital and helping you catch the saboteurs. Then, he will be too busy to do anything embarrassing."

"What an outstanding, positive thought."

Renee smiled. "Even I cannot always be doom and gloom. Something good is bound to happen sooner or later. You'll see."