Monday, August 13, 2012

Salome - Chapter Two

Donovan Tremaine descended the steps of his carriage and looked about his surroundings. It was invigorating to be near the London Docks; it reminded him of home. Even after two years in England, since that fateful day an unknown solicitor arrived on his doorstep in Norfolk, Virginia to inform him that he had inherited the title of Earl of Verney, England would never truly be his home. The idea of being a nobleman had seemed absurd at the time, but curiosity and an odd sense of responsibility had led him to look into the matter.
He arrived in London to find the Earl’s affairs in disarray; properties largely in debt, a Parliamentary seat to fill on behalf of constituents he had never met, and then there was the matter of Society. Donovan had easily settled into the role of business manager as he took care of the estates, and had even made a few friends through connections in Parliament and acceptance at the prestigious men’s club, Brooke’s. No, it was the very idea of the ton, and their stodgy ways that Donovan found intolerable to deal with. He likened the aristocracy to a sea full of sharks, ready to devour a person whole.
It was upon the advice of his new friends that Donovan found himself a mistress, one Madeline Latham, the widowed Baroness of Vaughan. She was well schooled in the required norms, had entrĂ©e to the best social events, not to mention a healthy sexual appetite. Donovan had often found her too demanding of his time, but she tolerated his ‘colonial’ ways because it delighted her to be the object of attention. Landing the new, handsome, and scandalous Earl was the achievement of a lifetime in her mind.
Donovan strolled the boarded walkway, looking for the establishment he had been directed to, and a smirk twisted his lips as he thought of Madeline’s displeasure when he had informed her that he would no longer be requiring her ‘services’ as his mistress after the Regent’s ball the week before.
‘But darling, whatever do you mean?’ she had implored, attempting to use her feminine wiles to no effect. He had seen all of her tricks and was immune to her persuasions.
‘Try to listen more carefully, darling,’ Donovan had drawled. ‘Our association is at an end, simply put. I have already arranged for your things to be removed to your townhouse. You are not exactly without means of your own, and I am quite sure you will find another to take my place in no time.’ He had turned away from her pleadings with a casual shrug.
‘But I love you,’ Madeline had declared, saying the only thing she could think of to appeal to his softer feelings.
Donovan had turned on her with a sneer. ‘Do not try that with me, Madeline. We both know the only person you love is yourself. Consider instead that I am doing you a favor. It is the start of the Season, and there are other bachelors with larger pocketbooks and more important titles than mine. You will be fine. It is time that I moved on.’
Madeline had gaped at him. ‘You don’t mean-‘ she gave a harsh laugh. ‘Are you meaning to say you are looking for a wife, now?’
Her statement had taken Donovan by surprise, and he faced her again. Though it had been impressed upon him the importance of finding a suitable spouse so that he might secure an heir to the Verney line, he had not considered for a moment that he was ready for such an undertaking. The previous Earl had been woefully inept for such a simple matter, which was the only reason Donovan himself was taking up the reins of the title, but he was only twenty-nine. Surely he had plenty of time to consider the possibility. Then again, if a suitable lady were to present herself-
Donovan shook his head at such thoughts. None of the fair English roses he had been presented with had stirred an inkling of emotion in him. Most were far too meek, their breeding instilled in them too deeply. Those that were more outspoken were either too bookish or at worst, bound to end up in another man’s bed. No, if Donovan Tremaine were ever to take a wife, she first and foremost would need to be loyal, but preferably with a little more spark, and more interests than the latest fashions. He again longed to be back in America, where women spoke their minds and cared more about the fabric of a man’s character than the size of his wallet or what title they might sport.
Donovan had not bothered to give Madeline a response, leaving her to wonder what his plans for the future were. What business of hers was it if he did decide to marry? He had no intention of maintaining a mistress as well as a wife, if such were the case, and he certainly wasn’t about to marry her. Donovan believed wholeheartedly in the sanctity of marriage, his own dearly departed parents had been a prime example.
Dismissing his line of thought, Donovan spied the sign declaring the site of Kestrel Shipping. He had been directed to this particular business simply because it was owned by a fellow American. He still had interests to maintain back home, after all. Hopefully, one day, he would see Norfolk again.
The bell over the door rang, and John looked up from his desk. His eyes grew wide with surprise as he encountered the dark stare of none other than the Earl of Verney, recognizing him from the night of the Regent’s Ball, when he had followed Salome’s direction to look out for her as she conducted her ‘research’.
Donovan’s eyes narrowed as he recollected John’s large frame as well. When the man stood to greet him, even his tall frame seemed diminished next to the big man. Surely it was a coincidence that the same man he had seen across the way was now standing before him, reaching for his hand.
John recovered from his surprise quickly. It was a good thing he was able to think on his feet, it was one of the qualities that his employer, Salome Mercer, valued in him.
‘The Earl of Verney, if I am not mistaken,’ John shook Donovan’s hand and motioned for him to remove his hat and mantle. ‘To what do I owe the distinct and genuine pleasure of encountering a fellow American here in London today?’
‘You know who I am?’ Donovan enquired, looking about the space. He noted a greatcoat, far too small to fit the giant’s frame, hanging from a hook on the wall and raised a brow. Could it be possible that the mysterious Hawke Sinclair was actually in the same building? He knew that Sinclair’s ship was in port, but there had been no reported sightings of the enigmatic figure.
‘Of course, of course,’ John gestured to a comfortable chair, waiting for Donovan to be seated before returning to his own rest. ‘Who has not heard of the young American Earl? I tell you, it has been a matter of great interest for all Americans abroad. Imagine, out of nowhere, being plucked from your life and declared a member of the aristocracy overnight!’
‘Yes, it has been quite a matter of discussion for many, I am afraid,’ Donovan schooled his features into one of passive disinterest.
‘Indeed, I was just discussing with Mr. Sinclair last week in fact, that we should make your acquaintance. I am John Bowles, by the way, I see to all operations of our London office here for Mr. Sinclair.’ John breathed a silent sigh of relief, hoping he had explained the Earl’s sighting of him at the Ball. He distinctly recalled how the perceptive Donovan Tremaine had picked him out of the crowd. It wasn’t like he blended in very well. He just hoped that Salome’s cover had been sufficient to disguise her in the dark beside him.
‘Is Mr. Sinclair available?’ Donovan gestured to the coat and hat hanging behind him.
‘Oh no, that belongs to our secretary, he stepped out just a moment ago to acquire some luncheon,’ John explained. ‘Mr. Sinclair rarely comes to the office.’
‘Your secretary left his coat and hat behind?’
‘Yes, well, you know how it is, we Americans rarely stand on ceremony amongst our fellows,’ John laughed. ‘The gentleman is rather forgetful, anyhow.’ John hoped Donovan would accept his explanation, and as the man in question relaxed in his seat, it appeared that he had.
‘It is quite unfortunate I was unable to catch Mr. Sinclair himself. I was hoping to discuss a matter of business with him,’ Donovan ventured.
John straightened in his chair, placing his large hands on his desk. ‘Mr. Sinclair has entrusted me with all matters of business on his behalf, as proxy. He is quite a busy man, you know, and has other affairs to attend to beside this small shipping firm.’
Donovan raised a dark brow again. ‘You do yourself an injustice. I would say that since Mr. Sinclair’s acquisition of Kestrel Shipping two years ago, you have increased your number of offices worldwide threefold, as well as doubling the size of your fleet of ships.’
John whistled, impressed. ‘You have done your research, then.’
‘I make it a point never to proceed in business matters without being fully informed,’ Donovan replied.
John could not restrain a laugh. He sounded as serious as Salome did. Of course, they were both accurate on that point in many respects. ‘Indeed. Then you have much in common with Mr. Sinclair. It is my understanding that you yourself have managed to turn around your own holdings here in England after many years of neglect from the previous Earl, as well as maintaining your shipbuilding company in Norfolk, and at quite a distance from home.’ He leaned back, allowing Donovan time to absorb that fact that he was well informed about the Earl as well.
‘I am impressed at your knowledge about my affairs,’ Donovan replied testily. It was no secret that he had worked hard to increase his fortunes in the last few years.
‘Yes, well it does pay, especially in these tense times between our nations, to be up to speed on what our fellow Americans are up to here in England,’ John ventured.
Donovan digested the subtle tone John employed. He was curious about the implications the man suggested. Could it be that Mr. Sinclair was working to gain knowledge about the British, right under their noses? If so, a partnership could be beneficial to them both. He would need to be careful about his approach here. He opted to bring the discussion back to his reason for coming today, leaving all innuendo aside for the moment.
‘I am more curious about Kestrel Shipping’s plans for further expansion,’ he began. ‘Of course, if you continue at your projected growth, I cannot help but wonder how you will increase your fleet to fill the demand for your services. Especially in a political climate between England and the Continent that requires both speed and dependability from your ships.’
John laughed again. ‘Not one for subtlety, eh? Wondering who does all that shipbuilding for us?’
Donovan relaxed, smiling at the amiable giant. He waited for John to expound further.
‘Well, at the moment, we do not have a dedicated shipbuilder. We have acquired most of our current fleet from smaller companies that are finding it difficult to grow. Of course, we face stiff competition from the likes of the East India Company and such. Though I am unaware of any plans Mr. Sinclair has to reach such a large client base, we do hope to be able to provide exclusive services for American interests at home and abroad,’ John said. ‘What are you suggesting?’
Donovan leaned forward. ‘My father built his business from scratch, arriving in the colonies shortly before the Revolution. Of course, any Patriotic shipbuilder in time of war was able to turn a profit constructing ships for the fledgling American Navy, and we continue to do a brisk business in that arena.’
‘It must be difficult to separate your American and British interests,’ John hinted.
‘Of course, as the son of a Patriot, late removed from England, I have garnered some censure,’ Donovan hedged. ‘However, since the two nations are currently at peace and nearly twenty years of American Independence past, I think people are warming up to me.’
John smiled genially, saying nothing. He waved a hand for Donovan to continue.
Donovan leaned back, folding his hands together in front of him. ‘It is a matter of great importance to me that I secure steady work for my employees in Norfolk by producing ships that can increase our nation’s reach. That being said, I feel that we have similar interests, and would like to discuss the possibility of an exclusive contract to build vessels for Kestrel Shipping.’
‘Now that is an interesting proposition,’ John replied slowly. ‘One I feel certain Mr. Sinclair would find intriguing as well. Do you have any original designs you could present for me to share with him?’
‘I have a portfolio of a few ideas that might prove useful for your consideration. I would be happy to have them delivered to you forthwith,’ Donovan was delighted at the prospect.
‘Of course, I am sure that you would agree, any designs would need to consider not only cargo size, but as well as a sizeable defense, from pirates and the like,’ John said.
‘Yes, of course, pirates are a nuisance,’ Donovan agreed. That and the Royal Navy’s pressgangs. Both men were careful not to mention the British penchant for dragging American sailors off their own vessels to become sailors in His Majesty’s Service. ‘All of my designs take defense, as well as speed and maneuverability into account.’
John mulled this over for a moment. He knew some of Salome’s future plans, which had been somewhat derailed by her circumstances here in London. Regardless of the outcome in that arena, she would want to see them come to fruition. Kestrel Shipping, owned as it was under the pseudonym of Hawke Sinclair, was the only prospects she had, aside from a considerable dowry that was hers to keep, if she failed in her mission to find a suitable mate. Her other property would be forcefully taken from her if she did not. Though John hoped that would not be the case, he considered it his responsibility to look after her interests. Of course, Salome herself would say that it was not really her interests, but her brother Nathan’s.
‘I think we may be able to come to an agreement, though I cannot promise exclusivity at this time. If you would put together a proposal, I would be happy to present it to Mr. Sinclair for consideration,’ John said as he came to his feet. He reached his hand out to Donovan to indicate their meeting was at an end.
Donovan rose to stand as well, taking the firm grip John offered. ‘I had hoped to discuss the matter with Mr. Sinclair personally,’ he said hopefully. There was no doubt in his mind that Hawke Sinclair was a shrewd businessman, and his appointed man served him well.
‘Mr. Sinclair does not meet with any clients personally,’ John said. His face became impassive, brooking no argument. It was apparent he considered the matter closed.
‘In that case, I take my leave, Mr. Bowles,’ Donovan said. Though disappointed for the time being, he was satisfied that his proposal would be genuinely considered, though he had a few niggling notions at the back of his mind that begged to be examined.
As the Earl of Verney left the offices of Kestrel Shipping, the foremost was the thought that from all appearances, Hawke Sinclair had the inclination and the resources to build his own personal navy. Which led to his next thought- Could that mystery figure be leaning towards the idea of privateering should things between America and Britain come to a head?
All in all, there was much to be considered when it came to Sinclair and Kestrel Shipping, and how much he was willing to involve himself. Donovan ordered his driver to pull around the corner so he could observe the front door of the establishment. He did not for one minute believe John Bowles’ story about an absent secretary. He would be willing to make a bet at Brooke’s this very instant that Mr. Hawke Sinclair was inside that building.
He tried to turn his thoughts to new ideas for fast and efficient ship designs as he waited. At last, he was relieved to have something other than the idea of marriage and women, which had consumed him earlier in the day, to think about.

No comments: