I don’t normally post excerpts from works in progress, but I decided it wasn’t fair that only the male protagonist appeared in my previous sample from The Duke and the Pirate Queen.
A few minutes later, Imena hailed a pony-cab and gave Sanji’s address. She leaned back in the padded seat and closed her eyes, forcing herself to replace Maxime’s image in her mind with Sanji’s. It was more difficult than she’d thought. She’d seen Sanji’s body dozens of times, Maxime’s rarely, but she had recent sense memory of Maxime’s heavy muscularity and the scent and texture of his hair and skin. Remembering how his hands had felt on her body made her belly melt. If only he was not the duke. If only.
Sanji’s home adjoined his chandler’s shop. For once, his two young sons were not playing in the grassy back garden where Sanji kept a milch-goat; with a twinge, she remembered this was their week to visit with their aunt who lived inland. She had been looking forward to playing with the boys. Imena went into the shop, saw Sanji’s assistant minding the counter, and ducked outside again.
She found Sanji in his workshop, mounting a compass into a new casing crafted from slender strips of varicolored woods. She leaned against the open doorway for a time, watching him work. He was a tallish man, as dark a brown as Chetri, with narrow stooped shoulders and lush black hair he wore in a messy tail down his back. Wide, thick black eyebrows gave his eyes a severe look at odds with his mild personality. Imena found him soothing. His hands at work were as gentle as his hands would be on her skin.
She waited until he’d set aside the compass before clearing her throat. Sanji looked up and smiled. “Imena. I heard Seaflower was in.”
“Yes.” She swallowed. She opened her mouth to ask if he could spare an evening for her, but instead said, “Sanji, I’m not sure I can see you any more.”
His welcoming expression changed to mild dismay. “That’s unfortunate for me, but…have you met someone else?”
“Yes,” she said. She might as well admit the truth. Just because she couldn’t have Maxime didn’t mean he wasn’t there, in her thoughts, seemingly inside her very skin. “I’m very fond of you, Sanji,” she admitted. “You and the boys, too. But–“
“I understand,” he said. He rose from his stool and took her hand, kissing her fingers. “I must confess, I’ve been wanting to, well, marry. Give my sons a new mother. And I wasn’t sure what you would say.”
A few weeks ago, she might have said yes. “They need someone who will be here with them,” she said. “You and I, we’re good together, but….” She took his hand in hers and drew it to her mouth, placing a kiss in his palm. “You need someone who will be here always. Don’t you? You just haven’t said so.”
“Yes, that was my thought as well,” Sanji said, his cheeks flushing. He caressed her face. “Will you stay for the evening meal, at least?”
“I can’t,” she said. “I need to find Chetri. A business matter.” She paused, and slipped her hand into her jacket pocket, withdrawing a small canvas bag. “I brought shark’s teeth, for the boys. Remind them the teeth are sharp.”
“I will,” he said. When he took the bag from her, their fingers did not touch.
Throat tight, she nodded. She said, “There is a pearl in there, for you. The purple-black such as you liked so well in Roxanne’s earrings.”
“Thank you,” Sanji said. “I’ll think of you when I wear it.” He slipped the bag into his trouser pocket. He added, “You’re always welcome in my home, you know. For whatever reason.”
“And you are always welcome on Seaflower,” she said. She took a deep breath. “Goodbye, Sanji.”
“Fair sailing, Imena,” he said, and kissed her gently. They share a long, close embrace of farewell.