Curtis Bay, Maryland, Late June 1836
Lucky Gualtiero strode through the bustling Watkins Shipyard and watched as a hundred or more men and boys left their work stations as the day drew to an end. He knew from the position of the sun that it was nearing six-thirty, and as he scanned the yard area, he smacked the leather folio against his thigh. In it were the specifications and drawings compiled by his partner Ian Ross-Mackeever, now the second Earl Mackeever, and some notes Lucky had compiled over the past few weeks while visiting other shipyards, as well as the letter from their creditor bank in London guaranteeing the mortgage for two new clippers.
This was the last stop of the three North American shipyards and Ian’s builder of choice; his father had worked for Mr. Watkins before Mr. Ross’s death twelve years ago. Lucky made his way through the dry dock, looking for their offices, while scrutinizing several new vessels under construction, all at different stages. One appeared near finished and was floating, and another was just a hull up on blocks, still in the early stages of interior construction. Others were in various stages between.
For Lucky, watching the building process was enlightening, because he could clearly recognize the quality of workmanship at different stages in the construction. So far, it appeared that Watkins built a very fine hull. The floated boat had three solid masts, where one of the boats on blocks nearest him awaited cladding, the copper sheeting used to prevent shipworm and saltwater from damaging the wood. All of the wood used for hulls appeared to be solid cypress. The rudder was about to be placed on the hull in dry dock, which would be interesting to watch if he were still here in a day or two. The inner post and stern post were already affixed and the rudder—a typical gunstock shape—lay on blocks on the ground waiting for the hinge apparatus to be joined to it. Once that was done, the whole unit would be lifted into place.
He turned and kept walking toward what he thought were the company offices, a brick two-story building, and was stopped by what appeared to be a lad as he neared the door.
“Can I help you?”
Lucky turned to look at the most amazing thing he’d seen in his life: a young female garbed for working in a shipyard with the voice and diction of an educated woman.
His momentary shock faded, and he met the golden brown-eyed gaze of a young woman with straight auburn hair tied back and bound in netting and golden-red-brown eyebrows arched delicately over an expressive, curious gaze. A sprinkling of freckles spread across her cheeks, over the bridge of her nose, and up to her forehead. She stood near chin-height to him and wore charcoal-gray breeches and a dove-gray, lightweight, short-sleeved jacket that fell over the hip. Under that, a white blouse buttoned up to the chin to protect her modesty. She had a pretty face, even though her eyes appeared tired, and her smile looked almost forced.
“May I help you?” Now she sounded a tad annoyed out that he’d kept her waiting for his reply. Her wide-brimmed straw hat dangled by its tied strings from her fingers while she removed the writing pad from under her arm and a pencil from her jacket pocket.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “I’m looking for Mr. Spenser Watkins.”
“My husband has gone for the day.” She fumbled with the pad, pencil, hat, and jacket while she waited for him to reply.
Damnation. The first intriguing woman he’d met in a long time and she was married. But it was his experience that married women quite frequently made the best lovers. She was so interesting and attractive and . . . different that he’d have to see how married she was. Perhaps he might get—God, he hated when his friends said it—but perhaps he might get lucky.
“My name is Lucky Gualtiero. My partner and I currently sail two one-hundred-and-twenty-foot clippers and are looking to expand our tea import business by adding two more ships to our fleet. We are in the market to have some custom work done and your shipyard came highly recommended.”
Her eyebrows rose and she smiled a crooked smile at him. “Oh? Your partner knows of our work?”
“Yes. My partner is Ian Ross.”
She pursed her lips and squinted, apparently deep in thought as she seemed to search her recollections. “Ian Ross. Why does that name sound familiar? Likely he’s had work done here before.”
“No. His father worked for . . .” Lucky paused, unsure about the age difference, then speculated, “your father-in-law perhaps?”
“That’s right.” Recognition registered on her face and she smiled. “Ian is Hamish’s son. No, Hamish Ross worked with my husband. They were partners. Mr. Watkins still speaks of his dear friend often.”
Lucky followed Mrs. Watkins. She held the door for him and he entered, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim light of the entrance hall. He paused just inside the door and waited for her. Then it struck him.
Had he lost all manners? She held the door open for him, and obedient lamb that he was, he had followed her. She had to be no older than twenty-two or twenty-four, and she was married to Spenser Watkins? He’d gotten the impression from Ian that Watkins was an elderly man. And what was even more disconcerting than the age difference was the fact that she was so . . . so . . . comfortable in her position, her clothing even. She didn’t fluster or get nervous as a young woman at home would have upon meeting a gentleman while she was alone. Alone and awkwardly dressed.
Oh, there was no lack of modesty for she was covered from chin to toe even in this sticky heat. He was sure her baggy breeches, light jacket, and tall leather boots served the purpose for working in a shipyard. That big straw hat did an excellent job of keeping the sun off her face because while she was not as milky-fair as the young ladies at home, she bore the healthy glow of someone who enjoyed the outdoors, much like his sisters.
Lucky appreciated the sway of her bottom as he followed her up the stairs, then through a narrow corridor toward a great, open ante-chamber, with a bank of open doors where she motioned him in. He wondered at her position in the business as he met the gaze of one gentleman standing at a drafting table who nodded a simple greeting. The man worked on making copies of the architectural print spread before him, while two other men in rolled-up shirt sleeves worked in offices with doors open to the main antechamber. This, he was certain, was to aid in the circulation of air for, as he was quickly learning, summer in Baltimore was a hot and muggy season indeed.
Mrs. Watkins opened yet another door, one marked Spenser Watkins in black lettering on the frosted glass pane, and left this door wide open as she went into the room. His eyes followed her trouser-and-jacket-clad form as she moved behind the desk. She unbuttoned and removed her loose jacket, revealing her sleeveless white high-necked blouse underneath and exposing her bare arms. Lucky’s mouth suddenly felt as dry as the desert in Africa. Not only was she beautiful to look upon, the woman was lithe, graceful, and, in his opinion, perfectly formed. What in heaven’s name was she doing working in a shipyard? And the men in the antechamber behaved as though her presence was normal and accepted.
“Please. Have a seat.” She motioned to a chair and put her hat on the rack with her jacket, then took a seat herself behind the large, masculine desk. She began to rifle through the drawers in search of something, then lifted out a fresh sheet of paper and a sharpened pencil.
Lucky didn’t know how to say what he’d wanted to say, and instead asked, “Will your husband be in the office tomorrow?”
The look on her face quickly changed from warm and friendly to business-like and reserved.
“Yes,” she replied. “He doesn’t tolerate the mid-day heat very well at his age so he keeps morning hours, returning home around noon. If you would rather speak directly with him, he is usually here around seven a.m. We tend to get more work done in the office early in the day when it is cooler. In the afternoon, you can usually find me out in the yard where the breeze off the bay makes the outdoors more bearable.”
Lucky nodded. He cleared his throat, nervous that his next words might offend her, but he’d never encountered a woman—a young woman—in such a position of leadership in a male-dominated business such as this. “Mrs. Watkins, I’ll be frank with you. I have never done business of this magnitude with a woman.”
“Not many men have,” she said setting aside the pencil and lifting her tired gaze to his. She must have recognized his hesitation to do business with her. “And you are not the first to have this reaction, but I assure you I am quite competent in what I do.” She pointed at the wall of windows beside them. “Each one of those ships out there in that yard was designed by me and built by the men who work for my husband’s shipyard. There are twenty-eight vessels of my design currently sailing the world. I might be relatively young, but I am more current in the mechanic arts as it applies to naval architecture and the engineering of composite materials than most men currently designing clippers. If you would like references, I can give you the names of boats and their owners. Some of whom still do not know a woman designed their ship.”
Lucky felt surely he was gaping at her, unaccustomed to such dialog coming from a woman. He didn’t want to be rude to the woman, but even she admitted this situation was quite unusual.
She lifted the pencil again and rolled it between her hands. “Now, what is it you are looking for, Captain? You mentioned custom work.”
“Yes.” He cleared his throat and noticed a spark of interest rise in her expression when she glanced up at him. “My partner and I are looking for custom work—new builds. Two of them.”
She smiled. “That is my specialty. If it relieves your concerns, all business related to the transfer of funds and signing of contracts will be handled through my husband, our firm’s legal counsel, and our accountant here at Watkins Shipyard.”
“Good,” he replied, relieved he’d not offended her.
She was very professional and all business as she said, “I’d like to know what you need. What do you want in a boat? What size, type, number of masts, cargo hold, guns, cabins, construction? I engineer the design according to what your needs and desires are.” Astonished at hearing her speak, Lucky did not interrupt her. He was eager to hear what she had to say.
Mrs. Watkins confidently leaned back in her too-big chair, her elbows resting on the armrests that pulled the material of her shirt tight across her slight bosom. “Here at Watkins, we craft solid wood hulls of oak, cedar, or cypress, all of which are prevalent in these parts. We then sheath the hull in a fifty-fifty copper and zinc alloy to reduce the speed of erosion. We clad on top a layer of tar one-quarter of an inch thick. The plate is up to twenty-four inches above the load waterline at aft and amid, graduating up to thirty-six inches above at the bow. All logs are milled and treated here on site. We have our own loggers, blacksmiths, fitters, and coopers.”
His mouth went dry and he was unable to peel his gaze away from her face as she spoke. This fascinating woman was talking to him of ship construction. At home, talk of this sort was usually left for the company of men. How on earth had she received the education necessary to do something only the brightest of men in the world could do? Still dumbfounded, he shook his head. “I’m going to admit to being knocked off kilter with your questions. I hadn’t prepared myself to discuss these things with a . . . a woman, and” —he felt a bit sheepish, and uncomfortable— “I don’t mean to offend you.”
She smiled at him again. A full, true smile. Her teeth were white and mostly straight, and she had two dimples, not just the adorable one on the left. She was truly enchanting and alive, not milky white or rouged. This vibrant young woman had a healthy glow that caused his heart to skip a beat, maybe two, even though she was married. “None taken, I assure you. If it would make you feel better, I can have my draftsman, Andrew, come in and take notes with us.”
“No,” he began, then cleared his throat, still a bit nervous as he glanced out to the drafting table beyond the open door. “This is fine.” Lucky reached into the file folder and handed Mrs. Watkins their specification sheet. “The top half” —he motioned to the upper portion of the sheet— “has our requirements. Where this section” —he pointed below that— “is a wish list of sorts. If they are possible, we’d like to see them done also.” He pushed the page across the desktop to her.
Mrs. Watkins scanned the page and began to make notes. “We can do single tree masts, though I recommend composite.” She looked up at him with luminous, golden-brown eyes and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, preventing him from replying. He had to get over this fascination with her, especially if they were to conduct business. He didn’t want to offend the woman’s husband. “But we can discuss that later,” she added through her smile before turning her attention back to the sheet in front of her and continuing to scribble notes. She looked up at him again. “One hundred eighty-five feet is lengthy,” she said. “Depending on how she’s sparred, it could appear too long or visually unbalanced. What’s your cargo?”
“Tea,” he replied. “And perhaps other cargo, eventually.”
“Human cargo?” Their eyes met and he understood her meaning.
“Never.” He tried not to sound too judgmental. He knew slavery was an accepted practice in the States. Even though he didn’t agree with it, he didn’t want to offend the potential shipbuilder for his business.
She exhaled a deeply held breath and relaxed her shoulders, which told Lucky exactly where she stood on the issue.
“Good. I don’t think my conscience would allow me to build for the slave trade,” she replied and continued asking him questions and making notes. “What is your time line for delivery? We are about to have a slot open for a new build. Though only one right now, as we’re soon to have Carolina floated. Ajax is the nearly completed boat at the dock. Her owner is expected at the first of the month for transfer of ownership. At the moment, construction is running ten to twelve months, and I don’t foresee it getting any faster as my yard is at capacity right now.”
Lucky could only nod his head in agreement, still a bit unbalanced by the whole discourse. They continued their discussion on specifications and requested items, closing with Mrs. Watkins asking for a few days to sketch something he might like. Lucky, again, could only agree, so dumbstruck and fascinated by this intelligent wisp of a young woman was he.
“Please come by tomorrow morning, say, around eight. I shall make sure Mr. Watkins is here. I’m certain he would love to hear how Hamish’s son fares.” She backed the chair away and stood. When she reached out with her ungloved right hand, intending for him to shake it, Lucky stared at it for a moment. At home, a lady was never so forward as to offer her hand to a gentleman she did not know, much less an ungloved hand. It felt as though he’d entered a strange land with strange customs and courtesies. But rather than offend her, as she might be designing his and Ian’s new tea clippers, he reached out and took it, holding it lightly between his thumb and fingers.
The heat radiating through his fingers from her skin jolted him. His body was reacting in ways he’d never experienced. He’d been with women intimately, but this was a feeling beyond anything he’d ever known or felt. A warm tremor moved through him, finally settling low in his abdomen.
Before meeting Mrs. Watkins, the married women he’d had affairs with never interested him long enough to want anything beyond a quick, mutually satisfying romp in the sheets. He could barely tolerate conversing with them. He perfected early on the skill of politely listening as they droned on about their day, their shopping, or the latest gossip. He’d never visited courtesans, though he had kept a mistress who taught him well, before he began sailing regularly.
But never had any of these women ever touched that emotional depth inside his heart that made him care. Made him crave.
He looked down at her hand in his, which was far easier than looking into the depths of her amber-colored eyes or focusing on her luscious pink lips. And he craved.
He thanked her for her time and promised to return in the morning. He felt the room closing in on them, and he realized that he’d completely forgotten that there was another man in the antechamber and at least two others in offices nearby. She’d made him forget the world outside this room so much that he could have easily reached down and kissed another man’s wife.
It wasn’t as though he’d never bedded a married woman, because he’d enjoyed the favors of many willing wives over the years. But he always had to know beforehand if the woman was in a certain type of relationship with her husband. The last thing he wanted was some lovesick spouse calling him out.
The only line he would never cross was dallying with the wives of friends, and he hoped to hell Watkins wasn’t a likable chap. Lucky definitely had to watch himself where Mrs. Watkins was concerned, because he wanted the red-headed beauty in the worst way. Right now he felt the need for a cold swim, and because water cold enough to subdue his rising ardor wasn’t likely to be found around here, a confessional and penance might do the trick.
Once he exited the building, he walked briskly toward town intending to find a confessor.
Mary-Michael closed the door to her husband’s office and plopped into his leather chair. Her nerves still rattled from the man’s touch. How had she maintained her calm business-like demeanor when all she wanted was to melt into a puddle of muck at the man’s feet? Thinking on it, she decided that the way he held himself, the way he spoke, dressed, and walked all contributed to the air of confidence that intrigued and aroused her. All of it together made him so . . . captivating.
And then he touched her. Yes, she’d held her hand out first to shake his, so theoretically, she’d encouraged his touch, but oh, heaven—Mary-Michael smiled in the empty room. That was forward!
At one point, she had felt as though she might lose his interest, just as she had on many occasions when a potential customer discovered M. Michael Watkins was not a male, but she quickly touted her credentials and areas of study she’d focused on when learning this trade, all so as not to lose this potential sale. Mr. Watkins would be proud.
Laying her head on her crossed arms on top of the desk, she heaved a deep, trembling sigh. God help her. This was not good. What was his name again, this friend of Ian Ross? He had a British accent, but his surname wasn’t English. Was it Spanish or Italian? Portuguese perhaps? She sighed as she recalled his image. He had an exotic appearance, with a swarthy, olive-skinned complexion and head full of shaggy, wavy hair. His strong square jawline and chin bore a smattering of stubble, as though he’d not shaved recently. Instead of making him appear unkempt and disgusting, it had the opposite effect on her. He appeared rakishly handsome in his finely tailored and starched white shirt, form-fitting buff-colored breeches, and high black leather boots polished to a near mirror-shine—unlike her scuffed black work boots. The man wore no coat, likely because of the unseasonably warm weather, but she felt sure that if he had it would have been of the same superior quality as his breeches and linen shirt. And under all that fine clothing, he looked to be well-muscled and very fit, telling Mary-Michael that he spent his days working right alongside his crew.
She sat up and stared out the open windows into the shipyard and recalled the full lips that had captured her gaze more than once. Mary-Michael had had to force herself not to let it linger there, for he could easily have suspected she was a woman of loose morals had he caught her. This business was hard enough for a man, the only credibility she had—and she fully recognized this—was in her marriage to her husband, one of the finest shipbuilders on the eastern seaboard. Mary-Michael only had a short time to establish herself before he passed away and would be left on her own, which was why she could never have her reputation called into question. Ever.
Though she might not remember the man’s name, she certainly remembered his look. And the one time he smiled fully, she got a glimpse of even white upper teeth, with the lower ones just slightly, endearingly, crooked. It didn’t detract from his looks at all and was perhaps the tiniest of imperfections in the most perfect specimen of man she’d ever seen. Oh, and his eyes. . . . Surely his dark brown eyes could see into her soul, witnessing all of the conflicted emotion his presence created within her. Something that had never existed until he arrived. The man was unnerving and quite simply beautiful. She could think of no other word to describe the man but beautiful.
Suddenly, the project her husband mentioned a few days earlier was now forefront in her mind. Mary-Michael now had to reconcile the morality of it, against the reality. She was a married woman with a husband who couldn’t give her what she so desperately wanted, because that wasn’t the kind of marriage they had.
Flustered and unable to think clearly about work, Mary-Michael stood and collected her light jacket, ready to call an end to the long day. As she left the office, she said goodnight to Andrew, asking him to lock up on his way out. She walked through the long hallway, lined with framed drawings of the most prominent vessels her husband’s shipyard had built over the thirty years he’d been in business. She wanted to draw something on par with Olympia or Mermaid for this client, a vessel sleek and fast, able to cut through the waves and fly with wind.
Wending her way into the shipyard stable, she saw her driver hammering a shoe to the horse’s hoof and changed her mind. “Victor, I think I shall walk home this evening. I could use the exercise.” Not to mention the time to think on what she’d now tell her husband about the visitor and what he wanted. She also needed to reconcile these errant emotions, which were sure to get her into trouble if anyone noticed.
“It’s not safe for a young woman such as yourself to go walkin’ through these streets near the docks.” Victor, Mr. Watkins’s servant for longer than she’s been alive, started his usual rant about her walking. “One never knows what mischief lies around a corner out there nowadays.” He set the horse’s foot down and looked at the four to check them for balance. “Time jus’ got away from me, Miz Watkins. If you’d give me a few minutes, I’ll have the ol’ girl between the shafts in no time and get ya home safe soon enough.”
Mary-Michael leaned against a post and watched as he picked the hoof up again and removed the temporary nail holding the shoe, took the file from his back pocket, and began to rasp more hoof away.
“It’s okay, Victor. It’s almost time for dinner. Besides, you know walking helps me clear my head after a busy day. We have a potential new client, and I want to think about some designs from the notes I took during the meeting. He’s coming back tomorrow to meet with Mr. Watkins.”
“At least get one of the lads from that Dutchy’s crew to walk with ya.”
Mary-Michael began the trek through the yard toward the street, calling back at Victor, “I’m fine. See you at the house.”
Once through the yard, it was only a short eight blocks to the house she shared with Mr. Watkins and their servants, Sally and Victor. She could run the distance in less than ten minutes, but a nice leisurely walk through the wharf business area wasn’t as bad as people often thought it was. For certain there were the shady types, the drunken rogues who hung around the alleyways near the pubs waiting for their doors to open, though the constable kept most of them in line. But for the most part, people down here were hard-working, church-going people. She should know. This was where she’d grown up. Every day either on foot or in the buggy, she passed the dry goods store she’d lived above as a child before the fever took her parents, leaving her and her brother, George, orphaned. This was her home. She’d never left Harbor Village in her life except to visit Mr. Watkins’s farm several times a year. It wasn’t as bad as Victor always made it out to be.
The houses on Washington Street weren’t like the houses farther in town with a lot of extra rooms for visitors. Most of these modest homes belonged to tradesmen and their families and, thus, were on the small side. Though their home was one of the larger of these, it wasn’t by much. Mr. Watkins had added on to the house when his first wife, Abigail, had been with child, so this house had three bedrooms, where most had two. He’d also turned one of the two downstairs sitting rooms into an office for himself not long after that first wife passed away trying to deliver their babe.
Mary-Michael crossed her front porch, relishing the bit of evening breeze they caught up here on the slight knoll overlooking the bay. She pushed open the screen door. “I’m home, Sally,” she called out as she went down the hallway looking for Mr. Watkins in his study. She tossed her jacket on the banister rail and heard Sally acknowledge her from out in the kitchen. “I walked, so Victor will be along soon. He was nailing a shoe on Buttercup when I left. She must have lost it when Victor brought Mr. Watkins home at noon.” She knocked softly on the door to her husband’s office but heard no reply. She thought perhaps he was asleep. Cautiously pushing the door open, she discovered she was right. He sat in his favorite wing chair in the corner, holding the evening paper.
His rheumy eyes opened and he smiled. “Ah, Mary, my girl. A man couldn’t have a better companion.”
“I’m also your wife, Mr. Watkins.” She poured herself a glass of water and took a seat across from him on the settee.
“Just on paper. But that’s all that matters, eh?”
“What’s Sally cooking for dinner?” Mr. Watkins made a great show of raising his paper and snapping the wrinkles from it.
“I don’t know, sir, but it smells delicious.”
“She doesn’t cook a thing that isn’t, my girl.” Her dear, yet wizened, husband began to peruse the inside pages. “So how is everything at the office?”
“It got interesting after you left,” Mary-Michael said.
The elderly man lowered his paper enough to meet her gaze. “How so?”
“We had a visitor. An Englishman. He said he is the partner of a Mr. Ian Ross, formerly of Indian Point.” She awaited his recognition of the name, and when he smiled, she knew he’d remembered. “He said Ian is soon to inherit his uncle’s title. He will be the Earl of Something, Mr. Watkins. Your old friend’s son will be a nobleman, and the two men are partners in a tea-importing company.”
Her husband folded the paper and nodded his nearly bald head. “It’s why Hamish sent his only child to live with that old. . . .” He cut off what he was going to call the man, likely so as not to offend her. “What did he want, this visitor. Was Ian with him?”
“No, sir, he was not.” Mary-Michael tempered her excitement and continued. “This gentleman said he admired the vessels under construction as he walked through our yard.”
Her husband’s eyes danced with merriment. “Did you tell him they were all your designs?”
“Yes, though you know I am uncomfortable doing so. We only spoke for a few minutes. The man said he and his partner are looking at the expansion of their business. They are in need of two new clippers.” When her husband’s eyes grew wide with interest, she went on. “They are in need of boats that can compete in the tea trade. They’re currently sailing a pair of twenty-one-year-old clippers from none other than Jorgensen’s yard up in Halifax.”
Mr. Watkins continued to nod acknowledging their competitor who’d shown interest in buying them out, and she went on.
“They have one hundred and twenty footers now, and he’s looking at one hundred and eighty or eighty-five feet. With that, I can increase his cargo capacity by sixty to eighty percent and get him where he needs to go faster, but I didn’t tell him that.” Mary-Michael couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across her face.
Mary-Michael considered her words. “Well, like most men, he didn’t seem comfortable discussing business with a woman. In fact, I think he’d rather deal directly with you. And secondly, I wouldn’t want to promise any percentage increase in his profit until I knew exactly what he wanted in accommodations and trim.”
Her husband chuckled. “I taught you well, my dear.”
Sally walked in with a fresh pitcher of water with sliced lemon and two glasses with big cut pieces of ice. She poured their drinks and said, “Dinner will be served in ten minutes, Miz Watkins.”
“Thank you, Sally.”
Her husband swallowed deeply from his cold drink and held it as he stared at her in an odd way. “I want to know if you’ve given any thought to what we discussed the other day, Mrs. Watkins.”
“Regarding what, sir?” she asked, though she knew exactly what topic he meant to revisit.
“Regarding your heart’s desire.”
Mary-Michael sighed and turned to stare out the window at the lengthening shadows of the trees on the bricked streets. “I’m not sure I can do it.”
“You could if you met the right person, lass.” He sipped from his glass again. “We will need to find you this right man soon. I never know when I lay my head down at night if I’ll be picking it up the next morning. If you want your babe to carry my name, you should do something about it soon, Mrs. Watkins.”
He saw her slowness to reply as a need for more time to think on the subject. What her dear mentor and husband could not know was that she’d already begun to consider his plan during her walk home. First, she wondered if she could do it at all. And second, there was this unexplainable attraction she felt with this man. If this was what her friend Molly had meant when she said Mary-Michael would know it when she felt it, then she was certainly feeling it. And that was the only reason she might consider doing it.
She wondered what it would be like to create her babe with this man, the one whose name she did not remember.
“I would never push you to do this,” Mr. Watkins said, “except I’ve heard you cry at night and know my days are numbered.”
She wiped at a single tear, unwilling to cry over this again. “Sometimes I feel this desire for a babe has me so envious of my own friends that I avoid them. I know they sense me distancing myself from them, too. It’s not that I’m not happy for them, because you know I am.” She wiped again. “It’s just that I’m so jealous of their happiness I’ve thrown myself into my work even more and given up their company so as not to feel my own pain. It’s a self-centered jealousy that I fight, sir, and I’m not sure that those emotions are good to feel if one wants to be a good mother.”
“You are the least selfish woman I know, Mary Watkins, and you deserve this child of your heart.” He sat back and closed his eyes.
“But what I have to do to get this child of my dreams means committing a grievous sin.” She could never take a sin as enormous as this into the confessional—at least not in Harbor Village—both priests knew her personally. She’d have to go into Baltimore. And after? Even after confessing, for the rest of her life, while she enjoyed the beauty of motherhood—if she were so blessed—she would always know in her heart that she’d sinned to create her little miracle.
“Is it a sin when I am willing it? Did not Sarah give her maid, Hagar, to Abraham to conceive his children?”
“Yes, and it broke Hagar’s heart to give over her son to Sarah after his birth.”
“You will not have that issue if the father of your child is someone who isn’t from here,” her husband countered. “We can go to New York, Washington, or Richmond if someone from Baltimore is too near for you to choose.” She wiped her eyes, thinking about the gift her husband was giving her to allow this. “I will help you all I can Mrs. Watkins, but I must know you want my help.”
Through her tears, she nodded. “I may not have to go that far, sir. You can tell me if you approve of Ian Ross’s partner tomorrow, for he is someone I might consider.”
He smiled finally. “Well, I hope he is a handsome and intelligent specimen, for I cannot have a son or daughter of mine be anything less than both!”
Mary-Michael gave her husband a nervous laugh. Mr. Watkins was sure to find fault with the English captain whose name she couldn’t remember, but whose touch still burned her hand. She would just have to remind her husband that he told her she was the one to do the choosing, not he. And she chose the dark-haired, dark-eyed Englishman who stirred up a whirlwind of confusing feelings in her.
After dinner, she discussed with her husband all of the items she’d written down from her conversation with the Englishman regarding the two new builds the man had requested. Mary-Michael thought to sketch out some rough designs for their meeting the next morning, so she excused herself from the table, telling her husband she would like to have something to show their potential client when they met.
She went up to her room and took a seat at her dressing table, then untied her hairnet and let her braid drop down her back. Lifting her fingers to her throat, she unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse. The room’s two windows were wide open, but because there was hardly a breeze moving outdoors, none moved in the house. The heat caused a sheen of perspiration all over her body. She parted her bodice. The ivory-handled fan that one of her husband’s customers had given her from his voyages in the pacific lay on the table. She picked it up and fanned her chest and neck.
If it was this hot in June, God alone knew how hot it would be in August.
Moving to her desk, she set up her paper and graphite pencils and began to think on what to sketch for this friend of Mr. Ian Ross. Two more clippers would be good for business, giving her crews steady work for the next year and a half, not that there was any lack of business. In fact, just the opposite. Watkins Shipbuilding was currently running one year for delivery, even though she’d promised the Englishman ten to twelve months. She’d have to put the word out for more qualified tradesmen because she really wanted to build these two boats before Mr. Watkins could no longer assist her in managing the yard. Or, heaven forbid, he decided to sell it, which was something they’d discussed a few times.
Mary-Michael went over and over the conversation with the Englishman, and she kept coming to the same conclusion. She was certain she did not mistake his desire for speed and efficiency, and given the specifications from Mr. Ross, she knew they were of one mind when it came to design. For the past six years, she’d been giving the customers what they wanted in their new builds, but she got the impression the Englishman and Mr. Ross were willing to consider her ideas and plans.
Her passion was designing clippers. Ships that had sleeker, faster hull designs with sail plans that would best use the wind. She loved dreaming up composite material design to reduce weight and allow for more cargo. That was her life’s work.
There were only a handful of shipyards in the area that specialized in cargo-carrying clippers, though it seemed each year one or two more began to build them, especially because the demand for clippers was increasing almost daily. The only other shipyard out on the point with them, Barlowe Marine, focused solely on military-type vessels, heavy and armed from aft to jib, as the owner had a previous career with the government as a naval architect. Though well-constructed and of different design, they were military ships and not true clippers.
Watkins specialized in cargo carriers, where the amount of goods transported and the speed in which the cargo arrived to the owner determined how much money was made. Speed. It was important, but not the primary consideration in her designs. Optimizing the cargo space and making the loading and unloading of cargo easier and more efficient was as vital to turnaround time and profitability as speed.
Safety, speed, optimization of space. That’s what she wanted to give this client. And hopefully he would give her a babe in return. She smiled and placed her hand over her womb and imagined the possibility of having a child growing within her soon.
Mary-Michael returned her attention to the drawing and tried to remember everything the Englishman had said. She began to draw a hull, a bell bow, the headworks, keel, keelson, stern. Her pencil flew across the sheet as she added deckwork and masts and rails. Spanker to flying jib, she gave her new creation full sail. She marked the hull for copper sheathing, and for drama, she added waves and clouds against a stormy sky. The deck arrangement was a basic deck house with rear cabins; she was still unsure of which actual layout he’d prefer. He’d mentioned two full cabins on each as a preference, but Mary-Michael didn’t know if he wanted them separated or side by side.
She stared at her creation, her heart swelling with pride. She loved drawing ships under full sail. For her, they came alive on the page. When she began drawing ships as a child, she could imagine herself standing on the fo’c’sle deck looking out into the ocean and watching the waves as they parted under her bow. Even now, she could almost feel the wind in her hair and the spray on her face as the bow sluiced through the water.
She could imagine it, just as much as she could imagine a babe in her arms this time next year. And both this drawing and that child of her dreams might become reality if Mr. Watkins sold the deal to the Englishman.