01. Cold and Hot

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My eyes roamed across the deck, searching. I spotted my victim about a dozen yards away, leaning against the railing. He was smoking a pipe, relaxed, quite unaware of what I had in store for him.

'Captain!'

My water-soaked boots squeaked with the wrath only possessed by a girl who has just escaped drowning in the North Sea like a wet rat. He made the mistake to turn towards me with an ingratiating smile.

I wasn't really in the mood for smiles. My hand shot out, grabbing him by the collar.

'Captain, what is this I hear about you having given the order to stop searching and turn back? Have you found him yet?'

I knew he hadn't before the words were out of my mouth. That smile of his, as if he were dealing with a mentally incompetent damsel who needed to be treated with care so she wouldn't snap in half told me all I needed to know.

'Miss Linton.' Reaching out, Captain Crockford patted my hand reassuringly – or at least in a manner he thought would be reassuring. 'We've already combed the ocean for Mr... what did you say his name was again?'

'Ambrose! Rikkard Ambrose!'

'We've already combed the ocean for Mr Ambrose for five days in a row. That's how long he's been out here, Miss Linton, five days! Even if he managed to crawl onto a piece of wreckage somehow, a human being cannot survive longer than three days without fresh water. And if he was just afloat in the sea... well, the cold water would have killed him in no more than two hours.'

'No! He must be alive! He must be!'

'Even if, by some miracle, he still is, it is not my responsibility to look for him.' For the first time, a note of annoyance crept into the Captain's voice. I barely kept myself from trying to strangle him. 'True, the Waterguard has always helped victims of shipwreck, but our main duty is and always shall be guarding her Majesty's coast against smugglers, not wasting our time on fruitless searches!'

'I don't care about that, Captain! Keep searching!'

'I repeat, there's nothing alive to search for, Miss Linton. Your... what is he again to you?'

In spite of the intense cold, I felt my face flush.

Blast, blast, blast! Why do you have to blush? Nothing happened between him and you! Nothing whatsoever! Well, except for that moment, just before the ship went down...

No. That was nothing!

'My cousin!' I lied.

'Your cousin, Miss Linton, will not be found alive. I'm afraid he is fish food by now.'

'No! Never!'

'Most regrettable, of course, most regrettable.' The Captain puffed out a smoke ring. 'But you'll have to face the inevitable sooner or later. If you'd like to sit down and have a shot of brandy, I could...'

I told him where he could stick his brandy.

'Miss Linton! That's hardly appropriate! I...'

'Oh, to hell with what's appropriate!' Grabbing the man's collar more tightly, I shook him, trying to make him see with the sheer force of my stare. 'Have you got any idea who you are about to doom to a wet grave, Captain? Any idea how important he is?'

The Captain puffed out another smoke ring.

'Yes, yes, of course. I'm sure he was very important to you and you feel his loss greatly, Miss–'

'I don't mean important to me, personally,' I cut him off.

Although he is. Oh, how very much he is.

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