They're further into the voyage and Isabella is demanding answers.
“There are other things I’d like explained.” He’d given her the opportunity.
The exchange of glances was more pronounced this time and Barnaby rose to his feet to stand at the top of the companionway leading down to the saloon where Jackson was laying the table for the midday meal. Soames has just taken over at the helm and was too far away to have heard, but the American went to stand at his side.
Tristan waited until they were in place before he answered with a question. “What do you wish to know?”
“You three have a secret. What is it?”
Tristan knelt at her side facing the companionway and the helmsman. “Try not to react,” he said, his voice low.” We’re not carrying the pay chest, but Nepean has made our capture very attractive to the French.”
“When did you find out?” This was important to her. It might explain his change of mind.
“Barnaby carried sealed orders in case of need. This voyage is a trap for Guillaume d’Ardenne and his privateers turned pirates. Our task is to draw them into a trap. There are three frigates shadowing us…”
“When did you open the orders?” Isabella was focused on what was important to her. Everything else was secondary.
“The night of the rockets.”
Isabella relaxed. Tristan had not known when he declared himself on the quarterdeck and the secret orders explained the change in attitude between Tristan and the American.
“Why the continued secrecy?”
“The need for absolute secrecy ashore means we can only vouch for half the crew. Our Billy Boy, as Barnaby calls him, could have planted a spy as insurance. Everything so far, indicates he’s fallen for the ruse. We don’t want anything to alert him and a spy on board could bring us undone. Guillaume d’Ardenne must not escape to prey on other ships and the destruction of the privateers-turned-pirate is a valuable blow for England before hostilities resume.”
Isabella relaxed back in her chair with a nod and Tristan rose to his feet, a signal for the others to rejoin them. She was aware of two searching examinations of her face, but chose not to respond, her mind racing to adjust to this new situation. She had to admire Nepean’s cunning. The Spritely wouldn’t have been the only one to sail under sealed orders. He’d dispatched at least one frigate to carry the messages and pay chest to the Admiral commanding the West Indies station, and counted on the Spritely to draw the pirates north and clear the normal shipping lane to the Caribbean, freeing yet another patrolling frigate. This was no last second plan, but a carefully constructed stratagem with everything taken into account, even her presence onboard, to give credence to using the Spritely as the pay chest carrier. Guillaume d’Ardenne would suspect Nepean of being over-clever, because it was how he would have acted in his place, willing to sacrifice anyone to achieve his goal. Barnaby had hinted as much in his description of the man as a modern day Kublai Khan.
The American provided the expertise in getting the best from the Spritely and Tristan was its fighting heart. Nepean had given them the men and the tools to succeed, with Barnaby as his reliable messenger, his friendship with Tristan a plus. She was just window dressing, although Nepean had checked her out to see if she’d be a burden or an asset. It wouldn’t surprise her to learn Nepean knew of her childhood friendship with Tristan. He was a spider, spinning webs of entrapment from his store of knowledge.
Were it not for the threat to her burgeoning love, she might even admire him.