Authors: Jennifer Moore
Tags: #Jamaica, #Maritime, #Romance & Love Stories, #West Indies, #England/Great Britain, #Military & Fighting, #19th Century
Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Moore
All rights reserved.
© Howat, Andrew (20th Century), courtesy Bridgeman Art and
© Susan Fox, courtesy Trevillion
Cover design copyright © 2014 by Covenant Communications, Inc.
Published by Covenant Communications, Inc.
American Fork, Utah
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing: July 2014
For permission address publisher: Covenant Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 416, American Fork, UT 84003.
The views expressed within this work are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Covenant Communications, Inc., or any other entity.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are either products of the author’s imagination, and are not to be construed as real, or are used fictitiously.
Who gave me my own love story.
How lucky am I?
I’d always assumed writing a
book would be a solitary endeavor—just me and my computer—but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I could never have done it alone, and I owe my deepest gratitude to the people who’ve helped me along the way. It takes a village to write a book, and here are some of the people in my village.
Thanks to my parents, Ed and Penny, for teaching me to love books and not punishing me for reading with a flashlight under the covers.
Thanks to my groupies—Angela, Becki, Cindy A., Cindy H., Jody, Josi, Nancy, Ronda, and Susan (I put your names in alphabetical order because I love you all)—for slogging through pages and pages of garbage and not being afraid to tell me. And thanks to the friends who read the exact same pages and told me they were wonderful. I needed all of you.
Thanks to my late-night writing buddies: Josi, Nancy, Rob, Marion, and Cory. Your help and support and friendship mean more than you’ll ever know. And thanks of course to the Bear Lake Monsters, who are some of the best people on the planet and who love me even when I’m weird and sleep deprived.
To Josi Kilpack, Nancy Allen, Sarah Eden, Carla Kelly, Dave Lunt, Mike Davis, Bruce Leavitt, and Marion Jensen—thanks for lending me books and answering research questions. You’re all smarty-pants.
Kathy Gordon, thank you for giving me the Regency bug. And Stacey Owen, thanks for working over the rough manuscript and being patient with my liberal and seemingly random usage of commas. We’re a good team.
Thanks to my fantastic husband, Frank. When I told you I wanted to write a book, you got me a laptop and a stack of “how to write” books. There has never been a time when you didn’t believe in me.
And of course, thanks to my boys, James, Ben, Andrew, and Joey, for understanding when Mom wants to be left alone to type. Thanks for letting me drag you to a shipyard and a naval museum on our family vacation and allowing me to nerd out. And for the great brainstorming sessions—I’m still trying to work in the character that swallows a key.
Amelia would recommend widowhood to
anyone who inquired about it, though she supposed it would perhaps be more difficult on women who had actually formed an acquaintance with and felt some affection toward their husbands. As it stood, through a proxy wedding and her new husband’s untimely death before their actual meeting, Amelia was now Lady Lockwood—widow to one Lord Lawrence Walter Drake, the late Earl of Lockwood—and she could not have been more pleased.
Since her father, Admiral Becket, was regularly absent from her life—typically at sea or in London—and she had no other family, widowhood had brought with it freedom from the requisite chaperones who had always had to accompany her upon venturing into society. Her new station also delivered her from the clutches of the well-meaning yet incessant matchmakers, who were determined to find a husband for every young woman within their range of influence in Spanish Town. At the age of twenty, Amelia was now a noblewoman with an inheritance to rival nearly any lady’s on the island of Jamaica. Not to mention, with her dark hair, blue eyes, and creamy complexion, she looked rather fetching in black, if she did say so herself.
Pausing in her daily inspection of her family plantation, she set her parasol upon the ground, pulled a small blade from her reticule, cut a sliver from a nearby stalk of sugarcane, and popped it into her mouth. When the sweet taste was gone, she would need to discreetly spit out the chewed pulp, and the notion that nobody would scold the earl’s widow for such an unladylike action caused her to smile.
She followed the dirt path between the high stalks and up a gentle rise to a hill where she could command a better view of the fields. Turning in a slow circle, Amelia noted with approval the dark smoke rising from the cane as the dried leaves were burned in preparation for harvest.
Amelia waved as the plantation steward approached. Mr. Ramsey was a short man with dark skin and a quick smile. He used a walking stick and wore a wide-brimmed straw hat that bounced as he walked.
“I believe we shall have most of the eastern fields harvested and pressed in the next month, miss—I mean, m’lady.”
“That is good news indeed, Mr. Ramsey. And I should like to also remind you of our appointment with the sugar-press builder this afternoon.”
“Such a thing will undoubtedly increase our production,” he said, squinting his eyes and tapping his finger on his chin.
“True. But I’d like to hear the man explain the product more clearly, to understand the merits of such an investment before we commit the funding for a new press.”
Mr. Ramsey nodded his head sagely. The wide brim flapped up and down. “A wise decision.” He gave a quick bow and turned to walk back down the path toward the field.
Amelia felt a surge of satisfaction. Such an early harvest would yield a high profit. Cane sugar was always in high demand by the merchants who would be leaving for Europe before winter, and the trade embargo between England and France only drove the sugar prices higher. That was something for which she could thank the emperor Napoleon.
The sound of the workers’ low voices singing as they tended the crops made its way across the fields, filling her with a comforting reassurance. She’d listened to the islanders’ songs since she was a child, and they were as familiar to her as the sound of the ocean waves upon the beach or the calls of tropical birds.
Though it was still shy of ten o’clock in the morning, the late summer humidity caused Amelia’s dress to stick to her skin, and drops of perspiration slid down her neck. Her parasol provided a scant amount of shade but no cooling. She pulled at the fabric of her bodice. The silky crepe reminded her of the fact that she was in mourning for a man she never knew; whose name she bore; and who, even after his death, controlled her destiny.
Lawrence Drake, the late earl of Lockwood, had been a great friend of Amelia’s father, which, in itself, had been reason for her reluctance to sign the legal documents attaching her to a stranger. Though such things had never been discussed in her presence, she knew the type of man her father was: a force to be reckoned with at sea, but in port, a gambler, heavy drinker, and participant in various sorts of debauchery. Luckily, the admiral’s less-than-stellar reputation had little effect on Amelia, an ocean away in the colony of Jamaica, where she’d been born and raised, first by her mother, then by her housekeeper after her mother’s death. Her father had been away at sea when his wife had died nearly ten years ago, and he had returned just twice to see his daughter since. She could only imagine what sort of man the late Lord Lockwood had been in order for Admiral Becket to consider him a great friend.
It had been over a year ago that the admiral had sent word, ordering (the admiral always ordered) Amelia to sit for a portrait miniature, which was immediately conveyed to him by courier to London. She’d allowed herself to entertain a small hope that perhaps her father missed her and wanted a picture of his only daughter for himself, but she should have known better.
She walked toward the main house, admiring the way the whitewashed stone pillars contrasted with the green of the fields and the deep blue of the sky. The plantation was her first love, and its care constantly occupied her mind. There was still plenty of work to do today. As usual, she had ledgers to review, and then later in the afternoon, there was the meeting with the merchant and Mr. Ramsey to discuss a new sugar press. However, in the tradition of the island, she’d retire to her cool room during the harsh midday heat. Today she planned to work on a dress she was sewing to wear when her full mourning period was finished. She opened her retractable lace fan and wafted it in front of her face, stirring up a breeze as she walked.
It had been only four months after she’d sent the small likeness of herself to her father that he’d arrived personally in Jamaica with a letter of proposal and marriage documents to be signed in the presence of a magistrate. Apparently the portrait had done its job, she had thought bitterly.
Amelia had put up a protest, but as she already knew, the admiral’s word was law. He had assured her that her new husband would be occupied with his commitments in India for a minimum of nine months. It was the guarantee of at least a year of freedom from suitors and matchmakers and horrid debutante balls before she’d even be in the same room with her husband that, in the end, persuaded her to reluctantly accept.
When the news of Lord Lockwood’s death had come only a few months later, she was ashamed at the relief she’d felt. Her father had left the next day for London—no doubt to ensure that her widow’s jointure settlement would be honored based on the date of her signature. And she hadn’t been at all sad to see him go. He was harsh and demanding toward her, and his presence put the servants on edge, as he had a tendency for cruelty. Amelia didn’t like anything to disrupt the morale and structured way she ran the plantation. Her father had constantly attempted to usurp her authority and make changes that frustrated not only her but everyone who worked for her as well.
As she came around a bend in the road, she saw two horses standing in the shade, where her stable boy had unsaddled them. He was brushing them down as they drank from buckets of water. She waved to the boy, slightly puzzled that the merchant had arrived so early. She’d need to send someone to the eastern fields to retrieve Mr. Ramsey.
Amelia stepped through the front door, removing her straw hat from her head and her reticule from her wrist.
, she thought,
this has been a fine morning for introspection
. And the conclusion she had arrived at was thus: men married for beauty, and women, for money. The idea that love might somewhere enter into the picture was purely laughable.
“Blast!” Captain Sir William Drake
exclaimed under his breath. He clenched his hands together behind his back as he paced around the drawing room in the plantation house. Cleaning up his brother’s mistake and running errands for the admiral—this was in no respect how the captain had wanted to spend his time in port. He had a ship to outfit, repairs to attend to, supplies to catalog, and a crew of over seven hundred men—either under guard or reveling in the infamous streets of Kingston—to get shipshape and ready to sail in two days. “Where is the infernal woman?”
“Why don’t you just relax, William?” Sidney Fletcher said, his tone annoyingly amused. “Stop storming about the room. And try the cakes. They’re actually quite delectable.”
Captain Drake glared at his first lieutenant, who leaned back in a comfortable chair, rested an ankle on his opposite knee, and looked for all the world as if this was the most pleasant day of his life. The two men had sailed together since their first voyage as cabin boys eighteen years earlier, and Sidney had no qualms about addressing William so informally, though he’d never take such liberties aboard ship.
“Sidney, must I remind you this is not a social call?” William ground his teeth together as he turned from the window. What nerve this ignorant woman had. Not only had she presumed to swoop in and usurp his inheritance, she had the audacity to keep them waiting in the blazing heat of her drawing room.
“Perhaps not, William, but I’ll wager it will be months before you have the prospect of such a lovely dessert again.” Sidney deliberated for a moment as he selected another pastry. Then finally choosing one, he ate it and licked the icing from his fingers with relish.
William resumed his pacing. What did he know about this woman, Amelia Becket? From what his solicitor had determined, she had received a letter of proposal from his idiot brother and signed a marriage settlement nearly six months ago. She had done everything perfectly legally, which made her deception all the more appalling. She’d undoubtedly spent months, if not years, calculating and strategizing how to perfectly execute her plan. Well, now
was the earl, and if she thought she was going to commandeer what rightfully belonged to his family, she was sorely mistaken. He would find a way to disinherit her and expose her marriage for the fraud it was.
In his brother’s effects, he had found a miniature painting of Amelia Becket. She was lovely to be sure, but beautiful women, in William’s experience, weren’t to be trusted.
His brother, Lawrence, obviously hadn’t shared that opinion. He’d been a rogue. That was obvious from the rumors of intrigues and the gambling debts amassed over his time as the earl. Lawrence had no doubt been in India because of his love for the exotic, and even thousands of miles away, he had managed to nearly drive the Lockwood estate into ruin—what little of it his father had not managed to ruin himself. Lawrence, perhaps thinking himself invincible, had not provided a will before his death; at least, none had been discovered. This meant that if the marriage was indeed verified, his widow was entitled to one-third of his estates for life.
Voices from the front hall caught his attention.
“Is my appointment here so soon, Mrs. Hurst?”
“No, m’lady”—at this, William clenched his fists; the woman deserved no such title—“but two men in regimentals are awaiting you in the drawing room. I delivered iced tea and cakes not ten minutes ago.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hurst. As usual, I don’t know what I would ever do without you.”
A dark-haired young woman dressed in a black mourning gown entered the room. Sidney stood and walked toward the doorway while William remained near the window and took a moment to study her. She had light skin and deep blue eyes that sparkled with energy as she assessed her guests. She wore her shiny dark tresses piled atop her head, though a few strands had escaped and curled around her forehead and cheeks. Her face he recognized from the miniature. The artist had done her no favors; she was much prettier in person. He chided himself for the thought, resolving not to be taken in by Amelia Becket’s attractiveness as was his brother.
“Good day, officers. My father, the admiral, is away from home now. I’m sorry you made the journey inland for naught.”
“We’ve not come to see your father, Miss Becket.” William managed to keep his voice calm.
Amelia’s face clouded with confusion. She looked between the men before her manners took over. Her eyes moved to the gold epaulettes on William’s shoulders and then to his face. “I’m afraid we’ve not been introduced, Captain.” She stepped forward and held out her hand. “Lady Lockwood.” Her boldness was unnerving, to say the least. What sort of woman introduced herself to a gentleman? William fought to subdue his anger at the presumptive manner in which she used the title.
“Captain Sir William Drake.” He gave a sharp bow.
Amelia looked at him for a moment. Her eyes darted to the black armband he wore, and he saw understanding dawn on her face. “Captain Drake.” He watched her closely for any expressions of guilt but was disappointed when she had the nerve to look at him with compassion in those blasted blue eyes. “I extend my deepest condolences on the passing of your brother, Captain.”
“Thank you,” William said. And hearing an impertinent cough from Sidney, he continued, “And please allow me to introduce my first lieutenant, Sidney Fletcher.”
“A pleasure, Mr. Fletcher.” Amelia bobbed in a small curtsy as Sidney took her hand and preformed a deep and exceedingly improper bow that caused her to laugh—a lovely sound that would have made a lesser man smile. But William was not so easily taken in.
“Please, won’t you sit down, gentlemen? It is not often that I receive visitors and certainly not family. I am truly delighted that you would make the journey to visit me.”
“Our pleasure, my lady,” Sidney said as Amelia sat and motioned for them to do likewise.
William ground his teeth at the title. He sat on the settee directly across from her, and Sidney took an armchair next to him.
“And may I pour you some iced tea?”
“Tea would be lovely,” Sidney said, smiling like a simpering dolt.
Leveling a look at his first lieutenant, William cleared his throat. “This is not a social visit, Miss Becket.”
Sidney settled back into his chair with his glass of cool tea, as if getting comfortable for the entertainment that was undoubtedly to follow. He looked back and forth between them, eyebrows raised, and an expression of amused anticipation on his face.
“Oh, please excuse my assumption. And do call me Amelia, Captain. We are practically brother and sister.” Her smile was so charming that it nearly caught him off guard. He might have been fooled had he not known it was only an act.
William sat ramrod straight on the edge of the settee. “I shall not speak to you so familiarly, Miss Becket.”
Amelia’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth and closed it again, looking toward Sidney with her brow furrowed. William marveled that she was able to feign such a look of distress in her wide eyes. He was indeed dealing with a master of manipulation.
“What the captain is trying to say, my lady, is that he would prefer to become better acquainted with you before addressing you by your given name,” Sidney soothed.
what I am trying to say. And I’d thank you to not put words in my mouth.” He shot Sidney a look that would have caused any other man in his command to quake in his boots. Sidney merely smiled, raised his glass in a salute, nodded his head, and gestured for William to continue.
William turned his gaze back toward Amelia. “Miss Becket, I’ll not stand on ceremony. I am here on orders from your father, the admiral, who requests your presence in London.”
“Oh.” Amelia lowered her glass to hold it in her lap. But not before William noticed that her hands were shaking. “And did my father say why he wants me to come to London?”
“A matter of discrepancy in your jointure inheritance. His solicitor felt the matter was of such a nature as to require the presence of all concerned parties.”
Amelia was silent for a moment, looking at a spot on the wooden floor. William supposed she was most likely squirming inside, as her deception was about to be exposed. Even if Admiral Becket was his superior, he would not let the man and his daughter take advantage of him in such a manner.
She leaned forward, setting the glass on the low table in front of her. “May I ask you a question, Captain?”
William nodded his head once.
“First, I must apologize. I regret that I know nothing of your family. Am I to assume that upon the death of my husband, you are now the earl?”
“That is correct.”
“Therefore, sir, if there is a discrepancy in the marriage settlement, it exists solely between your lordship and my father. I cannot imagine that my presence in London will be of any use to either party in settling this matter.” Amelia stood, and the men stood with her. “If you’ll forgive me, I have no desire to travel to London to be a pawn in a discussion concerning financial negotiations, as it shall be decided with or without my input.” She dipped in a small curtsy. “Good day, gentlemen. And Mr. Fletcher, do come again.”
Amelia turned to leave but stopped when William spoke.
“Miss Becket, I’m afraid I did not make myself clear. I did not intend for you to understand that you had any choice in the matter. In spite of our disagreement, your father is my commanding officer and I am obligated to follow his orders, which are to ensure that you indeed travel to London.” William pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to her.
She took it and studied it for a moment, reading her name on the front side. Breaking the seal, she slid out a folded piece of paper. Amelia glanced up at the men before walking a few steps away to read the message.
After a moment, she refolded the note and turned back toward William. “Very well, sir, you may tell my father that you did your duty, and I will send my steward to book a passage from Kingston to London at my earliest convenience.”
From the corner of his eye, William saw Sidney cover his mouth with his hand in effort to hold in a snicker.
William took a breath, attempting to control his irritation. “As per the admiral’s orders, you are to travel aboard my ship, the HMS
Amelia’s eyebrows shot up. “A man-of-war?” Her eyes flashed and her voice rose. “I will not travel aboard a gunship and be a target for every French battle cruiser upon the sea. There is certainly no need to remind you, Captain, that we are at war. A loaded frigate is hardly safe transportation.”
Her words rang more true than William would have liked. He understood firsthand the dangers of a sea battle, and under the command of the emperor, the French had become more violent in their strategy, no longer seeking to merely capture a British ship but to annihilate it completely.
“My lady.” Sidney stepped around the low table and stood next to Amelia, speaking in a gentle voice. “The French are not discriminatory about which ships they strike. Your father must be convinced that you will be safest aboard a vessel built specifically to withstand such an attack.”
Amelia looked at Sidney with a small smile.
“Surely,” Sidney continued diplomatically, “he is concerned only for your protection.”
At his words, she looked away but not before William saw an expression of disbelief. Perhaps Amelia Becket knew the sort of man her father was. Did the admiral really mean to protect her? Or only her inheritance? For a moment William almost felt sorry for her.
She stepped away from the men, standing at the window and holding the sheer curtains aside. “Jamaica is my home.” She spoke softly as she looked across the fields almost as if she had forgotten she wasn’t alone. “I have no desire to leave her and the plantation; it is harvest season, and I am needed here.” Turning around, she lifted her chin as she faced the men. “I am sorry, Captain, but you must convey my decision to my father. I absolutely refuse to travel to London.”
“Then I am afraid I will have no alternative than to bodily force you to comply and convey you to London in chains.”
Amelia’s face drained of color, but she held her head high. Her eyes narrowed. “You would not dare.”
“Miss Becket,” William said coldly. “I think it would astonish you to find out what I would and would not dare to do.”
Sidney stepped toward Amelia and took her hand, turning her slightly away from William. “My lady, the
is beautiful. The sea is calm this time of year, and it will be a delightful voyage. The Gulf Stream current will be full of dolphins and flying fish; perhaps we shall even see an iceberg in the North Atlantic. You will hardly want the journey to end once we reach London.” He bowed again, to William’s irritation. “I should dearly love your company.”
Sidney’s words had their desired effect, as Amelia’s features softened.
William ground his teeth and rolled his eyes. This had already taken enough of his time. He had dreaded this encounter since reading the admiral’s message in Haiti. The message had been enclosed with their new mission assignment, which was nearly as troubling in itself. “We make sail at high tide in two days. A detachment will be sent to fetch you, with orders that should you resist—”
“It shall truly be a delight to have you aboard, m’lady,” Sidney spoke over the captain’s words—an infraction punishable with lashings aboard ship.
She turned away from William, leaving no doubt that she was speaking only to Sidney. “I think we shall be fine friends, Mr. Fletcher. You are very gentlemanly, despite your misfortune of having a poorly mannered beast for a captain.” She looked directly at William, raised one eyebrow slightly, then walked past the two men toward the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I have travel preparations to make.”
With that, Amelia exited the room, leaving William and Sidney staring after her.
Sidney was the first to break their astonished silence. He laughed heartily, slapping his friend on the shoulder before walking back to the low table and selecting one last finger cake. “William, I think your final voyage promises to be the most entertaining yet.”