The Admiral's Heart
Berkshire, England
    February, 1774
     
    Chapter
1
     
    She knew she was in trouble the minute she
stepped into the hot, crowded ballroom of Blackheath Castle and saw
the small knot of naval uniforms dominating the space near the
refreshment table.
    She had been in love with a naval officer
once.
    A long time ago.
    Before he had become an admiral.
    Before she had married.
    Before he had become famous.
    Before she had become widowed.
    A long time ago . . .
    Even so, the sight of the uniforms and gold
lace caused her heart to skip a beat and a sudden flush to warm her
skin, and her instinct was to melt back into the crowd and lose
herself in the protective swirl of dancers, gossipers, revelers,
and well-wishers, all of whom had come to help send off the Duke of
Blackheath’s heir-presumptive, Lord Charles de Montforte, in grand
style. Lord Charles had bought a captain’s commission in the King’s
Own Fourth Regiment of Foot, and he and the regiment were headed
off next week to the American colonies to help quell discontent in
the rebellious port of Boston. Anyone who was anyone was here to
say farewell.
    Lady Philippa Jane Ponsonby Hatfield was
also headed to America—not to fight the rebels, but to look over a
large parcel of land that her late husband had left to her in a
town somewhere out in the western part of Massachusetts. She
supposed she’d better accustom herself to seeing naval officers,
because, though it certainly wasn’t customary for civilians to be
traveling aboard naval ships, when one counted a mighty and
influential duke as one’s cousin—as she did Blackheath—“customary”
wasn’t always the done thing.
    Lucien pulled strings.
    People danced to his tune.
    It had always been thus.
    “Are you enjoying yourself, my dear?”
    So tight were her nerves, so desperate was
she to put space between herself and the group of glittering blue
and gold uniforms that Philippa gave a start and nearly spilled her
glass of punch.
    Speak of the devil.
    Literally.
    “Lucien,” she chastised her cousin, “You
have an uncanny habit of sneaking up on a person and scaring the
living daylights out of them.”
    The Duke of Blackheath was tall, commanding,
and resplendent in powder, satin and lace, but no less dangerous
than an underfed wolf, and his black eyes missed nothing.
    “Sneaking up? My dear, there was nothing
clandestine about my approach. I daresay that your attention was so
focused on a certain group of naval officers that I could have
borrowed one of their cannon and fired it, and still, you would not
have noticed me.”
    “I was not looking at them, I was . . . I
was pondering my growling stomach, and . . . and thinking of
fetching a plate for myself.”
    Blackheath only gave a knowing little
smile.
    And Pippa had a feeling—no, she had more
than a feeling, she knew —that her omniscient cousin knew
exactly what she was thinking, and feeling, and, yes, fearing, the
moment she spotted the group of naval officers laughing, talking,
and idly studying the pretty young women in the crowd and out on
the dance floor.
    He was like that, Lucien was.
    “Really, my dear, there is no need for
anyone to starve at a Blackheath ball. And as for that group over
there that you’ve been eying with such a faraway look in your eye,
‘tis only your brother Seth and his friends. Two of those captains
will be escorting my brother’s regiment to America . . . it would
have been a shame, not to invite them. Come, let us see to your
poor hungry stomach.”
    Offering his elbow, the duke guided her back
to the refreshment table, and with every step, Pippa’s eyes grew a
little larger, not in fear, but because, without her
spectacles—which she had placed in her reticule thanks to what
small bit of vanity she did possess—it meant that faces were a bit
blurry and she was trying her best to see. But perhaps seeing
wasn’t such a good idea.
    Certain things needed no reminders . . .
    A pond, with the sunshine warm upon

Similar Books

Lone Star Millionaire

Susan Mallery

The Protectors

Trey Dowell

Reilly 13 - Dreams of the Dead

Perri O'Shaughnessy

Lynna Banning

Plum Creek Bride

Crewel

Gennifer Albin

The Light Tamer

Devyn Dawson

Into the Light

Aleatha Romig

Cathedral of the Sea

Ildefonso Falcones