Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(8)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(8)
Author: Julia Quinn

It had been his sister-in-law’s favorite story to tell at dinner parties for years. And Andrew had never even told her about the ferret.

In the end, the princess didn’t marry Andrew or the Prince of Wales, but the Privy Council had been so impressed with Andrew’s unflappable demeanor that they decided he could serve his country better out of uniform than in. But not officially. Never officially. When the secretaries of state summoned him for a joint interview, they clarified that when they said “diplomatic” they had meant “conversational.” They didn’t want Andrew to negotiate treaties, they wanted him to talk to people. He was young, he was handsome, he was charming.

People loved him.

Andrew knew this, of course. He’d always made friends easily, and he had that rare gift of being able to talk almost anyone into almost anything. But it had felt strange to be ordered to do something so intangible. And so secret.

He had to resign his naval commission, of course. His parents were dumbfounded. Three years later, when he took command of a ship and began the life of a privateer, they had been disappointed in the extreme.

Privateering was not a noble profession. If an aristocratic gentleman wished to take to the seas, he wore a uniform and swore allegiance to King and Country. He did not command a ship of potentially disreputable sailors and smuggle goods for his own financial gain.

Andrew told his parents that this was why he sailed under an assumed name. He knew that they disapproved of his choices, and he did not want to bring dishonor to the family. What his parents didn’t know—since he wasn’t allowed to tell them—was that he wasn’t just a merchant ship captain. In fact, he’d never been just a merchant ship captain. He’d assumed command of the Infinity at His Majesty’s explicit request.

This had happened in 1782, when the government was reorganized, and the Northern and Southern Departments were transformed into the Home and Foreign Offices. With foreign affairs finally consolidated into one department, the new foreign secretary had begun to look for innovative ways to pursue diplomacy and protect British interests. He had summoned Andrew to London almost immediately upon assuming his office.

When Charles James Fox—the first foreign secretary and former leader of the House of Commons—asked a man to serve his country, that man did not say no. Even if it meant deceiving his own family.

Andrew did not perform the crown’s bidding on every voyage—there simply weren’t enough tasks for that, and it would have looked odd if he sat in port twiddling his thumbs until someone at the Foreign Office asked him to courier some papers to Spain or collect a diplomat in Brussels. Most of the time he was exactly what his crew thought he was—an ordinary sea captain, with mostly legal cargo.

But not this time. The current foreign secretary had entrusted a packet of papers to his care, and he’d been tasked with delivering them to the British envoy in Portugal. Andrew wasn’t sure what it was all about; he was rarely told the contents of the documents he carried. He suspected it had something to do with the ongoing negotiations with Spain over the settlements on the Mosquito Coast. It didn’t matter, really. All that mattered was that he’d been told to get the papers to Lisbon as soon as possible, and that meant he had to leave now, when the winds and tides were favorable. He certainly did not have time to clear out the cave that Poppy Bridgerton had discovered. Nor did he have the manpower to leave three people behind—the number it would take to distribute the goods and guard the girl until the job was done.

If it had just been about profits, he would have abandoned the cargo and taken the financial loss. But the cave was also used as a drop point, and hidden in one of the crates was a letter to the prime minister that Andrew had just brought back from an envoy in Spain. Someone from London was due to pick it up in two days’ time. It was vital that the cave remained undisturbed, at least until then.

So he was stuck with Poppy Bridgerton.

“Sir!”

Andrew turned to see Brown heading his way.

“I delivered the letter, sir,” the seaman said.

“Good,” Andrew grunted. “Did anyone see you?”

Brown shook his head. “I had Pinsley hand it to a housemaid. No one knows him hereabouts. And I made him wear that black wig you keep aboard.”

“Good.”

“Didn’t want to leave it on the steps,” Brown added. “Didn’t think you’d want to chance it not getting read.”

“No, of course not,” Andrew said. “You did the right thing.”

Brown nodded his thanks. “Pinsley says the maid says she’ll give it to the lady of the house straightaway.”

Andrew nodded sharply. He could only hope that all went according to plan. There would still be hell to pay when Miss Bridgerton was returned in two weeks’ time, but he might be able to retain at least a semblance of control over the situation if her friend kept quiet. And if her friend did keep her mouth shut, and no one ever learned that Poppy had gone missing, Andrew just might avoid having to marry the chit.

Oh yes. He was well aware that this was a very real possibility. He was a gentleman, and he’d compromised a lady, however inadvertently. But he was also pragmatic. And as there was at least a remote chance that she’d emerge from her ordeal with her reputation intact, it seemed best that she not be apprised of his true identity.

At least this was what he was telling himself.

It was time to depart, so Andrew found his place at the wheel, his body stiffening with a rush of excitement as they lifted anchor and the Infinity ’s wind-filled sails propelled them forward. One would think the sensation would grow old, that so many voyages at sea would have left him immune to the thrill of the wind and the speed and the spray of the sea as they raced across the waves.

But it was still exhilarating, every time. His blood surged, and his lungs filled with the tangy salt air, and he knew that at this moment in time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Which was ironic, he supposed, as he wasn’t in an actual place, but rather moving swiftly across the water. Did that mean he was meant to be in motion? Would he live his days on the water? Should he live his days on the water?

Or was it time to go home?

Andrew gave his head a shake. This was no time to grow maudlin. Philosophy was for the idle, and he had work to do.

He scanned the sky as he steered the Infinity past the town of Lyme Regis and into the English Channel. It was a perfect day for sailing, crisp and clear and with a hearty wind. If the weather held as such, they could reach Portugal in five days.

“Please, God,” Andrew said, with the sheepish expression of one who didn’t often make divine entreaties. But if ever there was a time for prayer, this was most definitely it. He was confident that he could manage Poppy Bridgerton, but still, he’d rather have her off his hands as soon as possible. As it was, her presence meant the eventual end of his career. At some point she would learn his true name; given how close he was to her cousins, it seemed impossible that she wouldn’t.

“Sir?”

Andrew nodded, acknowledging Billy Suggs, at thirteen the youngest hand on the ship.

“Sir, Pinsley says there’s a woman on the ship,” Billy said. “Is that the truth?”

“It is.”

There was a pause, and then Billy said, “Sir? Isn’t that devilish bad luck, sir? To have a woman aboard, sir?”

Andrew fought the urge to close his eyes and sigh. This was exactly what he was worried about. Sailors were a notoriously superstitious lot. “Nothing but foolish talk, Billy,” he said. “You won’t even know she’s here.”

Billy looked dubious, but he headed back to the galley.

“Hell,” Andrew said, despite the fact that there was no one close enough to hear, “If I’m lucky, I won’t even know she’s here.”

Chapter 4

By the time Poppy heard the door to the captain’s cabin open, she was in a ferociously bad mood.

One to which she rather thought she was entitled. Being bound hand and foot tended to lower the spirits. Well, one hand and two feet. She supposed Captain James had showed some degree of kindness when he’d left her right hand free. Not that it had served her any use. He had not exaggerated when he’d boasted about the quality of sailors’ knots. It had taken but a minute for her to conclude that she had no hope of wriggling the rope loose. She supposed a feistier female might have persisted, but Poppy was not fond of raw skin or broken nails, and it was quite clear that that was all she’d achieve if she kept working at the knot.

   
Most Popular
» Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)
» Kill Switch (Devil's Night #3)
» Hold Me Today (Put A Ring On It #1)
» Spinning Silver
» Birthday Girl
» A Nordic King (Royal Romance #3)
» The Wild Heir (Royal Romance #2)
» The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)
» Nothing Personal (Karina Halle)
» My Life in Shambles
» The Warrior Queen (The Hundredth Queen #4)
» The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)
romance.readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2020