The rules of courtship are swept out to sea when a shipwreck offers a Reckless Bride a true taste of paradise...
CAN A WHIRLWIND ROMANCE
In Elizabeth Essex's A Scandal to Remember, for too long, Miss Jane Burke's father has taken advantage of her painstaking research. Heading to the South Seas to make her own name as a scientist despite the crew's insistence that a woman aboard is bad luck, she isn't prepared to be championed by a handsome ship's officer who rouses longings inside her as wild as any storm...
LEAD TO A PROPER PROPOSAL?
For Lieutenant Charles Dance, a post on His Majesty's survey ship Tenacious is just one more dutiful rung on the ladder of his career. Even a headstrong bluestocking on board is less troubling than the ship's drunken captain-and the ferocious gales that drive the ship off course. Stranded on a remote island, passion blazes between them as hot as the sun, but it's Jane's love that Charles wants forever...
"A sophisticated blend of vivid historical detail, exquisite characterization, and delicious sexual tension." -USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean
About the Author
Elizabeth Essex is the critically acclaimed author of historical novels including The Pursuit of Pleasure, A Sense of Sin, and the RITA Award nominated The Danger of Desire. When not re-reading Jane Austen, sipping tea or mucking about her garden, Elizabeth can be found writing, making up wonderful stories about people who live far more interesting lives than she. It wasn't always so. Elizabeth graduated from Hollins College with a BA in Classical Studies and Art History, and then earned her MA from Texas A&M University in Nautical Archaeology, also known as the archaeology of shipwrecks.
Read an Excerpt
Lieutenant Charles Dance was old enough and smart enough to know that some ideas were bad, right from the start. Some choices were no choice at all, especially when fueled by desperation. And some things were enough to drive a man to drink.
Except that his captain was already drunk, reeling about his cabin reeking of gin at ten o’clock in the morning. And they hadn’t even left Portsmouth dock.
“Who in the hell are you?”
“Lieutenant Dance, reporting for duty, sir.”
The old sot of a captain blinked his rheumy eyes at Dance, and stepped curiously sideways, as if they were in high seas, and the deck were rising up to meet his foot. He squinted upward to try and focus on Dance’s rather tall person. “What are you doin’ here, man?”
Dance ducked his head to step forward under the beams overhead. He never had fit in a damn frigate. “I’ve been assigned to Tenacious, Captain. I’ve come to be your first lieutenant, sir.” Dance raised his voice slightly, and enunciated his words, in case the man was deaf as well as drunker than a gin whore.
“Damn your eyes. Stand still.”
Not deaf then, but most assuredly a grizzled, grumpy old drunk who showed no signs of recognition, or cognizance, much less sobriety.
Dance dug in his old blue uniform coat to produce his written orders, handed to him only that morning. The orders he had been desperate to accept, because he knew damn well he was unlikely to get another posting that seemed such an easy berth.
He had been eight months out of employment, put ashore on half-pay and close rations like most of the fleet. Eight months of watching his chances of getting a better command dwindle to nothing, while better men—men with influence and connections—were deprived of their profession as well.
Now that the navy had won the bloody war, and saved Britain from sure invasion, they were all redundant—a drain on a nation ready to forget the past and be pleased with the future. The trouble was, of course, that after so many years of war, Dance and men like him were unfit for any other gainful profession. Unfit for any other company but their own.
Which might explain why his captain was drunk and alone.
“My orders are to join you for this voyage to the South Seas, sir. An expedition of the Royal Society, is it not? Slated to leave as soon as the ship has finished being made ready?”
Dance had jumped to accept his old friend Will Jellicoe’s suggestion that he take the commission aboard Tenacious. Such a lengthy expedition looked to provide suitable, easy employment for several years, even without the added bonus of a monetary prize from the Duke of Fenmore for safeguarding the expedition of naturalists under the duke’s liberal patronage. One didn’t turn down a patron like the Duke of Fenmore, even if it meant signing on with a captain who looked as if he ought to have been put to bed with a cannonball years ago.
Dance might have expected that Captain Muckross be old and less than accomplished. Energetic, successful captains were unlikely to be given such an unimportant—by Admiralty standards—commission as a tame expedition of dull naturalists. But what choice did Dance have? A bad situation was better than no situation at all. He had rather take his chances with a decrepit captain, in a decrepit ship, than sit about in his decrepit lodging house wishing he were anywhere else.
The decrepit old sot of a captain was still trying in vain to focus upon the paper Dance extended toward him, but failed. Instead, he waved his new lieutenant away with an impatient, ill-coordinated sweep of his arm that nearly toppled him into a chair. “Well then, what are you gawping about here, boy? Get your bloody arse topside, and leave me in peace. Be about your damn business.”
Dance folded his orders away, and took his arse topside, where there was plenty of damn business to see to. The evidence of the captain’s mismanagement was everywhere—the ship was a hovel, about as decrepit and ill-kept as a Royal Navy frigate could be, and still be afloat. Lines were slack and rotting. Hardware and fittings were ill-used, and in bad repair. The entire vessel was filthy and stank like a stale gin mill.
In its present state, Tenacious was nothing better than a floating coffin.
It would take a week of work just to sort out the good from the bad, and replace the most pressing of the vessel’s rotting needs. And then there was the matter of who might pay for such repairs. Even within the Admiralty, repairs cost hard money. The yards at Portsmouth shipyard only disgorged their stores readily for captains willing and able to pay.
Dance didn’t mind spending other men’s money—the captain’s or the Duke of Fenmore it mattered not—especially if it would keep him from a watery grave. Because in its present state, the ship would see them all drowned before they reached Salvador de Bahia.
Dance ascended the ladder to the quarterdeck slowly, mentally cataloguing everything that needed to be done, and wondering why that very same work wasn’t presently being done. A very few men idled about, squinting at him without much curiosity, a stranger in their midst. And the quarterdeck, upon which at least one officer should have appeared on duty, was deserted.
“Who has the deck?” Dance asked no one in particular and everyone within earshot, if only to see who would answer.
Interesting. And disheartening. There was a tension, a holding back that told him Tenacious was a distrustful, secretive ship.
“You there.” Dance called to the only sailor he could find on the quarterdeck—a fellow lounging near the base of the mizzen mast, whittling carefully away at some piece of knifework. An idle topman from the looks of his once-bright kerchief and gold-ringed ear, with twoscore years to his tattooed hide. “Who has the deck?”
The sailor squinted up at Dance from the comfort of his carving. “No watches in port.” And then he added as a sort of afterthought, “Sir.”
“The hell you say.” Dance had never heard of such idleness. He was no martinet for strict discipline, but in all his years of being at sea, he had never been aboard a Royal Navy vessel that did not keep some sort of watch schedule, even in port. “Who has charge as the senior officer here?”
The idler had the good sense to hear the outrage in Dance’s tone, and shuffle to his feet, but the mahogany-skinned tar still looked at Dance as if he feared the new lieutenant had taken a blow to the head, though he tugged his white forelock in belated deference. “Not sure.”
Dance had always thought of himself as a patient man. He had never been the hellfire-and-brimstone sort—hellfire and brimstone always took too much energy that could be put to better use. “Let me rephrase. Who is the senior officer who is not currently drunk?”
The tar’s wrinkled face creased into a wry smile. “Not currently? Couldn’t say for sure, sir. No accounting for officers’ tastes.” And knowing he had already said too much, the man added, “Begging yer pardon, sir.”
Bloody blue fuck. This is what he had come to, amusing men who didn’t give a damn if he could have them flogged within an inch of their life. “What is your name, topman?”
“Flanaghan, sir. Topman as you say. Captain of the main.”
Irish. Which accounted for both the sunburned skin and the wry humor. But which also meant that Flanaghan was possessed of some skill as well as humor—he was a figure of authority, having been elected by the other men working his mast to lead them. A good man to have on his side.
“Flanaghan.” Dance impressed the name and the red face upon his memory, the same as he would need to do with every man jack aboard the ship. “Best to stand to something approaching attention, Flanaghan. I’m sure we’ll all be better for the exercise. Who are your officers?”
“Well.” The bronzed tar kept up his wry air. “There’s you, looks like.”
“No points for the easy fruit, Flanaghan. Lieutenant Dance. I’m assigned to be first.” Dance did not extend his hand to shake, but took the opportunity to avail himself of Flanaghan’s wry honesty. “Who was first before me?”
Flanaghan shook his head. “Haven’t had a first in all the time I been with her.”
Fuck all. The short hairs on the back of Dance’s neck stood up. He’d never heard of a navy ship without a first officer. Perhaps the captain wasn’t merely a useless drunk, but an abusive tyrant who couldn’t keep officers. “Does Tenacious have a sailing master?”
“Old Doc Whitely, sir, be sailing master.”
“Doctor they call him, on account of him having taken holy orders once upon a time in his life back in Norfolk, afore he escaped the preaching and come to sea some thirty years ago.”
A strange, gentleman’s education for a warrant officer, but Dance was happy enough to have a man of some learning in charge of the education of others—the sailing master being the instructor in navigation for any ship’s midshipmen. “Lieutenants and midshipmen?”
“No young gentlemen. Only Lieutenant Lawrence. He be young. Only passed for lieutenant at the end of our last cruise.”
“And when was Tenacious’s last cruise, Flanaghan?”
“We come into Portsmouth on Michaelmas, sir.”
So the ship and what might be left of her crew had been sitting idle for two months, growing barnacles on her hull since September, with no industry under a drunken captain, an elderly master, and a green boy as lieutenant.
“How many men has Tenacious lost since then?”
“Couldn’t rightly say, sir, as I never learnt my numbers that high.”
Another wry joke, Dance was sure, but it soured his gut all the same. This was his lot in life—the dregs from the bottom of the Admiralty’s brine-filled barrel. And likely the other remaining inmates of this floating prison were the same—too stupid or too lazy to go elsewhere.
“Pass word for the muster and punishment books to be brought to me, as well as the watch bills.” Although all of the ship’s books were under the ultimate authority of the captain, such books about the disposition of the crew—the positions and skills they held—were the responsibility of the first lieutenant. But without a first lieutenant, Tenacious’s books must have fallen to the sailing master. “Send the compliments of the deck that Lieutenant Dance wishes to speak to Mr. Whitely.”
While he waited for Flanaghan to carry out his order, Dance began making a list in his head of all the tasks for immediate attention, starting with the ramshackle animal pens moldering at the aft end of the quarterdeck. A single goat and a few skinny chickens picked their way through dark piles of straw dank with the ammonia reek of urine. The whole of it would need an unholy holystoning to clear out both the rats that were bound to be nestled in the bedding, and the stink.
But it was going to take more than holystones and lime to make Tenacious over into anything resembling a working naval ship. Everywhere he looked was work left undone by a lazy, shiftless crew. Broken ratlines in the shrouds. Loose hardware in the main chains. Slack halyards from the tops.
And he wasn’t the only one looking. No. He could feel the touch of the eyes of the men sizing him up, placing him in the rigid hierarchy of the navy by his age and the wear on his lieutenant’s uniform. Best to get it over with and let them have an eyeful. They’d find out the sort of man he was soon enough.
Dance stood at the quarterdeck rail and let himself be seen. He could still feel the weight of the crew’s curiosity, though they sifted out slowly to have a better look at him, like rats blinking in the watery sunshine, when a large fellow with the greasy look of a well-fed barn cat—not enough of a pet to be altogether civilized—picked his way up the nearby companionway ladder. With one foot over the combing, the man paused and narrowed his face, as if he could scent the particular stench of a superior officer in the air.
Fair enough. Dance’s hackles were standing up as well. Instinct honed by years of service told Dance this man was his natural enemy in a way that neither the French nor the Americans had ever been.
But he knew better than to let it show. When Flanaghan returned, shifting his eyes from Dance to the bulky man as if measuring them up, one against the other, Dance simply pretended he hadn’t seen.
The bulky man’s self-created uniform marked him as a warrant officer, a fact which Flanaghan immediately confirmed when he finally spoke. “Mr. Ransome be bosun.” The topman said the name quietly, and all but made the sign of the cross, as if he would ward off the evil eye that the bosun surely possessed.
The few men who had ventured out to have a look at Dance moved away from the bosun without a sound, dispersing to quieter, safer corners—rats scuttling back into the comfort of the dark.
So. It was like that.
Bosuns were rarely popular men—it was their job to keep the crew at their work, and to punish those found lagging—but on first impression Dance thought Mr. Ransome was the sort to be rather more hated and feared than he was respected.
Dance would have to think and move quickly to gain the upper hand.
He smiled, and spoke in the instant before the bosun opened his mouth—nothing was as effective as getting in the first word. “Mr. Ransome, I presume. Call all hands.”
But Ransome proved to be a devilishly cool customer, with mettle in his backbone. He took a long moment to look at this specimen of a lieutenant, as if he had seen twenty such men before, and found them all lacking. “And who be you?”
“The fellow with white facing on his coat, Mr. Ransome.” Dance indicated the sign of his rank, but kept his tone level, giving no room for argument. “Call all hands.”
The greasy bastard—and within the last few moments Dance had come to the conclusion that the man was indeed a clever bastard—slid his eyes sideways, and hesitated just long enough to set a quick match to Dance’s normally slow-burning temper.
Dance wasn’t a man given to ostentatious displays of either valor or displeasure. He did not indulge in fits, or set himself against other men. It wasn’t his way—it was too much work and too much excitement for too little return. But for some reason he had no time to fathom, he wanted to take Ransome on.
In less time than it took the big man to narrow his bulbous, round eyes, Dance had snatched the whistle that was the bosun’s badge of office from around his neck, and snapped it off its chain in one swift, violent tug. He had the whistle to his mouth and was shrilly piping all hands before the belligerent man had instinctively reached out his hand to grab it back.
Dance pivoted neatly out of the bosun’s reach, and looked pointedly at the big ham hock of a hand that hung in the air between them. “Careful, Mr. Ransome,” he said in a low voice. “Striking a superior officer is a hanging move.” Dance tossed the brass whistle back, and kept his voice low and even—conciliatory almost. “And I would advise you to repair your whistle, so that you are prepared to do your job the next time I might require you to do so.”
The bastard was cagey enough to knuckle his forehead. But his greasy smile and sideways glance told Dance that there would be a reckoning.
“Another word of advice, Mr. Ransome.” Again, Dance made his voice conversational, bland even, and he kept his eyes on the men assembling under the waist. “I’m not a bastard for having my way. But I’ll expect you to see to your duty, and fulfill your orders when I ask you to. We’ll find our feet with each other, Mr. Ransome. And the sooner you understand where my toes start and yours leave off, the better off we’ll all be.” Dance nodded easily. “And now, with the compliments of the deck, I’ll ask you to call your men.”
Ransome slid apart from Dance, and started bawling what was necessary, taking his frustrations out on the hapless onlookers, lashing out indiscriminately with his cane. “Look alive there. Look alive.” He let a roar down the main hatchway, “Out or down. Out or down. Rouse you out, you grass-combing lubbers.”
Within two minutes, Dance counted perhaps sixty men grouped loosely in the waist before him, instead of the one hundred and forty that was the usual complement of a frigate in wartime. Even with allowances for the peace, Tenacious was severely undermanned.
And with only two other officers, and no midshipmen—he would have to see to that straightaway.
“Mr. Ransome, I’ll have the punishment and muster rolls, if you please.” Dance was careful to let Ransome have something of his way, and be seen to have a superior knowledge of the ship’s people.
“The rolls? Sir?”
There was enough real confusion in the man that Dance could take his hesitation for something other than insolence. “The books, Mr. Ransom, with the names of the crew and their positions and their allotment into starboard and larboard watches. The muster and punishment rolls.”
“Captain Muckross is not one much given to scribblin’ nor record keeping.”
Again, Dance was no slave to Admiralty regulations, but he had never heard of a ship that didn’t at least keep the minimum of records, especially a daily log and the names and wages of its crew. “Mr. Ransome, if you do not know where or by whom they are kept, then kindly find me someone who does know.”
“Givens,” the mate growled.
Another man, as well padded as the bosun, stepped forward.
Even without an introduction, Dance would have known the man was the purser. He had the nip-cheese look of the profession—the sort of man whose rat-quick eyes were constantly estimating the value of everything he saw.
“Mr. Mathias Givens, purser, at your service, Lieutenant.” The man even went so far in currying Dance’s favor that he doffed his hat. Dance had met his type before, oily and obsequious in his obvious attempts to please, but secretive and greasy behind one’s back.
“Mr. Givens, I require the ship’s books, specifically the muster and punishment logs.”
“But the punishment…” The purser’s eye slid back to the bosun.
And well they should, as the bosun was the one who carried out all punishments, and in the absence of a senior officer—at least one sober enough to write down the offense and its consequence in lashes—Dance would have expected a man like Ransome to have kept the books himself. Interesting. Neither man claimed the responsibility.
“Find them. Now.” Dance put all the cynical perturbation he could muster into his voice. “Best to sort the bad facts out sooner rather than later. In the meantime—” Dance took out his own hardbound blank book—brought in the now clearly foolish hope that he might write an account of the voyage himself for publication. “But as you will be engaged in finding the existing logs, I will need you to furnish the name of a literate man who can act as a clerk for the interim.”
“A clerk?” The purser licked his lips and looked more than flustered. “I’m sure I can do all that’s required, sir.”
“Not while you’re employed in the hunt for those books, Mr. Givens. A name, if you please?”
“If you’ll pardon me, sir.” One of the younger members of the crew, a wiry boy with a shock of sun-bleached blond hair, stepped forward. “I knows all my letters and numbers, sir. And can read and write.”
“Excellent.” Here was his first piece of luck, but hopefully not his last. “Your name?”
“Morris, you are hereby promoted to clerk, unless you are one of Flanaghan’s men.” Dance was careful not to take on the whole of the damn ship in this, his first battle. “In which case, your promotion is ad hoc and only for as long as it is necessary. At present, you will assist me in taking down the names of this crew.” He would meet each man, find his profession if he had one, his years and his level of skill. And see also what sort of men he was missing.
With Morris situated on an upturned cask, Dance had restored enough of the balance of power in his favor to be able to redress Mr. Ransome. “I’ll have the professionals first, Mr. Ransome, followed by the topmen.” As the men working the sails would be directly under his command, Dance wanted a good look at them, for their skill and professionalism would be put to the test in rounding the cape of South America, a difficult task in a good ship, and an impossible one in anything less.
“But before we start, I will tell you, one and all, that your hours of leisure are over. From this moment, until the moment we warp over our anchors and proceed down Channel, you will have nothing but unremitting work. Hard work. This ship, in its present state, is unfit for service, and a blight upon the honor of every man jack that belongs to her. You may all be perfectly resigned to sending yourselves to the bottom, but I for one am not. And so we will work, and we will refit this vessel from her loose tops to her rotten bottom.”
Dance leaned his arms on the quarterdeck rail and looked down at Tenacious’s ragtag people with what he hoped was stoic severity. “We’re going to make something of this ship, if it kills us all.”
Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Essex