Captain Adam Miller needs to find a wealthy bride! With a title to pass on and an estate in ruins, he must marry well and produce an heir to turn the family fortunes around. Yet despite the endless parade of eligible heiresses thrust before him, none can compare to the exquisite but penniless Jenny Hastings.
The moment she sets eyes on the captain, Jenny is swept off her feet. But she has secrets that could change everything. When they come to light, will the captain still want her by his side?
Officers and Gentlemen
For duty, for honor, for love
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Miss Jenny Hastings glanced round the crowded ballroom and knew she had to make an instant escape. If the marquis saw her he would find a way to corner her, and she was determined he should not catch her in his trap. If there was one man she truly could not bear, it was Fontleroy. The way his eyes followed her was enough to send cold shivers down her spine. His was a calculating gaze, as if he thought her vulnerable and at his mercywhich, since the death of her beloved father, she was in danger of becoming.
'Oh, Papa,' she murmured beneath her breath. 'Why did you have to leave me alone so soon?'
She was not of course entirely alone, but her Aunt Martha and Uncle Rex were all but useless at protecting her. Her aunt believed anyone above the rank of lord must be conveying a favour on her niece by seeking her hand, and her uncle spent most of his life shut up in his library, unwilling to bother his head about his pretty niece.
In a hurry to quit the ballroom, Jenny almost bumped into one of the most beautiful girls she'd ever seen.
She smiled and apologised, instantly recognising Miss Lucy Dawlish.
'Forgive me,' she said. 'I wanted to avoid someonedid I tread on your foot?'
'No, not at all,' Lucy said and smiled. 'Jennyit is you. I thought I caught a glimpse of you earlier, but it is such a crush, isn't it?'
'Awful,' Jenny agreed. 'Which means the evening is a huge success. I came with my aunt and her friend Mrs Broxbourne. They have been talking all night and I was dancing quite happily until he turned up.'
Jenny moved her head to indicate the man watching them from the far side of the room. Lucy frowned and looked at her curiously.
'I do not think I've met the gentleman. He is not unattractive.'
'His soul is as black as pitch,' Jenny said. 'I can't prove it, but I think he had something to do with Papa's accident. He lost a considerable sum to the marquis that night '
'Oh, Jennyare you in trouble?'
Jenny considered, then inclined her head, her cheeks a little warm. 'Papa lost a great deal of money, Lucyand my aunt seems to imagine I should be glad of the marquis's interest. But I would rather die than be forced to marry such a man.'
'Then you shall not,' Lucy replied instantly. 'Although only my close friends know it, my engagement is to be announced quite soon and we shall be going home to the country to prepare. Do say you will come and stay, Jenny. Mama was only saying yesterday that she did not know how she would part with me when I marry. I shall not be far away, but she would be delighted to have you as her companion. She has always thought you a sensible girl with beautiful manners and I know you would be doing her a kindness if you would make your home at Dawlish Court.'
'How kind you are,' Jenny said, looking doubtful. 'Are you certain your mama would welcome a long-staying guest?'
'She would love it of all things. I am her only daughter and neither of my brothers has yet obliged her by marrying. They spend all their time in London or Newmarket. Mama would adore to have youif you can persuade your aunt to allow it.'
'Oh, I think I might.' Jenny breathed a sigh of relief as the marquis walked away, heading, she imagined, for the card room.
'Then it's all arranged. We shall take you up next week when we leave town. You must bring plenty of clothes for you will need them.'
'Thank you.' Jenny smiled at her. 'I think that gentleman is coming to ask you to dance. I shall go and speak to my aunt at once.'
Leaving Lucy to dance with the extremely handsome man who had come to claim her, Jenny began to make her way through the crowded ballroom. It was difficult to reach the other side of the room, where the dowagers sat, and she was forced to wait until the press of people allowed her to move on.
'Where is this paragon you promised me?' A man's voice charged with amusement claimed her attention. 'An heiress, pretty if not beautiful, not stupid and available. Now did you or did you not promise me such a rare item?'
'It is not as easy as that,' a second young man answered in kind.
'You are too particular, Adam. We have already shown you two perfectly suitable young ladies and neither was to your taste.'
'One of them giggled at everything I said and the other one had bad breath,' the first gentleman said. 'God save me from simpering heiresses. I've had them paraded in front of me ever since I rose from my convalescence bed and I despair of ever finding one I should wish to marry.'
The second gentleman laughed. 'If the young lady has a fortune, you immediately find some fault in her. I think the woman you would marry has yet to be born.'
Adam laughed and shook his head. 'I dare say you are right. I am a sight too particularbut the whole notion of it fills me with disgust. Why should I marry simply for the sake of a fortune?'
Jenny glanced over her shoulder at the young men who were so deep in their amusing conversation that they were completely unaware she'd heard every word. The coxcomb! The young man who was so hard to please was indeed handsome, but not above ordinary height. His hair was dark, almost black, and his eyes bright blue. He must have a high opinion of himself if none of the young ladies here this evening could please him. Jenny knew of six young women present that evening who were considerable heiresses and each of them had something to recommend them.
Miss Maddingly was blonde and extremely pretty in a delicate way. Miss Rowbottom was as dark as her friend was fair with rather striking eyebrows. Miss Saunders was a redhead and much admired. Miss Headingly-Jones was another blonde, with large blue eyes; Miss Hatton was not as beautiful as the others, but still attractive, and Miss Pearce was unfortunately a little squint-eyed, but her twenty thousand pounds should make her acceptable to most. What did the particular young man want in his future wife? Was he above being pleased?
His eyes seemed to rest on her for a moment and then passed on. Jenny frowned and moved further into the crush.
It was several minutes before she reached her aunt, who looked up and smiled vaguely at her.
'Fontleroy was looking for you earlier, my love. I think he meant to ask you to dance, but could not get near you for the crush.'
'It is exceedingly warm in here this evening, Aunt,' Jenny said. 'I met Lucy Dawlish. They go home next week and I have been invited to stay for some weeksuntil after her wedding.'
'Indeed?' Mrs Martha Hastings frowned for a moment. 'I was not aware her engagement had been announced. Well, I dare say it will be good company for you, Jenny. Lady Dawlish entertains only the best people and you must be flattered to be asked. I dare say you may meet a suitable gentleman in her companyand the marquis may post down to visit you if he chooses.'
'Lucy's engagement is not yet announced, but her friends know she is to marry Mark Ravenscar. I've met him only once, but he seems pleasant.'
'If you would but consider Fontleroy, you might be engaged yourself.'
Jenny sighed. She had tried on several occasions to make her aunt understand that she would never consider marriage to Fontleroy. Had she not a penny to her name she would prefer to work for her living as a governess or a companion. Being a paid companion could not be worse than living with Mrs Hastings.
'I have a little headache, Aunt. Do you think we could leave soon?'
'Well, it is very warm this evening,' her aunt agreed. 'Go and put on your pelisse, my love. We shall leave as soon as the carriage may be sent for.'
Jenny did not need to be told twice. She decided that it was easier to quit the room by keeping to the perimeter rather than trying to cross it. As she reached the door that led to the hall, which led up to the room provided for ladies to change, she caught sight of the gentlemen who had been discussing the heiresses earlier. One of them was dancing with a very pretty young woman, but the otherthe particular gentlemanwas standing frowning at the company as if nothing and no one pleased him. What a disagreeable young man he must be.
For a moment their eyes met across the room and his narrowed. Seeing a flicker of something in those relentless eyes, Jenny put her head in the air and turned her back. She had no wish to be the object of his interest even for a moment!
Adam's eyes moved about the room, picking out the various young ladies who had been recommended to him. They were all very well in their wayto dance with any one of them would be a pleasurebut the very idea of having to court a young lady for her fortune made his stomach turn. It was quite unfair of the earl to expect it of him. That it was expected had become ever more plain since Adam's return from the war.
'So you managed to escape death or crippling injury this time, Adam,' the earl had said in a voice of displeasure. 'Do I need to remind you of what might have happened had you been killed? It is time you set up your nursery, my boy. Unless you give me heirs the title will pass into oblivionand that prospect causes me pain. We have been earls since the time of the Conqueror. To lose the title or the estate would be equally painful to me. Do you mean to oblige me by marrying an heiress or not?'
'I do not wish to disoblige you, Grandfather,' Adam said, 'yet I would crave your indulgence a little longer. I would at least marry a young woman I can admire if nothing more.'
'Well, well,' the earl said tolerantly. 'There is time enough yet, but I do not have many years left to me. I should like to know the estate and the succession were safe.'
Adam had left his grandfather's estate and journeyed to London. It was his first appearance in the drawing rooms of society for a while. He had been away for some years, like many young men now returned from the wars. Adam knew that several of his friends were seeking young women of fortune. His was not the only estate to be encumbered with mortgages and in danger of sinking into extinction.
Had he seen a young lady who caught his attention he would have done his best to court her, even though the whole idea filled him with repugnance. To be seeking a wife for her fortune was not what Adam would have wished for given his choice. Indeed, he had not yet made up his mind to it. He had been invited to stay at Ravenscar for Mark's wedding and would do so, but before that he hoped to have some sport. There was an important meeting at Newmarket the following week and it was Adam's intention to attend.
A wry smile touched his mouth. If he could but place a lucky bet and win the stake he needed to improve his grandfather's fortunes, it would save the need for a distasteful decision. He was about to leave the ballroom when he saw a young woman regarding him from the far end of the room. Her expression was one of extreme disapproval. For a moment he wondered what he could have done to upset herto his certain knowledge he had never met the young lady.
He had time to notice that she had particularly fine eyes and a soft mouth before she turned away and left the room. She was not one of the notable heiresses pointed out to him that evening by his obliging friends. By the plain look of her attire and her lack of ostentatious jewellery, he doubted that she was one of those rare females. However, her reddish-brown hair and delicate complexion was out of the ordinary. She certainly had the beauty he'd jokingly demanded that his heiress ought to have and there had been intelligence in those eyesbut she probably did not have a fortune.
So much the better, if Adam had his way, but he had promised his grandfather that he would at least attempt to attach an heiress. Glancing at the least displeasing of the young ladies he knew to be on the catch for a title, Adam breathed deeply and began to swathe a path through the crush of people.
The least he could do was to ask Miss Maddingly to dance
'You cannot leave before Lady Braxton's dance,' Mrs Hastings said firmly. 'Your friends can certainly spare you a few days longer. You will oblige me in this, Jenny. Your uncle will send you down to Dawlish in his own carriage at the end of the week.'
'But, Aunt, if I leave tomorrow I may travel with Lucy and save my uncle the expense.'
'You speak as if your uncle would grudge the expense,' her aunt said and shook her head. 'I know you cannot be so very ungrateful as to refuse me this request, Jenny. Neither your uncle or I have asked anything of you before thisand I really think you must attend the dance, for my word was given.'
Jenny gave up the argument. She knew Aunt Martha would end in a fit of vexation if she refused to accept her wish upon the matter. Much as she would have liked to travel with her friend, she could not insist on itthough her uncle's lumbering travelling coach was not at all comfortable. It would have been far better to travel post, but the cost was exorbitant and her uncle would never approve when he had what he considered a perfectly good coach.
Mr Keith Hastings's own coach had been sold along with many of his personal possessions. Jenny had tried to protest that such stringent economy was unnecessary. Papa might have lost money, but there was surely still more than sufficient for Jenny's needs? However, Uncle Rex liked to practise economy and could not be brought to accept that there was no need to pinch pennies. It was a matter over which Jenny's father had always been at odds with his brother.
'Your uncle is a good man, Jenny love,' he'd once told her. 'But he is a regular nip-farthing and will not spend a penny if a ha'penny will do.'
Jenny had laughed. Papa had perhaps been a little over-generous with his money and that might be why her uncle was determined to make economies. She was not perfectly certain of how Papa had left things, for she'd been content to leave business to her unclethough it was perhaps time that she had a word with Mr Nodgrass. Papa's lawyer could tell her where she stood financially and what had happened to Mama's jewels. Had they been sold to pay debts? Her uncle had mumbled on about something of the kind, leaving Jenny with the idea that she had very little to call her ownwhich made her all the more indebted to her uncle for taking her in.
However, she had only a string of seed pearls of her own and if any of Mama's jewels remained she was determined to lay claim to them. Jenny was almost nineteen and Papa had been dead for a year. It was certainly time that she discovered exactly where she stood.
Her mind made up, she decided to call at her lawyer's office the very next day.