Lucy Ashford The Captain and His Innocent

ISBN 13: 9780373307296

The Captain and His Innocent

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9780373307296: The Captain and His Innocent

In bed with the enemy! 

The war is over, Napoleon is in exile and Ellie Duchamp's world is forever changed. Now, embroiled in a web of espionage on the Kentish coast, Ellie finds herself at the mercy of a dangerous but intriguing stranger—former army captain Luke Danbury. 

In a world ruled by danger and deception, it's hard to know who to trust. But try as she might to remind herself that Luke is her enemy, innocent Ellie cannot help but respond to the craving she senses in the captain's kiss!

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About the Author:

Lucy Ashford, an English Studies lecturer, graduated in English with history at Nottingham University,and the Regency is her favourite period.  Lucy, who has always loved to immerse herself in historical romances, has had several novels published, but this is her first for Mills and Boon.  She lives with her husband in an old stone cottage in the Peak District, near to beautiful Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall, all of which give her a taste of the magic of life in a bygone age

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Kent, England—1815

In the grey light of a January afternoon, two dark-clad men stood on a lonely shingle beach gazing out to sea. 'Soon we won't be able to see a thing out there, Captain Luke,' muttered the older one restlessly. 'This wretched mist that's rolling in is as thick as the porridge they used to give us in the army.'

'Be grateful for that mist, Tom.' Luke Danbury's eyes never shifted from the forbidding grey sweep of the sea. 'It means the Customs men won't spot Monsieur Jacques's ship out there.'

'I know, Captain. But—'

'And I wish,' Luke went on, 'that you'd stop calling me Captain. It's over a year since you and I left the British army. Remember?'

Tom Bartlett, who had a weatherbeaten face and spiky black hair, glanced up warily at the taller, younger man and clamped his lips together for all of a minute. Then he blurted out, 'Anyway. I still think you should have sent me as well as the Watterson brothers to bring in Monsieur Jacques. It would be just like the pair of them to lose their way out there.'

'Would it?' Luke's face held the glimmer of a smile. 'While you and I were soldiering in the Peninsula, Josh and Pete Watterson were in the navy for years—remember? Those two don't lose their way at sea, whatever the weather. They'll be here soon enough.'

Tom looked about to say something else; but already Luke was walking away from him to the water's very edge, a low sea breeze tugging at his long, patched overcoat and his mane of dark hair.

'Well,' Tom was muttering to himself as he watched him, 'I hope you're right, Captain. I hope those Watterson brothers will row the French monsieur to shore a bit faster than their wits work.' He glanced up at the cliffs behind them, as if already picturing hostile faces spying on them, hostile guns pointed at them. 'Because if the Customs men from Folkestone spot us, we'll be clapped in irons fast as we can blink, you and me. And that's a fact.'

The other man stood with his hands thrust in his pockets, studying the mist that rolled ever thicker across the sea. As if his gaze could penetrate it. As if he could actually see the coast of France; could even perhaps picture the far-off place where last year his brother had vanished without trace.

Bitterness filled Luke Danbury's heart anew. He clenched and unclenched his gloved right hand, thinking... News. He had to have news, one way or another. He was tired of waiting. He needed to know—for better or worse.

Behind him Tom Bartlett, once his loyal sergeant-at-arms, had started grumbling again softly, but broke off as Luke shot out his hand for silence.

Because Luke's sharp ears had registered something.

And, yes—a moment later, he could see it, a rowing boat slowly emerging from the mist, with two men pulling at the four oars, while another man in a black coat and hat leaned forward eagerly from the bow. Tom was already wading into the shallows, ready to reach out a hand to the black-clad passenger and help him ashore as the boat's keel grated on shingle. 'There we are now, monsieur!' Tom was calling in welcome. 'You'll enjoy being back on dry land again, eh?'

'Dry land, yes.' Jacques laughed. 'And with friends.'

Tom preened a little at that praise, then turned to the Watterson brothers, who were making the oars secure; brothers who looked so like each other, with their mops of curling brown hair, that they might have been twins. 'Well, you rogues,' declared Tom. 'I always said the navy's better off without you. You took that much time, I thought you'd lost your way and rowed to France and back.'

The brothers grinned. 'The army's certainly better off without that gloomy face of yours, Tom Bartlett. Though you'll cheer up a little when you see what's weighing down our boat.'

'A gift from Monsieur Jacques?' Tom was nodding towards their passenger, who was already deep in conversation with Luke Danbury a few yards away.

'A gift from Monsieur Jacques.' The brothers, after dragging the boat even further up on to the beach, were reaching into it to push aside some old fishing nets and haul out a heavy wooden crate. 'Brandy,' they pronounced in unison. 'Monsieur Jacques rewards his friends well. Come on, you landlubber, and give us a hand.'

'My men have dropped anchor out there for the night,' Monsieur Jacques was saying to Luke. 'A good thing you caught sight of us before that mist came down, my friend. A good thing that your Customs men didn't. How long is it since I was here?'

'It was late October.' Luke's voice was level.

'As long ago as that...' Jacques glanced at the men by the boat and gave Luke a look that meant, Later, my friend. When we are alone, we 'll talk properly. Then he went striding across the shingle to where Luke's men had placed the crate of brandy, withdrew one bottle with a flourish and uncorked it with his penknife.

'Here's to the health of the valiant fishermen—Josh and Peter Watterson!' He raised the bottle and drank. 'To the health of Tom Bartlett! And most of all to your own very good health, Captain Danbury!'

Jacques passed the bottle across to Luke's right hand—but Luke swiftly reached to take the bottle with his left, which, unlike the other, was ungloved. His eyes were expressionless.

'Pardon.' Jacques looked embarrassed for a moment. 'Mon ami, I forgot.'

'No matter.' Luke's voice was calm, though a shadow had passed across his face. 'To the health of everyone here. To freedom's true friends, in England and in France.'

'To freedom's true friends!' echoed the others.

Luke drank and handed the bottle back to Jacques. 'And may justice be some day served,' he added, 'on the British politicians in London, with their weaselly words and broken promises.'

'Justice.'

'Aye, justice, Captain.' One by one, the little group on the shore by the cliffs passed round the brandy bottle, echoing his toast sombrely.

At last Luke turned to Tom. 'I intend to take Jacques up to the house for the night, of course. But before we set off, I want you to check the road for me, Tom.'

'The London road, sir?'

'Exactly. I want you to make sure there are no spies around. No government men.'

Already Tom was on his way, hurrying along the beach to a path that climbed steeply up the cliff. The Wattersons still hovered. 'Josh. Peter,' Luke instructed, 'I'd like you to take that brandy to the house and warn them there that our guest has arrived.'

'Aye, Captain.' They set off immediately.

And so, with the afternoon light fading, and the sea mist curling in and the cries of the gulls their only company, Luke and the Frenchman were alone. And I'm free, thought Luke, to ask him the only question that really matters. The question he'd asked of so many people, so many times, for the past year and a half.

'Jacques, my friend.' He was surprised that his voice sounded so calm. 'Is there any news of my brother?'

The Frenchman looked unhappy. Uncomfortable. Luke's heart sank.

'Hélas, mon ami! ' Jacques said at last. 'I have asked up and down the coast, as I sailed about my business. I have asked wherever I have friends, in every harbour from Calais in the north to Royan in the south. And—there is nothing.' The Frenchman shrugged expressively. 'Your brother disappeared with those other men at La Rochelle in the September of 1813. Sadly, many of them are known to have died. As for your brother—we can only hope that no news is good news, as you English say.' His face was taut with sympathy. 'But I do have something for you.'

Reaching into the inside pocket of his coat, he handed Luke a small packet wrapped in oilskin. Luke, cradling it in his gloved right hand, peeled it open with his left—until at last a gleam of colour flashed in his palm. Ribbons. The glitter of brass. War medals, engraved with the names of battles: Badajoz, Salamanca, Talavera. Luke felt fierce emotion wrench his guts.

He looked up at last. 'Where did you get these?'

'From an old French farmer's widow. She found them lying half-buried in one of her maize fields—she has a small farm that adjoins the coast near La Rochelle. Realising they were British, she gave them to me, and asked me to get them home again. They could be your brother's, couldn't they?'

Luke nodded wordlessly. They could. But even if they were, he told himself, this doesn't mean he's dead. He might still be alive over there. A prisoner, perhaps. Needing my help...

He mentally rebuked himself, because he'd suddenly noticed the dark shadows beneath the Frenchman's eyes and realised how weary he was despite his outward cheerfulness.

'We'll have time enough to talk later,' Luke said. 'I would be honoured, Jacques, if you would come to the house, to dine with us and stay for the night as usual.'

'Gladly—though I must leave before dawn tomorrow. It's not safe for my crew to keep the ship at anchor once daylight comes.' Jacques gripped Luke's shoulder almost fiercely. 'You know that I'll do anything I can to find your brother. I owe you this, mon ami, at the very least—'

He broke off, realising at the same moment Luke did that Tom Bartlett was back, his feet crunching on the shingle. 'There's travellers on the high road, Captain!'

'Revenue men?' Luke's voice was sharp.

'No, Captain, it's a fine carriage. With two grooms as well as the driver, and luggage aplenty strapped on the back.'

Luke felt his lungs tightening. 'Does it look as though the carriage has come from London, Tom?'

'Aye, that would be my guess. Can't make out the coat of arms on the door. But the horses, they're Lord Franklin's all right—I recognised the four fine bays that he keeps stabled at the George Inn close to Woodchurch.'

'And is Lord Franklin in the carriage?'

'I caught sight of a middle-aged woman and a younger one, by her side. But was his lordship in there as well?' Tom shook his head. 'I couldn't see and there's the truth of it.'

Luke made his decision—he needed to know exactly who was in that carriage. 'Tom, see Monsieur Jacques up to the house, will you? I'll join you as soon as I can.' Even as he spoke, he was already setting off along the beach, towards the path Tom had followed.

Tom guessed his intention and was aghast. 'You'll never catch up with those four bays of Lord Franklin's!'

Luke turned calmly to face him. 'They'll have to stop, Tom. Don't you remember that half the road's fallen in a little beyond Thornton, after that heavy rain a week ago? Lord Franklin's coachman will have to take that particular stretch of road very slowly, or he could risk breaking a wheel. There's woodland I can take cover in. I'll be able to observe the carriage and its occupants at leisure.'

'But if Lord Franklin is in the carriage, Captain, what are you going to do?'

Luke let the silence linger for a moment. 'Don't worry. I'm not going to kill him. At least—not yet.'

And with that, he turned his back and once more headed swiftly towards the cliff path.

Tom sighed and smiled resignedly at Jacques. 'Well, monsieur,' he said, 'let's be off up to the house, shall we? There'll be logs burning on the fire and my good wife will have a pot of stew keeping hot on the stove. And thanks to you, we've brandy to drink...' He hesitated. 'I take it there's no news yet of the captain's younger brother?'

Jacques shook his head. 'No news.'

'Then we can still hope,' said Tom, 'that he'll turn up safe and well!' He set off once more, cheerful at the prospect of hot food. But Monsieur Jacques, following behind, looked sombre.

'Safe and well?' he murmured under his breath. 'Sadly, I doubt it, my friend. I doubt it very much.'

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