Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Author:
Kaye Dacus has a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in history, and a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. Her love of the Regency era started with Jane Austen. Her passion for literature and for history come together to shape her creative, well-researched, and engaging writing. (ISBN#9780736927536, 352pp, $13.99)
William Ransome pulled the collar of his oilskin higher, trying to stop the rain from dribbling down the back of his neck. He checked the address once more and then tucked the slip of paper safely into his pocket.
He took the four steps up to the front door of the townhouse in two strides and knocked. The rain intensified, the afternoon sky growing prematurely dark. After a minute or two, William raised his hand to knock again, but the door swung open to reveal a warm light.
A wizened man in standard black livery eyed William, bushy white brows rising in interest at Williamâ€™s hat, bearing the gold braid and black cockade of his rank. â€œGood evening, Captain. How may I assist you?â€
â€œGood evening. Is this the home of Captain Collin Yates?â€
The butler smiled but then frowned. â€œYes, sir, it is. However, Iâ€™m sorry to say Captain Yates is at sea, sir.â€
â€œIs Mrs. Yates home?â€
â€œYes, sir. Please come in.â€
â€œThank you.â€ William stepped into the black-and-white tiled entry, water forming a puddle under him as it ran from his outer garments.
â€œMay I tell Mrs. Yates who is calling?â€ The butler reached for Williamâ€™s soaked hat and coat.
â€œCaptain William Ransome.â€
A glimmer of recognition sparkled in the butlerâ€™s hazy blue eyes. In the dim light of the hall, he appeared even older than William originally thought. â€œThe Captain William Ransome who is the masterâ€™s oldest and closest friend?â€
William nodded. â€œYou must be Fawkes. Collin always said he would have you with him one day.â€
â€œThe earl put up quite a fight, sir, but the lad needed me more.â€ Fawkes shuffled toward the stairs and waved for William to join him. â€œMrs. Yates is in the sitting room. Iâ€™m certain she will be pleased to see you.â€
William turned his attention to his uniformâ€”checking it for lint, straightening the jacket with a swift tug at the waistâ€”and followed the butler up the stairs.
Fawkes knocked on the double doors leading to a room at the back of the house. A soft, muffled voice invited entry. The butler motioned toward the door. It took a moment for William to understand the man was not going to announce him, but rather allow him to surprise Susan. He turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open.
Susan Yates sat on a settee with her back to him. â€œWhat is it, Fawkesâ€”?â€ She turned to look over her shoulder and let out a strangled cry. â€œWilliam!â€
He met her halfway around the sofa and accepted her hands in greeting. â€œSusan. Youâ€™re looking well.â€
Her reddish-blonde curls bounced as she looked him over. â€œI did not expect you until tomorrow!â€ She pulled him farther into the room. â€œSoâ€”tell me everything. When did you arrive? Why has it been two months since your last proper letter?â€ Susan sounded more like the girl of fifteen heâ€™d met a dozen years ago than the long-married wife of his best friend. â€œCan you stay for dinner?â€
â€œWe docked late yesterday. I spent the whole of today at the port Admiralty, else I would have been here earlier. And I am sorry to disappoint you, but I cannot stay long.â€ He sat in an overstuffed chair and started to relax for the first time in weeks. â€œWhere is Collin? Last I heard, he returned home more than a month ago.â€
Susan retrieved an extra cup and saucer from the sideboard and poured steaming black coffee into it. â€œThe admiral asked for men to sail south to ferry troops home, and naturally my dear Collin volunteeredâ€”anything to be at sea. He is supposed to be back within the week.â€ She handed him the cup. â€œNow, on to your news.â€
â€œNo news, in all honesty. Iâ€™ve been doing the same thing Collin hasâ€”returning soldiers and sailors home. I only received orders to Portsmouth a week agoâ€”thus the reason I sent the note express, rather than a full letter.â€
â€œBut youâ€™re here now. For how long?â€
â€œFive weeks. Iâ€™ve received a new assignment for Alexandra.â€
â€œWhat will you do until your new duty begins?â€
â€œMy crew and I are on leave for three weeks.â€ And it could not have come at a better time. After two years away from home, his crew needed some time apart from each other.
â€œAre you going to travel north to see your family?â€
â€œAt the same time I sent the express to you announcing my return to Portsmouth, I sent word to my mother telling her of my sojourn here. When I arrived ashore earlier today, I received a letter that she and Charlotte will arrive next Tuesday.â€
â€œHow lovely. Of course, you will all stay with us. Noâ€”I will brook no opposition. We have three empty bedchambers. I could not abide the thought of your staying at an inn when you could be with us.â€
â€œI thank you, and on behalf of my mother and sister.â€
â€œThink nothing of it. But you were telling me of your assignment. Your crew is not to be decommissioned?â€ Susan asked.
â€œNo. I believe Admiral Witherington understands my desire to keep my crew together. They have been with me for two years and need no training.â€
â€œUnderstands?â€ Susan let out a soft laugh. â€œWas it not he who taught you the importance of an experienced crew?â€
William sipped the coffeeâ€”not nearly as strong as his steward made it, but it served to rid him of the remaining chill from the rain. â€œYes, I suppose Collin and I did learn that from himâ€¦along with everything else we know about commanding a ship.â€
Susan sighed. â€œI wish you could stay so that I could get out of my engagement for the evening. Card parties have become all the fashion lately, but I have no skill for any of the games. If it werenâ€™t for Julia, I would probably decline every invitation.â€
â€œJuliaâ€”not Julia Witherington?â€ William set his cup down on the reading table beside him. Heâ€™d heard she had returned to Portsmouth following her motherâ€™s death, but heâ€™d hoped to avoid her.
â€œYes. She returned to England about eight months ago and has become the darling of Portsmouth society, even if they do whisper about her being a â€˜right old maidâ€™ behind her back. Although recently, Juliaâ€™s presence always means Lady Pembrokeâ€”her auntâ€”is also in attendance.â€ The tone of Susanâ€™s voice and wrinkling of her small nose left no doubt as to her feelings toward the aunt.
â€œDoes Admiral Witherington attend many functions?â€
â€œAbout half those his daughter does. Julia says she would attend fewer if she thought her aunt would allow. I have told her many times she should exert her position as a woman of independent means; after all, she is almost thirâ€”of course it is not proper to reveal a womanâ€™s age.â€ Susan blushed. â€œBut Julia refuses to cross the old dragon.â€
â€œSo you have renewed your acquaintance with Miss Witherington, then?â€ The thought of Miss Julia Witherington captured Williamâ€™s curiosity. He had not seen her since the Peace of Amiens twelve years agoâ€¦and the memory of his behavior toward her flooded him with guilt. His own flattered pride was to blame for leading her, and the rest of Portsmouth, to believe he would propose marriage. And for leading him to go so far as to speak to Sir Edward of the possibility.
â€œJulia and I have kept up a steady correspondence since she returned to Jamaica.â€ The slight narrowing of Susanâ€™s blue eyes proved she remembered his actions of a dozen years ago all too well. â€œShe was very hurt, William. She believes the attentions you paid her then were because you wished nothing more than to draw closer to her father.â€
William rose, clasped his hands behind his back, and crossed to the floor-to-ceiling window beside the crackling fireplace. His reflection wavered against the darkness outside as the rain ran in rivulets down the paned glass. â€œI did not mean to mislead her. I thought she understood why I, a poor lieutenant with seeming no potential for future fortune, could not make her an offer.â€
â€œOh, William, she would have accepted your proposal despite your situation. And her father would have supported the marriage. You are his favoriteâ€”or so my dear Collin complains all the time.â€ Silence fell and Susanâ€™s teasing smile faltered a bit. â€œShe tells the most fascinating tales of life in Jamaicaâ€”she runs her fatherâ€™s sugar plantation there. Collin cannot keep up with her in discussions of politics. She knows everything about the Royal Navyâ€”but of course she would, as the daughter of an admiral.â€
A high-pitched voice reciting shipsâ€™ ratings rang in Williamâ€™s memory, and he couldnâ€™t suppress a slight smile. Julia Witherington had known more about the navy at age ten than most lifelong sailors.
â€œMy apologies, Susan.â€ He snapped out of his reverie and returned to his seat. â€œDid Collin ever tell you how competitive we were? Always trying to out-do the other in our studies or in our duty assignments.â€ He recalled a few incidents for his best friendâ€™s wife, much safer mooring than thinking about the young beauty with the cascade of coppery hair he hadnâ€™t been able to forget since the first time he met her, almost twenty years ago.
Julia Witherington lifted her head and rubbed the back of her neck. The columns of numbers in the ledgers werenâ€™t adding properly, which made no sense.
An unmistakable sound clattered below; Julia crossed to the windows. A figure in a dark cloak and high-domed hat edged in gold stepped out of the carriage at the gate and into the rain-drenched front garden. Her mood brightened; she smoothed her gray muslin gown and stretched away the stiffness of inactivity.
She did not hear any movement across the hall. Slipping into her fatherâ€™s dressing room, she found the valet asleep on the stool beside the wardrobe. She rapped on the mahogany paneled door of the tall cabinet.
The young man rubbed his eyes and then leapt to his feet. â€œMiss Witherington?â€
She adopted a soft but authoritative tone. â€œThe admiralâ€™s home, Jim.â€
He rushed to see to his duty, just as Julia had seen sailors do at the least word from her father. Admiral Sir Edward Witheringtonâ€™s position demanded obedience, but his character earned his menâ€™s respect. The valet grabbed his masterâ€™s housecoat and dry shoes. He tripped twice in his haste before tossing the hem of the dressing gown over his shoulder.
She smothered a smile and followed him down the marble staircase at a more sedate pace. The young man had yet to learn her fatherâ€™s gentle nature.
Admiral Sir Edward Witherington submitted himself to his valetâ€™s ministrations, a scowl etching his still-handsome face, broken only by the wink he gave Julia. She returned the gesture with a smile, though with some effort to stifle the yawn that wanted to escape.
He reached toward her. â€œYou look tired. Did you rest at all today?â€
She placed her hand in his. â€œThe plantationâ€™s books arrived from Jamaica in this morningâ€™s post. Iâ€™ve spent most of the day trying to keep my head above the flotsam of numbers.â€
Sir Edwardâ€™s chuckle rumbled in his chest as he kissed her forehead. He turned to the butler, who hovered nearby. â€œCreighton, inform cook we will be one more for dinner tonight.â€
â€œAye, sir,â€ the former sailor answered, a furrow between his dark brows.
That her father had invited one of his friends from the port Admiralty came as no surprise. Julia started toward the study, ready for the best time of the dayâ€”when she had her father to herself.
â€œIs that in addition to the extra place Lady Pembroke asked to have set?â€ Creighton asked.
Julia stopped and turned. â€œMy aunt askedâ€¦?â€ She bit off the rest of the question. The butler did not need to be drawn into the discord between Julia and her aunt.
The admiral looked equally consternated. â€œI quite imagine she has somebody else entirely in mind, as I have not communicated my invitation with my sister-in-law. So I suppose we will have two guests for dinner this evening. Come, Julia.â€
Once in her fatherâ€™s study, Julia settled into her favorite winged armchair. A cheery fire danced on the hearth, fighting off the rainy dayâ€™s chill. Flickering light trickled across the volumes lining the walls, books primarily about history and naval warfare. She alone knew where he hid the novels.
He dropped a packet of correspondence on his desk, drawing her attention. She wondered if she should share her concern over the seeming inaccuracy of the plantationâ€™s ledgers with her father. But a relaxed haziness started to settle over her mind, and the stiffness of hours spent hunched over the plantationâ€™s books began to ease. Perhaps the new stewardâ€™s accounting methods were different from her own. No need to raise an alarm until she looked at them again with a clearer mind.
She loved this time alone with her father in the evenings, hearing of his duties, of the officers, politicians, and government officials he dealt with on a daily basis while deciding which ships to decommission and which to keep in service.
The sound of a door and footsteps in the hallway roused her. â€œPapa, how long will Lady Pembroke stay?â€
Sir Edward crossed to the fireplace and stoked it with the poker. â€œYou wish your aunt to leave? I do not like the thought of you without a female companion. You spend so much time on your own as it is.â€
â€œI do not mean to sound ungrateful. I appreciate the fact that Aunt Augusta has offered her services to me, that she wants toâ€¦help me secure my status in Portsmouth society.â€ Julia stared at her twined fingers in her lap.
â€œIt seems to have worked. Every day when I come home, there are more calling cards and invitations on the receiving table than I can count.â€ Going around behind his desk, he opened one of the cabinets and withdrew a small, ironbound chest. With an ornate brass key, he unlocked it, placed his coin purse inside, secured it again, and put it away.
â€œYes. I have met so many people since she came to stay three months ago. And I am grateful to her for that. But she is soâ€¦â€ Julia struggled for words that would not cast aspersions.
The admiralâ€™s forehead creased deeply when he raised his brows. â€œShe is what?â€
â€œShe isâ€¦so different from Mama.â€
â€œAs she was your motherâ€™s sister by marriage only, that is to be expected.â€
Julia nodded. To say anything more would be to sound plaintive, and she did not want to spoil whatever time her father could spare for her with complaints about his sister-in-law, who had been kind enough to come stay.
Sir Edward sat at his desk, slipped on a pair of spectacles, and fingered through the stack of correspondence from the dayâ€™s post. He grunted and tossed the letters back on the desk.
â€œWhat is it, Papa?â€
He rubbed his chin. â€œIt has been nearly a yearâ€¦yet every night, I look through the post hoping to see something addressed in your motherâ€™s hand.â€
Sorrow wrapped its cold fingers around Juliaâ€™s throat. â€œI started writing a letter to her today, forgetting she is not just back home in Jamaica.â€
â€œAre you sorry I asked you to return to England?â€
â€œNoâ€¦â€ And yes. She did not want her father to think her ungrateful for all he had done for her. â€œI miss home, but I am happy to have had this time with youâ€”to see you and be able to talk with you daily.â€ Memories slipped in with the warmth of the Jamaica sun. â€œOn Tuesdays and Fridays, when Jeremiah would leave Tierra Dulce and go into town for the post, as soon as I saw the wagon return, I would run down the road to meet himâ€”praying for a letter from you.â€
His worried expression eased. â€œYou looked forward to my missives filled with nothing more than life aboard ship and the accomplishments of those under my command?â€
â€œYes. I loved feeling as if I were there with you, walking Indomitableâ€™s decks once again.â€
His sea-green eyes faded into nostalgia. â€œAh, the good old Indy.â€ His gaze refocused and snapped to Julia. â€œThat reminds me. An old friend made berth in Spithead yesterday. Captain William Ransome.â€
Julia bit back sharp words. William Ransomeâ€”the man sheâ€™d sworn sheâ€™d never forgive. The man whose name sheâ€™d grown to despise from its frequent mention in her fatherâ€™s letters. He had always reported on William Ransomeâ€™s triumphs and promotions, even after William disappointed all Juliaâ€™s hopes twelve years ago. He wrote of William as if William had been born to him, seeming to forget his own son, lost at sea.
Her stomach clenched at the idea of seeing William Ransome again. â€œHeâ€™s here, in Portsmouth?â€
â€œAye. But not for long. He came back at my request to receive new orders.â€
â€œAnd where are you sending him, now that weâ€™re at peace with France?â€ Please, Lord, let it be some distant port.
Sir Edward smiled. â€œHis ship is to be in drydock several weeks. Once repairs are finished, he will make sail for Jamaica.â€
Juliaâ€™s heart surged and then dropped. â€œJamaica?â€ Home. She was ready to go back, to sink her bare toes into the hot sand on the beach, to see all her friends.
â€œRansome will escort a supply convoy to Kingston. Then he will take on his new assignment: to hunt for pirates and privateersâ€”and if the American war continues much longer, possibly for blockade-
runners trying to escape through the Gulf of Mexico. Heâ€™ll weigh anchor in five weeks, barring foul weather.â€
Five weeks was no time at all. Julia relaxed a bitâ€”but she started at the thump of a knock on the front door below.
â€œAh, that must be him now.â€ Sir Edward glanced at his pocket watch. â€œThough he is half an hour early.â€
â€œAye. Did not I tell you? Captain Ransome is joining us for dinner.â€
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