Can they overcome their mutual dislike to battle the common enemy? Will their secrets destroy their carefully crafted lives?
Captain Samuel Jones is handsome, charming – when he wants to be – and one of the highly coveted King’s Messengers. Sent on an assignment he resents, he clashes with the owner of the establishment he has to protect.
Miss Esther Hardy has worked hard to achieve respectability and standing in the local community. She never thought that an act of kindness would threaten everything she holds dear. Just when she thinks there is a chance of a happy future, events unfurl which threaten those she cares for the most. No one is going to be left unscathed…
Captain Jones’s Temptation is a Regency romance topped with a generous dose of humour, action, and tears. If you like simmering chemistry, fast-paced adventures, and strong characters, then you'll love Audrey Harrison's Regency tale.
Buy Captain Jones’s Temptation to find excitement and true love today!
Release date: July 30, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 186
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Captain Jones's Temptation
“We’ve got to do what? Has he followed in his father’s footsteps and gone out of his mind? There must be some mistake! Tell me it is some poor joke,” the ordinarily laconic Captain Samuel Jones said incredulously.
Captain Matthew Dunn smiled at his long-time friend. “It’s certainly a change from our usual duties.”
“The understatement of the year.”
“It shall be an adventure of a different sort.”
Samuel snorted. “I am no nursemaid for a by-blow.”
“Now, now. We are to do as the Regent says,” Matthew soothed. He was the peacekeeper of the pair. They had served in the cavalry throughout Napoleon’s reign of terror and even in the Americas. There had been three of them, including their friend Miles Longdon, but he had left the cavalry after Waterloo when the deaths of his older brothers had resulted in him inheriting the family title. He had no longer felt able to remain in the cavalry, having a sister and mother to consider as well as a large estate in Hampshire.
It had been a moment of sadness when the three became a two, but they’d had some adventures with Miles over the last few months, when his now-wife had been in danger due to a kidnap plot.
It appeared they were to have yet another escapade outside their normal duties. One that Samuel wasn’t happy about.
“We are the King’s Messengers,” Samuel persisted. “We deliver correspondence of importance, many times in dangerous conditions. We aren’t some sort of overpaid nanny for his brother’s alleged illegitimate offspring.”
“It is out of the ordinary, I admit, but it’s something different. You have to agree life has been a little tedious of late.”
“Not enough to welcome this. It’s a degradation of our role.”
“It’s hardly that,” Matthew said. “We are still the King’s Messengers. We shall still wear the badge of office.”
The elite riders wore the royal crest, underneath which hung a silver greyhound. The men were used for diplomatic duties and carrying messages to and from the royal household, particularly in times of unrest. Their history went back hundreds of years, and the badge was worn with pride by the few who were fortunate enough to be eligible to wear it.
Samuel walked to the fire, taking hold of a poker and prodding the coals. “This task is demeaning. The positions we hold are to be undermined. What are the royal advisors thinking in accepting this hare-brained idea?”
“She’s a child and there is some threat to her safety. They are responding as best they can in a difficult situation.”
“Bring her into one of the many palaces, then. She will be safe with her family. Oh, I forgot – they aren’t acknowledged officially. It’s fine to populate half of London with the results of their liaisons, but the misbegotten children are condemned to a life outside of the sphere they belong to. Hypocrites. The lot of them. If you have children, you should damned well look after them!”
Matthew was surprised at Samuel’s heated outburst. His friend troubled himself over few people, and although he was quick with a set-down if he saw some ridiculous piece of clothing or foolish behaviour, he didn’t express firm opinions on most things. It was clear his friend was positively seething with regard to this new assignment. Matthew had expected some cutting comments, certainly, but not this level of opprobrium.
“A child is a child,” Matthew said. “It’s our duty to protect her.”
“What are the likes of Bow Street for if not to carry out such functions?”
“It’s a delicate situation. We are to stay where the child is being raised.”
“And where is this taking place?”
“Miss Hardy’s School for Young Ladies.”
* * *
Esther Hardy could have crumpled the letter before stamping on it and then throwing it into the fire to be poked into ash, she was so angry. Anyone who was acquainted with Miss Hardy would have been astounded to find out there ran such fierce emotions underneath her calm, placid exterior. She was the epitome of good-mannered respectability, essential in the spinster owner of a school for genteel young ladies.
It had taken four years of devilish hard work to build a good reputation from nothing, and now in all likelihood her standing in the town of Sidmouth would be undermined if the truth were to seep out about her taking in an illegitimate child.
She had thought taking in Isabella was the right thing to do. She had felt sorry for the child. Admittedly, she came with a healthy contribution to the school, as well as payment for board and keep during term time and in the holidays. But that had not been at the forefront of Esther’s decision to accept her. The poor child didn’t have a home other than that which Esther had created. Many schools would have taken the money and neglected a base-born stray – even one whose parents held such high rank, judging by the hint she had been given when the terms of Isabella’s stay were explained – but Esther couldn’t inflict any censure on the youngster. Isabella would not suffer because of her parents’ actions. Now Esther’s respectability and good name would be at risk because of her decision.
No one normally questioned where the young ladies who attended the school came from. They were known to be genteel girls from families who were gentlemen farmers, clergymen and doctors, so everyone made the presumption that all the girls were respectable.
Not the supposed illegitimate offspring of a brother to the Prince Regent and future king.
She gritted her teeth. She was to be invaded, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. Isabella’s safety was at risk, and although Esther was angry, she couldn’t ignore the threat and put any of her girls or staff in danger.
A gentle knock on her study door brought her good friend and colleague Miss Lydia Bolton into the room. They had worked together almost from the first moment Esther had set up the school.
“Have you accepted the incursion yet?” Lydia smiled as she came in, careful to close the door behind her. Neither wished the other members of staff to hear their conversation.
“I’m not sure I’ll ever be happy about it, but they say that removing Isabella will put her in more danger as well as upsetting her in the process. We know she would not deal well with the change.”
“She’s such a gentle little thing; she would be unsettled if she was taken away from us. She sees this as her home now,” Lydia agreed. “I still cannot believe it. Who could possibly wish to harm a child?”
“Someone with no moral compass. Although they would probably lay that accusation at Isabella’s mother and father. As if she hasn’t enough to contend with. People are prepared to target a child in order to cause harm to the monarchy. It’s disgraceful.”
“We are to have a guard day and night?”
“Yes. They are to live alongside us. Which will cause a few raised eyebrows at least.”
“Oh dear. What story are we to tell to explain their sudden appearance?”
“My brother and his friend are here to recuperate by the sea,” Esther said with derision. “As if two fashionable cavalry officers would travel all the way to Sidmouth when Brighton is virtually on their doorstep!”
“Though you are the best of sisters,” Lydia responded with a smile.
“I won’t be by the time they’ve been here for five minutes. They’ll be in no doubt about my feelings.”
“Be gracious, Esther. You never know what will be reported back to those in control of Isabella’s wellbeing. You can’t wish for her to be taken away in the long term, surely?”
Esther folded the letter, running her hand along the creases, before placing it in a drawer. That she closed the drawer firmly hinted at the turbulent feelings she was trying to contain. “No, not at all. And not because of the financial aspect of her being here. I care for that little girl, and she’s thrived since her arrival. I hope to produce a confident young woman by the time she leaves.”
Lydia laughed. “As she is one of the shyest creatures you could possibly meet, I think you might be aiming a little too high.”
“I have every faith in our nurturing abilities, my friend. That, and she is only ten years old. We have years left to encourage her to be more outgoing.”
When do our visitors arrive? Or, should I say, your invalidish brother?” Lydia asked with amusement in her voice.
“Tomorrow. Isabella will continue to sleep on a truckle bed with my maid in my dressing room. I’ve put the officers in the two guest rooms either side of my chamber. I know without doubt they will need to be close to her, and they can sit in the sitting room next to my dressing room if they need to be on duty overnight. I’ve no idea how they intend to guard her. I hope life can go on with relative regularity.”
“I’m sure we shall deal with whatever we have to face.”
“I hope so.”
* * *
“This road is leading out of the town,” Samuel pointed out unnecessarily as the two gentlemen rode side by side. They had travelled into the town by the north side of Sidmouth and after riding the length of the small seaside town were now heading out of the south side of it.
“Apparently it’s a little way on the outskirts,” Matthew explained. “Fortunate for us if it can be easily patrolled.”
“You do realise the nearest civilisation is Bath, don’t you? If that is the best on offer it’s going to be a tedious time,” Samuel said with a sigh.
Matthew shrugged. “As we shan’t be accepting any invitations that will take us away from the child, it doesn’t matter where we are.”
“Wonderful. We’re rusticating with a school full of girls, with no light relief.”
“Think of it as a forced period of quiet. I’m sure we’ll both benefit from the scheme.”
“If there is quiet, I might be inclined to think. That is a prospect that makes me shudder,” Samuel said.
Matthew shot his friend a sympathetic glance. They had both seen sights that were impossible to forget, and although outwardly they sounded the same as they had before they had experienced the reality of war, each still suffered from their experiences on the battlefields they had fought on.
“Perhaps it will help ease our minds,” he offered.
“I doubt that, but it seems we have little choice in the matter,” Samuel responded.
“No. Especially as I am visiting my elder sister, to recuperate from my trials and tribulations. Our histories are sure to be questioned and spoken about.”
Samuel brought his horse to a sudden stop. “Now this is a surprise.”
They had come to a stop at the gatehouse of a large manor house. The house could be seen at a distance, through a copse of trees separated by a drive. They knew they were at the correct place as the name, Corless House, was engraved in the stone of the gateposts.
“It’s a large building for a school for young ladies,” Samuel pointed out as the gatekeeper came out to greet them.
“Ah, you must be Miss Esther’s brother,” the gatekeeper said, addressing Matthew. It was a reasonable assumption for the man to have made, since Matthew’s wound was very much visible to all who saw him. He had a large scar across his left cheek, the result of the slash of a bayonet. It was an ugly scar and had altered the otherwise angelic features of a handsome man. He had been lucky to survive the attack, which fortunately for him had been more like a glancing blow than a well-aimed lunge. He would never have survived that type of hit.
Their friend Miles Longdon had named Dunn and Jones his guardian angels, as they were both equally blonde haired and blue eyed, against his own darker colouring. Their looks had gained them welcome wherever they ventured, but now, Matthew was very often greeted by a shocked expression at his new facial feature. It was a stark and constant reminder of his past.
“I am indeed,” Matthew replied easily. “This is my good friend and fellow officer Captain Jones.”
“You’re very welcome here, the both of you,” the gatekeeper said, opening the gates for the two gentlemen. “It’s good that Miss Esther has found some of her family. The old gentleman would be pleased as Punch she was no longer on her own in the world. That she was the last of her family was his biggest worry, God rest his soul.”
Samuel and Matthew exchanged a look but didn’t respond to the comment. Thanking the gatekeeper for his service, they urged their horses down the path leading to the house.
“It seems our hostess has a story attached to her,” Samuel said.
“She must be respectable, or the child wouldn’t have been sent here in the first place,” Matthew answered.
“I admit, I was expecting a more modest establishment. This building seems out of the ordinary.”
“Yes, I agree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large house being used as a school. This is very unusual.”
It was true. Most schools were of a reasonable but modest size as the owners were making a comfortable but small living from their enterprise. This house, however, would be fitting for any baronet or earl. It was of Bath stone, golden in colour. A large portico flanked the magnificent wooden door. Five windows on either side of the grand entrance suggested that a generous number of rooms filled the ground and next two floors, with a range of servants’ quarters amongst the eaves in the roof.
“This gets more interesting by the second.” Matthew swung himself off his horse.
“You, my friend, are easily pleased. I have never been drawn to mysteries. They are a little too Gothic for my tastes,” Samuel drawled, dismounting in his usual languid way.
The door was opened by a butler, who led the pair into a small drawing room. “Miss Hardy shall be with you in a moment, gentlemen. In the meantime, I’ve taken the liberty of ordering refreshments for you,” he explained before leaving the room.
A maid soon entered with a laden tray of tea, cakes and biscuits. Each time the door opened, murmurings of young voices could be heard in the distance, but otherwise the building was calm and peaceful.
Matthew approached the table the refreshments had been set out on and grinned at Samuel. “Shall I do the honours and pour?” he asked.
Samuel rolled his eyes at his friend but refrained from making a comment as the door was opened once more and Esther walked in.
“Ah, you are helping yourselves. Good,” she said briskly. “Gentlemen, I’d like to be able to say it is good to see you, but as the owner of this establishment I have to admit to wishing you back in London.”
“As do we,” Samuel said. A look of curiosity shot between the two men. This was not an older woman as they had both expected, but a woman who was probably less than thirty years of age. Her stature was tall and regal, and with pleasing features, a mop of auburn hair and green eyes, she was quite a sight to behold.
“We are of the same mind, then,” Esther said, her tone not exactly unwelcoming, but formal.
“It would appear so, madam.”
“Miss Hardy, ignore my friend. Please allow me to introduce us. I am Captain Matthew Dunn, and although I am not quite sure how we are to overcome the name difference, or such differing looks, apparently I am your brother. Your gatekeeper seemed to accept my arrival with equanimity. This is my dear friend Captain Samuel Jones. He takes a little getting used to, but if you persevere you might just about be able to bear him. We are pleased to make your acquaintance and hope not to cause too much disruption whilst we are here,” Matthew said with a bow.
Esther responded to his words with a smile, which softened her features and the rigid expression in her eyes. “Thank you. I appreciate your sentiment and hope we can rub along well enough. I have told my staff that we have different fathers. It makes it easier to explain why my uncle knew nothing about you, as it was my mother who was related to him, although they were estranged for many years. The few who know little of my complicated past have accepted my story completely. Only myself and one other know of the real reason of your visit.”
“That’s one more than should know of it,” Samuel interjected. “The more people who are aware, the less chance there is of keeping the true reason we are here a secret.”
“As I would imagine you have no idea of how my school is run, please allow me to make decisions as I see fit. You are here to protect Isabella; around that, it is up to me how I organise my staff and pupils,” Esther retorted.
Samuel stiffened, looking at Esther from under heavily lidded eyes, but said nothing in answer.
Esther had been ready to challenge Samuel, but at his silence she turned her attention back to Matthew. “I have had Isabella sleeping in my dressing room with my maid. I am a light sleeper and have heard nothing to be concerned about during the night. There is a sitting room next to the dressing room that you can use if you wish to remain awake overnight. Your chambers are either side of mine. You will be as close to Isabella as possible without being in the same room.”
“Good. What about during the day?”
“Miss Bolton, the member of staff who is in my confidence, is Isabella’s teacher. You must understand something about Isabella: she is a painfully shy, quiet child. She is extremely attached to Miss Bolton and I, but she has little interaction with the other children.”
“That could be to our benefit,” Matthew said.
“You will have to tread gently, gentlemen,” Esther warned. “It will be difficult for you to gain Isabella’s trust.”
“We are here to protect her, Miss Hardy, not indulge her,” Samuel said.
Esther turned to Samuel, sparks flying from her eyes. “I am not in the business of indulging anyone, whether that is a spoiled child or an impertinent cavalryman. My role is to nurture and teach, in order that my pupils will be educated and capable young women when they leave my care. Not all of my children have had a secure start in life, and I cater to their specific needs so that they are not at a disadvantage in the long term. I don’t expect you to indulge Isabella, but I do expect you to respect her.”
Mathew had watched the interaction with interest and amusement, but schooled his features into a bland expression when he spoke. “We will do what’s best for the child. That is why we are here,” Matthew said.
“We have moved Miss Bolton’s classroom to a room with a small antechamber next to it. I thought we could give the impression that it is your study – then no one will be surprised to see you sitting in there during the day. There will be no objection if you wish the door to be kept open between the two rooms,” Esther explained.
Matthew grinned at Samuel. “It looks like your duties are to be on the outside.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...