Miss Amelia Basingstoke has no dowry and enough dreadful relations to ensure that even on her third season, she is unmarried and a confirmed wallflower. Her only friend is a large boisterous dog of dubious character who considers himself too good to chase dead birds.
A chance meeting between the pair frees the Captain in ways that he had never thought possible since his injury.
A stubborn Captain - an opinionated young woman - an unruly dog and Christmas is approaching - what could possibly go wrong?
Release date: November 28, 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 173
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The Captain's Wallflower - A Regency Romance
London – early November 1806
Alexander took a steadying breath. He might have faced the French navy without any serious thought of the danger to himself or his ship, but this was different. The noise was overwhelming, and the shadows and shapes that were constantly passing in front of him sent his mind reeling as his brain tried to make sense of the signals. He had to get away, but he was trapped. Trapped in a world of near total darkness, noise and bewilderment.
Time seemed to stretch out before him. He recognised some voices, but no one seemed to want to approach him or to offer help. For the hundredth time in recent months, he was at the mercy of others; a muscle twitched in his cheek at the frustration of it.
Eventually, he heard a familiar voice. “Critchley?” he asked, a note of desperation in his voice.
“Yes, Worthington. I’m here,” his friend responded.
“Where the bloody hell have you been?” Alexander ground out. He was beyond the point of caring whether he would shock anyone who had the misfortune of hearing his base language.
“For a dance,” Richard Critchley, his long-time friend replied in surprise. “I told you I had secured Miss Birkett for the first two.”
Alexander glowered at Richard; he might be blind, but his face still showed clearly the feelings he was struggling with. “Get me out of here! I can’t stand any more of it!”
Richard came closer to his friend and touched his arm in an act of reassurance. “We’ve only been here for an hour; it’s your first trip out, and it’s bound to feel strange. Give it time,” he soothed.
Alexander gritted his teeth, the twitch in his cheek becoming more pronounced; he wanted to shout with frustration at being so dependent on others. He breathed deeply in an effort to keep himself under control; even in his present state he could not behave so abominably and do something as gauche as losing control in a room full of people. “I don’t care how long we’ve been here; it’s felt like an eternity. Get me out of this place!” The words were said quietly, but were full of anger and annoyance.
Richard was not one to give up easily, but he acknowledged that Alexander must have been feeling overwhelmed to be responding in such a way. His friend was not one for dramatic gestures; ever the cool one previously, he was now agitated. The ballroom was overcrowded and hot; it had perhaps not been the wisest place to start Alexander’s return to Society. “Let me help you to the edge of the ballroom for a while. If you still feel the same after my dance with Miss Stobbard, we shall leave,” Richard said. He could not leave while he had promised to dance with Miss Stobbard. Her blonde curls and rosebud mouth could easily keep most men in a ballroom, especially Richard, who had a particular interest in her.
Alexander sighed but let himself be led to the edge of the room. He was totally reliant on Richard, and it grieved him. His shoulders sagged in defeat as the men moved through the crowd. He would never normally behave so badly, but these were no longer normal circumstances. When they came to a halt, he followed Richard’s lead as his friend guided him to a bench, and Alexander sat down.
“I shall leave you here and see you in half an hour. Then we can call the carriage if you wish,” Richard said cheerfully before leaving his friend once more.
Alexander compressed his lips to try to prevent saying something he would regret later. He tried to school his features into what he hoped was a less forbidding expression. The next half hour was not going to pass quickly.
He had thought he was alone until he heard a gentle sigh at his left. “Hello?” he asked quietly. He did not want to make a fool of himself if he had misheard and there was no one close. With so much noise going on around him, what little perception he had of his surroundings had completely disappeared.
“Hello,” came the equally quiet reply.
Alexander had no idea who he sat next to. He should wait to be formally introduced, but he decided that he would flout convention. Apart from Richard, this was the first person who had spoken to him since his entrance at the ball, and he did not wish to let the opportunity pass. He had never expected a ballroom to feel so lonely.
“Your sigh would suggest that you’re as delighted to be here as I,” he responded, hoping the person he was speaking to was no relation to the people holding the event. Such an insult would not be looked upon kindly.
“Oh, I don’t mind being at a ball,” came the clear, confident voice of a young lady, although she still spoke quietly. “It’s sitting all night as a wallflower that I have a problem with.”
“He sat me with the wallflowers?” Alexander asked in disbelief. It was not so many months ago that he had been considered the catch of the season, and now Richard had tucked him out of the way with the unmarriageables. He would express his views on that insult when Richard returned.
“Yes, but as you aren’t dancing, I suppose technically you could be considered a wallflower yourself. I realise it may be a shock to the system, but it can happen to the best of us,” the unknown lady responded tartly.
Alexander acknowledged to himself that he had been rude in the extreme. No young lady would want the fact that she was on the shelf to be pointed out. His reaction had been such that it was very clear what he thought about being classed as a wallflower. The gentleman in him tried to make amends. “Forgive me; I cannot see very well. It was just a comment about where I was in the room.”
Amelia looked at the man beside her. She was fully aware of who he was and also under no illusion that he would never have spoken to her in normal circumstances. He was completely out of her social sphere: a successful captain of the British Navy, who had made his fortune before joining Nelson at Trafalgar. He had managed to get his men out safely when their ship had been badly damaged, but he had been injured during the skirmish. He was a hero to his men, but he had lost his sight as a result of his injury. There had been no word of him for over a year, but he had unexpectedly appeared tonight. It did not seem to be going well, she mused. He was not surrounded by his usual group of friends: strange when the only outward appearance was a line of small scars at the side of his eyes and across his forehead. Surely, even the more fickle members of the ton could cope with a few small scars?
“I am aware of your injury Captain Worthington,” she replied. Her tone was still cool; he had offered an insult, and she stung from it. She accepted that her evenings were mainly spent with the other wallflowers, but she did not appreciate being reminded of the fact.
“Then you have the advantage of me; I beg your pardon, but I do not recognise your voice. I’m relying on a dismal memory of voices to reacquaint myself with everyone. I wish I’d taken more notice of them in the past,” Alexander responded. He always listened more these days, his hearing helping to give him vital extra clues to his surroundings. It was a frustrating task not being accustomed to recognising the voices of people he had not seen in a long time.
“We have never been formally introduced; I’m usually to be found helping polish these benches along with the other unfortunates. I find moving slightly in time to the music heightens the shine with the smallest of effort. At some balls, I can almost see my face in the wood by the end of the evening,” came the tongue-in-cheek response. His words had stirred her sympathy, dissolving the annoyance she felt. After all, it was not his fault she was forced to sit out the dancing.
Alexander’s mouth twitched in appreciation of her humour. “In that case I wish I’d discovered them earlier. With the size of my rear, I could have saved you many minutes of work.”
Amelia laughed, “The wallflower benches have been my home for over two seasons, so we are well acquainted with each other. I can guide newcomers on the best view or the best hiding place, depending on their preference, of course,” she said cheerfully.
“Two seasons?” Alexander asked in surprise. That was the sign of a young lady truly on the shelf. He wondered what her circumstances were that she was so obviously unmarriageable. She did not sound ugly, if ugly had a sound. He wondered if she had no dowry. “Do you never dance?”
“Sometimes,” Amelia admitted. “But very rarely, especially during evenings like this one where the cotillion went on for a full hour and a half. That reduces the number of dances of the evening, so it prevents opportunities for those of us who sit on the side-lines.”
“Ah, yes, the Bakers Wife; it can be tedious to dance,” Alexander admitted.
“I would argue that it’s more tedious to wait for the dance to end when one is anticipating the next dance,” Amelia responded.
“I can see your point, but believe me, the wrong partner can make an hour and a half seem an endless amount of time,” Alexander said with a grimace.
“Yes, I suppose so,” Amelia said with a mock sigh. “In that instance being on the wallflower benches wouldn’t seem quite so bad. I’m accustomed to it now, and it wouldn’t be unbearable except for the pitying stares one gets during the evening.”
“I expect I’ve had my fair share this evening,” Alexander said.
“Yes, but at least you can’t see them,” Amelia responded.
Alexander was a little taken aback at the insensitivity of the remark. “I suppose I’ve never seen my blindness as an advantage, but it seems that you have just shown me one,” he said, a little coldly. Normally people would stumble and stutter, rather than mention his blindness, if they spoke to him at all. He was not used to anyone referring to his disability so openly, so mockingly.
“I’ve upset you; I didn’t think!” Amelia said, putting her hand on his arm and squeezing it gently. “I’m truly sorry. I suppose it’s just that you look exactly like you did prior to the battle: all stiff lipped, glowering and reserved. I thought it hadn’t affected you. I apologise; I should have been more sensitive,” she babbled. She had not intended to offend him; that was the last thing she wanted to do to the great Captain Worthington. Amelia cursed herself for being her usual flippant self; she really did deserve to be with the wallflowers.
“Stiff lipped, glowering and reserved?” Alexander asked in disbelief as he almost choked on the words. He would have never considered himself vain, but he was aware of his reputation as handsome and charming—when it suited him to be of course. He could give a set-down with the best of them. Was her description how people really saw him? He was stunned at the thought. “I see now that my blindness is the least of my worries!” he said, his shock clear in the tone of his voice.
Amelia slapped her free hand over her mouth in horror. The most attractive man she had ever seen in her life, and she had just insulted him—twice. Thank goodness he had no idea who she was. “I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean it. Appearances can be deceiving; I’m sure you are perfectly amenable.” Her words came out in a strangled voice; she did not know whether to laugh or cry at her mistake.
Alexander laughed at her obvious mortification. He placed his hand over Amelia’s, which still rested on his arm; in her distress, it seemed she had forgotten about it. “Don’t fret! I should not take offence. I have taken umbrage at anyone who skirts around my blindness, and now I’m criticising you for treating me normally. It is I who should be apologising.”
“At least you can’t see my embarrassment either, so I should be relieved I suppose, but please believe me when I say that I’m truly sorry,” Amelia repeated.
Alexander smiled, his first genuine smile in a long time. “And I’m glad I can’t see the pitying looks that you speak of. I might have caused a fight if I had.”
“Well, that would certainly have made the evening more interesting,” Amelia said with a longing sigh. “Would you have needed me to direct your punches?”
“Would you have done that for me? That would have been very sporting of you. I can’t imagine it would be much use shadow boxing, not if the other fighter can see. I have faith in my ability but would not like such poor odds,” Alexander said good-humouredly.
“No, you would certainly need a way of being able to improve your chance of winning; it would be foolish to enter into something you are never going to win. One does like a fighting chance in all we face,” Amelia mused entering into the spirit of the conversation.
“Yes, I see the error of my ways in being persuaded to come to a ballroom on my first foray into Society. Critchley can be so persuasive when he wants to,” Alexander said, half to himself.
“I can understand his reasoning; you have been missing from Society for quite a while,” Amelia said. The fact that he did not know who she was giving her the opportunity to be bolder than she would be normally.
“Yes, more than a year,” Alexander admitted. “Although it would seem my friends have not only forgotten where I live but forgotten what I look like,” he said bitterly at the fact that no one had approached him since he had entered the ballroom.
“It’s a harsh way to learn who your true friends are,” Amelia admitted.
“Yes, although I’m even doubting Critchley; he seems to have disappeared,” Alexander muttered. His companion might be charming, but he still felt out of his depth. It was strange to feel so lost when surrounded by so many people.
“I think the fact that you haven’t got golden curls and deep red lips might explain his absence,” Amelia said with a chuckle.
“Ah yes, Miss Stobbard,” Alexander said. “Is she a diamond?”
“Oh yes, she sparkles all over the room. Her dowry probably sparkles even more than she does, which is no easy feat, for those blonde curls are perfect,” Amelia said with a laugh in her voice.
Alexander chuckled “I’m sure you’re right. I’m no longer surprised that Critchley has been dazzled. He always did prefer blonde hair and, with her large dowry, I’m sure he’s half-way to being smitten.”
“It certainly looks that way,” Amelia responded, having seen the way Mr Critchley was gazing into Miss Stobbard’s eyes each time they crossed on the dance.
Amelia’s amusement faded when she noticed her aunt approaching with a look of disgust on her face. She braced herself for her aunt’s inevitably harsh words.
“Move child! What right have you to speak to the Captain?” Amelia’s aunt berated sternly. She indicated that Amelia let her sit down, which the young woman complied with. “Now go and get me some refreshments; if you can’t obtain a partner the least you can do is make yourself useful.”
Alexander had felt his companion stiffen before the second woman had interrupted, and his senses went on high alert. He had felt vulnerable not knowing what to expect but had relaxed when he had heard the woman’s voice. He was angry at her words to his companion; the elder ladies in Society did rule the younger ones with a rod of iron, but this unknown woman had just seemed rude with her words. His thoughts were interrupted when the woman addressed him.
“Captain Worthington, how pleased we are that you have joined us tonight. Your presence has been missed these last months,” the woman sitting beside him gushed.
Alexander had not liked the way she had secured her seat, but manners forced him to respond politely if not pleasantly. “Thank you for saying so, but I’m afraid you have the advantage over me. Have we met?”
“Oh of course, how stupid of me!” she trilled. “I’m Lady Basingstoke, Sir Jeremy Basingstoke’s wife. The rumours said your sight loss was total, but I didn’t believe them. It’s obvious the rumours were true.”
“Lady Basingstoke,” Alexander responded, inclining his head slightly. He was not about to go into details about his sight to satisfy the curiosity of the gossips. He did remember the woman next to him; how could he forget? She was one of the worst scheming mamas Society had seen in a long time. He remembered that she had two daughters, one of whom had been so-called compromised by an acquaintance of his. Everyone who knew the gentleman in question felt the young lady had done all the compromising—with the help of her mama of course.
The marriage had happened quickly, and no one had seen the unfortunate gentleman smile since. His wife was pretty, to be sure, but she was also demanding, a compulsive gambler and had the shrillest voice imaginable. The fortune that had been secured would certainly not last forever. Everybody pitied her husband but also thought he had been foolish in allowing himself to get caught so easily.
When the second daughter had come out, all the single men had made it their business never to be in a position where they could be accused of foul play. Three years had passed, and the daughter was still unmarried. Alexander knew all of this; Richard had updated him on all the gossip before Alexander had agreed to rejoin their social circle. He was on full alert for the younger Miss Basingstoke. He might be blind, but he was single, had a fortune, and was in a very vulnerable position.
“I hope you are enjoying the evening,” Lady Basingstoke said, interrupting his thoughts.
“Not really,” Alexander responded honestly. “Things have changed a little since I last attended a ball.”
“Of course, you used to dance so often and with such grace. To be stuck on the outside of society for the rest of your life must be a horrid thought,” Lady Basingstoke said without tact.
“I find not dwelling on it helps,” Alexander responded abruptly.
“Of course, of course. I know the perfect way of taking your mind off your injury. Let me reacquaint you with my youngest daughter, Serena.”
Alexander realised that Serena must have been standing nearby waiting for the introduction and immediately felt like a hunted animal. He could not show weakness before the two wolves, or they would probably just move in for the kill.
“Miss Basingstoke,” He nodded in the direction he had felt rather than saw movement.
“Captain Worthington,” Miss Basingstoke responded in the same shrill voice of her sister. “It’s a pleasure to see you. I mean, oh dear, I should not have said that! I meant to say nothing about your eyes; of course you can’t see; everyone knows that. I mean....” The girl continued to fumble and made the unintentional mistake worse by trying to correct it.
“Miss Basingstoke, unless you have been struck by blindness, which I sincerely hope not, you can see me. Do not fret over your perceived error,” Alexander said a little coldly. He had not been troubled by her words; it was her attempt at trying to make amends in such a blundering way that was the problem for him. He did acknowledge that in some respects people could not win with his situation; he had been offended by the first young lady for being blasé about his affliction and now this. He sighed and wished himself a hundred miles away.
“Oh, you are too kind. I am sure you are too kind,” Lady Basingstoke interjected. “Serena looks positively ready to faint with embarrassment. Poor girl, she meant no offence; I’m sure she just needs a little time to gather herself, and all will be well. Why don’t you accompany her for a walk in the gardens while she recovers her balance, Captain Worthington? I’m sure the air will do you both the world of good.”
“That would be very kind of you Captain Worthington. I would like that very much,” Miss Basingstoke murmured.
Alexander almost laughed at the obviousness of the two women before him but managed to maintain his composure. “I’m afraid I will have to decline. I’d hate to be in the situation where Miss Basingstoke is taken ill and, because of my condition, I could not help her. We would be safer if we remained in this crowded room where there are people to come to our aid if needed,” Alexander responded pleasantly. Inside he was congratulating himself for his quick thinking; he was not a successful ship’s captain just from good luck alone. He had outmanoeuvred skilled sailors in his time; he was not about to fall prey to two scheming women.
Lady Basingstoke muttered something to her daughter but then turned to someone who had approached her. By her words, Alexander concluded it was his previous companion, but she said nothing and was soon sent away once again by Lady Basingstoke. He wanted to know who the young lady was but to ask would be inappropriate. She had not been introduced, which probably meant she was someone of little consequence. Alexander felt a stirring of regret at the thought; even on such short acquaintance she had been the most entertaining person he had met in many months.
Everyone he had met since his return home had either avoided mentioning his injury or had made similar blundering errors as Miss Basingstoke had done. Apart from Richard and Alexander’s elder brother, the unknown lady had been the first person to face his blindness straight on and, although he reacted badly to it at first, on reflection he appreciated it. She also appeared to have a similar sense of humour as he, which he found unusual in ladies. It was a pity their paths had never crossed before the accident.
Lady Basingstoke was prevented from making any further progress with Captain Worthington due to Richard’s reappearance.
“Good evening, Mr Critchley,” Lady Basingstoke said with a smile at the new arrival.
“Good evening, Lady Basingstoke, Miss Basingstoke,” Richard said with a bow. “I hope you are well?” Richard was fully aware of the Basingstokes and, although polite, he was under no illusion but that he would also be a target for the husband-seeking mama. He did not have the fortune that she wished for her second daughter, but he was comfortable enough to make him an attractive candidate after three seasons.
“I am very well, thank you. I was just saying to Captain Worthington what a pity it is that he is no longer able to dance; Serena so loves to dance,” Lady Basingstoke said, turning her attention to the newcomer.
Alexander almost laughed out loud at her remarks. They had not mentioned a thing about dancing, but it was obvious he had escaped their attention, for now at least, while a fully able-bodied person was available. He listened, interested to see what excuse Richard would invent.
Richard smiled at the ladies, his dark eyes twinkling. “That is a real pity! My friend was a good dancer, I agree. I believe his conversation isn’t too tedious for ladies, either,” he said amiably. “Unfortunately, I’m going to have to spirit him away; my carriage awaits.”
“Oh,” Lady Basingstoke’s disappointment was evident in her face and tone of voice. “That is a shame, but if your carriage awaits you there will be no opportunity of Serena dancing with you. What a pity! I shall bid you good night gentlemen. Serena, come, I see Lord Entwistle.”
The two ladies left the gentlemen. Richard breathed a sigh of relief. “Come, Alex, let us make our escape before Entwistle gives them the brush-off. I don’t want to be here when they start to look for another victim.” He touched his friend’s arm with his own, and Alexander placed his hand on it. They started the difficult task of negotiating a busy ballroom. With every apology Alexander had to give when he came into contact with someone, knocking them because they had not made enough room for the bulk of himself and Richard moving side by side, he vowed to himself he never would grace a ballroom again.
Amelia had watched her aunt with Captain Worthington with a sinking heart. She had no false hope that her brief conversation with him would lead to anything. He would not fall for her own charms, especially as he did not even know of her existence. Her discomfort was more to do with watching her aunt and cousin fawn over a man purely because they thought he was an easy target. It was behaviour she would never understand. They did not seem to realise they were avoided by single men as much as possible. It would have been laughable if that had been happening to someone else; unfortunately the humour in the situation was not as evident when it involved members of her own family.
Amelia had been forced on her aunt. Her father and Sir Jeremy Basingstoke were brothers. Amelia’s father had married for love not money and had led a very happy life with his wife and family. Having only one daughter and eight boys, he had appealed to his older, wealthier brother to take Amelia under his wing in order to help her secure a good match. He had waited until she was twenty, unusually late, but the loving father had been reluctant to say goodbye to his only daughter too early. Amelia’s uncle was amenable to an extra person in his household; it would dilute the number of interactions he had to tolerate from his wife and girls. As it turned out, it was even better than he had hoped.
Amelia was blessed with rich chestnut hair and deep brown eyes; her manner was quietly confident and, although not stunningly pretty, she was considered to have pleasing features. Her mother and father hoped for a comfortable match for their daughter; Amelia would have been happy with such. She had no false illusions: She had no dowry to speak of and was not classically beautiful; she hoped only to attract a good man who she could love and be comfortable with. She had seen what contentment a loving marriage could bring and hoped to have the same.
Everything should have gone unassumingly to plan, except for one thing: Lady Basingstoke. She had her youngest daughter to marry off, and she was determined to marry her well. Amelia would have none of her attention until then, and even then only a little. Lady Basingstoke disliked Amelia; she was not as pretty as her own daughters, but she had something else: poise, confidence and grace. It soon became Lady Basingstoke’s aim to drag the girl down and send her back to her parents unmarried and worthless.
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