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Captain Easterday's Bargain by Kathleen Buckley

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  • London's cutthroat shipping trade is no place for a lady, although Olivia Cantarell has secretly acted as her father's assistant for years. Now she has inherited his company, she has no mind to give up control over it—and herself—by marrying, however flattering it is to be sought after for the first time in her life. In spite of threats and intimidation, she will fight to keep her business.

    Careful, responsible, and twice jilted, Captain Marcus Easterday has no heart to attempt marriage a third time. But he cannot stand by and see a woman cheated of her livelihood by Ambrose Hawkins, rumored to be a former pirate, a man whose name is known and feared in ports from the West Indies to China.

    Courted by the ruthless Hawkins while relying on the scrupulous Easterday's help, Olivia must conceal the identity of one of her clerks and protect her company and employees. Who can she trust?

    Rating:  Sweet
    Page Count: 388
    Word Count: 96347  
    978-1-5092-2541-5 Paperback
    978-1-5092-2542-2 Digital

    Excerpt

    July 1740

     

    The betrothal visit went well, after the first few days. Mariah chatted merrily with Captain Easterday’s brother and his family and seemed delighted by the farm animals and the milking and cheese making. Her reaction to Lowfields Manor surprised him. He had feared she would find the country dull and his people unfashionable. Instead she played games with his nephews and niece, petted the lambs, and showed an unexpected interest in nature. The weather cooperated, sunny and dry.

    He renewed his connection to his family, riding and walking around the manor with his brother, listening to his nephew Matthew’s idea for exporting Scottish linen goods to the colonies, and joining in the family’s lively conversation at meals. Hearing the familiar dialect and eating the traditional mutton, beef, onion, carrot, and turnip scouse, he felt London’s docks and quays receding.

    It never occurred to him that Mariah’s newly acquired fondness for strolling by herself in the grounds was anything more than delight in nature, of which she could have seen little in London.

    Geoffrey muttered to him once when they were out in the fields, “A good match. Even a country mouse knows that an alderman of the city is an important man. There’s no saying he mightn’t be elected Lord Mayor or be knighted. Rich, as well, I reckon, from what Mistress Mariah tells us. Not that I couldn’t have guessed by his coach and the outriders. Glad you got over the other. You’ll like being married.”

    “An old friend, too. Richard Saltstall encouraged me when I first went into business.” It had seemed to make sense to agree to marry his daughter.

    ****

    Saturday, 19 July

    Two days before they were to start for London, Mariah did not come down to breakfast.

    “Such a slugabed!” her aunt Henrietta remarked. “That maid of hers is not in the habit of waking her because of the late nights in Town, but after almost two weeks, she should know one rises earlier in the country. Even if the chit doesn’t ring for her.” When she sent Mariah’s hatchet-faced maid to wake her, the woman returned precipitately to report that her bed was empty.

    Mistress Easterday was a sensible lady and had four boys, ranging from newly come of age down to fifteen years, but she had only one daughter, a placid child of twelve. While the others were wondering where Mariah could be and Marcus Easterday frowned with a presentiment of trouble, his sister-in-law quietly instructed the maid to return to the bedchamber to see if she could find any clue to her whereabouts. Might she have dressed and gone out for an early walk? If her dressing gown and slippers were gone, mayhap she had wandered into some part of the rambling house which the maids had not yet visited.

    Mariah’s maid returned, white-faced. “Two of her gowns and shifts are gone, ma’am. And her cloak, and some other things.” At this point she was overcome and had to be revived with sal volatile. Mistress Easterday then sent her to lie down. “Wherever can she have gone?”

    Little Sophie observed, “I expect she took them because she would need a change of clothing, wouldn’t she?”

    After a pregnant pause, Mistress Easterday asked, “Dear, are you suggesting that Mistress Mariah has run away? Why would you think such a thing?”

    “Mariah likes Mr. Beresford.”

    Ellis Beresford was staying with the family of Sir Manfred Knott, a baronet with several daughters and a pimply son who had completed his first year at Oxford. The Easterdays had traded several visits with the Knotts and dined at each other’s homes twice, with the second turning into an impromptu dance. New faces, rare in the neighborhood, always led to a spate of entertainments. Marcus Easterday had not paid much attention to Beresford, beyond noticing the blond youth possessed pleasing manners, if a little too lively. Still, a lad of one-and-twenty cannot be expected to be as serious as a man of six-and-thirty.

    “What is that to the point, child?” her papa asked. He knew even less about young ladies than his wife.

    Sophia wriggled. “He likes her, too. You can tell by how they look at each other.” She cast an apologetic glance toward Marcus. “I know it sounds silly, Mama…but Mariah is rather like Alice, isn’t she?”

    “Oh, Alice.” Mistress Easterday sniffed. “Sir Manfred’s youngest daughter. I’m afraid she reads novels of the most foolish sort.” The men at the table gazed at her, Geoffrey Easterday and his sons blankly, Marcus with growing disquiet.

    “Sophia,” he said quietly, “do you think Mariah may have gone away with Mr. Beresford?”

    Nigel, seventeen, snorted. “She doesn’t know anything. She’s still in the schoolroom.”

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Captain Easterday's Bargain

Captain Easterday's Bargain

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