Miss Aimee Peters desperately craves respectability. After her father scandalously auctions off her virginity, she escapes London to become a governess in remote Yorkshire. She's horrified to discover her new employer, the piratical Captain Corcoran, never sought a governess--he wants a bride!
Aimee's unadorned charm makes Captain Corcoran forget the true reason he married her. Then he discovers the fortune of coins stitched into Aimee's bodice.... What secrets does his new wife hide behind her oh, so innocent facade?
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
April 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Captain Corcoran's Hoyden Bride by Annie Burrows
Wanted: For Gentleman's family in Yorkshire. A Healthy Young Person from good family, to supervise education of young children. She will not be expected to dine with servants or do any menial work. Any person able to provide proofs of their pedigree, education and character may call at the Black Swan, Holborn, on Tuesday, 6th June, between the hours of three and four in the afternoon.
Miss Aimee Peters sighed as the church clock of Beckforth chimed the half-hour. Again.
It meant she had been sitting on her trunk in the coaching yard of the King's Arms for well over an hour.
Of course, no governess could expect her employers to send one of their other servants to wait for the stage to come in, and to meet her as though they regarded her as a significant member of the household. There was not a creature on earth of less significance than a governess.
Which had been the whole point of going to such lengths to secure this position. Nobody ever looked twice at a governess. Her background and education separated her from the servants, and her status as paid employee kept her apart from the family. She would belong neither above nor below stairs.
To all intents and purposes she would be invisible.
Which was exactly what Aimee wanted.
Though--she shivered as the wind skirled round the corner of the yard in which she was sitting--it was one thing to have pulled off such a successful disappearing act, but where on earth was Mr Jago?
He had left a letter for her at the Black Swan, telling her that if she still wanted the position for which she had undergone that rather cursory interview, it was hers. All she had to do was go to the Bull and Mouth and collect the tickets he had purchased for her transport as far as this inn in Beckforth, which was the closest village to her employer's home.
But what if the letter she had sent, along with the requested references, to tell him she was indeed accepting the post, and would be travelling to Yorkshire immediately, had gone astray? What if nobody was expecting her to arrive today at all? She could not just sit on her trunk in this ramshackle inn yard indefinitely!
She gripped her overnight bag, which she had kept on her lap the entire way, a little more firmly, stood up, and brushed a few stalks of dried, muddy straw from her skirts.
It was not as though she was not perfectly used to fending for herself. Her lips twitched into a wry smile. Her willingness to travel--nay, her experience of travelling had been, she was convinced, the deciding factor in landing her this post. Mr Jago had scarcely asked anything about her pedigree, but had sat up and looked very interested once she had told him how she had spent her childhood becoming fluent in Italian and French by flitting from one European city to the next. Naturally, she had not mentioned that these moves had usually occurred at dead of night, with outraged creditors in hot pursuit.
Mr Jago, after pursing his lips and looking her up and down with those keen blue eyes of his, had unbent far enough to tell her that his employer, the man who had placed the advertisement in the London papers and had sent him to conduct interviews, was a naval captain who was looking for a woman with backbone. Aimee had only briefly been puzzled by his choice of words, for she perceived that a naval officer would probably need to uproot his family regularly, depending on where he was to be stationed. She saw that she would adapt to a peripatetic lifestyle more readily than any of the other applicants, and so had proudly replied that she had a backbone of steel.
Aimee picked her way carefully through the piles of droppings, refuse and puddles that made up the surface of the yard, to the half-open inn door. If Mr Jago really had hired her because he had thought nothing would daunt her, she had better prove him right! Beginning by finding out how far it was to The Lady's Bower, the charmingly named house where her new employer and his family now lived, and making her own way there.
She might have cheated her way into this post, but she was so grateful for the chance to earn her living doing honest work that she was utterly determined that neither Mr Jago nor the naval officer whose children she would be caring for would ever have cause to be sorry they had hired her.
The smell of spilled ale, tobacco fumes and unwashed working men hung over the threshold like a thick curtain. She had to mentally push her revulsion to one side before she could go inside.
'Can you tell me, sir, how far it is to The Lady's Bower?' she asked the stringy individual who was leaning on his elbows on the far side of the bar. 'And whether it is practical for me to walk there?' She could probably hire some form of conveyance from this inn, if not. She had enough coin in her purse, tucked into a side pocket of her overnight bag, to provide for such contingencies.
He sucked air in through his teeth. 'You don't want to be going there, miss,' he said, shaking his head. 'You want to put up here for the night, and take the stage back to London in the morning. I'll have a room made up for you, shall I?'
'No, thank you!' Aimee drew herself up to her full height and glared at the slovenly landlord. She had enough experience of his type to tell from the state of the yard and his clothing that his bedrooms too would be dirty, the sheets damp, and any food on offer poorly cooked.
'I most definitely do not want to return to London. I just want to reach The Lady's Bower before nightfall!'
The landlord's patronising expression hardened into a sneer.
'On your own head be it, then,' he said, eyeing her in a way that made her even less inclined to sample the dubious quality of his lodgings. 'T'aint more than three, mebbe four miles across Sir Thomas Gregory's lands. Course, a stranger to these parts, taking the direct route across his land would like as not run foul of his gamekeeper...'
'You expect me to believe this area, being so far from London, is so savage that people go around taking pot-shots at strangers?' she scoffed.
'Do I look like a poacher?' she exclaimed, indicating her neat little bonnet, deep green travelling dress and serviceable cloak. She had chosen each item carefully, from second-hand dealers that stocked a better class of cast-offs, so that the entire outfit made her look exactly what she thought a governess ought to look like.
'Or an imbecile?' It had suddenly dawned on her that her outfit actually made her look fairly well off, as well as eminently respectable. The man was obviously trying to scare her into giving him her custom. Just because she was a stranger to the area, he thought he could hoodwink her into staying the night, then hiring some overpriced conveyance from his stables in the morning to take her on a journey that would probably turn out to be hardly any distance at all!
He sucked air through his teeth again, running his eyes over her slender frame with a decidedly hostile expression.
'You could go by the roads, I dare say. If you're so set on going there.'