JANE CHARLESWORTH, DAUGHTER OF ENGLAND’S FOREMOST CODE BREAKER, IS THE ONLY PERSON THOUGHT CAPABLE OF DECIPHERING A VITAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT. BUT WHEN A NAVAL FRIGATE IS SENT TO ENLIST HER SERVICES AND TRANSPORT HER TO MALTA, JANE IS HORRIFIED. HAUNTED WITH TERRIBLE MEMORIES OF AN EARLIER VOYAGE, SHE HAS NO INTENTION OF PUTTING HERSELF UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE ADMIRALTY EVER AGAIN. ANXIOUS TO BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE ACTION AS THE PEACE WITH FRANCE CRUMBLES, ADAM MARSTON IS LIVID WHEN HIS SHIP IS DIVERTED TO COLLECT A RELUCTANT BLUE-STOCKING WHOSE ACCUSING EYES AND INSOLENT MANNER HOLD NOTHING BUT CONTEMPT FOR HIM AND HIS ORDERS. SPARKS FLY WHEN CAPTAIN AND CODE BREAKER FIND THEY HAVE DIFFERENT IDEAS ON HOW TO HANDLE A FRENCH ATTACK, A MALICIOUS CHAPLAIN, AND BOISTEROUS MIDSHIPMEN. DUTY AND DESIRE COLLIDE AS THEY APPROACH MALTA, BUT JANE IS DETERMINED THAT HER JUDGEMENT WILL NOT BE CLOUDED BY ADAM WHO, ONCE HE HAS DESPATCHED HIS REBELLIOUS CARGO, WILL SAIL OUT OF HER LIFE AGAIN. BUT, AS THE SHIP DOCKS, JANE’S LIFE BECOMES A NIGHTMARE AND SHE IS FORCED TO GAMBLE THAT ADAM IS THE ONLY PERSON SHE CAN TRUST. AS PASSION BATTLES WITH DUTY, WILL FUTURE ORDERS THROW THEM TOGETHER OR TEAR THEM APART?
Jane wasn’t at all sure of her safety as John Able disappeared through the cabin door, but she was impatient to know the reason for Captain Marston’s visit. The sooner he stated his business the sooner the brute could get off her ship.
Arrogant ass, she silently assessed, as she studied the man whose gaze locked on hers with the assumption that she should be humbled by his presence. Quelling her fear she waited for him to begin, whilst wishing she had the capability to plant a fist right between those stone-grey eyes, which were regarding her with such disapproval.
Her face flushed in remorse at the way she had embarrassed Captain Able. He might be the grumpiest person she had ever known, but he had been a loyal and competent adviser about the local trading routes. Involving him in her personal vendetta and distaste for His Majesty’s Navy was not well done. She was letting her fear and resentment get in the way of common sense. Antagonising the captain of a naval ship was just plain foolishness.
She watched as Captain Marston lowered himself into the seat opposite her. She could see his face clearer now. A faded scar ran from the corner of his left eye down to the edge of his firm square chin. On a woman – and certain men – it would be disfiguring, but he wore it like an adornment, on a face that breathed arrogance. His hair was brushed back from his face, sleek and dark as a raven’s wing. She cursed her body as it trembled under his scrutiny. His mere bulk dominated the space, and his cold gaze violated her privacy, casting her mind back to a day she had tried to rip from her memory.
Adam considered the almond-shaped brown eyes that challenged his. The feeling of apprehension on his journey over to this vessel had trebled in the last few minutes. Everything about Jane Charlesworth disturbed him. She was no classic beauty, but she did possess a small straight nose and full soft lips, despite her venomous tongue. The brows of her defiant eyes rose as she silently invited an explanation. Meeting her stare, he turned his thoughts back to his unwelcome task, feeling rather like he did when about to take on a heavier gunned French ship.
“I have orders, madam, to commission your services on behalf of the Government. I must ask you to accompany me to my vessel where you will receive further instructions on the duties required of you, after we sail.” He delivered the words with a distaste, which he didn’t bother to disguise.
Her eyes widened, but she didn’t seem unduly surprised. Well, she bloody well shouldn’t be, after disobeying government orders. He watched her lower her eyes and study the top of the desk until her gaze levelled with his again. Although outwardly she showed no sign of fear, the anger that matched his own, simmered beneath the soft planes of her face.
“Well, Captain, you have asked me – and I decline the invitation. Now if you don’t mind, I have a busy schedule. I will leave for England as soon as it is convenient, under my own conveyance, and report to the Admiralty without your service.”
He sighed, she wasn’t going to make it easy for him.
Adam studied her for a few seconds; despite her rude reply, he had sensed a slight chink in her bravado. Finally he leaned forward in his chair.
“Oh, but I do mind – it is not an invitation I bring, madam, but a command. My orders are to take you aboard my ship without delay. I have already wasted a week scouring the waters for you – and your selfish, evasive tactics have cost precious time. As it is I’m sure your vessel will make do well enough without you.”
“Do you indeed? How astute of you, Captain, to come to that conclusion.” Brown eyes flashed at him but her voice had turned quiet and unnervingly sweet. “It is a pity the Admiralty cannot seem to make do without me. As for your orders, you know where you can stick them.”
Adam considered her words without changing his expression. His orders were often received with dismay by their recipients, but never – even from the enemy – had he ever been given such a coarse reply.
© Susan Lodge