Hetty Avebury’s desperate gamble to avoid an odious match lands her all at sea. Can a stuffy ship’s physician really be the hero she needs to escape her treacherous family?
Spring 1810 - Hampshire England.
Yet with her self-proclaimed betrothed hot on her heels,can Hetty really trust the doctor?
“Well, madam, you have put me in a right pickle.” Captain Derwent sat behind his desk, glaring at Hetty as if he would like to throw her overboard. He reached for his snuff box and took a heavy pinch.
She didn’t answer. Frankly, the man terrified her.
Hetty sat with her hands in her lap, straight-backed and attempting to look demure. Aunt Amelia would have been pleased with the way she was sitting, if nothing else. She thought guiltily about her aunt, who would be worried — the only person in the world who would be, except her loyal maid of course.
She should never have involved poor Annie in her stupid escape plan. They had known each other almost all their lives and had a closer relationship than would normally exist between servant and mistress. Hetty knew the girl would try to find her, and she looked toward the window, almost expecting to see her intrepid maid swimming through the foaming wake of the ship’s path.
The captain now knew her name and where she resided. She had not mentioned Lord Stark, and to her relief, the doctor had not either.
Under cover of her long eyelashes, she stole a glance at Doctor Withington seated by the stern window, watching her. He did not look quite as disapproving as he did earlier. In fact, he studied her as if she was a particularly curious specimen he was trying to classify. Good heavens, he made her skin creep. Stark made her skin creep as well, but that was in a different way altogether. Neither sensation was comfortable. One made her feel cold and the other warm — quite warm indeed.
The captain’s voice shattered the temporary lull in the conversation. “Miss Avebury, I will assign you the best accommodation I can find — but bear in mind this is a fighting ship. You will please restrict yourself to your cabin as much as possible. It is unfortunate you have no abigail, as I have no other women on this ship.” He eyed her garments. “At least I believe I do not. Is perhaps your companion also under disguise?” He shuddered. “Am I to expect an entourage of pressed men who will turn out to be females?”
Hetty shook her head. “Unfortunately, I was parted from my maid at Portsmouth. She was dressed as a woman — because she is a woman, that is. I have no idea what became of her.”
The captain leaned back in his chair, staring at the wooden beams above his head, as if to assess the problem. “Hmm…In the circumstances, Doctor, I think Miss Avebury should be put under your guardianship until I can arrange for her to be returned home. It is probably the most correct arrangement — you being a medical man.”
The crease in Robert’s forehead deepened. “I hardly think that appropriate, Captain. I am
not a substitute for a young lady’s abigail.”
The captain sighed. “But you are already acquainted with the lady and her family. I really cannot think of any better arrangement.
The doctor’s expression turned from alarm to reluctant acceptance.
“Very well, Captain. I will make Miss Avebury my responsibility until we can return her home.”
Doctor Withington turned and gave her a look that held a distinct warning. She did not like that the impatient doctor would be in charge of her. Would he assist her, unfastening her gowns and brushing her hair? She gave herself a mental shake, thankful that her male attire didn't require help.
© Susan Lodge