Home > The Captain's Heiress

The Captain's Heiress
Author: Amy Jarecki

 

1

 

 

EARLY SUMMER, 1813

 

 

When laboring to piece together ancient, brittle fragments, a single error could render an entire tablet untranslatable. Which was why Isabella Harcourt had resituated her writing table in the window embrasure and covered it with white linen. Not only was she making the best use of the sunlight, day after day, she toiled alone in her quest to uncover the story from the tablets she had unearthed among the Roman ruins in the southeast corner of her father’s estate.

With her quizzing glass in hand, she curled forward as she searched for a piece about the size and shape of her little fingernail. “Aha, have I found you?”

After selecting a pair of surgeon’s tweezers from their place at the side of the table, she held the quizzing glass steady while carefully plucking the fragment from the white cloth peppered with many of the same bits and pieces. Isabella gripped her elbows against her sides to hold her hands as steady as possible while she moved the tiny piece above the ancient wooden tablet and carefully placed it into the gap.

“Not quite…” she mumbled, lightly tapping the piece with the point of the tweezers until it slipped into place, or at least it seemed as if it had done. To verify, she leaned nearer with her glass and examined the fragment’s edges. “Very close fit, indeed.”

She sat back and examined the Latin word the sliver had completed: nudus.

Though Isabella was a very sensible woman, her face warmed considerably as she stared at the word that, translated into English, meant nude or naked. Moreover, her words came out a bit breathless as she interpreted the sentence: “When I close my eyes, I see you naked before sleep comes to me.”

Isabella flicked open her fan and cooled her cheeks. “My goodness, sir, you weren’t shy about expressing the depth of your love for your wife, were you?”

Behind her, soft knock resounded from her bedchamber door before it clicked open.

Jolting upright, she shifted a bit of paper over the tablet—not that anyone at the manor would care overmuch about the ancient Roman’s love letter to his wife, but being discovered translating the word nudus was disconcerting all the same.

“There you are,” said Papa, which was rather odd. At breakfast this morning, Isabella had mentioned that she planned to work on translating the tablets today. She worked on them most days, really, as they had become somewhat of an obsession.

Carefully, she placed her tools on the right edge of her writing table, side by side, their handles perfectly parallel, at least as perfect as one could possibly manage. Then, after pushing her chair away, over her shoulder she regarded her father, who had moved in front of the hearth, standing with his hands clasped atop his waistcoat. “I thought I’d find you here, my dear.”

“Yes, I suppose it was hardly a guess, given that we discussed today’s agenda over coddled eggs and toast.”

“Indeed,” Papa said, then cleared his throat and consulted his pocket watch. “Well…ah…you are aware that I have always wanted what is best for you, are you not, my dearest?”

Isabella’s first hint that something was off was his mention of finding her, but now that Papa had referred to her as dearest, an endearment he rarely used, not to mention he failed to look her in the eye, Isabella feared the worst—had someone died? One of the servants? A close relation?

She pushed to her feet and gave her father her full attention. Kingston Harcourt was a former officer in the army and always looked everyone in the eye, to the point where he frequently rendered newcomers most uncomfortable.

“I can concur with that,” she said rather uncommittedly as her mind riffled through her childhood, much of which was spent alone, or at least without her father in residence at the West Sussex manor, during which time she often wondered if he cared about her at all. Regrettably, she’d never known her mother, who had died in childbirth. Though Isabella wasn’t exactly sure if it was in her best interests to be raised by nursemaids, tutors, and governesses while Papa was executing his duty for king and country, or if her upbringing was more aptly in Britain’s best interests, arguing such a point would be senseless. The fact of the matter was her father believed he had always acted with her welfare in mind, and there was never any use debating otherwise.

“Good, good.” Papa turned and stared up at the portrait of Isabella’s paternal grandmother above the mantel, loudly clearing his throat. “I have decided it is time for you to marry.”

Suddenly rendered speechless and dry-mouthed, Isabella gaped at her father’s back, her skin growing hot and clammy.

Surely he misspoke.

Had Papa just taken a few nips from his flask? It was a bit early for imbibing in liquor—even for him. When her father neither turned nor expounded upon his declaration, she snorted with a sardonic laugh. “Marry? Good heavens, it has been years since we broached that subject.”

Still, she hadn’t imagined he’d just blurted out that he had decided she needed to marry. Isabella crossed her arms over her midriff and paced several steps before collapsing onto the settee. At the ripe age of five and twenty, she was well and truly a spinster. Yes, she’d endured a London Season, but had fallen quite short of the ton’s expectations for the daughter of a knight. She wasn’t a particularly graceful dancer, she was positively abominable at flirting, and more than once she’d found herself at a complete loss for words when addressed by a courtier. Oh, and yes, she had learned that when attending a ball, one did not exactly encourage a gentleman’s affections when one turned and fled to the women’s withdrawing room.

“It is time to seriously consider it again, my dear.” Papa pulled a letter from inside his doublet and ran his fingers over the creased parchment. “I have been exchanging correspondence with a gentleman in America for some time.”

A stone the size of a cannonball lodged in the pit of Isabella’s stomach—or was it her throat? “About me?” she squeaked, realizing the cannonball was truly gagging her, and praying Papa had been writing to the American about the breeding of bantam chickens or any topic that did not include her.

“Indeed. His name is Mr. Arent Schuyler. He has amassed quite a fortune…and…”

“And…?” Isabella’s palms grew moist. Perhaps it was best if her father didn’t continue this discourse. “Has Mr. Schuyler come to England?”

Papa tapped the missive against his palm. “No. He is in Georgia.”

“The state of Georgia? In America?” No, her blathering didn’t exactly sound intelligent, but her father had just come into her bedchamber and told her he had decided she would marry and then mentioned corresponding with possibly a complete stranger, across the Atlantic Ocean.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say. Mr. Schuyler is a well-respected older gentleman who is seeking a well-mannered English wife with whom he can start a family. Did I mention he is well-to-do?”

“Yes, you did say that he had amassed a fortune. How, may I ask?” If Papa uttered a single word about the slave trade, she would explode.

“Silver.”

“Oh.” Isabella folded her shaking, sweaty hands. “Oh my.”

“Quite.” Papa finally met her gaze. “He has offered a very generous finder’s fee, one that will enable me to live out the rest of my days in comfort.”

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Sweet Temptation
» Den of Vipers
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Angry God (All Saints High #3)
» Serpent & Dove(Serpent & Dove #1)
» ENEMIES
» Credence
» Archangel's War
» House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2)