Title: Captain Easterday’s Bargain
Author: Kathleen Buckley
Genre: Historical Romance
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?
“A lady in a domino the color of a ripe quince,” a tall gentleman murmured as she brushed past and put a hand on her arm to detain her.
“Not for your plucking, sir.” She laughed.
He spoke closer to her ear, lowering his voice yet more. “But when a quince ripens, it will drop into one’s hand with only a little encouragement.”
“Then perhaps I am not ripe.” Am I getting too much into the spirit of the thing?
“Quinces harvested before they are quite ready will still ripen. In this cool climate, it’s often necessary to gather them early.”
It chanced that the orchestra had come to the end of its piece, and for that moment, conversation around them quieted and she heard the last part of his statement without distractions. She stared up into his eyes. In spite of being in shadow, she knew the speaker’s identity and recoiled.
“Be easy, my dear. I have no intention of carrying you off from a masquerade ball, like some reenactment of the Romans’ abduction of the Sabine women. Lord, it would cause a riot! Assuming anyone noticed.”
“I have no desire to continue this conversation or our acquaintance, Mr. Hawkins.”
“You said as much when we parted. I understood that you were distressed and needed time. Rather like a green quince. I could not let our friendship lapse without assuring you again that I am heartily sorry for offending you and beg you will forgive me.”
“I fear you are less sorry for your offense than for failing in your attempt to secure my property.”
He was silent for several heartbeats. “Admittedly, it was learning you were a considerable heiress that first captured my attention.”
At least he did not pretend ignorance.
“Once I knew you, your wealth faded into insignificance. Your elegance, your quick wits, and your beauty became everything to me.”
“My beauty? Do you expect me to believe you find me beautiful?”
“Some can only see beauty in a Meissen figurine with its detail and bright colors. Some of us can see it in the severe lines of celadonware. You, my love, are the latter.”
She swallowed. She preferred the pale green or gray porcelain, undecorated except perhaps for restrained molding, to the exuberance of famille rose china. As for the highly colored, over-sentimentalized shepherds and shepherdesses of Meissen—faugh! To be compared to celadon china was by far the best compliment she had ever received.
And she could not forget the sensations she had experienced when Hawkins kissed her. This moment, if he embraced her, she would respond. No wonder men were ruled by their lusts! Fortunately, females had more self-control. Nearby, a lady in a purple domino laughed too loudly as the gentleman beside her groped under her domino at bosom height. The moralists were quite right to condemn masquerade balls and ridottos—their anonymity encouraged wanton behavior. Sometimes courtesans attended. At least in the opera house, it would be impossible to find the privacy for greater lapses of morality, unlike Vauxhall Gardens, where it was easy to steal off into a grove.
“I’ve never dealt with a woman like you, so I’ve made mistakes. Forgive me?” His voice caressed her.
Her heart pounded. How could she be so attracted to a man she did not trust?
“I…I…” She was stammering like a chit new released from the schoolroom. How humiliating! Worse, she really did not know how to answer. It was Christian to forgive.
Her aunt considered Hawkins’s attempt to compromise her of little importance, easily excused by his ardor. She wanted his embraces. To be honest, she wanted him to bed her. She could not have the marriage bed without marriage and his vision of what he wanted from her as his wife—apart from the bedding—did not appeal. To have nothing to do but be his hostess, to make and receive calls on friends, to manage his household, and be a patroness of some suitable charity? She would go mad from boredom. Worse, she did not trust him, given his reputation on the river.
“I need time.”
“You shall have it, my cautious little love. I have your best interests at heart. Did I not arrange for Barlow to appear to have sailed for the Far East, even though you did not ask my help?”
She stared at him. He had arranged it? “It was very good of you. Thank you.” Her voice sounded unnatural in her ears.
“Easterday did not mention he’d come to me for help, did he? I suppose he thought you would object, given our recent misunderstanding.”
But she had not told him of the abduction. Why had he concealed Hawkins’s involvement? It might be only from vanity, for men often were vain, though Captain Easterday had never seemed to suffer from that fault. Had he omitted mention of Hawkins’s assistance because he thought Hawkins an unsuitable match for her? “I suppose he must have.”
“He would not have known how to do it on his own.” No, Captain Easterday was a sedate, well-behaved businessman, even if he had spent years at sea. He would lack the sort of connections possessed by Hawkins, who had sailed on a pirate ship, however briefly and unwillingly.
They had been drifting with the crowd. She wanted to detach herself from him; she could not be perfectly certain that there were no nooks where the amorous might dally. She would not trust herself with Hawkins in a secluded spot. Both morality and common sense told her that granting him any liberties would be a mistake, but her body cared nothing for decency or reason. Some claimed that old maids became crazed for lack of…of…well, of male attention. She had not believed it until now.
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
Forget stifling ballrooms and stifling decorum; give chaperoned young ladies and the nobility a day off. Captain Easterday’s Bargain is set in 1740 London’s busy, turbulent shipping trade, where a woman has no place—unless she makes one for herself by will, courage, and an unconventional bargain.
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Kathleen Buckley has wanted to write since her childhood in Alaska. Until she retired from a career as a paralegal with side trips into temporary work, light bookkeeping, and a stint as a security officer, her writing was mostly limited to instructions for office procedures, legal documents, and post orders. Creative writing remained little more than a hobby. Then she wrote An Unsuitable Duchess in an attempt to write historical romance in the style of Georgette Heyer’s Black Moth. When it was accepted, she kept writing: the second, Most Secret, was followed by Captain Easterday’s Bargain and A Masked Earl. She expects the fifth, A Duke’s Daughter, to come out in Spring, 2020. No bodices are ripped in her books, though her characters do sometimes use language stronger than “Zounds!”
She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has cats, and enjoys studying earlier periods and especially reproducing the foods of those periods. At the moment, she is concentrating on 18th century baked goods. Apart from that, she writes historical romance (or maybe historical fiction with a strong romantic element) set in the 1740s.
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