Shipwrecked with the Captain


A Lady Becomes a Governess by Diane Gaston

 

 All she remembers…

…is feeling safe in his arms!
Shipwrecked governess Claire Tilson wakes in Captain Lucien Roper’s arms—with amnesia! Her handsome rescuer believes she’s a member of the aristocracy he detests, yet he risks all to see her “home,” where she learns she’s betrothed to a wealthy stranger. Claire is convinced she doesn’t belong here…and Lucien is the only man she trusts to uncover her past and claim her future!

 

The Governess Swap Series, Book 2

March 2019

ISBN 978-1335634986

 

Mass market paperback February 19, 2019

Ebook March 1, 2019

 

 



Excerpt

June 1816

Lucien Roper stood at the rail of the packet ship watching the Dublin harbor recede into the distance. He inhaled the salty breeze and felt the bracing wind on his face. Voices of the sailors tending to their tasks rang in his ears.

Only a few more days, then, with luck, he’d be back on the deck of a ship of his own, with his old crew, and back to the life from which he’d received so much. A fortune in prize money. Recognition and respect. A place he belonged.  

A woman’s laugh sounded over his shoulder, its sound so joyous, so unlike his restless mood, he turned, startled. She wore a grey cloak, shrouding her face.

What pleased her so? he wondered.

This was the sacrifice the navy life demanded of him. He was not free to court a young woman with a joyous laugh. Not for him to marry a woman and leave her for his mistress, the sea. He’d seen what happens when a navy man marries and he and his wife spent most of their days apart. 

Like his own parents had done.

It has been a long time since he’d suffered the effects of having an absent naval father. Lucien himself had been at sea for more than twenty years now, since age twelve. This was his life and before it, a mere memory.

He was eager to get back to it. His beloved Foxfire had been sold for breaking up, no longer needed now the war was over, and the Admiralty had promised him a new ship. Of course, there were dozens of captains like him, clamoring for a ship, but he’d earned a spot near the top of the list. At least with the wind this brisk they could count on making it to Holyhead by the next afternoon and he’d be in London a few days later.

He studied the sky and frowned. This crossing would be rough. Maybe too rough. Likely their departure should have been delayed a day, but the sooner he reached England, the better.

Still….

He sauntered over to where the packet Captain stood.

“We’re in for a patch of bad weather,” Lucien remarked.

The Captain knew who Lucien was—a decorated navy captain, a hero of the Adriatic Sea and Mediterranean.

“What?” The Captain looked surprised Lucien had spoken to him. “Oh. Bad weather. Yes. Must sail through it.”

Lucien had made it through many a storm. He’d make it through this one. He’d prefer, though, the Captain seem less preoccupied and better able to attend to the weather and what was happening on his deck.

Like noticing the young grey-cloaked woman back away from sea spray and stumble a little.

“Would it not be a good idea to order passengers to stay below?” Lucien asked him in a tone more demanding than questioning.

“Hmmm?” This captain was as sharp as a slop bucket.

Pay attention, man.

“The passengers.” Lucien snapped, gesturing to the young woman. “Should stay below.”

“Oh?” The Captain’s brows rose. “Of course. Was about to make that order.” He called one of his men over. “Tell the passengers to remain below.”

Lucien shook his head in dismay and strode away.  He traversed the deck and, out of habit, took notice of the seamen preparing for the storm. He scanned the sails and the ropes. All seemed well enough. Shipshape. He glanced back at the Captain who held a hand to his chest and seemed to be studying his coat buttons.

Lucien expelled a frustrated breath. He’d better get below himself before he began barking orders.

He walked to the companionway and opened the hatch. At the bottom of the stairs stood two women, both in grey cloaks. Which was the woman with the captivating laugh? He could not see the face of one, but the other was a beauty. An expensively dressed beauty. He might have spoken to them and hoped to finally see who had uttered such a lovely laugh, but it was clear he’d intruded on them. They stepped aside.

He nodded and passed them, but turned back. “You ladies should stay in your cabins. The sea is rough. Do not fear. A seaman will bring your meal to you.”

At least he hoped such an arrangement would be made—if the Captain thought to order it.

Lucien continued to his cabin.

#

Claire Tilson had quickly averted her face when the tall, dark-haired, broad-shouldered gentleman opened the hatch and descended the stairs. Her heart was already beating fast—this encounter—this lady—had been disturbance enough, but she’d glimpsed the man on deck and he was every bit as handsome as she’d suspected, with thick brows and eyes as light a brown and as alert as a fox’s.

What was wrong with her? Taking notice of any man. She’d just fled from the country house where she’d been governess to three lovely little girls, because their father tried to seduce her—practically under the nose of his sweet wife. He’d sworn his undying love. As if she could trust a man who so ill-used his wife.

Claire shook herself. She need not be distracted. She needed, instead, to address this lady standing next to her, this lady she’d met a moment ago.  

This lady who looked exactly like her.

Same brown hair. Same hazel eyes. Same face.

What do you say to a stranger who looked like your twin?

Lady Rebecca Pierce was her name, she’d said.

Claire waited until the handsome gentleman disappeared into one of the cabins near the end of the corridor, but she debated whether it was her place to ask for explanations.

“We should do as he says, I suppose,” she said instead. She went to a nearby door and opened it. “My cabin is here.”

What she wanted to say was, wait. Talk to me. Why do you look like me? Where are you from? Are you a relation?

Claire would love to have some family relation to claim her.

She ought not to push herself on a lady, though. She took a step across the threshold.

Lady Rebecca called her back. “I would like to speak with you more. I am quite alone. My maid suffers the mal de mer and remains in her cabin.”

Claire lowered her gaze. “The sea has never bothered me. I suppose I have a strong constitution that way.”

“Will you talk with me?” Lady Rebecca asked. “Maybe there is some sense to make of this.” Her hand gestured between them.

Claire gazed into her cabin, perfect for a poor governess, but unsuitable for a lady. “You are welcome to come in, but there is very little room.”

“Come to my cabin, then,” the lady said. “We may be comfortable there.”

Claire followed Lady Rebecca to her cabin, which included a berth larger than the one in her cabin and a table and chairs that provided a view of the sea through a porthole.  As the gentleman said, the sea was rough, with choppy waves and white foam.

Lady Rebecca waved towards a chair, inviting her to sit. When they were both settled across from each other at the table, Lady Rebecca asked, “Where are you bound, Miss Tilson?”

Claire would have thought she’d ask the obvious question, the one that burned inside her—why do we look alike?

“To a family in the Lake District,” she responded. “Not a family, precisely. Two little girls whose parents were killed in an accident. They are in the care of their uncle now, the new Viscount Brookmore.” And with any luck at all, the Viscount wouldn’t often be in residence.

“How sad.” The lady frowned sympathetically.

Yes. The little girls were alone in the world. Claire knew how that felt. 

But she did not wish to dwell on gloomy feelings, not when her life might improve. “And you, Lady Rebecca? Where are you bound?”

“To London,” she replied.

“London!” Claire smiled. A city of shops, palaces, theatres, and town houses in picturesque squares. The Tower. Westminster Cathedral. Hyde Park. “How exciting. I was there once. It was so…vital.”

“Vital, indeed.” Lady Rebecca, looking like Claire herself, appeared scornful.

Claire peered at her. “You sound as if you do not wish to go.”

The lady met her gaze. “I do not. I travel there to be married.”

Claire’s brows rose. “Married?” 

Lady Rebecca waved a hand. “It is an arranged marriage. My brother’s idea.”

There were worse things than an arranged marriage. “And you do not wish to marry this man?”

“Not at all.” Lady Rebecca straightened in her chair. “May I change the subject?”

Claire blinked. She’d forgotten herself and spoke out of turn, as if they were equals. “Forgive me. I did not mean to pry.”

Lady Rebecca shrugged. “Perhaps I will tell you the whole story later.” She leaned forwards. “For now I am bursting with questions. Why do we look alike? How can this be? Are we related somehow?”

The same questions Claire longed to ask. 

They discussed possible family connections, but came up with none that connected them.

It would have been more of a surprise if they had been relations. Lady Rebecca was the daughter of an English earl whose estate was in Ireland and Claire was the daughter of an English vicar who’d rarely traveled out of his county. 

They did both grew up in English boarding schools, however, although Lady Rebecca’s was a rather progressive school in Reading and Claire’s Bristol school had catered to girls like her, who would eventually have to make their own way in the world.  It was through her boarding school that Claire had procured the governess position in Ireland. 

Lady Rebecca blew out an exasperated breath. “We are no closer to understanding this. We are not related—”

“But we look alike,” Claire finished for her. “An unexpected coincidence?”

Lady Rebecca stood and pulled Claire towards a mirror affixed to the wall.

“We are not identical.” Claire was almost relieved to find some differences. “Look.”

Claire’s two front teeth were not quite as prominent, and her eyebrows did not have Lady Rebecca’s lovely arch, and Claire’s eyes were closer together. Still, the differences were so minor as to be easily overlooked.

“No one would notice unless we were standing next to each other,” she admitted.

“Our clothes set us apart. That is for certain.” Lady Rebecca turned from the mirror and faced Claire. “If you wore my clothes, I’d wager anyone would take you for me.”

Claire admired the traveling dress Lady Rebecca wore, a vigonia wool confection with ribbon trim at the hem. She’d also admired Lady Rebecca’s cloak, grey, like hers, but of a much finer wool. “I cannot imagine wearing fine clothes like yours.” She sighed.

“You must wear them then.” Lady Rebecca’s eyes—so like Claire’s eyes in color and shape—brightened. “Let us change clothes and impersonate each other for the voyage. It will be a great lark. We will see if anyone notices.”

Claire was horrified. “Your clothes are too fine for you to give up. Mine are plain.”

“Precisely.” Lady Rebecca crossed her arms. “But I believe people pay more attention to dress than to other aspects of one’s appearance. Perhaps even more than one’s character. In any event, I think there is nothing undesirable about wearing a simple dress.”

Claire’s dress was certainly simple. A plain brown poplin.

She touched the fine wool of Rebecca’s traveling dress. “I confess, I would love to wear a gown like this.”

“Then you shall!” Rebecca turned her back to her. “Unbutton me.”

They undressed down to their shifts and traded dresses, acting as each other’s maids.

“Fix my hair like yours,” Lady Rebecca said.

Claire pulled Lady Rebecca’s hair in a simple knot at the back of her head, feeling inexplicably sad to make Lady Rebecca as plain as she.

“Let me do yours now.” Lady Rebecca removed Claire’s hairpins and her hair fell onto her shoulders. She brushed Claire’s hair high on her head and, with a little pomade, twisted curling tendrils around her face.

Claire and her likeness gazed in the mirror again and laughed. They had indeed traded images.

There was a rap at the door.

“Answer the door as me.” Lady Rebecca grinned.

Impersonate a lady? “I could not.”

Lady Rebecca gave her a little push towards the door. “Of course you can!”

Claire straightened her spine as Lady Rebecca sat back down at the table.

Taking a deep breath, Claire opened the door.

It was a seaman deftly balancing a tray as the boat continued to pitch. “Some refreshment, m’lady.” He took her to be Lady Rebecca!

The lovely clothes made Claire feel like a lady. “Thank you.”

Would he also assume Lady Rebecca was the governess? Claire gestured to her. “Miss Tilson passes the time with me. Will you bring her food here for her?”

“That I will, miss.” The crewman stepped into the cabin and placed the tray on the table right in front of Lady Rebecca. He returned a moment later with two more trays. “Your maid, miss?”

Claire looked to Lady Rebecca for guidance, but the lady turned away.

Claire finally answered, “My—my maid is resting. Perhaps you might leave her tray here, as well? We will tend to her.”

The seaman bowed. “Very good, miss.” He placed both trays on the table.

When he left, Claire put her hand on her chest to still her rapidly beating heart.

“I was afraid he would notice we look alike,” Lady Rebecca said. “He must have glimpsed me when he left the trays.” 

The crewman had taken no more notice of Lady Rebecca dressed as Claire than the handsome gentleman had done in the companionway.

Claire knew why. “A governess is not important enough to notice, my lady.”

She joined Lady Rebecca at the table and they continued to talk as they partook of the bread, cheese and ale the crewman had brought. Claire relaxed in this woman’s company. She forgot their difference in status and felt as comfortable as if they were sisters.

Rebecca was apparently feeling a similar kinship. “I believe we should call each other by our given names,” she said. “It seems silly to be formal to one’s mirror image.”

Claire was flattered. “If you desire it…Rebecca. Then I am Claire to you.”

“Claire!” She grinned.

Claire felt emboldened. “Might you tell me now why you do not wish to be married?” Marriage was what every woman wanted, was it not? “Now that we are no longer formal?”

Lady Rebecca—Rebecca, she meant—turned solemn. “A woman gives up everything by marrying. Any wealth or property she might have. Any right to decide for herself what she wishes to do.” Her chin set. “If I am to give up everything, it should be to a man who loves me and respects me and will not confine me.”

Those were lofty sentiments. But life rarely fulfilled one’s deepest wishes.  “And this man?” Claire asked.

Rebecca grimaced. “I met him only once. He merely wished to ensure himself I could produce an heir.”

“But, of course he would want an heir,” Claire responded. “Especially if he has a title and property.” Gentlemen, especially peers, needed an heir.

“He does.” Rebecca tapped her pewter tankard with her fingernail.

“Is the gentleman wealthy enough to provide for you?” Claire asked.

“He is said to be prosperous,” Rebecca replied. “He must be, because he is willing to marry me with a mere pittance for a dowry.”

She certainly did not look as if she had a mere pittance for a dowry.

“Will you tell me who he is?” Claire asked.

Rebecca shrugged. “Lord Stonecroft.”

This was not a name Claire knew, but, then, why would she?

“Baron Stonecroft of Gillford.” Rebecca said the name as if biting into rancid meat.

“Ah.”  Now Claire understood. “You were hoping for a higher title than baron. I mean, you said you are the daughter of an earl.”

Rebecca sniffed. “I care nothing for that.”

Then, what? “Did he seem like a cruel man, then? Is that your objection?”.

Rebecca sighed. “I do not believe there is precisely anything to object to in him. I simply do not wish to marry him.”

“Refuse, then.” Surely this lady had choices.

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “My brother—my half-brother—says I am too much of a burden to him for him to wait for me to find a husband I would like. I’ve refused every offer he’s arranged for me. This time he made certain. I will be turned out without a penny if I do not marry Lord Stonecroft.” Her face turned red. “I’ve no doubt my brother means what he says.”

Claire knew how it felt to have no choices. Her heart wrenched in sympathy. “How sad. One would hope a brother would understand. Family should understand, should they not?”

Rebecca gave her a curious look. “Do you have any brothers or sisters? Any family at all?”

Claire’s throat tightened with emotion. “I am alone in the world. Any relations are too distant to be concerned with me.”

“My parents are gone,” Rebecca responded in a like tone. “And my brother might as well be dead. He said he never wishes to see me again. Ever. Even if he visits England. He made that very clear.”

Another way they were alike. Both alone. Both without parents. Lady Rebecca went on to say her father died two years before; her mother, a decade ago.

At least she’d known her mother. Claire’s mother died giving birth to her; her father, over five years ago.

But Rebecca had one choice Claire would probably never have. The chance to make a good marriage. “I think you are fortunate to marry, Lady Rebecca—Rebecca,” she finally said. “You have little money or property, correct? You can only gain by marrying. You’ll gain a home of your own to manage. Children of your own. Comfort and security. Even status and a respectable position in society.”

It sounded like a wonderful choice to Claire. She yearned to have a man to love her—that is, the right man, one she was free to love in return. She suspected she would even enjoy the pleasures of the marital bed, because sometimes when seeing a handsome man—like the man who’d spoken to them in the hallway—she’d wonder how it would be for him to kiss her or hold her.

Could men sense such impulses in her? It often seemed the wrong men paid her attention.

How much easier it would be to simply be married. To have such security.

She opened her mouth to speak of this to Lady Rebecca, but the lady’s expression had turned desolate.

Claire wanted only to comfort her now. “Perhaps it will not be so onerous to be Lady Stonecroft.”

Rebecca gave a polite smile. “Perhaps not.”

Claire changed the subject, to save Rebecca more discomfort. They talked about their interests. What books they’d read. What plays they’d seen.Their favorite pieces of music. From time to time, Rebecca convinced Claire to impersonate her and check up on her maid, Nolan. The woman accepted her as Rebecca, each time.

 They talked until night turned the angry sea inky black. It felt lovely to Claire. She’d not had such a friend in a long time.

But Rebecca’s eyes, so like Claire’s, grew heavy and, as they talked she tried to stifle yawns.

Claire, feeling guilty for claiming her company for so long, stood. “I should return to my cabin so you might get some sleep. I’ll help you out of your dress, if you help me out of this lovely gown.”

Rebecca rose and turned her back so Claire could untie the laces at the back of the plain dress she had owned for years. It had been such a pleasure to wear something a bit decadent, if one can call wool decadent. Ladies who frequently purchased new dresses did not realize how it felt to wear the same drab garments, day after day.

As Claire loosened the laces of the dress, Rebecca turned to her. “Let us see how far we can carry this masquerade. You be me tonight. Sleep in my nightclothes, in this bed. And I will continue being you.”

Claire blanched. “I cannot allow you to be closeted in that tiny berth they gave me!”

“Why not?” Rebecca looked defiant. “It will be an adventure for me. And you will have the comfort of this cabin as a treat. When Nolan enters in the morning, we shall discover if she still believes you are me.”

She pulled out her nightdress, made of the softest of muslin. “Here.”

Claire fingered the fine cloth of the nightdress. “Perhaps. If you desire this.”

“I do desire it,” her likeness insisted. She helped Claire out of her dress. “I desire it very much.”

#

By morning, though, the weather had worsened and the boat pitched and rose even more fiercely than the night before. Claire was awoken by Rebecca knocking on the door of her own cabin. She rose and had difficulty crossing the room to answer the door to admit her new friend. They looked even more alike, both in their nightclothes, their hair loose about their shoulders.

“I checked on Nolan,” Rebecca said. “She is even more ill today. I also saw the seaman who brings our food. He said we must stay below.” She lifted her arm. “I brought your bag.”

Claire had packed a clean shift, her brush and comb, and a small bar of soap for the boat trip. The small trunk that held the rest of her clothing was stowed away. The dress she’d wear again today was draped over one of the chairs.

“We can help each other dress,” Rebecca said.

Dressing was a challenge, though. They had difficulty staying on their feet, and the pitcher of water for washing had mostly spilled onto the floor. They managed to get into their shifts and corsets, and Claire reached for her dress.

Rebecca stopped her. “Oh, do let us continue our masquerade. It was such a lark.”  

Claire did not need much convincing. She’d relish wearing Rebecca’s lovely dress again and having her hair in curls.

As the day crept on, though, their impersonation of each other was forgotten. It was clear the ship was in very rough waters. A seaman did attend them, bringing food and drink, but his face seemed pinched in worry.

“A bad storm brewing,” he told them.

#

Lucien had spent most of the day on deck, though he had no control over the lack of decision of the Captain. Curse naval discipline! It was clear to him that the ship could founder at any moment. Time was past to do anything to prevent it.

He ran over to the Captain. “Give the order to abandon ship! Get these passengers into the boats while there is still time.” They were near the coast. The boats might make it to shore.

“Yes, yes.” The man’s face was ashen. He suddenly clutched his arm and his face contorted in pain. He collapsed on the deck.

“Blast,” Lucien cried. He grabbed one of the men to attend to the Captain and another to see that the order to abandon ship was given. He ran to the cabins to get the passengers to safety.

Suddenly there was a loud crack and Lucien watched lightning travel down the main mast. It cracked in two and crashed onto the deck.

Time was running out. He dashed back to the cabins and burst into the next one.

He found the lady and her companion with the lovely laugh. He’d learned the lady was Lady Rebecca Pierce, sister to the Earl of Keneagle. Certainly that had been a surprise. The other woman was a governess. But he had no time to lose.

“Come above,” he commanded. “We must abandon ship. Bring nothing.”

Lady Rebecca jumped to her feet, but the governess defied his order and pulled a reticule from her satchel. He’d still not seen her face.

“Come on!” he ordered.

When they reached the stairs, the governess shoved the reticule into the lady’s hands. “Here. Take this,” she said. “I’ll be right behind you. I’m going to get Nolan.”

“No!” the lady cried. “You mustn’t.”

The fool woman did not heed her.

“Miss!” Lucien yelled to her. “We must leave now.”

“I will be right behind you,” she called over her shoulder.

“Blast!” He pushed the lady up the stairs and seized her arm when they climbed on deck.

The deck was in shambles. Ropes and sails and smashed wood everywhere. The main mast lay like a fallen soldier in the midst of it all.

“To the boats!” he ordered, still gripping her arm.

He pulled her over the debris to the railing, but as they reached it, the ship dipped. A huge wave, as tall as a mountain rose above them.

God help them. Lucien wrapped his arms around her.

The wave engulfed them and swept them into the swirling sea.


Reviews

4 ½ Stars! Shipwrecked with the Captain is highly entertaining at all times. Quite a few events have action, and some of the more dangerous circumstances were unexpected. Any details are colorfully described, which let me envision each setting to the fullest. Conversations are packed with intelligent discussions and also much delightful banter. Lucien and Claire find themselves in some life-changing situations, and I eagerly awaited their final decisions. The Governess Swap has an inventive premise and fascinating characters.

—Amelia Richard, alwaysreviewing.com

 

4 Stars! The entire tale kept me entertained as I followed Claire’s new life. After the middle of the book, a bit of danger enters the story, adding a touch of suspense to an already delightful read. I consider this to be MORE than worth your time and money! 

—Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews

 


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