The Other Miss Bridgerton
Book 3 in the Rokesby Series
She was in the wrong place…
Fiercely independent and adventurous, Poppy Bridgerton will only wed a suitor whose keen intellect and interests match her own. Sadly, none of the fools from her London season qualify. While visiting a friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers’ hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain’s bed…
He found her at the wrong time…
Known to society as a rascal and reckless privateer, Captain Andrew James Rokesby actually transports essential goods and documents for the British government. Setting sail on a time-sensitive voyage to Portugal, he’s stunned to find a woman waiting for him in his cabin. Surely, his imagination is getting the better of him. But no, she is very real—and his duty to the Crown means he’s stuck with her.
Can two wrongs make the most perfect right?
When Andrew learns that she is a Bridgerton, he knows he will likely have to wed her to avert a scandal—though Poppy has no idea that he is the son of an earl and neighbor to her aristocratic cousins in Kent. On the high seas, their war of words soon gives way to an intoxicating passion. But when Andrew’s secret is revealed, will his declaration of love be enough to capture her heart…?
Enjoy an Excerpt
The Other Miss Bridgerton
Early summer 1786
For a young woman who had grown up on an island, in Somerset to be precise, Poppy Bridgerton had spent remarkably little time at the coast.
She was not unfamiliar with water. There was a lake near her family’s home, and Poppy’s parents had insisted that all their children learn to swim. Or perhaps more accurately, they had insisted that all their sons learn to swim. Poppy, the sole daughter of the bunch, took umbrage at the notion that she would be the only Bridgerton to die in a shipwreck and said as much to her parents –in precisely those words– just before she marched alongside her four brothers to the water’s edge and hurled herself in.
She’d learned faster than three out of four of her brothers (it wasn’t fair to compare her to the eldest; of course he’d catch on more quickly), and to this day she was, in her opinion, the strongest swimmer in the family. That she might have achieved this goal as much out of spite as natural ability was irrelevant. It was important to learn how to swim. She would have done so even if her parents hadn’t originally told her to wait patiently on the grass.
But there would be no swimming today. This was the ocean, or at least the channel, and the chilly, bitter water was nothing like the placid lake at home. Poppy might be contrary, but she wasn’t stupid. And alone as she was, she had nothing to prove.
Besides, she was having far too good a time exploring the beach. The soft give of the sand beneath her feet, the tang of the saltwater air–they were as exotic to her as if she’d been dropped into Africa.
Well, maybe not, Poppy thought as she nibbled on a piece of the very familiar-tasting English cheese she’d brought along on her hike. But still and all, it was new, and it was a change, and that had to count for something.
Especially now, with the rest of her life the same as it ever was.
It was nearly July, and Poppy’s second London season –compliments of her aristocratic aunt, Lady Bridgerton– had recently drawn to a close. Poppy had found herself ending the season much as she’d begun it– unmarried and unattached.
And a little bored.
She supposed she could have remained in London for the last dregs of the social whirl, hoping that she might actually meet someone she hadn’t met before (unlikely). She could have accepted her aunt’s invitation to rusticate in Kent, on the off chance that she might actually like one of the unmarried gentlemen who just happened to be invited for dinner (even less likely). But of course this would have required that she grit her teeth and attempt to hold her tongue when Aunt Alexandra wanted to know what was wrong with the latest offering (the least likely of all.)
Her choices had been dull and duller, but thankfully she’d been saved by her dear childhood friend Elizabeth, who had moved to Charmouth several years earlier with her husband, the affable and bookish George Armitage.
George, however, had been called to Northumberland for some urgent family matter, the details of which Poppy had never quite got straight, and Elizabeth had been left alone at her seaside house, six and a half months with child. Bored and confined, she’d invited Poppy to come for an extended visit, and Poppy had happily accepted. It would be like old times for the two friends.
Poppy popped another bite of cheese into her mouth. Well, except for the massive size of Elizabeth’s belly. That was new.
It meant Elizabeth couldn’t accompany her on her daily jaunts to the shore, but that was no matter. Poppy knew her reputation had never included the word shy, but conversational nature notwithstanding, she rather enjoyed her own company. And after months and months of making small talk in London, it felt rather nice to clear her head with the sharp sea air.
She’d been trying to take a different route each day, and she had been delighted to discover a small network of caves about halfway between Charmouth and Lyme Regis, tucked away where the foamy waves lapped the shore. Most filled with water when the tide was in, but after surveying the landscape, Poppy was convinced that there had to exist a few that remained dry, and she was determined to find one.
Just because of the challenge, of course. Not because she had any need of a perpetually dry cave in Charmouth, Dorset, England.
Great Britain, Europe, the World.
One really had to take one’s challenges where one could, given that she was in Charmouth, Dorset, England, and that seemed a decidedly small corner of the world, indeed.
Finishing the last bites of her lunch, she squinted up toward the rocks. The sun was to her back, but the day was bright enough to make her wish for a parasol, or, at the very least, a large shady tree. It was gorgeously warm, too, and she’d left her redingote back at the house. Even her fichu, which she’d worn to protect her skin, was starting to get itchy and hot across her chest.
But she wasn’t going to turn back now. She’d not come this far before, and in fact had only made it to this point after convincing Elizabeth’s plumpish maid, who’d been drafted as her chaperone/companion, to remain behind in town.
“Think of it as an additional afternoon off,” Poppy had said with a winning smile.
“I don’t know.” Mary’s expression was doubtful. “Mrs. Armitage was quite clear that–”
“Mrs. Armitage hasn’t had a clear thought since finding herself with child,” Poppy cut in, sending Elizabeth a silent apology. “It’s like that for all women, I’m told,” she added, trying to get the maid’s mind off the subject at hand, namely, Poppy’s chaperonage, or lack thereof.
“Well, that’s certainly true,” Mary said, tilting her head slightly to the side. “When my brother’s wife had her boys, I never could get a sensible word out of her.”
“That’s it exactly!” Poppy exclaimed. “Elizabeth knows that I will be perfectly fine on my own. I’m no spring miss, after all. Hopelessly on the shelf, they say.”
As Mary attempted to assure her that that was most certainly not the case, Poppy added, “I’m only going for an easy little stroll by the shore. You know that. You came with me yesterday.”
“And the day before that,” Mary said with a sigh, clearly not relishing the prospect of another afternoon of exertion.
“And the day before that as well,” Poppy pointed out. “And what, all week before that?”
Mary nodded glumly.
Poppy didn’t smile. She was far too good for that. But success was clearly right around the corner.
“Here,” she said, steering the maid toward a cozy tea shop, “why don’t you sit down and have a rest? Heaven knows you deserve it. I’ve quite run you ragged, haven’t I?”
“You’ve been nothing but kind, Miss Bridgerton,” Mary said quickly.
“Kind and exhausting,” Poppy said, patting Mary’s hand as she opened the tea room door. “You work so hard. You deserve a few minutes for yourself.”
And so, once Poppy had paid for a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits, she’d made her escape –two of the aforementioned biscuits in her pocket– and now she was wonderfully, blessedly on her own.
If only there were ladies’ shoes that were suitable for climbing across rocks. Her little boots were quite the most practical made for women, but they didn’t compare in durability with the sort that sat in her brothers’ wardrobes. She took great care to watch her steps, lest she turn an ankle. This area of the beach did not receive much foot traffic, so if she hurt herself, heaven only knew how long it would take for someone to come after her.
She whistled as she walked, enjoying the opportunity to engage in such uncouth behavior (wouldn’t her mama be horrified at the sound!), and then decided to compound the transgression by switching to a tune whose words were not suitable for female ears.
“Oh, the barmaid went down to the oh-oh-oh-ocean,” she sang happily, “with an eye toward getting her– What’s this?”
She stopped, peering at a strange formation in the rocks off to her right. A cave. It had to be. And far enough from the water’s edge that it wouldn’t flood in high tide.
“Me secret hideaway, mateys,” she said, winking to herself as she switched direction. It did seem the perfect spot for a pirate, well off the beaten track, its opening obscured by three large boulders. Truly, it was a wonder she’d even spotted it.
Poppy squeezed between the boulders, idly noting that one of them wasn’t as large as she’d originally supposed, then made her way into the mouth of the cave. Should’ve brought a lantern, she thought, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, although Elizabeth certainly would have wanted to know the reason for that. Hard to explain why one might need a lantern while walking on a beach at half noon.
Poppy took a few baby steps in, nudging her shoes carefully across the ground, searching out rough spots with her feet since she couldn’t possibly see them with her eyes. It was difficult to tell for sure, but the cave seemed deep, stretching out far beyond the light at the opening. She moved forward, emboldened by the thrill of discovery, edging slowly toward the back… slowly… slowly… until…
“Ow!” she yelped, wincing as her hand connected with something quite hard and wooden.
“Ow,” she said again, rubbing the sore spot with her other hand. “Ow ow ow. That was…”
Her words trailed off. Whatever she’d smacked her hand into, it wasn’t a natural outcropping of the cave. In fact, it felt rather like the splintery corner of a rough wooden crate.
With tentative movements, she reached her hand back out until it connected –more gently this time– with a flat wooden panel. No doubt about it, it was definitely a crate.
Poppy let out a little giggle of glee. What had she found? Pirates’ booty? Smugglers’ loot? The cave smelled musty, and it felt unused, so whatever this was, it had probably been there for ages.
“Prepare for treasure,” she laughed, saluting herself in the darkness. A quick check confirmed that the crate was far too heavy for her to lift, so she ran her fingers along the edge, trying to determine how she might get it open. Drat. It was nailed shut. She’d have to come back, although she had no idea how she’d explain away her need for a lantern and a crowbar.
She cocked her head to the side. If there was a crate –two, actually, one stacked atop the other– in this section of the cave, who knew what might be farther back?
She edged into the gloom, her arms stretched gingerly in front of her. Nothing yet. Nothing… nothing…
“The captain’ll kill you if you drop it.”
Poppy stopped breathing, relief washing over her when she realized that the rough male voice was not directed toward her.
Relief that was instantly replaced with terror. Slowly, she brought her arms back to her body until she’d enveloped herself in a tight hug.
She was not alone.
Using excruciatingly careful movements, she edged as far behind the crates as she could manage. It was dark, and she was quiet, and whoever was here ought not to see her unless–
“Will you light the damn lantern?”
Unless they had a lantern.
A flame blazed to life, illuminating the back portion of the cave. Poppy’s brow furrowed. Had the men come in from behind her? And if so, how had they entered? Where did the cave go?
“We don’t have much time,” one of the men said. “Hurry up and help me find what we need.”
“What about the rest?”
“It’ll be safe until we get back. It’s the last time, anyway.”
The other man laughed. “So the captain says.”
“He means it this time.”
“He’ll never quit.”
“Well if he doesn’t, I will.” –Poppy heard a pained grunt of exertion, followed by– “I’m getting too old for this.”
“Did you move the boulder in front of the opening?” the first man asked, exhaling as he set something down on the ground.
So that was why she’d had to squeeze in, Poppy realized. She should have wondered how such a large crate had fit through the small space.
“Yesterday,” came the reply. “With Billy.”
“That scrawny mite?”
“Mmph. I think he’s thirteen now.”
“Never say it!”
Good God, Poppy thought, she was trapped in a cave with smugglers –maybe even pirates!– and they were chattering away like two old ladies.
“What else do we need?” came the lower of the two voices.
“Captain says he won’t leave without a crate of the brandy.”
Poppy felt the blood leave her body. A crate?
The other man laughed. “To sell or to drink?”
“Both, I expect.”
Another chuckle. “He’d best be sharing, then.”
Poppy looked around frantically. Enough of the lantern’s light had filtered in her direction that she could see her immediate surroundings. Where the hell was she going to hide? There was a little indentation in the cave wall that she could press herself into, but the men would have to be blind to miss her.
Still, it was better than her current spot. Poppy scrambled back, curling herself into the tiniest ball she could manage, thanking her maker that she’d not worn her bright yellow frock that morning, simultaneously sending up her first true prayer in months.
Please please please.
I’ll be a better person.
I’ll listen to my mother.
I’ll even listen in church.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”
Poppy slowly tipped her face toward the man looming above her. “Forsaken,” she muttered.
“Who are you?” the man demanded, shoving the lantern closer to her face.
“Who are you?” Poppy shot back, before the relative lack of wisdom of such a retort sank in.
“Green!” the man hollered.
“What?” grumbled the other man–apparently named Green.
“There’s a girl!”
“Here. There’s a girl.”
Green came running over. “Who the hell is this?” he demanded.
“I don’t know,” the other man said impatiently. “She didn’t say.”
Green bent down, jamming his weathered face close to Poppy’s. “Who’re you?”
Poppy said nothing. She didn’t often hold her tongue, but now seemed an intelligent time to start.
“Who are you?” he repeated, this time groaning with the words.
“No one,” Poppy answered, finding a little courage in the fact that he seemed more tired than angry. “I was just out for a walk. I won’t bother you. I’ll just go. No one will ever know–”
“I’ll know,” Green said.
“And so will I, for that matter,” the other one said, scratching his head.
“I won’t say a word,” Poppy assured them. “I don’t even know what–”
“Damn!” Green cursed. “Damn damn damn damn damn.”
Poppy glanced frantically between the two men, trying to decide whether it was in her best interests to add to the conversation. It was difficult to guess their ages; both had that weather-beaten look one got after spending too much time in the sun and wind. They were dressed simply, in rough work shirts and trousers, tucked into those tall boots men liked to wear when they knew they’d be getting their feet wet.
“Damn!” Green bit off again. “The day only needed this.”
“What should we do with her?” the other man said.
“I don’t know. We can’t leave her here.”
The two men fell silent, staring at her as if she were the world’s largest burden, just waiting to launch itself onto their shoulders.
“The captain’ll kill us,” Green finally sighed.
“It’s not our fault.”
“I suppose we should ask him what to do with her,” Green said.
“I don’t know where he is,” the other one replied. “Do you?”
Green shook his head. “He’s not on the ship?”
“No. He said he’d meet us on deck an hour before we sail. Had some sort of business-like thing to take care of.”
It was more damns than Poppy had ever heard in one sitting, but there seemed little to be gained in pointing that out.
Green sighed, closing his eyes in what could only be described as an expression of abject misery. “We have no choice,” he said, “We’ll have to take her.”
“What?” the other man asked.
“What?” Poppy screeched.
“Good God,” Green grumbled, rubbing his ears. “Did that squall come from your mouth?” He let out a long-suffering sigh. “I’m too old for this.”
“We can’t take her!” the other man protested.
“Listen to him,” Poppy said. “He’s obviously very intelligent.”
Green’s friend stood up a little straighter and beamed. “The name’s Brown,” he said, nodding politely at her.
“Er, pleased to meet you,” Poppy said, wondering if she ought to extend her hand.
“Do you think I want to take her?” Green said. “Bad luck having a woman on a ship, and especially this one.”
Poppy’s lips parted at the insult. “Well,” she said, only to be cut off by Brown, who asked, “What’s wrong with this one? She said I was intelligent.”
“Which only goes to show that she ain’t. And besides, she talks.”
“So do you,” Poppy shot back.
“See?” Green said.
“She’s not so bad,” Brown said.
“You just said you didn’t want her on the boat!”
“Well, I don’t, but–”
“There is nothing worse than a talky female,” Green grumbled.
“There are many things that are worse,” Poppy said, “and you’re quite fortunate if you’ve never experienced them.”
Green looked at her for a long moment. Just looked at her. Then he groaned, “The captain’s gonna kill us.”
“Not if you don’t take me with you,” Poppy hastened to say. “He’ll never know.”
“He’ll know,” Green said ominously. “He always knows.”
Poppy chewed on her lower lip, assessing her options. She doubted she could outrun them, and Green was blocking her path to the entrance, in any event. She supposed she could cry and hope that her tears might appeal to the softer sides of their natures, but that presumed that they had softer sides.
She looked at Green and smiled hesitantly, testing the waters.
Green ignored her and turned to his friend. “What time–” He stopped. Brown was gone. “Brown!” he yelled. “Where the hell’d you go?”
Brown’s head popped up from behind a stack of trunks. “Just getting some rope.”
Rope? Poppy’s throat went dry.
“Good,” Green grunted.
“You do not want to tie me up,” Poppy said, her throat apparently still wet enough for words.
“No, that I don’t,” he said, “but I have to do it, anyway, so let’s make it easy for the both of us, eh?”
“Surely you don’t think I will allow you to take me without a struggle?”
“I’d been hoping.”
“Well, you can keep hoping, sir, because I–”
“Brown!” Green hollered.
With enough force that Poppy actually shut her mouth.
“Got the rope!” came the answer.
“Good. Get the other stuff as well.”
“What other stuff?” Brown asked.
“Yes,” Poppy said nervously. “What other stuff?”
“The other stuff,” Green said impatiently. “You know what I mean. And a cloth.”
“Oh, the other stuff,” Brown said. “Righto.”
“What other stuff?” Poppy demanded.
“You don’t want to know,” Green told her.
“I assure you I do,” Poppy said, just as she was beginning to think that maybe she didn’t.
“You said you were going to struggle,” he explained.
“Yes, but what does that have to do–”
“Remember when I said I was too old for this?”
“Well, ‘this’ includes a struggle.”
Brown reemerged, clutching a green bottle that looked vaguely medicinal. “Here y’go,” he said, handing it to Green.
“Not that I couldn’t manage you,” Green explained, popping open the cork. “But why? Why make it harder than I have to?”
Poppy had no answer. She stared at the bottle. “Are you going to make me drink that?” she whispered. It smelled foul.
Green shook his head. “You got a cloth?” he asked Brown.
Green let out another tired groan and eyed the linen fichu she’d used to fill in the bodice of her dress. “We’ll have to use your handkerchief,” he said to Poppy. “Hold still.”
“What are you doing?” she cried out, jerking backward as he yanked the fichu free.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and strangely enough, it sounded as if he meant it.
“Don’t do this,” Poppy gasped, scrambling as far away from him as she could.
But it wasn’t very far, given that her back was to the cave wall, and as she looked on in horror, he poured a liberal amount of the noxious liquid onto the whisper-thin linen of her fichu It became quickly saturated, and several drops fell through, disappearing into the damp ground.
“You’re going to have to hold her,” Green said to Brown.
“No,” Poppy said, as Brown’s arms came around her. “No.”
“Sorry,” Brown said, and it sounded as if he meant it, too.
Green scrunched the fichu into a ball and placed it over her mouth. Poppy gagged, gasping against the onslaught of foul fumes.
And then the world slipped away.