Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex - Fiction
Almost a Scandal
Bold, brazen, and beautiful, the Reckless Brides refuse to play by society's rules of courtship. But—come hell or high water—they always get their man...
For generations, the Kents have served proudly with the British Royal Navy. So when her younger brother refuses to report for duty, Sally Kent slips into a uniform and takes his place—at least until he comes to his senses. Boldly climbing aboard the Audacious, Sally is as able-bodied as any sailor there. But one man is making her feel tantalizingly aware of the full-bodied woman beneath her navy blues...
Dedicated to his ship, sworn to his duty—and distractingly gorgeous—Lieutenant David Colyear sees through Sally's charade, and he's furious. But he must admit she's the best midshipman on board—and a woman who tempts him like no other. With his own secrets to hide and his career at stake, Col agrees to keep her on. But can the passion they hide survive the perils of a battle at sea? Soon, their love and devotion will be put to the test...
Portsmouth, England, Autumn 1805
It wasn't the first time Sally Kent had donned a worn, hand-me-down uniform from one of her brothers' sea chests, but it was the first time it had felt so completely, perfectly right. She had always been tall and spare, strong for a girl, but dressed in the uniform of His Majesty's Royal Navy, she felt more than strong. She felt powerful.
Powerful enough to ignore the voice of conscience thundering in her ear, telling her she needed to stay quietly on land and learn to be a young lady. Powerful enough to face down the potential scandal. Powerful enough to abandon her younger brother to his chosen fate.
Because Richard had rejected all claims to duty and honor. He had forsaken his family. He wasn't coming back.
That morning, the very morning he was to have worn his uniform and boarded His Majesty's Ship Audacious with all the other candidates for midshipmen, he had disappeared, gone as if he had been swallowed whole by the heavy, obliterating rain.
Richard had left her, quite literally, holding his bag.
And she was going to use it. Sally closed her mind to the insistent guilt whispering in her ear, wrapped her breasts in cotton strapping, and put on every single piece of that uniform, from the faded blue midshipman's coat and white breeches, down to the black buckled shoes. She ignored the hard pounding of her heart in her chest, jammed the dark beaver hat low over her eyes, and walked down the stairs and out of the inn. She swallowed her fear, crossed the wet cobbles, and took her brother's place at the sally port on Portsmouth's rain-drenched quay.
A lieutenant glared at her from under the dripping brim of his cocked hat. An irate lieutenant. He stood in the stern of a ship's boat, impervious to the filthy weather and the rise and fall of the vessel tossing fitfully beneath him. The sharp vertical lines of the scowl between his dark brows could have scraped barnacles off a hull, but his low voice was incongruously smooth. "This is His Majesty's Royal Navy, Kent. Not a damned church fete. We're not going to issue you a bloody invitation."
Sally pushed her voice downward. "Aye, sir," she answered. "I'm Richard Kent."
"I know," he rumbled. "Now get in the bloody boat."
Sally jerked her chin into her collar to hide beneath the dark brim of her hat. She would have known that deep, laconic voice anywhere, even over the pounding din of the rain.
David St. Vincent Colyear.
But would he know her?
He had been eighteen years old and on the verge of taking his lieutenant's exam the last time she had seen him, the summer her brother Matthew had brought him home to Falmouth. Col, they had called him. Six years ago, he had been long and lean, but by God, clad in the endless fall of his gray sea cloak, he was a leviathan now. A great oaken mast of a man looming up from the waist of the small boat.
A man grown. A man whose jaw looked as sharp as an axe blade and whose piercing eyes, the color of green chalcedony stone, were just as hard and impenetrable.
"Well, Kent?" Col's voice was low and dangerously soft—disconcerting in such a hard-looking man. "What's it to be?"
There was no question. There hadn't been any question since the very moment she had made her decision to tie the black silk stock around her neck and shrug herself into the loose folds of the blue coat.
She wasn't going to waste another moment living quietly and learning to act like a decorous young lady. She wasn't going to be left ashore like some half-pay junior officer. Useless.
She was going to act.
Sally looked beyond Col, to the ship riding low at...