Hetty’s desperate gamble to avoid an odious match lands her all at sea. Can a stuffy ship’s physician really be the hero she needs to escape her treacherous family?
Marriage to a cruel dandy is not how Hetty Avebury envisions spending the rest of her life. Determined to raise funds to escape the match she earns money the only way she knows how—gambling. Her plans go astray and she finds herself onboard a man-of-war under the care of its high handed physician. But Hetty soon realises that Doctor Withington is not quite the stuffed shirt she had first imagined.
If it wasn’t bad enough declaring one of the pressed men as a woman, Robert has been tasked with the tiresome job of returning her safely back to her dysfunctional family. It was ten years ago when his father gambled away his inheritance, home, and any chance of marrying the woman he loved. So when Robert discovers Hetty gambling he takes drastic action to cure her of the habit.
“Are you sure about what you’re doing, Miss Hetty? We could go back. It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“Annie, will you please walk beside me? Try to remember I am supposed to be your brother, not your employer. You must keep your arm on mine.” Annie pursed her lips but did as she was told.
At five foot four Hetty was tall enough to masquerade as a male. Her disguise was not of fine quality this time, as she had no desire to stand out in the crowd. It was serviceable and clean, if a little ill-fitting. She resembled a rather youthful clerk.
They had left in the early hours of the morning after Hetty had written her aunt a short note telling her not to worry. She couldn’t risk telling her aunt anything else as she knew Stark and her father would ask too many questions. If she knew nothing, Aunt Amelia wouldn’t have to lie—something she didn’t like to do.
They waited quietly for a moment, taking in the scene, and then searched for a respectable inn, both having missed breakfast. It was only after they had seated themselves in the Boar’s Head and ordered a modest meal that Hetty realized they had made a bad choice. The tables were occupied by groups of scruffy looking males half of whom were busy staring at Annie in a very vulgar way. She looked around with a feeling of foreboding whilst picking at the cold rabbit pie that had been set in front of her. The room started to empty as a strange murmur of discontent rippled through the establishment.
Annie fidgeted beside her. “I don’t like it, Miss Hetty! It ain’t right.”
Hetty groaned. “Harry—not Miss Hetty! For heaven’s sake, Annie!”
“Beg pardon…Harry,” she said, as though the name was blasphemous, “but I think we should go now.”
Hetty had the distinct feeling Annie was right and prepared to rise when the door shot open and the remaining customers scattered in all directions. A small party of hefty men, armed with wooden batons, sauntered in and then stopped in the centre of the room, assessing the occupants.
Annie grabbed Hetty’s arm. “It’s the press gang!”
It took a while for Annie’s frightened words to register, then Hetty swallowed violently. She wished her skirts were back on as she saw a pair of predatory eyes narrow at her, then widen into a terrifying gleam.
A finger pointed her way. “Now, lad, I reckon you look ripe for adventure. Eager to serve your king I wager.”
Hetty shook her head and grasped Annie. “No, sir, I have my sister here to look after.”
The man wandered closer, his fleshy face beaming, and his voice now cajoling. “What’s your name, lad, and how old are you?”
“Harry Blake. I am fourteen.” Surely that is too young. The man considered her for a moment, and Hetty didn’t dare to breathe.