The Buccaneer and the Bluestocking
The Culpepper Misses
Formerly title Blaike: Secrets Gone Askew
Revenge and happily ever after never mix. Well, not usually…
Captain Oliver Whitehouse didn’t suffer any romantic delusions. He had a ship to pay for and revenge to exact for his grandfather’s murder. Rescuing a damsel in distress was not part of his plan. Good thing he was never one to follow plans…
Blaike Culpepper craved excitement. At least she used to until her impetuousness nearly ruined her. Shadowed by scandal, the last man she should fall for is the swashbuckling scoundrel who saved her and refuses to woo her. But unfortunately, that’s exactly what she does…
Is a shot at true love worth the potential cost? Or are Oliver and Blaike destined to remain two ships that pass in the night forever?
This book may contain adult content and language.
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See what readers are saying!
“Ms.Cameron brings a few characters I can laugh with and at, and some I loathe, but it’s her endings that never fail to surprise me and delight me.” ★★★★★ ~Bookworm to Bookworm
“Another hilarious and at the same time poignant love story. . . . Collette Cameron has outdone herself with this latest Culpepper caper. . . . You won’t regret reading it!” ★★★★★ ~Tommie Mead
“Fabulous! This is one of the funniest book I have read in a long time.Truly a laugh-out-loud book. Collette has created such delightful characters, and this story is an original. Blaike held me captive from the first page to the last and captures the era in which the story is set.” ★★★★★ ~Kat Wiley
“Danger, adventure, secrets, forgiveness, and a search for belonging and love will keep you glued to this story from start to finish. There are some very interesting twists and turns in this one.” ★★★★★ ~Peggy
“The characters in this are WONDERFUL. . . . There is also romance!!! And DANGER. . . You will not be disappointed with this or any of her books.” ★★★★★ ~Deborah Walker
“I believe a good read should make you feel some type of emotion. This series does that in overload. You feel humor, sadness, grief, and heart-warming joy! If you haven’t read this series, I strongly encourage you to do so.” ★★★★★ ~Linda Martin
“I love ♥ this series. Blaike and Oliver are so adorable together. You can feel the chemistry and love. This has to be my favorite book in the series. M’Lady Lottie makes the whole book. ★★★★★ ~Bobbie Brown
“Loved this adventure so much! Had to read it straight thorough. This latest addition of the Culpepper family did not disappoint. It was funny, romantic, and with a bit of danger thrown in. Highly recommended.” ★★★★★ ~Texas Dreamer
“If you love Regency romances, then Blaike, will be perfect for you. I absolutely loved this sweet and romantic story, filled with passion, suspense and a dash of humour! This author never disappoints me! Ms. Cameron’s words seemed to have smoothly flown on the pages.” ★★★★★ ~Nicole Laverdure
“This book had a little of it all–suspense, humor, and of course a heart-pounding romance that made me love Oliver and Blaike. Well done as always Collette Cameron!! ★★★★★ ~Lori Dykes
“How Collette Cameron comes up with such intriguing stories is beyond me.. . however, can’t wait for the next book in this series. Loved Blaike and her Captain Whitehouse and the foul mouth cockatoo who seems to say just the right thing to make the reader giggle. A must read for Collette Cameron’s following and anyone who wants a truly unique funny reading experience!” ★★★★★ ~Judy M.
Port de Lyon, Lyon, France
Early Evening 17 March, 1823
A stuffed-to-its-capacity portmanteau in one hand, and a small sack of food in the other, Blaike inhaled a fortifying breath as she stepped from the rickety coach. A brow raised, half in relief and half in wariness, she surveyed Port de Lyon’s bustling wharf.
Situated at the intersections of the Saône and Rhône rivers, the busy harbor hummed with activity. All sorts of vehicles rumbled to and fro, while merchants huffed past, their covered carts containing coveted silks and other treasures.
Vendors enthusiastically hawked their wares alongside street urchins and beggars haranguing passersby for a coin or two. Stevedores and gruff seamen of every nationality called to each other above the din as they loaded and unloaded cargo. Others drunkenly staggered along, leering at or propositioning the few women braving the docks at this hour.
Except for the Culpeppers, a male or a stern-faced chaperone accompanied any other ladies of gentle breeding, distinguishing the respectable females on the wharf from the doxies beginning their work as twilight’s mantle descended.
Despite the impropriety and the thorough scolding they’d receive when they reached home, Blaike and Blaire had journeyed to Lyon and would sail to England unchaperoned. They had much explaining to do to their family upon arriving home.
No, rather Madame Beaulieu, proprietress and head mistress of Les Dames de l’Académie de Grâce, had much to account for.
The deceptive, conniving witch.
Institute for higher education, indeed.
What utter poppycock and claptrap.
Les Dames de l’Académie de Grâce was nothing but a glorified finishing school. Which, Blaike strongly suspected, doubled as a brothel. Far too many unexplainable comings and goings by men visiting the other house on the property at all hours.
A shudder rippled down her spine that had nothing to do with the brisk March air.
Several laughing or jabbering French sailors in crisp blue and gold uniforms hurried past as her twin Blaire, came to Blaike’s side.
Blaike only understood a smattering of their words, but what she did comprehend heated her cheeks.
One debonair officer with a pencil-thin black mustache, winked, while another tossed a pastry scrap to a pair of hungry-looking mongrels.
Teeth bared, they snarled and snapped, each vying for the largest share.
She’d experienced hunger; was experiencing it at this moment, as a matter of fact. To stretch their swiftly dwindling funds, she and Blaire had shared their two meager meals a day, and neither had eaten since breaking their fast with tea and toast at dawn. Scant money remained in the reticule hanging from Blaike’s wrist; a worry that cramped her stomach worse than lack of food.
Blaire’s purse held little more.
The rolls, cheese, and apples Blaike had purchased from the inn this morning would have to suffice until they boarded the ship home. Pray God they sailed soon. If not . . .
A distinguished looking man—a ship’s captain from his attire and confident bearing—descended a gangplank and was met by several other finely dressed gentlemen awaiting him on the waterfront. He slashed a casual glance in Blaike’s direction, then brazenly pivoted to more fully observe her. A slow smile curved his mouth, crinkling the scar lancing his left cheek as he stared.
He doffed his brown leather Continental hat and inclined his head.
At once, the others turned to see what had captured his attention.
A rotund fellow wearing a gaudy canary-yellow coat boldly withdrew his quizzing glass and put it to his eye.
Ridiculous. As if he could see them any better through the lens that far away.
When the captain, or whomever he was, continued to regard Blaike and Blaire, his mien almost speculative, she angled her back toward him. In her limited experience, men misinterpreted even the most casual of glances as an invitation.
Besides, the last time her nape hair had stood at attention in this manner, she’d been brutally accosted. After tucking the food beneath her arm, she switched her heavy valise to her other hand and pressed her palm to her hollow midriff.
An assortment of noxious smells hung heavily in the air, and Blaike wrinkled her nose before releasing a slow, gusty sigh.
“Lord, it reeks most awfully.” Blaire raised a slightly soiled gloved hand to her nose. “What is that stench? Rotting fish and—?”
“I’m not sure, but I agree. It’s most disgusting. But at least with the breeze the air is slightly fresher than the fusty interior of the coach.” Barely. Blaike arched her spine, stretching the stiff muscles from bum to neck. “I swear, someone let a billy goat live in that conveyance.”
“Maybe Brette’s grandfather, old Fusty Boots, used it a decade or so ago.” Blaire chuckled as she, too, examined the pier. Their cousin’s grandsire, the Duke of Bellinghamshire’s malodorous feet had been legendary.
Three and a half days they’d rattled about in the stinking, poorly sprung equipage. Why, even now whilst standing, Blaike could yet feel the rhythmic jostling. Flattened from constant wear, the seat provided minimal padding against the jolts and bumps. She’d be surprised if a spot remained on her or Blaire’s bodies that didn’t sport bruises.
Although . . .
Not all of her welts could be blamed upon the poorly sprung, well-used coach.
She closed her eyes for an agonizing instant, remembering—
The sour-tempered driver swore beneath his breath, and she glanced over her shoulder, wincing when he hauled their small trunk from the boot and dropped it on the ground with the same distaste as a sack of weevil-infested grain.
He’d been miffed since the first day and the vails he’d expected hadn’t been forthcoming. As much as Blaike would’ve liked to have passed him a coin or two, their dire circumstances required her to economize at every opportunity.
“Odeur putride,” he grumbled.
Indeed. Most putrid.
Wrinkling his nose, he swore again. “Merde. Le navire esclave est au port.”
“Did he say a slave ship is in port?” Blaire’s gaze flew to the rows of towering masts lining the gloaming sky.
“I shudder to think so.” Blaike opened her eyes. Queasiness tensed her stomach even as the vile odor clogged her throat. “God help them.”
“But I thought slavery had been abolished in France.” After tossing Blaike a distressed look, Blaire scrutinized the ships nearest them as if she sought to see the pathetic wretches confined inside the stout hulls.
“It was, but I remember reading somewhere the ban hasn’t fully taken effect yet.”
The twins situation paled compared to those desperate souls so brutally torn from their home and everything familiar.
At least she and Blaire more or less knew what their futures held.
Just over a month ago, when the situation at the academy had deteriorated to intolerable, Blaike had secretly written and posted a letter to her sister, Blythe, Marchioness of Leventhorpe. She’d asked her to arrange passage home as hastily as possible and said she would explain the reasons later. Suspecting Madame Beaulieu steamed the wax seals loose and read their correspondences, Blaike had asked Blythe to respond in code.
In her reply, Blythe was to mention a date for a house party and that would be the day they were to sail. Too dangerous to name the ship, but she’d say the arrangements had all been made, or something of that nature.
Though Blaike and Blaire had already planned on leaving later in the spring when the weather improved, a recent incident had compelled their immediate departure.
‘Flight’ more aptly described their leave-taking.
Blaike didn’t know how they’d have managed if it weren’t for Blythe’s generosity—or rather her husband’s—and her assurance their passage had been arranged. She and Blaire were to inquire at Port de Lyon’s Harbor Master’s Office regarding the matter.
“Blaike?” Worry roughened Blaire’s soft voice around the edges.
“What if the ship we’re to sail upon isn’t in port yet? We are nearly a fortnight earlier than the date Blythe gave us.”
It didn’t bear contemplating, for the coach and lodging from Geneva had exhausted the monies they’d managed to secret away at the academy these past wretched months.
She could always try to sell their clothing and few pieces of jewelry, though the gems had been gifts from their guardian, the Earl of Ravensdale. True, their garments were of the finest quality and the latest fashion, but they hadn’t many with them. They’d escaped the school in such a rush, that the bulk of their possessions were left behind along with instructions where to ship them.
Honestly, cows were more likely to crow than either she or Blaire were ever to see their belongings again. Madame Beaulieu would claim the lot as her due for some fabricated reason or other. The woman hadn’t a virtuous or honest bone in her skeletally thin body.
Offering Blaire a reassuring smile, more forced confidence than actual bravado, Blaike searched for the Port Captain’s Office. “All will be well, I’m sure of it. I feel it in my bones. We’ve come this far, and surely we deserve a little grace after enduring more mishaps than a Greek tragedy—”
“A broken wheel, a fallen tree, a lame horse, and a flooded creek.” Blaire held up three fingers, then a fourth, followed shortly by a fifth. “Required to sleep leaning against one another in a common room that second night. Not to mention I’m hungry enough to lick crumbs from a biscuit tin, and our driver has the temperament of a wounded—”
“Bear.” They were forever finishing one another’s sentences.
“He is most surly, even though we’ve done our utmost not to inconvenience him.” To ease the pinching between her shoulder blades, Blaike rolled her shoulders.
“True.” Blaire shook her blond head, the once crisp silk flowers adorning her hat flopping with the motion. She slipped her hand into the crook of Blaike’s elbow. “We have each other though,” she said, giving her twin a little hug. “I know we’ll manage somehow.”
“This is all my fault.” Blaike pressed her lips together and dragged in another deep breath. “I’m truly sorry, Blaire.”
Tears tingled, but she blinked them away. The time for remorse had passed. Wallowing in regret and self-pity wouldn’t help now.
Balancing her hat boxes while making a comforting noise in her throat, Blaire slipped her arm around Blaike’s waist. “Stuff and nonsense, dear one.” She leaned into her sister’s side. “And know this, Blaike. Your secret will always be safe with me. I shall never, ever breathe a word. If anyone is to know the whole of it, you will do the telling, not I.”
Those dratted, stubborn tears welled again, and Blaike swallowed. Mortification burned to her marrow. “I know. And I trust you. But we aren’t the only ones who know what transpired. Should it become public knowledge, our entire family will be—.”
“Shamed.” Sternness tightened Blaire’s pretty features briefly. “Perhaps, but it was not of your doing,” she insisted. “I believe, even when dark secrets are exposed, honorable and decent people can rise above the gossip and stigma.”
Easier said when you weren’t the one nearly despoiled and caught dishabille by Madame Beaulieu. Never mind that Blaike had been the victim of a calculated scheme, and that was why she’d determined never to be manipulated into doing anything against her will again.
Despite her protests of innocence, she’d been judged, tried, and found guilty by the headmistress in mere moments. Compromised beyond redemption, her reputation and good standing utterly tattered, remaining at Les Dames de l’Académie de Grâce had been inconceivable.
Much too convenient the headmistress happening upon Blaike in the gardens just then.
Why, the despicable woman had implied Blaike had no recourse other than to become a courtesan. Another reason why Blaike suspected Madame Beaulieu was an entirely other kind of madam.
“God forgive me, but I truly loathe Jonathon and Jacqueline Severs,” Blaike whispered. “And Madame Beaulieu isn’t far behind. They should all face imprisonment.”
“Vile, all three to their foul cores.” Blaire tapped Blaike’s forearm.
“But, think on it. We aren’t likely to ever lay eyes on the Severs again. They’re American, from a banking family, I believe Jacqueline said. And if we do, I’ll be the first to cork Jonathon Severs for you. In fact, I think I’ll take pugilist lessons. Fencing too.” She skewed her mouth sideways. “I suppose I’ll have to get Heath’s permission, since he’s our guardian. That’s a bit of a bother.”
She struck a pose, her fist poised before her face, and giggled. “Do you think he’ll—?”
“Agree? Not likely.”
“Mademoiselles.” Again, the contentious driver harrumphed behind them.
Blaike and Blaire swung to face the peevish man.
“Capitaine de Port de Sa Majesté.” He pointed to an official looking building a block down and across the way before towing their trunk to plop it beside them.
He couldn’t have stopped the conveyance in front of the building?
Plain spiteful, that.
Surely he didn’t expect them to haul the chest themselves? The trunk was far too heavy and cumbersome. Besides, they each already held a portmanteau, and Blaire also carried two hat boxes. Furthermore, with the riff raff scuttling about the docks, they daren’t leave the trunk unattended.
“Port Captain? Har-bor Mas-ter?”
Blaike pointed at the building, and Blaire frowned at the trunk. Neither had learned enough French to communicate well during their ill-fated venture.
“Oui.” Mouth turned down, their driver summoned a sullen nod.
Blaike mentally calculated her funds again.
Could she spare a coin or two?
Her tense stomach cinched further. She had no choice.
After drawing her reticule off her wrist, and setting their meager food supply upon the chest, she loosened the strap.
“Pardonnez-moi, mais puis-je vous offrir mon aide?”