Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)
Author: Julia Quinn

Chapter 1

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.

Probably.

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 darkest 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.

Literally.

“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 tearoom 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.

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