The Captain’s Secret felt misguided from the start. The heroine at its center is little more than a lovestruck teenager whose motivation is simply that she wants to have her way, and if the hero doesn’t agree, she’ll just have to maneuver him into it.
The story opens as sixteen-year-old Susannah Lacey is bidding adieu to Captain Winston Jeffries, who is returning to the war. Susannah is sure that this is her one true love, though she’s known him a total of four days and spent less than three hours in his presence. Winston gently tries to let Susannah down, urging her to go and have a wonderful Season and find a suitable young man. Susannah agrees, but gives Winston a hatpin and receives a stickpin in return. To herself, she vows to love him forever.
Fast forward about three years. Winston did write Susannah three letters, which she has kept, but she has heard nothing from him in the last two years, not since he was listed as wounded in battle. Now Winston has returned to London, and Susannah is determined to pick up where they left off, flimsy though their relationship was.
Winston is now virtually penniless. His only hope for a decent life is in the completion of a spy mission for Lord Castlereagh, whereupon he’ll be rewarded with a post in India. The mission involves courting Miss Caroline Dunsford, the Season’s latest Incomparable, in order to find out if her father is a traitor. Winston certainly can’t afford to be distracted by Susannah, even though he remembers their time together with a wistful affection.
Except the young lady whom Winston is supposed to romance has her eye on Winston’s friend Lord Ponsby, instead, and Susannah has her eye on Winston, so the two young ladies put their heads together and start scheming. And the captain’s “secret” turns out to be fairly minor and dealt with in just a few paragraphs.
Susannah, with her plans to maneuver Winston into a relationship, came across as little more than a spoiled and selfish debutante. Behind the sweet glances and cooing admiration is a steely determination to have things her way. She wants to stay in England, near her sister and where she’s comfortable. Winston wants to move to India? How could he! She’ll just need to make him see reason. Winston offers little resistance to Susannah’s pursuit, though he tries to gently dissuade her. Visions of a henpecked husband danced in my head.
The secondary romance was a bit more interesting. Lord Ponsby and Caroline Dunsford both fear a match, as they’ve always been pursued more for what they have than who they are. But they can’t deny their genuine interest in each other, and their pairing felt right. They would have made a much more satisfactory lead couple than Winston and Susannah.
The Captain’s Secret might satisfy Regency readers who don’t mind very girlish heroines, but I found it to be a tedious read.