A Naval Romance

Author's Note: Yuletide Madness fic for Alona, who wanted more of Admiral and Mrs. Croft. Hopefully I didn't mess up canon too badly, as I wrote this spontaneously on Christmas from memory and didn't have time to re-read or research, except for a quick Google for Admiral Croft's first name...

Sophie Wentworth met George Croft for the first time when the family went to see Frederick off on his first sea voyage as a midshipman of barely 12 years. She was busy trying to deter her mother from fussing too much over an already embarrassed Frederick when a hearty voice boomed down from the ship: "Ah, Wentworth, so good to see you again!"

Sophie looked up and was immediately taken with the good nature that seemed to radiate from the tall, strong figure beaming at her uncle, retired Admiral Wentworth. The Admiral, probably Sophie's favorite relation due to his fondness for telling stories and bringing home exotic gifts to his only niece, had been the one responsible for placing Frederick on the HMS Victory and into the care of young Captain Croft, who, Sophie knew from her uncle's stories, had served as First Lieutenant on the voyage during which the then-Commodore Wentworth had lost his right arm in battle.

"Croft, dear fellow, come down and say hello to your new charge!" Sophie's uncle seemed delighted, and the two men spent several minutes exchanging news about various acquaintances before Captain Croft finally got around to greeting the rest of the party. As the Wentworth family was familiar with the habits of naval men they did not think any less of Admiral Wentworth's friend for this lapse in good manners, and Sophie even credited him with treating her uncle with no hint of pity on account of his injury and the subsequent forced retirement.

Therefore, when Captain Croft had greeted her parents and turned his attention to her, she couldn't help but smile at him with great warmth. This seemed to fluster the young man somewhat, and he held onto her hand maybe a moment too long as he mumbled something along the usual lines of being delighted to make her acquaintance. The slight flush in his cheeks improved his complexion and made his eyes, which met hers with no artifice and genuine friendliness, stand out rather becomingly.

Sophie, already inclined to like him, decided at this point that she would quite like to spend more time in his company, and was therefore delighted when her uncle persuaded Captain Croft to accompany them for one last family dinner. At the inn they were seated side by side, and while he seemed a bit tongue-tied at first, Sophie quickly discovered that, like every naval man she had ever met, words came easy to him as soon as she asked about his ship. Luckily this was no hardship for her, as she had always been interested in navy life, and since Captain Croft did not appear to be one of those insufferably boorish men who considered thoughts of this kind to be unwomanly, she allowed her curiosity free reign.

At two-and-twenty Sophie had met her fair share of men who had thought her frankness and confidence rather unsuitable for an unmarried young lady with little fortune and only passably good looks. Her character was the result of being her mother's main support while her father had to travel for business, as well as the many naval men in her circle due to her uncle's connections, since Admiral Wentworth had never married and stayed with his brother's family when he was not at sea. These gentlemen had introduced young Sophie to many stories of life on board ship with all its glories and hardships but had stopped talking so freely as she grew older.

Now, in Captain Croft, she had met someone who seemed quite happy to converse with her on the subject. Looking back, she was rather astonished at the ease with which he fit into the family party. So much was their mutual sympathy, that during dessert he leaned closer and confided in a lowered voice, as if he was admitting to a rather serious character flaw: "Miss Wentworth, I feel I must tell you what a great pleasure it is to speak to you. I fear, having spent most of my life at sea, I am not very good at the kind of polite conversation most young ladies seem to prefer."

Sophie's father, seated on the other side of the table, overheard and laughed: "Neither is my daughter, Captain Croft, so if I know her at all I can assure you the pleasure is mutual."

"Sophie likes nothing quite so much as hearing about the sea, Captain. She has already made me promise to write to her with all the particulars of my time at sea." Her younger brother Frederick chose this moment to overcome his reticence towards his new commanding officer and guardian, and Sophie blushed furiously.

Captain Croft, however, did not appear to be put off by her family's comments. He smiled at her with a rather appealing mix of shyness warmth before addressing her father: "In that case, with your permission, Mr. Wentworth, I would very much like to ask Miss Wentworth whether she might be willing to exchange letters with me as well as her brother. I know this is a rather impertinent request, but I am afraid the only person I have to write to is an elderly maiden aunt who is not in the least interested in hearing about the day-to-day business of ship life."

Sophie felt her father's amused gaze rest on her and was well aware that her answer would be obvious to him from her inability to meet his eyes: "Well, Captain Croft, my family has always been on good terms with the Royal Navy, and I would not want to deprive you such a small pleasure like a letter while serving away from home and taking care of my son. We will welcome your letters along with Frederick's, and I am certain my daughter will be willing to also include some lines for you whenever she writes to her brother."

Looking into Captain Croft's warm eyes, Sophie managed to nod her agreement: "My family knows me well indeed - I will gladly correspond with you, Captain." His open face lit up, giving her the courage to add: "On the condition that you show us around the Victory before she leaves, so we can better picture Frederick and you while you are away. It has always been a dream of mine to live at sea; I imagine it to be a hard life, but a worthwhile one."

Later, after two years of increasingly intimate correspondence, when he brought her onboard another ship, George Croft confessed to Sophie that it was at this moment that he decided that not only was she a most charming young lady well worth getting to know, but that she was the only woman he would ever want to marry. She laughed and pushed him back onto the narrow wooden cot that would be their marriage bed: "Only then? I knew from the moment I saw your Captain's stripes..."

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