Summons from the Duke, Regency Christmas Summons Collection 2, Twice Upon a Time
Coming November 1, 2011
Since her father’s untimely death, Felicity Halliday has relied on the medical knowledge learned at his side to treat London’s most disreputable in order to support her family. Life has been hard, but everything changes the night she is snatched from an alley behind a theatre and tossed into a nobleman’s carriage.
It has been less than a fortnight since Julian Beckford returned to London after a sojourn in India, and he’s already up to his top-boots in one of his cousin’s mad schemes. When his foolish cousin decides to engage an actress to play his wife over the holidays at Danby Castle, Julian becomes an unwilling party to the lady’s abduction. Along their journey to Yorkshire, Julian makes a stunning discovery about his cousin's pretend wife....and finds it’s possible to love Twice Upon a Time.
Twice Upon a Time
Wife! Felicity Halliday nearly fell off the carriage bench. “You want to marry me?”
Lord Penlow sniffed and closed the window. “You needn’t sound so appalled. My offer is better than any other you’re likely to receive.”
The gentleman had a sound argument. A physician’s daughter with no dowry would receive no offers of marriage from anyone, much less a nobleman. Still, the man had stolen her from the streets. He probably hadn’t even gotten a good look at her yet. What in the world made him think he wished to marry her, or that she would consent, for that matter?
Mr. Beckford gingerly adjusted his position. A soft groan accompanied his movement. She looked away, focusing on the dark street beyond the window, as a fresh wave of heat swept over her. Mr. Beckford’s testicles had felt like smashed apricots under her knee. His pain must have been horrendous.
“You should request ice for your injury as soon as you arrive home,” she said.
“Nothing is going anywhere near my injury, thank you very much.”
“And don’t think he’s pleased about it either,” Lord Penlow said, scolding her like he’d been a cantankerous grandmamma in a former life. “I’m certain Julian had other plans for the evening.”
She aimed a glare at the obnoxious popinjay. “As did I, and they did not include an abduction by a madman or a ridiculous proposal of marriage.”
“Abduction was not part of my plan. I simply wished an audience.”
Mr. Beckford sighed. “Correct her misunderstanding, Pen. You’ve caused enough distress for the woman already.”
“The wench hasn’t suffered near the distress she has doled out,” Penlow argued.
“An unpleasant experience, to say the least,” Mr. Beckford agreed, “but not unprovoked.”
Felicity sent a fleeting smile of gratitude across the carriage for him. The gentleman obviously didn’t remember her, or perhaps the circumstances of their reunion negated his memory. She, however, had never forgotten Julian Beckford, smitten as she had been at the age of seventeen.
She hadn’t been foolish enough to believe she could ever make a match with a viscount’s son. But Mr. Beckford, through his loving attentions to his aunt during her illness, had set the standard for the type of husband Felicity would someday marry. She hadn’t realized at the time someday would never arrive.
“What do you really want with me?” she asked. “Do you require a doctor?”
Lord Penlow looked down his nose at her. “Not prior to our unfortunate meeting, Miss…?”
She hesitated to reveal her true name. The last thing she needed was rumors of her abduction and subsequent ruin destroying Meredith’s chances of making a match.
“I was under the impression I would soon be Baroness Penlow.”
Mr. Beckford laughed. “Grandfather will have met his match with this one.”
The baron swiveled towards her, angled his head to the side, and looked her up and down. “But will he find her believable?”
Mr. Beckford rubbed his chin while Lord Penlow fiddled with his unruly hair. Neither of them spoke as they eyed her like a piece of horseflesh up for auction.
She threw up her hands. “Oh, for goodness sake! Do you wish to look at my teeth?”
Mr. Beckford balked.
“All right,” Lord Penlow agreed.
“No.” Mr. Beckford’s arm shot out to stop the baron’s advance on her. “We beg your pardon, miss. What my cousin has failed to do with any grace or evidence of good breeding is extend an invitation for you to join our family at Danby Castle in Yorkshire for Christmas.”
She blinked, unable to comprehend what either gentleman was talking about. They both sounded like escapees from Bedlam.
“That’s not exactly how I would have worded it,” Lord Penlow said. “I need you to accompany me to my grandfather’s home and convince him you are my wife. I’m afraid he is on his deathbed, and the last thing I want is for him to leave this world disappointed with me. I would be unable to live with myself.”
Mr. Beckford rolled his eyes.
She looked back and forth between them. “I don’t understand. Is your grandfather dying or not?”
“Highly unlikely,” Mr. Beckford answered. “He has been at the brink several times this year and managed a miraculous recovery each time.”
“But this time could be it, Julian. Why else would he summon all of us?”
She had never heard such nonsense in all her life. “For how long do you expect me to pretend to be your wife, exactly?”
“Well, Grandfather is a duke,” Lord Penlow said. “He’s very important, you know. An audience would last fifteen minutes, at best.”
“Let me see if I have the facts correct. You wish me, an unmarried woman, to travel with you alone—”
“Out of the question,” Lord Penlow said. “We will not be traveling alone. My cousin will accompany us.”
Mr. Beckford sat up straighter. “Pardon? I never agreed to—”
“Jul, please. You cannot leave me alone with her.” The baron tossed a quick look her direction from the corner of his eye and lowered his voice to a harsh whisper. “She drew my cork.”
“This is the worst idea you’ve ever had.”
They argued under their breaths back and forth for several seconds until Felicity lost patience.
“It matters not whether Mr. Beckford accompanies you to Danby Castle or not, my lord. I’m declining your invitation. I have no intentions of pretending to be your wife or leaving London, especially during the holidays. Now if you will kindly signal the coachman to pull over.”
“I’ll pay you,” Lord Penlow blurted. “Five hundred pounds.”
Her jaw dropped. Five hundred pounds? To come by that amount of money, she and Mama would have to work for years. With five hundred pounds, her younger sister would have a decent dowry. There would be no more fear of someone discovering Mama was taking in other people’s mending to help stock the larder. Felicity could take a respite from sneaking into the playhouses and brothels to provide medical treatment for those women respectable doctors wouldn’t treat. At least until she saw her sister safely settled in marriage.
“Why isn’t she speaking?” Lord Penlow hissed.
She opened her mouth to sincerely thank him for the generous offer, but she couldn’t accept. Five hundred pounds would help her family, but she couldn’t abandon her mother and sister around the holidays. Nor could she lie to the baron’s family by pretending to be something she was not.
Mr. Beckford reached across the carriage and grabbed Lord Penlow by the lapels of his jacket. “Leander, what are you doing?”
The carriage turned onto a well-lit block, the glow of the street lamps throwing blocks of light across her captors’ faces. The baron was looking at her with eyes glittering wildly, desperately. “A thousand pounds to play my wife. I won’t offer anything more.”
Felicity was speechless. A thousand pounds for a few days of her life?
“Very well. Fifteen hundred. That truly is as high as I may go.”
A thousand thoughts flew through her mind. How immoral it was to lie. How damaged her reputation would be if anyone discovered her actions. How topsy-turvy her life had become when Papa died. How unfair for her mother to have to struggle with a needle and thread when her arthritic fingers ached. How hopeless Meredith’s future was. Felicity didn’t wish to see her young sister take a position as a scullery maid, or worse, work in one of the brothels. Fifteen hundred pounds would end her family’s suffering.
“Please, miss, I require an answer.”
She looked up, her jaw tightening. “When do we depart?”