I’ve just promised all my newsletter subscribers that I’ll make a sample chapter of my latest book available on my blog. So here goes- it’s time to meet the protagonists of A TREACHEROUS ENGAGEMENT, available for pre-order at a reduced price of 99 cents. But the offer only lasts a few more days.
She has to marry one of them, but she can’t trust either.
Miss Phoebe Duvall needs money to avoid the destruction of her family home. Her father’s gone missing, her aunt is ill, and she can’t claim a generous trust fund unless she can find a husband in a hurry.
Her villainous new employer, Charles Addyman, uncovers her secret and forces her into an engagement. Phoebe’s only hope lies with her dashingly attractive but eccentric neighbour, Mr Goodrich. Problem is, how can she trust a man who’s always in disguise?
When the villainous Addyman claims he can rescue her father, she’s faced with a desperate decision. Does she renounce all hope of a happy marriage and protect a traitor?
Or accept Goodrich’s offer, and risk her father’s life?
If you like complex, swash-buckling heroes and stubborn damsels who try get themselves out of their own distress, grab your copy NOW.
Spring 1806, Dorchester, England
Bachelor gentleman seeks mature female, accomplished hostess, to organise fund-raising activities for Foundlings’ Hospital. Residence provided, excellent remuneration.
Miss Phoebe Duvall’s eyes blurred with tears as she placed the Dorset and Devon Herald on her desk.
This could be it. The very lifeline she and her fragile Aunt Molly needed if they were to keep a roof over their heads.
Mature. Well, she was over one-and-twenty, so her attitude must be mature. She’d grown up quickly, running the entire Blacklands estate in the three years since Papa’s disappearance, with more opinion than actual assistance from her aunt.
Accomplished hostess. She wasn’t experienced, but how hard could it be, organising the loan of a marquee, ordering some additional help in the kitchens, and making sure the supply of wine never ran out?
The Foundlings’ Hospital. What more laudable cause was there? She must answer this advertisement forthwith—it was the perfect solution to her financial woes. She wouldn’t get access to Papa’s fortune for another seven years—when he could be legally declared dead— and if the weather carried on as it had been recently, the much-anticipated Great-Uncle Charles’s trust fund wouldn’t mature in time. In another three months, Blacklands House, with its worm-eaten roof timbers and tipsy tiles, would be ruined by water ingress.
There was nothing for it—she had to act immediately and make this position her own, lest someone beat her to it.
She dipped her pen, pondered a moment, then produced a succinct but impressive reply, which she was certain would win over the unnamed bachelor gentleman. Then she hunted down Molly and found her seated comfortably by a roaring fire in the drawing room, nodding over a copy of John Gay’s Fables.
“Aunt, I’m going out for a little while. May I take the carriage?”
“Certainly. I have no plans to go out.” Molly tucked a greying curl under her cap, then frowned. “I do hope you’re not going to do anything foolish, niece. Every time you go out on your own, I fear you have some madcap fundraising scheme up your sleeve. Just don’t get into a coil. Promise me.”
“I’m only going to Paulet’s, to see what books they have in.” Paulet’s was the address given in the newspaper advertisement, but Aunt didn’t need to know that.
“Maybe you should take Cecily. Or perhaps I should bestir myself to come with you.”
“I don’t need a chaperone at my age, Aunt. And if I feel at all threatened by the prospect of going into the bookshop, I’ll take the coachman in with me.”
Phoebe cut off Molly’s protest with a kiss, then hurried off to don her pelisse, scarf and bonnet before ordering the carriage.
She waited in the benign sunshine of the bright spring day, and hoped this spell of fine weather would last—they’d been waiting an age for it to arrive. The border plants were springing into new leaf, as were the multi-coloured tulips that had been her father’s pride and joy. Until he’d disappeared without trace.
A huge rosemary bush near the door exuded its exotic scent into the mild air. Rosemary for remembrance—but Phoebe didn’t want to remember. Not now. It made her too sad. She stepped down onto the drive and stared up at her home. At a cursory glance, Blacklands House was splendid, with its Elizabethan red brick and diamond-paned windows—full of character, mystery and fascination. What the casual observer could not see was the damp, the rot, and the mildew. How long would it take to make enough money to mend the roof? Perhaps she should book the builders now, in anticipation of being able to pay them when the trust fund came through. And if she secured this employment, maybe she could negotiate an advance on her wages.
The crunch of wheels on gravel heralded the arrival of the carriage, and she set off for Dorchester, the earlier thrill at having found the notice in the paper already receding as doubts assailed her. It would be a huge upheaval; how far away did the bachelor gentleman live? Would he allow Molly to accompany his new hostess? How could she be sure Blacklands would be cared for in their absence?
She sighed as she gazed through the window. She was doing precisely the kind of foolhardy thing her aunt had warned her not to—which made her feel guilty on top of her anxiety.
Fortunately, the sun had dried up the puddles, so the road to Dorchester was good. They made speedy progress, and the clocks had barely chimed eleven when she was set down outside Paulet’s Bookbindery, Printers and Stationers in Church Street.
For the hundredth time, Phoebe peeped inside her reticule to make sure her reply to the advertisement was still safely ensconced there, then stepped down and ordered the coachman to take the carriage around the corner.
As she entered the gloom of the shop, the smell of freshly tanned leather mingled with the bitter smell of ink, oil from the press and the comforting, edifying smell of paper assailed her. The place was busy, and her heart jolted in fear that it was filled with mature women with an ardent desire to do Grand Things for the Foundlings’ Hospital. Fortunately, the only other females amongst the throng of gentlemen were two very elderly ladies, poring over the bookshelves.
With her newspaper under one arm, Phoebe marched purposefully to the counter and placed her application letter into the hands of the clerk.
“Here is a response to this advertisement.” She unfolded the Dorset and Devon Herald and pointed at the front page. Her cheeks reddened as the clerk read the notice aloud, alerting the entire shop to her business. She pulled her bonnet forwards and prayed there were no acquaintances present to complete her humiliation. Or pass the word on to Molly.
Reaching behind him, the man hunted through a sheaf of papers and books before retrieving a folder. As he placed her precious paper inside, she saw to her relief the folder was empty—her application was the first. Dared she hope it would be the only one today?
“You have made sure to include your directions?” the clerk enquired.
“I have, indeed. Thank you, and good morning.”
She had just turned to go when a movement beside her resulted in the crash of broken china, a masculine exclamation, and the feel of something wet hitting her ankle.
“Oh, madam, I am so sorry. How ridiculously clumsy of me. Sir, have you a cloth? Some blotting paper mayhap?”
At first, she failed to pay any attention to the speaker. All she could focus on was the grim black stain spreading across her cream-coloured stockings and the hem of her gown. Someone had dropped—and broken—a large bottle of ink right at her feet.
A space was cleared around her and there was much muttering, but it seemed she was the only victim of the spill. How utterly, entirely depressing. She’d been trying so hard to economise and was making all her gowns last as long as possible, but it would be a miracle if she could get the ink out of this one.
“Permit me.” The perpetrator of the disaster was now kneeling by her feet, dabbing at her shoes, and knocking broken fragments of stoneware out of the way. The clerk had come out from behind the counter to support her by the elbow as the stranger continued his ministrations.
She found her voice. “Enough. Thank you, gentlemen, but I fear there’s no more you can do.”
The stranger coughed politely. “May I make recompense to you for the damage done to your gown, Miss—?”
“Duvall.” Recompense would be excellent—she could no longer afford to be above such a thing. But she couldn’t take a man’s money here, in a shop, like some doxy plying her trade.
“Sir, may we discuss this outside?”
“Certainly.” He turned to the clerk. “My apologies to Mr Paulet. I shall, of course, pay for the ink and its container and any other property I may have damaged. Many, many apologies.”
He hustled Phoebe out the door and into the sunny street. Then he looked down at himself, stretched each long leg out in turn, and twisted to check for blots. Which drew her attention to what he was wearing—a yellow jacket and breeches, with a frill of lace cuff protruding from the sleeves. She hadn’t noticed the gaudiness of his attire in the comparative gloom of Paulet’s.
“I seem to have got off scot-free on this occasion, my dear Miss Duvall.”
What a vain, stupid, clumsy coxcomb. Never mind his pristine white stockings—what about her ruined gown? The devastation was more evident in the crisp daylight.
Her tormentor straightened, achieving an impressive height. “Enchanté, Miss Duvall. I am Goodrich, at your service.” He bent his knee in an exaggerated bow and pressed her hand briefly to his lips.
Lifting her chin, she ran her eyes over his face. He sported a pair of the most piercing pale blue eyes—very alluring—and leonine good looks, but wasn’t that a hint of rouge on his wide cheekbones? And surely his lips were redder than Nature had made them.
She was shaken from her perusal by him wringing his hands, just like Aunt Molly during a nervous attack. What an odd creature.
“Oh dear, oh dear, I cannot believe the carnage I have wrought on your lovely gown. British muslin with a decorative band of Spitalfields silk, is it not? If it cannot be cleaned, I must buy you another. It’s the least I can do.”
He sniffed, and for a moment she thought he would burst into tears.
“Excuse me. I hope you don’t object to snuff. I always have it by me in case of any alarms, and I find myself in need.”
He produced an ornate snuffbox with a lid of Murano glass enamel and sniffed a pinch of its contents up his nose. Like a conjuror, he then pulled out a handkerchief, more embroidery than cloth, to catch the ensuing sneeze.
Phoebe forced down the urge to giggle. He needed to know how cross she was, or she’d not receive her compensation.
“Let me give you my card.” From one of his pockets, he drew forth a gold card case, again with an enamelled lid of Venetian work. She read his name, then slipped the card into her reticule.
“Thank you, Mr Goodrich. I shall be sure to send you the bill if my gown needs to be taken to a specialist cleaner, or replaced.”
“May I call up a carriage for you? Or escort you home? I can walk in front of you, so no one need see the stains.”
Her mouth twitched, but she nodded. “You may most certainly walk in front. That is my carriage, the one with the matched greys, just down from the crossroads.” She was doing her best to keep up appearances by continuing to run the carriage, despite the cost. It wouldn’t do to alert their creditors before she was in a position to settle with them.
“How delightful!” Goodrich turned his back on her and minced forwards, keeping other pedestrians at a distance by means of his silver-topped cane. She was relieved when they reached her carriage, and she need no longer be associated with him.
He insisted on helping her up, which he achieved with a flourish and a cloud of scented pomade, demonstrating surprising strength for one so lean and tall. He scanned the vehicle as he stood waiting for her to depart, eyeing the coat-of-arms through a monocle he’d been wearing around his neck, and looking at the horses and coachman in apparent admiration. He touched his hat to her as she signalled the driver to move on, completing his farewell with an elaborate bow which almost prostrated him.
She was still musing over this peculiar encounter when she arrived at Blacklands House, and she couldn’t wait to regale Aunt Molly with her misadventure.
But no sooner had the front door closed behind her than her aunt came hurrying out of the drawing room, all-a-quiver, brandishing a letter.
“Phoebe, thank heaven you’re back. Here’s a letter from the lawyer, Mr Aitchison. It’s about your Great-Uncle’s trust fund, the one you are to share with your cousin Josephine. I’m afraid the lawyers have been most terribly lax. The courier said Mr Aitchison insisted the letter be read and opened right away. But I am in too much of a flutter to explain—you must read the letter yourself.”
Dropping her reticule on the table, Phoebe took the folded piece of paper and escorted Molly back into the drawing room. “Pray, sit down, Aunt. It can’t be as bad as all that. Would you ring for some tea while I have a look?”
She sat down, untied her bonnet, then fished out her reading spectacles and examined the letter. By the time she’d finished, she realised Molly hadn’t been exaggerating. The conditions of the trust fund stipulated that the monies in question were to go to the spouses of the beneficiaries, not the beneficiaries themselves. If one of them was still unmarried by the end of July, 1806, the entire sum—approaching four thousand guineas—would pass to the other.
Cousin Josephine was already married. Which meant Phoebe had barely three months in which to find herself a husband.
Want to read a bit more? Chapter Two and Three are available to read for FREE if you have a Wattpad account. Or you can find out more about the book,or buy it HERE. Once it’s published on October 23rd, it can also be read for free on Kindle Unlimited.