London was all on edge and astir to have in its midst the exquisite Princess Felicity of Brasnia. What scandal would ensue should society discover that the bejeweled heir to a royal throne was in truth Miss Felicity
Channing of Cornwall, fleeing a match she did not want and that had been arranged by her conniving stepfather!
It was questionable how long Felicity could carry off this lively masquerade before she would falter, especially since the dark, raffish eyes of Lord Arthur
Bessamy seemed to look right through her disguise—and set her spirited heart to pounding.
About the Author
M. C. Beaton has won international acclaim for her bestselling Hamish Macbeth mysteries and the Agatha Raisin mystery series. She is also the author of more than one hundred romance titles and a series of romantic suspense novels, the Edwardian Mystery series. Born in Scotland, she now divides her time between Paris and the English Cotswolds.
Justine Eyre is a classically trained actress who has narrated dozens of audiobooks and has a prestigious Audie Award and two AudioFile Earphones Awards under her belt. Eyre is multilingual and known for her great facility with accents. She has appeared on stage, with leading roles in King Lear and The Crucible, and has had starring roles in four films on the indie circuit. Her recent television credits include Two and a Half Men and Mad Men.
Read an Excerpt
"It won't happen to me. Never to me!" said Miss Felicity Channing fiercely.
"Why not?" demanded her governess, Miss Chubb. "It's happened to your three elder sisters. Why not
you?" "I am made of sterner stuff," said Felicity. Miss Chubb looked at her delicate charge's sensitive face and wide, vulnerable eyes and gave a cynical snort.
Both ladies were seated beside the fire in the nursery at the top of Tregarthan Castle in Cornwall. It had been an exhausting day, a day in which Felicity had watched her sister, Maria, sob her way to the altar to wed a man she barely knew.
Felicity had three elder sisters, and Maria was the last of the three to be forced by the girls' stepfather, Mr. Palfrey, into an arranged marriage. Not content with being married to one of the richest women in England, Mr. Palfrey was always on the look-out for more money to support his lavish tastes. He had married Lucy Channing, the girls' mother, when she was a pretty, young widow and the Channing girls were all still in the nursery. Felicity's mother, now Mrs. Palfrey, had been a permanent invalid for some years, allowing her husband full rein.
Mr. Palfrey was a thin exquisite of some forty years with a nasty waspish tongue and a determination to get his own way. His main ambition was to rid Tregarthan Castle of all his stepdaughters and then to modernize the place to suit his luxurious tastes. To that end, he had arranged marriages for each girl as she came of age. Penelope had been the first to go, wed to a baronet in Devon, then Emily to a rich merchant, and now Maria to a wealthy bishop. His aim in marrying the girls to rich men was to provide himself with the reassurance that they would make no claim on their mother's fortune. He had bullied his sick wife into making a will in which she left everything to him, having pointed out that her daughters were in no need of money. There was a "Scotch" clause in the history of the Channings that meant the estates and fortune did not automatically become the property of the husband and could be left to the daughters, if Mrs. Palfrey chose to do so. When Mrs. Palfrey protested weakly that there was still Felicity, Mr. Palfrey replied that Felicity had turned eighteen and would soon "be dealt with" like her sisters before her.
But Penelope, Emily, and Maria had inherited their mother's meek and biddable ways. The late Mr. Channing had been a member of the untitled aristocracy, a brave man, and a good soldier. He had also had a great zest for life, and a strong sense of humor. Out of the four, only Felicity had inherited her father's courageous spirit.
Her elder sisters had their mother's fashionable beauty: small, straight noses; small, rosebud mouths; and dark brown hair. Felicity's dainty, elfin figure; her large greenish-gold eyes in a delicate little face; and masses of dark red hair gave her a rare elusive beauty that was all her own. Looking at her, as she sat on the other side of the nursery fire, Miss Chubb reflected that it was extremely doubtful if Mr. Palfrey knew the strength of character of the last of his stepdaughters. For Felicity was fond of her mother and did everything she diplomatically could to be quiet and biddable and not cause any of the family scenes that made her mother turn paper-white and gasp for breath.
Miss Chubb was worried about her own future. After Felicity was wed, she was expected to find another post. She could not expect a pension from Mr. Palfrey, who was tightfisted about any money that was not to be spent on his own comfort.
She knew she had little hope of finding another position. She was fifty-two, a great age in these times when the mortality rate was high. She was a squat, stocky woman with a heavy face, and large, sad, brown eyes that made her look like some old family dog.
Felicity roused herself from her reverie. "After all, Miss Chubb," she said, "there is surely no one left of a marriageable age in the vicinity."
"I have heard talk," said Miss Chubb, "about Lord St. Dawdy."
"I know about him. He is in his fifties and has been married twice before. Also, he was not invited to the wedding, which shows a blessed lack of interest in him."
"He would have been invited had he not been on the Grand Tour."
"Indeed! I thought only very young men went on the Grand Tour."
"It is said that the baron has been several times," said Miss Chubb.
"My stepfather does not know me very well. He will find it difficult to force me into marriage with anyone."
Miss Chubb forbore from depressing her young friend by pointing out the obvious — that a woman did not have any say in the matter, never had, and never would.
"I would not be too nice in my choice of gentlemen," mused Felicity, her chin on her hand. "I must admit that neither Penelope nor Emily seems to have any complaints, and Penelope has those darling children. Children must be a great comfort."
"Do you not have romantic dreams?" asked Miss Chubb, who had a great many herself.
"Oh, no, not I," said Felicity with a laugh. "I am eminently practical. But I would have freedom of choice, you know, and not be treated like some slave. I mean to have a say; neither of my three sisters ever tried saying, 'No.'"
"Perhaps they knew it would not have been of much use," ventured Miss Chubb cautiously.
"Pooh! They are afraid of Mr. Palfrey. But I am not! It is early yet. Has he retired?"
"I do not think so," said Miss Chubb. "One of the guests at the wedding breakfast spilt wine on the dining room floor, and just before I came up to join you, he was screaming at the housemaids and saying that no one must rest until the floor was restored to its former glory."
Felicity sighed. Due to Mr. Palfrey's finicky tastes, Tregarthan Castle was like a museum. It was not a medieval castle, but a relatively modern one, a sort of folly built in the middle of the last century by her grandfather, who had had romantic tastes. It even had a moat with a drawbridge, turrets with arrow slits, and great metal cauldrons on the battlements for pouring boiling oil down on the invading troops who had lived only in her grandfather's active imagination.
Inside, everything was polished to a high shine. Precious objects lay embedded in silk in rows of glass cases, for Mr. Palfrey was a great collector of objets d'art. Not a cobweb, not a speck of dust was allowed to sully any surface. The servants were overworked and consequently surly. Only this nursery up under the leads had been spared Mr. Palfrey's collecting and cleaning zeal. It was cluttered with some of the furniture he considered too old-fashioned for the state rooms belowstairs, including two fine Chinese Chippendale chairs and a carved William & Mary chest.
"Let us dress up and go out," said Felicity suddenly. Miss Chubb looked scared.
Sometimes, she and Felicity would dress up in men's clothes and ride to the nearest tavern. It was a small adventure because they usually went out when Mr. Palfrey was visiting in London and there could be no chance of their absence being noticed. The only servant in on the secret was the head groom, John Tremayne, who detested Mr. Palfrey with a passion and who only stayed on out of loyalty to the remaining Channings.
Felicity was still too young to realize it was most odd for an old and, seemingly, conventional governess to agree to such mad escapades, and did not yet even guess how very romantic and starved for adventure was poor Miss Chubb.
"Mr. Palfrey might come looking for you," said Miss Chubb.
"To kiss me good night? You know he never pays me the slightest heed."
"Miss Felicity, he is a fussy and ambitious man — ambitious to have the castle to himself. He will be anxious to arrange a marriage for you as soon as possible and may call you downstairs to discuss the matter. You may remember that Maria was sent for just after Emily had gone off with her new husband."
"Yes, yes. But Maria's bishop had been selected for her some time before Emily's marriage. You must admit, there is no one left for me — thank goodness!"
"You forget Lord St. Dawdy."
"Now, my dear Miss Chubb, the baron is abroad and he is too old even for my wicked stepfather to consider asking him to marry me, so there is no question of him sending for me. He is probably down on his hands and knees at this moment polishing the dining room floor himself."
Miss Chubb hesitated. She thought she had overheard Mr. Palfrey saying something about the Lord St. Dawdy and Felicity. On the other hand, the baron was surely far too old. It would cause a scandal in the neighborhood if Felicity were forced to marry him, and Mr. Palfrey longed to be admired and respected by the tenants as Mr. Channing had been admired and respected. Also, she enjoyed these harmless adventures. In the last century, when Miss Chubb had been governess to a lively family of girls in Brighton, the girls had gone to assemblies dressed as men for a joke and nobody had seemed to find it shocking. But times had changed and society was more strait-laced in this second decade of the nineteenth century. But she longed to escape from the castle, just for a little.
"Perhaps it would not be noticed ..." she started to say and was interrupted by Felicity.
"My best of governesses!" she cried. "Hurry up! A ride across the moors is just what we need."
Felicity and Miss Chubb had spent one wet afternoon two years before studying the old plans of the castle. They had found, to their delight, a priest's hole, albeit a fake one, the castle having been built well after the days of the Cavaliers and Roundheads, and a secret staircase. Their disguises were hidden in the priest's hole and the staircase enabled them to make their way out of the castle unobserved.
Soon, what looked to all appearances like a slim youth and a heavy, John Bull-type of gentleman slipped through the darkness of the grounds to the stables after having negotiated the moat by means of a long ladder laid across it — the one part of the adventure Miss Chubb never enjoyed because she was sure the ladder would break one dark night under her weight.
It was a November evening, but unusually balmy. It had been a warm autumn and the stunted trees on the moors were only just beginning to send the last of their scarlet and gold leaves flying down on the warm, sticky gales which blew in from the sea.
Miss Chubb was not a good horsewoman and the old, steady mare John Tremayne had found for her suited her needs, being as slow and cautious as she was herself. Felicity had a frisky little Arab mare, a dainty little creature that could fly like the wind. Miss Chubb's mount could not keep up with it, so Felicity had to content herself by riding off on long gallops on her own and then turning back to join the governess, whose horse was steadily and surely plodding sedately along the cliff path.
These little adventures had never palled, never lost their feeling of excitement, although they never entailed any real fear of discovery.
Felicity and Miss Chubb would ride to The Green Dolphin tavern, a well-appointed inn that drew people from all over because of the excellence of its food. They would drink two glasses of wine each, staying about half an hour, and then ride back to the castle, having enjoyed their harmless masquerade as gentlemen. Felicity, like her sisters, was given a present of pin money by her mother every quarter day, and it was with that money that she had purchased disguises for both of them.
The advantage of the popularity of The Green Dolphin was that neither the landlord nor the serving maids had much time to wonder about the identity of the heavyset "gentleman" and his "nephew."
Felicity threw the ostler a coin and told him to stable their horses, for the rain had started to fall. In fine weather, they left them tethered outside.
Miss Chubb entered the taproom first and then drew back abruptly, bumping into Felicity who was behind her.
"What's the matter?" hissed Felicity.
"Come back outside," muttered Miss Chubb.
But the landlord, Mr. Saxon, had recognized them as the two pleasant gentlemen who infrequently patronized his hostelry.
"Enter!" he cried. "We have a deal of fine folk with us tonight. But I have your usual table at the window."
"I don't know ..." began Miss Chubb, but Felicity lowering her voice several registers, said heartily, "Splendid, Saxon," and, walking past Miss Chubb, she entered the tap.
A hum of voices rose to greet her. Apart from a few of the locals, there was a party of richly dressed men who had put two tables together in the middle of the room. Mr. Saxon guided Felicity over to the little table in the bay of one of the windows where she usually sat. With a feeling of apprehension, Miss Chubb lumbered after Felicity.
Usually, they had only the locals to contend with — locals who were interested in gossiping to one another and not bothering to pay too much attention to the two quiet gentlemen in the bay.
But these strangers were a different matter. When Mr. Saxon himself had served them with their usual glasses of claret, Miss Chubb whispered, "We should not stay long, Felicity. These strangers may become overcurious."
Felicity was not listening to her. She was studying the men at a table in the center of the room with interest.
They were all dressed in riding clothes, and, from their conversation, she gathered they had all been guests at a shooting party at an estate farther along the coast. There were six of them. Their riding clothes were all well-cut as the finest morning dress and each man wore an expensive jewel in his stock.
But it was the man at the head of the table who held Felicity's attention the most. Once she had seen him, she found it almost impossible to look away.
He was quite old, she decided, about thirty years, and that was old in Felicity's eighteen-year-old eyes. He had a strong face with a proud nose and a firm chin. His eyes were very black and sparkling and held a clever, restless, mocking look. His brown riding coat was fitted across a pair of powerful shoulders, and his long legs encased in top boots were stretched out under the table. A ruby glittered wickedly in his stock and a large ruby ring burned on the middle finger of his right hand. His hands were very white and his nails beautifully manicured and polished to a high shine with a chamois buffer. Felicity was fascinated. Effeminate and decadent men were laughable; decadent and powerful men, such as this one, frightening.
"Do not stare so," whispered Miss Chubb urgently.
But as if conscious of Felicity's curious gaze, the man looked across at her.
"Gentlemen!" he called. "If you are so interested in our conversation, pray join us."
A gentleman next to him, who had his back to Felicity and Miss Chubb, swung round and stared at them rudely through his quizzing glass.
"Never say they are gentlemen, Bessamy," he drawled. "Just look at the rustic cut of that lad's coat." The other four solemnly produced their quizzing glasses and raked Felicity and Miss Chubb up and down as if studying two new and curious insects.
Then, as if finding them lacking in any merit whatsoever, they dropped their glasses and continued to talk about sport.
Miss Chubb let out a slow breath of relief. Felicity's face flamed.
"Pay no attention, my dear uncle," she said in a clear, carrying voice. "'Tis naught but some city mushrooms aping the rudeness and the churlishness of the Corinthian set."
There was a shocked silence. Miss Chubb muttered prayers under her breath. One of the gentlemen, the one next to the man called Bessamy, rose to his feet and slowly picked up his gloves.
"He's going to challenge you to a duel," squeaked Miss Chubb.
Then Bessamy rose to his feet and with one hand pushed his friend down into his chair.
"Do not squabble with the locals," he said calmly. "Too fatiguing for words, and I have been bored enough this evening. Down, James, down, boy." He picked up his glass and, to Miss Chubb's horror, crossed over to their table, pulled up a chair, and sat down.
Felicity turned her head away.
"Permit me to introduce myself," he said. "Bessamy. Lord Arthur Bessamy, at your service."
"Charmed," said Miss Chubb gruffly.
"And you are ...?" pursued Lord Arthur, his wicked black eyes fastened on Felicity's face.
Miss Chubb pulled her wide-awake hat down firmly over her eyes. "I am Mr. George Champion," she said, "and this, my lord, is my nephew, Mr. Freddy Channing."
Lord Bessamy swung his gold quizzing glass on its long, gold chain slowly back and forth, still looking at Felicity. Miss Chubb watched the pendulum swing of that quizzing glass with large, hypnotized eyes.
"And have you nothing to say for yourself, young fellow-me-lad?" asked Lord Arthur gently. "You have just sorely insulted my guests and me. An apology would not come amiss. Or do you like dueling so much?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Paper Princess"
Copyright © 1987 Marion Chesney.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
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