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Authors: His Makeshift Wife

Anne Ashley

BOOK: Anne Ashley
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IS HE A RAKE TO TRUST?

Spirited Briony Winters can’t believe her ears. Her beloved
godmother’s will pushes her into marriage—with notorious rake Luke Kingsley. But
when her wickedly handsome husband-to-be promises not to claim his rights,
Briony takes a deep breath and says, “I do.”

Luke is used to having secrets, and he’s keeping his true
reasons for marrying Briony hidden. Let her believe him merely another spoiled,
indebted rakehell. Yet it’s increasingly hard to hide his real self from his
ever more inquisitive wife....

He slowly approached the bed, all at once seeming far taller
and broader in his casual attire.

His face seemed different too—younger somehow, with several
locks of waving brown hair tumbling over his forehead, and there was a definite
intense, almost hungry look in those grey eyes that never for a second wavered
from her direction.

“Have you misplaced something, perhaps?” she added, all at
once feeling decidedly ill-at-ease when he seated himself, uninvited, on the
edge of the bed, and placed one bronzed hand so close to her that his thumb
rested against her thigh.

“Only my bride,” he returned silkily, sending her unease
soaring in an instant.

Her response was to draw up her knees and tug the bedcovers
up to her chin, clutching them frantically. “You—you f-forget yourself, sir!”
Even to her own ears her voice sounded little more than a choked whisper. “Or
have you forgotten the bargain you made?”

“I forget nothing. But for appearances’ sake I felt I must at
least...er...pay you a visit,” he responded, his voice growing more and more
husky. “So whilst I’m here I might as well avail myself of the opportunity to
discover if, perchance, you’ve changed your mind and desire to become a wife
in...every sense?”

* * *

His Makeshift
Wife
Harlequin® Historical #336—July 2012

A love of history, coupled with little desire to return to
clerical work after raising two sons, prompted
Anne Ashley
to attempt writing romantic fiction. When not working on a new story she
can more often than not be found—weather permitting—pottering in her cottage
garden. Other interests include reading and a real passion for live theatre. She
also very much enjoys relaxing on warm summer afternoons with her husband,
watching the Somerset team playing cricket.

Anne Ashley

Available from Harlequin®
Historical and ANNE ASHLEY

The Reluctant Marchioness
#165
Tavern Wench
#182
Beloved Virago
#193
A Lady of Rare Quality
#200
Betrayed and Betrothed
#223
Lord Hawkridge’s Secret
#238
Lady Gwendolen Investigates
#246
The Transformation of Miss Ashworth
#253
The Viscount’s Scandalous Return
#275
Miss in a Man’s World
#318
His Makeshift Wife
#336

Chapter One

April 1813

M
iss Briony Winters raised her eyes briefly
to the leaden sky. It had been a fitting day for the funeral, grey and sombre,
matching her mood exactly, she decided, turning away from the window in order to
bid a final farewell to the last of the mourners.

‘Thank you for coming, Dr Mansfield. Although you’ve only quite
recently come among us, you’ve already earned the respect of many in our
community. You certainly made a favourable impression on my dear godmother when
she required your services not so very long ago.’

Far from appearing gratified, the young practitioner gazed
sombrely down at the slender hand he retained in his clasp. ‘It’s a great pity I
was unable to diagnose Lady Ashworth’s condition at the time. She complained
only of feeling unusually tired and betrayed no other symptoms of a weak
heart.’

‘No one could possibly blame you, sir, least of all me,’ Briony
assured him gently, while finally becoming conscious of the inordinate amount of
time her hand had been resting in his comfortable, consoling clasp and
withdrawing it at once. ‘My godmother was fortunate enough to enjoy shockingly
good health throughout most of her life. No one suspected how ill she was. I
don’t believe she even realised it herself. She merely thought she was
overtired. She made numerous trips during the last twelve months of her life,
visiting various friends and relations. She even went so far as to add
considerable miles to her most recent journey by visiting London late last year
and remaining for a week or two in the capital.’

Briony took a moment to regain command over her emotions. She
had stoically maintained control throughout the ordeal of the funeral and had no
intention of breaking down now, at least not while mourners remained in the
house.

‘Besides which, I believe my godmother would have chosen to go
that way,’ she added, determined to appear mistress of her emotions by
discussing a topic that was still so very painful. ‘She had scant regard for
those who continually cosset themselves, or take to their beds over the
slightest ailment. A long drawn-out illness would have been the very last thing
I would have wished upon her. All the same, the unexpectedness of Lady
Ashworth’s passing is a little hard to come to terms with.’

‘And that is why you must not shut yourself away from the world
for too long,’ the doctor cautioned, while at the same time casting an expert
eye over much-admired features, which clearly betrayed those telltale signs of
strain and grief. ‘I know you’ve many good friends hereabouts who would be only
too willing to offer comfort and support. And I sincerely trust one day you will
come to look upon my sister Florence and me in just such a light.’

The pretty young woman at his side readily concurred and went
on to issue a verbal invitation to dine in the not-too-distant future.
Unfortunately Briony couldn’t imagine she would ever attain much pleasure in
socialising again, most especially as the wonderful person who had stood in
place of a mother during the past dozen years would no longer be at her side.
None the less, mindful of the social niceties which her beloved godmother had
succeeded in drilling into her during their time together, she sounded sincere
enough when she announced she would look forward to the evening.

The invitation to dine at the vicarage, which followed
immediately afterwards, was no less graciously accepted. Even so, the instant
the vicar and his good lady wife had accompanied the Mansfields from the room,
Briony slumped down on one of the comfortable sofas, feeling all at once
emotionally drained, yet attaining some comfort from the knowledge that she had
behaved on what had been one of the most trying days of her entire life as her
dear, late godmother would have wished.

Sighing, she rested her head against the comfort of the
upholstery, wondering why, now that the last of the mourners had finally taken
their leave and she could give way to emotion, the tears simply refused to
come.

Maybe there were no more left to shed, she reflected. After
all, hadn’t she cried bucketfuls since the morning her beloved benefactress had
been discovered lifeless in her bed? Would she ever forget the moment when she
had taken that cold hand in her own and had realised the heartrending truth? She
had never forgotten the day a dozen years before when that self-same hand had
grasped hers, warm and consoling, as she had watched her mother being placed in
the ground. She would never have supposed it possible, then, that she would ever
come to look upon another female in the light of a mother, but she had. Lady
Ashworth had quickly won a young girl’s love and respect, and in so doing had
succeeded in transforming a somewhat tomboyish rapscallion, too fond of climbing
trees and getting into all sorts of mischief, into a young woman who would not
seem out of place in the most elegant London salon.

No mean feat!
Briony was silently
obliged to acknowledge, a moment before her attention was claimed by the late
Lady Ashworth’s cook-housekeeper, and almost lifelong companion, who had slipped
silently into the room.

‘Seen the last of them to their carriages, Janet?’ A
spontaneous smile clearly betrayed the fond regard in which she held the
middle-aged servant. ‘What would I have done without you this day?’

The smile in response held no less warmth. ‘Oh, you’d have
coped, miss. Hidden depths, that’s what you’ve got, Miss Briony. Mistress always
said so. Said you’d always come through in times of trouble.’

‘And I sincerely hope she will be proved to be right.’
Experiencing anything but conviction over her hidden reserves of fortitude,
Briony rose from the sofa and went across to the window once again. This time,
as she stared out, it wasn’t the grey and overcast sky she saw, only the
prospect of a somewhat gloomy future. The truth, however, had to be faced.
Better to do so now, she told herself, than retain false hopes.

‘Of course, I shan’t know until I’ve had the meeting with Lady
Ashworth’s man of business, but it’s almost certain I shan’t be able to continue
living here. Apart from anything else, I simply couldn’t afford to do so.’

Turning away from the window, Briony considered the house she
had called home for half her life. Although perhaps not a very large or
particularly opulent dwelling for the widow of a wealthy baron, at least not by
some standards, the building was well proportioned, boasting half-a-dozen roomy
bedchambers and a very elegant west-facing main reception room. The drawing room
was undoubtedly her favourite salon, she decided, glancing absently about her,
possibly because she had spent so much time here in the company of her
godmother.

‘Mistress wouldn’t have left you without the means to support
yourself, miss, that I do know,’ Janet assured, after catching the wistful
expression on the delicate face that was quite without flaw, except perhaps for
a slightly over-generous mouth. ‘She came to love you, looked upon you as the
daughter she’d never been blessed to have.’

‘That’s as may be, Janet. But she also looked upon that wretch
Luke Kingsley as the son she’d never been blessed to have. And he is blood kin,
let me remind you.’

Briony gave herself a mental shake in an attempt not to allow
personal prejudice cloud her judgement, but she was only partially successful in
her endeavours, as her next words proved.

‘You know better than anyone how she raised him from when he
was little more than a babe in arms. Showered everything upon him. Even
persuaded her brother to arrange a commission for him so that he might enter the
army when he’d finished at Oxford. And how does he repay all those years of
devotion…? He cannot even bestir himself to attend his aunt’s funeral!’

‘Well, I expect Master Luke had his reasons for not being here
today,’ Janet countered, proving at a stroke that she held her late mistress’s
favourite relative in somewhat higher regard. ‘Since he became his uncle’s heir,
and left the army, he’s been kept busy, I expect. What with dancing attendance
upon Lord Kingsley in Kent, and travelling so often to the capital, I don’t
suppose he’s time for much else.’

‘Much else other than his string of lightskirts!’ Briony
countered. ‘If the gossips are to be believed, the infamous Lady Tockington’s
his latest strumpet. I wonder how long she will reign supreme? Not long if past
conquests are anything to go by. He’s not what you’d call constant in his
attentions, now is he? His list of entanglements is legend!’

‘Well, upon my word! What would the mistress say if she heard
you talking like that?’

Briony couldn’t resist smiling at this pitiful attempt at a
reprimand. ‘She’d try to appear affronted, much as you’re doing now. But she’d
have made a somewhat more convincing show of doing so.’ All at once she was
serious. ‘But even you must own to the fact that Godmama began to despair at
some of the rumours circulating about her precious nephew.’

‘That’s as may be,’ the housekeeper conceded, ‘but that don’t
alter the fact the mistress thought highly of Master Luke, no matter what the
gossipmongers said about him. And mistress was a fine judge of character. After
all, she knew you’d turn out well, right enough. So very proud of you she was,
too.’

The sudden shadow of grief passing over Briony’s features was
unmistakable and resulted in the housekeeper rushing across to her side to offer
comfort, just as she had done time and again during the past ten days or so.

Slipping an arm around Briony’s slender shoulders, she held the
younger woman close. ‘There, there, Miss Briony…chin up! The servants are all
looking to you to see them right, remember? The Lord alone knows what will
become of us all! As you say, Master Luke might well inherit the house. But
who’s to say he wouldn’t sell it? When all’s said and done, he’s been content to
remain most all year round in the capital since he left the army. And don’t
forget he’s got his own fine place in Derbyshire. Mayhap he’s no taste for
country life n’more.’

‘No, perhaps not,’ Briony agreed. ‘All the same, I’m sure he’d
do everything within his power to ensure you, at least, could remain in the
house. Even I recall how very fond of you he used to be.’

‘That’s as may be, miss,’ Janet responded, after releasing her
hold to go about the room in order to plump up cushions. ‘But I shan’t stay
here, not without you.

‘Now, miss, it’s not a ha’p’orth of good you trying to change
my mind,’ she went on, when Briony was about to protest. ‘I decided what I was
going to do the day we found the poor mistress cold in her bed. Lady Ashworth
would have expected me to continue caring for you. I’m sure the mistress has
left you something in her will. Just as I’m certain she wouldn’t have forgotten
me. Said she’d look after me in my old age. And mistress always kept her word.
I’m not saying it’ll be much, but enough, I shouldn’t wonder, for us to set up
house together.’

All at once she appeared almost cheerful. ‘Why, we could go and
live on the coast together and mayhap open a small boarding house for genteel
ladies! Sea bathing has become quite popular in recent years, so I’m told.’

Briony smiled fondly. ‘It would seem you have our futures all
mapped out for us. And who knows, opening a genteel little boarding house might
be just the thing for us! But until I’ve had that all-important interview with
Mr Pettigrew, I’ll not know for sure just how we’re situated.’

* * *

Briony had duly received a letter from the notary to say
that he would attend her at the house at her convenience. She had sent a reply
directly back to suggest the meeting take place at his office, as it would
enable her to carry out other errands in the local town.

As she stepped down from her late godmother’s somewhat
antiquated carriage a few days later and entered the premises of the
well-patronised haberdashery in the main street, she was very thankful she had
made the effort to travel to the thriving little community. Apart from the
servants, she had had no contact with anyone since the day of the funeral. Being
a healthy young woman, she had always enjoyed outdoor pursuits, and was already
heartily sick of her own company and of remaining within the confines of the
garden back at the house.

‘Why, Miss Briony! What a pleasure it is to see you out and
about again!’ the young proprietress proclaimed the instant Briony stepped
inside the shop. Her smile of welcome faded almost at once as the sight of
strict mourning attire recalled to mind recent sad events. ‘I was so sorry not
to attend the funeral, but my assistant was taken poorly that day, miss, and I
couldn’t find anyone else to mind the shop for me for an hour or so at such
short notice. I can’t afford to close it and turn custom away. I need to work to
pay back the loan. Lady Ashworth was real good to me, Miss Briony, setting me up
in my own little business.’ All at once she appeared more troubled than sad. ‘I
suppose I still keep paying Mr Pettigrew at the end of each quarter, as
usual?’

Briony shrugged. ‘I assume so, Mary, though I suppose it will
ultimately depend on the wishes of Lady Ashworth’s beneficiaries. Although,’ she
added, noting that the troubled expression on the hard-working dressmaker’s face
still remained, ‘I’m sure Lady Ashworth would have ensured that you can never be
turned out of these premises whilst you continue to repay the rent and the
loan.’

Clearly comforted by the assurance, Mary invited Briony to step
into the back room where they could talk without being disturbed, leaving her
young assistant to mind the shop.

‘You’re clearly very busy today, Mary, so I’ll come to the
point of my visit,’ and so saying Briony placed a package down on the table.
‘Lady Ashworth purchased this length of material during her last visit to the
capital. As you can see, it’s the finest silk, so I should prefer your skilful
hands to make it up into an evening gown, rather than my own. I know my own
limitations!’

BOOK: Anne Ashley
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