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DAMSEL IN DISGUISE
by Susan Gee Heino

Genre: Regency Period, England, Historical Romance

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“Where are we?” she asked.

“Hartwood,” he replied.

“That tells me nothing,” she grumbled. “What is Hartwood?”

“The home of a friend.”

“Lindley?”

“No. I said a friend.”

“A friend like Lindley?”

“No. A friend who doesn’t generally try to murder people.”

“Generally?”

“You’ll be safe here.”

She was momentarily distracted by the expanse of manicured lawn around her and the glory of dawn reflected off the still waters of a lake just to their right. Then his words sank in and she turned to glare at him.

“I’ll be what?”

“This belongs to my friend, Dashford. You’ll be safe here.”

They rounded a stand of trees and an enormous house appeared before her. No, it was more of a palace. Huge, rambling, well-tended and luxurious; whoever this Dashford was, he certainly did well for himself. A person could get lost in a house this vast. Apparently that was exactly what Rastmoor had planned.

“You think you’re going to leave me here, don’t you?” she said, her voice remarkably controlled for the sudden rage that was welling up.

“I am leaving you here,” he replied. “And you’re going to be polite about it.”

“I most certainly am not!”

“You are. Dashford and his new lady are friends of mine and they’ll keep you safe. I can’t introduce you as Alexander Clemmons—they’ve heard that name and think you’re Sophie’s husband, for God’s sake. So, we’d best come up with another pseudonym. How about, oh, I think Percival Nancey should do nicely. You’ll make a convincing Mr. Nancey, I should imagine.”

“I will not! If you believe for one minute that I’ll stay here while you go and get yourself killed, well you…”

“You will stay here until I send word it’s safe for you to leave. This is not a matter open to discussion, Julia. You are staying with Dashford and under no circumstances will you reveal your true name or your gender to anyone. Is that clear?”

“Oh, it’s clear enough,” she said with clenched teeth.

By God, she could scarcely believe her ears. He was leaving her here? Expecting her to quietly agree to his preposterous commandments? He was a fool.

No, she was the fool. How on earth had she not seen this coming? Of course Rastmoor hadn’t needed to hurry his nag or question passers-by along the way. He’d known since the very start that Lindley did not come this way. By God, he’d been bringing her here to dump her off like yesterday’s refuse all along! He knew Lindley had done the logical thing and taken Sophie south, down to London. All this way Rastmoor had simply been bringing Julia up here to abandon her, to get her out of his hair.

The opportunity to fume at him was lost as footmen darted out of the huge house to greet them. Rastmoor handed the horse over to them and let Julia clamber down from the gig under her own power. He gave her a dark look of warning, then strode comfortably up the wide steps to the broad front door. More servants appeared and greeted him. It seemed Rastmoor was recognized and loved by everyone, although Julia felt more than a few curious stares directed her way as she trailed Rastmoor into the expansive foyer.

“How nice to see you again, my lord,” the Dashford butler said, hurrying to welcome them.

“Thank you, Williams,” Rastmoor replied, handing his sooty hat and gloves over to a curtsying maid. “Forgive our sudden invasion, but as you might assume, we’ve encountered some difficulties in our travel.”

“Indeed?” Williams replied, valiantly ignoring their ragged condition. “I’m sure his lordship will be eager to know of your arrival.”

“Yes, I’m sure he will. If you would be so kind as to let him know I’ve brought along my good friend, Mr. Percival Nancey.”

Julia cringed. Damn him. The very least he could have done was let her choose her own alias—something a bit more, er, masculine. How was she to keep her gender a secret while prancing around with a name like Nancey?