A Grand Deception

By: Shirley Marks

A Gentlemen of Worth Historical Romance

The Gentlemen of Worth Historical Romance Series:

Shirley Marks

London-April 1815

No one knew the real reason Lady Muriel Worth had come to Town. Not her closest friend, Susan Wilbanks, not her Aunt Penny, not even her father, the Duke of Faraday.

However, soon after arriving in London she did confide in Susan. Without her friend's help, Muriel could not have continued with her well-laid plans.

She had come to London to meet a man. A man she had been corresponding with in secret for the last four years. As if that had not been bad enough, she'd managed to slip out from under the protective wing of her aunt to meet him, on more than one occasion. She had only left his company minutes ago and returned to the place where her friend Susan waited.

Muriel slid through the narrow side doorway from the alley into the subscription library. She moved past other patrons who milled about with hushed voices. This gathering, however, felt far less formal than the flirtatious whispering in the crowded ballrooms she'd experienced nearly every evening over the last two months.

"How goes it, Sukey? We have not been discovered, I hope." Muriel exhaled, inspired and exhilarated by her recent meeting. She placed her books on the table with great calm and slid into the seat next to Susan. "I would like to increase my sessions to twice a week."

"You've gone from twice a month to once a week only a fortnight ago. However are you to explain another absence to your aunt, Mrs. Parker?" Susan placed a bookmark between the pages of her novel before closing it. "The subscription library is certainly acceptable once a week for you, but twice? I fear it will not fadge. And my mother would never believe it of me."

Anyone who knew Muriel, the young Muriel, could well imagine her need to go to the library, because at home it was where she spent most of her time. At the age of eleven, Muriel had watched her brother, Frederick, go off to Eton-and learned she could not attend because she had had the misfortune of being born female. She had so wished to learn Latin and then, perhaps, continue on to the Classics. Without a formal education or a tutor furthering her studies, such an endeavor would prove difficult.

The new Lady Muriel's behavior had been carefully fashioned to resemble her elder sister Charlotte's. Pleasant and agreeable, which young Muriel had never been. The new Lady Muriel still appeared to retain some interest in her academic studies but was clearly far more interested in finding a husband.

"I am fortunate you and your mother are staying with us." Muriel drew her reticule close. It contained her notes and the assignments she was to complete. "We have freedoms together I would not normally be allowed if I were alone."

"Mama and Mrs. Parker allowed us to remain at the subscription library unattended while they did some small shopping. We were to remain, keeping each other company. Which, you must own, we really have not." Susan removed her gloves from her reticule in preparation to leave. A line of worry creased her brow. "For you spend your time closeted with Signore-"

Muriel shushed her.

Susan fell silent and glanced around them, observing the other patrons to make certain she had not been overheard. "Oh, Moo, if we are ever found out, I fear I should never again be allowed to leave the house."

"Do not worry, Sukey, for you may tell your mother to place the blame entirely in my dish. Aunt Penny certainly will. Do you not understand? This is my first and best opportunity to obtain the level of instruction I crave."

"You have explained your reasoning to my satisfaction, and you have my every sympathy. That is why I agreed to help. I only fear what will happen if you are caught."

How that should happen, Muriel wasn't sure. Had she not taken every precaution to convince her aunt, and her father, that her extreme interest in academics was no more?

She'd spent the good part of a year feigning fascination with what ladies, at her age and position, usually did to occupy themselves. There were unaccountable hours wasted poring over fashion plates, fabrics, and colors while conferring with the dressmakers. Muriel did not even wish to hazard a guess at the time spent choosing new hats and shoes, much less the other worthless gewgaws that, she was told, every fashionable lady needed in her possession.

Just that morning, when Aunt Penny had suggested that Muriel don the decorative puce velvet bonnet instead of her practical straw hat, she had agreed with enthusiasm and without question.

"Tutelage under Signore Biondi means everything to me. I have made progress I never would have achieved without his instruction. I shall do what I must to continue, despite the risk," Muriel stated with staunch determination. "Even if it means pretending I am part of the marriage mart."