DUKE OF SCANDAL
Moonlight Square, Book 1
On Sale Now at these fine retailers:
Amazon – eBook & Paperback
Chapter 1: The Accidental Heiress
“Are you sure this is really all right, dear?” Mrs. Brown asked with a fret as the ladies’ town coach rolled along.
Miss Felicity Carvel pondered the question, but then could only sigh. Honestly, I’m not sure of anything where that rogue is concerned, she thought.
“Perhaps you should have sent another letter,” her chaperone suggested.
“He’s ignored the two I’ve already written,” Felicity answered with a shrug. Indeed, she suspected that her letters were, even now, sitting in a large basket of neglected correspondence on the duke’s desk.
Naughty Netherford was too busy having fun.
Felicity shook her head. “If the matter were not so urgent, I should not have minded waiting, but under the circumstances… Well, don’t worry, Mrs. Brown. We shan’t be long,” she assured the older lady. “And besides, we’ve taken every measure to ensure propriety.” As much as can be had when dealing with a rakehell of the first order.
“Hmm, yes, well, I suppose it is early yet,” her chaperone conceded. “With any luck, we may escape his neighbors’ notice. These fashionable folk usually lie abed till noon. Keeping such late hours is not healthy,” she added with a disapproving frown.
“No.” Felicity leaned toward the carriage window, peering out at the aristocratic neighborhood into which their coach now turned. “This place certainly is impressive.”
“You’ve been to Moonlight Square before.”
“Only at night, for balls and such, actually. Never in the daytime.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Brown.
At night, Moonlight Square had seemed to her to brood beneath the stars in elegant, lordly excess, like some dark, decadent poet. Even now, the glistening spring morning full of sunshine and birdsong could not quite dispel the eerie cast of melancholy reflecting off all the smooth Portland stone facades. Perhaps its sinister history as a hanging ground explained the pall that still hung over the place despite its current terraced perfection, all classical, columned porticoes and lacy wrought iron balconies.
In antique maps of London the area was labeled Hell’s Watch, but a decade ago, the Prince Regent’s own architect, Mr. Beau Nash, had built the magnificent garden square right overtop of the old, macabre memories of public executions and doomed rogues hanging in man-cages.
Nowadays the ton called this place Olympus on account of all the peers who had moved in. With a duke on every blasted corner, it might as well have been the home of the gods. And yet it did seem to attract a certain type of resident…
The wild, dark lords of Moonlight Square definitely made up their own dangerous breed. They fit right in with the haunted atmosphere that still lingered in this place, as though they were drawn to it. Each an island of gloom and brooding isolation unto himself, they drifted through Society like great, ominous thunderheads, crackling with the tension of pent-up lightning and liable to rage into a storm at any moment.
No wonder he had moved here.
At that moment, Felicity’s driver slowed the clip-clopping horses to a halt before the giant corner mansion of the Duke of Netherford.
Right on cue, she felt her foolish heart begin to pound. She leaned toward the window, letting her gaze travel slowly upward over the five-storied splendor of his London mansion. She shook her head to herself.
Lud, sometimes it was hard to believe that the scandalous seducer who dwelled in such pomp was the same wiry rascal of a boy who had gone traipsing through the countryside with her and her elder brother, Peter, growing up. Or rather, the boys had gone traipsing. She, four years younger and a mere girl—as though it were a disease—had been tolerated only so long as she could keep up.
What happened to us all? she wondered. We used to be so close. We used to have such fun.
Wistfulness filled her for the happy childhood that had faded like a dream. She had known such freedom then, and he had once been innocent.
But that was long ago.
Ah, well. It was obvious what had happened: they had all three grown up. Life had taken its toll on each of them in various ways, and now here they were. Her brother and Jason were still as thick as thieves, but Felicity had long since been left out of the equation.
Of course, she had brought it on herself through her own youthful folly, throwing herself at her brother’s best friend that humiliating day eight years ago.
She closed her eyes with a faint wince at the memory.
Jason’s gentle rebuff still hurt a bit to this day, truth be told. Thankfully, however, she was long over her painfully intense infatuation with the heir to the Netherford dukedom, who had grown up on the neighboring estate.
She supposed any girl might have fallen for him back then. He was funny and kind and took an interest in what she had to say; he was reliable and good-hearted, for all his teasing, merry roguery. It had been a concoction her young heart could not withstand. Unable to bear her secret adoration of him any longer, at the ripe old age of fifteen, she had finally confessed her devotion to the older boy.
The then nineteen-year-old Jason had been, in a word, horrified.
Felicity shook her head, cringing. Now twenty-three, she could not imagine what degree of everyday familiarity between them could have possibly made her imagine it was anything other than scandalous to plop herself down on his lap, drape her arms around his neck, and flirt with him the way she had, with a big, naïve, beaming smile.
He had gone quite ashen, and too late, she had realized he was aghast at the position in which she had put him. Instead of declaring his undying love in return, as she had somehow foolishly expected, he had set her aside, stood up stiffly, and walked out the door.
Later that evening, before she had even recovered from her shame, Peter had marched into her chamber and yelled at her for making a fool of herself, risking her reputation, and bothering his friend.
Things between her and Jason had never been the same after that.
She was lucky Peter had decided not to tell Mama, but he only kept it to himself because their mother was still fragile from losing Father the winter before to a fever. Peter, now man of the house, had said it would probably “kill” their mother to hear that her daughter had behaved in such a fashion.
Ever since that day, Felicity had been very careful to comport herself with the utmost prim-and-proper rectitude at all times. No matter how bored she grew with her existence sometimes. No matter how much she might resent it.
Ah, but back then, in her tearful innocence, she had told her brother she had honestly thought her beloved Jason liked bold girls. Based on some rather scandalous conversations she’d overheard between the two rowdy young bucks, it was an understandable mistake. And she had so wanted Jason to love her as she loved him—for himself—who he was, not for his dukedom or his wealth or anything like that. Such things were meaningless to a lovesick girl of fifteen.
But alas, her moment of brash forwardness had ruined everything between them. Jason had all but forgotten she existed, particularly after he had ascended to the title, taking the place of his horrid cold fish of a father.
Felicity could only pray that perhaps by now he had forgotten the whole embarrassing debacle. Likely he had, given the sea of women these days who regularly threw themselves at the hard, polished libertine he’d become.
Still, that was no excuse for him to ignore both of her frantic letters. It wasn’t as though she expected such an important personage as the Duke of Netherford to give her a personal response. She was quite content to deal with His Grace’s secretary.
All she wanted was one simple piece of information: whether or not he was able to get a message to her brother for her.
It was urgent, and since Jason could apparently not be bothered to answer his mail, she had come in person to get the details she needed from someone, anyone, on the duke’s staff.
As her coachman walked back from the driver’s box to hand the ladies down, and her footman ran her card up to the front door, Mrs. Brown tapped Felicity on the shoulder. “My dear?”
About to get out of the vehicle, she glanced back at the matron. “Yes, ma’am?”
“What will you do if we see the duke?” Mrs. Brown asked, worry in her dark eyes.
Words quite failed Felicity at the question.
Hope the earth opens up and swallows me? But she dared not reveal any sign of her misgivings to her chaperone, who was even more prim and proper than she was.
“That isn’t going to happen,” she finally clipped out, forcing a confident smile. He’s probably sleeping it off in a brothel somewhere across Town right now, anyway.
With that, Felicity stepped down, smoothed her ebony skirts, gripped the handle of the black reticule draped over her arm, and walked to the rogue’s front door with her head held high.
Her plump chaperone and skinny maid, Dorcas, who’d been riding on top of the coach, both hurried after her for moral support, and together, the three of them presented a bastion of respectability at the Duke of Scandal’s door.
His butler had already answered and taken her card from the footman.
“Miss Carvel?” the butler greeted her in astonishment. The sweet-faced old man had lit up when he had read her card, obviously recognizing her by her brother’s last name.
Peter did tend to have that effect on people—bold, swashbuckling charmer that he was, and a decorated war hero, too.
“Goodness me! Miss Carvel, do please come in, come in!” The butler beamed, opening the door wider for them. “Ladies,” he added, nodding kindly at her two attendants as they walked between the sculpted topiaries flanking the elegant entrance.
Mounting the few front stairs, the three women filed into the duke’s opulent entrance hall.
The butler was still staring at Felicity, rather marveling, as though she were a wonder of the world.
“I am Woodcombe, Miss Carvel. How may I be of service?” he asked gravely as he shut the door behind them.
Felicity faltered as butterflies crashed about in her stomach. She suddenly felt just a bit idiotic standing there. Despite her outward composure, she could not believe she was standing in Jason’s house. Her heart pounded with ridiculous excitement. She tried not to gawk while she glanced around at everything.
Was this a mistake? What on earth would he think when he learned from his servants that she had popped by? Would he fancy, in his vanity, that she had come around mooning over him again?
Worse…would he be right?
All things considered, she despised herself for the illicit thrill she felt at this small glimpse into her former idol’s current life. His home was certainly beautiful…
The butler raised his bushy white eyebrows, waiting for her to state her business there.
Felicity cleared her throat, pulse thumping. “Yes, thank you, Woodcombe. You know my brother, I believe? Major Peter Carvel.”
“Oh, yes, indeed, miss! We are all great admirers of the major round here. He is a very brave man, if one may say so. We are all most eager to see what discoveries he might bring back from his grand expedition—especially His Grace.”
“Hmm, yes, quite. That is the reason I am here, actually. I have written two letters to His Grace over the past sennight. Perhaps you noticed them?”
“Why, yes, miss. I put them on the master’s desk personally.”
“Did you? Oh! Well, thank you very much. I must say, I am relieved to hear it. I was beginning to think they hadn’t arrived.” Thank goodness at least somebody here had a brain—and was sober. “Um, I don’t know if anyone’s had a chance to read them yet,” she ventured ever so politely, “and I promise I should not have disturbed you all if the matter were not so terribly urgent—”
“No trouble at all, miss! You are always welcome here,” Woodcombe averred, his heartfelt utterance taking her and even himself off guard, it seemed, by the widening of his eyes.
With that, the old butler sealed his mouth shut, as though he suddenly feared he’d said too much.
She and Mrs. Brown exchanged a puzzled look before Felicity returned her gaze to the butler.
“Ahem, right. As I was saying,” she continued, “the only reason I decided to come in person is that I do need an answer to my question.”
“Shall I fetch Mr. Richardson for you, miss? He is His Grace’s man of affairs. He is here even now, working on the household ledgers.”
“Oh, that would be very fine, indeed!” she exclaimed. “But perhaps, Woodcombe, you may know the answer to this yourself.”
“I shall be happy to try, miss. What is the question?” the dear old fellow asked, tilting his head attentively.
“I need to get a message to my brother. That is all. I-I know His Grace has him off in some jungle…or valley…or desert somewhere in the…general vicinity of the, um, Himalayas? But that does cover…quite a bit of ground, and since His Grace is the mighty, moving force behind the team’s expedition, I just wondered if the duke might have a way, that is, some special means o-of getting in touch with my brother somehow?”
To her dismay, Felicity’s eyes suddenly welled with tears. “I’m afraid it’s a-a bit of a family emergency…”
# # #
Oh, bugger all. Muffled voices woke him, coming from somewhere below.
Frowning, Jason Hawthorne, the sixth Duke of Netherford, obstinately refused to open his eyes. What was the point? He always hated this moment. Waking up.
Back in Town…another useless day.
But the people mumbling downstairs wouldn’t shut up, and then he became aware of the snoring harlot nearby.
No, wait—two snoring harlots.
God. With half a mind to blow his head off on any given day, Jason finally decided he had nothing to lose by admitting that he was awake.
He opened his bloodshot eyes—and promptly found the ceiling fresco staring down at him, a lush, gaudy mockery. All the coy cupids and tawdry, romping demigods and amorous goddesses up there, still selling the lie that the fleshly life was one big, nonstop celebration.
To be sure, it all might start in gaiety and wine, but he was by now intensely aware of the truth: that the end of this road only led to despair.
Which was where he now resided.
Self-disgust rose in his throat. Surely it was grotesque of him to lack for nothing and yet to feel so alone. He wouldn’t have believed it, but despite his best efforts to the contrary, it was beginning to look like maybe money really couldn’t buy happiness, after all.
Who’d have bloody thought it, he mused in cutting sarcasm. Surely he could’ve learned at least that little lesson from his rich and miserable parents.
Having just returned from his ancestral pile in the country where they—or rather, the servants—had raised him, his parents were on his mind, though both had long since departed from this earth.
Still irked at the voices coming from below, he heaved himself up to a sitting position on the divan where he must have passed out, and noted that his private party with the cyprians had never made it to his bedchamber last night.
The drawing room was littered with empty bottles and articles of clothing after his little welcome-home celebration.
Squinting against the golden morning sunlight and wondering what ungodly hour it was, he spotted his latest playthings, soon to be discarded.
He supposed they’d have been horrified if they could have seen what they looked like right now, sprawled and snoring, their mouths hanging open.
The room spun a little, but thirst consumed him, so Jason forced himself up from the divan. As he stood, he noticed he was still wearing the same clothes from last night, though these were unfastened. Well, the girls knew their trade.
Whoever the hell they were.
He did not recall actually having sex with them, though. If memory served, he’d had them both on their knees last night, taking turns at pleasuring him with their filthy red mouths, and then he’d enjoyed the show of watching them pleasure each other.
He stepped over one prostrate, scantily clad form and then the other as he headed to the door to bellow for Woodcombe to bring him a pitcher of spring water, a glass of juice, and maybe a loaded pistol.
But on second thought, not knowing who the voices in the hall belonged to, perhaps a wee hint of discretion was in order.
On the way to the closed door of the drawing room, he glimpsed his own reflection in the pier glass on the wall and scoffed.
You look like hell, mate.
Indeed, he looked as debauched as he felt—tousled hair, eyes nearly as red as a demon’s, body stripped half-naked by his latest pair of whores. He buttoned the placket of his trousers and then gripped the handle of the door, opening it a crack.
Who the hell’s in my house at this hour?
Peering out discreetly, he looked down the staircase and saw three females standing in the entrance hall. A bony servant girl hung back behind the other two. A plump matron in a ghastly brown coat with a black feather on her hat stood protectively beside the third intruder.
This one—blond and slender—caught his attention.
His eyes narrowed with interest. Much too young and tasty to be clad all in black. Ah, pretty young widow? My favorite. Hullo…
She was angled slightly away from him so he couldn’t see her face, yet she seemed a bit familiar…
Jason both stared and listened harder, the sleep and drink and dissipation slowly clearing from his eyes. It was the musical lilt of her voice that suddenly flooded him with shocked recollection, and whatever dying ember was left of his soul suddenly leaped to life within him.
His stomach flip-flopped, and his heart began to pound.
Immediately, he pulled back into the drawing room, out of sight, his blood throbbing in his veins. A tremor ran through him.
What in the world is she doing here? he thought as titanic shame filled him that she should find him thus. She had never set foot in his house before!
It had been a fortnight since he had last spoken to her, at her great-aunt’s funeral. It was always difficult seeing her, but even more so under such sad circumstances. Felicity had lived with the dear old dragon lady ever since her mother’s death several years ago.
With her father dead, too, and her brother away on his expedition, Jason had stood as near to hand as he dared during the funeral, feeling awkward, saying little, but loath to leave her side, for he was well aware she had no one left now. Well, no one in England at the moment. No one she was close to. She did have an uncle of some consequence and two cousins, but they were more or less idiots.
Not that he was much better.
On that hard day, Jason had done his best to remain present for her, though in the background. And he’d tried not to stare, but he had been impressed with her grace in the midst of her grief. He had to admit the little freckled menace had grown up into quite a lady. On the other hand, God knew she’d had enough practice by now at the grim ritual of putting loved ones in the ground.
All the ton had been sad to hear of Lady Kirby’s passing, the old spitfire. She’d had a sharp tongue and mirthful naughty streak, with an eye for the young bucks. She often liked to prod them in the backside with her cane as they walked by, which was always rather startling. In short, most of the rakehells in the ton had quite loved the old girl.
Jason had been worried about Felicity ever since Her Ladyship’s passing, naturally. Yet for all his concern over what would become of her after her aunt’s death, at the funeral, he had remained—as always—afraid of venturing too close. Afraid of what it could lead to. He never knew what the hell to say to her. God, there was so much to say.
But he wasn’t allowed to say it. Wasn’t allowed to think it, or feel what he felt about that particular girl.
She was Pete’s little sister, for God’s sake.
Then it dawned on him that she wouldn’t have ventured here today into his den of iniquity unless something was very, very wrong. He leaned again toward the crack he had left in the doorway, and, listening for all he was worth, heard a phrase that chilled him to the marrow.
Jove’s beard, was she crying? Had something else happened on top of her aunt’s death while he’d been off attending to his business in the country? Bloody hell. I wasn’t here for her. He felt sick at the realization.
He had just got back into Town last night after dark, and had immediately sent for the requisite female companionship. He did not, as a rule, go more than a few days without having some pretty creature see to his needs, but it was also his strict rule not to poach on the locals back at Netherford Hall. So he had waited until he’d returned to London to have a couple of girls brought to him from the Satin Slipper.
Too bad he had to drink copious amounts of liquor to drown out the protests of his conscience and his heart over his dubious choice of bedmates.
All vestiges of sleep fell away immediately, however, at the thought that Felicity might need him. Jason strode back into the drawing room and went over to the ice bucket, in which the several bottles of wine had chilled last night.
The ice was melted now, and he reached into the porcelain-lined urn and cupped his hands full of water. He splashed it on his face and shoved his fingers through his dark hair, smashing it into any sort of order he could make of it.
He quickly rinsed his mouth, pulled on his wrinkled linen shirt, and hastily tucked it in. Then he glanced around until he found his waistcoat, cast across the pianoforte. He put it on, as well, even though it was clearly eveningwear: She would know he had fallen asleep in his clothes.
Damn. Normally, he would not risk making himself look like any more of a colossal jackass than Felicity Carvel already must think him, but that phrase--family emergency—clanged in his head like a fire company’s bells. And contrary to what she probably thought, he still felt more like a member of the Carvel family than he did his own. He had to find out what was wrong and see if he could help.
Fortunately, this time, the mirror gave him a slightly better report. Now he simply looked like a rakehell the morning after rather than a whore-mongering pervert.
He took a deep breath at the drawing room door and braced himself. With a quiver in his stomach, he shoved it open and walked out. To his relief, he quickly observed that she was not crying anymore. Thank God.
Alas, for his part, he had already started down the steps when he noticed that he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
He rolled his eyes in frustration with himself. Perfect.
Well, a grown man could do as he liked in his own home, could he not?
His secretary, Richardson, was still talking to Felicity when she must have heard his footsteps, for she turned, lifted her glorious sea-green eyes, and saw him coming.
As usual, with her.
Emergency or not, calamity or not, despair or not, Jason could not fight the tender, lopsided grin that formed on his lips at the sight of her.
No more than it seemed she could fight that particular, tremulous smile that he knew with his heart and his loins alike had always belonged only to him.
There was no other smile like it in the entire world.
It was daybreak and sunrise. Soft as rabbits’ fur. As warm and sweet and homey as a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night.
In short, it was torture.
And liar that he was, he refused, as always, to show how deeply that smile affected him.
“Felicity Joy,” he greeted her matter-of-factly.
“Your Grace.” Her cheeks turned pink as she dropped a slight curtsy.
“Don’t you dare stand on ceremony with me,” he warned as he joined them in the entrance hall. He propped his hands on his waist and pretended not to know she had been upset a moment ago, curious to hear what she had to say for herself, and rather determined to cheer her up, in any case. “What are you doing here, girl?”
Her virginal gaze skimmed over him with searing awareness, but she quirked a brow and pointed at his bare feet.
He shrugged. “I’m starting a new fashion.”
“So what’s afoot?” he jested.
She gave him a droll look at his pun. The maid behind her giggled, then coughed self-consciously.
Before answering his question, Felicity nodded at the older lady beside her. “Your Grace, you remember Mrs. Brown, my chaperone?”
“Ma’am.” Jason bowed to her.
The portly matron nodded in answer, but pursed her lips and eyed him with the sort of scathing review he was well accustomed to from young ladies’ chaperones. He offered the maid a brief, cordial smile, as well.
Felicity studied him with measured wariness. “I’ve been trying to find out for the past week, Jason, if there is any way to get a message to my brother,” she said, a flicker of annoyance passing behind her eyes. “Did you not get my letters asking as much?”
“Letters?” He turned to his secretary, instantly simulating fury. “Richardson, why was I not informed of this?”
Actually, his staff had politely murmured something last night about a pile of mail waiting for him on his desk, but after a week’s absence, that was to be expected for a man of his consequence.
Jason had been in no mood to deal with it upon walking in the door after two days on the road, penned up in his coach. He had figured he would simply go through each item in the morning.
But it seemed he and Felicity were suffering once again from their age-old case of bad timing.
Richardson stammered, well aware it was his job to take the blame from time to time for things that weren’t necessarily his fault. “My humblest apologies, Your Grace. I-I was waiting until you returned from the country to bring the letters to your attention.”
“Oh—” Felicity said abruptly. “I did not realize you were away.” She furrowed her brow, looking slightly chastened after her obvious annoyance at him.
“Yes, well, apparently we had a fire at Netherford Hall,” Jason explained. “A few of the peasant cottages and outbuildings burned down. But that is no excuse! Now, look here,” he scolded his man of affairs, with great effect. “Miss Carvel is one of my oldest and dearest friends—”
“I am?” she muttered under her breath.
“Not to mention the sister of the man leading the expedition I am sponsoring! When someone this important has a message for me, Richardson, I expect to be informed of it at once, do you understand?” he fairly bellowed, then turned to her. “Shall I sack him for you?”
“What? No, no! It’s all right,” she hastily assured both him and his sweating secretary. “All I wanted was to ask you if it’s possible to send a message to Peter, wherever he is, then I’ll be on my way. Please, there’s no need to go sacking anybody, I implore you.”
“Very well, if you’re sure.”
“Was anyone from the castle hurt?” she ventured, since, after all, she had grown up on the smaller estate adjoining his parklands.
“No, thankfully. A few sheep got their wool singed, is all, and several cottages will need to be rebuilt. Other than that, the people were mostly scared, and I felt it best for me to put in an appearance there. But I’m back now, and it’s all sorted. So, ah, what is the message you wanted to send to Pete? The news of your aunt’s passing, I presume?”
Her smoky gaze locked on to his uncertainly; he read her general wariness of him there, and it pained him. “Actually,” she said, “there’s a little more to it than that.”
But she made no move to explain, and Jason’s heart sank at her reluctance to share her worries with him. Of course, they were no longer as close as they had once been. He was not privy to her personal affairs anymore—and that, by his own choice.
He looked away with a judicious nod. So be it. “Well, I have good news for you,” he managed, glossing over her reticence. “It was supposed to be a surprise, but—under the circumstances—I think you’ll be happy to hear your brother is on his way home even as we speak.”
“He is?” she cried, drawing in her breath.
Jason smiled wryly, pleased by her delight. “Their ship left India three weeks ago. Hard to reach him right now since he’s at sea, but he’ll be back before the Season’s over.”
She lifted her fingers to her lips. “Oh, that is wonderful news! I am so relieved! Thank you.”
He nodded, slightly tongue-tied at this reminder of her unhesitating ability to love those she let into her heart.
It killed him to know he could’ve had that, once.
“Ahem, I’m sure when, er, your brother arrives, having family close will comfort you…in your loss,” he finished lamely, cringing within. God, everything he said was sounding so stupid in his own ears.
Yet most ladies considered him wickedly smooth.
“It’s not that,” Felicity confessed with a rueful smile. “Not the grieving, I mean. I’m feeling better, actually. It’s only been a fortnight, but a little time has helped, and after all, Aunt Kirby was very old. It was a shock but not a surprise, if that makes sense.”
He nodded encouragingly, then she considered and told him more.
“Things have grown a bit complicated, is all, and I expect they’ll soon get even more so.” She shrugged. “I could really use my big brother’s guidance on certain matters. You know how he is—always ready to take charge. I fear I’m a little out of my depth ever since we had the reading of the will last week.”
“Oh?” So that was it. “Is there some problem sorting out Her Ladyship’s affairs? Because if there’s anything I can do… Well, I take it you have to find a new place to live now, for starters?”
Jason knew that, with her parents dead and her brother off first at university and then at the war, Felicity had gone to live with her great-aunt in Mayfair, along with the widowed Mrs. Brown. Both had served as companions and caretakers to the feisty old dragon, kept her amused, and helped look after her.
But Felicity was shaking her head at his question. “No, everything seems to be in order with the will, nor do I have to move out, for Her Ladyship left me her house. That’s just it, Jason.” She hesitated. “Aunt Kirby left me everything.”
“Everything?” he echoed in surprise.
“Nearly.” Felicity glanced at her chaperone. “Mrs. Brown got a portion of the Kirby fortune, too, since they were friends forever, but the lion’s share went to me.”
He furrowed his brow and stared at her. “Felicity, wasn’t your aunt once married to some fabulously wealthy nabob?”
“Yes, Jason. Yes, she was!” She nodded emphatically. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you!”
“Ha!” As understanding flooded in, Jason suddenly laughed aloud. “Felicity, you’re rich!”
“Very,” she admitted with a wide-eyed nod.
He clapped her roguishly on the shoulder, and Mrs. Brown’s disapproving scowl deepened. “Well done, Felicity Joy.”
“No!” she exclaimed. “It’s not well done at all! This is a disaster!”
“What are you talking about?” he teased. “You just stumbled into a huge inheritance—”
“Yes!” she burst out. “And it’s ruining my life!”