When they first met Lord Jeremy William Radcliffe, Charlie and her twin sister,
Elizabeth, were escaping from their uncle - taking turns acting the young gentleman
to avoid detection. But Charlie couldn't help falling head over heels - and out
of the window - for the handsome lord. Of course, that was only the beginning:
Lord Radcliffe insisted on showing "him" and her lovely sister safely
But how could he do that? With every touch, Radcliffe seemed unknowingly to
incite indecent desires in Charlie, and his fraternal intent was certain to land
her in a fine mess. Though it was a great game to play a boy, there was more fun
in being female. And after one brush of his fiery lips when her guise was gone,
Charlie swore to be nothing but his woman forevermore.
Lord Radcliffe drew his horse to a halt and stared at the spectacle
being played out before him. A young lad in the clothes of the gentry was standing
under the front window of the inn, staring up the skirts of a girl hanging out
of a second floor window. The lad seemed to be speaking to the lass as he tried
to grab at her feet, but Radcliffe was too far away to hear what was being said.
Deciding that they were probably trying to run out on their bill, he started
to urge his horse on to the stables, not really caring enough to get involved.
But just then, the girl pushed herself off the ledge to dangle from her arms.
Radcliffe slowed and stopped again as the boy caught the girl's ankles to keep
her from slamming into the building, then stepped under her to offer his aid the
rest of the way down.
Not able to see what she was doing, she stepped on the lad's wig with one foot,
setting it askew. She nearly lost her grip and tumbled backward to the ground
when the obviously irate youth jerked her foot from his head to his shoulder,
directing the other foot with about as much care.
Radcliffe chuckled under his breath when the woman suddenly dropped to sit
on the boy's shoulders. Her skirts had fallen over the lad's head as she did,
blinding him, and the shift in position unbalanced him so that he stumbled backward,
then to the side as he fought to push the skirt out of his view. At this point,
the woman clutched at his hair for balance, forgetting it was a wig. It lifted
from his head with her hands, and her upper body swung backward. The lad, already
off balance, tumbled backward with her. They both hit the ground with soft thuds,
hidden briefly in the shadows of the Inn.
"Damn," Charlie muttered, staring up at the treetops above them until
a pitiful moan from Beth stirred the cool night air. Sitting up, Charlie surveyed
the prone girl with a worried frown. "Are you all right?"
Elizabeth sighed at the question. Her moan had been one of chagrin, but the
concerned face suddenly leaning over her own told her that it had been misconstrued.
"Fine," she said dryly as she sat up to brush grass and dirt off
of her dress.
Charlie started to help, but Beth waved the attempt away.
"Your wig is gone," she pointed out.
Sitting back, Charlie searched the shadows for the errant wig, then slapped
it irritably against one leg to remove the grass clinging to it before slamming
it back in place. "Is it straight?"
Beth glanced up long enough to nod, then struggled to her feet.
"Well. That wasn't so bad," Charlie murmured cheerfully, standing
and moving to snatch up the bags they had thrown out the window before descending
Beth turned sharply, mouth open to give her opinion of the debacle, but caught
the twinkle of laughter in the coal black eyes that mirrored her own and relaxed,
grinning back. "A ride in the park," she agreed dryly.
Laughing softly, Charlie handed her a bag, took the other one, and led the
way to the stables.
"Is he unconscious?" Beth murmured as they entered the tottering
old building and spied the stable lad slumped in a corner against a bale of hay.
The bottle they had given him was still clasped to his chest.
"Seems to be. You did put the sleeping powder in there, did you not?"
Beth nodded silently, but held her breath as her twin carefully approached,
then lifted the boy's head and let it drop back to his chest. He didn't even stir.
Shrugging, Charlie stepped back. "Out like a drunken sot."
Her breath rushing out in relief, Beth moved quickly along the stalls until
she found the one where her mount had been settled for the night. Murmuring soothingly,
she stepped inside to set about quickly saddling him while Charlie did the same
for the mount in the next stall.
Beth was aware at once when her twin suddenly stiffened several moments later.
Going still herself, she glanced up and about, her heart nearly freezing in her
chest at the sight of a figure in the shadows by the door. Charlie tossed her
a warning look, then affected the accent of the servant class and asked, "Some'ing
I can do fer ye, m'lord?"
One eyebrow rising at the boy's accent, Radcliffe smiled slightly. "It
is very bad manners to sneak out without paying one's bill. And horse stealing
is a crime."
Charlie stiffened, eyes shooting to Beth's face. The girl was as pale as the
moon, her expression panicked as their gazes met.
Radcliffe noted the silent exchange and wished for better lighting in the stables.
He'd bet a lot of money that the girl was a beauty. His eyes were straining to
make out her features in the darkness when the lad spoke up again.
"We are not stealing. The horses are ours."
The fake accent was gone, he noted absently, glancing at the boy. Obviously
gentry as he had suspected. "And your bill?"
"Taken care of."
Radcliffe raised one doubting eyebrow. "Then why not leave by the door
like most people?" he asked, noting that the couple exchanged glances again
Charlie was trying to decide just what to tell the snoopy hitch in their plans
when Beth suddenly moved out of the stall and into the stream of moonlight coming
through the stable doors.
Noting the look of appreciation that immediately entered the stranger's eyes,
Charlie peered at the girl now too, curious to know what he found so attractive.
Beth was pretty enough. Straight nose, good teeth. Her eyes were her best feature,
large and blue black, while her hair was an unremarkable brown. All of which described,
Charlie as well. Not surprising since they were twins. But, it was doubtful that
the man had noted that fact yet.
"We were forced to leave through the windows to escape my uncle."
Radcliffe arched an eyebrow. "Why would you need to escape your uncle?"
Noting yet another exchange of glances between the young couple, Radcliffe
smiled wryly. "Or need I ask?"
"I beg your pardon?" the girl murmured uncertainly.
"You need not explain. 'Tis obvious you are about to head for Gretna Green."
Charlie could have kicked Beth for her look of astonishment. If the saying
were true that everyone loved a lover, they might have had a better chance of
the man not interfering in their escape plans had he thought they were eloping.
Instead of leaving him with that mistaken impression however, Beth gestured toward
"Charlie is my twin-"
"Charles," the lad corrected, stepping forward to join her in the
Beth blinked, then nodded slowly. "Aye. Charles is my twin brother.
Radcliffe's eyebrows shot up as he looked the boy over. Except for the white
wig, the two were identical. Well, of course there were the obvious physical differences.
Where the girl's chest was ample, the boy's was not. After his initial surprise
had past, Radcliffe's eyes narrowed with some suspicion. "Why would the two
of you need to flee your Uncle in the dead of night?"
"Our parent's died four years ago," the lad answered this time. "Our
Uncle took over our care. He has done his best to run the family estates into
the ground, and now wishes to replenish his coffers by selling Beth off into marriage.
To Lord Carland."
Radcliffe stiffened at that name, shock entering his eyes. Carland was a brutal
bastard. He had been through three wives already. The first had died in child
birth. It was said a beating had sent her into that labor and may have had something
to do with her death as well. The second wife had killed herself. The third had
plunged to her death down the stairs of the country estate. There was much speculation
as to whether she had had some assistance from her husband in that plunge. Whatever
the case, not one of his wives had lasted a year, and no one would even consider
allowing their daughter to marry the bastard now. But from the boy's description,
their Uncle was more concerned with his coffers than his kin. If he was telling
"What are your names?" he asked abruptly.
There was a pause as the two exchanged glances again.
"Charles and Elizabeth Westerly."
Radcliffe searched his memory briefly, then nodded as he found the information
he sought. Nora and Robert Westerly. Happy couple. Had had twins, though he had
thought they were girls. Spent most of their time on their country estate. Not
fussy about town life. Died four years ago in a carriage accident. Robert's brother
Henry Westerly took over the care of the twins and the running of the estates.
There had been some rumors of late that he was running through the money quickly
in gambling, and from what the boy had just said, he had, and intended on making
it up by selling his niece to her death.
Radcliffe wasn't at all surprised to hear that Carland was willing to pay for
a bride. The man needed an heir, else his estate would be left to some distant
nephew or something. His gaze slid over the girl and he sighed. She was a delicate
little thing. Other than her over-endowed chest, she was thin to the point of
frailty every where else. He did not think she would last a month with Carland.
"Where are you going?" he asked abruptly, gesturing impatiently when
the boy stiffened at the question, suspicion tightening his mouth. "I am
not going to tell on you. I would not wish to see your lovely sister in Carland's
hands either. She would be dead in a week."
There was no doubting his sincerity. There was loathing in the man's eyes even
as he said Carland's name. Still, Charlie hesitated to tell the truth, that they
were going to their cousin Ralphy, a relative on their mother's side that Uncle
Henry did not know existed. Lies were the only alternative. Oddly enough, the
plan that came tripping out, wasn't half bad.
Radcliffe's eyebrows rose yet again. "Relatives there?"
"It takes money to live in London."
Charlie grinned. "Uncle Henry went through our father's family fortune,
but our mother turned her fortune into jewels years ago. She left them to us in
"And your Uncle did not try to cash them in or-?"
"He would have if he could have found them," the lad interrupted
smugly. "But he couldn't. Mother and father hid them years ago, in case of
an emergency. Other than them, only Elizabeth and I knew where they were and we
conveniently forgot to mention that they had told us."
Radcliffe's mouth quirked at that, then he sobered. "He will find you
"Eventually," Charlie agreed. "But by then Beth will be married
off to someone in the ton."
"I shall be living well off of investments made once I have sold my share
of the jewels," Charlie lied idly.
"You intend on giving your sister a season by selling some of the jewels?"
The boy nodded.
Radcliffe frowned. "If you give her a season, your Uncle shall hear about
it and know where to find you."
"As I said, eventually, but he will not look in London first. He shall
head back to the family estates, then check with relatives on my father's side."
"Why would he not look in London first?"
"Because that is where he was taking us. He would hardly think we had
run off in the middle of the night to beat him there."
Radcliffe nodded at the sense in those words. Even Beth looked impressed with
the reasoning and Charlie grimaced at her slightly. She was suppose to already
know of this plan. If she was not careful, Radcliffe would see it for the lie
"What of Carland?"
Charlie glanced toward the man at that. "Carland does not go to London.
Most of the ton refuses him admittance. My Uncle was taking us to London to purchase
a trousseau for Beth, then we were to continue on to Carland's estates."
It was a sound plan for the most part, Radcliffe decided. What the boy lacked
in brawn, he more than made up for in brains it seemed. However, there were weak
points in every plan and this one was no exception. For instance, if they planned
on living off of a treasure of jewels, they obviously had them with them. Probably
in the bags, he decided, remembering the way they had carried them; one each,
two handed, as if they were heavy. All it took was a highway robbery to turn them
into paupers at their Uncle's mercy again, and the foolish boy was unarmed. Aside
from that, there were all sorts of complications that could arise in London. Theft,
of course, or a jeweler could cheat them if they went to the wrong one. And that
was only the start of it.
Radcliffe tried to shrug his growing concern for the pair away, but it would
not budge. He would have to help them he supposed, but couldn't for the life of
him figure out why he felt the compulsion. His gaze rested on the girl briefly,
but he mentally shook his head. No, it was not that he was enamored especially
of the girl. Oddly enough, he suspected he was going to do it because of the boy.
There was a certain stiffness to the lad that spoke of fear, pride and courage
all mixed in together as he stood protectively by his sister. He was taking a
lot on himself to rescue her, trying very hard to be a man, though Radcliffe doubted
that the pair was more than 15 or 16.
"You had best finish saddling up. Time is passing. You will wish to be
far and away from here come the morning." With that, the man turned and left
"Do you think he will tell?" Beth asked anxiously as they listened
to his fading footsteps.
Shrugging, Charlie walked back into the stall to finish saddling the mount.
"It does not matter. It might be good if he does, since the plan I gave him
was a lie. But mount up quickly anyway. If he wakes everyone up, I do not wish
to be here."
Nodding, Beth hurried back to her mount, then giggled nervously. "Where
did you come up with those lies?"
"They were not all lies," Charlie pointed out grimly and Beth's smile
"No. The part about Uncle Henry losing all and trying to get it back through
marriage was true enough. But I am not to marry Carland. I am to marry Seguin.
"He would hardly be sympathetic to the fact that you are being married
off to a fat old, goat," Charlie pointed out dryly. "It happens every
day. Carland is another kettle of fish all together."
"Aye. Besides, it was not really much of a lie, was it? After all, Uncle
Henry was selling you in marriage to Carland," Beth murmured quietly, her
gaze moving over her twin sister. She still found it a little startling to see
her in men's clothes. Especially with her breasts bound so tight they seemed nonexistent.
She wondered suddenly if it hurt Charlie to have them all squashed up like that.
It had been Charlie's idea to dress as a man. A brother and sister traveling
alone would not be noticed. Twin sisters traveling alone would have. She supposed
they could have traveled as two boys, but Charlie had not mentioned the suggestion,
and truth to tell, Beth had not even thought of it until now. Besides, twin brothers
might have been just as memorable as twin sisters. Nay, she decided. 'Twas better
this way. She as herself, and Charlie masquerading as her brother.
It was just the adventurous sort of thing Charlie liked to do. She was the
braver, more wild one of the two. Beth wasn't very adventurous at all. She was
the sedate one. Well behaved, obedient, well mannered, doing what was expected.
Until she found out about Seguin. But she probably would have obediently married
the great cow if not for Charlie. Charlie simply couldn't marry Cartland. As the
stranger had said, she'd be dead in a month, or in gaol for killing him in self-defense.
Whatever the case, Charlie had decided to run away to cousin Ralph to seek protection.
And where Charlie went, Beth followed. They were twins after all. They'd never
been separated in all their twenty years as far as Beth could remember.
Beth glanced up at her sister's question and nodded as she hooked the bag with
her half of their mother's jewels onto the saddle.
"Good. Let us go." Charlie led her horse out of his stall and Beth
followed suit, trailing her out of the stable. The pair walked their horses silently
around the inn. Beth was staring at the darkened windows, wondering where the
stranger had gone when Charlie suddenly slowed and cursed. Glancing forward, she
noted the man standing by a horse on the lane in front of the inn. "What
do you think he is doing?"
Charlie was silent for a moment, then sighed. "I suppose we shall have
to ask to find out."
Radcliffe smiled to himself as the pair approached. The girl wasn't bothering
to hide her anxiety and confusion about his presence. The boy was hiding both
staunchly behind a stiff exterior.
"I have decided to travel with you to London," he announced when
they stopped before him, then nearly laughed at their blank expressions. They
obviously hadn't thought to be so lucky. Deciding to give them a moment to recapture
their thoughts so that they could then thank him properly, he continued, "It
is a three day journey from here to London. The way is littered with highwaymen
and perils of every nature. Since I am headed that way anyway, I thought to avail
you of my protection."
Charlie glanced at Beth's nonplused expression, her own face stiff with fury.
Why the Devil hadn't she considered that the oaf might decide to join them? Why
did he even want to? The jolthead was going to ruin everything. She did not for
one moment think that he really wanted to help. So, what was he after, she wondered
and the answer came to her almost immediately. It wasn't that hard to figure out
really. She should not have mentioned the jewels. He must realize that they carried
them with them and most like intended on robbing them somewhere down the road.
Straightening her shoulders, she glared at him coldly and announced, "Your
offer is kind, I am sure, but I am quite capable of protecting my sister."
Radcliffe frowned at the boy's reaction, then realized that he had pinched
his male pride. The pride of young men was a most fragile thing and while Radcliffe
normally would have done his most to protect such tender feelings, now was not
the time for it. Not when the boy's pride might very well see he and his sister
dead. "You are not even carrying a weapon, lad," he pointed out sternly.
"If I had been a thief, I could have killed you both and taken your jewels
in the stables."
Charlie blinked, wondering if the man had read her thoughts as regarding his
motives, then shrugged such worries aside. She had more important concerns. Such
as finding some way to refuse his offer and not raise his suspicions at the same
time. "Who are you?"
Radcliffe blinked. "What?"
"Your name, Sirrah?"
He stiffened at the insulting address, then arched one eyebrow rather superciliously
and reached into his pocket to withdraw a small card which he presented to Charlie.
Stepping forward, she took the card and frowned as she read the name out loud.
"Lord Jeremy William Richards. The Earl of Radcliffe."
He gave an ironic little bow, then relaxed as he saw the recognition on their
faces and the way the brother and sister exchanged glances again. "You know
"You knew our father," Charlie countered.
"I never met him," Radcliffe corrected. "But we did correspond
on occasion. We were partners in several ventures."
Charlie nodded solemnly and did not correct his polite phrasing. Partners was
a bit of an ambitious word to use for the investors who threw in with Radcliffe.
The man was a genius according to what her father had always told her. He had
the Midas touch. Any investment he made paid back in at least triplicate. Everyone
knew this and everyone wished to invest with him, but he was a choosy fellow.
Very few people were invited to invest with him and if you were not invited, you
did not invest. As for it being a partnership, there really was none. The investors
often had no idea what they invested in and fewer still really cared so long as
it paid off. Radcliffe did all the thinking in these investments, those investors
he invited along, simply rode on the coat tails of his genius.
She turned the card over in her hand thoughtfully. Lord Radcliffe would hardly
need the jewels they carried with them. While they were a small fortune, they
were nothing compared to the wealth he enjoyed. "Why would you trouble yourself
to help us?"
Radcliffe raised an eyebrow at the blunt question. "As I said before,
you are not even carrying a weapon, lad. But, if I am right, you are carrying
your mother's jewels." He grinned when the boy stiffened grimly. "As
I thought. One highwayman and the two of you are paupers at your Uncle's mercy."
Noting the wince that truth brought to the lad, Radcliffe softened. "I
am headed that way anyway. I see no harm in offering my company as a deterrent
Charlie hesitated a moment, then grabbed Beth's hand and urged her a safe distance
away, dragging their horses behind them.
"What are we going to do?" Beth hissed as soon as Charlie stopped
and faced her.
"We go with him."
"He is right, Beth. We could be robbed on the road. I did not think of
taking a pistol." Sighing, she shrugged. "He is protection. It is one
thing to go to Ralphy with our inheritance. It is quite another to show up penniless."
"But he is heading the wrong way," Beth pointed out after a hesitation.
"I know." Charlie thought for a moment, then grinned suddenly. "That
might be to our advantage though. As I pointed out earlier, Uncle will hardly
look to London, or even in that direction for us." A soft laugh slipped from
her lips. "We shall go that way with him, then when he stops to rest, I shall
steal his pistol and we will head for Ralphy's."
Beth looked uncertain. "But Charlie, he is offering to help. I can not
like the idea of stealing his pistol as repayment. He-"
"I shall leave one of mother's bracelets. That should pay for the pistol
three times over." Her gaze slid back to the man in question. "He must
have been on the road most of the day and this evening. He shall probably stop
at the next inn, or the one after. That will still give us most of the night to
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