( Millworth Manor, Book 5)
by Victoria Alexander
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Swim naked in the moonlight
Play in a high stakes card game
Ride an elephant
Be painted sans clothing.
Take a lover…
Lucy Merryweather has inherited a fortune—and her great-aunt’s list of unfulfilled wishes. What better way to honor her memory than by accomplishing as many of them as possible? And with Lucy’s family an ocean away in New York, nothing stands in her way—if one ignores the private investigator hired to spy on her.
Yet Cameron Effington is infuriatingly difficult to ignore…
As a reporter, Cameron is always looking for a good story. An American heiress running rampant between Millworth Manor and Mayfair is the perfect subject. Not to mention captivating. And extremely kissable. And if Lucy believes he’s a detective? Well, the truth should never get in the way of a good story—or hinder delicious, impetuous passion…
“I am well aware that I am under no obligation to Great-aunt Lucinda, at least not legally, but I feel a, well, a moral obligation if you will. I was quite moved by the letter she left for me and by her regrets, but there was nothing I could do about it when you and I had our lives planned out for us. Now, everything has changed.” She shook her head. “I do not want to reach the end of my life and have a list of those things I wanted to do but failed to so much as try. The very idea terrifies me. I don’t want regrets of my own.” She met his gaze directly. “And if I don’t do this for her—for me— I know I will.”
“Perhaps . . .” He settled back in his chair and chose his words carefully. A deceptively casual note sounded in his voice. “You should do those things you’ve always wanted rather than those someone else wished to do.”
“Excellent, Jackson.” She fixed him with a firm look. “And just what do you suggest those might be?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“Unfortunately, neither do I.” She crossed her arms over her chest and drew her brows together. “Every bit of my life has been planned and expected up until now. I’ve never veered from the course set out for me. Why, I never even questioned whether you and I should marry. At least not aloud.”
“Nor did I,” Jackson said under his breath.
“But as I am no longer expected to marry you, I’m not sure what I want to do.”
“Surely you wish to marry someone someday?”
“Oh, probably someday, but at the moment . . .” She shook her head. “I feel very much like a bird who has at long last been released from its cage.”
“Thank you,” he said wryly.
“Come now, you know what I mean.” She waved off his comment. “Now that I am free, I have no idea what I want to do with my freedom. Until I determine that, it seems the best course is to do those things my great-aunt never had the opportunity to do.”
“I’m not sure that is indeed the best course. Still . . .” He studied her for a moment. “You haven’t told me what these regrets of your aunt’s are. I’m assuming the worst, you know. That they are all improper or scandalous or dangerous.” “Not all of them.” She had no intention of telling him everything on Lucinda’s long list, but she could tell him one or two items. “Some of them are a little silly and some are really rather sweet. For one thing, she always wanted to have a dog but was never able to have one as dogs made Great-uncle Charles sneeze. There are quite a few that are as innocent as that.”
His eyes narrowed. “But not all of them?”
“Well, some are a bit more daring.” She cast him an innocent smile. “But not substantially so.”
“I don’t believe you for a moment.” He shook his head. “I don’t think this is the least bit advisable, Lucy.”
“Why not? You’re going off to do exactly what you want. Aside from the notion of following in your father’s adventurous footsteps, your plans are even less definitive than mine. Why shouldn’t I do what I want?”
“For one thing, you’re female,” he said in a distinctly patronizing manner. She did so hate it when he was patronizing. It was the banker in him, no doubt. And even though he was now forgoing his life as a banker in favor of something far more exciting, it was obviously easier to take the man out of the bank than the bank out of the man. “For another, you have no practical experience at being on your own. Although I could hire someone to make certain of your safety, I suppose. A bodyguard or some sort of private investigator—”
“You most certainly will not! I do not need a nursemaid or a watchdog.”
“I don’t like leaving you here alone with no one to watch over you.”
She raised a brow. “Goodness, Jackson, I had no idea you had such a poor opinion of my abilities and intelligence.”
“I didn’t mean that quite the way it sounded.” Jackson shook his head. “You’ve simply taken me by surprise. I’ve no doubt you’re probably extremely capable underneath all that”—his eyes narrowed—“pleasantry.”
“I am unfailingly pleasant.”
“Yes, I know.” He studied her for a long moment. “You’re determined, aren’t you?”
“Well, I suppose you’re right.” He heaved a resigned sigh.
“There’s no reason why you can’t do what you wish. And I suspect there’s nothing I can do to stop you.”
She cast him her sweetest smile.
“Therefore, I have no objection—”
“Oh, lucky, lucky me.”
He ignored her. “However, I do have conditions.”
“Conditions?” She scoffed. “I thought we had established that it’s no longer your right to have any say whatsoever about what I may or may not do. I am nearly twenty-four years old, you know.”
“I have the right of a good friend, as someone who cares about you. But if you would prefer not to agree to my conditions”—he shrugged—“I might feel compelled to write to your parents, or better yet, your brothers, and tell them of my concerns.” It was his turn to smile pleasantly.
Lucy narrowed her gaze. She had no doubt he would do exactly that if she didn’t give in to his demands. “Very well. What are your conditions?”
“One, that you restrict your pursuit of these adventures of your great-aunt’s to England and reside either here at Millworth or at Channing House in London.” He held up his hand to forestall her objection. “My parents and aunt and uncle will all be traveling, so you would be as independent as you plan. Of course, the servants will be here.”
Lucy bit back a satisfied smile. She was well aware that very nearly everyone in his family would be heading toward different parts of the world in the coming days. She was only telling Jackson all this in the first place because she intended to ask if she could stay on in his family’s residences while they were away. She had already decided to pursue her quests in England for several reasons. First and foremost, she was here, delightfully far from home and everyone she knew. Besides, her great-aunt had always wanted to travel to England as her mother, Lucy’s great-grandmother, was born here. Lucy’s visit to England meant she could already cross one regret off the list. Beyond that, as this would be Lucy’s first attempt at adventure of any kind, it did seem it might be easier to have grand adventures if she fully understood the language. While she had studied French and Italian, languages simply eluded her and she could do little more than ask for directions to the library or the train station. She nodded. “I can agree to that.”
“And you will periodically call on my cousin, Lady Dunwell, so that someone will be assured of your well-being.”
“Your cousin Beryl?”
Jackson nodded. “As everyone else will be out of the country, Beryl is an excellent choice. Her husband, Lionel, is expected to be prime minister one day. I doubt that I could leave you in better hands.”
Apparently Jackson was not aware that, while Lady Dunwell and her husband were most respectable at the moment, the gossip about their past was extremely interesting and not the least bit proper. Lucy couldn’t think of a more perfect watchdog. She forced a resigned note to her voice. “Very well.”
“And.” His tone hardened. “You will allow me to hire a companion for you.”
“I don’t need a companion.”
“And I have been lax in my correspondence.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You do realize there is a word for what you’re doing?”
“I daresay there are any number of words for what I’m doing.” The smug note in his voice matched the satisfied look in his eyes.
“Blackmail and extortion immediately come to mind.” He cast her a completely unrepentant grin. She could not recall ever wanting to smack that grin off his face before.
“All right.” She sighed. “A companion it is then.” Still, she could always discharge any companion Jackson found once he was out of the country.
Jackson paused. “You do realize once your parents find out—”
“They shall no doubt send someone to bodily haul me home.” It was awkward to sail off into the unknown when your family refused to accept that you were an adult. She wasn’t entirely sure how she was going to deal with that situation should—when it occurred. She’d always been a perfect daughter. She’d never done anything unexpected or improper in her life. It was a pity, really. If she’d had more experience with impropriety she’d probably know how to handle the repercussions of doing the unexpected. “Yes, I do realize that, which means I probably don’t have a great deal of time to accomplish what I want.”
“You will write to them?”
“I already have.” She forced a note of indignation to her voice. “I would never want to worry them. Besides, your mother wrote to them as well.” Unfortunately, as Mrs. Channing’s letter had been placed on a hallway table to be posted, Lucy might possibly have dropped it into the fire. Accidentally, of course.
“And you did tell them that you are no longer accompanied by my mother.”
“Goodness, Jackson.” She drew her brows together. “One would think you didn’t trust me.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Have I ever in my entire life lied to you?”
“Not that I know of.”
“And do you consider me to be a liar? Someone who prevaricates? Who hides the truth?” She pinned him with a firm look. “Well?”
“Of course not.” Jackson shook his head. “I am sorry. It’s . . . well . . .” He ran his hand through his hair in an endearingly familiar manner. For a moment she could see the future they had both expected. It would have been quite pleasant and it was a tiny bit sad to see it vanish. But not marrying Jackson would never be one of her regrets. “It’s been a difficult few days.”
“Not to mention the months preceding it.” She again resisted the urge to bring up Lady Theodosia.
“Still, you’re right.” He shrugged apologetically. “I have no reason not to trust you.”
“Thank you, Jackson.” She beamed at him. Perhaps there was something to be said for having a spotless reputation after all. And it wasn’t a complete lie. She had written, she simply might not have mentioned that Jackson’s mother had decided to travel the world with her estranged husband in the hopes of rekindling what they once had. It was terribly romantic. And extremely convenient.
Nonetheless, even though Lucy had assured Jackson’s mother she would write to her family, as indeed she had, Lucy had no doubt that at some point Elizabeth Channing would again write to her dear friend Pauline Merryweather. Said letter would surely mention Elizabeth’s travels with her husband and that Lucy had stayed in England. At which point Pauline would realize she wasn’t entirely certain exactly where her only daughter was or what she was doing, and there would be hell to pay. As frustrating as the slow speed of mail and transport across the Atlantic was, at the moment, Lucy was grateful. By her calculations, she had a minimum of a month to do what she wanted to do. If she was lucky, she would have far more.
She was under no illusions that she could do everything on her great-aunt’s list, but it did seem to her that the worth was as much in the effort as the success. After that, Lucy had no idea what she would do, but her future certainly didn’t need to be decided here and now. She had time and money and freedom.
“You are absolutely certain you want to do this?” Jackson asked.
“Aside from not marrying you”—Lucy grinned—“I have never been more certain of anything in my life.”
“Again, thank you.”
She laughed. She would always treasure Jackson, but they were choosing their own roads to follow. She hadn’t the slightest doubt that one day he would walk his with Lady Theodosia by his side. Precisely as it should be.
Lucy’s own road was a bit less clear. Which should have concerned her but didn’t. It was as exciting as it was daunting. Besides, when fate offered you a hand, you would be a fool not to take it. Adventure was where one found it, after all, and opportunities were not to be squandered.
What Jackson didn’t know, what Lucy had never revealed to anyone, was that her great-aunt wasn’t the only young girl to make a list of those silly or improper things she wished to do in her life.
Lucinda Wilhelmina Merryweather had long had a secret list of adventures of her own.
New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered fiction was much more fun than real life. She turned to writing full time and has never looked back. Victoria grew up traveling the country as an Air Force brat and is now settled in a very old house in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two allegedly grown children and two bearded collies. She firmly believes housework is a four-letter word, there are no calories in anything eaten standing up, procrastination is an art form, and it’s never too soon to panic.