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THE COUNTERFEIT COACHMAN
by Elisabeth Fairchild
NOW AVAILABLE FOR eBOOK READERS! BUY IT NOW
ISBN # 0-451 18155-7
A Duke, disguised as a coachman for the Queen's mail, finds unexpected romance on a post-coach bound for Brighton. His disguise is perhaps too complete. The Duke must discover a way out of a web of lies when he falls in love with one of his passengers.
Affaire de Coeur 1995 Reader-Writer poll as "Best Regency"
What the critics say:
"A bright and shining talent, Ms. Fairchild charms us with clever and believable plotting and an appealing pair of lovers."
- Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES
"Richly textured and sweetly sensual, THE COUNTERFEIT COACHMAN is a treat for Regency lovers." - Mary Jo Putney
A solemn fellow, a red and blue clad coachman for the Queen's Royal Mail-- in frock coat and low crowned, broad brimmed hat, looked back at Lord Brampton Beauford when he peered into the mirror. It was most disconcerting. The fifth Duke of Heste and master of Thorne, did not recognize himself.
Was it clothes made the man, he wondered, that a nobleman might so easily lose all trace of his station? He sighed. The coachman sighed along with him. He had meant to shed grief along with his more accustomed clothing. But, grief remained. Beau recognized the depth of it in the counterfeit coachman's shadowed eyes, drawn lips, and pensive regard. No costume could disguise his heartache.
The gloves were not right. Too new. The hat was not right either. Or, was it perhaps, his head? Beauford removed the weather worn beaver and ruffled the fair, pomaded curls that his barber took such pains to coax into place. There, that was better. Francois would run shrieking for his comb, but Beau felt more adequately prepared for this brief escape from reality.
"Do I look the part?" he asked his valet, Gates.
"Like a regular knight of the whip. Don't you agree, sir?" Gates, stepped back, that Charley Tyrrwhit might see.
The duke's dapper friend stared at the counterfeit coachman in the mirror with something less than admiration firing his gaze. Beau found the look refreshing. There were too many frivolous, fawning admirers fighting for his favor since he had assumed his new title. Needle-sharp wit and unabashed sarcasm was what he had been in the way of needing. Charley always provided ample supply.
True to form, Tyrrwhit touched two fingers to his brow in ironic salute. "You are kitted out, from head to toe, in unremarkable and unbecoming mediocrity."
Beauford took the verbal jab with unruffled composure. Mediocrity was exactly the effect he had set out to achieve. There was an undemanding levelness to mediocrity, a mind-numbing narrowness. Such a state, was inordinately soothing to a man who had, of late, known nothing but extremes.
"You will not abandon this mad scheme?" Charley enquired.
"A-A-Absolutely not!" Beau stammered. "I a-am fed up with always being depended upon to do what is quiet and respectable, pr-proper and pr-predicatable. Life is too brief."
Charlie nodded. As close to Beau as any family, he had to understand. Two days past had been the anniversary of the late Duke's death, and the rattling, great house called Thorne yet echoed with emptiness. The ghost of stale tobacco and a pomade no longer in use, still haunted the place. The former duke's hunting trophies, disembodied heads; fox, stag, boar and wildcat, room after room of them, fangs bared, beady eyes staring down at one, could not fail to remind the new duke of his father's death, which the former duke had gone hunting too, in goading a green horse into a flat out run over heavy ground, after a fox.
Beau felt that the footsteps he had to follow, the boots he had to fill, fit him no better than the hat that perched upon his head. He was not the neck or nothing rider, the brash, outspoken politician his father had been. His stammered eloquence would never hold the House of Lords spellbound. What kind of Duke would he make? The concept overwhelmed him. And yet, today he need not worry over such a question. Today, he was nothing but a coachman, his greatest concern getting the Queen's Mail to Brighton on time. Beau smiled, his lips quirked upward in the extraordinarily attractive smile, that his sisters claimed, never failed to turn heads. The coachman smiled back at him.
"Shall I enquire after the readiness of your vehicle, Mr. Tyrrwhit?"
When Charley nodded, Gates left them. Smoothing an imaginary wrinkle from the eye-catching yellow and blue kerseymere waistcoat that marked him as a member of the Whip club, Charley said, "I still can't understand why you refuse to wear Club colors. Folk along the post road are accustomed to seeing the fellows doing the London to Brighton run."
Beauford's smile faded. Despair dragged down his spirits. By what right did he stand here quibbling over hat and coat? What did it matter? They were all worm fodder in the end. As the new Duke of Heste, he should be seeing to the disposition of his properties and the well-being of his servants, not play-acting coachman. And yet, he clung to the idea of carrying off this temporary escape, as tightly as his father had clung to his hand as he lay dying.
"Spots and stripes seem a trifle much, a-a-after the sobriety of so many m-months in black. I should feel frivolous in the very rigging that a-a-always made father blanch."
Charley glared at the hat on Beau's head. "Well, the old man would sit up in his coffin were he to see what's taken its place."
Beau laughed. No one but Charley would risk such a remark.
"Your managing baggage of a sister, is at the bottom of this mad masquerade, isn't she?"
Beau feigned ignorance. "Beatrix?"
"Yes, I hear the interfering minx meant to present one of her school chums for your examination and approval."
Beau whirled on him. "However did you hear of that? We left town before even they had a-a-arrived."
"Did we?" Charley's eyebrow lifted. "Ludd! Bea will be livid."
Beauford sighed ruefully. "They're p-probably p-peeling her off the ceiling even now. She's been lauding the p-praises of her beautiful Miss Au-Aurora Quinby, for m-months."
"Beautiful, is she? Were you not curious even to see what Beatrix considers beautiful in a woman?"
"A-A-Absolutely not. My sister is m-miserable in her own m-marriage. Why should I trust her to play m-matchmaker for me?"
"But, why flee the beautiful Aurora? You had only to meet her, not marry her. Who knows, you might have liked the beauty."
Beau regarded the worn toes of his borrowed boots. "M-Might have, but I find m-myself too cynical since father's passing. I have the sudden feeling that a-any woman who is a-attracted to me, is reeled in by the lure of title and fortune."
"Oh! There's the rub of inheriting." Charley's words were oily with sarcasm. "Too many beautiful women falling at one's feet. I knew there had to be some drawback involved."
Beau shrugged. "Will this beauty, or a-a-any other female who flocks to me, willingly a-accept a poor stuttering fool simply because he has enough m-money to blunt her ears?"
Charley's lip curled with characteristic cynicism. "Do you seriously believe that any woman who suffers your company must do so merely because you have come into your title?"
Beau smiled. Tyrrwhit came as close to complimenting him as he was able. "Through m-my sisters, I've m-met a whole parade of females who suffer me for no other reason."
Charley extended an elegantly grey-gloved hand, palm up. "You could always hand over the problem. I should not turn my nose up at a fortune and title and a parade of prospective wives."
Laughter exploded from Beau's lips, slightly uncontrolled laughter. It felt good to laugh. There was release in it. He had not laughed like this since his father's passing.
"Not willing to go that far, are you?" Charley deduced sarcastically. "Well, don't come crying to me when this Quinby creature turns her pretty nose up at you for so rudely snubbing her."