Miss Billings Treads the Boards

Miss Billings Treads the Boards

by Carla Kelly
Miss Billings Treads the Boards

Miss Billings Treads the Boards

by Carla Kelly


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Cynical, lazy Lord Grayson is coerced into delivering a message to lovely Katherine Billings, whose late father frittered away a fortune on artwork. All his purchases were forgeries, save one, which-if sold-would offer Kate a modest living. Meanwhile, Kate has bowed to necessity and set off for Wakefield to become a governess. Gently reared, she has no plans to become a scandalous actress, but Things Happen. Injured by a highwayman hired by his greedy nephew, Lord Grayson staggers to a barn where a play is in progress. There he sees Kate, playing a small role. Through a mishap, she has ended up in Wickfield, not Wakefield, and is performing with the Bladesworth Traveling Company, an acting troupe. What's a lazy and cynical marquis to do? Lord Grayson-using his everyday name of Hal Hampton-joins the troupe, partly to protect himself from his nephew, but mostly to get to know Kate better. They both fall under the spell of the impecunious but talented Bladesworths. A charming French émigré, a single-minded Bow Street Runner, and love round out a summer where the repertory includes deception, faux marriage, the law, and enough unsavory characters to suit any would-be Shakespeare. After all, the play's the thing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603819152
Publisher: Camel Press
Publication date: 12/01/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 266
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla is the author of 26 novels, and three non-fiction works, as well as numerous short stories and articles for various publications. She is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Carla's interest in historical fiction is a byproduct of her lifelong interest in history. She has a BA in Latin American History from Brigham Young University and an MA in Indian Wars History from University of Louisiana-Monroe. She's held a variety of jobs, including public relations work for major hospitals and hospices, feature writer and columnist for a North Dakota daily newspaper, and ranger in the National Park Service (her favorite job) at Fort Laramie National Historic Site and Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. She has worked for the North Dakota Historical Society as a contract researcher. Interest in the Napoleonic Wars at sea led to a recent series of novels about the British Channel Fleet during that conflict. Of late, she has written two novels set in southeast Wyoming in 1910 that focus on her Mormon background and her interest in ranching.

Read an Excerpt


The prospect of a holiday in Yorkshire, far removed from the probability of social exertion in London, should have thrilled Henry Tewksbury-Hampton, Fifth Marquess of Grayson, right down to the marrow, but it did not. He had received Pinky D'Urst's letter with a sigh. Ordinarily the thought of a month at D'Urst Hall and its trout streams would have delighted him, but another suspicion reined him in. Pinky had a sister, a sister somewhat long in the tooth, who was probably not relishing the idea of impending old maidenhead.

"Oh, I know how it is, Pinky," Henry had thought to himself as he sat in his dressing room, waiting for his valet to finish the patient arrangement of each strand of thinning hair. "You will casually enumerate all of your sister's sterling qualities, and before I know it, I will be trapped in yet another engagement not to my liking. Well, I'll go to Yorkshire, but not for your sister!"

"Patience, my lord," murmured the valet. "We must do it, mustn't we? We don't wish to appear lacking in the essentials, do we?"

Dash and bother, now he was thinking out loud, and within earshot of a silly prig of a valet with enough hair on his head for both of them. And was that a smirk from Wilding?

Henry turned his head carefully, so as not to bother the careful arrangement of his neckcloth. "Don't toy with me, Wilding," he said. He tried to use a firm tone, a dangerous tone, but even to his own ears, it sounded querulous. As Wilding stared at him with that irritating, affected way of his, Henry felt his spirits sink within him. And now I am talking out loud and unable to tyrannize even a valet, he thought. If I were to tell some stranger that I had once captured an entire brigade of Frogs at Cuenca, he would probably smirk and simper like my valet.

Henry shook his head, and the valet sighed. "My lord, now I must begin again," he chided.

Henry grabbed the comb from his valet's hand and dragged it through what remained of his hair, noting how thin it felt through the comb. He eyed the valet in the mirror. "Wilding, I am going bald. Let us not split hairs about this anymore." He stared at himself ruthlessly in the mirror, less than pleased at the man who glowered back. He turned sideways. "And I certainly seem to have picked up an extra stone or two since my return from Spain, even discounting what I should have regained after cooling my heels in that damned prison."

Wilding giggled and then sobered immediately when his master narrowed his eyes. He took the comb back. "My lord, you have excellent bones."

"Wilding, go away, will you?" It was said quietly, but the valet seemed to understand when enough was enough. With the dignity peculiar to those who serve, the valet set down the comb and swept from the room. He paused in the doorway for a final shot across the bow. "When we feel more like it, we need only tug on the bellpull, my lord," he suggested.

"Oh, cut line, Wilding," said Lord Grayson wearily. He threw himself into a chair by the window and propped his stockinged feet on the ledge, undoing the top button of his breeches and sighing with relief. "Bone structure, my left eyeball," he said. "I am over my weight, and beginning to bald, and no one loves me except my tailor." He reconsidered. Even his tailor was in some doubt, particularly after yesterday's argument about roomier coats. "But my lord, a creaseless fit is essential," the man had protested, shaking his head at my lord's objections until the chalk holder behind his ear flew out. "But all I want is to be comfortable," was Lord Grayson's heartfelt plea. "Doesn't anyone understand comfort anymore?"

Henry chuckled, despite his misery. Comfort was standing barefoot and ankle-deep in summer mud on an Andalucian road, with one's breeches ventilated with holes and shirttails hanging out. It was commanding Spanish Irregulars who cared not how elegant his coat, but only how deep the fight in him.

But those days were long over. He sighed again. The fight in him had gone out. It was true; no one needed him.

It was a lowering thought, and one that didn't bear thinking on, but in the bright light of that June morning he kept thinking. His estates were well-managed, his houses in order. And only last night, as he sat at table with his friends, he actually found himself voicing some conservative thoughts on government that he had heard once from the mouth of his long-dead, still-lamented father, something he swore he would never do.

The occasion had given him a real start. This morning he could only admit that he was becoming stodgy. It was a matter of time before gout took over and he discarded all his Whiggish principles. He winced at the thought and turned around in his chair to gaze again upon his well-stuffed image in the full-length mirror. "Henry Tewksbury-Hampton," he murmured, unable to keep the edge from his voice, "if you were to see yourself on a road in Spain, pistol in hand, four stone lighter, and with that spark in your eye, you would not recognize yourself."

He sat back again and closed his eyes. And you have become that which, as a young man, you despised: a flutter-by with no ideals, scarce ambition, and less enthusiasm; a man lazy beyond excuse.

Wilding came back into the room, his arms full of folded laundry. He stopped and eyed his master as he would a pouting child. "What, are we still just sitting there?" he asked in tones reminiscent of the nursery. "We should have had our shoes on ages ago."

Henry stood up his full height in his stockinged feet, which was a considerable reach. "If we do not quit addressing us as a schoolroom boy, we will find ourselves at the Registry Office, looking for a new pigeon to pluck," he said.

Wilding closed his mouth in tight-lipped disapproval and remained silent as he helped his employer into a waistcoat and coat for a visit to his solicitor. Ordinarily Henry would have repented and engaged him in some pleasantry sufficient to smooth over any ruffled feelings, but today he felt no such inclination. He kept his own counsel as Wilding helped him on with his shoes, straightened his neckcloth yet again, and pronounced him fit to inflict upon London.

On his progress to the front door Henry glanced at the early-morning cache of letters already resting on a table. None appeared to be of any serious interest. The Season had burned itself right down to the socket, and invitations now were few, indeed. Besides, yet another season spent in card rooms at whist tables and not circulating around ballrooms at waltz tempo had made him less than a favorite of anxious mothers. He was too old for the young girls in their white muslins, and not old enough for their sisters past first prayers.

He gladly shut the door on his valet's twitterings and fidgets. No, thank you, he would walk to his solicitors. It was a healthy walk across St. James's Park, but the day was beautiful and he was not otherwise engaged. It would be a pleasure to dispense with any conversation and proceed at a leisurely pace.

His luck held out for a mere three blocks when he was accosted by his nephew and heir, Algernon Mannerly, Viscount Minden. "Uncle!" cried the young man with all the delight of a relative who had not seen him in years, even though it was only last night at White's. "Uncle! What a distinct pleasure!"

It was far from a pleasure for either party, Henry observed wryly as his nephew, all watch fobs, too tight pantaloons, and extravagant waistcoat minced forward. But there was no escaping Algernon down some heaven-sent alley. The row of houses he was passing were all connected and admitted no such relief. He would have to face his nephew. Ordinarily he bore the ordeal with a bland stoicism that would have gained the approval of a whole regiment of Spartans. But somehow today was different.

"How well you look this morning!" chirped his nephew, preparing to mount up to the stratosphere with a whole list of compliments.

Henry held up his hand. "Stop, Algie," he said, his voice calm, but full of command. The effect pleased him. "Stop," he said again, relishing the look of bewilderment on his nephew's somewhat vacuous countenance. "Tell me, Algie. Do you like me?"

Algie thought a moment, and Henry felt the urge to suppress a laugh. "This is a not a hard question," he added gently when Algie appeared unable to express himself.

"Of course I like you, Uncle," Algie managed at last. He struck his man-about-town pose, but his assurance was betrayed by the way he began to whirl his monocle on its long riband around his gloved finger.

Henry watched the rotation a moment, then put out his hand to stop it. "Why?" he asked.

Algie frowned. His brow creased as he hastily pocketed his monocle. The effort of thinking caused his feet to turn inward, and he stood there, pigeon-toed, skinny-legged, and bereft of idea. Henry coughed delicately, wondering at the mean streak in himself that he was peeling back at Algernon's sorry expense, but doing nothing to alleviate the younger man's discomfort.

"Why?" he asked again. "Come, come, Algie."

The mild reproof brought a wild look into Algernon Mannerly's eyes. "Be ... because you always pay my quarterly allowance on time, Uncle!" he admitted in a rush and then let out a sigh of relief at his provision of an answer, any answer. He resumed his sophisticated pose. "Which reminds me, Uncle, could you advance a little toward the next quarter? My tailor is devilish expensive and demanding something against that time ..." He paused then, only just in time, but Henry took up the sentence.

"... 'gainst that time when your well-loved uncle sticks his spoon in the wall and you inherit all?" he finished.

Algernon tittered, and the monocle began to rotate again. "Uncle, how you carry on!"

Henry did not smile. "I advanced you quite generously last quarter, if memory serves me right. Why should I do it again?"

"One of us must cut a dash in London, Uncle dear," was Algernon's lame riposte. "We Graysons owe it to our set."

Henry considered this. He walked around his nephew, observing the effects of fashion as the monocle twirled faster. "Buckram wadding in your shoulders, eh, Nevvy?" he asked. "And have you really padded your calves?" He stopped in front of his nephew. "I am not so sure that you have succeeded in the attempt, Algie."

"Well, neither have you," Algernon burst out, goaded into response.

"Ah, true, but I make no such pretense. And I am so rich that women do not care particularly how I look." He stopped the whirling monocle again. "And I think I will not advance you a single groat. In fact, Algernon, since you do not like me so well, I think I will direct my solicitor to cut your allowance. Leech off your mother, my dear sister, for a while. Good day, Algie." He tipped his hat to his nephew, who stood, toes inward again, his mouth open.

"But, Uncle!" he protested.

"I have no intention of cocking up my toes anytime soon, just to oblige you, Nephew. Perhaps when you can practice some economy, I might reconsider any further reduction beyond the one I am making this morning. Good day," he said again, his voice serene, as he continued his walk.

"And that is my intention," he said a half hour later as he sat in his solicitor's office, a glass of Madeira at his elbow. "Abner, don't look so dismayed! Algernon is a worthless young chub."

Abner Sheffield, of Sheffield and Johnston, settled back in his chair, regarding his client. "I wouldn't advise it, my lord," he said at last. "Worthless chub that he is, he will only plague his mother, and she will plague you with tears and endless recriminations and calls to duty."

Henry rested his chin on his hand. "I fear you are right. But by God, it stung me when he said that the only thing he liked about me was my prompt payment of quarterly allowances! Am I such an ogre?"

Abner only smiled. "If you will permit an observation from a family retainer of long standing ..."

Henry waved his hand irritably. "Go ahead, Abner, go ahead. It can't be anything worse than what I have been chastising myself with this morning."

The solicitor picked his words carefully. "You used to be quite a charming gentleman and —"

"And I am not anymore?" Henry interrupted, in spite of his guarantee.

The solicitor smiled again. "No, you're not. You are frivolous, and moody, and turning into a lazy fellow, something I thought I would never see." He paused and watched the effect of his words on Lord Grayson's reddening countenance. "But, unlike your nephew, I really do like you. I always have. The young man who went away to war — what is it, nearly ten years ago now? — is still there somewhere. And I have hopes to see him again sometime. You've changed, Lord Grayson, but you can change again." He leaned forward. "And when you do, you won't feel the necessity to ask your nephew such a question."

Henry's hot words retreated back into his mind. He picked up the Madeira glass and looked into its amber loveliness. "My sister says I should hurry up and marry. She says that will solve my problems."

The solicitor shook his head and proffered a refill, which Lord Grayson refused. "I shouldn't think that marriage ever solved anyone's problems." He laughed. "It usually makes them worse." He leaned back again. "Since we are not pulling any hairs this morning, I have something I have wondered about for eight years, my friend."

"Well, speak away, Abner," said Henry gruffly. "I don't appear to have any secrets from you, who knows my character so well!"

"Now, don't be testy. I do this only out of my regard for you, which seems to have weathered well. My question is this, Lord Grayson. When you and some of your men were languishing in that Spanish prison ..."

Henry started to smile. His smile grew into a large grin that showed all his teeth. He leaned back in his chair, too, and laughed. "Go ahead, Abner," he insisted. "I can't wait to hear how you're going to phrase this. Don't keep me in suspense." Abner joined in the laugher. "I think you answered my question already, but let me ask it anyway. Did you — could you — have escaped when your men did, one at a time?"

"Of course, my dear solicitor, who loves me well. Say on, sir."

"You waited until your fiancée gave up, broke off that engagement, and married someone else, before you escaped, didn't you?"

Henry leaned forward and planted his elbows on the solicitor's desk. "Does anyone else suspect?"

The solicitor laughed again and shook his head. "It was only a suspicion of mine. Maybe it was something in one of those letters of yours that we received occasionally. You were always so anxious to know her state of mind. And when I finally wrote you what I thought was the sad news, you escaped, swam out to a blockader, and made your way to England."

"Well, you have me now, Abner. Is it to be blackmail?" he teased.

"I was merely curious, my lord. You know, I do believe that you could find, somewhere in the wide world, some woman who actually loves you."

"And not my money?"

Abner nodded. "My daughters are fond of you, but they are only twelve and thirteen. Take a look around this summer, my lord. Marry someone, breed, and I guarantee that your nephew will only become a bad memory. You may discover there are many people who love you."

Henry shook his head. "That, sir, is highly unlikely, but I do like your receipt. I have been summoned to Pinky D'Urst's in Yorkshire."

"A great deal can happen between here and Yorkshire, my lord," said the solicitor. "And I suppose you wish me to procure some money for the journey?"

"That was my intention, Abner, in accosting you here," Henry agreed. "You have further entertained me, and, I confess, convinced me not to change my worthless nevvy's allowance. But do me a favor, sir, of scaring him when he comes bolting in here." Henry took out his watch. "Oh, probably ten or fifteen minutes after I have left. It may be that I mean to improve my faulty character, but he is fair game."

"Done, sir," the solicitor concurred. He wrote in his ledger a moment and with the bellpull summoned a clerk. He held out his ledger to the shirt-sleeved clerk. "Lord Grayson would like this sum. Prepare it for him, please."

The man left. Abner Sheffield rose and held out his hand. Henry grasped it, smiling at the older man. "I shall see how much of your advice I can stomach this summer, old friend."

"Admirable, my lord," said the solicitor, coming around the desk to walk his client to the door. He stopped, his hand on the marquess's shoulder. "Do you know, my lord, you could do me a favor."

Henry raised his eyebrows. "What, sir? You would ask a favor of a lazy fub who runs from matrimonial entanglements and is not beloved of his nephew?"


Excerpted from "Miss Billings Treads the Boards"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Carla Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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