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Authors: Sally Quilford

Imitation of Love

BOOK: Imitation of Love
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Imitation of Love
Sally Quilford
Tales from the Shed (2012)

When Catherine Willoughby's brother is killed, leaving Catherine and her younger sister, Alyssa, penniless and without a home, she wonders how they will survive.

Jimmy had been working with the dashing 'Captain' helping French aristocrats escape the guillotine, but it is the shallow dandy Xander Oakley who steps in to help the girls. As Catherine spends more time with him, she realises there is more to Oakley than meets the eye. But will he still want to help Catherine and Alyssa when he finds out the truth about a letter he received from Jimmy Willoughby?

As Catherine begins to fall for Oakley, everything is at stake and she finds herself pitched headlong into danger.

Imitation of Love

 

Copyright © Sally Quilford 2010

 

Previously published by My Weekly
Pocket Novels and Linford Romance Library

 

Image © The Romance Novel Centre/Jimmy
Thomas

 

Imitation of Love

 

Chapter One

 

Catherine Willoughby tiptoed to the
window and looked out into the early dawn light. She could see her elder brother,
James Willoughby, mounting his horse, and next to him, already seated on a
black stallion, the man they called the Captain.  Catherine felt her heart
thrill, despite the fact that the Captain’s face was covered, and she had no
idea what he looked like. Despite rumours that he was the son of a tradesman,
most of the women in England were madly in love with him. “He’s a bit of rough,
but with a noble heart,” one excited, and very married, female neighbour had
said to Catherine only recently. “Imagine what such a man would be like in...”
Then, suddenly remembering she was talking to a nineteen year old unmarried
girl, the neighbour had clamped her mouth shut. Though innocent in many ways,
Catherine had not really needed the woman to finish the sentence. She too had her
fantasies about the Captain, many of which included him rescuing her from
danger, before declaring his undying love with a kiss.

 

She opened the window slightly, hoping
to get a better look at him, or to at least hear his voice.

 

“Did you finish the documents?” she
heard the Captain ask muffled tones. He wore a scarf wrapped around the lower
half of his face, and his wide brimmed hat was tilted forward over his eyes.

 

“Yes,” said Jimmy, handing over the
papers. “All here. They’re perfect. If I may say so myself.”

 

The Captain perused the documents, and
although Catherine couldn’t see it, she felt sure he smiled beneath his mask.
“Good job, old boy. Good job. I may be mistaken, but your talent for forgery
seems to be growing by the day.”

 

Momentarily, the Captain looked up and
appeared to see her at her bedroom window. He bowed his head gallantly, then
turned his horse and galloped away. In a few hours, Jimmy and the Captain would
reach Dover, before sailing across the channel to save more British prisoners
from Napoleon.

 

Catherine silently wished them God speed
in her heart, and closed the bedroom window. She climbed back into bed and lay
her head on the pillow, thinking of the Captain. Even though she realised it
was dangerous, she wished he was aware of her part in his mission.

 

“Was that one of your sisters at the
window?” Alexander Oakley asked Jimmy Willoughby as they rode towards Dover.

 

“Yes, it was Catherine.”

 

“Really, Jimmy, you ought to take more
care. What if she’d seen my face?”

 

“You’ve nothing to worry about with Cat,
Xander. She’s on our side. Besides, she’s not a blabbermouth. Not like some
women. My youngest sister, Alyssa, would be a different matter. I’ve never
known anyone say so much about so little.”

 

“All women love to talk, Jimmy. It’s in
their nature. If Miss Willoughby found out I was the Captain, she’d break her
neck to tell her friends.”

 

“No, believe me. Cat wouldn’t. She’s got
too much at …” Jimmy stopped.

 

“Too much what?”

 

“Too much common sense. Honestly, if it
hadn’t been for Cat I don’t know how I’d have survived after the old man died.
The estate was almost bankrupt because of his gambling debts. It was Cat who
got it back on its feet again. She’s much cleverer than I am.”

 

“She’s a woman, and I don’t trust them. At
least not with a mission as important as ours.”

 

“I take it you don’t discuss our
exploits with Mrs. Somerson then.” Mrs. Somerson was a widow recently come to
Court, and had set her sights on Xander Oakley the moment her old husband had
died.

 

“I don’t discuss anything with Phoebe.
If I want intelligent conversation I’ll go to the Club, not to a woman.”

 

“Honestly, Xander, you’re the bravest,
most noble man I know. But I’ll never understand what it is that made you so
cynical about women.”

 

“Try years of emptying my pockets and my
mind in order to … enjoy … their company.”

 

Xander spurred his horse on. “Come on,
Jimmy, we’re wasting time.”

 

As he rode on, Xander couldn’t stop
thinking about the girl at the window, with her pretty heart shaped face,
intelligent dark eyes, and the glossy chestnut hair that hung loose on her
shoulders.  Not that he was fooled by the intelligent eyes. No doubt she’d soon
be regaling her friends with the tale of seeing the Captain. If his previous
experience was anything to go by, the story would lose nothing in the telling.
The number of women he was supposed to have kissed as he saved them from France
had gone into double figures, not to mention the few who hinted at him having
stolen further pleasures from them.

 

It was a part of his mission that he
hated. It was important to remain anonymous, but it had also led to a mythology
about him with which he was not completely comfortable. If he’d kissed and made
love to half the women he was supposed to, he’d never have time to rescue the
prisoners, not to mention how ridiculous it was that whilst on the run from the
French, he’d risk wasting the time or shedding his disguise long enough to do
either of those things. No, women had stupid notions, and he couldn’t bring
himself to believe the young girl at the window was any different.

 

As soon as he returned from France, he
would go and see Phoebe Somerson. Her prattling on about love would soon remind
him why he remained a bachelor. For some reason, instead of Phoebe’s attractive
face, all he could see was a pair of intelligent eyes looking at him from a
bedroom window.

 

***

 

“Cat?” Jimmy entered the study, where
Catherine sat poring over the accounts. “Where are the new documents?” Several
weeks had passed since his last trip to France.

“They’re in the safe, dearest. Are you
leaving with the Captain again so soon?”

 

“No. Cat … look I haven’t been entirely
honest about these latest documents.”

 

Catherine looked up with questioning eyes.
“What do you mean?”

 

“Well …” Jimmy ran his fingers through
his blonde hair. “The truth is the Captain’s exploits aren’t nearly enough to
keep us fed. He pays well, as you know, but with the French becoming more aware
of him, our trips to France are becoming rarer. So … well … I managed to get
the work from someone else. I’m assured it is a noble cause, dearest.”

 

“Jimmy, no! You promised. You said it
would only ever be for the Captain. It’s the only reason I agreed.”

 

“I know, Cat, but … well I’m really
strapped. Mr. Oakley is holding a steeplechase this weekend, and I needed a
really good horse if I’m to even have a chance of winning. The prize is one
thousand guineas. That would keep us for a long time...”

 

“Oh, Mr. Oakley!” Catherine sighed. “I
should have known. Honestly, Jimmy, I can’t understand why you’d waste time
with that … that … dandy! You know how hurt Papa was when you followed Mr.
Oakley out of the army, especially as you’d worked so hard to move up the ranks.
If not for old Mr. Oakley having influence at Court, your friend would have
been drummed out.” The story of the Oakley’s insubordination whilst a serving in
the army was well known, though the exact details were kept secret, no doubt
Catherine thought, due to his late father’s influence. “I’d have hoped that
having someone like the Captain as your mentor, you’d start to see what a fool
Oakley is. All he cares about is clothes and horses. And women. Though I gather
he doesn’t much care about the latter, except as just another sport.”

 

Jimmy’s eyes widened. “Cat! I don’t
think you should be discussing that. In fact, I can’t begin to think how you
know these things.  I’m afraid I did the wrong thing, involving you in all
this.”

 

“It’s a bit late to worry for my mortal
soul now, Jimmy,” said Cat, quietly. “How do you know you can trust these new
clients? The Captain has a noble cause, but how do you know these people aren’t
using the documents for more nefarious means?”

 

“They assure me their cause is
impeccable, Cat, but beyond that I didn’t ask. What we don’t know can’t hurt us.”

 

“Jimmy, dearest, have you ever thought
of not trying to keep up with Mr. Oakley? He’s probably the richest man in
England. You … we … can’t afford his lifestyle. Alyssa should be coming out
this year, and that’s not going to happen.”

 

“No, I know, and you missed your coming
out completely. I’m sorry, Cat.”

 

“That’s not your fault, darling. Father
left us in such a mess.”

 

“Perhaps if these people offer more
work, and paid us for it, you and Alyssa could come out. You’re both extremely
pretty girls. You’d be sure to get rich husbands.”

 

“I’ve told you before, Jimmy, I’ve no
wish to sell myself into a loveless marriage.”

 

“Nearly all society marriages are
loveless, Cat, and they manage quite well.”

 

“Yes, and the husband takes a mistress
as soon as possible, then when the wife has produced an heir and several spares,
she takes a discreet lover. That isn’t what I want. I want…” Catherine realized
that Jimmy was so indoctrinated into society, he would never understand. She
wanted to be loved by someone who never wanted to look at another woman, and to
love in return a man who made all other men pale in significance. Failing that,
she’d rather die an old maid.

 

“You think I don’t understand, but I
do,” said Jimmy. “And believe it or not, Cat, it’s what I want too. We’re not
so different you and I. But Alyssa is not so choosy. She’d quite happily marry
the first rich man who paid her attention. “

 

“Yes, I know she would. And if that’s
what she wants, then we’ll let her make her debut. But not me, Jimmy. I won’t
parade myself like some prize filly at a racetrack.”

 

“So you agree to us taking on this new
business?”

 

“Yes, I suppose so. But be careful,
Jimmy. Not everyone is as honourable as the Captain.”

 

***

 

Several weeks later, standing at Jimmy’s
grave, whilst the rain poured and Alyssa sobbed loudly beside her, Catherine’s
words came back to haunt her. How could it have happened when they’d been so
careful? She remembered the awful night and the loud knock at the door when the
new clients come to collect the documents. Raised voices, Jimmy shouting, ‘I
swear I’m alone here. My sisters are staying with relatives.’ Then the pistol
shot and the sound of horses racing away.  She’d dashed downstairs to find him
lying dead in the hallway, his handsome young face twisted in an agony she
could not put from her mind.

 

Catherine looked across the open grave
to where Mr. Oakley stood. His face was a bleak mask, and whilst she had no
particular regard for him, she could see that Jimmy’s death had hit him hard.
Well so it should, she thought bitterly. Had Jimmy not been so keen to keep up
with Oakley’s lifestyle, then none of this would have happened. To die for the
Captain’s cause would have been one thing. But to die for people who might have
more evil intentions was another.

 

Despite her anger, she had to admit he
was a very striking man. She’d never actually met him, because he never visited
Willoughby Manor, no doubt preferring the more luxurious houses of his richer
friends than the ramshackle Elizabethan manor in which the Willoughbys lived.
She’d imagined him to look a bit soft, plump and pampered, like the Prince of
Wales, whom she’d once seen from a distance when he’d visited the North. The
man standing opposite her was tall and lean. His features, far from being
conventionally handsome, were rugged, and he had piercing blue eyes under
hawk-like eyebrows. He was dressed expensively, and had an expertly tied
cravat, but with his broad, powerful shoulders, he was more masculine than
she’d imagined him to be.  There was a rough edge to him that suggested he
wasn’t quite the dandy Catherine expected.

BOOK: Imitation of Love
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