Stars in the Night

GeminiA shy astronomer is courted by a seductive whisky smuggler seeking revenge on her twin sister.

Selina wants to be in the country watching the night sky instead of the night life in town. Yet here she is, in a London ballroom, in the arms of the only man who ever made her look twice. Evan Macintosh never looked back, though, and even now thinks she is someone else—her twin sister.

Evan is a whisky smuggler actively avoiding marriage because of his dangerous occupation. His hopes to rekindle a romance with his first love are dashed when he overhears her ranking him just above a servant in her mind. Bitterly, he decides he should not have to suffer alone and sets out to make her jealous by courting Selina, her twin.

He expected to be able to resist his desire for Selina, but their common interests and mutual attraction batter his defenses until he realizes she is his perfect match. Just when they decide to stop fighting love, their trust in one another is shattered. Can a starlit path shine through the London fog?

Theme song for Stars in the Night: Until… by Sting

Exerpt

Chapter One

Yorkshire, England

March 1821

Lady Selina Hamilton woke in a meadow, grass tickling her nose. The first rays of the sun reached her, spreading warmth over her face as she brushed an ebony lock of hair from her eyes. She stretched her muscles, sore from sleeping on the hard ground, and slid her spectacles back into place on the bridge of her nose. The sunrise was beautiful, causing the dew to sparkle, though she preferred the night sky with its twinkling diamonds. She marveled at the parade of pastel colors marching through the morning sky to make way for the sun until a realization hit her.

Sunrise! I’m going to be late!

Her father would be expecting her at breakfast before he went out to the stables. She pushed herself up, shook out the blanket she’d been lying on, and grabbed the small bag with her writing implements and charts. With care, she checked to make sure the rolled sheets of parchment in the bag were present and unharmed, and then ran with unladylike speed toward the servants’ entrance. The gardens she loved became a blur of spring color as she raced through them.

Father warned you not to leave the house at night again.

I wasn’t finished mapping my star charts and I won’t go to London without them.

She grimaced. Her conscience had become more vocal of late, as the Season drew closer. London was everything she detested. Crowded, polluted, and the home of her twin sister, Martha. The idea was enough to make her consider feigning an illness in order to stay in Yorkshire. She began to silently catalogue the diseases she knew enough about to make a convincing pretense.

What are you doing? You promised your aunt you would chaperone Anne for her first Season.

I must be a half-wit to have agreed to such a thing, after my own wretched Season.

Who else could have done it? Your grandfather is too ill, and Aunt Margaret cannot leave him to flit about London with Anne.

Selina’s stomach lurched as memories of Town life assaulted her. She had no time to dwell on them, because she caught sight of her mud-splattered skirts. Her maid was going to throttle her. There were some permanent stains Clara had never been able to remove, but Selina refused to let her throw it out. The wrinkled day gown was too short for her tall frame and a bit tight in the chest, but it was the warmest one she owned—perfect for a night outdoors.

She reached for the door handle and stumbled as Clara pulled it open. Her maid eyed her from head to toe and shook her head.

“I know,” Selina said, heading off a lecture. “Just help me get ready for breakfast.”

Clara grumbled, but followed her up the stairs.

“Not to worry, miss. You only have to smile at him and all is forgiven.”

“And what of you? Does a smile earn your forgiveness, too?” Selina turned and grinned, batting her eyelashes.

“Nay.” Clara’s tone was harsh, but the corners of her mouth betrayed her. “Save those looks for the earl. He’s already arrived in the breakfast room.”

“Oh!” Selina bolted up the remaining stairs to her room, pulling hairpins out as she went.

Less than half an hour passed and Selina entered the room to join her father, who sat at the end of a long, walnut table, drinking his morning tea. Even sitting, he had a commanding presence. She was grateful he did not look up from his papers or censure her for her tardiness when she entered. The scents from the few covered dishes on the buffet made her mouth water, so she walked over and chose a plate, sampling from eggs, smoked kippers, toast and jam.

Once seated near the earl, she remained silent and began to eat, hoping he didn’t already know why she was late. While she chewed, she let her gaze roam to the portrait of her mother above the mantle. The serene woman staring back was beautiful, with dark hair and eyes. The home had been bereft of her joie de vivre these past fourteen years, though the grief had lessened in the last half of that time. Selina especially missed the times her mother and she would sneak out to look at the stars—one reason why Selina loved the night so much. Sometimes she spoke her thoughts out loud when she lay in the fields, as though her mother were there beside her still. She tucked her memories away and returned her attention to her plate.

“You don’t look ill,” her father said when she had almost finished eating. He watched her over the rims of his glasses—his eyes, more gray than blue, were sharp and probing. They were the only physical feature Selina and Martha had inherited from him.

She sputtered. “Ill?”

“Your maid said you were not feeling well and were still abed when I came in this morning.”

Bless Clara. “Oh. I-I’m feeling much better now.”

“I see.” Lord Cheswick glanced back at his papers before straightening them and setting them aside. “I hope you’re not developing an ailment before your travels.”

“No. I am not so fortunate.”

“Come, now. You’ve not been to London in eight years, since—”

“Since The Disaster.”

“It was your first Season, and it was no disaster. Though I admit, I’d never before heard of someone afflicted with such a frequent and oddly-timed malady. Your aunt was most distressed.”

Selina shifted, uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation.

You should feel guilty. You feigned a megrim nearly every night you were expected to attend a large gathering.

It wasn’t entirely feigned. I certainly didn’t feel the same excitement Martha did. There is little doubt I would have developed real megrims had I been forced to be around so many people.

“It’s time you returned,” her father continued. “I let you remain here far too long. It’s a blessing Lady Prescote needed you to chaperone little Annie for her Season.”

“Father! Are you saying you’re glad Grandfather is ill?”

“Of course not. I simply meant it gives you an excuse to find a husband.”

“But I’ve told you I have no intention of putting myself on the marriage mart. I’m too old.” She smiled, satisfied with her argument.

He scowled. “You are but seven and twenty, far from permanently on the shelf. I’ll send a note to Martha. She’s sure to know the eligible men who would be willing to overlook a few extra years.”

“No!” Selina blurted. “I mean, I’m sure it will be fine. I’ve no wish to bother Martha. She’s always so busy with running her household and planning her own parties during the Season. And she’s not yet out of mourning.”

“But surely if her sister asked…”

“Father, please. I do not wish to involve her. I was—” she searched for the right word, “overshadowed by her during our Season together. If she were included this time, I fear the same thing would happen again.” Which would not be so aversive, given my desire to avoid marriage. It was a moot point, anyway. Martha would not want to speak to her, much less help her unless it was to help her off a cliff. Her twin had been more than happy to pretend she didn’t have a sister for most of their lives, and while Selina didn’t understand it, she’d long ago stopped trying to figure it out.

He looked at her and let out a resigned breath. “Martha is so much like your mother. I always felt like the sun itself surrounded me when your mother was in the room.” His eyes grew teary at the mention of his deceased wife. “They both loved the city, while you and I … Well, we’re more comfortable in the country, aren’t we?”

“I do prefer the quiet here.”

He frowned as he looked at her morning gown, which was several years out of fashion, and she adjusted her spectacles, feeling a bit like one of his new colts.

“When did your aunt suggest you go to London?” he asked.

Selina looked down at her plate. “She wished me to leave next week so we would have some time to get Anne’s wardrobe ready.”

Though the Season did not truly begin until late spring, there were always some gatherings earlier, when the new session of Parliament began. Anne’s transition to the sights and sounds—and schedule—of London would be smoother if she were eased into it with smaller parties.

Ha! You know Anne will have a grand time. You’re looking forward to the smaller parties to ease yourself into the Season.

Very well. It will help with my nerves, too.

“Make sure you complete your own wardrobe while you are there.”

Her head snapped up at his command. “But my clothing is adequate for a chaperone.” Getting stuck with pins and holding poses for hours was just the sort of entertainment she neither required nor wanted.

He raised an eyebrow at her attire.

“Oh, all right.” She tamped down an urge to roll her eyes. “So my gowns are a bit out of fashion, but no one ever notices. And gowns can be so expensive. Clara is always complaining that she can’t get the mud stains out of my clothes, so it seems a waste to buy all new dresses.”

“Nevertheless, it won’t do for you to chaperone a debutante without looking the height of fashion yourself. Make sure you go to your mother’s former dressmaker.” He stood and gathered his things.

She nodded, resigned.

“And Selina?”

“Yes, Father?”

“If you’re going to spend the entire night out in the fields, take a cloak.” He walked out of the room before she could reply.

****

Selina arrived at the steps of her father’s London townhome, Cheswick House, two weeks later. The three-story brick building was situated near Mayfair, sandwiched between similar-looking homes along a busy street. She took a deep breath and stepped through the door the butler, Addison, held open for her. The town house looked the same as it had eight years prior, the last time she’d been there.

She handed her bonnet and cloak to Addison and made her way to her favorite room.

The library had a rich, masculine tone, with heavy walnut furniture and bold colors. Deep reds and blues adorned the upholstered wing-back chairs and rugs scattered throughout. The drapes framing the large window were gold brocade and shimmered as the afternoon sun shone upon them. She ran her hand over the leather-bound volumes lining the walls. A blazing fire in the hearth warmed the room to a pleasant temperature and memories from her first Season engulfed her.

Not all of London is bad. You have the Astronomers to look forward to.

True, it is a high point of this trip. But the balls, the parties…

She groaned. Eight years ago, her days were spent with The Society of Amateur Astronomers and visiting museums. The evenings, on the other hand, were awful. One party after another, people stuffed themselves together in a room with stifling heat, eating and dancing until the dawn. The worst part of London was a noticeable reduction in stars to gaze at in the darkness. Her imagined megrims were the only way to avoid the crush. One evening, she argued with her aunt for so long it caused them to be unfashionably late to a prestigious event. After that, Martha claimed outright not to have a sister.

Selina shook off the thoughts about her twin and sat at the desk to jot a quick note to Lady Harrogate, whose husband was a founding member of the Astronomers’ society. Lady Harrogate had been kind to her when she first came to London, and introduced her to other members of the ton, who shared similar interests in the night sky. In town, where Selina felt uncomfortable and awkward, she found acceptance with the Astronomers. They understood her more than her own sister. And without the Astronomers, she would never have learned how to create a star chart. Smiling, she finished her missive and sent it with the footman.

Tired from her journey, she moved to one of the shelves and selected a book of poetry. She settled in a chair near the fireplace.

“My lady, this has just arrived for you.” Addison’s monotone voice announced an hour later. She took the note from the tray he was offering and scanned it.

My dearest Lady Selina,

I was delighted to receive word of your return to London for the Season. Please come to call upon me at your earliest convenience. I also want to inform you that we are scheduled to have an Astronomers meeting in a fortnight, Thursday, in my drawing room at three o’clock in the afternoon. Please make sure you attend, as we’ve all missed you dreadfully.

Yours,

Lady Harrogate

She closed her eyes, trying to contain her excitement. She’d missed them, as well. They were her oasis in a social desert. A chuckle escaped as she realized Lady Harrogate must have made the footman wait for her to write a reply for it to have gotten back so quickly. She refolded the note, rang for tea and resumed her reading, anticipating her visit with her friend.

****

When Selina arrived home from her ride the following afternoon, she was confronted with a blur of blond hair and cream-colored muslin.

“Cousin!” Anne flew down the stairs before Selina had crossed the threshold, halting when Selina raised her hand. Selina handed her bonnet and Spencer jacket to Addison with exaggerated slowness before rushing to embrace her cousin.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were excited to be in London, Anne.”

“Of course I am. The clothes, the balls, the dancing, the beaux…” she finished with a mischievous gleam in her eye. Selina schooled her features to look stern, though she was quite sure her amusement showed.

“I intend to be a proper chaperone for you, so you’d best get those improper thoughts out of your head.”

Anne laughed. “Are you sure? Mother said something about you keeping your eyes open while you’re here, too.”

“I’ve no intention of keeping my eyes open for anything but your reputation, so no matchmaking in my direction, if you please.”

You would open your eyes for him.

She’d only seen Evan MacIntosh up close once, but it was enough to cause her to forget to breathe. His hair was dark and his eyes were light, almost colorless, except for a dark green ring around the iris. Tall and lean, fashionable without being foppish. In short, the most handsome man she’d ever seen. He didn’t notice her—no one ever noticed her when Martha was in the room.

Evan courted her sister for several weeks during their first Season, ending abruptly when Martha announced her engagement to Wiltonshire. Mr. MacIntosh looked shocked and hurt that night, rushing past Selina before they could be introduced.

No, not even for him. He falls into the category of men who found Martha’s flirtations attractive, after all. Bloody idiots.

Wealth and title were all her sister had ever been interested in. Half of her suitors had neither, but they were some of the most handsome men in town so Martha encouraged their attentions anyway.

“And so I thought I’d find myself a nice rake and get into a compromising position…” Anne’s comment interrupted Selina’s thoughts.

“What?” She looked over to Anne, who raised her eyebrows in innocence, as though she’d just mentioned the weather.

“You weren’t listening to me, were you?” Anne pursed her lips. “I’d just finished listing all the most unsuitable men I’d set my cap for and you didn’t even blink an eye.”

“Oh. What was it you said, again?”

“I’d like to visit the dressmaker as soon as possible, tomorrow if we can, so I can start ordering my gowns.”

“Very well. Anything else?”

“Mother sends her regards. She is sorry she won’t be here for my Season, but at least she was able to attend my debut at the palace. After that, Grandfather fell ill and needs her to stay with him.” Anne wouldn’t meet her eyes as she said this.

Selina frowned. “Is he so unwell?” She wondered if maybe she should visit him, but Anne would never forgive her if she was left in Martha’s clutches. Since Anne’s mother was taking care of Grandfather, it was up to Selina or Martha to chaperone Anne. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Anne’s father could do it, but no one had suggested it. Selina wondered why. It was unorthodox for an unmarried woman to act as chaperone, especially if she were marriageable, too.

“Don’t worry about Grandfather. I’m sure he’ll recover like he always does,” Anne said with a jaunty grin. “So, when can we get to Bond Street?”

“I suppose we can go tomorrow. The invitations are starting to arrive and we can attend a few smaller events while we wait for the majority of the gowns to be completed. In the meantime, get settled in and I’ll see you later this afternoon.”

Selina watched as Anne skipped back up the stairs. She would have her hands full with such an energetic charge to look after. Shaking her head, she went back to the study to sift through the invitations and determine which of the lot would be the least irritating to attend.

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