An Elaborate Hoax (A Gentlemen of Worth Book 5)

Also by Shirley Marks

HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Miss Quinn’s Quandary

An Agreeable Arrangement

His Lordship’s Chaperone

Lady Eugenia’s Holiday

GENTLEMEN OF WORTH SERIES

The Suitor List

Perfectly Flawed

A Grand Deception

The Duke Dilemma

ROMANTIC COMEDIES

Geek to Chic

Honeymoon Husband

Just Like Jack

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Shirley Schneckloth

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477830338

ISBN-10: 1477830332

 

Cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa

 

 

To my mother, for her inspiration

Chapter One

March 1817 - London, England

S
he’s on her deathbed, I tell you!” The words, uttered in an urgent but hushed tone, preceded the three gentlemen entering the Kimballs’ townhouse. Mr. Gerald Kimball and two of his friends unburdened themselves of their hats, coats, and other raiment to the care of the staff before heading for the front parlor.

Mrs. Penelope Parker sat with her nephew’s wife, Mrs. Frances Kimball, and upon hearing the disturbance in the foyer, they rose from the sofa.

“Let us leave the gentlemen to their company,” Frances suggested to Penny. “We can continue our discussion in the—”

“Please stay.” Gerald raised his hand, halting the ladies’ movement. All three gentlemen bowed in greeting upon seeing them. “I believe we are in need of your good sense and exceedingly wise female insight on this matter.”

“Very well, if that is what you wish, Gerald.” Frances met Penny’s gaze, and they agreed they would remain. She retook her seat as her husband had asked. “Goodness, Mrs. Parker, such high expectations the gentlemen have of our ability. I certainly hope we do not disappoint them.”

“Dash it, Gerald, will you get on with the confounded business?” Sir Thomas Lowell expostulated, seemingly ready to burst at his seams.

“Patience, Thomas,” Gerald replied in a soothing tone. “Do help yourself to some Madeira; perhaps it will calm your nerves.”

The baronet grumbled and headed for the sideboard, fully intending to take advantage of the invitation. “What about you, Cavanaugh, shall I pour two?”

“No, thank you, Thomas. I prefer to keep my head clear.” Mr. David Cavanaugh stood before the hearth, staring at his hand resting on the ornately carved mantel.

Penny resettled upon the sofa. Studying her nephew Gerald, she noted the slight strain in his face. He appeared calm but concerned.

Sir Thomas, who earlier displayed a mighty ill-humor with his bellowing and blustering, moved to the far side of the room with a ha
lf-filled glass of wine. Mr. Cavanaugh now paced slowly before the hearth while massaging his brow with his unsteady hand. He appeared to be weighted down with some enormous burden upon his shoulders, and he had to concentrate with all his might to bear it.

“Gentlemen, if you will please be seated we shall begin.” Gerald moved toward the center of the room and gestured his friends to gather near. The two gentlemen had difficulty forcing themselves to sit. Sir Thomas crossed his leg, which he began to jiggle in what must have been a show of his unease. Mr. Cavanaugh hardly managed any better. He settled upon a chair and took to his feet once again when Gerald asked, “David, will you start at the beginning of your tale for the ladies’ sake?”

“Dear Lord, where do you suggest I begin, Gerald?” Mr. Cavanaugh leveled his steady, cool gaze at his host.

“Six, seven years ago?”

Seven years?
Penny wondered at the scope of his problem. By Mr. Cavanaugh’s behavior it must have been dire. How could anyone tolerate this torture for nearly a decade? She had to admit to some curiosity.

“Very well.” He stopped before them and straightened, tapping his steepled fingertips together while he spoke. “I received a letter from my grandmother some time ago urging me to marry.”

“Is this what happened all those many years ago, Mr. Cavanaugh?”
Frances inquired. “That would not be unusual for a family member,
especially an
elderly
f
amily member, a female one at that, to make such a suggestion.” She smiled a bit. “Actually,
we
are quite known for wanting all of our family members to marry. It is the way of the world.”

“Yes, well, my grandmother, you must know, would see me properly and happily wed. The difficulty was I had not been in mind to take that step.”

“No man is, sir.” Frances smiled. “In the beginning, that is.”

“It’s known to be fatal, you know.” Sir Thomas uncrossed his legs, shifted his position in his chair, and then recrossed them.

“I certainly did not think it time to find a wife.” Mr. Cavanaugh might have been the consummate bachelor type. Since Penny had come to live with the Kimballs, nearly two years ago, she had never heard a hint of marriage rumors surrounding him.

Gerald harrumphed. “You gentlemen know nothing of what you speak. That has not been my experience with the wedded state. Frances and I enjoy an entirely blissful—”

“We ain’t talking about you, Gerry.” Sir Thomas rounded on their friend. “Now muzzle it already, and let Cavanaugh continue.”

“As I was saying,” Mr. Cavanaugh went on. “Gran’s correspondence, over the course of some months, grew more insistent upon the matter. She also grew more melancholy as time went on until I finally relented and had it in mind to take a wife.”

“What? You planning to step into the parson’s mousetrap? I don’t remember this, by Jove,” Sir Thomas interrupted again.

“Sir Thomas,” Frances chided. “If you allow him to continue, I am quite certain Mr. Cavanaugh will explain in good time.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Mr. Cavanaugh drew in a slow breath before continuing. “Gran and I are the last of the Cavanaughs. It is her dearest wish that I not be alone after she has breathed her last. ‘If only you were to marry,’ she had written more times than I could count until I gave in and promised that I would make every attempt to find a bride. I had, in earnest, kept that in mind during that Season. I nearly came up to scratch except—”

“Zounds, Cavanaugh!” Sir Thomas gasped at this disclosure. “I had no idea!”

“Then my grandmother’s health declined. I could even see it in her handwriting months before she fell ill. She had to take to her bed after penning that last letter, stating her final wishes to me.”

The decline of his grandmother’s health saddened Penny, as it must have Frances, who drew in a ragged breath and took hold of Penny’s arm.

“It grieved Gran to think I was alone. She wanted me to have a wife by my side. It was all she asked.” Mr. Cavanaugh’s voice cracked with emotion. “I found that I could not marry quickly enough, yet I had no wish to deny her last wish.” He turned to the two ladies with his outstretched hands. “You must see that.”

“Deny her of what . . . you being married?” Frances whispered.

“She only wants the best for me, and in keeping to the task of . . . I would do anything to ensure her happiness,” Mr. Cavanaugh stated with conviction. “If that was what she wanted, I would be married, and I wrote to her of the news straightaway.” He glanced at Gerald. “You agreed that it was my duty to make certain she was not in distress.”

“Yes, that was my advice,” Gerald confessed, rather gloomily.

“Married? Thought I was your closest confidant.” Sir Thomas studied his friend through narrowed eyes. “Who did you wed, then? Just goes to show you . . .” At this last he drained his glass and a lull fell across the room.

“There is more to the tale than the identity of the bride, am I correct, David?” Gerald prompted.

“Yes, there is more.” Mr. Cavanaugh drew in a slow breath before resuming. “It seems news of my recent marriage restored Gran’s health.”

“That is good news, is it not?” Frances remarked, mimicking Penny’s sentiments. This could not be the dire straits Mr. Cavanaugh found himself in when he arrived.

“Yes, I feel fortunate that my beloved relative remains with us.” Mr. Cavanaugh brushed his cravat with his fingers. “As soon as she was able to write, Gran asked my wife and I to visit.” He began to pace again. “My grandmother knows I abhor the country, but she kept asking, she so wished to make the acquaintance of my bride.” He rubbed his forehead and brought his hand over his distinctive proboscis, probably a family trait. “I can’t recall exactly what I said to delay our journey, but it went on for some months, nearly a year, until I received a letter she dictated to her companion, Mrs. Sutton.”

“Oh no.” Frances gripped Penny’s arm a bit tighter in anticipation of what would happen next.

“Frances,” Penny whispered. “In regards to the closeness you and Gerald share with Mr. Cavanaugh, I find it somewhat odd that you should have not yet met his wife, much less known of his marriage.”

“I find this all so remarkable,” Frances replied. “This is the first I’ve heard of Mr. Cavanaugh’s wife.”

“It was not known if my grandmother’s condition would improve, and it was her wish that before she left this earth that I would have a family.” He glanced at his audience before pressing on. “I wrote at once that we had just discovered that we were expecting an addition to our family. That was part of what had delayed our visit. I wrote to her that I would leave immediately to be by her side. So I did. Upon my arrival it seemed she made a miraculous recovery.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” Frances brightened at this good news.

“Gran insisted I remain with my wife during her confinement.” Once again Mr. Cavanaugh’s gaze drifted to Gerald. “After the happy event, I wrote to my grandmother that we were delivered of a wonderful, healthy baby girl whom we named after her.”

Penny thought it strange that Frances’s previous delight was not eclipsed by the happy event of Mr. Cavanaugh’s newborn daughter.

“Gran began to ask our family to visit. I relayed to her that it might be some time before we could travel with an infant, her namesake, her only great-grandchild. My grandmother understood, and we kept up our regular correspondence.” Mr. Cavanaugh’s gaze dropped to his boots and then to the pattern of the carpet for some moments. “I suppose it was not so surprising, because of Gran’s years and her previous health history that Mrs. Sutton wrote me once again concerning my grandmother’s grave condition.”

“Oh, dear.” Frances leaned toward Penny and whispered, “How is it possible he kept this to himself all these years?”

“I cannot imagine,” Penny returned, keeping an attentive ear to Mr. Cavanaugh.

“Before Gran took to her bed, she feared our family’s lands and estates would be lost and revert to the Crown. I believe she would think it worse yet if our family name did not continue. Her fervent wish was that I have a son.

“She had known of my wife’s confinement. I cannot imagine that was what brought on Gran’s most recent bout of illness. Again I offered to rush to her side, and again, I was recommended, by her, to remain at home, where my family needed me most.” Mr. Cavanaugh paused, drawing in a labored breath before continuing. “In one of my subsequent missives, I begged Mrs. Sutton to relay the happy news that we were delivered of a son.” He glanced about the room, taking in his audience’s attentive faces. “Gran recovered soon after my son’s birth. As I had done many times over the course of the years, I visited the Willows to pay my respects and assure myself Gran had made a full recovery. I made the excuse that my family was still too young to travel to Dorset. She understood completely. I managed to keep her well-immersed in our family’s events over the next few years, sending her little drawings from the children and passing on her loving messages to her beloved great-grandchildren.”

Frances sniffed, becoming emotional, and her grip upon Penny’s arm tightened just slightly. This story of family dedication and un
wavering bonds, despite the heart-wrenching distance of their separation, did not have quite the overwhelming effect upon Penny. She waited to hear more. It seemed to her that Mr. Cavanaugh’s tale had not quite reached the crisis moment where, if Gerald was to be believed, his friend needed some female insight to obtain a viable solution.

“I did all that seemed sufficient to keep Gran’s spirits elevated, but as I have stated, she is of some advanced years and . . . as I expected . . . I suppose it was inevitable.” He stopped momentarily and pressed his lips together into a thin line. “This morning I received a dispatch from Gran’s solicitor, Mr. Randolph.” Mr. Cavanaugh’s voice choked with emotion, and he cleared his throat, several times, to continue. “She has taken to her bed and is very bad off. He believes this might be then end.”

“Oh, David!” Frances clapped her hand over her mouth, muffling a sob.

“He tells me that in her delirium Gran murmured about seeing my family, especially the children. Mr. Randolph insisted, for the benefit of my grandmother, that we might be delivered to the Willows at once.” He dropped his head forward, and his brown, wavy hair tumbled out of place, hiding his eyes as he relayed this last part. “I fear there is no postponing this journey.”

“My chaise and four are at your disposal!” Sir Thomas swung forward in his chair to offer his aid. “I’ve the fastest chestnuts that will fly you to Dorset, to be sure!”

Mr. Cavanaugh merely nodded his head in acceptance but remained silent. Clearly transportation was not the problem. Sir Thomas’s coach would have been the solution if that were the case.

“Most generous, Sir Thomas. I am certain David will take advantage of your offer once we reach the story’s conclusion,” Gerald replied. “Go on, David. The sooner you make known your conundrum, the quicker we can find a solution.”

He cleared his throat several times; it was apparent he was now at the sticking point. Mr. Cavanaugh stood immobile and did not acknowledge his friend, nor did he seem aware of anyone else in the room.

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