City of Secrets (A Counterfeit Lady #2)

By: Victoria Thompson

CHAPTER ONE





ELIZABETH HAD TO TELL MORE LIES ON A SUNDAY MORNING AT church than she ever had trying to cheat a mark out of fifty thousand dollars.

“Lovely hat, Mrs. Snodgrass.”

“So nice to see you, Mr. Peabody.”

“Good sermon, Reverend Honesdale.”

But when she glanced over and saw the way Gideon Bates was looking at her, she decided it was worth it. If she was going to marry him, she would have to live in his world, and if that involved lying, at least it was a skill she had already mastered.

“Lizzie!” Anna Vanderslice cried, pushing her way through the worshippers who had lingered after the service to chat. She took Elizabeth’s hands in hers and gave them an affectionate squeeze.

“Anna, I’m so glad to see you.” Finally, she got to speak the truth. “How are things going at home?” she added in a whisper.

Anna’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “David finally admitted to me that he was the one who broke your engagement and he only allowed you to take the credit to save your reputation.”

Indeed, if word got out that Anna’s brother had found Elizabeth unworthy, no other gentleman in New York would dare make her an offer of marriage. Not that Elizabeth wanted to marry any of the other gentlemen in New York. “He’s very kind,” Elizabeth said with a straight face.

“I told him so, too,” Anna said. “Even though we both know he was saving his own reputation with his kindness. No debutante in the city would trust him if he threw you over. How on earth did you convince him it was his idea?”

Elizabeth couldn’t explain how she’d gotten David to break the engagement she’d previously convinced him to make, even though he’d never actually proposed to her—at least not while they were standing in a church aisle. She simply smiled mysteriously. “Are you coming to the salon this week?”

“You know I am.” Anna hadn’t missed a single one of the weekly gatherings held at Elizabeth’s aunt’s house since Elizabeth had introduced her to them.

“We can talk about it then.”

“Anna, how lovely to see you,” Gideon’s mother said, having wandered over from where she’d been greeting some friends. “Is your mother here? I didn’t see her.”

“She has a cold, so she stayed home today.”

“Nothing serious, I hope,” Mrs. Bates said.

Anna’s shrug reminded them both that her mother was something of a hypochondriac whose ailments were never serious. The three women chatted for a few minutes before Anna took her leave to find her brother.

Mrs. Bates scanned the dwindling crowd with the shrewdness of a business tycoon determined to transact a multimillion-dollar deal. Or rather with the shrewdness of a society matron determined to find a social advantage for her only son, which made her even more ruthless than a tycoon. Since her only son needed a wife who was completely acceptable to society, and since Elizabeth was the wife he wanted, Mrs. Bates had her work cut out for her.

At the moment, Gideon’s mother was limited to introducing Elizabeth to whatever illustrious individuals happened to have lingered to chat after this morning’s service. Judging from her expression, she didn’t see anyone left who was worth pursuing.

“Is Priscilla here?” Elizabeth asked, naming the one woman she’d actually become friends with so far. “I didn’t see her.”

“I thought . . .” Mrs. Bates scanned the auditorium again. “Yes, there she is, up front. Oh dear, I hope she’s not ill.”

Indeed, Priscilla Knight was still sitting in one of the front pews, staring straight ahead and making no move to chat with any of the ladies clustering nearby.

“I’ll make sure she’s all right,” Elizabeth said, hurrying toward the front of the church.

Priscilla had recently been widowed for the second time in her young life, and Elizabeth knew she carried a heavy burden. As she approached, she saw that her friend looked more distressed than ill.

“Priscilla?”

Priscilla looked up and smiled when she recognized Elizabeth, but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Oh, Elizabeth, you startled me.”

“You did look like you were deep in thought. I didn’t know whether to interrupt you or not.” Elizabeth slid into the pew beside her. “Is everything all right?”

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