Chapter 1

S he gave up pink drinks and took up tea long ago.

Chloe Parker, even after her divorce, stil dreamed of a more romantic era. An age when a lady, in her gown and gloves, would, for sheer amusement, banter with a gentleman in his tight breeches and riding boots, smoldering in a corner of the drawing room.

So now that she stood deep in the English countryside, loaded down with her suitcases, at the registration desk of a Tudor-style inn, she felt as if she’d been drinking something much stronger than tea. Was she woozy from the jet lag of the eight-hour flight from Chicago to London, or enthral ed with the antique furniture and aroma of scones?

A young woman in a long blue frock, apron, and ruffled cap approached and curtsied. “I’l be your maidservant during your stay, Miss Parker,” she said in a monotone voice with a slight Cockney twang. “My name’s Fiona.”

Chloe had a maidservant? Who cal ed her, at thirty-nine years old, a “miss” and curtsied? As Chloe’s eight- year-old daughter, Abigail, would say,

“This rocks.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Chloe said instead.

Fiona would be beautiful, were it not for the pierced hole in her pouty lower lip where her lip ring would be.

“Welcome to the set, Miss Parker,” she said without a glimmer of a smile. “To Jane Austen’s England. Or should I say Mr. Darcy’s Derbyshire?”

Chloe would be happy to be welcomed to Mr. Darcy’s pigpen, but that was beside the point.

Fiona looked Chloe over. “It looks as if you’re almost dressed for the part.”

Chloe wore lace-up boots, a long pencil skirt, and a poet blouse. She shopped at vintage and secondhand stores and most people noticed her quirky outfits.

Fiona took a skeleton key from behind the check-in desk. “Are you excited to join in our little charade?”

“This documentary’s a dream come true for me! A chance to live in the year 1812 for three weeks? No computers, just gowns, bal s, and tea parties. This is my Vegas, my—Brighton.”

The ice between mistress and maidservant had been broken for a moment, because Fiona managed a half smile.

You wouldn’t have to have read Pride and Prejudice like Chloe did at eleven years old to appreciate the magnitude of the moment. Mr. Darcy was her first love, although other Austen heroes soon fol owed, but Mr. Darcy loomed large in her heart for twenty-eight years—the longest relationship she’d ever had with any man, fictional or real.

She’d also never been abroad, and never to England, even though English blue blood ran thick on her mother’s side and she surrounded herself with al things Austen and al things English, from BBC costume dramas to Cadbury chocolates. She had even named her daughter Abigail so she could cal her “Abby” after the famed English abbeys.

Abigail, though, didn’t like to be cal ed “Abby.” She took hip-hop dance classes, programmed her own apps, shot her own YouTube videos, and even filmed and uploaded Chloe’s audition video for this Regency documentary.

“With al the social networking, Twittering, e-mailing, and texting I’m supposed to be doing, I’m twenty-first- century weary and twenty-first-century chal enged,” Chloe told Fiona. “I can’t wait to escape to the 1800s and slow things down for a while.”

“Right.” Fiona held out her waiflike arms toward Chloe’s suitcases. “It’s time to go upstairs and get dressed for your carriage ride to Bridesbridge Place, where you’l be staying. Might I take your baggage?” Her outstretched arm revealed a Celtic ring tattoo around her wrist.

It occurred to Chloe that Fiona might be a little miffed that she had been cast as a servant forced to wait on the likes of her. “No thanks, I have them.”

“As you wish. Fol ow me, please.” Fiona spun around and led Chloe to a narrow wooden staircase with steps smoothed from hundreds of years of wear, and Chloe couldn’t help but imagine the people who must’ve walked the same path over time. It was fitting that her journey would start at an inn, as inns were the crossroads of early 1800s society, where rich and poor intermingled, horses were switched out, ladies could lunch in public, and trysts in various rooms changed destinies.

Chloe tried not to bang the plaster wal s with her heavy bags.

She had baggage, that was for sure. An ex-husband, a stack of overdue bil s, and a house facing foreclosure, al because her antique letterpress business was tanking. Nobody paid for their wedding invitations or anything to be letterpressed and handcrafted on one hundred percent cotton-rag paper anymore.

Letterpress was a dying art, another casualty of the digital age. The bank sent her threatening letters run off on cheap paper and laser-printed in Helvetica, the font she despised the most, because it was sans serif, overused, and, to her, it heralded the reign of the impersonal.

With Chloe’s failing business, Abigail’s entire world was in jeopardy. That brought Chloe here, first and foremost, to compete in this documentary, to put her knowledge of Austen novels to the test and win the $100,000 prize. How else could she ral y that kind of cash so quickly and generate PR for her business at the same time? Perhaps, though, even more than the cash, the documentary offered her one last chance at—


Fiona looked down on Chloe from the top of the stairs. “How ever did you find out about our film project al the way from America?”

“Oh! The president of the Jane Austen Society of North America sent me the casting-cal information. I’m a lifelong member and win so many of the Austen trivia contests, she thought of me right away. Once I won the

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