audition, wel , how could a lady refuse?”

Chloe might have been born two centuries too late, and in the wrong country no less, but now that she was in her ancestral England, everything was going to work out.

“Do you think you have what it takes to win the prize money?”

“Absolutely. Al things Austen are a passion of mine, and that’s why I decided to do this.” If there was one thing she knew, it was Austen novels.

“What exactly do you intend to do with the money if you win?”

Chloe stopped on the stairs for a moment. “What do you mean ‘if’?”

Fiona tapped her finger on her cheek and smirked.

“I ful y intend to give as much of it as I can to charity.” There. She made it to the second floor, where several closed wooden doors radiated from the landing. “But only after I set aside enough money to secure my daughter’s future.”

Fiona stepped back. “Daughter? Are you married, Miss Parker?”

“Divorced. Four years ago.”

Fiona raised an eyebrow and made a flourish toward a door that, once unlocked and opened, revealed, in a corner of the room, a white floor-length Regency gown hanging from a large three-paneled mahogany dressing screen. “Your gown.”

“Wow.” Chloe gasped, trying to imagine herself in the straight skirting, the smal puff sleeves, and the revealing neckline. She thought they’d put her in something a little more—matronly.

“I didn’t expect you’d have a daughter. How does she feel about her mum being so far off?”

Chloe hadn’t worn such a low neckline in a while. “Um, she actual y made her own plea on my audition video, that’s how much she supports my being here.”

They’d had so much fun filming, along with Chloe’s only employee, Emma. They shot Chloe in a hand-sewn Regency gown, sitting in a horse carriage on Michigan Avenue, sipping coffee from a white paper cup and bemoaning the plight of a modern Janeite.

But somehow, Emma’s interview questions led Chloe to a rant about men who text other women while on a date or tweet breakups, who think basebal hats are fashion, and who can give a blow-by-blow account of any sporting event but are incapable of writing a love letter even if their last glimpse of the Super Bowl depended on it.

“I remember Abby said to me, ‘You have to go, Mom. Who else owns a complete col ection of the ‘I Heart Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, Mr. Tilney’ blah, blah, blah coffee mugs?’ She’s staying with my parents, and even though they’re on a fixed income, I’m sure they’l spoil her as best they can.”

Fiona folded her arms. “What real y brought you here, Miss Parker?” She blocked the door.

“I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, huge. But I’m here for the prize money, real y. And the great PR this wil bring my failing business. I’m facing bankruptcy. My ex-husband only contributes minimal y, and Abigail’s an advanced student, on the gifted track. I resolved a long time ago to give her the best education I could. You have no idea what it took to get her into her school, and if we have to move—”

Fiona didn’t seem fazed.

“Look, I don’t fit into the modern American world, but Abigail, she has an extremely bright future ahead of her. Sometimes I feel like ‘Ma’ from Little House on the Prairie with a daughter like her who’s into al things futuristic and trendy. But I’d do anything for her. Anything.”

“Does she know you’re here just for the money?”

“I’m not here just for the money!”

“Then what else are you here for?”

“To ogle the young men in their buckskin breeches.” Chloe winked.

Fiona smiled again.

“I’m here for the experience, of course! Although Abigail’s under the grand delusion that I’m going to find my own Mr. So-and-So.” Chloe laughed.

Fiona didn’t. “And what do you think?”

The thought had crossed Chloe’s mind, but, in true Regency fashion, she had repressed the idea, even after reading a sample bio they had sent her of a cast member, a certain Mr. Wrightman, a man who seemed great— Oxford-educated, an art, architecture, and travel buff—al interesting, except for that ridiculous stage name.

“You didn’t come here to meet a man?” Fiona asked, confirming the vibe Chloe had picked up on.

“I think that just because a woman travels overseas, people shouldn’t assume she’s looking for romance,” Chloe said. “I came here to dress in gowns for this documentary, to live and breathe the Regency, and use my knowledge of Jane Austen novels to win.”

“Of course.” Fiona turned to lead Chloe into the room.

Chloe had to sign al kinds of agreements and go through a battery of interviews and medical and psychological tests for this documentary and now her own maidservant was probing about a man, too? Why was everything always about men? She was perfectly happy without one.

Chloe stumbled, but caught her fal by grabbing onto the wooden coat tree on her way through the door.

“Mind your step.” Fiona nodded toward the floor and took Chloe’s bags. “Many of these old doorways have wooden thresholds.”

“I never was very good at thresholds—being carried over them or otherwise.”

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