That made Fiona laugh, and Chloe felt like she was making progress with her melancholy maid and had successful y dodged the man question.

She found herself in a fairy-tale cottage of a room with a canopy bed, a scrol -armed chaise lounge, and a fire dwindling in a fireplace with a wooden-beam mantel. The dressing screen with the white gown hanging from it dominated the room, and Chloe had to wonder: Could a mom like her pul off a gown like that?

Chapter 2

O ther than your earrings, do you have any jewelry to remove?

Any bel y rings or the like?” Fiona asked as she closed the door behind Chloe.

“What do you think?” Chloe smiled.

“I would venture to say no.”

Being a not-so-modern type, Chloe didn’t need to transform too much. She washed off al vestiges of makeup, which in her case was a bit of blush, undereye concealer, and lipstick. Fiona packed Chloe’s simple earrings, necklace, and understated watch into velvet drawstring bags. Time, surely, wouldn’t matter for a lady of leisure in 1812.

Chloe hopped on one foot to yank off her lace-up boots until Fiona hovered, hands on her hips.

“You must get used to me doing such things for you.”

“Real y, it’s not a problem.” Chloe did everything for herself, and Abigail. It would take some retraining to have someone else to rely on.

“It’s a rule once we’re on set. If you’l step behind the dressing screen, I’l gather your chemise and stockings.”

The room had an aroma of lavender. Behind the screen, and deep in the Derbyshire countryside, hours from London’s Heathrow, and centuries away from her real life, Chloe felt more at home than ever.

She unbuttoned her blouse, because she couldn’t imagine having Fiona do that for her, while her fingers skipped a few in the excitement. Maybe yesterday she’d been a stressed-out single working mom from the Midwest, almost middle-aged, and with a slightly expanding middle of her own, struggling just to get a decent dinner on the table after a long day of trying to drum up business, but today, on this June morning in England, her fantasy life unfolded before her.

The fantasy would have been even better if she’d been a few pounds lighter, but months of cheap pasta dinners had added seven pounds to her tiny frame.

“Curvy women were al the rage in the Regency era, right, Fiona?”

Fiona was smiling a lot more now and warming up to her, Chloe could tel .

One thing Chloe knew for sure: if the meals here were authentic, there wouldn’t be any pasta, thank goodness. She’d had her fil .

She wriggled her black skirt past her hips. Sure, she was doing this for the business, for Abigail, but the white confection of a gown hanging in front of her enchanted her. It wasn’t a froufrou Victorian with hoops, but a classic Regency with an Empire waist and—that neckline, promising escape from her modern woes or perhaps even a romp in the shrubbery.

Wait a minute, where did that come from? A lady would have to be engaged, if not married, to al ow for a romp in the shrubbery, and that meant there had to be a gentleman involved. She didn’t let her mind wander down that garden path, the path that led to proposals both decent and indecent, because after al , by 1812 standards, a woman her age would have one foot in the grave. No doubt her role on this show would be that of a widow in mourning. Although they didn’t have her wearing a black gown, there wasn’t a mourning veil in sight, and no sign of a chemisette insert or fichu to cover her cleavage either.

Regardless, any Mr. Darcy on the set would be twenty-eight years old, as he was in Pride and Prejudice, or twenty-three like Mr. Bingley, and both would fil their dance cards with the twenty- year-old Miss Bennets. Men just weren’t on her agenda. She wanted nothing more than to enjoy this once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, answer questions about the novels, win the prize money, and get back home to Abigail.

Her new cel phone with international coverage rang, cutting into her reverie, and she sprang toward the sound of French horns echoing to the beamed ceiling. Abigail had downloaded a Regency ringtone for her. Chloe lunged for the phone, because she had told her daughter to cal only in case of an emergency, and she almost knocked the pitcher and bowl off the washstand.

Chloe dug for her phone in the vintage doctor bag she used as a purse. “Cel phones. You know, Fiona, two hundred years ago, we wrote letters with quil pens and sealed them with wax. Life was so much more—romantic.” She picked up without checking the cal er ID. “Hel o?”

Across the room, there was a knock on the door, it burst open, and three guys with spotlights on booms popped in. Chloe’s blouse was completely unbuttoned and her skirt lay in a crumple at her ankles. She shimmied behind the dressing screen, clenched her blouse closed at her cleavage, and swooped down to yank her skirt back up, covering her decidedly nonthong green cotton panties.

As she looked out from behind the dressing screen, a guy with a video cam bounded in, fol owed by another cameraman. Lights? Cameras!

What was going on here?

“Mommy? Are you there?”

Chloe forgot she was holding the phone to her ear.

“Uh—Abby? Sweetheart? Is everything okay?” Her chest thudded as she squinted into the spotlights.

“Yeah, I just have some real y good news.”

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