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Letters for Phoebe

Letters for Phoebe

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Phoebe Kimball grew up believing in love, but after failing to find a gentleman capable of capturing her heart, she has turned more practical than romantic. She is determined to find a husband in London this season. If only the annoying Mr. Fenwick would stop appearing every time she sets her cap at someone! When an anonymous letter arrives warning her that her current target is unsuitable marital material, Phoebe begins a relationship with the letter writer that promises something more than a practical alliance.

This is a novella-length Regency romance, formerly part of a multi-author series that now stands on its own.

Main Tropes

  • Enemies-to-Lovers
  • Secret Admirer
  • Opposites Attract

Synopsis

Phoebe Kimball grew up believing in love, but after failing to find a gentleman capable of capturing her heart, she has turned more practical than romantic. She is determined to find a husband in London this Season. If only the annoying Mr. Fenwick would stop appearing every time she sets her cap at someone! When an anonymous letter arrives warning her that her current target is unsuitable marital material, Phoebe begins a relationship with the letter writer that promises something more than a practical alliance. 

Griffin Fenwick does not usually care for women on the hunt for a husband, but Miss Kimball's quick wit and refusal to admit she enjoys his company intrigues him. When he realizes the gentlemen on her list of eligible bachelors is full with scoundrels, he warns her the only way he can - through a letter. As he comes to know Phoebe better, he soon realizes he wishes to put his own name on her list. If only she liked Griffin as much as she liked her anonymous correspondent.

When Phoebe realizes its been Griffin writing her all along, will she put aside practicality for love, or spurn Griffin for even trying to woo her?

Intro to Chapter One

The crowd at the park had reached ridiculous proportions, which kept Phoebe seated squarely in her small phaeton. Her driver sat stiffly before her, knowing well enough that to show interest in the display to the left of the path would not elevate him in the eyes of his mistress. 

For her part, Phoebe Kimball kept her eyes averted from the ridiculous activity nearby and upon a cloud drifting overhead. She most certainly did not peer from the corner of her eye to see the two men on the green, stripped of their coats, hats, and gloves, hurling balls of dough at one another. Not like her sister-in-law, who watched the whole thing with a delicately crafted opera spyglass pressed to her eye. 

A spyglass. In broad daylight.

Phoebe pushed a dark lock of hair behind her ear and made a mental note to tell her maid to use more egg-whites in her next hair-setting tonic.

Laughter erupted from the field. How two grown men, with family names well known and respected throughout England, could behave in such a common manner, she would never know. The crowd enjoyed their well-advertised “duel,” if the cheers and applause were any indication of their thoughts on the matter. 

“Why they chose the fashionable hour is beyond my understanding,” Phoebe muttered aloud at last. She had come hoping for a glimpse of a particularly suitable bachelor known to ride at that time. “Though the date makes perfect sense. They are behaving as fools, and they are causing a standstill on Rotten Row. This will be in all the papers.”

“Of course. April is the month of fools.” Caroline murmured her agreement but made no effort to ignore the fight. “Oh, the viscount lobbed that one directly into Mr. Fenwick’s face. That must be the final blow. I cannot see how one might do better.”

“It pains me to know you are acquainted with that man.” Phoebe squeezed her eyes shut. Where did they even get all the dough for this incredible foolishness? Stolen from some overworked baker, no doubt.

There had been a time when Phoebe would have been as delighted by the spectacle as her sister-in-law. A time before her mother grew ill, before her father grew distant. Indeed, she had planned her own amusing adventures with her friends at school down to the smallest detail to ensure their merriment. 

But those days were past, and Phoebe had other things to plan. Such as a marriage wherein she might be seen as an equal rather than a sack of coins. She shivered despite the sunshine pouring through the trees above. 

“Oh. It is over.” Caroline sat back in her seat and collapsed her telescope, her bottom lip protruding as though she had been robbed of a treat. Really. A woman of her delicate condition, even if said condition wasn’t yet widely known, ought to show more decorum. “That was the liveliest thing that has happened all week.”

“But hardly appropriate.” Phoebe turned her head barely enough to see the crowd dispersing, but the two men in the middle of the odd display were pulling on their coats and exchanging huge grins. Phoebe hastily looked away again. “Did you hear how it came about? They were tossing food at one another at their club, like common ruffians in a public house.”  

Caroline had obviously grown used to Phoebe’s ways and tended to ignore her sister-in-law when Phoebe addressed subjects relating to decorum. As a married woman, perhaps Caroline did not worry as much over her reputation as Phoebe must. But associating with the dough-ball-duel was not high on Phoebe’s list of accomplishments she hoped to expound to a future mother-in-law. 

People climbed back into their carriages or made their way across the green lawns of Hyde Park, everyone chatting and laughing about the duel they had witnessed. Doubtless, accounts would appear in every newspaper about the event, all of it mocking both the participants and those who had lingered to watch.  

Phoebe narrowed her eyes, sweeping the carriages lined up in front of theirs, looking for a particular gentleman in a plum-colored coat. Mr. Richard Milbourne, heir to an estate estimated to be worth eight thousand pounds per annum. Rumor had it he wished to marry before the end of the Season. 

From what Phoebe knew about him, he might prove an excellent husband.

“Mr. Fenwick,” Caroline called, startling Phoebe out of her search. Surely, Caroline did not mean to call over one of those men, in public, no less. Mr. Fenwick, coat in place, trotted over to the carriage from his place on the green, wearing a wide grin. He scrubbed his hand through his hair, leaving it a brown mass of waves with blotches of white dough sticking this way and that. His eyes were on Caroline until he was but a few feet from the carriage, and then his gaze flicked to meet Phoebe’s glare. 

The grin faded abruptly, and his cheeks reddened. Good. Perhaps her sophisticated disapproval put him in mind of where he was and with whom he was speaking.

“Mrs. Kimball,” he said, bowing from his place at the side of the path. “Good afternoon.” 

Caroline laughed, the cheerful sound causing Phoebe to grit her teeth. Everyone in the vicinity would stare at them. “Please, Griffin, we have known each other since our infancy. Call me Caroline.” 

That brought Phoebe’s attention back to her sister-in-law. “I did not know you were so familiarly acquainted with this man.” She spoke without thought, then pressed her lips tightly together. But really, she had been shocked into the exclamation. 

Caroline was not at all put out. “Of course. Why would I not be? My family and the Fenwicks have been intimately connected for years. Our fathers’ estates adjoin one another.” Caroline batted her pretty, blonde lashes at Phoebe, but that placating trick only worked on Phoebe’s older brother. “Please, allow me to introduce you. Phoebe, this is Mr. Griffin Fenwick. Griffin, this is my sister-in-law, Miss Phoebe Kimball.” 

Phoebe’s good manners forced her to turn to the gentleman, staring down into his twinkling blue-gray eyes as he bowed. He kept his gaze directed at her through the gesture, which made her blink. Men normally did not appraise her so openly. 

“Miss Kimball, it is a pleasure to meet you at last. Your sister-in-law spoke of you a great deal last time she visited Essex.” He straightened after she gave him a brief nod, his expression still one of amusement. 

“I have heard her speak of you, on occasion. My brother had the most to say after meeting you.” Phoebe refrained from mentioning that her elder brother, Caroline’s husband, mostly commented on the man’s ability to make others laugh. Not much else was said about him, in his favor or otherwise. Likely, the man was little more than a fool.

* * *

Usually, when someone stared down their nose at Griffin, he did not care. The opinions of others, even pretty young misses with pert noses, were of little importance to him. On more than one occasion he had seen the bores of Society grimace at his antics. But it was rare someone so young refused to see the humor in his escapades, and it gave him pause. 

“I rather liked your brother,” he told Miss Phoebe Kimball. “A good chap, really.” It somewhat surprised him that a man who seemed as eager to laugh as Mr. Joseph Kimball would have a sister with such a stern and disapproving countenance. 

The young woman’s smile appeared, though it was tight as a miser’s fist. Shame. She was likely more than pretty when she smiled. Her eyes slid away from him, back to the line of open carriages finally beginning to stir on Rotten Row. 

“Caroline,” she said, her delicate eyebrows drawing together in a frown. “Look. Mr. Milbourne is coming closer.” She adjusted her posture and widened her eyes. 

Griffin raised his eyebrows at Caroline. She met his gaze and shrugged, one corner of her mouth tightening as though to say to him, I haven’t any idea what she sees in him

“Have you a wish to meet Mr. Milbourne?” Griffin asked, keeping his tone light. He and Milbourne had gone to Oxford at the same time, and they now belonged to the same club. Griffin rather pitied any woman who wound up with the man. He had no thought for the feelings of others, living only for his own pleasure. Rumor was he had become quite the gambler of late, too, to the distress of his family. 

Miss Kimball cut him a look from the corner of her eye. “Do you know him, Mr. Fenwick?”

“Somewhat.” Was it his place to tell the young woman the man she wished to meet was a crass and arrogant imbecile? Likely not. He shrugged. “I can introduce you, if you wish.” 

Noticing more sticky dough upon his shoulder, Griffin grimaced. He must still have quite a bit in his hair. He started combing his fingers through it again, drawing out sticky white clumps into his fingers. The young woman leaned away, though it would be quite impossible for any of the dough to land upon her as she was above and several feet away from him. 

“That would make this outing worthwhile for Phoebe,” Caroline said, releasing a sigh as she began to fan herself. “Though I am content to have merely witnessed your duel. It was such fun, Griffin.”

He grinned at her. “The viscount is an excellent bowler, I should say. He certainly trounced me, which is all the more insulting since I came up with the idea.”

Miss Kimball made a noise of impatience in the back of her throat. “Mr. Milbourne is nearly here,” she whispered. “Please, Mr. Fenwick, if you would—?”

“Of course.” He opened the door to the phaeton, jumping in to sit across from the ladies. Miss Kimball drew back in surprise, her jaw dropping open, while Caroline covered a smirk with her fan. “You did not expect me to stand in the road to make such an introduction, did you?” he asked, keeping his tone innocent. 

Color rose in her cheeks, and the young woman did not appear to know what to say. He winked at her, then turned to the approaching yellow phaeton. “Ah, Milbourne. Good afternoon.” The other man was wearing a very purple coat, and a silver waistcoat that looked as though it would not cover his growing middle much longer. 

Milbourne, driving himself, slowed his single horse. “Is that you, Fenwick? Do not tell me you caused all the fuss on the green.”

Griffin laughed. “Very well, I will not tell you such a thing. Instead, I will introduce you to these fine ladies. Mrs. Joseph Kimball and her sister-in-law, Miss Kimball. Mrs. Kimball and I grew up as neighbors. Ladies, Mr. Milbourne and I attended Oxford at the same time.”

Milbourne’s eyebrows rose, and he leaned somewhat closer. “Miss Phoebe Kimball? I have heard all about you, of course, but I did not expect to be so fortunate as to receive an introduction.” His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, as they likely would at an especially good hand of cards.

It was rather unlikely they would run in the same circles, Griffin supposed, given that Milbourne preferred gaming tables to the marriage mart. 

Miss Kimball smiled, though it was something of a subdued expression, and tipped her head to one side. “Oh, it is I who am fortunate to meet you, sir.” 

Griffin lost interest in their exchange, looking back over the park. He had left his horse tied up beneath trees on the opposite side of the green, and he could see the beast still there, nibbling at the grass. He had nearly decided to excuse himself when he heard Mr. Milbourne ask to call on the young woman. 

That brought his attention back to the conversation, and to a blushing Phoebe Kimball. She appeared rather pleased with herself as she gave the man permission to visit and take tea with her the next afternoon. 

Caroline was still waving her fan and seemed even less invested in the conversation than Griffin. Given that she was likely Miss Kimball’s chaperone, that did not bode well. 

“I look forward to coming to know you better, Mr. Milbourne,” the unmarried miss said with a simpering smile that looked not at all natural upon her face. He had thought she had rather intelligent brown eyes, but if she sought the company of one such as Milbourne…

“Capitol. Good to see you again, Fenwick. Mrs. Kimball. Miss Kimball.” Milbourne tipped his hat to them and went on, grinning rather like a wolf who had been invited into the sheep pen. 

Frowning, Griffin looked to Caroline. “You are not really going to allow an association with Milbourne, are you?”

That brought both women’s attention to him. “I do not see why not. I know nothing to concern me about the gentleman.” Caroline smiled, though the expression appeared tired or strained. She did not seem herself, really. When he looked to Miss Kimball, her eyes were narrowed. 

“I do not expect you to understand someone of Mr. Milbourne’s reputation,” the young woman said, somewhat defensively. “His family is known quite well in London, and I have never heard anyone speak ill of him.”

Most likely because speaking of his sort would not be considered polite conversation, Griffin thought. It was not his place to become involved. Surely, Miss Kimball’s brother would learn of the meeting and caution his sister. Unless Mr. Kimball knew nothing about Milbourne, either. It was not as though he paid much attention to Society, now that he had procured a wife for himself. He had said as much to Griffin the previous summer. 

Griffin shrugged away the troubling thought. “It is none of my business, of course, Miss Kimball. I am certain we all ought to form our own opinions of those we associate with.” He tried one of his more charming grins in an attempt to coax her back to good humor. Instead, she wrinkled her nose at him and turned away, as though interested in something on the other side of the road.

Petulant little thing, for all she had a lovely profile. 

But it was none of his affair. Griffin smiled at Caroline, wishing her well, then took his leave of them both and descended from the phaeton. He strolled across the green, grinning a bit to himself when he stepped over a particularly large clump of bread dough. 

He had brought laughter to more people than he had planned that afternoon. It did everyone a bit of good, he knew, to have something cheerful to speak of rather than the usual gossip or news of the Continental war. With a bit of a sigh, he mounted his horse and went home. His parents would most likely wish for an account of his afternoon before they prepared for dinner and their usual evening entertainment. 

Even as he tried to decide which parts of the dough-duel to exaggerate to see his mother laugh, he could not help but think of Milbourne’s pleasure at meeting Miss Kimball. It was enough of a distraction to him that when he arrived home, he stopped to speak to the butler.

After all, no one in London knew more about the gossip of gentry and nobility both than the household servants. 

“Miss Kimball, sir?” Bastion asked. “Yes, sir. The rumor is she is on the lookout for a husband with a nest as well-feathered as her own. I could not say why, of course. But I do believe this is her third season.”

“When you say well-feathered nest,” Griffin said, raising his eyebrows, “do you mean that she is wealthy? I did not think Caroline Wynncroft married into a wealthy family.”

“Not precisely wealthy, sir.” Bastion’s forehead puckered as he thought. “But I believe there was some scandal last year, when a man in search of a fortune attempted to court her. He was exposed, of course. Miss Kimball left London, likely in some embarrassment.” 

That made Griffin nod slowly as he worked out the rest himself. “She would not wish to fall prey to a fortune hunter again, therefore she would look for someone not necessarily in need of her dowry. I suppose that makes sense.” He winced, thinking again of Milbourne’s rather unsavory habits. Even if the man had money enough at the moment, he might not hold on to it if he continued gambling. And keeping a mistress. 

Not that it was his business. Perhaps he could pen a letter to Joseph Kimball and express his concerns. That seemed like the best course of action in such circumstances. Or pay a call on the man. Yes, that would have to do.

Griffin went in search of his mother, his grin more confident now that he had decided upon a course of action.

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