Read The Perfect Impostor Online

Authors: Wendy Soliman

The Perfect Impostor

BOOK: The Perfect Impostor
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Perfect Impostor

By Wendy Soliman

London, 1814

Struggling to escape her past and make ends meet as a modiste, Katrina Sinclair hopes the daring new wardrobe she’s designed for her childhood friend Julia—now a marchioness—will attract the business she desperately needs. But Julia’s help comes at a price: Katrina must take her place at a house party. They look enough alike for the ruse to work…until Julia’s handsome former fiancé arrives.

Leo Kincade has been tasked with catching a traitor who steals from house parties to fund Napoleon’s armies. Three women are suspected—including Julia. But when Leo intercepts her at the party, he finds an impostor who stirs an attraction stronger than anything he felt for Julia.

The mysterious woman shares Leo’s interest, even if she won’t trust him with her true identity. He should expose her at once, but he’s too tempted to play along and see where her deception—and their passion—will lead…

83,000 words

Dear Reader,

April is a bit of a mixed-bag month, isn’t it? In some countries, like here in the United States, it’s tax season, which for many is either a very stressful time or a time of “Hurray! Tax-return money arrives!” We also get Easter weekend, which comes with days off for some. April is also the month where we finally (hopefully) really start seeing the change of seasons from winter to spring, let out a long breath and kick our children outdoors for longer periods of time (surely it’s not just me who does that?).

So I guess it’s only appropriate that our releases this month are also a mixed bag. Carina Press is able to bring you an assortment of titles to help bust you out of any lingering winter blues. The month starts off with a smokin’-hot bang via Abby Wood’s erotic contemporary cowboy romance
Consent to Love.
Joining her in the first week of April are Sandy James with her contemporary romance
Rules of the Game,
and Regency romance
The Perfect Impostor
by Wendy Soliman.

Also in the contemporary romance genre in April we have
His Secret Temptation
by Cat Schield,
Serious Play
by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon, and
North of Heartbreak
by Julie Rowe. Historical romance author M.K. Chester joins the April lineup with
Surrender to the Roman,
and Juliana Ross heats up the Victorian era with erotic historical romance
Improper Relations.
Returning with three more books in her White series is author Susan Edwards.

Talented Natalie J. Damschroder returns with another crowd-pleasing romantic suspense,
Acceptable Risks.
And if you love that book, make sure you check out her previous romantic suspense,
Fight or Flight,
from our 2011 release schedule!

For those of you who prefer your romance a bit more…otherworldly, Kaylea Cross’s
Darkest Caress
is a paranormal romance of magical races, darkly handsome men and fiercely independent women. Ella Drake takes us to her vision of our post-apocalyptic world in
Desert Blade,
and new Carina Press author Kay Keppler’s
Zero Gravity Outcasts
takes readers on a science-fiction adventure with a hint of romance.

Fans of male/male romance should be on the lookout for
Brook Street: Fortune Hunter
, the next in author Ava March’s regency historical trilogy.

Last, but certainly not least, we’re very pleased to present debut author Christopher Beats’s steampunk noir
Cruel Numbers
this month. Visit Christopher’s alternate historical world in which the North loses the War of Southern Secession, one girl’s talent for analytical machines has made her a valuable asset in the new world, and steam-powered gadgets may give war veteran Donovan Schist the edge he needs to save his life, and hers.

I think April’s schedule of releases is a good reason to wish for just one more snow day—so you can stay inside and read! I hope you enjoy these books as much as we have.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected]. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press


For all my friends in the British Romantic Novelists’ Association who gave so selflessly of their time to help me hone my skills as a novelist. Thank you!


As always I’m in awe of the skill and dedication of my wonderful editor, Deborah Nemeth. My thanks to her and everyone at Carina Press for their professionalism and eye for detail.

To all of my family and friends, thank you for your encouragement and support.

And to Andre…well, you know what I want to say.

Chapter One

London, England

Katrina Sinclair prowled around the Marchioness of Lanarkshire, searching for imperfections in her new walking dress. But no bulging seams, crooked ribbons or misplaced beads had the temerity to offend her eye. The design was daringly innovative, but Julia, never less than forthcoming with her opinions, had yet to remark upon this particular one. And her silence was playing merry hell with Katrina’s frazzled nerves.

Had she gone too far? Got it completely wrong? No, she refused to entertain the possibility. Whenever fatigue threatened, excitement and resolve drove her on. If anyone could carry off her styles it was Julia, who set fashions rather than followed them.

Heartened by this thought, Katrina tilted her head, absorbed in the work she loved. Her nerves dissipated as Julia snapped out of her reverie, observed her reflection in the full-length glass and raised one brow in approval.

“A triumph, my dear.” She spoke casually, fiddling with an imaginary crease in the skirts as though her verdict was of no great consequence.

“Do you really think so?” Katrina let out the breath she’d been holding as she appraised her friend’s figure from every angle. “It’s almost right but still lacks something.” Her creative mind whirred with further possibilities. Mangling her lower lip between her teeth, she shook her head. “Oh, I do wish I could put my finger on exactly what it is. Perhaps a little more lace on the first flounce would help the skirts to swing more elegantly.”

“Oh, whatever you think necessary.” Julia waved away Katrina’s suggestion. “Don’t burden me with details. I’m not nearly clever enough to understand them.”

Katrina laughed. “It’s me you’re talking to, Julia, so your pretence at foolishness won’t wash.”

“Blast! I was forgetting how easily you see through me.”

Satisfied her customer was content to remain still, Katrina continued to worry about the details. She had to get this exactly right. Her entire future depended upon it. Her circumstances were dire, but Julia Dupont possessed the power to change all that with a casual wave of one elegant hand. She could establish Katrina’s reputation as a modiste to society’s elite and save her from the mire of ever-increasing debt that had taken a stranglehold on her fledgling business.

Her landlord was fast running out of patience. He’d taken to calling to remind her of her obligations. The manner in which he slapped his fat lips together and ran his eyes inappropriately down the length of her body suggested there was more than one way for her to remain solvent. She shuddered. God forbid it should ever come to that.

She suppressed a sigh. All in all, what had once seemed like a modestly attainable ambition was starting to feel like wading through quicksand. She couldn’t carry on for much longer, existing upon nothing more than implacable determination and the good will of others.

But Julia could change all that simply by wearing some of her more pioneering designs and making sure they were remarked upon by the people who mattered. Lady Marshall’s ball would be the sparkling culmination to the most sought-after of the summer’s house parties. The Duchess of Southport was to attend, and invitations were eagerly anticipated by society’s elite.

Katrina had been delighted when Julia asked her to design her wardrobe for the entire week, including the gown she’d wear to the all-important ball. Katrina had recognised the opportunity for the lifeline it was, and set to work with her sketchpad. The ball gown in question needed to be daring enough to break the current fashion trends and remain in the memory of other grand ladies without seeming too
In other words, Katrina must convince even the stoutest of matrons that she too could shine like Julia if only she would condescend to wear one of Madame Sinclair’s designs.

Weariness seeped through her bones as she issued instructions to her two hovering assistants. Katrina couldn’t remember the last time she’d managed more than four hours’ sleep. But sleep was one of the many luxuries she could no longer afford. She frowned over the sample of apple-green batiste she held against the pale skin of her friend’s arm, expecting Julia to comment upon its suitability.

When she didn’t, Katrina nodded decisively, making up her mind for her. “Yes, I think it will do very well.”

She put the material aside and picked up a sketch of a pretty afternoon gown, scribbling a note to herself about alterations to the decorative details that would adorn its hem.

“I’m relieved you were able to keep your engagement today, Julia.” Katrina struggled to keep her tone non-accusatory, making no mention of the three previous appointments the marchioness had failed to honour. “There’s precious little time to complete your new wardrobe before Lady Marshall’s party, and I need to ensure that everything is absolutely perfect.”

“Oh fiddlesticks, Katrina, do stop fussing so. You always follow your own instincts anyway and don’t really need me here at all.”

Julia Dupont stepped down from the stool she’d been standing on and draped herself in a silk robe. She pranced restlessly round Katrina’s salon, pulling aside the colourful festoons of fabric draped in extravagant swathes from ceiling to floor. They were an artistic attempt to disguise the damp patches, peeling walls and lack of accoutrements one would expect to find in the premises of a modiste to the quality. Katrina was hugely discouraged to notice her friend wrinkle her nose as she let the fabric fall back into place. Her décor were supposed to be a visual display of her individuality, but if her best friend could see straight through it, then what hope did she realistically have of attracting the custom she aspired to?

Katrina squared her aching shoulders, refusing to allow insecurity to overcome her purpose. No matter what it took, she would succeed. Anything else was quite simply unthinkable.

“But I need your final decision on some of my ideas. You did promise to come last week,” Katrina chided gently. “And the week before that.”

“Oh, I got held up, there was no help for that. But I trust your judgement absolutely, darling. I’m sure that whatever you’ve achieved will be magnificent.”

Julia was clearly preoccupied. Her wardrobe was one of the few subjects guaranteed to engage her complete attention. Not so today. She played abstractedly with a bowl of dried lavender placed on a sideboard in a futile attempt to overcome the stench from the streets that permeated the salon. The pungent aroma of the herb wafted in the air, lingering as Julia allowed it to fall through her fingers like shifting grains of sand.

“But this is important.” Katrina spoke with a confidence that belied her quaking anxiety that Julia would still decide against her radical designs.

“We are of a similar size. Do what you’ve done before and fashion the garments to fit yourself.”

“But things were different then,” Katrina wailed.

“Nonsense, you’ve made a thousand things for me. I was your first victim.”

Katrina flashed a wry grin. “Yes, but you’re a marchioness now. That changes everything.”

“Oh, don’t remind me!”

“Julia,” Katrina said, frowning. “Is something amiss?”

“What, other than being married to that old goat?”

“But I thought you wanted to…that is to say…”

Katrina hesitated. In spite of the differences in their respective situations, she’d always been able to say absolutely anything to Julia without fear of giving offence. But her friend was now married to the Prince Regent’s favourite equerry, whilst Katrina was struggling to make a name for herself as a modiste, working from cheap premises at an unfashionable address. The tenor of their relationship had changed. Even with Julia’s patronage, and however remarkable Katrina’s skill as a dressmaker, it was unlikely that many of Julia’s peers would be persuaded to follow her to Basing Lane. The narrow alley in Cheapside was constantly rutted with mud and filth, always rife with the smell of the gutters and barely wide enough to accommodate even a modest carriage.

That was why this house party was so important. It was the first time since her marriage that Julia had asked her to fashion her wardrobe. And she’d placed no limit on the amount Katrina could spend on her creations. It was a heaven-sent opportunity to display her skill, and Katrina didn’t intend to squander it. She’d agonised over every tiny detail, working until her fingers bled as she put the final delicate touches to each garment.

“You thought that being a marchioness was the be-all and end-all as far as I was concerned.”

Katrina shook her head. “No, not that exactly.”

Julia smiled impudently, a flash of her old spirit briefly reflected in her eyes. “Yes, you did, there’s no need to deny it, especially as it’s no more than the truth. I turned down the luscious Leo Kincade in favour of Dupont, just so I could enjoy the privilege of his rank, to say nothing of his position at Court.” She swirled towards Katrina, grinning flamboyantly. “You thought I was shallow. Go on, Kat, admit it.”

“No, no, I didn’t.” Katrina hesitated and then returned her grin. “Yes, well perhaps I did wonder how you could prefer Dupont over Kincade. Your marquess might be fabulously wealthy but Lord Kincade isn’t exactly a pauper. What’s more, he’s a duke’s brother, devilishly handsome by all accounts, and, if even half of what you’ve told me is true, he adored the ground you walked on.”

“His brother is as strong as an ox and already has two healthy sons,” Julia said absently. “Kincade will never succeed to the duchy.”


“Don’t sound so shocked, darling. These things matter in society. Anyway, I got my comeuppance. Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Julia smiled ruefully. “Dupont dazzled me with the splendours of Court and all the privileges attached to his position there whilst Kincade neglected me quite shamefully. He was always off all over the place doing secret work for the government, so he’d have me believe, but I always suspected there was another woman involved.”

“Surely not? How could he prefer anyone else over you?”

“You’re only saying that because I’m your friend and because you don’t understand the way men’s minds work.”

Katrina bridled. “I wouldn’t exactly say that.”

“You’re far too trusting for your own good.”

“Well, we are at war with the French, so Kincade’s absences are to be expected.”

“Yes, and it’s a damnable inconvenience. Men so enjoy their fights and us women are left at home with nothing to do except spend their money and fall out with each other.” Julia fell into a chair, looking thoroughly out of sorts with the world at large. “Anyway, I made my choice and it’s too late to repine now.”

Katrina rushed to her friend and took her hands in her own. “Oh, Julia, I had no idea you were so dissatisfied with your marriage. Give it time. It’s been less than a year, and you haven’t had the opportunity to adjust yet.”

“Did it take you a year to realise you’d made a mistake?”

Katrina felt her expression close down. “I had no choice in the matter.”

“Unlike me.” Julia pulled a face. “Sorry, darling, to remind you of that horrible time but it’s all behind you now. Anyway a year is more than enough time to discover the true nature of the man behind all that gallantry. Underneath it all he’s nothing more than a bully who wants to control absolutely everything I do.”

Katrina, mindful of the change in Julia’s status, didn’t quite know what to say. “Come and see the beautiful gown I’ve made for you to wear at Lady Marshall’s ball,” she urged, taking her friend’s hand and pulling her to her feet. She bit her lip as she did so, suddenly afraid that the gown wouldn’t find favour when Julia was in such an unsettled mood. Born into wealth and privilege, she was apt to change her mind on a whim with total disregard for the consequences. “You gave me
carte blanche
when it came to selecting a colour, and so I thought to try something a little…er, different.”

“Let me see it.” Julia appeared to take a genuine interest at last.

“I thought this deep shade of apricot would complement your hair,” she said tentatively, holding forth the dress for Julia’s inspection.

“And the black lace festoons would match my soul.”

“Oh, Julia, no, I didn’t at all mean to imply—”

“Darling, it’s fabulous.” Julia fingered the sarsenet with genuine enthusiasm, a distant look in her eye. “So divinely different and, as you say, a perfect match for my hair.”

“Do you really like it? Because if you don’t, I can—”

“It’s absolutely perfect. You’re a genius.”

Katrina let out a long breath. It was finished—she and her two apprentices had worked long into the nights to ensure that. They’d sewn in the small workroom behind the salon until the candles burned down to nothing, the fire died, their eyes drooped and their fingers were so sore that they could no longer grasp a needle. But if Julia was satisfied with the outcome, then all their sacrifices had been worth it. “If you’d slip it on, we can adjust the length of those festoons whilst you’re here, and your maid can collect it tomorrow.”

All that was required now was an adjustment to the elaborate apricot-and-black ruffles adorning the hem, set with jet beads and tiny black pearls. Low-cut, the gown defied the current trend by sporting short sleeves. It was to be worn with gloves fashioned from sheer black lace that came over the elbow. A modest spray of black and apricot feathers in Julia’s hair would complete the ensemble.

Katrina was taking a risk in designing something so out of step with the rest of society, but Julia was one of the few ladies in London with the style, confidence and panache to carry it off. Besides, if she was to persuade other well-heeled ladies to overlook her humble address, then she needed to make her mark through sheer effrontery.

“No, you put it on, Kat.” Julia sounded almost regretful. “I want to see the effect.”

“But I’m a little taller than you. That’s why I couldn’t complete the length of the festoons.”

“Only by an inch or so.” Julia clapped her hands. “Come on now, anyone would think you were ashamed of your handiwork.”

Katrina grinned. “Oh, all right then.” She unfastened her plain muslin gown and slipped out of it. “Oh, Julia, if this gown works, you do realise what it could do for me, don’t you?”

BOOK: The Perfect Impostor
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

A Grey Moon Over China by Day, Thomas, A.
The Seeker by Isobelle Carmody
Galaxy's Edge Magazine: Issue 7: March 2014 by Mike Resnick;C. J. Cherryh;Steve Cameron;Robert Sheckley;Martin L. Shoemaker;Mercedes Lackey;Lou J. Berger;Elizabeth Bear;Brad R. Torgersen;Robert T. Jeschonek;Alexei Panshin;Gregory Benford;Barry Malzberg;Paul Cook;L. Sprague de Camp
A New Home for Lily by Mary Ann Kinsinger, Suzanne Woods Fisher
The Offer by Catherine Coulter
Poison Ink by Christopher Golden
Faithful by S. A. Wolfe