When a day at the races reveals sabotage and subterfuge, Elizabeth Miles must use every ounce of her craftiness to even the score in this all-new Counterfeit Lady novel from USA Today bestselling author Victoria Thompson. Wealthy but uncouth Sebastian Nolan has invited his lawyer, Gideon Bates, and his lovely new wife, Elizabeth, to attend the famous Belmont Stakes. Nolan is anxious for Gideon and Elizabeth to help his daughter, Irene, acquire a bit of polish, now that his venture into thoroughbred racing has allowed them entry into society. He is also hoping to find her a rich potential suitor. Elizabeth is not exactly the society girl Nolan believes her to be, but she is eager to attend the races. Her con artist family has made a lot of money at racetracks, although not from betting on the horses, and she enjoys the excitement of the track. Irene Nolan seems more interested in horses than husbands, and she jumps at the chance to show Elizabeth her horse, Trench, and introduce her to his rider, Cal Regan. Elizabeth soon realizes there is more than just a working relationship between Irene and Cal. But she also knows that Irene’s father would never allow his only daughter to marry a jockey. When Cal takes a terrible tumble injuring both himself and Irene’s beloved Trench, Elizabeth and Gideon learn that the mishap was not simply bad luck—the horse and rider are victims of sabotage. It turns out that Sebastian Nolan has more than a few skeletons in his closet and someone is out to get their long sought-after revenge. Elizabeth knows that tohelp Irene and Cal, she is going to need some help in creating the quintessential con. With the ever honest Gideon at her side, she enlists those closest to her to come up with a scheme that will either ensure young Irene and Cal a first-place finish or have disastrous consequences. …
December 6, 2022
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Being married had advantages that attorney gideon Bates had never even considered during his bachelor days. For example, he no longer had to think of polite excuses when a client offered to introduce him to a marriageable daughter, as he was starting to suspect Mr. Sebastian Nolan was working his way up to doing.
"I'd like to arrange for a sum of money to be settled on my daughter, Irene," Nolan was saying. He was a large man, tall and substantial without being fat, and his weathered face indicated he had worked very hard for his fortune, although Gideon happened to know Nolan just spent a lot of time on the training track with his Thoroughbred horses. "Not so much money that she would draw the attention of fortune hunters but enough to ensure her a comfortable income and to sweeten the pot."
"Sweeten the pot?" Gideon echoed in confusion.
"I guess that's a poor choice of words, but I'd like to provide any potential suitors with a little incentive. You see, Irene is . . . Well, don't get me wrong. No man could want a finer daughter. She's smart as a whip and has the disposition of an angel, but a girl needs something more. We're both men of the world, Mr. Bates, so I know you understand."
"I'm not sure I do, Mr. Nolan," Gideon hedged, afraid he understood only too well.
Nolan sighed. "A man wants a woman who's at least a bit . . . attractive. It shouldn't matter, of course, but we both know it does, at least to most men, and Irene . . . Poor Irene took after me when it comes to looks, instead of her sainted mother, God rest her soul. She's a wonderful girl but not one a man would look at twice, if you know what I mean."
Oh dear, poor Irene indeed if that's what her own father thought of her. Gideon didn't even have to imagine what his mother would say on the subject of females being judged on their appearance, and his wife, Elizabeth, would agree with her wholeheartedly. For his part, Gideon wanted to argue with Mr. Nolan, but he couldn't exactly take the high ground on this subject since his own wife was quite lovely. He also had to admit that it had been her beauty that originally attracted him before he fell in love with her spirit. Still, he didn't want to confirm such a shallow quality in his gender as a whole.
"I'm sure your daughter will have many suitors who find her quite appealing."
"I admire your optimism, young man, but she's twenty-three and hasn't had a suitor yet, which is why I want to give her a dowry of sorts. It's an old-fashioned idea, but it used to do the trick, and I don't see why it couldn't do so again."
"Perhaps we shouldn't call it a dowry," Gideon suggested. "I like the word you used, 'settle.' Perhaps we could call it a settlement."
"So, you can fix that up for me?"
"I have a few ideas on the subject, but I'd like to discuss them with my partners who have a lot more experience with things like this." Was that really true? He hoped so. "They may have some even better suggestions. If you give me a week, I can prepare a proposal for you."
Nolan actually clapped his hands together with satisfaction. "That's the ticket! I knew you'd figure something out."
"Please wait until I've actually done it to compliment me, Mr. Nolan," Gideon begged him good-naturedly.
"Of course, of course. I appreciate your attitude, Mr. Bates. You're married, aren't you?"
Gideon blinked at the abruptness of the question. "Why, yes, I am." So, his fears that Nolan wanted to fix him up with Irene had been unfounded.
Nolan fingered his luxurious beard thoughtfully. "I'm wondering if you and your missus might enjoy a day at the races. The Belmont Stakes are next Wednesday, and it should be a good show. Sir Barton is running. They say he's the best horse of this year, maybe of this century."
"Yes, I've read a lot about him."
"I'd love to have you and your missus join me. I've got a box reserved since I have two horses running that day."
"In the Belmont?" Gideon asked in surprise.
"Oh no, in other races. I don't have a horse that good yet, but I'm still building my stable."
"I knew you raised horses, but I didn't know you raced them."
Nolan shrugged modestly. "I took up raising them as a hobby when I first made some money, but I finally started racing seriously the past few years. How about it? Do you think your wife would enjoy a day at Belmont Park or is she one of those folks who don't believe in gambling?"
Gideon was pretty sure Elizabeth had nothing against gambling, and she might very well enjoy a day at the track. "I'm sure she'd be happy to accompany me," Gideon said with confidence, "but I'll need to check with her in case she has other plans."
"I understand. And how about your mother? Would she join us, too, do you think?"
"She very well might. That's nice of you to include her, Mr. Nolan."
"Nonsense. I've got to fill up my box, and I've been thinking Irene should meet some society ladies. You see, her mother died when she was born, so she spent way too much time running wild at the stables growing up, and I'm afraid she knows more about horses than she does about etiquette."
Gideon bit back a smile. He should probably admit that his wife wasn't exactly a "society lady," but she was quickly becoming one, and, in any case, her background was certainly none of Nolan's business. For her part, Elizabeth would probably love the idea of being a role model for Irene Nolan, and his mother would like nothing better than helping Irene polish her social skills. "I'm sure my wife and mother will be delighted to meet your daughter at Belmont Park next Wednesday."
Elizabeth loved greeting gideon at the front door when he returned home from work at the end of each day. He was always as happy to see her as she was to see him, and they shared a few moments alone in the front hallway to demonstrate that happiness before removing to the parlor, where GideonÕs mother waited.
"Have you seen the newspapers?" his mother asked the moment he entered the parlor.
His smile matched hers. "Of course I did. Newsboys were hawking extras on every street corner. Congratulations!"
"I hardly deserve congratulations," Mother Bates demurred. "I'm not solely responsible for the passage of the Woman Suffrage Amendment."
"You certainly did your part, though," Elizabeth said, and turned to Gideon. "We've been remembering our days in the workhouse and how many women made such important sacrifices to get this passed." Elizabeth had never thought being sentenced to six months of hard labor for demonstrating outside the White House would result in meeting the love of her life-or more accurately, his mother-but she would always be grateful.
"I suppose you'll be planning some kind of celebration," Gideon said.
His mother shook her head. "Probably not until it's been ratified. We've been disappointed too many times over the past eighty years, and ratification is far from certain."
"But surely, we can't fail now, and it won't take long," Elizabeth said. "We only need thirty-six states to approve it."
"I hope you're right," Mother Bates said. "But it will certainly take some work."
"If work is all it takes, I have every confidence it will be approved," Gideon said. "I've never seen people work harder for anything in my life."
Elizabeth drew Gideon down beside her on the sofa. "Now, what is your big news?"
"What makes you think I have big news?" he asked, obviously surprised and probably a little peeved that she'd noticed.
She sighed like a good wife who has been underestimated yet again. "You always get that little gleam in your eye when you have something exciting to tell us."
He narrowed that eye and pretended to glare at her. "Maybe that little gleam means something else entirely."
Elizabeth fluttered her lashes in mock innocence. "Oh no, when you mean something else, it is a completely different gleam."
Mother Bates cleared her throat to remind them they weren't alone. "Why don't you just tell us, dear?"
Gideon shook his head in mock despair. "How would you both like to go to Belmont Park with me next Wednesday to watch the Belmont Stakes?"
"Are you serious?" Elizabeth cried in delight. "Mother Bates, Sir Barton is running in the Belmont. He's the most fabulous horse."
"How do you know that?" Gideon asked, a bit surprised.
"I read the newspapers, and they've been full of reports of his victories this past month."
"Indeed," Gideon confirmed. "He's already won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Withers. They're calling him the horse of the century."
"My goodness, Gideon, I had no idea you knew anything about horse racing," his mother said with a smile.
Gideon gave her a pitying look. "No young gentleman's education is complete until he has lost his entire monthly allowance at the track, Mother."
She was absolutely delighted to learn this fascinating fact about her son. "I had no idea."
"Which was the whole point," Gideon said.
"And did you lose your entire monthly allowance?" Elizabeth asked, equally delighted.
"Sadly, more than once, which is why I no longer frequent the racetrack."
"Then what has kindled your suddenly renewed interest?" Mother Bates asked. "Is it this horse, Sir What's His Name?"
"A client has inspired it, Mother. He owns racehorses, and he has two of them entered in some of the other races on Wednesday, so he has invited all of us to join him in his owner's box."
"What fun!" Elizabeth said. "You must go with us, Mother Bates."
"But I don't know the first thing about horse racing. It isn't, as you might guess, a required part of a lady's complete education."
"You don't have to know a thing about it to enjoy it. The races are so exciting, and the horses are all just magnificent to watch. You'll also get to see a lot of rich women dressed up so we can gossip about their outfits."
"You do make it sound intriguing," Mother Bates admitted with a smile. "But did you say it's on Wednesday? Don't you have to work, Gideon?"
"I can take the day off because a client invited me, so it's really business."
Elizabeth shared a knowing glance with her mother-in-law. "Men have such a broad idea of what business is."
"And there's one more thing you need to know," Gideon said to change the subject.
"Oh my, that sounds ominous," Elizabeth teased him.
"Not ominous, but I think it's important. Mr. Nolan-Sebastian Nolan, he's the client who invited us-has a daughter named Irene."
"How lovely," Mother Bates said. "I assume she will be there, too."
"Yes, she will. Mr. Nolan would very much like for her to meet some society ladies who will set her a good example."
"Does she need a good example?" Mother Bates asked with a worried frown.
"Mr. Nolan seems to think so. You see, her mother died when Irene was very young, and the girl spent more time in the stables than in the drawing room, if you know what I mean. Her father seems to think she's a little rough around the edges."
"I'm sure that isn't true," Elizabeth said, having no idea if it was or not but feeling compelled to defend the young woman. Elizabeth had a few rough edges of her own.
"Does he think we can improve her by our mere presence at the racetrack for one day?" Mother Bates asked skeptically.
"I think he'd like for Irene and Elizabeth to become friends, which would give Irene time to observe and learn from her."
"I hardly feel qualified to teach someone about society," Elizabeth said in dismay. "I'm still learning myself."
"Nonsense, my dear," Mother Bates said. "You know more about how to be a lady than most of the women I know. Irene Nolan would do well to learn from you."
Elizabeth gave her mother-in-law a grateful smile. Really, she was so very lucky to have such a wonderful woman in her life. But then, she'd learned to love Mother Bates long before she even knew Gideon existed, having first met her when they were in prison together for demonstrating for Woman Suffrage. "I don't know how much I could teach Irene, but I know she could learn a lot from you, as I have."
"If she even needs it," Mother Bates said. "Perhaps her father is just being too persnickety."
"He may be, but he's concerned because she's twenty-three and hasn't attracted a serious suitor for her hand yet," Gideon said.
"Maybe she doesn't want to get married," Elizabeth said. "Maybe she is actively discouraging their attentions."
"I didn't think of that," Gideon said. They all knew a young lady in that very situation, so it was a definite possibility. "But her father thinks it's because she's . . . Well, he doesn't think she's very pretty."
Elizabeth and Mother Bates both exclaimed their outrage.
"I know," Gideon said, waving his hands to calm them. "I agree. I'm just telling you what he said."
"He actually said that?" Elizabeth cried.
"I'm afraid so. Or at least he said no man would look at her twice."
"As if that were a woman's sole purpose in life," Mother Bates huffed.
"I didn't want to tell you," Gideon said, "but I thought it was important for you to know."
"And thank you for telling us, darling," Elizabeth said, taking his hand in hers. "This girl needs far more than lessons in deportment, and we are just the two females who can help her."
Gideon smiled and squeezed her hand. "I knew you'd accept the challenge."
The trip out to belmont park was quite pleasant, since the Long Island Rail Road had run an extension from the Queens Village station to the park itself, which made it easy for city dwellers to reach the track. A lot of city dwellers were taking advantage of it today, too. The crowd moving toward Belmont was already large, proving Sir BartonÕs appearance in the Belmont Stakes was quite a draw. The weather just happened to be perfect as well, sunny but cool for June with a high temperature forecast to be around seventy degrees.
"Mr. Nolan was so thoughtful to invite us to join him for lunch at the clubhouse before the races start," Elizabeth said as they strolled toward the entrance gate.
"Have you spent a lot of time at racetracks?" Mother Bates asked quite innocently. Few society mothers would need to ask such a question of their daughters-in-law.
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