by Julia Quinn
Genres: Historical Romance
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
While you were sleeping...
With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He's unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier's life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie...
I told everyone I was your wife
When Edward comes to, he's more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out six months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is—even if he does not recall her face—and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he'd always assumed he'd marry his neighbor back in England.
If only it were true...
Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself—completely—to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.
THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND is the second book in Julia Quinn’s Rokeby’s series. A prequel series to the Bridgertons. A desperate sister and an injured soldier lead to a fake marriage in this delicious tale that takes us from the London countryside to the English colonies. Quinn delivered a believable romance with characters you cannot help falling for.
Cecilia Harcourt is tending to her father in her ancestral home as her brother, Thomas and his friend Edward Rokesby battle in the Americas. She corresponds with her brother, but slowly messages go back and forth between Edward and Cecilia.
When Cecilia’s father passes and Thomas is injured her scheming cousin makes plans to wed her. Of course, the only responsible thing to do is travel to America to find her brother! Quinn hooked me from the start, and I absolutely loved the correspondence we were made privy to at the beginning of each chapter.
When Cecilia arrives she cannot locate her brother but discovers that Edward is unconscious in a church converted into a makeshift hospital. When she is unable to attend him, she declares herself his wife…and then he wakes up!
Poor Edward awakens missing six months of memory and finds himself married. He cannot even remember the wedding. Oh, what fun! While I did get a little annoyed at Cecilia for not being straight with Edward. I understood her reasons and laughed at some of her quick thinking comments regarding their supposed relationship. Their conversations, the awkwardness, and inner thoughts had me smiling and laughing.
The romance was slow-burning despite the nuptials and had a surprising buildup. Their chemistry felt genuine and I found myself truly wishing for an HEA. The ending had a few twists, a little heartache, and some humor all of which kept me flipping the pages.
This fake marriage trope with an unawares groom made for a delightful romp in THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND.
Read Chapter One
His head hurt.
Correction, his head really hurt.
It was hard to tell, though, just what sort of pain it was. He might have been shot through the head with a musket ball. That seemed plausible, given his current location in New York (or was it Connecticut?) and his current occupation as a captain in His Majesty’s army.
There was a war going on, in case one hadn’t noticed.
But this particular pounding—the one that felt more like someone was bashing his skull with a cannon (not a cannonball, mind you, but an actual cannon) seemed to indicate that he had been attacked with a blunter instrument than a bullet.
An anvil, perhaps. Dropped from a second-story window.
But if one cared to look on the bright side, a pain such as this did seem to indicate that he wasn’t dead, which was also a plausible fate, given all the same facts that had led him to believe he might have been shot.
That war he’d mentioned… people did die.
With alarming regularity.
So he wasn’t dead. That was good. But he also wasn’t sure where he was, precisely. The obvious next step would be to open his eyes, but his eyelids were translucent enough for him to realize that it was the middle of the day, and while he did like to look on the metaphorical bright side, he was fairly certain that the literal one would prove blinding.
So he kept his eyes closed.
But he listened.
He wasn’t alone. He couldn’t make out any actual conversation, but a low buzz of words and activity filtered through the air. People were moving about, setting objects on tables, maybe pulling a chair across the floor.
Someone was moaning in pain.
Most of the voices were male, but there was at least one lady nearby. She was close enough that he could hear her breathing. She made little noises as she went about her business, which he soon realized included tucking blankets around him and touching his forehead with the back of her hand.
He liked these little noises, the tiny little mmms and sighs she probably had no idea she was making. And she smelled nice, a bit like lemons, a bit like soap.
And a bit like hard work.
He knew that smell. He’d worn it himself, albeit usually only briefly until it turned into a full-fledged stink.
On her, though, it was more than pleasant. Perhaps a little earthy. And he wondered who she was, to be tending to him so diligently.
“How is he today?”
Edward held himself still. This male voice was new, and he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to know he was awake yet.
Although he wasn’t sure why he felt this hesitancy.
“The same,” came the woman’s reply.
“I am concerned. If he doesn’t wake up soon…”
“I know,” the woman said. There was a touch of irritation in her voice, which Edward found curious.
“Have you been able to get him to take broth?”
“Just a few spoonfuls. I was afraid he would choke if I attempted any more than that.”
The man made a vague noise of approval. “Remind me how long he has been like this?”
“A week, sir. Four days before I arrived, and three since.”
A week. Edward thought about this. A week meant it must be… March? April?
No, maybe it was only February. And this was probably New York, not Connecticut.
But that still didn’t explain why his head hurt so bloody much. Clearly he’d been in some sort of an accident. Or had he been attacked?
“There has been no change at all?” the man asked, even though the lady had just said as much.
But she must have had far more patience than Edward, because she replied in a quiet, clear voice, “No, sir. None.”
The man made a noise that wasn’t quite a grunt. Edward found it impossible to interpret.
“Er…” The woman cleared her throat. “Have you any news of my brother?”
Her brother? Who was her brother?
“I am afraid not, Mrs. Rokesby.”
“It has been nearly three months,” she said quietly.
Mrs. Rokesby? Edward really wanted them to get back to that point. There was only one Rokesby in North America as far as he knew, and that was he. So if she was Mrs. Rokesby…
“I think,” the male voice said, “that your energies would be better spent tending to your husband.”
“I assure you,” she said, and there was that touch of irritation again, “that I have been caring for him most faithfully.”
Husband? They were calling him her husband? Was he married? He couldn’t be married. How could he be married and not remember it?
Who was this woman?
Edward’s heart began to pound. What the devil was happening to him?
“Did he just make a noise?” the man asked.
“I… I don’t think so.”
She moved then, quickly. Hands touched him, his cheek, then his chest, and even through her obvious concern, there was something soothing in her motions, something undeniably right.
“Edward?” she asked, taking his hand. She stroked it several times, her fingers brushing lightly over his skin. “Can you hear me?”
He ought to respond. She was worried. What kind of gentleman did not act to relieve a lady’s distress?
“I fear he may be lost to us,” the man said, with far less gentleness than Edward thought appropriate.
“He still breathes,” the woman said in a steely voice.
The man said nothing, but his expression must have been one of pity, because she said it again, more loudly this time.
“He still breathes.”
Edward felt her hand tighten around his. Then she placed her other on top, her fingers resting lightly on his knuckles. It was the smallest sort of embrace, but Edward felt it down to his soul.
“He still breathes, Colonel,” she said with quiet resolve. “And while he does, I will be here. I may not be able to help Thomas, but—”
Thomas. Thomas Harcourt. That was the connection. This must be his sister. Cecilia. He knew her well.
Or not. He’d never actually met the lady, but he felt like he knew her. She wrote to her brother with a diligence that was unmatched in the regiment. Thomas received twice as much mail as Edward, and Edward had four siblings to Thomas’s one.
Cecilia Harcourt. What on earth was she doing in North America? She was supposed to be in Derbyshire, in that little town Thomas had been so eager to leave. The one with the hot springs. Matlock. No, Matlock Bath.
Edward had never been, but he thought it sounded charming. Not the way Thomas described it, of course; he liked the bustle of city life and couldn’t wait to take a commission and depart his village. But Cecilia was different. In her letters, the small Derbyshire town came alive, and Edward almost felt that he would recognize her neighbors if he ever went to visit.
She was witty. Lord, she was witty. Thomas used to laugh so much at her missives that Edward finally made him read them out loud.
Then one day, when Thomas was penning his response, Edward interrupted so many times that Thomas finally shoved out his chair and held forth his quill.
“You write to her,” he’d said.
So he did.
Not on his own, of course. Edward could never have written to her directly. It would have been the worst sort of impropriety, and he would not have insulted her in such a manner. But he took to scribbling a few lines at the end of Thomas’s letters, and whenever she replied, she had a few lines for him.
Thomas carried a miniature of her, and even though he said it was several years old, Edward had found himself staring at it, studying the small portrait of the young woman, wondering if her hair really was that remarkable golden color, or if she really did smile that way, lips closed and mysterious.
Somehow he thought not. She did not strike him as a woman with secrets. Her smile would be sunny and free. Edward had even thought he’d like to meet her once this godforsaken war was over. He’d never said anything to Thomas, though.
That would have been strange.
Now Cecilia was here. In the colonies. Which made absolutely no sense, but then again, what did? Edward’s head was injured, and Thomas seemed to be missing, and…
Edward thought hard.
…and he seemed to have married Cecilia Harcourt.
He opened his eyes and tried to focus on the green-eyed woman peering down at him.
Cecilia had had three days to imagine what Edward Rokesby might say when he finally woke up. She’d come up with several possibilities, the most likely of which was: “Who the hell are you?”
It would not have been a silly question.
Because no matter what Colonel Stubbs thought— no matter what everyone at this rather poorly outfitted military hospital thought, her name was not Cecilia Rokesby, it was Cecilia Harcourt, and she most definitely was not married to the rather handsome dark-haired man lying in the bed at her side.
As for how the misunderstanding had come about…
It might have been something to do with her declaring that she was his wife in front of his commanding officer, two soldiers, and a clerk.
It had seemed a good idea at the time.
She’d not come to New York lightly. She was well aware of the dangers of traveling to the war-torn colonies, to say nothing of the voyage across the temperamental North Atlantic. But her father had died, and then she’d received word that Thomas was injured, and then her wretched cousin had come sniffing around Marswell…
She couldn’t remain in Derbyshire.
And yet she’d had nowhere to go.
So in what was probably the only rash decision of her life, she’d packed up her house, buried the silver in the back garden, and booked passage from Liverpool to New York. When she arrived, however, Thomas was nowhere to be found.
She’d located his regiment, but no one had answers for her, and when she persisted with her questions, she was dismissed by the military brass like a pesky little fly. She’d been ignored, patronized, and probably lied to. She’d used up nearly all her funds, was getting by on one meal a day, and was living in a boarding house room directly next to a woman who might or might not have been a prostitute.
(That she was having relations was a certainty; the only question was whether she was being paid for them. And Cecilia had to say, she rather hoped she was, because whatever that woman was doing, it sounded like an awful lot of work.)
But then, after nearly a week of getting nowhere, Cecilia overheard one soldier telling another that a man had been brought to hospital a few days earlier. He’d had a blow to the head and was unconscious. His name was Rokesby.
Edward Rokesby. It had to be.
Cecilia had never actually laid eyes on the man, but he was her brother’s closest friend, and she felt like she knew him. She knew, for example, that he was from Kent, that he was the second son of the Earl of Manston, and that he had a younger brother in the navy and another at Eton. His sister was married, but she had no children, and the thing he missed most of all from home was his cook’s gooseberry fool.
His older brother was called George, and she had been surprised when Edward had admitted that he did not envy him his position as heir. With an earldom came an appalling lack of freedom, he’d once written, and he knew that his place was in the army, fighting for King and Country.
Cecilia supposed that an outsider might have been shocked at the level of intimacy in their correspondence, but she’d learned that war made philosophers of men. And maybe it was for that reason that Edward Rokesby had begun adding little notes of his own at the end of Thomas’s letters to her. There was something comforting about sharing one’s thoughts with a stranger. It was easy to be brave with someone one would never face across a dining table or in a drawing room.
Or at least this was Cecilia’s hypothesis. Maybe he was writing all the same things to his family and friends back in Kent. She’d heard from her brother that he was “practically engaged” to his neighbor. Surely Edward was penning letters to her too.
And it wasn’t as if Edward was actually writing to Cecilia. It had started with little snippets from Thomas: Edward says such-and-such or I am compelled by Captain Rokesby to point out…
The first few had been terribly amusing, and Cecilia, stuck at Marswell with mounting bills and a disinterested father, had welcomed the unexpected smile his words brought to her face. So she replied in kind, adding little bits and pieces to her own missives: Please tell Captain Rokesby… and later: I cannot help but think that Captain Rokesby would enjoy…
Then one day she saw that her brother’s latest missive included a paragraph written by another hand. It was a short greeting, containing little more than a description of wildflowers, but it was from Edward. He’d signed it
Capt Edward Rokesby
A silly smile had erupted across her face, and then she’d felt the veriest fool. She was mooning over a man she’d never even met.
A man she probably never would meet.
But she couldn’t help it. It didn’t matter if the summer sun was shining brightly across the lakes—with her brother gone, life in Derbyshire always seemed so gray. Her days rolled from one to the next, with almost no variation. She took care of the house, checked the budget, and tended to her father, not that he ever noticed. There was the occasional local assembly, but over half the men her age had bought commissions or enlisted, and the dance floor always contained twice the number of ladies as gentlemen.
So when the son of an earl wrote to her of wildflowers…
Her heart did a little flip.
Honestly, it was the closest she’d got to a flirtation in years.
But when she had made the decision to travel to New York, it had been her brother, and not Edward Rokesby, that she had been thinking about. When that messenger had arrived with news from Thomas’s commanding officer…
It had been the worst day of her life.
The letter had been addressed to her father, of course. Cecilia had thanked the messenger and made sure he was given something to eat, never once mentioning that Walter Harcourt had died unexpectedly three days earlier. She’d taken the folded envelope to her room, closed and locked the door, and then stared at it for a long, shaky minute before summoning the courage to slide her finger under the wax seal.
Her first emotion had been one of relief. She’d been so sure it was going to tell her that Thomas was dead, that there was no one left in the world she truly loved. An injury seemed almost a blessing at that point.
But then Cousin Horace had arrived.
Cecilia hadn’t been surprised that he had shown up for her father’s funeral. It was what one did, after all, even if one didn’t enjoy particularly close friendships with one’s relations. But then Horace had stayed. And by God, he was annoying. He did not speak so much as pontificate, and Cecilia couldn’t take two steps without him sidling up behind her, expressing his deep worry for her well-being.
Worse, he kept making comments about Thomas, and how dangerous it was for a soldier in the colonies. Wouldn’t they all be so relieved when he returned to his rightful place as owner of Marswell.
The unspoken message being, of course, that if he didn’t return, Horace would inherit it all.
Bloody, stupid entail. Cecilia knew she was supposed to honor her forebearers, but by God if she could go back in time and find her great-great-grandfather, she would wring his neck. He’d bought the land and built the house, and in his delusions of dynastic grandeur he’d imposed a strict entail. Marswell went from father to son, and if not that, any male cousin would do. Never mind that Cecilia had lived there her entire life, that she knew every nook and cranny, that the servants trusted and respected her. If Thomas died, Cousin Horace would swoop in from Lancashire and take it all away.
Cecilia had tried to keep him in the dark about Thomas’s injury, but news like that was impossible to keep under wraps. Some well-meaning neighbor must have said something, because Horace didn’t wait even a full day after the funeral before declaring that as Cecilia’s closest male relative, he must assume responsibility for her welfare.
Clearly, he said, they must marry.
No, Cecilia had thought in shocked silence. No, they really must not.
“You must face facts,” he said, taking a step toward her. “You are alone. You cannot remain indefinitely at Marswood without a chaperone.”
“I shall go to my great aunt,” she said.
“Sophie?” he said dismissively. “She’s hardly capable.”
“My other great aunt. Dorcas.”
His eyes narrowed. “I am not familiar with an aunt Dorcas.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Cecilia said. “She’s my mother’s aunt.”
“And where does she live?”
Considering that she was wholly a figment of Cecilia’s imagination, nowhere, but her mother’s mother had been Scottish, so Cecilia said, “Edinburgh.”
“You would leave your home?”
If it meant avoiding marriage to Horace, yes.
“I will make you see reason,” Horace growled, and then before she knew what he was about, he kissed her.
Cecilia drew one breath after he released her, and then she slapped him.
Horace slapped her back, and a week later, Cecilia left for New York.
The journey had taken five weeks—more than enough time for Cecilia to second- and third-guess her decision. But she truly did not know what else she could have done. She wasn’t sure why Horace was so dead-set on marrying her when he had a good chance of inheriting Marswell anyway. She could only speculate that he was having financial troubles and needed someplace to live. If he married Cecilia he could move in right away and cross his fingers that Thomas would never come home.
Cecilia knew that marriage to her cousin was the sensible choice. If Thomas did die, she would be able to remain at her beloved childhood home. She could pass it along to her children.
But oh dear God those children would also be Horace’s children, and the thought of lying with that man… Nay, the thought of living with that man…
She couldn’t do it. Marswell wasn’t worth it.
Still, her situation was tenuous. Horace couldn’t actually force her to accept his suit, but he could make her life very uncomfortable, and he was right about one thing—she couldn’t remain at Marswell indefinitely without a chaperone. She was of age —barely, at twenty-two— and her friends and neighbors would give her some leeway given her circumstances, but a young woman on her own was an invitation for gossip. If Cecilia had a care for her reputation, she was going to have to leave.
The irony was enough to make her want to scream. She was preserving her good name by taking off by herself across an ocean. All she had to do was make sure no one in Derbyshire knew about it.
But Thomas was her older brother, her protector, her closest friend. For him she would make a journey that even she knew was reckless, possibly fruitless. Men died of infection far more often than they did of battlefield injury. She knew her brother might be gone by the time she reached New York.
She just hadn’t expected him to be literally gone.
It was during this maelstrom of frustration and helplessness that she heard of Edward’s injury. Driven by a burning need to help someone, she had marched herself to the hospital. If she could not tend to her brother, by God she would tend to her brother’s best friend. This voyage to the new world would not be for nothing.
The hospital turned out to be a church that had been taken over by the British army, which was strange enough, but when she asked to see Edward, she was told in no uncertain terms that she was not welcome. Captain Rokesby was an officer, a rather sharp-nosed sentry informed her. He was the son of an earl and far too important for visitors of the plebian variety.
Cecilia was still trying to figure out what the devil he meant by that when he looked down his nose and told her that the only people allowed to see Captain Rokesby would be military personnel and family.
At which point Cecilia blurted out, “I am his wife!”
And once that had come out of her mouth, there was really no backing away from it.
In retrospect, it was amazing she’d got away with it. She’d probably have been thrown out on her ear if not for the presence of Edward’s commanding officer. Colonel Stubbs was not the most affable of men, but he knew of Edward and Thomas’s friendship, and he had not been surprised to hear that Edward had married his friend’s sister.
Before Cecilia even had a chance to think, she was spinning a tale of a courtship in letters, and a proxy marriage on a ship.
Astoundingly, everyone believed her.
She could not regret her lies, however. There was no denying that Edward had improved under her care. She’d sponged his forehead when he’d grown feverish, and she’d shifted his weight as best she could to prevent bedsores. It was true that she’d seen more of his body than was appropriate for an unmarried lady, but surely the rules of society must be suspended in wartime.
And no one would know.
No one would know. This, she repeated to herself on an almost hourly basis. She was five thousand miles from Derbyshire. Everyone she knew thought she’d gone off to visit her maiden aunt. Furthermore, the Harcourts did not move in the same circles as the Rokesbys. She supposed that Edward might be considered a person of interest among society gossips, but she certainly wasn’t, and it seemed impossible that tales of the Earl of Manston’s second son might reach her tiny village of Matlock Bath.
As for what she would do when he finally woke up…
Well, in all honesty, she’d never quite figured that out. But as it happened, it didn’t matter. She’d run through a hundred different scenarios in her mind, but not one of them had involved him recognizing her.
“Cecilia?” he said. He was blinking up at her, and she was momentarily stunned, mesmerized by how blue his eyes were.
She ought to have known that.
Then she realized how ridiculous she was being. She had no reason to know the color of his eyes.
But still. Somehow…
It seemed like something she should have known.
“You’re awake,” she said dumbly. She tried to say more, but the sound twisted in her throat. She fought simply to breathe, overcome with emotion she had not even realized she felt. With a shaking hand, she leaned down and touched his forehead. Why, she did not know; he had not had a fever for nearly two days. But she was overwhelmed by a need to touch him, to feel with her hands what she saw with her eyes.
He was awake.
He was alive.
“Give him room,” Colonel Stubbs ordered. “Go fetch the doctor.”
“You fetch the doctor,” Cecilia snapped, finally regaining some of her sense. “I’m his w—”
Her voice caught. She couldn’t utter the lie. Not in front of Edward.
But Colonel Stubbs inferred what she did not actually say, and after muttering something unsavory under his breath, he stalked off in search of a doctor.
“Cecilia?” Edward said again. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ll explain everything in a moment,” she said in a rushed whisper. The colonel would be back soon, and she’d rather not make her explanations with an audience. Still, she couldn’t have him giving her away, so she added, “For now, just—”
“Where am I?” he interrupted.
She grabbed an extra blanket. He needed another pillow, but these were in short supply, so a blanket would have to do. Helping him to sit up a little straighter, she tucked it behind him as she said, “You’re in hospital.”
He looked dubiously around the room. The architecture was clearly ecclesiastical. “With a stained glass window?”
“It’s a church. Well, it was a church. It’s a hospital now.”
“But where?” he asked, a little too urgently.
Her hands stilled. Something wasn’t right. She turned her head, just enough for her eyes to meet his. “We are in New York Town.”
He frowned. “I thought I was…”
She waited, but he did not finish his thought. “You thought you were what?” she asked.
He stared vacantly for a moment, then said, “I don’t know. I was…” His words trailed off, and his face twisted. It almost looked as if it hurt him to think so hard.
“I was supposed to go to Connecticut,” he finally said.
Cecilia slowly straightened. “You did go to Connecticut.”
His lips parted. “I did?”
“Yes. You were there for over a month.”
“What?” Something flashed in his eyes. Cecilia thought it might be fear.
“Don’t you remember?” she asked.
He began to blink far more rapidly than was normal. “Over a month, you say?”
“That’s what they told me. I only just arrived.”
“Over a month,” he said again. He started shaking his head. “How could that…”
“You must not overtax yourself,” Cecilia said, reaching out to take his hand in hers again. It seemed to calm him. It certainly calmed her.
“I don’t remember… I was in Connecticut?” He looked up sharply, and his grip on her hand grew uncomfortably tight. “How did I come to be back in New York?”
She gave a helpless shrug. She didn’t have the answers he sought. “I don’t know. I was looking for Thomas, and I heard you were here. You were found near Kip’s Bay, bleeding from your head.”
“You were looking for Thomas,” he echoed, and she could practically see the wheels of his mind spinning frantically behind his eyes. “Why were you looking for Thomas?”
“I’d got word he was injured, but now he’s missing, and—”
Edward’s breathing grew labored. “When were we married?”
Cecilia’s lips parted. She tried to answer, she really did, but she could only manage to stammer a few useless pronouns. Did he actually think they were married? He’d never even seen her before this day.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
Cecilia chose her words carefully. “You don’t remember what?”
He looked up at her with haunted eyes. “I don’t know.”
Cecilia knew she should try to comfort him, but she could only stare. His eyes were hollow, and his skin, already pallid from his illness, seemed to go almost gray. He gripped the bed as if it were a lifeboat, and she had the insane urge to do the same. The room was spinning around them, shrinking into a tight little tunnel.
She could barely breathe.
And he looked like he might shatter.
She forced her eyes to meet his and she asked the only question that remained.
“Do you remember anything?”