Read Twelfth Night Online

Authors: Deanna Raybourn

Twelfth Night

New York Times
bestselling author Deanna Raybourn returns with a brand-new
novella starring her beloved heroine, the intrepid Lady Julia

To mark the passing of another decade, the esteemed—and
eccentric—March family have assembled at Bellmont Abbey to perform the Twelfth
Night Revels for their sleepy English village. But before Lady Julia and her
handsome, sleuthing husband, Nicolas Brisbane, can take to the stage, a ruckus
in the stable yard demands their attention. An abandoned infant is found nestled
in the steel helm of St. George. What’s more, their only lead is the local
legend of a haunted cottage and its ghastly inhabitant—who seems to have

Once again, Lady Julia and Nicholas take up the challenge to
investigate, and when the source of the mystery is revealed, they’ll be faced
with an impossible choice—one that will alter the course of their

Don’t miss a single tale in the Lady Julia Grey series—or
Deanna Raybourn’s latest novel,
City of Jasmine.


Deanna Raybourn


Historical Fiction

City of Jasmine

Whisper of Jasmine

Spear of Summer Grass

Far in the Wilds

The Lady Julia Grey series

Silent in the Grave

Silent in the Sanctuary

Silent on the Moor

The Dead Travel Fast

Dark Road to Darjeeling

The Dark Enquiry

Silent Night

Midsummer Night

And watch for
Night of a Thousand Stars
, available soon from Harlequin MIRA!

Chapter One


, II, iii, 31

January 2, 1890

“Julia, I shall count to ten. If you aren’t thoroughly awake by then, I am going to dash the contents of this pitcher into your face, and I warn you, I’ve only just cracked the ice on the surface of it.”

My sister’s voice pierced the lovely morning hush of the bedchamber with all the delicacy of a gong. I reached out one finger to poke my husband’s naked shoulder.

“Brisbane. Portia is here.”

He heaved a sigh into the eiderdown. “You’re dreaming. Portia wouldn’t dare.”

“Wouldn’t I?” she asked. “And, Julia, this is the first time I’ve seen your husband entirely unclothed. May I offer my congratulations?”

With a violent oath, Brisbane flung himself under the bedclothes.

“Modest as a virgin, I see,” Portia remarked. “Julia, I’m still counting. Silently. I’ve reached seven. Are you awake yet?”

I flapped a hand at her but didn’t raise my head.


Brisbane’s voice was muffled but distinct. “If you don’t leave this room, Portia, I will toss you out the nearest window. If memory serves, it’s forty feet down, and I won’t be gentle.”

Portia clucked her tongue. “How high will you count?”

“I won’t,” he told her flatly.

He sat up, bedclothes pooling about his waist, grim determination etched on his face.

Portia backed up swiftly. “Very well. But do hurry, both of you. You’re terribly late for the Revels rehearsal and two of our sisters have resorted to fisticuffs. Oddly, not the two you would think.”

I sat bolt upright, and Portia winced. “For God’s sake, Julia, have a little shame and put your breasts away.”

I scrabbled for a sheet, regarding her through gritted eyes. “We have four days to perfect the Revels for Twelfth Night, and it isn’t as though we’ve never done them before, is it? Thirty times in the last three centuries, Portia. I rather think the family have the hang of it.”

“But Brisbane has never played St. George before, and he is the centre-piece of the entire Revels. Now, get up and put on clothes, you disgusting hedonists, and come down at once. Father’s threatened to come himself if you aren’t there in a quarter of an hour.”

She turned on her heel and made for the door. “Oh, and there’s an abandoned baby in the stables. Father expects you to find out from whence it came.”

She slammed the door behind her, and I winced. “What day is it?”

Brisbane’s expression was thoughtful. “Second of January. Do you need the year, as well?” he asked sweetly.

I put out my tongue at him. “Surely I wasn’t that intoxicated.”

He snorted. “You started in on your brother’s punch on New Year’s Eve and carried on right through the first. No wonder you’re the worse for it today.”

I turned my head very slowly and blinked as he came in and out of focus. “When did you get a twin?”

His mouth curved into a smile. “Have a wash in cold water and some strong coffee with a big breakfast. You’ll feel right as rain.”

The notion of food made my stomach heave, but I did as he instructed, eating everything my maid, Morag, carried up on a tray. She helped me to wash and dress, slamming hairbrushes and powder boxes with unmistakable relish.

“Morag, you are a fiend from the bowels of hell,” I told her flatly.

She gave me a look of reproof. “And no lady drinks to excess.”

I opened my mouth to retort, but waved a hand at her instead. “Oh, God, I haven’t the strength to argue. Fine. I’m a disgrace. Just make me look presentable so the rest of the family do not suspect what wretched shape I’m in.”

She did her best, wrestling me into my corset and a pink morning gown that brought a little colour to my bilious cheeks. She rouged me lightly and stepped back. “It’s the best I can do with what I had to work with,” she remarked.

Brisbane, who had washed and dressed himself swiftly, was immaculate as ever, beautifully groomed, and had not a crease to be seen.

I shook my head, regretting it instantly. “It isn’t fair, you know.”

“What?” he asked, shooting his pristine cuffs.

“We drank the same amount, and yet you look fresh as a May morning, while I—”

“Look like something the cat sicked up,” Morag supplied helpfully.

Brisbane brushed a kiss to my cheek, pitching his voice low so that only I could hear. “You look ravishing. Which reminds me of what I intend to do later.”

I eluded his grasping hand but paused at the door. “Wait, did Portia say there was an abandoned baby in the stables?”

He furrowed his brow. “She might have done. Things were rather muffled once I pulled the eiderdown over my head.”

He slapped my bottom briskly. “On you go, before they send up a search party. I’ve thrown your sister out this morning. I’d rather not have to take on all of your brothers at once.”

Chapter Two


The Winter’s Tale
, III, iii, 112

The family had assembled upon Father’s orders in the stable yard, now clear of the Christmas frost, the sun almost balmy as it shone down on the stone court. I glanced about, feeling absurdly pleased. For the first time in a decade, we were all gathered for the Twelfth Night Revels. Most years the villagers in our little hamlet of Blessingstoke performed the play, but to mark the turning of each new decade, the family took its turn playing the parts. It followed the form of many mummers’ plays, with St. George and his battles against the Turkish Knight and the dragon forming the main bit of the action, the same as one might find in any Sussex village. But ours boasted a fine mechanical dragon requiring three men to operate as well as a script straight from the pen of Shakespeare himself. The result was that folk came from miles away, stuffed into wagons and perched on horseback, to see the spectacle. The years when the family performed were particularly rowdy, and it took all hands to the wheel to bring it off. The maids were put to work repairing costumes while footmen polished armour and boots, and the kitchens were busy from morning ’til night with the saffron-spiked aroma of Revel cakes baked to give by the dozen to the folk who came to celebrate with us. Father, ever a generous landowner, threw open the gates of Bellmont Abbey to any who cared to come, tenant or farmer, artisan or tradesman. He welcomed them all, and every time he took charge of the decade Revels, the affair saw some new addition. This year he put my brother Benedick to the task of creating a fireworks display to mark the resurrection of St. George after his death at the dragon’s scaly feet. It promised to be spectacular, and the fact that the rest of the men had been going around with Cheshire cat smiles meant there was another surprise or two as yet unguessed.

But an infant in the stable was not amongst them. We hurried to where the family gathered around the great helm of St. George, upended now and resting in my father’s arms. Portia lifted a brow as Brisbane and I came near, and my brother Bellmont was, not unexpectedly, acting the fool.

“Bloody inconsiderate,” he muttered. “Whoever did this must be local. They have to know we would be put to great trouble to care for it with the Revels preparations under way.”

I turned to him with a flinty stare, but before I could speak, Portia blazed him to silence.

“Do shut up, Bellmont. Anyone would think the heir to an earldom would have better sense and more compassion, but you are the very proof that abolishing the inherited peerage is a sound and desirable thing.”

He returned the compliment, and the next few minutes were wasted in recrimination and insult as they fell out, and our other seven siblings took sides. Our wives and husbands were wise enough to stay utterly silent, but I noticed with interest the staff exchanging bank notes as wagers were settled. My own butler, Aquinas, was on hand to serve Father during troubles with his household, and I gave him a significant look and flicked a glance to Portia. He nodded. Our money would always be on her.

But Father was in no mood to indulge sibling warfare. He lifted the shining helm in his arms, high over his head, and the gesture silenced the family as effectively as any shout might have done. He lowered it again and said in a stern whisper, “The child sleeps, and I’ll not have you lot waking it up. Now, Portia, your child is the youngest, and you’re the only one with a nanny in tow. You take charge of it. Brisbane, a word.”

He thrust the helm at Portia before she could demur, and I saw the quick rage flare in her cheeks. She swept off and I hesitated, torn between supporting my sister and hearing the tasty titbits for myself. But Brisbane would relate all to me, I reminded myself, and I hurried after Portia.

I caught up with her on the staircase, and she was muttering so loudly to herself she didn’t see me until she was on the second landing.

“Careful, dearest. You don’t want the baby’s first words to be of the coarse variety,” I told her.

She whirled on me. “You find this amusing? I have my hands quite full enough with my own child, thank you.”

She swept on, and I attempted to make amends. “Darling, it is practical, you must admit. Jane the Younger is not even a year. She has a nanny and milk and nappies and whatever else babies need. You are the best equipped to care for it.”

She turned again, her eyes suddenly bright. “I am the least equipped to care for anything. You know Jane. She’s a monster.”

“She isn’t a monster,” I chided. “She’s high-spirited.” I tried not to remember how many times she had attempted to wrench the earrings from my lobes.

“She is incorrigible. Do you know she opens her night bottle and pours the milk into her bed every night? And when Nanny warns her not to, she laughs.”

“She is ten months old! She doesn’t know what she’s doing. It’s a game to her,” I protested.

“It’s making Nanny cross.
Very cross
,” she said meaningfully. “She might leave us. I can’t bear to think what might happen if she did. I would go mad.”

“You would not. I don’t want to be stern with you, but you’re being very silly, Portia. Other women raise babies all the time, and they’re quite normal.”

“Other women were brought up to do it,” she pointed out acidly. “We were brought up to be decorative and stylishly eccentric. Not useful.”

She did have me there. She carried on, her voice fretful. “I mean it, Julia. I am only keeping Nanny by a carefully constructed series of bribes and concessions. If I thrust an extra child at her, she will leave us.”

I thought for a second. “The maids are all young and unspeakably stupid, but Morag might do.”

“What does your lady’s maid know about babies?”

I shrugged. “She was one of seven. She must have learnt something.”

“There were ten of us, and you and I know precisely nothing,” she said darkly.

“Do not remind me.”

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