John Haldane, Earl of Strathairn, is on an urgent mission to find the killer of his fellow spy. Has the treasonous Frenchman, Count Forney, returned to England to wreak havoc? Or has someone new landed on English shores to stir up rebellion in the Midlands? After visiting the young widow of one of his agents, Strathairn strengthens his resolve. A spy should never marry. And most certainly not to Lady Sibella Winborne, with her romantic ideas of love and marriage. Unable to give Sibella up entirely, he has kept her close as a friend. And then weak fool that he is he kissed her…
Lady Sibella Winborne has refused several offers of marriage since her first Season years ago – when she first set eyes on the handsome Earl of Strathairn. Sibella’s many siblings always rush to her aid to discourage an ardent suitor, but not this time. Her elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, has approved Lord Coombe’s suit. Sibella yearns to set up her own household. She is known to be the sensible member of the family. But she doesn’t feel at all sensible about Lord Strathairn. If only she could forget that kiss…
Once the family returned to Brandreth Court, their townhouse in Eaton Place, Sibella faced another dizzying round of social events. She and Maria took an afternoon off from social calls to view the Parthenon sculptures at the British museum.
They were returning home in a hackney cab when Maria grabbed her arm. “Look, there’s Lord Strathairn.”
“Strathairn?” Sibella said. Her heart raced as the tall fair-haired man crossed the road just as their cab drew up behind a town coach.
Maria pulled down the window. “Lord Strathairn!”
“Maria!” Sibella hissed as her cheeks began to burn. He turned his head and changed direction, coming to their carriage where they’d stopped in traffic.
Strathairn removed his hat and bowed. “Visiting Regent Street, ladies?”
“Really, Lord Strathairn, do you think shopping is all we ladies do?” Maria asked in a teasing voice.
His smiling gaze sought Sibella’s. “Not at all. I have two sisters who have made me fully aware of the importance of shopping.”
Maria laughed. “We have been to the museum to view the Elgin Marbles.”
“Aah. Then I apologize. What say you, Lady Sibella? Did you enjoy the museum?”
Strangely divorced from the conversation, Sibella’s mind still dwelled on their last encounter. Startled, she whipped her gaze away when she discovered herself staring at his mouth, recalling the salty-sweet taste of his kiss. “It was quite edifying. Such antiquities are awe inspiring.”
“Indeed. I confess I haven’t yet seen them.”
“Then you are as negligent as we are, my lord,” Maria said. “Elgin brought them from Greece three years ago.”
He laughed. “I have not seen you riding of late, Lady Sibella. Your brother Vaughn told me you were down at Brandreth Park.”
“Mama came back for the opera.” Sibella placed a hand to her cheek. It felt warm even through her kid glove and she hoped he could not see what his presence did to her. “And my mare has developed shin splints and must rest.”
The traffic cleared ahead and their carriage jerked forward. “I trust we’ll see you again soon, my lord?” Maria cast a quick glance at her. “Although we are off to the country again next week. Mama intends to visit our brother Bartholomew in York.”
“I’m traveling north myself,” Strathairn said. “We might meet at the York assembly.”
“We plan to be there. I do hope you come. It’s a remarkably dull affair.” Maria stared at Sibella. “Don’t you agree, Sib?”
“Yes, it certainly can be,” Sibella said.
He bowed again. “Then I look forward to seeing you there.” At a shout from a drayman, he dodged a wagon and ran to the pavement.
Maria turned to her. “Well!”
Sibella wrinkled her nose, trying to adopt a casual pose. “Well, what?”
“You are in a brown study. I’m sure Strathairn was enthralled by your scintillating conversation.”
“Oh, do stop, Maria.”
“What on earth is the matter with you? You two generally talk for ages. Had you nothing to say to him?”
“He kissed me.”
Maria’s eyes went from owlish to accusatory. “Why didn’t you tell me? And when was this?”
“I’m sorry, dearest. It was of no consequence. At Lady Gladwin’s ball. You remained at home that night with a sore throat, remember?”
Maria stared at her. “Of no consequence? Are you mad? Where? Surely not in the ballroom.”
“It was in the garden. We went for a walk.”
Maria sniggered. “Well indeed! I suspected his feelings for you ran far deeper than he confessed.”
Sibella shook her head, heat rushing to every part of her body. “That’s just it. He made light of it afterwards. An impulse which meant nothing to him.”
“Oh. The wretch!”
She gave a choked, desperate laugh. “He doesn’t wish to marry, Maria.”
“Many men think they do not. They must be persuaded.”
“And did you have to persuade Harry?”
Maria stroked her throat with a dreamy smile. “No.”
“Exactly. I shan’t spend my time yearning after a man who doesn’t want me.”
Maria sighed. “Oh, Sib. I pray you will find true love like Harry and me. I do believe you will in time.”
Sibella gazed out the window barely aware of the vehicles and pedestrians in the busy street, fighting against her feelings, her throat tight, tears threatening. Annoyed, she said firmly, “A woman could fall in love more than once, I imagine.”
“I don’t believe I could.”
“Mama has her eye on Lord Coombe,” Sibella said.
“Mama has her eye on any titled unmarried male under the age of forty-five,” Maria said.
Sibella faced her sister. “Coombe appears respectable enough.”
Maria rubbed her brow. “Perhaps you might fall in love with him? When you get to know him.”
“Perhaps.” If only she could forget Strathairn’s kiss. As the prospect of seeing him again soon lightened her heart, she grew cross with herself at the uselessness of it.
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About the Author
She has raised three children and gained a BA and an MA in Creative Writing. After husband David retired from the law, they moved to the beautiful Southern Highlands of Australia.
Maggi’s free time is spent enjoying her garden and the local wildlife, reading, movies and the theatre. She keeps fit swimming and visiting the gym.
Maggi is a multi-published author, and writes mysteries and young adult novels as well as her Georgian, Regency and Victorian romances.