Because we just ended one series and are starting another, I thought I’d take this week as another break and feature my latest release, Secrets of a Viscount!
I know, it’s the first scene, but once again, I think it’s the best place to start.
A sharp, scraping sound rent the chilly night’s air, jolting Isabelle Knight awake from her dreamless sleep.
Isabelle’s green eyes sprang open and her fingers clutched the bed sheets.
Another loud screech from the direction of her only bedroom window broke the deafening silence that had once again fallen over the room.
Her heart hammering wildly in her chest, she forced her eyes to the window. A billowed curtain of cream and lace and the tops of a pair of black leather boots was all she could see through the dim moonlight. The blood in her veins sped up, but her body was still paralyzed. Someone was breaking into her room and she was too frightened to do a single thing about it except remain still with her eyes locked in terror at the curtains.
“Are you ready?” a male voice whispered in the dark.
Relief flooded Isabelle’s body. She knew that voice. It belonged to her neighbor Sebastian Gentry, Viscount Belgrave. Isabelle and her sister Rachel had known Sebastian since they were children. However, just because she’d known him nearly all her life and trusted him entirely, did not explain why he was in her room, nor why was he asking if she were ready.
“Ready?” she queried, sitting up in bed and instinctively putting her hand over her chest to keep him from seeing any part of her that he shouldn’t.
Sebastian heaved a heavy sigh. “Have you changed your mind?”
“Changed my mind about what?”
“The elopement,” he burst out.
Shock, followed by anger, filled Isabelle. Rachel and Sebastian had made plans for an elopement? And they hadn’t told her. Of course they hadn’t told her. It was an elopement. That was the point. Elopements were about sneaking off and getting married without telling anyone.
She gazed at the outline of Sebastian’s broad form by her window; she had only a second to make a decision that would alter both of their lives in more ways than she could even comprehend at the moment. But the truth was, she was the daughter of a country squire in the most unpopulated part of England. Her prospects were slim at best. If she didn’t wish to become a spinster, or worse, marry a man thrice her age, there was no need to question the good fortune that had just befallen her.
“I’ve not changed my mind,” she whispered, hoping he hadn’t yet realized he’d entered the wrong room. “Why don’t you go wait on the balcony? I need to grab something, then I’ll be ready.”
“Very well,” he said crisply. He stepped through the open window to wait for her on the balcony.
Isabelle sat still for a minute. Did he not want to marry Rachel, either? His tone would suggest as much. With a shrug, she pushed to her stocking-clad feet and slid them into a pair of black slippers she kept under the edge of the bed, then grabbed her biggest hooded cloak and put it on. Though her room had been so dark all she could see of him was his outline, and she doubted he could see any more of her than that, too, she had no doubt that outside where the moon was illuminating the hillside, he’d be able to see her and know right away he’d fetched the wrong sister. That was the last thing she wanted to have happen.
Satisfied she could both walk and conceal her identity at the same time, Isabelle made her way to the window and tentatively allowed Sebastian to help her through.
“How do we get down?” she asked, scowling at the trellis. Not that she was scared to climb down it, mind you. She’d climb to the top of the Great Pyramids on her hands and knees if it meant she could have someone as young, virile, honest and sincere as Sebastian for her husband. The problem was more of how she’d climb down the trellis without having to remove her cloak and expose her identity.
“Not to worry,” he said, breaking into her thoughts. He pointed to the far end of the balcony. “To my good fortune I passed a ladder as I came through the garden.”
Isabelle nodded. A ladder would be much easier to navigate with her cloak than the trellis. “All right, then. I’ll just be on my way and wait for you at the bottom.”
Sebastian’s large, tanned hand covered hers just as her fingers closed around the top of the ladder. “I think not. I’ll go down first, that way I can hold the ladder steady for you as you come down.”
Pursing her lips and biting her tongue so not to make the retort that was waiting on the tip of her tongue, thus giving away her identity, she politely nodded her head and stepped away from the ladder. The exact thing Rachel would do.
As soon as Isabelle was far enough away from the ladder to give Sebastian ample room to climb down, he swung his leg over and descended the ladder so quickly she’d have missed it had she blinked. “All right, Rachel,” he called. He grabbed onto the sides of the ladder to keep it from moving. “Come on down. Nice and slow.”
Isabelle walked up to the ladder and halted. “Can you turn around, please?”
“Because if you’re standing beneath the ladder you’ll see right up my nightrail,” she stated primly.
He snorted. “In a matter of hours I’ll be seeing everything you have under that nightrail anyway. And more.”
Her face grew hot. She’d forgotten that little detail. If they were about to elope, they were also about to have marital relations. Unfortunately, her mother had never actually informed her of all the details, but she’d surmised from whispers she’d overheard between the servants that it involved both parties removing their clothes. She shivered. She was only sixteen and regarded Sebastian as nothing more than a friend, for her father wouldn’t allow it any other way, often reminding her of her place in this world—which was not at the side of a titled gentleman, for he would never return her love and affection. Therefore, there was no love or affection between them, perhaps a measure of adoration that she went to great pains to conceal. Instead they had friendship. And friendship would be a very acceptable foundation for a marriage, in her opinion. But still, the idea of him seeing up her nightrail—both now and then again in a few hours—made her face burn like it had caught fire.
“Are you having second thoughts?” Sebastian asked from the bottom of the ladder.
Did he want her to have second thoughts? Or more specifically, did he want Rachel to be having second thoughts and cry off? Perhaps that’s why he wanted to go down first. It made sense to her. He could have held the ladder still from the top. He’d wanted to go down first in order to find one more way to scare her out of going through with this.
Steeling her spine, she carelessly threw her leg over the edge of the balcony railing (clutching the top of the ladder for dear life at the same time), and in the most disgraceful and unladylike way possible, descended the ladder, stopping only briefly three rungs from the bottom to make sure her hood still covered her face adequately.