Seduced by the Dark Stranger

Chapter 1

by Julia Justiss



Catching up the hem of her riding habit, Felicity Morville glanced behind her toward the bedchambers where the Carlow family lay sleeping, then tiptoed down the hallway.  She’d almost reached the landing when a tap on her shoulder made her jump and utter a stifled shriek.

            “Hush!” her best friend, Lady Honoria Carlow warned.  “If you wake Verity, she’ll have Miss Price on us in a twink.”  Clutching Felicity by the arm, she dragged her a few paces back down the hall and pushed her through the door into her bedchamber.  “Now, talk to me!  Where are you creeping off to at this hour?  ‘Tis barely past dawn!”

            “Just back to the Inner Temple gardens to collect more of the herbs Mama asked me to send.”

“Sounds like a perfectly dull errand,” Honoria said, wrinkling her nose.  “Oh, well, give me a moment and I’ll ride with you.”

Felicity tried to imbue her tone with the right note of nonchalance.  “’Tis far too dull to drag you out.  Besides, after dancing until dawn at Lady Ormsby’s rout last night, I thought you’d wish to stay abed later.”

Honoria laughed.  “Me, fatigued by dancing late?  Surely you know I’m not such a poor--“  She stopped suddenly, her eyes narrowing.  “Alright, you can drop the ‘help poor Mama’ charade.  What are you really up to?”

“No, truly, I’m going to the gardens,” Felicity replied, hoping the absolute veracity of her answer would convince her suspicious friend.  “And I should like to be there and back before our day’s activities begin, so I really must be going.”

She stepped toward the door, but Honoria caught her by the sleeve, halting her while she studied her face.  Feeling her cheeks heat, Felicity damned the fair coloring that accompanied her auburn hair. 

“That blush says you’re up to something.  Tell, tell!  You can’t really mean to have an Adventure and not let me share it!”

Knowing Honoria was unlikely to let her go without a full confession – and that if she delayed much longer, she might miss her rendezvous entirely, Felicity capitulated.  “Alright, but you must promise not to breathe a syllable.  And I must leave within the next few moments, or all will be lost.”

“Explain while I get into my habit,” Honoria ordered.

Felicity smiled dreamily.  Had it been only a week since she went there the first time…and met him?  “As you know, Mama feared the girls might be scarred after the chicken pox; before she sent me away to London, she asked me to search the physic gardens and send some comfrey back to Morville Hall, as Nurse swears ‘tis the best restorative.  Your Mrs. Hoby recommended the Inner Temple gardens, so I rode there last week.  I was clipping herbs, putting them into my basket, when a sudden gust of wind blew some out of the basket and down the pathway.  When I scurried to catch them, I ran slap into a gentleman who’d just rounded the corner!”

Honoria grinned.  “A gentleman, eh?  A handsome one, I’ll wager!”

“Indeed.”  Felicity couldn’t prevent a sigh.  “He’s quite the most handsome gentleman I’ve ever met.  Elegant and immaculately dressed, with the most elaborate cravat and boots of such polished beauty, I swear my brother would kill to possess them.  Tall of frame, his brow brushed by thick, wavy dark hair that makes one’s fingers just itch to comb through it!  A strong jaw, classic nose and dark eyes with a gaze so intense, when he helped me to my feet, I could scarcely draw breath!  He instantly apologized, though the collision was entirely my fault, then gathered up the herbs for me.”  She sighed again.  “He moves with such a lithe grace, ‘tis a pleasure to watch him.”

Honoria turned her back to Felicity and motioned for her to do up the buttons of her habit.  “Who is he?  Some law clerk or barrister?”

“I don’t think so.  His voice is quite cultured, with an intriguing lilt, and he speaks in the most quaint, courtly manner!  I believe he’s Russian, attached to the emissaries sent to coordinate the campaign against the French.”


“You think,” her friend repeated as she pinned her hat in place and snatched up her gloves.  “But you don’t know?  What is his name?”

“He wouldn’t tell me.  He said that since my chaperone wasn’t there to properly make the introductions, he would remain, for a time, just my…friend and admirer.”

Honoria’s eyes widened.  “Oh Felicity, he sounds completely ineligible!”

Felicity laughed.  “I know.  Isn’t it delicious?”

Honoria laughed as well.  “One can hardly fault you for seizing this opportunity to have an Adventure with a dark, mysterious, handsome stranger!”

“Indeed.  I’ll have to return to the safe, dull country soon enough.”

“Does he know your name?”

“No, but I told him I was staying with the Carlows.  At first, he seemed much struck, but when I asked if he knew your family, he apologized and said he hadn’t yet gone about much in English society.”

“We’d best make haste, or you’ll miss your rendezvous.”

The girls hurried from Honoria’s room and hastily descended the stair.  “You will stay well back, won’t you?” Felicity whispered.  “If he sees someone with me, he may not approach.”

Honoria giggled.  “Not English, but intelligent enough to know that meeting a young maiden without her chaperone isn’t at all the thing.  Is he a rogue, do you think?”

“I don’t know that I could tell.  He’s certainly charming.”

“Well, even if he is, he can hardly do you much harm in the middle of the Inns of Court, with solicitors and barristers and such passing back and forth.  How many times have you met him?”

“This will be our third rendezvous.”  Excitement and anticipation rose in Felicity at the thought of meeting her mysterious admirer again.  “I hope Robbie gets the horses saddled quickly.  I can’t wait to see him again!”

“Nor I, to view this paragon!”

“From a distance,” Felicity said.  “Promise me!”

“Oh, very well,” Honoria said.  “From a distance.”


A short time later, the girls entered the maze of narrow streets that made up the City, then wound their way through to the Inns of Court.  Stationing the groom with their horses at the entrance, they slipped inside, Felicity carrying her basket. 

They halted at the edge of a small knot garden surrounded by walls and hedges and accessed through an archway.  “Stand just beyond here, and you’ll be able to peer through the shrubbery,” Felicity told her friend.  She took a deep breath, eddies of excitement fluttering in her belly.  “Wish me luck.”

She’d completed two circuits of the pathway when, from the same direction in which he’d emerged the first day, the dark-haired young man rounded the corner.  Seeing her, a smile lit his handsome face and he paced quickly toward her.

“Mademoiselle!  My most beautiful and charming mademoiselle!” he cried, making her an elaborate bow.  “My life has been a desert of desolation since last we met!”  He held out his arm.  “Walk with me, that I might nourish my starving soul upon your loveliness.”

If Mama ever learned she’d snuck out to meet an unknown young man, full of flowery speech and lacking any legitimate credentials, she’d be locked up for a month on bread and water.  But it would be worth it, Felicity concluded, the titillating lure of the forbidden sending little eddies of delight through her as she laid her hand on his outstretched arm.


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