The Scoundrel's Secret Siren

About
The Scoundrel’s Secret Siren

 

He could deny the truth no longer: the most valuable thing he’d ever won in a game of chance was the heart of Miss Lorelei Lindon. Was love not the greatest gamble of all?

When bored Miss Lorelei Lindon sneaks out in the middle of the night in search of ghosts, she finds rather more than she bargained for in the enigmatic Lord Winbourne. And when he does a dastardly thing and steals her treasured necklace as a memento of their midnight
encounter, she must find a way to retrieve it without causing a scandal.

Lord Winbourne is certainly a mystery and he seems determined to make her whole world unravel. How can one man burn with such passion one moment, and assume such a frosty façade the next? Will Lorelei be able to retrieve her trinket without losing her heart and her virtue to the irresistible rake? Is she a complete wanton or is the passion between them so wrong that it must be right? And will he acknowledge the true depth of his own passion before it is too late?

Throw in a few well-meaning relatives, a niece stubbornly caught up in her own romantic dilemmas and duel to the death, and Lorelei’s life will surely never be boring again…

The Scoundrel’s Secret Siren

Daphne du Bois

Kindle Edition
 

***
Copyright © 2013 Daphne du Bois

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work, in whole or in part, in any form.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations and products depicted herein are either a product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

For
my grandparents, for all the support – technical and otherwise.

With love.

Chapter 1

 

Ledley Court had to be the dullest place in all England, Lorelei Lindon decided as she stared gloomily out of a window at the empty gardens stretching out in the grey murkiness of early spring. Her pretty mouth was turned down in an expression of unmistakable displeasure.

A slight drizzle, which had been falling since the previous day,
shrouded the distant trees in a fog and showed no sign of stopping any time soon. A gust of wind ruffled the new leaves on a large poplar tree just outside the window, and the young woman sighed, brushing a strand of her fashionably cropped honey-gold hair away from her large eyes, which gazed longingly into the distance. She had never much liked the country. She had been perfectly content to live for the most part in town, removing occasionally to visit friends in Bath or to holiday in the more fashionable resorts. Now, her stay in the country seemed unbearably permanent.

“Oh
, Lorelei, I wish you wouldn’t look so utterly dismal!” declared her younger sister, Constance, who had been comfortably seated on a flowery sofa, sketching a portrait of Lorelei. “You know, one isn’t allowed to sit like patience on a monument unless one is in love. You are not in love, are you?”

S
he shot Lorelei a teasing smile which lit up her pretty little face.

With her chocolate curls and big br
own eyes, Constance looked the very image of their mother, who had died of influenza shortly before Constance’s fourth year. It had been prophesied many times that Constance would one day bloom into a great beauty. While their father did not place much importance on prettiness, Lorelei knew it was a comfort to their father to see his late wife’s likeness in his youngest daughter. Constance was a bubbly young lady, who enjoyed both the country and town and so could not understand Lorelei’s ennui.

Lorelei sighed wistfully
, setting aside the embroidery frame she had been studiously ignoring for the past hour. “I am not. How can I be, when we are so far away from Society? I do so wish that something dramatic would happen! I wish Papa would not have left us in this empty house. I would much rather have gone with him.”


Oh, I am sure you do not mean it! Papa’s battalion is no place for ladies – you know it would not do for us to follow him around the Continent, so close to danger. It is quite pleasant to be here – I can’t imagine why you dislike it so excessively. Why, the air alone is wonderfully refreshing. Though I must say, I miss Papa very much.”

John Lindon, Baron Ledley
, was off fighting for Lord Wellington, and despite Lorelei’s cajoling and pleading, he had refused to bring his daughters along with him to the front. Instead, he had taken them to Ledley Court and left them in the charge of Miss Fallon, Constance’s governess.


I do mean it! Every word. It would be a very grand adventure. Yes, surely he must come back soon. I wish he would write and tell us when we might expect his furlough. I shall perish of dullness if something does not happen soon.”

During the general’s previous absence on the front, their Aunt and Uncle Lindon had taken charge of the girls, and their Lindon cousins had been nothing if not distracting with the sheer chaos they had created around the estate. The Hon. Mr Lindon had been sent to Ireland for a four-year diplomatic duty, however, and the Lindons had gone two years ago. England felt a lot quieter without their numerous cousins to quarrel and cause mischief with, especially when the general was away.

Sirius, Lorelei’s massive Newfoundland, looked up from his leisurely nap on the thick carpet, awakened by his mistress’s sudden agitation.

“In that case, I beg that you would oblige me by sitting still so that I might finish your likeness before you
r demise,” laughed Constance, and returned to her paper, her fingertips dark with charcoal.

“Oh, very well
. I will sit still a bit longer. Take care you do not touch your gown with those fingers! Miss Fallon will not be well pleased if you do.” Miss Fallon had told the young ladies that she had the headache before calling for Miss Cartwright, the ancient housekeeper, to bring vinegar for her temples and retiring to her room. Before departing the library, Miss Fallon had expressed her confidence that even Lorelei could not get into any mischief cooped up in the old manor.

Just when Lorelei thought she could not bear to sit still another second, a polite knock sounded on the door
and was followed by Harper, Baron Ledley’s butler.

“A package for you, Miss Lindon
. From London,” he said, politely not smiling at the delight that instantly suffused her expressive face. Ignoring her sister’s protestations, she leapt to her feet, not waiting for Harper to bring the package to her.

“Oh
, thank you, Harper!” she exclaimed. “A package is just the thing to chase away the dismals!” Carrying the parcel over to the desk, she wasted no time cutting the rope with a silver letter-opener and unwrapping the brown paper. A stack of books awaited inside, and her smile widened in delight. Picking an envelope off the top stack, she opened it impatiently.

“Well, who is it from?” asked Constance
curiously, setting aside her charcoal and coming to have a closer look.


Lady Hurst,” replied Lorelei, scanning the short letter. “She says she is certain I must be near mad with living the quiet life by now, and that she will come down to see us the week after next. In the mean time, she hopes these books will keep the lethargy at bay.”

Sophia McKinnon,
Lady Hurst, was a dowager countess with no children of her own. Though no blood relation, Lady Hurst had always been like an affectionate aunt to the girls. A dear childhood friend of their father’s, Lady Hurst had taken a particular interest in the girls since their mother’s untimely passing. She had promised Lord Ledley that she would sponsor Lorelei for her presentation at court.

“How good of her!” exclaimed Constance. “
It will be nice to have company and to hear of all the marvellous things that are happening in London.”

Lorelei shot her sister an a
mused look. “The Season hasn’t even started yet, goose.”

“I know! But marvellous things are always happening in London.”

“How true,” Lorelei sighed wistfully. “Well, we must tell Miss Fallon. And Cartwright, of course, so that she knows to inform Cook.”

*

The books proved a very welcome diversion indeed. They were not the sort of books Baron Ledley would have had a high opinion of, full as they were of highwaymen, ghosts and intrigues. Lorelei found that she could not stop reading them, finishing with
The Female Quixote
, which was full of adventure. It was, perhaps, so particularly diverting because of the monotony of her life at Ledley, where there was not the least chance of an adventure. A few of their neighbours had come to call, easing the ennui a little, and the young ladies had been obliged to return the visits, but Lorelei found she had little in common with the ladies of the neighbourhood, many of whom were married and did not have either time or inclination for tales of haunted castles.

The rain continued on and off for most of a week
without a break. Miss Fallon would not hear of the girls venturing out in such weather.

“I’m sure I don’t know what I will tell his lordship if he returns home to find you laid abed with an inflammation of the lungs!” she had said, with a note of finality in her voice. Constance did not mind this edict: she was perfectly content to spend her day at
the pianoforte.

Lorelei sat in a chair next to her, embroidering a delicate pattern of roses in s
ilk thread. Unlike her sister, she was very fond of needlework, and such a complicated exercise would normally have kept all her attention, but her head was full of the adventures she had been reading.

“You
simply must read it, Con. Miss Lennox is such an excellent authoress,” she said to her sister, having provided a critique of all the volumes she had read thus far.

Constance did not pause in her playing as she replied,
“I will, if you insist on it. But I never find such stories as diverting as you do. What are highwaymen and knights to the real adventures of the world? And ghosts are simply much too horrifying for me – I wouldn’t sleep a wink.”


Adventures of the world? A dinner party, do you mean? Or a ride in the park!” exclaimed Lorelei. “I’m sure I’ll never understand you, Con. I would much rather spend a day as a dashing lady highwayman.”

Constance laughed.
“A lady highwayman? You can’t mean that. They all come to a very sticky end, you know. And you wouldn’t know how to handle a pistol or sound menacing.
And
it would be simply horrible to be obliged to go on the road at night! Besides, I’m sure Miss Fallon would never allow it.”

This made Lorelei laugh as well
as she imagined applying to her former governess for permission to take to the road. “No, I’ll wager she would not.”

“I can just hear it
!” exclaimed the younger girl, before assuming a spotless imitation of Miss Fallon, “
A lady highwayman! For shame, my girl, what would his lordship say if I told him that his daughter is regrettably indisposed on account of being hanged for a common criminal?

They giggled over this just as Nell, Lorelei’s maid
, came into the room, bearing a tea tray and a plate of chocolate biscuits, still warm from the oven.

“Ah, it’s good to see you cheered up, Miss Lorelei,”
the portly woman said brightly.

Lorelei returned Nell’s smile
, her emerald eyes sparkling with mirth. “We were just talking of highwaymen and ghosts, Nell.”

“Those books of yours again, miss?” Nell did not entirely approve of reading. She was a very practical woman and saw no merit in burying one’s nose in a book when one could be working on one’s trousseau.

Lorelei nodded. “Tales of horror and danger.”

Nell looked at the young lady indulgently. “You’re winding m
e up, Miss Lorelei. You always were such a terror! Well, I’ll tell you one thing. You don’t need those books of yours if it’s ghosts you want.”

Both girls looked surprised.

“No?” asked Lorelei, with a delicious shiver of intrigue.

“Of course not! But I suppose you wouldn’t know, having grown up as you have mostly in the city.
My Lord Ledley has never been one for staying long in the country either.
I
was born near Little Paddlington, and so I grew up hearing the tale of the lady ghost haunting the main road to the village.”

Little Paddlington was the nearest village to the Ledley lands
, and Lorelei was astonished to learn the quiet settlement had anything so interesting as a haunting attached to it.

Constance’s
expressive eyes widened. “A ghost? Are you in earnest, Nell?”

“Very much so, Miss Constance. I have never seen the lady myself, being not in the habit of walking the Little Paddlington road after dark, but my cousin John swears that he once gl
impsed the apparition on his way down from London. And if he says he did, then you can be sure he did – cousin John is nothing if not honest.”

“Oh!” Constance shuddered. “How dreadful. I wish you had not told me! Now I shall be awake all night, picturing a ghost
not ten minutes’ ride away.”

“Don’
t be silly, Con,” admonished her older sister laughingly. “You are not at all likely to meet this ghost – you are always at home after dark. Besides which, a ghost is just marvellous. Who was she, Nell?” Lorelei helped herself to tea and a biscuit from the tray on the table, and waited while Nell got into her story.

“Oh, it’s a very sad tale:
as such tales always are. She was a lady of good birth and great beauty, married young against her will to a beast of a husband. Rich he was, but an utter brute nonetheless.
She
had wanted to marry an officer of middling means, but her family would not hear of it and persuaded her that her true duty was to them.” Nell looked suitably tragic, lowering her voice. “Well, her young man heard about what had happened and how unhappy she was and he arranged for them to flee to Italy together one night when the husband would be away. All went as planned and they stole from London one dark night in a chaise and four. But it had been a wet week and the roads in these parts are somewhat rough. They were travelling too fast, you see, in case of pursuit. Somehow, the postilions lost control of the horses, and the carriage overturned. The couple died instantly, thrown by the impact.”

“What a sad tale,” breathed Constance, who had grown pale.

Nell nodded. “It is as I said, miss. Well, they say, not wanting to be parted from her lover again, the lady wouldn’t go on to the other side, and so she picked herself up from her own body and now she wanders the road, in search of her beloved officer. She is particularly well-seen by moonlight.”

“Now, that is certainly a worthy story, thank you Nell.” Lorelei frowned
thoughtfully, “It seems Ledley Hall is not so dull as I had supposed it. When did this happen, do you know?”

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