Secrets of a Viscount

By: Rose Gordon

Chapter One





June 1812

Gateshead, England



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.”

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