When Oriana's uncle brings home a wounded associate, Mr. Chilton Dacy, to
nurse, she can't help but wonder what sort of scoundrel he might be. Her
uncle has a long and sad history of befriending miscreants of the worst
sort. Then she finds a lost necklace and her worries only increase. The
necklace bears a curse promising a hideous death to anyone who possesses
it, and it seems as if it might come true when she's blamed for the murder
of a virtual stranger.
Can Chilton prove her innocence, or is Oriana destined for a personal
relationship with the hangman's noose?
In this scene, Chilton is angry to find
that his valet has kissed Oriana, when Chilton very much wants to do so,
She laughed at his outraged expression. “He knew I wouldn’t get upset.
Quite the contrary. I had two garter snakes for several years, named
Emily and Heloise. They were lovely and quite friendly. Unfortunately,
they got out one day and were very naughty.” She peeked at him through
her lashes, her eyes glimmering with golden laughter. “It seems they
developed a liking for beds, probably due to having been placed in mine
so many times by Joshua. So they crawled into one. Unfortunately, the
bed they selected belonged to my mamma. She was not as fond of them as I
He could only imagine the uproar. “And they forbade you to have any
“Oh, yes. I was very upset for several months afterwards. My parents
utterly forbade us from having any creatures of any sort. They were very
specific. No frogs, toads, polliwogs, butterflies, caterpillars, or
snakes. Joshua was forced to use extreme measures when he wished to
disconcert me. In fact, I blame his inability to bring any of the
aforementioned creatures into the house for his kiss.”
“He kissed you? Joshua?” Chilton asked, appalled and angry at the same
time. His valet had kissed
“I was seven or eight, I suppose. It was indeed dreadful.”
“Oh. You were children.” This
information should have amused him, but he found it profoundly
“Yes, we often played together, Andrew, Joshua and I.”
She gave him a stern glance. “It was quite proper. The Archers are a
very distinguished and proper family. And Helen and I do have a maid,
you know.” The return of the bland expression to her face let him know
she had forgiven him enough to adopt a teasing tone.
An answering grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. He nodded.
“I’m sorry, I need to find something,” she said at last, turning toward
the area he had identified. The corner of the yard where he had
interrupted Red and John Archer the previous evening.
Miss Archer stepped away, her gaze sweeping the ground. She slowly moved
into the corner and stood there for a few minutes, staring downwards.
Whining slightly, Josephine shoved her wet nose into his hand. He
caressed her head and watched Miss Archer. Ruefully, he wished he was
just a simple country lad, the son of some local squire perhaps, who
could put his arm around her waist and give her a kiss.
If he could be anyone but himself, he would be profoundly grateful.
Even his valet was more fortunate. He, at least, had kissed her and felt
her warm lips against his.