Blurb: John Haldane, Earl of Strathairn, is on an urgent mission to find the killer of his fellow spy. Has the treasonous Frenchman, Count Forney, returned to England to wreak havoc? Or has someone new landed on English shores to stir up rebellion in the Midlands? After visiting the young widow of one of his agents, Strathairn strengthens his resolve. A spy should never marry. And most certainly not to Lady Sibella Winborne, with her romantic ideas of love and marriage. Unable to give Sibella up entirely, he has kept her close as a friend. And then weak fool that he is he kissed her... Lady Sibella Winborne has refused several offers of marriage since her first Season years ago -- when she first set eyes on the handsome Earl of Strathairn. Sibella's many siblings always rush to her aid to discourage an ardent suitor, but not this time. Her elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, has approved Lord Coombe's suit. Sibella yearns to set up her own household. She is known to be the sensible member of the family. But she doesn't feel at all sensible about Lord Strathairn. If only she could forget that kiss...
Linden Hall Yorkshire, 1818
“I trust we’ll bag a few birds on the moor tomorrow, Chaloner.” John Haldane, the 4th Earl of Strathairn, glanced at the guests enjoying the Hunt Ball in his ballroom. Bright chatter rose in the warm smoky air as decorative ladies mingled with the more soberly dressed gentlemen. “My chef plans a grouse dish flavored with juniper berries for our dinner.”
“Excellent.” The Marquess of Brandreth raised his glass. “We will be out at the crack of dawn, I daresay.” He took Strathairn’s arm and drew him into a quiet corner. “I don’t wish to strain a friendship I value, John, but I must offer a word of advice.”
“Oh?” Strathairn eyed him warily. He had liked Chaloner better before his father died. The man seemed to lose his sense of humor after inheriting the title.
“You are often seen in Sibella’s company. Don’t get too fond of her.”
Strathairn moved his shoulders in a shrug of anger. He glanced over at Sibella in her white muslin, talking earnestly to Mrs. Bickerstaff. “Your sister is intelligent and good company. I enjoy our conversations. Nothing strange about that.”
“I struggle to believe it is just that. I may not be privy to the details of the work you perform for the military, but rumors do float about the House of Lords. You must admit that due to those circumstances alone, you would not make her a good husband.”
Chaloner’s determination put him in mind of a robin with a worm. Useless to argue. With a sigh, Strathairn acknowledged that he only strove to protect his sister from possible hurt. “No need for concern,” he said. “I have no wish to marry your sister, or anyone else for that matter. I do intend to ask Lady Sibella to dance, though. Unless you think my waltzing with her will ruin her reputation.”
Chaloner huffed out a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t enjoy having to say this to you, John, but it befalls me as head of the family. Sib has a love of home and hearth. She looks for a husband who will sit by the fire with her at night. That isn’t you, is it?”
“She deserves the best, and no, it isn’t me, Chaloner.”
After a fruitful day in the fields shooting grouse, Strathairn and his guests made their way over the lawns to the Hall.
The gamekeeper, beaters and handlers departed for the stables with the hounds while servants came to take the birds to the kitchen.
On the terrace, Lady Sibella, in a gown the color of lilacs, sat playing cards and drinking tea with the other women in the late afternoon sun.
Strathairn mounted the steps, carrying his shotgun over his shoulder, intent on returning it to the gunroom. “I trust you ladies enjoyed your day?”
“We did, my lord.” Lady Sibella’s sister, Viscountess Bathe, smiled. “Or at least those of us who have not lost our pin money at whist.”
“I see you had a successful day, my lord.” Lady Sibella eyed his gun with a faint shudder. “I saw your kill on its way to the kitchens.”
He smiled. “I hope you’ll enjoy our efforts once served in a tasty sauce.”
“I expect I shall. It’s contrary of me, isn’t it?” Lady Sibella frowned up at him. “But please don’t suggest that all women are so.”
He eyed the expectant faces of the other ladies and held up his hands with a laugh. “I wouldn’t be so bold.”
“Perhaps you would like a cup of tea, Lord Strathairn.” Lady Sibella gestured to the teapot a servant was refilling with hot water. “You must be thirsty after your arduous day.”
She well knew how much he hated tea, for he’d been forced to drink it at a morning call at their house in Eaton Place. She had naughtily offered to pour it into a potted plant when her mother was distracted by another guest.
Her playful smile was delicious, and he couldn’t help grinning back. Aware of the sharp-eyes on him from around the table, he shook his head. “I’m afraid I must decline for I’m not fit for company. But, thank you.” He bowed and entered the house leaving them to resume their card game.
Strathairn cleaned his gun and left it on the rack in the gunroom. He’d enjoyed Lady Sibella’s friendship like no other lady of his acquaintance. Her humor seemed so in tune with his and he often found she understood his thoughts before he expressed them. Damn Chaloner, he was such a stickler for convention.
Strathairn smiled down at his partner, her slim waist beneath his hand as they danced. Lady Sibella Winborne looked like a delicate flower in a gauzy pale gown covered in amber blossom. White ostrich feather plumes adorned her luxuriant dark locks. He enjoyed looking at her. Her serene oval face lifted and she smiled at him, her mouth wide and full. Too wide for beauty some might say, but made for kissing. She had inherited her mother’s famous eyes, a delectable mix of blue and green, but her nature was quieter, lacking the vivacity of her mother in her youth, who was said to have had men falling at her feet. He admired Sibella’s calm beauty, but she was oh, so much more: practical, poised and intelligent. Yet still unmarried, which surprised him.
Question 1. What color are Lady Sibella's eyes?
Question 2. What did the servants take to the kitchen?
Question 3. Who is the treasonous Frenchman?
The winner will be picked on 9th December.