New York Times Best Selling Author

secrets of a proper lady

“Explain to me again why we are hiding in a carriage outside a park gate at what even the most stalwart of souls would consider an ungodly time of morning.” Sarah stifled a yawn and glared at her friend.

“It’s part of the plan,” Cordelia said absently and continued to peer out the window at one of the many streets that ended, or perhaps started depending on one’s point of view and direction, at the park. “I explained the plan quite thoroughly to you last evening.”

“Apparently I was not paying the proper amount of attention.”

“Probably not, as you were writing yet another letter to that mysterious suitor of yours,” Cordelia murmured.

“He’s neither a suitor nor mysterious. Simply an old friend with whom I correspond.” Sarah’s tone was cool as it always was when talk turned to this particular topic. Her secrecy was most annoying as it was probably the only secret she and Cordelia did not share.

Sarah Elizabeth Palmer—was a scant year older than Cordelia and the daughter of a distant cousin by marriage of Cordelia’s mother. When she was left orphaned and impoverished a dozen or so years ago, Cordelia’s family had taken her in. After all, her mother had said, their three oldest daughters were wed and gone and there was a certain emptiness these days in a house so well used to girls. Besides, the sister closest to Cordelia in age was still seven years older than she and wouldn’t it be lovely for Cordelia to have someone around who was closer to her own age. But when Sarah had come of age, she had stubbornly insisted on making her own way in the world as she had failed as miserably as Cordelia had to find a suitable husband. No one in the family could bear the thought of Sarah going off to work as a governess, so she had become Cordelia’s paid companion. Aside from the fact that Sarah now had her own funds, her position in the family hadn’t significantly changed at all.

Except that in an official sense, Cordelia was her charge. That too was most annoying.

“I tell you all my secrets,” Cordelia said still looking out the carriage window. Where was the blasted man? Cordelia could see the door of the house where her quarry lived and was confident he had not eluded her watch. Even if he had, well, there was always tomorrow.

“It’s not a secret. It’s simply personal and private and not the matter at hand,” Sarah said firmly. “Now, explain to me again why we are lying in wait like common criminals.”

“Nonsense. Common criminals would scarcely lie in wait in a carriage, especially a carriage as nice as this. No, common criminals would be skulking about behind the bushes.”

“Carriage or bushes, it certainly feels as if we are skulking.”

“Well we’re not. We’re simply waiting.” Cordelia turned from the window, settled back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “I do so dislike a man who is not prompt.”

Sarah snorted back a laugh. “I daresay such a fault would clearly be grounds for refusal to marry. Mr. Sinclair’s inability to be punctual is a serious flaw.”

“Indeed it is.” Cordelia huffed. “As is the inability to pay attention to the details of a plan. We are not waiting for Mr. Sinclair we are waiting for a Mr. Lewis.”

Sarah’s brows drew together. “Mr. Lewis?”

“You weren’t listening to me at all, were you? Very well then.” Cordelia heaved a long suffering sigh. “Mr. Warren Lewis is Mr. Sinclair’s secretary. Every morning without fail, Mr. Lewis takes a daily constitutional through the park. On occasion, he is accompanied by Mr. Sinclair although usually he is quite alone.”

Sarah pressed her lips together. “I gather you have learned this through your usual methods?”

“You needn’t look so disapproving. How else is one to learn anything in this town?” Cordelia couldn’t resist a satisfied smile. “It is the simplest matter in the world to give a few shillings to the head footman who then distributes a fraction of his newfound wealth among lesser servants, who in turn make inquiries among their acquaintances and before you know it, you have all the information you need.” Cordelia’s smile widened. “It was a great benefit to already know the address of the house Mr. Sinclair has leased during his stay in London and I have my mother to thank for that.”

“Did you get a description of the man as well?” Sarah asked wryly.

“Of course.” Cordelia scoffed. “It would be foolish not to. Mr. Lewis is tall, dark-haired and an American.” She shrugged. “He should be easy to spot.”

“And once you have spotted him, then what?”

“Then, his acquaintance needs to be made, in as natural a manner as possible, and conversation attempted in an effort to learn everything possible about Mr. Sinclair.” Cordelia shook her head. “When preparing for warfare, one must know all one can about one’s enemy.”

“And Mr. Sinclair is the enemy?”

” I don’t know. I don’t know anything about him.” Cordelia narrowed her eyes. “But I do intend to find out. I’ll not be thrown into a marriage with a man I know nothing about.”

“Isn’t that why your mother suggested you and Mr. Sinclair correspond?” Sarah said slowly. “So that you may ascertain his character for yourself?”

“That’s especially ridiculous and you well know it.” Cordelia waved away Sarah’s comment. “I can be anything I wish to be on paper. Witty, clever and altogether fascinating. As can he. Of course . . .”

“Oh, I don’t like that look.” Sarah shook her head. “What are you thinking?”

“If one can be far better on paper, far more than who one is in truth, one can be substantially less as well.”

“Less?”

“Disagreeable, unpleasant.” Cordelia widened her eyes in an innocent manner. “Not at all the type of woman a man would want to marry.”
Sarah groaned. “Dear Lord, you don’t intend to—”

“I don’t intend to do anything until I know more about Mr. Sinclair. It was just a thought. It’s entirely possible he is my one true love, the man I have always dreamed about and fate has at last thrown us together.” Cordelia leaned forward and peered out the window. “It is every bit as likely that he is not.” A tall, dark-haired gentleman was descending the steps in front of the house. “There is Mr. Lewis now. We’ll wait until he passes the carriage; we don’t want him to see you getting out—”

“Me?” Sarah bolted upright. “What do you mean me? I thought this was a we sort of thing.”

“Don’t be silly. I can’t possibly be involved with this.”

“Why not?” Sarah’s voice rose.

“It would be most improper. What if I were to be found out? Father would—well, I shudder to think of the consequences.” Cordelia placed her hand on her friend’s and met her gaze. “You, however, can always claim that you were only doing it to save me from myself which is very nearly the truth.”

Sarah stared at her.

“Come now, Sarah, please.” Cordelia adopted her most persuasive tone. “I need your assistance now more than ever before. You are the sister I never had.”

“You have three sisters!”

“Exactly and you’re the one I never had.” Cordelia glanced out the window. Mr. Lewis was passing by on the far side of the street. “And my favorite as well.”

“But I have no idea what to do or say or . . .” Sarah sighed and reached for the door. “But I’ll do it of course, as you knew I would. On occasions such as this I rather miss being a poor relation instead a paid companion, responsible for keeping you out of mischief. But mind you I don’t have the least expectation of success.”

“You’ll be grand. I’m confident of it.” Cordelia beamed. Why some of Cordelia’s best plans in the past had been refined and improved thanks to Sarah’s suggestions. Cordelia’s smile faltered. Still, while Sarah was clever and resourceful she did have a tendency to be reserved, even hesitant, and always tried to follow the rules of propriety. Beyond that, Sarah really didn’t have the heart for deception.

What was Cordelia thinking to send her on such a mission? It was like sending a lamb to confront a lion and the height of cowardice on Cordelia’s part besides. Cordelia had never considered herself the least bit cowardly.

Sarah pushed open the door.

“Wait.” Cordelia grimaced. “I have changed my mind. I can’t allow you to do this. I am sorry I even asked.”

“Thank goodness you’ve come to your senses,” Sarah said with a sigh of relief. “It was an insane idea in the first place.”

“Perhaps, but brilliant nonetheless. There is a fine line between brilliance and insanity and this was one of my most brilliant I think.”

“Or most insane.”

“We shall see.” Cordelia pushed open the door and stepped out of the carriage.

Sarah’s eyes widened. “What are you doing?”

“I’m doing exactly what I had planned for you to do.” Cordelia caught sight of Mr. Lewis. The man certainly set a brisk pace. She’d have to hurry.

“But you said—”

“I said I couldn’t allow you to do it. And I can’t. I shall do this myself. However.” She flashed her cousin a wicked grin. “I shall tell him I’m you.”

Cordelia closed the carriage door and hurried off before Sarah could say another word. Lord knew Sarah took this whole idea of being responsible for Cordelia entirely too seriously. Regardless of Sarah’s desire to provide for herself, the situation really wasn’t fair to her. From the moment she had joined their family, she and Cordelia had been the closest of friends. But despite Sarah being slightly older, Cordelia had always been the one to lead and Sarah to follow.

Mr. Lewis was still ahead of her and Cordelia picked up her pace. And what would happen to Sarah once Cordelia married? Regardless of whether she wed Mr. Sinclair or someone she’d yet to meet, Cordelia was confident she would indeed marry someday. Although she would be the first to admit there might well be wagers to the contrary among more than a few gentlemen in London. Cordelia wasn’t entirely sure herself why she had not yet married other than that annoying fact of not having found a man who was, well, right. A man with whom life would be more interesting than the life she now led. While Cordelia had no desire to spend the rest of her days alone, she had no doubt she could if necessary.

But Sarah needed someone to care of her. Preferably a husband. Cordelia vowed to find a suitable match for her cousin as soon as her own marital status was resolved.

Mr. Lewis had either slowed his steps or Cordelia had been walking far quicker than she had realized. Without warning she was nearly upon him. He was taller than she had anticipated, with impressively broad shoulders. Although tall and broad shouldered was precisely what she did expect in an American. No doubt he would have a somewhat rugged face as well, as befit the resident of a part of the world still relatively uncivilized and wild. It was time to find out.

She drew a deep breath. “Mr. Lewis?”

He kept walking.

She tried again. “Mr. Lewis? Mr. Warren Lewis?”

He paused and turned toward her. “I beg your pardon. Are you speaking to me?”

“Yes, well, yes, I was.” She stared up at him. He had the darkest eyes she had ever seen. “You are Mr. Warren Lewis, aren’t you? Secretary to Mr. Daniel Sinclair?”

He studied her for a moment. “And if I am?”

His gaze skimmed over her in an assessing and altogether impertinent manner. She ignored it. Impertinence was to be expected from an American. “Then I have a matter of great importance to discuss.”

“A matter of great importance?” His brow rose and she noticed a scar directly above his eyebrow. Oddly, it wasn’t the least bit disfiguring but rather gave him a rakish and even dangerous air.

“Great importance,” she said firmly.

“As that is the case—”a slow, wicked grin spread across an undeniably handsome face. Good Lord, the man looked like a pirate! American or not, what kind of gentleman had a pirate in his employ?—”I am at your service.”