The hero now I speak of, he was proper tall
Like to the lofty poplar tree, his body was complete;
His growth was like the tufted fir that does ascend
And waving o'er his shoulders broad the locks of
anonymous Irish street ballad
The Well-bred Young Lady avoids the merest hint of scandalous behavior.
Helena Laverick couldn't help remembering that stricture as she surveyed the deserted hallway of the St. Giles lodging house. For she was about to break it most flagrantly.
Her sister Rosalind had always criticized their late mother's favorite instruction book, Mrs. Nunley's Guide to Etiquette for Young Ladies. Rosalind's philosophy was to follow Mrs. N's rules when possible, but ignore them when they were impractical. Helena usually considered that her excuse for disregarding any checks to her outrageous behavior.
But in this case she had a point. Their young sister Juliet's mad dash into trouble made it impossible for Helena not to break the rules. And by venturing into this strange lodging house, where rats scrabbled all around her and burning rushlights clogged the air with their scorched mutton scent, she was breaking quite a few.
The Well-bred Young Lady does not take long trips alone -- she'd broken that one when she'd traveled alone to London from Warwickshire. Since Rosalind and her new husband, Griff Knighton, were honeymooning on the Continent and Papa was unable to leave his bed, someone had to handle this messysituation.
The Well-bred Young Lady never ventures outdoors without her maid -- that one was laughable. The fewer servants involved in her secret mission, the better. Servants did have a tendency to talk.
Her grip tightened on her cane as she stared at the scarred oak door before her, the one that belonged to Mr. Daniel Brennan, her brother-in-law's unmarried man of affairs. Now she was about to violate one of Mrs. N's most serious strictures -- The Well-bred Young Lady does not call on a gentleman in his lodgings unchaperoned.
And certainly not at dawn. Why, Mr. Brennan's own landlady had refused to risk his ire by rousing him so early.
A shiver ran down Helena's spine as she remembered the last time she'd provoked Mr. Brennan's ire, when he and Griff had been guests at Swan Park this past summer. Not that he'd had any right to be angry. He'd been the one in the wrong. He'd been the one shamelessly taking money from Griff for misleading them all, for pretending to court them while undoubtedly laughing at them behind their backs for believing his kindnesses and compliments...
No, she mustn't think of that. All that mattered was saving Juliet. Which was why she must swallow her pride, rouse her courage, and awaken Mr. Brennan. And soon, too, because her bad leg pained her from the arduous climb up the steep stairs, and nothing would be more mortifying than having it give out in front of him. So before she could change her mind, she rapped sharply on the door.
At first she heard nothing. Merciful heavens, what if she had the wrong place? She'd wondered why Mr. Brennan would reside in a slum like St. Giles when he surely could afford better, but Griff's coachman had insisted that the man lived here.
She knocked again, this time more loudly. Nothing. Might he refuse to answer? Panic seized her at the thought, so she rapped the silver head of her cane on the door repeatedly, loud enough to raise the dead.
Success at last. Through the thin walls, she heard heavy steps and a male voice growling, “I'm coming, devil take you!” If not for her mission, she might well have fled. Instead she braced herself for whatever might happen.
But nothing could prepare her for her first sight of the burly giant. Bare-chested, clad only in his drawers.
Struck speechless, she gaped at him. Despite what her sisters thought, she did have some curiosity about men, especially half-naked ones of such impressive dimensions. Mr. Brennan was a veritable Samson, with the muscular shoulders of a pugilist and the broad, sculpted chest of a laborer, thickly sprinkled with dark blond hair. As for those arms swathed in sinew...she could easily imagine them pulling down a temple.
Just now, however, the Samson was staring at her, perplexed. “Lady Helena?” He shook his head as if to clear it. “It is you, isn't it?”
She kept her eyes trained on his face as a blush crept up her cheeks. “Good morning, Mr. Brennan. I'm sorry if I awakened you.” Not that there was any question of it -- his tousled sandy hair and lack of attire confirmed it.
“Is everything all right at Swan Park? Your father is well?”
“Yes...no...I mean, I...” Her lame attempt at coherent speech came crashing to a halt when he leaned one huge forearm against the doorframe, unwittingly causing all his muscles to shift and flex.
How in creation could a lady converse rationally when such a magnificent display of male flesh was before her? Despite his size, he hadn't an inch of fat on him -- no hint of unwanted flesh on the chest and arms, no telltale thickness about the waist. Not a woman above the age of fifteen could miss that Mr. Brennan in his drawers was a fine figure of a man.
“M'lady, are you well?” he queried.
Only when her head snapped up did she realize her gaze had wandered down to his bulging drawers. “Yes!” she cried too loudly, then added in a more subdued tone, “I'm fine. Quite well. Yes.”
He cocked an eyebrow, as if knowing precisely how much his appearance unnerved her. “Forgive my inappropriate dress, but I wasn't expecting company..." A Notorious Love
. Copyright © by Sabrina Jeffries. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.