Excerpt: Chasing Lady Amelia
In which our hero and heroine should not be meeting like this
It was a warm summer night in Mayfair and Alistair Finlay-Jones sang an old drinking song as he walked back to his flat after a night pleasantly spent drinking and wagering with his old friends at White’s.
At this late hour, the streets were empty.
Except for…a woman?
He slowed his pace and observed.
She strolled slowly and stumbled slightly. As he drew closer, he heard something like singing, but she was slurring her words and it was hard to discern what she was saying. Or singing. But she did have a lovely voice.
A lovely figure, too, from what he could glimpse from behind. Women with lovely figures and voices oughtn’t be strolling the streets of London, not even in Mayfair, at this late hour.
He caught up with her.
She whirled to face him, nearly falling flat on her face as she did so.
“Good evening sir. Or is it lord? Or mister or right honorable? I do apologize for not knowing.” She tried to curtsey, which was a terrible idea, given her difficulty standing. He propped her up. “I am delighted to make your acquaintance. You must be the man with the song.”
In the moonlight, he could see that she was young. Far too young and far too female to be out on the streets alone, never mind that she was out at night. Never mind that she was clearly three, possibly five sheets to the wind.
Given that this was Mayfair, a neighborhood populated by the marriage minded mamas, the most dangerous subset of human for the common rake, Alistair had half a mind to rush away from her, in the event that this was some marriage trap.
But then he looked into the dark pools of her eyes, fringed with dark lashes and thought it could be worse.
He put the thought out of his mind.
“I have been looking for you,” she told him. At least, that’s what it sounded like.
“May I escort you home?” Better him than, oh, anyone else she might encounter. Besides, it’s not as if he needed to be up in a few hours for an interview so important he was summoned from another continent for it.
“No, thank you. But it is so kind of you to offer.”
She tried to dip into another curtsey and thought better of it. She swayed slightly, leaning in toward him.
“May I escort you elsewhere?”
“No, thank you. I prefer to walk.”
“It is not safe for a lady on the streets alone, especially at night.”
“It isn’t safe for a lady anywhere, ever. But now I have you to protect me from the dangers.” She nestled up to him, resting her cheek on his chest. Then she yawned. “You will, won’t you?”
“Yes,” he said softly. Because honestly, what else could say when a lovely young woman pressed against him like that?
“Let us walk,” she said, quickly stepping away from him and pitching forward. He quickly darted forward and linked arms. She leaned heavily against him and they took a few slow steps. “And do carry on with your song. It tempted me to come out. Like the sires.”
“You know, from the odessisseusness.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Greek story.”
“Ah,” he said, comprehension dawning. “The sirens. From the Odyssey.”
“That’s the one! That’s you.”
“I can assure you, I’m not luring you to your death. Quite the contrary, I would like to see you home safely. Where do you live?”
Wrong. Impossible. Try again.
“Where do you live?”
“One of these big old drafty houses.” She waved her hand in the general vicinity of the approximately twenty houses lining the street.
If he had stayed in England, he would know who she was, who she belonged to and which house was hers. She was obviously a person of quality if she was referencing The Odyssey and lived in a drafty old Mayfair house. Or perhaps she was merely a governess. Either way, the last he checked, the young ladies of England of any social class were not encouraged to drink themselves into a stupor and wander the streets alone.
The girl was leaning more and more heavily upon him. Her footsteps were slowing. He probably had precious few moments before she blacked out entirely.
“Miss, where do you live?”
She slumped against him. Yawned loudly. She rested her cheek against the wool of his jacket and her hands slid against his chest.
“Oh bloody hell,” he muttered.
She mumbled something that sounded like, “Ladies mustn’t use such language.”
“Good thing I’m not a lady.”
“Wish I wasn’t.”
She nestled even closer against him. He could feel that she was very much a lady.
He suddenly, keenly regretted not accepting Darcy’s offer of a ride. At this very moment he could be back in his lodgings, loosening his cravat, removing his boots, and falling into bed to snatch a few precious hours sleep before the baron told him why he’d been summoned back after six years abroad.
But no, he was on Bruton Street in the middle of the night, in a hellish predicament. Somehow, he was in possession of a drunk or drugged woman who probably had rich and powerful relatives who would make him pay for his role in this farce.
Alistair considered his options. He could knock on each door and make inquiries: “Does this girl belong to you? No? Do you know whom she belongs to?”
He couldn’t just leave her on the street.
Perhaps he could leave her on a doorstep of one of these houses, ring the bell and run, thus making her someone else’s problem. A butler would know what to do with her. Butlers always knew what to do.
But that would certainly ruin the girl.
And she seemed like such a sweet girl, with her dark eyes and tumble of curls and mentions of ancient Greek literature. Drunken, unchaperoned, slightly flirtatious antics notwithstanding. He wanted no part in her ruination.
But Alistair didn’t exactly want the responsibility of saving her from such ruination either. He wanted to collapse in his own bed and snatch a few precious hours of sleep before what promised to be a life altering interview with the baron. And to do that, he needed to get rid of this girl.
Alistair grabbed her shoulders and shook her warm, limp shoulders.
“Where do you live?”
Her head lolled to the side, dark curls tumbled out of her coiffure. She muttered something completely unintelligible. Oh, bloody hell.
Alistair glanced around at the dark night and desolate streets. There was only one thing to do: he would have to take her home.