Adelle is back!
After a year of recovery from her ill-fated romance with Theo (see Moria’s Time), and thinking about her future, Adelle returns to London, still intent on marrying a duke … with a carefully thought out plan.
First, she needs a companion to help her, and hires Lady Deanna. Together, they take London’s social elite by storm with the dramatic introduction of Adelle’s alter ego, ‘Lady Mysterious’. At first it seems Lord Grenfell, and then Lord Hastings, may take the bait, but then, being ‘Lady Mysterious’ proves to be too dangerous. Realizing the price she’d pay if caught and exposed, she abandons her plan.
Instead, she enlists the aid of her Uncle Sinjin, the Duke of Devonwood, to open doors for her. At Lord Pearson’s ball, the host shuns her, but his son, Walter, finds the American farmer’s daughter entrancing.
Theo, conscripted into the Royal Navy and exiled to Australia, returns to London. Convinced the Grayson family caused his being inducted into the navy, and now a destitute and desperate deserter, he plans his revenge on the Duke of Devonwood and his brother, Adelle’s father.
After jumping ship in Istanbul, the formerly pompous youth, now transformed into a dangerous, hardened man, cons his way home, and stalks the family while learning to use a gun. Adding burglar and murderer to his resume, he realizes the error of his ways and flees. The family hopes he’s gone for good.
After a double wedding with Moria and Simon, Walter and Adelle, with the support of their families, devote their lives to children—their own, and many London orphans.
Along the way, Adelle learns about love: the love of her family, of Walter, and of many other people in her life. It changes her in ways she could never have imagined.
“… now there doth remain faith, hope, love – these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
The first time she appeared was during the Hargrove’s ball.
Like a dream, the specter floated from the shadows.
Conversation ceased. All eyes looked her way.
Her slim body emphasized the simple, yet elegant, cloth-of-gold gown. The white silk cloak emanated a soft, subtle glow in the flickering candlelight. Concealed under the cloak’s hood, and the veil that shrouded her face, she teased the imagination with her sensuous movements.
Ladies’ fans labored furiously; the gentlemen smiled their approval.
She floated slowly around the room, as if on air, with the cloak drifting behind her.
Then, as suddenly as she’d appeared, she slipped into the shadows and was gone.
Motionless, the Lords and Ladies stared at each other in silent amazement.
Questions bubbled to the surface. Who was she? Where had she come from? Where did she go?
Several men jumped into action, racing out into the night, but soon returned. They’d found no trace of the mystical entity, ‘Lady Mysterious’.
In Chapter Nine, Adelle meets Lord Hastings
… I looked up at him, and again, he winked, his light blue eyes, dancing in the candlelight.
“So, have you heard the gossip about ‘Lady Mysterious’?” My breath caught in my throat. He knew. Somehow, he knew.
Deanna saw my distress and took over the conversation. “Only what we’ve heard through the grapevine, or read in the papers. A woman shows up at the balls, dressed scandalously, unannounced and uninvited, walks about the room, then leaves, without a trace.”
“It’s not quite that simple,” Lord Hastings said. “‘Lady Mysterious’ arrives, and waits until all eyes are on her.” He glanced at me, then continued. “Then, she wanders about, taking care to not get too close, and, as you said, she leaves. And, you’re right, even in light snow one evening, no trace of her was found outside the ballroom. But, I must tell you, she’s quite lovely. Her gown is quite scandalous, as you said, Lady Deanna, but many of the ladies have copied it, to one degree or another. I’ve gotten close to her a couple of times. I almost had her in my arms when she disappeared.”
I had to know. “Disappeared?”
“Hmm. She didn’t run or walk away, she … vanished. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I know she’s not a figment of my imagination. Too many other people have seen her, including Lord Grenfell who saw her disappear, too. There have been many fine inventions in recent years, but we know of no machine capable of doing such a thing.”
I relaxed a bit. He’d seen us disappear, but he didn’t understand how it could happen. And, from his conversation, he didn’t know who ‘Lady Mysterious’ was, but was interested in finding out because he thought she was lovely. And he had yet to see an inch of her skin.
I must have had a puzzled look on my face because Lord Hastings said, “What do you find so puzzling, my dear?”
Think fast. My mind raced to answer his question.
“Why would someone do this? She spent a considerable amount of time on this, between the gown you mentioned, and her overall plan, if there is one, but to what end?”
“Lord Grenfell and I have discussed this at length but can come up with no reason to put on such an elaborate show. Perhaps you ladies can assist us, give us a woman’s point of view. Why would a woman go to such lengths for no apparent reason?”
I took a deep breath and glanced at Deanna. She was leaving this question for me.
“I’m sure I don’t know, Lord Hastings. I’m afraid I don’t understand how the mind of a common trollop works.”
He raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “A common trollop? What makes you say that?”
“Well, she’s parading around in a scandalous gown, showing up unescorted, and uninvited. No real lady would do such things, am I right?”
“Well, yes, that’s true, but what if she were, in fact, a lady?”
“Then, we’ve come full circle to the ‘why’ again. Why would any lady risk her reputation like this? There’s also her family’s reputation, not to mention her husband’s, if she’s married.” Lessons learned.
Lord Hastings summed up the assumptions so far. “So, we’ve pretty much agreed, then, that the lady in question isn’t a lady. We can also rule out someone using this as a ploy to get inside the big houses of London to see what they might steal since she’s only inside the ballroom, which is a public room in most houses. Besides, if someone were looking to find things to steal, getting themselves hired as house staff would give them better access and opportunity.”
“You have given this a lot of thought.” I was impressed.
“I have, ma’am, and will continue to do so. We don’t know when or where she’ll turn up next, but I plan to be prepared.”
“I must know who she is. She reminds me of my late wife. It’s quite maddening.”
“Lord Hastings, correct me if I’m wrong, but is not the costume this ‘Lady Mysterious’ wears covering every inch of her body?”
“That’s true, but there’s something about the way she walks … the way she holds her head.”
Mixed emotions flowed through me. Of course, his wife walked the way ‘Lady Mysterious’ walks. It’s why I practiced the walk for days, so it looked like ‘Lady Mysterious’ was an aristocratic woman. But he wasn’t interested in me. He was enthralled by my alter-ego, and only because she walks like his dead wife. I wiped the beginnings of a smile off my face when I saw him looking at me.
“You, my lady, are an enigma. I look at you, and see the look on your face. I’m sure, at that moment, you know something about ‘Lady Mysterious’. But, the next time I look at you, it’s clear you know nothing.” He shook his head.