Her Valentine's Rogue - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Tonight, Dear Reader, we are told that the Regent himself will once again watch his favourite soprano, Mrs Roberta Brookes, play the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. That, if we are counting correctly, is the third time this month…

—Whispers from Behind the Fan

January 1813


Lily lowered the wig carefully into the box and closed the lid. It had taken hours to get it just so and would now shimmer under the limelight thanks to the thin strands of crystal beads she had painstakingly woven into it. Even though the Theatre Royal had a very competent wigmaker, who also dressed the hair of the actresses, Mrs Brookes preferred Lily’s lighter touch for her costumes rather than the fussy concoctions favoured by the stage. Not to mention Lily loved doing them. It made her job as a lady’s maid in the Brookes family’s town house all the more enjoyable.

She took a quick peek out the window, hoping that the thick, dirty snow that had made London’s roads so treacherous might finally be starting to melt, then groaned when she saw more had fallen overnight. As it was still relentlessly falling, and because the entire family would also be in the carriage this morning, it meant that she would have to ride on the perch in front next to the driver, being pelted by the elements.

With that in mind, she donned double gloves and a thick shawl over her winter coat and looped a long, knitted scarf around her neck to tie securely around her bonnet once they got started. It was only usually a ten-minute drive from Bloomsbury to Covent Garden—but in this weather that could take an hour.

Ungainly from all the extra layers she wore, she picked her way gingerly across the pavement to the carriage, holding the precious box carefully closed in case the wind stole the lid. Then she stared impatiently up at the new coachman, who seemed oblivious of his duties and quite content to remain snuggled in the enormous blanket nest he had created for himself. Like her, he was swaddled in layers, and thanks to the scarf he’d tied tight around his face, the only sign a human lurked beneath all that wool was the thin slit he’d left clear below his hat for his eyes.

“Oi! Give us a hand, will ya!” Indoors around the family, she tempered her broad Cockney accent, but around her fellow servants, she saw no cause to. “This needs to be stowed safely.” Then she marched to the back to deposit the box for him to deal with.

She’d only seen him fleetingly yesterday and had taken an instant dislike to what she saw. He was a cocky sod. Tall. Dark. Strutting around the kitchen as if he owned the place and thoroughly charming the cook and Mrs Tusk, the housekeeper, with his twinkling green eyes, then he’d had the gall to look her up and down appreciatively, winking at her when they’d been introduced and calling her darlin’ like he had every right to.

In case he got it into his head to help her, she grabbed the rail before she hoisted herself up on the footplate, not noticing her long scarf had caught itself upon the wheel until it choked her backwards. As she fell, arms flailing, braced to hit stone, she hit him instead. The wretch caught her effortlessly and grinned.

“Morning, darlin’.”