SCANDAL'S DAUGHTER, a Regency adventure by Carola Dunn
Cordelia Courtenay finds herself stranded in Istanbul when her divorced mother dies in an accident. Her mother's lover, a pasha, proposes to replace his dead mistress with her daughter. All Cordelia wants is to be respectable. She makes plans to travel to England to find her father.
One more day. She'd never be able to sleep tonight, she was sure. Yet as the watchman's cry faded into the distance, she began to drowse off...
Then suddenly she was wide awake again. Someone was in her room. By the pale moonlight which now filtered through the carved screen, she saw a dark figure crossing the carpet towards her with slow, stealthy steps.
Starting to sit up, she took a breath to shout for help. The figure pounced. A hard hand clapped across her mouth.
"Hush, don't scream," hissed an English voice.
Flat on her back, petrified, Cordelia stared up into a veiled face. The eyes above the yashmak stared down. A woman? A Turkish woman who spoke English? An Englishwoman in Turkish clothes? But the hand crushing her lips had a masculine strength, the voice when it came again, though hushed, had a masculine timbre.
"Don't scream. Promise and I'll let go." The pressure eased fractionally.
She nodded. The hand was lifted and the intruder kneeling beside her low bed sat back on his--or her--heels.
"I wasn't going to scream," Cordelia whispered indignantly. "I was going to call for help. If I were the sort of female who screams I daresay I'd have swooned by now."
"I beg your pardon." The voice, now with an odious laugh in it, was definitely a man's. An Englishman's. It reminded her of her mother's first lover. To Cordelia he had always been kindly but remote. He had not reckoned on the girl he loved bringing her baby with her when she deserted her husband for his sake.
Drusilla Courtenay had not reckoned on losing him so soon. They had promised each other to live happily forever after, she told her little daughter, but after only six years, in a small town in Germany, he took a fever and died. Cordelia could scarcely remember him, confusing him with those who had followed until this Englishman's voice resurrected his image.
"I should have known from what Aaron told me that you aren't the screaming, swooning sort," he went on.
"Aaron?" Horrified, she sat up, hugging the quilt about her. "Who are you? How did you get in?"
"Climbed the wall into your courtyard."
"Why? What are you doing in my bedchamber? Leave at once!"
"Hush! I can't leave, I must talk to you."
"Your servant is sleeping in the room downstairs."
"I won't talk to a man in my bedchamber. I don't know why I should talk to you at all." Except that she was dying of curiosity. "I'd trust Ibrahim with my life."
"But can I trust him with mine?"
"If Aaron told you about me, you must be aware I can't afford a fuss with the authorities. Ibrahim knows it, too."
The man heaved a weary sigh. "Very well." In one lithe movement he rose, then stumbled as one foot caught in the hem of his robe. Recovering his balance, he ripped the shawl and yashmak from his head. "To the devil with these draperies! Come on, then."
"You go down. I have to dress," said Cordelia primly, clutching the quilt beneath her chin.
"I'll wait on the stairs." He was laughing at her again, the brute! Yet much as it annoyed her, for some reason his amusement made her feel quite safe with him. He went on, "I don't want to be down there without your protection if your Ibrahim wakes."
Silently he slipped from the room. Flinging back the quilt, she fumbled with the tinder-box and lit a lamp. She hurriedly pulled on her shift and caftan, but as the stranger was an Englishman, she didn't bother with the loose trousers underneath. Lamp in hand, she went after him.
He sat half way down the stairs, his head leaned against the bannister. His black hair was short, raggedly cropped. From above he no longer looked large and menacing, just unspeakably tired. His eyes must have been closed, for the light of the lamp didn't make him stir.
Springing to his feet, he whipped round, his right hand flying to his girdle as if in search of a weapon.
"Oh!" His shoulders slumped and he passed his hand across his thin, fair-stubbled face. "I'm sorry, I forgot where I was. I was half asleep, I think." Standing aside, he bowed ironically. "Pray precede me, Miss Courtenay. Allow me to carry that lamp for you."
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