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A Scoundrel's Secret

Miss Carina Leonelli had once been the pampered daughter of an Italian barone. All that came to an end when her father fell into bankruptcy, lost everything, and then suffered a violent death. With no home to return to, she became the companion of her dearest friend and found her place among the wallflowers.

Mr. Felix Knight had wanted a simple life and one that did not include his grandfather. He found that when he took a position as the coachman for a marquess. His situation further improved when his employer brought home a wife and her sweet companion.

He hopes to win Carina’s heart, but will he be able to keep it when she learns the truth?




Chapter One



Bath, England, Summer 1816

 

What to do about Mr. Felix Knight—that was the question.


He was a rake and a scoundrel, dashing and dangerous, handsome and an irritant. And Miss Carina Leonelli was quite infatuated with him.


Not that she would ever admit such, because despite his charm, Mr. Knight was not for her.

It wasn’t because he was a servant. Mr. Knight could not provide the one thing Carina longed for—a home of her own.


That is assuming he would want more than a few kisses. He was a rake, after all, and no matter how much he may pursue her, Carina believed he was not serious about forming a more permanent relationship, so she had rejected him at every turn.


“You look lovely this evening, Miss Leonelli,” Knight whispered in her ear after assisting her from the carriage.


Carina sent him a warning glance from the corner of her eye. “You, Mr. Knight, are nothing but a rake and your compliments will not sway me,” she stated with no concern that Gaia and Lord Lydell could hear her.

Carina and Gaia had roomed together when they were in boarding school and had become the best of friends. Then Carina’s father, an Italian barone, ruined the family by causing a scandal before he bankrupted them and died shortly thereafter. It was Gaia’s mother who hired Carina to be Gaia’s companion while they were still in school. Carina was able to complete her education and she’d been with Gaia ever since.

Carina thought that she would find another position as a companion or perhaps governess after Gaia married the Marquess of Lydell last winter, but her friend would have none of that and insisted on Carina remaining in the household.


Gaia called Carina her friend. Carina called Gaia her employer, even though they had always been on a first name basis.


As for Knight, he was the driver, coachman and sometimes footman to Lord Lydell. Carina suspected that they were more than employer and servant, but friends because the two played chess and often shared brandy in the evening.


She supposed it was no different from her relationship with Gaia.


However, Knight was an outrageous flirt, and even though they’d shared many conversations, given their similar situations within the household and relationships to their employers, Gaia refused to succumb to his charms.


“If you grow tired of your court, Miss Leonelli, I am but here and anxiously awaiting your return.”


“I have no court, as you know, Mr. Knight. Therefore, there is no need for concern that I shall tire.”


“She would have a court if she did not hide herself away among the wallflowers,” Gaia grumbled.


“As your companion, it is where I belong.”


“Must we have this argument again?” Lord Lydell complained. “At least Carina will be supping with us and perhaps, just once, she will join us during the dancing and not slip away.”


Carina was not comfortable standing by Gaia as if she was worthy of consideration by any lord since she was a penniless miss. Nor did she let it be known that her father had been a barone in Italy because she did not want anyone looking into her background and discovering the scandal not known in England.


“Perhaps if you didn’t spend so much time in my brother’s company, Carina would view you in a far more pleasant light,” Gaia grinned at Knight.


“Ah, but as my heart is broken every day by Miss Leonelli, I must drown my sorrows somewhere and Lord Bolton is always a welcoming companion.”


Gaia snorted, as did Carina.


“We must go.” Lord Lydell urged the women to the entrance of the Assembly Rooms.


“Enjoy your evening, Lady Lydell and Miss Leonelli.” Knight tipped his hat then climbed back up to the driver’s bench to move the carriage.


“I recall you once telling me that I was above a coachman,” Carina teased Gaia.  


“As you insist on remaining my companion, instead of presenting yourself as the daughter of a barone and my friend, then a coachman is likely all the best you can do.”


That didn’t mean that Knight also wasn’t a handsome devil, and quite charming, and she had almost succumbed to those charms when they’d first met. But Carina was wiser, having watched Society these past years from her place among the wallflowers. Men like him were up to no good when it came to women like her—who were innocent and lacking the protection of an older brother or father.


“When the dancing begins, you will not hide yourself way,” Gaia ordered.


“I do not hide,” Carina argued.


“Nor do you make yourself available.”


“If a gentleman is interested in speaking with me, he only needs to approach. None do.”


“Because you shield yourself with the other wallflowers,” Gaia complained. It was a familiar argument. One they’d had in Italy and England, and since Gaia had entered Society.


Gaia, being the daughter of an English marquess had attracted attention, especially since she was quite beautiful. As a penniless companion, Carina never felt that it was right to stand beside her friend and much preferred a place alongside the wallflowers and observing from where she was hardly noticed.


“Carina, just once would you do as my wife asks,” Lord Lydell inquired with frustration.


“Your wife and I will never agree on the matter, Lord Lydell.”


“Do you not wish to marry?” he asked.


“If you wish me from your home, I can seek another position.”


They both turned so abruptly that Carina had to halt her steps or she would have fallen into them.


“I would never ask you to leave,” Lord Lydell insisted. “You are my wife’s dearest friend and I fear that she would be quite distraught with you gone.”


That didn’t mean that Lydell didn’t want her to leave.


“You will always be welcome in our home. By Gaia and me. We are simply concerned for your future.”


“I suspect that in time I will relinquish my title of companion,” Carina offered.


“Then you will remove yourself from the wallflowers, finally?” Gaia asked with relief.


“That was not my meaning. I simply anticipate my position in your household changing from companion to nurserymaid and governess to your children. I could be that now for Alice if you would but allow it.”

Alice was a sweet three-year-old ward of Lydell, and daughter of the former marquess. Alice had come with the title.


“Carina,” Gaia warned. “You do not even give gentlemen a chance to woo you.”


“I would if one would but try.”


That is what Gaia seemed to forget. Few gentlemen had ever approached Carina. It shouldn’t matter if she was standing with wallflowers or at Gaia’s side. She was in the room and available for conversation and had been overlooked for five years so it was unlikely she’d be noticed now.


Only one man had engaged her recently and Mr. Knight did not count as he was a rogue with no serious intention of pursuing her for a more permanent relationship.


Besides, it was already summer and soon many in Society would be leaving Bath, and any chance of her suddenly being discovered by gentlemen in want of a wife was lessening by the day.


“I will see you happy, Carina,” Gaia warned as if it were a bad thing.


“I am quite happy, Gaia. You are the only one who believes that I am not.”


It wasn’t quite a lie. Carina was more content than happy. But circumstances were what they were and even if a gentleman had shown her serious interest, it would not last long once they realized she was penniless, or worse, discovered how her family had been ruined in Italy. Content was better than sad or unhappy and it would simply have to do.

 

***

 

What to do about Miss Carina Leonelli—that was the question.


Oh, she was beautiful and forbidden, aggravating and fascinating, charming and stubborn, desirable and contrary, and Felix Knight was quite enchanted with her.


Carina had dismissed him by assuming he was a rake and a scoundrel and no matter how much he tried to tell her differently, she would not believe him.


He considered that perhaps if she knew the truth, her opinion might change, but Felix didn’t want her or anyone else to know who he really was or from what family he came. Though, in truth, he had not changed his name, so he wasn’t really hiding anything.


When Lord Lydell had first come to London, Felix was still trying to determine how to proceed in a manner that would allow him to avoid his family—namely his overbearing and controlling grandfather, and not rely on him for his quarterlies, which only gave his grandfather power. Lydell had been new to England, had been born and raised in America, knew no one, especially no one in Society, including Felix. It was then, as they were talking in the mews, that Felix offered to be his coachman, driver and fulfill any other servant role that the new marquess required. He also promised to help guide Lydell in Society and answer any questions that may arise. A friendship had begun, despite what many believed to be a difference in station.  Another friendship developed, and that was between himself and Angelo Evans, Earl of Bolton, a true rake who became Lydell’s brother-in-law a year after Lydell settled in Bath. In fact, Felix was happier than he’d ever been playing the role of servant, even though he’d been born the spare to a viscount and grandson of an overbearing earl.


Felix remembered the first time that he had seen Carina. It was the night Lydell had taken Lady Gaia Evans to the theatre and Carina had come along to act as chaperone. The moment Felix looked into those warm brown eyes and gazed upon the rounded face, cheeks a delicate pink, and lips nearly ruby, full and quite kissable, he had been smitten. He just as quickly learned that Carina was not a staunch chaperone, as she had remained with the carriage, and thus Felix, while Lydell escorted Lady Gaia into the theatre.

Carina had been charming, delightful and sweet, and her light Italian accent was seductive, even though that had not been her intention. She treated him as her equal, another servant, and he became infatuated with her that night.


The next time that he saw her was the following day when Lydell accompanied his future wife to Bath Abbey. As the two had walked off, Carina had taken a seat in the back. Felix should have stayed with the carriage and horses, but he had tied them to a post and then joined Carina inside. There they discussed the church, history, and she told him some of her home in Italy. Felix told far less of himself intentionally because he did not wish to lie. However, his fascination grew.


He had hoped to further their acquaintance, especially after Lydell married and it was clear that Carina would remain in the household, but she’d not allowed it to occur.


Felix wondered if it was because he was simply a coachman, but feared it was because she did not share his fondness or enchantment.


He also knew that Lady Lydell had a mission to see Carina marry and be happy no matter how much the companion argued. Happy to Lady Lydell was Carina married.


It amazed Felix that such had not already occurred. Why a gentleman had not already swept her off her feet was beyond him. However, if it became apparent that she might lose her heart to a lord, Felix may be forced to reveal the truth about himself, though he really did not wish to. He would rather win Carina by being exactly who he was and not offer up the title of his father and grandfather to convince her that he was worthy of her affection.


However, he also thought it unfair that she accused him of being a rake and a rogue when he’d done nothing but attempt to charm her. Was it truly because he often kept company with Bolton when not at his duties, as Lady Lydell had insinuated? Bolton was most definitely a rake of the first order, but that was no reason why Felix should suffer the same reputation, even if it may have been true at one time.


What could he do to convince Carina that he was serious in his pursuit of her when she had it in her mind that he was only toying with her affections?


Felix leaned against the carriage and pondered how he might better court her when Carina stepped outside of the Assembly Rooms.


It was not unusual for Carina to escape a ball, dance or dinner, and he had often spied her doing so. However, that usually occurred in gardens behind a house where she stayed well within the light so that her character was not called into question.


It’s not that he spied on her. He simply parked the carriage where he had better access to the back of homes and would stroll about while waiting for Lord and Lady Lydell to leave an entertainment. If he happened to catch a glimpse of Carina and keep an eye on her so that she was safe, it was simply a coincidence.


Tonight, Carina remained on the walk, but within light, and fanned herself. For an intelligent woman, sometimes she was rather foolish. She should not be out here alone, especially in front of the building. A garden was much safer and acceptable. He would approach, but she would likely reject his company.


When another person stepped from the building, Felix dropped his chin and hoped that the hat shadowed his face, though he still kept close watch on Carina. Despite how long he had been away from Society, there was a chance that he could still be recognized. In fact, he was rather surprised that it hadn’t happened already since he’d spent the past year and a half mostly in Bath, where Society came when they wished to be free of London or enjoy the winter. But even though his name may have been mentioned, those in Society believed what they were told or what they saw and decided that the coachman simply had the same name as someone his grandfather had been looking for and paid him no mind.


As soon as the gentleman turned, and light shone on his face, Felix stiffened.


Lord Geoffrey Clarkston, heir to a marquess, and a true rogue, had noticed Carina and begun his approach.

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