Lady in the Grove (Magic & Mystery #1)
When Orion Drakos was told that not only was a mysterious lady in the grove, but that she lived there, he knew that he must investigate even though she was likely the imagination of a child. After all, Nightshade Manor had been in his family for generations so certainly he would know if someone was living there. What he learns, however, is that the lady isn’t the only secret that had been kept from him.
Lady Nina Jourdain has lived in the sacred grove of
Nightshade Manor for most of her life. For the most part she had been content. She also could not leave.
Nightshade Manor, Bocka Morrow, Cornwall ~ Summer, 1813
From before he could remember, Orion Drakos had been told that he must marry a witch.
It was an archaic rule that had remained in place for centuries—until today when his cousin, Damon Norcott, Viscount Bentford, married Miss Cordelia Vail, who most definitely was not a witch.
“When my mother insists that I follow Drakos tradition and do my duty, I will remind her of your marriage,” he said to Damon who stood talking with Cordelia and Pierce, who was Orion’s older brother.
“As will I,” Pierce chuckled.
It wasn’t that Orion was against marrying a witch, it was not being given the option to marry anyone who was not.
When movement near the grove caught Orion’s eye, he turned to note Damon’s niece, Nephele, skip out of the vibrant lush wood, then around the water of the cove.
“What were you doing?” Damon asked when she came to stop before them.
“Speaking to the lady,” Nephele answered innocently.
“There is a lady in the grove?” Orion asked. It was likely a guest who had wandered in. The stroll along the path that wound through the trees was quite pleasant.
“Yes, and she’s very pretty.”
Orion lifted a brow and studied the area. If there were a lady, had there also been a gentleman? With such thick coverage, it was a perfect location for an assignation, if a couple wished for a modicum of privacy. It was the type of location he’d wander off to with a lady who wished to enjoy more private pursuits.
“You are not to go into the grove without someone being with you so that you do not get lost,” Damon reminded his niece.
“I will not get lost, Uncle Damon. The lady would not let me.”
“Take me to her,” Damon insisted.
His cousin was becoming agitated when there really was no reason, other than he’d become very protective after assuming guardianship of his three nieces, Nephele being one of them.
“I will go. You already have your own pretty lady.” Orion offered his hand to the little girl. “I will find the lady and learn what she is about.”
“She will likely be at the folly. She likes it there best,” Nephele explained as they walked back toward the trees.
“There is a folly in the grove?” He knew there was not, so it was likely there wasn’t a pretty lady either, much to his disappointment. Nephele was a ten-year-old child and probably also possessed a vivid imagination.
Didn’t children of that age still have make-believe friends and imagine castles and dragons?
“Have you not seen it?” she asked.
“No, so you should show it to me.”
Nephele slowed her steps as they reached the tree line and frowned. “I should not.”
“Why is that?” It was probably because it didn’t exist.
The little girl turned and stared up at Orion. “The lady said that no people are supposed to be in that part of the grove.” Her eyes grew wide. “I was not even supposed to tell anyone I saw her.”
“Why is that?”
“She is supposed to be a secret,” Nephele whispered.
It was likely a guest who didn’t wish to be bothered. Though there was no reason to hide in the grove unless…perhaps she was upset. “You should take me to her so that I can make certain all is well.”
“Oh, it is. I promise.”
“If we find your lady and she assures me of her health, I will leave her be.”
Nephele worried her bottom lip, not certain what to do.
“If she is alone, she may get lost, even though she helped you.”
“She would not get lost,” Nephele answered with confidence.
“How do you know?”
“Because she lives in the grove. It is her home.”
Orion frowned. If there were a pretty lady living in the grove, he would have known.
Or would he? He hadn’t been back to Nightshade Manor in some time and had only just returned for Damon’s wedding. “Are you certain she lives in the grove?”
“As our family owns the grove, I should find out who she is and meet her.”
“But I promised not to tell.”
“I promise to hold her secret.” Unless he made such a pledge, Nephele wouldn’t take him to the pretty lady, who had him growing more intrigued. Why would someone be living in the grove?
Nephele took in a deep breath then let out a heavy sigh, her slight shoulders rising and falling, then took his hand. “I will take you to her.”
Orion knew the grove as well as he knew all of Nightshade Manor having played here with his siblings and cousins when they were children, which is why he knew there was no folly. And the deeper they walked, the more he became convinced that Nephele had let her imagination take control.
Just as it had been when he was a boy, the path ended at a row of tall boxwoods, wild and without shape having never been trimmed. Nightshade Manor land did not end at the boxwoods. There was more beyond, but this was as far as he, his siblings and cousins had been allowed to go, or could go because of the tall hedges. Orion assumed Damon had the same rules for his nieces.
From here they could either follow the path left, which ended at the cliffs overlooking the sea, or to the right which led to the back of the house and to the orchard.
“Which way?” he asked.
“Forward,” Nephele answered.
Orion stared at the tall boxwoods blocking their path. “How do you propose we do that?” he asked with humor.
Nephele frowned at him. “Through the break and down the path.”
There was no break in the line of bushes, or he would have found it by now.
“It is right here, Orion.” Her tone was heavy with annoyance more suited for an adult as she gestured to her left.
“I see nothing and if I attempt to go through, we will both be scratched, and your dress and my suitcoat will be ruined.”
Nephele shook her head. “The lady was right. Humans are blind.”
“Humans?” he asked.
“Yes. Humans,” Nephele answered definitively before she turned left, walked two paces, then turned again and walked forward, only to disappear.
“Just follow me, Orion.” He was certain she blew out another sigh along with her impatient tone.
As she had done, Orion took a few steps to the left, then forward where the line of boxwoods dipped back and glanced about. To his right was a very narrow opening. So tight that he could barely squeeze through, and then took another path to his left.
How had they not discovered this when they were children?
“Are you coming?”
He nearly did not and almost called Nephele back. As a child, he had been told time and time again never to go beyond the boxwoods, and he assumed that it hadn’t been possible to do so. Should he still follow that rule?
Orion gave his head a shake. No doubt his parents worried that the children would get lost and that was why they could only go so far. He was no longer a child.
“Yes,” he called and followed the path until he stepped into a small field of bluebells. A lone cypress tree grew in the center. All other foliage was at the edges, allowing dappled sunlight to nurture the ground.
“Come on,” Nephele called as she skipped ahead, disappearing into another wooded area.
Around him the trees seemed to come alive as the wind picked up, but there were few clouds in the sky and none of them were dark, but wisps of white.
He dismissed it as a strong breeze off the sea and hurried to catch up so that he didn’t lose her again, his curiosity building with each step.
Nephele stopped and pointed ahead. Orion truly hoped there was a lady there and not a figment of Nephele’s imagination.
What he had not expected was a round, marble temple set upon a small rise, partially surrounded by a lake with the rest edged by foliage. Orion was certain the marble had once been bright, but now it was dull with moss growing at its base. While he was surprised that it had not been discovered by any of his cousins or siblings when they were younger, he was not surprised that there would be a small Greek temple on Drakos land.
As he drew closer, it was something else that caught his attention.
On the steps near the water, with sunlight cast upon her from a break in the trees, a redhaired young woman sat reading. A rich emerald skirt of silk or satin fell about her, as well as an underskirt of orange. A scarf of deep blue wound around her neck and trailed down her back. Not only were her shoulders bare, but so was the foot that stuck out from beneath her skirts. And if Orion wasn’t mistaken, the garment covering her breasts and abdomen was a corset of cream and gold.
He blinked and wondered if he was the one with the vivid imagination.
Consumed with curiosity, Orion was nearly pulled toward the temple and the woman within when his boot snapped a twig in his quest.
The young woman’s head jerked up and he sucked in a breath. The vision, sitting on the step of the folly was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Red hair curled about her shoulders, light eyes stared at him, full, pink lips parted in shock as her perfectly rounded cheeks lost all color.
Slowly she closed her book, set it aside and stood.
“Why are you here?”
“Nephele mentioned the lady and I thought to meet her myself,” Orion answered as he drew closer.
The woman shifted her eyes to Nephele and offered a stern glare, but Orion was mesmerized by her. He had thought her eyes were blue given they were light in color, but they were grey, and growing stormier by the moment.
Nephele glanced down. “I know you were to be a secret. I am sorry.”
“Why must you remain a secret?” Orion asked.
The woman speared him with her pewter eyes. “It is best if I am. Now please, go away.”
“Not until I know your name.”
Her grey eyes shifted, taking in the top of his head down to his Hessians before meeting his eyes once again. “Is it so important?”
“It is to me.”
“If I give you my name, will you go away?”
Orion didn’t want to tell her yes. He had too many other questions.
“Then I shall go.”
She bent, picked up her book and turned. Her back straightened and her chin lifted as she crossed to the opposite side of the folly. Orion hurried forward, hoping to catch the lady before she disappeared.
“Wait,” he called.
She paused and glanced over her shoulder, grey eyes narrowed, a thin auburn eyebrow arched.
“Where did you come from?” Orion asked.
“Good day.” The woman then hurried down the steps and away from him.
Orion rushed up the steps nearest him, but by the time he reached the other side of the folly and the worn path he assumed she had taken, the lady had already disappeared. He would have still pursued her if the path hadn’t then branched off in two separate directions. With no idea which way to go, Orion slowly returned to the folly with the weight of disappointment accompanying him. He paused in the center of the folly and glanced around him. A portion of the temple was surrounded by the clearest water he had ever seen and the rest by a field of untamed grass and wildflowers, and all was encircled by trees. Their leaves rustled in the breeze. It was quiet and serene. Peaceful!
“She is mad at me now.”
“Why is that?” Orion asked.
“I was not supposed to tell anyone. That is why she stays on this side of the boxwoods, and we are to stay on the other.”
“She should not have asked a child to keep secrets,” he returned.
Nephele slumped her shoulders and turned back toward the direction they’d come. Orion hesitated. He wanted to find the woman. “Do you know her name?”
“Yes,” Nephele whispered.
“What is it?”
“If she will not tell you, then neither will I.”
He could insist but suspected the child felt badly enough for revealing the secret of the lady in the first place.
Orion turned and looked back at the folly one more time. He needed a name and had so many questions. He also knew that he would return.
Nina Jourdain’s heart pounded, and she did her best to control her breathing so that the gentleman was not alerted to her presence.
As soon as she was within the wood, and away from him, she stepped within a copse of trees and blended in with what was around her. She watched as he paused where the path branched in separate directions and appeared to be trying to decide which way he should go.
She may have sounded brave when confronted and then ordering him away, but she’d been startled, perhaps a bit frightened, and intrigued. But most of all she was panicked.
Such a beautiful man with thick dark hair, light brown eyes, high cheek bones and strong jaw. His lips had been pressed together in a firm line as he contemplated what he should do. He then rubbed the back of his neck, looked around one more time and with a sigh retreated to the temple.
She risked coming out from cover and followed him, keeping herself hidden behind the trees and watched until he and Nephele disappeared through the boxwoods.
Returning to the temple, Nina sank down on the cold steps.
When she’d spied on him at the wedding celebration, he’d been far more relaxed and smiling. His laughter was rich and deep and had been carried to her on the wind. It was the type of laughter that made her smile because it filled his being so much that he threw his head back, a smile so wide that the skin crinkled about his eyes.
Nina had thought him handsome then, but upon closer inspection, he was beautiful.
Oh, she knew that she shouldn’t have spied on the wedding guests, but nobody ever came to Nightshade Manor. The families would visit, but they didn’t remain long unless a daughter was coming into her powers. But so many more guests had arrived the past few days, and then to learn of the wedding…she just had to see for herself.
It was wonderful. The ladies were dressed in such lovely gowns and the gentlemen clothed most elegantly.
For a slight moment, her heart ached that she could not be a part of such festivities, or with people, but what had been done could not be undone and with a heavy heart Nina had turned away from the wedding celebration and retreated to the temple. That is when Nephele came to her and told her all the news of Nightshade Manor and Nina pretended she hadn’t viewed it herself.
Nina wasn’t to have ever spoken with Nephele, but the little girl had discovered her one afternoon. It had been delightful to speak with someone from the outside, even if she was ten. After that, Nephele visited often, and Nina always escorted her back so that she never got lost.
She’d also asked the little girl not to tell anyone that they had ever met. Those of the Drakos blood were to remain on the other side of the boxwoods, and she was supposed to remain on this side.
Now, another had discovered her, and Nina feared what might happen next. Would he return with others, or could she hope that he’d forget?
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