Message from a Lady
Mr. Peter Storm loved only one woman, Lady Johanna Knight, but she would never be his. Her grandfather would only allow Johanna to marry a title. Peter was the fourth son of an Earl.
Johanna didn’t care that Peter was only a mister and that his funds were limited. She loved him. He was her dearest friend. But he refused to even kiss her, let alone admit his love.
When Johanna faces danger, Peter realizes that more than his heart is at stake. It is up to him to save her, even if she will be denied him in the end.
Chapter One May 1818, London
A near perfect day. The sky was clear, the sun was warm, and the heady perfume of the roses, peonies and irises filled the air behind the Mayfair mansion of the Marquess of Wingate. Mr. Peter Storm did not normally attend garden parties, but he was here for two reasons. The first being that his sister, Hannah, the Marchioness of Wingate, was the hostess. The second, because of the lady walking beside him, Lady Johanna Knight. She eyed the bruising at his jaw with a raised eyebrow. “Boxing or brothel?” Peter placed a hand over his heart in mock shock. “Lady Johanna, one should not mention brothel in polite society,” he whispered. She laughed. “I am aware of how frequently you visit houses of ill-repute, Mr. Storm, and I have ceased being scandalized by your behavior.” Johanna was one of the very few who knew his purpose for visiting brothels, gaming hells, and the rookeries, and it wasn’t for the reasons most gentlemen visited such places. “Yes, well, my reputation of being a rake, rogue and all-around scoundrel has unfortunately deemed me unmarriageable.” He made light of his reputation, and truthfully, it didn’t matter what others thought of him. He only cared about the good opinion of the lady beside him. Lady Johanna Knight! The woman of his heart. The woman he desired. Unfortunately, neither her father, Viscount Ormonde, nor her grandfather, the Earl of Chedworth, would allow Lady Johanna to marry only a mister, regardless of his reputation. It didn’t matter that Peter’s father had been an earl. What mattered was that Peter had the audacity to be born the fourth son, would therefore never gain the title, and thus was unworthy of Lady Johanna. This wasn’t merely an assumption made by Peter but had been told to him directly when he had first shown an interest in Johanna last year. “His Grace, the Duke of Eldridge suffers from a similar reputation of late, yet my father and grandfather would have him as my husband without question.” Peter laughed, though jealousy ate at his gut. “Eldridge is not so bad,” he said. “Until this Season, and before he inherited the dukedom last year, he was considered quite respectable, and many considered him a prig.” Johanna wrinkled her nose. He loved the little trait and how she scrunched her face when repulsed. It wasn’t Eldridge who repelled her, but that she was only to consider gentlemen of certain titles and not their personality or reputation. “What does lend him some respectability is that he has assumed guardianship of his five female cousins, all old enough to wed, and has provided them with a Season.” “Respectable in Society, but quite the rascal once duties have been retired for the evening.” Johanna laughed. “Just like you.” “Eldridge wants to be viewed as an undesirable husband no matter what his title,” Peter confided quietly. “He may visit the same places as I, but his participation is, shall we say, lacking. He even assisted me last evening when I met with resistance from a guard.” “Was the young woman returned to her family?” Johanna asked. “She was put on a mail coach this morning and hopes never to return to London again,” Peter assured her. He had rescued innocent women before. The first had come about quite unintentionally. He’d been drinking with his friends from Cambridge when he accidentally mentioned that he was a virgin. None of them could have that, and as they knew of a virgin being auctioned that night, they took him off to the brothel and then proceeded to outbid everyone else. One friend had even commented that with both being virgins, it would be quick for Peter being in such a tight channel that first time. What had happened, however, was that Peter had encountered a terrified miss who had come to London for a position as a maid and had been kidnapped. All she wanted to do was go home. So, Peter helped her do just that by sneaking her out of the upper story window, then putting her on a mail coach back home. He now waited for mail coaches to arrive, when he had the opportunity, just to make certain misses made it to their intended destination. When he received word that a virgin was being made available at a brothel, he investigated to learn the truth. The one thing Peter could not stand was the very idea of any female being harmed in any way. What brothel owners intended was nearly the worst that could happen to an innocent miss and he’d not have it. “While it is nice to know that His Grace is not an immoral lothario, and I will not breathe a word of his duplicity to anyone, he is still not for me.” Johanna slid a glance to Peter as if she waited for a response, but he said nothing. She would never know what was in his heart because it would make matters all the more difficult. Instead, he maintained their close friendship and that was the extent of their relationship. “My grandfather blames me for not bringing him up to scratch, which is difficult to do when His Grace won’t seek an introduction.” “Eldridge intentionally avoids misses and ladies who are expected to marry this Season so do not take it personally,” Peter assured her. “I do not, nor can I blame him. My brother’s desk is often flooded with invitations from mothers who hope that their daughters will one day become a countess no matter how distant in the future that may be. I am also thankful that His Grace has not noticed me,” she quickly assured Peter. “He is who my grandfather wants. My father wishes for me to be happy but will not go against his father. My brother, Alden, however, told me to find love and happiness and if grandfather didn’t approve then he’d escort me to Gretna Green.” Peter always liked Alden Knight. “I have attention from gentlemen I don’t want and the one that I wish would court me will not.” Her beseeching blue eyes glanced up at him again. “Friendships are far more important than love,” he returned. “My aunt married for love,” Johanna said. “She lived in a set of rooms with her husband and daughter above a bookshop and was quite happy.” “Your grandfather and father never spoke to her again either. How would you feel if the same happened to you? It is likely only your eldest brother would ever acknowledge you again.” “I’d not like it,” she answered quietly. “Which is why I will value your friendship above all else and will not pursue you when I know that I would be sent away. I’d not lose my friend.” “Instead, you’ll spend your evenings in brothels and gaming hells.” “Are you pouting?” he teased. “Would it work if I were?” She knew the answer as well as he. Johanna had romanticized what it would be like when they married. Not that she’d been so blunt as to tell him, but she hinted often, such as the mention of an aunt who was blissfully happy living above a bookshop. Peter, however, knew the realities. He feared that she’d eventually regret marrying him when she realized how reduced her circumstances would become. His quarterlies were not enough to support a wife. Even if he accepted a position to become a Bow Street Investigator, he still wouldn’t be able to provide her with all she deserved. *** Mr. Peter Storm was the most aggravating man of Johanna’s acquaintance. They’d met last year, and she’d been quite taken with him. It was more than that. It had been an infatuation the likes of which she’d never experienced. She had thought of him all autumn and winter, anxious for the Season to begin so that she might see him once again. Peter claimed to have missed her as well, but he never claimed to love her, except once. That had been when she’d come across Peter and Alden deep in their cups, and he blurted out his emotions, much to the shock of Alden and Johanna. Peter never mentioned love again and sometimes Johanna wondered if he even remembered. Alden did, which was why he had offered to escort her to Gretna Green. Johanna had even suggested that she court Peter since he would not court her, but he reminded her of their friendship, again. She loved having Peter as a friend. In fact, he was closer to her than anyone, including her family. She didn’t feel the need to keep secrets from him and when she was with him, like now, she felt at home. If only she could bring Peter up to scratch! He was the only man she wanted to marry but he was not cooperating. “Mr. Kendal has made an appearance,” Peter whispered in warning. There were currently three men who had made quite a nuisance of themselves and were determined to win her hand in marriage, Kendal being one of them. The other two were Baron Cartwright and Mr. Turnbell. It wasn’t that they were so enamored with her. It was because they each had empty pockets and her dowry was quite large. All three had also been rejected by her father and grandfather. Not even a baron was good enough in their opinion. Oh, if only Peter would pester her as her three hopeful suitors had been of late, then they’d already be married. “Is he coming this way?” she asked. “No. He is in conversation with an heiress.” “Hopefully she will become the object of his affection and he will forget about me.” “How are your pets?” Peter asked in a way to change the subject. “My pets are well,” she answered. “If you had pigeons and trained them to travel between our homes, or if you allowed me to train mine to think of your home as a second place to find food, water and rest, we could share messages while we are both away from London.” Peter laughed. “A gentleman does not write to a lady to whom he is not attached.” Oh, if only they were, Johanna mentally sighed. “That rule applies to sending missives by post or human messenger, not carrier pigeon.” He chuckled again. “Yes, but the footman who takes care of them while you are away might read a message meant only for you. Think of the scandal,” he teased. “Marcus is forbidden from reading messages.” Johanna had made him promise never to look inside the little tubes because she had hoped one day to share secret messages. Her hobby of raising carrier pigeons may be odd, but Johanna was fascinated by how they could be used. Even The Rothschilds, who had a banking dynasty in Europe, relied on carrier pigeons to send messages. She’d heard that they were the first to receive word of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo because of a carrier pigeon and were able to financially capitalize on the victory. Johanna never planned on becoming wealthy because of her pigeons. She simply wanted to train them to send messages back and forth. But the only person she wanted to share secret missives with would not cooperate. In fact, each time she tried to advance their relationship, Peter retreated, and it aggravated her to no end. “Have the two you sent out returned?” he asked. “No,” Johanna answered. “They flew home and did not come back, which is what I feared would happen. They’d only been brought to London on two separate occasions, and I have not had the opportunity to train them to fly back and forth.” She still had four pigeons with her, but when the first two did not return, she did not send the others out. “Your family still does not know they are anything other than pets?” he asked her again. “So long as I keep them out of the manor and on the roof or some other outside and safe location, they don’t care, nor do they pay me much mind with regard to my little hobby,” she grumbled. “Father assumes that once I wed, a husband will curtail my keeping pigeons, so he isn’t going to bother with denying me now.” Johanna glanced up at him and smiled sweetly. “Are you certain you don’t wish to train pigeons to fly between our homes? It could be grand fun.” “Johanna, come along. We must be on our way.” Her mother approached and offered a stiff smile to Peter. She was also of the opinion that Johanna should not marry so far beneath her. Oh, why couldn’t he have been born first?