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Authors: Diane Farr


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Under A Lucky Star

by Diane Farr

copyright 2004, 2011 by Diane Farr Golling

All rights reserved

This book is gratefully dedicated to


whose generosity
made the writing of it possible


Diane Farr





May, 1803


The Divine Sophronia was the toast of London. Her astonishing voice had ignited a fever of admiration among the
The fever failed, however, to infect Derek Whittaker. It wasn

t that her singing failed to move him.
It’s just that it
him toward the door.

The famous soprano waddled purposefully toward the footlights. An aria was plainly imminent. An expectant hush fell upon the audience. Several spectators near Derek actually leaned forward, mouths agape, in a kind of delirium of pleasure.

Derek decided he had had enough. He was positioned, as usual, at the back wall of Lord Stokesdown

s box. No one would notice if he simply disappeared. During the orchestra

s introductory flourish, he slipped neatly through the curtain behind him and escaped.

There were advantages, he reflected, to being a lowly secretary. He shared many of the amenities enjoyed by the aristocracy

witness his presence at the opera tonight, for example

but he labored under none of the tedious social obligations. He was free to form his own opinions because, frankly, nobody cared what they were. No one

s eyes were upon him. No one observed his comings and goings. Provided he returned at the interval, when Lord Stokesdown or one of his guests might want him, it didn

t matter whether he listened politely to Sophronia

s caterwauling or spent the evening playing mumblety-peg in the cloakroom.

Derek hovered at the fringes of every society event, invisible as a ghost. And, come to think of it, just about as penniless. What Lord Stokesdown paid him amounted to something less than he might make as a butler or a valet. But a Whittaker, of course, could not take a post as a butler or a valet

a rule that made little sense to Derek, but which he accepted with the same cheerful shrug he accorded most rules.

What can

t be cured must be endured, as his old nurse used to say. And besides, he liked Lord Stokesdown. He was busy, he was useful, and he enjoyed it when duty demanded his attendance at balls and dinners and plays. He did not resent the fact that he, Derek Whittaker, was never invited to the festivities. Often it was better to be a ghost than a guest.

He wandered down the softly lit passage, enjoying the solitude. The opera sounded faintly through the curtained openings in the wall beside him
and echoed with pleasant spookiness against the high, arched ceiling. A bit of distance muffled the shrillness of Sophronia

s voice, and added a peculiarly haunting quality to the orchestra. He rather liked it.

An usher stood at the head of the stairs. He had been slouching against the railing, listening to the music, but Derek

s arrival caused the young chap to snap to attenti
on. Derek hid a grin. It was his
evening clothes, of course.
He had been mistaken for a gentleman.
He was a bit vain about his togs

and why not? Were it not for the inconvenient birth of brother Hector, he would be, in fact, a gentleman.

He approached the usher, addressing him in a conspiratorial whisper.

I say. How much time before the interval?

Quite a bit of time, sir.

Anyone mind if I have a look about?

He jerked his chin, indicating an arched doorway where the well-lit passage dwindled into shadow.

The usher looked vaguely surprised.

No, sir. I shouldn

t think anyone would mind.

Good lad,

said Derek approvingly.


With a friendly nod, Derek headed out of the light and into the shadows. He could still hear the opera in the distance, but he was completely alone. His skin prickled with pleasurable anticipation.

There was something indefinably exciting about exploring places where he had no business being. He was a little ashamed of this peculiar hobby, but it had held an irresistible allure for him since childhood. One of the many advantages of his ghostlike existence was that he could, and frequently did, slip his chain and wander about strange places unescorted.

The theater proved, to his keen delight, to be a vast rabbit warren of a place. He always carried a flint and a bit of candle somewhere on his person, on the off chance he might need it, but the management of this establishment evidently ran it with a liberal hand. Wherever he roamed, lamplight gleamed here and there to show him the way. It seemed a shocking waste of oil. There wasn

t another soul in sight.

The narrow passage he was exploring suddenly turned a corner and he found himself in a small, dusty room. He supposed he must be nearly to the stage area by now. Across from him, a flight of wooden stairs led up and ou
t. Over
the foot of these stairs yet another lamp hung from the ceiling on a chain, feebly illuminating what appeared to be a collection of disused props stacked haphazardly about. Derek wandered from item to item, examining them with mild interest. He was idly studying the crude decorations adorning a muslin screen, when a sudden tingle of awareness caused him to turn.

There came a soft footfall on the stairs to his right, and the faint slither of silk. He felt his eyebrows climb with surprise when a girl came into view, clutching the rickety banister as she descended. She was evidently all alone. When he looked at her she flinched, then froze in place. Her eyes dilated as she stared, motionless, at Derek.

Derek felt his jaw start to drop. With an effort he reanchored it, keeping himself from gaping at her.
Her beauty was unbelievable.
have been any age
between sixteen and twenty…
and she was the loveliest sight he had ever beheld. Almost other-worldly. He had always been partial to blondes, but this girl took blondness to an entirely new level. Her fair hair captured and reflected whatever light was available, shimmering like moonlight on water even in the dim glow cast by the overhead lamp.

It was difficult to discern her station in life, for the cut and style of her simple, white gown were very much
de rigeur
for a young lady of breeding

but the material of which it was fashioned was scandalously revealing. The thin silk clung to every line and curve of her slender form. It was hard to tell whether she was a lady of quality or a bird of paradise.

She was so astonishingly beautiful that for a heartbeat or two he could notice nothing else about her. Then he saw that her eyes were stark with fear.


she whispered. She stumbled down the stairs toward him.

Help me.

Every chivalrous instinct Derek had ever had rushed immediately to the fore. He moved toward her at once.

Of course,

he heard himself say.

Anything in my power.

The girl reached for him in the way a child reaches for protection, and he caught her in much the same spirit. It seemed perfectly natural to take her hands in his, then place one arm around her to comfort her. For an instant she sagged gratefully against him. He could not help noticing how perfectly she fit in his embrace. But she was trembling with terror; he couldn

t help noticing that, either.

Hide me,

she whispered.

At almost the same instant, Derek heard a door close somewhere above their heads, and footsteps, firmer than the girl

s, heading toward the stairs down which she had come. The sharp intake of her breath confirmed that this, whoever the individual may be, was the source of her terror. Quick as thought, Derek pulled the girl into the shadowed stairwell. She clung to him in a way that sent a surge of fierce protectiveness through him.

No harm would come to this girl, he silently vowed. He didn

t care who she was. Duchess or beggarmaid, princess or prostitute, if she needed him to slay dragons or walk on hot coals, so be it. He

d slay the dragons while walking on the coals, if that was the only way to keep her safe.

The footsteps on the floor above their heads halted, apparently at the top of the stairs. A dry, masculine voice spoke.


The single word managed to convey both command and menace. The tone was redolent of hostility, but overlaid with silky amusement. At its sound, the girl seemed to stop breathing.

The man would surely come down if he were not stopped. Derek laid a finger to his lips, warning
to keep still, then let go of her and emerged alone from beneath the stairs.

Oh, hallo,

he said, trying to sound affable and mildly puzzled. He peered inquiringly up at the figure standing at the top of the stairs.


t see you,

he remarked, in an explanatory tone.

You looking for me?

There was a perceptible pause before the gentleman answered.


he said. His voice was hard, but civil enough.

I beg your pardon.

Derek gave him an airy wave.

Not at all, not at all. Haven

t disturbed me a whit.

Still aping the amiable vapidity of a young man-about-town, and trying to convey the impression that he had, perhaps, imbibed too much wine, he wandered a bit unsteadily toward a suit of armor made from paperboard.

Just having a look round, you know. Fascinating, all this scenery and what-not.

The man at the top of the stairs did not move. He seemed to be studying Derek with careful suspicion, weighing whether to challenge him or move on. Derek stole another glance at the chap. By moving toward the suit of armor, he had positioned himself where the light was no longer in his eyes, and he could get a good look at the fellow.

He knew the man at once, and had to return his gaze to the wall to avoid displaying his start of recognition. Sir James Filey. Damnation! How had a girl like
fallen into Filey

s hands? The fellow was notorious. Gamester, rakehell, lecher

a thoroughly ugly customer. And besides that, he was old enough to be her father. Older, by Jove!

Was it possible that Filey
her father? There had been a note of authority, unmistakable and implacable, in that dry, sneering voice

I wonder if I might trespass upon your courtesy for a moment.


s voice was very cold.

Outwardly relaxed but inwardly alert, Derek turned politely back toward the stairs.

he said, swaying slightly.

Filey did not bother to hide his contempt. The sneer on his face deepened.
m looking for a fair-haired chit in a white gown.

Well. Whatever Filey

s interest in
, it clearly was not paternal.

Hiding his disgust, Derek gave Filey a lopsided grin.
a! Aren

t we all?

He winked drunkenly.

Impatience sharpened Filey

s voice.
ave you seen such a female pass by here, a few moments hence?

o, dash it.

Derek infused his voice with wistful regret.
s she pretty?

xcessively pretty,

snapped Filey.

eally? By George!

ll help you look for her.

He began to stagger eagerly up the stairs.

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