Imperial Season, Book 3)
Plewse enjoy the first
chapter of Vienna Dawn!
Dunya had made a dangerous mistake. The English
lord, very far from being her savior, seemed
more likely to be her ruin.
She sprang to her feet, drawing to her full, but
not terribly impressive five feet height and
endeavored to appear both haughty and
disdainful. This proved unexpectedly difficult
to achieve while internally kicking herself yet
again for over-impulsive stupidity.
“I believe we have failed to understand each
other,” she said coldly. “I require a bedchamber
of my own.”
Lord Sebastian Niven, who claimed to have been a
major in Wellington’s army, gave an unpleasant
smile. He rose lazily to his feet, as if the
courtesy were dragged out of him.
“Don’t you feel it’s a little late to be
worrying about appearances? You arrived at the
inn alone, near dark, to meet me. You have since
dined in my company. Trust me, the landlady does
not expect you to sleep alone.”
Dunya’s face burned. Her heart was bursting with
fury, not least because his every word had the
advantage of truth.
She lifted her chin. “Sir, you insult me. You
would not dare say such things were my brother
Lord Sebastian sighed. “My dear girl, I thought
we had established we were escaping from the
tyranny of your brother?”
“Brother-in-law,” she corrected at once. “My
brother is a different man entirely and you
would be sensible not to enrage him.” She backed
away from him. “Now, since there seems to be no
bell here, be so good as to summon the innkeeper
or his wife.”
An infuriating, knowing smile hovered around
Lord Sebastian’s lips. And there was a predatory
glint in his eye as he strolled across the room
after her. How had she failed to notice these
unpleasant qualities before?
“Enough, Mademoiselle,” he drawled in his
execrable French. “The chase, while most
charming, is over and we both know you are
wined, dined, and won.”
For the first time, actual fear began to prickle
through her anger. She couldn’t stay here and be
“On the contrary,” she said with spirit. “I have
changed my mind and will travel on to Vienna
tonight.” She spun about, wrenched open the
door, and fled as fast as she could across the
hall, calling for the landlady.
She doubted anyone would hear her. Although the
entrance hall to the inn was set up as a public
coffee room, it was quite empty at this hour.
And the racket from the taproom beyond the
opposite door would easily drown her voice from
the innkeeper and his wife, who were both bound
to be in there with such a crowd. Meanwhile,
Lord Sebastian was strolling after her with
maddening calm, cutting off her escape via the
“If that’s your wish, we can carry on the
charade a little longer,” he said, clearly
amused. “Run from me then and I shall pursue
you. The catching will be all the sweeter.”
“Oh you misunderstand!” she said desperately.
“You misunderstand everything!”
He only laughed, drawing inexorably closer, even
though she still backed away toward the stairs.
Not the stairs! her common sense screamed, for
his bedchamber, which he clearly imagined she
would share, was up there. A candle in a wall
sconce dimly lit the way, although the landing
vanished into darkness.
Her breath caught. There would be locks on the
bedchamber doors. He had told her earlier that
the house was quiet so far as overnight guests
were concerned. All she had to do was shut
herself in one of the rooms and lock the door.
He would never make himself look foolish by
asking the innkeeper to let him in, or by
breaking in the door to get at her. And if it
turned out to be his bedchamber, all the better.
He could either sleep in the private parlor
where they’d just dined, or ask the landlord for
another room. Either was fine with Dunya. She’d
worry about the rest of the mess tomorrow.
Without further thought, she whisked around and
bolted upstairs. Behind her, Lord Sebastian
laughed softly, but she heard his footsteps
behind her, far faster than she’d imagined
possible. In real fear now, she leapt onto the
dark landing, stumbled along the wall until she
found the indent of a door, then fumbled for the
latch and fell inside, slamming the door hard
Desperately, she felt around the wood for the
key, and found only the empty hole of the lock.
Confound this wretched inn! She hurled her
shoulder against the door and peered around to
see which heavy piece of furniture she might be
able to use instead.
A fire burned in the grate, surely an ominous
sign. The flickering glow partially illuminated
an un-curtained bed, and a recumbent young man
in his shirt sleeves. Straight blond hair
flopped untidily over his pale forehead.
He regarded her with only faint surprise. Dunya
“Hello,” he said in English.
But at least English came naturally to her. She
had once had an English governess. “Oh, the
devil! Is this your chamber?”
“So I was told.”
“Oh goodness, I am so sorry! It’s just that he
told me no one else was staying here so I
thought I was safe.”
“Safe from what?” the occupant enquired,
propping himself up on one elbow. At least he
appeared to be mostly dressed and reclining on
the bed rather than in it. “I shan’t offer you
violence, you know.”
“Not you,” Dunya said, jerking her head ruefully
at the door. “Him. I was entirely mistaken in
him. I thought he would help me in my plan, but
he turns out to be a wicked seducer—or at least
I think he is, though I’ve never met one before.
And I suspect he thinks I am some kind of
courtesan which I most certainly am not.”
“Well no, pretty much anyone could see that,”
the young man agreed. “So you’re hiding in here
The latch rattled, making Dunya jump. An instant
later, the door pushed against her, sending her
stumbling further into the room. The young man
in the bed twisted himself into an almost
sitting position as Lord Sebastian Niven stepped
into the room, bearing a candle in one hand.
Dunya, fighting her desire to hurl herself
behind the stranger’s pillows, straightened her
shoulders and stared at Niven with as much
disdain as she could muster. Of course, he saw
her at once.
“My dear,” he purred and halted abruptly,
brought up short presumably by the sight of the
man in the bed.
“Evening, my lord,” the stranger said mildly.
Dunya’s heart sank all over again. They knew
each other. Lord Sebastian would browbeat the
stranger—who didn’t seem terribly well—into
giving her up.
Niven blinked in the flaring candlelight.
“Trelawny? When did you arrive in this benighted
“You’re looking a bit peaky,” Niven remarked,
not unkindly. “I’m sorry my companion disturbed
you. I’ll take her away directly.”
Dunya glared fire at him, her mouth already
opening to refuse. Right now, the stranger
appeared very much the lesser threat. But
neither gentleman seemed to be paying her any
attention. Their gazes had locked.
“That won’t be necessary,” the stranger said
clearly. “The lady has voiced a preference to
At last, Niven’s gaze flickered to her. “Has
she, by God?”
“Yes,” Dunya said flatly.
Niven’s eyes narrowed, moving from her to the
young man. Dunya was afraid to breathe. What if
there was actually a fight? What if Lord
Sebastian simply dragged her away? The stranger
was just that, with no obligation to intervene
on her behalf more than he already had. In her
admittedly limited experience, men understood
and covered up each other’s indiscretions. Well,
she could still scratch and kick and—
“Good night, my lord,” the stranger said firmly.
For an instant, it hung in the balance. Dunya
felt she could have cut the air between them
with a knife. And then Niven gave a reluctant
and not entirely pleasant smile.
“Very well. Your chamber, Trelawny, your rules.”
He bowed mockingly in Dunya’s direction. “I’ll
see you later, little bird. You won’t hide in
here forever.” And turning, he strolled out of
the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
“Oh thank you!” Dunya breathed, taking an
impulsive step toward the bed. “How in the world
did you achieve that? Do you outrank him?”
A breath of laughter escaped the stranger, whose
head fell back against the pillows, apparently
exhausted. “By no means.”
“Sir, you are ill,” she said contritely. “Let me
help you.” Seizing the glass of water from the
night stand, she bent over him. His eyes opened,
staring directly into hers. They were a light
hazel, flecked with darker brown and green and
reflected amber from the fire. Taken with the
fair hair, it was an unusual, and handsome
combination. However, in that unguarded moment,
she read chiefly pain there.
That pain threw her, stilled her with the glass
held too far from his lips. For the space of
several uncomfortable heartbeats, his eyes held
hers. Then he blinked, breaking her spell of
“Drink this,” she said abruptly, raising the
glass to his lips. His hand came up holding the
glass for himself so firmly that she slid her
own fingers free. And saw, finally, that the
other sleeve of his shirt was empty. He had only
He sipped the water. “Thank you,” he said, and
made to lay it on the night stand. She took it
“Do you need anything else? Is there someone I
can call for you?”
“Jenkins will be back soon enough.”
“Jenkins? Your servant?” she hazarded, taking in
the truckle bed at the other side of the room.
“I’m doubly sorry for troubling you. And doubly
grateful! It never entered my stupid head that
you were ill.”
“Not ill, precisely. I just had a bit of surgery
on a troublesome old wound, so I’m weak as a
kitten. How come you to be in Niven’s company?
Where is your family?”
“Ah.” She eased herself onto the edge of the
bed. “I’m afraid I’ve been excessively silly,”
she confessed. “I ran away from my sister
because we quarreled and I thought Lord
Sebastian would be able to help me.”
“Help you in what, for God’s sake?”
She flushed. “In my plan to marry my betrothed.”
He stared. “I’m no expert, but I fail to see how
running away with a notorious rake will please
your betrothed or soften the hearts of your
“Oh dear, is he a rake? I should have known,”
Dunya said ruefully. “I have a habit of seeing
only the part of a situation I wish to.”
“Don’t we all?” the stranger murmured.
“I thought he would protect me when I ran away,
which would have the added advantage of perhaps
making Etienne jealous.”
“I can see that part might work,” the stranger
Dunya caught his gaze. “But it might, in fact,
have given him a disgust of me,” she guessed.
“Not being acquainted with Etienne, I couldn’t
say. But why did you need to run away in the
first place? Just because you quarreled with
“Oh no, I always meant to run away once we were
close enough to Vienna, to oblige Etienne to
look for me—then I would, of course, be found,
and Etienne would be so relieved and happy to
see me that he would remember we were engaged.”
The stranger blinked. “I doubt that’s something
any man is likely to forget.”
“You would think so,” Dunya agreed. “But I don’t
mean he has forgotten, precisely. It’s just that
after he left Russia, he wrote saying I should
consider myself free to marry someone of more
certain prospects. He thinks that is noble. I
think it is dull.”
“It does sound dull,” the stranger agreed. “And
I can see that wouldn’t suit you at all.”
“Well no. I would much rather marry a penniless
émigré, but now his lands are restored, he has
the ear of M.de Talleyrand and we are all at
peace once more. It seems to me Etienne’s
scruples are no longer necessary.”
The stranger frowned. “Please tell me you
haven’t run all the way from Russia to Vienna on
Dunya laughed. “Of course not! I was with my
sister and her husband and all the servants,
right up until this afternoon when I ran away.”
“So that Etienne would look for you,” the
stranger said. “I see. And where is your sister
“To Vienna, of course.”
“Then, pardon my dullness. Why did you not
simply stay with your sister? If your Etienne is
with Talleyrand in Vienna—”
“Well, he wrote me such a stupid letter when I
told him we were coming. Saying he could not in
honor hold me to any engagement, that I was
little more than a child when we last met, and
that we should therefore consider ourselves
un-engaged. He said he must consider worldly
matters for both of us. How ridiculous is that?”
“Utterly,” the stranger agreed with gratifying
quickness. “How old, exactly, are you?”
“Nineteen,” Dunya replied. “Although it’s true I
haven’t seen him since I was seventeen, but even
so, I wasn’t a child then and I’m certainly not
“So… if you vanished, to be found by
Etienne—especially in the company of Lord
Sebastian Niven—you would force him to marry you
“That was my plan. He would have to exchange one
scruple for another and marry me to save my
The stranger nodded thoughtfully. “You don’t
feel,” he suggested, “that this might make for a
rather uncomfortable marriage?”
“Oh no. Not when we love each other.”
“I see. And you’re quite sure you still love him
though you haven’t seen him for two years?”
“I will always love him,” she said simply.
The stranger’s gaze fixed on her face. After
several moments, he said, “You are loyal.”
“I am. We all are in my family.”
The stranger rested his head back against the
pillow, still regarding her. “May I know your
“Avdotya Petrovna Savarina. But everyone calls
“You are very open for a young lady on such an
adventure. Does Niven know your name as well?”
“Not my surname or title,” she said
thoughtfully. “Which may be how he came to
misjudge me. Not that my being of lesser station
would have given him an excuse to ruin me,” she
added. “But I suppose it might explain some of
“I suppose it might. And Etienne is also a
gentleman? Does your family approve of the
“Well…they didn’t forbid it,” Dunya said.
“Precisely. But then, my brother was away and
never actually met Etienne. I don’t know if my
mother told him. She was more interested in my
sister’s marriage at the time. Anastasia’s
husband is worthy,” she added with scorn.
“Damning,” the stranger agreed. Something
glinted in his eyes, making her smile.
“Are you laughing at me?” she asked without
rancor. “I can’t help it. We all value Nikolai.
I even love him. Sort of. But I could never
marry someone like him, whatever my mother says
about taming me with a stern husband and
children.” She shuddered.
“Then Etienne is not worthy or stern?”
“Oh no! He is charming and makes me laugh all
the time. Besides being excessively handsome.
What is your name, sir? Did Lord Sebastian call
“Richard Trelawny, Captain of the 95th Rifles.”
The stranger offered his hand, which she took
“What happened to your other arm?” she blurted.
He didn’t seem to mind. “The Battle of Toulouse.
A wound that festered.”
“Was that the operation you endured recently?”
“Oh no. I lost the arm on the battlefield, but
the wound misbehaved. There was some foreign
body higher up, now safely removed.”
“It must hurt terribly.”
He shrugged, as if uncomfortable for the first
time. “I barely notice it, to be honest. And at
least it was my right arm.” He smiled faintly.
The latch clicked and the door opened. Dunya
leapt to her feet, not sure what she planned to
do, but feeling fiercely protective not only of
herself but of the wounded young man who’d tried
to help her.
Imperial Season, Book 3)
is availble now
Amazon UK etc