His Lordship Possessed Page 1

Chapter One

Half an hour after giving myself to my worst enemy, and daftly imagining myself to be falling in love with him, I paced round the confines of the bedchamber in which he had imprisoned me. I knew for my foolishness I deserved nothing more than to spend my remaining days there, a wretched captive, an illegally freeclaimed woman, alternately forced to attend to satiating Lucien Dredmore’s lusts and left to pine in solitude for the life I had so thoughtlessly thrown away. This was what women like Lady Walsh endured.

But I was not Diana Walsh, and I’d cut out my own heart before I allowed Lucien Dredmore to ever touch me again.

A thorough search of the chamber—which despite its sumptuous trappings was little more than a prison cell—turned up no exit or the means by which I might create one. The only entry had been locked in three places from the outside by his minion, Connell. Masonry had replaced the glass panes in the single window frame on the opposite wall, too. As I poked at the brick, I wondered how many other women had suffered this fate, and what had happened to them once Dredmore had tired of them.

“He probably buries them under the rose hedges,” I muttered, absently clutching at my pendant for comfort. “Please God, if you’ll get me out of this I’ll never glance at another man again. I swear it.” I looked down at the dark stone and realized otherworldly intervention was right in my hand. “Bloody hell. Harry.”

My eager fingers fumbled a bit with the clasp, but at last I released it and dropped the pendant on the floor, backing away from it quickly.

My grandfather’s specter materialized instantly, and as soon as he looked round he shouted at me. “Do you know where you are? Do you know who he is? Have you lost your tiny mind?”

“I’m happy to see you, too,” I said. “We’ll catch up once I get out of here.” When he didn’t reply, I added, “You keep saying you’re Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest escape artist. Well, then here’s your chance to prove it.”

“Oh, shut up.” He went to the window and poked at the brick. “After what you’ve done, it would serve you right if I left you here to rot.”

“How do you know what I’ve done?”

“A guardian spirit knows everything. Watches everything, whether he wishes to or not.” He eyed me. “Romping with that bastard in the dirt like some scullery wench. If I were your father, I’d give you the thrashing of your life.”

He was right, but I refused to cringe. “I suppose you never lost your head in a moment of passion.”

“Of course I did. If I hadn’t sired your mother, you wouldn’t be here.” He searched along the baseboards before testing the door. “I was fortunate in my choice of wives. Bess forgave me my dalliance and took me back.”

“But I’m not named Bess.”

“No. You’re named after my best mate’s wife. I comforted her after his untimely death, rather more than I should have.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “The result was your mother.”

“You did have a forgiving wife.” I sat on the bed. “Did this Charmian raise my mother, then?”

“She had to think of her family and her other children,” he snapped. “She remained secluded in the country for her confinement, and even kept your mother for a time after her birth. Her family grew suspicious, however, so she sent Rachel to me as soon as she was old enough to travel.”

It had never occurred to me that there would be someone else I hated as much as Dredmore, until Harry began haunting me. “How did you persuade my mother to name me after the adulteress who abandoned her?”

“I didn’t, not directly. I merely insured that Rachel heard the name in a dream just before your birth.” Harry glanced at me, and his anger faded into weariness. “Don’t judge your namesake so harshly, lass. Charmian never forgave herself for giving up our child. It broke her spirit as well as her heart. She died only a few years after sending your mother to me.”

“I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt,” I said, “if you’ll agree to overlook my lapse in judgment tonight.”

“Pray you don’t end up in the same condition as your grandmother.” He eyed my belly before he turned round to inspect the rest of the room. “The door and window are impassible from the inside of the room. Even if you could get at the locks, there is nothing you can use to pick them.” He turned about one last time, studying my prison. “It will have to be a possession, then.”

“A what?”

“Stay here.” He floated out through the door.

“Harry!” I went over and pounded on the door. “Come back here.”

The door opened, but in came Connell, who slammed the door behind him. I shuffled back, unsure if I should try to dodge round him or kick him in the unmentionables.

“You’ve been ill,” he told me as he walked right up to me and studied my face. “You believe you’ve been poisoned. There’s blood coming from your lips.”

“What are you talking about? There’s no bloo—”

My head snapped as he slapped me, hard enough to make my ears hum.

“Now there is.” Connell handed me the container of scented powder. “Toss this in the guard’s face. It will blind and choke him long enough for you to get outside. Then lock him in.”

I stared at him. “Connell, why are you helping me?”

“Charm, it’s me, Harry.” For a moment I saw the old man’s face appear atop Connell’s, like a half-transparent mask. “I’ve taken possession of this man’s body.” He glanced down at himself. “Which isn’t all that bad.” He stretched out an arm. “Very strappy fellow.”

“Get out of there,” I almost shrieked.

“If I dispossess him now, he’ll regain his senses immediately and spoil your escape.” Harry/Connell patted my cheek. “Now remember, give the guard a good dousing with that powder.”

“You’re possessing a guard, so why don’t you simply walk me out of here?” I demanded.

“No time to explain that now,” my grandfather said. “There’s a guard in the front hall, and one repairing the door you smashed in the kitchen. Once you get out of here, go to the servants’ stairs and take the tradesmen’s entrance out.”

“All right.” I gingerly tested the bleeding cut on the inside of my lip before smearing the sides of my mouth with the blood to make it look more convincing. “Once I’m outside, then what?”

“You’ll find three horses in the stables,” he told me. “Saddle the black gelding with the white star on his nose. Ride through the pasturelands, and don’t allow anyone to see or stop you.”

I stirred the powder with a fingertip. “You’re certain this will work?”

“I wasn’t a hoodlum, you silly twit. I was Houdini.” He gave me an awkward, one-armed hug. “And your lover will not remain in town forever, so you had best get going.”

“Former lover.” I dragged some hair over my eyes and went to stand by the door. “Did you become Houdini as a cover for the spying?”

“You mean you haven’t worked it out yet?” Incredibly, he chuckled. “I possessed the body of a spy, Charm, and used him as my cover. Being a spy concealed the fact that I was, ah, Houdini.”

“Why would you have to hide that?” I demanded. “From what I’ve read everyone adored him—you.”

“Everyone but your parents, and that story will have to keep for another time. Wait.” He picked up my pendant from the floor and set it on a table near me. “Count to ten after I leave, put this on, and don’t take it off unless you need me.”


“Things have changed now that I’m . . . never mind.” He opened the door and hurried out.

I slowly counted to ten before I put my pendant back on, drew a deep breath, and then bowed over, concealing the powder behind my arms. “Please . . . help me,” I called out in a strangled, frightened voice. “I’m throwing up . . . blood. I think I’ve been . . . poisoned . . .”

I had to keep that up for several minutes until the brute who had brought me to the room from the garden stepped in and scowled at me.

“What’s all this?” he demanded, peering at my face and then straightening. “Where did you—?”

I hurled the scented powder in his face, shoving him aside and darting past him through the door. As he coughed, I slammed the door shut and engaged the locks.

He began immediately swearing at me and hammering on the door’s inside panel, but I didn’t linger to hear his poor opinion of me. I ran down the hall to the servant’s stairs then took them to the first floor, where I stood in the shadows until I saw the guard there rushing upstairs. Then I ran round the corner and fled to the deliveries door.

It refused to open at first, but then the knob gave way and I was outside. I scanned the grounds to look for other guards and saw the coast was clear.

Bunching up my skirts and running across the lawn put me in view of the house, but I felt sure I had another minute or two before Powder-face and Dredmore’s other hooligans came after me. I made it to the stables and darted inside, stopping long enough to listen for a moment and glance out. Lamplight flicked against the side windows of the house, descending from the second to the first floor.

I turned and dashed to the stalls, where five black horses were watching me with some interest.

“All right, which one of you has a white star?” I went to the center stalls, avoided a nip from a cranky-looking mare with a white stripe, and then found the gelding, a placid-eyed fellow who nuzzled my fingers looking for a treat.

“Saves you for the ladies, does he?” I glanced at the saddles hanging on the end wall before I took down a bridle from a post peg and unlatched the stall door. The gelding dipped his head as I bridled him, and only gave me a mild look of surprise when I tossed a blanket over his back.