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Authors: Loveand the Single Heiress

Jacquie D'Alessandro

Jacquie D’Alessandro

Love and the Single Heiress

This book is dedicated with my gratitude to John Hensley for all his kindness, support, and hard work on my behalf. My heartfelt thanks also to his topnotch team for making me feel so welcome: Dawn Doud, DeeAnn Kline, Pam Manley, Bev Martin, Carrie Murakami, Tracey Neel, Anna Shea-Nicholls, George Scott, and Susie Straussberger. Thank you all for showing me the Power of One.

And, as always, to my incredible husband Joe, for his steadfast love, patience, and support, and for always saying “you can do it” exactly when I need to hear it; and my wonderful, makes-me-so-proud son Christopher, “you can do it” Junior. I love you best!

Contents

Chapter 1

“Scandalous, that’s what it is,” came an outraged male whisper.

Chapter 2

Tonight he would begin his subtle, gentle wooing.

Chapter 3

Voices, jagged and disjointed, echoed through Catherine’s mind, along with…

Chapter 4

“How are you feeling, Lady Catherine?”

Chapter 5

“Bickley cottage will come into view in a moment,” Lady…

Chapter 6

Andrew leaned his shoulders against the white marble mantel in…

Chapter 7

Catherine arrived home from her visit with Genevieve feeling unsettled.

Chapter 8

“It’s your turn, Mum.”

Chapter 9

After a fitful night, which she firmly attributed to her…

Chapter 10

That evening, Andrew sat across from Lady Catherine in her…

Chapter 11

Andrew paced the confines of his bedchamber, alternating between staring…

Chapter 12

“Are we almost finished, Mr. Stanton?” Spencer asked for the…

Chapter 13

Feeling in need of a brisk ride to settle her…

Chapter 14

Andrew remained perfectly still, allowing his mind and body to…

Chapter 15

Andrew prepared to exit his bedchamber the next morning, one…

Chapter 16

Catherine entered the library, and smiled at the sight of…

Chapter 17

Catherine strode up the neatly swept walkway leading to the…

Chapter 18

Andrew walked toward the springs, trying to unravel the knotty…

Chapter 19

Andrew watched all the color leach from her face as…

Chapter 20

Andrew paused in the doorway of the stables to allow…

Chapter 1

Today’s Modern Woman should strive for personal enlightenment, independence, and forthrightness. The perfect place to begin this quest for assertiveness is in the bedchamber…

A Ladies’ Guide to the Pursuit of
Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment
by Charles Brightmore

“S
candalous, that’s what it is,” came an outraged male whisper. “My wife has somehow secured a copy of that deuced
Ladies’Guide
.

“How do you know?” came another gruff male whisper.

“Damned obvious, what with the way she’s been acting. Been spewing out nonsense about ‘today’s modern woman’ and ‘independence’ like a steaming teakettle. Just yesterday she marched into my private study and proceeded to question me regarding my gambling markers and the amount of time I spend at White’s!”

Sharp intakes of breath followed. “Outrageous,” muttered the gruff whisperer.

“Precisely what I told her.”

“What did you do?”

“Why, I marched her right out of my study, called for a carriage, and sent her to Asprey’s to pick out a new bauble to occupy her mind.”

“Excellent. I assume your strategy worked?”

“Unfortunately not as well as I’d hoped. Last night I found her awaiting me
in my bedchamber
. Gave me quite a turn, I tell you. Especially as I’d just left my mistress and was thoroughly worn-out. Bloody hell, a wife’s not supposed to make such demands, or have such expectations.”

“My wife did the same thing just last week,” came a third aggrieved whisper. “Entered my bedchamber, bold as you please, pushed me onto the mattress, then…well, I can only describe it as to say she
jumped
upon me. Completely deflated my lungs and damn near crushed me. As I lie there, immobile with shock, fighting for my very breath,
she
says in a most impatient tone, ‘Bump your arse a bit.’ Can you
imagine
such undignified goings-on?
Then,
just when I thought I couldn’t be more astonished, she demanded to know why I’d never…”

The voice lowered further and Lady Catherine Ash-field, Viscountess Bickley, leaned closer to the Oriental screen that secreted her presence from the gentlemen on the other side.

“…This Charles Brightmore must be stopped,” whispered one of the gentlemen.

“I agree. A disaster of gargantuan proportions, that’s what he’s brought upon us. Why, if my daughter reads that cursed
Guide
, I’ll never marry off the foolish chit. Independence, indeed. Completely insupportable. This
Guide
could well prove even worse than the uproar incited by that Wollstonecraft woman’s writings. Nothing but ridiculous reformists’ balderdash.”

Murmurs of agreement followed that pronouncement.
Then the whisperer continued, “And as for the bedchamber, women are demanding enough creatures as it is, always wanting a new gown or earbobs or carriage or the like. ’Tis outrageous that their expectations should extend to
that
. Especially a woman of my wife’s age, who is the mother of two grown children. Unseemly, that’s what it is.”

“Couldn’t agree more. Should I ever find myself in the company of this Brightmore bastard, I’ll personally wring his bloody neck. Tarring and feathering is too good for him. Everyone I’ve spoken to feels certain that ‘Charles Brightmore’ is a pseudonym, and coward that he is, he’s refused to step forward and identify himself. The betting book at White’s is a frenzy of wagers on the subject of his identity. Damn it all, what sort of man would think, let alone write, such unseemly ideas?”

“Well, I stopped at White’s just before coming here, and the latest theory proposes the possibility that Charles Brightmore is in fact a
woman
. Indeed, I heard…”

The gentleman’s low-pitched words were drowned out by a trill of nearby feminine laughter. Catherine inched closer, all but pressing her ear to the screen.

“…and if it’s true, it would be the scandal of the century…” She heard some more unintelligible mumbling, then, “…hired an investigator two days ago to get to the bottom of this. He comes highly recommended…ruthless, and will ferret out the truth. In fact—oh, bloody hell, my wife’s caught sight of me. Hang it, look at her, fluttering her eyelashes at me. Shocking, that’s what it is. Appalling. And altogether frightening.”

Catherine peeked around the edge of the screen. Lady Markingworth stood at the edge of the dance floor, her rotund proportions ensconced in an unfortunate shade of yellowish green satin that cast her complexion with a distinctly jaundiced hue, her brown hair arranged in a com
plicated coiffure involving sausage curls, ribbons, and peacock feathers. With her attention fixed on the opposite side of the screen, Lady Markingworth was batting her eyes as one might if caught in a dust-ridden windstorm. Then, with an air of determination, she marched toward the screen.

“Egad,” came a horrified, panic-filled whisper that Catherine assumed belonged to Lord Markingworth. “She’s got that damnable gleam in her eye.”

“And it’s too late to escape, old man.”

“Bloody hell. A plague on that bastard Charles Brightmore’s house. I’m going to find out who this person is, then kill him—or her. Slowly.”


There
you are, Ephraim,” said Lady Markingworth, her greeting followed by a girlish giggle. “I’ve been searching for you everywhere. The waltz is about to start. And how fortunate that Lords Whitly and Carweather are with you. Your wives anxiously await you near the dance floor, my lords.”

Throat clearing and several harrumphs followed this announcement, then the scuffle of shoes upon the parquet floor as the group moved away.

Catherine leaned against the oak-paneled wall and drew a shaky breath, pressing her hands to her midsection. Slipping behind the screen in search of a moment of sanctuary from the hordes of party guests had taken a very unexpected turn. All she’d wanted was to avoid the approaching Lords Avenbury and Ferrymouth, both of whom had dogged her footsteps since the moment she’d arrived at her father’s birthday party and separately attempted to maneuver her into a tête-à-tête. Lords Avenbury and Ferrymouth had been followed closely by Sir Percy Whitenall and several others whose names escaped her, all of whom bore unmistakable—and unwanted—
gleams of interest in their eyes. Good heavens, her official mourning period for her husband had ended only days ago. She could almost hear her dear friend Genevieve’s voice warning her just last week,
The men will come out of every nook and crevice. Such is the fate of a single heiress.

Damnation, she wasn’t single—she was a
widow
. With a nearly grown child. She had not believed she would generate such male…enthusiasm so quickly. If she’d suspected, she might well have been tempted to continue wearing her widow’s weeds.

Yet by avoiding her unexpected suitors, she’d inadvertently eavesdropped upon a conversation far more disturbing than the male attention. Lord Markingworth’s angry words echoed through her mind.
The possibility that Charles Brightmore is a woman…if it’s true, it would be the scandal of the century.

What had he said that she’d missed? And what of this ruthless investigator hired to ferret out the details? Who was he? And how close was he to discovering the truth?

…I’m going to find out who this person is, then kill him—or her. Slowly.

A foreboding chill snaked down her spine. Good Lord, what had she done?

Chapter 2

Today’s Modern Woman should know that a gentleman hoping to entice her will employ one of two methods: either a straightforward, direct approach, or a more subtle, gentle wooing. Sadly, as with most matters, few gentlemen consider which method the lady might actually prefer—until it’s too late.

A Ladies’ Guide to the Pursuit of
Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment
by Charles Brightmore

T
onight he would begin his subtle, gentle wooing.

Andrew Stanton stood in a shadowed corner of Lord Ravensly’s elegant drawing room, feeling very much the way he imagined a soldier on the brink of battle might feel—anxious, focused, and very much praying for a hopeful outcome.

His gaze skimmed restlessly over the formally attired guests. Lavishly gowned and bejeweled ladies swirled around the dance floor in the arms of their perfectly turned-out escorts to the lilting strains of the string trio.
But none of the waltzing ladies was the one he sought. Where was Lady Catherine?

He sipped his brandy, his fingers clenched around the cut glass snifter in an attempt to stem the urge to toss back the potent drink in a single gulp. Damn it all, he hadn’t felt this nervous and unsettled since…never. Well, not counting the handful of times over the past fourteen months he’d spent in Lady Catherine’s company. Ridiculous how the mere thought of the woman, how simply being in the same room with her affected his ability to breathe straight and think properly…er, think straight and breathe properly.

His efforts to seek out Lady Catherine this evening had already been interrupted three times by people with whom he had no desire to speak. He feared one more such interruption would cause him to grind his teeth down to stubs.

Again he scanned the room, and his jaw tightened. Blast. After being forced to wait for what felt like an eternity finally to court her, why couldn’t Lady Catherine—albeit unknowingly—at least soothe his anxiety by showing herself?

The hum of conversation surrounded him, marked by peals of laughter and the chime of fine crystal goblet rims touching in congratulatory toasts. Prisms of light reflected off the highly polished parquet floor from the dozens of candles glowing in the sparkling crystal chandeliers, casting the room in a warm, golden glow. Over one hundred of Society’s finest had turned out for Lord Ravensly’s sixtieth birthday party.
Society’s finest and…me.

He reached up and tugged at his carefully tied cravat. “Damned uncomfortable neckwear,” he muttered. Who
ever had invented the constraining blight on fashion should be tossed in the Thames. Although his expertly tailored formal black cutaway rivaled that of any noble gentleman in the room, part of him still felt like a weed amongst the hothouse flowers. Uncomfortable. Out of his element. And painfully aware that he stood far outside the lofty social strata in which he currently found himself—certainly much further than anyone present would ever have expected. His long-standing friendship with Lord Ravensly’s son Philip, and growing friendship with Lord Ravensly himself, as well as Lady Catherine, had secured Andrew an invitation to this evening’s elegant birthday celebration. Too bad Philip himself wasn’t here. With Meredith soon to give birth, Philip hadn’t wanted to venture far from his wife’s side.

Although perhaps it was just as well that Philip wasn’t in attendance. When he had given Andrew his blessing to court Lady Catherine, he’d warned Andrew that his sister wouldn’t be eager to marry again, given her disastrous first marriage. The last thing Andrew needed was to have Philip nearby, muttering words of doom.

He drew a deep breath and forced himself to focus on the positive. His frustrating failure to locate Lady Catherine in the crowd
had
afforded him the opportunity to converse with numerous investors who had already committed funds to Andrew and Philip’s museum venture. Lords Avenbury and Ferrymouth were eager to know how things were progressing, as were Lords Markingworth, Whitly, and Carweather, all of whom had invested funds. Mrs. Warrenfield appeared anxious to invest a healthy amount, as did Lord Kingsly. Lord Borthrasher who’d already made a sizable investment, seemed interested in investing more. After speaking with them, Andrew had also made
some discreet inquiries regarding the matter he’d recently been commissioned to look into.

But with the business talk now completed, he’d retreated to this quiet corner to gather his thoughts, much as he did before preparing for a pugilistic bout at Gentleman Jackson’s Emporium. His gaze continued to pan over the guests, halting abruptly when he caught sight of Lady Catherine, exiting from behind an Oriental silk screen near the French doors.

He stilled at the sight of her bronze gown. Every time he’d seen her during the past year, her widow’s weeds had engulfed her like a dark, heavy rain cloud. Now officially out of mourning, she resembled a golden bronze sun setting over the Nile, gilding the landscape with slanting rays of warmth.

She paused to exchange a few words with a gentleman, and Andrew’s avid gaze noted the way the vivid material of her gown contrasted with her pale shoulders and complemented her shiny chestnut curls gathered into a Grecian knot. The becoming coiffure left the vulnerable curve of her nape bare…

He blew out a long breath and raked his free hand through his hair. How many times had he imagined skimming his fingers, his mouth, over that soft, silky skin? More than he cared to admit. She was all things lovely and good. A perfect lady. Indeed, she was perfect in every way.

He knew damn well he wasn’t good enough for her. In spite of his financial successes, socially he felt like a beggar with his nose pressed to the glass at the confectioner’s shop. But neither his mind nor his common sense were in charge any longer. She was free. And while he cherished the platonic relationship that had blossomed between
them over the past fourteen months, his feelings ran far deeper than mere friendship, and his heart would not be denied. His sullied past, her noble lineage, his lack of lineage—all be damned.

His gaze tracked her slim, regal form as she made her way around the perimeter of the room, and his heart executed the same erratic hop it performed every time he looked at her. If he’d been capable of laughter, he would have chuckled at himself and his gut-level reaction to her. He felt like a tongue-tied, green schoolboy—quite deflating as he normally considered himself a man of at least
some
finesse.

Rolling his shoulders to loosen his tense muscles, he pulled in a lungful of air and prepared to step from the shadows. A firm hand grasped him by the shoulder.

“You might want to straighten your cravat before heading into the fray, old man.”

Andrew turned swiftly and found himself staring into Philip’s amused, bespectacled brown eyes. Frustration instantly gave way to concern. “What are
you
doing here? Is Meredith all right?”

“My wife is fine, thank you, or at least as fine as a woman in the final weeks of pregnancy can be. As to why I am here, for reasons I cannot fathom, Meredith
insisted
I make an appearance at Father’s birthday celebration.” He shook his head, clearly bemused. “I did not want to leave her, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few months, it is that only a fool argues with an expectant mother. So I reluctantly left her side and suffered the three-hour journey to London to bestow my felicitations upon Father. Meredith suggested I remain here overnight, but I flatly refused. My coach is being brought ’round even as we speak. However, I couldn’t leave without talking to you. How goes the progress on the museum?”

“Very well. Hiring Simon Wentworth as our steward was one of the smartest things we’ve done. He’s extremely organized and keeps the workmen on schedule.”

“Excellent.” Philip’s voice dropped to a near whisper. “How goes the Charles Brightmore investigation?”

Andrew blew out a sigh. “The bastard doesn’t appear to exist, except on paper as the author of the
Guide
, but that only serves to intrigue me further. Trust me, I have every intention of collecting the impressive sum Lord Markingworth and his friends have promised me for identifying the author.”

“Yes, well, that’s why I recommended you. You’re tenacious and unrelenting when it comes to ferreting out the truth. And thanks to your ties to the museum and your association with the,
ahem
, exalted likes of me, you have access to both Society’s finest and persons of, shall we say, more humble origins. People would be far more inclined to confide in you than a Runner, and your presence at these types of soirees doesn’t raise a brow, as a stranger’s or a Runner’s would.”

“Yes, that is to my advantage,” Andrew agreed. “It has been my experience that clues are often inadvertently revealed during casual conversations.”

“Well, I’ve no doubt of your success. I only hope that revealing this Charles Brightmore’s identity puts a stop to this damnable
Ladies’ Guide
. I want that book pulled from the shelves before Meredith manages to secure a copy. My lovely wife is by far too independent as it is. Keeping her in check already requires nearly more energy than I can muster.”

“Yes, I’m certain that it’s your beautiful wife’s
independence
that drains your energy.” His gaze skimmed over Philip in a pointed fashion. “You do not appear to be suffering overmuch at her hands. But fear not—I intend
to unmask this Brightmore person. I’ll not only have the pleasure of exposing the charlatan, but the money I’ll earn doing so will help further my campaign with regard to your sister. I have every intention of giving Lady Catherine the luxury to which she is accustomed.”

“Ah. Speaking of which—how goes the courting of my sister?”

Andrew looked toward the ceiling. “Rather slowly, I’m afraid.”

“Well, quit dawdling about. I’ve never known you to be anything less than relentless when you wanted something. Why are you dilly-dallying?”

“I’m not dilly—”

“And for God’s sake, quit tugging at your hair. You look as if a lightning bolt struck you.”

Andrew scraped a hasty hand through his apparently lightning-struck hair and frowned. “You’re a fine one to talk. Have you consulted a mirror lately? Your manner can only be described as harried, and your own hair looks as if you were caught in sudden freakish storm.”

“I
am
harried, but considering that my first child is soon to be born, I at least have a valid excuse for yanking at my hair and behaving oddly. What the devil is wrong with
you
?”

“There is nothing
wrong
with me, other than frustration. I haven’t had an opportunity even to speak with Lady Catherine. Every time I finally spot her in the crowd, another museum investor or potential investor claims my attention.” He shot Philip a pointed stare. “I was attempting to approach her for the
fourth
time this evening when I was again waylaid—this time by
you
.”

“And you should be glad you were. If she’d seen that mess of a coiffure, she would have run screaming from the room.”

“Thank you. Your encouragement warms my heart. Truly. Although I find it difficult to take fashion advice from someone whose own attire and coiffure most often resemble a squirrel’s nest.”

Instead of taking offense, Philip smiled. “True. However,
I
am not attempting to court a lady this evening.
I
have already succeeded in winning the woman I love.”

“Yes, and almost in spite of yourself, I might add. If not for my advice on how to woo and win Meredith…” Andrew shook his head sadly. “Well, let us just say that the outcome of your courting was highly questionable.”

A rude sound escaped Philip. “Is that so? If you are such an expert, then why haven’t you yet succeeded with Catherine?”

“Because I’ve yet to
start
with her—thanks, most recently, to you. Tell me, is there not some other house in Mayfair you can haunt?”

“Fear not, I’m on my way out the door. However, if I leave now, I won’t be able to tell you about the two very interesting conversations I had this evening. One was with a Mr. Sidney Carmichael. Have you met him yet?”

Andrew shook his head. “The name is not familiar to me.”

“He was introduced to me by Mrs. Warrenfield, the wealthy American widow.” Philip lowered his voice. “If you happen to speak with her, be prepared to listen to her describe, in detail, her plethora of aches and pains.”

“Thank you for the warning. If only you’d told me an hour ago.”

“Ah. Something struck me as rather odd about the lady, but I cannot put my finger on it,” Philip said, frowning. “Did you notice anything?”

Andrew considered a moment. “I admit I was preoccupied when I spoke to her, but now that you mention it, yes.
I think it’s her voice. It’s unusually deep and raspy for a lady. Combined with the veiled, black hat she wears, which obscures half her face, it’s a bit disconcerting to speak with her.”

“Yes, that must be it. Well, back to Mr. Carmichael. He’s interested in making a
very
sizable investment in the museum.”

“How sizable?”

“Five thousand pounds.”

Andrew’s brows shot upward. “Impressive.”

“Yes. He was most anxious to meet my American partner as he spent a number of years living in your country. I’m certain he’ll seek you out before the evening is over.”

“I suppose for five thousand pounds I can work up a bit of enthusiasm.”

“Excellent. Your tone, however, and the fact that you keep looking about indicates a decided lack of curiosity about my other conversation, which was with Catherine.” Philip heaved a long sigh and flicked a bit of lint from his dark blue jacket sleeve. “Pity, as the conversation concerned you.”

“And naturally you’ll tell me, in recompense for saving your life.”

Philip’s face screwed up into a confused scowl. “If you’re referring to that incident in Egypt, I thought
I’d
saved
your
life. When did you save mine?”

“Just now. By not tossing you out headfirst through the French doors into the thorny hedges. What did Lady Catherine say?”

Philip cast a surreptitious glance around. Once assured that they weren’t in danger of being overheard, he said, “It appears you have competition.”

Andrew blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re not the only man attempting to win my sister’s favor. Apparently other men are showing interest in her.”

Andrew stared, feeling as if he’d just been slapped. Then a humorless sound pushed past his lips at his own conceit. Why hadn’t he anticipated this turn of events? Of course other men would cast their lures in Lady Catherine’s direction. He cleared his throat to locate his voice. “What sort of interest?”

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