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Forced to endure London society for the sake of his younger sister, American Alexander Fiarbourne longs to leave England behind him. But when a stray kitten—all black but for a star of white—unexpectedly wins him ober, Alex allows the tiny creature to lead him to a suprising discovery...

Deemed a traitor and wanted by the British crown, Cora MacGillivray lives a shadowy life in hiding far from her beloved Scottish Highlands. Her one joy is the affection of a black kitten—so when...

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2000 Mass-market paperback New. Mass market (rack) paperback. Glued binding. 384 p. Audience: General/trade.

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2000 Mass-market paperback New. Mass market (rack) paperback. Glued binding. 384 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Forced to endure London society for the sake of his younger sister, American Alexander Fiarbourne longs to leave England behind him. But when a stray kitten—all black but for a star of white—unexpectedly wins him ober, Alex allows the tiny creature to lead him to a suprising discovery...

Deemed a traitor and wanted by the British crown, Cora MacGillivray lives a shadowy life in hiding far from her beloved Scottish Highlands. Her one joy is the affection of a black kitten—so when it disappears, Cora is desolate with loss. Then her little Starlight miraculously returns in the arms of a handsome stranger, a man who captures Cora's heart with one charming, wicked smile. But fear and danger still haunt Cora, and only a very special magic will give her the courage to surrender to love.

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Editorial Reviews

Kathe Robin
The quick pace, touch of magic, and absolutely endearing characters bring readers that warm glow and wonderful feeling so special about a romance. Miranda Jarrett continues to reign as queen of the American colonial romance.
Romantic Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743403559
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 10/1/1900
  • Series: Sonnet Bks.
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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June, 1747

She'd done it again.

On this, the last day they'd likely ever spend alone together, she'd gone and spoiled everything.

Alexander Fairbourne dipped his battered knuckles into the trough of cold water beneath the inn's courtyard pump, and used what tiny bit of self-restraint he still possessed to keep from swearing before his younger sister.

"I told you this morning, Diana," he said through gritted teeth. "I've no desire to challenge every blasted rogue in this city to protect your virtue."

"Oh, bother, Alex, I never intended such a thing," said Diana, sinking down beside him in a rustle of petticoats, heedless of the silk drifting into the mud, and heedless, too, of the curious looks of those around them. "But I could hardly let that wretched fool go unrebuked, not after what he said about my -- my person."

"So then he couldn't go by without answering you," said Alex as patiently as he could, "which meant I had to jump into it, too, to save your good name and split my knuckles open in the bargain."

"But I had no choice," argued Diana indignantly. "You heard what he said!"

Alex sighed. He'd heard it, and then he'd seen how Diana had dumped the man's own ale over his head, too, settling the tankard on him like a crown.

"Just because I am from the colonies and not London-born doesn't mean I'm any less of a lady," continued Diana, self-righteousness rising with every word, "and it certainly doesn't mean that I must tolerate the rude advances of a common -- "

"Don't explain any further, Diana," said Alex wearily. The only explanation that mattered was simply that Diana was Diana, and always, always, at thecenter of misadventure and mayhem.

Not that she was any different from the rest of their family. From his father on downward, they all were far too eager to jump into any fight that happened along. Alex had only to look down at his knuckles to know he wasn't any better. For all of them, it was at once a noble blessing and a curse of the worst kind. For why else would Alex be here in London, single-handedly determined to rescue the Fairbourne fortunes from the ruinous hole his father had dug for them?

"No use in hashing it over, Diana," was all he said now. "You and I have been down this road together more times than I care to remember."

She looked up at him, the indignation vanishing from her face as suddenly as it had come. "Oh, Alex," she said softly. "Now we're almost to the end of that road, aren't we?"

"Not an end, Di," said Alex quickly, and with a gallantry that sounded false even to his ears, "but a beginning of great things for you."

"Oh, yes," said Diana half-heartedly. "Great things, indeed."

Alex sighed, wishing he knew what to say next. He understood exactly how Diana felt for he'd been feeling the same way all day. No one had forced her into making this journey with him; Father had been most careful to keep the grim truth about the family's finances from the women, and Alexander doubted his sister had any idea of how perilously close to ruin they were.

True, Diana hadn't found any of the bachelors in Massachusetts to her liking, not with most young men away at war with the French and Spanish, but neither Mother nor Father had suggested she need travel clear to London to search for a husband.

Instead his sister had gleefully concocted the entire scheme for herself with the help of one of their mother's childhood friends here in London. Crossing the ocean in an armed sloop hadn't fazed her, nor had outrunning a French frigate. She was determined to capture the capital by storm, as well as find true love and banish forever that uneasy taint of spinsterhood that was already clinging to her in Appledore. Considering she'd inherited her father's will and her mother's beauty, Alex didn't doubt that she'd succeed.

But now that the final day had arrived before Diana must carry out her plan in earnest alone, the reality of it weighed heavily upon them both. Because she'd wished it, he'd sworn to her he was weary of being her constant champion since childhood, but now he was discovering he wasn't nearly ready to relinquish that responsibility to anyone else.

"You can come back home with me, you know," he said gruffly, flexing his fingers that now didn't seem to hurt nearly as much. "No one will fault you if you do."

"No one except Father and Mother and every other person in Appledore," she said sadly. "Fairbournes don't quit, Alex, even the female ones. I think Father must have whispered that into our ears while we were still in the cradle, taking care that Mother didn't hear. Why- ever else would we all be so eager for scrapping now?"

She tried to smile, giving her shoulders a small, twitching shrug of resignation. "Besides, if I don't find myself a husband here -- and a good one, too, one that will make all those smug, simpering girls back home sick with envy -- how else will I be able to find you a worthy wife?"

"A wife, ha," scoffed Alex softly. This was a sign of how upset she was, falling back on teasing him about something so moot. Even a woman like Diana needed a husband to complete her life, to give her children and a home, but he -- he was a deep-water captain married to his ship and the sea, and if he married at all, it wouldn't be until he was well past thirty and ready to become a stay-at-home landsman. "I'd rather you found me a banker with deep pockets and no questions."

"You be th' young buck what struck th' scoundrel in th' White Boar?" asked an old woman who'd suddenly appeared at Alex's elbow. "You be him, don't you?"

Alex stood, frowning as he quickly tucked his battered hand behind his back. He'd already slipped the White Boar's keep a few coins to cover any damages that the scuffle might have caused, and he'd been generous, to make sure the man didn't go running to the constable. He wasn't about to pay any more, especially not to this sharp-eyed old beggar-woman.

"The matter is resolved, ma'am," he said, drawing himself up to his considerable captainly height. "I don't believe it needs further discussion."

"Oooh, don't you be the fancy gentleman!" the woman cackled with obvious delight. She was short and squat, her patched petticoats hiked up over unmatched stockings, and in the few yellowed teeth that remained in her head she clenched a stained clay pipe. "You can keep your pride, cap'n, an' your pocketbook, too. I don't mean to take a farthing from you or your pretty sister, but to make you a gift. Aye, I do."

Carefully she set the large wicker basket she'd been carrying on the ground, bending over to untuck the checkered cloth covering it.

But Alex didn't want to wait to see what was inside, nor did he wish to linger in the old woman's company. There was something odd about her that he couldn't quite finger, something that made the hair prickle on the back of his neck.

"Come along, Diana," he said firmly, taking his sister by the arm. "Time we were on our way back to the ship."

"No, Alex, wait," she protested, pulling her arm free. "I want to see what she has."

"Aye, m'lady, well you should," said the old woman, nodding shrewdly as she raised the cloth with a conjurer's flourish. "Now don't that be th' proper reward for a hero's work, eh?"

"Oh, Alex, look!" cried Diana with a gasp of delight that sent another tingle of wariness down Alex's spine.

"Diana, please," he began, again reaching for her arm to pull away. "We shouldn't -- "

"Hush, Alex, and just look, look at that dear little face!"

Blast and damnation, the old witch was going to try to foist some wretched foundling on them. "Diana, we must -- "

"No, you must!" She crouched down beside the basket, and though he dreaded what he was going to see, Alex had no choice now but to look into the basket, too.

He looked, and nearly laughed aloud with relief.

The basket was full of kittens.

Seven tiny kittens, barely weaned, he'd guess, their legs still trembling beneath their rounded, pink bellies, their tails irate pointed stalks of bristling fur as they mewed and crawled over one another.

"What beauties, what little loves!" crooned Diana as she reached down to stroke a small, fuzzy head. She was so much like their mother this way, tenderhearted toward any helpless young creature. "Have you ever seen anything so dear, Alex?"

He had, for there'd always been a new litter of kittens in the barn behind their house in Appledore. But now he could also see exactly where this crafty old woman was leading Diana, and it wasn't going to be a comfortable place for him.

"You can't have one, Di," he said firmly, "so don't even ask."

" 'Tis a gift, cap'n," protested the old woman, "and a rare gift, too. These don't be ordinary beasts. These be most special, like living lucky pieces. Seven to th' litter, mind, th' seventh birthed by th' dam, and each born with seven toes to a paw. And there be more, too, m'lady, if you harken."

She crooked a gnarled finger for Diana to come closer, and to Alex's dismay his sister did exactly as she was bid.

"They're special beasts, m'lady, these kits," the woman confided in a whisper still loud enough for Alex to hear. "For with all their sevens and sevens, they've th' power to fetch you your own true love."

He saw how Diana's eyes widened with wonder, marking the end of any common sense she might have possessed, and he knew he'd lost. She'd come to London to find a husband; how could she resist a gift like this that guaranteed that she would?

He sighed, resigned. "Very well, Di. Which kitten will it be? Choose carefully if this is going to be how you find your true love."

"Oh, Alex, I don't know!" she said with anxious indecision as she stroked first one little cat, then another. "They're all so cunning, I don't know how to pick!"

The old woman winked up at him slyly, jabbing the brown-stained stem of her pipe in the air toward Alex for emphasis. "You choose, then, cap'n."

Alex frowned. If he didn't decide on a cat, they'd either be here for another hour while Diana tried to make up her mind, or worse, end up with the entire litter. He peered down into the basket of wriggling, furry bodies, orange, white, or striped like brown tigers.

One little cat, however, seemed to stand apart from the others by choice -- brave and bold on his unsteady legs, all midnight black except for a white blaze like a star on his forehead. He gazed up with yellow-green eyes, almost challenging Alex to pick him, then blinked, yawned, and settled back onto his haunches, curling his tail neatly over his oversized front paws.

"This fellow." He scooped the black kitten up with one hand, cradling it in his palms for a moment. The little cat mewed once by way of introduction, and blinked again as Alex stroked the white patch above his eyes. No kitten's purr could be heard over the racket of the street and courtyard around them, but Alex would have sworn he could feel the rumbling vibrations of contentment in his hand as the cat rubbed his tiny jaw against his thumb. A brave little cat like this one would be good company for his sister, he decided, though as he handed the animal to Diana he almost -- almost -- felt a quick pang of regret, enough to make him smile wryly at himself. It was a well-kept secret, of course, but at heart he knew that he, too, had inherited a goodly share of his mother's tenderness toward strays and other innocents.

"I'll call him Blackie," said Diana happily as she brushed her cheek against the little animal's soft black fur. "Young Master Blackie."

"Young Master Blackie?" repeated Alex, appalled to hear his brave little tom burdened with such a foolish name. "What the hell kind of name is that?"

"A perfect one," said Diana, slipping into the sort of high-pitched mushy voice used by women with infants and animals. "Isn't that so, my little sweet? You're young Master Blackie because except for this funny little white patch, you're black as ink, black as coal, black as midnight itself."

"You'll ruin him, Diana," grumbled Alex as he fished in his pocket for a coin to give the old woman in exchange for the cat. "A week of that nonsense, and he won't be fit for a single useful feline endeavor."

But as Alex turned with the farthing in his hand, he discovered that the old woman and her basket and the other six kittens had vanished as if they'd never been there at all. He frowned, glancing up and down the narrow street as his earlier uneasiness returned. If his sister weren't still holding the black kitten, he'd wonder if he'd dreamed the whole peculiar encounter.

"My own little Blackie," cooed Diana as she nestled the kitten beneath her chin. "You'll lead me to my true love, won't you?"

"To start he can lead us back to the ship," grumbled Alex, cursing his superstition as he settled his hat back on his head. "And the sooner we leave this place, the better for us all."

"Here, Starlight!" called Cora MacGillivray softly, ducking through the murky shadows of Lady Waldegrave's garden. "Here, here, Starlight!"

She knew she shouldn't be alone outside, not this close to dusk. Lady Waldegrave was most adamant about that, and how could Cora argue? In this last year, trust had become a luxury Cora had no right to covet, and she'd learned to measure her every movement against the risk to her freedom.

Freedom: Cora looked wistfully up at the tall brick walls around the garden and the large brick house looming beside her. Each one of those bricks marked the boundaries of her world now, a hemmed-in handkerchief of a world compared to the wild, open moors and heath where she'd been born. But when she remembered the bleak, narrow cell that would be her fate if she wasn't careful, wasn't cautious, this garden beneath the grimy London sky seemed like paradise indeed.

She shivered, tugging her shawl higher over her shoulders. Lady Waldegrave's laughter rippled through the dusk from the open window of the back parlor, echoed by the lower rumbling amusement of a gentleman. There was always at least one gentleman laughing somewhere in the house at this time of the evening, often more than one, before the other ladies arrived. Every chair around the long mahogany table would be full at supper, for widowed Lady Waldegrave craved company and amusement, and couldn't bear to be alone.

It was, Cora suspected sadly, the real reason she herself had been granted this uneasy haven. Even Lady Waldegrave's sense of duty must have its limit. To keep from finding it, Cora always took care to hide her own sorrows, and played instead the ever-cheerful companion, neither a servant nor a poor relation, but hardly an honored guest, either.

Yet when Cora considered how much Lady Waldegrave must be risking for her sake, this exchange seemed more than fair. She'd be unforgivably ungrateful to think otherwise.

But late at night, alone in her dark little chamber up under the eaves, loneliness and grief would eat at her until she wept for all she'd lost, burying her tears in her pillow and wishing that she, too, had died with the others. Which was why, now, it was so important that she find Starlight.

She pushed aside the trailing branches of the beech tree and peered into the shadows beneath. The long, heavy branches reached the ground, making a leafy cave in this corner of the garden that was exactly the kind of place where Starlight would love to hide. Unfortunately, it was also the kind of place that harbored a great many spiders, enough to make Cora hesitate before ducking inside.

"Starlight?" she called, parting the branches like a curtain as she tried to find him in the darkest shadows.

"So help me, if you're hiding in here the better to tease and vex me, why, I'll vow I'll have to -- "

"Have to what?" asked a man behind her, and with a frightened gasp she jerked around to face him.

"I didn't mean to startle you," the man continued. "Better for you to hear me, I figured, than to turn about and bump into me outright."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Cora with automatic, icy formality meant to mask the pounding of her heart. From what she could see of him here in the shadows, he didn't look like a sheriff or magistrate, and he certainly wasn't acting like one, but then that might be his way of toying with her before he made his arrest. "This is a private garden, sir, and intruders are not welcome."

"Oh, aye, but you see I'm here at this house by invitation," he said easily. "Same as you, aren't you? You and whoever it is who's teasing and vexing you."

Whoever that might be, thought Cora unhappily, other than himself, blocking her path back to the house like another brick wall. Not that she could fault him for assuming she was another guest. Although her hair had come half unpinned from ducking through the bushes, the castoff silk gown from Lady Waldegrave that she wore was still more than grand enough for a fashionable supper.

He tipped his head back a fraction. "I thought you might need a bit of help, sweetheart, that's all."

"I don't wish for your help, sir." She should never have come out here so late and let herself be caught alone, even in a place she'd always believed was safe. "What I wish is for you to leave at once."

"At once, lass?" He shook his head ruefully. "And here I thought you were going to let me be useful. Come, let me have a peek at this base scoundrel you've hidden away in the tree."

He tried to look past her, leaning too close, and she scuttled backward until her hands brushed the drooping branches. She was trapped now, she thought with rising panic, trapped between him and the murk full of spiders.

"You protect your rascal, then?" he asked, shifting to where the last bit of evening light over the wall caught his face. "You don't truly wish to see him throttled?"

Swiftly Cora shook her head. Poor little Starlight would be even more terrified of this great looming giant than she was herself. The man's voice was deep, his words accented with a rough, ungentlemanly edge. Not that Lady Waldegrave would care, not when she doled out her invitations to supper. She'd overlook a great deal more than a provincial accent if it came with a face as handsome as this man's.

And Lord, he was handsome. Cora might be frightened half out of her wits, but she wasn't blind. It wasn't just the firm cut of his jaw with the neat cleft in the chin or the strong, straight nose and dark brows that matched his thick, black, unpowdered hair or the keenest blue eyes she'd ever seen. Such things mattered, of course. Even Cora knew that.

But what set him apart from the other handsome men who'd come to Lady Waldegrave's house was the undeniably, unavoidably masculine self-confidence that went along with those regular features. It wasn't the petulance that so many of the spoiled young blades here in London displayed, nor the aristocratic arrogance of their fathers. This man had the assurance that came from knowing he was capable of doing whatever he wished and not being crossed. In any group of men, he'd be the leader, the one who stood out, the one the others would respect and obey without question, and fear, too, if it came to that.

God knows Cora was more than a little afraid of him herself, and it was taking all her willpower not to run like a coward and abandon poor Starlight.

Poor Starlight, and herself, too, she thought, her heart racing even faster with fear and excitement. For what if this man was the one, the one her father had promised would come? What if he'd come here, now, to help set her lost world back to rights?

What if he were the one?

"What a brave, loyal, little creature you are," he said with a half-smile that showed a single lopsided dimple. "Rare and most admirable, especially in a woman. I hope the rascal you're hiding is worth it."

As frightened as she was, she very nearly smiled back. It had charm, that lopsided dimple of his, enough charm to soften and gentle the harshness of the man's face into something more pleasing than Cora had dreamed possible. When she'd tried to imagine this moment, late at night when she could not sleep, the man had been stern, severe, the way saviors were supposed to be. He certainly hadn't been graced with the kind of grin that likely had been making women smile in return and forgive him every sin since he'd been a babe in the cradle.

Until now, Cora told herself with fierce determination. She had no more use for charm in her life than she had for trust, especially not the charm of dark, handsome men in shadowy gardens. She'd need more than that from him, much more, and he'd have to prove to her that he was capable, just as he'd have to earn her trust with more than a smile.

"What is your reason for being here, sir?" she asked, lifting her chin with what she prayed he'd interpret as boundless confidence.

"Reason?" There was that dimple again. "The drawing room was warm. My hostess was demanding. My sister was shrieking. Do you need any more?"

Cora frowned, wishing he'd offered something more substantial. "You didn't come here specifically to see me?"

"Oh, sweetheart." He frowned. "You're forcing me to be either untruthful or ungallant."

"Truthful, then," she said. "For you couldn't be gallant and lie."

He sighed. "Then the truth it must be. Before I found you here I didn't know you existed, which would have made it damnably hard to come seek you out."

"Ah." She nodded, disappointment sinking like a stone through her breast. She'd expected more from him, but likely she'd just granted the qualities of a hero to him simply because she'd wished it so badly herself and because his eyes were such a bonnie, bonnie blue. "Then perhaps it's better if you leave me. Yes, that would be best."

He flung one arm out by way of apology. "There now, you're punishing me for telling the truth you sought."

"Not to punish you, sir," she said, "but to preserve my reputation. If you do not leave directly, then I shall shout for the manservants to come."

He studied her long enough that she felt herself flush.

"No," he said finally. "You won't."

"Oh, yes, I shall," she said warmly. "You misread my resolve, sir."

"It has nothing to do with resolve, sweetheart. You won't call or shout or scream because you're not supposed to be here, either. Especially not with that cowardly bastard still hiding in the bushes that you -- oww!" Wincing, he reached up to rub his hand back and forth across the front of his coat, over his heart.

"Are you -- are you ill?" she asked uncertainly. The man she needed must be strong, not weak, or else he'd never do. "I can -- oh, my, whatever happened to your hand?"

"This?" He glanced down at the back of his hand -- the knuckles swollen, the broken skin angry and bruised -- with the sort of careless modesty men always affected after scrapes. "Defending a lady's good name, that's how I've come by that, and now I've -- blast, that's enough." He jerked open the top buttons on his coat and slipped his hand inside.

"Here you go, you little devil," he said, carefully drawing out a small black kitten. "Wishing to pay your respects to this lady is one thing, but clawing me to bits to do so is quite another."

"Starlight!" cried Cora with joy and relief as she reached eagerly for the little cat in the man's hand. "Oh, thank you so much for finding him!"

"But this can't be your Starlight," said the man, as he protectively lifted the kitten away from Cora's hands. "This kit belongs to my sister, and his name's Blackie."

But he didn't and it wasn't, thought Cora, her desperation growing. He was her Starlight, her own little cat with the white patch on his forehead, the one she'd found not a week before shivering here in this very garden. She'd taken him in, warmed him and fed him and lavished all the love she'd held locked away for two years upon his small furry head. He was a stray like herself, lost and unwanted, and he'd become her charge, her secret, her one single friend who'd listen endlessly to whatever she whispered into his small pointed ear.

"Hey, Starlight, Starlight," she said softly, and the kitten's ears pricked toward her. He mewed, little more than a squeak of greeting, and leaned as far as he dared out of the giant's hand toward her.

"I tell you, lass, he's Blackie, not Starlight," said the man with surprising gentleness in his voice. She liked that gentleness, just as she liked the kindness he'd showed her cat, both qualities that were precious rare in her life now. "I chose him from the litter myself for my sister this very afternoon. I'm sorry if you've lost your kitten, but you're mistaken about this one."

"But I'm not!" cried Cora impatiently. "He's Starlight, and he's mine, not yours, and I'm not going to give him up!"

Before the man could answer she rushed forward and seized the kitten in both hands. Starlight knew her, she could tell, his little body trembling as she cradled him close to her breast, his tail curling against her wrist.

Before the man could grab him back, she turned and ran, darting through the garden, ducking beneath the branches, and not once looking over her shoulder.

"Come back here, girl!" the man shouted, crashing through the bushes after her. "Come back with my cat!"

But Starlight was hers, and Cora wasn't going to give him up, and what was more, she knew the way through the dark garden and the man didn't. Swiftly she reached the safety of the kitchen, slipping unnoticed through the confusion of Cook preparing supper. She ran up the back stairs and down the dark hall to her room and shut the door tight after her, wedging the chair beneath the knob to be doubly sure. Then she huddled on the bed against the wall in the dark with her feet curled beneath her and the little cat in her lap, her heart pounding and her breath ragged in her ears.

"He'll never dare follow us now, Starlight," she whispered into the kitten's fur. "Most likely we'll never see him again."

Starlight purred his contentment, and licked his rough tongue across her thumb. Cora took comfort in the tiny gesture, and yet at the same time her thoughts raced on.

Had her kitten done the same to the man who'd called him Blackie? Had he mewed happily, and nestled closer in the safe, cozy nest between his chest and the wool of his coat? Would Starlight have been as happy to have stayed with the man, to have shared his life and adventures in the wide world instead of being penned in so tightly with her? Would the man with the blue eyes and dimpled smile have made him happy? And could he have done the same for her as well, and helped her reclaim the freedom she'd thought lost?

"Oh, Starlight," she whispered, heedless of the tears that were wetting the little cat's fur. "What if he was the one, kitten? What if I ran away from him, and he was the one?"

Copyright © 2000 by Miranda Jarrett

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Delightful eighteenth century romance

    In 1747 London, Massachusetts shipmaster Alexander Fairbourne hates the rules of engagement that gentlemen must follow when mingling among the aristocracy. However, he puts up with it to a point for the sake of his sister, Diana, who plans to take the city by storm and make a suitable marriage. Meanwhile, while walking together, an elderly woman accosts the pair and gives Diana a kitten that allegedly will find her true love for her. <P>Alexander holds the kitten when he meets Cora MacGillivray. She insists the kitten is hers and takes off with it. To his surprise, Alexander is very attracted to the enigmatic Cora. In turn, she wonders if he is the one to save her and bring happiness back into her life. <P> Miranda Jarrett¿s eighteenth century romances are always a delight due to the strong charcaters and the feel of a bygone era. Her latest tale, STARLIGHT, is another winner for sub-genre fans. Alexander and Cora are an enchanting couple struggling with a seemingly forbidden yet desirable attraction. The story line is fun and filled with non-stop action as expected from a Ms. Jarrett novel. <P>Harriet Klausner

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