Orphaned and besieged, Princess Alesandra knows that only a hasty marriage to an Englishman can protect her from the turmoil in her own land. The bold, raven-haired beauty instantly captivates London society, much to the amusement of her makeshift guardian, Colin, younger brother of the Marquess of Cainewood.
But when Alesandra is nearly abducted by her unscrupulous countrymen, Colin knows he must protect her and offers a marriage that should be in name alone—until their first kiss ignites a wildfire in his soul. As the lovely princess dashes headlong into unforseen dangers, Colin will risk his own life to save her and claim Alessandra as his own—forever...
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
What a great time it is for booklovers. There are so many ways for us to read books from our favorite authors these days. Until recently, I never left home without a book in my bag. Now, thanks to my e-reader, I can carry hundreds with me.
My contemporary novels have all been formatted as e-books, and I’m delighted that most of my earlier historicals can now be downloaded, too. I had so much fun writing these stories, and I hope you enjoy them.
I am often asked which of my books is my favorite. It’s difficult to pick favorites. Whatever book I am writing has my undivided attention, so my favorite characters are usually the ones I am spending the most time with. For that reason, I am most excited about Sweet Talk, which Dutton will publish in August 2012. So before you dip into this earlier book of mine, I have included the first chapter of Sweet Talk here. It is the only place you can get a sneak peek at my new book, and I hope you love these characters as much as I do. As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts about all of my novels on Facebook or on my website (www.juliegarwood.com).
I am grateful that you have purchased this book, whatever the format. Happy reading!
Olivia MacKenzie was certain she would have been offered the job if she hadn’t punched the boss during the interview. But knocking the man senseless turned out to be a real deal breaker.
The CEO of one of the largest investment firms in the country, Eric Jorguson, was now being questioned by an FBI agent. He wasn’t cooperating. The agent had taken Jorguson to the opposite side of the terrace and was trying to get him to calm down and answer his questions. Jorguson was busy screaming at Olivia, threatening to have her killed and also sue her because she’d broken his jaw. She hadn’t done any such thing, of course. The man was exaggerating. She’d smashed his nose in, not his jaw. A waiter wearing the name tag TERRY pinned to his black vest stood next to her trying to soothe what he referred to as her extreme case of nerves. She wanted to punch him, too.
“You’re in shock,” he told her. “That’s why you look so calm. The guy tears your dress and gropes you, and it’s only natural for you to go into shock. Don’t you think? That’s why you’re not crying and carrying on.”
Olivia looked at him. “I’m fine, really.” Now please leave me alone, she silently added.
“Hey, look,” Terry said. “They’re arresting Jorguson’s bodyguard. What’s the guy doing with a bodyguard, I wonder.” A few seconds later he answered his own question. “He must need one. Especially if he attacks other women the way he attacked you. You think you’d like to go out with me sometime?”
She smiled to ease the rejection. “I don’t think so.”
“You’re still in shock, aren’t you?”
Olivia was angry, not hysterical. She stood by the table with her arms folded across her waist as she patiently waited for the FBI agent to get to her. She had been told it wouldn’t take long.
Terry tried twice more to engage her in conversation. She was polite but firm each time he attempted to get personal.
She watched the agents while she tried to figure out how she had gotten into this bizarre situation. Job hunting wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. She had already interviewed with three other Fortune 500 companies without incident. Before she had gone to those interviews, however, she had done quite a bit of research. She didn’t have that luxury with Jorguson Investments. Because the position had just become available, she’d had less than a day to study the company’s prospectus. She should have looked more closely before she agreed to the preliminary interview. Should have, could have, she lamented.
She hated job hunting and all the inane interviews, especially since she really liked her current job and the people she worked with. But there was talk of cutbacks. Serious talk, and according to some of the other employees, Olivia didn’t have seniority. She would be one of the first laid off. It was important to her that she stay in her current job until she accomplished what she had set out to do, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. The only constant in Olivia’s life right now was the mortgage. It had to be paid, no matter what, which was why she had to have job options.
She had gone to the office an hour earlier than usual this morning, finished two case files by noon, and headed over to Seraphina, a lovely restaurant with a stunning view. The five-star restaurant overlooked a manicured terrace, with tables strategically placed under a canopy of tree branches. Beyond was the river. Lunch was going to be a treat. She’d never dined at Seraphina because of the expense, but she’d heard that the food was wonderful. Grossly overpriced, but wonderful. No peanut butter and jelly sandwich today.
The hostess showed her to a table on the south side of the terrace. It was such a beautiful day with just a slight nip in the air, perfect for lunch outside.
The preliminary interview with Xavier Cannon, the company’s lead attorney, had gone well, she thought, but he hadn’t answered some of her more pressing questions and had suggested instead that she ask Jorguson. Cannon also mentioned that, if Jorguson liked her, he would offer her the job during lunch.
Jorguson was waiting for her. She spotted him across the busy terrace. He held an open folder in his hand and was reading a paper inside it. As she drew closer she could see that it was her résumé.
For about twenty seconds she thought he was quite a charmer and a rather distinguished-looking man. He was tall and thin and had a bright, white smile.
He stood and shook her hand. “Bring the lady a drink,” he snapped impatiently to a passing waiter.
“Iced tea, please,” she said.
The waiter had already moved her chair for her, and she sat before Jorguson could come around the table to assist her.
Jorguson’s cell phone rang, and without offering an apology or an excuse for the interruption, he turned his back to her and answered. His voice was low and angry. Whoever he was talking to was getting a dressing-down. His vocabulary was crude.
So much for charming, she thought. She tried to focus on her surroundings while she waited. The linen tablecloth draped all the way to the ground, and in the center of the round table was a crystal bowl of fresh-cut flowers in every color. She looked around her and smiled. It was a really pretty day.
Jorguson finished his call. He slipped the phone into his suit jacket and gave her his full attention, but the way he was staring at her quickly made her uncomfortable. She was about to ask him if something was wrong when he said, “You’re stunning. Absolutely stunning.”
“You’re very beautiful,” he said then. “Xavier mentioned how pretty you were, but I still didn’t expect . . . that is to say, I wasn’t prepared . . .”
Olivia was horrified by his close scrutiny. His leering inspection made her skin crawl. Jorguson wasn’t just unprofessional; he was also creepy. She opened her linen napkin and placed it in her lap. She tried to turn his attention so he would stop gawking at her.
Typically she would have waited for him to lead the questioning, but the awkward silence and his inappropriate behavior compelled her to speak first.
“This morning I had a few minutes, and I pulled up your prospectus. Your company is quite impressive,” she said. “But there was a note that last year you were investigated by the FBI—”
He rudely cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Yes, but of course nothing came of it. It was simple harassment.” He continued, “They didn’t like some of my clients and wanted to make trouble, which was ridiculous. I should have sued, but I didn’t have the time.”
Sue the FBI? Was he serious or just trying to impress her with his power. His arrogance was overwhelming.
“You’re a brand-new attorney, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Only two people ranked higher than you on the bar. I cannot tell you how remarkable that is. Still, you don’t have much experience with contracts.”
“No, I don’t,” she agreed. “How did you find out about my scores? That’s confidential—”
He waved his hand in the air again, dismissing her question. The gesture irritated her. She admitted then that pretty much everything about the man irritated her.
“There were quite a few others who applied for the position, and most of them have more experience than you, but when I discovered you were Robert MacKenzie’s daughter, I moved you to the top of the list.”
“You know my father?” She couldn’t hide her surprise.
“Everyone who’s anyone knows who your father is,” he replied. “I know people who have invested in your father’s Trinity Fund and have made a handsome profit. Very impressive,” he stated with a nod. “I’m considering adding the fund to my own portfolio. No one plays the market like your father does. He seems to have a knack for choosing the right investments. If you’re half as clever as he is, you’ll go far, young lady.”
Olivia wasn’t given time to respond. He’d already moved on. “You’ll be wonderful working with our clients. With that smile of yours, you could get them to sign anything. Oh yes, they’ll be as dazzled by you as I am,” he gushed. “And I have several powerful clients. Xavier will guide you. Now then, what questions do you have for me? I have a potential client meeting me here at one, so this will have to be a quick lunch.”
“Did the SEC investigate when—”
He interrupted. “No, the SEC will never investigate me,” he boasted. “I’m protected there.”
“You’re protected? How?”
“I have a friend, and he has assured me . . .”
Her eyes widened. “You have a friend at the Securities and Exchange Commission?”
Color crept up his neck. His eyes darted to the left, then to the right. Was he checking to make sure no one was listening to the conversation?
He leaned into the table and lowered his voice. “I don’t have any worries there. As I just said, I won’t be investigated, and since you’re going to be working closely with me, I don’t want you to be concerned.”
Working closely with him? That thought made her cringe.
“About this friend . . .” she began.
“No more questions about the SEC,” he snapped. He wasn’t looking into her eyes now. He was staring at her chest. The longer he stared, the more indignant she became. She considered snapping her fingers several times in front of his eyes to get his attention but, wanting to remain composed and professional, decided to ask a question about the investments he’d made.
Jorguson was slick; she’d give him that much. He danced around each question but never really gave her any satisfactory answers.
The topic eventually returned to the SEC. “Who is your contact?” she asked, wondering if he would tell her. He was so smug and arrogant, she thought there was a good chance he might. She also wanted him to assure her that everything he did was legal, and she thought it was odd that he hadn’t offered any such affirmation.
“Why do you want to know? That’s confidential information.”
He was staring at her chest again. She folded her napkin, smiled at Terry the waiter when he placed her iced tea in front of her, and handed him her menu.
“I won’t be staying for lunch.”
The waiter hesitated, then took her menu, glanced at Jorguson, and walked away.
Olivia was disheartened. The salary at Jorguson Investments was good, really good, but it had taken less than five minutes to know she couldn’t work for this man.
What a waste of time, she thought. And money. She could have worn one of her old suits, but she’d wanted to stand out, so she bought a new dress. It was expensive, too. She loved the fit and the color, a deep emerald green silk. It had a high V-neck, so there was no need to wear a necklace. Diamond stud earrings, which were so tiny you could barely see the sparkle, and a watch were her only jewelry. She wore her hair down around her shoulders and had taken the time to use a curling iron.
Olivia looked at Jorguson. The degenerate was still staring at her chest. And for this she had curled her hair?
“This isn’t going to work,” she said.
She tried to stand. Jorguson suddenly bolted upright, grabbed the top of her dress, and ripped it apart. The silk material tore, exposing her collarbone and part of her black bra.
Appalled, she slapped Jorguson’s hands away. “What do you think—”
“Are you wearing a wire? You are, aren’t you? That’s why you asked me who my contact was. That investigation stalled, sweetheart. It’s not going anywhere. The FBI’s been after me for two years now, and they’ve got nothing. I know for a fact they’re following me. They won’t ever get anything on me. They like to go after successful entrepreneurs. I’m an honest businessman,” he shouted into her chest. “Now where’s the damn wire? I know it’s in there somewhere.”
Olivia was so shocked by his behavior, she bounced between disbelief and outrage. She shoved his hands away, pulled her top together, and said, “If you try to touch me again, you’ll regret it.”
He tried again, and she retaliated. She heard a crunching sound when she punched him and felt a good deal of satisfaction. It was short-lived. A giant of a man with a thick neck and bald head appeared out of nowhere. He was wearing a tailored black suit, but he looked like a thug. He was at the other end of the terrace and heading toward her. As Jorguson was screaming and holding his nose with one hand, he was waving to the big man and pointing at Olivia with the other.
“Martin, see what she did to me?” he howled. “Get her, get her.”
Get her? Was he twelve? Olivia could feel her face turning red. She kept her attention centered on the bodyguard as she jumped to her feet. His suit jacket opened, and she saw a gun. He hadn’t reached for it, though, and was glancing around to see how many people were watching.
She was in trouble, all right. She thought about taking off one of her stiletto heels and using that as a weapon, but she decided she could do more damage with it on. She spied Terry watching from the doorway with a cell phone to his ear. She hoped he was calling the police.
“Do you have a permit to carry that gun?” she demanded of the bodyguard, trying to make her voice sound as mean as possible. Now, why, in God’s name, had she asked that? What did she care if he had a permit or not? She was slowly slipping her hand inside her purse to get to her pepper spray. She couldn’t find it and realized then that, when she’d changed purses, she’d left the spray at home on her bedside table. A lot of good it would do her there.
The thug named Martin, zigzagging around the tables, was getting closer. The man was built like a sumo wrestler. Olivia figured she was on her own. The other diners were already beginning to scatter. She stepped back from the table, dropped her purse into the chair, and waited for the man to reach her. If he touched her, she’d kick him where it mattered most, and if he blocked her, she’d go for his knee or his midsection.
Jorguson, holding his bloody nose, was backing away but still pointing at her and shouting. “How dare you touch me. You’re going to be sorry. I know people who will hurt you. You don’t hit me and get away with it. Don’t you know who I am and what I can do? One phone call is all it will take,” he screamed. “You’re a dead woman, Olivia MacKenzie. Do you hear me? A dead woman.”
Of course she’d heard him. She thought everyone within a ten-block area had heard him. She refused to give him any satisfaction by reacting, though, and that was probably why he was becoming more outrageous with his threats.
Her attention remained centered on the bodyguard. She thought he would do his best to intimidate her in front of his employer, maybe even try to get her to apologize to Jorguson—hell would freeze before she’d do that—but he surely wouldn’t touch her. Not in front of all these people.
Or maybe he wouldn’t care who was watching. Jorguson had shouted his intent to have her killed. Would this bodyguard try to top that crazy threat?
There was a wall of windows in the restaurant facing the river, and diners were crammed together, their faces plastered to the glass. Some had their cell phones glued to their ears; others were using the cell phone cameras to record the incident . . . for YouTube, no doubt. Certainly, most of them had witnessed Jorguson ripping her dress and then screaming after she’d punched him. The man had howled like an outraged hyena. Surely they’d heard his ridiculous threats, too.
The bodyguard took Jorguson’s orders to “get her” to heart. He lunged. He grabbed her upper arm and twisted as he jerked her toward him. Pain shot up into her neck and down to her fingers. His grip was strong enough to break her bone.
He glanced over his shoulder at the crowd before turning back to her. “You’re coming with me,” he ordered.
A woman rushed out of the restaurant shouting, “You leave her alone.” At the same time, two men in business suits ran past the woman to help Olivia.
“Let go of me,” she demanded as she slammed the heel of her shoe into the top of his foot.
He grunted and let go. Olivia got in a solid kick, and he doubled over. But not for long. He quickly recovered and, roaring several grossly unflattering names at her, straightened and reached for his gun. His face was now bloodred.
Good Lord, was he going to shoot her? The look in his eyes suggested that he might. Apparently, Martin had forgotten his audience, or he no longer cared he was being watched. His impulse control had vanished. He had the most hateful look on his face as he pulled the gun from the waistband of his pants. The two businessmen coming to her aid stopped when they spotted the weapon.
“I said you’re coming with me,” he snarled as he lunged.
“No, I’m not.” She threw a twelve-dollar glass of iced tea at him. He ducked.
“Bitch.” He spit the word and tried to grab her again.
“I’m not going anywhere with you. Now get away from me.”
The gun seemed to be growing in his hand. She backed away from him, and that infuriated him even more. He came at her again, and before she could protect herself, he backhanded her. He struck the side of her face, his knuckles clipping her jaw. It was a hard hit and hurt like hell. The blow threw her backward, but even as she was falling, she didn’t take her eyes off the gun.
She landed on her backside, winced from the impact on her tailbone, and quickly staggered to her feet.
She understood what the expression “seeing stars” meant. Dazed, she tried to back away.
The thug raised his gun again, and suddenly he was gone. Olivia saw a blur fly past her, tackling the bodyguard to the ground. The gun went one way, and the thug went the other, landing hard. Within seconds her rescuer had the man facedown on the grass and was putting handcuffs on him while reading him his rights. When he was finished, he motioned to another man wearing a badge and gun who was rushing across the terrace.
With one of his knees pressed against the bodyguard’s spine, the rescuer turned toward her. She suddenly felt lightheaded. She could have sworn she saw an ethereal glow radiating all around him and the sound of a singing choir echoing overhead. She closed her eyes and shook her head. The blow to her jaw must be making her hallucinate. When she opened her eyes again, the vision and the choir were gone, but the man was still there, looking up at her with beautiful hazel eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked as he hauled the bodyguard to his feet.
“Olivia MacKenzie,” she answered. She sounded bewildered, but she couldn’t help that. The last few minutes had been hair-raising, and she was having trouble forming a clear thought.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Agent Grayson Kincaid. FBI. Are you all right?”
“I’ve been better.”
“Maybe you should sit down.”
The bodyguard finally found his voice. “I was protecting my boss.”
“With a Glock?” Kincaid asked. “And against an unarmed woman?”
“She kicked me.”
A hint of a smile turned his expression. “Yeah, I saw.”
“I’m bringing charges.”
“You attacked her,” Kincaid snapped. “If I were you, I’d be real quiet right now.”
The bodyguard ignored the suggestion. “Mr. Jorguson has known for a long time that the FBI has been tailing him and listening in on his private conversations. What you’re doing is illegal, but you people don’t play by the rules, do you?”
“Stop talking,” Kincaid said.
Another agent grabbed hold of the bodyguard’s arm and led him away. He didn’t go peacefully. He was shouting for a lawyer.
“Hey, Ronan,” Kincaid shouted.
The agent dragging the bodyguard away turned back. “Yeah?”
“Did you see it?”
Ronan smiled. “Oh yeah, I saw it all. After I put this clown in the back of the car, I’ll go get Jorguson.”
Olivia glanced around the terrace. In all the commotion she hadn’t seen him slip away.
Kincaid nodded, then turned back to her.
“The gun is under the table,” she offered.
“I’ll get it,” Kincaid said.
He walked over to her, and she flinched when he reached out to touch her. Frowning, he said, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to see how bad it is.”
“It’s fine,” she insisted. “I’m fine.”
He ignored her protest. He gently pushed her hair away from the side of her face. “Your cheek’s okay, but he really clipped your jaw. It’s already starting to swell. You need to put ice on it. Maybe I should take you to the emergency room, have a physician look at your arm, too. I saw the way he twisted it.”
“I’ll be all right. I’ll ice it,” she promised when he looked like he wanted to argue.
He took a step back and said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to him faster.”
“You got here before he shot me. He really was going to shoot me, wasn’t he?” She was still astounded by the possibility and getting madder by the second.
“He might have tried,” he agreed.
She frowned. “You’re awfully nonchalant about it.”
“I would have taken him down before he shot you.”
Her cell phone rang. She checked the number, then sent the call to voice mail. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man rounding the corner of the building and glaring at her. He stormed toward her, just as Kincaid bent to retrieve the bodyguard’s gun.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” the man shouted.
Since he was wearing a gun and badge, she knew he was also FBI. “Excuse me?”
“You ruined a perfectly good sting. Were you wearing a wire? Did you get anything we could use? No, I didn’t think so. You weren’t supposed to be here until one. We weren’t ready.”
The agent screaming at her was an older man, late fifties, she guessed. His face was bright red, and his anger could light fires.
He moved closer until he was all but touching her, but she refused to be intimidated. “Stop yelling at me.”
“She’s not with the FBI,” Kincaid said.
“How . . .” The confused agent took a step back. He looked at Olivia, then at Kincaid.
“I’d know if she was. Your undercover woman hasn’t shown up yet.”
“Two months’ planning,” the agent muttered. He pointed at Olivia. “Are you wearing a wire? Jorguson seems to think you are. Are you with a newspaper or—”
“Poole, leave her the hell alone,” Kincaid said.
Poole was staring at her chest. Uh-oh. Olivia knew where this was going.
“If you think you’re going to look for a wire, be advised. I’ll punch you, too,” she warned.
Distraught to have his investigation fall apart, Agent Poole stepped closer and said, “Listen, you. Don’t threaten me. I could make your life a nightmare.” He put his hand in front of her face and unfolded three fingers as he said, “I’m F . . . B . . . I.”
She smiled. It wasn’t the reaction he expected. “You want to talk nightmares?” she said. She put her hand up to his face and unfolded her three fingers. “I’m I . . . R . . . S.”
A Note from the Author about SWEET TALK
Excerpt from SWEET TALK
More Books by Julie Garwood
Teaser Chapter for THE IDEAL MAN
About the Author
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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PUBLISHER’ S NOTE
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For Sharon Felice Murphy,
an easy listener, an inspiration,
a source of joy.
What would I do without you?
He was a real lady killer.
The foolish woman never had a chance. She never knew she was being stalked, never guessed her secret admirer’s real intent.
He believed he killed her with kindness. He was proud of that accomplishment. He could have been cruel. He wasn’t. The craving eating away at him demanded to be appeased, and even though erotic thoughts of torture aroused him to a fever pitch, he hadn’t given in to the base urge. He was a man, not an animal. He was after self-gratification, and the chit certainly deserved to die, yet he’d still shown true compassion. He had been very kind—considering.
She had, after all, died smiling. He deliberately caught her so by surprise he only glimpsed one quick spasm of terror in her cow brown eyes before it was over. He crooned to her then, like any good master would croon to his injured pet, letting her hear the sound of his compassion all the while he was strangling her, and he didn’t stop his song of sympathy until the killing was finished and he knew she couldn’t hear him.
He hadn’t been without mercy. Even when he was certain she was dead, he gently turned her face away from him before he allowed himself to smile. He wanted to laugh, with relief because it was finally over, and with satisfaction because it had gone so very well, but he didn’t dare make a sound now, for somewhere in the back of his mind lurked the thought that such undignified behavior would make him seem more monster than man, and he certainly wasn’t a monster. No, no, he didn’t hate women, he admired them—most anyway —and to those he considered redeemable, he was neither cruel nor heartless.
He was terribly clever though. There wasn’t any shame in admitting that truth. The chase had been invigorating, but from start to finish he had been able to predict her every reaction. Granted, her own vanity had helped him immensely. She was a naive chit who thought of herself as worldly—a dangerous misconception—and he had proven to be far too cunning for the likes of her.
There had been sweet irony in his choice of weapons. He had planned to use his dagger to kill her. He wanted to feel the blade sink deep inside her, craved the feel of her hot blood as it poured over his hands each time he slammed the knife into her soft, smooth skin. Carve the fowl, carve the fowl. The command echoed in his mind. He hadn’t given in to his desire, however, for he was still stronger than his inner voice, and on the spur of the moment he decided not to use the dagger at all. The diamond necklace he’d given her was draped around her neck. He grabbed hold of the expensive trinket and used it to squeeze the life out of her. He thought the weapon was most appropriate. Women liked trinkets, this one more than most. He even considered burying the necklace with her, but just as he was about to pour the clumps of lime over her body he’d gathered from the cliffs to hurry the decay, he changed his inclination and put the necklace in his pocket.
He walked away from the grave without a backward glance. He felt no remorse, no guilt. She’d served him well and now he was content.
A thick mist covered the ground. He didn’t notice the lime powder on his boots until he had reached the main road. He wasn’t bothered by the fact that his new Wellingtons were probably ruined. Nothing was going to blemish his glow of victory. He felt as though all his burdens had been lifted away. But there was more, too—the rush he’d felt again, that magnificent euphoria he’d experienced when he had his hands on her. . . . Oh, yes, this one was even better than the last.
She’d made him feel alive again. The world was once again rosy with choices for such a strong, virile man.
He knew he would feed on the memory of tonight for a long, long while. And then, when the glow began to ebb, he would go hunting again.
Mother Superior Mary Felicity had always believed in miracles, but in all of her sixty-seven years on this sweet earth, she had never actually witnessed one until the frigid day in February of 1820 when the letter arrived from England.
At first the mother superior had been afraid to believe the blessed news, for she feared it was trickery on the devil’s part to get her hopes up and then dash them later, but after she had dutifully answered the missive and received a second confirmation with the Duke of Williamshire’s seal affixed, she accepted the gift for what it truly was.
They were finally going to get rid of the hellion. The mother superior shared her good news with the other nuns the following morning at matins. That evening they celebrated with duck soup and freshly baked black bread. Sister Rachael was positively giddy and had to be admonished twice for laughing out loud during evening vespers.
The hellion—or, rather, Princess Alesandra—was called into the mother superior’s stark office the following afternoon. While she was being given the news of her departure from the convent, Sister Rachael was busy packing her bags.
The mother superior sat in a high-backed chair behind a wide desk as scarred and old as she was. The nun absentmindedly fingered the heavy wooden beads of her rosary, hooked to the side of her black habit, while she waited for her charge to react to the announcement.
Princess Alesandra was stunned by the news. She gripped her hands together in a nervous gesture and kept her head bowed so the mother superior wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
“Do sit down, Alesandra. I don’t wish to talk to the top of your head.”
“As you wish, Mother.” She sat on the very edge of the hard chair, straightened her posture to please the superior, and then clasped her hands together in her lap.
“What do you think of this news?” the mother superior asked.
“It was the fire, wasn’t it, Mother? You still haven’t forgiven me that mishap.”
“Nonsense,” the mother superior replied. “I forgave you that thoughtlessness over a month ago.”
“Was it Sister Rachael who convinced you to send me away? I did tell her how sorry I was, and her face isn’t nearly as green anymore.”
The mother superior shook her head. She frowned, too, for Alesandra was inadvertently getting her all riled up over the reminders of some of her antics.
“Why you believed that vile paste would remove freckles is beyond my understanding. However, Sister Rachael did agree to the experiment. She doesn’t blame you . . . overly much,” she hastened to add so the lie she was telling would only be considered a venial sin in God’s eyes. “Alesandra, I didn’t write to your guardian requesting your leave. He wrote to me. Here is the Duke of Williamshire’s letter. Read it and then you’ll see I’m telling you the truth.”
Alesandra’s hand shook when she reached for the missive. She quickly scanned the contents before handing the letter back to her superior.
“You can see the urgency, can’t you? This General Ivan your guardian mentions sounds quite disreputable. Do you remember meeting him?”
Alesandra shook her head. “We visited father’s homeland several times, but I was very young. I don’t remember meeting him. Why in heaven’s name would he want to marry me?”
“Your guardian understands the general’s motives,” the mother superior replied. She tapped the letter with her fingertips. “Your father’s subjects haven’t forgotten you. You’re still their beloved princess. The general has a notion that if he marries you, he’ll be able to take over the kingdom with the support of the masses. It’s a clever plan.”
“But I don’t wish to marry him,” Alesandra whispered.
“And neither does your guardian wish it,” the superior said. “He believes the general won’t take no for an answer, however, and will take you by force if necessary to insure his success. That is why the Duke of Williamshire wants guards to journey with you to England.”
“I don’t want to leave here, Mother. I really don’t.”
The anguish in Alesandra’s voice tugged at the mother superior’s heart. Forgotten for the moment were all the mischievous schemes Princess Alesandra had gotten involved in over the past years. The superior remembered the vulnerability and the fear in the little girl’s eyes when she and her ailing mother had first arrived. Alesandra had been quite saintly while her mother lived. She had been so very young—only twelve—and had lost her dear father just six months before. Yet the child had shown tremendous strength. She took on the full responsibility of caring for her mother day and night. There was never any possibility her mother would recover. Her illness destroyed her body and her mind, and toward the end, when she had been crazed with her pain, Alesandra would climb into her mother’s sickbed and take the frail woman into her arms. She would gently rock her back and forth and sing tender ballads to her, her voice that of an angel. Her love for her mother had been achingly beautiful to see. When at last the devil’s torture was finished, her mother died in her daughter’s arms.
Alesandra wouldn’t allow anyone to comfort her. She wept during the dark hours of the night, alone in her cell, the white curtains surrounding her cubicle blocking out none of her sobs from the postulants.
Her mother was buried on the grounds behind the chapel in a lovely, flower-bordered grotto. Alesandra couldn’t abide the thought of leaving her. The grounds of the convent were adjacent to the family’s second home, Stone Haven, but Alesandra wouldn’t even journey there for a visitation.
“I had thought I would stay here forever,” Alesandra whispered.
“You must look upon this as your destiny unfolding,” the mother superior advised. “One chapter of your life is closing and another is about to open up.”
Alesandra lowered her head again. “I wish to have all my chapters here, Mother. You could deny the Duke of Williamshire’s request if you wished, or stall him with endless correspondence until he forgot about me.”
“And the general?”
Alesandra had already thought of an answer to that dilemma. “He wouldn’t dare breach this sanctuary. I’m safe as long as I stay here.”
“A man lusting for power will not care if he breaks the holy laws governing this convent, Alesandra. He certainly would breach our sanctuary. Do you realize you are also suggesting I deceive your dear guardian?”
The nun’s voice held a note of reproach in it. “No, Mother,” Alesandra answered with a little sigh, knowing full well that was the answer the nun wished to hear. “I suppose it would be wrong to deceive . . .”
The wistfulness in her voice made the mother superior shake her head. “I will not accommodate you. Even if there was a valid reason . . .”
Alesandra jumped on the possibility. “Oh, but there is,” she blurted out. She took a deep breath, then announced, “I have decided to become a nun.”
The mere thought of Alesandra joining their holy order sent chills down the mother superior’s spine. “Heaven help us all,” she muttered.
“It’s because of the books, isn’t it, Mother? You want to send me away because of that little . . . fabrication.”
“Alesandra . . .”
“I only made the second set of books so the banker would give you the loan. You refused to use my funds, and I knew how much you needed the new chapel . . . what with the fire and all. And you did get the loan, didn’t you? God has surely forgiven me my deception, and He must have wanted me to alter the numbers in the accounts or He never would have given me such a fine head for figures. Would he, Mother Superior? In my heart, I know He forgave me my bit of trickery.”
“Trickery? I believe the correct word is larceny,” the mother superior snapped.
“Nay, Mother,” Alesandra corrected. “Larceny means to pilfer and I didn’t pilfer anything. I merely amended.”
The fierce frown on the superior’s face told Alesandra she shouldn’t have contradicted her, or brought up the still tender topic of the bookkeeping.
“About the fire . . .”
“Mother, I have already confessed my sorrow over that unfortunate mishap,” Alesandra rushed out. She hurried to change the subject before the superior could get all riled up again. “I was very serious when I said I would like to become a nun. I believe I have the calling.”
“Alesandra, you aren’t Catholic.”
“I would convert,” Alesandra fervently promised.
A long minute passed in silence. Then the mother superior leaned forward. The chair squeaked with her movement. “Look at me,” she commanded.
She waited until the princess had complied with her order before speaking again. “I believe I understand what this is really all about. I’m going to give you a promise,” she said, her voice a soothing whisper. “I’ll take good care of your mother’s grave. If anything should happen to me, then Sister Justina or Sister Rachael will tend to it. Your mother won’t be forgotten. She’ll continue to be in our prayers every day. That is my promise to you.”
Alesandra burst into tears. “I cannot leave her.”
The mother superior stood up and hurried over to Alesandra’s side. She put her arm around her shoulders and patted her. “You won’t be leaving her behind. She will always be in your heart. She would want you to get on with your life.”
Tears streamed down Alesandra’s face. She mopped them away with the backs of her hands. “I don’t know the Duke of Williamshire, Mother. I only met him once and I barely recall what he looked like. What if I don’t get along with him? What if he doesn’t want me? I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Please let me stay here.”
“Alesandra, you seem determined to believe I have a choice in the matter and that simply isn’t true. I too must obey your guardian’s request. You’re going to do just fine in England. The Duke of Williamshire has six children of his own. One more isn’t going to be a bother.”
“I’m not a child any longer,” Alesandra reminded the nun. “And my guardian is probably very old and weary by now.”
The mother superior smiled. “The Duke of Williamshire was chosen and named guardian over you years ago by your father. He had good reason for naming the Englishman. Have faith in your father’s judgment.”
“You can lead a happy life, Alesandra,” the mother superior continued. “As long as you remember to use a little restraint. Think before you act. That’s the key. You have a sound mind. Use it.”
“Thank you for saying so, Mother.”
“Quit acting so submissive. It isn’t like you at all. I have one more bit of advice to offer you and I want your full attention. Do sit up straight. A princess does not slump.”
If she sat any straighter, she thought, her spine might snap. Alesandra thrust her shoulders back a bit more and knew she’d satisfied the nun when she nodded.
“As I was saying,” the mother superior continued. “It never mattered here that you were a princess, but it will matter in England. Appearances must be kept up at all times. You simply cannot allow spontaneous actions to rule your life. Now tell me, Alesandra, what are the two words I’ve asked you again and again to take to heart?”
“Dignity and decorum, Mother.”
“May I come back here . . . if I find I don’t like my new life?”
“You will always be welcomed back here,” the mother superior promised. “Go now and help Sister Rachael with the packing. You’ll be leaving in the dead of night as a precautionary measure. I’ll wait in the chapel to say my good-bye.”
Alesandra stood up, made a quick curtsy, then left the room. The mother superior stood in the center of the small chamber and stared after her charge for a long while. She had believed it was a miracle the princess was leaving. The mother superior had always followed a rigid schedule. Then Alesandra came into her life, and schedules became nonexistent. The nun didn’t like chaos, but chaos and Alesandra seemed to go hand in hand. Yet the minute the strong-willed princess walked out of the office, the mother superior’s eyes filled with tears. It was as though the sun had just been covered with dark clouds.
Heaven help her, she was going to miss the imp and her antics.
London, England, 1820
They’d called him the Dolphin. He’d called her the Brat. Princess Alesandra didn’t know why her guardian’s son Colin had been given the nickname of a sea mammal, but she was well aware of the reason behind his nickname for her. She’d earned it. She really had been a brat when she was a little girl, and the only time Colin and his older brother, Caine, had been in her company, she’d misbehaved shamefully. Granted, she had been very young—spoiled, too—a natural circumstance given the fact that she was an only child and was constantly being doted upon by relatives and servants alike. But her parents had both been gifted with patient natures, and they ignored her obnoxious behavior until she finally outgrew the temper tantrums and learned a little restraint.
Alesandra had been very young when her parents took her with them to England for a short visit. She had only a vague memory of the Duke and Duchess of Williamshire, didn’t remember the daughters at all, and only had a hazy recollection of the two older sons. Caine and Colin. They were both giants in her mind, but then she had been very little and they had both been fully grown men. Her memory had probably exaggerated their size. She was certain she wouldn’t be able to recognize either brother in a crowd today. She hoped Colin had forgotten her past behavior as well as the fact that he’d called her a brat. Getting along with Colin would make everything so much easier to endure. The two duties she was about to undertake were going to be difficult, and having a safe haven at the end of each day was really quite imperative.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
~*Hey i'm only 15 and i read this book, i really loved it and everyone of my friends read it too and they loved it. This book has a love story that will just warm your heart to the very bottom. It's sweet, loving, heart warming, humorous and all of the above. I read this book 3 times and still can't put it down. I really recommend this book to all.*~
Because I find that I am put off by reviews with spoilers, I want to begin by saying that ALL reviews with spoilers should begin with "SPOILER ALERT" AS THE BEGINNING STATEMENT! With that said, Julia Garwood's Castles is a wonderful story with great characters, plot, and themes (I WON'T EVEN SPOIL THE THEMES FOR YOU)! But I will recommend curling up with this wonderful, smart book for an afternoon' s entertainment. Two thumbs up!
This was the first Garwood i ever read and was totally hooked!
castles made me laugh the whole time i was reading the book ! it was amazingly refreshing & hilarious. it was also, actually the second book i've read from julie garwood. i like to reread it every chance i get.
I couldn't put this book down I finish it within one day.Even if I had school the next day I kept on reading. Read this book and you'll understand why gentlemen don't like to show there soft side. You'll laugh at the way collin treats Alesandra. Go buy the book and find out whether or not collin would admit he love Alesandra........ ENJOY..........
I picked this book up randomly in Hawaii (the cover caught my eye!) to read on the airplane ride home - and I was spellbound! I stayed awake the whole flight and finished by the time we returned home. This book was fabulous! I read another Garwood book, Ransom, and was thrilled to find out that they are all just as wonderful! I suggest reading Lion's Lady, Guardian Angel, and The Gift respectively before picking up Castles (easier to follow the characters) but they are delightful in any order! Enjoy. :-)
This is a good book I love all of Julie Garwood books and own all of them!! Her highland series is wonderful!! She's a Great read but I have to say though my all time favorite is the Bride!!
I have read others by Garwood and this was my least favirite so far. Had to force myself to finish it. Borning and predictable. All of Garwoods stories have the same basic plot. Beautiful women in danger and strong handsome man saves her with varying struggles inbetween.
You can't go wrong with a Julie Garwood book. She hasn't written anything I didn't love.
A good book to fall asleep with.
Great story! But it is not a new book.
This is an old book rereleased. I do recall enjoying it though!
This book has turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time! It was so incredibly charming, romantic, sweet, funny, captivating and endearing. I was hanging on to every last word and couldn't set the book down for the life of me. The characters were so realistic and instantly captured my heart. It truly is a book to treasure and cherish.
I really loved this book. I wasn't into romance novels, until I read this book. It had me gripped. It was funny, sweet, and erotic. I loved the story of Alesandra and her spy.
I love to read Julie Garwood books they are lighthearted and easy to read. everyone who I have lent the book to has all said the same thing. My Sister who does not read very often finds them also entertaining. Although they are similar to other books all novels be they romance or not are similar. I would not have a book ant other way. I like the way Julie has of writing her books, with opening one liners. they get you interested straight away. I also enjoy the way she has mad a series of them.
Although I thoroughly enjoy Garwood's books, I feel that she's lacking. In each of her books, the main characters are always beautiful and gifted w/ handsome looks. This is not very realistic.
This one was okay but got very tedious and, well, boring. The princess was a great character, however. And Colin, fine as he was in other stories, didn't shine at all in his own story. I expected this one to be great, but I was disappointed.
I loved this book. I've probably read it at least four times. Every little girl dreams of being a princess, and Alesandra is the most wonderful princess of all. The sparks that fly between Colin and Alesandra inspire the reader to turn the pages as quickly as possible. A story full of humor, danger, and, above all, love; in the end I was left satisfied, yet yearning for the story to continue. Congratulations, Julie! It was wonderful.
I loved it. It was exciting and fun to read. Colin and Alesandra were a great couple.
I loved this book! It was extraordinary! The story is not only romantic, it's also very humorous. I recommend this to every one.
This is the first book by Julie Garwood I have read and I am totally addicted! I have read the book TWICE and have never done this before! I highly recommend this book to everyone. There is lust, love, danger, and humor. I could read it again and again and again! Julie Garwood's spellbinding story will leave you wanting to read it over and over as I did.Dont miss this read! You wont be diappointed!
This is my favorite of Julie Garwood's novels. It is just so beautiful and such a wonderful romance. I've read it twice, and I never usually do that.
This was my first Garwood book! I bought it because I loved the cover and I was quite suprised with the story, I simply loved it! I recommed it to everyone! This was my first but definately not my last! A reader from Portugal.
This was the first Julie Garwood I read and I absolutley loved it! I would reccomend it to anyone and everyone. I have read so much of Julie Garwood because of this book and 'Gentle Warrior'. I encourage you to read both of them and other ones of her because she is a very good author.
The story is good! I love the style of Garwood's writting. It's very smooth, catchy, and humorous. I really enjoy reading the book. Keep singing Garwood because every fan of yours will be listening.