Colin Oliver, Viscount Sutton, left his beloved Cornwall for London to find a bride—some comely, proper, wellborn lady to bear him an heir. Certainly not someone like Madame Alexandra Larchmont. Yes, she's the toast of the ton, and a rare beauty to be sure. But she's also a fortune-teller. And Colin has an excellent reason for keeping a sharp watch on this one . . .
The cards have warned Alexandra for years about a dark-haired stranger who would wreak havoc with her life, so when she sees him at a soiree, her first thought is to run. Unfortunately, she overhears a murder plot, and the only person she can turn to for help is a man she knows she should stay away from, a man who eyes her with an undisguised hunger.
But fate's strange turns are Alexandra's stock in trade. And if love is written in the cards, surely nothing is impossible!
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Never A Lady
By Jacquie D'Alessandro
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Jacquie D'Alessandro
All right reserved.
From The London Times Society Page:
Lord and Lady Malloran's annual soiree promises to be more exciting this year than ever as the entertaining services of the mysterious, much-sought-after fortune-teller Madame Larchmont have been secured. As Madame's provocative predictions are uncannily accurate, her presence at any party guarantees its success. Also attending will be the very eligible Viscount Sutton, who recently returned to London after an extended stay at his Cornwall estate and is rumored to be looking for a wife. Wouldn't it be delicious if Madame Larchmont told him whom it is in the cards for him to marry?
Alexandra Larchmont pinned Lady Miranda with the intense stare she knew lent her predictions extra credence. As Lady Miranda was a distant cousin to Alex's hostess, Lady Malloran, she wanted to make certain the young woman was pleased with her card reading.
"While I divine from your card reading and aura that you suffered pain in your past, your present is filled with bright promise -- parties, jewels, fabulous gowns."
Lady Miranda's eyes glittered with delight. "Excellent." She leaned closer to Alex. "What about my future?" she whispered.
She was about to look down to consult thecards when the crowd of milling party guests separated a bit and her attention was caught by the sight of a tall, dark-haired man.
Panic rippled along her nerve endings, and her muscles tensed, for in spite of the fact that four years had passed since she'd last seen him, she recognized him instantly. Under the best of circumstances, he wouldn't be a man easily forgotten -- and the circumstances of their last encounter could never be described as "best." While she didn't know his name, his image was permanently etched in her memory.
She dearly wished that's where he'd remained -- not standing a mere dozen feet away. Dear God, if he recognized her, everything she'd worked so long and hard for would be destroyed.
Her every instinct screamed at her to flee, but she remained frozen in place. As if trapped in a horrible, slow-moving nightmare, her gaze wandered down his form. Impeccably dressed in formal black attire, his dark hair gleamed under the glow of the dozens of candles flickering in the overhead chandelier. He held a crystal champagne glass, and she involuntarily shivered, rubbing her damp palms over her upper arms, recalling in vivid detail the strength in those large hands as they'd gripped her, preventing her escape. Out of necessity, she'd learned at a young age how to master her fears, but this man had alarmed and unnerved her as no one else ever had, before or since their single encounter.
The cards had repeatedly warned her about him -- the dark-haired stranger with the vivid green eyes who would wreak havoc with her existence -- years before she'd ever seen him that first time. The cards had also predicted she'd someday see him again. Unfortunately, the cards hadn't prepared her for someday being now.
Looking up, she noted with a sickening sense of alarm that his gaze moved slowly over the crowd. In a matter of seconds that gaze would fall upon her.
"Are you all right, Madame Larchmont? You've gone completely pale."
Lady Miranda's voice jerked Alex's attention away from the man, and she found herself the subject of the young woman's narrow-eyed scrutiny.
Digging deep to locate the well-practiced inscrutable mien that had always served her well, Alex said, "I'm a bit overheated, which sadly disrupts my psychic energies." The well-modulated, even-toned voice she'd perfected long ago gave no indication of her inner turmoil. "A bit of air will set me to rights and allow me once again to commune with the spirits. If you'll excuse me . . ."
Her gaze flicked back to the man. A stunning young woman she recognized as Lord Ralstrom's daughter Lady Margaret approached him, smiling in unmistakable greeting. Surely a beauty like that would keep his interest engaged long enough for her to escape.
She quickly wrapped up her cards in a square of bronze silk, slipped the deck into the deep pocket of her gown, and hastily rose. Apprehension shivered down her spine, and she felt the weight of someone's stare upon her. Her gaze snapped up, and her breath stalled.
Vivid green eyes assessed her with a piercing intensity that simultaneously chilled and heated her. And rendered her as immobile as his hands had four years ago. Her heart seemed to stutter and it flashed through her mind that there were undoubtedly dozens of women who would go to great lengths to be on the receiving end of this man's attention. She, however, was not one of them.
Did he recognize her? She couldn't tell, as his expression gave nothing away. But she did not intend to wait to find out. "The spirits are calling, I must go," she said to Lady Miranda, then executed a quick turn and melted into the crowd with an expertise born of years of practice.
Unfortunately, she didn't know where she was going, her entire being consumed with only one thought: escape. The very same thought the stranger had implanted in her the last time they'd met.
After navigating her way to the edge of the room, she halted, and frustrated dismay filled her. Damnation, in her panic, she'd fled the wrong way. Her fortune-telling table had been set up near the French windows leading outside and was, therefore, now on the opposite side of the large, crowded room. And dozens of party guests stood between her and the corridor leading to the front door -- a situation made all the more vexing, as succumbing to panic was simply not like her. Yet she couldn't deny the agitation gripping her.
She quickly scanned the crowd. Her heart stuttered when her gaze settled on the green-eyed man. His features were set in a dark scowl as he, too, scanned the crowd. Looking for her?
Spurred by the desperation she couldn't control, she slipped into the nearest corridor. . . .
Excerpted from Never A Lady by Jacquie D'Alessandro Copyright © 2006 by Jacquie D'Alessandro. Excerpted by permission.
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