Second in the beloved, hilarious Regency series that launched the career of New York Times bestselling author Katie MacAlister.
If Dare thinks he can escape his fate...
Having weathered the scandal of elopement with an Italian count who subsequently had the bad taste to die, Lady Charlotte Collins has set her sights on Alasdair "Dare" McGregor-one deliciously handsome and brilliantly inventive Scottish earl.
Then he doesn't know Charlotte
Charlotte doesn't accept that the McGregor family fortune is a sham and Dare is working desperately hard to find a way out. She has no intention of giving up one iota of either the success or the connubial bliss they both so clearly deserve. She will simply have to take their destiny into her own hands...with explosive results.
Celebrate the 80th birthday of Regency Romance with great books from Sourcebooks Casablanca!
"Imbued with a delectable sense of wit...an irresistible, laughter-laced treat." -Booklist
"Another wonderful Regency romp. Funny and fast-paced, with surprising twists...a memorable book." -RT Book Reviews
About the Author
Katie lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dogs, and can often be found lurking around online.
Read an Excerpt
By Katie MacAlister
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
"You can't leave me now! Not when I need you! How selfish is
it to leave just when I need you most? I forbid you to leave!
I absolutely forbid you to leave me in my time of Great
"I have no choice. I must leave now."
"Char, Dante needs to use the necessary before we leave. Now
please, if you have any love for me, hand over the key.
Noble's going to be in a terrible fury if he finds out you're
holding us prisoner in his library, and I can assure you from
experience that Dante does not announce his intention to
widdle unless that event is nigh on imminent."
"Gillian? Wife, where are you hiding? This is no time for
play, woman. We should have left an hour ago!" The doorknob
"Papa, have to widdle!" Dante squirmed in his mother's arms.
"Now you've done it," Gillian nodded, stepping back from the
door. "Now you've annoyed Noble. I would advise you to step
back from the doorway since he is sure to-"
Three sudden bangs against the door at her back caused
Charlotte to jump a good foot off the ground.
"-want in. We're in here, my love," Gillian called loudly.
"Charlotte seems to have misplaced the key. We won't be a
moment finding it."
"WANT TO WIDDLE!"
"What's that? Charlotte? What the devil is she doing here? I
thought she ran off to be some Italian's mistress years ago?"
"I didn't run off, we eloped!" Charlotte bellowed at the door.
"We were married in Paris. It was romantic!"
"It doesn't matter. Open the door! Gillian, we have to leave.
"Charlotte," Gillian said, her voice low and urgent.
Charlotte, eyeing the door with alarm as the Black Earl
pounded on it demanding immediate entrance, paid heed to the
steely note in her closest friend and relative's voice. "I
understand you're terribly upset, and I know you've had a
horrible time returning to England from what sounds like a
perfectly ghastly old ruins in Italy, but my dear, I have a
child full of widdle, two impatient children in the carriage
with Nurse, and a husband who," she paused as a particularly
loud barrage of swearing accented the increased pounding on
the door, "is fast losing a temper that has been extremely
tried today. Please, please, Char, give me the key before
Noble is forced to take drastic measures."
Charlotte glanced from the squirming child to the look of
concern in Gillian's emerald eyes. "Gilly, I need you. I truly
do. You're all I have left. There's no one else left who will
receive me, Papa saw to that. I have no where to go, and no
money; I sold what remained of Mama's jewels just to buy a few
traveling gowns and passage to England on a merchant ship.
You're the only one in the family who will acknowledge me, and
now you are sailing to the West Indies ..." Her voice cracked
as she brushed at the wetness on her cheeks, surprised to find
her crocodile tears had suddenly become real. "Oh, Gilly,
please stay. Please help me. I've never been alone; I don't
know what to do."
Gillian shifted the child in her arms and squeezed Charlotte's
hand. "You know I will do everything I can to help you-"
Charlotte shrieked in joy and hugged her cousin, widdly child
and all. "I knew you wouldn't leave me!"
A tremendous splintering noise reverberated through the room
as Noble Britton, known by the (in Charlotte's mind,
understated) sobriquet of the Black Earl, burst through the
doors, followed by a tall, bewigged man with a hook where his
left hand should have been, and two smaller footmen in livery.
"Are you all right?" the earl asked his countess, rushing to
She smiled reassuringly. "Of course we are. Charlotte just
needs a moment or two of my time, and then I will be ready to
be off." She forestalled protests on both her husband's and
cousin's lips by thrusting the squirming child into his
father's arms just before she grasped Charlotte firmly and
tugged her toward a nearby emerald and gold damask couch.
"While you're taking Dante for his widdle, I'll speak with
Char. Crouch, please take Lady Charlotte's things up to the
Blue Suite. She'll be staying here for a time. Dickon,
Charles, tell the other carriages to start, we'll be along
Both father and child hastened away when the latter announced
his intention to widdle right there in the library.
"You have five minutes until I must leave," Gillian told her
cousin sternly. "You are welcome to stay here for as long as
you like. Now, what else can I do to help you?"
Charlotte's heart underwent a peculiar motion that felt
suspiciously like it dropped into her jean half-boots. "You're
leaving? You're still leaving me?"
"I have no choice," the calm reply came.
"Very well. You received my letter which mentioned that
Antonio died of sweating sickness in November?"
Gillian nodded. "And you wanted to leave Villa Abalongia
because you had a difficult time with his family, but you
mentioned going to Paris, not home to England."
"Everything's gone, everything! The Contessa took it all for
her two horrid, fat daughters. She said I wouldn't need my
fine gowns when I was in mourning for Antonio. She said I'd
have to go live on a tiny little farm in the mountains and
tend a bunch of smelly goats, that I wasn't welcomed to stay
in Florence as I wasn't truly a member of the family, all
because I hadn't given Antonio an heir!"
"That was very cruel of her."
"Yes," Charlotte sniffed. "It was. Especially since it wasn't
my fault. I wouldn't have minded a child-you seem to enjoy
yours so much-but Antonio refused to do his husbandly duty by
Gillian's eyes widened. "He ... he refused?"
Charlotte nodded, her eyes filling again at the memory of such
a grave injustice. "It was all he could do to consummate the
marriage. After that ... oh, Gilly, he wouldn't even try. And
the Contessa was forever making nasty remarks that I was not
doing my duty properly! I tried, I honestly tried! I wore
naughty nightwear, I allowed him to catch me en dishabille on
many occasions, and I even sought advice from the local
strumpet as to how to arouse the passion of Antonio's manly
instrument, but to no avail. His instrument resisted all my
efforts. I think it hated me," she added darkly.
"Oh, I'm sure that wasn't-"
"It wouldn't even twitch for me!"
"Well, really Charlotte," Gillian looked a bit embarrassed.
"It's not as if it was an animal trained to jump on your
"I know that, but the strumpet said it should at the very
least twitch once in a while, and not lie limp and flaccid
like a week old bit of blancmange. It wouldn't make even the
slightest effort on my behalf. If that's not cruel and
petty-minded of a manly instrument, well, I just don't know
"Char, I'm sorry about Antonio, I know you must have loved him
Charlotte stopped dabbing at her eyes, a look of utter
astonishment on her face. "Love him greatly? Where did you get
Gillian stopped patting her cousin's hand. "Well ... that
is ... you eloped with him! You dismissed all your suitors and
eloped with the son of a minor Italian nobleman. Why else
would you sacrifice everything you held dear if you didn't
love him greatly?"
"Oh, that," Charlotte responded dismissively, gently prodding
the region below her eyes to ascertain if they were swollen
from her recent tears. "It was my third season and I didn't
care for that year's suitors, and Antonio was so very
romantic, but Papa was being stiff-rumped about my marrying
him, threatening to cut me off without a shilling if I didn't
marry someone suitable instead. Papa became ever so tiresome,
and the Season was really quite boring, so I did the only
"Sensible not sensical," Gillian corrected automatically,
staring at her cousin with eyes filled with disbelief. "Are
you telling me you ran off to marry knowing that your father
disapproved of your choice of husband, knowing he would
disinherit you, knowing that such an elopement would cause a
scandal that would even now keep all of the doors of Society
closed to you, and yet you did it not for love, but because
you were bored?"
Charlotte frowned. "Most of the doors of Society, not all, and
I don't see what that has to do with anything."
Gillian chewed on lower lip for a moment. Charlotte watched
hopefully; whenever her cousin got that peculiar light to her
eyes, it meant she was about to come up with a truly
magnificent plan. "What of Lord Collins?"
"Matthew?" Charlotte snorted the name. "He's cut from the same
cloth Papa was. When Papa died almost four years ago, Matthew
took up the banner of ostriching me."
"Ostracizing, Char. You really should make an effort to use
the correct word."
"Pheasant feathers! Language should be fluid, it should work
for me, not the other way around. And don't distract me, I
have only a few minutes remaining. I wrote Matthew when
Antonio succumbed, but all I received back was a terse note to
the effect that I was reaping what I had sown. There will be
no help from my brother or the rest of the family."
"Hmmm. Well, you do have certain assets we can work with ..."
Charlotte's dark lashes fluttered as smiled depreciatingly and
gazed down at her hands in what she knew to be an extremely
fetching approximation of modesty. "Yes, of course, that's
very kind of you to say, especially considering the fashion is
for dainty, blond-haired nymphs not red-headed, green-eyed
amazons like yourself." Gillian gave her a puzzled look.
Charlotte allowed her dimples to peek out in a manner she had
been told by several gentlemen was utterly charming. "My
Gillian's look of puzzlement deepened as her cousin explained.
"You mentioned my assets, Cousin! It would not be meet for me
to point out my many and various charms, but I am not so
foolishly modest that I don't recognize them. If you recall,
Lord Darnley did write a sonnet to my eyes."
"I wasn't speaking about something so trivial as your
appearance, Char. I was speaking of your assets, your true
"Trivial!" Charlotte recoiled from such blasphemy. "Trivial!
Cousin, marriage has addled your brains! There is nothing
trivial about one's appearance. Why, without a comely
countenance, one would have no suitors! Society would shun
Gillian was nodding even before the words dried up on
Charlotte's lips. "Exactly. You are the picture of loveliness,
and yet you find yourself in a position exactly as you
describe, hence my comment on the trivial nature of something
so shallow as beauty. What you need is to focus on your
assets, namely, your status as a widow, your good breeding,
your congenial manner, and-" she took a deep breath. "-your
willingness to marry again."
"Marry?" Charlotte blinked in surprise at her cousin's words.
"Who said anything about my marrying? You just said my
widowhood was an asset, why would I want to give it up?"
Gillian cast a quick glance at the door. Voices could be heard
in the hallway beyond. "Charlotte, you have limited choices.
You can either resolve the argument with your family ..."
"I've tried. Matthew is just as bull-headed as Father was."
"... or come with us to the West Indies ..."
Charlotte made a moue of disapproval. "It's hot there. I would
perspire all the time, and I cannot think of anything worse
than being in a continual state of perspiration."
"... or find a position as a companion to an elderly lady ..."
An unladylike snort was the answer to that suggestion.
"... or you can marry again."
A frown wrinkled Charlotte's brow as she smoothed out the drab
olive green traveling gown her limited funds forced her to buy
en route to England. "Marry. I hadn't thought to marry. All I
wanted to do was to come home. Marriage means ... well, there
would have to be a husband, wouldn't there? I'm not sure I
want another husband."
"Well, what do you want?"
Charlotte tried on a little pout. "I want what I had before
Antonio swept me off my feet and dragged me to that
godforsaken castle in Italy. I want to be the Season's
reigning Incomparable, I want my court of suitors, I want
lovely gowns and dancing and stolen kisses in the garden!"
"But you're not eighteen any more, Charlotte," her cousin
protested. "You're a grown woman. Surely you want something
more meaningful than the mere glitter of life in the ton?"
"There's nothing wrong with glitter," Charlotte objected, her
pout dissolving into another frown. "It's bright and pretty
and it entertains."
"It's also shallow, unsubstantial, and unimportant. Oh, Char,
I want you to be happy, but I don't see how that's possible if
all you want-"
Gillian rose as the voice in the hall took on a strident note.
"Blast! I really have to go now. I'm sorry I can't help you.
Crouch and the other staff will take care of you here at
Britton House for as long as you like, and I'll have the
household funds put at your disposal. If you get in a terrible
bind and need advice, write to me."
Charlotte nodded sadly and accompanied her cousin to the hall,
kissed Gillian's and Dante's cheek, tried not to flinch under
the earl's stern, disapproving look, and rallied a smile and a
wave as the last of her familial connections drove off in a
sleek black and scarlet coach.
"She's left me here alone with no one but the servants.
Damnation!" Charlotte swore as the carriage disappeared from
"Ye can say that again," a voice muttered behind her, but when
she spun around to pin the ears back on the speaker, she was
faced with a line of servants wearing faces so innocent they
could have doubled for cherubim.
"Hrmph," she snorted, eying the collected servants. "Much as I
would like to dissolve into tears over my desperate and
completely tragic situation, I shall give in to a well-earned
megrim at a later time. Right now I have a more important dish
to fry. Crouch, fetch me writing paper, and have the footmen
standing at the ready."
"Eh ... fish to fry, d'ye mean, m'lady?"
Charlotte raised her brows in the manner that had never failed
to intimidate Graveltoes, her father's butler, but it appeared
that the giant pirate the Wessexes employed was made of
sterner stuff. No doubt it was the hook that made him feel
superior. "I simply do not understand this unreasonable
fixation you and Gillian and others have with something so
unimportant as language, Crouch. It's unwholesome. I urge you
to get over it. And don't think you can put on airs as you do
with Gillian, I shan't tolerate it as she does. I'll have
enough of that as I contrive to make my stunning reappearance
in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the ton."
She shooed Crouch on his way and marched upstairs to take
possession of Gillian's personal sitting room. It wasn't going
to be easy re-establishing herself after the scandal, but that
was all of four years ago, and certainly people must have
forgotten the details by now. With a little finesse and
sweet-talking to the right matrons, the doors would surely
open to her again. It wouldn't be pleasant to be forced to
listen to lectures by the very same women who called her
foolish and headstrong all those years ago, but she could
endure a few "I warned you!" comments if necessary. Besides,
there were the gentlemen to think of-she had charm and
vivacity, and despite her cousin's doubts of the effectiveness
of a pretty face and a neat ankle, Charlotte had always found
she could have her way if she fluttered her eyelashes and
dimpled just so.
"It will be as easy as taking honey from a flea," she
predicted, sitting down to write her letters.
* * *
"I can't believe it! I just can't believe it! How dare she
refuse me a voucher! How dare she tell me I was not welcome to
her blasted masquerade ball next week! How dare she tell me
that no polite person will recognize me!" Charlotte ripped a
cream-colored sheet of paper to shreds and threw it into the
unlit grate. "Who would have thought that Lady Jersey had a
memory like ... like ... like a lion?"
"A lion, Caro, a lion. You know, one of those big grey beasts
that live in Africa. They have prodigious memories."
Lady Caroline Beverly looked confused. "Are you sure? The lion
I saw at the menagerie was sort of a yellowish-brown color and
no bigger than a very small pony."
Charlotte spun on her heel and paced a line back toward the
fireplace. "Brown, grey, it doesn't matter, they come from
Africa and they have excellent memories. Just like Lady
Caroline frowned. "I thought Lady Jersey's family came from
Excerpted from Noble Destiny
by Katie MacAlister
Copyright © 2003 by Katie MacAlister .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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