The Chaotic Miss Crispinoby Kasey Michaels
Valerian Fitzhugh had been entrusted to accompany a wayward, headstrong heiress from her disreputable Italian pensione to her family's English estate. He had expected a young girl, not a beautiful, full-grown woman employed as an opera singer. Ever mindful of his obligation, Valerian escorted Miss Allegra Crispino across the ocean in a most gentlemanly/i>
Valerian Fitzhugh had been entrusted to accompany a wayward, headstrong heiress from her disreputable Italian pensione to her family's English estate. He had expected a young girl, not a beautiful, full-grown woman employed as an opera singer. Ever mindful of his obligation, Valerian escorted Miss Allegra Crispino across the ocean in a most gentlemanly fashion. Yet once they touched shore, the Englishman could no longer deny himself a kiss from the maddening minx. With that one embrace, their fates appeared to be sealed...until chaos was unleashed.
Read an Excerpt
Valerian Fitzhugh stood before the narrow window he had pushed open in the vain hope that some of the stale, dank air trapped within the small room might be so accommodating as to exchange places with a refreshing modicum of the cooler, damp breeze coming in off the moonlit Arno.
Both the river that divided the city and the lofty dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore were vaguely visible from Fitzhugh's vantage point, although that particular attribute could not be thought to serve as any real consolation for his reluctant presence in the tumbledown pensione.
Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, had been one of Valerian's favorite cities when he had visited Italy during his abbreviated Grand Tour some 16 years previously, although his youthful adventures had come to an abrupt halt when the brief Treaty of Amiens had been shattered. So it was with a willing heart that he had begun charting his current three-year-long return to the Continent in Brussels the very morning after Napoleon had been vanquished forever at Waterloo.
Touching a hand to his breast pocket, Valerian felt again the much-folded, much-traveled sheets of paper that had led him, two and one half years into his journeyand not without considerable troubleto this small, dark, damp room on quite the most humble street in Florence.
It was damnably wearying, being an honorable man, but Valerian could not in good conscience turn his back on the plea from Lord Dugdale (his late father's oldest and dearest friend) that had finally caught up with him at his hotel in Veniceand the crafty Denny Dugdale, never shy when it came toasking for assistance, had known it.
So here Valerian stood, at five minutes past midnight on a wet, wintry night just six days after the ringing in of the year of 1818, waiting for the baron's difficult-to-run-to-ground granddaughter to return to her pitifully mean second-story room in a decrepit pensione so that he could take a reluctant turn at playing fairy godmother.
"...and chaperon...and traveling companion," Valerian said aloud, sighing.
He stole a moment from his surveillance of the entrance to the pensione beneath the window to look once more around the small room, his gaze taking in the sagging rope bed, the single, near-gutted candle stuck to a metal dish, the small, chipped dresser, and one worn leather satchel that looked as if it had first been used during the time of Columbus.
"One can only hope the chit knows the English word for soap." A second long-suffering sigh escaped him as he turned back to the window once more to continue his vigil.
"Chi é? Che cosa cera?"
Valerian hesitated momentarily as the low, faintly husky female voice asked him who he was and what he was looking for. He stiffened in self-reproach because he hadn't heard her enter the room, then a second later remembered that he had glanced away from the entrance for a minute, probably just as she had come down the narrow alley to the pensione.
Slowly turning to face her through the dimness that the flickering candle did little to dissipate, a benign, non-threatening smile deliberately pasted on his lean, handsome face, he bowed perfunctorily and replied, "Il mio nome é Valerian Fitzhugh, Signorina Crispino. Parla inglese, I sincerely pray?"
The girl took two more daring steps into the room, her arms akimbo, her hot gaze raking him up and down as if measuring his capacity for mayhem. "Sí. Capisco. That is to say, yes, Signor Fitzhugh, I speak English," she said at last, her accent faint but delightful, "which makes it that much easier for me to order you to vacate my room presto!"
Instead of obeying her, Valerian leaned against the window frame and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His relaxed pose seemed to prompt her to take yet another two steps into the room, bringing herconsidering the size of the chamberwithin three feet of her uninvited guest.
"You speak, signore, but do you hear? I said you are to leave my room!"
"Do not be afraid. I am not here to harm you, signorina," he told her, believing her aggressive action resulted more from bravado than from fearlessness.
Her next words quickly disabused him of that notion. "Harm me? Ha! As if you could. These walls are like paper, signore. One scream from me and the whole household would be in here. Now, go away! Whatever position you are offering me, I must tell you I have no choice but to refuse it. I leave Firenze tonight."
"Position? I don't follow you, signorina. But, be that as it may, aren't you even the least bit interested in how I came to know your name?"
"Such a silly question." She threw back her head in an eloquent gesture of disdain at his blatant admission of ignorance. "Everyone knows me, signore. I am famosa famous!"
Valerian's lips quivered in amusement. "Is that so? And modest too, into the bargain. However, if you don't mind, we'll pass over that for the moment and get on to the reason for my presence here."
She sighed, her impatience obvious as she rolled her eyes upward. "Very well, if you insist. But I have not the time for a long story."
Valerian spoke quickly, sensing that what he had to tell her was rough ground he would wisely get across as rapidly as possible. "I am not here to employ you. I have been sent here by your English grandfather, to fetch you home. How wonderful that your mother taught you her native tongue. It will simplify things once you are in Brighton. Excuse me, but what is that smell? There are so many vile odors in this room, but this one is new, and particularly unlovely."
"Smell? How dare you!" Her hands came up as if she were contemplating choking him, then dropped to her sides. "Mia madre? I don't understand. What do you know of my dearest madre signore? Or of my terrible nonno, who broke her poor heart?"
The hands came up againfor the urge to remove Valerian from the room had overcome her temporary curiosity. "Magnifico, signore! You almost deflected me, didn't you? But no, I shall not be distracted. I have no time, no interest. It's those terrible Timoteos. I must pack. I must leave here, at once. As soon as I eat!"
So saying, she reached into the low-cut bodice of the white peasant blouse Valerian had been eyeing with some interestMiss Crispino might be a mere dab of a girl, the top of her head not quite reaching his shoulders, but her breasts were extremely ampleso that his disappointment could be easily assumed as he watched her retract her hand, holding up a footlong string of small sausages.
His left eyebrow lifted a fraction, his disappointment tempered by the realization that the blouse remained remarkably well filled. "At least now I know the origin of that unpleasant odor I mentioned earlier. How devilish ingenious of you, Signorina Crispino. I should never have thought to keep sausages in my shirt."
Excerpted from The Chaotic Miss Crispino by Kasey Michaels. Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
The hallmarks of New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Kasey Michaels' writing are humor, romance and happy endings. The importance of upbeat, entertaining fiction was brought home to Kasey when her eldest son became very ill. During the long months while he was in the hospital after his kidneys failed, she noticed that the nurses who cared for the sick children and the mothers who spent long hours at their bedsides often had a romance novel in their back pockets. She began carrying her own romances to the hospital in a small suitcase, reading and then sharing and trading them with the other moms.
"We were living in a world too real in that hospital," Kasey says today. "We all functioned at the highest levelthere was no choice but to function, to persevereand we all occasionally escaped that world into the hope and happy endings of romance novels."
Kasey had actually written her first book just before her son's illness. She penned her second book during those long months in the hospital, and it became The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane.
Since then, Kasey has gone on to write about 100 more books, and to receive a trio of coveted Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly. The third was for her first HQN title, The Butler Did It, which was also a 2005 nominee for the Romance Writers of America's (RWA) highest award, the RITA Award and Publishers Weekly's Quills Award. She is already a recipient of the RITA Award, a Waldenbooks and BookRak Bestseller Award, and many awards from Romantic Times magazine, including a Career Achievement Award for her Regency-era historical romances.
Kasey has also appeared on the Today Show, and was the subject of the Lifetime Cable-TV show A Better Way, in conjunction with Good Housekeeping magazine, a program devoted to women and how they have achieved career success in the midst of motherhood (short version: "with great difficulty").
Kasey has written Regency romances, Regency historicals, category books including novellas and continuities and a few series "launch" books, and single-title contemporaries. Hers is also the twisted mind behind her ongoing Maggie Kelly mystery series that stars a former romance writer turned historical mystery writer. She is also the author of the highly praised nonfiction book, written as Kathryn Seidick, Or You Can Let Him Go, which details the story of Kasey and her family during the time of her eldest son's first kidney transplant.
Kasey and her husband of more than 40 years live in Pennsylvania with their two neurotic Persians, Princess and Peaches. They are proud parents of four and grandparents of two. Each summer the entire family volunteers to help out with the golf tournament her grown son founded to benefit the Gift of Life Donor Program of Philadelphia. Monies raised contribute to the costs of transporting the youngest members of Team Philadelphia to the annual Transplant Olympics.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews