To Charm a Naughty Countess

To Charm a Naughty Countess

by Theresa Romain

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402284038
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 05/06/2014
Series: Matchmaker Trilogy , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 193,577
File size: 935 KB

About the Author

Historical romance author Theresa Romain pursued an impractical education that allowed her to read everything she could get her hands on. She then worked for universities and libraries, where she got to read even more. Eventually she started writing, too. She lives with her family in the Midwest.

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June 14, 1816

Lancashire seat of the Duke of Wyverne

"The money is gone, Your Grace."

Finally. After eleven years in Michael's service, his steward had abandoned the vague diplomacy favored by the previous Duke of Wyverne. Michael's father had been offended by bitter truths, preferring them sweetened into a palatable pap.

Michael was never offended by the truth, especially not a truth so obvious.

He wiped his pen and placed it next to the inkwell, almost hidden between ledgers and stacks of correspondence. "Of course the money's gone, Sanders. I have more titles to my name than guineas this year. I must simply borrow more."

He sanded his just-completed letter to the engineer Richard Trevithick. Only a few years before, the man had overcome financial ruin to introduce steam-powered threshing in Cornwall. A brilliant innovator. Michael requested his opinion on whether steam power could be made useful in irrigation.

This year, of all years, his dukedom needed as many brilliant and innovative opinions as Michael could lay hands on.

Sanders cleared his throat, then hesitated. The familiar headache began to prod at Michael's temples.

"Yes?" His voice came out more sharply than he intended. Tidying a stack of papers on the battered leather surface of his desk, Michael ignored the steward's gaze. Sanders's sympathetic manner was a bit too personal, as though the older man knew about the headaches or the slipping control that brought them on.

Another cough from Sanders. "The usual sources of credit have dried up, Your Grace."

Michael's head jerked up. "Impossible. Has every bank in England run out of money?"

As pallid as sand itself, Sanders's only color came from gold bridgework he wore in place of three teeth lost during a youthful altercation. Now his face drained paler than usual, and he looked as pained as if he'd had another tooth knocked out.

"England remains solvent, Your Grace, but... I regret that your financial overextension is now common knowledge. I have been unable to secure further credit on your behalf. In fact, it is likely that demands may be made for a repayment of your existing loans-ah, rather soon."

The headache clamped tight on his temples. Michael sat up straighter. "Dun me for payment, as if I'm a common cit? With whom do they think they are dealing?"

Sanders drew a deep breath. "With a man who has no hope of paying his debts, Your Grace. I believe they have lost trust in your judgment, if you'll forgive the frank speech."

Michael stared. "Yes, do continue."

"As long as the prosperity of the dukedom appeared inevitable, securing credit for your estate improvements was not a problem. But with the unusual climatic circumstances... that is to say, the weather has changed so much that... ah..." Sanders trailed off in a defensive flurry of careful language, his old habit of roundaboutation returning.

"My improvement plans remain unchanged, despite the persistence of winter," Michael said.

The damned winter. Until this year, Michael trusted two things in the world: his own judgment and his land. But this year, spring had never come, and it seemed summer would also fail to make an appearance. For months, the world had lain under a chilly frost. And now Michael couldn't trust the land, and no one else trusted his judgment.

"Exactly, Your Grace. This is what they find worrisome. During an unusual year, there is less tolerance for..." Sanders shifted his feet on the threadbare carpet of Michael's study. "Unusual behavior."

"This is an utterly unreasonable response," Michael muttered. "When infinite credit is extended to fribbles with silk waistcoats and clocked stockings."

"Waistcoats and stockings require a smaller outlay on the part of a creditor than do speculative mechanical constructions, Your Grace."

Michael's mouth twitched. "My speculative mechanical constructions, as you call them, will be the making of Lancashire." Or should have been-would have been.

He had planned so carefully, overseeing every detail himself to make sure it was perfect: plowing moorland into canals; researching steam power. And finally, finally, he had a chance of reclaiming land no one had ever thought would be useful.

If his creditors were reasonable. Or if the world hadn't frozen solid. Now there was nothing to irrigate; all the crops were dead. There was nothing with which to water them; the canals were troughs of icy mud.

His signet ring weighed heavy on his finger; he rubbed at the worn gold band. "Well. Even if I am short of funds, Sanders, I will find a way to fix the situation."

"I can think of one possible way, Your Grace." The steward hesitated.

Michael's eyes flicked to Sanders. "Judging from your overlong pause, I'm not going to like it. Do tell me at once."

"You could marry an heiress." Sanders shaped the words as delicately as if he held glass beads between his precious gold teeth. "An alliance with a wealthy family would restore your creditors' confidence, as well as providing the necessary infusion of cash to restart work on the canals." He paused. "Or even build those steam-powered pumps you are interested in, Your Grace."

"Bribery, Sanders?"

The steward's mouth turned up at the corners. "Good sense, Your Grace."

Michael leaned back in his chair and allowed his eyes to fall closed. Mentally, he pressed the headache into a ball and threw it to the side of his awareness. What was left?

The facts. The money was gone, and if Sanders were right, no more would be coming. Crops were scarce this year. There was barely anything to feed the tenants, much less their livestock or his own sprawling herds of sheep. The duchy was dying.

Sanders made a fair point; credit depended on appearances. Social power depended on appearances. If a man could maintain the appearance of wealth and power, it didn't matter if he had two sous to rub together.

Michael had little use for false appearances, but the polite world had little use for this eccentricity-so they had avoided one another for the past eleven years.

But if Michael's goal was to save the dukedom, he must get more money. And one day, he must get an heir. The steward's suggestion was perfectly logical: a wife would be simply the latest of Wyverne's improvements.

"Very well. I shall marry." Michael opened his eyes, and the headache roared back into his consciousness. Over its pounding, he said, "Shall we convene a house party, then?"

Now Sanders looked as if the glass beads had been shoved up his posterior. "I regret that that is impossible, Your Grace. I have, as you know, kept in contact with your London household over the years, and I hesitate to inform you that they have come into the possession of certain articles of interest regarding-"

Michael held up a hand. "Speak plainly, if you please."

The steward's gaze darted away. "The ton thinks you're mad, Your Grace. It's a frequent source of amusement in the scandal rags."

"Is it? After all the time I've been away, they still talk about me. How fascinating I am."

A good reply. Such words sounded carefree, belying the headache that now clanged with brutal force, or the queasy pitch of his stomach. Michael could ignore these distractions, could do and say what was needed. But that word, mad-he had heard it so often that he had come to hate it.

He had never known he was mad as a boy-never, until he was sent off to school. If there had been nothing to do but study, he would have excelled, but the close quarters, the games, the initiations others handled so easily had turned Michael ill and shaking. Always scrambling for solitude, he was eventually sent home. A sin for which his father had never forgiven him; a type of son his father had never accepted. But hard-won solitude had been Michael's, save for a brief interlude in London more than a decade before.

A wholly unsuccessful interlude that revived whispers about the old duke's mad son. Michael had hoped these whispers were silenced after so many years. But no: if the polite world was again questioning his sanity, that was undoubtedly why no more credit was forthcoming. Anyone would loan to a genius, but no one would risk a farthing on the schemes of a madman.

Unfortunate that the line between the two was slim and easily crossed, especially this year. Snow in summer could transform even the most brilliant man into a lunatic.

"If I might make a suggestion," Sanders ventured.

"Go on."

"If you travel to London at once, Your Grace, you may take part in the final weeks of the season. You will find many potential brides there and can determine which lady would suit you best." Sanders's thin, sun-browned face softened under its thatch of grayish hair. "Once they meet you in person, Your Grace, they will surely be charmed, and all scurrilous gossip will be refuted."

"Charmed, Sanders? I haven't charmed anyone since I learned to walk and talk." Except for that brief, bright flash of time in London.

Years ago. Unnecessary even to recall it. At this stage of life, he was as likely to charm a wife as he was to plop a turban on his head and charm a cobra.

"I would be delighted to travel to London in your stead, Your Grace," Sanders said, "but I doubt I should answer the purpose to the young ladies of town."

"Shall I, though?" Michael rubbed a hand over his eyes. "A madman. The mad duke. ‘The mad duke's bride hunt.' Why, the scandal-rag headlines almost write themselves."

Sanders shuffled his feet. Michael made a dismissive gesture. "It doesn't matter," he lied. "There is nothing I wouldn't do to save the dukedom."

That much was quite true.

Was it mad to care for one's legacy? To make the well-being of his tenants his purpose in life? To trust his land more than the people who had betrayed him so often, so long ago?

Society thought so, and back into its maw he must go-though his escape last time had been narrow indeed. But to save Wyverne, he would do anything. Even go to London; even sell himself for coin.

He only hoped he would fetch a high price.


July 3


"Wyverne has reopened his house in St. James's Square," drawled Andrew, Baron Hart, as he pulled on his breeches. "First time in at least a decade he's come to Town during the season. Should be amusing to see what he gets up to, don't you think?"

Caroline Graves, the widowed Countess of Stratton, paused in twisting her wheat-colored hair into a loose chignon. She stared at Hart's roguish reflection in the shield-shaped glass above her dressing table. "Wyverne? That's impossible. Everyone knows he never leaves Lancashire."

Ignoring the startled thump of her heart, she poked a pin into her coiled locks, then adjusted her expression until it reflected nothing more than mild disbelief and milder amusement.

"Back he is, though," Hart said. "Wonder what drove him here? I've heard his pockets are completely empty nowadays. Might be something to do with that."

"I cannot imagine, Hart," Caroline said in a carefully careless tone, turning her head to check the effect of her upswept hair. "You might be right. He could be seeking investors for... whatever scheme it is he's pursuing nowadays."

It was a system of irrigation canals into moorland, she knew, though there was no reason she should know such a thing.

"Rather prosy, that. I hope it's something more colorful than a hunt for capital. You once got in a bit of trouble over him, didn't you?"

She shrugged; the cap sleeve of her chemise slipped from one shoulder. "Nothing to speak of. I've since been in far worse trouble over far better men than Wyverne."

The first part was certainly true. The second part-she wasn't sure. She'd never been sure, where Wyverne was concerned, whether his carelessness was the simple arrogance of the aristocracy or whether it cloaked something far deeper.

Maybe it didn't matter. The damage he caused was the same either way.

In the glass, Caroline saw Hart stretch, then approach her. He knew the effect of his person quite well. His torso was lean and muscled, like a sculpture. And just as if it were a sculpture, she stroked his contours with her eyes without being the slightest bit aroused.

But he would expect her to be aroused, would he not? She thought of Wyverne and allowed her cheeks to flush.

Hart grinned. "Can't blame a man for getting into trouble with you, Caro. But Wyverne's mad, isn't he?"

"He's harmless enough," Caroline answered in a voice as smooth and colorless as cream. This was false, though his harm did not come from lack of sanity.

"They're betting at White's that he'll be committed to Bedlam before the season's out."

"Impossible," she said again, turning to face Hart. "He has no close relatives. Who would dare try to have him committed?"

Hart blinked in surprise, and Caroline added swiftly, "One never knows, of course. It's possible he'll create a scandal." Again.

Hart looked gratified to have Caroline enter into his game. Scandal was one of his favorite words. "Didn't think of him as a ladies' man, Caro. Do you suppose he'll come join your court? Be one of your admirers?" He reached out a questing forefinger, his roguish grin confident and possessive.

Caroline allowed him to stroke her arm, caress her collarbone. Such small intimacies held no true intimacy at all when they were shared among many.

This was protection of a sort. As a wealthy widow, she held as much power as a woman could hold in society. She played her admirers against one another without the smallest intention of letting any of them draw truly close to her.

In a way, Wyverne had made her what she was. And now, after all these years, Wyverne was back.

This time, she was prepared for him.

"I doubt His Grace will concern himself with me." Caroline increased the brightness of her smile until Hart staggered back, dazzled, and sat on the edge of her bed. "And I am certainly not concerned with him. Especially not now."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what you think. Just what you might be hoping." She rose from her seat before the dressing table and sashayed to the bed. With a sweep of her arm, she threw back the green damask bedcovers and the bed sheets.

Hart stared up at her like a child who could not believe he had just been offered another serving of apple tart. "By God, Caro, you're a wonder."

Despite her fast reputation, rare was the man Caroline welcomed to her bed. She chose lovers by toting up the positives and negatives, choosing the man with the most of the former and the fewest of the latter. Hart had won her over with a combination of a handsome face, a fine figure, and indomitable persistence.

And with dark hair and green eyes-ah, she had a weakness for those. Though just why, and of whom Hart reminded her, she hadn't allowed herself to consider for a long time.

Nor would she consider it now. Wyverne had no place in her life anymore. Really, he never had. He had made that clear enough eleven years earlier.

With determined force, Caroline pressed Hart to the bed and drew from him the fleeting oblivion of her own pleasure.

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To Charm a Naughty Countess 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoy this book. Was an easy read.
girlfromwvaKY More than 1 year ago
LOVED this book! i adore Theresa's writing style. This is the story of Michael , Duke of Wyverne, and Caroline, Countess of Stratton. This is book 2 of 3 in the Matchmaker Trilogy Series. There is a painful event in the past between Michael and Caroline. It happened 11 years earlier and caused Caroline to seek a marriage with a much older man to keep her reputation in tact. Michael left London all those years ago, not knowing anything had happened. He had to rush home to take care of family business. Michael is deemed brilliant but somewhat "mad". He has to find a bride, an heiress, to marry so that his dukedom will not succumb to financial ruin. Caroline is one who is wanted by many a man in London's society but she really has no wishes to marry again. Michael shows back up in her life and makes her remember feelings that she wishes would have remained in the past. Michael doesn't have any idea why Caroline would agree to help him find a bride but he knows he needs help in convincing the ton that he is not "mad". He will learn what he can from Caroline to find an heiress to save his dukedom. Caroline does have motives of her own, and she may just lose the one thing she holds dear above all else, her independence. "Can a Reclusive Duke Win London's Most powerful Countess?" I enjoyed Michael and Caroline's story. It was fun & romantic. I am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
TO CHARM A NAUGHTY COUNTESS by Theresa Romain is an exciting Regency Historical Romance. #2 in the "Matchmaker" Trilogy, but can be read as a stand alone. Fast paced tale of love, scandal and romance. Witty, secrets, winning independence and second chances. I enjoy this series and look forward to the next installment. For a fresh look at second chances, heiresses, widowhood, and love. Filled with engaging, as well as entertaining characters, you don't want to miss your time with Michael, and Caroline. Marrying a Heiress or for love? Gaining much needed money or finding passion, and love? This is just a few of the problems, Caroline and Michael face. One Caroline faces is losing her independence or gaining the love of her life? Oh,you don't want to miss this fast paced, sweet romance. I would highly recommend this title. An enjoyable read! Received for an honest review from the publisher. RATING: 4 HEAT RATING: MILD REVIEWED BY: AprilR, courtesy of My Book Addiction and Mor
Calaks_joy More than 1 year ago
This is not the first of Romain's clever books that I've read, but it seemed to be the one with the most turns and twists! She "got me" repeatedly, but the one outcome I did predict was Lord Stratton. I really enjoy how even the minor characters have some depth of personality, and thought the funniest scene is Michael and the lamp. Laughed at the innocent "what's the problem?"
Historical_Romance_Lover More than 1 year ago
This is book 2 in the Matchmaker Trilogy. Caroline, the Countess of Stratton, can't believe that the Duke of Wyverne is back in town. After causing a scandal together 10 years ago, she finds that her heart still beats faster when he is around. Caroline learns that the Duke is looking to wed an heiress to save his family estates. Even though her heart might say yes when the Duke proposes marriage, Caroline turns him down because she doesn't want to be wed just for the amount of money she has in the bank. She proposes to help the Duke find the perfect wife. Michael, the Duke of Wyverne, is on the hunt for an heiress to save his estates. Who better to help him navigate the ton than the belle of the ball? Unfortunately, his attraction to Caroline keeps getting in the way of his courting the right heiress.  Can Caroline and Michael figure out a way to both get what they long for? I really loved this story. I was intrigued by Caroline in the first story of the series and was curious how Romain create her HEA.  Michael was not your typical Duke. He tried making the land produce enough income to sustain his properties and only as a last resort decided to marry to get the money. You knew that he hated doing it, but he couldn't put it off any longer without hurting the families that depended on the estate. It was nice to see someone in the aristocracy working for a living and not just living on expectations or mooching off of someone.  Michael is the perfect person for Caroline. She is such a strong woman that an equally strong man was needed so that she would not run all over him. Most of Caroline's admirers would not have been up to the task. I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series, Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, which should be out in January 6, 2015 (I hope I can wait that long!) Thanks go to Sourcebooks via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
WorldsCollide More than 1 year ago
Emotional, romantic, and absolutely fantastic, To Charm a Naughty Countess was a wonderful historical romance. I loved this book! It was deep, sensuous, and a truly enjoyable read. Loved it! My favorite part of this book was undoubtedly the portrayal of emotion. I've read a few of Theresa Romain's books, and I've found that she has a gift for showing deep emotions and doing it subtly, so it doesn't become overdramatic. I really like that about her books and this one is no exception. Caroline was a lovely heroine. She was independent and, after going through scandal and a marriage to an old, but kindly, gentleman, she was determined to live her life on her own terms. She knew what she wanted and refused to compromise. That frustrated me when I just wanted her and Michael to be together, but she wasn't a drama queen about it, so I couldn't get truly bothered by it, other than one scene where she was rather harsh. Overall, I really liked her. Michael was just amazing. He was the definition of an eccentric gentleman. For example, after dragging himself to a ball, he instead spent his time in a quiet room, dismantling a lamp to see how it worked. He struggled with social niceties and had a habit of saying the wrong thing, but he never did it out of anything bad. He was a truly good man who was just utterly perplexed by the expectations of Society. He was very sweet and very devoted to his land and its people. I totally adored him. The romance was lovely. Caroline and Michael, thought they don't seem like it on the surface, were a perfect couple. Though I usually get annoyed with romances where one person is trying to find a match for the other. Most of the time, it results in irritating melodrama. But, it was very well done in this book. The progression of their relationship made sense and worked very well. They were very sweet together, and the chemistry between them was steamy. They were wonderful together. The plot was well paced and I was hooked the entire way through. I liked how the pace was steady, but not slow. More like deliberate, in a way that kept me interested. I really enjoyed the story and I thought the ending was perfect. To Charm a Naughty Countess was a fantastic historical romance. I totally loved this book! It was a truly enjoyable read. Romance lovers, you definitely need to read this book. *I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review