Read Jacquie D'Alessandro Online

Authors: Loveand the Single Heiress

Jacquie D'Alessandro (3 page)

She smiled, and Andrew’s breath hitched. Damn but she was lovely. The entire thread of their conversation disintegrated from his mind as he continued to look at her. Finally his inner voice coughed to life.
Cease gawking at her and speak, you nodcock. Before Lord What’s-His-Name comes back, no doubt bearing a huge bouquet and spouting sonnets.

He cleared his throat. “And how is your son, Lady Catherine?”

A combination of pride and sadness flitted across her face. “Spencer’s overall health is fine, thank you, but his foot and leg do pain him.”

“He did not travel with you to London?”

“No.” Her gaze flicked over the assembled guests, and her expression chilled. “He dislikes traveling, and he especially dislikes London, a sentiment I equally share. Nor is he fond of parties. If not for my father’s birthday celebration, I would not have ventured to Town. I plan to depart for Little Longstone directly after breakfast tomorrow.”

Disappointment coursed through him. He’d hoped she might remain in London at least a few days, to afford him the opportunity to spend time with her. Invite her to the opera. Show her the progress on the museum. Ride in Hyde Park and stroll through Vauxhall. Damn it all, how was he to launch his campaign to court the woman if she insisted on hiding out in the country? Clearly a visit to Little Longstone was in order, yet as she hadn’t issued him an invitation, he’d have to think up some plausible excuse to venture there. But in the meanwhile, he needed to stop wasting precious time and make the most of his
present opportunity. The strains of a waltz floated on the air, and his entire body quickened at the prospect of dancing with her, of holding her in his arms for the first time.

Just as he opened his mouth to ask her to dance, she leaned closer, and whispered, “Oh, dear. Look at that. He’s going about it all wrong.”

“I beg your pardon?”

She nodded toward the punch bowl. “Lord Nordnick. He’s trying to entice Lady Ophelia, and he’s making a complete muck of it.”

Andrew turned his attention to the couple standing next to the ornate silver punch bowl. An eager-looking young man, presumably Lord Nordnick, was handing an attractive young lady, presumably Lady Ophelia, a cup of punch.

“Er, there is a wrong way to hand a woman a beverage?” Andrew asked.

“He is not merely handing her a drink, Mr. Stanton. He is
courting
her. And doing a very poor job of it, I’m afraid.”

Andrew studied the couple for several more seconds, then shook his head in bewilderment. “I don’t see anything wrong.”

She leaned a fraction closer. The intoxicating scent of flowers filled his head, and he had to grit his teeth to remained focused on her words. “Note his overeager manner.”

“Overeager? ’Tis clear he is smitten and wishes to please her. Surely you don’t think he should have allowed Lady Ophelia to fetch her own punch?”

“No, but he clearly didn’t ask her preference. From her expression it is obvious that Lady Ophelia did not desire a glass of punch—no doubt because he’d already handed her one not five minutes ago.”

“Perhaps Lord Nordnick is merely nervous. I believe it
is common for sanity to flee a man’s head when he’s in the company of a lady he finds attractive.”

She made a
tsk
ing sound. “That is indeed unfortunate. Observe how bored she clearly is with his inept attentions.”

Hmmm. Lady Ophelia did indeed look bored. Blast. When had courting become so bloody complicated? Hoping he sounded like a coconspirator rather than an information seeker, he asked, “What
should
Lord Nordnick do?”

“He should shower her with
romance
. Find out her favorite flower. Her favorite food.”

“So he should send her roses and confections?”

“As your friend, Mr. Stanton, I must point out that that is a sadly typical male assumption. Perhaps Lady Ophelia prefers pork chops to confections. And how do you know her favorite flower is a rose?”

“As
your
friend, Lady Catherine, I must point out that it would be very odd for a suitor to come calling with a gift box filled with pork chops. And don’t all women love roses?”

“I couldn’t say.
I
like them. However, they aren’t my favorite.”

“And what is?”


Dicentra spectabilis
.”

“I fear Latin is not my strong suit.”

“You see?”

“Actually, no—”

“That’s but yet another problem with Lord Nordnick’s unoriginal methods. He should recite something romantic to her in another language. But I digress.
Dicentra spectabilis
means ‘bleeding heart.’”

He pulled his gaze from the couple and turned his head to stare at her. “Something called
bleeding heart
is your favorite flower?
That
hardly rings of romance.”

“Nevertheless, it is my favorite, and
that’s
what makes
it romantic. I happen to know that Lady Ophelia is especially fond of tulips. But do you suppose Lord Nordnick will bother to discover that? I think not. Based on his fetching of numerous glasses of unwanted punch, I’m certain he’ll send Lady Ophelia roses because that’s what
he
thinks she should like. And because of that, he is doomed to failure.”

“All because he fetched punch and would send the wrong flowers?” Andrew turned back to the couple, and a wave of pity for Lord Nordnick engulfed him. Poor bastard. He made a mental note to pass along the tulip information to the hapless fellow. In these perilous courting endeavors, men needed to stick together.

“Perhaps such clumsy attempts would have gained a lady’s favor in the past, but no longer. Today’s Modern Woman prefers a gentleman who takes into consideration
her
preferences, as opposed to a gentleman who arrogantly believes he knows what is best for her.”

Andrew chuckled. “Today’s Modern Woman? That sounds like something out of that ridiculous
Ladies’ Guide
everyone is talking about.”

“Why do you say ‘ridiculous’?”

“Hmm, yes, perhaps that was a poor choice of word. ‘Scandalous, appalling, trash-filled balderdash’ is closer to what I meant.”

Andrew studied the couple for several more seconds, trying to decipher the apparently misguided Lord Nornick’s errors so as not to make them himself, but in truth he couldn’t figure out what the man was doing wrong. He was being polite and attentive—two strategies Andrew himself had deemed important in his own wooing campaign.

He turned back toward Lady Catherine. “I’m afraid I don’t see—”

His words cut off when he noted she was regarding him with raised brows and a noticeably cool expression. “Is something amiss?”

“I wasn’t aware you’d read
A Ladies’Guide to the Pursuit of Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment,
Mr. Stanton.”


Me?
A
ladies
’ guide?” He chuckled, torn whether he was more astonished or amused by her words. “Of course I haven’t read it.”

“Then how can you possibly call it ‘scandalous, appalling, trash-filled balderdash’?”

“I don’t need to read the actual words to know the content. That
Guide
has become the main topic of conversation in the city.” He smiled, but her expression did not change. “As you’ve spent the past two months in Little Longstone, you couldn’t know the stir that book has caused with the nonsensical ideas put forth by the author. You’ve only to listen to the gentlemen in this very room to realize that not only is the book filled with idiotic notions, but apparently it is poorly written as well. Charles Brightmore is a renegade, and possesses little, if any, literary talent.”

Twin flags of color rose on her cheeks, and her narrowed gaze grew positively frosty. Warning bells rang in Andrew’s mind, suggesting—unfortunately a few words too late—that he’d committed a grave tactical error. She lifted her chin and shot him a look that somehow managed to appear as if she were looking down her nose at him, quite a feat, considering he stood a good six inches taller than she.

“I must say that I’m surprised, not to mention disappointed, to discover that you hold such narrow views, Mr. Stanton. I would have thought that a man of your vast traveling experience would be more open to new, modern
ideas. And that at the very least, you were a man who would take the time to examine all the facts and form your
own
opinions on a topic, rather than relying on hearsay from others—especially others who most likely also have not read the book.”

Andrew’s brows rose at her tone. “I do not hold narrow ideas at all, Lady Catherine. However, I don’t believe it is necessary to experience something to know it is not to my liking or does not mesh with my beliefs,” he said mildly, wondering how their conversation had veered onto this out-of-the-way path. “If someone tells me that rotten fish smells bad, I am perfectly content to take their word for it—I do not feel the need to stick my nose in the barrel to sniff for myself.” He chuckled. “It almost sounds as if you’ve read this
Guide
—and found favor with its far-fetched ideals.”

“If it only
almost
sounds as if I’ve read the
Guide
, then I don’t believe you are listening closely enough, Mr. Stanton, an affliction I fear you share with most men.”

Certain his hearing had indeed become afflicted, Andrew said slowly, “Don’t tell me you’ve read that book.”

“Very well, I won’t tell you that.”

“But you…have?” His words sounded more like an accusation than a question.

“Yes.” She shot him an unmistakably challenging glare. “Numerous times, in fact. And I did not find the ideals it put forth the least bit far-fetched. Quite the opposite in fact.”

Andrew could only stare. Lady Catherine had read that scandalous rag? Numerous times? Had embraced its precepts? Impossible. Lady Catherine was a paragon. The epitome of a perfect, gently bred, sedate lady. But clearly she
had
read it, for there was no mistaking her words or obstinate expression.

“You appear quite stunned, Mr. Stanton.”

“In truth, I am.”

“Why? By your own admission, nearly every woman in London has read the
Guide
. Why should it surprise you so that I would read it?”

Because you are not every woman. Because I don’t want you to be “independent” and “modern.” I want you to need me. Want me. Love me. As I need and want and love you.
Good God, if that bastard Brightmore’s drivel had turned Lady Catherine into some sort of upstart bluestocking, the man would pay dearly. All this bloody nonsense about “today’s modern woman” certainly wouldn’t help Andrew in his quest to court her. Based on what she’d said about Lord Nordnick, he already ran the risk of distancing Lady Catherine by the simple act of fetching her a glass of punch.

“The book just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a lady such as you would read.”

“And precisely what sort of lady am I, Mr. Stanton? The sort who is unable to read?”

“Of course not—-”

“The sort who is not intelligent enough to understand words containing more than one syllable?”

“Certainly not—”

“The sort who is incapable of forming her own opinions?”

“No.” He raked a hand through his hair. “’Tis abundantly clear that you’re fully capable of that.”
How
had this conversation gone so wrong so quickly? “I meant that it did not seem the sort of reading material for a
proper
lady.”

“I see.” She gave him a cool, detached look that tightened his jaw. Definitely not the way he’d hoped to have her looking at him by the end of this evening. “Well, perhaps the
Guide
is not as scandalous as you’ve been led to believe, Mr. Stanton. Perhaps the
Guide
could be better
described as scintillating. Provocative. Intelligent. But of course, you wouldn’t know as you haven’t read it. Perhaps you
should
read it.”

He raised his brows at the unmistakable challenge shining in her eyes. “You must be joking.”

“I’m not. In fact, I’d be happy to lend you my copy.”

“Why on earth would I want to read a ladies’ guide?”

She offered him a smile that appeared just a bit too sweet. “Why, so that you could offer an
informed, intelligent
opinion when next you discussed the work. And besides, you might actually learn something.”

Good God, the woman was daft. Perhaps the victim of too much wine. He took a discreet sniff, but smelled only alluring flowers. “What on earth could I possibly learn from a ladies’ guide?”

“What women like, for one thing. And do not like. And why Lord Nordnick’s wooing attempts directed at Lady Ophelia are bound for failure. Just to name a few.”

Andrew’s jaw tightened. He knew what women liked…didn’t he? He couldn’t recall hearing any complaints in the past. But his inner voice was warning him that maybe he didn’t know quite as much about what
Lady Catherine
liked as he’d thought. Actually, maybe he didn’t know
Lady Catherine
as well as he’d thought—a notion that simultaneously unsettled and intrigued him. God knows she’d revealed an unexpected side of herself this evening. He recalled Philip’s warning about her newfound headstrong, blunt behavior. He’d put no stock in Philip’s comment at the time, but it appeared his friend was correct. And it further appeared that the blame for this change rested on the
Ladies’ Guide
’s shoulders.

Damn you, Charles Brightmore. You and your foolish book have made courting the woman I want—an already Herculean task—even more difficult. I’ll relish exposing
you and putting an end to your writing career.

Yes, more difficult indeed, for not only had the
Guide
clearly filled Lady Catherine’s head with ideas of independence, but this discussion, which was supposed to lead to him asking her to dance and the start of his courting campaign, had turned contentious—a turn of events he needed to correct immediately. No, this meeting was not going at all the way he’d envisioned. According to his plans, Lady Catherine should be in his arms, gazing up at him with warmth and affection. Instead, she’d backed away from him and was glaring at him with annoyance, a feeling he shared, as he was more than a little irritated himself.

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