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Authors: Loveand the Single Heiress

Jacquie D'Alessandro (31 page)

“I looked out the window and saw you entering the stables. I wanted to talk to you before you…left.” She lifted her chin. “I did not leave the house unarmed. Unfortunately, Carmichael saw my attempt to retrieve the pistol from my pocket.”

“Pistol?”

“Yes. And I was prepared to use it if necessary.”

“I…see. What did you want to talk to me about?” He searched her gaze, hoping for an indication that she’d perhaps changed her mind, but her expression gave nothing away.

“Would you mind terribly if we spoke back at the house?” Her gaze flicked to the trussed Carmichael, and a visible shudder racked her.

“Of course not. But I need to remain here until Fritzborne arrives with the magistrate. I’m certain he’ll wish to talk to you and Spencer as well.”

“All right.” Turning to Spencer, she said, “Would you
come with me, darling? There’s something I need to discuss with you.”

Spencer nodded. Catherine tucked his arm beneath hers, and Andrew watched them depart, bludgeoning back the pain of knowing that after today, he’d no longer be part of their lives.

 

Catherine started when the knock sounded on the drawing room door. After running her hands down her peach muslin gown, then pinching her cheeks to ensure she didn’t look too pale, she said, “Come in.”

The door opened, and Andrew stepped over the threshold. Andrew, looking tall, solid, masculine, and darkly attractive, his ebony hair mussed as if he’d combed his fingers through the strands. Her breath hitched, and she pressed her hands to her midsection in an attempt to calm her stomach’s jitterings.

“The magistrate has gone?” she asked.

“Yes. Between everything you, Spencer, Fritzborne, and I told him, Carmichael will never see the outside of a prison cell again.” He slowly crossed the room, stopping with the length of the Axminster throw rug between them. “You said you wished to speak to me.”

“Yes. Before Spencer and I returned to the house, we visited the gardens and shared a long talk.” She turned and walked to the small cherrywood table near the window and picked up a bouquet of flowers, the stems wrapped with a red satin ribbon. When she returned, she held out the bundle, praying she did not look as nervous as she felt. “I picked these. For you.”

Surprise flickered in his eyes as he took the flowers. “
Dicentra spectabilis
,” he said, his voice rough.

“You remembered the Latin name.”

He stared at the red-and-white flowers, and a humor
less sound passed his lips. “For bleeding heart? I’m not apt to forget something so…descriptive.” His gaze seemed to burn into her. “I remember everything, Catherine. Every look. Every word. Every smile. I remember the first time I touched you. The last time I touched you. And every touch in between.”

She clenched her hands to keep them from fidgeting with her gown. “I found your note. The ring. And the letters. I…I’d had no idea that your feelings for me were of such a long standing.”

“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about? The fact that I’ve loved you for years rather than months?”

“Yes. No.” She shook her head. “What I mean is that I want to speak to you about
my
feelings.”

His gaze sharpened. “I’m listening.”

“After you left my bedchamber, I spent the rest of the night thinking, and I finally arrived at what I believed was a logical decision. I went to tell you, but you were gone. Then I read your note, saw those letters I’d written, and all my fine decisions disintegrated. I was left with only an undeniable, irrefutable realization—that I’d already made one terrible, dreadful mistake by refusing you and had been on the verge of making another. I do not wish to make any more such errors.” She drew a bracing breath. “Andrew, will you marry me?”

Never in her life had she heard such a deafening silence. Her heart seemed to stall and race at the same time as he regarded her with a cautious expression. Finally, he spoke. “I beg your pardon?”

She cocked a brow in her best imitation of him. “Do you not know what
marry
means? Must I fetch a dictionary?”

“Perhaps you should, because I’d like to be certain we’re speaking of the same word.”

“A very wise person recently told me that marriage
means caring for one another. Loving together. Sharing laughter and helping through pain. Always knowing that there is another person standing beside you. For you.” She took one step closer to him, then another. “It means I want you to be my husband. I’ve spoken to Spencer, and he wants you to be his father. I want to be your wife. Now do you understand?”

His throat worked, and he jerked his head in a nod. “You’ve left very little room for misinterpretation, although I’m not certain I understand how my note precipitated this change of heart.”

“The thought of you loving me for all those years…it touched my heart. Opened my heart. I realized with painful clarity that if
you’d
been my husband, my feelings toward marriage would be vastly different. I realized I wished you
had
been my husband. My fears made me deny my feelings for you, but I cannot deny them any longer. I love you, Andrew.”

He briefly squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, Catherine’s breath caught at the raw emotion burning in his gaze. Reaching out, he yanked her into his arms, and kissed her, a long, deep, passionate kiss that stole the bones from her knees.

“Again,” he growled against her lips. “Say it again.”

“I love you, Andrew.”

“Again.”

She pushed her hands against his chest and frowned at him. “Not until you answer my question.”

He nuzzled her neck, wreaking havoc on her ability to concentrate. “Question?”

She pushed back farther and glared at him. “Yes. Will you marry me?”

“Ah. That question. Before I answer, I want to make certain that you understand several things.”

“Such as?”

“I’m afraid I am no longer available as a single entity. I now come with a dog.”

One corner of her mouth twitched. “I see. I can accept those terms. What else?”

“Although I am financially secure, you should know that I will unfortunately be five hundred pounds poorer than I’d planned since I won’t be able to deliver Charles Brightmore to Lord Markingham and his friends.”

“As I am deeply grateful for that, I can hardly quibble about the money.”

“Excellent. In order to keep Markingham or anyone else from instigating another search, I’ll offer them irrefutable proof that Brightmore has escaped the country for some far-off land with no intention of returning.”

“How will you come by such proof?”

“I’m a very clever fellow.”

“You’ll get no argument from me.”

He smiled. “This morning gets better and better.”

“Is there anything else I need to understand?”

“Yes. You still owe me a boon, and I shall demand payment.” His eyes darkened and he pulled her closer. “In full.”

A delighted shiver faced down her spine. “A truly heinous demand, but I shall concede. Anything else?”

“One more thing. I believe I’d like to follow in your literary footsteps and try my hand at penning a book. I’ve come up with the perfect title:
A Gentleman’s Guide to Masculine Survival and Understanding Women
.”

She stared at him, nonplussed. “You’re jesting.”

“I’m not. After our courtship, I consider myself something of an expert.”

But perhaps the idea wasn’t
totally
insane…“We’ll discuss it,” she said.

“Fair enough. And you might want to consider writing a sequel to the
Guide
. I’d be more than delighted to assist you with any research requirements. Now, about your proposal—the answer is a resounding yes. It would be my honor to marry you.”

Catherine released a breath she hadn’t realized she held. Slipping her hand into the pocket of her gown, she withdrew the emerald ring. “Will you put this on me?” she asked.

“With pleasure.” Tucking his flowers under his arm, he slipped the ring on her finger. “Do you like it? Because if you don’t, I’ll get you a different—”

“It’s perfect,” she assured him, moving her hand back and forth so the facets caught the light. “It is my most prized possession.”

He captured her hand and brought it to his mouth, pressing a warm kiss in her palm. A slow, devastating grin curved his lips. “I’ve never received flowers before. Or a marriage proposal.”

Warmth and happiness suffused her, and she returned his smile. “Yes, well you know how I like to be first.”

“My darling, Catherine,” he said, his eyes filled with love and passion. “You always have been.”

I would like to thank the following people for their invaluable help and support:

My editors, Carrie Feron and Erika Tsang, for their kindness, cheerleading, and wonderful ideas.

My agent, Damaris Rowland, for her faith and wisdom.

Martha Kirkland, for always knowing the answers to my research questions.

Jenni Grizzle and Wendy Etherington for keeping me going and always being up for champagne and cheesecake.

Brenda D’Alessandro, for being lots of fun, the world’s best shopper, and for walking three hundred city blocks without complaining (sort of).

Thanks also to Kay and Jim Johnson, Kathy and Dick Guse, Lea and Art D’Alessandro, JoBeth Beard, Ann Wonycott, and Michelle, Steve, and Lindsey Grossman.

A cyberhug to my Looney Loopies Connie Brockway, Marsha Canham, Virginia Henley, Jill Gregory, Sandy Hingston, Julia London, Kathleen Givens, Sherri Browning, and Julie Ortolon, and also to the Temptresses.

A very special thank-you to the members of Georgia
Romance Writers, JoBeth Beard, Ana Payne, Judy Wilson, and Jeannie Pierannunzi.

And finally, thank you to all the wonderful readers who have taken the time to write or e-mail me. I love hearing from you!

About the Author

JACQUIE D’ALESSANDRO
Growing up on Long Island, New York, I fell in love with romance at an early age. I dreamed of being swept away by a dashing rogue riding a spirited stallion. When my hero finally showed up, he was dressed in jeans and drove a Volkswagen, but I recognized him anyway. We married after both graduating from Hofstra University and are now living our happily-ever-afters in Atlanta, Georgia, along with our very bright and active son, who is a dashing rogue in the making. I love to hear from readers! You can contact me through my website at
www.JacquieD.com
.

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By Jacquie D’Alessandro

L
OVE AND THE
S
INGLE
H
EIRESS

W
HO
W
ILL
T
AKE
T
HIS
M
AN?

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

LOVE AND THE SINGLE HEIRESS
. Copyright © 2004 by Jacquie D’Alessandro. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

ePub edition June 2007 ISBN:9780061748745

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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