New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

of Contemporary Women's Fiction, Romantic Comedies, and Historical Romances

 

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(Avon, ISBN 0-06-077941-1)

 
 

"Jacquie D'Alessandro writes romance at its enchanting best!"

                          ----Teresa Medeiros

New York Times bestselling author of

AFTER MIDNIGHT

 

Impossible!

Colin Oliver, Viscount Sutton, left his beloved Cornwall for London to find a bride--some comely, proper, well born lady to bear him an heir.  Certainly not someone like Madame Alexandra Larchmont.  Yes, she's the toast of the ton, and a rare beauty to be sure.  But she's also a fortune-teller.  And Colin has an excellent reason for keeping a sharp watch on this one...

The cards have warned Alexandra for years about a dark-haired stranger who would wreak havoc with her life, so when she sees him at a soiree, her first thought is to run.  Unfortunately, she overhears a murder plot, and the only person she can turn to for help is a man she knows she should stay away from, a man who eyes her with an undisguised hunger.

But fate's strange turns are Alexandra's stock in trade.  And if love is written in the cards, surely nothing is impossible!

 

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Excerpt

 

That kiss...

Alexandra’s lack of control, the way she’d abandoned her resolve, confused and irritated her.  Normally she was very levelheaded.  Disciplined.  Yet a moment in this man’s company seemingly robbed her of her common sense.  Well, there would simply be no more kissing.  She’d not make the same mistake twice.  You’ve already made that mistake twice, her inner voice reminded her.

Fine.  She’d not make the same mistake three times. 

Colin leaned forward, clearly intending to kiss her, and she forced her feet to move away, pulling her hand free from his. 

He regarded her through serious eyes, then nodded.  “Yes.  This is neither the time nor place.”

“Actually, there is no proper time or place, my lord.  A single kiss was one thing, but repeating it today was...”  Delightful.  Incredible.  Unforgettable.  “...not wise.  Doing it again would be foolhardy indeed.”  

“Why?”

Because with only two kisses you’ve made me want things I shouldn’t.  Things I can’t have.   “Surely you don’t need to ask.”

 “No, I don’t,” he said quietly.  “I feel the deep attraction between us.  The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” she said quickly.

“I don’t believe that is going to be an option.”

 

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Chapter One

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Chapter One

 

From The London Times Society page:  Lord and Lady Malloran’s annual soiree promises to be more exciting this year than ever as the entertaining services of the mysterious, much-sought-after fortuneteller Madame Larchmont have been secured.  As Madame’s provocative predictions have an uncanny knack for accuracy, her presence at any party guarantees its success.  Also attending will be the very eligible Viscount Sutton, who recently returned to London after an extended stay at his Cornwall estate and is rumored to be looking for a wife.  Wouldn’t it be delicious if Madame Larchmont told him whom it is in the cards for him to marry?  

 

Alexandra Larchmont pinned Lady Miranda Dobbs with the intense stare she knew lent her predictions extra credence.  As Lady Miranda was a distant cousin to Alex’s hostess, Lady Malloran, she wanted to make certain the young woman was pleased with her card reading.

“While I divine from your card reading and aura that you suffered pain in your past, your present is filled with bright promise--parties, jewels, fabulous gowns.”

Lady Miranda’s eyes glittered with delight.  “Excellent.”  She leaned closer to Alex.  “What about my future?” she whispered. 

She was about to look down to consult the cards when the crowd of milling party guests separated a bit and her attention was caught by the sight of a tall, dark-haired man. 

Panic rippled along her nerve endings and her muscles tensed, for in spite of the fact that four years had past since she’d last seen him, she recognized him instantly.  Under the best of circumstances, he wouldn’t be a man easily forgotten--and the circumstances of their last encounter could never be described as “best.”  While she didn’t know his name, his image was permanently etched in her memory. 

She dearly wished that’s where he’d remained--not standing a mere dozen feet away.  Dear God, if he recognized her, everything she’d worked so long and hard for would be destroyed.  Did he normally move in these exalted circles?  If so, more than her livelihood was at risk--her very existence was threatened.

Her every instinct screamed at her to flee, but she remained frozen in place, unable to look away from him.  As if trapped in a horrible, slow-moving nightmare, her gaze wandered down his form.  Impeccably dressed in formal black attire, his dark hair gleamed under the glow of the dozens of candles flickering in the overhead chandelier.  He held a crystal champagne glass, and she involuntarily shivered, rubbing her damp palms over her upper arms, recalling in vivid detail the strength in those large hands as they’d gripped her, preventing her escape.  Out of necessity, she’d learned at a young age how to master her fears, but this man had alarmed and unnerved her as no one else ever had, before or since their single encounter.

The cards had repeatedly warned her about him--the dark-haired stranger with the vivid green eyes who would wreak havoc with her existence--years before she’d ever seen him that first time.  The cards had also predicted she’d someday see him again.  Unfortunately the cards hadn’t prepared her for someday being now.

Looking up, she noted with a sickening sense of alarm that his gaze moved slowly over the crowd.  In a matter of seconds that gaze would fall upon her.

        “Are you all right, Madame Larchmont?  You’ve gone completely pale.”

Lady Miranda’s voice jerked Alex’s attention away from the man and she found herself the subject of the young woman’s narrow-eyed scrutiny.

Digging deep to locate the well-practiced inscrutable mien that had always served her well, Alex said, “I’m a bit overheated, which sadly disrupts my psychic energies.”  The well-modulated, even-toned voice she’d perfected long ago gave no indication of her inner turmoil.  “A bit of air will set me to rights and allow me to once again commune with the spirits.  If you’ll excuse me...”

Her gaze flicked back to the man.  A stunning young woman she recognized as Lord Ralstrom’s daughter Lady Margaret approached him, smiling in unmistakable greeting.  She had Alex’s undying gratitude.  Surely a beauty like that would keep his interest engaged long enough for her to escape.   

She quickly wrapped up her cards in her square of bronze silk, slipped the deck into the deep pocket of her gown then hastily rose.  Apprehension shivered down her spine and she felt the weight of someone’s stare upon her.  Her gaze snapped up and her breath stalled.

Vivid green eyes assessed her with a piercing intensity that simultaneously chilled and heated her.  And rendered her as immobile as his hands had four years ago. Her heart seemed to stutter and it flashed through her mind that there were undoubtedly dozens of women who would go to great lengths to be on the receiving end of this man’s attention.  She, however, was not one of them. 

Did he recognize her?  She couldn’t tell as his expression gave nothing away.  But she did not intend to wait to find out.  “The spirits are calling, I must go,” she said to Lady Miranda, then executed a quick turn and melted into the crowd with an expertise born of years of practice.

Unfortunately she didn’t know where she was going, her entire being consumed with only one thought: escape.  The very same thought the stranger had imbued in her the last time they’d met.

After navigating her way to the edge of the room, she halted, and frustrated dismay filled her.  Damnation, in her panic, she’d fled the wrong way.  Her fortunetelling table had been set up near the French windows leading outside and was therefore now on the opposite side of the large, crowded room.  And dozens of party guests stood between her and the corridor leading to the front door--a situation made all the more vexing as succumbing to panic was simply not like her.  Yet, she couldn’t deny the agitation gripping her.

She quickly scanned the crowd.  Her heart stuttered when her gaze settled on the green-eyed man.  His features were set in a dark scowl as he, too, scanned the crowd.  Looking for her?

Spurred by the desperation she couldn’t control, she slipped into the nearest corridor.  Heart pounding, she forced herself not to run, not to show any outward signs of alarm in case she met someone.  An open door on the left offered the hope of sanctuary, but as she drew closer, she heard masculine voices coming from within and moved on.  She passed other doorways, but didn’t pause, determined to put as much distance between her and the man as possible.  Surely he wouldn’t search the house for her, if indeed he even looked for her. 

Her mind raced.  All she needed to do was find a room...preferably one at the back of the house.  She’d slip out the window into the garden, then disappear into the mews.  Lady Malloran would most assuredly be annoyed and Alex would no doubt lose the entire evening’s wages, a troubling prospect as she badly needed the money.  She’d have to plead her case to Lady Malloran, claiming a loss of the spirits or deep psychic fatigue or some such so her reputation wasn’t damaged.  Of course, her efforts might well be for naught, thanks to the stranger.  The ramifications of what running into her past might mean for her future--

She sliced off the disturbing thought.  The future she needed to worry about right now encompassed the next few minutes.  Once she escaped here, she’d worry about tomorrow. 

The corridor made a series of turns, and the light dimmed to near darkness.  The sounds of the party--laughter, chatter, the tinkling of crystal--faded to a dim, indistinguishable murmur.  After rounding another corner, she noted a closed door and inwardly smiled.  Excellent.  Based on what she knew of Mayfair town houses, the room was most likely a library or study, and clearly wasn’t being used for the party.  Moving swiftly, she pressed her ear against the wood door panel, then dropped to her knees and peered through the keyhole.  Satisfied the room was empty, she turned the brass knob, eased the door open just enough to slip through, then closed the door behind her.

Leaning back against the polished oak panel, she sucked in a deep, calming breath and conducted a quick survey of the room which was, as she’d suspected, a study.  Based on the dark, wood paneling, and masculine maroon leather sofa and chairs, clearly Lord Malloran’s domain.  Her gaze riveted on the window on the opposite side of the room through which silvery moonlight glowed--the room’s only illumination, and she allowed herself to relish an instant of relief.  Escape beckoned, no more than twenty feet away.

Just as she was about to push off from the door, however, a noise stilled her.  Relief vanished and tension gripped her anew, and she pressed her ear to the crack between the door and the jamb. 

“The study is just ahead,” came a low, deep voice.  “We can talk there without interruption.”

Dear God, could her luck this night get any worse?  Spurred to action, Alex raced across the room.  With no time to escape out the window, she dashed behind the heavy velvet drapes, simultaneously blessing the darkness of the room and cursing her foolishness for hesitating even a second to catch her breath.  She pressed her back against the cool glass window panes.  Her escape hatch. 

For all the good it did her.

The soft swish of the door opening was followed seconds later by a click as it closed.  Then a louder click, indicating the door was now locked.  She went perfectly still and reminded herself that over the years she’d successfully escaped tougher spots than this.  More times than she cared to recall.  Just remain calm, quiet, and patient. 

“The date and place are set.”  She instantly recognized the rough, masculine voice as the same one she’d heard seconds ago through the door crack.

“When?” came another voice, this one a barely audible raspy whisper.

“Wexhall’s party.  On the twentieth.”

“All the arrangements are in place?”

“Yes.  No one will suspect it were more than a tragic accident.”

“Make certain of that,” came the soft, raspy whisper.  The person’s real voice--or an attempt at a disguise?  Most likely a disguise, she decided.  One never knew when one might be inadvertently overheard in a house swarming with guests and servants.  Or fortunetellers hiding behind draperies.  “No mistakes.  His death will assuredly give rise to inquiries.”

“No need fer worry.  Ye’ve hired the best.”

“You’ll be compensated as such.  Provided all goes as planned.”

“It will.  And speakin’ of compensation...I’ll be havin’ another bit of blunt now that the arrangements are made.  As we agreed.”

“I’ll see that it’s delivered tomorrow.  There’s to be no further contact between us after this.”

“Understood.  Now I’ve got to get back to servin’ the fancy folks drinks ‘fore I’m missed.”

“With the money I’m paying you, soon you’ll be the one throwing the fancy parties.”

A sound of disgust filled the air.  “Bah, I won’t be wastin’ no blunt on parties.  Soon as this is over, you’ll never see me in London again.”

“That is, undoubtedly, for the best,” came the silky, whispered reply.

“Gonna get my own place.  By the sea.  Hire myself a servant.  Be the one gettin’ waited on fer once in my life.”

No reply other than the sound of muffled footfalls came and Alex, scarcely daring to breathe, visualized the pair crossing the room.  Seconds later the click of the door being unlocked sounded.  Even while her strong sense of self-preservation screamed at her not to move, she peeked around the edge of the curtain and for an instant caught sight of the back of a tall, dark-haired man who was dressed in the unmistakable elaborately gold-trimmed Malloran livery.  Obviously the rougher, less educated speaker.  To whom had he been talking?  She craned her neck, but the door shut, ensconcing her in tomb-like silence.

She remained behind the curtain, pulling in slow, careful breaths in an effort to quell the sick dread snaking through her.  Someone was going to be killed...on the twentieth.  But who?

It’s not your problem, the inner voice that had successfully helped her survive the mean streets of London warned.  You have your own problems to worry about.

Yes, she did.  And she well knew what happened to people who stuck their nose where it didn’t belong--they tended to lose their noses.  Or worse. 

She squeezed her eyes shut and cursed herself for wondering if this evening could get any worse, for clearly it could.  Everything inside her screamed at her to forget what she’d overheard.  Ignore it.  Flee.  Now.  While she had the chance.  Before the Malloran servant or the person who’d clearly hired him to kill discovered her absence from the party and wondered where the entertainment had disappeared to.  Then looked for and found her.  Hiding in this room.  Where they’d just discussed their murderous plot. 

But she knew that no matter how hard she tried, she’d never be able to forget what she’d heard.  Her conscience, that inconvenient inner voice that plagued her when she most wished it not to, would eat at her. 

Yet what to do with this information?  Clearly the intended target was someone important.  His death will assuredly give rise to inquiries.  Someone had to be told.  Someone who could stop this crime before it took place.  Someone who wasn’t her.

But who?  A magistrate?  She swallowed the bitter sound that rose in her throat.  She’d spent her life avoiding magistrates and Runners and anyone of that ilk, and given her past, she definitely preferred to keep it that way.  Besides, who would believe her?  A woman who barely scraped together a living telling fortunes?  The instant the murder of this important person was committed, they’d believe her guilty--of something.  Didn’t matter what.  They’d hunt her down like a fox.  Toss her in a cell.  Her stomach turned over.  Never again.

Yet she’d be forced into her own private prison if she didn’t at least try to warn whoever was in danger.  But how, when she didn’t know who was the intended victim?  And how to report the information without involving herself?  There was only one way.  And it had to be done now.  Risky as it was to remain here, it was more so to try and impart the information later.

With a wistful glance at the window that beckoned with the sweet temptation of freedom, she moved from behind the curtain and walked swiftly to the elegant polished wood desk.  Quickly extracting a piece of vellum, she dipped the quill into the inkpot and penned a swift note.  Not wanting to spend time melting wax, she simply folded the vellum in quarters then wrote “Lord Malloran--urgent and private” on the outside.  She set it on the desk, securing it by placing an egg-shaped crystal paperweight on the corner, then blew out a long breath and told her conscience to cease grumbling.

She’d done what she could to save the intended victim.  Now she needed to save herself. 

Moving to the window, she looked through the glass at the small garden, which was thankfully empty, no doubt due to the unseasonably chilly weather.  Finally, something was going right this evening.  Noting the fifteen foot drop to the ground, she grimaced.  Last time she’d made such a jump, she’d slipped and strained her ankle.  She briefly considered retracing her steps and exiting through the front door, but a sore ankle held infinitely more appeal than running into either the green-eyed man or the murderous duo roaming the party.  No, the window offered the only way out of this mess.

After one last look to ensure the garden below remained free of party goers, Alex opened the window and nimbly swung her legs over the sash.  Bracing her palms on the ledge, she gave her body a deft twist then carefully lowered herself until she held on, her fingers curled over the sill, facing the rough stone exterior.  Drawing a deep breath, she pressed the toes of her soft leather boots against the stone wall, kicked off, and let go.

Her stomach rushed upward.  For the space of a heartbeat she felt as if she were flying, then she landed lightly, bending her knees and touching her palms to the cool, moist earth.  When she stood, she nearly laughed from the sheer exhilaration of her feat as she brushed off her hands.  She was free.  Now all she had to do was melt into the shadows.  She turned, intending to head toward the mews.

And found herself staring at a snowy white cravat.

A snowy white cravat that was mere inches from her nose.  She sucked in a startled breath and caught the scent of freshly starched linen mixed with a whiff of sandalwood.  She took a hasty step back but halted when her shoulders hit the rough stone of the town house.  Strong hands gripped her upper arms.

“Steady,” came a deep, masculine voice.

Dear God, when had her luck turned so horrendously...unlucky?  This night just went from bad to worse. 

Fingers flexed against her skin left bare by her gown’s short, puffed sleeves and she noted he wasn’t wearing gloves.  A heated tingle that was surely nothing more than annoyance skidded through her.  Determined to quickly talk her way out of this irritating further cog in her escape plans, Alex lifted her chin.   And looked into the hauntingly familiar eyes of the stranger.

 

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Publishers Weekly

D'Alessandro's latest historical romance (after Not Quite a Gentleman) features an engaging murder mystery and a heroine refreshingly free of title and rank. While attending Lord Malloran's soiree, London fortune teller Madame Alexandra Larchmont fears that Viscount Sutton, Colin Oliver, may recognize her as the woman who picked his pocket four years earlier. Hiding in a study, Alex overhears partygoers detailing a murder plot. She flees the party by leaping from a second-floor window, only to come face to face with Colin, who hasn't forgotten the beautiful pickpocket. When, just hours later, two men turn up dead in the room from which Colin saw Alex leap, he becomes intent on and tracking her down. After Colin finds and confronts Alex, he reluctantly decides to believe her story of the overheard murder plot, and the two get to work installing her at Lord Wexhall's, where the murders are meant to take place. The romance between Alex and Colin scintillates, and the whodunit murder mystery makes good use of a beguiling cast of characters, as each come under the scrutiny of the sexy sleuths.

 

Marilyn Rondeau, Official Reviewer

 for THE MYSTIC CASTLE

I've long been a fan of Ms. D'Alessandro's and her most recent Regency NEVER A LADY only cements my admiration for this vibrant wordsmith who's charismatic prose is a guarantee of providing the utmost in reading entertainment. She fashions her main protagonists with depth of personality making them seem larger than life and in this example the reader will be totally captivated by Alexandra, a product of the mean streets of London who makes it her mission to save as many of the unfortunate children as she can. Colin is fashioned with the undeniable stamp of an honorable gentleman who had been captivated by the dirty face of young girl who had once tried to pick his pockets. He'd let her slip away once and had suffered years of torment in wishing he knew what had happened to her; if she had managed to survive. While the romance and sensual elements were the prominent plot to this story, the mystery of who, what and why someone was to be murdered helped to keep the pace lively and the story rushing towards it's inevitable climax. Moreover, in addition to keeping the richness of this well-rounded story D'Alessandro inserts a plethora of engaging secondary characters including the very cunning six year old Robbie, Colin's brother Nathan, and a boot chewing dog aptly named B.C. All in all, a totally enchanting read that is sure to please.
 


Reviewed by Detra Fitch of Huntress Reviews


Jacquie D'Alessandro has yet to disappoint me with any of her romantic and suspense filled tales. Until the unlikely day occurs of D'Alessandro suddenly getting writer's block so badly that she totally flops in story telling (Heaven Forbid!), I will remain one of her biggest fans. Once again, all the characters in the story are very well developed and totally believable. The main and secondary characters are so detailed that each seem to have their very own personality and little quirks. I not only came to care for the main characters, but also all the secondary and a few of the background characters as well. (Little Robbie is a perfect example.) Wimpy, fainting, and useless females need not apply to be in any D'Alessandro novel. The same can be said for stiff, recherché, and boring men. Excellent and highly recommended reading!

 


 

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Reader Comments

 

Coming Soon

 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

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Awards


Awards

 

Nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice for best European Historical for 2006

Finalist for the Maggie Award of Excellence

 

Top of Page

Excerpt

Chapter One

Reviews

Reader Comments (coming soon)

Awards

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