Can an unconventional liaison turn into the love match of the season?
After the scandalous duel that made her a widow, Alberta Brown was left destitute--and in possession of a cache of ill-gotten goods. Determined to right the wrongs of her thieving husband, she sailed to England to locate the owner of a gentleman’s ring bearing an intriguing coat of arms. But a series of mishaps on- board soon convinced Allie that she was enmeshed in a perilous game. Yet none was more dangerous--or irresistibly tempting--than the dashing stranger waiting on the dock.
The marriage-minded Lord Robert Jamison was searching for a woman who aroused that certain something. He never expected to find her in this uncommonly pretty, fiercely independent American he’d been asked to escort back to a splendid country estate. Allie was in grave danger--worse, she vowed never to marry again. Yet Lord Robert’s will was just as strong--and he planned to make this maddening creature his wife, even as passion drove them into each other’s arms...and a reckless liaison flamed into the season’s most indiscreet and irresistible affair of the heart.
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A shiver snaked down Alberta Brown's spine, and she gripped the Seaward Lady's wood railing. Hoping she appeared outwardly calm, she quickly scanned her surroundings.
Crewmen shouted to one another, laughing as they tossed thick ropes and adjusted sails in preparation for the ship's imminent arrival in London. Voices from the bustling English port drifted over the tangy sea-scented air, blending into an indistinguishable hum. Passengers stood in clusters around the ship's rail, chatting in excited tones, grinning, waving to people on the docks. Everyone appeared perfectly normal and eager at the prospect of stepping on dry land after nearly three months at sea on the voyage from America. No one's gaze appeared fixed upon her.
Still, she could not dismiss the eerie sensation of menace. The weight of someone's stare surrounded her like a shroud. Her heart thumped in slow, hard beats, and she forced herself to draw a deep, calming breath and return her attention to the nearby active port. I am perfectly safe. No one is trying to hurt me.
She prayed to God it was true.
Yet she couldn't banish the sick feeling that it was not. She glanced downward at the froth tossed upon the hull as the ship cut through the gentle waves, and her stomach turned over. Dear God, less than three hours ago she'd fallen into that indigo water. . . .
A shudder passed through her, and she squeezed her eyes shut. The shock of being shoved from behind, falling . . . falling, desperately clawing the air, frightened cries ripped from her throat, cut off when chilly water closed over her head. She would be forever grateful to the trio of barking dogs who'd alerted a quick-witted crewman to the accident. Yet in spite of his fast thinking and her swimming ability, she'd nearly drowned.
The accident. Yes, that's what everyone was calling it. An improperly secured winch had swung around, catching her between the shoulders, propelling her over the side. Captain Whitstead had reprimanded the entire crew.
But was it really an accident? Or had someone purposely unfastened the winch and pushed it toward her?
Another tremor edged through her, and she sternly told herself it was merely due to the fact that her hair remained damp under her bonnet. Yet she could not ignore the fact that her near-tragic tumble into the sea was not the first strange incident to befall her on this voyage. First had been the inexplicable disappearance of her silver wedding band. Had she lost it--or had it been stolen? While the piece held no great monetary value, she sorely missed the sentimental token, as it was a physical reminder of what she'd had . . . and what she'd lost.
Then there was that headlong flight down the stairs, which thankfully had not resulted in any broken bones, although the painful bruises marking her skin had taken weeks to fade. She'd felt a shove . . . common sense told her it was merely an accidental jostle, yet she couldn't dismiss the feeling that she'd been pushed. And what of the mysterious stomach malady she'd suffered last week? No one else had been ill. Could someone have tampered with her food?
But why? Why would someone wish her harm? She'd asked herself that question dozens of times, yet could not arrive at a definite answer. She wanted to believe she was perfectly safe, but an inner voice warned her that the possibility she wasn't was all too real. Had some threat from the past followed her to England?
She glanced around again, but noted nothing amiss. Her unease abated a bit and she gave herself a mental shake. The ship would dock in less than an hour. She'd simply melt into the crowd and disappear into the anonymity offered by a large city. No one knew her here. No one knew . . .
Her gaze lowered, riveting on her black mourning gown, the stark bombazine rippled by the brisk breeze. An image of David's warm smile flashed through her mind, and she squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to ward off the onslaught of pain that thoughts of her late husband still brought, even now, three years after his sudden death. Dear God, would the ache squeezing her heart ever cease? Would she ever truly feel whole again?
Her fingers involuntarily drifted over the material of her gown, while in her mind's eye she pictured the small item hidden beneath the voluminous folds, sewn into the hem of her petticoat. To keep it safe. And always close to her. Especially after the unexplained disappearance of her wedding band. This is the last leg of my journey, David. After I right this last wrong, I'll be free.
"Alberta! There you are. The boys and I have been searching for you everywhere!"
Allie turned toward the familiar, imperious voice, grateful for the interruption of her disturbing thoughts. Baroness Gaddlestone approached Allie with a vigor that belied her plump figure and sixty-three years. Of course, part of the reason for the baroness's brisk pace was the three energetic Maltese straining at the ends of their leads. "The boys," as the baroness referred to her furry brood, dragged their mistress along as if they were mighty oxen and she were a produce-laden cart.
Pushing her worries firmly aside, Allie crouched down to receive the enthusiastic yip-filled greeting the small balls of fluff bestowed upon her.
"Edward, behave yourself," the baroness scolded as the smallest of the trio dampened Allie's face with joyful kisses. "Tedmund! Frederick! Cease at once!"
The boys blithely ignored their mistress, as was often the case when they were excited, but Allie enjoyed the dogs' noisy confusion. Indeed, she owed them a debt she could never repay. Their insistent barking had alerted the crewman when she'd fallen overboard. She therefore quite willingly overlooked their individual bad habits and focused on their undeniable charm. What did it matter that Edward was fond of marking every bit of wood and rope within his reach as his own? Of course, on a ship, this kept the small dog quite busy, and he fell into his doggie bed each night completely exhausted.
And how could she fault Frederick's predilection for nipping ankles when he'd all but dragged her rescuing crewman to the rail while his brothers barked themselves hoarse? Her gaze found Tedmund, who had wandered several yards away to engage in his favorite activity, this time with a discarded pile of rags. Oh dear. She had tried on numerous occasions to explain to Tedmund that it was not polite to try and make puppies with anything other than a female dog--and then, only in private--but Tedmund remained unrepentant.
After discreetly removing Tedmund from the pile of rags, Allie doled out equal parts of affection for all three dogs, then stood and gazed down at their prancing antics. "Sit," she commanded.
Three canine bottoms instantly settled on the deck.
"You simply must explain to me how you do that, my dear," the baroness said, her voice tinged with exasperation. "I've been unable to calm them since I told them we were arriving home this morning. You know how anxious they are to run in the park." She beamed a smile at her babies. "Don't worry, darlings. Mama promises to bring you for a nice, long walk this afternoon." The boys' tails swished across the deck like a trio of mops at the happy news.
Warmth stole through Allie. She genuinely liked the baroness, whose bright green eyes and rounded elfin features reminded Allie of a grandmotherly sprite. She was grateful to the woman for hiring her as her traveling companion. Without the baroness, she wouldn't have been able to afford the passage to England. And there was no denying that the baroness's lively, talkative nature and her energetic pets had relieved some of the loneliness Allie had lived with for so long.
"You were looking for me, Lady Gaddlestone?"
"Indeed, my dear. I wanted a private moment to thank you for your excellent companionship on this voyage. My previous companion who accompanied me to America proved most unsatisfactory." She leaned closer to Allie and confided, "Several times I detected the odor of brandy on her breath. Most shocking. But worst of all, she had no patience with the boys. Edward, Tedmund, and Frederick could not abide her at all. Oh, that Mrs. Atkins was simply horrid, wasn't she, boys?" The baroness wrinkled her nose and shivered, and the boys narrowed their black eyes and growled their agreement. Allie could almost hear them saying, "Yes, Mama, she was horrid, and if she ever dares come back we'll bite her ankles, chew her shoes, and piddle on her bedclothes . . . again."
"But you, my dear," the baroness continued, smiling warmly at Allie, "you are what I call a 'dog person.' Not everyone is, you know."
"I enjoyed your company as well, Lady Gaddlestone." She looked down and winked at the trio of mischief-makers. "You and the boys."
"Yes, well, I hope you enjoy your visit to my country." Her gaze flicked over Allie's black mourning gown. Sympathy softened the woman's features, and reaching out, she clasped Allie's hands. "Clearly you adored your David, but three years is long enough to mourn, my dear. I understand perfectly that it's difficult to move on. Heavens, I never thought I'd recover when Gaddlestone passed on. But time does heal those wounds."
Allie pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling. "Some wounds can never truly heal," she said quietly.
"I understand how you feel, my dear. But you're still young. Don't close your mind to the possibility of finding happiness again. The Season is well under way. A mere word from your friend, the duchess of Bradford, could offer you entree into any soiree you wished to attend. 'Twould do you good to socialize a bit." Her gaze turned speculative. "I recall you saying that the duchess's brother-in-law will meet you at the dock?"
"Very handsome young man," the baroness mused. "Known him since he was a boy. Always high-spirited, and quite the charmer. Of course there was that trouble several years ago; some transgression or another . . ." A frown creased her brow. "I cannot recall the details. I was traveling in the north at the time, and my mind isn't what it used to be. Most vexing." Her expression cleared. "Oh, but you know how these gossipy things flare up, then fizzle out once the next enticing on dit comes along. I remember most clearly that Lord Robert's incident occurred just before Lord Feedly's only daughter eloped with one of their footmen! Oh, such a scandal! That news usurped all else at the time, and reached me, even all the way up in Newcastle. And I do recall that Lord Robert's misconduct did not concern a young lady, so you've nothing to worry about. Lord Robert has always been a perfect gentleman." She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "Naturally, young men are prone to find themselves knee-deep in at least one mishap, and this happened a long time ago. I'm certain he'll prove an entertaining escort during your journey to Bradford Hall."
The baroness gave Allie's hands a final squeeze, then released them. "Come along, boys," she said. " 'Tis time for your morning snack before we disembark." As the boys pulled her away, she called to Allie, "I'm sure we'll see you on the pier, my dear."
Alone again, Allie reached into the deep pocket of her skirt, withdrawing the last letter she'd received from Elizabeth, who was now the duchess of Bradford. The brief missive had arrived two weeks before Allie sailed to England.
Unfolding the thick vellum, she reread the words, although she knew them by heart.
I cannot tell you how excited I am at the prospect of your visit. I am so eager for you to meet my wonderful family, most especially my husband and darling son. Unfortunately I will not be able to meet you in London as I'd planned--but for a very happy reason. At the same time your ship is scheduled to arrive, Austin and I shall be awaiting the imminent birth of our second child! Indeed, by the time you arrive at Bradford Hall, I may already be a mother again. Please do not worry that your visit will be inconvenient. I recovered from James's birth with what Austin calls "alarming speed," and as you know, I am most robust. And do not worry about your journey to Bradford Hall. The estate is only several hours from London, and I have already extracted a promise from Austin's brother Robert that he will meet your ship and escort you here. I've enclosed a sketch of Lord Robert, and I shall give him one of you so that you can easily find each other at the pier.
I am counting the days until we see each other again, Allie. I've missed you so!
Wishing you a safe journey, your friend,
Allie stared at those last two words that always brought an ache to her heart. Your friend. Yes, Elizabeth, you have always been my friend. If only I had appreciated and understood that more. . . . I bless your forgiving nature.
Drawing a deep breath, she slowly slid the letter behind the second sheet of vellum and stared at the sketch of Elizabeth's brother-in-law. Elizabeth's considerable talent with charcoals had only grown over the years, and the image all but leaped from the page.
It would be easy to pick this man out of a crowd. She perused his features and her stomach knotted. He reminded her of David in so many ways . . . his crooked smile, his laughing eyes, the boyish charm so evident in his expression. Except Lord Robert Jamison was even more handsome than David, something she would not have thought possible.
She recalled Lady Gaddlestone's words regarding Lord Robert. There was that trouble several years ago; some transgression or another. What had he done? The instant the question popped into her mind, she shoved it aside. It did not matter. His past was of no concern to her. Nor did it matter what he looked like. He sparked no interest in her other than the fact that she wanted him to get her away from the docks and the menace she'd felt, as quickly as possible. Still, guilt pricked her at the thought of his wasted trip to fetch her.
How would he react when she told him she had no intention of traveling to Bradford Hall with him?
Robert Jamison stood on the pier watching the Seaward Lady's crew secure the majestic vessel to the berth. He dragged a deep breath into his lungs, and a smile eased across his face. Damn but he loved the docks. Loved the sight of crewmembers working in perfect unison hoisting sails and securing ropes. Loved the cacophony from the vendors hawking everything from meat pies to bolts of colorful silk. He even loved the harsh medley of smells that combined with the pungent salty air to create a scent that could be found nowhere else in England.
D'Alessandro adds another engaging, well-wrought adventure to her Regency-era Jamison family saga (Whirlwind Wedding, etc.). Still wearing her mourning clothes after three years because her efforts to repay the victims of her late husband's schemes have left her penniless, American Allie Brown arrives in England to visit her best friend and return a mysterious ring. En route, however, she begins to suspect that someone may be trying to harm her. Lord Robert Jamison has a sketch of the laughing lady he's to escort to his sister-in-law's home, but the solemn-eyed woman who steps off the ship hardly matches her portrait. Robert's quest to coax her into smiling, an attempted abduction and a pair of burglaries rattle Allie to the core, though in very different ways. Allie is determined to keep her heart safe from another charming man with secrets, but when she impetuously decides to begin an affair with Robert, their physical attraction inevitably gives way to love. A few too many coincidences undercut the suspense, but D'Alessandro's prose and plotting is surefooted. With its sympathetic protagonists and generous applications of humor, this witty escapade will give those searching for another excellent Regency author plenty of reasons to believe they've found her.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Descripción Dell, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Never used!. Nº de ref. de la librería P110440237130
Descripción Dell, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería DADAX0440237130
Descripción Dell. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Estado de conservación: New. 0440237130 New Condition. Nº de ref. de la librería NEW7.0160511