Apr 1 2014 4:30pm
Desiring Lady Caro: Exclusive Excerpt
These bachelors are clever, charismatic—and determined to remain single. Yet one by one, they find that fate—and certain irresistible women—cast doubt on even the best laid plans…
Haunted by her past, Lady Caroline Martindale fled England for the solace of her godmother’s palazzo in Venice. But if Caro was hoping to escape the charms of marriage-minded men, she’s come to the wrong place. And she’ll resort to extreme measures to spurn the advances of a dangerously determined Venetian marquis…
Though most of his friends have married off, Gervais, Earl of Huntley, remains bent on eluding the parson’s mousetrap. But his convictions begin to falter when he arrives in Venice and meets his match in the alluring Lady Caro. What began as a hastily concocted lie to save her from the marquis may become a chance for them both to relinquish their fear—and embrace what they can no longer deny…
Get a sneak peek at Ella Quinn's Desiring Lady Caro (available April 3, 2014) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.
“You told him what?” What in God’s name was Godmamma thinking? She knew Caro couldn’t marry. She rubbed her forehead and couldn’t bring herself to meet Huntley’s steady gaze. “Surely there was another way.”
Her godmother picked up a cup, then frowned at the now cold pot of tea. “Well, my love, he was insistent that you marry his grandson, and you are two and twenty.”
“What,” Caro asked, though not sure she wanted to hear the answer, “does my age have to do with it?”
“The duke would not have believed you have no wish to marry.” Her godmother fiddled with a bangle on her arm. “Add to that what Huntley told us about the young man’s temperament.”
“Temperament!” Caro clenched her fists. “The man is a beast.”
Horatia nodded. “Indeed, so it just”—she took a breath—“well, it seemed the prudent thing to do at the time.”
“Prudent?” Caro resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead tilted her head back to gaze at the ornately painted ceiling. The happy, frolicking cherubs weren’t helping.
“Yes, of course.” Her godmother smiled as if it all made sense. “You must see how fortuitous having Huntley here is. He was the perfect excuse.”
Why did this have to happen now? Her life had been going so well. Caro drew a breath and glanced at him. His countenance showed not even a hint of what he was thinking. It didn’t matter. An engagement to Huntley was impossible. He’d discover her secret, and it would be a disaster.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” she demanded, trying to get a rise from him. “Godmamma committed you as well.”
He raised a calm, aristocratic brow. Drat the man. He cannot want this. If half the talk she’d heard was true, he didn’t wish to marry yet. How could he be so composed?
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, a sardonic smile on his face. “You may jilt me when you’re safely in Paris.”
Caro threw up her hands. “Why do I have to be the one to do the jilting?” Her voice cracked. “I already have a reputation as a jilt. This isn’t going to help. I just want to live alone, in peace.”
“You know perfectly well,” Horatia said tartly, “Huntley cannot end the engagement.”
Caro passed a hand over her forehead. She needed to get herself under control. “You’re right, of course.”
Huntley drank the rest of his tea and stood. “We should leave this evening at the beginning of the normal dinner hour.” He looked at her. “Before the men di Venier has watching the house arrive.”
“He’s doing what?” Caro gasped. “How dare he?”
“He apparently dares quite a bit,” Huntley drawled. “If we depart tonight, we won’t be missed until to-morrow. We’d nothing planned for this evening, did we?”
Her godmother shook her head. “No, nothing. How far do you think you will be able to travel?”
“I—we,” he amended, “will try to make Padua.”
“I know an inn there,” Horatia said. “Caro knows it as well.”
Caro bit her lip. This was no time to fall apart. “Very well.” Traveling alone with Huntley? No, it was not possible. “But, Godmamma. I—I cannot.”
“Caro, my love, there is no choice. We cannot all leave at once. I have to make arrangements for the house and a number of other things.”
“What,” he asked, frowning at Horatia, “will you do after we’re gone?”
Horatia was quiet for a moment. “I shall travel to Genova and take a packet to Marseille. It will probably take a full week for me to arrive at the port. You must be in Austria by then.”
“Horatia,” Huntley said, “are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“Yes, of course.” She gave them a tight smile. “We shall meet in Nancy at the main inn that I’ve heard of, on the Rue de Guise. It’s time I visited France.”
Caro took a deep breath. This was really happening. They were leaving Venice, and she would be alone with Huntley. She wasn’t ready to accept defeat yet. “We can travel faster and go with you.”
Her godmother smiled gently. “I shall try to cover your absence and leave in no more than two days time with great pomp. I have no doubt I will be stopped by someone in the duke’s employ.”
She took Caro’s hands and met her gaze. She had never looked more serious and, for the first time, Caro knew her godmother was afraid for her.
“The two of you must be as close to the Brenner Pass as possible by then.”
Biting her lip again, Caro nodded. If di Venier followed, perhaps her betrothal to Huntley truly was the least of her worries. After all, not many of her countrymen would be traveling at this time of year. They’d want to be home at Christmas. No one would even know about the engagement. “I’ll have Nugent pack.”
Horatia went to a small marble side table and poured a glass of wine. “I’ve already given orders to your maid. You may take only a small valise with you. The rest of your baggage will meet you in Padua.”
To her disgust, Caro began to weep. It was all too much. Once again, her life was being ruined by a man. She searched in her pocket for a handkerchief and found one being pressed into hand. She glanced up. “I don’t usually cry.”
Huntley’s eyes held a compassion she’d not seen there before. “If this is the worst that happens, I daresay we’ll muddle along well on this trip. If it makes you feel any better, I’d rather not go back either.”
When she tried to return his handkerchief, he motioned for her to keep it. There was so much to do, and she was having such a difficult time thinking. “I need to go to the orphanage and tell the children I’m leaving. I cannot just disappear.”
Huntley shook his head. “It may not be safe. Neither the duke nor his grandson will be happy about our betrothal. After what Horatia said and the plan . . .”
She closed her eyes. “The plan to abduct me.”
“Write them a letter. It is the best you can do at the present.”
“Yes.” As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. The thought of being snatched by di Venier, having him touch her—her skin crawled in disgust. “I suppose you’re correct.”
Her godmother squeezed Caro’s hand and kissed her cheek. “Try to rest as well, my dear.”
“Yes, that will probably help.” Caro left with what dignity she could muster and strode swiftly to her apartment. She penned her notes, holding her tears at bay until the last one was sealed, before she threw herself on the bed and wept.
Her dresser, Nugent, stopped packing and handed her a cool, wet cloth. “Put that on your eyes or they’ll be all puffy.” When Caro had taken the cloth, her dresser continued. “It’s not what you wanted, but you mark my words, it will all turn out the way it’s supposed to.”
The aggravating part was she was almost always right.
“Thank you, Nugent.”
Nugent continued to pack. “He’s not a bad-looking gentleman.”
Caro hugged a large pillow. “Lord Huntley? No, I suppose not.”
Her dresser closed the last trunk and turned. “Got nice brown hair.”
“Whatever you’re thinking, cease. It wouldn’t matter if he looked like Adonis. I’m not going to marry him.”
Copyright © 2014 by Ella Quinn.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Desiring Lady Caro by Ella Quinn, available April 3, 2014:
Bestselling Regency author Ella Quinn lived all over the United States, the Pacific, Canada, England and Europe before finally discovering the Caribbean. She lives in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands with her wonderful husband, three bossy cats and a loveable great dane.