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Noble Intentions

Katie MacAlister

  Copyright © 2002 by Katie MacAlister

  Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover design by Dawn Adams

  Cover illustration by Alan Ayers/Lott Reps

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

  (630) 961-3900

  Fax: (630) 961-2168

  Originally published in 2002 by Leisure Books, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc., New York.


  Front Cover

  Title Page
















  A Sneak Preview of The Truth about Leo



  About Katie

  Back Cover

  My heartfelt appreciation goes to Noble’s mistresses—Beverly Brandt, Libby Muelhaupt, and Lori Grube—who cheered me on and offered sage advice.

  And to Vance Briceland, who made me laugh with his tinglemeter.


  Gillian Leigh’s first social event of the Season began with what many in the ton later labeled as an uncanny warning of Things To Come.

  “Well, bloody hell. This isn’t going to endear me to the duchess.”

  Gillian watched with dismay as flames licked up the gold velvet curtains despite her attempts to beat them out with a tasseled silk cushion. Shrieks of horror and shrill voices behind her indicated that others had spotted her activities, which she had hoped would escape their notice until she had the fire under control.

  Two footmen raced past her with buckets of water and soon had the fire extinguished, but it was too late, the damage was done. The duchess’s acclaimed Gold Drawing Room would never be the same again. Gillian stood clutching the sooty cushion to her chest and watched mournfully as the blackened curtains were hastily bundled past the small clutches of people who stood talking intently, looking everywhere but at her.

  “Sealing my fate as a social pariah, no doubt,” she muttered to herself.

  “Who is? And what on earth happened in here? Lady Dell said something about you burning down the house, but you know how she exag…oh, my!”

  Gillian heaved a deep sigh and turned to smile ruefully as her cousin, and dearest friend, caught sight of the damp, smoke-stained wall.

  “I’m afraid it’s true, Charlotte, although I wasn’t trying to burn down the house. It was just another of my Unfortunate Accidents.”

  Charlotte gave the formerly gilt-paneled wall a considering look, pursed her lips, then turned her gaze on her cousin. “Mmm. Well, you have certainly made sure everyone will be talking about your debut. Just look at you! You’ve got soot all over—your gloves are a complete loss, but I think you can brush the worst off your bodice.”

  Gillian gave in to the urge and snorted while Charlotte effected repairs to the sooty green muslin gown. “My debut—as if I wanted one. The only reason I’m here is because your mother insisted it would look odd if I remained at home while you had your Season. I’m five and twenty, Charlotte, not a young girl like you. And as for setting the ton talking—I’m sure they are, but it will no doubt be to label me a clumsy Colonial who can’t even be a wallflower without wreaking havoc.”

  Charlotte rolled her eyes as she clasped her hand around her cousin’s wrist and dragged her past the excited groups of people and out the door. “You’re only half American and not clumsy. You’re…well, you’re just enthusiastic. And slightly prone to Unfortunate Accidents. But all’s well that ends happily, as Mama always says. The curtains can be replaced, and I’m sure the duchess will realize the fire was simply one of those unavoidable events. Come, you must return to the ballroom. The most exciting thing has happened—the Black Earl is here.”

  “The black who?”

  “The Black Earl. Lord Weston. It’s rumored he’s going to take a bride again.”

  “No, truly? And this is an event we must not fail to witness? Is he going to take her right there in the ballroom?”

  “Gillian!” Charlotte stopped dead in the hallway, blocking people from either direction. Her china-blue eyes were round and sparkling with faux horror. “You really cannot say such things in polite company! It’s shocking, simply shocking, and I cannot allow you to sully my delicate, maidenly ears in such a manner!”

  Gillian grinned at her cousin and gave her a little push to get her moving again. “Honestly, Charlotte, I don’t see how you can tell such awful whoppers without being struck down with shame.”

  “Practice, Gilly, it’s because I pay the proper attention to perfecting a shy, demure look for an hour each morning. If you would do the same, it would do wonders for your personality. You might even catch a husband, which you certainly won’t do if you continue to be so…so…”





  Gillian chewed on her lip for a moment. “Unassuming? Unpretentious? Veracious?”

  “No, no, no. Green, that’s what you are. Utterly green and without any sense of ton whatsoever. You simply cannot continue to say what you think. It’s just not done in polite circles.”

  “Some people like honesty.”

  “Not in society, they don’t. Now stop dawdling and fix a pleasant expression on your face.”

  Gillian heaved a little sigh and tried to adopt the demure look that spinsters of her age were expected to wear.

  “Now you’re looking mulish,” Charlotte pointed out with a frown, then gave in to a sudden impish grin. She linked her arm through her cousin’s and tugged her along the hall. “Never mind, your face doesn’t matter in the least. Come, we don’t want to miss Lord Weston. Mama says he is a terrible rake and isn’t welcomed into polite circles anymore. I can’t wait to see how depraved he looks.”

  “What has he done to make him unacceptable to the jades, rakes, and rogues who populate the ton?”

  Charlotte’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “Lady Dell says he murdered his first wife after he found her in the arms of her true love. He is said to have shot her in the head, but missed when he tried to murder her lover.”

  “Truly? How fascinating! He must be a terribly emotional and uncontrolled man if he didn’t tolerate his wife having an inamorato. I thought that sort of behavior was de rigueur in the ton.”

  Gillian and Charlotte slipped past small groups of elegantly clad people and paused before the double doors leading to the ballroom. The heat generated by so many people inhabiting the confined space left the room stifling and airless.

  Charlotte fanned herself vigorously as she continued to tell Gillian what she knew of the infa
mous earl. “He doesn’t wear anything but black—’tis said to be a sign of his guilt that he’s never been out of mourning even though he killed his wife more than five years ago. She cursed him, you know, and that’s another reason he wears black. And then there are rumors of a child…”

  Charlotte’s voice dropped to an intimate whisper that Gillian had a hard time hearing above the noise of several chattering matrons standing nearby. “…and was born on the wrong side of the blanket.”

  “Someone is a bastard?” Gillian asked, confused.

  “Gillian!” Charlotte shrieked and, with an appalled look toward the matrons, pulled her cousin closer to the ballroom doors. “God’s teeth, you’re as uncivilized as a Red Indian. It must be living among them as you did that makes you so unconventional. Do try to curb your tongue!”

  Gillian muttered an insincere apology and prodded her cousin. “Who is illegitimate? The earl?”

  “Gilly, really! Don’t be such an idiot. How can he be illegitimate and an earl? Make an effort to pay attention, do—I was just telling you how Lord Weston murdered his first wife because she refused to bear him a son and turned to her lover for comfort. Isn’t that thrilling? It’s said she pleaded with him to give her a divorce so she could marry her lover, but he told her that if he could not have her, no man would. Then he shot her while her lover looked on.” She sighed. “It’s so romantic.”

  “Your idea of romantic and mine are most definitely not the same,” Gillian said, looking around at the dandies, macaronis, fops, elderly gentlemen in silk breeches, and other assorted members of that small, elite group who possessed the combination of fortune, rank, and reputation to admit them as members of the ton. “And this man is here tonight? Which one is he? Does he look evil? Does he have a hump on his back and a squint and walk with a limp? Will he ogle the ladies?”

  Charlotte frowned. “Don’t be ridiculous, Gilly. The earl is not a monster; at least, not to look at. He is quite handsome if you like large, brooding men, which I most definitely do. When they’re earls, of course. And perhaps viscounts. But nothing lower than a viscount, you understand.” She forestalled Gillian’s questions by turning toward the doors. “Come stand with me and we will watch to see if the rumor is true.”

  “Which rumor—that the earl killed his wife or that he is looking for a new one?”

  “The latter. I will know soon enough if he is—men cannot keep a thing like that secret for very long.”

  “Mmm, no, I imagine not. If their intentions are not clear in the speculative gazes they impart on every marriageable female who can still draw breath, it’s in the way they check the bride-to-be’s teeth and make sure her movement is sound.”

  Charlotte tried to stifle a giggle. “Mama says I am not to listen to a thing you say, that you are incorrigible and a bad influence.”

  Gillian laughed with her cousin as they entered the ballroom arm-in-arm. “It’s a good thing she doesn’t know I’ve learned it all from you, my dear Char. Now, after we view this rogue of the first water, tell me who has caught your fancy. As I told Aunt Honoria, I’m determined you will end your Season with a stunning match, but I cannot help you become deliriously happy if you do not tell me who your intended victim is.”

  “Oh, that’s simple,” Charlotte replied with a beatific expression of innocence that was spoiled only by a perfectly wicked smile. “Everyone knows rakes make the best husbands. I shall simply pick out the worst of the bunch—one riddled with vices, bad habits, and a reputation that will make Mama swoon and Papa rail—then I shall reform him.”

  “That seems like a terrible amount of work to go to just to find a suitable husband.”

  “Not really.” Charlotte whipped open her fan and adopted a coy look. “After all, you know what they say.”

  “No, what do they say?”

  “Necessity is the mother of intention.”

  Gillian stopped. “Invention, Charlotte.”


  “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

  Charlotte stared at her for a moment, then rapped her cousin on the wrist with her fan. “Don’t be ridiculous, where would I come up with an invention? Intentions I have aplenty, and that’s quite enough for me, thank you. Now let’s go find this delicious rake of an earl. If he’s as bad as Mama says, he might just suit.”

  Gillian laughed at her cousin as the pair resumed their course across the brightly lit ballroom. Three men standing nearby turned at the sound of their merriment and considered the pretty picture in contrast the pair made.

  “What have we here?” The shortest man, stylishly dressed in salmon satin breeches and an embroidered ivory waistcoat, lifted his quizzing glass and gazed at the two women. “Ah, it’s the Collins chit. Who’s the Long Meg with her?”

  The tallest member of the group lifted a dark eyebrow at the question. “I haven’t the slightest idea, Tolly. You’re the expert on members of society. You tell us who she is.”

  Sir Hugh Tolliver toyed with his quizzing glass. “You’d know, too, if you came to town more often, Weston. ’Struth, you haven’t even come for Parliament for the past five years! It ain’t healthy to bury yourself in the country like that, my friend. A man of your consequence should be in town, taking your rightful place in society. You owe it to your title and your family to do so.”

  The Black Earl gave the young man a tolerant look. Tolly had always been a bit of a romantic, nattering on about chivalry and the rights of the nobility for as long as the earl had known him.

  “You sound like my mother, Tolly,” he said with as much gentleness as he could muster, then turned his gaze back to consider the two women. “I’m here now, that will have to suffice.”

  Sir Hugh flushed at the set-down. “But how long do you plan to stay in town? Don’t look at me like I’m a candle short, man, it matters a good deal if I am to smooth your path into society.”

  “I’ll stay as long as it takes. And as for smoothing my path—I’ve told you, Tolly, I don’t give a damn what the ton thinks of me. I’m here for one purpose only, and once I’ve achieved my goal, I shall return to Nethercote.”

  “Ask St. Clair who the Amazon is, Tolly. He’s tight with Collins and is sure to know.” The third member of the group, who had also been watching the two women make their way to the opposite side of the room, nodded toward a door leading to the card room. Sir Hugh obligingly turned to find his quarry but was stopped by a soft voice.

  “Get me an introduction.”

  Sir Hugh stared at his saturnine friend in surprise, the flush slowly fading from his face. “You’re serious then, Weston? You’re looking to get leg-shackled again? I would have thought after Elizabeth…”

  The words dried in his mouth as Lord Weston gazed at him with a look he did not care to investigate further. “Er…yes. Which one?”

  “Which what?” Weston drawled in a bored voice that made Sir Hugh even more nervous. His palms began to sweat. Weston was at his most dangerous when he appeared bored.

  “Which chit did you want the introduction to?”

  Weston sent an uninterested glance to where the pair had joined a flock of young women. “The redhead.”

  “She’s a bit long in the tooth, don’t you think? On the shelf, and all that.” Sir Hugh regretted his comments the second they left his lips. One didn’t inquire into the reasons behind Weston’s actions. Although his gray eyes might be hooded by apparent disinterest, Sir Hugh knew how quickly they could turn frigid. His hands immediately stopped sweating and turned to blocks of ice.

  “Tolly,” the third man warned, taking on his accustomed role of peacemaker, “just get the introductions. Weston has my curiosity up now as well—the Amazon is damned pretty, even if she is a head taller than you.”

  Flushing again at the comment, Sir Hugh nodded curtly at the marquis and scurried off to garner the necessary information.

/>   “Don’t tell me you’re shopping for a wife as well, Harry?”

  Grimacing at the thought, Lord Rosse adjusted his spectacles and took another look down the line of this year’s crop of debutantes. “Lord, no. But you never know what lovely bit might be agreeable to carte blanche.”

  “You’re looking in the wrong spot, old friend. Allow me to direct you away from the virgins. The widows and bored wives are kept on the other side of the room.”

  Rosse ignored the gentle ribbing and continued his perusal. “If you hadn’t told me yourself you intended to wed again, I wouldn’t have believed it. I suppose you’re doing it for Nick’s sake?”

  Weston took two glasses of whiskey off the tray of a passing footman and handed one to his friend. “My son is part of the reason, my nursery another. It’s time I fill it.”

  “Damned shame you didn’t marry Nick’s mother.”

  The gray in Weston’s eyes turned to icy silver, but Rosse wasn’t daunted by the waves of almost palpable hostility that emanated from the man next to him; they’d been through too much together not to speak their minds in private.

  “If you recall,” Weston said softly as he directed his gaze back toward the Amazon, “I was already married at the time.”

  “Ah, yes. The lovely Elizabeth.”

  Weston’s gut tightened, as it did every time her name was mentioned, his lips thinning into a cruel parody of a smile as he fought down waves of bitterness and deep pain. It never failed to surprise him that he could feel such pain; for the last five years it had been the only emotion that breached the icy numbness that was his constant companion. The lovely Elizabeth. By God, he would make sure his second wife was nothing like that cold, heartless bitch.

  He surprised himself by putting his thoughts into words. “My next wife will be a quiet, unassuming, biddable woman who will not draw attention to herself or cause scandal. She will be pleased to stay in the country, take care of my son, and provide me with heirs.”

  Harry smiled. “In other words, this paragon of virtue will be everything your first wife was not.”