To Tame a Scoundrel’s Heart is Free!
A Waltz with a Rogue Novella, #4
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He loves everything about being a sea captain, so how can he give up his passion forever?
Katrina Needham intended to marry her beloved major and live happily-ever-after—until he’s seen with another woman. Distraught, and needing a distraction, she agrees to assist the rugged, and dangerously handsome Captain Dominic St. Monté find a wife. So why does she find herself entertaining romantic notions about the privateer turned duke?
When Nic unexpectedly inherits a dukedom and the care of his young sisters, he reluctantly decides he must marry. Afterward, if his new duchess is willing, he hopes to return to the sea-faring life he craves part-time. If she doesn’t agree, he’ll have no choice but to give up the sea forever.
Nic soon realizes Katrina possesses every characteristic he seeks in a duchess. The more time he spends with the vivacious beauty, the more enamored he becomes. Still, he cannot ask for her hand. Not only is she still officially promised to another, she has absolutely no interest in becoming a duchess, much less a privateer’s wife.
Can Nic and Katrina relinquish their carefully planned futures and trust love to guide them?
Read the First Chapter
Richmond, Parish of Kingston Upon the Thames, England
Bother and blast. Charitable intentions gone straight to Hades and scorched to ashes.
On all fours, Katrina Needham peered beneath the ugly-as-sin floral, chintz-covered couch, and in the process, snagged a hairpin on its braided edge. Several tendrils tugged loose, and an exasperated noise escaped her when the strands flopped across her forehead and eyes.
The sofa’s colors—somewhere between sickroom tosspot and stall muck—made her faintly nauseated. Or perhaps the potent fragrance hanging heavily in Miss Sweeting’s overly hot parlor triggered Katrina’s uncharacteristic queasiness.
A spicy-earthy scent permeated the stifling room, and, sweeping her hand behind the sofa, Katrina scrunched her nose in distaste.
Yes, there atop the mantel beside an Oriental vase, unbelievably even more hideous than the couch. Heat-wilted blossoms sagged over the vase’s rim and drooped against each other in a futile effort to survive the ungodly temperature. Probably the revolting incense too. What could Miss Sweeting have been thinking? Surely she must have an inkling how unbearably warm and smelly the parlor was?
Most likely the incense was another exotic gift from the infamous Captain Dominic St. Monté.Despite his aged aunt’s adoration, Miss Sweeting’s privateer nephew would never claim sainthood, no indeed.
A seducing scoundrel? A well-earned title, most assuredly.
At least according to the not-entirely-disapproving whispered titters and wistful sighs Katrina had overheard at numerous le bon ton gatherings. One learned ever so many improper—and delicious—tidbits by listening and observing. Gentlemen either admired St. Monté’s prowess and daring, in and out of the boudoir, or disdained him as a reckless rakehell.
Katrina hadn’t a doubt he’d earned his devilish reputation in every arena.
A rare, unladylike snort escaped her, and she shoved a burnished curl out of her eyes while heaving a frustrated breath. How far could the thimble have rolled, for pity’s sake? And where had that rotten cat vanished to?
If the indulged, fur-covered, hissing ball of podgy unpleasantness Miss Sweeting called Pretty Percival hadn’t waddled his tubbiness across the sewing table, knocking the diamond-encrusted trinket to the floor, Katrina wouldn’t be creeping about on silk-clad knees, frantically trying to find the treasure. She must locate it before her hostess put in an appearance and Katrina’s hoydenish behavior required an explanation.
“Pretty Percival, my bum. More like peevish, petulant, spoiled-to-his-stubby-whiskers puss.”
Maybe, please God, the thimble had bounced beneath a chair or table.
Katrina crawled the few feet to an equally garish chair situated between the fireplace and a shelf laden with gaudy knick-knacks. Miss Sweeting truly possessed the most atrocious taste in furnishing. Ghastly stuff.
Remorse immediately poked Katrina. Given Miss Sweeting’s modest finances, everything she owned, including the threadbare carpet Katrina kneeled on, was a cast-off.
If the gold thimble hadn’t been a gift from The Saint, she wouldn’t have been as concerned. But the valuable bauble’s absence—purportedly once part of a Spanish treasure—would surely be noticed and distress the already feeble, too trusting Miss Sweeting. She doted on her nefarious nephew, though believing everything he said mightn’t be altogether prudent. Actually, not wise at all, considering privateers and pirates were opposite sides of the same coin.
St. Monté, otherwise known as The Saint of the Sea, according to the twittering elderly spinster, regularly sent her unusual trinkets, hideous things, and not once during Katrina’s visits had Miss Sweeting, Mama’s former governess, failed to display the thimble and various other foreign bric-a-brac proudly. His thoughtfulness and obvious affection for the woman who’d raised him contrasted starkly with his privateer repute.
Katrina patted about the chair’s legs before sinking lower and scowling at a lone bunny-sized dust ball snuggled contentedly between a gouged rear leg and the faded wall. No thimble hid there either. Where had the dratted thing disappeared to? It wasn’t as if the room was vast or stuffed with furnishings and whatnots.
“Percival, you rotten, flea-ridden hair ball, where is it?”
“I regret,” a rumbling male voice said, “I cannot stay for tea today, Aunt—”
Percival yowled plaintively, and Katrina, her pink-clad derrière indelicately raised, froze.
Oh, God no. That sounds like—
“Percy, darling. What is it, sweetums? Nic, do be a dear boy and pick him up for me,” Miss Sweeting cooed, her tinny tone frailer than usual. “Come, here. There’s a love, my pretty, pretty boy.”
Perhaps they hadn’t seen Katrina yet, and she could …
Daring a peek, Katrina met a golden, grinning Adonis’s amber-hued gaze. The Saint, devil it. And he most certainly had seen her.
His attention fixed on Katrina’s bottom, he passed the now-purring Percival to Miss Sweeting, and Katrina swiftly angled to her knees, confident her face matched her gown’s rosy hue.
When had Captain St. Monté arrived, and why hadn’t Miss Sweeting mentioned she expected a visit from him? Shouldn’t he be cavorting on the seven seas, plundering ships, ravishing damsels, doing whatever illegitimate, highborn, swashbuckling—devilishly handsome—privateers without responsibilities or scruples did?
The blasted cat languidly blinked his big brandy—gloating?—eyes at Katrina and gave a toothy yawn.
“Miss Needham, whatever are you doing on the floor, my dear?” Sparse gray brows knitted in confusion, Miss Sweeting kissed Percival’s head and stroked the thick fat rolls layering his tawny, striped spine.
He arched, and his contented rumblings reverberating louder. Beast.
“Looking for your gold thimble, I’m afraid. Percival knocked it onto the floor, and I’ve spent five minutes searching for the dashed thing.” Katrina bit her lip. Ladies shouldn’t say dashed, especially bankers’ daughters already under the haut ton’s disapproving scrutiny. Not all le beau monde members took kindly to hoi polloi infiltrating their exclusive parlors—even gently-bred, refined commoners with vulgarly full coffers.
She scrambled to her feet before haphazardly repinning her wayward tresses. Mama would’ve tutted and fussed if she’d seen Katrina’s bare hands, but better to be caught gloveless by a gentleman than risk soiling her new gloves scuttling about the floor like a beach shore crab. Katrina refused to contemplate Mama’s reaction if she saw her daughter, rump in the air, on the floor.
The suntanned god chuckled, a deliciously wicked vibration that hadn’t any business coming from a man already claiming his striking looks. He possessed features too bold and rugged to be considered handsome in the classic sense, but as a buccaneer? Well, even her heart dared putter faster for a beat or two. His faintly bent nose and the convoluted scar from left eyebrow to temple marred his countenance, but in a dangerous, roguish way.
Those hadn’t been there the last time she’d seen him four—no, five—years ago.
She opened her mouth to ask him how he’d come by them, but instead, firmly pressed her lips together. Ladies didn’t ask personal questions of gentlemen they scarcely knew. Most especially gentlemen of questionable standing.
Grinning—he always grinned—St. Monté bent and retrieved a shiny spot of something near his scuffed boot. No polished Hessians or Wellingtons for him, but well-used footwear. “Is this what you’re searching for?”
His voice’s timbre—deep, smooth, and assuredly broiling with amusement—enveloped her, and her insides wobbled peculiarly. Perhaps she’d caught Mama’s affliction after all, which surely explained Katrina’s dampened palms and queer giddiness.
Contriving a genial smile, she eyed the thimble as she perched on the sofa cushion’s tattered edge. How had it rolled clear across the room? She trained her narrowed gaze on Percival.
He blinked at her, a definite smug look about his whiskers.
While she’d been hunting beneath the furnishings, had that devil of a cat been batting his new toy about the carpet? Precisely why, even though her pet name was Kitty, she preferred dogs. Sir Pugsley, her cherished pug, hadn’t a conniving bone in his rotund body. He wasn’t too bright either, but his devotion compensated for his lack of acumen.
Her head barely reaching St. Monté’s chest, Miss Sweeting squinted at the gold balanced atop his long forefinger. “I seem to have misplaced my spectacles again, dear boy, but I believe that must be my thimble. Is it?”
“Indeed, and none the worse for wear from its mishap.” After palming the bauble, he plucked her eyeglasses from atop her lace cap. He gently looped a wire around each ear, and gave her a tender smile. “There you are. Better?”
Such a large, unsophisticated, unacceptable man by the ton’s standards, yet so tender with his delicate aunt.
“Much, thank you. I quite forgot I tucked them there. I do that often, of late.” Her rasping chuckle ended on a harsh, dry cough. “Did you know, Miss Needham, Nic gifted me the thimble, and it once belonged to a princess?”
So he says.
Pride tipped Miss Sweeting’s mouth and frolicked in her faded whisky-brown eyes, magnified owlishly by her lenses. It had been a long while since Katrina had seen her so animated, and chagrin nipped her for entertaining uncharitable thoughts toward St. Monté.
“No wonder you treasure it so,” Katrina said. No need to embarrass the dear by telling her she’d mentioned those particulars more than a dozen times prior.
The grateful glance he leveled at Katrina propelled heat to her hairline. Hound’s teeth, a fan would be most welcome. Or a walk in the still sullen, frosty outdoors. She truly must be ailing, though she exhibited no other symptoms than feverishness and an uneasy belly.
Or perhaps … No, surely St. Monté’s practiced charm hadn’t affected her?
Silly. Of course not. Katrina wasn’t fickle or a hair-brained rattlepate. Besides, she preferred dark-haired, brown-eyed, sober men like her soon-to-be husband, Major Richard Domont. He balanced her overexuberant tendencies.
They weren’t officially affianced yet, but before Richard’s departure a jot over fortnight ago, he’d vowed he’d wait no longer to ask for her hand. When he returned from his assignment in Cambridge, any day now, he intended to approach Papa, who’d already hinted he’d consent to the match. In a fortnight, at the Wimpletons’ annual winter ball, Katrina planned to announce their official betrothal.
She’d already selected the exquisite gown she’d wear, a new blue and white confection, and since last fall when she’d confessed her tendre for the major, Mama had steadily assembled Katrina’s trousseau in anticipation of a wedding. As the cossetted—though not spoiled—daughter of a wealthy banker, Katrina had her pick of titled gentlemen, but had followed her heart, set on a love-match like her parents’ had.
Truth be told, she’d expected to have married Richard by now. He’d courted her since September, and she’d adored him almost from the moment she’d seen him at a ball, standing beside a column, oh so gallant in his crimson uniform. His official duties often called him away for a week or two, yet she’d never doubted his assurances that he’d offer for her once a respectable length of courtship had passed.
As Miss Sweeting shuffled to her favorite chair, St. Monté cradled his aunt’s elbow in his calloused, tanned hand. After depositing the thimble safely on the sewing table, he draped a shawl over her thin shoulders and a rug ’round her feet.
Still cuddling Percival, Miss Sweeting gave the parlor a cursory glance before returning her bewildered attention to Katrina. “You’ve called alone today?”
“Yes, I fear I have. Mama sends her regrets. Unfortunately, she’s abed with a dreadful cold, but she sent along plum preserves, ginger biscuits, and a new tea blend.”
Proud despite her humble circumstances, Miss Sweeting would never have accepted charity, so Mama regularly asked the elderly woman’s opinion on everything from sherry to new seed cake recipes.
The Saint really ought to have seen to his aunt’s most essential needs, rather than sending her useless, gold-painted, glass-jeweled, garish gewgaws. If rumors held true, he’d made a fortune apprehending ships, so his aunt continuing to live on poverty’s fringes rather rankled Katrina’s sensibilities. Shouldn’t caring for family and loved ones be a person’s highest priority?
She indicated the basket sitting atop a gossip-rag strewn oval table. “Mama asks if you would please sample them and give your opinion when you see her next.”
“I shall be happy to.” Miss Sweeting peered at St. Monté towering above her. “Are you quite certain you cannot join us for tea, Nic? One cup, perhaps? You arrived late last evening, and we’ve had no chance to truly visit. We’ve ginger biscuits, plum preserves, and,” she fluttered her blue-veined hand at the hamper, “a new tea. Dalton made bread this morning too, and I believe we’ve Shrewsbury cakes as well.”
Hoarded from Katrina and Mama’s visit three days ago—in case someone else came to call. Which never happened. Though the oldest daughter of a viscount’s third son, Miss Sweeting wasn’t always accepted by Polite Society. She’d never revealed why, but Mama had divulged that the censure pertained to a scandal regarding St. Monté’s mother.
Poor dear. Miss Sweeting radiated loneliness. And no wonder. With no one but a maid for companionship and a negligent nephew wont to visit once a year at most, Miss Sweeting would have had no company if it weren’t for Katrina and her mother’s twice weekly calls. During the Season, when the Needhams resided in London, Katrina doubted Miss Sweeting had any guests at all.
Her expectant expression tweaked Katrina’s heart as she resumed her seat and attended to her gloves, straightening the inside-out fingertips.
Skimming his appreciative, too-forward gaze over Katrina, The Saint fished an ornate silver stopwatch from his fawn-and-charcoal-striped waistcoat. “I can spare a few minutes since I’m not likely to complete all my business in London today, and I expect I’ll be obligated to lodge there tonight in any event.”
“Wonderful.” Miss Sweeting beamed and clapped her hands once. “Please pull the bell for Dalton. She’ll prepare a lovely tray in no time.”
The movement jostled Percival, and he opened an eye disdainfully, sending Katrina a baleful glare. Animals adored her—all except this cantankerous feline.
St. Monté dutifully summoned the servant before returning to stand beside his aunt’s chair, his stance wide and commanding. Taller, broader, infinitely more powerful than he’d been five years ago, he focused his tawny, penetrating gaze upon Katrina.
His eyes …
At once, her spencer and morning gown became heavy. Cloying. She fanned her flushed face with her hand. Merciful God. Most assuredly, she ailed. Best to depart for home straightaway lest she contaminate Miss Sweeting or find herself confined to bed when dearest Richard returned in … in …
A skeptical eyebrow arched the merest bit over The Saint’s hooded eyes.
That was, when her beloved Richard returned next …
A sensual smile, probably designed to assault Katrina’s senses, tipped St. Monté’s mouth, and his other bold eyebrow arced, joining the first on his tanned forehead.
Devil it, whenever Richard finally returned from his gallivanting.
His posture that of a captain braced atop his ship’s rolling deck, St. Monté shifted, locking his hands behind him. His black coat drew taut across the breadth of his preposterously broad chest and bulging biceps.
Not that Katrina had noticed the wide planes or exceptional muscles, any more than his anchored stance that emphasized his strong, buckskin-covered thighs and manhood. Or his finely honed cheekbones and contoured jawline, which fairly screamed rogue.
Knave. Rakehell. Scoundrel.
She was ill. Why else did her mind wander like a warbling brook?
Katrina doggedly dredged up Richard’s form, summoning the hazy image from deep within her illusive memory’s bowels. He sported a powerful physique too, her conscience chastised, while another part, the part quite improperly taken with St. Monté, jibed in an annoying singsong voice, Not as grand as The Saint, by any means, most particularly his manly parts.
Oh, my God. Do think of something else, Katrina. Anything else.
Katrina mentally stomped on her ruminations and scrambled for a harmless topic. Lodgings. Yes. Perfectly boring.
Except for the bed part, the irksome voice in her head trilled.
“If you’re not a member of any of the gentlemen’s clubs …” Would he keep active memberships when he sailed most months out of the year? “I recommend you seek lodgings at The Steven’s Hotel. It’s less posh than Grenier’s Hotel as well as Mivart’s, but officers favor it, and since you’re a sea captain …”
That was where Richard stayed when in London, and he liked the place very well indeed.
“Aunt Bertie,” The Saint flashed a neat row of square, white teeth, a startling contrast to his olive skin, “would you honor me with an introduction to your lovely guest?”