Catch of the Season, Book 2 in The Marvelous Munroes series
November 1999 (ISBN 0-8217-6390-3, Zebra Regency Romance)
Published electronically by Regency Reads in January 2009
Revised and reissued in January 2017 by Edwards and Williams
Allison Munroe is about to have her much-anticipated come out in Regency Society, where she'll meet dozens of eligible gentlemen, and she couldn't care less. Ever since last Christmas, only one man has dominated her thoughts, but country squire Geoffrey Pentercast is the last man she should want. Better to set her sights on the catch of the Season, the Marquis DeGuis, who, wonder of wonders, seems already smitten by her.
Geoffrey is entirely out of his element. How could he have fallen in love with his childhood friend? And how does a brash and bold country gentleman like him compete for her attentions in London high Society, especially against the likes of the wealthy and titled marquis? As Allison's mother plots to part them, can Geoffrey prove he is not only the catch of the Season for Allison, but the love of her life?
Book 2 in The Marvelous Munroes series, sequel to My True Love Gave to Me, this sweet, clean traditional Regency romance was originally published by Zebra Regency. The Marvelous Munroes: what could be more marvelous than falling in love?
"Warm, funny and spirited, just like Allison [the heroine], and passionate and worthy, just like her true hero. An excellent Regency romance." -- Affaire de Coeur
"Ms. Scott leavens her tale with entertaining flashes of humor. Three cheers for the ferret!" -- RT Book Reviews
Allison Munroe was finally to have her long-anticipated come out. She had begged and pleaded and yearned for the day for the last three years, even since her fifteenth birthday. She had dreamed of wearing her blond hair high and her slender neckline low. She had envisioned the elegant dancing couples, the delectable foods, and the splendid conversation so many times that she often wondered whether the event wasn't already over and done. Now her much-hoped-for day was in reality only a week away.
And she could hardly wait to get it over with.
She found it hard to understand her change in attitude. She had been looking forward to the event right up until the time she left Wenwood Abbey, their home in Somerset. She could not see how the journey of a little over a hundred miles could so alter her outlook. It wasn't that by traveling she had lost family or friends to witness her moment of glory. Her mother and older sister Genevieve had accompanied her, and, ever since she had arrived in London in March, she had met any number of young ladies from sixteen to nineteen who would be making their debuts this Season.
Some seemed almost competitive about the whole affair, which seemed rather pointless to Allison. God gave them each gifts, and a gentleman would appreciate those gifts or not as the mood took him. Other young ladies failed to gain her friendship because they did not share a single one of her interests. Some couldn't ride, others were abysmal dancers, and still others preferred to spend each day gossiping incessantly. While she enjoyed a good coz as well as the next person, she found frequent visiting a bit of a bore. In fact, she had discovered the other young ladies here for the Season as a rule lackluster and cowed, depending on their mothers or a gentleman for conversation. Most would never have considered owning a pet ferret as she did. She had made friends with the few who seemed to have some sense as well as a flair for living. And each one of those, from the sophisticated Lady Janice Willstencraft to sweet Grace Dunsworthy, had been invited to her own ball.
And certainly, it wasn't her financial state that made her view the coming affair with considerably less enthusiasm. Eighteen months ago when her father had died suddenly, leaving them penniless, she had thought she might never have her day. But last January, Genevieve became engaged to Alan Pentercast, a handsome landowner of considerable fortune. When she married him in February, he had readily agreed to pay all expenses for Allison's Season. So, here she was, in a luxurious London town house rented through the summer, with an entirely new stylish wardrobe and her own lady's maid. That part of her dream had worked out better than she could ever have hoped.
And it wasn't that she feared she'd be compared to her elder sister. Genevieve had been the toast of the ton with her hair of spun gold, soft blue eyes, and womanly curves compacted in a tiny frame. Allison was confident that her own flaxen ringlets, vibrant blue eyes, classic features, and taller, more slender form would still attract enough notice that she would be deemed a success. Besides, Genevieve could hardly be considered the reigning belle now. Since their first day in the Mayfair town house, her sister had been pale and listless, prone to tears and unexplainable bouts of illness, particularly right after breakfast. Their mother had threatened to call in a famous London physician, but Gen had refused. She claimed she was merely homesick and sent a note home to Wenwood begging Alan to join her in London. Accordingly, the Squire was expected at any time, and Allison would be certain to have his handsome presence at her ball.
And the ball itself held no worries for her. She hadn't had much to do with the planning. Their mother had been unstinting in her efforts to ensure every detail was painstakingly perfect. From the selection of music for the string quartet to the tiny yellow roses that would decorate the refreshment tables at the midnight supper, nothing had been overlooked. The one hundred guests had been carefully chosen to include the doyens of society whose approval Allison must meet. It was a tribute to her family's connections as well as her mother's reputation as a hostess that not one person had refused the invitation. Like her mother, she should be in alt.
But the very idea of her come out was making her miserable, and it was entirely Geoffrey Pentercast's fault.
"I cannot get him out of my mind," she had complained to Gen only the day before.
Her sister had smiled wanly from her seat across the damask-draped breakfast table. "Did you dream of him again last night, love?"
"Yes," Allison had admitted with disgust. "And I find myself thinking of him at the most inappropriate times! Yesterday when I was having the final fittings of my gown, I caught myself wondering whether Geoffrey would like the way it calls attention to my bosom."
Genevieve had choked on her tea. "Allison! I certainly hope you didn't tell Mother!"
Of course she hadn't. She wasn't cork-brained. Her calm, proper mother would have ruined her reputation for restraint if she'd known how often Geoffrey Pentercast intruded on her daughter's thoughts. Her mother considered Geoffrey's powerful frame and brash manner to be signs of boorishness. Allison found the latter open and honest, and what she thought about the former would have made her mother give up all hope of her daughter's maidenly virtue.
Truthfully, she had found him rather annoying growing up together in Wenwood. But when she had returned last Christmas, she'd been surprised to find she rather liked the way his dark brown eyes twinkled with laughter. She could not imagine what her mother saw that was unlikable. His nose was long and straight, his mouth generous and nearly always set in a wicked grin, and his chin was as firm and confident as his manner. He was broad shouldered and sturdily built, a solid gentleman very unlike the spindle-shanked dandies she met here. The London gentlemen might be cool and sophisticated, but he rode and danced with enthusiasm. All in all, Geoffrey Pentercast was a fine specimen of a man. That was entirely the problem.
She had met any number of gentlemen since her arrival in London. Some were handsome, some were charming, some were intelligent, and a few were all three. Several had made it clear that as soon as she was officially out they would be calling in earnest. One, the Marquis DeGuis, hadn't even waited that long. She had been driving with him twice and riding once, and she had entertained him for visits on four separate occasions. At Grace Dunsworthy's debut, he'd asked her to dance three times. She could scarcely believe it.
Her mother was obviously cautious about his interest. He had survived to the age of thirty immune to the lures of the ladies of London. It did seem too good to be true that such a paragon would seek out Allison.
And he was a paragon. That she could not argue. He was reportedly worth thirty thousand per annum. His jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, and noble chin made the ladies sigh with delight. His ability with horses, both riding and racing, made the gentlemen sigh with envy. While his build was more slender than Geoffrey's muscled bulk, he was a head taller than she was, making her feel deliciously feminine. In fact, he was in every way the sort of gentleman she had always dreamed of attaching.
Only he simply wasn't Geoffrey Pentercast.
For the fourth time in as many days she scolded herself for what was surely misplaced loyalty. She could not be in love with Geoffrey. She would not let herself be. Last Christmas, she had thought it entertaining to enter into a mild flirtation with him, which he seemed to enjoy equally as much. In fact, since her sister's marriage to his brother, they had become the best of friends. And friends they would remain, if she had anything to say in the matter.
She poked her needle into the white lawn night cap she was embroidering for her trousseau and glanced across the sitting room fire to where her sister dozed. The self-satisfied smile on Gen's face surely had nothing to do with the half-finished pillow cover on her lap. Not for the first time Allison wished for the composure her mother and sister seemed to call on so easily. Gen was nothing if not polished and courtly. She moved with confidence and elegance. She was the perfect lady of the manor to Alan's country squire. Allison sometimes felt her own movements seemed precipitous and overly dramatic next to her sister's. True, Gen liked to call her wonderfully animated, but, watching her sister, Allison wondered whether the ton would find her abilities as enviable.
Certainly the Marquis DeGuis was tolerant of her foibles, although she had to admit she did her best to hide them from him. The other day in the park, for example, he had magnanimously insisted that they ride on the Ladies Mile when she knew she was perfectly capable of taking Rotten Row beside him with the gentlemen riders. Why, she and Geoffrey Pentercast had ridden more difficult stretches back home in Wenwood, and at a much faster clip than the marquis was likely to try with her. Unfortunately, the fact that she was a bruising rider would have been rather scandalous in London, or so it seemed to her. That was the problem with so many of the people she had met in London-to be accepted by them, she felt she had to be less than who she was. Or perhaps considerably more than what she was capable of being. It was a perplexing problem. No doubt the reason Geoffrey Pentercast was so much on her mind was that, with him, she did not have to be anyone but Allison Ermintrude Munroe.
She shook her head and pulled the needle back out of the cap, giving it an extra tug as she realized she had inadvertently snagged her new pink sarcenet gown. She really had to take herself in hand. She hadn't come to London to pine away for a boy she had known all her life. She had much more important matters to attend to. Her come out would signal to the world that she was a woman grown. And successfully navigating the Season would show her family that she was every bit the lady. Even if her ball would be dull beyond words without someone of Geoffrey's caliber to tease her into a grin, it was still a major accomplishment to be savored. Besides, relying on Geoffrey to make her happy made her just as bad as those young ladies who could not speak without the permission of their mothers. She was better than that.
The butler her mother had hired for the Season moved into the room so silently she almost didn't notice him among the floral patterns that decorated nearly every surface. Although his ramrod straight posture, impressive build, and no-nonsense manner had endeared him to her mother, Allison found his demeanor cold and forbidding. Coupled with a long nose, determined chin, and thinning grey hair, his grey eyes were all the more judgmental and not a little calculating. Besides, it seemed that, like her mother, he believed young ladies who were not yet formally out should be seldom seen and never heard. Now he cleared his throat to make them aware of his presence.
"What is it, Perkins?" she asked as Gen stirred and opened her eyes.
As usual, he ignored her, focusing on her sister. "Pardon my interruption, Mrs. Pentercast, but there are two gentlemen here to see you."
Allison tossed her needlework aside in annoyance at his manner even as Gen frowned.
"At this hour?" her sister murmured, stifling a yawn. "Please tell them we are no longer receiving."
Perkins bowed and started toward the door.
Allison knew she should abide by her sister's decision, but for once the staid and proper response was completely unsatisfactory. "Wait!" she commanded and had the pleasure of seeing the butler hesitate, most likely weighing the consequences of disobeying so direct an order. "Shouldn't we at least find out who they are, Gen?"
Her sister nodded. "Of course. How silly of me. I seem to have my head in the clouds these days." The same self-satisfied smile crossed her lips again as she patted down the skirts of her blue kerseymere gown, and Allison frowned at her before returning her gaze to the waiting servant.
"Well, Perkins?" she encouraged him.
Perkins sniffed distastefully, and she wasn't sure whether it was her forward behavior or their guests' he found lacking. "No one of importance, Mrs. Pentercast. They claim to be relations, but they are not at all dressed like gentlemen. They appear to be dressed for some kind of farming activity."
"Alan!" Gen exclaimed, rising.
Allison jumped to her feet. "Now see what you've done, Perkins! You've kept the Squire standing about in the cold, and he's the one who pays your salary!"
Perkins paled, but his tread toward the door was stately. "You must be mistaken, miss. However, I will endeavor to inquire again."
"Never mind!" Gen proclaimed, bustling past him. "I intend to see these gentlemen myself. Please go find my mother."
Allison hurried to follow her.
Perkins bowed again. "As you wish, madam."
"I'll wager you my pink beads against your white silk parasol," Allison hissed to her sister as they hurried down the darkly paneled corridor toward the entry, "that he won't make the servants stair before we reach the front door."
"Foolish bet," Gen whispered back. "I like that parasol too well to risk it on Perkins' ability to move with any speed. And I will never understand his obsession with taking the servants stair when he could take the main."
The corridor opened onto a two-story entry, with a black and white marble-tiled floor and white Corinthian columns flanking the solid front door. Backs against the columns stood the underfootman and footman her mother had hired for the Season. While their arms were at the sides of their navy livery, their gazes rested with suspicion on the two characters who waited. One stood square in the center of the entryway, in a pool of yellow light from the brass chandelier overhead, worn great coat flapping about his muddy country boots-Alan Pentercast, just as his wife had guessed.
And behind him, half in shadow, grinning at Allison in the most audacious manner that somehow made her heart stop, stood his brother Geoffrey.