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Kiss Me Quick
by Margaret Moore
Avon, 2003

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Chapter One

The mysterious stranger filled Evangeline with both excitement and a nameless dread.

He bowed, then kissed her hand. "Permit me to introduce myself," he said. "I am the Count Korlovsky."

From the first draft of
The Castle of Count Korlovsky,
The Westover Papers

Bath, England

Her plan was all very well in theory, Lady Diana Westover decided as she marched toward the Pump Room alongside her aunts. Unfortunately, the execution was going to be rather more difficult than she had assumed. Her hands were definitely clammy in her gloves, and her heart beat with a wild rhythm she hadn't experienced since her horse had bolted on her when she was ten years old.

To be sure, Bath was no longer the epicenter of fashionable life it had once been, but that didn't lessen Diana's uncomfortable sensation that she was too countrified and woefully unprepared. Maybe she should claim a headache and return to her aunts' townhouse -- or all the way back to Lincolnshire.

Except that she had a plan that she couldn't abandon now, and that meant being around fashionable people.

Well, men. She needed to meet men.

And to do that, she needed her aunts who lived in Bath, a spa town famous for the hot spring that had been used since Roman times. Aunt Calliope and Aunt Euphenia were only too delighted to take her under their wing, as Diana knew they would be. Indeed, they'd been anxious to do that for years.

So now here she was on this fine day in May, trooping toward the large building where the supposedly restorative spring water was dispensed, dressed in a lilac pelisse, a bonnet she thought had been overly decorated with a riot of flowers, thin kid gloves and carrying a reticule that contained smelling salts and little else. Aunt Calliope had insisted that no proper young lady left the house without smelling salts, even though Diana had assured her that she had never needed them before, even when her horse had bolted.

That had been shocking enough for Aunt Calliope, but the poor woman had had to lie down when Diana also admitted she often walked for miles in the country, and without a chaperon.

As they neared the Pump Room, Diana again glanced surreptitiously at her aunts, one on either side of her like a guard of honor. Lady Calliope FitzBurton was dressed very stylishly, although her bonnet adorned with false fruit and ribbons looked more suited to a buffet table than a middle-aged woman's head. She was, however, as sharp and bright-eyed as a woman half her age, which could be something of a problem when one was trying to keep a secret.

Lady Euphenia Harbage, older, wiser and calmer, was dressed in a more muted fashion. She had much less money to spend on her clothes, thanks to a spendthrift, gambling husband now mercifully deceased. Like Diana, she was a guest in her widowed sister's home, albeit a permanent one.

Aunt Euphenia patted Diana's arm gently. "Since this is all very new for you, we won't stay long in the Pump Room," she assured her. "We'll see if any acquaintances are there, make a few engagements if we can, and then we shall leave."

Diana relaxed a bit. But really, what was she so worried about? It wasn't as if she had only this one chance to find what she sought, or that these fashionable, sophisticated people held any power over her.

She would just imagine that she was going into battle, like Hector at Troy. Achilles. The Spartans at Thermopolae.

Well, not the Spartans. They had all died.

"We must spend some time in the Pump Room," Aunt Calliope exclaimed, the force of her remark causing her bonnet to tilt dangerously. "Dear Diana must be noticed."

"I don't want to make a sensation," Diana said, meaning it. She was there to observe, not participate, or at least no more than necessary to gain some acquaintance of men who had not spent most of their lives in Lincolnshire.

"Of course not. That wouldn't be modest or proper, and you are a very modest and proper young lady," Aunt Euphenia replied. "You do look lovely, though, my dear, and I daresay some of the young men will think so, too."

Diana refrained from pointing out to her kind-hearted aunt that while she looked as pleasing to the male eye as it was possible for her to be, her appearance was hardly likely to elicit rapturous approval from the young men of Bath.

"Has Madame Rotellini not outdone herself with that bonnet?" Aunt Calliope asked, addressing Aunt Euphenia.

"I absolutely agree and you were right about that color for Diana's ensemble. Lilac suits her perfectly and brings out the blue in her eyes. Mrs. Jenkins has fit the gown to perfection, too."

"I'm sure you won't be long in the marriage mart, my dear," Aunt Calliope said, speaking to Diana again. "Although I wouldn't talk quite so much about books. In fact, I wouldn't talk very much at all. Let the young men do that."

"Yes, Aunt," Diana obediently replied, but with a gleam of mischief in her eyes. "I'll be on my very best behavior because who knows? Perhaps, if I am lucky and the ancient Roman gods of Aqua Sulis are with me, I may even meet my future husband this very day. Naturally I wouldn't want him to think I talk too much."

Aunt Calliope came to a dead halt. "For heaven's sake, Diana, don't talk about ancient gods being with you when we are in the Pump Room! People will think you're a heathen."

Diana nodded solemnly, although if her aunt had been a little more perceptive, she would have noted the gleam in her niece's bright blue eyes ...

Excerpted from Kiss Me Quick by Margaret Moore. Copyright © 2003 by Margaret Moore. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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