Book Four of the My Notorious Aunt series
“Ms. Baldwin has done it again, weaving laughter and love into her My Notorious Aunt series.”
—Patience Griffin, bestselling author of the Kilts and Quilts series
Miss Kate Linnet longs for independence above all else, but Lord Colter is determined to persuade her to marry.
Kate adores her younger sisters, but taking care of them ever since her mother died has her yearning for freedom. Or so she thinks.
Marriage is most assuredly not the answer. After all, with marriage comes more responsibility and inevitably more children. Even knowing that, two years ago, she agreed to marry Lord Colter. Devil take his boyish charm! And those roguish dark eyes of his. She never should have said yes. And the more he pushed for a wedding date, the more she found fault with him. Finally, having had enough, he broke off their engagement in the middle of the Clapsforth-on-Wye assembly ball. During the cotillion! In front of everyone.
After such public humiliation, Kate wants to escape her crumbling life entirely. When her aunt, the notorious Lady Alameda, offers her a London Season, Kate readily accepts, but soon discovers her mischievous aunt is making her already troubled life worse.
Can Lord Colter rebuild the bridge between them, or will Kate let their chances at love and happiness slip through her fingers again?
A sweet, funny, somewhat inspirational Regency Romance from an award-winning bestselling author
What critics are saying about The Persuasion of Miss Kate:
“Ms. Baldwin has done it again, weaving laughter and love into her My Notorious Aunt series. You’re going to fall in love with the Linnet sisters. And if you are anything like me, you’ll be crushing on Lord Colter from the start. Read. Enjoy. Repeat.” —Patience Griffin, bestselling author of the Kilts and Quilts series.
“…the humor was so good! The dialogue had me snorting my laughter . . . a clean romance, but slightly more irreverent than what you might be used to from this genre. I really liked it.” —Alicia Trenalone, NetGalley Top Reviewer
“The Persuasion of Miss Kate was charming and delightful. … themes of forgiveness, love, and friendship will not disappoint.” —Jessica Murdock, NetGalley Top reviewer 5 stars.
“A brilliant and humorous novel … made me laugh out loud. I cannot give any more of the plot away without spoiling it, but I found it very entertaining and would recommend it without hesitation.” —Mary Hawkes, 5 stars, NetGalley Top Reviewer and author of The Sorceress and the Sun King
Death to All Roses
I’m done for.”
A withered blossom dropped into Kate’s gardening basket. “He’s sealed my fate—the wretch!”
“No help for it now. I’m going to be an old maid, and that’s all there is to it.” She paused and stared at the murderous shears in her hand. “Two and twenty.” She moaned. “I shall be on the shelf forever.” Kate clipped off another dying rose. “A spinster,” she said accusatorially to the shears.
The gardening shears had the good grace to remain mute.
Spinster. She grimaced.
This time a perfectly formed pink rose, barely open, fell prey to her clippers. She’d come to the garden intending to remove the dead roses. Except now, it seemed only fitting that the annoyingly perfect bud should be cut off before its prime. That’s what Greyson had done to her. Ruined her life. Cut her down before she’d had a chance to truly bloom.
Another fresh bloom met its doom and fluttered helplessly into her basket. Kate’s grip on the pruning shears tightened. Her teeth clamped together, and she went at it. Her blade lopped heads off roses with the fury of a soldier in battle. Along with withered flowers that deserved removal, she beheaded ripe full blooms, as well as newly opened ones.
Clipped them all.
Why should they have a chance to bloom? She didn’t.
Kate came to an unopened white bud and hesitated. Something about the fresh white petals innocently peeking out between the seams reminded her of her younger sisters.
Her shoulders slumped, and the snippers nearly slipped from her drooping hand. She couldn’t bear the thought of her sisters never having a chance at happiness. The whole family would bear the shame of it now, and it would be all her fault for not holding her tongue.
No! She shook her head. The fault was Greyson’s—except she swore then and there that she would never call him by his given name again. Never. It brought up too many fond memories. No, indeed, this whole situation was the high-and-mighty Lord Colter’s fault. It was he who ought to be dismembered, not defenseless roses. How dare he renounce their engagement?
What’s more, he’d had the unmitigated gall to call her a shrew.
And he did so in front of everyone—the entire village.
It would’ve been humiliating enough if he’d said it on the street. But did the black-hearted devil choose so private a place as a village street? Oh, no. Lord Colter was not nearly so considerate as that. He hurled his shaming diatribe at her right in the middle of the ballroom floor, in full view of everyone at the Clapsforth-on-Wye Assembly Ball.
How dare he stop dancing and read her a piece of his mind? During the cotillion. Other dancers froze in place. The musicians screeched to a halt. Mrs. Oates squawked as if she’d been slapped. Mr. Peterson, Master of Ceremonies, gasped and his staff clattered to the floor.
“Heavens!” Lady Plimpton covered her outburst with her fan, eyes wide as an owl’s at midnight.
All heads turned in their direction.
Everyone heard him.
Of course they did. Lord Colter had scolded her loud enough for folks in the next county to hear. Not a soul in Clapsforth-on-Wye missed his scathing condemnation. And what did he say? Oh my! What fine, saintly words he spilled over her head?
“Fine words, indeed.” She jabbed the blades at another hapless rose and mimicked his irritated tone. “For pity’s sake, Kate. Must you carp at me on every turn?”
Then came the coup de grâce, the stab to her heart.
Lord Colter announced to one and all, “I would rather rot in hell than suffer ten more minutes in your company.”
The tip of her shears trembled slightly. How dare he say such a thing?
Was she really that terrible?
Curse her tongue.
Why must she always spout exactly what she was thinking? Papa had cautioned her a dozen times to mind her tongue. Except he must shoulder at least part of the blame because he always laughed at her witticisms. Laughed. Great galloping belly-shakers. When he really ought to have scolded her.
The decapitated blossom dared to tumble off the edge of her basket and fall to the ground.
Imagining the ruddy thing was Lord Colter, Kate stomped on the fallen rose. Hard. So hard that one of the thorns pierced her kid slipper. She hopped back from the assaulting flower, her chest heaving with indignation.
“Enough!” she shouted at the infuriatingly blue sky. Where were storm clouds when she needed them? She grabbed a handful of the wretched blooms in her basket and hurled them into the air. If only they were spears that would fly straight into Lord Colter’s cold, rotten heart, piercing it the way he’d pierced hers.
Except that wasn’t true.
Kate was made of sterner stuff than that. He hadn’t broken her heart. Not really.
Oh, she’d liked him well enough. Of course she did.
Why else would she have agreed to marry him two years ago? They’d been friends since they were children, and although she disliked admitting it, looking at Greyson sometimes made her stupid heart beat a tiny bit faster. After all, he had a pleasant enough appearance, if one liked that revoltingly masculine type. His jaw was a trifle too imperious for her taste. And that overbearing Roman nose—why would anyone like a nose like that? Not to mention his height. How many times had she strained her neck looking up at him?
Never mind all that.
Kate was immune to his charms.
She took a deep breath. All in all, her heart remained intact. That discovery surprised her. Rather than being broken, it seemed to pump stronger than ever. No, it was her reputation the villain had shattered.
And why had he shattered it? A trifle.
A perfectly innocent remark or other—she could scarcely remember what. She may have mentioned he looked as if he hadn’t shaved that morning. Oh, yes, that was it. And on the next turn of the dance, she mentioned that he ought not neglect such matters as others might consider him careless of his appearance.
She may have offered him one or two more pieces of advice before running afoul of his temper. All perfectly sound observations. And for that, he’d accused her of merciless henpecking.
Folderol. She was merely concerned with his well-being. He had no right to turn on her like a great snorting bull. Yet he did. And she’d jolly well like to rip out his gizzard for it.
Kate flung another handful of spears at her invisible foe, wishing one of the stems would fly the short distance to his neighboring estate and poke him in the eye. Instead, one of the thorny stems stabbed her finger.
She sucked the puncture and surveyed her handiwork. White and pink petals lay strewn across the green lawn as if thrown for a bride.
Rose petals would never be scattered for her.
No one would want her now. Not after he’d exposed her character to half the world. Not that it mattered. Marriage only meant more work anyway. Then again, she didn’t bargain on shouldering this humiliation for the rest of her life, either.
Drat his black heart!
The basket slid from her arm. Her hands fell limp at her sides. Kate’s throat tightened, and she felt an utterly foreign sensation—an uncomfortable quickness of breath and a quivering in her chest. Water welled up in her eyes. Then the unthinkable happened. Something she’d forbidden herself to do ever again. Ever. Not since her mother died had Kate given way to a single tear.
Not one solitary drop.
But now, unless she missed her guess, she was about to cry.
Nevertheless, water leaked from her eyes, stinging, blazing an acidic trail down her cheeks. Her nose stuffed up, and . . . sweet lambs of spring!
There was more. A keening noise burst from her throat. She couldn’t stop it. The more Kate tried to restrain it, the more fiercely it exploded into an ear-shattering wail.
Battle lost—she dropped to her knees and let herself sob. Her shoulders shook in uncomfortable heaves for only a few moments.
One by one, she gathered up all the poor spilled roses, weeping tears over every murdered bloom, carefully scooping up each fragile velvety petal, and gently laying them to rest in her basket.
Each one a tragedy.
Each one a lost hope.
When she finished, Kate blotted her eyes on the corner of her apron. She fanned the air with her hand to cool her cheeks. She mustn’t allow her sisters to see her like this. Weak.
I am not weak.
She couldn’t afford to be weak.
Kate had to think of her sisters. Her humiliation cast an ugly shadow over all of them. If they hoped to weather this public indignity, they would need to remain brave and stalwart.
There was no time to dwell on her lost future. She stood and brushed off her skirts, determined to demonstrate courage so that her sisters would be able to navigate the tricky waters ahead and secure suitable husbands for themselves. She set the garden tools by the back door and slipped off her pattens. Treading quietly through the kitchen, to the parlor, she considered the future of each of her younger siblings.
Dear sweet Nora was next to Kate in age, and just turned seventeen. A pretty girl, but too quiet, always preoccupied with concerns about something or someone else. Nora was completely oblivious to the yearning looks she received from the young men in the village. Now that Kate’s life was a hopelessly closed book, she would turn her attention to finding a suitable match for Nora.
Then there was Sadie.
Sadie would turn fifteen in November and was already more trouble than a bushel full of barn cats. Sadie churned out mischief faster than fresh cream could be made into butter. Willful little minx.
And then, there was the youngest—Mama’s surprise baby, Matilda.
Precocious little Tilly, only ten, but cleverer than all of them put together. Kate had been there at her birth. In those last dreadful moments, as blood poured from Mama’s body and her skin turned whiter with each passing second, she had pressed the wee little bundle into Kate’s arms.
“Take care of her, my darling. I’m so sorry. So very sorry.” Mama’s eyes had flooded with grief. “Take care of your sisters, but, darling, you must remember . . . remember to . . .”
Kate would never know what else her mother had intended to say. She’d reached for Kate’s cheek, but Mama’s fingers had only fluttered briefly against her skin, like the faint brush of a falling leaf.
Her mother’s passing left a hole in Kate’s heart. A dark, frightening hole—if she were to admit it. A hole growing into an ever-widening chasm that no one could fill—not her father, not Lord Colter, nor her sisters—a swirling sea of anger, pain, resentment, and a hundred other sins.
Kate shook her head at her errant thoughts. Mustn’t dwell on that. She had no right to be angry.
Dying wasn’t her mother’s fault. It was a common enough thing to happen in childbirth. There—that was a blessing she ought to count. As a spinster, Kate would be spared the dangers of bearing children.
She headed to the parlor, dragging her fingers along the wall. Nearly to the door, she slowed her steps, listening to her sisters talking conspiratorially.
“He’s not going to eat it.” Nora sounded upset. “This won’t work.”
Tilly plunked an F-sharp on the pianoforte. “Did you put enough bacon grease on it?”
Kate waited outside the door, trying to figure out what they were up to before entering.
Sadie answered Tilly’s odd question. “I most certainly did. I even stuck a piece of ham between the pages.”
“Well, it’s not working,” Tilly complained.
“I can see that,” Sadie snapped. “Ralphie, no! Don’t lick it. Take a bite.” The aged spaniel whined gloomily in response. “Come on, old boy,” she coaxed. “Eat it! There’s a good lad.”
Kate heard the familiar swish-swish of her sister scuffing against the floorboards. Nora must be pacing, a nervous habit she’d acquired as of late. “Maybe we should hide it.”
“That won’t do.” Sadie argued. “We need to make it unreadable.”
Kate leaned closer to the doorway. What can they be doing? She knew from experience that if she barged in now and demanded an explanation, the three of them would shut their lips tighter than clams at low tide.
“I don’t think Ralphie likes paper.” Nora sounded distressed.
“Nonsense. He used to chew up our books, didn’t he?” Tilly was right, although how the child could remember that far back mystified Kate.
“He was a puppy then,” Nora argued. “It’s been years since he chewed up so much as a slipper.”
“Open wide, Ralphie.” Sadie stopped trying to sweet-talk their faithful spaniel and, despite the dog’s whimpers of resistance, took a firmer approach. “Do your duty. This is for Kate.”
The pianoforte bench scraped against the floorboards, and Tilly pattered over to the dog. “Maybe he objects to Aunt Honore’s scent. Cousin Fiona warned that our aunt is a rather unreliable lady, and I hear dogs are sensitive to such things.”
Nora sighed softly. “Unscrupulous might be a more apt description of our dear aunt’s character.”
True. Kate had read the society columns and heard accounts from their cousins. Aunt Honore’s friends were the crème de la crème of high society, but wherever the Lady Alameda went, scandal was sure to follow.
“Worse.” Sadie’s wry tone echoed down the hall. “Everyone knows Aunt Honore is mad as a hatter. Which is precisely why we can’t let Kate read this letter.”
To me! Kate had heard enough. Her sisters were trying to destroy something that belonged to her. She took a step, prepared to burst into the room, but stopped when Nora said, “Papa meant well, I’m sure. But he should never have told his sister what happened to our Katie.”
Kate reeled back and pressed against the wall. He wouldn’t have, would he? Did he tell Aunt Honore about Lord Colter jilting her? Why would he spread the tale of her humiliation?
Oh, Papa! How could you?
“What was he thinking to suggest Lady Alameda should take Kate to London? The very idea is unthinkable.” Sadie sounded ridiculously pious and grown-up, a perfect imitation of the gossipy matrons of Clapsforth-on-Wye.
Kate tapped her fingers against the wall. Was it unthinkable?
“If only Lady Alameda was a fit guardian.” Nora’s voice, normally so soothing and sweet, conveyed a ridiculously parental tone. “But she isn’t. Especially not with Kate’s present state of mind. You saw her in the garden. Poor thing is rather up in the boughs. And we all know the London season is full of pitfalls around every bend. Without proper guidance, our Katie is bound to make a muddle of things inside of a week.”
Kate’s fist turned into mallets. What did Nora know about London? Nothing except what she read in the papers. London was . . .
Far away from here.
Kate pushed away from the wall. She could escape Clapsforth-on-Wye. What did her sisters think they were doing meddling with her future? She spun into the room with all the fury of a typhoon.
Nora jumped back from the hearth, where she and Sadie had been kneeling beside Ralphie. She snatched her embroidery up from a chair and held it in front of herself as if that frail bit of cloth and needlework might protect her.
Sadie tugged the letter out of Ralphie’s mouth and hid it behind her skirts.
“There you are!” Tilly smiled as if genuinely happy to see Kate, then her eyes widened. “Uh-oh. You overheard us, didn’t you?”
Kate was too furious to answer. Instead, she thrust her hand out to Sadie in a wordless demand for her rightful property.
Sadie grimaced, but slowly acquiesced, handing over the rumpled parchment dripping with bacon fat and dog drool. She had the audacity to point at Tilly and say, “It was her idea.”
“It was.” Tilly admitted unapologetically. “We had to do something.”
“Get. Me. A. Cloth,” Kate ordered through gritted teeth.
Sadie raced to the kitchen to retrieve a cleaning rag. Kate shook the tattered, sodden letter at Nora. “You should’ve known better.”
Nora bowed her head, slid into the chair, and hunkered over her embroidery, stitching intently.
“And I am not up in the boughs.” Kate mopped Ralphie’s drool from the parchment, careful not to smear any more ink than what was already splotched and smudged. She smoothed out the tooth marks and tried to decipher what was left of her aunt’s mangled missive. Although barely legible, she could scarcely believe her good fortune. Her aunt really did intend to bring her to London.
She finished reading and glanced up at her sisters. “You didn’t read it all the way through, did you?”
Nora shook her head.
Sadie sniffed and puckered her lips as she always did when justifying her rash behavior. “The first part was alarming enough. We thought it best to destroy it before—”
“Before you knew what the rest of the letter contained?” Kate shook her head. “It’s a lucky thing Ralphie didn’t eat it. If he had, we would not have known Lady Alameda is due to arrive on the morrow.”
“What?” Nora swallowed. “She’s coming here?”
“Yes. So, we’d best prepare, don’t you think? Our aunt, a countess, plans to take luncheon with us and then remove with me to London for the season.”
Far away from Lord Colter.
Away from this wretched village.
And, for once in my life, away from my responsibilities.
“Since you consider yourself capable of deciding what is best for others . . .” Kate glanced pointedly at Nora, “in my absence, I shall leave the running of father’s household to you.”
“That’s not what I meant—”
“Oh, I rather think it is. You clearly believe yourself more capable of navigating the hazards of London society than I am. If that is so, you ought to have no trouble at all managing things here in quiet little Clapsforth-on-Wye.”
“I never said . . .” Nora’s mouth opened and shut with possible retorts, blinking helplessly as if she didn’t know which way to leap. “I didn’t mean . . .”
Sadie’s lips remained buckled tight. She sat petting Ralphie while carefully contemplating the stones on the fireplace as if they hadn’t been there since Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
Scheming, no doubt.
It was Tilly who finally found a clear-headed voice. “You can’t leave us.” The child’s brow crumpled, and for a moment, Kate felt her escape narrowing down to a pinhole. Then Tilly thrust her chin out at a shockingly stubborn angle. Her eyes fairly burned with willfulness. “I won’t let you.”
“Try and stop me.” The words sprang from Kate’s mouth before she’d thought them through, but if it came to a war of wills with a ten-year-old, Kate intended to win.