After this decree from his grandmother,Richard, Viscount Mallory, goes insearch of the long-lost family heirloom. Imagine his surprise when he spots the exquisite heart-shaped ruby brooch on the bosom of the equally exquisite Lady Isabel Weymouth! Could this popular young socialite actually be a jewel thief?
Richard is determined that the brooch be returned to his family. So when an opportunity presents itself, he pilfers the jewel from the lady's bedroom, but is stunned when she steals it back the very next day! Clearly the enchanting Isabel is a more formidable opponent than he imagined, and the former soldier finds himself battling wits and wills with the captivating temptress. Passion ignites between them as the competition heats up, and suddenly there is more than a ruby brooch at stake in this game of hearts.
"And so you must find the MalloryHeart and bring it home at once. Nomatter what it takes."
Richard Mallory stared at his grandmother inastonishment. The Countess of Dunstable was astately, reserved woman who had never, as faras he could recall, made a flippant remark orjest in her life. He had to assume she was quiteserious.
He stood straight and tall as he faced her,with hands clasped behind his back in a postion of formal ease he had employed so oftenwhen addressing a superior officer. And therewas none more superior than his grandmother.She sat ramrod stiff on the edge of a gilt Frenchchair that had seen better days.
"Let me be certain I understand," he said."You called me home not because Grandfatheris dying, but because you want me to locate afamily jewel that has been missing these pastfifty years?"
"It is because the earl is dying that the jewelmust be restored to us. He has been most agitatedabout it."
Richard had been raised by his grandparentsfrom the time both his mother and father perishedin an overturned carriage when he wasstill in leading strings. In all those years, hecould remember only a single occasion whenhis grandfather had mentioned the MalloryHeart. Richard had been about eight years oldwhen he first heard the story of the large heartshapedruby from his older brother, and hadasked his grandfather about it. The earl hadconfirmed its existence and how it had comeinto the family, but had otherwise been quitereticent on the subject. Even at so young an age, Richard had understood it to be a topic bestavoided. He always assumed his grandfatherfelt guilty that the jewel had been lost on hiswatch.
"Yes, he seems most upset about it," thecountess said, her own distress evident in thetight lines around her mouth and the slighttremor in her voice. "About not wanting to ...to die before it has been restored to the family."
"And you summoned me from France to findit? Was there no one else you could have calledupon?"
It was the wrong thing to say. She narrowedher eyes in a look of displeasure he had knownwell as a boy. She had always favored hisbrother, Arthur, the heir to the earldom and themost charming, considerate of men. Richardhad been the troublesome brother, always intomischief. But Arthur had died last year andnow Richard was Viscount Mallory and hisgrandfather's heir.
"I understood the fighting was over," shesaid. "You are needed here now. You ought tohave returned last year."
When Arthur died. Richard had not evenlearned of his brother's death until four monthsafter the fact. He would have come home if he could, but he'd been otherwise occupied. "Youknow it was impossible for me to return,Grandmother. My regiment -- "
"Was engaged in some battle or other." Shedismissed the event with a wave of her hand.
"Vittoria." He spoke through clenched teethand made an effort to curb his irritation at hercavalier disregard for what the army had doneto keep her, and the rest of England, safe fromBonaparte. He'd lost several good men duringthe charges that day. Vittoria had been an importantvictory, not one to be so easily dismissed.But the countess had never approved ofhis soldiering. It had been his grandfatherwho'd understood his restlessness and boughthim a commission in the Dragoon Guards.
"I am sorry I could not come home sooner,Grandmother. I was heartsick to hear aboutArthur's death, believe me, but the war did notallow time off for grieving. However, withBonaparte routed at Toulouse and sent packingto Elba, I was able to leave my regiment as soonas I received your urgent message. I was worriedabout Grandfather."
"As you should be."
"I will go up to see him now. It has been toolong and I have ... missed him." It was...