Catching CarolineBy: Sylvia Day
This is for Audrey. I miss you, Mom, and think of you often.
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This story was written before I sold my first book. In other words, it’s not up to the same standards as my present-day writing. When the rights reverted to me, I considered editing Catching Caroline again. Then I realized there was really no way to edit this story; I would have to rewrite it. Caroline is uniquely unlike my usual heroines. Changing her would require changing the whole tale, and changing the whole tale would destroy it. This story is written differently from how I would write it today, but that’s okay.
So I present Catching Caroline to you as a free gift in the exact same form in which it was first published. I hope you enjoy it!
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"Wicked men are a weakness of mine."
"Good heavens, Julienne." Lady Caroline Seton smothered a laugh as she entered the Dempsey ballroom. "You are incorrigible."
Julienne La Coeur arched a brow. "You have no notion of how fortunate you are to be unhindered by the rules of Society. You may do and say whatever you wish. You can associate with the rakes you prefer and marry whomever you like. I, however..." She paused and shot a glance at her aunt behind her. Lowering her voice, she continued, "Am destined to do whatever I'm told."
Caroline offered a quick commiserating smile as she waited at the top of the staircase for the majordomo to announce their party. Her gaze drifted across the occupants below, taking in the various gowns and the number of guests in attendance. At one time she had attended such events with her own family, but they had passed on to their reward long ago and she had learned to manage on her own. Her comfortably sized trust funds and lack of familial ties afforded her a freedom other women of her station, women like Julienne, did not enjoy. Unfortunately, it was also very lonely.
With her thoughts elsewhere, Caroline might have passed over impressively broad shoulders and hair as dark as night had the tiny hairs on her nape not stood at attention and her jaw not begun to ache in a wholly unfamiliar way.
She stilled, her attention riveted on the tall man whose powerful torso tapered to a narrow waist and lean hips. His black hair gleamed under the golden glow of the chandeliers, the ends curled lovingly around the top of his starched cravat. The evening attire of stark black and white appeared to have been made with him in mind, showing off the austere beauty of his features to perfection, a beauty enhanced by the statuesque blonde who clung to his arm.
Caroline stared at the man shamelessly, knowing that even if the animal inside her had not felt the singular attraction, she would have wanted him anyway.
With his full lips and intense gaze, he was gorgeous, his face so perfect as to outshine any classical painting or statue of her recollection. She'd never witnessed a more resplendently masculine being in her life. There was something about him, a dangerous edge, a predatory alertness she found utterly mesmerizing. Just looking at him made her nipples hard, her body soft, and caused moisture to pool between her thighs, readying her for his possession.
Just one look and she was nearly undone.
Caroline glanced aside at Julienne. "Beg your pardon?"
"The man you are presently drooling over is Jack Shaw, an American. Obscenely wealthy I've been told, due to his shipping interests."
"He's...stunning," Caroline murmured, acknowledging even as she spoke what an understatement that was.
"Yes," Julienne agreed. "With a fabulously wicked reputation. How I envy you your choice of men such as him."
Wicked. Caroline shivered with desire. She knew he would be, just from the sight of him.
As if he could feel the longing and need in her regard, he looked up and caught her gaze, revealing the molten silver color of his irises.
The connection was devastating. Caroline was unable to halt her instinctive reaction. Her own blood flooded her mouth before she realized her fangs had descended.
It took everything she had to prevent leaping from the staircase and biting deep into his neck. The desire to pierce his skin, to drink him in, was so overwhelming she didn't trust herself to be around him. In the century she'd been vampire, she'd never experienced such a soul-deep pull to another being.
Startled, confused, and deeply afraid she would do something she'd regret forever, Caroline covered her mouth and spun blindly away. She ran past gaping guests in the crowded foyer and fled to the safety of the night beyond.
* * * * *
"You're coming with me, Caroline. Whether you like it or not."
Caroline watched Julienne pace across the Aubusson rug in her parlor and released a deep breath. Arguing with Julienne La Coeur about anything was a chore. Her friend was too stubborn by half.
"I told you, Jules. I'm not feeling well." Settling more comfortably into her seat, Caroline attempted to look ill.
"Nonsense," Julienne scoffed, coming to a halt directly before her. "You look the picture of health as always. Besides you've been convalescing for a week, plenty of time to recover from what ailed you when you ran out of the Dempsey affair."
Shaking her head, Caroline knew she couldn't continue to hide in her residence forever, but the fear she would chance upon Jack Shaw again was strong enough to make the idea appealing. He'd come calling twice already, bearing lovely bouquets of flowers, and both times he had been turned away. Any notion she might have held that she'd gone unnoticed was completely dispelled. He knew her name. Worse yet, he wanted to court her. The thought sent her into a mild panic. Even if she could control the animal within her, she was not free to accept his attentions as long as she was promised to another.
Julienne sighed. "You are attending the Moreland ball with me. I won't take no for an answer." She dropped to a crouch beside the settee. "Please, Caroline," she begged. "These events are positively dreadful when you're not around. Aunt Eugenia fusses all evening."
"Why is the Moreland ball so important to you?"
Blushing, Julienne admitted, "Lucien Remington is rumored to have been invited."
"Good grief. Talk about wicked men, Jules."
"Ummm...isn't he? So you see, you must come with me and distract my aunt so I can ogle Remington at my leisure."
Staring into her friend's hopeful features, Caroline couldn't find the heart to refuse. "Oh, very well then," she gave in with a laugh. If she was very careful and very fortunate, she might be able to survive the evening without crossing paths with Jack. "But I'm taking my leave early. So ogle with haste."