Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Source: I purchased this book to read and review
To gain leverage in his efforts to get custody of his niece, Lucas Denning, newly minted Marquis of Deene, needs an heir, a fat marriage settlement, and a wife of impressive social standing. Lady Eve Windham‘s bad judgment where men are concerned cost her virtue, her confidence, and—because it also involved a nasty fall from her horse—her love for horses. In a weak moment, Eve is compromised into marriage with the handsome Lord Deene, who asks her to get back on the horse and stake everything on one glorious ride.
from the back of the book:
Pretty, petite Evie Windham has been more discreet than her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Moreland, suspect. Fearing that a wedding night would reveal her past, she’s running out of excuses to dodge adoring swains. Lucas Denning, the newly titled Marquis of Deene, has reasons of his own for avoiding marriage. So Evie and Deene strike a deal, each agreeing to be the other’s decoy. At this rate matrimony could be avoided indefinitely…until the two are caught in a steamy kiss that no one was supposed to see.
Interesting contrast between the two blurbs. I picked up this book rather than asking for a review copy this time around. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the books that I’ve read by Ms. Burrowes and this one was no different. I enjoy Ms. Burrowes style of writing and everyone of these books are different. Some leave me in tears because of the beauty of the writing and how touching the story is. Some leave me triumphant because of the achievement of the characters. Some are just a must-read-to-the-last-page reads. This one fit in the last category.
What I particularly like about all of this series of books is the glimpses we get of the Duke and Duchess. The Duke is a meddling, old soldier. Now that his children are grown he is determined to marry them off. Not only that, he has wonderful interactions with his Duchess.
The following is an excerpt from part way through the story involving the Duke and Duchess:
“Percival Windham, you shouldn’t have.”
He glanced down at the yellow tulips in his hand. “I spared the roses, amd it’s my own damned garden. I can pick a few posies for a pretty girl when I jolly well please to.”
He crossed to the sideboard, poured some water into a glass, and stuck the flowers on the windowsill. His wife would pass by the bouquet, move a couple of blooms about and rearrange the greenery, and instead of looking ridiculous in a ducal study, the flowers would look exactly right.
He adored this about her as well.
She set her novel aside – reading one by daylight was a sure sign none of the children were in residence – and patted the place beside her on the sofa.
“What’s the occasion?”
“Does love need an occasion?
She cocked her head and studied him. “Give me a hint.”
“It is the anniversary of our third kiss.”
The smile blossomed again, a trifle naughtier to a husband’s eye.
She had named many of their earliest romantic encounters.
The Scorcher. The Ambush. The Ravishment of My Reason. The Obliteration of my Resistance.
He particularly enjoyed recalling that last one and thought she did too. Nothing had pleased a young husband more than to hear a catalogue of his wooing as categorized in Her Grace’s intimate lexicon.
“Yes, the Scorcher.” He took a seat beside her, and when he reached for her hand, she was already reaching for his. “Such an occasion is not to pass without a token of my esteem.”
I hope you enjoyed that small glimpse at the Duke and Duchess. I noticed that the Duke & Duchess’s novella has been released…..so I’m off for some instant gratification – shopping on my Nook
Pick up a copy of this book – and if you haven’t read this series, starting at the beginning and enjoy each book for the pleasures that they will bring to your life!
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
He had a perfectly orderly life…
William, the sixth Duke of Pelham, enjoys his punctual, securely structured life. Orderly and predictable—that’s the way he likes it. But he’s in the public eye, and the scandal sheets will make up anything to sell papers. When the gossip papers link him to Juliette, one of the most beautiful and celebrated courtesans in London, chaos doesn’t begin to describe what happens next…
Until she came along…
Juliette is nicknamed the Duchess of Dalliance and has the cream of the nobility at her beck and call. It’s disruptive to have the duke who is the biggest catch on the Marriage Mart scaring her other suitors away. Then she discovers William’s darkest secret and decides what he needs in his life is the kind of excitement only she can provide…
Why do you need to read this book?
To start with, it was created by Shana Galen, one of my favorite authors, but more than than, the character of Juliette is outstanding. She is strong and takes what she has and makes a life for herself – a tough thing to do in Regency England. She plans and she succeeds. I love this character! The duke is cute, but Juliette steals the show in my opinion.
(Taken from Ms. Galen’s website)
Now she wanted to sleep. She should not have stayed out so late, but the play had been witty, Vauxhall Gardens filled with the most entertaining men and women in London, and before she had realized, it was nearly morning. Rosie would have a difficult task ahead of her if Juliette was to look stunning at Carlton House tonight.
“Yes, Hollows, do rouse Mary and send her to my chamber.” Juliette felt badly about waking the girl—she, Hollows, and Cook were the only servants not given the night off—but Juliette did not relish sleeping in her stays and gown, and she could not get them off by herself. Once she was undressed, she would send Mary back to bed and finish her toilette on her own.
Juliette started up the steps. “Off to bed with you, Hollows,” she said over her shoulder. “I shan’t need you for several hours.”
Juliette’s feet felt like cannonballs—not that she had ever touched a cannonball—but she imagined they were impossibly heavy. Why had she agreed to so many dances? No, she had never been good at denying herself pleasure when it was to be had, and tonight the music had been lively, the gentlemen agreeable, and her spirits high. She could have danced until noon.
Thank God she hadn’t. One day she would learn to think of the consequences before she acted.
She stepped onto the first floor landing and started for the stairs to the second floor, where her bedchamber was located. The doors to the drawing room were closed, but Juliette paused when she heard a sound from within. She stopped, pressed her ear to the doors, and listened.
She shook her head. She was so tired, her mind was deceiving her.
She started for the steps again and heard an unmistakable thump. Whirling, she did not hesitate but ran straight to the banister. “Hollows!” Her heart hammered in her chest. “Hollows! C—”
A hand clamped over her mouth, and she was propelled backward, losing one slipper as she was dragged.
He had come for her, as he’d vowed he would. She’d grown complacent, dismissing her additional footmen for the night. How could she have been so foolish? Now he would kill her. Hollows, who was rather hard of hearing, would never even hear her scream.
Juliette kicked and clawed, but she couldn’t escape. The man—she assumed it was a man because the hands were so large—had grasped her about the waist to haul her back more quickly. His hand on her mouth tightened and began to cut off her air. She tried to gasp in a breath as the drawing room doors slammed, and a man she did not know stepped before them.
“Hello, Duchess,” he said.
She blinked and swallowed, still trying to catch her breath.
It wasn’t Oliver. Thank God.
The man dressed stylishly in black. His hair was the color of midnight with a streak as white as the pearls at her throat. He smiled at her, but his eyes were dark and menacing. Juliette thought perhaps she might reserve her thanks a few more moments.
“I’d like to have a brief chat,” the man said. “Gabriel, she’s turning purple. Do lift your hand. You won’t scream, will you, Duchess?”
She shook her head, having every intention of screaming as soon as this Gabriel removed his paw from her mouth. Even if Hollows didn’t hear, the cook or Mary might.
“Good because if you do, you won’t like the consequences—for you and whoever comes to your aid.”
Gabriel removed his hand, and Juliette kept her mouth clamped shut. Something about the man in black made her believe he could make her very sorry indeed if she did not do as he bid. She had been made very sorry before for disobedience and, subsequently, had become quite good at doing as she was told. For a decade she had been her own independent woman, but now she felt seventeen again. All her survival instincts resurfaced.
She stepped away from the man called Gabriel and cut her eyes to take in the room. The usually stylish, immaculate room was in complete shambles. The expensive drapes had been ripped to ribbons, the newly upholstered chair cushions spilled their filling, antique lamps were overturned, and the heavy drawers scattered their contents on the rug.
Escape was her only salvation. She had to find a means to escape. But she couldn’t allow these men to know she was afraid or planned to run. The punishment would come faster then.
“Looking for something?” she croaked.
The man in black smiled again, and this time it almost reached his obsidian-colored eyes. “Very perceptive, Duchess. May I call you Duchess?” He moved smoothly to a toppled chair, righted it, and sat as though he was perfectly at ease. As though this were his home, not hers.
Juliette bristled, but she was too adept at hiding her emotions to show it. The Countess of Sinclair had taught her well.
“I prefer Mrs. Clifton,” she said, though no one had called her that in years. Oliver had used that name, and she’d come to hate it. But it seemed appropriate at this moment.
“Why don’t I call you Juliette? It seems fitting as we are going to be good friends, Juliette.”
Her throat tightened. She had to get out of here. “And what should I call you?” she asked coolly.
“Lucifer, of course. Do you know what I want to discuss, Juliette?”
She shook her head. Dear God, she prayed he wasn’t going to rape her. Her mind was racing, trying to place him. But he wasn’t familiar to her at all. She didn’t think she could have spurned him. She would have remembered, and she was always gentle with those whose attentions she rejected.
Could Oliver have sent him?
No, her former husband liked to do his own work. “Actually, I don’t know what you wish to discuss, Lucifer,” Juliette replied with strained politeness. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“Oh, come, come. We are friends. We can be honest with one another.”
She shook her head, cutting her gaze to the drawing room doors. If she ran, could she make it in time? Even as the thought occurred to her, Gabriel—large and blond—stepped in front of the doors and crossed his arms.
“I am being honest with you,” she said to Lucifer, panic rising in her throat now. “I don’t know you.” But even as she spoke she could see he didn’t believe her. She could see she was doomed.
Lucifer raised a brow. “But I know you, and I know you have something of mine. Now, are you going to tell me about the diamonds, or am I going to have to find more creative methods of loosening your tongue?”
© Shana Galen
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
I hope that you enjoyed yesterday’s first prequel – The Courtship. Today is the second part simply called The Duke and Duchess. This is just as wonderful as the previous and as wonderful as the whole series. If you haven’t read this series, you really must pick up a copy and start the series!
Percival and Esther Windham had to beat the odds and face down gossip when their brief courtship resulted in marriage. Five years later, they have four children in their nursery, a ducal estate to care for, ailing family members needing care, and more trouble on the horizon than even a strong marriage might endure.
“You’re young and have all your teeth.” George, His Grace, the Duke of Moreland made this state of affairs sound as if Percival had committed a double hanging felony. “If you swive this wife to death, you can always get another.”
Lord Percival Windham’s brothers reacted to the duke’s observation predictably. Tony shot Percy a look of commiseration while Peter—more properly the Marquis of Pembroke—pushed back from the card table.
“I find myself ready to retire,” Peter announced. He rose and bowed to the duke. “Your Grace, pleasant dreams.”
Peter’s younger brothers merited a nod, one conveying more than a touch of sympathy. On this matter at least, the heir to a dukedom could delegate dealing with an irascible old peer to the spares.
“You two are sorry company for an old man,” His Grace spat. “Fetch me a footman that I might preserve myself from the tedium to be endured when you won’t allow me so much as a finger of decent libation.”
Tony and Percy each got a hand under one of His Grace’s elbows and boosted the duke to his feet. Tony pushed the chair away, and then—only then—His Grace shook off his sons’ hold. “Think of me as you’re getting drunk yet again.” He glowered at each son in turn. “And I meant what I said, Percival. Your lady wife has dropped four bull calves in little more than five years of marriage. In my day, a gentleman didn’t trouble his wife beyond the necessary, and certainly not when he could afford to take his rutting elsewhere. Her Grace would have agreed with me.”
Percival didn’t dignify that scold with a response, though Tony—brave man—murmured, “Goodnight, Papa,” as they handed the duke off to a stout, blank-faced footman.
When the door was closed and a thick silence had taken root, Percival went back to the table and started organizing the cards.
“He’s wrong, Perce.” Tony’s path took him to the decanter. “Her Grace would not agree. She’d say Esther’s duty was to provide as many sons as you and the good Lord saw fit to get on her. Her Grace was a terror when it came to the succession.”
In Percival’s hands, the queen of diamonds turned up first. “The old boy may have a point. Esther has done her duty to the succession.”
And at what cost? She fell into bed exhausted each evening, though never once had Percival heard her complain.
With decanter in hand, Tony took himself and a glass of brandy to the side of the game room where darts were played. A stout surface of Portuguese cork surrounded the scarred circular target, the pits and gashes growing fewer closer to the center.
“I would better prosecute a game of darts were I in my cups,” Tony muttered, taking aim. “You will not be the death of your wife, Perce. His Grace is mourning, is all, and not going about it very well.”
Percival kept his hands busy organizing the cards, all the pips going in the same direction, from highest to lowest, suit by suit. “He’s not only mourning, he’s dying. Can a man mourn his own incipient passing?”
Tony shot him a look. “You’re sounding ducal again. Incipient passing? I say it’s Peter we have to worry about most. His Grace has enough spleen left to live to be a hundred. He and Her Grace had a few cordial years there toward the end—largely as a function of your success populating the nursery, if you ask me.”
When Percival had the deck stacked in perfect order, he cut and shuffled, then shuffled again. The snap and riffle of the cards soothed him, putting him in mind of years spent soldiering—and shivering—in Canada. “How long has it been since Peter ventured outside?”
A dart went sailing toward the wall only to land several inches from the target. “Damn. He sits out on the terrace when the weather’s fair. Once a man turns forty, he’s entitled to a more sedentary schedule.”
Sedentary? In his youth, Peter had been a robust, blond giant. Heir to a dukedom, he’d been the biggest prize on the marriage mart in every sense. When he’d departed on his Grand Tour, half the ladies in London had gone into a decline. And now… Peter’s blond hair was going silver, his complexion suggested he abused arsenic when he never touched the stuff. Worst of all, Peter looked at his half-grown daughters like a man who’d reconciled himself to heartbreak.
Percival reorganized the cards, this time starting with hearts. “Maybe it’s Peter’s incipient death His Grace is mourning.”
“This is maudlin talk, Perce, and you’ve hardly touched a drop all night.” Tony fired a second dart toward the wall, only to have it bounce off the edge of the target. “Rotten, bloody luck.”
“Rotten, bloody aim. You need to focus, Anthony.”
And Percival might well need a mistress. The notion that his father could be right was loathsome.
“You need to get drunk and go swive your lady,” Anthony countered. “Moreland’s carping because Her Grace booted him out of her bedroom once I came along. He doesn’t want to see you and Esther come to the same sorry pass.”
The things Tony knew—and the things he let come flying out of his fool mouth. “Esther has given us an heir, a spare, and a pair of Tonys,” Percival observed. “Perhaps there’s been enough swiving in my marriage.”
A Tony. In Moreland family parlance, any son younger than the spare was a Tony, a hedge against bad luck, and a prudent course every titled family with sense followed. Some were blessed with an abundance of Tonys.
For the third dart, Tony set his drink aside, toed an invisible line on the oak parquet floor, and narrowed his gaze at the target. “You love your wife, Percival. You fell arse over teakettle for her the moment you laid eyes on her. You’d break Esther’s heart if you took your favors elsewhere, and I don’t give a hang what Polite Society, senile dukes, or their departed wives have to say on the matter.”
The dart flew true, hitting the bull’s eye with a decisive thunk.
People tended to underestimate blond, amiable Tony, and Percival had a hunch Tony liked it that way. “Is Gladys carrying again?”
Tony pulled two darts from the cork and picked the third up from the floor. “One suspects she is.” His smile was bashful, pleased, and a trifle scared.
“Can’t one simply ask his wife? The girl is forthright to a fault, Anthony.” Something Percival adored about Gladys, especially when the rest of the family shied away from difficult truths like a royal court fleeing the plague.
“One cannot.” Tony put the darts on the mantel and set his half-full glass beside them. “One, as you well know, waits patiently for that happy day when one’s wife reposes her trust in one with news of an inchoate miracle, and then one prays incessantly for months, until said miracle is squalling in one’s nursery.”
In this, Tony was not the hale fellow well met, he was wise.
The ace of hearts was missing, which wasn’t possible, because the damned thing had been present and accounted for moments ago. Percival began at the top of the deck, thumbing through card by card. “Canada was good training for marriage, wasn’t it? Hazards on every hand, hardship, boredom…”
God in heaven, was that what his marriage had become?
“I get a decent complement of howling at the moon, or at my lady wife, so I’m content,” Tony said. “Believe I’ll give the girl my regards while the night is yet young.”
With fatuous smile firmly in place, Tony saluted and took his leave.
While Percival hunted in vain for the damned ace of hearts.
“I love you,” Esther Windham whispered to the fellow in her arms. “I will always love you, and love you better than any other lady loves you. I love my husband too.” Also better than any other lady loved him, though lately, that love had taken on a heaviness.
Esther’s regard for Percival had acquired an element of forbearance that troubled her, because it went beyond the patience any couple married five years endured with each other from time to time. Percival was a doting father, a dutiful son, a loving husband, and yet…
“Is he asleep?” Little Bart had crept to his mother’s side on silent feet—a surprising accomplishment for a lad who could shriek down the rafters with his glee and his ire. “Can we go yet?”
“Hush.” Esther leaned over and kissed the top of Bart’s head. He already hated when she did that. “You’ll wake the baby.”
Impatience crossed Bart’s cherubic features but he knew better than to commit the nursery equivalent of high treason. He was solid, stubborn, charming, and at present in line to become a Duke of Moreland. The charm and stubbornness would serve him well, though Esther had learned to steel herself against both. She rose with the baby and put wee Valentine in his crib, gave the nursemaid a smile—for the next hour at least, there would be peace in the nursery, provided neither the baby nor two-year-old Victor woke up—and extended her other hand to Gayle.
Gayle was not charming in the same way his brother was. He was serious, curious, and sweet natured. He and Bart got on famously, thank a merciful God.
“Will we sail boats?” Bart asked, yanking on Esther’s hand as they headed for the stairs. “We can do Viking burials again, can’t we? Will Papa come, too?”
“Papa is busy today, but yes, we can do Viking burials. Gayle, what would you like to do?”
This was her one afternoon a week to spend with the children, the one she and Percival had vowed and declared would be inviolate. The one the children looked forward to.
The one she used to look forward to, too.
“Pet the kitties.”
“A lovely notion.” Though Bart would scare most of the kitties away, all except the shameless old mamas who seemed to know a kitten favored by a child might find an easy life as a pantry mouser rather than the rigorous existence awaiting the barn cats.
When they reached the ground floor, Bart pelted off in the direction of the library, there to collect paper from the duke’s desk. Esther paused long enough to tell a footman—old Thomas—to have a brazier and some spills prepared for the services to be held at the stream.
Outside the library door, Gayle dropped her hand and peered up at her. He had beautiful green eyes, the same as Bart. Victor’s eyes were a slightly darker hue, and baby Valentine’s eyes had lost nearly all traces of their newborn blue.
Esther dropped to her knees. Gayle did not shout his sentiments, even in his most sanguine moods. “My dear?”
She pushed soft auburn curls away from his face. He’d been born blond, but his hair was darkening as he matured. He tolerated her affection silently, a little man more preoccupied with his inner world than most his age.
“If you could do anything you wanted to do this afternoon,” Gayle asked, “what would you do?”
Esther turned, braced her back against the wall, and slid to a sitting position. “I’m not sure.” This question, and her reply to it, caused a lump in her throat. Many things brought a lump to her throat. “I might take a nice long nap.”
She was treated to a frown that put her much in mind of her husband. “A nap isn’t fun. We’re supposed to have fun for our outings. Petting the kitties is fun.”
“You don’t like the Viking burials, do you?”
The frown did not dissipate. “Was Grandmama a Viking?”
In the way of little minds, he’d skipped across several ideas to connect two disparate concepts. He did this a lot, which fascinated Esther as it worried her.
“Gayle, we did not put your grandmother’s body on a ship, light the ship on fire, and send the ship out to sea. That was for great Viking warriors, for kings long ago and far away. Nobody does that anymore.”
“Grandpapa won’t go away on a ship?”
Esther pulled him into her lap, a warm, sturdy bundle of little boy full of questions and fears a mother could only guess at. He bore the scent of hay, suggesting some obliging footman had already stood guard over a sortie to the hay-mow, where the boys play highwaymen and pirates and Damned Upstart Colonials.
Why did little boys never play Dukes and Earls?
“His Grace will go to heaven when God sees fit to call him home. Grandpapa has lived a long, honorable life, and St. Peter will throw a great fete when His Grace strolls through the pearly gates.”
“Will Grandpapa need a footman to help him?”
Such worry in such a small body. “He will not. He will strut.”
This caused a smile. “Like Papa?”
“Like all of my menfolk.” Esther blew on the back of Gayle’s neck, making the sort of rude sound boys delighted in.
She thought he’d squirm away then, but he sighed, little shoulders heaving up with momentous thoughts, then down. “Will Uncle Peter strut when he goes to heaven?”
“He will strut, and he will shout to everybody that he has come home.” Dear Peter probably hadn’t shouted or strutted since Esther had met him five years ago.
Now Gayle did scramble to his feet. “Will I shout and strut when I go to heaven? Will I be as big as Bart?”
Esther rose, though it was an effort that left her a trifle light-headed. “You will carry on as loudly as anybody, and my guess is you will become very proficient at strutting. You are a Windham, after all. As for being as big as Bart, you are as big now as Bart was when he was your age.”
This concept, that Bart was merely half a lap ahead in the race to adult height, always pleased Gayle. “I want to make birds with my paper, not ships that burn.”
“We can do both.” Though Bart would want to throw rocks at the birds when they became airborne, and Gayle—in a perfect imitation of His Grace—would point out that burning ships was a waste of paper.
Esther followed her son into the library, where Bart—appropriately enough—was already seated at the desk, sturdy legs kicking the air as he folded paper into some semblance of ships.
While the boys argued halfheartedly about which was more fun—birds or ships—Esther sank into a chair and tried not to think about whether she’d be capable of strutting into heaven when her turn came.
No, she would not, though in heaven, she would get a decent nap. She would get as long a nap as ever she wished for.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you will realize that I have loved the Windham Series by Grace Burrowes. I’ve finally taken the time to read the two prequels that have been created with my favorite characters from this series – The Duke and Duchess. Here is the first one – I LOVED it! What a wonderful glimpse into the courtship of this wonderful couple.
Lord Percival Windham has come back from a cavalry posting in the wilds of Canada to find marital ambushes and intrigues on all sides at what ought to be a country house party. He depends on sensible Miss Esther Himmelfarb to guide him past all hazards, but who will protect Esther’s heart from being taken captive by Lord Percival?
Esther Himmelfarb’s cousin Michael pulls her aside at Lady Morrisette’s houseparty to interrogate her regarding prospective brides. In the course of their discussion, Esther learns that the man she’s hoping will view her in the same light has departed the premises altogether.
“You look as tired as I feel.” Michael tugged on Esther’s sleeve and led her to a dusty little room full of guns, game bags, and other hunting accoutrements. “Are you getting any rest at all?”
Esther glanced around, her gaze landing on a stag’s head mounted on the opposite wall. The animal’s glass eyes stared at a hare, which the taxidermist’s art had frozen leaping from a set of quarter shelves in a corner.
“House parties are fatiguing,” Esther said. “In your case, I’d say they’re impoverishing as well.”
Michael’s gaze narrowed as he pushed the door closed with a booted foot. “I’m trying to express concern for you, and your response is to nag? Even a cousin finds that tiresome behavior in a female.”
Was he concerned? Esther gave herself leave to doubt that. “Lady Morrisette remarked last night after dinner that she will make it a point to oppose you at whist, because she’s sure to increase her pin money that way.”
“Women’s gossip. She opposes me at whist so she might make free with her hands on my person under the table, while our partners likely do the same across the table.”
Esther thought back to the previous evening, when Sir Jasper and Charlotte Pankhurst had completed the foursome at Michael’s table.
“You might well be right, but, Michael, I am worried for you. These people are above our strata. We’re tolerated here to make up the numbers, and they are not our friends. Your folly would provoke their amused scorn, not their sympathy.”
He crossed his arms while his expression became superior. “And what of you, Esther Himmelfarb? Lurking in gardens with a ducal spare? That’s more than a bit ambitious, I’d say, even for an earl’s granddaughter.”
An arrangement of silver hunting flasks sat on the quarter shelf below the leaping hare. The flasks were going a bit tarnished, but they’d make satisfying missiles fired at Michael’s head.
“Were you spying on me, Michael?”
“I was taking a bit of air, Cousin, and heard voices on the other side of the garden wall. Percival St. Stephens Joachim Windham was getting quite friendly with you.”
He’d forgotten a name—Tiberius. Thank God the wall had been high and solid.
“I can visit with whom I please, Michael, and regardless of how I’m spending what little spare time I have here, you are supposed to be courting the ladies, not financial ruin.”
Michael apparently decided on a tactical retreat. “What can you tell me about Herodia Bellamy?”
And this was likely the point of Michael’s “concern.” He was losing badly at cards, and instead of browsing the available brides himself, he expected Esther to do his scouting for him.
“Marriage is intended to resolve a lack of companionship, Michael, not a lack of coin.”
His smile was quick and genuine. “You sound exactly like Uncle Jacob. Marriage can solve both. The best families have known this for generations and prosper as a result. Tell me about the Bellamy girl.”
There was no reason not to, though Esther eyed the flasks with longing. They would make such a loud, satisfying crash pitched against the old speckled mirror above the mantel.
“Herodia is a trifle too smart for her own good. She’s bored silly but knows better than to get tangled up in anything truly disgraceful. Engage her mind, and she’ll notice you.”
“I’d rather engage her mind than spend my days complimenting her hair bows.” Michael looked thoughtful. “I’m also hoping I might make progress with the Needmore heiress now that the Windham brothers have gone larking into Town.”
Esther barely refrained from clutching her cousin’s arm to wring further details from him. “I wasn’t aware they’d departed from the gathering And her name is Needham.”
Michael began a perambulation of the room, inspecting the hunting paraphernalia and trophies as he wandered. “Lord Percy is partial to mistresses with flaming red hair and lush proportions; at last report he had at least two of that description meeting his needs in Town. Lord Tony probably went along for similar entertainments, or perhaps they share—though I ought not to offer such speculation in your company. Where do you suppose Lord Morrisette killed this thing?”
A man would do that—leap in conversation from mistresses to hunting trophies and be oblivious to the non sequitur. “It’s a skunk. Perhaps he purchased it from somebody who’s hunted in the New World.”
The animal was probably very pretty when alive. Lush black and white fur ended in a graceful plume of a tail, and yet in death, the beast’s eyes bore the same blank stare as every other prize in the room.
“Well, I’m off to hunt a bride, or perhaps some sport more entertaining than dodging Lady Morrisette’s overtures.” He paused by the door and regarded Esther for a moment. “You’re too decent for a gathering like this. I’m surprised Aunt and Uncle let you attend.”
“I’m nominally under Lady Pott’s wing, when she’s awake. You’d best be going lest somebody remark our tête-à-tête, but I truly wish you’d limit yourself to farthing points.” Esther wished as well she could tell her numbskull cousin she’d been “permitted” to attend mostly to keep an eye on him.
Michael pursed his lips in a sulky pout. “Schoolboys play for farthing points.”
When the door clicked softly closed behind him, Esther informed the hare, the skunk, the stag’s head, and a four-foot-long silver-and-black snake twined around a limb above the mantel, “Even schoolboys know their debts of honor must be paid.”
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Blurb: Tarquin, the powerful Duke of Sconce, knows perfectly well that the decorous and fashionably slender Georgiana Lytton will make him a proper duchess. So why can’t he stop thinking about her twin sister, the curvy, headstrong, and altogether unconventional Olivia? Not only is Olivia betrothed to another man, but their improper, albeit intoxicating, flirtation makes her unsuitability all the more clear.
Determined to make a perfect match, he methodically cuts Olivia from his thoughts, allowing logic and duty to triumph over passion…Until, in his darkest hour, Tarquin begins to question whether perfection has anything to do with love.
To win Olivia’s hand he would have to give up all the beliefs he holds most dear, and surrender heart, body and soul…
Unless it’s already too late.
Why do you need to read this book?
Honestly, when I read the blurb for this book, I didn’t think that I could enjoy a book which has a hero named Tarquin, but the name suits the character. It kind of grows on you. This book simply has a beautiful, kleenex worthy story line. Just great!
In Which We Are Introduced to a Future Duchess
41 Clarges Street, Mayfair
The residence of Mr. Lytton, Esq.
Most betrothals spring from one of two fierce emotions: love or greed. But Olivia Lytton’s was fueled neither by an exchange of assets between like-minded aristocrats, nor by a potent mixture of desire, propinquity, and Cupid’s arrows.
In fact, the bride-to-be was liable, in moments of despair, to attribute her engagement to a curse. “Perhaps our parents forgot to ask a powerful fairy to my christening,” she told her sister Georgiana on their way home from a ball given by the Earl of Summers, at which Olivia had spent generous swaths of time with her betrothed. “The curse, it hardly needs to be said, was Rupert’s hand in marriage. I would rather sleep for a hundred years.”
“Sleeping has its attractions,” her sister agreed, descending from their parents’ carriage before the house. Typically, Georgiana did not pair the positive comment with its opposite: Sleep had attractions… but Rupert had few.
Olivia actually had to swallow hard, and sit in the dark carriage by herself a moment, before she was able to pull herself together and follow her sister. She had always known that she would be Duchess of Canterwick someday, so it made no sense to feel so keenly miserable. But there it was. An evening spent with her future husband made her feel half cracked.
It didn’t help that most of London, her mother included, considered her the luckiest of young women. Her mother would be horrified—though unsurprised—by her lame jest linking the dukedom with a curse. To Olivia’s parents, it was manifestly clear that their daughter’s ascension of the social ranks was a piece of singular good fortune. In short, a blessing.
Although, putting aside notions of good or evil, Olivia’s betrothal was really the result of a boyhood promise.
“Thank God,” Mr. Lytton had said, oh, five thousand times since Olivia was born, “If I hadn’t gone to Eton…”
It was a story that Olivia and her twin sister Georgiana had loved when they were little. They would perch on their papa’s knees and listen to the thrilling tale of how he—plain, unremarkable (albeit connected to an earl on one side, as well as a bishop and a marquess on the other) Mr. Lytton—had gone to Eton and become best friends with the Duke of Canterwick, who had inherited his grand title at the tender age of five. The next part of the story kept changing, but whether it was because their father had fought off a bully in the schoolyard, or had written the duke’s essays for him, or something altogether more consequential…it didn’t matter. At age fourteen, the boys had sworn a blood oath that Mr. Lytton’s eldest daughter would become a duchess by marrying the Duke of Canterwick’s eldest son.
Mr. Lytton showed giddy enthusiasm in doing his part to ensure this eventuality, producing not one, but two daughters, within a year of marriage. The Duke of Canterwick, for his part, produced only one son, and that after a few years of marriage, but obviously one son was sufficient for the task at hand. Most importantly, His Grace kept his word, and regularly reassured Mr. Lytton about the destined betrothal.
Consequently, the proud parents of the duchess-to-be did everything in their power to prepare their firstborn daughter (the elder by a good seven minutes) for the title that was to be bestowed upon her, sparing no expense in shaping the future Duchess of Canterwick. Olivia was tutored from the moment she left the cradle. By ten years of age, she was expert in the finer points of etiquette, the management of country estates (including double-entry accounting), playing the harpsichord and the spinet, greeting people in various languages including Latin (useful for visiting bishops, if no one else), and even in French cooking, though her knowledge of the last was intellectual rather than practical. Duchesses never actually touched food, except to eat it.
She also had a thorough knowledge of her mother’s favorite tome, The Mirror of Compliments: A Complete Academy for the Attaining unto the Art of Being a Lady, which was written by no less a personage than Her Grace, the Duchess of Sconce.
In fact, Olivia’s mother had read The Mirror of Compliments so many times that it had taken over her conversation, rather like ivy smothering a tree. “Gentility,” she had said that morning over marmalade and toast, “is bestowed on us by our ancestors, but soon blanched, when not revived by virtue.” Olivia had nodded. She herself was a firm believer in the benefits of blanching gentility, but long experience had taught her that expressing such an opinion would merely give her mother a headache.
“A duchess,” Mrs. Lytton had announced on the way to Summers ball, “loathes nothing so much as entering parley with an immodest suitor.” Olivia knew better than to inquire about how one “parleyed” with an immodest suitor. The ton understood that she was betrothed to the Duke of Canterwick’s heir, and therefore suitors, immodest or otherwise, rarely bothered to approach.
Generally speaking, she tabled that sort of advice for the future, when she hoped to indulge in any number of immodest parleys.
“Did you see Lord Webbe dancing with Mrs. Shottery?” Olivia asked her sister as they walked into her bedchamber. “It’s quite affecting to watch them stare into each other’s eyes. I must say, the ton seems to take their wedding vows about as seriously as do the French, and everyone says that inclusion of marital fidelity in French wedding vows turned them a splendid work of fiction.”
“Olivia!” Georgiana groaned. “You mustn’t! And you wouldn’t—would you?”
“Are you asking whether I will ever be unfaithful to my fiancé once he’s my husband—if that day ever arrives?”
“I suppose not,” Olivia said, though secretly she sometimes wondered if she might just snap one day and break every social rule by running off to Rome with a footman. “The only part of the evening I really enjoyed was when Lord Bladder told me a limerick about an adulterous abbot.”
“Don’t you dare repeat it!” her sister ordered. Georgiana had never shown the faintest wish to rebel against the rules of propriety. She loved and lived by them.
“There once was an adulterous abbot,” Olivia teased, “as randy—“
Georgiana slapped her hands over her ears. “I can’t believe he told you such a thing! Father would be furious, if he knew.”
“Lord Bladder was in his cups,” Olivia said. “Besides, he’s ninety-six and he doesn’t care about decorum any longer. Just a laugh, now and then.”
“It doesn’t even make sense. An adulterous abbot? How can an abbot be adulterous? They don’t even marry.”
“Just let me know if you want to hear the whole verse,” Olivia said. “It ends with talk of nuns, so I believe the word was being used loosely.”
That limerick—and Olivia’s appreciation of it—pointed directly to the problem with Miss Lytton’s duchess-ification—or, as the girls labeled it, “duchification.” There was something very unducal about Olivia, no matter how proper her bearing, her voice, and her manners might be. She certainly could play the duchess, but the real Olivia was, dismayingly, never far from the surface.
“You are missing that indefinable air of consequence that your sister conveys without effort,” her father often opined, with an air of despondent resignation. “In short, Daughter, your sense of humor tends toward vulgar.”
“Your demeanor should ever augment your honor,” her mother would chime in, quoting the Duchess of Sconce.
And Olivia would shrug.
“If only,” Mrs. Lytton had said despairingly to her husband time and again, “if only Georgiana had been born first.” For Olivia was not the only participant in the Lytton training program. Olivia and Georgiana had marched in lockstep through lessons on comportment and deportment, because their parents, aware of the misfortunes that might threaten their eldest daughter—a fever, a runaway carriage, a fall from a tower—had prudently duchified their second-born as well.
Sadly, it was manifest to everyone that Georgiana had achieved the quality of a duchess while Olivia… Olivia was Olivia. She certainly could behave with exquisite grace—but among her intimates, she was sarcastic, far too witty to be ladylike, and not in the least gracious. “She looks at me in such a way if I merely mention The Mirror of Compliments,” Mrs. Lytton would complain. “I’m only trying to help, I’m sure.”
“That girl will be a duchess someday,” Mr. Lytton would say heavily. “She’ll be grateful to us then.”
“But if only…” Mrs. Lytton would say, wistfully. “Dearest Georgiana is just…well, she would be a perfect duchess, wouldn’t she?”
In fact, Olivia’s sister had mastered early the delicate art of combining a pleasing air of consequence with an irreproachably modest demeanor. Over the years Georgiana had built up a formidable array of duchess-like traits: ways of walking, talking, and carrying herself. Even more importantly, she had a duchess’s touch: she knew instinctively how to behave in any situation.
“Dignity, virtue, affability, and bearing,” Mrs. Lytton recited over and over, turning it into a nursery rhyme.
Georgiana would glance at the glass, checking her dignified bearing and affable expression.
Olivia would sing back to her mother: “Debility, vanity, absurdity, and…brainlessness!”
By eighteen years of age, Georgiana looked, sounded, and even smelled(thanks to French perfume, smuggled from enemy territory at great expense) like a duchess. Mostly Olivia didn’t bother.
The Lyttons were happy, in a measured sort of way. By any sensible standard they had produced a real duchess, even if that particular daughter was not betrothed to a duke’s heir. As their girls were growing up, they told themselves that Georgiana would make a lovely wife to any man of rank. Alas, in time they stopped saying anything about their second daughter’s hypothetical husband.
The sad truth is that a duchified girl is not what most young men desire. While Georgiana’s virtues were celebrated far and wide throughout the ton—especially amongst the dowager set—her hand was rarely sought for a dance, let alone for marriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Lytton interpreted the problem differently. To their mind, their beloved second daughter was likely to dwindle into the shadow of a duchess, without becoming even a wife, merely because she had no dowry.
The Lyttons had spent all their disposable income on tutors, not to mention saving for Olivia’s dowry. That left their younger daughter without more than a pittance to launch her on the marriage market.
“We have sacrificed everything for that girl,” Mrs. Lytton often said. “I can’t understand why Olivia is not more grateful. She’s the luckiest girl in England.”
Olivia did not view herself as lucky at all.
“The only reason I can countenance marrying Rupert,” she said to Georgiana, “is that I will be able to dower you.” She stripped off her gloves, biting the tips to pull them from her fingers. “To be honest, the mere thought of the wedding makes me feel slightly mad. I could bear the rank—though it isn’t my cup of tea, to say the least—if he weren’t such a little, beardy-weirdy bottle-headed chub.”
“You’re using slang,” Georgiana said. “And—“
“Absolutely not,” Olivia said, throwing her gloves onto her bed. “I made it up myself, and you know as well as I do that the Mirror for Bumpkins says that slang is—and I quote—grossness of speech used by the lowest degenerates in our nation. Much though I would like to attain the qualifications of a degenerate, I have no hope of achieving that particular title in this life.”
“You shouldn’t,” Georgiana said, arranging herself on the settee before Olivia’s fireplace. Olivia had been given the grandest bedchamber in the house, larger than either their mother’s or father’s chambers, so the twins hid from their parents in Olivia’s room.
But the reprimand didn’t have her usual fire. Olivia frowned at her sister. “Was it a particularly rotten night, Georgie? I kept getting swept away by my dim-witted fiancé, and after supper I lost track of you.”
“I would have been easy to find,” Georgiana replied. “I sat among the dowagers most of the night.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Olivia said, sitting down next to her sister and giving her a fierce hug. “Just wait until I’m a duchess. I’ll dower you so magnificently that every gentleman in the country will be on bended knee at the very thought of you. ‘Golden Georgiana,’ they’ll call you.”
Georgiana didn’t even smile, so Olivia forged ahead. “I like sitting with the dowagers. They have all the stories one would really like to hear, like that one about Lord Mettersnatch paying seven guineas to be flogged.”
Her sister’s brows drew together.
“I know, I know!” Olivia exclaimed, before Georgiana could speak. “Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar. All the same, I loved the part about the nursemaid costume. Truly, you should be glad you weren’t me. Canterwick stalked up and down the ballroom all night, dragging Rupert and me behind him. Everyone groveled, tittered behind my back, and went off to inform the rest of the room how uncommonly unlucky the FF is to be marrying me.”
Between themselves, Olivia and Georgiana generally referred to Rupert Forrest G. Blakemore—Marquess of Montsurrey, future Duke of Canterwick—as “the FF,” which stood for foolish fiancé. On occasion he was also “the HH” (half-wit husband), “the BB” (brainless betrothed) and—because the girls were fluent in both Italian and French—“the MM” (mindless marito or mindless mari, depending on the language of the moment).
“The only thing lacking to make this evening absolutely and irredeemably hellish,” Olivia continued, “was a wardrobe malfunction. If someone had stepped on my hem and ripped it, baring my arse to the world, I might have been more humiliated. I certainly would have been less bored.”
“In my opinion, our gowns qualify as wardrobe malfunctions without the addition of rips,” Georgiana said, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling.
She looked miserable. Olivia felt a pang of alarm. Georgiana so rarely allowed a real emotion to disrupt her façade of serenity that a drooping mouth was akin to hysteria in another woman. “We should look on the bright side,” she said, striving for a rousing tone. “The FF danced with both of us. Thank goodness he’s finally old enough to attend a ball.”
“He counted the steps aloud,” Georgiana stated. “And he said my dress made me look like a puffy cloud.”
“Surely it could not have surprised you to discover that Rupert lacks a gift for elegant conversation. If anyone looked like a puffy cloud, it was I; you looked like a vestal virgin. Far more dignified than a cloud.”
Georgia just kept silently staring at the ceiling, so Olivia rattled on. “a virginal lady would surely have to be unwilling to qualify as a sacrifice. From what I saw tonight, London is full of virgins desperate to sacrifice themselves, if you think of matrimony as a kind of death, which I do.”
“I don’t,” her sister said, turning her head. Her eyes were full of tears.
“Oh, Georgie!” Olivia gathered her into another hug. “Please don’t cry. I’ll be a duchess in no time, and then I’ll dower you and order such beautiful clothing that you’ll be the wonder of London.”
“This is my fourth season, Olivia. You can’t possibly understand how dreadful it feels, given that you’ve never really been on the market. No gentleman paid me attention tonight, any more than they have in the last three years.”
“It was the dress and the dowry. We all looked like ghosts, but not transparent. You, of course, were a willowy ghost and I was a particularly solid one.”
Olivia and Georgiana had worn matching gowns of frail white silk, caught up under their bosoms with long ribbons trimmed with seed pearls and tasseled at the ends. The same streamers appeared on the sides and the backs of the gowns, rippling in the faintest breeze. On the page, in Madame Wellbrook’s pattern book, the design had looked exquisite.
There was a lesson there…a dismal one.
Just because fluttering ribbons look good on a stick-thin lady portrayed in a pattern book does not mean that they will be when festooned around one’s hips.
“I caught sight of you dancing with that bald man,” Olivia continued. “You looked like a bouncy maypole with all those ribbons trembling around you. Your ringlets were bouncing as well.”
“Lord Galligasken is a vigorous dancer.” Georgiana managed a wobbly smile. “I don’t think I looked like a maypole. More like a little suckling pig, one of those white ones you see in fairs that can stand up on its back legs.”
“Only if it were a very thin pig wearing a silk apron with long ties,” Olivia replied, after giving the idea some consideration. “And a wig with long ringlets. Though no pig would put up with the two hours it took to shape these blasted curls. Besides, if either of us looked like a piglet, Georgie, it was obviously me. That miserable gown flattered your figure, not that you needed it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Georgiana said flatly. She brushed away a tear. “It’s the duchification, Olivia. No man wants to marry a prude who acts as if she’s a ninety-five-year-old dowager. And”—She gave a little sob—“I simply can’t seem to behave any differently. I don’t believe that anyone titters behind your back, unless from jealousy. But I’m like nursery gruel. I—I can see their eyes glaze over when they have to dance with me.”
Privately, Olivia agreed that the duchification program had much to answer for. But she wrapped her arm tighter around her sister and said, “Georgiana, you have a wonderful figure, you’re sweet as honey, and the fact that you know how to set a table for one hundred has nothing to do with it. Marriage is a contract, and contracts are about money. A woman has to have a dowry or no man will even consider marrying her.”
Georgiana sniffed, which served to demonstrate how upset she was, as she normally would never countenance such an unrefined gesture.
“Your waist makes me positively sick with envy,” Olivia added. “I look like a butter churn, whereas you’re so slim that I could balance you on the head of a pin, like an angel.”
Most young ladies on the marriage market—Georgiana included—were indeed ethereally slim. They floated from room to room, diaphanous silk sweeping around their slender bodies.
Olivia was not one of them. It was the sad truth, the canker at the heart of the ducal flower, another source of stress for Mrs. Lytton. As she saw it, Olivia’s over-indulgence in vulgar wit and buttered toast stemmed from the same character defects. Olivia did not disagree.
“May I borrow a handkerchief?” Georgiana asked, sniffing again.
“I’ll find one,” Olivia said, jumping up and beginning to rummage through her wardrobe. “Here, use this.” She tossed a piece of cloth to her sister.
It landed on Georgiana’s shoulder, and she plucked it off with a frown. “A chemise? You want me to blow my nose on a chemise?”
“Why not? There don’t seem to be any handkerchiefs here. I’m not sure where Norah keeps them.”
“Because it takes at least three times the work to launder and iron a chemise as it takes to do the same for a handkerchief,” her sister said, a bit of steel in her voice.
“It’s the chemise or nothing,” Olivia said, coming back to the sofa. “But darling…”
“What?” Georgiana asked, her voice muffled by the chemise.
“You might want to try to be less virtuous, if you see what I mean.”
“But I’m right.”
Olivia was silent.
“You’re saying that I’m a sanctimonious prig,” Georgiana said, another sob escaping, with a hiccup in tow.
“No! I think you’re the most intelligent woman I know, and your ethical sense is admirable. Truly. It never would have occurred to me to consider the labor behind an ironed handkerchief versus a chemise.”
Georgiana hiccupped again. “A—a duchess needs to know that sort of thing in order to run a large household. Not that I’ll ever have a husband, let alone a household.”
“This reminds me!” Olivia cried. “I heard tonight that the Duke of Sconce is going to take a wife. I suppose he needs an heir. Just imagine, Georgie. You could be daughter-in-law to the most stiff-rumped starch bucket of them all. Do you suppose the duchess reads her Maggoty Mirror aloud at the dining table? She would adore you. In fact, you’re probably the only woman in the kingdom whom she would love.”
“Dowagers always love me,” Georgiana said with another sniff. “That doesn’t mean the duke will give me a second glance. Besides, I thought that Sconce was married.”
“If the duchess approved of bigamy she would have put it in the Mirror; therefore, its absence suggests that he is need of a second wife. By the way, Mother has decided that I should try a lettuce diet that someone told her about.”
“One eats only lettuce between the hours of eight and eight.”
“That’s absurd. If you want to reduce, you should stop buying meat pies when Mama thinks you’re buying ribbons. Though to be honest, Olivia, I think you should eat whatever you want. I want quite desperately to marry, and even so, the idea of marrying Rupert makes me want to eat a meat pie.”
“Four pies,” Olivia corrected. “At least.”
“What’s more, it doesn’t matter how slim you could become by eating lettuce,” Georgiana continued. “The FF has no choice but to marry you. If you grew rabbit ears, he would still have to marry you. Whereas no one can countenance the idea of marrying me, no matter what my waist looks like. I need money to—to bribe them.” Her voice wavered again.
“They’re all port-brained buffoons,” Olivia said, with another squeeze. “They haven’t noticed you, but they will, once Rupert dowers you.”
“He’ll forget to sign the papers,” Georgiana said damply. “He rattled on and on about fighting the French, but when I asked him where the battle was located at the moment, he couldn’t remember. The way he crowed about achieving honor, I expect he’s across the Channel by now.”
“Not quite yet,” Olivia stated.
There was a moment of silence, and then Georgiana sat bolt upright. “Don’t tell me that the FF is finally pledging himself? He’s going to marry you before he leaves for the war?”
“Close.” Olivia would have loved to explain away her immediate and visceral reaction to the word “marry” by a bad shrimp. But a feeling this overwhelming would imply she had eaten an entire ocean of bad shrimp. Instead, there was just one bad fiancé, who would likely resent being compared to a bit of aged seafood.
“He obtained a special license!”
“No, it’s to be a betrothal only, but I understand this is legally binding. Rupert is coming over with his father to sign the papers tomorrow evening.”
“For goodness’ sake,” Georgiana gasped. “You really are going to become a duchess. The FF is about to become the BB!”
“Foolish fiancés are often killed on the battlefield,” Olivia pointed out. “I think the term is ‘cannon fodder.’”
Her sister gave a sudden laugh. “You could at least try to sound sad at the prospect.”
“I would be sad,” Olivia protested. “I think.”
“You’d have reason. Not only would you lose the prospect of being ‘Your Grace’d for the rest of your life, but our parents would hold hands as they jumped off Battersea Bridge to their watery deaths.”
“I can’t even imagine what Mama and Papa would do if the goose that promised golden eggs was turned into pâté de foie gras by the French,” Olivia said, a bit sadly. It seemed that as each year went by, her parents were less and less interested in their eldest daughter as a person, as opposed to a duchess. Though really, had they ever expressed interest in anything but her duchess-designed accomplishments?
“What happens if the FF dies before marrying you?” Georgiana asked. “Legal or not, a betrothal is not a wedding.”
“I gather these papers make the whole situation a good deal more solid,” Olivia said. “I’m certain most of the ton believes that he’ll cry off before we get to the altar, given my general lack of beauty, not to mention the fact that I don’t eat enough lettuce.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You are beautiful,” Georgiana said. “You have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen. I can’t think why I got plain brown eyes and you have those green ones.” She peered at her. “Pale green. The color of celery, really.”
“If my hips were like celery, then we’d have something to celebrate.”
“You’re luscious,” her sister insisted. “Like a sweet, juicy peach.”
“I don’t mind being a peach,” Olivia said. “Too bad celery is in fashion.”
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Blurb: Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchant, lives in a castle in Wales where, it is rumored, his bad temper flays everyone he crosses. He’s a Beast. Miss Linnet Thynne is one of the most exquisite young ladies ever to grace London’s ballrooms. She’s a Beauty. But wait—there’s more! Piers is a doctor: brilliant, lame, and impossible to get along with. There’s a version of him on Fox TV, named after a habitation. Linnet has been involved in a scandalous flirtation with a prince, and everyone in the ton thinks she’s carrying a royal child: she needs a husband.
Linnet estimates it will take two weeks—at the outside—to bring the earl to his knees. Piers knows that he will never fall in love, and definitely never marry.
Note from the author: I love writing novels, but this novel was a particularly joyful experience. I’ve never had so much fun—and not just because I’m a House, M.D. fan either. I hope you love the second entry in my “Happily Ever Afters” just as much as I do.
Why do you need to read this book?
Like so many of Eloisa James’ books, this one was also a GREAT read!! The character of Piers is one of the best characters that Eloisa has ever created!!! I loved this book!
Once upon a time, not so very long ago…
Beautiful girls in fairy stories are as common as pebbles on the beach. Magnolia-skinned milkmaids rub shoulders with starry-eyed princesses and, in fact, counting two eyes in each bright-eyed damsel would result in a whole galaxy of twinkling stars.That sparkle makes it all the more sad that real women rarely live up to their fictional counterparts. They have yellowing teeth, or spotty skin. They have the shadow of a mustache, or a nose so big that a mouse could ski down it.
Of course there are pretty ones. But even they are prone to all the ills “that flesh is heir to,” as Hamlet had it in a long-ago complaint.
In short, it’s a rare woman who actually outshines the sun. Let alone all that business about pearly teeth, the voice of a lark, and a face so beautifully shaped that angels would weep with envy.
Linnet Berry Thrynne had all of the above, except perhaps the claim to lark-like melody. Still, her voice was perfectly agreeable, and she had been told that her laughter was like the chiming of golden bells and (though not larks) linnet songs were often mentioned.
Without even glancing at the glass, she knew that her hair was shining, her eyes were shining, and her teeth—well, perhaps they weren’t shining, but they were quite white.
She was just the sort who could drive a stable boy to heroic feats, or a prince to less intrepid acts such as whacking through a bramble patch merely to give her a kiss. None of which changed a basic fact:
As of yesterday, she was unmarriageable.
The calamity had to do with the nature of kisses, and what kisses are purported to lead to. Though perhaps it’s more accurate to point to the nature of princes. The prince in question was Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex.
He had kissed Linnet more than once; in fact, he had kissed her a great many times. And he had vehemently declared his love for her, not to mention thrown strawberries at her bedchamber window late one night (which had made an awful mess and had driven the gardener into a fury).
The only thing he hadn’t done was offer his hand in marriage.
“It’s a shame I can’t marry you,” he had said apologetically, when the scandal broke the evening before. “We royal dukes, you know…can’t do everything we’d like. My father is slightly deranged on the subject. Really, it’s most unfortunate. You must have heard about my first marriage; that one was annulled because Windsor decided Augusta wasn’t good enough, and she’s the daughter of an earl.”
Linnet was not the daughter of an earl; her father was a viscount, and not a very well-connected one at that. Not that she’d heard of the prince’s first marriage. Everyone who had watched her flirting with him in the last few months had unaccountably forgotten to tell her that he was apparently prone to courting those he couldn’t—or shouldn’t—marry.
The prince had bowed sharply, turned, and abruptly left the ballroom, withdrawing to Windsor Castle—or wherever it was that rats went when the ship sank.
This had left Linnet alone but for her dour chaperone and a ballroom of gentlepersons, a circumstance that led her to quickly realize that a great many maidens and matrons in London were eagerly—if not gleefully—certain that she was a hussy of the first degree.
Within moments of the prince’s retreat, not a soul would meet her eyes; she was faced with a sea of turned backs. The sound of upper-class tittering spread all around her like the hissing of a gaggle of geese preparing to fly north. Though, of course, it was she who had to fly—north, south, it didn’t matter as long as she fled the scene of her disgrace.
The unfair thing was that she wasn’t a hussy. Well, not more than any girl bowled over by a prince.
She had enjoyed snaring the greatest prize of them all, the blond and winsome prince. But she hadn’t had any real hope that he would marry her. And she certainly would not have given her virginity to a prince without having a ring on her finger and the approval of the king.
Still, she had considered Augustus a friend, which made it all the more painful when he didn’t pay her a call the morning following her humiliation.
Augustus wasn’t the only one. In fact, Linnet found herself staring out of a front window of her townhouse, the better to convince herself that no one was coming to call. No one. Not a soul.
Ever since she’d debuted a few months earlier, her front door had been the portal to the Golden Fleece, i.e., her dowered, delectable self. Young men pranced and trotted and strolled up that path, leaving cards and flowers and gifts of all kinds. Even the prince had lowered himself to make four morning calls, an unheard-of compliment.
But now…that path was nothing more than a row of flagstones shining in the sunlight.
“I simply don’t believe this has come out of nothing!” her father said now, from somewhere behind her.
“I was kissed by a prince,” Linnet said dryly. “Which might have counted as nothing, if we hadn’t been seen by Baroness Buggin.”
“Kissing—pah! Kisses are nothing. What I want to know is why it is being reliably reported that you are carrying a child. His child!” Viscount Sundon came, stood at her shoulder, and looked with her at the empty street.
“Two reasons. Neither of which involves a baby, you’ll be happy to learn.”
“I ate a bad prawn at Lady Brimmer’s morning musicale last Thursday.”
“So?” her father asked.
“It made me ill,” Linnet told him. “I couldn’t even make it to the ladies’ retiring chamber. I threw up in a potted orange tree.” She shuddered a little at the mere memory.
“Uncontrolled of you,” the viscount commented. He hated bodily processes. “I collect that was taken as a sign of childbirth?”
“Not childbirth, Papa, the condition that precedes it.”
“Of course. But you do remember when Mrs. Underfoot spewed in the throne room, narrowly missing His Majesty, the King of Norway? That was no prawn, nor a baby either. Everyone knew the lady had drunk herself into a standstill. We could put it about that you’re an inebriate.”
“Would that solve my problem? I doubt many gentlemen wish to marry a drunk. At any rate, it wasn’t just the prawn. It was my gown.”
“What about your gown?”
“I wore a new ball dress last night, and apparently my profile gave people cause to think that I was carrying a child.”
Her father swung her around and peered at her middle. “You don’t look any different to me. A bit chilly around the shoulders, perhaps. Need you show quite so much bosom?”
“Unless I want to look like a fussocking matron,” Linnet said with some asperity, “then yes, I do need to show this much bosom.”
“Well, that’s the problem,” Lord Sundon said. “You look like Bartholomew-ware. Damn it, I specifically told your chaperone that you had to look more prudish than anyone else in the room. Do I have to do everything myself? Can no one follow simple instructions?”
“My ball gown was not revealing,” Linnet protested, but her father wasn’t listening.
“I have tried, God knows how I’ve tried! I postponed your debut, in the hopes that maturity would give you poise in the face of the ton’s undoubted scrutiny, given your mother’s reputation. But what’s the good of poise if your neckline signals you’re a wanton?”
Linnet took a deep breath. “The affair had nothing to do with necklines. The gown I wore last night has—”
“Affaire!” her father said, his voice rising. “I raised you with the strictest of principles—”
“Not affaire in the French sense,” Linnet interrupted. “I meant that the disaster was provoked by my gown. It has two petticoats, you see, and—”
“I want to see it,” Lord Sundon announced, interrupting in his turn. “Go and put it on.”
“I can’t put on a ballgown at this hour in the morning!”
“Now. And get that chaperone of yours down here as well. I want to hear what Mrs. Hutchins has to say for herself. I hired her specifically to prevent this sort of thing. She put on such a priggish Puritanical air that I trusted her!”
So Linnet put on the ball gown.
It was designed to fit tightly over her breasts. Just below, the skirts pulled back to reveal an under-dress of charming Belgium lace. Then that skirt pulled back, showing a third layer, made from white silk. The design looked exquisite in the sketchbook at Madame Desmartins’s shop. And when Linnet had put it on last night, she had thought the effect lovely.
But now, as her maid adjusted all those skirts while Mrs. Hutchins looked on, Linnet’s eyes went straight to where her waist ought to be—but wasn’t. “My word,” she said, a bit faintly. “I really do look pregnant.” She turned to the side. “Just look how it billows out. It’s all the pleating, right here at the top, under my breasts. I could hide two babies under all that cloth.”
Her maid Eliza didn’t venture an opinion, but her chaperone showed no such reticence. “In my opinion, it’s not the petticoats so much as your bosom,” Mrs. Hutchins stated. Her voice was faintly accusing, as if Linnet were responsible for her cleavage.
Her chaperone had the face of a gargoyle, to Linnet’s mind. She made one think of the medieval church in all its stony religious fervor. Which was why the viscount had hired her, of course.
Linnet turned back to the mirror. The gown did have a low neckline, which frankly she had considered to be a good thing, given how many young men seemed unable to drag their eyes above her chin. It kept them occupied and gave Linnet license to daydream about being somewhere other than a ballroom.
“You’re overly endowed,” Mrs. Hutchins went on. “Too much on top. Put together with the way the dress billows out, and you look as if you’re expecting a happy event.”
“It wouldn’t have been happy,” Linnet pointed out.
“Not in your circumstances.” Mrs. Hutchins cleared her throat. She had the most irritating way of clearing her throat that Linnet had ever heard. It meant, Linnet had learned over the last few months, that she was about to say something unpleasant.
“Why on earth didn’t we see it?” Linnet cried with frustration, cutting her off before she could launch her criticism. “It seems so unfair, to lose my reputation and perhaps even my chance at marriage, just because this gown has too many pleats and petticoats.”
“Your manners are at fault,” Mrs. Hutchins said. “You should have learned from your mother’s example that if you act like a hurly-burly, people will take you for a jade. I tried to give you tips about propriety as best I could over the last months, but you paid me no mind. Now you must reap what you have sown.”
“My manners have nothing to do with this dress and its effect on my figure,” Linnet stated. She rarely bothered to examine herself closely in the glass. If she had just looked carefully, if she had turned to the side…
“It’s the neckline,” Mrs. Hutchins said stubbornly. “You look like a milking cow, if you’ll excuse the comparison.”
Linnet didn’t care to excuse it, so she ignored her. People should warn one of the danger. A lady should always look at herself from the side while dressing, or she might discover that all of London suddenly believed her to be carrying a child.
“I know that you’re not enceinte,” Mrs. Hutchins continued, sounding as if she were reluctant to admit it. “But I’d never believe it, looking at you now.” She cleared her throat again. “If you’ll take a word of advice, I’d cover that chest of yours a bit more. It’s not seemly. I did try to tell you that several times over the last two months and twenty-three days that I’ve been living in this household.”
Linnet counted to five and then said, stonily, “It’s the only chest I have, Mrs. Hutchins, and everyone’s gowns are designed like this. There’s nothing special about my neckline.”
“It makes you look like a light frigate,” she observed.
“A light frigate. A light woman!”
“Isn’t a frigate a boat?”
“Exactly, the type that docks in many harbors.”
“I do believe that it is the first jest you’ve ever told me,” Linnet said. “And to think I was worried that you might not have a sense of humor.”
After that, the corners of Mrs. Hutchins’s mouth turned down and she refused to say anything more. And she refused to accompany Linnet back to the drawing room. “I’ve naught to do with what’s come upon you,” she said. “It’s the will of heaven, and you can tell your father I said so. I did my best to instill principles in you, but it was too late.”
“That seems rather unfair,” Linnet said. “Even a very young light frigate should have the chance to dock at one harbor before she’s scuppered.”
Mrs. Hutchins gasped. “You dare to jest. You have no idea of propriety—none! I think we all know where to put the blame for that.”
“Actually, I think I have more understanding of propriety and its opposite than most. After all, Mrs. Hutchins, I, not you, grew up around my mother.”
“And there’s the root of your problem,” she said, with a grim smile. “It’s not as if her ladyship were a felt-maker’s daughter who ran away with a tinker. No one cares about that sort. Your mother danced like a thief in the mist while everyone was watching her. She was no private strumpet; she let the world see her iniquity!”
“A thief in the mist,” Linnet repeated. “Is that biblical, Mrs. Hutchins?”
But Mrs. Hutchins pressed her lips together and left the room.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
Release: May 2012
Source: I received a copy of this book from the author to read and review
When Arthur Kellington was fifteen, a Romany fortune teller predicted that his true love would be killed. Since then, he’s resolved to never fall in love. He has no trouble keeping his resolution until he meets Vanessa Gans, an agent with the Home Office who is on the trail of two hardened criminals. As he finds himself falling for her, he must keep his distance emotionally as the only way to protect them both.
Despite her illegitimate birth, Vanessa Gans has worked her way up to being one of the Crown’s finest agents. She’s reluctant to accept Arthur’s help initially because she doesn’t want to place him in danger. Then she realizes her heart is truly at risk because there can be no honorable future between them.
NEVER WAGER AGAINST LOVE is a romantic tale of bravery, sacrifice and love. It contains explicit language. The earlier books in the series were NEVER MISS A CHANCE (Book 2) and NEVER A MISTRESS, NO LONGER A MAID (Book 1), which USA TODAY’S HAPPILY EVER AFTER blog called “enjoyable, suspenseful and satisfying.”
Never Wager Against Love is the 3rd book that I’ve read by Maureen Driscoll in her Kellington series. This is a wonderful series about the members of the Kellington siblings – their trials and their loves. This family is now headed by the eldest brother Liam, now that their parents are gone. Liam is a wonderful big brother – a disciplinarian when necessary, but a guiding light for his siblings. I look forward to his story as we are getting glimpses of it as we read through the series. He apparently is book 5, so I have a bit to wait! I have read Edward’s story in the first book, Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid (and loved it) and I’ve read Lizzie’s story in Never Miss A Chance (was cheering out loud while reading that one!) and now we come to Authur’s story, appropriately named Never Wager Against Love.
As you find out from the blurb above, Arthur found out at an early age that his true love would be killed, The gypsy that told him this was rarely wrong, but encouraged him to live his life regardless. As would happen, he decided to never fall in love. This decision was easy to keep until he runs into Vanessa Gans. Vanessa is an agent of the home office whom we meet at the end of the first book when she is tracking some criminals and she was the woman for Arthur. She annoyed him, she didn’t listen to him like a proper lady would, and she could ride and shoot better than him. Their interaction through the first part of the story was delightful and had me smiling and chuckling. Arthur was determined not to be outdone by a mere woman.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Today we are welcoming Samantha Holt to the blog. She is the author of To Steal a Highlander’s Heart and is here to share about her book, and also to giveaway: a $50 Amazon gift card to a one randomly drawn commenter. To increase your chance of winning, click here to find a list of other blogs you can comment on!
TO STEAL A HIGHLANDER’S HEART
Alana sets eyes on Morgann for the first time in several years and what does he do? He captures her! But Alana refuses to go meekly with the sexy Highland warrior. Her kidnapping will reignite the rift that’s existed between the two clans since her father accused Morgann of theft and she doesn’t want to see her father harmed in the inevitable war that will ensue.
Unfortunately for Alana, the faeries seek to interfere with her plans to escape. The sidhe have a debt to repay and Tèile, the green faery, is determined to mend the rift between the clans for good. And that means ensuring Alana and Morgann marry.
Morgann has his own reasons for taking Alana and they are nothing to do with marriage or war. He wants to use her to reveal a secret from the past, the one that had him accused of theft. If only he didn’t find his childhood friend so attractive. When circumstances force them together, Alana’s life is threatened and war is imminent. Can Morgann reveal the truth without losing Alana? And will the faeries meddling help or hinder his cause?
“‘Tis something I have to do. I cannae explain my motives but ‘tis nae for something as petty as revenge, I promise ye.”
Shaking her head, she inched closer. “I donnae see why ye cannae explain. Ye used to tell me everything, remember?”
Hand thrust out, he pressed it to her shoulder in an attempt to hold her back. She could hardly think when she got closer but the heat of his body seemed to suck her in. They were speaking in riddles. Dancing around one another. Both trying to understand what the other wanted. She’d intended to manipulate him. To bargain her freedom, yet somewhere along the line the past had caught up with her and the burning desire to understand what had happened all those years ago snared her.
And then another kind of desire swept her up.
Alana curled her fingers around his wrist and drew his hand away from her shoulder. She glanced down at his arm and paused. Bringing her other hand up, she gently rolled up his sleeve, fingertips skimming over his skin.
“What did ye not tell me then?”
His throat worked as he swallowed and Morgann shook his head. “I’d hardly tell ye now.”
“Ye are a stubborn man, Morgann MacRae.” Her fingers settled on the scar on his arm, tracing the shape of it—a brand in the shape of a dagger tip. She winced as she considered the pain he must have felt.
Samantha resides in Warwickshire, England with her twin girls and husband. She’s a romance addict and has been devouring all kinds of romance for as long as she can remember.
Having studied archaeology, Samantha likes to blend her love of the past with her passion for romance to create thrilling and passionate tales set to medieval backdrops. She thinks there’s nothing sexier than a rugged warrior and a feisty maiden falling head over heels for each other.
Website/Blog – www.samanthaholt.org.uk
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/
Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Release: July 27, 2010
Publisher: Avon Historical
Source: I bought this book to read and review
Miss Kate Daltry doesn’t believe in fairy tales…or happily every after.
Forced by her stepmother to attend a ball, Kate meets a prince…and decides he’s anything but charming. A clash of wits and wills ensues, but they both know their irresistible attraction will lead nowhere. For Gabriel is promised to another woman – a princess whose hand in marriage will fulfill his ruthless ambitions.
Gabriel likes his fiancee, which is a welcome turn of events, but he doesn’t love her. Obviously, he should be wooing his bride-to-be, not the witty, impoverished beauty who refuses to fawn over him.
Godmothers and glass slippers notwithstanding, this is one fairy tale in which destiny conspires to destroy any chance that Kate and Gabriel might have a happily ever after.
Unless a prince throws everything that makes him noble…..
Unless a dowry of an unruly heart trumps a fortune….
Unless one kiss at the stroke of midnight changes everything.
* * *
I was so excited when I finished this book that I signed on to Facebook and told the author that I loved the book – that I laughed, and cheered and cried! I think that this is the first time that I have been so overtaken by a book that I felt the need to tell the author how much I enjoyed the book – immediately!
I got a copy of this book when I went to the romance author’s tea in Bellevue, WA at the beginning of January. This event cost $5.00 and the ticket served as a $5.00 off coupon for the purchase of a book at the event. Since I had purchased 2 tickets, I had to buy 3 books. Makes sense, right?
Anyways, I was standing at this event listening to the authors talk about books that they have written and I have loved reading. It suddenly occurred to me that it had been too long since I had read one of Eloisa James’s stories. I have some catching up to do, it seems! I picked up A Kiss at Midnight mainly because I have a thing about Cinderella and this book seemed to call to me.
Kate Daltry is the Cinderella in this story. Her father remarried after her mother died and Kate acquired a stepmother and a step sister. Shortly after the marriage, her father died, and Kate becomes the person of all work. Her stepmother fires alot of the staff, making Kate do the things that they did. She seems to be an overly indolent and self-indulgent sort. Kate’s step sister, Victoria is engaged, but in order for the marriage to go ahead, she needs to meet her fiance Algie’s relative Prince Gabriel. The problem is that one of Victoria’s dogs has bitten her lip leaving an infected sore. The stepmother decides that Kate must go in Victoria’s place. Although Kate protests, she finds herself on her way to meet a prince. The first meeting with the prince does not go well. They seem to clash. The prince has been told that Victoria is the debutante of the season. She is the incomparable. So she has been nicknamed “The Golden Fleece”. The prince is not impressed. He has quite the conversation with his majordomo about how skinny and unattractive she is. When sitting beside him that night at dinner he seems to poke fun at her to get a reaction out of her. This is the start of a heated relationship that can seemingly go nowhere. The Prince is engaged to a Russian Princess who is due to arrive any day.
I’m not sure where to start to describe what I liked about this story. Eloisa claims that she isn’t very funny and has to work at it. I must say that this book will have you laughing out loud! There are many little sections that catch the reader unawares. I found myself going back to re-read to see if she really did say THAT! The interaction between the Prince and Kate is delightful! They set sparks off one another, they challenge each other and they suit one another. But he is engage to another woman – this keeps coming up – what will happen to the other woman? We know the story of Cinderella – she marries her prince – but this prince is engaged already!
The chemistry between the main characters will steam your glasses. The story is delightful; it will have you laughing, crying and cheering repeatedly. It is however, a story that requires your attention. It is full of detail and characters. It isn’t a light and fluffy read that can be skimmed. You need to pay attention to this book to follow the story properly.
Now that I’ve blithered on about how wonderful I think this book is. It’s time for you to pick up your copy!
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
City boy Chase Russell is on the fast track to self-destruction. A star athlete, he gets into trouble with drugs and alcohol. Fulfilling a community service sentence in Yellowstone National Park is the last thing he wants to do. After a night of drinking in the park, he wakes up to find his new friends gone, and everything around him has changed.
Sarah Osborne grew up in the rugged Yellowstone wilderness. She can hunt and track right alongside the most experienced men. When some Indians drop a near-dead man off on her doorstep, she doesn’t know what to think. He’s convinced he’s from the future, and wants to find a way home.
Chase has no idea how he ended up time traveling to the past. He doesn’t know the first thing about surviving without modern conveniences. Finding your own food means a quick trip to the nearest fast food joint, not hunting and foraging for it. Time and again, his will is tested to stay alive in this untamed land. Is his growing love for a brave woman who shows him what it truly means to be a man strong enough to keep him in the past, or is he still determined to return to the ease and comforts of the future?
Why do you need to read this book?
This book is a wonderful example of the type of time travel stories that I like. Where the time that is arrived in is realistic, not modernized. We get a good idea of the hardships that were faced by the people who lived in the wilderness in the west. Great characters, great story!