The Matchmaker Meets the Matchbreaker…
2016 RONE Award Nominee
2016 National Reader’s Choice Award Finalist
“This is a beautiful little story packed with action and intrigue!” -FOUR STAR REVIEW BY IND’TALE MAGAZINE!
Lord Grigsby wants nothing more than to retreat to his study, but a promise to his long-dead sister has forced him back into society to broker the marriage of his nephew to the heiress whose money can save the young man’s earldom. If only the young lady’s starchy hired companion would move out of the way.
Hired to launch an heiress’s society debut, seemingly straitlaced spinster Liliana Ashford’s future as a professional chaperone depends on the girl’s successful marriage. But Liliana had her own close encounter with a scoundrel years ago, and she won’t let her charge be forced into marriage to the same kind of rogue, no matter how hard the man’s widowed uncle tries to woo Liliana around to the match.
Secrets and a Scandalous Murder
A shadow from Liliana’s past appears bearing an unfortunate letter she wrote long ago, and then the earl is murdered, evoking the scandal of the season. While she scrambles to make a respectable match for her charge before her own past can be exposed, Grigsby sets about finding his nephew’s killer—and Liliana’s secrets.
The woman at Grigsby’s side was like a lightning rod expecting a bolt to strike, or like a Fury about to deliver one. This close, scent wafted from her, roses and lemon, he’d guess. Tall, straight, and stiff, underneath her self-possession was a temper ready to unleash. He would bet on it.
Intriguing. He dared to poke her ire. “You clearly don’t approve of the match. Do you intend to openly oppose it?”
Her head whipped around, and she glared. “It’s not for me to approve or disapprove. Katie—Miss Mercer—will decide.”
Passion flashed in her eyes, sending an answering spark through him. She was magnificent—though so very mistaken. “Really? Then her father is more liberal than I expected.”
She looked him over more closely. “What do you know of this matter?”
I might ask you the same question. Her tone had been stiff, like the crystallized dome covering bubbling lava. He fixed her with his sternest glare, not entirely surprised at her cheek.
His glower didn’t impress her. She lifted her shoulders higher. Stood a little taller, proud, lovely, and filled with indignation.
Quite righteous indignation. He gave into an unmanly sigh, truly weary of his responsibility for Thomas. “I know a good deal, Miss Ashford. I have been negotiating for these nuptials. The arrangement is my doing as much as Mr. Mercer’s. Much more than it is my nephew’s. He is probably the least culpable, except for his abominable behavior.”
She clenched her hands tightly. “I see.”
“Thomas’s mother was my older sister. I made a promise to her that I would look after him.” Her gaze softened, and she bit her lip in a way that made him want to taste the part that she was nipping.
And where had that thought come from?
“And your nephew needs money and an heir.”
He nodded. As a woman of the ton, of course she would understand how marriage worked. Marriage wasn’t about love, or the bride’s approval, or a plump lower lip that begged to be kissed.
“He needs money most of all. He has a younger brother in the army who would make a far more dutiful earl.”
He covered his mouth with his hand. The words had rolled out, shocking him. He rarely spoke this frankly with any woman.
Very well, he never spoke this frankly with any woman.
She released a soft breath. “And there is the matter of the ore.”
His mouth gaped and he quickly closed it. Mr. Mercer had shared that information? Well. “That part of the county is rich with newly discovered veins of iron.”
That information brought her up straighter. She looked away, gazing intently at a thick, dark spot of foliage, making him want to pry into that sharp mind.
“I see,” she said. “I believe we should go back in now.”
Not yet. He tucked her hand over his arm but did not move. “I had hoped we were not finished talking. I’ve learned your Christian name is Liliana, but I don’t know anything else about you. I don’t know where you’re from or anything about your family.”
He sensed her bristling, and waited for some reaction, perhaps a slap, verbal, or, with a woman of her passion, even a physical one. Strictly speaking, he was importuning her, and damn if he wasn’t enjoying the nerves rippling through her.
And a special added excerpt for the Timeless Kisses Facebook Event to help you solve one of the trivia questions:
A short time later, Liliana sat alone in the solicitor’s office, fingers shaking, opening a letter that had just arrived.
As she read, her heart sank. Avery had married an American merchant’s daughter he’d met in the West Indies, which, he said, she would think was great fun, given how particular he’d been about people in trade. His new father-in-law had brought him into the business, and he found he enjoyed this occupation. With the war over, he’d settled in the United States.
She bit her lip, dreading what she knew was coming. Oh, Avery.
His first child was on the way, and might even be here by the time she read these words. He was living in a river town called St. Louis, named after a French king, and wasn’t that funny, also?
And, he was not coming home.
Tears welled, and she clenched the foolscap in tight fists. America? Not coming home? If Avery were standing in front of her now, she would smack him.
A spinster’s secrets tempt a killer—and steal a soldier’s heart.
****2015 RONE Award Honorable Mention, Historical Post-Medieval****
Bullets, blades, and incendiary bombs—Major Steven Beauverde, the latest Earl of Hackwell, belongs in that world, and is determined to get back to it. His brother’s murder has forced Steven out of the army and into the title, but he has no interest in being the Earl, and worse, no idea how to salvage the depleted estate. A rumor that his brother had a son by a woman who may be a) the murderer, and b) his brother’s wife, sets Steven on a mission to find her, the boy, and—Steven ardently hopes—proof of a secret marriage that will set Steven free.
Annabelle Harris is a country heiress and a confirmed spinster resettled in London to find her sister, the mistress to the Earl of Hackwell. While she searches, she fills her home with orphans and street urchins. When the Earl is murdered, Annabelle’s sister thrusts the Earl’s illegitimate child into Annabelle’s care and disappears. Now, with suspicion pointing at her sister, Annabelle has begun a new quest—to find her sibling and clear her name.
When their paths converge, the reluctant Earl and the determined spinster find themselves rethinking their goals, and stepping up to fight back when the real murderer shows up.
Surprise pinned Annabelle to the cracked leather seat of the carriage and finally her heart restarted and picked up its pounding.
“Good evening, my lady.” Lord Hackwell flashed her a wide, easy smile that made his face glow like a boy who had pulled a very fast one.
The shock eased. She realized she felt not one whit of fear.
“Is this an abduction, Lord Hackwell? I have never been abducted before. Shall I scream with alarm? Do you mean to harm me?”
His smile disappeared and his face grew too serious. “I mean to protect you, Miss Harris. This is an escort. I mean to see that you return home unharmed.”
“I see. Unharmed, except for the besmirching of my reputation. Shall we appear in the scandal sheets tomorrow, do you suppose?”
“In this bourgeois neighborhood? I think not. Unless, the man who helped you into the hackney is someone of interest?”
Oh, he was prying, and she was so tempted to lead him on. But of course, she had Robby to think about. “Very much so. He is my solicitor. He asked me to dinner to counterbalance his wife’s inquisitive aunt who is visiting from the country, and curious about all things criminal, political, and financial. The poor man has difficulty balancing his client’s confidentiality with his need to be polite to his children’s future benefactress. She is wealthy, I believe.”
“So he set her on you. And how did you maintain your secrets, Miss Harris?”
“We spoke of my home.”
A ribbon of sensation uncurled in her secret places. The space between her and Lord Hackwell had shrunk, and his dark eyes showed more than an interest in her pedigree. Her nerves tingled with the anticipated pleasure of a repeat of the earlier kiss.
I must not.
“Yorkshire,” she said, as blandly as possible. “I grew up on a good-sized estate there.”
“Do you plan to take Robby there?”
Sudden tears pricked her eyes and she turned quickly to the window. Robby and Thomas would have loved Ryeland. With acres and acres of freedom and kind neighbors, they could have played for hours and had adventures that didn’t involve cutpurses and the Watch.
“No, Lord Hackwell. My family home was entailed. The cousin who inherited, I’ve only met once, at my father’s funeral.” And his invitation to linger had been merely perfunctory. Besides, staying in the district of her childhood would beg questions about Veronica.
“So you had no brothers. Is your mother living?”
He hadn’t asked about sisters. That was curious. Perhaps he suspected her relationship with Miss Miller was more than a friendship, and was coming to the question, inch by torturing inch.
“You are dancing again, Lord Hackwell. It is ever so tiresome. Let us get you to the facts. I am the eldest surviving child of Edward Harris, who died two years ago. I had a brother, who died many years before. I have a younger sister who has found a position and made a life with a distant cousin in Scotland. My mother has been gone since I was eighteen. I am twenty-seven years old now. I never had a coming out, because my father took ill, and needed me to manage the estate.”
His eyes widened and he went very still, examining her. The air around them seemed charged with a kind of explosive tension.
Oh heavens. He was finding fault with the country spinster. The gown was from her mourning two years previous, outdated of course, and she felt her hair slipping again, and she’d never been one to effect powders and pigments. “Yes. Well—”
“You managed an estate?”
“Astonishing, isn’t it?” She waved a gloved hand in the air, and he captured it.
He dropped a kiss on her knuckle. “And you managed the household also?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And you don’t care for dancing?”
“I enjoy dancing very much, though my experience is limited to our local assembly. I have not been to a ball in so many ages, and never a town ball.”
She could only laugh at that and shake her head. She receive a voucher for Almack’s? Ridiculous.
“No waltzing, Miss Harris?” His manner remained intense.
“Sadly, no, Lord Hackwell, I have never waltzed.”
He straightened in his seat and his eyes looked ahead. “But you have counted ploughs,” he said thoughtfully.
Tears pricked again, suddenly and unexpectedly. What a dismal woman she was. Too plain, too proper, too practical. Alone in a closed hackney with a devastatingly handsome man, and they were talking about farm equipment.
Never had she felt more desire to be younger, prettier, more daring. This must have been how Veronica had felt.
Her heart filled with compassion and grief. “Ye—yes. Ploughs. Very important they’re correctly deployed. Fate of the tenants’ crops and the estate’s income depends upon them.” She sniffed.
“What’s this?” His large ungloved hand covered her smaller ones, enveloping her in his warmth. “I’ve distressed you?”
She shook her head and tried to compose herself.
“Of course I have, my dear. I’ve reminded you of your lost home.”
“It is fine, sir. My current home is—is not the best, but it is mine, and I can afford to move to something better if the neighborhood deteriorates further. You needn’t worry about Robby. I will give him a good life. Not, perhaps, an aristocratic one, but—”
“Shall I tell you about myself, Miss Harris? Yes. I believe I must.” He cocked his leg on the seat so he sat sideways, and extended his hand to caress the back of her neck. The other remained squarely over her folded hands. “I am twenty-nine. The younger son of the Earl of Hackwell. The very, as it has turned out, needful spare. My mother was the second of two wives. She died not long after I was born. My father sent me off to be fostered, then off to Eton, and then to university for a very short while. I’m not much of a scholar. I landed in the army, where I found I could do something of worth.”
His mouth had grown taut and his hand had tightened over hers, so that she could feel his tension.
“Thomas, the late, great, Lord Hackwell, aside from one lengthy grand tour, was kept close under the paternal wing and learned the business of managing the earldom, standing in the House of Lords, and immersing himself in society. From the state of the accounts, it was the last activity that drew most of his interest.”
He let his fingers caress her neck, distractedly, as though the gesture comforted him, like petting a favorite hound.
Comforting to him; deliciously unsettling to her. Pleasure rippled through her at each touch. She held her breath, lest his fingers pause too long in his search for his next words.
“I can bow properly and make reasonably polite conversation, but I was never much good in a ballroom or drawing room, Miss Harris. Still, like every gentleman with a purse, I had my share of immersing myself in pleasure. Here, and on the continent.” He lapsed into a momentary dark silence. “Not so much since my return.”
“You fought at Waterloo?”
“Yes. And before, on the peninsula.”
And before that too, at every step of his motherless, fatherless life, she’d warrant. As in the children’s game she played with the boys, Annabelle drew out a hand from the pile and pressed his between hers.
And her heart skipped with a realization. Lord Hackwell had no family except Robby.
She felt his eyes fixed on her. He drew her head closer and she could smell his woodsy clean scent, so intensely male. The carriage passed by a street lamp and into a dark stretch, and she could no longer discern the outline of his face.
Her heart tingled and her breath came in short little huffs of anticipated pleasure.
“Annabelle,” he whispered. “What do they call you? Anna? Belle?”
She tensed remembering her chat with Lady Rosalyn.
“It is Belle. How very appropriate.” He kissed her hand.
“Bella,” she whispered. “And not appropriate at all. How did you learn my name?”
“Bella.” He breathed her name in a brandy-laced murmur. “The maid at the Harley Street house gave me your last name. And by the way, she worships you.”
Dear Trish. Annabelle pushed at the seat and squirmed, with no success. He still held her fast.
“I’ve found that servants know everything and talk prodigiously.” He dropped a kiss on her nose.
Annabelle bit back a disagreement and stilled. In a properly run household, gossip was squashed. The poor man had never lived in a properly run household.
His lips hovered over her and she waited. He’d kissed her nose. Perhaps he’d been aiming for her mouth and missed. She wanted one more kiss. She would be safe. In a carriage on a public street, he wouldn’t attempt to take more.
Steven held himself an inch away from her lips. Her nose had been cold, but heat radiated between them, holding them in a warm cocoon. She smelled of plain soap and faint lavender. There was nothing cloying about Miss Harris. He’d breached a line of defense with the use of the pet name. Bella. She wanted him to kiss her.
Not yet. Not yet. She was lovely, and innocent, and perfect. He was known for his quick thinking under duress, and he’d made up his mind. He would do this honorably. He was not his brother. It would not be a seduction.
“Bella, you are right that we should dispense with the dance. You are right that we should speak to the point, and so I will. I think you and I, we should wed.”
“What?” She jumped a full inch from the seat before settling back.
Bella’s Band is available now from Soul Mate Publishing.
***First Place Winner, Novella Category, 2014 Book Buyers’ Best Contest***
November 2015 Amazon Top 100 Best-Selling Regency Romances
With her true inheritance lost, Rosalyn Montagu has reluctantly fallen into her elderly cousin’s tidy London life of do-gooder spinster. When a young woman from the district of Rosalyn’s childhood is put up for auction in a wife sale, Rosalyn seizes the chance to rescue her—and to recover a treasured family heirloom, her father’s signet ring, purloined by the woman’s innkeeper husband.
Intent on liberating the young wife with the money she has scraped together, Rosalyn braves a precarious Christmas Eve coach ride in the company of a mysterious nobleman. She soon finds she is not the only determined buyer attending the sale. Her rakish opponent not only succeeds in thwarting her purchase; he reveals himself as the man who took everything that should have been hers. Everything, that is, but her father’s ring, which she manages to recover before being tossed out of the inn into the snowy night.
The newly anointed Viscount Cathmore has accepted there is no way to avoid living his father’s dream of accession to a social class he disdains, but he has drawn the line at marrying a blue-blooded miss. Then he meets Rosalyn, a provoking beauty with an upper crust manner, a larcenous streak, and enough secrets to rouse even his jaded heart, including the truth of her identity—she is the woman whose home and inheritance he has usurped. But more mysteries swirl around Rosalyn’s lost inheritance, and Cathmore is just the man to help her uncover the truth.
Rosalyn Montagu has just been outbid in the sale of her maid’s cousin, the wife of a seedy inn-keeper, Ned Morgan. During the fight that broke out at the end of the sale, Lord Cathmore witnessed Rosalyn stealing the innkeeper’s ring. The crowd has disbursed, and Lord Cathmore has departed in his carriage.
The horses had only picked their way as far as the edge of the road when the front door of the inn opened and they heard Morgan’s unmistakable bellow. A bundle of black fabric flew out of the inn, followed by a smaller dark mass and a hard, dark object. The larger bundle stood, brushed itself off, and shook out the snow-damp mantle. A glint of copper sparkled in the twilight before she pulled up her hood and extinguished the shimmer. She found her valise, straightened, stared hard at the coach, and turned decidedly in the opposite direction.
Foolishly, away from the village and her only chance of shelter. Rosalyn, or whoever she was, had lied, he supposed, about her purpose in visiting Glen Murray. And lied about the maid being Mindy’s cousin, since neither Mindy nor the maid had exchanged a word or a glance. The auction was a chance to pick pockets, perhaps. The maid would stay behind to warm Morgan’s bed and then pick him clean, while her supposed mistress waited elsewhere.
Hamish had not grown up here, but since his father had acquired the estate, he had become acquainted with the area and most of the families. There were no towns or villages or even hovels for miles in the direction Rosalyn was heading. If Morgan had caught Rosalyn stealing, she was lucky to get away with her life, but she would surely freeze to death before she reached shelter.
His instincts roused, the way they had through torments at school, his business endeavors, and, especially, his brief military career.
“Stop, Cheevers.” He clambered down from his wet seat.
Oh heavens, it was so cold. Rosalyn wrapped her cloak tighter, and then patted again the slight lump in her pocket. She had feared it lost when that vile man had tossed her into the snow. As soon as she could, she would fasten the band around her neck with a ribbon.
She must find some kind of shelter. The town was the other way, she knew, and as soon as the new Lord of Brockton had moved his dawdling self down the road, she would turn back to the village.
Rosalyn heard trudging behind her. Fear flashed through her. Morgan would kill her, she had no doubt, if he noticed the ring missing and if he found it on her.
Rosalyn flipped back the hood of her mantle and glanced over her shoulder.
Cathmore. The insufferable man would not leave her alone. His long legs carried him far faster through the drifts then she could move.
She turned on him. “What do you want, sir?” she shouted.
“You will freeze to death.”
Before she could react, he closed the distance between them, her feet were swept from under her, and he was carrying her back across the yard.
“We know we shall not have to worry about your virtue,” he said ignominiously.
Rosalyn squirmed. “You will put me down now!”
“I will not.”
“You will not take liberties with me.”
“Will I not?” He smiled at her, a smile of calculation that chilled her more.
“I will throw myself upon your Mrs. Sullivan.”
“You may try, but I warn you, she is an excellent judge of character.”
Rosalyn choked and fought tears. It had come to that. She had let a man she’d only just met kiss her, a man not her husband, and she had kissed him back and then committed a theft.
No one else would see that she had stolen back her father’s promise. He was right. Mrs. Sullivan would not see it her way. This lord had ruined her reputation in one afternoon. He had ruined the last Montagu.
She must find a way to escape him, or he would take the very last thing she had, what was left of her innocence. Her hand rested on the hard knot of the ring, and she prayed for the promised luck.
He handed her into the coach and climbed in behind her.
Rosalyn’s Ring, available now from Soul Mate Publishing.
Lily Harris is a widow who runs her own florist shop and loves Valentine’s Day–it’s her Black Friday, with a major dash of love.
She is, however, a wee bit cynical about that once-a-year show of love. In fact, her favorite customer doesn’t do anything special for his lady love on Valentine’s Day. The mysterious Christopher Randolph has Lily’s shop deliver beautiful bouquets weekly to Mrs. Sandra Randolph. To Lily, he’s the most romantic husband in the world.
Or is he? Finding out the truth about Christopher will rock Lily’s ideas about romance, and Valentine’s Day, and happily-ever-after.
Buck drifted to his feet. Lily scowled and attacked the table with a paper towel, avoiding his eyes. “You’re a good interrogator, Buck. I’ve never told anyone I wanted to divorce Bill.” He wouldn’t deny it. He had always preferred playing “good cop”. And this has been my most gratifying interrogation. Funny, her truth-telling had made him feel better. Maybe he could stop running. Except, if he stayed, sooner or later, he’d have to tell her his secrets.
Lily straightened. “But let’s talk about you now. Have you ever been married?”
She was going for sooner.
He inwardly groaned. He hated this part of the dating ritual, and he definitely wasn’t ready to share everything.
“How come? You’re a handsome guy.”
“The military’s a hard life for wives.”
“No wife, thus no kids.”
She laughed at that. “An old-fashioned guy. Refreshing. So, are you home looking for a wife, now that you’re retired?”
Ouch. That was pretty direct. And no. His mother wanted him to take over the family business, but he hadn’t been planning on marriage or sticking around. He’d been telling himself he needed to regroup, grab some R&R. His plan was to cruise through town for the family holidays and Beth’s birthday, then head south, do a whole lot of fishing, and let the future find him.
That had been his plan. It suddenly seemed lame, and kind of lonely.
“Oh no, probably not,” Lily said. “I heard your family wants you to stay, but you’re not ready to settle down. Our nieces have high hopes for us, but don’t worry, there’s no pressure here. You’re free to go.”
She pressed her lips almost primly and crossed her arms. He suspected she wanted him to go now. He met her eyes and held them, and held them, and. . . Her eye began to twitch, her pupils expanded, and he heard her tapping her foot under the table.
The twenty-somethings he usually dated were never this twitchy. He sent her his best smile, the one that always charmed the ladies. “I definitely won’t leave before Valentine’s Day, since I now have a date.”
“Ah. So you’re leaving on the fifteenth.”
She didn’t bite on his teasing. That surprised him.
“Where will you go?”
“Where would you go, Lily?”
She blushed again. Frowned. Sent the floral refrigerator and its glassed-in buckets of tall bright flowers a dreamy look. Buck guessed she didn’t let herself think much about vacations.
“I’d find a tropical place,” she said, “where I could pluck wild orchids, slounge in a hammock, and see a skyful of constellations at night.”
Buck heard his own pulse pounding. He took a breath, and reached for her hand. “And you could fish?”
At his touch, she jumped. “If there’s water around.”
“I’ll go there with you,” he said.
Lily sighed again, pulled her hand away and grabbed the pizza box. “Do you want to take the leftovers home?”
“It was nice to meet you, Buck. You’ll find that Valentine’s date. It’s been a long day. I think I’ll call it a night, and take this upstairs.”
He whisked the box away from her and assumed his most innocent look. She was not getting rid of him yet. “I’ll go with you. I heard you have incredibly well-preserved subway tiles in that vintage apartment.”
“Crap,” she said, “Beth again.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not a nut. I have more levels of security clearance than you have flowers.”
“Buck. . .”
He resisted the urge to touch her. “We’re not done talking,” he said.
Check out my short story, “A Valentine for Lily”, in the OCCRWA Anthology, Romancing the Pages.
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