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English Sea Captain Creates An International Incident!

Lord William Bentinck, pictured here as Captain in a portrait painted by George Romney. William Bentinck was ambassador to the Kingdom of Two Naples 1812-1816

Despatches from Palermo (Part 1)
by Lord William Bentinck, English Ambassador to the Kingdom of Two Naples

My dear Lord Chamberlain,
I enclose this letter to you privately, so it will not appear in official correspondence.

It is a season for political misjudgements as I know you will be quick to remind me, but if this matter escalates, I would rather you hear about early and directly from me.

As you know, Sicily recently welcomed the arrival of a new envoy, Sheik Selim Omar, a cousin to the Ottoman emperor. He is keen to know, as we all are, when this bloody war with France will be over.

Last week I agreed to sponsor a party at the request of his Majesty the King of Naples and the University of Palermo and invite the Ottoman envoy as our guest.

It seemed an ideal opportunity to warm relationships between our three nations.

The party was the idea of one of our citizens, a Professor Jonas Fenton from Cambridge who, along  with Professor Giovanni Mazzara from the university here in Palermo wanted to stage a tableaux vivants to show off some Greek and Roman history.

I didn’t see the harm in it, so I agreed.

The two young ladies involved in the tableaux were Jonas Fenton’s English nieces – quite unusual beauties too.

Miss Sophia Green is a raven haired beauty, part-Spanish I was told, and apparently a first rate antiquities student. The other girl, Laura Cappleman is a perfect flower of England, fair hair and fair complexion.

As you may remember from other correspondence, I have cultivated the acquaintance of a young Englishman, Captain Christopher Hardacre who owns a schooner called the Calliope based out of Palermo.

He’s always been a bit of a hot head, but never fails to come back with some interesting intelligence about the Barbary Coast pirates which I have passed on to the Admiralty.

Today, I had to suffer two hours of bluster and threats from the Emir because Hardacre had insulted the envoy in his own language right in front of the tableaux.

You can be assured I called Hardacre to account for his actions and man had the audacity to refuse to apologise either to me or to Sheik Selim Omar. He claims the man had grievously insulted the young ladies but refuses to tell me exactly what was said.

For what information might be of use, Hardacre tells me that there is to be a gathering of Barbary pirates in Tunisia before the end of summer. His source tells him they are to met with a wealthy patron.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that Hardacre thinks Selim Omar is the man they are waiting for but he offers no proof.

I’ll write when I have more news,

William

Excerpt

“I had an official complaint this morning from the Ottoman envoy over your behavior at the reception.”

Kit allowed his contempt to show. “And he was so overcome by my rudeness it took him three days to lodge his complaint? The man’s an arse.”

“He might be an arse, but he’s close to his cousin, who, need I remind you, is the Sultan of the entire bloody Ottoman Empire! If Turkey switches sides to France, once more, then we’re really screwed.”

While Bentinck raged, he raised his eyes to stare at the portrait of the Prince Regent hung on the wall behind the desk. Kit had weathered greater storms than this one. And like the ones he’d sailed in the Atlantic, this, too, would blow itself out. It did with a long, put-upon sigh.

“Pour us some of that sherry you brought me back from Spain, and tell me the news from the African coast.”

Kit bit back another smart retort, swallowed his indignation and poured the amber liquid into two dainty twist-stemmed glasses.

“It’s been quiet.”

“That would suit us all.” Bentinck raised his glass and saluted Kit. “We’re bloody tired of this war with Napoleon. At least our navy can concentrate fighting the Frenchies instead of fighting a war on two fronts with those Barbary pirates nipping at our heels.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to stay quiet for long. My contact tells me Kaddouri has a powerful and influential ally who has helped finance a stronghold on the Tunisian coast.”

“Ah yes, Kaddouri. You never did explain your particular obsession with that man.” Bentinck waited for a justification Kit knew he would never give. His reasons were his own – as was the vengeance he planned. After a moment of silence, Bentinck tried a different question.

“Where on the Tunisian coast?”

Kit shook his head and lied. “That I’ve yet to determine. The Calliope will be in the area again in a few weeks. If we see anything, we’ll let you know.”

Bentinck’s look was unwavering; he seemed to know he was not being told the truth. But with no other explanation forthcoming, the ambassador picked up his pen and waved at the mounds of correspondence on his table. “Well then, if that’s all you have to report, then go. I have work to do. Stay out of trouble and don’t harass His Majesty’s foreign guests.”

That was just a dig too far.

“I don’t trust Selim Omar and I suggest you don’t either.”

Bentinck set the quill back into its holder. “Why? Because you thought he and his party were rude to Jonas Fenton’s nieces? I never saw you as a gallant.”

“The Ottomans ravage the coastlines of Europe, plunder villages, put men in chains, and work them to death. The depraved savagery you hear of is nothing until you’ve witnessed it yourself. Consider yourself lucky you and your good lady wife are childless, for what they do to daughters—”

Bentinck rose to his feet.

“—You’ve made your feelings amply clear on the matter, but unless you have something His Majesty’s government can act upon, keep your opinions to yourself. Stay out of the man’s way if he bothers you so much.”

Blurb

Bluestocking Sophia Green’s future is uncertain. Orphaned as a child and raised by the wealthy Cappleman family, she has become the companion to her attractive younger cousin, Laura, while harboring to her breast an unrequited love for Laura’s diffident brother.

Sea captain Kit Hardacre’s past is a mystery – even to him. Kidnapped by Barbary Coast pirates at the age of 10, he does not remember his parents or even his real name. All he recalls are things he would rather forget.

When Laura’s reputation is threatened by a scandal, Sophia suggests weathering the storm in Sicily with their elderly uncle, a prominent archaeologist.

Their passage to Palermo is aboard Hardacre’s ship, but the Calliope, like its captain, is not all it seems. Both have only one mission – to rid the world of the evil pirate slaver Kaddouri or die in the attempt.

Initially disdainful of the captain’s devil-may-care attitude, Sophia can’t deny a growing attraction. And Kit begins to see in her a woman who could help him forget the horrors of his past.

Sophia allows herself to be drawn into the shallows of Kit’s world, but when the naive misjudgment of her cousins sees Laura abducted, Sophia is dragged into dangerous depths that could cost her life or her sanity in a living hell.

Pre-orders

Captive of the Corsairs is available to pre-order for 99c on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0721NSPJ6

Tragically Orphaned Lady Makes Surprise Appearance at Ball

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, Lady in Blue (1874)

You’re reading it here first, ladies and gentlemen of the ton. Lady Margaret Folton appeared in person at the Harrison gala evening last wearing a confection of pale blue and cream lace. This reporter is just as stunned as you are and would not have put pen to paper without seeing the truth of it with my very own eyes.

We all know the confirmed spinster’s tragic tale of how she became an orphan – her parents, the Earl and Countess of Breckenshire and victims of Madame Guillotine – and have treated her noted absence from society with careful and due consideration. Having been forced to witness her parents’ execution, it is understood that Lady Folton would keep to herself. After all, we outstanding and illustrious members of society can understand the enormity of such an event on a child so small.

But last evening, we saw nothing of the tragically orphaned child or of the reclusive spinster. No, indeed. Lady Margaret Folton gained the floor with practiced ease and earned respect. Every head turned to take her in just as every breath held in anticipation. She was the very princess of children’s fairy tales, standing on the edge of a ballroom waiting for her story to begin.

But alas, marriage-minded mamas, I leave you with this grave note. Lady Folton was seen partnering with none other than Viscount Pemberly, the gloriously decorated naval captain, newest addition to our ranks, and this season’s most desired match. So be ware, mamas. It appears the previously thought confirmed spinster is stepping down from the shelf.

To Save a Viscount

by Jessie Clever

When an assassin threatens England’s spy network, Lady Margaret Folton must find the killer before it’s too late. Hardened from being forced to witness the murder of her British spy parents by French revolutionists, Margaret approaches this mission like any other, with steely determination and a resolute focus on the necessary outcome at the cost of all else.

Commodore John Lynwood, newly returned from the Mediterranean, finds himself granted the title of viscount in honor of his service during the war. Plagued with a string of good luck throughout his life, the title serves as another reminder that Jack has done nothing to earn the glory and prestige that comes with his position, and he’ll be damned if he’ll enjoy such an honor.

But when Jack is accidentally granted a title meant to be used as bait to lure the assassin into the War Office’s trap, Margaret must face the tragedy of her past and decide which is more important: the assignment or love?

Goodreads | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Nook | iBooks | Google Play | Smashwords

Now available on audio!

The books in the Spy Series:

1/2. Inevitably a Duchess (A prequel novella)
1. Son of a Duke
2. For Love of the Earl
3. A Countess Most Daring
4. To Save a Viscount

Excerpt

London
August 1815

He had grown so accustomed to the sound of gunfire that he did not hear the shot that was meant to kill him.

This would have worried Richard Black, the Duke of Lofton, if he had had time to think on it. But as the situation inherently required immediate action, prolonged and abstract thinking on the subject was neither prudent nor wise. So he refrained. Instead, he wondered whom it was that smashed into him at incredible speed, sending him tumbling backwards off the walk along the Thames and into the bitter, black water below.

He had been meeting his contact there along the water at an unholy hour, and darkness had lain all about him. The exchange had gone as planned, and he now held the knowledge that he knew would prove key to his current assignment with the War Office. But as the inky water of the Thames closed over his head, he wondered if he would ever get that information to the necessary people.

And then as the last of the light disappeared, he thought of Jane, his wife. His Jane. He did not think of her in specific instances or certain memories that lay in his mind. He thought of her in pieces. Her smell. Her laugh. The sound her hair made as she brushed it at night. The way she always laid her hand on top of his whenever they should find themselves sitting next to one another. Her amazing talents with chestnut roasters.

He would have laughed if such an action would not speed up the inevitable drowning that suddenly became all too real, flushing thoughts of Jane from his mind. His arms began to push against the water as his feet began to pulse, driving him toward the surface. Only he did not move. Whoever it was that had slammed into him still held him about the waist, dragging him deeper into the water. He began to struggle, the need for air and life and Jane surging through his veins in a way he had never felt before.

And then a hand brushed against his cheek, and slender fingers came to rest across his mouth. He wanted to open his eyes, but he knew it would do no good in the black water. But he let the feeling of his attacker’s hand brush against his skin, the shape of it press into his face, the narrowness of limb and the delicate arch of bone.

It was a woman who held him beneath the water.

And he stopped struggling.

About the Author

Jessie decided to be a writer because the job of Indiana Jones was already filled.

Taking her history degree dangerously, Jessie tells the stories of courageous heroines, the men who dared to love them, and the world that tried to defeat them.

Jessie makes her home in the great state of New Hampshire where she lives with her husband and two very opinionated Basset Hounds. For more, visit her website at jessieclever.com.

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A Pirate, A Lady, and A Lord – Part Four

Captain Pershore had his chef prepare a feast fit for a princess of the sea. Once everything was made to his high standards, he bid the man carry it to his cabin and follow him inside.

The lovely Lady Annamarie stood the moment he unlocked the door and swung it open. Behind the swirl of her skirts, he spied a few items. A smirk teased the corners of his lips. Did she plan on escaping? On attacking him?

No matter. Such a venture would be ill conceived. More importantly, any attempt would fail.

Such a concern did not bother him. Lady Annamarie would enjoy this night and be grateful for his company.

Without a word, the chef laid out the spread upon the table. Three kinds of fish, the freshest breads they had, some vegetables, even a few desserts. And ale.

“Fetch a jug of water too,” he demanded.

The chef nodded, left, and returned with the jug a few minutes later before departing once more.

The captain shut the door. “Won’t you please sit?” he asked kindly.

***

What devilry was this? The lunatic of a captain was actually behaving nicely.

Perhaps she should obey. The last thing she wished to do was riley up his anger and wrath.

She crossed over to the table but hesitated, holding onto the high-backed chair instead of sitting.

“I wish to know the name of the man who… who wished to share a meal with me,” she said as calmly as she could.

Her knees quivered with fear, anger, and frustration. A compass, a candlestick holder, and a few other items were all she had collected. Not one of them would be able to help her escape. She had been a fool to think she could save herself while at sea. At port remained her only chance.

And if he saw her gathered items, and his anger sparked, what then? What might he do to her?

“My lady Annamarie, forgive me for not saying so previously. I am Captain… I am Lord Pershore.”

Her eyes widened. He had mentioned that their mothers had been friends, and he had the right of it.

“I last saw you when I was…”

“Five. You were beautiful even then.” He reached toward her as if to touch her cheek but instead moved about the table to her side. The captain pulled out her seat. “Please, won’t you join me for supper?”

“I am hungry,” she admitted, hating herself for her weakness.

“You must keep up your strength. It will be a long until we reach port.”

“When? Where?” she asked, hoping her eagerness would not be noticed.

But his eyes gleamed with understanding. “Come now. It has been over a dozen years since last I saw you. Let us catch up first. Do tell me all about yourself.”

She sighed as he went about filling her plate. Perhaps if she played nicely, he would give her some information.

But the moment he sat across from her, that wicked gleam in his eyes told her all she needed to know.

He would never allow her to leave his side.

***

“How can it be that we have no bearing on their position?” Barnet grumbled.

Larry “Landlubber” Lancaster grimaced and let out a deep laugh. “You be actin’ like you won’t ever be seein’ your lass again. Relax. We be findin’ her. You be savin’ her. I be killin’ Pershore. All will be well.”

“When?” Barnet demanded.

“Soon enough. I’ll be sending out signals with my lantern tonight. If any of the nearby ships know of Pershore’s destination, where he be headin’, we will soon know.”

Barnet nodded. He cursed the sun for her brightness for he felt no happiness. He cursed her light for it meant no signals. He cursed himself for his inability to locate Annamarie himself.

Most of all, he cursed himself for having never worked up the courage to tell her that he loved her.

Annamarie, don’t be afraid. I’ll save you somehow. I will ask your father permission to court you. No. Rather, I will ask you first. You deserve to have some control over your life given that that despicable, vile, repugnant pirate has kidnapped you against your will.

Please, Annamarie. Wait for me. Trust in me.

But in his heart, he knew she could not. She did not know how he felt nor did she know that he was coming for her.

“Soon,” he murmured with all the hope in his being. “I will be with you soon.”

To be continued…

Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

Taken from the notes of one Lady Anna Wycliff

Lady Anna is the heroine in Christmas Kisses, which had been a part of the Bluestocking Belles’ boxed set Holly and Hopeful Hearts and now contains a bonus end scene.

Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter, wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. She suffered through trials to find love herself.

Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke. Her mother insists on Anna befriending a marquess’s son, a man Anna finds far too rude. Can either man be the right one for Anna?

Buy CHRISTMAS KISSES here!

 

The Willing Widow’s Club

Mrs. Cassandra Vaughn lounged comfortably in an overstuffed chair within her salon. Her friend, Mrs. Patience Moore, was in the process of pouring them both a cup of tea. If someone had told her four years ago she would have two women living under her roof who had fallen on hard times, she would have laughed. Lucky for her, the Earl of Drayton knew how to settle his accounts. When they had ended their association, he had gifted her with a substantial amount; a vast sum that allowed her the luxury of not having to take another lover in order to keep herself in the manner to which she had become accustomed. The divine man… too bad he was now so happily married.

“However shall we tell her?” Patience chewed on her lower lip before she realized what she was doing. She poured another serving of tea. “The poor dear will be devastated.”

How indeed? Cassandra pondered accepting the china cup from Patience. “I will handle the situation as delicately as possible. If I can survive having my name splattered across that rag of a newspaper, then she shall survive too.”

A snort came from Patience. “If you had had better sense all those years ago, you would have never been following Lord Drayton in the park in the first place. I ruined a good pair of shoes scampering to keep up with you.”

“Leave it be, Patience,” Cassandra warned whilst images of Neville carrying Lady Gwendolyn Sandhurst flashed through her mind. Odd how all these years later the scene still hurt. But this… her eyes went to the open paper on a nearby table. Such news would be devastating to anyone. It was one thing to be labeled mistress. It was entirely another to be labeled a woman of the streets as the article all but implied.

Any further thoughts on how to explain the unfortunate incident plaguing her this morning came to an abrupt end with the sound of a soft knock upon the door. With the call to enter, the door squeaked open on its hinges.

Mrs. Moriah Hernshaw entered the room clutching a shawl around her morning gown. Her eyes were red-rimmed giving testament to her lack of sleep. A shaky hand ran up to her dark black hair in an attempt to tame the unruly tresses. She failed.

“Come sit with us,” Cassandra prompted pointing to the vacant chair.

“You are too kind, Mrs. Vaughn. How will I ever repay your generosity at taking a total stranger into your home?” Moriah asked as she all but fell into her seat.

“You may start by calling me Cassandra,” she answered holding up her hand to put an end to any argument on the subject. “Since you shall be staying with me for an undetermined amount of time, I must insist.”

“Very well,” Moriah replied.

“I just know we shall become the best of friends,” Patience declared holding out another cup of tea. Cassandra peered at the woman who looked as though there was nothing wrong and this was just a friendly tea party.

The silence stretched between the women for several minutes as they became lost in their own thoughts and drank their tea. Moriah began to fidget in her seat as though she was uncomfortable sitting down. It dawned on Cassandra that the woman may be concealing injuries she dared not tell her when she showed up on her doorstep in broad daylight.

“It is none of my business what that brute did to you but I do worry he caused you more pain than you are letting on,” Cassandra prompted.

Moriah paled, turning as white as the china cup that rattled in the saucer she held. She set the cup down on the table. “I will mend.”

“You must be more selective in the future about whom you take to your bed, my dear. I know you have fallen on hard times, but I was most concerned for your well-being when Lord Drayton discreetly asked if I would take you in. Are you perhaps friends with his wife,” Cassandra asked taking hold of the woman’s hand.

“I believe his wife is acquainted with my dear friend, Lady Grace Lacey.”

“I see,” Cassandra replied.

“Is it not a small world,” Patience said brightly.

Cassandra rolled her eyes giving Patience a look to remain silent. The woman was so trying at times.

“I do not want you to think less of me, Cassandra, but the gentleman in question forced himself upon me. He did not like my refusal when I told him I would not take him as my lover,” Moriah continued on.

“The swine,” Cassandra hissed. “That would explain much I fear.”

“I do not understand. Has something happened?” Moriah inquired. Her brow furrowed with worry.

Cassandra rose and went to pick up the latest edition of the Teatime Tattler. “The good news is that the article is buried on the fifth page. The bad news is this bit of gossip will spread throughout the ton by mid-day.

Moriah took the paper and began to read aloud.

This just in…

A certain Mrs. M.H. has recently been spotted having a bit of sport in nearby Hyde park, if the leaves stuck in her hair and dress are any indication as to how she spent the afternoon. She was also seen sneaking into the house of Mrs. C.V. and we all know this woman’s reputation, despite the fact no one has noticed her becoming any man’s mistress recently. Perhaps the two women have now become partners in their quest to find wealthy benefactors or will head to the cheaper side of town and take a shilling or two for payment for their wares. Curious minds want to know what will become of these willing widows.

Moriah gasped. “I am ruined.”

“I have no doubt your gentleman friend, and I use that term loosely, gave them such rubbish to print.” Cassandra took the paper from Moriah’s hands and tossed it aside. “But we shall survive such drivel.”

“I will never be able to hold my head up and face Society. And Grace,” she cried out. “What will she think of me when she see’s the latest edition?”

Cassandra went over to the sideboard and poured a draught of sherry. She handed the drink to Moriah. “If she is your friend, she all ready knows this is but a bunch of lies. You have nothing to be ashamed of. The lady will understand.”

“I hope so. I would hate to lose her friendship over something I had no control over,” Moriah replied downing the drink in two gulps.

Patience came over to give Moriah a hug. “We could look at the bright side of this,” she declared with a laugh.

Cassandra scowled. “I hardly find this situation humorous, Patience.”

“Can you not see it now, Cassie,” Patience purred. “Why they will be saying we belong to the Willing Widow’s Club. Why gentlemen will be lining up at your door just to get a look at us!”

Cassandra and Moriah both stared at the woman as though she had lost her mind. Moments later the three women broke out into laughter.

“Well, I suppose they cannot think any worse of us than how the article portrayed us,” Moriah chuckled.

“We might as well give them something more to talk about. Let’s go shopping,” Cassandra said. “Any bad situation I have ever been involved in always looks better after I’ve bought a new bonnet.

Laughter echoed in the air as the three women went to ready themselves.


This is an original piece with secondary characters from two of Sherry Ewing’s stories. Cassandra Vaughn can be found in Sherry’s new Regency series, Nothing But Time: A Family of Worth, Book One. Moriah Hernshaw can be found in A Kiss For Charity which first appeared in the Bluestocking Belles’ 2016 box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts and is now available for individual sale.

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical and time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. You can find all of Sherry’s books on the tab above or on her website at www.SherryEwing.com.

Miss Atherton’s Misfortune and Sad Entanglements

A letter from Miss Lucretia Atherton to Mr. Henry Atherton, steward of Viscount Saybrook’s Lincolnshire estate. Brighton, May 1821.

My dear nephew:

If the physician be correct in his prognostications, by the time you read this letter I will be dead. Rejoicing, I trust, along with my Maker, if our Lord can find it in his heart to forgive the mistakes of a woman whose sins lie far in the past. I flatter myself that my keeping of your daughter for all these years—more than ten, now, since the passing of my own dear niece, your wife!—will stand me in good stead as I face my day of judgment.

But now I must return poor Harriot to your care, as it has been her misfortune not to secure herself a husband during these years she has lived with me as my companion. Although the primary purpose in removing her from Lincolnshire was to prevent any unfortunate entanglements with the sons of Lord Saybrook, I did advise you that she would have a far better chance of securing herself a suitable husband if she came to me, rather than stayed with your widowed self. But she has not. Why this should be so, I cannot begin to fathom. She has been taught how to run a small household, and how to best keep its accounts; she has a kind, selfless sort of temperament; and, though not a diamond of the first water, she can be pleasing when she makes a proper effort with her toilette. Surely the demands I placed upon her as my companion could not have so occupied her mind as to it leave it no room for wooing.

Misfortune

Brighton, 1883, complements of Antiquemapsandprints.com

I cannot account it my fault. My political work here in Brighton has often brought us into company with gentlemen of the proper social standing, but Harriot would have none of them. Nor did the sons of any of the local gentry seem to catch her eye, nor she theirs. At least we may be thankful her head was not turned by any in the Prince Regent’s dissolute set, who parade about the town in their ridiculous fashions and dandified airs, preening as if they were peacocks wooing a hen. I do not look kindly on our current King for bringing such a dissolute set to my poor Brighton, even if their patronage has contributed to the economy of the town.

I did think at one time Harriot might harbor a tendre for a young officer whose regiment had been stationed in the town. But despite my continual urging, she failed to bring him to the point, and his regiment left town without his having made the expected declaration. Miss Terpent, Brighton’s most determined gossip, dared to put it about that Harriot had allowed Lieutenant Chamberlayne liberties that no lady ought, but for my part, I cannot believe it of my niece. You can be certain I squashed such ill-bred, groundless rumors as soon as they came to my ears, and no word of such things should follow her home.

I understand from Harriot that you have seen little of the new Lord Saybrook at the estate since the passing of his father. I do hope he continues to spend the bulk of his time in London; it would be a pity to send Harriot away for a decade to avoid an inappropriate entanglement with a boy above her station, only to have the grown man persuade her into a dalliance upon her return. I understand from my friends in the city that your new lord is of a low, dissolute character, particularly in his relations with the gentler sex, and have warned your daughter accordingly.

Although I did think from some remarks Harriot let drop that it was not the heir, but his brother, whom she recalled with some fondness—

Be that as it may. I am at peace, knowing I have done all I could for your child.

I will recommend your soul to your wife when we meet in Heaven, and pray it will be many years before you join us there.

I remain, your dutiful Aunt,

Lucretia Atherton

MisfortuneAbout the Book:  A Lady without a Lord

Book #3 in The Penningtons series

A viscount convinced he’s a failure

For years, Theodosius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .

A lady determined to succeed

Harriot Atherton has a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?

As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father, discovering the missing money, and keeping all her secrets, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?

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An excerpt in which Theo offers Harry a long-overdue apology

“I know it’s not much,” he said, gesturing to the flowers. “But rue is supposed to symbolize regret, is it not?”

“Yes. But how could I ever regret receiving my first bouquet from a gentleman?”

“What? No flowers, ever? Why, those fops down in Brighton must be slow tops, indeed.”

“Slower than you, certainly,” she answered, a smile in her voice.

An even worse thought entered his head. Theo clasped his hands in front of his heart in exaggerated entreaty. “Please tell me the boys of Lincolnshire weren’t as dilatory. An entire field full of meadow rue wouldn’t come close to conveying my regrets if your very first kiss came from my bumbling adolescent self.”

“Best start gathering ye rue while ye may, then, sir,” she teased. “And your sin was even more reprehensible than that. For I’d been nursing the most painful case of calf-love for your brother Benedict at the time.”

Theo groaned. “And instead you got me, the careless, foolish brother. How utterly demoralizing, both for you and myself. But only say the word and I’ll dash off a missive this moment, inviting Benedict back to the family manse so you can exert your feminine wiles on the boy.”

Yes, a sensible plan, that, masterminding a match between his brother and the daughter of his steward. Why, then, did the idea of Harry kissing Benedict make him so ill at ease? And not only, he feared, because he worried Ben’s attentions were fixed on someone else entirely.

“Please, do not trouble yourself,” Harry said with a laugh. “As an old Friesian general of my great aunt’s acquaintance used to say, ‘calf-love, half-love, old love, cold love.’”

Theo leaned an arm against a hay bale. “Ah, found a better swain in Brighton than old Ben, did you? One who gave you no flowers, the dunderhead. But perhaps a few kisses, to erase the memory of mine?”

A small, secret smile lit her face. “No need to worry, sir. Yours is not the only kiss I’ve ever received.”

“Ah, you did have a love in Brighton,” Theo said, struggling to make his tone as light as his words. “So why did you leave?”

Harry bent over his drab little bouquet as if she expected to find some hidden scent amongst its wilting blooms. When she raised her head, that private smile was gone, replaced by one wider, but far more brittle. “Not every kiss leads to lasting love, sir. As I’m certain you are well aware, if even a tiny portion of the tales of your London escapades are true.”

The false cheer in her voice, the way she turned the subject away from herself and back on to him—was not it just like her, to insist her own feelings were of no matter? But she had been hurt by her faithless swain, of that he was certain. Damn the perfidious cur to hell and back.

“Of course not,” he said. “Some kisses are simply for pleasure. And some are to dissipate tension, or anger. Some can even offer comfort. Like this.”

Cupping her nape in his hand, he set his lips against hers, pressing all the solace he could into the simple touch.

He had meant it to ease her cares, but the warmth and stillness of her beneath him seemed to calm him, too. Almost as if the tranquility of the lavender about which she’d sung resided somehow within her.

After a long, quiet moment, he raised his head. Stroking a thumb over her cheek, he gazed into her wide, wide eyes.

“Whoever he is, Harry, he is not worth your regrets. Not if he let you go without a fight.”

Then, before impetuosity and rising lust drove him to demand more, he scrambled down the ladder and out into the starless night.

About the Author

Misfortune

Bliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance. Her Regency-set series The Penningtons has been praised by the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Reviews as “a series well worth following”; its books have been described by USA Today as “savvy, sensual, and engrossing”; by Heroes and Heartbreakers as “captivating,” and by The Reading Wench as having “everything you want in a great historical romance.” The latest book in the series is A Lady without a Lord.

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