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Praise for Vanessa Kelly and My Favorite Countess
"In her latest sublimely sensual Regency historical, Kelly delivers wit, a tightly knit plot, a refreshingly different hero, and a realistically complicated heroine, who could give Scarlett O'Hara a good run for her money. (starred review)
A quiet knock sounded on Phoebe's bedroom door. Straining to open her eyes, she tried to clear the fog of exhaustion and lingering illness from her brain. When the maid entered the room, holding a tea tray in her sturdy hands, Phoebe pulled herself upright and stifled a yawn.
"Good morning, ah ..."
"It's Agatha, miss. Mrs. Poole asks, please, that you step downstairs to the drawing room. She sent me to help you dress."
"What time is it?"
"It's gone on nine o'clock, miss," Agatha said as she deposited the tray on a dressing table.
Phoebe gaped at her, and then her brain lurched into function. She struggled out from under the covers, thumping onto the floor to search for her slippers.
"Why did she not send to wake me earlier? The morning is half over!"
As soon as they arrived in London last night, Phoebe had wanted to dash off a note to her grandfather's town house. But their hostess, Mrs. Poole, had deemed it too late. Almost dead on her feet from the grueling journey up from the coast, Phoebe had capitulated. With the maid's help, she had crawled into the blessedly clean and comfortable bed in the small guest room before falling into a heavy sleep, only awakening just now to Agatha's knock.
Not that she felt much better for her night's rest—not after the nightmare voyage from America. The winds had pushed against them the entire way, lengthening the crossing to almost seven weeks instead of three. Storm after storm pummeled them, and sickness had hit both crew and passengers hard. Phoebe had held out longer than most, but finally succumbed the week before they docked. Even now, her legs still wobbled and her temples throbbed with a headache.
She stumbled to the washbasin and splashed water on her face.
Agatha opened Phoebe's trunk and started sifting through it, her pleasant face registering dismay. "Lord, miss. Who packed your clothes? Everything's a right mess."
Phoebe grimaced. She'd been too ill to properly repack her trunk before leaving the ship. Fortunately, she did have one clean dress for her visit to Grandfather. She had hung it in the wardrobe, the only unpacking she had managed before dropping into bed.
"Take the one from the wardrobe," she said as she stepped behind the screen to pull off her night rail.
A few moments later, Agatha joined her behind the screen, gown in hand. She didn't look any more impressed than she had when she looked through Phoebe's trunk.
"Miss, this dress is clean but it could use a good press. It'll only take me a few minutes, if you don't mind waiting."
"It does not matter. I am sure my grandfather will not care, and I must be on my way as soon as possible."
"I'm afraid not, miss, seeing as one of your relatives is waiting for you downstairs. That's why Mrs. Poole sent me to wake you."
Phoebe gaped at the maid. "My grandfather is here?" She felt breathless, even though her stays were barely laced up. "Mrs. Tanner must have sent a note around."
"It ain't your grandfather, miss, I can tell you that," Agatha said, turning her around to finish lacing the stays. "The man downstairs is no more than forty, and a fine-looking fellow he is, too. And he's dressed like a proper lord."
Phoebe's mind went blank. Her grandfather had never mentioned anyone like that in his letters. "Did he say who he was?"
"I'm sure, but Mrs. Poole didn't tell me. Miss, let me help you with your gown, and then you can have a nice cup of tea while I fix your hair."
Anxiety surged in a hot rush through her veins, making her dizzy. Why had Grandfather not come himself to fetch her? Was he ill?
Taking a deep breath, Phoebe forced her head to clear. "No. I have to see this man right away."
Agatha took her by the arm and steered her to the dressing table. "He'll wait. If you don't have something to drink, you'll keel right over. Now, have your tea while I brush your hair."
A half cup of tea later, Agatha grimaced and finally let Phoebe rise from the dressing table. "You won't be winning any prizes with that hair, miss, but I'll take you down."
The maid led her downstairs and through a simply ornamented entrance hall to the door of the drawing room. "There, miss. They're waiting for you."
Phoebe nodded, suddenly so nervous her knees shook. She silently ordered the starch back into her muscles and opened the door. What she saw brought her up short.
Mrs. Tanner sat in a low chair by the fireplace. A very tall, broad-shouldered man stood opposite her, on the other side of the chimneypiece. He was very handsome—quite the handsomest man Phoebe had ever seen. And when his attention, narrowed and intense, jumped to her, it struck her with an almost physical force.
Alarm skittered along her nerves. Absurdly, she had the impulse to back out of the room as quickly as she could.
Silly. Why be afraid of someone you have never met?
But as they stared at each other, she sensed some ill-defined peril, and she instinctively knew something dreadful was upon her.
Mrs. Tanner rose from her seat, momentarily splintering the tension. "Phoebe, please come in. This is a member of thy grandfather's family, Major Lucas Stanton, come to welcome thee to London."
Phoebe slowly entered the room, trying to shake the notion that she was approaching something awful and irrevocable. The guarded expression on Mrs. Tanner's face did nothing to dispel that impression.
Major Stanton took a step forward, looming—and looming seemed the only correct description—over her. He was broad across the chest and shoulders, and every part of him looked hard and muscular. Phoebe did not make a habit of dissecting the male figure, but he wore a well-tailored, dark coat, pale, skin-tight breeches, and tall leather boots, all of which showed off every line of his impressive physique. Just looking at that brawny, masculine strength made her body hum with tension.
Cheeks flushing, she fixed her gaze on his face. She found it disconcerting, too, since his hard-cut, impassive features served as a stark contrast to eyes the color of a stormy sea. The emotions she thought she perceived in their depths struck her as dangerous as the gales that had bedeviled her trip across the Atlantic.
"Major Stanton," said Mrs. Tanner, "this is Miss Phoebe Linville."
Phoebe stared up at him a moment longer, transfixed by his slashing cheekbones and the granite line of his jaw. All the men she knew were farmers and shopkeepers, simple men who dressed plainly and looked nothing like this man. Next to them, he resembled ... well, she did not know what. But she knew she had never met anyone like him, though they had yet to exchange even a simple greeting.
His gaze, somber and wary, turned to one of puzzlement, jolting her into motion. The poor man must think she was a wordless half-wit.
Though Quakers generally made it a point not to bow or curtsy before those of higher station, she dipped low, ignoring Mrs. Tanner's tsk of disapproval. Why risk offending the first relative coming to greet her? "Major Stanton, thank you for coming to meet me. It was kind of you to do so," she said, offering her hand in greeting.
His big hand closed around hers and he lifted it to his lips, brushing a lingering kiss across her sensitive skin. The breath seized in her throat. Quaker men did not go around kissing hands, much less making a show of it.
Fortunately, he returned her hand, and her lungs recommenced function.
"Phoebe," said Mrs. Tanner, sounding horrified, "please sit."
Her friend nudged her to a sturdy, brown-colored sofa next to the fireplace. With a severe nod, Mrs. Tanner indicated to the major that he should take the seat facing them. He did not bother to repress a low sigh as he carefully settled on a small caned chair that gave an alarming creak in response. The sofa would have been a more appropriate choice for his large frame, but Mrs. Tanner clearly intended to punish him for his forward behavior.
"Major Stanton, how is my grandfather?" Phoebe asked impulsively. "Did he ask you to fetch me?"
The swift glance he exchanged with Mrs. Tanner brought Phoebe's anxiety rushing back. Its choke hold tightened when the older woman reached over and took her hand in a comforting clasp.
"Phoebe, thee must prepare for unfortunate news. But I ask thee to remember that the Father's hand is in all things, and that He will watch over thee always."
Fear swept through her. "What are you talking about?"
When Mrs. Tanner hesitated, Phoebe shook off her restraining hand and jumped up. The major rose immediately.
"Please, sir," she implored. "Take me to my grandfather."
Compassion softened the grim lines of his face. He struck her as a man not much given to that tender emotion, so whatever the cause, it must be dire.
He stepped closer, reaching out to take her hand in a gentle grip. "Miss Linville, you must sit." He had a firm, deep voice that held a compelling note of authority. As it washed over her, she had to resist the impulse to automatically obey. He smiled, as if to soothe her, and one finger stroked lightly over the back of her hand. "I'm certain you should have a cup of tea before we have any further discussion."
Unnerved by his touch, she pulled her hand away. "I do not want a cup of tea. I want you to tell me about my grandfather."
He ran a thoughtful gaze over her face, as if taking her measure. "Very well. Miss Linville, it grieves me to inform you that your grandfather—my great-uncle, Lord Merritt—died from an infection some weeks ago. I didn't write to you, since my letter would not have arrived prior to your departure. I hope you will believe I would have spared you this trip, if it was at all possible."
A strange buzzing noise arose in her ears, then her knees buckled and she sank onto the sofa. Her heart throbbed in her chest, straining against the shock. For a terrible moment, she could not draw a breath.
Mrs. Tanner gasped her name and Major Stanton let out a low curse. Swiftly, he came down on one knee before her and gripped her shoulders, holding her steady. Until he touched her, Phoebe had not realized she needed someone to keep her upright.
"Hold her while I get some water," exclaimed Mrs. Tanner as she rushed from the room.
"Steady on, Miss Linville," Major Stanton murmured in her ear. "Just lean against me."
Coming up onto the sofa, he eased her into his embrace, resting her head against his broad chest. As if controlled by some unseen force, her eyelids fluttered shut as, for the first time in her life, she found herself in the arms of a man other than her brother or father. Her morals registered a faint objection, but her body wanted nothing other than to collapse against that solid wall, her cheek nestling comfortably against the soft wool fabric of his coat. Tumult swirled in her brain, but his gentle embrace staved off the screeching panic that hovered at the edge of thought.
The door opened. Footsteps hurried across the floorboards as Mrs. Tanner rustled up to them with a glass of water in her hand. "Major, thee must allow me to tend to Miss Linville. Please let her sit up."
Phoebe flinched at the note of censure in her friend's voice. Mrs. Tanner had every right to be offended because Phoebe had no business clinging to a man, no matter what the circumstances. But she could not help shrinking farther into his embrace. Her stunned brain had latched on to the idea that as long as she remained in his arms she would be safe, that all the hurtful things in the world could not harm her.
Ridiculous, whispered the voice of reason. She started to pull away, but Major Stanton gently adjusted his hold to keep her close. Phoebe had to bite down on the whimper of relief that almost escaped her lips.
"I assure you, Mrs. Tanner," he said, "I will release my cousin as soon as I know she won't keel over in a dead faint."
Phoebe frowned. She never fainted. And now that her wits were slowly returning, she felt the first flush of humiliation that she had allowed a perfect stranger to hold her so intimately. Pushing herself upright, she began to withdraw from his arms. For a second he resisted, keeping her fast in his embrace. And, for a second, she did not want him to let go.
Finally, he allowed it.
"Thank you, Major," she managed, feeling oddly winded. The strange emotions swirling through her resulted, no doubt, from shock. They could not possibly have anything to do with the man who had captured her in an embrace that somehow felt more like a possession than support.
The major's smoky gaze narrowed with skepticism, likely fostered by the squeaky tremor in her voice, but he moved back to his chair.
Mrs. Tanner took his place and handed her the glass of water. Phoebe gave her a faltering smile, sipping slowly as she tried to bring her rioting emotions under control. She wanted to weep with grief for her grandfather, but she kept her tears in check. When she could be private again, she would give way to the sadness wrenching her heart. But at this moment she needed to understand what would happen next. And however unprepared she was, she had decisions to make, ones that already caused her heart to sink.
She sat up straight, meeting Major Stanton's gaze with as much equanimity as she could muster. His expression revealed nothing other than a calm readiness to respond to whatever he might be called upon to do. Phoebe knew nothing of military men or matters, but she could well believe that this hard-eyed man across from her could handle any situation without turning a hair. Even one as awkward and dreadful as this.
Although he did study her with a caution suggesting he thought she might faint after all.
"I assure you, Major," she said, "I will not faint. I am yet recovering from an illness contracted on shipboard and have not regained my full strength."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "Perhaps you should retire to your room. We could finish this discussion later if you find it too distressing."
Irritation began to edge out her shock. "I would have to be a fool not to be distressed by such news. That does not mean I am incapable of having a rational conversation."
Mrs. Tanner sighed, but the major appeared unoffended by her sharp words. In fact, he seemed to bite back a smile, which Phoebe found more than a little surprising.
"If you are satisfied I will not keel over, perhaps you might tell me what happened to my grandfather," she said in a tight voice.
The glint of humor in his eyes vanished. "Of course. Lord Merritt died nine weeks ago. As I said, I knew a letter would not reach you in time to prevent your sailing. Your grandfather would not have wanted that, in any event."
She bit her lip to hold back a sudden welling of tears. All these weeks had passed and she had assumed her grandfather was alive. All these weeks she had thought of him, imagining what he looked like, what he would say to her when they finally met. She had imagined a future of memories, built on the foundation of their shared loved for Elspeth Linville, her dear mother and Lord Merritt's only daughter. In the worst of the voyage, when she lay ill in her bunk, the image of her grandfather's joy at their reunion had kept her spirits buoyant.
But all that time, her grandfather had been dead. She had been alone for weeks. All hope of home, of family—of her family—had been extinguished forever.
She sat quietly, blinking her eyes and refusing to cry in front of the handsome stranger who had shattered her world.
He and Mrs. Tanner waited patiently until she regained her voice. "I am grieved to be robbed of the chance to have known my grandfather. I wanted to be with him more than all else."
Major Stanton nodded. "He shared that desire. My great-uncle was most concerned for your well-being after his death. The Stantons are your family now, and Lord Merritt's express wish was that you remain here with them. With us," he corrected with a slight frown.
She stared at him, not comprehending. "Are you saying my grandfather wished me to remain in England with strangers who could only be considered distant relations?"
His brows arched with an arrogant tilt. "Your family will not be strangers for long, Miss Linville, and your mother was never considered a distant relation. I am charged by General Stanton, the head of the family, to bring you to him and Lady Stanton as soon as can be arranged. I assure you there is no safer place for you than under his protection."
Excerpted from His Mistletoe Bride by Vanessa Kelly Copyright © 2012 by Vanessa Kelly. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 25, 2012
This is a wonderful story of two people who don't feel that they fit in their worlds. The story will draw you in from the very start and have you rooting for Phoebe to gain all she wishes. Lucas finds he has met his match and is willing to find all of the hidden treasure in Phoebe.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 15, 2012
I am extremely fortunate to have been given an advance copy of His Mistletoe Bride, by one of my favorite historical romance authors, Vanessa Kelly. I thoroughly believe Vanessa could write about the phone book and make it an enthralling tale. Her writing style is smart, engaging, and sexy. Her descriptions are pure poetry. And she skillfully brings her characters to life with a mastery I envy as a fellow author, and admire and enjoy as a reader.
When I first began this book, and discovered the heroine was a Quaker, I admit I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy this story as much as I have enjoyed others by Vanessa Kelly. The use of 'thee' and 'thou' and the unfamiliar beliefs and mannerisms of the Quakers was off-putting at first. But the author's skill quickly drew me in and I fell in love with the characters.
Phoebe, the heroine, had an English mother and a Quaker father, and she goes from America to England to live with her grandfather because her parents died. She struggles to fit in, and speaks 'proper' English except when she's upset, in which case she slips back into 'plain English' and the 'thee' and 'thou' words start cropping into her sentences. It's quite endearing seeing her struggle to belong and be accepted but to not abandon her belief system.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story for the same reason that I enjoy all of Vanessa's stories--it is unique. Vanessa is not your ordinary historical romance author. She ALWAYS figures out how to makes her stories different from anything else that is out there, while still keeping enough of the typical historical romance world-building that readers expect. I particularly enjoyed how she used Mistletoe as the name of the hero's manor, and most of the servants had the surname 'Christmas'. There's even a mutt named Holly.
But perhaps best of all is the sprinkling of well-loved supporting characters from Vanessa's other books. Her die-hard fans will be thrilled to see so many favorites. I loved seeing sexy Dr. John Blackmore again and the fun interplay with his wife, Bathsheba, from My Favorite Countess.
I highly recommend this book. Stick with it past the 'thee' and 'thou' opening chapter. I promise the language gets easier and more familiar, and the wonderful, endearing characters are a true joy. I'll definitely be buying my own copy to put on my keeper shelf, even though I have a free electronic arc. Well-done, Vanessa. Keep them coming!
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2012
This story is about a lady 'lost' in a world trying to find her way and finding love along the way. And a gentleman trying to help her and doing his best to convince her to give him a chance. VK really hit a home run w/this one. Don't let the length of the book scare you it's fast passed and by the end you will want more.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 23, 2013
*Book source ~ Many thanks to Kensington for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Phoebe Linville has crossed the ocean from Philadelphia to London to meet her estranged English side of the family, the Stantons. When her mother married her Quaker father, her grandfather, the Earl of Merritt disowned his only daughter. After the Earl’s son died he tried to make amends with his daughter only to find she had died some years earlier. He does make contact with his only grandchild, Phoebe, who is unhappy in her Quaker life and wants to meet her grandfather. However, upon arriving in London she finds that her grandfather died weeks earlier and his wish was for her to marry his heir, Major Lucas Stanton. Phoebe has no intention of marrying a man she doesn’t know, but Lucas is persuasive and patient. Soon she finds herself Lady Merritt and the Mistress in charge of Mistletoe Manor. Now all she needs to do is teach her husband how to love. But it’s Christmas, a time of miracles. How hard could it be?
Told from both Phoebe’s and Lucas’s POV this story is well-written with great characters. While a little over the top at times it definitely entertained me. Because of Phoebe’s upbringing she’s a complete innocent to the ways of London society. But she has strong beliefs and a personality to match when she needs to assert herself and stand her ground. She was a little too submissive at times for me to believe 100% in her personality though. Lucas is a great character, but he was also a bit too bossy for me. I’ll forgive him since he was used to leading in the Army, but he’s not in the Army anymore and running an estate is nothing like running a unit of soldiers. Anyway, I quite enjoyed the book and now I want to find the others that are loosely connected to this one.
Posted September 24, 2013
Started out good...............................................................................................................................
The story fell flat for me. It was pretty good up until Penelope decides to keep the BIG SECRET from Lucas---don't want to give any spoilers here so I'll leave it at that. Couldn't see why she would have such a huge concern over people she barely knew who were doing the wrong thing. It made her seem disloyal to her husband who had always been nice to her . In fact he was pretty much nice to everyone. Anyway it was a well written book. I would pass it on to a friend even though I though the heroine was a self righteous twit.
Posted July 31, 2013
Your book reminds me very much of another book with the same plot. The girl's parents die, and in the mothers will a soldier gains not only the place that the girl would do anything to have. The girl is forced to marry the man, well you get the idea.
Though it is a very similar story line I have no doubt your version is uniqe
Posted January 1, 2013
This book was not bad, but I prefer more romance! This is a story about Major Lucas Stanton and Phoebe Linville. Phoebe is on her way to her new life in London. She is about to meet the English Family her mother turned her back on to marry her father. Phoebe was raised in America as a Quaker. She never felt like she really belonged and is excited to go to London. Once she arrives she is devastated to learn her grandfather has died. Lucas is now the Earl of Merritt and has promised Phoebe's grandfather that he will take care of her. Of course, Phoebe wants to marry for love and Lucas has sworn off love after a bad relationship. The story includes couples that have been featured in other books by Vanessa Kelly and had I known I would have preferred to read them first. In the end Lucas and Phoebe find true love, but getting there was a bit boring for me.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 20, 2012
A scorching hot Christmas tableau
An ex- soldier who won't give up his warlike manners, let alone surrender his heart to love. A virtuous and strong willed Quaker who will need to cross the ocean to connect with her passionate nature and find a place she can really call "home". An arranged marriage and a quest for love. All wrapped in vivid and accurate descriptions of the Georgian England winter season and its rituals. A colorful Christmas tableau and a hero/heroine chemistry that escalates from warm to scorching hot.
One of the most distinctive qualities of this historical romance novel is the refreshingly different kind of heroine. Young Phoebe Linville lives a very singular condition of outsider among her own people. Member of a Quaker family, but subtly shunned by her community because of her deceased mother's refusal to conform to some tenets of the faith, she decides to accept his maternal grandfather's invitation to leave New Jersey and join him in England. The characterization of the female heroine is quite solid and detailed, consistent in the way she struggles to meet the rigid expectations of a religious community and gradually reveal an unsuspectedly head-strong and passionate nature. Phoebe was doomed to live a quiet spinsterhood, steeped in an austere village upbringing, but once in England she will meet her perfect half in an unexpected place. Major Lucas Stenton, distant cousin of hers and heir to her grandfather's earldom, welcomes her upon her arrival with two shocking pieces of news: her grandfather has passed away during her boat trip to England, not before asking Lucas in his final will to become Phoebe's guardian and husband. The marriage may be an arranged one, but the chemistry between the handsome and intimidating ex-soldier, and the unconventional and genuinely beautiful American is as immediate as the blink of an eye. She may be a starchy Quaker, but she can't help being affected by the large framed and hard eyed soldier. He may have spent years and years on the battle fields leading armies and defeating enemies, but he can't resist her innocent beauty and straightforward tongue. Despite his reluctance to surrender his heart to any woman after a former lover had demolished his life, Lucas is won by Phoebe's gentle manners and quick wit. A clear declaration of love won't be easily yielded by our emotionally armored soldier,
"...when dealing with matters of the heart, [Phoebe's] fearless warrior husband turned tail and headed for the hills."
But he tremendously enjoys his wife and while his heart lacks the eloquence, his actions will speak volumes. The author's clever choice to bring the lead characters close together from the start, sets the scene for some warm "interactions", incandescent I would say. In the cozy isolation of his country estate, and with the aid of a festive Christmas spirit, Lucas conducts a "sensual assault" that will breech Phoebe's inhibitions and his own emotional barriers.
The introduction of a secondary plot thread, that doesn't really get thick except for the final pages, serves the purpose of enhancing the conflict and test the trust issues between the newly weds. With weak-in-the-knees romance, sexual chemistry a go-go, and as sumptuous as equally accurate descriptions of holiday traditions, His Mistletoe Bride will bring the winter temperatures up a notch or two.
Posted November 20, 2012
It isn't often you come across a story that can only be described as delightful. I love that the conflict arose from Lucas's and Phoebe's different world views. It was intriguing to learn of the Quaker religion and Phoebe's use of thee's and thy's. I will be reading more from Ms. Kelly.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 23, 2012
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