Impetuous Innocent

( 123 )

Overview

After the death of her dear father, Georgiana Hartley returns home to England—only to be confronted by the boorish advances of her wretched cousin. Knowing no one, she flees to Dominic Ridgely's estate, hoping the nobleman will bestow a neighborly kindness upon her.

The haughty viscount hears Georgiana's plea to find her a position as a lady's companion with thinly veiled disgust. A lovely innocent such as Miss Hartley subjected to that base existence? The very idea was ...

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Impetuous Innocent

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Overview

After the death of her dear father, Georgiana Hartley returns home to England—only to be confronted by the boorish advances of her wretched cousin. Knowing no one, she flees to Dominic Ridgely's estate, hoping the nobleman will bestow a neighborly kindness upon her.

The haughty viscount hears Georgiana's plea to find her a position as a lady's companion with thinly veiled disgust. A lovely innocent such as Miss Hartley subjected to that base existence? The very idea was preposterous. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands and introduces her to his sister's influence.

Suddenly, Georgiana is transformed into a lady who charms the ton with ease and draws a bevy of suitors at every turn. Everything is unfolding according to Dominic's plan…until he realizes that he desires Georgiana for his own.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Laurens’ romance, glimmers with sweet sexiness and effervescent charm.”
Booklist on Impetuous Innocent
Booklist
“The consistently readable Laurens takes a classic Regency plot the rake who must marry and the spinster who doesn't believe in love and gives it her own stylish twist with plenty of sizzling passion and a surfeit of wit” on The Reasons for Marriage
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373775088
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Series: Harlequin Historical Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 505,658
  • Product dimensions: 7.04 (w) x 11.80 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Laurens
New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens originally began writing as an escape from the dry world of professional science. Her hobby quickly became a career; she has been writing historical romance novels for more than 20 years. Currently living outside Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two cats, she spends most of her days writing new stories in her signature 'Errol Flynn meets Jane Austen" style. Visit her online at www.stephanielaurens.com.
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Read an Excerpt

"Georgie? Georgie! Open this door! Aw—c'mon, Georgie. Jus' a bit of a kiss an' cuddle. D'you hear me, Georgie? Lemme in!"

Georgiana Hartley sat cross-legged in the middle of her bed, fully clothed, a small, slight figure in the huge four-poster. The flickering light of a single candle gleamed on her guinea-gold curls, still dressed in an elegant knot. Her large hazel eyes, fixed on the door of her chamber, held an expression of annoyance; her soft lips were compressed into a disapproving line. Charles was becoming a definite boor.

It was her seventh night in England, her fourth at the Place, seat of her forefathers and home of her cousin Charles. And it was the third night she had had to seek the safety of her bedchamber at a ridiculously early hour, to avoid Charles's drink-driven importunities.

She had done it again.

Pulling a pillow across her lap, and wrinkling her nose at the musty smell that arose when she settled her elbows on it, Georgiana berated herself, for what was certainly not the first time and would undoubtedly not be the last, for her apparently innate impulsiveness. It had been that alone which had driven her to leave the sunny climes of the Italian coast and return to the land of her birth. Still, on her father's death, it had seemed the most sensible course. With a deep sigh she dropped her chin on to her hands, keeping her eyes trained on the door. All was quiet, but she knew Charles was still there, just outside, hoping she might be silly enough to try to slip out.

James Hartley, painter and vivant, had left his only child to the guardianship of his only brother, her uncle Ernest. Uncle Ernest had lived at the Place. Unfortunately, he had died one month before his brother. Georgiana sniffed. Doubtless she should feel something for her uncle, but it was hard to feel grief on the death of someone you had never met—particularly when still coping with a far more shattering loss. And particularly when circumstances had conspired to land her in Charles's lap. For the news of her uncle's death had not reached James Hartley's Italian solicitors in time to stop her instinctive flight from the beauties of Ravello, her home for the last twelve years, now filled with too many painful memories. She had arrived at the Place to find Charles—Uncle Ernest's son, and a stranger to her—in possession.

The solid oak door rattled and jumped in its frame. Georgiana eyed it with increasing concern. The worn lock and the old iron hinges were all that stood between her and her drink-sodden cousin.

"Aw, Georgie, don' be a prude. You'll like't, I promise. Just a bit o' fun." A loud hiccup reached Georgiana's ears. "It's all right. You know I'll marry you. Lemme in and we'll be married tomorrow. You hear me, Georgie? C'mon, Georgie, open this door, I say!"

Georgiana sternly repressed a shiver of pure revulsion. Marry Charles? Feeling panic stir, she determinedly pushed the horrifying thought aside. Now was no time to go to pieces.

The door bounced, reverberating on its hinges as Charles made a determined assault on the thick panels. Georgiana's eyes grew round. As the thumping continued, she scanned the room for some implement, some weapon. But there was nothing, not even a candelabrum. With a grimace of resignation, she returned her gaze to the heavy oak door, philosophically waiting for whatever came next, confident that, one way or another, she would deal with it.

But the door stood firm. With one last defeated thump, Charles stopped his hammering.

"Damn you, Georgie! You won't get away! You can't escape me. You'll see—you'll have to give in, soon or late." A jeering, drunken laugh crept into the room. "You'll see."

Unsteady footsteps retreated down the passage as Charles took himself off to bed, giggling crazily.

Slowly Georgiana raised her brows. She remained perched on the bed, listening. When five minutes had passed with no sound from beyond her door, she hurled aside the pillow and slipped from the bed. A determined frown settled across her heart-shaped face. She fell to pacing the room. Can't escape?

For five minutes she walked the unpolished boards. The wind whistled and moaned, little blasts worming their way through the ill-fitting shutters to send the curtains skittering. Absent-mindedly Georgiana dragged the patched quilt from the bed and flung it about her shoulders. She reviewed her options. There weren't many. She knew no one in England, had no one to turn to. But one thing was certain—she could not stay here.

If she did, Charles would force her to marry him—by hook or by crook. She couldn't hide behind locked doors forever.

With the dogged and purposeful air which had carried her across an unstable Continent unharmed, she threw off the quilt and crossed to the wardrobe. Setting the door wide, she struggled to pull her trunk free. Once she got it to the floor, she tugged the cumbersome corded box to the side of the bed. She opened the heavy lid and propped it against the bed.

A scratching at the door startled her.

Slowly Georgiana straightened and eyed the scarred oak panels with misgiving.

The noise came again.

"Miss Georgie? It's me, Cruickshank."

Georgiana let out the breath she had been holding and went to the door. It was a fight to turn the heavy key. After much tugging, the bolt fell back and she eased the heavy door open. "Cruckers! Thank goodness you've come. I was racking my brains to think of how to get hold of you."

Maria Cruickshank, a thin, weedy woman, tall and lanky, with iron-grey hair tightly confined, sniffed loudly. Originally maid to Georgiana's mother, she was the closest thing to a family retainer Georgiana had.

"As if I'd not come running with all that racket. He may be your cousin, but that Charles is no good. I told you so. Now do you believe me?"

Together they pushed the door shut. Cruickshank wrestled the lock home and turned to face the child-cum-lovely young woman she adored. She placed her hands on her hips and frowned grimly. "Now, Miss Georgie, I hope you're convinced. We've got to leave this house. It's no place for the likes of you, what with Master Charles as he is. It's not what your father intended, dear me, no!"

Georgiana smiled and turned back to the bed.

Cruickshank's eyes widened. She drew full breath, girding her loins for battle. Then she saw the trunk. Her breath came out with a soft whistle. "Ah."

Georgiana's smile grew. "Precisely. We're leaving. Come and help."

Cruickshank needed no further urging. Ten minutes later, all of Georgiana's possessions were back in her trunk. While Cruickshank tightened the straps, Georgiana sat on the lid, biting the tip of one rosy finger and plotting her escape.

"Now, Cruckers, there's no point in setting out before dawn, so we may as well get some sleep. I'll stay here, and you go back downstairs and warn Ben. Charles must be dead to the world by now. I'm sure I'll be safe enough."

Georgiana waited for the inevitable protest. Instead, Cruickshank merely snorted and clambered to her feet.

"True enough. A whole decanter of brandy he poured down his gullet. I doubt he'll be up betimes."

Georgiana's hazel eyes widened in awe. "Truly? Heavens!" She wriggled her toes, then jumped to the ground. "Well, that's all the better. The longer he sleeps, the farther we'll get before he finds out."

Cruickshank sniffed disparagingly. "D'you think he'll follow?"

A worried frown drew down Georgiana's fine brows. "I really don't know. He says he's my guardian, but I don't see how that can be." She sank on to the bed, one hand brushing gold curls from her forehead in a gesture of bewilderment. "It's all so confusing."

Her tone brought Cruickshank to her side, one large hand coming up to pat Georgiana's shoulder comfortingly. "Never you worry, Miss Georgie. Ben and me, we'll see you safe."

Fleetingly, Georgiana smiled, her hand rising to grip that of her maid. "Yes, of course. I don't know what I'd have done without my two watchdogs."

Bright hazel eyes met faded blue, and Cruickshank's stern features softened. "Now, lovey, do you have any notion where you should go?"

It was the question Georgiana had spent the last three days pondering. To no avail. But her tone was determined and decisive when she said, "I've thought and thought, but I can't think of anyone. As far as I can see, the best thing I can do is throw myself on the mercy of one of the ladies of the neighbourhood. There must be someone about who remembers Uncle Ernest or Papa and will at least advise me."

Cruickshank grimaced, but did not argue the point. "I'll be back before first light. I'll bring Ben for the trunk. You get some rest now. Enough excitement for one night, you've had."

Obediently Georgiana allowed Cruickshank to help her into her nightgown, then clambered into the big bed. Cruickshank resettled the quilt and tucked the sheets under the lumpy mattress. Again the maid sniffed disparagingly.

"Even if 'twas your grandpa's house, miss, all I can say is the accommodation leaves much to be desired." With a haughty glance at the aged bedclothes, Cruickshank clumped to the door. "Just to be on the safe side, I'll lock you in."

With the problem of Charles already behind her, and her immediate actions decided, Georgiana's mind slowed. With a sigh, she snuggled deeper into the mattress and curled up tight against the cold. Her lids were already drooping as she watched the door close behind the faithful Cruickshank. The lock fell heavily into place. Georgiana yawned widely and blew out her candle.

"Shhh!" Cruickshank held a finger to her lips and with her other hand indicated a door giving off the dimly lit passage.

Georgiana nodded her understanding and slipped silently past the room where Charles's slatternly housekeeper and her equally slovenly spouse snored in drunken unison. The Pringates were new to the Place, and Georgiana could not conceive how Charles had come to hire them. They seemed to know little to nothing of managing a household. None of the old servants had remained after her uncle's death. Presumably it was hard to get good help in the country. And, even to her untutored eyes, the Place was in sorry condition, hardly an attractive proposition to experienced staff.

Mentally shrugging, she hurried on. The dank corridor ended in a huge stone-flagged kitchen. Cruickshank was struggling with the heavy back door. As she eased it open, the tell-tale sound of a horse whickering drifted in with the wet mist. Galvanised, Georgiana hurried out into the yard, Cruickshank close behind.

Her own travelling carriage, battered and worn after the long journey from Italy, but thankfully still serviceable, stood in the muddy yard, her two powerful carriage horses hitched in their harness. She spared the time to bestow a fond pat on each great grey head before allowing Ben to help her into the coach.

As the door shut, sealing her within, with Cruickshank on the seat opposite, Georgiana settled herself on the padded leather with a weary sigh. She had hoped to enjoy a rest after the jolting roads of the Continent. True, the English roads were in much better condition, but she had looked forward to keeping her feet on firm ground and her bottom on softer seats for some time. Fate, however, had clearly decided otherwise.

The carriage rocked as Ben climbed to his perch. Without his customary whistle, he set the team moving. The coach rumbled quietly out of the yard and turned into the lane.

As the miles fell slowly behind them, Georgiana wondered anew at the oddity of the Place. The old house stood in its own extensive grounds, overgrown and choked with weeds, amid fields and meadows, all lying fallow as far as she had seen. She lifted the window flap and peered through the early morning gloom. There was no sign of livestock anywhere. Fences were broken and gates hung crazily on ruptured hinges. An air of decay hung like a pall across the estate. Heaven knew, it wasn't all that large as estates went. But the Place had hit hard times, and neglect had taken its toll. She was sure her father had not known the state of his family's property. If he had, he would never have suggested she seek refuge there. Or, alternatively, he would have made some provision to restore the Place to its former glory.

As the carriage drew to the crest of a hill which marked the limit of the estate, Georgiana, leaning past the leather flap, caught a last glimpse of the grey roofs of the Place. Then the horses started on the downward slope and trees blocked her view. In truth, from what she had seen in her three days there, she doubted the Place was worth saving.

Her only regret in leaving was that she had failed to unearth the set of paintings her father had told her he had left there. Close to twenty finished canvases, he had said. The only one she was really interested in was a portrait of her mother which he had painted shortly after their marriage. He had always maintained it was the best of the handful of portraits he had done of his wife. Georgiana had looked forward to seeing again the face of her gentle mother, otherwise no more than a misty memory. But Charles had denied all knowledge of the paintings, and her surreptitious searches had failed to find any trace of them. Now, as she didn't fancy staying within Charles's reach, the paintings would remain lost to her. Philosophically, she sighed. She knew she'd made the right choice. But she had so wanted that portrait of her mother.

The lane which led to the Place was long and winding. It followed a strange line, around the boundaries of the holdings of a neighbouring estate, eventually joining a road which ultimately led to Steeple Claydon. The morning mists were lifting by the time the coach trundled into the small village of Alton Rise, no more than a cluster of cottages nestling at the first crossroads. Ben pulled the horses up before the tiny inn. He jumped down from his perch and came to the carriage window.

Georgiana pushed aside the window flap and leant out. "Can you ask where the nearest magistrate lives? If that sounds too far, ask for the nearest big landowner."

Ben nodded and disappeared into the inn. Ten minutes later he was back. "They said best to go on up to Candlewick Hall. It's owned by a London swell, name of Lord Alton. His family's been hereabouts for generations, so it seems a safe bet. The innkeeper's missus thought you'd be safe enough asking for help there."

"Heavens, Ben!" Georgiana looked at her faithful henchman in horror. "You didn't tell them about…?"

Ben shrugged his old shoulders. "'Tweren't no news to them. By all accounts, that cousin of yourn's not much liked."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 123 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 123 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 27, 2010

    A fair read if you're bored

    This book had a great premise, but I wanted to slap the heroine by the middle of the book. I know that she is supposed to be young and innocent, but REALLY! I also never had a good reason to believe that the Hero was actually in LOVE with the heroine. There was also a lot of build up about the "bad guy and girl" in the book, and my mind took it in great directions, unfortunately, the author did not do that. I was disappointed with the story, but it's not a terrible read, it just seems like it was not as fleshed out as it could have been.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2003

    A BIT ON THE BLAND SIDE

    This book was just okay. The characters were a little under-developed for my taste and I didn't like the fact that the leading lady was 14 years younger than the hero. Normally I wouldn't mind at all but she was so insecure it was pitiful. The book had so much potential but just missed the mark. Where was the umph? Stephanie was my #1 but she has fallen off so much she's no longer on my list! Bottom Line: not her best...not her worst....not good...not a keeper

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2010

    A Romance Must

    I was captivated with the story once I got through the first couple of chapters. The character plots had some nice surprising twists although there were some pretty predictable ones as well, and everytime you thought the destined lovers would come together another wrench would get in the way. I got a little annoyed with the main characters self doubt since she was grew so confident in other ways with each chapter. But in the end it left me wanting more... Similar to "Pride & Prejudice" by Jane Austen if you need a comparison but naturally not as timeless.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012

    Sweet Romance

    I really loved this book, though if you are looking for sex in a romance novel you will not find it here. I will read it again and again:)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 29, 2012

    Good Light read

    This is not my favorite Stephanie Laurens book but it is still a good light read. I have grown so attached to the Cynster characters that I may be less enthralled with most others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2004

    Just Missed The Mark

    The book was a good read but the main character started to get on my nerves towards the end, plus I could've done with a bit more romantic scenes.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2014

    This was tough to get through. Dominic did so much confident smi

    This was tough to get through. Dominic did so much confident smirking and smiling that Laurens implied him to have either a perpetual beatific, yet stupefied mien or some kind of bizarre anti-gravitational palsy curving his lips in an unnerving grin. Furthermore, he had no justification to be so self-satisfied, being that he had no comprehension of Georgiana's feelings and struck out thrice at gaining an affirmative response to his proposals to her.
    Trite impediments to the couple's being together and cliche stock phrases repeated to describe the characters made for a boring read.

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    Posted May 26, 2011

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    Posted June 3, 2011

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    Posted October 5, 2011

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    Posted January 12, 2010

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