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The Perfect Mistress

The Perfect Mistress

3.6 211
by Victoria Alexander

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Let #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander sweep you away with her dazzling new romance, in which one otherwise proper lady discovers that passion is her legacy. . .

Widowed Julia, Lady Winterset, has inherited a book—a very shocking book—that every gentleman in London seems to want. For a charismatic businessman, it's a chance


Let #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander sweep you away with her dazzling new romance, in which one otherwise proper lady discovers that passion is her legacy. . .

Widowed Julia, Lady Winterset, has inherited a book—a very shocking book—that every gentleman in London seems to want. For a charismatic businessman, it's a chance to build an empire. For a dashing novelist, it could guarantee fame. But to a proud, domineering earl, it means everything. . .

Harrison Landingham, Earl of Mountdale, can't let the obstinate Julia release the shameless memoir that could ruin his family's name. But the only way to stop her may be equally sordid—if far more pleasurable. For his rivals are intent on seducing the captivating woman to acquire the book. And Harrison isn't the sort to back away from a competition with the stakes this high. Now the winner will claim both the scandalous memoirs and the heart of their lovely owner. . .

"Warm, witty and wise." —Julia Quinn, New York Times bestselling author

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In bestseller Alexander's (The Perfect Wife) smashing stand-alone Regency, widowed Lady Julia Winterset decides to publish the manuscript of her great-grandmother's tell-all, The Perfect Mistress: The Memoirs of Lady Hermione Middlebury. Harrison Landingham, earl of Mountdale, appalled to learn that his father is named among Lady Hermione's conquests, tries fair means and foul to stop the book's publication, but Julia's determination is founded on both her need for money and the urgings of Lady Hermione's ghost. Pursued by an unscrupulous publisher and an idea-stealing author, Julia must figure out how to get the work published and appease her ancestor's spirit. Deftly written and full of fun, the quick-moving story includes clever excerpts from the memoir ("There is nothing as attractive in a man as effort, no matter how misguided"). A strong heroine, unexpected plot twists, and lively dialogue make this very close to a perfect read. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Caught between poverty and selling the rights to her great-grandmother's scandalous memoirs, Lady Julia Winterset suddenly finds herself at odds with Harrison Landingham, the Earl of Mountdale, the proper son of one of her great-grandmother's ex-lovers. There is no way that Harrison will allow the book, The Perfect Mistress, to be published (even though his elderly father is totally flattered and thinks it's just fine). Julia has little choice, so Harrison decides on a seductive plan of his own. VERDICT A hero caught between scandal and desire, a heroine desperate to stay solvent, and a flamboyant, freethinking ghost set the waters roiling in this lively, sensual Victorian romance. Another link in Alexander's growing chain of winners. Alexander (Desires of a Perfect Lady) lives in Omaha.

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Read an Excerpt

The Perfect Mistress

By Victoria Alexander


Copyright © 2011 Cheryl Griffin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4201-1705-9

Chapter One

London, 1885

"... and I would therefore be most delighted to publish your great-grandmother's memoirs." Benjamin Cadwallender's voice rang in Lady Julia Winterset's small parlor as if he were offering eternal salvation and choirs of celestial angels would appear at any moment to accompany his words.

She raised a brow. Eternal salvation was not what she sought from Cadwallender and Sons, Publishers but rather rescue of a more down-to-earth nature. Financial salvation as it were. "I must confess I am surprised, Mr. Cadwallender, that you would make such an offer on the basis of what little I allowed you to read. No more than a chapter if I recall."

"Yet what a chapter it was." He chuckled. "If the rest is even a fraction as interesting as what I have already read, The Perfect Mistress, the Memoirs of Lady Hermione Middlebury, shall be a rousing success."

Julia considered him. "Do you really think so?"

"Oh, I do indeed." He nodded vigorously. "I have mentioned this project, in a most discreet manner, mind you, to a few trusted colleagues and they concur. Do not underestimate the appetite of the public for works of this nature, especially if they are factual."

"By 'this nature' do you mean scandalous?"

"Well, yes, to an extent. But as Lady Middlebury has been dead these past thirty years, and the incidents she reveals are older yet, it is not nearly as disreputable as it might be if she were alive today and in the midst of—"

"Her adventures?" Julia said with a smile.

"Exactly." Mr. Cadwallender's handsome face flushed. "Admittedly, the writing itself is not as fine as Mr. Trollope's or Mr. Dickens's or even Mrs. Gaskell's or Mrs. Carik's but, as it is written in your ancestor's own words and in a remarkably engaging and enthusiastic style, a certain lack of polish can be overlooked. Particularly given the nature of the, er, adventures she relates."

"And you think it will sell well?"

"Lady Winterset." He lowered his voice in a conspiratorial manner. "Scandal sells books. I predict this will be a book that will be the subject of a great deal of discussion, which will only make those who haven't read it wish to do so."

"I see. How very interesting."

"And profitable," he said pointedly.

"That too," she murmured.

There was a time, not so long ago, when she would have considered the word profitable in a conversation somewhat distasteful. Proper ladies did not discuss matters of a profitable nature nor did they discuss finances with anyone other than their husbands. Indeed, if anyone had asked her before her husband's death three years ago, if she had a head for finances, aside from administering the household accounts, she would have laughed. But everything had changed since William's death. Thus far, she had managed to stretch the little savings her husband had left with frugal living and an eye toward a bargain. Nonetheless, if she did not take action soon, she would be penniless. She had far too many responsibilities to permit that to happen. Life had changed and so had she.

Three years ago, the eminently proper wife of Sir William Winterset would have been shocked at the very thought of making public her great-grandmother's scandalous remembrances, even if she had no idea of the work's existence until recently. The woman she had become was different, stronger hopefully, than the woman she had been. That woman was dependent upon her husband. This woman depended on no one but herself and would do what she must to survive. Even though she had not finished her reading of her great-grandmother's memoirs, what she had read thus far, as well as odd dreams triggered by her reading, convinced her that her great-grandmother would not only approve of Julia's plan but applaud it.

She drew a deep breath. "I assume you have a sum in mind for the rights of publication."

"I do indeed." Mr. Cadwallender pulled an envelope from his waistcoat pocket and placed it on the table between his chair and hers.

Julia picked up the envelope, pulled out the paper inside, unfolded it, and stared at the figure written in Mr. Cadwallender's precise hand. Her heart sank but she refused to let disappointment show on her face.

"That figure does not take into account continued royalties which I expect to be considerable," Mr. Cadwallender said quickly.

She refolded the paper and replaced it in the envelope. "It does strike me as rather meager, Mr. Cadwallender." She cast him her most pleasant smile. "For a book you expect to be a rousing success."

"Yes, well ..." Mr. Cadwallender shifted in his chair. "Might I be completely candid, Lady Winterset?"

"I expect nothing less."

"As well you should." Mr. Cadwallender paused, his brow furrowed. "My grandfather began the publication of Cadwallender's Weekly World Messenger nearly eighty years ago. When he began publishing books as well, he named the firm Cadwallender and Sons, overly optimistic as it turned out as he only had one son and several daughters. That son, my father, surpassed his father and sired six sons as well as two daughters. My two older brothers, myself, and my next younger brother joined in the family business as was expected." He directed her a firm look. "Do you have any idea what it's like to be in the position of a middle son in both one's family and one's business?"

"No idea at all. I imagine it could be somewhat awkward."

"Somewhat? Hah!" He snorted and rose to his feet to pace the room. "My voice is heard only after my father and my two older brothers have had their say. I am consistently overruled in any matter in which my opinion differs from theirs. My ideas are scarcely ever considered." He paused in midstep and met her gaze. "And I have ideas, Lady Winterset. Excellent ideas. The world is changing. We are a scant fifteen years from the dawn of a new century. Progress is in the air and we must seize the opportunities for change and advancement. Don't you agree?"

"Yes, I would think so," she said cautiously.

He stared at her for a moment then recovered his senses. "My apologies. I should not allow myself to be carried away in this manner.

"Nonsense, Mr. Cadwallender. There is no need to apologize for the passion of one's convictions." She smiled. "But I fear I don't see what this has to do with my great-grandmother's book."

"Lady Winterset." Mr. Cadwallender retook his seat and met her gaze with a fervor akin to that of a missionary converting heathens. "I think this book will be a very great success. The sort of success publishing houses are built upon. That establishes a publisher as a legitimate force in the market."

"I don't understand." She pulled her brows together. "As you mentioned, Cadwallender and Sons has been in business for a very long time. Its reputation is well known."

"It is indeed. However, the reputation of Cadwallender Brothers Publishing has yet to be established." He grimaced. "Not unexpected as the company has yet to publish a single book."

She shook her head. "I still don't—"

"My younger brother and I have started our own firm. We have experience, funding, and investors confident of our future. Neither of us are averse to the hard work that lies ahead and I have no doubt as to our ultimate success." He met her gaze. "I would very much like The Perfect Mistress to be our first offering."

"I see." She studied him for a moment. "You're going to compete against your father?"

"My father has decided to turn over the management of the company to my brothers. I do not wish to spend the rest of my life engaged in battles I cannot win. Furthermore, the publishing of books is of far less importance to them than the Messenger, which has always been the primary focus of the firm. My brothers are intent upon launching additional publications as well." He squared his shoulders. "I do not see this as competition as much as the development and expansion of a field they have little interest in. A field, I think, that is the way of the future."

"Your enthusiasm is commendable, however—"

A knock sounded at the door and immediately it opened.

"Beg pardon, my lady," her butler, Daniels, said with his usual air of cool competence. "Lady Smithson and Lady Redwell have arrived."

"Oh dear." She glanced at the ormolu clock on the overmantel. "I didn't realize the time." She rose to her feet, the publisher immediately following suit. "Mr. Cadwallender, my initial inquiry was predicated on the upstanding reputation of Cadwallender and Sons. I am not at all certain I have the ... the courage required to trust the fate of this book to a new venture. I fear, therefore, I shall have to query another publisher and—"

"Lady Winterset." Mr. Cadwallender clasped her hand in his and met her gaze directly. "I beg you not to make a hasty decision. Please give me the opportunity to further plead my case. I assure you, you will not regret it."

She stared into his earnest, hazel eyes. Very nice eyes really that struck her as quite trustworthy, even if that might be due as much to his fervor as anything else. Still, there was no need to make a decision today.

"Very well, Mr. Cadwallender." She smiled and withdrew her hand. "I shall give your proposal due consideration."

"Thank you," he said with relief. "Perhaps I can arrange for a higher advance as well. May I call on you again in a day or two to discuss it further?"

"Of course."

"Again, you have my gratitude." He smiled and his eyes lit with pleasure, very nice eyes in a more than ordinarily handsome face. "I am confident, Lady Winterset, this is the beginning of a profitable relationship for us both." With that, he nodded and took his leave, offering a polite bow of greeting to her friends who entered the parlor as he left.

"I can see why you are late," Veronica, Lady Smithson, said in a wry manner, her gaze following the publisher. "I would certainly forgo tea with my friends for a liaison with a man like that."

"It was not a liaison," Julia said firmly.

"Still, he is quite dashing, isn't he?" Portia, Lady Redwell, craned her neck to see past the parlor door and into the entry hall. "If one likes fair hair and broad shoulders ..." Her gaze jerked back to the other women, a telltale blush washing over her face. "Not that I do. Although, of course, what woman wouldn't? That is to say ..." She raised her chin. "One can appreciate art without being in the market for a painting. That's what I meant."

"Yes, of course you did," Veronica said in an absent manner, her attention again on Julia, much to Portia's obvious relief.

Of the three widows, Portia was the most concerned with propriety. Veronica had, on more than one occasion, observed privately that it was those who walked the narrowest paths that were the most likely to plunge over a cliff when the opportunity presented itself. Fortunately for Portia, or unfortunately in Veronica's view, Portia had yet to so much as peer over the edge of a cliff.

For that matter, neither had Julia. But she had discovered a great deal about herself since her husband's death. Her character was far stronger than she had imagined. One did what one had to do to survive in this world. As for propriety, while she had always considered herself most proper in both behavior and manner, it was no longer as important as it once was.

"If it wasn't a liaison," Veronica continued, "which, I might add, is a very great pity as surely Portia agrees, given that she is an excellent judge of art ..." Portia offered her friends a weak smile. "Who was he and what sort of profitable relationship is he confident about?"

Julia narrowed her eyes. "How much of the conversation did you hear?"

"Not nearly enough." Veronica breezed farther into the room, settled on the sofa, and began taking off her gloves. "You should call for tea."

"I thought we were to have tea at Fenwick's?" Julia said slowly.

"We were." Portia moved past Julia and seated herself beside Veronica. The three women had first met several years ago at the reading room at Fenwick and Sons Booksellers, which did seem to attract young widows who had little else to occupy their time. Indeed, it had become something of a unofficial club for ladies, as well as the home of the loosely organized Ladies Literary Society. It was Veronica who had suggested to the elder Mr. Fenwick or perhaps one of the sons—as they were all of an indeterminate age, somewhat interchangeable, and nearly impossible to tell apart—that the reading room could prove profitable by simply offering refreshments. Although Veronica had never admitted it, Julia suspected her suggestion had carried with it financial incentive. It would not surprise Julia to learn Veronica was now a part owner of Fenwick and Sons. "But you failed to appear at the appointed time."

Julia glanced at the clock. "I am scarcely half an hour late."

"Yes, but while Veronica and I are rarely on time, you are always punctual." Portia pinned her with a firm look. "Your note said you had something of importance to discuss. When you did not appear, we were naturally concerned."

Julia folded her arms over her chest. "You were naturally curious."

"Regardless." Veronica studied her closely. "It was concern that compelled us to fly to your rescue." She raised a brow. "Tea?"

"Of course," Julia murmured and stepped out of the room to direct Daniels to have tea prepared. She would have much preferred to have had refreshments at Fenwick's rather than here. It wasn't that she did not like her modest home, it was simply not as grand as either Portia's or Veronica's. As such it pointed out the vast differences between her life and that of her friends. Now, as she often had in the past, she marveled that they had become friends at all.

At first it seemed the three women had nothing in common save that they were all of a similar age and their respective widowhoods had begun at very nearly the same time. Veronica's husband had been involved in the sort of financial dealings open only to those of great family wealth. Portia's had been a literary sort, something of a scholar from what she had said. And Julia's husband had been engaged in the practice of law. Three years ago, their husbands had died within months of each other of accident or illness or mishap. That they had forged a true friendship was attributable only to the whims of fate and perhaps the fact that they had met at a time when each needed a friend who was neither a relation nor considered them an obligation. And now they had come to rescue her.

Julia fetched her great-grandmother's manuscript from the library and returned to the parlor. She took a seat, keeping the memoirs on her lap. "This is what I wished to discuss with you."

Veronica eyed the stack of papers curiously. "And what, may I ask, is it?"

Portia sniffed. "It doesn't look very interesting."

"Appearances, my dear Portia, are often deceiving." Julia drew a deep breath. "Do you recall my telling you that my grandmother's brother died oh, about six months ago?"

Portia brightened. "And you have at last received an inheritance? Monies that will allow you to take care of the responsibilities that should have rightfully been his?"

"Yes, and no." Julia shook her head. "His property went to a relative so distant I was not even aware of his existence. As for money, well, it seems he had none to speak of."

"Of course not." Portia's expression hardened. "Vile creature." Portia could not understand a family not caring for its own. Her parents had died when she was very young and her aunt and uncle had taken her in.

"This"—Julia laid her hand on the manuscript—"is my inheritance. It was left to my mother by my greatgrandmother. For reasons unknown to me, although I have my suspicions, my great-uncle kept it in his possession."

"And now that it is rightfully yours, what—" Veronica paused to allow a maid to enter with a tea cart then take her leave. She waited until the door closed to continue. "Now, what is it?"

"These are my great-grandmother's memoirs."

Portia sighed with disappointment. "Oh yes, that is interesting."

"Julia, dear," Veronica eyed her thoughtfully. "Who was your great-grandmother?"

"Lady Hermione Middlebury." Julia held her breath.

"Oh my," Veronica murmured. "That is interesting."

"Why?" Portia's impatient gaze slid from one woman to the other.

Veronica chose her words with care. "Is this the same Lady Middlebury who was reputedly the mistress of—"

Julia nodded. "Yes."

"And involved in the scandal surrounding the prince of—"

"That too." Julia winced.

"And the rather infamous incident with a prime min—"

"Yes, yes, all of that." Julia waved away Veronica's words.


Excerpted from The Perfect Mistress by Victoria Alexander Copyright © 2011 by Cheryl Griffin. 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.


Meet the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Victoria Alexander was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered her love for fiction. Since the publication of her first book in 1995, she has written 24 full-length novels and six novellas. With books translated into a dozen different languages, she has readers around the world and has twice been nominated for Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA award. Victoria is now settled in Omaha, Nebraska, with her family.

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Perfect Mistress 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 210 reviews.
Irene_M More than 1 year ago
After 3 years of widowhood, the little money her husband left Lady Julia Winterset is fast dwindling down to nothing, but when her uncle dies she's given an opportunity for salvation in the form a diary containing her great-grandmother, Lady Hermione Middlebury's shocking memoirs... Now to save herself and her elderly grandmother from financial ruin, Julia's resolved to ignore convention and polite society and have the scandalous memoirs published. She's been assured that scandal does, indeed, sell a lot of books. So she's quite determined to sell the memoirs, even if those memoirs would reveal wickedly naughty indiscretions and the intimate details of her great-grandmother's affairs with various gentlemen. Secrets, perhaps, best left untold and allowed to remain in the past, but what other choice does she have?..... When the pompous and haughty Earl of Mountdale comes to her and dares tell her she can't publish the shamefully outrageous book because the memoirs included details of his now 76 year old father's amorous dalliances with the lady in question, and insists she sell it to him so he can destroy it. He angers Julia and she flatly refuses..... But Harrison vows he won't allow scandal to touch his family name, and he'll use every weapon at his disposal to stop the book from being published. If he can't buy it outright from Lady Winterset or charm it out of her, he'll just have to come up with another brilliant plan..... *****Harrison and Julia will soon discover LOVE is what sometimes happens while you're busy making other plans. *****One of the things I've always loved about reading New York Times Bestselling author Victoria Alexander's novels is that I know tantalizing romance and wonderful humor will go hand in hand; and I can always count on her stories to lift my spirits and make me smile. Her latest novel, THE PERFECT MISTRESS, the delightful first book in her new series called The Mistress Trio, was no exception... Fans old and new will be sure to enjoy this enchanting tale. If you love clever and witty verbal sparring and an enticing build up of sensual tension between the hero and heroine, as I do, then you will love this story because no one does that better than Ms. Alexander. Her writing was fast paced, smooth, sharp, and funny, and storyline was painstakingly plotted with several surprising twists and turns that made for a thoroughly engaging, imaginative, and refreshingly creative book. The hint of paranormal, I felt, was a charming addition to the story and the nocturnal visits from the charismatic and completely irresistible Lady Hermione, the friendly ghost, and her captivating entourage of spirit escorts made the story fun and quite different from your average historical romance... I loved how the story explored several different themes: second chances at Love and to make amends, strong family ties, the powerful bonds of friendship and the possibility of spirits and Guardian Angels among us, in an entertaining, and yet, thoughtful, positive and effective manner. The closeness, sincere camaraderie and gentle teasing shared between the widows Julia, Veronica and Portia was heartwarming and a pleasure to read. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series... The Perfect Mistress is a tale well told and a wonderfully engaging novel. It's Victoria Alexander at her most delightful and wittiest, and lighthearted Historical Romance storytelling at its very finest.
JHines More than 1 year ago
Almost every page has a name with a hyphen between two syllables in the middle of a line but it's almost never the same name. Whatever software produced the epub is smart enough not to hyphenate regular words but not smart enough to not hyphenate names. Sigh!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hated this book. I just kept waiting for it to be over. The hero was very unlikible. Besides when they kiss i never felt any romance. Dont waste money on this one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have a new author to add to my list of favorites. It was an interesting story, regardless of the e-publication's errors which aren't the writer's (or story content's) fault. There were some true laugh-out-loud comments and some touching reminders that we all need to keep in mind when dealing with love.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Perfect Mistress has several funny entertaining sections. I liked the close friendship and support between the three intelligent widowed females. The plot was interesting, but definitely not new to this genre. The primary male characters are one good but boring man, one morally and ethically corrupt man, and one confused, moral and ethical man who falls in love with the heroine. As a side note his father's is able to reunite with the love of his life who disappeared thirty years ago. The other reviews are correct in that sections of this story are boring and drag on. Skim over those fast and the rest is entertaining. I hope there are stories planned about the two widowed friends. I look forward to reading them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GypsyPA More than 1 year ago
I like this author and would buy other books written by Victoria Alexander. Text was very interesting with a combination of past and present. Story kept my interest and was easy to finish.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great book!! It is witty, fun, and had a perfect message. That life is too short and to live it with no regrets. I look forward to reading more from this author!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thankfully this was not a purchase, but was lent to me. I have been plodding along through it, waiting for the story to be interesting, but with a hundred pages left, I'm giving up.