From the Publisher
"Michaels' forte is spinning not one or two tales, but three charming romances into one novel... 4 Stars" - RT Book Reviews
"This was a thoroughly delightful story packed with action and romance." - Yankee Romance Reveiwers
"Charming... an intriguing and absorbing romantic tale." - Library Journal
"A nice light read. Leigh Michaels is a wonderful author." - Sexy Women Read
"Funny and sad situations, witty and pointed dialog, and a quick pace keep us turning the pages until the end." - Historical Hilarity
"A lovely book..." - Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
"Engaging and full of spunk." - My Book Addiction and More
"Leigh Michaels is a master storyteller." - Debbie's Book Bag
"A delightfully sexy novel with a cast of characters that you just have to love." - Celtic Lady's Reviews
"Flawless... hot enough to singe your fingers." - The Long and Short of It Reviews
RT Book Reviews
Michaels' forte is spinning not one or two tales, but three charming romances into one novel... 4 Stars
Yankee Romance Reveiwers
This was a thoroughly delightful story packed with action and romance.
Sexy Women Read
A nice light read. Leigh Michaels is a wonderful author.
Funny and sad situations, witty and pointed dialog, and a quick pace keep us turning the pages until the end.
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
A lovely book...
My Book Addiction and More
Engaging and full of spunk.
Debbie's Book Bag
Leigh Michaels is a master storyteller.
Celtic Lady's Reviews
A delightfully sexy novel with a cast of characters that you just have to love.
The Long and Short of It Reviews
Flawless... hot enough to singe your fingers.
Read an Excerpt
When the heavy brass knocker fell against the front door, the crash echoed through the cottage. Olivia ignored it. She wasn't expecting callers; she wasn't prepared for callers; and she didn't want to greet callers.
But barely half a minute later, the knocker dropped once more. She abandoned the bread dough she'd been kneading and wiped her hands on her apron. The baking was late already, and this interruption wasn't going to help.
As she crossed the narrow hall, she noticed a dusting of flour on her blue muslin skirt and brushed feebly at it, but she managed only to make the smear look worse.
The man waiting on the doorstep was short, stout, and past middle-aged. His face was red, as if the warmth of the day was too much for him, or perhaps his neckcloth was just too tight. He looked astounded to see her there. "Lady Reyne, where are your servants today?"
All two of them? Olivia wanted to answer. But she didn't think Sir Jasper Folsom really wished to know that this was the housemaid's weekly afternoon out or that Nurse was upstairs putting Charlotte down for her nap. And since he hadn't asked about Kate Blakely, who was Olivia's guest, she felt no need to explain that Kate had gone to call at the vicarage.
At any rate, Sir Jasper was Olivia's landlord, not her keeper, so she didn't feel obliged to tell him why she was the only one available to answer her door in the middle of a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
She smiled vaguely. "I find it terribly boring to sit and be waited on, Sir Jasper."
"You are a most unusual lady, ma'am. I have come to collect the next quarter's rent."
"Of course." Olivia hesitated and then stepped back. Better, she thought, not to have this conversation on the doorstep. "Would you care to come inside?"
He looked startled at the invitation, though an instant later he had masked the expression. He bowed and followed her into the tiny parlor, where the single window stood open and a fire had been freshly laid, ready to light in case the evening should turn cool.
Sir Jasper took off his hat and looked around the room. "Quite delightful."
Threadbare was the word Olivia would have used for the furnishings Sir Jasper had supplied along with the cottage, but she supposed there was a certain cozy charm about the mismatched chairs and the way personal items-a smock she was hemming for Charlotte, a shawl Kate had started knitting last night-were sprinkled around.
Don't be so snobbish, she told herself. The cottage wasn't grand, but it was home in a way that her previous residence had never been, and she was grateful to Sir Jasper for offering it at a rent she could afford.
At least, she had been able to afford the rent until now. She braced herself to tell him that at this moment she could not pay the entire amount she owed, but she found she couldn't come straight out with it.
"I don't keep ale in the house," Olivia said, "since we do not as a rule have gentleman callers. But I can offer you tea."
Sir Jasper smiled, displaying yellowing teeth. "That would be most welcome, my lady."
Olivia escaped to the kitchen and made the tea, rehearsing her speech under her breath as she waited for the tea to steep.
When she returned to the parlor with the tray, Sir Jasper turned from his inspection of a perfectly hideous sampler that was hanging on the wall. His gaze flicked over her a little more closely than was proper, and he smiled widely.
Olivia felt a flicker of alarm. Surely he hadn't interpreted her comment as evidence that she regarded him as a gentleman caller, rather than simply as the landlord...?
"I see you appreciate my mother's needlework," he said.
Olivia had found the sampler wadded in a cupboard when she moved in, and she had hung it only because it was large enough to cover a badly stained spot on the wall. But she lied without a qualm. "I was delighted to add it to the everyday view from my favorite chair. If you could clear a corner of the table, Sir Jasper-I do beg your pardon for having to ask."
"Not at all, my lady. With your servants away, I am happy to assist." He moved a book, a half-written letter, and Kate's as-yet-unrecognizable shawl out of Olivia's way so she could set down the tray.
Olivia poured the tea and drew a breath to begin explaining.
Sir Jasper sipped. "I'm sure you're excited by the news. The entire countryside is agog."
"What news?" She was almost relieved to be interrupted, though also surprised. Rarely did anything worthy of comment happen in Steadham; Olivia found the quiet to be one of the village's greatest attractions.
"The wedding, of course. Lady Daphne's wedding." He looked startled when she didn't react. "You did not receive an invitation? I would have thought... The festivities are to be held here. At Halstead, to be precise."
Halstead-one of the few country houses in England that had only one name, as if the single word made it clear to any audience what was being discussed. The country seat of the Duke of Somervale, the manor house at Halstead lay less than a mile from the village if one walked across the fields and the park. But the estate was so large and self-contained that when the family was not in residence, it was easy for the villagers to forget the manor lay so close by.
In the months since she had arrived in Steadham village, Olivia had seen Halstead only from a distance. Apparently that wasn't going to change in the foreseeable future. But then, she would have expected nothing else.
Sir Jasper went on, "The wedding itself is to be in the village church, I understand."
He understood? Then Sir Jasper must not have received an invitation, either. That surprised Olivia much more than the fact she had not been included on the guest list-for though Sir Jasper was a mere baronet, he must have been a neighbor of the Somervale family for years.
"I felt sure you would be invited," he mused. "As the widow of an earl... but the duchess is even higher in the instep than I believed."
"It's hardly a snub for me not to be included, Sir Jasper. So far as I am aware, I have never met any of the family, and I doubt the duchess even knows I've taken up residence in the neighborhood." Or would care in the slightest, if she knew.
Sir Jasper's face had tightened as if the mere mention of a snub had made his own exclusion sting more.
So Olivia hurried on. "Perhaps it's a very small wedding-just the family."
"A small wedding? For one of the Somervales? That family doesn't know the meaning of the word."
The firm click of the empty cup as he set it down made Olivia fear for her mother's china; she had managed to save fewer than a dozen good pieces as it was.
"But perhaps you are correct," Sir Jasper went on. "Now I must continue my rounds. The rent, Lady Reyne?"
Olivia's fingers trembled as she took her reticule from under the smock in her sewing basket and opened it. "I can give you half of the rent today, Sir Jasper, but I'm not able to pay for the entire three months right now. I had hoped to make an agreement in regard to the remainder."
He was silent for so long that the rattle of a carriage wheel in the road outside the parlor window seemed to echo through the room. "What sort of agreement did you have in mind?" His tone was low and suggestive.
Dread trickled down her spine, but Olivia kept her voice level. "I shall be able to give you the remainder at the beginning of next month."
He sniffed. "And I'm to simply take your promise for that, I suppose."
"I am not accustomed to having my word questioned, Sir Jasper. In any case, I would still be paying in advance-just not quite as far ahead as before."
"And then I suppose you plan to continue this practice month after month? I'm not accustomed to waiting for what is owed to me, my lady. What's the difficulty, anyway?"