Ana María and The Fox

Ana María and The Fox

by Liana De la Rosa
Ana María and The Fox

Ana María and The Fox

by Liana De la Rosa

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Overview

"Pleasingly subversive."—New York Times Book Review

One of Library Journal's Best Romances of 2023!
A BookList Editor's Pick of 2023!

A forbidden love between a Mexican heiress and a shrewd British politician makes for a tantalizing Victorian season.

 
Ana María Luna Valdés has strived to be the perfect daughter, the perfect niece, and the perfect representative of the powerful Luna family. So when Ana María is secretly sent to London with her sisters to seek refuge from the French occupation of Mexico, she experiences her first taste of freedom far from the judgmental eyes of her domineering father. If only she could ignore the piercing looks she receives across ballroom floors from the austere Mr. Fox.
 
Gideon Fox elevated himself from the London gutters by chasing his burning desire for more: more opportunities, more choices. For everyone. Now, as a member of Parliament, Gideon is on the cusp of securing the votes he needs to put forth a measure to abolish the Atlantic slave trade once and for all—a cause that is close to his heart as the grandson of a formerly enslaved woman. The charmingly vexing Ana María is a distraction he must ignore.
 
But when Ana María finds herself in the crosshairs of a nefarious nobleman with his own political agenda, Gideon knows he must offer his hand as protection . . . but will this Mexican heiress win his heart as well?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593440889
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/04/2023
Series: The Luna Sisters , #1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 200,055
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Liana De la Rosa is a historical romance author who writes diverse characters in the Regency and Victorian periods. Liana is a graduate of the University of Arizona, and in her past life she owned a mystery shopping company and sold pecans for a large farm. When she’s not writing, Liana is listening to true crime podcasts and pretending she's a domestic goddess while she wrangles her spirited brood of children with her patient husband in Arizona.

Read an Excerpt

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1

London: July, 1863

The wind was relentless. It ripped at her once neat coiffure, whipping strands of black hair against her face, the sting bringing tears to her eyes. It was the most frigid of welcomes.

Ana María wrapped her cloak tighter about her shoulders, burying her chin and cheeks in the warmth of the high collar. She glanced first one way and then the other, her eyes straining to see something—someone—who clearly wasn’t there. Where was he?

“Qué feo,” Gabriela—Gabby—muttered, her blue-­tinged lips curling as she surveyed the neighborhood surrounding the docks. “Isn’t England supposed to be green? I didn’t expect London to be quite so . . . so gray.”

Neither had she. Ana María sighed as she took in the coal-­choked fog that clung to the docks like the arms of an illicit lover, doing its best to mask the filth and grime of the city. Yet the somber reality of their new home was apparent. The narrow buildings lining the wharf were worn and dilapidated, their brick facades stained gray by generations of coal dust. From her vantage point, she could make out piles of debris and refuse that littered the cobblestoned street, her stomach turning when she spied rats darting among the rubbish, fighting for scraps. Ana María ducked her head at the near constant stream of seagulls swooping down from above, their squawking grating her nerves like an out-­of-­tune pianoforte.

Discreetly shielding her nose with her hand, she inhaled the crisp leather scent of her gloves, thankful it smothered the acrid stench that wafted about her, a foul blend of the sea and human misery.

“Surely we’ll encounter more green the farther we venture into the city,” she murmured, ignoring her youngest sister’s sniff of disbelief.

Of the three Luna sisters, Gabby was taking their exile the hardest, her lavish complaints grating on even Ana María’s nerves. And Our Lady of Guadalupe knew there were no more difficult people than her sisters.

“Where do you think Tío Arturo is?”

Ana María struggled to keep the frown off her lips. “I don’t know.”

“Rather rude of him, isn’t it?” Gabby peered around Ana María, her pretty features darkening. “It’s not like our ship was delayed by a storm and we were pushed off course. The ship docked on the stated date, at the stated time printed on our tickets. He should be here.”

He absolutely should have been, and Ana María sympathized with her sister’s frustration. Two months at sea—first in a small skiff that delivered them from Veracruz in the black of night, then in a packet ship that stopped at Santo Domingo, followed by the very freighter they had just disembarked— had tested all of their resilience. Having been raised in wealth and relative ease, the sisters had struggled to share one small cabin, their sleep often interrupted by cries of alarm when the ship lurched and wobbled on the waves. Packed away were their extravagant day dresses and ball gowns, replaced by unassuming gray and brown calico and wool skirts. While unattractive, the simple dresses had kept them warm the farther the ship sailed north into the Atlantic.

But more so than trading in their affluence for anonymity, it was the forced proximity that had proved the most trying for the sisters. For they were not close. Constantly competing for scraps of affection and attention from their father had made them more antagonists than bosom friends, and the long journey had done little to soften the edges of their animosity for one another.

That their uncle was late to collect them after such an arduous journey was a sour conclusion instead of a promising beginning.

Biting back a sigh, Ana María laid a hand on Gabby’s arm. “He should be here, but he’s not. So I’m going to speak with the captain about hiring a carriage or hansom to deliver us to him instead.”

“That’s a good idea.” Gabby tilted her head. “Would you like me to go with you?”

“No,” she blurted, pressing her lips together as her sister narrowed her eyes. “I would rather you stay with Isabel. You know how taxing the voyage was on her.”

They turned in tandem to where their sister sat among the stacks of their luggage, a book spread open in her lap. Her normally rich golden skin was drawn, and dark circles made her brown eyes appear sunken and hollow. The lurch and roll of the sea had caused Isabel to spend days on end huddled in their sparse cabin, sick and miserable, and they’d been shaken to see their poised sister so listless.

“Even at her sickest, she wanted to read a book.” Snorting, Gabby shook her head. “I’ll never understand it.”

“They’re her escape.”

As the studious, bluestocking sister, Isabel had shown herself to be happy only when surrounded by the written word. She had insisted on bringing a satchel full of books with her on the voyage, something that had initially annoyed Ana María, for their quarters were tight. Yet Isabel’s collection had come to entertain them these long days at sea.

And though she would never admit it, Ana María had long resented the refuge books granted Isabel. As the eldest, Ana María had been held to completely different edicts than either of her sisters.

Ana María blinked such thoughts away. She had committed herself to leaving her old grudges—and unrelenting bitterness— ­on Mexico’s shores. This was her chance to truly know her sisters and improve their relationships in ways their father had worked to undermine.

“I suppose I’ll go wait with Isabel, then.” Gabby sighed. “Reading one of her books is better than pacing the dock.”

Ana María watched as her temperamental sister plopped down on a trunk next to Isabel. Pivoting, she glanced up the road again, willing her uncle’s conveyance to rumble into view. She was not surprised when it did not happen.

Nibbling on the inside of her cheek, Ana María darted her gaze about as she pondered what to do next. There were a few hansom cabs parked along the docks not far away, but she hesitated. She had a hastily scribbled address for their tío Arturo in her reticule, information she had stumbled upon quite by accident when she had been rifling through the post one sunny morning. Ana María had recorded the direction, determined she and her sisters would not be dependent upon their father to convey them to safety.

It would appear she had been wise to do so.

Lifting her chin, Ana María darted her gaze to and fro in search of the captain. The older gentleman had been polite to them throughout the voyage, often asking after their health and offering them a cordial greeting. Ana María hoped a bit of that courtesy would make him willing to assist her now.

A gust of wind whipped off the sea then, and she fought back a shiver. A deep wave of homesickness engulfed her, and she blinked back tears. Ana María missed the warm sun on her skin, the taste of a tortilla fresh off the comal, the soft melodies her tía Susana coaxed from her guitarra on balmy summer nights. She ached for the feel of her mother’s fingers threading through her hair, her nails scouring her scalp and soothing her anxieties.

Biting her lip, Ana María could admit now, with time and distance away from Mexico, that she even missed Fernando, her fiancé . . . or at least the aloof, efficient way he’d always seen to her welfare. Fernando would have secured a carriage for them by now, unwilling to let her and her sisters experience any discomfort.

But he was not here, and she had to secure their safety and comfort on her own.

Ana María paused to watch a group of sailors unloading cargo from the belly of the ship and carry it down the gangplank to be loaded onto wagons waiting nearby, the horses stomping their hooves in impatience. Perhaps the captain was among them—

And that was when she heard it. Shouts. Voices raised in anger. Gabby’s incensed shriek. Her stomach sank like a steel anchor.

Gathering up her skirts, Ana María ran back the way she’d come, panic nearly choking her. The thudding of her boots on the wooden planks could not drown out the thundering of her racing heart.

They had escaped imminent danger when they’d fled Mexico City in the dead of night, with only the moonlight to illuminate their path, their gowns and corsets weighted with family treasures their maids had carefully stitched into the linings. But that fear could not compare to the terror coursing through her veins at the thought of Isabel and Gabby being injured by some unknown assailant, and so very far from home.

Gasping for breath in her too-­tight corset, she finally saw them. Her sisters staring down a group of two—no, three— men. The fiends were attempting to flank them, but they didn’t know their would-­be victims. Isabel and Gabby were brandishing their hatpins like they were teputzopilli, their faces twisted in outrage. As she drew closer, Ana María could make out some of what Gabby said.

“I will stab you if you take one more step, pendejo,” she growled, the words vibrating around her clenched teeth.

The man on her right, his grime-­coated hand curled into a fist, inched closer. “You’re a feisty kitten, aren’t you, love?” His chuckle was a grating sound. “But do you know what we do to kittens who get in the way?”

Not waiting for a response, the man in the middle lurched forward and swiped his hand to knock Isabel’s pin away. But her sister was fast, and Isabel jabbed the fiend in the fleshy part of his forearm, dashing back with large eyes as the man howled in pain. The other man darted at Isabel, his hand raised as if to strike her.

“No!” The shout burst from Ana María as she sprinted toward them, reaching to pluck her own hatpin free as she did.

The cutthroats spun about, their expressions morphing from amusement to concern in the span of a moment. That was when Ana María noted the rapid footfalls pounding on the walk behind her. She whipped her head about over her shoulder, her mouth gaping when two burly men, who looked like they had just left a pugilist ring, barreled past her, their stern attentions fixed on the villains attacking her sisters. Before Ana María had even processed what was happening, one cutthroat was in the water, struggling to swim back to shore, while the other two had scampered away like the vermin they were.

“Are you hurt?” Ana María demanded when she reached Isabel, inspecting her hands for injuries.

“I’m fine,” Isabel murmured, squeezing her fingers before stepping away.

Ana María blinked, a bit startled by her sister’s composure. Mindful Isabel would not take kindly to her hovering, she pivoted to Gabby, who was in conversation with one of their rescuers. Only now that the adrenaline of the moment had begun to fade did Ana María realize the men wore the crisply tailored livery of footmen.

She approached, offering them a smile of gratitude. “I can’t thank you both enough for your assistance.” Ana María swept her gaze to include the other man, who hovered behind.

“It was nothing, miss.” The man dipped his head. “I was just telling Miss Gabriela that we will get your trunks loaded up in the carriage and you don’t have to worry about those wretches returning.”

A frown puckered her brow. “What carriage?”

“Right there, miss.” He jerked with his chin at a spot behind her. “Your uncle, Mr. Valdés, awaits you.”

Ana María whirled about, her gaze landing on a sleek black carriage sitting at the end of the dock.

“Do you think it’s really him?” Gabby whispered, moving closer to her side.

She didn’t have a reason to doubt the footman’s word, as he had saved them from whatever fate those thieves had planned for them. Yet cautiousness made her hesitate.

“Let’s walk over together and determine whether it’s truly him,” Isabel suggested from her opposite side.

Ana María pressed her lips together when she saw how Isabel gripped her hatpin tighter. “Yes, let’s.”

Silent and somber, the sisters walked side by side in the direction of the carriage, their steps a metronome that harmonized with her heartbeat. When they were almost upon the conveyance, the door swung open and a figure appeared in the doorway. He was thin but fit, his black hair peppered liberally with gray. Grooves in his tawny complexion bracketed his mouth, and liberal lines branched from the corners of his eyes. And those eyes . . . they were their mother’s. A striated greenish brown that Ana María had always thought the loveliest eye color imaginable.

“Tío Arturo?” she whispered.

His weathered face crinkled into a dashing smile. Ana María liked him immediately.

“Mis sobrinas hermosas! I apologize for my tardiness but am very happy to finally meet you.”

Without hesitation, their uncle grasped first Gabby, and then Isabel, by the hands, kissing their cheeks while they exchanged introductions.

“And you must be Ana María,” he murmured as he turned to her, his warm hands enfolding hers. “Your sister Gabriela is the spitting image of your mother as a girl, but you have her spirit. Puedo ver a mi hermana en tus ojos.”

Ana María thought she may have smiled, but she couldn’t be sure. All the air had been siphoned from her lungs, leaving a yawning emptiness inside of her. She adored her mother, but was she truly like her? Always acquiescing? Always striving to make others happy at the expense of her own happiness? Always enduring heartbr—

“Let us leave this foul place,” Tío Arturo said, sweeping his hand toward the door of the conveyance.

The footmen had stored their belongings, and there was no reason to stay. Climbing into the carriage, Ana María settled next to Isabel and pondered their new life in London—her new life. It was poised to begin and she was happy for it.

Truly she was. And yet the past still cleaved to her, and her happiness was like the fog that floated above the waves; eventually it would burn away and reveal the turbulent, murky depths beneath.

Sometime later, Ana María sat nestled between her sisters on a sofa in a home that she quickly realized was not her tío Arturo’s. An older woman greeted them upon their arrival, politely offering them tea with a big smile and a critical gaze. She was lovely, with graying curls and cornflower-­blue eyes framed by long, dark lashes. The exquisite cut of her gown, the delicate Spanish lace that lined her bodice, and the tasteful elegance of her home were a testament to her wealth. The tilted angle of her jaw spoke of good breeding.

Who was she, and why had their uncle brought them here instead of to his own home?

As if understanding their confusion, Tío Arturo placed his teacup down on the walnut-­wood table at his elbow and gestured to the woman where she sat in an upholstered Morris chair next to him. “I’m sure you have many questions, but first allow me to introduce the Viscountess Yardley. Her ladyship’s late husband was a friend of mine, and she has agreed to be your guardian during your time in London.”

An uncomfortable silence rang loudly in the room. Surprisingly, it was Isabel to break it. “Our guardian? Will we . . . not be staying with you?”

“You will not.” Tío Arturo drummed his fingers on the armrest as he considered them. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to not reveal your identities as my nieces. We hope to conceal your close connection to the Juárez government.”

Ana María frowned, and looked to her sisters, who appeared just as baffled.

“In addition,” Tío Arturo said, “we thought it would be more proper for you to be chaperoned by a well-­respected member of society who could vouch for your wealth and consequence, and Lady Yardley is all that is respectable.”

“So . . . who will the public believe us to be?” Gabby asked, her brow pulled low.

“You three will be wealthy Mexican ladies seeking refuge from the French occupation. There will be no reason for anyone to investigate your background . . . unless you plan to marry an English gentleman, I suppose.”

Ana María exchanged a glance with her sisters, but Gabby’s loud snort adequately summed up their collective feelings about that.

Their uncle flourished a hand. “Your parents appealed to me, as Mexican ambassador, for assistance, and in turn I asked Lady Yardley to sponsor you. Because she is gracious and kind, she agreed.”

The viscountess nodded in agreement.

Tío Arturo continued, “Since I will not always be available to accompany you to social events, her ladyship will guide you through your stay in London and will ensure your time here is used wisely.”

Ana María quirked her head. “ ‘Used wisely’? What do you mean?”

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