Most women would not be pleased to be labeled a spinster. But Lady Poppy Smith-Barnes isn't most women. In fact, Poppy has invented an imaginary fiancé, the Duke of Drummond, to deter unwanted suitors. A very useful fellow, this duke, until the real Drummond turns up and uses Poppy's ploy to trap her in a betrothal.
A good spy flies below the radar. Which is why being named one of the Prince Regent's "Impossible Bachelors" is so inconvenient for Nicholas Staunton. Every society female will be out to ensnare him. Nicholas needs a fiancée—and Poppy's ruse is the answer. How could he have known she'd be a brazen, sensual siren with an irresistible taste for adventure? Now nothing less will do than to convince his fiery Poppy to revoke her spinster status…for good.
About the Author
USA Today best-selling author and double-Rita finalist Kieran Kramer writes Regency historical romances for St. Martin's Press. IF YOU GIVE A GIRL A VISCOUNT, the fourth and last book in her Impossible Bachelors series, is on sale now. Her new series, House of Brady, premiers in August 2012. A former CIA employee, journalist, and English teacher, Kieran's also a game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer.
USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer is a former CIA employee, journalist, and English teacher who lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her family. Game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer, her motto is, “Life rewards action.”
Kieran is the author of the House of Brady novels, including Say Yes to the Duke and The Earl is Mine.
Read an Excerpt
Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right
By Kieran Kramer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Kieran Kramer
All rights reserved.
In a proper English drawing room on Clifford Street in London's Mayfair district, Lady Poppy Smith-Barnes, daughter of the widowed Earl of Derby, threw down the newspaper and stood up on shaky legs. Finally, the secret passion she'd been carrying around with her for almost six years would have its day in the sun.
"He's here," she announced to Aunt Charlotte. "Sergei's in England."
She could hardly believe it. She'd resigned herself to being a Spinster — she was in good company, after all. But now ... in a matter of a moment, everything had changed.
Her prince had arrived.
Aunt Charlotte, tiny in her voluminous, outmoded gown, stopped her knitting. "Are you sure?"
Poppy found the paper again and put it under her aunt's nose. "He and his sister are touring with their uncle's last portrait and unveiling it for the very first time here in London."
"Oh, Poppy!" Aunt Charlotte's eyes were a bright, mischievous blue above her spectacles, and her powdered white wig sat slightly askew on her head. "He's the only man on earth who could coax you out of the Spinsters Club."
"Indeed, he is." She hurried to the front window and looked out, expecting something to be different. But the day appeared like any other day. She knew, however, that it wasn't. It was special.
Sergei — the perfect boy, and now the perfect man — was in Town.
She spun around to her aunt. "Do you think he'll remember me? It's been six long years. I was fifteen. We had only a week. It seems a lifetime ago."
"How could he forget you?"
She shrugged. "So much has happened to him. He's been traveling, he was in the military — I kept up with him as best I could through the papers. I'm afraid he'll see me at a ball and walk right by me."
Aunt Charlotte laughed. "No one walks right by you, dear. Not with that fiery hair and impudent air."
"Aunt." Poppy's cheeks colored. "This is a fine time to remind me I'm not the malleable sort."
Aunt Charlotte calmly resumed her knitting. "Eversly will survive the turndown, and so will you. It's not as if you haven't had a great deal of practice."
Eversly was due to arrive within the hour, and his would be the twelfth marriage proposal Poppy had rejected in the three years she'd been out. Two of those offers had rather predictably taken place during the fireworks at Vauxhall. Another two had transpired at Rotten Row in Hyde Park at the fashionable hour, both times while she'd sat astride docile mares (Papa wouldn't let her take out the prime-goers). One proposal had taken place in front of a portrait of a spouting whale at the British Museum at eleven in the morning and two more at the conclusion of routs that had dragged on until dawn. One had transpired in the buffet line at a Venetian breakfast after she'd overfilled her plate with wedges of lemon tart to make up for the dull company, two had occurred in her drawing room over cold cups of tea — tepid because her suitors had prosed on so long about themselves — and one had taken place, inexplicably, at a haberdashery, where she'd gone to buy buttons for Papa's favorite hunting coat.
Two barons, a baronet, three viscounts, four earls (one of them only nine years old at the time), and one marquess had proposed to her. Two had had large ears. Four had had small eyes. Three had smelled of brandy, and one had lost his breeches in a fountain. One had been missing his front teeth (and it hadn't been the boy).
Stay calm, she told herself. More than ever, you have a reason to say no to Eversly.
As the clock ticked closer toward the earl's arrival, Aunt Charlotte kissed her on the cheek and left the room. Poppy waited another agonizing twenty minutes. Finally, there was a knock at the front door, and she put her newspaper under a pillow. Kettle, Lord Derby's elderly butler, greeted the visitor in his usual sober way.
Then she sat.
And then she stood.
Finally, the earl, a veritable Adonis, entered the room. He had gleaming blue eyes, a golden curl on his forehead, and shoulders so broad she should feel weak in the knees.
But her knees stayed firm.
"You're alone." Eversly's eyes were warm. She could tell he had genuine affection for her, and she did for him, actually. He was sporting, congenial company, but she couldn't help thinking of him only as a friend. It was always that way with her suitors, as if there were a big NO stamped on all their foreheads.
Thanks to Sergei.
"Yes," she told Eversly, swallowing hard. "I am alone."
They both knew what that meant. Without her father or Aunt Charlotte by her side, she was unchaperoned. Only an engaged or married woman could meet a man alone in a room.
But she wasn't quite alone, was she? There was her mother — sedate, mature — smiling down at her from her portrait, her wedding rings sparkling on her pale, slender hand. Her hair was the same shining copper color as Poppy's own wavy locks; her eyes, the identical emerald green.
The earl moved toward Poppy, skirting a small table and rounding a chair. He lifted her hand to his lips and brushed a soft kiss against her knuckles. "We shall do well together," he said, in a low-timbred voice that should have sent shivers up Poppy's spine.
But it didn't.
She stole a glance at his perfect lips. She'd heard from her aunt's maid, who'd heard from the maid of a widow who'd had an affair with him, that he was a splendid kisser.
"We should," she said with a little intake of breath, "were we to marry."
Lord Eversly arched an eyebrow. "Aren't we?"
"No, we aren't," she said in a small voice.
"What?" The earl's voice became a mere squeak.
Poppy bit her lip. It was always at this point she reminded herself of the Spinsters Club and the vow she'd made with her two very best friends, Lady Eleanor Gibbs and Lady Beatrice Bentley. None of them would marry except for love.
And then, to inspire herself further, she imagined herself kissing Sergei.
"I can't marry you," she said to Lord Eversly, feeling braver now. "I'm so sorry."
And she did feel sorry. He was such a dear.
He winced. "But your father said —"
Poppy blinked. "He doesn't know."
"Doesn't know what?"
She was reluctant to hurt him, but she told her usual story. "I'm to be engaged," she said. "And it's a love match. Surely you understand."
"I demand to know his name," the earl said rather breathlessly.
Sergei, she wanted to say. But instead she said, "The Duke of Drummond." Her tone was firm but gentle. She'd been through this scenario many times before.
Her other suitors believed she'd met the Duke of Drummond on a walking tour she'd taken in the Cotswolds, but he was totally fictitious, actually, a product of Cook's lurid imagination. Cook enjoyed making up tales as she stirred her pots and chopped her vegetables, but that was part of her charm (if a floury-faced, wild-haired harridan in the kitchen who tippled occasionally could be called charming).
Indeed, just this morning, Cook told Poppy another outlandish tale about the duke. Poppy already knew he was the mightiest, fiercest duke ever to have walked the earth. And she knew as well that his ancestral castle jutted out over a cliff above the swirling waters of the North Sea. According to Cook, he'd murdered his brother so he could become duke, and to forget his guilt, he regularly plunged off this cliff for a swim. Occasionally, he came back up from the depths with a writhing sea creature under his arm, usually one with large, snapping teeth.
Today, Poppy learned the dreaded duke had even fought an octopus the size of a Royal Mail coach — and won.
"Did you say the Duke of Drummond?" the earl demanded.
Poppy yawned. "Yes, he rusticates somewhere far away."
Eversly drew in his chin. "Never heard of him."
"He's quite wicked."
"Wicked?" The earl raised his brow.
"Wickedly handsome, that is," Poppy recovered. She thought again of Sergei. "We met three years ago. Remember the year I missed that impromptu boat race on the Thames?"
"Oh, yes. I do recall. My side won, actually. I had a prime spot at the front of the boat, and Miles Fosberry fell in the river. We couldn't fish him out until we'd finished."
"Right." She gave him a sheepish smile. "Well, while you and your team were rowing past your less-favored acquaintances, I was on a walking tour of the Cotswolds. The duke was on one, too. We met at a village fair."
"But your father —" The earl's brow puckered. "Lord Derby never mentioned it. He said you were free to accept my offer."
"Drummond hasn't exactly offered for me yet," she explained. "But he's" — she paused — "on the verge."
She'd been quite clever to have come up with that phrase — on the verge. Her previous suitors had found it suitably vague, so that when they saw her dancing for weeks and months — and some, for years after her rejection of them — they didn't think to question her story.
"It's simply a matter of time," she said. "I've never told my father. It's my secret" — she laid a hand on her heart — "my secret of the heart." She allowed her voice to go a bit trembly. "And I'm not willing to reveal it yet, even to Papa."
Lord Derby would be furious, of course, that she'd turned down the earl's suit. But surely he'd recover. He was far too busy toiling away for England to waste time being angry at her for long, especially if she cried and told him she was waiting for a true love match, like his and Mama's.
The earl looked down at his well-polished Hessian boots, and when he looked up again, his gaze was both besotted and disappointed.
"I still like you," Poppy protested. "As a friend. This little ... engagement thing between us — let's forget it, shall we? I'll see you throughout the Season, won't I? We can share a waltz." Although her dream was to share her next waltz with Sergei.
She dared to lean forward and give Eversly a small kiss on his cheek. She wasn't one to dispense her kisses lightly, and the whole ton knew this of her.
"I shall hold you to that waltz," the earl said, a little gruff. She could tell he genuinely cared for her. Nevertheless, his old good cheer sneaked back into his tone.
"I look forward to it." She smiled. "Meanwhile, I know I can count on you to be discreet. Please don't say a word to anyone about our ... conversation."
"I wouldn't dream of it." The earl bowed and left the drawing room without another word.
She waited a few seconds for Kettle to open the front door, then she ran to the window and looked out. Lord Eversly descended the front steps rather slowly. Poppy recognized that walk. It was the gait of a jilted bachelor. She'd induced it in many men.
But by the time he ascended the steps of his fine carriage waiting on the street, the earl's pace had picked up to his regular jolly one. And why shouldn't it? He was a wealthy, handsome peer of the realm with tremendous charm. Plenty of women would accept his suit. Why, she'd put a bug in several girls' ears this very week.
She turned around to see Aunt Charlotte standing in the door, a loose curl from her wig hanging in her eye and making her look quite the scamp. "I heard every word," she whispered loudly. "I'm so proud of you for following your heart. But —"
"We're doomed. I hope your emergency suitcase is packed."
"It is," Poppy said in a thin voice.
"You know the procedure. Now that Waterloo is behind us, Spinsters in untenable situations no longer retreat to the north of Scotland. We're forced to go to Paris!"
Aunt Charlotte appeared delighted at the prospect.
"Poppy?" It was her father's voice. She could hear him in his boots, clomping down the hall toward the drawing room. "That wasn't the earl leaving, was it? I've brandy and cigars in the library to celebrate your betrothal."
Outside, Lord Eversly's coachman cracked his whip, and he was gone.
But Poppy's problems had only begun.CHAPTER 2
Nicholas Staunton had always been a light sleeper — growing up in a drafty castle that took the brunt of howling North Sea storms had seen to that — so when he felt someone shaking him, saying, "Wake up, Nicholas," he knew, wherever he was in the ether of his mind, that something was wrong. No one should have to shake him to wake him up.
Especially when he knew he had something to do. He couldn't remember what, but it was something rather urgent and distasteful.
He opened an eye. A shaft of morning sunlight pierced the edge of his vision, blinding him.
And then he smelled something.
God, he hated lilies. They reminded him of his parents' funerals. But someone he knew — someone he'd bedded — wore a lily scent. And he seemed to recall that he endured the cloying odor because she was very good at —
Yes. At that. What she was doing now.
He closed his eye again and sank back into that hazy, sublime world, where he basked in hot, carnal sensation and forgot all about the distasteful, urgent thing.
But then the hot, carnal sensation suddenly stopped. He groaned and wished with all his might for it to come back.
"Nicky, wake up," a feminine voice insisted.
He winced and ignored it.
"I don't do things like this in the daylight," the heavily accented voice went on, "and I have no intention of going further. I'm only trying to wake you up. So wake up."
He felt a light slap on his right cheek, and with a great deal of will and a tremendous amount of reluctance, he managed to open his right eye and confront the pest jarring him awake.
Good God. Now he remembered who wore the lily scent. She lay a mere inch from his face, her hard brown eyes glinting with impatience and her ebony curls falling around her face.
The way a witch's would, he had the incongruous thought.
"Natasha," he muttered.
The Russian princess.
She rested her cheek on her hands and smiled at him — a slow, heated smile. He'd a vague recollection of sipping brandy from her navel sometime after midnight, but he couldn't remember anything after that.
His limbs were sore and he had a pounding head and he'd really like to go back to sleep, to tell the truth.
Back to a deep sleep.
"Nicky," she hissed in his ear, "the Howells come back from Sussex this afternoon." She placed the flat of her palm on his bare chest. "If they find you here, they'll make me pack my bags and return to St. Petersburg. Don't doze off again! It's almost eleven."
Eleven wasn't good. Eleven was bad, in fact.
He felt confused. Why had he stayed?
He never stayed.
Morning sunlight, he'd come to discover, was like a splash of cold water on a man and an excuse for clinging in a woman. "You're right," he muttered as he rolled out of bed. "I've got to go."
Natasha's eyebrows lowered over her small, elegant nose. "You don't have to agree so readily. Many men crave to wake up in my bed."
Nicholas didn't mind annoyed females — their pique gave him an opportunity to appease them with his special "I-know-you're-angry-but-you'll-forget-after-I-do-this-to-you" restorative (something he'd picked up from an Indian text), but today he didn't have time.
Ah. Now he remembered. Today was the day he was to find Frank before the big cockfight to be held at noon in Cheapside, which he was sure his brother would attend, and remind him (last time it was by holding him upside down out a second-floor window) that he really mustn't gamble away his allowance anymore, nor steal spoons from White's.
Yes, that was Nicholas's plan, to reform his recalcitrant brother.
And snow would fall in London in July —
But it was still his plan. He wasn't allowed to give up hope on Frank. It was one of the self-imposed rules he'd established for himself after their father had died.
"Nicholas." The princess slapped the coverlet. "Are you even listening to me?"
He found his dove-colored breeches and pulled them on. "Yes, and it's a good thing you woke me," he soothed her. "I've got a meeting with my lead attorney. He tells me it's important."
Excerpted from Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right by Kieran Kramer. Copyright © 2010 Kieran Kramer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read the reviews and thought this book would be great. I loved the idea of the story. The book really pulls you in at first but as the story evolves the plot and the characters fall apart. The idea of Poppy being a beautiful spinster doesn't match the way the author portrays her character. She doesn't act like a spinster at all. I enjoyed Drummond as the lead in the book but even the hero couldn't save this weak story line. In addition the Prince and Princess of Russia story line is boring and contrived. I would save your money. This is not a must read.
I would highly recommend this book. I read so many historical romances that it is a pleasant surprise when I find an author that keeps my attention. Enjoyed the book very much!
With all the material that is available out there I happened to choose this one because of the free snippet download given on the Nook. After I read the first chapter and half I felt drawn in enough to buy. However the book was not without it's quirks. At times it was like whoa, wait, did that just happen. Nicholas is a very strong character and he is as the series implies an Impossible Bachelor. Poppy is just the right sort of heroine that I like in my books. Not too simpy and still holds on to her backbone. The quirks about the book is that Poppy is supposed to be a spinster and in my opinion allows Nicholas too many liberties too fast. Hey call me old fashioned. Like I said he's a strong male lead. Even with these scenes, I laughed with the book and I felt emotion right along with the characters. This is why I would recommend the book and of course it has spy intrigue. Who can turn that down in a historical romance? I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did when I randomly choose it.
the price is absurd. and thats the ebook too. anyway the book itself is ok.
A proud contented card carrying member of "The Spinsters' Club," Lady Poppy Smith-Barnes avoids potential suitors with a made-up fiancé as she waits for the return of her sweetheart Prince Sergei from Russia. Her model for her fake intended is her cook's tales of the adventures of the "Impossible Bachelor" the Duke of Drummond. Her sham works perfectly until the worst that could happen occurs when Nicholas Staunton arrives to see his fiancée. An undercover espionage agent, Nicholas uses his engagement to elude hunting mamas and conceal his work for the Crown. However he underestimated Poppy who has his back (and heart) as they search for a painting and an enemy spy. The second delightful Prinny Impossible Bachelors Regency romance (see When Harry Met Molly) is a charming investigative thriller starring two likable lead characters. The heroine is refreshing as she learns the best laid plans of mice and Poppy often go astray, but she charges on her light feet leading her beloved into battle. Nicholas is more typical of the sub-genre as an agent who uses his image as a rake to conceal his dangerous royal work. Together they come across as Nick and Nora (Charles not the Playlist that is) of early nineteenth century England. Harriet Klausner
This is the most entertaining book I have ever read! Just when you think your done laughing, another fun scene comes into play! I loved it along the others in this set.
Poppy was a very lovable and funny character, whereas Nicholas actually had me wanting to reach into the book and punch him a few times. I do recommend this book, simply because it is a great read. Kieran Kramer did a really good job.
OK, this got some good and bad reviews but let me just say... I have NO IDEA what people are talking about when they say this wasn't very good. It's wonderful. Even much cuter than the first (which I liked but did not love). Couldn't be better in my opinion!!!
I have read the whole series and have been very entertained. Just keep 'em coming Kieran Kramer and please dont lose the humor in them thats the cherry on top!!