Long before I wrote my sexy paranormal romances, I wrote traditional Regency romances as Debbie Raleigh. Now I’m delighted that three of my favorites are available once more. This trilogy features three dashing rakes returning home from war. But along the way, a gypsy predicts that love will trap them all. Their high-spirited response? A daring wager! By June the first, whomever Cupid catches must forfeit one thousand pounds and a red rose . . .
A BRIDE FOR LORD BRASLEIGH
Philip Marrow, Lord Brasleigh, must marry off his troublesome ward, Miss Bella Howe. But determined to wed for love, Bella has run away, and Philip must track her down. Since he has never met her, he plans to play the rogue and scare her back to London. He never expects to ignite an overwhelming passion . . . or find a lady who fights fire with a clever scheme all her own . . .
A BRIDE FOR LORD WICKTON
Barth Juston, Earl of Wickton, assumes a woman would be grateful to accept an arranged marriage with him. What a shock that beautiful Isa Lawford is not! In fact, she insists she prefers someone else! Now this overconfident lord is about to enter the most perilous battle of all: a fight for a woman’s heart . . .
A BRIDE FOR LORD CHALLMOND
Simon Townsled, Lord Challmond, is off to his Devonshire country estate, where he is sure to be safe from feminine wiles. But he doesn't count on feisty do-gooder Miss Claire Blakewell—who is as determined to march down the aisle as he is to avoid it . . .
I’ve fallen head over heels for these timeless books all over again, and believe that you will too.
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Read an Excerpt
Here Comes the Bride
By Alexandra Ivy
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Alexandra Ivy
All rights reserved.
Cresting the edge of the hill, the two gentlemen pulled their mounts to a halt. Below them the stately manor house consumed an awe-inspiring amount of the pristine parkland with stark lines and sweeping wings. Only the balustrades with fluted columns and Ionic portico provided relief from the classic simplicity. It was an overwhelming view. Even Simon Townsled, seventh Earl of Challmond, who had resided at the Devonshire estate since he was a lad of twelve, found his breath catching in his throat.
How long had it been since he had lived at Westwood Park? Oh, not the dutiful appearances to visit his elderly cousin or, since the sixth earl's death, the flamboyant hunting parties he had hosted. But to actually reside at the estate? It had been years.
But oddly, during the ·heat of battle it had been this place he had longed to see.
The magnificent black stallion shifted with a restless dissatisfaction at having his gallop interrupted, and Simon allowed a sudden smile to slash across his thin countenance. Although not a precisely handsome gentleman, there was a decided charm to his tousled auburn locks and emerald eyes sprinkled with gold. And more than one lover had claimed there was the devil's own charm in his flashing dimples. He was uncertain what odd compulsion had urged him to Devonshire, but he had arrived and he intended to make the best of his visit.
"There you are, Locky." He shifted to regard the short, bluntly built gentleman at his side. Unlike Simon's own elegant breeches and fitted coat, Mr. James Lockmeade's outfit consisted of plain buckskins with boots that had seen better days. It would be hard to determine from his appearance that his grandfather was one of the wealthiest merchants in all of England, or that his mother was the daughter of an earl. He was a plain-spoken man with few airs and a decided lack of pretensions. Simon had met Locky when he had joined his regiment. While others had dismissed the large man's abrupt speech and methodical manner as a sign of his unsavory connections to the shop, Simon had been immediately impressed with the young man's unwavering courage. When far more nobly born men had fled in panic, Locky had stood as firm as a mountain, and it had been only his staunch nerve that had saved Simon when he had been wounded during a skirmish with the Frenchies. Nearly unconscious, Simon had been unable to stand or defend himself as his commander had called for a retreat. It had been Locky who had slung him over his shoulder as Lord Wickton and Lord Brasleigh had carved a path through the battle lines to freedom. Without the three of them Simon would have been just another peer sacrificed for duty and Crown. "Westwood Park, county seat to the earls of Challmond for the past one hundred years."
The square, ruddy-tinted countenance grimaced. "Good God," he at last pronounced.
Simon gave a pleased chuckle. There were few not overwhelmed by the grandeur of Westwood Park.
"The devil take it, Simon," Locky growled, "I shall feel a fool rattling about like a bloody nob."
Simon shrugged. Although Locky had never spoken much of his past, he had suspected the young man was much like himself. A puppet torn between two worlds and never quite fitting into either one.
"You shall soon become accustomed."
"Aye." Locky appeared far from convinced.
Simon gave another laugh. "In any event, we shall devote ourselves to thinning the local trout population."
"See that we do," Locky muttered darkly.
"Come." Loosening his grip on his reins, Simon allowed his mount to continue his gallop through the meadow to the waiting stable below. Handing the reins to a wide-eyed lad, he led the way to the main house. Despite the fact he had given no warning of his impending arrival the door was pulled open by his impeccably attired butler. Simon had never doubted for a moment the estate would be in pristine condition. The previous earl had demanded total devotion from his large staff and would tolerate nothing less than perfection. "Ah, Calvert."
The tall, gaunt-faced servant with silver hair performed a crisp bow.
"My lord, welcome home."
Stepping into the black and white marble foyer, Simon glanced up at the large coat of arms that hung above the arched·door to the main hall. Just for a moment he recalled being a terrified young lad as he had stood in this hall, waiting to meet the man who would teach him to become the next Earl of Challmond. It was a memory he swiftly dismissed as he turned back to the butler. The days of bleak loneliness and uncertainty were in the past. He was a gentleman with his destiny firmly in his grasp.
"Thank you, Calvert, it is good to be back." He waved his hand toward his silent companion. "And this is Mr. Lockmeade. The gentleman who saved my life."
Locky immediately flushed with embarrassment. "Bah."
"Show Mr. Lockmeade to the blue room and have a bath drawn."
Without displaying a hint of displeasure that his master had arrived without so much as a note of warning and brought along a guest, Calvert gave a nod of his head.
"Very good, my lord."
Simon flashed his friend an encouraging smile. "I put you in capable hands, Locky. I shall meet you for a brandy in the library before we dine."
Locky grimaced. HIT I can find the bloody library."
"I shall have Calvert sketch you a map."
"Have him send a carriage," Locky countered with a gleam in his dark eyes. "I shall no doubt have to track halfway back to London to find my bedchamber."
Simon chuckled. "Chin up, old chap."
With a half-mocking bow Locky turned and allowed the burler to lead him up the large curving staircase. On his own, Simon tossed his hat and gloves onto an ebony table inlaid with ivory and made his way through the main hall. He could use a bath and rest himself after his long ride, but his feet determinedly carried him to the last doorway and into the sprawling library.
A tiny pang tugged at his heart as he stepped in and glanced at the book-lined walls and heavy black chimney piece flanked by matching wing chairs. The scent of aged leather forcibly reminded him of the old earl and the days he had spent carefully tutoring the young Simon in the intricate details of managing the vast estate. He had been a stern taskmaster who had offered little compassion for Simon's tender age or his wrenching desire to return to his own large, boisterous family, but in retrospect Simon forced himself to acknowledge that the old earl had simply done what he thought best for his heir.
Now he moved across the Persian carpet to peer through the open French doors at the garden. Although it was early March, the beds were well tended with a few spring blooms, adding a touch of color to the formal hedges and sparkling fountains. A faint sound behind him had Simon spinning about to watch the thin, gray-haired housekeeper step into the room.
"My lord, welcome home." She regarded him with obvious pleasure.
Was he home?
For that matter, what was home?
This vast estate? His elegant town house in London? The derelict, overcrowded vicarage of his parents?
Perhaps none of them was truly his home.
What had Philip said?
"A gentleman should never become overly attached to a woman or a home. They were both demanding masters that would steal a man's soul...."
With a mental shrug Simon forced a smile to his lips. The older woman was clearly pleased at his arrival, and the least he could do was pretend he was just as delighted to be there.
"Thank you, Mrs. King."
"Can I bring you tea?" "That would be lovely."
"Cook is making your favorite scones." The older woman narrowed her gaze as she studied Simon's slender form. "A good thing too. You appear half starved."
Simon took no offense at the servant's familiar manner. Mrs. King had been the closest he had to a mother when he had come to Westwood Park.
"I was certainly not so well fed as I am here," he admitted.
"I should think not," Mrs. King sniffed. "What does the army know of caring for a proper gentleman?"
Simon grimaced at the harsh memories of the past two years. "Precious little, I assure you. Thankfully that is all in the past."
A hint of contentment settled about the housekeeper. "And Calvert tells me that we have a guest."
"Yes, indeed, a Mr. Lockmeade."
"How long shall the gendeman be staying?"
"For as long as I can convince him to remain. Which, unfortunately, will probably not be for long."
"Will there be any other guests joining us?"
"Good God, I hope not," Simon retorted. His brief stay in London after returning from Italy had been quite enough socializing for Simon. Odd for a gentleman who had once spent the majority of the year in London.
"I see." Mrs. King allowed only a small flicker of disappointment to show before giving a decisive nod of her head. "I will see to your tea."
"Thank you, Mrs. King."
Simon watched as the older woman left the room, then turned back toward the open French doors. The inviting afternoon sunshine lured him onto the paved terrace, and within moments he wandered toward the shallow steps. It was the distant sound of raised voices that had him turning toward the far side of the garden, and he gave a sudden exclamation at the sight of the two figures just beyond the hedge.
"What the devil?"
More curious than alarmed, Simon marched along the narrow path toward the intruders. Within moments he had recognized the large, grisly steward he had hired before buying his commission, but it was the slender maiden with glossy raven curls and entrancing blue eyes that captured his attention.
She was exquisite, he acknowledged. Such delicately carved features and skin of the purest silk. Even with her hands planted on her hips and a frown marring her brow she made his blood quicken. A dark-haired angel that he fully intended to become better acquainted with.
Coming to a halt, Simon regarded the two with raised brows. "Foster, would you care to explain what is occurring?"
Two heads turned to regard him with varying degrees of surprise. Foster was the first to recover as his thick features reddened while the unknown maiden merely allowed her glare to shift to him.
"Oh ... my lord." The steward gave a hasty bow. "Welcome home."
"Is something the matter?"
"Nothing of importance, my lord."
"Nothing of importance?" The woman gave a sharp noise of disapproval. "You consider allowing cottages to fall into ruin as nothing of importance?"
Simon blinked, uncertain of what he had expected. He had sensed the two had been arguing but certainly not about cottages.
The steward gave a nervous laugh. "The lady exaggerates, my lord."
"Ha. I have just come from the Andersons', where a portion of their wall gave way and nearly injured their baby," the lady accused.
Foster's flush deepened. "Absurd."
"I suppose you also claim that it is absurd that Mrs. Foley is more in hope of remaining dry by standing beneath a tree than in her own home?"
"This ain't be none of your concern," Foster growled, clearly furious with the audacious chit.
Decidedly confused by the odd encounter, Simon turned toward the strange maiden. Beautiful she might be, but she had no right to trespass upon his land and accuse his steward of neglecting his duties.
"Frankly, I must agree with my steward, miss ...?"
Undaunted, the woman narrowed her glittering gaze.
"Unfortunately I am not surprised."
Simon's brows arched even higher. "Pardon me?"
"Clearly you are indifferent to your estate if you are willing to leave it in the hands of this pitiful, wholly incompetent fooL"
"Now, see here ..." Foster sputtered.
Simon's own gaze narrowed. Although not overly puffed up with his own importance, Simon was nevertheless accustomed to a degree of respect for his position and wealth. He was rather annoyed by the woman's sharp insult.
"Foster, perhaps you should go about your duties."
"But, my lord ..."
"We will discuss this later," he assured the disgruntled steward.
There was no mistaking the authority in Simon's tone, and with a covert glare at the slender intruder the servant gave a reluctant nod of his head.
Simon waited until Foster had stomped toward the distant greenhouse before turning to stab the woman with a piercing gaze.
"Now, miss. Perhaps you would not mind explaining your presence on my estate?" Blue eyes, as blue as an Italian sky, met his gaze squarely.
"I am here out of concern for your tenants," she announced in firm tones. "A concern, Lord Challmond, you clearly do not share."
Simon's annoyance deepened at the chit's accusations. What the devil did she know of his concern or lack of concern?
"I fail to comprehend how you could have the least notion of whether I am concerned or not for my tenants, considering that I have returned to Westwood Park less than an hour ago."
Expecting the lady to wilt beneath his chiding tone, he was caught off guard when her hands returned to her hips in a defiant motion.
"That is precisely the point. If you cared, you would reside here and tend to their needs."
Why, the bold little jade, he thought with a flare of exasperated humor.
"In case you are thoroughly witless, please allow me to inform you that a devious little Corsican by the name of Napoleon has been ravaging the Continent."
A delightful hint of color bloomed beneath her pale skin at his mocking words.
"I am well aware of Napoleon, my lord," she gritted out. "I am also aware that you left Oxford and headed straight for London, where you remained until buying your commission. In the meantime, Mr. Foster has managed to thoroughly abuse his position and what few loyal tenants you still possess live in conditions unfit for your livestock."
A sudden absurd flare of guilt rushed through Simon. It was true he had handed complete control of his estate to Mr. Foster. And that his attentions had been more devoted to the pleasures of London than to the condition of his cottages. But he certainly had no intention of being lectured for his behavior by this pint-sized termagant.
With a deliberate manner he lowered his gaze to the mud clinging to the hem of her pale lemon gown.
"Do you happen to be one of my tenants?" he politely inquired.
She caught her breath at his insult but refused to back down.
"Then, why are you so interested in their welfare?"
"They are human beings with the right to expect a decent home and food on their table."
"Certainly. Which is precisely what I ordered Foster to provide," he retorted. Did she think that he would intentionally wish to see his tenants neglected?
The blue eyes flashed. "Well, he failed miserably."
"If that is the case, then I shall soon have it set to right." He made a silent promise to make a thorough inspection of the estate the next morning. He was beginning to suspect that there was more to this woman's ranting than simply being a bit daft. "But you still have not answered my question."
"Who are you?"
There was a momentary pause before she heaved a reluctant sigh. "Miss Blakewell."
"Blakewell?" Simon widened his eyes in surprise. This was Miss Blakewell? This was the grubby young girl who had once punched the squire's son when he had laughed at Simon's tears? The girl with tangled curls and a dirtsmudged countenance? Who the devil would have suspected such beauty hid beneath the dust? "Good God ... Claire the Cat."
The now-lovely features hardened at the childish nickname. It had been given to her by the neighborhood boys who had been intimidated by her ready temper and habit of leaping to the defense of the vulnerable, whether it be a wounded bird or homesick young lad. It was an insult rarely said to her face, since she had bloodied more than one nose for lesser offenses.
Now her lips tightened, but she managed to resist the impulse to plant him a facer. "I would prefer, my lord, if you did not refer to me by that hateful name."
Simon gave a sudden smile at her attempt to maintain a dignified composure. Well, well. Claire Blakewell. This was certainly a pleasant surpnse.
"You have ... changed," he murmured, his gaze lingering on the decided curve beneath the dark yellow pelisse.
"I should think so," she retorted in tart tones. "It has been, after all, nearly ten years since we last spoke."
He gave a low chuckle, his emerald eyes dancing. "Of course, some things never change. Your tongue remains as sharp as ever."
She seemed to catch her breath at his boyish grin, then surprisingly her expression hardened with disapproval.
"And you are just as reluctant to shoulder the duties of Lord Challmond as you were at twelve."
Simon's smile abruptly faded. Damn, the woman was far too ready to strike where he was most vulnerable.
"Neither my duties nor my tenants are any of your concern."
Excerpted from Here Comes the Bride by Alexandra Ivy. Copyright © 2017 Alexandra Ivy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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