When Elsinore Cosgrove escapes a ballroom in search of adventure, she has no idea it will lead to a hasty marriage. The youngest daughter of a duke, all she wants is to make her own choices. Now she's engaged to an infuriating, handsome Scottish baron who doesn't even know her name! Using all her feminine wiles, along with advice gleaned from a training guide for hunting hounds, Elsinore is determined to mold her baron into the husband she wants.
Quin Graham is a man with many secrets. If another scandal can be avoided with a sham marriage, so be it. Only his fiancée isn't at all what he's expecting, and the clumsy, curious, and clever Elsinore refuses to be set aside. For reasons he's unwilling to explain, the last thing Quin needs is to fall for his wife.
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"With pleasure drugged, he almost longed for woe, And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below." Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Lord Byron
She'd only ever seen a pen and ink likeness of the man, but there was no mistaking him. The wild hair, the blithe smirk, the awed parting of the crowd as he passed through the ballroom, leaving his name whispered in his wake. Byron. Lady Elsinore Cosgrove stood on tiptoe to get a better look as he finished his single circuit of the room and turned down the grand house's main hallway. Most likely making his way to the card room ... or else to an assignation. How very romantic.
In a maneuver she'd reserved for the direst of situations, Elsinore grasped two of the pearl buttons on her satin evening gloves and wrenched them free. "Oh, dear," she exclaimed, attempting to sound devastated. "Look, Mama." She held the buttons for her mother and older sisters to see. "My gloves are falling apart."
"Good gracious." Her mother frowned at the offending pearls. "I see I'll have to have a word with the glover for passing off shabby goods. Take yourself to the ladies' retiring room and find a seamstress with a needle to let. Quickly now," she ordered. "You're to dance the next set with the marquess."
Elsinore looked over to spy her mother eyeing an ancient marquess. The man was as old as her father and twice as round. One by one, her sisters all nodded their silent approval and Elsinore cringed inwardly. She'd known when the season started that her days as an unmarried woman were numbered. Tonight's taste of liberty might be her last. She had better make it count.
As they married, Elsinore witnessed her older sisters change from semi-intelligent, articulate human beings into demure and proper matrons. Each had squandered the paltry freedoms marriage offered in exchange for domestication. They now reminded her of the automatons she'd seen at an exhibition in Spring Gardens a few years ago. Mechanical beings endlessly repeating lifelike tasks with great precision, yet without a glimmer of emotion. She would not let it happen to her.
"I'll hurry." Elsinore turned and ducked behind a potted palm to make her escape before one of her sisters thought to accompany her. Weaving her way across the room, dodging dancers and ignoring a summoning wave from the hosts' daughter and her dearest friend, Libby, Elsinore plowed forward. She would make amends for the social cut and the grief her mother would heap upon the poor glover tomorrow. Elsinore could let nothing stop her from completing tonight's mission.
Folded small within her reticule, the frontispiece of Byron's newest work, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" lay as a secret treasure. Her plans for it made it more than a mere token sheet of paper. She was going to meet the "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" genius poet. Not officially, of course. Her mother would never allow such an introduction. The man was terrifically disreputable.
Still, she would walk up to the man with confident steps and introduce herself as an admirer. Should he favor her with conversation, she would tell him that she likened Harold's journey to her own. She, too, found herself weary of a life filled with naught but society and pleasure-seeking. Then, she would present him with the page and request he sign it.
That he may refuse her was worth the risk. For, if she succeeded, no marriage-minded lord would fail to take her boldness into account. With this one daring act, she would weed out the most stuffy and hard-nosed of this year's pack of eligibles. She had but this one season to narrow the field down to those men looking not for a meek, obedient wife but a woman who considered herself more than just an ornament upon a man's arm to be trotted out on formal occasions and then left to languish alone with naught but her needlework for company.
By the time she cleared the ballroom and made the hallway, Byron was nowhere to be seen. Still, she reasoned, with all the rooms opening off a long corridor, all she had to do was get a peek into every room. How difficult could it be for one as determined as she?
She opened the first door to her right and boldly stepped inside to find ... nothing. It was a perfectly ordinary morning room. A long serving table had been laid with silver trays in anticipation of the midnight supper that was still hours away, but no Byron. With a small sigh, she closed the door and made her way to the next room. With her mother and the fat marquess waiting, her entire life was now set to the ticking of a clock.
Her mother and sisters had vowed to find her a husband before the end of the year. As much as she might dread their intrusion, she wasn't ignorant of the conventions of husband hunting. Her sisters, based on the ton's seemingly endless vault of on-dits, would funnel information on eligible gentlemen to her mother. In turn, her mother would make discreet inquiries of the other matrons, using whatever means mothers with single daughters used, and pass along a few names to her father. Father, being a duke held in high regard, would make sure the man had a suitable annual income and belonged to all the right clubs. A clear favorite would be chosen, with matrimony soon to follow. All she had to do was stand in St. George's and mumble "I do so promise" at the appropriate time.
The war office should be so efficient. Think of all the English lives that could be saved if all this effort was instead put forth in defense of the crown. France would be won in a single season, and the Americas in a fortnight. Battle-worn soldiers and spies alike would turn to custard at the thought of being interrogated by a determined mama.
The door to the next room was slightly ajar and abuzz with male voices. Ah, the card room. She stepped through the opening with anticipation. A blue haze of smoke assaulted her senses, and she squinted to see to the back of the room. No Byron. But her perusal hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Need a perch, ladybird?" The young lordling sitting nearest the door pushed back his chair and patted his knee.
The nerve! Her mother's poor fashion sense was common knowledge among the ladies of the ton. Tonight, her attempt to make Elsinore appear young, virtuous, and imminently marriageable had resulted in a gown fashioned for a tarty schoolgirl. Unless standing perfectly still and employing only small measured breaths, Elsinore overflowed the bodice in a manner no fichu could sufficiently conceal. She tugged the fabric back into place and was about to deliver a set-down the oaf would not soon forget when the man sitting next to him reached over and thumped the cheeky fellow on the back of the head.
"Don't be daft, Mercer. That's Wallingford's youngest."
The chastised lordling's mocking smile faded, and he began to stammer out an apology. "So terribly ..."
Elsinore stepped back into the corridor before he could finish. The man's comment confirmed what she already knew. As a woman, the world provided her with only three opportunities — spinster, wife, or demirep. Her life would be defined by the men in it, be it father, husband, or rake. Her thoughts and desires mattered not a whit unless a man gave her leave to have them. Even worse, her own actions would be dictated by the man who controlled her.
Tonight, she would take matters into her own hands.
Presenting herself as being more than just "Wallingford's youngest" would serve to weed out those gentlemen who wanted nothing more than a docile, unimaginative spouse. The marquess her mother had her eye on would never allow his wife to attend something as scandalous as a poetry reading by Byron himself. Elsinore would bet her pin money on it.
The next three rooms were a lady's parlor, a library, and a music room. All quiet and still, if one chose to ignore the giggling couple hiding behind the pianoforte. She backed out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Their passion taunted her while her days as an unmarried woman dwindled. Unless she took immediate action, there would be no stolen kisses for her, no breathless promises in darkened rooms. Her life would be as dull and predictable as so many others of her acquaintance. A life full of teas, suppers, musicales, country parties, and insufferable boredom.
There was but one room left to check. If Byron was not within, she would need to come up with another plan. She could not fail; her life depended upon it. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open. And ... nothing. Byron had evaporated into the night without a trace.
The flicker of candlelight, bright against shiny metal caught her eye, and she took another cautious step into the room. There, in the corner, on a stout table next to a black leather settee, stood a three-foot-tall model of the infamous French guillotine. The polished brass fittings shone a warm gold against the dark mahogany frame. The hoisted blade winked silver in the dimly lit room.
She'd heard the stories of the French sending their nobility to be relieved of their heads one by one until they were all dead. A shudder crept down her spine when she realized that as a duke, her own father would have been made a victim of the "public razor," as it was so cheekily referred to in the news sheets. She lowered herself onto the settee, unable to take her eyes off the death machine. It was deceptively elegant for such an awful thing.
She stripped off her damaged glove and dared to reach out and touch the metal, leaving one small perfect fingerprint on the side of the metal blade. Emboldened when the entire business didn't come crashing down, Elsinore studied the gears and pulleys with renewed interest. It was so curiously horrible.
Brushing her fingertips against the smooth polished wood, she couldn't help but to think of the many noblemen whose last breath on earth was gasped on the apparatus. Her father would have accepted his fate like the true gentleman he was. She could imagine him giving a brief but moving speech, the crowds cheering in his support. He would tell the family to be strong and allow for no tears. Her mother would, regardless, scream like a banshee.
How bravely would she face certain death, Elsinore wondered. Would she say something pithy or patriotic? Or would she be too frightened to speak at all? What would it be like? Curious, she laid her hand on the bed and lowered the wooden collar around her wrist with a loud clack. No, she decided, she'd go silently, still unable to get a word in edgewise between her mother's caterwauling and her sisters' collective chatter. The dreaded phrase, "Wallingford's youngest," would probably be all that was etched on her gravestone.
Oh, snap out of it, Elsinore. She still needed to find Lord Byron before her mother sent out a search party. Reaching over, Elsinore grasped the sliding collar that held her wrist and lifted. It didn't budge. She tried again with a little more force, but it still wouldn't move.
Perhaps there was a hidden clasp on the back she hadn't noticed earlier. Glancing at the doorway to make sure she wasn't seen, Elsinore awkwardly climbed to her knees on the settee so she could get a better look on the far side of the guillotine. But there was no lock, no clasp, and no escape.
A frisson of panic danced up her spine. She tugged her remaining glove off with her teeth and tried prying the pieces apart with her bare fingers, but they held fast. She tried pulling, but the wooden collar was just tight enough that she couldn't force her hand through the opening. Oh, blast. What was she going to do?
Elsinore took a few deep breaths to calm herself. You're being ridiculous, she told herself. Your hand isn't stuck; it's only a parlor trick. Surely no one would leave a functioning guillotine lurking in a sitting room.
Or would they?
With that thought, she braced her free hand against the frame of the guillotine and began tugging in earnest. Minutes later, her wrist rubbed raw and red from the wood, she was no closer to freedom.
She'd have to call for help. The realization sank her formerly high spirits right down to her toes. She'd never hear the end of it. She'd find herself married to a fusty old marquess before she could even have Byron's autograph or a full season. Elsinore eyed the blade winking in the candlelight. She'd rather lose her hand.
Drawing in a deep breath in anticipation of calling out for a good and hopefully discreet Samaritan in the hallway, she swallowed down her cry for help as a man slipped into the room, pulling the door closed behind him. It wasn't Byron, but she was willing to consider any assistance she might get.
Their eyes met as he pulled a Spanish cigarillo from his breast pocket, and he held her gaze several seconds longer than was polite. It was a rare thing to have a man look her in the eyes, but his bold appraisal was more intriguing than alarming. She was the first to find her voice, and years of lessons in etiquette and decorum dictated her response. "Please, sir, you must leave the door open. Being here together with it closed would be quite unseemly."
"Terribly sorry, miss." Slowly the tobacco disappeared back into his pocket, and he bowed politely. "I do beg your pardon. I did not realize the room was occupied." He broke their connection only then and turned to leave.
In the few moments it had taken for him to respond, her more pressing predicament shoved decorum aside. "No, wait. Please?"
He turned to her again and took a cautious step closer. "Shall I fetch your mama for you, miss?" His voice was mesmerizing, low-pitched and rich. Coupled with the soft burr of a Scottish accent, it was the auditory equivalent of warm caramel.
In a flicker of the light, she could see, just there, the hidden ginger tones in his otherwise brown hair. Scottish indeed. All he needed was a claymore in one hand and bagpipes in the other. That and a kilt. The thought of the manly specimen before her kitted out in full Highland garb, exposing a bit of what looked to be a strong pair of legs, caused her face to flame with a sudden uncontrollable blush.
"Miss? Your mother?"
"Oh, please no. She'll be furious with me," she recovered and explained hurriedly.
"Have you been harmed?" he asked, as she saw his eyes travel from her head to her toes and back again.
Her cheeks refused to calm under his intense scrutiny. His gaze made her think thoughts much too mature for her pure white gown. Not for the first time that evening, she wished it fit properly. She reached down and tugged at it the best she could. "No, sir. I fear that my predicament is of my own doing." With her free hand, Elsinore indicated the object of her distress. "I seem to be quite stuck."
Her Scottish savior's eyes widened, and his mouth fell open as he took another step closer. He looked at her again, shook his head, and looked back to the guillotine. "However did you manage such a thing?"
"It was amazingly simple to do but has proven impossible to undo. I was merely curious as to how it all worked, so I put my hand in it ..." Her voice faded as she looked up sheepishly and shrugged her shoulders. "Will you help me, please?"
He considered her request for a few excruciatingly long moments before one side of his mouth quirked up.
Elsinore decided it was an attempt at a friendly smile from a man who clearly didn't do it often. "Well," she asked, "will you?"
"Of course. I was just wondering whether it surprised me more that Lord Winchcombe possessed a guillotine, or that some lassie put her hand into it. Did you not consider —"
"I did not intend to sever my own hand, sir," she interrupted. "I was intrigued and somehow misjudged the mechanics. This bit" — she pointed to the wooden collar — "is intended to move up and down, and yet, it will not. If it had behaved logically, I wouldn't be in this mess."
"If the machine had behaved logically, you wouldn't be in this mess?" he repeated, his face and tone betraying his skepticism. The insolent man was trying not to laugh and just barely succeeding. She threw him one of her mother's haughtiest looks, and he pretended a polite cough to erase the mirth from his face. "Logically speaking, miss, that bit" — he pointed to the piece in question — "is called a lunette, and it's behaving exactly as intended. Its purpose is to hold the victim, your wrist, fast in place until after the blade has fallen."
"After?" Her mouth went dry as she eyed the bright metal edge of the blade. She had to lick her lips to continue speaking. "You mean I can't just ..." Her voice failed as she considered the alternative.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How to Train Your Baron"
Copyright © 2018 Diana Lloyd.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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
Sometimes a quest for adventure can lead us somewhere we never imagined to be. That's what happens to Elsinore Cosgrove. Suddenly her life isn't what she had imagined. But she plans to make the most of her new situation. Only if her fiance will be as accommodating as she wants him to be. This book is very well-written. I enjoyed it a lot and I think it's a must read for historical fiction readers.
How to Train Your Baron by Diana Lloyd is a book 1 in a new and exciting series,”What Happens in the Ballroom”. “A Regency romp mash-up of Cinderella and Humpty-Dumpty.” A fun, entertaining and intriguing story with a calamity of mishaps, adventure, humor, witty banter, suspense and intrigue, makes for some hilarious moments. This is the story of Lord Quin Graham, a Scottish baron and Elsinore Cosgrove, the daughter of a duke, and their hasty marriage, after being found in a compromising position. Set in the ballrooms of the England to the Scottish highlands, readers will find themselves turning pages and laughing out loud, but there are also moments of danger, plenty of mystery, suspense and intrigue. Well written, well crafted with engaging and entertaining characters. The storyline flows seamlessly and effortlessly. I absolutely loved HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BARON and look forward to more from Diana Lloyd What an impressive debut book/author!! “I voluntarily received a complimentary copy, however, these are my honest opinions. I was in no way required nor compensated to write a review.” Rating: 4.5 Heat rating: Sweet Reviewer: AprilR
Shut The Front Door!! This is an insanely great read and although I'm new to the historical romance genre, this is a must read. I admit the blurb lured me in, but right from the very first page the story kept me turning those pages. This book has it all love, suspense, an alpha hero and a tad nutty but absolutely perfect heroine. I loved Elsinore! She made the story perfect. Quin was the perfect alpha male reeling from the loss of his son and betrayed by his late wife he leaves Scotland to travel to England to find help with uncovering the mystery back home. Something that has left him with a hardened heart at times, suspicious of what he thinks he sees or hears but taken with the lovely Elsinore. It's by a curious Elsinore wanting to escape her future bound in a loveless marriage and the youngest daughter in the family who has never been allowed to use her voice and is discounted at every turn. Happenstance puts these two together and the outright laugh out loud moments, which are many through this book has him proposing marriage. To her dismay once again Elsinore has no day in things and finds herself married to this Scot within days and headed back to his home in Scotland. There the story takes a wonderful turn into the suspense that unpins the story. Page turner. The twists and turns were perfect and... you have to read the book. It's an absolute must read. If the author has any doubt about this story, rest assured it's stellar and I'd give it more than five stars! advanced reader copy from NetGalley and Entangled for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
An adventure almost from the first page when we find the heroine, Hippolyta, oops, I meant Elsinore Cosgrove caught in an unusual situation at a ball. Our hero, Quin Graham saves her, well yes, in more ways than one as fate would have it. The youngest daughter of a duke, Elsinore ends up marrying gorgeous Scot Graham and hopes to make him fall in love with her. Oh and from advice from a training guide for hunting hounds she hopes to mold him into the perfect husband! This story is full of humorous moments and if mischief can happen, Elsinore is right in the middle. But there is a serious side as we find Graham trying to recover from many loses and never had he intended to remarry. As they travel to his home in Scotland, things begin to unravel and there is a mystery to be uncovered and enemies to be found. This was a delightful story that I could not put down until the end. I look forward to more by this author and hope the wait is not long! Lori Dykes
I loved this story of Elsinore and Quin, who is Lord Graham. They met at a ball while she was caught in a guillotine, a small one. They were found in a compromising situation and were married. Elsinore wanted adventure in her life and love, but how can she get him to love her. Books are the answer, one naughty and one on training hounds which seemed to work well for Lord Graham. There's something strange going on with Quin and his household. He has secrets that he has been carrying for months. There's rumors and gossip, but he won't share the reasons. Adventure and possibly death follows Elsinore. Will Quin be able to protect her and will be learn to love her? Great book with adventure and love. I received this book from Net Galley and Entangled Publishing for an honest review and no compensation otherwise.