"Beautifully written, deeply romantic, and utterly magnificent." Courtney Milan, New York Times bestselling author
Escaping the brutal reaches of Tibet is one accomplishment, but escaping the snare of love is another entirely...
All of London is abuzz with the tale of Will Repton. The lone survivor of a massacre in Tibet has returned to England a hero, but the traumatized explorer has no time for glory. Another dangerous expedition awaits. Nothing will deter him from his quest, and no one will unearth his secret-until Will meets Charlotte Baker.
Vivacious Charlotte Baker also has a mission-to find a man whose bold spirit matches her own. When she meets Will Repton, she immediately recognizes him as her soul mate, and she's naively willing to turn her back on the rules of propriety to ensnare him. Will is torn between his fascination with Charlotte and his vow to finish his quest. He knows what it is to risk life and limb-but what if his most perilous adventure doesn't lie across an ocean, but within his own lost heart?
London Explorers series:
In Search of Scandal (Book 1)
Discovery of Desire (Book 2)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
London, March 1850
"For God's sake, man. Make way."
The impatient command came from close behind, startling in its proximity. Will Repton clenched his teeth against a reply and edged to the right of the pavement, his limping gait either too slow or too unsightly for the haughty Londoners passing him.
Ignoring their frowns, he tucked his chin against the cold wind coursing down Oxford Street and trudged on. At the end of the block, he slowed. There was always a body rounding the corner, always a carriage approaching, always another woman averting her gaze from his twisted step.
So many bodies, so much bustle. He didn't remember London this way.
Could six years so alter a city?
Though it hurt like the devil, he straightened his stride entering Hanover Square. Here, at least, was unchanged. The same statue of Chancellor Pitt, the same handsome homes, the same center of wealth and pedigree.
This was Mayfair as it always was on a Sunday afternoon, and he was calling on Ben Paxton just as dozens might call upon their acquaintance.
If he didn't remember the London sky looking flat as paint in the space between buildings, he reasoned he'd not had the iridescent heavens of the Yangshuo Mountains to compare it with before. And if he couldn't shake the chill from his bones of late, he shouldn't be surprised. He was a good stone lighter and less insulated than when last he was here.
No, the city hadn't changed. He had.
Will had left London a hale and hearty envoy of the East India Company; he'd returned-after being twice-rumored dead-a famed explorer, celebrated plant hunter, and universally pitied cripple.
The wind threatened to dislodge his hat and the icy handle of his glass case bit through his glove, but it was the precious plants within that would suffer most from the cold. He hurried to gain the shelter of Paxton's door.
For a moment, a wry smile twisted his lips, standing at the affluent address. He'd not seen Paxton in years-long before his astonishing marriage to a countess-but the man was a friend of his father's.
And as wealthy and sympathetic investors went, he was an excellent prospect.
A quick turn of the bell key, the door opened wide, and Will froze in reaching for his card. The butler with the smiling face and crescent eyes so resembled a stevedore he'd met on a dock in Xiamen that Will nearly uttered ni hao in greeting.
No, London hadn't changed. But he could look nowhere without the colors of the East seeping into its lines.
"Good afternoon," Will said. "I believe I'm expected."
He presented his card and followed the butler to the receiving room. In the quiet hall, the drag of his heel was conspicuous, but still he slowed to assess his surroundings.
Marble floors. Paintings crackled with age. Silk wall coverings.
Paxton had married very well.
A Chinese vase was displayed in an alcove. He was no expert, but centuries old to be sure. Yuan or Ming Dynasty-
A patter of footsteps slapped on the tiles behind him and he spun round, his muscles seizing in readiness. A boy-three or four or six, he could never discern the age of children-dashed past the stairs and vanished behind a door.
The sight came and went so swiftly, he clenched his eyes and grappled with the reality of the vision.
A disturbance of the air...a faint chortle from the room...
The boy was real.
Will dragged in a breath and willed his heart not to pound out of his chest. Damn it. His father had warned him Paxton had children.
"Don't mind our young master." The butler grinned from the end of the hall. "The boy has us all at his mercy. There's not a nursery in London that can hold him."
He nodded stiffly, unable to share the man's amusement. Ratcheting tight his nerves, he passed his coat and hat to the servant, who swiftly withdrew. Confused, he watched the butler disappear around a corner.
He'd always been announced before. At least at all the other fine houses where he'd solicited funds.
Will turned into the room and jolted to a stop. This was no reality he'd ever known-London, China, or otherwise. The parlor was screamingly female, stuffed with satin seats and tasseled pillows and a perverse number of breakable objects on every surface, but it was a gathering of men who swung their heads at his entrance.
Evidently not the desired addition to their party, the men ignored him to rearrange themselves in the parlor. One propped an elbow on the trinket-covered mantelpiece, another leaned suavely against the pianoforte, another feigned interest in a book. One young man, of a romantic bent, brooded out the window stroking the petals of a rose.
Eight-no, nine men. All posed in depictions of masculine leisure. Ridiculous, in light of all the doilies.
What business did they have here?
And where the devil was Ben Paxton?
He set down his small Wardian case, checking through the fogged glass that the plants hadn't been upset in their journey, and searched for a seat.
The only available chair held an ugly needlepoint pillow of a goat. Or perhaps a horse, though it appeared to have only three legs. Whatever the sorry creature was, it was named "Beatrice" according to the stitching beneath. A child's effort. Moving aside the pillow, Will sat-and slowly sank-into the overstuffed cushion.
"I say." A man in a red coat pointed to Will's case. "What is that? That little glasshouse?"
"I use it to transport plants."
"Indeed?" The man abandoned his pose by the fire to inspect the greenery. "And where are these transported from?"
He peered inside. "Are there flowers? Shall we take them out?"
"No flowers. And I'd not open the case because of their scent."
The man's brows quirked with amusement. "Rotten luck there. Bit pungent are they?"
Will stared, trying to make sense of the man's words. "Putrid, actually. Much like a rotting carcass."
And he thought the room silent before...
Will scanned the bewildered faces; the man with the rose even suspended his brooding to squint at him. Could they somehow smell the carrion plants he carried?
Sighing quietly, he scrubbed a hand through his hair. It was too long. Just this morning, Mum had said it was time to see to it. Now that he was back in Civilized Society, as she put it, he couldn't lumber about like one of his beloved shaggy-haired yaks.
Given a choice, he'd prefer the company of his pack yaks any day. He fingered the frayed edge of his cuff. It might be time to get himself to a tailor as well.
A salver heaped with civilized calling cards sat on the table at his elbow. The uppermost name belonged to a viscount. Beside it, a bouquet of rosebuds. Around the room, more bouquets. Several, actually. The perfume of the flowers wasn't near as thick as all the colognes...and hair tonics...and shaving soaps-
They're here for a woman.
Will shot to his feet, flinching at the protesting pain in his leg. "I'm in the wrong room."
The man in the red coat laughed. "No, never tell me that! You must stay and present your offering to Miss Baker. The look on her face would be beyond price."
"Miss Baker? Who is-" Right. Paxton's sister-in-law, Charlotte Baker. The countess's sister.
His jaw tightened with embarrassment. The butler mistook him for a suitor of some Society miss. It was ludicrous.
Men like him did not marry.
"Excuse me," he grumbled. No doubt the girl possessed a colossal dowry to draw this gathering.
He turned and nearly plowed over a woman standing in his path. His heart jolted from the near collision-but there was little that didn't jolt him lately.
He stepped back. And stood corrected.
Charlotte Baker needed no dowry.
Past the spangles and beads sparking into his eyes, a porcelain doll had come to life. Glossy, dark curls framed the flawless oval of her face. A little nose tipped over lips so pink and pillowy, they shaped themselves into a smile even at rest. And as he stood staring, her cheeks blushed perfect, matching roses and the effect was complete. Another figurine as ornamental as the dainty teacups in the room.
But decorative as she was, her curves were more than functional. Those would stir the primitive in any man. And after Tibet, the primitive in him was very close to the surface.
He wanted to drag her someplace private and...and...
Will grimaced at his lack of imagination. It was a mad thought.
Yet another mad thought.
"I beg your pardon," he muttered as he picked up his case and sidestepped past her. "I was directed to the wrong room."
"The wrong-? Oh, but...sir?" Her hands fluttered up but withdrew. The tentative gesture, to delay or help, he ignored. The little doll and-Christ-her chaperone, followed him into the hall.
"It must have been Mr. Penny, Ben's valet," she said, hurrying to keep pace at his elbow. "He is at the door today because Mr. Goodley, our butler, had eaten a little mutton that had gone off, I'm afraid, and he must have assumed...well, today is Sunday-"
Will stopped in the middle of the hall. Every door was closed.
And Miss Baker was still talking.
"-and as it is Sunday and you are...well, you are"-she shrugged and tilted her head-"well, not here for me, as I am now aware. I am very sorry."
Will tensed at her remorse. Stemming from pity, no doubt. With his drab suit and shaggy hair, he would not compare favorably to her suitors.
Or had he imagined the remorse? More likely she laughed at him.
Will eased his gaze onto hers, and his mind stumbled to see eyes of such pure blue they appeared almost violet. No, not violets. Delphiniums.
He redirected his gaze and blew out a frustrated breath. Damn it all, he didn't think flowery thoughts. He was a botanical journeyman, paid to catalog and classify. Blue eyes. Merely blue.
Yes, she was a pretty girl.
Not that it mattered in the least.
He sought the butler or valet or whatever he was, but only the redheaded chaperone stood watching him with bald amusement. He tightened his grip on the handle of his case. "Miss Baker-"
"Yes, I am Charlotte Baker." Three skipping steps in jeweled slippers brought her to stand unnecessarily close. "But we have not met, I am sure of that."
He watched that smile suspiciously. Wouldn't his mum be heartbroken to see him now? Standing so near a beautiful, unmarried girl with only escape on his mind?
"Will Repton, miss." By the widening of her eyes, he surmised his name was known to her. It was all those damn newspaper stories. "I'm here to meet with Ben," he added to discourage questions. But there was no need. His name had effectively rendered her mute.
He cleared his throat. "Where should I-"
"You are William Repton?"
His frown deepened, concerned by the raw astonishment on her face. "I...well. Yes."
"No. William Repton, the explorer? Of China? That William Repton?"
He sidled away and pointed to the nearest door, careful to keep an eye on her. "Is this the room then?"
She launched forward, startling him backward and nearly into upsetting the Yuan or Ming vase-he still didn't know, he was no expert-and for God's sake, what did she want?
Miss Baker hooked his elbow and his eyes careened from the small gloved hand to her widening smile to her big delphinium eyes. "Miss Baker-"
"Do please put that case down."
"Ben will not mind. He is well aware I have been desperate to meet you and has been positively maddening in not inviting you sooner. He would not begrudge me this chance-I pray you will not-and I simply must know you better. Please?"
She batted her lashes. At him. The sight both aroused and disturbed.
Taking his speechlessness for compliance, Miss Baker emitted a kittenlike squeal and pulled him back into the horrible parlor.
Christ, where the devil was Ben Paxton?
"Gentlemen!" she announced. "How fortunate we are. I must introduce William Repton. No doubt you are aware of the man and his achievements. He is here to meet with Ben, but I would not let him go."
The men stared, half-curious, half-dubious, as Miss Baker led him to a short settee. Commanded to sit beside her by a dainty hand, he folded his stiff leg, gritted his teeth, and lowered with control. The arrangement was too close; if he turned his head, they'd brush noses.
"I hope you will not find the flavor of our tea too pedestrian given your learned palate, Mr. Repton." Miss Baker poured him a cup of tea. "Our housekeeper prides herself on her blend. She has been induced to try a variety from Assam which I find a bit bracing but lovely with milk. How do you take your tea? Sugar? Lemon? Or perhaps with a sprinkling of tobacco?"
The last was said with a giggle to the man at the pianoforte before she directed her smile back at Will. "I am being silly, of course. That is a jest between the viscount and myself. Sugar?" She waited with sugar tongs poised over his cup.
He blinked. "No." Her smile dimpled. "No, thank you."
"Forgive me, Miss Baker," the red-coat man said. "But ‘Repton' is not a name known to me."
The man, who was evidently a viscount, scoffed. "Come, Matteson! You cannot be in earnest. The man is written of ad nauseum in the periodicals."
"Indeed," another man put in. "You cannot tell me you have avoided the tale of ‘Chinese Will'?"
Recognition struck the man like a board to the back of the head. "Oh, deuce take it! You are Chinese Will?"
Will turned to Miss Baker to beg his freedom, but she only beamed brighter.
"There are two Mr. Reptons of accomplishment, actually," she said, her gaze not unlatching even as she addressed the others. "John Repton is supervisor at Chiswick Gardens. But his son, my-our Mr. Repton, is England's most remarkable plant collector. His reports are sublime and archived at the Geographical Society. Mr. Helmsley, you are a member. Have you not read them?"
Mr. Helmsley aborted his sip of tea with a clumsy gulp at being blindly addressed. "Ah...regretfully, no, Miss Baker." He leaned forward in an attempt to catch her eye. "But I shall do so post haste now that I am aware of your interest and we may have a meaningful intercourse on the subject."
The other men committed to reading the reports themselves, but the pretty hostess seemed unaware of their attempts at ingratiation. Will glanced at her, feeling her rapt attention like a bonfire.
No sensible woman looked at him like that.
Perhaps there was something wrong with her.
"Favor us then, Mr. Repton, with tales of adventure." The viscount didn't mask the imperious edge of his voice. "My father will be mortally jealous when he learns I have met ‘Chinese Will,' the man himself."
Will frowned into his teacup, plunked the dish on the table, and turned to summarize the last six years of his life in as few words as possible.
* * *
Charlotte was too overcome to listen. How was it possible?
But thank God. Thank God! Here he was! The man who could redeem the family name. The man she dreamed of. The man she was destined to marry-even if William Repton was not yet aware of the fact.
At last here and just as she had seen him a hundred times before. More. Never in London, never in any real place, but he was already so very dear and familiar.
And she didn't imagine him so from the countless accounts of the incredible Mr. Repton.
He was familiar because he looked just the way she imagined her beloved explorer would look if she could invent him. Hair that was many shades of blond, and never-no never-thinning. Easily, the thickest hair of all the men in the room-though it was a bit long for fashion. Her heart panged tenderly for the lock curling at his collar.
And those were just the right shoulders-slightly too broad and muscled for his frame-because she did so love a man's shoulders. And that face...
Well, she had never assembled his features so perfectly before. But for whatever this mood was, with its corresponding "just get on with it" expression, she would only choose this square chin, stern brow, and piercing blue eyes to form this handsome, heroic face.
A heroic and somewhat irritated face.
She dropped her gaze. Goodness, she must not stare moon-eyed at the man. What nonsense had she prattled on about before?
Why, why, had she mentioned the mutton?
"I wonder how you were able to read them, Miss Baker?"
Lord Spencer's voice recalled her to the present. "Do forgive me. What did you say?"
Lord Spencer-Hugh, as he had asked to be called-flicked an uneasy glance to Mr. Repton and reset his smile more tightly. "The reports, Miss Baker. The Geographical Society is exclusive to men. How did your little person conspire to read them?"
"Ben is a member and retrieved them for me." Charlotte beamed at Mr. Repton, willing him to look at her, but he seemed to prefer scowling at his boots. "Or most of them anyway. I have not read the final installment."
"Nor should you," Mr. Repton said.
"But I must."
"There is nothing in them of worth to a lady."
"Nothing of...?" But he appeared entirely in earnest. How could he not know what his writing meant to others? To her? "But you are too modest. The reports are full of sound and color and feeling! When I read them, it is just as Aristotle wrote-the soul never thinks without a picture-"
"It is not my mind that thrills at the adventure-"
"-but my very soul-"
His head reared, passion sparking in his eyes. "Then you see what you wish to see."
Her breath caught in her throat. Those intense eyes, the flushed cheekbones, the hot, panting breath laving her cheek. The man was magnificent!
His words were utter nonsense but he delivered them with such glorious conviction.
Another lady might have been chastened and turned shy in the face of this growling man. But she had always been a bit more...well, buoyant than most.
And his chest was heaving so attractively within that awful coat.
Unable to repress it, she smiled hugely and his glare faltered. "Now I am all the more curious why our perceptions should differ," she said softly.
His eyes widened and she remembered herself. "Would anyone care for more tea?" She reached for the pot. "Though perhaps it does not refresh. I cannot credit how warm the parlor is."
All the men were instantly solicitous of her comfort.
All except for Mr. Repton, who had taken a firm grip of his temples.
Doubt trickled over her. Had she said something to distress him? Were the memories of his travels painful?
Perhaps they were. It appeared he had been injured, though he limped only a very little. She had watched him walk a few paces, and his back was straight above his slim hips and hard, sculpted backside. The memory of which warmed her already-heated cheeks.
She could not recall ever noting the shape and muscularity of a man's bottom before, but there it was.
Quite a vivid picture, really.
She pressed a napkin between her damp palms. The parlor was too close, but then she had not expected most of these gentlemen, as they were not of a society she encouraged. Only Lord Spencer was Upper Class Proper; the rest only Upper Middle.
Only Lord Spencer. After three seasons...
How odd...how odd and remarkable and wonderful that none of these men mattered in the least now. Not now that she'd made a discovery all her own: William-no, Will. A fitting name for one who made his own place in the world, Society and lineage and rules be hanged.
Here was the husband she yearned for. Not a mere aristocrat but the Talk of London. And quite literally, the man of her dreams.
She angled a glance at his profile. Yes...the very picture.
If only these men would leave. If only he would look at her again. She leaned close. "Mr. Repton, I-"
"His Grace, the Duke of Iddlesleigh," Mr. Penny announced from the door.
The men swiveled their heads as Iddlesleigh entered and Charlotte stiffened with surprise. And shame.
Thank goodness he had not found her alone. But honestly! An unmarried duke ought to have a better use of his time than to always be hunting for his next mistress. Undoubtedly he would have requested her favors and she would have declined with all the humble gratitude a powerful man like him would expect. She may be common-born but she was no one's cocotte.
Not his, not Lord Welston's, nor Misters Ware's, Adkins's, or Playfair's. She almost suspected the men of wagering on who might win her virtue as often as the stupid offer was made.
"Dearest Charlotte." Iddlesleigh brushed his lips over her fingers. "I see from this entrenched party of admirers, I am shamefully tardy. Will you forgive me?"
She removed her hand, mindful not to yank it from his touch. "You are always forgiven, Your Grace."
The duke hoisted an imperious brow at Will, who stared out the window as if watching a tedious bit of theater. It was obvious that Iddlesleigh desired Will's seat and expected him to surrender it to his betters.
It was not obvious to Will.
The duke paused pointedly until Lord Spencer surrendered his seat and the duke sat. His Grace turned to Will. "I am not acquainted with you, sir."
Charlotte touched Will's sleeve and a hard muscle jumped under her fingers, thrilling her. "This is Mr. Repton, Your Grace. Do you not recall that we spoke of him at the musicale last week?"
The duke's eyes sharpened. "Indeed. The plant hunter."
"Your Grace," Will mumbled at Iddlesleigh and stood abruptly. "Miss Baker, thank you for the tea. If you'll excuse me."
No! No, no, no! He could not leave! "Yes, of course." She stood to offer her hand in farewell but Will was already at the door. Faced with the delicate challenge of chasing after a man with all correctness, she began with a bright smile for the benefit of the room and called after him. "Allow me to show you to his study."
Will stopped short at the sound of her voice and let her precede him with a huff of breath. She blinked at the sound. Did he truly not like her?
At the door, he lifted his plant case and walked to the center of the hall, his head swiveling from one closed door to the next. Slowly, he turned back with what was becoming a familiar frown. That could not be his usual countenance. It was horribly out of place on the Mr. Repton she knew.
"Will you direct me, Miss Baker?"
"I am sorry to have kept you-"
"-but you must know how ardently I-"
"Thank you." Will held up a staying hand, then-looking embarrassed at the uncivil gesture-dropped it. "I do thank you, but..."
His eyes caught on something behind her. Patty stood at the parlor door. Her maid really was a lax chaperone; she did not even bother to look up from her novel.
Will shook his head and whatever he muttered was too low to hear. Not that she could attend. His jawline was magnificent. Would it appear so even when he was not clenching it?
"Miss Baker, I'm sure you understand my eagerness in seeing your brother-in-law, having matters of actual importance to discuss."
Matters of actual importance. Oh dear. She really ought to take offense at that. Very likely she would, later.
"Yes, of course," she murmured.
* * *
Blast it! God-! Save him from virgins!
He'd hurt her feelings. Of course he had. He was a yak's ass. A steaming pile of horse apples. A maggot in the-
"Jamie?" Miss Baker turned to the footman. "Mr. Repton was shown to the wrong room. Would you see him to Ben's study?"
The footman's lips bunched with smothered laughter and Will stared over the boy's head. What matter if the lad was amused by the picture he made as one of her callers? God's sake, the woman attracted the likes of a duke.
He had changed. He'd always been patient before. And slow to anger. And kind to women.
But damn it, weren't servants supposed to be helpful?
"Yes, miss." The sniggering footman set off down the hall. "This way, sir, if you please."
Will inclined his head to Miss Baker, letting his eyes touch that beautiful face one last time. That beautiful, pouting-damn it-sad little face.
He bowed stiffly. "Thank you...for the tea, Miss Baker."
Her eyes shot to his and her brilliant smile was blinding him again. "You're welcome, Mr. Repton. And please do call anytime. Anytime at all."
He stared. Did she just invite him to call? On her?
Perplexed, he walked away but something made him stop and look again.
Still there. Still beaming.
There was definitely something wrong with her.
"Why?" he heard himself ask, frowning at his own stupidity.
Her head tilted in question. A trait of hers, then. A bloody adorable one. "Why did you read my reports?" he asked brusquely.
"You are a hero."
"Right," he muttered. "Good-bye, Miss-"
"But then because-" She glanced back at the parlor of admirers and, for the first time, her face wore a look of uncertainty. "Because I felt you were writing to me. And to me alone, and if I did not read every report as soon as they arrived, then you would be all alone. And not just feel alone, but truly...be alone."
"I wasn't alone," he blurted.
But you were, a voice in his mind hissed. You were alone at the end.
"It is silly, I know." Her blush deepened, but still she smiled. "Everyone tells me I am prone to fanciful notions. I realize those who actually experience have no need for fantasy. I am endeavoring to be such a person."
She eyed him expectantly-hopefully-but he was at a complete loss. With a quick bow, he turned and left her in the hall.
Thank God the study was empty. He set down the plants and massaged the tension in his neck. At twenty-eight, he'd stared down the sheer wall of an eight-hundred-foot gorge but was shaken from a minute's proximity to one happy...confusing chatterbox of a woman.
There was much to get used to again. Crowds, comforts, women. He and the crew had subsisted on the crudest food and meanest shelter, growing tough as the weathered hides they wore on their backs.
Yet rugged as they all were, he'd been the only one to survive.
He breathed deep. The study was cool and dim, the table topped with horticultural books and a number of terrariums filled with exotic orchids. No doubt Ben Paxton had built those himself.
Good. Marriage to a countess hadn't stripped the man of his interests.
Steps approached from the hall and the towering Ben Paxton strode in. "Will! Damn good to see you. Welcome back."
"It's been a long time." Shaking his hand, Will was struck by the smile Ben wore. It was strange enough that a botanist had wed a countess, but the Ben Paxton he remembered working alongside his father was a man who spoke little and smiled even less. Marriage had granted Ben happiness at last.
Would he be unwilling to invest, then? An ambitious man would aid his return; a family man would not.
Ben gestured Will into a chair. "Sorry to keep the famous ‘Chinese Will' waiting." He chuckled at Will's grimace. "Sorry. I confess. I read the series in the Illustrated News to my son. You're his hero."
"Best he not meet me in the flesh, then. Congratulations on your family."
A proud light lit Ben's eyes. "My son was the reason for my delay. I was looking for him."
Will tensed, fighting the urge to scan the room. "Did he find his way back to the nursery?"
"The nursery? Oh no, he's needed in the ladies' parlor with his Aunt Charlotte. It's Sunday, after all."
"Right, sorry. Charlotte's friends call every day, but Sunday, the bachelors visit." His voice lowered with good-natured weariness. "A receiving day for her suitors and she's using my son to help choose her husband. It's one of her tests. So tell me-"
"Tests? I don't understand."
"You know, tests. For a husband. Is he easy with children? Does he esteem his mother? Are his trousers too long or too short?"
Will checked the length of his own pants, then frowned at his own stupidity. "How is that a test?"
"Evidently the wrong inseam signals a defect in personality. And since she planted that seed in my head, ironically it's proving true more often than not. Charlotte has new tests every week." Ben seemed to consider what he'd said. "New tests and new suitors, actually. It makes me wonder if these men aren't testing her right back."
Will frowned in incomprehension.
"Because she was born common," Ben explained. "And uncommonly beautiful, like my wife, Lucy. Did your father not tell you of the Bakers?"
"I assumed the family was of some rank."
"Their father was a schoolmaster. My wife married the earl very young, but he died before Lucy was...well, polished. But Charlotte was of an age to be schooled. She's been bred for a coronet, but I'm not certain these worthies can overlook her blood."
"Yes...well." Ben grinned without humor. "That's Society."
Will squared his shoulders. He had to stem the course of this discussion before it devolved further into aristocratic nonsense. And before he began imagining how many of Miss Baker's tests he could pass.
"Have you heard I'm to return?" Will asked.
The smile slid from Ben's face. "Return?"
"Another expedition into China."
Ben's reaction was the same as the others'-disbelief, followed by the same careful questions. "Your parents would rather you not go, I imagine?"
The question triggered an ill-timed frown. He'd give anything to spare his parents their fears, but he had no choice but to bluster this out. "You know my father, Ben. He's never wandered more than twenty miles from home. He doesn't comprehend how vast the world is.
"There are varieties of plants in Asia you and I have never seen or read of. Dozens, hundreds." Will rose to retrieve the carrion plants. "I found these specimens near the Burma plantations. They're remarkable. The taxonomists at Kew are still struggling over them-"
Ben raised a staying hand. "It sounds extraordinary, Will. But you've spent a decade collecting. Why not let others go with your counsel?"
"I know the language, the people, the areas to avoid-"
"Most of China and the whole of Tibet is an area to avoid. You nearly died. Your entire crew was lost."
"That attack was an aberration. The massacre-" Will stopped, seeing Ben stiffen. He'd forgotten. Some couldn't bear to listen. His family, his friends, couldn't listen-not without bracing themselves as Ben was doing now.
Strange then how the rest of England thirsted for every bloody detail.
Will sat back in his chair. "The men and I trekked hundreds of miles, season after season, recording every discovery, and in the end..." All dead. "It's unfinished."
Ben nodded slowly. "And you believe you have luck enough for the return?"
Luck...no, not nearly enough. But if he couldn't persuade Ben, what hope did he have to raise the money? He'd been rejected by a dozen already.
"I've no use for luck." Will set his face in a careful mask before his next lie. "There's no plan to enter Tibet."
"And your injuries?"
Will didn't even blink. "Healed. And healing."
Ben's eyes returned to the case and the mysterious plants within, and Will leaned in. "Can I count on you for one hundred?"
"That doesn't seem enough."
"You're not the only one I'm asking."
He might have asked Ben for a thousand times that amount, but he was a friend of his father's and there were too many risks to guarantee any return on his investment.
But Christ, he needed a bit of luck soon. The winds would change; he needed to be on a ship by the end of August, and with the money in hand to boot.
"I'm torn, Will. I'm meant to be loyal to your father. How can I lend aid that would enable his son to sail from England?"
Because they're waiting.
Will breathed, deep and steady, trying to hold the dark memories at bay.
He never could.
"I have to return, Ben. It's like the land takes a bite of your soul." The ground was thirsty. "There's nothing like the discovery of a hidden world-" Where are the children? "Hidden and waiting to be found. And you find yourself all alone in nature, in a world so vast-"
Dead. All dead.
Will clasped his hands to keep them from shaking. "A world so vast, even God can't find you."
Ben was silent, and Will lowered his gaze to hide the darkness the man would see there.
"I'll need a few days, Will. I'm sorry to say I'm undecided on the matter."
This is how the conversation would always play. A less tactful man would've said it aloud. Undecided because he nearly succumbed to fever. Undecided because of his injuries.
Undecided because miraculously, inexplicably, suspiciously, he was the lone survivor.
It had been a bitter day when he learned he could no longer count on the patronage of the East India Company after all he'd endured. His trauma made him an undesirable investment and they had no qualms over saying so.
Will would raise the two thousand and fund the expedition himself.
And there'd be no one to interfere with the true purpose of his return.
Will forced his lips into a relaxed smile. "Of course. I'm happy to share the proposal with you and your wife at any time. I look forward to meeting her." Will paused, careful to match a neutral tone to his next words. "I did meet your sister-in-law, briefly."
"Only briefly?" Ben returned his attention to the journal. "You mean to tell me Charlotte didn't shackle herself to you and heap a hundred questions on your head?"
He opened his mouth to reply but where there should have been words, there was only an image of-God almighty-Miss Baker, shackled.
"I'm glad of it anyway." Ben paged through his sketches, unaware of Will's distraction. "Charlotte's begged me daily to call on you so she could know you. She was already harassing me to collect the last installment of your reports from the Geographical Society."
Ben lifted his head to meet his gaze. "She knows nothing of the violence that occurred there. You understand I'd rather she not know. The newspapers haven't printed that story, thank God."
"Only because they don't have it. The broadsides got hold of the report, though. Printed some grisly drawings."
Ben frowned, shaking his head. "Charlotte doesn't read those-her brother and I don't allow it. She's lived gently. The incident would distress her."
The incident. Blessedly, a memory of delphinium eyes rose, rather than the usual visions.
"I only mention it because Charlotte wishes to read the final volume. I've managed to put her off, but I warn you-she's criminally charming and accustomed to getting what she wants. But I imagine you'll like her well enough."
"Like" wasn't quite the word that came to mind. "Lust" wasn't, either-though he was fairly certain that sentiment was in play.
There was something else about her. Something...warming. Like she'd disturbed some heavy curtain and let slip a ray of sun into a cold, dark room.
He shook his mind free of the thought. There could be nothing between him and the popular Miss Baker. But damned if he didn't wonder what she was doing right now in that back parlor. And if she'd spared him another thought.
It didn't matter. He'd vowed to his friends that he'd return. There might be one he may yet save.
And there wasn't a woman alive who would sway him from his course.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved the wounded brooding hero and the buoyant heroine who helps him find peace and healing.
Will Repton had a limping gate it had been five years since he had been in London and he didn’t remember London so busy . Will is twenty eight and had been in Tibet and China he had been an envoy Of East India Company.. Will returned a famous explorer and celebrated plant hunter. He also returned crippled the only survivor of a massacre while away. Will hadn’t seen Ben in years. Ben was now married to a countess and had children and was a friend of Will’s father. Will was lead to the living room with nine men obviously waiting for Charolette who was the countess’s sister. The butler thought Will was yet another suitor. Charolette very much wanted to meet Will. Charolette thought Will could redeem her family name and he was the man she dreamed of and was destines to marry: he was handsome,brave, daring, and kind. Charolette sees it as her responsibility to make a good match so the family would be accepted by the ton again. Also her sisters could make good marriages. Will is considered a hero by all of England just not by himself. Will is attracted to Charolette but keeps rejecting her as long as he can. I liked this story alot. It was a little slow in the beginning but it did get going and was worth getting through the slower part. My heart went out to Will and I loved how humble he was. It made me happy how Charolette felt. My heart did go out to will for his physical and mental problems he had from what happened while away. I loved how Will gave Charolette flowers . It toke awhile for Will to let his real feelings come through. At first I wasn’t too happy the way Will was treating Charolette but I also knew why he was acting that way. I recommend. I received an ARC of this story for an honest review.
I cannot believe this is a debut novel. The story was wonderful - characters with depth and layers, supporting characters that are fleshed out and not just afterthoughts or cardboard characters. I love how the heroine, Charlotte, is portrayed. She is aware that she comes off as “a bit fluffy”, but she knows and we know that she has much more depth. She is very intelligent without having to be a “bluestocking”. I found this author when Courtney Milan recommended her in her most recent newsletter (and sent a "thank you" to her for the recommendation!). The next book in the series, “Discovery of Desire” (Seth’s story) is already on my Must Read list. I purchased this book at a brick & mortar B&N store.
This is book 1 in the London Explorer Series. Will Repton is just in London long enough to get funding to travel back to Tibet. Having survived a massacre, he must get back and try to local a small child that might have survived also. He doesn't have time for distractions, especially not pretty, vivacious ones like Charlotte Baker. Charlotte has been following the exploits of Will for many years. She is fascinated by him and his travels. Instantly recognizing a kindred soul, Charlotte is determined to ensnare him. But can she get him to think about something other than his return trip long enough to win his heart? I really enjoyed this first time novel by Lord. You've got socially awkward Will, who gets flustered when he is around Charlotte. This of course makes Charlotte think that he doesn't like her. But then we see Will do things that he normally wouldn't do just to impress her and she does start to take notice. They definitely had their work cut out for them to get to their HEA!! Lord is definitely going to be on TBR list in the future. The ending of this story has me so excited to see what she has in store for us next!! Unfortunately, we have to wait until Sept 2016 to find out… Thanks go out to Sourcebooks via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
With the heart of a warrior and the spirit of an adventurer Will Repton has faced calamities others can only imagine. When his last one ended tragically with him the sole survivor he returned home to a hero's welcome with a heavy heart. I received an ARC of In Search of Scandal in exchange for an honest review. Susanne Lord does a beautiful job in presenting a man questioning his value. Will came home a changed man. His physical limitations and awareness of his surroundings are more pronounced. He may be home but he feels like the odd man out. He and Charlotte were magic together. She opens his eyes to the fact that in life everyday is a new experience and no matter where you end up someone always has your back. This was a serious story that was laid out with sensational skill and characters that are entrancing.
Charlotte Baker knows that it is her duty to marry well and return her family to the status they once enjoyed amonst the ton. When she encounters William Repton, the famed botanist, she sees her chance. William is something of a celebrity and marrying him will surely push her family back into the limelight. Charlotte has built him up in her mind as the perfect man, but she is unprepared for what he truly is - a man broken and haunted by a horrendous expedition in Tibet and China and thoroughly repulsed by her obvious hero-worship. A good effort for a debut novel, but a lot of the plot and characterization fell flat for me. I especially didn't like the heroine's single-minded determination to snare the hero. I had hoped we'd moved beyond the time when a woman's sole life goal was to catch a husband. And yes, I realize that was likely in Victorian England, but this is romance - we read to escape reality and there are certain expectations that come with the genre nowadays; specifically that the heroine have a motivating goal beyond finding a husband! However, points regained for excellent writing craft and use of language. Susanne Lord is clearly a talented author that just needs to re-evaluate her chosen plot devices. Plot Twist Reviews [dot] Com I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Based on the character and circumstances of the leading man you would expect him to consummate his marriage, especially after being celibate for 6 or 8 years. The story would have ended there. There's ongoing bull's hit angst created to keep the story going. I wouldn't waste my time with this author's work again.
This was fun, but a little drawn out. Will Repton is a famous explorer that collects plant seeds from far away places. This may not sound all that glamorous, but he's brought back several species that were completely new to Europe and is quite famous for it. Traveling through strange lands isn't nearly as glamorous as people seem to think. Will harbors some dark secrets and a quest to go back and try to make some things right. Charlotte on the other hand, seems to be the belle of the ball. Everyone in the ton loves her and the men are all hoping to win her hand, if not her heart. But when she meets Will, she has eyes only for him. Unfortunately those eyes are clouded with dreams of a hero and explorer that will fall hopelessly in love with her and they can make moon eyes at each other for the rest of their days. She is not a silly girl at all - but she does come across as one many times. I really enjoyed the dialog between Charlotte and Will. They were both very intelligent characters with strong opinions - that didn't always agree. With such different personalities it's hard to believe they could ever come together, but this is romance with an amazing HEA scene. The only part I didn't like was there was almost too many different conflicts surrounding the couple. There were at least four major issues that came and then went one after the other. There was so much going on that I had a hard time really feeling the danger/tension that any one of the created. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*