The Improper Bride

The Improper Bride

by Lily Maxton

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Overview

The Improper Bride by Lily Maxton

Cold, arrogant, and demanding Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, would never dally with a mere servant. But when Henry is injured in a horrible fire, his pretty housekeeper Cassandra nurses him back to health, throwing them together day and night. As he slowly heals from his burns, their friendship blossoms, and the class walls between them start to crumble. Cassandra is surprised by glimpses of a kind and thoughtful man beneath her employer's hard façade-and even more surprised when she develops tender feelings for him. But anything between lord and servant is impossible...and besides, as a widow, she knows love only leads to heartbreak.

Henry is changing, as well. His close brush with death has opened his eyes to his self-imposed emotional isolation...and has urgently reminded him of his duty to marry a well-bred lady and produce an heir. Determined to do right by his family name, he immediately begins searching for a suitable bride. But Cassandra is the only woman who is never far from his mind or his heart. Contrary to everything he's been taught to believe, he realizes his lovely housekeeper might just be his perfect match. Now, if only he could convince everyone else of that. Especially Cassandra...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682810958
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Publication date: 01/25/2016
Pages: 292
Sales rank: 1,181,319
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Improper Bride

A Sisters of Scandal Novel


By Lily Maxton, Nina Bruhns

Entangled Publishing, LLC

Copyright © 2016 Lily Maxton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63375-548-2


CHAPTER 1

Cassandra Davis was shirking her duties as the housekeeper of Blakewood Hall. She'd sent away Lord Riverton's houseguests, as the man in question wasn't actually conscious, and the staff didn't need aristocrats running about with no one to entertain them. Unoccupied aristocrats could be a bit like the sheepdog her family had once owned — friendly when something was put in front of them to catch their attention but rather inclined to tear up the furniture when there wasn't.

But she didn't consider sending them away neglecting her duties. Lord Riverton wouldn't want them there while he was incapacitated — she was certain of it.

This, on the other hand — resting in a winged chair in the library while she perused the man's extensive book collection — was clearly shirking.

But Lord Riverton would never know. And books were meant to be read. As long as none of the servants noticed where she'd been sneaking off to these past few days, no harm was done. Her fingers smoothed over the crisp parchment, almost lovingly.

She jumped to her feet when the door opened with no warning. Heart in her throat, she turned, half expecting it to be Lord Riverton. But no, the master of the house wouldn't be visiting this lovely room anytime soon.

"Mr. Taylor," she said, relieved that it was the butler. She'd come to think of him as a friend, though he was at least two decades older than her. All of her brothers were younger than she was, and though she loved them all, they had been absolute terrors at the best of times. If she pictured what a kind older brother would have been like, Mr. Taylor always came to mind.

In fact, he could sometimes be a little too kind with some of the lower servants, but she balanced him out by being stricter, and they worked well together.

He might have been a handsome man when he was younger — even now his dark gray hair and long face looked more distinguished than aged.

He watched her curiously from the doorway. "Hiding away, Mrs. Davis?"

"Of course not. What would I be hiding from?"

He moved across the thick Axminster carpet to stand by the winged chair. Before she could protest, he'd lifted the book she'd been reading from the chair. "Latin?" he asked. "Can you read Latin?"

"No," she said, suddenly embarrassed. "I was just ..." Indulging my silly fantasies. "I was just looking," she responded, almost wryly.

Mr. Taylor handed the book to her with a slight lift of his eyebrows, and she turned to the tall mahogany bookcases to replace the volume, pretending it was perfectly normal to a find a housekeeper in her master's library looking through a book written in Latin. She didn't know what she'd been thinking, to start coming here after the fire.

Well, perhaps she did. At first she'd been thinking she was grateful the fire hadn't touched the library and all the beautiful, beautiful books Lord Riverton owned. She'd been right alongside the other servants, scraping her hands on brick as they'd walled up the south gallery to contain the fire. For a moment, she'd nearly sunken into despair. It was too late. The fire was spreading too fast. Blakewood Hall, the house she'd run for five years, the place she took such pride in, would surely crumble to ash.

It was silly to become so attached to stone and wood, but she feared losing the house would take a piece of her heart.

But by some miracle, by the sweat and blood of every single servant working together, the gallery was walled in time, and when Thomas arrived back from the parish church with the fire engine, they'd managed to put out the blaze.

The south wing of the house was damaged beyond repair. The day after the fire, she'd stood in one of the ruined bedchambers. Bare trees had been visible through the gaps in the blackened wall. She'd wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the cold autumn breeze that came through the breaches. The wall hangings had been scorched beyond recognition, the furniture only rubble.

So, she'd initially gone into the library, her favorite room in the entire house for its understated elegance — plain white walls offset by rich green and white drapes with a floral pattern that matched the furniture — just to make sure it was still there. Still in one piece. It was a sentimental gesture, she supposed. Obviously, it was all in one piece. The library wasn't in the south wing. The heavy damask curtains didn't smell of smoke. The parquet floor was untouched. The lovely crystal chandelier still hung in the middle of the ceiling. And the bookcases that stretched along nearly every inch of available wall were intact.

There was no reason for her to be there. She didn't need to inventory any destroyed furniture. Or clean any blackened surfaces. But even though she had no call to be there, she'd still taken a book from the shelf, still sat down in the winged chair.

And had continued to do so, every afternoon, for the past three days.

She tried not to remember that this was Lord Riverton's private library, and he wouldn't want her here. Nor that the marquess was currently inches away from death, according to Mr. Faulkner, the surgeon.

Mr. Taylor gazed at the bookcases for a moment, his back to her. Then he turned, and they stood facing one another, a few feet apart. "You've never liked him, have you?"

She tensed. "Pardon?"

"Lord Riverton."

"Why would you say that?"

"You become ... I don't know how to phrase it — stiffer, perhaps? — when you're around him."

She wanted to say she did no such thing. But she had a sinking feeling she did. She hadn't realized anyone else had noticed.

"Mr. Faulkner doesn't know if he'll awaken," Mr. Taylor continued when she didn't respond.

She glanced at him, her heart taking a sharp descent. "He thinks Lord Riverton won't survive?"

"He doesn't know."

That little dart of ... something ... shot through her again. Surely, it was only trepidation. She had a secure position at Blakewood Hall. Had, in fact, imagined working here until she retired, though she was currently only two and thirty.

So it was in her best interest that Lord Riverton didn't die.

She didn't want to be uprooted from the life she'd built here. The security she'd waited for so long to attain. Since her husband's death, she'd wanted nothing more than a place she belonged, and she'd found that place, found an occupation, at Blakewood Hall.

"The marquess is demanding," Mr. Taylor said.

"And ungrateful," she added.

"But he's never been cruel to any of us."

And, sad as it was to admit, that was more than could be said of some employers. She supposed this was Mr. Taylor's way of saying he wouldn't like it if the marquess died.

Cassandra, contrary to whatever she felt she should feel, didn't think she'd like it, either.

CHAPTER 2

Later that day, Cassandra slipped up the narrow servants' staircase, coming to stand in front of the door to the guest chamber where they'd put Lord Riverton. She knocked gently, and when no one answered, she went inside.

The room was about half the size of Lord Riverton's normal bedchamber. On one side stood a wardrobe and washstand, on the other, a plain, unadorned bed. The wall hangings were a simple striped blue.

Lord Riverton was unmoving, but she could hear his deep, even breathing. That was a good sign, wasn't it?

She stepped closer to the still heap on the mattress, viewing him through a shaft of evening sunlight that filtered past the curtains. He was so wrapped up in cloth and bandages that she wouldn't have known who he was if she'd come upon him unawares. Gone was his command, gone was his confidence, gone was his arrogance.

His skin — the parts she could see at least — was pale. Bandages covered one side of his face but the other was untouched. Long lashes shadowed his cheekbone. His eyelid, a bruised blue, almost looked delicate.

Strange, seeing him like this should have humbled him in her eyes. At least some small, mean part of her should have enjoyed it. But to Cassandra it felt all wrong. Lord Riverton wasn't this pale, lifeless thing. He wasn't a shell. She would have preferred him snapping out commands. She would have preferred ... anything but this.

She lifted her hand. Anticipation twisted in her chest, the sharp thrill of the forbidden, and before she knew what she was about, her fingertips grazed his cheek. He felt warm — hopefully it wasn't the beginning of a fever. Stubble scratched at her, and when she looked closer, she noticed the shadow of an unshaved beard. She'd never seen him less than immaculate before.

More startling, she'd never touched him before. Five years living in the same house as a man, managing said house for him, and they were little more than strangers. He gave her commands. She obeyed. She never would have thought to touch him if he hadn't looked so defenseless.

Never would have known what his skin felt like beneath her fingers.

Shame filled her. What would he think to wake up and find his housekeeper pawing at his face? What on earth had possessed her?

A huff of ironic laughter escaped her lips. She knew exactly what had possessed her. For years, some small, secret part of her had wanted to touch the coldly perfect marquess.

She lifted her hand from his cheekbone and left the room quickly, guiltily, like a child who'd been caught sneaking sweetmeats.

The next day Mr. Faulkner burst into the servants' hall while they were at their meal.

"Lord Riverton is awake!"

And the relief that swept her at hearing this news was a little too strong for the simple relief a servant might feel for her employer.

CHAPTER 3

Cassandra was in the housekeeper's room, checking over the household accounts, when a raised voice in the hallway caught her attention. She went to investigate and found two maids, Kitty and Mary, standing in the middle of the narrow corridor with their heads bent together. They were so deep in conversation they hadn't noticed her.

Mary had the sleeve of her dress raised, which revealed a dark bruise near her elbow.

"I just went in to tidy up, like Mrs. Davis asked me to," Mary said with a sniff.

"Oh dear," Kitty commiserated. "You'll want to put salve on that, I think. Perhaps the surgeon will take a look?"

Mary lifted a shoulder. "If he stops groveling around Lord Riverton long enough to notice."

Cassandra stepped forward. "What's going on?"

"I went in there to clean and start the fire, and his lordship threw a book at me," Mary said indignantly. "Scared me half to death."

Cassandra blinked. Lord Riverton had never shown violence toward any of his employees before. But he was injured. Sometimes pain caused people to act out in ways they wouldn't normally. She eyed the bruise and felt a shock of anger. She was in charge of these girls, and she wasn't going to tolerate any abuse, no matter what the marquess had suffered.

"I'm going upstairs," she told the maids. "When I return, I hope to find you cleaning the blue sitting room. The rugs are due for a beating."

"If you return," Mary said ominously.

Cassandra glared at the girl, who meekly looked down. The two maids turned, and she waited for them to disappear down the corridor before she went on her own way. She noticed Kitty appeared subdued — usually the maid darted from place to place like a happy sparrow. The girl had been ill after the fire, but in all the chaos, Cassandra hadn't had time to check in on her. She hoped the maid wasn't still sick.

Cassandra sighed and lifted her gaze to the ceiling. She had more immediate problems to occupy her.

Like a marquess who'd taken to throwing books at his servants.

She shook off her anxiety at seeing the marquess again and resolutely climbed the stairs.

There was no answer when Cassandra scratched on the bedchamber door. "Lord Riverton?" she called through the wood. "It's Mrs. Davis." This time she knocked.

Silence.

Eerie silence.

She battled her unease, squared her shoulders, and pushed open the door. The hinges creaked loudly in the quiet of the room, boldly announcing her presence.

Thick curtains were drawn over the window, casting the room in deep shadows. Was Riverton sitting in the dark? Was he asleep?

If he was sleeping, perhaps she should just tiptoe quietly out —

"What do you want?" A voice came from the corner. Not a polite voice, but deep and threatening and hoarse, more of a snarl than speech.

Her hand tightened on the doorknob for an instant before she let go and stepped inside. There was no reason to falter — Lord Riverton had never hurt her.

Hopefully, book-throwing was not his new favorite pastime.

Cautiously, she moved closer, coming to stop at the side of the bed. With no fire lit, the room was freezing, a dark and quiet cavern. She saw him in the dim light. He lay on his back with his arm stretched out in a splint over the top of the blanket that covered his body. As it had the last time she'd been here, cotton bandaging covered the side of his face.

The shadow on his jaw had grown darker, and she remembered the scratch of his stubble on the pads of her fingers like a forbidden caress. Her hand twitched with something like longing, and she balled it into a fist. Even if she was mad enough to want to reach for him, in his current state, he looked as if he'd be liable to bite off her fingers.

She straightened, pushing away the tantalizing whisper of memory. He would never know she'd caressed his face while he was asleep, and she was grateful for it — she couldn't fathom what his reaction would be if he found out. "Mary informed me of a troubling event, my lord."

He eyed her balefully from his prone position. He reminded her of a disgruntled cat. "Which one is that?"

"Which one?"

"Mary. Is she the dark-haired one?"

Her hands clenched. He didn't even know the name of the servant he'd thrown a book at? Did he know hers, or was she simply Mrs. Davis, the housekeeper? It shouldn't matter. Really, there were plenty of lords who probably didn't know all of their servants' names. Or even any of them.

But for some reason, the knowledge upset her.

Of course, she refrained from voicing her displeasure — she doubted he would care. And that wasn't why she was here, anyway. "You threw a book at her and bruised her arm. I won't tolerate such behavior."

"You won't tolerate it?" he growled silkily. "What will you do to stop me?"

"I ..."

Well, that was a good question. There truly wasn't much she could do to oppose the marquess, except leave her position, and she didn't know if that was a smart thing to threaten. She took pride in her work as his housekeeper. But there were other good housekeepers out there. She wasn't irreplaceable.

"I'll be very displeased," she settled for. She wanted to groan in the silence that followed. She sounded like a complete ninny.

He suddenly barked a laugh. "Your displeasure is the least of my concerns, madam."

She faltered and gazed down at him. His vulnerability distressed her more than it should. For a moment it pushed away her annoyance. "Are you ... are you in much pain?"

He hesitated, then said, "The laudanum helps, but I can't sleep spread out like a paper doll."

"Why —"

"The surgeon tells me that if I don't keep the muscles in my arm flexed, I may lose use of them altogether."

"Oh."

"Oh," he mocked. "Go away, Mrs. Davis."

She knew from having five younger brothers that men were typically the worst bed patients, so she tried not to let his sharpness bother her. "Do you need anything? It's so cold in this room. Should I —"

"Touch that kindling and I'll throw a book at you, too."

Ah. Suddenly, she understood.

Still ... "You need to apologize to Mary," she said stiffly. He would become a tyrant if someone didn't keep him in line, and that unfortunate job fell to her at the moment.

"I don't give a fuck for Mary," he snarled.

Cassandra stiffened in bewildered shock. She'd heard that word once in her life, when she'd overhead her brothers speaking and they hadn't known she was listening. Her own husband, who'd been a sailor, had never even used such words in front of her.

"That was uncalled for," she said calmly, hiding her anger behind a wall of coolness.

He didn't reply. She couldn't recall Lord Riverton ever apologizing for anything. It was probably too much to hope he'd start now.

She turned to leave, but his voice stopped her. "Have you heard the Myth of Er?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Improper Bride by Lily Maxton, Nina Bruhns. Copyright © 2016 Lily Maxton. 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.

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The Improper Bride 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it weird that he was so blase about his child with his former mistress. Or maybe...Cassandra was that way. The story was fine/predictable. But shouldnt she be at all concerned about that?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will be searching for more stories from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great
Lori-Gonzo More than 1 year ago
I loved this beautifully written story and the relationship journey between Henry and Cassandra. My heart went out to both of them from the beginning of their story. The way Henry was transformed from ruthless coldhearted to wanting what he thought was important in life. He owed that to Cassandra. I enjoyed the way she would stand up to him, despite it not being wise to do. She humanized him and brought out his softer side. Their connection was heartwarming and deeper than they both realized. I like the fact that even though the "elites" would try to bring Cassandra down, that she held her head up high and not let them get to her. She was a strong female character who I cheered on throughout the book. And Henry melted my heart when he learned that everyone mattered regardless of their station. I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher through Netgalley.
Georgianna48 More than 1 year ago
The Improper Bride is a historical romance by the talented author Lily Maxton. This is part of her Sisters of Scandal series. Some of the characters in this book are mentioned or featured in her other book or books. This is the story of Henry Eldridge, the Marquess of Riverton, and his housekeeper, Cassandra Davis. The story begins with Henry in his bedroom and finding that this wing of his house is on fire and he is about to be burned to death. However, while trying to get out a beam from his bed canopy crashed down and hit his head, resulting in many horrible burns on half his face and body. The servants managed to pull him out and save his life, but he was unconscious for a long period. Cassandra Davis, a widow, is a young but able housekeeper and doing a marvelous job. The doctor charges her with helping to keep Henry occupied and pull him out of melancholy or depression while recovering. She does this by a unique idea of having him tutor her in German. That’s the set-up. This story is well written with a slightly more modern language instead of antiquated terms. I didn’t feel any of the historical significance was lacking by it, in fact it made the story more compelling and easier to get into. It’s a slow building romance between members of separate classes in society. It’s alternately heartwarming, frustrating, provocative, infuriating, and heart wrenching in the telling. Once they leave the privacy of his sick room and he begins to regain his life, the obstacles of position and class make themselves felt. The attraction and growing respect between the two characters is incredibly well done. If you enjoy a really good romance, and all the frustrations that can be done while you wait for it to build, this is the book for you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It felt a lot like living it along with the characters. Grab your favorite beverage, cuddle up (or down) and be prepared for an enjoyable trip of emotions! Copy supplied by author.
Historical_Romance_Lover More than 1 year ago
This is book 5 in the Sisters of Scandal series. Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, barely survives a fire in his home. During his recovery, his doctor asks his staff to find something to to occupy his time so he doesn't end up brooding all the time. Cassandra, Henry's housekeeper, steps up and volunteers. She has always wanted to learn German and what better way to help herself and the Marquess at the same time. But as Cassandra spends more and more time with her employer, the attraction she feels for him grows out of control. As Henry starts to heal, he realizes that time is getting away from him and he must find a bride. He organizes a house party and has his sister invite eligible prospects. But he soon realizes that he would much rather be spending time with his housekeeper than his guests. Can these two, from two different world, make it work? So it took me until about halfway through this story to realize that I had meet Henry and Cassandra in the previous story by Maxton. We met them in The Mistake. Henry was the protector of Julia and Cassandra was the housekeeper that hooked up with Adam on occasion. At that point, I was like "oh... ok", but then I remember how much of a jack@$$ that Henry was to Julia.... I did however still enjoy this story. While convalescing, Henry did really start to become a better person. Cassandra made him realize what a total @$$ he was with people, including the servants. We see him start to care about others besides himself and being a better man. I also like that this story was unconventional. We have a peer of the realm that falls for his housekeeper. I always enjoy the stories when the H/H are of different classes as it forces them to work harder to get to their HEA. I'm really hoping that Maxton continues this series as I have throughly enjoyed it! I can't wait to see what she comes up with next! Thanks go out to Entangled Publishing via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
rabidreaderSR More than 1 year ago
This was a charming story of forbidden love between the heir to a dukedom and his housekeeper. Riverton whom we met in The Mistake had always been cold and ruthless, and it was enjoyable seeing a sweeter and more charming side of him emerge the more he interacted with his housekeeper. Of course it took slowly falling in love with Cassandra to reveal the type of man he is, a man who underneath the cold exterior was truly honourable, passionate, and kind-hearted. The Marquis was a good character and I enjoyed him. Cassandra was just as equally well developed and I enjoyed her struggle with falling in love with a man she knew was unattainable, and overcoming the heartbreak of losing her husband to find love thrilling again. The romance between them was full of wit, sensual heat, and engaging. It was delightful to watch the romance between Riverton and Cassandra unfold and I recommend The Improper Bride to lovers of historical romance.This review was originally posted on Geeks In High School
TammyS32 More than 1 year ago
When Henry, the Marquess of Riverton is injured in a fire, Cassandra nurses him back to health and keeps him occupied teaching her German. The near death experience has opened Henry’s eyes and he realizes he needs a bride and heir, while looking he only has thoughts of Cassandra, can a Marquess and a housekeeper find love together. This is a sweet story with plenty of humor and romance. I loved the story and the characters are fun and the chemistry great. Loved it.
Maria-Rose More than 1 year ago
Lily Maxton's historical romances have all made it onto my favourites list for their witty banter and delightful scenarios that are just a bit outside the norm of the times. In this case, it's a scarred and grumpy hero, Henry, who is recovering from his wounds due to a house fire. Truth be told,he was grumpy and cold and standoffish even before his injuries, but his disposition hasn't improved. His housekeeper of five years, Cassandra, is the only one who seems to be able to see beyond his bark to the lonely man underneath. As they start to connect on a more personal level, Henry comes to realize that she is invaluable to him, in more ways than one. Can a love affair between classes that should be doomed from the start survive? I loved this story! Seeing Henry evolve from the lonely and bitter man he is at the start to a caring and compassionate hero was a delight, as he learns to love and be loved in return. While it's necessary that he make changes in his attitude and beliefs in order to become worthy of Cassandra, he's not the only one who has to change. Cassandra, as a widow, has closed herself off from meaningful and loving relationships. Her position as housekeeper keeps her busy and worrying about the rest of the staff is enough to fill her days, particularly when her duties start to include the care of her injured employer. I loved seeing her start to open up to Henry (and vice versa) as they begin to share the details of what has made them who they are. The class difference is ever present, something Cassandra worries about far more than Henry does. In the end love triumphs. 4.5 stars for a delightful and heartwarming story.
Lashea677 More than 1 year ago
The Improper Bride is a story of how love can grow from the simplest acts of kindness. Cassandra is a woman who is devoted to her job. She has accepted her lot in life but her inquisitive mind and wandering spirit long for something more. Henry has a title, money and the means to accomplish all that Cassandra dreams of but he is unfulfilled. One event will break down society's walls and forever link the hearts of a housekeeper and a marquess. I have a fondness for authors who write stories driven by characters that endure the unthinkable but rebound and become better because of a new appreciation for things they neglected in the past. This is one of those stories and Lily Maxton is one of those authors. I received an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review.
Anlenhart1 More than 1 year ago
Henry, the Marques of Riverton, was injured in a fire at his estate. He refuses to call on his family and is nursed back to health by his housekeeper Cassandra. She has worked in the household for 5 years, and is content being a young widow. When Henry's doctor asks Cassandra to keep him occupied while he is recovering, she asks Henry to teach her German. Their lessons begin and their professional relationship becomes more. Henry decides he must find a bride and produce an heir, even as his feelings for Cassandra grow. Will they be able to overcome their differences to find happiness? I really enjoyed this book because it felt like the Dowton Abbey meets Beauty and the Beast. The book was well paced and the lead characters growth felt natural and appropriate for the time. It was a refreshing historical romance that was very engaging. I was given a free copy for an honest review.