He has three months to find a wifeor lose his estate. Spencer, Lord Ashwhite, doubts he'll find a suitable bride among the ton, until the unconventional Lady Amelia Baxley agrees to provide a list of candidates. It should be an ideal arrangement, were Spencer not growing attached to the one woman Amelia refuses to consider as a prospect: herself.
Independence means everything to Amelia, who has been burned in love before. The charming marquis is quickly putting her entire life in turmoil, and controlling her stubborn heart has never been such a challenge. But does the ever-practical Amelia dare to go from bride-finder to wife?
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London, England 1815
Lady Amelia Baxley admired the male species. The way they looked, their scent, the way they walked as though they owned the worldwhich everyone but man himself knows is a fabrication of the highest order. Yes, they were intriguing creatures to hunt.
Take this one. The new Lord Dudley looked positively dazed in Lady Havern's ballroom. His thick brown locks framed a sweet, innocent face. If only Amelia could redirect his odd interest in her, he'd be perfect for Cousin Lydia.
Straightening her gown, which kept twisting due to her maid's unfortunate antics with the needle, Amelia lifted her shoulders and tugged Lydia's arm. She strode toward the gentleman in question with Lydia in tow. An easy quarry this time. She smiled to herself as she adjusted her spectacles against the ridge of what she'd been told was quite an extraordinary nose.
"My lord," she said above the noise of the Beau Monde. "Have you been introduced to Miss Lydia Stanley?"
"Madam." He bowed, and Cousin Lydia responded with a lovely curtsy.
Things were going quite to plan. Smiling, Amelia pointed to Lydia's dance card. "I believe Miss Lydia has a spot open for the next dance. A quadrille, I presume?"
"You are indeed correct." Lydia giggled and proceeded to fan herself in a vigorous fashion. Amelia cleared her throat, and Lydia stopped. Thankfully.
A blush rose to Lord Dudley's face. Naturally he realized the prime position he was in as the new master of a prosperous earldom. Many hopeful misses would set their caps for him this Season. But Amelia was determined he give her impoverished cousin a chance. Yes, Lydia could be opinionated, but her looks were outstanding and her manner charming, if at times not quite impeccable. She deserved a good husband, one who would take care of her and her family.
Amelia gave the young earl a pointed look. His face reddened even more before he stuttered out an invitation. The music started, and the two made for the floor.
Satisfied with the outcome thus far, Amelia headed toward the balcony for a respite. Though she loved matchmaking and needed the funds to supplement her income, spending hours in a throng of overly dressed, heavily perfumed haut ton made her temples pound and her skin itch. How much better to curl up in a soft chair with a great book. Particularly Sense and Sensibility.
The author, referenced as "A Lady," inspired Amelia. Who could not help but feel moved by the sisters' plight in the story? Furthermore, she appreciated how the author emphasized the silliness of giving in to impulse. Nefarious emotions were for those without good sense.
She stepped onto the balcony and inhaled the warm, sweetly scented air. A lovely night for the Season, to be sure. Stars glittered above her and creative lanterns of varying colors had been hung within the trees, lighting a walking path for those seeking to escape the press of the ballroom.
She rested her head on her arms and let her eyes drift shut. A giggle flavored the night, followed by the low tones of a masculine voice. She listened to the variance of sound, her ear tuned to the lovely cadence of the gentleman's voice. It was soothing and deep.
She smiled to herself, then startled at the shriek that pierced the calm night. The distinct sound of a slap followed. Cringing, Amelia straightened and debated whether to run back to the ballroom or to investigate.
A rather choked version of weeping reached her. Rather than the lady striking a gentleman for behaving like a bounder, he must have slapped her! Well, that most certainly made up her mind. Amelia squared her shoulders and marched toward the sound. She rounded a jutting corner of the house and happened upon a tall, well-fashioned man who stood in front of a woman wearing an alarming number of jewels.
Indeed, they were almost blinding.
Amelia stifled her disapproval of such vanity and tapped the gentleman on the shoulder with her fan. There was simply no excuse for hitting a woman. Not even if she'd spent the last of the family funds on extravagance.
"Excuse me," she said crisply before he'd even turned around. "My breath of fresh air has been disturbed by your callous behavior. I suggest you move to the ballroom before I irreversibly damage your reputation."
She would never do such a thing, but this rogue must not know that.
In a lithe movement, the gentleman faced her. She took in the mark on his cheek and the blush on the other woman's. Obviously Amelia had been mistaken at firstthe woman had slapped him. Had she interrupted a spat? Her eyes narrowed. The woman was familiar somehow.
"May I introduce myself? Spencer, Lord Ashwhite." He reached for her hand. Unwilling to embarrass herself any further, or give in to bad etiquette, she allowed him to take her fingers and perform his bow.
"Lady Amelia Baxley." She pulled her hand back and offered a perfunctory curtsy. "And I do apologize for interrupting. I had thought something foul was afoot."
The woman's jewels clinked as she pointed a finger at Lord Ashwhite. "He is a cad."
"Did he harm you?" Amelia peered at the woman.
"He only has forever broken my heart," the lady declared in a decibel-shattering voice.
"Miss Winston is upset because I did not write to her while I was in the Americas." His wry tone held no humor.
This was quite obviously an emotional quarrel. In which case, Amelia had more productive ways to spend her time. She took in Lord Ashwhite's appearance, the way his notable green eyes appeared to flash in the moonlight. He had strong features. A firm jaw and handsome face. Thick hair of the deepest brown. At first look, he'd make a good prospect for one of her customers. Of course, she'd need to examine his character first.
Some tidbit of information niggled at her consciousness. Something she should remember about his name
"There is nothing afoot, my lady, but an evening of dance and merriment. Please accept my apologies for disrupting your evening. Miss Winston was just leaving."
A sound that might have been outrage strangled from the woman, but after leveling a severe glare at Lord Ashwhite, she brushed past in a flurry of silk and gemstones. Amelia suppressed a shudder and wondered again why the woman struck such a discord within.
"My lady." Lord Ashwhite commanded Amelia's attention. "May I steal a dance from you later this evening? To atone for my atrocious behavior?"
Was she supposed to laugh at that? Perhaps it was a trick of the glittering stars overhead, but there seemed to be a definite flash of mischief about this gentleman. She narrowed her eyes at him, wondering if he could see past her spectacles. She'd been told she had an assertive gaze and she tried often to put it to good use.
"Do you know who I am, Lord Ashwhite?"
He grinned at her, showcasing a spectacular set of ivory teeth. "I see a lady in need of a dance. They say exercise can relieve many ailments, including a corset that has been overly starched."
She tucked back a gasp at his outrageous comment and focused on the most pertinent point. "My lord, I do not dance, and since you are not aware of my status in the ton, let me inform you that I am most firmly on the shelf."
"This means you may not dance?"
"A lady always knows her place," she said, feeling an unnerving heat creep through her. Who was this man, and what right did he have to question her? "If you'll excuse me, I must check on my cousin."
Indeed, the strains of music undulating from the ballroom had slowed. A new dance might begin at any moment, and she needed to find Lydia before then to ascertain the merit of Lord Dudley's courtship. She must also not let matters progress too far until she heard from her Bow Street runner on Dudley's background. Though he appeared innocent, she'd learned the hard way how deeply deceiving appearances could be.
"Not so fast." Lord Ashwhite moved toward her. His tall stature made her feel at a disadvantage. She drew herself up and met his arresting look with a firm one of her own.
"Sir, do you dare detain me?"
"I dare." He grinned. "You see, your name is familiar for some unknown reason, yet it is only now that I meet you. My curiosity has been roused. A dance might put it to rest."
"You speak in circles," she said lightly, feeling an unusual breathlessness creep into her voice.
"Surely you jest, my lady, for I have been quite clear in what I want from you." Again that roguish smile crossed his face. His eyes crinkled at the corners.
Warmth suffused Amelia, for she had not danced in years. Not since The Great Disappointment No, she did not wish to think of that. Swallowing against myriad feelings she had no name for, she offered the gentleman before her a slight smile, preparing to reject him. She had little patience for men who went around breaking hearts. Indeed, she had little patience for men at all.
And then she spotted the enamored Lord Dudley heading toward her. She did not think she could endure another conversation with him. He simply did not take a hint.
Oh, dear. She met Lord Ashwhite's impertinent look.
"I will allow one dance with the understanding that it is probable I will step on your toes."
Was it possible for his smile to widen? For that was what his lips appeared to do, easing upward in a most disconcerting, charming way. He swept her a bow and then offered his arm. "We shall dance, then, and see if a few rounds about the floor might clear my head. Perhaps I shall realize you're not quite as fascinating as I fear."
Despite herself, Amelia chuckled. His arm felt warm and sturdy, and the merriment in his voice was catching. "Fear not. You can rest assured that by the end of our dance, you will find me both dreadfully boring and an awkward partner."
"Do not disappoint me, my lady," he warned, his tone teasing.
She patted his arm. "You, sir, will soon realize that Lady Amelia Baxley never disappoints."
The marquis of Ashwhite could not take his eyes from his dance partner. She had disappointed him terribly. Not once had her toes flattened his. In fact, as they performed the steps to the quadrille, he admired her flawless dancing. She had misled him.
What was it about this lady that provoked his attention? Not her dress, certainly, for while she wore the height of fashion, and the colors seemed acceptable enough, the dress did not stand out in any way. And the lady herself was not extraordinary.
She stood an average height with an average girth. Her hair, tucked into a respectable hairstyle for which he knew not the name, was a tame brown. She hid her eyes behind overly large spectacles.
Perhaps it had been that strident, no-nonsense tone as she'd rushed around the corner and hit him with her fan. Or maybe it was her skin, which looked like luminous velvet beneath the gentle glow of moonlight. He shook his head. Ridiculous musings.
Still, Lady Amelia had captured his respect for running to the aid of another, though misdirected. Such heroism was uncommon.
He watched her now, the graceful movements of her arms, the slender line of her neck as they completed the steps required. Yes, she had distracted him from the difficult problems that faced him. Because of a bizarre clause in his father's will, after he finished this dance, he must scan the ballroom for prospective wives. This Season had produced a mass of simpering misses whose young faces looked fresh from the schoolroom.
The music slowed and as he crossed the floor with Lady Amelia on his arm, he noticed the way a smile teased the corners of her surprisingly full lips. Her gaze flickered over to him andwas that laughter he saw in her eyes?
A most intriguing lady.
The song ended and he escorted her to the edge of the floor.
"Lord Ashwhite, I must thank you for the dance." She fanned herself, but still a blush stained her skin, turning it rose-petal soft. A beguiling creature, to be sure. "It has been much too long since I had such a delightful partner."
He inclined his head, unwilling to take his eyes off her. "Truly, it was my pleasure."
She gave him a broad smile, and then her expression stuttered as she looked past him. "Oh, dear. If you'll excuse me, I must rescue my cousin." Her features slid back into that commanding expression she'd pointed his way earlier. "Miss Stanley has no head where suitors are concerned. I have told her repeatedly not to speak with known rakes." She drew the last word out with a heavy distaste.
Spencer winced. So here was the downfall. Lady Amelia might make a delightful dance partner, but in the end she would prove to be as stubborn and stiff-necked as any dowager of the ton. And just as judgmental. With a rueful shake of his head, he turned away while she glided off to rescue her cousin.
He knew the young man with whom Miss Stanley spoke, and though his reputation might not be spotless, he certainly was no rake. A self-deprecating smile tugged at Spencer's mouth. What would the straitlaced Lady Amelia think if she found out with whom she'd danced?
It had been surprising that she hadn't recognized him by name or Miss Winston by looks. The actress was well-known amongst those who enjoyed the theater.
"Ashwhite!" Lord Liveston, Earl of Waverly, clapped him on the back, ending his ruminations. "You've arrived from the Americas, I see? How was the trip, old chap?"
"And?" Waverly's mustache twitched with mirth. "No special young ladies over there? I thought you might return with an American miss. Or at least some adventurous stories." His best friend snickered and chucked him on the shoulder again.
Spencer threw him a stern look. "I'm done with philandering."
"With what? Oh, yes, yes, I received your letter. A bunch of rubbish. Tent meetings? Yelling preachers and people repenting publicly of their sins? Why, I can't imagine such a thing happening in England. Those Americans are an untamed lot." Waverly squinted at the procession of dancers moving across the floor. "Eversham and I are about to leave for more exciting places. Care to join us?"
"I think I'll stay here," Spencer murmured. His stare centered on Lady Amelia only a few feet away, whose fan kept time with her mouth.
"You really have changed but for how long?" Waverly followed his gaze. "She's a fine-looking lady. If I was in the mood for a wife, I'd take that one."
"Yes, she's intriguing."
"Who needs intriguing when you have beauty like that?" Waverly grinned. "Those blond curls are artfully designed to trap a man, along with his fortune."
Spencer's chin snapped up. His friend obviously had focused on Lady Amelia's cousin.
"The plain one is Eversham's twin sister, you know."
"Indeed?" Spencer tried to keep the shock from his voice. "Our friend Eversham? She's the one "
"Yes, she's that one. Difficult and independent. Refuses to do anything he says. A bluestocking of the spinster sort, if you ask me."
She sounded like Spencer's mother, and he had no patience for women like that. His mother was gallivanting on the Continent at this very moment, and who knew when she'd decide to return to her home.
"The lady appears benign." His eyes narrowed on the subject of their conversation. Perhaps not so benign after all. There was a purposeful air to her as she scanned the ballroom. Like a hound nosing for a fox. He'd seen that look on his mother far too often for comfort.
"Ha, that's not what Eversham says. Though he doesn't talk much of her, apparently there was a small ruckus last week, and when we met at White's for coffee, he acted distraught." Waverly pulled out his pocket watch. "Time for a bit of sport. You're sure you won't come?"
Spencer shook his head. "I'll meet you at White's tomorrow. I need your and Eversham's help with something."
"That sounds alarming."
"Quite." He felt a glower tugging at his brow. "I met with the family lawyer today. I'll give you details tomorrow, but in the meantime, keep an ear open for eligible ladies in need of a husband."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
While referencing real life individuals like Elizabeth Fry, the author's understanding of Regency England is demonstrabily lazy. Sad as there's a plethora or research readily available if reading Austen or Heyer wasn't sufficient or done. Ex: Georgette Heyer's Regency World, available in all major bookstores, or even Wikipedia can provide reasonably reliable info. Instead we hve easy mistakes like the son of a marquis being referred to as a Mr., barons referred to as neighboring tenants (incorrect and implausible on multiple levels), and same day trips to Yorkshire from a country estate that also allows same day charity trips to London. Theses are just a few errors of many that have caused me to breakdown and stop not even halfway through. Besides just poor story plot like conveniently dead parents and cliched attraction.
Caring hero with a new heart and lifestyle and a stubborn but endearing heroine.
It's rare I read a book where I just want to linger (because of the author's beautiful language/writing) and can't stop myself from burning through it. I was 100% immersed. This is a CLEAN regency romance with all the fun of a historical setting and all the joy of suppressed attraction, societal expectations, and a need to be proper. I hate to say it, but I'm disgruntled. Thoroughly. WHY DID THE BOOK HAVE TO END?! The characters are engaging. Their struggles are solid. The developing romance is so sweet, and the external conflicts make for a compelling plot. I've read far too many romances where the plot is the romance. *snore* How about some depth, people? Life is never about merely falling love. It's about the people who surround us and the external pull each one holds over our hearts, energy, and focus. I adored the emphasis on family and the values the story embraces. About the actual writing... Having penned a few things in the past, I was in absolute awe at how many different ways the author showed the characters responses/emotions. Every single reaction was unique. Do you have any idea how much effort/attention/time it takes to make EACH sigh, look, or touch completely unique for an ENTIRE NOVEL? Yeah. Blown away. I have to applaud Ms. Nelson for a job VERY well done. And did I mention I wanted to stay with the characters a bit longer? --Not because the plot didn't tie up nicely, but because I loved the book. Loved. I was ready for another regency from this author as soon as I closed the cover. (Come on, Jessica. Give me another, eh?) If you love regency romance, read this book. Content warning: NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Hand this story to your five year old and you won't have a single reason to blush. ...Not saying a five year old would appreciate the story...
I wrote a short review for this book on Goodreads, under my name Laura Hamadi. With all the 4 and 5 star ratings, I expected it to be half-way decent. That was definitely not the case. Suffice it to say, this was not a true romance, but a Christian romance novel, which is fine if that's what you like. However, if you're looking for something beyond a few tepid kisses, then move on to something steamier.