USA Today Bestseller
An inconvenient engagement turns a marriage of convenience into so much more in this sparkling new series from award-winning author Sara Portman . . .
Lady Emmaline Shaw’s reputation was irreparably damaged when her fiancé, John Brantwood, disappeared immediately after their engagement four years ago. Since then, she’s grown from a shy, uncertain girl to a woman who knows her own mind. And what she knows is that London society holds nothing for her.
Rumor has it that John ran off to war and died in battle. Now, as the new Duke of Worley, his shocking resurrection throws the ton into a tizzy and makes him one of England’s most sought after bachelors—except that he’s already engaged.
John needs a wife capable of smoothing his beloved sister’s introduction into society. But though Emma
happily grants him his freedom, her fiery beauty and resilient spirit hold him captive. In fact, John has no intention of letting her go. Her fate is now in his hands, but will her heart be safe there as well?
“Smart, sharp, and insightful . . . a must-read.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4.5 stars, TOP PICK
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Read an Excerpt
Resurrections can be dreadfully disconcerting.
London society had weathered all manner of scandals and while each new transgression never failed to result in heads bent in hushed whispers and even the occasional matronly gasp, few incidents inspired waves of true shock among the ton. It appeared, however, that a duke's return from the dead was among these few scenarios able to truly discompose the titled elite.
With frustratingly little information available in the four weeks since the miraculous return of the Duke of Worley, rumors abounded regarding his whereabouts for the four years of his absence. Theories existed of such variety and outlandish improbability, it was impossible to determine which, if any, might hold a thread of truth.
Discussion of the duke's mysterious return dominated all society events, second only, of course, to conjecture on his marital state and physical appearance.
"I have heard he is only half a man," whispered Lady Grantham at one such event, "and had to be carried into his ancestral home because his legs were severed."
"That cannot be," insisted Lady Wolfe. "I have heard he is quite well, but has shamed his family by marrying an American actress and living abroad with her these past four years."
"You are both incorrect, I'm afraid," interjected their hostess, the Duchess of Fairhaven. "My son informed me just this morning that Worley has been gravely ill and is still now recovering. He hopes to be well enough before the end of the season to assume his responsibilities. My son attended Eton with him, you'll remember."
The other ladies nodded, neither one inclined to contradict the duchess, who outranked them by a significant margin. All three women understood without clarification that Worley's assumption of his responsibilities referred to the necessity to choose a bride. With four years wasted and his father now deceased, it was imperative he begin a family and continue the line.
This was likely of particular interest to Lady Wolfe, whose daughter, Georgiana, was currently enjoying her second season in London, much to her mother's dismay and her father's expense.
It was not of particular interest, however, to Lady Emmaline Shaw. She'd had the unfortunate luck to step out onto the terrace for a spot of privacy and fresh air mere moments before the gaggle of clucking matrons proceeded to congregate just inside the only set of French doors that would allow her to return to the ballroom. She didn't want to hear another word about the elusive Duke of Worley, amazingly returned from the dead after four years missing. She cursed the unfortunate timing that placed her in London on the occasion of his reappearance. She was only in the city for one month out of the year, and only then to appease her aunt. Couldn't the man have selected any of the other eleven months for his triumphant return, when she would be safely ensconced at her cottage? She rubbed her bare arms against the evening breeze and prayed for the gossiping ladies to move their conversation elsewhere. She considered simply excusing herself and walking through.
"You realize, of course," Lady Wolfe whispered conspiratorially, "what a tangle this creates for the unfortunate Lady Emmaline Shaw."
Emma stepped deeper into the shadow and tossed out the idea of charging through their conversation.
"I would hardly call the girl unfortunate," the duchess said sharply. "Her conduct over the past four years is the reason for her present lack of prospects. She's been naught but a burden to her aunt and uncle."
From the terrace, Emma's brow lifted.
"Not that I'll harbor any pity for that woman either," the duchess added. "To my mind, Lady Ridgley has failed in her responsibility by allowing her niece to behave as she has."
Emma pressed herself against the cold stone wall and fumed at the voices filtering out to her. She would accept their judgment as a predictable consequence of her choices, but she was incensed at their attack on her aunt, who had been a pillar of love and support after the death of her parents. These women had no intimate knowledge of Emma or her beloved aunt. They were certainly not in any position to pass judgment.
"One cannot question her decision to withdraw from society, really, for that first season," Lady Grantham ventured. "Grief can be so damaging, after all."
Well, thank you. Emma resolved to extend her kindness to Lady Grantham when next they met.
"It is only during the following three seasons, by my estimation," Lady Grantham continued, "that her behavior became truly insupportable."
Emma's fists clenched. Humph. Insupportable, indeed. It was not as though she'd spent the past three years gadding about society, engaging in flirtations and clandestine rendezvous. She'd simply chosen not to parade herself through an endless stream of social events to shop for a husband.
She'd done that once. And frankly, the experience left her with little desire to repeat it.
Emma mentally retracted her vow to make a friendly overture to Lady Grantham.
"Either way, the betrothal will have to be dealt with," the duchess concluded.
Lady Wolfe gasped. "You don't believe ... they would still consider themselves ... engaged?" The excitement of that delicious tidbit added a hint of tremor to her voice.
No! Stifling a gasp of her own, Emma reached a hand out and gripped the stone balustrade for support. It wasn't possible, was it?
"There's no question of him actually marrying the girl. Not now, anyway. But she'll have to be dealt with in some manner." The duchess sniffed importantly. "I expect she'll be difficult."
Well. That was just unfair. Emma stood in the shadowed corner of the terrace and glared in the direction of the unseen duchess. The Duchess of Fairhaven couldn't have any idea whether Emma would prove cooperative or difficult in regard to the issue of her prior betrothal.
How could the duchess know if Emma didn't know? Biting her lip, she cursed herself for not recognizing the complication on her own. Naively, she'd never even thought of it. Certainly, if anything ended a betrothal as neatly as a death, it was a presumed death, wasn't it? Of course they were not still engaged. It violated common sense. Why, she could very easily have been married to someone else. It had been four years, after all.
Admittedly, she'd been uncooperative that first season. She was only seventeen, and being forced to spend the summer attending parties in London rather than back home riding her horse had seemed more punishment than privilege. She'd never expected her father to take it upon himself to select a husband for her after only one season — particularly not one who so openly disliked her.
Then he disappeared. Presumed dead, they were told — killed in battle — when no one had even known he'd run off to the war. He was only Viscount Brantwood at that time, but his father's ill health was common knowledge. The shock at his running off to fight when the responsibilities of the dukedom loomed was eclipsed only by the shock of his death. All society mourned with the Duke of Worley who'd lost his wife and young daughter years before and had now lost his only son to the war.
Emma became infamous among the ton as the subject of the most notorious and dramatic rejection in recent memory, yet she was still expected to mourn the loss of her betrothed. In place of grief, she had felt ... relief. The relief was accompanied by a horrendous guilt. She had dreaded marrying him, but she would never have wished for his death.
Then, in the year that followed, she'd lost her parents and her life had completely changed. Emma herself had changed over the past four years, but the girl she had been and the woman she had become had one important trait in common.
Neither one wanted to marry the Duke of Worley.
"Of course she'll be difficult," the duchess continued mercilessly. "She's no prospects, I'm sure."
"I believe there is someone actually." Lady Grantham's voice rose with the honor of holding information the duchess had not yet learned. "I have heard she is being courted by a widower — a Mr. Greystoke, I believe."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Greystoke," came Lady Wolfe's contribution. Emma would have wagered her dress that Lady Wolfe had never heard Mr. Greystoke's name before that very moment.
"So you can see my point," the duchess said, her tone ripe with disdain. "Her only suitor is an aging nobody. She will humiliate herself clinging to the chance to become a duchess."
"Will she refuse to break the engagement?" Lady Grantham asked.
"Of course," the duchess answered. "He cannot break the engagement. He is entirely reliant upon her to do the decent thing."
"He can't possibly consider her a desirable match."
Emma wasn't sure which of the ladies had spoken last, but the words spread relief through her body. Of course the matter of the betrothal contract would not be a problem. Wanting to thank the viper-tongued duchess and her cohorts, she realized her choice to shun society and become a veritable pariah over the past four years would be her salvation. The duke would seek her out and demand an immediate release from the contract, which she would grant.
Emma was no longer disturbed by the comments filtering to her through the open terrace doors. The very social unacceptability that fed their gossip would ensure her freedom. Determined to contribute to it, she stepped out of the shadow. Reaching up to smooth her twist of chestnut hair, Emma straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin, and charged into the room — straight through the gossiping matrons without nod or recognition to any of them.
The initial silence she inspired was quickly replaced with a chorus of gasps, disapproving clucks, and even one "Oh, my," as she walked away. Her back to the ladies, she felt her lips turn upward.
It was deliciously freeing, that short walk. It was unforgivably rude, which had been exactly the point. She'd failed to acknowledge any of the ladies, regardless of rank, and it was quite clear she'd been in a position to overhear their conversation. Such blatant disregard for propriety was out of character for Emma and she enjoyed it.
Exhilarated by the minor rebellion, she scanned the sea of faces and feathers to locate her aunt. She would discuss the issue with Aunt Agatha. Disgrace, indeed. Aunt Agatha had the kindest heart of anyone Emma had ever known. Her aunt's opinion on this matter would be reasonable and her advice judicious. She would certainly know the best way to handle the dissolution of the engagement. Perhaps a well-drafted letter would suffice.
"Oh, Emma," Aunt Agatha said as Emma approached. "You've saved me coming to find you. We were just discussing you, dear." Her tone was carefully calm, but Emma observed the way one of her hands anxiously gripped the fingers of her other.
"Oh, not you too." Had everyone abandoned reasonable thinking? Emma brought her hand to her brow and wondered if the growing ache in her head was real or simply the result of her great desire for an excuse to remove herself from this event and this city.
"What do you mean, dear?"
"Please tell me you were not discussing my surely long-expired betrothal to the duke."
Aunt Agatha's pale eyes shifted to meet those of the other ladies.
Emma sighed. They were discussing it.
"I worried this might happen." Aunt Agatha's lips formed a grim line as she regarded her niece.
Lady Hawthorne stepped forward. "Memories can be inconveniently long among our society, I'm afraid."
Emma looked into the caring eyes of a woman who had been her mother's friend as well as her aunt's. Her kind regard was mirrored in Lady Blythe's expression, and Lady Markwood's. If these women had been discussing her, she trusted it was not for the sake of heartless gossip. It was rooted in genuine concern.
"But it has been four years. I ... I could have married in that time. He could have married in that time."
Agatha laid her gloved hands gently over Emma's. "But you didn't, dear. I'm afraid you are betrothed regardless of your feelings or the duke's."
Emma straightened her shoulders. "Then it will have to be dealt with as soon as possible. We will have to sever the arrangement by mutual agreement. I'm certain he will find me as unacceptable as I find him."
Again, the ladies exchanged glances. This time Emma could not guess their thoughts.
Aunt Agatha spoke softly. "Are you entirely sure you will find him unacceptable?"
"Aunt Agatha!" Emma lurched back from her aunt as though she could distance herself from the very suggestion. She could not fathom marriage to such a hateful, arrogant man. She remembered every cutting word as he'd stared at her with disgust, asking if she was even out of the schoolroom, demanding to know if she was old enough to speak, and accusing her of being old enough to know she wanted to be a duchess. Having just learned of the betrothal, she'd been mute with shock and betrayal. That day and many days since, she'd regretted not gathering her wits to give the answer he deserved.
Her outburst drew looks from people nearby and she lowered her voice. "I am certain. Four years ago, he found the prospect of marriage to me so abhorrent he fled the country, completely disregarding the shame to both families. You could not love me so little that you would want me to marry such a man."
A pained look crossed her aunt's delicate features and Emma felt a stab of guilt at the harshness of her words. Aunt Agatha was simply concerned for her future, but she was not without alternatives. She'd given serious consideration of late to the suit of Mr. Greystoke. He was a widower at least fifteen years her senior, but he was kind and seemed to share her preference for the peace of life outside London. Even if she never married, she had the cottage she'd inherited — the only unentailed portion of her father's estate. The house was little more than a hunting box and her existence would probably be considered genteel poverty by most in attendance here, but the cottage held a special place in her heart.
"Perhaps you shouldn't be too hasty to sever your arrangement, at least until you've had a chance to become reacquainted with the duke," suggested Lady Blythe, a fair-haired, petite woman who managed to assert a good deal of authority when she so chose.
"Reacquainted? I was never acquainted with him in the first place." Emma exhaled slowly and reminded herself of the ladies' good intentions. "Please, I know you are only concerned for my happiness," she began, but she was interrupted by ... Silence.
The music stopped, but that phenomenon alone would not have been sufficient to give her pause. No, the entire ballroom stopped. The crowded room was startlingly silent, conversations and dances utterly frozen. It was as though the candlelight stopped twinkling and the potted ferns stopped growing.
She followed their eyes and released a small gasp before she could prevent it.
He strode into the room with nothing more than a sweeping glance for its occupants and still the silence reigned.
Emma watched with the others. He was there — all in one piece, looking every bit the duke.
John Brantwood, Seventh Duke of Worley, walked directly into the crush at the Fairhaven ball and scanned the room, pointedly ignoring how the entire populace stared at him as though he were about to give a speech. He had some notion he'd become the favored subject of gossip, but the lack of subtlety unnerved him. He would be more comfortable once the gawking stares reverted to surreptitious glances made over shoulders and peeks from over top of lemonade glasses. Four years away now seemed like twenty. His life in Boston had been a modest one and it felt deuced awkward to be strolling into the ballroom as though he were the duke. Christ. He was the duke. And his damned valet had him tied up so tight in his clothes, he thought he might start pulling at his cravat and fidgeting like a child in church.
He didn't, of course. Nothing that occurred in his time away could undo the years of training and experience that preceded it. He adopted the bored mien expected for his position and sauntered into the room because he belonged there — even though he didn't quite feel that he did.
Excerpted from "The Reunion"
Copyright © 2017 Sara Portman.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The first half of the story was really good, though an earl's daughter would not have been left financially precarious and scorned by society for being jilted. Especially as, to have been afianced to a future duke to begin with, her family would have had impressive consequence from position, family and wealth - most likely all three. Also, she would not have been allowed to live alone, especially without a genteel chaperone!! The whole running away to America, where one has no family or connections, is also wildly improbable. The whole situation is implausible. Nonetheless, I found the first half of the book engaging, charming and original. Sadly, it then cheapened itself by turning to graphic porn. I ended up skipping and skimming my way through to the end of the book, but I wasn't impressed by the story.
Loved how Emma grew into a headstrong young Miss! John was adorable as he fell in love with her. Pretty great story!
Twists and unique turns, well with the read.
Emma used to be engaged, but her fiancé disappeared after he made it clear he didn't want to marry her. Emma thought John passed away, rumors were going around that he died in combat. However, he's very much alive and is back in London four years later to choose a bride. When John meets Emma he immediately sees the benefits of their situation. They've never officially ended their engagement and he would be more than happy if she wouldn't set him free like she planned. He needs a wife he can trust to make his sister's introduction into society as easy as possible and he feels Emma is the ideal candidate. Does she have the same idea? Emma likes living in her own cottage and values her freedom. She doesn't mind giving up a little luxury if it means she can lead the life she wants. John is now a Duke and most women would do anything to marry him, but Emma isn't one of them. John has to find a way to convince her that breaking off their engagement would be a bad idea. He needs Emma for his sister, but if he's completely honest with himself he's impressed by her fierce personality and regal beauty. Will she give him a second chance? The Reunion is a wonderful romantic story that made me smile from beginning to end. Emma is a strong woman. She's smart, resilient, fierce and outspoken. She can stand up for herself and knows what she wants. She's exactly the kind of woman John is looking for, but he hasn't treated her well and needs to persuade her that marrying him would be the right decision. This leads to plenty of interesting conversations and each of them is equally fascinating and entertaining. John and Emma are evenly matched when it comes to intelligence and boldness and this makes fabulous reading. The sparks are flying off the pages. Sara Portman has managed to perfectly capture the time she's writing about. I loved reading about the gorgeous dresses, the rules of society and the intrigues of the ton. Her writing style is captivating and vibrant, which makes her story a joy to read. The Reunion is filled with unexpected twists and turns, amazing chemistry and complex family relationships. I really enjoyed reading this gorgeous heartwarming story and highly recommend it.
John Brantwood, the Seventh Duke of Worley, once thought to be dead, has returned after being missing for 4 years. The gossips have differing reasons for his absence, but the marriage mamas know he needs to get married and start a family. Lady Emmaline (Emma) Shaw is not is not at all interested in John’s return. She was raised by her aunt and uncle after her parents passed away. It appears that John and Emma had once been engaged before he disappeared and he was assumed to have been killed in battle. Now, he is the Duke and some think they are still engaged. But Emma did not want to marry him 4 years ago and now she doesn’t want to be engaged either. John had treated her with disdain years ago and she simply does not care for him. When John walks into a soiree one evening, he is every inch a Duke and one needing a wife right away. When he is reminded that he is still engaged to Emma, he is appalled. He remembers her as a frightened young girl. The engagement had been arranged by their fathers. When they meet at the soiree, Emma wants to break the engagement but John does not. He likes the woman that Emma has become. She is not only beautiful, but she is outspoken as well. John needs her to sponsor his sister, Charlotte, for her debut who has been living in America for most of her life. So, when Emma’s aunt decides she should marry the Duke, she agrees to do so. Thus begins a relationship that has many ups and downs. Is it destined to be a happy marriage or will there be problems? I liked this book at the beginning, but after the marriage, the plot seemed to fall apart for me as it turned into a “chase me and catch me if you can.” I find that type of scenario overdone and boring. However, I do look forward to reading more of this author’s books hoping that this one was simply not a good fit. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I bought a copy of The Reunion at B&N's Local Author Night last week. A witty romance that gets rolling right away and endears you to the protagonist, Lady Emmaline. Excited to read the next 2 books in the series!
A really great book with a strong beginning that continues on through. I hope to see more from this new author.
'The Reunion' by Sara Portman is the First Book in The "Brides of Beadwell" series. This is the story of Lady Emmaline Shaw and John Brantwood. Emma was to marry John but he up and left. Rumor had it he went to war and possible died. Emma became a outcast in the town so instead of staying there and feeding their gossip she left. Emma went on to live her life and make a new life. Emma is no longer the shy girl that was at the wimps of the town. John is now a Duke and returns to help his sister to come out to the town. John knows a Duchess would be just the things to help them. John and Emma come to a deal and with that they slowly learn to love each other. "My honest review is for a special copy I voluntarily read."
Brilliantly told story of an inconvenient that becomes a marriage of convenience….and then…becomes…oh so much more… Lady Emmaline Shaw and John Brantwood, Duke of Worley were engaged…and he disappeared suddenly. Rumors abounded regarding where he might have gone and why leaving Emma to deal with other rumors in the wake of his disappearance. Four years later he reappears as if resurrected from a grave and he is looking for a wife to help him launch his sister into society. In his mind it won’t be his affianced Emma…not until he meets her at a ball and realizes she has the exact temperament to do what needs to be done. Emma puts up a good fight to avoid matrimony as her doggedly pursues her for the first third of the book. Once she realizes there might be benefits to her in marrying John the marriage takes place, the sister arrives (and what a hellion she is), the coaching and coaxing of Charlotte into being a lady begins, a blackmailer appears and more occurs. It takes most of the book for John and Emma to grow into loving one another and then expressing their feelings but in the end a HEA is achieved AND Charlotte finds her place in society, too. This book felt in keeping with the era it was set in. The dialogue, costumes, descriptions, characters, interactions and everything resonated in a way that made me felt I was in the past no reading about contemporary characters acting modernly in a historical setting. It was a very good read and made me want to find each of this author’s books as it is published. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books-Lyrical Press for the ARC – This is my honest review.
A Delightful Story. I adored this story, Emma was such a feisty heroine whilst John's love and care for his mother and sister were inspiring. I liked that Emma gave him such a hard time before agreeing to marry him and the solution she found to have Charlotte accepted into Society. I will be looking to read more by this author I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review, and I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion expressed here is my own.