To escape a forced marriage to her loathsome, social-climbing cousin, Cecelia Harcourt banks on selling a romantic novel. But when she's hit by a coach on the way home from meeting a potential publisher and loses her memory, the accident leads to an encounter with a fascinating man. . . who she’s convinced is the hero of her novel.
Due to his brother's influence, Lieutenant Adam Hunt finds himself honorably discharged from the army. Adam intends to make his way in the world without the help of a war-hero duke, brother or no. He finds his plans for independence sidetracked by a chance encounter with a lady whose memory has gone. She believes he's a hero. Can Adam become the man he was meant to be and fill that lofty role?
About the Author
Valerie Bowman is an award-winning author who writes Regency-set historical romance novels aka Racy Regency Romps! Since her debut in 2012, Valerie's books have received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. She's been an RT Reviewers' Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance and Best Historical Romance Love and Laughter. Two of her books have been nominated for the Kirkus Prize for fiction and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas calls them, "Too delightful to miss!"
Valerie has a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in history from Smith College. By day, she is a technical editor at a computer software company. By night, she combines her love of writing, history, and romance to craft stories about people falling in love.
Originally from Rantoul, Illinois, Valerie lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her family including her two rascally dogs. When she's not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV or PBS.
Read an Excerpt
The Unforgettable Hero
By Valerie Bowman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 June Third Enterprises, LLC.
All rights reserved.
London, July 1816
"And they lived happily ever after." Cecelia Harcourt sighed as she finished writing the words on the paper. She dipped her quill back into the inkpot one last time. The End, she scrolled across the bottom of the page, biting her smiling lip.
"Are you finished, Cece?"
Cecelia spun around at the sound of the young female voice. She'd hidden herself in the servants' quarters in the attic of the town house. The tiny whitewashed fourth-floor room was the perfect place to conceal her manuscript and her writing supplies from Uncle Herbert. It might smell like dust up here since they'd been forced to let most of the servants go, but the old codger would never climb up so many flights of stairs. And neither would his formidable wife, Aunt Selene.
"Yes, I'm finished, Mary," Cecelia replied to her twelve-year-old sister.
Mary pushed open the door and hurried over to stand next to the desk, a weak smile on her face. "May I read it, Cece? Oh, please say I may." Her sister coughed, her thin shoulders shaking.
Cecelia held her breath, waiting for Mary's coughing to subside. Then Cecelia pressed her palm to her sister's warm, pale cheek. Mary was so dear, such a sweet girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She looked so much like Mama. Cecilia had inherited her father's dark hair and eyes. She sighed and blinked away tears. Her parents. If only she could have just one more moment with either of them, but a carriage accident had taken their lives nearly two years ago and ever since, she'd been struggling to keep up a brave facade for her younger sister.
"I'm sorry, Mary," Cecelia replied, shaking her head. She pulled away her hand, turned around, and hurriedly gathered the pieces of paper. "You cannot read it today. There is no time. I must be at Mr. Cornwall's by noon and —" She glanced at the small timepiece she'd brought upstairs with her. "Good heavens, it's nearly noon now. I must hurry."
A thump that sounded from the corner drew both sisters' attention.
"Oh, Esmeralda," Cece exclaimed. "I nearly forgot about you."
A large brown rabbit sat on a rectangular cushion, blinking at both of them, nose twitching and eyes alert. Cece had saved the baby rabbit when she found her in the park one afternoon while out for a walk. There had been no sign of the mother. Cece had asked Aunt Selene if she might take the animal in and had immediately received a long-winded reprimand about the dangers of getting a dreaded disease from such a creature and the audacity to presume that paying for its food was something Cece should be so bold as to request. Dutifully, Cece had nodded her acquiescence to her aunt and left the baby there temporarily, only to sneak back later that afternoon to scoop up the poor little thing. Now Esmeralda resided in the fourth-floor room upon a cushion that Cece had sewn out of an old gingham gown that no longer fit Mary. The cushion was stuffed with hay that was pilfered from the mews behind the town house. Cece had named a lady's maid in her novel after the beloved rabbit.
Cece pulled a carrot and two celery stalks out of her long pocket and moved over to kneel in front of the rabbit. "Here you are, Esme." She turned back to her sister. "Keep an eye on her, Mary, won't you?"
Mary nodded once. Another short cough. "Yes, of course."
Wiping her hands on her skirts, Cece turned back to the desk. She gathered the pages of the manuscript that weren't yet dry and shuffled them into the larger stack. Paper was as dear as gold. A small fortune was sitting in front of her.
"Mr. Cornwall is sure to purchase your novel, Cece," Mary declared loyally. The girl had slid to her knees in front of Esmeralda and was patting the rabbit on the head while the fat little brown ball chomped on her carrot. "I just know it."
Cece hurriedly pushed the pages together. A nervous shudder worked its way through her frame. "We'll see. He was the only publisher who seemed interested in meeting with a lady author, so that's promising. Though I haven't yet informed him that my novel is a romantic one. I told him it was an adventure story. Which, of course, is also true."
Cece didn't tell her sister that this was her last hope. If she couldn't find a way to earn an income, Uncle Herbert would force her to marry her hideous first cousin, Percy. It wasn't enough that her uncle and his wife had taken over her parents' house. They also wanted the small bit of money that was left and earmarked for Cecelia's dowry. Her parents had died the year she would have had her come-out. Now, at the age of twenty, she was entirely without prospects. She'd happily give her greedy relatives every bit of the money if it meant staying far away from Percy. But her uncle and aunt were intent upon the match and had been mentioning it more and more of late. The only hope Cece had was to make an income on her own to save herself and Mary.
Mary pushed to her feet and followed Cecelia toward the door. "Just tell me, Cece, does Lady Magnolia marry the duke in the story? Do they fall in love and live happily ever after?" The girl pressed both hands to her cheeks, wheezing slightly.
Cecelia couldn't help her smile. "I can't tell you that, silly. It would ruin the story." She rumpled her sister's hair. She and Mary shared a love of happy endings. And why shouldn't they? Real life was difficult enough. In addition to their parents' deaths and Uncle Herbert's taking over as their guardian, Mary was sick with a lung disease. She needed expensive medicine that they could ill afford. They were little more than paupers, even if they could claim a connection to the ton on their father's side. Father had been the youngest son of a viscount. Their mother's younger brother, Herbert, could claim no such distinction and hoped to exploit what little familial claim to Society there was by marrying his only child to Cecelia. Cecelia would rather be hanged than marry Percy. She shuddered, then plastered her best false smile to her face for her sister.
"Don't worry, Mary. I will sell the novel, and then we'll move away to the countryside and —"
Mary's face fell. "Oh, but we can't leave the town house. Not Father's town house."
Cecelia turned away so her sister wouldn't see the worry on her face. They couldn't afford to keep the house. The creditors were sure to take it, not to mention it would be a feat to see Uncle Herbert and his corpulent wife and son removed from the premises. But she didn't want to burden her sister. Mary's wheezing worsened when she was upset. "We'll talk about it later, darling. I must go." Cecelia pulled her worn bonnet off the back of the chair and placed it atop her head. She tied a neat bow under her chin and nearly flew from the room.
"Wait!" Mary called, launching into another coughing fit.
Cece popped back into the room. Her sister pushed the stack of papers into her arms.
Cece laughed. "Oh yes, mustn't forget this." She glanced down at the first page, where she'd carefully written the title of the novel in large, scrolling letters.
Lady Magnolia and the Duke
Cecelia squeezed the papers to her chest. Oh, it just had to be good enough to be published. "Wish me luck, Mary."
"Best of luck," Mary said, picking up Esme and waving her tiny paw at Cecelia.
"And you, Esme?"
The rabbit blinked solemnly in response.
Laughing, Cece swiveled around again, rushed out of the room, and hurried down the servants' staircase. When she reached the ground floor, winded, she darted her gaze about to ensure Uncle Herbert and Cousin Percy wouldn't see her. There was no danger of being discovered by Aunt Selene. That lady rarely left her bedchamber. Thankfully, the space was deserted. Cece scurried out the back doors and passed the nearly vacant mews. Only Uncle Herbert's half-deaf old mare sat inside, unhappily chewing at an exceedingly questionable pile of hay.
Cecelia clutched the manuscript. Writing it had been a joy. One of the few joys in her otherwise bleak life of late. And yes, of course Lady Magnolia and the duke fell in love and lived happily ever after, just as Cecelia would one day. But more important, just as Mary would, because even if Cecelia failed to save herself, she refused to allow her lovely, smart sister to fall victim to a loveless marriage. That was a fate worse than death. First Cecelia would sell her novel, then she'd get Mary the medicine the girl so desperately needed, then she'd find a way to leave London and her aunt, uncle, and cousin far behind. But first things first. Lifting her head and saying a prayer that Mr. Cornwall was in a buying mood today, Cecelia strode off toward the better part of Mayfair and the home of one Mr. Eugene Cornwall. She might not have a proper lady's maid to accompany her, but that wasn't about to stop her. No matter what happened, Cecelia would save Mary.CHAPTER 2
One hour later, as Mr. Cornwall's half-asleep butler handed Cecelia her bonnet, she decided that happily-ever-after was much more elusive than it sounded.
"My dear Miss Harcourt. No one wants to read romantic novels," Mr. Cornwall had informed her while pushing a bit of snuff up his pale nostril.
"Yes, they do!" Cecilia had insisted, thumping her fist atop the stack of manuscript pages that sat between them on the top of Mr. Cornwall's fine mahogany desk in his sparse study.
The man had eyed her over the rim of his golden spectacles. "Not anyone of good sense."
"My sister and I do, and I assure you we both have quite a lot of sense and all of it good." Cecelia took a deep breath and tried to remind herself that raising her voice to this man could not end well. But she wasn't about to allow him to tell her that no one wanted to read the sort of story she'd written. She knew for certain it wasn't true.
Mr. Cornwall's nose twitched in a way that reminded Cecelia of Esmeralda. She briefly wondered if the man had rabbits in his ancestry. Or a carrot in his desk.
"It's not a sound investment," the publisher continued, plucking at his spectacles. "I need works like history books or treatises or tomes on science. I was under the impression that you'd written an adventure story."
Cecelia cleared her throat. "Falling in love is the greatest adventure there is. Besides, those other subjects are dull."
He narrowed his eyes on her. "Those things sell."
Cece's knee was bouncing up and down in front of Mr. Cornwall's monstrosity of a desk. "What about Emma?" That particular novel had been published last Christmastide, and Cecelia had devoured every word of it. Multiple times.
Mr. Cornwall wiggled his nose. "A stroke of luck."
"What about Pride and Prejudice?" Another favorite of hers and written by a lady. A glorious lady who had provided Cecelia with the courage to try her own hand at writing such novels.
Mr. Cornwall patted down the mat of his graying hair. Come to think on it, that looked rabbit-like as well. "Nonsense. And more a discourse on the class system than a romantic novel."
Cecelia's fingertips tingled with the urge to slap the man for denigrating her favorite book. Still, she wasn't finished arguing her point. "What about —? What about —?" She'd planned to say Lady Magnolia and the Duke but that was ridiculous. How in the world would Lady Magnolia's story see the light of day if she failed to convince this man how important it was?
She squared her shoulders and calmly folded her hands in her lap. "My sister is ill. I need to sell this novel," she nearly whispered.
"My dear Miss Harcourt," the publisher replied with a look in his eyes that was not unkind. "While I agree with you that there may be some interest in such works, unfortunately, I am nearing the end of my career, and I cannot afford the risk such a venture would entail. However, I'd be happy to meet with you again if you'll bring back another type of book."
Cecelia pressed her lips together firmly. If he called her "mydearmissHarcourt" one more time she would not be responsible for her actions. She stood, smoothed her worn skirts, and expelled her breath. She would regroup. She would think of something. She had to. "I understand. Thank you for the opportunity, sir." She leaned down, gathered her treasured manuscript into her arms, and turned toward the door.
She had eventually been escorted from the room by the somnolent butler, been presented with her bonnet, and was well on her way down the street toward home again, her rejected novel clutched forlornly against her chest.
She kicked at the dust in the road as carts and carriages bustled around her. A history book? A treatise? Was she capable of writing either? A tome on science was simply out of the question. She supposed she must try to write something else, for Mary's sake. But it was not as if one could simply write a book in a fortnight's time. Lady Magnolia's story had taken Cece the better part of six months to complete. Six entire months. And she needed money now. Before now, actually. Yesterday. Last week. Last month! If she took another six months to write another book, Uncle Herbert would surely see her married to Percy before the time was out. She trudged back toward her house on the outskirts of Mayfair while contemplating the matter. Could she write faster? Could she find another publisher? Could she do something else to earn money, like selling flowers on the street corner? (Where she'd obtain said flowers was anyone's guess.) Did she know anything about science? She absently turned a corner and strolled into the street just as the thundering of hooves rushed up behind her.CHAPTER 3
Lieutenant Adam Hunt didn't slow his pace as he slapped his gloves against his thigh. He was purposefully striding toward his temporary residence — his brother's town house in Mayfair — with one thing on his mind.
Damn it. How could he make Derek understand? The man was a war hero and a duke, for God's sake. The Duke of Claringdon. He'd settled a considerable sum of money on his younger brother, money that had been given to him as part of his dukedom after his bravery at Waterloo, but Adam saw it only as a handout. An unwanted handout.
Adam was the youngest of the three Hunt brothers and as such had always been treated as a child by both Derek and their middle brother, Collin. Now at the age of five and twenty, infuriating though it might be, Adam was still treated as a child by his brothers, and he was damn well tired of it. And today, today had been the final straw. He'd been called to the Home Office at noon and told that due to his familial connections he was being offered a position there. Basically a glorified secretary. He'd requested to be sent back to the Continent to work as a spy with his brother, Collin, investigating the anti-English sentiment and small sects of soldiers attempting to mount further aggression toward England after Napoleon had been vanquished. Derek had obviously had a hand in his being offered the secretarial position. Adam squeezed his gloves so hard his fist turned white. The duke was about to hear his brother's thoughts on the subject. Loud and long.
Even more infuriating, Collin had recently returned to the Continent on the King's business. Apparently, Derek had no intention of keeping him from his work as a spy. Even now that the wars were over. But at least Collin wouldn't be here to argue with Adam when he told Derek there was no possible way he would take either his money or his bloody secretarial position.
As he marched, Adam repeated the words he planned to say in his head. It was never easy convincing Derek of anything, but Adam would see this through. He'd made his decision. He intended to make his own way in this world, thank you very much. Their army officer father had taught all three of his sons to stand on their own two feet. And by God, Adam would.
He turned the corner onto Green Street and glanced up to see a carriage barreling toward ... a lady. A lady who faced away from both him and the carriage.
"Watch out!" he called. The woman turned, a look of horror on her face, and made to jump out of the way. The horses swerved but the side of the conveyance struck the woman, tossing her to the side of the road like a doll. A bundle of white papers she'd been carrying flew into the air and floated down into the dusty street like so many leaves from a snowy tree.
Adam ran over to the lady while the carriage that had hit her continued at its rapid pace, leaving the poor woman in a heap. Her eyes were closed. He placed two fingers on the pulse in her neck. She was alive, thank God. "Miss? Miss?"
Excerpted from The Unforgettable Hero by Valerie Bowman. Copyright © 2016 June Third Enterprises, LLC.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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