If love is a malady, the Spinster House ladies have caught it, one by one.
Miss Jane Wilkinson couldn’t be more delighted when her two best friends marry, creating a much-desired vacancy at the Spinster House. For the first time in her twenty-eight years, Jane can be free of her annoying older brother and enjoy complete solitude—with the exception of the Spinster House cat, Poppy. If only Jane’s unruly thoughts didn’t keep drifting to handsome Alex, Earl of Evans, in the most un-spinster like ways…
Though jilted once, Alex has always intended to marry and raise a family. Now that his two closest friends have tied the knot, he is more determined than ever to find a wife. If only it wasn’t the intriguing Miss Jane Wilkinson that his heart—as well as the rest of him—desired. Not only does she appear uninterested in marriage, it’s clear she’s the managing sort. And yet, despite Alex’s fiercely independent spirit, the idea of being managed by her is quite appealing. Now if he can only convince her to give up her beloved Spinster House in favor of a far more pleasurable home—in his arms…
Sally MacKenzie’s novels are…
“Naked, noble, and irresistible!” —Eloisa James
“Perfect.” —RT Book Reviews
“Great fun.” —Publishers Weekly
“Always a delight to read.” –Booklist, Starred Review
About the Author
Beverley A. Crick is a New York-based actress and accomplished voice-over artist. Her credits include film, television, commercials, radio, corporate narrations, looping, theater, comedy, and hosting. Her humor, dedication to research, and sensibility to nuance collectively inform all her narrations.
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When to Engage an Earl
By Sally MacKenzie
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Sally MacKenzie
All rights reserved.
Evans Hall, August 1817
Alex, Earl of Evans, rode slowly up the drive to his country estate. He'd left the little village of Loves Bridge shortly after the weddings of his friends Marcus, Duke of Hart, and Nate, Marquess of Haywood, and had spent the last two months wandering the Lake District with only the hills and water and sheep for company.
No, that wasn't quite true. He'd had one constant, unpleasant companion: envy.
Marcus and Nate had found wives without even trying. Trying? Ha! They'd been trying to avoid marriage, believing Marcus was under the shadow of an ancient family curse. He was the one who'd been looking for a wife.
I'd be married now if Lady Charlotte hadn't jilted me.
He scowled at his horse's ears. Charlotte was in his past. In the days he'd spent scrambling up and down the fells, he'd vowed to leave the past with all its pain behind. There were plenty more fish in the sea, after all. He knew what he wanted: a quiet, restful sort of female, one who wouldn't constantly busy herself about his or other people's affairs, dragging confusion and hubbub into his life like his mother and sister still did on occasion.
The ton was littered with women who would suit. He just needed to put his mind to wooing one. He'd shop the Marriage Mart, attend the balls and house parties, and talk to every eligible lady. He was an earl, after all, albeit a jilted one. How difficult could it be? By this time next year, he'd have joined his friends in married bliss.
He stretched his neck, loosening the tension that had gathered there, and looked around at the familiar landscape. "It's good to be home, isn't it, Horatio?"
His horse shook his head in apparent agreement, making the bridle jingle.
He reined Horatio to a stop. That sounded like Rachel, his sister's eight-year-old. Lord! Was Diana at the Hall?
Tension came rushing back, unease prickling the back of his neck and shivering down his spine. He loved his sister, but she would be certain to notice his blue-devils and hound him until she discovered their cause. If he let on that he was considering marriage again ...
He shuddered in earnest. Diana was five years older than he and had always had a finger — or both her hands — in his affairs. She would tell Mama and the two of them would assemble a queue of eager matrimonial candidates before he could say Jack Robinson.
They might have his best interests at heart, but he didn't want them meddling in this.
I'll just have to paste a smile on my face for as long as it takes to get rid of Diana.
Rachel could have come with her father, Roger, Viscount Chanton.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Ah, yes, that was likely it. O'Reilly, his head groom, must have encountered an issue in the stables and Roger, thinking Alex still in the Lake District, had ridden over with his groom to offer his opinion. Rachel was horse mad and would have teased her father to bring her along.
If Roger noticed Alex's low spirits — highly unlikely — he'd have the good sense to ignore them.
"Where are you, Rachel?" he called, looking around.
He heard giggling. Was it coming from the tree on his right? He turned Horatio in that direction.
Rachel was the fifth of Diana's eight girls. Eight! With luck the baby Diana was carrying now was a boy so Roger could stop trying for an heir.
He snorted. The needs of the viscountcy had nothing to do with the matter. Diana and Roger had been nauseatingly in love since they were children, and while Roger must prefer a son of his own inherit rather than his cousin Albert, he'd never shown the slightest disappointment when Diana presented him with yet another daughter.
Where was his niece? "Rachel!"
More giggling, definitely from that tree. He rode closer and looked up.
Rachel grinned down at him from a branch about ten feet above his head. She had a streak of dirt across her forehead, an assortment of leaves in her hair, and her skirts —
Of course Rachel wasn't wearing skirts.
"Where did you get those breeches?"
Her grin widened. "Papa had them made for me after I borrowed Jeremy's and put a hole in the knee."
All Diana's girls were spirited, but Rachel was a complete tomboy. He didn't envy his sister the task of introducing her to Society when the time came, though one could hope Rachel would learn a little decorum before then.
"And who might this Jeremy be?"
Rachel's grin turned to a frown. "You know. Jeremy. The vicar's son, the one who's almost my age."
The vicar had a lot of sons. Alex had never bothered sorting them out. "The one with the red hair?"
Rachel rolled her eyes. "No! That's James. He's ten, the same as Esther. Jeremy has curly hair."
"Ah." He'd take her word for it.
Horatio shifted, reminding him that he was keeping the horse standing.
"Horatio's eager for the stables. Do you want to ride down with me?"
He wasn't surprised to see Rachel's face light up. She scrambled down the tree like a monkey and skipped over, extending her arms. As soon as he swung her up to sit before him, she leaned forward to pet Horatio's neck.
"What a handsome fellow you are, Horatio. Mr. O'Reilly thinks you'd make lovely babies with our Ophelia. What do you say? Would you like to be a papa?"
"Rachel! O'Reilly never discussed, er, that with you." He hoped. His head groom had a few rough edges, but Alex was almost certain the man wouldn't talk about horse breeding with a young girl, even one as horse mad as Rachel.
She giggled again. "Course not. He was talking to Lionel. I was in Primrose's stall, so they didn't see me."
Alex might not know the vicar's children, but he knew his employees. Lionel was one of his stable boys.
"You should have let them know you were there," he said. "It's not polite to eavesdrop."
"Oh, pooh. I'd never hear anything interesting if I didn't eavesdrop."
He bit back a laugh, suddenly reminded of Miss Jane Wilkinson, the new Spinster House spinster in Loves Bridge. She wouldn't let a small thing like social proprieties keep her from her goals either.
He smiled. The woman was a good friend of Marcus's and Nate's brides, but she was also an extremely outspoken, independent female. At twenty-eight years old, she was firmly on the shelf — precisely where she wished to be. And now that she'd installed herself in the Spinster House, she'd never have to look for a husband.
In fact, he was quite certain she'd had a hand in turning her friends, the previous Spinster House spinsters, into wives. He'd been standing next to her when Nate and Miss Anne Davenport had announced that they, too, were leaping into parson's mousetrap and for one brief moment, he'd thought Miss Wilkinson was going to hug him, she was so delighted.
He'd admit he'd been disappointed when she hadn't.
Rachel looked over her shoulder at him. "Are you going to breed Horatio with Ophelia, Uncle Alex?"
Right — breeding.
He was not going to discuss that topic with Rachel, either. "I'll have a word with your papa about it."
"When we see him. Isn't he at the stables?"
"No. He's at Briarly."
His stomach plummeted to his boots. Briarly was one of Roger's other estates.
But wait. Roger didn't like being away from his family. He always loaded them into his carriage — and Alex's, since there were so many of them — and took them with him when he journeyed anywhere. Anyone encountering them lumbering along the road would think they were a traveling circus.
With that many children, they were a traveling circus.
"Why didn't you go with your papa?"
"Because Mama can't sit in a carriage that long anymore."
"Ah." Alex gave the house a nervous look as they passed it on the way to the stables. How pregnant was Diana? She'd spent the last twenty years in some stage of childbearing, so he'd stopped keeping track. "When is the baby due?"
"Any day now. Mama hopes it will wait until Papa gets back." Rachel shrugged. "But babies come when they want to."
Sweat blossomed in his armpits. "I would have thought your mama would wish to stay at home if she is so near her time."
"Oh, no. She can manage the short trip to the Hall, and she and Grandmamma wanted to be certain they'd have uninterrupted time to discuss Bea's come-out."
His heart stuttered.
Lord, Mama is here too?
He'd thought she was in London. Sweat trickled down his sides now, and his collar was suddenly too tight. Diana was bad enough, but Mama? She would not give up until she'd ferreted out every last one of his secrets.
The only way to handle the situation was to take the coward's way and run. But where? Mama might well follow him to Town.
Loves Bridge isn't far.
And the village fair should be almost underway. He could use that as an excuse.
"Beatrice is old enough for a Season?" he asked while he considered his escape. He could see the stables now.
"She'll be seventeen in October."
He was momentarily diverted trying to imagine his bookish, opinionated, and dangerously outspoken eldest niece at Almack's. Odds were Bea would dump a glass of punch over some Society popinjay's head inside of her first hour in those hallowed halls. Hmm. He'd better keep an eye on her when she came to London. Roger and Diana hadn't attended a Season in years. They might not be aware of all the traps awaiting a girl making her debut.
"Bea doesn't want a Season," Rachel was saying. "She is quite wild about it. She says that she will not be put on the Marriage Mart like a broodmare at auction."
Good Lord! "It is not as bad as that."
"How would you know, Uncle Alex? You're a man."
"Yes, but, unlike Bea, I have been in London for the Season." And would be looking for a wife this year, though not for a girl as young as Bea. That thought was more than a little revolting. "And even if it were true that some parents treat their daughters that way, your parents would not. You know that."
Rachel shrugged. "Perhaps, but I think she's right not to want to go. Jeremy's brother Jacob was in London last Season and he told Jeremy that the girls are all extremely silly and the ton parties dreadfully dull. The real fun happens elsewhere."
"Where no respectable young lady ventures." He could imagine exactly what mischief a young cub, even a vicar's son — no, especially a vicar's son — could get up to in Town. He'd got up to many of the same things in his youth.
"I know that, Uncle Alex. I just want to go to Tatt's and see the horses."
Tattersall's was not a place for ladies, either, but there was no point in telling Rachel that.
They finally reached the stables. Alex had never been so happy to see O'Reilly's craggy face.
"Milord, it's good to have ye home. And I see ye've found yer niece. Let me help ye down, Miss Rachel."
"I don't need any help."
That was foolishness. Rachel might be a respectable rider, but Horatio was far taller than her pony. "Perhaps you don't need help, Rachel, but you shall let O'Reilly assist you anyway."
She frowned, but since he had no intention of letting go of her until she agreed, she finally let out a short, annoyed breath. "Oh, very well."
Alex stayed in the saddle.
"Milord?" O'Reilly looked up at him questioningly.
"Do get down, Uncle Alex. Mama and Grandmamma will want to see you."
Of course they will. And they will ask me questions and give me advice and start thinking of eligible young ladies for me to marry and it will be hellish.
He'd probably sweated through his coat by now.
Horatio pawed the ground and shook his head. He was very well-behaved, but he was getting impatient.
"Shall I take Horatio to his stall, milord, so ye can go up to the house straightaway?"
He made his decision. He couldn't run fast enough. "As it turns out I'm not staying, O'Reilly."
His groom, not surprisingly, looked at him as if he was mad.
Rachel put her hands on her hips and frowned. "But you've just arrived, Uncle Alex."
"Well, yes. But I've suddenly remembered somewhere else I need to be."
"Where? Mama will want to know."
He felt the cowardly impulse to ask Rachel and O'Reilly not to mention they'd seen him, but he discarded that notion at once. Several stable boys had walked past while they'd been standing here. There was no keeping his visit secret.
"I'm off to Loves Bridge for the village fair."
Miss Jane Wilkinson put her hands on her hips and glared at the slimy little man. "You said you had a kangaroo."
She and Mr. Waldo W. Wertigger, proprietor of Waldo's Wondrous Traveling Zoo, were standing on the Loves Bridge village green. It was the afternoon before the day the village fair was supposed to begin.
"I do have a kangaroo."
"A dead one."
The object under discussion was propped against the side of what had clearly once been a simple farmer's cart. Someone — likely the rogue standing in front of her — had added a canvas arch proclaiming the business's name, or what would have been the name had someone with any skill or literacy been in charge: Waldo's Wundrus Travling Zu. The concluding u was a muddled drawing of a snake — or perhaps a large worm.
She returned her attention to the only snake — or worm — at hand.
Mr. Wertigger tugged on his collar. "A stuffed one. It was alive once."
"That's beside the point. It's dead now." Her fingers itched to shake the fellow.
She felt partly to blame for this disaster. The Loves Bridge fair committee had been going to engage last year's organ-grinder and trained monkey when the Boltwood sisters suggested that a traveling zoo would be something special and, as the Duke of Hart was back at the castle, married, and soon to be a father, they should make this fair special.
What they hadn't said but everyone thought was that this might be the duke's last fair if the duchess was carrying a boy. For two hundred years, thanks to an angry spinster by the name of Isabelle Dorring, no Duke of Hart had lived to see his heir born.
A thread of worry twisted in her chest. The duke's new duchess was Catherine "Cat" Hutting, one of Jane's two close friends. If the duke died ...
She took a calming breath. Everything would be fine. Only superstitious cabbageheads believed in curses, but even if there was a curse, legend had it that it would be broken when a duke married for love, which this duke most certainly had. It was rather nauseating watching him and Cat together, they were so besotted.
In fact, love, like a miasma, had settled over the village. Just days after that wedding, Jane's other close friend Anne Davenport tied the knot with the duke's cousin, the Marquess of Haywood.
An odd, hollow sensation formed in Jane's stomach. It wasn't envy, was it?
Nonsense! She was merely hungry. She had got exactly what she'd wanted from those weddings: the Spinster House. For the first time in her twenty-eight years, she was living all by herself.
Well, if you didn't count Poppy, the Spinster House tricolored cat, but at least Poppy was a fellow female. She didn't leave cravats festooning chair arms or crumb-filled plates on every horizontal surface like Jane's brother Randolph did.
She turned her attention back to Mr. Waldo W. Wertigger. She had wanted to see a kangaroo — a live kangaroo — so she had supported the Boltwoods' suggestion that they bring this ... this charlatan to Loves Bridge.
If curses were real, she'd curse this humbug.
"Your advertisement claimed your kangaroo could jump over several grown men standing on one another's shoulders."
"And my kangaroo could"— he cleared his throat —"when it was alive."
Jane took another deep, calming breath and tried not to shout.
She did not succeed.
"We wanted a live, jumping kangaroo, you despicable mountebank."
The Worm tugged on his waistcoat. "Now, now. There's no need to call names. My poor kangaroo, sadly, may no longer be able to jump —"
Mr. Worm Wertigger ignored her. "But I have other attractions. See my rare onager?" He pointed to a creature tethered to the back of his cart, contentedly grazing on the grass.
"That's an ass." As are you.
"An Asiatic ass."
Jane snorted derisively.
"And I have Romeo, the talking parrot." He wrestled a cage draped with a blanket out of his wagon and removed the covering with a flourish.
A gray parrot with a dark reddish tail cocked his head at Jane and gave a loud, rude whistle. "Hey, sweetheart —"
The Worm quickly dropped the blanket back over the cage.
"Sir! That parrot is not appropriate for a village fair."
The miscreant shrugged a shoulder. "Well, he did come cheap. I got him from a brothel that was closing."
Excerpted from When to Engage an Earl by Sally MacKenzie. Copyright © 2017 Sally MacKenzie. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed the finale as much as the rest of the series
I loved Jane and Alex's story! Jane is finally able to move into the Spinster House and can't be more excited about living on her own. She is determined not to marry. Alex on the other hand wants to marry and after being jilted, is on the hunt for the perfect wife. But he can't stop thinking about Jane. She is definitely not the type of woman he thought he would be marrying. Can Alex convince Jane that marrying him would be better than living in the Spinster House? This was a great conclusion to the Spinster House series!
I love this series. Jane has no interest in marriage and was finally able to get her two friends married off so she could get away from her brother and have the Spinster House for herself. Now that she has what she wanted, she finds herself not has happy as she thought she would be. Alex was jilted at the alter and now he must find another. While out riding he ends up and the Spinster House will Jane and Alex find their happily ever after? This story is fun, entertaining and steamy. A great historical read. I loved it!
When to Engage an Earl' by Sally MacKenzie is book Three in the "Spinster House" series. This is the story of Jane and Alex, Earl of Evans. I have read the other books in this series but feel this can be a standalone book Alex is very envious of his two best friends that just married after finding the women for them. Although Alex was the one that wanted to get married and his two friends were the ones that were running from it now it seem he is the one left unmarried. Alex almost married once but the future bride broke it off. Now he is determined to be married by next year. Alex thinks he just needs to woo the right Lady on the 'Marriage Mart'. But he has one Lady he can't seem to get out of this mine...Jane. She is friends with the friends that married his best friends. But he knows Jane is firmly on the shelf and even might have had a hand in getting her friends married to get to live in the "Spinster House" The Spinster House is set aside for a Lady wishing to be a Spinster who can live their free and not be forced to marry. One lady is chosen to be the new owner, once the present lady is leaves the home and new lady is chosen. Now Jane is that lady and wants to live her life as she wishes. This has been a really great series. I have enjoyed the ladies and men that have fallen victim to this house that seems to just set in motion a marriage instead of what the name says. Spinster House Series: In the Spinster's Bed Book 0.5 What to Do with a Duke Book 1 How to Manage a Marquess Book 2 When to Engage an Earl Book 3 "My honest review is for a special copy I voluntarily read."
When To Engage An Earl by Sally MacKenzie is a fun historical romance. This book is well-written. Ms MacKenzie has delivered awesome, lovable characters. I especially enjoyed Alex's nieces. Alex and Jane's story had plenty of drama, humor and spice to keep readers attention on the story. I enjoyed When To Engage An Earl and look forward to reading more from Sally MacKenzie in the future. When To Engage An Earl is book 3 of the Spinster House Series but can be read as a standalone. This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book that I received from NetGalley.
Evans Hall - 1817 Alex, the Earl of Evans, was jilted by Charlotte some years ago and now he is back in the market for a wife. He knows that when his older sister, Diana, discovers this, she will push him until she ensures that he is married. The wife of Roger, Viscount Chanton, Diana is the mother of eight girls and is expecting again. Diana’s oldest daughter, Bea, is preparing for her upcoming season. So, rather than face Diana and his mother and listen to them plan to get him married, he decides to head to the fair in Love’s Bridge. Miss Jane Wilkinson, age 28, is the new Spinster House spinster in Love’s Bridge. As old friends, when Jane and Alex see one another, they get together to discuss some last minute entertainment for the fair. Poppy, the cat that comes with the house is with them at the Spinster House. There is a curse associated with the house and its original occupant, Miss Isabelle Dorring. Long ago, Isabelle proclaimed a curse that unless a man marries for love, he will die shortly after his heir is born. This curse has held true and has been the case for many years. If a spinster living in the house gets married, a lottery is help to see which spinster gets it next. After helping Jane at the fair, Alex is delighted to learn that his sister has finally given birth to a son. At a celebration party at Roger and Diana’s, Alex and Jane are walking in the garden after dinner and end up kissing. Reminding herself that she is the Spinster House spinster, Jane is happy to get back home. But Diana’s little girls cannot help but meddle and play matchmaker with their Uncle Alex and Jane. Is there any hope for Jane to give up her spinsterhood for marriage? I have read a number of books in this series. The first ones were good but I think that a series runs its course after awhile. The author is very talented and I would like to see her take on writing more stand-alone novels. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.