Posted in Blog Blitz, Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

The Scoundrel’s Bartered Bride 5* #Review @VirginiaHeath_ @MillsandBoon #PublicationDayPush @rararesources #RachelsRandomResources #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalRomance #RegencyRomance #BookReview

Marriage…To the highest bidder

Lady Lydia Barton cannot seem to avoid Owen Wolfe since he returned after being wrongly transported for stealing her family’s jewels! But Lydia has more pressing problems―like her impending arranged marriage. Until Owen makes her father a counter-offer for her hand. Is Owen purely after her society connections? Or does Lydia dare hope that the charming stable boy she once loved is still within her ruthless, wealthy new husband?

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

The attraction, hurt and tension radiate from both characters who meet again with their situations reversed. Lydia feels Owen betrayed her by stealing from her family. Owen was innocent, but he was still convicted and sent to a penal colony. Now an unconventional success has he returned for revenge?

The witty retorts and simmering passion between Lydia and Owen make this a slow burn romance as they overcome their emotional angst, caused by their past. Lydia is in immediate danger, and Owen uses intelligence and streetwise skill to save her from the marriage from hell. Lydia has known little love and finds trusting Owen difficult. Her character develops favourably, as realises Owen was a victim of deceit.

The characters are believable, the setting authentic and the story the perfect escape.

Virginia Heath

When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace insomnia and start writing them down. Despite that, it still takes her forever to fall asleep.

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The Scoundrel’s Bartered Bride (Open INT)

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Giveaway Link above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Posted in Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

From Cinderella To Countess Annie Burrows 4*#Review @NovelistaAnnie @MillsandBoon #RegencyRomance #historicalromance #BookReview #MillsandBoonInsiders #MillsandBoonHistorical #MondayBlogs #MondayMotivation #FromCinderellaToCountess

From Cinderella in the shadows

To Countess in the spotlight?

Lady’s companion Eleanor Mitcham longs to escape her unhappy life. Having been told she’s too lowly to speak to Lord Lavenham, Eleanor defiantly accepts his challenge to teach her employer a lesson—by marrying him! He is an eligible earl after all! However, his determinedly cynical view of marriage makes her dissolve their convenient betrothal and flee—leaving the drama of the household behind and Lord Lavenham hot on her heels!

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Eleanor sadly fits the role of Cinderella in her life of drudgery as a paid companion. Peter Earl of Lavenham owns the house where her employer lives and often visits. Eleanor and Peter become friends of sorts until her employer warns Eleanor off and forbids her to see him at the house. What follows involves a Cinderella escape into the night where she meets her fairy godmother, of sorts.
Meeting the Dowager Duchess from ‘The Scandal of the season adds plenty of humour and intrigue.

An enjoyable gently paced, Regency romance full of vivid characters and vibrant settings.

Posted in Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

The Mysterious Miss Fairchild Sarah Mallory 5*#Review @SarahMRomance @MillsandBoon #MillsandBoonInsiders #RegencyRomance #MillsandBoonHistorical #intrigue #mystery #BookReview #BlogTour

Natalya Fairchild can’t help but be drawn to Tristan Quintrell, Lord Dalmorren, with his effortless charisma, even if he’s not her intended bridegroom. Tristan is an eligible society catch…whereas Natalya’s unknown heritage could label her ruined! As he helps Natalya investigate her mysterious past, she starts to hope the truth of her conception won’t destroy her prospects…of a life with Tristan!

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Engaging romance, intriguing mystery and sizzle of passion make this a delightful Regency romance.
Natalya and Tristan are well-matched in both attraction and intelligence. The obstacles to true love are many, but fate throws the two would-be lovers together, in the most scandalous circumstances with a happy conclusion.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

The Scandal of the Season Annie Burrows 4*#Review @MillsandBoon @NovelistaAnnie #MillsandBoonInsiders #MillsandBoonHistorical #Regency #Secrets #Lies #RegencyRomance #HistoricalFiction #BookReview

Having saved Cassandra Furnival from scandal once before, it shouldn’t have surprised Colonel Nathaniel Fairfax that she was now attempting to lay siege to the Ton’s eligible bachelors! Determined to thwart her plans, he’s as astounded by her defiance as by her beauty. But nothing shocks the jaded soldier more than discovering her innocence. Restoring her reputation is set to bring about the scandal of the season!

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Cassie’s life has not been easy after a youthful scandal ruined her in Regency society’s eyes. She lives with a distant relation and her partner and works as a seamstress. When a Dowager Duchess, her godmother wants to take her to London for the season. She is unsure, but the Dowager is manipulative, and so with the blessing of her surrogate aunts she agrees. The rumblings of her former scandal haunt her, brought to life with a threat of new scandal when Nathaniel Fairfax, storms into her life.

The story takes a while to set the scene, but the complex characters and relatable themes explored hold your interest until the passionate romance and dangerous misunderstanding explode in the story’s second half.

Full of conflicts both internal and external, Regency society at its most devastatingly cutting and a cast of vibrant Regency characters, this story is a lovely way to escape the present-day problems.

Posted in Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Romance

My Fake Rake Eva Leigh 5*#Review #UnionoftheRakes @MillsandBoon @EvaLeighAuthor #MillsandBoonHistorical #MillsandBoonInsiders #BookReview #HistoricalFiction #RegencyRomance

#MyFakeRake

Lady Grace Wyatt is content as a wallflower, focusing on scientific pursuits rather than the complications of society matches. But when a handsome, celebrated naturalist returns from abroad, Grace wishes, for once, to be noticed. Her solution: to create the perfect man to act as her suitor, and help her catch his eye. Grace’s colleague, anthropologist Sebastian Holloway, is just the blank slate she requires.

To further his own research on English society, Sebastian agrees to let Grace transform him from a bespectacled, bookish academic into a dashing – albeit fake – rake. Between secret lessons on how to be a rogue and exaggerated public flirtations, Grace’s feelings for Sebastian grow from friendship into undeniable, inconvenient, real attraction. If only she hadn’t asked him to help her marry someone else…

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

The story begins in an unusual way for a Regency romance, five boys at Eton, awaiting punishment for various misdemeanours. How is this related to the story? Well, it’s at Eton where the ‘Union of Rakes’ is created. Sebastian, clever but frequently bullied is the first hero in this series, and he is a character that you can’t help liking.

Grace is studious and independent, her looks draw suitors, but her frightening intelligence, unusual hobby and forthright manner soon have them scuttling away for easier conquests. She is drawn to a fellow scientist, but he fails to see her as a suitable partner, something that shouldn’t bother her but does. Enlisting Sebastian her like-minded friend’s help is an act of desperation and trust and begins a story that is full of friendship, humour and romance.

The friends to lovers trope are frequently used, but the lightness of the author’s touch manages to instil something fresh into it. Grace and Sebastian are both vulnerable, and this makes them easier to like. Inevitably, their perception of each other changes. Although predictable, the mutual attraction is nicely done, and the conflicts and misunderstandings make the inevitable passionate encounter hard-won. The story flows well, with all the trappings of Regency society and excellent supporting characters, many will be the stars of other books in the series.

With many Regency romances focusing on the darker side of life, this is a refreshing change. An enjoyable way to escape contemporary problems for awhile.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

Lady Edith’s Lonely Heart Audrey Harrison 4* #Review @AudreyHarrison2 @rararesources #BlogTour #BookReview #RegencyRomance #HistoricalFiction #LadyEdithsLonelyHeart

A dashing tale of romance from a bestselling author of Regency Romance.

She is under pressure to find a husband she doesn’t want.

He keeps to the fringes of society because of family constraints.

Will the written word be enough to bring two lost souls together?

Lady Edith Longdon is an heiress, in danger of being classed a spinster, and disillusioned with the fops, dandies, and fortune hunters surrounding her in society. Deciding it’s time to take her future into her own hands, she devises a foolproof way of finding someone she can love. She’s convinced nothing could go wrong…

Lord Ralph Pensby, overwhelmed by a sense of obligation, and with no one he can turn to, is adrift from those around him…

Two people drawn together, both on a journey which will affect them in ways they could never have foreseen. Secret correspondence, mistrust and confusion, not to mention cads of the highest order, make this novel a fast-paced, heart-warming story, with appealing characters and a strong sense of time and place.

Perfect for lovers of all things Regency.

Amazon UK Amazon

I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

There’s no doubt what historical period you’re in when you start reading this book, From the authentic Regency styled lady on the cover, to the quintessential Regency dialogue and setting, you are taken back to another time. This story flows well, the plot is simple but effective.

Ralph is the archetypal Regency hero, attractive, troubled, and unsuitable. He has a dark family secret, which keeps him withdrawn from society, but in reality, the fact he is afraid of sharing it is more an indictment on Regency society than anything else. His attraction to Edith grows, but he knows he can never marry.

Edith is fortunate, in that she is independently wealthy, but she wants a family, yet can find nobody she truly wants to marry. Whilst, marriage against her will, is unlikely, her mother is less than supportive and she relies on the counsel of her brother, Miles. Edith is an independent spirit, but she is drawn to Ralph, seeing something worth having beneath the grim exterior he lets the rest of the world see.

This is a conflicted romance, with deceit, secrets and strict Regency society rules, conspiring against Edith and Ralph’s happiness. Trust is also an issue. The chemistry simmers in a genteel way, rising, in keeping with this story’s traditional style. It’s nostalgic to read this style of Regency romance, and I enjoyed it.

Audrey Harrison

AMAZONUK KINDLE STORYTELLER COMPETITION FINALIST 2018!

Audrey was born about two hundred years too late. She wants to belong to a time when men were men and women were dressed in gowns and could float, simper and sigh.

In the real world she has always longed to write, writing a full manuscript when she was fourteen years old. Work, marriage and children got in the way as they do and it was only when an event at work landed her in hospital that she decided to take stock. One Voluntary Redundancy later, she found that the words and characters came to the forefront and the writing began in earnest.

So, although at home more these days, the housework is still neglected and meals are still late on the table, but she has an understanding family, who usually shake their heads at her and sigh. That is a sign of understanding, isn’t it?

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Posted in Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Romance

The Secrets of Lord Lynford Bronwyn Scott 5*#Review @MillsandBoon @Bronwynscott #TheCornishDukes #MillsandBoonHistorical #RegencyRomance #HistoricalFiction #Cornwall #Secrets #MillsandBoonInsiders #BookReview

#TheSecretsofLordLynford

He’s destined never to marry
She might change his mind…

Eaton Falmage, Marquess of Lynford, is an expert at distracting himself from the painful truth which means he’ll never wed. Seducing mining widow Eliza Blaxland seems the perfect diversion. Until he learns Eliza guards her heart as fiercely as her hard-won independence. He longs for more, but that would mean confessing his secret…and risk losing her forever!

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

A lovely start to what promises to be a riveting romantic series about the heirs of the Cornish Dukes. Eaton has a secret, which in his eyes means he can never marry, so he fills his days helping others with his philanthropy, and taking lovers who never invest their hearts, only their bodies. Losing his mentor, the father of one of his dearest friends hits him hard, and he returns to Cornwall to ensure the school, his mentor believed in, comes to fruition. There he meets Eliza, who is nothing like he expected and he starts to wish his life could be different.

Eliza an independent widow, with a young child, mourns the death of her much older husband, but relishes in the control of her destiny, something she vows, never to give up. Her encounter with Eaton is unsettling, and soon she begins to wonder if she can have him, and her independence.

A tale of emancipation and treachery, this Cornish romance has intrigue, seemingly insurmountable conflicts, deceit and danger for Eliza and Eaton. The chemistry builds steadily, and believably. The romance keeps pace with inevitable requiting of their passion. Eaton and Eliza are complex, relatable characters, and you soon begin to root for them, and their love.

The interesting plot has a good cast of characters and a definite thread of intrigue and danger. It portrays well, the misogynous views of the male-dominated ruling class, at this time. Reflecting how emancipated and enlightened Eliza and Eaton are. The romance is heartwarming with many passionate encounters and the ending is exciting and ultimately happy.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

Rags to Riches Wife Catherine Tinley 4*#Review @CatherineTinley @MillsandBoon @HarlequinBooks @rararesources #BlogTour #BookReview #MillsandBoonHistorical #HarlequinHistorical #RegencyRomance #RagstoRichesWife #HistoricalRomance

#RagsToRichesWife

Lady’s maid…

To wedded Lady?

Lady’s maid Jane Bailey’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of wealthy gentleman Robert Kendal. He’s come to take Jane to visit her long-lost, aristocratic grandfather. Travelling together, they succumb to a mutual attraction. Yet Jane knows a maid should not hope to love a gentleman, even if she’s suddenly wearing silk dresses and dining with the Family. Society decrees they cannot marry, but how long can Jane deny her heart?

Amazon UK Website

#BlogTour

I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

A charmingly, gentle Regency-style romance.

Ned defied his father to follow his heart and marry a servant, and he died before any chance of reconciliation. Jane, his daughter, although gently born, has to work below stairs when her father dies.

Against a background of the social class divide, the vulnerability of servants to abuse, and Regency society’s strict rules. Jane and Robert meet on a journey back to her roots and fall in love, despite the supposed disparity in their social situations. The truth brings its problems, as both adjust to their new roles.

Despite the internal and external conflict love triumphs. The chemistry between Jane and Robert is sizzling, partly due to its forbidden status. The romance is sweet and gentle.

#CatherineTinley

Catherine Tinley is an award-winning author who writes witty, heartwarming, Regency love stories for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She has loved reading and writing since childhood and has a particular fondness for love, romance, and happy endings. After a career encompassing speech & language therapy, NHS management, maternity campaigning and being President of a charity, she now works in Sure Start. She lives in Ireland with her husband, children, and dog.

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#RagstoRichesWife
Giveaway – Three winners will each receive a signed copy of Rags to Riches Wife, plus a mystery book by another romance writer (two GB/Ireland, one international).
Click on this Giveaway Link to enter

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Giveaway Link above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Posted in Book Review, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

The Lord’s Inconvenient Vow Lara Temple 5* #Review @MillsandBoon @laratemple1 #Romance #HistoricalRomance #Egypt #RegencyRomance #TheSinfulSinclairs @rararesources #MillsandBoonHistorical

#TheLordsInconvenientVow

‘I have a favour to ask…

I want you to marry me.’

Part of The Sinful Sinclairs. Samantha Sinclair was always Lord Edgerton’s complete opposite. But as Edge meets Sam again in Egypt, it’s clear the years have changed her as much as him. So when she blurts out an impulsive, convenient proposal, Edge’s protective urge compels him to accept. Is it possible for two such different people to be together and find the happiness they both deserve?

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#BlogTour

I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

The final part of the #SinfulSinclairs trilogy features Samantha (Sam) and Edward (Edge). Beginning in Egypt in 1814, when Sam and Edge acknowledge to themselves, if not each other there is an attraction deeper than friendship between them. Both are shocked and eight years and a great deal of emotional angst passes before they meet again, in a very dramatic way.

Both are irrevocably changed by their separate traumatic pasts, and this makes Sam brave enough to voice what she wants, but the conflict is just beginning as misunderstanding s and secrets threaten to keep the pair estranged.

The passion is undeniable in this exotically romantic story, and because of their emotional connection, you always know they will overcome the conflicts to their happiness.

Sam and Edge are likeable characters, and their romance is breathtakingly lovely. The perfect end to a memorable romantic trilogy.

#LaraTemple

Lara Temple writes regency romances about complex individuals who give no quarter but do so with plenty of passion.

After moving around the world as a financial analyst she returned to her childhood love of making up stories and was surprised to discover that other people don’t mind reading them.

She lives with her husband, two children, and Lord Oscar the pooch who are all very forgiving about her taking over the kitchen table when she’s writing.

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#TheSinfulSinclairs
Giveaway to Win all 3 e-books of the Sinful Sinclair series by Lara Temple
(Open Internationally)
#GiveawayPrize

Giveaway click here to enter

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

#TheLordsInconvenientVow
Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Historical Romance, Regency Romance

The Wallflower Wager Tessa Dare 5* #Review #GirlMeetsDuke @TessaDare @MillsandBoon #historicalromance #RegencyRomance #BlogTour #Extract #BookReview #MillsandBoonInsiders #MillsandBoonHistorical

#TheWallflowerWager

Amazon UK

Back Cover Blurb

Waterstones

I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

I’ve enjoyed all the books in the ‘Girl Meets Duke’ series, stories of independent women, and damaged, romantic men. Penny and Gabriel’s story is my favourite so far, perhaps because Penny takes in waifs and strays, and has an unfailing love of animals, something I can relate to.

There are scenes in this story which are hilarious, particularly, the rescuing of Delilah, the foul-mouthed parrot, which occurs at the beginning and sets the scene for what’s to come. Penny and Gabriel’s meeting at this time also sparks the passion that grows between them and is so enjoyable.

Gabriel, the Duke of Ruin, is not from the aristocracy, but many fear him, he is driven, dangerous and damaged, but he has so many redeeming qualities, and it’s impossible not to fall a little in love with him. Penny is honest, loving and generous, but she too is emotionally damaged, and her guilty secret, means Penny and Gabriel have more in common than he first supposed.

The plot is full of historical detail and moves effortlessly along, the characters are engaging and believable. I enjoyed the witty dialogue and the simmering passion, and most of all the happily-ever-after, even though I was sad to come to the end of Penny and Gabriel’s story.

A delightful, historical romance, amusing, original and shamelessly romantic.

Extract from The Wallflower Wager – Tessa Dare

By society’s standards, Penny was rather lacking in accomplishments. As the daughter of an earl, she’d been given the best possible education. Governesses fluent in three languages, a full two years at finishing school, then private tutors in art, music, dancing.
None of it seemed to take. She’d never found an instrument willing to give up a tune for her, no matter how she strummed, plucked, or begged it. She’d attained only marginal competence in sketching.
And dancing? Impossible.
Penny did, however, emerge from adolescence with unparalleled accomplishment in one pursuit.
Caring.
Nothing pleased her more than looking after those around her. Feeding them, warming them, protecting them, giving them a home. She doled out affection from an endless supply.
The only problem was, she was running out of people to claim it.
She had her family, of course. But first her parents had gone to India as diplomats. Her eldest brother, Bradford, lived in Cumberland with his wife and managed the family estate. Timothy, the middle child of their threesome, had joined the Royal Navy.
Still, she had the most wonderful friends. Never mind that the finishing school girls had scorned her. Penny welcomed the misfits of Bloom Square. Emma, Alexandra, Nicola. Together, they made the rounds of the bookshops, walked in the park, and gathered at her house for tea every Thursday.
Or at least they had done so, until her friends began to start families of their own. First, Emma’s marriage to the Duke of Ashbury had transformed from a convenient arrangement into passionate devotion. Next, Alex had bewitched London’s most infamous rake and became Mrs. Chase Reynaud. As for brilliant, inventive Nicola . . . ?
Penny scanned the note she’d just received, peering hard to make out the breathless scrawl of ink.
Can’t today. Biscuits burned. Breakthrough near.
Next Thursday?
Love, N
Penny laid aside the charred scrap of paper and regarded the tray of sandwiches on the tea table, all trimmed of their crusts and ready for a gathering that wouldn’t take place.
Fortunately, in this house, food seldom went to waste.
Taking a sandwich, she crouched near to the floor and whistled. Bixby scampered down the corridor, his two front paws clicking over the floorboards and his lamed hind legs following right behind, rolling along in an ingenious chariot of Nicola’s design.
After several excited sniffs, the dog gave the crustless triangle a cautious lick.
“Go on,” she urged. “It’s a new recipe. You’ll like it.”
Just as Bixby sank his dart- point teeth into the sandwich, the doorbell rang. Penny rushed to answer it. At the last moment, she hesitated with her hand on the door latch.
Could it be him?
It wouldn’t be him, she told herself.
But what if it was?
Sensing her unease, Bixby whined and nosed at her ankles. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Penny opened the door.
“Oh,” she said, trying not to sound dejected. “Aunt Caroline.”
Her aunt entered the house in her usual manner— like a snobbish traveler disembarking on a foreign shore, visiting a land where the native people spoke a different language, exchanged different currency, worshipped different gods. Her eyes took in the place with a cool, smug sort of interest. As though, while she had no desire to truly understand this alien culture, she’d been reading up.
Most of all, she was careful where she stepped.
When she’d completed her quiet survey of the drawing room, she gave a weary sigh. “Oh, Penelope.”
“It’s lovely to see you, too, Aunt.”
Her aunt’s eyes fell on the quilt- lined basket near the hearth. “Is that still the same hedgehog?”
Penny decided to change the subject. “Do sit down, and I’ll ring for a new pot of tea.”
“Thank you, no.” Her aunt plucked a tuft of cat hair from the armchair, pinching it between her thumb and forefinger and holding it away from her body. Frowning at the bit of fluff, she released it and watched it waft to the floor. “What I have to say won’t take long, anyhow. I’ve had a letter from Bradford. He insists you return to
Cumberland.”
Penny was stunned. “For the summer?” “For the remainder of your life, I believe.” No. No, no, no.
Her aunt lifted a hand, barricading herself against dissent. “Your brother has asked me to tell you he’ll be traveling to London in a month’s time. He asked me to be certain you’re prepared to join him for the return journey.”
Penny’s heart sank. She was a grown woman, and therefore could not be ordered to pick up and move to the farthest reaches of England. However, the snag was this— even if she was a grown woman, she was still a woman. This house belonged to her father, and while her father was out of the country, Bradford had control. Penny lived in Bloom Square at his pleasure. If he demanded she remove to Cumberland, she would have little choice in the matter.
“Aunt Caroline, please. Can’t you write back and convince him to change his mind?”
“I’ll do no such thing. I happen to agree with your brother. In fact, I ought to have suggested it myself. I did promise your parents I would look after you, but now that the war is over I intend to travel the Continent. You shouldn’t be living alone.”
“I’m six- and- twenty years old, and I’m not living alone. I have Mrs. Robbins.”
Wordlessly, her aunt picked up the bell from the tea table and gave it a light ring.
Several moments passed. No Mrs. Robbins.
Aunt Caroline craned her neck toward the main corridor and lifted her voice. “Mrs. Robbins!”
Penny crossed her arms and sighed, fully aware of the point her aunt meant to make. “She’s always looked after me.”
“She isn’t looking after you any longer. You are looking after her.”
“Just because the old dear is a touch hard of hearing— ”
Aunt Caroline stomped on the floor three times— boom, boom, boom— and shouted, “MRS. ROBBINS!”
At last, the sound of aged, shuffling footsteps made its way from the back of the house to the drawing room.
“My word!” Mrs. Robbins said. “If it isn’t Lady Caroline. I didn’t know you’d dropped by. Shall I bring tea?”
“No, thank you, Robbins. You’ve served your purpose already.”
“Have I?” The older woman looked confused. “Yes, of course.”
Once Mrs. Robbins had quit the room, Penny addressed her aunt. “I don’t wish to leave. I’m happy living in Town. My life is here. All my friends are here.”
“Your life and your friends are . . . where?” Aunt Caroline looked meaningfully at each one of the unoccupied chairs, at the trays of cold tea and uneaten sandwiches, and, finally, at the three kittens shredding the draperies with their tiny claws.
“I have human friends, as well,” Penny said defensively.
Her aunt looked doubtful.
“I do. Several of them.”
Her aunt glanced at the silver tray in the entrance hall. The one where calling cards and invitations were heaped— or would be, if Penny ever received them, which she didn’t. The tray was empty.
“Some of my friends are out of Town.” Aware of how absurd she sounded, she added, “And others are mad scientists.”
Another pitying sigh from her aunt. “We must face the truth, Penelope. It’s time.” It’s time.
Penny didn’t need to ask what her aunt meant by that. The implication was clear.
Aunt Caroline meant it was time to give up.
Time for Penny to return to the family home in Cumberland and resign herself to her destiny: spinsterhood. She must take on the role of maiden aunt and stop embarrassing both the family and herself.
After nine years in Town, she hadn’t married. She hadn’t even entertained any serious suitors. She rarely mingled in society. If she were being honest, she would strike “rarely” and replace it with “never.” She didn’t have any intellectual pursuits like art or science or poetry. No bluestocking salons, no social reform protests. She stayed home with her pets and invited her misfit friends to tea, and . . .
And outside her tiny sphere, people laughed at her.
Penny knew they did. She’d been an object of pity and ridicule ever since her disastrous debut. It didn’t bother her, except— well, except for the times that it did.
As a person who wanted to like everyone, it hurt to know that not everyone liked her in return.
Society had long given up on her. Now her family, as well.
But Penny was not giving up on herself. When her aunt moved to leave, she grasped her by the arm.
“Wait. Is there nothing I can do to change your mind? If you advocated on my behalf, I know
Bradford would reconsider.” Her aunt was silent.
“Aunt Caroline, please. I beg you.”
Penny could not return to Cumberland, back to the house where she’d passed the darkest hours of her life. The house where she’d learned to bottle shame and store it in a dark place, out of view.
You know how to keep a secret, don’t you?
Her aunt pursed her lips. “Very well. To begin, you might order a new wardrobe. Fur and feathers are all well and good— but only when they are worn on purpose, and in a fashionable way.”
“I can order a new wardrobe.” It wouldn’t include fur and feather adornments, but Penny could promise it would be new.
“And once you have a new wardrobe, you must use it. The opera. A dinner party. A ball would be preferable, but we both know that’s too much to ask.”
Ouch. Penny would never live down that humiliating scene.
“Make an appearance somewhere,” her aunt said. “Anywhere. I want to see you in the society column for once.”
“I can do that, too.” I think.
Considering how long she’d been out of circulation, invitations to dinner and the theater would be harder to come by than a few up- to- current- fashion gowns. Nevertheless, it could be accomplished.
“Lastly, and most importantly”— Aunt Caroline paused for effect— “you must do something about all these animals.”
“What do you mean, ‘do something’ about them?”
“Be rid of them. All of them.”
“All of them?” Penny reeled. Impossible. She could find homes for the kittens. That had always been her plan. But Delilah? Bixby? Angus, Marigold, Hubert, and the rest? “I can’t. I simply can’t.”
“Then you can’t.” Her aunt tugged on her gloves. “I must be going. I have letters to write.”
“Wait.”
Surely there was a way to convince her aunt that didn’t involve abandoning her pets. Perhaps she could trick her by hiding them in the attic?
“I hope you’re not thinking you can hide them in the attic,” her aunt said dryly. “I’ll know.” Drat.
“Aunt Caroline, I’ll . . . I’ll try my best. I just need a little time.”
“According to your brother, you have a month. Perhaps less. You know as well as I, it takes the mail the better part of a week to arrive from Cumberland.”
“That leaves only three weeks. But that’s nothing.”
“It’s what you have.”
Penny immediately began to pray, very hard, for rain. Come to think of it, considering the amount of rain England typically saw in springtime, she probably ought to pray for something more. Torrential, bridge- flooding, road- rutting downpours. A biblical deluge. A plague of frogs.
“If, by your brother’s arrival, I am convinced there’s something keeping you in London other than an abundance of animal hair . . . ? Then, and only then, I might be persuaded to intervene.”
“Very well,” Penny said. “You have a bargain.”
“A bargain? This isn’t a bargain, my girl. I’ve made you no guarantees, and I’m not convinced you’re up to the challenge at all. If anything, we have a wager— and you’re facing very long odds.”
Long odds, indeed. After her aunt had gone, Penny closed the door and slumped against it.
Three weeks.
Three weeks to save the creatures depending on her.
Three weeks to save herself.
Penny had no idea how she would accomplish it, but this was a wager she had to win