My Fair Princess Sale!!

My Fair Princess 2

I’m excited to announce that MY FAIR PRINCESS, my latest book, just went on sale for ONLY 99 cents in digital! This is the first book in The Improper Princesses, my brand new series. You can find more info and excerpts from MY FAIR PRINCESS on the Book Page.

This sale will be on for a short time only, so please do check it out! You can download from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, and BAM. It’s also available from B & N.

Happy reading!


New excerpt from MY FAIR PRINCESS!

My Fair Princess 2

MY FAIR PRINCESS, the first book in the Improper Princesses Series, will hit the shelves on August 30th. As promised, I’m releasing exclusive chapter length excerpts every month (you can read the first three chapters here). And here’s something else you might be interested in: if you pre-order MY FAIR PRINCESS, you’ll receive a bonus short story featuring the heroes and heroines from my Renegade Royals Series. Would you like to find out what happened to Griffin and Justine Steele from CONFESSIONS OF A ROYAL BRIDEGROOM, or learn more about Sir Dominic Hunter and his long-lost love, Chloe Steele? Well, here’s your chance! Just click here to get all the details about this special pre-order bonus story.

And now, on to chapter four!

***

Tumbling down at the feet of the high and mighty Duke of Leverton was not how Gillian had planned their first meeting. Lately, however, most of her plans had displayed an irritating tendency to go awry.

Her grandmother glared at her. “I see you’ve been eavesdropping again. I do hope none of the servants saw you in such an inelegant position.”

“Parsons did,” Gillian said. “He looked appropriately appalled.”

Actually, the butler had simply looked resigned, evidently getting used to her.

“Really, my dear, I wish you would stop skulking about, listening in on people’s private conversations,” Grandmamma said. “It’s in such poor taste.”

“How else am I supposed to know what people are saying when I’m obviously the topic under discussion?” Gillian asked.

“Perhaps you might try asking them,” Leverton said in a deep, cultured voice perfectly calibrated with sarcasm.

Gillian crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a slow perusal. “I don’t recall asking for your opinion on the subject. Then again, I’m a savage, so what do I know?”

Irritation tightened his aristocratic features, but then a polite mask dropped in place. Gillian had to give him credit. She’d wager he was unused to young ladies falling at his feet and compounding the awkward situation by insulting him. Then again, perhaps he was used to women falling at his feet. He was certainly both rich and handsome enough to elicit that sort of swooning.

Insulting him, though? From what she’d heard, people went to extraordinary lengths to court his favor.

“Since you were listening at the door, Miss Dryden, you must know that I also apologized for my rude behavior,” the duke said.

“Not to me. Not that I care one blasted bit if you do one way or the other.”

Her grandmother let out a heavy sigh, and even Griffin shook his head. The duke, however, simply regarded her with a perfectly unruffled manner, as if she were some recently discovered species, only vaguely interesting. Gillian began to get quite a bad feeling that she’d finally met her match.

She’d been hearing for weeks how Leverton was the key to solving Gillian’s little problem, as her family called it. According to them, he was perfectly suited to guide her into society’s good graces, and perfectly capable of managing away even the most troublesome elements of her background.

He must be a bloody perfect miracle worker, if that was the case.

As she cautiously eyed him, she couldn’t help concluding that he did seem rather perfect in some respects. He was certainly prettier than she was, with thick, tawny-colored hair, striking blue eyes, and a face straight off a Greek statue. And he was certainly a good deal more stylish than she was, although that was true of almost anyone. But even she could appreciate the way his beautifully tailored coat showcased his broad shoulders, and how his breeches clung to his muscled legs with nary a wrinkle. As for his cravat, it was practically a work of art.

In fact, he was so damn perfect it made her stomach hurt. She’d been drawn in by perfection before, and it had almost ruined her.

“Stop trying to shock us, Gillian,” her grandmother said. “You know quite well it won’t work.”

Au contraire, Lady Marbury,” Griffin said. “I find myself quite riven with horror.”

He flashed Gillian the conspiratorial smile that always made her feel someone truly did understand her. And, more important, Griffin didn’t find her wanting, unlike apparently everyone else in London. She couldn’t wait to shake the dirt of England from her boots and return to Sicily—the sooner, the better.

“Miss Dryden is quite right,” Leverton said.

Gillian frowned. “I am? About what, exactly?”

He slowly crossed the room to her. He didn’t prowl, precisely, but something in the way he moved made her think of . . . a wolf, perhaps. Slipping silently through the night as he hunted in silence.

An exceedingly clever wolf, she guessed. One with very sharp teeth well suited for ripping apart a person’s carefully ordered life.

Leverton’s height forced her to tilt back her head to meet his gaze, and she found herself staring into eyes a beautiful shade of cobalt. She had to admit they were really quite amazing.

“Please believe me, Miss Dryden, when I say I meant no insult. I was merely surprised by a few details regarding your situation. It caused me to forget my manners.” A glint of amusement lurked in his gaze.

Her stomach twisted at the notion that he might be laughing at her. But when he smiled, her stomach seemed to untwist and start dancing with butterflies.

“Come, my dear girl,” he said in his beautifully cultured voice. “I beg you to forgive me before I’m compelled to do something drastic—like throw myself at your feet. That would be embarrassing for both of us.”

“Bloody coxcomb,” Griffin muttered.

Leverton ignored the aside, keeping his attention on Gillian. Her heart began to thump and heat crawled up her neck. “Oh, very well,” she grumbled. “I forgive you.”

“You are most gracious,” Leverton said. “Now, perhaps we can start over and leave all this awkwardness behind.”

“What a splendid idea,” Grandmamma said. “Your Grace, my granddaughter, Miss Gillian Dryden.”

The duke bowed as if she hadn’t just tumbled through the door, and as if they hadn’t just spent the last few minutes insulting each other.

“Gillian, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the Duke of Leverton,” Grandmamma added.

“Good Lord. I know who he is,” Gillian replied, not hiding her exasperation.

“Then make him a curtsey, my dear. A proper one.”

Repressing the urge to roll her eyes—one curtsey was as good as another, as far as she was concerned—Gillian dipped down and quickly came up.

Leverton’s eyebrows ticked up. On him, she rather expected it was the equivalent of a horrified gasp.

Well, nobody ever said she was graceful, at least when it came to that sort of silliness.

“Hmm,” he said. “We’ll have to work on that.”

“It’s all nonsense, if you ask me,” Gillian said. “All this bowing and scraping like a peasant before his master. Perhaps you’d like me to polish your boots while I’m at it.”

His disapproving gaze made her blink, and she almost took a step back. This was a man who did not like being crossed.

“Gillian Dryden, you will cease acting like heathen,” her grandmother rapped out.

“I had no idea you had revolutionary tendencies, Miss Dryden,” the duke said. “How very interesting. And no, I would not like you to polish my boots. My valet would not approve.”

Now he sounded bored. And if he was bored, he would be more likely to go away and leave her alone. Splendid.

Still, she couldn’t help feeling irked by his dismissive tone and demeanor. The Duke of Leverton was certainly a snob and probably a fop. She didn’t know which was worse.

“Why would you think I have revolutionary tendencies, sir?” she added in a sugary-sweet voice. “Is it because I think I’m as good as anyone else, despite my unfortunate social status?”

Gillian braced herself for the expected put-down. She’d grown used to being labeled a prince’s by-blow, or worse. It was best to simply accept it and then do her best to avoid anyone who looked down on her because of her parentage. She’d learned that hard lesson a long time ago.

The duke studied her for a few moments before replying. “Of course you are.”

“Of course I am what?” she asked.

“As good as anyone else. Any sensible person must think so,” he said.

“That eliminates most of the ton,” Griffin said.

Leverton seemed to weigh her brother’s droll comment. “I believe your assessment is too pessimistic, Steele. Shall we say, perhaps fifty percent?”

The exchange was so silly that Gillian had to laugh. Leverton’s eyebrows ticked up again, but not, she thought, with disapproval. Then he flashed her another dazzling smile that made her feel like the floor had just tipped sideways.

“That’s much better,” he said.

She shook her head, exasperated. “I don’t understand any of this.”

“Never mind.” Leverton glanced at Gillian’s grandmother. “Madam, would you be averse to my asking Miss Dryden a few questions? To get the lay of the land, as it were.”

“You mean to figure out how hopeless I truly am,” Gillian said.

Griffin took her arm and steered her to sit with her grandmother. “Might as well get it over with, old girl.”

“Easy enough for you to say,” she retorted. “No one cares if you’re a royal by-blow. No one ever cares about that sort of thing when it comes to men.”

“Not exactly true,” Griffin said. “I had my problems, although I admit the situation is trickier for you than it was for me.”

“But not insurmountable, as I think we all agreed a few minutes ago,” the duke said, resuming his seat.

“I was not in the room at the time of that discussion,” Gillian said.

“But you were listening in,” the duke responded. “I will, therefore, assume you to be in agreement with the rest of us.”

Confound it. The man was all but unflappable. “That remains to be seen.”

His glance shifted to her grandmother before returning to her. “Miss Dryden, am I to understand that you do not wish to be accepted into polite society? Surely that cannot be correct.”

“Of course not.” Grandmamma pinned Gillian with a look that all but dared her to disagree. “Is it, my child?”

Drat. She was caught in her own trap.

Her mother and grandmother had already made it clear that her introduction into British society was happening regardless of her wishes. Refusing to cooperate would hardly achieve the desired outcome—her family’s agreement to let her return to Sicily. They genuinely believed she could make a go of things here in England, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

They also believed that to send her home was tantamount to a death sentence. Gillian didn’t agree. Things might be a little sticky for a while, but she’d find a way to manage the situation. She always did.

“Of course I wish to be accepted into polite society.” She adopted an earnest expression as she gazed at the duke. “Is that not the wish of any right-thinking English girl?”

“I’m not interested in other girls,” he said bluntly. “I want to know what you think about it.”

Gillian waved an airy hand. “No need to worry about me, Your Grace. I am all compliance.”

Her grandmother made a small, choking sound.

“I’m thrilled to hear it,” Leverton replied. “Then shall we proceed?”

“Of course.”

“I understand that you speak several languages, and your English is excellent. That will certainly help smooth the way.”

Gillian’s brief episode of compliance evaporated. “I’m not a moron, sir. In fact, I suspect I’m much better educated than the average English girl. From what I can see, most of them are complete ninnies.”

“Gillian,” her grandmother warned.

“Sorry, Grandmamma, but you know it’s true. Ten minutes with the likes of Lady Allister’s daughters is enough to prove that point.”

Lady Allister was an old friend of Gillian’s mother’s, and Gillian had been forced to endure two gruesome outings with her ladyship and her daughters. The girls had twittered endlessly like a pair of demented sparrows, interested in nothing but clothes, men, and the latest gossip.

They’d also made little effort to conceal the fact that they found Gillian beneath their notice, treating her with disdain whenever Mamma and Lady Allister weren’t looking. It had taken every ounce of discipline she possessed not to box their ears. Only her mother’s anxious desire for Gillian to make friends had held her back.

“I take your point about Lady Allister’s unfortunate daughters,” Leverton said. “They are a remarkably dreary pair of girls.”

“Oh, um, thank you,” Gillian said, momentarily flummoxed. “I did try to give them the benefit of the doubt, as I told Grandmamma.”

“You called them twits and told them to stop screeching like banshees,” her grandmother said. “In public.”

“Well, they kicked up the most ridiculous fuss,” Gillian said, “simply because a spider crawled up the younger Miss Allister’s sleeve. You’d think the French had launched a full-scale invasion of London.”

“You didn’t help matters by taking off your hat and striking her with it,” her grandmother replied.

“I was simply trying to knock the blasted spider off her dress. For all the good it did me,” Gillian muttered.

“So, that’s what happened,” Griffin said.

“Oh, dear,” sighed Grandmamma. “You heard about that incident?”

“I expect half of London did,” Griffin said with a grin. “It isn’t every day that young ladies attack each other in Gunter’s.”

“I did not attack her,” Gillian protested. “I was trying to help her. It’s not my fault she toppled over and sent the table flying.”

All the ices and drinks had been dumped onto Lady Allister’s ample lap. The resulting shrieks had been so loud that Gillian’s ears had rung for hours.

“Since you didn’t hear about the incident, Charles, perhaps it’s not as bad as we initially thought,” Grandmamma said, looking hopeful.

The duke had been staring at Gillian with what looked like horrified fascination, but he quickly pulled himself together. “I only returned to London a few days ago. I’ve been locked up in my offices since and am not yet privy to the latest gossip.”

“Oh, dear,” her grandmother said with a sigh.

The duke gave her a sympathetic grimace. “Never mind, Aunt Lucy. Most everyone agrees with Miss Dryden’s trenchant assessment of the Allister girls, so I don’t think the damage will be acute.” He shot Gillian a stern look. “As long as you refrain from similar incidents.”

“I promise,” she said in a pious voice. Unfortunately, her vow was undercut by the look exchanged by Griffin and her grandmother.

“You might as well tell me,” the duke said in a resigned voice.

“There was that incident in Hyde Park the other day, when she went for an early morning ride,” Grandmamma said.

“Not by herself, I hope,” the duke said.

“Of course not,” Gillian said. “I had a groom with me.” Her grandmother had seen to that. The servants barely let Gillian out of their sight.

“Then what was the problem?”

“She wore breeches,” her grandmother said.

Leverton blinked slowly.

“It’s the only way I can ride astride. I hate sidesaddle,” Gillian explained.

“Did anyone see you?” Leverton asked.

“Not so as to recognize me,” she said. “So I don’t see what the problem is.”

His gaze went cool again. “I’m sure you know exactly what the problem is, so please don’t insult my intelligence, Miss Dryden.”

She felt her cheeks flush. Of course she’d known what the problem was, which was why she’d gone out riding early in the morning. She truly didn’t want to embarrass her family, but that didn’t mean she didn’t chafe against the restrictions placed on her—or circumvent them, on occasion.

Griffin stirred. “Speaking of insults, I’d advise you to address my sister in a more respectful tone. An offense to her is an offense to me. Believe me, you don’t want that.”

Leverton didn’t seem the slightest bit discomposed by her brother’s threat. In fact, the two men commenced staring at each other in a way that raised the hairs on the back of Gillian’s neck.

“It’s fine,” she hastily said. “I’m sure the duke didn’t mean to insult me. Did you, sir?”

He held Griffin’s gaze for a moment longer, then looked at her. “Of course not, Miss Dryden.”

“Good, then let’s continue.” The sooner this appalling interview came to an end, the better.

“Lady Marbury has given me a fairly good understanding of your education,” he said. “It sounded, however, as if you’ve lacked sufficient tutoring in the traditional female accomplishments.”

“You mean like drawing and needlework? Sorry, I never saw the point of it.”

She could stitch a shirt and cook a stew with the best of them. Those were useful tasks that served a purpose. But wasting one’s time on producing decorative samplers or boring landscapes? She’d always had better things to do with her time.

“And what about music? Do you play an instrument or sing, or did you not see the point in those activities, either?”

Gillian liked music, especially opera, but she’d never had the patience to learn how to play. And the less said about her singing voice, the better. She gave a shrug.

“My dear girl,” Leverton said, sounding exasperated. “Do you have no hobbies or leisurely pastimes at all?”

“Actually, yes,” she said. “I’m quite good at hunting bandits.”

She could barely hear the duke grinding his teeth over her grandmother’s groan.

***

You can pre-order MY FAIR PRINCESS at Amazon, B & N, Kobo, and other retailers. Check here for more detail and a complete list.

Happy reading!

 


ANOTHER MY FAIR PRINCESS EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT!!

My Fair Princess 2

MY FAIR PRINCESS, the first book in the Improper Princesses Series, will hit the shelves on August 30th. As promised, I’m releasing exclusive chapter length excerpts every month (you can read the first two chapters here). And here’s something else you might be interested in: if you pre-order MY FAIR PRINCESS, you’ll receive a bonus short story featuring the heroes and heroines from my Renegade Royals Series. Would you like to find out what happened to Griffin and Justine Steele from CONFESSIONS OF A ROYAL BRIDEGROOM, or learn more about Sir Dominic Hunter and his long-lost love, Chloe Steele? Well, here’s your chance! Just click here to get all the details about this special pre-order bonus story.

And now, onto the excerpt: chapter three, MY FAIR PRINCESS:

Charles eyed his aunt. She seemed dead serious. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I could not have heard you correctly.”

“There is nothing wrong with your hearing. You are the only person in this family who can provide Gillian with the necessary social skills to survive in the ton.”

Good God. She wanted him to introduce her scandal of a granddaughter into British society. It was an insane idea. “Leaving aside the unusual nature of the request, what would be the end goal of such a project?”

“The usual end for genteel young ladies—marriage.”

It would be false modesty to deny that he had considerable social and political influence, but even he couldn’t perform miracles. “Pardon my plain speaking, but do I look like a matchmaker to you?” He didn’t bother to mask his incredulity.

“Don’t be such a ninny, Charles. As if any man would be up to the task,” she said with a dismissive wave. “Her mother and I will manage that element. But Gillian is, for lack of a better term, a gem in the rough. Your assistance is needed for one purpose only—to smooth out the rough edges and make her a suitable marriage prospect for a respectable gentleman.”

Mystified that his aunt would even consider so outrageous a project, he glanced around the handsomely appointed room, then ran a quick, practiced eye over her gown and first-rate jewels.

She laughed, clearly reading his mind. “We’re not out to catch a rich husband for her, Charles. Nor do we stand in need of financial support from you or anyone else. Gillian has a very generous dowry, bestowed on her by her stepfather. What we do require is your social capital and your support as the head of the family.”

So the girl was wealthy. That would certainly help—or at least encourage eligible suitors to overlook her unfortunate background. “That part shouldn’t be a problem, as long as she is presentable.”

“And therein lies the rub,” Aunt Lucy said dryly.

“Why? Her mother is a most charming, accomplished woman. Can she not take her own daughter in hand? With the help of the appropriate tutors and a dancing master, of course.”

“Unfortunately, Julia suffers from uncertain health. I do not wish to tax her anymore than I have to. And Gillian can be quite taxing.”

“What about a governess?”

“My granddaughter doesn’t want a governess. Never did,” Aunt Lucy said tersely.

“Most girls don’t. That doesn’t mean they don’t need one.”

“Regardless, it was next to impossible to find an acceptable English candidate willing to move to Sicily. The point is moot.”

“Aunt Lucy, forgive me, but this sounds like a mad scheme destined to fail.”

“It cannot fail,” she said in a tight voice. “You know Gillian’s difficult situation. Her security and happiness depend upon finding a good, respectable man who can look out for her. Protect her from . . . from all the pitfalls that lie in wait for a girl like her.”

God, what a thickhead he was. Of course that was the problem.

The ton had its share of roués, rakes, and others who engaged in less than respectable activities. Most of those men made a point of steering clear of gently bred girls, knowing there would be hell to pay if they dallied with them. But to a woman in Gillian Dryden’s position, they would be merciless. Every rake in London would try to drag her down into his sordid world, where she would be forever lost to her family and friends.

To such men, it would be a delicious challenge to ensnare a girl like Gillian—innocent, but by their foul standards, still fair game.

“Aunt Lucy, why in God’s name did you bring the poor girl back to England in the first place? Surely you understood what would happen.”

She chewed that over like a piece of moldy old bread. “We didn’t have a choice.”

Obviously, his aunt was holding something back, but Charles decided to let it go for now. If he did decide to help Miss Dryden—and that was a big if—he’d demand a full accounting of what he was up against. He hated surprises, and this little interview had already exceeded his tolerance for them.

“All right, perhaps we should be approaching this problem from a different angle,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me exactly which accomplishments and skills Miss Dryden does possess? Then I might be able to deduce how I can assist you.”

“Assist Gillian,” his aunt said stubbornly.

Though tutoring a grubby girl would hardly rate high on any man’s list of preferred activities, he gave her an encouraging nod.

“Well, she speaks three foreign languages and is quite adept in Latin, too.”

One generally didn’t need to parse verb tenses in a ballroom, but it was a start. “Is one of those languages French?”

“Of course. Gillian’s accent is excellent, I might add. She also speaks very good Spanish.”

“Splendid. What else?”

“She’s well versed in history and good at mathematics and the natural sciences. Her knowledge of animal husbandry is remarkable, in fact. That comes from spending most of her life on her stepfather’s country estate.”

Unless she intended to pursue a first at Oxford—or marry a farmer—those skills were more a hindrance than a help. But it sounded as if the girl had a good mind, which was nothing to sniff at. After all, there were men who had no desire to marry an ignorant woman, no matter how pretty she might be.

Charles was one of them. He had learned long ago how dangerous pretty could be.

“And what about feminine accomplishments? Does she play an instrument or sing?”

Aunt Lucy shook her head.

“Not an insurmountable problem,” he said. “Does she draw or paint?”

“No.”

“How is her needlework?”

Aunt Lucy was beginning to look morose. “Gillian would rather stab herself in the eye with the needle than spend even a minute butchering an innocent piece of cloth.”

“A direct quote, I assume. Well, then, can she at least comport herself with grace on the dance floor?” He feared he already knew the answer.

“We hired a dancing master for the voyage back from Sicily, but it didn’t go well. Gillian insisted we dismiss him before we reached England or . . . ”

“Or?” he prompted.

Aunt Lucy’s expression suggested she’d just swallowed a nasty dose of physic. “Or she’d run him through.”

“You cannot be serious.”

“She wasn’t feeling well at the time, so it wasn’t entirely her fault. The lessons aggravated her shoulder injury.”

“What happened to her shoulder?”

Aunt Lucy’s gaze skittered off to the side. Then she took a deep breath and looked him directly in the eye. “She was shot. In a fight.”

He couldn’t repress a laugh. It couldn’t possibly be true.

“It is no joking matter,” Aunt Lucy said stiffly. “Gillian almost died.”

Charles was almost afraid to ask for details, but he’d gone too far to pull back now. And he had to admit to a morbid fascination at this point. “Who shot her?”

“Sicilian bandits. Very dangerous men, and exceedingly dangerous for Gillian.”

Before he could muster another question, the door opened, and a man strolled in—a man who resembled a bandit himself. But for his white shirt and cravat, he was dressed entirely in black, even down to his waistcoat. The look was completed by long black hair tied back over his shoulders and a faint scar that scored the side of his face.

He was a man who’d made his fortune running some of the most notorious gaming hells in London, one whose reputation as a scoundrel of the first order had only recently been mitigated by the sale of those hells and his marriage to the niece of a well-regarded viscount. Griffin Steele, bastard son of the Duke of Cumberland. Which made him the half brother of Gillian Dryden.

Good God. The situation was even worse than he thought.

“Ah, there you are, Griffin,” Aunt Lucy said with an affectionate smile. “Please come in and meet our guest.”

Charles sighed and came to his feet. “Now I know why you need my help,” he muttered.

Gillian Dryden was a walking scandal just by virtue of her existence. With Griffin Steele in the mix, the gossips would be delirious with joy. It was a social powder keg in the making, waiting for a spark.

“What did you say, Charles?” Aunt Lucy asked.

“Nothing, ma’am.”

“Then allow me to introduce Griffin Steele. I’m quite sure you’ve deduced his relationship to Gillian.”

“With thundering clarity,” Charles said. Steele, the rotter, simply flashed him what could only be described as an evil grin.

Aunt Lucy ignored the comment. “Griffin, allow me to introduce you to His Grace, the Duke of Leverton. Your Grace, Mr. Griffin Steele.”

If a bow could be described as ironic, the flourishing one that Steele put on display fit the bill. Charles returned him a brief bow, fully aware that the man’s blood was bluer than his.

Aunt Lucy stood and took Charles’s hand in a firm clasp. “Leverton is going to help us with Gillian. I can’t think of anyone better able to do so.”

Steele gave him a slow, insolent perusal. While Charles was taller, Steele was whipcord lean with the air of someone who would just as soon cut your throat as shake your hand. Having been raised by a man who’d mastered the fine art of intimidation, Charles found Steele’s glare nothing more than annoying.

“His Grace doesn’t look too enthusiastic about the notion, if you ask me,” Griffin finally drawled.

Charles gave him a polite smile. “Funny, I don’t recall asking.”

Aunt Lucy’s scowl suggested they were acting like ill-behaved schoolboys.

“Griffin, would you fetch Charles a brandy, and yourself as well?” she asked. “I’m sure you could both use one.”

“Your guest seems quite at home,” Charles said, watching Steele stroll over to the drinks cabinet and select two glasses.

Aunt Lucy raised a haughty brow. “I count Griffin as a member of the family. As does Gillian.”

“I would assume so, since they are brother and sister,” Charles calmly replied. “But you certainly aren’t making things easier on yourself.”

“Because Gillian and I are both bastards?” Steele said, returning with the brandies. “That’s not an insurmountable obstacle. I’m living proof of that.”

“It’s much more difficult for a woman to overcome that particular impediment,” Charles said. “And since we’re speaking so frankly—”

“I always speak frankly,” Steele interrupted with a cold smile. “That way my intent is perfectly clear.”

“Then in the interest of being perfectly clear,” Charles said, “let me point out that your close relationship with Miss Dryden is unlikely to be of advantage to her. Rather the opposite, in fact.”

“Agreed,” Aunt Lucy said. “But since there is nothing to be done about that, we must simply work around it.”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings,” Charles said. “But I believe it well-nigh impossible for you to achieve your goals in London. You might have more luck in one of the smaller spa towns, where standards are less exacting. Tunbridge Wells, perhaps.”

“That is not acceptable to me or to Gillian’s mother,” his aunt replied in a frosty tone.

“Or to me,” Steele added.

Charles allowed himself an exasperated sigh. “Aunt Lucy—”

“Charles, please listen. If we had another choice, we would take it. But we must find my granddaughter a suitable husband, one who is strong and powerful enough to protect her. Her position in life, the type of girl she is . . . ” She paused, her lips thinning into a distressed line.

“Yes?” Charles asked gently.

“Gillian is very vulnerable,” she said. “More than I like to admit, and certainly more than she will admit. For all her strength and courage, she has craved male affection and approval ever since her beloved stepfather passed away. I don’t need to tell you where such a vulnerability could lead.”

“I understand.”

“I will not have my granddaughter sliding into the demimonde, either through her reckless behavior or because some wretched man takes advantage of her.”

Charles frowned. “Has anyone tried?”

Aunt Lucy nodded. “I have dealt with threats of that nature in the past, but I’m getting old. I will not be around forever.”

“I would never allow it to happen to Gillian,” Griffin said in a hard voice.

“The problem is that you would do such a splendid job of protecting her,” Aunt Lucy said, “that no man would have the nerve to come near her.”

“Well, the girl needs someone to look out for her,” Griffin said. “She’s too bloody reckless. It’s only a matter of time before she triggers a full-blown scandal that will sink her reputation for good.”

“Charles, if you don’t come to our aid, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Aunt Lucy said, sounding rather desperate.

He wanted to say no, but . . .

A Penley always does the right thing.

His father’s voice echoed in his head. Charles felt sure, however, that the old man had not envisioned this particular situation. Still, Aunt Lucy and even the mysterious Gillian were family.

“Perhaps you’d better tell me everything,” he said.

As Aunt Lucy talked, Charles experienced a growing consternation. To say that Miss Dryden was a catalogue of social disasters was a massive understatement. In addition to threatening the dancing master, she’d gone riding by herself in Green Park, strolled past White’s in the middle of the afternoon—again, by herself—and inadvertently insulted an ancient and very distinguished marquess at the one small party her family had dared take her to.

Apparently, that was just the beginning.

“For God’s sake, Aunt Lucy,” he broke in, “even I cannot groom a savage. What were you thinking to bring her here in the first place?”

Steele leaned forward, his gaze turning flat and cold. “Careful, Your Grace, or you’re likely to end up with my blade between your ribs.”

“Oh, please,” Charles said in a dismissive voice.

“I brought her to England to save her life,” Aunt Lucy said. “She may not be up to your exacting standards, Charles, but I could not let her die at the hands of ruthless brigands. That would surely have been her fate if we’d stayed in Sicily.”

“Ah, yes,” he said. “About those bandits. Why the devil—”

His aunt shook her head and came to her feet. Charles and Steele quickly rose in response.

“Forgive me for wasting your time, Your Grace,” she said with a resigned dignity. “I see now it was too much to ask of you. I only ask that you keep these matters private for Gillian’s sake.”

Mentally sighing, Charles took her hand. “No, Aunt, it is I who must ask your forgiveness. My manners indeed went begging, and I am sorry for it. Let us just say that I was surprised into forgetting myself.”

She eyed him, looking doubtful, troubled, and weary.

“But there’s one thing I still don’t understand,” he said. “Why is Miss Dryden so resistant to learning conventional behavior?”

His aunt shrugged. “She seems to equate conforming to acceptable standards with training a monkey to perform tricks. Pointless was how she described it.”

“There is nothing pointless about civilized behavior,” Charles said. “Or in treating our fellow creatures with appropriate dignity.”

God, that sounded priggish even for him. Steele’s derisive snort signaled he thought so too.

“I’ve told her that a thousand times,” Aunt Lucy said. “But only her stepfather could get her to see reason, I’m sorry to say. Gillian had a great regard for him, both as her adopted parent and as patriarch of the family.”

“How boringly traditional of her,” Griffin commented.

“Well, she was raised in Sicily,” Aunt Lucy replied. “They’re sticklers for that sort of thing. Which is another reason why I thought of you, Charles. You are indisputably the head of our family, as well as a duke. I’m hoping the combination will generate at least a modicum of compliance on Gillian’s part.”

As Charles looked into his aunt’s pleading gaze, he found it impossible to say no. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to meet her. See if she would be amenable to taking some, ah, guidance from me.”

“Good luck with that,” Steele said in a sardonic tone.

Aunt Lucy flashed Charles a relieved smile. “She’s really a very nice girl, despite her rough edges. I’m sure you’ll like her.”

Charles kept his considerable doubts to himself.

“Griffin, will you ring for the footman?” Aunt Lucy asked. “He can fetch Gillian.”

“I know exactly where she is,” Griffin said, striding to the door. When he pulled it open, a woman tumbled into the room, landing on her knees.

“Confound it,” she muttered. She hopped to her feet in a swift, contained movement and flicked the skirts of her gown back in place over her slim figure. She gazed directly at Charles with big, sherry-colored eyes, apparently not the least bit embarrassed by her outrageous entrance.

“So, you’re the one who’s going to tame the savage,” she said in a crisp voice that carried the hint of an exotic accent. “What fun for both of us.”

**

You can pre-order MY FAIR PRINCESS directly from Amazon, or find more info and pre-order links on the Book Page. Again, here’s the link for details on the pre-order bonus content.

Have a great weekend, and happy reading!


Gentleman Blog Stops & Giveaways!

Winter 1

Along with my fellow lady scribes, I’m at two blogs today. At Fresh Fiction, I’m blogging about why I love Regency romance. At The Jaunty Quills, I’m blogging about the beauty of teamwork. There are swell giveaways at both stops, so I hope you’ll join me!

And for those of you looking for A GENTLEMAN FOR ALL SEASON in print, it is now available on Amazon. Just look for the buy box on the right side of the GENTLEMAN Amazon page to order your print copy.


Release Day for A Gentleman for All Seasons!!

Gentleman High Res

Huzzah! It’s finally in stores – A GENTLEMAN FOR ALL SEASONS, the anthology I co-wrote with Kate Noble, Shana Galen, and Theresa Romain. These are four new, full-length novellas set in the lovely country village of Hemshawe and at the Friar’s House, a nearby country estate that was once a monastery. The anthology has a holiday twist, too. The four couples featured in the interconnected stories play out their courtships against the backdrop of seasonal festivities, both in Hemshawe and at the Friar’s House.

My novella is called The Season for Loving, and it’s a Regency Christmas story to wrap up the anthology. It was really fun to work on this joint project, weaving the romantic tales of four separate couples into a holiday extravaganza.

The anthology is currently in digital book format, but will soon be available in print from Amazon (hopefully by the end of the day!). You can download from Amazon, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play.

For more info about GENTLEMAN and to read the blurbs, just visit the Book’s Page.

Happy reading!

Winter 1


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