My Fair Princess Excerpt!!

My Fair Princess 2

MY FAIR PRINCESS, the first book in The Improper Princesses Series, will be out on August 30th. From now until August, I’ll be posting chapter-by-chapter excerpts at least once a month, right up to a few weeks before release day. That means you’ll be able to read a good chunk of the book before it even hits the shelves!

Today’s excerpt is Chapter 2. If you haven’t already read Chapter 1, just click here.

So, without further ado, please meet my hero, the Duke of Leverton.

***

London

May 1816

Charles Valentine Penley, Sixth Duke of Leverton, hastily stepped off the curb and into the street, narrowly avoiding collision with three little boys barreling down the pavement on their way home from the park. As much as he could appreciate their high spirits, they were covered in mud, and one generally didn’t make social calls looking as if one had been rolling around in the stables.

“Slow down, you little hellions,” Kates yelled from the seat of the curricle. “You almost knocked His Grace flat on his arse.” Kates, an excellent groom, occasionally forgot himself as his rather disreputable origins in the London stews bubbled to the surface.

“No need to shout,” Charles said.

“They might have spooked the horses. And you all but scared the wits out of the poor things, jumpin’ off the curb like that,” Kates added in an accusatory tone. In his world, nothing was worse than ruffling the high-strung nerves of the animals under his care.

“How dreadful of me,” Charles said. “Do you think I should apologize to them?”

When Kates was upset, his resemblance to a sad-eyed basset hound verged on the remarkable. “Now, no need to make a jest out of it, Yer Grace. You know this pair hates goin’ out in all this wind. It’s well-nigh a gale, I tell you.”

As if to underscore the point, a stiff breeze swirled down Brook Street, kicking up both dust and the skirts of the three nursemaids hurrying after their ill-behaved charges. Two were young and pretty and smiled flirtatiously as they passed, murmuring apologies for any inconvenience the boys might have caused.

Charles gave them a polite smile before turning back to Kates. “Very well, you may return to Grosvenor Square now. I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying, and God forbid I should keep the horses out in a hurricane.”

It was merely a blustery day, an unseasonably cool one in an unseasonably cool spring. Still, it felt good to be outside. Only recently returned from his estate in Lincolnshire, Charles had spent the last several days buried up to his eyeballs in paperwork in his parliamentary offices. He already missed the long rides, the crisp, clean air, and the quieter, more ordered way of life in the country.

Kates cast an assessing glance at the slate-gray sky. “Are you sure, sir? It looks as if it might be comin’ on rain. You don’t want to be gettin’ them boots wet. Jobbins will be pitchin’ a fit if you do.”

“Let me explain something, Kates. I’m the duke, and Jobbins is the valet. I pay his wages. I do not pay him to pitch a fit.”

The groom eyed him uncertainly. “If you say so, Yer Grace.”

The staff at Leverton House lived in terror of Jobbins, who’d been around since Noah’s Flood and who had a knack for reducing even the butler to grudging compliance. Jobbins had acquired his intimidating manner from his previous master, the Fifth Duke of Leverton. Unlike that duke, however, Jobbins had a heart. Charles had always found it rather amazing that his valet treated him with more genuine affection than his own father had.

Charles took pity on his clearly worried groom. “Would you rather the horses get wet or me?”

Kates darted another alarmed glance at the sky, then at the patiently waiting pair. “Right you are, sir. I’d best be getting these two safely home.”

While Kates set a brisk trot down Brook Street, Charles turned to mount the steps of the building in front of him. The handsome brick and stucco townhouse had belonged to the Marburys for as long as he could recall, although it had been rented until Lady Marbury and her family’s recent return to England after many years abroad.

They were his family too, as he had to remind himself. He and Lady Marbury were cousins a few times removed on his father’s side, and Lady Marbury’s daughter, now the widow of an Italian aristocrat, had been married at a young age to one of Charles’s maternal uncles. That union had only lasted a few years before his uncle died of a heart attack in the bed of a notorious courtesan. The young dowager duchess had then gone on to scandalous escapades of her own—so scandalous, in fact, that the Marburys had taken their errant daughter and decamped to the Continent, settling first in Naples and then Sicily.

They had remained there for well over twenty years, even after the death of Lord Marbury. Why they had returned now—and why Charles had been so peremptorily summoned by Lady Marbury—was a mystery that instilled a certain caution. But they were family, and Penleys always put family first. That lesson had been drummed into his head from an early age and wasn’t one he was likely to forget.

A liveried footman ushered him in with a quiet greeting, taking his hat and gloves. A moment later, an extremely correct butler appeared from the back of the house to escort him to Lady Marbury. The surroundings exuded an atmosphere of quiet, familiar elegance. Charles had visited the house often as a child, and he could almost imagine nothing had changed since those long-ago days, before the family’s ignominious fall from grace and social exile from England.

The butler led him to the back of the house, to what he vaguely recalled was Lady Marbury’s private sitting room. That was interesting, since he’d been expecting to make a formal call. After all, the last time he’d seen her had been when he was a callow youth of eighteen, on the Grand Tour with his tutor. Much had changed since then, including the fact that Charles was now Duke of Leverton.

After a quick tap on the door, the butler announced him.

Charles entered the small room and came to a halt, feeling as if he’d stepped back in time. The furnishings hadn’t altered a jot. Even the yellow swags draping the windows looked the same, albeit rather faded. He remembered the ornate French bracket clock on the mantel and the portrait of a previous earl of Marbury, painted by Romney, hung over the fireplace.

It made him feel like a child again, not a sensation he relished.

A soft laugh jerked him out of his reverie. “It’s uncanny, isn’t it? I almost felt like a young woman when I walked into this room. We have been away for much too long.”

Lady Marbury stood there, elegantly attired in a style more French than English. Her clear blue eyes regarded him with amusement, and a welcoming smile lit up her handsome, barely lined face. Only the white hair under a dainty lace cap gave testament to her age of more than seventy years. Her life had not always been easy, but she had certainly retained much of her beauty and quiet grace.

Her smile slid into a grin. “Charles, it’s very good to see you again. I do hope, however, that my appearance has not struck you dumb. Have I aged so much that you no longer recognize me?”

“Please forgive me,” he said, taking her hand. “I truly was struck dumb by your youthful appearance. You’ve hardly aged a day.”

“What nonsense.” She stretched up and pressed a fleeting kiss to his cheek. “You too have changed a great deal. You’ve grown into a handsome man, which is hardly surprising since you were a good-looking and charming boy.”

He mentally blinked at her affectionate compliment. The Lady Marbury he remembered was not a woman prone to such high praise and flattery.

And no one would have ever labeled him charming—awkward and tongue-tied was more like it. True, he’d acquired social polish over the years. But since Lady Marbury wouldn’t know that, her words made him even more suspicious. He knew her to be a brilliant woman and the true force behind her husband’s political career before their exile to Sicily. Lady Marbury had always been the canny one, a fact he must not forget.

“Please sit, Charles,” she said, waving him to an armchair covered in gently faded but still beautiful embroidery. She took the claw-footed settee across from him. “I hope you’ll forgive our rather shabby appearance. We’ve not yet had the chance to redecorate.”

“There’s nothing shabby about it, my lady. It’s charming and very . . . homey.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” she said in a dry tone that sounded more like her. “And, please, there is no need for such formality between us. If you keep referring to me as ‘my lady,’ I shall be obliged to refer to you as Your Grace. You used to call me Aunt Lucy, after all.”

He refrained from expressing polite incredulity. Charles had sometimes called her Aunt Lucy when he was a boy, more to annoy his elders than anything else. Neither the Marburys nor his parents had encouraged such informalities.

“As you wish, Aunt Lucy,” he said. “Now, how may I be of assistance to you?”

Her eyebrows lifted a tick. “Why would you assume I’m in want of assistance? Perhaps I simply wished to see one of my nearest relations after so many years away from home.”

“Are we such near relations? I will have to check the family Bible.” He pretended to ruminate for a few seconds. “Although I suppose you must be referring to your daughter’s marriage to my uncle which, as I recall, was extremely short-lived.”

She blinked, but then her eyes warmed with laughter. “How wretched of you to point that out. Are you suggesting that I’m doing it rather too brown?”

He gave her a half smile. No point in letting Aunt Lucy think she could push him about for her own purposes. Once, he had been very easy to manipulate, but those days were long gone.

“Perish the thought,” he said. “Your missive, however, seemed to carry a rather urgent undertone. Forgive me if I assumed incorrectly.”

Warmth lingered in her gaze. “You would be wrong, you know. I am happy to see you. But you are correct—I do need your help. I was simply trying to figure out the most successful line of approach.”

“Directly, I would think. There’s no need to beat around the bush with me.”

“I’d forgotten how blunt and honest you were as a boy.”

“I believe you mean clumsy.”

“No, that was your father’s assessment, not mine. I did not agree with him.”

He nodded his thanks, not wishing to encourage that discussion. Charles was well aware of his late father’s opinion of him.

“Besides,” she continued, “I understand that you are now a paragon of courtesy and good taste. Peerless Penley, is that not what people call you?”

They did, and he hated it. But like many things in life, he’d learned to turn it to his advantage. “Also Perfect Penley and Impeccable Penley. You have your pick.”

She nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard those as well. Your reputation as a leader of the ton is quite formidable.”

Now they were getting to it. “And is that why you seek my help?”

“Let me ring for tea before I explain.”

He held up a hand. “Perhaps we can dispense with the social formalities just this once, despite my fearsome reputation. Please, Aunt, speak freely.” As much as he’d learned to value the social niceties, he sometimes found them irksome and time-consuming.

She eyed him dubiously. “Very well. Perhaps it’s best if we have tea once my granddaughter joins us.”

Surely she didn’t mean . . . “Are you referring to Miss Gillian Dryden?”

“I am.” Her answer held a touch of defiance.

“You brought her back to England with you?” He couldn’t keep an incredulous note from his voice.

His aunt starched up, looking every bit the imperious aristocrat he remembered. “Is there some reason why my daughter and I shouldn’t bring Gillian home?”

Besides the fact that she was the bastard daughter of the Duke of Cumberland, the Prince Regent’s brother? But, of course, he would never be so rude as to state it so bluntly. “Forgive me. I simply assumed her to be married and living in Sicily. She’s . . . twenty-two by now?”

“Twenty-one. And I think you can guess why she’s not married.”

“I’m sorry. I had no desire to offend.” He offered her a wry smile. “Clearly, my reputation is not so well deserved after all.”

She drummed her fingers on her knee. “That is certainly not what I was given to understand.”

Now they were going around in circles, an even bigger waste of time. “Is it Miss Dryden you wish to speak to me about?”

She let out a sigh that sounded both weary and worried. “Forgive me for biting off your head. It’s been a long two months.”

“I have no doubt your travels were taxing. Nor could it have been easy to return home after so many years abroad.” Although decades had passed since the Marburys left England, the scandal that had forced them away was still not forgotten.

Aunt Lucy’s gaze softened. “Yes, England is still home, for all that. Despite the difficulties, I am happy to be back here in my declining years.”

“Good Lord. I had no idea you were verging on such decrepitude.”

She let out a reluctant laugh. “That, my dear Charles, was anything but polite.”

“No, but I needed to point out that you are anything but in decline. Your remarks suggest, however, that not everyone is happy that you’ve returned. Meaning your granddaughter, I presume?”

“How disgustingly perceptive of you. I shall have to remember that. Yes, Gillian is not taking the transition well. And I won’t pretend that we’re not having problems because of that.”

“Because of her, er, status, or because she’s not terribly familiar with English manners and customs?”

Aunt Lucy sighed again, but this time it was the sound of exasperation. “Both, although her behavior is the more vexing of the two at this point.”

“I wouldn’t have thought that possible.” In a woman of the upper classes, the stain of illegitimacy was an almost insurmountable obstacle.

“Anything is possible with Gillian,” she said, shaking her head. “What do you remember of her?

He thought back to his visit to Sicily over twelve years ago. Although he’d stayed with the Marburys at their charming villa on the outskirts of Palermo, he’d seen Gillian Dryden only a few times. She’d only been nine at the time, so there would have been little reason for her to be out in company. He’d also had the sense that Lord Marbury had objected to his granddaughter’s presence in their household. As a result, she’d been kept out of sight as much as possible.

“I remember that she was very quiet, like a little ghost hovering around the edges of the room.”

For a moment, Aunt Lucy looked stricken. “That is a very apt description. My husband did not approve of Gillian’s presence, although I’m happy to say that her stepfather was a great deal more accepting.”

Charles nodded. “Lady Julia married a member of the Italian nobility, as I recall. Count Paterini, I believe?”

“Yes. He was a wonderful man who treated Gillian like his own daughter. We were all devastated when he died so tragically. It was as hard on Gillian as it was on her mother.”

“I’m sorry to hear of your loss,” he said.

“Thank you. But I suppose there is little to be served by rehashing our family’s sad history. I should get to the point instead of wasting your valuable time.”

“I cannot help you until you do,” he said with a smile.

“Very well, then. I would like your help in teaching my granddaughter how to be a proper English lady instead of a wild, impetuous baggage who offends every person she meets.”

***

MY FAIR PRINCESS is currently available for pre-order for only $4.99 in digital and $5.99 in print. You can find more info and buy links on the Book Page.

AND here’s a special, pre-order bonus! If you pre-order your copy of MY FAIR PRINCESS, you’ll receive a free short story featuring all my Renegade Royals and their wives. Curious to find out what happened to Griffin Steele and Justine Brightmore from CONFESSIONS OF A ROYAL BRIDEGROOM, for instance? Well, here’s your chance! Just click here for more info on the Renegade Royals bonus short story and how to sign up to receive it.

Thanks for taking the time to read my excerpt!


Q & A for MY FAIR PRINCESS

My Fair Princess 2

MY FAIR PRINCESS is book one in my new series, The Improper Princesses (out in August). These books are spin-offs from my current series, The Renegade Royals, and feature three young women who are the illegitimate daughters of England’s Royal Dukes.

So how about a Q & A about MY FAIR PRINCESS or the new series? You can comment and leave a question right here, or you can pop over to my facebook page to leave a question, where I’m also running a giveaway.

To get you started, here’s a snippet from the book. My heroine, Gillian, is taking a sedate stroll in the park with my hero, the Duke of Leverton, who is trying to teach her to behave like a proper English lady…

He steered her to a small enclosure next to the dairy, where a few cows ambled about and grazed. “There’s something I need to ask you first.”

Gillian lounged gracefully against the fence, negligently swinging the muff that dangled from her wrist. Charles made a mental note to work on her posture at another time.

“Fire away,” she said.

He repressed a sigh. One problem at a time.

“It’s not an easy topic to discuss,” he said, “and I have no wish to embarrass you. But since we’re already talking about dukes, I thought I’d better ask you about . . . ” He hesitated, searching for a delicate way to phrase it.

“My esteemed father, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland? Is that what you want to ask me about?” She still leaned casually against the fence, still swinging her purse. But the air around her now seemed charged with tension.

“I know it’s awkward,” he said. “But I need to know how things stand with him.”

“It’s not awkward for me at all,” she said in a cool voice. “Surely you know that I’ve never met the bastard.”

“Miss Dryden . . . ”

“Oh, wait,” she said in a musing tone. “I forgot. Technically, I’m the bastard, not my natural father. I suppose I shouldn’t confuse the point.”

Charles resisted the impulse to rub his temples. He could sympathize with her feelings about her father, but her near-fatal inability to guard her speech would surely be her undoing. Though Cumberland was not a popular man, he was a royal duke. The sins of the father would be visited upon the child if she didn’t learn to hold her tongue.

“I readily understand your feelings, but might I suggest that you refrain from using such terms to describe him?”

“How about poltroon, then? Or loose fish? Oh, I know—complete bounder. Will any of those do?” She smiled brightly at him, as if she were trying to be helpful.

“I would suggest Your Highness, or perhaps sir, if you are forced to address him or refer to him. I’m hopeful that you won’t be placed in such a position, but we must be prepared for it. While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be introduced to him, you may one day find yourself at a ball or social event where he’s present.”

Gillian stood up straight. Anxiety darkened her big eyes as she glanced down the path toward her mother. The contessa had paused to speak with two little girls on an outing with their nursemaids. “You’re worried about what people might say to me about him, aren’t you? That if they make mean-spirited remarks, it will set me off.”

He nodded.

“People can say whatever they want about him—or me, for that matter. I’m used to it.” Gillian gave him a rueful smile. “And despite what you may think, I do know when to hold my tongue. My grandfather saw to my tutoring in that regard.”

Charles could believe it. From what he’d known of Lord Marbury, those lessons would not have been easy on her. It had been no secret that he’d vehemently objected to his daughter’s decision to keep her illegitimate child, and that the earl had been furious that the resulting scandal had forced them to leave England. Even though he’d subsequently gone on to have a distinguished career as a British diplomat in the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, Marbury had never forgiven either his daughter or his granddaughter for subjecting the family to such humiliation.

“It’s a useful skill, even if the learning of it is often painful,” Charles said quietly. “I, too, had to learn how to curb my tongue. I won’t pretend it was easy.”

She threw him a sharp look, as if weighing his statement for truth. Then she nodded. “I didn’t like it much either. And I have to admit that I sometimes forget the lessons.” She huffed out a quiet laugh. “With predictable results, I’m sorry to say.”

His sympathy stirred. Gillian could be brash, but she also had a sweet, self-deprecating manner he found enormously appealing.

“The best way to handle gossip or ill-mannered remarks is to feign ignorance,” he said. “Simply give a vague smile and excuse yourself from the discussion.”

“You mean I shouldn’t plant them a facer or threaten to shoot them?” she asked, opening her eyes wide.

“I know it’s hard to fathom, but Englishwomen don’t generally engage in fisticuffs or duels.”

“How boring of them. I suppose I’ll have to find other ways to avenge myself on the gossips of London.” She lifted an eyebrow. “What do you think of poison?”

Want more info and a full excerpt? Check out the MY FAIR PRINCESS book page, along with my special Renegade Royals short story offer!


Introducing My Fair Princess!

princess

Have you seen my new cover? It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? MY FAIR PRINCESS is the first book in my new series, The Improper Princesses, and it’ll be out in August. MY FAIR PRINCESS is the first in a set of spin-offs of The Renegade Royals, and I’m really excited about it. These books feature heroines who are the illegitimate daughters of England’s royal dukes, the half-sisters and cousins of the Renegade Royals.

In fact, Gillian Dryden, who is the heroine of MY FAIR PRINCESS, is the half-sister of Griffin Steele, the hero of CONFESSIONS OF A ROYAL BRIDEGROOM. Don’t worry–Griffin definitely makes an appearance in the book!

And here’s something that’s really fun. If you pre-order MY FAIR PRINCESS, you’ll receive an exclusive Renegade Royals short story, which you’ll receive on August 30th, the book’s release date. The short story will feature all your favorite Renegade Royals and their ladies, including Dominic and Chloe Hunter.

For details on the short story pre-order special, and to read the blurb and an except from MY FAIR PRINCESS, please visit the Book Page.


On the road at The Jaunty Quills!

Jaunty

I’m doing my regular gig at The Jaunty Quills today, talking about tips for handling stress. I’m also giving away a print copy of SECRETS FOR SEDUCING A ROYAL BODYGUARD, the first book in my Renegade Royals Series. Pop by The JQs and share your tips for handling stress for a chance to win!

Just click here to join me.

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Exclusive excerpt & giveaway!

HIGHLANDER

Please stop by The Romance Dish to read an exclusive excerpt from HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER, my latest in The Renegade Royals Series. You might also win a copy of HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING FOR A ROYAL SPY, the previous book in the series!

Click here to join me.

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