Seven couples must navigate society’s gauntlet to secure the hand of true love....
Charity and Luke are strangers who were forced to marry three years ago.
Adelaide and Walter share a love of music and disdain for elitism.
Caroline and Henry are thrown together by three orphans.
Helen and Isaac harbor his unlikely secret.
Esther is empowered to choose between two men.
Sophia is determined not to choose a man like Nash.
Jamie and William face a daunting London season together.
Will their faith grow and love prevail in a time when both were considered luxuries the elite could not afford?
|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Novelist Angela Bell is a 21st century lady with 19th century sensibilities. Her activities consist of reading voraciously, drinking copious amounts of tea, and writing letters with a fountain pen. She currently resides in the southern most region of Texas with pup Mr. Darcy and kitty Lizzie Bennett. One might describe Angela’s fictional scribblings as historical romance or as Victorian history and steampunk whimsy in a romantic blend. Whenever you need a respite from the 21st century hustle, please visit her cyber-space parlor www.AuthorAngelaBell.com where she can be found waiting with a pot of English tea and some Victorian cordiality.
Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of a dozen new and upcoming historical romances who's seen her work on the ECPA and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can visit her online at www.susannedietze.com and subscribe to her newsletters at http://eepurl.com/bieza5.
Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the Christy Award-winning author of historical romances: A Tale of Two Hearts, The Captured Bride, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, and Gallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at www.michellegriep.com or stalk her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
And guess what? She loves to hear from readers! Feel free to drop her a note at email@example.com.
Nancy Moser is an award-winning author of over twenty-five novels that share a common message: we each have a unique purpose—the trick is to find out what it is. Her genres include contemporary and historical novels including Love of the Summerfields, Mozart’s Sister, The Invitation, and the Christy Award-winning Time Lottery. She is a fan of anything antique—humans included. www.nancymoser.com.
MaryLu Tyndall, a Christy Award finalist and bestselling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series, is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but open people’s eyes to their God-given potential. MaryLu is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America.
Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves books and history, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical romances. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two, an avid museum patron, and wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul mate. Erica loves to hear from readers. You can sign up for her quarterly newsletter at www.ericavetsch.com
You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on her author Facebook page.
Read an Excerpt
A lady never sallied forth unchaperoned. Least of all to a place with the reputation of Vauxhall Gardens.
For most of her seventeen years, Charity Stanwood had considered herself a lady. Yet the term could carry with it a most inconvenient mantle. Ladies sat in the parlor beside their mamas, embroidering or talking of new ball gowns. Ladies did not court scandal, venturing out by way of bedroom windows to seek the company of gentlemen with less than spotless reputations.
But then, no young lady of her acquaintance — that she knew of, anyway — had ever found herself under the spell of Percy Browne.
Clutching his arm, moving through the elegantly — and not so elegantly — dressed crowd, Charity's nerves fairly sizzled with the excitement of it all.
"It's wonderful, Percy!" She lifted a hand to ascertain that the diamond comb securing her hair remained in place.
"We've only just begun to taste the delights tonight has to offer." Resplendent in regimentals, Percy cut a figure handsome enough to flutter the heart of even the most demure female. He leaned toward her, overwhelming her with the scent of mandarin.
Thank goodness Charity had ceased thinking of herself as demure. The barest inhale was enough to send scorching heat eddying through her body. And they hadn't even begun to sample the arrack punch, a beverage known to make even the stodgiest matron giddy as a schoolgirl.
A giggle leaked out as she playfully disengaged her arm from his and sidestepped away. "Oh, Percy. You say the most shocking things."
He reached out and captured her waist. "I do apologize. Vauxhall always addles my brain. Must be something in the air."
In the novels she furtively read when no one was watching, many a passage described the way a gentleman's eyes smoldered as he gazed upon the object of his affections. Charity drew in a breathless gasp. At that moment, looking down at her, Percy's eyes utterly and undoubtedly smoldered.
"'Tis only the air that affects you so?" She dipped her chin and fluttered her lashes — another novel-learned tactic. Novels were really all she had to rely upon for advice on how to attract a man. Other than her secret meetings with Percy, her knowledge of the male species was limited to dancing a quadrille while chaperones looked on or allowing herself to be escorted into dinner by some potential suitor handpicked by her papa.
"Little minx." The warmth of his hands seared through the scanty muslin of her gown. "You know full well the power you have over me."
Power. What a delicious word. And he'd admitted it. She, debutante, held power over Percy Browne, soldier and well-known rogue!
"Do I indeed?" Her voice emerged as a breathy whisper, her heart beating in time with the jaunty music coming from the direction of the pavilion. No gothic novelist could have written a better beginning to a proposal. For surely such words as his could only be followed with a declaration.
If her mind wasn't so muddled by his intense gaze, she'd have turned it to deciding which young ladies of her acquaintance would make the best bridesmaids.
"Shall I prove it to you?" Without waiting for her answer, he maneuvered her away from the brightly lit pavilion. Lamps hanging from stands and on trees lit the air with shadows, and the lapping of the River Thames lent magic to the balmy summer night.
Excitement thudded in her chest as they turned down one of the secluded paths, placed in convenient isolation for those wishing to find privacy amidst the cacophony of fellow guests. She clung to his arm, hurrying to keep up with his strides. Her eyes widened as they passed other couples in the throes of behavior sure to elicit a fainting spell should the redoubtable matrons of London discover their newest debutantes' whereabouts.
Did people really do such things in public? Here she'd thought that simply accompanying Percy to such a place reached a dizzying height of scandal.
A hint of trepidation snaked through her. Perhaps there were some bounds when it came to propriety. But despite Percy's reputation, he was a gentleman at heart. She was sure of it.
Yet why would a gentleman take her here?
He stopped. Fireworks exploded overhead, sending a shower of stars cascading across the night sky. Charity's breath caught at the brilliant display — golds and reds and blues melding together in shimmering arcs of color.
She glanced at Percy, her back bumping up against a row of tall bushes. He didn't seem at all enamored by the celestial show, his gaze riveted on her.
Sweet victory. What were trifling hesitations and simpleminded proprieties when this man looked at her with such ardor? Nonsense. Errant nonsense, that's what. A tempting smile found purchase on her lips. The sizzling heat of his pursuit far exceeded that of any simpering milksop found at the side of her fellow debutantes.
"I do declare. Vauxhall is certainly a —"
Her next words were cut off as his lips descended upon hers, just as another explosion suffused the sky. A gasp escaped as his hands skimmed down her shoulders, settling on her waist.
She might be a master when it came to flirtatious glances and coy words. But in this, he possessed the experience, and she was far out of her depth. His kisses bred fire within her, evoking sensations as delicious as they were foreign. Head tilted back, she surrendered to his caresses, senses swimming as his hand moved to the collar of her gown —
The voice produced a jolt similar to a tub full of ice water being tossed upon a drunkard. Percy spun 'round. Charity's gaze snapped up.
And landed upon disaster in human form. Lady Drucilla Blackthorne stood, rooted to the spot, a jeweled lorgnette held up to one squinting eye.
"Lady Blackthorne." As if by rote, Charity's knees dipped into a curtsy. When she stood again at her full height, she scanned the darkened pathway.
Percy, her dashing soldier hero, had disappeared.
"Charity Stanwood! You will come with me this instant. This instant, I say!" The enormous feather atop her coiffure jiggling royally, Lady Blackthorne stormed forward and grasped Charity, nails digging into her skin like a trap closing in over a frightened rabbit.
Caught with Percy by Lady Blackthorne, London's most notorious gossipmonger.
Though Lady Blackthorne's claws would surely leave bruises, Charity scarcely heeded the pain as the woman hauled her along the path.
Physical pain could be borne.
It was nothing compared to what society would do to her when word of her ruination leaked out and reached their ears. Society liked nothing more than to make a meal of others' misfortunes.
Tonight, she'd given them plenty to feast upon.
Luke Warren opened the door to his father's study and stepped inside. Rand Warren sat behind a mahogany desk strewn with papers, books, and writing utensils. He looked up from his hunched-over position and flattened both palms on the glossy surface.
Luke crossed the carpeted floor. Whatever his father wanted, Luke hoped it wouldn't take long to conclude. Tomorrow morning, he would be leaving to join his ship, and his mates were waiting for him down at the Red Lion for a send-off, a finale the likes of which he doubted he'd enjoy when once again ensconced in strict military discipline — though since he joined the ship as captain, some leeway would surely be allowed him.
A rule-maker instead of a dictate-follower. Finally.
"You wished to see me, sir?"
"I did." His father lit a cheroot, infusing the air with the scent of smoke. "Care for a brandy, Son?" He gestured with the cheroot to a side table near the desk, atop which rested an array of decanters and glasses.
Behind his back, Luke's hands clenched and unclenched.
Just get on with it, old man. And the quicker the better.
"No, thank you. What was it you wished to discuss?"
"In a hurry, eh?" His father's eyes — the same dusky blue shade as Luke's — lit with a knowing gleam.
"Somewhat, sir." Luke lifted his mouth in a sheepish grin. Father would understand Luke's desire for a night with his friends. Father had once been young too, after all, and would soon finish the conversation and let Luke get on with his evening.
He shifted with anticipation.
"I'm sorry to spoil your fun, but you might as well send 'round a note to whomever you were planning on meeting." Father took another drag, smoke wisping through the air above his head, expression neutral as if oblivious to the wet blanket he'd just dropped upon Luke's plans for a jolly good evening.
Luke's jaw hardened. Blast the man. What could be so deuced important to warrant ruining a night's pleasure?
"I'll get straight to the point, so as not to take up more of your valuable time than necessary."
Too late for that. Luke resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"When you were a schoolboy, we, the Warren family" — Schoolboy? What was this, a rundown of his father's entire life story? Honestly? Chet and Granby would roar with laughter when they heard what had kept him — "possessed a comfortable amount of prosperity." A frown knit Father's forehead. An unexplainable tightness cinched Luke's middle. Something about the man's expression boded ill tidings.
"Since then, however, we've run into some difficulties. Not large ones, at first, but they've become increasingly so."
"What are you saying?" Luke drew in a deep breath. Somehow, he sensed he'd regret asking this question.
"We've got debts, Son. Creditors. Our mine holdings in Cornwall — well, we haven't discovered any more copper in a good while. The old Jenbrugh load has failed us, bled dry it seems. And you know as well as I do that mining has been the lifeblood of this family, kept your sister in gowns and fripperies, paid your navy expenses, and allowed us to keep on a number of staff. At times, I confess, I've been close to despair, wondering how, when the day comes, I'll tell Harriet we can't afford to foot a dinner for five and twenty. But today, something happened. Something that could pull us back from the brink and get us back on the road to a new start."
"And this something concerns me?" Why hadn't Father told him things were so dire? Luke could have done something. Delayed the purchase of a new riding horse, spent less time at the card tables and more time with his family. He hadn't known. Hadn't suspected even a scrap.
Well, Father had told him now. Now, on the eve of his departure to serve again in His Majesty's navy after taking a three-month leave of absence. Now, when he could do nothing about it. The twist of events was as bitter as it was unexpected.
"It does. In fact, it concerns you more than anyone else. I need your help, Son. You can go a long way in saving us." Father's gaze pierced him, and Luke couldn't help but stand a little straighter. Now that he had attained his two-and-twentieth birthday, Father had at last begun treating him like a man, instead of a stripling playing at seafaring adventures. Pride drummed in his chest. He wouldn't trade this for Chet and Granby's sendoff, nor for anything.
"Just tell me what to do."
"A man came to me this afternoon. John Stanwood, the creditor to whom I owe the most. Three years ago, I took out a loan from his bank, one that came with a substantial amount of interest. Since then, I've only managed to pay the interest, while continuing to take out a further loan at an even higher rate. Today, he paid a call and brought along the promissory note." A gleam lit Father's gaze. A gleam of hope. "He offered to pay the debt out of his own pocket, in full. The debt amounts to ten thousand pounds."
Ten thousand pounds! The vastness of the sum was staggering. Father, under such an obligation? It might as well amount to ten million. But John Stanwood had offered to cancel it, just like that. Something deeper was at play here. Luke's scalp prickled.
"And what does he expect in return?"
Father rubbed a hand across his forehead, shadows from the roaring fire in the hearth accentuating the gray at his temples, the haggard hollows under his eyes. "He wishes you to wed his daughter, Miss Charity Stanwood."
"What?" Last week when Chet had imbibed one too many cupfuls of arrack punch, he'd begun waving his hands wildly and talking as if his dead nanny and old schoolmates stood in front of him. It made reasonable sense, hearing things when under the influence of strong drink.
But Luke hadn't touched a drop all day. Which meant he wasn't hearing things. And that Father spoke truth.
"I know it sounds ridiculous. But it seems the young lady got herself into an entanglement that has led to rather a lot of gossip. Her father wishes her reputation to remain above reproach and feels that having her wed will stay the wagging tongues." He made a weak gesture toward the papers littering his desk. "We each have something the other lacks. Stanwood wants respectability for his family, while we are more than a bit short when it comes to ready capital at the moment."
Luke paced back and forth across the carpet as if his life depended upon traversing from one end of the room to the other. Suddenly, a dram of brandy sounded like a very good idea. But he wouldn't risk muddling his senses. Not when he needed them crystal clear.
He halted in front of the fireplace, facing his father. "You're telling me that John Stanwood expects me to wed his daughter because she got herself into a muck befitting a trollop? The man is outrageous! Besides, I'm leaving tomorrow at first light."
"I told him that. He's already arranged a special license, and the marriage will take place at her home in approximately two hours." He levered himself from his chair and moved to get a glass of amber liquid. Apparently, Father wasn't burdened with reservations about pouring a drink. Luke's fingers itched to do the same.
"I'll say one thing for him. He's not one to waste time." Luke swiveled to face the fireplace while Father downed his drink. Marriage was for staid bachelors who'd had plenty of time to enjoy the freedom of a single life. Not for Luke, hours away from embarking upon his career after years of slogging away as a cabin boy, midshipman, and lieutenant. Though he enjoyed a flirtation well enough, liked making ladies blush and twirling them 'round the dance floor, he was by no means interested in taking a wife. Why, a songbird in a cage possessed more freedom than a married man.
Footsteps sounded behind him, a touch rested on his shoulder. Luke turned and found Father at his side, one hand holding his empty glass. "I wouldn't ask it of you if things weren't so desperate. Goodness knows I don't like the thought of you wed to a woman we know so little of. But I can't help but think what release from the debt would bring to our family." The man's shoulders sagged as if weighted down by all the copper the Jenbrugh load had ever produced. "I'm not asking you, Son. I'm begging you."
Physical battle was a thing Luke welcomed, thirsted after even. Yet the emotional battle warring within him made him long to shake it off and rid himself of it the way one would an uncomfortable coat at the tailor's.
He'd met Miss Charity Stanwood. Once, at a ball. It had been the sort of introduction typical of such evenings — how-do-you-dos and all that nonsense. Even though it had been only a few weeks ago, he could scarcely remember her face. Nor any other distinguishing features about her. She was a typical debutante, dressed in white muslin as they all were.
So she'd gotten herself embroiled in scandal? Well, what did one expect when most girls of his acquaintance possessed naught but air where their brains should have been?
Not exactly the sort of woman he wanted to bind himself to.
But he wouldn't have to do more than sign the marriage certificate, at least not for a good while. His duties in the navy would occupy him for a year, perhaps more. Then after he'd tangled with whatever enemy ordered him by the British military, he could better decide what sort of life he would lead. He wouldn't have to see her. Not much, anyway. They could have a paper marriage, nothing more. It was what the chit deserved, getting herself into a heap of scandal.
And in marrying her, his family would be given financial footing otherwise denied them. He couldn't, in good conscience, turn his back on their needs.
He lifted his gaze, meeting his father's straight on. Man-to-man they faced each other, silence hanging for the space of a few seconds. Luke drew in a long breath of air that smelled of smoke, ink, and raw tension.
"Consider yourself freed from debt, Father." The swords of reason and desire filled his mind with their clash and clang, evidence that the battle had not been won, only subdued. He needed something, anything, to alleviate the deafening noise. For there was no way he'd manage the wedding otherwise.
"Thank you." Father gripped Luke's hand, a look of trust, of gratitude full on his features.
"Don't thank me." Luke returned the handshake. "Just pour me a brandy."
Excerpted from "The Regency Brides Collection"
Copyright © 2017 Amanda Barratt.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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