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"Charming and delightful-a must-read!"
-Joan Johnston, New York Times bestselling author of A Stranger's Game
"Witty dialogue and clever schemes... Grey's vivid characters will charm readers."
Her name is on everyone's lips...
When he left for America six years ago, the handsome Viscount Stonehurst never suspected that he would return home to England to find his lovely fiancée embroiled in the scandal of the decade. The woman he planned on making his wife has been kissing every man in London...except him!
But scandal doesn't matter in search of the truth...
Engaged and then abandoned, Mirabella Wittingham is determined to find the man who drove her cousin to suicide, even if it means ruining her reputation and disgracing herself in the process...When her plans go awry, Mirabella has no choice but to turn to her long-lost fiancé for help. But can she trust the man who deserted her so many years ago, or is he destined to fail her yet again?
"Readers will be quickly drawn in by the lively pace, the appealing protagonists, and the sexual chemistry that almost visibly shimmers between them in this charming, light-hearted, and well-done Regency."
"An uplifting, wonderfully sensual story. I hated for it to end."
-Meryl Sawyer, New York Times bestselling author of Play Dead
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Amelia Grey's awards include the Booksellers Best and the Aspen Gold, and writing as Gloria Dale Skinner, the coveted Romantic Times Award for Love and Laughter and the prestigious Maggie Award. Happily married for over twenty-five years, she lives in Panama City Beach, Florida.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From Chapter One
Will This Be the Year?
Another Season opens and the patient Miss Mirabella Whittingham begins one more year waiting for her long absent fiancé to return. One would hope that Viscount Stonehurst would appear this year to claim his bride. Hmm. Lord Stonehurst certainly knows how to keep everyone in the ton guessing.
-Lord Truefitt, Society's Daily Column
"Mirabella, what's this I hear about you being free with your affections?"
Mirabella Whittingham froze at the sound of her uncle's voice. Heaven have mercy, she was caught. And she'd bet the amethyst earrings she wore that Sir Patrick Stephenson was the young gentleman who'd given her away. She forced herself to remain calm and formulated a plan to pretend she had no idea what Uncle Archer was talking about. But as sure as she knew her name, she knew what he intended to say.
She wrinkled her nose and tried to come up with an expedient prevarication to explain her recent actions. Nothing coming to mind, she decided on the truth-at least part of it.
"Now, Uncle. I haven't been free with my affections." In fact, what she was doing would end up costing some young man a great deal when she was through with these London dandies. But her uncle didn't need to know that. "I've only kissed one or two." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized truth hadn't been the way to go. Archer Hornbeck's round face flamed red, and a telltale vein popped out on his wide forehead.
"Blue heavens, Mirabella. I can't have your father or anyone else hear you say something like that, even in jest." Guilt pricked her. The last thing she wanted was her ill father to know what she was doing. At all costs, she wanted to keep her plans from him. If he found out, she'd never accomplish her goal.
Her uncle's pale blue gaze darted across the empty dance floor, around the perimeter of the great hall and back to Mirabella. He touched her elbow and ushered her to a secluded corner of the brightly lit room. There was no dancing or music at the moment, but it was far from quiet at the party. Dowagers chattering, men chuckling and young ladies laughing behind fluttering fans filled the air around them.
Mirabella had to strain to hear her uncle's whispered voice. "I'm happy to be your escort while your father is ill, but I cannot allow this sort of behavior."
Indeed Archer Hornbeck was her chaperone for the Season, but he wasn't her true uncle. He had been her father's friend since Mirabella was a little girl, and had insisted she call him uncle ever since.
He was looking to make a match for himself and often found reasons to excuse himself from her during parties so that he could dance with an eligible young lady or wealthy widow. No doubt her father would be furious to know Uncle Archer had not remained faithful to his duty, but right now it worked to her advantage that he was neglectful.
"I won't have gossip about you making the rounds while you are in my care." Pallor washed his face. "If your father should get wind of this, he would look to me for answers."
"You are a sweet, dear man to worry so about me." She reached out and gingerly patted his forearm. Archer's expression softened, and he sighed. He took her gloved hand and squeezed her fingers affectionately.
Looking down into her eyes, he said, "I'll do anything for you, my lovely Mirabella. That includes stopping scandalous talk. But you must do your part and stop this... this kissing."
Mirabella hated putting him through such an ordeal, but she'd made her choice. She couldn't stop now. Certainly not for fear of scandal. She had been an enigma in Society since she'd made her debut. She attended the parties and balls each Season, but she wasn't eligible to make a match. She had been betrothed for six years to a man she had never met. A man who had made no attempt to marry her despite his promise.
"There's no fear, Uncle. I'm sure the gossip will pass. It always does. Next week someone else will be on the tips of all the loose tongues." His thin lips widened into a forced smile. "I must insist that you don't put yourself in a position to catch the attention of the gossipmongers. They can be fierce and unforgiving when given a reason. If any hint of this should hit the Society papers, you'll be ruined. Not even marrying a duke would save you from their scorn."
Mirabella kept a strained smile on her face, too, as she searched for the right thing to say this time. She hadn't made her decision lightly, and she couldn't make any promises. There were only five weeks left of the Season- five weeks in which to carry out her plan.
"You have no cause to fret about me, Uncle." She slipped her hand from his. "This is my fourth and final London Season. By now, I know how these things work."
"If that were the case, you wouldn't allow yourself to be alone with a gentleman."
"I have nothing in common with the young girls making their debuts each year, which is where all the attention will be. All of my friends have married and have babies to occupy their time." She swallowed a sigh. "Given my unfortunate betrothal situation, I've come to accept my fate, so what does a little gossip matter?"
Uncle Archer opened his mouth to speak, but a bevy of young ladies suddenly rushed by them in a flurry of satin skirts. Mirabella noticed that a short, pretty blonde deliberately knocked his arm. When he looked at the young woman, the blonde smiled at him and winked before rushing away with the others. Archer watched her all the way down the corridor until she moved out of sight.
He cleared his throat and said, "There is no such thing as a little gossip. And of course you'll marry someday." She was thoughtful a moment while she considered his words. "Perhaps when I'm old and gray," she answered, stating almost verbatim what she'd overheard her fiancé say that day so long ago when she was listening outside her father's library. She never saw Viscount Stonehurst's face, but she would never forget the words he spoke.
"Nonsense. Your father told me he sent word to Earl Lockshaven stating that if his errant son doesn't show his face by the last party of this Season he'll consider the engagement broken, and the dowry will have to be repaid. You'll be free to make a match with another young man."
"Oh, Uncle, I am not a fanciful debutante anymore. Who will want me if the man I'm betrothed to won't return to London and marry me? Everyone already looks at me as having been put on the shelf."
"Pure rubbish, my dear girl. With your beauty and your father's wealth any man would want to marry you."
His words reminded her of Sarah and the reason she was having this conversation with her uncle. Her dear friend had had only a very small dowry, no beauty and no offers of marriage. Gentlemen had always confounded Mirabella. Why would they seek beauty and money when looking for a wife and ignore the kind of love and attention Sarah could have given? She would have been a devoted wife and loving mother.
Mirabella turned away from her uncle and looked at the crowd of people gaily dressed in their finest clothes milling about the great hall. Her fiancé perplexed her more than most. She could understand him rejecting her had they met and he had found her unsuitable. But he hadn't broken the engagement, and he hadn't come for her. She had not heard one word from him since he left London six years earlier.
"Should Lord Stonehurst ever return to London, I shall be forced to marry him to please my father, but if he continues to stay away as he pledged he would, I shall be happy to remain an old maid."
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Book Description Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2010. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1402239785
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