Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of more than thirty romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular Cabot Sisters historical series, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch and The Perfect Homecoming.
Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Praise for Julia London
“Julia London writes vibrant, emotional stories and sexy, richly-drawn characters.” – New York Times
“Exceptionally entertaining…sinfully sexy.” – Booklist
“London’s story is satisfying as it builds on the excellent chemistry of the leads, gracefully unfolding with the perfect amount of tension.” –Publishers Weekly
“This phenomenal story is written to perfection. The characters are endearing, smart, funny and full of emotion.” –RT Book Reviews
“As always Ms. London has created characters so real that you think you could call them up and have a conversation with them.” –Harlequin Junkie
“London weaves her usual magic with a deft touch and a sense of fun.” –Romance at Random
The dust of the Cabot sisters' shocking plans to rescue their family from certain ruin may have settled, but Prudence Cabot is left standing in the rubble of scandal. Now regarded as an unsuitable bride, she's tainted among the ton. Yet this unwilling wallflower is ripe for her own adventure. And when an irresistibly sexy American stranger on a desperate mission enlists her help, she simply can't deny the temptation.
The fate of Roan Matheson's family depends on how quickly he can find his runaway sister and persuade her to return to her betrothed. Scouring the rustic English countryside with the sensually wicked Prudence at his side—and in his bed—he's out of his element. But once Roan has a taste of the sizzling passion that can lead to forever, he must choose between his heart's obligations and its forbidden desires.
Harlequin; May 1, 2015
352 pages; $7.99 US/$8.99 CAN
Blackwood Hall, 1816
It was an unspoken truth that when a woman reached her twenty-second year without a single gentleman even pondering the possibility of marriage to her, she was destined for spinsterhood. Spinsterhood, in turn, essentially sentenced her to the tedium of acting as companion to doddering dowagers as they dawdled about the countryside.
A woman without prospects in her twenty-second year was viewed suspiciously by the hautton. There must be something quite off about her. It was impossible to think otherwise, for why would a woman, properly presented at court and to society, with means of dowry, with acceptably acknowledged connections, have failed to attract a suitor? There were only three possible explanations.
She was unforgivably plain. She was horribly diseased.
Or, her older sisters’ scandalous antics four years past had ruined her. Utterly, completely, ruined her.
The third hypothesis was presented by Miss Prudence Cabot days after her twenty-second birthday. Her hypothesis was roundly rejected by her scandalous older sisters, Mrs. Honor Easton and Grace, Lady Merryton
In fact, when her older sisters were not rolling their eyes or refusing to engage at all, they argued quite vociferously against her theory, their duet of voices rising up so sharply that Mercy, the youngest of the four Cabot sisters, whistled at them as if they were the rowdy pup- pies that fought over Lord Merryton’s boot.
Her sisters’ protests to the contrary notwithstanding, Prudence was convinced she was right. Since her stepfather had died four years ago, her sisters had engaged in wretched behavior. Honor had publicly pro- posed marriage to a known rake and bastard son of a duke in a gaming hell. While Prudence adored George, it did not alter the scandal that had followed or the taint it had put on the Cabots.
Not to be outdone, Grace had endeavored to entrap a rich man into marriage in order to save them all from ruin, and somehow managed to trap the wrong man. It was the talk in London for months, and while Grace’s husband, Lord Merryton, was not as aloof as Prudence had always heard, his entry into the family had not improved Prudence’s prospects in the least.
Nor did it help in any way that her younger sister, Mercy, had a countenance so feisty and irreverent that serious thought had been given to packing her off to a young ladies’ school to tame the beast in her.
That left Prudence in the middle, sandwiched tightly between scandals and improper behavior. She was squarely in the tedious, under-appreciated, put-upon, practically invisible middle where she’d lived all her life.
This, Prudence told herself, was what good manners had gotten her. She had endeavored to be the practical one in an impractical gaggle of sisters. The responsible one who had taken her music lessons just as faithfully as she’d taken care of her mother and stepfather while her sisters cavorted through society. She’d done all the things debutantes were to do, she’d caused not a whit of trouble, and her thanks for that was now to be considered the unweddable one!
Well, Mercy likely was unweddable, too, but Mercy didn’t seem to care very much.
“Unweddable is not even a proper word,” Mercy pointed out, adjusting her spectacles so that she might peer critically at Prudence.
“It’s also utter nonsense,” Grace said tetchily. “Why on earth would you say such a thing, Pru? Are you truly so unhappy here at Blackwood Hall? Did you not enjoy the festival we hosted for the tenants?”
A festival! As if her wretched state of being could be appeased with a festival! Prudence responded with a dramatic bang of the keys of the pianoforte that caused the three-legged dog Grace had rescued to jump with fright and topple onto his side. Prudence launched into a piece that she played very loudly and very skillfully, so that everything Grace or Mercy said was drowned out by the music.
There was nothing any of them could say to change her opinion.
Later that week, Prudence’s oldest sister, Honor, had come down from London to Blackwood Hall with her three children in tow as well as her dapper husband, George. When Honor heard of the contretemps between sisters, she’d tried to convince Prudence that a lack of a viable offer of marriage did not mean all was lost. Honor had insisted, with vigor and enthusiasm, that her sisters’ behavior had no influence on Prudence’s lack of an offer. Honor now reminded her that Mercy, against all odds, had been accepted into the prestigious Lisson Grove School of Art to study the masters.
“Well, naturally I was. I am quite talented,” Mercy unabashedly observed.
“Lord Merryton had to pay a pretty sum to sway them, didn’t he?” Prudence sniffed.
“Yes,” Grace agreed. “But if she were as plagued with scandal as you suggest, they would have refused her yet.”
“Refused Merryton’s purse?” Prudence laughed. “It’s not as if they had to marry her, for God’s sake.”
“I beg your pardon! What of my talent?” Mercy demanded.
“Hush,” Grace and Prudence said in unison. That spurred Mercy to push her spectacles up her nose and march from the room in her paint-stained smock.
Grace and Honor paid her no mind.
The debate continued on for days, much to Prudence’s dismay. “You must trust that an offer will come, dearest, and then you will be astonished that you put so much stock into such impossible feelings,” Honor said a bit condescendingly as the sisters dined at breakfast one morning.
“Honor?” Prudence said politely. “I kindly request—
no, pardon—I implore you to cease talking.”
Honor gasped. And then she stood abruptly and flounced past Prudence with such haste that her hand connected a little roughly with Prudence’s shoulder.
“Ouch,” Prudence said.
“Honor means only to help, Pru,” Grace chastised her. “Honor means only to help.”
“I mean more than that,” Honor said sternly, charging back around again, as she really was not the sort to f lee in tears when there was a good fight to be had. “I insist that you snap out of your doldrums, Pru! It’s unbecoming and bothersome!”
“I’m not in doldrums,” Prudence said.
“You are! You’re forever cross,” said Mercy. “And moody,” Grace hastened to agree.
“I will tell you only what a loving sister will tell you truly, darling.” Honor leaned over the dining table so that she was eye level with Prudence. “You’re a bloody chore.” But she smiled when she said it and quickly straightened. “Mrs. Bulworth has written and asked you to come and see her new baby. Do go and see her. She will be beside herself with joy, and I think that the country air will do you good.”
Prudence snorted at that ridiculous notion. “How can I possibly be improved by country air when I am already in the country?”
“Northern country air is vastly different,” Honor amended. Grace and Mercy nodded adamantly that Honor was right.
Prudence would like nothing better than to explain to them all that calling on their friend Cassandra Bul- worth, who had just been delivered of her first child, was the last thing she wanted to do. To see her friend so deliriously happy made Prudence feel that much more wretched about her own circumstance. “Send Mercy!” “Me?” Mercy cried. “I couldn’t possibly! I’ve very little time to prepare for school. I must complete my still life painting, you know. Every student must have a complete portfolio and I haven’t finished my still life.” “What about Mamma?” Prudence demanded, ignoring Mercy. They could not deny their mother’s madness necessitated constant supervision from them.
“We have her maid Hannah, and Mrs. Pettigrew from the village,” Grace said. “And we have Mercy, as well.”
“Me!” Mercy cried. “I just said—”
“Yes, yes, we are all intimately acquainted with all you must do for school, Mercy. On my word, one would think you were the only person to have ever been accepted into a school. But you aren’t leaving us for another month, so why should you not have the least responsibility?” Grace asked. Then she turned to Prudence and smiled sweetly. “Pru, we’re only thinking of you. You see that, don’t you?”
“I don’t believe you,” Prudence said. “But it so hap- pens that I find you all quite tedious.”
Honor gasped with delight and clasped her hands to her breast. “Does that mean you’ll go?”
“Perhaps I shall,” Prudence sniffed. “I’ll be as mad as Mamma if I stay any longer at Blackwood Hall.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful news,” Grace said happily. “Well, you needn’t rejoice in it,” Prudence said missishly.
“But we’re so happy!” Honor squealed. “I mean, happy for you,” she quickly corrected, and hurried around the table to hug Prudence tightly to her. “I think your mien will be vastly improved if you just step out into the world, dearest.”
Prudence scarcely thought so. Out into the world was where she lost all heart. Happy people, happy friends, all of them embarking on a life that Prudence had always hoped would be hers, made her terribly unhappy. Prudence was filled with envy, and she could not beat it down, no matter how much she would have liked, no matter how much she had tried. Even mortifyingly worse, Prudence’s envy of the happiness surrounding her was apparent. Lately, it felt as if even sunshine was a cruel reminder of her situation.
But as Mercy launched into her complaints that so much attention was being paid to Prudence when she needed it, Prudence decided she would go. Anything to be free of the happy chatter she was forced to endure day in and day out.
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