2019 Book #18 – The Time Traveler’s Guide to Modern Romance by Madeline J. Reynolds

51GhoOR5+lLTitle: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Modern Romance
Author: Madeline J. Reynolds
Date finished: 3/7/19
Genre: Young adult, romance, science fiction
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Publication Date: March 4, 2019
Pages in book: 166
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: NetGalley
NOTE: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Elias Caldwell needs more than his life in nineteenth-century England has to offer. He’d rather go on an adventure than spend one more minute at some stuffy party. When his grandfather gives him a pocket watch he claims can transport him to any place and time, Elias doesn’t believe it…until he’s whisked away to twenty-first-century America.

Tyler Forrester just wants to fall hopelessly in love. But making that kind of connection with someone has been more of a dream than reality. Then a boy appears out of thin air, a boy from the past. As he helps Elias navigate a strange new world for him, introducing him to the wonders of espresso, binge-watching, and rock and roll, Tyler discovers Elias is exactly who he was missing.

But their love has time limit. Elias’s disappearance from the past has had devastating side effects, and now he must choose where he truly belongs—in the Victorian era, or with the boy who took him on an adventure he never dreamed possible?

My rating:  2.0 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

I was intrigued by the cover on this book and thought it would be an interesting one to read, though I’m not sure that was the best idea since I’m not usually the biggest fan of time travel novels. I tend to find them a little too out there for me, I tend to be more of a literal person so books that delve into science fiction I can’t always get into. Plus I’ve been finding it harder and harder to connect with characters in romance young adult books. That phase is so far in the past for me that I have trouble remembering what it feels like to be young and full of angst. So suffice it to say, this book wasn’t what I’d call my cup of tea. That being said, it was an interesting book and if you like (a) time travel / science fiction (b) young adult romance or (c) preferably both, then this would be a good book to check out. The story line was interesting and was a fairly quick read but still had character and plot development. I found the plot to be a tad scattered but again that could be the result of my ambivalence to the plot for person opinion reasons.

Link to author website

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2019 Book #4 – An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

419p4e1xfql._sx327_bo1,204,203,200_Title: An Anonymous Girl
Author: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Date finished: 1/16/19
Genre: Thriller/suspense
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Pages in book: 372
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: NetGalley
NOTE: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.

Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?

But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding.

Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?

As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?

From the authors of the blockbuster bestseller The Wife Between Us comes an electrifying new novel about doubt, passion, and just how much you can trust someone.

My rating:  4.5 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

I had read The Wife Between Us by these authors last year and enjoyed it so much – I was exciting to see they had a new book coming out. Similar to that book, this book makes the reader question what is the “truth,” and additionally in this book we begin to question our own ethics and morality. This was a SUPER creepy book, I was on the edge of my seat the whole book waiting to find out what was going to happen and I couldn’t stop myself from looking over my shoulder. The author did such a great job of infusing paranoia and fear into Jessica’s narrative. I loved the two points of view too, and how they were written – with all of Dr. Shields’ entries reading as if she was telling Jessica a story. It was an interesting dynamic and created an obvious difference between their two points of view. The reasoning wasn’t revealed until later in the story but it ended up making complete sense. There were some good plot twists in this story, but while they were exciting, they may have also been a tad predictable. The premise behind this book reminded me a little of another book I had read last year, Believe Me, as the main character in that book is hired to entrap husbands in compromising situations, and the reader is led to question what the truth is and who is the more reliable narrator – similar to this novel. Overall I really enjoyed this read and I thought it brought up some really interesting questions on morality, plus it was sufficiently suspenseful. I can see why this one is a hot topic in the book world right now – I would definitely recommend!

Link to author website

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2019 Book # 2 – The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

51qqjkvcdqlTitle: The Winter of the Witch
Author: Katherine Arden
Date finished: 1/10/19
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, magical realism, fairy tale
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Pages in book: 384
Stand alone or series: #3 in the Winternight Trilogy
Where I got the book from: Publisher NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

“A tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

My rating: 5.0 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

I have read the first two books in this series and loved them. For me, this series has been so interesting, different and refreshing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed each book. Also, I don’t know who designed the covers for this trilogy, but they have been GORGEOUS. They really draw the reader to the book and represent each book’s story so well.  I found this book a bit easier to jump back into than the last, though it does still take a good amount of additional concentration compared to some of the other novels I’ve read recently. There are just so many characters to keep track of and they’re all called multiple names/nicknames throughout the book. It can be daunting to keep track of at times, but it’s definitely do-able. This book could possibly be classified as “wordy” – to be honest if it were any other book I would probably say it is – but with this book I found each word to be so necessary to the magic of the story, and I found myself going back over the pages because I didn’t want to miss a single word. The author uses intense descriptions to draw the reader into the story and trap them in this Russian world of magic and wonder. And the narratives surrounding the fight scenes were so good that I felt like I was there, watching the sweat drip from the warriors’ faces.

This book really made the reader question the idea of right vs wrong and good vs evil. I love when books make us reevaluate our ideas of morality, and I thought this was a very interesting sub-layer to the story. One of my favorite quotes in the book was “monsters were for children,” as Vasya learns that the truth is more complicated than simply being able to pick a side and call it the “right” side or the “good” side. All of us have the potential for goodness inside of us and all of us have the ability to make a difference in the world, even in unorthodox ways. I just loved delving into this concept within the story line amidst all of the action and magic that the book brought to life for me. I highly recommend reading this series and I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next!

Link to author website

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The Duke I Once Knew BLOG TOUR!!

The Duke I Once Knew by Olivia Drake was released today December 31st, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site. See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a really good read and I would recommend checking it out!

SUMMARY

Award-winning author Olivia Drake begins her new Unlikely Duchesses series with THE DUKE I ONCE KNEW (St. Martin’s Paperbacks; December 31, 2018). With compelling characters and skillful plot twists, Drake’s latest novel will take your breath away.

First love is always the sweetest…

For years, Abigail Linton devoted herself to caring for her parents and her siblings’ children. Now, eager to create a life of her own, Abby seizes upon a position as a governess on a neighboring estate. Unfortunately, her absentee employer is Maxwell Bryce, the Duke of Rothwell, the notorious rake who once broke her youthful heart. But since he hasn’t set foot on his estate for fifteen years, Abby assumes she’ll never have to lay eyes on him ever again. Then, from out of nowhere, Max appears. He is stunned to come face to face with the girl next door he fell for years ago—before he went away, and she stopped writing to him … even though Abby swears that he is the one who left her without a word. Could it be that this spirited, witty spinster has won Max’s heart all over again—and that they may have a second chance at love?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Drake is the author of the Cinderella Sisterhood series (Seducing the Heiress, Never Trust a Rogue, Scandal of the Year, If the Slipper Fits, Stroke of Midnight, Abducted by the Prince, Bella and the Beast, His Wicked Wish, and The Scandalous Flirt). She has been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1981, and her novels have won the Golden Heart Award, Best Historical Romantic Suspense and Best Regency Historical from Romantic Times. She has also won the prestigious RITA award. She currently resides in Houston, TX.

BUY IT HERE!

EXCERPT

The sounds of cooing and kissing mortified her. Good heavens, would they never stop? Anyone might walk into the library! They ought to have the decency to take their amorous activities upstairs to a bedchamber.

But, of course, Rothwell did not possess a shred of decency. It made her cringe to recall that she herself had once fallen prey to his allure.

She risked another look over the edge of the table. Her eyes goggled.

The duke was delving beneath the hem of his paramour’s gown, sliding his hand up her ankle and out of sight. The ladybird squirmed and squealed in a frisky attempt at evasion. He leaned down and silenced her playful protests with a masterful kiss.

Abby sank back down again. Her pulse pounded and a blush heated her inside and out. She oughtn’t be so scandalized. Rothwell had a reputation as a notorious rake. Over the years, she had heard many a tale whispered among the neighbors of his disgraceful doings. Yet it was one thing to listen to idle gossip and quite another to actually witness him in the throes of depravity.

And here she was, trapped. What was she to do?

If she made her presence known, the duke would find out that Miss Abigail Linton was the new governess. She could not be absolutely certain that he had forgotten her. And if he did remember, he surely would dismiss her on the spot, for he wanted nothing to do with her. Her spirits fell into a fit of the dismals. That would mark the end of her little adventure out into the world. Oh, she could apply for a position elsewhere, but who would hire her if she’d been summarily discharged from her previous post? She would be forced to return to her brother’s house and resume her predictable life as the maiden aunt, growing withered and gray, shuttled between relatives, with no real say in her future.

The very thought was suffocating.

Nevertheless, she could not continue to crouch here while the two lovers were smooching and whispering. What if their intimate activities escalated? What if they did the deed right here, right now?

The horrid prospect spurred Abby to action. She must try to sneak out of the library unobserved. It was her only hope.

Dropping to her hands and knees, she crept along the carpet, weaving a path between the tables. Her long skirts hampered her progress, forcing her to inch along at a snail’s pace. Rothwell’s black boots were visible through a forest of chair legs. At least he was too distracted to notice her, judging by the amorous sounds emanating from across the room. To be safe, she made a wide berth around the couple. Feverish plans raced through her head. If only she could reach the door and slip out, then all might be well. Perhaps she could convince Lady Gwendolyn not to mention the new governess to her brother. And what of Lady Hester? Was there a chance that she could be persuaded to bide her tongue, too? Should Abby confess the truth and enlist her help? Was it possible to stay out of sight until he departed the Court?

Sweet heaven, how long did he intend to stay?

In the midst of her meditations, she couldn’t help over- hearing the syrupy drivel of their tête-à-tête.

“Your Grace, you are too bold! Such a naughty boy you are!”

“I left boyhood behind long ago. Shall I demonstrate?” “Mm, no. You mustn’t . . . ah, yes. Yes!

Abby grimaced under a tide of acute embarrassment. As she crawled closer to the door, she glared in the direction of the lovers. She could just see Rothwell’s legs pressed against a froth of cream skirts. Blast him and his
debauchery! He was the worst of rogues, the king of scoundrels. A more wicked man had never been born—! Too caught up in remonstrations to watch where she was going, Abby bumped her hip hard against a mahogany pedestal. A little squeak escaped before she could clap her hand to her mouth. At the same instant, a faint clanking noise drew her attention upward.

The globe atop the pedestal wobbled precariously. As she watched in horror, the sphere toppled from its perch and clunked onto the floor, where it rolled straight past the chairs and tables to land at Rothwell’s heels.

“What the devil—!”

Frozen in concealment, Abby watched wide-eyed through the maze of table legs as his boots shifted around. A large male hand flashed down to stop the spinning of the globe. Any faint hope that he might assume it had fallen of its own accord vanished in a millisecond.

Rothwell strode forward, his footfalls sharp and decisive. He came straight to her. To her great consternation, she found herself gazing at the polished black leather of his boots only a few inches away.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing in here?”

Abby raised her chin only slightly, keeping her face averted. It was best that he didn’t gaze fully at her—or hear the normal pitch of her voice lest it trigger his memory. “I’m just a servant,” she whispered, “tending to my duties.” “Speak up! Why did you not make your presence known at once?”

His dictatorial tone shredded her better judgment. “I was trying to leave discreetly,” she flared. “It didn’t strike me as wise to interrupt your tryst.” She paused, then added in a more servile tone, “I do beg your pardon, Your Grace.” She felt his gaze boring down like a physical force that threatened to smother her. She wanted badly to look up, to glare into his face and tell him in no uncertain terms exactly what she thought of him.

But that would be highly imprudent.

With lightning swiftness, he clamped his hands around her upper arms and hauled Abby to her feet. She found herself staring up into a pair of wintry gray eyes set in a face of unabashed masculinity. Although a dissipated life had hardened his expression and etched faint lines on either side of his mouth, he was more disturbingly handsome than ever. He also seemed taller and tougher, his chest broader and his shoulders wider.

She hated that he still had the power to make the breath catch in her throat. Worse, she hated that he had the authority to dismiss her with a snap of his arrogant fingers. As she racked her beleaguered brain for a way to convince him not to do so, something flickered in those icy eyes.

“Abby?”

2018 Book #93 – A Christmas Date by Camilla Isley

Title: A Christmas Date
Author: Camilla Isley
Date finished: 12/9/18
Genre: Contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Publisher: Pink Bloom Press
Publication Date: October 25, 2018
Pages in book: 231
Stand alone or series: #3 in the First Comes Love series
Where I got the book from: Author/publisher NOTE: I received this book for free from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

No one wants to be single at the holidays.

Even Little Miss Grinch, Nikki, a successful and independent woman, must face her bachelorette status at the most horrible time of the year.

December is her personal version of holly-jolly hell: a merry torture made of couples kissing at every corner, forced vacation days, and an inescapable family reunion.

And when her baby sister announces she’s engaged—to Paul, the man Nikki is secretly in love with—and that he’s spending the holidays with them, Christmas starts looking bluer than ever.

Nikki can’t possibly survive an entire week trapped home as the family’s spinster. But she has no time to meet men or to try the newest dating app, she’s too busy working as a video producer for an advertising agency. 

So what’s a girl to do? 

Nikki has the perfect solution: to hire a fake boyfriend.

Luckily, her job gives her access to an endless catalog of gorgeous actors to choose from.

But Nikki will soon discover that keeping business and pleasure from mixing isn’t so easy, and that she might not be immune to a little mistletoe magic. Especially not when she picked out the perfect man as her Christmas date…

My rating: 4.0 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. 

So far I’ve read the other 2 books in this series and I have to say overall this is just a great series. The books are laugh out loud funny and short enough to hold your interest but long enough to still have a well developed story line. If you’re looking for a fairly quick but still engaging and fun read, these are the books for you! The characters in this book in particular were great – I liked Nikki a lot and I liked Diego a good amount as well. A lot of the characters in this book tended to be a little selfish, which isn’t necessarily my favorite thing, but it didn’t take too much away from my overall enjoyment of the book. I loved seeing the relationship develop between Diego and Nikki – the tension between their characters was really well done and the emotions in the story fairly leapt off the page. I really liked the book a lot and I would recommend it!

And the end of the Kindle book version included a preview for the author’s next novel. I don’t usually read previews but I did end up reading this one and it looked great! I really hope I get a chance to read it when it comes out!

Link to author website

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2018 Book #89 – The Highlander Who Protected Me by Vanessa Kelly

51hHzWO0HELTitle: The Highlander Who Protected Me
Author: Vanessa Kelly
Date finished: 11/7/18
Genre: Historical romance
Publisher: Zebra
Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Pages in book: 352
Stand alone or series: #1 in the Clan Kendrick series
Where I got the book from: NetGalley
NOTE: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Lady Ainsley Matthews, heiress and darling of the ton, was expected to make a magnificent match. Instead she’s hiding on a remote Scottish estate, terrified that her vicious former fiancé will use her pregnancy to force her into marriage. One man can help her—Royal Kendrick, son of a distinguished Highland clan. Though a mistake drove them apart long ago, Royal is the only person Ainsley trusts to protect her baby—even if that means agreeing to never see either of them again . . .

Scarred in body and soul by war, Royal suddenly has a purpose—caring for an innocent babe and thereby helping the woman he can’t stop loving. But when Ainsley ultimately returns to Scotland, determined to be a real mother to her child in spite of the risk, there’s only one solution: marriage. And only one likely outcome: surrendering to the desire that’s simmered between them for so long, no matter how dangerous it may be . . .

My rating:  3.25 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

There were a lot of things that I did like about this book. The plot line was pretty good – there were a lot of emotions embedded into the writing and there was danger and excitement. It definitely kept me interested and made me want to keep reading the story. At the same time though, I just could not catch on with Ainsley’s character. I thought she was selfish for pretty much the entire book and really just so rude to Royal, who is going out of ANY way to protect her and give her whatever the heck she wants. She was also really quick to push or pull on Royal’s emotions to suit whatever her needs were without enough thought to the consequences sometimes. Obviously everything worked out in the end (it is a romance novel) but I was pretty fed up with her mid-way through the book. And oh my gosh I thought the ending was heart-wrenchingly sad. I lie romance novels mostly because I’m guaranteed a warm and fuzzy, everyone’s happy ending. But this book threw me for a bit of a loop. Other than those things though, I thought this was a pretty interesting read. I’d recommend it.

Link to author website

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First Earl I See Tonight BLOG TOUR!!

First_Earl_I_See_Tonight_Blog_Banner

First Earl I See Tonight by Anna Bennett was released this past Tuesday, October 30th, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site. See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a really good read and I would recommend checking it out!

SUMMARY

An heiress with a daring proposal. An earl who’s determined to resist her. And a love that just might be written in the stars, in First Earl I See Tonight by Anna Bennett.

Recently jilted by his fiancée, David Gray, Earl of Ravenport is not in the market for a wife. Even if Gray didn’t have his hands full renovating his crumbling country house, it would take more than a bold marriage proposal from a headstrong young beauty to thaw his frozen heart. Gray is confident that spending a week at his ramshackle estate will change her mind about marriage, but every passionate moment he spends with her tempts him to change his…

A talented artist, Miss Fiona Hartley desperately needs her dowry money to pay off a blackmailer set on ruining her sister. The handsome earl seems a sensible choice for a husband…if only she can convince him that romance will play no part. But marrying in name only may prove difficult for Fiona. Gray can’t help but be dazzled by her genuine warmth. Yet as their feelings deepen, Fiona’s deadline looms. Will her secrets destroy them, or is true love their final destiny?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna BennettAnna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided that books with balls, dukes, and gowns were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.

Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart®. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen.

Anna’s books include the Wayward Wallflowers series and the Debutante Diaries series.

BUY IT HERE!

EXCERPT

51AoQV1O4LL“Lord Ravenport,” Lady Callahan intoned, closing her fan with an expert flick of the wrist. “Please, allow me to present my daughter Miss Sophie Kendall and her friends Miss Fiona Hartley and Miss Lily Hartley.”

Gray exchanged the expected pleasantries, then turned to Fiona. A halo of loose curls crowned her head, and she worried her plump bottom lip. Her pink gown exposed the long column of her neck and the curve of her shoulders; he could almost see her pulse beating wildly at the base of her throat.

His instincts screamed for him to run right out of the ballroom, and yet his boots remained rooted to the floor. Worse, before he knew what he was doing he’d asked her to dance.

“It would be my pleasure,” she stammered, taking his arm.

As he led her to the dance floor he questioned his own good judgment—and not for the first time that day. He’d witnessed Miss Hartley trip and tumble into the orchestra at the Millbrook ball. He’d been dancing with Helena at the time but had paused to help her up.

So much had changed since then.

He had no idea if Miss Hartley’s dance partner had been to blame for the incident or whether she was prone to

 

falling, but just to be safe he tightened his hand on her waist. And they began moving to the music.

The first measure had barely played before she asked, “You received my letter?”

“I did,” he said noncommittally, twirling her beneath his raised arm.

When she faced him again, she looked him directly in the eye. “What do you think of my . . . offer?” she asked, her voice cracking on the final word.

He tamped down an unexpected pang of sympathy. “I think that we hardly know each other.”

“True, but that is easily rectified, is it not?” There it was—an unmistakable hint of desperation. And a sense of urgency that even her letter hadn’t conveyed.

“It is,” he conceded. “However, I suspect that the more we know each other, the less we’ll like each other.” Cynical but true in his experience. His parents certainly hadn’t grown fonder of each other. Neither had he and Helena.

She winced and looked away before regaining her composure. “Perhaps. But we needn’t like each other.”

Gray chuckled at that. “I never thought I’d meet some­ one more jaded than I.”

“So, you’ll consider my offer?” she pressed.

“I will not,” he said firmly. Under different circum­ stances, her fortune may have tempted him. But she was clearly intent on using him for her own purpose—and he suspected that she’d set her sights on him for reasons be­ yond his title. After all, there were half a dozen peers in attendance right now who’d leap at the chance to marry a young and unconventionally beautiful heiress.

But he was not one of them.

“It seems rather closed­minded of you to dismiss me summarily,” she shot back, displaying a boldness that was borderline rude—and refreshing.

 

“If I said I’d consider your offer, I’d only be giving you false hope. Delaying the inevitable.”

“The inevitable rejection, you mean,” she clarified. “Yes.” He was still reeling from the sting of Helena’s

rebuff and wouldn’t wish anyone that sort of pain and humiliation.

“Please,” she begged. “I realize that it’s highly unusual for a woman to propose marriage—”

“It’s unheard of.”

“Surely you must be curious—as to why I did it.” She looked up at him, her shining blue eyes challenging him to deny the truth of her words.

Gray shrugged. “You have your reasons for making the offer; I have my reasons for declining it.”

“Give me the opportunity to explain,” she pleaded. “Just a quarter of an hour to make my case. If, after that, you remain unconvinced, I promise I shan’t mention it again.” He must be out of his damned mind to consider engag­ ing in further discussion with Miss Hartley. The very last thing he needed was another conniving, self­serving fe­ male attempting to interfere with his life. He had opened his mouth to tell her so when someone bumped into his

back—hard.

Gray’s torso collided with Miss Hartley’s chest, and she stumbled two steps before he wrapped an arm around her slender waist, catching her just before she landed on the parquet floor. She gasped and clung to his jacket, her ex­ pression an odd mix of relief and mortification.

“Oh dear,” she breathed.

Their faces were so close he could see unexpected dark blue flecks in her irises and the individual freckles dotting her nose. “Forgive me,” he said.

“For what?”

For what indeed? Steering her into the collision? Grip­

 

ping her waist too tightly? Or for staring at the swells of her breasts and having decidedly wicked thoughts while he should have been shielding her from further embar­ rassment? Ignoring her question, he asked, “Are you all right?”

“I am.” Her cheeks turned a charming shade of pink. She blew out a breath and shot him a shaky smile. “When it comes to dance floor mishaps, I confess I’ve survived much worse.”

Gray looked over his shoulder to see how the other couple fared, surprised to find Helena and her dance part­ ner smiling apologetically.

And the truth struck him. For the last ten minutes, while he’d been dancing with Miss Hartley, he’d been completely, blissfully unaware of Helena and what she was doing. Even more remarkable, he’d forgotten that she was in the room. “Meet me in Hyde Park tomorrow,” he said to Miss Hartley, mentally cursing his own weakness. “I will listen to what you have to say, but don’t expect anything to

change my mind.”

The corners of her mouth curled in a triumphant smile. “Thank you. All I ask is that you allow me the chance to explain the advantages of the arrangement—for us both.” “Forgive me if I remain skeptical,” he drawled. “I’ll

meet you near the footbridge. Three o’clock?”

“You won’t regret this,” she said earnestly, but the prick­ ling sensation between his shoulder blades suggested he would. In spite of her naïveté and candor—or maybe because of those things—Miss Hartley could prove far more dangerous to him than Helena had ever been.