Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Child Under His Tree by Allison Leigh and Recipe for Fudge Drop Cookies

Tis the season for second chances…and secrets!

Forget the mistletoe maneuvers. Kelly Rasmussen isn't planning on having that reunion kiss with Dr. Caleb Buchanan any time soon. Things had long ago gone south for these former high school sweethearts. Except for that one night six years ago—which resulted in an explosive secret Kelly's kept till this very day.

Now career and family have brought them both back to Weaver, Wyoming. Their unavoidable clashes—and instant chemistry—make them realize this town isn't big enough for the two of them. Or three of them—counting Kelly's son. Because there's something about that little boy… For one thing, he has Caleb's eyes…

There’s nothing better than yummy cookie to nibble on while reading a good book so I would like to thank Alison Leigh for this lovely recipe. I can’t wait to try it.


Series: Return to the Double C Ranch| Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition| Genre: Contemporary Romance  | Source: MLM Media| Rating: 3.5 Cups
Kelly Rasmussen left her hometown six years with a secret and had no intentions of returning. Although when her mother—whom she hadn’t spoken to since she left town— suddenly dies, Kelly finds herself suddenly back in her mother’s house and face-to-face with the man she would give anything to avoid. Caleb Buchanan never expected to see his high school flame sitting in the exam room as the mother of his patient. He’s even more surprised to find that those old feelings are still there and stronger than ever. He knows he wants to start over with Kelly, but the past has a way of haunting them both.
Okay, so I rarely read a blurb before accepting a book to review. I normally just go by the title, or the cover, or sometimes both. Well, it sort of bit me this time. I’m not saying that this was a bad book—hey, I gave it a 3.5 Cup rating—I’m just saying that if I had known this was a secret baby book, I would have checked it out before accepting it because it’s not really a trope that I’m wild about.
So, Kelly’s life wasn’t the best when she was growing up. Her mother showed her no love and constantly told her she ruined her life, then the man she was madly, head-over-heels in love with—yep, that’s Caleb—broke her heart when he decided he wanted to marry someone else.  To get even with him, she decides to have a night of wild truck sex, then walk away. Although truck-sex night left her with a little parting gift in the form of her son, When she discovers she’s pregnant, rather than telling Caleb, she decided to flee town. When she does finally come in contact with Caleb again, she still keeps the fact that Tyler is his son from him.
There’s just something unredeemable about a woman that keeps a father in the dark about his son. And I was really hoping that somewhere in the plot something would come to light and give me a better understanding about why she did what she did but the reason that she gave—that Caleb and his family would step up and take care of her and her unborn child—just didn’t fly with me.
Okay, so while I liked Caleb—he’s actually the reason I continued reading this book—he wasn’t perfect either. I mean, he broke up with Kelly to propose to another woman, who turned him down—yeah, I think that’s called karma. Anywho, I never understood the reason behind this and, once again, nothing was explained about why this happened. But there was just something about Caleb, I mean, he goes into the hospital nursery at night and rocks babies that need a little extra love and attention. Le sigh… He’s great with Tyler and, even though she keeps snapping at him, he’s trying to make things right with Kelly.
The romance was a little odd at times. These characters obviously have a history that left them both weary and wounded and they’re both battle scarred because of it. There’s still a chemistry and attraction between them and it’s obvious that Caleb wants more but Kelly is constantly pushing him away. Even towards the end when they are together as a couple I never really felt that Kelly wanted to be there or let go of the hurt.
My big problem with this book is that the vital events from the past and the reasons behind them were never explained. Given what was going on between the characters, a backstory really should have been added.
Overall, while I had problems with the book and neither character was perfect, I still enjoyed watching Caleb grow close to his son.

There’s nothing better than a yummy cookie to nibble on while reading a good book, so I would like to thank Alison Leigh for this lovely recipe. I can’t wait to try it.
Fudge Drop Cookies
1 ¾ C sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ C sifted unsweetened cocoa
2 eggs
2/3 C vegetable oil (Canola works well)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract
1 C granulated sugar
2 C sifted confectioner’s sugar
¼ C sifted unsweetened cocoa (can be omitted if you prefer a plain glaze)
2/3 TBSP milk
Dash salt
Dash almond extract
Sift flour with baking powder, salt and cocoa and set aside. In medium bowl, beat eggs slightly. Stir in oil, extracts and sugar until combined. Beat in flour mixture until smooth, then refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Drop chilled dough in slightly rounded teaspoons about 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 400° preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool. Make glaze: In medium bowl, combine all ingredients, stirring until smooth. Spread tops of cooled cookies with glaze and enjoy! Makes about 3 dozen

Monday, November 28, 2016

Audiobook Review: A Scone to Die for by H.Y. Hanna

When an American tourist is murdered with a scone in Gemma Rose's quaint English tearoom, she suddenly finds herself apron-deep in a mystery involving long-buried secrets from Oxford's past.

Armed with her insider knowledge of the university and with the help of four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village (not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli), Gemma sets out to solve the mystery - all while dealing with her matchmaking mother and the return of her old college love, Devlin O'Connor, now a dashing CID detective.

But with the body count rising and her business going bust, can Gemma find the killer before things turn to custard?

Series: Oxford Tearoom Cozy Mysteries # 1| Publisher: H.Y. Hanna | Narrator: Pearl Hewitt  | Length: 6 hrs and 53 mins | Genre: Cozy Paranormal Contemporary Mystery | Source: Author | Ratings: Performance 3.5 Cups  Story 4.5 Cups

When Gemma Rose returns to her hometown in the Cotswolds, she never imaged that an obnoxious American tourist would be murdered in front of her teashop with one of her scones. Now Gemma’s in the heart of a murder mystery that has roots in a mystery out of Oxford’s past. And to add to the conflict, the lead CID detective just so happens to be Devlin O’Connor, Gemma’s former flame.
This was such a cute cozy mystery.
So, Gemma’s returned home and she’s dealing with the fear of being stuck living with her parents for the rest of her life. She’s also dealing with her mother trying to fix her up different guys. Then on top of everything she’s dealing with a murder investigation that brings her straight into the path of her ex-boyfriend.
I really liked Gemma. She has a lot going on but she maintains a wonderful attitude.
The murder mystery was interesting in the way that it was tied in with a mystery from Oxford. While I had a feeling who the murderer was, I was still interested in watching the mystery play out and seeing how Gemma went about investigating things.
There’s a slight attraction lingering between Gemma and Devlin but there’s also a lot of animosity. And while Devlin can be perfectly charming when he wants to be, he’s also very growly and rude and times.
For this being the first book in a cozy mystery series, I was pleased that it wasn’t bogged with facts that author thinks the reader should know. Instead of an info dump and who’s who, vital pieces of information has been worked into the story bit by bit. While I feel like I got a good sense of who Gemma is, there’s still somethings that I’m curious about so I’m planning on reading the prequel in the near future to see if things become clearer.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The mystery was solid, the plot was well-paced, the humor was well-balanced, and the characters were fresh, charming, and unique.

Oxford Tearoom Cozy Mystery Series
0.5-All-Butter ShortDead
1-A Scone to Die for
2-Tea with Milk and Murder
3-Two Down, Bun to Go
4-‘Till Death do us Tart
5-Muffains and Mourning Tea

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday {#58}: The Worthington Wife by Sharon Page

“Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

I loved An American Duchess so I’m eager to see what The Worthington Wife is going to offer.

Title: The Worthington Wife
Author: Sharon Page
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: December 27, 2016
Lady Julia Hazelton is the most dazzling among 1920s England's bright young things. But rather than choosing the thrill of wanton adventure like so many of her contemporaries, Julia shocks society with her bold business aspirations. Determined to usher the cursed Worthington estate into a prosperous, modern new era, and thus preserve her beloved late fiancé's legacy, the willful Julia tackles her wildest, most unexpected adventure in Cal Carstairs, the reluctant new Earl of Worthington.
The unconventional American artist threatens everything Julia seeks to protect while stirring desires she thought had died in the war. For reasons of his own, Cal has designed the ultimate revenge. Rather than see the estate prosper, he intends to destroy it. But their impulsive marriage—one that secures Julia's plans as well as Cal's secrets—proves that passion is ambition's greatest rival. Unless Cal ends his quest to satisfy his darkest vendetta, he stands to ruin his Worthington wife and all her glittering dreams.


What are you lovelies waiting on?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday {#57}: The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

“Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

 This one caught my eye and I’m intrigued by it. It’s a blend of mystery with a some twisted history. I’m a Tudor nut, so I’m eager to see how this one plays out

Title: The Phantom Tree
Author: Nicola Cornick
Publisher: HQ
Release Date: December 29, 2016
My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”
Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child. The painting is more than just a beautiful object for Alison – it holds the key to a past life, the unlocking of the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son. But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called The Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…


What are you lovelies waiting on?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Love Between the Lines, An Adult Coloring Book for Book Lovers by Christina Collie

Fall in love all over again with this adult coloring book featuring 45 hand-drawn illustrations inspired by romance novels from bestselling writers Colleen Hoover, Anna Todd, S.C. Stephens, Abbi Glines, K. Bromberg, Jodi Ellen Malpas and more. Sit back, grab your pens and markers, and get ready to explore LOVE BETWEEN THE LINES.


In the pages of this book you will find:


· Designs to help you relax and reduce stress


· Hidden images and book quotes


· Each design printed on a separate page


· Elaborate drawings s as well as quickie pages for when you just have a few minutes to color


Illustrations inspired by the works of:


Anna Todd, Jodi Ellen Malpas, Colleen Hoover, S.C. Stephens, Abbi Glines, K. Bromberg, Claire Contreras, Jillian Dodd, Amy Harmon, Tiffany King, R.K. Lilley, Molly McAdams, Tara Sivec, Alessandra Torre, Mia Sheridan, J. Sterling, Katy Evans, Emma Chase, S.L. Jennings, K.A. Linde, Beth Ehemann, Tarryn Fisher, Karina Halle, Helena Hunting, Leisa Rayven, Madeline Sheehan, Harper Sloan, and K. A. Tucker


Publisher: Forever Romance | Release Date: 11/08/2016 | Source: Publisher

Buy Links:

This was such a fun coloring book and I simply loved that it contained images relating to some of my favorite romance books. Yes, it’s an adult coloring book for book lovers! How awesome is that?

So, let me tell you a little about the book. First off, I love that this is a square book— there’s just something about the square books that I enjoy and, to me, they seem to offer more coloring space. The paper is a nice, crisp white and the texture of the paper is nice and smooth but there’s just enough tooth to it to grab watercolors. The weight of the paper is a lightweight cardstock but it holds up nicely under all mediums that I used. So, there’s a lot of ink on the pages because of how busy some of the drawings are and I have to say that ink, thankfully, doesn’t smear. Also, the images are only printed on one side so you can use markers without worrying about destroying what’s printed on the back.

The images are fabulous in this one and, honestly, even if you’ve not read the books featured, they are still going to grab your attention. Each image has a quote from a particular romance book or a bookish saying and the pages range from simple images that can be colored in a 30 minutes to images that could take days to work on.

I used several different mediums: gel pens, Sharpie markers, prismacolor pencils and markers, normal Crayola colored pencils, Staedtler fineliner markers and pencils, and Royal and Langnickel watercolors.
Each medium I used worked like a charm and the color laid down brilliantly. Although, as I’ve mentioned before, if you’re using markers or watercolors be sure to place a few sheets of paper behind the page you’re coloring to use as a blotter to catch the colors that seep through.
I really liked the durability of the paper. I never had a problem with the paper flaking or balling up when I used watercolors or shaded over the pencils with gel pens.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. And the only problem I did have with this one was that there were so many fun designs, I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to color first.  

About the Author:  Christina Collie is a twenty-eight-year-old Tennessee native who began doodling images inspired by her favorite books almost four years ago before launching Doodles by Christina. Since then she has doodled over 50 images and has sold prints around the globe. Outside of being a huge bookworm, she enjoys watching LSU football, playing with her dog Nola, and hanging out on her best friend's farm. This is her first coloring book.
Social Media:

Gift Alert
This would make the perfect Christmas gift

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Thrill of the Haunt by E.J. Copperman

As Alison’s reputation as “the ghost lady” grows, so does her business—and not always in a way she’d like. Tourists may be flocking to her guesthouse for a chance to glimpse her resident spirits, but her special abilities are also bringing unwanted private investigation cases to her door. And she has no choice but to take a case when the local homeless man is found murdered under mysterious circumstances, just hours after asking for help in exorcising a specter.


If that weren’t enough to deal with, Alison’s other PI case soon turns fatal, as the mistress she was spying on for a jealous wife turns up dead as well. The cases seem like they couldn’t possibly be linked, but with a mountain of clues, motives and suspects—both living and dead—Alison will have to think fast before someone else checks out for good…


Series: Haunted Guesthouse #5| Publisher: Audible | Narrator: Amanda Ronconi | Length: 9 hours 23 minutes | Genre: Cozy Paranormal Contemporary Mystery | Source: Audible | Ratings: Performance 4.5 Cups  Story 4 Cups

The last few books in this series have been a miss for me, thankfully, this one was a hit—in fact, it was nearly a homerun. (yeah, I know, I have no idea where the baseball analogy came from, but let’s just roll with it!).
All Alison wants to do is focus on her guesthouse and her budding relationship with Josh.  Although when a woman shows up wanting Alison to investigate her husband for possibly cheating then a homeless veteran, who wanted Alison’s help dealing with a ghost, is murdered Alison, thanks to a deal she struck with one of her resident ghosts, has no choice but to take on the cases.
Throughout this series, Alison has always had a bit more on her plate than she could handle but she’s always managed to handle it gracefully but now she’s reached her limit and being known as the ‘ghost lady’ has finally pushed her over the edge. She’s still cleaning up from hurricane Sandy, trying to figure out what to turn her game room into, dealing with a guest wanting to cleanse her guesthouse of the spirits that haunt it, and someone has been scrawling warnings in red pen all over her house. There’s also two murder cases that she’s been roped into investigating. Plus, she’s having guy problems. So I understand why she’s reached her limit, although I wasn’t thoroughly behind the way she was treating Paul and Maxie.
I was really glad to see that Josh, Alison’s love-interest, is back. He’s such a fresh, fun character, and he knew Alison when she was a kid. He owns a paint store so he and Alison share the same interests and they have an interesting past. In the last few books, their relationship was starting to grow into something solid. In this book, they’re starting to have a few problems, mainly Alison hiding things from him. Although Alison doesn’t really want to tell her new boyfriend that she sees ghost.
So there were two mysteries in the book and two deaths and I have to say they were brilliantly handled. Rather than one taking away from the other, they added more depth and insight. I had an inkling about certain things that turned out to be true, but there were so many added twists that I didn’t see coming but, looking back on the clues, it all added up and made sense.
The ghost are such a huge part of this series and, while I’ve always liked Paul, in the past I’ve struggled with Maxie. She was childish and annoying although it seems like she’s finally starting to grow up.
Once again, Amanda Ronconi was a fabulous narrator. She truly does bring each character to life.
Overall, this one finally went back to what I love about this series. Even though some of the secondary characters kind of took a backseat, I really loved the direction of this novel. The romance and the mysteries were both solid and I loved seeing Alison a little unhinged because it showed her in a more human light. I also loved seeing Maxie’s growth.

 Haunted Guesthouse Series
The Thrill of the Haunt
Inspector Spector
Ghost in the Wind

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday {#56}: The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

“Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
Okay, so I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Tradd Street series. I loved this series when it first came out, then not so much in the middle, but I’m kind of eager to see what Melanie’s up to now that the twins are born and she sort of settling into her life as a mother. 

Title: The Guests on South Battery
Series: Tradd Street
Author: Karen White
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: 1/3/2017


With her extended maternity leave at it's end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she's awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for over a year are about to invade her life once more.


 But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell it as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission.


 Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can't deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to appear to her again. One is shrouded from sight, appearing whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in her backyard on Tradd Street.


 Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried...


What are you lovelies waiting on?

Monday, November 7, 2016

McNaught-E November: Whitney, My Love Excerpt & Giveaway

Hello Lovelies and welcome to McNaught-E November! From the start of November (yeah, I know, I’m a bit late so for my first post) to the fourth of December  I, and host of bloggers, will be sharing excerpts and e-book giveaways of 14 Judith McNaught titles that are available for the time in E-Book format.
If you previously read any of these amazing titles, revisiting them in E-Book is not “All for Naught,” as each E-Book will contain original, new content (a letter) from Judith McNaught.
Make sure to check back every Monday for McNaught-E Mondays to enjoy additional excerpts and giveaways for remaining.

A saucy spitfire who has grown into a ravishing young woman, Whitney Stone returns from her triumphant time in Paris society to England. She plans on marrying her childhood sweetheart, only to discover she has been bargained away by her bankrupt father to the arrogant and alluring Clayton Westmoreland, the Duke of Claymore. Outraged, she defies her new lord. But even as his smoldering passion seduces her into a gathering storm of desire, Whitney cannot—will not—relinquish her dream of perfect love. Rich with emotion, brimming with laughter and tears, Whitney, My Love is “the ultimate love story, one you can dream about forever” (RT Book Reviews).

Buy Links:

Whitney, My Love

Chapter 1

As their elegant travelling chaise rocked and swayed along the rutted country road, Lady Anne Gilbert leaned her cheek against her husband’s shoulder and heaved a long, impatient sigh. “Another whole hour until we arrive, and already the suspense is positively gnawing at me. I keep wondering what Whitney will be like now that she’s grown up.”

She lapsed into silence and gazed absently out the coach window at the lush, rolling English countryside covered with wild pink Foxglove and yellow Buttercups, trying to envision the niece she hadn’t seen in almost eleven years.

“She’ll be pretty, just as her mother was. And she’ll have her mother’s smile, her gentleness, her sweet disposition . . .”

Lord Edward Gilbert cast a skeptical glance at his wife. “Sweet disposition?” he echoed in amused disbelief. “That isn’t what her father said in his letter.”

As a diplomat attached to the British Consulate in Paris, Lord Gilbert was a master of hints, evasions, innuendoes, and intrigues. But in his personal life, he preferred the refreshing alternative of blunt truth. “Allow me to refresh your memory,” he said, groping in his pockets and retrieving the letter from Whitney’s father. He perched his spectacles upon his nose, and ignoring his wife’s grimace, he began to read:

“ ‘Whitney’s manners are an outrage, her conduct is reprehensible. She is a willful hoyden who is the despair of everyone she knows and an embarrassment to me. I implore you to take her back to Paris with you, in the hope that you may have more success with the stubborn chit than I have had.’ ”

Edward chuckled. “Show me where it says she’s ‘sweet-tempered.’ ”

His wife shot him a peevish glance. “Martin Stone is a cold, unfeeling man who wouldn’t recognize gentleness and goodness if Whitney were made of nothing else! Only think of the way he shouted at her and sent her to her room right after my sister’s funeral.”

Edward recognized the mutinous set of his wife’s chin and put his arm around her shoulders in a gesture of conciliation. “I’m no fonder of the man than you are, but you must admit that, just having lost his young wife to an early grave, to have his daughter accuse him, in front of fifty people, of locking her mama in a box so she couldn’t escape had to be rather disconcerting.”

“But Whitney was scarcely five years old!” Anne protested heatedly.

“Agreed. But Martin was grieving. Besides, as I recall, it was not for that offense she was banished to her room. It was later, when everyone had gathered in the drawing room—when she stamped her foot and threatened to report us all to God if we didn’t release her mama at once.”

Anne smiled. “What spirit she had, Edward. I thought for a moment her little freckles were going to pop right off her nose. Admit it—she was marvelous, and you thought so too!”

“Well, yes,” Edward agreed sheepishly. “I rather thought she was.”

*  *  *

As the Gilbert chaise bore inexorably down on the Stone estate, a small knot of young people were waiting on the south lawn, impatiently looking toward the stable one hundred yards away. A petite blonde smoothed her pink ruffled skirts and sighed in a way that displayed a very fetching dimple. “Whatever do you suppose Whitney is planning to do?” she inquired of the handsome light-haired man beside her.

Glancing down into Elizabeth Ashton’s wide blue eyes, Paul Sevarin smiled a smile that Whitney would have forfeited both her feet to see focused on herself. “Try to be patient, Elizabeth,” he said.

“I’m sure none of us have the faintest idea what she is up to, Elizabeth,” Margaret Merryton said tartly. “But you can be perfectly certain it will be something foolish and outrageous.”

“Margaret, we’re all Whitney’s guests today,” Paul chided.

“I don’t know why you should defend her, Paul,” Margaret argued spitefully. “Whitney is creating a horrid scandal chasing after you, and you know it!”

“Margaret!” Paul snapped. “I said that was enough.” Drawing a long, irritated breath, Paul Sevarin frowned darkly at his gleaming boots. Whitney had been making a spectacle of herself chasing after him, and damned near everyone for fifteen miles was talking about it.

At first he had been mildly amused to find himself the object of a fifteen-year-old’s languishing looks and adoring smiles, but lately Whitney had begun pursuing him with the determination and tactical brilliance of a female Napoleon Bonaparte.

If he rode off the grounds of his estate, he could almost depend on meeting her en route to his destination. It was as if she had some lookout point from which she watched his every move, and Paul no longer found her childish infatuation with him either harmless or amusing.

Three weeks ago, she had followed him to a local inn. While he was pleasantly contemplating accepting the innkeeper’s daughter’s whispered invitation to meet her later in the hayloft, he’d glanced up and seen a familiar pair of bright green eyes peeping at him through the window. Slamming his tankard of ale on the table, he’d marched outside, grabbed Whitney by the elbow, and unceremoniously deposited her on her horse, tersely reminding her that her father would be searching for her if she wasn’t home by nightfall.

He’d stalked back inside and ordered another tankard, but when the innkeeper’s daughter brushed her breasts suggestively against his arm while refilling his ale and Paul had a sudden vision of himself lying entangled with her voluptuous naked body, a pair of green eyes peered in through yet another window. He’d tossed enough coins on the planked wooden table to mollify the startled girl’s wounded sensibilities and left—only to encounter Miss Stone again on his way home.

He was beginning to feel like a hunted man whose every move was under surveillance, and his temper was strained to the breaking point. And yet, Paul thought irritably, here he was standing in the April sun, trying for some obscure reason to protect Whitney from the criticism she richly deserved.

A pretty girl, several years younger than the others in the group, glanced at Paul. “I think I’ll go and see what’s keeping Whitney,” said Emily Williams. She hurried across the lawn and along the whitewashed fence adjoining the stable. Shoving open the big double doors, Emily looked down the wide gloomy corridor lined with stalls on both sides. “Where is Miss Whitney?” she asked the stableboy who was currying a sorrel gelding.

“In there, Miss.” Even in the muted light, Emily saw his face suffuse with color as he nodded toward a door adjacent to the tack room.

With a puzzled glance at the flushing stableboy, Emily tapped lightly on the designated door and stepped inside, then froze at the sight that greeted her: Whitney Allison Stone’s long legs were encased in coarse brown britches that clung startlingly to her slender hips and were held in place at her narrow waist with a length of rope. Above the riding britches she wore a thin chemise.

“You surely aren’t going out there dressed like that?” Emily gasped.

Whitney fired an amused glance over her shoulder at her scandalized friend. “Of course not. I’m going to wear a shirt, too.”

“B-but why?” Emily persisted desperately.

“Because I don’t think it would be very proper to appear in my chemise, silly,” Whitney cheerfully replied, snatching the stableboy’s clean shirt off a peg and plunging her arms into the sleeves.

“P-proper? Proper?” Emily sputtered. “It’s completely improper for you to be wearing men’s britches, and you know it!”

“True. But I can’t very well ride that horse without a saddle and risk having my skirts blow up around my neck, now can I?” Whitney breezily argued while she twisted her long unruly hair into a knot and pinned it at her nape.

“Ride without a saddle? You can’t mean you’re going to ride astride—your father will disown you if you do that again.”

“I am not going to ride astride. Although,” Whitney giggled, “I can’t understand why men are allowed to straddle a horse, while we—who are supposed to be the weaker sex—must hang off the side, praying for our lives.”

Emily refused to be diverted. “Then what are you going to do?”

“I never realized what an inquisitive young lady you are, Miss Williams,” Whitney teased. “But to answer your question, I am going to ride standing on the horse’s back. I saw it done at the fair, and I’ve been practicing ever since. Then, when Paul sees how well I do, he’ll—”

“He’ll think you have lost your mind, Whitney Stone! He’ll think that you haven’t a grain of sense or propriety, and that you’re only trying something else to gain his attention.” Seeing the stubborn set of her friend’s chin, Emily switched her tactics. “Whitney, please—think of your father. What will he say if he finds out?”

Whitney hesitated, feeling the force of her father’s unwaveringly cold stare as if it were this minute focused upon her. She drew a long breath, then expelled it slowly as she glanced out the small window at the group waiting on the lawn. Wearily, she said, “Father will say that, as usual, I have disappointed him, that I am a disgrace to him and to my mother’s memory, that he is happy she didn’t live to see what I have become. Then he will spend half an hour telling me what a perfect lady Elizabeth Ashton is, and that I ought to be like her.”

“Well, if you really wanted to impress Paul, you could try . . .”

Whitney clenched her hands in frustration. “I have tried to be like Elizabeth. I wear those disgusting ruffled dresses that make me feel like a pastel mountain, I’ve practiced going for hours without saying a word, and I’ve fluttered my eyelashes until my eyelids go limp.”

Emily bit her lip to hide her smile at Whitney’s unflattering description of Elizabeth Ashton’s demure mannerisms, then she sighed. “I’ll go and tell the others that you’ll be right out.”

Gasps of outrage and derisive sniggers greeted Whitney’s appearance on the lawn when she led the horse toward the spectators. “She’ll fall off,” one of the girls predicted, “if God doesn’t strike her dead first for wearing those britches.”

Ignoring the impulse to snap out a biting retort, Whitney raised her head in a gesture of haughty disdain, then stole a look at Paul. His handsome face was taut with disapproval as his gaze moved from her bare feet, up her trousered legs, to her face. Inwardly, Whitney faltered at his obvious displeasure, but she swung resolutely onto the back of the waiting horse.

The gelding moved into its practiced canter, and Whitney worked herself upward, first crouching with arms outstretched for balance, then slowly easing herself into a standing position. Around and around they went and, although Whitney was in constant terror of falling off and looking like a fool, she managed to appear competent and graceful.

As she completed the fourth circle, she let her eyes slant to the faces passing on her left, registering their looks of shock and derision, while she searched for the only face that mattered. Paul was partially in the tree’s shadow, and Elizabeth Ashton was clinging to his arm, but as Whitney passed, she saw the slow, reluctant smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and triumph unfurled like a banner in her heart. By the time she came around again, Paul was grinning broadly at her. Whitney’s spirits soared, and suddenly all the weeks of practice, the sore muscles and bruises, seemed worthwhile.

*  *  *

At the window of the second floor drawing room overlooking the south lawn, Martin Stone stared down at his performing daughter. Behind him, the butler announced that Lord and Lady Gilbert had arrived. Too enraged at his daughter to speak, Martin greeted his sister-in-law and her husband with a clenched jaw and curt nod.

“How—how nice to see you again after so many years, Martin,” Lady Anne lied graciously. When he remained icily silent, she said, “Where is Whitney? We’re so anxious to see her.”

Martin finally recovered his voice. “See her?” he snapped savagely. “Madam, you have only to look out this window.”

Bewildered, Anne did as he said. Below on the lawn there stood a group of young people watching a slender boy balancing beautifully on a cantering horse. “What a clever young man,” she said, smiling.

Her simple remark seemed to drive Martin Stone from frozen rage to frenzied action as he swung on his heel and marched toward the door. “If you wish to meet your niece, come with me. Or, I can spare you the humiliation, and bring her here to you.”

With an exasperated look at Martin’s back, Anne tucked her hand in her husband’s arm and together they followed Martin downstairs and outside.

As they approached the group of young people, Anne heard murmurings and laughter, and she was vaguely aware that there was something malicious in the tone, but she was too busy scanning the young ladies’ faces, looking for Whitney, to pay much heed to the fleeting impression. She mentally discarded two blondes and a redhead, quizzically studied a petite, blue-eyed brunette, then glanced helplessly at the young man beside her. “Pardon me, I am Lady Gilbert, Whitney’s aunt. Could you tell me where she is?”

Paul Sevarin grinned at her, half in sympathy and half in amusement. “Your niece is on the horse, Lady Gilbert,” he said.

“On the—” Lord Gilbert choked.

From her delicate perch atop the horse, Whitney’s eyes followed her father’s progress as he bore down on her with long, rapid strides. “Please don’t make a scene, Father,” she implored when he was within earshot.

I make a scene?” he roared furiously. Snatching the halter, he brought the cantering horse around so sharply that he jerked it from beneath her. Whitney hit the ground on her feet, lost her balance, and ended up half-sprawling. As she scampered up, her father caught her arm in a ruthless grip and hauled her over toward the spectators. “This—this thing,” he said, thrusting her forward toward her aunt and uncle, “I am mortified to tell you is your niece.”

Whitney heard the smattering of giggles as the group quickly disbanded, and she felt her face grow hot with shame. “How do you do, Aunt Gilbert? Uncle Gilbert?” With one eye on Paul’s broad-shouldered, retreating form, Whitney reached mechanically for her nonexistent skirt, realized it was missing, and executed a comical curtsy without it. She saw the frown on her aunt’s face and put her chin up defensively. “You may be sure that for the week you are here, I shall endeavor not to make a freak of myself again, Aunt.”

“For the week that we are here?” her aunt gasped, but Whitney was preoccupied watching Paul help Elizabeth into his curricle and didn’t notice the surprise in her aunt’s voice.

“Good-bye, Paul,” she called, waving madly. He turned and raised his arm in silent farewell.

Laughter drifted back as the curricles bowled down the drive, carrying their occupants off to a picnic or some other gay and wonderful activity, to which Whitney was never invited because she was too young.

Following Whitney toward the house, Anne was a mass of conflicting emotions. She was embarrassed for Whitney, furious with Martin Stone for humiliating the girl in front of the other young people, somewhat dazed by the sight of her own niece cavorting on the back of a horse, wearing men’s britches . . . and utterly astonished to discover that Whitney, whose mother had been only passably pretty, showed promise of becoming a genuine beauty.

She was too thin right now, but even in disgrace Whitney’s shoulders were straight, her walk naturally graceful and faintly provocative. Anne smiled to herself at the gently rounded hips displayed to almost immoral advantage by the coarse brown trousers, the slender waist that would require no subterfuge to make it appear smaller, eyes that seemed to change from sea-green to deep jade beneath their fringe of long, sooty lashes. And that hair—piles and piles of rich mahogany brown! All it needed was a good trimming and brushing until it shone; Anne’s fingers positively itched to go to work on it. Mentally she was already styling it in ways to highlight Whitney’s striking eyes and high cheekbones. Off her face, Anne decided, piled at the crown with tendrils at the ears, or pulled straight back off the forehead to fall in gentle waves down her back.

As soon as they entered the house, Whitney mumbled an excuse and fled to her room where she flopped dejectedly into a chair and morosely contemplated the humiliating scene Paul had just witnessed, with her father jerking her ignominiously off her horse and then shouting at her. No doubt her aunt and uncle were as horrified and revolted by her behavior as her father had been, and her cheeks burned with shame just thinking of how they must despise her already.

“Whitney?” Emily whispered, creeping into the bedroom and cautiously closing the door behind her. “I came up the back way. Is your father angry?”

“Cross as crabs,” Whitney confirmed, staring down at her trousered legs. “I suppose I ruined everything today, didn’t I? Everyone was laughing at me, and Paul heard them. Now that Elizabeth is seventeen, he’s bound to offer for her before he ever has a chance to realize that he loves me.

“You?” Emily repeated dazedly. “Whitney Stone, Paul avoids you like the plague, and well you know it! And who could blame him, after the mishaps you’ve treated him to in the last year?”

“There haven’t been so many as all that,” Whitney protested, but she squirmed in her chair.

“No? What about that trick you played on him on All Soul’s—darting out in front of his carriage, shrieking like a banshee, and pretending to be a ghost, terrifying his horses.”

Whitney flushed. “He wasn’t so very angry. And it isn’t as if the carriage was destroyed. It only broke a shaft when it overturned.”

“And Paul’s leg,” Emily pointed out.

“But that mended perfectly,” Whitney persisted, her mind already leaping from past debacles to future possibilities. She surged to her feet and began to pace slowly back and forth. “There has to be a way—but short of abducting him, I—” A mischievous smile lit up her dust-streaked face as she swung around so quickly that Emily pressed back into her chair. “Emily, one thing is infinitely clear: Paul does not yet know that he cares for me. Correct?”

“He doesn’t care a snap for you is more like it,” Emily replied warily.

“Therefore, it would be safe to say that he is unlikely to offer for me without some sort of added incentive. Correct?”

“You couldn’t make him offer for you at the point of a gun, and you know it. Besides, you aren’t old enough to be betrothed, even if—”

“Under what circumstances,” Whitney interrupted triumphantly, “is a gentleman obliged to offer for a lady?”

“I can’t think of any. Except of course, if he has compromised her—absolutely not! Whitney, whatever you’re planning now, I won’t help.”

Sighing, Whitney flopped back into her chair, stretching her legs out in front of her. An irreverent giggle escaped her as she considered the sheer audacity of her last idea. “If only I could have pulled it off . . . you know, loosened the wheel on Paul’s carriage so that it would fall off later, and then asked him to drive me somewhere. Then, by the time we walked back, or help arrived, it would be late at night, and he would have to offer for me.” Oblivious to Emily’s scandalized expression, Whitney continued, “Just think what a wonderful turnabout that would have been on a tired old theme: Young Lady abducts Gentleman and ruins hisreputation so that she is forced to marry him to set things aright! What a novel that could have made,” she added, rather impressed with her own ingenuity.

“I’m leaving,” Emily said. She marched to the door, then she hesitated and turned back to Whitney. “Your aunt and uncle saw everything. What are you going to say to them about those trousers and the horse?”

Whitney’s face clouded. “I’m not going to say anything, it wouldn’t help—but for the rest of the time they are here, I’m going to be the most demure, refined, delicate female you’ve ever seen.” She saw Emily’s dubious look and added, “Also I intend to stay out of sight except at mealtimes. I think I’ll be able to act like Elizabeth for three hours a day.”

*  *  *

Whitney kept her promise. At dinner that night, after her uncle’s hair-raising tale of their life in Beirut where he was attached to the British Consulate, she murmured only, “How very informative, Uncle,” even though she was positively burning to ply him with questions. At the end of her aunt’s description of Paris and the thrill of its gay social life, Whitney murmured, “How very informative, Aunt.” The moment the meal was finished, she excused herself and vanished.

After three days, Whitney’s efforts to be either demure or absent had, in fact, been so successful that Anne was beginning to wonder whether she had only imagined the spark of fire she’d glimpsed the day of their arrival, or if the girl had some aversion to Edward and herself.

On the fourth day, when Whitney breakfasted before the rest of the household was up, and then vanished, Anne set out to discover the truth. She searched the house, but Whitney was not indoors. She was not in the garden, nor had she taken a horse from the stable, Anne was informed by a groom. Squinting into the sunlight, Anne looked around her, trying to imagine where a fifteen-year-old would go to spend all day.

Off on the crest of a hill overlooking the estate, she spied a patch of bright yellow. “There you are!” she breathed, opening her parasol and striking out across the lawn.

Whitney didn’t see her aunt coming until it was too late to escape. Wishing she had found a better place to hide, she tried to think of some innocuous subject on which she could converse without appearing ignorant. Clothes? Personally, she knew nothing of fashions and cared even less; she looked hopeless no matter what she wore. After all, what could clothes do to improve the looks of a female who had cat’s eyes, mud-colored hair, and freckles on the bridge of her nose? Besides that, she was too tall, too thin, and if the good Lord intended for her ever to have a bosom, it was very late in making its appearance.

Weak-kneed, her chest heaving with each labored breath, Anne topped the steep rise and collapsed unceremoniously onto the blanket beside Whitney. “I-I thought I’d take . . . a nice stroll,” Anne lied. When she caught her breath, she noticed the leather-bound book lying face down on the blanket and, seizing on books as a topic of conversation, she said, “Is that a romantic novel?”

“No, Aunt,” Whitney demurely uttered, carefully placing her hand over the title of the book to conceal it from her aunt’s eyes.

“I’m told most young ladies adore romantic novels,” Anne tried again.

“Yes, Aunt,” Whitney agreed politely.

“I read one once but I didn’t like it,” Anne remarked, her mind groping for some other topic that might draw Whitney into conversation. “I cannot abide a heroine who is too perfect, nor one who is forever swooning.”

Whitney was so astonished to discover that she wasn’t the only female in all of England who didn’t devour the insipid things, that she instantly forgot her resolution to speak only in monosyllables. “And when the heroines aren’t swooning,” she added, her entire face lighting up with laughter, “they are lying about with hartshorn bottles up their nostrils, moping and pining away for some faint-hearted gentleman who hasn’t the gumption to offer for them, or else has already offered for some other, unworthy female. I could never just lie there doing nothing, knowing the man I loved was falling in love with a horrid person.” Whitney darted a glance at her aunt to see if she was shocked, but her aunt was regarding her with an unexplainable smile lurking at the corners of her eyes. “Aunt Anne, could you actually care for a man who dropped to his knees and said, ‘Oh, Clarabel, your lips are the petals of a red rose and your eyes are two stars from the heavens’?” With a derisive snort, Whitney finished, “That is where I would have leapt for the hartshorn!”

“And so would I,” Anne said, laughing. “What do you read then, if not atrocious romantic novels?” She pried the book from beneath Whitney’s flattened hand and stared at the gold-embossed title. “The Iliad?” she asked in astonished disbelief. The breeze ruffled the pages, and Anne’s amazed gaze ricocheted from the print to Whitney’s tense face. “But this is in Greek! Surely you don’t read Greek?”

Whitney nodded, her face flushed with mortification. Now her aunt would think her a bluestocking—another black mark against her. “Also Latin, Italian, French, and even some German,” she confessed.

“Good God,” Anne breathed. “How did you ever learn all that?”

“Despite what Father thinks, Aunt Anne, I am only foolish, not stupid, and I plagued him to death until he allowed me tutors in languages and history.” Whitney fell silent, remembering how she’d once believed that if 

she applied herself to her studies, if she could become more like a son, her father might love her.

“You sound ashamed of your accomplishments, when you should be proud.”

Whitney gazed out at her home, nestled in the valley below. “I’m sure you know everyone thinks it’s a waste of time to educate a female in these things. And anyway, I haven’t a feminine accomplishment to my name. I can’t sew a stitch that doesn’t look as if it were done blindfolded, and when I sing, the dogs down at the stable begin to howl. Mr. Twittsworthy, our local music instructor, told my father that my playing of the pianoforte gives him hives. I can’t do a thing that girls ought to do, and what’s more, I particularly detest doing them.”

Whitney knew her aunt would now take her in complete dislike, just as everyone else always did, but it was better this way because at least she could stop dreading the inevitable. She looked at Lady Anne, her green eyes wide and vulnerable. “I’m certain Papa has told you all about me. I’m a terrible disappointment to him. He wants me to be dainty and demure and quiet, like Elizabeth Ashton. I try to be, but I can’t seem to do it.”

Anne’s heart melted for the lovely, spirited, bewildered child her sister had borne. Laying her hand against Whitney’s cheek, she said tenderly, “Your father wants a daughter who is like a cameo—delicate, pale, and easily shaped. Instead, he has a daughter who is a diamond, full of sparkle and life, and he doesn’t know what to do with her. Instead of appreciating the value and rarity of his jewel—instead of polishing her a bit and then letting her shine—he persists in trying to shape her into a common cameo.”

Whitney was more inclined to think of herself as a chunk of coal, but rather than disillusion her aunt, she kept silent. After her aunt left, Whitney picked up her book, but soon her mind wandered from the printed page to dreamy thoughts of Paul.

That night when she came down to the dining room, the atmosphere in the room was strangely charged, and no one noticed her sauntering toward the table. “When do you plan to tell her she’s coming back to France with us, Martin?” her uncle demanded angrily. “Or is it your intention to wait until the day we leave and then just toss the child into the coach with us?”

The world tilted crazily, and for one horrible moment, Whitney thought she was going to be sick. She stopped, trying to steady her shaking limbs, and swallowed back the aching lump in her throat. “Am I going somewhere, Father?” she asked, trying to sound calm and indifferent.

They all turned and stared, and her father’s face tightened into lines of impatience and annoyance. “To France,” he replied abruptly. “To live with your aunt and uncle, who are going to try to make a lady out of you.”

Carefully avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes, lest she break down then and there, Whitney slid into her chair at the table. “Have you informed my aunt and uncle of the risk they are taking?” she asked, concentrating all her strength on preventing her father from seeing what he had just done to her heart. She looked coldly at her aunt and uncle’s guilty, embarrassed faces. “Father may have neglected to mention you’re risking disgrace by welcoming me into your home. As he will tell you, I’ve a hideous disposition, I’m rag-mannered, and I haven’t a trace of polite conversation.”

Her aunt was watching her with naked pity, but her father’s expression was stony. “Oh Papa,” she whispered brokenly, “do you really despise me this much? Do you hate me so much that you have to send me out of your sight?” Her eyes swimming with unshed tears, Whitney stood up. “If you . . . will excuse me . . . I’m not very hungry this evening.”

“How could you!” Anne cried when she left, rising from her own chair and glaring furiously at Martin Stone. “You are the most heartless, unfeeling—it will be a pleasure to remove that child from your clutches. How she has survived this long is a testimony to her strength. I’m sure I could never have done so well.”

“You refine too much upon her words, Madam,” Martin said icily. “I assure you that what has her looking so distraught is not the prospect of being parted from me. I have merely put a premature end to her plans to continue making a fool of herself over Paul Sevarin.”

E-BookTitles Released  
Once and Always (9781501145520) $7.99
Something Wonderful (9781501145544) $7.99
Almost Heaven (9781501145698) $7.99 
Whitney, My Love (9781501145438) $2.99 (Offer Valid November 1st - December 4th, 2017)
A Kingdom of Dreams (9781501145483) $7.99
Until You (9781501145490) $7.99
Miracles  (in A Holiday of Love) (9781501145711) $1.99
Tender Triumph (9781501145421) $7.99
Double Standards (9781501145704) $7.99
Remember When (9781439140802) $7.99
Paradise  (9781439138793) $7.99
Perfect  (9781439140710) $7.99
Night Whispers (9781439140833) $7.99 
Someone to Watch Over Me (9781501145445) $7.99

 About the Author: Judith McNaught is the New York Times bestselling author who first soared to stardom with her stunning bestseller Whitney, My Love, and went on to win the hearts of millions of readers with Once and Always, Something Wonderful, A Kingdom of Dreams, Almost Heaven, Paradise, Perfect, Until You, Remember When, Someone to Watch Over Me, the #1 bestseller Night Whispers, and other novels. There are more than thirty million copies of her books in print. She lives in Houston
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