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Orphaned at a young age, Lady Katherine Ashton and her brother have spent most of their lives on the high seas, seeking to restore their family fortune through somewhat dubious means. After that kind of adventure, Kate knows she won’t ever be accepted as a proper society lady.
To the annoyingly clever, temptingly handsome, and altogether troublesome Earl of Wynbrook, society ladies are a dead bore. Kate, on the other hand, is scandalous, alluring, and altogether fascinating. And Kate can’t decide which she relishes more, the thrill of chasing fearsome pirates, or having Wynbrook chase after her…
“Are you ready for this?” asked her brother, pulling on his worn wool greatcoat.
“Quite.” Lady Kate chose to misinterpret his meaning. “I have prepared an accounting for each one of our investors, providing details of their original investment and return.”
Robert Ashton, Earl of Darington, took the large ledgers from her hands. “Not what I meant.”
“I shall never be ready. But let us do it anyway,” she said crisply. She had developed a keen accounting for each one of their investors, but such a meeting brought the prospect of seeing one particular investor. A man she never wanted to see again.
Would he be there? Would he dare come?
Lady Katherine has no beauty, no fashion, no conversation, and no accomplishments save being the sister to an earl, and an impoverished one at that. Years later, his voice still rang in her head.
It had begun innocently enough. While at university, Robert had become acquainted with Tristan Arlington, the second son of the Earl of Wynbrook, who had invited them to spend the Christmas holidays with his family. Tristan’s mother had been particularly kind, and for a brief moment Kate had thought she had finally been accepted. But it was not to last.
Kate closed her eyes and remembered her fateful visit. She had heard voices coming from the open library door and stopped. She knew she ought not to eavesdrop, but she could not help pausing outside the door and listening to the conversation between Tristan and his elder brother.
“Darington might not be so bad—one can forgive lack of conversation in a gentleman—but you must admit the sister is poor company indeed,” drawled Tristan’s elder brother.
“Dash it, John! What a gudgeon you are,” exclaimed Tristan. “Kate’s not had the advantages of feminine company is all. Their mother died bringing them into the world.”
“Perhaps, but is that any reason for Mother to sponsor her coming out with Jane this spring?”
“Why should Mother not bring out Kate with our sister?” cried Tristan. “Quite kind of her.”
“Because it may prove an embarrassment to Mother. I do not mean to offend, but your friend’s earldom was only recently created. Darington’s father must have done something quite heroic in his naval career to rise from a baronet to an earl. You know how society disdains social climbers.”
Six years later, the words still ground like grit in her teeth. How she had hated him!
They came to a stop with a jolt and Kate opened her eyes to the intimidating sight of rising colonnades of the Bank of London. Her pulse pounded in her temples as they were led to a sitting room designed for meetings of the rich and the even richer. Dark mahogany paneling lined the hall, and all the furnishings from the curtains to the chairs were resplendent in rich jewel tones. Everything around her spoke of wealth and power.
Surely he would not be here. He would send his solicitor, not come in person. There was no need. She had almost convinced herself of his certain absence when they entered the room.
He was there.
The bastion of society stood warming himself by the fire, dressed impeccably in a dark blue, double-breasted suit that was tailored to perfection. She could not help but drink in his form. His broad, square shoulders revealed a powerful build, yet he had a trim waist and muscular thighs that were on the edge of indecent in his skintight buckskin breeches. With his chestnut hair, green eyes, and square jaw he was the very definition of a handsome man.
It was him.
John Arlington, the Earl of Wynbrook.
The only man she had ever kissed.
Publication and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, July 2016
Time and Setting: London, 1810
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Sara
Lady Katherine Ashton and her twin brother the Earl of Darington have returned to London to settle accounts with their investors. Left with his father’s debts at a very young age, the earl has been on the high seas for years as a privateer for England, raiding enemy ships and taking the spoils to rebuild the family fortunes. With no other family to take her in, Kate went to sea with her brother and kept his books, investing where she could and building up wealth for those who supported them. Frugality has been the discipline Kate has lived by, sometimes to the frustration of her brother, yet they are now ready to close out any lingering debts and make a triumphant return to England. Unfortunately the years away from society make for an awkward homecoming, especially for Kate who has been hoping to avoid a reunion with their major investor, Lord Wynbrook.
John Arlington is also apprehensive about seeing Katherine again. The last time he saw her five years earlier was one of the lowest points of his life and his behavior towards her was less than gentlemanly. The meeting with Darington and Lady Kate goes surprisingly well and John and his brother are delighted to know their investments have borne fruit. Just as they are all ready to leave, the meeting is interrupted by the arrival of a crewmember from Darington’s ship alerting them that someone has tried to break into his quarters. After another break-in at the townhouse they are leasing it becomes clear to John that someone is targeting the Ashton siblings. Hoping to protect his friend, and by extension show a more gallant side of himself to Katherine, John opens his home in London to the pair until they discover who has been trying to hurt them.
If the Earl Only Knew has a little bit of everything to entice a reader, with the conspiracy against the Darington earldom that stretches generations and a relationship born from conflict that unfolds into the truest love. I enjoyed Kate’s development over the course of the story and found her to be a great example of an independent woman but far from the typical spiky bluestocking. Kate begins her story very closed off and her frumpy appearance and severe behavior are her shields. Her dislike of John comes from memories of his unflattering comments about her and her brother but also her confusion about what he makes her feel. When they are forced into close company at his home and later, while trying to save her brother, Kate has to reconcile those memories with the charming, caring man John has become and all the new emotions he brings out in her. She grows as a woman, lowering some of her defences to find friendship with John’s sisters and slowly embracing the feminine side of herself that was suppressed due to living among sailors and other men for too long.
The intrigue portion of the story is a good way of showcasing both John and Kate’s strengths while still moving their relationship forward. John’s consistent support of Kate allows her to investigate her past without fear and find the roots of the danger to her family. I was a bit put off by some of the spiritual undertones to the story; however the message characters relay by quoting scripture or talking about God does tie in well to the idea of Kate having to have trust in John and have faith that he will not turn from her for all of her secrets. I would have liked a little more intimacy in their relationship or that their closeness was expressed with more than just discussions on kissing. Fortunately the sense of love the characters share for each other is palpable even if the bedroom door is only open a crack.
The Daring Marriages series is off to a wonderful start with If the Earl Only Knew. The sweet romance for Kate and John was quite satisfying yet there are enough unanswered questions left to keep a reader eager for the next instalment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Forester holds a PhD in psychology and worked many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance was way more fun. A Publishers Weekly Top Ten author, her books have been given starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews. Whether in the rugged Highlands of medieval Scotland or the decadent ballrooms of Regency England, her novels offer fast-paced adventures filled with wit, intrigue, and romance. You can visit her at www.amandaforester.com.