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When a bridal contract is struck, either parental outrage will void the arrangement or the love of a child will sweeten the deal.
Oliver Darrington—Viscount Tralsburg—wants nothing more than to hide out at the family property in Brighton until he can secure a sea-worthy ship and return to adventuring the world. However, being handed his former mistress’ child isn’t part of that plan. Neither is the sudden longing for his pretty Italian neighbor.
Eloisa Hawthorne is in dire straits. Her older brother has gambled away her sister’s hand to a horrible man. In order to save her sister’s virtue and her future, Eloisa needs a fast fortune—or someone who can immediately cover the debt. When her handsome neighbor offers a temporary engagement contract, she accepts with alacrity. Too bad she fell in love with his dark-haired offspring. How scandalous!
When the two attend his mother’s London dinner party, Oliver wishes the union wasn’t merely a lark. Eloisa fears for the adorable child’s upbringing in heathen locales, but what can she do? The contract is only for a month, and love was never an option. Something must be done to throw over convention before the moment is lost and matters of the heart are sacrificed.
mischief and devilish entertainment. Her stomach trembled. “What happened?”
“Calm yourself. Nothing untoward has occurred,” Oliver stated as he came forward.
“Come and sit with me a moment. I believe I have the answer to your sister’s unfortunate problem. At the same time you can help me.”
“Oh?” Her heartbeat rushed hard through her veins. She followed him to the settee then handed Daniela the doll before seating herself. Oliver rested beside her, entirely too close. His leg nearly touched hers. “I’m anxious to hear.”
“First, have you saved your sister from her fate yet?” His expression suggested she couldn’t have achieved such a goal by herself.
She quelled the urge to make a face. Of course she couldn’t save her sister. Drat the man for knowing her too well. “No. I did meet with Lord Everly this morning, but beyond Charles suddenly procuring an indecent amount of funds within a few weeks, he’s unwilling to release Helen from my brother’s promise.” Saying it out loud made the predicament all too real. Her stomach churned. She blinked away the tears stinging her eyes. “I can’t help but think I’ve failed her.”
“Then what I have to say will put you to rights again.” Oliver’s grin widened. “I’m aware this will come as a shock, but as we’re both in mutual need and time is of the essence, this is the best solution.”
“Yes, and?” Why wouldn’t he just get to it? Awareness raced over her skin. The heat of his body seeped into hers. It would have been pleasant had she not been in such a brown study.
“Miss Hawthorne, will you marry me?” Amusement danced in his blue eyes.
“I… I beg your pardon?” Flutters filled her belly and her pulse grew erratic. She stared at him, feeling very much the simpleton. “Did I hear you correctly?” He must be mad to propose. She forced down a swallow. “Are you quite well?” She’d had only one other proposal, and that had come from Peter on the night she’d given herself to him before he left to fight for England. His proposal hadn’t made her head swim or made tingles to play her spine. His proposal had been nice, and gentle and comfortable, almost expected since they’d courted for years before that.
“Hear me out.” Oliver turned to her and his knee crashed into hers. A jolt of sensation sprang up her leg and embedded itself between her thighs. “It’s maddening when you look at it on the surface. However, I can secure the coin you’ll need to free your sister.”
Her jaw hung open. She closed it with a snap as her eyebrows rose. “What…?” She trailed off, scarcely knowing what question to ask from the many clouding her brain. “What do you gain from the bargain?” It was a good inquiry as any.
She nodded. “If this will be a strictly business arrangement, for I think that would be the best policy.” Though how crass it was to throw an engagement into a business proposition.
“My mother is good at one thing: bedeviling her children into marriage. She’ll stop at nothing until we’re all wed and have begun propagating the species. Probably won’t quit nagging even then until we’ve produced a handful of brats. One or two won’t be enough
for her.” A trace of bitterness infused the words. “So, what I gain is the temporary reprieve from my mother’s machinations. For all intents and purposes, you and I will enter into an engagement.”
Publisher and Release Date: New Independence Books, September 2014
Time and Setting: 1815, Brighton and London
Genre: Historical romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
The popular saying, “life happens while you’re busy making plans” comes to mind with this charming and romantic story.
Oliver Darrington, a sea-loving man and captain, has been awarded the courtesy title of Viscount Tralsburg as well as the means to buy his own ship for heroism in the Napoleonic Wars. He’s a second son, the brother to a duke, whose happy ending is told in a previous story in the Darrington Family novella series, but this one can be read on its own.
Oliver is back in London briefly, making plans to return to sea when a little girl who may or may not be his by-blow appears out of the blue on his doorstep. Oliver is a happy-go-lucky guy, a “freedom-loving soul,” who wants no responsibility to anyone save himself. He dislikes conflict and drama of any kind, most of which make up daily family life, and is the main reason he has stayed away from England for years and why he longs to return to sea.
Eloisa Hawthorne is a sensible, no-nonsense lady, quite attractive but firmly on the shelf at the age of twenty-nine after her fiancé, Peter, died in the wars. She also made an unreasonable promise to Peter that she would never again fall in love and attach herself to another man, so she has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood.
Eloisa’s younger sister, Helen, has been promised to the loathsome Lord Everly to satisfy gambling debts incurred by their reckless and thoughtless brother, Charles. Eloisa and Helen represent the fate of women during this time in history; they have no choice but to marry to survive as they are at the whim of the men in their lives whose duty it is – or it should be – to protect them.
Eloisa and Oliver are neighbors and they meet when she overhears a child crying loudly. So she marches right next door and takes charge of the situation. She enjoys solving others’ problems so that she can have peace of mind. However, while she manages her life quite well, she sometimes longs to be taken care of when life overwhelms her.
At first, Oliver is embarrassed because he wants to make a good impression on this pretty though officious stranger. He is attracted to her and he also admires her endearment to Daniela but, dash it, he is leaving for adventure on his ship soon. He wants to leave. Really, he does! But Eloisa causes him to think long and hard about this decision.
They strike a bargain, a bridal contract, a temporary and faux engagement. Eloisa will have the funds to pay off Lord Everly (and thus hopefully discourage his pursuit of her sister) and he’ll get his mother off his back and stop her constantly nagging him to wed. Eloisa is the ideal candidate because she has no money or title and his mother is sure to disapprove. The appearance of a possible love child is just the icing on the cake.
Eloisa is attracted to Oliver but his willingness to take responsibility and feel affection for Daniela are what truly win her heart. She also loves that he graciously helps her with her sister’s dilemma. He enjoys conversing with Eloisa and he finds her smart and funny, too.
But while their romance creates sexual tension, there is a little too much talking that comes across awkwardly in the one big love scene.
Some nicely depicted and subtle descriptions reveal the less than glossy shine in Eloisa’s family home: for example, a “faded pink, crushed velvet settee” and a “shabby Oriental rug.” And the occasional use of slang of the period adds a casual and humorous touch to this lighthearted story: “Botheration” and “bacon for brains.”
The author helpfully warns readers to suspend their disbelief before reading her story as she takes many liberties with social strictures and the open and direct manner of many of the characters. I enjoy reading any background extras provided for historical context or reasons behind the creative process. Sookoo prepares more historically purist readers to avoid disappointment. I don’t mind modernisms in the least – Maya Rodale is one author who does this often, with delightful results – but others may not like it.
A few spelling errors – curtesy instead of courtesy, insure instead of ensure – are evident to this grammar-conscious reader but aren’t too distracting.
Overall the story flows well, the characters are likeable and quirky, and the romance very enjoyable in this light, short read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandra is a writer of romantic fiction. In the past couple of years she’s concentrated on funny contemporary romance as well as Regency-era romance, but she will, on occasion, write paranormal or sci-fi. Whether you like sweet or erotic heat levels, there’s something for everyone to fall in love with.
She’s also a hybrid author, choosing to publish both with small presses and doing the indie thing. Offered representation in February 2014 by Scott Eagan at Greyhaus Literary Agency for Victorian-era historical romances, Sandra’s been hard at work researching, planning and writing a new series. When not immersed in creating new worlds and engaging characters, Sandra likes to read, bake, taste new teas, watch The Big Bang Theory and Psych as well as Finding Bigfoot, and travel. Her favorite place to spend vacation hours is Walt Disney World: it’s where dreams come true and the soul can play. When she’s not writing or inventing new recipes, she spends time with her husband—goofing off and making moments count. Life’s too short to be serious all the time.