Publisher: Knox Robinson Publishing
Length: 302 pages
BLURB: Horatia’s plan to join the London literary set takes a dangerous turn. Now that the war with France has ended, Baron Guy Fortescue arrives in England to claim his inheritance. When Guy is set upon in London, a stranger, Lord Strathairn, rescues and befriends him. But while traveling to his country estate, Guy is again attacked. Guy suspects his relative, Eustace Fennimore, is behind the attacks on his life. Horatia refuses to believe her godfather, Eustace, is responsible. Secure in the knowledge that his daughter will finally wed, Horatia’s father allows her to visit her blue-stocking aunt in London. But Horatia’s time spent in London proves to be anything but a literary feast, for a dangerous foe plots Guy’s demise. She is determined to keep alive her handsome fiancé, who has proven more than willing to play the part of her lover even as he resists her attempts to save him.
She patted The General’s nose and fed him an apple. By the time the last of it had disappeared, she heard the clip of a horse’s hooves on the gravel drive. She peeped out of the barn door and saw the baron, tall in the saddle, riding towards the house.
Horatia stepped out and beckoned him. He caught sight of her and rode towards the stables then dismounted and led the horse inside.
“Sorry, my lord,” Horatia said, adopting Simon’s gruff voice. “We have no footman here. No under-groom neither. I’ll stable your horse.”
“Simon, good fellow,” he said warmly. “I came to thank you again. I am indebted to you.”
“No need for that, my lord,” she said. “Everything’s right and tight here as it happens.” She turned her back to lead his horse into one of the stalls. Seizing a brush, she bent and swept it over the horse’s flanks.
He came to rest an arm on the stall door. “I am relieved. If you had lost your job, I was going to ask you to work for me.”
She straightened to brush the horse’s back, confident of the poor light. “Mighty good of you, my lord. But not at all necessary.”
“Eh bien, merci encore.” He turned towards the door.
Relieved it had gone so well, Horatia stepped out from behind the horse. She looked up to see if he had gone and found him watching her with his arms folded.
The elation left her, and she took a deep, shaky breath.
“Did you really think you could go on fooling me?” A note of outrage lay beneath the humorous tone in his voice. “How many people around here have red hair like yours?”
“My hair’s not red,” she said, incensed. “It’s chestnut.”
“I wondered how far you would carry this ruse, Miss Cavendish.”
She backed into an empty stall as he strode towards her.
He followed her inside. Reaching over, he whipped off her hat, and her hair came loose and tumbled around her face. “So, what do you have to say in your defense?”
“Nothing, my lord.” Horatia lifted her chin, her heart pounding loud in her ears. She chewed her lip. She would have to brazen this out.
Annoyed blue eyes stared into hers. “I do not like to be toyed with. I thought there was something wrong with me.”
“Watching you bend over in those breeches. Zut! From the first, I felt a strong attraction to you. And then, when I saw you dressed as a woman, I understood.”
“You knew it was me at the dance?” She scowled. “And you deliberately teased me?”
“Don’t you think you deserved it?” He seized her shoulders and gave them a shake. “You tricked me. Why?”
She swallowed. “No trickery, my lord. I was dressed this way when I found you, if you recall. I needed to keep up the pretense.”
He shrugged. “But why do you dress like that?”
She couldn’t explain her restlessness to him and tossed her head. “I prefer to ride astride.”
He raised a brow. “You like a strong beast moving beneath you?”
She bristled at the insult. “I like to ride alone.” He made it sound as if she gained some sort of indecent enjoyment from the exercise. Her face heated. To ride astride was unfeminine, she knew, but that fact had never bothered her before.
“But to do so places you in peril.”
Horatia drew herself up. “I can handle myself as well as a man.”
“You believe that, do you?” His gaze flicked over her. What was he thinking? She quivered under his scrutiny.
“This is a dance with which I’m familiar,” the baron said, drawing her close in his arms. “We danced it in Paris long before it came to England.”
She supposed he considered England far behind Paris in most things fashionable. Finding herself pressed up against his hard chest produced the memory of how it looked unclothed. Her breath caught, and she wriggled within his arm. “We do not dance this close in England, my lord.”
He let her go in surprise then took up the pose again, leaving space between them. “Merci. I did not know. You have saved me from making a faux pas.”
She suspected he knew quite well, for the devilry in his eyes betrayed him. “You might learn by observing others, my lord,” she admonished him.
At least now she could breathe. But this was unlike the night they had spent together, when her disguise had protected her. Did he find her attractive?
She had no idea if his charm was merely part of his personality. It shouldn’t matter, for he would choose a bride from the aristocracy, but somehow it did.
His hand at her waist, guiding her, made her recall their time in the hut and his indecent revelations of lovemaking. Her breath quickened at the thought of such an act perpetrated by him on some woman, and even possibly her. His proximity and the strength and pure maleness of him overwhelmed her.
Breathing in the familiar woody Bergamot scent, intermingled with starched linen and soap, she closed her eyes, but that made her dizzy. After examining his masterfully tied cravat adorned with a sapphire pin the color of his eyes, she raised her eyes to his. “I have not seen a cravat tied in that way before. What is it called?”
He smiled down at her. “I believe it is called Trone d’Armour.” The style hailed from France most likely. He was different from the English in other ways too. The French had a disconcerting way of looking at someone. Was he the real Baron Fortescue or an impostor?
At least two hours had passed before Horatia guided the horse back towards the road. Distracted by her thoughts, she had ridden farther than she intended. A glance at the skies told her the storm bank was almost upon them.
They would have to take their chances and return by the road. She urged The General into a gallop.
They came to the road that led to Malforth Manor but were still some miles away. She would be lucky to reach home before the storm hit. She eased the horse into a trot as they approached a sharp bend in the road, the way ahead hidden by a stand of oaks. Once round the corner, she gasped and pulled the horse up hard.
A body lay in the road.
Highwaymen tried this ruse she’d heard. She edged her horse closer.
With a quick search of the landscape, she saw a horse disappear over a hill with its reins trailing. She dismounted and approached the man with caution. Barely a leaf stirred. It was oddly still, and the air seemed hushed and quiet as death before the coming storm. It matched her mood as she stood wondering what to do about the problem before her.
The man sprawled on his side. Judging by his clothes, he was a gentleman. Beneath his multi-caped greatcoat his brown coat revealed the skill of the tailor. His cream double-breasted waistcoat was of very fine silk. Long legs were encased in tight-fitting buff-colored suede pantaloons. His mud-splattered top boots showed evidence of loving care.
Horatia knelt beside him and grasped his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
When he didn’t answer, she struggled to roll him onto his back. A nasty gash trickled blood over his forehead where a bruise would surely form.
The man’s dark hair was sticky with blood. “Can you hear me, sir?” His eyelids fluttered. She shouldn’t stare at him while he remained unconscious, but she couldn’t draw her eyes away. He had remarkable cheekbones. His dark looks reminded her of Lord Byron. More rugged perhaps, but an undeniably handsome face, his skin more swarthy than one usually saw in an English winter. There was a dimple in his chin and a hint of shadow darkened his strong jaw line. She gingerly picked up his wrist and peeled back the soft leather glove, glad to find his pulse strong. An expensive gold watch had fallen from his pocket. So, he hadn’t been robbed. It must have been an accident. She looked around for some sign of what had happened but could see nothing.
A gust of chill wind made her shiver, and she glanced up at the sky. Ashgrey snow clouds now hovered overhead. “I have to move you, sir.”
Horatia stood and looked around. The road ran along the boundary of the Fortescue estate. Over the hill among the trees was a tiny hunting lodge.
She’d passed it many times when she roamed the woods, although she hadn’t been there for years. Her godfather, Eustace, lived for a part of the year in the Fortescue mansion, but it was some distance away and the snow had begun to fall.
It was by far the closest shelter, but trying to get the motionless man onto a horse unaided would be impossible. She sighed. That was not an option.
Horatia looked back at him. He was large, tall, and broad shouldered.
How on earth could she move him? And what would she do with him if she did? She looked up and down the deserted road with the hope that someone–preferably someone with big, strong arms–would appear to help her, and yet, she dreaded to be found in this invidious position. This was a quiet back road; most folk preferred the more direct route, so she couldn’t expect to be rescued soon.
She wondered if she should drag him under a tree and ride for help. As she considered this, the snow grew heavier. It settled over the ground and the prone man and touched her face like icy fingers. She couldn’t leave him out in the open, prey to the elements while she went for help. In bad weather it would take ages to ride to Digswell village. By the time she located the apothecary and brought him here, the man would be near death. Somehow she had to move him off the road and under shelter, although in the dead of winter, there was little to be had.
Horatia bent down, wrapped his limp arm around her shoulders, and caught a whiff of expensive bergamot. She took hold of his firm waist and tried to pull him towards the trees, but he was too heavy. She eased him down again.
Horatia pulled off her coat and shuddered at the cold. She tucked it around him. The snow had begun to fall in earnest, and worse, the prospect of a blizzard loomed. The wind gathered force. It stirred the tops of the trees around them and whipped the snowflakes into chaotic spirals of white.
Panic forced her to act. She took hold of the man’s arms and tried again to drag him. In small spurts she edged him closer to the scant shelter of the nearest tree, an oak whose dead leaves remained, curled and brown. Forced to pause, she took several deep breaths. He was quite a weight. She broke into a sweat despite the absence of her coat and the frigid air.
Horatia was severely winded and gasping by the time she reached the tree. It was a victory of sorts but afforded very little protection. She propped him against the trunk.
His eyelids rose. Startling pale blue eyes stared uncomprehendingly into hers.
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About the Author:
I am an Australian author with a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing. My lawyer husband and I live in a pretty, historical town in the Southern Highlands with our spoiled Persian cat, plus the assorted wildlife we feed: chickens wander in from next door and give us lovely eggs, ducks swim in our pool, parrots and possums line up for bananas and seed. I write historical romance, contemporary romantic suspense and young adult novels.
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This story takes place in the year 1816.
Guy Truesdale has come to claim something that rightfully belongs to him. He’s also known as Baron Fortescue. Horatia Cavendish has gone riding in a disguise. She loves the freedom that it affords her. Being a woman does not define who she is as a person.
In reading Maggi’s book, she made the best choice when she created Horatia. It’s a great way to start off the book when the lead female character has a mind of her own and goes against convention. She also lets her main male character let his lady love be herself. He doesn’t try to change her.
This book has a lot of passion between the two without having to add all the sex that some readers crave. I don’t think the book would have been as good. It would have taken away from all the mystery and intrigue that Maggi has included. That is what had me turning the page. I wanted to find out what was going on the same time that Horatia did.
There were other characters in this book, one being Guy’s sister Genevieve and his friend John. I’m hoping that Maggi will have a couple more stories that will let us in to what has happened to these two. I will keep my fingers crossed. In thinking who would make a good actor to play Guy I immediately thought of Gilles Marini. He’s got the accent and the looks too. And we all know that when it comes to the female character, we always put ourselves in her place – and who wouldn’t want to have Gilles Marini for their significant other.
When I looked this book up on Amazon.com it was nice to see that the paperback is “Temporarily out of stock”. That sounds like a good thing. I may have an e-reader but I still love to have a book where I can physically turn the pages and look at the great cover whenever I want to. If you’re looking for a great historical fiction that has some mystery, suspense, and just the right amount of romance, you will want to add this book to your library.
If you love to follow blogs, you may want to go to http://www.maggiandersenauthor.com/ and sign up for her newsletter. She has a book two of this series coming out titled Taming of a Gentleman Spy. I could not get any information but if you follow her I’m sure that she will give some hints as to what this next book will be about.
I received a copy of this book from BTS Tours in exchange for an honest review.