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THE MARRIAGE GAME
Night Owl Reviews: Desiring Lady Caro provides everything lovers of Regency romance crave in terms of setting and period details while providing a story that features danger, adventure, and a second chance at love.
Ella Quinn’s bachelors are clever, charismatic–and determined to remain single. Yet one by one, they find that fate–and certain irresistible women–cast doubt on even the best laid plans. . .
Haunted by her past, Lady Caroline Martindale fled England for the solace of her godmother’s palazzo in Venice. But if Caro was hoping to escape the charms of marriage-minded men, she’s come to the wrong place. And she’ll resort to extreme measures to spurn the advances of a dangerously determined Venetian marquis. . .
Though most of his friends have married off, Gervais, Earl of Huntley, remains bent on eluding the parson’s mousetrap. But his convictions begin to falter when he arrives in Venice and meets his match in the alluring Lady Caro. What began as a hastily concocted lie to save her from the marquis may become a chance for them both to relinquish their fear–and embrace what they can no longer deny. . .
End of June 1816, on the road back to London from Yorkshire
Gervais, Earl of Huntley, heir to the Marquis of Huntingdon, leaned back against the soft leather squabs of his traveling coach as it made its way along the Great North Road toward London. The previous day, he’d attended the wedding of his friend, Robert Beaumont. Huntley couldn’t believe that Beaumont, one of London’s foremost rakes, had fallen in love. If it could happen to him, no one was safe. In fact, Huntley’s friends were being caught in the parson’s mousetrap much too frequently for comfort.
Evesham, Rutherford, Marsh, and Worthington? All married. There must be some way to avoid their fate. Marriage meant dancing attendance on one’s wife, children demanding one’s attention, and getting into all sorts of trouble, not to mention the estate, a great rambling place, his father would foist on him, in Suffolk of all places. He shuddered.
No, marriage was not to be thought of, not until it was necessary for him to produce an heir. His stomach tightened at the thought of being caught in the quagmire of so-called “wedded bliss.” What was worse, married men thought others should join their club. He needed to get away from his friends and their influence immediately.
Tapping on the roof of the coach, he called to the coachman. “Spring ’em.”
The carriage moved faster, and the scene outside his window passed by swiftly but didn’t change over-much. Hedgerows and fields led to more hedgerows and fields.
He turned his attention to his friend William, Viscount Wivenly. “I’ll tell you, Will, my mother and older sister, Maud, are going to be impossible to live with now that Beaumont’s been riveted.”
Wivenly heaved a sigh and slouched down in the seat as if to hide. “I know what you mean. Mine won’t be any better. I think I’ll leave for a while.”
Huntley raised a brow. “Where? It’s too early for hunting.”
His friend’s lips pursed in concentration. “No, I mean, leave England. I’ve always wanted to travel, and now that the war’s over, that’s just what I’ll do.”
Travel was a good idea. He nodded. “Europe?”
Wivenly’s brow creased, and he got a faraway look in his eyes. “I think I’ll go to the West Indies. After listening to Marcus’s and Lady Marsh’s stories, I’ve a hankering to see turquoise water and half-dressed native women.”
Huntley straightened and uncrossed his legs. “The West Indies?”
If he mentioned going to the West Indies to his father, the old man would re-open the dungeon and have him chained there. That was a damnable part about being the heir; even at three and thirty, the old gentleman still had too much control over him. “Will your father let you?”
Rubbing his chin, Wivenly replied hopefully, “I think he might. We have some property there, and he’s still young enough not to worry about dying while I’m away. Always going on about me not having a Grand Tour.”
Huntley leaned back against the dark brown squabs. “I think I’ll go to the Continent. Germany, Austria, Italy. Practice some of the languages I learned. Italy’s got to be a damned sight warmer than it’s been here this year.” The thought percolated in his mind. “Got an aunt in Venice I haven’t seen for years. I hear Italian women are passionate.”
Will, who’d been looking out the window as if he could already see the ocean, turned back around. “Isn’t that Lady Horatia?”
Huntley glanced at his friend and frowned. “How the devil do you know that?”
Wivenly shrugged. “M’mother’s bosom friend. Heard your aunt caused your grandfather to have apoplexy.”
“Something was bound to, the way he went on about everything.” Huntley lapsed into silence, until Wivenly took out a deck of cards.
“Penny a suit?” Wivenly asked. “Don’t care to be fleeced by you before quarter day.”
Smiling, Huntley put down the folding table and picked up the cards Wivenly dealt. “I’d let you win some of it back.”
End of July 1816. Huntingdon Abbey.
As the last trunk was strapped to Huntley’s coach, his twelve-year-old sister, Ophelia, clasped her hands together.
“Oh, Huntley!” she cried. “Bandits will attack you, and you will be lost to us forever.”
“Good Lord, Lia, this isn’t Drury Lane.”
She dropped her arms. “I’d make a wonderful actress, just like Mrs. Siddons.”
“Huntley”—his mother’s mouth was set in a line, but her eyes danced—“watch your language. Lia, young ladies do not become actresses.”
Not willing to surrender, Lia retorted, “But I’d make our fortune.”
“Then marry a wealthy man,” Huntley retorted drily, then added before that idea could take root, “We are sufficiently well off that you have no need to worry.”
He had no idea from whom his sister inherited her excess of emotion. His mother was steady as a rock. This needed to be nipped in the bud. The actresses he was acquainted with might earn a great deal, but not on the stage.
Mama embraced him, kissed him lightly on the cheek, and smiled. “Have a good trip. I suppose we will not see you until spring.”
He jumped up into the coach. “Probably not. I’ll send word when I start my way back.”
Several days later he and Will had met up in London to make the trip to Dover together. Now, after a neat dinner, they sat in a private parlor with a decanter of brandy. Though he’d never admit it, he hadn’t been so excited about anything since he’d gone to Oxford. He’d finally get to see all the places he’d only read and heard about.
Wivenly dealt the cards. “What did your father say?”
Huntley grinned. “Made me promise not to bring back a wife.”
Giving a bark of laughter, Wivenly picked up his cards. “No chance of that. But I suppose you didn’t tell him.”
For Ella Quinn’s bachelors, courtship is all about gamesmanship, until the right woman shows them how much they have to learn…
Book #1, THE SEDUCTION OF LADY PHOEBE available all over in e-book and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in print.
“Lady Phoebe is a heroine Georgette Heyer would adore—plucky, pretty, and well worth the devotion of the dashing Lord Marcus. A marvelous find for Regency romance readers.” —Grace Burrowes, New York Times bestselling author
Polite society has its rules for marriage. But for Ella Quinn’s eligible bachelors, their brides will show them that rules are for the weak of heart…
Phoebe Stanhope is not a typical Lady. As feisty as she is quick witted, no one can catch her, especially when she is driving her dashing phaeton with its perfectly matched horses. And unlike her peers, experience has guarded her against a growing list of would-be suitors. But when she encounters Marcus Finley, what she fears most burns deep within his blue-eyed gaze…
For Lord Marcus, the spark of recognition is but a moment in the love he has held these many years. Now that he’s returned to England, all the happiness he desires rests on Lady Phoebe never finding out that he was the one who turned her heart so cold and distant. He must work fast to gain the advantage—to convince her what she wants is exactly what she denies—but in order to seduce her into his arms, he must be willing to give up more than he can control…
“A passionate tale full of humor, romance, and poignancy. Quinn writes classic Regency romance at its best!” —Shana Galen, author of If You Give a Rake a Ruby
Late June 1806, Worthington Hall, England
Lord Marcus Finley poured his third glass of brandy and strolled back to the library window. The sunlit terrace and lawn provided a stark contrast to the dim, wood paneled room in which he stood contemplating his bleak future and imminent banishment to the West Indies.
His gaze was drawn to the petite figure of Lady Phoebe Stanhope. The sun caught her reddish-blond curls, creating a halo effect as she laughed and played with the Worthingtons’ young girls. Simply seeing her joy eased some of his pain.
Everything about Lady Phoebe was perfect, from her curls and deep sky-blue eyes to her small feet and neatly turned ankle. There was a connection between them. He’d felt it. She was the only one who had tried to understand him. He wanted to marry her, but it seemed impossible now. Why had he met the only woman he’d ever want just days before he left?
He wondered what their children would have looked like. Another rush of anger swept through him, and he forcibly loosened the fingers he’d tightened around his glass.
“Marcus, there you are.”
He turned as his friend, Lord Mattheus Vivers, heir to the Earl of Worthington, strode toward him. Vivers was the only reason Marcus was at the house party.
His friend pointed at the brandy. “That’s not going to help, you know.”
Marcus stared at the glass for a moment, watching the sun catch the amber shades of the liquid before downing the drink. “I’m going to hell in any case. What does it matter how I do it?”
Vivers rubbed a hand over his face. “When was the last time you were completely sober?”
“When my father told me I was being banished—and to where.” Marcus turned back to the window, his anger consuming him. Even his brother, Arthur, hadn’t defended Marcus. That had been the worse betrayal.
Vivers joined him at the window. “What’s so interesting out there?”
Marcus went back to the view of Lady Phoebe. “My last unshattered dream.”
Vivers glanced out. “Lady Phoebe Stanhope? Give it up.”
Scowling, Marcus replied, “Why? I may be a second son, but I’m still eligible. Once I reach my majority, I have the inheritance from my mother’s aunt.”
His friend ran a hand through his hair, disordering its fashionable style. “Very well, I’ll list the reasons. You’re a minor and need your father’s consent to wed, the same father, by the way, who is banishing you to the West Indies before you embroil yourself in a scandal here that can’t be smoothed over. The most important is she is not yet out.”
Marcus’s stomach clenched as if he’d been punched. “What do you mean she’s not out?”
“Not. Out. Not old enough to be on the Marriage Mart,” Vivers enunciated clearly. “At twenty you’re five years too young yourself. Do you really imagine that her father would consent to you marrying her? Ladies marry at twenty, not gentlemen.”
Marcus shook his head, trying to clear it. Why was she at this house party then? Was this some joke fate was playing on him? Or was it more punishment? “How old is she?”
“I don’t really know,” his friend shrugged. “Sixteen or seventeen, maybe. She has a great deal of countenance, so it’s hard to be certain. It’s a shame you won’t be here when she does come out,” Vivers mused. “I don’t expect she’ll last long on the Marriage Mart.”
Marcus felt like he was dying. By the time he was five and twenty, she would be married and have children. “Perhaps Lady Phoebe would go with me to the West Indies. God knows I love her.”
“We’ll have dinner at the tavern and attend the cockfight,” Vivers said. “That will put you in a better frame of mind. She leaves early to-morrow. Better if you don’t see her.”
Marcus poured another glass, tossed it off. “There must be something I can do.”
He went to add more brandy to his glass, but Vivers snatched the tumbler from Marcus’s hand.
“You’ve had more than enough to drink. Good God, man. Get it through your head. You cannot marry her. Now go to your chamber, and sleep it off before you do something stupid.”
Vivers left, and Marcus went to follow. He wobbled a bit as he took a step.
Lady Phoebe was waving as she made her way to the house. He would intercept her and make his case. This was his last chance to win her. In nine days he’d be on a ship to the West Indies, but first he’d take her to Gretna Green.
Phoebe entered the house through a side door. She’d thought Lord Marcus would join them outside and wondered if he was off with Lord Vivers. Lord Marcus was so nice—no, better than nice—and handsome. Her stomach felt like it had butterflies whenever she thought of him. He’d touched her hand once and it tingled. She couldn’t even breathe when he was near, his presence filled her with such joy and her heart pounded when they spoke. Phoebe was sure she was in love. Nothing else could be so magical.
She hesitated, remembering what Lady Worthington had said. That Lord Marcus wasn’t at all the thing, and that he was being banished before he caused a large scandal. But if that was true, surely Phoebe would not have fallen in love with him. The only thing to do was to ask him about the rumors.
An hour later, dressed in a very pretty gown of sprig muslin, Phoebe made her way toward the drawing room, passing through the picture gallery. The afternoon sun lit one-half of the wide corridor. Long mullioned windows were flanked by red and gold brocade hangings and red velvet-covered benches sat against the outside wall.
Centuries of portraits of somber-faced Vivers hung on the inside paneled walls. As she approached the ancient, carved, double doors leading to the grand staircase, something moved. She stopped.
Lord Marcus staggered slightly as he strolled out from the corner. “I’ve been looking for you, my dear.” His words were slurred as if he was drunk.
Book #2, THE SECRET LIFE OF MISS ANNA MARSH available all over in e-book and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in print.
“Let yourself be seduced by this sexy mix of spies, smugglers, and happily ever afters.” ~ USA Today Bestselling Author Sally MacKenzie
Since she was a young girl, Anna Marsh has dreamed of Sebastian, Baron Rutherford asking for her hand in marriage. But that was in another life when her brother Harry was alive, before she vowed to secretly continue the work he valiantly died for. Now as Sebastian finally courts Anna, she must thwart his advances. Were he to discover her secret, he would never deem her a suitable wife…
Sebastian has always known Anna would become his wife someday. He expects few obstacles, but when she dissuades him at every turn he soon realizes there is much more to this intriguing woman. Somehow he must prove to her that they are meant to be together. But first he must unravel the seductive mystery that is Miss Anna Marsh…
October 23rd, 1814, London
Lord Florian Iswell, the fifth son of the Marquis of Wigmore, entered his rooms on Jermyn Street after eating dinner at his club in the convivial company of some old school friends. He spied a sealed letter propped up on the fireplace mantel.
His heart thudded painfully. It had been months since he’d seen his name in that bold scrawl. Gingerly, he reached out his trembling hand. Using two fingers, he plucked the missive up as if merely touching it might harm him, and broke the unadorned seal.
As he read the note, his stomach roiled. He should have never eaten the lobster patties.
My dear Florian,
Meet me at the Cock and Crow at eleven o’clock this evening. Do not, my friend, be late. We have matters of Great Urgency to discuss.
“Envill,” Florian bellowed to his valet, “when did this arrive?”
“About an hour ago, my lord.”
Florian shook the letter. “Why did you not send for me? I’ll barely make the meeting as it is.”
“I’m sorry, my lord. I told him you were out. He didn’t say it was urgent.”
Forty-five minutes later, dressed in a shabby brown frieze coat and well-used hat, Florian entered the dingy tap of the Whitecastle inn a few minutes before the appointed time. The pungent smell of unwashed bodies, gin, and ale made him wish he could hold his handkerchief to his nose.
He glanced around the room. A man, indistinguishable from the other patrons, sat in the far corner, nursing an ale. From this distance, he was very like Florian, not much above average height, medium brown hair, and a forgettable face, though in the man’s case, it was a ruse. Florian should have seen about killing Georges long ago.
Trying to maintain a casual appearance, Florian walked to the table and assumed a polite smile. “Georges, how are you?”
The man motioned to the chair opposite him. “I’m glad you could meet with me.”
After so many years in England, Georges’s French accent was almost nonexistent.
“I didn’t know I had a choice,” Florian said, dryly, eying the seat with disgust. Who knew what was on it.
The smile on the other man’s lips didn’t reach his dark eyes. “You did not. I merely thought to be pleasant.”
Florian ordered a tankard of ale and sat. “What’s all this about? I thought we were finished.”
“Yes? Many thought the same,” Georges said. “One must not underestimate the Corsican.”
Sweat broke out on Florian’s forehead. Napoleon? He was in exile on Elba. “I take it some small changes are expected?”
“How perceptive you always are.” Georges took a pull of his ale. “Then again, it runs in the family, does it not?”
“You would know.” Florian’s stomach clenched. Between the smells and the unwelcome news, he was starting to feel ill. “Tell me what I can do for you.”
Georges leaned forward and lowered his voice. “We need to bring in some rather large packages. Your part is to contact the sort of people who can be helpful to the endeavor.”
Tightening his lips into a thin line, Florian asked, “Do you have any particular area in mind?”
“We”—Georges grinned wickedly—“rather like the cliffs of Dover and farther east along the coast.”
Florian nodded. “I can’t go anywhere until the week’s end. I’ll contact you when I return.”
“My dear cousin.” Georges’s cold gaze bore through Florian. “I knew I could count on you.”
Only because of the mistake he’d once made in trusting the wrong people. “I want this to be over. If I get caught . . . the scandal.”
“You should have thought of that before.” Georges stood. “I shall await word from you.”
“Yes, of course.”
Georges left the tavern. Florian waited a few minutes before quitting the place himself.
Bile rose in Florian’s throat. He was to have been done with this. Where to find a smuggling gang? There was only one he knew of he might approach. What if they balked? No, they’d help bring the French spies in, or he’d threaten to expose them to the Home Office. He had too much at stake now to be caught. If his father found out, Florian would be cut off without a penny.
Despite what he’d told Georges, Florian decided to leave for Thanport tomorrow, after he made arrangements to rid himself of his demanding cousin.
October 25th, 1814, Marsh House, London
Miss Anna Marsh was in her parlor reading, when her maid, Lizzy, entered and held out a grubby piece of paper.
“Came from my brother, Kev, this morning,” Lizzy said.
Anna nodded, took the note, and opened it. She perused the contents, then closed her eyes. “I’m going to have to find a way to convince Mama to allow me to remove to Marsh Hill before the Little Season has ended. Though I cannot do anything until after Lady Phoebe’s wedding.”
“That bad, miss?” Her maid screwed up her face. “You might have a time of it. I heard Lady Marsh was planning to go to some country house next week.”
Anna sighed. Every since her brother Harry’s death, Mama had become difficult. “She probably expects me to go with her.” Anna shrugged. “Well, I cannot. Someone has been sniffing around Thanport. I don’t like the sound of it.” Anna rose and walked over to her mahogany writing desk. She opened a drawer. Eschewing the neat stack of elegant pressed paper, she pulled out a piece of the distinctly rougher type. “I’ll write Kev and tell him to lay low until I can get there.”
No information exchanged or meetings scheduled until I arrive.
She sealed the message and handed it to Lizzy. “Make sure this goes out today, even if you have to take it yourself.”
Anna pinched her upper nose. “I do hope this is not going to make our lives even more complicated.”
“What do you think that other man wants?” Lizzy asked.
“I wish I did.” Anna shook her head. “But I have a feeling whatever it is will do us no good. I’m going to Mama and try to talk her around. I do wish she and Papa could settle their differences.”
Lizzy nodded. “It does make things a bit more difficult.”
“That it does.” Anna smiled grimly.
THE TEMPTATION OF LADY SERENA ~ Book #3 in The Marriage Game
“Supported by a wonderful cast of characters, Quinn’s thoughtfully drawn lovers teach each other the value of love in this delicious Regency treat.” ~ New York Times Bestselling author Eileen Dreyer
Releases January 2, 2014
Ella Quinn’s bachelors in The Marriage Game series are charming and cunning when it comes to the ways of love—until the right woman captures their unsuspecting hearts…
Custom-made gowns…nights at the theater…and a host of eligible bachelors. Accustomed to living a quiet life in the Scottish Borderlands, Lady Serena Weir has never had any of these luxuries. But when Serena’s brother demands she finally have a Season in London, she’s thrust into a glamorous world she’s only dreamed of…
Robert, Viscount Beaumont remembers all too well what it feels like to be in love. That is why he must keep his distance from Serena. He’s only felt his pulse stir the way it does now when he made the mistake of loving the wrong woman once before. Yet the more he strives to resist his feelings, the nearer he is to falling under Serena’s seductive charms…
1816, Scottish Borders region
The Earl of Weir scowled. “Damn it, Serena, you can’t back out now. Not after the plans have been made. If you don’t go to London who will you marry? What do you have left here?”
Lady Serena Weir stared out the solar’s window, studying the bleak late February landscape. Snow covered the ground, more gray than white; the trees lifeless and black against the gloom. She glanced over her shoulder at her brother, James. “I could marry Cameron.”
“Do you even care for him more than moderately?”
her way, Serena would not be there to see it.
James snorted with derision. “Cameron likes your dowry. Mattie has made all the plans. She assures me you’ll have a wonderful time.”
Serena pressed her lips tightly together. The plans, he’d said, as if they had taken on a life. The plans for her to go to London for her first Season at six and twenty years of age. A little old to be making a come out. The plans meant she would leave her home. The place she had been born and raised and never before left. Tears pricked her eyelids. She would not cry. Not in front of James. If a London Season was such a good idea, why hadn’t he sold out of the army after their father died, when she was still young? Instead, he’d left her here to manage the estate while he remained on Wellington’s staff.
James returned shortly before Christmas, with his bride, Madeleine—Mattie, as she liked to be called—and Serena’s ordered life was thrown into turmoil. She no longer knew what her future held.
Despite her warm cashmere dress and woolen shawl, Serena shivered. No matter how many fires were lit, Vere was always cold and damp, even in the solar, the warmest room in the castle. London would probably be warmer. That might be a good reason to go.
James teased her in the local dialect. “Serena, lass . . .”
She bit her lip. “James Weir, I know you did not speak Scots with Wellington.”
“Please, Sissy?” her brother said, reverting to his childhood name for her. “Stop looking out the window and talk to me.”
Serena sighed, but turned. Her brother was tall with dark brown hair, like their mother’s, whereas she had her father’s auburn curls. She’d known he would marry, but it never occurred to her he would bring a wife home with him. Or that Serena would be forced to leave.
Serena fought her sudden panic, but there truly was nothing here for her anymore. “Fine. I’ll go.”
“Good girl!” He smiled. “I’ll tell Mattie it’s settled.”
James gave Serena a peck on the cheek and strode out the door.
“Do. Go tell Mattie,” Serena muttered in frustration. What didn’t he tell Mattie?
London was Mattie’s idea to rid herself of her unwanted sister-in-law. Serena had been presented with the plans au fait accompli. Somehow, she would have to make the best of it.