Two from Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl Bolen brings us two charming Regency romances this season, Once Upon a Time in Bath, and A Proposal of Marriage.

When wide-eyed country girl Dorothea Pankhurst arrives in Bath with her four cats and her widowed father, she has few plans beyond convincing Mr. Pankhurst that the waters may improve his health. Mr. Pankhurst, however, harbors thoughts of launching his only child into society. Neither of them expect that Dot, who considers herself rather plain, and definitely out of touch with current fashion, will attract a titled suitor.

When Viscount Appleton strikes up an acquaintance with Dot on the street (aided by one of her cats), it’s not the coincidence it appears to be. For Mr. Pankhurst is a very wealthy man, and Dot is his only heiress—and Appleton is in dire need of an heiress’s dowry to rescue his family fortunes.

Appleton is not entirely sure what happened that night at Mrs. Starr’s gaming establishment, only that before the night was over he had bet—and lost—nearly everything he owned. Even worse, his enemy Henry Wolf now holds the IOUs. To save his family fortune—and to save his sister Annie from marriage to Wolf—Appleton needs to marry an heiress, and fast.

Appleton is sure he doesn’t love Miss Pankhurst, although he finds her increasingly interesting (in spite of the cats), while Dot worries that Lord Appleton is only interested in her dowry (and worse than that, she knows, thanks to the gossipy Bath Chronicle, that he keeps a mistress).

When the two unlikely partners team up to solve a murder mystery, they begin to realize how much they truly have in common.

Once Upon a Time in Bath will delight Bolen’s longtime fans with visits from several characters from her previous books, but first time readers will have no problems jumping in.

In A Proposal of Marriage, Rebecca Peabody is a woman with a mission. Bespectacled, American born, and the 20-year-old younger sister of the Countess of Warwick, she feels every restriction placed upon young unmarried women in Regency London. No one knows that she has a secret career as the essayist P. Corpus, and she means to keep it that way. How better than to marry someone who will free her from those restrictions and let her live her own life.

She sets her sights on John Compton, the Earl of Aynsley, a 43-year-old widower with seven children and estates in Shropshire. Surely such a man could use a wife with organizational skills (Rebecca once cataloged the largest private library in Britain) to manage his household, without expecting much in the way of those unpleasant physical intimacies Rebecca has only heard about. And one day she marches right into his London house and proposes a marriage of convenience.

Aynsley, a good-hearted soul, lets this strange (but clearly intelligent and passionate) young woman down as gently as he can. It’s only after she leaves his house that he associates the name Peabody with P. Corpus, an essayist he reads faithfully in the Edinburgh Review and greatly admires. Intelligent indeed, and rather pretty, and so very young . . .

It doesn’t take long for Aynsley to realize this marriage might be a really good idea, and a solution to several problems. Before she can quite realize what she’s gotten herself into, Rebecca is the new Countess of Aynsley (despite her American dislike of titles), settling into Aynsley’s Shropshire estates.

Only four of Aynsley’s children remain at home, but they are indeed a handful. Spencer, age 8, Alex, age 6, and Chuckie, age 3, miss having a mother and welcome Rebecca (although that doesn’t stop some creative misbehavior), but 18-year-old Emily, losing her place as mistress of the house, is another matter entirely.

Throw in a slightly deaf uncle who likes to garden in the nude, a moon-struck cousin who won’t find steady work because he can’t bear to be away from Emily, and that portrait of the previous countess hanging over the dining room table, and Rebecca has almost more than she can deal with. And then she realizes that she’s falling in love with her husband.

A Proposal of Marriage combines humor, politics, likeable characters, and growing romance into a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

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