The Earl, the Vow, and the Plain Jane

The second installment in Cheryl Bolen’s Lords of Eton series finds Jack St. John, known to his friends as Sinjin, elevated to the title Earl of Slade. Lord Slade has enthusiastically taken his place in the House of Lords as a Whig, and has made a success of his public life, but his personal life is something else. The family coffers are lower than low, and Slade has three sisters to present and dower, and a crumbling ancestral home, not to mention the promise he made to his dying father. He’s leased out the family’s London house and rented rooms for himself, but he can’t even afford to keep a carriage. It seems the only solution must be to marry an heiress. A very wealthy heiress.

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The Earl the Vow the Plain JaneMiss Jane Featherstone has long felt a tender admiration for Lord Slade, but she and her father, a leading Whig in the House of Commons, are poor as the proverbial church mice, and Jane believes herself to be hopelessly plain. Her cousin and dearest friend, Lady Sarah Bertram, however, is beautiful, extremely wealthy, and about to be presented to society.

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Small wonder Lord Slade should focus his interest on Lady Sarah.

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As if that weren’t distressing enough to Jane, Slade proceeds to ask for her help in courting her cousin.

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Heartbroken in spite of her conviction that a poor plain Jane could never be the wife of an earl, Jane agrees to help, on the condition that Slade refrain from offering for Lady Sarah until he can honestly say that he loves her.

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As Slade finds himself in competition with the many young men swarming around the gorgeous Lady Sarah, he spends more time than he should with Jane, with whom he shares many political and intellectual interests, while Sarah seems rather taken with Slade’s younger brother, Captain David St. John. And Jane finds herself seriously considering the worth of a successful businessman and would-be politician, Mr. Cecil Poppinbotham.

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Add an inside look at period electioneering, an amusing cast of supporting players, and the support of Slade’s long-time friends Harry and Alex, and you have another entertaining tale of life, love, and politics under the Regency.

 

The Portrait of Lady Wycliff

Cheryl Bolen begins a new series (The Lords of Eton) with The Portrait of Lady Wycliff, the story of Harry Blassingame, the Earl of Wycliff, as he searches for the missing portrait of his late mother. Harry has spent the last eight years restoring the family fortunes lost by his late father, a decent man sorely lacking in ability as a gambler. Harry would prefer to keep his own counsel as to exactly how he has refilled the Wycliff coffers, but it wasn’t through gambling. Well, not exactly, anyway.

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The Portrait of Lady WycliffThe last property on Harry’s list is the London house on Grosvenor Square, now in the possession of a young widow, Louisa Phillips. Surely it won’t be difficult to convince her to sell.

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Louisa holds no admiration for the aristocracy, and no grief over the loss of her much older and unloved husband, who bought her from her unscrupulous father when she was fifteen years old. In fact, she holds very little admiration for men in general. She prefers to be an independent woman, with a secret of her own.

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But, she discovers to her great distress, she can’t sell the house to Harry because she doesn’t own it. How will she and her younger sister Ellie manage now?

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Against her better judgment, Louisa teams up with Harry to peel an onion of mysteries: Who is the shadowy “benefactor” who actually owns the house and apparently owned Louisa’s husband, too? Did Phillips and his secret backer deliberately set out to ruin the Wycliff family? And what has become of the missing portrait of Lady Wycliff, which should have been hanging in the Grosvenor Square house?

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Louisa and Harry set off on a wild tour of Cornwall in search of answers, posing as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and (definitely against Louisa’s better judgment) sharing rooms—and, chastely, beds—in country inns along the way, fighting their growing admiration for each other, convinced an aristocrat and a bluestocking have no future together.

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Will they find the benefactor? The portrait? The answers? True love? Well, this is a romance, of course, but the road to Happily Ever After is always an adventure. In this case, a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, populated with charming characters—Louisa’s sister Ellie and Harry’s cousin Edward have a few adventures of their own—and the always interesting background of Regency England.

 

A Country Mouse in London

The fourth installment in Cheryl Bolen’s Brazen Brides series, Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure, begins with Miss Emma Hastings’ arrival in London.

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Miss HastingsEmma has never met her Uncle Simon, but they have corresponded for years, and he wants her to join him in the Ceylon Tea Company, of which he is a proprietor. She’s eager to accept his offer, to escape her sheltered life with an elderly aunt in Upper Barrington, and to see London. In all her twenty years, she’s never had such an adventure.

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But when she steps off the mail coach at the George Tavern, it’s raining, she has no money, she’s burdened with an enormous portmanteau containing all her possessions, and the uncle who has invited her to live with him is nowhere in sight.

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Emma is a very determined young woman, if perhaps not as cautious as she should be, so she sets off on foot to find her uncle’s house on Curzon Street. She arrives, soaking wet and exhausted, in front of a dark, clearly unoccupied house. This adventure is not going well.

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But along comes the neighbor, clearly drunk, but with a kindly air about him, offering help.

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Adam Birmingham has been drowning his sorrows. His mistress, a beautiful opera singer named Maria, has run off with—and married!—an Italian Count. Surely she was The One, and he will never find another woman to love, never have a happy marriage like his brothers, Nicholas (His Golden Ring) and William (Oh What a (Wedding) Night).

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Soused as he is, Adam invites Emma to spend the night in his house. As if that weren’t improper enough, he falls asleep on the chaise in her bed chamber! After hearing her story the next morning, Adam sees a new project for himself: If he’s doomed to be miserable, why not make someone else happy? Why not take care of this poor little country girl he found standing alone in front of the house next door? And since he’s already compromised her reputation, why not offer her a marriage of convenience?

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Emma the country mouse and Adam the wealthy bachelor are an unlikely match, but together they set out to solve the mystery of Uncle Simon’s fate. As they investigate, they also come to suspect that a marriage of convenience might not be so convenient after all.

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As always, Bolen gives the reader a delightful look at Regency London, this time from the wide-eyed viewpoint of a respectable but not at all aristocratic young lady from the countryside. Along the way Emma holds her own, meeting characters from Bolen’s earlier books and making a place for herself in their world.

Cheryl Bolen: Ex-Spinster By Christmas

Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday gift for fans of Cheryl Bolen’s House of Haverstock Regency romance series, bringing siblings, in-laws, grandmothers, and babies from the Upton and Ponsby families together for Christmas at the country estate of the Duke of Aldridge.

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ex-spinster-by-christmasBut all is not holiday cheer for everyone. Lady Caroline Ponsby, the Duke’s sister, has had her fill of being a spinster. It’s not that she hasn’t had suitors—eleven men have offered for her since she came out into society—but the only man she cares for is Christopher Perry. Unfortunately, for all his affection, he seems averse to marriage and has never proposed. Caro is convinced that he never will. She wants a home of her own, and a baby. In short, she needs a husband, and she sets her sights on Lord Brockton, a handsome rake with an impressive home and a bad reputation.

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Christopher Perry has been madly in love with Caro since the day he met her, but he doesn’t believe himself worthy of a duke’s daughter. He’s immensely wealthy, but his money came from trade, and, even worse, his great-grandfather was a Jewish jeweler. How can he ask a lady like Caroline to marry so far beneath herself?

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When Christopher learns that Brockton is courting Caroline, and that the notorious rake has been invited to the family’s country home for Christmas, he is devastated. When his mother and sisters abandon him to attend another sister’s delivery, Christopher decides to take up his own invitation to the country, determined to prevent Caroline from making a terrible mistake.

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When the country Christmas holiday turns out to be far more eventful than anyone expected, true colors are revealed. Will there be a happy ending for Caro and Christopher? Well, this is a Christmas romance, after all.

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Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday treat for Regency readers, and especially for lovers of the House of Haverstock stories, who will be happy to reconnect with so many members of the extended family.

After Pride and Prejudice

I have a confession to make. I am not a Jane Austen Fan. (Some of my romance writer friends will consider this blasphemy.) I haven’t read a word of Austen since I was in high school, several decades ago. Back then I had a matched set of paperbacks, and I remember the covers (oval pictures surrounded by green vines on a white background) better than I do the contents, although I know I read all four. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility (never made sense of the title), Emma, and . . . what was that other one? Oh, yes, Mansfield Park. No idea what that one was about. Heck, I haven’t even watched the numerous movie and TV versions. Think I might have seen some version of Emma. Maybe.

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I think I’m in the minority on this. Some of my friends love the books, some love the movies (especially Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), some love both. Not many, like me, don’t much care. Somewhere in the house I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve never gotten past the first couple of pages. (I think I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on my old Kindle, but I never opened it.)

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Many Austen lovers have tried their hand (or keyboard) at Austen sequels and variations (mostly, as far as I know, based on Pride and Prejudice), an enterprise made possible by the growth of independent publishing, but I haven’t been swept into that phenomenon, either.

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So when I read Cheryl Bolen’s three post-Pride and Prejudice novellas, I was diving in cold. I recognized the Darcys and the Bennets (I haven’t actually been living in a cave all these years), but the supporting characters—which were Austen’s? which were Bolen’s?—were a mystery. But I enjoyed the stories very much.

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Pride & Prejudice Sequels

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Miss Darcy’s New Companion is Lucy Wetherspoon, who takes the position as Elizabeth and Darcy leave for their continental honeymoon. Lucy is a spinster without a fortune; the Darcys’ neighbor, Lord Fane, is a bachelor in need of a fortune with which to restore his own family’s home. Perhaps Georgiana’s dowry will do the trick—until he meets Lucy.

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In Miss Darcy’s Secret Love, Georgiana is wooed by a highly eligible bachelor, the Earl of Hampton (that thirty-thousand pound dowry might just have something to do with his interest), and she believes such a marriage would please her brother. But she can’t forget her feelings for her childhood friend Robert Carrington, who has recently come home to ask his brother for permission to marry a woman he met in Spain.

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Domineering mother Lady Catherine de Bourgh unwittingly arranges The Liberation of Miss de Bourgh when she arranges a marriage for her sickly daughter Anne. Charles St. John, the cash-strapped Earl of Seaton, needs the wherewithal to launch his sisters into society, so he agrees to a marriage of convenience with Anne, who isn’t expected to live past Christmas, in exchange for becoming the heir to the de Bourgh fortune. But when he takes Anne away from her mother, everything changes.

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If you’re a Jane Austen devotee, you’ll find much to appreciate in these novellas. If not (like me), you’ll still find much to enjoy, sweet romance with social commentary and humor.

Cheryl Bolen: Oh, What a (Wedding) Night

Cheryl Bolen’s latest Regency romance, Oh What a (Wedding) Night, the third in her Brazen Brides series, features mistaken identity, smuggling, and blackmail. Perfect setting for romance, right?

Oh What a Wedding NightLady Sophia Beresford has realized, just a bit too late, that she never should have married Lord Finkel, not even to save her younger sister’s reputation. So she climbs out the boudoir window, her timid maid in tow, and escapes, leaving Finkel in a state of . . . anticipation.

Desperate for shelter at a crowded coaching inn, and pursued by Finkel’s armed servants, Sophia approaches the only well-dressed traveler in sight, and boldly announces that she’s been searching for him.

William Birmingham, the youngest of the wealthy Birmingham brothers we met in One Golden Ring, is not as startled by this claim as one might expect, since he is at the inn to meet a beautiful woman called Isadore, who wishes to sell him eighty thousand pounds of smuggled gold bullion.

Although she has no idea who (or what) Isadore might be, Sophia takes on the role, passing off her maid as her conveniently mute older sister, and traveling back to London with William. As she slowly puts the pieces together and finds ways to stall on the delivery of the gold, she finds herself regretting that ill-timed marriage more with every moment she spends with William. Surely this man was meant to be the love of her life, but it’s too late.

In order to hide from Finkel, Sophia must remain secluded in William’s house on Grosvenor Square, where the real Isadore, and the gold, may show up at any time. Her pretense becomes even more complicated as William learns more about Isadore, and Finkel learns more about Sophia.

To tell more would spoil the surprises Bolen lays out for her characters and for her readers.

Oh What a (Wedding) Night is another most enjoyable tale of the members of Bolen’s many interconnected families.

Cheryl Bolen’s One Golden Ring

In One Golden Ring, Cheryl Bolen visits one of her favorite situations, the marriage of convenience. When Lady Fiona Hollingsworth learns that her brother is being held for ransom by Spanish bandits, she decides that the only collateral she has with which to raise 25,000 pounds is herself, and her status as the daughter of an earl. Even though her late father left a near-worthless estate to her missing brother, she knows her own value as a member of the ton. So she approaches extremely wealthy businessman Nicholas Birmingham, offering marriage and social standing in exchange for her brother’s ransom.

One Golden RingAt first thought, Nick Birmingham rejects the idea of marriage, although he is willing to loan, or even give, the ransom to the lovely Lady Fiona. Known as the Fox of the Exchange, Nick spends his days making money and his nights with ladies who are not Ladies. But when his brother Adam tells him he’s a fool to reject the marriage, Nick begins to realize just how attracted he is to Fiona, and accepts her offer.

Fiona and Nick are each cautiously pleased to find how well they get along, in the bed chamber as well as in the drawing room. But convenience does not equal confidence, and both have their reservations. Fiona believes that Nick has married her only for her social status (that was the agreement, after all), and knows about his recent mistress. Is her husband still seeing the pretty actress? And why won’t Nick discuss his business activities with her?

Nick believes Fiona has married him only for his money (that agreement, again), and that she is still in love with the earl to whom she was once engaged, before he married another woman (in Bolen’s The Counterfeit Countess).

Tensions build over differences in social standing as well as more practical matters. Can Fiona accept Nick’s young illegitimate daughter? Will her snobbish brother forgive her for marrying the businessman who provided his ransom? Can Nick rescue his own brother from peril? And what will happen when Nick’s shy sister discovers the true identity of the man she’s met in the park?

Bolen pulls all the threads together in a delightful story of two people who are just a little too restrained to admit to their unexpected love for one another, so obvious to all those around them, in a most enjoyable Regency romance.

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