By Vanessa Kelly
Despite being the illegitimate daughter of a prince, Gillian Dryden is happily ignorant of all social graces. After growing up wild in Italy, Gillian has been ordered home to England to find a suitable husband. And Charles Valentine Penley, the excessively proper, distractingly handsome Duke of Leverton, has agreed to help transform her from a willful tomboy to a blushing debutante.
Powerful and sophisticated, Charles can make or break reputations with a well-placed word. But his new protégée, with her habit of hunting bandits and punching earls, is a walking scandal. The ton is aghast . . . but Charles is thoroughly intrigued. Tasked with taking the hoyden in hand, he longs to take her in his arms instead. Can such an outrageous attraction possibly lead to a fairytale ending?
The book features one of my favourite heros of all time: Charles is just fantastic and the perfect counterpart to lively Gillian. I enjoyed their banter and discovering the different facets of their characters.
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Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her current series, The Renegade Royals is a national bestseller. Vanessa also writes USA Today bestselling contemporary romance with her husband, under the pen name of VK Sykes.
Author Links: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
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“Well, the girl needs someone to look out for her,” Griffin said. “She’s too bloody reckless. It’s only a matter of time before she triggers a full-blown scandal that will sink her reputation for good.”
“Charles, if you don’t come to our aid, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Aunt Lucy said, sounding rather desperate.
He wanted to say no, but . . .
A Penley always does the right thing.
His father’s voice echoed in his head. Charles felt sure, however, that the old man had not envisioned this particular situation. Still, Aunt Lucy and even the mysterious Gillian were family.
“Perhaps you’d better tell me everything,” he said.
As Aunt Lucy talked, Charles experienced a growing consternation. To say that Miss Dryden was a catalogue of social disasters was a massive understatement. In addition to threatening the dancing master, she’d gone riding by herself in Green Park, strolled past White’s in the middle of the afternoon—again, by herself—and inadvertently insulted an ancient and very distinguished marquess at the one small party her family had dared take her to.
Apparently, that was just the beginning.
“For God’s sake, Aunt Lucy,” he broke in, “even I cannot groom a savage. What were you thinking to bring her here in the first place?”
Steele leaned forward, his gaze turning flat and cold. “Careful, Your Grace, or you’re likely to end up with my blade between your ribs.”
“Oh, please,” Charles said in a dismissive voice.
“I brought her to England to save her life,” Aunt Lucy said. “She may not be up to your exacting standards, Charles, but I could not let her die at the hands of ruthless brigands. That would surely have been her fate if we’d stayed in Sicily.”
“Ah, yes,” he said. “About those bandits. Why the devil—”
His aunt shook her head and came to her feet. Charles and Steele quickly rose in response.
“Forgive me for wasting your time, Your Grace,” she said with a resigned dignity. “I see now it was too much to ask of you. I only ask that you keep these matters private for Gillian’s sake.”
Mentally sighing, Charles took her hand. “No, Aunt, it is I who must ask your forgiveness. My manners indeed went begging, and I am sorry for it. Let us just say that I was surprised into forgetting myself.”
She eyed him, looking doubtful, troubled, and weary.
“But there’s one thing I still don’t understand,” he said. “Why is Miss Dryden so resistant to learning conventional behavior?”
His aunt shrugged. “She seems to equate conforming to acceptable standards with training a monkey to perform tricks. Pointless was how she described it.”
“There is nothing pointless about civilized behavior,” Charles said. “Or in treating our fellow creatures with appropriate dignity.”
God, that sounded priggish even for him. Steele’s derisive snort signaled he thought so too.
“I’ve told her that a thousand times,” Aunt Lucy said. “But only her stepfather could get her to see reason, I’m sorry to say. Gillian had a great regard for him, both as her adopted parent and as patriarch of the family.”
“How boringly traditional of her,” Griffin commented.
“Well, she was raised in Sicily,” Aunt Lucy replied. “They’re sticklers for that sort of thing. Which is another reason why I thought of you, Charles. You are indisputably the head of our family, as well as a duke. I’m hoping the combination will generate at least a modicum of compliance on Gillian’s part.”
As Charles looked into his aunt’s pleading gaze, he found it impossible to say no. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to meet her. See if she would be amenable to taking some, ah, guidance from me.”
“Good luck with that,” Steele said in a sardonic tone.
Aunt Lucy flashed Charles a relieved smile. “She’s really a very nice girl, despite her rough edges. I’m sure you’ll like her.”
Charles kept his considerable doubts to himself.
“Griffin, will you ring for the footman?” Aunt Lucy asked. “He can fetch Gillian.”
“I know exactly where she is,” Griffin said, striding to the door. When he pulled it open, a woman tumbled into the room, landing on her knees.
“Confound it,” she muttered. She hopped to her feet in a swift, contained movement and flicked the skirts of her gown back in place over her slim figure. She gazed directly at Charles with big, sherry-colored eyes, apparently not the least bit embarrassed by her outrageous entrance.
“So, you’re the one who’s going to tame the savage,” she said in a crisp voice that carried the hint of an exotic accent. “What fun for both of us.”