The Duke Knows Best by Jane Ashford

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jane Ashford who is celebrating the upcoming release of The Duke Knows Best, the 5th book in her The Duke’s Sons series.

Lord Randolph Gresham has an up and coming career in the Church, and has come to London for the season to find a wife. A feisty and dangerously attractive young woman who insists she’d never marry a clergyman keeps distracting him. This shouldn’t be a problem—they’ll just avoid each other. When they’re forced to sing together, though, the duet is a deeply sensual experience. Verity Sinclair, daughter of the Dean of Chester Cathedral, hasn’t changed her mind about the future. But Randolph proves hard to resist, and when they finally give in to their passion, there’s only one option left: marriage.

About the Author: Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was entranced by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight was part of what led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. She has lived in New York, Boston and LA. Today, she is somewhat nomadic.

Jane has written historical and contemporary romances. Her books have been published in England, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Slovakia, Denmark, Russia, and Latvia, Croatia and Slovenia as well as the U.S. She has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

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Last Gentleman Standing by Jane Ashford – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jane Ashford who is celebrating the release of Last Gentleman Standing. After enjoying this classic romance, dive into Jane Ashford’s current series, The Dukes Sons! Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post to win a copy of Heir to the Duke by Jane Ashford.

A fortune hunter’s dream…
Miss Elisabeth Elham is an unlikely heiress. She never knew the curmudgeonly uncle who died suddenly and left her a fortune. She’s proud, outspoken and independent—a definite challenge for London’s fortune hunting suitors.

As various determined gentlemen vie for her attention at balls, routs, picnics and parties, Elisabeth finds herself embroiled with a charming rake, a mysterious nabob, and an elegant neighbor. This would all be great fun, if only she wasn’t so fascinated by the one man in London who’s not trying to woo her…

Rediscover this classic Regency romance! Originally titled Bluestocking, this classic story has been unavailable for over 25 years and is now returning from the vault!

Enjoy an Excerpt

Elisabeth had recrossed a stile and was traversing an open field when she heard hoofbeats behind her. Turning, she was just in time to see the rider urge his magnificent chestnut up and over the fence she had just climbed. The form of both was flawless, and she forgot herself in her admiration of the jump, watching unself-consciously, as the horseman approached her.

The chestnut had white feet and was one of the most beautiful and spirited animals she’d ever seen. He moved with the ease and power of a true thoroughbred and might have made almost any rider appear insignificant, but the man on his back matched his quality. He looked to be tall, and his figure was well-molded and athletic. His buckskin breeches fitted him to perfection, and his coat fairly cried out its fashionable origin in the workrooms of a Weston or a Stultz. Elisabeth had seen a few gentlemen of the haut ton in Bath, and she knew enough to recognize that the deceptive simplicity of the folds of his cravat and the carefully casual arrangement of his hair were the signs of a veritable tulip, a top-of-the-trees corinthian. At that moment, she met his slightly mocking gaze and looked down in confusion, recalling herself with annoyance. She had been gaping like a schoolgirl, she thought.

The rider pulled up before her. “I almost feel I’ve been in a competition,” he said. His voice was deep and resonant. “I hope you gave me full points for that jump.”

Elisabeth looked up. His eyes were pale blue, she noted, in spite of his black hair and rather dark complexion. “I was staring quite rudely, I know,” she replied. “I beg your pardon. But I was transfixed by the way your horse took that fence.”

The man patted the chestnut’s neck, “He’s wonderful, is Tristram.”

“Tristram?” repeated Elisabeth, smiling. “That’s an uncommon name for a horse. Do you take it from Tristram Shandy?”

The rider looked at her with much more interest than he’d first shown. “Yes, I’m fond of Sterne.”

“Oh, it is my favorite of all books. I thought hardly anyone read it now.”

He smiled back at her somewhat quizzically. “And I should hardly have thought it fit reading for young ladies.” He surveyed her. He was the despair of his mother and several aunts, who had all at one time or another introduced to him dazzling debutantes calculated to urge him into marriage. But though he’d treated them politely, he’d been extremely bored in their company and really had very little notion of what to say to conventional young women. Seeing that Elisabeth was a bit uncomfortable under his gaze, he continued, “But then I rarely find young ladies wandering about my land unattended. So I can’t quite make you out. Are you someone’s governess, perhaps? Do you teach your pupils from Sterne?” His amused smile faded as he went on before she could answer. “No, that doesn’t seem right.”

Looking down at her drab garments, Elisabeth laughed. “I’m sure I don’t know why you say so. I do look very like a governess. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I was a teacher at a seminary for young ladies. Now that my uncle has obligingly left me his fortune, I shall have to change my style of dress.”

“Uncle?” he asked. His eyes narrowed. “You can’t mean old Anthony Elham? I heard of his death.”

“Yes. I am Elisabeth Elham. Though it is not at all the thing to go about introducing oneself to strange men,” she told herself reflectively.

The rider laughed. “I hope I’m not strange. But I beg pardon. I should have made myself known to you immediately. I am your neighbor, Derek Wincannon. Do you mean to say that old Elham has left you Willowmere?”

Elisabeth shrugged. “It is part of the estate. And a very ramshackle part, I must say. I have never seen so neglected a house.”

“It’s the scandal of the neighborhood,” said Mr. Wincannon. “Your uncle was a shocking landlord and a worse neighbor.”

“From what I heard of him,” answered Elisabeth, “he was uniformly shocking. I’m rather sorry I never met him.” The man laughed again. “But in any case, you may inform the neighborhood that I shall be putting the place to rights as soon as I may.”

“That’s good news. Will you be settling there?”

“No. At least, not immediately. I shall live in London for a time, at Elham House.”

“For the season, I assume.”

“Yes, I’ll be bringing out my cousin.”

“You are bringing out someone? I’d have thought it would be the other way about.”

“Oh, no,” Elisabeth smiled. “I’m beyond that sort of thing. Quite on the shelf, in fact,” she added lightly.

“I see it now,” he responded dryly, “a veritable antique. How can I have mistaken you for girl in her twenties?”

She laughed. “Well, I daresay I shall attend a few parties also, if I’m asked.”

He smiled. “There can be little doubt of that, I should think. You’ll wish to sample the gaities of the season and attend the assemblies at Almack’s.”

“Almack’s? Oh, no, I shouldn’t think so.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“My father used to tell me stories about London, and he was most severe on Almack’s. He called it the Marriage Mart and painted such a vivid picture of the trials young girls undergo as they are catalogued and labeled according to their faces and fortunes that he gave me quite a horror of the place. I don’t at all wish to go there now.”

Mr. Wincannon’s interest was definitely caught. “Now?”

“Well, of course I might have done so some years ago had I been offered the opportunity,” Elisabeth explained obligingly. “When one is thrown penniless upon the world at the age of nineteen, one is willing to try any shift to come about again. I was very willing then to marry to make my fortune. But I wasn’t given the chance, and how fortunate that was, really. For now, you see, there is no need.”

Derek Wincannon laughed. “You are a most unusual girl,” he said.

“Because I prefer to order my own life now that I have the means to do so?” asked Elisabeth. “I’m persuaded you can’t really think so. Would you give up your independence without need? No indeed. When I was desperate and might have married, no one dared offer for me. I certainly won’t encourage anyone to do so now that I have an income.”

“Much good that will do you, I should say.”

About the Author: Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. Her historical and contemporary romances have been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, Slovenia, and Spain, as well as the US. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Beverly Hills, CA.

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Nothing Like a Duke by Jane Ashford – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jane Ashford who is celebrating the upcoming release of Nothing Like a Duke, the 4th book in her The Duke’s Sons series. Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post for a chance to win 1 of 5 Jane Ashford bundles.

He wants her.
She has no intention of wanting him.
But even Flora has to admit…
There’s nothing like a Duke.

Lord Robert Gresham has given up all hope that the beautiful and independent Flora Jennings will ever take him seriously. He heads to an exclusive country house party to forget about the beauty haunting his thoughts.

Too bad the lady in question has no intention of being forgotten.

Enjoy an Excerpt

A protruding bit of bramble caught the side of Flora’s pelisse. She twisted to reach for it, and a whole raft of briars shifted with her, entangling the other side of her skirts, her right arm, and the brim of her bonnet. If she pulled away, it would rip the cloth. She struggled a little; more thorns dug in. “Blast it, I suppose you were right, you wretched dog,” she exclaimed, and discovered that Plato was gone.

Flora lifted a hand to free her hat. The movement tipped another part of the bush, which swayed and seemed to grab at her. A second branch lodged in her bonnet. She felt several claw at her back. A stem lashed across her neck. That one drew blood. She tried to step back, and was pricked by more thorns, through her clothes, from all directions.

Flora went very still. She saw that the path petered out just ahead. Or perhaps this hadn’t been a path at all, but merely a deceptive opening in the vegetation. She hadn’t been paying attention. She tried again to move. She was trapped in a sea of briars. The thorns were long and wickedly barbed. They pricked the skin of her neck, her arm, her back, her side.

She became aware of a rustling in the leaves near her feet. What next? The badgers? Snakes? No, of course not snakes. It was far too cold.

A small black-furred head poked through an opening at the base of the briars. Evading the thorns with no visible effort, Plato emerged and stared up at her. “Oh, you’re back, are you?” said Flora. He sat down at her feet. “Come to gloat? Point out that if I’d followed you, I wouldn’t be in this predicament?”

Plato looked at her. Not judgmentally, because that was impossible.

“Go fetch help,” commanded Flora. The dog didn’t move. “Some clever gardeners. A footman from the house. Anyone. Go!”

“Plato? Where are you, you dratted animal?” called a voice nearby.

“Lord Robert?” she called.

There was a short silence. “Flora?”

“Yes. I’ve, ah, become entangled in some brambles. Plato doesn’t appear to care in the least. Or, actually, he’s staring at me as if it was all my fault.” She frowned down at the dog. “Does he ever blink? He’s really a bit uncanny, don’t you—”

Robert appeared on the path. “Good God!” He started forward.

“Be careful! It’s very easy to get caught. If you touch one branch, the whole mass moves.”

“I see.” He examined the arching stems. “You really are caught, aren’t you?” His lips twitched.

“If you laugh, I’ll…make you sorry,” Flora promised. Plato made one of his odd grumpy gargling sounds. “And you! I’ll find a badger and hand you over to him.”

Robert choked. “So, would you say you’re in need of rescue?”

“Just get me out!”

Robert moved a few steps closer. He could see that the thorns had barbs like fishhooks, ready to rip and tear if not removed very carefully. There was a trickle of blood on Flora’s neck. After a moment of calculation, he eeled between two branches. He had to stop once and detach thorns from his sleeve before he reached her side.

“These things are diabolical,” she said. “When I turned to pull loose, they seemed to…sort of lunge at me.”

“Stay very still.”

“I know!” She let out a huff of breath. “I beg your pardon. This is…rather irritating.” She smiled an apology.

Robert felt a catch in his chest, as if his heart had stumbled briefly. “Right then. Move back, Plato,” he said. For once, the little dog obeyed him, slipping easily out to a more open spot.

He began on the closest branch, embedded in the skirts of Flora’s pelisse. He had to kneel to reach it properly. His knife was small for the tough fibers. The bush swayed as he sawed at the branch. A spray of thorns rasped across his hair, but didn’t catch hold.

Robert soon pricked his skin. There was no way to hold the branch still without being stuck, and he’d left his gloves indoors when he’d seen Plato shoot wildly out of the bushes and then go haring off again.

Blood made the blasted thing slippery. Robert got out his handkerchief, used it to wrap the branch, and went back to work. At last, he was through. The severed stem sprang back a little, he was glad to see, giving him a few inches of working room. He looked up. “One down,” he said with a smile.

The heated gaze he encountered went through him like a thunderbolt. He was suddenly acutely aware of his position, right in among her skirts. His shoulder rested against her thigh. The scent of her—flowery perfume and sheer female—enveloped him.

“You’ve hurt yourself,” she said.

“It’s nothing.” Intensely aroused, Robert eased to his feet. Flora smiled at him again. Her fierce blue eyes raked him. He knew, absolutely, that she was remembering their kisses.

The next branch was wrapped around her far sleeve. He had to press close to her to avoid the briars at his back as he reached for it. And stay there while he cut through the stringy fiber of the bramble. The feel of her—curve of breast and hip, her cheek resting on his chest—made him clumsier. At one point a thorn drove deep into the pad of his index finger, and he stifled an oath.

Flora was having trouble breathing. She could feel his heartbeat, so near her ear, accelerating in tandem with her own. She could feel his muscles shift against her as he cut at the brambles. If she looked up, carefully, she could see his face—handsome, intent. The lips that had thrilled her were only inches away. But she couldn’t move enough to offer her own again. She had to remain very still, plastered against him.

About the Author: JANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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One Thing the Duke Doesn’t Know by Jane Ashford – Guest Blog and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jane Ashford as she celebrates the upcoming release of What the Duke Doesn’t Know, the second book in the Duke’s Sons series, which will be out on September 6. Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post for a chance to win a copy of the book.

One Thing the Duke Doesn’t Know
With five adventure seeking sons, there’s a lot that the Duke of Langford doesn’t know. Luckily for us, Jane Ashford has agreed to pull back the curtain and reveal one of the Langford family’s secrets – just remember, don’t tell the Duke!

One thing the Duke doesn’t know: That his son James is about to ask his advice on how to offer for a lady, since he has botched his initial proposal rather badly.

9_2 jane ashfordA proper English wife, or the freedom of the sea?

Lord James Gresham is the fifth son of the Duke of Langford, a captain in the Royal Navy, and at a loss for what to do next. He’s made his fortune; perhaps now he should find a proper wife and set up his nursery. But the sea calls to him, while his search for a wife leaves him uninspired. And then, a dark beauty with a heart for revenge is swept into his life.

He can’t have both, but he won’t give up either

Half-English, half-Polynesian Kawena Benson is out to avenge her father and reclaim a cache of stolen jewels. There’s nothing for James to do but protest his innocence and help Kawena search for the jewels, even though it turns his world upside down.

Enjoy an Excerpt:

James had just started his letter to Nathaniel when there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” he called without looking up.
He heard the door open, and a lilting voice say, “Hello.”

James turned in his chair. Kawena stepped through his bedchamber door, shut it, walked over, and sat down in the armchair by the empty fireplace. “I wanted to thank you,” she began.

“You can’t sit here,” James said.

She looked down at the comfortable chair, back up at him. “Why not?”

“This is my bedroom.” The moment he said it, he became acutely conscious of the bed just a few feet away.

“I know. I came up to thank—”

“It isn’t proper,” he blurted out.

“But you are taking some trouble to help me. When you don’t really wish to. I can see that, you know. It is only right that I thank—”

“Not that. You shouldn’t be in a man’s bedchamber. Alone. With him. Me.” He heard himself stammering like a callow youth, and was revolted. She was just so very beautiful. Utterly alluring, really. The effect seemed multiplied here in his private quarters. And she appeared so at ease—as if they knew each other far better than they actually did. James could almost imagine her coming over to him, offering a hand to pull him to his feet, and closer… No, this line of thought was unacceptable. He stood and moved toward the door instead. “It isn’t done,” he added. “Young ladies do not visit gentlemen in their bedchambers.” Well, some did, if what he’d heard about country house parties was true, but that was…irrelevant to this discussion.

“We must speak only downstairs?” wondered Kawena. “Is that an English rule?”

Her honest bewilderment was rather charming. “If a man and a woman are alone in a bedchamber, people assume they’re…up to something improper,” James explained.

“Getting into bed together, you mean?” Kawena replied without a trace of embarrassment. She gazed at the wide four-poster as if it was on exhibit.

James felt his cheeks redden. Years at sea might have left him unused to polite female company, but even his brother, Robert, the town beau, would have been confounded by this quite unusual young woman. “Er, yes.”

“But we are not.”

“No… Not in this case. However—”

“And no people know that I’m here,” she pointed out. “I told no one I was coming up.”

“You can never tell when there’s a servant about,” James replied. The staff at Langford always seemed well aware of everyone’s movements.

“Do they hide and watch?” said Kawena, looking surprised.

James choked back a laugh, and then wondered if maybe they did. How else would that housemaid have seen Sebastian with the frogs…? But that was beside the point. He needed to remove a lovely young woman from his bedchamber—didn’t he? Yes, yes. And wasn’t that a problem he’d never imagined having? When had it become his job to preach the proprieties? He felt like a fool even trying. But if she didn’t go soon, he might not be able to resist… James decided to shift the onus off onto someone else. “This is my brother’s house. I wouldn’t wish to upset him, or his wife.”

Kawena cocked her head. “Your brother and Ariel would not approve of my being here?”

James assumed so. No, of course they wouldn’t. And that was beside the point. He nodded.

To his relief, Kawena rose at once. “I would not wish to offend them. They have been very kind to me.” She shrugged as she moved toward the door. “My father always says…” She paused, swallowed. “Said that it is rude to disregard others’ customs when it does you no harm to observe them.”

“Pr…precisely.” She passed quite close to him on her way out. Her long fall of black hair swayed seductively with each step. Was he really throwing her out of his room? Her initial words came floating back. She’d come up to thank him. Perhaps with something warmer than words? Some marvelous island custom? No. She hadn’t meant that. Clearly, obviously. No sign whatsoever of any such thing, despite her unembarrassed mention of bedding. Besides, it would be an awkward complication, as they were living together in his brother’s house. Not together. As fellow guests. Strangers, in fact.

“Good night,” said Kawena.

“Good night,” James replied, shutting the door firmly behind her.

He leaned against it, listening to her soft footsteps retreat along the corridor. Perhaps helping her wasn’t quite such a burden. It would give him a chance to become better acquainted with one of the loveliest, and most unusual, girls he’d ever encountered. Her courage and fire drew him—now that she’d stopped calling him names. How many women, how many people, would have done as she had, sailing halfway around the world to find justice? Very few, hardly any, really, he thought. She’d looked positively intrepid, stepping out of the shrubbery with her gun. And under his hands, on the turf, she’d felt… James fell into a pleasant reverie. It was some time before he returned to his letter.

About the Author: Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. Her historical and contemporary romances have been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, Slovenia, and Spain, as well as the U.S. Twenty-six of her new and backlist Regency romances are being published by Sourcebooks. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She is currently rather nomadic.

Buy the book at Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, iBooks, or Indiebound

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First Season/Bride to Be by Jane Ashford – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcome Jane Ashford, who is here as part of a virtual book tour organized by her publisher for the release of the First Season / Bride To Be. duology. Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post to win a copy of the book.

10_8 FirstSeasonBrideToBeTwo classic Regency romances by beloved bestselling author Jane Ashford celebrate the adventures of a London Season

FIRST SEASON

Widowed Lady Anabel Wyndham was married right out of the schoolroom and has never before experienced the delights of a London Season. She’s dazzled by the attention of the fascinating Sir Charles Norbury, a man whose touch seems to melt her very soul, but a notorious rake. She’s drawn to handsome friend-of-the-family Christopher Hanford and the comfort and serenity he offers. But how does one choose between two such charming suitors? Anabel is finding that love is so much more dangerous the second time around.

BRIDE TO BE

Emily Crane is the toast of the ton—and she couldn’t find it more tedious. Until she encounters the darkly sensual stranger whose life she once saved and the London Season becomes infinitely more exciting. Recently returned from the wilds of South America, Lord Richard Sheldon has only contempt for tiresome London chits, but he finds himself stunningly intrigued by the dauntless Emily Crane. When the two become embroiled in a budding scandal and are forced into an engagement, they discover a passion more dangerous than any killer…

Enjoy an excerpt from First Season:

“There you are,” said someone from the hall below. “They said you had gone upstairs.”

Anabel looked down to find Sir Charles Norbury gazing up at her. A tingling shock ran through her body, and the candle trembled a little, dripping wax.

“You have missed the first waltz,” he added, meeting her at the bottom of the staircase and taking the candlestick from her hand. He snuffed the flame between forefinger and thumb and set it aside. “And I came early especially to engage you for it.”

“I wanted to look in on the children.” As always, his presence overwhelmed her. He seemed to tower over her, yet his pale green eyes felt close and compelling. She found it hard to breathe.

“It is a country dance now, unfortunately. Mayn’t we wait outside here for the next and hope?” He smiled and reached for her hand to lead her across to a small empty anteroom.

Anabel knew she should say no, but her voice seemed to have died, and she went with him silently and allowed him to escort her to a sofa and sit beside her, his arm thrown along its back.

“You look exquisite tonight,” he said softly. “The loveliest woman at the ball.”

This outrageous compliment revived her. “What a plumper. There are dozens of prettier ones.”

“No.”

“Flatterer.” She smiled, but when she met his eyes, they were very serious.

“No,” he said again. “To me you are the most beautiful.” He held her gaze for a moment, then slowly bent forward and took possession of her lips, his arm tightening around her shoulders.

Anabel’s slight trembling increased, and her mind dissolved in confusion. She should pull away, part of it cried; this was terribly fast, and someone might come in at any moment. But another part urged her on, fascinated by Sir Charles’ attractions and filled with curiosity.

His kiss was very expert, and nothing at all like her deceased husband’s, Anabel’s only standard of comparison. His lips seemed to draw all strength out of her, leaving her limp and pliant, yet she felt disconnected from the expected sensual pleasure. He knew how to draw response from her body, clearly, but her heart and mind remained in turmoil.

Norbury, on the contrary, was in the grip of feelings stronger than any he had ever experienced, and for him the kiss confirmed a decision. This was the woman he wanted. Never had his passions been suffused with such emotion. Beyond thinking, he moved his free hand to Anabel’s knee and slid it upward caressingly, savoring the curve of her waist under the thin satin dress and cupping his fingers around her breast. She drew her breath in sharply.

A scuff of footsteps in the hall, followed by a scrap of conversation and a laugh, jerked Anabel upright. She pulled away from him only just in time to avoid being caught by two couples coming into the room. But it was obvious in the way that the newcomers stopped, smiled, and apologized that their appearance gave them away. Anabel rose and hurried from the room, Norbury behind her. Her cheeks were flaming, and she felt that she could not possibly face the crowd in the ballroom.

About the Author: 10_8 JaneAshfordJane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. Her historical and contemporary romances have been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, Slovenia, and Spain, as well as the U.S. Twenty-six of her new and backlist Regency romances are being published by Sourcebooks. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She is currently rather nomadic.

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Married to a Perfect Stranger by Jane Ashford – Guest Blog and Giveaway

Today we are pleased to sit down with John and Mary Bexley, the protagonists from Jane Ashford’s Married to a Perfect Stranger (March 2015). From February 23rd through March 20th the Bexleys will be answering questions about their relationship at each stop in their tour! Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post to win a copy of the book.

What is the oddest location you’ve shared a kiss?

John: There are no odd locations for a kiss.
Mary: The public square outside the house?

John: It was dark. Besides, why shouldn’t I kiss my wife? (He does so.)
Mary: It was nearly much more than a kiss.
John: That would have been…oddly memorable.

Enjoy an excerpt:

John Bexley reined in his hired horse on a slight rise and gazed down at the red brick manor, somnolent under the August sun. Eager as he was to get to London, he’d felt he must detour west into Somerset to fetch Mary. Her family’s decision to put her under the care of a great-aunt while he was away just showed he was right to fear that such a shy, quiet girl couldn’t arrange a journey on her own. And now that he was here, the sight of this place soothed him; it looked the very essence of English country comfort and peace.

John’s knock was answered by an aged butler. He gave his name, stepped in, and inhaled the familiar scents of beeswax polish and potpourri. The place reminded him of his own home farther north. Golden light pooled on the wooden floor and gleamed on the stair rail. In the rooms on either side of the entry, the furnishings were classic and inviting. Mary had certainly had a beautiful and serene spot in which to wait for him. “Mary’s husband,” he added when it seemed as if the old man didn’t know what to do with him. “I believe I am expected.”

“Yes, si…”

A filthy, hysterical chicken shot through the rear door of the dining parlor on his left, skidded in a turn around the table, and raced past him, neck extended, screeching, flapping its mottled wings. A little boy slathered with mud came racing after it, careened off the doorjamb, and staggered across the entryway, leaving streaks and globs of dirt in his wake. The old butler stiffened in horror.

The bird hopped across a flowered sofa in the front parlor, stitching it with muddy tracks, circled the delicate carpet, and looped back toward John. The boy in pursuit slipped, fell, jumped up, and turned to follow. He flapped muddy hands at the fowl in an inept attempt to trap it.

What seemed like a herd of adults jostled into the dining parlor, then surged forward. “Arthur!” snapped a young woman, her voice crackling with authority.

“It isn’t my fault,” the boy shouted over the wild squawking. “I pulled her from the mire. Fox was after her. I never shot her or nothing.”

As the crazed chicken surged past him, John bent, reached, and snatched hold of its legs. When he straightened, he held the muddy bird upside down, at arm’s length, well away from his clothing. It flapped and protested; flakes of dirt dropped to the floor.

“Good!” said the managing female, striding from the dining room into the hall. “Take it from him, Alice, and put it outside at once.”

The middle-aged maid jumped to obey like a subaltern responding to a commanding general. The butler relaxed. The boy stood to attention. “It wasn’t me, I swear,” he repeated. “I rescued ’er. I killed three rats as well. Would have been four, but I…”

“Very well, Arthur,” the woman replied. “Go now and get cleaned up.”

The boy finally noticed the mud sliding from his clothes to the polished floor. His face shifted from defensive to horrified, and he slunk out. In the same moment, John realized that the woman with a voice like a sergeant major was his meek little sparrow of a wife.

2_26 jane ashfordTime and distance have changed them both…

Quiet and obliging, Mary Fleming and John Bexley marry to please their families and John immediately leaves on a two-year diplomatic mission. Now John is back, and everything they thought they knew about each other was wrong…

It’s disconcerting, irritating—and somehow all very exciting…

About the Author: Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. Her romances have been published all over the world. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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