A young military widow, Eliza Pierce is enjoying both freedom and financial success as part of Elegant Occasions. When her late husband’s best friend, Nathaniel Stanton, the Earl of Foxstead, hires Elegant Occasions to help another young widow of an officer become part of high society, Eliza wonders why. Is the woman a relative? Or is she the earl’s mistress and her adorable toddler his child? If so, why does he take Eliza in his arms every chance he gets . . .
Foxstead’s family situation makes it difficult for him to marry, so his visceral attraction to his best friend’s widow is an unwelcome complication. Burdened by family secrets and those of his commanding officer, he’s determined to do his duty even when it means being around Eliza every day. But how can he resist when the fetching Eliza keeps tempting him to break his own rules? For if he dares to expose the truth, will she ever forgive him? Or will she banish him from her life forever . . .
“I confess that my sisters hate my feeding the birds,” she murmured. “The robins and blackbirds can be especially loud, and the nightingales sing too much for Diana and Verity during the very season of year when we come in exhausted before dawn. But the birds don’t bother me since I can’t ever go to bed right away anyway, so I like lying there listening to them.”
“Which explains why Geoffrey calls you a night-bird.”
She rolled her eyes. “He just prefers that everyone rise at dawn like he and Diana.”
That reminded him—Diana needed to be introduced to his ward. He turned toward the bench where the two women sat, and Eliza placed a hand on his arm.
When his gaze shot to her, she murmured, “Let them talk a minute and get to know each other.”
“But I must introduce Diana.”
“I already did, while you were examining the birdhouse.”
“Ah. I merely thought . . . well . . . Jocelin was nervous about meeting a duchess.”
“She doesn’t look it. Meanwhile, I send her into a fright every time.” Eliza lowered her voice. “The poor woman doesn’t like me, does she?”
He sighed. “I’m sure she would if not for who you are. To me, I mean. I should never have given in to the impulse to let her see me kiss you yesterday.”
“I regret that it happened, too.”
“You misunderstand me. I don’t regret the kisses. I just wish we could have indulged in them privately.” Where he could have embraced her and touched her breasts and had his very wicked way with her.
What was wrong with him? Jocelin had to be his first responsibility, so why was he risking alienating the very person who could get her settled in society? “Those kisses were all I could think of last night,” he admitted.
Because clearly he’d lost his damned mind.
“Says the rakehell with the notorious reputation,” she countered.
That chafed a bit. “Not anymore.”
“The rakehell part or the notorious reputation part?”
“The first. Once one has a notorious reputation, one can’t get rid of it easily.”
She smiled. “As my parents have repeatedly demonstrated.”
“But truthfully, it’s been some time since I’ve actually behaved like a rakehell.”
“I’m simply supposed to take your word for it?”
“You have to do what makes you comfortable.” He stole the bag of seed from her, taking care to run his finger across her palm as he did so. “And I have to do the same.” He scattered some seeds over the ledge himself as he fought to quell his racing heart. “After all, I still have a rakehell’s skills, which I can use very well. Do you doubt me?”
“No, indeed. You were very . . . skilled yesterday.” She cocked her head. “The question is how many women you use those skills with.”
“None in quite some years. Until you, anyway.” Taking her hand, he closed her fingers about the bag of seed and held it there, marveling at how delicate a hand she had. “I know you probably don’t believe it, but it’s true.”
War had changed him, no doubt about it. He’d seen too many women used and abused on the Peninsula not to be affected. His mother’s revelations had also taken a toll.
When Eliza finally slipped her hand from his, looking flustered and heated, he glanced over to see that Diana and Jocelin were gone. “We should go in.” He couldn’t believe Jocelin had left without saying a word to him.
“Not just now,” Eliza said.
He narrowed his gaze on her. “I beg your pardon?”
“She and Diana have gone up to the fitting room so they can try some gowns on her to determine what styles she looks best in.” She tilted her head up. “So unless you wish to see your ward in various stages of undress . . .”
That seemed to please her, which definitely pleased him.
She thrust the bag of seeds in her apron pocket. “Then why don’t you and I discuss the plan for Jocelin that my sisters and I have developed? If you approve, I can spell out how much the fee would be.”
So they were back to business affairs. Fine. That was probably best. “I don’t care how much it is. I’ll pay it regardless.”
“Really.” She eyed him skeptically. “So, a hundred-thousand pounds sounds right to you?”
His mouth dropped open. “A hundred-thousand pou—”
Her peal of laughter cut off his outraged response. Trying to suppress a smile, she said, “In other words, you do care how much it is.”
“I have money, you little minx, and I’m willing to spend it to get Jocelin well-situated,” he snapped. It was the least he could do for her under the circumstances. “But that doesn’t mean I’m insane.”
“Thank goodness.” Her eyes twinkled. “I wouldn’t wish to go into business with a madman.”
Shaking his head, he flashed her a rueful smile. “What is the actual fee you’re proposing?”
She named a more reasonable figure, which was less than he’d been expecting.
“That sounds acceptable.”
“I can provide you with an estimated amount for each item or service we intend to provide. Just give me until tomorrow.”
He gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t need the details. I know none of you would cheat me.”
“Oh, you do, do you? Clearly you and Geoffrey are cut of a different cloth.”
He shrugged. “That’s because I was raised in the aristocracy while he was used to watching every penny. I suppose that’s what happens when you discover at his age that you’ve unexpectedly inherited a dukedom and all that goes with it. Old habits die hard, as they say.”
“True.” She gestured to the bench. “Why don’t we take a seat while we discuss everything my sisters and I have planned?”
“We could go inside and sit in the morning room.”
She hurried ahead of him to the bench. “I prefer the outdoors.”
“Clearly you do. But that’s not why you don’t wish to go in.” He chuckled. “You think being in the garden where your sisters can look out and see us will keep me from trying to kiss you.”
“Won’t it?” She sat down and spread her skirts around her in an obvious attempt to relegate him to the other end of the bench.
She obviously didn’t know him very well. Lifting a handful of her muslin skirts, he sat down close to her, then spread her skirts over his knee.
That seemed to flummox her. “A gentleman doesn’t commandeer a lady’s skirts, sir.”
“I’m not a gentleman,” he told her.
She frowned. “Weren’t you just telling me you’re not a rakehell anymore?”
“I’m not a rakehell either.” He hardened his voice. “I’m a soldier. And a soldier commandeers whatever he needs to win.”
“To win what?” she asked lightly.
I have enjoyed her books but have not read this series. No birdhouses but feeders although a wren did make a nest in one of those lol.ReplyDelete
I have enjoyed the Designing Debutante series so far. Sabrina Jeffries is an auto-buy author for me!ReplyDelete
We have a number of birdhouses on our farm. I have been watching a pair of bluebirds set up this year's housekeeping in our pasture bluebird house over the past several weeks.
I have read many of Sabrina Jeffries wonderful books. I haven't read this series but look forward to enjoying it greatly. We have one birdhouse in the backyard.ReplyDelete
The Debutante Series is entertaining. We have no birdhouses but feeders for the many birds that make their home here.ReplyDelete
I love Sabrina's stories! She's on my bucket list to read all her books.ReplyDelete
We used to have birdhouses hanging under the soffits, but haven't gotten them back up after some construction.
I am a pitiful book addict. I have every Sabrina Jeffries book she has written since I first heard of her. I love her humor and the charm of her stories. I just finished the first book in this series and Eliza is a strong woman who has recently found her strengths. Thanks for this lovely preview. I no longer live in a situation which allows me to have any bird houses. But, I do have a home made bird bath. The birds do come. I have a large rock so that the dragonflies and butterflies can land without getting wet. I have seen cats, squirrels, dogs and possums drink from the water. I believe late at night is when it gets the most customers. In any event, it brings me joy.ReplyDelete
A homemade bird bath! I'm so jealous! I've been using a bowl with a rock in it, but I'd like something better. Did you make it yourself? Did you use a kit or something? I could definitely see that as a fun project. (Oh, and thanks for the kind words about my books, too)Delete
I have no talent for construction. I have simply taken a very large terra cotta plant saucer and put a large rock in it. It is on the ground next to my front door. Birds and others are happy to come and drink or bathe. And I am happy to watch them. The best are the doves, they coo before they come down to enjoy the water. Generally, the animals who might be a danger to the birds come out at night and birds don't come to drink then.Delete
Oh this sounds so good !!! I absolutely love the cover too !!! I don't have birdhouses since i live in an apt however i do have a bird nesting outside my window- Ms Pidgon is her name. I do also want to put up a hummingbird feeder this year too from my balcony.ReplyDelete
I love Sabrina Jeffries books and have been trying to be patient waiting for this one! No bird houses for us but we have several bird feeders - that are loved by the other wild critters as well.ReplyDelete
I have wren and bluebird houses and feedersReplyDelete
I have read the first book and am really looking forward to this one. I don’t care for the mess birds leave, but I like their song.ReplyDelete
I have read her books, but haven't read this series. No, I don't do bird houses, just feeders for the hummingbirds.ReplyDelete
I have not read her books yet. I don't have a bird house, just a bird feeder.ReplyDelete
I luv all of her books. Waiting for March 28!! No bird house/feeder here.ReplyDelete
I have read many of Sabrina Jeffries' books and thoroughly enjoyed them. I have not yet started this series. We have bird houses and this year are adding 3 hummingbird houses. They are so tiny it doesn't seem possible the birds will fit. We will see. I have seen their nests and eggs and though they are tiny, they still seem too big.ReplyDelete
Are those paper dolls as part of the swag? I collected them when I was young, but someone threw them out. I have several books of historic dolls and outfits now.
Thank you and Sabrina for the giveaway. Patricia B.
Yes! The paper dolls are part of the prize package. :)Delete
No birdhouses. I have read Sabrina's books, and they are great. I can't wait to see what the secret Elisa's late husband best friend is binding. I am sure it will rock her world. The first book in this series was greatReplyDelete
Okay, now I need to go find BOTH books! This looks awesome.ReplyDelete
We have one large bird house on our property. We have several robin’s nests in our porch eaves and a cardinal’s nest in our evergreen bush.ReplyDelete
I have read many of Sabrina’s books both historical romances and contemporary romances.
Love Sabrina Jeffries’ books. ❤️ we have a couple of bird feeders in our yard. And every year birds build nests in my outdoor hanging plants hahaha. So maybe those count? I very much want to get one of the bird houses that sit against your window so that you can watch them nesting inside.ReplyDelete