A novella by Eloisa James
~ About the Book ~
~ Read an excerpt ~
August 13, 1826
“I would prefer to take supper on a tray.” Lizzie didn’t look up from her book, because meeting her sister’s eyes would only encourage her.
She should have known Catrina wouldn’t back down. “Lizzie Troutt, your husband died over a year ago.”
“Really?” Lizzie murmured, turning a page. “How time flies.” In fact, Adrian had died eighteen months, two weeks, and four days ago.
In his mistress’s bed.
“Lizzie,” Cat said ominously, sounding more like an older sister—which she was—with every word, “if you don’t get out of that bed, I shall drag you out. By your hair!”
Lizzie felt a spark of real annoyance. “You already dragged me to your house for this visit. The least you could do is to allow me to read my book in peace.”
“Ever since you arrived yesterday, all you’ve done is read!” Cat retorted.
“I like reading. And forgive me if I point out that Tolbert is not precisely a hotbed of social activity.” Cat and her husband, Lord Windingham, lived deep in Suffolk, in a dilapidated manor house surrounded by fields of sheep.
“That is precisely why we gather friends for dinner. Lord Dunford-Dale is coming tonight, and I need you to even the numbers. That means getting up, Lizzie. Bathing. Doing your hair. Putting on a gown that hasn’t been dyed black would help, too. You look like a dispirited crow, if you want the truth.”
Lizzie didn’t want the truth. In fact, she felt such a stab of anger that she had to fold her lips tightly together or she would scream at Cat.
It wasn’t her sister’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault except her late husband’s, and he was definitely late—i.e., dead.
“I know you feel ashamed to be in company,” her sister continued, energetically digging her own grave, as far as Lizzie was concerned. “Unfortunately, most people are aware the circumstances of your marriage, not to mention the fact that Adrian was so imprudent as to die away from home.”
That was one way of putting it.
“You make it sound as if he dropped a teacup,” Lizzie observed, unable to stop herself. “I would call the fact that Adrian died in the act of tupping Sadie Sprinkle inconsiderate in the extreme.”
“I refuse to allow you to wither away in bed simply because your husband was infatuated with Shady Sadie,” Cat said, using the term by which the gossip rags had referred to Adrian’s mistress. “You must put all that behind you. Sadie has another protector, and you are out of mourning. It’s time to stop hiding.”
“I am not hiding,” Lizzie said, stung. “I take fresh air and moderate exercise every day. I simply like reading in bed. Or in a chair.”
Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. Reading in a peaceful garden was an excellent way to take fresh air.
“Moderate exercise,” her sister said with palpable loathing. “You used to ride every day, for pleasure. We would practice archery on a fine day like this, or roam about the countryside, not sit inside reading.”
“Adrian’s stables were part of the entail, and went to his cousin,” Lizzie said, turning the page. She hadn’t read a word, but she was hoping that a show of indifference would drive her sister from the room.
“Not the mare that Papa gave you when you turned fourteen!” her sister gasped.
Showing masterly control, Lizzie didn’t roll her eyes. “A wife has no true possessions,” she said flatly. “Under the law, they belong to her husband, and Perdita was, therefore, transferred to the heir."
“Oh, Lizzie,” Cat said, her voice woeful.
“It wasn’t so terrible,” Lizzie said, meaning it. “I went to the auction, and Perdita went to a family with a young girl. I’m certain that she is well cared for and happy.”
“Do you realize that by staying home and wearing black, you give the illusion that you are grieving for your husband?”
Lizzie’s hands tightened around her book. “Do you know what being a widow entails, Cat?”
“Wearing ugly black dresses for the rest of your natural life?”
“It means that I never again need put myself under the control of a man—any man. So, no, I have no interest in joining you at dinner. I know perfectly well that Lord Dimble-Dumble has been summoned to audition as my next husband. I don’t want him. I’d be more likely to come to dinner if you had invited the butcher.”
“I couldn’t do that,” Cat said, in a sudden digression. “Mr. Lyddle has developed a most unfortunate addiction to strong ale, and he’s regularly found lying about in the gutter singing, rather than butchering meat.”
“Who does the butchering now?” Lizzie asked, deciding to take a walk to the village and see this interesting musical event herself.
“His wife. My housekeeper says that she can get better cuts at a lower price these days. You’re trying to distract me with talk of singing drunkards,” Cat said, unfairly. “Let’s discuss your future.”
“We might begin with the fact that you were never in love with Adrian.” Cat began walking around the bedchamber, waving her hands as she waxed eloquent about her late brother-in-law’s flaws.
She was preaching to the choir, so Lizzie stopped listening and just watched Cat pacing back and forth. How could it be that her older sister was positively frothing with life and energy and passion, while Lizzie felt like a tired, pale shadow?
Her hand crept toward her book. It wasn’t the most interesting novel in the world, but it had the inexpressible charm of being new.
Over the last eighteen months, Lizzie had read every novel she owned three times over. She would be quickly bankrupted if she bought more than two books a week, so one of the best things about visiting Telford Manor was access to her sister’s library.
Cat appeared to be hopeless at arranging a refurbishment of the manor—which desperately needed it—but she was very good at ordering novels. And clothing. If Lizzie looked like a black crow, Cat was a chic French peacock.
Lizzie raised her knees, surreptitiously propped her book against them, and slipped back in the story of Eveline, a sixteen-year-old girl being forced to marry an old man. She herself had been twenty when she walked down the aisle.
On the shelf.
Beggars can’t be choosers, her father had told her.
Her book suddenly vanished. “No reading!”
Cat was holding the novel above her head, for all the world as if they were children again. Lizzie used to hope that someday she’d grow up to be as commanding as her sister, but she had given up that idea long ago.
It wasn’t just a question of height. Her sister was the type of person who gathered everyone in a room around her, and Lizzie was the type of person whom they walked over on their way to be with Cat.
That sounded resentful, but Lizzie didn’t actually feel bitter. She would hate to be the center of attention. She wound her arms around her knees and propped her chin on them. “Cat, may I have my book back, please? It was a hard journey, and I’m tired.”
“What do you mean, a hard journey? It can’t have been more than a day and a half!”
“My coach is over twenty years old and the springs are worn out. It bounced so hard on the post road that I couldn’t keep my eyes on the page, and my tailbone still hurts.”
“If your jointure won’t extend to a new vehicle, Joshua or Papa would be happy to buy you a coach.”
Lizzie turned her head, putting her right cheek on her knees, and closed her eyes. “No.”
She heard her sister drop into the chair by the side of the bed. Then she heard a sigh. “Papa is getting old, Lizzie. He made a terrible mistake, and he knows it. He misses you. If you would just pay him a visit . . .”
Why would she visit the father who had turned her away when she ran to him in desperation? The father who had known precisely what a disaster her marriage would be, but didn’t bother to warn her?
An hour or so after their wedding ceremony, Adrian had brought Lizzie, still wrapped in her bridal veil, to his mother’s faded, musty house, and informed her that he had no intention of living with her.
Not only that, but he was late to meet his lover for tea.
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Historical Romance
File Size: 852 KB
Print Length: 160 pages
Publisher: Avon Impulse (June 28, 2016)
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
Notes: This is a Novella and I bought it from Amazon.
Once upon a time a father had a grand plan to marry his daughter off to a titled man. It did not end well. Four years later, the daughter, while titled, emerged from the marriage a widow with low self esteem who was the laughing stock of the ton. Her husband had died in the his mistress' bed whom he'd abandoned her for. She's now resolved to never marry again.
Her sister, Cat, is determined to bring back the young woman who used to love to laugh at a good joke and ride a horse like the wind. At the center of her plan is the Honorable Oliver Berwick. A man she believes is the perfect person to change her sister Lizzie's mind about marriage. She's decided a house party is the perfect way to get the two together.
They say the deepest scars are the ones you can't see, and that is certainly true for Lizzie. She's been betrayed left and right by the men in her life and her sister's husband is the only exception. It's her sister's marriage that sparks the only hope that marriage can be something wonderful. Rather than risk getting into another horrible marriage, Lizzie has chosen to hide from the world and lick her wounds in private. The girl who once had such high hopes for life now has none.
Oliver Berwick has a bit of a Knight in Shining Armor complex. Something about Lizzie speaks to him and he finds himself wanting to make her smile, laugh, and eat. He wants to lure the beautiful woman he sees before him into truly living again. He also finds himself having not so honorable thoughts about her as well.
Why is the novella called, A Gentleman Never Tells? It's because of the following:
“Would you mind being seduced by me?”
“Mind? Of course I’d mind!” He moved so quickly that she couldn’t stop him. He turned his back so she was shielded from the other players and then kissed her hard so that longing rose in her stomach like a storm, making her knees weak and her breath fast. He didn’t stop until she was boneless, leaning against him like a hussy.
“Do you consider me a woman of—of ill repute?” she whispered. She meant to scold him by the question, but it came out a simple inquiry.
“You wouldn’t tell anyone?”
“A gentleman never tells.”
Overall, I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. It was a sweet, sexy, and fun story that left me smiling. I wish it had contained a little more drama and had been extended into a full length novel, but it did what it was meant to do--leave the reader wanting more. If you haven't done so already, there are four full length stories associated with this series that you can read. They are listed toward the end of the post. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this novella earned a STEAM rating--too hot for a fan, but you still have a handle on things. You should use extreme caution when reading a book with this rating in public. People may inquire as to why you looked flustered and flushed.
Check out Eloisa's website - http://www.eloisajames.com/
~ Read the Essex Sisters series ~
Order of the series: