I’m thrilled to be able to share my very first release day with everyone here at Embracing Romance. Before I tell you more about the book, I’d like to share how this story came to be.
I am not one of those people who has always wanted to write. It never crossed my mind that I could. I was working as the librarian at a small private school, and one of my duties was to read each book before we added it to our collection. One day I was reading a young adult book and thought, I could write this. So I did. I wasn’t pursuing publication at the time, but just enjoying the writing process. Two years later, I was laid off from that job and decided to get serious about my writing. I immersed myself in the mechanics of writing by reading craft books, taking online classes, and attending writer’s conferences. It was then that I realized that though I had learned a lot from writing that first book, it was riddled with beginner mistakes and I needed to put it aside and start a new project.
I floundered for a bit, until one day I came across an advertisement for a Jane Austen inspired short story contest. Though I had never tried to write historical fiction, I had been an avid historical romance reader from the age of twelve and it seemed like a good fit. I penned a short story that was a continuation of Sense and Sensibility featuring Margaret, the youngest sister. I didn’t win the contest, but I received more votes than I expected and a few bloggers even said they thought I should have been a finalist. It was enough to inspire me to keep writing historical romance, and that short story turned into Just a Kiss.
For a limited time, Just a Kiss will be available at the special introductory price of $.99!
Charlotte Lightwood has one season to find a husband or she’ll be forced to marry her guardian’s loathsome cousin. With no title or dowry, she doesn’t have much hope of making a good match. Sebastian Wilkinson, the Earl of Marley, has been the most eligible bachelor on the marriage mart for more years than he cares to count and is very aware of his duty to marry a woman who will add to the wealth and stature of his title. Sebastian makes Charlotte an offer she can’t refuse: he will pretend to court her to help her attract more suitors in exchange for her advice about which ladies he should pursue. As they work together, their mutual attraction grows. When they realize they just might be perfect for one another, they must decide whether to bow to the dictates of society or follow their hearts.
Charlotte studied the man standing next to Elizabeth. Something about him instantly drew her to him, something in his confident bearing and the way a mischievous smile played across his lips. Laughter danced in his eyes.
Elizabeth smiled brightly. “Lord Marley, may I present Miss Charlotte Lightwood.” She gestured to Charlotte. “Charlotte, this is Lord Marley.”
Lord Marley took her hand, sending an unfamiliar sensation buzzing through her. They both froze for an instant before he bowed. “It is a pleasure to meet you. Lady Lightwood has assured me you are available for the next dance. Please soothe my nerves by confirming she is not mistaken.”
Elizabeth nudged her, and in a whisper that could surely be heard on the other side of the ballroom, said, “Lord Marley is one of the most eligible bachelors on the market this season. He requested the introduction, though I can’t imagine why.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks. “I am not engaged, my lord.” She surreptitiously glanced around them to see if anyone had heard Elizabeth.
Lord Marley clenched his jaw before leading her onto the dance floor. When the warmth of his touch penetrated the fabric of her gown, she inhaled the scent of sandalwood with a hint of citrus, and her pulse thrummed. She couldn’t prevent herself from flashing him a smile. The noise of the ballroom faded into a harmonious cacophony as they settled into the waltz.
Overly wealthy, overly charming, overly good-looking, he could have any woman he desired. As she lacked both title and dowry, she could think of no reason why Lord Marley would have any interest in her. She narrowed her eyes.
Lord Marley nodded to the couples surrounding them, but when he met her gaze, his serene countenance disappeared. “Why do you look at me with such abhorrence? I assure you I have no nefarious designs upon your person.”
“I’m certain you have no designs, nefarious or otherwise, upon my person.”
He smiled widely, but made no response.
She lifted her brows. “Which begs the question, my lord, why did you request to dance with me?”
He deftly swung her away from a collision with an encroaching couple. “Miss Lightwood, you are one of the most beautiful and sought-after ladies in attendance. I merely seek my turn to be the object of your attention. You must stop frowning at me or everyone shall think I’ve said something inappropriate.” His knee brushed against her leg through the thin silk of her gown, and the intimate touch sent a shiver through her.
Though she couldn’t discern what he might want from her, she knew she couldn’t afford to alienate one of the richest and most powerful men in London. She softened her expression and immediately became lost in his clear blue eyes.
His gaze captured and held hers for several heartbeats before he cleared his throat and spoke again. “I have a proposition for you.”
Her breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t fathom anything he might offer that would be proper for her to accept.
“I thought perhaps we could be of assistance to one another.” He studied her face as if waiting for a response.
Charlotte swallowed. “Please continue.”
“I have heard that you are coming out under less than ideal conditions.” He inclined his head, and she nodded in agreement. Less than ideal was certainly one way to put it. “I propose to show you my favor, which will attract the attention of other suitors.”
She stiffened. “They will think you are courting me.”
His smile widened. “Exactly, and they will view you as a potential match because of my regard.”
An image of Horace popped into her head. “I agree to your proposition.” She held her breath, hoping her quick response hadn’t made her appear desperate.
Lord Marley laughed, a sound as crisp and refreshing as the first autumn breeze. “Wait. I haven’t finished yet.”
Her stomach dropped, and she took a deep, steadying breath. “Of course there’s more. What do you expect from me in return?”
“You needn’t look at me with trepidation. I saw you speaking with Princess Tarasova earlier, and thought you might be willing to assist me with my plans to court her.”
His words left an indelible gash on her heart. Of course he couldn’t actually court her, and the princess was an obvious choice for him, but it still hurt to hear him say it so pragmatically. “What, precisely, do you expect me to do?”
He shrugged. “Give me some insight into her, what she likes and dislikes. Provide me with the type of information that will assist me in winning her hand. Information that other suitors won’t have.”
She studied him before responding. She would be foolish to refuse him, but she felt a pang of guilt over feeding him information about the princess, the only person who had made any attempt to show her friendship since she’d arrived in London. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her kindness, Charlotte would have run from the ball after those girls made such disparaging remarks about her. On the other hand, Lord Marley’s attention would attract the notice of other men and could be her only chance to avoid having to marry Horace. “I believe I shall need more time to consider your proposition.”
“Naturally,” he agreed.
The music had stopped, and they were the only ones still standing on the dance floor. Lord Marley took a step back from her, tucking her arm through his and escorting her to Elizabeth.
“Until we meet again, Miss Lightwood.” He bowed and kissed her hand. Excitement fluttered in her stomach.
The moment he left her side, three other gentlemen approached Elizabeth for an introduction. After more than an hour of nonstop dancing, Charlotte had to acknowledge that Lord Marley’s plan could work.
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About Ally Broadfield
Ally lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband. She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia, and also middle grade and young adult speculative fiction. Her first book is coming from Entangled Publishing in April 2014.