Let #1 New York Times
bestselling author Victoria Alexander sweep you away with her dazzling new romance, in which one otherwise proper lady discovers that passion is her legacy…
Widowed Julia, Lady Winterset, has inherited a book—a very shocking book—that every gentleman in London seems to want. For a charismatic businessman, it’s a chance to build an empire. For a dashing novelist, it could guarantee fame. But to a proud, domineering earl, it means everything…
Harrison Landingham, Earl of Mountdale, can’t let the obstinate Julia release the shameless memoir that could ruin his family’s name. But the only way to stop her may be equally sordid—if far more pleasurable. For his rivals are intent on seducing the captivating woman to acquire the book. And Harrison isn’t the sort to back away from a competition with the stakes this high. Now the winner will claim both the scandalous memoirs and the heart of their lovely owner…
“Warm, witty and wise.”
--Julia Quinn, New York Times bestselling author
“. . . and I would therefore be most delighted to publish
your great-grandmother’s memoirs.” Benjamin Cadwallender’s
voice rang in Lady Julia Winterset’s small
parlor as if he were offering eternal salvation and choirs
of celestial angels would appear at any moment to accompany
She raised a brow. Eternal salvation was not what she
sought from Cadwallender and Sons, Publishers but
rather rescue of a more down-to-earth nature. Financial
salvation as it were. “I must confess I am surprised, Mr.
Cadwallender, that you would make such an offer on the
basis of what little I allowed you to read. No more than a
chapter if I recall.”
“Yet what a chapter it was.” He chuckled. “If the rest is
even a fraction as interesting as what I have already read,
The Perfect Mistress, the Memoirs of Lady Hermione
Middlebury, shall be a rousing success.”
Julia considered him. “Do you really think so?”
“Oh, I do indeed.” He nodded vigorously. “I have mentioned this project, in a most discreet manner, mind you,
to a few trusted colleagues and they concur. Do not underestimate
the appetite of the public for works of this nature,
especially if they are factual.”
“By ‘this nature’ do you mean scandalous?”
“Well, yes, to an extent. But as Lady Middlebury has
been dead these past thirty years, and the incidents she reveals
are older yet, it is not nearly as disreputable as it
might be if she were alive today and in the midst of—”
“Her adventures?” Julia said with a smile.
“Exactly.” Mr. Cadwallender’s handsome face flushed.
“Admittedly, the writing itself is not as fine as Mr. Trollope’s
or Mr. Dickens’s or even Mrs. Gaskell’s or Mrs.
Carik’s but, as it is written in your ancestor’s own words
and in a remarkably engaging and enthusiastic style, a
certain lack of polish can be overlooked. Particularly
given the nature of the, er, adventures she relates.”
“And you think it will sell well?”
“Lady Winterset.” He lowered his voice in a conspiratorial
manner. “Scandal sells books. I predict this will be
a book that will be the subject of a great deal of discussion,
which will only make those who haven’t read it wish
to do so.”
“I see. How very interesting.”
“And profitable,” he said pointedly.
“That too,” she murmured.
There was a time, not so long ago, when she would
have considered the word profitable in a conversation
somewhat distasteful. Proper ladies did not discuss matters
of a profitable nature nor did they discuss finances
with anyone other than their husbands. Indeed, if anyone
had asked her before her husband’s death three years ago,
if she had a head for finances, aside from administering
the household accounts, she would have laughed. But
everything had changed since William’s death. Thus far,
she had managed to stretch the little savings her husband
had left with frugal living and an eye toward a bargain.
Nonetheless, if she did not take action soon, she would be
penniless. She had far too many responsibilities to permit
that to happen. Life had changed and so had she.
Three years ago, the eminently proper wife of Sir
William Winterset would have been shocked at the very
thought of making public her great-grandmother’s scandalous
remembrances, even if she had no idea of the
work’s existence until recently. The woman she had become
was different, stronger hopefully, than the woman
she had been. That woman was dependent upon her husband.
This woman depended on no one but herself and
would do what she must to survive. Even though she had
not finished her reading of her great-grandmother’s memoirs,
what she had read thus far, as well as odd dreams
triggered by her reading, convinced her that her great-
grandmother would not only approve of Julia’s plan but
She drew a deep breath. “I assume you have a sum in
mind for the rights of publication.”
“I do indeed.” Mr. Cadwallender pulled an envelope
from his waistcoat pocket and placed it on the table between
his chair and hers.
Julia picked up the envelope, pulled out the paper inside,
unfolded it, and stared at the figure written in Mr.
Cadwallender’s precise hand. Her heart sank but she refused
to let disappointment show on her face.
“That figure does not take into account continued royalties
which I expect to be considerable,” Mr. Cadwallender
She refolded the paper and replaced it in the envelope.
“It does strike me as rather meager, Mr. Cadwallender.”
She cast him her most pleasant smile. “For a book you expect
to be a rousing success.”
“Yes, well . . .” Mr. Cadwallender shifted in his chair.
“Might I be completely candid, Lady Winterset?”
“I expect nothing less.”
“As well you should.” Mr. Cadwallender paused, his
brow furrowed. “My grandfather began the publication of
Cadwallender’s Weekly World Messenger nearly eighty
years ago. When he began publishing books as well, he
named the firm Cadwallender and Sons, overly optimistic
as it turned out as he only had one son and several daughters.
That son, my father, surpassed his father and sired
six sons as well as two daughters. My two older brothers,
myself, and my next younger brother joined in the family
business as was expected.” He directed her a firm look.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to be in the position
of a middle son in both one’s family and one’s business?”
“No idea at all. I imagine it could be somewhat awkward.”
“Somewhat? Hah!” He snorted and rose to his feet to
pace the room. “My voice is heard only after my father
and my two older brothers have had their say. I am consistently
overruled in any matter in which my opinion differs
from theirs. My ideas are scarcely ever considered.” He
paused in midstep and met her gaze. “And I have ideas,
Lady Winterset. Excellent ideas. The world is changing.
We are a scant fifteen years from the dawn of a new century.
Progress is in the air and we must seize the opportunities
for change and advancement. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes, I would think so,” she said cautiously.
He stared at her for a moment then recovered his
senses. “My apologies. I should not allow myself to be
carried away in this manner.
“Nonsense, Mr. Cadwallender. There is no need to
apologize for the passion of one’s convictions.” She
smiled. “But I fear I don’t see what this has to do with my
“Lady Winterset.” Mr. Cadwallender retook his seat
and met her gaze with a fervor akin to that of a missionary
converting heathens. “I think this book will be a very
great success. The sort of success publishing houses are
built upon. That establishes a publisher as a legitimate
force in the market.”
“I don’t understand.” She pulled her brows together.
“As you mentioned, Cadwallender and Sons has been in
business for a very long time. Its reputation is well known.”
“It is indeed. However, the reputation of Cadwallender
Brothers Publishing has yet to be established.” He grimaced.
“Not unexpected as the company has yet to publish
a single book.”
She shook her head. “I still don’t—”
“My younger brother and I have started our own firm.
We have experience, funding, and investors confident of
our future. Neither of us are averse to the hard work that
lies ahead and I have no doubt as to our ultimate success.”
He met her gaze. “I would very much like The Perfect
Mistress to be our first offering.”
“I see.” She studied him for a moment. “You’re going
to compete against your father?”
“My father has decided to turn over the management
of the company to my brothers. I do not wish to spend the
rest of my life engaged in battles I cannot win. Furthermore,
the publishing of books is of far less importance to
them than the Messenger, which has always been the primary
focus of the firm. My brothers are intent upon
launching additional publications as well.” He squared
his shoulders. “I do not see this as competition as much
as the development and expansion of a field they have little
interest in. A field, I think, that is the way of the future.”
“Your enthusiasm is commendable, however—”
A knock sounded at the door and immediately it
“Beg pardon, my lady,” her butler, Daniels, said with
his usual air of cool competence. “Lady Smithson and
Lady Redwell have arrived.”
“Oh dear.” She glanced at the ormolu clock on the
overmantel. “I didn’t realize the time.” She rose to her
feet, the publisher immediately following suit. “Mr. Cadwallender,
my initial inquiry was predicated on the upstanding
reputation of Cadwallender and Sons. I am not
at all certain I have the . . . the courage required to trust
the fate of this book to a new venture. I fear, therefore, I
shall have to query another publisher and—”
“Lady Winterset.” Mr. Cadwallender clasped her hand
in his and met her gaze directly. “I beg you not to make a
hasty decision. Please give me the opportunity to further
plead my case. I assure you, you will not regret it.”
She stared into his earnest, hazel eyes. Very nice eyes
really that struck her as quite trustworthy, even if that
might be due as much to his fervor as anything else. Still,
there was no need to make a decision today.
“Very well, Mr. Cadwallender.” She smiled and withdrew
her hand. “I shall give your proposal due consideration.”
“Thank you,” he said with relief. “Perhaps I can
arrange for a higher advance as well. May I call on you
again in a day or two to discuss it further?”
“Again, you have my gratitude.” He smiled and his
eyes lit with pleasure, very nice eyes in a more than ordinarily
handsome face. “I am confident, Lady Winterset,
this is the beginning of a profitable relationship for us
both.” With that, he nodded and took his leave, offering a
polite bow of greeting to her friends who entered the parlor
as he left.
“I can see why you are late,” Veronica, Lady Smithson,
said in a wry manner, her gaze following the publisher. “I
would certainly forgo tea with my friends for a liaison
with a man like that.”
“It was not a liaison,” Julia said firmly.
“Still, he is quite dashing, isn’t he?” Portia, Lady Red-
well, craned her neck to see past the parlor door and into
the entry hall. “If one likes fair hair and broad shoulders . . .”
Her gaze jerked back to the other women, a telltale blush
washing over her face. “Not that I do. Although, of
course, what woman wouldn’t? That is to say . . .” She
raised her chin. “One can appreciate art without being in
the market for a painting. That’s what I meant.”
“Yes, of course you did,” Veronica said in an absent
manner, her attention again on Julia, much to Portia’s obvious
Of the three widows, Portia was the most concerned
with propriety. Veronica had, on more than one occasion,
observed privately that it was those who walked the narrowest
paths that were the most likely to plunge over a
cliff when the opportunity presented itself. Fortunately
for Portia, or unfortunately in Veronica’s view, Portia had
yet to so much as peer over the edge of a cliff.
For that matter, neither had Julia. But she had discovered
a great deal about herself since her husband’s death.
Her character was far stronger than she had imagined.
One did what one had to do to survive in this world. As
for propriety, while she had always considered herself
most proper in both behavior and manner, it was no
longer as important as it once was.
“If it wasn’t a liaison,” Veronica continued, “which, I
might add, is a very great pity as surely Portia agrees,
given that she is an excellent judge of art . . .” Portia offered
her friends a weak smile. “Who was he and what
sort of profitable relationship is he confident about?”
Julia narrowed her eyes. “How much of the conversation
did you hear?”
“Not nearly enough.” Veronica breezed farther into the
room, settled on the sofa, and began taking off her gloves.
“You should call for tea.”
“I thought we were to have tea at Fenwick’s?” Julia said
“We were.” Portia moved past Julia and seated herself
beside Veronica. The three women had first met several
years ago at the reading room at Fenwick and Sons Booksellers,
which did seem to attract young widows who had
little else to occupy their time. Indeed, it had become
something of a unofficial club for ladies, as well as the
home of the loosely organized Ladies Literary Society. It
was Veronica who had suggested to the elder Mr. Fenwick
or perhaps one of the sons—as they were all of an indeterminate
age, somewhat interchangeable, and nearly impossible
to tell apart—that the reading room could prove
profitable by simply offering refreshments. Although
Veronica had never admitted it, Julia suspected her suggestion
had carried with it financial incentive. It would
not surprise Julia to learn Veronica was now a part owner
of Fenwick and Sons. “But you failed to appear at the appointed
Julia glanced at the clock. “I am scarcely half an hour
“Yes, but while Veronica and I are rarely on time, you
are always punctual.” Portia pinned her with a firm look.
“Your note said you had something of importance to discuss.
When you did not appear, we were naturally concerned.”