printed copy

The Perfect Mistress

Victoria Alexander

ISBN 9781420117059
Publish Date 1/25/2011
Format Paperback
Categories Zebra, Historical, Romance

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

Chapter One

London, 1885

“. . . 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 his words.

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 applaud it.

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 said quickly.

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 great-grandmother’s book.”

“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 opened.

“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?”

“Of course.”

“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 relief.

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 slowly.

“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 time.”

Julia glanced at the clock. “I am scarcely half an hour late.”

“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.”

About Victoria Alexander:

New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered fiction was much more fun than real life. She turned to writing full time and has never looked back. Victoria grew up traveling the country as an Air Force brat and is now settled in a very old house in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two allegedly grown children and two bearded collies. She firmly believes housework is a four-letter word, there are no calories in anything eaten standing up, procrastination is an art form, and it's never too soon to panic.


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Customer Review

Very entertaining read! (Saturday, November 27, 2010)
Reviewer: N. Ford

Sassy, sweet with a touch of whimsy. Good to the last page. Ms. Alexander is at the top of her game. A welcomed departure from what has become a standardization and, frankly, strangulation of creativity in the historical romance genre. Great characters - not to give anything away - but especially those unruly unconventional ones.


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