The Wallflowers of West Lane are back!
We’re bringing readers their first look at CAPTURING THE EARL by A.S. Fenichel! Keep reading to take a peek at the gorgeous new cover, and a special excerpt from the book.
Exciting Announcement Alert: We’re giving five readers the chance to win a copy of the first book in The Wallflowers of West Lane series, THE EARL NOT TAKEN, over in our Between the Chapters book club group! Click here to join.
The friendship of four young ladies has created an indestructible bond to protect one another from the perils of love and marriage . . .
After the demise of her friend’s disastrous marriage, Mercedes Parsons isn’t about to let the widowed Wallflower of West Lane, Lady Aurora Radcliff, undertake another perilous trip to the altar. At least, not before the bridegroom-to-be is thoroughly investigated. If only Mercy could stop her uncharacteristic daydreaming about Wesley Renshaw’s charm, his intellect, his dashing good looks. After all, the earl has already set his sights on her best friend! She must keep her wits about her and avoid giving into temptation.
Wesley is both irritated and intrigued by the machinations of Mercy—He cannot let her cleverness and beauty distract him. He needs to marry her friend, Aurora, so he can reclaim his family’s ancestral home. A wrong he has hoped to right his entire life. Besides, who is penniless spinster Mercedes Parsons to decide whom he can and cannot marry? Yet while he admires her unwavering loyalty to her friends, he decides it’s high time the misguided woman had a dose of her own medicine. Two can play at this spying game. But they are both embarked on a dangerous charade. And it won’t be merely Mercy’s reputation at risk—or her heart on the line—as Wesley comes to the inescapable conclusion that he has found the right woman at exactly the wrong time.
Learn more about the book, and preorder your copy, here: https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/9781516110537/capturing-the-earl/
Now For A Sneak Peak:
Mercedes Heath shook her head. She must have heard him wrong. After all, why would Wesley Renshaw, the Earl of Castlewick, want to dance with her?
The ballroom was loud and awash with activity. The Duke of Breckenridge lived in one of the largest townhouses in London, but it was still enough of a crush that she might have misunderstood the charming earl.
“Miss Heath?” Wesley’s light brown eyes sparkled with some amusement only he understood.
“I beg your pardon, my lord?” Mercy tried to be polite, but it came out sharper than she’d planned.
Mercy was tall for a woman, but the earl was still a few inches taller, with the broadest shoulders she’d ever encountered. She had a fleeting thought about what he must do to stay so muscular, but brushed the wayward notion aside. His dark blond curls fell over the golden tan of his forehead, but his bright eyes glinted with browns and golds, or at least she imagined they did. Mercy spent so much time admiring him, that once again, she had missed what he said.
Her aunt Phyllis had urged her to put her spectacles in her reticule and stop hiding her pretty face. She had done so to appease her only living blood relative, but found herself out of sorts with her vision blurred.
However, she saw well enough to note his offered arm, indicating he did indeed wish to dance with her.
As she had missed the opportunity to give some random excuse for why she couldn’t possibly dace with him, she placed her hand on his arm and they joined the other dancers.
The conductor tapped his wand and a waltz began. Mercy tried not to notice the missed notes and out of tune second violin, but the sound grated on her nerves.
Wesley placed a hand at the small of her back a bit more firmly than was strictly necessary.
Turning her attention to him, she asked. “Have I been rude?”
His smile sent a shot of attraction from Mercy’s head to her toes and it stopped in a few interesting places along the way. “Not at all. You are seemingly distracted. Is the music not to your liking?”
It would be more polite to say nothing or deny any issues with the orchestra, but Mercy didn’t care about such customs and she had no reason to attempt small talk with this earl. He was nothing to her. She looked from the ornate arch ceiling with its frescoes to her aunt Phyllis, who watched from the furthest corner of the ballroom before settling her attention back on the handsome man whirling her around the room. “The second violin is out of tune, the pianoforte is being played by a complete oaf, and the flutist has missed no less than two notes of every eight.”
“I see.” He grinned as if perhaps he did actually understand, but perhaps he was just amused by her in general. That could explain his desire to dance with a girl of no means and few relations.
“I realize I am likely the only one to notice such things and that the duke and his sister have hired one of the most popular orchestras in London.” Mercy shrugged as she also knew no one cared what she thought of the music.
A robust couple bounded across the dance floor laughing and smiling as if they were part of a circus. Neither seemed capable of waltzing but neither did they care as they pushed several couples out of their way and headed directly for Mercy.
In one graceful move, Wesley lifted Mercy from her feet and out of harm’s way. Her body crushed to his with an embrace that felt almost tender before he released her and in the same instant fell back into the perfectly balanced steps of the waltz. “You are a musician then.”
She laughed and it surprised even herself. She rarely laughed in the company of strangers. Girls of her kind were not supposed to show outward enjoyment in public. It was grotesque, in Aunt Phyllis’s opinion. But the way he dismissed saving her from a pummeling as if it never happened and took up the conversation without a hitch amused her. “I would not call myself as such, but I do play.”
“Yet you hear every nuance. I think you might be being modest.” His firm hand on her back guided them easily around the room and sent heat through her in way no other man ever had.
Mercy had no response. If she said she was an accomplished musician, she would be a braggart, and if she denied it, a liar. Remaining silent was her only choice.
“I would like to hear you play some time, Miss Heath.” He cocked his strong chin to one side. “I think I would enjoy that very much.”
The music ended. “Perhaps you will, my lord.”
She turned to walk away, but he touched her elbow. “Will you not stay for the Boulanger?”
It was common for partners to stand up for two consecutive dances. Mercy just assumed he would have had enough dancing with a girl of no consequence and politely let her find her way back to some quiet corner or to her friends. “If you wish, my lord.”
He offered his hand and they joined a circle of dancers.
The Boulanger left little time for chatting, but it did give her time to observe Wesley and how he interacted with others. He smiled politely at every woman he partnered, though never so wide as to give someone the wrong impression. When they were once again hand in hand, his eyes sparkled with something tender.
Mercy assumed she was imagining things. With her blurred vision, she could easily imagine anything in the place of the truth. He couldn’t care about someone like her. If he showed special regard it was only because he wanted something. In most cases what men wanted from her she was not willing to give. Her wicked body responded to the earl without regard for the fact that he was unattainable. Heat flushed up her neck and face, while parts lower suddenly came alive with desire.
Quashing the thought, she focused on the music, noting every mistake and even a few nicely handled stanzas.
It was rare that Mercy got to dance. Without a title, lands, or a large dowry, she had nothing to offer a young gentleman besides her body and that was not a prize she was eager to give. At most of these affairs she’d find a quiet corner and watch out for her friends, or if the music room was not in use she might closet herself away and putter with finer instruments than she generally had access to.
Moving around the floor to the beat of the music and occasionally coming together with a man who had specifically asked her to dance with him was a rare delight. It was easy to glide around the floor, but she wished she had clear sight so she could see all the nuances of his expression.
His full lips were turned up, but she couldn’t tell if the expression touched his eyes. Fumbling for her reticule, she decided that she would put her spectacles back on just as the music ended and catch a glimpse of Wesley’s true gaze before it was likely she’d never see him again.
Gripping the wire rim between two fingers she turned toward Wesley.
The final notes were played.
Applause erupted from the dancers.
The man with the paunch on her other side bumped her, pushing her into Wesley.
Wesley’s arms came around her before she tumbled to the floor.
The spectacles flew from her hand as she gripped his arm.
A sickening crunch followed.
As the dancers dispersed and the musicians put down their instruments, among the clatter Mercy crouched beside her crushed spectacles. She picked up the twisted frames. One lens was crushed to powder on the wooden floor, but the other was still in the frame with just one crack diagonally across. Mercy put the one lens to her eye. “I suppose it could be worse.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Heath. I hope those are not a desperate need.”
She had expected him to walk off when the others had, but he’d stayed with her and stood just behind. She drew a long breath and let it out. “I shall survive, my lord.”
Firmly he gripped her elbow and drew her back to standing. He studied the crushed wire and glass in her hand. “Do not injure yourself on the glass, miss.”
Ladies of worth didn’t care if they could see or not. It was more important to be lovely and snare a fine husband with money and power. Mercy preferred to see and to read. She needed to read the music of the masters as much as she required breath. Still, her weakness was too obvious in his presence and heat crept up her cheeks. Plunking the ruin spectacles back in her reticule, Mercy forced a polite smile. “Thank you, my lord. I am uninjured. I enjoyed the dance.”
She turned and strode toward the hallway where she could rush to the ladies’ retiring room and recover herself.
Wesley stayed at her side. “To whom may I deliver you, Miss Heath?”
Halfway across the wide grand foyer, she stopped and turned to him. “You need not concern yourself, my lord. I am a grown woman and can manage to keep myself safe. My friends and my aunt are here tonight.”
Stepping until he was inches from her, his warmth spread through her. “I can see you are upset and only wish to help.”
It was impossible he could know her mind. She had practiced the indifferent mask she wore to these events and it had never failed her. The fact that she couldn’t afford to replace the spectacles was bad enough. His knowing she was distressed was unbearable. “I am not upset. They are only a meaningless object. You need not worry.”
“It is too late for that, Miss Heath.” His soft voice brought her head up.
Even slightly blurred he was more handsome than was good for her. “I thank you for your concern, my lord. I shall just retire for a few minutes and be right again.”
He shifted from one foot to the other, his frown obvious. “Shall I find your friends and send them to you?”
“That is not necessary.” Though, she had to admit, it was a very kind idea. “I am fine. It was a vigorous dance and I need to rest.”
The air thickened in the moment where he made no reply. He bowed. “As you wish, Miss Heath. I thank you for the dance.”
After making a quick curtsy, she tried to think of something to say, but instead rushed away and closeted herself in a small parlor to catch her breath.
Once she had thoroughly inspected her ruined spectacles, she returned them to her reticule with a sigh. Perhaps she could ask her aunt for a few extra pounds to replace them. No. She would see if she could take on a few new music students and earn enough wage to buy a new pair.
That settled, she left the parlor and popped out into the cool night for some air. She was in a part of the house unused by the ball attendees and reveled in the quiet. The gardens were lit and she heard voices on the other side of a tall hedge. Several couples were hidden from her view, but she heard them chatting on the larger veranda that flanked the ballroom. Staying hidden, she circled a baluster and stepped onto a stone path.
It was a perfect night. Mercy took a deep breath. She had to return, but not yet. Her mind bustled with questions about why the Earl of Castlewick would ask her to dance, or care about her broken eyewear or her state of distress. It was all very odd.
Another set of footsteps sounded from behind.
Mercy spun around to find Wesley quickly approaching. “My lord?”
“Miss Heath, when you didn’t return, I became concerned.” He bowed.
She stepped back. “Why would such a thing concern you?”
“I beg your pardon.” His tone sharpened.
Keeping her distance, Mercy regretted stepping so far from the safety of a crowd. “I mean you no offense, my lord, but why should my state of being be of any concern to you? I am nothing to you save a dance partner. To be honest, I’m still trying to fathom why you asked me to dance in the first place.”
It was rude. She should have kept her questions to herself, thanked him for his attention, and walked away. Yet she wanted to know and had little to lose.
A man in his position might have walked away or become affronted and given her a setting down. Wesley smiled. “I asked you to dance because you are a lovely woman and I thought it might be a pleasant way to spend part of the evening. As for my concern,” his face grew serious, “I should have protected you better during the dance and after. What happened to your belongings should never have occurred.”
He felt responsible. How odd. Mercy hadn’t met many men of his ilk who were so solicitous of their dance partner’s feelings. He likely wanted to steel a kiss or more and had followed her to get her alone. Mercy feigned patting her hair, but pulled a long hatpin she kept tucked in her elaborate bun. “My lord, I appreciate your attention.” It was difficult to not sound sarcastic. If necessary, she would jab him and run. “You may rest assured, I am in no immediate danger. I just wanted some air.”
The way his laugh rolled around the garden and caught on the breeze brought nothing but delight. “I think the weapon is a fine idea, Miss Heath. I shall instruct my two sisters to have exactly such an item placed in their hair for balls, trips to the theater, and the like.”
Mercy raised her brow and smiled, but didn’t sheath her weapon against overly amorous admirers. “You might tell them picnics and walks in the park are better suited to several pins in one’s stays or actual hats. One never knows when man of means will try to take advantage of a woman below his station. Of course, your sisters have your title to protect them.”
She had no need for spectacles or better lighting to see that her words had angered him. His fists clenched at his sides and his shoulders went rigid. “I have no intention of taking anything from any woman, regardless of her station, that is not offered freely.”
“Then you had better go back to the house, my lord, before someone sees you and me in the garden alone and I am ruined. Or do you intend to marry me, should we be discovered?” She made a scoffing sound that was not very ladylike.
The moon shone on him like a god of old as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I have no intention of marrying you, Miss Heath. Though I have to say your candor is refreshing after so many inane hours of debutantes who connive to have my attentions.”
“Conniving is not really in my nature. And in any event, I am not of your station. I am only Miss Heath, an orphan whose father had no title and whose lands were entailed elsewhere. If not for my aunt’s kindness, I would be someone’s governess or worse. You may be sure that I have no designs on a man like you.” She carefully and deliberately put her hatpin back into her hair without poking herself.
“I’m not sure I like the way you say, ‘a man like me.’ In fact, I didn’t like any of what you just said.” He scowled.
“And yet it was all true.”
Giving her a nod, he said, “Good evening, Miss Heath.”
She made a quick curtsy and rushed back toward the house.
* * * *
Mercy played the pianoforte in the West Lane music room. She knew the piece from memory and would have to endure it played by her student later in the day. Playing it herself beforehand was a small indulgence.
Ignoring the bang of the doors and the scratching on the music room’s door, she played on.
Tipton stood several feet away with a package in his hand and a bland expression.
Stopping play, Mercy sighed. “Yes, Tipton?”
He approached. “Miss Heath, this just arrived by special messenger for you.” Tipton placed the package, wrapped in thick brown paper, on the pianoforte. With a bow, he turned and left.
She wanted to continue playing, but too curious about the package, she reached for it. Who would send her anything?
Removing the note from beneath the package, she opened it.
Consider this a small apology for my lack of attentiveness.
Heart pounding, Mercy opened the box without tearing the thick paper. Inside lay a case covered in the finest kid. The soft leather was usually used for expensive gloves. However, in the case lay a pair of wire-framed spectacles.
Mercy gasped and stared at them.
“What is it?” Aurora said from the doorway. “I heard the music stop and came to check on you. Have you an admirer?”
“No,” Mercy said too quickly.
Aurora’s golden hair caught the light and her pale blue dress flowed around her as she approached the pianoforte. She studied at the spectacles. “Who would send such an unusual and thoughtful gift?”
The Wallflowers of West Lane did not lie to one another. Since she had nothing to hide, Mercy handed the note to Aurora.
One perfectly curved brow rose above her clear blue eyes. Aurora said, “Why would the Earl of Castlewick send you replacement spectacles?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea. Perhaps he truly felt responsible for the ruination of my other pair.” Mercy took them from the case and put them on. The sheet music before her came into view with perfect clarity. Her heart soared. “Better than my old ones, but I can’t accept them.”
Aurora waved a hand. “You did nothing wrong and if it makes his lordship feel better, I see no harm in keeping the glasses, which you need and would not be able to buy for yourself for many months. Unless you have changed your mind about either letting me buy you a pair or asking your aunt?”
Shaking her head, Mercy said. “I have not changed my mind, but to accept such a gift from a man…What will he want in return?”
Aurora tapped her lip with her index finger. “I suggest you consider it a loan. You can write back to his lordship and tell him you appreciate his gesture but must pay him back in full within some set time frame of your choosing.”
It made sense. Mercy did need the spectacles. After several distracted hours of wondering why he had done it, she finished with her last student of the day and sat down to write Wesley a note of thanks and terms for the loan. Once she’d handed her mail off to Tipton, Mercy pushed her new spectacles up on her nose and settled into the ladies’ parlor with a book.