In an unforgettable debut, Lisa Berne introduces you to the Penhallow Dynasty—men destined to marry, but hesitant to love.
Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow the 'Penhallow way': find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.
But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?
Check out the EXCERPT of You May Kiss the Bride
Not for the first time, Livia thought how uncannily Cecily resembled the china shepherdesses Aunt Bella had once collected—it was that shining hair of hers, the color of new straw, those cornflowerblue eyes, that pale, creamy skin. Today she wore an exquisite long sleeved gown of the finest, whitest cambric, which set off her willowy figure to perfection; from underneath its lacy appliquéd hem peeped dainty kid slippers with pretty little pink rosettes. Livia resisted the urge to glare at her own slippers, very old, very rundown.
Instead she looked over at Aunt Bella (her slippers weren’t much better), who kept her sleepy gaze fixed on Lady Glanville as she droned on, occasionally murmuring “Indeed” and “How delightful.” She lay half reclining on her sofa, draped in innumerable shawls, some of which puddled forgotten on the floor. Aunt Bella suffered from an extensive variety of ailments, none of which she ever openly discussed, all of which she treated with her cordial which she described, nebulously, as a superior medicinal. She spent a good deal of her time dozing in this room, with only a cage of small birds to keep her company.
Livia glanced at them now, huddling on their perches. Their cage was set near the window, but because Aunt Bella had an aversion to sunlight at all times, the heavy greenishblack drapes were drawn as was her custom and the drawingroom was gloomy and dim. It felt like she was underwater, Livia thought. Drowning. At least she would escape this room, for eventually this epically awful morningcall would end, but those little birds were trapped.
Quietly she stood and went to them. They looked at her without moving, their eyes dark, soft, pitifully dull. Livia inched the drapes apart and a welcome beam of sunlight illuminated the cage.
“—and after kindly informing me that my color was a trifle high, Mrs. Penhallow advised a diet of dry toast with a small quantity of pickled onions to stimulate the juices of digestion, for which she very generously divulged the receipt.”
“How delightful,” said Aunt Bella. “Livia, close those drapes at once.”
Sulkily Livia obeyed and returned to her seat.
“In short, it was a most gratifying exchange,” said Lady Glanville, “and concluded with Mrs. Penhallow actually offering two fingers to shake. I don’t know when I’ve been more pleased! You may therefore envision with what transports I received a letter from Mrs. Penhallow just a few days ago.”
She withdrew from her large beaded reticule a folded sheet. “My dear Bella, rejoice with us! Mrs. Penhallow writes that her grandson, Gabriel Penhallow, is in London, having returned from several years abroad. ‘He and I agree that it is high time that he marry and ensure the succession,’” Lady Glanville read aloud. She took a deep breath, causing her already prominent bosom to swell prodigiously.
“Only listen! ‘Your daughter, Cecily, seems to me to be a most suitable candidate. Her demeanor is ladylike and her movements graceful. I perceived, too, that her teeth are good. Following our propitious meeting at the Pump Room, I of course had my man of business thoroughly examine your situation in life and your family lines. Your fortune is sufficient and, aside from a slight taint of trade arising from mercantile activities during the time of Queen Elizabeth, I find your ancestry to be acceptable.’”
Lady Glanville cleared her throat. “I need hardly say that those activities occurred on Lord Glanville’s side of the family.”
“Indeed,” Aunt Bella murmured.
“So they are coming here!” burst out Cecily excitedly. “So that Mr. Penhallow can meet me!”
“It is an honor quite overwhelming,” said her ladyship. “We’ve entirely put off our plans for Cecily’s Season. Naturally Mrs. Penhallow most specifically states that no promises have been tendered, but she makes it very clear that should Mr. Penhallow find Cecily agreeable, we may expect to promptly receive an offer of marriage.”
“They say he’s one of the most eligible men on the Marriage Mart!” Cecily said happily, her blue eyes sparkling. “He is so wealthy, too! Only think of my jewels and carriages! I shall move in quite the highest, most fashionable circles!”
Remarkably, Livia thought, Cecily had no objection to being inspected as if she were some sort of prize heifer. And if the fabled Mr. Penhallow were to deem Cecily an acceptable wife, why, what a perfect match it would be. So perfectly, terribly romantic. She felt her lip curling in a sneer she just barely managed to repress. Cecily now smiled at Livia with that same kindly air. “And I won’t be too grand to forget you, Livia dear. Your future must be thought of, too. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to arrange a match for you—that would be reaching a little too high—but perhaps I could ask among my new acquaintance if they might need a governess. That, I daresay, would suit you admirably. Not quite below-stairs, but elevated above the other servants.” Then she lifted her delicate blond eyebrows. “Oh, dear, no, it would be impossible,wouldn’t it? You’ve had no training. But perhaps I can find something for you by and by, once I’m Mrs. Penhallow. Perhaps even in my own household. Wouldn’t that be jolly?”
“Well, well,” Lady Glanville said indulgently, “let’s not get ahead of ourselves, my dear. You are not Mrs. Penhallow yet. Although I doubt that Mr. Penhallow will meet with a prettier girl anywhere, here or abroad.” She folded the letter and with conspicuous care put it back into her reticule. “We must be on our way. There’s a vast deal yet to do, for the Penhallows arrive the day after tomorrow. Our ball will be, I may say without false modesty, exceptional. All the neighborhood gentry are to come.”
“And you,” Cecily said, still smiling sweetly at Livia, “are invited too. And dear Mrs. Stuart, of course.”
“Too, too kind.” Livia could tell her face was getting red with the effort of remaining civil.
“I know you do not dance, not having had the benefit of a master,” Lady Glanville told her, “but you must come, find yourself a quiet little corner, and enjoy the decorations. We are doing up the ballroom in the Egyptian style. Quite a hundred pounds have been spent on potted palms alone.”
“How delightful.” The hot flush was spreading down her neck.
“Yes, yes, delightful,” Aunt Bella said to Lady Glanville, struggling feebly to sit a little more upright, “but you know I don’t go out. Charles must take her.”
Her ladyship smiled archly. “I knew such would be the case. Lord Glanville sent a message to that effect. He is bringing up from the cellar some Spanish port and trusts Charles will share it with him.”
“Oh, he’ll go then,” answered Aunt Bella, visibly relieved and sinking back onto her cushions. “How nice for you, Livia.”
“Yes, and we brought some more of my old gowns for you,” added Cecily. “My maid has them in the hall. Perhaps one of them might suit you for the ball. Though you are wider than I am.”
“My Cecily is quite the soul of benevolence, is she not, dear Bella? Well, Livia, you must be anxious to see your new dresses. Why don’t you run along, and retrieve them from Cecily’s maid. What fun you shall have.”
About the Author:
Lisa Berne read her first Georgette Heyer book at fourteen, and was instantly captivated. Later, she was a graduate student, a grantwriter, and an investment banker, but is thrilled to be returning to her roots and writing her own historical-romance novels! She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest
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