Cover & Excerpt Reveal
by Sheridan Jeane
Secrets and Seduction Book One
In 1851, Cecilia Paring has serious reservations about marrying her fiancé, Devin Montlake. Gone is the boy who could capture her heart with a word or a glance and in his place is a man who has made it clear that to be a proper barrister's wife, the exciting and impulsive Cecilia must change as well.
Although Devin Montlake loves his orderly life as a barrister, he's determined to follow his roadmap to achieve his goal of becoming a judge. His biggest obstacle seems to be convincing his headstrong fiancée to fulfill her social obligations with a modicum of propriety.
But when the jewelry collection belonging to Cecilia's family is stolen the night before it is to be auctioned off and Devin is framed for the crime, he discovers that following his much-loved rules won't solve this particular problem. He'll need the inventiveness of his irrepressible fiancée to catch the thief.
Genre: Historical RomancePurchase links: Amazon B&N
Content/Theme(s): Victorian, Suspense
Release Date: November 1, 2014
Publisher: Flowers and Fullerton
Excerpt & More
Mivart's Hotel, London, September 1851
A sister who liked to spy on people could be unbelievably irksome.
Cecilia Paring glanced up from fastening her leather dancing boots and caught her fifteen-year-old sister, Evangeline, peering at her.
Evangeline quickly glanced away, hiding her interest, but the pinched expression she wore made Cecilia feel as though Evangeline had been examining her for flaws.
"Can't you content yourself with spying on the guests instead of me? Mivart's Hotel has plenty of spots where you can conceal yourself and watch the evening unfold." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. After all, she knew exactly what it was like to be excluded from a ball. She'd been in the same position only a year ago.
Evangeline rolled her eyes in a way only an adolescent would. "Do be sensible. What makes you think you're worth spying on? Besides, this is my room, too." She stewed for a moment.
Cecilia instinctively knew Evangeline had something more to say. Three, two, one...
"And I feel compelled to point out," Evangeline continued, "that accusing me of being a spy is like the pot calling the kettle black. You're the one who first showed me the best way to sneak around our house undetected."
Cecilia remembered crouching on the balcony above the entryway next to her sister as they watched Mother and Father's guests arrive for one of the many events that used to take place in their elegant London mansion. She'd loved seeing each gown revealed as the women shed their cloaks. Unfortunately, both the mansion and the country estate had been entailed and upon their father's eventual demise it would pass to a distant male cousin. For want of a son, their home was lost.
"You've far surpassed me as a spy," Cecilia said, grinning at her sister. "I plan to try to catch you out tonight. After all, 'it takes a thief to catch a thief,' or in our case, it takes a spy to know a spy. But I doubt I'll spot you. You're one of the best spies I've ever seen."
Evangeline cocked an eyebrow in disdain. "Well, if you saw them, then they weren't very good, were they?"
Cecilia chuckled. "Good point." She sat down to face the mirror above the dressing table so she could return to preparing for the evening's ball.
She needed to do something with her hair. Mother's lady's maid would have been extremely helpful just now, but Mother needed her at the moment. Cecilia could manage.
"I can help you with that." Evangeline was still watching her.
"I'm sure I can do it." Cecilia brushed and pinned her hair, but after a few minutes, she sighed at her reflection. Her hair was a disaster, and the glittering floral-design choker she wore of diamonds, pale green peridots, and pink sapphires made it look laughable in contrast. Her head looked lopsided, and she could tell that as soon as she stepped onto the dance floor, the entire mess would come tumbling down.
"Will you let me help you now?" Evangeline asked. "I can hardly do worse."
Cecilia grimaced. Evangeline was right. "Go ahead. It has to be an improvement over this fright."
As Evangeline crossed the room to the dressing table, she paused to open the doors leading out to the tiny balcony. A cool breeze swept into the room and caused Evangeline's pale-green hoopskirts to sway. She looked quite fetching tonight, and she'd managed to arrange her own light-brown hair in a simple but fetching style. Cecilia knew Evangeline thought her nose was too long, but Cecilia had always believed it made her sister look elegant. She'd been a pretty child, but at fifteen, it was obvious that she would become a lovely woman. Much to both sisters' irritation, Mother had the habit of describing Evangeline as being a paler, younger version of Cecilia.
Evangeline stepped behind her and then deftly plucked the hairpins from Cecilia's tresses, placing them all on the dressing table. She gently brushed out Cecilia's mass of medium-brown hair.
"Your hair is much thicker than mine," Evangeline murmured. Her features wore a look of intense concentration. She pulled a lock of hair from Cecilia's eyes and tucked it behind her ear. "That's probably why those hairpins looked as if they were about to fall out."
Cecilia watched her sister's movements in the mirror as Evangeline deftly made a neat bun at the back of Cecilia's neck and then pulled a few curls free so that they framed her heart-shaped face.
Evangeline firmly secured the hairpins in place and said, "You know, if you place a second hairpin over the first one to form an 'x,' the two hairpins will stay locked in place." She patted the bun with a satisfied nod. "There. That should stay put."
A tight-chested sigh escaped from Cecilia. "Thank you." She'd need to remember how to do that hairpin trick with the "x."
"Cece, what's wrong?" Evangeline asked, using a pet-name she hadn't trotted out in months. "I can tell when something's bothering you."
Cecilia let out a surprised snort as she turned to face her sister. "What's wrong? Let's see..." She tapped her finger against her lower lip as she made a show of intense concentration. "Tonight I'm attending a ball where I'm supposed to help convince everyone that our family isn't really low on funds and that we're quite happy with all the changes we're about to make to our lives. Then tomorrow I'm obliged to attend an auction where we'll be selling off all Mother's jewelry to the highest bidder." She touched the necklace she wore. It would soon be gone. "Father made certain that everyone knows the proceeds will be used to fund our dowries. He isn't mentioning that he also plans to use the money to pay for all that property he purchased in Cannes. It galls me that he plans to use us to play on people's sympathies. It's humiliating."
"You must admit, it will probably work."
"Not you, too! How could you approve of that sort of behavior?"
"Because it will fund my dowry as well. I'm only being practical."
"Turncoat. Maybe it's good that you're all moving to the south of France as soon as I'm married. You can deal with Father's wild schemes and finally leave me out of it. I can't wait to be alone." She clasped her hands together and pressed them against her lap. As she listed her problems, she realized it was the last one that troubled her most. Losing her family. "You know I didn't mean that. I'll miss you."
"You won't be alone. You'll have Devin." Evangeline shot her a reproachful look in the mirror. "How could you forget about him? Hasn't it been your dream to marry him for years?" Sometimes Evangeline sounded more like Cecilia's older sister than her younger one. It could be quite irritating.
Cecilia looked down at her hands, now folded primly in her lap. "Nothing seems to take the romance out of a romance the way marriage does. Honestly, I was much happier pining away for Devin and dreaming about him. Now that he's about to become my husband, I find that I'm petrified at the prospect."
"Don't be foolish."
"Haven't you noticed how much he's changed?" She glanced out the window at the darkening sky. She'd need to go down to the ball soon. "Being away at university did something to him. I'm shocked that he still wants to marry me." She shifted uncomfortably on her stool. "I think he regrets making the offer."
"Of course he still wants to marry you." Evangeline stared at her in astonishment. "Why wouldn't he?"
"Now you're the one being foolish. Don't you realize I'm not the right kind of wife for him? He's self-contained and orderly, where I'm disorganized and spontaneous." She waved her arm toward the dresses piled on one of the beds. "Just look at the mess in here. How can I expect him to tolerate such chaos?"
"Now really, Cecilia. That's going too far. If Mother's lady's maid hadn't been needed elsewhere, the room wouldn't be in such a state." Still, Evangeline frowned at the mess. "Our financial situation will improve tremendously once the auction is over. We'll be wealthy and will be able toy afford a second lady's maid. Even an entire army of lady's maids." She let out a deep sigh. "I suppose Devin will adapt to your rather careless manner. After all, I did."
"Will he?" Cecilia stood up, plucked one of her discarded dresses off the bed, and hung it in one of the wardrobes, shoving her other dresses aside haphazardly. "He isn't the type of man to lower his standards. He expects me to raise mine and conform to what society expects a barrister's wife to be. And I'm trying. Truly I am. Did I tell you he wants me to take comportment lessons?"
"What?" Evangeline's look of outrage made Cecilia feel better. "But I thought he loved you...why would he want to change you?" Evangeline looked genuinely worried.
"I know he's always been a bit stiff-necked. It's just his way. As I recall, his parents are exactly the same, aren't they?"
"They're even worse. Maybe I'll be lucky and tomorrow's auction will be a failure and Devin will break our engagement."
"Don't even say such a thing," Evangeline scolded. "You'll bring us bad luck." Then she pulled at her lower lip with her thumb and forefinger, and she lowered her brows. "Do you really think Devin would do something so low as to throw you over?"
"No, of course not," Cecilia said, brushing the question away with a casual wave of her hand. "It was just a bit of wishful thinking. He can't back out. That would be breach of promise. He can't afford to have a black mark like that against his name. Just think of the damage it could do to his career. He wants to become a judge. Did I tell you that?"
Evangeline sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. "Then I suppose you'll need to take those comportment lessons."
The knot of tension in Cecilia's chest tightened. "I suppose you're right, which is why Devin thought of it."
"Of course I'm right. I might be the youngest person in our family, but I'm also the most sensible one."
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