Today I am pleased to be a part of a Blog Tour and Giveaway for Summer of Scandal by Syrie James.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Madeleine Atherton is no typical American heiress, sent to England to marry an English lord. A brilliant college graduate who secretly dreams of becoming a published author, she wants to marry for love. After receiving a proposal from a future duke, Madeleine flees the London Season for Cornwall to seek her sister’s advice, never expecting her decision to be complicated by a charming, handsome earl she’s certain she dislikes—even though his every touch sets her blood on fire.
Charles Grayson, the Earl of Saunders, has secrets and ambitions of his own. Although under pressure from his mother and gravely ill father to marry his cousin, Charles cannot find the words to propose. But this fascinating American visitor does not figure into his plans, either.
Thrown together unexpectedly at Trevelyan Manor, Madeleine and Charles struggle to rise above their intense attraction. But as things heat up between them over a summer that becomes increasingly scandalous, Madeleine and Charles will both be forced to make a difficult choice. Can two dreamers dare to defy convention and find their own happily ever after?
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Author: Syrie James
Series: Dare to Defy Series
*Each novel is a standalone story.
Genre: Adult Historical Romance
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Format: Kindle ARC
No. of Pages: 303
Publication Date: September 11, 2018
My Rating: 4 Stars
Lady Madeleine Atherton is an American heiress living in London. It is 1889, and Madeleine, a recent graduate of Vassar college, she is anything but ordinary - different from most women of her age and station. Aside from being so well educated, Madeleine aspires to become a published author. She has been proposed to by a future duke, but she told him she needed time to think. His name is Lord Oakley and he sets about on a three-month tour of the confident, giving Madeleine all of the time she needs to accept his proposal.
Charles Grayson is the Earl of Saunders, and like Madeleine, has aspirations of his own. These do not fit his station in life, but he has unique gifts and does not want to give up his dreams. Charles has pretty much been destined to marry Sophie, his cousin, ever since the two were children. Charles is under a lot of pressure right now. His father is gravely ill, and one of the things his father is demanding is that Charles propose to Sophie, once and for all.
Due to weather conditions, Madeleine spends some time at Charles family home. Maddie must think about her answer to Lord Oakley and Charles must think about his decision regarding Sophie. Charles and Madeleine are truly drawn to one another, despite their future obligations. To make matters even more difficult, Sophie is also visiting at Charles home. Can Charles make the offer to Sophie despite the fact that his heart is not with it?
Charles and Madeleine are nothing less than honorable. The attraction they share is sizzling, but they both are determined to put their growing feelings for one another aside in order to do the right thing. Summer of Scandal is the second in the Dare to Defy series. How appropriate, as the question is whether or not these two will defy what is expected and follow their hearts.
I so loved this book! It worked on so many levels. First of all, how would the fact that these two were unconventional in their interests affect their future partners? Then the fact that Charles and Sophie are supposed to wed is called into question because of the feelings he has for Madeleine. It should be noted that the future of Charles and Sophie was borne of duty, not feelings. Another thing, the two women become friends. I couldn't imagine how things could possibly work out for Charles and Madeleine without Sophie being hurt. I really paid attention because I truly came to care for Sophie.
Syrie James has written a truly effective novel. At times things did move a bit slow, but I loved it nonetheless. It was a very sweet romance that seemed hopeless, and thus I was truly drawn into the story. It was also a delight to see such an intelligent woman during that time in history. I also loved how much respect Charles and Madeleine had for each other's endeavors. This was a truly touching portion of the story. As mentioned this is the second in the series. I had not read book one, yet I had no problem reading this much as a standalone. However, I do look forward to reading the other books as they are released.
Many thanks to Avon Impulse and to Pure Textuality PR for this ARC to review in exchange for an honest opinion.
Reviewer's note: Summer of Scandal is book #2 in the Dare to Defy series. The first title is Runaway Heiress.
PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT:
Bolton, Cornwall, England
June 21, 1889
The brisk wind bit Madeleine Atherton’s cheeks as she stepped down from the train. Cornwall might be known for its temperate climate, but it felt more like November than June. At least the rain had stopped—for the moment.
The rural station at Bolton was much smaller than Madeleine had remembered. Just a redbrick building that resembled a cottage, with a single wooden bench facing the tracks. The platform was empty. Beyond the station stretched a single street lined with small houses and shops. Beyond that, wide green meadows were bisected by a narrow road as far as the eye could see. There was no sign of an approaching carriage.
Where was Alexandra?
Madeleine had spent the entire seven-hour train ride from London thinking about this moment, how wonderful it would be to see her sister again, and how happy Alexandra would be that Madeleine had dared to come. But no one was here to meet her.
Madeline pulled her velvet cloak more closely about her, worried. She had sent a wire yesterday to inform her sister of her plans. I’m stealing away, she had written, just like you did last year. Well, stealing wasn’t exactly the right word. She had simply left a note, packed a trunk, donned her best green traveling suit, and slipped out of Brown’s Hotel early that morning while her mother was sleeping.
As the second of three daughters of one of the richest men in the United States, Madeleine understood that she was expected to make an exceptional match. The quest for a titled husband might be her mother’s ambition, to further the family’s standing in New York society, but Madeleine had agreed to give it a try. It had worked out so well for her sister, after all. Alexandra had fallen madly in love with Thomas Carlyle, the seventh Earl of Longford, and was now happily married and a countess.
Madeleine wasn’t actually opposed to the man her mother was urging her to marry. In fact, she rather liked him. The problem was, unlike most of the girls unleashed on the London Season, Madeleine wasn’t a wide-eyed, immature debutante. She was twenty-four years old. She was a college graduate. This was her second Season in London, taking into account last year’s half Season, when she’d hastily crossed the Atlantic to take part after Alexandra’s impromptu exit.
And Madeleine had specific goals in mind.
Like her sister, Madeleine wanted love to figure into the equation in any match she made. And not just any love. Madeleine wanted a man who adored and respected her, but who also understood her and would be supportive of her dreams.
Was Lord Oakley that man? She wasn’t certain.
Her abrupt departure from town would no doubt enrage her mother, but Madeleine desperately needed a few weeks away to clear her head. She had a life-altering decision to make. And she needed her sister’s advice.
“Is this everything, then?” The query from a mustachioed porter broke into her thoughts. He and another man had deposited Madeleine’s trunk and two bags onto the platform.
“Yes, thank you so much.” Madeleine tipped both men, who touched their caps in thanks.
She was trying to decide what to do, when she caught sight of an approaching carriage on the horizon. Thank goodness. Alexandra was coming at last!
Just then, from another car further along the train, a tall, well-dressed gentleman descended, carrying a leather satchel. Madeleine’s breath caught in her throat.
It was Charles Grayson, the Earl of Saunders. The best friend of her sister’s husband.
A man she had no desire to see, much less speak to.
But he had already spotted her. His eyes widened in surprise as he closed the distance between them, then greeted her with a bow. “Miss Atherton!”
Madeleine gave him a terse smile and a dutiful curtsy. “Lord Saunders.”
“I had no idea you were on this train.” His voice was just as deep as she’d remembered, just as cultured and refined. He regarded her with calm detachment and a hint of something like curiosity, as if unsure where he stood with her or what to make of her. “I spotted you last month at the Fitzhughs’ ball,” he added, “and another time at the races. But each time I sought you out, you seemed to disappear.”
“Did I? I’m sorry,” Madeleine replied noncommittally. There was a good reason he hadn’t connected with her on either of those occasions. She’d gone out of her way to avoid him.
Looking around, he asked, “Did you travel alone?”
“Yes.” She knew it wasn’t the “done thing” for a woman to travel by train unaccompanied, but she’d had little choice in the matter. She and her mother were sharing the same lady’s maid while in England, and Madeleine couldn’t very well have robbed her mother of her only servant. She silently dared Lord Saunders to reprove her. But he only said:
“So did I. My man Evans came up yesterday with most of my things. But why have you left the Season? I pray you are in good health?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
A cloud of steam emanated from beneath the great locomotive, and the smokestack belched a dark, filthy blast.
“I hope you are not here to see your sister?” he further prodded.
His expression and tone sparked another dash of worry within her. “Why do you say that?”
“Because I received a wire from Longford yesterday morning. He and his wife and sisters are away at Bath.”
“Oh!” Madeleine’s spirits sank. “Then Alexandra never received my telegram.” What a fool she’d been to leave London on such short notice, without waiting for a reply! But it had never occurred to her that her sister wouldn’t be home. Alexandra was seven months pregnant, and had said she intended to remain at home until her child was born.
A new thought worried her. “People go to Bath for their health, don’t they? Do you know if my sister’s all right?”
“I haven’t heard otherwise. Bath is also a popular holiday destination.”
Madeleine wished she felt more reassured. The train whistle blew, a bell clanged, and the huge wheels began to turn. With a rhythmic chug-chug-chug, the locomotive moved out of the station. Leaving Madeleine alone on the platform with Lord Saunders.
“Do you know how long my sister and Lord Longford intend to be away?” she asked.
“A fortnight, I believe.”
Two weeks! Madeleine’s mind worked on the problem. If she could learn where Alexandra was staying in Bath and contact her, maybe her sister would return earlier. Assuming—praying—that she was all right. If not, Madeleine would go to Bath. In the meantime, she could wait at the Longfords’ estate, Polperran House. The carriage she’d noticed earlier was making its approach.
“Well,” Madeleine observed, “it looks as though the staff at Polperran House opened my telegram, and have sent a coach for me.”
“I am afraid that is my coach, Miss Atherton,” Saunders pointed out.
Indeed, as the coach—a smart equipage, painted red and black, with large glass windows—drew up, Madeleine recognized the Trevelyan coat of arms and the coronet of a British marquess emblazoned on the side.
“Please, do not distress yourself.” Saunders’s smile was polite. “It would be my honor to escort you to Trevelyan Manor. You will be most welcome to stay there until Longford and his family return from Bath.”
“Thank you, but no,” Madeleine replied quickly. She had no desire to spend time with this man, nor to stay at his family’s estate. “I would not wish to impose.”
“It would be no imposition, I assure you.”
“I appreciate the offer, my lord. But I would rather find a way to get myself to Polperran House and remain there, while I send word to my sister.”
He nodded. “In that case, pray allow me to offer you a ride thither.”
Madeleine considered. It was a two-hour drive from the Bolton station to Polperran House. She could try to find a cab, but she knew it would not greatly inconvenience Lord Saunders to do her this favor. Although she’d never been to Trevelyan Manor, Alexandra had told her that it was situated near the coast some five miles beyond Polperran House, which was more or less on the way.
Still. Did she want to be cooped up in a carriage with this man for such a long period of time? It was bad enough that she’d traveled unaccompanied all the way from London. But to ride in a closed carriage with a man to whom she wasn’t related or engaged? An Atherton girl, her mother would insist, did not behave that way.
Noticing her hesitation, Saunders added: “There are no more trains today. Your only alternative is to take shelter at the Inn at Bolton—and I would not wish my worst enemy to stay at that establishment, nor even have a meal there. Unless you are absolutely famished?”
“I had something to eat on the train,” Madeleine admitted.
“Well, then?” He quirked an eyebrow. His eyes, she noticed, were an arresting shade of hazel. As he looked at her, it seemed as though he was working hard to take the measure of her, as if she were a problem that needed to be solved. Despite herself, she felt a ripple of sudden interest run the entire length of her body from her head to her toes.
Don’t let him charm you, Madeleine.
She’d spent the past two months at endless balls and parties, subjected to the calculating scrutiny of every fortune-hunting bachelor in London. She’d learned to grin and bear it, and after meeting Lord Oakley, to actually enjoy it. But Lord Saunders’s gaze made her feel self-conscious somehow. And . . . rattled.
A low rumble of thunder rent the air, recalling her attention to her predicament. Raindrops began to patter against the pavement. It was quite apparent that no one was coming for her. It seemed she had little alternative but to accept his offer.
Madeleine swallowed a sigh. “Thank you. I’d very much appreciate a ride to Polperran House.”
Lord Saunders directed two porters to load Madeleine’s luggage onto the back of the carriage. As the men struggled under the weight of her trunk, Saunders asked her, “What have you got in here? Bricks?”
He eyed her with amusement as the coachman secured the trunks and covered them with a tarpaulin. “Did you bring an entire library?”
“Not quite.” She’d only packed two dozen or so of her favorites novels in with her clothes. All the other books she’d brought from New York, she’d been obliged to leave at Brown’s Hotel. In truth, she felt a bit bereft without them. But, she reminded herself, this was a short trip. She’d be back in London in a few weeks.
“May I assist with your satchel?” Saunders gestured toward the tapestry bag Madeleine carried.
Instinctively, she clasped the carryall to her chest, feeling the weight of the precious cargo within. “No thank you.”
He smiled agreeably, then offered his gloved hand to help her board. She took it. His grip was strong and firm, and once again, she felt a sizzle of sparks dance up her arm. Drat the man for being so charming.
She climbed inside, withdrawing her hand and settling on the forward-facing upholstered seat. Saunders took the seat opposite. As the carriage pulled out of the station, rain began pouring down in earnest. Saunders removed his top hat and set it down beside him. Madeleine dared a glance at him across the carriage.
She had to admit, he was very good-looking. His nose wasn’t perfect, but its slight bend gave it character. His cheekbones were, well, high. His curly hair looked soft and was a lovely shade of dark caramel brown. His three-piece suit was perfectly tailored to his broad shoulders, trim waist, and long legs. It was too much, really. No wonder the debutantes had called him “swoon-worthy.”
Madeleine had no intention of swooning before any man, however. Especially this one. No matter what the other ladies had said about him, as they tittered and gossiped behind their fans.
“It is a shame that he makes such infrequent appearances during the Season, and is so skittish about settling down,” one of her acquaintances had intoned breathlessly at a dinner party. “He is still young, just a year shy of thirty, and he will one day inherit the title of Marquess of Trevelyan. The way he flirts! Why, he almost married an American heiress a few years ago! Thank goodness that did not come to pass.”
Madeleine knew all about that scandalous affair. It was the reason she disliked him.
“So,” Saunders quipped, breaking into her reverie as his eyes lifted to hers, “have you run away from town as your sister did?”
His voice held a teasing lilt to it. Madeleine realized she’d been caught staring and in embarrassment looked away, the question setting her on the defensive. “No! I haven’t run away. I have merely taken . . . a small break.”
“In the middle of the Season? How unusual. What prompted your departure? Other than a sudden impulse to visit your sister?”
“What prompted yours?” she challenged.
His smile fled. After a pause, he replied: “My father is unwell.”
“Oh!” Madeleine had only met Lord Trevelyan briefly, the summer before, but had the impression that he was well-liked and respected in the community. “I’m so sorry.”
“He has been ill on and off for years, but never this seriously. It is why my parents remained in the country this Season. The physician and my mother are very concerned.”
“I’m very sorry,” Madeleine said again. “I do hope he recovers fully and quickly.”
Saunders sat in worried silence as the carriage rumbled along, rain beating against the windows. Madeleine felt bad that she’d deflected his question with one of her own. Hoping to fix her mistake and lighten the mood, she said, “You asked my purpose in coming to Cornwall.”
He replaced his frown with a look of genuine interest. “I did.”
“I’ve come because I’ve had an offer of marriage.”
“Congratulations! Who is the lucky gentleman?”
“The Marquess of Oakley, eldest son of the Duke of Courtenay.”
“Ah! I know him well.”
“We roomed together for a year at Oxford. Philip is an excellent fellow.”
Madeleine hesitated. “Yes, he is.”
“You sound uncertain.”
“I don’t mean to. I’m honored by his proposal.” Lord Oakley was handsome, upright, intelligent, thoughtful. Everything Madeleine wanted in a husband. Her mother was thrilled with the match, and Madeleine knew that where titles were concerned, she couldn’t do better than the eldest son of a duke. “But it’s a big decision,” she added.
“Indeed it is.”
“He’s gone off on a tour of the Continent, so I have time to consider the matter. I didn’t want to accept until I’d discussed it with my sister.”
“I understand why. The Countess of Longford is a paragon among women. I should very much like to consult with her myself before making a decision, were I a woman.”
The comment made Madeleine’s hackles rise again. “Were you a woman?”
Her tone seemed to take him aback. “Er . . . Yes.”
Madeleine reminded herself to see the humor in the situation. He was, after all, a man. Most men viewed the world as though it were their exclusive dominion, convinced that women were a weaker, less worthy, less intelligent gender. “Are you saying that a man can only turn to another man for advice? That you would never seek a woman’s counsel on any matter?”
“I . . . did not say that.”
“Yet you implied it.”
“Forgive me, Miss Atherton. That was not my intention.”
“If you think about it carefully, you will see that what you said was condescension, thinly veiled.”
He nodded solemnly as he considered her remark. “Perhaps it was. Again, forgive me. I see that I shall have to mind my p’s and q’s with you.”
“P’s and q’s. That is such an interesting expression.”
“It is, isn’t it? Now that I said it, I realize I have no idea what it actually means.”
“It’s thought to be a schoolroom phrase,” Madeleine told him. “When pupils were taught to write the alphabet, they were reminded to place the letters in the proper order. P comes before Q.”
“That makes sense.”
“There are two other theories, though, that I recall.”
“Please enlighten me.”
“One is that it’s short for ‘mind your pleases and thank-yous”—the latter of which sounds a bit like the letter Q. My favorite insists that the phrase derives from English pubs of the seventeenth century, when bartenders were obliged to keep an eye on the pints and quarts their patrons consumed.”
Saunders chuckled. “How on earth did you come to know all that, Miss Atherton?”
“I had a rather remarkable English professor in my second year at Vassar.”
He paused. “Ah, yes. Your sister mentioned that you just graduated from college. May I congratulate you on your accomplishment?”
He cocked his head slightly, regarding her with what appeared to be a mixture of esteem and curiosity. “I find you most unusual, Miss Atherton.”
“Do you? Why?”
“Your father is one of the wealthiest men in America. You have no need to work. Yet you chose to attend university.”
“Every member of the peerage goes to college,” she pointed out, “and you don’t engage in a profession.”
His brows furrowed at that and he seemed perturbed. After a moment, he commented, “Yes, but that’s different.”
“Why is it different? Why shouldn’t I educate myself? Because I’m a woman?”
An awkward laugh escaped him now and he seemed incapable of a reply.
Madeleine leaned forward in her seat, passion fueling her words. “Women are just as smart as men, my lord, and sometimes smarter. We are equally as capable. We can do anything men can do.”
He studied her. “Is that so? Anything?”
“Anything. Women are doctors and surgeons now—highly skilled ones. And we have women lawyers now in America.”
“So I have heard,” he admitted. “But you must admit, there are some limits as to what women can do.”
“Well, for example, a woman could not dig ditches.”
“Give me a shovel, and I will prove you wrong.”
His eyes twinkled. “Something tells me you would. All right, then. A woman could not be a police officer.”
“She does not have the physical prowess the job requires.”
“I beg to differ. You’d be surprised how strong a woman can be, my lord, when the circumstances demand it.”
He took that in, seemingly considering it, but shook his head. “I do not see it. In the same vein, a woman could never serve in the military or go to war.”
“Untrue!” Madeleine protested. “Absolutely untrue.”
“How so?” He pointed a finger at her. “And pray do not use Joan of Arc as an example. She was an anomaly.”
“Joan of Arc was not an anomaly. Women have served in combat since the dawn of history!”
“Have they? Who?”
“Chinese General Fu Hao, for instance, a woman, led thousands of people into battle in the thirteenth century BCE, and defeated the Shang. In the eleventh century CE, Matilda of Tuscany, an accomplished archer, commanded armies to defend the pope and made kings kneel before her. In our American Civil War, hundreds of women concealed their gender so they could fight alongside their Union and Confederate counterparts. And that’s barely scratching the surface of the—”
“Truce! Truce!” Lord Saunders laughed again and raised his hands in defeat. “I stand corrected. This is clearly a subject which you have studied and I have not.”
“Given the opportunity, women can accomplish great things, Lord Saunders. And one day—I hope to see it in my lifetime—we will have that opportunity. When we have the vote, men like you will be obliged to accept us as your equals.” She paused, conscious that she’d put a somewhat negative emphasis on the words men like you, and worried that she’d gone a bit too far. After all, she was a guest in his carriage, and beyond expressing doubts about women’s physical capabilities, he hadn’t said anything too terribly chauvinistic.
He went quiet for a moment as he stared at her. “Miss Atherton, since the first time we met, I have had the sense that you do not like me very much.”
“Oh, my dislike for you began long before we met, Lord Saunders.” The words tumbled from Madeleine’s mouth before she had a chance to stop them. She stifled a gasp at their brazenness, instantly regretting them. “Forgive me, I should not have said that.”
“No, I appreciate honesty, Miss Atherton,” was his astonished reply. “But pray tell me, what did I ever do to give you offense, before we had even met?”
TOUR WIDE GIVEAWAY:
To celebrate the release of SUMMER OF SCANDAL by Syrie James, we’re giving away one paperback copy of Runaway Heiress!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Runaway Heiress by Syrie James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 9/24/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.