Published by Zebra on August 30th 2016
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
First, Vanessa Kelly brought readers The Renegade Royals. Now, in a delightfully witty new series, she introduces The Improper Princesses—three young women descended from royalty, each bound for her own thrilling adventure . . .
Despite being the illegitimate daughter of a prince, Gillian Dryden is happily ignorant of all social graces. After growing up wild in Italy, Gillian has been ordered home to England to find a suitable husband. And Charles Valentine Penley, the excessively proper, distractingly handsome Duke of Leverton, has agreed to help transform her from a willful tomboy to a blushing debutante.
Powerful and sophisticated, Charles can make or break reputations with a well-placed word. But his new protégée, with her habit of hunting bandits and punching earls, is a walking scandal. The ton is aghast . . . but Charles is thoroughly intrigued. Tasked with taking the hoyden in hand, he longs to take her in his arms instead. Can such an outrageous attraction possibly lead to a fairytale ending? Praise for Vanessa Kelly’s Renegade Royals series
“Will definitely resonate with fans of Mary Jo Putney and Joanne Bourne.” —Booklist
“Kelly combines diverting dialogue, delightful surprises and finely tuned pacing to make this a winner.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Letitia, I’m the one who should be insulted. You rejected me once, and now you’re propositioning me in the middle of a ballroom. Did you really believe I would fall for your tricks again?”
She struggled to control her temper and made a credible job of it. “Poor Charles, you always were a fool. That, I see, has not changed.”
“Well, now that we’ve exchanged a sufficient number of insults, I think—”
Before he could finish, Jack materialized from behind a nearby pillar. “Excuse the interruption,” he said brusquely, “but I need to borrow Leverton.”
Letitia sneered. “You may have him. He’s quite as rude as you are, Lendale, which I had not thought possible.”
Jack laughed. “Up to the old game again, eh, Letitia?” He looked at Charles. “She tried it on me a few weeks ago, if you can believe it.”
Her pale blue gaze brimmed with hatred. “You are no gentleman.”
“And you are no lady, so we’re even,” Jack said in a cheerful voice.
Charles thought she would choke on the spot. And he thought he would choke on the laugh he decided to swallow. “I suppose I should be annoyed that I was her second choice. Again.”
“Consider yourself lucky,” Jack replied. “But enough of this nonsense, old boy. You need to rejoin your party immediately.”
The vague anxiety that had been lurking around the edges of Charles’s consciousness sprang into sharp definition.
“Dear me,” Letitia said in a catty voice. “There is a commotion on the other side of the dance floor, and I believe I see your protégé, Your Grace. She seems to be engaged in some kind of dispute with my husband and Lord Andover.”
When Charles took a hasty step toward the dance floor, Letitia grasped his arm. “Are you sure you want to do that? You know how much you hate scandal, my dear Charles.”
“Letitia, what did you do?” he asked.
She shrugged her beautiful white shoulders. She’d almost destroyed him years ago, and now she’d apparently decided to do it to Gillian.
“Why?” he demanded.
“Because she decided she wanted you, old son,” Lendale said. “And she clearly thought Miss Dryden was an impediment.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Charles said, disgusted. He stalked away, trying to ignore Letitia’s mocking laugh. He wove his way through the crowd, moving as quickly as he could without knocking anyone over.
“Why the hell weren’t you keeping on eye on Gillian?” Charles snapped when Lendale caught up with him.
“I’d just gone off to get some refreshments, for God’s sake. I’d snagged a footman with a tray of drinks when I saw that Letitia had trapped you in her evil snare.”
“You shouldn’t have left Gillian on her own, Jack.”
“She’s your damn responsibility, not mine. Besides, she was with her grandmother the last time I saw her. How the hell was I supposed to know she would get into an argument with one of the greatest morons in London?”
“You have no idea how many ways that blasted girl can get into trouble,” Charles said. “And speaking of Lady Marbury, where is she?”
“There she is,” Jack said, all but pushing a corpulent earl out of their way. They ignored his protests as they hurried to join her.
“Charles, there you are,” she said in a relieved voice. “I stepped away to the retiring room, and I came back to this. You must make Lord Andover go away before Gillian does something dreadful.”
“I intend to,” he said in a grim voice. Unfortunately, he was still several feet away when he saw Gillian’s lips curve up in a smile that made it clear mayhem was about to occur.
By the time he got clear of a gaggle of excited debutantes, Gillian was practically standing on Andover’s toes, saying something that Charles couldn’t hear over the din of the crowd. A moment later, she delivered an outstanding right hook that caught Andover under the chin.
Since the earl was well-known at Gentleman Jackson’s for having a glass jaw, the effect was both predictable and profound. He toppled like a felled tree, straight into a cluster of bystanders, including a footman carrying a tray of champagne goblets. The poor footman tumbled into a middle-aged matron possessed of a well-padded figure, and both went crashing down to the floor, along with the champagne.
“What a nice, flush hit,” Jack said in an admiring voice.
“Do not tell her that,” Charles growled as he elbowed past a pair of girls who were shrieking and fanning themselves in a dramatic fashion.
Jack shot a sly grin at Charles. “I don’t mean to interfere, old boy, but you might want to drop a word in Miss Dryden’s ear that boxing isn’t usually the done thing in the middle of a ballroom.”
“Thank you for that extremely helpful bit of advice, you idiot,” Charles said in a blighting tone.
Jack simply laughed.
Charles stalked up to Gillian, who stood over Andover, flexing her hand. When she glanced up at him, she let out a sigh. At least he thought she sighed, since it was hard to hear anything in the growing pandemonium.
Gillian clasped her hands at her waist and patiently waited, a picture of serene beauty in the midst of chaos.
“Well, Miss Dryden,” Charles said, “now that you’ve provided the main entertainment for the evening, what have you planned for an encore?”
She flicked a glance around the crowded ballroom that seethed with excitement and gossip. Then she looked back at him and shrugged. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead, Your Grace. I am, however, entirely open to suggestion.”
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~~Reviewed by Mary~~
What an absolutely engaging story with a wonderful set of characters, albeit the heroine, Gillian, is definitely the jeweled centerpiece. Having been a long-time fan of Vanessa Kelly’s books, I am so pleased that she has penned another hit, made all the more wonderful by consistent and good plot pacing. It is always such a joy when your favorite authors improve upon their crafts.
I enjoyed this story so much and read it overnight, as it was too interesting to put down. Gillian is a character I absolutely adore, a young woman who is strong for the sake of loved ones, who is courageous and endearing to the point that you can’t really fault her for not being a perfect society lady, because she has greater priorities in mind. She has a grand heart, since she never blamed anyone for her being an illegitimate child of royalty – with all the gossip and crude insinuations that come with such circumstances – but rather embraces closer the people whose opinions do matter.
Put her in the way of a “perfect,” proper, and stuffy duke, and you see great changes to how he views the world. After all, one’s reputation means one thing, but getting rid of bandits, smugglers, and thieves for the greater good of the county…well, that’s a much nobler goal to have. Bravo for Gillian for keeping to her ideals and thinking even in the face of adversity – that she would rather bring thieves to justice than eschew her principles and be with the man she loves in a glittering facade – and it’s fantastic when Charles finally recognizes that, too.
Heroines of Gillian’s caliber are rare in Regency romance, quite honestly, as they lean either towards being impetuousness and recklessness, or lose their spine for the sake of the hero’s love. Here is a rare heroine who is neither reckless but rather filled with a strong sense of purpose – and the intelligence to carry it out and strategize – and who won’t compromise on the important things in life over comfort. She does make every attempt to compromise on the little things to make Charles happy, which makes her very real and appealing.
I’ve droned on about Gillian as this is very much her book. However, Charles is quite a fun hero when we see his journey from “Perfect Penley” to “guy smelling like a bird bath fighting bandits.” Initially, Gillian was scandalizing Charles with her behavior, but by the end the tables have turned and the duke is behaving scandalously.
This is a book I highly recommend. 🙂
I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.