Published by La Loma Elite Publishing on September 27th 2016
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Lady Pippa Godfrey has suffered the most ruinous London Season. She escapes to her Somerset estate for a quiet Christmastide holiday with her family, away from society’s prying eyes. But before her parents can join her, a storm crashes down on Somerset to destroy any hope of Pippa’s white Christmas dream. The roads have flooded and travel is impossible, leaving her stranded and alone. But a muddied, angry and devilishly handsome lord appears at her door demanding shelter.
Lucas Hartfeld, the Earl of Maddox, has been summoned by his parents, the Marquis and Marchioness of Bowmont, to attend a holiday party in the wilds of the country, far from his London townhouse. He suspects they command his attendance for far different reasons than a simple country party. When a storm strands his carriage, he’s forced to seek shelter at the only home for miles around, a local manor called Helton House.
When Lady Pippa is reluctant to admit him, he does what he’s been raised to do—demand she provide him and his servants with shelter until the storm passes. But the beautiful woman draws his interest far more than he’s willing to admit. Can Lucas find a way out of the predicament his parents are planning?
As Lady Pippa scrutinizes another arrogant, demanding lord, she is bombarded with memories of betrayals in her past. Can she forget those difficult life lessons to claim a Christmastide kiss from a perfect stranger?
Lady Pippa Godfrey, the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Midcrest, sat in the front row of Lord and Lady Sheridan’s musicale recital, awaiting her turn at the pianoforte. It was the final evening of entertainment, thrown in Lady Natalie’s honor on the eve of her introduction to society. The room was crowded, overly hot, and the competing voices were deafening as Pippa waited for the next debutante to be called to the dais to apply her talents to her chosen instrument—some played the harpsichord or another stringed instrument, while others favored singing.
Pippa’s fingers ached and her head swam at the thought of standing before the large crowd—mostly strangers and only a few she could greet by name—and playing the complex piece her music tutor had requested she play. It was then that she looked to her lap and realized her hands were clinched tight, clutching the fabric of her gown, wrinkling the delicate material and causing the pain in her fingers.
Forcing her eyes shut, Pippa took a calming breath and pleaded with her hands to let go of their death grip on her gown. The delicate material would likely be creased beyond her lady’s maid’s ability to straighten it. It was as if her hands had a mind of their own—and Pippa feared they’d take over once more when she settled behind the pianoforte.
She mustn’t make a spectacle of herself before so many people—it certainly would not do to start her first London Season being the topic of gossip in every salon and ballroom.
A raspy female voice cleared not far from Pippa, the sound quieting the room instantly as everyone held their breaths.
When Pippa opened her eyes, Lady Natalie stood on the raised dais with a coy smile as she surveyed the audience. They were all staring at her as if she were about to announce something far grander than the next young girl to massacre a piece written by a great composer—or worse yet, pierce every eardrum in the room as she sang a note far too high. Her friend, Lady Natalie, was certainly at ease in her place as hostess and honoree of this grand three-day long celebration.
In no way did she envy Natalie’s effortless grace, for all Pippa wanted was for this evening—and her first Season—to be complete. For the moment, she’d settle for her time at the pianoforte to be over for then she’d be allowed to depart the Sheridan townhouse for her own home in Mayfair. A few hours spent gowned in her night shift, while reading a book by candlelight far into the morning hours, sounded much more pleasing to Pippa than standing before this crowd and announcing the piece that’d been chosen for her to play while every set of eyes scrutinized her every move.
But Lady Natalie was her oldest and dearest friend.
Possibly her only friend.
And so, Pippa would smile, nod, and play the piano before giving a quick curtsey and allowing the next girl to take her moment in the spotlight.
It all sounded so very simple.
She’d been raised to do this exact thing, but no one could have expected the daughter of a duke to suffer from a shyness so severe she became short of breath and light-headed just pondering the notion of walking into a crowded ballroom. However, Pippa had pushed herself and fulfilled her daughterly obligations—entering a ballroom full of elegantly dressed women and staunchy men clustered in groups around the room. She’d even spotted several handsome men taking their turn around the dance floor. At first, her mother had allowed her to hide among the palms bordering the large room, but that hadn’t lasted long. Men had approached her father and, eventually, placed their name on her dance card. And this evening had been no different—she garnered quite a bit of interest from eligible men, or so Lady Natalie had whispered to her several times. Her friend’s words should have been a boon of sorts for them both. They’d dreamed for many years of ending society together and marrying titled, wealthy, handsome men—to the dismay and envious stares of all the other debutantes and their mothers.
But, while Natalie had whispered her shock over Pippa’s popularity among the men, it sounded more of a hiss than a sigh of happiness. She’d put this behind her quickly the eve before.
This evening, as a new debutante and Lady Natalie’s friend, Pippa was expected to play—and play well, as she and Natalie had shared an instructor since before their ninth birthdays.
Glancing at her mother who sat next to her, Pippa felt the urge to claim an illness and beg to be released from this obligation. But her mother’s serene smile and encouraging nod made Pippa’s erratic heartbeat slow. She prayed the sheen of perspiration on her forehead would dry before Natalie called on her. It would be embarrassing to have the light from the chandelier above reflect off her damp forehead.
Belatedly, Pippa realized her mother was nodding at her because her name had been called and the room was silently awaiting her arrival on the raised platform featuring a piano, harpsichord, and flute stand. There was also a small table with a dozen bells of varying sizes perched—oh, how Pippa wished she’d been assigned the bells. Not a soul would know if she shook one out of turn.
Except Mr. Giles, Pippa’s instructor, who stood not far from the stage, his hands clasped before him with a proud smile on his handsome face—staring directly at her as if she were the only woman in the room. It was his way of making his pupils feel safe and encouraged. Pippa was certain he’d cast the same intense, yet sensitive, look on Lady Natalie before she’d sang earlier in the evening.
“Go on, dear,” her mother prodded. “It is your turn.”
A lump formed in her throat and Pippa was glad she hadn’t any vocal talent. It was unlikely any sound could maneuver past her blocked airway.
After a quick smile for her mother, Pippa glanced once more to Mr. Giles where he stood just off the dais—his shoulders stiff with pride at his accomplishments as an instructor. His hair was evenly combed into place, so much at odds with its haphazard messiness during their tutoring sessions. Pippa thought she much preferred the disorderly locks he favored in the schoolroom back in Somerset, where she and Natalie grew up.
She stood, hoping her smile was one of beauty and not terror as she stepped toward Natalie, who’d barely had a free moment in the last few days to speak with Pippa. If they had been given a few minutes together, she would have told her friend that she dreaded playing before a crowd…that she’d be happy to sit with the second and third Season young women and refrain from the piano. But the conversation hadn’t happened and Natalie was unaware her friend wanted nothing less than to perform.
And it would speak negatively of Mr. Giles’ tutelage if one of his students—the daughter of a duke, no less—was unable to play before a crowd. Pippa desperately wanted her tutor to be looked upon favorably by all of London society.
“Next to grace the stage is Lady Pippa Godfrey, daughter of the esteemed Duke and Duchess of Midcrest—and my dear friend.” Natalie gestured in Pippa’s direction as an odd expression crossed her face. It was one Pippa was unfamiliar with, almost as if a bank of storm clouds moved across her friend’s face. However, the look quickly passed and Natalie’s eyes sparkled once more. “Lady Pippa and I have been bosom friends since before we were allowed to touch a pianoforte. But since meeting, we’ve shared everything, including our music tutor, Mr. Giles, though I dare say that Pippa is far closer to the man than my parents would ever allow. Her skills at the pianoforte certainly show the many hours of additional lessons she’s endured.”
Pippa’s skin flared so hot she feared a candle had lit her gown—or neatly pinned hair—ablaze.
Light female laughter and deep manly chuckles filled the room, floating from the far back of the congregated crowd to the very front, where Pippa had sat back down with her parents.
She stole a glance to Mr. Giles who stood close to the edge of the dais, having only moments before congratulated another pupil on her success before the crowd. It was impossible to tell if his face flamed as hot as hers because he’d retreated a few steps into the shadows and was now backing out the terrace door.
A moment of confusion clouded her mind as the laughter dimmed and a light breeze assaulted her face—as if someone had opened a window to a gusty wind.
At her side, Pippa’s mother fanned her face. Her wrist whipped to and fro, increasing as the room went silent.
Everything froze around her but her mother’s thrashing fan.
The Duchess of Midcrest, her dear mother, who’d labored for over twenty years to rise above her merchant class upbringing, would once again be embroiled in a scandal—all because of Pippa.
“Do you wish to depart?” her mother whispered.
“I did not…” Pippa stammered. “I would never…”
“I did not believe you had, my child.” Her mother sought to soften the blow—something that society had done to the current Duchess of Midcrest a hundred times over. “However, that does not change the appearance of things, no matter what we say or do in this moment.”
Pippa lifted her chin to keep her tears from streaming down her face.
“I do not understand why,” Pippa said as she leaned in close to her mother to whisper. “Lady Natalie and I are such friends.”
“Friendship and jealously often hold hands so tightly that one cannot distinguish between the pair.”
Pippa could not imagine why Lady Natalie would say such a thing—before the many people gathered at her parents’ townhouse, amidst their first Season—and knowing her family sought a favorable match for her.
They’d shared a magical couple of days before the formal dinner introducing Natalie and then her ball the evening before. Pippa had danced every dance, her card filling quickly after entering the ballroom at the Sheridan townhouse. Lady Natalie had also danced almost every set and was escorted to dinner by the Marquis of Durshire, a wealthy, respected man whose handsomeness was legendary. Pippa and her family had stayed the night as the ball lasted into the early morning hours. The girls had fallen into a deep slumber of exhaustion, their feet sore and their minds running wild at the grandness of their evening, only to sleep late into the day. When Pippa had awoken, Natalie was already surrounded by maids in preparation for this evening’s entertainments. They hadn’t time to speak on the matter of the recital.
But now, only a few short hours later, Pippa’s dear friend spoke aloud a comment that would ruin Pippa’s chances of securing any type of promising match—and tarnish her family name, once again.
Pippa wanted to ask why—what had she done to deserve such a comment before all these people?
They’d discussed their handsome music tutor in confidence, each laboring over the set of his strong jaw, the way his hair fell a bit too long in a very rakish way, and the muscles that lay under his loose linen shirt—certainly not obtained by musical endeavors.
Mr. Giles had removed himself entirely from the room by the time Pippa stared deeper into the shadows bordering the stage—leaving all eyes on Pippa with her back to the crowd. Lady Natalie smiled at her, awaiting her acceptance on the dais.
It was then Pippa noticed Natalie’s upturned smirk was not a smile at all—at least, not a smile one would bestow on a lifelong friend. And that smirk paired with the glare in her dear friend’s eyes. Something drastic had changed since they’d journeyed to London a few days before to prepare for their Season.
Lady Natalie was issuing her a challenge…much like a rival.
Pasting a serene smile on her face, Pippa squared her shoulders and stood to take her place behind the pianoforte.
She refused to allow her defeat to show—but certainly, Pippa had been bested, and by her bosom friend, no less. She’d only wished she’d known there was a battle at hand.
~~Reviewed by Lisa~~
This is a wonderful story of debilitating shyness, jealousy, betrayal, unconditional parental love and epic parental failure to recognize a mistake by a small boy and a dash of arrogance and final redemption.
Lady Pippa Godfrey, the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Midcrest, is fabulous, stronger than she knows and is able, with Lucas’s help to find her inner voice. While incredible she is on her home turf and is not going to be dictated to. She has decided to take her future in her own hands.
Lucas Hartfeld, the Earl of Maddox, has spent his life as an epic disappointment to his parents, He has taken this and run with it and has learned to bot seem to care about anyone or anything, but his own pleasure. Without the boundaries of being held accountable he struggles when Pippa calls his actions into question. It has also left him feeling hollow.
They have each been let down by important people in their lives. We get to see them overcome that hurt and betrayal and lift each other up to enable the other to soar. They are thrown together because of an intense winter storm, just days before Christmas. Pippa struggles with trying to stay within the confines of societal rules to avoid another scandal in her life. Lucas is on the way to hopefully have his parents show some degree of pride in him for doing what they have asked. They are good together and Pippa makes him want to be a better man.
Ms. McKnight has once again brought us a hero and heroine with meat on their bones and strong character to back it up. Watching Pippa let go of her childhood and take hold of her future with confidence was wonderful. The story was very fast paced and sadly over before I was ready to let go of Pippa or Lucas. Seeing them overcome their respective pasts and triumph is heartwarming. It was also nice to see karma come back around to the advantage of our heroine. This was a charming afternoon visit to the cold and snowy English countryside. I gave this a 4.5 butterfly rating.
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.