Published by Harlequin Books on May 23rd 2017
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Embark on the breathtaking romantic adventures of The Lady Travelers Society in the brand-new series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander
Really, it's too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders's favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what's a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he's escorting the world's most maddening woman to the world's most romantic city to find her missing relative.
While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she's certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.
on their first day in Paris . . .
A woman’s scream ripped through the house, reverberating off lofty ceilings and echoing off marbled floors. Derek started, frozen in mid-step on the stairs, and knew with unerring certainty whose scream it was. Bloody hell.
He sprinted toward India’s room on the second floor, just down the hall from his, taking the steps of the broad, curving stairway two at a time. He and Val had talked for long hours after their arrival last night and Derek knew there were no other guests staying at the grand house. He had left the professor and his wife downstairs in the breakfast room, probably too far way to hear although he wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them right behind him. No one could miss that scream.
What was wrong now? India had made something of an attempt yesterday not to be overly critical of very nearly everything but she did not take well to the inconveniences of travel. It was obvious she’d had little travel experience except perhaps for the occasional trip from London to the country.
He reached the second floor and headed toward her room. India was in no real danger. He was confident of that although one never knew what—or who—one might run in to in the halls of Val’s Parisian domicile. The last time Derek was here, there had been a precocious monkey—the adored pet of Val’s paramour at the time—that had been clever enough to escape his leash and evade capture for a nearly a month, living off scraps in the kitchen and terrifying both servants and guests alike. For a small creature, he had been extremely unpleasant and rather threatening. Val broke it off with his owner the moment the beast was captured although Derek suspected the animal was no more than a convenient excuse.
Derek reached India’s room and pulled up short. Even a monkey wouldn’t have been a greater shock than the sight that greeted him.
The indomitable, unyielding, eminently proper Miss India Prendergast was sitting upright in her bed—still in her nightclothes—covers clutched nearly to her chin in one hand, a tray balanced on her lap, glaring at Val who sat on the edge of her bed. More shocking still was India herself.
Her hair was loose and hung around her shoulders in clouds of unsuspected curls that caught the light and shimmered with red-gold highlights. Curls that were usually ruthlessly imprisoned in a knot on the top of her head. So tight it made his scalp ache to look at it. Her skin was flushed, no doubt with annoyance, and her green eyes sparkled—again, probably with annoyance. But it was most becoming. He could see little of her nightwear—a peachy shade and most flattering to her coloring—except for her arms. The almost transparent fabric was enhanced by creamy lace that caressed her wrists and whispered against the bedclothes. She was the picture of charming dishabille, an illusion at once angelic and seductive. A vision that fairly begged to be kissed. It was the oddest thought—kissing India Prendergast—but Derek couldn’t quite dismiss it. He would wager Val had thought the same thing.
Val reached a hand toward her tray. She smacked it away and the illusion shattered.
“Good God, Miss Prendergast.” Derek stepped into the room. “Are you all right? What on earth is going on here?”
She cast Val a scathing look then turned her attention to Derek. “This man is trying to steal my croissants, Mr. Saunders. As he has already taken two of them and there is only one left—” her narrowed gaze shifted back to Val—”I could not allow that.”
“They’re excellent croissants, Derek.” Val cast a mournful look at the remaining croissant. “You should try one.”
“I did,” Derek said slowly. “At breakfast.” This was about pastry? He stared at India. “You screamed because he took your croissant?”
For the first time since he’d met her, she looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Not exactly.”
“Not at all,” Val said. “She screamed because I challenged her to do so. Or perhaps dared is a better word.” He grinned at India. “What do you think, Miss Prendergast? Was it a challenge or a dare? Or . . .” He paused in a meaningful manner. “Was it a wager?”
“I told you—I do not wager,” she said in a manner entirely too lofty for a woman who had screamed not to defend her honor but to protect her pastry. “And you know perfectly well why I screamed.”
“Val.” Derek summoned a hard tone. “Why did she scream?”
Val shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“Utter nonsense. You know exactly why.” India huffed. “I asked him to leave as his presence is unwanted as well as being highly inappropriate and completely improper.”
Val slanted him an unrepentant grin.
“I threatened to scream if he did not take his leave. He didn’t so I did.”
“And an impressive scream it was too.” Val cast India an admiring look. “I didn’t think she had it in her.”
“And yet, it didn’t seem to work,” she said coolly.
For a moment, Derek thought there was a glint of amusement in her eyes but then Val had always been skilled at amusing women. Still, for whatever reason, the thought that Val could make her smile was irritating.
“I’d wager you could hear it all over the house,” Val said smugly.
“I’d wager you could hear it all over the city.” Derek nodded at India. “Well done, Miss Prendergast.”
“Thank you, Mr. Saunders.” A satisfied note sounded in her voice and this time there was no mistake. India was definitely trying not to smile. Perhaps there was hope for her after all.
“You said you call him Derek.” Val’s eyes narrowed.
“Apparently, when I am entertaining incorrigible gentlemen in my bed chamber, I prefer more formal, proper terms of address.”
Val laughed and Derek couldn’t resist a grin. This was going to be an interesting stay. He moved farther into the room, grabbed a chair and positioned it on the opposite side of the bed from Val.
She raised a brow. “Oh, do join us Mr. Saunders.”
“I would be delighted.” He ignored the sarcasm in her voice and sat down. “While you have obviously already met, allow me to properly, formally introduce the Marquess of Brookings, my stepbrother.”
“Your what?” India stared in disbelief.
“Derek’s mother was my stepmother.”
“Val’s father was my mother’s second husband.”
“That explains so much,” she said under her breath.
“You were right, Derek,” Val said with a regretful shake of his head, “she is stuffy.”
“You said I was stuffy as well as calm, unemotional and cold?” She turned her gaze toward Derek. “Dare I ask what else you said about me?”
Derek threw his stepbrother an annoyed look. Did the man ever know when to hold his tongue? He drew a steadying breath. “I’m afraid Lord Brookings has taken my comments out of context.”
“Oh, I don’t think I did,” Val said. “I distinctly remember you saying all of that as well as calling her stubborn, suspicious, overly proper, and something of a pain—”
“It scarcely matters what Mr. Saunders thinks of me.” India waved off the comments. “Nor does it matter what I think of Mr. Saunders.”
A wicked glint sparkled in Val’s eyes. “What do you think of Mr. Saunders?”
“What do I think?” Her green eyed gaze met Derek’s. “Oh, I have no doubt Mr. Saunders knows exactly what I think of him.”
Her gaze stayed locked with his and for a moment the oddest sense of regret washed through him.
“But I don’t know what you think of him and I would pay a great deal to know.” Val grinned. “I daresay it might well be one of the most amusing things I’ve heard in a long time.” A maid appeared in the doorway and caught his attention. “If you will pardon me for a moment.” He stood, moved to the maid, bent close and she spoke low into his ear.
Val grimaced, straightened and cast India an unrepentant smirk. “It appears the gendarmes are here and I need to speak with them. This is a most respectable neighborhood and it seems someone in the vicinity reported a woman’s screams.”
“Not the first time I imagine,” India said wryly.
Val grinned, tossed them a jaunty salute and took his leave.
“India,” Derek began, bracing himself. “Please accept my apology for my comments. I am sorry if they offended you in any way.”
“Goodness, I can’t imagine why they would. They certainly come as no surprise.” She shrugged. “I am never offended by the truth.”
“Still, it was rude of me and I never intended—”
“For me to learn of them?”
“Well, yes.” He still couldn’t believe Val had betrayed his confidence. “I shall have a few well-chosen words to say to my stepbrother about this.”
“You needn’t bother.” She paused. “I suppose no one especially wants to hear themselves described as stuffy, unfeeling and cold—”
“And while the words themselves do seem rather harsh, they are not inaccurate. I am . . .” She thought for a moment. “Reserved if you will. I don’t believe in displaying my emotions nor do I allow them to dictate my behavior. And I do believe that the rules of proper behavior should be adhered to. I am well aware of my own nature and how I appear to others. Especially those who do not know me.”
“I suspect your friends probably know better.”
“My friends . . .” She hesitated, then raised her chin in a resolved manner. “Yes, I would imagine they do.”
“If you are amenable to the idea . . .” He chose his words with care. “I would like to offer the hand of friendship.”
“Good Lord, Derek.” She stared in obvious disbelief. “You don’t like me and I certainly don’t like you. Why on earth would I want to be friends?”
“I don’t dislike you,” he said quickly but she was right. The woman was perhaps the most stodgy, opinionated creature he’d ever met. Still, they were stuck with each other. He drew a deep breath. “For one thing—we share a common purpose. We both want to locate Lady Heloise and make certain of her safety. It’s going to be much less difficult if we aren’t at each other’s throats.”
“You may well have a point there.”
“In addition, we are to be together for the foreseeable future. I would prefer to spend my time with a friend rather than a foe.”
“But I don’t trust you.”
“I am more than willing not to trust you either which gives us something in common on which to base a friendship.”
“I don’t think friendships are built on mutual distrust.”
“Then we shall be the first.” He flashed her a grin.
“That’s absurd.” She frowned. “Why, friendships are based on shared admiration and respect. I have no respect for you at all.”
“Then I shall simply have to earn your respect.” He was fairly certain it would not be easy but then, thus far, nothing about India Prendergast was. “Although we do already have one thing between us on which to base a friendship.”
“I can’t imagine what that is.”
She raised a brow. “And yet we distrust each other.”
“But we are honest about it.”
She studied him closely. “It would be entirely dishonest of me to say I am willing to accept your offer of friendship. But, in the spirit of cooperation, I am willing to attempt a certain level of cordiality between us.”
“I can ask for nothing more.”
“I do have a condition.”
“As I have been entertaining gentlemen in my room, while I am still been in my bed, dressed in my nightclothes—which even you would agree is the height of impropriety—”
“I believe you should rescind your description of me as stuffy.”
“Well—”he grimaced—”you did scream.”
“There is that. Although, my scream was directed more at encouraging his lordship to leave than any concern about proper behavior on my part.”
“I’ll give you that. Very well then.” This was actually going far better than he expected. “You are not nearly as stuffy as one would have thought.”
“Thank you. Now, perhaps you would consider—”
and so the quest begins
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Ms. Alexander is giving away a lovely and fun luggage tag
and a signed copy of the first book in the series, The Proper Way to Stop a Wedding in Seven Days or Less, to 1 (one) lucky commenter.
She is curious….
If you were a Lady Traveler in 1889–where would you go?