on September 25th 2017
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Iris Bennington is furious when she discovers her younger brother is following the instructions found in the acclaimed advice columns on How to be a Gentleman. The so-called “advice” is more likely to turn her brother into a scoundrel than a true gentleman. Iris decides to locate the author of the columns and confront him.
Merritt Steel, the Earl of Ashby, cannot help but be amused by the slip of a woman who comes calling. Unwilling to let such a delightful potential conquest go, he proposes a wager: bring him anyone off the street and he can pass them off as a gentleman. It’s a bargain she readily accepts—but with a twist.
Their bargain proves to be a greater challenge than either anticipated. Merritt finds it near impossible to keep his hands off Iris, and she begins to see the undeniable appeal of ungentlemanly behavior…
“Now then.” He withdrew a tape measure from his coat pocket. “Shall we begin?”
Her head tilted and her eyes narrowed. “Precisely what do you intend to do with that?”
“Measure you, of course.”
She blinked several times.
This was going to work. She was going to toss her hands up in defeat at any moment. “I couldn’t have my tailor do it else it would reveal our scheme before we even begin. But you must be properly measured to be fitted with the appropriate clothes.”
She opened her mouth, then promptly closed it.
It would not do to show his satisfaction, so he schooled his features to keep from grinning.
“Can I not simply bring you measurements from my modiste?”
He shook his head. This should frighten her away from this silly quest. “I’m afraid not. Men and women have different measurements for their clothing. You will be wearing trousers, and I suspect those measurements differ considerably from what you need to buy a new gown.”
She bit her bottom lip.
He’d bested her. There was no way she was going to allow him anywhere near her body with this measuring ribbon.
It was on his tongue to accept her concession, but then he realized she hadn’t conceded at all. Instead she’d agreed to his request.
She stood and opened up her arms. “Let us begin, then.”
She was plucky, he’d give her that, and obviously committed to whatever she expected this experiment to do for her brother. But he doubted she’d endure this entire process. He had the piece of parchment his tailor had given him with the required measurements and how to take them. More than likely once he got to the more intimate places on her body, she’d balk and run out, finally having come to her senses.
Merritt set down the paper and pencil on the table, then held open the tape and began. He started at her neck, wrapping the tape gently around her throat. She tilted her head up to give him better access. The milky complexion of her skin beckoned him, but he ignored it. This was no time for admiration of the female form. She had effectively turned this into a competition, and Merritt never lost once he decided to play.
He continued measuring her—the length of her arms, the apex of her arm down to her waist, the breadth of her shoulders—and she had remained perfectly still, barely breathing as best he could tell, through the entire ordeal. He hadn’t thought it would go this far, but he’d be damned if he’d concede the wager. He knelt in front of her, grabbed her ankle, and pressed the tape there, then began the long journey up her leg. His mouth went dry and the familiar ache of desire thrummed through his veins. He’d always been attracted to women with long legs, and it seemed Iris’s might go on forever.
When his palm slid past her knee, she clamped a hand onto his.
“I beg your pardon.”
He looked up at her and into her wide green eyes. “Lady Iris, I can assure you that this is the proper way to measure for trousers. I am not trying to take advantage of you in any capacity. But if you are uncomfortable, we can stop, and perhaps you have another candidate in mind for my tutelage?”
Her mouth set and she shook her head. “Continue.”
“I’ll do this as quickly as possible, and then it shall be over.”
She took a shaky breath then nodded tightly.
He slid his hand all the way up to her inner thigh. Despite her pantaloons, he could perfectly make out the curve of her legs. Desire, hot and thick, surged through him. Her warmth radiated around his hand. And her breathing had become shallow, tighter. His touch, his presence was affecting her. But not in the way he’d expected. He stopped short of reaching her center, knowing it would frighten her, but more than that, it would quite obviously tempt him. And perhaps her, too.
Ridiculous. Iris Bennington was nothing like any of the women he’d ever been attracted to before. Yes, he admired the length of her legs, but she was too talkative and bossy. Not to mention she was a lady in every sense of the word. Which meant that any dallying with her would come with significant expectations on her part. He had no desire to marry a woman who’d been born into the aristocracy. He didn’t want to be that deep into their world. He intended to find a sweet country girl when the time came, so wanting Iris for anything other than her assistance with his sister was absurd.
Yet, there was undeniable desire weighing heavy in his own trousers. He shifted his weight and withdrew his hand from beneath her skirts. He’d merely add half an inch to compensate for not going all the way up her inseam. He stood directly in front of her then.
“Lady Iris,” he said when he noted her eyes were squeezed shut.
She peeked one open. “Are you finished?”
“Not quite, I still have a few more, but I am done with your legs.” Long, curvaceous legs that would wrap oh so nicely around him. Damnation.
“Very well, let us continue, then.”
“Yes, I know. My hair is the color of boiled carrots.”
He chuckled. “Actually, I was going to say that it is like the fiery copper you only find in warm summer sunsets.”
Her mouth formed an O. “I see.”
He took both of her arms and held them out at her sides. “Lady Iris,” he said gently.
Her green eyes met his. “Yes.”
She puffed out a breath. “Right. Sorry.”
He measured her waist. God, she smelled good. Like lemons and cake, sweet and a little tart. He gently wrapped the tape around her neck. Her hair was impossibly soft as his hand brushed several curls, and then he moved his hands down to her hips.
Standing this close to her, he could clearly count every freckle gracing her nose and cheeks. She was not beautiful by Society standards, but there was something compelling about her face, comforting even. It was the type of face he could look at for long moments.
He moved the tape up to measure across her chest.
Her breath caught and her mouth opened, highlighting her remarkably perfect lips. How had he not noticed them before? And just like that, he bent and kissed her. One hand tilted up her chin, and his lips took hers in a soft embrace. She did not slap him, nor shove him away. Instead she merely sighed into his mouth. It was a most dangerous reaction.
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~~Reviewed by Lisa~~
Lady Iris Bennington, sister of the Earl of Nickerson, is a rule follower who has never broken the rules society has set down, until Merritt. She has given up the dreams all young debutantes have; have a come out, be courted, fall in love, marry and have children. Iris is a woman that can take care of herself and knows her mind, but under the surface there are insecurities that make her incredibly relatable.
Merritt Steele, owner of the newspaper the Daily Scandal, is the son of a merchant that has built his wealth from the ground up and has a strong dislike of the aristocracy. He sees them as over indulged and not terribly bright and writes his paper with strong satire, which often contains grains of scandal. Like some kind of cosmic joke, he inherits an earldom and fights becoming one of “them.”
Through a wager Iris and Merritt are brought together, each wanting something from the other for their respective siblings; Merritt’s sister Lucy needs to be tutored in the ways of the ton and Iris’s brother, Jasper, needs to be shown the error of his ways. Iris has a lot to lose and Merritt has a lot to gain if he would only get out of his own way. They keep They keep each other on their toes and they find they are reconsidering their preconceived ideas of the other. Iris must come to terms with disappointment and let go of a responsibility she has held tightly to her heart. Merritt must let go of his past to embrace what potentially be his own heaven on earth.
This is the first in the new series Lords of Vice and I am excited for the stories to come. Ms. DeHart has created the Ladies of Virtue and they are an incredible group of women with self-protection skills and they have a duel identity. To the public they provide money for the needy and make society a better place. The flip side has them stopping pickpockets, rescuing mistreated servants, and working to improve working conditions in factories and work houses. Because they have the duel identities they are all very careful to maintain their reputations so that they do not cause harm to their fellow Ladies.
We are introduced to Iris’s best friends, Agnes and Harriet. They are all members of the Ladies of Virtue. They decide amongst themselves that they are going to reform men of the ton. The concept for the series is brilliant in that it will bring each of them their HEA. Together the three friends are fun, feisty and loyal to a fault. We are given charming glimpses of both Agnes and Harriet that leave you wanting to know more. This was a delightful first book in a series and the groundwork was laid for the coming stories without bogging this story down in details and background. We watch Lucy discover her heart and Jasper start to grow. We see Iris let go of her insecurities while Merritt hold on to Iris and not his past. Brilliantly written and an excellent page turner.
I give this 4.5 stars.
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.