Published by Sophie Barnes on December 18, 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Sometimes playing pretend can lead to the perfect romance…
When Miss Leonora Compton decides to go to Sheffield and spend Christmas with her sister, she finds herself travelling with a man she cannot afford to like. But as their journey progresses she enters an unexpected partnership with him and realizes that things aren't what they seem. Because Mr. Dalton is not only tempting. He may in fact be precisely what she needs.
When Philip believes his travel companion requires protection, he immediately steps in to help by pretending to be her husband. For although the last thing he wants is to form an attachment, Philip is irrevocably drawn to the stunning red-head. And as they become better acquainted and their paths increasingly intertwined, he must decide if risking heartache again is worth the chance of finding true love.
The Bull and Mouth coaching house was bustling with travelers buying tickets and preparing for departure while others climbed out of newly arrived coaches. Horses neighed and people shouted, pushing and shoving their way past each other, the loud noise occasionally drowned out by the sound of a horn.
Her mother would likely have a fit if she ever found out that her daughter had chosen to travel alone on public transportation. In the past, Leonora had always taken a hired carriage, but that was before she’d become aware of the need to save every penny – back when her parents had paid the expense. In hindsight, she should perhaps have asked one of her parents’ maids to accompany her as chaperone. Except she’d been leading an independent life for the past eight months and had little desire to suffer the constant presence of someone insistent on making her follow a long list of rules.
So Leonora clasped her belongings and wove her way through the crowd on her own. She’d purchased her ticket a week earlier just to be sure she would get one. “Where’s the coach for Sheffield?” she asked a team of hostlers who were in the process of switching out horses.
One of the men pointed toward a coach on the opposite side of the courtyard, and Leonora thanked him before hurrying toward it. Her breath misted in the chill morning air as she stepped around the vehicle and prepared to show the coachman her ticket. But then she spotted him, and her entire body froze in place. Mr. Becker was here, and he was standing next to her coach, which only made Leonora’s heart beat harder. Because if there was one person she did not wish to spend one more second with, it was him. Least of all if they were to be confined to a place from which there could be no escape.
Her chest tightened and she realized then that she was holding her breath. She inhaled sharply, the frigid air rushed down her throat and into her lungs where it started to burn. She hesitated briefly, torn between choosing to face him and walking away. He was speaking with a younger and much taller gentleman with dark brown hair. Mr. Becker smiled, his countenance far more pleasant than when he’d come to call on her earlier. The younger gentleman nodded politely and offered his hand which Mr. Becker promptly shook before tipping his hat, adding a comment, and walking away. The younger man watched him go before turning toward the coachman. The two exchanged a few words, and the younger man pulled out his pocket watch to check on the time.
Leonora stepped forward. Thankfully, it did not seem as though she would have to endure Mr. Becker’s company. Just that of his friend. Determined to ignore him, she walked straight past the spot where he stood, her entire focus on the coachman. Reaching him, she set down her valise and retrieved her ticket from her reticule.
“Thank you, miss,” the coachman said when she handed it to him. He glanced at her luggage. “That will have to go on top of the carriage or in the boot. Which do you prefer?”
“I’ll put it in the boot,” Leonora told him. She picked up her valise and turned, only to find her path blocked by what had to be over six feet of solid masculinity. Leonora looked up and immediately bristled upon realizing not only that the man was Mr. Becker’s friend, but that he, upon further inspection, had eyes that weakened her knees and lips that quickened her pulse. He was, as it were, impossibly handsome, and that was almost more annoying than anything else that had happened that morning.
“May I help you with that?” he inquired.
Oh Lord, his voice was lovely too – like plush velvet sliding over her skin.
Leonora squared her shoulders. “No thank you. I can manage perfectly well on my own.” She stepped around him quickly, before his angular jaw and broad shoulders could cause her to change her mind, and went to the boot. It already contained a trunk and a couple of other valises, which meant she would have to heft her own up and over in order to secure it. She glanced around. Surely there must be some Bull and Mouth employee available to help?
If they were, none came to offer assistance. Leonora blew out a breath and proceeded to lift her valise, bringing her other hand underneath it while her reticule dangled back and forth from her wrist. Feeling the weight in her arms, she steadied herself against the carriage, bracing her body while struggling to push the darn thing toward the top of the boot.
“Are you sure you don’t need help?” the handsomest man in the world inquired.
“Absolutely,” Leonora panted. She was now holding her valise at shoulder level, supporting it against another valise that was in her way. Just a few more inches…
“Have you always been this stubborn?”
“I am not stubborn…just…” Ugh! She managed to wedge her shoulder underneath the valise, but its size and shape made it unstable, and before she could manage to steady herself properly, she felt the entire thing lean to one side. Oh no. She reached up attempting to grab it, but that only quickened the inevitable outcome.
Her valise slipped from her shoulder and started to fall, until it was caught by a pair of large hands.
Like Thor wielding his mighty hammer with seemingly little effort, Mr. Becker’s friend lifted the piece of luggage with infuriating ease and placed it securely in the boot. He stepped back and turned to face her, his toffee-colored eyes catching a ray of rare winter sunshine in the process. The effect was dazzling. More so when the edge of his mouth lifted to form a crooked smile with a perfect dimple placed right at the corner.
Leonora swallowed. For heaven’s sake, her hands were trembling, though she quickly decided that this was from her recent exertion and not at all because of this handsome man’s attentions. She had no interest in him, she reminded herself. Not when he kept company with the sort of man who would happily force a woman from her home and place of business during Christmas.
Deciding she would not allow him to divest her of her manners, she raised her chin and met his gaze boldly. “Thank you, sir.”
His smile broadened. “Mr. Dalton.” He glanced aside for a second before returning his attention to her. “Mr. Philip Dalton. How do you do?”
Enter for a chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card
~~Reviewed by Barbara~~
This is a delightful, straightforward romance between two lovely people who deserve to find their HEA. You won’t find a dastardly duke or an errant earl here, both the hero and the heroine are working-class commoners – and that is a very refreshing thing.
Leonora Compton has reached the ripe old age of four and twenty without marrying. She’s just never found anyone who stirred her feelings enough to make her want that for herself. So, she’s persuaded her father to allow her to take her dowry and open her own shop on Bond Street.
Philip Dalton is the highly successful owner of ‘The Gentlemen’s Emporium’ which has several locations throughout London. Philip was married when he was nineteen and it was a horrible disaster and he has decided he won’t ever marry again because it is just too painful and he could never trust anyone that much again.
When these two find themselves sitting together on the coach to Sheffield, circumstances cause them to become better acquainted. There is a bit of a letch sharing the coach with them and Philip feels the need to protect Leonora from the letch’s advances. Each brings out a longing and attraction in the other. Their journey has begun and who knows what happy place it will end up.
This is a lovely novella and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. It does feel a bit more modern than Regency, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on which period it belongs in. You’ll also catch a modern phrase or two – such as – ‘ticking the boxes’ – but they didn’t bother me overly much.