A young lady’s tarnished reputation might cost her everything in this first book in the Disreputable Debutantes series.
Shy, bookish Sophie Brightwell is expected to make an advantageous match to improve her family’s fortunes. However, Sophie’s plans to make a spectacular debut go horribly awry when she and her three closest friends are expelled from a young ladies’ academy for unbecoming conduct. Since the ton will be sure to close their doors on these disgraced debutantes, they determine that unconventional means need to be employed in the husband-hunting market. Rakehells—the beau monde’s wickedest members—might be the only men willing to overlook a young lady’s besmirched reputation.
But how does one catch a rake?
Nate Hastings, the devil-may-care Viscount Malverne, is the older brother of Sophie’s best friend, fellow disgraced debutante Lady Charlotte. When a terribly foxed Nate accidentally compromises Sophie, Charlotte strikes a wicked bargain: in order to avoid a scandal and the parson’s mousetrap, Nate must help Sophie snare a husband. But as Nate fulfills his obligation and begins to instruct the lovely Sophie in the art of luring rakes, he soon finds himself battling his own fierce attraction to her.
Nate pushed open the double doors to the library. If only he didn’t have to attend any damnable ton balls or soirees. God, the idea of courting a simpering debutante like Lady Penelope Purcell was enough to turn his stomach—
A decidedly feminine gasp and a dull thud stopped him dead in his tracks.
What the deuce?
Behind his father’s desk stood a raven-haired angel. A beautiful young woman wearing nothing but a pale blue shawl over a thin white night rail, and an expression of sheer terror.
“Lord Malverne. Oh, heavens. Oh, my goodness.” The angel’s shocked, wide-eyed gaze dropped to the desk, and then, much to his amusement, he was certain she muttered something not so angelic like blast beneath her breath.
Nate’s gaze followed hers. Blast indeed. His father’s cut crystal inkwell was on its side, and a black pool of ink was rapidly spreading across the dark red blotter, heading inexorably toward the young woman’s pristine nightgown. In the next instant, as he strode toward the desk to offer assistance, she whipped off her shawl and pressed it against the inky puddle.
“I’m so, so sorry. What will your father think of me? I only meant to borrow a little ink. I didn’t think he’d mind.” Her words came out in a breathless rush as she began to dab furiously at the blotter. “And now I’ve ruined some of his papers. Oh, Lord, I hope they’re not too important.” She nodded at a dark splash marring the top of a document that looked a lot like a draft parliamentary bill. “What a disaster.”
Her long black braid had fallen forward over her slender shoulder and it swayed with her movements, caressing the swell of one pert breast. A breast covered by nothing but threadbare cotton. It was cold in the room and her nipple pressed quite impudently against the fabric.
Holy hell. Nate swallowed as his body tightened with longing. The sight was so distracting, he had to force himself to lift his eyes back to the girls.
“I’m not sure it’s as bad as all that,” he lied. His father would be livid. On an impulse, he laid a hand atop the angel’s slender, ink-stained fingers to stop her frantic attempts to contain the mess. She stilled instantly, her breath hitching. And when she looked up at him, Nate’s breath caught too.
At these close quarters, the lamplight illuminated the girl’s lovely face. Her eyes, as clear and blue as a midsummer sky, were ringed with a darker liquid navy and fringed by impossibly long, black lashes. When she dropped her gaze to his hand lying atop hers, they fanned across her cheeks were a bright red blush was beginning to spread almost as rapidly as the ink had. God, she was an innocent and he was behaving like a cad, but he was thoroughly enchanted and couldn’t seem to help himself.
His voice, when it emerged, was embarrassingly unsteady. “You seem to know me, but I’m not sure that I know you, Miss . . .”
“Brightwell. Sophie Brightwell,” she supplied in a voice that was also oddly husky. She clearly felt the sizzle of attraction between them too.
I loved this book for what it didn’t have as much as for what it did have! I didn’t have to suffer through page after page of angst and internal navel-gazing to get to the romance. I did get a lovely romance with wonderful fully-developed characters that I came to really like. The writing is excellent, the pacing is just right and the epilogue is lovely. The introduction of characters who will be gracing the pages of future books in the series wasn’t overpowering to the story as is sometimes the case in first books of a series. These future characters were introduced naturally and we learned as much about them as we needed to know for this book.
Sophie Brightwell and three friends – Lady Charlotte (Charlie) Hastings, Arabella Jardine, and Olivia de Vere – were expelled from Mrs. Rathbone’s Academy for Young Ladies of Good Character and caused a scandal they still hadn’t lived down three years later. What was their transgression? They were caught sampling liquor, cigars, and perusing risqué prints – simply because they wanted the knowledge. No decent hostess will invite them to any ton events and they are now pariah’s to society.
For Sophie, it might have been her family’s last chance at salvation. They were deeply in debt to Baron Buxton who lived next door and he was pressuring them for payment. If they cannot pay, they may have to forfeit their home and land. It would also mean that there would be no future at all for Sophie or her step-sisters. They have hung on in the three years since the scandal, but just barely and Sophie’s mother is afraid that the odious baron is pressuring Sophie’s step-father for her hand in marriage. When Sophie receives an invitation from her friend Charlie to spend the season in London, they leap at the chance.
Finally, after three years, the three friends are reunited in London and they all know that finding a husband won’t be easy. So, they decide that maybe the men they seek out should be men who are also on the fringes of good society. Good men, but rakes. The ladies meet and make a list of the men who meet their criteria – good men, caring men, not men who are truly debauched. Charlie adds most of the names to the list because she knows of them because of her brother who would head the list, but isn’t interested in a bride.
Nate Hastings, Viscount Malverne, heir to the Earl of Westhampton, and his three friends – Gabriel Holmes-Fitzgerald, Earl of Langdale, Hamish MacQueen, Marquess of Sleat, and Maximilian Devereaux, Duke of Exmoor – all served together under Wellington and fought in the battle at Waterloo. All have lived the life of an unrepentant rake since they returned from the wars and none of them have any desire to marry. Their exploits are constantly in the scandal sheets.
I loved Nate and he and Sophie were perfect together – he just had a really, really hard time seeing that. He was in constant denial and it ate at him. Sophie was a realist. She accepted that she loved Nate, but when he just wasn’t interested in marriage and wouldn’t admit to loving her, she did her best to move on and find someone new. When she did, it made Nate really jealous, but he still wouldn’t admit his feelings. So, a woman does what a woman has to do.
It is a lovely read with fun characters and does a great job of setting up the characters for future books – there’s also a nice excerpt from the next book included.