The second book in the series, Cecilia’s Mismatches, is available for preorder on Amazon and will be released on October 10th.
The Reluctant Chaperon finds Lady Hoxley, Cecilia, making another attempt at matchmaking. Will she be more successful with this new pair than she was with her first?
For anyone who loves Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, these books are a must read, and each is stand-alone!
Cecilia’s Mismatches Series Blurb
Who is Cecilia? She’s Lady Hoxley, a recently married young lady whose husband is old enough to be her father. Theirs is a love match. She loves his money and title, and he loves her youth and vivacity. Cecilia is so gratified with her own match that she is determined to match her friends with worthy gentlemen—but what happens when all her grand schemes seem to go awry?
The Reluctant Chaperon Blurb
The beautiful and perfect widow Lady Reddener lives an admirable life. With an estate in the country, a house in town, and a considerable fortune, the former Miss Cassandra Hales has no need for a husband to complicate her days. Why does she need a man? She has her Mama and sisters and her best friend and neighbour, Marcus Brand, Lord Broadmead. One and all proclaim Cassie the very picture of serenity.
However, Cecilia, Lady Hoxley, matches Cassie’s vibrant and argumentative sister Miss Alexandra “Lexie” Hales with Cecilia’s own brother, the gentle yet winsome Mr. Reeve Charington, and Cassie finds herself in the position of chaperon while they court. What is she to do when their constant interactions draw her towards Reeve? Meanwhile, Lexie wishes for a husband who will challenge her in debate, and Mr. Charington seeks harmony. A problem indeed!
When Marcus and Reeve go missing, Cassie’s calm world collapses, and she’s faced with her true passion for Reeve. But could it be too late?
If Reeve and Marcus are found, Cassie must discover whether Reeve shares her admiration. Can Cassie allow herself love when she has sworn herself to a life without a man? What will Cecilia say if another of her matches goes awry? Book Two of the Cecilia’s Mismatches series is a stand-alone novel.
Cover Commentary by Suzan Lauder
Cassandra, the heroine of The Reluctant Chaperon, is beautiful and knows it, so what better than having her sneak a peek in a hand mirror? As a widow, she’s in lilac, a favourite colour of many readers. Once again, we were able to use a painting by Frédéric Soulacroix for the front cover, and similar to the cover for book one, I adore the rich silks of his artwork. The picture of Hyde Park on the back cover symbolizes the carriage ride that Cassie, Lexie, and Mr. Charington took together, and suits the book very well. I do enjoy working with Janet B. Taylor on covers because she always finds just the right painting each time!
When the author mentioned that many readers love lilac, I’m one of those people! The dress in the painting is beautiful! How many of you have lilac or shades of purple as a favourite colour?
We’re changing things up a bit today. Instead of an excerpt, we are posting all of Chapter One. We hope you enjoy it and want to read more. Watch for chapter two in the coming days.
Chapter One Introduction by Suzan Lauder
The original concept for the Cecilia’s Mismatches series was as a Jane Austen Fan Fiction novel, and I had started writing at the current third book, Secret Affairs. Therefore, in the following first chapter from The Reluctant Chaperon, readers will find traces of Jane Bennet in Cassandra (Lady Reddener), Charles Bingley in Reeve Charington, and Caroline Bingley in Cecilia (Lady Hoxley). However, the individuals in the new book took over, and the Austen features merely haunt the new personalities of the series. This is particularly evident in later chapters and in book three with Alexandra Hales, who was inspired by Elizabeth Bennet, but is decidedly different from how Austen sketched Lizzy.
September 1810, London
Fortune shone upon Cassie due to her exceptional poise, even though she had almost faltered during her final steps down the stairs.
Was that a Greek god standing in her hall? Until this precise moment, Cassie would have sworn that men who looked like this did not exist in the world. In a similar vein, she had to swallow hard to keep her jaw from dropping open before she prised her gaze from the tall, red-haired gentleman next to Lady Hoxley, who curtseyed.
“Lady Reddener, so good of you to invite us this evening.” With the smoothest of mannerisms, Lady Hoxley stretched out her palm. Her chin was held high and her eyes gleamed. “Lady Reddener, may I present my brother, Reeve Charington. Reeve, this is my dear friend Lady Reddener. Cassandra is almost a sister to me.”
Cassie managed not to flinch at the lady’s effusive introduction and instead, turned up the corners of her lips with a graceful nod. They were not as sisters, as Lady Hoxley claimed. Lady Hoxley was Cassie’s sister Audra’s friend, and although her ladyship had been a mentor for Audra, Cassie barely knew the lady—was she supposed to call her Cecilia?
The gentleman smiled and gave a slight bow. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Reddener. I have heard much of you from Cecilia.” Reeve Charington was tall, fine of figure, and had one of those smiles that made a person feel as if they were the only one in the room—Cassie could have been lit up solely by a chandelier, he paid such undivided attention to her. Under such scrutiny from the handsomest man she had seen in a long time, she could barely breathe.
“How have you found Hatley Manor?” She had been dying to learn more of the young man leasing the nearest property to hers. Rumour had it that he intended to purchase, and since she had no husband to send over to meet him, she had made the clever decision to host a dinner while they both were in town, ensuring he was one of the guests by including him with his sister. A rather industrious idea, if she said so herself.
She allowed her eyes to peruse his countenance while he began a pretty speech on the birds of the estate. The man’s chin was strong, his jaw somewhat square in its firmness, his cheekbones high, and his nose had a bit of a crook to it, lending it character. Out of all that, a pair of the brightest sea blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and good humour. Put together, the new master of Hatley Manor was a striking man.
All of a sudden, silence startled her, and when she took the time to notice, Mr. Charington stared at her expectantly. She made to speak, but somehow, she had forgotten how. Did he have this effect on ladies all the time? If so, he must be accustomed to the awkwardness. Cassie schooled her features, put on her most gracious “lady of the house” visage, and addressed her newest guest with the calm, collected mannerisms that were far more aligned with her usual habit—she was known to be unflappable after all.
“How was your trip? I trust the roads were not too bad?” she asked the gentleman. There. Cassie was reputed to be a gracious hostess for her ability to have composure in every situation.
“They were dry but a bit rutted,” he replied. “The sunshine was welcome, though, and the weather was not too hot.” He had his hands held behind his back as he spoke, which accentuated his broad shoulders. Oh, this was madness! Her breath was quick and her chest tight no matter how she struggled to maintain her serene exterior.
“I am glad to hear it.”
“You have a lovely home here. I understand you share it with your mother and sisters?”
“When they are not away at school or visiting friends like Lady Hoxley, yes.”
“You are fortunate to have close family around you. It bodes well to stave off loneliness. Of course, I presume that such a lovely lady would not often be lonely.” His smile was a bit crooked, bursting with natural, comforting charm. And he thought her lovely. She was not unaware of her beauty, but her chest swelled that he would comment upon it.
“With three sisters, one would sometimes wish for quiet times,” Cassie replied.
“I can well imagine. When Hoxley and Cecilia are off gallivanting around the countryside, I find I sometimes do not know what to do with myself,” he said. “That is why I tow them along with me when I can. They are excellent company.”
“You are fortunate in your family, then.”
“One is usually not complacent with one’s own family, yet I am well satisfied. I am told I am easy to please.”
Lady Hoxley placed her hand upon Mr. Charington’s sleeve. “My brother is too kind. I am a difficult sister, yet one never hears an ill remark from Reeve. He was born to be of good spirits. I have heard much the same said of you, Cassandra.”
“Pray, do not praise me where it is undeserved. My sisters have far more admirable attributes.”
“It is easier to honour one’s sisters, is it not?” asked Mr. Charington.
“I suspect my brother is once again being kind. Though sisters may become trying to one’s nerves at times, neither of you shall admit it. It is like being asked whether you enjoy a food that you must eat but would have chosen another given the chance. I would tell the truth. You two would embroider it into a satisfying dish.”
Mr. Charington’s good-humoured grin nearly made Cassie melt in place. “Since when have you been steamed plaice, Cecilia?”
The three enjoyed a laugh. However, just as the conversation had become relaxed and comfortable, the balance of the guests started to pour through the front door. Cassie had no choice but to excuse herself to take her position greeting each one. As she stood there shaking hands with her friends, she caught a glimpse of Mr. Charington again as he ambled towards the drawing room, this time from behind. His shoulders were broad and his hips slender, leading to a perfect triangle of a figure in his dinner wear. She sucked in a breath through pursed lips. That man was formed to distract women.
The new master of Hatley Manor had charm enough for ten men, never mind his handsome countenance. Nothing like the other men, whose colouring tended towards the thin beige-y hair and pasty skin of the Englishman, Mr. Charington had thick russet locks that undulated as they were combed towards his face. The tanned complexion of an outdoorsman suited his rugged cut cheekbones.
Once the last of her guests had followed the Hoxleys and Mr. Charington into the drawing room, Cassie paused in front of a large, gilded mirror. She had been hasty about her toilette since she had been worried about dinner. For Cassie, the party was the largest she had hosted since the death of her husband, Sir Cyril. Her appearance needed to be flawless.
Her fingers smoothed down her nose and under her eyes. No wrinkles, but she was only one-and-twenty. Was that a blemish beginning to appear on the side of her nose? Oh, bother! Well, there was nothing to be done for it now.
Satisfied enough, she stepped into the doorway of the drawing room where Lady Hoxley appeared to hold court, as she was perched in a chair by the fire leading the current discussion. Cecilia Smart, Lady Hoxley, had married young to a viscount old enough to be her father, which had added no end to her pride of position—the lady would be right in that self-evaluation.
After all, Cassie had married Sir Cyril and his wealth and left her family at only sixteen years of age. She did not truly understand what she was getting herself into so young. Mama pushed them together with such vigour, and she was accustomed to listening to Mama. That said, Sir Cyril had been a good husband, caring for her entire family after her father had died. Her cousin Aubrey Hales had been cruel when he inherited her family’s estate, though she refused to think of Aubrey one moment longer. He was not worth the filth on the bottom of her shoe!
When Lady Hoxley noticed Cassie, she stood and bustled over to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. “I am so happy you planned this dinner, my dear. As you know I do fancy myself a matchmaker, and I have planned for a time now to pair your sister Alexandra with Reeve, making this the perfect opportunity to introduce the two. What do you think? Am I not clever?”
The reason Lady Hoxley thought herself a matchmaker was what she considered her own great success in marriage—hers was supposed to be a love match. But Mr. Charington and Lexie? Would her defiant, bluestocking of a sister and the amiable Mr. Charington suit? How could she be sister to a man who attracted her with such a trifling effort? The notion made her eyes burn, but in terms of her sister’s and Mr. Charington’s compatibility, she could not say whether they were an appropriate match. In any event, Cassie had no intention of marrying again so why not pair the two? Regardless of her feelings for Lady Hoxley, she would see to it that she treated the viscountess with the best of care since she counted among family friends.
“That is interesting since I have seated your brother between Lexie and Mama this evening. If he does not do well with my sister, he could court Mama.”
Cecilia slapped Cassie on the arm with her fan. “Oh, you are a quick one. But do you agree with me?”
A signal from the butler saved her from a proper reply. “You must excuse me. I have received word that dinner is ready to be served.”
The guests were hand-picked and elegant. If only she was not required to pay attention to the lot of them. If only her seating arrangement had not been quite so formal, with Viscount Farlane, a neighbour in town, to her left and Marcus Brand, Earl of Broadmead, an old family friend whose estate bordered hers and who also happened to be her closest confidant, on her right. If only she had better ears to hear the conversation causing gasps halfway down the table. Was it about the matchmaking?
Bowing to formality, she had given an elderly marquess the seat opposite her. That left her sisters and a smattering of low-ranking peers and gentry in the middle of the table, including her new neighbour, Mr. Reeve Charington, who had proven to be nothing like his sister, Viscountess Hoxley. This was the man she wanted to listen to, to gaze at, the man who had caught her attention when he arrived an hour earlier and stunned her with his beauty. She uncrossed her legs and crossed them the other way. Every single thought of Reeve Charington ignited a layer of heat under her skin such as she had never experienced before. Watching the man from a distance was akin to withholding candy from a child—she wanted him badly, and all for her own.
But what was she thinking? She was not yet out of mourning for one thing. Oh, blast. That was a mere excuse, and she should own to it. The truth of the matter was she and Sir Cyril had entertained an odd sort of marriage, where they each fell into a pattern of enjoying one another’s company, yet no pleasures of the marriage bed. She had never experienced such attraction. What was she to do with it?
“A penny for your thoughts?” Marcus’s gentle voice asked.
“I was thinking of Cyril, and how I miss him.” Her prevarication was close to the truth. She could not tell him that she had never once had marital relations with her late husband, let alone have the depth of love she saw in her younger sister Audra’s relationship with the duke!
He leaned in closer to her. “Is that why you keep staring at Mr. Charington?” He used a soft tone. “I admit, he is a beautiful man.”
“He is supposed to be matched to Lexie.” There it was. The point that did matter. Her sister was being matched to the man she lusted after, and she would be forced to watch them court. How was she supposed to stand aside when she became so heated at just a glimpse of him? How was she supposed to maintain her equanimity and encourage Lexie to flirt with the man she wanted for herself?
Marcus snapped back in his chair, his gaze redirected to Mr. Charington’s easy conversation with Lexie and Mama. “You must be joking.”
“Indeed, he is. Have you spoken to him?” She did not let her gaze waver as she asked.
Marcus returned his attention to Cassie. “Not as yet. I have been in town since he became our neighbour. I shall take the opportunity soon, though.”
“Oh, you must tell me everything.”
“Careful, Cass. Your staring might be noticed.”
He was right. Reeve Charington now returned her look with a response she could not understand—a sort of an admiring glance that was deeper, darker than anything she had ever experienced before. Oh, lecherous stares had been thrown her way many times, but this was different. This was possessive in a gentle way, as if he too thought her the candy and him the child. This would not do. She had to look away, so she laughed and turned to Marcus.
“You must have made a joke,” she said.
“Ah, I am your way out of that lock of the eyes. You, my friend, are not usually prone to such tactics.”
She was not. Honest as the day was long, the sting of her pretence upset her equilibrium. She took a sip of water. “Can you forgive me?”
“Of course. What are friends for?” He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. “But I shall wager this is not over. You are in trouble, and I must offer myself as a rather talented opportunity to get out of any fix, should you ever need me.”
She gave Marcus a smile and a shake of her head. “I thank you, but I can fend for myself. As you know, I do not intend to be tied down.”
“Because you lose everything if you marry.”
“You are correct. I can more easily care for Mama and my sisters this way.”
“I understand, but most would not, you know. I know the depth of you like none other.”
“That is why you are my best friend.”
Her attention had been too long to one dinner guest. Marcus, who seemed to be aware of the same, returned to the lady beside him and with ease, resumed a comfortable conversation. Cassie smiled her best lady of the house smile and directed her attention to her left.
“Are you enjoying the roast beef, sir?”
Lord Farlane’s ears went pink. “It is delicious, Lady Reddener.”
The man had somehow made her uncomfortable from the start today, and she fought to maintain her pleasant countenance. From the way his head snapped up, she could not help but suspect he had been looking at her breasts. He was not a man well known to her, rather, he was an acquaintance of Sir Cyril’s, a widower who seemed pleasant enough to provide her with a sense of obligation. Would she need to reconsider this position? She despised conflict and hated to think ill of anyone. No, he could not have been staring at her chest. She must have been mistaken.
Did you enjoy the first chapter? Would you like to read the next one? Come back in a few days and we will have chapter two posted for you.
Have your read An Accomplished Woman, the first book in the series? These books are quick reads and will hook you from the beginning.
Book 2 is available for preorder and will be auto-delivered to your e-Reader October 10th.
It’s giveaway time! Meryton Press is giving away two eBooks of The Reluctant Chaperon. Leave a comment below telling us what you think? The giveaway is worldwide and will end October 9th at midnight central time. Good luck to all. We are eager to hear from you.