Authors: Erin Knightley
The Baron Next Door
“A delightfully fun novel filled with music, laughter, and plenty of sizzle.”
âNight Owl Reviews
“Sexy, humorous, and tenderâa delight.”
RT Book Reviews
“If you enjoy sweet romancesÂ .Â .Â . with plenty of humor, sass, and romance,
The Baron Next Door
is the one for you.”
“A tender love story with a few twists and turnsÂ .Â .Â . a fun and charming tale that will have you smiling.”
âMy Book Addiction Reviews
THE SEALED WITH A KISS SERIES
Flirting with Fortune
“An emotional and refreshingly original Regency tale.”
“Charming, sensitive, and compassionate, this tale is Knightley at her best.”
RT Book Reviews
“A wonderful story of two real peopleÂ .Â .Â . a fun summer read.”
âRomance Reader Girl
A Taste for Scandal
“Very sweet and heartening.Â .Â .Â . The characters are likable and well written; the plot is delightful andÂ .Â .Â . sigh worthy.”
“As satisfyingly sweet as one of the heroine's cakes, Knightley's delightful and charming romance is both tender and adorable.”
RT Book Reviews
“With endearing characters, eloquent writing, and a spoonful of charm, you've got the perfect recipe for a perfect read!”
âUnder the Covers
More Than a Stranger
“This sweet treat of a romance will entrance you with its delicious humor, dollop of suspense, and delectable characters. It'll make your mouth water!”
New York Times
bestselling author of
When the Rogue Returns
“More than a romanceâit's a witty and engaging love story that had me turning pages well into the night just so I could find out what would happen nextÂ .Â .Â . a truly captivating tale.”
âLydia Dare, author of
“A distinct and unique voice.Â .Â .Â . Knightley achieves great sexual tension between the hero and heroine.Â .Â .Â . Fans of Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, and Suzanne Enoch will enjoy this book.”
âUnder the Covers
“A perfectly delightful story. The characters leap off the page.Â .Â .Â . Knightley has created a romance novel that is fun and interesting.”
“Charmingly sweet and tender.”
“Action-packed.Â .Â .Â . Readers will enjoy this passionate yet taut tale starring two charming protagonists.”
âGenre Go Round Reviews
“Knightley's entertaining debut sparks the imagination.”
RT Book Reviews
The Sealed with a Kiss Series
More Than a Stranger
(Penguin digital special)
A Taste for Scandal
Flirting with Fortune
Published by the Penguin Group
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A Penguin Random House Company
First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright Â© Erin Rieber, 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my father, Mark, who gave me nothing
but wonderful childhood memories.
I'm so lucky to have a dad like you!
And to Kirk, even though you'll only sing
when you think no one is around.
I wonder when you'll learn that there is no sweeter sound to me than the voice of the man I adore.
My heartfelt thanks to Louisa Cornell for her opera expertise, and to Anna Lee Huber for her knowledge of the oboe. Also to my lovely and talented plotting partners, including Anna, Heather Snow, and Hanna Martine. You ladies each brought something wonderful to the table!
To my editor, Kerry Donovan, and my agent, Deidre Knight, I'm so grateful to have both of you on my side!
Less conventionally, I would also like to give a shout-out to YouTube. Where else could I watch dozens of opera performancesâoften at two in the morningâwithout ever having to leave my home? I may adore the Regency era, but it's modern conveniences like this that let me know I was born at exactly the right
ophie Wembley had always prided herself on being able to find the bright side of any situation. When she was compelled to play the oboe when all the other girls were learning violin or pianoforte, she'd chosen to embrace her mother's belief that the more unique the instrument, the more memorable the musician.
When she'd discovered how embarrassingly modest her dowry would be, she'd brushed off any pangs of disappointment. At least she could be sure that no self-respecting fortune hunter would ever consider her prey. Any man wishing to marry her would do so because of his regard for her, not her money.
Finding the silver lining today, however, was proving somewhat more elusive. But then again, hearing the words “Your sister has eloped” did tend to drown out all other thoughts in one's head.
Without the least twinge of guilt, she reached for yet another shortbread biscuit. It was her fourth of the morning, but with news of the elopement sending her mother into such a dither, Sophie's indulgence was the least of their worries. Taking full advantage of her mother's distraction, Sophie bit into the crisp treat, savoring
the buttery goodness. It was
absolutely divine. So good, it
made up for the minor issue of Penelope ruining the family's good name by running off to Gretna Green with the estate manager's son.
Sophie sighed deeply, still unable to believe her sister could have done such a thing. If the missive hadn't been written in Papa's own hand, Sophie could have easily believed the whole thing was a cruel joke.
One look at her mother confirmed that this was no laughing matter.
“What could she possibly have been thinking, Sophie?” Her mother paced past the sofa table for perhaps the hundredth time, her hands red from hours of wringing them. Tearstains marked the pale skin of her cheeks, though thankfully the tears themselves had finally abated. “Does she hate us so very much? Does she think herself above the lot of us?”
. Her emerald skirts billowed out behind her as she turned for another circuit of the tidy drawing room. “The
will have a field day with this. I'll never be able to show my face in polite society again. And youâ” she said, shaking her head with the quick, jerky movements of one who had consumed entirely too much tea for one morning. “You and Pippa will never find husbands now. Thank God Sarah is safely wed.”
Sarah's marriage last month was the only reason Sophie had been allowed to travel to the two-month-long first annual Summer Serenade in Somerset. So far, the music festival had been everything she had hoped it would be, filled with musicians and music lovers from the world over, and with so many events and activities, there had yet to be a dull day in the whole first month. It was absolute heaven.
Her mother had claimed the trip was a special treat, a
chance for Sophie to relax after such a whirlwind spring, but Sophie knew better. The festival had drawn many an eligible bachelor, and where there was an unmarried gentleman, there was opportunity for matchmaking.
Or at least there had been.
She took another bite, willing the tastiness of the biscuit to overwhelm the dreadfulness of the morning. Numbness had settled deep in her chest. In a few weeks' time, when news of the elopement got out, she'd be a pariah. All the things that she had taken for granted these two years since her debutâthe grand balls, the lavish dinners, the friendly waves during rides at Hyde Parkâall of it would be gone.
Taking a deep breath, Sophie fought back against the fear that threatened to dislodge the numbness. This wasn't the end of the world. They'd figure something outâhopefully
life as she knew it ceased to exist. Hadn't she spent the last two years wishing that Mama would stop pushing so hard for her to make a match? She almost laughed.
Be careful what you wish for.
Setting down the uneaten portion of shortbread, she wrapped her icy hands around her still-warm teacup. “At least we have a bit of time before the news becomes known. We might even be able to make it to the end of the festival! Since there is nothing we can do to change what Penelope has doneâthough hopefully Papa will come up with somethingâI say we make the most of the time we have.” She offered up a helpless little grin. “Why walk the plank when we can waltz it instead?”
Her mother blinked once, twice, then not at all, staring at her as though she'd quite lost her mind. Perhaps she had. Why else would she suggest they carry on as though their family hadn't just been shaken by what was
sure to be the scandal of the summer? It was fanciful thinking, born of desperation.
At a loss, Sophie stuffed the rest of the biscuit in her mouth and flopped back against the sofa. What were they going to do? They'd undoubtedly be packing for home before the day was out. For the first time, a spark of anger pushed past the shock at hearing of her sister's impetuousness. Why did Penelope have to do something like this
, just when things were going so well? This had been the best summer of Sophie's life so far, and she wasn't ready to give it up yet.
Blast it all, she wished she could turn to her friends in Bath now for their advice. May would know exactly what to do. She was bold and fearless and unswayed by such insignificant trifles as scandal and rumor. And Charity would know exactly what to say to calm the emotions building in Sophie's heart like steam in a teapot.
But Charity was away for a funeral until next week and May's aunt had decreed that Sundays were strictly for worship and reflection, so Sophie was well and truly on her own until tomorrow at the earliest.
“You are right.”
Sophie looked up, startled by the pronouncement. “I am?” she said around a mouthful of biscuit. It was not a sentiment she was used to hearing from her mother, particularly when Sophie herself wasn't sure if she was making a good point or simply sounding delusional.
Nodding with impressive confidence, Mama swept her skirts aside and sat for the first time since receiving Papa's letter. “Indeed you are. I imagine we'll have two, perhaps three, weeks before the gossips catch wind of the scandal. That is more than enough time, if one is committed.”
She leaned forward and poured herself yet another
cup of tea as though the entire issue had suddenly been resolved. Sophie eyed her mother suspiciously. Was this what hysteria looked like? Calm, rational words said with overbright eyes and the nervous tapping of one's foot? Should she ring for a footman just in case Mama suffered a fit of vapors from the stress of it all?
Brushing the crumbs from her lap, Sophie tried to work out what exactly her mother meant. After a minute, she finally gave up and asked, “Committed to what, exactly?”
Mama held up her index finger as she took a long sip of her tea. Soft morning sunlight filtered through the pretty white sheers on the windows overlooking the street, lending a much cheerier atmosphere to the room than the subject warranted.
“We must carry on as we have been. Parties, recitals, dancesâwe shall attend as many events as possible for the next two weeks.”
So, if they weren't going home after allÂ .Â .Â . then they were merely postponing the inevitable. “To what end? Do we pretend that all is well, laugh, dance, eat, and be merry until the moment someone points in our direction and brands us outcasts? No, thank you.”
There was no mistaking the determination tightening her mother's mouth. “No, my little magpie.
shall laugh, dance, eat, and be merry.
shall laugh, dance, eat, and catch yourself a husband.”
Choking on her shock, Sophie fumbled for her tea, nearly knocking it over before getting a proper grip and downing the contents of the cup. “You can't possibly be serious!” she gasped. “If I haven't caught a suitor's attention in two years, what on earth makes you think I could catch one in two weeks?”
Her mind spun. It was absurd in the extreme. She
wanted a husband she could adore, and who could adore her in return. She was even mad enough to hope for a love match, despite what the
thought of such a thing. Finding such a man took time and, well, more
She put a hand over her suddenly rioting stomach, heartily wishing she had stopped at biscuit number three.
Mama's eyes changed in an instant, narrowing on Sophie with utter seriousness and disconcerting intensity. “You haven't a choice, my dear. I don't care how you go about it, I don't care whom you choose, but by the end of a fortnight, you
be betrothed.” She stood, smoothed her skirts, and smiled. “Now, if you will excuse me, I need to write to your father. Be ready in an hour, if you please. The husband hunt begins today. I do hope you have someone in mind.”
Sophie watched in openmouthed shock as her mother swept out of the room, a vision of efficient determination. For a moment she couldn't breathe, couldn't even think. Had she really led her mother down this absurd path with one ill-considered remark? She couldn't possibly be expected to woo a man in a fortnight. She wasn't beautiful, or alluring, or the least bit captivating. Though she normally talked entirely too much, she hadn't even been able to say two words to the man she'dâ
She sat bolt upright, her heart nearly leaping from her chest.
To the man she'd secretly admired for the past two years.
was much too tame a word.
was more apt. A
to end all
She pressed her icy fingers to her mouth, her pulse pounding wildly in her ears. He was here in Somerset to attend the summer festival. Coward that she was, she'd yet to speak to him. It was simply too intimidating, especially after how she'd gotten tongue-tied the last time she'd talked to him in London.
Drawing in a long, deep breath, she dropped her hands to her belly. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Her mother would be forcing her hand over the next few weeks, soÂ .Â .Â .
It was time to woo the earl.