USA Today Bestselling Author
Lightning doesn’t strike twice…
Arthur Charles Winterbourne, Earl of Ettesmere, at the age of forty-four is done indulging in fanciful matters such as love and romance. When his wife died, he was brokenhearted. During the midsummer season, he and his siblings join their mother at the Berkshire countryside for revelry and entertainment, but all his wants is to shut himself away and leave living to the ones who believe in happiness after loss.
Romance doesn’t hold a candle to science…
Miss Juliana Quill has no time for courtship or attracting a man, which is why she’s on the shelf at seven and thirty. A self-taught astronomer, she looks after her aging father and wants nothing more than to chart the stars and perhaps discover a new heavenly body. That gives her more satisfaction than marriage or rearing children ever could. No sense in wishing for more, especially since she missed her chance.
Love appears when it’s least convenient…
When a handful of mysterious notes throw Arthur and Juliana together at every turn, a slow attraction blooms from friendship. Despite their stubborn refusals, desire flares and grows into a romance neither of them ever expected. While Arthur battles with guilt and memories, she’s nearly petrified by their difference, but these two willful, love-shy people will need to open their hearts and minds to grasp a happy ending they’d never dreamed they could have.
I’ve had this book on my tbr pile for a while and was in the mood for historical romance. I was not disappointed.
The book opens with Arthur Charles Winterbourne, the Earl of Ettesmire receiving a letter from his mother requesting him join her and the rest of the family at their country estate in Berkshire for summer. As he’s contemplating this journey his sister Sophie arrives and they discuss the possibility. She also hints at him remarrying, something he really doesn’t want to think about. He’s rescued by his daughter Emily’s return from school. Her reaction to spending the summer in the country is a positive one so it’s decided. He hopes his son John is of a similar mind.
We meet Miss Juliana Quill as she’s perusing the stars from atop her favorite spot on Otis hill near her home outside the village of Wokingham. She’s alone save for companion, an overweight beagle named Regent. She’s long been interested in Astronomy and preferred the stars to socializing. Which is how she finds herself unwed and without prospects at the age of thirty-seven. She’s been following a comet that she’s spotted again years after her brother first spotted it before his death. She’s charting its trajectory and coordinates in the hopes of having it and her recognized by the Astronomical Society of London.
It’s during this foray she meets Lady Emily Winterbourne, the young miss having escaped the manor for a bit of adventure and comes across the wandering Regent and returns him. They have an interesting conversation after which Juliana escorts her home. Her running around without a maid or chaperone would surely be frowned upon if discovered.
Juliana meets Arthur in much the same way as his daughter, when Regent gets away from her. He was walking down the road heading home after meeting with his tenants and his estate manager, when the dog burst from the trees and changed his direction to bounce at his feet.
This is a favorite scene.
“Ah, and who might you be?” He leaned down, picked the heavy animal up into his arms and then chuckled while the exuberant dog licked his face and chin. “Whoever you are, you certainly don’t know a stranger.” Despite the large belly, the dog was surprisingly muscled.
“Regent! Where the devil are you this time?” Though the hail and question were some way off, there was no mistaking the exasperation in the dulcet tones. “I’m growing weary of chasing your miserable hide all over creation.”
“What sort of name is that?” Arthur snorted with laughter as he regarded the dog in his hold. “Ah, you must be named after Prinny, and if so, what a jolly joke indeed.” He peered into the soulful brown eyes of the canine and grinned. “I believe your mistress is on the hunt, and from the sounds of it, she’s not best pleased.”
The beagle woofed with pleasure as he wriggled. This was no lightweight dog. He bussed Arthur’s cheek with his nose.
“I mean it, Regent. Show yourself this instant. I don’t have time for this nonsense.” Seconds later, the owner of said voice broke from the trees and marched over the grass to the road. She held a willow basket in one hand and a leather lead in the other. A bonnet swung from its tied ribbons in the crooked elbow of one arm. When she saw Arthur and the dog in his arms, she sighed. “Oh, botheration.”
“Good afternoon.” He offered what he hoped was a welcoming grin. “I assume you’re the owner of this rapscallion?”
“I am, unfortunately.” She glared at the beagle and then rested her gaze on Arthur. The blue pools of those eyes had him unexpectedly arrested. “He has a nasty habit of squirming away just when I’m about to tie the lead to his collar.”
“Such is a dog’s existence, I’m afraid. Always searching for the next break of freedom.” Though the burden in his arms grew heavier by the minute, he kept hold of the hound while looking over the woman with interest.
Of average height, she possessed a slender frame yet had enough curves to pique a man’s desire. The dress of robin’s egg blue suited her pale complexion and brought out another layer of color in her eyes. Curly black hair caught back in a loose chignon at the nape of her neck drew his regard to the elegant column of her throat, and as he came closer, the afternoon sunlight illuminated a sprinkling of freckles over her upper cheeks and nose. A tiny scar in the shape of a sideways V marred the smooth perfection of her forehead.
How mysterious. The need to know how she’d come by that scar took hold of his brain and wouldn’t let go.
“Well, thank you for finding my dog. He’s a handful at the best of times.”
The sound of her voice wrenched him out of his thoughts. Arthur nodded, for he’d temporarily forgotten how to speak, apparently. “Are you from around the area?” Obviously, she must be. Otherwise, the dog wouldn’t be so comfortable roaming.
“Yes. I live in a cottage not far from the village.” She gestured with the hand that held the leather lead. “About a mile in that direction. Three from Ettesmere Park the opposite way.”
“I see.” He hefted the dog more comfortably in his hold.
She shifted her weight from foot to foot. “By the by, I’m Miss Quill. Usually, I recognize everyone from the village, but your face isn’t known to me.”
“Ah.” Arthur glanced between her and the dog. “Oh! You’re that Miss Quill.” The woman his daughter had told him about at breakfast.
She blinked a few times in rapid succession. “Are there women with my name here in the village?”
“What?” That made no sense. Then he realized what she had asked. He forced a laugh. It sounded rusty even to his own ears. Had it been so long since he’d done it? “Uh, no. Of course not.”
Confusion filled her expression. “Then how do you know me?”
Heat crept up the back of his neck. As introductions went, he was certainly cocking this one up. “My daughter apparently met you two days ago.”
“Oh.” Her perfectly balanced lips formed an equally perfect “O”, and he couldn’t stop staring at those rose-colored pieces of flesh.
What the hell was wrong with him? Where had his manners gone? He knew better than to appear so vulgar in mixed company. After clearing his throat, he asked, “So then you’ve met my daughter?”
“Yes, I actually did. Lady Emily is quite a charming young lady.” She quirked a finely arched eyebrow. “Did she mention when we met to you?”
Was the woman daft that she couldn’t remember? “Sometime in the late afternoon. Beyond tea but before evening.” What difference did it make?
“Right. That is quite true.” Her expression cleared. “We did meet at that time.” She smiled while the fat beagle writhed in his arms. “I found her lovely.”
“She is that. I appreciate your acknowledgement.” His reality suddenly came crashing back around him. He was an earl and a widower with a daughter who he suspected of sneaking out of the house. Why this stranger was corroborating her story was beyond him, but he would discover the why later. “Er, I should give you back your dog.” And quickly, for the corpulent beagle had broken wind and produced a malodorous cloud that had the power to make his eyes water. He moved beyond the lingering odor and came closer to Miss Quill.
“Thank you again for curbing his escape.” She took the wriggling bundle from his arms. Barely, their hands brushed, but a tendril of heat curled up to his elbow. The scent of apricot and vanilla and some sort of flower wafted to his nose to banish the foul smell. “He’s a ridiculous animal, but I adore him. He’s my constant company on the days when my father’s illness becomes trying.”
“I’m sorry to hear that your father is ailing.” Arthur didn’t wish to leave her company so soon. There was something about her that invited confidences, but why? Did Emily feel the same when she’d met this woman? “What does he suffer from?”
“His mind is fading. Some days are better than others, and on the days he’s not lucid, he can turn angry and belligerent.” In that one moment, she appeared vulnerable and afraid before those things vanished under happiness when the beagle licked her cheek. “You wouldn’t need to welcome me back if you wouldn’t run away, Regent.” After another lick, she giggled.
The sound was surprising and captivating. Then guilt crept in to tighten his chest. He was still in love with his wife, wasn’t he? Finding a connection or a tiny bit of interest in someone else felt entirely too wrong.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He resisted the urge to tug on his cravat. “What do you do to pass the time? Surely you don’t spend all of it at home with your father?” She was well past youthful blooms. “Is there a Mr. Quill?”
A sharp stab of something went through him that he shoved away as soon as it made its presence known. He wasn’t jealous; he barely knew her. What she did in her personal life was no business of his.
She chuckled. Amusement danced in her eyes. “The only Mr. Quill is my father. I have long ago missed my chances to marry, I’m afraid.”
“Why? I mean, you’re an attractive woman. Surely, you’ve had suitors.” Then he berated himself for being rude. Why the deuce was he acting as if he hadn’t a brain in his head?
A blush stained her cheeks. “I have not, actually. My time has been committed to one thing only over the years—the study of astronomy.”
“How fascinating.” And he meant it. Beyond that, he was once more hooked on every word this woman said.
“I think so.” She smiled, set the dog onto the ground, and then firmly and with efficient movements, she tied the lead to the beagle’s collar. When she stood, she met Arthur’s gaze. “Well, I should go. I still need to visit the market and then return to my father. He’ll want tea soon, and the heavens will fall if I don’t serve it to him on time.”
An unexpected laugh escaped him. “That sounds like my mother. Ever since my father died, she has maintained a rigid schedule, perhaps as a way of coping with his loss.” Yet he’d not discovered anything of import about her other than she was unattached. “Shall I see you again?”
Another giggle left her throat. When Regent strained at the lead, she stumbled to the side a few steps. “I know astronomy, my lord, not divination. The future remains a mystery to me.”
He shivered even though it was a hot day. “Perhaps you’re right.”
Sookoo, Sandra. Romancing Miss Quill (Willful Winterbournes Book 1). Kindle Locations (463-524). Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
After this encounter, they both receive a note to meet, with no signature or seal.
Curiosity leads them to follow through and they are both surprised to find the other didn’t write the note. They do however enjoy each other’s company as Juliana gives him a lesson in astronomy.
I was amused as Arthur keeps trying to talk himself out of being attracted to her. Letting go of his grief is a major problem for him and one he battles throughout this book.
There are more notes and these two seem to find themselves in interesting situations. I really like the way things heat up between them as well, although Arthur’s devotion to his late wife gets irritating. For Juliana it’s very hard to win over a ghost and still she tries.
This is a fun story with laughter and some sizzle between older adults. I really loved that Arthur’s family encouraged the relationship that might otherwise be forbidden. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series.
5 Contented Purrs for Sandra!
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Sandra Sookoo is a USA Today bestselling author who firmly believes every person deserves acceptance and a happy ending. She’s written for publication since 2008. Most days you can find her creating scandal and mischief in the Regency-era, serendipity and happenstance in Victorian era romances, or historical romantic suspense complete with mystery and intrigue. Reading is a lot like eating fine chocolates—you can’t just have one. Good thing books don’t have calories!
When she’s not wearing out computer keyboards, Sandra spends time with her real-life Prince Charming in Central Indiana where she’s been known to bake cookies and make moments count because the key to life is laughter. A Disney fan since the age of ten, when her soul gets bogged down and her imagination flags, a trip to Walt Disney World is in order. Nothing fuels her dreams more than the land of eternal happy endings, hope and love stories.