Novelist Claire Hastings loves her unconventional, independent lifestyle, but in order to retain her family estate in Edwardian England, she must marry within the month. The unexpected solution? Enter William Knightley, a male escort who works at her best friend’s bordello.
Will’s more than willing to pretend to be a titled gentleman and receive an income in exchange for a marriage of convenience with Claire. As the clever couple tries to convince the discerning society that Will is a baron and this is a true love match, however, the ruse begins to feel all too real.
But as their wedding day approaches and deeper feelings develop, several unexpected figures from Will’s past reappear, throwing everything into question. When the dust settles, will obligation or love lead them to the altar?
Sensuality Level: Sensual
Licie Laine lives in Port Orchard, Washington, the real-life town made popular by bestselling author Debbie Macomber in her Cedar Cove series. She is a graduate of Goldenwest College in Southern California. This is her debut novel.
An excerpt from My Fair Baron:
Claire hurried down the crowded London walkway toward the royal mail office, the pleats along the bottom of her lavender day dress fanning out with a swish on every step she took. Beneath her gray wool pelisse, she held her brown paper–wrapped parcel tightly against her chest. If someone should knock into her, it would be disastrous to drop her latest manuscript in a puddle of mud and be forced to retype the damaged pages before her next deadline.
It was still chilly in early April, but inside the well-lit building there were enough people to instill some warmth. After stepping inside and seeing the length of the queue to the postmaster’s window, she glanced down, moving her pelisse a little to the side in order to look at the timepiece she had pinned to the ruffled collar of her gown. With a slight huff, she quickly joined the line of people, hoping she wouldn’t be late in meeting Izzy at the hat shop.
As if she had any use for a new hat. Such fripperies were fine for marriage-minded misses, not her. Even if that one blue silk confection in the window had been quite divine. Claire was definitely past the age of trying to catch a husband. Not that she had any notion of doing so. In fact, the last time she’d spoken with Mr. Jenkins, her publisher had wanted to know when she intended to quit writing and settle down. She’d laughed in response.
“I only ask because we’d like to have an idea of how many books we could expect from you,” he’d said with a slightly embarrassed smile. “Your serials are so popular, we’d be happy to continue with your anthologies, but not if it conflicts with your responsibilities to your household.”
“Running a household wouldn’t make me love words any less, Mr. Jenkins,” she’d confidently told him.
“But surely an unmarried young lady such as yourself would want to get married?”
She hadn’t missed the subtle reference to her age. “Why should I?” she’d asked, quite plainly. “I’m content with my work; I have no need to marry to support myself.”
The publisher hadn’t given her a response other than to move his mouth around a few inarticulate noises. It made her smile. Apparently, he wasn’t very used to dealing with females who had no intention of following their expected path in life.
She’d stood up then and patted the stack of paper tied up with twine at the end of his desk. “Don’t worry, sir. So long as I keep getting ideas for where to send Professor Travers next, you’ll keep getting my stories. I would never be so heartless with my characters as Sir Arthur was.”
Mr. Jenkins had thanked her heartily for that. The outcry for the incredibly famous detective stories had not ceased in the seven years since the author ended them. Claire was perhaps naively hopeful that her own star-traveling Professor would find his way into the readers’ hearts instead.
That discussion had followed her submission of the final chapter of the anthology, just before the entire book would be sent off for printing. Soon, they would send her the finished product, and just the thought of holding all of her current work in a hardbound volume rather than piecemeal in the newspapers made her feel giddy. It was a big step in her journey as a writer.
Lovingly, she ran her hand over the parcel she was holding. Inside was the first chapter of the next anthology. She couldn’t imagine marriage ever competing with the excitement this brought her.
At last, her turn came at the delivery window, and she filled out the address, handing it over to the man on the other side.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said as she gave him the parcel. “Could you check to see if there is anything for Hastings?”
The uniformed man looked up. “Is your address here in town?” he asked, monotone.
“Currently, yes, but it’s rented. It could have been sent here from Bradfield.”
He sighed. “Is your post not being delivered?”
“No, it is, but . . . could you just check, please? It would have come from overseas. Hastings?” She spelled it for him, then offered a wide smile when he made no move to rise from his chair. “Please?”
He was gone for several minutes. Claire knew; she was still checking her timepiece. When he returned, his hands were empty, and his expression hadn’t changed.
“Nothing for Hastings, miss,” he said.
This time, it was her who sighed. “That’s all right,” she told him. “Thank you for looking.”
She made her way to the door, her heart sinking, tempering her earlier happiness over her book. It sank a little more each time there was no letter from Charles, her brother. She really ought to expect it by now; she’d checked the post every day for months, and every day there was nothing.
Back out on the street, she hurried down the lane to where the carriage waited, moving a little faster now that she didn’t have to worry about dropping her precious manuscript.
“Izzy?” she asked, opening the carriage door, but the inside was still empty. Looking up, she inquired of their hired driver, “Has she been out yet?”
The man shook his head. “Still inside, ma’am.”
Claire turned to peer at the front of the hat shop, where her friend had been intent on a purchase. Beyond the elegant display of hats, she could see no sign of Isadora within. She checked her timepiece again.
“What could be taking so long?” she wondered, noting that the afternoon was growing quite late as she smoothed the gray wool back into place. How long could it possibly take to buy a hat?