— Fresh Fiction
A Victorian Valentine’s Day Novella
By Megan Frampton
On sale from Avon Impulse; February 3, 2015; ISBN 9780062380319; $1.99
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What’s a lovely young woman doing asleep in his bed? Matthew, Earl of Selkirk, is shocked to discover it’s his new housekeeper! She’s a far cry from the gray-haired woman he expected. Matthew is no fan of surprises, and Annabelle Tyne is pure temptation. Perhaps he shouldn’t have had her hired sight unseen.
Annabelle, co-owner of the Quality Employment Agency, is no housekeeper, but she wasn’t about to lose a potential client simply because there was no one to fit the bill. Imagine her shock when the Earl arrives at his London townhome and she’s awoken in the night by the most attractive man she’s ever seen.
Matthew is a man who lives life by the rules, but sometimes rules are made to be broken…and being bad can be very, very good.
“While it’s not precisely true that nobody is here, because I am, in fact, here, the truth is that there is no one here who can accommodate the request.”
The man standing in the main area of the Quality Employment Agency didn’t leave. She’d have to keep on, then.
“If I weren’t here, then it would be even more in question, since you wouldn’t know the answer to the question one way or the other, would you? So I am here, but I am not the proper person for what you need.”
The man fidgeted with the hat he held in his hand. But still did not take her hint. She would have to persevere.
“I suggest you leave the information, and we will endeavor to fill the position when there is someone here who is not me.” Annabelle gave a short nod of her head as she finished speaking, knowing she had been absolutely clear in what she’d said. If repetitive. So it was a surprise that the man to whom she was speaking was staring back at her, his mouth slightly opened, his eyes blinking behind his owlish spectacles. His hat now held very tightly in his hand.
Perhaps she should speak more slowly.
“We do not have a housekeeper for hire,” she said, pausing between each word. “I am the owner, not one of the employees for hire.”
Now the man’s mouth had closed, but it still seemed as though he did not understand.
“I do not understand,” he said, confirming her very suspicion. “This is an employment agency, and I have an employer who wishes to find an employee. And if I do not find a suitable person within . . .” and at this he withdrew a pocket watch from his waistcoat and frowned at it, as though it was its fault it was already past tea time, and goodness, wasn’t she hungry and had Caroline left any milk in the jug? Because if not, well, “twenty-four hours, my employer, the Earl of Selkirk, will be most displeased, and we will ensure your agency will no longer receive our patronage.”
That last part drew her attention away from the issue of the milk and whether or not there was any.
“The Earl of . . .?” she said, feeling that flutter in her stomach that signaled there was nobility present or being mentioned—or she wished there were, at least. Rather like the milk, actually.
“Selkirk,” the man replied in a firm tone. He had no comment on the milk. And why would he? He didn’t even know it was a possibility that they didn’t have any, and if she did have to serve him tea, what would she say? Besides which, she had no clue to the man’s name; he had just come in and been all brusque and demanded a housekeeper when there was none.
“Selkirk,” Annabelle repeated, her mind rifling through all the nobles she’d ever heard mentioned.
“A Scottish earl,” the man said.
Annabelle beamed and clapped her hands. “Oh, Scottish! Small wonder I did not recognize the title, I’ve only ever been in London and once to the seaside when I was five years old, but I wouldn’t have known if that was Scotland, but I am fairly certain it was not because it would have been cold and it was quite warm in the water. Unless the weather was unseasonable, I can safely say I have never been to Scotland, nor do I know of any Scottish earls.”
“Glad to have that settled,” the man said in the kind of strangled hush that most people seemed to speak after some time conversing with her. “The thing is, the purpose of my visit here is to hire a person to take care of the earl while he is in London on business.”
Annabelle opened her mouth to speak, but he held his hand up, indicating she should wait.
That, too, was something many people did to her. Was there a class that everyone took in How to Speak to Annabelle of which she was unaware? Because they were remarkably consistent in their discourse, and it couldn’t be coincidental.
But he was still speaking, so she couldn’t think about the possibility of the class, and whether she herself would be allowed to enroll. And why they hadn’t asked her to lead the class.
“And the earl was most specific, as he is about most things,” the man said, almost as though he were annoyed about that, “that there be someone at the house he’s rented to prepare it for his arrival. I do not have time to waste on this matter. Do you have a housekeeper who can take care of the earl for the time, perhaps as much as a month, that he is in residence in London?”
He drew himself up to his full height and stared down at her, as though daring her to reply in a way he did not want.
“To be clear,” he continued, as though he hadn’t been clear already. Only she still wasn’t quite certain, so perhaps he hadn’t. “To be clear, the earl is most insistent that he only have a housekeeper while he is in residence.” His expression revealed just what he thought of that edict. “So can you assist, or should I apply to another agency?”
Annabelle liked to accommodate, and the earl was an earl, after all. Even if she could already tell he was odd, not only because he was Scottish but because he wasn’t demanding that every servant in London bow to his every whim.
She bit her lip and thought about it for perhaps half a second, almost the same amount of time she spent on what she was going to say next in general. Her agency partner had been just as reckless a few months ago, and look where that had gotten her: a duke for a husband and a new child without the bother of childbirth.
This would not net her a duke, obviously, since this was an earl, and she hoped that there were not any children going to be in residence, but still, besides all that, it was a remarkably similar situation.
“I do not normally take on positions myself, you understand, but since the earl is in such desperate need, and there is no one here”--as I’ve mentioned several times, you’d think he could have realized that by now--“who can fill the situation, I will come along and take care of it. For a month, no longer.” That would bring her up to right around Valentine’s Day, and if she were busy, perhaps she wouldn’t remember she did not have a Valentine. “Is that suitable?”
Now the man—she might have to ask his name soon, only then she might also have to offer him tea, since they had become known to one another, and she still hadn’t figured out the milk issue—had what she might call a smirk on his face, only she didn’t know him well enough to know if he was amused or he was perhaps hungry. In which case she’d have to offer him tea, damn the milk, and she really did not want to do that. Mostly because she now had to find out where the Scottish earl lived and get over there to discover what needed doing.
It likely included buying milk.
“You,” he said, and now she knew he wasn’t hungry, he was amused, because there was a strong hint of a laugh in his tone, only she didn’t see what there was that was so funny. “You would be perfect. Thank you.”
“Frampton superbly balances passion with humor, avoiding cliché through rich characterization. The result is warm, kindhearted, and utterly delightful.”
— Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*
“Frampton’s enchanting tale of a lively governess and desolate duke is just what historical readers cherish—a humorous, touching, fast-paced and sensual love story. Frampton has what it takes to become a fan favorite.”
— RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“Frampton’s romance has charm to spare, and readers will find it impossible to resist her flawless characterization, fanciful plotting, and deliciously fizzy wit.”
“This witty and sexy romp is wildly swoon-worthy. Megan Frampton’s delightful characters and delicious sense of humor always entertain!”
— Sabrina Jeffries, New York Times bestselling author
“Megan Frampton’s talent just sizzles off the page.”
— Award-winning author Andrea Pickens (aka Cara Elliott)
Megan Frampton writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction as Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son. You can visit her website at www.meganframpton.com . She tweets as @meganf, and is at Facebook at facebook.com/meganframptonbooks.