Jilted Trilogy by Cheryl Holt + 10 Copy #BookGiveaway
My new “Jilted Brides” trilogy will be here on Sept 20th. Have you read one of my books before? If not, these will be a great way to fall into my Regency world. And if you’re a long-time fan, the new books are jam-packed with all the things you like to see in my books: fast pacing, larger-than-life characters, yummy/macho heroes, huge plot twists and turns, and lots of wicked villains for the heroes to thwart.
For the past few summers, I’ve been writing linked series, where there is a common link running through all three books that’s resolved at the end of the final book. I’m using that technique again, with all of the heroines—Josephine, Winifred, and Amelia—having been jilted at the altar. It leaves them wary of men and their motives. When they start to fall in love with the heroes, it’s a long, slow, delicious road where they’re never sure they’re doing the right thing.
I’m releasing the three books together on the same day, so readers can scoop them up and read the whole story without having to wait for the next installment. The books will be available as print books and e-books. Mark your calendars! Coming September 20th! I’m counting down the days!
JILTED BY A CAD (Amazon)
Josephine Bates only ever wanted to marry and have a home of her own. At age eighteen, when a handsome suitor swept her off her feet, she believed all her dreams were about to come true. But he was actually a cad who stole her dowry and jilted her at the altar. Since then, she’s been wary of men and their motives. She’s accepted the notion that she’ll never escape her dreary, quiet existence, and she’ll most likely live out her days as a spinster…
Peyton Prescott is a ship’s captain in the Royal Navy. He’s a man of action and adventure, and his years have been filled with danger and excitement. But his brother has died, so he’s inherited a title and earldom he never sought or wanted. He’s afraid his new position will force him to abandon the thrilling life he loves, and he’s loafing in England, feeling landlocked and desperate to return to the sea. He’d give anything for a diversion, and when pretty, lonely Josephine crosses his path, he’s fascinated and can’t resist…
But Peyton isn’t looking for a bride, and Josephine could never be interested in a handsome, dashing scoundrel. Yet as friendship blossoms and passion flares, can love be far behind?
JILTED BY A SCOUNDREL (Amazon)
CHERYL HOLT continues to delight readers with the thrilling, dramatic second novel in her Jilted Brides trilogy…
Winifred Watson grew up as the only daughter of a decorated war hero. When he died suddenly, she was shocked to learn that he was bankrupt and she lost everything to pay his final debts. She’d hoped to wed her fiancé—a steady, handsome man who would have guided her through the tumult of her father’s death. But when her penury was revealed, her fickle betrothed jilted her at the altar. His treacherous conduct pitched her into a downward spiral that she can’t seem to halt…
John Dunn escaped his dreary home by joining the army when he was sixteen. He loved his years as a soldier and planned to dedicate the remainder of his life to King and country. But he was swept into a scandal and drummed out of the service. He’s returned to his family’s isolated, dreary castle on the Cornwall coast, but it’s the one spot on the globe he vowed to never visit again. He’s bitter, raging, and eager for a diversion from his pathetic situation…
When Winifred arrives, demanding shelter and assistance, John isn’t inclined to provide any help. But she’s pretty, intriguing, and in desperate need of a knight in shining armor. How can he resist?
JILTED BY A ROGUE
CHERYL HOLT delivers the delightful, emotional, and stunning conclusion to her Jilted Brides trilogy…
Amelia Boyle has always viewed herself as an extremely modest and moral woman. But after suffering a string of personal catastrophes, she went a bit wild and made several reckless decisions. Her spurt of excess culminated in her becoming engaged to a man she barely knew. When he promptly jilted her at the altar, the cruel act yanked her to her senses. She’s been forced to admit she has frivolous tendencies, and she vows to never let them flare again.
James Hastings loves his life in the army, and he doesn’t plan to ever retire. He’s a confirmed bachelor who spends his days around active, tough men who are proud to serve King and country. He’s not interested in marriage or settling down, and he has no time for women and no patience for flirtation.
But when Amelia stumbles into his dull, boring world, she turns it upside down, and it gradually dawns on him that he might not be able to live without her. Amelia has sworn off romance though and has other plans that don’t include binding herself to a handsome, dashing soldier. Can James convince her that he might be precisely who and what she needs to be happy?
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Amelia Boyle sat in a chair in her parlor, staring out the window at the street in front of her house.
The clock on the mantle began to chime, indicating the noon hour had arrived. As the twelve clangs rang out, she counted them in her head. Once the reverberations faded, she checked in both directions, but no one was approaching.
For a moment, she paused and tried to figure out what had possessed her, but there was no valid answer. Mr. Cartwright was supposed to have called for her at nine o’clock, but evidently, he’d had no intention of following through on their wild escapade. She couldn’t determine if she was furious, ashamed, or relieved.
The prior night, she’d hardly slept, having been overwhelmed by an odd mix of terror and excitement. She was eloping! To Scotland! With a man she barely knew!
Why had she agreed?
There was only one explanation: She was suffering from temporary insanity.
The past year had been exceedingly traumatic. First, she’d been spurned by the man she’d believed she would marry. He’d met a woman he liked more and had walked away from Amelia without a backward glance.
Then her dear brother, Evan, had suffered his own romantic ordeal. He’d nearly wed a girl who didn’t love him, who didn’t need him. At the last second, she had come to her senses and tossed him over. Even though it hadn’t been a love match, he’d been crushed by her rejection.
Amelia was devoted to her brother and always wanted the best for him, so she’d been crushed too.
He was an officer in the Royal Navy, and he’d done the sole thing he could think of that would improve his condition. He’d gotten himself assigned to a new ship and had sailed away. He was currently chasing pirates in the Mediterranean. Amelia couldn’t guess when or if she’d ever see him again.
Then their mother, Lydia, had died suddenly, with no warning. Amelia’s father had perished at sea when she was little, so Lydia had raised Amelia and Evan on her own. Their small family had been especially close.
Her passing had been a grueling trial for Amelia. She’d had to handle the arrangements for the funeral and burial by herself, had had to serve as executor, pay debts, and honor bequests. The most disheartening part had been when she’d stood at the grave by herself, without Evan being there for her to lean on.
She’d sent him several letters about their mother, but she hadn’t heard back, so she couldn’t be sure he was aware of the tragedy. But it simply took a long time for a letter to reach a sailor, and of course, any letter could be lost or delivered to the wrong address.
Their mother’s death had pitched Amelia into a peculiar morass that had left her feeling horridly adrift. She’d spiraled down into a quagmire of unusual, reckless conduct.
With her mother and Evan vanishing so rapidly, her isolation and loneliness had been particularly acute. Their comfortable home, where she’d always been so happy, had seemed abandoned and quiet, cold and unwelcoming.
The rooms were empty, the lengthy evenings torturous and unending. There was no one to talk to, no one to worry about her if she was late, no one to ask about her day. She’d grown to loathe the house, and she’d found a new set of friends, a group of rash, negligent girls who weren’t concerned about their reputations and who didn’t care what others thought.
She’d started attending public dances and private parties, reveling until dawn and fraternizing with dissolute gentlemen she shouldn’t have noticed.
When she’d met Holden Cartwright, she’d been swept off her feet, but she wasn’t certain why. Yes, he was handsome and charming, but they hadn’t had much in common. That had been obvious from the beginning.
She’d been so aimless and bewildered, and she’d been attracted to his zest for life, had wanted to appear as free and liberated as he was. His suggestion that they elope had sounded so thrilling.
His proposal had been perfectly timed, a quick remedy for all that was vexing her. He’d posed the idea as a lark, as a dare, as a jest, and initially, she’d disregarded it, but others in her dissipated social circle had latched onto the prospect and declared it brilliant.
Plans had swiftly careened downhill, like a runaway carriage she couldn’t stop. She’d consented frivolously, gaily, deeming it to be uproariously fun, but frantic behavior and raucous choices were exhausting. She wasn’t immoral or unrestrained—and she never had been.
Then and there, she vowed she would never drink champagne again. How had she become addicted to the bubbly treat to the point where she’d let it guide her decisions?
She took a last glance outside, then pulled the drapes firmly closed. She was glad he hadn’t shown up, glad he’d saved her from herself. He’d been thinking clearly when she hadn’t been thinking at all.
She went to the front door and removed the knocker to signify she wasn’t at home.
After her mother’s demise, she’d whittled down her staff of servants to three people, and she’d given them a two-week holiday so they wouldn’t be around to witness her folly as she’d jumped into a carriage with Mr. Cartwright and had headed north.
It would have been too humiliating to clarify or justify her actions, and she hadn’t wanted them to observe them or comment.
With them gone, the house was even quieter than normal, but for a change, she wasn’t distressed by it. She needed some solitude in order to evaluate her pathetic situation, then figure out what to do next.
She walked to the maid’s closet behind the kitchen and shut the door. If someone knocked—and she had to accept if was very unlikely anyone would—she wouldn’t be able to hear them, wouldn’t be tempted to answer.
She sat on a crate, yanked off her cloak and bonnet, and the silence washed over her. She missed her brother in a poignant way, but she was relieved that he hadn’t been present to view her scandalous foray.
She couldn’t imagine staying in London, couldn’t imagine strutting about in public again. She would hate to encounter any of the so-called friends who’d watched her disgrace herself. Nor could she bear to bump into any old friends who might be gossiping about her recent antics.
If her mother had learned of Amelia’s behavior, she’d have been so ashamed. Her brother too. Amelia was ashamed herself.
How could she get back to being the person she’d been before? Where was that reserved, modest girl hiding? Was she still lurking deep inside? Could Amelia bring her to the surface?
How would she?
* * * *
“Why should I pick you?”
Amelia struggled with how to reply to the question. She’d never previously participated in an employment interview. It was completely beyond the realm of experiences that would have ever occurred in her twenty-three years of living.
She opened her mouth, and the words that emerged were, “I suppose you’d pick me because I’m the only one who responded to your advertisement. Might that be correct?”
“That would not be correct. Apparently, there are a number of women who are eager to journey to Gibraltar.”
Gibraltar was a tiny spit of land, a part of the British Empire that was dangling off the southern tip of Spain and Portugal at the spot where the Mediterranean Sea flowed into the Atlantic.
“Numerous women have applied?” Amelia said. “I’m surprised to hear it.”
“The army garrison is very large, and people have brothers, husbands, and sons serving there. I can choose from various applicants to be my companion, with various skills and qualities. I ask you again: Why are you the best candidate?”
Amelia smiled wanly at the voluptuous young lady seated across from her—Miss Brinley Hastings—and tried to guess her age. With her auburn hair, big green eyes, and cherub’s dimples, she looked like a child, but on closer inspection, there was a hard edge to her, as if she’d been pummeled by life and was a bit jaded.
Miss Hastings was seeking a companion for her trip to Gibraltar, and the possibility of Amelia joining her had popped up at precisely the moment Amelia needed it most.
Their meeting was being conducted in the parlor of an apartment Miss Hastings claimed was her own. It was in an area of London where many theaters were located. The neighborhood housed actors, musicians, and other artistic types.
Miss Hastings was moving from the lodging and heading to Gibraltar immediately. Most of the furniture was gone, and there were traveling trunks stacked in the corners. The drapes and rugs had been rolled and packed away, so every sound echoed off the high ceiling.
Amelia was sitting on the only chair, and Miss Hastings was on the sofa. There were no servants bustling about and no refreshments had been offered. Was that customary in an interview? Amelia had no idea.
“As you mentioned,” she said, “there are many females who have family members serving in Gibraltar. I am one of them. My brother, Evan, is in the navy. He’s based there.”
“Will you be visiting?” Miss Hastings asked. “Or will you remain there and live with him?”
“I’ll remain. I’ve always supervised his home for him, and he’s ready for me manage his affairs once more. He sent for me.”
The entire sentence was a lie—except for the part that Evan was stationed in Gibraltar. He wasn’t aware she was coming, hadn’t invited her, and wasn’t expecting her, but he was a wonderful brother, so he wouldn’t mind her impromptu arrival.
She was desperate to be with him again, desperate to flee London to a new place where she could rest and regroup. If she could hide there for a few months—or even years—it would be a perfect ending.
“How old are you, Miss Boyle?” Miss Hastings asked.
“I’m just eighteen myself, and there’s no ship captain on Earth who will let me sail without a nanny to hold my hand.” Miss Hastings wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you hate how men run the world?
Amelia chuckled. “Yes, occasionally.”
“They’re all so pompous. They believe they know everything.”
“Well, at least more than us.”
“They’re rarely right,” Miss Hastings said. “I’ve found most male humans to be quite stupid.”
The comment seemed to create a bog that shouldn’t be entered so Amelia was silent as Miss Hastings studied her carefully. There weren’t any details not to like.
It wasn’t vanity for Amelia to state that she was very pretty: black hair, merry blue eyes, with a thin, shapely figure. She’d been described as amusing, smart, pragmatic, and endearing. She was loyal to a fault, steadfast, decent, and moralistic, with a pleasing demeanor and a winsome disposition.
Her father had been a career naval officer who’d provided them with an ample income and elevated status. She and her brother had received excellent educations, had been raised with the best of what their parents could supply. She was the very picture of a refined British woman.
If Miss Hastings required a companion, Amelia was a splendid choice.
“You’re wearing black,” Miss Hastings pointed out, “and I can’t bear a person who is grouchy or unhappy. Are you in mourning? Or are you some sort of Puritan?”
“I’m in mourning. My mother died recently, and I loved her very much.”
Miss Hastings snorted with disgust. “You’re lucky then. Some of us didn’t have mothers worth mourning or loving.”
It was an odd remark, and Amelia mumbled, “I’m sorry for you.”
“Don’t be. Is the black simply due to mourning though? You’re not a Puritan?”
“No, I’m definitely not a Puritan.”
Another lengthy assessment ensued, and Amelia couldn’t abide the tension in the room. She broke it by asking, “If I may inquire, Miss Hastings, why are you traveling to Gibraltar? I suppose I ought to have some information about you and your plans.”
“My brother is stationed there too. He also sent for me.”
“Have you been there before?”
“To Gibraltar? Gad, no. I haven’t been anywhere.”
“Neither have I.”
“Have you heard of my brother?” Miss Hastings asked. “James Hastings? He was a great hero at Waterloo. He was wounded.”
Amelia shook her head. “No, I don’t know him.”
“He’s Lord Denby now. He’s finally inherited his earldom.”
“My, my, that’s exciting.”
“For the moment, we’ve made no announcements, so don’t blab the news to anyone.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“He needs to finish his army service, then he and I will return to England together to open Denby Manor. It’s been shuttered for awhile due to family issues.”
“That’s too bad.”
“As soon as the investiture is completed, I’ll be Lady Brinley. Or I may shorten it to Lady Brin. Which do you like better?”
It was a silly, juvenile boast and evidence that Miss Hastings wasn’t as mature as she appeared. Amelia judiciously replied, “I like them both.”
Miss Hastings abruptly switched subjects. “Are you good with children?”
Amelia answered without thinking. “I haven’t spent much time around them. Why?”
“My sister will be accompanying me. She’s my half-sister actually. She’s ten, and her name is Laura. She can be a handful. You’d have to help me mind her.”
“I’m sure it would be no problem,” Amelia blithely stated, even though—without meeting the girl—she couldn’t imagine why she’d assume so.
Dare she ask to speak with Laura? Was it allowed?
She wasn’t usually so timid. Normally, she blustered forward without hesitating, but the events of the prior year had left her feeling unmoored, as if the ground beneath her feet was constantly shifting. She was anxious to be with Evan again, anxious to have his stable, solid temperament to calm the turbulent waters where she’d been swimming.
“I don’t require a mother or a chaperone,” Miss Hastings said, “so you wouldn’t have any authority over me.”
“No, of course I wouldn’t.”
“You wouldn’t be permitted to scold, reprimand, or lecture me. Your presence would merely be to keep the ship’s captain happy. You wouldn’t be my jailor or my guard.”
“I hardly know you,” Amelia countered, “and I’m not much older than you. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to order you about.”
Miss Hastings scoffed. “I’m serious. No one gets to boss me—especially women. I’ve typically found that other people don’t have my best interests at heart.”
“You’re young to be so cynical.”
“I’m not complaining. It’s toughened me so I’m wise and discerning. I’m betting—throughout my life—I’ll be able to survive a lot more calamities than you.”
“I’m certain you’re right.”
“What is the real reason you want to come with me?” Miss Hastings said. “You haven’t been candid. I’m a shrewd judge of character, and I can see you’re concealing things from me. I’d hate to hire you, then discover you’re a rude harpy.”
“It’s a short trip though, isn’t it? If we don’t like each other, we’ll be there very fast.”
“Yes, three or four weeks should do it.”
“So there won’t be much opportunity to quarrel.”
Miss Hastings chuckled. “That’s true.”
“There’s not much else I can tell you,” Amelia claimed, and she lied again. “My brother sent for me. He missed my mother’s funeral, and I miss him. We were very close, and I’m eager to be living under his protection.”
“Is he a good protector?”
“Very good,” Amelia firmly insisted.
“I’ll pray he never disappoints you then.”
From her comments, some of them surly, some of them depressing, it was clear Miss Hastings had a troubled the past. If Amelia had had any sense, she’d have thanked Miss Hastings, then left. It was an indication of her desperation that she didn’t.
“I would never travel to Gibraltar alone,” Amelia told her. “I’ve been dying to go and thinking I might advertise for my own companion, then I read your advertisement. It seemed like a sign.”
“Or an ill omen.”
“I’ll cross my fingers that it’s not.”
They smiled, then Miss Hastings’s expression sobered, and she sharply and impatiently nagged, “What’s really driving you, Miss Boyle? I like you, but when you haven’t been frank, it’s leaving me wary.”
“Are you a clairvoyant, Miss Hastings?”
“Not clairvoyant, Miss Boyle. I’m simply astute and clever—I’ve always had to be—and I never let myself be tricked or deluded.”
Amelia sighed. Why not be frank? If it landed her the position, so be it. If it didn’t, if she upset Miss Hastings and the position was revoked, she’d never see the odd girl again anyway.
“I’ve had the worst year,” she admitted, “and I’d like to escape London and start fresh in a new spot.”
Amelia paused, and Miss Hastings said, “Please continue. Confess it all so there are no surprises between us.”
“First off, I had a four-year understanding with my brother’s best friend.”
“An understanding—toward marriage?”
“Yes. We thought he’d propose, but he didn’t. He met someone last summer and fell madly in love. He married her instead.”
“I’ll despise him forever then,” Miss Hastings said. “Tell me she was ugly and horrid.”
“No. She was beautiful and sweet.”
“Then I’ll despise her forever too.”
Amelia laughed. “After I was tossed over, my brother became engaged, and it collapsed too. He shipped out to the Mediterranean, and he barely had time to say goodbye.”
“And then your mother died.”
“Yes, and I had to deal with it on my own. It was terribly difficult.”
She didn’t add the most humiliating details, about how she’d been forlorn and grieving, how—to cheer herself—she’d nearly eloped with a stranger after the funeral.
While she was swept up in debacle, it had been heady and thrilling, and her dissolute acquaintances had egged her on. They’d encouraged her bad behavior, and she’d reveled in it.
Of course, it had swiftly crumbled. She hadn’t been able to dance fast enough to run from the despair that was crushing her. When Mr. Cartwright had flitted off and jilted her, she’d dodged a bullet. She realized that now.
What if she’d actually gone to Scotland with him? What might have happened?
The myriad of disasters that could have arisen were alarming.
“It’s occurred to me,” she said, “that I’ll probably never wed. I have to cease wishing for what will never transpire.”
“You’re not that old. You’re hardly destined to remain a spinster.”
“I’m plenty old, and I don’t want to tarry in London, hoping some fellow notices me. I want to live with my brother. I want to start over in Gibraltar.”
Miss Hastings studied Amelia again, her keen scrutiny digging deep, then she shrugged. “Can you be ready to depart on Thursday? It’s in three days.”
Amelia blanched. “Three? Well…ah…yes, I suppose I can.”
“Then I suppose you’re hired.”
Miss Hastings had decided so quickly that Amelia felt dizzy.
“Really? I’m hired?”
“Yes, and don’t make me regret it.”
“I won’t. I swear.”
Miss Hastings stood, indicating the interview was concluded. “I’ll send you a letter this afternoon. It will explain what you should bring and what you can’t.”
“And I’ll provide the directions to the ship. I’ll meet you there. The tide turns at eleven in the morning. We have to be on board by then, with our belongings stowed.”
“You’re allowed two traveling trunks.”
“I can manage that.” Amelia’s mind was racing, trying to deduce how a woman packed her entire life into two small trunks.
“If you have any questions, write me a note. Don’t stop by. I won’t be here much.”
“I won’t have any questions.”
“Good. I like you more by the second.”
Miss Hastings walked to the door and opened it. Amelia rose and followed her over.
“I’ll see you Thursday,” Amelia said.
“Don’t be late.”
“I won’t be.”
Amelia strolled out, her posture erect, her bearing poised, but once she was outside, she fell against the wall of the building. She took several frantic breaths, as if she hadn’t inhaled the whole time she’d been with Miss Hastings.
She grinned and gazed up at the sky.
“I’m going to Gibraltar,” she murmured to the clouds. Then she spoke the words into her hand and cast them up and onto the wind to carry them south. “Do you hear me, Evan? I’m coming. I’ll be there very soon.”
Cheryl Holt is a New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon “Top 100” bestselling author of forty-eight novels.
She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age 40, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance, where she was stunned to discover that she has an incredible knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.
She is considered to be one of the masters of the romance genre, and her emotional, dramatic, and riveting stories of passion and illicit love have captivated fans around the world. She has won or been nominated for many national awards. For many years, she was hailed as “The Queen of Erotic Romance”, and she’s also revered as “The International Queen of Villains.” She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year” by the trade magazine Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.
Cheryl lives and writes in Hollywood, California. www.cherylholt.com.