It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady can do anything a man can do: backwards and in high-heeled dancing slippers.
Lady Juliana, daughter of the Earl of St. Maur, needs all the help she can get. She’s running a ramshackle orphanage, London’s worst slumlord has illicit designs on her, and her father has suddenly become determined to marry her off.
Enter Major Neil Wraxall, bastard son of the Marquess of Kensington, sent to assist Lady Juliana in any way he can. Lucky for her, he’s handy with repairs, knows how to keep her and the orphans safe, and is a natural leader of men.
Unfortunately for both of them, the scandal that ensues from their mutual attraction is going to lead them a merry dance…
In this scene, Lady Juliana, who is attempting to save a boys’ orphanage must deal with the handsome man her father has sent to persuade her to return home.
She paused in her sweeping and cocked her head. It was too quiet, and she’d quickly learned when it was too quiet something was amiss. Laying the broom handle against the worktable, she left the kitchen and stuck her head in the hallway. The classroom was just up the stairs, in what had been a drawing room before the residence had been made into an orphanage. Shouldn’t she hear the drones of Mrs. Fleming as she recited numbers or read aloud?
Instead, Julia heard…nothing.
She crept down the hallway and would have started up the stairs except she spotted Mr. Wraxall in the vestibule. She’d wanted to forget about him. She knew who he was as soon as he introduced himself. She’d never met him, but as she’d said, her father and his father had been friends for a long time. She knew about Kensington’s bastard son. She’d only met the legitimate sons, of course, though the marquess claimed his bastard and had paid for him to be reared and educated.
Wraxall didn’t look at all like his father and brothers, who were pale and slightly plump and who had inherited the crooked front teeth that were the hallmarks of the marquesses of Kensington from time immemorial. Wraxall must have taken after his mother, for he was not pale, not plump, and his teeth were white and straight.
She’d looked just a little too long at his mouth to pretend she didn’t remember his teeth. Or his lips, which looked soft and yielding.
Except for his lips, everything about him was straight and proper and sober. He’d undoubtedly made a good soldier, because when he turned his gaze on her now, she almost felt as though she should stand at attention. She resisted the silly urge and then, because he made her nervous, she latched on to the first item she saw—other than his quite kissable lips. It was a small notebook and pencil he held in his hands. “What is that?”
He glanced down at the notebook as though just remembering he held it. “I’m taking notes, my lady.”
“Notes, Mr. Wraxall? About the front door?”
He turned back a page. “I’ve already finished my notes on the dormitories. I didn’t want to barge into unfamiliar rooms, and since I haven’t been given a tour of the premises yet, I thought the front door seemed a good place to continue.”
“Continue making notes?”
“As you see.”
“Is there very much to note about the door, other than it is rectangular, wooden, and sorely in need of paint?” Come to think of it, hadn’t she asked Mr. Goring to paint it last week?
“It is all of those things, my lady, but I am also noting that the lock does not work.”
“What?” She moved closer. “I lock it every night.”
“I have no doubt of that, but the mechanism has been rigged so the bolt does not slide into place fully.” He pushed the bolt into place, and then he tugged on the door and it came open easily.
“Here.” He showed her the way the wood had been smoothed down in the casement so that it took only a little pressure to free the bolt from its mooring.
“Oh dear. I shall have to have that repaired.” Once again she glanced about for the elusive Mr. Goring. She hadn’t seen him since he’d shown Wraxall in.
“Did I imagine you had a servant earlier?”
Ah, then she wasn’t the only one who hadn’t seen him.
“Just the one servant?”
“Could you show me the door again?” she said, hoping to distract him.
“What about a companion or a lady’s maid?”
Curses. If word reached her father that she was here without a chaperone, all her plans would go to waste. “So the lock on the door is not working?” She bent to peer at it.
He pushed it closed. “Forget the door. Is there a female servant in residence?”
She had never been a good liar, but she did know how to dance and how to sidestep. “By ‘in residence,’ do you mean on the premises?”
His eyes seemed to turn a darker shade of blue. “That is the usual meaning.”
“Mrs. Fleming is here.”
“The lady lives here?”
“She is in the classroom.” She ought to play chess. That was a narrow escape.
“Mrs. Fleming is an instructor?”
“Yes.” Distraction was the key, and Julia was already starting up the stairs, making her way around the boards that were weak and rotting.
“And where is this classroom?” He followed her, seeming not to have realized she hadn’t answered his question. He trailed her closely, stepping where she did as though he too had seen the rotted wood.
She gestured to the top of the stairs. “In what was formerly the drawing room.”
“Are you certain?”
“Of course I’m certain. See for yourself.” She opened the drawing room doors and stared at the empty room. She looked right and then left.
No pupils. No teacher.
Wraxall leaned on the door beside her. “Impressive,” he drawled.
Neil Wraxall is the illegitimate, though acknowledged, son of Marquess Kensington, who educated and provides for him. While he was a soldier, Neil was part of a squad now known as Draven’s Dozen, because only twelve of the original thirty men survived. Neil is wracked with guilt over the death of his half-brother, and is plagued with nightmares. He spends the bulk of his time at his club with his fellow survivors. Neil is pulled from his melancholy when his father has an assignment for him. He must go to the St. Dismas Home for Wayward Youth, and ensure that Juliana St. Maur is removed from the premises and escorted safely to her home.
Juliana (Julia)has been attempting to keep the home afloat, though one disaster after another has befallen the place, which she now calls “Sunnybrooke.” She refuses her father’s summons to return home, and Neil Wraxall is not going to persuade her to leave. When Julia stubbornly refuses to leave, Neil determines that he, too, will remain until he can persuade her to change her mind. What ensues is that Neil finds himself becoming involved with the orphaned boys living in the home and in the daily activity. His military experience soon has the unruly boys working about the place, cleaning, building, and repairing.
While this activity is happening, Julia and Neil are finding that they are greatly attracted to each other. Neil’s feelings of guilt and unworthiness make him feel that he could never deserve a woman like Julia, and his own illegitimacy has caused him to vow to never take a chance on fathering a child of his own outside of marriage. The road to their happy ever after is rocky, as the baggage Neil is carrying is great. He is even further panicked when he realizes that the boys might be looking to him as a father figure.
I loved the character of Neil, and felt heartbroken over his misplaced guilt. Julia’s heart was in the right place, but she did not always act in the most intelligent manner. I believe part of that was her being naive, but part of it was just being stubborn. There are some amusing moments, and some action to go along with the sweet, yet steamy romance, which made NO EARLS ALLOWED a satisfying and enjoyable read. ~Rose