About the Book:
A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.
Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…
Read an Excerpt:
Cossack tossed his head at something in the distance.
Julia’s gloved hands tightened reflexively on the reins. She squinted down the length of the Row at the rider coming toward them. “Easy,” she murmured to Cossack. “It’s just another horse.”
An enormous horse. Bigger and blacker than Cossack himself.
But it wasn’t the horse that made Julia tense in her sidesaddle. It was the gentleman astride him: a stern-faced, battle-scarred ex-military man.
Captain Blunt, the Hero of the Crimea.
Her mouth went dry as he approached. She was half-tempted to bolt. But there was no escaping him. She brought Cossack down to a trot and then to a walk.
She’d met the captain once before. It had been at Lady Arundell’s spring ball. Viscount Ridgeway, a mutual acquaintance of theirs, had introduced him to Julia as a worthy partner. In other circumstances, the interaction might have been the veriest commonplace-a few polite words exchanged and a turn about the polished wood dance floor.
Instead, Julia had gawped at Captain Blunt like a stricken nitwit. Her breath had stopped and her pulse had roared in her ears. Afraid she might faint, she’d fled the ballroom before the introduction had been completed, leaving Captain Blunt standing there, his granite-hewn features frozen in a mask of displeasure.
It had been one of the most mortifying experiences of Julia’s life.
And that was saying something.
For a lady prone to panicking in company, mortifications were a daily occurrence. At the advanced age of two-and-twenty, she’d nearly grown accustomed to them. But even for her, the incident at Lady Arundell’s ball had marked a new low.
No doubt Captain Blunt thought her actions had had something to do with his appearance.
He was powerfully made. Tall, strong, and impossibly broad shouldered. Already a physically intimidating gentleman, he was made even more so by the scar on his face. The deep, gruesome slash bisected his right eyebrow and ran all the way down to his mouth, notching into the flesh of his lip. It gave the impression of a permanent sneer.
Rather ironic that he was hailed as a hero. In looks, there seemed nothing heroic about him. Indeed, he appeared in every way a villain.
“Miss Wychwood.” He removed his beaver hat, inclining his head in a bow. His hair was a lustrous raven black. Cut short to his collar, it was complemented by a pair of similarly short sideburns edging the harsh lines of his jaw. “Good morning.”
She scarcely dared look him in the face. “Good morning.”
He didn’t reply. Not immediately. He was studying her. She could feel the weight of his stare. It set off a storm of butterflies in her stomach.
Ride on, she wanted to say. Please, ride on.
He didn’t ride on. He seemed intent on making her squirm.
She suspected she knew why. She’d never apologized to him for her behavior at the ball. There’d been no opportunity.
Perhaps he wanted her to suffer for embarrassing him?
If that was the case, Julia was resigned to take her medicine. Heaven knew she deserved it.
She forced herself to meet his gaze. The butterflies in her stomach threatened to revolt. Goodness. His eyes were the color of hoarfrost-a gray so cold and stark it sent an icy shiver tracing down the curve of her spine. Every feminine instinct within her rose up in warning. Run, it said. Flee.
But this wasn’t Lady Arundell’s ballroom.
This was Hyde Park. Here in the open air, mounted on Cossack, she wasn’t the same person she was at a ball or a dinner dance. For one thing, she wasn’t alone. She had a partner-and an imposing one, at that. Cossack lent her his strength and his stature. Made her feel nearly as formidable as he was. It’s why she was more confident on horseback.
At least, she’d always been so before.
“How do you do?” she asked.
“Very well.” His voice was deep and commanding, with a growl at the edge of it. A soldier’s voice. The kind that, when necessary, could be heard across a battlefield. “And yourself?”
“I’m enjoying our spell of fine weather,” she said. “It’s excellent for riding.”
He flicked a glance over her habit. Made of faded black wool, it did nothing to emphasize the contours of her figure. Rather the opposite. It obscured her shape, much as the net veil on her short-brimmed riding hat obscured her face. His black brows notched into a frown.
She suppressed a flicker of self-consciousness. Her clothing wasn’t meant to attract attention. It was meant to render her invisible. But it hadn’t-not to him.
The way he looked at her . . . Hades might have regarded Persephone thus before dragging her down to hell to be his unwilling bride.
And everyone knew Captain Blunt was looking for a wife.
If one believed the prevailing rumors, it was the sole reason he’d come to town. He was on the hunt for a vulnerable heiress he could spirit back to his isolated Yorkshire estate. An estate that was said to be haunted.
“You ride often at this time of day?” he asked.
“Whenever I can,” she said. “Cossack is glad for the exercise.”
“You handle him well.”
Some of the tightness in her chest eased at the compliment. “It’s not difficult.” She stroked Cossack’s neck. “He may look imposing, but he’s a lamb underneath. The biggest creatures often are in my experience.”
Captain Blunt’s own mount stamped his gigantic hooves as if in objection to her statement.
She gave the great beast an interested look. He was built like a medieval warhorse, with a broad chest, heavy fetlocks, and a thickly waving mane and tail. “What do you call him?”
“And is he-“
“A brute through and through,” Captain Blunt said. “Sometimes, Miss Wychwood, what you see is precisely what you get.”
Excerpted from The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews Copyright © 2022. (Photo courtesy of Vicki Hahn.) Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Julia Wychwood has social anxiety. Attending balls, meeting new people and having to converse with them can reduce this intelligent and kind young lady to a state of speechlessness, or, even panic. She would much rather be alone, reading her beloved novels, or out riding her horse, where she feels in control and unafraid. Her introduction to a noted war hero left her so unsettled, that she even fled away without acknowledging him, causing him to believe that his scarred face repulsed her. While out riding very early, Julia encounters this same man, and knows she must force herself to apologize.
Captain Jasper Blunt returned from war with many scars and a somewhat tattered reputation. Though his bravery and courage showed him to be an exceptional soldier, he also was reputed to be cruel and heartless toward his own men. Jasper has inherited an estate which has been sorely neglected for years, and has no funds to make the needed repairs. There are also three children living on that estate, reputed to be his own illegitimate offspring, who must be cared for. Without any prospect for the large sum needed, Jasper knows he must find an heiress to marry. He comes to town, where a friend attempts to introduce him to a prospective candidate, Julia. Jasper is immediately taken with her beauty, but when she flees upon meeting him, Jasper is sure there is no hope. When he meets Julia while riding, and she bravely and timidly offers her apology, Jasper comes to see that it wasn’t him, but rather her own fears that caused her to flee from him.
After a few more encounters, Julia has a hard time reconciling this kind man with his cruel reputation. Jasper never denies that he has done unforgiveable things in his past, but has vowed he is a changed man. He is also openly honest about needing money and seeking a wealthy wife. Julia’s father, however, has no intention of allowing his daughter marry a man who will remove her to his estate in Yorkshire. He needs to keep Julia close to London, so that she can continue to care for him and his wife in their many infirmities. With Jasper’s suit flatly refused, Jasper sadly begins to look for another bridal prospect. Then Jasper has the opportunity to rescue Julia from an awful situation, one instigated by her own parents. They agree to marry, with Jasper believing that he’s forfeited her dowry, only with their mutual affection, a rundown estate, and three unruly children in their future.
The developing romance between Jasper and Julia is so beautifully written and powerful. The hardened soldier with the cruel reputation treats his new wife with care, affection, and respect. Julia, in turn, blossoms under Jasper’s care. She feels safe, loved, and cherished. In a short amount of time, their affection grows to include a strong, passionate relationship. There are problems, however. Half of Julia’s money was her own, yet her father has managed to tie up funds in a legal battle that could go on for years. Also, Jasper is keeping secrets – one of them is fairly easy for the reader to discern early on, but the other is only hinted at. This second secret is not a small thing, but one that could be disastrous if discovered.
THE BELLE OF BELGRAVE SQUARE was so satisfying to read. I adore both Julia and Jasper and their love is genuine, tender, and more than enough to keep me sighing while reading. Julia’s awful parents added a touch of drama, and I felt that they got off a little too lightly for their exploits. Also, their capitulation seemed too easy, based on their previous actions. Jasper’s situation was more complicated, and did raise some moral questions about doing the wrong things for the right reasons. THE BELLE OF BELGRAVE SQUARE is another excellent book by an extremely gifted author, and it’s one that I don’t hesitate to recommend for its strong romance, truly remarkable hero and heroine, and sheer reading pleasure. ~Rose