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Promise Me Tonight

Promise Me Tonight, February 2010
The Westons #1
by Sara Lindsey

Signet Eclipse
Featuring: Isabella Weston; James Sheffield
320 pages
ISBN: 0451229371
EAN: 9780451229373
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"Can a strong-willed lady convince a determined gentleman that they are destined to love each other?"

Fresh Fiction Review

Promise Me Tonight
Sara Lindsey

Reviewed by Kay Quintin
Posted January 16, 2010

Romance Historical

At the age of 14, a very determined Isabella Weston believed herself in love with her brother Henry's closest friend, 20-year-old James Sheffield. Izzy was determined that the man of her dreams should declare his love to her forever. Now, after being away from Ireland for five years, James returns to fulfill his promise to Izzy by attending her "coming-out" ball, only to find that she's turned into a beautiful goddess who makes his blood boil.

Losing his mother in childbirth, followed by the death of his father, James grew up under the guardianship of his stern and loveless grandfather, the Earl of Dunston. Having lost all he loved, James is determined never to love again and to extinguish the Sheffield family line. Izzy has other ideas that quickly culminate in deceit and trickery to achieve what she desires most. James must use all the willpower he possesses to reject the one person who can make him whole again.

PROMISE ME TONIGHT is a Weston novel set in an era of proper society. James is an appealing young man who feels much loneliness. Izzy is a beautiful young woman with one goal in mind -- to love and be loved by James. She will go to any cost to achieve that end result. The Weston family is delightful and entertaining. Izzy and her schemes will keep you on your toes waiting for the next round. I look forward to tales of the other Weston siblings.

Learn more about Promise Me Tonight


The Weston siblings have been blessed with Shakespearean names and an affinity for impropriety.

Prepare to fall in love while discovering how the Westons are won.

Isabella is determined to marry James....

Isabella Weston has loved James Sheffield for as long as she can remember. Her come-out ball seems the perfect chance to make him see her in a new light.

James is determined never to marry....

James is stunned to find the impish girl he once knew has blossomed into a sensual goddess. And if he remembers his lessons correctly, goddesses always spell trouble for mortal men.

A compromise is clearly necessary.

When Izzie kisses James, her artless ardor turns to a masterful seduction that drives him mad with desire. But, no stranger to heartbreak, James is determined never to love, and thus never to lose. Can Isabella convince him that a life without love might be the biggest loss of all?


Weston Manor, Essex
July 1792

Perched precariously on the banister of the long portrait gallery so as to better observe the party in progress one floor below, fourteen-year-old Isabella Weston was faced with the devastating sight of her true love dancing with another woman. She turned her head to look at one of her younger sisters, Olivia, who, safely seated on the floor, was craning her head to peer through the carved marble balusters.

“Can you believe how that—that hussy is dancing with James?” Izzie demanded. “Honestly, she should be ashamed, dancing like that with a man who is not her husband.”

Izzie, of course, fully planned on dancing with James Sheffield that way, but she would be married to him when she did—or engaged, at the very least. Of course, since she’d been planning the wedding since the day they’d met, Isabella felt they were practically engaged.

She’d been only six when they’d met, but one smile from James had been all it took for her to tumble head over heels in love. Of course, she hadn’t really known at the time that it was love—just that she wanted him more than she’d ever wanted anything before. She wanted to take care of him, to share her family with him, to fill his world with laughter and brightness, and banish the shadows from his eyes. And though she’d been young, Izzie had been nothing if not determined, and she’d determined, right then and there, that someday when she was all grown-up, James Sheffield would be hers. Now she was all grown-up, or almost, and the sight of James with another woman made that “almost” almost unbearable.

“Oh, Izzie.” Livvy sighed, sounding far older than her twelve years. “Not James again!”

Isabella shrugged. “I can’t help it. I love him.”

“I know, believe me, I know. I would get far more sleep if you didn’t. But he, well—” Olivia bit her lip and tugged at a lock of golden-brown hair. “He’s older.”

“James is not old. He just turned twenty in May. Hal”— she waved a hand at the crowd below that included the girls’ older brother, Henry—“will be twenty in September, and he certainly isn’t old.”

“I didn’t say James was old. I said he was older. And he’s Hal’s best friend . . . and our neighbor. To him you’re nothing more than a little sister, and even if he is aware of your feelings, I’m worried that—”

“Aargh! I just saw that woman touch his—” Izzie waved a hand in the vicinity of her backside, nearly toppling over the railing as she did so. As much as she wanted to squash that woman like a bug, she had imagined doing so in a more metaphorical sense. And, of course, such a fall might well break her neck and, if it didn’t, her mother might kill her anyway for appearing en déshabillé in front of the guests. Not that her thick flannel nightgown and wrapper didn’t cover every inch of her from the neck down, because they did, but it wouldn’t be proper.

Along with snakes, spiders, and apricot jam, Izzie loathed the word “proper.” Henry tormented her with the former, her mother with the latter. But it was her mother’s sort of torture that made her quake in her boots; propriety and Izzie had never gone together.

Izzie hopped down from the banister and plopped herself beside her sister. “Now, what were you worried about?”

“Nothing,” Livvy muttered.

“Do you know who she is?”

Olivia rolled her eyes and, without bothering to ask for clarification as to the “she” in question, replied, “I believe the woman dancing with James is the rather notorious widow who finally convinced Lord Finkley to walk down the aisle again.”

“Oh dear,” Isabella whispered, torn between fascination and dismay.

After his wife had passed away some fifty years earlier, Lord Finkley had spent his time with a parade of young mistresses and society widows, each of whom had hoped to seduce the wealthy, elderly man into matrimony. None had succeeded . . . until now. This meant that James was in the hands of the most cunning female England had seen in half a century or an evil sorceress—or both. Either way, Izzie didn’t like it one bit!

“I had expected something more of the woman who finally trapped Lord Finkley.”

Olivia shook her head. “You’re just jealous, and you know it.”

“The way she’s acting is disgraceful,” Izzie huffed. “Do you see the way she’s throwing herself at him? Why doesn’t her husband do something?”

“Because he’s in the corner, snoring his head off, and has been for the last hour?” Livvy suggested. “Truly, I don’t think James minds. She is quite beautiful,” she added, rather unnecessarily in Izzie’s opinion.

“I suppose. If you like the tall, skinny, far-too-much- bosom-on-display sort.”

Of course, even though she would have liked to, Izzie couldn’t blame the woman for throwing herself at James. He was too handsome for his own good. She could spend—drat it, had spent—countless hours cataloging his physical perfections, the first of which had to be his hair.

It was the color of vintage brandy, highlighted with gold where the sun had kissed it. He wore it just a bit longer than the current fashion, and it curled up at the ends where it met his collar.

Then there were his eyes, beautiful green eyes fringed by lashes that were most unfairly longer and darker than hers. Her lashes were a scant shade darker than the straw- colored hair on her head, and didn’t that just figure. Vanity, thy name is Isabella Weston.

He had a nicer nose than she did, too. Aquiline, she believed, was the word, and it made him look quite fierce and arrogant in a way she secretly found thrilling. Her nose was very average in comparison. It wasn’t even fashionablyretroussé like Olivia’s. And wasn’t that the height of unfairness? Isabella felt that as the first daughter born in the Weston family, she ought to have had first pick of nice noses.

Lady Finkley had a rather elegant nose, Isabella noted unhappily. It was a trifle on the long side, though, she decided as Lady Finkley leaned close to James and whispered something in his ear that caused him to throw his head back with laughter.

Isabella ground her teeth as the clock in the gallery sounded half-past eleven. James and Henry had promised to bring sweets up to her and Livvy before midnight since they were too young to be allowed downstairs for the ball.

Olivia yawned. “I’m sorry, Izzie, but I can’t stay awake any longer. They’ve probably forgotten about us in any case. I’m for bed. Good night.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Isabella mumbled, never taking her eyes off the scene below.

“Common courtesy demands that you wish me good night in return.”


Olivia gave a loud huff. “The things I have to put up with,” she muttered under her breath. Izzie heard her, but she was too preoccupied to give her sister a worthy parting shot. Livvy heaved a disgusted sigh as she stood and padded off toward the bedchamber they shared.

The things I have to put up with, indeed, Isabella thought as she watched James walk with Lady Finkley around the perimeter of the ballroom, her arm wrapped about his and his hand resting on the small of her back. Izzie grimaced. She knew exactly how powerful that touch was. It was so magical that from the very first time she had held his hand, she’d never wanted to let go. She did, however, want Lady Finkley to let go. In fact, she just plain wanted her to go. Finally, after two immeasurably long turns about the room, Izzie’s wish came at least partly true when James escorted Lady Finkley over to her comatose spouse.

Izzie tracked James as he moved through the throng of guests, pausing when she caught sight of her parents dancing together, gazing at each other as if they were the only people in the room. It was sweet, she supposed, that they were still so much in love, but it was also rather embarrassing. It was a trifle discomfiting too, given that Isabella’s baby brother, Richard, had been christened just that morning—thus the reason for the celebration downstairs— and her mother had said, with a pointed look toward Isabella’s father, that she did not plan on there being any more christenings at Weston Manor until she was a grandmother. However, the looks she was currently giving her husband told an entirely different story!

Not really wanting to follow where that train of thought led, Isabella’s eyes sought out James once more and found him with Henry, who was standing in the crush of people by the refreshments. She should have known. Her mother often said her eldest child had been born with a bottomless pit in place of a stomach. Unfortunately, the same could be said of Lord Blathersby, whose sole interest in life— besides food, of course—was his sheep, which meant that Henry often got stuck speaking with the ovine-loving gentleman. From the pained look on her brother’s face, he’d been trapped for some time now. Poor Hal. But, she thought in true sisterly fashion, better him than me!

* * *

James Sheffield had always considered himself a good person, but he spent several moments savoring his best friend’s suffering expression before going in to rescue him from the most boring man in Christendom.

“Took you bloody long enough,” Henry grumbled as they made their escape. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for ages, but you were too wrapped up in the luscious Lady Finkley to pay any notice. Not that I blame you. Had similar thoughts myself. Bloody unfair, though, that you got to play Casanova while I was stuck with old Blathersby and his sheep.”

“Blathersby and his sheep,” James laughed. “Never fear; I’ve heard it all before and on multiple occasions.” He shook his head. “Come, it’s nearly midnight, and we promised Izzie and Livvy we’d bring them some sweets.”

Henry grimaced. “Lord, it completely slipped my mind. Good thing you remembered. You know how Izzie gets when she’s angry.”

James nodded and hustled Henry over to the crowd waiting to get at the dessert table.

“What a devilishly dull affair,” Henry remarked as they waited in line. “First the christening this morning, and now this. It was good of you to come. You could have been off weeks ago.”

“Of course I came,” James replied, a gruff note creeping into his voice. “Neither of us would have been comfortable leaving until your mother was safely delivered, and delaying our trip for another month made no real difference. The Colosseum isn’t going anywhere, and it was important to your mother that you be here for Richard’s christening.”

“And you,” Henry insisted.

“Only to make sure I keep you out of trouble,” James teased, but his chest was tight with emotion. The Westons were the closest thing he had to a family since having been orphaned at age ten and sent to live with his grandfather, the Earl of Dunston. The best that could be said of the earl was that his main property, Sheffield Park, neighbored Weston Manor, home to Viscount Weston and his family.

They had taken him in as another son; their warm, bustling home had been his refuge. When he and Henry had gone off to Eton, Lady Weston had kissed and clucked and wept over both of them, a performance she had repeated when they’d headed to Oxford.

She had cried when they’d graduated earlier that year, but James figured that was primarily because Henry had spent more time “rusticating” than he had at school. James had taken a first in literature, partly to please Lady Weston, who was more than a little enamored of a certain Elizabethan playwright. Henry had joked that morning that if his father had not had some say in the naming of his children, the family’s newest addition might well have been christened Hamlet or Falstaff. Yes, the Weston children were fortunate to have such a father. James had once thought himself lucky in his own sire, but—

He shook his head. He didn’t want to think about it. Not tonight. Not ever, really. Far better to focus on the present, and—

“Put it back on the plate, Hal. These are for Izzie and Livvy,” James scolded as they filed past the refreshments table.

“When did you grow eyes in the back of your head?” Henry grumbled through a mouthful of cake.

“I’ve known you since we were ten. Don’t you think a decade of friendship gives me some insight? Besides, you eat everything within reach.”

“I’m a growing lad,” Henry retorted.

James chuckled. He was tall at six feet, but his best friend had at least three inches on him and was built like a brawny prizefighter.

“If you grow any bigger, I am going to sell you to a traveling gypsy circus.”

“Remind me once more why we are friends?”

“Aside from the fact that no one else is going to put up with you?” James joked, turning to look back at Henry. “For one thing, you would never have graduated without my help.”

Henry laughed. “I still can’t puzzle out how you went to all those boring lectures.”

“Self-control?” James suggested.

Henry grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “I doubt it would have made a difference. I was never much good at lessons.”

James couldn’t argue with that. Intellectual pursuits were not, admittedly, Henry’s forte. Bedroom games— actually, games and sports in general—were where he excelled. Still, James was certain Henry was smarter than he let on; his best friend certainly wasn’t lacking in imagination, he reflected, remembering all of the scrapes Henry had gotten them into.

He was smiling as he made his way up to the gallery, Henry right behind him, but his amusement faded when he saw Isabella standing at the top of the stairs, one foot tapping impatiently, her arms crossed.

“Finally!” she exclaimed. “I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”

Standing as she was, the braces of candles flanking the staircase illuminated her from behind, casting a golden glow all about her and gilding her unruly blond curls into a halo. She looked like an irate angel.

“What happened to Livvy?” Henry asked.

Izzie gave them both a pointed look. “She got tired of waiting, figured you had forgotten us, and decided to go to bed.”

Henry looked down at the plate and glass in his hands as the clock chimed the quarter hour. “I’m sure she’s still up. I’ll go take this to her. Wouldn’t want her to think we forgot. She can be nearly as bad as you.” And with that said, he took off down the hallway.

“What does he mean, ‘She can be nearly as bad as you’?” Izzie muttered, sitting down.

“Er, have some cake,” James said quickly, shoving the plate of sweets at her. He waited until she’d downed three gingersnaps and a piece of cake before deeming her mood restored enough for him to safely sit beside her.

“So, did you enjoy the dancing?” he asked.

“Not as much as you seemed to,” she said, a hint of bitterness shading her words.

“Beg pardon?” James leaned closer to her, certain he’d misheard her.

“I simply remarked that you seemed to be having a grand time dancing with Lady Finkley.” She stared down at her plate. “Is she your lover?”

“W-what?” James sputtered. “Izzie! That—that is totally inappropriate. You shouldn’t even know about—”

“Lovers?” she supplied, gazing up impishly at him as she licked her fingers.

“Yes, blast it! You shouldn’t know about those sorts of things, and you certainly shouldn’t ever speak of them.”

“Then she isn’t?” Isabella queried.

“No!” James exploded, and then lowered his voice. “Dash it all, this isn’t proper. And it certainly isn’t any of your business.”


The softly uttered syllable contained a definite note of dejection. She looked away, and James thought he saw her shoulders tremble. He instantly gentled his tone. “Izzie, look at me. Come on. Izzie.”

She kept her eyes glued to the plate in her hands. He took it from her and set it aside, then placed a finger under her chin, raising her head until he could look into her eyes.

“My God, you’re jealous,” he said incredulously. She swung her head away but made no attempt to deny it. James cupped his hand around her cheek, turning her face back to his, and felt wetness on the silky, soft flesh pressed to his palm. He watched a single tear trickle down her pale cheek, then another and another, turning her lashes into dark golden spikes.

“Sweetheart,” he pleaded, though he hadn’t a clue what he was pleading for. Direction, he supposed. And he had learned from past experience that uttering an endearment was the safest way to break the silence in situations like these. Of course, he had never been in this particular position before, and he hoped never to be in it again. It was damned uncomfortable!

Bloody hell. Isabella had always dogged his heels when she was younger, but he’d had no idea she fancied him in that way. She looked miserable and defeated, so unlike her usual sunny self, and it killed him to be the cause of it. He slung his arm around her shoulders, hugging her close. She burrowed her face into his shoulder, soaking his jacket with her tears.

“Don’t cry, Izzie,” James begged. “Please, don’t cry.”

“I-it’s j-just that you were s-smiling and laughing with her, and I just w-wished so badly that I was older and could wear a beautiful gown and be the one dancing with you.” The words were muffled as they poured out against the soft, black wool of his coat. He murmured nonsense into her hair, soothing her as he would an upset child, but it only made her cry harder.

“Hush, now.” James cupped her face in his hands and wiped her tears away. “I am not nearly so good a dancer as to be worth all this fuss.”

The small smile she gave him made James feel like the king of England—utterly grand and slightly mad. As James stared into her watery eyes, for a moment, it seemed as if he saw his soul gazing back at him; the thought terrified him, and he pulled his hands away as if burned.

“Someday,” he said gruffly, “when you’re older and have that beautiful dress, there will be so many men wanting to dance with you, you’ll wonder why you wanted to dance with me.”

“That is not true!” Isabella protested fervently. “I will want to dance with you for the rest of my life. Only you. I knowit. I know, and I won’t change my mind. I won’t.”

“You will,” James insisted.

“Never.” She sniffed and shook her head mutinously. “I lo—”

“I hope you are not so foolish as to think yourself in love with me.”

She flinched at his tone.

He hated that he was hurting her, but it was best to end this infatuation now. “What you feel for me isn’t love— affection, admiration even, but not love. And if you’re smart, you will save your love for some lucky man who deserves it and will love you back. I am not capable of love.”

“But surely, when you were younger…”

“That was a long time ago. I have had some years, and no small amount of help from my grandsire, in which to conquer that weakness.”

Isabella shot to her feet. “Love is not a weakness—”

“For God’s sake, lower your voice.” He stood and looked down at her. “So young and innocent,” he murmured. “Izzie, I hope you will never find love to be a weakness.” His voice was weary and bleak. “But I promise you it can be.”

She shook her head and jabbed a finger at his chest. “And I promise you I will still want that dance.”

James sighed.

Izzie glowered, her bottom lip thrust out and quivering, and he knew the fight was up. “All right, don’t glare at me so. If you still wish it, when the time is right, I will certainly claim that dance.”

Isabella’s face brightened, and her eyes lit with sudden hope.

James felt a moment of trepidation, but he told himself it was foolish. Izzie would likely fix her attention on some other gentleman and forget this entire exchange within a fortnight. And if she didn’t, it wasn’t as though a dance with her would change anything.

“Do you promise?” Isabella demanded.

“Promise what?” Henry asked, his sudden presence startling them both.

“James was just going to promise to dance with me at my come-out ball,” Isabella replied.

He hadn’t been about to do any such thing, James wanted to protest, but he didn’t want Henry to know what had transpired. For one thing, it would embarrass Izzie. For another, he wasn’t certain how Hal would react.

He might take it as a great joke; Henry was generally an easygoing fellow. When it came to his family, though, Henry was all seriousness—fierce, protective, pistols-at-dawn seriousness. Of course, James had done nothing to encourage Izzie, but Henry might not care. And James really didn’t want to get laid flat because of some innocent fancy. From their sparring sessions at Gentleman Jackson’s, James was painfully aware that Henry had a bruising right hook.

“Izzie, your come-out ball?” Henry frowned. “That’s years from now and—”

“I promise,” James said quietly, his eyes never leaving Isabella’s.

“Good.” Isabella gave James a smile that had him wondering if a dance was truly all he had agreed to. He wasn’t sure why, but he had the eerie feeling that he had just given himself into the custody of a girl with eyes the color of a summer sky and a smile that filled his heart in a way that scared him down to his toes.

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