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Meet the Earl at Midnight

Meet the Earl at Midnight, May 2014
Midnight Meetings #1
by Gina Conkle

Sourcebooks Casablanca
Featuring: Lord Edward Sanford; Lydia Montgomery
352 pages
ISBN: 1402294271
EAN: 9781402294273
Kindle: B00HUTVG02
Paperback / e-Book
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"Beauty and the Beast agree to a marriage, but they both get more than they bargained for."

Fresh Fiction Review

Meet the Earl at Midnight
Gina Conkle

Reviewed by Auriette Lindsey
Posted June 15, 2014

Romance Historical

Lydia Montgomery has a checkered past. She's looking forward to being her own woman and pursuing her painting career, when the Earl of Greenwich demands her hand in marriage.

Edward, Lord Sanford, hides his disfigured face from society, but he's the last of his line unless he finds a bride, and he is on a self-imposed deadline to wed her, bed her, and get her pregnant.

In MEET THE EARL AT MIDNIGHT, Viking romance author Gina Conkle turns her hand to the Georgian era. She has crafted interesting characters -- a scientist lord, a commoner artist, dedicated servants. They're all fascinating and leave me wanting to know more about them.

The plot, though, is not strong enough for my tastes. It's more a battle of wills between two people who've agreed to marry each other, with the earl's arrogant mother wielding the only serious monkey wrench in getting on with things.

If you enjoy historical romance that's character-driven and limited on the steamy sex, you'll probably enjoy MEET THE EARL AT MIDNIGHT.Edward and Lydia are definitely a compelling pair. This is book one in Conkle's new Midnight Meetings series, and I must say, despite the lack of plot in this one, I am curious to see if she develops the characters as I think she will.

Learn more about Meet the Earl at Midnight

SUMMARY

1768...

A deadline looms for Lord Edward Sanford, Earl of Greenwich. He needs an heir quickly. The hasty offering of Lydia Montgomery, an on-the-shelf woman, works. But, Lydia has plans of her own, secret plans that don't involve a man. Their agreement, forged in moonlight, soon changes in the light of day.

Edward discovers Lydia's a woman with a past, which only adds to their distracting chemistry. Even worse, the impertinent woman insinuates herself in his scientific work: the domain where no woman should mix. Lydia's diagrams and illustrations speak volumes...of his work to the outside world and hers to London's art world - a place reserved for men only.

But, new found fame makes a tangled mess. Will their greatest discovery be each other before time runs out?

Excerpt

Lord Greenwich’s smooth, hypnotic voice broke the silence.

“Come. Step into the light.”

Lydia opened her eyes. Beside her George licked his lips as his glittering, avaricious gaze bounced between her and Lord Greenwich. That calculating gleam of his…the irksome man saw an opening to bilk the situation.

George raised his index finger. “Perhaps milord, we can renegotiate---”

She groaned.

“Jonas,” the Earl called behind him.

Mr. Bacon nodded his shiny pate and grasped the unspoken request. The velvet clad brute moved off the wall with surprising grace for one his size. Then, some shuffling of feet, a firm redirection or two, and his lordship’s man of business gripped the back of George’s cloak with one hand, removing him like a broom sweeping out refuse. The big man finished the job by shutting the slanted door neatly behind him.

“Perhaps I spoke to the wrong Montgomery.” The Earl tipped his head in invitation. “Please. Come closer. This evening’s been an unexpected trial.”

No harm in that. The bewildering night might end well, if she could just have a sensible conversation with his lordship. After all, a peer of the realm ought not to marry a woman of little consequence, especially when one considered the dynasty in question. Matters could be negotiated, if only the Earl would be reasonable.

But, Lord Greenwich studied her with a different potency in his dark eyes. Lydia lowered her lashes, aware of how men’s minds worked. She needed to regroup and gather her wits, but he must have sensed her wariness, or so she guessed when he extended a gloved hand.

“Please. This need not be unpleasant.” His voice lulled her. “I promise I won’t bite."

“Meaning sometimes you do,” she snipped.

A muffle of low, masculine laughter floated from his collar. “Only on a full moon.”

His quip surprised her much like a clue revealed. Still, this midnight meeting defied reason, best she use caution. When she didn’t move, his hand dropped to his side. His lordship’s presence grew bigger in the tiny room, though he stood a safe, respectable distance.

“Very well then. Why not take off your cloak?” he coaxed.

“How like a man,” she said, eyeing him from the safety of her hood. “Get a woman naked, first. Solve a problem, second.”

That earned her another low masculine chuckle.

“Now, now,” he chided. “I’m not asking you to undress, only that you remove your cloak. As you informed all, you are wet and soggy.” Lord Greenwich motioned to the blazing hearth. “You could stand here and warm yourself…dry your damp skirts.”

How did he manage to be commanding and reasonable at the same time? Lydia pushed back her faded red hood and stepped closer. The welcome fire did warm her ankles nicely.

“I am, if anything, ever accommodating,” she said tart- tongued.

Her sharpness missed its mark. Instead, her target tipped his head with great interest, almost fascination, when her face came to view. Topaz brown eyes inspected every exposed inch of her visage, searching her with blunt curiosity. A spark as hot and fast as flint striking stone shot through her. Flummoxed, Lydia squared her shoulders and tried for business-like composure.

“I’m sure something can be done to rectify this debt.”

“Your cloak.”

“My cloak?” she repeated, running her palms over damp wool.

“Remove it.”

Something in his firm tone brooked no disagreement. Her leaden hands obeyed, loosening the frogs and loops under her chin with graceless plucking. Her well-worn red half-cloak, a sign of her modest station, parted and swayed, all while his gaze roamed over her head to hem, waiting. A stag, tense and alert, scenting a doe came to mind. This is one way a woman could find herself flat on her back, as well she knew from times past.

Wind and rain squalled outside as the last closure came undone. Damp wool slipped from her shoulders; though fully clothed, she couldn’t shake the sense of being stripped bare under his lordship’s keen scrutiny. Lydia clutched her cloak in both hands and made a rumpled shield. There really ought to be more space between them.

Lightning slashed the room. Quick flashes split darkness behind Lord Greenwich. His acute study drifted up her skirts to pause just below her neckline --- lud, he stared at her bosom and her traitorous, corset-less bosom pointed back. Was it the cold air? Or him? Lydia inched her cloak higher, and his lordship, undaunted in his perusal, returned to his intense study of her face. Was he pleased? That she entertained such a question shocked her.

The Earl clasped his hands behind his back. “Turn around.”

She gave an indignant huff and glared, not budging an inch. “I will not.”

“If you please, Miss Montgomery.” He made the request sound courtly. “I’m only asking you to take a turn.”

The cloak, rough scratchy wool, bunched tighter in her hands. “Next, you’ll want to check my teeth.”

His lordship twirled his finger. “A single rotation will suffice.”

Being at the mercy of his good grace reminded her to get this done and over with…all the better to move onto a more reasonable solution. Her mother’s welfare beat a constant drum in her head, thus, she obliged him. The water stained ceiling became the safest place to look as she crossed one foot over the other, beginning a slow circle.

“You know, my lord, I have a small amount of my own funds. Well, not much, really, but if we could discuss this tomorrow. At luncheon perhaps? I might have a solution of my own.”

“No. We do this my way.”

Fire crackled and floorboards creaked from her slow circling movement. A tickling sensation flowed over her, touching everywhere. Her lack of corset set her cheeks aflame. Yet, his scrutiny was fascinating. She bemoaned her wrinkled, outdated dress. Did he notice? Or did he notice her smooth skin and glossy waves of sleep-mussed sable hair of which her great aunt raved? The Earl’s impertinent gaze ranged everywhere.

“If you’re quite through, my lord,” she said with some starch.

Lydia pressed the cloak closer. Lud, but he needed a set down. She’d dealt with overzealous farmers and country squires in the past and knew how to put men in their place. Men are all the same, no matter their status; the quality of their clothes differed, but all were flesh and blood underneath. A biting remark formed on her lips when she froze. He reached for her.

Lord Greenwich’s gloved hand hovered near her face in the gentlest fashion as if he wanted to touch her but held himself in check. They stood that way for a few, eternal seconds. Only his warmth touched her cheek. So close, she smelled oiled leather and saw the stitching on his glove. Why the hesitation?

Long moments stretched, measured by the sound of rainfall. His brown eyes studied her lips, her hair, even the outline of her ear, as odd as the notion was. His lordship examined her as if he would memorize shape and texture without contact. He angled his head, the black tri-corn casting shadows, and something passed between them: something elusive and slight when his gaze met hers…a current of curiosity that must have beckoned him to test her.

A lone, leather-clad finger trailed over her cheek, so light. Lord Greenwich’s subtle connection caused tantalizing shivers, shivers that followed his whisper soft caress on Lydia’s skin. His exploring finger slipped under her chin and angled her face toward firelight.

“You’re a thorough one,” she said breathy and low. “No doctor’s ever examined me thus.”

His dark gaze flicked to hers. “Even phantoms have their standards.”

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