Today I'm excited to be hosting the blog tour for Once Upon a Wager by Julie Lemense. Read on for a plot synopsis, an excerpt, and my review; I absolutely loved it!
Publishing date: 12th May by Crimson Romance
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.
When Lord Alec Carstairs returns from war, hailed as a hero, only Annabelle Layton knows the sort of man he really is. They’d been friends before a passionate kiss changed everything, before a reckless wager left her broken and bloodied, and he abandoned her.
Hardly the actions of a hero.
But shocking lies have distorted the past. Can Alec uncover its painful truths, and still keep his distance? Can he deny his forbidden desire, even as it flares hotter than ever?
Just as evening fell, Alec walked up the crushed stone drive to Astley Castle. Despite its rather grandiose name, it was more accurately a fortified manor house, although it did have a moat. Briefly the home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s unfortunate Nine Days Queen, it had also served as a garrison for Cromwell’s forces during the Civil War before passing into the Layton family. Tonight, however, the house gave no hint of its troubled history. Japanese lanterns were strung, not only in the trees leading up the drive, but also in those surrounding the house, and the effect was magical. In the early dusk, a gentle light bathed the grounds, softening the lines of the old home, coloring it with pale pinks and darker purples. Alec heard strains of music and conversation. In fact, it appeared to be a remarkably conventional party, which was something of a surprise. Surely, circus animals were lurking somewhere.
The oversized front door was open to the evening air, and dozens of people were assembled in the Great Hall, which was brightly lit with wall lanterns. Chandeliers decked with wax candles flickered high above as Gareth’s parents received their guests. Sir Frederick, who often panicked in crowds, was hiding his misgivings well, and Lady Layton was radiant beside him. Gareth stood next to her, dressed in a colorful approximation of evening attire, but he seemed distracted. His eyes were darting the crowd and looking for someone. A footman with the champagne tray, no doubt. Alec did not see Annabelle.
But then familiar, melodious laughter washed over him, and he turned. A willowy, honey-tressed blonde stood at the center of a crowd of adoring men. Her face was hidden from view, but her gown—the color of moonlight—caressed her curves like a lover. Alec braced himself, every nerve taut. As if sensing his presence, she looked over her shoulder and smiled.
God in Heaven, he should never have come here tonight.
Annabelle had been only four years old the first time he saw her. He’d joined his mother on a neighborly visit to Astley Castle, and the little girl had utterly charmed him, struggling to sit still while Lady Layton served tea to her guests. Delicate, soft, and pink, like a rosy-cheeked doll, she’d roused all his protective instincts before kicking him in the shins to gain his attention.
If only he could see the girl she’d once been in the woman standing before him. Even two years ago, there had been hints of her, hiding in the body of a goddess. But there was nothing childlike about Annabelle now. She was spectacularly lovely, with arched brows, high cheekbones, and cornflower blue eyes that took his breath away.
Excusing herself from her admirers, she walked toward him with a slow smile. Then again, walking was not the right word. Swaying was the better choice, and all he could do was stand there, heart slamming in his chest as she approached, the gossamer silk gown caressing her curves. Were it dampened—as was the fashion with London’s faster set—it would be almost transparent. Just like that morning when she had gone swimming in the fountain, casting a spell over him like a sorceress.
In short, I loved this book! It's an historical romance without all the 'fluff'. It starts traditionally enough, with a ball at a country house, but it soon transforms into something quite different. I was hooked from the start and read it pretty much in one sitting! As with all historical romances, it was obvious that things were eventually going to end well for Alec and Annabelle, but this only made me enjoy it more, safe in the knowledge that they would eventually end up together. Alec was perfect; he was a hero, yet mortal, as Annabelle muses in Chapter 21 'as a young woman, she'd made him into a kind of storybook hero. In reality, Alec was far more human. He was flawed and imperfect, and... she loved him all the more.' In the end, I loved him too. Annabelle herself was a strong female protagonist who knew her own mind and wasn't afraid to voice her opinions. As other reviewers have mentioned, this is a refreshing change from the formulaic historical romances, which although I love, can get a little tiresome. The characters are all realistic, and Digby the villain is just horrid! I also loved the secondary characters, who each had their roles to play in bringing Alec and Annabelle together. Unlike in other novels of the genre, they each had their own unique personalities; I especially loved Aunt Sophia and the brilliant Benjamin Marworth, and I would love to read their stories someday! It would be nice to see Jane Fitzsimmons get a happy ending too, I think I was sort of hoping Benjamin would end up with her! My one criticism of this novel would be that the cover really doesn't do it justice!
5/5 stars: Compelling and heartwarming without being overly sentimental, Once Upon a Wager is a book that I would highly recommend. A refreshingly different historical romance.
About the Author:
A Georgetown University graduate with a degree in English Literature, I have been a Regency romance addict since I read my first deliciously bad Barbara Cartland novel. These days, I prefer the complex characterizations and plotting of Julie Anne Long, Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran. A member of the Romance Writers Association of America, I am currently working on my next two novels, as the ghosts who live in my haunted, gilded age-era home try to sneak their way into my stories.
Author Website/Facebook Book Website