The Princess Plan by Julia London
I received a free copy of this book from Publisher for an honest review.
This does not affect in any way my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.
This does not affect in any way my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.
Series: A Royal Wedding #1
Published by Mills & Boon on January 9, 2020
Genres: Historical Romance
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Passion. Intrigue. Love.
London’s high society loves nothing more than a scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefited from an anonymous tip off about the crime, forcing Sebastian to ask for her help in his quest to find his friend’s killer.
With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more dangerous than a prince socialising with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And soon, as temptation becomes harder to ignore, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.
This was my first try of Julia London’s works and, I must say, it was a truly pleasant experience. Historical romance is one of my fave genres, and this book was a different, charming one to read.
What really strikes is how bold the female characters in here are, especially Eliza who, when in front of a Prince, etiquette doesn’t apply in the slightest . . . She is a woman who speaks her mind, no matter what or who is in the room with her—a Prince, Royalty from everywhere, what’s the deal?—she always stands up for herself, which is really refreshing, and Prince Sebastian thinks so as well. Even though he may find that an ‘annoying quality’ at times, it’s irresistible all the same, and that’s precisely what sparks quite entertaining banters slowly turning into something that goes beyond a simple attraction. Honestly, the kind of relationship between this couple touched my heart . . . Indeed, these two have tons to offer together with a mystery to solve that keeps you entertained until the end. You may form your idea on who’s behind the murder—I knew it!—but that still won’t stop you from enjoying the investigations AND the revelation.
Refreshing, amusing, intriguing, and dreamy. It’s impossible not to love this book when the ‘Passion. Intrigue. Love’ premise stays true to its words from beginning to end.
Are you tempted yet, and dreaming to meet your Prince??
Let me give you a taste of how being bold can make an, err, impression . . .
From Chapter 2
Eliza looked at the small group of women huddled in a corner. Well, that was a motley lot of wallflowers. One of them was picking at her sleeve, unravelling a thread. Another’s mask was so large that she had to tilt her chin up to keep it on. Eliza might be an old spinster, but she was not joining that group.
She glanced slyly at the ballroom hostess, who was occupied with berating another young woman unfortunate enough to have been caught without a dance partner. She’d thought it curious how a gown and a proper mask could transform a person so utterly in the space of a moment, but Eliza was indeed transformed. Once upon a time, she’d been terribly obedient and quick to please. She’d thought that was the way good young women who would make good young wives were supposed to behave. A review of her life might suggest she was too quick to please, for when Mr. Asher Daughton-Cress had asked her to be patient with him and the offer he would definitely make for her hand, she had not questioned him, because she was naive. She had trusted him because he told her to. And besides, he’d assured her he loved her desperately. But she’d discovered, far too late, long after the situation could be repaired, well after everyone else knew what she did not, that he’d been courting another woman.
A woman with twenty thousand pounds a year, thank you.
To whom he was now married and with whom he shared three lovely children.
That incident, which was the talk of London for what seemed weeks, had taught Eliza valuable lessons. One, she would never ever suffer the pains of a broken heart again, because there was nothing quite like it—she had wanted to die, unable to grasp even the idea that one person could lie to another person so completely and without remorse. And two, never again would she please others for the sake of pleasing, and tonight, of all nights, she would not abide it. She would never again have an opportunity to attend a royal ball and she refused to be shackled to a group of undesirable wallflowers whom men were forced by etiquette to dance with, or worse, around whom leering old gents lingered.
So she quickly glanced around and spotted a foot-man slipping through a door that was disguised as part of the wall. She brashly followed him on a hop and a skip, escaping the eagle-eyed gaze of the hostess and sliding in through the door behind the footman before anyone could stop her.
She found herself in a passageway of maybe five feet in length and perhaps only three feet in width. At the other end was a similarly disguised door. The walls in the passageway were panelled, and a single wall sconce provided light.
In other words, within ten minutes of entering the rarefied halls of Kensington Palace, Eliza had put her-self in a servants’ passageway. No wonder Caroline had insisted she stay close so that she wouldn’t do anything inappropriate.
She didn’t mean to stay for more than a moment. She’d just wanted to avoid the hostess until she’d gone off to terrorize someone else. While Eliza pondered how long that would take, the door at the opposite end of the passageway suddenly swung open. A servant entered, carrying a tray of drinks on his shoulder. He looked at her as he moved toward the door she’d just entered through. “You’re not to be here, madam.”
“My apologies. But the room is so crowded, is it not? I need only a moment.” She made a show of fanning her face. “I won’t move from here, I swear it.”
The servant shrugged and took one of the glasses from his tray. “Might as well have one of these, then.”
“What is it?”
He swung open the door into the ballroom, and a great cacophony of voices and music blasted the small space before the door swung closed behind him, silencing it all to a din.
Eliza sniffed at the punch. Then sipped it. Then imprudently downed it, draining the glass, because the punch was delicious. How tingly it made her feel!
Moments later, the footman suddenly appeared again and extended his nearly empty tray for her glass. “Thank you,” Eliza said sheepishly. “That was very good.” She took one of the last glasses on his tray.
“Aye, madam. It’s been amply mixed with rum.” He proceeded on, through the other door, behind which Eliza could hear the deep hum of masculine voices. And then it was quiet again.
Who knew that rum could be so delicious? Certainly not her. She liked the soft, blurry warmth that spread through her. The sort of warmth she liked to feel at night when she was drifting off to sleep, or in a hot, sudsy bath. And yet, not like that at all.
When the footman returned a moment later with a full tray again, Eliza was happy to take another one.
She rolled her eyes when he arched a judgmental brow before going out again.
She sipped the drink and closed her eyes as the warmth spread through her arms and legs, and then announced to herself with delight, “This is very good.” She supposed that the fizzy warmth of the rum was what kept her nerves from defeating her completely when the door at the other end of the passageway came open a few inches, as if someone coming through had paused. She listened curiously to the male voices all speaking the Alucian language, and then the door suddenly opened all the way, to reveal an Alucian gentle-man stepping into the passageway.
The door swung shut behind him.
Eliza and the masked man were alone.
He tilted his head just slightly to the left, as if he was uncertain what he’d just found. She returned his gaze with a curious one of her own. His presence was so large and the passageway so small that she felt a bit as if she was pressed up against the wall. But thanks to the rum, she was feeling rather sparkly and untroubled and, with the help of the wall, managed to curtsy with a slight lean to the right and said, “How do you do?”
The Alucian didn’t answer.
She supposed it was possible he didn’t speak English. Or perhaps he was shy. If he was painfully shy, he de-served her compassion. She’d had a friend who had suffered terrible stomach pains for days when she was forced to be in society. She was married now, with six children. Apparently, she wasn’t shy away from society.
Eliza held up her glass, making it tick-tock like a clock pendulum. “Have you tried the punch?”
He glanced at her glass.
“It’s delicious,” she proclaimed, and drank more of it. Perhaps as much as half of it. And then chuckled at her indelicacy. She’d forgotten most of what she knew about polite society, but she was fairly certain guzzling was frowned upon. “I hadn’t realized I was quite so parched.”
He stood mutely.
“It must be the language,” she murmured to herself. “Do you,” she said, enunciating very clearly and gesturing to her mouth, “speak English?”
“Oh.” Well. She could not guess what would cause a gentleman not to speak at all if he understood what was being said to him, but frankly, Eliza was more concerned with the whereabouts of the footman than the Alucian stranger. “Are you going through?” she asked, gesturing to the ballroom door.
“Not as yet.”
The clean-shaven, tall man with the thick tobacco-coloured hair and the pristine neckcloth had a lovely accent. She thought it sounded like a cross between French and something else. Spanish, perhaps? No, something else. “How do you find London?” Not that she cared, but it seemed odd to be looking at a gentleman when there were only the two of you in the passageway and not at least attempt to make polite conversation.
“Very well, thank you.”
The door behind him swung open and very nearly hit the gentleman on the backside. The footman squeezed inside. “Pardon,” he said, bowing deferentially before the Alucian gentleman. Eliza thought it curious the footman didn’t offer the Alucian the punch but walked past him to take Eliza’s glass and offer her another. “Oh dear. I really shouldn’t.” But she did.
The footman carried on into the ballroom.
All the while the Alucian gentleman watched Eliza as if she were one of the talking birds that were brought to Covent Garden Market from time to time.
Perhaps he was curious about her drink. “Would you like to sample it?” she asked.
The man’s eyes fell to her glass. He moved closer. Close enough that the skirt of her gown brushed against his legs. He leaned forward slightly, as if trying to determine what her glass contained.
“Rum punch,” she said. “I’ve never had rum punch until tonight, but I mean to remedy that oversight straight-away. You’ll see.” She held up the glass, teasing him.
He glanced up at her, and she noticed he had the most remarkable green eyes—the faded green of the oak leaves in her garden at autumn. His dark lashes were long and thick. She held the glass a little higher, smiling with amusement because she didn’t believe for a moment he would be so ill-mannered as to take her glass.
But the gentleman surprised her. He took the glass, his fingers brushing against hers. She watched with fascination as he put the glass to his lips and sipped the punch. He removed a handkerchief from his coat pocket, wiped the glass where his lips had touched it and handed it back to her. “Je, it is very good.”
She liked the way his voice slipped over her like a shawl, light on her skin. “Would you like a glass of your own? The footman and I have an arrangement.” She smiled.
He did not smile. He gave her a slight shake of his head.
She considered this lovely creature further as she sipped the punch. “Why are you here and not out there?”
A dark brow appeared above his mask “One might ask the same of you.”
“Well, sir, as it happens, I have a very good reason. The hostess was not satisfied with my dance card.”
His green eyes moved casually to her décolletage, and Eliza’s skin warmed beneath his perusal.
“I’m not particularly good at dance,” she admitted. “We all have our talents, I suppose, but dance is not mine.” She laughed because it struck her as amusing that she would admit this unpardonable social sin to a stranger. The rum punch did indeed have magic qualities.
The Alucian shifted even closer—her petticoats rustled with the press of his leg against her. His eyes moved over her mask, tracing the scroll that arched overhead. “I would hazard a guess that you would like to tell me your particular talent,” he said, clearly enunciating the last word.
Either the rum or the masculine rumble of his question had Eliza feeling swirly and warm. She had to think a minute. What was her talent? Repairing clocks? Embroidery? Or was her talent something as mundane as taking care of her father? She was certain her sister and her friend would be appalled if she admitted any of that to any gentleman. She couldn’t, anyway—his gaze was piercing, rendering her momentarily speech-less and a wee bit slushy.
No, that wasn’t right. It was the punch making her feel slushy.
His gaze raked over her, from the top of her mask’s scroll and down to her mouth, her décolletage and the ridiculous spray of flowers, then to her waist. When he lifted his eyes again, his gaze had gone very dark,
and the shine in them had turned her blood into a river of heat. It felt as if the air had been sucked out of that passageway, and she felt the need to hide behind her glass and sip tiny little gulps of air, because she honestly didn’t trust herself not to do something very ill-advised. Like touch his face. She had an insane desire to press her fingertips to his high cheekbones.
His gaze was on her mouth as he said, “Did you not mean to share your talent with me?”
“No, I did not,” she said, her voice somewhere out-side of her.
His gaze moved lower, lingering on the burst of gold flowers between her breasts. “Are you certain? I’d love to hear it.”
He was attempting to seduce her. It was exciting and amusing and so very silly. “Your efforts, while admirable, will not work,” she announced proudly. “I am not so easily seduced.” Except that wasn’t entirely true. She certainly liked the feeling of being seduced. It had been a very long time since anyone had even thought to at-tempt it, and although she was crammed into this nar-row passageway and it was hardly the place she would have chosen to be seduced, she rather liked the idea of starting the ball in this manner. It made her feel electric.
Fortunately, she supposed, she at least had the presence of mind to recognize she probably shouldn’t allow herself to be seduced by a perfect stranger.
The gentleman shifted imperceptibly closer, and his masculinity, which felt undeniably potent, wrapped around her and held her there. He lifted his hand and shamelessly, and slowly, traced a finger lightly across her collarbone, sending all manner of chills and shivers racing through her.
“Is that not what you intended? To be easily seduced in a dark passageway?”
She snorted a laugh. The ridiculous confidence of men who believed that if a woman came near, they wanted to be seduced! “I intended to drink some punch and avoid the ballroom hostess.” She lifted her hand, wrapped her fingers firmly around his wrist and pushed his hand away. “You think highly of yourself, sir. But I should explain that merely because a woman is stand-ing in a passageway, having drunk a bit of rum, does not mean she desires your advances.”
He smiled smugly. “You might be surprised. What other reason could a woman have for lurking in this passageway?”
“I can think of a hundred other reasons.” She could only think of one. “And I know myself very well, and I would never be seduced in a passageway. So if you would please step away.”
His eyes casually took her in, head to toe, and then he stepped to the side.
Eliza sipped more punch as if she wasn’t the least bit bothered, but in fact, her skin felt as if it was flaming. Her pulse was fluttering. And the thought that she was too practical was playing at the edges of her thoughts. The Alucian gentleman, tall and lovely eyed, was quite enticing. Who would have been the wiser? She wouldn’t mind in the least being kissed at a royal ball…but neither did she want to risk discovery and be tossed out before she’d met a prince.
As luck would have it, the door swung open and another Alucian stepped in. But he drew up short and stared down at her in surprise. He looked past her to the gentleman stranger and spoke in their language.
The gentleman responded quietly and stepped around Eliza as if nothing had been said between the two of them and went into the ballroom without so much as a good evening.
The door swung closed behind him.