The third book in the Hellions of Halstead Hall series, published January 2011.
THE HELLIONS OF HALSTEAD HALL
When a charming rogue proposes she marry him to meet her grandmother's ultimatum, the Sharpe clan's strong-willed sister makes a tempting counter-offer that preserves her inheritance and ignites his imagination.
Lady Minerva Sharpe has the perfect plan to thwart her grandmother's demands: become engaged to a rogue! Surely Gran would rather release her inheritance than see her wed a scoundrel. And who better to play the part of Minerva's would-be husband than wild barrister Giles Masters, the very inspiration for the handsome spy in the popular Gothic novels she writes? The memory of his passionate kiss on her nineteenth birthday has lingered in Minerva's imagination, though she has no intention of really falling for such a rakehell, much less marrying him. Little does she know, he really is a covert government operative. When they team up to investigate the mystery behind her parents' deaths, their fake betrothal leads to red-hot desire. Then Minerva discovers Giles's secret double life, and he must use all the cunning tricks of his trade to find his way back into her heart.
Mrs. Hetty Plumtree is not relenting in her demand that all her grandchildren get married this year. Lady Minerva Sharpe is not willing to do that. She wants to keep on writing her very popular gothic novels, and a husband will forbid her that. She makes enough money to be able to afford a nice little cottage in the country, and write. But the deal is: if she doesn’t marry, her siblings will also be disinherited. And she won’t do that to them. So she comes up with a plan to make her grandmother relent: she puts an ad in the Ladies Magazine asking for a husband. Hundred of men show up, and her family is horrified. But the ad is also seen by Giles Masters, who has had a soft spot for Minerva for years now. And he decides to take the plunge and ask her to marry him. As he will soon be asked for Kings Counsel (he is a very successful barrister) he will need a wife. But first he will have to stop his activities as a spy for the Crown.
Giles broke her heart when she was 19, so Minerva does not intend to marry him for real. But she will use his bad reputation as a rogue and a gambler to take him as her pretend fiancée to make her grandmother see reason. Hetty has said once that she would never want him in the family. But Giles explains to her grandmother that he really wants to marry Minerva, and even allows for Pinter to investigate his financials and stuff, so Hetty will know he can afford a wife, that he is not a fortune hunter like so many other man after Minerva. He is certain Pinter will not discover his other secrets.
And so his courting of Minerva begins. For their first outing, she wants him to take her to a race ridden by her brother Gabe. The same race where he broke his arm last time. Unfortunately, they arrive too late to stop him from this foolishness, but they do see her cousin Desmond and his son Ned there. As there are still suspicions about her parents deaths 20 years ago, and Desmond was seen in the neighbourhood, they investigate what he is doing there. They follow him to the inn he is staying, and to her surprise, Giles makes up a very believable story to the innkeeper, and they get access to Desmonds room. While searching for a clue, they find a roughly drawn map, which Minerva thinks is from their estate! What is Desmond looking for? Unfortunately, Desmond and Ned return for that very same map, and they are forced to hide. When they finally emerge from the inn, her brothers have found Giles’s equipage, and are waiting for them. Although Giles is a friend of her brothers, they really do not want him to marry their sister! Not wanting to tell them what really happened between them in the empty room, and get Giles trashed for that, they do tell what they discovered about Desmond. Which is not really much. Oliver goes back home with them, but Giles invites Minerva to Court the next day, where he will be defending a man who supposedly murdered his wife. She is thrilled, that will be such a good opportunity to learn more for her books! And she will take Maria with her, who loves everything bloody. Of course Oliver opposes at first, but Maria wraps him around her little finger, so the next day, they are off, with Freddy as a chaperone. Giles makes quick work of the coroner and the witness, and his client is acquitted. Minerva is thrilled with it all, but then she learns Giles is to be made Kings Counsel soon, and she is not happy anymore. A Kings Counsel needs a wife who is above reproach, and her keeping on writing will cause too much of a scandal. She knows she is still in love with him, and now she also desires him, but she can’t be the wife he will need in his new position.
Minerva asks Giles to take a look at the hunting lodge where her parents were found, to see if he can find some clues as to what really happened. He agrees, as the place has been untouched for twenty years, except of course, for the necessary cleaning back then. They will be together, and he plans to take Minerva on a picnic near the pond. A very secluded space, where they will not be disturbed. Unfortunately, they are found in a very compromising position, and have no other choice but to marry. Minerva has some demands on her own first, before she agrees. Giles has to be faithful with her, no other woman! And he has to be honest. He still doesn’t want to tell her what he did 9 years ago, when she caught him stealing papers at the masqued ball. He won’t tell her about his past, but he promises to tell her the truth in the future.
Unfortunately, he gets bad news from Lord Ravenswood on his wedding day. The past is coming back to haunt him after all. So he is not taking Minerva to Bath as was the plan, he has to go to Calais to meet someone in secret. Unlucky for him, Minerva finds out and when he won’t tell her the truth, she withdraws herself from him. O she doesn’t deny him her body, and is pleasant enough, but the vibrancy, her trust in him, is gone. And he wants it back. What he doesn’t know is, that she set Pinter after him, to uncover his secrets, and when she confronts him, he will have to tell her the truth after all. She has already portrayed him in her books as a villain, a spy for the French, and she was not that wrong after all. Only he spied for his own country, and numerous Lords will be very furious with him when that comes out! He cannot risk her writing more details about him in her books. But Minerva is not stupid, she will never risk her own husbands career!
And just when they are reconciling, more news about cousin Desmond reaches them, and they will have to act quickly.
I loved the story, didn’t want it to end. Now I have to wait much too long to read Gabe’s book. At least now I got a clue who his bride will be! And I am very curious how Sabrina Jeffries will pull that off!
Minerva is determined not to marry, to keep writing her books. She can’t just stop that if her husband demands it of her, it would destroy her, like it destroyed something in her mother when her father forbade her to write her children’s tales. So she wants to remain alone and independent. She won’t marry Giles if he cannot love her in return, and he is of the opinion that love is for fools. He will never give in to it, he will remain aloof and strongwilled. But of course Minerva tempts him beyond even his iron will, and when he falls, he falls hard. He cannot demand her heart and soul without giving his own back into her keeping.
Unfortunately, no more threads are unveiled in the murder mystery, only that Desmond didn’t do it. So I am completely back with my very first suspects. I have to know if I am right, and how and more important, why, that happened.