The Earl's Winning Wager by Jen Geigle Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source: Received to Review
Genre: Regency Romance
Book Description: Lord Morley's life will change forever when he wins a game of cards and a family of sisters to go along with it.
Miss Standish in none too pleased to have become the responsibility of yet another Lord, even if he is full of charm and goodness. Her responsibilities are to her sisters first.
With the repairs on the castle moving forward nicely and concerted efforts in a season in Bath made to find suitors for them all, Miss Standish and Lord Morley must determine where duty stops and matters of the heart take over.
Read this warm tale of family, sisters, loyalty and love to get a huge dose of the best part of a regency romance fans of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer would enjoy.
My thoughts: A winning wager can feel like a disaster! Lord Morley won an estate from his best friend in a game of cards. The estate comes with five sisters, one of whom Lord Morley is very interested in.
Miss Standish is devoted to her sisters. She wants to make sure they make good matches and is not worried about having a home and family of her own. Her hopes surge that she can find happiness until she finds out that Morley is her new landlord. She is fed up with how she and her sisters have been passed on for their living arrangements from one person to another. She wants to make her own future without feeling like a burden.
I absolutely adored the characters of Miss Standish and Morley. There couldn't be two characters created that are better suited for one another. Both are kind and considerate and put another's welfare above their own. One of the best parts is their devotion to the Standish sisters. Morley fits right in as one of the siblings. In fact, he considers himself one of the family. The sisters are conspiring to ensure he becomes one of the family. I loved how they did their best at matchmaking.
The sisters are delightful. They each have unique personalities. The one common trait they share is their love of family. I really look forward to reading more about each of them and their family dynamics.
I received a complimentary copy. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
This book is part of the Amazon Kindle Unlimited Program.
Read from a Chapter in the Book!
Morley stared at his best friend, waiting for the man to look up from his cards. Gerald was losing terribly. And Morley wasn’t sure if he should feel guilty or victorious. His friend had just thrown most of a new inheritance from his distant cousin on the table, almost as if he wished to give it away.
Despite Gerald being the Duke of Granbury with significant holdings to his name, Morley wasn’t comfortable taking so much—even in something as unbiased as a card game. But his friend smiled so large it looked like his cheeks hurt. Morley’s hurt just looking at him.
“How can you smile when you’re losing abominably?” Lord Morley frowned at him.
“I have leave to be happy so soon after my own wedding.”
“But you don’t have leave to gamble away your living, even to your best friend.”
“I’m hardly close to losing a living.”
Lord Morley raised his eyebrows. The other lords at the table stared greedily at the back of Gerald’s cards. But even though Lord Morley shook his head, none too subtly, Gerald pushed all the remaining chips and his slips of paper into the center.
“Included in this are some holdings in the south.”
Lord Morley narrowed his eyes.
Gerald fanned out his cards. “Good, but”—he smiled even broader—“not good enough.” Then each of the men laid out their cards. Gerald beat Lord Oxley soundly, as Morley suspected he knew he would. Then Lords Harrington and Parmenter threw their cards down. That left Morley’s cards. Morley had won. Gerald knew he’d won. He eyed him above his cards. “What is this about?”
“Lay out your cards, man. On with it.” Gerald’s smile couldn’t grow any larger, and even though Morley had just grown significantly more wealthy, he didn’t trust his oldest friend.
Morley fanned out his cards and narrowed his eyes. “What are you doing?”
Gerald tipped his glass back and drained its contents. “Losing to my best friend. Come now. It’s time for us to return home. Her Grace wants me home early.”
“How is she feeling?”
Gerald’s face clouded, and Morley regretted the question. Since the man had lost his first wife during childbirth, the prospect of doing it all over again loomed in his mind at all hours. Morley talked to him of it often enough. “She seems in the very prime of health. No one has looked healthier.”
“No need to speak optimism in my ear. I know she is well, but then, so was Camilla. All we can do is wait and see. Amelia so wanted a child, and I love my wife too much to leave her alone. So there we have it.”
Morley clapped him on the back as they stepped out of White’s. “Do you ever consider it odd that when youth, we used each other’s titles in preparation for the moment the great weight would fall on our shoulders? And now. You still call me Morley, but I … don’t call you anything but Gerald.” He laughed trying to lighten the mood.
“You will always be Morley. Even your mother calls you Morley.” He laughed. “Why is that?”
“I couldn’t guess. Maybe she loves the title?” He shrugged. “Now, enough mystery. Tell me, what did I just win? What’s this all about? These holdings in the south?”
“Remember our visit to Sussex?”
Morley half nodded, and then he stopped dead in the street. “When we went to save you from Lady Rochester? And we paid a visit to a family of ladies?” His eyes narrowed. Unbidden, Miss Standish’s face came into his mind. “What did you do?”
“I inherited their castle, if you recall.”
“I recall a heap of rubble with a few standing rooms.”
“Well, we’ve been fixing it up, and the ladies are just about ready to move in. Five women, all of age. June, the eldest, is not quite twenty three, the youngest sixteen. You won the whole lot of them, with some other holdings besides. The winnings should cover the remaining repairs and upkeep for a time as well.”
“I won’t take it.”
“You have no choice. There were witnesses.”
Morley was silent for so long he hoped Gerald began to half suspect he’d truly overstepped his generosity at long last. Then he shook his head. “I know what you’re doing, and she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And she will want even less to do with me if she thinks she is in any way beholden to me, so whatever plans you have going, you can just take back your properties and your pesky family of women and leave me in peace.”
“Morley, you’re my oldest and best friend. Would I really foist these women on you if I didn’t think it would make you the happiest of men? They’re from the Northumberland line. Excellent family heritage. The Queen herself takes an interest in their well-being.”
“I care not for any of such nonsense, and you know it. You are not to be a matchmaker. It doesn’t suit you. And you’re terrible at it.”
“How would you know, since I’ve never attempted such a roll until now?”
“So you admit it?”
“I admit nothing. Now, come, don’t be cross. You’ll upset Amelia.”
“Oh, that is low, bringing your wife’s condition into this.”
They stepped into the townhome, where Simmons took their hats and gloves and overcoats. Gerald waved Morley in. “Thank you for staying with us while you’re in town.”
“At times, I prefer your home to my own situation.”
“You’re a good son, though.”
Morley hoped he was, though his mother was tiring at best and liked to have her fingers in most aspects of his dealings. He loved her, and felt she was happy in her life, such as it was.
A soft, melodic voice called, “Gerald? Is that you?”
Amelia stepped out into the foyer. “And Morley.” She clapped her hands, and the smile that lit her face filled the room.
He accepted her kiss on the cheek and watched as Gerald turned all of his focus to his wife.
Morley bowed. “I will bid you good night. Tomorrow, Gerald, we will discuss your sneaking ways.”
“What has he done?” Amelia could only look with love at the Duke, and Morley felt, for a moment, a pang of loneliness.
“I’ve done nothing. Morley is just a sore winner.”
Morley refused to say more. He bowed to Amelia and made his way up the stairs. Before he reached the first landing, he turned. “Oh, and Gerald?”
Gerald turned from his wife for a brief moment.
“When are we to go visit my winnings?”
“Oh, you’re on your own with that one, Morley. They will much prefer you to me at any rate.” He turned back to Her Grace, and Morley continued up the stairs, his mood darkening with every step.
Gerald had gone too far—in some mad effort to match him with a woman who really had no more interest in Morley than she did dancing a quadrille. June Standish was as practical as he’d seen a person.
And far handsomer than any he’d yet laid eyes on. Her hair was gold—it looked to be spun from the metal itself—and her eyes large, doe-like. He had lost all sense of conversation when he first saw her. It had taken many minutes for him to gain his faculties enough to speak coherently, but she had seemed entirely unaffected. And so that was it for them.
He could only imagine her reaction when he returned to let her know a new gentleman, he himself, was now lord over her life and well-being. Gerald should not toy with others’ lives. He needed to be stopped. But Morley wasn’t going to be the one to stop him. They’d carried on in their friendship in just this way since they’d known each other. Perhaps he could appeal to Amelia. She had more control over the man than anyone.
What did he need with a decrepit, dilapidated castle? It was an old seat of the royal dukes, so there was a certain level of prestige associated with the place—and with the women. They were of the ancient Normandy family lines. Someone somewhere in their family had wasted their money and left nothing for the line to live off of, but it was still considered an elevated situation if you were on friendly terms with any of the Sisters of Sussex, as they were called.
Sleep did not come easily, and morning was not friendly to Morley’s tired eyes and mind. Instead of breaking his fast with Gerald and Amelia, he left for a walk. Oddly, his steps took him to Amelia’s old tearoom. They let it out, once she was to become the duchess, and someone else ran the establishment instead. As he stood in the doorway, he almost walked away without entering. What was he doing in a tearoom? Colorful dresses filled the shop to bursting.
“Lord Morley!” With the swish of skirts, a woman’s hands were on his arm. “What a pleasant surprise. You must join us for tea. We are discussing the upcoming McAllister ball.”
He allowed himself to be led to their table, and when four expectant female eyes turned their hopeful expression toward him, he could only smile and say, “How perfect, for I was just wondering about the details.”
“Then you are attending?” Lady Annabelle’s eyes lit with such a calculating energy, he shifted in his seat, eyeing the door for a second.
“I am, indeed.”
“How provident. Then we shall all be there together. You remember we all became acquainted at the opera one week past. Miss Talbot, Miss Melanie—”
“And Lady Annabelle. Naturally, we are acquainted. It is a pleasure to see you again. I hope your mother is well?”
Lady Annabelle poured his tea, and his mind could not leave the family he’d just won charge of. What sort of women was this new family of sisters? He’d been most impressed with them when considering them as Gerald’s wards, of a sort. But now that he owned the house they lived in, he felt a whole new interest in their deportment. Could they pour a man’s tea? Stand up well with the other ladies at a ball? Would he be able to marry them off? That was the crux of it. And dash it all, why must he be concerned with the marrying off of anyone? He was in over his head. He needed help. He could appeal to Amelia’s sense of grace, but she would have little knowledge of the ways of the ton.
The women chattered around him, and he almost sloshed his tea in the saucer when he heard mention of the very women who so aggravated his thoughts.
“They call them the Sisters of Sussex.”
“Really? Who are they?”
“The Duke of Northumberland’s relations, from a royal line. They are the talk of the ton and favorites of many of the noble families. We ourselves have stopped by with some of last season’s gowns.”
“Five sisters, you say? And they live in the old castle?”
“A cottage nearby. The castle is being renovated, though. I heard the Duke of Granbury has become involved.” Lady Annabelle turned to him. “Do you know much about the sisters?”
He cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “I have met them.”
The other ladies leaned forward, eyes on him.
“And I found them charming,” he said. “I think you know more about their history than I. Though I do know the castle will be repaired and livable, as it deserves to be. It’s a remarkable structure.”
Miss Talbot fanned her face. “I should like to visit. I love old buildings and their architecture.”
“Do you?” Morley tipped his head to her. She was a pretty sort of woman. Chestnut curls lined her face, and deep brown eyes smiled at him.
“Yes, I like to draw them, and then study them after.”
“Interesting. Perhaps we shall meet up there sometime.”
“Oh?” Lady Annabelle rested a hand on his arm. “Will you be spending much time in Brighton?”
He hadn’t planned on it yet. He’d hoped to stay as far away as possible until his mind wrapped around this new responsibility. But he changed his plans in the moment. “I think I shall.” He looked into each of their faces. They were pleasant women. They seemed kind—unassuming, perhaps. “Might I ask for some assistance?”
“Certainly.” Lady Annabelle’s eyes gleamed.
“I wonder, if I were to assist the ladies—any ladies—to be prepared for a smallish Season in Brighton, do they have a dressmaker or shops enough down there?”
“Oh, certainly. Not nearly as grand or varied as London, but a woman can make do with what Brighton has to offer. The Brighton Royal Pavilion has brought much of the ton and a higher level of prestige to the area.”
Their gossip-loving ears seemed to perk right up and all three pairs of eyes looked on him a bit too keenly. He resisted adjusting his cravat. “So, who will be attending the McAllister ball? And have each of you found partners already for your dances?”
The chatter grew more excited, and they listed all the people who were coming or might be coming, depending on the attendance of others. He lingered as long as was polite, and then excused himself from this cheery group.
He would go check in on his mother, though he planned not to mention his new winnings at the table, and then make arrangements to travel down to visit the Standish sisters. God willing, he could establish good solutions for their situation and living and have them well in hand within a few weeks.
About the Author: Jen Geigle Johnson once greeted an ancient turtle under the water by grabbing her fin. Other vital things to know: the sound a water-ski makes on glassy water and how to fall down steep moguls with grace. No mountain is too steep for her to climb, yet. During a study break date in college, she sat on top of a jeep's roll bars up in the mountains and fell in love. She discovered her passion for England while kayaking on the Thames near London as a young teenager.
Now an award-winning author and mother of six, she loves to share bits of history that might otherwise be forgotten. Whether in Regency England, the French Revolution, or Colonial America, her romance novels are much like life is supposed to be: full of adventure. She is a member of the RWA, the SCBWI, and LDStorymakers. She is also the chair of the Lonestar.Ink writing conference.
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorlyjen/Website: https://jengeiglejohnson.com
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