ANY ROGUE WILL DO
Misfits of Mayfair #1
He ruined her reputation—now he’s the only one who can save it
For exactly one season, Lady Charlotte Wentworth played the biddable female the ton expected—and all it got her was society’s mockery and derision. Now she’s determined to be in charge of her own future. So when an unwanted suitor tries to manipulate her into an engagement, she has a plan. He can’t claim to be her fiancé if she’s engaged to someone else. Even if it means asking for help from the last man she would ever marry.
Ethan, Viscount Amesbury, made a lot of mistakes, but the one he regrets the most is ruining Lady Charlotte’s reputation. Going along with her charade is the least he can do to clean the slate and perhaps earn her forgiveness. Pretending to be in love with the woman he’s never forgotten is easy. What isn’t easy is convincing her to give him a second chance.
Publisher’s Weekly starred review:
“In [a] splendid Regency-set debut . . . Bennett turns a spotlight on the class distinctions and gender restrictions of 1819 England, with a formidable leading lady and a swoon-worthy hero with lower-class roots. Filled with gripping drama, strong characters, and steamy seduction, this tantalizing story is sure to win the hearts of Regency fans.”―Publishers Weekly
Employing some of my favorite tropes of second-chance romance, enemies-to-lovers, and fake engagement in her debut Any Rogue Will Do, Bethany Bennett offers a well-crafted historical romantic fiction with an engaging storyline, fully fleshed-out characters, and steamy sexy times.
I like that Charlotte Wentworth is a capable, smart heroine who thinks on her feet and saves herself from dire situations without waiting for someone else to rescue her. I admire her independence and her desire to take control of her life while still working within the boundaries of the aristocratic society she belongs to. That means a marriage of convenience with a man who is willing to live off her dowry in London while she takes care of her estate in the country. She doesn’t require love as she has seen how it could devastate a person when somebody dies like with her parents.
I like that Ethan Ridley is a truly repentant hero who has matured into a responsible and hardworking man. I admire that although not born into the nobility, he genuinely cares for his tenants, wants his lands to prosper, and he doesn’t care to be looked down by society for engaging in trade to achieve his goals. His apologies to the people he wronged because of his past behavior are sincere with words backed by action. That’s how he finds himself offering a temporary fake engagement to Charlotte. Except, he quickly wants the relationship to be more permanent and more real.
I love that both of them maintain strong friendships with people from all classes. Charlotte with her godmother Agatha and her maid Darling. Ethan with his steward Connor and his best friend Cal. These secondary characters brought much of the humor in the story.
While I enjoyed most of the story, I found Charlotte’s pushing Ethan away to stick to her plans frustrating and a bit unfair. I guess it’s Ms. Bennett’s fault for redeeming Ethan so thoroughly that he gained my sympathy and became less understanding of Charlotte’s reluctance to fight for their love.
The fact that I’m talking about these characters as if they’re real people should tell you how engaged I was with this story. A fantastic debut for Ms. Bennett. I’m looking forward to Book 2.
Bethany Bennett grew up in a small fishing village in Alaska where required learning included life-skills like cold-water survival, along with several other subjects that are utterly useless as a romance writer. Eventually settling in the Northwest with her real-life hero and two children, she enjoys mountain views from the comfort of her sofa, wearing a tremendous amount of flannel, and drinking more coffee than her doctor deems wise.
Somewhere in Warwickshire, Late August 1819
Ethan Ridley—Mac to his friends, Lord Amesbury to everyone else—lounged outside the Boar and Hound. With his face lifted toward the sky, he closed his eyes, taking in the familiar smells of horses and the hearty breakfast served at the inn. Scents of perfectly cooked sausages and fresh bread had him considering a second helping.
Thin wisps of fog would soon give way to the warm August sun, but for now, they clung, hovering in the trees like wraiths. The cool brush of a breeze lifted goose bumps on his throat, where yesterday’s cravat hung in a haphazard knot, the linen limp from a second day of being
tied. When packing, he’d forgotten a second cravat but remembered the book he was currently reading, so Ethan wasn’t terribly upset about the lack of fresh accessories. He shifted from one foot to the other. Not for the first time this morning, he considered leaving Calvin behind.
They’d traveled all the way from London to visit a highly regarded brewery to see how its processes could be applied to his own budding business venture. After waiting for over thirty minutes past the agreed time, he suspected at least another quarter hour would pass before Calvin
appeared looking fresh and annoyingly rested. Running a hand through his hair, Ethan winced as the strands snagged on calloused fingers. No doubt the unruly curls were assuming their usual vertical position, so he jammed his hat down over the mess. One of these days he’d get a haircut, but today was not that day. Tomorrow didn’t look promising either.
The clattering of hooves caught his attention as a wreck of a woman barreled into the stable yard. “There’s been an accident! I need a surgeon.”
It was the blood that stopped him from acting right away. God, so much blood. It covered her face and the top half of her traveling gown. She rode astride with her skirts hiked up and had the fiercest expression he’d ever seen on a woman. Like a warrior goddess hell-bent on dragging the next poor sod who got in her way into the afterlife, she didn’t rein in the mount until they were nearly upon him.
Forcing his legs to move, he shouldered through the taproom’s doorway. “We need help out here!” Without waiting for the occupants to jump to attention, he returned to the woman. Ethan swiped a palm over his brow, clearing away fear-ridden sweat, then placed a steadying hand on the heaving chest of the horse. For a moment, his mind had tried to retreat to another accident five years before.
Blood had soaked a different roadside while he held his friend, calling for aid until his voice failed. But the past, with its dark, clawed memories, would have to wait.
“My coachman has a broken leg.” The woman slid off the horse’s back. She touched her forehead, and her fingers came away wet and red. With a grimace, she wiped them on her skirts. One eye had swollen shut, and a cut near her hairline seemed the probable source of most of the blood. “He was unconscious when I left. My maid is with him.”
“Where’s the accident, miss?” a man from the inn asked, taking the long leather traces she’d used as reins.
Men spilled out of the taproom to lend their aid while grooms readied mounts and gathered carts to form a rescue party.
“By my best guess, they are perhaps three miles away. Directly down this road. You can’t miss them.” She pointed back in the direction from which she’d ridden.
Waving over a fellow whom he’d seen eating with the locals at the morning meal, Ethan said, “We’ll need the surgeon. Sir, do you know where tae find him?”
“Yes, milord. I’ll fetch ’im.” The man donned his hat and scurried down the road toward the village.
The woman swayed on her feet, appearing less warriorlike by the minute and more like a maiden about to faint from blood loss. Before Ethan could say something, Calvin arrived and offered his arm to escort her inside. Just as well. Ethan may want to help, but Cal’s particular skill set would be more useful to a damsel in distress. She went with his friend willingly enough, no doubt won over by his charm. Charm wasn’t Ethan’s strongest trait.
Better to stay in the stable yard until everyone had a job and was on their way.
A gentleman with hair that glowed like a halo grasped her elbow, speaking in the same tone Lottie would use with a frightened horse. “Perhaps you should sit. Your head wound is still bleeding. Frankly, you need help as much as your coachman.” Her escort offered Lottie a seat in
the public room, which she took, moving with precision to avoid further irritating the bruises making themselves known.
After crawling out of the wreckage, she’d not thought beyond flinging herself atop a carriage horse, then praying she’d stay seated long enough to find a doctor. The shaking in Lottie’s legs began, and she feared the rest of her body would follow suit until twitchy, useless
nerves overtook her. Lacing her fingers together steadied her somewhat while she waited for her vision to clear.
Dear Lord, one of her eyes wasn’t working correctly. No wonder her face hurt.
She tried to focus on the man who’d helped her. His striking features and perfect attire seemed more suited to a London drawing room than a Warwickshire country inn.
“What brings a pretty fellow like you to a town like this?” A disconnect between her ears and mouth made the words come out slow and slurred. Mercy, her head hurt.
Following his gaze to a sparkling window overlooking the yard, she spied the behemoth of a man they’d left behind deploying volunteers and taking control of the situation with an air of command no one questioned. Ah, he must be here with the man using his impressive presence to get things done. The man’s confidence amidst an emergency didn’t hurt his aura of competence.
Fresh blood seeped past her lashes. Wincing, she turned from the scene and wiped an already filthy hand over her eyes.
The innkeeper’s wife arrived with water and a stack of cloths. “I’m Mrs. Pringle, dearie. Let’s look at your head and see what we’re about, shall we?”
Lottie waved a hand. “It’s nothing. Nothing serious at any rate. I’m sure I’ll be fine after a bath and rest. My coachman needs a doctor far more than I do.”
Clean tables and the scent of fresh bread made the inn warm and cozy. Hopefully, the rooms upstairs would be as welcoming. She desperately wanted to get her bearings, then find a tub and a bed. A bath would be heaven.
The elegant stranger pushed, “Please, miss, let her clear away the blood—”
Chilly air danced over her cheek as the commanding man from the courtyard entered the room. With a blunt “Give me the rag,” he once again took charge, swiping the cloth from Mrs. Pringle’s hand.
Her charming escort rolled his eyes. “Fine, Mac. Take over. I’ll see if I’m needed outside.”
The giant grunted an acknowledgment. Really, were actual words too much to ask? A few moments before he’d been kind, but now surly impatience colored his demeanor. The sheer size of him overwhelmed her—an unusual circumstance for a woman her own father referred to as “sturdy.” Even sitting, he dwarfed everyone in the room. Only one other man of her acquaintance had made her feel delicate in comparison, but that had been a lifetime ago.
The man tossed his hat on the table, revealing a mass of dark curls. Another wave of dizziness swamped her as recognition hit. Please, God, let her be wrong. And if she didn’t humiliate herself by fainting, she’d tithe double the next time she found herself near a church.
Maybe the head wound caused the buzzing in her ears—it couldn’t possibly be because this man still affected her after so long. But no. Even seven years later, Lord Amesbury, the one who had saved her, then callously ruined her, evoked a visceral response. If he thought to save her again, she’d best remember what he’d done the last time they’d met.
Amesbury leaned forward, sparking an almost forgotten heat of awareness in her belly. His dark brows were broody slashes under a disobedient lock of hair that fell over his forehead, providing the only softness on his face. Shadows played in the hollows under his cheekbones,
where at least a day’s growth of beard made him look as roguish as she knew him to be.
“I know your concern is for your coachman. ’Tis commendable. But you’re useless if you don’ see tae yourself.” That lilting brogue did something funny to her chest, creating flutters she’d rather not ponder. “Now please hold still so you don’ make a bigger mess on this good woman’s floor.”
Mrs. Pringle didn’t seem sure if she should leave or stay. The older woman stared at the floorboards while holding the water basin, no doubt wishing to be anywhere else. Lottie could relate.
Although his exasperated tone rankled, Lottie allowed the examination. Knowing this man, of all people, saw her in such a state set her cheeks aflame with a mix of embarrassment and fury. Fate, that fickle fiend, always tossed her in his path at her worst, casting him as a hero.
With a finger under her chin, Amesbury raised her face toward the morning light streaming through the window. His gruff words were at odds with gentle fingers as he brushed the blood-soaked hair off her brow and prodded at a painful area near her hairline.
How had he grown more attractive while she’d merely gotten older? Every year her body grew softer, rounder, despite daily rides all over the estate. As the butterflies in her belly would attest, the small lines at the corners of his eyes and a new hardness to his jaw didn’t diminish his appeal. Grossly unfair, in her opinion.
Over the years, she’d imagined a different meeting. In her version, she always wore a stunning new gown—the picture of intimidatingly competent femininity. Lord Amesbury would stop in his tracks, recognizing her in an instant. Then his striking face would flood with regret, evoking her pity—but only for a moment. A strong cup of tea would help the sensation pass once she snubbed him and went on her way.
No matter the scenario, Lottie served witty set-downs while looking ethereally beautiful, then left the man with an unrelenting grief to haunt him for the rest of his natural life. Really, was that too much to ask? In her imagination she would marry a gorgeous duke—even though young available dukes weren’t exactly thick on the ground.
Especially for spinsters.
Logic had no jurisdiction in daydreams and fairy tales.
Reality was sorely lacking. Her traveling gown’s tattered bodice barely clung to modesty, she’d just dripped blood on his boot, and any fool could see Viscount Amesbury didn’t remember her.
Perhaps it was immature to wish the circumstances of their meeting were different, but the fact was that she found herself in another embarrassing situation requiring his help and he didn’t even have the decency to remember her. Inhaling deeply, she searched for calm and instead filled her head with the scent of him—not the wisest course of action. If only Amesbury favored the usual perfumes or bottled tonics, or smelled of rotten onions with a trace of dock water. Instead, he smelled like a man who bathed, then gave no further thought to his appearance. It reminded her of fresh air, leather, and an underlying warmth she couldn’t place. Now her heart pounded for a different reason.
The one thing her old suitor-turned-nemesis did well was confuse her. He always had.
Some things didn’t change, even after seven years.
Lottie exhaled his essence, pushing the tangle of emotions from her body. A man she hated so thoroughly shouldn’t smell so comforting.