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Gabrielle Astley is quite used to being an afterthought, a burden, a nuisance…
As the only child – and a useless female one at that – to a Baron, she was both spoiled materially and neglected emotionally. After her father’s death her stepmother remarries and Gabrielle’s new guardian is the stern and cold Marquess of Dunbury. There is hope of escaping their household, however, as the Marquess seems eager to marry her off.
Felix Hood had no thoughts of settling down in marriage – as the youngest of three brothers, he should be the last to wed. However, when he meets his best friend’s new ward and is tasked with the duty of helping guard her against any unsavory suitors, he can’t help but be entranced by her. But he’s not convinced he’s ready for marriage, and his hesitation over formally courting her leads Miss Astley to turn to her other suitors, making him wonder if she’s really worth the chase.
This novella was written at the request of readers who wanted to know what was happening between Felix and Gabrielle during Book 1 of the Bridal Discipline series, Philip’s Rules. Quite a few readers wrote to me, asking me to reveal some of their interactions. I originally intended to put some into a prologue for Gabrielle’s Discipline, but once I started writing, I realized I had far too much for a prologue and trying to chop it down didn’t feel like it told enough of the story.
I ended up turning it into a novella. This is book 1.5 and it retreads a lot of the same ground as Philip’s Rules, but told from Felix and Gabrielle’s points of view. There are some surprises along the way as well that I hope readers will enjoy! Gabrielle was one of my favorite characters and it was fun to show exactly what was going on with her when not seen through Cordelia’s perspective.
“You dance very well,” Mr. Hood said, smiling down at her.
Gabrielle blinked. The entire first dance they hadn’t spoken at all – although, the movements of that particular dance didn’t encourage conversation either – and now, on their second dance, he’d been silent up to this point. Now he seemed surprised.
Her mouth firmed. “For a country mouse, you mean.”
“No.” He frowned down at her.
“Did you not expect me to dance well?” she prodded, giving him a haughty look.
His black eyes seemed to grow even darker. “Of course I did… why would you even ask that?”
“You were the one who commented on it.”
“I was trying to compliment you.” He growled the words and Gabrielle eyed him warily. He looked over at the court of young men waiting for her to finish dancing with him. “You don’t seem to mind when any of them compliment you.”
“Perhaps they’re better at it,” she replied tartly.
Impudent baggage. And yet… he was enjoying himself much more than when he was dancing with a young lady who did nothing but simper at him and lap up his flattery.
“Perhaps you are just incapable of taking a true compliment, instead of the empty flattery of buffoons,” he retorted. She stiffened, eyes flashing, which immediately stirred him. It was wrong to enjoy her temper the way he did, but, god help him, he liked it.
“They aren’t buffoons and it’s not empty flattery,” she said through gritted teeth. She was trying to keep a smile on her face, but it looked more like she was baring her teeth at him. The smile that spread across his own face was much more sincere.
“They are absolutely buffoons… I’m much more interesting. And sincere. I sincerely conclude that you dance divinely.”
“You would know,” she said darkly. “After all, I’m sure you’ve done quite a bit of dancing.”
The look she gave him made it clear she thought he was stark raving mad. “What?”
Damn, he’d misread that entirely. He’d thought she was referring to the other young ladies he’d danced with this evening, but apparently she’d been speaking of something else entirely. He just couldn’t imagine what, and looked at her… this time with sincere bafflement. Then he sighed. As invigorating as verbally sparring with her was, he would like to actually get to know her better. She was so closed off, and she obviously didn’t like speaking to him. He was going to have to do something he’d really hoped to avoid.
“Gabrielle – “
“Lady Gabrielle.” Her eyes sparked as she reminded him that she hadn’t given him leave to use her Christian name.
“Well you may call me Felix,” he snapped back. He took a deep breath. “Lady Gabrielle, I would like to apologize for the, ah, the way I spoke to you at your stepmother’s wedding. I was out of bounds.”
She blinked, her lips parting in astonishment, and he couldn’t help but wonder how she’d react if he bent over and kissed them.
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