Blog Tour: First Earl I See Tonight by Anna Bennett (review, excerpt, giveaway)

An heiress with a daring proposal. An earl who’s determined to resist her. And a love that just might be written in the stars, in First Earl I See Tonight by Anna Bennett.

Recently jilted by his fiancée, David Gray, Earl of Ravenport is not in the market for a wife. Even if Gray didn’t have his hands full renovating his crumbling country house, it would take more than a bold marriage proposal from a headstrong young beauty to thaw his frozen heart. Gray is confident that spending a week at his ramshackle estate will change her mind about marriage, but every passionate moment he spends with her tempts him to change his…

A talented artist, Miss Fiona Hartley desperately needs her dowry money to pay off a blackmailer set on ruining her sister. The handsome earl seems a sensible choice for a husband…if only she can convince him that romance will play no part. But marrying in name only may prove difficult for Fiona. Gray can’t help but be dazzled by her genuine warmth. Yet as their feelings deepen, Fiona’s deadline looms. Will her secrets destroy them, or is true love their final destiny?

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Excerpt

“Lord Ravenport,” Lady Callahan intoned, closing her fan with an expert flick of the wrist. “Please, allow me to present my daughter Miss Sophie Kendall and her friends Miss Fiona Hartley and Miss Lily Hartley.”
Gray exchanged the expected pleasantries, then turned to Fiona. A halo of loose curls crowned her head, and she worried her plump bottom lip. Her pink gown exposed the long column of her neck and the curve of her shoulders; he could almost see her pulse beating wildly at the base of her throat.
His instincts screamed for him to run right out of the ballroom, and yet his boots remained rooted to the floor. Worse, before he knew what he was doing he’d asked her to dance.
“It would be my pleasure,” she stammered, taking his arm.
As he led her to the dance floor he questioned his own good judgment—and not for the first time that day. He’d witnessed Miss Hartley trip and tumble into the orchestra at the Millbrook ball. He’d been dancing with Helena at the time but had paused to help her up. So much had changed since then. He had no idea if Miss Hartley’s dance partner had been to blame for the incident or whether she was prone tofalling, but just to be safe he tightened his hand on her waist. And they began moving to the music.
The first measure had barely played before she asked, “You received my letter?”
“I did,” he said noncommittally, twirling her beneath his raised arm.
When she faced him again, she looked him directly in the eye. “What do you think of my . . . offer?” she asked, her voice cracking on the final word.
He tamped down an unexpected pang of sympathy. “I think that we hardly know each other.”
“True, but that is easily rectified, is it not?” There it was—an unmistakable hint of desperation. And a sense of urgency that even her letter hadn’t conveyed.
“It is,” he conceded. “However, I suspect that the more we know each other, the less we’ll like each other.” Cynical but true in his experience. His parents certainly hadn’t grown fonder of each other. Neither had he and Helena.
She winced and looked away before regaining her composure. “Perhaps. But we needn’t like each other.”
Gray chuckled at that. “I never thought I’d meet some- one more jaded than I.”
“So, you’ll consider my offer?” she pressed. “I will not,” he said firmly. Under different circum- stances, her fortune may have tempted him. But she was clearly intent on using him for her own purpose—and he suspected that she’d set her sights on him for reasons be- yond his title. After all, there were half a dozen peers in attendance right now who’d leap at the chance to marry a young and unconventionally beautiful heiress.
But he was not one of them. “It seems rather closed-minded of you to dismiss me summarily,” she shot back, displaying a boldness that was borderline rude—and refreshing.
“If I said I’d consider your offer, I’d only be giving you false hope. Delaying the inevitable.”
“The inevitable rejection, you mean,” she clarified. “Yes.” He was still reeling from the sting of Helena’s rebuff and wouldn’t wish anyone that sort of pain and humiliation.
“Please,” she begged. “I realize that it’s highly unusual for a woman to propose marriage—”
“It’s unheard of.” “Surely you must be curious—as to why I did it.” She looked up at him, her shining blue eyes challenging him to deny the truth of her words.
Gray shrugged. “You have your reasons for making the offer; I have my reasons for declining it.”
“Give me the opportunity to explain,” she pleaded. “Just a quarter of an hour to make my case. If, after that, you remain unconvinced, I promise I shan’t mention it again.” He must be out of his damned mind to consider engag- ing in further discussion with Miss Hartley. The very last thing he needed was another conniving, self-serving fe- male attempting to interfere with his life. He had opened his mouth to tell her so when someone bumped into his back—hard.
Gray’s torso collided with Miss Hartley’s chest, and she stumbled two steps before he wrapped an arm around her slender waist, catching her just before she landed on the parquet floor. She gasped and clung to his jacket, her ex- pression an odd mix of relief and mortification.
“Oh dear,” she breathed. Their faces were so close he could see unexpected dark blue flecks in her irises and the individual freckles dotting her nose. “Forgive me,” he said.
“For what?” For what indeed? Steering her into the collision? Gripping her waist too tightly? Or for staring at the swells of her breasts and having decidedly wicked thoughts while he should have been shielding her from further embar- rassment? Ignoring her question, he asked, “Are you all right?”
“I am.” Her cheeks turned a charming shade of pink. She blew out a breath and shot him a shaky smile. “When it comes to dance floor mishaps, I confess I’ve survived much worse.”
Gray looked over his shoulder to see how the other couple fared, surprised to find Helena and her dance part- ner smiling apologetically.
And the truth struck him. For the last ten minutes, while he’d been dancing with Miss Hartley, he’d been completely, blissfully unaware of Helena and what she was doing. Even more remarkable, he’d forgotten that she was in the room. “Meet me in Hyde Park tomorrow,” he said to Miss Hartley, mentally cursing his own weakness. “I will listen to what you have to say, but don’t expect anything to change my mind.”
The corners of her mouth curled in a triumphant smile. “Thank you. All I ask is that you allow me the chance to explain the advantages of the arrangement—for us both.” “Forgive me if I remain skeptical,” he drawled. “I’ll meet you near the footbridge. Three o’clock?”
“You won’t regret this,” she said earnestly, but the prickling sensation between his shoulder blades suggested he would. In spite of her naïveté and candor—or maybe because of those things—Miss Hartley could prove far more dangerous to him than Helena had ever been.


Review

I love the dynamic between Fiona and Gray, and that she basically picks him to propose a marriage of convenience to because he was nice to her. Their dynamic is great, and they have a slow falling in love with each other as Fiona tries to convince Gray to consent to a marriage of convenience, which is just too perfect. Gray is convinced he can’t love but really he is afraid because he loves too deeply and has been wounded, and so the only people he lets himself love are his grandmother and his childhood BFF Kirby. Fiona’s relationship with her adopted sister and her best friend is also great, and I love stories about strong friendships! Fiona is desperate to access her dowry money to help her sister, and Gray needs funds to restore his crumbling manor to its original glory for his grandmother before her sight fails, so that tells you what kind of people our main characters of this story are. Their chemistry with each other is so lovely as they slowly learn more about each other, especially the scenes where they really connect through Fiona’s art. *swoony sigh*

That being said, there were several elements of this book that require a strong suspension of disbelief because the story elements are clearly written in for Dramatic Plot Reasons. Like, why blackmail Fiona and not her father (who has all the money) or her sister (w
ho the blackmail is actually about)? Or the re-emergence of the ex-fiancée at precisely the least opportune time. Then the reveal of the villain and the extra demands made of Fiona was really intriguing, but was so also quite abrupt and came off sort of awkwardly written and didn’t really have the full impact it could have, I think. 


I’d classify First Earl I See Tonight as relatively low angst and fluffy historical romance, reminiscent of Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean. This is the first book in the Debutante Diariesseries, and I’m very much looking forward to reading Lily and Sophie’s stories!


Giveaway
One winner  will receive a print copy of First Earl I See Tonight from the publisher. I’ll choose a winner on November 7th after the Blog Tour ends, and the winner will have 48 hours to get back to me with their address or a new winner will be chosen. US only (sorry, the publisher’s rules!) 
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About the Author

Anna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided that books with balls, dukes, and gowns were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.

Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart®. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen.

Anna’s books include the Wayward Wallflowers series and the Debutante Diaries series.

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