Rock superstar Asher Corbin is back in Heart’s Ease. And he’s not alone. This time he’s brought the entire cast and crew for his upcoming film debut to the small town for a retreat back in time to the Regency period. Grace Nolan is thrilled to go to an honest-to-goodness Regency ball. But there she finds herself at the mercy of her deepest fantasy: a scandalous rake fresh out of the pages of her favourite historical romances. When Grace claims not to recognize the dashing celebrity, Asher seizes the opportunity to step out of his persona and explore life out of the spotlight. But when she finds out his secret, her response plunges them into a game of seduction neither had expected to find.
Asher Corbin turned side-on and sized himself up in the cheval mirror. This was a good look for him. The black jacket fit like a glove, as did the dove-grey waistcoat. The cut of the pants was tight, even by today’s skinny jeans standard. And the high boots were simply wicked. But the pièce de résistance was the cravat, tied high up on his neck. White and crisp, like his shirt, he’d made sure that it was tied in an authentic knot that even the original English dandy himself, Beau Brummel, would have desired.
Most men would deny that they spent time considering their clothing, but Asher thought that was a load of bunk. Would there be a multibillion-dollar menswear industry if men really didn’t care? He’d always taken pride in his look, even before he’d become famous. A long time ago, when he’d been a young lad with not much going for him, he’d decided that the old adage, the clothes made the man, was one that he’d put to work for him.
Sure, some might say he had a flare for the dramatic, but he had a persona to maintain. And he had a league of managers and assistants and advisers who spent a hell of a lot of time telling him how he was hurting or helping the brand they’d worked so hard to cultivate.
Truth be told, they weren’t at all pleased with his decision to star in the biopic about Brummel. It was going to eat into time they felt would be better served on tour or cutting a new album. But he was very good at nodding and smiling and agreeing with them, and then doing exactly what he wanted. A curious thing had happened to young Ted Corbin about eight years ago. He’d stopped caring about what people thought, and simply started acting on impulse.
It might not always pan out right, but for the most part, it turned out to be a sound life philosophy. Aside from the time he almost got married in Mexico. Or the time he decided to streak through Times Square. Or that affair with a married aristocrat. But for each bad decision, he could count three good ones. Maybe more. Being smart enough to let Elsie go. Hell, realizing she was never really his to let go in the first place. Recognizing that the delectable Daphne Scott was better off a confidante than a lover—even if it took her to point it out. Those were all great decisions, and it was why he was here now at the Heart’s Ease Inn, decked out in period costume for a fancy dress ball.
No, deciding to star in this movie was a great idea for a plethora of reasons. Daphne had gotten a fantastic gig for herself out of his involvement. And now Elsie was going to make a boatload of money off the film because, thanks to his and Daphne’s orchestrations, this is where Simone Shuster had decided to hold her two-week-long cast and crew retreat.
Simone was an odd bird. She was making a period film that took place during the Regency era smack dab in the middle of London’s social season, and yet she couldn’t find anything about England that she liked. When she’d decided that it was important for everyone involved in the film to have a firm grasp of what it meant to be a person of means during the early nineteenth century—and that the best way to do so was to lock themselves away from the rat race and live according to the customs of the period—Asher and Daphne had proposed she hold the retreat in Heart’s Ease.
Of course, Daphne wanted to spend as much time near her fiancé, Jack, as she could. But Asher had developed a strong bond with the community. He felt different here. A better version of himself.
He was working hard to convince people to stop calling him Asher when he visited, and go by his given name, Ted. But so far only Elsie and Cam were on board. To the best of his recollection, Cam had never called him Asher. And he liked it that way.
When he was in Heart’s Ease, he felt less like the persona he’d created and more like the man he wanted to be. And as weird as it seemed, he’d started to feel more at home here once he’d stopped sleeping with Elsie. Funny thing was, Elsie was the only woman from his past who he still had any contact with. And it was watching her bloom in her relationship with Cam that had made him more aware of love. Odd, considering he was known for his love songs. Turned out it was easy to write about love when it was what you were searching for.
He wouldn’t say he was obsessed with finding true love, but maybe, just maybe, he was a little obsessed with the idea of love. The reality was a different matter. Which is why he’d taken to enjoying helping others find love, and trying his best to stay as far from it as possible. Love was messy. And he was tired of messy.
Well, he didn’t look messy now. He ran a hand through his hair, which was shorter than normal. He’d gone for a neat gentleman look and shorn the rock star locks that were part of his image. For the next two weeks, he would immerse himself in the period. Asher Corbin was on hiatus, he decided. He wouldn’t even answer to the name. Ted. Or Beau. That was it.
He smiled. The next two weeks would be fun. Almost a vacation away from himself.
With a final tug on his jacket, he left the room to head down to the ballroom. He loved Simone’s idea of holding a ball to kick off the retreat in fine Regency style. It was time to figure out this new character of his.
By the time he had reached the ballroom, he was more than disappointed. He was the only one who’d embraced Simone’s idea to come costumed. Sure, she’d said that formal wear was acceptable for this inaugural ball—costumes were required for the final ball to be held at the end of “Regency Boot Camp”—but he’d thought that at least some of the others would choose to get into their roles tonight by coming in costume. What kind of actors and actresses were these people if none of them had taken this opportunity to really get into character?
He could understand the local guys who were here as special guests, lads like Cam, Jack, and Dillon. Ted would have been shocked to see any of those three decked out in tight pants, high waistcoats, and perfectly tied cravats. But there were some relatively well-known Hollywood types here. He’d expected more.
A warm arm slipped into his. Elsie was lovely in a deep green dress, even if she was all belly at seven months into her pregnancy.
“I have to thank you for this,” she said. “It’s going to be a busy two weeks, but every room is booked. So are the new cabins we built. And it’s all because of you.”
“And your sister-in-law,” he said. “But yeah, mainly me.” He smiled. “I just hope it’s not too much work for you.”
“Are you kidding? I can hardly work at all these days, between Cam and Daphne. Daphne has taken over the entire retreat and made Cam her right-hand man. Between him and Jack, I doubt I’ll have anything to do but play lady of the manor. Which is a treat for me.”
“Well, my luv, if you need me to fetch your slippers or tea, you let me know.”
“Don’t tempt me. I can’t get a decent foot rub from Cam because . . .” She blushed.
“Say no more, my darling. Please. I get it. Now, I really should go mingle and get to know some of my castmates.”
He kissed Elsie on the cheek and made his way into the ballroom. Despite the music, there was an abundance of standing and drinking, and a definite lack of dancing. He was going to have to do something to get this party going. There had to be someone around to help him.
I loved this book. The storyline was engaging and flowed well. The writing was clear and simple. The characters were endearing and fun loving.-- Edwards Book Club --
Victoria Barbour has set the scene in Heart’s Ease to resemble the social drama of a Jane Austin yarn. Keep(s) the storyline moving gallop-trot and...keep(s) the reader on the edge of the bed. -- Harold Walters --