Monday, January 3, 2022

Showcase Girls Before Earls by Anna Bennett

Happy 2022 everyone! To start off the new year I'm showcasing a new historical romance release from St. Martin's Press, first in Anna Bennett's new Rogues to Lovers series, Girls Before Earls.

ISBN-13: 9781250793911
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Release Date: 12-28-2021
Length: 320 pp
Rogues to Lovers #1
Buy It: Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



Girls Before Earls is the delightful first novel in the Rogues to Lovers series from romance author Anna Bennett.

To survive her difficult childhood, Miss Hazel Lively relied on two things: a tough exterior and a love of books. Now, she’s realized her life-long dream of opening a school for girls. She’s hoping the wealthy families who summer at the shore will entrust their daughters to Bellehaven Academy—and help pay for less fortunate students. All Hazel must do is maintain a flawless reputation. It’s a foolproof plan…until a handsome earl strides into her office.
Gabriel Beckett, Earl of Bladenton, has had a monstrous headache since the day his teenaged niece became his ward. She’s already been expelled from two London schools, but Blade is determined to enroll her at Bellehaven Academy, where she’ll be out of his hair. If only he can convince the buttoned-up—and unexpectedly intriguing—headmistress to take a risk.
Blade makes an offer that’s impossible for Hazel to refuse, but she has one condition: the earl must visit his niece every other week. Soon, Blade discovers there’s more to Hazel than meticulous lessons. Their sparring leads to flirtation…and something altogether deeper. But the passion that flares between them poses a threat to Hazel’s school and Blade’s battered heart. They say a good thing can’t last forever, but true love? Well, it just might…

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1


“There’s a gentleman here to see you, ma’am, and he has a young lady with him.” Hazel’s dutiful assistant, Jane, stood in the office doorway, her expressive face beaming at the prospect of a new pupil.

Hope glimmered in Hazel’s chest. Heaven knew that her newly opened school, a dream that had taken her nearly a decade to realize, needed students—especially the sort who could afford to pay tuition.

She blinked at the half a dozen books open on her desk. She’d been so absorbed in planning that afternoon’s marine life lesson that she’d been oblivious to the arrival of visitors. “Give me a moment to clear off my desk, and then you may show them—”

Before she could finish her sentence, a dark-haired gentleman angled his broad shoulders through the doorway with a thin, sour-faced girl in tow. He looked around the room as he approached, his bold gaze lingering on Hazel’s lace fichu and simple chignon. The office, which had seemed perfectly spacious and airy only moments before, shrunk to half its size as he stood there, looming over her desk.

“I’m Blade,” he said brusquely, not offering his hand. “Earl of Bladenton. And this is Kitty Beckett.”

Hazel stood smoothly, intent on making a professional, favorable first impression. The earl certainly didn’t live in Bellehaven Bay, but perhaps he and his family intended to spend the summer at the seaside resort.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” she said. “I’m Miss Lively, the headmistress. Welcome to the Bellehaven Academy of Deportment. How may we be of service?”

“I’d like to enroll Kitty,” he said abruptly. “Immediately.”

“That’s wonderful.” Hazel smiled at the girl, who seemed less than enthused. Indeed, Kitty’s expression conveyed the distinct combination of boredom and displeasure perfected by most girls around the age of fifteen. “Please, sit,” Hazel said, gesturing to the pair of chairs opposite her. “And tell me why you’ve selected our establishment.”

The earl frowned as though the invitation to sit and converse was an imposition. “A friend in London gave me your card,” he said, producing it from the pocket of his fine-tailored jacket and sliding it across her desk. Hazel looked at the dog-eared card, one of dozens that she and Jane had handed out over the last few weeks, desperately hoping to increase enrollment.

“You believe Bellehaven Academy will be a good fit for your daughter?”

Kitty grimaced, and the earl scowled, clearly exasperated. “She’s my niece,” he corrected. “And my ward.”

“Forgive me,” Hazel said smoothly. “You believe our school will be a good fit for your niece?”

Lord Bladenton clenched his chiseled jaw. “Perfect.”

“Are you in town for the summer then?”

“God, no.” He scoffed as though the very idea was absurd. “I’m returning to London this evening. But Kitty will be staying with you.”

“I’m afraid most of our girls live in town with their families and attend lessons here in the afternoons.”

He arched a dark, thick brow. “But you have some boarding students?”

Hazel inclined her head. “Only two.” And they were special cases. Girls who had no family to speak of and nowhere else to go. Hazel had gladly taken them in and hoped to open her doors to many more girls whose families couldn’t afford tuition. But first she needed to firmly establish her reputation. And make sure she had enough students from wealthy families so she could afford the necessities of running a proper school: rent, furnishings, and, of course, books.

“Then it sounds like you have plenty of room for another boarder.” The earl slapped his palms on his muscular thighs as though the matter were settled. “I’ll have my footman retrieve her bags from the coach.”

“Not yet, Lord Bladenton,” Hazel said firmly. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but her headmistress instincts were screaming that something wasn’t quite right. Turning to Kitty, she said, “How would you feel about living here in Bellehaven Bay?”

“It scarcely matters.” The fair-haired girl plucked a piece of lint from her skirt and dropped it on the floor. “I don’t expect I’ll be here long, in any event. My dear uncle neglected to mention I’ve already been expelled from two schools in London. Two schools,” she enunciated clearly, “in less than three months.”

The earl dragged a hand through his hair and cursed under his breath.

Kitty smirked as she glanced at Hazel, no doubt hoping to find her rifling through her desk drawers in search of smelling salts.

Hazel was a little shocked at the girl’s revelation, but she kept her expression neutral. “Impressive. How did you manage it?”

The girl shrugged. “Child’s play, really. Let’s see … There was the Great Brandy Incident, the Hellion Heist, and my personal favorite, Operation Haunting the Headmis—”

“Enough.” The earl’s voice, deep and hollow, cut through the conversation more than a shout would have. “Kitty, go wait outside. I require a word with Miss Lively.”

Hazel continued to sit at her desk, her hands folded, unflappable and unfazed by all appearances. But inside, her heart ached for the girl. She was that girl. The girl nobody wanted.

After several tense moments in which the air seemed to have been sucked out of the room, Kitty rose, deliberate and defiant. To Hazel, she said, “This is the part where he attempts to rid himself of me by throwing money at you.”

“Kitty…” Lord Bladenton’s tone brooked no argument.

The girl tossed a golden curl over her shoulder, shot her uncle a sugary smile, and blinked innocently. “Right. I’ll be just outside then, diligently working on my needlepoint.” She proceeded to saunter out of the office and close the door behind her with a bit more force than was necessary.

The earl exhaled wearily. “I apologize for my niece. She’s been through a difficult time, but she’s quite bright and perfectly capable of behaving like a lady. All she needs is a firm hand.”

“A firm hand?” Hazel repeated.

Lord Bladenton shifted in his seat. “Not literally, of course. What I meant to say is that she needs rules—and consequences when she defies them.”

“This is a school, not a prison.” Hazel closed one of the books on her desk and slid it to the side. “It’s clear Kitty doesn’t want to be here, and while I understand a bit of reluctance when it comes to conjugating Latin verbs or memorizing important dates, I would not want to take on a student—particularly a boarding student—who is intent on sabotaging her own education.”

The earl shoved himself out of his chair, planted his hands on his hips, and paced the length of the room. “I’ll speak to her. Make sure she understands that any misbehavior will not be tolerated.”

Hazel shook her head. “I wish I could help, but, as you may know, I’ve only recently opened the doors of Bellehaven Academy, and I’m determined to establish it as a reputable finishing school. Which means I can’t afford a major scandal. Or even a minor one.” She suppressed a shiver at the thought. “It would ruin everything I’ve worked so hard for,” she added—more to herself than the earl.

Because she couldn’t lose sight of that fact. Yes, she and Jane needed paying students. True, enrolling the niece of an earl would be a feather in their cap. And of course, she longed to help Kitty.

But the school’s reputation was paramount. Without its good name, Bellehaven Academy would cease to exist. And unfortunately, Kitty was a walking scandal.

“I’m sorry to disappoint,” Hazel told the earl. “Your niece is clearly a creative and clever girl. I’m certain you’ll find another school that’s happy to have her.” She rose from her chair and rested her fingertips on the blotter covering her desktop. “I do appreciate your interest and wish you and your niece well.” She extended a hand in business-like fashion, indicating the conversation was over, her decision made.

Lord Bladenton whirled back to the desk, ignoring her outstretched hand. “Miss Lively,” he said, his voice as smooth as the bay breeze tickling the back of her neck. “I’ve traveled all the way from London to meet with you. Surely you’re not dismissing me already?”

“Oh, but I am, Lord Bladenton.” She ignored the rakish dimple in his cheek. Or rather, endeavored to. “I have lessons to plan. Students to teach. Besides, there’s nothing left to say.”

He placed his palms on her desk, leaned forward, and shot her a half smile that was somehow more potent than a full-blown grin. “I have plenty left to say,” he said with a distinctly rakish gleam in his eyes. “We haven’t even begun to negotiate.”

* * *

“I’ve no intention of bargaining with you,” Miss Lively countered blithely.

Blade couldn’t detect a single crack in her composure. Her dark-brown hair had been tamed into a severe knot. Her fichu covered everything from chest to chin. Her expression was formidable. In short, she was all that a headmistress should be—if one discounted the fact that she smelled like honey and sweet cream.

“That’s rather closed-minded.” Blade leaned a little closer and let her scent fill his head. “Aren’t you the least bit curious to hear what I have to offer?”

“Not at all, Lord Bladenton. You see, I’ve made my decision based on my principles.” She paused, letting that sink in, then added, “One’s principles should never be on the auction block. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Blade nodded slowly, as though he’d had an epiphany. “You’re absolutely correct, Miss Lively. In fact, that’s just the sort of wisdom you should impart to my niece. Someone with your moral fortitude would make an immense difference in the life of an impressionable young lady. By taking on Kitty as a pupil, you would be doing a great service not only to her and to me, but, indeed, to all of society.”

All he needed was one moment of weakness. One chink in her armor. Then he’d pounce—and next thing she knew, Miss Lively would be welcoming her newest student.

“I’m not susceptible to flattery,” she informed him, as if she thought it only fair he should know. She proceeded to stack the half a dozen books on her desk, largest to smallest, making sure the corners were perfectly square. “But if I were, your empty compliments would not sway me in the slightest.”

He opened his mouth to tell her how wounded he was, then quickly shut it. Either she was the best bluffer he’d ever met, or she had ice in her veins.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped back from the desk, realizing he needed to take a different tack. He sauntered to the open window and looked out at the handful of tourists strolling down the sandy street, peeking in store windows. He couldn’t see the shore, but he could smell the ocean air.

“How many students do you have here at Bellehaven Academy?” he asked, keeping his tone conversational.

Miss Lively cleared her throat. “Five at the moment. We’ve only recently launched the school, but once our reputation is established, I expect enrollment to rise quite rapidly.”

Blade faced her and arched a brow. “Most families come here to spend time by the sea. They want to stroll along the cliffs, swim in the ocean, attend a few balls. I sincerely doubt anyone comes to Bellehaven for deportment lessons.”

“Perhaps not.” Miss Lively looked into his eyes like she was examining the remnants of his soul. “But proper behavior never takes a holiday.”

“Never?” Blade asked, more curious than he should have been. He wondered if the headmistress wore her fichu to bed. Or if she ate strawberries with a fork. Or if she maintained proper posture in the bathtub.

All of which would have been a damned shame.

She turned slightly, and the sunlight behind her outlined the smooth plane of her brow, the straight line of her nose, and the plump curves of her lips. Interesting. Perhaps Miss Lively was younger than he’d originally thought. If she weren’t wearing a gown straight out of his grandmama’s armoire, she might have been … dare he think it?


“Proper behavior is essential at all times,” Miss Lively said, snapping him back to attention. “Strength of character demands that one does the right thing—regardless of the circumstance or setting.”

Blade felt a little poke in his conscience but quickly shook it off. Miss Lively was a headmistress and paid to say such things. She probably had a whole journal full of pretentious adages. She didn’t know the choices he’d made. Couldn’t know all the regrets that haunted him.

“I admire your conviction,” Blade said, “even if I do not completely share it. I daresay you must have a difficult time convincing students to devote three hours to lessons every afternoon when you’re competing with rowboat races, picnics on the beach, and cricket matches.”

Copyright © 2021 by Anna Bennett.


"Irresistibly angsty...will keep historical romance fans hooked." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“A fantastic storyteller. —Fresh Fiction

"This enjoyable tale of two people living full lives and finding unexpected love is a great kick-off for Bennett’s new Rogues to Lovers series.” —Booklist

About the author:
Anna Bennett is the award-winning author of the Debutante Diaries and Wayward Wallflowers series. Her dream of writing romance began during a semester in London, where she fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. Now Anna's living happily-ever-after in Maryland with her family, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen.