It Takes Two to Tangle

Matchmaker Trilogy book 1
Sourcebooks Casablanca (September 3, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1402283997
ISBN-13: 978-1402283994

Praise and Reviews • About the Book • Excerpt

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Henry Middlebrook is back from fighting Napoleon, ready to re-enter London society where he left it. Wounded and battle weary, he decides that the right wife is all he needs. Selecting the most desirable lady in the ton, Henry turns to her best friend and companion to help him with his suit…


Young and beautiful, war widow Frances Whittier is no stranger to social intrigue. She finds Henry Middlebrook courageous and manly, unlike the foppish aristocrats she is used to, and is inspired to exercise her considerable wit on his behalf. But she may be too clever for her own good, and Frances discovers that she has set in motion a complicated train of events that’s only going to break her own heart…

Praise and Reviews

“Frances and Henry are irresistible, funny, and sexy … [It TakesTwo to Tangle is a beautifully written novel that balances laughter with healing.”
New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James for B&N Review

“A wonderfully crafted, character-driven romance…about acceptance, moving on and finding the strength to accept one’s limitations without allowing them to rule one’s life. It was an absolute pleasure to read.”
All About Romance, Desert Isle Keeper!

“Romain’s first book in her newest trilogy is a delightful romance. Its intriguing plot, replete with unforeseen twists and coupled with a set of passionate characters, quickly turns this into a page-turner.”
RT Book Reviews, 4 stars

It Takes Two to Tangle shows us that there is always more to the story. I’ve been reading Theresa Romain since her debut novel and, I have to say, her star is rising. This was an incredibly insightful novel with biting wit and raw emotions.”
Love Saves the World

“I’ve read hundreds of Regency romances–this books stands out from the rest as being a singular joy to read. …It was a beautifully written story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.”
Romancing Rakes for the Love of Romance, 5 hearts

“A promising start to the series. …Readers who know Romain through her Christmas romances…will find the same charm and blend of humor and darker elements in this book.”
Just Janga

“[It Takes Two to Tangle] contains what I will always think of as ‘The Best Duel Scene Ever.’ …A book not to be missed. This one made me remember why historical romances are my comfort books, and I can see myself reading this one time and time again.”
Romance Novel News, Recommended Read!

“Theresa Romain has a talent, a rare ability to blend beautiful writing, great characters, delicious banter and a lovely romance, all in one perfect package. …Truly, her writing is gorgeous and it made me feel as if I were there with Frances and Henry.”
TBQ’s Book Palace, 4 1/2 stars

“With everything from secret letters to a duel, this novel has all the right elements of a great historical romance!…This is definitely a must-read for Regency fans and for those who want something a little different. In short…I loved it!”
Debbie’s Book Bag, 5 apples

“Theresa Romain wrote this novel expressing an enormous depth of pain experienced by both Henry and Frances.  The way she conveyed their emotions to the reader almost made me feel their pain as well.  I think the following quote from Sir Walter Scott comes into play perfectly in this novel:  ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’ I enjoyed this novel very much.”

“Brilliantly crafted, with riveting characters and Theresa Romain’s usual dash of philosophy, It Takes Two to Tangle creates an engaging introduction to the author’s Matchmaker Trilogy. …Truly, this is a most intelligent and insightful historical romance, coming from Theresa Romain’s unique voice.”
The Romance Reviews, 4 stars

“An enticing, sensual historical romance that sweeps you away with its tale of second chances. … Absolutely delightful. Regency fans will not want to miss this beautifully written saga!”
Romance Junkies, 4 blue ribbons

“I enjoyed every minute of this read. …[Romain’s] characters are imperfect in good ways and the stories touch on some painful issues but never delve too far into the angsty side of romance. Books like these are written to entertain, and this one certainly delivered.”
The Window Seat on a Rainy Day

About the Book

  • As a recovering English major, I think it’s fun to slip references to books I’ve loved into my own romances. The plot of It Takes Two to Tangle is loosely based on Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac—though with the genders flipped. My secret letter-writer is not the hero, but the heroine, Frances.
  • Frances’s maiden name, Ward, is borrowed from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. In that book, Frances Ward was the maiden name of Fanny Price’s mother.
  • The original title of this book was As You Desire Her, which is a play on the name of a Greta Garbo movie featuring mistaken (maybe?) identity. I love classic movies, but that early version of the title didn’t say “romance” strongly enough. Most of my working titles have been changed before publication—for the better.
  • Learning to write left-handed becomes a plot point for the injured hero, Henry. In the days of quills and ink, switching hands was an even greater challenge than it would be for a modern-day rightie. This short video about left-handed calligraphy might give you an idea of why Henry had such a difficult time re-learning how to write.
  • The cover of It Takes Two to Tangle, like that of most romance covers today, is based on a studio photograph. In this case, the cover model used was blonde! Once my publisher’s art department got the look they wanted for the cover, the image got a virtual dye job, and the resulting portrait was a perfect match for the brunette Frances.
  • For more about Henry and Frances, click over to the Extras page. There you can read love letters they exchanged after their marriage–plus other character letters and free short stories.


Chapter One

July 1815
Tallant House, London

It was no good. The canvas still looked as though a chicken had been killed on it.

Henry Middlebrook grimaced and stepped back, casting his eye over his work. In the cooling light of early evening, his vermilion paint looked ghastly.

He dragged his brush over one corner of the canvas and regarded it again. A slight improvement. Now it looked as if someone had killed a chicken on it, then tried to clean up the evidence.

No matter. He could fix it later somehow. Or hide it in an attic.

As he stepped forward again, ready for another artistic attack, Henry’s foot bumped the fussy baroque table on which he’d set his palette. The palette rattled perilously close to the edge of the table, and Henry swooped for it before it tipped. He lost his grip on his paintbrush and could only watch, dismayed, as the wide brush flipped end over end and landed with a faint thump on the carpet.

Well, damn.

“How lovely!” came a cry behind him, and Henry turned.

His sister-in-law Emily, the Countess of Tallant, was standing in the morning room doorway smiling at him. She wore a gown the watery, fragile pink of rose madder, with some part of it pinstriped and some other part of it beaded, and her auburn hair arranged with a quantity of pink-headed pins.

Henry did not understand all the details of women’s fashion, having spent the past three years learning the significance of shoulder epaulets, forage caps, and stovepipe shakos. Still, the effect of Emily’s ensemble was pleasing to anyone with the slightest eye for color—which Henry had, though no one looking at his canvas would possibly think so.

“Good evening, Emily,” he said, shifting his foot to hide the fallen paintbrush. “I might say the same to you. You look very well.”

“Nonsense, Hal,” she said. “This gown is a full year out of fashion and is suitable for nothing but lolling around the house. I must go change for the ball, as must you. What I meant was that it’s lovely to see you painting again.”

She craned her neck to look behind him. “And it’s even lovelier to see you resting your palette on that dreadful table. Jemmy’s Aunt Matilda gave it to us as a wedding gift. I can only conclude she must have hated me.”

Emily walked over to Henry and held out her hand for the paintbrush, which he sheepishly retrieved from the floor. She scrutinized it, then began to daub the gilded table at Henry’s side with red curlicues.

“I’m not the expert you are, of course, but the texture of this red seems a bit off.”

“Yes, it’s too oily. I’m out of practice.”

“Well, that’s easily enough fixed by time. I’m glad we still had some of your supplies left from… well, before.” Emily signed her name with fat, bold brushstrokes to the ruined tabletop. “There, that’s the best this table has ever looked. If you can stand the sight of the beastly thing, then you must have it for your own use while you paint. Surely we can find a studio for you somewhere in the house. You could even keep painting here in the morning room if you don’t mind rolling back the Axminster, of which I’m rather fond.”

Henry looked at the heavy carpet guiltily. A splotch of warm red paint marred the fine sepia pattern of scrolls and bouquets. “I should have done that first thing. I’m sorry, Em.”

She waved a hand. “I understand artists are remarkably forgetful creatures. Once the creative mood seizes you, you cannot be responsible for your actions.”

“Are you giving me an excuse to be an aggravating guest? This could be entertaining.”

Emily’s mouth curled into the cunning smile that meant she was plotting something. “You’re much more than a guest, as you know. But you’re right. I should demand that you pay me a favor for spilling paint all over my possessions.”

Henry took the brush from her and laid it carefully across the palette, atop the newly adorned table. “Let me guess. You already have a favor in mind, and you are delighted I have ruined your carpet, since now you can be sure I’ll agree to whatever you ask.”

Emily looked prouder than ever. “Excellent! We shall slip you back into polite society more easily than I could ever have hoped. Already you are speaking its secret language again, for you are correct in every particular of your guess.”

“I’m overjoyed to be such a prodigy. What, precisely, have I guessed?”

“Tonight, I am going to introduce you to your future wife. What do you think?” She beamed at him, as though she expected him to jump up and start applauding. Which was, of course, impossible.

Henry gripped the edge of the fussy little table tightly. It was difficult to imagine feeling comfortable amidst the ton again—as difficult as it had seemed to leave it three years ago.

But he was just as determined on the former as he’d once been on the latter. Choosing the right wife could be exactly the key he needed to unlock London.

Emily passed a hand in front of his face. “You didn’t answer me, Hal.”

Henry blinked; stalled. “Don’t call me Hal, please.”

She raised her eyes to heaven. “You know perfectly well that I shall never be able to stop calling you Hal in my lifetime, just as you cannot stop calling your brother Jem. We are all far too set in our ways. But that’s not the answer I wanted. What do you think of my idea about finding you a wife? Actually, it was Jemmy’s suggestion, but if you like it, I shall claim it for my own.”

Fortunately, Henry’s elder brother Jeremy, the Earl of Tallant, poked his dark head into the doorway at that moment, saving Henry from a reply. “Em? Aren’t you ready yet? I’ve already had the carriage brought around.”

In his sleek black tailcoat, mathematical-tied linens, and waistcoat of bronze silk, Jem looked every inch the earl. Every inch, that is, except the one between his forehead and nose. His eyes—a bright lapis-blue, the only feature the brothers had in common—held an ignoble amount of doubt just now. “Hal? Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Henry decided on deliberate obtuseness. “For Lady Applewood’s ball? No, I still have to change my clothing.”

“I’ll send my man up to help you,” Jem replied too quickly.

Emily crossed her arms and regarded her husband slowly, up and down. “You look very elegant, Jemmy. But why are you ready? We aren’t leaving for an hour.”

Jem’s expression turned puzzled. “An hour? But I thought—”

“We must make a grand entrance,” Emily said in a hurried hush. “I told you we shan’t leave until nine.”

Jem shrugged, squeezed by his wife, and came to stand next to Henry. “It’s too dim in here,” he decided as he regarded the painting. “I can’t tell what you’ve painted.”

Henry swept his arm to indicate the baroque table. “This table, for a start. And your carpet. And my breeches a bit.” He regarded his garments ruefully.

Jem nodded. “Rather ambitious for your first effort.”

“Yes. It’s served me well to be ambitious, hasn’t it?”

Jem managed a smile as his eyes found Henry’s. “I suppose it has. Well, best get ready. Em’s told you about our grand plan, hasn’t she?”

“If you mean the plan to marry me off, then yes. I can’t say I’m shocked. I’m only surprised it took her two weeks to broach the subject.”

“She’s been plotting it for weeks.” Jem sighed. “Quite proud of the scheme.”

“I’m still right here,” Emily said from the doorway. “And I am proud of it. It’s just…”

When she trailed off, both brothers turned to her. Emily’s merry face looked sober all of a sudden. “We think you’d be happier, Hal. If you were married.”

Henry pasted a smile across his face. “Don’t worry about me. I’m quite as happy as can be expected.”

Emily studied him for a long moment, then nodded. “One hour, Hal. Jemmy, do come with me. You may help me decide which dress to wear.”

The earl followed his wife. “It doesn’t matter, Em. You always look marvelous. Besides which, you never wear what I choose.”

“That’s because you’d send me out with no bodice. Honestly, Jem!”

Their voices quieted as they moved down the corridor, and Henry allowed the smile to drop from his face. He could guess what they’d begun talking about: just how happy was he?

He’d given them a truthful answer on the surface of it. He was as happy as could be expected. But a man in his situation had little enough reason for happiness.

Still, he had determination. Surely that was even more important. With enough determination, happiness might one day follow.

He dragged his easel to the edge of the morning room and gave his painting one last look.

Just as horrible as he’d thought. But in time, it would get better.

With a rueful shake of the head, he left behind his first foray back into painting and went upstairs to prepare for his first foray back into London society.

* * *

Frances Whittier was too much of a lady to curse in the crowded ballroom of Applewood House. Barely.

But as she limped back to her seat next to Caroline, the Countess of Stratton, she found the words a gently bred widow was permitted to use completely inadequate.

“Mercy,” she muttered, sinking into the frail giltwood chair. “Fiddle. Goodness. Damn. Oh, Caro, my toes will never recover.”

Caroline laughed. “Thank you for accepting that dance, Frannie. The last time I danced with Bart Crosby, he stepped on my toes twelve times. Oh, and look—I think I’ve cracked the sticks of my fan.”

Frances wiggled her feet. “He’s improving, then, for I’m sure he stepped on mine only ten.” She exchanged her own unbroken fan for Caroline’s. “And if you would quit batting everyone with your fan, it wouldn’t break.”

“I can’t help it,” Caroline said. “Lord Wadsworth puts his hands where they don’t belong, and the only way to remove them is by physical force.”

“In that case, we should have a new fan made for you of something much sturdier than ivory. A nice rosewood should help him remember his manners.”

“Or wrought iron, maybe?” Caroline replied, and Frances grinned. Caroline was in quite a good humor tonight and more than willing to share it.

The role of companion to a noblewoman was often seen as thankless, but except when her toes were trod upon, Frances found her position quite the opposite. Maybe because her employer was also her cousin, or maybe just because Caroline was cheerful and generous. The young countess had been locked away in the country for the nine years of her marriage; now that her year of mourning for her elderly husband was complete, she collected admirers with the deliberate joy of a naturalist catching butterflies.

Frances enjoyed helping Caroline sort through the possibilities, though she knew her cousin was as determined to guard her independence as Frances had once been to fling hers away.

“What’s next, Caroline? Are you of a mind to dance anymore?” Frances leaned against the stiff back of her chair. It was not at all comfortable, but it was better than having her feet stomped on.

“I think I will, but not just yet.” The countess leaned in, conspiratorial under the din of hundreds of voices bouncing off a high ceiling. “Emily has told me she’s bringing her brother-in-law tonight, and she intends to introduce us. He’s a war hero, just back in London after three years on the Continent.”

“A soldier?” Frances said faintly. The hair on her arms prickled from a sudden inner chill.

Caroline shot her a knowing look. “Yes, a soldier. That is, a former soldier. He should be intriguing, don’t you think?”

“I have no doubt of it.” Frances’s throat felt dust-dry. “At any rate, he won’t be one of your tame puppies.”

“All the better.” Caroline adjusted the heavy jonquil silk of her skirts with a practiced hand. “They’re so much more fun when they don’t simply roll over, aren’t they?”

Frances coughed. “I can’t really say. I haven’t rolled over since I was widowed, you know.”

Caroline raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it’s time you changed that.”

“Believe me, I’ve thought of it.”

Caroline chuckled, though Frances’s smile hung a little crooked. Any reference to her brief, tempestuous marriage that ended six years before still trickled guilt down her spine. Which was probably why she hadn’t rolled over in so long.

“How do I look?” Caroline murmured. “Satisfactory enough?”

Frances smoothed the dark blue crape of her own gown, then cast an eye over Caroline. With quick fingers, she tugged one of the countess’s blond curls into a deliberate tousle, then nodded. “You’ll do very well, though I think you’ve lost a few of your jeweled hairpins.”

Caroline pulled a droll face. “Tonight’s casualties: one fan, an undetermined number of hairpins. I don’t suppose a soldier would regard those as worthwhile, but I rather liked them all.”

“They were lovely,” Frances agreed. “I saw Lady Halliwell hunting the same hairpins on Bond Street after you last wore them five weeks ago.”

“Oh, horrors.” Caroline frowned. “She’ll remember that I’ve worn these before.”

“If she does, it won’t matter, because she admires you greatly. Besides, she wasn’t able to get any for herself. I’d already put the remaining stock on your account.”

Caroline looked impressed. “You do think of everything, don’t you?”

“I do. I really do.” Frances permitted herself a moment of pride before adding, “But if Lord Wadsworth calls on you again, he’d better bring you a new fan.”

“And himself some new manners,” murmured Caroline. “Oh, look, I see Emily now.”

Frances squinted, picking out Caroline’s good friend Lady Tallant pushing through the crowd. The countess wore a grin on her face and her husband on one arm. A tall, fair-haired man followed a step behind. The war-hero brother, no doubt; his taut posture was military-perfect, his handsome face a calm cipher.

Caroline lifted her—well, Frances’s—fan as soon as the trio were within a polite distance. “Emily! You look beautiful, as usual. How do you keep your silks from getting creased in the crowd?”

Lady Tallant did a quick pirouette to show off her indigo ball gown. “Jemmy uses his elbows to keep the crowd away. Isn’t he a wonder?”

“Elbows, Caroline,” muttered Frances, “would work much better than your fan the next time Wadsworth becomes too free with his hands.”

Her cousin gave a short cough of laughter. “Ah—yes, he is indeed a wonder. Jem, never let it be said there’s no place for chivalry these days.”

“I won’t,” said the earl gravely. “After all, I sacrifice the tailoring of my coat each time I drive out an elbow.”

His wife rolled her eyes, then inclined her head to the man at her side. “Caro, Mrs. Whittier. We’re here to make an introduction.”

Frances could have sworn Caroline wiggled a little, though she managed to keep her face calm. “Oh? To a friend of yours?”

“Much better than that.” The earl bowed. “To my brother, Henry Middlebrook. He’s quite a war hero. Perhaps you’ve heard of his adventures on the Continent?”

The fair-haired man shot his brother a look so filthy that Frances made a little ha of surprise. He cut his eyes toward Frances and quickly composed his expression.

Lady Tallant must have noticed her brother-in-law’s glare, because she swatted her husband with her fan. “Jemmy,” she hissed.

Lord Tallant blinked. “Er, ah, forgive me. Er, Hal has been recently traveling on the Continent. For, ah, personal enrichment.”

Another filthy look from the brother, another swat from the wife’s fan. Lord Tallant looked positively discombobulated now. Next to Frances, Caroline was beginning to shake with suppressed giggles.

Frances grinned. The cipher of a soldier was actually rather entertaining. Interest crackled through her body, the fatigue of the long evening seeping away.

“What, Emily?” said the earl in a beleaguered voice. “God’s teeth, stop hitting me. You’ll mar my coat if you keep that up.”

“Well, you’ll mar my fan,” retorted his wife. “Never mind, Jemmy. You are hopeless. Caro, here is Henry. He is positively salivating to meet you. You too, Mrs. Whittier.”

The man stepped forward with a wry smile. This close, he proved to be just as tall and well made as he had appeared from a distance. His eyes crinkled with good humor; his hair glinted as gold as Caroline’s under the hot light of the chandeliers.

“Do forgive my salivation,” he said. “Having been away from London, I suppose I’ve forgotten the proper manners.”

Caroline shrugged. “Have you? Well, if you’re living with Emily, you won’t need manners.”

Lady Tallant smirked. “And if he spends more than a minute with you, Caro, he’ll need smelling salts.”

“I doubt that,” Mr. Middlebrook said smoothly into the middle of this friendly volley. “I rarely get the vapors.”

“Nor do I.” Caroline gifted him with a sunlit smile and extended her hand. “I’m delighted to meet you, Mr. Middlebrook. Perhaps we shall be good friends.”

He returned the smile and bowed over her hand with impeccable military bearing.

And his right arm swung down, down, loose as the limb of a puppet.

When he straightened, his face pale, Frances noticed what she had failed to see before: his right arm hung stiff and wasted within its sleeve, facing painfully backward.

* * *
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