Audio: coming soon!
A grumpy physician joins his best friend’s sister on a treasure hunt in this Regency-set romance with “laugh-out-loud scenes and heated sexual tension” (RT Book Reviews, TOP PICK).
Lord Hugo Starling is having the worst day. Not only have funders rejected his ambitious medical plans—again—but his friend’s younger sister has disguised herself as a boy to hunt for gold sovereigns stolen from the Royal Mint.
No. Absolutely not. Ridiculous.
Or…is it? Due to the terms of her parents’ will, Georgette Frost is about to lose her bookshop home. If she can cross England in time to claim the Royal Mint’s reward, her future will be secured. She invites Hugo to join her, for a share of the reward would allow him finally to bring his medical plans to life.
Fine. If he must. Just to make sure she’s safe.
Georgette is resourceful and eager for adventure, and as they follow clues ever northward, they encounter a pickpocket, a Bow Street Runner, and inns with only one bed. The maddening woman is under his protection—but not even Hugo’s iron self-control can resist forever. As he and Georgette test each other’s mettle and share truths they’ve never confessed, they begin to lose their hearts.
They don’t have time for that sort of thing. They just need to find the stolen gold; then they can finally go their separate ways. That’s what they both want. Right?
Story elements: Best friend’s little sister, treasure hunt, road trip, medical, class difference
References to/grief over death of sibling
References to sexual coercion/assault (not shown on page)
References to murder
Threat of gun violence
Threat of suicide
A Fresh Fiction Box Not to Miss selection
“Rapier-sharp wit, dynamic characters, humor and action combine masterfully in this second Royal Rewards installment. Romain keeps her fans enthralled with a suspenseful story peppered with laugh-out-loud scenes and heated sexual tension.”
–RT Book Reviews, TOP PICK
“This spirited romance is charming, witty and engaging, and romance readers won’t want to miss out on this delightful story.”
—Night Owl Reviews, TOP PICK
“Theresa Romain’s witty pen is immediately evident in Passion Favors the Bold. Among histrom writers, Romain is gently humorous and deeply compassionate towards her characters and never more so than in her second Royal Rewards romance.”
—Miss Bates Reads Romance
“A romantic treasure hunt that sizzles! …Theresa Romain is my new favorite writer of Regency romance.”
About the Book
- In Fortune Favors the Wicked, I had established that Hugo had medical training–and that became a large part of his character in Passion Favors the Bold. Since I have no medical training at all, I hit up my doctor brother with all sorts of alarming questions. By now, he knows that when I text him something like, “How can someone be shot in the shoulder without permanent injury?” it is for a book. I swear.
- The research for this book was more far-ranging than for most of my others. Since it’s a road-trip treasure-hunt romance with a doctor hero, bookseller heroine, and bon vivant host, I needed to know how to send people across England by coach, amputate toes, import wine from the Continent…you name it. Just as Georgette and Hugo never grew bored with their adventure, I didn’t either!
- I am notoriously fond of coconut. Mrs. Drupe, a passenger in the first mail coach Hugo and Georgette ride in, is named in honor of coconut’s botanical classification.
- Callum Jenks, the dogged and dry-witted Bow Street Runner, gets his own HEA in Lady Rogue.
- For the visual inspiration behind characters, objects, and settings in Passion Favors the Bold, check out the book’s Pinterest board.
Late May 1817
As one would expect of a young woman raised in a bookshop, Georgette Frost was accustomed to flights of imagination. But not even in her most robust fancies could she have dreamed her present situation.
Not because she was garbed in boys’ clothing. Many the blue-blooded heroine of a conte de fée had disguised herself to escape the cruel predations of a wicked relative. Though admittedly, Georgette’s veins ran not with blue blood but with the ink of her family’s bookshop. And Cousin Mary was not wicked; merely overwhelmed by the ceaseless demands of the shop and her multitude of children.
Nor was Georgette dismayed to set out on her own, with all her worldly possessions in a small trunk. Freed from the endless shelves of the shop, the constant questions of starched-collar customers, she had felt gloriously unfettered as she sought a coaching house and prepared to join her elder brother on his travels for the first time.
There was only one problem at present, but that problem was a significant one. Six feet tall, dark-haired and scholar-pale, hawkish of feature and stuffy of temperament.
Lord Hugo Starling, the youngest son of the Duke of Willingham.
Lord Hugo was a friend of Georgette’s long-absent elder brother, Benedict. But where she recalled Benedict as being rather charming, his lordship represented everything chilly about the life of the mind: study, solitude, and sternness. Every time Lord Hugo had visited Frost’s Bookshop, he had demonstrated his stuffiness anew. He was always curt, exasperated by the world outside of the latest book on which he had his eye.
Unfortunately, Lord Hugo didn’t remain confined to bookshops. He had encountered Georgette at the coaching inn before she could take her seat on the stagecoach. After a public spat, which did credit to neither of them—though far less to Lord Hugo, who ought to have kept his high-bridged nose out of her business—Georgette had grudgingly scrambled into his carriage.
She now faced him, glaring, as he settled against the soft velvet squabs. “How can you say what I want is impossible? You asked where I wanted to go.”
“I asked, yes. But I didn’t say I would take you there. The wilds of Derbyshire are days away by carriage.”
The wilds. She snorted. Likely Derbyshire, all grasses and livestock, did seem wild to a London-bred noble with a perfectly knotted cravat. Georgette was London-bred herself, but with an elder brother once in the Royal Navy, she felt she’d seen a bit of the world, if only through his letters.
Lord Hugo’s carriage, though, came from a world of luxury she’d never known. Unmarred and sleek, the wood shone with lemon-scented oil. The unlit lamps waited for evening in sparkling-clear glass globes, their wicks neatly trimmed. The velvet squabs were brushed clean and soft.
Georgette’s secondhand jacket and cheap boys’ shoes had seemed the perfect disguise when she was outdoors. But amidst such elegance, she felt shabby and false, her pale blond hair falling in drab strands from beneath the cap.
Rapunzel, back in a different sort of tower. Cendrillon, doomed to a new sort of drudgery.
In retrieving her—no! abducting her—Lord Hugo had been splashed with mud and cheap liquor, his fine coat stained and reeking. Somehow he still managed to look like a confident aristocrat. Like the carriage, he was tidy and dignified except for his encounter with Georgette.
She set her jaw. “I wish you’d left me alone. I was traveling to find my brother.”
He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like fool’s errand. “You’re planning to seek the royal reward, aren’t you? Your brother is sure he’ll find it, and you want to help him.”
She waved a hand. “Of course. Who wouldn’t want five thousand pounds?”
For such was the reward offered by the Royal Mint to anyone who located fifty thousand missing gold sovereigns. New coins, not yet circulated, they had been stolen from the Mint in a violent rampage some weeks before. Four guards had been killed, six trunks of the sovereigns stolen. Since then, no evidence of them had been found—until one gold sovereign was spent in a Derbyshire village, drawing the curious and the treasure-mad from all corners of England.
That village, Strawfield, was where Georgette’s brother had gone as soon as he alighted on English shores. And so that was where Georgette would go to find him, and her fortune.
“Until I can write your brother, I shall take you to stay with my mother,” Lord Hugo decided. “You shall be the guest of the Duchess of Willingham. Won’t that be, er, nice?”
She could almost hear the gears of his mind grinding. Curve mouth to approximate pleasant human expression! Present a single option as though it were appealing while giving no choice!
“No.” She folded her arms. “None of your behavior has been nice at all. You pulled me away from my coaching stop. I cannot believe you told a crowd of strangers that I was your criminal nephew who had stolen silver from my dying mother.”
Instead of looking chastened, his cursed lordship shot her a grim smile. “Turnabout is fair play. You told them I was drunk. And you told your own cousins at the bookshop that you’d been invited to stay with my family. Won’t it be agreeable to convert one of your lies into the truth?”
“Certainly. You have my permission to get drunk. As soon as you return to me the price of my wasted ticket, that is.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face, then sank back against the squabs with apparent weariness. “I took you up, Miss Frost, because your brother would want you to be safe. And that is the end of the discussion.”
“Oh, good! Then you agree with me.” She bared her teeth in a false grin. “Let me go to Benedict.”
“I can’t let you go alone, Miss Frost,” he replied. “It wouldn’t be right. A woman alone…there are those who would hurt you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Thus my disguise as a boy. If your conscience won’t permit me to travel alone, I suppose you may accompany me to Derbyshire.”
“Out of the question. My business holds me in London.”
“Endless business. Only today, I have a meeting at Somerset House with the president of the Royal Society. Then I must review a new treatise on infection at the Royal College of Physicians.”
“Say ‘royal’ once more.”
His dark blue gaze snapped to meet hers, suspicious. “Why?”
“Because I hadn’t got it into my brain that you’re a lord who moves in exalted circles and can do whatever he likes.”
He blinked at this, looking…hurt? Did Lord Hugo have such human feelings?
Of course he did, and Georgette felt a little ashamed. He was an annoying man, not an automaton, and in his high-handed way he thought he was doing what was right.
The carriage trundled along on well-oiled springs, swallowing the roughness of London’s roads. Rolling her ever farther from the coaching inn. Derbyshire. Her brother. The promise of a new life.
She sighed. “Lord Hugo, thank you for the offer to stay with your mother, but I want to go to Benedict. My own relative. Surely you can understand that.”
“Such a wish is not unreasonable, only your means of going about it.” He adjusted his starched cuffs. “I envy your certainty that your brother would welcome your arrival. My family finds me unaccountable. Indeed, I think they are ashamed of me.”
Now that was interesting. Dark suppositions about hidden crimes and secret wives flooded her mind. “Why is that?”
“Because they intended me for the clergy, but I went to medical college instead. And I didn’t come away a proper society physician. I call upon ill people and try to treat them. Sometimes I even perform surgeries.” He clipped off each word hard, looking at his hands.
Georgette released a caught breath. “How monstrous of you. Truly shameful.”
Oh, dear. “I’m teasing, Lord Hugo. You are nothing of the sort. To me, such ambition to aid others seems…” She cast about for the right word and failed utterly. “Acceptable.”
“Acceptable,” he repeated drily. “I thank you.” The carriage gave a sway, and he steadied himself with a broad hand against the ceiling.
“Is that why you have an appointment at the Royal Society? To learn something about patient care?” she asked.
“Nothing so admirable. I’m seeking for a patron for a private hospital.” He lowered his hand, regarding her narrowly. “You’re about to ask why again, aren’t you?”
“I would never intrude into a matter that was no affair of mine.” She fired a pointed stare at him.
“Right. I’m sure you wouldn’t.” The curve of his mouth was distant and haughty, the sort of not-quite smile worn by classical statues. “The answer to the question you did not ask is that the practice of medicine is fragmented and inefficient.”
“And you know how to change that?”
“I believe so, yes. Surgeons with little chance at education are the ones who cut and operate, while physicians with medical training drone and profess and hardly ever see patients. I have tried to blend the best of both roles, and I intend to see that others have opportunity to follow the same path.”
She thought this over. “So your meetings are to ask important people to give you money for fancy medical plans? Because your own family will not support you?”
“Indeed. I shall lay out all the facts. Honesty is generally the most expedient way of getting what one wants.”
“When one is dealing with the elite? Not likely.” She hooted. “Take me along with you to your meeting. I want to watch this.”
“Ah—well. No. This is a delicate matter. If I hope to persuade them this time—”
“This time? You’ve asked before?”
His gaze slid away. “Twice.”
“So you’ll batter them with arguments they’ve already rejected. Twice.”
“Because they are wrong.”
“Say no more. That would convince me.”
“I ought to put you out of the carriage right now,” he muttered.
She lifted her chin. “If you’ll give me coach fare to Strawfield village in Derbyshire, I’ll be on my way.”
It wouldn’t be the first time she’d left right before being sent away. After Georgette and Benedict’s parents died, Benedict had inherited the bookshop—and sold it to Cousin Mary and her husband with the understanding that they would house Georgette until she turned twenty-one.
But in the cramped family quarters above the shop, Mary needed another nursery much more than she needed a cousin, no matter how much that cousin helped with the shop and the children. And Georgette’s wages, meager though they were, would easily hire Mary the help of a day maid.
Better to leave today than to find herself cast out—albeit with kindness and apology—when her birthday passed in a few more weeks. Better to descend from Lord Hugo’s carriage now, before she found herself in a world she knew not at all.
She had raised her hand, prepared to rap on the ceiling and bring the carriage to a halt, when Lord Hugo spoke: “Wait. Please.”
“Miss Frost. Please do not make yourself unsafe.”
His tone was stern, but not unkind. And he had said please, twice, as if her feelings and fate mattered. She let her hand fall to her lap, fingers twisting together. “My lord, I don’t wish to be unsafe. I wish to help my brother.”
This observation seemed to strike the high-handed man in the solar plexus. “I am trying to help your brother. And you. I have always wanted that. Why do you think I visited Frost’s Bookshop so often?”
“Because you wanted books.”
“I could buy books anywhere.”
Her mouth opened—and then closed again.
He turned aside, working at the latch on the carriage window. “Warm day,” he grunted. “Some air would be—ah. There. Isn’t that pleasant?”
The gruff tone of his voice had turned tentative.
In fact, the air was humid and close outside as well as in. With the window open, smuts wafted in like a sprinkling of black snow, making him blink.
The tense lines of his face softened. If his expression were always thus—a little weary, a little befuddled—he would be quite handsome.
He really had been trying to help her, hadn’t he? Even though it had all gone sideways, he’d meant his actions kindly. She wasn’t much used to people giving her any thought at all.
She looked down at her split-seamed shoe, digging it into the mat cushioning the floor of the carriage. “Thank you for your concern.”
“Of course I’m concerned. If you were my sister, there is no way in heaven I’d let you run off and seek treasure.”
As quickly as that, the moment was spoiled. Her head snapped up. “Let, let, let. Just stop. If I were your sister, I wouldn’t need the money, so the point is moot. If I were your sister, I’d have been raised on clouds of spun sugar and dined off dishes made of carved diamond.”
“That is ridiculous. Diamond is far too hard to carve for use as crockery.” He considered. “However, my sisters-in-law are remarkably fond of spun sugar.”
“Hugo.” She used his name without the honorific for the first time, and his brows lifted—displaying surprise, but not, she thought, displeasure. “You asked where I wanted to go. Besides the cousins I have left behind, my brother is the only close family I have in the world. I do not know him well, and I do not know what his life is like. But I know being in his company would be better than being alone.”
And then an idea struck her. A marvelous, wonderful idea, worthy of a heroine in a fairy tale. “You really could come with me to Derbyshire,” she said. “Leave your business with Royal This and That behind and try something new. Pursue the royal reward instead.”
* * *
Impossible. Illogical. Yet as Hugo turned the suggestion over in his mind, it did not seem inconceivable.
He bought himself a moment to think. “Not while you’re wearing those ridiculous boys’ clothes. I can’t imagine how you fooled anyone.”
She shrugged. “People see what they want to. I couldn’t have deceived Benedict, of course.”
This was undoubtedly true. Georgette’s brother had lost his sight due to a tropical illness during his stint in the Royal Navy. Ever since, Benedict had learned to navigate the world—including medical college alongside Hugo—through hearing and touch, and there was little nuance that escaped his notice.
“There’s an idea,” Georgette went on, sounding pleased. “If you don’t like my boys’ costume, I can change my garb and travel as your sister.”
“I never said I would travel with—”
“It’s perfect.” She leaned forward, eyes wide with enthusiasm. The already precarious boy’s cap tumbled from her head, allowing all that fairy-pale hair to fall. Down about her shoulders; down, down her back. “If you help me find the stolen coins, I will take the reward and you may take all the credit. You can use the fame to gain acceptance for your pet project.”
Hugo bridled. “‘Pet project’ is hardly the way one ought to refer to a private hospital with the potential to save many lives. And why should I not set off on my own and have both the acclaim and the reward?”
“Because that would be horrid of you. And if you have the acclaim, you won’t need the reward.”
His brows lifted. “So you say. Another thing I won’t need is the scandal of an ungrateful whelp telling everyone I’m an abductor.”
“I give you my word, I won’t tell a crowd of strangers you’re trying to abduct me. As long as you don’t try to abduct me. Again.”
Abduction. God. This was his thanks for rescuing her from the rough crowd at the coaching inn. If they had recognized her as a gently bred young woman rather than a scrubby youth, they would have turned on her in every way imaginable.
“If you accompany me to Strawfield,” Georgette added, “I shall behave properly.”
She held his gaze with those unusual eyes of hers. Light blue eyes, like the pale of a summer sky. She had pale hair and skin, too. Seeing her among the mazelike shelves of Frost’s Bookshop, Hugo had always thought she looked as though she were half faded into the pages of a story.
A fanciful observation. Most uncharacteristic of him. Especially since, as his visits to the bookshop stacked in number, he saw how hard and how prosaically she worked. Because she knew Hugo to be a friend to her brother, Georgette never treated him with the formality she would another customer. In his presence, she carried garments for the laundress, scooped up her cousin’s wayward toddlers, marked accounts, stacked books—and so on and so on, in ceaseless motion.
She was remarkably capable. He had to grant that. Between her skill and Benedict’s, the Frost siblings probably had a fair chance of finding the gold sovereigns.
“What if the coins are not in Derbyshire, Miss Frost? Do you want to stay with your brother or seek the stolen coins?”
She considered. “First the second thing. Then the first thing second.”
“You build a verbal maze,” he murmured.
“Thank you,” she said primly. “Now, when we reach Strawfield—”
“You are too hasty, Miss Frost. I have not agreed to any travel. Remember that my family already disapproves of me, and my would-be patrons have already declined. Do explain, how would notoriety for finding stolen coins increase my credibility in medical circles? And more importantly, how would it translate into financial support for my hospital?”
“Finding the sovereigns would make you tonnish. Then everything you said and did would be acceptable to people of influence.” She spoke matter-of-factly, as though this were obvious.
And maybe it should have been. Certainly these people of influence—of which his father was one, and of whom his family was constantly aware—were unimpressed by the appeals to logic on which Hugo prided himself. By accounts of the increased productivity of fields when tenants were fit and healthy. By evidence of the opposite, too: tales of infection, of suppuration, of dirty wards, of lives that should have been saved.
Accompany me to Strawfield: the words painted a lovely picture in his mind. Of a wide sky, absent smudges of coal smoke. A practice room without the caustic smell of chloride of lime. Villagers who listened to him simply because they thought him worth listening to. Not because they had to, because his father was a duke. And not dismissing him, either, as a younger son with wild unsuitable ideas.
When influenza had broken out among the dukedom’s tenants the year before, Hugo’s own father, the Duke of Willingham, had called Hugo mad to quarantine ill tenants away from their healthy relatives. Everyone knew that influenza came from an imbalance of humors, said his father, so what use would a quarantine be?
But the quarantine was put into place—and as Hugo hoped, the spread of illness was halted, the outbreak ended almost as soon as it began.
Coincidence, said Willingham. Interference. An occupation not befitting the son of a duke.
Hugo and his father didn’t speak often. They got along better that way.
“Think of all the people you could help with your hospital,” Georgette coaxed.
Hugo folded his arms. “You are thinking of one. You.”
She beamed. “You only fold your arms when you’re about to change your mind.”
“I do not.” He unfolded his arms, but they snapped back into a cradle about his midsection. “I do not. How did you…?”
“I learned to watch for such signals working in the bookshop. When to push someone harder. When a bit more persuasion would help me to make a sale.”
She had sorted him out, that was true enough—though he wasn’t prepared to tell her he’d give in. Despite himself, his mouth curved up at one corner. “All that fluffy blond hair covers a diabolical mind.”
Her brows knit. “What is diabolical about both of us getting what we want?”
To this, he had no answer; only a question. In this agreement, would he be the devil—or poor Faust, who sold his soul?
* * *
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