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Sunday, August 28, 2022

Book Review: An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn

An Offer From a Gentleman (Bridgertons #3) by Julia Quinn
Genre: Adult Fiction (Historcal Romance)
Date Published: July 1, 2001
Publisher: Avon

Sophie Beckett never dreamed she'd be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton's famed masquerade ball—or that "Prince Charming" would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight.

Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other—except, perhaps, this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid's garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers her his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?

An Offer from a Gentleman is the third book in the Bridgertons series by Julia Quinn. This is Benedict and Sophie's story. This was a Cinderella retelling, and it was told so well. Were the previous two books in this series retellings too? If they were, I didn't pick up on it. Anyway, Benedict is definitely more carefree than Anthony was. I truly enjoyed getting to know him better. Sophie has been dealt a bad hand at life, but leave it to a Bridgerton to come to the rescue.. literally. These two were fun. I'm not sure why Sophie kept her identity hidden for so long. I don't think she even knows, but it all worked anyway. 

The beginning brought me back to the movie, Ever After. That' still one of my favorite movies, and I really enjoyed how this story seemed to use that movie but fully grew into its own story as things progressed. This is my favorite one so far. Well see if that changes once I get to Eloise's story. I can't wait to read hers!

Everyone knew that Sophie Beckett was a bastard.

The servants all knew it. But they loved little Sophie, had loved her since she’d arrived at Penwood Park at the age of three, a small bundle wrapped in a too-big coat, left on the doorstep on a rainy July night. And because they loved her they pretended that she was exactly what the sixth Earl of Penwood said she was– the orphaned daughter of an old friend. Never mind that Sophie’s moss green eyes and dark blond hair matched the earl’s precisely. Never mind that the shape of her face looked remarkably like that of the earl’s recently deceased mother, or that her smile was an exact replica of the earl’s sister’s. No one wanted to hurt Sophie’s feelings –or risk their livelihoods– by pointing that out.

The earl, one Richard Gunningworth, never discussed Sophie or her origins, but he must have known she was his bastard. No one knew what had been in the letter the housekeeper had fished from Sophie’s pocket when she’d been discovered that rainy midnight; the earl had burned the missive mere seconds after reading it. He’d watched the paper shrivel and curl in the flames, then ordered a room made up for Sophie near the nursery. She’d remained there ever since. He called her Sophia, and she called him “my lord,” and they saw each other a few times a year, whenever the earl returned home from London, which wasn’t very often.

But perhaps most importantly, Sophie knew she was a bastard. She wasn’t entirely certain how she knew it, just that she did, and probably had her entire life. She had few memories of her life before her arrival at Penwood Manor, but she could remember a long coach journey across England, and she could remember her grandmother, coughing and wheezing and looking terribly thin, telling her she was going to live with her father. And most of all, she could remember standing on the doorstep in the rain, knowing that her grandmother was hiding in the bushes, waiting to see if Sophie was taken inside.

The earl had touched his fingers to the little girl’s chin, tipped her face up to the light, and in that moment they both knew the truth.

Everyone knew Sophie was a bastard, and no one talked about it, and they were all quite happy with this arrangement.

Until the earl decided to marry.

Sophie had been quite pleased when she’d heard the news. The housekeeper had said that the butler had said that the earl’s secretary had said that the earl planned to spend more time at Penwood Park now that he would be a family man. And while Sophie didn’t exactly miss the earl when he was gone –it was hard to miss someone who didn’t pay her much attention when even he was there– she rather thought she might miss him if she got to know him better, and if she got to know him better, maybe he wouldn’t go away so often. Plus, the upstairs maid had said that the housekeeper had said that the neighbors’ butler had said that the earl’s intended wife already had two daughters, and they were near in age to Sophie.

After seven years alone in the nursery, Sophie was delighted. Unlike the other children in the district, she was never invited to local parties and events. No one actually came out and called her a bastard– to do so was tantamount to calling the earl, who had made one declaration that Sophie was his ward and then never revisited the subject, a liar. But at the same time, the earl never made any great attempt to force Sophie’s acceptance. And so at the age of ten, Sophie’s best friends were maids and footmen, and her parents might as well have been the housekeeper and butler.

But now she was getting sisters for real.

Oh, she knew she could not call them her sisters. She knew that she would be introduced as Sophia Maria Beckett, the earl’s ward, but they would feel like sisters. And that was what really mattered.

And so, one February afternoon, Sophie found herself waiting in the great hall along with the assembled servants, watching out the window for the earl’s carriage to pull up the drive, carrying in it the new countess and her two daughters. And, of course, the earl.

“Do you think she’ll like me?” Sophie whispered to Mrs. Gibbons, the housekeeper. “The earl’s wife, I mean.”

“Of course she’ll like you, dearling,” Mrs. Gibbons whispered back. But her eyes hadn’t been as certain as her tone. The new countess might not take kindly to the presence of her husband’s by-blow.

“And I’ll take lessons with her daughters?”

“No point in having you take your lessons separately.”

Sophie nodded thoughtfully, then started to squirm when she saw the carriage rolling up the drive. “They’re here!” she whispered urgently.

Mrs. Gibbons reached out to pat her on the head, but Sophie had already dashed off to the window, practically pressing her face up to the glass.

The earl stepped down first, then reached in and helped down two young girls. They were dressed in matching black coats. One wore a pink ribbon in her hair; the other yellow. Then, as the two girls stepped aside, the earl reached up to help one last person from the carriage.

Sophie’s breath caught in her throat as she waited for the new countess to emerge. Her little fingers crossed and a single whisper of, “Please,” whispered over her lips.

Please let her love me.

Maybe if the countess loved her, then the earl would love her as well, and maybe, even if he didn’t actually call her daughter, he’d treat her as one, and they’d be a family truly.

As Sophie watched through the window, the new countess stepped down from the carriage, her every movement so graceful and pure that Sophie was reminded of the delicate lark that occasionally came to splash in the birdbath in the garden. Even the countess’s hat was adorned by a long feather, its turquoise plume glittering in the hard winter sun.

“She’s beautiful,” Sophie whispered. She darted a quick look back at Mrs. Gibbons to gauge her reaction, but the housekeeper was standing at strict attention, eyes straight ahead, waiting for the earl to bring his new family inside for introductions.

Sophie gulped, not exactly certain where she was meant to stand. Everyone else seemed to have a designated place. The servants were lined up according to rank, from the butler right down to the lowliest scullery maid. Even the dogs were sitting dutifully in the corner, their leads held tight by the Keeper of the Hounds.

But Sophie was rootless. If she were truly the daughter of the house, she’d be standing with her governess, awaiting the new countess. If she were truly the earl’s ward, she’d be in much the same place. But Miss Timmons had caught a head cold and refused to leave the nursery and come downstairs. None of the servants believed for a second that the governess was truly ill. She’d been fine the night before, but no one blamed her for the deception. Sophie was, after all, the earl’s bastard, and no one wanted to be the one to offer potential insult to the new countess by introducing her to her husband’s by-blow.

And the countess would have to be blind, stupid, or both not to realize in an instant that Sophie was something more than the earl’s ward.

Suddenly overcome with shyness, Sophie shrank into a corner as two footmen threw open the front doors with a flourish. The two girls entered first, then stepped to the side as the earl led the countess in. The earl introduced the countess and her daughters to the butler, and the butler introduced them to the servants.

And Sophie waited.

The butler presented the footmen, the chef, the housekeeper, the grooms.

And Sophie waited.

He presented the kitchen maids, the upstairs maids, the scullery maids.

And Sophie waited.

And then finally the butler –Rumsey was his name– presented the lowliest of the lowest of maids, a scullery girl named Dulcie who had been hired a mere week earlier. The earl nodded and murmured his thanks, and Sophie was still waiting, completely unsure of what to do.

So she cleared her throat and stepped forward, a nervous smile on her face. She didn’t spend much time with the earl, but she was trotted out before him whenever he visited Penwood Park, and he always gave her a few minutes of his time, asking about her lessons before shooing her back up to the nursery.

Surely he’d still want to know how her studies were progressing, even now that he’d married. Surely he’d want to know that she’d mastered the science of multiplying fractions, and that Miss Timmons had recently declared her French accent, “perfection.”

But he was busy saying something to the countess’s daughters, and he didn’t hear her. Sophie cleared her throat again, this time more loudly, and said, “My lord?” in a voice that came out a bit more squeaky than she’d intended.

The earl turned around. “Ah, Sophia,” he murmured, “I didn’t realize you were in the hall.”

Sophie beamed. He hadn’t been ignoring her, after all.

“And who might this be?” the countess asked, stepping forward to get a better look.

“My ward,” the earl replied. “Miss Sophia Beckett.”

The countess speared Sophie with an assessing look, then her eyes narrowed.

And narrowed.

And narrowed some more.

“I see,” she said.

And everyone in the room knew instantly that she did see.

“Rosamund,” the countess said, turning to her two girls, “Posy, come with me.”

The girls moved immediately to their mother’s side. Sophie hazarded a smile in their direction. The smaller one smiled back, but the older one, whose hair was the color of spun gold, took her cue from her mother, pointed her nose in the air, and looked firmly away.

Sophie gulped and smiled again at the friendly girl, but this time the little girl chewed on her lower lip in indecision and then cast her eyes toward the floor.

The countess turned her back on Sophie and said to the earl, “I assume you have had rooms prepared for Rosamund and Posy.”

He nodded. “Near the nursery. Right next to Sophie.”

There was a long silence, and then the countess must have decided that certain battles should not be conducted before the servants, because all she said was, “I would like to go upstairs now.”

And she left, taking the earl and her daughters along with her.

Sophie watched the new family walk up the stairs and then, as they disappeared onto the landing, she turned to Mrs. Gibbons and asked, “Do you think I should go up to help? I could show the girls the nursery.”

Mrs. Gibbons shook her head. “They looked tired,” she lied. “I’m sure they’ll be needing a nap.”

Sophie frowned. She’d been told that Rosamund was eleven and Posy was ten. Surely that was a bit old for taking naps.

Mrs. Gibbons patted her on the back. “Why don’t you come with me? I could use a bit of company, and Cook told me that she just made a fresh batch of shortbread. I think it’s still warm.”

Sophie nodded and followed her out of the hall. She’d have plenty of time that evening to get to know the two girls. She’d show them the nursery, and then they’d become friends, and before long they’d be as sisters.

Sophie smiled. It would be glorious to have sisters.

Check out my review of other books by this author.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn loves to dispel the myth that smart women don't read (or write) romance, and and if you watch reruns of the game show The Weakest Link you might just catch her winning the $79,000 jackpot. She displayed a decided lack of knowledge about baseball, country music, and plush toys, but she is proud to say that she aced all things British and literary, answered all of her history and geography questions correctly, and knew that there was a Da Vinci long before there was a code.

A graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, Ms. Quinn is one of only sixteen members of Romance Writers of America’s Hall of Fame. Her books have been translated into 32 languages, and she lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.

To learn more about Julia Quinn and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebookInstagramBookBub, and Pinterest.

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