The Highwayman by Judith James

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England, 1680

HOW EASILY ONE’S HEART CAN BE STOLEN…DEPENDS UPON THE THIEF

Known to some as Gentleman Jack and others as Swift Nick, Jack Nevison preys on the wealthy, stealing coin (and the occasional kiss) on England’s darkest roads. Jack’s dangerous deeds are legend, but the thrill of a highwayman’s life is growing cold—until he meets the intrepid travel writer and spinster, Arabella Hamilton.

Beautiful and bold, Arabella Hamilton may come from the world Jack despises, but she’s a kindred spirit at heart. When circumstances bring them together the sparks ignite—yet they remain on opposite sides of society and the law and with each encounter they risk more. To be together, will one of them have to give up their world forever?!

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Publisher and Release Date: Halfpenny House September 25, 2014

RHR Classifications:

Time and Setting: England, 1680
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 STARS

Review by Lady Blue

John Harris (aka John Nevison, aka Swift Nick, aka Gentleman Jack) has chosen to leave behind his birth name because he wants no connection to his abusive father. He tried being a soldier, then later became a highwayman. For years he has led a carefree existence, building up a notorious reputation. He steals from the wealthy, usually bestowing a kiss on his female victims, which they willingly give because he’s a very charming fellow. Time and time again, he’s had narrow escapes, yet now this life seems to be losing some of its allure. Jack accepts a job to deliver a package, and discovers that the package is a woman. He assumes she’s a runaway wife, or an unhappy daughter that he’s restoring to her family. When he delivers he, and sees that she’s immediately mistreated by a cousin trying to force her into marriage, Jack decides to return later and rescue her.

Arabella Hamilton is wealthy, a countess by birth, and single by choice. She has no wish to marry the sleazy cousin who has had her kidnapped, and is now holding her prisoner. Later that night, Jack comes back, sneaks in her window and leads her to freedom. He arranges a scenario where her cousin will be framed for a crime and imprisoned, so Arabella can live freely.

This is the start of a relationship between the countess and the thief. They feel a liking for each other immediately, and develop a friendship. Meeting is difficult, as Jack is still a wanted man when he is near Arabella’s home, not to mention that her reputation would be blackened if she were found to be acquainted with him. Arabella is unconventional and loves to write and travel; and one of those trips takes her to Jack’s neck of the woods, where he is free to live openly. She hides her own identity, and is just known there as Jack’s friend.

With each meeting, their bond and their affections grow stronger. Eventually they become lovers, knowing they don’t have a future, but choosing to live in the present. Soon, that’s not enough. They have fallen in love, yet can’t fathom any way to be together permanently. Their differences sometimes lead them to say hurtful things, and to part, but they keep coming back to each other however they can.

Jack had such a painful childhood, that he never imagined he’d want to marry anyone. Yet Arabella fulfills him, heals him, and fills the empty place in his life. Arabella never thought to marry, but Jack brings her love and excitement and happiness. Together they are perfect. Both of these characters are wonderful people brought to life in an emotional and sometimes heart-breaking story. How can this possibly work out for them?

Judith James based these characters on real-life people, as she’s done in previous books. Her writing is beautiful, exciting, and entertaining. I was enchanted by this book – it’s one of those that leaves you with a book hangover – in the best sense of the word. I highly recommend this and it’s definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Twelfth Night Wager by Regan Walker

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THE REDHEADED RAKE

It was a dull day at White’s, the day he agreed to the wager: seduce bed and walk away from the lovely Lady Leisterfield, all by Twelfth Night. This holiday season, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, planned to give himself a gift.

THE INNOCENT WIDOW

She was too proper by half—or so was the accusation of her friends, which was why her father had to find her a husband. But Lord Leisterfield was now gone a year, and Grace was at last shedding the drab colors of mourning. The house felt empty, more so during the coming Christmastide, and so tonight her coming out would begin with a scandalous piece of theater. The play would attract rogues, or so promised her friend the dowager countess. It would indeed. The night would bring about the greatest danger—and the greatest happiness—that Grace had ever known.

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To mark the release of THE TWELFTH NIGHT WAGER, author REGAN WALKER is stopping by Romantic Historical Reviews to tell us all about -

CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS, REGENCY STYLE

Christmas in Regency England, 1811-1820, when Prince George ruled as in his father’s place, was a more subtle celebration than the one we observe today. To my way of thinking, perhaps it was better for it. Christmastide, as they called the season, began with Christmas Eve and continued to Twelfth Night, or January 5th, followed by the Feast of the Epiphany the next day, the official end of the Yule season.

Regency Christmas
In country homes and estates where Christmas was typically celebrated, decorations went up on Christmas Eve and stayed up until Epiphany when the greens would be burned in the fireplace. Evergreens were the central part of the decorations, with boughs of holly, ivy, hawthorn, rosemary, and Christmas Rose (hellebore), depending on where you were in England.

 

 

 

Christmas rose
Of course, there was also mistletoe, although it grows mostly in the western and southwestern parts of Britain. Friends or relatives in other parts of the country might send you some by the mail coach. The mistletoe would more likely have been a “kissing bough”—a hanging structure of evergreens, apples, paper flowers, and dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Most of the traditions were steeped in the Christian faith.

 

 

 

Kissing bough

Christmas Eve might also find folks sipping cups of hot wassail (spiced cider) or eggnog as they watched a performance by traveling actors, called “mummers.” The actors would parade the streets and ask at almost every door if the mummers were wanted. Dressed in the most outrageous fashions with gilt and spangled caps and ribbons of various colors on their bodies, they performed plays, ending with a song, and a collection of coins. The play these groups performed was often Alexander and the King of Egypt, featured in my story The Holly & The Thistle.

 

 

 

Mummers on Christmas Eve
Christmas Day would, typically, begin with a trip to church. Afterward, there would be a grand dinner of roast goose, boar’s head (really the head of a pig, as wild boars became extinct in England as of 1185), and perhaps turkey (brought to England from the New World in 1550). Vegetables such as potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots were also served, along with stuffing for the fowl.

Wonderful desserts ended the meal, including marchpane (what we call marzipan), and gingerbread. Another favorite dessert was Christmas plum pudding, a mixture of 13 ingredients (representing Christ and the twelve apostles): suet, brown sugar, raisins, currants, citron, lemon and orange peels, spices, crumbs, flour, eggs, milk and brandy. All this was boiled in a pudding cloth. Very tasty.

There was always Mince pie, too. While recipes varied by region, ingredients usually included beef, suet, sugar, raisins, lemons, spices, orange peel, goose, tongue, fowls, eggs, apples and brandy. This was also called Twelfth Night Pie because it was originally made with the leftovers of the Christmas dinner. The pies were eaten every day during Christmastide to ensure good luck for the twelve months of the New Year.

Wine would be served with the meal. For the heartier, there was the wassail bowl, which often included sherry or brandy. Men would have their port and cigars after dinner and women their tea, separately taken.

But together again, the men and women might sing carols around the piano including Deck the Halls, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. Joy to the World, though first published by Isaac Watts in 1719, wasn’t in the modern version until 1836. Hark the Harold Angels Sing was first written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, and amended in 1753 by George Whitfield. However, Mendelssohn didn’t write the modern version we sing today until 1840. Silent Night was written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, but wasn’t translated into English until 1863.

Christmas Day was also the day on which a gift or tithe was given to the landowner. It was not a widespread tradition to give each other gifts, though a small toy might be given to children in the family.

Another Regency Christmas tradition was the Christmas pantomime. The pantomime usually opened on Boxing Day. Joseph Grimaldi, the famous clown who lived from 1779 to 1837 regularly performed at the Drury Lane theatre.

The day after Christmas was Boxing Day, on which you gave presents or “boxes” to those who had given you good service during the previous year. It was also a traditional day for fox hunting.

You did not necessarily have to worry about snow near Christmas, despite the story of Good King Wenceslaus. According to several sources, weather in most parts of England was often warm and damp. The winter of 1818, the year in which my novella The Twelfth Night Wager and my short story The Holly & The Thistle are set, was a particularly warm one.

The day and night of the 5th was a time for masks and playacting. Cakes were part of this day, not Christmas. Twelfth day cakes were light and covered with colored sugar, and they contained a bean and a pea.

12th Night Cake
The man who found the bean would become king for the night; the woman who found the pea would become queen. Another similar Twelfth Night tradition was for the ladies to pick a man’s name from a hat, and he would be her partner for the evening. The day after Twelfth Night was Epiphany. All the decorations would be taken down and the greenery burned, or the house risked bad luck.

The things that would be missing from Christmas in the Regency would be the Christmas tree and stockings hung by the fire. Christmas trees were a German tradition that while brought to George III’s home by his German wife Charlotte, was not incorporated into the people’s traditions until Queen Victoria’s time.

Instead, Christmas in Regency England contained the simple traditions of holly and candles and roaring fires in the hearth, the smell of wassail steaming in a large bowl over the grate, and the pungent aroma of the Christmas pudding and roast goose making the mouth water. Children home from school might add the typical noise to the family gatherings, but the emphasis was on social interaction that is, unfortunately, so often missing in our celebration today.

EXCERPT

01_The Twelfth Night Wager CoverThey rode into Hyde Park and soon were on the broad path of Rotten Row, the King’s Road. Ahead of them, the path was clear and the trees on either side shielded them from view. The bays picked up speed in response to Eustace’s commands. Grace observed how adroitly he handled the reins, expending little effort in controlling the powerful horses.

“You are very good at this. And the bays are performing wonderfully to your hand.”

He turned to look at her for only a moment. “Do you know something about horses, my lady?”

“A little. Well, actually, I should say I love to ride. When he was alive, my father Sir Richard kept a good stable at our estate in Oxfordshire. Young David, the new Lord Leisterfield, or Leister, as his school chums call him, loves to visit Ashdown.”
“Do I detect a fondness for the lad in your voice?”

“You might,” she admitted. “Though he is my stepson, I care deeply for him and he has honored me with his affection. He’s such a splendid young man, and with so much promise.” A promise Grace wanted to see fulfilled untainted by scandal. For a moment she was tempted to confide in the man sitting beside her. He might have a thought as to what she could do about Lord Pickard. But her spirit urged caution. She did not know Eustace well and was reluctant to bring them closer by such a confession when he had in mind to seduce her.

Eustace began to drive the horses like the wind, racing down the path as if straining to gain a lead on some unseen competitor. He was definitely in his element. The horses, as if sensing a master, responded to his touch. Grace watched his gloved hands on the reins, powerfully gripping the leather, and there was something very masculine about them so that she shivered at the thought of them touching her.

As Eustace let the pair have their heads, she braced herself with one hand on the side of the carriage and one on the seat beside her to keep from being jostled. He was laughing, and Grace found herself laughing with him. This was exhilarating and so unlike her life in the last few years. She felt more alive being with this dangerous man and his fast ways; she was once again the young girl she had been racing over the hills of Oxfordshire with her long hair streaming out behind her. What had happened to that girl?

After some time, he slowed the horses and guided the phaeton to the side of the path. Holding the reins in one hand, he turned to face her. His eyes seemed to glow in the dim light. “I never would have thought the serene Lady Leisterfield would be so stimulated by a ride in the park. You are flushed and your eyes bright. I do think you enjoyed our dash through the Row.”

“Yes, I quite liked it,” she said, breathless. “Though you must admit, the ride was more like a race.”

He looked at her lips and then her neck. “I can see your pulse jumping. Perhaps you like to race as much as I do.”

Grace wondered if he was still speaking of horses or something else. Her heart sped as he leaned toward her and brushed his lips across hers. After only a moment, she pulled back.

“Too soon?” he asked.

“That question implies such is inevitable, my lord. I can assure you it is not.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

03_Regan Walker
Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” And in each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures. Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses. For more information please visit Regan Walker’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Love Easy by Roe Valentine

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News reporting is the main joy in Norma Hill’s life. She is hell-bent on being more than a weather reporter, but new tyrant boss, Henry Chapel, doesn’t agree. While she is following a news lead, Henry saves her from a handsy heir. His words warn her of danger, but his actions stir deeper emotions. Despite his gruff words, can she find the love forever absent from her life?

Pompous and determined, Henry Chapel revives sagging rags and brings them to their former glory. When Lawson Publishing begs Henry to take over the Chicago Daily News, he is more than happy to comply; after all, it had been his favorite newspaper as a child. What he didn’t anticipate was a fiery sass-mouthed weather reporter to contend with. He also didn’t anticipate finding what he’d been looking for his whole life in the press room.

Publisher and Release Date: The Wild Rose Press, February 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: Chicago, 1920s
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 3
Reviewer rating: 4 Stars

Review by Vikki

Henry Chapel struts into the newsroom at the Chicago Daily News as the newly appointed managing editor with a cigar clinched between his teeth, ready to whip the struggling newspaper into a money making machine. He tells everyone present that the newspaper is losing money every day and he will turn this around, then storms into his office and shuts the door.

When Norma Hill bursts into his office, she informs him she’s the weather reporter, but she is capable of reporting much more than just mundane of climate changes. Henry decides in an instant that he will keep her on, even though he believes that women can’t handle the demands of reporting compelling features needed in a fast-paced newsroom.

After the dust settles the only females left standing are Norma, as the weather reporter and Ingrid, the former fashion reporter now relegated to the position of secretary.

In her private life, Norma has a squeaky-clean reputation and is jokingly referred as ‘Too Dry Two Shoes’. When Ingrid convinces Norma to go to the Jazzy Cat Club, a speakeasy, she accidentally stumbles across a crime in the making after she leaves the club to avoid an unwanted admirer, but her only evidence is a pearl she picks up after the attack. Shaken up by what she has seen, Norma goes back into the club and her boss, Henry, who happens to be there, offers to take her home.

The instant attraction between Norma and Henry ignites quickly to a blazing fury as they banter back and forth, whether at the office or when they meet privately. Will Norma’s feisty, determination to investigate what she witnessed lead her into danger? Will Henry be able to protect Norma from her own willfulness, or will he be too late to save the woman he has grown to love?

This story starts out well with great usage of terms for the era and vivid descriptions of clothing, facial expressions and mannerisms, but then the pacing slows, and I found it hard to maintain my interest. But then I picked it back up, thinking I needed to give it another chance, and am glad I did, because the story picks up dramatically and is excellent from that point forward – I couldn’t read fast enough! The love scenes between Norma and Henry sizzle and the action toward the conclusion drove the story to a satisfying end. Ms. Valentine’s research is very good, and she really brings the period to life. I’m pleased I didn’t give up on this book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne

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For years he’d lived a lie. It was time to tell the truth…even if it cost him the woman he loved.

Ten years ago he was a boy, given the name Thomas Paxton and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honor brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he’s given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.

Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he’s holding—only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.

Old friendship turns to new love, and as Pax and Camille’s dark secrets loom up from the past, Pax is left with a choice—go rogue from the Service or lose Camille forever…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, November 2014
RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 19th century
Genre: Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by: Claudia

Rogue Spy is the fifth book in Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster, series but also works perfectly as a stand-alone. Naturally, reading the other books in the series will give the reader more insight into the characters, but the story and characterisations are so well done that the book is a pleasure to read, even without knowledge of the series.

The book tells the story of Pax (Thomas Paxton) and Cami (Camille Leyland) – both are former Cachés, children raised by the French to infiltrate the British government and British Intelligence Service. Both were placed in important positions but Cami has lived most her life in a quiet rural area with ladies to whom she refers as the Fluffy Aunts. One day she receives a letter which tells her to go to London if she does not want to be exposed. She has no other choice but to follow these orders, but as a former spy intends to confront the threat. Once there, she meets Pax by accident. Pax and Cami were very close as children, but are now full of suspicion, as they do not know how to trust or if the other is spying for the French.

In the course of this book, Ms Bourne weaves together Cami’s and Pax’s stories and brings to life a beautiful story about honor and love and how they influence our choices. It is beautifully written and the plot is intelligent and gives the reader something to think about.
Both Pax and Cami are quite complex characters – maybe Pax moreso than Cami, and I felt that I got to know him the better of the two. He is an honorable man who hates himself for some of his past choices, and is willing to face the consequences. He is quiet and unassuming, and fades easily into the background, but is also able to inspire honor and friendship in people. Cami, on the other hand, is more lively and full of spirit. Both are clever and resourceful and make a wonderful couple.

I loved how they worked together but during the middle of the book I sometimes found it difficult to really feel their love for each other. In the beginning I could instantly feel that they were connected, but for me, the step from distrust to trust, from friendship to love, from enemies to lovers was a bit too smooth to believe it at that moment. In the third part of the book, however, there was no question about it anymore and I loved their dedication to each other.

The secondary characters are quite interesting – and if this book is read in order of the series I am sure the reader will be happy to hear more about old acquaintances. Some of the characters stand out more than others, like Adrian Hawker. He is a good friend of Pax and their friendship is very well written, with a lot of respect, affection and has some great dialogue. My personal favorites in this book are the Fluffy Aunts, who give the story some necessary humor.

All in all, Rogue Spy is a special book with an interesting plot, a deep-felt romance, and much to say about the importance of friendship. I loved reading it and although it was my first book by Joanna Bourne, it will definitely not be my last.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Christmas Reunion by Susanna Fraser

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Gabriel Shepherd has never forgotten his humble origins. So when he discovers a war orphan at Christmastime, he resolves to find a home for her—even if that means asking help from the very family who found and raised him, only to cast him out for daring to love the wrong woman.

Lady Catherine Trevilian has spent five years poring over the British Army’s casualty list, dreading the day she sees Gabe’s name. She’s never forgotten him, and she’s never forgiven herself for not running away with him when she had the chance, though she’s agreed to a marriage of convenience with a more suitable man.

When Gabe returns home on Christmas leave just days before Cat’s wedding, a forbidden kiss confirms their feelings haven’t been dimmed by distance or time. But Cat is honor-bound to another, and Gabe believes she deserves better than a penniless soldier with an orphan in tow. How can Cat reconcile love and duty? She must convince Gabe she’d rather have him than the richest lord in all of England…

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EXCERPT

02_A Christmas Reunion
Edenwell Court, Kent, December 20

Cat always drifted into the breakfast room just after the post was delivered. Anthony wrote so faithfully now that they were engaged and it was proper for them to exchange letters. Such dear, amusing letters they were, too. When Aunt Edenwell had asked why she was marrying him, when she’d had richer and more handsome suitors, she’d explained that none of the others made her laugh so much. If she couldn’t be madly in love, at least she would go through her life as Lady Colville with a smile.

There was always the chance, too, of a letter from one of her Trevilian cousins or some of the friends she’d made in her London Seasons. And if she happened to glance at the newspaper to make sure there were no familiar names on any casualty lists that might be printed there and to see if the Sixty-First Regiment of Foot had been mentioned in the latest dispatches, what of it? Neither her parents nor Lord and Lady Edenwell had ever thought it unladylike for a woman to take an interest in the wider world.

So she couldn’t understand why Richard looked so startled and guilty as he stood when she walked in this morning. “Good morning, Cousin,” she said as she slipped past him to the sideboard to select a warm roll and pour herself a steaming cup of coffee.
He smiled and resumed his seat, though he still seemed edgy. “A good morning to you, too, Kitty.”

She’d given up hope her family would ever stop using that childish name. Anthony called her Catherine, which pleased her. If she sometimes missed a rich, teasing voice saying Lady Cat, she’d had five years to grow accustomed. They’d been so young then. It had been all mistletoe and infatuation, nothing more. Well, perhaps there had been a measure of rebellion, too—the plain defiance of bestowing her affections upon the forbidden baseborn foundling instead of the noble cousin her aunt and uncle had all but served up to her on a platter.

If she prayed for him every night and lived in terror of seeing him on those casualty lists, it was only because she couldn’t bear it if he…if he died, all because Uncle Edenwell had kicked up such a fuss over a kiss. Well, perhaps there had been kisses in the plural, and it had been late at night with neither of them quite fully clothed. Still, she wasn’t ruined, and Gabe wasn’t a seducer. There had been no need to send him out of the country in disgrace.

But it was impossible to change the past, so she made herself smile as she took a chair at Richard’s right. “Anything of interest in the post?” she asked.

He shuffled the stack of papers and took a sip of his coffee before replying. “There’s a letter from Gabriel.”

Good God. Gabe. She darted a glance at Richard’s letters, searching for Gabe’s firm, distinctive handwriting. No. She must be calm. Her heart must stop racing, immediately. With carefully steady hands, she took up her own cup and drank. She was calm. If she was blushing she couldn’t feel it. Why should she blush? She would be married in less than a fortnight. Gabe was…five years ago. “Oh?” she asked, pleased that the syllable came out tolerably composed.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press November 24th 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Christmas 1810, England
Genre: Historical Romance Novella
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Natalie

A Christmas Reunion opens by introducing us to Gabe, an officer on leave who finds himself suddenly responsible for an orphaned stowaway. Gabe can’t find it in his heart to cast the ‘little mite’ to the winds. Instead, he decides to try and find a suitable home for the toddler girl – but that means contacting his adoptive family, a family he has barely been in contact with since they cast him out.

Lady Cat finds herself a week away from her New Year’s wedding, ready to commit to a union built on friendship but not romance. But when she finds out that Gabe, the man her uncle cast out from his family on account of her attraction to him, is home safe from war and nearby she fears that all of the emotions he stirred in her five years ago might still be there.

When these two meet their passions are re-ignited and they can’t keep their eyes off each other, which of course is of great interest to Sir Anthony, Cat’s intended. After a secret late night meeting, a heart to heart and a passionate kiss, Gabe and Cat resolve to stay away from each other but unfortunately before the festivities of the season begin Cat finds out that Sir Anthony witnessed their indiscretion. There seems to be no simple answer to the questions of this love triangle, but leave it to Fraser to figure out a way to find true love for all of her Christmas characters.

A Christmas Reunion is a lovely novella, perfect for a little relaxation from the rush of the holiday season. Gabe and Cat are childhood loves who were kept apart due to their rank and situations in life and find themselves face to face with the opportunity for that rare second chance. Susanna Fraser gives her characters wit and charm and makes you root for them, even though they find themselves in an impossible situation. This is one of the few romance stories where the answer to everyone’s troubles is actually more complicated than the troubles themselves!

There is a lot of interesting military history in the conversations between the characters as well as lovely dialogue and sweet scenes of love and family togetherness. It doesn’t hurt that the romance between Cat and Gabe sizzles off the page once they finally figure out what it is that they want. I was surprised and happy with this believable Christmas romance with a twist!

Most importantly A Christmas Reunion reminds us that happiness comes in all forms and sometimes you have to find a way to create your own second chance. Give this lovely little Christmas novella a try and remember Christmas is the time for goodwill towards all!

Giveaway

To enter to win a $50 Gift Card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below.

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– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on December 12th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents of the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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About the Author

03_Susanna FraserSusanna Fraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It starred a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. In high school she started, but never finished, a succession of tales of girls who were just like her, only with long, naturally curly and often unusually colored hair, who, perhaps because of the hair, had much greater success with boys than she ever did.

Along the way she read her hometown library’s entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen, and discovered in Patrick O’Brian’s and Bernard Cornwell’s novels another side of the opening decades of the 19th century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still gives her heroines great hair.

Susanna grew up in rural Alabama. After high school she left home for the University of Pennsylvania and has been a city girl ever since. She worked in England for a year after college, using her days off to explore history from ancient stone circles to Jane Austen’s Bath.

Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, sings alto in a local choir and watches cooking competition shows.

For more information please visit Susanna’s website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Spy Unmasked by Tina Gabrielle

ASU_500

London, 1820

The mission did not go quite as Robert Ware—known in society as the new Earl of Kirkland—planned. A spy in the service of His Majesty, Robert is a “guest” at a masquerade party as he retrieves vital information for a murder investigation. Until he’s quite unexpectedly interrupted by an exquisite, masked woman with glittering green eyes. And a pistol she has cocked and aimed right at him…

Lady Sophia Merrill has defiantly taken up justice’s shining sword, determined to expose the brigand who murdered her eccentric but brilliant father, and stole his latest invention. Now she must masquerade as Robert’s betrothed, in order to infiltrate the Inventor’s Society and find the killer. But the undeniably potent attraction between them not only imperils the investigation, but Sophia’s reputation…and both of their lives.

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EXCERPT

Sophia’s chest tightened uncomfortably. It was one thing to tell her cousin she was engaged in the privacy of her workshop, but another entirely to have it announced in Lady Cameron’s ballroom. There would be no going back; she was agreeing to a betrothal with Robert Ware, the Earl of Kirkland, however long, to aid in investigating the Inventors’ Society.

“Good,” Robert said. “We will waltz at the ball and convince everyone of our story. Shall we practice?”
He stepped close and put a hand on her waist. Their eyes locked and her cheeks grew warm under the heat of his gaze. His shaving soap—a subtle scent of bay rum—teased her nostrils.

“We cannot,” she blurted out. “There’s no music.”

He captured her right hand in his. “No matter. We’re just practicing, remember? Put your left hand on my shoulder and follow my lead.”

Sophia slowly raised her arm, and her fingers grazed his shoulder. The heat from his body seared her fingertips through the cotton shirt. Her pulse skittered alarmingly.

He began to move, smooth and practiced. “That’s it, Sophia. One and two and turn…you have the basic steps. Excellent.”

Only it was far from excellent. She was highly conscious of his hand at her waist, his sinewy body inches from hers. A tingling began in the pit of her stomach at his nearness. She stumbled; he steadied her.

Robert looked down, his stare bold as he assessed her. “The ball will be a good test to see how well you can handle the deception.”

“I assure you, I can handle anything.”

“Anything?” He pulled her a fraction of an inch closer.

His touch upset her balance, and she inhaled sharply. He was purposefully trying to unnerve her. “Deception comes that easy to you?”

“It’s a requirement of my job.”

“I must keep that in mind when dealing with you, my lord.”

He stopped dancing, but his hand remained around her waist. “We are entering the enemy’s lair. I need to be certain you won’t panic.”

Her chin rose a notch. “I never panic.”

His voice was cold and exact. “Dispassionate control is required, or else dangerous mistakes can occur.”

“If you’re trying to intimidate me into backing out of the house party, then you’re failing. I have mettle, my lord. Your seductive tactics won’t work on me.”

He arched an eyebrow. “What do you know of seduction?”

“I’m not completely ignorant. I’m twenty-four years old, and despite what you’ve heard, I’ve attended numerous balls, danced with plenty of gentlemen, and strolled through moonlit mazes. I’ve been kissed before.”

Ocean-blue eyes studied her mouth. “Where?”

She frowned. “My lips and even once on my neck.” She pointed to a spot just beneath her chin.

His gaze dropped to where her finger pointed, then slowly lowered to the skin just above her bodice. Her pulse skittered.

“Then you won’t mind if I test your mettle?”

She stood frozen.

Looking into her eyes once again, he came close, moving slowly. He mouth brushed across hers, once, twice, a featherweight touch before she stepped back. Her fingers flew up to cover her lips.

“Just as I thought,” he drawled. “You lack experience. A few stolen kisses inside a dim maze are not sufficient.”

She bristled with indignation. “Not sufficient? Whatever else do you have in mind?”

“This.” Pulling her close, he swooped down and kissed her.

His lips were full and warm, teasing hers. His tongue ran over her bottom lip with tantalizing persuasion, and she gasped. He took advantage of her parted lips to slide his tongue into her mouth. He tightened his hold, and her breasts pressed against his solid chest.

Sweet heaven! He was right; her prior experiences fell far short when compared to the feel and taste of him.

Despite her prior misgivings, her instinctive response to his kiss was powerful. Her skin grew hot; her heart pounded an erratic rhythm. Her fingers rose of their own volition and trailed up his forearms. She felt the sprinkling of hair, touched the soft cotton of his rolled-up shirtsleeves, then moved higher to grasp his broad shoulders. His muscles were hard slabs beneath his shirt. Arching her body into his, a low growl rumbled in his chest. Encouraged, her tongue grazed his, tentative at first, until shivers of delight raced down her spine, and she returned his kiss.

Lifting his lips from hers, he trailed kisses down her throat, past the spot she had initially pointed to below her chin. Then his lips seared a path above her bodice and the overwhelming heat spread…flooding her limbs and pooling low in her belly.

It was everything she had ever dreamed a kiss would be and more. So much more.

She moaned low in her throat, winding her fingers around his neck and trying to cajole his lips back to hers.

He stiffened and pulled back, a frown marring his brow as he gazed upon her upturned face.

She ignored the strange aching in her limbs and tried to calm her pounding heart. To her dismay, he did not appear the least affected by the kiss.

He does this all the time, she thought. Women must throw themselves at him!

Then she looked into his eyes and changed her mind. There was a wild darkness in the blue depths, a hint of tightly reined lust that was startling in its intensity.

“Did I pass your test?” she asked.

“I believe I had mentioned dispassionate control.”

She stiffened, momentarily abashed. “Despite your newly acquired title, you are not a gentleman.”

“I wouldn’t be successful if I were.”

She took a step back from his towering frame. “I may be impulsive, but you are quite arrogant, my lord.”

“Do not judge me too harshly, Sophia. You may think my tactics ungentlemanly, but my past results are unquestionable. I will find who is responsible for your father’s murder and unravel the mystery behind the Inventors’ Society.”

She couldn’t ask for more, could she? Still, she was having difficulty settling her racing heart.

Robert reached into his pocket and placed a flash of gold in the palm of her hand. “I believe this belongs to you.”

She glanced down. “My locket!”

“I had the latch repaired. I apologize for my barbaric methods.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“It’s Robert.”

She met his gaze. “I don’t think that’s proper, my lord.”

“The world will soon think us engaged.”

“Still, I don’t think—”

“In private, then. The title is new to me and we are to work together, correct?”

A flutter of nerves swam low in her belly. “All right, Robert.”

He handed her the ledger. “This is yours as well.”

Her father’s leather-bound book felt heavy in her hands. “Thank you for returning it, my lord…Robert.”

“That’s it.” He walked her to the door and raised her hand to his lips. “Until the Camerons’ ball tomorrow night.”

Her treacherous body tingled from the contact, and she nervously bit her bottom lip.

“Are you sure you can carry this off, Sophia?” he asked.

“Yes.” No! She wasn’t certain of her resolve around him.

“What about your story?” she retorted. “What will you tell your friends and acquaintances about me?”

“Leave them to me.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tina gabrielleAward-winning author Tina Gabrielle is an attorney and former mechanical engineer whose love of reading for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. She often picked up a romance and let her fantasies of knights in shining armor and lords and ladies carry her away. A Spy Unmasked is the first book In The Crown’s Secret Service series. The second book in the series, At The Spy’s Pleasure, is coming in April 2015 from Entangled Publishing. She is also the author of adventurous Regency historical romances, In The Barrister’s Bed, In The Barrister’s Chambers, Lady Of Scandal, and A Perfect Scandal from Kensington Books. Tina’s books have been Barnes & Noble top picks, and her first book, Lady Of Scandal, was nominated as best first historical romance by Romantic Times Book Reviews. Tina loves to hear from readers. Please visit her website for free monthly contests and giveaways. www.tinagabrielle.com You can also find her at her blog * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter

AUDIO REVIEW: A Code of Love by Jacki Deleki, narrated by Pearl Hewitt

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Threatened by French spies, assassins, and calculating suitors, can Lady Henrietta Harcourt trust the infamous rake, Lord Cordelier Rathbourne, with her carefully guarded family secrets?

In his new, undisclosed position as Director of English Intelligence, Cord faces more peril keeping the brilliant, Harcourt family of code breakers safe than he did as undercover spy in Napoleonic France.

Cord’s passionate attraction for the indomitable Henrietta hasn’t diminished in his four years abroad, but neither has Henrietta’s memory of his libertine past.

In pursuit of the missing brother, Henrietta and Cord become entangled in a web of international intrigue, danger, and white hot passion.

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Publisher and Release Date: Doe Bay Publishing, July 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1802 London and Paris
Genre: Historical Romantic Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

The members of Lady Henrietta (Hen) Harcourt’s family are experts at code deciphering and her older brother, Michael, has been in Paris on a secret mission, and has not been heard from in a while. Hen has trained in the code breaking arts alongside her beloved but ailing, Uncle Charles, and has undertaken some code work of her own, a very unusual and dangerous occupation for anyone, much less a young woman of good family in early nineteenth century England. When Michael sends Hen a code book for safe keeping, Hen’s life suddenly becomes threatened.

Enter Lord Cordelier (Cord) Rathbourne – an unusual name – a renowned rake whom Hen has known of for years in social circles, and to whom she is secretly attracted, albeit against her better judgement. Cord knows all about the Harcourt family’s unique talents. After all, he is their superior as the Director of English Intelligence. And years ago, he fell in love with Hen during her very first London season, but circumstances cut her promising season short and they fell out of touch.

Henrietta doesn’t know any of this; she only knows that Cord is a promiscuous rogue and she has never approved of him. She’s also very angry at her own unwanted attraction to him. She doesn’t know the real reasons behind his past actions and reputation – he was once a spy in Napoleonic France. Cord has always been attracted to Hen, not only for her beauty but also her keen intelligence and talent at code breaking and he wants the chance to win her heart as well as keep her and her family safe. But he struggles with keeping the true nature of his occupation from her while trying to court her.

I feel this story is best appreciated over frequent listenings since the strategies and spy games can be somewhat confusing. In fact, I’d say it’s possibly even more prominent than the central love story which, while pleasing to listen to, is a little on the tame side rather than searingly passionate. This is not a complaint, however – although if you enjoy your romances on the spicier side, you may be a bit disappointed. But if you like conspiracy, there’s plenty of that here.

I feel like I didn’t get to know Cord quite as well as I got to know Hen. I could feel Hen’s fears, her indignation, and her joy; all of these emotions are conveyed very well by Ms. Hewitt. The male characters, in comparison, seem a little stiff and formal, especially the Frenchmen. At the same time, however, Hen also comes across as a bit girlish and young, and her younger brother, Edward, is annoying and I feel done a little over the top for emotional manipulation.

What is extremely effective here, however, is the love and protectiveness that Hen feels for her family – her wayward brother, Michael and her beloved and ill Uncle Charles – as well as the love that Cord feels for Hen.

This story is rich in its exciting atmosphere of Napoleonic intrigue in both Paris and London, but this audiobook recording reminds me at times of a Georgette Heyer novel of manners. I think it’s because of the narrator, Pearl Hewitt, whose voice sounds more cozy than serious. Her reading, while crystal clear and pleasing to the ear, feels more comforting than suspenseful so I wasn’t quite sure if I should feel fear during the more tension-filled parts of the story or consolation that everything would turn out fine eventually. Which it always does in historical romance. Ms Hewitt’s voice doesn’t quite match the menacing content of this novel, and she reminds me a little of Ruth Sillers, who recently narrated Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders.

This is the first in Jacki Delecki’s Code Breakers series and its Epilogue promises even more adventures to come.

A well written and entertaining novel of spies, secrets, and seduction.

RETRO REVIEW: Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly

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Emma Costello owed a debt of honor to one of the most dishonorable lords in the realm. The infamous Lord Ragsdale was as rich as sin, as sinful as he was rich, and as heartless as he was handsome. But he had saved Emma from a fate worse than death when he stopped a lecherous brute from buying her as an indentured servant.

It was Emma’s turn now to save Lord Ragsdale from his wicked ways. She had to find a way to stop his drinking, his gaming, his wild revelry. She had to make him break with his mistress, the superbly sensual Fae Moulle. She had to make him a suitable suitor for the ideal wife that the prim and proper Lady Clarissa Partridge would be. And above all, she had to keep his lustful eye from lingering too long on herself–even as she struggled to keep her own growing desire from undoing all her hard work in the unmaking of this irresistible rake.

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Publisher and Release Date: Signet, October 1995

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Regency Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of romance novels that have brought me to tears. To that list I must add Reforming Lord Ragsdale.

John Staples, Marquess of Ragsdale, is an unrepentant rake. Not the handsome, charming, amiable kind of rake frequently found in romance novels. He’s a drunkard who neglects his duties (although he is good to his mother). He’s too lazy to hire a valet or to replace the secretary he fired for stealing. He’s even too indolent to rid himself of his stupid mistress, whom he doesn’t even like. His behavior is not like that of other romance heroes either. In one early scene, we find him waking up drunk, fully clothed, and filthy from his own vomit. It’s just another typical morning. Later, he visits his mistress and “attempting exercise far beyond his capacity,” he leaves embarrassed and sulky.

He was disfigured by the loss of an eye while fighting in Ireland, which is also where he witnessed a mob murdering his father. He’s wracked with guilt because he was unable to save him, and he hates the Irish with a passionate vengeance. When his American cousins, Robert and Sally Claridge, arrive for a visit, he immediately dislikes Sally’s indentured Irish servant Emma Costello, although he finds himself intrigued to learn that she has knowledge of Greek mythology and Shakespeare. When cousin Robert tries to put up Emma’s indenture as stakes in a card game, however, even Lord Ragsdale is horrified at the inhumanity of it. He rescues Emma by offering his two excellent horses in her place. Suddenly, he owns Emma’s indenture, and she indignantly pledges to repay him the two thousand pounds that the horses cost.

I said earlier that Lord Ragsdale was unrepentant, but in fact there is a part of him that knows he’s wasting his life. He wants to be better, but his lassitude is too consuming. One night, in a drunken haze, he begs Emma to reform him, and she immediately sees her chance. She will reform this worthless man, and in so doing earn her release.

It turns out that Emma is an educated, talented, and ruthlessly strong woman whose life was ruined in the battle between England and Irish rebels. She dislikes the English no less than Lord Ragsdale abhors the Irish. Between them, however, a reluctant friendship develops, as she sets about organizing his finances, getting rid of the mistress, and stopping his out of control drinking. Emma encourages Lord Ragsdale to find a wife, and indeed he becomes the ideal fiancé for Miss Clarissa Partridge, a perfect little society chit of the sort he always expected to marry.

Eventually, Emma comes to trust Lord Ragsdale enough to share her past with him, and he goes out of his way to help her find out the fate of her lost family. Their friendship slowly turns to love, but they both know, without discussing it, that there is no future for them together. As the story enters its final pages, Lord Ragsdale is set to marry Clarissa, and Emma is leaving England, and the reader despairs of a happy ending. But fear not . . . .

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The plot is engaging, with plenty of humor as well as angst; the language sparkles. There’s no sex – just a couple of kisses – but there’s something better: real, unselfish love between two people who never expected to find it.

Better Than a Present by Cynthia Moore

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While in London on business during the Season, Lord Paul Russell, attracted by a beautiful woman, fails in securing a place on her dance card. The next morning when he returns to Cornwall, he wonders if this mystery woman will still be available.

Bored by all the eligible gentlemen she meets, Lady Samantha Grayson desires more than their meaningless conversations and preoccupation with silly fashion requirements. Only one gentleman catches her eye, but she misses her chance to speak to him, never encountering him again the rest of the Season.

A sudden snowstorm on Christmas Eve morning catches Samantha alone and unprotected. When she seeks shelter in a nearby cottage, she is astonished when the door opens to the very man who caught her interest in London a few months ago. What was doomed to be an uneventful Christmas, to her pleasant surprise could be better than a present.

Publisher and Release Date: Wild Rose Press Inc., June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Kate

Better Than a Present is a well-written quick read but it is also unpredictable and the dialogue constantly kept me guessing what was coming next. The detail Cynthia Moore adds is interesting and I found each character’s characteristics were relateable to myself in some way – especially in the case of Samantha, a 24 year old woman eager to meet the gentleman of her dreams.

Samantha proves to love all things pertaining to nature, adventure, disguises and has a general love of excitement:

“She [Samantha] loved spending as much time as possible outdoors. On days when bad weather kept her inside, she loved to read books describing the native trees and flowers of Great Britain. She had a secret wish to someday visit Cornwall and see the lovely gardens there by the sea.”

Also, I loved the humor that the author throws into the romance just as the challenges faced are becoming evident. It was very amusing for me to read about the fix that Samantha, for example, gets herself into when her charming plan of escape is largely obstructed by a Christmas Eve storm and as she finds shelter in preparation for the worst of it.

I can’t say that I felt a wealth of Christmas spirit, but if you are ready for a good, faced-paced sweet romance, Better Than a Present is the adventure for you to enjoy.

BOOK BLAST – A Rogue’s Deadly Redemption by Jeanne Ruesch

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Scandal forced Lady Lily Melrose into an untenable decision: marry the man she wanted but who wanted someone else or leave her home for America. She gambled and stayed. Now, almost four years later, Lily is ready to gamble again—on a future that means leaving her neglectful, absent husband behind. But when a deadly adversary threatens them both, Lily realizes how little she understood about her husband—and her marriage. She’s faced with another impossible choice: leave the man she loved to face certain death or stay and fight to help him deliver on a promise he no longer remembers.

Robert Melrose was raised as the forgotten third-born son with no future—without even the label of black sheep to keep him respectable. Not content with obscurity, he cultivated his own path to power, aligning himself with London’s underworld, where betrayal is deadly. But when an accident wipes away his past, Robert can’t remember who he is or what he’s done. What he does know is that his wife, Lily, evokes a strong need inside—a need to prove he’s better than his past. But when his past becomes a present danger, Robert must choose: gain the trust and love of the woman intent on leaving or let her walk away from him and the danger that might cost both their lives.

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A Rogue’s Deadly Redemption is also part of a HEATING IT UP, One Hero at a Time: A Limited Box Set Edition Now available for $0.99!

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EXCERPT

Cover
“Is anything familiar?” he asked after they’d turned more streets than he could count and nothing sparked his memory. How long had they been walking? Though the pounding in his head had subsided, exhaustion weighted his limbs and every step depleted reserves of energy he didn’t know he had.

She shook her head. “No. But something must soon, I imagine.”

They continued to walk, noting as they did that the crowds grew thicker, louder. A buzz in the air indicated a large crowd and though Robert’s instincts might have been to go away from the crowd, they needed to find something familiar.

He steered them in the direction that others flocked toward. The noise grew louder and louder, until they could separate the sounds of angry voices.

He paused. “Maybe we shouldn’t…”

“No, I think we’re near Old Bailey.”

It didn’t sound familiar. That sharp pang of disappointment was becoming familiar, however.

She must have seen something in his face, for she stopped. “The courthouse. The gallows. Is any of this familiar?”

“Should it be?” The wry humor came from nowhere, but the admonishment in her expression made it clear Lily did not find the humor.

“How could you?” Her voice was achingly small, and the plaintive tone shamed him. “How could you be involved with those people?”

“I don’t know.” He was starting to hate those words. He hated the disappointment that darkened her face, held her even farther away from him. His throat constricted. At the same time, he couldn’t imagine leaving her side.

Lily had said he was the same, with or without his memories. “Do you believe that?”

“Believe you were involved with them? It would be hard to deny at this point.”

“No. Earlier. You said my memory loss wouldn’t change who I am. Am I the same man as before?

Wariness narrowed her eyes. “This is hardly the time or place.”

“It’s exactly the time and place. I don’t know who I was. I am beginning to have an idea but I need to know, am I the same man? I can’t answer that, but you can.”

“No. I can’t.” Lily angled her body away from him, so he couldn’t see her face. “You brought them into our lives, and you kept all of this from me. You kept me from so much of your life. I am so angry, and I want to scream at you, but I can’t because you don’t recall any of it.” She crossed her arms. “It would be like yelling at a puppy.”

”A puppy?”

“Do you know how aggravating that is?”

“Not yelling at a puppy?”

She glared at him. “Not being able to be angry at you. Because what is the point? You’re as helpless as a babe.”

He bristled at that. “I am not helpless. I—”

She didn’t let him finish, just turned and walked down the street, shifting sideways around people.

“Lily, wait.”

He followed after her, sidestepping around people walking the other direction or stopping on the street.

The size of the crowd was growing, as they headed deeper into it. The streets buzzed with a tension that made him uneasy. For such a tiny thing, Lily moved with amazing ease, slipping through the crowd. He caught up to her and wrapped his hand around her wrist.

“Slow down a moment,” he yelled at her, to be heard over the loud din, like the buzzing of a thousand angry bees.

“We need…through…crowd. We’ll never…a cab here.” She ducked her head, never quite meeting his gaze, so he lost half of the words she said to the shouts around them.

The mood of the crowd was shifting, and Robert’s entire body felt at the ready. He might not know where the hell they were, but he knew how this crowd made him feel. “Fine. But I don’t want to lose you.” He captured her hand and gripped it. “This crowd could prove dangerous.”
Her gaze slid to their intertwined hands, and then moved downward. She crouched to the ground.

“Lily, what—” Before he could ask, she straightened back up, this time with a muddied, half torn sheet of paper in her free hand. Robert refused to let go of her other one.

“There was a hanging today,” she said.

Her words hung in the air with a sadness that pressed against his chest. He wanted her to never be sad. The fierce desire to see her smile, to take her out of all of this, floored him.

Where had these emotions come from? They were so fierce, so deep in his core.

How he must have loved her.

The desire to feel that love, as though it were a tangible piece he could hold, touch, smell…he wanted that desperately.
He wanted her desperately.

Every minute, he felt like a man drowning, until she stood by his side.

GIVEAWAY

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JeannieJeannie Ruesch wrote her first story at the age of the six, prompting her to give up an illustrious, hours-long ambition of becoming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and declare that writing was her destiny. The journey toward destiny held a few detours along the way, including a career in marketing and design.

Her first novel, a fairy-tale like historical romance, was published in 2009, but the darker side of life has always captivated her. So after a dinner conversation with friends about the best way to hide a dead body, she knew she had to find a way to incorporate suspense into her writing. (The legal outlet for her fascination.) Today, she continues writing what she loves to read – stories of history, romance and suspense. She lives in Northern California with her amazing husband (who cooks, cleans and edits!), their son and a lab named Cooper. She can be visited at www.jeannieruesch.com or found regularly on Twitter or Facebook.