Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox

seven summer nights

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It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.

He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.

It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.
Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.

It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…

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Publisher and Release Date: FoxTales, November 2016

Time and Setting: Rural England, 1946
Heat Level:
Genre: Historical Romance (m/m)
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

Magical, romantic, suspenseful, and deeply moving, Harper Fox hits only high notes in Seven Summer Nights, setting the bar high for historical and queer romantic fiction. Ostensibly a love story about a forbidden romance, it’s also part fantastical mystery and suspenseful thriller. Secrets abound: men loving each other when homosexuality was a sin and homophobia rampant; a mysterious church with hidden pagan symbolism and villagers with old and closely held secrets; and a battlefield memory that threatens the life of our weary hero. All demand our attention, but Ms. Fox carefully and capably guides the reader to a satisfying conclusion. The village of Droyton Parva, an idealized imagining of rural country life and a character in and of itself, becomes the home you never knew you longed for. Interesting secondary characters, living in the village and its vicarage, are similarly well developed. The prose is lyrical, the principals are engaging, and the multifaceted story is romantic, compelling and thrilling.

Rufus Denby is a devastated and lonely shell of the man he was before the outbreak of WWII. Once a famed archaeologist, he’s now a decorated war veteran slowly losing his will to live. Shell-shocked since his last horrific moments on the battlefield, Rufus struggles to remember his last moments in the trenches at Fort Roche, and to control recurrent and uncontrollable violent outbursts. After a recent ‘episode’ on an excavation site he only vaguely remembers, and a brief hospitalization, Rufus is back in London. A no-nonsense but sympathetic supervisor gently lets him go, then suggests he go to see her cousin, a vicar, in Droyton Parva. The church is falling apart and requires extensive renovation, but the vicar believes ancient artwork inside might be archaeologically significant. Perhaps Rufus could visit the church and determine whether it’s worth preserving? Nearly destitute, bewildered by his life, lonely, sad and desperate, Rufus heads to Droyton.

The vicar was right about the church. Unable to locate him at the vicarage, Rufus visits on his own and recognizes its paintings are archaeologically significant, but the symbolism is confusing. Willing to wait to speak to the vicar, an exhausted Rufus falls asleep in the choir loft. His sleep is interrupted by visions of a naked woman being chased through the woods… but when Rufus awakens, he isn’t sure if the dream was real. Unable to trust his own mind and feeling like he might be losing it, he sets off to find the vicar.

Reverend Archie Thorne returned to rural Sussex after the war, but lost his faith along the way. A motorcycle-riding chaplain in wartime, Archie lives a full and purposeful life in Droyton, but though his home and parish keep him busy, he’s lonely. Warm and loving, he has a habit of collecting the waifs and strays of the village, and spends afternoons trying to keep the church from falling into ruin and caring for his flock… while frequently sneaking away to work on his motorcycle and have a smoke. When Rufus finally tracks him down and introduces himself as the archaeologist sent by his cousin, Archie recognizes a kindred lost soul. He’s also intensely attracted to his handsome visitor. Long repressed desire flares to life, and despite the societal danger attached to falling for another man, Archie finds himself irresistibly drawn to Rufus, and sets out to collect him, too.

Rufus is also attracted to the handsome vicar but carefully conceals it. A failed pre-war relationship (reader: I’m massively understating this) has taught him to be cautious, though the more time he spends with Archie, the more he wants him. When Rufus finally makes a subtle pass at him, he’s rewarded and charmed by Archie’s exuberant and enthusiastic response. A tender and affectionate romance blossoms, but to Rufus’s chagrin and secret pleasure, an eager (and lustful) Archie often forgets the dangers inherent in their relationship. The village, the household and the parish are ever underfoot, and with Rufus’s warning in mind, the beginning of their relationship is marked by passionate, frantic and furtive couplings. Archie knows Rufus continues to suffer the sins of his past and that the trauma of his life as a soldier still torments him, and Rufus senses their relationship soothes something dark in Archie’s history. Their love is deeply passionate and profoundly moving, and Ms. Fox ‘s prose shines whenever they are together on the page.

I want to tell you more about this charming pair, but though the central relationship is rich and satisfying, there’s so much more to Seven Summer Nights. Rufus and Archie spend their days in the church trying to discern the meanings behind the ancient (pagan?) artwork and discerning if there’s something hidden deep beneath the church itself. This mystery, with roots deep in Droyton’s past, is both fascinating and creepy. But Ms. Fox doesn’t rush the narrative and she slowly parcels the truth out bit by bit via discoveries at the church and in telling revelations about Droyton’s villagers. The unraveling of the church’s history and the labyrinth below it mirror the slow unraveling of the chaos in Rufus’s mind. That slow and painful disentangling, and Rufus’s frustrating inability to remember events on the battlefield at Fort Roche, set up the third and thrilling narrative – Rufus’s war experience and its aftermath.

From the opening chapters of the novel, Ms. Fox imbues Rufus’s fearful forgotten last moments on the battlefield with darkness and despair. As Rufus struggles to remember (or forget?) what happened, allegations arise against Rufus’s superior, his deceased brother-in-law, Charles, who served with him on the front. Rufus is the only one who can corroborate the allegations, but Charles’s father, Brigadier Spence,with whom Rufus’s sister Rosemary still lives, will do anything to preserve England’s heroic version of his son.

Shortly after an ill-timed visit from his sister Rosemary, Rufus is (falsely) accused of a violent crime he can’t remember committing. Desperate and convinced he must be guilty, Rufus flees Droyton, sacrificing himself to Brigadier Spence and the asylum (it’s anything but) he established for injured war veterans. Rufus’s escape, the asylum, Archie’s tortured realization when he realizes where he’s gone…it’s awful and heart wrenching. It’s impossible to delve too deeply into this juicy bit of storytelling without spoiling it, suffice it to say, any doubt either man had about their love for each other, or the power of that love to transcend their darkest, most profoundly humbling moments, are laid to rest in several brilliant, heart stopping chapters. Afterwards, the novel resumes its almost leisurely ebb and flow as Rufus and Archie solve the mysteries of the church and its significance among the villagers.

Seven Summer Nights is the compassionate and redemptive tale of two men trying to heal after the horrors of war. Harper Fox deftly weaves a powerful anti-church, anti-establishment message throughout the novel – the message is powerful, yet subtle. Profoundly moving, enchanting and charming, this is a novel that stays with you long after you finish it.

Can falling in love restore lost faith and heal a tortured soul? The answer, after reading this beautiful, poignant novel, is a resounding yes.

Bedchamber Games (Rakes of Cavendish Square #3) by Tracy Anne Warren

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Rosamund Carrow has spent years learning the law by assisting her barrister father, despite the frustrating truth that the profession is closed to women. When he dies unexpectedly, necessity compels her to disguise herself as a man so she can step into the courtroom to finish his cases. She’s willing to put her reputation at risk, but she never expects that the greatest peril will be to her heart…

Lord Lawrence Byron is a rising star in London’s legal circles, despite his reputation as an unrepentant rakehell. When an upstart young barrister defeats him in court, he’s determined to discover everything he can about his rival. He’s stunned when he uncovers the shocking secret that his new opponent is actually a beguiling, brilliant woman…one he can’t help but want in his bed. Passion draws them together as they break all the rules, but it may lead to something more lasting—like love…

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Publisher and Release Date: Jove, March 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1821
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

Bedchamber Games the third in Tracy Anne Warren’s The Rakes of Cavendish Square series is Lord Lawrence Byron’s story and I’ve been eagerly anticipating its publication. So far I’ve loved everything about the warm, unorthodox Byron family and the fact that this latest story has a barrister at its centre – well, two actually – only whetted my appetite more.  Tracy Anne Warren sets her scene particularly realistically as I know the part of London she describes and can see in my minds eye the barristers in their wigs, gowns billowing out behind them, hurrying along between their chambers and the courts, clerks struggling along with piles of documents in their wake.

Lord Lawrence and his identical twin, Lord Leo, whose extremely intriguing and unusual story was told in The Bedding Proposal, are the sexiest twosome on legs. Both studied law but only Lawrence has pursued it as a career, and he’s made quite a name for himself, as he rarely loses a case. It is with some shock that he finds himself out-manoeuvred in court by a clever young barrister he has met only briefly. Not a little miffed, he decides he needs to get to know his opponent and makes an effort to befriend the young, slightly awkward Ross Carrow. It takes only a few times in his company to uncover the truth; Ross Carrow, is in fact, Rosamund Carrow, a smart and clever young woman.

Women were not allowed to study or practice law in Regency England, but Rosamund, with the collusion of her brother, Bertram, dresses like a man and takes on the cases her father left outstanding at his sudden death. She uses the credentials and name of her cousin – who hasn’t practised law for many years and lives in the north of England – and in this way avoids detection by her peers. Bertram has always had a bad stutter which worsens when under stress, so they decide that Rosamund will be the lead counsel for the remaining cases. She had been her father’s ‘right-hand-man’ since she was a child and has learnt her skills well under his tutelage; has a keen, analytical brain, and a quick tongue and from the moment she out-argues Lawrence in open court and wins her case he is intrigued.

Lawrence Byron is a drop-dead gorgeous rakehell, and pretty much any woman he wants is his for the asking. But once he has discovered Rosamund’s secret and is over the chagrin of being duped by a woman he is enchanted by her. She not only attracts him physically, but her intelligence and ability to argue like a man has him captivated and charmed as no other woman has had the power to do and he cannot resist using his not inconsiderable charms to seduce her. For her part, Rosamund has been attracted to Lawrence from their first meeting, but no matter how intelligent and clever she may be, she’s still very much the innocent and succumbs to Lawrence’s seductive onslaught with alacrity and they embark on a clandestine, passionate and steamy affair which leaves them both reeling,

Normally the girl-dressed-as-a-boy trope leaves me cold but Tracy Anne Warren has really pulled this one off in a believable manner. No man of the time – in their very male world – would expect to see a woman in court wearing barrister robes, let alone arguing with male logic, therefore no-one questions it.  There are some amusing moments during Lawrence’s outings with the slightly effeminate young ‘man’ before he gets his light bulb moment. He begins to doubt his own sexuality after hoisting a rather drunken young barrister up into his curricle and is faced with a well-rounded bottom; a ladies man to his bones, he doesn’t feel at all comfortable and is left worrying and pondering his reaction for days.

Although the story is almost entirely centred around the love story and passionate affair of Lawrence and Rosamund there is a slight tension running throughout. Lawrence is an ambitious young man whose eventual goal is to become a judge and to this end, he is tentatively courting the only daughter of a renowned high court judge who would very much like to see his daughter aligned with the clever young barrister and his powerful family. Lawrence is blasé about the courtship, seeing it leading only to a marriage of convenience and being of the opinion that love, or the lack thereof, doesn’t matter, whereas his career does. That is – until he starts to fall for Rosamund, who has no such connections. This is Lawrence’s dilemma and he doesn’t handle it well; I wanted to give him a damn good shake and tell him to look under his nose.

I adored this story.  Tracy Anne Warren’s eloquent writing style is very much to my taste – witty, funny and sexy. My one complaint is that such a lovely story fizzled out with a rather mediocre ending – I would have liked to have seen more drama leading up to the final page. Don’t get me wrong Bedchamber Games is a compelling love story and one that I highly recommend, but I felt that Ms. Warren missed an opportunity to create a little more tension – everything was in place for it. Nevertheless this is a lovely, romantic story that does an excellent job in highlighting how very unfair life was in this period to women with the brains and inclination to use them but with society’s dictates refusing them the opportunity. I’m definitely planning on reading more of this author’s work – and if, like me, you love a sexy barrister – hold onto your hat!

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall

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Hide from the thief-taker, for if he finds you, he will take you away…

Eighteenth-century Cornwall is crippled by debt and poverty, while the gibbet casts a shadow of fear over the land. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.

Terrified by a thief-taker’s warning as a child, Jenna has resolved to be good. When her brother, Silas, asks for her help to pay his creditors, Jenna feels unable to refuse and finds herself entering the dangerous world of the smuggling trade.

Jack Penhale hunts down the smuggling gangs in revenge for his father’s death. Drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre, they discover their lives are entangled. But as Jenna struggles to decide where her allegiances lie, the worlds of justice and crime collide, leading to danger and heartache for all concerned…

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EXCERPT

A variety of faces were turned to watch the sale. Men, women and children craned their necks for a better view, eager to see what was happening. Only one man, who stood on the edge of the crowd and casually leaned against a cart, had no interest in the farce. From his stance and jet-black hair, Jenna instantly recognised him as the man who had helped her escape. There was no mistaking him, as there were few men with such well-balanced features that held strength and kindness in equal measures. He was looking at her intently through narrowed eyes and she wondered if he recognised her, too. Heat rushed to her face, making her feel exposed and a little panicked. Furtively, she moved her mop in front of her face hoping to block his view. The last thing she needed while she was trying to be hired was him asking questions.

Keeping her eyes lowered, she heard the wife sale progress as the men agreed a price of two shillings and a quart of beer, and the lover emerged victorious. The crowd erupted about Jenna, but she dared not look up in case the stranger was still looking at her. Instead she remained rooted to the spot hoping that he would soon be on his way.

The wife sale completed, the woman and her lover walked through the crowd, their noses tilted upwards, their arm interlinked and both with a slight swagger to their step. The crowd was delighted at the unplanned entertainment and even broke into a spontaneous applause when the pair granted them a joint bow before finally exiting the square. The fayre slowly returned to normal and Jenna took the opportunity to furtively glance up. She saw him moving through the thinning crowd, and then she lost sight of him. He is gone, she thought, relieved, but she should have known better. His earlier attention had indicated an interest in her, and when she heard a man’s boots climb onto the left side of the stage, she did not need to look to know it was him.

The woman with the florid complexion ordered Jenna to show her hands. Obediently Jenna held one out, whilst trying to keep the mop head in the right position to obstruct the stranger’s view of her face. When the man’s well-shaped hand suddenly closed around the handle of her mop and brushed against hers, a wave of unfamiliar sensations swept over her. They caught the breath in her throat and slowed her mind to that of a drunkard, leaving her little choice, but to allow him to take it. With her mop in his hand, the dark-haired stranger watched in silence as the woman examined her.

The larger woman looked at her now free hand. Satisfied, she ordered Jenna to open her mouth and show her teeth, before checking for lice in her clothes and hair. Jenna closed her eyes in shame at being examined like livestock. The man continued to say nothing, even when he handed the mop back to her when the examination was complete. His brows furrowed deep in thought, and for the briefest of moments she wondered if he was considering hiring her. However, when the woman offered a price he remained silent and when the ribbon was pinned onto Jenna’s dress to confirm that she was hired, he turned and walked away.

Jenna frowned as she watched him leave. His presence had unnerved her, but strangely, now that he was leaving, she felt disappointed that he had not bothered to barter for her. Had he come onto the stage to hire her, but on closer inspection thought better of it? The truth was, the handsome stranger had rejected her, and rejection is never a pleasant feeling to have.

*****

From a short distance away, Jack watched the woman lead Jenna Kestle away. He had been shocked to see her again and found himself marvelling at life’s habit of tossing coincidences in one’s path. Moments before he caught sight of her he had been thinking about her, and then she was there, standing on a makeshift stage waiting to be hired.

At first he put it down to mistaken identity, or worse his imagination playing tricks on him, but the longer he watched her, the more he was convinced it was her.

The woman’s hair, previously hidden below a battered tricorn, was in fact long. Today, it was neatly plaited and lay over one shoulder. The last time he saw her, her feminine shape was hidden under boy’s clothing. Now it captivated his attention and drew him towards the stage, while a devil on his shoulder whispered in his ear and encouraged him to hire her. Jack almost succumbed, but thankfully saw sense and walked away. He knew that having an extra pair of ears beneath his roof was far too dangerous. It was best he kept his distance until he had completed what he had come here to do.

He watched her body sway to the movement of the cart as her new employer took her away from him. For a brief moment he felt a strange sense of loss for a woman he knew so little about. True, she had never been far from his thoughts. The last time he had seen her she was being chased by a crowd. It was only natural that he would feel concern for her welfare, he thought. He need not have worried as he remembered their hands briefly touching. Although her hand felt tense, during her examination she had a tilt to her chin, which showed determination – a trait he recognised in himself. He knew in that moment that he need not be concerned for her, for he saw that she was of strong character which would bode well for her future.

This newly acquired knowledge freed him from feeling concern for her and he found himself laughing a little too loudly at his earlier foolishness

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

victoria cornwallVictoria Cornwall grew up on a farm in Cornwall. She can trace her Cornish roots as far back as the 18th century and it is this background and heritage which is the inspiration for her Cornish based novels.

Victoria is married, has two grown up children and a black Labrador, called Alfie. She likes to read and write historical fiction with a strong background story, but at its heart is the unmistakable emotion, even pain, of loving someone.

Following a fulfilling twenty-five year career as a nurse, a change in profession finally allowed her the time to write.

Twitter @vickiecornwall
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Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

sinful scottish laird

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Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand…and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly—though unwillingly—bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN, February 2017
Time and setting: Scottish Highlands, 1742
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3 stars

Review by Vikki

Sinful Scottish Laird is an entertaining read, although it is a little slow to start.

Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick packs up her household and young son and flees the unwanted advances of her many suitors while she awaits the return of her lost love. Although she must remarry or lose her son’s fortune, she wants love if possible. What she does not count on is the overwhelming attraction she feels for Cailean MacKenzie, the Laird of Arrandale, her closest neighbor.

Cailean is determined to remain a bachelor, and while the lassie on his neighboring estate is bonny, he has no use for her – after all, she’s English – but the attraction between them is too strong to ignore. Her suitor turns out to be a captain in the Royal Navy bent on bringing Cailean’s smuggling days to an end. He cannot stand the thought of the man touching Daisy, or any man for that matter, but he could never consider marrying a Sassenach.

Can Daisy convince him to change his mind, or will he remain a stubborn Scot to the end and deny them the chance of ever-lasting happiness?

I struggled with Daisy’s character for much of the book and never really connected with her, other than on those occasions when she was involved with her son, Ellis. Her love for him comes through loud and clear. She comes across as somewhat of a flake in her dealings with others, and she seems indecisive as well, vacillating between her feelings for Cailean and Robert, the man she thinks she wants to marry.

Cailean is a hero I could love. His tender care for Ellis won me over and his relationship with his family speaks well of his character. However, I did not feel the chemistry between him and Daisy, nor could I understand why he wanted her, which is probably my main problem with the book – the chemistry between Daisy and Cailean just wasn’t strong enough for my taste. One thing I love in a romance is the slow build of sexual tension between the hero and the heroine, and it was lacking here.

Nonetheless, I am glad I had the opportunity to read Sinful Scottish Laird. The pacing overall was a little slow, but it does have an excellent ending. I also quite enjoyed Ellis, who had surprisingly good character development, and there are several enjoyable secondary characters who help move the story along.

Honor Before Heart (Emerald Belles #1) by Heather McCorkle

honor before heart

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Risking it all for love and valor . . .

When Corporal Sean MacBranian awakens after being injured in battle, he is sure the luck o’ the Irish has run out on him. Or that he’s died and gone to Heaven. There can be no other explanation for the blond-haired, blue-eyed angel standing before him. But his “angel” is a truehearted lass named Ashlinn, and she wears a nurse’s uniform. Her tender ministrations have brought him back from the brink of death—and have given him a new reason for living.

Ashlinn knows their parting is inevitable; her handsome hero must return to the 69th infantry of the Union army, and there are no guarantees of his safe return. With most of her family already destroyed by the war ravaging America, she is sure she cannot survive another loss. Yet she feels powerless against the draw of Sean’s strong and steady heart. Neither time nor distance nor the danger of battle seems to lessen their bond. But when their secret letters are intercepted, the devoted nurse’s love will face the ultimate test . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, March 2017

Time and Setting: Virginia, 1862
Genre: American Historical Romance (Civil War period)
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Honor Before Heart is a sweetly romantic story set against the horrors of the American Civil War. McCorkle has definitely done her homework to show the brutality and personal cost faced by those who fought or lost someone in the war, although I wish that a bit more had been done to develop the characters past their basic outlines and turn them into a man and woman I could fully connect with.

Ashlinn O’Brian’s life has been changed forever by the war. Her three brothers heard the call to arms and enlisted in the Northern army. After two of them died from poorly treated wounds Ashlinn has been desperately searching the battlefields to find her youngest brother to hopefully save him from dying too. Ashlinn learned everything she could from her parents, a progressive doctor and a midwife, and her skills at keeping patients alive has made her more than a few enemies in the army camp hospital she works in. The latest battle on the shores of the James River has littered the ground with the bodies of dead Union and Confederate soldiers but Ashlinn’s prayers are answered that none of the men she finds are her brother. Before returning to the safety of the army camp Ashlinn’s attention is drawn to her faithful dog Cliste dragging something by the river bank. Getting closer to the water Ashlinn sees that the dog is trying to help a Union soldier who is unconscious but bleeding heavily from a gut wound. Knowing she’s the man’s only hope for survival, Ashlinn gets him into a makeshift shelter and treats his injuries using the supplies she always carries with her.

Corporal Sean MacBranian had escaped injury during the battle only to be caught by a Rebel soldier he found abusing a dog. He managed to kill the Southerner but not before the man got a few good hits on Sean’s person. The pain of his injuries knocks him out and for a moment Sean is certain he’s died when he wakes up to the beautiful face of a guardian angel leaning over him. Fortunately for Sean, his angel is a nurse who knows better ways to heal severe injuries than slicing and dicing up a patient. Ashlinn’s skills at suturing his wounds and keeping them clear of infection allow him to regain some of his strength so they can move out of enemy territory. As they travel Sean finds that Ashlinn is a well-spoken young woman but every so often he can hear a bit of a brogue seeping into her words. As an immigrant from Ireland, Sean is drawn to that little hint of Ashlinn’s own background as it’s something special they share.

Upon arriving safely at the army’s encampment Sean and Ashlinn try to keep their relationship on a cordial level since the war could separate them at any moment. Ashlinn has already learned the difficult lesson that caring for someone makes it agonizing to watch them march into an uncertain future on the battlefield. Sean, too, has seen many good men die and fears that his growing feelings for Ashlinn might become a distraction when his focus should be on the soldiers who serve under him. What neither of them counted on was how strong their bond had already become after Ashlinn saved his life and Sean protected her from the unwanted advances of the camp’s brutal doctor. They become inseparable after Sean is deployed into another battle and Ashlinn knows she would be lost if he were killed in action. Their new relationship is tested when Ashlinn discovers proof that her brother is alive but the circumstances of his disappearance may make her choose between her family and a future with Sean.

Honor Before Heart is tonally perfect for the period –  I could almost see everything happening to Ashlinn and Sean through a sepia-colored lens. One would think that the importance of social status would be something easily ignored while living in an army camp; however Ashlinn’s background as a wealthy Northerner is something that matters to Sean. He is aware that his own status as an Irish immigrant puts him much lower in class than her family even thought they, too, had immigrated generations earlier. There is also a black mark on his family’s name that Sean is hesitant to reveal since it was part of the reason he came to America to start a new life. Once he decides to pursue Ashlinn he adjusts their situation within the camp to always provide a chaperone or keep their meetings within the bounds of propriety. It makes their romance very sweet for most of their courting.

Unfortunately those sepia-colored lenses cannot hide the fact that Sean and Ashlinn never seem to grow or change much throughout the course of the story. Sean is a noble man who fights for the Union to bring freedom to the Southern slaves. Ashlinn is an intelligent and enlightened woman far ahead of her times when it comes to the care of the sick and injured in the field. Those two ideas are discussed between characters many times and serve as the major points of conflict when Ashlinn’s methods are challenged by the male doctors or Sean is captured by a Southern plantation owner. Long passages of the story paint vivid pictures of the brutal conditions Ashlinn is fighting against in the field hospitals, yet that’s all she seems to be fighting for. We don’t really know why her family joined the fight or what her thoughts are about the political side of things.

With that said, I enjoyed enough of Honor Before Heart to recommend it. The calm pace of the story creates the perfect conditions for a romance to thrive but the darkness of war is always present. It’s nice to believe that something as beautiful as love will survive past all of the hate.

Surrender to the Marquess (Herriard Family #3) by Louise Allen

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A battle of wills!

When Lady Sara Herriard’s husband dies in a duel, she turns her back on the vagaries of the ton. From now on, she will live as she pleases. She won’t change for anyone – certainly not for the infuriating Lucian Avery, Marquess of Cannock! Lucian must help his sister recover from a disastrous elopement and reluctantly enlists Lady Sara’s help. She couldn’t be further from the conventional, obedient wife he’s expected to marry, but soon, all he craves is for her to surrender – and join him in his bed!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting:  England 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Surrender to the Marquess ticks all the boxes of a well-written regency romance; the author’s attention to detail is excellent, the setting perfect and so well communicated that one feels the waves on the Dorset beach, hears the seagulls and smells the saltiness of an English seaside. Even the cover is perfect, with the balcony and the sea in the background… add in well developed, three dimensional characters and all is in place for a satisfying read.

Lady Sara Harcourt has escaped to the quiet seaside town of Sandbay in Dorset after her scholastic husband’s tragic death in a duel. By day she is Mrs Harcourt, owner of a shop that sells art and craft supplies, and by night she reverts to being Lady Sara. The locals know who she is,and her connection to the aristocracy has never been a secret, and I admit that while I understood her need to escape after her shocking bereavement, I wasn’t quite sure why she needed to maintain two different identities.

Then we have ‘Mr L.J.  Dunton Esquire’ otherwise known as Lucian John Dunton Avery, Marquess of Cannock. He has taken his unwell young sister to the seaside town not only to attempt to heal her in body and mind but also to try to salvage what’s left of her reputation after a disastrous elopement with his private secretary left her alone and bereft on the continent. She miscarried a child and her erstwhile swain mysteriously disappeared, leaving her sick and without the benefit of a wedding ring. It’s imperative that brother and sister keep a low profile in order to protect Marguerite, but it isn’t long before his identity is uncovered by Sara who, recognising a fellow aristocrat by his manner and demeanour, confirms who he is after looking him up in Burke’s Peerage. Before that, however, Lucian asks Sara if she might have anything in her shop that might interest his sister, and Sara, a forthright, managing kind of female, suggests she come to their hotel to visit the young woman.

Lucian and Sara feel an immediate frisson of attraction from their first meeting and I must say that the author develops their relationship well although it isn’t long before the difficulties they face start to look quite insurmountable. Both are extremely attractive, independent people – Sara’s freedom has been hard won and she does not wish to be bound by convention. Lucian would like nothing more than to have a passionate affair with the intriguingly beautiful widow and eventually they do succumb to the overwhelming attraction between them but it is difficult to carry it on when she has become his sister’s champion. Society would not approve of his lover being his sister’s friend or chaperone.

There is a battle going on throughout the book which is the real gist of the story. Lucian is the epitome of an honourable aristocrat, brought up to protect his womenfolk whatever the consequences. Sara started out her life with a fair amount of freedom; her mother is half-Indian of superior birth, and her father was a major in the British army until he inherited a marquessate – and she spent the earlier part of her life with her happily married parents and brother in India living a fairly relaxed and normal life. On her father’s accession to his title, the family was obviously obliged to return to England. Sara was allowed to choose her own husband – a scholar – and lived a quiet but happy existence with him until he too was smitten by the honour bug and fought a duel to protect a perceived slight to her honour, and died in the process. As a result she is well and truly against anything that compromises her freedom and will not tolerate any man’s protection.  Duels are anathema to her and she won’t countenance them for any reason.

Lucian and Sara, it seems, will always be at odds over his uncompromising over-protectiveness and her independent streak and I wondered how they would ever be able to reconcile their differences. And that’s my dilemma and the reason I haven’t awarded the book a higher grade  – they do get their HEA but I still felt that the issues between them were not, nor ever would be, totally resolved. They simply had to agree to disagree.

The book is very well written, and although I had issues with certain aspects of this story, I plan to read more by this author, starting with Forbidden Jewel of India, which tells the love story of Sara’s parents.

 

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: In Search of Love by Kate Loveday

InSearchofLove

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They shared one night of love.

When Kitty Barron and Rufe Cavanagh meet sixteen years later, Kitty wonders if they might have a second chance at happiness. Rufe is determined they will.

Kitty’s teenage daughter, Joy, and Rufe’s daughter, Lily, are school friends. While Joy embraces the idea of uniting their families, Lily burns with jealousy at the thought of sharing her father’s affection, and schemes to keep them apart.

When Joy and Lily go to London for a Season, they find that beneath the gaiety and excitement not everything or everybody is as it seems. Their romances bring problems that have far-reaching effects for Kitty and Rufe, and their happiness.

Can Kitty and Rufe withstand Lily’s manipulative efforts to keep them apart? Is their love strong enough?

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EXCERPT

Rufe recovered his composure. “We’ve been enjoying a walk, so I suppose I must say that you can do the same, as it’s such a lovely night. But don’t go beyond sight of the house.”

He stood aside to let them pass. “Off you go then. But don’t be too long. Mrs. Barron and I are going to have a nightcap. Come in to the drawing room and say goodnight when you come back.”

Lily scowled at Kitty, who put out her hand, and touched Joy briefly on the arm as she passed. “Don’t take Lily far, it’s getting late. I’ll see you when you come back.”

“Yes, Mother.”

The girls swept down the steps and raced off along the path. Rufe held the door open for Kitty and followed her into the drawing room.

“Oh dear,” Kitty said, turning to him. “I’m afraid we’ve upset Lily.”

“Nonsense. She saw nothing to upset her. I simply escorted you up the steps.”

“Do you think she believed that?”

Rufe crossed the room and splashed brandy into two glasses. “If it comes up, which I doubt, I’ll make sure she understands it.” He handed her one of the drinks with a smile. “Now sit down, and we’ll have our nightcap very circumspectly, until our children are safely in bed.”

As Kitty sipped her drink, she worried that Lily had seen Rufe’s arm around her, and that it had upset her. Whatever would Lily think if she found out about their previous relationship? Or if they were to resume it? From the look on Lily’s face, Kitty didn’t believe she would be happy about it. For that matter, how would Joy feel? Oh dear, it’s all so difficult. Twisting the glass in her fingers, she watched the light reflecting from the crystal goblet.

“Kitty. What’s the matter?”

“I’m concerned at what the girls must be thinking.”

“We don’t have to worry about what they’re thinking. We’re their parents, and we don’t need their approval for our actions.”
“That’s all very well, but I don’t want either of them to be upset.”

“There’s nothing for them to be upset about.”

“But if they hadn’t come out just then…”

Rufe interrupted her. “If they hadn’t come out just then, you and I would now be discussing our feelings for each other, instead of our children’s feelings, and I would be much happier.”

“But…”

He reached across and touched her hand. “No buts. When they’ve gone to bed, we can talk. For now, we just drink our nightcap.”

“Very well.”

They had only minutes to wait before they heard the front door open and close, and the girls entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your moonlight walk?” Rufe asked them.

“Yes,” Joy replied. “We went down to the river. It looks beautiful at night. All silvery.”

“You looked as if you enjoyed your walk,” Lily added. “Did you go as far as the river?”

“Not quite,” Rufe answered. “And now it’s time you were in bed, young lady.”

“Would you like a glass of milk first?” Kitty asked.

“Yes, please,” Joy replied. “And some cake, too. How about you, Lily?”

Lily hesitated then nodded. “Yes, please.”

“No, don’t you bother, Mother,” Joy added, as Kitty started to rise. “We’ll go down to the kitchen, and I’ll get it. Then we’ll go to bed. Come on, Lily.”

When they had gone, Kitty and Rufe sipped at their drinks, and waited until they heard them go into Joy’s bedroom.

After listening for a few minutes, Rufe stood and came to stand in front of Kitty. Smiling down at her, he reached out his hands.

“Come with me.”

Kitty shook her head. “No, Rufe, I can’t.”

His smile faded. “You don’t want to?”

“It’s not that—it’s the girls. Lily looked daggers at me when she saw you had your arm around me.”

“She’s safely in bed by now, and Joy, too.”

“But what if they come out for something? What if they were to discover us together?”

“Kitty, darling, we can’t have our lives dictated by our children.”

“It would be too sudden for them—they’re still so young—they wouldn’t understand.”

Rufe dropped her hands and took a step back. His lips twisted wryly. “I see the magic hasn’t come back for you.”

“It’s not that. When we were outside, I felt all the old feelings, but now I’m too concerned about how the girls would feel. They’d both be shocked. We need to take more time.”

“And what about how I feel?” He frowned down at her. “Doesn’t that count?”

“Of course it counts, but we need to let them get used to the idea first, to accept that we both care for each other. Surely you can see that.”

“I can see that you put their feelings before mine.” His voice hardened. “If we were together, is that how it would always be?”

Kitty shook her head, a ball of misery forming inside her. “No, of course not. But we have to let them become accustomed to the idea first. We need to let them see gradually, that we care for each other.”

Rufe narrowed his eyes as he looked down at her. “So, you want me to woo you, do you? To court you like some lovesick young swain. Don’t you think we’re a bit old to be playing such games?”

“Is that what love is to you? A game?”

“You’re twisting my words, Kitty. That’s not what I meant.” He turned toward the door. “All right. I’ll play it your way. I’ll woo you. But don’t try my patience too far.”

With that, he turned and strode to the door. And slammed it behind him as he left.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Loveday

Kate Loveday

Kate Loveday grew up in a seaside suburb of Adelaide, South Australia, in a family with six brothers. Her two passions as a child were to spend as much time as possible at the beach, mostly with a couple of younger brothers in tow, and to curl up with a book.

Her love of books never left her, and she always wanted to write. But it was not until an extended caravan holiday around Australia with husband Peter that she began writing in earnest. She started with travel articles about places visited, and when these were accepted for publication by travel magazines, she began to think about writing a novel.

She now writes Australian contemporary and historical fiction, and has published six books. She says as long as her readers continue telling her, in reviews and emails, that they enjoy what she writes, she will continue doing so.

She loves chocolate, fine wines, dogs, music, and seeing new places.

In her past life she was a bookkeeper and a beauty therapist. Now she enjoys spending time with her husband, family, and friends… Oh yes…and reading and writing!

http://kateloveday.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kloveday
https://twitter.com/LovedayKate

The Star in the Meadow (Spanish Brand #4) by Carla Kelly

the star in the meadow

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Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader. Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall.

When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1785
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With this fourth book of the Spanish Brand Series, Carla Kelly concludes the ongoing saga of Marco Mondragon, an Spanish official in 1780’s New Mexico.  When we first met him, he was heartbroken over the deaths of his beloved wife and twin sons.  After a time, he found happiness with a new love, Paloma, and they began to build a future together.  They now have two children, and Paloma has just given birth to their second son.  Although she is overjoyed at having been delivered of a healthy child, Paloma doesn’t bounce back.  She is restless, overwhelmed, tired, and confused.  She tries to put on a brave front, but Marco realizes something is wrong.  After learning that this condition happens occasionally to a woman after giving birth, Marco decides to send Paloma away to his sister’s home for a couple of weeks, where she can just relax and have no responsibilities.

Disaster strikes when Paloma and her companion are kidnapped while travelling.  The kidnappers originally targeted someone else, but upon learning that Paloma is Marco’s wife, they decide to keep her, as they have a grudge against him.  To make matters worse, Marco is scheduled to attend a very important meeting with the Comanche to discuss peace.  Marco has earned their respect, and there will be no talks without him there.  While he desperately wants to search for his missing wife, he is forced to let others search while he attends the gathering.

While the previous books in this series have been fraught with conflict and danger, I found The Star in the Meadow to be the most heartbreaking.  Marco and Paloma are apart for most of the book, and both have to make hard and distressing decisions, including one about their newborn child.  Throughout all this darkness, Carla Kelly manages to inject moments of light humor, and when the lovers are finally reunited, each unsure of their reception from the other, their love and passion burns brighter than ever.  This couple has a genuine goodness about them, which seems to enfold their family and friends, and makes them all the better for it.  The Star in the Meadow is beautifully written, and a satisfying conclusion to the series, though I hate to see it end.  I was left with a great feeling of warmth and optimism for their future, and I recommend this series highly.

Brette: Intentions Gone Astray (Conundrums of the Misses Culpepper #3) by Collette Cameron

brette

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He thought his adventures were over…

A rogue reluctantly turned rector, Alexander Hawksworth, prefers soirées to sermons and parties to prayers. Though impoverished, he seizes every opportunity to escape parish duties, preferring to hob nob with London’s finest-especially after the precocious and petite Brette Culpepper arrives in Town. Alex secretly fantasizing about claiming the breathtaking beauty as his very own, and when he unexpectedly inherits an earldom, he’s determined to make her his countess… Until he’s accused of murdering the previous earl.

Then she burst headlong into his life…

New to Society, Brette adores the whirlwind social scene, the stream of invitations… the slightly-sensual verbal sparring with the devilishly attractive, much too witty, and oh so unsuitable Mr. Hawksworth. But her fairy tale existence crashes to a halt when rumors circulate she’s a peer’s illegitimate granddaughter. Even though he’s left her a tidy inheritance, formerly hospitable doors slam in her face as a newly appointed guardian emerges, intent on stealing her wealth and forcing her to wed an elderly despot.

Time is against them as Alex struggles to clear his name and deliver the woman he loves from an unthinkable fate.

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Publisher and Release Date: Blue Rose Romance, January 2017

Time and setting: London, 1822
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Vikki

Collette Cameron is fast becoming an author I know I can count on for witty banner, emotional writing, and engaging characters. Brette: Intentions Gone Astray is a delightful romp through Regency England!

Brette Culpepper sees herself a bit of a matchmaker and relishes the opportunity to pair people together. Unfortunately, however, many of her matches have led to scandal, including her latest attempt, but fortunately on this occasion she is aided by an unlikely rescuer, the vicar Alexander Hawksworth.

Alex has an unrequited passion for Brette, but as a third in line for a title, and unlikely to ever inherit, he is not thought a fit suitor for the delightful Miss Culpepper. But as is so often the way of things, tragedy strikes, and when Alex’s cousin and his heir perish in a fire, Alex inherits an earldom.  Now the only thing that stands in the way of his eventual happiness are the suspicions circumstances surrounding his cousins’ deaths.

Brette is not having an easy time either. With her parentage in question, society begins to turn its back on her, in spite of the fact that she is heiress to a fortune, plus her grandfather’s heir is demanding he assume her guardianship.

In a race against time, will Alex be able to save her and become worthy of her love?

Brette: Intentions Gone Astray is a lovely Regency that will sweep you back in time. The chemistry between Alex and Brette sizzles, the dialogue feels true to the period without coming across stiff and I loved the banter between the couple.

Brette is an endearing character. She loves her sisters and the man who has raised her as his daughter. She is crushed when she learns of her dubious origins and the connection it brings with the Duke of Bellingshire. I could feel her confusion and pain to such an extent that it had me brushing away a few tears on more than one occasion.

Alex is a devil-may-care fellow, unsuited to being a vicar, although, he does have a generous heart and works tirelessly to help the unfortunate. He knows he loves Brette, but believes he is unworthy of her, even after he inherits his title. I had great empathy for his character and wanted him to get the girl.

I highly recommend Brette: Intentions Gone Astray, especially if you enjoy a great Regency romance that will have you laughing and crying throughout the story. I look forward to reading other books by this talented author.

A Lady Without a Lord (Penningtons #3) by Bliss Bennet

a lady without a lord

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A viscount convinced he’s a failure

For years, Theophilius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .

A lady determined she’ll succeed

Harriot Atherton has a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?

As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father and discovering the missing money, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?

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Publisher and Release Date: Bliss Bennet, February 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

A Lady Without a Lord is the third in Bliss Bennet’s Penningtons series and the first book I’ve read by this author. The story she’s created has a lot of good character moments that kept me reading from cover to cover; however her distinctive writing style was a bit harder to engage with.

Lord Theophilius Pennington is charming, witty and always makes a good impression on everyone – except the members of his family. Growing up as heir, Theo was pressured from an early age to take an interest in the family’s properties as well as follow his father into the political arena. Unfortunately, difficulties with numeracy gave Theo’s family the impression that he was lazy or not suited to the tasks required of a future viscount. When their father died, Theo’s younger sister Sibilla worked to maintain the family’s political activism by marring a man whose drive for social change mirrored her own ambitions. Meanwhile Theo was content to allow his land steward to manage the books and keep him informed of problems while he lived a carefree life in London. Everything changes when it’s time to pay out Sibilla’s dowry and it’s discovered that the Pennington family accounts are barely solvent. Hoping to hide this new problem from his sister, Theo swears his new brother-in-law to secrecy while he makes an emergency trip to meet with his steward for an explanation.

Miss Harriot Atherton is surprised and just the smallest bit alarmed when the new Lord Saybrook comes back to his estate wanting to meet immediately with her father. Mr. Atherton is the long serving steward for the Pennington family but for the last year it’s really been Harry keeping accounts and reporting everything in her father’s name. She has been hiding the fact that her father’s mind has been slipping and he can no longer manage his responsibilities without help. When Harry learns that Theo’s unannounced visit to the country is motivated by the shocking loss of over four thousand pounds, she is scared that her father’s disability will be discovered as well as her own interference in the running of the estate.

Living at his estate again reminds Theo that the responsibilities of his title are not limited to just having a seat in parliament. There are many people who depend on the Saybrook viscountcy for their livelihood and it’s been his error to ignore how important his involvement in local matters is. Theo finds himself discussing many community concerns with Harry and rekindling their childhood friendship. Their closeness stirs an attraction between the pair that is initially viewed as an inconvenience by them both. As they work to find the missing dowry, Theo’s interest for Harry becomes focused on her other qualities, such as her intelligence and her patience, while Harry is drawn to Theo’s amiable nature. Swaying even his staunchest critics with charm is something she would have difficulty doing but for Theo it is second nature. Unfortunately the secrets she’s keeping from Theo could derail the trust they’ve built and the new emotions he brings out in her.

Both main characters in A Lady Without a Lord are written to allow them their normal human insecurities while still building up their appeal as romantic leads. Theo’s difficulties with mathematics are drawn from a real life condition called dyscalculia, which, in a family of high achievers this disability forced him to hide behind a nonchalant disposition. Harry’s self-doubts are also deeply rooted, as the result of losing her mother at an early age and never quite catching on socially. Each of them has learned to become a people-pleaser in order to mask their fears or disappoint those closest to them. In partnering together to find the missing money or by forcing each other to work outside of their comfort zones, Theo and Harry discover there’s much more to their personalities. Harry helps Theo understand that his charm can be used to get things done while he shows her it’s alright to have aspirations of her own outside of what others may want from her.

I enjoyed A Lady Without a Lord but found it a challenge to get excited for Theo and Harry’s love affair. Passions are kept at a cool or warm level throughout their courtship and I found myself missing some of the sparks – either real or manufactured through events – that ignite a romantic relationship. Since I liked both characters I have to put some of this dispassion at the door of Ms. Bennet’s style of writing. Things are described well and events flow smoothly, but there’s an almost clinical approach to how things unfold. The skewed focus is almost like the author wants to show readers just how much research she did on conditions such as dementia, and I dislike feeling like I’m being schooled while I’m being entertained. But with that said, my curiosity about the next couple to be featured in The Penningtons series and a hope of seeing more of Theo and Harry’s HEA motivates me to give this author another try.