Will’s True Wish (True Gentlemen #3) by Grace Burrowes

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It’s a dog’s life…
Will Dorning, as an earl’s spare, has accepted the thankless duty of managing his rambunctious younger siblings, though Will’s only true companions are the dogs he’s treasured since boyhood. When aristocratic London is plagued with a series of dognappings, Will’s brothers are convinced that he’s the only person who can save the stolen canines from an awful fate.

But the lady’s choice…
Shy, bookish Lady Susannah Haddonfield has no patience with loud, smelly beasts of any species, but must appear to like dogs so as not to offend her sister’s only marital prospect. Susannah turns to Will, an acquaintance from her most awkward adolescent years, to teach her how to impersonate a dog fancier. Will has long admired Susannah, though he lacks the means to offer for her, and yet as they work together to rescue the purloined pets, it’s loyal, dashing Will who steals Susannah’s heart.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I love Grace Burrowes’ historical romances and have read almost all of them. Over the years I have noticed that her heroes – besides being handsome, charming, and lovable – are decidedly devoted to their horses. The author obviously loves horses and it shows. She clearly loves and understands dogs as well, and her affection for them is evident throughout Will’s True Wish. Several dogs play featured roles in the story, and each of their personalities comes through as clearly as those of the human characters.

Our heroine is Lady Susannah Haddonfield, one of the sisters of Nicholas, the Earl of Bellfonte. Susannah is in London for the season to chaperone her younger sister, Della. Seven years ago, during Susannah’s début season, she was the victim of unfounded rumors and nasty tricks perpetrated by two mean sisters who pretended to be her friends. Our hero, Will Dorning, was kind to Susanna then, and ever since, she has secretly felt a tendre for him. Although Will was attracted to Susannah, he was the second son of a purse-pinched earl and not looking for a wife, so their friendship never blossomed into anything serious. Susannah is now resigned to being on the shelf, but is determined that her sister will not be the subject of gossip. There is some reason for her concern, given that Della, who is small and dark, looks nothing like her tall, blond Haddonfield siblings.

Will is dedicated to taking care of his family – older brother Grey, the Earl of Casriel, and their rowdy younger brothers Cam and Ash. (As you will see – and for reasons not explained – the brothers are named for trees – Grey Birch, Willow, Sycamore, and Ash. Their sister is Jacaranda, after the fragrant, blooming sub-tropical tree. Brothers Valerian and Hawthorne are mentioned but do not appear in the narrative.) Will has forged the beginnings of a career training herding and working dogs; he is a sort of dog whisperer to the ton and is particularly devoted to his own dog, a gentle giant of a mastiff named Georgette.

One day as Cam is walking Georgette in the park, the usually well-behaved dog becomes over-excited and relieves herself on Lady Susannah’s parasol. Actually, Georgette may have been aiming at the knee of Viscount Effington, who raised the unfurled parasol to strike at the dog. This is just the first instance of a dog knowing people better than other people do. Effington is a nasty piece of work, but he is courting Della and Susannah is encouraging the match. He constantly carries around a spoiled little pug named Yorrick, which doesn’t bother Della, but Susannah really doesn’t like dogs at all. When Will comes to call on the Haddonfield sisters with a replacement parasol, Susannah asks him to help her overcome her aversion to dogs. Her motivation is a bit of a stretch for this reader: she is worried that Effington will be offended and hold it against Della if her realizes that her sister is not a dog lover.

So begins Will and Susannah’s reintroduction to one another, and Grace Burrowes has written a lovely story of two mature people falling in love and having to face the very real obstacles that confront them. Will simply does not have the income to support a wife, and he also feels obligated to continue helping his older brother corral their younger siblings. I love the way that Will and Susannah discuss these issues directly and without any Big Misunderstanding. Susannah is a wonderful heroine – strong and assertive without being hoydenish.

While the romance grows, very strange things are happening. It appears that Della is somehow blackmailing the Duke of Quimby’s young, handsome heir, Jonathan Tresham. The evil Effington, who is secretly broke, is forcing his friend Fenwick to spread nasty rumors about Della, thinking that her ruin will garner him a larger dowry. And we learn of a series of dog-nappings involving the pets of wealthy families. At Susannah’s insistence Will becomes involved in trying to find the culprits and of course, she becomes involved in the adventure as well.

Somehow, Grace Burrowes keeps all of these balls in their air and produces a happy ending for everyone, including all of the dogs. Will’s True Wish is a sweet story full of romance, adventure – and dogs – and I recommend it both to lovers of canines and fans of Burrowes’ marvelous story-telling talent.

An Affair in Autumn (A Year Without a Duke #4) by Jennifer Haymore

an affair in autumn
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Caroline Addison, Lady Whytestone, has important news to deliver to her old friend–he has inherited a dukedom! He could be in New York or perhaps in South America, but no matter. Caro is an independent woman, so who says she can’t indulge in a little adventure and travel across the Atlantic–and maybe across a continent–to find him?

On a mission to locate the new Duke of Beckworth, Lord Markus Hawkins has boarded a ship bound for America. But when Mark walks out of his cabin and runs into his nemesis, Caroline Addison, who happens to be in search of the very same man, his head threatens to explode out of sheer frustration. Caro is headstrong, frustrating, selfish, wickedly intelligent, and so damn beautiful, Mark can’t see anything but her when she’s near. How’s he going to survive the long voyage ahead?

Over the years, Caro and Mark have run the gamut from dear friends to bitter enemies. Now, in the close quarters of a sailing ship, sparks fly as old feelings return to the surface and new ones begin to simmer inside. Caro and Mark are headed for America, for the new duke, and for something that might be the love of a lifetime. But only if they don’t destroy each other first.

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Publisher & Release Date: Jennifer Haymore, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: England and America, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance novella (100 pages)
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Vikki

With An Affair in Autumn, Jennifer Haymore has again captured my mind with another spellbinding story set in the Regency period. I discovered Ms. Haymore when I read her debut novel A Hint of Wicked, and I have been hooked ever since and she’s an auto-buy author for me.

Caroline Addison, Lady Whytestone, finds out her childhood friend is heir to a dukedom. Being an independent young widow, she does not bat an eye at setting out on a transatlantic trip to New York, her friend’s last known residence.

After ascertaining his friend’s possible location, Lord Markus Hawkins is determined to find him and boards a ship bound for America. When he realises that Caro is also on the ship, he is not happy. Other than the day when he inquired after his friend, they haven’t seen each other in more than ten years and had parted bitterly.

As the pair travel to their destination, the passion becomes too much for them to ignore. Can Caro and Mark find a way to mend their estrangement, or will hurt feelings and misconceptions drive them apart?

I enjoy friends-to-lovers romances, especially when the friendship goes back to the characters’ childhoods. The plot of this novella is very believable, and I fell in love with the main characters from the very beginning. Ms. Haymore is a master at building sexual tension and the chemistry between Caro and Mark jumps off the page.

While I’m normally, not fond of extremely independent women in historicals, I thoroughly enjoyed Caro’s character – she touched my heart. She had endured a loveless marriage for ten long years and is finally released from bondage. I loved the opening scene where she is spending some of her late husband’s vast fortune on charities he would detest. She couldn’t get back at him while he lived, but she could surely have him turning in his grave. I liked the way she approached life and her determination to find her friend.

We first met Mark in The Duchess Hunt, a book I adored. He is the brother to Simon, the Duke of Kent and has a very sad backstory. Five years have passed since the setting for the earlier book, and Mark has spent the years traveling, trying to run from a shameful secret. When he at last opens up to Caro and shares his deepest hurt, my heart ached and tears stung my eyes.

While this is a fairly short book, Ms. Haymore is able to fully flesh out her characters, making them come alive on the pages of her story. Her vivid description of the ship and crew members are particularly vivid; when the ship is hit by a terrible storm, I sat on the edge of my seat as the scene unfolded. I could almost feel the rain slashing down upon them all.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to read An Affair in Autumn. If you enjoy a well-written emotionally-charged historical romance, then you will love this book as much as I did. I am definitely looking forward to reading the last book in this series, A Duke By December by Sabrina Darby. It has Nathaniel Hughes as the hero, the long sought after heir to the dukedom. He is introduced at the end of An Affair in Autumn, and I think his story line will be vastly entertaining.

VIRTUAL TOUR: An Improper Bride by Lily Maxton

The Improper Bride

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Cold, arrogant, and demanding Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, would never dally with a mere servant. But when Henry is injured in a horrible fire, his pretty housekeeper Cassandra nurses him back to health, throwing them together day and night. As he slowly heals from his burns, their friendship blossoms, and the class walls between them start to crumble. Cassandra is surprised by glimpses of a kind and thoughtful man beneath her employer’s hard façade—and even more surprised when she develops tender feelings for him. But anything between lord and servant is impossible…and besides, as a widow, she knows love only leads to heartbreak.

Henry is changing, as well. His close brush with death has opened his eyes to his self-imposed emotional isolation…and has urgently reminded him of his duty to marry a well-bred lady and produce an heir. Determined to do right by his family name, he immediately begins searching for a suitable bride. But Cassandra is the only woman who is never far from his mind or his heart. Contrary to everything he’s been taught to believe, he realizes his lovely housekeeper might just be his perfect match. Now, if only he could convince everyone else of that. Especially Cassandra…

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EXCERPT

“Oh, indeed?” he said softly, in a tone that scared her with its evenness. “What you feel for me is mere…servitude?”

No! Good Lord, there was nothing subservient in the way she’d pressed into his body in the snow, or when she’d cradled his face in her palms, or slept spooned up against him on the library floor. But admitting that would only make a complicated situation even more tangled. “Yes, I suppose, if that is what you wish to call it.”

He took a step toward her. “And when I recognized you even blindfolded, and your body trembled as I whispered in your ear, that was merely lord and housekeeper?”

She swallowed, her face heating. “I…” She cleared her throat. “That was a misunderstanding.”

He took her hand in his and tugged. She stumbled forward, nearly colliding with him. She would have, if she hadn’t braced her hand on his chest. She had to tilt her head back to look him in the eyes and she was very aware that he hadn’t removed his fingers from her wrist. Each one was distinct, burning her like brands.

“In that case, touch me,” he growled.

“What? No, I—”

“If you’re not affected by my presence, man to woman, I want you to prove it.” His eyes blazed with challenge.

“You are being ridiculous,” she said, her voice quaking as much as her heart.

He untied his cravat with one hand and let it drop to the floor, revealing his throat and his collarbone—smooth, pale skin, unmarred by the fire. She saw the pulse in his throat, saw that it was beating faster than normal.

“Touch me,” he ordered. Like Satan whispering temptation in her ear… Do you want the apple? Take it. Taste it. Her hand was still on his chest. Take it.

She wanted to so much, with a yearning that left her weak. She slid her hand up, her fingertips brushing his shoulder. He was tense. When she touched skin, he sucked in a quick breath.

A heady feeling, to know a simple touch could affect him so strongly. Heady and hot, and not at all servile.

It occurred to her, she was playing right into the scoundrel’s hands.

She didn’t care. The contact, the warmth of him, the way his pulse trembled under her fingers, had a similar effect to the whisky. It was like flame dancing along her limbs. Her nerves tingled, surging and alive. She let her thumb brush his collarbone, memorizing the contour of the graceful, jutting sweep, and paused at the hollow of his throat where she could feel the pounding of his heart.

Taste it.

No, she couldn’t… But she was already letting her head fall forward, her willpower succumbing to the hard, harsh rhythm of her body. Her lips grazed the hollow and his fingers tightened around her wrist, almost hurting her but not quite. She breathed him in, salt and spice and skin.

And licked him.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Scandalous, 25 Jan 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Buckinghamshire and London, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Claudia

TIB_500Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, is everything one would expect of an aristocrat: cold, arrogant and superior and he would never, ever dally with a servant. Following a house fire that leaves him severely injured and scarred for life, he becomes far more than surly and bad-tempered. In order to prevent him from giving in to melancholy, his surgeon asks Cassandra Davis, Riverton’s housekeeper, to find him something to keep his mind occupied. An intelligent woman possessed of an enquiring mind, Cassandra hits upon the idea of having him teach her to speak German. During their time together, both learn more about the other person and begin to see the other as more than just the station they occupy in life.

This is a wonderful and delightful romance about two people who are scarred by life and try to do best with what they have. I loved that the story focuses on the characters, who are wonderfully complex and three dimensional.

Cassandra is a beautiful person and she is definitely not the typical heroine you find in historical romances. She is thirty-two and a widow and is so very compassionate and loving qualities that shine through in every way. Nevertheless, she has her own demons to fight and learns a lot about herself during this story, learning how to let go of her past, how to see beyond station and society’s dictats and especially to see that it’s possible to embrace second chances and be happy, even if doing so means that life is not always easy and living with the person you love isn’t always a bed of roses.

But it’s the hero who has the biggest obstacles to overcome and the biggest changes to go through. Born to a position of entitlement and taught early never to love or trust, Riverton gradually changes from a cold, disdainful aristocrat to a loving a compassionate person. He is a great hero and the author’s skill in showing how he embraced that change is impressive. She shows him evolving not only through actions and words but also via small things, such as how he is addressed during the story and how he views himself. In the beginning, for example, we always hear about the Marquess, Riverton or other formal title, which shows his station. But as the story progresses and he begins to change, his given name is used more frequently.

This is very much a character-driven story with no big adventure plotlines or mysteries, but that didn’t stop me falling in love with it. Ms Maxton paints an accurate picture of what life was like for servants at the time the book is set, and the difference in station between Cassandra and Henry is never belittled or ignored – both of them are very aware of it and it shows in every act and every sentence. Their exchanges are always meaningful and often the smallest gestures have the biggest impact. They have terrific chemistry and the sparks between them really do fly.

This is the first book by Lily Maxton I have read, but it will definitely not be my last. An Improper Bride is very well-written, the characterisation is excellent and the development of the romance is lovely. I was totally sucked into the story and was sorry to see it end. It’s a book I’m sure I’ll return to and one I’m happy to recommend to anyone who enjoys seeing two wonderful people falling in love with each other. You will love them, too!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lily Maxton Profile PhotoLily Maxton grew up in the Midwest, reading, writing, and daydreaming amidst cornfields. After graduating with a degree in English, she decided to put her natural inclinations to good use and embark on a career as a writer. When she’s not working on a new story, she likes to tour old houses, add to her tea stash, and think of reasons to avoid housework.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Imaginary Brightness by Sheila Myers

imaginary brightness

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This saga re-imagines the lives of an American railroad tycoon Thomas Durant and his family, clawing their way back from the brink of bankruptcy after the Panic of 1873. Will the Durant pioneering spirit prevail? Or will the artistic-leanings and ill-fated love interests of the Durant offspring derail their father’s ambitions to pioneer the American wilderness? Set at the dawn of the glamorous Gilded Age, this story unfolds the inner-turmoil of a family that once had all the trappings of money, and will do anything to get it back.

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EXCERPT

“So tell me, Poultney, what’ve you been doing without me these past several weeks? It must be pure torture not receiving my poems so you can tear them apart,” Ella teased as they went for a walk in the woods later that day.

“Actually, I read ‘Raquette’. You did a brilliant job describing the place. ‘Here in the depths, Oh Lethean Lake! We drop our griefs, our vain regret! As from an evil dream we wake, tasting health’s sweetness, learning at last life’s completeness.’” Poultney swooned.

“My, my, you’ve memorized my work. And you’re complimenting it! How unusual for you.”

“Not really, my dear. If I spent too much time praising you, you’d never like me. You’re all about the challenge. Besides, the poem shows you’re finally getting over your lost love in England, or Scotland, or wherever he was from. That makes me happy.”

“Don’t be too happy just yet, Poultney.” Ella smiled. “I may be over him, but I’m not head over heels for you. You play cat and mouse with me too much for my liking. I don’t want to be batted around like a plaything for your amusement,” Ella said with a slight smile.

Poultney threw his head back and let out a hearty guffaw. “Ella,” he said, “you are more than a mouse to my cat-like cravings.”

They walked the shoreline path that led away from Pine Knot and before too long found themselves in front of the hunting cabin.

Ella had not seen it since the summer before when she was on the boat with William. It was much improved. There was a porch and glass windows that faced the lake. They went inside.

Two rooms split the front of the cabin; one was a small bedroom with two cots, the other a parlor. Behind the small bedroom was a kitchen and behind the parlor was a master bedroom.

The two could not squelch their curiosity — they went to the master bedroom. And there it was: a bed the likes of which neither had ever seen before. Similar furniture was scattered throughout Pine Knot but this bed was a piece of art. It was sculpted out of wood with ornate geometric patterns of inlaid woods decking the headboard.

“My God, it’s a marriage bed!” Poultney said.

Ella saw William’s Swiss chalet music box, the one he had intended to give to Florence, on the dresser and felt the need to get out of there. Ella was embarrassed for William and their intrusion on what must be his private lair.

Poultney turned to her, his eyes full of desire. Ella caught her breath.

“Should we try it out?” he asked.

“Poultney,” Ella was flustered by his proposal, “don’t jest with me.”

He put his arms around her waist and kissed her passionately. Then he reached for her bodice. “You’re not wearing a corset are you?” He breathed on her neck.

She blushed, aroused, and scared to death of his presence. She kissed him back. “No, I never do,” she whispered. “Not here anyway.”

He started to untie her bodice so he could see what was underneath her blouse. As surprised as she was, Ella didn’t stop him.

Just then they heard voices in the woods. It was William and Louise, walking toward to the cabin to rest for a short while before the afternoon’s events. If they went through the front they would be found out. This was one situation that Ella would not be able to talk her way out of.

Ella and Poultney looked for an escape and saw the door leading out of the master bedroom.

An easy exit, how had they missed it before? They stifled their laughter until they were a safe distance from the cabin and then exhaled in the woods. Ella finally composed herself so she could put her bodice back in place. She was shocked at how quickly and easily she had responded to his desire. Still giggling, they took each other’s hand and walked back to Pine Knot.

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TO WIN AN eCOPY OF IMAGINARY BRIGHTNESS, ENTER AT RAFFLECTOPTER. ENTRY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sheila MyersSheila Myers is an Associate Professor at a college in Upstate NY. She began researching and writing about the Durant family after staying in the cabin where William West Durant supposedly kept his mistress Minnie in the Adirondack wilderness. She has traveled to numerous museums, libraries, and places where the Durant family lived and vacationed to research the family saga. What began as a love story has turned into an epic trilogy. Imaginary Brightness is the first book, the second – Castles in the Air will be published in late spring 2016. – See more at http://www.wwdurantstory.com/

VIRTUAL TOUR: My American Duchess by Eloisa James

VT-MyAmericanDuchess-EJames-FINAL

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The arrogant Duke of Trent intends to marry a well-bred Englishwoman. The last woman he would ever consider marrying is the adventuresome Merry Pelford— an American heiress who has infamously jilted two fiancés.

But after one provocative encounter with the captivating Merry, Trent desires her more than any woman he has ever met. He is determined to have her as his wife, no matter what it takes. And Trent is a man who always gets what he wants.

The problem is, Merry is already betrothed, and the former runaway bride has vowed to make it all the way to the altar. As honor clashes with irresistible passion, Trent realizes the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined. In his battle to save Merry and win her heart, one thing becomes clear:

All is fair in love and war.

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EXCERPT

He didn’t move. “Tell me, do you consider yourself representative of American ladies?”

“In some respects,” she said, hesitating.

His smile deepened. “How do American ladies compare to their English counterparts?”

“Well, American ladies prefer to speak rather than warble,” Merry said, with a mischievous grin. “We never faint, and our constitutions are far hardier than those of delicate English gentlewomen. Oh, and we add tea to our milk, rather than the other way around.”

“You are of the impression that ‘delicate’ characterizes the fair sex as represented tonight in Lady Portmeadow’s ballroom?”

Merry pursed her lips, thinking of the hawk-eyed ladies who ruled over London society. “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Englishwomen aspire to delicacy, and American women do not. For my part, I believe that a woman’s temperament is something she ought to be able to decide for herself. I have no plan to have an attack of the vapors now, nor shall I in the future.”

“I’ve heard about these ‘vapors,’ but I have yet to see a woman faint,” he said, folding his arms over his chest.

He had a nice chest. Her eyes drifted all the way down to his powerful thighs, before she recovered herself and snapped her gaze back to his face. His expression was unchanged, so hopefully he hadn’t noticed her impropriety.

Still, in the back of her mind, she admitted that Aunt Bess was right: on the right man, snug silk pantaloons were an undeniably appealing fashion.

He was patiently waiting for her to respond. He had a kind of power about him that had nothing to do with fashion. Now she thought of it, she had seen that kind of self-possession before: in the Mohawk warrior she’d once met as a girl.

She shook her head, pushing the thought away. “Not even once? In that case, you’re either lucky or remarkably unobservant. Didn’t you notice the fuss earlier this evening when Miss Cernay collapsed?”

“I arrived only a quarter of an hour ago. Why did Miss Cernay faint?”

“She claimed a mouse ran up her leg.”

“That is highly improbable,” he remarked, a sardonic light in his eyes. “Lady Portmeadow is notorious for her frugality, and not even mice care to starve.”

“Miss Cernay’s claim is not the point,” Merry explained. “She was likely groped by Lord Ma—by someone, and fainted from pure shock. Or perhaps she feigned a swoon to avoid further indignities. Either way, I promise you that an American lady would have taken direct action.”

He unfolded his arms and his eyes narrowed. “Am I to infer that you know who this blackguard was because he groped you as well?”

“‘Grope’ is perhaps too strong,” Merry said, noticing the air of menace that suddenly hung about those large shoulders. “‘Fondle’ would be more accurate.”

Her clarification didn’t improve matters. “Who was it?” he demanded. His brows were a dark line.

She certainly didn’t want to be responsible for an unpleasant confrontation. “I haven’t any idea,” she said, fibbing madly.

“I collect that you did not faint.”

“Certainly not. I defended myself.”

“I see,” he said, looking interested. “How did you do that, exactly?”

“I stuck him with my hatpin,” Merry explained.

“Your hatpin?”

She nodded, and showed him one of the two diamond hatpins adorning the top of her gloves. “In America, we pleat silk gloves at the top and thread a hatpin through. They hold up your gloves, but they can also be used to ward off wandering hands.”

“Very resourceful,” he said with a nod.

“Yes, well, the lord in question might have squealed loudly,” she told him impishly. “Everyone might have turned around to look. And I might have patted his arm and said that I knew that boils could be very troublesome. Did you know, by the way, that a treatment of yarrow is used for boils, but it will also stop a man’s hair from falling out?”

She could feel herself turning pink. He had no need of that remedy. Although cropped short, his hair was quite thick, as best she could see on the shadowy balcony.

But he gave a deep chuckle, and Merry relaxed, realizing that it was the first time all week—perhaps even all month—she felt free to be herself. This man actually seemed to like it when a bit of information escaped from her mouth.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, 26th January 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maggi

MY AMERICAN DUCHESSEloisa James has done it again with this charming romp, which is at times hilarious. American, Merry Pelford has broken off her two previous engagements and her reputation has followed her to England. After she accepts the hand of a duke’s second son, Lord Cedric Allardyce, she comes to realize the man of her dreams is his brother, Jack, the Duke of Trent. When Merry first meets Trent, she doesn’t recognize him as a duke or anyone of consequence. The highlighting of the differences between American and British societies during the Regency add a rich subtext.

“The man glowering down at an innocent whitethorn hedge was probably from one of the lower rungs of the social ladder, someone whom most people in that ballroom would look right through. In America, he would be free to make his own way, judged on his merits, not his birth.”

Merry cannot run again and it seems inevitable that this time she must marry Lord Cedric. She begins to doubt herself capable of commitment.

Trent’s attraction is immediate; he wants Merry for his wife, but he can do nothing but watch as she and his brother move ever closer to the altar.

Merry’s a charming heroine, she’s practical and refreshingly honest, and struggles to conform to the dictates of London society, which tends to get her into trouble at times.

I could picture Hugh Grant as the wayward brother, Lord Cedric, in this, and Colin Firth as the Duke of Trent. There’s plenty to laugh at, especially the scene with the rented pineapple.

Trent and Merry marry under difficult circumstances. It seems everything will go smoothly, as the chemistry between them sizzles. Ms. James’ portrayal of a couple in the throes of falling in love who can’t keep their hands off each other is superb.

But their relationship hits a thorny patch. Trent, a deeply wounded man, doesn’t believe in romantic love, and issues of trust arise.

The secondary characters are also delightful. Merry’s Aunt Bess, a poetess, has a great gift for metaphor and is unimpressed with upper-class British society:

“That ballroom is full of women pretending never to have gawked at a man’s wishbone,” she pointed out, “whereas in reality they walk around the room like butchers’ wives at a fish market.”

Bess offers Merry some unvarnished advice:

“A title is all very well, my dear, but I think it’s better to judge a husband on his own merits—on the plain naked man, if you take my meaning.”

There’s an engaging roly-poly puppy, George, and eventually, after some bittersweet moments, a happy ending. My American Duchess is a wonderful read, and one I have no hesitation in recommending highly.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eloisa_JamesA New York Times bestselling author, Eloisa James is a professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but who can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. (Her husband is an honest to goodness Italian knight!) Eloisa’s website offers short stories, extra chapters, and even a guide to shopping in Florence. Visit her at www.eloisajames.com.
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A Duchess in Name (Grantham Girls #1) by Amanda Weaver

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After graduating from British finishing school, an American heiress fulfills her duty and weds a destitute earl. A lie brought them together, but will it also tear them apart? Find out in this can’t-miss Victorian marriage-of-convenience story from a compelling new voice in historical romance.

Victoria Carson never expected love. An American heiress and graduate of Lady Grantham’s finishing school, she’s been groomed since birth to marry an English title—the grander the better. So when the man chosen for her, the forbidding Earl of Dunnley, seems to hate her on sight, she understands that it can’t matter. Love can have no place in this arrangement.

Andrew Hargrave has little use for his title and even less for his cold, disinterested parents. Determined to make his own way, he’s devoted to his life in Italy working as an archaeologist. Until the collapse of his family’s fortune drags him back to England to a marriage he never wanted and a woman he doesn’t care to know.

Wild attraction is an unwanted complication for them both, though it forms the most fragile of bonds. Their marriage of convenience isn’t so intolerable after all—but it may not be enough when the deception that bound them is finally revealed.

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Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, 18 January 2016

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: London, 1895
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

“Her sole purpose on earth was to unite her large fortune to a title, the grander the better.”

Victoria Carson, daughter of an American manufacturing magnate has been schooled all her life for one thing: to marry an English title, and the higher the rank the better. When she is nineteen, an agreement is made between Victoria’s father and the current Duke of Waring for their children to wed.

At twenty-seven, Andrew Hargrave, Earl of Dunnley, and heir to the Duke of Waring, is of a marriageable age. When his older brother died, his accession to the position of heir landed with an unwelcome thud on his broad shoulders. Having never been tutored for the role, his real interests lie in archaeology. When he receives word at his dig in Italy to return home, he is greeted with the news that his family is destitute, his father having lost their wealth. It is now expected of Andrew to marry well to revive the family fortune and wealth.

Resentful but duty-bound, Andrew agrees to the marriage-of-convenience, if only for the sake of his sisters. After meeting the lovely and gracious Victoria, both she and Andrew hope that theirs could at least be a civil and perhaps happy union, if not a love match. But the hopefulness doesn’t last long, when Andrew becomes convinced that Victoria is as conniving and as ambitious to gain a title as are her parents. Feeling trapped and manipulated, any trust or hope for a successful union is quashed.

Rarely does a heroine overshadow the hero in a romance for me. But Victoria is a complete delight. After being abandoned straight after her wedding night and left with the servants on her husband’s derelict estate, Victoria proceeds to roll up her sleeves and get on with the restoration of his ancestral home and lands. Realising she’s not up to the task alone, she goes ahead and hires the proper help. She writes beautiful, engaging letters to Andrew overseas, detailing the work and her life. Which he doesn’t bother to answer.

Now, given that Andrew is misinformed about Victoria, and given that he felt cornered into an arranged marriage, as well as the dysfunction he saw in his own parents’ marriage and therefore hoped to avoid, it’s certainly possible to have some sympathy for him. But he simply assumes, without ever truly finding out for himself, that what he’s been told of Victoria is indeed true and returns to Italy and to his mistress. For those who dislike adultery in their romances, this may be another strike against our hero. Finally, when he does come to his senses and tries to do the right thing by Victoria, it’s almost too little, too late for her. She really is wary and I can’t blame her.

However, putting aside my issues with the hero, A Duchess in Name is a well-written and very enjoyable historical. Ms Weaver has written a lovely romance with a particularly wonderful heroine. This is the first in The Grantham Girls series, and I look forward to reading about Victoria’s friends, Amelia and Grace.

Highland Spitfire by Mary Wine

highland spitfire
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Passion flares between enemies
Two hotheaded Highlanders, the offspring of feuding lairds, are tricked by the King’s Regent into a desperate choice: marry or die. Bhaic MacPherson is more disposed to lead his clan into battle than stay married to the daughter of his enemy. But perhaps the intensity of his feelings has more to do with desire than hostility.

And the Highlands ignite
Ailis Robertson wanted a husband, not a savage-but when her family was faced with a deadly ultimatum, she had no choice. The union of a MacPherson and a Robertson could end three generations of hostilities between the two families, but can bitter rivals truly become lovers?

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, February 2, 2016
Genre: Historical Romance
Time and Setting: 16th Century Scotland
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I’m always down for a good enemies to lovers tale, and who doesn’t love the Scottish Highlands? Ailis Robertson, beloved only daughter of Laird Robertson, accompanies her father to an important meeting with the king’s regent. Bhaic MacPherson, heir to his clan, accompanies his father to the same meeting. But it’s an ambush. The clans have been warring for three generations, and the regent wants to put a stop to it once and for all. Surrounded by the king’s soldiers, the regent presents the Robertsons and MacPhersons with a choice: wed their heirs to each other to form an alliance . . . or die. The clans hate each other so much that both Ailis and Bhaic actually consider putting up a fight, but duty wins out. After a hasty ceremony, Ailis says good-bye to her father and rides with Bhaic to his home, where she faces a challenge beyond her imagining. The setup that forces them to wed may feel a bit contrived and dramatic, but they were living in dramatic times, and I went along with it to see where the marriage would take them. And I’m glad I did.

Highland Spitfire is hard for me to rate because there were some aspects I absolutely loved, but there were also some I thought could have been handled better. I’ll start with what I loved. The fish-out-of-water theme is always rife with material for a good story, and this time even more so because Bhaic’s clan is so openly hostile and distrusting of Ailis. I really like the way the author portrays clan dynamics, both within the MacPherson stronghold and without. And the characters are great. Ailis is strong and smart, and she admirably attempts to make the best of her situation, though the clan goes out of their way to make that hard for her to do. Bhaic is also strong, smart, and surprisingly sympathetic to his new bride. He behaves just the way you’d want a hero to in this situation, and he would fight Ailis’s battle with the clan for her if he could, but she wisely stays his hand, knowing she’s got to win them over on her own. And the sexual tension between them is smokin’ as their in-name-only marriage becomes so much more. It’s also fraught with humor as the couple is interrupted time and again during their attempts to finally consummate their marriage. It’s an exciting, emotional story with some plot twists I didn’t see coming.

Now for what I didn’t love. I really wish this book had had stronger editorial guidance. For example, too much time is spent on two supporting characters who I’m assuming are getting their own book, so there was no need to give them so much page time and points of view in this one when we already had so much drama and angst to work out with the hero and heroine. It really detracted from their story and made the plot feel a bit like it was meandering. Speaking of POVs, the shifts are handled rather sloppily. This could have easily been corrected to make for a tighter, more focused story. And finally, some real opportunities for dramatic scenes were missed, particularly from Bhaic’s POV during some trying times. I wanted a more in-depth exploration of his internal conflict and his feelings for Ailis.

So therein lies my confliction. On the one hand, Highland Spitfire has some technical issues. But on the other, it’s still a highly enjoyable read, with some really meaty themes, strong historical context, and was a book that I couldn’t put down. If you’re a fan of Scottish romances, add this one to your list.

Duke of My Heart (Season for Scandal #1) by Kelly Bowen

duke of my heart
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Scandal can be handled…

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the unconventional tenth Duke of Alderidge, can deal with tropical storms, raging seas, and the fiercest of pirates. But he’s returned home from his latest voyage to find a naked earl – quite inconveniently deceased – tied to his missing sister’s bed. And he has only one place to turn. Now he’s at the mercy of the captivating Miss Ivory Moore of Chegarre & Associates, known throughout London for smoothing over the most dire of scandals.

Miss Moore treats the crisis as though it were no more serious than a cup of spilt tea on an expensive rug. As though this sort of thing happened on the job every day. Max has never in all his life met a woman with such nerve. Her dark eyes are too wide, her mouth is too full, her cheekbones too sharp. Yet together, she’s somehow…flawless. It’s just like his love for her, imperfect, unexpected – yet absolutely true.

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, Feburary 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1819
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

I thoroughly enjoyed the books I read in Kelly Bowen’s début Dukes of Worth series last year, and had marked her out as a new author to watch as a result. In Duke of My Heart she has once again crafted an entertaining story that is well-written and strongly characterised, with deft touches of humour and a nicely developed romance.

Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge, returns home after two years at sea to discover a dead, naked earl tied to his sister’s bed and his sister missing, while downstairs, there is a ballroom full of people gathered to mark Lady Beatrice’s come-out. Used to being in control and having every order obeyed, he isn’t predisposed to listen to the advice of the lovely, but unfamiliar woman who seems to have taken charge of the situation and starts telling him what to do.

Miss Ivory Moore represents Chagarre & Associates, an incredibly discreet organisation that specialises in fixing the seemingly unfixable, salvaging reputations and making scandals disappear. She has been summoned by Max’s aunt, Lady Helen, to prevent the ruin of her niece’s reputation as well as to see if she can discover what has happened to her. But Ivory’s clients are usually pleased to allow her to handle everything and then pay the bill, and Max makes it quite clear that he isn’t having any of that. His sister is missing, and it’s his responsibility to find her.

Max and Ivory’s relationship doesn’t get off to a great start, but once his initial panic wears off, Max realises that Ivory does know what she’s doing and starts to trust her. And for her part, Ivory has to accept that Max isn’t going to be a typical client who just sits back and waits for results. Even so, the pair continues to clash over methods, with Max generally wanting to rush in all guns blazing, while Ivory wants to take a more considered approach.

Being a third son, there was never any expectation that Max would inherit the dukedom, and so he was never prepared for it. In fact, his parents never bothered all that much about him and packed him off to sea as soon as he was old enough. But even though the death of his father and twin brothers has brought him a title, he doesn’t feel like a duke; he has never felt comfortable in the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the ton, loves his life at sea and sees no reason to change it. He believed he was doing the best for his sister and all his dependents by leaving them in the capable hands of his aunt while he pursued his interests elsewhere… but Beatrice’s disappearance is the catalyst for his realisation that perhaps what he thought was right for her was no such thing, and for him to face up to the fact that he has been running from his responsibilities.

And Ivory has spent so long bearing her own burdens and taking care of herself and everyone around her that she has almost forgotten what it is like to be able to let someone else shoulder some of them and what it is like to trust another person. Yet part of her longs to be able to share some of those burdens with Max, even if only for a short while, before he leaves England and returns to his former life at sea.

I enjoyed the book and raced through it in a couple of sittings. The premise is different, and both protagonists are complex, well-rounded characters with good reasons for acting as they do. I liked how Ivory was able to bring Max to draw his own conclusions about his deficiencies as a brother, and how Max was able to show Ivory that allowing a man into her life didn’t mean she was weak or had to give up her independence (although, of course, it would depend on her choosing the right man!)

But with all that said, there were a couple of things in the story that didn’t quite work for me. In the first place, the idea that an unmarried, childless peer of the realm – and a duke, no less – could spend his life captaining his fleet of ships rather than attending to his responsibilities to his estate and dependents required considerable suspension of disbelief; and in the second, while I appreciated Ivory’s sterling qualities, her intelligence, her desire for independence and her ability to stay one step ahead of the game, it was another big stretch to believe in her background as a former-opera-singer-turned-duchess-turned-society-‘spin-doctor’. Ms Bowen certainly gives plausible explanations for the situations of both protagonists, but I couldn’t quite buy either of them.

The ending is also a little weak. Ivory makes a distasteful deal to ensure Lady Bridget’s safety, leading Max to ride to her rescue – which he does most impressively. But then his efforts are shown to have been largely unnecessary, which made the whole thing rather anticlimactic. We’re repeatedly told that Ivory can handle herself and doesn’t need someone to rescue her, but this is a romance, and there are times when it’s allowable for one character to save the other. And it’s not as if Ivory hadn’t already pulled Max out of numerous tricky situations and saved his sister, so I think he could have been allowed his moment of glory, just that once.

I went back and forth over the final grade for this book. The weaknesses I’ve pointed out, plus the general modernity in tone pull the rating down, but those issues are balanced out by the strength of the writing, characterisation and sheer entertainment value. I enjoyed Duke of My Heart in spite of its flaws and it gets brownie points for being such a thoroughly engaging read. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different and definitely intend to look out for the next in the series.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: My Divinely Decadent Duke by Sandra Masters

MyDivinelyDecadentDuke_w10417_300

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Orphaned and abandoned by family, Lady Cassandra Montgomery yearns for love. Beautiful and innocent, she attracts the attention of a renowned rake, the Duke of Althorn. When her security is threatened, she offers him a proposal for an arranged marriage in exchange for his guarantee of safety for her and her ward. After her first taste of desire in his arms, she finds the sexual attraction irresistible. Finding herself in a family way, she leaves his home, unsure of his love.

The Duke is at first enraged by the brazen behavior, yet he sees Cassandra as a captivating caregiver for his mother and impossible to resist. He agrees. The arrangement becomes inconvenient because love and sex enter the equation.

Will she believe her husband truly loves her and return to his waiting arms?

Will the Duke admit his love and use his rakish skills to woo Cassandra back to his bed?

EXCERPT

It was time he schemed, too. “I’ll select a gown for you, if you like. I’ll be proud to have my two duchesses by my side in their jeweled tiaras. Your maid will bring all to you as befits this special occasion. The King’s ball demands no less of us.”

“Thank you.” A smile curled her lips, her eyes glistened. “I appreciate there is no ill will between us.” She turned her face away.

“You’d be surprised at how much more there’ll be between us, my wife.” He turned to the dowager. “I do believe my mother tires.”

“Shall I have a servant escort you, Mother?”

Before she could offer to leave the table with Lady Madelaine, his brow arched in contained fury; his gaze shot across the length of the table. Cassandra’s lips stilled.

“Thank you, Gordon.” The dowager arose and a servant walked behind her as she took to the steps.

He simply stared at Cassandra, perused her body, and how her generous bosom invited his attention even in the simple frock she wore. His face couldn’t hide his anger.

“You have left my bed of your own accord. That is a serious dereliction of duty on a wife’s part in England, punishable by beatings…and other dire measures.”

“It wasn’t the intent of our agreement to chain me to you and your bed.”

He poured more cognac into his snifter. “Now that conjures a seductive thought—perhaps you would enjoy such activity?”

“Stop it, Gordon. You are like a two-sided coin. One side is gracious and the other side is lascivious.” She clasped her hands in her lap.

“Did you expect me to jump for joy at the prospect of your early departure from my house on a permanent basis? After all we’ve shared, Cassandra? Did it mean nothing to you? Did you simply use me as a connoisseur of decadent lingerie?” He rose from his chair, glass in hand and walked the long length to her position.

“No, but I did not expect you to display fits of anger. It couldn’t have been a surprise to you.”

“Cassandra, allow me to recollect. You proposed the agreement. I originally refused and because I took pity on you,

I agreed to our business arrangement, as you put it.”

“You took pity on me? Is that what changed your mind? I didn’t need you as much as you needed me to care for your mother and get her well. You ass.”

“I might well be an ass since I trusted you, but you have stolen from me, my wife.”

She stood and faced him with defiance. “I have stolen nothing and only taken those items that were mine. Gowns, jewelry, coins, all are left behind.” Her napkin dropped from her lap.

“You are a thief, Cassandra. You have stolen the love of my mother, stolen the love of my dog, stolen the affection of my staff, and you claim you’re not a thief?”

“I did not steal them. It was theirs to give and I accepted—all to please you. You’re a dolt.”

“Hmm, did you take the lingerie you designed?”

“Yes, they were mine. I paid for them before I met you, Gordon.”

“Do you intend to put them to future use?” he asked, and moved an alcohol-braced whisper’s breath away from her.

“How do I know? If you want them, I’ll leave them for you to lavish on one of your other women.”

His hand slid around her waist. “There have been no other women since I met you. You are aware of that fact, aren’t you?”

“I hadn’t given it a thought. You’ve kept me so occupied, I don’t have free time to think.”

“I believe you lie to yourself, however, I indicated I wouldn’t stop you if you wished to leave, and that is so.

Yet, I wonder if you would entertain one last night with me for a final end to a four month marriage of convenience that has suddenly turned inconvenient.”

“I’d rather sleep in a stable than by your side,” she spat.

“I would never force myself on you, but perhaps you could be coaxed to have mercy on your poor husband who’ll be left without any conjugal rights available to him?”

“No.”

“Then one last kiss? The memory of it will warm me on cold nights.”

“If you do take to cold nights, a servant can bring you a warm brick, and perhaps you can strike yourself on the head with it.”

Then a simple thing happened. They laughed. He extended his arm. She accepted as they walked out of the room. Together.

As they ascended the steps, there were snickers and smiles. He pointed Cassandra to her chambers, opened his bedroom door, and closed it.

He would win her back, if it killed him.

GIVEAWAY

TO WIN AN eCOPY OF HER DIVINELY DECADENT DUKEENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandra Masters
Retired executive, Sandra Masters, rose from a humble beginning in Newark, NJ, a short stay at a convent in Morristown, NJ, to the board rooms of NYC, and a fantastic career for a broadcasting company in Carlsbad, California, to the rural foothills of the Sierras of Yosemite National Park, she has always traveled with pen and notebook. It’s been the journey of ten thousand miles. She left her corporate world behind and never looked back.

Nothing she expected, but everything she dreamed.

You can connect with Sandra at: authorsandramasters.com or find her on Facebook.

The Art of Taming a Rake (Legendary Lovers #4) by Nicole Jordan

the art of taming a rake

Despite his notorious reputation, Quinn Wilde, Earl of Traherne, has mostly honorable intentions. So when beautiful Venetia Stratham boldly enters a gentlemen’s club, demanding that Quinn stop courting her sister, he does what any bachelor would do: He kisses her. With her sharp wit, intoxicating passion, and surprising vulnerability, Venetia is irresistible—except for all this nonsense about threatening to shoot Quinn. But when clandestine enemies make an actual attempt on the earl’s life, Venetia is implicated. To save her good name, Quinn does what any true gentleman must do: He proposes.

Thus Venetia finds herself wed to arrogant, wickedly sensual Quinn, whose devilish ways are as legendary as his rumored skills as a lover. Yet vexingly, her body rebels against her vow to remain immune to his many charms. If only she could reform the infuriating nobleman—without diminishing his undeniable allure. As Venetia discovers that a true rake is hard to tame, Quinn faces an even greater challenge: winning his wife’s fragile trust . . . while defending both their lives.

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Publisher and Release Date: February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Claudia

When Venetia Stratham breaks off her engagement in front of the ton, she is shunned by both society and her own parents. She travels to Paris in order to lick her wounds, but decides to return to England when she hears that Quinn Wilde, the Earl of Traherne, is wooing her sister. Not only is Wilde a known rake, he is also the man who brought her former fiancé to their wedding smelling of cheap perfume and still in his evening clothes from the day before.

Quinn has always admired Venetia, but knows she does not hold him in high regard and knows he deserved her censure. He is trying to re-discover a family heirloom when Venetia finds him and demands his promise to not to marry or seduce her sister.

When during one of their meetings Quinn is shot and Venetia is suspected of shooting him, she finds herself married to him and has now to find a way to overcome her mistrust of all men.

I enjoyed the book so much I’ve already re-read it :) It has an engaging storyline, and while the mystery element is fairly low-key, it kept me sufficiently interested to know what was going to happen next. The romance is very well done, and I especially liked the sexual tension between Quinn and Venetia and seeing him give her the time to get to know him and to become comfortable with the notion of being married to him. Their attraction to each other heats the pages and you can feel their marriage of convenience turn into something more throughout the story.

The two main characters are attractive, although I found Venetia a little difficult to like as she is very biased (against Quinn) and it takes her a while to overcome that. But when she finally does, it is a convincing change. Quinn, though, is a perfect hero. I loved his character – strong, protective, reliable and especially tender when Venetia needs it the most.

The secondary characters are very engaging as well, and I am certainly going back to read the previous books in the series, but most of all I am waiting anxiously for Kate’s book.

One thing I will say is that I wished there had been an epilogue, as I would have loved to have seen more of Quinn and Venetia together after they had finally confessed the truth of their feelings for each other, but for the most part, I am happy with the way the story turned out and with the way their romance progressed.

All in all, The Art of Taming a Rake is a highly recommended book for lovers of stories with mystery, sizzling attraction and a sweet, sensual romance.