A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets and Spies #3) by K.C Bateman

a counterfeit heart

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As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France — or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy — and into his arms.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.

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Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, May 2017

Time and Setting: England and France 1816
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

I counted K.C. Bateman as one of my “discoveries” of 2016 after I read her terrific début novel, To Steal a Heart, an action-packed, sexy, adventure story set in Napoleonic France. The book boasted many of the ingredients l love in historical romance – a central couple forced into proximity by circumstance, lots of sexually-charged and very funny banter, an intriguing plot, chemistry off the charts and a charming, deliciously dangerous hero. Ms. Bateman followed that with A Raven’s Heart and delivered another fabulous adventure story, this time featuring a couple who have loved each other for years, but have never owned up to it for fear of rejection. In A Counterfeit Heart, the third book in the author’s Secrets and Spies series, the action takes place almost entirely in England and the story draws on some of the real life plots made by Napoléon to destabilise the English economy by flooding the country with millions of pounds worth of forged banknotes.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, has appeared as a secondary character in the previous books, and we have learned that, like his brother Nicolas (To Steal a Heart) and his closest friend, William Ravenswood (A Raven’s Heart) he works for the British government. Even though Napoléon has been defeated, he still has many sympathisers who would like spark a revolution in England, and for the past few months, Richard has been tracking a group of anti-monarchists in London who are part of the old network of spies placed in England by the French. Richard has been trying to locate the elusive forger, Philippe Lacorte, with a view to engaging him to forge letters from Napoléon to his English sympathisers in order to lure them out, but Lacorte remains stubbornly hard to pin down and all Richard’s efforts to find him have so far been unsuccessful. Imagine his shock, therefore, when a young woman, a lovely, elfin creature, arrives at his London home late one night, introduces herself as Sabine de la Tour – and promptly announces that she is Philippe Lacorte.

For years, Sabine’s friend and partner, Anton Carnaud, acted as go-between for her and the man who had overseen Napoléon’s counterfeiting operation, General Jean Malet. With Napoléon now imprisoned on St. Helena, Malet is the only man at large who knows about the fake fortune Bonaparte had amassed – and he wants it for himself. Sabine’s home has been ransacked and Anton, as Malet’s only link to Lacorte, is in danger. Sabine decides to flee to England; the English have been trying to engage Lacorte’s services for months, and with the money she can earn working for them, she will be able to afford to buy passage to America for Anton and to make a new life for herself wherever she wants to go.

Stunned by Sabine’s announcement though he is, Richard is no fool and is naturally suspicious of her claim. Being young, handsome, wealthy and in possession of a title, he is used to women throwing themselves at him and at first suspects that some sort of entrapment scheme is afoot, but when Sabine writes a note in a perfect copy of his own hand in front of his very nose, he can’t deny that she’s who she says she is and demands to know what she wants in exchange for her services as a forger.

Even though desperation has led her to Richard Hampden’s door, Sabine is not naïve enough to believe that he will meekly agree to her ten-thousand pound price. She is well aware that she is facing a wily, clever man, and calmly explains that she is still in possession of the half a million pounds in forged notes with which Napoléon had planned to flood Britain, and that if Richard does not agree to her terms, then she will put the counterfeit notes into circulation.

What ensues is a sexy game of cat-and-mouse between two equally sharp-witted, devious opponents whose intense attraction to each other burns up the pages. Sabine is brave and smart, matching wits with Richard every step of the way and holding her own against him in their battle of wills, while he, having believed her at first to be a blackmailing baggage, is surprised to find himself utterly captivated by her sneaky, conniving brain every bit as much as he lusts after her body. The chemistry between the couple is scorching, and Ms. Bateman once again proves herself a master of the art of sexually-charged banter and saucy double-entendre. Both protagonists are strongly drawn and well-rounded, and I enjoyed the way Sabine is gradually disabused of her belief that Richard is little more than an arrogant, self-entitled aristocrat, discovering that he is also incredibly resourceful, useful in a fight and not above getting his hands dirty – literally and metaphorically – when the need arises. As the story progresses, the real Richard emerges as a deeply loyal and honourable man who is dedicated to rooting out evil and protecting his countrymen and who will stop at nothing to protect his country and those close to him.

The other main relationship in the book is the one between Richard and his brother-in-law, Raven, which is characterised by sharp insight and brotherly mockery as Raven watches his friend finally succumb to the thrall of the one woman stubborn and infuriating enough to capture his heart. It’s nicely written with just the right amount of teasing on Raven’s part and sardonic denials on Richard’s, and there’s no question that these two will always have each other’s backs.

If I have a criticism, it’s that in the early stages of the story, the relationship between Sabine and Richard relies rather too heavily on insta-lust; the pair of them are pretty much panting for each other from the off, which felt rather overdone. But that’s really the only thing that didn’t work for me; the romance is otherwise well developed, with Richard and Sabine gradually coming to recognise and value the person behind the prickly forger and the haughty aristocrat as they get under each other’s skin and allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable in a way they have done with no-one else.

A Counterfeit Heart is a treat of a read for anyone who enjoys a well-plotted romantic adventure featuring a plucky heroine and a dangerously sexy hero who match wits and fall in love while foiling dastardly plots and rooting out the bad guys. I have enjoyed each book in the Secrets and Spies series and am looking forward to reading more by this talented author in the near future.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

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When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expects his secret love, Brilliana Trevor, to go with him, or at the very least wait for him. To his shock, she does neither and sends him off with no promise for the future. Seven years and one pardon later, Niall returns to England disillusioned and cynical. And being blackmailed by the government into working with his former love to help catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood any. But as his role as Brilliana’s fake fiancé brings his long-buried feelings to the surface once again, he wonders who is more dangerous—the counterfeiter or the woman rapidly stealing his heart.

Forced to marry another man after Niall was exiled, the now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life. So having to rely on him to save her father is the last thing she wants, much less trusts him with….But as their scheme strips away the lies and secrets of their shared past, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? Or will the pleasures of their renewed passion finally enable them both to rediscover love?

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EXCERPT

Seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne shoved the note from Lord Margrave’s heir—Niall Lindsey—into her pocket. Then she slipped into her mother’s bedchamber. “Mama,” she whispered. “Are you awake?”

Her mother jerked her head up from amid the satin covers and feather pillows like a startled deer. Brilliana winced to see her mother’s lips drawn with pain and her eyes dulled by laudanum, even in mid-afternoon.

“What do you need, love?” Mama asked in her usual gentle voice.

Oh, how she loathed deceiving Mama. But until her suitor spoke to his parents about their marrying, she had to keep the association secret.

“I’m going for my walk in Green Park.” Where Niall, my love, will join me. “Do you need anything?”

Despite her pain, Mama smiled. “Not now, my dear. You go enjoy yourself. And tell Gilly to make sure you don’t stray near the woods.”

“Of course.”

What a lie. The woods were where she would meet Niall, where Gilly would keep watch to make sure no one saw him and Brilliana together. Thank heaven her maid was utterly loyal to her.

Brilliana started to leave, then paused. “Um. Papa said he won’t be home until evening.” Which meant he wouldn’t be home until he’d lost all his money at whatever game he was playing tonight. “Are you sure you don’t need me?”

She dearly hoped not. Niall’s note had struck her with dread, partly because he rarely wrote to her. Usually he just met her at Green Park for her daily stroll when he could get away from friends or family. Something must be wrong.

Still, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to find out what. And perhaps let him steal a kiss or two.

She blushed. Niall was very good at that.
“I’ll be fine,” Mama said tightly. “I have my medicine right here.”

Guilt swamped Brilliana. “If you’re sure . . .”

“Go, dear girl! I’m just planning to sleep, anyway.”

That was all the encouragement Brilliana needed to hurry out.

A short while later, she and Gilly were in Green Park waiting at the big oak for Niall.

“Did he say why he wanted to meet, miss?” Gilly asked.

“No. Just that it was urgent. And it had to be today.”

“Perhaps he means to propose at last.”

Her breath caught. “I doubt it. He would have approached Papa if that were the case.”

Gilly’s face fell. “Then you’d best take care. ’Cause if he spends as much time with the soiled doves as I’ve heard—”

“He’s not like that,” Brilliana said. “Not with me.”

Except for those lovely kisses. But he was respectful otherwise. Besides, the gossips always painted a scandalous picture—that’s why they were called gossips—but through weeks of secret meetings, she’d seen his character, and it was a good one. She was sure of it.

“There you are,” said a masculine voice behind them. “Thank God you came.”

Her heart leapt as she turned to see Niall striding up to them. At twenty-three, he was quite the handsomest man she’d ever known—lean-hipped and tall and possessed of the most gorgeous hazel eyes, which changed color from cedar-brown to olive-green depending on the light. And his unruly mop of gold-streaked walnut-hued hair made her itch to set it to rights.

Though she didn’t dare be so forward in front of Gilly. Not until she and Niall were formally betrothed. Assuming that ever happened.

Offering Brilliana his arm, he cast Gilly a pointed glance. “I’ll need a few minutes alone with your mistress. Will you keep watch?”

Gilly curtsied deeply. “Of course, my lord.”

Normally, her maid balked a little at that, though she gave in at the end, but she was obviously eager to give Niall a chance to propose.

Indeed, his behavior did signal that today wasn’t like their usual meetings. Without any of his usual pleasantries, he led Brilliana into the woods to the little clearing where they usually talked.

All her joy in the meeting vanished. “You do realize how fortunate we are that Gilly is a romantic. Otherwise, she would never let us do these things.”

“I know, Bree.” Though he was the only one to call her that, she rather liked the nickname. It made her sound carefree when she felt anything but.

He halted well out of earshot of Gilly. “And then I wouldn’t get the chance to do this.”

He drew her into his arms for a long, ardent kiss, and she melted. If he was kissing her, he obviously didn’t mean to break with her. As long as they had this between them . . .

But it was over far too soon. And when he drew back to stare at her with a haunted look, her earlier dread returned.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

Glancing away, he mumbled a decidedly ungentlemanly oath. “You are going to be furious with me.”

She fought to ignore the alarm knotting her belly. “I could never be furious with you. What has happened? Just tell me.”

“This morning I fought a duel.”

“What?” Her heart dropped into her stomach. Good Lord. How could that be? “I-I don’t understand.” She must have heard him wrong. Surely the man she’d fallen in love with wasn’t the violent sort.

“I killed a man, Bree. In a duel.”

She hadn’t misheard him, then. Still scarcely able to believe it, she roamed the little clearing, her blood like sludge in her veins. “What on earth would even make you do such a thing?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He threaded his fingers through his sun-kissed hair. “It’s done, and now I risk being hanged.”

Hanged? Why would he be—

Of course. Dueling was considered murder. Her heart stilled. Her love was a murderer. And now he could die, too!

“So I’m leaving England tonight,” he went on. “For good.”

The full ramifications of all he’d told her hit her. “You . . . you’re leaving England,” she echoed hollowly. And me.

His gaze met hers. “Yes. And I want you to go with me.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas).

At home in front of a crowd, Jeffries is a sought-after speaker, as evidenced by her 2010 gig as emcee for the National Romance Writers of America’s 30th Anniversary Awards Ceremony.

Whatever time not spent speaking to organizations around the country or writing in a coffee-fueled haze is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music.

With over 9 million books in print in more than 20 languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics (she has a Ph.D. in English literature) for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world.

She always dreams big.

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The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

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England, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. They are not what they seem, but colleagues from a technologically advanced future, posing as a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team of time travelers, their mission is the most audacious yet: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common except their extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile her true self with the constrictions of 19th century society. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history as they found it…however heartbreaking that proves.

Publisher and Release Date: Harper Perennial, May 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1815
Genre: Historical/Time-Travel Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

I liked The Jane Austen Project. The premise – that two time travelers go back to 1815, and insinuate themselves into Jane Austen’s life – is fascinating and intriguing. Austen acolytes will no doubt love this fictional interpretation of her. Other readers (me) who find her less compelling – even in this flattering iteration – may be less enthused. Therein lies my difficulty with the grade and why I’ve only given the book four stars. It’s smart, well written and the premise is entertaining… but if you don’t believe the minutiae of Austen’s life makes for fascinating reading (me again), it’s also slightly dull.

Told exclusively in the point of view of Doctor Rachel Katzman, The Jane Austen Project explores the idea of time travel, and the ability of time travelers to affect changes in the future by altering past events in the context of one year in Jane Austen’s life. Rachel, a globe-trotting physician and Austen devotee, is one of two people specially selected by the The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics to travel back in time to 1815. The mission? To befriend the Austen family and obtain (steal) lost correspondence between Jane and her sister Cassandra, and bring back (again, steal) a copy of The Watsons, a novel she wrote and never published. Researchers believed The Watsons unfinished, but new information indicates Ms. Austen completed the novel and subsequently destroyed it. If Rachel, with her medical expertise, can also deduce why Ms. Austen died prematurely at the relatively young age of forty-one… even better.

Prior to their departure, Rachel and her traveling partner, actor-turned-academic Liam Finucane, spend a year together rigorously training and meticulously planning for the trip. Their backstory, that Doctor William Ravenwood and his spinster sister, Mary, have returned to England from Jamaica after selling their coffee plantation and divesting themselves of slaves, is specific enough to satisfy the mildly curious, but vague enough that any further inquiries about them would require time and effort to pursue.

When the book opens, Rachel and Liam have jumped back to 1815 from the future (it’s never specified when) and landed disheveled and disoriented in a field on the outskirts of the town of Leatherhead in Surrey. After a quick survey to ensure they haven’t suffered any adverse effects from the trip and that the large volume of counterfeit banknotes concealed in their clothing remains in place, they set off for a nearby inn. Unfortunately, the innkeeper is suspicious about their appearance when they arrive without any visible transport (if he only knew!) and without any bags, and declines to give them a room. When Liam flashes him a gold coin, he’s more than willing to arrange a post chaise to take them to London.

Once Rachel and Liam arrive in town, they set about securing themselves an entrée into the Austen family via Henry Austen, a banker, and Jane’s favorite brother. Posing as distant Austen relatives, Liam easily finagles a meeting with Henry and it isn’t long before Henry invites Doctor Ravenwood and his sister to dinner at his home. The evening is Rachel’s first opportunity to meet Henry and when she does, he’s everything she expected: handsome, charming, and friendly. He’s also flirtatious and clearly interested in her. Following the dinner the pair is welcomed into Henry’s circle of friends, and when Henry falls ill, Liam (as Doctor Ravenwood) is perfectly situated to offer him care and further insinuate himself in Henry’s life. The illness provides context for regular visits and, more significantly, opportunity for the Ravenwoods to meet Henry’s extended family. Shortly after Henry falls ill, Jane arrives, and when he doesn’t appear to improve, she summons the rest of the family to join her.

Though Henry is enthusiastic about the Ravenwoods, his family is less so. Cassandra is welcoming but remote; Jane is curious but guarded. Their relationship with Henry and his obvious affection for Rachel helps, but it isn’t until Rachel and Liam travel to the countryside with the family that a more profound friendship develops between them and Jane. But their deepening friendship also alters Rachel’s perspective on the mission. What kind of friend is she to admire and like Jane, all the while lying and plotting to steal from her? As the book progresses, Rachel and Liam struggle to reconcile their mission with their 1815 personas and relationships with the Austen family. When the book ends, I’m not sure Ms. Flynn ever satisfactorily answers those questions. Liam and Rachel are torn by their feelings about the mission and Jane, but the mission rapidly spirals out of control shortly before their planned departure date, and their hasty retreat robs them of any choice in the matter.

Rachel and her insightful point of view are particularly well done. Though her affection for Jane borders on creepy, I loved the contrasts between her various identities: past (spinster sister), present (bohemian physician), and future (murky). Frankly, she’s a much more interesting character than Ms. Austen. She struggles with her friendship with Jane, but also with her role on the mission. Single, independent, educated, and sexually liberated – Rachel is a model of modernity when she jumps through time. Forced to watch Liam ‘treat’ his patients, Rachel is a patient and curious doctor/coach. Though it’s obvious she longs to ask the questions Liam doesn’t think to ask, I thought she did an admirable job letting him lead. If I have any complaint about her, it’s that perhaps her transition to a woman’s life in 1815 happens a bit too easily. When she makes mistakes, they’re easily explained away by her experiences in Jamaica, and I never felt her identity – or their subterfuge – was at risk. I was more interested in the ways Rachel’s inherent goodness and some of her more impulsive decisions impacted the future.

As well developed as Rachel is, Liam remains an enigma from start to finish. Rachel’s impressions of him – so specific, so admiring during their time together – coupled with Ms. Flynn’s descriptions (he’s slightly obsessed with his clothing and vague about his past), made him a particularly curious and intriguing character. I think I like him?

Time travel is a curious business. On the one hand, it provides the traveler with a past – or future – they can live and experience themselves. On the other hand, it provides the traveler with the opportunity of altering events in ways they can’t predict or prevent. Ms. Flynn touches on these bigger picture issues, but she doesn’t offer any easy answers. The final chapter of the book – after such a terrific premise for the story – left this reader unsatisfied with the answers she does provide.

If it sounds like I really liked this book, you’re right – I did! But I suspect the difference between liking and loving The Jane Austen Project is less about the story and the quality of Ms. Flynn’s writing (both good), than a simple question of just how interested in Jane Austen’s life you are. I’m not especially, and though Ms. Flynn’s fictionalized version of Jane is appealing, I didn’t find her nearly as compelling as most every other character in this story. Perhaps her brilliance was too subtle for me?

The Jane Austen Project is good or great depending on how you feel about Jane Austen. For me, it’s good – just not great.

AUDIO REVIEW: Fair, Bright and Terrible (Welsh Blades #2) by Elizabeth Kingston, narrated by Nicholas Boulton

fair bright and terrible

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Wales is conquered, and Eluned has lost everything: her country, her husband, her hope. All that remains is vengeance, and she will stop at nothing to have it.

When Robert de Lascaux is asked to marry the woman he has loved for eighteen years, he never hesitates. No wealth has ever mattered to him as much as Eluned has. But she, it seems, does not want him at all. Trapped in a web of intrigue, revenge, and desire, they cannot forget their past – but can they dare to share a future?

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Publisher and Release Date: Elizabeth Kingston, April 2017

Time and Setting: Wales, 1282
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content; 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

In my opinion, Elizabeth Kingston is one of the best – if not THE best – newly published author writing in the historical genre. Fair, Bright and Terrible, the second in her Welsh Blades series ticks every single box on my list of requirements for a stimulating, entertaining and engrossing read/listen. With narrator Nicholas Boulton added into the mix I was quite literally in book heaven – enthralled from beginning to end. This story follows directly on from The King’s Man and covers the true and bloody period in Welsh/English history where the last Welsh Prince Llewelyn is ruthlessly disposed of in the most barbaric of medieval methods.

In book one of the series, we met Eluned of Ruardean who was a strong driving force in the life of her daughter, Gwenllian whom she relentlessly controlled. I disliked Eluned intensely and she didn’t grow on me one iota, so when I realised that Fair, Bright and Terrible was Eluned’s story, I approached it with trepidation and some pre-conceived prejudices. I carried on disliking her, especially after she marries the compellingly likeable and adorable hero of the story, Robert de Lascaux. How, I wondered, could this gorgeous man have loved this woman for eighteen years? And this is where Elizabeth Kingston shows her immense talent for character development – because by the end of the story I understood, respected, and actually liked and admired Eluned.

As the story begins, Eluned’s dreams of a successful uprising to bring independent sovereignty back to Wales is in tatters following King Edward I’s ruthless suppression of the recent rebellion. Coming hard upon the heels of this defeat is the news that her long absentee husband has died in the Holy Land and her son is eager for her to remarry in order to augment his lands and standing. Her husband-to-be is none other than Robert de Lascaux, with whom she had a passionate affair some eighteen years earlier. She put this behind her long ago, but Robert is delighted and immediately agrees to the match, hoping to take up where they left off. Throughout the story, Eluned appears as a woman who does nothing without good reason; she always comes across as cold, calculating and controlling, and her marriage to Robert is no different. Overjoyed at being re-united with his former love, he is destined to be disappointed as he quickly realises that the love he has nurtured is not returned. It quickly becomes apparent that Eluned has a hidden agenda, her goal being admittance to the court of Edward and his inner circle.

I continued to dislike Eluned, especially as she treats the sweet natured and utterly honourable Robert with such cold disdain. But, slowly and cleverly over the course of the story, Ms. Kingston peels away, layer by layer, Eluned’s prejudices and shows her reluctant and hidden love for Robert, well buried under the baggage her life has acquired over the past eighteen years. Ironically it is the appearance and actions of her despised Norman son-in-law, Ranulf (The King’s Man), which finally knocks down the walls she has erected and we are finally allowed to see the woman she really is. Bravo Elizabeth Kingston – what a compelling, clever story and the fact that you persuaded me to like and admire this woman whom I had disliked for the best part of two books is quite remarkable.

As to the narration – what can I say other than that as usual, Nicholas Boulton gives a faultless performance and shows what a first rate actor he is? His voice is smooth, pleasing and utterly addictive to the listener; anything with his name on it is always going to get my attention. My initial dislike for Eluned was perpetuated by the exceptional manner in which he portrays her cold disdain, the emptiness and hopelessness she feels and can’t change… but then, as her defences begin to crumble, he effects a subtle softening of tone; her voice still recognisable but transformed from cold disdain into loving warmth. Mr. Boulton is one of only a handful of narrators who is equally good at portraying men and women. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Robert – at first buoyant and happy as he meets his beloved after eighteen years apart, but then as he realises his love is not returned, quiet, wary and subdued. And of course, a particular favourite of mine is the fierce Norman lord, Ranulf Ombrier – a fierce man brought to his knees by the love of his warrior wife, Gwenllian and their two little boys. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I hope that this isn’t the last in the series. Hopefully we may get to see what happens to William, Eluned’s sixteen year old son.

Fair, Bright and Terrible is an exciting, heart warming piece of historical fiction with a beautiful romance at its centre and is strongly recommended.

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Heiresses #1) by Janna MacGregor

the bad luck bride

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IS MARRIAGE A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

A man of honor, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he exacts revenge on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece must fall into place for him to succeed he needs to convince his enemy s fiancee, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire s curse has always left her one misstep away from social ruin her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth is headed in the same direction. . .until Alex, a man she barely even knows, shocks the ton and Claire by announcing their engagement. What begins as a sham turns into something deeper, and more passionate, than either Claire or Alex could have imagined. But when their secrets are revealed, will the truth behind their union scandalize them both or is their love strong enough to break the curse and lead them toward their happily ever after?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1812
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

The Bad Luck Bride is an uneven story about love and revenge and in which luck, whether good or bad doesn’t really come into play for the main characters’ issues. Their problems mainly stem from misunderstandings and an unwillingness to listen to the good advice of others. Fortunately, author Janna MacGregor brings a vulnerability to both the hero and the heroine that compelled me to finish their story.

Lady Claire Cavensham has waited what seems like an eternity to get married. With three prior engagements broken due to unusual circumstances, Claire is all but convinced that the gossip about her being cursed must be true. Accepting the suit of fiancé number four was motivated more out of friendship and little bit of desperation, but Claire is ready to make the best of her upcoming marriage. With the announcement of her engagement to Lord Paul Barstowe scheduled for later that evening, Claire is hoping that her unlucky streak is finally at an end. Unfortunately the whispers in the ballroom about Lord Paul’s absence at the event and the note she receives from her missing fiancé quashes that dream. Mortified that she’s been jilted again so publicly, Claire makes her way out of the ballroom and is met by the handsome and friendly Marquess of Pembrooke. He offers her a sympathetic ear and a warm embrace just when she needs it the most. Bolstered by his calming presence, Claire prepares herself to reenter the fray but things go sideways as she’s discovered in Pembrooke’s arms. Suddenly the engagement announcement she anticipated is made, but with an entirely different fiancé!

Alexander Hallworth, Lord Pembrooke, couldn’t have planned the evening’s events any better. Hours before the ball ever started Alex had put the wheels in motion to secure Lady Claire as his betrothed and to humiliate Lord Paul in the bargain. The announcement of their engagement is the final piece in his revenge against the man who had been one of his closest friends until he betrayed Alex’s trust and in turn destroyed the life of Alex’s youngest sister. Now, all Alex has to do is marry the delightful Lady Claire and watch Lord Paul’s ruin as he now has no way to pay his outstanding gambling debts. Believing that he has the moral high ground, Alex allays Claire’s fears that she’s cursed to remain unmarried by wooing her and agreeing to the settlement demands she makes. There’s no need to let Claire know that their marriage was a set-up from the beginning if she’s happy with the final result.

Alex’s perceptions about his marriage and Claire change after they leave London for his ancestral home. There Claire finds little ways to heal some of the pain he’s held onto from memories of his sister’s tragedy. She becomes more important to him because of who she is rather than what she represented in his revenge against Lord Paul. Claire herself struggles to believe that her marriage to Alex is real and will last through any curse she carries. Hoping to break any spell she might be under, Claire forces herself to confront her own past, with varying results. It’s only Alex’s strong presence that lets Claire imagine she will overcome her fears to find happiness in the arms of someone who loves her. Sadly, when the truth of Alex’s revenge plot is revealed it breaks Claire’s heart and she runs from him. With his own heart firmly in Claire’s hands Alex has find a way to regain Claire’s trust before he himself is cursed with a lonely future.

The Bad Luck Bride starts off fairly strongly with Alex’s almost Shakespearean revenge plot and Claire’s wistful dream of finding a love that’s stronger than the demons she carries with her. The storyline unfolds much more dramatically than I expected from the cover description and I was ready to take the plunge with both characters into the darker sides of their psyches. Unfortunately once they are married things never quite get as deep or angsty as I thought they should have given all the emotional suffering Claire and Alex have lived through. Alex refuses to hear the advice from his best friend that his anger at Lord Paul is misplaced – or at the very least misconstrued from the facts he had about his sister’s tragedy. He pushes forward to influence Claire’s life without ever considering her feelings on the matter. Towards the end as he tries to reconcile with her Alex adjusts things to suit himself, not seeing how badly Claire has been affected by all of his manipulations.

I had more compassion for Claire throughout the story, but she, too, acts in ways that made it hard for me to completely side with her way of seeing situations. Claire is written as an intelligent and resilient young woman, and yet she is quick to believe in a curse that will eventually destroy any happiness in her life. After marrying Alex she suddenly becomes stubborn to the point of petulance and it strips her of all the definition she’s gained by staying strong in the face of gossip and unkind words. When she realizes that Alex has been steering their marriage from the beginning she fails to fight back and instead runs away to lick her wounds and turn to her uncle to fix the situation. I missed the plucky woman from the beginning of the book who stood up for what she wanted in her marriage even if the circumstances were out of her control.

While I had problems with The Bad Luck Bride I feel that Ms. MacGregor has some good stories to tell. The Bad Luck Bride just needed a bit of tightening of the loose threads and a clearer path towards Claire and Alex’s happy ending. Hopefully the series will improve upon this shaky start and another good voice in historical romance will be heard.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: House of Dark Envy by Juli D. Revezzo

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When Sarahjane attends Lady Morville’s costume party, she never expects to learn her old beau Felix Gryffith is under the illustrious woman’s patronage and stands on the cusp of making a world-changing discovery. Felix, whose lies disgraced her in the eyes of the London elite by labeling her a flirt.

Felix’s love for Sarahjane has never wavered, despite the scandal that forced them apart. He’s desperate to tell her the truth, if he can convince her to listen.

Fate lurked in the shadows that night, years ago. Has it returned to grant Sarahjane and Felix their wishes, or terrorize them?

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EXCERPT

1884

Sarahjane twirled under Felix’s arm and tried to release his hand. He wouldn’t let her. “Felix, I can’t teach you the steps if you don’t let me go.”

“I don’t want to,” he said, his finger caressing up to her cheek. “Ever.”

But too soon, she broke away from him and approached the refreshment table. Relief and a little superiority filled Felix to know she only gave the other young men momentary glances. It wasn’t long before she left her friends and returned to him. “I need air,” she said.

Concern flooded Felix. “Are you unwell?”

“I won’t be if you get me out of here.”

Felix scanned the partygoers, seeking out her father, and his uncle and aunt. His parents had sent him to London not long after his accident, hoping the doctors here would be of more help than their own in Dublin. He owed his Aunt Penelope much for opening her doors to him.

Where were they? Ah, there. His beloved guardians stood to the far side of the ballroom, backs to them. They wouldn’t protest if he helped Sarahjane. He hoped.

So many of his uncle’s friends had also attended this party. He wished they hadn’t, or found other places in the large house—somewhere away from him—to congregate. Too many of them asked how he was doing with sympathy-laced voices he’d heard frequently, since his accident. Though years had passed since that awful day, he grew stronger.

He knew how to hide what needed hiding. He peered through the windows at the sky. No lightning rippled in the clouds overhead.

Sarahjane laid a hand on his arm. “Are you not feeling well, Felix?”

He met her gaze, could easily stand here all night studying her: her long, straight hair draped around her creamy skin, the light blush along her bosom a nice contrast to the dark, soft tendrils. Though he longed to brush just one lock away, propriety drew his hand to hers. “I’m all right.”

Her laughter sounded, soft and melodious. “No you’re not. You’re bored. Who can blame you?” Her smile turned mischievous. “What would happen if you set off one of your fireworks here?”

“Besides a headline?”

“No such thing will happen.”

“Won’t it?” he said. “I see something along the lines of ‘The House at Samhain Hedge lit up like a candle.’”

“It might put some life into this dull party.”

“Sarahjane.” He took her arm and led her onto the patio. The oil lamps from inside the house barely overtook the moonlight.

The façade of the house disappeared at the end of a sturdy blackthorn hedge. No flowers bloomed on the dark branches, but the scent of Mrs. Floyd’s late summer roses made Felix want to sneeze. He snorted, hoping to forestall the urge…

“You’re stalling!” she cried. “Show me your … fire, flares, whatever you call them. Please?”

“I’ve no idea what you mean.”

She poked a finger into his ribs. Her touch tickled. “Yes you do.”

He rubbed his temples as if his head hurt. “Sarahjane.”

“I said please. Shall I beg?”

Though he’d scolded her, he obliged her a little. A thin line of light traveled up the torch nearby, and flared.

Sarahjane gasped and laughed.

Her joy was worth the strain and flicker of pain in the scar across his back. He rolled his shoulders, gritted his teeth, until the shiver of it subsided.

“Did you do that?” she asked. “Truly?”

Felix shrugged. At least he hadn’t blown the thing up, this time. He hoped he’d get his new oddness under control, soon. By Taranis, I don’t need anyone finding out how different I am!

“But that’s not what I meant,” Sarahjane said. “The last time you did—” She wiggled her fingers. “—the thing you can do, the flare had a particular shade of orange in it I can’t quite reproduce properly.”

“What do you mean reproduce?” he asked.

“With my pigments,” she said. “Show me again?” She threaded her arm through his. “Please?”

“What will Mrs. Floyd think if I set her house on fire?”

“You won’t.” She slid her arm out of his and ran.

He followed her. She slipped into the garden, grabbing onto a wrought iron lattice to steady herself. Her laughter rang through the air. She swung herself around the lattice, and stopped before him, resting her delicate hand on his chest.

Her touch warmed him.

Sarahjane lowered her eyes. “Do it for me, Felix. I’ll give you a kiss, if you do.”

Felix swallowed back surprise and longing, glanced around the garden. Everyone was still inside. He ran a hand down her arm. “I’d love to kiss you,” he said. “But not after. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t.”

He feared it might be possible. His worry darkened as if storm clouds filled him. “I might.”

Sarahjane laced her arms around his neck. “Now, then. But don’t disappoint me.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

watchmaker's heart JuliDRevezzobJuli D. Revezzo loves fantasy and Celtic mythology and writing stories with all kinds of fantastical elements. She is the author of the Antique Magic series and the Paranormal Romance Celtic Stewards Chronicles series, Gothic fantasy romance, Lady of the Tarot, Victorian romance Watchmaker’s Heart, and more. She is also a member of the Independent Author Network and the Magic Appreciation Tour. To learn more about this and future releases, visit her at: https://www.julidrevezzo.com/
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Blog: http://julismapsroom.blogspot.com/
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AUDIO REVIEW: Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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Everyone knows that Colin Bridgerton is the most charming man in London. Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for…well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret…and fears she doesn’t know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone’s preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same – especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide…is she his biggest threat – or his promise of a happy ending?

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Publisher and Release Date: AUDIOBOOK EDITION – Recorded Books, April 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1824
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: Content: 4.5 stars, Narration: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites in the genre, and one of my favourite examples of it is Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mister Bridgerton, the fourth book in her iconic series about the eight Bridgerton siblings.
Colin is the third son, and has featured in the previous books as a good-humoured, devil-may-care sort of chap; easy going with a killer smile, good sense of humour, able to laugh at himself and always ready with a quip or witty rejoinder. He’s all of those things, but by the age of thirty-three, has started to feel a little disgruntled at being thought of by practically everyone in society as just “A Bridgerton”. His brother is the viscount, his next eldest brother, Benedict, is making a name for himself as an artist but Colin… well, he’s not sure exactly what and who he is, and doesn’t quite know what he wants to do or to be, either.

Penelope Featherington has also appeared in the previous books as a close friend of the Bridgerton sisters, especially of Eloise. She was an object of catty remarks and ridicule for years, owing to her mother’s tendency to dress her in styles and colours that were completely wrong for her and for that lady’s almost maniacal desire to get her daughters married off. At twenty-eight, Penelope is now firmly on the shelf and is resigned to being the spinster daughter who will care for her mother into old age – although the one good thing about her being on the shelf is that she can dress how she wants and eschew the horrible clothes her mother made her wear.

Being a friend of the Bridgerton sisters means that Penelope has also been frequently in the company of the brothers, too, all of whom are friendly and treat her almost as one of the family, making a point of asking her to dance at balls or seeking her out at other functions. For years, Penelope has harboured a tendre for Colin, but has no hope of a return – why should he look at an unprepossessing woman like her when he’s one of society’s darlings; handsome, charming and witty, he is not without female admirers blessed with both youth and beauty and he can have any woman he wants.

Ms. Quinn freshens up the trope and gives it extra depth by virtue of her characterisation of the two principals. Colin is restless; he travels a lot and in fact spends more time abroad than he does in England. He is tired of being thought of as someone who is only good for a laugh and wants to actually do something with his life but he has no idea what until one day, Penelope inadvertently stumbles upon one of his travel journals and is so engrossed by his writing that she suggests he publish them. At first, Colin is furious at her having read his private journals and they quarrel, but eventually, her genuine enthusiasm and praise for his writing surprise and humble him and start him thinking that perhaps this is what he’s meant to do, and he takes her suggestion to heart.

Previously the perennial wallflower, Penelope has discovered that spinsterhood has its benefits; not only because she can dress as she wants, but because she feels free to be more herself and doesn’t have to put up with her mother’s constant attempts to marry her off. But Penelope has been keeping a huge secret from everyone around her for years; something that started as a way for her to fight back at those who looked down on her and that would ruin her if it ever got out. I’m not going to say more here because it’s a massive spoiler; but this secret is the book’s other major plotline and leads to some major conflict between Colin and Penelope later on.

But the real strength of this instalment in the series is in the characterisation and subtle development of the two leads. Penelope’s infatuation with Colin is of long-standing; she fell for his looks and charm without really knowing him, and during the course of the story discovers that he’s not the perfect man she had imagined. Colin knows Penelope only as the slightly plump, shy friend of his sisters, but through spending time with her, comes to realise that she’s also intelligent, quick-witted and lovely. Neither of them really knows how or why things are changing between them, they just know that they are, and those moments when they both start to really see each other – the best parts of any friends-to-lovers romance – are beautifully done.

Rosalyn Landor is, without question, one of the best narrators of historical romance around and her narrations of these previously unrecorded Bridgerton books (6, 7 and 8 were recorded some time ago, but not books 1-5) have been absolutely stellar. Romancing Mister Bridgerton is no exception; Ms. Landor’s pacing is excellent, her vocal characterisations of every single character are superb and in scenes where large numbers of characters appear, listeners can have no problems whatsoever working out who is speaking, so clear and expert is her manner of differentiating between all of them. It doesn’t matter if a character is old or young, male or female, aristocrat or servant, all are perfectly portrayed. I’m particularly fond of her interpretation of the formidable Lady Danbury, a wonderfully acerbic, perceptive but (secretly) kind elderly dowager of the sort so often found in historicals. Her portrayal of Colin, too, is spot on, and absolutely consistent with the way he was voiced in the earlier books in the series; suitably youthful and with a jaunty air that befits his reputation as a carefree young gentleman about town. But here, Ms. Landor is afforded the chance to explore another side of him, and she does it very well, adding a slight edge to his tone in some moments of heightened emotion or giving him a more seductive, husky note in the more intimate scenes.

If you’re a fan of historical romance audiobooks, you’ve no doubt listened to Rosalyn Landor already and know that her name on the front cover is a guarantee of an excellent narration. If you haven’t tried one, then the Bridgerton books can be listened to in any order, although I think you’ll get more out of them if you listen to them in order, as it will allow you to meet each sibling as they pop in and out of other stories in the series and get to know them better.

Whatever you do, though, Romancing Mister Bridgerton is another must listen for fans of this talented author/narrator pair and for fans of historical romance in general.

Romancing the Rogue (Passion & Promises #3) by Erica Ridley

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When the new earl inherits, poor relation Miss Rebecca Bond must wed immediately or be out on her ear. The only man she’s ever loved is summoned to hear the will—but he already rejected her so soundly that they haven’t spoken in years. Yet who better than a rakish Viscount to teach her how to snare a gentleman who appreciates her charms?

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North Barrows, regrets nothing more than the lost friendship with the one woman who treated him like a man, not a title. Fate has given him the perfect pretext to win her forgiveness—even if it means having to matchmake her to someone else. But now that she’s back in his life, he’ll do anything to convince her to choose him instead…

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Publisher and Release Date: Webmotion, March 2017

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

Review by Sara

Romancing the Rogue was originally one of the novellas featured in The Haunting of Castle Keyvnor anthology. The collection is set in and around a long neglected castle in the north of England where all manner of spooks and spirits resided along with a few living but forgotten souls. Author Erica Ridley finds some hopefulness within the bleak and gothic setting with a story of young friends reunited to find love.

The servants of Castle Keyvnor have learned to ignore many of the peculiarities that lurk within the haunted walls of the estate. Sadly, Miss Rebecca Bond has become just another spirit to the men and women who serve the elder Earl of Banfield. Rebecca was once a welcomed guest of the earl, along with her parents and younger sister, but when they were tragically killed in a carriage accident Rebecca was left alone and quietly forgotten by her distant relation. With nowhere else to go, she made herself useful to the staff and the earl’s steward by being as unobtrusive as possible. Soon, Rebecca was just another ghost within the castle even though she is very much alive.

Her situation changes when the old earl dies and his heir arrives at the castle to take on the title. An introduction between Rebecca and the new Earl of Banfield does not go in her favor as he already has several daughters to bring out this Season and is unwilling to add Rebecca to his list of obligations. He decides right away that Rebecca should be married off as soon as possible to a man of his choosing so she’ll become her husband’s responsibility. Rebecca is scared to leave the comfort of the castle but even more frightened of marrying a man she doesn’t know or care for. In desperation she decides to reach out to the only man of her acquaintance who might help her.

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North-Barrow has fallen into the snare that many young, rich and titled gentlemen do when they arrive in London. The allure of entertainments and willing women has changed Daniel from the caring and dedicated person he used to be into a known rake. The summons he receives from Castle Keyvnor for the reading of the old earl’s will is unexpected as the man wasn’t a close relative or even friendly with Daniel. The only thing prompting Daniel to return to the castle is memories of his old friend Rebecca Bond who he treated very poorly the last time he saw her. As a newly minted baron, Daniel was vain and full of his own pretensions when he attended a local dance where Rebecca was also a guest. When she approached him, Daniel gave her the cut direct so as to distance himself from a silly young girl. In his heart Daniel knew his actions were cruel but he soon moved away to London and had no chance to rectify the situation. A visit to Castle Kevynor will be an opportunity to find Rebecca and finally apologize for his mistake.

Romancing the Rogue is a sweet story at its core, with Rebecca and Daniel reuniting as older and wiser individuals. Their time apart changes them both, with Daniel becoming jaded at the lifestyle he’d adopted in London and Rebecca retreating from the vibrant girl she used to be into a shadow. The novella builds their relationship as they each rediscover the part of themselves that had been lost. While spending time with Daniel, Rebecca begins to thrive again and long for more than just a contented life in the castle. As she blossoms, Daniel is caught up in his affection for both the girl he left behind and the woman she’s become. She has no regard for his ton polish and forces him to act with his heart. There are several scenes in which the descriptions of where Daniel and Rebecca’s new awareness of each other had me swooning.

Unfortunately, the gloominess of Rebecca’s life prior to Daniel’s arrival is laid on rather thick so it’s difficult to see how she could switch from a depressed and downtrodden character into a happy and contented person. If the story had a longer page count, those transitions may have been clearer; however with the limited amount of time that Rebecca has with Daniel the reader has to make several leaps of faith that they’re together for the long haul.

I haven’t read many of Erica Ridley’s stories and Romancing the Rogue was perhaps not the strongest introduction to her material. Fortunately she has an extensive back catalog of full-length novels that may give me a better insight into her style. For now, this is a nice, clean story of love reunited that passes the time well.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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1296

Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands.

Deirdre MacCoinneach wishes to understand her unusual ability to sense others’ lifeblood energies…and vows to discover if her gift killed the men she married. Her father’s search for a new and unsuspecting suitor for Deirdre becomes complicated when rumors of witchcraft abound.

Under the façade of a trader, Alasdair Montgomerie travels to Uist with pivotal information for a Claimant seeking the Scottish throne. A ruthless baron hunts him and a dark past haunts him, leaving little room for alliances with a Highland laird or his tempting daughter.

Awestruck when she realizes that her unlikely travel companion is the man from her visions, a man whose thickly veiled emotions are buried beneath his burning lifeblood, Deirdre wonders if he, too, will die in her bed if she follows her father’s orders. Amidst magic, superstition, and ghosts of the past, Alasdair and Deirdre find themselves falling together in a web of secrets and the curse of a hundred kisses…

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EXCERPT

Deirdre’s cold, weekly baths were her refuge from the chaos of the village. The loch’s iciness was a thousand fingers prickling her skin, but she submerged farther as she entered in from the shore. The world’s humming and warm colors faded as the water consumed her. She let out a loud sigh, then inhaled and dunked her full body in, holding her breath.

For that brief moment, as air filled and expanded her chest and the world of the dark, shallow water swathed her, she felt free from her powers.

Dusk’s nip was a welcome from the heat that radiated off all the living during the day. It was as though the life force of every living being ceased during the hours when the sun set. Most importantly, she could no longer see him, and her vision of him—the man from the wood. The trees didn’t appear ablaze before her while the man cried out for help, his dark blue eyes filled with fear, his black hair catching aflame, and his vibrant red lifeblood draining.

She massaged her scalp, hoping to erase the image. It would never cease. It never did. The more she fought it, the more her powers gripped her. Oh, Mother, why couldn’t you be here to teach me how to control it? She trembled with grief as the chill sank into her bones. Her lungs grew empty, and she struggled to remain under. She didn’t want to face the world. Her ears rang, and with open eyes, a welcome blackness crept over her sight. Maybe she could stay under and let it take her.

Her only refuge from obligations as laird’s daughter danced around her with a chilling caress. Although she had escaped the village unnoticed, she knew by morning that somebody, most likely Crystoll, sent by her father, would be knocking on her door. Or Moreen would need her to taste a new recipe in the kitchen. Or Caite would want to whine about something. Nay, but not now. Now, she was alone. Her father had been too distracted with the news the sentry brought about Dunbar. This wet, numbing escape was not accompanied by one of her father’s soldiers for once. By God, she succumbed to it.

She sensed no colors in the murky, lifeless water, and it was freeing. All breath escaped her. Muted visions passed before her eyes—her mother, her father, Gordon, and Cortland. Just a moment longer, she thought…

Suddenly, a burst of warm light invaded her thoughts as air filled her lungs. Red-hot hands burned her shoulders and ripped her from her icy grave. She breathed life into her body. She coughed, gagging on the change.

Muffled words yelled at her.

Oh, God, so hot. His fingers were like hot pokers. Her head pounded as she slowly returned to the present. Heat radiated from her rescuer. Somebody had pulled her from the water.

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

His voice was as soothing as a warm cup of goat’s milk on a winter’s day. A red-hot glow emanated from his body. Never before had she felt such a strong lifeblood, and it nearly burned her. She struggled in his arms to get free. She blinked, only seeing a blurry form before her. “Release me!”

She splashed and wriggled, and he did as told. She clambered to the shoreline. Numb and shaken, she began to dress. It wasn’t easy as she fumbled with slick fingers to put dry clothes over wet skin. She instantly regretted her naked swim. She pulled on her long-sleeved white chemise first.

She faced the forest, away from her rescuer. He quietly splashed to shore. His lifeblood burned into her back. He wasn’t far behind, but he stopped. She refused to look at him until she was fully clothed, not out of embarrassment of her nudity, but for what had just happened. He released a groan and mumbled under his breath about wet boots. His voice was not one of her father’s soldiers.

When she put the last garment on, her brown wool work kirtle, she squeezed out her sopping hair and swept her hands through the knotty mess. She fastened her belt and tied the lacings up the front of the kirtle. Blood returned to her fingertips, and she regained her composure. Belated awareness struck her, and she leaned down and searched through her bag for her dagger. She spun around.

She gasped as she saw the man sitting on the stone-covered shoreline, his wet boots off. Confusion and the hint of a scowl filled his strong-featured face. She staggered back, caught her heel on a stone, and fell, dropping the dagger. Dirt and pebbles stuck to her wet hands and feet, and she instinctively scrambled away from him.

His glower, iridescent dark blue eyes, and disheveled black hair were not unfamiliar. Staring at her was the man she had seen in her dream—it was the man from the wood.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jean GrantJean is a scientist, part-time education director, and a mom to two active sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for inspiration. She enjoys writing non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines, and aspires to write children’s books while continuing to write novels. In 2008, she visited the land of her daydreams, Scotland, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Jean enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her sons, while daydreaming about the next hero to write about…

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A Warriner to Protect Her (Wild Warriners #1) by Virginia Heath

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An heiress in distress and an earl in disgrace…

When heiress Violet Dunston escapes from an abduction, she finds an unlikely protector in Jack Warriner – a member of one of England’s most infamous families. Ensconced with mysterious Jack behind his manor’s walls, soon escape is the last thing on Letty’s mind!

Jack may be an earl, but his father’s exploits have left him with nothing to offer except a tarnished name. He’s turned his back on the ton, but with Letty tempting him day and night, he finds himself contemplating the unthinkable – a society marriage!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, May 2017

Time and Setting: Nottinghamshire, 1813
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

Virginia Heath’s new Wild Warriners series looks to me to be a winner if A Warriner to Protect Her is anything to go by. The Warriner brothers are gorgeous, well developed, multi layered characters, each with their own story to tell, and I can’t see how Ms. Heath can fail.

Jack Warriner little realises how drastically his life is about to change when, one stormy winter’s night, on his way back from the local tavern, he comes across a terrified young woman, hands bound, a gag around her mouth – stumbling exhausted and frozen with fear. His protective instincts immediately come to the fore and he takes her home to his remote manor which is occupied only by himself and his three younger brothers. Too poor and destitute to afford staff, the brothers are jacks of all trades, caring for each other and trying to eke out a living on their crumbling estate. The author has done a terrific job of developing the relationship between the brothers and I loved the obvious affection, respect and camaraderie between them. All look to Jack, the eldest, as their leader – and it’s not hard to see why his brothers admire and follow him without question. Jack is actually an earl, an appellation he has long since shunned as it only serves to remind him of his notorious father; plus with no fortune or respect to back it up he sees it as an empty title. The four of them have always been cold-shouldered and despised by the locals as a result of their infamous ancestors, but more recently, and still in living memory, their despicable father. The produce and livestock they work so hard to raise and grow has to be traded and sold many miles away as no one wants to do business with the so-called ‘Wild Warriners’. So life really does have to be lived one day at a time with the brothers isolated from the society they have every right to be a part of.

Into this household drops Violet Dunston and immediately the brothers close ranks around her after discovering that she is being hunted by unscrupulous men who are trying to force her into marriage in order to avail themselves of her vast fortune. Because of their isolation and lack of staff, the Warriners are able to keep her safe from her abductors. Violet – Letty – is seriously ill after her ordeal and the brothers care for her tirelessly, Jack even going so far as to sleep on the bedchamber floor which he has vacated for her comfort, until she is out of danger.

Once she is recovered, the penny eventually drops and Letty realises how very poor the family is, she is determined to help them out in some way, especially when it becomes clear that they are too proud to accept her money. She sets out to prove to them all, but Jack in particular, that she is not the useless, beautiful and merely decorative, ‘Tea Heiress’, much lauded by the ton. As it is necessary for her to stay ‘lost’ for a complete month until she can gain control of her fortune, she decides that she will use the time to help the brothers in the house. Firstly by tackling their dusty, uncared for home and then in other ways such as cooking and caring for them, freeing them to be about their many outside duties on the estate.

Although Letty has a great rapport with all four brothers, it is Jack with whom she immediately clicks. She is more than happy to pursue a relationship with him and throws out many hints which are, to her chagrin, rebuffed. Although deeply attracted to her, Jack is too much of a gentleman to take advantage of a situation which he feels she might regret once her month with them is over and she is reinstated into her luxurious life. I did admire the fact that Jack sticks to his guns and refuses to act although sorely tempted. Letty becomes more and more frustrated by his apparent lack of interest in her despite her many invitations – some not too subtle.

Ms. Heath has shown Violet/Letty as two quite different people. There’s Violet, the incomparable of the season, pursued and admired for her beauty and wealth. And then there’s lonely Lettie, orphaned, unloved and feeling very strongly that her beauty and wealth are a millstone around her neck. Her unexpected but fortuitous meeting with the Warriner brothers is like a breath of fresh air in her life because they are prepared to help and keep her safe for no other reason than kindness for another human being, and she immediately warms to them and soon longs to be a part of this loving, dysfunctional family.

The author does an excellent job in developing the relationship between Jack and Letty, and the simmering, controlled sensuality between them fairly hops off the page. Jamie, very astutely, sees the battle his elder brother is fighting and teases him mercilessly about it in his quiet, taciturn manner. And the interaction between all four brothers, especially when the two younger members of the family join in are witty and amusing with a few double entendres thrown in which highlight Ms. Heath’s very amusing take on life and observational view of human nature.

The story nears its end and the ‘baddies’ re-appear – as they must if the story is to make sense and reach a satisfactory ending. Jack and Letty escape and the fraught chase back to London is plausibly achieved and obviously with the pair of them alone on the road for days… well,I’ll leave the rest for readers to find out. I’ll just say that it’s worth the wait!

If I have a criticism it is that the author imbues Letty with superpowers beyond even the most capable and resourceful of young ladies. In a few short weeks, she goes from being completely undomesticated, to cleaning, polishing, cooking (although to be fair her first attempt at cooking is an hilarious disaster) to eventually cooking a full Christmas lunch for five, making bread, washing for five and embroidering handkerchiefs for Christmas gifts in her spare time. I realise that the author had a lot to achieve in a relatively short word count, but this did stretch my credibility one step too far. Nevertheless, A Warriner to Protect Her is a lovely, heartwarming story with characters I loved and certainly want to know more about. Jamie’s is the next story in the series – A Warriner to Rescue Her – and as a secondary character in this book, he made a huge impression on me. I shall certainly follow this series on through to the end.