VIRTUAL TOUR: My Fair Princess (Improper Princesses #1)

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First, Vanessa Kelly brought readers The Renegade Royals. Now, in a delightfully witty new series, she introduces The Improper Princesses—three young women descended from royalty, each bound for her own thrilling adventure . . .

Despite being the illegitimate daughter of a prince, Gillian Dryden is happily ignorant of all social graces. After growing up wild in Italy, Gillian has been ordered home to England to find a suitable husband. And Charles Valentine Penley, the excessively proper, distractingly handsome Duke of Leverton, has agreed to help transform her from a willful tomboy to a blushing debutante.

Powerful and sophisticated, Charles can make or break reputations with a well-placed word. But his new protégée, with her habit of hunting bandits and punching earls, is a walking scandal. The ton is aghast . . . but Charles is thoroughly intrigued. Tasked with taking the hoyden in hand, he longs to take her in his arms instead. Can such an outrageous attraction possibly lead to a fairytale ending?

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EXCERPT

They stood on the quiet street, locked in a silent contest of wills. Gillian half expected him to begin lecturing her again. Yet his gaze warmed with understanding—and sympathy.

“I am not the first man to ask you to trust him, am I?” he asked.

She winced. “Blast. Is it that obvious?”

He started her forward again, for which Gillian was grateful. It would be easier to discuss such an embarrassing topic if he wasn’t looking at her.

“I put two and two together,” he said. “And, as a reminder, I would suggest you refrain from using terms like blast when in polite company.”

“All right, but only on the understanding that I can say whatever I want to immediate family.”

“I suppose I can’t really stop you, can I?

“I doubt it. Some things are just bloody difficult to change.”

“You can’t shock me, you know. Although I think I must drop a word in your brother’s ear, all the same.”

“Ha. That’s not much of a threat. I was using bad language long before I ever met Griffin.”

“No doubt.”

Gillian pretended to ponder for a moment. “Perhaps if you write down all the words I’m not supposed to say, I can commit them to memory.”

“I’m quite sure you know exactly what you should and shouldn’t say,” he said.

Gillian couldn’t help giving him a little smirk.

“Very well,” he said. “We’ll leave the language lessons for some future date. We have again been diverted from our main topic, which is—”

“Mr. Stratton.” The duke clearly wasn’t going to let it go, so she might as well get it over with. “From your reaction, I imagine you already have a good idea of what he said.”

“Did he insult you or importune you?” he asked in a hard voice.

“Mr. Stratton would be walking with a limp right now if he had. Or not walking at all, depending on my aim.”

Leverton made a slight, choking noise, then cleared his throat. “Then what did he say, exactly?”

“He asked me to meet him for a walk or a drive in the park.”

“By yourself? And without telling your grandmother?”

“Yes.”

“Bastard,” Leverton muttered.

She couldn’t resist. “Language, Your Grace. But don’t worry. Why would I want to go driving in the park with a married man? I’m supposed to be finding a husband, not larking about with ineligible men.”

“You’re not to be engaging in such behavior with an unmarried man, either. Not unless you have the expression permission of your mother or grandmother, and only after they’ve met your escort.”

“I’m not a half-wit, nor am I naïve. I know exactly what men like Stratton are after. I’m quite familiar with the type.”

That silenced him for half a block. “I’m sorry you even have to worry about that,” he finally said.

“Grandmamma warned me some years ago what to expect.” After Pietro. Because of that gentleman, Gillian would never be naïve again. “I have no intention of allowing myself to become a member of the demimonde. I would not enjoy such a life.”

“I should bloody well hope not,” Leverton said.

Gillian feigned astonishment. “Sir, I am truly shocked. Perhaps I should draw up a list of words for you.”

“I would ask for your apology, but I doubt very much that I offended you.”

“Of course not. I’m as tough as old boots.”

“No, you’re not. And you’re as deserving of respect as any young woman. I regret that we even need to have this unfortunate discussion.”

She couldn’t help smiling. “I know you’re trying to help. And I don’t mind at all. Truly.”

“You should mind,” he said. “But back to Stratton.”

Gillian groaned. “Must we?”

“I need you to understand that he might well not be the only cad who tries to take advantage. I want you to be well armored against that possibility.”

“Of course. But Mr. Stratton is harmless, you know.”

He shook his head. “He’s exactly the type you have to worry about.”

Gillian heard something in his voice that gave her pause—an undertone of bitterness. This was more than a well-intentioned warning. It sounded personal to Leverton. “I’ll be careful, Your Grace.”

“You’re to come to me or to your grandmother if you have any concerns of this nature at all.”

“Yes, I promise.”

He let out a reluctant laugh. “Now you’re patronizing me. Or behaving as if I’m a fussy old maid who sees a rake lurking behind every tree.”

“No, you’re behaving like someone who cares. But why are you doing this?”

“Warning you about bounders like Stratton?”

She tugged on his arm. “Now you’re being deliberately obtuse.”

“Perhaps just slightly evasive,” he said with a wry smile. “But now let me ask you a question. Do you want this little experiment your grandmother cooked up to actually work?”

“You mean teaching me not to swear, and how to curtsey without falling on my ear?” she asked in as innocent a voice as she could muster. Sadly, Gillian didn’t do innocent very well.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Zebra, September 2016
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Cicely

My Fair Princess_CoverBorn on the wrong side of the blanket, Gillian Dryden has spent her life learning to harden her heart to gossip and name calling while also learning to take care of herself and her family. When circumstances force her to leave her home in Italy and go to to England she is anything but happy. Gillian’s grandmother hatches a plan to turn her into an English debutante and find a husband, a plan that Gillian will do anything to thwart especially when her grandmother enlists a distant family member to help.

Charles Penley, Duke of Leverton, avoids scandal and runs his life in a perfect manner which has earned him the nickname “Perfect Penley”. Summoned by a distant relation, Charles is duty bound to offer his assistance in her quest to help her granddaughter overcome the circumstances of her birth and to be accepted by the ton . What he doesn’t realize is how his life is about to become anything but perfect.

My Fair Princess is the first book in Vanessa Kelly’s new The Improper Princesses series, and on the strength of this book, it’s a series I am looking forward to reading.

Ms. Kelly has written an engaging story of a strong hero AND a strong heroine. From the first chapter to the end I was hooked on Gillian’s strength and resolve to do what she felt was right despite what anyone else thought or what the consequences might be. On several occasions I found myself saying “you go girl”. Add in a vulnerability that Gillian didn’t know she possessed and you have a character that leaps from the pages.

From the moment of their first meeting to the end of the book, Gillian keeps Charles on his toes; and like Charles’ sister I enjoyed watching Gillian upend his perfect life. Two strong people with different opinions – add in a budding attraction and fireworks are sure to erupt; this story doesn’t disappoint.

I thoroughly enjoyed My Fair Princess and would recommend to fans of the author, new readers and lovers of historical romance in general.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VanessaVanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her current series, The Renegade Royals is a national bestseller. Vanessa also writes USA Today bestselling contemporary romance with her husband, under the pen name of VK Sykes.

Author Links:  Website * ~ * Blog * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads

Highland Temptation (Highland Knights #3) by Jennifer Haymore

highland temptation

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When Lady Emilia Buchanan discovers that her despicable father has been scheming against the crown, she turns to the Highland Knights for protection—and retribution. Spirited away to a safe house on the outskirts of London, Emilia is surprised to find herself sharing close quarters with a soft-spoken, musclebound Highlander. Before long, curiosity gives way to an alarming attraction. Emilia has learned firsthand from her father that men are not to be trusted. She just never met one so honorable and loyal, so powerful and, yes, tempting.

Ever since Waterloo, Colin Stirling has struggled with memories that haunt him night and day. Driven near to madness, he no longer trusts himself with meaningful relationships of any kind. At least in this temporary sanctuary, Colin can withdraw from the world—that is, until his stunningly gorgeous charge learns the full depth of his pain. In Emilia, Colin sees a kindred spirit with battle scars of her own. He also senses a chance to heal . . . and to find love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, August 23, 2016

Time and setting: London, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance/Regency
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Vikki

I have been a fan of Jennifer Haymore’s ever since I read A Hint of Wickedyears ago. She is one of my auto-buy authors; her stories are always well-developed, her characters are complex and steal the show and I have yet to read one of her books where I have not fallen in love with them.

After a brutal beating, Emilia Buchanan runs in terror from the one man who should protect her above all others – her father. Months ago, the Highland Knights had protected him, and she had met the handsome Sir Colin Stirling.

When Colin becomes her protector and takes her to safety, Emilia at last finds out that there is an honorable man willing to protect her with his life. When her father catches up to them and grabs Emilia, Colin is determined to get her back.

Can he find her in time, or will her father exact his revenge on his only daughter before Colin can make her his own forever?

Highland Temptation starts out fast and stays that way until the end. The plot is well thought out, with plenty of action, and the romance is satisfying. The chemistry between Emilia and Colin is fantastic – I truly wanted them to find their happy ending.

Emilia is an endearing character who has not had an easy time of it since her mother passed away. Her father is a physically abusive bastard, so under the circumstances, it’s no wonder she is wary of men. Her self-esteem is extremely low, but her inner core is too strong for him to permanently break her. She really comes into her own under Colin’s tender care.

Colin is my favorite kind of hero, a man who has suffered great hardship, but refuses to let it destroy him. He is a true warrior, determined to protect Emilia even if it may mean laying down his life to do so. He suffers greatly from what is known today as PTSD, but what he believes is madness. I loved how Emilia is able to convince him she loves him even when he is in the throes of one of his episodes.

Highland Temptation is a great adventure with plenty of perils along the way. While it’s not my favorite of the series, it is still a great read and if you enjoy an emotionally-charged romance with amazing characters, then you should give it a try. I thoroughly enjoyed getting glimpses into the lives of the other knights and their fair ladies. I can’t wait to read the stories of the other still unattached heroes in this great cast of characters.

An Affair in Winter (Seasons #1) by Jess Michaels

an affair in winter

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Widow Rosalinde Wilde is on her way to her beloved sister’s wedding when an unexpected storm waylays her at an overcrowded inn. There she meets a tempting stranger who sweeps her into a night of unforgettable passion.

Grayson Danford never expected a night with the irresistible Mrs. Wilde, but she was a welcome distraction from the unpleasant duty of breaking up his brother’s impending nuptials. He’s shocked when he discovers his passionate lover is none other than the sister of his brother’s intended.

Now Rosalinde and Gray will butt heads, even as their simmering desire for each other threatens to boil over. Who will win? And who might lose it all?

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Publisher and Release Date: The Passionate Pen, July 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1810
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Jess Michaels has been on my radar for quite a while but I’ve never had the opportunity to read one of her books. Her writing style favors a more sensual and steamy Historical Romance but it also conveys real emotional connections for the main characters. The first release of her new Seasons series – An Affair in Winter – was the perfect chance to jump into her books and discover what I’d been missing.

The rough roads and the terrible weather are playing havoc on Rosalinde Wilde’s journey to Caraway Court, the estate of her sister’s fiancé and location of their upcoming wedding. When the storm picks up there is nothing for her driver to do but stop at the first inn available. Rosalinde’s fine appearance and coin buy her the last available room at the inn but as a woman traveling alone she has already gained the attention of several of the men seeking their own shelter for the night. One of those men who notices Rosalinde’s entrance is Grayson Danford, younger brother to the Earl of Stenfax and also traveling to Caraway Court. Acting against his better judgement Grayson invites Rosalinde to dine with him and their shared meal leads to a few hours of intimate conversation. The flirtation and attraction between them ramps up quickly, moving them from the taproom to his bedroom for a single night of passion before they part in the morning.

Arrivals at Caraway Court bring the surprise that Rosalinde is the elder sister of the bride and she is intent on supporting her sister’s arranged marriage to Earl of Stenfax. Grayson has sworn to break up the betrothal to protect his brother from a woman only interested in the title. He accuses Rosalinde of trying to manipulate his family while she is furious that he’s jeopardizing her sister’s future. At cross purposes the two of them try to find ways to protect or subvert the betrothal, with each believing that they are doing what is right for their sibling within the circumstances. Unfortunately their deep attraction to each other and memories of their night together keep getting in the way of their plans.

When a shocking secret about Rosalinde’s family comes to light, the emotions she and Grayson have been suppressing are forced into the open and change their thoughts about supporting the wedding. Greyson finds himself reluctant to use this new knowledge as it would help his cause but devastate the woman he’s come to care for. For Rosalinde all the years of protecting her sister from their manipulative Grandfather would be sacrificed if the Earl broke the betrothal, yet the truth could set her free to follow her own heart.

An Affair in Winter has fun with the usual enemies-to-lovers trope by adding the complication of the one night stand between Rosalinde and Grayson. They already know they are very compatible in bed together but it takes a lot longer for their minds and hearts to catch up with what their bodies already know. Neither one sets out the hurt the other as they fight to protect their siblings. It’s made perfectly clear how each disagreement or cruel shot hurts them more than it would if they really disliked each other. I enjoyed how the relationship evolved from just a passionate encounter to a love affair as Rosalinde and Grayson learned more about the other’s backgrounds and what drives them to fight so hard for their sibling’s happiness. In those moments there is a real connection and an intimacy that’s just as important as the physical kind.

I’m glad I had a chance to finally read Jess Michael’s work and believe I’ve found another great author to follow. An Affair in Winter does a wonderful job of keeping the reader engaged and creating a good foundation for the series to follow. I know I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the next book.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Earl’s Return by Callie Hutton

The earl's Return

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London, 1819. Four years ago, Darius, the Earl of Redgrave fled London two weeks before his wedding to Lady Mary’s sister and married another woman. Now a widower, he has returned to seek a new wife.

One woman catches his eye  . . .

At first, Lady Mary doesn’t recognize the handsome lord as the cad who ran out on her sister. After giving him the cut direct in a London ballroom, she finds herself running into him everywhere she goes, and fighting a forbidden attraction. Not only has Mary sworn off men, Redgrave is so very wrong for her. But she cannot stop thinking of his kisses. Redgrave means to stay away from Mary but it is impossible. Passion between two people who can never be together is a dangerous game.

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EXCERPT

A slight knock on the bedchamber door jolted them apart. “My lady, I have your gown for tonight. ’Tis pressed. May I hang it in your wardrobe?”

“Oh, goodness,” Mary whispered, pulling her bodice up. She turned her back to him. “Fasten my gown, and hurry.”

“My lady?”

“Ah, I will be right there, Baxter. I was just taking a short nap.” She looked at him over her shoulder. “Hurry up.”

He leaned close to her ear. “Mary, have you forgotten when your maid comes into the room she is most likely going to see me?”

“Oh God.” She whirled around, looking at every corner. “What will we do with you?”

“My lady? Is everything all right?”

“Yes. Yes, just fine Baxter. I will be right there. Just give me a moment.” She glanced in the mirror and pushed back the loose strands of her hair, shifting her bodice to straighten it.

Redgrave strode to the window and looked down. It was a fall, but if he hung from the window frame, he could drop to the ground and probably only break a leg or two, but most likely not his neck. Mary hurried to his side. “You can’t climb out the window, one of the women might see you.” She wrung her hands. “What are we going to do?”

“I’ll have to hide in the wardrobe.”

“She wants to put the gown in the wardrobe,” she whispered furiously.

A loud knocking came from the door. “My lady, are you sure you are all right? Shall I get one of the footmen to open the door? Is it stuck?”

“No!” She pushed Redgrave toward the wardrobe. “Climb in. I’ll handle Baxter.”

He eased into the tight space and Mary closed the door, leaving him in pitch-black darkness.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

callie huttonCallie Hutton, USA Today bestselling author writes both Western Historical and Regency romance with “historic elements and sensory details” (The Romance Reviews). She also pens an occasional contemporary or two.

Callie lives in Oklahoma with several rescue dogs, two adult children, a daughter-in-law, twin grandsons and her top cheerleader husband (although thankfully not all in the same home!). Living in the Midwest provides plenty of opportunities for Callie do pursue her interests: researching history, meeting readers, spending time with family and discovering new adventures.

Callie loves to hear from readers and welcomes the opportunity to become friends, both in person or virtually. Find her online: www.calliehutton.com

Author Twitter: @calliehutton
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/callie.hutton
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5349775.Callie_Hutton

A License to Wed (Rebellious Brides #2) by Diana Quincy

a license to wed
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Lady Elinor Dunsmore made the mistake of falling for her older brother’s best friend, who vanished after a night of unbridled passion. Six years and a lifetime later, their eyes meet across a Paris salon. Her friends and family believe she’s dead, but Elle is very much alive. She’s now associated with a ruthless general, who wants her to seduce the man who broke her heart in order to learn his deepest secrets. Is Will a mild-mannered scholar—or the notorious agent they call The Razor?

The bastard son of an earl and an actress, Will Naismith always knew he was an unsuitable match for Elle Dunsmore, no matter how powerfully he ached for her. And yet he almost allowed his desires to spoil her glittering future. After the agony caused by Elle’s supposed death, Will has devoted himself to the Crown, but his entire life has been leading up to this unexpected reunion. As much as he still wants her, though, he must not succumb to lust once again. For his mission is delicate—and Elle is delectably dangerous.

Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, July 2016
Time and Setting: Regency England/Napoleonic France
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

After the sudden death of Elinor Dunsmore, the young woman he loved, Will Naismith spent the next six years throwing himself into his work, traveling the globe and rooting out information close to home, all in service to the English crown. We first met him in Spy Fall, where he helped Elinor’s brother unmask a traitor and discover the whereabouts of Elinor’s daughter. Now in Paris on a new assignment, Will is shocked to come face-to-face with none other than Elinor herself, very much alive, the darling of post-Revolution society, and mistress of one of France’s most dangerous men. As Elle evades his questions, discounting the love they once shared, and continues to grace the arm of the man Will is tasked with stopping before he can divulge state secrets, Will realizes this Elinor is nothing like the woman he once loved beyond all reason, and she’s likely a traitor to her homeland. When one of his top agents goes missing and a connection to Elinor is uncovered, Will must put the past behind him and fulfill his duty to king and country, no matter the cost.

Will Naismith is the last person Elle ever expected to see in Paris. Though she wants nothing more than to lose herself in his embrace – which still sets her heart racing after all these years – she has no choice but to keep him at arm’s length. That is until her ruthless companion – one of Napoléon’s generals – tasks her with seducing Will in an effort to uncover the identity of Le Rasoir, England’s top intelligence officer in France. Since the general is holding the whereabouts of her missing daughter over her head, Elle is forced to comply. Even though she has secrets of her own, nothing prepares her for the secrets Will is hiding or the lengths he is willing to go to in the name of duty. But as the two circle each other in an effort to outsmart and outlast, all while attempting to deny the connection between them, the game they are playing turns deadly, and both will have to decide what they are willing to risk for love, for each other, and for the chance at a future they never thought they could have together.

I had such high hopes for A License to Wed based on how much I enjoyed the first book in the series, Spy Fall. Finding out that Elinor was alive when everyone thought her dead for the past six years was a shocking twist, and I couldn’t wait to find out where she had been and how her loved ones would react to the news. Unfortunately, most of it fell flat for me. I couldn’t believe that Will didn’t immediately demand answers or keep pressing Elinor for the truth, and I found Elinor’s flippant treatment of her return from the dead to be very callous and selfish. Nor did I find a satisfactory explanation for where she’d been, how her family came to think she was dead in the first place, and why she never bothered to disabuse them of that notion. And so much of the angst between Will and Elinor could have been cleared up if they had just TALKED to each other. Misunderstandings are one of my least favorite plot devices in romance. To me, it’s a hallmark of a weak plot, and there was so much to work with in this story that it really could have been better developed. I thought I was going to get a tale of two spies caught up in a dangerous game of intrigue, but that’s really not what happened at all. And Will and Elinor’s romance lacked the witty banter and sexy innuendo that made Spy Fall so good.

I was invested enough to keep reading to see how it would all end, and there were some exciting moments and touching scenes of tenderness along the way. In browsing other reviews, my feelings are definitely in the minority. If you loved Spy Fall, you’ve got to read A License to Wed for the continuation of the story, but overall it did not live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.

The Salt Hendon Collection by Lucinda Brant

salt hendon collection

This special edition brings together two of Lucinda Brant’s best-loved books, Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux. For this comprehensive edition we listened to reader requests; the original prologue to Salt Bride has been reinstated and the first edition cover art has been added. Also included is a 20,000-word bonus novella, Salt Angel, a new extended version of Fairy Christmas (previously published in A Timeless Romance Anthology: Silver Bells Collection) featuring well-loved characters from the Salt books. The Salt Hendon Collection is a great introduction to Lucinda Brant’s unique storytelling and her richly romantic 18th century world.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf Pty, June 2016
Place and time: England, 1760s
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

This is the second read for me of Lucinda Brant’s Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux, this time with the added bonus of the original prologue to Salt Bride having been reinstated and with the inclusion of a novella which was originally published as Fairy Christmas in an anthology and which has been newly extended for its addition to the set. The novella, light and sweet – neatly ties off the complete boxed set. The Salt Duo was my first foray into Lucinda Brant’s gorgeously sumptuous Georgian world and I am now an addict of this author’s work and devour everything she has written and wait with eager anticipation for future work. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories – probably even more than I did initially – especially as I now fully appreciate the extensive research and work Ms. Brant undertakes on each and every book on her fabulous backlist.

The added prologue, which had already been removed when I read Salt Bride (due to some controversy over its content), was not as shocking as I had expected. It tells the story of Miss Jane Despard’s miscarriage and, in my opinion, is very sensitively handled, with just the right amount of information revealed. However, having read the book with and without said prologue, I do not believe the story lacked anything by its absence. Ms. Brant very successfully drip feeds the circumstances of Jane’s miscarriage throughout Salt Bride; and on reflection, I would conclude that I preferred the edition without the prologue as the gradual revelations of past events add an element of mystery to the story.

Both Salt Bride and Salt Redux feature one of the most memorable female villains I have ever encountered. Lady Diana St. John, Salt’s cousin, is truly an exceptional bad-girl, highly intelligent, but criminally insane, she operates in such a rational, self possessed manner that her madness is hidden beneath her cloak of self-assured entitlement. She features, highly in both of the novels, and the prologue, already mentioned, and completely steals the show with her machinations and downright, badness. The lengths she goes to to achieve her objectives are truly mind boggling but so expertly does Ms. Brant develop Diana’s character that she manifests as alarmingly believable. I wondered how the author would give Diana the comeuppance she deserves and when it came, I was not disappointed.

I loved the character of Magnus Sinclair, Earl of Salt Hendon. He’s an utterly gorgeous man who has been raised to feel completely comfortable in his own skin and fully accepts his powerful position. But he is finally knocked off his pedestal and brought down to the level of a mere mortal by the love and devotion of the serenely beautiful Jane Despard. The first book is very much about the traumatic events leading up to their forced marriage (a premise I love in HR) and the development of their romance; it is already in its infancy when they marry, but they have some way to go. And we see Salt finally becoming a more human, down-to-earth man and a loving husband and future father. The second book features Salt and Jane with a growing family but highlights Salt’s best friend, diplomat, Sir Anthony Templestowe who has recently returned from St.Petersburg where he was the darling of the Russian court. Salt’s little sister Caroline (Caro), and Antony (Tony) have loved each other for a while, but a high profile incident at the end of Salt Bride sent Tony into virtual exile to Russia. He now returns in order to help find a solution which will immobilise his diabolical sister, Diana, once and for all, but also to hopefully mend some fences with Caro. Anthony is a darling man but also a self-confessed alcoholic and I loved that Lucinda Brant tackles this very real problem in a pragmatic and practical manner, making it perfectly clear along the way that it can’t ever be resolved. Anthony has faced that – as alcoholics must – but more importantly, he has accepted that the fight with his addiction is an ongoing one. He is a lovely man and his vulnerability just serves to make his character more real and compelling. Caroline, too, has confessions to make before they can reach their HEA and the two make an interesting and charismatic couple.

Lucinda Brant expertly brings all of her primary characters together to bring Diana down – no mean feat – and I wondered, more than once, how she managed to keep her intricate plotting and placing of characters clear in her head. There is so much going on, especially during the dramatic culmination, that I had to think twice about where everyone was at any given time. Lucinda Brant doesn’t just write spine tingling romance – she always throws in an element of clever plotting and mystery and it is one of the aspects of her writing that I love; she keeps us guessing.

The novella is a nice addition and as I said, brings the whole series to a neat conclusion with not one but two delightful romances. Three of the characters appeared in the Salt Duo as secondary characters and the third, Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai, makes his first appearance in the novella. Lucinda Brant has a pleasing way of including every age group in her romances; we are never too old for love and the elderly Russian Prince is an absolute sweetheart. His addition to the Fairy Christmas a delightful touch and his love story makes for a perfect ending to a terrific series. I loved the Salt Hendon collection and if you have never read a Lucinda Brant historical romance or mystery, this is a good place to start. Highly recommended.

You Can’t Always Get the Marquess You Want (Masters of Seduction #2) by Alexandra Hawkins

you can't always get

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A MOST FORBIDDEN LOVE

They call him Chance, though in truth the Marquess of Fairlamb feels bitterly cursed: A long-ago family feud is still standing in the way of his heart’s desire. Lady Tempest is the daughter of his father’s sworn enemy, the Marquess of Norgrave. She is beautiful, innocent, and utterly untouchable. But some seductions are just too good to resist…

Turns out Tempest is a woman of her own mind—and a true romantic who will overcome every obstacle to be with the man of her dreams. But the odds are against handsome, wickedly charming Chance if he intends to win Tempest as his bride. Will he choose loyalty to his family—or risk everything he has for the woman he yearns for?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, April 2016

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

The Romeo and Juliet trope is a common one in historical romance and this novel follows the love story of the children of former best friends Blackbern and Norgrave. Their infamous falling out twenty-four years earlier is detailed in the exquisite first book in the series, A Duke but No Gentleman. I had likened that book to Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos in its wit and cunning and downright scandalous behavior. Alas, the second book in Alexandra Hawkins’ new Masters of Seduction series does not quite measure up to either.

Both Norgrave and Blackbern are now fathers of adult children and in London high society, they are bound to eventually meet. They have managed to skillfully avoid each other and their families for many years – even society hostesses know not to invite both to the same soirées – but one hot day in the country, Tempest (Norgrave’s eldest daughter) catches a delicious glimpse of a naked Mathias (Blackbern’s heir) swimming in a pond with his friends. She has no idea who he is until he catches up with her and introduces himself. To his dismay, he realizes she’s the daughter of his father’s enemy and vows to avoid her. But he is hopelessly attracted. And so is she.

From here, the two meet at musicales and balls and then, more often, secretly, though her bombastic older brother Marcroft has threatened Mathias more than once with a duel. But I didn’t quite get the feel of danger and deceit though Tempest and Mathias are definitely playing with fire.

The denouement is a shocker but it seems a bit melodramatic and also, too little, too late. As lovers, Mathias and Tempest are likeable but their relationship isn’t very passionate or fraught with peril. Their naivété in thinking they will never be caught is unrealistic but, more than that, I am not sure I feel the attraction is well portrayed enough to warrant all the perceived drama. Yes, Marcroft is aware of the attraction but all he does is threaten. In other words, all bluff but no bite. The book needs more action to add excitement and tension.

Still, Ms. Hawkins writes very well and her depiction of the intricate dynamics in both families is very well done. I would love to see how the evil Norgrave ended up where is he now after the horrible scandal in A Duke but No Gentleman. That would be the more exciting and intriguing story to read. Perhaps Ms. Hawkins can be enticed to write a novella?

If you enjoy feuding family stories with star-crossed lovers, you might enjoy You Can’t Always Get the Marquess You Want.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Watchmaker’s Heart by Juli D. Revezzo

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London, 1898: For Miss Phoebe Lockswell, fashionable London tea parties and balls aren’t her style. Instead, she prefers to tinker tirelessly with a clockwork diffuser she’s built from scratch. If only she can get the invention to work on command, she might earn her way out of an arranged marriage to a repugnant member of the House of Commons.

London watchmaker Mortimer Kidd was brought up hard in the arms of an infamous London gang. Despite the respectability he strives for now, the gang leader is blackmailing him. When Mortimer sees Phoebe’s diffuser, he thinks he’s found a way to buy himself out of trouble. The brash Phoebe manages to steal his heart, however, before he can purloin her invention.

Will Mortimer’s unsavory past catch up to him before he convinces Phoebe of his devotion? Worse, once Phoebe learns the truth, will she ever trust him again?

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EXCERPT

“I did find one man interested. On the train home. He’s a watchmaker, so, in essence, he’s a tinker too.”

“Excellent!” Cora clapped her hands, delighted. “What’s he like? Can he fix the diffuser for you? Maybe an extra hand would help.”

Phoebe narrowed her eyes thinking of Mortimer. “He’s charming.” She nodded to a vendor selling “ices” for a halfpenny, and waited a few steps more before she spoke again, “But I don’t know much about his skills. Though, truth to tell, he’s proficient with a flathead screwdriver.”

“Handsome would be enough for me.” Cora laced her arm through hers. “What family does he come from?”

Kidd. Despite the infamy of the name, Phoebe knew it had to be real. But no matter how many times she mulled the name over, she still couldn’t place a Kidd family in the area. “I have no idea,” she admitted. “One from out of town, maybe.” She twiddled the small watch pinned to her bodice. “Or just outside London.” Maybe. “I don’t know who Mortimer’s family is.”

“Mortimer,” Cora muttered.

Phoebe nodded.

“So, to top everything, you’ve already memorized his first name and what he does for a living?” Cora said.

“Yes. He thinks the goddess will work,” she said. “Even suggested I give it to—”

She glanced to Cora’s chaperone, strolling ahead, and clamped her mouth shut.

“Who?” Cora demanded.

Phoebe gulped. “I forget.”

Cora’s light eyes lit with mirth. “You do not! Tell me everything!”

She waved a hand, batting the conversation away. “No one important.”

“Important or exotic enough to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m not uncomfortable,” Phoebe said and checked herself in the shop window to confirm. “He suggested … no one important. Certain of his own clientele.”

“Those shopping for what?”

“Watches, I suppose,” Phoebe said.

Pouting, Cora studied the striped dress adorning the mannequin posing in the window before them. “That ensemble is lovely, don’t you think?”

“I think it would suit you perfectly. Even if the red piping might clash with your Votes For Women sash.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Cora peeked at her out of the corner of her eye. “Did you know there’s a reception with the Indian prince’s harem, this weekend? He’s settling, temporarily, here for some thing or other.”

Phoebe gasped. “What on earth?”

“So I’ve heard,” Cora said, tugging on her sleeve. “Why don’t you go? Take your little goddess to them. See what they say about it.”

Could she? she wondered, looking at everything but her friend. “You know it doesn’t work.”

Phoebe spied Mortimer Kidd in the glass of the dressmaker’s window display. He strolled down the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

She spun on her heel, waved and called out, “Mort—Mr. Kidd! Good morning.”

Waiting only long enough for a carriage with three horses to pass, Mortimer crossed over to them. Narrowly missing a puddle, he stepped on to their curb, tipping his hat. “Good morning, Miss Lockswell.”

He took her hand, kissed it. A tremor slipped through her fingers into her heart.

Cora’s brows shot up.

Phoebe gave her a droll look, turned back to her new acquaintance, reluctant to let him go and disappointed when he relinquished her hand. “How nice it is to see you,” Phoebe said. “I didn’t know you frequented Bond Street.”

“But it is a pleasant surprise, is it not?” he asked. “To what do I owe this great fortune?” He tipped his hat to Cora. “Are you the reason; then I thank you, Miss. I wasn’t expecting such a blessing today.”

“Should I report you for following me?” Phoebe teased.

“Always,” he laughed.

“I say!” their chaperone protested.

He winked at the chaperone. “But what gentleman wouldn’t follow such pretty things as you?”

“Oh come,” Phoebe said, taking the chaperone’s arm. “He’s speaking in jest. If you must know, I’m spending the day with my friend, Miss Smythe.” She nodded to Cora. “What brings you here, Mr. Kidd?”

“Business,” he replied, with a disgusted twist of his lips. “But I was kept waiting too long.”

“Well now, that isn’t polite.”

“Which is why I’m no longer waiting! So, tell me, how is our little project coming along?”

“Oh, here we go,” Cora groaned, with a flip of her blond locks. “Must you mention that dreadful toy?”

“Pish! Don’t listen to her,” Phoebe complained. “In fact, since you left, it hasn’t worked.”

“It’s broken?” he asked. “What happened?”

“Not broken, per se, the valves simply aren’t opening—or something is clogging the hoses again, or—” She shook her head. “I don’t understand it!”

“It doesn’t even—” He paused, glanced to Cora and said, “Forgive me for asking such a question in front of you, miss—” Phoebe lit up under his attention, and hoped he didn’t notice how eager she was for it. “—but it no longer works for your parents?”

“No.” She screwed up her face in doubt. “Not that they’ve said. My father has been a little tense. I guess it’s picking up on that.”

“Excuse me?” he said.

“Everything in the world gives off a vibration,” Phoebe explained. “Even sound turns to vibration. Your watch, for instance, if you really pay attention the hands move and the watch vibrates.”

Mortimer tugged his watch from his pocket and held it for a moment.

She wondered if he would think her mad, but after a moment, he nodded and said, “I think I do feel something.”

She smiled. “Scientists theorize every emotion gives off a certain vibration—anger resonates at one frequency, love another. I’ve designed the goddess to pick up on the vibrations given off by love—” She looked at her friend who seemed mortified by the conversation, and trying to rearrange the contents of her reticule rather than listen. Phoebe was sure she’d know to what she referred next if she bothered to look up. “—Or in my test cases, the potential for it—and that, in turn fuels the mechanism that sets off the atomizer.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

watchmaker's heart JuliDRevezzobJuli D. Revezzo writes fantasy and romantic stories filled in with elements garnered from a lifetime love affair with magic, myth, witches, wizards, and fated lovers and legend. She is the author of The Antique Magic series and the Paranormal Romance Celtic Stewards Chronicles series, steampunk historical romance WATCHMAKER’S HEART, and short stories published in ETERNAL HAUNTED SUMMER, LUNA STATION QUARTERLY, among others. 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: http://julidrevezzo.com

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The Soldier (Windhams/The Duke’s Obsession #2) by Grace Burrowes, narrated by James Langton

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His idyllic estate is falling down from neglect, and nightmares of war give him no rest. Then Devlin St. Just meets his new neighbor….

With her confident manner hiding a devastating secret, his lovely neighbor commands all of his attention, and protecting Emmaline becomes Devlin’s most urgent mission.

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Publisher and Release Date: Tantor Audio, June 2016

Time and Setting: Yorkshire, England 1818
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3,5 stars (4 stars for the story / 3 stars for the narration)

Review by Wendy

I always enjoy Grace Burrowes quirky writing style, it has a warmth and ‘homeliness’ about it which is quite unique and very recognisable as the author’s very own. The Soldier second in her Windham series, features Lt. Colonel Devlin St.Just, newly created first Earl of Rosecroft, who is the epitome of this author’s likeable, down-to-earth, male characters. Although I haven’t read all of the various series’ attached to this book, it wasn’t too hard to follow – even with the numerous friends and family members who pop up throughout the story, and I would say that it can be read/listened to as a standalone.

Devlin St.Just is the eldest – though illegitimate – son of the Duke of Windham, but lived with the Windham family from the age of five and has always been accepted and loved by the duchess and his younger half-siblings. For most of his adult years, Devlin was a soldier and fought with honour at Waterloo. Throughout the story it is obvious that he is suffering from what we know today as PTSD; obviously a sensitive and caring man he is tortured by flashbacks, nightmares and even – initially – impotence. He also suffers with a serious drink problem which his younger brother, Valentine, has helped him to overcome, although he still has to fight his urges for the liquor bottle – especially on a bad day.

On his arrival at his new estate, Devlin is presented with his predecessor’s by-blow, a small girl who was recognised by her father and grandfather, the old earl. Devlin understands, with the knowledge of someone-who-has-been-there-and-done-that, how important it is for the all but feral little Bronwyn – or Winnie as she is most commonly known – to be loved and accepted. It’s one of the really nice aspects of the story; the way Grace Burrowes shows this connection and understanding between the fully grown, product-of-his-past, man, and the tiny vulnerable little girl. Along with Winnie comes her very attractive, also illegitimate cousin, Emmaline Farnham. Emmie has lived on the edge of village society, barely tolerated by all but the local vicar who has a long-held affecton for her. Emmie is the only one who has ever really shown Winnie love, but as she is forced to earn a living – working herself into the ground in the process – baking for the local community, she has not been able to give much of her attention to her charge.

Emmie and Devlin are drawn together by their similar pasts but also by the love and concern they share for Winnie. It soon becomes apparent that the two belong together but Emmie has a secret which she is determined not to reveal, and for the second half of the book, as their attraction to each other ratchets up, she seems to do nothing but cry! And whilst I admire the fact that Grace Burrowes doesn’t shy away from mentioning bodily functions, I did get a bit fed up with Devlin talking about her ‘menses’ being the cause. Apparently with five sisters he knew all about such things! However, menses and bodily functions aside, I really liked Devlin; he develops throughout the story into a thoroughly decent and likeable man, his insecurities only making him more endearing and loveable. The author captures little Winnie perfectly. The child reacted as I would expect a child of her age to behave in certain situations, especially given the insecurities and tragedies she has suffered.

I do not think that James Langton was a good choice to narrate this story. Whilst he captures Devlin quite adequately and effectively portrays his caring side, I found his use of an Irish accent a little over the top. Devlin had lived with his Irish mother for only the first five years of his life and I find it difficult to believe that after well over twenty years living amongst the aristocracy, he wouldn’t have lost his strong Irish brogue. Emmie is described as extremely attractive with long blonde hair (which, in true Grace Burrowes fashion, Devlin likes to brush for her!), but as I said previously she cries a lot, and Langton’s high pitched tone of voice highlights her as a rather whingy, whining, misery. She was not a character I liked a great deal anyway, but the tone of voice employed dispelled any image in my mind of attractiveness. The vicar, whom Grace Burrowes indicated as handsome, caring and tolerant in her written portrayal of him has been given a lisping, foppish voice with a rather patronising edge to it. But by far the worst characterisation is that of Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery (Douglas – Lonely Lords, #8) apparently a rather dishy, youngish man, with a wife, stepdaughter and new baby who sounds like a pompous, ninety year old, his voice croaky and elderly.

As usual Grace Burrowes’ use of Americanisms is annoying. The sorts of muffins we eat for breakfast in England are toasted and not the sorts of things you can just put in your pocket (unless you want a pocket full of melted butter and jam!) and there is even mention of rabid dogs! Did we have rabid dogs in England in the nineteenth century? And a swing on the porch – reminiscent of the Deep South of America but not something I’d expect to find on a Yorkshire estate. On the whole, though, The Soldier is a solidly and empathetically written story, covering quite a few serious issues which are still relevant today.

VIRTUAL TOUR: This Earl is on Fire (Season’s Original #2) by Vivienne Lorret

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The sheltered daughter of a country baron, Miss Adeline Pimm comes to London looking for adventure… and finds it in the form of a bloody, unconscious man slumped in the doorway of her family’s rented townhouse. Though his identity is a mystery, Adeline is inexplicably drawn to the handsome, injured man and vows to nurse him back to health.

Liam Cavanaugh, the scandalous Earl of Wolford, is startled when he awakens in an unfamiliar bed, wrapped in bandages that hinder his eyesight, with no memory of why he was beaten half to death. Although he can’t see the witty young woman who tends to his wounds, her alluring voice–and a single stolen kiss from her soft lips–help soothe his pain. But when he is fully healed, Liam is not ready to let go of the one woman who stirs his deepest longings.

Liam will do whatever it takes to see Adeline again, even if it means giving up his rakish ways. But his disreputable past is not so easily forgotten and his secrets are far more dangerous than he-or Adeline-ever imagined.

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EXCERPT

“Your swelling has diminished completely,” she said, feeling a strange fluttering in the pit of her stomach. Then she gripped the key tightly as if it were her life’s purpose. “Your flesh is somewhat bruised, however, and purplish in places. When you arrived, we weren’t even able to see that you had eyes.”

“And now that you are able?” There was an edge of mockery to his tone and—yes—to his lips too. Now there were appealing fissures on both sides of his mouth.

“Are you seeking a compliment? I had not taken you for a vain peacock,” she chided, feeling comfortable enough to tease him in return. Yet, that quickly altered when he reached up and closed his hand over hers.

He tugged her closer. “Your expression reveals little. And there are no mirrors nearby to show me whether I am merely bruised or disfigured. That pretty blush upon your cheeks could be because you are here in your nightdress and shy about it, not necessarily because you think I am handsome.”

Were all the gentlemen in London this bold? She held her breath, trying not to move and wanting to absorb every sensation caused by her hand in his grasp. Her skin rejoiced, sending shivers of warmth through her like sparks from flint and steel. His thumb swept back and forth over the mound of her thumb. Then his fingers curled casually as if touches such as these were commonplace. At least, for him…

“I like the look of you,” she confessed, holding his gaze. A man who’d suffered such a beating deserved that, at least.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, August 2016

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

Review by Lady Cicely

Sheltered all her life by loving parents, Miss Adeline Pimm is determined to prove that she can stand on her own two feet. What better way to do that than with a London season where she feels she is fully prepared to make this an adventure; her only concern is her secret coming to light. A secret that has her determined never to marry. A secret that she feels elicits pity and/or repulsion. What Adeline isn’t prepared for is family myth affecting her in a way she is not prepared to explore when a bloodied, unconscious man lies at her door.

Liam Cavanaugh, Earl of Wolford, has led an intentionally lonely life. A life that only has room for many homes filled with artifacts, few friends, and a scandalous reputation. A reputation that seems to have caught up with him when he awakens, battered and bruised, in an unfamiliar room, being nursed by someone whose voice alone soothes his pain. As Liam’s body heals, the barrier he has erected around his heart starts to crumble; however, an innocent remark threatens to cement that barrier back in place. When the reason for his attack puts Adeline’s life in danger, Liam realizes what the most important thing in his life is. But will he be able to convince that person of his change of heart?

The Earl is on Fire is the second book in Vivienne Lorret’s series The Season’s Original.
The story is written in such a way that I felt every emotion of the characters, from Adeline’s determination to prove herself and her frustration at being coddled to Liam’s hurt from his long ago betrayal and desire to be alone. The secondary characters are written with depth – they’re not just space filler – without taking away from the hero and heroine and giving hints as to where the next story may lie. The heart to heart between Adeline and her mother had me in tears.

I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the next in the series. I would recommend This Earl is on Fire to fans of the author, new readers and lovers of historical romance in general.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VivUSA Today bestselling author, VIVIENNE LORRET loves romance novels, her pink laptop, her husband, and her two sons (not necessarily in that order … but there are days). Transforming copious amounts of tea into words, she is an Avon Impulse author of works including: Tempting Mr. Weatherstone, The Wallflower Wedding Series, The Rakes of Fallow Hall Series, The Duke’s Christmas Wish, and the Season’s Original Series.

You can connect with Vivienne at: Website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads