Wicked My Love, by Susanna Ives

wicked my love

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A smooth-talking rogue and a dowdy financial genius…

Handsome, silver-tongued politician Lord Randall doesn’t get along with his bank partner, the financially brilliant but hopelessly frumpish Isabella St. Vincent. Ever since she was his childhood nemesis, he’s tried—and failed—to get the better of her.

Make a perfectly wicked combination…

When both Randall’s political career and their mutual bank interests are threatened by scandal, he has to admit he needs Isabella’s help. They set off on a madcap scheme to set matters right. With her wits and his charm, what could possibly go wrong? Only a volatile mutual attraction that’s catching them completely off guard…

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, March 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1847
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Claudia

Randall and Isabella are different as people can be. Randall is a born politician, able to charm anyone and the man who seems to have it all, while Isabella is very shy and academic and has trouble connecting with other people. These differences are one of the reasons they have hated each other since childhood. But their business – a bank inherited from their fathers – forces them to work together constantly, and their childhood antagonism has continued over the years.

The plot is really, really well done and quite complex. It’s completely understandable that Isabella and Randall would feel the need to do everything within their power in order to save the bank when it is threatened with ruin, and I loved their ingenuity. There is also a subplot regarding womens’ rights which fits right in with the main story.

Randall is a very well written character. At first, he seems to be a superficial person who has no deep interest in anything but his prestigious Parliamentary career, but when we get to know him, we come to see that beneath that handsome, charming exterior, he is serious, devoted, determined and very hardworking and loyal. He wants to use his position of influence to change the things he cares about.

Isabella is very intelligent and brilliant with numbers but is very awkward in regards to human contact. She just does not understand or pick up on normal humor or sarcasm; even when Randall teases her (as he does often), while she mostly recognises what he is doing, she is never sure quite of the exact joke. She wants to be loved, but recognises, that given her circumstances, that marriage is very unlikely.

The relationship between Randall and Isabella is well done too and I enjoyed watching their dislike (if it ever really was dislike) change and the way their connection evolved into a love and attraction. There is a lot of humour in their exchanges, and I really liked to see them together. It took both of them time to understand what they were feeling, which made it very believable.

Having said all that, I find I can only award the book three stars when taken as a whole. This is mainly because while I really liked Isabella, some of her decisions were just stupid, and I could not understand why she – supposedly a very intelligent woman – would go through with them.

There were also some points during the story when it turned overly silly, and those moments took away some of my enjoyment.

This is one of those books where I came away from it not quite sure how I felt about it. I really liked the characters and I thought the plot was very well done, but there were parts of it that just didn’t measure up. All in all, however, Wicked, My Love was a nice read and I think I will give this author another try.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Corral Nocturne by Elizabeth Foley

Corral Nocturne eBook Cover

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Life on her brother’s ranch is lonely for Ellie Strickland. Ed’s ungracious manners and tight-fisted habits keep visitors away and his mother and sister close to home. But when Cole Newcomb, son of the wealthiest rancher in the county, meets Ellie by chance, he is struck by an unexpected impulse to rescue her from her solitude—and Ellie’s lonely summer is transformed.

When Cole asks her to go with him to the Fourth of July dance, Ellie is determined that nothing, from an old dress to Ed’s sour temper, will stand in her way. By the time the Fourth of July fireworks go off at midnight, will they herald only more heartache, or maybe—just maybe—a dream come true?

A short and sweet Western retelling of the beloved Cinderella story, approximately 21,000 words.

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EXCERPT

Cole was silent for a minute, twisting a wilted stalk of grass in his fingers. He looked at the girl’s profile, with the loose wisp of chestnut hair drifting forward on her temple and the smudge of dirt across her cheek. He was beginning to understand. It had begun to come home to him that he had never met her before. She must have been just a kid when he went away to college, he reflected; and he could not remember ever having seen her at any of the picnics or dances held at the various ranches during his summers at home. He had a good memory for faces, and Ellie’s had no place in his recollection. She must have been out here all the time, he thought…

“Don’t you see much of the other girls around here?” he said, watching her face as he spoke.

“No,” said Ellie. “Not since I finished school. We don’t have the time to—I mean, we’re not—”

She stopped work for a second and turned to look straight at him. “Oh, what’s the use of pretending. I know nobody likes us, because Ed is all anyone ever sees. Mama and I don’t go much of anywhere, except church sometimes when he’ll let us use the team. The girls don’t come here—why should they, when they don’t know me? I don’t mind so terribly, most of the time, but—” Her eyes met his with a sudden quick, plaintive longing that rang in her impulsive speech: “If it just goes on like this, for years and years, how are we ever going to have any friends? How am I ever going to meet—anyone?”

Cole understood—perhaps even understood the unspoken meaning of the last word. He looked down at the ploughed ground, for he had no answer. He understood too well. Even in a crowd, on one of those rare outings she spoke of, Ed Strickland was the kind of person whom people would give a disgusted look and then go off to talk to somebody else; and his pretty but quieter young sister and hard-working shadow of a mother, neither of the personality to put themselves forward, would remain unnoticed.

Ellie had gone back to her work, on her hands and knees thinning out radishes, and there was no sign on her face of self-consciousness at having spoken out to him this way. In truth, seeing so few people had made her regard the presence of any human being in the same light—she had spoken to Cole Newcomb in a direct, natural way that might never have been hers if she had been more accustomed to the society of young men. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the tug of sympathy that Cole felt toward her. He was at all the disadvantage of a handsome and well-off young man in that girls were often extra bright and sweet of manner around him, which he occasionally found trying. Ellie’s simplicity was refreshing. It was a shame, he thought, that a nice little girl like her had to be stuck away out here alone, when plenty of the young people he knew would have been glad to have her around if they’d only had a chance to meet her—

A curious smile slowly crossed Cole’s face. An idea had come into his mind. He looked at Ellie again.

He could do it…it would be the easiest thing in the world.

Yes, he could…Not at once, though; that would be too obvious.

He had it all planned when he stood up.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Elizabeth Foley
Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff, the author of Peacemaker Award-nominated Western novella Left-Hand Kelly, and short story collections The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories and Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories. Her work has appeared online at Rope and Wire and The Western Online. Her other books include a series of short historical mysteries, the Mrs. Meade Mysteries; and short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression.

You can connect with Elisabeth at: www.thesecondsentence.blogspot.com * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Pinterest.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Going Rogue by Jessica Jefferson

TVTGoingRogue_JJefferson

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The ribbon means you have it all – beauty, wealth, power … everything but love.

Miss Meredith Castle leaves behind everything she knows to join her great aunt in London and become leader of the infamous girls’ club, The Ribbons. She’s willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to redeem her ailing mother, even if that means leaving her childhood love behind to scale London’s social ladder.

When Derek Weston’s best friend receives the offer of a lifetime, he encourages her to take it. Unwilling to let her go completely, he chases after her, only to find the sweet girl he loved replaced by a spoiled debutante. A broken man, he leaves London to start a new life at sea.

Five years later, Meredith realizes her reign as Queen of the Ball is about to come to an end, if she doesn’t do something to fix her tarnished reputation. Pairing up with the Season’s newest wallflower seems like the perfect plan, until she finds out her demure friend is being pursued by the very man she thought she’d never see again. Only, Derek Weston isn’t who he used to be. He’s inherited a Scottish title and grown into an arrogant man she barely recognizes; yet in her heart, she knows she still loves him. Torn between her past and an uncertain future, can she find a way back to the life she used to have and the boy who once adored her?

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EXCERPT

“You couldn’t love me.” Meredith’s shoulders fell. “You haven’t seen me for over a year—too much has changed. It’s too late.”

“A year means nothing when I’ve known you for a lifetime,” he argued.

“A year is a lifetime.” She shook her head. “I’m not the person I used to be.”

“Of course you are. After you come home—”

“Middlebury is no longer my home and I can’t go back. There’s nothing for me there.”

“Except me?” He’d meant it as a bold declaration of his intentions. But his confidence was wavering and he knew the words were as much a question as they were anything else.

“Don’t you see—I can’t marry you.” Her words cut like a knife. “I’ve a real chance here. Aunt Cynthia thinks I can be a duchess. An actual duchess! Can you imagine? Think of all I can do for my mother.”

“I had no idea you held such lofty aspirations,” he said quietly, the ring tucked tightly within his fist.

She looked down. “You said it yourself once—I deserve more than what life in the village has to offer me. How can I settle for being the wife of an officer when I have a real chance at a title?”

He dropped the ring on the floor, the weight of it finally too much to bear. “Somewhere along the way you seem to have forgotten what’s truly important, Mere.”

“And what’s that?”

“Love, friendship, loyalty…”

She shook her head. “My mother followed love and look where that got her. She has nothing now but a crumbling house and stacks of bills. It takes far more than love to make a life—it takes a fortune.”

And then he knew. This shell of a woman was certainly not his Meredith. His Meredith would never be so callous—so ruthless. It was her eyes, hair, and smile—but not her spirit.

The girl he loved was nowhere to be found in the woman in front of him.

Derek cleared his throat. “You’ve changed.”

She looked at him. “We’re just too different now. I had hoped that it would be easy, that you’d just forget about me over time. Why do you think I stopped writing all those months ago?”

It was the final blow to their friendship. Meredith hadn’t been as busy with her lessons as he’d thought. He knew the truth now—perhaps he’d known it all along. She hadn’t been too busy to write, she’d been too busy for him. She’d been trying to end their friendship amicably by simply ignoring the fact it had ever existed.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” he said quietly.

“Probably not.” She wrapped her arms around her middle, just as she had when she was younger. His heart ached for the memory.

He needed to leave, to be as far from this place as he could get. But there was one thing he couldn’t leave without.

Taking her by the arms, he pulled her close, and kissed her fiercely.

She didn’t resist.

She returned his kiss with just as much emotion, her arms snaking their way up his chest. Before she’d left, he’d stolen a brief kiss. The chaste exchange hadn’t lasted but a second, both of them so inexperienced. But he’d spent nights dreaming about it, imagining all he’d do differently given the opportunity again.

Now, she kissed him with a skill that he didn’t bother to question. He knew someone else had taught her, but he didn’t care. He wanted her to remember him, remember this moment. He kissed her with every intention of scarring a memory into her consciousness so that after this, every kiss she’d ever receive would pale in comparison to his. He poured every ounce of himself into it—every feeling he’d ever hidden, all the love he’d ever felt for her. His tongue plunged deeper, exploring the secret places inside her mouth.

This kiss was the requiem for what was to become his past.

When he felt her knees start to buckle, he knew it was time. Derek pulled away. His gaze locked briefly with hers.

Her eyes were heavy with desire and her lips were red and swollen from the pleasurable assault.

He said nothing. Instead, he walked straight for the door— ready to leave the place where his vision for the future had been shattered into thousands of irreparable shards.

And he’d be damned before he tried to pick them up.

OUR REVIEW


Publisher and Release Date: Soul Mate Publishing, May 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level:2
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Natalie

Meredith Castle has been given the chance to live out every girl’s dream when her wealthy great-aunt offers to sponsor her for a season in London and give her the chance to make a successful match. But Meredith is devastated – she doesn’t want to leave the only home she has ever known or Derek, her closest childhood friend. She wants to refuse the offer but knows that a good marriage will give her the opportunity to provide a better future for her sick mother. Before Meredith leaves, Derek kisses her and tells her that his feelings go deeper than friendship. Meredith wants to stay and marry him, but Derek refuses. He tells her that she will regret settling for him and he doesn’t want her to resent him, but he swears to make himself into a better man.
GoingRogue (600)

Derek writes to Meredith weekly while she is in London and he cherishes the letters she sends to him, but her responses become more infrequent and Derek believes that her studies must be consuming all her time. When his father finds the money to buy him a commission, Derek feels that he is finally able to go to Meredith and properly ask for her hand in marriage, but when he arrives the woman he finds is not the girl he loved. She laughs off his marriage proposal and breaks his heart.

Five years later, Meredith has become the leader of an exclusive girls’ club. They drink and dance their way through the night and are the talk of the ton. But as she nears twenty-four, Meredith realizes that she has lost her good reputation and needs to settle down before it become impossible to find a husband. She begins to mentor London’s newest wallflower, Ophelia, in the hopes that the friendship will help repair her own reputation. To her chagrin Meredith soon learns that Ophelia’s hand is being pursued by none other than Derek, who has not only gained a title but also owns and operates a successful company.

It’s easy to write a virtuous heroine that your readers will love because she is inherently good, but I think it is harder to write a less likeable female lead and still pull off a good love story. From the beginning of Going Rogue, Jessica Jefferson gives you characters that you should hate, but cannot help loving. Meredith Castle is a woman who has been spoiled rotten, and spent five years as a ‘mean girl’, yet you can’t help but have sympathy for her situation. She was forced to accept a lavish new lifestyle in order to protect her ailing mother and in the process lost herself. Derek is almost the opposite. He runs away from the person he was and becomes a rogue. Both Meredith and Derek have hidden their hearts to protect themselves.

These two were meant for each other and every scene makes you laugh at their foolishness or fan yourself from the heat of their encounters. I read Going Rogue in one night because I wanted to see how Meredith would find her true self again and how Derek would accept that he had changed just as much and not always for the better.

Ms. Jefferson has written two interesting characters who make you want to hit and hug them at the same time. I am excited that this is just the first in the Ribbons and Rogues series and I hope to see more intriguing characters in future stories.​

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica JeffersonJessica Jefferson makes her home in Almost-Chicago with her husband, nine and three year old girls, guinea pigs, and English bulldog Pete. When she’s not busy trying to find middle-ground between being a modern career woman and Suzy-Homemaker, she loves to watch “Real Housewives of [insert city here]” and performing unnecessary improvements to her home and property.

Jessica writes Regency-era historical romance with a modern twist, infused with humor. She always tries to create endearingly flawed heroes and one of a kind heroines that you’ll want to continue knowing long after you read the last page.

You can connect with Jessica at: www.jessicajefferson.com * ~ * ~ * www.embracingromance.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads.

Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown

beautiful wreck

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In a bleak future built on virtual reality, Ginn is a romantic who yearns for something real. She designs environments for people who play at being Vikings. But when her project goes awry, she’s stranded in the actual 10th century, on a storybook farm in Viking Iceland.

Heirik is the young leader of his family, honored by the men and women who live on his land. But he is feared and isolated because of a terrible curse. Ginn and Heirik are two people who never thought they would find a home in someone else’s heart.

When forces rise against them to keep them apart, Ginn is called on to decide—will she give up the brutal and beautiful reality of the past? Or will she have the courage to traverse time and become more of a Viking than she ever imagined?

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Publisher and Release Date: Cooperative Press 31 January, 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 10th Century, Iceland
Genre: Historical/Time-Travel Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

Jen lives in the future of the 22nd century. A programmer, she has created an authentic virtual reality set in the 10th century Viking era. After entering the Viking ‘sim’, she finds herself caught up in the simulation which transports her back into the tenth century and she wakes on the black sand of Iceland’s shores. There she is found and rescued by a group of Vikings.

At only twenty-two, Heirik is the chief of his Viking clan. Honoured and respected, but feared because of the unfortunate and disfiguring birthmark across his face and upper body, Heirik is considered untouchable. Trapped in the past, Jen, who becomes known as Ginn, finds herself caught between her growing attraction to Heirik and her desire to return to her own time.

I have read this story twice, and have enjoyed it both times, but more so the pn the second read. The developing romance, the spiralling sexual tension, the details and descriptions of everyday Viking life, and the author’s evident research propels this story. The setting in Iceland is a breath of fresh, glacial air. The era of the tenth century is depicted with vivid, stunning clarity. The prose is elegant and the characterisation of the hero, almost unbelievably realistic. His desperate loneliness, his longing for love and acceptance, his courage; all are written deftly and touchingly.

This début is not without its faults, however. The beginning, set in the future, is clunky, difficult to follow and not engaging, and the ending feels somewhat rushed, with things left unexplained. The setting in the future is light on details and descriptions, and the mechanics of time-travel are never clear or convincing. Some descriptions are repeated, and the novel is heavy on the narrative, dragging down the story and flow.

And yet despite these issues I was pretty much in awe of the story and the romance. Larissa Brown is talented, and has a way with words that elicits feelings and emotions in the reader. This is a writer who is well worth reading, and I look forward to more of her work.

For those who enjoy time-travel romances or romantic historical fiction, Beautiful Wreck is a recommended read.

Captured Countess by Ann Lethbridge

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Never trust a spy!

Nicoletta, the Countess Vilandry, is on a dangerous mission — to lure fellow spy Gabriel D’Arcy into bed and into revealing his true loyalties. With such sensual games at play and such strong sensations awakened, suddenly Nicky’s dangerously close to exposing her real identity.

Gabe knows that the countess has been sent to seduce him. The only question is to what end? He’s never met such a captivating woman—and he’s determined to enjoy every seductive second she spends as his very willing captive!

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This book has been recently re-issued under the title GABRIEL D’ARCY.

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Napoleonic era, Cornwall and France
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Gabriel (Gabe) D’Arcy is a handsome but impoverished marquess who exudes a devil-may-care attitude of charm and sensuality as he mingles in a polite society that whispers about his native loyalties. But that’s okay since Gabe is making a living as a spy in Napoleonic England. He works for an elite but unorthodox secret spy ring called Sceptre and the gossip about his activities works to his advantage.

Nicoletta, the beautiful Countess of Vilandry, was born Nicky Rideau, a wealthy French aristocrat whose parents were killed in riots during the Reign of Terror. Saved by a ruthless and unhappy marriage arranged by her uncle to an older and influential man, her life was spared but at a great and heartbreaking cost to both her and her younger sister, Minette, who has gone missing and whom Nicky seeks. Nicky is also a spy, but she was coerced into service in order to be able to return to France to find her missing sister. Her mission? To uncover the truth of Gabe’s true loyalties – French or English? Her weapon? Seduction.

Gabe is a smart man, however, and knows exactly what the beautiful countess is up to. And he decides to play her game to his own ends. He needs to find the reason that Nicky was sent. As a result, neither Nicky nor Gabe trust each other as each thinks the other is loyal to France.

But Nicky and Gabe are also very attracted to each other and their passion threatens to get in the way of the mission, thwart their goals, and reveal their loyalties. Nicky and Gabe are a mature older couple who – against their better judgement – engage in what both believe is only a casual affair even as they slowly fall in love and begin – reluctantly – to trust each other.

Nicky is a brave heroine, a survivor who carries the weight of the past and the world on her shoulders. She is smart, too, and doesn’t make dumb decisions which put her into situations from which Gabe must “rescue” her. She has a goal in mind and she stays the course. Gabe admires Nicky and comes to protect and love her as she has never been cared for before. Theirs is a sexy and poignant love story and both hero and heroine are strong individuals who come to let down their guards and let love in.

Ann Lethbridge pens an exciting and fast-paced tale that takes the reader from a hot and stuffy ballroom in England, on a long and tiring journey to a crumbling estate on the Cornish coast – complete with secret passages and caves – and, finally, on a dangerous sea voyage to France. Rich descriptions of topography and rest stops at local inns along the way add colorful imagery to a gripping story. Along the way, Nicky and Gabe play a sensual game where passionate feelings war with logic and the goals of their respective missions. Their romance is as prominent as the espionage creating a captivating historical picture.

Fiction also meets history when the King of England makes a pivotal appearance near the end in this romantic story of intrigue. If you enjoy the thrilling spy stories of Donna Thorland and Shana Galen, you will enjoy this book.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Indiscretion by Hannah Fielding

Indescretion HB FRONT COVER

A young woman’s journey of discovery takes her to a world of forbidden passion, savage beauty – and revenge.

Spring, 1950. Alexandra de Falla, a half-English, half-Spanish young writer abandons her privileged but suffocating life in London andtravels to Spain to be reunited with her long-estranged family.

Instead of providing the sense of belonging she yearns for, the de Fallas are riven by seething emotions, and in the grip of the wild customs and traditions of Andalucía, all of which are alien to Alexandra.

Among the strange characters and sultry heat of this country, she meets the man who awakens emotions she hardly knew existed. But their path is strewn with obstacles: dangerous rivals, unpredictable events, and inevitable indiscretions. What does Alexandra’s destiny hold for her in this flamboyant land of drama and all-consuming passions, where blood is ritually poured on to the sands of sun-drenched bullfighting arenas, mysterious gypsies are embroiled in magic and revenge, and beautiful dark-eyed dancers hide their secrets behind elegant lacy fans?

Indiscretion is a story of love and identity, and the clash of ideals in the pursuit of happiness. But can love survive in a world where scandal and danger are never far away?

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EXCERPT

As the evening began, and the sweeping strings of ballroom music filled the hacienda, El Pavón seemed transformed into a magical palace.

In the garden, an array of colourful lanterns hung from arbours, dangled between fruit trees, encircling the fountains and pools, twinkling with light. While in the great ballroom, overlooking the east-facing gardens, Doña María Dolores’ guests, attired in all sorts of disguises, drank, joked and glided happily on the polished oak dancefloor.

Alexandra paused on the threshold of the vast room, a trifle overwhelmed by the grand spectacle. All the guests wore masks of velvet, satin or lace, giving them a mysterious air.

Her eyes were scouring the dancefloor, eagerly scrutinizing the whirling couples from behind her velvet mask. What, or more precisely who, was she looking for, exactly? After all, she knew nothing of the mysterious Conde, except that he had a deep and seductive voice. Recalling it made her pulse run faster and her knees slightly weak. Could the peculiar episode at Mascaradas have been merely a foolish jest designed to mystify her? Surely Old Jaime would not have taken part in a practical joke? She started with indignation at the idea she might be the victim of some prank. Yet, the more she thought about it, the more that seemed improbable. It would be an expensive joke to play, after all. No, the sheer cost of her beautiful costume had to be proof of the generosity and admiration of her romantic stranger.

As the evening progressed and there was still no sign of the mysterious Conde, Alexandra was forced to admit that she must have been the victim of a practical joke. It was gone eleven o’clock, surely he would have shown up by now if he was going to? Putting aside her disappointment, she told herself it had all been merely a captivating puzzle, one that had fired her romantic imagination and aroused her yearning for adventure, nothing more. At least she had some ideas for her new hero, she reminded herself, and decided to enter fully into the festive spirit, now that she had given up on her elusive stranger.

She didn’t notice the oriental prince, wearing a costume similar in style and colour to her own, observing her quizzically from a far-off corner of the room.

A pierrot in a black-and-white silk suit with a collar of pleated tulle and a bonnet decorated with black pompons asked Alexandra for a dance. He drew her close to him. ‘Soon it will be midnight,’ he whispered into her ear, ‘and the lights will go out—’

‘Excuse me señor, I’ve come to collect my wife,’ interrupted a deep, warm voice. Alexandra smothered a gasp. Her heart gave such a jolt she thought it might leap out of her mouth.
The first notes of a Strauss waltz began. Before she could recover, the stranger swung Alexandra into his arms, holding her so tightly to him she was unable to lift her head to see his face. The blood pounded in her veins. She was conscious of his strong, sinuous length against her and the turmoil of her own body as his warmth soaked into her, adding to the heat welling up inside her like a furnace. Her temple brushed against his jaw; his skin was smooth. He smelled of soap, mint and tobacco, indefinably masculine. As they twirled around the dancefloor,

Alexandra was carried away by an overpowering tide that left her light-headed, almost breathless. It was as though she were under a spell, a bewitching charm of the mind and senses that had no place in the dictionary of her experience.

Eventually, the giddy whirlwind ended and they found themselves on the terrace. In contrast to the brightly lit ballroom they had left, it was bathed in an almost unreal, diaphanous light from the moon and the glowing lanterns in the trees. They waltzed in silence for a few more minutes, taking in the melancholy softness of the night.

‘I owe you an apology for stepping in just now but I could see no other way of tearing you away from the arms of your too-forward partner,’ he said, in those same ardent, deep tones that had so haunted Alexandra over the past few days.

She caught her breath, unable to reply immediately and all the while hoping he wasn’t aware of the urgent beating of her heart. He still held on to her firmly and she could only look up at him with a smile. The moon disappeared behind a cloud, shadowing his features.

As a shaft of moonlight fell briefly on his face, Alexandra’s heart missed a beat. In spite of the half-shadow and the narrow mask shielding his tanned features, she recognized the stranger she had seen on the seafront and then in the Church of Santa María: the man on the prayer stool who had so deeply disturbed her. So it was the same man after all. One man who now made something inside her thrill deliciously at his nearness.

Somewhere far off, a clock struck midnight. An owl hooted, as if in response. The air was fragrant with the sweet smell of jasmine and orange blossom. Masks fell and shouts of joy burst from all sides under a shower of confetti.
The oriental prince leaned his head forward towards his sultana.

‘Will you allow me, señorita?’ he whispered, his lean fingers with infinite gentleness removing her velvet mask. His gaze delved deeply into her large, glowing green irises, reading the emotion in her upturned face as her body yielded helplessly to his touch. A rush of blood coursed wildly through Alexandra’s veins as his hand once more slipped about her waist, pausing before pulling her against him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Portrait of Hannah Fielding and photos of where she writes.

Portrait of Hannah Fielding and photos of where she writes.

In July 2014 Hannah’s Novel The Echoes of Love was awarded first place in the Romance category at the 18th Independent Publisher Book Awards held in New York. The award organisers credited the Hannah with the ability to “take chances and break new ground” in the Romance genre.

Hannah Fielding was born and grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. Her family home was a large rambling house overlooking the Mediterranean where she lived with her parents and her grandmother, Esther Fanous, who had been a revolutionary feminist and writer in Egypt during the early 1900s.

Fluent in French, English and Arabic, Hannah’s left school at 18 and travelled extensively all over the world. Hannah met her husband in England and they lived in Cairo for 10 years before returning to England in 1989. They settled in Kent, bringing up two children in a Georgian rectory, surrounded by dogs, horses and the English countryside. During this time, Hannah established a very successful business as an interior designer renovating rundown cottages. She is now the author of three acclaimed novels, and her latest, Indiscretion, is out now.

You can connect with Hannah at: www.hannahfielding.net * ~ * ~ * http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5333898.Hannah_Fielding>Goodreads * ~ * ~ * Pinterest * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Facebook.

Kilts and Daggers (Highland Spies #2) by Victoria Roberts

kilts and daggers

Ever since Lady Grace Walsingham discovered her uncle and sister are spies for the Crown, she has yearned for adventure. She’s counting the days until she can leave barbaric Scotland behind, even if she must endure Highland captain Fagan Murray’s company for weeks.

Fagan has a simple mission: escort the haughty Lady Grace back to England. But nothing is ever easy. The sharp-tongued woman needles him at every turn. But when a menacing threat follows them on their journey, Fagan’s grudging tolerance for Grace turns to respect…and into a perilous attraction that could seal their fate.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, May 2015

Time and Setting: Scotland, 1610
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Kilts and Daggers is the second book in the author’s Highland Spies series. I haven’t read the previous book, and although this one works for the most part as a standalone, there are some references to earlier events which left me feeling a little in the dark. It’s a straightforward and – unfortunately – not especially original read, telling the story of the adamantly English Lady Grace Walsingham and her love-hate relationship with Fagan Murray, the ruggedly handsome Highlander and captain of the guard for Ruairi, Laird Sutherland, who has recently married Grace’s elder sister, Ravenna.

Grace loves her sister dearly, but really doesn’t understand her decision to leave the civilisation of England for the wild, untamed highlands of Scotland. The weather is dreadful, the food is horrible, the language is impenetrable and the men are too large and unsophisticated. In short, she hates the place, but she’s agreed to remain there for a month after her sister’s wedding in order to get her two younger sisters settled as they are now to reside with Ravenna and her husband. Grace is betrothed to a handsome young Englishman, Lord Daniel Casterbrook, and the wedding is set to take place as soon as she returns home.

Grace and Fagan strike sparks off each other at every encounter, desperately trying to fight the strength of the attraction building between them. When the time comes for her return to England, Grace is torn, but can’t admit it. The thought of marriage to the handsome, refined Daniel is no longer quite the attractive prospect it once was – but given Rhianna’s choice to marry a highlander, it’s down to Grace to make the brilliant match that will enable her to ensure that her younger sisters are also able to marry well when the time comes. At the appointed time, she sets out with the armed escort provided by her new brother-in-law which is headed, of course, by his trusted captain of the guard. Ruairi and Rhianna see them off, wondering how on earth the pair will survive the journey to England without killing each other!

I generally like romances in which the protagonists start out disliking each other, so the continual back-and-forth indulged in by Grace and Fagan – which is well written and often funny – is the most enjoyable part of the book. But I had a hard time warming to Grace and at times, found her continual denigration of everything about her host’s nation to be rather uncomfortable. Not that the Scots don’t put down the English as well; the book is set in 1610, just a few years after the countries were united under King James I, and relations are clearly difficult, to say the least. But Grace comes off as snobbish and self-important, and I lost patience with her on more than one occasion. One of those was when she refused Fagan’s proposal of marriage after they’d slept together. It’s such an anachronistic attitude and always annoys me when I come across it in historical romances, because women were almost exclusively judged according to their “purity” (and often still are). Her preoccupation with following in Ravenna’s footsteps and becoming a spy for the crown (which is such a hackneyed phrase, no matter the era in which the book is set) is also incredibly naïve, when it’s clear as day that she’s completely unsuited to such an occupation. But it’s definitely a point in Grace’s favour when she eventually concedes this and comes to see what a stupid idea it is. She also grows up considerably during the latter part of the book, which meant that I was fonder of her when I’d finished than I had been at the outset.

Fagan is your archetypal rugged highlander, brave, honourable and gorgeous (if a little rough around the edges), but although he’s an attractive character, he doesn’t really rise above the two-dimensional. The secondary storyline is well-integrated into the romance and lends some excitement to the journey, but the villain of the piece is rather a one-note character and the reasons behind his actions are somewhat simplistic.

In spite of my reservations about the characterisation and actions of the heroine, Kilts and Daggers is an enjoyable, well-written story, and if you can get past Grace’s faults, you may enjoy it more than I did. Ultimately, however, the book lacks substance and that certain something that makes for a truly memorable read.

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe

TVTTheHarlotCountess-JoannaShupe

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Lady Hawkins’s debut was something she’d rather forget—along with her first marriage. Today, the political cartoonist is a new woman. A thoroughly modern woman. So much so that her clamoring public believes she’s a man…

FACT: Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. He’s a rising star in Parliament—and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie’s who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.

FICTION: Maggie is the Half-Irish Harlot who seduced her best friend’s husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches.
Still crushed by Simon’s betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting the ton crush her as well. In fact, Lemarc’s cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock…but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago, and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since…forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?

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EXCERPT

A very good thing they were not sharing tea because Maggie surely would have choked. As it was, she could hardly breathe. Did he say . . . find Lemarc?

Good heavens.

He awaited her response, those cerulean eyes trained on her, when all she wanted to do was laugh at the absurdity of it all. Oh, what a tangled web we weave . . .

Through sheer perseverance, she hid her shock behind a mask of cool indifference. “You wish to find Lemarc? Whatever for?”

Simon shifted on his feet. “I find these Winejester drawings to be bothersome. For a number of reasons, I should
like to see them stop.”

“And you believe you can convince Lemarc to stop producing them?”

“Yes.”

The arrogance in that one word astounded her. Did Simon think Lemarc would bow to an earl’s whims merely because of his station? It was well known that artists were temperamental creatures, herself included. The idea that he could dictate to Lemarc what she could and could not draw was ludicrous—and irritating.

“Why should he cease to draw such a popular character? Winejester is one of the reasons Lemarc has been discussed so often over the last year.”

“I plan to convince him.”

She swallowed a snort. God save her from male vanity. “I do not doubt it, but no one knows the identity of Lemarc. It’s a well-guarded secret. What makes you believe I would be able to help find him?”

He lifted a broad shoulder. “A suspicion, really. Your knowledge of art and techniques may lead to a discovery. I have a number of Lemarc’s paintings at my disposal. Perhaps you could look at them and see if something strikes a chord. A tidbit you’ve heard at a lecture or seen at an exhibit. It’s likely a waste of your time, but I would be grateful for your assistance.”

Waste of time, indeed. No one could unearth Lemarc by merely looking at some bird paintings, especially not that particular series. They had been painted four or five years ago near the shore and contained only birds and water—no people or buildings. If there were distinguishing marks in her paintings, she would’ve been found out long before now.

And truly, helping him was the very last thing she wanted to do. It was bad enough he had attended her party and cornered her there. “I am afraid I cannot.”

“May I ask why?”

She hadn’t expected him to press. What excuse could she give? Because she knew the effort to be a futile one?

Because he deserved whatever inconvenience Lemarc’s cartoons produced a thousand fold? Or because, after all he’d done, he still made her heart race?

Into her silence, he said, “One afternoon, that is all I ask. If you do not see anything relevant, we’ll forget it entirely.”

“If I cannot discover anything, you shall give up searching for Lemarc?”

Simon shook his head. “Absolutely not. I plan to find him by any means at my disposal.”

That set her back. He did seem rather . . . determined. Hmm. Such tenacity did not bode well. Though she believed her secret safe, there was a kernel of panic inside her that he might succeed. Simon had a reputation for doggedly wearing down his opponents until he got his way, of using whatever means necessary to win. The notion of her career as Lemarc being exposed . . . ruined . . .

A sliver of dread slid down her spine.

Of course, staying involved in Simon’s quest meant she could throw him off the scent with misleading information. Keep him guessing. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. “Fine,” she agreed. “I would be pleased to aid in your search. To be fair, there are many more qualified than I to lend assistance. Perhaps you should think about asking another—”

“That is quite unnecessary,” he interrupted smoothly, smiling in triumph. “I think you are more than capable of the task.”

In a strange way, his faith in her was flattering. Little did he know she planned to undermine his efforts, ensuring his failure. In finding her. She had to bite her lip to keep a hysterical bubble of laughter from spilling out. “Very kind of you, my lord. When shall we begin our investigation?”

“As soon as possible, I think. I’ll send a note, if that is acceptable.”

“Yes.” Maggie tried not to think about how impossibly handsome he was. Of course, the light blue jacket and breeches did offset his fair coloring, making the blue of his eyes even brighter. His shoulders—

Curse her feminine biology. Being a woman was decidedly unfair.

Instead, she concentrated on the smug, satisfied smile he now wore. Yes, he’d gotten precisely what he wanted today. Oh, how she longed to wipe that expression off his face. “Does anyone ever say no to the Earl of Winchester?”

“Rarely. I can be very persuasive.”

“So I have heard. You have a reputation in Lords for getting your way. I suspect you could talk a nun into giving up the cloth and throwing in with a band of gypsies if you wanted.”
The edge of his mouth kicked up. “That charming, am I?”

She could’ve bitten her tongue. “More like full of useless wind.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Kensington/Zebra, 28 April 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2.5
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

The HARLOT COUNTESS

The Harlot Countess is the second in the Wicked Deceptions series by new author, Joanna Shupe and it features a couple who reunite after ten years following a traumatic and acrimonious parting.

Maggie has suffered a debutante’s worst nightmare – scandal. Through no fault of her own she is shunned by the ton and as a result is rushed off to marry a man 30 years her senior. She is a resilient girl, however, and with resigned acceptance makes the most of a bad lot. Her elderly husband quickly loses interest in her and she, left to her own devices, pursues her love of art and perfects her talent.

Lady Maggie Hawkins reappears on the scene ten years later, by this time a widow and a successful artist, albeit not working under her own name. Using the pseudonym Lemarc, Maggie has begun a campaign to discredit Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. She is using her talents, and gaining some notoriety in the process, by drawing political cartoons of the Earl in his younger days and naming them The Earl of Winejester. Simon had been the only person whose opinion had mattered to her in the days of her disgrace, and given she was secretly in love with him, his public cutting of her had gone deep.

Following an unexpected meeting, Maggie and Simon are drawn together again. He is on a mission to hunt down the mysterious Lemarc and to ask him to stop his campaign as Simon’s political career is suffering as a result.
Simon notices a beautiful landscape painting in her house, and on discovering that Maggie is the artist he hits on the bright idea of requesting her help in his search for Lemarc. This gives him an excuse to keep her close, while Maggie takes a perverse pleasure in agreeing to his request.

I had a few reservations which caused me to lower my final grade from 4 stars to 3, but on the whole The Harlot Countess is a solidly written story with well-defined characters. The writing flows and I can see Joanna Shupe has a future. Her protagonists are interesting and the romance between them is sweet and sensual, if just a little too much on the graphic side for my taste. I did, however, sometimes want to bang their heads together because of the Big – and it is BIG – Misunderstanding that develops between them. Simon makes assumptions about Maggie’s past but magnanimously decides he will ignore it – and she is so desperate to be with him that she just lets him think the worst. I liked the secondary characters too, although I wish I’d read her debut novel The Courtesan Duchess, as I think it’s really necessary to know their background, so involved were they in this story and plot. And speaking of the plot, it was quite confusing and not terribly well thought out at times. I knew who had done what without too much thought, but the one thing I did want to know – which had seemed to be an important plot point – was never disclosed. I was also irritated by the number of Americanisms dotted throughout this story set in Regency England.

On the whole, The Harlot Countess is a promising read from this new author and I would be interested to read the next in the series eventually.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanna ShupeAward-winning author JOANNA SHUPE has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels. She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.

You can connect with Joanna at: www.joannashupe.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads.

Never Forget Me by Marguerite Kaye

never forget me
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A KISS GOODBYE

1914

As war looms, genteel Flora yearns to be more than just an observer. She finds a revolutionary kindred spirit in soldier Geraint—but will their fragile love be crushed before it can start to bloom?

DEAREST SYLVIE

1916

Soldier Robbie cannot forget his one hedonistic night in Paris with beautiful waitress Sylvie. But as Europe burns, can these two star-crossed lovers ever be reunited?

FOREVER WITH ME

1918

Nurse Sheila is horrified to discover her new boss is the French surgeon she woke beside after Armistice Day! Fighting for their love will be the bravest thing she’s ever had to do….

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, July 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: First World War Scotland and France
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maggi

Marguerite Kaye drew me in completely with these three powerful stories of love in times of war. While I would have liked to have had a bit more action, that’s not what these stories are about. They are stories of loss but also stories of hope and new beginnings. The emotional scenes between the three couples are compelling and the love scenes are beautifully rendered and sizzle!

A KISS GOODBYE begins in Scotland with a Laird’s family dealing with the changes the First World War will bring. We are thrust into the disruption people suffer during wartime, where families and lives are torn apart never to be the same again. Even the wealthy and the privileged cannot avoid heartbreak and loss. The beautifully drawn lovers and the heartrending settings are very stirring. My one grumble is that I wanted to remain a little longer with Flora and Geraint. But that was due more to the quality of Ms Kaye’s engaging writing than anything else. I was quickly drawn into the second novella, DEAREST SLYVIE, so it’s a very small grumble. I quickly became engaged with the impossible love Sylvie and Robbie share, not knowing if he would survive the war.

FOREVER WITH ME, the third and final novella, wraps up the three stories and brings us full circle, while looking to the future where a new world awaits, especially for women.

There are so many delicious descriptions of character that it’s impossible to pick a favourite, but here’s one from the first novella:
“She didn’t walk across the room so much as float, though Geraint could see that her feet in their delicate little shoes were firmly planted on the antique rugs that covered the floor…”

– which leaves the reader in no doubt of the privileged life Flora leads, and allows a small glimpse into her character, as well as Geraint’s attraction to her.

These three interesting and interconnected WWI stories are filled with deep emotion, love, loss and tender romance. Never Forget Me is highly recommended.

Stages of Desire by Julia Tagan

stages of desirePurchase Now from Amazon

To be or not to be — in love…

As a ward of the Duchess of Dorset, Harriet can hardly expect more from a match than the ringing endorsement of “from what I’ve heard, the man is financially secure and his teeth are quite regular.” After all, she’s only the lowly daughter of traveling actors, not the actual daughter of the duchess.

William Talbot, Earl of Abingdon is set to marry the duchess’s daughter. After his elder brother’s scandalous death, his family’s reputation is paramount, and he’ll allow nothing to damage it again. But when Harriet disappears to save her father from debtor’s prison, the scandal threatens William and his intended’s family. The simple task of fetching the duchess’s runaway ward turns complicated when Harriet insists on traveling with her father’s acting company. William’s forced to tag along, and finds himself entranced. The stage transforms Harriet into a free-spirited, captivating beauty. But, someone’s been sabotaging the theater company, and instead of facing scandal, William and Harriet discover a threat not only to their growing passion, but to their lives..

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Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, January 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Rating: 4 stars

Review by Vikki

I am pleased I had the opportunity to review Stages of Desire, an intriguing story of a young woman torn between two worlds, her birth family – a troupe of traveling actors – and the aristocratic family she has lived with for six years. She became a member of the ducal household when the daughter of the duke grew ill, and he believed she needed the companionship of someone her own age. The arrangement works out well for Lady Marianne, however Harriet Farley never quite fits in with society, always among them, but never truly accepted.

It is now time for both young ladies to find husbands. The widowed duchess has her sights set on the Earl of Abingdon, a very wealthy and well-favored gentleman, for her daughter. For Harriet, she has picked out Mr. Hopplehill, an older, portly gentleman, the sixth son of a baron. While Lady Marianne is pleased at the prospect of marrying the earl, Harriet finds Mr. Hopplehill a poor choice since he is quite a bit shorter than she and while kind, a bit of a bore.

When Harriet receives word that her father is in trouble, she asks to go to him, but the duchess refuses. Harriet takes matters into her own hands and leaves without the duchess’s approval. When the duchess finds out she has gone, she sends Lord Abingdon after her.

This starts the couple on a series of misadventures. As they travel together the attraction grows and even though, the earl is expected to offer for Lady Marianne, the pair gives into the overwhelming passion they feel for each other. Due to a misunderstanding the following morning, they part on less than the best of terms.
Will Lord Abingdon remain steadfast to the dictates of society, or will he break the chains holding him and chose the love that he secretly feels for Harriet?

This is a fascinating book that deals with serious issues, but while it could have been a dark story, it is not at all. There are so many plot twists that at times it was difficult to follow, but not in a bad way. The surprises along the way kept the pace brisk and enjoyable.

Harriet is a wonderful character, determined and full of life, definitely a spunky kid archetype, a bit of a free spirit as well. I loved her take charge attitude, and she does not stop until she has achieved her goals, whether it is brow beating her father into doing what is needed for his troupe, or going so far as to take to the stage as an actress to save the play.

On the other hand, Lord Abingdon is all about doing his duty as an earl, even though what he desperately wants is to be a physician. As the second son, he never expected to inherit the title and studied medicine at Oxford. He is ready to sacrifice his happiness because of this duty and comes very close to making the biggest mistake of his life.

Some of the decisions William makes do not sit very well with me and because of this, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Of course the couple gets their HEA – it’s a romance novel after all – but everything just comes together too quickly. I would have liked to see a bit more emotion from Harriet. I do not think I would have been as forgiving as she.

Nonetheless, it is an engaging story and I quite enjoyed most of the book. I do recommend giving it a read if you like stories with interesting plot twists and plenty of surprises along the way. While this is definitely a full length novel, the pacing is very fast, and I finished the book very quickly. I always enjoy a story that entertains and titillates my mind and this one does both.