Wild, Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London

wild-wicked-scot

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Wicked intrigue unfolds as an unlikely marriage leads to a path of risky desire in the lush, green Scottish Highlands…

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back—except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmanoeuvre her in games of espionage…and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN Books, December 2016

Time and Setting: England and Scotland, 1706-10
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

A marriage of convenience is a favourite trope of mine and in Wild Wicked Scot Margot Armstrong certainly hits it lucky in her father’s choice of husband, the deliciously rugged Scottish chieftain Arran McKenzie, Baron of Balhaire. However, these are dangerous times between England and Scotland and this marriage of convenience is built upon very shaky ground with Margot a pawn in the games of powerful men and the politics of the two countries.

The story opens with a prologue and a series of flashbacks. In the prologue Margot is an immature seventeen year old with very entrenched ideas as to what makes the perfect man; and unfortunately for her, Arran McKenzie doesn’t tick any of those boxes. But she has no choice in the matter, and in the interests of her powerful father and her Wild Wicked Scot, she is the sacrificial lamb in their machinations to help broker an uneasy alliance between Scotland and England – not to mention the added bonus of money and lands which such a union will bring. As the story gets underway Margot has already left her husband and is now returning to him after an absence of three years. Their marriage had floundered after only four months when she ran back to England.

Arran McKenzie is a lovely character, well developed and extremely likeable and my sympathy was with him all the way through. To begin with, Margot is quite irritating – although to be fair, she was very young, and she did her limited, childish best to fit into Arran’s world. But her attempt to transport her much loved tonnish lifestyle into the depths of the Scottish Highlands was, quite obviously, doomed to failure, especially as she only half-heartedly attempted to become the Laird’s lady in truth. Margot considered herself to be neglected outside of the bedchamber, but she failed to understand what a busy man Arran was with his many responsibilities – to his clan, his prosperous, time-consuming continental sea trading business and the personal training of his first rate soldiers. And so Margot runs away and returns to her frivolous lifestyle in England. Then, after three years during which she has no contact whatsoever with her husband, her autocratic father again pulls her strings and she is sent back to Balhaire, this time with the hidden agenda of spying on her husband. Quite understandably, she is subjected to a host of suspicious Scots; not least of whom is her husband who cannot believe that she has suffered a complete about-turn.

There are a number of inconsistencies about the relationship between Arran and Margot that niggled at me. They obviously enjoyed a very satisfactory love-life after their marriage, which I would have thought would have counted in Arran’s favour. But no, this isn’t enough for Margot to try to build a life with her gorgeous husband so she just ups and leaves without a word. That said, the problems don’t all fall on her side, because Arran just lets her go without even asking her why. Then, he meekly sends her enough money to live comfortably even though her desertion has humiliated him in front of his entire clan. None of this rings true. Nor does the fact that Arran is repeatedly described as being ‘wild and wicked’, when he’s nothing of the sort; he’s just a man with lusty appetites for all things, and is a loyal, honourable man with oodles of integrity right from the beginning – and he’s certainly no push-over. I also couldn’t believe that Margot’s father would have accepted her return to his house after only four months, especially given the trouble he went to to arrange the match. Margot is somewhat redeemed once she begins to see Arran as he really is and sets out determinedly to win his love and trust, but her character is definitely the least engaging of the two.

There is a reasonably well developed plot which deals with the question of Arran’s loyalties, but because of the inconsistencies in the romance, I was taken out of the story and found this fairly important point overshadowed. The author’s attempts to use the highland vernacular – in particular her overly frequent use of the word “aye” – were also very distracting.

Overall, Wild, Wicked Scot is an uneven read, and is raised to the slightly above average bracket by the character of Arran, who is simply gorgeous. The story is nicely written so I would be interested to see how the rest of the series plays out.

Lord of the Privateers (The Adventurer’s Quartet #4) by Stephanie Laurens

lord of the privateers

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The eldest of the Frobisher brothers and widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final leg of the rescue mission his brothers have been pursuing. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking his emotional nemesis, childhood sweetheart, ex-handfasted bride, and current business partner, Isobel Carmichael, with him. But is it Isobel doing the pressuring, or his own restless unfulfilled psyche?

Resolute, determined, and an all but unstoppable force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own—find her cousin Katherine and bring her safely home. And if, along the way, she can rid herself of the lingering dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her, well and good.

Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail aboard Royd’s ship, much less the new horizons that open before them as they call into London, then, armed with the necessary orders and all arrangements in place, embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the mining compound buried in the jungle.

Yet even with the support of his brothers and their ladies and, once rescued, all the ex-captives, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. In order to identify and convict the backers behind the illicit enterprise—and protect the government from catastrophic destabilization—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton, and with the help of a small army of supporters, hunt the villains on their home ground.

But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could be theirs again, how much are they willing to risk in the name of duty?

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Publisher and Release Date: MIRA, December 2016

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

Review by Lady Cicely

Misunderstandings can break a love apart. Can time and personal growth mend the love?

After eight long years Royd Frobisher and Isobel Carmichael will journey to this discovery; a journey full of surprises and fraught with peril.

Royd Frobisher, privateer and Captain of Frobisher Shipping, anxiously awaits the news that will send him to West Africa to do what is necessary to protect the King and his country. What he doesn’t expect is the intrusion of the one woman he would prefer to not have any personal dealings with; the woman who broke his heart eight years ago. The woman who will turn his trip into anything but routine and possibly break his heart all over again.

Isobel Carmichael hates relying on the man who broke her heart eight years ago; the man she still loves; the man from whom she has kept a life changing secret. But rely on him she must if she is to find her cousin who seems to have disappeared into the wilds of West Africa and bring her home, all while guarding her heart and her secret.

I loved Isobel’s strength and determination in finding and protecting her family. Her acceptance of what was in her heart added, not subtracted, from that strength.

Lord of the Privateers is the fourth in Stephanie Laurens’ series The Adventurers Quartet, although it can be read as a standalone. Ms. Laurens does a wonderful job incorporating the Frobisher siblings and their spouses into this final story without taking anything away from Royd and Isobel.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend to fans of the author, new readers and lovers of historical romance in general.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Tempt an Heiress (Runaway Desires #2) by Susanna Craig

to tempt an heiress
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After her beloved father dies, Tempest Holderin wants nothing more than to fulfill his wish to free the slaves on their Antiguan sugar plantation. But the now wealthy woman finds herself pursued by a pack of unsavory suitors with other plans for her inheritance. To keep her from danger, her dearest friend arranges a most unconventional solution: have Tempest kidnapped and taken to safety.

Captain Andrew Corrvan has a reputation as a ruthless, money-hungry blackguard—but those on his ship know differently. He is driven by only one thing: the quest to avenge his father’s death on the high seas. Until he agrees to abduct a headstrong heiress…

If traveling for weeks—without a chaperone—isn’t enough to ruin Tempest, the desire she feels for her dark and dangerously attractive captor will do the rest. The storm brewing between them will only gather strength when they reach England, where past and present perils threaten to tear them apart—even more so than their own stubborn hearts…

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EXCERPT

Near English Harbour, Antigua
October 1796

Captain Andrew Corrvan would never claim to have always acted on the right side of the law, but there were crimes even he would not stoop to commit.

Kidnapping was one of them.

This conversation ought to have been taking place in some dark dockside alley, not in the sun-dappled sitting room of the little stone house occupied by the plantation manager at Harper’s Hill. Andrew had never met the man before today, although he knew him by reputation. Throughout Antigua, Edward Cary was talked of by those who knew him, and by many more who didn’t, as a fool. As best Andrew had been able to work out, he had earned the epithet for being sober, honest, and humane—a string of adjectives rarely, if ever, applied to overseers on West Indian sugar plantations.

As the afternoon’s exchange suggested, however, even a paragon of virtue could be corrupted by a villainous place. Why else would Cary be attempting to arrange the abduction of a wealthy young woman?

“So, the talk of valuable cargo was just a ruse to lure me here?” Andrew asked.

“Not at all,” Cary insisted with a shake of his head. “Between her father’s private fortune, which she has already inherited, and Harper’s Hill”—he swept his arm in a gesture that took in the plantation around them—“which she will inherit on her grandfather’s death, Miss Holderin is worth in excess of one hundred thousand pounds.”

Despite himself, Andrew let a low whistle escape between his teeth. The chit would be valuable cargo indeed. “And how do you benefit from sending her four thousand miles away?”

“I don’t,” Cary said, and behind that rough-voiced admission and the mournful expression that accompanied it, lay a wealth of meaning. So the man had taken a fancy to his employer’s granddaughter, had he? “She has always been like a younger sister to me,” he insisted; somehow Andrew managed to contain his scoff. “When Thomas Holderin was on his deathbed, I gave him my solemn oath I would do all in my power to look after his daughter.”

“And now you wish to be rid of the obligation.”

“I wish—” he began heatedly. But apparently deciding his own wishes were beside the point, he changed course and said instead, “I believe she will be safer in England.”

“Then book her passage on the next packet to London.” Andrew thumped his battered tricorn against his palm, preparatory to placing it on his head and taking his leave. At his feet, his shaggy gray dog rose and gave an eager wag of his tail, bored with all the talk and ready to be on his way.

“If I could, I would. I have tried many times to reason with her. But Miss Holderin is…reluctant to leave Antigua. She believes she is more than a match for the dangers the island presents.” Cary turned toward the window. “She is wrong.”

Andrew followed the other man’s gaze. Fertile fields, lush forest, and just a glimpse of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea where they touched a cerulean sky. It would have been difficult to imagine a less threatening landscape, but Andrew knew well that appearances could deceive. The dangers here were legion.

“Why me?” Andrew asked after a moment, folding his arms across his chest and fixing the other man with a hard stare. “Do you know the sort of man I am?”

Unexpectedly, Cary met Andrew’s gaze with an adamant one of his own. “I do. You are said to be a ruthless, money-hungry blackguard.”

Andrew tipped his chin in satisfied agreement. He had spent ten years cultivating that reputation.

“But of course, the sort of man you are said to be might not be entirely accurate, I suppose,” Cary continued, steepling his fingers and tilting his head to the side. “Your crew tells a slightly different story, Captain.”

Despite himself, Andrew shifted slightly. The movement might have gone unobserved if not for the dog, whose ears pricked up, as if awaiting some command.

One corner of Cary’s mouth curled upward as he glanced at the mongrel. “Most of the sailors on your ship were admirably tight-lipped, rest assured,” he said. “But then I happened to make the acquaintance of a fellow called Madcombe. New to your crew, I believe.”

Andrew jerked his chin in affirmation. There was no denying Timmy Madcombe was a talker. He might have told Cary anything, and probably had.

“He seemed most grateful to find himself aboard a ship captained by what he called a ‘r’al gent,’ you will be pleased to know. ‘Good grub, a fair share, an’ no lashin’s, neither,’” Cary added, mimicking Timmy’s voice—right down to the boyish crack. “If that proves true, such a style of shipboard management would make you rather unusual among your set.” This time, Andrew was careful not to move, offering neither acknowledgment nor denial. Still, Cary seemed to read something in him. He nodded knowingly. “Yes. Madcombe’s story, and the vehemence with which the rest of your crew attempted to keep him from telling it, made me wonder whether you are quite as ruthless as you wish to seem.”

“If you are willing to take the word of that green boy, you must be desperate, indeed,” Andrew said, pushing back against Cary’s probing.

“I am.” Cary flicked his gaze up and down, taking in every detail of Andrew’s appearance. “Desperate enough to hope that in some ways at least, you are as ruthless as you look—despite any assurances I may have received to the contrary. For it will take a ruthless man to succeed.”

“I take it Miss Holderin’s is not the only resistance I can expect to encounter if I take her away.”

“Hers will be formidable,” Cary warned. “Do not underestimate it. You may be required to use some rather creative measures to get her aboard your ship.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

susanna craigA love affair with historical romances led Susanna Craig to a degree (okay, three degrees) in literature and a career as an English professor. When she’s not teaching or writing academic essays about Jane Austen and her contemporaries, she enjoys putting her fascination with words and knowledge of the period to better use: writing Regency-era romances she hopes readers will find both smart and sexy. She makes her home among the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country, along with her historian husband, their unstoppable little girl, and a genuinely grumpy cat.

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannaMCraig
Web: www.susannacraig.com

Trusting Miss Trentham (Baleful Godmother #3) by Emily Larkin

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Letitia Trentham is noteworthy for three reasons. One, she’s extremely wealthy. Two, she can distinguish truth from lies. Three, she’s refused every man who’s ever proposed to her.
Until Letty receives a proposal she can’t turn down.

Icarus Reid barely survived the Battle of Vimeiro. He lives for one thing-to find the man who betrayed him to the French. He doesn’t want to marry Miss Trentham; he wants to use her talent for uncovering lies.

Suddenly, Letty finds herself breaking the rules, pretending to be someone she’s not, and doing things a lady would never do. But her hunt for the truth may uncover more than one secret-including the secret that haunts Icarus day and night. The secret he intends to take to his grave…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, January 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical/Paranormal Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

Emily Larkin is an author I’ve quickly come to admire. The men and women who populate her Baleful Godmother series are allowed to be plain in looks or sometimes broken in spirt but their stories are layered and compelling. In Trusting Miss Trentham the journey for the main characters to find love and redemption is difficult yet the payoff was considerable.

Miss Letitia Trentham knows when someone is lying. It’s an ability she chose on her twenty-first birthday from a fairy required to grant one wish to the female members of her family. Ever since that night Letitia has used her gift to weed out unwanted suitors and for six seasons it’s revealed the bitter truth that all of the men asking for her hand are more interested in her fortune than her heart. After declining yet another proposal Letitia’s night is off to a poor start when she’s approached by a soldier who seems to know about her truth-telling ability and has an unusual request for her: help him find justice for his men who were betrayed by one of their own. Torn between doing the proper thing of dismissing him or helping a man clearly in distress, Letitia takes the chance to use her ability to do something important.

Icarus Reid, recently retired from the King’s army, has one last mission to carry out and he’s willing to use whatever means necessary to discover who betrayed him and his men to the French. When a friend mentions Miss Trentham’s unique ability to sense lies he approaches her, desperate to use that skill while questioning the two most likely suspects. He’s surprised when she agrees to his plan despite the risks it poses to her reputation but Reid won’t allow this chance to find justice for his men slip away. Their first interview with a former soldier clears the man but their second interrogation reveals more suspects but no clearer a picture of who sold out his countrymen.

Dismayed that Reid’s quest could meet a dead end without her assistance Letitia arranges for them to travel together without anyone knowing she’s gone. The man that Reid once was would have immediately baulked at the idea of taking Letitia anywhere unchaperoned; however that person was lost forever on the banks of a river in Portugal. Now, he’s haunted nightly by memories of their senseless deaths and the torture he faced at the hands of French soldiers. Those nightmares make him cry out, alerting Letitia to his suffering. Unwilling to let her companion face another sleepless night Letitia finds a way to care for him that would scandalize her family but is necessary to give Reid some peace.

Their nightly routine allows Reid to rest but each morning after he senses just how much his presence jeopardizes Letitia’s good name. His mind tries to keep her at arm’s length but his heart needs her by his side as he faces the demons that have possessed him for months. Little by little their relationship moves from just a partnership to one that is completely new for Letitia. She loves Reid despite his wounded soul; but how can she plan a future with a man who has given up on living?

Trusting Miss Trentham has some dark undercurrents and can be quite heart-wrenching as readers are pulled deeper into Reid’s despondency. For a man driven by ideals such as duty and honor, his anguish at believing those have been stripped from him is palpable. It takes Letitia’s forceful approach of confronting that pain and looking at it from another angle for him to even begin to crawl out of the darkness. Reid is an interesting mix-up of hero types in a romantic story; he’s alpha-like in his relentless drive and his refusal to confront his feelings but those emotions lie so close to the surface that at other times he’s a beta-like man overwhelmed by how much he does care. His healing process over the course of the story feels realistic for what Reid endured and one can see that there is still a long way to go; however that he trusts Letitia and lets her help him are the most important steps.

I love Letitia for her indomitable spirt and her innocence. Her truth-sense may have protected her but it also put her into a gilded cage that not much could penetrate. Letitia could only let her guard down around people like her cousins who don’t seek to use her for their benefit. Once she agrees to work with Reid it puts her on a path of discovery, where sometimes white lies are necessary and some people have to lie to themselves to protect important personal secrets. A strong facet of Letitia’s character is her unselfishness and drive to help Reid no matter the cost to herself. She makes some mistakes while on that path but her need to see him heal is a mission more important to her than finding Reid’s traitor. Each little concession Reid makes is a major victory in Letitia’s eyes and she comes to love the man uncovered as he lets go of the past.

The magical aspects of Trusting Miss Trentham are kept very low-key so everything hinges on the journey Reid and Letitia take together both in body and mind. Just like the first book of the Baleful Godmother series there are two secondary characters who I am eager to see get their own story told and perhaps get another glimpse of Reid and Letitia’s continuing road towards a happy ending.

Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J Charles

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By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
***
In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

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How Many Miles?! – A Guest Post by K.J. Charles

My new book Wanted, A Gentleman, is a Georgian road-trip story. If that gives you visions of galloping freely through the great open roads, like Thelma and Louise with cravats, forget it. We’re in 1805 Britain. You might as well walk.

I’m hardly joking. One of the great irritants in historical or fantasy fiction for the literal-minded pedant such as myself is how easily some journeys fly by. The duke whisks the heroine into his well-sprung carriage on Pall Mall and the next thing you know they’re alone in his gothic estate on the Yorkshire Moors, listening to the mysterious howling of a spectral hound. This is very easily done for modern authors used to getting into a car, sticking on the radio, letting our minds wander and then finding ourselves where we want to be. And, let’s be honest, we’d rather be in the gothic estate, getting our fix of brooding, sexual tension, and running around in a nightie.

Nevertheless, even if you’re going to elide a Regency road trip with a sentence, that sentence probably has to begin, “After several days of an uncomfortable and tiresome journey…” because it was.

In Wanted, a Gentleman, our heroes Martin (reluctant pursuer of an eloping heiress) and Theo (his even more reluctant temporary sidekick) find themselves obliged to embark on a breakneck dash up north to catch the heiress before she and her swain cross the border to Scotland and get married. Martin has access, as they start their journey, to a state-of-the-art travelling chaise (what you might call a “high-speed chaise”, ahahaha) drawn by four horses. They are taking the Great North Road from London, one of the major roads in the country. You know how fast Martin and Theo are going to go, with all the resources wealth can throw at the journey in 1805?

About fourteen miles an hour.

Fourteen.

And 14mph is good. 14mph is what you can do on a good road with four horses, only not for long, because horses are not the same as internal combustion engines. To quote the great Diana Wynne Jones on horses in fantasy:

Horses are … capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  … Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.

Quite. Your actual horses had to be changed every 10-12 miles (that was a ‘stage’, and the stagecoach would stop at each staging post). This meant a stop, a wait for the ostler’s attention, hiring new horses which might well not be particularly good or energetic animals, getting them harnessed, and setting off again, only to repeat the whole procedure 10-12 miles later.

And this would not be comfortable. Coaches used springs and straps as a sort of suspension system but the roads were dreadful, full of ruts and potholes and rocks. Even 10mph would be dangerous, hard to achieve and hellaciously uncomfortable on many stretches of road.

It’s about 320 miles from London to Scotland. If you were on the road for twelve hours a day, in a good chaise and throwing money at the journey in order to go as fast as possible, that would still be a three-day journey of spine-jarring discomfort. Could be worse: in the stagecoach you’d be more likely to average 6mph in no more comfort at all.

On the plus side, this did mean that travellers had to spend an awful lot of time together, crammed onto a small seat, stuck in remote inns where they knew nobody, forced to share rooms in busy posthouses. Obviously that wasn’t much of a plus side for them, but it’s a boon for the historical romance writer. And who knows, Martin and Theo might even end up seeing the advantages…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, January 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

wanted-a-gentleman
This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.

The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.

Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner.  He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.

Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help.  A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.

Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.

This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel.  There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it.  Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:

“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”

“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”

“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”

And Theo gets it.  He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:

“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude.  Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest.  To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”

Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day.  Slavery had been abolished in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of it; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson.  Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.

Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona.  He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.

Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.

My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kj-magpieKJ Charles is a writer of mostly m/m historical romance, sometimes with fantasy. She has won several Rainbow Awards for her work and twice been voted Best LGBT+ Romance in the All About Romance annual poll. She is published by Loveswept and Samhain.

KJ is also a RITA-winning editor with twenty years’ publishing experience as a commissioning and line editor. She worked primarily in romance and children’s fiction, and is now freelance.

She lives in London with her husband, two kids, a wildly overgrown garden, and a cat with murder-management issues.

Connect with KJ at: www.kjcharleswriter.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Tumblr.

VIRTUAL TOUR: My Highland Rebel (Highland Trouble #2) by Amanda Forester

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A conquering hero
Cormac Maclean would rather read than rampage, but his fearsome warlord father demands that he prove himself in war. Cormac chooses what he thinks is an easy target, only to encounter a fiery Highland lass leading a doomed rebellion and swearing revenge on him.

Meets an unconquerable heroine
Jyne Cambell is not about to give up her castle without a fight, even though her forces are far outnumbered. She’s proud, hot-blooded and hot-tempered, and Cormac falls for her hard.

It’s going to take all of Cormac’s ingenuity to get Jyne to surrender gracefully—both to his sword and to his heart…

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EXCERPT

They sat at an old oak table and broke bread together. Cormac found goblets of wine for both of them and some food for a meal. It had been long since he had filled his belly, so he ate hungrily of the bread and the hearty stew before him. Jyne must have been reassured by his confidence, for the little crease on her forehead disappeared, and she began to eat and drink with him.

He liked this, sharing a meal with her. He could almost block out the sound of his men carousing in the great room next to them. She was a beautiful lass. She must have been thinking of other things when she’d gotten herself dressed this morn, for her veil was not securely fastened, causing her long, straight blond hair to fall out before her. The color of those errant strands was like gold. He longed to reach out and touch it. She absently brushed a lock of hair behind her ear with a careless finger, causing him to pause in his eating. Her blue eyes sparkled at him, and he noticed those blue eyes had flecks of hazel green.

A disturbance erupted in the dining hall, and one of the elderly matrons ran back into the kitchen.

“What is the matter?” cried Jyne, rising to her feet. “Are they no’ getting tired?”

The woman placed a hand over her bosom, her eyes wide. “Nay, they’re getting randy!”

“Pardon?”

“I had two o’ the men say they thought I was a vision o’ loveliness. Three done laughed so hard, they fell from their benches, and four others started a brawl o’er the right way to eat stew. They’ve gone mad, they have!” The matron threw her hands up in the air.

Before Core could make any sense of this, another elderly clanswoman, with thinning gray hair and a large goiter, shrieked as she scrambled back into the kitchen.

“What happened to ye?” asked Jyne. She ran to the elderly woman and helped her to sit on the bench she had just vacated.

“I dinna ken they’re about. One man dropped to his knees and began to recite poetry, or at least some¬thing like it. A few others started dancing, wi’ no music—wi’ each other! Another one demanded my hand in marriage. To me! What sort o’ mean-spirited shenanigans are these hooligans up to?”

Jyne’s face was one of complete loss. “Is this some sort o’ game?” she asked Core.

“If it is, ’tis unknown to me.” Cormac had seen quite a bit of rough play from his father’s men, but he had never heard of anything like that.

Core and Jyne peeked inside the great hall and were astounded at what they saw. Several of the men were having a heated argument as to which of the elderly servers was more beautiful. Some were dancing to no music. Some were running around the room, batting at the air, as if trying to catch invisible fairies. Others were fighting while laughing hysterically. Jyne and Core stared at each other.

“Why are they acting this way?” Jyne met his eye. He realized they were standing very close as they peeked into the hall. Her beautiful blue eyes widened, and she flushed, her cheeks a rosy hue. Her lips were the color of pale pink rose petals and appeared so soft and inviting, he wished to lean in for just one taste. She was beautiful. Truly beautiful.

“I dinna ken.” He had to remind himself to answer her question. It was the truth. He had never seen the men act in such a manner.

“Oh!” Jyne suddenly gasped. “The potion. It must have made them mad.”

Core couldn’t help but laugh. “Ye made them all act like fools? Och, I wish my father was here to see it!”

“Who is yer father?” she asked, turning her innocent blue eyes to him.

He realized in a flash he had made a slip. “No one. Just he would think it amusing, is all,” he said hastily. “Will the potion make them tired or just mad as imps?”

Jyne slapped a hand to her forehead. “Och, I’m a dunderhead, I am. Too much ale wi’ it can make a man lose his senses.”

“Ye gave my men something to make them witless?”

“Well I… It wasn’t what I intended… Wait, yer men?” She raised an eyebrow at him, and he knew he was in trouble.

“My men? I…I have no men.” He attempted nonchalance. It was not a natural state.

The little furrow between her brows reappeared. “But I thought I heard ye say—”

He kissed her.

It was the only thing he could think to do. The only thing he wanted to do. He was drawn to her by a power he could not deny. He embraced her and allowed his lips to melt onto hers. Nothing he had ever experienced before compared, but he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, waiting for the inevitable slap. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck, press¬ing herself against him and returning his ardor with a passion that lit an explosion within him. He did not care that his men were making fools of themselves next door. He did not care if the entire kitchen staff could see them. He had to kiss her.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

Time and Setting: Highlands 1362
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

When I first began reading My Highland Rebel, I had my doubts. It appeared rather flippant and also, having just had a run of Highland adventures, I wasn’t really in the mood for another. However, I persevered and I’m glad I did, because I wasn’t far into it before I realised that the light, witty style isn’t really flippant at all but is the author’s quite unique style which is easy to read and an enjoyable departure from my normal reading choices.

When Cormac Maclean happens across a beautiful damsel in distress one damp, foggy morning, literally up to her waist in a smelly bog, he little realises that he has met his destiny. Lady Jyne Campbell had always wanted adventure; as the second youngest of the large Campbell clan she was always considered the runt of the litter being tiny and more fragile than her hale, hearty and statuesque siblings – and consequently had been over-protected and smothered. Therefore she is very excited when her eldest brother, David, the Laird of the powerful Campbell clan decides to allow her to visit her dower lands at Kinoch Abbey which he has purchased from the monks who had inhabited it. Wandering off from their camp to carry out her early morning ablutions she had become lost in the thick fog. Cormac arrives in the nick of time and saves her from almost certain death and as is the way when a beautiful young woman and an attractive, personable young man meet – especially in such circumstances – each is smitten.

Cormac has been raised by monks after being abandoned by his father. Red Rex is a notorious war lord and in the absence of another, more acceptable heir, has decided that he wants to own his connection to his son after all and sets out to mould him into a mirror image of himself. Cormac is more like his deceased mother in countenance and manner than his tyrannical father; he is an educated dreamer and scholar with a love of books which his father only sees as a weakness.

Cormac sets out to extricate himself from the tangle of lies he tells after stealing two scrolls from a nearby monastery. He only succeeds in tying himself up in knots as he tries to protect not only himself but also the monk who had doggedly followed him back to Red Rex’s lair, and there follows a farcical comedy of errors, after which, and much to Cormac’s consternation, they end up on their way to Lady Jyne’s Abbey in search of a mystical – and mythical – Templar Knight’s treasure.

And so Cormac and Jyne are destined to meet again, but in less than auspicious circumstances. Jyne has travelled to her Abbey and dower lands with a small contingent of men whilst her brother, David, has gone off in search of Red Rex whom he has heard is on the rampage somewhere on his lands. On Jyne’s arrival she finds she has a collection of rag-bag squatters, a party of elderly and young folk abandoned by their own people who have set up home in the keep. Being the tender hearted girl that she is, Jyne embraces them in return for them swearing fealty to the Campbell clan; and then relishes her chance to finally become chatelaine of her own keep. When Red Rex’s son arrives with his father’s men in tow, she is determined to protect her people and property with a fierceness that her clan will be proud of. Cormac – or The Fire Lord – as he has named himself, dons a large helm with demonic horns to make him appear tough and strong but also to hide his identity from the Lady Jyne. Jyne is eventually forced to tolerate Red Rex’s son and men in her keep, meanwhile hoping that the man she sent off secretly to her brother will return with help. Cormac manages to keep his identity a secret with the help of the horned helmet but keeps popping up as himself, allowing Jyne to believe that he is living in the shadows somewhere and has arrived to help her. His double identity has hilarious results as he keeps forgetting who he is and nearly trips himself up upon numerous occasions.

This is quite a busy book with a lot going on. Cormac uses his education in the sciences to cause several explosions (hence his name of The Fire Lord). Along with the search for the treasure, Jyne managing to drug Red Rex’s men, the burgeoning romance between Jyne and Cormac and his forever switching between characters etc etc – I felt there was just a little too much going on. There is also a rather modern feel to the story in language and tone; and certainly little or no historic content even though it’s set in 1362. In spite of that however, My Highland Rebel is a light, witty read, with many genuinely funny moments and extremely likeable characters. I liked this author’s style and shall certainly look for more of her work.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

amanda-foresterAmanda Forester holds a PhD in psychology and worked many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance was way more fun. A Publishers Weekly Top Ten author, her books have been given starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews. Whether in the rugged Highlands of medieval Scotland or the decadent ballrooms of Regency England, her novels offer fast-paced adventures filled with wit, intrigue, and romance. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest outside Tacoma, Washington.

You can connect with Amanda at her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster

married-for-his-convenience

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Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal that will take her one step closer to finding her half sister, she can’t refuse!

Sebastian’s dreams of romance died with his late wife’s affair, so now he needs a convenient wife to act as governess for his silent daughter. Yet Sarah continues to surprise and challenge him, and soon Sebastian can’t deny the joy his new bride could bring to his life—and into his bed!

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EXCERPT

But even as the thought passed through her mind, a hand clamped across her mouth and she was pulled against a hard, muscular figure.

She tasted cloth. Her heart beat a wild tattoo. Her body stiffened, paralysed not only by fear but an almost ludicrous disbelief as she allowed her valise to slip from her hand.

Dramatic events never happened to her. Ever.

‘If I remove my hand, do you promise not to scream?’ The voice was male. Warm breath touched her ear.

Sarah nodded. The man loosened his hold. She turned.

Her eyes widened as she took in his size, the breadth of his shoulders and the midnight-black of his clothes.

‘Good God, you’re a woman,’ he said.

‘You’re…you’re a gentleman.’ For the cloth he wore was fine and not the roughened garb of a common thief.

She grabbed on to these details as though, through their analysis, she would make sense of the situation.

‘What was your purpose for spying on me?’ His gaze narrowed, his voice calm and without emotion.

‘Spying? I don’t even know you.’ The rabbit squirmed and she clutched it more tightly.

‘Then why are you hiding?’

‘I’m not. Even if I were, you have no reason to accost me.’ Her cheeks flushed with indignation as her fear lessened.

He dropped his hand, stepping back. ‘I apologise. I thought you were a burglar.’

‘We tend not to get many burglars in these parts. Who are you anyway?’

‘Sebastian Hastings, Earl of Langford, at your service.’

He made his bow. ‘And a guest at Eavensham.’

‘A guest? Then why are you in the kitchen garden?’

‘Taking the air,’ he said.

‘That usually doesn’t involve accosting one’s fellow man.

You are lucky I am not of a hysterical disposition.’

‘Indeed.’

Briefly, she wondered if wry humour laced his voice,

but his lips were straight and no twinkle softened his expression. In the fading light, the strong chin and cheekbones looked more akin to a statue than anything having the softness of flesh.

At this moment, the rabbit thrust its head free of the shawl.

‘Dinner is running late, I presume.’ Lord Langford’s eyes widened, but he spoke with an unnerving lack of any natural surprise.

‘The creature is hurt and I need to bandage him, except Mr. Hudson, the butler, is not fond of animals and I wanted to ensure his absence.’

‘The butler has my sympathies.’

Sarah opened her mouth to respond but the rabbit, suddenly spooked, kicked at her stomach as it clawed against the shawl. Sarah gasped, doubling over, instinctively whispering the reassurances offered by her mother after childhood nightmares.

‘You speak French?’

‘What?’

‘French? You are fluent?’

‘What? Yes, my mother spoke it—could we discuss my linguistic skills later?’ she gasped, so intent on holding the rabbit that she lost her footing and stumbled against the man. His hand shot out. She felt his touch and the strangely tingling pressure of his strong fingers splayed against her back.

‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes—um—I was momentarily thrown off balance.’

She straightened. They stood so close she heard the intake of his breath and felt its whisper.

‘Perhaps,’ she added, ‘you could see if the butler is in the kitchen? I do not know how long I can keep hold of this fellow.’

‘Of course.’ Lord Langford stepped towards the window as though spying on the servants were an everyday occurrence. ‘I can see the cook and several girls, scullery maids, I assume. I believe the butler is absent.’

‘Thank you. I am obliged.’

Tightening her hold on the rabbit, Sarah paused, briefly reluctant to curtail the surreal interlude. Then, with a nod of thanks, she stooped to pick up the valise.

‘Allow me,’ Lord Langford said, opening the door. ‘You seem to have your hands full.’

‘Er—thank you.’ She glanced up. The hallway’s flickering oil lamp cast interesting shadows across his face, emphasising the harsh line of his cheek and chin and the blackness of his hair.

She stepped inside and exhaled as the door swung shut, conscious of relief, regret and an unpleasant wobbliness in both her stomach and knees.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor Webster has a passion for many things, the most ardent likely being shoes. But she’s also passionate about a story well told. With the help of some debutantes and viscounts and a twist of the unknown, Eleanor’s stories weave a tale of enchantment, hope, and most importantly, love.

When not writing, you’ll find Eleanor dreaming of being a world traveler, reading, running, reading, hiking in the wilds of British Columbia, where she makes her home with her husband and two daughters, and – did we mention reading?

Connect with Eleanor:

Website: https://eleanorwebsterauthor.com/
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Sweetest Regret (novella) by Meredith Duran

sweetest-regret
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At a house party in the countryside, the joyful spirit of the Christmas season threatens to sweep Georgiana Trent under the mistletoe—and back into the arms of the dashing rogue who broke her heart two years ago. Little does she know that Lucas Godwin has no intention of leaving until he has reclaimed her as his own.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Star, November 2016 – published originally in the Christmas themed anthology, What Happens Under the Mistletoe in 2015.
Time and Setting: England, 1885
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Sweetest Regret has had mixed reviews but personally I was rather pleased with my first foray into this author’s work. Not normally a fan of novellas, I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of Meredith Duran’s writing and the content.

Georgiana Trent has been left high and dry by her father and instructed to host a Christmas house party for his diplomatic colleagues while he travels to Constantinople. She has always been her father’s ‘right hand man’ so this poses no real problem for her although she is less than impressed to be abandoned by him – yet again – and with his normal high handed manner.

Georgiana had met her father’s subordinate, Lucas Godwin two years earlier in Munich and had harboured secret hopes of a romantic alliance between them. Even though she has always believed herself to be unattractive to the opposite sex – he had, to her delight, singled her out and shown a public and marked preference for her company during the month of their acquaintance. The budding romance had never went further than shared confidences and dances, but still it seemed as though he was as attracted to her as she was to him. Then, quite abruptly and without even a note of explanation – he was gone. Georgiana was left broken-hearted and quite naturally thought he had been toying with her affections.

Two years later he is summoned to the house party by Georgina’s father with instructions to help her find a missing, potentially sensitive letter which has apparently been stolen by one of the house guests. Georgiana is not at all pleased at being pushed back into Lucas’ orbit, and the two continue their renewed acquaintance with veiled animosity, neither initially wishing to broach the subject of their past history.

Still the pull of attraction between them is tangible and as they are thrown together in their quest to find the missing letter the facts of what happened two years earlier are revealed, bit by bit, and here, the author uses flashbacks to their time in Munich really well. This enables Ms. Duran to avoid the pitfall of trying to pack too much into a short word-count; by giving her thwarted lovers a past together – albeit a brief one – creates a framework for a far more believable scenario which flows fluidly so that we don’t get a rushed 0-60 insta-lust. These two people had been in love and as it turns out, still are.

There are a couple of glaring errors in the story. At one point we’re told that a couple of characters are out at 5.45am looking for a Christmas tree, but we have the longest of nights during December so they’d have been stumbling around in the dark for over two hours until sunrise! Also, Sir Phillip is incorrectly referred to as ‘Sir Trent’, which is a silly mistake for a writer of historical romance to make. Those criticisms aside, though, Ms Duran achieves a sweet and plausible love story, with well developed, likeable characters, and a believable plot. All in all I really enjoyed Sweetest Regret and will definitely read more of this author’s work.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Lord Sebastian’s Secret (The Duke’s Sons #3) by Jane Ashford

cvr-lord-sebastians-secret_-jane-ashford

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Proud. Cunning. Battle-hardened. Lord Sebastian Gresham is the epitome of military might and excellence. He’s wealthy. The son of a Duke. There’s just one problem: he can’t read. It’s those damned words. He doesn’t see them in the same way everyone else does. It’s a secret he’ll never tell, certainly not to his new bride-to-be.

Brilliant. Witty. Beautiful. Lady Georgina Stane has always known she’d make the perfect bride, that is, if her eccentric family didn’t scare off every potential suitor from London to Bath. After carefully orchestrating a London season with her parents out of the picture, she secured an engagement to an impeccable gentleman. And when Lord Sebastian arrives at her family’s estate to meet her parents, she’s not about to let their antics ruin her perfect marriage.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

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

Review by Lady Cicely

Can love survive secrets? Lord Sebastian Gresham is madly in love with Lady Georgina Stane and she with him; however, they both harbor secrets.

Georgina’s secret comes to light the moment Sebastian steps foot in her family home. Georgina fears it will affect Sebastian enough for him to call off the wedding, and it soon appears her fears may be well founded.

Sebastian is terribly ashamed of his secret. So ashamed his family isn’t aware of it, and it’s something only his trusted valet knows. It’s a secret he prays his beloved will never uncover, for if she does he worries she will no longer love him. When Sebastian’s secret comes to light will it cement the love between them or break them apart?

A pack of pugs, an eccentric family (and that’s putting it mildly), mischievous sisters, and a loon governess provide added stress to the lovebirds while entertaining the reader.

Lord Sebastian’s Secret is the third in Jane Ashford’s series The Duke’s Sons. Ms. Ashford writes a sweet tale of love no matter the circumstances, and her writing style pulled me into feeling each character’s fears. She had me laughing at the antics of Georgina’s family, holding my breath in anticipation of Georgina’s reaction when she learns Sebastian’s secret and weeping when Georgina learns what it is and the way she handles it.

This is the first book I have read of Ms. Ashford’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her mention of Sebastian’s family, their suspicions of his difficulty and the way they handle it has me wanting to go back and read the rest of the series.

EXCERPT

Sebastian closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could all too easily picture the astonishing news that he had eloped running through his family—the letters flying back and forth, the disbelief and consternation. The surreptitious brotherly smirking. An image of his mother’s astonished face made him wince.

“Some people think I don’t care about convention,” muttered the marquess. “Not true. And this was too much. An elopement!”

“Except that it wasn’t, Papa,” Georgina pointed out. “It was an unfortunate accident. I think you might have had more faith in my character.”

Frowning at the floor, the older man said something too softly to be heard. Sebastian thought it might have been,

“It wasn’t you I was worried about.”

“The duchess is sending your brother,” said Georgina’s mother. She tried to speak blandly, but Sebastian got a clear sense of a woman getting the better of an argument at last.

The marquess glared at the group with a mixture of defiance and contrition.

“Which brother?” Sebastian asked.

“Randolph,” supplied his hostess.

Sebastian groaned softly. If anything could have killed his appetite at this point, the news that a brother had been dispatched to sort him out would have done it. He supposed this was his mother’s idea of just retribution for what she probably characterized as “antics.” She would have known that he would never elope.

If she’d had to send a brother, she could’ve drafted Robert. He’d have made a joke of the whole matter and charmed everyone so thoroughly that they saw it the same way. Alan or James might have refused to be embroiled in such a tangle at all. Nathaniel was still on his honeymoon. Mama couldn’t order him and Violet about quite so easily, anyway.

Randolph, though. Sebastian nearly groaned again. Randolph was usually glad for an excuse to take a few days’ leave from his far-northern parish. And he positively delighted in helping. Sebastian supposed that was why he’d become a parson. Part of the reason. He’d also been asking “why” since he could speak. According to family legend, that had been the first word Randolph learned. Sebastian certainly remembered being followed about by a relentlessly inquisitive toddler.

Nathaniel, a responsible six-year-old, had become so tired of saying he didn’t know that he’d taken to making things up. Sebastian still sometimes had to remind himself that discarded snakeskins were products of reptilian growth rather than intense surprise. Sebastian smiled. Randolph had spent several months trying to startle snakes out of their skin after that tale.

Then Sebastian’s smile died, and he put down his last sandwich. Randolph would revel in Mr. Mitra and the marquess’s lectures on reincarnation. There would be no end to his questions, or to the incomprehensible discussions after the ladies had left the dinner table. Sebastian only just resisted putting his head in his hands.

Georgina was looking at him, though, her expression anxious. He tried a reassuring smile. From her response, he judged that it was only marginally effective. He bolstered it, vowing to deal with Randolph. He would face anything to save her distress.

Georgina stood, holding her still half-full plate to her chest. “I believe I’ll go to my room now,” she said. “I’m quite tired.”

Her father looked guilty, her mother approving. Sebastian wondered at the determination on her face. It seemed excessive for a walk up a few steps. Was her leg hurting? One look at her father told him he would not be allowed to assist her to a bed.

Night had deepened by the time Georgina managed to hunt down Hilda and corner her in a little-used reception room, where she’d apparently been holed up for a good while, judging from the cake crumbs. Georgina stationed herself between her youngest sister and the door and confronted her with hands on hips. “Have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

For a moment, it seemed that Hilda might deny everything, but then she slumped back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “I only meant to leave you overnight, but everything went wrong from the very first. Whitefoot didn’t like being led. He jerked the rein right out of my hand and ran away. I had to take your Sylph to the Evans farm before I could chase after him. It took hours before I got him there as well.” She paused and looked indignant. “Emma abandoned me! She turned tail and rode home. And she’s been practically hiding in her bedchamber ever since.”

“Perhaps she feels a sense of remorse for having done something absolutely outrageous,” Georgina suggested.

Hilda wrinkled her nose. “Well, we came back first thing the next morning to get you.”

“That does not excuse…”

“And you were gone!” Hilda actually dared to look reproachful. “As if you’d vanished into thin air.”

“Thick mud, more like,” said Georgina.

“If you had just waited, or only walked a little way along the trail, we would have found you. And there wouldn’t have been such a very great fuss. Why didn’t you? How could you be so clumsy as to fall into a gully?” Hilda cocked her head. “I never even knew it was there.”

“Don’t even dream of blaming this on me!” Georgina gazed at her sister. They were alike in coloring and frame, but apparently their minds ran on entirely different paths.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jane-ashford_-author-photoJANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

You can connect with Jane at www.janeashford.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Goodreads

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight by Christina Courtenay

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“As the velvet cloak of moonlight settled over the ruined towers of Raglan Castle, the shadows beneath them stirred…”

When newly widowed Tess visits Raglan Castle, she experiences an extraordinary vision that transports her to seventeenth-century Wales and a castle on the brink of a siege.

Even when Tess leaves Raglan to return to Merrick Court, her late husband’s home, the strange dreams continue as her life becomes increasingly intertwined with the past. And when the new owner of the estate arrives – New Zealander Josh Owens – the parallels become even more obvious.

But perhaps the visions aren’t just trying to tell their own story, maybe they’re also giving a warning…

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EXCERPT

Deep in thought, Tess rounded a corner of the brick wall that enclosed the vegetable patch and almost rammed into a man who was bent over, pulling at a sapling that clearly shouldn’t be there.

‘Whoa!’ Tess swerved, then stopped dead as the man straightened up.

Tall, with black hair that was shaggy and tousled, and with matching dark stubble, he had the kind of face that could sell millions of bottles of aftershave. Clear green eyes under perfectly sculpted eyebrows – Tess could picture them staring moodily out of an advert in a glossy magazine – and if he hadn’t oozed masculinity, she would have sworn he was wearing mascara, so thick were his eyelashes. He was lean and rangy, but not too thin – his shoulders and arms powerful – and as he was shirtless she could see that his upper body was nicely defined under a stunningly deep suntan. There was some sort of tribal tattoo high up on his left arm and his faded and torn black jeans showed that his legs were as muscular as the rest of him.

‘Who the hell are you?’ she blurted out, then felt her cheeks heat up. Not exactly a subtle way to greet one of the hottest men she’d ever met, but he had no business being in her garden. Well, Merrick Court’s garden. And she had no business finding him attractive – she was recently widowed, for heaven’s sake, and the last thing she needed at the moment was a man to complicate her life.

‘And g’day to you too. I could say the same, eh?’ He leaned on the spade he’d been using to dig out the root of the sapling and regarded her with his head to one side as if he was wondering what she was doing there. His accent was Australian, or maybe New Zealand – Tess had had both Aussie and Kiwi friends at art college but could never tell which was which. Deliciously Antipodean in any case – she was a sucker for accents.

She ignored his greeting. ‘I’m sure Bryn knows there’s no money to pay for help in the garden at the moment.’ Although in truth she couldn’t actually remember the last time she’d talked to the old gardener. She had been kind of a hermit of late.

‘Oh, yeah? Well, I don’t need paying,’ he said, with a smile that she found both infuriating and amazingly alluring. Yep, definitely model material. Was that why he didn’t need to be paid? He was already rich? But he wasn’t exactly dressed like a millionaire.

‘I’ll have to discuss this with Bryn.’ She picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow and almost overbalanced it in her haste to get away from this man. He was disturbing her equilibrium and he shouldn’t be in her garden. Damn it, Merrick Court’s garden. When would she stop thinking of it as hers?

‘I’ll come with you. I want to hear this.’ The guy fell into step beside her, walking with long unhurried strides. ‘Want any help with that?’ Again, that annoying smile and his eyes were twinkling too as if he was amused by her efforts to stay calm.
‘No, thanks, I can manage.’

She did, but only just, and she ended up panting with the effort of upending the barrow onto the compost heap, which didn’t help. Nor did the stranger, who followed behind her but didn’t offer assistance again. Instead he crossed his arms, making his biceps bunch up in the most eye-catching way. Annoying man, he was probably doing it on purpose so she’d look at him. She didn’t want to but Tess had to force herself not to stare at the tattoo, which was strangely fascinating. By the time they got to the potting shed, where Bryn could usually be found if he wasn’t outside, she was ready for some answers.

‘Bryn, are you there?’

‘In yere.’ The old man’s Welsh lilt was one of the things she loved about him. That and his ready smile. ‘Just making tea. Would you like some, my lovely?’

Tess walked into the shed, closely followed by the shirtless stranger. ‘Yes, please, but Bryn ―’ She didn’t have time to finish her sentence.

‘Oh, there you are, er … Josh. Come and have a cuppa as well, won’t you?’

‘Sure, sweet.’

Bryn looked from one to the other. ‘So you’ve met his lordship then.’ It was a statement, not a question.

Tess swivelled towards the younger man. ‘L-lordship? What do you mean?’

‘The new owner of Merrick Court,’ Bryn explained patiently. ‘Josh, he says to call him, but I don’t know…’ He scratched his balding head.

But Tess wasn’t looking at him. She glared at the newcomer. Josh, Lord Merrick? He couldn’t be, could he? ‘Why didn’t you mention that?’

He grinned. ‘You didn’t ask.’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake…’ Tess stared at the man. Why hadn’t he told her who he was instead of letting her think he was just some workman? But then she had been rather rude so perhaps he’d wanted to punish her a little? She felt her cheeks heating up, embarrassed now by her lack of manners.

‘And who are you?’ Josh said. ‘I thought no one else worked here.’ He raised his eyebrows at the old man as if they’d been discussing this earlier.

‘Oh, didn’t I say?’ Bryn tutted at himself. ‘This yere is Lady Merrick.’

‘What?’ Josh’s eyebrows shot up even further. ‘But I thought…oh, bollocks.’

‘Er, would you care to explain that eloquent statement?’ It was Tess’s turn to cross her arms.

He looked a bit sheepish. ‘Uhm, well, I was expecting what the lawyer called a “dowager”. I mean…’

Tess cottoned on. ‘Ah, an old-age pensioner? Sorry to disappoint you.’

‘I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed exactly.’ Josh grinned briefly again as his gaze travelled the length of her body, lingering on her curves and long, honey-gold hair which was currently piled on top of her head and fastened with a clip. But then he seemed to recollect that he was talking to a widow and the smile disappeared. ‘That’s to say, your age doesn’t matter to me. I was just surprised, is all.’

‘I should hope not too.’ Tess was annoyed to find that the warmth in his eyes as he’d given her the once-over made her hot and flustered. He was disturbingly handsome. How old could he be? Probably in his early thirties, although possibly younger as he was so fit. It was hard to tell.

‘Come and have some tea and then you can get to know each other,’ Bryn suggested.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christina Courtenay lives near Hereford, England and is married with two children. Although born in England she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, the family moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East.

Christina’s debut Trade Winds was short listed for the 2011 Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Pure Passion Award for Best Historical Fiction.The Scarlet Kimono won the 2011 Big Red Reads Best Historical Fiction Award. Highland Storms (in 2012) and The Gilded Fan (in 2014) won the Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year award and The Silent Touch of Shadows won the 2012 Best Historical Read Award from the Festival of Romance.

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