Marco and the Devil’s Bargain by Carla Kelly

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The year is 1782. Marco Mondragón, brand inspector in Spanish New Mexico, and his wife Paloma Vega have settled happily into married life on the Double Cross. And yet Paloma is convinced their joy will not be complete until she has a child. She longs to give her husband a baby to soothe his grief over the death from cholera of his first wife and twin sons. Marco’s land grant stands at the edge of the most dangerous region in the Southwest: Comanchería.

Both Paloma and Marco have suffered at the hands of the fierce Comanche, losing beloved family members in raids. Despite their fear and mistrust of the Comanche, one lives among them. Paloma rescued Toshua from slavery and near death. As much as she respects the man now, Paloma wishes he would return to the Staked Plains, Comanche stronghold to the east in Texas. No one knows why Toshua remains at the Double Cross. Is it because his own tribe shunned him, or is he genuinely attached to its owners? Now a new enemy threatens the Mondragóns’ domestic bliss: the Dark Wind—la viruela, smallpox—barreling down on the defenseless royal colony from Comanchería. A mysterious and arrogant English physician named Anthony Gill offers their one hope at salvation … but only if Marco agrees to his Devil’s Bargain. Book Two in the Spanish Brand series, which began with The Double Cross.

Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1782
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Blue

In her previous book, The Double Cross, Carla Kelly introduced us to Marco and Paloma Mondragon, and what I thought was their happy ever after. It turns out that wasn’t the case, as their story continues in this, Book Two of The Spanish Brand Series. The couple has now been married over a year, and are very happy, except for the fact that they’ve been unable to conceive a child. A new threat is now on the horizon – it appears that smallpox is heading their way. Marco has been inoculated, but Paloma has not. A stranger, Anthony Gill, arrives in town, seeking out Marco. He claims to be a doctor, and is willing to give the vaccine to Paloma, but at a price. He wants Marco to escort him to a valley controlled by the Comanche, where no white man has gone, to find his kidnapped daughter. As Marco is terrified of losing Paloma to disease, as he lost his first wife and sons to cholera, he reluctantly agrees to this Devil’s Bargain.

There is a risk with the vaccine – it can be fatal in some cases – but Paloma is willing to take her chances. She becomes ill, but recovers after several days. She has no intention of letting Marco travel to the valley without her. He adamantly refuses to take her with him, but she is adamant that she would rather die with him than live without him. Marco knows that she would only follow on her own, so he reluctantly agrees, and they begin their journey along with Anthony Gill and Toshua, the Comanche who has become Paloma’s unofficial guardian since she saved his life.

The journey is arduous. They battle cold, hunger, wild animals, and hostile natives, not to mention the rugged terrain. Eventually they encounter some members of Toshua’s former tribe, including his “first” wife, who travel along with them. Their aid is invaluable, as once they arrive at their destination, if, indeed, they make it, they have to somehow persuade the very same Comanches who killed Gill’s wife and kidnapped his daughter to give her back. Provided, that is, they are able to leave with their own lives.

What a wonderful adventure this book is! Marco’s and Paloma’s love for each other has grown, and they express it enthusiastically and regularly, though not too explicitly. Paloma has also grown enough that she’s able to overcome her fear of Toshua and trust him. We get to see the Comanche people painted as human beings, not just killing savages. (The name the Comanche women give Marco when they see him naked is priceless!)

Carla Kelly has written another masterpiece about a time and place you don’t typically read about in a historical romance. Her descriptions are vivid, and she doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant aspects of how hard life was then. Her characters are well rounded, and interesting. The plot is exciting, and has a couple twists at the end that I didn’t see coming. This amazing story truly satisfies a love of both romance and history and I recommend it most highly.

A Matter of Sin by Jess Michaels

matter of sin

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The widowed Lady Isabel Avenbury has one remaining younger sister to shepherd into an advantageous marriage, and then she will be free. Free to take a lover to fill her lonely nights—the only option left for a woman on the delicate edge of a certain age.

Except when she chaperones her sister to a country house party, she is taken aback by her sudden, undeniable attraction to the host. And deliciously scandalized when she finds a copy of the notorious, much-gossiped-about Ladies Book of Pleasures in his library.

When Seth Rowland, Marquis Lyndham, notices his book is missing, his interest is piqued as to which of the potential young brides at his party has absconded with it—and he’s shocked to discover it’s Isabel. Though older than the women he’d planned to court, the powerful beauty exudes a sensuality he cannot ignore.
The book inspires them to begin a desperate, passionate affair. But their time together is running out and they must choose. Follow society’s rules, or take a chance at love.

Publisher and Release Date: Samhain Publishing, July 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Vikki

I found this book delightful and moving. Each chapter starts out with a quote from The Ladies Book of Pleasures, a scandalous new book that is circulating among the ton. These quotes are very thought provoking to say the least. Here is the first quote: “At the most unexpected times, our lives can change. Most ladies are encouraged to run from it, but why can’t we embrace it?”

While Isabel, Countess of Avenbury had grown to love her much older husband, it was not a romantic kind of love. Now widowed, she decides she will take a lover once her sister, Serena is married. The last thing she expects to encounter at the Marquis of Lyndham’s house party is a potential lover, but nonetheless, that is exactly what she finds when she meets Lord Lyndham. Isabel longs for the fulfillment of desires aroused from reading the naughty book.

Seth Rowland, Lord Lyndham, immediately remembers seeing Isabel during her coming out year, when he had been too young and foolish to appreciate her stunning beauty. When their eyes meet for the first time as she exits her carriage, the sparks of desire ignite. While he has no business pursuing this charming widow, he feels compelled every time he sees her, drawn to her as a moth to the flame.

Of course, they enter into a torrid affair that threatens to ruin her sister’s marital prospects if word gets out. When Serena perceives what she believes are signs of intentions of marriage and courtship on the marquis’ part, Isabel realizes she must end the liaison. Will she be able to stay strong in her convictions to end the affair, or will she give in the temptation?

I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful love story. The writing is emotional and filled with passion and desire. There are also several tender moments between the sisters that enrich this story immensely, moving it far beyond the sensuality of the love story. Jess Michaels also introduces us to some secondary characters that will be prominent in future books in this series. In fact, I found them so intriguing that I have already pre-ordered the next book!

If you are looking for a sensual love story with many tender moments, then this is a book you will not want to miss, and if you haven’t read Jess Michaels before, you will want to once you have read A Matter of Sin.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Once More My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath

Once-More-My-Darling-Rogue-Lorraine-Heath

Born to the street but raised within the aristocracy, Drake Darling can’t escape his sordid beginnings. Not when Lady Ophelia Lyttleton snubs him at every turn, a constant reminder he’s not truly one of them. But after rescuing her from a mysterious drowning, he realizes she doesn’t remember who she is. With plans to bring her to heel, he insists she’s his housekeeper—never expecting to fall for the charming beauty.

While Ophelia might not recall her life before Drake, she has little doubt she belongs with him. The desire she feels for her dark, brooding employer can’t be denied, regardless of consequences. So when Ophelia’s memory returns, she is devastated by the depth of his betrayal. Now Drake must risk everything to prove she can trust this rogue with her heart once more.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2014

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

Review by Caz

Drake Darling – born Peter Sykes and the son of a convicted murderer – is now a successful businessman and, as the adopted son of the Duke and Duchess of Greystone, has been fully accepted into London society. Being both attractive and wealthy, Drake is never short of female admirers, although there is one woman who refuses to see him as anything other than a lowly street-rat and who treats him at every opportunity as though he’s worse than anything she could want scraped off the bottom of her shoe.

Lady Ophelia Lyttleton is beautiful and much sought after, but she’s cold, standoffish and, to Drake, downright unpleasant and rude. She has been brought up to be very mindful of her standing in society and to look down on those who are of lesser station, although right from the start, it’s clear that there is something else fuelling her intense dislike for him.

On a late night walk, Drake pulls an unconscious woman from the Thames, not realising until he gets her home that it is Lady Ophelia. When she eventually comes round, she has no idea who she is or why she was in the river – and doesn’t recognise Drake either. He knows it’s not kind, but he decides to exact a small revenge on her for her horrible treatment of him, and tells her that she’s his housekeeper. He only intends the deception to last for a day, after which he will return her home. But when he realises that Ophelia – Phee – may be in danger from someone in her family, he decides to delay her return while he investigates. In the time they spend together, he finds himself becoming fascinated by the young woman who is emerging from behind the previously iron-clad exterior.

And Phee, while she is initially dismissive of Drake’s assertion that she is his servant, soon finds enjoyment in her new role, discovering a joy and freedom she’s never experienced before in doing things for others. She is also more than a little attracted to her employer – a complicated man who insists he is not kind or good, but whose actions towards her and others continually prove otherwise.

I confess I’m wary of stories which use amnesia as a plot device, but having very much enjoyed the previous book in this series (When the Duke Was Wicked) and others by this author, I trusted that Ms Heath would be able to make it work – and that trust was not misplaced.

Right from the first moment we meet the snobbish, shrewish Ophelia, the author drops hints that perhaps there is something more to her than meets the eye; No man would ever love her enough to forgive her for what she’d once done, and it was a secret she could not forever keep from a husband. The reader is obviously meant to dislike her intensely because of the way she treats Drake, but I found her intriguing and almost deserving of sympathy because in spite of her beauty and social advantages, she is clearly a very unhappy young woman.

And Drake, who has made something of himself in spite of his humble origins, is also struggling with his own inner demons, never feeling that he is good enough for the position he occupies, persisting in believing himself tainted by his father’s heinous crimes and thus not worthy of the deep affection shown him by his family – and most definitely not deserving of affection of a more romantic nature.

The thing about this particular amnesia plotline is that it doesn’t work in quite the way one would expect it to. Of course, it gives Phee a chance to look at Drake with a fresh pair of eyes, free from prejudice and prior knowledge of him, and allows her to own her attraction to him and come to know the kind and honourable man he truly is. More importantly, however, it enables Phee to come to him with a clean slate. Freed from the awful memories which have cheated her of happiness and the ability to enjoy her life; freed from the memories of her authoritarian father’s strictures, she can finally let her true self have free rein, and we see her transformation from the emotionally crippled woman we first met into a funny, kind-hearted and compassionate woman who is able to love without shame or fear.

Drake’s manipulation of Ophelia into believing herself his servant may have been unkind, but it seems to me to be a very human reaction. Who wouldn’t want to get their own back after receiving such treatment as Ophelia meted out to him? The fact that he allows the deception to continue beyond his original intentions is perhaps not the most honourable thing he has done – but then Drake doesn’t consider himself an honourable man, and deep down, knows he will deserve every horrible epithet Ophelia can throw at his head when all is revealed.

And he has an emotional journey to make, as well. I don’t mind admitting that the part near the end when he finally comes to understand the truth about his fathers brought tears to my eyes.

Once More My Darling Rogue is an emotionally satisfying read which features two flawed characters who have to confront dark events in their pasts if they are to move forward both individually and together. Drake and Phee are strongly drawn, the romance develops at a steady and believable pace, and Ms Heath writes with a lot of tenderness and gentle humour. I enjoyed reading it and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series.

EXCERPT


ONCE MORE MY DARLING ROGUE
They were so young, the ladies who smiled and batted their lashes at him. Even the ones who were on the far side of five and twenty were too innocent for his tastes. They were all light and airy as though burdens were unknown to them, as though life encompassed nothing more than enjoyment. He preferred his women with a bit more seasoning to them, savory, spicy, and tart.

“Boy.”

An exception to his preference for the tart had arrived. The haughtiness of the voice set his teeth on edge. He should have known he’d not escape her notice for the entire evening. That Lady Ophelia Lyttleton was one of Grace’s dearest friends was beyond his comprehension. He didn’t understand why the sister of his heart associated with such an arrogant miss when Grace was the sweetest, gentlest person he’d ever known. Stubborn to be sure, but she hadn’t a mean bone in her body. Lady Ophelia could not claim the same. Her presence at his back proof enough.
The ladies who had been gifting him with their attention blinked repeatedly and went silent for the first time in more than two hours. Because they were there, because he was striving to give the appearance of being a gentleman, he would spare Lady Ophelia the embarrassment of ignoring her. Even though he suspected he would pay a price for his generosity. He always paid the price. The lady was quite adept at delivering stinging barbs.

Slowly he turned and arched a brow at the woman whose head failed to reach his shoulder. And yet in spite of her diminutive size, she managed to give the appearance of looking down on him. It was her long, pert, slender nose that tipped up ever so slightly on the end. She had been a constant aggravation whenever she visited with Grace and crossed paths with him. But devil’s mistress that she was, she was very careful to slight him only when Grace wasn’t about to witness her set-downs. Because he loved Grace too much to upset her—and she would be appalled to know he and her friend were not on particularly pleasant terms—he had borne Lady Ophelia’s degradations, convinced that he was walking the high ground while she was slogging along in the muck.

It made no sense to him that such a beauty could be such a resounding termagant. Her green eyes with the oval, exotic slant were challenging him with a sharpness that could slice into one’s soul if he weren’t careful. While he was twelve years her senior, as she had grown toward womanhood, she had mastered the art of making him feel as though he were a dog living in the quagmire of the gutters again. Not that others among the aristocracy hadn’t made him feel the same from time to time, but still it irked more so when she was the one responsible for the cut to his pride.

“Boy,” she repeated with a touch more arrogance, “do fetch me some champagne, and be quick about it.” As though he were a servant, as though he lived to serve her. Not that he found fault with those who served. Theirs was a more noble undertaking and their accomplishments far outstripped anything she might ever manage. She, who no doubt nibbled on chocolates in bed while reading a book, without thought regarding the effort that had gone behind placing both in her hand.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

lhthumbLORRAINE HEATH always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals and computer code, but something was always missing. After reading a romance novel, she not only became hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards, including RWA’s RITA® and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Her novels have appeared on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists.

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

What a Duke Dares (Sons of Sin Book #3) by Anna Campbell

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What woman in her right mind would say no to marrying the dashing Duke of Sedgemoor? Miss Penelope Thorne, that’s who. She’s known Camden Rothermere since they were children – and she also knows she’d bring nothing but scandal to his name.

Cam can hardly believe Penelope turned down his proposal. But if she wants to run off to the Continent and set the rumor mill ablaze, he can’t stop her. Then her brother’s dying request sends him to bring home the one woman he thought he’d finally gotten over.

The only way they’ll both get back to London without their reputations in tatters is to pretend they’re married during the journey. That means kissing like they mean it and even sharing a bed – until it becomes hard to tell where the game ends and true desire begins …

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, September 2014

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

Review by Maggi

In this charming twist on a marriage plot, Camden Rothermere, the Duke of Sedgemoor has asked his childhood friend, Penelope Thorne, to marry him. She refuses and runs off to live on the Continent with her aunt. Pen fears her disreputable family’s reputation will sully him, while Cam, a stickler for correctness, is fighting to restore the reputation of his own.

Stunned by Pen’s refusal, Cam endeavours to forget her and years pass. But when Pen’s brother’s dying plea sends him to Italy to bring her home, the two are thrown together again. As they make the journey home, they fight their desire for each other while past issues remain raw. On their return to England, they are forced to pose as husband and wife, but one kiss explodes into searing passion, and Cam must first understand his true feelings, and then prove to Pen that he loves her.

The characters are beautifully drawn in this story. Cam, a man who has been brought up by selfish, scandal-ridden, indifferent parents, fiercely guards his heart, while Pen is wildly original and game for anything. Except becoming Cam’s wife. There’s a subplot which weaves perfectly into the main story and lends weight to it. I always enjoy Ms Campbell’s language; it’s fresh and original and flows beautifully. She excels at conveying a deep understanding of the reasons for her characters’ motives.

What a Duke Dares is a great read and most highly recommended!

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Crystal Cage by Merryn Allingham

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Captivated…or captured?

Appearances don’t always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect’s missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she’s lured into the deep secrets of the past…secrets that resemble her own.

As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect’s illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…

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EXCERPT

‘You are very quiet, my love,’ he remarked as they strolled down the South Walk. ‘Does this place perturb you? Vauxhall is hardly the Crystal Palace, I grant.’

She looked vaguely around as though she hardly registered her surroundings. ‘I am well, Lucas, thank you.’ Her voice had lost its rich music.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, it is really nothing.’

‘Which means that you are bothered by something. Tell me,’ he urged.

She hesitated for some minutes before saying diffidently, ‘I thought that I recognised someone as I approached the gates. But I must have been mistaken.’

‘Who?’

‘A woman. She looked like a visitor who once came to tea with my mother-in-law. But I must be mistaken,’ she repeated.

‘I think you must. I cannot imagine a friend of the elder Mrs Renville frequenting Vauxhall!’

He was cajoling her, quite sure that her nervous state had precipitated these qualms. ‘But just in case, we will hide ourselves completely,’ and he steered her towards one of the small paths that led away from the main promenade towards what he knew was the Dark Walk. Here the lamps were absent and the company very thin. It was not long before he found a small wooden shelter half way up the Walk where they could be entirely alone amid thick darkness.

‘I have news,’ he said, trying to not to betray his excitement. ‘The plans I have been pursuing are now almost certain. I hope to be designing the Carlyon chapel as an architect in my own right.’

She looked at him blankly. Her mind still seemed far away and he had to reiterate, ‘I will be leaving de Vere’s.’
This startled her into words. ‘But without a salary, how will you manage? How will you afford your lodgings?’
‘Once I am working for the earl, I will be able to afford far superior lodgings. So superior they will be good enough to accommodate you.’

‘I will be able to visit you there?’

He clasped her hands tightly between his. ‘You will be able to live with me there.’

‘You are suggesting that I leave my home?’

He could not understand her reluctance but said patiently, ‘We cannot continue to meet like this, Alessia. You must know that. We must have a place to call our own.’

‘But I cannot leave Edward. I am his wife.’

Why did she cling so tenaciously to a life that she despised? ‘Are you not more my wife than his?’ he asked urgently.

‘But in the eyes of the church…’ Her voice trailed off, disappearing into the night mist.

‘What matters most—our eyes or those of a distant church?’ He was almost fierce in his denunciation.

‘Ours,’ she agreed unhappily.

‘So?’

‘But you cannot have thought—my daughters—’

‘The proceeds of the Carlyon commission will allow me to rent a substantial house. We will have them to live with us.’

‘Edward would never agree.’

‘But surely he would not separate them from their mother.’

‘They are his children and he will wish to keep them. The law is on his side.’

‘I accept that, but if he knows what it means to you to have them?’

‘Can you not understand? They are his children, I am his wife. We belong to him. If I should dare to leave, he will do everything in his power to hurt me.’

The eagerness slowly drained from Lucas and he slumped back against the shelter’s rough wooden wall. She turned to him in anguish, desperately gripping his shoulders. ‘I cannot relinquish my daughters, Lucas. You cannot ask it of me.’

When he responded, his voice held the note of defeat. ‘What you are saying is that you will never come to me.’

A long and painful silence descended between them while Alessia slowly twisted into mangled leather the gloves she held. At length, in a voice hardly above a whisper, she said, ‘I did not say that.’

The words appeared wrenched from her, but they galvanised Lucas. He leant forward again, all his eagerness returned. ‘Then say you will come. Say that you love me enough to do this.’

‘Sometimes,’ she said slowly, ‘I think you do not know just how much I love you.’

‘Then come to me, my darling.’

‘When?’

‘As soon as the Great Exhibition has opened, I will be free to work for Lord Carlyon. I will make all the necessary plans.’

‘And my children?’

‘Once we are settled in our new home, I will request an interview with your husband. I will tell him your need for your daughters and say that everything will be done discreetly. You are not a part of his social world, so who is to know that you no longer live at Wisteria Lodge?’

She shook her head and a look of near despair flooded her lovely face.

‘Alessia!’ he said urgently. ‘It cannot truly matter to Edward Renville whether you live with him or not. It is only his business that he cares for. And as for the children, he will see them whenever he wishes.’
Her continued silence moved him to desperation. ‘If you love me, you will come.’

‘I do, I do,’ she said sobbing into his shoulder.

TO WIN AN EBOOK OF THE CRYSTAL CAGE, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER, BELOW.Two copies are up for grabs. Giveaway is open internationally.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on October 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on October 16th and notified via email. Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

03_Merryn AllinghamI became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few.

I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.

I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them!

The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period.

Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication.

Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.

Connect with Merryn Allingham on Facebook and Goodreads.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Traitor’s Legacy by Beth Trissel

TraitorsLegacy_8945 (1).jpg from cover artist Debbie Taylor

 

 

1781. On opposite sides of the War of Independence, British Captain Jacob Vaughan and Claire Monroe find themselves thrust together by chance and expediency.

Captain Vaughan comes to a stately North Carolina manor to catch a spy. Instead, he finds himself in bedlam: the head of the household is an old man ravaged by madness, the one sane male of the family is the very man he is hunting, and the household is overseen by his beguiling sister Claire.

Torn between duty, love, and allegiances, yearning desperately for peace, will Captain Vaughan and Claire Monroe forge a peace of their own against the vagaries of war and the betrayal of false friends?

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EXCERPT

“No! Wait!” a woman shrieked.

“What the—” Hell died on Vaughan’s lips as the double front doors opened wide and a slender figure in a froth of turquoise flew out.

Snatching up her petticoats, she ran down the stone steps. “Captain, please, I would speak with you!”

Loose brown hair, streaked gold in the sunshine, cascaded over the young woman sprinting toward him. “’Twas a rash act by a mere boy bent on avenging the death of our father!”

The startled dragoons placed their bulk between her and Vaughan, kneeling beside Percy. She wasn’t deterred in the slightest. “Allow me a word, sir. I beg you.”

Was she actually leaping up in the air to see past the officers? Preoccupied as Vaughan was, her desperation and feminine appeal caught his attention. So totally unexpected. His temper, inflamed only moments ago, cooled to a simmer.

“If you desire leniency, Madame, bid your servants to fetch warm water and fresh linens and tend to my man.”

“Do as he says!” she called over her shoulder at unseen onlookers. “Send Joseph for Doctor Phillips.”

Vaughan sensed the flurry of activity in the seemingly unprepared household. Perhaps she spoke the truth and no foul play was afoot. No stealthy ambush awaited them.

How could he be sure? Snipers might lurk at every corner. Hidden and deadly, like a crouching panther ready to spring. Still, she seemed sincere, and Vaughan was an astute judge of character. Percy needed a skilled surgeon to remove the lead ball. With an able hand at the job and proper nursing, he should live, if infection didn’t set in. So many ifs with a gunshot wound, and this forthright female completely took him aback.

All these considerations ran through Vaughan’s mind in an instant. Accustomed to making sudden decisions based on hurried assessments, he determined in this matter, at least, he must trust her. An order swiftly followed. “McCray, let her pass and one other to fetch the doctor.”

“Yes, Captain.” McCray and Anderson stepped aside.

She dashed between them, followed by a wiry slave who made for the stables. “I am truly sorry for your violent reception at Thornton Hall and beg your forbearance,” she blurted, and flung herself at Vaughan’s feet just across from the wounded guide. “Spare my foolish brother, I beseech you.”

Hardly in a position to indulge her notions of chivalry, as he was stained with blood and constrained by the need to apply pressure to Percy’s wound, Vaughan scowled at her in bemusement. “Get up, woman. I shall consider your request.”

She raised her head and met his annoyance with a plea in her earnest gaze, like sunlight on water lilies. So clear, her hazel eyes, cast with a greenish hue, and her face was really rather pleasing. Remarkably so.

What on earth was he thinking? Vaughan wrenched his attention away from the distracting girl. “Might I have clean cloth to stem the flow, Miss—”

“Monroe,” she supplied, and reached into her bodice. “Claire Monroe.”

Lovely name. Too bad it belonged to a Rebel. Even so, he couldn’t stop his eyes from following the curves mounding up out of the lace-edged cloth as she withdrew a square of embroidered linen.

“Please. Take this, sir.” She passed the handkerchief into his free hand.

Her smooth fingers brushed his weathered skin and sent a jolt pulsing through him. He almost jerked up his head and stared at her, so violent was his reaction, but restrained himself from such blatant notice. Claire Monroe was leaps and bounds ahead of the camp followers he was used to who did laundry, cooked, tended the sick and wounded, bearing their children along the way. Apart from the higher born officer’s wives—and she outshone them—these hardy camp women were common. Despite her incomplete attire, Miss Monroe was a lady.

Shaking off the unnerving sensation she evoked in him, he replaced the soiled gloves with this unlikely bandage. The blood flow had lessened slightly from his ministrations, and he pressed her spotless handkerchief to the wound.

“Claire! Git away from that vile officer, ye wanton strumpet!” On the heels of the gravelly boom accented in a Scottish burr, an elderly man in a dusky dressing gown stormed from the house. Silver hair flowed over his shoulders, and a gray beard covered his chest.

She startled in marked alarm. “Grandfather—no.”

“Let me pass, defilers!” Waving her aside, the old gentleman railed at the dragoons.

Vaughan snapped an order. “McCray. Remove him at once.”

“Not easily done,” she said under her breath. “Mister Monroe’s gone off his head.” She leapt to her feet and flew back toward the fuming gentleman. “You mustn’t interfere.”

Lieutenant McCray seized the newcomer’s arm. “Unhand me, foul demon!” Battling to wrench free, he hurled venom. “Swine! Lucifer’s archangel!”

Red-faced, McCray glowered at the insults.

“Leave me be, ye stinking lobsterback!”

“Not another word from you,” warned the irate officer.

“Grandfather, you must desist.” Miss Monroe grasped her incensed relation’s other arm in an attempt to restrain him.

“Shame on ye, Claire! Closing ranks wie redcoats!”

He threw her off, as one might a child, and she reeled to the side. Vaughan cringed to see her go down onto her knees on the cobbles like an urchin cast into the street. She should be petted and adored, not suffer this rude treatment.

Then the infuriated man rubbed salt into her wounds. “Devil’s handmaiden! Defy this monster from the bowels of Hell, not yer own flesh and blood!”

Undeterred, the spirited girl scrambled to her feet. “Stop this now, before you’re punished!”

She might as well try to contain a mad bull, and McCray wasn’t known for his patience. The pistol stuck in his boot would come out next. It goaded Vaughan to see the old man felled, especially as he was evidently mad. And particularly not in front of his granddaughter, doing her utmost to save him despite his abuse.

Vaughan interceded. “Wait, Lieutenant! Take over here, Ensign.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Trissel
Married to my high school sweetheart, I live on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia surrounded by my children, grandbabies, and assorted animals. An avid gardener, my love of herbs and heirloom plants figures into my work. The rich history of Virginia, the Native Americans and the people who journeyed here from far beyond her borders are at the heart of my inspiration. I’m deeply drawn to colonial America and the drama of the American Revolution. In addition to American settings, I also write historical and time travel romances set in the British Isles, and nonfiction about gardening, herbal lore, and country life.

You can connect with Beth at: Her Website * ~ * ~ * Blog * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter

Romancing the Rumrunner by Michelle McLean

rumrunner
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She’s worked too hard to be run out of town…

Jessica Harlan spends her nights as The Phoenix, the owner of the most popular speakeasy in town. Her days are spent running her respectable butcher shop and dodging prohibition agents and rival club owners who all want to put her out of business.

He’s worked too hard to let his heart get in the way…

When the opportunity arises to go undercover for the Feds to catch The Phoenix, Gumshoe Anthony Solomon jumps on it. But he never suspected the notorious rumrunner would be a dame – or that he’d be so drawn to the feisty little minx.

They play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, knowing they can’t trust the other, but unable to walk away. While their hearts dodge the crossfire, the mobsters raise the stakes, and even The Phoenix may not rise again.

Publisher and Release Date:  Entangled Scandalous, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Prohibition Era/Chicago
Genre:  Historical Romance
Heat Level:  2
Reviewer Rating:  3.5 stars

Review by Susan:

A woman of the Roaring ‘20s, Jessica Harlan is depicted as a modern gal in Michelle McLean’s Romancing the Rumrunner.  After inheriting a butcher’s shop from her father, Jessica becomes proficient at grading, chopping, and packaging a variety of meats.  Her breadth of knowledge is equally expansive about the variety of liquors – which comes in handy for her alter-ego as the owner of The Red Phoenix, a fashionable speakeasy in Chicago.  Though terms like “Prohibition”, “flappers”, “bootleggers”, “flimflam man”, and “mobsters” are sprinkled throughout the story, the reader is never fully immersed in the 1920’s as the characters feel too much like 21st century people who have been transplanted to the era of speakeasies and Prohibition.

Part of the problem is that Jessica does not embrace the era of rampant indulgence sweeping across the globe.  The narration reveals a life that is stifling and harsh.   Her struggle with the laws about selling liquor to customers is relatable to modern day struggles against laws that impose unrealistic restrictions on society (such as laws that restrict the size of soft drinks sold at fast food restaurants or laws that prohibit establishments from selling hot drinks in foam cups).   Jessica’s conflict with Prohibition turns her into an incessant complainer but not necessarily an advocate for flexible laws that place realistic restrictions on people.  Thus, the story has a socially political angle which makes it relevant to today’s readers with the capability of transcending the 1920’s.

Ms McLean incorporates the infamous Mob by placing Jessica in the difficult position of having to repay her father’s debt to Chicago’s ring of gangsters.  She juggles the illicit life of a rumrunner at her speakeasy and paying back her father’s debt to the Mob while dodging Prohibition agent Earl Jameson and private investigator Tony Solomon who are both nipping at her heels, eager to obtain solid evidence against her.  Though the characters of Earl and Tony are veritably similar at the start as both are working to catch Jessica selling liquor to customers, slowly Tony’s compassionate side comes out.   He sees the person beneath Jessica’s surface and gradually helps to undo her ties from the Mob.  The steamy and sensually descriptive scenes with them are touching.  Unfortunately, Tony isn’t as supportive of Jessica’s efforts to be a singer and live performer.

Jessica is written as an independent woman who is self-sufficient and able to make choices for herself without requiring the approval of another individual.  She isn’t the type of woman that one would expect from the 1920’s.  Meanwhile, Tony is a smooth talker who could sell ketchup to a Parisian chef.

The idea behind the story is riveting though the delivery lacks believability.  The main characters come off as modern day people, even though their struggles are relatable to contemporary problems.  The author’s writing style keeps the reader connected to the evolving stages of the story letting the audience in on the characters secrets, while working towards their happiness, which is the main objective of the tale.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott Southard

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All her heroines find love in the end—but is there love waiting for Jane?

Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess.

Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years—did she ever find love? Weaving fact with fiction, it re-imagines her life, using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history and showing that all of us—to a greater or lesser degree—are head over heels for Jane.

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EXCERPT

9780983671923 Austen Cover.inddChapter IV from Volume II

It has often been said that good things come to those who wait, but the fault with the expression is that it does not take into consideration the especially bad things that you are doing your utmost to avoid. Do bad things travel in different paths and fashions to the good? Can bad things be avoided since they, unlike most good things, are rarely expected or hoped for? Jane had a bad thing that she wanted to avoid, and the only plan she could come up with after an evening contemplating it was to run away—fast.

“Why do you need me to go on this walk with you?” Charles complained. He grabbed a branch from the ground and swung it around himself like a sword. Jane had to step back to avoid being hit.

Jane decided not to answer Charles’ question. “Is it wrong to enjoy our fields and hikes, Charles? Should not the pleasures of walking and breathing fresh air be enough? This may be our last time walking this trail together.”

“That is what you said a few days ago,” Charles moaned. “You cannot have two last times.”

Jane stopped and looked across the valley. The shock of the upcoming journey to Bath seemed to almost take her aback more now than it had earlier.

“I grew up here,” she said quietly, more to herself than to Charles.

“I grew up here too,” Charles said and sat on the ground by her. “I hardly see why that is so important a detail.”

“It is to me.”

“Everyone has to grow up someplace,” Charles said. “I would rather it had been someplace more exciting for me. India or Africa or the Caribbean would all have been better.”

“Do not let Cassandra hear you state your wish to travel to the Caribbean.” Jane frowned.

“No, of course not,” Charles said, lying back on the ground. “I am not stupid, Jane.”

“I did not say you were,” Jane said with a smirk. “You are my favorite of my younger brothers.”

“And you, Jane,”—Charles smiled in return—“are my favorite older sister named Jane.”

“It is a good arrangement.” Jane nodded, holding out her hand to Charles. He took it and rose to his feet.

“And you are my favorite sister with brown, curly hair.”

Jane did a little curtsy. “I thank you, sir. You are my favorite brother who is my height.”

“What a coincidence!” Charles said with a polite bow. “You are my favorite sister who is my height.”

They began walking again.

“Did I mention, Charles, that you are my favorite brother who is twelve?”

“You are my favorite sister who is forty.”

“I am not forty!”

Charles laughed.

“And it was such a pleasant game.” Jane sighed, looking up at the sun. “What time do you think it is?”

Charles eyed the sun as well. “Thirty minutes till noon.”

“We’ll keep walking. Show me that one path that you claimed no one knows about but you.”

“I will not. That is a secret. What are we doing here, Jane?” A louder whine entered Charles’ voice.

“Avoiding the apocalypse,” Jane said in a dark tone. “Avoiding the end of all things.”

“I would like to see that! Do you think there would be actual devils there?”

“You want to see a devil?”

“At least once, yes. I have heard so much about them recently.”

“That is true.” Jane laughed, recollecting the new Reverend’s sermon.

And, as if he was called by their conversation, in that instant Jane could see Mr. Blackwell approaching over a hill. Her plan had failed, and her own personal demon was approaching. She looked at her brother. “Not all devils come in red.”

Charles looked over in her direction, seeing Mr. Blackwell. “You do not mean Mr. Blackwell? He is far too boring to be evil.”

“Hush, Charles. He is to me. Protect me. Do not leave my side. If you leave me, he will do something most evil, worse than you can imagine.”

“What is that? Kill you? Maim you?”

“Propose.”

Charles glared in his direction. That was all he needed to hear.

“So you think I ought to refuse him, then?”

Charles did not reply for there was no need; the expression on his face at the thought was a clear enough message for Jane.

“Ah! Miss Austen! Master Austen! I have been looking for the both of you. Your mother thought you both might be out on a walk.”

Blackwell sounded already out of breath from the excursion.

Charles held his stick out as a drawn sword and stood in front of Jane. Mr. Blackwell seemed surprised to see Charles standing in such a manner.

“Is something wrong, Master Austen?”

Charles did not answer.

Mr. Blackwell looked to Jane for direction. She only shrugged.

“Could you give us some privacy, Master Charles?” Mr. Blackwell asked smugly.

“I cannot do that, sir,” Charles said, crossing his arms across his chest. “I have agreed to act as my sister’s escort on this hike. Only she can send me away.”

Jane could not have been prouder of Charles, but Mr. Blackwell was not to be undone so easily. “Will you leave if I give you a pound?” he asked.

“Rather!” Charles exclaimed quickly and handed his stick to Mr. Blackwell. The money was quickly exchanged and, before Jane could protest, her brother was running away down the trail towards town, waving back at her.

Jane had never been so disappointed with her brother Charles.

She was now alone with Mr. Blackwell. There was no excuse or escape possible for her. I will be calm, she thought. I will be mistress of myself. I will be polite and listen and then say no when asked.

“Will you take my arm?” Mr. Blackwell said in a most dignified manner.

Jane did so; it felt overly rude not to. They began to walk.

“I am uncertain if you have noticed, Miss Austen, but there is a matter of great importance to me that I have wished to speak to you on. It is for that reason that I have searched you out.”

Even though Jane already had a fair idea where this conversation was going, she decided it was best to pretend ignorance.

“I do not know what you mean, Mr. Blackwell. What could you have to speak to me alone about? We have spoken in private before.”

Mr. Blackwell rubbed his eyes, complained about the pollen in the air and the effect it had on his allergies, and then continued with the meat of the conversation. “It is a matter of quite some delicacy,” he said, “probably the most delicate—well, I would assume as much—that a conversation can be. Of course, it could be said that the planning of one’s funeral could be just as difficult.”

Jane did not know how to answer to that. Was he comparing his proposal to making funeral arrangements?


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About the Author

02_Scott D. Southard
Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is also the author of the novels: My Problem with Doors, Megan, Permanent Spring Showers, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, and 3 Days in Rome. With his eclectic writing he has found his way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master’s in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard” (http://sdsouthard.com) where he writes on far-ranging topics like writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his two patient children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.

You can find Scott on Facebook and Twitter.

A Shadow’s Kiss by Kirsten S. Blacketer

shadkiss

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Torn between duty and desire, a knight and his lady must decide if their love is worth the price of treason.

Madeline Campbell has been whisked away from her uncle’s barony to be reunited with her family in the Scottish Highlands. Her happy reunion quickly sours when she realizes her father intends to present her as a bride to the winner of the Highland Tournament. With no one to turn to for comfort or guidance, Madeline chooses to do her duty to her clan as well as her father and marry the winner.

An English knight has no place on Scottish soil, but Alexander must complete the mission with which he was tasked. Find Madeline and ensure her safety. When he finds her, he must decide between his honorable duty and his love for Madeline.

No one can deny their attraction and their desire for one another, but when it sparks jealousy in the other clansmen, they have no alternative but to run. Secrets emerge from the shadows of the past and threaten to tear their happiness apart. How can one choose between their duty and their heart?

Publisher and Release Date: Breathless Press, July 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: Medieval England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Vikki

This book picks up where An Irresistible Shadow ends, so it’s actually a continuation of that story. However, it isn’t necessary to read it before this book, although I would recommend it. I thoroughly enjoyed An Irresistible Shadow, and it is well worth the time it takes to read. Both books have some sterling moments that are sure to delight readers who enjoy a good medieval romance.

In A Shadow’s Kiss, Madeline Campbell’s brother, Angus, shows up during a tournament, takes her away and carries her back to her home in the Scottish Highlands. Her heart aches for the loss of her cousin Evelyn, her uncle and of course, Sir Alexander, the solemn English knight who rarely smiles, yet who has won her tender heart.

It has been ten years since Madeline left her home, and when she arrives her other brothers, her father and her ten year-old sister, Heather, are waiting on the steps of the castle to greet her. This is the first time she’s seen Heather since they lost their mother when the child was born. While she wants to embrace this sweet, lively girl it’s a bitter-sweet meeting.

Before she even has a chance to settle in, Madeline’s father tells her that he’s holding a tournament and that the victor of this event will win her hand in marriage. While she is outraged and feels that she is being used as a pawn in the political games of the highlands, she feels her duty belongs to her family and a marriage with one of her father’s rivals will hopefully bring peace between the clans.

Concerned when Madeline disappears during the Baron of Rayne’s tournament, her father sends Sir Alexander after her to make sure she is safe. When Alexander arrives at the castle, he meets Angus and he agrees to participate in the tournament in the hopes of winning Madeline’s hand. Every chance encounter ignites the passion between the couple, and their love for each other grows. Alexander is determined to win the tournament and marry his fair lady. When tempers get out of hand, the couple runs. Can their love survive, or will duty and honor keep them apart?

This story has plenty of plot twists, which kept me turning the pages. It’s a fast read with deep emotion and good character development, although I do wish Ms. Blacketer had included a few more historical details. For example. Robert the Bruce dies during her story, and she could have incorporated that with her framework. Personally, I like a bit more history intermingled with my romance. The other issue I have with this book is that some of the author’s terminology is way too modern.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the story and will probably read Angus’ book, which I’m sure is next in the series. Ms. Blacketer gives the reader just enough interesting details regarding Angus and his possible ladylove to keep her readers coming back for more.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Her Highland Hero by Terry Spear

Banner_ Her Highland Hero by Terry Spear

Lady Isobel is a Norman laird’s daughter, living near the Scots border where her father, Lord Pembroke, is trying to keep the peace. But her mother was a Highlander and the man Isobel loves most of all is Laird Marcus McEwan, who has been bringing news of her mother’s people for years. But now Isobel’s father wishes her wed to an English nobleman, who will carry on his title. Isobel will wed no other man but her heart’s desire—and that is one braw Highlander from her mother’s homeland.

Laird Marcus McEwan has loved the feisty lass forever. For years, Marcus has tried to convince Lord Pembroke to allow him to wed his daughter. But the Norman lord will not allow it. Then ambushes and murders make it too dangerous for Marcus to reach a peaceful resolution.

Nothing goes as planned and keeping the lass for his own is fraught with danger, as they try to determine who was behind the killings. Isobel and Marcus will do everything in their power to ensure they are together as they have always vowed they would be. 

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EXCERPT

Cover_ Her Highland Hero by Terry Spear“What ails you, lass?” he asked.

“I came here to be alone,” she said curtly.

He glanced back at his cousins. They both raised their brows at him, Rob motioning for him to pursue the issue.

“Isobel…”

“Go. Go,” she said brightly, flicking her hand in his direction, her back still to him, refusing to look at him. “I wish to be alone,” she repeated.

He knew it wasn’t so. Not when he’d seen how eager she was to see him. Not when he knew she’d come out just to greet him.

He drew close, smelled the fragrance of lavender and the hint of woman, felt the heat of her skin. Craved taking her into his arms and kissing her.

“What is the matter?” he asked, quietly.

When she didn’t answer, he touched her shoulder, but she quickly pulled away.

He frowned. “Isobel.” He grasped her arm and pulled her around so he could speak to her face to face, to see her expression and learn what was troubling her. Tears glistened in her eyes.

He felt as though a fist had struck him in the belly. He dragged her into his embrace, crushing her, holding her, not letting go, and even ignoring how her da’s knights would react.

Her arms went around his waist, and he knew then he’d upset her somehow. “What is wrong?”

She didn’t say, or couldn’t. Rob was right. Figuring out what a woman wanted was nigh to impossible. Still holding her tight against him, Marcus lifted her chin. “Tell me.”

Her eyes were so incredibly blue, her dark brown hair falling over her shoulders in a cascade of silken curls, her mouth full and moist and wanting.

He kissed her, like he’d vowed never to do.

THE AUTHOR WILL BE GIVING AWAY FIVE COPIES OF HER HIGHLAND HERO TO WINNERS CHOSEN THROUGHOUT THE TOUR. FOR A CHANCE TO WIN, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tspearUSA Today Bestseller, TERRY SPEAR writes urban fantasy and Highland medieval romance: hot wolves, jaguar shifters, medieval Highlanders and lots more. She also pens young adult paranormal romance. She has over fifty paranormal books to her name, earned Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of the Year, and has been featured in The International Wolf Magazine, Woman’s World and BGS Book Review Magazine. She creates award-winning teddy bears in the heart of Texas and gardens. She retired from USAR after rappelling, mountain climbing, learning water survival, qualifying with a number of firearms, survived the obstacle courses, leadership reaction courses and confidences courses – and knows if she can do it, her characters can overcome any obstacle she puts in their path.

You can connect with Terry: Website * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads