The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman

the devil you know

WHAT HE DOESN’T KNOW . . .

After a horse drags him through the countryside, Israel McKenna awakes bruised and battered in a field in Pancake Valley, Colorado. He can recall where he came from and where he was going, but the memory of how he came to be on the Pancake homestead eludes him. He’s certain he did something wrong to deserve such a harsh punishment—and so is the beautiful woman who reluctantly comes to his aid.

. . . COULD HURT HER.

Wilhelmina “Willa” Pancake must focus on running her family’s ranch. With Israel’s hazy memory, she is unsure if she can trust him, let alone handle the budding attraction between them. And as men fight to steal her land and the truth about Israel’s past rides toward them, love is a risk she cannot easily take.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley 3 May, 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Colorado, 1891
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

What she finally acknowledged, reluctantly and unhappily, was that Israel McKenna reminded her she was a woman.

Israel McKenna awakes half-dead on land owned by the Pancake family in Colorado. His hands have been tied and he’s been dragged through the countryside and left for dead. Lucky for him he’s discovered by young Annalea Pancake who raises the alarm. Brought back to the homestead and nursed back to health by Wilhelmina (Willa), Annalea’s older sister, Israel gradually recovers physically, but part of his memory remains elusively out of reach. He can remember leaving Chicago, but nothing between then and being found. And not what happened to him, who did it or why.

At twenty-four years-old, Willa is on the shelf. Not that she hasn’t had offers, but between running the ranch, raising Annalea, and keeping her father out of jail and the saloon, she has her hands full. Due to his hazy memory, Israel doesn’t really know why or how he ended up on Pancake land, except that someone wanted him dead. He also knows instinctively that he’s not a good and honourable man. But as he spends time at the ranch, he earns the trust and respect of Willa’s family and those who work there. Initially wary, Willa begins to see that Israel may be more than just a handsome face and broad set of shoulders.

Set in Colorado in 1891, the story brings together the hardworking and responsible Willa Pancake and the self-proscribed villain and liar, Israel McKenna. Known for her slow-paced, character-driven romances, Jo Goodman once again gives readers a study of personality and what motivates a man (and woman) and how their upbringings mould and influence the people they become. Readers who like a faster pace or more action may get impatient, but one of the joys of Ms Goodman’s writing is the slow unravelling of not just the plot, but the characters. Her villains likewise, are not the standard, one-dimensional cutouts. Malcolm Barber and his son, Eli whose land adjoins the Pancakes, are nuanced characters.

The Devil You Know is a companion novel to last year’s title This Gun for Hire, which featured Israel’s younger brother, Quill. We catch up with Quill and his wife, Calico – bounty hunter of some repute – who go searching for Israel after not hearing from him.

I have only one issue with this story, and it’s the same one I always seem to have with this author’s titles. Contractions. Or the lack of them, in both the narrative and dialogue. I don’t know whether it’s simply because I read ARCs of her books, or maybe that’s how people spoke back then and that’s what she’s wanting to convey. But the lack of contractions lends a formality to the story that often comes off as stilted and lacking the naturalness of everyday speech.

That minor quibble aside, The Devil You Know is another fine read from Ms Goodman, one of the top authors currently writing western historical romances. With some unexpected turns and surprises unleashed along the way, this is a recommended read for fans of western romances.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Temptations of a Wallflower (Wicked Quills of London #3) by Eva Leigh

VT-TemptationsofAWallflower-ELeigh_FINAL

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In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.

Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?

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EXCERPT

Now it was her turn to laugh. “I’m hardly enviable, Mr. Cleland.”

His expression shifted to thoughtfulness. “I wonder why you might say that.”

“I have…everything a woman could want,” she acknowledged, matching her stride to his.

“Such as?”

“Wealth, position. If there’s a material thing that I desire, I simply have to ask, and it’s mine.” She shook her
head. “And I’m grateful for these things. I truly am. And yet…”

“And yet…?” he prompted gently.

“It comes at a high price,” she admitted.

“What is that price?”

She considered this. Never before had she spoken so openly to anyone. Not her friends, or her family. But here, now, to be with this man, and to consider the foundations of her life, was both odd and deeply right. At last, she said, “Freedom.”

He contemplated her perceptively. “Must be very restricting,” he murmured. “The responsibilities of your position in society. Not to mention the fact that you’re a woman.” He blushed a little at that word.

It was a charming—but also gently erotic—blush. Her own cheeks warmed.

He continued, “You haven’t the liberty that a man in your place might have.”

“Indeed, no.” She gave a small, strained laugh. “You must think me dreadful to take issue with my admittedly fortunate circumstance.”

He fell briefly silent. “I know a little about having one’s role be predetermined.” They stopped walking, and she gazed up at him. Cool sunlight carved hollows in his cheeks and gilded his eyelashes. “Being a vicar means I must be a model to everyone in my parish. I have to be more pious, more humble, more self-sacrificing. I have to be better at everything while also being deferential. I certainly cannot admit to being an ordinary human man.”

Their gazes held at that word, man. Awareness of him sizzled. His height, his physicality. That suppressed desire. Her own body warmed in response.

She tiled her head to one side, imagining what it must be like to live such a restrained life. “Sounds exhausting.”

“Not unlike being a duke’s daughter, I imagine.” He smiled at her, and that lush warmth continued to gathered through her.

“I never would have thought I’d have much in common with a vicar,” she said with a laugh.

“Nor I with you,” he answered, his smile softening. “But here we are, in this garden.”

“So we are.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

We were briefly introduced to vicar Jeremy Cleland and the “Watching Wallflower,” Sarah Frampton, in Scandal Takes the Stage, and I couldn’t wait to see how Eva Leigh would bring these characters together and the Wicked Quills of London series to a close. As the third son of England’s most moral and upstanding earl, Jeremy was destined for a life in the church from a young age, though it would not have been his chosen profession. But he’s fairly happy helping his parishioners, though he is a tad lonely and an awful lot of – ahem – randy. When his libertine cousin gives him a copy of The Highwayman’s Seduction by the infamous Lady of Dubious Quality, he becomes hooked, seeking out all of her books and keeping them stashed under his bed. So when his father calls him to London with a mission of utmost importance, to find out who the Lady of Dubious Quality is so he can cease the publication of her books and publicly shame the woman he thinks is ruining the country’s moral fiber, Jeremy is conflicted. But with the threat of disinheritance hanging over him, he agrees to take on the task.

Sarah Frampton, daughter of the Duke of Wakefield, is firmly on the shelf, and she likes it that way. While the rest of the ton pokes fun at her by calling her the Watching Wallflower, little do they know how closely she’s really watching, and all in the name of inspiration and fodder for her popular erotic novels, written anonymously as the Lady of Dubious Quality. Her clandestine occupation gives her a sense of purpose and more than a little thrill, even knowing that her life could come crashing down around her if her identity is ever revealed. Though she longs to experience the sensuality she writes about for herself, she knows she will not be content to marry for anything other than love. So she is stunned when she meets Jeremy and not only do sparks fly, but she finds her heart responding to the genuine kindness and interest he shows her and imagines what life might be like if only a duke’s daughter could marry a vicar. But as her relationship with Jeremy deepens, disaster looms. She learns someone is determined to unmask the Lady of Dubious Quality, and despite all of her careful precautions, they are getting too close to the truth. She decides marriage could be the only way to soften the scandal if the hammer does fall, and who better for a husband than the man she is falling in love with? But can these two people from such different backgrounds really make a marriage work? And what will happen when they each learn the other’s devastating secret?

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Forever Your Earl, but the second book was much less fun. Given the initial setup of this third and final book, I was really hoping the series would end on a sizzling high note. But for me, this started off pretty slowly, picked up for a while in the middle, and then fizzled out again toward the end. I had higher expectations for a romance between a country vicar and a highborn erotic writer. While the story is definitely sexy, the romance is much sweeter, and there is absolutely none of the wit and contentiousness that marked the relationships in the other books. And I missed that.

There are a couple of other aspects that kept me from rating the book more highly. We don’t learn how Sarah became the Lady of Dubious Quality until the end of the book, and I had so many questions; What inspired her and emboldened her to pick up her quill and write a racy story? Then what emboldened her to submit it to a publisher? How did she feel when she first started out? How did she feel when her books became popular? If it is so dangerous for her, if the mere thought that someone might find out who she is sends her into a panic, if she’s so sure her life and her family will be ruined, why does she do it? I asked those questions early on, and if I’d had the answers then, I think I would have found her situation more believable. And if you’re thinking the premise of an earl asking his third son, the only one who is a vicar, to be the one to traipse all over the seedier side of London to ferret out the Lady of Dubious Quality doesn’t make a lot of sense, I agree. And I found the earl’s subsequent behavior to be rather irrational and over-the-top.

I really liked Jeremy’s character, and I found his struggle to reconcile his innate sexuality with his religious position and societal expectations to be very realistic. And he is super sweet to Sarah. The way he defends her and encourages her, praises her and reveres her, had my heart smiling on more than one occasion. But I just couldn’t help but feel like I needed more from this story, especially once they discover each other’s secrets. Many other reviewers are singing the book’s praises, so it may just be me left feeing dissatisfied. If you’ve read the other books in the series, of course you’ve got to read The Wallflower’s Temptation to see how it all ends, but the first book, Forever Your Earl, will remain my favorite.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eva LeighEVA LEIGH is the pen name of a RITA® Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from the ‘80s. Eva and her husband live in Central California.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Steelheart by Kathryn Le Veque

steelheart

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1192 A.D. – David de Lohr, the younger brother of the great Christopher de Lohr (RISE OF THE DEFENDER), is a man who has lived his entire life in his prestigious older brother’s shadow. While his brother was nicknamed “The Lion’s Claw” as the right hand of Richard the Lionheart, David was nicknamed “The Lion Cub” because of his youth.

But David is a force to be reckoned with. Lightning-fast with a sword, he is a knight of the highest order and worthy of his own great legacy. And so, the story of David de Lohr, the knight with the heart of steel, begins.

Newly returned from the Holy Land where he fought with the Christian armies, David returns to find that England is perhaps more dangerous that the sands of The Levant. At a grand tournament given by Richard’s brother, John, David finds himself entrenched in the danger of the politics of England. Mercenaries hired by the prince are posing as legitimate knights, trying to kill those loyal to Richard.

News of Richard’s disappearance on his way home from the Holy Land only feeds John’s lust for the throne. As he brings a mercenary army to England’s shores, David and his brother must combat this tide of evil. Politics and mayhem follow David wherever he goes.

But what David didn’t count on was the introduction of a lovely young woman, the daughter of the Earl of Canterbury. Casually acquainted at first, David must save Emilie Hampton from the prince’s clutches not once but several times, throwing Emilie and David together again and again. Emilie makes her feelings for David known but David, the confirmed bachelor, is terrified of his feelings for her. As the fight for Richard’s throne gains in intensity, David finds himself increasingly distracted by the lovely lady who has stolen his heart.

It’s politics, mystery, passion, and chaos for David and Emilie as they try to find their way in a world that would see the two lovers torn apart.

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EXCERPT

Emilie had lived in castles her entire life, with military capabilities, but she’d never been this close to a knight who was dressing. It was very interesting to watch and very intimate. Somehow, she felt closer to David than even when she’d given him her favor. She was seeing the man on an entirely different level now, in his natural state, preparing for war. In this case, even though it was a competition, she knew that it would be a battle.

This day had shown her that there was a fine line between an enemy and an ally, and even men under the guise of pleasantries were not to be trusted. She’d learned that all too quickly. All was not as it seemed in the upper hierarchy of the royal court. As David and his squires worked, a soldier came into the tent to bring her hot wine, which she accepted gratefully.

“I am sorry I do not have much more to offer by way of comfort,” David said when he noticed the soldier hand her the hot wine. “I had to have my men hold that cup over the fire to warm the wine so it is likely to be quite hot.”

Emilie grinned as she held the pewter cup with the blanket. “I have quickly learned that,” she said. “I am very grateful for your hospitality, my lord.”

David gave her a half-smile, his gaze lingering on her blonde head as she sipped at the liquid. He hadn’t spoken to her much since he’d brought her back, mostly because he assumed she was too distraught to speak, but her state of mind seemed improved as she gingerly slurped the wine. He thought it might be a good time to find out what, exactly, had happened.

“It is my pleasure,” he said. He hesitated a moment before continuing. “Do you feel strong enough to tell me what happened with the sheriff? I should probably know since I am risking my life to protect you from him. Tell me of the wonderfully terrible thing you did to him that made him chase you into hiding.”

He was smiling as he said it and Emilie laughed softly; it wasn’t as if there was really much to laugh about but David’s attempt at humor made her feel better about it, as if it were not as serious and horrible as she thought it was. She knew the man would protect her until the death and that thought alone made her feel braver.

It also made her like him even that much more, a feeling that had, long ago, passed from something simple into something that was far more of a deep infatuation. Coming to her aid as he had and carrying her off to safety had somewhat marked the man for life as a hero in her eyes.

A hero she was coming to very much long for.

“It all happened rather fast,” she said, thinking back. “Nathalie and I went to the food vendors to find something to eat.”

“Nathalie?”

“My sister.”

“I see. Continue, please.”

She did. “As we were standing in front of a vendor who sold some kind of meat pie, a soldier addressed me,” she said. “When I turned around, there were several soldiers standing behind me and a man who introduced himself as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He told me that the prince wanted to meet with me privately and when I declined, he grabbed me and tried to force me to go with him. I panicked, hit him, and ran away. And that is really all there is to it.”

David’s features were grim by the time she was finished. He sighed heavily. “You are not the first young woman he has done that to,” he said. “But I would wager to say you are one of the very few that had the sense to fight back. I applaud you, my lady. You showed remarkable bravery.”

Emilie lifted her eyebrows. “I am not sure I see it that way,” she said. “All I know was that I was frightened and I remembered what you said about him. I could not let him take me, my lord. I could not make it that easy for him.”

David was looking at her until the big squire had him bend over so he could put the hauberk on his head and shoulders. David’s voice was muffled as the mail went over his face. “You did exactly what you were supposed to do,” he said. “Fitz Walter does not like to be denied. His only issue with you is a damaged ego and nothing more. But from this point on, you must remain with me or your father or another trusted man who can bear arms and protect you. I fear that the sheriff might see the capture of you as a game now, one he intends to win. The hunter does not usually let his prey go so easily.”

Emilie’s pale face tightened in alarm. “He views me as prey now?”

David stood up as the big squire straightened out his mail hood. “More than likely,” he said. “But have no fear; I will change his mind.”

She smiled at him, something of a besotted gesture. “Thank you, my lord,” she said. “Since you and I have met, you have gone out of your way to protect me. You will never know how grateful I am.”

Something warm was in the air, something that made David’s heart race. Emilie seemed to have that capability with him and he was both annoyed by it and thrilled by it. He didn’t like it that a woman should make him feel as giddy as Emilie had made him feel, but the more time he spent with her, the more he was coming to not particularly mind that special power she had over him. If he was honest with himself, he really didn’t mind it at all. All he knew was that something about the woman affected him and it was difficult to fight it. He wasn’t sure he should try.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to try.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kathryn le veque 2KATHRYN LE VEQUE is a USA TODAY Bestselling author, an Amazon All-Star author, and a #1 bestselling, award-winning, multi-published author in Medieval Historical Romance and Historical Fiction. She has been featured in the NEW YORK TIMES and on USA TODAY’s HEA blog. In March 2015, Kathryn was the featured cover story for the March issue of InD’Tale Magazine, the premier Indie author magazine. She is also a quadruple nominee (a record!) for the prestigious RONE awards for 2015.

Kathryn’s Medieval Romance novels have been called ‘detailed’, ‘highly romantic’, and ‘character-rich’. She crafts great adventures of love, battles, passion, and romance in the High Middle Ages. More than that, she writes for both women AND men – an unusual crossover for a romance author – and Kathryn has many male readers who enjoy her stories because of the male perspective, the action, and the adventure.

On October 29, 2015, Amazon launched Kathryn’s Kindle Worlds Fan Fiction site WORLD OF DE WOLFE PACK. Please visit Kindle Worlds for Kathryn Le Veque’s World of de Wolfe Pack and find many action-packed adventures written by some of the top authors in their genre using Kathryn’s characters from the de Wolfe Pack series. As Kindle World’s FIRST Historical Romance fan fiction world, Kathryn Le Veque’s World of de Wolfe Pack will contain all of the great story-telling you have come to expect.

Kathryn loves to hear from her readers. Please find Kathryn on Facebook, or join her on Twitter @kathrynleveque, and don’t forget to visit her website at www.kathrynleveque.com.

How I Married a Marquess (The Secret Life of Scoundrels #3) by Anna Harrington

How I Married a Marquess
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A SHOCKING DECEPTION . . .
Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that’s where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . .

. . . LEADS TO AN EXQUISITE SEDUCTION
Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney’s game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who’s been robbing London’s rich and powerful. He’s no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won’t rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever (April 26, 2016)

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Lincolnshire, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Sara

From the book description of How I Married a Marquess I should have enjoyed this story much more than I did. All of the elements I expected were there; a strong heroine seeking justice for the unfortunate, a hero trying to reorder his life after a devastating injury and love bringing the two of them together against a common enemy. As a whole the book was good, with a fast pace that made it a quick read; however when I look closer at the story I can see the small flaws that kept me from rating it higher.

The story opens up a year after the events of the previous book Along Came a Rogue and Lord Thomas Matteson is still recovering from the gunshot wound that almost killed him. The injury and the long rehabilitation have taken Thomas away from the work he loves as a spy for the Home Office, and unfortunately his superiors feel that Thomas has lost his nerve and have quietly dismissed him from service. Grasping at any chance to get back in the game Thomas accepts a job from his father’s close friend Lord Royston to investigate and capture a highwayman who’s been plaguing the roads around his property. If Thomas can handle the job quickly and quietly, Lord Royston will use his clout to have Thomas reinstated as an agent.

Using Royston’s house party as a cover, Thomas hopes to get the lay of the land and ferret out people who might be helping the highwayman. What he doesn’t count on is catching the eye of a young woman who stands out against all the other guests and who charms him with her wit and a sweet disposition that is absent from the women of London. Miss Josephine Carlisle intrigues Thomas from the beginning and makes him feel more emotion in an innocent night dancing than he had seducing the most experienced women of the ton. Not wanting to let that feeling escape him, Thomas makes it his secondary mission to learn why a woman like Josephine affects him so much.

Allowing a man like Thomas too close is dangerous for Josie, especially when she learns of his task to capture the local highwayman. Josie’s position in local society is already tenuous as the adopted daughter of the Carlisle family but she jeopardizes even that reputation by playing Robin Hood to gather funds for the orphanage run by Lord Royston. She knows there is an ulterior motive to Royston’s patronage but she has nothing to prove it other than servant’s gossip and her own instinct. The more Thomas pushes to know her, the harder it is for Josie to hide that side of herself, even when her heart wants to trust him with everything.

Josie’s struggle with her identity did help me empathize with her choice to risk so much to do what is right. No matter how much love her family gave her, she always tempered it with the reality that as an adopted daughter, society would always see her as lacking. Her compassion for the children at the orphanage overrides her common sense sometimes, but ultimately her motivation and heart are leading her in the right direction. Where Thomas can only see the Right/Wrong of the highwayman’s actions, Josie challenges him to see there are shades of grey and that the real villain might not be the one he was initially sent to find.

There is a lot of give and take in Thomas and Josie’s relationship; with her giving so much of herself and him taking it. It seems that no matter how deeply Thomas feels for Josie he holds a part of himself back from her. This is difficult to accept as romantic, since she opens herself so freely. Thomas wasn’t damaged enough for me to believe that he needed that all-forgiving love without understanding how to reciprocate it. He just comes across as selfish. His need to have purpose again and his drive to prove himself no matter the cost blinds him to what his actions are doing to Josie. She is torn between her own needs and desires yet he always minimizes that struggle in favor of what he can get from her physically or emotionally.

Overall. I believe that Anna Harrington is a great new voice in Historical Romance but How I Married a Marquess isn’t as strong as the first two books of the Secret Life of Scoundrels series. Even so, I still recommend the series as a whole and look forward to what the author will come up with next.

To Lure a Proper Lady (Duke Defying Daughters #1) by Ashlyn Macnamara

to lure a proper lady

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When Lady Elizabeth Wilde and her sisters are summoned once again to their chronically anxious father’s deathbed, she’s shocked to find that his worries are at last justified. He’s terribly ill, and Lizzie suspects poison. But when she seeks help from the Bow Street Runners, her request is answered by a rough-hewn rogue known only as Dysart. Though his irreverent charm by turns shocks and captivates her, a man of Dysart’s background is an altogether inappropriate choice for a duke’s daughter—isn’t he?

Although Dysart has his reasons to disdain polite society, the promise of supplemental income from a noble’s coffers is too tempting to deny. But if Dysart means to apprehend the culprit who poisoned the duke, he’ll need to avoid any and all distractions—like the delicious swish of Lady Elizabeth’s hips. Yet as the investigation begins to unearth secrets he’d rather remain hidden, Dysart must decide at a moment’s notice whether to hold Elizabeth at arm’s length . . . or pull her dangerously close.

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Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1822, Suffolk and London, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

The Duke of Sherrington is a valetudinarian (that’s Regency-speak for hypochondriac) who wants to see his three daughters wed before he shuffles off this mortal coil. Hence, his insistence that their annual house party take place, in hopes that some eligible gentlemen will help fulfil his wish.

Lady Elizabeth Wilde, (Lizzie) the eldest daughter, is shocked by her father’s sudden change in condition and begins to suspect that someone may be poisoning him. Intrepid Lady Elizabeth takes herself off to Bow Street to hire a runner, and there she encounters Dysart (no first name), lounging on the pavement smoking a cheroot. He happens to be the only runner available at the moment, so Lizzie engages him. Despite his scruffy appearance and insolent manner, Dysart knows something about high society, so the plan is for him to join the house party as a guest, using a pseudonym and some concocted connections to the duke.

From the moment Dysart joins Lizzie for the carriage ride to Suffolk, sparks are flying, but neither one of them will acknowledge it. I knew that I would love Dysart when I read this exchange:

“I am Lady Elizabeth Wilde.” . . .

“Are ye now?”

“Am I what?”

“Wild.”

The maid let out a gasp.

Dysart is an enigma. He can drop his Bow Street accent and smart-arse attitude to converse like a gentlemen in a flash. He apparently has a gentleman’s wardrobe, for no mention is made of him being dressed inappropriately. He knows which fork to use. One of the guests, a nasty piece of work named Pendleton, even recognizes him and calls him “Gus.” Dysart, however, has the goods on Pendleton and threatens him with exposure to keep him silent. He roams the house at all hours investigating and he suspects everyone. From time to time, we see Dysart’s inner bad boy make an appearance; Lizzie sees it too, and she likes it.

But Lizzie does not want to like it; Dysart is completely unsuitable for a duke’s daughter. Besides, she is expected to marry her second cousin Snowley, her father’s fussy, fastidious heir. The thought of intimacy with him makes her shudder, but she must consider the possibility; it is her father’s fondest wish, and Lizzie is a dutiful daughter. Along with being dutiful, however, Lizzie is strong, intelligent, and brave. Due to her father’s years of illness, she is the de facto head of the household and is a substitute mother to her two younger sisters. While Lizzie is a modern character in some ways, Ashlyn Macnamara does an excellent job making her a woman of her time, although I must say that Lizzie is a good deal bolder in carnal matters that one would expect of a gently bred young lady. The sexual tension between her and Dysart is so palpable, though, that she might be forgiven her indiscretions.

Although there are plenty of secondary characters, some of whom are just there to set up the rest of the series, Dysart is the star of this book. He is taciturn, moody, clever, gallant, and hot as coals of glowing fire. (Fans of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series might be reminded Brisbane from time to time!) Clearly, he has a past, which he gradually shares with Lizzie as the investigation draws them closer; and the events of that past demonstrate just what a noble soul lies beneath the rough exterior.

Although the mystery was unexciting (until the surprisingly thrilling ending), I thoroughly enjoyed To Lure a Proper Lady and added a star to my rating just for Dysart. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

The Earl Takes All (Hellions of Havisham Hall #2) by Lorraine Heath

the earl takes all

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One summer night, Edward Alcott gives in to temptation and kisses Lady Julia Kenney in a dark garden. However, the passion she stirs within him is best left in the shadows as she weds his twin, the Earl of Greyling. But when tragedy strikes, to honor the vow he makes to his dying brother, Edward must pretend to be Greyling until the countess delivers her babe.

After her husband returns from a two-month sojourn, Julia finds him changed. Bolder, more daring, and more wicked—even if he does limit their encounters to kisses. With each passing day, she falls more deeply in love.

For Edward the embers of desire sparked on that long-ago night are quickly rekindled. He yearns to be her husband in truth. But if she discovers his ruse, she will despise him—and English law prevents him from marrying his brother’s widow. Yet he must dare to risk everything and reveal his secrets if he is to truly take all.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon 26 April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1878
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

Be me, he’d gasped. Be me.

Edward Alcott and his twin brother, Albert had always been there for each other. Orphaned at seven, they’d gone to live with the Marquess of Marsden, where they’d been raised with the marquess’s son, and another boy, the future Duke of Ashebury. The four had been not just friends, but brothers.

When Albert started courting Lady Julia Kenney, Edward felt that she was stealing Albert away from him. The brothers had always been together and Edward resented the intrusion into their relationship. One evening Edward had recklessly and stupidly kissed Julia allowing her to think he was his brother. When she realised what he had done, Julia barely tolerated Edward, and then only for the sake of Albert.

Some years later, Albert and Julia are happily married, and even though Julia is pregnant, Albert agrees to accompany Edward on one last adventure before his baby is born. But it all goes horribly wrong and Albert is killed. With his dying breath he asks Edward to take his place and pretend to be him, fearing that the shock of hearing of his death may cause Julia to miscarry. So Edward promises Albert he will give Julia every chance to carry the baby to term. It’s just a few weeks of deception which will end when the baby is was born.

Lorraine Heath writes great sexual tension, allowing readers to see the unfolding romance. This is a difficult premise to sell to readers where the better, more likable twin is killed off, but Ms Heath manages to do just that. However, given the plot, I suspect there will be a few readers who aren’t going to get on board, regardless of the deft handling by the author.

Some readers may resent that the ‘good’ twin was killed off, and the selfish, irresponsible, whoring twin becomes the hero. And now we can add deceitful and lying to the other adjectives to describe Edward. Given the major deception that Edward perpetrates against Julia, it would be easy to dismiss him for the cad he appeared to be in the previous book. But he finds himself between a rock and hard place: His beloved, dying brother asked him to do this. And given that Julia had previously miscarried, how could he possibly refuse?

As Edward and Julia’s relationship progresses – and she remains unaware that Edward has ‘become’ Albert – Edward realises that the Countess of Greyling is not the prim and proper lady she has always appeared to be. Julia, despite her real sadness at losing her brother-in-law (supposedly), is happy to have her husband back with her safe and sound. And continues to fall even more deeply in love with him. Until it all hits the fan.

You do have to suspend disbelief to imagine that Julia wouldn’t recognise that her returned husband is not really her brother-in-law. A wife would surely be able to tell her husband from his twin, even if they are very similar. But this is romantic fiction, so I can buy it.

We also catch up with Ashe and Minerva from book #1 Falling Into Bed with a Duke. The Epilogue is lovely, and do read the informative Author’s Note at the end, in which Ms Heath explains the difficulties of some of the plot issues, given the era.

The Earl Takes All is an emotional read. Ms Heath takes a risk with a difficult plot, but handles it with aplomb.

SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: A Scandalous Proposal (The Little Season #2) by Kasey Michaels

A Scandalous Proposal

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Who would have thought a man could tire of being fawned over and flirted with? Ever since Cooper Townsend returned from France as a hero with a new title, he has been relentlessly pursued by every marriageable miss in London. Perhaps that’s why the unconventional Miss Daniella Foster is so appealing. She doesn’t simper or flatter. She only wants him to help unmask her sister’s blackmailer, and Coop has never been so intrigued…

Let every other woman in London fight over His Lordship’s romantic attentions. Marriage is the last thing on Dany’s mind…at least until she samples his illicit kisses. Now, as a mutual enemy races to ruin Coop’s reputation and Dany’s family name, an engagement of convenience will spark an unlikely passion that might save them both.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN Books, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting:
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Sara

In A Scandalous Proposal, fame isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

At least that’s what Lord Cooper Townsend comes to find when he becomes the darling of the ton after the release of two stories of his heroics in France. These highly exaggerated tales of his time fighting Napoléon and saving widows and children from the French army have made it impossible for Cooper to go anywhere without being mobbed. His popularity has become a joke to his friends but is much more of a nuisance to Cooper, especially as the anonymous author of the pamphlets has hinted at knowledge of events that no one but Cooper and a select few should know. Those small hints, hidden in the pages of both stories, become threats that all will be revealed in a third and final story that could ruin not only Cooper but also highly placed members of society unless he pays to keep the author silent. Unable to risk exposure, Cooper begins an investigation to find the blackmailer and keep them from ever publishing again.

Cooper is not the only member of the ton facing ruin at the hands of a blackmailer. Lady Cockermouth made the foolish mistake to trust that a correspondence with a secret admirer would remain secret. With the threat of her secrets being exposed to her husband or the gossips in town, Lady Marietta shuts down emotionally and it’s up to her younger sister Daniella Foster to take up the fight. Unfortunately Dany is young and in over her head. What she really needs is a hero who will help her track down the blackmailer; and her prayer is seemingly answered when she literally runs into Cooper Townsend and finds a way to enlist him to her cause.

A story like A Scandalous Proposal reads almost like it was ripped from today’s entertainment news feeds. People love to build up celebrities but also love to watch them get caught in scandals of their own making. Cooper’s instant celebrity comes with a high price; his privacy is taken from him and his life is instantly under a microscope. Meeting Dany and falling for her is refreshing to Cooper because she is unmotivated by his new rank or his exploits while a soldier. She only knows him for who he is, and as they learn about each other she cares only for the man he will be once his celebrity has died down.

Where the story loses a bit of its charm is in how unnecessarily complicated the blackmailing plot becomes. I was disappointed when the motivation behind the blackmail was revealed because it was quite anticlimactic and served only as one giant plot device to put Dany and Cooper together when their normal circumstances wouldn’t have. Even the explanation of what Cooper was protecting didn’t have the gravity it needed to help readers understand why he’d risk everything to keep the blackmailer quiet.

I think some of the problems just come from Ms. Michaels’ style of writing. Her characters carry on long conversations full of parries, jabs, innuendos and other details to move things along and it’s a wonder any of them can catch their breath! Some of these scenes work beautifully to show the relationship between characters, from the friendly teasing of Cooper’s best friends to the relationship between Dany and her sister. However in other scenes. similar conversations are so overloaded with banter that pertinent information gets lost. There needed to be more quiet moments for Cooper and Dany to just reflect and feel for each other rather than having to constantly express themselves.

When the dialog isn’t weighing it down, A Scandalous Proposal is a light and enjoyable story, and in spite of that reservation, I’ll be looking forward to the next book of the The Little Season series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kaseymichaelsKasey Michaels is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 110 books (she doesn’t count them). Kasey has received four coveted Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, three for historical romance, The Secrets of the Heart, The Butler Did It, and A Gentleman By Any Other Name, and for the contemporary romance Love To Love You Baby. She is a recipient of the RITA, a Waldenbooks and Bookrak Bestseller award, and many awards from Romantic Times magazine, including a Career Achievement award for her Regency era historical romances. She is an Honor Roll author in Romance Writers of America, Inc. (RWA), and is a past president of Novelists, Inc. (NINC), the only international writers organization devoted solely to the needs of multi-published authors.

Kasey has written Regency romances, Regency historicals, category books including novellas and continuities and a few series “launch” books, and single title contemporaries. She has coped with time travel, ghosts, trilogies, the dark side, the very light side, and just about everything in between. Hers is also the twisted mind behind her ongoing Maggie Kelly mystery series starring a former romance writer turned historical mystery writer whose gorgeous hunk of a fictional hero shows up, live and in color, in her Manhattan living room – to melt her knees, to help her solve murders, and to leave the top off her toothpaste. And, says Kasey, she’s just getting started!

Find Kasey at <a href=www.kaseymichaels.com>kaseymichaels.com</a> and on <a href=https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKaseyMichaels>Facebook</a>.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Privateer’s Princess by Gail MacMillan

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Captain Caleb Cameron and First Mate Duncan MacDougal need money to set themselves up as legitimate privateers during the war between the British and the new United States of America. With the prizes they’ll conquer, they will be rich, so they risk the noose and accept a large sum to shanghai a princess and her lady’s maid. What they get is a pair of brazen, notorious women who will stop at nothing to get what they desire.

Annie Puddin, lady’s maid, has had adventures, riding as highwayman’s assistant by night, learning how to be a lady by day. So when she and her friend Ginny, a housemaid, spend an evening dressing up in the absence of their new mistress and dreaming of being rich, the champagne and caviar are nothing unusual—but being snatched and tossed out the window is a new experience, and there are more to come.

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EXCERPT

“Bloody hell, Cal! You’re telling me we’ve kidnapped a princess?” Duncan MacDougal leaped to his feet and stood glaring down at his friend. “God in heaven, man, can you imagine the penalty? Hanging will be the best we can expect.”

The captain, settled in the chair behind his desk in his cabin, looked up at the irate Scotsman looming over him. The Jenny Jones was far out to sea, blown before the gale that had been rising as they fled the manor house. He’d deliberately waited until they were well away to reveal the true identities of their passengers.

“If I’d told you one of them was royalty, would you have gone along with the plan?” He narrowed his eyes as he looked up at his first mate.

“Of course not! I have a fondness for my neck just as it is.” Duncan ran a hand through his tangled, sandy-colored curls. “Guid God, we’ve kidnapped a princess!”

“Not kidnapped…shanghaied.” Captain Cameron stood and went to a sideboard that held several flasks and tankards. “There will be no ransom demands. They’ll work their passage as any victims of press gangs would. Once we reach New Brunswick, we’ll deposit the pair of them in a convent. I’ve no desire to keep those creatures in my possession any longer than necessary. Then we’ll head for Saint John, New Brunswick, to outfit this vessel for wartime duty.”

He rolled his shoulders in an effort to relax their stiffness and felt a catch where the one he’d carried had twisted his flesh.
“Whisky?” He held up the flask.

“After what you’ve told me, I doubt you’ve enough spirits on this vessel to calm my nerves, but yes. I’ll be taking a fair guid dram.” Duncan MacDougall sank into a chair.

“Who did you think we’d be bringing unwillingly on this voyage?” Caleb poured a hefty measure into a mug and handed it to his mate. “I told you my friend the Duke of Haverbrook wanted rid of a couple of women who knew too much about his intended.”

“Aye, well, knowing the intelligence of his Grace and his proclivity for buxom women, I thought they were a couple of wenches he’d gotten in a family way and wanted placed in the care of nuns rather than have them thrown out into the streets to fend for themselves. That story you told me about a pair of lassies who knew too much about his intended didn’t hold water. I’ve come to get pretty fair at recognizing when you’re lying, Captain Cameron.”

“Two of them in a family way? Willie’s a horny little toad, but that’s expecting a lot even of him. Sound sensible, man.”

“Perhaps he and a friend could have gotten the two of them with buns in the oven? I don’t know, Cal.” He took a swallow of whisky and bared his teeth. “I never thought you’d do anything as daft as kidnapping a princess.”

“I repeat, shanghaied.”

“Shanghaied implies persons abducted to work their passage, then released. You received payment for this venture, a sizeable payment if it’s to be enough to outfit this ship as a privateer. It may not have been an actual ransom, but…”

“Dunc, listen to me. No one gets hurt. We deliver the women to a convent, where they’ll be well cared for by the good sisters. Once the nuns learn the princess’s identity, they’ll no doubt try to contact people back in England. By that time, Willie will be well and truly married to that trollop Lizzie.”

“Well, then, I guess there’s nothing to be done but to get on with it.” Duncan MacDougal heaved a great sigh and swirled his drink in his mug. “There’s no going back now.”

“That’s the spirit.” Caleb slapped his friend on the back. “You’ll be glad we undertook the venture once the Jenny Jones is outfitted for taking prizes and we’re on the way to becoming rich and famous…or infamous.”

“I have to admit, princess or no, the woman’s got spirit.” Duncan leaned back in his chair as his captain lowered the bottle to his friend’s mug to replenish it. “Did you see the way she looked at us…as if we reeked to high heaven?” Good humor returning, he chuckled. “I’m guessing, since she didn’t say a word, that her royal highness doesn’t speak English. Therefore she won’t be annoying us with a lot of regal demands. But her maid, now, there’s a lass with a wicked tongue. When I shut her in my cabin with her precious princess, she called me names that would make a drunken sailor blush.”

“There, now.” Caleb grinned. “All it took was a bit of good Scotch whisky to put you back in humor.”

“Aye, well, maybe something good may come out of this madness.” Duncan took a swallow of whisky. “Perhaps the maid can cook. God knows she couldn’t do worse than Higgins. Why you hired that man to work the galley, I can’t fathom.”

“I hired him as a fighting man,” Caleb replied. “But you know how it works aboard ship. Any man with a disability automatically becomes cook when there’s not an actual one available. Higgins lost an eye and took a splinter in the leg fighting with Nelson. Half blind and limping, he’s the obvious choice. That’s not to say he can’t do his share in a battle. You’ve seen him. He’s a bear of a man with the courage of a lion. He can crack a man’s skull with a single blow and fracture a jaw with one punch.”

“Oh, aye.” The Scotsman slanted him a sarcastic glance. “Not to mention cripple a man with a pot of swill he calls stew or set guts roiling with his coffee. I’ll be praying to the good Lord that the foul-mouthed little creature can do better.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

gailmacmillanAward-winning author of thirty-five traditionally published books and four time Maxwell Medal winner, Gail MacMillan is a graduate of Queen’s University and has had short stories and articles published throughout North America and Western Europe. Find Gail at www.gailmacmillan.ca, on Facebook, and on Twitter @tollerbeagle44.

‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

til death do us part

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Calista Langley operates an exclusive ‘introduction; agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning – a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.

Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.

But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past – and that only her death will satisfy the stalker…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, 19th April 2016

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

Review by Lady Blue

Calista Langley and her younger brother were orphaned as children and sent to live with their joyless grandmother, who died several years later, leaving them a large house, but no funds to maintain it. In an effort to keep a roof over their heads, Calista established a discreet business in which single people could attend salons at her home, and meet like-minded singles for friendship and possibly romance. Because the house is so fine and large, it gives the impression that Calista is a wealthy heiress. A year earlier, Calista was about to become engaged to Nestor Kettering, but when she told him the true state of her finances, he jilted her and almost immediately married another woman, this time a genuine heiress. Suddenly, Nestor has come back into Calista’s life, professing his regard and regret at leaving her. He won’t take no for an answer, and becomes almost stalkerish.

Trent Hastings is a very popular and successful writer. He’s concerned about the salons his sister, Eudora, has been attending, afraid that she’s being taken advantage of. He decides to check out Calista for himself. In the process, he learns of Calista’s stalker, as well as some other disturbing events that have been happening to her, and decides to help her investigate. Though usually self-sufficient, Calista is shaken, and glad of Trent’s help and protection. She’s not at all put off by the scars Trent bears and finds him very attractive.

I found Trent to be a very intriguing man. He’s not bitter about the scars that mar his jawline, arm and hands, though he knows that some people will reject him because of them. He’s confident, intelligent, and has a good heart. He’s also good friends with a crime lord, who is helpful to Trent’s investigation. But lately, he has been somewhat reclusive and lonely, and Calista seems to have inspired him to rejoin the living. When Trent realizes Calista is not turned off by his appearance, he acts on their mutual attraction, and they indulge their passion.

While Calista and Trent are very likeable and engaging characters, I feel that the romance takes second place to the mystery in ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Still, the story is well developed and engrossing. Amanda Quick continues her trademark writing style, which left me not wanting to put the book down until I finished it. I enjoyed this read very much, and recommend it to those who like historical romantic with a heavy dose of suspense. Oh, and expect the unexpected.