SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: His Wicked Highland Ways by Laura Strickland

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Widowed following a marriage of convenience, Jeannie MacWherter has fled lowland Dumfries, Scotland, for the highland cottage bequeathed to her late husband by his brother-in-arms, laird of the glen. Though she’s never met the laird, local rumor labels him both murderer and seducer—a wicked, dangerous man who Jeannie learns is determined to chase her from his land.

Finnan MacAllister has come home to Glen Mhor in order to right past wrongs. He doesn’t care that Rowan Cottage is the beautiful Widow MacWherter’s only refuge. He’s convinced she’s a wanton who deliberately broke the heart of his best friend, Geordie, and he’s vowed to get even with her: seduction is his weapon of choice. But will his own heart betray him?

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EXCERPT

Finnan MacAllister floated just below the surface of the pool, communing with a trout. The water—still cool even on this warm August day—lapped about his naked body, and his submerged ears were privy to all sorts of gurgles and ripples he told himself made up the fish’s language. His hair floated out around his head in a mop of reddish brown, and his eyes, wide open, stared up through the water at the achingly blue sky.

If he kept very still, the trout in this pool would come to him and impart their knowledge, whisper it right in his ear perhaps. God knew he was in need of some wisdom. For the past ten years, ever since taking up his sword in defiance of a broken heart, his existence had gone from bad to worse. Everything he had done had come back in some way upon him.

Now that lowland bitch had set foot here in his glen. Worse, she’d taken up residence in the haven he had meant for Geordie. Ire spiked in his breast and chased away the ease his time in the water earned him. The grasping she-devil had broken his best friend’s heart, and Finnan meant to exact revenge—just as soon as he discovered what would hurt her most.

The cool, silken body of a trout brushed his cheek, and he held his breath, lungs bursting. When he had been a lad in this glen, he’d been able to stay under water for the count of two hundred. These days he had lost the art, but if the trout meant to whisper to him, he would damn sure exert himself.

The trout, not just a fish but a creature of mystery and magic, carried great wisdom, according to the old tales by which Finnan lived. One way to acquire that wisdom was to kill and eat it, or threaten to eat it, for in such an instance the trout often bargained for mercy.

Finnan showed mercy to few men, but animals were different. He’d once beaten a man half to death for flogging a tired horse, and had killed a man for abusing a hound. He whispered an ancient prayer for forgiveness whenever he went hunting, and the idea of killing a trout violated all he believed.

And what did he believe? He knew what people said about him, that he had no moral sense at all. He did, but he’d acquired it the hard way, through loss and necessity.

The trout brushed his other ear, and he heard a whisper through the gurgle of the water. He would have to break the surface soon in order to breathe.

He thought, Tell me.

Bargain for peace.

Peace. It was the one thing he truly lacked and the most difficult to find. He now had wealth and material gain. He even had a measure of satisfaction. He’d regained this place he loved more than his own life. To his surprise, none of that had brought him happiness. And no peace.

How? he asked the trout.

When you love your enemy, peace will conquer your heart.

Ah, what drivel was this? Love his enemy? Aye, and he had expected better of the trout.

He broke the surface with his lips, took a big breath, and settled back again. He might not get the answers he wanted, but the water washed away his rage, if not his sins. And how bonny the day looked through the fluid screen before his eyes—that blue sky with one or two white clouds sailing, the leaves of a rowan tree that leaned over the bank. He did not want to think about anything.

Certainly not of the traitorous woman he needed to chase from his glen. Anger whipped through him once more at the thought of her. Treacherous lowland hussy—born, no doubt, to trick and deceive. How could Geordie have been taken in by her? Yet there had been a childlike quality about Geordie MacWherter beneath all his courage and bluster. Geordie had believed in love the way Finnan believed in magic. Indeed, it had been one of the things they talked about during their weary, hopeless nights or the terrifying ones before a battle.

Geordie, like Finnan himself, had been dispossessed, surviving by the sword and longing for things he could not have: a home of his own, someone who would wait for him there, a family. No doubt this lowland bitch, this Jeannie Robertson—or MacWherter, now that she’d wangled marriage to Geordie—had seen that longing in Geordie’s eyes and taken advantage.

The trout brushed against his left cheek and shoulder. Peace, it whispered again.

Ha! There would be no peace until he paid that trollop back in full and chased her from the glen.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Strickland Publicity PhotoBorn and raised in Western New York, Laura Strickland has pursued lifelong interests in lore, legend, magic and music, all reflected in her writing. Though her imagination frequently takes her to far off places, she is usually happiest at home not far from Lake Ontario with her husband and her “fur” child, a rescue dog. Author of Scottish romance Devil Black as well as The Guardians of Sherwood Trilogy, she is pleased to say that His Wicked Highland Ways is her eighth title for The Wild Rose Press.

You can connect with Laura at: www.laurastricklandbooks.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Amazon

VIRTUAL TOUR: Sebastian’s Lady Spy by Sharon Cullen

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Sebastian Addison has a powerful secret. To society he is the Earl of Claybrook, the patriarch who raised his siblings after the death of their parents. But to the king, Sebastian is Britain’s top spy—a position that has taken an emotional toll on him. Contessa Gabrielle Marciano has also been living a lie, her title a cover devised by the Office of Intelligence. The femme fatale was plucked from a life of crime and prostitution and trained to restrain her passionate nature. Until she meets the earl.

For three deeply sensual days and nights, Sebastian and Gabrielle drop their masks, indulging in pleasures that seem too good to be true. Then the lovers go their separate ways. Seven months later they reunite when inside sources report that an English aristocrat has been aiding France in a plot to topple the Crown. Their objective: to find the turncoat. Their greatest challenge: to keep their wild, wounded hearts from derailing a mission of life and death.

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EXCERPT

Gabrielle smoothed her skirts and drew in a fortifying breath. The Eastmans’ ball had started two hours ago, and Sebastian had yet to make an appearance. Damn the man.

After leaving Atwater’s residence, she’d ridden home in her carriage, refusing to shed the tears that pushed against her eyes. It had taken every bit of willpower to ignore the raging pain that Sebastian’s cutting words and looks had inflicted on her.

A fool. That’s what she was. So he didn’t fall at her feet, as she’d stupidly hoped. So what?
Lady Eastman appeared at her side, bustling with efficiency and purpose as she always did, dressed in a pink gown, a color that should have been reserved for debutantes. “Chin up. Don’t let him see you’re nervous.”

Automatically Gabrielle raised her chin. “He can’t see anything, because he’s not here.”Sebastian's Lady Spy_Cullen

“Men like to believe they have the upper hand, and they don’t like to be told what to do. He’s biding his time because he’s angry.”

That was only part of why Sebastian was angry. However, Lady Eastman’s no-nonsense approach was exactly what Gabrielle needed to hear to shore up her courage.

Just then the crowd stirred. The orchestra continued to play, the conversations around them faltered.
Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder to find the earl of Claybrook parting the crowds, looking neither right nor left as he approached her. Her heart started thundering, and all the talks of courage that she’d given herself vanished.

He could have been much more circumspect in his approach, but she supposed this would work as well.

He eschewed fashion and wore no wig. His black hair was cut short, falling over his forehead. There was white at the temples that hadn’t been there seven months ago. She found him even more desirable, if such a thing were possible.

A quick glance around showed that other females were having the same reaction: Whether they were new debutantes, firmly on the shelf, or married, they all watched him with the hunger that she knew was on her face as well. Seven months ago they’d had a torrid but all too short affair that had ended in a mutual understanding. She had not been able to walk away as easily as she had from her other lovers. She found herself thinking of him often. And now here he was. And they were working together.

And he was furious.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SharonSharon Cullen is the author of the historical romances The Notorious Lady Anne, Loving the Earl, and Pleasing the Pirate, as well as many novels of romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. If you’d like to find out more about the author and her books, you can visit her blog or her website. She is addicted to social networking so you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Friend her! Like her! Follow her! She’d love to hang out with you and talk about her passion: books.

You can connect with Sharon at: www.sharoncullen.net * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads.

Bite at First Sight by Brooklyn Ann

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When Rafael Villar, Lord Vampire of London, stumbles upon a woman in the cemetery, he believes he’s found a vampire hunter—not the beautiful, intelligent stranger she proves to be.

Cassandra Burton is enthralled by the scarred, disfigured vampire who took her prisoner. The aspiring physician was robbing graves to pursue her studies—and he might turn out to be her greatest subject yet. So they form a bargain: one kiss for every experiment. As their passion grows and Rafe begins to heal, only one question remains: can Cassandra see the man beyond the monster?

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, April 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1823, London
Genre: Paranormal historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Regency vampire romance! Who knew? Beginning with her fun debut, Bite Me, Your Grace, Brooklyn Ann has created a sexy and original series; it’s thrilling, romantic, and very under appreciated.

But what makes this series (and particularly this story, the third book in the Scandals with Bite series) stand out is the eloquent writing and excellent pacing. Ms Ann writes with a strong and engaging style that pulls you in from page one and doesn’t let go.

The hero and heroine, Cassandra and Rafael, are strong and passionate characters with complex personalities and insecurities. But their exciting love story grows gradually, sensually, and beautifully.

Throughout the story, there is a vampire revolution afoot to thwart Rafael’s power as well as some fascinating medical history including the appearance of a real life historical figure, Thomas Wakley, founder of the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

Lady Cassandra Burton is a widow and a countess whose one and only marriage was a great disappointment best forgotten. Science and medicine and facts are her life’s passion but, as a woman, she cannot pursue her knowledge and experience publicly in Regency England. But she determinedly studies the human body and educates herself.

When Rafael Villar, Lord Vampire of London, comes upon Cassandra in a cemetery digging up a body for use in her studies, he reluctantly takes her prisoner. They have met in social circles previously and there is a mutual and simmering attraction. Rafael must either change Cassandra or kill her and neither is an attractive option to him. So he appeals to the lordly and powerful vampire Elders and, while awaiting their decision, he takes Cassandra into his home, thus thoroughly ruining her reputation.

But Cassandra is used to being the odd one out ever since her lonely childhood and doesn’t mind the social snub of being thought of as Rafael’s mistress. Instead, she throws herself into her work, which is her life. Until Rafael entices her with something just as meaningful.

Don Rafael Villar is a feisty and prickly personality and he has been a cranky secondary character in the last two books, so I was excited to read about his happy ending and how the author would make him into a likable hero.

The love scenes are highly erotic but also breathlessly romantic and loving. Rafael and Cassandra come to love each other by giving; he encourages her to study with Thomas Wakley privately in his home and she heals his long-deformed and limp arm. Their love is born out of gratefulness as much as attraction and it turns into a fierce devotion that is lovely to read.

Every single one of the love stories in this unique and colorful series is strong and passionately romantic; they don’t have to be read in order. Even if you don’t like vampires or vampire stories you will enjoy this book if you appreciate a good love story.

A Dangerous Passion by E.E Burke

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Can a hero lurk inside the heart of a villain?

Life in a small New England village is too quiet, too ordinary for a free spirit like Lucy Forbes. When her father lands a job out West, she packs her books and her dreams and eagerly sets off to pursue the kind of grand adventures she longs to experience and write about. Yet the moment she steps off a train in Kansas, she’s thrust into the gritty reality of an untamed frontier—and into the arms of a scoundrel.

Henry Stevens, the ruthless railroad executive her father has been sent to investigate, is as passionate as he is ambitious. Brave and charming, as well as clever, and possessed of a sharp wit. He is, in fact, the most fascinating man Lucy has ever met. However, his opponents are vanishing and strangers are shooting at him. Fearing for her father’s life, Lucy resolves to unmask the secretive Mr. Stevens and expose a villain. What she doesn’t expect to find is a hero.

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Publisher and Release Date: E.E. Burke, November 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 19th Century American West
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

This is a hard book for me to rate because there were things about it that I loved, and things that I didn’t. I loved the idea of a hero who seems like a villain at first, but once you get to know him and peel the layers away, you realize that all of his questionable actions actually had good intentions behind them, and that the exaggeration of his reputation has been perpetuated by his enemies and cultivated by the hero himself as a front for the lonely and chivalrous man he really is.

The story starts out with plenty of excitement: a shootout at the train depot just as Lucy Forbes arrives in Parsons, Kansas. The man who saves the day turns out to be none other than Henry Stevens, manager of the Katy Railroad, the man the railway board has sent her father to investigate for wrong-doing. Henry’s reputation precedes him, and Lucy is dismayed to find that the strong and handsome Henry is nothing like the villain she was prepared to hate on sight. And to Henry, Lucy is a breath of fresh air in a town where beautiful, unmarried ladies of station are in short supply. He quickly vows to make Lucy his, but he first has to overcome her objections and those of her father. He also has to figure out who is trying to kill him and stop them before they accomplish the task. What follows is an exciting tale of danger, mystery, tragedy, and love. The town of Parsons is brimming with historical ambiance and filled with well-drawn secondary characters. And the tension between Henry and Lucy sizzles.

The best part of this book turned out to be the very reason I was drawn to it in the first place. I absolutely loved the railroad setting. The railroad is central to the story, and because Henry is a hands-on manager who worked his way through the ranks, we get to see him handling all aspects of the business. From laying track to repairs to planning routes and depots and towns, to negotiating land deals and navigating the press and politicians – it’s a fascinating environment for a romance, and it makes Henry one very capable and commanding hero.

Unfortunately, I was not as enamored of his heroine. For someone who is supposed to be so smart, Lucy sure does some stupid things. While I certainly appreciated her desire to be independent and adventuresome, her stubbornness really grated on me, as did her inability to communicate her feelings to Henry, which led to big misunderstandings and unnecessary heartache that could have been avoided. But there are a few instances in which she redeems herself, most notably in a thrilling train chase.

And finally, I was not a fan of the epilogue. While I would have loved to have spent some time with Henry and Lucy in their new life together, this was a snapshot of them from the point of view of a relative, and it did nothing for me. I thought it a very odd note on which to end the book, and I would rather have not had it at all.

But all in all, A Dangerous Passion is very well written, and it stands out from the crowd with its unique and vividly depicted setting. And Henry is quite swoon-worthy! If you’re looking for something different in historical romance, this Western railroad adventure could be just the ticket.

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes

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Noah Winters, Duke of Anselm, exercises the pragmatism for which he’s infamous when his preferred choice of bride cries off, and her companion, Lady Thea Collins, becomes his next choice for his duchess. Lady Thea’s mature, sensible and even rather attractive-what could possibly go wrong?

As a lady fallen on hard times, Thea doesn’t expect tender sentiments from His Grace, but she does wish Noah had courted her trust, lest her past turn their hastily arranged marriage into a life of shared regrets. Is His Grace courting a convenient wife, or a beautiful disaster?

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EXCERPT

The Duke and Duchess are having a rocky start to their marriage, also to their day…

“Your tea, Duchess.”

Noah had woken up beside his wife—again, despite all plans to the contrary—creating another first for him. Thea had risen several times during the night to tend to herself. He hadn’t realized that monthly courses caused a woman’s rest to be interrupted.

Crashingly bad planning, for a lady’s sleep to be disturbed when she most needed rest.

“You’re not about to steal my tea?” Thea held out the cup, her gaze shy as she sat propped against the headboard.

“Where’s the fun in stealing what’s freely offered?” Noah settled in beside her and filched a bite of her cinnamon toast. “Would you rather have chocolate this morning?”

“Because?”

“You’re”— Noah waved a hand in the direction of her middle—“indisposed.”

“I am not indisposed.” Thea set her teacup down with a little clink. “The discomfort has passed, as it always does. You needn’t be concerned.”

“I am not concerned, Thea.” Not greatly concerned, now that she’d stopped ordering him to go away and was ready for a proper spat. “I am attempting in my bumbling way to dote. You will allow it.”

Drat. He’d given another order.

“You couldn’t bumble if one gave you written instructions, Anselm,” Thea said, looking a little less peaked for having run up her flags. “That was my toast you appropriated.”

“Appropriation is what happens when one’s wife can’t appreciate a little doting. You’re being stingy with the tea, just as you were stingy with the covers. How long does this indisposition last?”

Her chin came up. “I am the Duchess of Anselm. I am not stingy with anything, but you are a very presuming husband.”

“Doting.” Noah took Thea’s free hand to kiss her knuckles— lest she mistake his point. “Also in need of my duchess’s guidance on this one marital matter.”

“This is so personal.” Thea’s gaze was on their joined hands— for Noah would not have her haring off in a fit of mortification. “I didn’t think you’d be a personal sort of husband. You were supposed to appear in my dressing-room doorway a few nights a month, silently take a few marital liberties, and then leave me in peace. We’d trade sections of the Times over breakfast the next morning.”

“Prosaic.” Boring and exactly what Noah himself had envisioned. “Hard to see any doting going on, though.”

“Husband?” Thea’s tone was hesitant. “Thank you, for keeping me company last night. I would not have known how to ask.”

“I suppose that’s the definition of doting.” Noah lingered at the cart to assemble a plate. “It’s the little things you can’t bring yourself to ask for, that an attentive spouse will enjoy providing to you. Bacon or ham?”

“A little of both, please.”

“Feeling carnivorous?”

“I’m a trifle indisposed. I need the sustenance.”

Noah piled both ham and bacon on Thea’s plate, and stole better than half of it, because he needed the sustenance too.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 7 April 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

The Duke's DisasterIn The Duke’s Disaster, Grace Burrowes paints an incredibly realistic portrait of the situation faced by two people who marry for the sake of expediency and then realise that they will have to work at it if they’re going to have any chance of making a go of things.

Noah Winters, Duke of Anselm, comes from a family in which the men are famed for their sexual promiscuity. Unlike most of his male relatives, Noah is not licentious or irresponsible – not that it makes much difference to the tarnish that exists on his family name; or the gossips, who believe him to be cut from the same cloth as every other Winters male. In order to fulfil a deathbed promise, Noah is planning to marry, and has selected himself a suitable bride from the year’s bevy of simpering debutantes. On the verge of proposing, he is put out to discover that he has been pipped to the post by someone else, and although his amour propre is somewhat wounded, he is nonetheless quite relieved, as he doesn’t want to live his life shackled to a “giggling twit”. But he still has to find a wife, and instead turns to his former intended’s companion, Lady Araminthea Collins, who is, most unusually, an earl’s daughter. For an earl’s daughter to be in service is almost unheard of, but Thea’s family is in straightened circumstances, and her brother, the new earl, seems determined to drink himself into an early grave, exhibiting no care for Thea or their younger sister. Thea is shocked by Noah’s proposal and determined to turn him down – but when she realises that becoming his wife will enable her to keep her sister from having to tread the same path, she accepts, and they are married three weeks later.

The thing I adore about this book is the way in which it concentrates almost exclusively on the development of the relationship between Noah and Thea. The marriage of convenience/arranged marriage is a common theme in historical romance – and one of my favourites – but even so, the story of this one manages to be something out of the ordinary. We’re shown the pitfalls of marrying someone you hardly know, and how difficult it can be to adjust to having another person to consider besides oneself. It doesn’t help that Thea is keeping a pretty big secret from Noah, something which puts their fledgling marriage on the rocks immediately and about which he is both bitter and frustrated. Yet the more he comes to know Thea and to care for her, the more he comes to see that her situation is likely not her fault and that she’s deserving of compassion and understanding rather than censure.

Then there’s the fact that Noah is keeping a secret of his own – or rather, one belonging to someone else he doesn’t feel at liberty to reveal. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but he is nothing if not honourable, and as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he’s a man for whom family is incredibly important, and who will do whatever he has to do in order to clear up whatever messes have been created by his less responsible relatives. As these now include Thea’s wastrel brother, Noah spends a lot of time with the young man trying to get him to mend his ways, and do his duty by his sisters. Unfortunately, the new earl isn’t especially welcoming of his brother-in-law’s efforts, and while it would have been easy to have him take Noah’s advice to heart and become suddenly reformed, Ms Burrowes doesn’t take that road, and the story is the better for it.

All the characters, from the two protagonists to the secondary ones are very well fleshed-out, and the central relationship is beautifully developed. Noah describes himself at the beginning as “not nice” – and it’s true that he is somewhat autocratic and that he can say some rather cutting things – but Ms Burrowes expertly charts his progress from single man to caring husband, and it’s a delight to read. Noah and Thea suddenly realise that they don’t know each other at all well, even though Thea had spent time in his company as companion to her charge. Both are so used to being self-sufficient that they don’t share easily, but I watched them gradually come to trust each other and own their vulnerabilities with immense satisfaction.

One of the things Ms Burrowes does so well in the book is to show all those little details and small intimacies that are present within long-term relationships, but which are often overlooked because they’ve become so ingrained. I loved the breakfast routine the couple quickly establishes; Thea is not a morning person, so it’s Noah who fixes her tea, then drinks half of it while also snitching her toast. Thea very quickly becomes accustomed to sleeping (as in actual sleeping!) with her husband, enjoying the warmth of his large body and the comfort of his presence, and dreading the day when they will do the same as other tonnish couples and sleep in separate beds.

As is ever the case with this author, the descriptive prose is beautiful and her ability to find the emotional heart of both characters and story never ceases to amaze me. She has a very distinctive writing style which I admit may not be to everyone’s taste, although personally, I like it very much. As an example, Noah and Thea constantly refer to each other as “Husband” and “Wife” throughout the story. In the hands of a lesser author this might seem like affectation, but Ms Burrowes turns the words into the most intimate of endearments that feel perfectly natural coming from the mouths of these characters.

The Duke’s Disaster is a truly delightful read that takes a well-used trope and – incredibly – has something new to say about it. Highly recommended.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

GraceBurrowesNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes’ bestsellers include The Heir, The Soldier, Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal, Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish and Lady Eve’s Indiscretion. The Heir was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010, The Soldier was a PW Best Spring Romance of 2011, Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish won Best Historical Romance of the Year in 2011 from RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight was a Library Journal Best Book of 2012, and The Bridegroom Wore Plaid was a PW Best Book of 2012. Her Regency romances have received extensive praise, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Grace is branching out into short stories and Scotland-set Victorian romance with Sourcebooks. She is a practicing family law attorney and lives in rural Maryland.

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

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Dangerous Secrets by Caroline Warfield

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When a little brown wren of an Englishwoman bursts into Jamie Heyworth’s private hell and asks for help he mistakes her for the black crow of death. Why not? He fled to Rome and sits in despair with nothing left to sell and no reason to get up in the morning. Behind him lie disgrace, shame, and secrets he is desperate to keep even from powerful friends in London.

Nora Haley comes to Rome at the bidding of her dying brother who has an unexpected legacy. Never in her sunniest dreams did Nora expect Robert to leave her a treasure, a tiny blue-eyed niece with curly hair and warm hugs. Nora will do anything to keep her, even hire a shabby, drunken major as an interpreter.

Jamie can’t let Nora know the secrets he has hidden from everyone, even his closest friends. Nora can’t trust any man who drinks. She had enough of that in her marriage. Either one, however, will dare anything for the little imp that keeps them together, even enter a sham marriage to protect her. Will love — and the truth — bind them both together?

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EXCERPT

Jamie’s senses began to clear, and he realized some woman pounded on his door. The vexatious chit from last night, he thought. The woman had invaded the tavern he frequented like the black crow of death and would not leave.

The little blackbird had good credit, he remembered. He eyed the three empty wine bottles on his table. He distinctly remembered only having money for one. He had spent his last coin on that bottle. She must have funded the other two. There had been food, too, he remembered, and a very fine cheese. Jamie Heyworth never forgot a good meal.

“Major, please! It is past nine in the morning, and we will be late,” the woman’s voice called.

Late for what? He struggled to recall.

After he plied her with tea and calmed her down, she had fed him some tale about dying brothers, evil nuns, a menacing count, and nieces held prisoner in a tower. Maybe not a tower, he thought. He felt sure he remembered the rest correctly.

“Major Bently!”

Ah! Bently. Using his mother’s maiden name amused him when he gave it to her. Major Lord James Phineas Heyworth, Fourth Baron—and so on—sounded ludicrous attached to his pathetic self even if he didn’t have good reason to avoid being found. He preferred not to use it. Bently sounded safer. He hoped it was.

Did I promise anything?

“You promised you would meet me by the fountain in the piazza at 8:30 this morning,” said the voice behind the door.

Her answer stunned him. He could think of no reason why he would promise some chance-met blackbird anything, much less an early morning rendezvous.

“Are you well?” the voice persisted.

No, damn it, I feel like the very devil.

“Yes. I am well. We were to meet at 8:30 in the evening, were we not?” he responded.

No sane person runs about at 8:30 in the morning. He began to wonder if the woman really was mad, one of those hysterical females who reads too many novels.

“Don’t be ridiculous. The nuns wouldn’t let us in the hospital in the evening,” she said.

Nuns again! And more infernal banging. He doubted the door, though thick as a post, could stand against his ravening crow.

“Major, you promised! You said—”

Jamie threw the door open. The woman stumbled against him. Soft curves pressed against his entire length and jarred his sluggish body awake.

I’m not dead yet! The thought improved his mood considerably. He produced his cheekiest grin and made no effort to remove her soft body from his person.

“What did I promise, exactly?” he asked, staring down into a delicately sculpted face, inches from his. He liked the feel of her. She’s hiding her best parts under all that English wool. Doesn’t the foolish woman know she is in Rome?

The chit pushed herself away, slipped under his guard, entered the room, and frowned in distaste. No schoolroom miss, this one.

In daylight, she looked more like a wren than a raven. Dressed in sensible brown, she radiated bright, searching eyes and flowing energy. Too damned much energy for so early in the morning. Her eyes darted over the bottles, scattered clothing, and the dirty dishes on his broken chair.

“You said that you . . .”

She stopped abruptly and gaped.

He glanced down.

“Luckily, I fell asleep in my shirt,” he said, lips twitching. “I’m sure I can locate my trousers and smallclothes, if you’ll give me a moment.”

For an instant, blue sparks flared in her eyes, which were rimmed by thick honey-gold lashes. Just as fast, she turned her back.

“Quickly, please.” She spoke toward the window. He wondered what color she would turn if she knew how well she showed off her derrière when she pulled her frock tightly to one side with white-knuckled fury.

“What exactly did I promise that has brought you running, fleet of foot, to my quarters this morning?” he asked.

He moved with deliberate slowness around the room, picking up clothing discarded the night before and searching his brain for promises discarded just as easily.

“You agreed to speak with the nuns, to interpret for me,” the woman said.

That was it. The wren needs an interpreter, needs one so badly that she let some excitable waiter drag her into a seedy tavern she had no business entering to meet an English “gentleman.” More fool she.

“I should not be surprised you don’t remember. You were much the worse for drink last night,” she complained.

She has me there.

“You’re acquainted with the effects of drink?” he asked. Intriguing.

“More than I wish. My husband—oh, do hurry up!” She stomped her foot and, much to his regret, let go of her skirts.

Husband? Pity, he thought. Inevitable though.

“Are you ready?” she demanded.

“You might wait until I’m finished with my trousers. Your husband will—”

“Do nothing!” She sounded furious.

“I beg your pardon?” He buttoned the fall of his trousers.

“My husband will do nothing. He died three years ago.”

“Ah, then there is no one to be concerned about your presence in a man’s room in a foreign city in which you speak not a word of the native language. What’s the hurry?”

“The hurry, Major,” she almost spat out his rank, “is that I am only permitted to visit Isabella during very strictly set hours.”

“Isabella?”

“My niece!”

Of course. The niece.

“Do pay attention. Sister Amelia Maria will be at the hospital, but I am told the others will allow me a visit, only the briefest visit, in their common room,” she went on.

Ah. No tower. The niece is imprisoned in a—Good Lord!

“You are taking me to a convent?” he gasped.

“Of course.”

“I must have been ‘much the worse for drink’ indeed, if I agreed to that.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Roddy - AuthorCaroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, a network services manager, a conference speaker, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She is always a traveler, a would-be adventurer, and a writer of historical romance, enamored of owls, books, history, and beautiful gardens (but not the act of gardening).

This book began with the thought, what could I do with English regency-era characters if I put them in Rome?

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A Bit of Heaven on Earth by Lauren Linwood

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When Gavin of Ashgrove and his closest friend are captured in a fierce battle during the Hundred Years’ War, their captors demand a hefty ransom from their fathers for their return. Robert is quickly set free, but Gavin’s father refuses to pay for his son’s release, leaving him to rot in a squalid French prison. Aided by a sympathetic priest, he escapes and returns home to England, only to find he has been proclaimed a bastard and disinherited.

With nowhere to turn Gavin journeys to Kentwood, where he fostered as a boy, hoping Lord Aldred will take him on as a knight in his guard. The old warrior is close to death, but he soon realizes Gavin is his son. Aldred plots to have Gavin inherit Kentwood and marry his much younger wife, Elizabeth, a famed and opinionated beauty who remains a virgin after a decade of marriage.

Will the king recognize Lord Aldred’s first request of a marriage between Elizabeth and Robert, uniting Robert’s estate with Kentwood—or will the temperamental Edward reward Aldred’s years of service and honor a dying man’s final request?

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Publisher and Release Date: Soul Mate Publishing, December 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: Medieval England (1347-1359)
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Vikki

I always enjoy a good medieval novel, and having read other titles by Lauren Linwood, looked forward to reading this with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. This is an emotional read and pulled me in from the prologue and kept me entertained until the end.

The story begins in 1347. Elizabeth of Aldwyn is anything but a typical young girl in medieval times. She rides hard, wears breeches under her kirtle and loves to hunt. Her father is beyond impatient with her, since she turns off any eligible suitor he brings to the keep. Taking matters into his own hands, he betrothes her to a much older man, one he is sure will be able to tame her. This is one betrothal from which she is unable to extricate herself, and is soon married to Aldred of Kentwood, a legend throughout England for his warrior’s skills and cunning.

On her wedding night, she is greatly relieved to find out that Aldred is impotent. After he offers to have the marriage annulled, Elizabeth tells him that she does not mind that he is unable to consummate their marriage, and that she would not want him humiliated in such a way. Of course he protests until she convinces him he would be doing her a favor, as long as he does not mean to break her spirit. He assures her he likes her spirited ways and promises to teach her all that she wants to learn.

When we meet Gavin of Ashgrove, he has been captured in battle and a ransom demand has been sent to his father, but he refuses to pay. Gavin languishes in prison for two years until a priest helps him to escape. When he arrives at Ashgrove, he finds his beloved mother dead, his father remarried and that he has been declared a bastard and disowned. Gavin turns to the man who fostered him, Lord Aldred.

When Gavin arrives at Kentwood, Aldred welcomes him with open arms and after hearing his tale, appoints him Captain of the guard. Aldred realises Gavin is his son, but does not tell him. Aldred sends a letter to the king asking that he allow him to marry Elizabeth when he – Aldred – dies.

This is the set up for the story. Of course, Elizabeth and Gavin are attracted to each other, but neither wants to hurt Lord Aldred and they fight temptation. It’s a predictable trope, but is well told for the most part. They do share a brief, highly sensual kiss before Aldred dies, but both vow to never repeat it. I enjoyed the romance between Elizabeth and Gavin a great deal, even though at first I was cautious because I do not like stories that feature adultery. Thank goodness, Ms. Linwood does not take the romance there.

There are several great plot twists that make this tale an interesting read beyond the romance. A Bit of Heaven on Earth has unrequited love, a love triangle and even a bit of danger. The story moves along quickly and is engaging. There is depth in the characters, and I liked both of them very much. I particularly liked Gavin and ached for the torment and anguish he felt when he was imprisoned and when he finds out he is a bastard.

While the author does not have the couple engaged in amorous situations – other than the kiss – prior to Aldred’s death, the sexual tension that builds between them is excellent. The chemistry between the hero and heroine is incredible, and that is very hard to do since the author does not have them become physically intimate until well into the story.

At one point in the book, Gavin has decided to go back to France to fight, and the grief they both feel at their parting tore at my heart. Some of the dialogue between the pair is so moving it brought tears to my eyes. Here is one example of one such moment. When they think all is lost, Gavin says this to Elizabeth.

“As the sun rises every day, know that my love for you rises within me till the end of all time.”

If you enjoy a well-written story filled with poignant scenes of deep emotion, then you will love A Bit of Heaven on Earth. I recommend this wonderful tale and look forward to reading other books by this incredibly talented author.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Kiss the Earl by Gina Lamm

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When Ella Briley asked her lucky-in-love friends to set her up for an office party, she was expecting a blind date. Instead, she’s pulled through a magic mirror and into the past…straight into the arms of her very own Mr. Darcy.

Patrick Meadowfair, Earl of Fairhaven, is too noble for his own good. To save a female friend from what is sure to be a loveless marriage, he’s agreed to whisk her off to wed the man she truly wants. But all goes awry when Patrick mistakes Ella for the would-be bride and kidnaps her instead.

Centuries away from everything she knows, Ella’s finally found a man who heats her blood and leaves her breathless. Too bad he’s such a perfect gentleman. Yet the reluctant rake may just find this modern girl far too tempting for even the noblest of men to resist…

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Today we are pleased to sit down with author Gina Lamm, whose latest book, Kiss the Earl, is out now. To celebrate the release of this fun time-slip novel Gina’s here to share a snippet from the book with a time-travel tip for aspiring adventurers!

“Well, do either of you have an extra weapon? I’d really appreciate having something to protect myself with, if you don’t mind.”

Bacon stopped dead at Patrick’s surprised yank on the reins. What the devil? She was a female—granted, an unusual one, but not even Amelia would dream of fighting against ruffians.

For Iain’s part, however, he did not hesitate. He reached into the side of his boot and pulled out a small, sheathed knife. He presented it to her with a flourish, handle first.

#9 – Gina’s Time Travel Tip – Sexism is probably going to be a problem for any female time traveler. But don’t despair! Good people are good no matter what time you’re in. If you can educate them safely, then do so. You’ll make your stay—and the time—a better place.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca; April 7, 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London 1820 and America 2015
Genre: Historical / Time Travel Romance
Heat Level:2
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Natalie

Ella Briley is a woman in a man’s world – the comic book world to be exact. Ella’s childhood love of comics has blossomed into a career as an artist and with hard work and dedication she has accomplished a great milestone… she has been selected to take over the reins of her favorite hero for a 12 month stint. Ella is pumped to have this opportunity, but when her new bosses at Whisperwind Comics invite her to the launch party she realizes she needs a date or she will have to take her flirty landlord. Ella turns to her friends, Leah and Jamie, for help and on the night of the party finds herself nervously arriving at her friend’s house to meet her blind date. Little does Ella realize that Mrs. Knightsbridge, a magic British Housekeeper, has other plans for her night. Ella is whisked back in time and finds herself stranded in 1820s London in a bright blue cocktail dress no less.

Patrick Meadowfair, Earl of Fairhaven, has been talked into some pretty silly schemes by his childhood friend, Amelia…but this one takes the cake. Patrick has agreed to stage a kidnapping and whisk Amelia off, ruining her in the eyes of the ton. This will give Amelia the opportunity to force her father into letting her marry the poor country parson with whom she has fallen in love. On the designated night of their assignation Patrick sees Amelia walking without a chaperon, covered by a black, voluminous cloak. He grabs her off the street only to be chased by several well-meaning witnesses. By the time Patrick realizes he has seized the wrong person he is already miles away, in the middle of the countryside.

Patrick and Ella have been thrust together and both are in a heap of trouble. Patrick needs to learn what has happened to his dear friend Amelia as well as find the real identity of this beguiling if somewhat naked stranger; and Ella needs to find a way back to her own time before she misses the work opportunity of a lifetime.

Kiss the Earl is the third installment of Gina Lamm’s funny yet sweet time traveling Geek Girl series. This series had me smiling from start to finish and not just because the characters were witty but because I have never read another Regency romance story that mentions Darth Vader and Comic Con. As silly as it sounds Lamm has managed to write a believable and savvy time traveler in Ella Briley. When Ella winds up in Regency England one of her first actions is to look for clothing since her own attire is totally inappropriate for the time period. She doesn’t run out into public practically naked; instead she tries to find something to cover herself, realizing that her current appeal would scandalize the inhabitants of the time. Lamm doesn’t ever gloss over the fact that a modern woman would stick out like a sore thumb in 1820 British society, especially a woman with bright blue nails and purple streaks in her hair. From her appearance to handling the need to use the bathroom (a uniquely different undertaking in 1820 than what we are used to in 2015) Lamm writes a completely authentic and spirited character, someone you find yourself rooting for.

Patrick and Ella stumble into some serious trouble after Ella has an accident and ends up with a fever and severe infection. Without modern antibiotics, or even Tylenol, Ella requires the help of her kidnapper-cum-rescuer to nurse her back to health. All the while these two characters, with a world of difference between them, find themselves inexplicitly drawn to each other. Lamm melds their two worlds and handles the outlandish premise of a thoroughly modern American woman ending up in smack dab in proper Regency England with not only humor but also plausible credibility. I plan on checking out the first two titles in the Geek Girl series to see if Gina Lamm’s time traveling heroines’ have always been so cool! If you are looking for a book where you can really connect with the female lead as she gallivants through time, then try out Kiss the Earl.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gina LammGina Lamm, a bellydancing, wisecracking, marshmallow-addicted geek, loves nothing more than penning funny, emotional tales of love, lust, and entertaining mishaps. Married to a superhero, she lives with her beloved family in North Carolina, surrounded by tobacco farms, possums, and the occasional hurricane. She also writes erotic romance for Ellora’s Cave under the pen name Regina Cole. Visit www.ginalamm.net

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuiston

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Pretty and popular, Miss Clare Westmore knows exactly what (or rather, who) she wants: the next Duke of Harrington. But when she twists her ankle on the eve of the Season’s most touted event, Clare is left standing in the wallflower line watching her best friend dance away with her duke.

Dr. Daniel Merial is tempted to deliver more than a diagnosis to London’s most unlikely wallflower, but he doesn’t have time for distractions, even one so delectable. Besides, she’s clearly got her sights on more promising prey. So why can’t he stop thinking about her?

All Clare wants to do is return to the dance floor. But as her former friends try to knock her permanently out of place, she realizes with horror she is falling for her doctor instead of her duke. When her ankle finally heals and she faces her old life again, will she throw herself back into the game?

Or will her time in the wallflower line have given her a glimpse of who she was really meant to be?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, 24 February 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1843
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This book has heart. I would describe it as more a novel of manners à la Jane Austen than a traditional historical romance. Although the love story is very sweet and very central to the plot, the hero and heroine get to know each other very slowly and realistically as they reveal their true and hidden natures and their true and authentic selves.

But it’s also a story of an early Victorian era family. Clare Westmore is the eldest daughter of a viscount and destined and expected to marry well in accordance with her illustrious lineage. But she must tread carefully as one misstep in the sharp and icy waters of the ton and she is ruined. At the novel’s beginning, she aligns herself with two other debutantes, Sophie and Rose, two rather shrewd and cruel young women, whom she believes to be her friends.

In her first London season, Clare has already caught the attention of the future Duke of Harrington, but when she sprains her ankle, she must step out of the social whirlwind for a while, and thus becomes “an accidental wallflower.” During this time, she becomes frustrated and anxious because she knows time is of the essence. Indeed, during her relatively short convalescence, Sophie manages to turn the tide of gossip and respectability solidly against not only Clare, but also her family.

Daniel Merial is a young and ambitious physician, a recent arrival to London from the Yorkshire countryside, eager to become a good doctor and to be taken seriously in the medical field. He’s also strikingly handsome in an unassuming and modest way. After his long hours at the hospital, he devotes his evenings to intensive and exhaustive experiments with anesthetic which he hopes to someday publish in The Lancet, a pre-eminent medical journal. He is also living in a poor and rather seedy part of London, far from Clare’s polished and comfortable Mayfair neighborhood, in a dingy flat with a lustful and nosy landlady. He relies on a spunky and formidable dowager duchess, Lady Austerley, whose weak heart provides him with a steady income, but he also counts her as a dear friend. His conversation, banter, and friendship with this wise older woman is one of the highlights of the story.

Clare’s family dynamics are as much a part of the story as the romance. Her parents have an emotionally troubled marriage and her younger siblings, Lucy – an incorrigible tomboy of seventeen – and Geoffrey – a curious and typically crude thirteen year-old expelled from Eton – provide humor but also a lot of emotion and feeling to the novel. When they all meet Daniel after he becomes Clare’s doctor, he quickly becomes a steadying influence on Clare and her siblings, a bane to the uneasy atmosphere of their own family life.

Clare matures a lot during the course of the novel. In the beginning, she tempers and hides her love of reading (especially The London Times) because it’s considered unladylike (not to mention threatening to gentlemen) to be knowledgeable and educated. She also worries about her dress and appearance but, during her recuperation, Daniel catches glimpses of the true and real Clare, and calls her out on it. And that’s when their romance heats up.

Ms. McQuiston writes a wonderful multi-layered story, with rich and well-fleshed out characters I really cared about, from the protagonists to the poor prostitute that Daniel rescues. The pacing as well as the execution of the plot are pretty near perfect. The only flaw I can find is that the end is perhaps just a little too neat. But it is a story of a loving and very human family, so it all fits.

With this beautiful novel, Ms. McQuiston positions herself firmly at the forefront of the historical romance authors.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: My Seductive Innocent by Julie Johnstone

My Seductive Innocent

 

Miss Sophia Vane, a hoyden of the first order, makes an unlikely match when she weds Nathaniel Ellison, the rich and wary Duke of Scarsdale. What starts with an unexpected friendship soon blooms into a fiery passion. But a betrayal plunges Sophia into the thorny world of London Society and entangles her in a labyrinth of manipulation and jealousy that will test the strength of her marriage. Behind her husband’s sudden icy facade, Sophia believes dwells the caring, passionate man she loves. To break through the barriers and reclaim their happiness, they must do more than simply cast away their pride. They must fight for their very lives.

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EXCERPT

Sophia peered at Nathan again. “I’m just going to take off your coat, shirt, and cravat, all right?”

Laughter danced in his rapidly dulling eyes and pain twisted his lips. “That sounds rather boring.”

She shoved her embarrassment―and, truth be told, a little bit of curiosity—away. Leaning over him, she slid her arms under his back to get a good grip. When her chest brushed his, she gasped.

He half chuckled, half moaned. “This has to be the strangest seduction I’ve ever been subjected to.”

“I am not trying to seduce you,” she spat and yanked him upward. The low hiss that escaped him made her loosen her hold. “Push away from the bed with your good arm.”

He pressed with a loud grunt as she tugged with an equally loud one. They careened backward and tilted precariously to the left, but somehow, by the grace of God, did not fall over. They ended up sitting face-to-face on the bed, just as she’d intended. Nathan was no namby-pamby duke. He was solid and very heavy. Thick, corded muscle covered his back and rose under her fingertips as she grasped his arms to hold him in place.

“So it begins,” he teased in barely a whisper. His head came to rest on her shoulder and his warm exhalation tickled her neck. Her stomach fluttered as they sat there, pressed so close that you couldn’t slide a piece of foolscap between them.

Her heart thudded and the veins in her neck pulsed with each beat. Using the utmost care, she struggled to draw off his coat. The one grunt he made told her it hurt, but other than that, he was silent. Despite the cold room, perspiration trickled down her brow from her effort to hold him up, though that exertion was nothing compared to trying to get his shirt off at the same time.

She spent several minutes attempting to tilt him one way and then the next, but it was futile. Once she got him into a position she thought might do, she realized she needed to untuck his shirt first. She let out a string of Frank’s favorite expletives, which elicited a low chuckle from Nathan.

“My ears are burning,” he chided.

She snorted. “Somehow I doubt that.” Trying to avert her eyes, so as not to see too much, she reached into Nathan’s breeches at the tip of the waist and tugged at the fine material of his shirt.
With bashfulness burning her cheeks, she withdrew her hand from his breeches and let out a yelp when his warm hand came to rest over hers.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t fret yourself. It’s not often a lady gets to stick her hands down a duke’s pants.” Heaven above! Had she really just said that? She wasn’t sure where the thoughts had come from. Clearing her throat, she added, “Almost done.” With care, she quickly removed his cravat, then glanced at his shirt. The slit near his collarbone exposed the top of his glistening chest. A knot formed in her throat. This was certainly not the way she had expected to see a man’s naked chest for the first time in her life, but so be it. “Can you raise your arms?”

“The one that doesn’t have a gaping hole in it,” he grumbled.

“Right, then.” She gently laid him back down, reached into her boot where she’d sheathed her dagger, and came up to kneel over him. “I bet you would have never thought to see a lady leaning over you with a dagger in her hands,” she joked, trying to relieve some of the tension. Now that Nathan’s coat was off and his blood-soaked shirt was visible, her stomach roiled with queasiness and worry.

“You’re quite surprising,” he managed.

Sliding her dagger from the top of his shirt to the bottom, the material parted to expose his muscular chest marred only by the blood covering his left shoulder. Her nostrils flared, and she inhaled a long, steady breath. Even wounded, she could see why a woman might lose her head over him. He was perfection, at least physically.

Dismissing the thoughts, she reached down and grasped the brandy, then leaned closer to him. “I’m going to cleanse the wound. Are you ready?”

“Hell no,” he muttered. “But do it anyway.”

Underneath her thighs, the muscle of his legs tensed. Best to be quick. Without giving him warning, she tilted the bottle and poured. The amber liquor mingled with blood and ran down his arm onto the bedsheets. As she stared at the mess, she shook her head. It had been silly not to put a towel under him. She glanced at his pale face and clenched jaw, and nibbled on her lip. It was true she had read some medical books, but she was no expert. “Maybe I should do it again?” she questioned herself.

“Not unless you’re trying to kill me,” he gritted, surprising her with his response.

“Not quite yet. Not until we’re properly married and I’m sure I’ll get some of your vast fortune,” she jested, hoping to turn his thoughts away from the obvious pain. He gripped the sheets in his fists, his dark eyes taking on an alarming, glazed look.

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TO WIN AN eCOPY OF MY SEDUCTIVE INNOCENT ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER, BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie JohnstoneJulie Johnstone is a USA TODAY best-selling author of Regency Romance and the author of a new urban fantasy/paranormal romance book. She’s been a voracious reader of books since she was a young girl. Her mother would tell you that as a child Julie had a rich fantasy life made up of many different make believe friends. As an adult, Julie is one of the lucky few who can say she is living the dream by working with her passion of creating worlds from her imagination. When Julie is not writing she is chasing her two precocious children around, cooking, reading or exercising. Julie loves to hear from her readers. You can send her an email at juliejohnstoneauthor@gmail.com or find her at www.juliejohnstoneauthor.com, or on Facebook and on twitter at @juliejohnstone. You can join Julie’s newsletter here: http://juliejohnstoneauthor.com/extras/subscribe/