SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Rendezvous With Yesterday by Dianne Duvall

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Modern-day bounty hunter Bethany Bennett helps her brother track two fugitives to a forest outside of Houston, Texas. But what should have been a routine apprehension of two bail skippers spirals out of control and ends in violence. After Beth and her brother are both seriously injured, a mysterious figure suddenly looms over her. And, when the smoke clears, Beth finds herself not only in another place, but in another time.

As Lord Robert, Earl of Fosterly, attempts to identify and track down the nameless enemy who has been plaguing his lands and people with violence, the most peculiar woman stumbles into his path. Small, vulnerable, yet possessed of a bold, fiery spirit and wicked sense of humor, she persists in dubbing Robert and his men members of something called a medieval reenactment group . . . until she sees his castle and labels herself mad. It seems bounty hunter Bethany Bennett has come to him from the future, bringing with her laughter and chaos, swiftly winning the hearts of his people and inspiring within him a love he thought he would never experience again. But when Robert discovers a way for her to return to her time, will the love they share be enough to keep them together?

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EXCERPT

“I can’t bathe with you here,” she protested.

“I will not watch you, Beth,” he informed her patiently. Though the temptation would be great, he felt confident he could resist it.

“Then go wait for me at the campsite. I can find my way back.”

“I cannot leave you unprotected.”

“Have you forgotten this?” Reaching down to her ankle, she removed the smallest of her weapons from her boot. “I have my twenty-two. I’ll be perfectly safe.”

He eyed the silvery object doubtfully, unsure exactly what such a weapon did. “You are not familiar with these woods and know neither the dangers they possess nor how swiftly they can come upon you. I will not leave you alone.”

Her expression darkened with a mixture of frustration and dismay.

He loosed a heavy sigh. “I am here to protect you, Beth, not ravish you. Had the latter been my intention, I would have already done so. I vow I have never taken a woman by force in my life.”

A flush mounted her cheeks.

“I have already told you I will turn my back. If ’twill make you feel better, then leave your undergarments on, though I assure you such is not necessary.”

A moment passed. “Fine,” she grumbled, scooting off the rock and stepping onto the grassy bank. “I guess it’s nothing you haven’t seen before anyway. Just don’t take this as an invitation.”

“As you wish.”

Robert learned something new about her then. When Bethany decided to place her trust in someone, she gave her full trust.

After placing her twenty-two on the ground a few feet from the water’s edge, she proceeded to disrobe without even asking him to give her his back. She discarded her boots and odd, thick, ankle-high white hose first. Then she parted her long-sleeved tunic down the middle and shrugged out of it.

He stepped forward and extended one hand.

A question in her gaze, Bethany handed him the jacket, he thought she called it.

“I thought to wash it for you whilst you bathe.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you’re real?”

“I do not understand.”

Shaking her head, she lowered her hands to the sides of her odd vest. “You’re too good to be true, Robert. First you say you would give your life to protect me.” Rrrrip. “Then you kneel in icy water and wash my hair.” Rrrrip. “And now you’re offering to wash my filthy clothes for me.” Rrrrip. Rrrrip. She lifted the vest over her head. “No man is that nice.” Tossing it aside, she reached for her belt. A few nimble pulls and it joined her vest at her feet.

Robert stood rooted to the spot, his mouth dry, breath quickening, as she tucked her fingers beneath the hem of her tiny sleeveless tunic, then dragged it up and over her head.

Heat seared him, racing through his veins and pooling in his groin.

Was that a bra? Those two tiny scraps of sleek black fabric that cupped her full breasts the way his hands itched to, barely covering the pale pink crests and held in place by the thin black straps whose purpose had eluded him earlier? More plump, pale flesh than he had anticipated rose above the edges, the shadowed valley between them drawing his hungry gaze.

Despite the fact that almost every inch of her skin was coated with dried blood, Robert found himself consumed with lust the likes of which he had not experienced in years.

“Mayhap I am not as honorable as you think I am,” he admitted hoarsely.

Unconcerned, she handed him the sleeveless tunic, then started unfastening the front of her breeches.

“Mayhap I only offered to wash your garments in hopes of distracting myself from”—his gaze returned to her breasts—“other things.”

Her eyes met his, then slid away. “Oh.” He thought her cheeks darkened a bit. “Well, just pretend we’re at the beach and this is a bathing suit,” she mumbled, tucking her thumbs in the waistband of her breeches.

“You make a habit of walking along the shore garbed so— By the saints!” he practically bellowed.

Bethany jumped. “What?” Eyes wide with alarm, she scanned their surroundings.

Try though he might, Robert could not look away. He knew he should, but he could not. Nor could he pick his jaw up from where it had landed on the ground. All he could do was stand and stare and go up in flames.

Bethany’s breeches now lay bunched around her ankles, leaving her long, slender legs and almost everything else bare. The only thing that shielded her… modesty… was a V-shaped piece of shiny black material that formed a triangle at the juncture of her thighs and narrowed to two thin strips that disappeared over her hips.

“Robert?”

For a moment, he thought he would not succeed in dragging his gaze away.

How those black scraps tempted him, beckoning him to abandon all honor and let his hands and mouth go exploring.

“Robert? You’re starting to make me a little nervous.”

He imagined so, slavering over her the way he was, like a wolf wishing to dine on a ewe.

“Not to mention self-conscious,” she added.

At last, he managed to close his mouth. Clearing his throat, he tried to remember what he had been saying. “You wander along the shores garbed so sparsely?”

She glanced down and stepped out of the breeches. “Actually, no. I sunburn too easily. But I’ve seen women at the beach who wore less.”

“Less than that?” he asked incredulously.

Her brow crinkled slightly. “Aye. Lots of times. Especially during spring break.”

He did not know what spring break was, but surely she jested.

“Are you all right?” she asked, eyeing him dubiously.

All right? Nay, he was not all right. He trembled with need. He was on fire. He was a breath away from losing both his control and his sanity. And she seemed completely oblivious to the effect her near nudity had on him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

dianne_duvall_authorpicDianne Duvall is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Immortal Guardians series and The Gifted Ones series. Reviewers have called Dianne’s books “fast-paced and humorous” (Publishers Weekly), “utterly addictive” (RT Book Reviews), “extraordinary” (Long and Short Reviews), and”wonderfully imaginative” (The Romance Reviews). Her books have twice been nominated for RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards and are routinely deemed Top Picks by RT Book Reviews, The Romance Reviews,and/or Night Owl Reviews.

Dianne loves all things creative. When she isn’t writing, Dianne is active in the independent film industry and has even appeared on-screen, crawling out of a moonlit grave and wielding a machete like some of the vampires she so loves to create in her books.

For the latest news on upcoming releases, contests, and more, please visit Dianne online . . .

Website — http://www.DianneDuvall.com
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Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis by Amelia Grey

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The Marquis of Wythebury, is expecting an ordinary Christmastide at Hurst—until he is set upon by a beautiful miss who takes him to task for not allowing his young nephews to play outside. In his mind, a five and seven year old needn’t get chilled in the snow; better to plop them in front of the fire with a book. Few people have ever been brave enough to challenge him over anything, much less the rearing of his wards. The cheeky Miss Prim has no such compunction. No matter how fetching he finds her, he can’t give in to his attraction…for she is the sister of his best friend.

Growing up the middle child of five rambunctious girls, Lillian Prim doesn’t understand why two young boys visiting Hurst don’t know how to play until she meets their dashing guardian. The Marquis of Wythebury is commanding and intensely serious-minded. To her surprise, she’s captivated by him. It’s all she can do not to give into her feminine fantasies about her kissing him. Lillian has no intention of falling in love with the Marquis, but she will create Christmastide mischief and teach the boys and the handsome Marquis how to play.

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s/Swerve, November 2016
Time and setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Vikki

Seth Wythebury, Marquis of Wythebury is looking forward to a relaxing time away from his responsibilities. While attending a house party at his friend’s estate with his two young nephews, he encounters Miss Lillian Prim, the sister-in-law of his host when she takes his nephews outside and is engaging in a snowball fight after he had left them quietly reading.

Miss Prim is determined to get the two little boys’ guardian to realize they are only five and seven years old and need to have outside pursuits. What she does not count on is developing feelings for the man.

Who will win in this tug of war? The free-spirited miss, or the serious-minded marquis? Will they find out that opposites really do attract?

Mistletoe, Mischief and the Marquis is a delightful seasonal tale of a man trying to do the best for those in his charge, and perhaps being just a bit over-protective. Ms. Grey has spun an enchanting romance with engaging characters. The novella is fast-paced and engaged my interest from the start and held it until the end.

Lillian Prim is an endearing character. She speaks her mind – even to the austere Marquis of Wythbury – when others would hold their tongue. I loved how she was constantly putting him in his place. Throughout much of this lovely story, Lillian is trying to show the marquis that little boys need to have fun. I loved how she goes about it.

Seth is very serious-minded. He does not know how to have fun and has no desire to learn, yet the annoying Miss Prim is determined to teach his nephews. I loved watching him war with himself over the feelings he has for her. Once he makes up his mind to win her heart, he does it in a big way. I absolutely loved the ending of this book!

Ms. Grey is a talented author, and she has penned an enchanting Christmas story that will warm your heart and put a smile on your face. The two little boys will steal your heart. I always love heartwarming tales involving children, and especially around the holidays. If you enjoy regency romances with a good sense of the time-period with delightful characters, then you will love Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis.

Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt

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IN THE ARMS OF DANGER

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley-and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation . . .

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be-before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, November 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1742
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

It’s difficult to believe that Elizabeth Hoyt has managed to keep interest in this series alive for so long, with readers continuing to eagerly await each new book. And surprisingly – because this has not always been my experience with other long running series – the stories seems to be getting stronger. I really enjoyed Duke of Pleasure, and in fact I think it is my favourite so far.

I loved the main protagonists – Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle is a charismatic, gorgeous man although perhaps Duke of Pleasure is an inappropriate moniker because he is actually quite a vulnerable and serious man. His main concern is to win the love and trust of his motherless sons but he has also been tasked, by his father King George II, with bringing down the Lords of Chaos. This secret society of depraved aristocrats is an evil force to be reckoned with, and as well as their nefarious activities, they wield immense power within the upper echelons of society. Then there’s Alf – street urchin/information dealer/gatherer by day, Ghost of St.Giles by night. Normally the trope of a girl passing herself off as a boy does not appeal to me but Elizabeth Hoyt pulls it off admirably here, and I adored the cheeky, cocky, girl/boy character who was tempted to kiss her duke.

Hugh had left England for the continent after his marriage – which had started out as a passionate love match – fizzled out, to be replaced by a soul destroying hatred, with fierce rows and his wife’s perfidy driving them apart. He left in order to preserve his sanity and only returns when he hears of his wife’s death and in order to comfort the small sons who barely remember him and are hurting and grieving for their mother. He has returned an embittered man, vowing never to allow love to cloud his judgement again. Mindful of his duty to his little boys, however, he has already chosen his wife’s replacement – that is until a tiny phantom throws a spanner in the works.

Alf, abandoned by her mother at the age of five, has learned to take care of herself. She was fortunate enough to be rescued and cared for in the early days  by the leader of a street gang, who reasoned that she would be more likely to survive if she dressed and acted like a boy. Consequently, this is the only life she has ever really known and now aged twenty-one, her cohorts and people around her in the slums of St Giles know her only as Alf – the boy. She has left the gang, and has an extraordinary talent for climbing and making a quick escape across the rooftops and overcrowded slums where she lives. She has also been taught to fence with much skill and success by a previous – now retired – Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St.John and has regular fencing lessons with him to hone her skills. It is on one of her nightly patrols of the slums as The Ghost that she comes into contact with Hugh Fitzroy who is investigating a lead to the Lords of Chaos and finds himself cornered in the filthy backstreets of St. Giles. She and Hugh fight together and defeat his attackers but before leaving to escape back across the rooftops Alf impulsively kisses Hugh before running off into the night.  He feels an immediate attraction to the lithe, slim body that is undoubtedly a woman beneath the mask and costume, and is confused by the stirring of excitement and interest that he hasn’t felt in a long while. The next day, by coincidence, Hugh sends one of his men to find Alf – the known information dealer – to see if the street boy can find any information on the Lords of Chaos, never guessing that she is the phantom fighter – and kisser – who saved his life.

From then on it is only a matter of time before the ghost and Alf are revealed as the lovely young woman she is beneath the boys trappings and Hugh is in a dilemma. On the one hand he relishes the excitement she stirs in him and which he thought was long gone, but on the other hand he wants peace and security for himself and his boys with the women he has chosen to be his wife.

Elizabeth Hoyt has an immense talent for drawing her readers into the world she has created. She is bold and outrageous, her sexy love scenes earthy but not crude, her storylines well-crafted and intriguing. There seems to be a duke on every street corner and – even more unlikely in this case – one who is seriously attracted to a girl who dresses and acts like a boy during the daytime and runs around in a ridiculous harlequin costume by night, fights like a man and drops her h’s! And yet we believe in these characters, love them, root for them and most of all, want them to be happy. This is the attraction in Ms. Hoyt’s writing – she doesn’t pretend to conform, she’s imaginative, her characters larger than life, compelling and likeable. Duke of Pleasure is a thoroughly enjoyable read with lovely characters and I’m eagerly looking forward to Duke of Desire next year.

The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham Hall #3) by Lorraine Heath

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Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print… and takes his father’s place!

Now the sedate — and, more importantly, secure — union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1882
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lorraine Heath is one of those writers whose work really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the emotional content of her books draws me to her time and time again, and I will often finish one of her novels feeling completely wrung out and unable to pick up another book for at least twenty-four hours. Such was the case with The Viscount and the Vixen, the final full-length novel in her Hellions of Havisham Hall series.

The Marquess of Marsden is a recluse, labelled mad by most because he is believed to have gone insane following the death of his beloved wife in childbed. Havisham Hall has been allowed to fall into disrepair over the years, and even though his son, Viscount Locksley has lived there exclusively for the past couple of years, he has made no improvements because his father dislikes change and he – Locke – doesn’t want to agitate him.

So when he arrives at the breakfast table one morning to find his father freshly shaved, smartly dressed and reading the paper, it’s a bit of a shock. Marsden usually takes his meals in his room and doesn’t bother much about his appearance, but when he tells Locke that his (Marsden’s) bride will be arriving later, Locke thinks his father is delusional and must be referring to his mother. But Marsden is perfectly lucid and explains that as Locke has so far neglected to find a wife and set up his nursery, it behoves him to marry a woman young enough to provide the necessary “spare” in order to secure the succession. And in order to do that, Marsden placed an advertisement in a newspaper which was answered by a Mrs. Portia Gadstone, with whom he has been corresponding ever since. Locke is flabbergasted, but also concerned for his father and worried that he has been taken in by a fortune hunter. When Mrs. Gadstone appears, he is knocked sideways even further; she’s luscious and he’s suddenly drowning in lust the like of which he can’t remember ever experiencing before. But even so – he’s sure she’s a gold digger and is determined to protect his father at all costs. And it quickly appears there is only one way to do that, which is to marry Portia himself.

Portia has been driven to the drastic step of marrying a man widely reputed to be insane because she’s in a desperate situation. She can’t deny that the prospect of marrying a wealthy man is an attractive one, but just as important as the marquess’ wealth is the fact that his title offers her the protection she seeks, and she is determined to be a good wife to him.

But her first sight of Marsden’s gorgeous, green-eyed son throws her for a loop, even though he makes it perfectly clear that he distrusts her and wants to stop her marrying his father. When Locke proposes she marry him instead, Portia is almost turned from her purpose, realising that her life with him will in no way fulfil her desire for quiet, rather dull existence she had envisaged having with his father. But that doesn’t alter the fact that she has imperative reasons for marrying and living in a remote location – and the deal is made.

The sexual tension between Locke and Portia is off the charts right from the start, and theirs is – to begin with – a relationship based purely on mutual lust, which suits both of them. Locke saw what his mother’s death did to his father and as a result, has no wish to experience love; and Portia doesn’t want to fall in love with a man upon whom she is practicing a serious deception. But as the story progresses, the lines between lust and affection become blurred and Portia starts to worm her way under the skin of father and son, both of whom are taken with her intelligence, wit and kindness. And for Locke, the fact that his wife is a woman whose capacity for passion matches is own is an unlooked for bonus.

Lorraine Heath has penned a lovely, tender romance that progresses at the same time as Locke and Portia are setting fire to the sheets (often!), and I particularly enjoyed the way that Portia’s gradual progress in restoring Havisham Hall, opening up long-closed rooms and making them habitable and welcoming again, mirrors her gradual unlocking of her new husband’s heart and her discovery that he is a man capable – and deserving – of a great deal of love and affection. There is never any doubt that Locke and Portia are falling in love; their actions often speak louder than their words as these two people who didn’t want love come to realise that it’s found them, regardless.

Portia’s backstory and her reasons for answering Marsden’s advertisement are drip fed throughout the book, and it’s a testament to the author’s skill that even though Portia has deliberately set out to deceive, the reader feels sympathy for her. At a time when women had no rights to anything, even their own bodies, she has had to make difficult choices and ended up living a life very different from the one she had envisaged. She owns her own mistakes, but when faced with an impossible choice, made the only decision she could live with, one which now looks set to ruin her life and happiness with the man she never intended to love.

Locke seems to be rather a stereotypical romance hero at first glance – tall, dark, handsome, cynical and a demi-god in bed – but there’s more to him than that. Underneath the veneer of charm and wicked sensuality, he’s a compassionate man with a strong sense of duty who is quite obviously fooling himself into believing he doesn’t want love when he is so clearly ready to embrace it. His relationship with Marsden is easily one of the best things about the book; the affection in which father and son hold each other leaps off the page and possesses just the right degree of exasperated tenderness. And Marsden is far more subtly drawn here than he has been in the other books; he’s unbalanced, but clearly not insane and appears to be subject to fits of melancholy rather than mentally unhinged.

When Locke discovers his wife’s dishonesty, there are, of course, some unpleasant things said, and later, Portia does perhaps forgive Locke a tad too quickly. But on balance, Locke’s willingness to listen to Portia’s story – something many men of the time would probably not have done – says much for him and about the strength of their relationship. It works in context, although I can understand that some may feel he wasn’t sufficiently remorseful and should have grovelled more.

The Viscount and the Vixen contains just about everything I want from an historical romance – complex, intriguing characters, scorching sexual tension, and a strong storyline that is firmly rooted in the era in which the story is set. Ms. Heath once again delivers those things along with finely observed familial relationships and a sexy, well-developed love story. I’ve enjoyed each of the books in this series and am looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Real Earls Break the Rules (The Infamous Somertons #2) by Tina Gabrielle

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1816 England

Brandon St. Clair, the Earl of Vale, has never been one to follow the rules. Even though he must marry a wealthy heiress so that he can be rid of the pile of debt he inherited with his title, he can’t stop thinking of another. Amelia Somerton is the daughter of a forger and is not a suitable wife. But that doesn’t stop Brandon from making Amelia a different offer, the kind that breaks every rule of etiquette…

Sin runs in Amelia’s family. And even though she now rubs elbows with the aristocracy, she knows the truth—she has the ability to forge priceless works of art. She’ll never be seen as an acceptable wife, not that she wants to marry, anyway. So when the earl scandalously offers her the one thing she’s always dreamed of, she can’t help but take it. But what begins as a simple arrangement, soon escalates into much more, and as the heat between them sizzles, each encounter becomes a lesson in seduction…

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EXCERPT

Amelia looked away. This wouldn’t do at all. She hadn’t drawn a single charcoal line and already she was craving the forbidden. She cleared her throat and stood. “I often work on more than one painting at a time and plan on painting the Cuyp landscape and your portrait simultaneously. I thought to start with your portrait tonight. Have you given any thought of how you would like to pose?”

Lord Vale rose to his feet. “What is your professional opinion as an artist?”

A reproduction of Michelangelo’s statue of David she had once seen in a museum rose in her mind. Magnificent in its naked splendor, the statue’s muscles and sinew had portrayed a beautiful male form. Her pulse beat in her throat, and she tried to assume an ease she didn’t feel as she faced him. She had been raised unconventionally in an artist’s household. Her father’s studio contained all types of art, including nude drawings and sketches, and she had studied them in order to sketch realistic people in her works. The print shop also had a vast variety of prints and paintings for sale, some of nudes or half-dressed subjects. But she shouldn’t be thinking of that artwork now. Not when the strikingly handsome Earl of Vale was staring at her and waiting for her response.

Her hands, hidden from sight, twisted nervously in her skirts. “Do you prefer any of the portraits of the prior Earls of Vale you had shown me?”

“I thought I discussed not wanting to look like them.”

Oh, you could never look like them. Not if she was the artist.

She was distracted when he reached up to unbutton and remove his jacket, then drape it across the armchair. Next, he shed his waistcoat and tossed it to join the jacket. Broad shoulders strained against the fabric of his shirt. She could make out muscles and a narrow waist where his shirt tucked into his breeches.

“What are you doing?” she asked, alarmed.

“All my ancestors are dressed formally. I don’t want to be remembered as earlish, remember?”

Had she ever used that term to describe him?

He looked about the room “Hmm. Now how should I pose?”

Her gaze lifted to his, and she searched for some hint that he knew her reaction to his state of undress. All she found was a guiltless concentration, like he was struggling to decide how best to pose for her study.

Heat rushed to her cheeks. She wracked her mind for something to say to distract her from his masculinity.

“You said you are in your study every evening. What do you spend most of your time doing here?” she asked.

“That’s easy.” He motioned to the large desk and the piles of paper upon its surface. “I work.”

“Every night?”

“Long into every night.”

She chewed her lip. She thought that most of the gentlemen of the beau monde spent their nights at their London clubs or, if in the country, drinking with their friends. A house party offered ample opportunity for him to be in the billiard room with Lord Huntingdon. Once the other gentlemen arrived, she imagined they would all drink and play billiards.

“What do you work on?” she asked.

“This and that. The old earl died a year ago. I’m sorting through his affairs.”

It was a vague answer to be sure. It was also none of her concern. He was hiring her to paint him, not delve into his affairs. He may not be paying her in banknotes, but the letter in her skirt pocket promising art lessons from a Royal Academy painter was as good as gold in Amelia’s opinion.

“I have an idea,” she blurted out. “Since you spend so much time at your desk, I’d like to paint you there.”

“Behind the desk?”

“No. In front of it.” She pointed where she wanted him to stand in front of the massive pearwood desk. “Lean back against the desk and place a hand on either side of you for support.” She took one of his hands and showed him. His hand was much larger than hers, the fingers long, tapered, and strong. He wore no gloves and she’d left hers in her room. No sense wearing them when she painted. The simple act of touching his hands was intimate and made her cheeks flush.

He leaned back, his hands on either side as she’d requested. She looked up and met his gaze. They were close…too close. For a heart-stopping moment she read longing in his eyes—pure and undisguised.

She froze. He wasn’t as guiltless or unaffected as she’d thought. Her heart pounded in her chest, beating so hard and loud that she feared he could hear. She took a quick step back.

“Anything else?” he asked.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tina gabrielleBest-selling author Tina Gabrielle is an attorney and former mechanical engineer whose love of reading for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. She often picked up a romance and let her fantasies of knights in shining armor and lords and ladies carry her away. She is the author of adventurous Regency historical romances for Entangled and Kensington Books.

Publisher’s Weekly calls her Regency Barrister’s series, “Well-matched lovers…witty comradely repartee.” Tina’s books have been Barnes & Noble top picks, and her first book, Lady Of Scandal, was nominated as best first historical by Romantic Times Book Reviews. Tina lives in New Jersey and is married to her own hero and is blessed with two daughters. She loves to hear from readers. Visit her website to learn about upcoming releases, join her newsletter, and enter free monthly contests at www.tinagabrielle.com

Secrets in the Mist (Gothic Myths #1) by Anna Lee Huber

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England 1812. Since the death of her mother and brother, Ella Winterton’s life has been consumed by keeping her drunkard father out of trouble and the roof of their crumbling cottage over their heads. But even isolated deep in the Norfolk broads, Ella has never been afraid of the marshes surrounding her home, despite their being riddled with treacherous bogs and local smugglers. Until one night a man masquerading as a Lantern Man—a frightening figure of local legend—waylays her in the marshes near her home, and her world suddenly begins to spiral out of control.

Ella can tell her friends and the local villagers are all hiding something terrible, something they refuse to share, and she can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the Lantern Man and his secret activities in the shadows of the seemingly quiet broads. But when Ella’s father is caught with smuggled brandy by the authorities and levied a crippling fine, she is forced to turn to the stranger for help, despite her distrust and his alarming ability to kiss her senseless.

Now she must unravel a twisted trail of deception and secrets, and uncover once and for all whether the Lantern Man is friend or foe. Or else risk being dragged down into the marshes, like the victims from the myth, and buried in a watery grave.

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Publisher and Release Date: Brightstone Media, October 2016
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Gothic Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

So many of my friends are fans of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mystery series, which I’ve not yet had a chance to read, so I jumped at the chance to review the first book in her brand new romantic suspense series centered around Gothic myths and folklore, Secrets in the Mist.

On a dark, foggy night, the kind of night where most people wouldn’t dare cross the East Anglian marshes on foot, Ella Winterton ventures out to take much-needed medicine to her sick friend, skeptical of her old housekeeper’s tales of Lantern Men until she spots their floating lights in the mist and comes face-to-face with one. Only he’s no specter but a flesh-and-blood man, dark and menacing and delivering a warning to stay out of the marshes. But that’s hard for Ella to do, living on the edge of them as she does, and spending so much time traveling back and forth between her humble home and her friend Kate’s house, Greenlaws. Kate recovers from her illness, but it soon becomes apparent that she and her brother, Robert, with whom Ella has a complicated past, are keeping secrets, and Ella’s refuge from her drunken father and dwindling prospects no longer seems so inviting. After several more run-ins with the handsome Lantern Man and a lecherous revenue man who levies an exorbitant fine for her father’s smuggled brandy, Ella has no choice but to take her family’s future into her own hands. But rather than turn to Robert for help, she forces the Lantern Man, aka Jack, to help her and stumbles onto an enterprise far more dangerous than she’d imagined. Now, caught in a trap of her own making, Ella must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect her father, her friends, and her very life, and whether Jack can be trusted or if he’s leading her into danger for his own nefarious purposes.

Secrets in the Mist is a very well-written and incredibly atmospheric romance. The author skilfully conjures up the images of marshy estuaries, hidden waterways tucked among the tall reeds and grasses, a treacherous path between a run-down cottage and a grand manor, a forlorn dock that becomes a clandestine meeting place, and the ever-present mist that can hide lovers in a romantic cocoon, hide smugglers from the eyes of the law, or hide things of a far darker nature from unsuspecting travelers. It’s also rich in historical detail. In a note on the author’s website, she reveals that many aspects of this story were inspired right from the pages of history. Coastal England must have been a very interesting place to live during the war with France.

While I really enjoyed the story, I did find sections of it to be slow-moving and repetitive, and I thought the plot fairly predictable. I had hoped the Lantern Men mystery would play out a bit longer so it could have been a tad spookier; as it is, the cause of the marsh lights Ella sees is revealed early on, so the suspense of the unknown doesn’t really reach its fullest potential, although a whole other type of danger presents itself. However, I still couldn’t put the book down. I had to keep reading to see if my assumptions were correct and to see how everything would come together in the end. I particularly enjoyed the romance. I really felt for Ella and her circumstances, and Jack is sexy and sweet under his gruff façade. The romantic tension between them is very well done.

Secrets in the Mist stands out to me as something unique and memorable in historical romance. It does stay pretty close to the classic Gothic romance formula, but it is set against a rich historical backdrop and incorporates many of the elements that make for a great read – dimensional and intriguing characters, an evocative setting, action, suspense, betrayal, danger, and of course, true love. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series and will be adding Anna Lee Huber’s other series to my reading list.

Miss Millie’s Groom by Catherine E. Chapman

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It is the summer of 1914 and Britain teeters on the brink of war. Society girl, Millicent Awbridge, is oblivious to the impending conflict and preoccupied with the recent shooting of her horse. When she confronts the culprit, Ryan O’Flynn, a groom in her father’s service, Millie finds romance rather than hostility. The encounter sparks a series of events that brings Millie’s burgeoning womanhood to fruition.

Millie and Ryan’s affair is conducted in secret but Millie’s aunt has her suspicions and is determined to bring an end to it. Inevitably, the war also impacts on the young people’s lives and others are implicated in the muddle. Will Millie and Ryan ever be truly united?

A sweet romance, set in England during the First World War.

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Publisher and Release Date: Catharine E. Chapman, September 2016

Time and setting: England, 1914-1919
Genre: Historical Fiction with Romantic Elements
Heat Level: 1
Rating: 3 stars

Review by Vikki

Millicent Awbridge is a bit of a hoyden, enjoying a rousing gallop more than the role of society girl her aunt Rose intends her to be. When her beloved horse has to be put down, Millie is filled with rage and seeks out the culprit who did the deed.

Ryan O’Flynn is a groom in Millie’s father’s stable and the young man who had to destroy the horse. Millie’s anger quickly turns from ire to attraction. Ryan, realizing how unsuitable it would be for them to entertain that attraction does all he can to discourage the strong-willed and determined miss,  even going so far as to join the army and then heading off to war.

When Ryan returns following an injury, the pair see each other again at the hospital where Millie works. The attraction between them is as strong as ever, but Millie’s aunt has thrown an obstacle in their path.

Will Millie and Ryan find a way to move beyond the difference in class and find the love they both crave, or will Millie’s aunt’s machinations keep them apart?

Miss Millie’s Groom was different than I expected, but a very interesting read.The pacing is steady for the most part, although, at times it does slow a bit too much, due to too much telling rather than showing.

Millicent’s character is vivacious, endearing and determined. I truly enjoyed her character a great deal from the first page to the last. She reminded me of Sybil from Downton Abbey; in fact, this novel has other overtones from that drama.

Ryan O’Flynn is an interesting hero, but I did not get to know him as well as I would have liked. Most of the story is told from Millie’s PoV, so I didn’t glean very much of Ryan’s insights and feelings. He is a likable character, though somewhat reminiscent of Tom Branson (also from Downton Abbey), although perhaps not quite as fierce in his radical beliefs.

While Miss Millie’s Groom does have a romance, it is more of a glimpse of a young girl’s coming of age during the Great War. I did enjoy the romance between the Millie and Ryan, but I would have liked to have been a more fleshed out.  The same is true of the characters.

Fans of Downton may enjoy Miss Millie’s Groom, but please don’t expect the brilliance of that drama. This is a sweet story, but it lacks depth. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it, and I am glad I had the opportunity to read it.

The Danger of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries – PLUS A GIVEAWAY!

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To root out the card cheat responsible for her brother’s death, Miss Delia Trevor spends her evenings dancing her way through high society balls, and her late nights disguised as a young man gambling her way through London’s gaming hells. Then one night, handsome Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious member of St. George’s Club, recognizes her. When he threatens to reveal her secret, she’s determined to keep him from ruining her plans, even if it means playing a cat-and-mouse game with the enigmatic rakehell.

Warren knows the danger of her game, and he refuses to watch her lose everything while gaining justice for her late brother. But when she starts to delve beneath his carefully crafted façade, can he keep her at arm’s length while still protecting her? Or will their hot desires explode into a love that transcends the secrets of their pasts?

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, November 2016
Time and Setting: England 1830
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

This third book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors features Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a man whose many and varied amorous exploits have earned him the reputation as a scoundrel of the highest order. Readers met Warren – briefly – in the previous book, The Study of Seduction, when he asked his best friend, Edwin, the Earl of Blakeborough, to keep an eye on his ward, Clarissa while he (Warren) saw to some important business abroad. Warren and Edwin are old friends and members of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s club like most others but whose members banded together with the aim of protecting their female relatives from fortune hunters, gamblers, womanisers and other unscrupulous men by regularly sharing information about the men of their acquaintance.

When Warren’s cousin Clarissa – now happily married to Edwin – asks him to see if any of the club members has heard any gossip about her friend, Delia Trevor, he is not keen at first, believing her request to be a poorly disguised matchmaking attempt. But when Clarissa explains that she is concerned because her friend has been behaving rather oddly of late, Warren takes notice and agrees to help. Having recently discovered what befell Clarissa in her début Season (she was stalked and assaulted by a suitor), Warren feels guilty for not having protected her, and, determined never to let another woman go through something similar, he agrees to see what he can find out.

Miss Delia Trevor has come to London for the Season not, as her aunt believes, to find herself a husband, but in order to discover the identity of the man who cheated her late brother out of a large sum of money and drove him to suicide. The only information she has to go on is the name of the gambling den at which Reynold last played and the fact that his lordly opponent had a sun tattoo on his wrist. So every evening, she disguises herself in man’s attire and sneaks out of the house, making her way to the hell accompanied by a trusty servant in the attempt to draw out the card cheat.

Delia is annoyed, therefore, when the Marquess of Knightford starts to take an interest in her and starts popping up at inconvenient moments and asking awkward questions. She knows she isn’t the sort of woman likely to attract him – her bosom is too small, her hips too wide and she has gone out of her way to dress in the most unflattering manner possible to put off any potential suitors – so she is immediately suspicious of his motives for flirting with her and singling her out.

Warren quickly discovers that Miss Trevor is not at all the simpering miss he had expected and is immediately intrigued by her reluctance to have anything to do with him. He finds he rather likes her waspish tongue, and her attempts to put him off only serve to put him on the alert as he realises that Clarissa’s concerns are not unfounded. Suspicious of Delia’s interactions with a servant, he waits outside her townhouse at night in the belief she has arranged an illicit assignation, only to be confused when the servant appears accompanied by a shabbily dressed boy. He follows the pair, ending up at one of London’s less salubrious gaming establishments where he discovers the reasons behind Delia’s evasiveness – the shabbily dressed boy is not a boy at all, but Miss Delia Trevor in disguise.

Warren is furious with Delia for putting herself in danger both physically and in terms of her reputation, and irritated that she will not confide in him or let him help. He is also aware that what began as curiosity liberally sprinkled with a helping of lust is turning into something else. He can’t stop thinking about Delia or stop wanting her, and while he’s bedded more than his fair share of women, he doesn’t dally with marriageable debutantes or respectable ladies, so he can’t understand his sudden fascination with a woman who is both those things. And Deila’s reaction to the handsome Marquess – most especially to his delicious, arousing kisses – is something she had never expected to experience, but once sampled, is quite helpless to resist.

The romance between Warren and Delia is nicely done, with plenty of verbal sparring and crackling sexual tension between them. While Warren is determined to discover Delia’s secrets, he is equally determined to prevent her from discovering his own, which have resulted in the debilitating nightmares he has suffered for most of his life. Believing them to be a sign of weakness, he has concealed them even from his own family, preferring instead to spend his nights in the company of whores or out gaming or drinking and then to sleep during the day when the dreams do not assail him. But when he and Delia are discovered in a compromising position and forced to marry, keeping his darkest fears from his new wife is going to be an enormous challenge, and one that could potentially derail their fledgling marriage before it has really begun.

While the romance is the main focus of the novel, Delia’s search for the card cheat is not forgotten, although the resolution to that plotline comes rather out of left-field, and is quite convoluted. There is no real build-up to the discovery of that person’s identity, and while explanations are given, anyone who hasn’t read the previous book might end up feeling confused, as the reasons behind the cheater’s actions relate directly to a character who has been hovering “off screen” in the background in the last two books, and whose story we will be getting in the next in the series. So while on the one hand, it’s quite a clever idea to relate the stories in this way, on the other, it feels somewhat contrived and as though it has been done purely to set up the next book. It also negates much of what Delia has gone through in her quest for justice for her brother and denies her any real sense of closure about his death; forgiveness comes very easily in order to satisfy the demands of the plot.

The Danger of Desire doesn’t break any new ground, but is nonetheless an entertaining read that is populated by well-drawn, attractive characters who are just a little different from the norm. While Warren is a rakish, marriage-avoidance minded bachelor, his motivations for eschewing the married state are other than the usual miserable-example-provided-by-parents, or earlier-relationship-gone-sour; and Delia’s talents at the card-table and her backstory as the daughter of a gambler lend depth to her character and explain her reluctance to trust. The ending is somewhat rushed, but the romance is given time to develop and Delia and Warren make a well-matched couple. I enjoyed the story in spite of my reservations, and am looking forward to the final book in the series.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: My Rogue, My Ruin by Amalie Howard & Angie Morgan

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The beau monde has always had it all—money, pride, titles—while the needy die on their doorsteps. So I don a mask, steal from the rich, and give to the poor. I am no longer the son of a duke.

I am the Masked Marauder.

My only rule: never let anyone close enough to know my secret. So I’m cold and hard and scare everyone away. That’s just what it takes if I hope to make a difference in this world.

Until one woman, pitied by the ton, sees through my defenses, and I can’t help the heat between us. Everyone sees her as quiet and frail, but I see the spark behind her eyes and I’m like a moth to her flame. For a moment, I think I might be able to keep her and my secret.

But I was never meant to have it all…

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EXCERPT

The bandit had pulled her flat against his chest and stomach, bringing his masked face mere inches away from hers. His eyes were still wild and wandering so she could only hope he hadn’t yet focused on her face. Would he recognize her, even disguised as she was?

“Release me so I can bandage you,” she said, the husky tone of her voice not entirely put on. Goodness, he was virile, even woozy from a shot to his leg. He held her arm like a vise.

“Shot me,” he whispered, incredulous.

“Yes well, what did you expect? You’re a highwayman,” Brynn replied, attempting to wrench her arm away and pull back to a safer distance.

“No bullets,” he breathed.

“Just one, and it barely grazed you,” she explained, still wiggling toward freedom.

He finally released her, and she tumbled back, right onto her rump.

The distant whinny of a horse and the steady clomp clomping of horse hooves had her up and on her feet again. Someone was coming. One of the bandit’s cohorts? Another criminal? What was this place, a hideout? She hadn’t stopped to wonder before. There were a number of abandoned cottages and stone ruins scattered throughout the woods of her own estate, and she imagined the neighboring duke’s estate as well.

If the bandit and his allies had set up in one of them, she most certainly did not want to be discovered. The Masked Marauder had been shot, and he was weak and clumsy from blood loss, but this new arrival would not be.

Brynn hurried for the door, taking a last glance at the bandit as she whipped it open. He was lying on the cot, his chest rising steadily with each breath. The mask. She’d spent ages ogling the bulge of his masculinity underneath his smalls, and yet she hadn’t lifted the slip of black silk to reveal his identity. There was no time now, not that she had any inclination to match a face to the ample…body part she’d gotten an eyeful of. If he turned out to be an aristocrat as she suspected, she’d never be at ease in polite society for fear of recognizing the man. She flushed and once again, her knees went inexplicably weak. Blast it twice on Sundays.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the award-winning author of several young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.

Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.angiemorganbooks.com

The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide by Virginia Heath

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Choosing a wife is not a task that should be undertaken lightly.”

Bennett Montague, sixteenth Duke of Aveley, is seeking the perfect bride. He’s narrowed his search to five worthy “Potentials”… until the arrival of his aunt’s companion unravels his carefully laid plans.

Having fought for everything she has, Amelia Mansfield is incensed by Bennett’s wife-selection methods. But as she’s forced to spend time in his company, she begins to see another side to Bennett—and that man is infinitely more tantalizing and enticing…

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, November 2016

Time and setting: London 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

I thoroughly enjoyed A Discerning Gentleman’s Guide by new-to-me author, Virginia Heath. It put me in mind of the acclaimed contemporary romance The Rosie Project which also follows the path of a gentleman who has decided that it is time to take a wife and clinically sets out to find one following a written set of rules. In A Discerning Gentleman’s Guide it is Bennett Montague, sixteenth Duke of Aveley, who is following this path – two hundred years earlier – and he is referring to a manual/pamphlet he has actually written, using wisdom gleaned from his father. With its aid he has narrowed down the field of potential brides who might meet his exacting requirements. That is until he meets his aunt’s companion, the completely unorthodox and delectable Amelia Mansfield. She does not tick any of his boxes; nor is there a set of rules to abide by when physical attraction or even Cupid takes a hand.

Bennett is the only child of a distinguished politician who lived by a set of rigid guidelines – to the detriment of his family. The duke’s younger brother, George, had always disagreed with this philosophy and sought – without much success – to mitigate the worst effects of his brother’s teaching upon his son. Years later, Bennett continues to be ruled from the grave by his father’s ethics and opinions and as a result has become a stuffy workaholic. By no means an unkind or uncaring man he simply appears to lack imagination and seems incapable of thinking outside the box – or at least the box his father has created; working himself into the ground, treading his well worn path of duty-above-all-else; without deviation.

Amelia Mansfield has a chequered, tarnished past which is no fault of her own but has survived and lives to tell the tale, albeit with a strong disrespect for the aristocracy and a passionate need to help the less fortunate. She has been plucked from obscurity by Bennett’s aunt and employed as that lady’s companion. Lady Worsted likes Amelia’s no nonsense and outspoken approach to life and they rub along very well together. Inevitably Bennett and Amelia meet when Lady Worsted pays her annual visit to her sister, the duke’s mother. At their first encounter Amelia is outrageously dismissive and under-enthused about being in the presence of a duke. And Bennett, who is not used to such irreverence, is confused by this but also by the fact that he is attracted to her. Amelia is equally confused – because although Bennett is stodgy and pompous, he’s also drop-dead gorgeous and it goes against the grain as she simply cannot like trust or tolerate aristocrats.

Virginia Heath does an excellent job of developing the romance between these two disparate characters and bringing it gently to a point where they meet their prejudices and their growing love – in the middle. Both are warm and likeable and I loved how Amelia opens Bennett’s eyes to her way of thinking and finally takes him into the world of poverty she knows so well and that he thinks he knows exists, but doesn’t really believe until he sees and experiences it for himself. There are some excellent secondary characters, too; Uncle George, the amusing, unorthodox younger brother of the duke who has been the real role model throughout the young duke’s life and Lovett the butler, who regularly imbibes the duke’s port and brandy and is regularly and half-heartedly admonished by his master. The affection between the aristocrat and his servant is obvious and rather touching and from the beginning, this affection gives the reader an insight into Bennett’s real character.

The poverty and despair of the people in some of the worst parts of London are conveyed in a very real and shocking manner and I was impressed by the way Virginia Heath managed to combine authentic historical facts, a warm and sweet romance and even comedy into one novel and make it work. I loved the moment that Bennett actually throws away his manual and trusts his own instincts. I will definitely be reading more of this author’s work.