The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen

the unexpected marriage of gabriel stone

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Gabriel Stone, Earl of Edenbridge, might have a rakish reputation, but he’s also a gentleman—of sorts. So when respectable Lady Caroline Holt offers her maidenhood in exchange for an estate her father gambled away, his curiosity is roused.

Gabriel is touched when he learns Caroline is helping her brother—he’s protected his brothers all his life…and has the scars to prove it. He’s willing to help her, but is shocked when his mission takes him somewhere he never thought he’d end up – down the aisle!

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Publisher and Release Date: Mills & Boon Historical, July 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1820
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

This is the fourth and final book in Louise Allen’s Lords of Disgrace series, in which the heroes regard themselves as brothers by blood and have always stood by each other through whatever adversity life threw at them. Gabriel Stone, the Earl of Edenbridge, has appeared in other books in the series as a somewhat enigmatic character, a man whose responses are guarded and who cares for little except gambling and other rakish pursuits.

When Gabriel receives an unanticipated caller on the morning after a profitable night’s gaming, he doesn’t expect to end the encounter in possession of an I.O.U for a young lady’s virginity. Lady Caroline Holt, daughter of Lord Knighton, begs him to exchange the deeds to the estate he has just won from her father for her virtue; after all, she’s going to have to get married to one of the stodgy, much older but wealthy gentlemen being lined up for her, so why shouldn’t she at least get to choose the man to whom she gives herself for the first time? She explains that Springbourne had been put aside for her sixteen year old brother, and that she will do anything to keep it safe for him. Gabriel appreciates Caroline’s sense of family loyalty, but he’s enough of a gentleman to be appalled that she should feel compelled to go to such lengths and to determine that he can’t possibly accept her bargain, no matter how attractive he finds her.

Gabriel lives a bit of a solitary existence, but that’s the way he likes it. His three brothers are settled – one in the army, one in the clergy and the youngest about to graduate from Oxford and become Gabriel’s estate manager – and while he has a certain brotherly affection for them, he doesn’t bother them, they don’t bother him and that suits him perfectly. To say that his is a tarnished reputation is an understatement; he’s a rake of the first order, a womaniser and a hardened gamester, but his title still guarantees him acceptance at all but the very highest levels of society.

Having reached an agreement with Caroline – so she thinks – that he will call in his I.O.U upon the announcement of her betrothal, Gabriel doesn’t expect to have anything more to do with her, until she approaches him again having realised that the returned estate needs to be managed until her brother comes of age. She has no-one to turn to; her father is a self-absorbed despot who sees her only as something he can use to his own advantage, and she daren’t let him know that she is now in possession of the estate he so thoughtlessly gambled away. Gabriel can’t help but feel somewhat outraged on Caroline’s behalf; that she should be so neglected that the only person she can ask for help is a virtual stranger with a severely blackened reputation doesn’t sit well with even his questionable sense of honour. Reluctantly, and against his own better judgement, he finds himself drawn to Caroline and interested in her fate. Her father plans to marry her off to the highest bidder – who is known to have perverted tastes when it comes to the bedroom – and isn’t above physically punishing his daughter when she tells him she won’t agree to the match. Hurting a woman is unconscionable in Gabriel’s book, and he hatches a plan to remain close enough to Caroline to be able to keep an eye on her and, if necessary, get her out of harm’s way.

There’s a lot to enjoy in the story, not least of which is the fact that Caroline is a pragmatic, intelligent woman with a good sense of humour who isn’t ashamed of her attraction to Gabriel. She wants to do the right thing by her brother and is prepared to make a devil’s bargain in order to do so, but quickly realises her naivété in attempting it and sees the holes in her plan. In spite of Gabriel’s poor reputation, she discovers him to have a strong sense of honour and a protective streak a mile wide when it comes to those he cares about, even though he, of course, would deny its existence.

I also liked that the book doesn’t quite fall into the “rake reformed by love” category. There’s no question that Gabriel is falling in love and that he is motivated to act on Caroline’s behalf, but even before he becomes involved in her life, he has realised that his existence as a devil-may-care rakehell is not really one he cares for any longer. The trouble is, he’s spent so long living it that he isn’t sure who he really is any more or how to go about building himself a different life. The guilt he lives with over a tragic past event made him put up a wall between himself and those he loved and made him push them away in his determination to protect them. Yet he clearly does care very deeply; he’s just learned not to show it, and it’s a hard habit to break.

Gabriel and Caroline make a terrific couple and Ms. Allen creates a strong sense of connection between them right from the start. Everything the reader comes to know about them is gleaned from their words, thoughts and actions; this is definitely not a book that suffers from telling rather than showing. I particularly enjoyed the way the layers of Gabriel’s personality are gradually peeled back to show the truth of the honourable, compassionate man he truly is.

The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone is the last – and my favourite – of this series, and can easily be read as a standalone, although the other books are definitely worth reading. It’s a great read and one I have no hesitation in recommending.

Stormswept by Sabrina Jeffries

stormswept
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The first wedding night that Lady Juliana St. Albans spent with the dark and daring Rhys Vaughan was intoxicating, the heady culmination of her new husband’s driving hunger and her own awakened sensuality. When he mysteriously disappeared the next morning, she waited for him in hope and desperation. And when he was finally proclaimed dead in a shipwreck, she bitterly mourned the loss of her love.

The second wedding night that Juliana spent with Rhys Vaughan was six years later, after he returned to claim her just as she was about to wed another. This Rhys was different—bolder, harder, and convinced that she’d betrayed him. Only their blazing passion remains from their years apart. But is it enough to light their way through the maze of mystery, menace, and mistrust—to the love they once shared and would have to find again?

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Publisher and Release date: Pocket Books, July 2016

Time and setting: England & Wales 1777/1783
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5

Review by Lady Cicley

Lady Juliana St. Albans has a tendency to land herself in trouble and then run away, something she has found herself doing quite frequently. First, when she attends a meeting of the secret political society, the Sons of Wales and then makes her escape only to find herself face to face with Rhys Vaughan, the son of the man that people say her father cheated out of his estate. Second, the following morning when Rhys shows up on her doorstep and outs her to her father who promises punishment; and finally when she finds herself running away with the man who has captured her heart in such a short time. Her heart soars with their wedding night only to break the next morning when she learns of his impressment on a warship. With her husband’s disappearance she agrees to her family’s wishes in keeping her marriage a secret with a demand of her own.

Rhys Vaughn grew up bowing to his father’s wishes: only speaking the English language, attending the best English schools, and touring the continent like a true English son. Even so, Rhys’ heart will always be Welsh. This has led him to this meeting of the secret group, Sons of Wales; a meeting where a bewitching lass catches his eye. A lass that soon earns his mistrust when he finds out she is the daughter of the man who stole his inheritance. Yet she is bewitching, and before long, Rhys and Juliana are meeting in secret and agreeing to run away together.

For six years Juliana has never lost hope that her husband will return. A hope that dies when her brother’s investigator tells her that her husband is dead. Now a widow Juliana bows to her brother’s wishes and agrees to marry another; at least until the impossible happens the night of her engagement ball.

Rhys has had six long years to harden his heart and let his mistrust of Juliana grow. When Rhys returns he is intent on claiming what is his and meting out just punishment, but the wife he finds is no longer the young girl who ran away from her troubles. She’s a woman who will fight for what she wants and can give as good as she gets but is that enough to break through his calloused heart and earn his trust? Can Rhys ever learn to trust her again and does Juliana even want him any more?

Juliana’s initial refusal to submit to the wishes of her family following her husband’s disappearance hints at the woman she will become. I admired the growth and independence that she achieves in the years after Rhys’ disappearance and sympathized with her shock upon his return. The determination she shows in her desire to regain Rhys’ love and trust is another point to be admired, which makes her slip into despair when she realizes she may never have it again all the more heartbreaking.

Rhys’ pain and suffering, along with the lies he was told, make his thirst for revenge understandable and he thinks he has the perfect plan. He suffers a barrage of emotions from his firm belief that Juliana betrayed him up until the moment she slips into despair and he realizes what she means to him, even though he is still not sure he can trust her. I could feel the battle within as Rhys tried to reconcile the fact that he still loved Juliana with his reluctance to trust her.

Stormswept is a reissue of a book originally published in 1995 by Sabrina Jeffries, writing as Deborah Martin. Ms. Jeffries has long been one of my “go-to authors” although it had been quite a while since I’ve read one of her books, this one reminded me why I enjoy this author’s writing. A great author is one who can engage the reader’s emotions; Ms. Jeffries accomplishes that and so much more.

Stormswept is filled with mistrust, lies, heartbreak, revenge, and devious relatives; all things that help make up a good story. Overall, it’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Win a Lady’s Heart by Ingrid Hahn

to win a lady's heart

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He has secretly admired her from afar…

England, 1811. When John Merrick, the Earl of Corbeau, is caught in a locked storeroom with Lady Grace, he has but one choice—marry her. He cannot bear to tarnish any woman’s reputation, least of all Lady Grace’s.

She has lost everything but her dignity…

Lady Grace Landon will do anything to help her mother and sisters, crushed and impoverished by her father’s disgrace. But throwing herself into the arms of her dearest friend’s older brother to trap him in marriage? Never.

Corbeau needs to prove that he loves her, despite her father’s misdeeds. After years of being an object of scorn, not even falling in love with Corbeau alters Lady Grace’s determination to not bring her disrepute upon another. However, if they don’t realize that the greatest honor is love given freely without regard to society’s censure, they stand to lose far more than they ever imagined.

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EXCERPT

It was one of those days. After burning his tongue on his first sip of morning coffee and in quick succession overturning an entire pot of ink on himself, he should have retired to a dark corner. More than anything, he should have steered clear of his friend Max’s ridiculous game.

Too late. He’d found himself in about the worst possible place with the last person in the world with whom he could wish to be trapped in a confined space.

And if he knew his host, the game was a thinly veiled cover for an opportunity for Max to find a quiet place to steal a kiss from one of the ladies.

Now Corbeau was not only locked in a storeroom but also locked in a storeroom with Lady Grace. He studied her in one of those interminable silences that always reared its ugly head when he was within ten feet of the woman.

Trouble was, he never wanted to stop looking at her. The simplicity of her sprig muslin day dress set off her quiet allure, as strong today as when he’d first seen her.

Around her, his composure never failed to flee. If anyone could be said to know what a tree must feel like, it should be him. Being around her made him wooden, and not always in terms that might hope to pass for gentlemanly.

Life was a cruel mistress. It wasn’t like Corbeau was free to remedy the situation, by, say, offering for her. She’d made her feelings for him only too abundantly clear, and he’d sworn to himself he’d always honor them.

He had a single goal: hide how much he wanted to be near her. But trying to conceal his feelings only exacerbated his utter dearth of social graces.

“Well, I daresay we won’t go hungry.” She was smiling at him as she spoke.

His balls tightened. Please, mercy—not now. “We can’t be discovered.”

“You might wish to spend the remainder of your days here, my lord. I reserve the right to want differently.”

“No, you don’t understand. You and I are together in a locked room. Alone.”

The word “alone” was all it took. It conjured images—did things to him. Physical things. Things that might prove useful lurid fodder for when he was by himself in bed tonight.

Whatever effect she might have on him, he did not have on her.

“A room locked from the outside.” She spoke offhandedly, as if stating the obvious. “I hardly think anyone will look askance on a simple mistake.”

He shook his head. “It’s a risk I can’t take.”

Instant regret at the careless words stung him, even before she sobered and drew her book close against her chest. She kept her gaze level, but her voice dropped a notch.

“It’s not our fault.”

Hell. Was he a gentleman or a pigheaded blunderer?

“I mean for your sake, of course.”

She seemed to pick up on his meaning. “Oh, I think we all know my reputation is quite safe with you, my lord.”

The unsated male in him roared, insisting upon the satisfaction of proving himself once and for all. Nothing was so provoking to the demands of reason than this madness inside. Corbeau had nothing to prove, not to anyone. Not to her, not to the world, not to himself.

He kept in his current place next to the door. Internally, however, he found himself losing footing, the last remnants of the steadiness for which he prided himself slipping away.

“Safe enough with me?” His tenor had sunk to a steely low.

Her brows crossed. “I implied no challenge by what I said.”

“Didn’t you?”

“Really, my lord, you’re being quite—quite…”

“Quite what?”

“Quite not yourself.”

“And what am I?”

She halted a moment, thinking as she gave him a puzzled look. “Not this, my lord, certainly.”

Corbeau lifted his chin to stare down at her. “What if I were after a kiss? What then?”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ingrid hahnI have a B.A. in Art History, I can sound out Attic Greek (plus or minus) and even tell you what one or two of the words mean, and I am the world’s worst administrative assistant. My love of reading has turned my mortgage payment into a book storage fee, which makes me the friend you never want to ask you for help moving. I have an unusual gremlin problem — as in, my fingers are chock full of the little buggers. This all adds up to the fact that the only thing I can be when I grow up is a writer.

Thankfully, I got a lucky break in life. I found a man with a superpower. He sees all these things I’ve listed as desirable qualities. Instead of running as far away as possible, he married me. We even have a few cats. For reasons of privacy, the felines have requested I keep their identities secret…all except Sulu, who requires supplicants (i.e., you) to pay homage. Food is preferable, but tummy petting will do in a pinch.

Oh, and we live in Metropolitan Washington, DC, which is pretty darn awesome due to the high concentration of the world’s best romance writers living in the area. I am endlessly pleased and grateful to count myself one among this fabulous community.

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AUDIO REVIEW: Simply Love (Simply #2) by Mary Balogh, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Simply Love

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She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening-a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows-and passions-run deeper than she could have ever imagined.

As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives.

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Publisher and Release Date: Tantor Audio, June 2016 (reissue from August 2006)

Time and Setting: Regency England and Wales
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content/5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

Every time I read a Mary Balogh novel – new or old, I am struck anew by how much I love her work. She has covered every conceivable subject/scenario in her long and highly successful career with empathy and a deeply insightful understanding of human nature. In Simply Love, the second in her highly acclaimed Simply Quartet, she highlights the issues and prejudices surrounding a single mother and her illegitimate child in Regency England. With great understanding, Ms.Balogh immerses us in the life of Anne Jewell, her nine year old son, David, and that of Sydnam Butler, a horrifically scarred veteran of the peninsula wars.

Anne and David are invited to spend a month on the south west coast of Wales in company with members of the powerful Bedwyn family. This unconventional family, with a duke at its head, thumbs its collective nose at the restrictions under which most aristocrats are obliged to live. Kind and thoughtful all, they welcome Anne and David to share their family holiday without reservation. Whilst walking the coastal path on the first evening, Anne happens upon the dreadfully scarred Sydnam Butler, and flees from him in fright. Sydnam is employed by the duke as steward of his estate, and is attempting to carve a life out for himself away from his own overprotective and loving family; he is a man completely lacking in self-pity and understands the picture he presents on first sight.

So expertly drawn is Mary Balogh’s description of this tragic but gorgeous man, that I shed more than one tear on his behalf. Anne is appalled at her own crass behaviour and apologises to him at the first available opportunity. Friendship flowers over the course of the month long holiday further developing into affection, and finally into something more sensual. The traumatic events that led to David’s conception and the ten years following it, have left Anne emotionally scarred. Sydnam too has scars that run far deeper than the obvious surface ones; it is therefore understandable that two people – starved of physical love and affection, and who have cocooned themselves against further hurt – will find comfort in each other.

Anne and Syndam are wonderful characters – to be honest, if I could hug each of them, I would! They feel so real; their sorrow, their hurt, their lack of confidence, even their prickliness; they belong together, and the tentative progress of their love affair is movingly beautiful. Of course, to quote Shakespeare…‘The course of true love never did run smooth’…they have a lot of soul searching to do before either of them can begin to feel really complete once more. Luckily, they have each other to help in their respective rehabilitation. Their traumatic journey is SO worth the reading or in this case the listening.

The supremely talented Rosalyn Landor gives a stupendous performance in this audiobook, bringing this tremendously poignant story with its large and varied cast of complex characters to three dimensional radiance. I loved all four books in this series but Simply Love is, in my opinion, by far the most emotionally charged. The very fact that this is such a heart-rending story makes the performing of it more difficult, but Ms. Landor handles each character with individuality, consummate skill, aplomb and downright brilliance.

I adored the audio version of Simply Love – and it is not necessary to have read or listened to the first in the series, as Ms. Balogh gives us plenty of background information. However, we do meet many old favourites from other series’; in my case, from books read years ago. I was surprised at how vividly I remembered the characters. Such is the power of a great and memorable author. This is highly recommended.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal (Birch Hall Romance #2) by Kathleen Kimmel

A Gentleman's Guide to Scandal
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Even men of great certainty can be completely clueless when it comes to matters of the heart.

Colin Spenser, Marquess of Farleigh, is shocked when his feelings towards his best friend’s sister take a turn into the realm of helpless adoration. Unfortunately, Elinor is more inclined to ignore him than express her undying devotion, so Colin resolves to forget his troublesome feelings by entering a loveless marriage…

Elinor Hargrove has absolutely no interest in the infuriating and arrogant Marquess of Farleigh. That is, until he kisses her—twice—inspiring unexpected and inconvenient passions. Then Elinor finds out he’s engaged, and her desires are quickly surpassed by her outrage…

But when a ghost from their shared pasts resurfaces, Colin and Elinor must work together to puzzle out a complicated intrigue by attending an extremely exclusive party where secrets and lies flourish—and scandal is only a kiss away.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, June 2016

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by: Heather C.

Colin Spenser has always had an interest in Elinor Hargrove, his best friend’s sister, but seeing as she isn’t interested in him, he resolves instead to make a marriage of convenience for the sake of his title. Elinor would never know that Colin has an interest in her, as he has always been stand-offish, and has resigned herself to being an old maid and content with escorting Colin’s younger sister through her first Season. They would have been comfortable to continue on this way had not some earth shattering information about the death of a Spenser family member forced Colin and Elinor into an awkward situation that means their having to work together to solve the puzzle. Will they come out of this quest the same way they went into it?

I loved both Colin and Elinor! They are both infuriating in their inability to share how they feel about each other and their obliviousness to how the other truly feels. They are not very good at judging character either, which makes for lots of confusion between them and in their attempts to solve the pseudo-mystery. Despite Colin coming off as cold and aloof, when reading the chapters from his perspective the reader sees that he uses it as a way of trying to protect himself from being hurt and that he isn’t the jerk he outwardly appears to be. Elinor is driven to help find out what happened to her friend and isn’t afraid to take a leap into a world that is shrouded in mystery to women of her station. It’s entertaining to watch her try to walk the walk on the other side of the tracks and I could admire her passion to right a wrong, even if there is no way I would have done what she did!

This is as much an adventure story as it is a romance novel. Elinor and Colin are both (separately and then together) trying to discover what happened to a Spenser family member once startling evidence of possible foul play is brought forward. This gets them into some quite dangerous situations as they try to work out who might have caused harm to this person, why, and how they will bring those involved to justice. I have read a few romance/adventure novels that lose traction in their ability to keep the sense of adventure going while introducing the romantic elements, and I’m happy to say that A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal does not fall into that trap. Ms. Kimmel is able to balance the needs of the plot pacing of the mystery, constantly moving it forward, while introducing a whole new complication for the characters in the form of a romantic tryst. The evolution of the romance feels appropriate and in line with the motivations of the characters and the romantic elements (when we finally get to them) are hot, more so than in A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion, but it feels right for the characters.

This is the second book in the Birch Hall series. It can certainly be read as a stand-alone; I have not yet read the first book and was able to pick right up with the story without missing a beat. It takes place a little bit after the events of book one, but is focused on a different set of characters. Elinor’s brother and his new wife are peripheral characters here, but they are the stars of A Lady’s Guide to Ruin, book 1. After reading this book, I was also able to place the novella, A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion, into the cannon as well. Each book compliments the others, but is crafted well enough to tell the whole story on its own. I honestly did not want to put this book down at the end of the night, it was that compelling.

Dealing With the Duchess (Mayfair #1) by J.R. Salisbury

dealing with the duchess

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The Duchess of Bentley, is just out of mourning. As a widow, she has certain freedoms other women do not. But she has neither the time nor inclination to look for dalliance. She’s much too busy overseeing the very special properties left to her by the late duke—including the elite gaming hell known as Dante’s Inferno.

Until another nobleman returns to London, and reminds her that she is still a young, passionate woman.

The Duke of Evermont, has returned from his sugar plantations in the Caribbean. His life is full running his estates and seeing to his investments. The last thing he’s searching for is a wife. That is, until he sees Eleanor again, and other society beauties fade in comparison.
The last time he saw her, Eleanor was walking down the aisle to another man. This time, Evermont is determined not to let the beautiful and vibrant lady slip through his hands.

Fortunately for him, the duchess turns to him for help—and he’s more than willing to sweep her under his ducal cloak of protection. Whether his assistance is required in shielding her from members of society foolish enough to gamble away their fortunes, or from the heartless schemes of her own father—Evermont will do what it takes to show her their future together is a sure thing.

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Publisher and Release Date: J.R. Salisbury, April 2016

Time & Setting: London, 1813
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Eleanor, Duchess of Bentley has thrown off her widow’s weeds in time to help her sister Prudence make her début in London. Knowing that her family’s respectability hangs by a thread due to their father’s gambling problems, Eleanor hopes that her presence will help Prudence make a good match. It helps their situation that Eleanor has inside information about her father’s addiction because she is part owner of the only club in London that will still give the Duke of Wexwood credit, Dante’s Inferno. Without letting her family know the extent of their father’s debt she has carefully constructed a safety net around the duke by holding all of his letters and only allowing him to gamble against the house. It’s an almost daily struggle to contain his outlandish betting, but Eleanor cannot let her father lose everything and sacrifice her family’s future. Seeing Prudence married would secure her future before their father can make a bigger mistake.

Attending their first ball of the season, Eleanor is quickly frustrated by her sister’s insistence that their father has already secured a betrothal for her to the long-absent Duke of Evermont. Eleanor didn’t even realize her old friend Cameron Dudley had returned from the Caribbean but she is certain he is not interested in Prudence, nor would he have ever spoken to their father. Hoping to warn Cameron of Prudence’s ideas before they become gossip Eleanor makes her way to his side and spends a few quiet moments alone to discuss matters. Amazingly the connection she and Cameron shared long ago is just as strong even after years of separation. Her attraction to him is still there as well, with an intensity that Eleanor had never felt with her late husband.

For Cameron, meeting Eleanor again and seeing her out of mourning gives him hope that this time around he will have the chance to marry the only woman he’s ever loved. Years before his plan to court Eleanor was thwarted when her father practically sold his daughter into marriage so he could use her settlements to cover his debts. Now that she is a widow and Cameron has returned to England to take his place in society the timing is perfect to renew his suit but Eleanor seems hesitant to open herself to a relationship. Being the type of man who needs answers, Cameron makes it his goal to know everything that might be holding Eleanor back from being with him. His love for her is more important than any potential scandal from her family or even what could unfold if her greatest secret becomes public knowledge.

Dealing with the Duchess has perhaps one of the more level-headed heroines I’ve read in a long time. I was very interested in how Eleanor would overcome the problems created by her father or her scandalous business. It is an interesting idea to have a woman be the de facto head of her family and I liked how easily Eleanor fit into that role. Her intelligence is something her first husband recognized and nurtured, giving her the tools to continue as she saw fit when he knew his time was short. That Eleanor became successful was all on her own merits and she is constantly thinking about how to maintain her lifestyle while protecting her family from her father’s shortcomings. When the old duke loses everything it is Eleanor who pieces it all back together and gives her brother the opportunity to rebuild the Wexwood dukedom in a more positive image while she quietly remains in the background. Cameron’s love for Eleanor builds from his respect for her ability to manage it all while having to still adhere to all of society’s rules about a woman’s proper place.

Where the story falls down a bit is in its romantic plotline. Eleanor and Cameron come together almost too easily and I missed the internal struggles sometimes associated with a second chance romance. There was no real hurt, anger or personal demons for either person to overcome before allowing love to rekindle. Cameron is never bitter that Eleanor married another man after they had all but confessed their feeling for each other and Eleanor never feels any guilt over lingering emotions for her husband. Neither one of them has some horrible skeleton in their closet they have to hide from their lover and the one thing that might have come between them, Eleanor’s gaming hell, is quickly revealed and accepted. There isn’t enough drama to really get a reader engaged in the relationship portion of the story; it’s all rather boring even though on the page Cameron and Eleanor can barely contain their passion for each other.

On the whole, Dealing with the Duchess is an enjoyable book that I am comfortable recommending to readers who appreciate a smart heroine and a story that doesn’t follow the usual twists and turns.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Necessary Woman by A. E. Easterlin

ANecessaryWoman_w8974_750

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Suzanna Worthington wants what most women want, a husband to love her, a home to shelter her, and a child to bring her joy.

The battle at Manassas has stolen her fiance and destroyed her dreams. Channeling grief into healing, she assists the local doctor at a makeshift hospital, while her friends plot to find the one man who can fulfill all her desires…and his.

Now the war is over, and Jake Cantrell has come to find a wife. A self-made man with a huge ranch in Wyoming, he’s ready to settle down and raise a passel of sons to carry on his legacy.

Who will win her love? It could be the doctor who admires her, the Indian chief who captures her, or the man who wants to possess her and finds himself possessed by this necessary woman.

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EXCERPT

His gaze offered himself, letting her search deep within, allowing her to see through to the heart of him, inviting her to explore his innermost person. In it she saw a different Jake. A man revealing himself, his vulnerabilities. A man alone and lonely. Wanting her, needing her, and by that very need offering to her the fulfillment of all she dreamed. Warm arms to keep her safe. Love and laughter to bring her joy. The hope of children to bless her days.

He no longer seemed adversarial. More a godsend.

Spent, Suzanna exhaled a heavy sigh. The sheltering walls of her comfortable home beckoned invitingly. Ideas about changes, new directions, possibilities and responsibilities—so much, so fast. She needed to slow down, to think. The entire evening had sapped her strength. She should put an end to this and be on her way.

Perhaps it was the stress or the uncertainty, but she couldn’t hide the resentment that everyone thought they knew better what she needed than she herself.

“Annie, some things are meant to remain as they are. I understand your intentions come from your love, but enough is enough. Thank you very much for putting your brother-in-law on the spot and embarrassing us all.

“You’ll have to forgive Annie, Jake. She’s on a mission to find me a husband. She and Nathan are convinced I can’t survive on my own.” She addressed the couple directly. “Which I can. I’m going to be perfectly all right whatever happens. I know this because nothing could be worse than what I’ve already experienced. I’m a strong woman. I can take care of myself.”

“That does not mean you should have to, Suzanna,” Jake said, taking her gently in his arms again. “Don’t be angry with Nathan and Annie. It was I who contacted my brother asking him to find me a suitable woman. Before you start another rant, think of this. The world can be a cruel and lonely place. You might find you like having a good man to warm you on a cold winter’s night. Somebody to talk to at the end of a long day. A person to share your life, someone to give you sons and daughters. Nothing wrong with that.”

Hadn’t the same thought haunted her since the end of the war? Was it possible they wanted and needed the same things?

She’d given him the perfect out, and he’d ignored her. He must be serious about wanting her for a wife. Being thrown into the arms of a stranger was not the way she envisioned meeting her future husband. Yet she stayed. Rather than bidding everyone a good night and taking her leave at that moment, she stayed within the cocoon of his embrace, and a vision of her future scrolled through her mind. Sons, tall and strong like their father. Daughters, with silver-blonde hair and eyes flashing bright blue fire.

It was not such a horrible thought. Not at all.

Suzanna looked at Jake—really seeing him. This rough-and-tumble cowboy stirred something deep inside her—a flush of adrenaline rushed through her at the thought of sons and daughters begat by a man like him.

Before she could rein in her tongue, she asked in a halting voice, “What is it you want, Jake?”

Did he have any concept of how he affected her? Of what the tantalizing thought of the two of them sharing the marriage bed conjured in her heart? Could he comprehend the depth of her loneliness and desire? The longing that she kept locked away inside?
Down in the honest place where her soul lived and no lies were allowed, did he truly see?

One word was his answer: “You.”

It wasn’t enough. She needed to know more.

“You think a man and woman should come together for a warm bed, a tender touch, to make babies, and it should be enough of a reason to marry? What of love?”

Jake took a while to consider, but when he answered the candid expression in his eyes took Suzanna’s breath away. “You’re talking about infatuation. Or romance. I have little experience with either. Nothing wrong with romance, except that it tends to fade like flowers wilt at the end of a long, hot summer. To my way of thinking, love—the real kind of love—grows over time. It comes with living a life shared over good times and bad. Lots of folks mistake that first quick rush of attraction for love. Not that it doesn’t have its place, mind you. But if you’re talking about a durable kind of love—that comes with time, with trust proved often, with surviving the challenge of years.”

She had to admit his answer impressed her. He wasn’t as shallow as he appeared. Not at all. His words had the ring of thought and truth and conviction.

“That’s true, Jake. But a woman has a need to feel loved and cherished. If you fail to add that to the mix, the long-lasting love you describe won’t grow, and the marriage will prove to be little more than a lesson in endurance, resulting in regret and unhappiness. Be careful not to discount the importance of romance—for a woman or a man. It’s the connecting stitch in the tapestry of a life well lived.”

No one spoke or moved. As she stared at Jake, Suzanna wondered if his cynicism was the result of a love lost. Had he experienced the death of a romance that left him skeptical and bitter?

She had no way of knowing, but looking into the window of his soul, she realized there was more to the cowboy than first met the eye.

As his fingers tightened about her waist, he leaned in for a gentle kiss. “I thought you would have figured it out by now, Suzanna. I’ve come to make you my bride.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

South Florida author, Elayne Cox, writing as A.E. Easterlin, loves spending time at her computer putting down in black and white stories of heroes and heroines, living and loving and learning in the process. An interest in music and performing led her to majoring in vocal performance at Alabama College and Music Education at UAB. Married 49 years to her husband, Clyde, they have three children and two grandchildren, as well as three granddogs. While rearing a family, Elayne and her husband work at their family business which they have owned since 1986.

Writing has always been a secret passion until being published in 2015, with her debut novel, Sonata by Moonlight, first in her Heroes and Half-notes series. The second novel in the series, A Little Night Music, will be released in 2016. Her books deal with universal conflicts, experienced by exceptional characters, and always with a happy conclusion. Traveling is another passion Elayne loves to indulge, having visited the enchanting capitols of Europe and Canada, as well as motor-coaching throughout the USA in search of story lines and real people to inspire her creativity. She’s an active member of Romance Writers of America as well as the local chapter, Florida Romance Writers, and is busy refining her craft and offering the reading public “a taste of love, a touch of heat, and a story that captivates the heart.”

Scandal at the Midsummer Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott

scandal at the midsummer ball

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Two forbidden relationships…one house party to remember!

THE OFFICER’S TEMPTATION by Marguerite Kaye

Colonel Fergus Kennedy must make a suitable match at the Midsummer Ball. But when this officer encounters sultry acrobat Katerina Vengarov, he finds himself torn between duty…and heart-stopping, irresistible passion!

THE DEBUTANTE’S AWAKENING by Bronwyn Scott

Kael Gage is the last person at the Midsummer Ball Miss Zara Titus should speak to—and anything more is definitely off-limits! But the notorious rake seems determined to awaken this innocent debutante’s every desire…

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Publisher and Release Date: Mills & Boon / Harlequin Historical, May 2016

Time and Setting: England, June 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

These two stories, running concurrently, take place at a house party being hosted by the powerful Duke and Duchess of Brockmore. Marriages, political alliances and business deals are brokered at this annual event; the attendees know why they are privileged enough to gain a coveted invitation and play the game…..almost. I loved this concept and it was interesting to see how these two authors approached it. And also to see the protagonists from each story occasionally appearing in the other. Given that these authors live thousands of miles apart and have never met, it must have been a difficult feat to perform especially as it is seamlessly well done. I am a fan of Marguerite Kaye’s work but this was my first time reading Bronwyn Scott.

The Officer’s Temptation by Marguerite Kaye. 4 stars

Colonel Fergus Kennedy has been invited to the house-party at the behest of the Duke of Wellington. Fergus who has fought his way to the top under his own steam, is a highly thought of man of honour and integrity, and also one of the Iron Duke’s brightest protégés. After a couple of peace-time years vegetating behind a desk, he is eager for a more challenging role, which comes in the form of a possible posting to Egypt. There is only one fly in the ointment; the posting is for a married man and his wife must be capable of becoming a diplomatic hostess. Desperate to return to active service, Fergus is resigned to his fate. If he must marry, then he will and he is prepared to make the pre-ordained match if the lady and he like each other. The lady happens to be the niece of The Duke of Brockmore and she is NOT prepared to be matched with Fergus.

Lady Verity Fairholme has other ideas and gives Fergus no encouragement at all, and he quickly comes to realise that he actually doesn’t like being treated as though he were the dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe. An encounter with the captivating and talented Russian gymnast, Katerina Vengarov who has been employed, with her brother, to provide the entertainment for this year’s Russian themed party, also shows him that making such a cold-blooded match is not within his power. The attraction between this unlikely pair is instant: they recognise it but it seems an impossible scenario – how can the situation possibly be resolved?

I loved Fergus’s and Katerina’s characters, Ms. Kaye crafts strong, independent women and gorgeous, likeable men, and these two are no exception. How the situation is resolved is interesting, as with Katerina’s help, Fergus has a light-bulb moment. This author is exceptionally good at showing us the different sides of a situation. The much lauded Wellington WAS a brilliant soldier and he DID inspire his officers and men to follow him – but he was also an egotistical man who manipulated his followers, mostly for his own good. The author has done a great job within the confines of a novella without compromising either the romance or the deeper moral issues she has raised. I’d really like to see the outcome of the enterprise that Katerina and Fergus embark upon – perhaps as another story with Alexandr, Katerina’s brother, as the hero.

The Debutante’s Awakening by Bronwyn Scott. 3.5 stars

Miss Zara Titus is a last minute addition to the guest-list. Her long standing betrothal has been broken and her mother is anxious to plaster over the broken engagement and find a replacement husband for her daughter without delay. Zara is quite enjoying her new found freedom and has no intentions of going along with her mother’s machinations – but the Viscountess doesn’t know that. As the Duke is introducing her to other guests she is aware of the eyes of a handsome, bold young man on her, and feels immediately drawn to him. It is quickly made clear to her by the duke that he is not for her – which of course only makes her more interested.

Kael Gage has only managed to gain entry to the party with the help of a friend; and I must add here that I’m not sure if I missed something important but I can’t quite see how he did it. If the Duke of Brockmore’s invitations are so coveted I can’t see that a man such as he could have obtained one, even with the help of a friend. Kael lives on the fringe of polite society; the impoverished grandson of an earl, he has only a small estate which he uses as the stud-farm that provides his income. He is not considered to be a good match; this only serves to make him a more exciting prospect to Zara. The pair embark on a flirtation and Kael begins to teach Zara how to rebel in style. They are physically attracted to each other and although Zara is fairly ripe for seduction, Kael behaves honourably and stops short of ruining her completely even though the rebellious Zara is ready for more.

I liked both of Bronwyn Scott’s characters but particularly Kael Gage who, although boldly handsome and rakish, also has a vulnerable streak. He’s been deeply hurt in the past and has developed his outer roguish persona as a coping mechanism. A charming stud if you like, and useful for only one thing as far as women of the ton are concerned. As a result of this hidden vulnerability he can’t help feeling unworthy of the beautiful, wealthy and eminently marriagable, Zara. As the pair begin to feel more than just a physical attraction the story takes a deeper and more serious turn, I liked the way the author developed the sensitive and far more important issues underpinning this apparently light and flirtatious story.

All in all, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball is a good, solid read by these two authors. I particularly liked the way they handled the characters of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a couple in their fifties, married for three decades and still very much in love. The fact that they are childless is mentioned more than once and I thought it a nice touch to point out that although this fact has been a great sadness to them it hasn’t been the most important issue in their long and happy marriage.

One Dangerous Desire (Accidental Heirs #3) by Christy Carlyle

one dangerous desire

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In a bet between two old flames . . .

Rex Leighton dominates the boardroom by day and prowls the ballroom at night. Searching for the perfect bride to usher him into the aristocracy, he abandoned the idea of love the last time he saw the delicious May Sedgwick. But when he’s roped into a bet, where the prize is the means to fund his greatest ambition and the stakes are a marriage he’s already planning for, Rex is willing to go all in. There’s just one problem—he’s competing against the only woman he’s ever loved.

Only love can take it all…

May Sedgwick could be the belle of the season . . . if she cared. She is more interested in the art studio than the marriage market and her craving to pursue her passion far outweighs her wish for a titled husband. Winning this bet will finally allow May to follow her true artistic desires. Rex losing is just a side benefit, as are his breathtaking kisses that she just can’t resist.

When May is forced to choose between the dream she never knew she wanted and the man she’s never been able to forget, Rex must convince her desire is worth a bit of danger.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, April 2016

Time and Setting: Victorian England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I was drawn to One Dangerous Desire for several reasons: it takes place in the late Victorian period, it features Americans in London, and the hero and heroine are competing against each other to win a bet. May Sedgwick, daughter of an American department store baron, came to London for one purpose: to find a titled husband. But, raised in her father’s business world, she also has dreams of running her own business one day. A talented artist, May has a passion for interior design, but it’s unlikely any English husband would approve of his wife being in trade. However, opportunity comes her way in the form of her best friend’s father, the Duke of Ashworth, who is thinking about redecorating his Mayfair mansion and is willing to consider May for the job. But there’s someone else angling for his patronage, self-made tycoon Rex Leighton, who dreams of building the grandest hotel in London and needs Ashworth’s investment to make it a reality.

May is shocked to see her first love in London, the young clerk who abandoned her and broke her heart six years ago in New York. Rex knew May was in London, but he vowed to stay away from her, believing himself to be unworthy of her affection and not wanting to interfere with her future. But neither is prepared for the rush of feelings that accompany their re-acquaintance. The duke, being a bit of a romantic and a trickster, and sensing something between May and Rex, offers them a chance to compete for his patronage. Knowing that both are seeking titled spouses to further their positions in society, he challenges them to find their future mates, and the first one who does will win the bet. Both May and Rex have prospects in mind, but over the course of the next few weeks, seeing each other at every social function on the arms of others makes them realize that, after all these years, they still only have eyes for each other. May finally learns the reason Rex left her behind and comes to understand the demons from his childhood that drive his ambition, and Rex recognizes May’s talent and applauds her dreams for a career of her own. But before they can act on their feelings for one another, they have to re-evaluate the futures they’ve chosen for themselves and determine what’s most important to them. Do they stick with their sensible plans or take a chance on love?

This was my first time reading Christy Carlyle, and I was very impressed with the writing and the dimensional, intriguing characters, including several secondary ones whom I’m hoping will feature in future books. But the story itself fell a bit short for me. From the description, I was really looking forward to a battle of wills where Rex and May would try to out-do each other in a game of one-upmanship as they battled to win the bet. But since it turns out that to win the bet all one of them has to do is get engaged before the other, that intense competition doesn’t happen, especially since neither of them really wants to be with anyone else anyway. I also expected their reunion to take a bit longer. Six years apart is a long time, and while the author does a good job of letting us see glimpses of the past and the young love they shared, I expected May to put up more of a fight when the man who broke her heart suddenly reappears and wants another chance. There are a couple of subplots involving their fathers and their attempts to use their children for their own gain, but overall, I found the story to be a little plain and ho-hum. But I give it big props for its business-minded slant, for endearing characters, and for a sweet epilogue that left me with a big smile on my face.

An Exquisite Marriage (Regency Makeover #3) by Darcie Wilde

an exquisite marriage

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Everyone knows Helene Fitzgerald will never marry. She and her wallflower friends may be on the rise socially, but Helene is still nothing but a sharp-tongued bluestocking who very publicly renounced her only marriage offer. Worse, her family is in serious financial trouble. So, how is Helene suddenly attracting the eye of Marcus Endicott, the Duke of Windford and one of England’s most eligible aristocrats?

Trapped by his father’s long legacy of mistakes, Marcus never thought he’d find a woman he’d want enough to risk his heart. But what began as a contentious friendship has transformed into a passion beyond anything he dreamed possible. Now, Marcus’s old secrets are threatening to destroy everything Helene and her friends have worked for. Can any passion be strong enough to carry Helene and Marcus away from their pasts?

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1817
Genre: Historical romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This the final novella in Darcie Wilde’s Regency Makeover series and features the most admirable of all the heroines. Three debutante wallflowers seek acceptance in London high society by re-making themselves both socially as well as fashionably. Along the way, Adele, Madeline, and Helene become good friends and make love matches all under the sponsorship and limited supervision of Deborah Sewell, a lady novelist with a mysterious air who lives alone. The first two novellas had open-ended conclusions that read like serials while this one ties up all the loose ends.

Helene Fitzgerald is the strongest of the three young women. She’s smart, assertive, and has a backbone, yet Ms. Wilde also manages to show her vulnerability. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind or show her intelligence. She publicly broke off a high profile engagement in a scandalous scene that has pretty much blackballed her in the eyes of society. And if that wasn’t enough counting against her, there is also her family’s extremely reduced circumstances.

Ms. Wilde writes well and she pays attention to several historical details; however, the ending is a little too neat and twee. In fact, my only issue with this entire series is the rather caricaturish portrayal of secondary characters who get in the way of the heroines’ success; and in all three circumstances, it’s their families. As a result, the stories sometime come across as overly dramatic and unrealistic. If this doesn’t bother you, you could say they have an almost fairytale-like quality.

Marcus, the Duke of Windford, makes a very worthy hero. He has successfully revived his title and brought it back to sound financial footing as well as rectified the repercussions of his father’s mistakes. But the dukedom is his entire life and all that he knows. Ms. Wilde creates an exciting and well-developed banter between Marcus and Helene that realistically depicts their growing romantic relationship. I especially like how Helene offers up an alternative path for Marcus and challenges him to dare to pursue it.

The secondary storyline about Marcus’ young protégé is a touching subplot that mirrors Marcus’ own self-discovery and purpose. But the conflict that threatens Helene and Marcus’ relationship is a little strained, predictable, and melodramatic.

I have read the entire series and I still think Ms. Wilde should write the story of Deborah Sewell who, in this novella, takes almost a backseat to the forceful and determined Helene. If you like stories about quiet heroines overcoming adversity, you will enjoy this story and this series.