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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Hidden Duchess by Bree Verity

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Celeste, Duchesse de Saint Tours, is forced into hiding when she is falsely accused of the murder of her husband. She flees to the south of France, where her distant cousin, Marcel Daunou reluctantly agrees to hide her in plain sight on his farm. However, she must learn to live as a peasant farmer to complete the deception, a feat which appears next to impossible to the haughty Duchess. Especially knowing that the unsettling Marcel is watching over her at every turn. She can’t wait to return to her beloved Paris, and the exquisite, hedonistic lifestyle she has left behind.

Marcel knows that he places his loved ones in danger when he agrees to hide Celeste. However, his committee has agreed to hide her in exchange for a large sum of money that will assist their gravely poor community, and since she is his family, he takes responsibility for her. But Republican fervor is running high and Marcel knows if the Duchess is found out, she will be marched back to Paris, and to the guillotine. And his family will face harsh retribution from the agitating revolutionaries for hiding a member of the despised nobility.

Forced to work together, Celeste and Marcel discover a passion that they cannot resist. And Celeste discovers a feeling of belonging and acceptance from the people of the village that she has never felt before. She begins to dream about a future with Marcel.

When her well-meaning lawyer appears in the village and gives her identity away, it isn’t only Marcel that Celeste stands to lose – it’s her life as well.

How can a noble Duchess and a peasant farmer find their happily ever after?

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EXCERPT

Celeste ducked her head to avoid the low door frame as she was ushered into the cellar. Standing up on the other side, she faced around a dozen sizeable men squeezed into a tiny room. And they were all staring at her.

Unable to catch more than snatches of their rumbling conversations, Celeste consoled herself with determining the mood of the room by what she could see in their candlelit faces. Out of the dozen men, she could make out only two who regarded her with any kindness.

One was an old man, Celeste thought he looked the oldest in the group. Perhaps age had rewarded him with understanding, because he seemed to be arguing her case to the stony-faced man beside him. Celeste graced him with a small, grateful smile and he winked back.

The other kind eyes belonged to her cousin.

The rest looked her over with various expressions—thoughtfulness, curiosity, embarrassment, even hostility. The words “murderess” and “duchess” reached her ears, and she inwardly cringed. The contempt in their voices seemed the same whether they were speaking of one or the other. Her stomach gurgled, thankfully it stayed quiet enough that the muttered conversations of the men covered the noise. They didn’t need to know she hadn’t been able to eat all day.

Certain that catching the eye of the hostile men would betray her trepidation, Celeste avoided their faces after a single glance. Appearing assured and self-contained in front of the peasants was paramount, even if her stomach was roiling and her heart pounding. She blinked rapidly, willing herself not to cry.

An unpleasant, dizzy feeling passed over her, and the conversation around her dulled as a greyness entered her vision. She almost lurched, feeling as if she had lost her balance for a moment. Thankfully, the dizziness passed as quickly as it had appeared.

“We’ve come to a decision, Madame.” Her cousin’s deep, serious voice boomed through the room, despite him speaking quietly. Monsieur Daunou reminded Celeste of a bear; enormous, black haired and barrel-chested, with onyx eyes that had glinted with suspicion when he first spoke to her earlier, but which seemed to have softened in the candlelight of the timbered cellar.

Celeste tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. Even running her tongue over her parched lips was impossible. All her actions of the past days—her horror at learning she was accused of murder, her hurried exit from Paris, and the agonizing tediousness of her journey to the tiny village of Danguin had led to this one moment.

Time seemed to stand still. The candle, guttering only a moment before, shone clear and bright. The smoke from the men’s pipes hung motionless in the air. She stood perfectly immobile, even the soft swish of her dark green worsted travelling dress against the stone floor stopped. For a long moment, the only thing Celeste was aware of was her heart, beating an unsteady tattoo. She held her breath, her eyes meeting Monsieur Daunou’s for a suspended moment that felt like forever. Then a half-smile crossed his face.

“We’ve decided you can stay. The price’ll be five hundred louis.”

She let out her breath, closing her eyes as she did so. Her entire body unclenched. From what seemed a long way away, she heard her own voice.

“Thank you, Messieurs. I appreciate your consideration.”

And with that, all the emotions of the past days crashed in on her—the fear, the distrust, the apprehension, along with the new feelings of giddy relief and happiness. She heard herself say in a strange, slurring tone, “I wonder if I could have something to eat, please?” before she felt herself falling, and the world went black.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bree Verity grew up on a diet of tea and crumpets, dancing, Regency novels, old movies and musicals. It’s no wonder she has ended up writing love stories. She lives in Perth Western Australia with her teenage son, her long-suffering, patient and wonderful partner, and her two writing buddies, Millie and Boofhead. She keeps it very quiet from them that she is equally a cat person. She is horribly charmed by the tiny house movement and, although she realizes she would very quickly go crazy in such a confined space, she will watch anything and everything about building tiny houses. If there was a way to directly infuse tea into the veins, she would sign up for it immediately.

Bree loves to hear from her readers and can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website: http://www.breeverity.com

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys #2) by Julia Quinn

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While you were sleeping…

With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He’s unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier’s life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie…

I told everyone I was your wife

When Edward comes to, he’s more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out six months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is—even if he does not recall her face—and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he’d always assumed he’d marry his neighbor back in England.

If only it were true…

Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself—completely—to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.

Publisher and Release Date:  Avon, 30 May 2017

Time and Setting: 1779, New York Town
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

Amnesia, war, a long distance attachment, a Big Misunderstanding… Julia Quinn juggles all of the above in this entertaining second book in the Rokesby series.  The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is another enjoyable and engaging romance from Ms. Quinn; our hero is swoony – a classic British gentleman who’s also charming and likes to flirt, and our heroine is pragmatic, bold and brave, with a subtle beauty that steals our hero’s heart, and I happily traveled with them on their road to happily ever after.

Cecilia Harcourt has spent the last few years living quietly with her father in Derbyshire.  She spends her days corresponding with her beloved brother, Thomas – a soldier fighting in the Colonies –  and taking care of their father.  Through their letters, she knows much about Thomas’ life abroad, and about his closest friend, Edward Rokesby, to whom she’s also started writing. But the book begins, Cecilia’s life is in turmoil.

Shortly after receiving word that Thomas has been injured, their father dies.  Orphaned, and with her only brother injured and abroad, Cecilia’s is left with two equally unappealing options:  move in with her maiden aunt or marry her odious cousin Horace.  Desperate, Cecilia rejects both options and instead travels across the Atlantic, intending to nurse Thomas back to health. Unfortunately, when she arrives in the Colonies, her brother is missing.  A week of searching fails to turn up any news of him, but instead leads her to Edward Rokesby, who’s been hospitalized with a head trauma. Desperate to help him and stonewalled by senior officers, Cecilia makes another bold decision – she pretends she’s Edward’s wife in order to stay close to him.

Edward Rokesby awakens in a hospital bed confused, disoriented – and married.  He can’t remember the last six months of his life… which must be why he doesn’t remember his wife.  Though he does… vaguely.   He knows Cecilia Harcourt – she’s Thomas’s sister and faithful correspondent – so if everyone says she’s his wife, she must be.  Right?

Edward struggles to regain his memories and Cecilia struggles to reconcile herself to the lie she’s told.  From the very beginning it’s clear they like each other, and it’s a delight to watch them fall in love.  Ms. Quinn uses the correspondence between Thomas, Cecilia, and eventually Edward, to open each chapter and these snippets offer a lovely insight into their relationship before the make-believe marriage.  It’s obvious to the reader (and probably Thomas) they were falling for each other long before they met, and when they finally are together, it’s easy to believe it’s just a continuation of a love affair that started via their correspondence.

Though the relationship is a highlight – Edward is a charming husband, and Cecilia is a sweetly tart nursemaid and then shy, naïve wife – Ms. Quinn never lets the reader forget the lie at the heart of their make-believe union.  Even as Edward finds himself falling for Cecilia and pondering the logistics of their courtship and marriage, he’s constantly frustrated by his poor physical health and lack of memory.  Cecilia is conflicted by her feelings for Edward – she’s fallen in love with him, but doesn’t believe they can have a future together because of the lie – and desperate for news of Thomas.

As much as it was a pleasure to read about Edward and Cecilia, my enjoyment was diminished by the lie that unites them.  Cecilia’s persistent dishonesty overshadows every other element of the story, including their fragile happiness whenever they are together.  Her constant self-doubt and guilt, juxtaposed with Edward’s honest and candid affection, began to grow tedious.  I found myself wishing Ms. Quinn hadn’t made Edward quite so appealing right from the start, because it’s clear to the reader (though it isn’t to Cecilia) that if she simply confessed, Edward would have helped her – somehow.  But she persists in lying – even after the lie serves no discernible purpose but to make her suffer guiltily whenever Edward is close.

My dislike of the lie and how long Cecilia kept it going isn’t my only problem with the book.  Thomas’s disappearance is intriguing, mysterious, and suspicious, but after playing such a pivotal role in bringing Edward and Cecilia together, the resolution of his storyline is deeply unsatisfying. Edward and Cecilia continue to make inquiries, but no one seems to feel any urgency to discover why a soldier simply vanished.  Red herrings prove fruitless – and pointless. Instead of answers, Ms. Quinn gives us smug superior offers and an unsatisfying resolution.  What was Thomas doing when he went missing?  Was Edward with him?  Was he a spy?  Similarly, the backstory behind Edward’s head injury, gets short shrift – mostly because we’re constantly in Cecilia’s head as she struggles with her guilt and trying to find a way to tell Edward the truth.

That’s not to say that I disliked Cecilia.  She’s brave, tenacious and shows tremendous strength in the face of adversity.   Her love is strong and deep and she’s an appealing match for Edward. Unfortunately, Ms. Quinn diminishes all of that with Cecilia’s crushing insecurities, and it’s difficult to reconcile these conflicting elements of her personality.  It’s a treat to watch her fall for Edward – and how could she not?  He’s charming, flirtatious and not afraid to express his affection and I lived watching him fall for his make-believe wife.  Ms. Quinn also does a particularly good job of illustrating Edward’s frustration with the amnesia and his physical health as he tries to recover.  He’s alternately grumpy, angry and irritable – and it’s nice to see Cecilia manage all the good and bad facets of his personality with equal aplomb.

Ms. Quinn quietly, precisely and deliberately develops Edward and Cecilia’s growing love for one another… until Thomas’s fate is revealed.   The news about Thomas (OMG I HATED IT) opens the floodgates to more truths, and the novel becomes wholly engrossing as it races to its conclusion.  The final chapters are passionate, frantic and funny – and I loved them.

All in all, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is a tender, romantic slow burner that captivates – but also frustrates, because the lie central to the story overshadows and diminishes other intriguing storylines. I did enjoy it, however, and would say that it’s not necessary to read Because of Miss Bridgerton, the first book in the Rokesby series to enjoy it as it works both as a standalone or introduction to the series.


EXCERPT

Manhattan Island

July 1779

His head hurt.

Correction, his head really hurt.

It was hard to tell, though, just what sort of pain it was. He might have been shot through the head with a musket ball. That seemed plausible, given his current location in New York (or was it Connecticut?) and his current occupation as a captain in His Majesty’s army.

There was a war going on, in case one hadn’t noticed.

But this particular pounding—the one that felt more like someone was bashing his skull with a cannon (not a cannonball, mind you, but an actual cannon) seemed to indicate that he had been attacked with a blunter instrument than a bullet.

An anvil, perhaps. Dropped from a second-story window.

But if one cared to look on the bright side, a pain such as this did seem to indicate that he wasn’t dead, which was also a plausible fate, given all the same facts that had led him to believe he might have been shot.

That war he’d mentioned… people did die.

With alarming regularity.

So he wasn’t dead. That was good. But he also wasn’t sure where he was, precisely. The obvious next step would be to open his eyes, but his eyelids were translucent enough for him to realize that it was the middle of the day, and while he did like to look on the metaphorical bright side, he was fairly certain that the literal one would prove blinding.

So he kept his eyes closed.

But he listened.

He wasn’t alone. He couldn’t make out any actual conversation, but a low buzz of words and activity filtered through the air. People were moving about, setting objects on tables, maybe pulling a chair across the floor.

Someone was moaning in pain.

Most of the voices were male, but there was at least one lady nearby. She was close enough that he could hear her breathing. She made little noises as she went about her business, which he soon realized included tucking blankets around him and touching his forehead with the back of her hand.

He liked these little noises, the tiny little mmms and sighs she probably had no idea she was making. And she smelled nice, a bit like lemons, a bit like soap.

And a bit like hard work.

He knew that smell. He’d worn it himself, albeit usually only briefly until it turned into a full-fledged stink.

On her, though, it was more than pleasant. Perhaps a little earthy. And he wondered who she was, to be tending to him so diligently.

“How is he today?”

Edward held himself still. This male voice was new, and he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to know he was awake yet.

Although he wasn’t sure why he felt this hesitancy.

“The same,” came the woman’s reply.

“I am concerned. If he doesn’t wake up soon…”

“I know,” the woman said. There was a touch of irritation in her voice, which Edward found curious.

“Have you been able to get him to take broth?”

“Just a few spoonfuls. I was afraid he would choke if I attempted any more than that.”

The man made a vague noise of approval. “Remind me how long he has been like this?”

“A week, sir. Four days before I arrived, and three since.”

A week. Edward thought about this. A week meant it must be… March? April?

No, maybe it was only February. And this was probably New York, not Connecticut.

But that still didn’t explain why his head hurt so bloody much. Clearly he’d been in some sort of an accident. Or had he been attacked?

“There has been no change at all?” the man asked, even though the lady had just said as much.

But she must have had far more patience than Edward, because she replied in a quiet, clear voice, “No, sir. None.”

The man made a noise that wasn’t quite a grunt. Edward found it impossible to interpret.

“Er…” The woman cleared her throat. “Have you any news of my brother?”

Her brother? Who was her brother?

“I am afraid not, Mrs. Rokesby.”

Mrs. Rokesby?

“It has been nearly two months,” she said quietly.

Mrs. Rokesby? Edward really wanted them to get back to that point. There was only one Rokesby in North America as far as he knew, and that was him. So if she was Mrs. Rokesby…

“I think,” the male voice said, “that your energies would be better spent tending to your husband.”

Husband?

“I assure you,” she said, and there was that touch of irritation again, “that I have been caring for him most faithfully.”

Husband? They were calling him her husband? Was he married? He couldn’t be married. How could he be married and not remember it?

Who was this woman?

Edward’s heart began to pound. What the devil was happening to him?

“Did he just make a noise?” the man asked.

“I… I don’t think so.”

She moved then, quickly. Hands touched him, his cheek, then his chest, and even through her obvious concern, there was something soothing in her motions, something undeniably right.

“Edward?” she asked, taking his hand. She stroked it several times, her fingers brushing lightly over his skin. “Can you hear me?”

He ought to respond. She was worried. What kind of gentleman did not act to relieve a lady’s distress?

“I fear he may be lost to us,” the man said, with far less gentleness than Edward thought appropriate.

“He still breathes,” the woman said in a steely voice.

The man said nothing, but his expression must have been one of pity, because she said it again, more loudly this time.

He still breathes.”

“Mrs. Rokesby…”

Edward felt her hand tighten around his. Then she placed her other on top, her fingers resting lightly on his knuckles. It was the smallest sort of embrace, but Edward felt it down to his soul.

“He still breathes, Colonel,” she said with quiet resolve. “And while he does, I will be here. I may not be able to help Thomas, but—”

Thomas. Thomas Harcourt. That was the connection. This must be his sister. Cecilia. He knew her well.

Or not. He’d never actually met the lady, he felt like he knew her. She wrote to her brother with a diligence that was unmatched in the regiment. Thomas received twice as much mail as Edward, and Edward had four siblings to Thomas’s one.

Cecilia Harcourt. What on earth was she doing in North America? She was supposed to be in Derbyshire, in that little town Thomas had been so eager to leave. The one with the hot springs. Matlock. No, Matlock Bath.

Edward had never been, but he thought it sounded charming. Not the way Thomas described it, of course; he liked the bustle of city life and couldn’t wait to take a commission and depart his village. But Cecilia was different. In her letters, the small Derbyshire town came alive, and Edward almost felt that he would recognize her neighbors if he ever went to visit.

She was witty. Lord, she was witty. Thomas used to laugh so much at her missives that Edward finally made him read them out loud.

Then one day, when Thomas was penning his response, Edward interrupted so many times that Thomas finally shoved out his chair and held forth his quill.

“You write to her,” he’d said.

So he did.

Not on his own, of course. Edward could never have written to her directly. It would have been the worst sort of impropriety, and he would not have insulted her in such a manner. But he took to scribbling a few lines at the end of Thomas’s letters, and whenever she replied, she had a few lines for him.

Thomas carried a miniature of her, and even though he said it was several years old, Edward had found himself staring at it, studying the small portrait of the young woman, wondering if her hair really was that remarkable golden color, or if she really did smile that way, lips closed and mysterious.

Somehow he thought not. She did not strike him as a woman with secrets. Her smile would be sunny and free. Edward had even thought he’d like to meet her once this godforsaken war was over. He’d never said anything to Thomas, though.

That would have been strange.

Now Cecilia was here. In the colonies. Which made absolutely no sense, but then again, what did? Edward’s head was injured, and Thomas seemed to be missing, and…

Edward thought hard.

…and he seemed to have married Cecilia Harcourt.

He opened his eyes and tried to focus on the green-eyed woman peering down at him.

“Cecilia?”

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About the Author

Julia Quinn is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels for Avon Books, and one of only sixteen authors ever to be inducted in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.

You can connect with Julia at:   WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe #4) by Stella Riley

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Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, May 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1777
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

The Wicked Cousin is the fourth book in Stella Riley’s Rockliffe series of historical romances set in Georgian England, in which she once again presents readers with a gorgeous hero, an admirable heroine and a well-written, strongly developed romance that simmers with sexual tension and is deliciously, well, romantic. Add to that a delightful cast of familiar secondary characters, witty dialogue, wonderfully written friendships and a gently bubbling secondary romance with great potential for a future book… and Ms. Riley has another winner on her hands.

The eponymous cousin is the Honourable Sebastian Audley, only son and heir of Viscount Wingham. Following the tragic death of his beloved twin brother at the age of eight, Sebastian was wrapped up in several suffocating layers of cotton wool, mollycoddled and over-protected to such an extent that when he was finally able to, he went more than a little wild in his determination to experience life to the full. There was no wager too risky, no lady too unattainable and no bottle too undrinkable for Sebastian, and tales of his exploits as he cut a dash through Europe have spread far and wide, shocking (but secretly titillating) the ladies and entertaining the men, most of whom think Sebastian is a jolly fine fellow and would gladly slap him on the back if ever he stayed long enough in one place to allow them to do so.

The problem with a reputation of such magnitude, however, it that it tends to be both inflexible and impossible to dislodge, as Sebastian quickly discovers when, after an absence of several years (barring his annual and very quiet flying visit) he returns to England for good when he learns that his father has suffered an apoplexy and that his life is in danger.

Truth be told, Sebastian’s hellraisng lifestyle has begun to pall and at the age of twenty-eight he is ready to embark on another phase of his life – to start to learn how to manage the family estates and to ready himself to take on the responsibilities that will be his when he eventually inherits his father’s title. But he knows that he faces quite the task in terms of convincing society that he has thrown off his hellion ways and wants to settle down; the minute he is known to be in London, he’ll be besieged by young bucks vying for his attention and attempting to get him to wager on the most outrageous things, and while he isn’t going to agree to any of them, it’s going to be difficult to keep on turning them down without causing offence.

Fortunately, Sebastian’s good friend, Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player) comes up with a solution to that particular dilemma. If they make a private wager, it will preclude Sebastian from accepting any others, thus giving him a legitimate reason for declining any others offered him.

Sebastian is therefore set for his re-entrance into London society which, given he’s handsome as sin and twice as charming, welcomes him with open arms.

Miss Cassandra Delahaye, whom we met in The Player is getting tired of hearing of very little other than the wicked Mr. Audley – who happens to be a very, very distant relation of her family – from her younger sister and her friends, all of whom are swooning over the tales of his exploits printed in the scandal sheets. While constantly hearing about the dashing, handsome rake, Cassie is trying to work out how to gently reject yet another suitor who has asked her to marry him simply because she’s exactly the sort of girl one marries – pretty, sweet and well-bred. She’s not silly enough to expect to be swept off her feet and fall madly in love with the man she will eventually wed, but she would at least like to be chosen for herself and not just because she is regarded as “eminently suitable”.

Her first – accidental – meeting with her so-called wicked cousin is not an auspicious one and at first she thinks him arrogant and conceited. But she is forced to concede her error when further encounters prove him to be neither of those things; he’s funny, kind and clever and she finds herself enjoying both his company and his conversation, which is interesting and enlightening. But even more than that, he is probably the first man to take an interest in her opinions and what she has to say; in short, to see and appreciate Cassie rather than the demure Miss Delahaye, and it isn’t long before she is thoroughly smitten with the genuinely decent man she is coming to know.

For the first time ever, Sebastian is in love, and, in a touching and beautiful scene at his brother’s graveside, talks to him about the strength of his feelings for Cassie and the task he faces in convincing the woman he loves that he is a changed man. More difficult than that, however, he is going to have to prove to her father that he can be trusted with his daughter’s heart and happiness. But Sebastian is not one to give up easily and is determined to win Cassie’s hand.

The Wicked Cousin is a character-driven romance which has, at its heart, a tender and romantic courtship that is not without a few heated moments. But there is a lot more to enjoy as well, not least of which is meeting characters from the previous novels. We get to see the Duke of Rockliffe as a besotted new father, to witness Caroline, Lady Sarre, giving Adrian’s mother a well-deserved set-down and Adrian’s first, sartorially-challenged meeting with his wife’s bluff, yet kindly grandfather. We catch up with Amberley and Rosalind, Rock’s sister, Nell … and there is still something brewing between his younger brother Nicholas and the lovely Madeleine Delacroix (sister of Adrian’s business partner, Aristide). It’s also incredibly refreshing to read a story in which the heroine’s family is kind, fond and well-adjusted, and while Sebastian and his father have clearly butted heads over his life-choices in the past, Ms. Riley has very wisely opted not to have them at each other’s throats, and to show instead that there is affection and respect between them and to point the way towards an improvement in their relationship.

That’s not to say that everything in the garden is rosy, however. Sebastian’s relationship with his oldest sister, Blanche, is very strained and has played some part in his estrangement from his family; and his rakish past comes back to haunt him in the form of one of his past lovers, who is obsessed with him and refuses to believe he is no longer interested in her. The “evil other woman” plotline can be a difficult one to pull off and is one which I know some readers dislike, but it works well here, clearly showing how Sebastian has changed and become aware of the inadvisability of many of his past actions, while also injecting a bit of drama into the story.

If I have a criticism of the book overall, it’s that while Cassie is a lovely heroine and perfect for Sebastian, she is somewhat overshadowed by him. She’s not a shrinking violent by any means – she’s charming, intelligent and not afraid to stand up for herself – but Sebastian is so vital and charismatic that he steals pretty much every scene he’s in. But for a hero-centric reader like me, that’s no problem at all, and I was more than happy to be completely charmed by him in all his red-headed, blue-eyed glory.

All in all, The Wicked Cousin is a delightful read and one which is sure to please fans of intelligently written, strongly characterised historical romance. It’s a self-contained story, but as it’s the fourth book in a series, characters from the previous books are mentioned and many make cameo appearances, so if you haven’t read the others you might want to familiarise yourself with who is who. Or just read the first three books, which are every bit as enjoyable as this one.

More, please, Ms. Riley!

The Highland Duke (Lords of the Highlands #1) by Amy Jarecki

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She’ll put her life on the line for him . . .

When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name.

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, March 2017
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1703
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

I was drawn to The Highland Duke for its promise of a hidden identity story. Once I began reading I discovered it was so much more and was quickly caught up in the adventure, danger and romance all set against the Jacobite uprisings of the early 1700’s.

The battle had been fierce but Akira Ayres had no concern over the political war being fought near her home in Dunkeld. All she knew was that there would be many wounded still left on the field who needed her help as a healer. Searching the grounds of Hoord Moor for survivors, Akira is drawn to a nearby clump of trees by the sound of someone in distress. Following the moaning she finds a man dressed much better than any of the dead or wounded men she’s seen on the field. Before she can question who he is, Akira sees that he’s been shot in the leg and realizes that her skills may not be enough to treat that kind of injury. Her patient seems more concerned about leaving the field of battle than his injury and he commands her to do what she can to remove the musket ball and get him mobile.

George, Duke of Gordon, came to Hoord Moor to support his cousin and the Jacobites who were rising up against the royalist Marquis of Atholl. His wounded leg is nothing compared to the death sentence he will likely face if the Marquis’ guardsmen find him on the field with the other surviving clansmen. His only chance is to retreat from Dunkeld and travel back into his own territory or at least to lands controlled by a clan allied with his own. The beautiful healer might be his only chance at escape but without knowing where her loyalties lie there is no way he can tell her who he really is. Calling himself Geordie, he sends her off to purchase a horse while he continues to hide. Upon her return, Geordie fully intends to leave her behind and make his way alone to a neighboring clan; however the Captain of the guard gets there before he can leave and his wounded leg makes riding almost impossible. Understanding in an instant that he still needs the woman’s healing touch, Geordie pulls her onto the horse and together they ride farther into the Highlands and away from danger.

Akira has never been more than a few miles away from her home but her dedication to her patient keeps her with Geordie during his flight. Their slow progress through the dense forests of the Highlands keeps the pair in close company even while Akira forces herself to remain detached from the handsome man she knows is keeping secrets from her. With Geordie’s health getting worse the longer they ride away from danger, the more important it is for Akira to remain by his side despite the jeopardy he’s put her in. Their journey reveals Geordie to be verydifferent from the overbearing man she first cared for on the battlefield. He is considerate of her comfort, he protects her even at a great cost to himself, and he seems to find her attractive despite her Gypsy heritage.

Taking a risk that his feelings for her are sincere, Akira succumbs to her own attraction to Geordie in an incredible moment of sexual release. Unfortunately, however, once she discovers the truth of his identity any future she might have hoped to have with her Highlander are dashed. His position as a duke and her own background as an uneducated “tinker” puts them leagues apart in social class and in expectations. Added to that problem is the fear that the soldiers are still chasing after Geordie to prove he was supporting the Jacobites and her presence on Gordon land is all the evidence they’d need. It is only Geordie’s constant reassurances that his feelings are true that keeps Akira by his side; however the more she tries to be comfortable in the lavish world of the Duke of Gordon the less sure Akira is that her Geordie – the man underneath it all – will remain faithful to her.

The Highland Duke is a rich, romantic story from start to finish. Both Geordie and Akira are fully developed characters who each take a very personal journey of discovery. The labels each of them carry in society mean nothing while they are on the run. Akira is used to fighting against the inherent mistrust people have for her because she is a Gypsy. While traveling with Geordie she is treated as a true Scotswoman and appreciated for her skills and kindness rather than suspected due to her heritage. For Geordie, hiding his title from Akira is initially a way to keep himself safe but an unintentional side effect is that Akira treats him as she would any other man. Her concern for him never comes from what she hopes the exalted Duke of Gordon can do for her but is a heartfelt sentiment he has never felt from a woman before. That sense that he could be himself is freeing and gives Geordie the chance to strip himself of behaviors that were more associated with his title than who he really is.

Ms. Jarecki does an incredible job of weighing everything Geordie does with the politics of the time. The danger constantly nipping at his and Akira’s heels keeps the story from ever slowing down, even when the two have to take a moment to think about their relationship. His position as Duke of Gordon is only by the grace of Her Majesty, Queen Anne, and if it’s learned he is a Jacobite sympathizer it will cost his family everything. Still, when Akira is put at risk because of her association with him, Geordie is willing to sacrifice himself to prove that his loyalty to her is stronger than towards any sitting or deposed monarch.

I loved reading The Highland Duke. The book’s pace moves quickly but I never felt the characters or their emotions were left behind just to keep the plot going. I am eager to read the next book in the Lord of the Highlands series but may find myself revisiting Geordie and Akira’s story a second time just to revel in their perfect romance.

SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: Proud Mary (Roxton Saga #5) by Lucinda Brant

RHR-Proud-Mary-Lucinda-Brant

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The Roxtons are back! Romance. Drama. Intrigue. Family secrets. There’s never a dull moment for the 18th Century’s first family…

Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.

Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.

Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.

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OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: 2017 by Sprigleaf Pty Ltd.

Time and Setting: Gloucestershire, 1777
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I love historical romance series featuring large families and covering a sizable period of time, and Lucinda Brant’s Roxton books fit that bill. The series begins in Paris in 1745, moves to Georgian England, and covers nearly thirty years, during which the expected births, deaths, love affairs, and marriages occur.

Proud Mary, the fifth book, opens in 1777 and features Lady Mary Cavendish, widow of Sir Gerald Cavendish, who has been dead for two years. Sir Gerald and Lady Mary were minor characters in the earlier books, where we learned that Gerald was a conceited bag of hot air who was shunned by Polite Society, disliked by his neighbors, and cruel to his wife and daughter. Lady Mary was completely under his thumb, which is not surprising since she grew up with a domineering snob of a mother, the Countess of Strathsay.

Sir Gerald was both impressed and envious that Mary was the daughter of an earl, a great-granddaughter of King Charles II, and a cousin to the Duchess of Roxton. Indeed, beginning when she was twelve, Mary had spent the happiest years of her life living at Roxton’s estate as a member of the family. When she returned to her mother, Lady Strathsay drilled into Mary’s head that women of her station had a higher calling than their inferiors, that she must precisely follow the rigid rules of society, and that she owed a duty to her noble lineage to marry well and produce sons. Mary was so browbeaten and miserable that she accepted an arranged marriage to Sir Gerald.

Now Sir Gerald is dead, leaving Mary with a nice estate (for her lifetime), Abbeywood, and a mountain of debts. In a final act of maliciousness, Gerald named the local squire, Christopher Bryce, as co-guardian, with the Duke of Roxton, of Mary’s daughter Theodora. “Teddy,” as she is known to all is a ten-year-old tomboy who likes nothing better than riding and hiking the wilds of Gloucestershire. She adores her “Uncle Christopher,” and he clearly returns the feeling. Seeing the sweet interplay between them is the first hint that Christopher has a heart beneath his overly sober exterior.

Christopher is charged with running Abbeywood and helping retire the debts that Gerald left behind. He is a strict administrator, and Mary chafes under his budgetary restraints. Mary politely loathes him, and while he is punctiliously correct toward Mary, he has quietly been in love with her since he returned to Gloucestershire eight years ago. Christopher’s years away from home are a mystery to Mary and the rest of their neighbors, and Christopher knows that his shameful secrets from that time would horrify a gentle lady such as she. For reasons unknown, he left suddenly for the Continent at the age of eighteen and cut himself off entirely from his parents. More than a decade later, he returned home to nurse his dying mother and brought his blind Aunt Kate to live with him. Unbeknownst to everyone, he also has done a bit of spying for England’s Spymaster General, Lord Shrewsbury, and to that end he had befriended Sir Gerald, whom Shrewsbury suspected of selling secrets to the French.

Squire Bryce was portrayed as dour and tyrannical in the previous Roxton book Dair Devil, which led me to have some skepticism about his suitability as a hero in this book. Ms. Brant, however, cleverly allows the reader to discover the real Christopher at the same time that Mary does. They begin to have forthright conversations, and along with Mary we learn that Christopher is an honorable man with strong principles but also strong emotions, which he keeps deeply hidden. Christopher grows more deeply in love with Mary, but knowing that she is an aristocrat and he is the son of nobody, he accepts that there can never be anything between them. He also comes to realize that Gerald had lied and exaggerated about virtually everything – even claiming that Roxton was Teddy’s true father. Gerald was no spy, Christopher decides, and so the hunt must continue.

Mary feels an attraction to Christopher, but she does not consider him as a possible mate even though she is desperately lonely. She is thirty years old and has never been in love or been loved. She has never shared a passionate kiss with any man, nor did the selfish Sir Gerald ever show her pleasure in the marriage bed. She loves her daughter with all her heart, but hopes she still has the capacity to love a man. Since her mother is insisting that it’s Mary’s duty to her family to marry again, she hopes that perhaps she will find love with a new husband.

When Mary pays a rare visit to Christopher’s office one day, he is not a little surprised when she announces that there is a ghost in the house. The couple join forces to discover tangible evidence of an intruder and set out to detect his true identity. His unmasking turns their little world upside down and threatens to bring an end to their budding romance, for the ghost is actually the man whom Mary once hoped to marry. I won’t disclose more, as I think the clever twists and turns of this story should not be spoiled.

Mary and Christopher make a lovely couple, and all of my misgivings about him melted away. In fact, by the time Mary realizes that she has fallen in love with him, I was a little bit in love too. It was wonderful to watch Mary fall for him, always fighting her mother’s little voice in her head pointing out his unsuitability for an earl’s daughter. Equally wonderful was watching Mary gain confidence in herself and fighting to overcome the years of being denigrated and bullied by her mother and her husband. Christopher, for his part, gradually and with great reluctance reveals his past to a shocked Mary, expecting at every turn that she will turn away from him in disgust. Of course, she does not.

I always feel a bit like a time traveler when reading one of Ms. Brant’s books. Using her impeccable research, she creates such an authentic 18th century world, and employing her wonderful imagination, she writes multi-layered stories with intricate plots. These talents are put to particularly good use in Proud Mary. I think that we 21st century readers often have a difficult time appreciating the class-based strictures of the past, and many authors who write cross-class romances downplay the difficulties that would have faced the duke who married his housekeeper, for example. Ms. Brant does not fall into the trap of making things easy for Mary and Christopher, however, and I felt a better understanding of how oppressive, yet widely accepted, the class structure was. It helps here that Mary’s Roxton relations are accepting of their relationship, but then we have seen in earlier books that they are somewhat non-conformist and powerful enough to do as they please.

As Christopher and Mary work toward their happily ever after, we get to see all of her extended family – all of whom, along with young Teddy, play a role in bringing Christopher and Mary together.

Ms. Brant has said that her next book will be Henri-Antoine’s story, but dare we hope that someday there is one pairing Teddy and Jack? I suppose that I am looking for ways for the Roxton Family Saga to continue for a long time. I will add that while Proud Marycan be read as a standalone, there is much more pleasure to be had by reading the series in order and learning to know and love this family as much as I and many other readers have.

Each book has been a joy to read, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

EXCERPT

“A-a—ghost? You saw a ghost?”

Christopher resisted the urge to roll his eyes and huff his disbelief. A ghost!? God grant him patience. He had interrupted his busy morning schedule for this. Correction. He had interrupted it for her. But she was talking fanciful nonsense.

Yet, in the years he had known her, fanciful was not a word he associated with the daughter of the Earl of Strathsay. Prim, and practical, yes. And proud—oh yes, the Lady Mary was very proud. But fanciful? Never. So there had to be some basis in fact for her belief in a ghost, the fear in her eyes told him so. She truly believed it.

And he believed her. It was just that he did not believe the house was haunted.

So he took a moment to compose himself, lest he appear supercilious, and awaited further explanation.

Lady Mary took his silence for condescending disbelief.

“I did not see it, Mr. Bryce. I heard it.”

~~~

Mary knew the moment she uttered the word ghost that Mr. Bryce did not believe her.

It was not so much his tone as the way in which his square jaw clamped shut, and his nostrils flared as he pressed his lips together, as if forcing himself not to smile. She was surprised he hadn’t punctuated his incredulity with a roll of his fine eyes. It must have taken all his self-control not to laugh out loud, too.

But she was not deterred by his skepticism. She had expected it; would have been surprised had he reacted in any other way. She had been incredulous herself. But it was the only explanation that made sense. After all, no one had used Sir Gerald’s rooms since his death two years ago. And if anyone did enter them, it was the servants during the autumn cleaning in preparation for winter, to dust what was not under holland covers, and to check that the fireplaces, one in the bedchamber and one in the dressing room, were not inhabited by rodents or birds. And then the servant door by which they had entered was locked again, and the key given to the housekeeper. The main door to the bedchamber, which led onto the corridor, had been locked and this key given to Lady Mary on the day of her husband’s funeral. She had not unlocked it since.

The autumn clean had been over a month ago now. And there was no reason for any of the servants to enter those rooms again, nor had they. She had checked with the housekeeper. And certainly no one would enter them at night, which was when she had heard the noises. And so she told Mr. Bryce, doing her best to appear as if she were discussing the everyday, and not something incorporeal. And because she was delaying for as long as possible confiding in him what she feared most.

“And where did you hear this specter, my lady?”

“I was in my bedchamber. The noises came from Sir Gerald’s dressing room.”

“Thank-you for the clarification. What time was this?”

“At night. It was late.”

“You were not—dreaming—perhaps?”
“No. I thought so at first. I thought I was having a nightmare. But when I was fully awake I knew I was not dreaming, which was far more disturbing than any nightmare.”

“Did you hear these—noises—just the once?”

“No. I was woken again later that night by similar noises. Which is why I-I decided to come to you.”

“Do you think that perhaps what you heard was a cat on the roof, or a bird nesting in the tree outside your window?

Or indeed, it may have been a branch of that tree scraping against the window pane?”

Mary considered this for a moment, then shook her head.

“No, Mr. Bryce. The noises could not have been made by those things. The sounds were different entirely. And it was a still night—has been still all this week. So there was no wind to stir the branches, or whistle through the sills.”

“What precisely did you hear, my lady?”

“My first thought, when I was still half-asleep, was that it was Sir Gerald come through from his bedchamber to visit me. To do so he must walk through his dressing room, which is the room that divides his bedchamber from mine…”

“And so you heard footfall?” Christopher gently prompted when Mary’s voice trailed off and she looked down at her hands.

Mary shook her head again, then slowly lifted her gaze to his brown eyes.

“No. Not footfall…”

GIVEAWAY

 

Lucinda is offering FIVE lucky people the chance to win an eCopy of Proud Mary, book five in her acclaimed Roxton Saga!

Enter at Rafflecopter, below. The Giveaway is open for the next seven days and winners will be notified shortly after the closing date. No purchase is necessary

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucinda-Brant-AuthorLucinda Brant is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of award-winning Georgian historical romances and mysteries. Her novels are described as “smart, witty, historical adventures full of heart wrenching drama with a happily ever after”. Lucinda is a university trained historian and a retired history and geography teacher who now writes full time. She has been researching and reading about the 18th Century for forty years, and still finds the Georgian era just as fascinating now as then. Lucinda drinks too much coffee and is addicted to Pinterest. Come join her there in her 18th Century world: http://www.pinterest.com/lucindabrant/, and also at:
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall

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Hide from the thief-taker, for if he finds you, he will take you away…

Eighteenth-century Cornwall is crippled by debt and poverty, while the gibbet casts a shadow of fear over the land. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.

Terrified by a thief-taker’s warning as a child, Jenna has resolved to be good. When her brother, Silas, asks for her help to pay his creditors, Jenna feels unable to refuse and finds herself entering the dangerous world of the smuggling trade.

Jack Penhale hunts down the smuggling gangs in revenge for his father’s death. Drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre, they discover their lives are entangled. But as Jenna struggles to decide where her allegiances lie, the worlds of justice and crime collide, leading to danger and heartache for all concerned…

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EXCERPT

A variety of faces were turned to watch the sale. Men, women and children craned their necks for a better view, eager to see what was happening. Only one man, who stood on the edge of the crowd and casually leaned against a cart, had no interest in the farce. From his stance and jet-black hair, Jenna instantly recognised him as the man who had helped her escape. There was no mistaking him, as there were few men with such well-balanced features that held strength and kindness in equal measures. He was looking at her intently through narrowed eyes and she wondered if he recognised her, too. Heat rushed to her face, making her feel exposed and a little panicked. Furtively, she moved her mop in front of her face hoping to block his view. The last thing she needed while she was trying to be hired was him asking questions.

Keeping her eyes lowered, she heard the wife sale progress as the men agreed a price of two shillings and a quart of beer, and the lover emerged victorious. The crowd erupted about Jenna, but she dared not look up in case the stranger was still looking at her. Instead she remained rooted to the spot hoping that he would soon be on his way.

The wife sale completed, the woman and her lover walked through the crowd, their noses tilted upwards, their arm interlinked and both with a slight swagger to their step. The crowd was delighted at the unplanned entertainment and even broke into a spontaneous applause when the pair granted them a joint bow before finally exiting the square. The fayre slowly returned to normal and Jenna took the opportunity to furtively glance up. She saw him moving through the thinning crowd, and then she lost sight of him. He is gone, she thought, relieved, but she should have known better. His earlier attention had indicated an interest in her, and when she heard a man’s boots climb onto the left side of the stage, she did not need to look to know it was him.

The woman with the florid complexion ordered Jenna to show her hands. Obediently Jenna held one out, whilst trying to keep the mop head in the right position to obstruct the stranger’s view of her face. When the man’s well-shaped hand suddenly closed around the handle of her mop and brushed against hers, a wave of unfamiliar sensations swept over her. They caught the breath in her throat and slowed her mind to that of a drunkard, leaving her little choice, but to allow him to take it. With her mop in his hand, the dark-haired stranger watched in silence as the woman examined her.

The larger woman looked at her now free hand. Satisfied, she ordered Jenna to open her mouth and show her teeth, before checking for lice in her clothes and hair. Jenna closed her eyes in shame at being examined like livestock. The man continued to say nothing, even when he handed the mop back to her when the examination was complete. His brows furrowed deep in thought, and for the briefest of moments she wondered if he was considering hiring her. However, when the woman offered a price he remained silent and when the ribbon was pinned onto Jenna’s dress to confirm that she was hired, he turned and walked away.

Jenna frowned as she watched him leave. His presence had unnerved her, but strangely, now that he was leaving, she felt disappointed that he had not bothered to barter for her. Had he come onto the stage to hire her, but on closer inspection thought better of it? The truth was, the handsome stranger had rejected her, and rejection is never a pleasant feeling to have.

*****

From a short distance away, Jack watched the woman lead Jenna Kestle away. He had been shocked to see her again and found himself marvelling at life’s habit of tossing coincidences in one’s path. Moments before he caught sight of her he had been thinking about her, and then she was there, standing on a makeshift stage waiting to be hired.

At first he put it down to mistaken identity, or worse his imagination playing tricks on him, but the longer he watched her, the more he was convinced it was her.

The woman’s hair, previously hidden below a battered tricorn, was in fact long. Today, it was neatly plaited and lay over one shoulder. The last time he saw her, her feminine shape was hidden under boy’s clothing. Now it captivated his attention and drew him towards the stage, while a devil on his shoulder whispered in his ear and encouraged him to hire her. Jack almost succumbed, but thankfully saw sense and walked away. He knew that having an extra pair of ears beneath his roof was far too dangerous. It was best he kept his distance until he had completed what he had come here to do.

He watched her body sway to the movement of the cart as her new employer took her away from him. For a brief moment he felt a strange sense of loss for a woman he knew so little about. True, she had never been far from his thoughts. The last time he had seen her she was being chased by a crowd. It was only natural that he would feel concern for her welfare, he thought. He need not have worried as he remembered their hands briefly touching. Although her hand felt tense, during her examination she had a tilt to her chin, which showed determination – a trait he recognised in himself. He knew in that moment that he need not be concerned for her, for he saw that she was of strong character which would bode well for her future.

This newly acquired knowledge freed him from feeling concern for her and he found himself laughing a little too loudly at his earlier foolishness

GIVEAWAY

ENTER TO WIN AN eCOPY OF THE THEIF’S DAUGHTER. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

victoria cornwallVictoria Cornwall grew up on a farm in Cornwall. She can trace her Cornish roots as far back as the 18th century and it is this background and heritage which is the inspiration for her Cornish based novels.

Victoria is married, has two grown up children and a black Labrador, called Alfie. She likes to read and write historical fiction with a strong background story, but at its heart is the unmistakable emotion, even pain, of loving someone.

Following a fulfilling twenty-five year career as a nurse, a change in profession finally allowed her the time to write.

Twitter @vickiecornwall
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Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

sinful scottish laird

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Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand…and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly—though unwillingly—bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN, February 2017
Time and setting: Scottish Highlands, 1742
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3 stars

Review by Vikki

Sinful Scottish Laird is an entertaining read, although it is a little slow to start.

Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick packs up her household and young son and flees the unwanted advances of her many suitors while she awaits the return of her lost love. Although she must remarry or lose her son’s fortune, she wants love if possible. What she does not count on is the overwhelming attraction she feels for Cailean MacKenzie, the Laird of Arrandale, her closest neighbor.

Cailean is determined to remain a bachelor, and while the lassie on his neighboring estate is bonny, he has no use for her – after all, she’s English – but the attraction between them is too strong to ignore. Her suitor turns out to be a captain in the Royal Navy bent on bringing Cailean’s smuggling days to an end. He cannot stand the thought of the man touching Daisy, or any man for that matter, but he could never consider marrying a Sassenach.

Can Daisy convince him to change his mind, or will he remain a stubborn Scot to the end and deny them the chance of ever-lasting happiness?

I struggled with Daisy’s character for much of the book and never really connected with her, other than on those occasions when she was involved with her son, Ellis. Her love for him comes through loud and clear. She comes across as somewhat of a flake in her dealings with others, and she seems indecisive as well, vacillating between her feelings for Cailean and Robert, the man she thinks she wants to marry.

Cailean is a hero I could love. His tender care for Ellis won me over and his relationship with his family speaks well of his character. However, I did not feel the chemistry between him and Daisy, nor could I understand why he wanted her, which is probably my main problem with the book – the chemistry between Daisy and Cailean just wasn’t strong enough for my taste. One thing I love in a romance is the slow build of sexual tension between the hero and the heroine, and it was lacking here.

Nonetheless, I am glad I had the opportunity to read Sinful Scottish Laird. The pacing overall was a little slow, but it does have an excellent ending. I also quite enjoyed Ellis, who had surprisingly good character development, and there are several enjoyable secondary characters who help move the story along.

The Star in the Meadow (Spanish Brand #4) by Carla Kelly

the star in the meadow

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Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader. Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall.

When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1785
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With this fourth book of the Spanish Brand Series, Carla Kelly concludes the ongoing saga of Marco Mondragon, an Spanish official in 1780’s New Mexico.  When we first met him, he was heartbroken over the deaths of his beloved wife and twin sons.  After a time, he found happiness with a new love, Paloma, and they began to build a future together.  They now have two children, and Paloma has just given birth to their second son.  Although she is overjoyed at having been delivered of a healthy child, Paloma doesn’t bounce back.  She is restless, overwhelmed, tired, and confused.  She tries to put on a brave front, but Marco realizes something is wrong.  After learning that this condition happens occasionally to a woman after giving birth, Marco decides to send Paloma away to his sister’s home for a couple of weeks, where she can just relax and have no responsibilities.

Disaster strikes when Paloma and her companion are kidnapped while travelling.  The kidnappers originally targeted someone else, but upon learning that Paloma is Marco’s wife, they decide to keep her, as they have a grudge against him.  To make matters worse, Marco is scheduled to attend a very important meeting with the Comanche to discuss peace.  Marco has earned their respect, and there will be no talks without him there.  While he desperately wants to search for his missing wife, he is forced to let others search while he attends the gathering.

While the previous books in this series have been fraught with conflict and danger, I found The Star in the Meadow to be the most heartbreaking.  Marco and Paloma are apart for most of the book, and both have to make hard and distressing decisions, including one about their newborn child.  Throughout all this darkness, Carla Kelly manages to inject moments of light humor, and when the lovers are finally reunited, each unsure of their reception from the other, their love and passion burns brighter than ever.  This couple has a genuine goodness about them, which seems to enfold their family and friends, and makes them all the better for it.  The Star in the Meadow is beautifully written, and a satisfying conclusion to the series, though I hate to see it end.  I was left with a great feeling of warmth and optimism for their future, and I recommend this series highly.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple by K.A. Merikan

The-Black-Sheep_FINAL_400

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“How does one start a relationship with another man when it is forbidden?”

“One needs to decide that the other man is worth dying for.”

Cornwall, 1785

Sir Evan Penhart. Baronet. Highwayman. Scoundrel.
Julian Reece. Writer. Wastrel. Penniless.

No one forces Julian Reece to marry. Not his father, not his brother. No one.

When he is thrust into a carriage heading for London to meet his future bride, his way out comes in the form of an imposing highwayman, riding a horse as black as night. Julian makes a deal with the criminal, but what he doesn’t expect is that despite the title of baronet, the robber turns out to be no gentleman.

Sir Evan Penhart is pushed into crime out of desperation, but the pact with a pretty, young merchant’s son turns out to have disastrous consequences. Not only is Evan left broke, but worse yet, Julian opens up a Pandora’s box of passions that are dark, needy, and too wild to tame. With no way to lock them back in, rash decisions and greedy desire lead to a tide that wrecks everything in its way.

But Julian might actually like all the sinful, carnal passion unleashed on him. How can he admit this though, even to himself, when a taste of the forbidden fruit could have him end up with a noose around his neck? And with highway robbery being a hanging offense and the local constable on their back, Julian could lose Evan before he can decide anything about the nature of his desires.

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EXCERPT

Evan’s grip on the nightshirt tightened. Oh, what he’d now give for being a valet not a baronet. “Since when does a merchant’s son need a valet?” he asked, already imagining unbuttoning the embroidered buttons of the vest, and leaning in for—

“Since he can afford one,” said Julian coolly and stretched his throat, approaching the fire. “I am your guest, and yet so far I’ve been only offered discourtesy. Or do you not know that you are being rude?”

Julian was a spoiled idler, but it was himself that Evan despised most right now, because with all his attitude, and the outlandish idea to strip his own father of money, Julian was still the most beautiful creature that had graced this house in years. Standing there by the fire, the rich green color of his outfit complemented the flames as if he’d gotten dressed today, knowing he’d be here in the evening.

Evan lost patience. For Julian, for himself, for the whole situation dragging out and testing him.

He walked past the armchair, and approached Julian without a word. He pushed him at the warm wall by the fireplace, and his fingers went straight for the buttons of Julian’s waistcoat.

A sharp gasp left Julian’s lips, and he remained frozen, slim, graceful fingers trailing along the faded tapestry depicting the battle of Troy. He stopped resisting, as if Evan’s impudence left him weaponless. He stared at the wall, possibly frightened but unresisting.

So Evan carried on. Pulled off the coat. Unbuttoned the waistcoat. When the shape of a stiffened nipple appeared where the shirt clung to Julian’s body, Evan was ready to eat Julian alive. But he would not. He’d stay calm and move past all this.

Julian’s breath wheezed, and he clawed his fingers into the tapestry, his body hot like nothing else Evan had touched in years. Even the fire burning so close couldn’t compare to the warmth streaming from underneath the fine linens.

“How am I doing?” Evan asked when the tension became too much. He pulled on the silk of Julian’s cravat, untying it from around his neck, and his heart was speeding up at the sight of the throat underneath the thin fabric.

“Dreadfully,” said Julian through his teeth and still refused to look at Evan. “I wouldn’t let you near me with a razor, but maybe you’d like to blacken my boots once you’re done.”

Evan backed away half a step and pulled on Julian’s shirt. “Do you want to borrow my nightshirt, or would you rather sleep naked?”

The flush on Julian’s cheeks darkened, and his nostrils flared as he finally met Evan’s gaze with a fiery passion. “What was your profession before you chose this walk of life? Certainly not service.” He frowned, glancing at Evan from head to toe. “The black… a rogue clergyman perhaps?”

Evan shook his head, proceeding to pull off the shirt. “Wrong, Mr. Reece. I am a sinner.”

Julian didn’t resist anymore and pulled up the stained shirt. When the fine fabric stretched over his face, the pale, flawless chest came into view. There was a pleasant definition to Julian’s muscles, but his body was doubtlessly one that had never been forced to do physical labor, and had instead gained the harmonious shape through sports and other leisure activities. The short bristle of hair on his chest was a reminder that Julian wasn’t a boy anymore, and as he stretched to finally untangle himself out of the shirt, his abdomen became a bundle of the most delicious muscle. Evan barely suppressed a moan.

“Sin is but a man’s invention to keep the masses from straying off the path they’re meant for, Mr. Noir,” Julian said, bright red. He spun around and reached back his hand. “The shirt, please.”

Evan took his time watching every inch of skin on show, but passed the garment to Julian. “Not in need of my services anymore, I presume?” He would not mind pulling off Julian’s breeches as well and getting to see what a fine ass hid underneath, but that would have been a stretch for his patience.

“You’re a worse valet than I’d ever be.” Julian promptly pulled the linen over his head, obscuring his fair skin and shape, and only then did he begin unfastening his breeches.

Evan kept silent, anticipating the faint shape he’d get to see underneath the shirt, courtesy of the fireplace behind Julian. This sudden infatuation felt childish, yet he still couldn’t resist the butterfly that got caught in his net instead of a grasshopper.

Julian pulled off his stockings, breeches, linen drawers, and there it was, the shadow of his graceful ass peeking through the nightshirt. Evan chewed on his lip, watching Julian storm through the room and climb into bed without a word.

Evan’s heart thudded with bloodlust, as if he were a wolf following a deer. At this moment, he didn’t even regret his robbery being a failure, because he hadn’t felt this alive in years.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

K. A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are taken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite pushing thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

Visit Kat and Agnes at http://kamerikan.com/

Wild, Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London

wild-wicked-scot

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Wicked intrigue unfolds as an unlikely marriage leads to a path of risky desire in the lush, green Scottish Highlands…

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back—except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmanoeuvre her in games of espionage…and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN Books, December 2016

Time and Setting: England and Scotland, 1706-10
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

A marriage of convenience is a favourite trope of mine and in Wild Wicked Scot Margot Armstrong certainly hits it lucky in her father’s choice of husband, the deliciously rugged Scottish chieftain Arran McKenzie, Baron of Balhaire. However, these are dangerous times between England and Scotland and this marriage of convenience is built upon very shaky ground with Margot a pawn in the games of powerful men and the politics of the two countries.

The story opens with a prologue and a series of flashbacks. In the prologue Margot is an immature seventeen year old with very entrenched ideas as to what makes the perfect man; and unfortunately for her, Arran McKenzie doesn’t tick any of those boxes. But she has no choice in the matter, and in the interests of her powerful father and her Wild Wicked Scot, she is the sacrificial lamb in their machinations to help broker an uneasy alliance between Scotland and England – not to mention the added bonus of money and lands which such a union will bring. As the story gets underway Margot has already left her husband and is now returning to him after an absence of three years. Their marriage had floundered after only four months when she ran back to England.

Arran McKenzie is a lovely character, well developed and extremely likeable and my sympathy was with him all the way through. To begin with, Margot is quite irritating – although to be fair, she was very young, and she did her limited, childish best to fit into Arran’s world. But her attempt to transport her much loved tonnish lifestyle into the depths of the Scottish Highlands was, quite obviously, doomed to failure, especially as she only half-heartedly attempted to become the Laird’s lady in truth. Margot considered herself to be neglected outside of the bedchamber, but she failed to understand what a busy man Arran was with his many responsibilities – to his clan, his prosperous, time-consuming continental sea trading business and the personal training of his first rate soldiers. And so Margot runs away and returns to her frivolous lifestyle in England. Then, after three years during which she has no contact whatsoever with her husband, her autocratic father again pulls her strings and she is sent back to Balhaire, this time with the hidden agenda of spying on her husband. Quite understandably, she is subjected to a host of suspicious Scots; not least of whom is her husband who cannot believe that she has suffered a complete about-turn.

There are a number of inconsistencies about the relationship between Arran and Margot that niggled at me. They obviously enjoyed a very satisfactory love-life after their marriage, which I would have thought would have counted in Arran’s favour. But no, this isn’t enough for Margot to try to build a life with her gorgeous husband so she just ups and leaves without a word. That said, the problems don’t all fall on her side, because Arran just lets her go without even asking her why. Then, he meekly sends her enough money to live comfortably even though her desertion has humiliated him in front of his entire clan. None of this rings true. Nor does the fact that Arran is repeatedly described as being ‘wild and wicked’, when he’s nothing of the sort; he’s just a man with lusty appetites for all things, and is a loyal, honourable man with oodles of integrity right from the beginning – and he’s certainly no push-over. I also couldn’t believe that Margot’s father would have accepted her return to his house after only four months, especially given the trouble he went to to arrange the match. Margot is somewhat redeemed once she begins to see Arran as he really is and sets out determinedly to win his love and trust, but her character is definitely the least engaging of the two.

There is a reasonably well developed plot which deals with the question of Arran’s loyalties, but because of the inconsistencies in the romance, I was taken out of the story and found this fairly important point overshadowed. The author’s attempts to use the highland vernacular – in particular her overly frequent use of the word “aye” – were also very distracting.

Overall, Wild, Wicked Scot is an uneven read, and is raised to the slightly above average bracket by the character of Arran, who is simply gorgeous. The story is nicely written so I would be interested to see how the rest of the series plays out.