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VIRTUAL TOUR: Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt

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A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping.  Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos.  When one of the masked-and-nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them.  Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans.  But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER… AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involes herself in his life—and bed.  Soon he’s drawn to both to her quick wit and her fiery passion.  But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters.  Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, October 2017

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

Review by Em

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series has had an impressive run, managing to captivate and entertain readers over a dozen uniformly good novels.  More recently, she’s seamlessly merged the long-running Ghost of St. Giles storyline into a new mystery surrounding the secretive and depraved Lords of Chaos.  This group has plagued Maiden Lane heroes and heroines over the last three books, but in the excellent Duke of Desire, the Lords finally get their comeuppance.  Although I’m sad that Duke of Desire represents an end to the series, I’m happy to tell you this last novel is romantic and profoundly moving, and concludes the series on a high note.  A note of caution before I continue:  The Lords of Chaos are a depraved and sadistic lot who regularly host revels in which their masked members rape and abuse men, women and children.  The hero of Duke of Desire is the son of their former leader, and the victimization of children and rape of women drive the narrative in this book.

The story opens in the midst of a revelry hosted by the Lords of Chaos.  They’ve kidnapped and held captive the Duchess of Kyle, and on this evening she’s to be violated and sacrificed as a form of revenge on the group’s hunter and nemesis, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle.  Unfortunately, they’ve kidnapped the wrong woman.

Lady Iris Jordan was returning home from Kyle’s wedding when she was forcibly taken from her carriage.  Bound, dirty and hungry, she’s terrified of the naked men in masks arrayed around her in the firelight, diverted only  after their leader, Dionysus, introduces her as the Duchess of Kyle.  She’s quick to correct him, and then listens as a man wearing a wolf mask approaches Dionysus and claims her for himself.  Her original kidnapper attempts to intervene and keep her for the group, but Dionysus allows the wolf to take her away after promising to kill her when he’s done.  Iris is marched to a carriage and angrily tossed in – but she hasn’t given up on hopes of escape.  She frantically searches under the carriage seats for a weapon and when the wolf returns and reveals himself, she shoots him.

Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has finally infiltrated the Lords and plans to destroy them for good.  But he had to abruptly change strategy when he recognized the woman bound before him.  Since meeting her at a ball a few short months ago, he hasn’t been able to put Lady Iris Jordan out of his mind.  Claiming her for himself is the only way to save her.

Bleeding and hurt from the bullet wound to his shoulder, Raphael explains to Iris that he was only trying to rescue her, and that when the Lords discover she’s alive, she’ll be in even more danger.  Desperate to protect her and destroy their common enemy, Raphael, in a desperate solution to buy them more time, proposes they marry.  As his wife, he (and his loyal group of bodyguards) can offer Iris protection as he pursues his revenge on the Lords of Chaos.   After arriving home, a clergyman is summoned and before Iris quite knows what’s happening, she’s married.

The revelry, escape and marriage happen in the opening chapters of Duke of Desire, and Ms. Hoyt somehow managed to convince this reader that it all made sense.  It’s a bit insane and frantic, but much like her heroine, Iris, I decided to go with it and you should too.  The marriage provides the means for Ms. Hoyt to unite two souls who belong together.  Raphael is tortured by memories of his father (a former Dionysus), and a childhood trauma that scarred him for life.  He’s powerful, cold and consumed with plans for revenge on the Lords of Chaos, but he’s also deeply attracted to and affected by Iris and he’s determined to keep her close and safe.  Iris was married to an indifferent, older husband and then after his death, she’s lived a quiet life in her older brother’s household.  She’s alarmed by her attraction to her husband – a virtual stranger – but something about him calls to her.  She’s determined to demand more from this second marriage despite its less than auspicious beginning, and she’s unwilling to meekly follow Raphael’s directions.

As the novel unfolds, Raphael continues his attempts to infiltrate and destroy the Lords of Chaos, but Ms. Hoyt wisely focuses her attention on developing Iris and Raphael as individuals, and then as a romantic couple once it’s clear they’ve fallen for each other.  Duke of Desire deals with some heavy subject matter and Raphael’s secrets aren’t your typical romance novel fare – his past is marked by a deeply troubling climatic event, and even after Iris convinces him to reveal his past, he struggles to overcome it.  Though Iris hasn’t ‘suffered’ at quite the same level her husband has, she’s still damaged by her past as the wife of an indifferent husband.  I found the relationship between these two profoundly moving, and the way they inch towards each other – physically and emotionally – satisfying on every level.  Their physical relationship is particularly well done – they have a passionate attraction to each other – and I loved Iris’s willingness to seduce her husband and satisfy her own curiosities about lovemaking.  Raphael is overwhelmed by his attraction to Iris, and his futile attempts to resist her bold attempts to seduce him are priceless.  He can’t resist her, and when he allows himself to give in… it’s sexy and naughty and wonderful.  They’re a terrific match-up and perhaps one of my favorite Maiden Lane pairings.

I won’t spoil who Dionysus is, or reveal how Raphael’s investigation into the Lords of Chaos eventually concludes, except to say the resolution is a bit convoluted, and the final revelation of Dionysus is anticlimactic.  After a three novel build-up, and chapters detailing Dionysus’ machinations against Raphael, I wish Ms. Hoyt had spent a bit more time developing the leader and his backstory.  We know a bit about his awful history – enough to feel some sympathy for what he’s become – but the ending to this MAJOR storyline is rushed and unsatisfying.

While Duke of Desire is ostensibly about Raphael’s efforts to destroy the Lords of Chaos, it’s the redemptive love affair – passionate, tender and perfect – forged in a desperate attempt to thwart the depraved Lords of Chaos, that, quite rightly, takes centre stage.  It  shouldn’t work – but it does.  He’s damaged, she’s determined, and though the premise of their marriage seems ludicrous, Ms. Hoyt capably navigates their tricky road to happily ever after.


EXCERPT

Desperately she flung herself at the opposite seat and tugged it up. Thrust her hand in.

A pistol.

She cocked it, desperately praying that it was loaded.

She turned and aimed it at the door to the carriage just as the door swung open.

The Wolf loomed in the doorway—still nude—a lantern in one hand. She saw the eyes behind the mask flick to the pistol she held between her bound hands. He turned his head and said something in an incomprehensible language to someone outside.

Iris felt her breath sawing in and out of her chest.

He climbed into the carriage and closed the door, completely ignoring her and the pistol pointed at him. The Wolf hung the lantern on a hook and sat on the seat across from her.

Finally he glanced at her. “Put that down.”

His voice was calm. Quiet.

With just a hint of menace.

She backed into the opposite corner, as far away from him as possible, holding the pistol up. Level with his chest. Her heart was pounding so hard it nearly deafened her. “No.”

The carriage jolted into motion, making her stumble before she caught herself.

“T-tell them to stop the carriage,” she said, stuttering with terror despite her resolve. “Let me go now.”

“So that they can rape you to death out there?” He tilted his head to indicate the Lords. “No.”

“At the next village, then.”

“I think not.”

He reached for her and she knew she had no choice.

She shot him.

The blast blew him into the seat and threw her hands up and back, the pistol narrowly missing her nose.

Iris scrambled to her feet. The bullet was gone, but she could still use the pistol as a bludgeon.

The Wolf was sprawled across the seat, blood streaming from a gaping hole in his right shoulder. His mask had been knocked askew on his face.

She reached forward and snatched it off.

And then gasped.

The face that was revealed had once been as beautiful as an angel’s but was now horribly mutilated. A livid red scar ran from just below his hairline on the right side of his face, bisecting the eyebrow, somehow missing the eye itself but gouging a furrow into the lean cheek and catching the edge of his upper lip, making it twist. The scar ended in a missing divot of flesh in the line of the man’s severe jaw. He had inky black hair and, though they were closed now, Iris knew he had emotionless crystal-gray eyes.

She knew because she recognized him.

He was Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, and when she’d danced with him—once—three months ago at a ball, she’d thought he’d looked like Hades.

God of the underworld.

God of the dead.

She had no reason to change her opinion now.

Then he gasped, those frozen crystal eyes opened, and he glared at her. “You idiot woman. I’m trying to save you.”

 

GIVEAWAY

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

You can connect with Elizabeth at:

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Cutlass by T.M. Franklin

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Sarina Talbot is certain notorious pirate, One-Eyed Jack Tremayne, murdered her father and stole his prized cutlass. Out for revenge, she sneaks onto his ship disguised as a cabin boy, but Tremayne quickly catches on to her scheme. He claims she has the wrong man, and that, if they work together, he can help her gain the vengeance she seeks.

She doesn’t really trust him, and he doesn’t trust anyone. But they need each other to find the killer, and their uneasy alliance slowly turns to friendship, and then to more.

Add in an old journal full of cryptic clues leading to a hidden cache of Aztec gold, and Sarina and Tremayne have their hands full. Between sword fights, Crown ships, enemy pirates and a traitor on their own vessel, they’ll be lucky to escape with their lives, let alone the gold.

But perhaps, along the way, they’ll find a treasure even more valuable.

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EXCERPT

“Well, I think—” he began, but he never got to finish his thought, because Sarina reared back and slapped him across the face. Hard.

“You . . .” she sputtered. “You lecherous rake!”

“Rake?” Jonathan rubbed at his cheek. “You can hardly blame me for trying to protect you.”

“That wasn’t about protection!” she spat back. “That was you taking liberties!”

“As if you didn’t enjoy it.”

Sarina gasped and raised her arm to slap him again, but he was quicker this time, catching her wrist before she made contact.

“I believe once can be excused,” he said quietly, threat oozing with every syllable. “Female hysteria and all that . . .”

“Hysteria?” She scoffed, struggling to rip her wrist from his grip. “Hardly. More like well-founded outrage. To manhandle me like a common strumpet—”

At that, Jonathan tugged her closer, gritting his teeth in an unpleasant smile. “A common strumpet would know how to kiss,” he pointed out, purposely goading her.

“Well . . . I never!”

“Exactly my point.”

Sarina swung out with her other hand, but Jonathan caught that as well, his jaw tightening in frustration. “Would you please stop trying to hit me?”

“Would you please stop doing things that make me want to?”
Jonathan couldn’t hold back a laugh. “Miss Talbot, calm down, please,” he said. “If you’d allow me to explain.”

Sarina laughed humorlessly. “As if you could.” She frowned, but her movements stilled.

“If I release you, do you promise not to slap me again?” He eyed her carefully, only relaxing his grip after her curt nod. He stepped back, holding his hands out, just in case she changed her mind.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to slap you,” she said. “Goodness, for a pirate, you’re awfully skittish.”

“Well, you can hardly blame me,” he retorted. “You take every opportunity to brain me.”

She snorted. “As if you had one.”

“Tut tut, Miss Talbot,” he said, rounding his desk to sit in his chair. “Some might think you protest too much.”

“And what in the world is that supposed to mean?”

He shrugged, tapping a finger on his lips. “Just that there was a moment there when you didn’t seem to be protesting at all.”

“What?” Sarina gaped, her eyes darting around as she scrabbled for words.

“It was . . . my head. I was still dizzy from hitting Rafferty. And . . . you just . . . you took me by surprise. I didn’t expect you to be so . . . so . . .”

“Delicious?” he offered smugly.

She glared. “Forward.”

“I had to make it believable for the crew.”

“And why exactly would you need to use your tongue for that? It wasn’t as if they could see inside my mouth!”

Jonathan ignored the heat roaring up at the memory of her mouth . . . her tongue . . . the feel of her warm body pressed against his.

“They have seen me with other women before,” he replied, absently noting a twitch of her jaw at that comment.

Interesting.

“They would have noticed if I held back with you,” he added.
Her fight deflated. “Well, you could have warned me,” she said begrudgingly.
“It would have been nice to have been prepared.”

“Oh, come now, Miss Talbot,” he said, leaning back in his chair with a grin.
“Where would be the fun in that?”

“You’re a very irritating man, Captain.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“Well,” Sarina said loftily, brushing at her skirts as she tried to collect herself. “To avoid such distasteful displays again, I think it best we adopt a few guidelines.”

Jonathan smirked. He had to admit he enjoyed battling wits with Sarina Talbot. The woman was infuriating, but definitely not boring.

“I don’t abide well with rules, Miss Talbot.”

“Undoubtedly,” she retorted, brushing back her hair. “Nevertheless, if we are to enact this charade, I am afraid I must insist on a few concessions on your part.”

“I abide even less with concessions.”

“Would you just listen to me?” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in frustration. “For heaven’s sake, you don’t even know what I’m asking!”

He eyed her for a moment, then nodded slightly. “Very well. What are your demands?”

Sarina inhaled deeply. “First of all, I sleep in the bed.”

Jonathan snorted. “Now who’s being forward?”

“Not with you, you arrogant prat!” she snapped. “I sleep in the bed. You sleep on the cot.”

Jonathan huffed out a laugh. “Not bloody likely!”

“You’d put your comfort before a lady’s?” she asked haughtily.

“Always.” He leaned forward with a leering smile. “That is, unless she’s in the bed with me.”

Sarina colored, but didn’t rise to bait. “Very well. It is your bed, after all. But I’m afraid I must insist on a mattress at least. There is no way I can sleep on those ropes.”

Jonathan fought a smile when he realized that Sarina never intended to take his bed, but was using it as a negotiating tactic. “All right,” he conceded. “There are some spare ticks in the hold. But you’ll haul it up yourself. No bothering my men with menial tasks.”

“Yes, well, I suppose menial tasks are my job now, right?” she muttered.

“Exactly.” Tremayne leaned his elbows on the desk, fingers tented before his lips. “Anything else?”

“No chamber pots. That is non-negotiable.”

Jonathan winced. He could hardly blame her. “Done.”

She lifted her chin. “And no sneaking peeks,” she said. “When I’m dressing . . . or bathing . . .” He cast a pointed look at her bodice and she hurried to the chest to retrieve another handkerchief.

“And absolutely no more kissing.”

Tremayne raised a brow. “No kissing? None at all?”

She tucked the handkerchief into her gown. “You’ve established our apparent relationship with your crew. They’re aware I’m staying in your quarters. I wouldn’t think it necessary.”

He rubbed a finger lightly over his lips, back and forth. “Not necessary, no,”
he said, voice low, considering. Sarina’s gaze drifted to his mouth, where he continued to trace a slow circuit across his lips. “But enjoyable.”

She started, eyes snapping up. “Hardly!”

He stood, rounding the desk to stand disturbingly close to her. Sarina took a step back, then forward again, refusing to be intimidated. He loomed over her, eye glittering in the lantern light.

“Are you certain it would be so distasteful, Miss Talbot?” he rasped quietly. “So certain you wouldn’t like it?”

“Of course I wouldn’t!” she insisted, voice catching. She cleared her throat nervously. “I would never . . .”

“Never?” he pressed, leaning even closer. “No reason to hold back, Miss Talbot. It’s not as if your reputation is in danger.”

Sarina sputtered, unable to form words.

“You’re already sharing quarters with a—how did you put it?—a lecherous rake,” he prodded, unable to resist. “Why not enjoy yourself?”

He could see her trembling, although whether her discomfort stemmed from his proximity or her own reaction to it, he wasn’t sure. She swayed toward him slightly, and his mouth curved in victory.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

T.M. Franklin writes stories of adventure, romance, and a little magic. A former TV news producer, she decided making stuff up was more fun than reporting the facts. Her first published novel, MORE, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days. MORE was well-received, being selected as a finalist in the 2013 Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards, as well as winning the Suspense/Thriller division of the Blogger Book Fair Reader’s Choice Awards. She’s since written four additional novels and several best-selling short stories…and there’s always more on the way.

Website: www.TMFranklin.com
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A Taste of Honey (Lively St. Lemeston #4) by Rose Lerner


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Robert Moon risked everything, including his father’s hardwon legacy, to open his beloved Honey Moon Confectionery on the busiest street in Lively St. Lemeston. Now he’s facing bankruptcy and debtor’s prison.

When a huge catering order comes in, he agrees to close the sweet-shop for a week to fill it. There’s only one problem: his apprentice is out of town, so his beautiful shop-girl Betsy Piper must help Robert in the kitchen.

Betsy’s spent the last year trying to make her single-minded boss look up from his pastries and notice that she would be the perfect wife. Now the two of them are alone in a kitchen full of sweet things. With just one week to get him to fall in love with her, she’d better get this seduction started…

She soon discovers that Robert brings the same meticulous, eager-to-please attitude to lovemaking that he does to baking, but can kisses—no matter how sweet—compete with the Honey Moon in his heart?

Publisher and Release Date: Rose Lerner, September 2017

Time and Setting: Regency Era, Sussex, England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance Novella
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

The world of Ms. Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston is much different to the one I experience in my usual historical romantic reading, and it always takes me a few chapters to adjust and settle in. These stories aren’t about dukes and duchesses, wealthy tradesman or even ruthless and diabolical men and women who have used cunning and smarts to become powerful . Instead, the Lively St. Lemeston series features normal people with very human, real and recognizable problems. Yet although I can appreciate (and like) Ms. Lerner’s affectionate and moving portrayals of everyday men and women, A Taste of Honey doesn’t deliver on the escapism I look for when I crack open a romance novel. Fortunately, Ms. Lerner is a terrific writer and the quality of this story transcends its tough luck premise; though short, A Taste of Honey is a sweetly moving and erotic workplace romance in which the romantic relationship that develops between its flawed principals is awkward, charming, and oddly endearing – and in spite of myself, I smiled when it ended.

It’s been quite a while since I read Sweet Disorder, the first book in the series, and I only vaguely remembered Robert Moon, the hero of this story. But for those of you who haven’t read that novel (it’s not necessary), or are similarly memory-challenged, he owns the Honey Moon Confectionary in Lively St. Lemeston and when we first met him, local elections loomed, the Tories needed more votes to secure their candidate, and the Honey Moon wasn’t turning a profit. Desperate to secure the financial future of his shop (and despite a secret affection for his shopgirl, Betsy Piper), Robert agreed to marry a young local widow in order to secure two additional votes for the Tories in exchange for financial security at the Honey Moon. The pair were ill-matched, the plot convoluted and destined to fail, and the widow fell in love with and married another man. When A Taste of Honey begins, Robert is still single and wants to marry Betsy… but the shop is nearly bankrupt, and he faces a possible stint in debtor’s prison. Unwilling to pursue a relationship with the beautiful Betsy with the Honey Moon on the verge of failing, he keeps his regard for her to himself.

The solution to Robert’s problems arrives in the form of a large catering order from the haughty Mrs. Lovejoy, who is hosting the local assembly and wants Robert to cater the event. Payment for the order will keep the Honey Moon open, provide funds to pay off his creditors and means Robert will finally be able to pursue Betsy. Unfortunately, his apprentice Peter is out of town; fulfilling the large order will require him to close his shop for a week, work non-stop with Betsy to complete the order on time, and take on additional debt. Robert agrees despite his misgivings about Mrs. Lovejoy (who frequently changes her mind and seems to dislike Betsy), and concerns about the small margin for error should they fail.

Meanwhile, Betsy harbors a secret tendre for Robert. She wants to marry him, support him at the shop and be his helpmeet in every way. Hurt by his proposal to the widow Phoebe Stark – despite knowing why he did it, and tortured by thoughts that Robert doesn’t think she is good enough for him – she’s convinced this week working together is just what she needs to secure his affections. When her closest friend urges her to seduce him, she decides she will – if she has to. Not quite a virgin (she had a brief liaison some time back), she isn’t afraid of sex or pleasure and she wants Robert. So, after a long morning working alongside him, and growing increasingly bold with her suggestive innuendos that he fails to respond to, she seduces him.

Robert is a virgin. He’s shocked when Betsy suggests they have an affair, but he’s more than willing… and eager. What follows – a week in which they awkwardly and sweetly discover pleasure in each other – only complicates their relationship. Robert is consumed with thoughts of Betsy and all the things he wants to do to and with her, but convinced he can’t commit to her until his the future of the shop is secure. Betsy is similarly consumed with her feelings for Robert; she’s convinced she can and should be his partner at the Honey Moon and in life, but she’s hurt by his focus on the shop and silence on the subject of their relationship. Meanwhile, between passionate and erotic encounters in the kitchens, they work together to fill the catering order – which the insufferable and condescending Mrs. Lovejoy changes on a daily basis.

A Taste of Honey is a novella and the pace of the story is necessarily brisk, but Ms. Lerner paces the relationship perfectly. After all, Betsy and Robert knew and liked each other long before this story began and compressing their relationship into the week Robert has to fill the catering order is cleverly done. Unfortunately, the short format doesn’t provide much opportunity to explore the principal characters outside of their relationship to each other, and if you aren’t already familiar with Robert and Betsy from Sweet Disorder, you may wish you knew a bit more about them and the secondary characters that comprise the community of Lively St. Lemeston. That said, I liked both principals very much, and Ms. Lerner does a terrific job balancing their sexual exploration with their discoveries about each other – his/her fears, dreams and desires. In lovemaking, they’re eager and adventurous partners; outside of it, they’re cautious and plagued with doubts. It’s a frustrating, tender and confusing courtship… until the horrible Mrs. Lovejoy (more like killjoy) unknowingly helps them find their way to a deliciously satisfying happily ever after, complete with a side dish of revenge.

The Lively St. Lemeston series takes a very different approach to the Regency-era novels most romance readers have grown accustomed to. I won’t lie – I still love my dukes, rakes and tortured heroes – but Ms. Lerner makes a compelling case for this alternate version – ordinary men and women and their equally strong hopes and dreams. It’s not quite the escape I usually like in my romance novels, but it’s a fascinating, addictive and romantic version nonetheless. Readers looking for something a bit different should sample this sweet and charming honey of a story.

Traitor in Her Arms (The Scarlet Chronicles #1) by Shana Galen

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After her late husband leaves her in debt to some dangerous people, Lady Gabrielle McCullough is forced to become a thief. In the intervening years, her skills have not gone unnoticed. After being recruited by the Scarlet Pimpernel, the mysterious do-gooder spiriting aristocrats out of revolutionary France, Gabrielle crosses the Channel for the most daring mission of her life. Accompanying her is the Earl of Sedgwick, a thief in his own right and an enticingly masculine presence. The man is not to be trusted—nor is Gabrielle’s body when he’s near.

Ramsey Barnes would not say he is an honorable man. His whole life has been based on a lie; why change now? Although it pains him to deceive the tantalizing Gabrielle, he’s working toward an altogether different objective: unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel. If Ramsey fails, his blackmailer will ruin him. But when Ramsey’s confronted with the carnage of the Reign of Terror, he seeks refuge in Gabrielle’s heated embrace. Now he faces a terrible choice: betray the woman who’s stolen his heart—or risk losing everything.

Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, August 2017

Time and Setting: Paris, 1793
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

In Shana Galen’s latest book Traitor in Her Arms the legendary Scarlett Pimpernel and his mission to save French nobles during the Revolution is the catalyst to many events in the story. I was surprised how little we see of the man himself but he still plays a very important role. Two secret quests, one to save an innocent woman’s life and the other to learn the Pimpernel’s true identity bring heroine and hero together under the best and worst of circumstances.

Lady Gabrielle McCullough has a secret. The debts her late husband left behind put her on the verge of ruin but she’s been hiding the truth with the assistance of a wealthy friend. When selling paintings and family heirlooms wasn’t enough to settle things with a few unscrupulous money lenders, Gabrielle turned to thievery. Her skills have grown over time and she’s managed to grab more than a few choice pieces while attending the social gatherings of the Season. Her next target is an antique lapis lazuli necklace that belonged to Cleopatra which should earn her enough to pay off the final creditor. Breaking into the owner’s room to collect the necklace wasn’t a problem; however her task is complicated when she finds another thief is already in the room and has grabbed the jewels.

Ramsey Barnes, the Earl of Sedgewick hasn’t been very honest with the ton himself. Most of his deceptions are fairly harmless but when someone learns his deepest secret, Ramsey could face ruin. Unwilling to risk his lands and the people who depend on the earldom, Ramsay hopes that he can steal the rare and valuable necklace to bribe his blackmailer to give up her evidence against him. With the piece in hand Ramsay never expected Gabrielle McCullough to appear in the room on a similar mission to take the necklace. Ramsey distracts Gabrielle with a kiss and leaves the building with the jewels but all his effort is pointless when his blackmailer refuses to trade. Instead she uses her power over Ramsey to force him on an almost impossible mission with the promise of his freedom when the task is complete. With no other options Ramsey accepts her challenge to learn the true identity of the elusive Scarlett Pimpernel.

Gabrelle’s anger at losing the necklace to Ramsey is paired with frustration at her own attraction to the man. Her financial crisis hasn’t left Gabrielle any time to play the merry widow and any interest in Ramsey would distract her from collecting enough money to settle Lord McCullough’s debts. Fearing she’s out of time and options Gabrielle is saved from penury when she’s invited into a darkened drawing room and a stranger offers her the chance to become a heroine. The Scarlet Pimpernel is thought to be a myth in Gabrelle’s social circles but the man is real and he knows all about her skills at obtaining rare objects. He tells Gabrielle a tale of a Frenchwoman and her daughter who are slated for execution unless he can find and collect the precious Le Saphir Blanc bracelet. The Pimpernel believes that Gabrielle’s familiarity with Paris and her lock-picking skills will enable her to find the Le Saphir Blanc and negotiate for the woman’s release from prison. Gabrielle is hesitant to accept the Pimpernel’s mission but she cannot ignore the horrors happening on the Continent.

Traitor in Her Arms gets off to a slow start while Gabrielle and Ramsey’s different paths are laid out; however they quickly converge as the reality of the Revolution is revealed to them both. In the style of many an adventure, the couple soon find themselves protecting each other from unexpected dangers and complications to both of their missions. Ms. Galen pulls no punches when describing the fervor of the French citizens to destroy the nobility and some of the atrocities committed are very hard to digest. Both Ramsey and Gabrielle initially approach their tasks as either impersonal transactions or noble quests to save innocent lives, but when they see what the French are doing to their own it changes that perspective for them both and it forces them to reevaluate what is important in their own lives. The relationship between them grows from that new perspective and they each learn to trust despite Ramsey telling Gabrielle that it’s dangerous to put any faith in him.

The story requires a suspension of disbelief that can get in the way of the romance and the dual missions surrounding the Scarlet Pimpernel. Gabrielle may have good intentions in going to Paris but she’s completely out of her depth when it comes to the deceptions and maneuvering it takes to complete her job. Ramsey and other characters must come to her aid more often than not and it becomes frustrating to see just how useless she really is. It’s also somewhat disturbing to have Ramsey following along with Gabrielle and pushing her to succeed when we know that his motivations are mostly selfish. Their love story is awkwardly woven throughout important plot points and I cringed at a completely inappropriate sex scene while they’re running for their lives. Too much of the story’s focus is on the Revolution and the madness that had overtaken the French, giving less time for a believable romance to develop.

I’ve always enjoyed Shana Galen’s books for their romantic adventures but Traitor in Her Arms seems more intent on exploring the Scarlet Pimpernel’s legacy than showcasing its own main couple. I plan on continuing with the Scarlet Chronicles series but with an understanding that the books are historical fiction with a romantic slant.

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.

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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

the highland duke

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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

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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.

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