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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Blackburn Castle by (Tortured Souls #2) R.C. Matthews

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Victor Blackburn is living on borrowed time. An ancient curse violently claims the life of each Blackburn male on his twenty-seventh birthday. As his approaches, his only hope of survival is a witch who vanished long ago without a trace.

Mercy Seymour eagerly counts down the days until the curse will claim Victor’s life. She watched him murder her mother, and only his death will free her of the hatred and anger she harbors.

When fate throws them together in Devil’s Cove, desire simmers between the handsome pirate and the spirited barkeeper’s niece until they learn the truth about each other. Desperate for her cooperation, Victor spirits her away to Blackburn Castle in the Scottish Highlands, where forces of magic and mists from beyond the grave weaken her resolve, opening her eyes to the truth of the past.

As Victor and Mercy unearth the fabled stones needed to break the curse, they discover that the only weapon powerful enough to destroy hate is love. But will they have to sacrifice their relationship to save what means the most to them?

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EXCERPT

1864
Blackpool, England

Victor cowered deeper into the corner of the study, his legs threatening to crumple.

The Butcher growled in his brother’s ear, holding the man captive by the sharp edge of a blade pressed against his neck. “Tell me where you’ve hidden your daughter and the stones, Thomas, or I’ll slit your throat.”

Victor wished to help Thomas, but at ten years old, he was no match for the Butcher, a ruthless pirate. Only a month had passed since the pirate had abducted Victor, but it was long enough to know that he never issued empty threats. The red, angry welts crisscrossing Victor’s back were proof enough that the Butcher always fulfilled his wicked promises.

Thomas clamped his lips shut, and his eyes pleaded for his wife to remain silent. She bit her white-knuckled fist, her eyes fluttering between her husband and the pirate. The Butcher flicked his wrist, nicking Thomas’s throat, and a strangled cry erupted from the woman as a trickle of blood rolled down her husband’s neck.

The pirate tilted his head in the direction of the weeping woman across from him. “Cat caught your tongue, Maude?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

The pirate snorted, his eyes glazing over with greed. “Imagine my delight when I heard the tale of your ancestry on my last voyage. You’re a descendant of Freya, Norse goddess of love, and one of her bastard twin daughters, Elizabeth. My brother regaled me with tales of the amber stones of Freya, passed down through the generations. All the way down to your daughter, my darling niece.”

“No, you misunderstood,” Maude said. “It’s naught but a fairy tale we tell Mercy at bedtime.”

“I think not, dear sister-in-law. Otherwise there would be no need to hide her from me. I’m willing to do anything to get my hands on the stones.”

“In one swift movement, the Butcher slit Thomas’s throat, flooding the air with the pungent stench of blood. Red liquid gurgled out of the man’s neck, soaking his pristine white shirt.

Bile lurched in Victor’s stomach, and he squeezed his eyes shut. But Maude’s screams forced him to face the gruesome scene again. Was the Butcher murdering her, too? Her body shook with unbridled fear as the corpse of her husband slumped to the ground in an ignoble heap.

“Come now,” the pirate said, wiping the blade of his knife on a white handkerchief. The Butcher’s dispassionate eyes roved over his brother’s prone form before resting on Maude’s crumpled shoulders. He clucked his tongue. “You needn’t cry, woman. Tell me where your daughter and the amber stones are hidden, and I won’t slit your throat.”

Maude wiped away her tears and screamed, “Monster! How could you murder your brother? He trusted you!”

The corner of the Butcher’s mouth twitched. “Pity for Thomas. He always was a stupid, trusting fool. Now, tell me what I want to hear, and I promise I won’t slit your throat.”

“Liar!” she spat. “You’ll kill me and my daughter after you get your filthy hands on the stones. I’ll never tell you!”
The Butcher sighed. “I don’t need to kill your precious child to get the answers I seek.” He crooked his finger at Victor in a silent command.

Victor’s knees wobbled as he ambled forward, his eyes downcast. He swallowed past the lump forming in his throat. Lord, help him. Disobeying the pirate wasn’t an option. And he was going to die.

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A WORD ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

R.C. Matthews lives in Michigan where she enjoys the four seasons and indulging her imagination while writing romances. Find R.C. Matthews at www.rcmatthews.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @RCMatthews123.

A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack series) by Joanna Chambers

a gathering storm

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When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother.
In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree. Until Fate steps in to lend a hand.

Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal.

A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it.

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Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, April 2017

Time and Setting: Porthkennack, Cornwall, England, 1853
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

A Gathering Storm, part of the Porthkennack series of books by five award-winning, British LGBT!+ authors is terrific.  It’s romantic, tender, frustrating and sexy and I gobbled it up in one sitting.  I loved nearly everything about it (my only quibble is a major spoiler you’ll have to read the book to discover for yourself), and I recommend it heartily to fans of both historical and contemporary romance.  Although the Porthkennack books are somewhat linked, A Gathering Storm can be read as a standalone.

After being ridiculed by his peers for publicly defending a spiritualist in London, famed scientist Sir Edward  – Ward – Fitzwilliam has retreated to the remote village of Porthkennack on the Cornish coast.  Grief stricken following the death of his beloved identical twin, Ward is convinced his brother spoke to him from beyond the veil during a particularly violent electrical storm he witnessed whilst at sea, and he is convinced that if conditions are right he can recreate the experience and commune with the dead.  He’s chosen to build a home, Varhak Manor, in Porthkennack because the location and weather (with a bit of his own manipulation) seem conducive to recreating the stormy conditions he experienced at sea.  In order to prove his theories, Ward will also need the assistance of human subjects, but false rumors about his research abound meaning that few of the locals are willing to help him.  Desperate, he heads to the village pub to solicit additional candidates, which is where he learns some tantalizing information about the handsome man at the bar.

Nicholas Hearn is land steward for the Roscarrock family, the wealthiest landowners in Porthkennack.  The illegitimate son of Jacob Roscarrock, who abandoned him and his Romany mother shortly after his birth, Nick lives a mostly solitary life.  Handpicked by his grandfather – who does not publicly acknowledge him – to train as a land steward (following Jacob’s sudden and untimely death), Nick is neither family or servant; the ‘gypsy bastard’ lives alone in a cottage on the edge of the estate.   Despite his recently deceased mother’s reputation as a clairvoyant, and an all too real experience with a horrific ghost when he was younger, Nick is skeptical about the possibility of reaching through the veil to speak with the dead. He’s curious but not interested in participating in Sir Edward’s experiments, especially as the handsome, wealthy aristocrat strikes him as just the type of high-handed toff he usually avoids.

Shortly after the scene in the bar, Nick is forced to reconsider.  When Sir Edward witnesses Nick and another man kissing in the woods, he doesn’t threaten to reveal what he’s seen but the threat is implied.  Angry with himself and the circumstance in which Sir Edward discovered him, Nick agrees to help with his research. His indiscretion, and Ward’s reaction, set the narrative in motion.

Stoic about how events have unfolded, Nick arrives at Varhak Manor unwilling to be charmed by his handsome host and blackmailer.  With his harsh voice (a permanent side effect of a childhood bout of diphtheria) and aristocratic manner, Nick expects Ward to act every bit the entitled and wealthy gentleman he is.  He doesn’t expect Sir Edward to be nervous or uncomfortable, or for him to treat him as an equal.  He is, and he does, but he’s also fascinating, engaging, and convinced he can commune with the dead.  Experience has taught Nick to be cautious, so he carefully masks his emotions even though he’s secretly charmed by his host.  Ward is similarly smitten with Nick, but because he finds him so hard to read, he also keeps his growing fondness for his ‘volunteer’ under wraps.

A Gathering Storm is broken into chapters that span the weeks and months Ward and Nick spend together attempting to recreate Ward’s shipboard experience. Ward is frustrated by their lack of progress, Nick is skeptical as to whether it’s even possible, and both are increasingly infatuated with the other.   Nick begins to spend increasing amounts of time at Varhak Manor, and I loved how Ms. Chambers slowly builds the sexual tension and attraction between the men.  She truly tortures the reader as we wait for these two lovely people to admit they’ve fallen for each other.  But they persist in denying their feelings until Ward has a close brush with death and Nick finally kisses him.  Their first kiss is passionate, frantic and blissful and it’s clear to them (and us) they belong in each other’s arms.

Ward and Nick have each had a past relationship with another man, but those experiences were vastly different. Nick gives Ward his first ever kisses, and Ward gives Nick an education in the pleasures of lovemaking.  When they’re intimate, it’s explicit, sexy, wicked and wonderful.  Despite their differences – and they’re truly opposites in every way – they fall hard and fast for each other and Ward is particularly appealing.  He often reads as a slightly nerdy, naïve scientist, but when his clothes come off, he’s confident and delightfully dirty.  It’s a nice contrast to his everyday persona (Nick likes it too).  When Ward invites Nick to travel with him on an overnight trip and attend a seance with him, Nick agrees to go.  He’s eager to spend time with his lover, and worried that Ward’s grief might make him prey for those who might seek to take advantage of it.

Their trip starts on a high note but ends in disaster.  The crisis that tears Nick and Ward apart (reader, you knew it was coming) is brilliantly played.  In these few small pivotal scenes, Ms. Chambers returns full circle to the themes she developed at the start of the book.  Nick is left struggling against feelings of inferiority in his relationship with Ward and confused about his place in Porthkennack.  Who is he? Gypsy? Bastard? Or someone still to be discovered?  Lost, miserable and unwilling to give Ward a second chance, Nick doesn’t know who he truly is.  Ward, knowing he precipitated their break-up with just the sort of high-handed, unfeeling behavior Nick expected, is horrified and sickened.  He’s left to grieve the loss of his brother, and of his relationship with Nick.  He loves him but doesn’t know what to do to fix things.  Their separation persists until a storm forces them together once again.

A Gathering Storm features terrific storytelling, wonderfully developed characters (principal and secondary) and holds you in its thrall from start to finish.  An epilogue offers a delightful peak at Ward and Nick’s life months later.  I loved it – but kept waiting for one scene that never came (it’s the reason I deducted half a star).  I’m hopeful the author revisits these characters (and she’s hinted there’s more of the story to come), because I’m not ready to let them go.  You won’t be either.

A Perfect Gentleman by Candace Camp

a perfect gentleman

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Forced to marry an American heiress to save his family, Graeme Parr, Earl of Montclair, vowed their marriage would be in name only. Abigail Price thought handsome, aristocratic Graeme was her knight in shining armor, rescuing her from her overbearing father. But when she was spurned by her husband on their wedding night, Abigail fled home to New York.

Now, years later, Abigail has returned. But this sophisticated, alluring woman is not the drab girl Graeme remembers. Appalled by her bold American ways but drawn to her beauty, Graeme follows her on a merry chase through London’s elegant ballrooms to its dockside taverns—why is his wife back? What could she want of him now?

Torn between desire and suspicion, Graeme fears that Abby, like her unprincipled father, has a devious plan to ruin him. But is Abigail’s true desire Graeme’s destruction…or winning his love at last?

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, March 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1871
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

A Perfect Gentleman combines two of my favourite tropes – an arranged marriage and a second-chance romance – so I had fairly high expectations of the book from the outset, and I’m pleased to report that, apart from a niggle about the secondary plotline, those expectations were met.

The novel opens with a prologue set ten years before the bulk of the story, just before the wedding night of Graeme and Abigail Parr, whose marriage has been arranged by their respective fathers, the Earl of Montclair and American industrialist, Thurston Price. Abigail knows her new husband doesn’t love her and that he has married her in order to gain sufficient funds to be able to save the family estate, but Graeme’s behaviour has always been courteous and gentlemanly towards her, and she hopes that in time, affection – perhaps even love – will grow between them. What she doesn’t know, however, is that Price has taken underhand steps to make sure his prospective son-in-law could not back out of the agreement, threatening to reveal damaging information about his father if he tried to wriggle off the hook. Backed into a corner and further angered by a thoughtless comment made by his new father-in-law, Graeme finally snaps, and, believing Abigail to be complicit in her father’s plots, accuses her of blackmail, informs her that he’s in love with someone else and walks out of their hotel room in a furious rage.

Devastated, Abigail packs up her things and heads back to New York, where she remains for the next ten years.

Even though he later regretted his outburst at his young bride, Graeme was not particularly disturbed by her high-tailing it back to America, even though he’s never completely understood why. He continues to support her financially, but is quite happy to live a kind of bachelor existence, although, of course, he cannot marry the woman he loves or sire an heir, meaning that his title – he has become Earl of Montclair in the intervening years – will pass out of the direct line. The last thing he expects to hear, then, is that his wife is in London and causing quite a stir; not only because of her return after such a long absence, but because she is much sought after and surrounded by attentive gentlemen wherever she goes. This doesn’t fit with Graeme’s remembrance of his bride as rather a mousy young woman, but when first he sees her again, he is forced to acknowledge that the intervening years have seen her transform into a vibrant beauty who captivates all around her. But he’s not especially pleased to see her, and is suspicious of her motives for coming to England after so many years of separation. Their initial meeting, at a ball, is cordial, but Abigail is not forthcoming as to the reasons for her presence until some days later, when she tells Graeme that she wants a baby. He refuses, horrified at the thought of sharing a child with a woman he still dislikes – although he admits to himself that he’s not exactly averse to taking part in the act that would create that child – until Abigail then asks him for a divorce so that she can remarry. Graeme is equally horrified at this prospect; he has striven to do the right thing and act in a gentlemanly manner all his life, and has no wish to incur the scandal that would follow a divorce. He and Abigail reach an agreement; they will live as man and wife until she conceives, and any child she has will be brought up in England.

To say the couple is enthusiastic about the act of procreation is an understatement; the crackling awareness of each other that has been evident since their first meeting after Abigail’s return ignites in the bedroom – and other places – leading to some nicely sensual scenes between them, while they are also coming to a greater understanding of each other and what has led them to this point. Ten years on, this is a couple that is wiser as well as older, and the fact that they actually talk things out is very refreshing in a genre in which misunderstandings and lack of communication are so often used as plot devices. Both Graeme and Abigail have to acknowledge and come to terms with past errors as they learn the truth about what prompted their marriage and separation; and this part of the story, where we get to watch them slowly fall in love is beautifully done.

The secondary plotline, which is a mystery in which it becomes gradually apparent that someone is out to harm Abigail, is less successful, however. The storyline itself is intriguing – concerning the secret Thurston Price had threatened to reveal about the late Earl – but the execution is somewhat clumsy, and while I didn’t guess as to the identity of the culprit until near the end, it was because that person was such an unlikely choice and the motive rather flimsy rather than any clever red herrings on the part of the author.

But don’t let that put you off; the mystery is most definitely a background element to the developing love story, which is front and centre throughout. Graeme and Abigail are attractive and engaging characters, and their romance has a definite ring of maturity about it, which I really appreciated. I came away from A Perfect Gentleman feeling optimistic about their future – and very much looking forward to Ms. Camp’s next book, which will feature Graeme’s somewhat enigmatic cousin, James de Vere.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: American Duchess by Teresa Howard

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Elise Danvers loved Gray Worthingham from childhood but he broke her heart when she spied him with another woman. Now, after the death of the man she married instead, Elise discovers the Earl of Somerset has been designated her son’s legal guardian to control the estate until her son turns twenty-one.

Gray Worthingham , Earl of Somerset, promised his uncle that when the time came, the infant Lord Aiden would assume his rightful position as the Lord of Man. The young eighth Duke of Argylle will hold the exalted position passed down in his family…no matter what Gray has to do to achieve this, even marriage.

No sooner are the marriage vows declared than disaster strikes. Young Lord Aiden falls ill, and Gray is accused of murdering the boy’s father. Amidst the turmoil, Gray and Elise discover the gift of “happily ever after” that she was certain would elude her forever.

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EXCERPT

“Why didn’t you tell her how you feel?” Jeff asked once they were alone.

Elise’s despair turned to anger. Tears welled in her eyes. She dropped her gaze to hide her feelings and stared at the hands clenched in her lap.

“What would you have me say, Jeff? Would you have me beg and plead? Wail like an infant because I am being sacrificed to a man old enough to be my father? Sacrificed so that I might erase the scandal created by my father, a man whose only sins were wanting to be loved by a flesh and blood woman other than his daughters, the father who promised that I could marry for love, even if he did not? Especially since he did not.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite that way. She is our mother, after all. But you might have mentioned that you are opposed to this marriage.”

Elise felt her brother looking down upon her. She couldn’t bear to meet his gaze. He would see her pain. And no one must see her pain. “I mentioned it often enough to have postponed the event for five years. Not an easy task considering Argylle’s desire for an heir. An heir I will strive to give him.”

Placing his gloved hand beneath her chin, he lifted her face. “You’re following the same path as Father; an arranged marriage, devoid of love. It can only lead to disaster.”

She covered his hand with her own. “No. I will not make Papa’s mistakes. I am stronger. I must be. Mother needs this alliance with Argylle. Papa’s”—her voice broke—“death and betrayal destroyed her safe, secure world. She can’t leave this house for the scandal he created.”

Her grip tightened. “Gracious, Jeff, he died in another woman’s home—one that he provided for her. As a Christian, I don’t judge him. After all, I don’t know what was in his heart at the moment of his death. And as a daughter, I make allowances for him. I loved and respected him. I always will.”

Though her words were powerful, her voice was flat, as if she were bloodless, dispassionate. So unlike the girl she had once been. She could see worry reflected in Jeff’s eyes. But this was her way of coping with the pain…the loss…the future.

“As a woman, I understand Mother’s position. She has to get away from here, but it can’t look like she’s running away.”

“Surely things are not bad enough to send the two of you fleeing across the sea.”

“You have to know what Mother’s been through to understand. Her dearest friends pity her. You know Mama’s pride. She can’t bear the shame. She’s hurt and she’s scared and she’s desperate.”

Unconsciously, she straightened, trying to appear more substantial than she felt. “She wasn’t reared to withstand a scandal like this, and she certainly wasn’t reared to live in a world where Yankees might burn the house down over our heads at any moment.”

Pain darkened her gaze. “And tomorrow, after Bradley joins you in this insane war, strangers will run Crimson Hills; strangers, Jeff. Mama can’t bear to see that. If I marry His Grace and Mama accompanies me to England, she can come home one day, after the war, when it’s safe…after the scandal dies down. When you boys are home to take care of her and Crimson Hills, she can return in triumph, as the mother of a duchess.”

Jeff pulled her to her feet. He held her by the shoulders, looked deep into her eyes, trying to see into her very soul. “What about you, kitten? Marriage is forever. Are you willing to sacrifice yourself?”

“I will do as I must.” When he made to argue again, she pressed her fingertips against his lips. “Please Jeff, I’ve accepted my fate.” Her voice broke slightly. “Don’t make this any harder for me than it already is.”

Nodding, he kissed the tips of her fingers then brought her hand to his heart. “You are a remarkable woman, Elise Stayton.”

“I pray to our God Almighty that you are right.”

“I’m always right.”

She smiled as he intended. “I love you, Jeff.”

“And I love you, Lisi Kat.” His gaze suddenly turned mischievous. “You haven’t asked when your prospective bridegroom will arrive.”

“When?”

“He won’t.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He sent someone to stand proxy in the ceremony.” He paused for emphasis. “An old friend of yours.”

“Gil?”

“No.”

Elise felt a sense of foreboding.

“Argylle was occupied with affairs of state and unable to leave the Isle. So he asked Gray…”

Elise no longer heard her brother for the roar in her ears. It was the far side of too much. The same afternoon Gray had stolen her heart, her sixteenth birthday, he had made her promise to marry for love. Now he would make that impossible. A fist of betrayal squeezed her heart. Her last girlhood dream slipped through her fingers.

But she twitched not so much as an eyelash.

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A WORD ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Teresa Howard, the author of many historical romances written as both Teresa Howard and Teresa George, lived in North Georgia with her beloved husband, George.

Teresa passed away in 2015 after a brief illness. She is missed and loved by her many fans around the world.

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3) by Lisa Kleypas

devil in spring

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An eccentric wallflower . . .

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

A cynical rake . . .

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

A perilous plot . . .

After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy-and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, February 2017

Time and Setting: London and Sussex, 1876
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

If, like me, you have read and adored Devil in Winter, you have probably been eagerly anticipating this book featuring the grown son of Sebastian and Evie, now the Duke and Duchess of Kingston. And if, like me, you read the prologue on Lisa Kleypas’s website last year, where Sebastian seduces a nursery maid, playfully pretending not to know that she is actually his wife, your anticipation grew even more. And you may be asking whether this books is as wonderful as Devil in Winter, to which I must answer with regret, “not even close.”

This new Viscount St. Vincent, Gabriel, is paired with Lady Pandora Ravenel, a sister of the hero and heroine in the first two volumes of The Ravenels series. I found the first book in the series, Cold-Hearted Rake, to be okay but not up to Kleypas’s usual standards. The second book, Marrying Winterborne, was much better, and the audio version, narrated by Mary Jane Wells, was a full five-star experience. Lisa Kleypas has been one of my favorite historical romance authors for years, but this book simply did not engage me to the extent that I’ve come to expect.

Gabriel is a hero who is too good to be true. We are told that he is a “cynical rake,” but we don’t see much of that in his behavior. He is handsome and charming and loves his family. He doesn’t seem to gamble or drink to excess, and he has made his own fortune by shrewd investing. While he does have a mistress, he doesn’t visit her even once after he meets Pandora. Supposedly he has some dark sexual desires, but that really comes to nothing more than liking a bit of light bondage. In short, “Gabriel” is an apt moniker for this man, for he is an angel.

Pandora, on the other hand, is a whirlwind, often unladylike, and firmly determined to run her own business. At a time when board games were beginning to become popular, she has invented a game (a story roughly patterned after the woman who invented the precursor to Monoply in 1903) and persuaded her brother-in-law, department-store magnate Rhys Winterborne, to sell it. When she meets Gabriel, her life is consumed with setting up a factory, hiring workers, and figuring out the final details of her invention.

Gabriel and Pandora are caught in a compromising situation at a society ball; although both are entirely innocent of any misbehavior, Lord Chaworth, one of the two men who happen upon them, insists that the right thing must be done. The other man is inclined to be more lenient, as he is Lord Westcliff, from It Happened One Autumn, an old friend of Gabriel’s father. I was hoping for more Westcliff, but he makes just the briefest of cameo appearances. (As it turns out, Chaworth may be harboring a grudge, as Gabriel’s father admits, “There may have been a brief dalliance with his wife a few years before I married your mother.”)

Gabriel and Pandora confess all to their families, but when Gabriel proposes marriage, Pandora turns him down flat. She has no intention of giving up her commercial aspirations and allowing her business to be controlled by a husband, which was how the laws of England stood in 1876. Gabriel has no desire to marry, but he finds himself intrigued by Pandora and rather shocked that she won’t have him. He has the typical Victorian male reaction to Pandora’s plans, and Ms. Kleypas does a good job of showing how Pandora gradually brings him around to understanding her distaste for becoming essentially some man’s property.

Gabriel’s parents decide to invite Pandora to their estate in Sussex so that the couple can become better acquainted, and before you know it they are in love. This happened way too quickly for my taste. Moreover, as I became better acquainted with Pandora, I found her less and less appealing. She was overly stubborn, uncompromising, thoughtless toward others’ feelings, and lacking in common sense. Her demands are non-negotiable, but sweet Gabriel is so smitten that he constantly looks for ways to assuage her fear of being a married woman. I simply could not understand why Gabriel was so enchanted by her.

I don’t think that it is a spoiler to disclose that Gabriel and Pandora do get married, as it occurs well before the end of the book. It is after they are married, however, that a so-so story becomes completely undone. Pandora is targeted by some murderous Fenians, an Irish nationalist organization, in a plot twist that simply comes out of nowhere. It felt as though Kleypas decided that there had not been any angst and the story needed some. I think she could have done better by showing us how Gabriel and Pandora, who had married rather quickly, adjusted to their new situation. In other words, some character development would have been nice.

Because it is Kleypas, the writing is competent, but I simply did not find it up to the standards of her earlier books. In Devil in Winter, Sebastian was a real devil who was gradually redeemed by the love of a devoted wife whom he married for money. Both characters are changed by their relationship, and this happened in a believable manner. Devil in Spring, however, has no devil, and the only character who changes is Gabriel, as he completely succumbs to Pandora’s demands. Perhaps Kleypas would have been better served to give Gabriel some other parents; to do so would not have required many changes in the manuscript, as Sebastian and Evie are rarely seen. And perhaps I am being unfair to even compare Gabriel’s story to that of his parents, but Kleypas must have known that expectations would be especially high.

I have read every historical romance written by Lisa Kleypas and I will continue to do so, notwithstanding my disappointment with this book, because she is a better writer than 90% of the HR authors on the market. Many other reviewers have given this book high ratings, so perhaps my disappointment has caused me to overlook things that those readers enjoyed. You be the judge.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Upon Your Love (Heiresses in Love #3) by Marie Lavender

upon your love

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The Hill family saga concludes as loyalties are questioned, faiths will be tested and undying love may come at a terrible cost…

Fara Hill, mother and faithful wife, is torn between her family at home and her urge to be at sea. Soon, she learns some disturbing truths. Was the past a fairy tale instead of reality?

Chloe Hill, loving wife and young mother, questions her faith when her husband sets an ultimatum she cannot meet. Will she be able to keep her marriage from falling apart?

Adrienne Bellamont Hill, born of a valiant captain and a fiery redhead, is untamed to her core and will bow to no man. Then Christian du Plessis enters her life with an offer she can’t refuse. Discovering the man behind the polished gentleman, she is drawn to him in many ways. Holding out for love is a family tradition, but can she resist the temptation of passion?

Christian finds this young woman to be a fascinating challenge, and is torn between keeping his distance from her and succumbing to her charms. A fierce battle of wills ensues as he sees she is much more than he ever imagined.

But danger lurks, threatening to destroy everything…

Can these two strong-willed individuals unite in the cause before time runs out?

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EXCERPT

Christian scanned the wall and came to rest on a woman whose face was obscured by the way she stood. She was turned slightly away, in conversation with another girl. She had long, dark wavy hair and a nice form. When she turned back towards him, he caught his breath at the stunning figure she posed. Her eyes were a violet color; he could tell because the gas lights in the room caught them like fine gemstones. She was also fairly tall for a woman. Her skin was a fine, light golden shade, which didn’t detract from her beauty at all. Most of her contemporaries avoided direct sunlight. It was clear that her skin tone was natural, perhaps with a hint of being blessed by the sun’s rays. He wondered what sort of woman would place herself in the elements while the other women in her circle managed to elude such avenues.

His gaze continued to travel over her strange perfection. Her décolletage dipped to the tops of her full breasts, hinting at pleasure, and she was dressed in a long gown of pale blue. The shape of the gown gave off the suggestion of ample curves beneath. What kind, he could only guess. He imagined the costume was an heirloom because most women’s fashions these days weren’t so revealing. “Who is that?” he pointed.

“Mademoiselle Bellamont Hill.”

“I haven’t seen her before.”

“It is past her season. She hasn’t been to a function in a couple of years, I believe. Something about a mourning period.”

“But, isn’t she from around here?”

“Yes, in a way. Her family travels often. Her father is a captain, and so is her brother. When she is here, she lives with her mother and aunt.”

“Why hasn’t she married?”

Pierce shrugged. “It could be any number of reasons. Why? Do you want me to ask her to dance?”

“No, not her. Perhaps her companion would be interested.” He referred to the blonde woman at Mademoiselle Hill’s side. Christian didn’t allow himself to wonder why he thought the other girl would not suit his friend.

Pierce agreed, and they both started in that direction. When they approached the ladies, Christian took the first woman’s hand, brushing his lips over it. He observed that her skin was incredibly soft and had a tantalizing sweet scent. He curbed the urge to explore it further.

She gasped, a flush staining her cheeks. “Monsieur?”

“Forgive me for the abrupt entrance. I am Christian du Plessis. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mademoiselle.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I am Adrienne Nicolette Bellamont Hill.” She looked over at her companion. If she noticed the impropriety of not being introduced by a common acquaintance, she did not say. “This is my good friend, Elena Wyndham. She’s visiting from England.”

Though he’d blinked as she gave her full name, he managed, “Oh? It is so good to have your acquaintance. Ladies, this is my ami, Pierce Laroque.”

“Hello, Pierce,” both girls chimed and shook his hand alternately.

Pierce looked flustered as he murmured a greeting.

“I hope you’ll take good care of my friend here. He is rather shy with women. Perhaps you might make him feel welcome,” he whispered, leaning in close to Elena with a smile.

She gave him a conspiratorial smile, and then turned to Pierce. “Might you dance with me, Monsieur? I can’t stand here and simply watch this gaiety.”

Pierce readily agreed and escorted Elena to the dance floor just as the music for another waltz began.

The woman named Adrienne frowned, looking up at Christian. “What was that? What are you up to?”

“Just a little matchmaking,” he shrugged.

“Perhaps your friend wouldn’t be pleased with your interference.”

Christian took her hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm. “Shall we walk?” At her nod, he led her in a stroll around the edges of the room. As they ambled along, the heavenly scent of blended flowers and honey drifted into his nose. He struggled with the desire to lean closer so that he could breathe more of her in. “I’m sure he would welcome it. Pierce is rather reserved, and not at all used to conversing with women.”

She nodded. “He asked for your help then.”

His mouth twisted. Pierce would never have asked; he was far too honorable a man for that, which was why he’d volunteered. “In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“I suppose I cannot reprimand you for assisting a friend,” she sighed. “For a moment, I simply thought you had ulterior motives.”

“To pair myself off with you?”

She lifted a brow. “You can’t blame me for the assumption.”

“No, I cannot. Don’t take this the wrong way, Mademoiselle Hill. You are very tempting, and I am more drawn to you than I should be. But, my purpose in coming here tonight wasn’t self-serving. It was to help Pierce find a wife.”

She stumbled a little, and he clasped her arm in time. “A wife? Surely you cannot be serious.”

“Deadly.”

“But, Elena wouldn’t… she would never—”

“No? And why not? Pierce is a good man.”

“So? What woman would agree to marry a man after one night?”

“Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.”

Her beautiful, dark brows drew together and even her apparent perplexity appealed to him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 23 other books. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title – winner of the “Broken Heart” themed contest and the “I Love You” themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers’ Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 24 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several multi-author anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series, The Blood at First Sight Series and The Code of Endhivar Series.

Links:

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A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas

A Study in scarlet women

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With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2016

RHR Classifications: Historical mystery, with a hint of romance to come
Time and Setting: 1886, England
Heat Level: N/A
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Sherry Thomas is one of the best historical romance authors of the past decade, so I had no concerns that she could write a good historical mystery. But Sherlock Holmes? As a woman? Even though I am a long-time Sherlockian, I am not fanatical about the sanctity of Conan Doyle’s canon – so why not? I can enthusiastically report that Thomas has pulled off this challenge in a first-rate manner.

It is very easy to see Sherlock in Charlotte Holmes’s personality, mannerisms, and intellect. Conan Doyle never showed us the very young Sherlock, so Thomas is free to experiment here. Charlotte is the youngest of four daughters born to the unhappily-wed Sir Henry and Lady Holmes. Henrietta, the eldest, has modeled herself after her unpleasant mother, and is married to a Mr. Cumberland. It remains to be seen whether she has adopted her mother’s habit of slapping hapless servants and unruly daughters. The next sister, Bernadine, is so withdrawn that she is no longer taken out in society; today we probably would diagnose her as autistic, perhaps epileptic, and anorexic to boot. Sister Livia, Charlotte’s only friend, has had eight unsuccessful Seasons and is prone to depression. She at least takes pleasure from writing incessantly in her journal.

Charlotte is her father’s pet and her mother’s despair. She is sharply intelligent and blessed with an amazing memory as well as powers of observation and deduction. She is forthright to the point of rudeness and so completely uninterested in getting married that she has turned down several proposals. She is quite beautiful and has allowed her mother to dress her in the height of fashion, but underneath the veneer Charlotte is a determined non-conformist.

Although they play relatively minor roles in the book’s plot, I mention Charlotte’s family because Thomas paints a particularly affecting portrait of them in the first few chapters. It wasn’t really necessary, but it sets up the story very nicely. Such is the mark of an extraordinary writer. Moreover, this part of the story is written from Livia’s point of view and suggests that Livia may be the chronicler, i.e., a sort of Watson to Charlotte’s Sherlock.

Charlotte’s ambition is to become headmistress of a girls’ school, which is really quite silly, as she has never been to school, but that seems to be the only professional option available to a gently-bred young lady. Her father encourages Charlotte’s aspiration, but as the book opens Charlotte is infuriated to see that he is succumbing to his wife’s pressure to marry her off.

Although Charlotte is supposedly very smart, she embarks on a farcical scheme to get herself ruined (by a carefully selected married man) and thus made ineligible for marriage. The scheme goes spectacularly awry, and Charlotte flees her home and reckons she can find some type of respectable employment, although with no references and no experience, she finds it rough going. Until, that is, she meets and instantly feels an affinity for a colorful, older lady whose army officer husband died in Afghanistan. This Mrs. Watson is a comfortably wealthy but lonely former actress who has unsuccessfully been looking for a paid companion. She is intrigued by Charlotte’s special talent for solving mysteries, and when she offers Charlotte the position as her companion, the reader can see that she envisions them as partners in adventure.

Aside from her sweet sister Livia, Charlotte has one other friend: Lord Ingram Ashburton, to whom she has been close since childhood. Indeed, when Lord Ingram enters the plot, it is clear that he and Charlotte are in love with one another. Not that they would admit it, for he is unhappily married and far too honorable to act upon his improper feelings. Lord Ingram, a gentleman archeologist, has served as a go-between for Charlotte and Scotland Yard’s Inspector Treadles (ah, we have our Lestrade) where Charlotte’s talent has helped solve a few cases. Treadles, however, does not know that Charlotte is Sherlock; he thinks she is Sherlock’s sister.

This, then, is the set-up for the mysteries that confront Inspector Treadles when Sherlock Holmes publishes a letter connecting three, apparently unrelated and apparently natural, deaths:

It has come to my attention that Mr. Harrington Sackville’s death, by apparent overdose of chloral, may not be an isolated incident: Lady Amelia Drummond preceded him in death by a week and a half; the Dowager Baroness Shrewsbury followed a mere twenty-four hours later. Lady Amelia was first cousin to Mr. Sackville’s elder brother by the same father, Lord Sheridan, and godmother to one of Baroness Shrewsbury’s children.

With this shocking announcement – and how could I resist saying it? – the game is afoot. I found this book to be quite as good as any Conan Doyle mystery (and I have read them all many times). The characters are intriguing and well-drawn, and the pacing is excellent. As with any mystery, not everyone is completely honest, but neither did I notice anything so misleading as to be considered unfair. Although this book is not an historical romance like many of Sherry Thomas’s other books, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries in a historical setting. I can’t wait for the next book, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, due out in September 2017, where Charlotte’s client is looking for her missing lover. And that client is none other than Lord Ingram’s wife!

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless #5) by Meredith Duran

a lady's code of misconduct

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A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL…
Trapped in the countryside, facing an unwanted marriage and the theft of her fortune, Jane Mason is done behaving nicely. To win her freedom, she’ll strike a deal with the most dangerous man she knows—a rising star in politics, whose dark good looks mask an even darker heart.

…NEVER GOES TO PLAN.
The bitter past has taught Crispin Burke to trust no one. He’ll gladly help a lovely young heiress, provided she pays a price. Yet when a single mistake shatters his life, it is Jane who holds the key to his salvation. And in a world that no longer makes sense, Crispin slowly realizes that she may be the only thing worth fighting for…

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, February 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1860
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

Fans of Meredith Duran have had a fairly long time to wait between the publication of her last novel – Luck Be a Lady – and this new one, which is billed as the fifth in her Rules for the Reckless series, but I’m pleased to report that the wait, while frustrating, was well worth it. In A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, she has once again dazzled me with the beauty and focus of her writing, and her ability to craft a tightly-knit, intriguing plot and wonderfully complex, imperfect and highly intelligent characters who very quickly take on lives of their own in the mind of the reader.

The story centres around the political career and machinations of Mr. Crispin Burke MP, the second son of Viscount Sibley and most definitely the black sheep of his family. With ambitions to become Prime Minister, Burke has steadily drawn many in the Commons to his side by means of threats, blackmail and bribery; his name is a byword for corruption in parliamentary circles and it seems as though he is about to achieve his goal. His Penal Reform bill, a punitive, unfair piece of legislation, has enough support to defeat the government and unseat Palmerston.

Burke’s closest ally is Philip Mason, a man with as black a heart and as few principals, and who is currently supporting himself and his family at the expense of his niece, Jane, whose father left his considerable fortune to her at his death. Mason is unable to touch the principal amount, but has been syphoning off everything he could for years, and intends to marry her to his son in order to keep the money in the family. Jane is twenty-three, but has never had a season and is not allowed to go beyond the gates, so she has, in effect, been a prisoner for the past six years. But worse than all that is the fact that she has had to pretend to be a brainless ninny for all of that time. Her late parents were progressive, so she was well-educated and brought up to think for herself and not to be afraid to express her opinions – but her uncle believes women should be seen and not heard and Jane has had to suppress that side of herself while she has bided her time and waited for an opportunity to escape.

Finally, that opportunity has arrived – only to be thwarted by the odious Crispin Burke. Even though Jane has encountered him numerous times over the years, this is the first time she has really talked to him or even been close to him, and she is simultaneously surprised and repelled to discover that he holds a strange fascination for her. He’s a beautiful man, no question, but he’s ruthless, amoral and rotten to the core and his methods disgust her – but he offers her some advice and a way of avoiding her uncle’s wrath, in exchange, naturally, for something he wants – information on something involving Mason. Jane has no alternative but to agree to do as he asks.

Not long after this, and shortly before the final reading of his bill, Burke is attacked and left for dead on the London streets. Having taken his advice and inveigled her uncle into bringing her to London, Jane hatches an audacious plan, one that was also suggested to her by Burke, albeit with a different outcome in mind. She uses a fraudulently obtained – but legitimate – marriage certificate and announces that she and Burke were recently – and secretly – married. She will shortly be a widow according to the doctors, and her marriage will release her father’s fortune into her hands, meaning that she can finally achieve her dream of travelling to New York and making a new life for herself.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan and Crispin survives – although there are big gaps in his memory and he can remember little of what happened over the past five years. Now caught in a lie, Jane feels guilty and unsure, but decides that she needs to play along with the fake marriage, at least until the legalities surrounding the release of her inheritance are completed. I’m normally a little sceptical about amnesia plots, but didn’t blink when I learned that this book used one, because I knew that Meredith Duran would make it work. She does that and then some; the way she transforms Crispin from a ruthless, conscienceless politician to a man of honour and sound principles who genuinely wants to make the world a better place is brilliant, but more importantly, it’s believable. There are still facets of the old Burke remaining – the keen mind, the devilish sense of humour, the aura of implacability and sense of his being a dangerous man, but the more he finds out about his old self, the more determined he becomes to face the demons of his past, eradicate them and move on.

Because he can’t afford others to see how much his injuries have affected him, Crispin asks for Jane’s help in navigating his way through all his political alliances and connections. She can’t deny that being able, after so long, to use her brain and have her opinions listened to and respected is incredibly flattering and freeing, or that the ‘new’ Crispin is compassionate, thoughtful, unexpectedly vulnerable and incredibly attractive.

Jane is just as satisfyingly complex a character as Crispin, and her story of self-discovery is equally compelling. Her situation as the virtual prisoner of her uncle evokes sympathy, and her character is set up as a kind of representation of truth and justice… yet as the story progresses, she is shown to have been as deceitful and secretive in her way as Crispin has been in his. The way that she comes to understand herself more, and also to understand what drove Crispin to take the path of blind, conscienceless ambition is superbly done, as is Crispin’s conviction that no matter what he can or cannot remember, his feelings for Jane won’t change. I loved that Jane tries to spare him learning the worst of himself and that when he does, it just makes him stronger and all the more determined to become a better man.

The chemistry between the protagonists is intense, and their romance develops believably and at a realistic pace. Jane gradually overcomes her suspicions and opens herself to the attraction she realises she has long felt for Crispin, even though she can’t quite let go of her fear that the ‘old’ him could return at any moment. And I loved that Crispin never questions his marriage; for him, Jane is his rock from the moment he awakens, building on the hints of interest she sparked in him even before his attack and showing clearly but subtly that his feelings for her run deep.

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is a must-read for fans of this author and of historical romance in general. The political background is interesting, well-researched and smoothly incorporated so the reader never feels as though they are being given a history lesson, and the plot which gradually emerges – relating to the information the ‘old’ Crispin was seeking from Jane – is intriguing and suspenseful. Add in the wonderful romance and two compelling but vulnerable and flawed protagonists, and you’ve got an un-put-downable book which I’m already sure will go down as one of my favourite books of the year.

Historical romance really doesn’t get better than this.

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne

the duke

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He is noble, notorious, and takes no prisoners…

They say that now His Grace, Collin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth has only one hand, he might finally be a mere mortal, but no one seems willing to test the theory. Rich as Midas, big as a Viking, beautiful as Adonis, and lethal as a feral wolf, he is the English Empire’s golden son. But now he’s lost everything. Most of his family died in a terrible accident, his protégé and closest friend betrayed him on the battlefield, and his left hand was cut off while he was a prisoner of war. The only thing that’s kept him going until now is the memory of a night spent in the arms of a mysterious raven-haired woman almost a year ago…

Imogen Pritchard is a nurse by day, but a fallen woman—and a spy—by night. Seduced on the job years ago by a Duke who mourned for the loss of his family, Imogen has never shaken the memory of the man’s despair—or the fathomless depths of pleasure he brought to her. But as the threat of betrayals, blackmail, and secrets abound, Imogen and Collin are thrown back together in a dizzying swirl of dangerous games and earthshattering desire. But can their love overcome the everything that threatens to tear them apart?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1879
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series brings to life dangerous men who are always one heartbeat away from succumbing to their darkest impulses. The love they find in the arms of their perfect women saves their souls. In The Duke, the formula is changed just slightly to introduce a man whose heart is so hardened he almost misses his chance at salvation.

Collin Talmage was never supposed to be the Duke of Trewyth. Knowing he was the spare to his father’s legacy gave Cole the freedom to join the military where he has used his strength and intelligence to good effect. His career as a soldier and spy comes to a tragic halt when his family is killed in an accident, immediately elevating him to one of the highest peerages in the realm. On the eve of his final assignment, Cole hopes to escape from the reality of his life for just a few moments in the company of his fellow soldiers. Their group arrives at the Bare Kitten Dance Hall where Cole quickly notices the beautiful barmaid serving the men. Pulling her away from the attentions of his closest companion, Cole arranges for Ginny to remain at his side for the rest of the evening and later to join him in his bed.

Imogen Pritchard, hiding her true identity under a black wig and a false name, wasn’t a whore and should never have been in a place as seedy as the Bare Kitten. Inheriting her father’s debt to the club’s proprietor forced her to work off the amount owed but she was promised she would never have to pay by working on her back. Unfortunately Cole’s money is more important to the owner than any agreement made with Imogen. With no option but to comply, Imogen is surprised by Cole’s care and lover-like treatment. His caresses and kisses ignite passions Imogen wasn’t aware she could feel, and in a single night her heart is lost to the man with eyes filled with a sorrow that Imogen wishes she could take from him.

A year passes before Imogen and Cole’s paths cross again. Cole disappears soon after leaving England and it’s feared he was killed or captured in the line of duty. Imogen can only hope he’s alive as she works at the Bare Kitten each night while maintaining her day job as a nurse at St. Margaret’s hospital. Starting a shift, she finds the hospital abuzz with the news of the arrival of an important patient – none other than the Duke of Trewyth – whom the doctors fear is dying from typhus. Imogen’s experience with the disease makes her question the diagnosis and she risks her position to have another doctor treat Cole. Her decision saves his life but the attending physician fires Imogen for insubordination. Things only get worse when a patron at the Bare Kitten tries to rape her, and she kills him in self defence. Imogen’s desperation leads her back to the hospital where the elderly Earl of Anstruther catches her stealing. The kind earl’s act of altruism saves Imogen and changes her life forever.

Once the real cause of his distress is discovered Cole’s body heals but his mind and spirit take another two years to recover. The torture he endured was only bearable by clinging to the memory of Ginny and the perfect night they shared before his life became a living hell. It’s the hope of finding his angel that becomes an obsession for Cole; so much so that he has little patience for any other women who cross his path. His main frustration comes in the form of his new neighbor Imogen, Lady Anstruther. Her ideas about social reform as well as her informality and common background all pick at Cole’s high principles. His attraction to the beautiful woman is something to be endured rather than embraced. However, when the young widow finds herself in mortal danger Cole is, surprisingly, the first one to offer his protection.

I am a die-hard fan of Ms. Byrne’s writing but I had some problems as I read The Duke. Imogen is a wonderfully fhree-dimensional character, full of compassion and grace while having to hold her family together against dire circumstances. Cole on the other hand remains aloof, bitter and angry from almost the first moments of his introduction right up the final pages of the story. Everything seems to happen around him while he remains rooted in place, stuck there by outdated ideals and a stubborn refusal to open his eyes to the gift he’s been given in Imogen. She has always been a balm to his wounded heart and yet when that healing happens without him realizing she is the same woman he’s been searching for, Cole pushes her away in the most crushing manner.

While not as compelling a story as the other books in the Victorian Rebels series, I would still recommend The Duke to readers who appreciate their heroes a bit on the dangerous side but dedicated to the happiness of their heroine.

An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities #1) by K.J Charles

an unseen attraction

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Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

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Publisher and Release Date:Loveswept, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, October 1873
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I’m a recent convert to the talented writing skills of KJ Charles, my initiation being her magnificent Society of Gentleman series. I was therefore very pleased when given the opportunity to read and review An Unseen Attraction, the first in her new Sins of the City series. I admit that I approached it with a little trepidation, because not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that I could enjoy a story about a cockney Victorian taxidermist and an Anglo-Indian lodging-house keeper. I guess it’s testament to the author’s original and arresting style of writing that I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t put the book down. An Unseen Attraction is an engrossing and plausible story which only just touches on the aristocracy which in itself is a refreshing change in an historical romance. This story – and the two books we still have to look forward to in this trilogy – is about real people, with real personal problems and real jobs and I absolutely loved it.

Clem Talleyfer keeps a lodging house for skilled artisans, and prides himself on his standards. His lodgers like and respect him and that’s understandable because he is an extremely likeable young man; well spoken and with the darkly handsome good looks associated with his mixed race heritage – an Indian mother and an aristocratic English father. Rowley Green has taken the shop next door and has set himself up as a preserver – or, as we’d call him today, a taxidermist. Rowley is a quiet, unassuming and unexceptionable young man, whose dark past is reason enough for him to wish to blend in quietly and lead a non-confrontational lifestyle; another reason he prefers his rather solitary profession. He is neat and tidy, slight of stature, with a mop of tow-coloured hair and wire-rimmed spectacles – and Clem has been drawn to the quiet dignity of the man and more than a little attracted to him since he joined the lodgers at Talleyfer’s eight months previously. Unbeknownst to Clem, the attraction is mutual and their joint dilemma is how to discover if each feels the same about the other and how to make a move or declaration at a time when men such as they had to hide their sexual preferences for fear of prosecution. The two begin to explore their liking for each other in the simple domesticity of sharing a cup of tea by Clem’s parlour fireside of an evening in quiet companionship.

The author does a terrific job in developing these two characters and I found myself drawn to the very ‘unusual-ness’ of them. It was obvious to me from early on in the story – and the author confirmed it in her notes at the end – that Clem suffers from dyspraxia. KJ Charles’ explanations of his foibles; his difficulty concentrating on a subject, his clumsiness – which some mistake for stupidity, his dislike at being part of a jostling crowd, his inability to understand a double-entendre, sarcasm or to take a hint – are spot-on. I have a friend whose child suffers with this condition which is why I recognised it immediately and it underscored to me how very thorough the author’s research is and how interesting and touching to give her character this very real problem which often goes undiagnosed, even in this day and age. Clem’s vulnerability only heightens his appeal – who couldn’t love him? And the fact that Rowley loves Clem – understands his idiosyncrasies and helps him to cope without being judgemental or critical only serves to endear him to me more; and it wasn’t long before this quiet, plain little man had wiggled his way into my affections along with the gorgeous Clem – two adorable, out-of-the-ordinary characters who are quite clearly made for each other.

The only fly in Clem’s ointment is the elderly, drunken vicar, Lugtrout, who lives at Talleyfer’s under sufferance, his presence being a condition of the lease set up by Clem’s aristocratic half-brother who owns the lodging house and employs Clem as its manager. There is an excellent plot going on at the same time as Clem and Rowley are discovering each other and making tentative steps in their love affair. The drunken vicar is delivered – extremely dead – onto the lodging house doorstep; there are empty teeth sockets in the vicars gaping mouth and some finger tips missing too – so this is definitely no accidental death! As well as this mystery, Rowley’s shop is illegally entered and searched and then later on in another incident it is set on fire and Rowley attacked. It isn’t long before Clem and Rowley accept that the crimes are connected and the two become even closer as they put their heads together to solve the mystery that is scaring them both to death.

An Unseen Attraction is a most unusual and compelling story and extremely well researched too – I know an awful lot more regarding the recording of births deaths and marriages in England than I ever did before! Plus the amount of research the author must have undertaken in order to write with such authority on a subject like taxidermy is phenomenal – lets face it, it’s not a subject that would appeal to the average reader – and her extensive research served its purpose because I was intrigued by Rowley’s craft; the skill and talent involved, and shall now look at stuffed animals with new eyes and added interest when next I visit the Natural History Museum. The murder/mystery is gripping and plausible and the setting sinister and threatening with the tension ratcheting up as a deadly fog descends and cloaks Victorian London in a pea-souper which thickens and obliterates the daylight to hang in the atmosphere and render visibility to nigh on nil. And the terror and fear felt by our two unlikely detectives as they finally discover the identity of the murderer and the reasons surrounding all that has befallen them is palpable. An Unseen Attraction is a fascinating page turner of a story with never a dull moment, some genuinely amusing ones and a charmingly tender romance between two ordinary yet extraordinary characters. My guess is that K.J Charles has another winner under her belt and I shall wait in anticipation for the next in what promises to be an excellent trilogy.