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The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

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When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expects his secret love, Brilliana Trevor, to go with him, or at the very least wait for him. To his shock, she does neither and sends him off with no promise for the future. Seven years and one pardon later, Niall returns to England disillusioned and cynical. And being blackmailed by the government into working with his former love to help catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood any. But as his role as Brilliana’s fake fiancé brings his long-buried feelings to the surface once again, he wonders who is more dangerous—the counterfeiter or the woman rapidly stealing his heart.

Forced to marry another man after Niall was exiled, the now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life. So having to rely on him to save her father is the last thing she wants, much less trusts him with….But as their scheme strips away the lies and secrets of their shared past, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? Or will the pleasures of their renewed passion finally enable them both to rediscover love?

Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, June 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1830
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

The Pleasures of Passion surprised me. I didn’t expect to end up liking the story for its heroine, Brilliana Trevor. Bree was introduced in The Danger of Desire, book three of the Sinful Suitors series as a widow and mother trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her husband died unexpectedly. She didn’t come across as especially sympathetic considering that she admits to her sister-in-law that she never loved her husband. I felt Bree was a weak character and wasn’t very excited to read a whole story about her reuniting with the man she’s always carried a torch for. Fortunately Sabrina Jeffries does a good job within the first few pages of Bree’s story to show just how strong a person she could be.

Miss Brilliana Payne was only seventeen years old when she fell in love. While visiting Bath so her invalid mother could take the waters, Bree met Niall Lindsey at one of the few social gatherings she was allowed to attend. Niall was everything that Brilliana had hoped for in a suitor; kind, attentive and he made her feel that her middle-class upbringing was not a problem for him as the heir to an earldom. The one flaw in Niall’s perfection was his reluctance to introduce her to his family or to meet with her father to ask for her hand. When she receives an urgent message from Niall, Bree is certain that he will finally declare himself and they can begin planning for a future together. Sadly, Niall’s reasons for a quick meeting are because he was involved in a duel and has to flee the country to protect himself. Bree’s heart is torn in two when Niall pleads for her to go with him; however she cannot leave her sick mother alone with her feckless father. Unable to choose between her family and her future, Bree tells Niall that she won’t leave England with him now but hopes they can be reunited soon.

Months after Niall’s departure, Bree’s life takes an unexpected turn. Her father’s gambles and loses big to another gentleman who suggests that he’ll forgive the debt if Brilliana marries his son, Reynold Trevor. With no word from Niall and hoping to protect her mother from ruin, Bree has no choice but to accept the marriage. The intervening years are difficult for Bree as, while she likes her new husband, she can’t love him. The best thing to come from their marriage is a son; however his arrival is bittersweet as Reynold dies not long after his birth. As a widow, Bree gains a bit of freedom, but years of protecting herself from men who took advantage of her (like her father) have made Bree reluctant to begin a new relationship. Nothing can prepare her for the shock she experiences when she is suddenly reunited with the one man she’s spent seven years trying to forget.

Niall Lindsey, now the Earl of Margrave, spent his years in exile working with the Home Office as a spy within the social circles of Spain. When his superior, Lord Fulkham, finally found a way to get him pardoned it was a welcome relief to escape the world of espionage. Of course, a great spymaster never really lets an asset get away and Niall is soon recruited to uncover evidence of a counterfeiter passing fake banknotes at several gambling hells. All signs point to Sir Oswald Payne being the culprit and Niall is tasked with getting close to the man to find proof of his counterfeiting. Lord Fulkham tells Niall that the easiest way to gain the man’s trust is to use his daughter as a means of introduction and doesn’t give Niall any chance to escape a reunion with the former Miss Payne. Seeing Brilliana again after seven years brings back all the painful memories of her betrayal when he needed her support. Learning from his father that Brilliana married another while Niall was alone on the Continent was a crushing blow to his heart from which he has never quite recovered.

Reluctantly, Niall and Bree agree to fake an engagement as cover for their mission to ingratiate themselves with Sir Oswald. Their forced closeness reopens many old wounds but also triggers a re-examination of the misunderstandings and actions that led to their separation years before. What is quickly discovered is that the love Bree and Niall held for each other never really died; however it may be impossible to rekindle as Niall is still holding some secrets close to his chest and Bree finds it very hard to trust him with her heart a second time.

The Pleasures of Passion is a good story that sometimes gets lost in its repetitiveness. Brilliana and Niall have trust issues in their early relationship and once they’re reunited those same trust issues are the obstacle in the way of their rekindled romance. Niall withholds things from Bree right up until the bitter end rather than taking a leap of faith that she would understand why he had kept her in the dark for so long. One could argue that he had lived for seven years protecting his family’s honor and it was a difficult habit to break; however it unnecessarily strains their relationship. Bree finds it hard to let go of the past as a small part of her feels the life for which she was destined was taken away because of her father’s, her husband’s and even Niall’s actions. There wouldn’t be a story if Bree just fell over and accepted Niall’s apologies and let him back into her heart, but she is constantly wondering if Niall really loves her or will be there if things go wrong in the case against her father. Fortunately, readers know from Niall’s viewpoint that he’s ready to commit to her no matter the circumstances, so we play along with her uncertainties until she can see that, too.

The counterfeiting storyline is actually a great way to get Niall and Brilliana to talk to each other and Ms. Jeffries keeps the reader guessing about the identity of the real criminal. Having the investigation always a part of the conversation works to move the story further but also lays the groundwork for the next two books in the Sinful Suitors series. The Pleasures of Passion is a stronger story than the last book and I hope to see this upward trend continue.

Romancing the Rogue (Passion & Promises #3) by Erica Ridley

romancing the rogue

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When the new earl inherits, poor relation Miss Rebecca Bond must wed immediately or be out on her ear. The only man she’s ever loved is summoned to hear the will—but he already rejected her so soundly that they haven’t spoken in years. Yet who better than a rakish Viscount to teach her how to snare a gentleman who appreciates her charms?

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North Barrows, regrets nothing more than the lost friendship with the one woman who treated him like a man, not a title. Fate has given him the perfect pretext to win her forgiveness—even if it means having to matchmake her to someone else. But now that she’s back in his life, he’ll do anything to convince her to choose him instead…

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Publisher and Release Date: Webmotion, March 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Romancing the Rogue was originally one of the novellas featured in The Haunting of Castle Keyvnor anthology. The collection is set in and around a long neglected castle in the north of England where all manner of spooks and spirits resided along with a few living but forgotten souls. Author Erica Ridley finds some hopefulness within the bleak and gothic setting with a story of young friends reunited to find love.

The servants of Castle Keyvnor have learned to ignore many of the peculiarities that lurk within the haunted walls of the estate. Sadly, Miss Rebecca Bond has become just another spirit to the men and women who serve the elder Earl of Banfield. Rebecca was once a welcomed guest of the earl, along with her parents and younger sister, but when they were tragically killed in a carriage accident Rebecca was left alone and quietly forgotten by her distant relation. With nowhere else to go, she made herself useful to the staff and the earl’s steward by being as unobtrusive as possible. Soon, Rebecca was just another ghost within the castle even though she is very much alive.

Her situation changes when the old earl dies and his heir arrives at the castle to take on the title. An introduction between Rebecca and the new Earl of Banfield does not go in her favor as he already has several daughters to bring out this Season and is unwilling to add Rebecca to his list of obligations. He decides right away that Rebecca should be married off as soon as possible to a man of his choosing so she’ll become her husband’s responsibility. Rebecca is scared to leave the comfort of the castle but even more frightened of marrying a man she doesn’t know or care for. In desperation she decides to reach out to the only man of her acquaintance who might help her.

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North-Barrow has fallen into the snare that many young, rich and titled gentlemen do when they arrive in London. The allure of entertainments and willing women has changed Daniel from the caring and dedicated person he used to be into a known rake. The summons he receives from Castle Keyvnor for the reading of the old earl’s will is unexpected as the man wasn’t a close relative or even friendly with Daniel. The only thing prompting Daniel to return to the castle is memories of his old friend Rebecca Bond who he treated very poorly the last time he saw her. As a newly minted baron, Daniel was vain and full of his own pretensions when he attended a local dance where Rebecca was also a guest. When she approached him, Daniel gave her the cut direct so as to distance himself from a silly young girl. In his heart Daniel knew his actions were cruel but he soon moved away to London and had no chance to rectify the situation. A visit to Castle Kevynor will be an opportunity to find Rebecca and finally apologize for his mistake.

Romancing the Rogue is a sweet story at its core, with Rebecca and Daniel reuniting as older and wiser individuals. Their time apart changes them both, with Daniel becoming jaded at the lifestyle he’d adopted in London and Rebecca retreating from the vibrant girl she used to be into a shadow. The novella builds their relationship as they each rediscover the part of themselves that had been lost. While spending time with Daniel, Rebecca begins to thrive again and long for more than just a contented life in the castle. As she blossoms, Daniel is caught up in his affection for both the girl he left behind and the woman she’s become. She has no regard for his ton polish and forces him to act with his heart. There are several scenes in which the descriptions of where Daniel and Rebecca’s new awareness of each other had me swooning.

Unfortunately, the gloominess of Rebecca’s life prior to Daniel’s arrival is laid on rather thick so it’s difficult to see how she could switch from a depressed and downtrodden character into a happy and contented person. If the story had a longer page count, those transitions may have been clearer; however with the limited amount of time that Rebecca has with Daniel the reader has to make several leaps of faith that they’re together for the long haul.

I haven’t read many of Erica Ridley’s stories and Romancing the Rogue was perhaps not the strongest introduction to her material. Fortunately she has an extensive back catalog of full-length novels that may give me a better insight into her style. For now, this is a nice, clean story of love reunited that passes the time well.

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.

And Then Mine Enemy by Alison Stuart

and then mine enemy

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A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.

Having escaped a violent marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and the family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

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Publisher and Release Date: Oportet Publishing, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1642
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

And Then Mine Enemy, the first book in Alison Stuart’s new series set during the years of the English Civil War, begins just as the people of England are readying themselves for war. After years of peace and prosperity, men from all walks of life are expected to take up arms and are preparing to march off to face friends and relatives across battlefields with differing loyalties and opinions to themselves. Half hearted, amateurish preparations are underway and Ms. Stuart takes us through the war from when the first fight takes place and moves her story through major skirmishes and battles, date by date. I found this to be a helpful way of explaining unfolding events.

Adam Coulter, a career soldier and mercenary, has returned from the continent after six years to find his country divided. He is immediately summoned to a meeting with his two half-brothers who assume that he will fight alongside them, on behalf of Charles I and is offered a commission in their regiment. From the outset, Adam, who has had enough of fighting over his years abroad, is determined not to get involved and travels on to view the small estate he hopes to purchase and settle down on. En route, he makes a detour to visit his aunt, the only person in his life to ever really care for or about him. The circumstances of his birth have always been swathed in mystery; suffice to say that he did not share the same mother as his legitimate brothers even though he was brought up in the same household, and has always been resented, especially by Denzil, the elder of his brothers. Adam left the country under a cloud after having been involved in an abortive affair with Denzil’s betrothed which ended in a tragedy. The animosity between the half brothers has not diminished, especially since Denzil is now married to the lady involved in Adam’s scandal. Adam’s refusal to fight for the King’s cause has only widened the rift with Denzil who had hoped to utilise Adam’s not inconsiderable soldiering skills. Adam is an extremely likeable and attractive character, tough and fair and I was drawn to him immediately. In fact the image on the cover on this book is very true to how   imagined him – and it’s nice to see a cover that reflects the story for once.

Perdita Gray suffered a degrading and abusive marriage to a much older man of her father’s choosing. Now widowed, she is living with distant kin, who happens to be Adam’s aunt, Joan. Perdita has just become engaged to Simon, Joan’s step-son, whom Perdita likes and respects but does not love. Adam’s arrival is a blessing for Simon, who as a farmer has had no experience of soldiering but is expected to lick a band of farm hands and labourers into shape in anticipation of them all marching off to serve their King. Adam agrees to help, although again declines an offer – this time from Simon – to join in the fight for the Royalist cause. Adam and Perdita are quietly attracted to one another although Perdita’s respect and affection for Simon keep this attraction very much under wraps. And Adam likes Simon too much to disrespect his hospitality. Having said that, this is an historical romance with the emphasis being very much on the history; readers looking for multiple passionate encounters might be disappointed, but I liked that the author places the history – serious as it is – above all else. Still, the attraction is there, though quietly simmering. At first, Perdita seems cool and unapproachable, and she did not endear herself to me in the way that Adam did, although perhaps that can be accounted for by the suffering she endured in the past.

As the story evolves and Adam becomes involves in the country’s civil war despite his misgivings, he bucks the trend of his family, and joins the Parliamentarians. I must say that Adam’s capitulation is rather unexpected; suddenly he is explaining that he always believed the King was in the wrong and that he has accepted a commission in the Parliamentarian forces. Yet not long before this, he was adamant he was not getting involved and was on his way to buy his small estate.

I am a very recent convert to this period of history, so cannot say with any real certainty whether Ms. Stuart has her facts right. But as far as I can tell she seems to know what she’s talking about and I found it easy to follow and understand the sequence of events as she relays them. One thing she does well is to highlight the horror of civil war;  she’s made no attempt to glamorise it and the fact that families often fought on opposing sides and met in battle was a terrifying reality. The way each side had to deal with the casualties within their own troops too was really quite horrifying and Ms. Stuart used Perdita on more than one occasion to show how dying and wounded soldiers (from both sides of the war and often lying side by side) had to be treated by civilians, dragged off battle fields with field hospitals set up in barns; it’s all brought home with rather horrifying clarity.

As the story proceeds and Perdita and Adam cross each other’s paths frequently, their attraction deepens into something more intense and more lasting and they have to learn to hide their feelings. However, I did not feel truly invested in that growing love and felt that something was missing, some spark or chemistry between the couple. I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps Alison Stuart was so intent on getting the historical facts straight and the sequence of events correct that she did not develop the romance as well as she could have. But in any case, it wasn’t enough to put me off and I shall certainly read the next in this series.  I’d love to see more of Adam and Perdita and how they cope as a couple who began their life together on opposing sides of this terrible conflict.

Honor Before Heart (Emerald Belles #1) by Heather McCorkle

honor before heart

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Risking it all for love and valor . . .

When Corporal Sean MacBranian awakens after being injured in battle, he is sure the luck o’ the Irish has run out on him. Or that he’s died and gone to Heaven. There can be no other explanation for the blond-haired, blue-eyed angel standing before him. But his “angel” is a truehearted lass named Ashlinn, and she wears a nurse’s uniform. Her tender ministrations have brought him back from the brink of death—and have given him a new reason for living.

Ashlinn knows their parting is inevitable; her handsome hero must return to the 69th infantry of the Union army, and there are no guarantees of his safe return. With most of her family already destroyed by the war ravaging America, she is sure she cannot survive another loss. Yet she feels powerless against the draw of Sean’s strong and steady heart. Neither time nor distance nor the danger of battle seems to lessen their bond. But when their secret letters are intercepted, the devoted nurse’s love will face the ultimate test . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, March 2017

Time and Setting: Virginia, 1862
Genre: American Historical Romance (Civil War period)
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Honor Before Heart is a sweetly romantic story set against the horrors of the American Civil War. McCorkle has definitely done her homework to show the brutality and personal cost faced by those who fought or lost someone in the war, although I wish that a bit more had been done to develop the characters past their basic outlines and turn them into a man and woman I could fully connect with.

Ashlinn O’Brian’s life has been changed forever by the war. Her three brothers heard the call to arms and enlisted in the Northern army. After two of them died from poorly treated wounds Ashlinn has been desperately searching the battlefields to find her youngest brother to hopefully save him from dying too. Ashlinn learned everything she could from her parents, a progressive doctor and a midwife, and her skills at keeping patients alive has made her more than a few enemies in the army camp hospital she works in. The latest battle on the shores of the James River has littered the ground with the bodies of dead Union and Confederate soldiers but Ashlinn’s prayers are answered that none of the men she finds are her brother. Before returning to the safety of the army camp Ashlinn’s attention is drawn to her faithful dog Cliste dragging something by the river bank. Getting closer to the water Ashlinn sees that the dog is trying to help a Union soldier who is unconscious but bleeding heavily from a gut wound. Knowing she’s the man’s only hope for survival, Ashlinn gets him into a makeshift shelter and treats his injuries using the supplies she always carries with her.

Corporal Sean MacBranian had escaped injury during the battle only to be caught by a Rebel soldier he found abusing a dog. He managed to kill the Southerner but not before the man got a few good hits on Sean’s person. The pain of his injuries knocks him out and for a moment Sean is certain he’s died when he wakes up to the beautiful face of a guardian angel leaning over him. Fortunately for Sean, his angel is a nurse who knows better ways to heal severe injuries than slicing and dicing up a patient. Ashlinn’s skills at suturing his wounds and keeping them clear of infection allow him to regain some of his strength so they can move out of enemy territory. As they travel Sean finds that Ashlinn is a well-spoken young woman but every so often he can hear a bit of a brogue seeping into her words. As an immigrant from Ireland, Sean is drawn to that little hint of Ashlinn’s own background as it’s something special they share.

Upon arriving safely at the army’s encampment Sean and Ashlinn try to keep their relationship on a cordial level since the war could separate them at any moment. Ashlinn has already learned the difficult lesson that caring for someone makes it agonizing to watch them march into an uncertain future on the battlefield. Sean, too, has seen many good men die and fears that his growing feelings for Ashlinn might become a distraction when his focus should be on the soldiers who serve under him. What neither of them counted on was how strong their bond had already become after Ashlinn saved his life and Sean protected her from the unwanted advances of the camp’s brutal doctor. They become inseparable after Sean is deployed into another battle and Ashlinn knows she would be lost if he were killed in action. Their new relationship is tested when Ashlinn discovers proof that her brother is alive but the circumstances of his disappearance may make her choose between her family and a future with Sean.

Honor Before Heart is tonally perfect for the period –  I could almost see everything happening to Ashlinn and Sean through a sepia-colored lens. One would think that the importance of social status would be something easily ignored while living in an army camp; however Ashlinn’s background as a wealthy Northerner is something that matters to Sean. He is aware that his own status as an Irish immigrant puts him much lower in class than her family even thought they, too, had immigrated generations earlier. There is also a black mark on his family’s name that Sean is hesitant to reveal since it was part of the reason he came to America to start a new life. Once he decides to pursue Ashlinn he adjusts their situation within the camp to always provide a chaperone or keep their meetings within the bounds of propriety. It makes their romance very sweet for most of their courting.

Unfortunately those sepia-colored lenses cannot hide the fact that Sean and Ashlinn never seem to grow or change much throughout the course of the story. Sean is a noble man who fights for the Union to bring freedom to the Southern slaves. Ashlinn is an intelligent and enlightened woman far ahead of her times when it comes to the care of the sick and injured in the field. Those two ideas are discussed between characters many times and serve as the major points of conflict when Ashlinn’s methods are challenged by the male doctors or Sean is captured by a Southern plantation owner. Long passages of the story paint vivid pictures of the brutal conditions Ashlinn is fighting against in the field hospitals, yet that’s all she seems to be fighting for. We don’t really know why her family joined the fight or what her thoughts are about the political side of things.

With that said, I enjoyed enough of Honor Before Heart to recommend it. The calm pace of the story creates the perfect conditions for a romance to thrive but the darkness of war is always present. It’s nice to believe that something as beautiful as love will survive past all of the hate.

A Lady Without a Lord (Penningtons #3) by Bliss Bennet

a lady without a lord

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A viscount convinced he’s a failure

For years, Theophilius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .

A lady determined she’ll succeed

Harriot Atherton has a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?

As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father and discovering the missing money, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?

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Publisher and Release Date: Bliss Bennet, February 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

A Lady Without a Lord is the third in Bliss Bennet’s Penningtons series and the first book I’ve read by this author. The story she’s created has a lot of good character moments that kept me reading from cover to cover; however her distinctive writing style was a bit harder to engage with.

Lord Theophilius Pennington is charming, witty and always makes a good impression on everyone – except the members of his family. Growing up as heir, Theo was pressured from an early age to take an interest in the family’s properties as well as follow his father into the political arena. Unfortunately, difficulties with numeracy gave Theo’s family the impression that he was lazy or not suited to the tasks required of a future viscount. When their father died, Theo’s younger sister Sibilla worked to maintain the family’s political activism by marring a man whose drive for social change mirrored her own ambitions. Meanwhile Theo was content to allow his land steward to manage the books and keep him informed of problems while he lived a carefree life in London. Everything changes when it’s time to pay out Sibilla’s dowry and it’s discovered that the Pennington family accounts are barely solvent. Hoping to hide this new problem from his sister, Theo swears his new brother-in-law to secrecy while he makes an emergency trip to meet with his steward for an explanation.

Miss Harriot Atherton is surprised and just the smallest bit alarmed when the new Lord Saybrook comes back to his estate wanting to meet immediately with her father. Mr. Atherton is the long serving steward for the Pennington family but for the last year it’s really been Harry keeping accounts and reporting everything in her father’s name. She has been hiding the fact that her father’s mind has been slipping and he can no longer manage his responsibilities without help. When Harry learns that Theo’s unannounced visit to the country is motivated by the shocking loss of over four thousand pounds, she is scared that her father’s disability will be discovered as well as her own interference in the running of the estate.

Living at his estate again reminds Theo that the responsibilities of his title are not limited to just having a seat in parliament. There are many people who depend on the Saybrook viscountcy for their livelihood and it’s been his error to ignore how important his involvement in local matters is. Theo finds himself discussing many community concerns with Harry and rekindling their childhood friendship. Their closeness stirs an attraction between the pair that is initially viewed as an inconvenience by them both. As they work to find the missing dowry, Theo’s interest for Harry becomes focused on her other qualities, such as her intelligence and her patience, while Harry is drawn to Theo’s amiable nature. Swaying even his staunchest critics with charm is something she would have difficulty doing but for Theo it is second nature. Unfortunately the secrets she’s keeping from Theo could derail the trust they’ve built and the new emotions he brings out in her.

Both main characters in A Lady Without a Lord are written to allow them their normal human insecurities while still building up their appeal as romantic leads. Theo’s difficulties with mathematics are drawn from a real life condition called dyscalculia, which, in a family of high achievers this disability forced him to hide behind a nonchalant disposition. Harry’s self-doubts are also deeply rooted, as the result of losing her mother at an early age and never quite catching on socially. Each of them has learned to become a people-pleaser in order to mask their fears or disappoint those closest to them. In partnering together to find the missing money or by forcing each other to work outside of their comfort zones, Theo and Harry discover there’s much more to their personalities. Harry helps Theo understand that his charm can be used to get things done while he shows her it’s alright to have aspirations of her own outside of what others may want from her.

I enjoyed A Lady Without a Lord but found it a challenge to get excited for Theo and Harry’s love affair. Passions are kept at a cool or warm level throughout their courtship and I found myself missing some of the sparks – either real or manufactured through events – that ignite a romantic relationship. Since I liked both characters I have to put some of this dispassion at the door of Ms. Bennet’s style of writing. Things are described well and events flow smoothly, but there’s an almost clinical approach to how things unfold. The skewed focus is almost like the author wants to show readers just how much research she did on conditions such as dementia, and I dislike feeling like I’m being schooled while I’m being entertained. But with that said, my curiosity about the next couple to be featured in The Penningtons series and a hope of seeing more of Theo and Harry’s HEA motivates me to give this author another try.

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.

The Duke’s Secret Heir by Sarah Mallory

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“This, madam, changes everything.”

Years ago, in the Egyptian desert, Ellen Tatham fell wildly in love and exchanged vows with Max Colnebrooke. But, when made to believe Max could not be trusted, she fled…

Now, Max is back in England to take up the reins as Duke of Rossenhall. And when he spies Ellen at a ball, the sparks are hard to contain! Little does Max know, though, that Ellen has a secret… And soon, he must learn to embrace an unexpected heir, and an unexpected—and disconcertingly defiant—duchess!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, January 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Sarah Mallory merges two romantic tropes together surprisingly well in her latest release, The Duke’s Secret Heir. A big misunderstanding separates our main characters for a time and their secret baby plays a major role in their strained reconciliation. What could have been a frustrating read becomes quite interesting as we see how a couple can overcome such difficulties to form a lasting relationship.

During a warm summer in Egypt, Miss Ellen Tatham and Major Max Colnebrooke fell in love. It was an instant attraction and a whirlwind courtship but Max and Ellen knew that it was meant to be and said their “I Do’s” in front of the army chaplain before consummating their marriage. Unfortunately the instability in the region pushes Max to arrange passage for his new wife and her companion back to England with another officer. Those plans unexpectedly change when Ellen is separated from the English forces and they are rescued from Egypt by a French diplomat who uses his connections to get her back home. The lines of communication between Max and Ellen are further complicated when she writes to the Home Office to locate her new husband and is told there is no record of a Major Colnebrooke stationed in Egypt. Fearing that she had fallen prey to a scoundrel and was now ruined for another, Ellen retreats back to her home and hopes her family will help her start over.

In the four intervening years Max and Ellen have become very different people from who they were in Egypt. Upon discovering that his wife had left the country with a Frenchman, Max threw himself into his command and led several successful charges on the French forces where he lost some good soldiers. His guilt over their deaths, compounded with his anger at Ellen’s betrayal led Max to ignore many of his responsibilities back in England including a dukedom he inherited from his older brother. Ellen’s life was thrown into turmoil once she realized she was carrying Max’s child and there was no way of finding the man she had married. With the support of her step-mother, Ellen built a life for herself in High Harrogate as an unassuming widow raising her son alone. The friendships she makes give her some comfort but everything in her life now revolves around her son James’ wellbeing.

Max slowly embraces his role as Duke of Rossenhall while keeping close ties with the men he served with and it’s the news of a friend’s illness that brings him to Harrogate. Hoping to make his friend’s last days as enjoyable as possible Max allows himself to be shown off to the local gentry and accepts an invitation to a ball held in town. It is there that his past and his present collide when his friend’s wife introduces him to her own good friend Mrs. Ellen Furnell. Furious at discovering his wife has been in England since their separation, Max barely controls himself enough to confirm to her that they are indeed married to each other and a divorce will be imminent. Ellen is brokenhearted to learn that her marriage was in fact legitimate but that her estranged husband has no love left in his heart for what they once were to each other. It’s only Max’s chance meeting with his son Jamie that stays his hand enough for them to discuss what might come next.

Reading The Duke’s Secret Heir was challenging because I found it difficult to like Max. He comes across as quite charming in Ellen’s memories of their time together in Egypt but from almost his first moments on the page he seems arrogant and unnecessarily cruel. When Ellen tries to explain what had happened during their escape Max hears her words but doesn’t listen to what she is saying. His attitude has been tainted by years of holding Ellen responsible for his own recklessness while leading his men into danger just to forget her. Somewhere in his mind Max realizes that blaming her for his own actions is wrong; however it was always easier to blame someone not involved rather than facing his own culpability.

I liked Ellen’s characterization and her willingness to accept her own mistakes that led to the years of separation. It’s much easier to understand why Ellen made the choices she did to hide herself and protect Jamie. I also loved how determined she is to become the duchess Max needs her to be despite his distrust towards her and how he fails to support her in those attempts. I never felt Ellen was a doormat kind of heroine but at some point I wished she would get angry right back at Max to perhaps snap him from his self-indulgent moping. For the most part she comes across as a caring, thoughtful woman who has learned her lessons and become much better for the experience.

Overall I liked The Duke’s Secret Heir enough to recommend it. The story moves quickly to get a reader past all the anger and sadness Max and Ellen feel at their reunion to let the second chance romance shine through.

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

wild-wicked-scot

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN Books, December 2016

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIRTUAL TOUR: Lord Sebastian’s Secret (The Duke’s Sons #3) by Jane Ashford

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Proud. Cunning. Battle-hardened. Lord Sebastian Gresham is the epitome of military might and excellence. He’s wealthy. The son of a Duke. There’s just one problem: he can’t read. It’s those damned words. He doesn’t see them in the same way everyone else does. It’s a secret he’ll never tell, certainly not to his new bride-to-be.

Brilliant. Witty. Beautiful. Lady Georgina Stane has always known she’d make the perfect bride, that is, if her eccentric family didn’t scare off every potential suitor from London to Bath. After carefully orchestrating a London season with her parents out of the picture, she secured an engagement to an impeccable gentleman. And when Lord Sebastian arrives at her family’s estate to meet her parents, she’s not about to let their antics ruin her perfect marriage.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Cicely

Can love survive secrets? Lord Sebastian Gresham is madly in love with Lady Georgina Stane and she with him; however, they both harbor secrets.

Georgina’s secret comes to light the moment Sebastian steps foot in her family home. Georgina fears it will affect Sebastian enough for him to call off the wedding, and it soon appears her fears may be well founded.

Sebastian is terribly ashamed of his secret. So ashamed his family isn’t aware of it, and it’s something only his trusted valet knows. It’s a secret he prays his beloved will never uncover, for if she does he worries she will no longer love him. When Sebastian’s secret comes to light will it cement the love between them or break them apart?

A pack of pugs, an eccentric family (and that’s putting it mildly), mischievous sisters, and a loon governess provide added stress to the lovebirds while entertaining the reader.

Lord Sebastian’s Secret is the third in Jane Ashford’s series The Duke’s Sons. Ms. Ashford writes a sweet tale of love no matter the circumstances, and her writing style pulled me into feeling each character’s fears. She had me laughing at the antics of Georgina’s family, holding my breath in anticipation of Georgina’s reaction when she learns Sebastian’s secret and weeping when Georgina learns what it is and the way she handles it.

This is the first book I have read of Ms. Ashford’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her mention of Sebastian’s family, their suspicions of his difficulty and the way they handle it has me wanting to go back and read the rest of the series.

EXCERPT

Sebastian closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could all too easily picture the astonishing news that he had eloped running through his family—the letters flying back and forth, the disbelief and consternation. The surreptitious brotherly smirking. An image of his mother’s astonished face made him wince.

“Some people think I don’t care about convention,” muttered the marquess. “Not true. And this was too much. An elopement!”

“Except that it wasn’t, Papa,” Georgina pointed out. “It was an unfortunate accident. I think you might have had more faith in my character.”

Frowning at the floor, the older man said something too softly to be heard. Sebastian thought it might have been,

“It wasn’t you I was worried about.”

“The duchess is sending your brother,” said Georgina’s mother. She tried to speak blandly, but Sebastian got a clear sense of a woman getting the better of an argument at last.

The marquess glared at the group with a mixture of defiance and contrition.

“Which brother?” Sebastian asked.

“Randolph,” supplied his hostess.

Sebastian groaned softly. If anything could have killed his appetite at this point, the news that a brother had been dispatched to sort him out would have done it. He supposed this was his mother’s idea of just retribution for what she probably characterized as “antics.” She would have known that he would never elope.

If she’d had to send a brother, she could’ve drafted Robert. He’d have made a joke of the whole matter and charmed everyone so thoroughly that they saw it the same way. Alan or James might have refused to be embroiled in such a tangle at all. Nathaniel was still on his honeymoon. Mama couldn’t order him and Violet about quite so easily, anyway.

Randolph, though. Sebastian nearly groaned again. Randolph was usually glad for an excuse to take a few days’ leave from his far-northern parish. And he positively delighted in helping. Sebastian supposed that was why he’d become a parson. Part of the reason. He’d also been asking “why” since he could speak. According to family legend, that had been the first word Randolph learned. Sebastian certainly remembered being followed about by a relentlessly inquisitive toddler.

Nathaniel, a responsible six-year-old, had become so tired of saying he didn’t know that he’d taken to making things up. Sebastian still sometimes had to remind himself that discarded snakeskins were products of reptilian growth rather than intense surprise. Sebastian smiled. Randolph had spent several months trying to startle snakes out of their skin after that tale.

Then Sebastian’s smile died, and he put down his last sandwich. Randolph would revel in Mr. Mitra and the marquess’s lectures on reincarnation. There would be no end to his questions, or to the incomprehensible discussions after the ladies had left the dinner table. Sebastian only just resisted putting his head in his hands.

Georgina was looking at him, though, her expression anxious. He tried a reassuring smile. From her response, he judged that it was only marginally effective. He bolstered it, vowing to deal with Randolph. He would face anything to save her distress.

Georgina stood, holding her still half-full plate to her chest. “I believe I’ll go to my room now,” she said. “I’m quite tired.”

Her father looked guilty, her mother approving. Sebastian wondered at the determination on her face. It seemed excessive for a walk up a few steps. Was her leg hurting? One look at her father told him he would not be allowed to assist her to a bed.

Night had deepened by the time Georgina managed to hunt down Hilda and corner her in a little-used reception room, where she’d apparently been holed up for a good while, judging from the cake crumbs. Georgina stationed herself between her youngest sister and the door and confronted her with hands on hips. “Have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

For a moment, it seemed that Hilda might deny everything, but then she slumped back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “I only meant to leave you overnight, but everything went wrong from the very first. Whitefoot didn’t like being led. He jerked the rein right out of my hand and ran away. I had to take your Sylph to the Evans farm before I could chase after him. It took hours before I got him there as well.” She paused and looked indignant. “Emma abandoned me! She turned tail and rode home. And she’s been practically hiding in her bedchamber ever since.”

“Perhaps she feels a sense of remorse for having done something absolutely outrageous,” Georgina suggested.

Hilda wrinkled her nose. “Well, we came back first thing the next morning to get you.”

“That does not excuse…”

“And you were gone!” Hilda actually dared to look reproachful. “As if you’d vanished into thin air.”

“Thick mud, more like,” said Georgina.

“If you had just waited, or only walked a little way along the trail, we would have found you. And there wouldn’t have been such a very great fuss. Why didn’t you? How could you be so clumsy as to fall into a gully?” Hilda cocked her head. “I never even knew it was there.”

“Don’t even dream of blaming this on me!” Georgina gazed at her sister. They were alike in coloring and frame, but apparently their minds ran on entirely different paths.

GIVEAWAY

There are TEN (10) copies of the first book in The Duke’s Sons series – Heir to the Duke up for grabs – enter the giveaway at Rafflecopter!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jane-ashford_-author-photoJANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

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