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Catching Captain Nash (Dashing Widows #6) by Anna Campbell


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Home is the sailor, home from the sea…
Five years after he’s lost off the coast of South America, presumed dead, Captain Robert Nash escapes cruel captivity, and returns to London and the bride he loves, but barely knows. When he stumbles back into the family home, he’s appalled to find himself gate-crashing the party celebrating his wife’s engagement to another man.

No red-blooded naval officer takes a challenge like this lying down; but five years is a long time, and beautiful, passionate Morwenna has clearly found a life without him. Can he win back the wife who gave him a reason to survive his ordeal? Or will the woman who haunts his every thought remain eternally out of reach?

Love lost and found? Or love lost forever?
Since hearing of her beloved husband’s death, Morwenna Nash has been mired in grief. After five grim years without him, she must summon every ounce of courage and determination to become a Dashing Widow and rejoin the social whirl. But she owes it to her young daughter to break free of old sorrow and find a new purpose in life, even if that means accepting a loveless marriage.

It’s like a miracle when Robert returns from the grave, and despite the awkward circumstances of his arrival, she’s overjoyed that her husband has come back to her at last. But after years of suffering, he’s not the handsome, laughing charmer she remembers. Instead he’s a grim shadow of his former dashing self. He can’t hide how much he still wants her—but does passion equal love?

Can Morwenna and Robert bridge the chasm of absence, suffering and mistrust, and find the way back to each other?

Publisher and Release Date: Anna Campbell, June 2017

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

Review by Sara

Throughout Anna Campbell’s Dashing Widows series readers have seen love come in many forms. Friends become lovers, two people get a second chance at a relationship and an unlikely pair find they have much in common. Catching Captain Nash is a reunion between a man thought forever lost and the woman who mourned the loss of her true love. Their romance tugs at a different set of heartstrings and is an emotional way to end an enjoyable series of books.

Morwenna Nash was married at a young age to the man of her dreams. The dashing, handsome Captain Robert Nash made her laugh and was her perfect match for the months they were together before he shipped out with his crew to South America. When the news came that her husband had been lost along with his crew, Morwenna was devastated. She had just learned that she was pregnant with Robert’s child, and days later she was a widow mourning the loss of her husband as well as the future they’d planned together.

After five years, the pain of losing Robert hasn’t quite gone away but with the encouragement of his family Morwenna decides to marry again in order to provide her daughter Kerenza with a father-figure. Reluctantly pushed into a Season in London, Morwenna has seen her two closest friends find love again and she begins a courtship with the amiable Lord Garson. Their relationship has none of the passion that Morwenna shared with Robert, but Lord Garson is a nice enough man who loves her and is good to Kerenza. Moments away from pledging her life to a new husband Morwenna is shocked when the ceremony is interrupted by Robert Nash, returned from the dead and furious to see his wife marrying another.

Robert’s return to England is a miracle but Morwenna can see right away that the man who has come back to her isn’t quite the same Robert Nash who left five years before. This new Robert is withdrawn, edgy and seems a shell of the vibrant man she fell in love with. Their first night together is an awkward evening full of stilted conversations that provide Morwenna with little information about where her husband has been or what he endured to come back to her. The physical connection she and Robert shared flares to life; however it’s a test of Morwenna’s love and patience to find her husband within the wounded soul who is now virtually a stranger to her.

Catching Captain Nash is unusual for a romance novella in that all of the light, warm emotions of a love newly discovered are absent. Instead readers experience the heavier, deeper sense of an enduring love that can motivate people into doing incredible things. Morwenna has held her memories of Robert close to her heart for the five years she thought him dead and has used that love to give her the strength to raise her daughter alone. She has refused to open herself up to another man and is uncertain about her remarriage right up until the moment that Robert reappears. As he slowly opens up to her and Morwenna sees that there’s a future again for them it gives her hope, which she’d all but abandoned years before.

Robert’s love for Morwenna is what kept him sane during his imprisonment and torture at the hands of pirates. When Robert comes back to England a small part of him is ready to slip back into the life that he’d left five years earlier; however he’s quick to discover that life has continued without him and he’s no longer the Captain Nash everyone around him remembers. There are no resources for someone with PTSD so Robert has to find ways to heal himself and rediscover where he fits in Morwenna’s life. His surprise at learning he’s a father motivates Robert to push through the difficult memories and reconnect with his wife. He too begins to hope that he’ll once again be the kind of man that Morwenna can love despite his physical and emotional scars. As they move closer towards a full reconciliation it’s incredibly moving to watch Robert crawl out of the darkness towards Morwenna’s light.

Unfortunately, all of the emotional breakthroughs that Morwenna and Robert experience seem dictated less by how things unfold in the story and more by the author’s design.  As I was reading, I was completely engaged with the characters and happy for their reunion but once I was finished with the novella I felt like I had been manipulated to feel that way.  Once I separated the romance from the rest of the story I saw that there’s nothing else there.  No real plot and no growth for either character, except for Robert’s amazing ability to manage his PTSD in record time.  The story’s flow is character-driven only in that we finally see a happy ending for the last Dashing Widow but that’s about all we get.  The novella’s short length is the most likely culprit as to why a skilled author like Ms. Campbell would resort to telling over showing but it was definitely noticeable.  Catching Captain Nash may not be the strongest story within the Dashing Widows series but it is still one that I can recommend.

Too Scot to Handle (Windham Brides #2) by Grace Burrowes

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Colin MacHugh, a former officer in Wellington’s army, is thrust into polite society when his brother inherits a Scottish dukedom, though Colin dreads mingling in candlelit ballrooms while matchmakers take aim at his fortune and his freedom. He’s also not very fond of the drink-gamble-swive-repeat lifestyle of his new gentlemen friends. So when offered the opportunity to join the board of directors at the local orphanage, he jumps at the chance to put his business acumen to use. And to spend more time with the alluring Anwen Windham . . .

Anwen is devoted to helping the orphanage regain its financial footing. And she’s amazed at the ease in which Colin gains the respect of the former pickpockets and thieves at the House of Urchins. But when a noble gentleman who wants Anwen for himself accuses Colin of embezzling funds, everything is on the line – the safety of the young boys in their charge, their love for each other . . . and even Colin’s very life.

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, July 2017

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

Review by Em

Most romance readers know what it means to ‘glom’ an author (no, I don’t know the origin).  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, ‘glomming’ is what you do when you feel a connection to a book and promptly read everything else in the author’s back catalog – preferably as quick as you can.  I’ve glommed many authors – including Grace Burrowes – and after reading The Heir (which I loved and still remains a favorite) I proceeded to swiftly glom everything else she’d written up to that point.  The downside to glomming an author with a large back catalog?  Sometimes you become too familiar with the author and the books begin to sound the same.  Can you see where this is going?

Ms. Burrowes is obviously fond of the Windham family.  Family members make appearances in many of her books, which is totally fine… unless you aren’t quite as fond of them as she is.  (Me).  I stopped reading her books after suffering Windham burnout.  I still liked her writing, the stories and the characters very much – but I needed a break.  Too Scot to Handle was meant to be the end of my self-imposed exile.  I hoped the focus on the Duke and Duchess of Moreland’s nieces would lessen their (often overwhelming) presence in these stories.  To my dismay, the duke and duchess are ever present, ever omniscient, and ever deeply involved in the resolution of the major story conflict.  Let me be clear:  I like the Windham family.  But their presence is invariably one note: either you’re with them and therefore a good person, or you aren’t, and you’re bad.  This ‘rule’ proves true here as well and whether you simply like or love this book follows a similar pattern.  If you like the Windhams, you’ll like this book, and if you don’t… it’s still good, but slightly less enjoyable.

Lord Colin MacHugh is a former army captain with a reputation for strong leadership, intelligence, and an ability to maintain an icy, cool composure in the face of adversity.  When we catch up with him he’s engaged in a battle of a much different kind.  Older brother Hamish is the new Duke of Murdoch, and his inheritance means the newly minted “Lord Colin” must also take his place in society.  Hamish and his new wife Megan Windham (The Trouble with Dukes), are away on honeymoon so Colin is forced to brave his first London Season as escort to his two younger sisters.  With the help of another former officer, Winthrop Montague, he’s struggling to adhere to a baffling set of unspoken rules regarding proper gentleman’s etiquette, trying to avoid marriage minded mamas and their vapid daughters, all the while keeping his eye on his sisters.  He hopes to decamp for Scotland as soon as he possibly can – but for now, he remains in London – bored, frustrated and eager for the Season to come to a close.

Anwen Windham is frustrated, fed up and tired.  She’s visiting the Home for Wayward Urchins, a charity she supports and loves, and after yet another Board meeting in which fellow board members have failed to appear, she’s enduring the headmaster’s condescension as he explains the precariousness of their financial position and likelihood of the Home closing in the near future.  Anwen, well aware the home requires benefactors and money to stay afloat knows Mr. Hitchings can’t solve her problem – a lack of money to take care of her orphan boys – so she makes her exit, and runs smack into Colin MacHugh.

Colin recognizes Anwen is upset and tries to defuse her anger with humor but she doesn’t appreciate his attempts to minimize her feelings.  She’s prickly, he’s relentlessly charming; Anwen likes Colin and his interest in her charity – and as it turns out, the timing of their meeting is fortuitous.  Anwen needs advice, Colin needs a charitable endeavor of his own and he has ideas and suggestions that can help, and their common cause presents an opportunity to spend more time together.  Anwen is delighted and charmed when Colin listens to her thoughts and opinions and acts on them; Colin is impressed with Anwen’s dedication to the orphan boys and her passionate nature.  It’s simply a matter of time before a friendly partnership evolves into a romantic affection and Ms. Burrowes doesn’t belabor their courtship with false starts or misunderstandings.  Colin falls for Anwen, Anwen falls for Colin, and before long they’re sneaking away for kisses, rainbows (I can’t.  I’m sorry.  You’ll have to read it to understand it. I cringed each time I read it.) and more whenever they can sneak away.

But it’s not all romantic interludes and rainbows once Colin and Anwen pledge themselves to each other and the charity (despite the Duchess of Moreland’s involvement).  Winthrop Montague – after a prank that goes awry – sours on Colin and decides Anwen would make a good wife for him.  Ms. Burrowes does a nice job contrasting the lecherous, irresponsible, spendthrift Winthrop (and his sister Rosalyn) with Colin and Anwen; I wish we got to spend more time with these two despicable secondary characters.  Montague’s machinations are petty and potentially life threatening for Colin, but with the help of the Windham family (sigh) – and the orphan boys so beloved by Anwen – good (the Windham way!) eventually triumphs over evil.

I liked the principals in Too Scot to Handle (minor quibble: this title doesn’t make any sense), but I wasn’t as fond of the evolution of their relationship.  Instalust is a tricky trope – especially in historical romance – and I’m not sure Ms. Burrowes quite balances the development of the relationship with the central conflict.  They’re a sweet couple, the orphans are a nice cause to rally ‘round – but this is a slow paced, low angst affair and at times it drags.   Though the writing is strong – and I particularly enjoyed the conversations between Colin and Anwen, and the bizarrely conceited PoVs of the Montague siblings (they’re delightfully snobby and awful) – Ms. Burrowes sacrifices the development of these juicy characters in order to (unnecessarily) incorporate more familiar Windhams.  The book flits between romance, intrigue, and chummy scenes of sisterhood and ‘buck up’ conversations with the duke and duchess, but it lacks depth.  Oh, Ms. Burrowes.  I like your writing, your romantic pairings and your “bad” guys!  Stop taking the easy way out.  Give your principals a chance to solve their own problems or introduce new characters/friends – REALLY ANYONE – other than the Windhams for help.

Too Scot to Handle is another enjoyable, if slightly dull, addition to Ms. Burrowes catalog.  Fans of her earlier books will find familiar characters in abundance, though newer audiences might find themselves scratching their heads wondering how these folks know so much about each other so quickly.  Regardless of your start point, Too Scot to Handle is a nice mix of historical romance comfort food – satisfying, romantic and uplifting.

 

Duke With Benefits (Studies in Scandal #2) by Manda Collins

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LADY + DUKE = TRUE LOVE?

Lady Daphne Forsyth is a brilliant mathematician with a burning passion for puzzles. When she learns that the library belonging to her benefactress houses the legendary Cameron Cipher—an encrypted message that, once solved, holds the key to great riches—Daphne is on the case. Unfortunately, her race to unlock the cipher’s code is continually thwarted by a deliciously handsome distraction she hadn’t counted on. . .and cannot resist.

Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, is curious as to why Daphne is spending so much time snooping around his aunt’s bookshelves. He’s even more intrigued by her bold yet calculating manner: She is unapologetic about her secret quest. . .and the fiery attraction that develops between them both. But how can they concentrate on solving a perplexing enigma once the prospect of true love enters the equation?

Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, June 2017

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

Review by Sara

Manda Collins’ Studies in Scandal series focuses on four young women brought together as co-heiresses to an eccentric bluestocking’s estate. Lady Celeste Beauchamp never met the ladies before she died but had handpicked them for their achievements in academic fields normally dominated by men. It’s an interesting premise for a series and one that worked well in the first book Ready, Set, Rogue – one of my favorites so far this year – but may have already run its course by this second story. I wanted to be wowed by Duke with Benefits and instead feel a little underwhelmed.

Lady Daphne Forsyth is a mathematical genius with a special gift for cracking codes and seeing patterns in the simplest of tasks. Being named as one of Lady Celeste’s heirs was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, because the terms of the will requiring Daphne to reside at Beauchamp House for a year has given her the chance to escape her father’s house and his schemes to use her talents to cheat at cards. Living alongside three other women has been a learning curve for Daphne as her way with numbers doesn’t necessarily translate into a way with words. Her direct manner of speaking has managed to shock and confuse her roommates on more than one occasion and remembering to filter her responses is something she’s yet to master. The only resident of the house who accepts Daphne’s pointed approach to things is Lord Dalton Beauchamp, Duke of Maitland.

Dalton originally came to Beauchamp House at the request of his cousin the Marquess of Kerr when the man believed all the spinsters-turned-heiresses had somehow manipulated Lady Celeste (their aunt) to name them in the will. While Kerr was more aggressive in challenging the women’s claim on Beauchamp House (and managed to fall in love with his main adversary), Dalton felt that getting to know them was the better way to understand why they had been chosen. He is very quickly drawn to the beautiful Lady Daphne and is more amused than offended by her plain way of stating things. That amusement quickly changes to shock when Daphne approaches Dalton to discuss her attraction to him and suggests that they embark on a sexual relationship with each other. Unwilling to take advantage of Daphne, Dalton takes a step back from his flirtations but still wants to have Daphne in his life. Remaining at Beauchamp House gives him the chance to convince the fiercely independent woman that their mutual feelings are worth more than just a fling.

Feeling rejected by Dalton, Daphne throws herself into solving a mystery left for her by Lady Celeste in a letter only delivered when Daphne arrived at Beauchamp House. The Cameron Cipher was a puzzle left by a Scottish lord who supposedly hid a fortune in gold intended for the Jacobite cause. For decades, fortune hunters and fame seekers have looked for clues or evidence that the cipher and the treasure were real, most with no success. Daphne grew up hoping that she would be the one to find the cipher and decrypt it, not for the money but for the idea that a woman could solve the unsolvable. When a man from Daphne’s past shows up at Beauchamp House sniffing for clues about the Cameron Cipher she gets a little suspicious; however when he ends up dead in the library Daphne realizes she’s closer to finding the treasure than anyone before her.

Duke with Benefits is a fairly good story that uses the mystery of the Cameron Cipher to pull Dalton and Daphne together as a team. Lady Celeste’s clues about the document’s whereabouts are written as riddles that encourage Daphne to keep up the hunt but also force her to seek help in the task. It’s a difficult road for Daphne because she’s been forced through experience to depend on no one but herself, and it takes Dalton’s patience to show her that assistance doesn’t always come at a price. Their partnership works well as she’s the analytical one and he’s the people pleaser; where Daphne sees the patterns within the riddles and understands Lady Celeste’s thinking, Dalton is charming and knows how to get past a servant’s cool demeanor or a protective daughter’s defenses so they unwittingly help in the search for the cipher. Another reviewer likened the pair to the main characters of the TV series Bones and it’s an apt description. The duo can bounce ideas of each other, get annoyed and even find happiness in solving a difficult task and they’re always a team.

So why the low rating? Unfortunately it comes down to my feelings for both main characters. Daphne is somewhat dispassionate in her relationship with Dalton. She’s attracted to him and eventually realizes that she loves the man; however she remains aloof and marginalizes what Dalton might be feeling about her. Dalton’s motivations and feelings for Daphne are pretty straightforward but there’s very little depth to him. He tries to be a perfect gentleman and a protector of women so as to distance himself from his father’s reputation as a womanizer and that’s what defines his character. Most of Dalton’s scenes in the book are reacting to something Daphne says or does and he doesn’t carry many scenes on his own. In a romance I need the character’s emotions or their personal journey to move the story along but in the case of this book, it’s the mystery keeping them motivated, not their relationship.

My disappointment in Duke with Benefits isn’t enough for me to give up on the series but I may be more guarded with my expectations for the next book. Readers who appreciate a more plot-driven story over a romantic character based one should find a lot to enjoy and may be more forgiving in their rating.

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.