Archives

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

VT-LawrenceBrowneAffair-CSebastian_FINAL

Purchase Links: AMAZON * ~ * B & N * ~ * GOOGLE * ~ * ITUNES * ~ *KOBO

An earl hiding from his future . . . 

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least, that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.

A swindler haunted by his past . . . 

Georgie Turner has made his life pretending to be anyone but himself. A swindler and con man, he can slip into an identity faster than he can change clothes. But when his long-dead conscience resurrects and a dangerous associate is out for blood, Georgie escapes to the wilds of Cornwall. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl.

Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives? 

Challenging each other at every turn, the two men soon give into the desire that threatens to overwhelm them. But with one man convinced he is at the very brink of madness and the other hiding his real identity, only true love can make this an affair to remember.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, February 2017
Time and Setting: London and Cornwall, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lawrence Browne Affair CoverCat Sebastian’s wonderful début historical romance, The Soldier’s Scoundrel, in which former thief-turned-valet-turned-private investigator, Jack Turner, was called upon to investigate a nasty case of blackmail and found love along the way in the unlikely form of Oliver Rivington, younger son of an earl  – was one of my favourite books of 2016.  Historical romance as it should be done, the book has a sharp eye for period detail and some degree of social comment as well as strong characterisation and, of course, a beautifully written romance between two characters that hold the readers’ attention and, in this case, gained my affection, too.

Naturally, I’ve eagerly been looking forward to Ms. Sebastian’s next novel and hoping for more of the same – and I’m pleased to report that she doesn’t disappoint.  While The Lawrence Browne Affair doesn’t quite top the appeal of the previous book, it’s nonetheless a superbly written story which addresses some difficult themes while showing, at its heart, that everyone needs love, acceptance and understanding, even though it’s sometimes difficult to believe one is deserving of it.

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is plagued by a family history of madness.  He lives alone in his dilapidated castle in the wilds of Cornwall, where he devotes his life and entire focus to scientific pursuits, and, at the moment, is working on a method of conveying messages through a complicated system of wires; what we might today call a primitive method of telegraphy.  His experiments have resulted in explosions, fires and other mayhem, and as a result of that, and the rumours that he is unhinged, the locals give him a wide berth.  Lawrence also thinks that the fact that he is attracted to men is yet more proof of his affliction and he fully expects that the madness that claimed his father and brother will eventually do for him, too.  He has given up on ever living a normal life; he doesn’t bother about his appearance, hardly remembers to eat and doesn’t care about his home or estate – and the only person with whom he has any regular interaction or something approaching friendship is the local vicar, the Reverend Halliday.  He genuinely cares for Lawrence, and when he hears rumours that Lawrence’s family may be taking steps to have him legally declared incompetent and locked up, he writes to his old school friend, Oliver Rivington, to ask him to find the earl a secretary, someone who can vouch for him if his sanity is ever called into question – and because Lawrence badly needs a secretary.

The vicar’s request arrives at an opportune time for Georgie Turner, thief, swindler and con-artist extraordinare who is also Jack Turner’s younger brother.  His latest scam has gone badly awry, with the result that the local crime lord is out for revenge – so when Jack asks him to go to Cornwall to see what he can find out about the Mad Earl, Georgie is only too pleased to get out of London.  He’s not really qualified to be a secretary, but he needs to get away from town to think things through and besides, Radnor might prove an easy mark.  Once a con-man, always a con-man…

Arrived at the crumbling Penkellis Castle, Georgie is utterly horrified at the state of both the earl and his home, unable to believe that a gentleman would want to live in such a mess and be so careless of his wardrobe and personal hygene.  Nonetheless, he sets to work straight away, starting to organise Lawrence’s letters and papers even though the earl, who is resistant to any kind of change, tries to get him to leave by behaving aggressively and unpleasantly.  But Georgie has quickly realised that while Lawrence is different, surly and quite brilliant, he is not insane; and also discovers that he actually enjoys his secretarial duties and is very good at them.  Once Lawrence accepts Georgie’s presence, the pair strikes up a comfortable working relationship that soon grows into a genuine friendship.  There’s also a strong undercurrent of mutual attraction, but Lawrence believes his madness means he cannot have a relationship with anyone, and in any case, he refuses to allow himself to be attracted to a man.  Georgie realises that Lawrence struggles to accept change and the reader will recognise that what Lawrence sees as episodes of madness are in fact, intense panic attacks whenever he is confronted with the prospect of something that doesn’t fit into his established patterns.  Cleverly, Georgie begins to make small, subtle changes to Lawrence’s daily life in order to make things easier for him, but he never attempts to change the man himself.  Sure, he needs a shave, haircut, new clothes, servants and a stable, ordered environment, but most of all, he needs to recognise that he is not mad and to see that he is entitled to love and be loved.

There are a couple of intriguing secondary plotlines in the book running alongside the romance, but this is essentially the story of two people who have to make a major re-evaluation of their self-perception if they are going to be able to accept love and make a future together.  Georgie has spent most of his twenty-five years cheating and swindling, having done whatever it took to get out of the poverty into which he was born and determined never to go back there.  He’s always compartmentalised his life and likes it that way, but the sudden and unwelcome intrusion of a conscience casts all that to the winds, and he’s left wondering exactly who he is – and whether he will ever be able to go back to his old life.  Or if he even wants to.

The relationship between them is beautifully drawn, and Ms. Sebastian does a terrific job showing their growing understanding of each other.   Lawrence realises that Georgie is trapped by his view of himself as nothing but a worthless thief; Georgie wants to free Lawrence from the restrictions and judgements he has imposed upon himself due to his supposed madness.  Each helps the other to begin to see himself in a different light, and it’s wonderful to watch that happening at the same time as the attraction and affection between them deepens into love.  It’s perhaps true that Lawrence’s turn-around from believing his attraction to men is part of his madness to embarking upon a physical relationship with Georgie happens a little quickly, but that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a very well-developed romance.

The Lawrence Browne Affair is only Cat Sebastian’s second published novel, yet her writing is so accomplished and assured that it’s almost difficult to believe that to be the case.  If you enjoy historical romances with a strong sense of period, fully-rounded, complex characters, a sensual love story and a nice dash of humour, then this book – and its predecessor – is highly recommended.

EXCERPT

Cornwall, 1816

All this fuss about a couple of small explosions. As far as Lawrence cared, the explosions were entirely beside the point. He had finished experimenting with fuses weeks ago. More importantly, this was his house to burn to the ground if that’s what he wanted to do with it. Hell, if he blew the godforsaken place up, and himself right along with it, the only person who would even be surprised was the man sitting before him.

“Five servants quit,” Halliday said, tapping Lawrence’s desk in emphasis. Dust puffed up in tiny clouds around the vicar’s fingertips. “Five. And you were woefully understaffed even before then.”

Five fewer servants? So that was why the house had been so pleasantly quiet, why his work had been so blissfully undisturbed.

“There was no danger to the servants. You know I keep them away from my work.” That was something Lawrence insisted on even when he wasn’t exploding things. The very idea of chattering maids underfoot was enough to discompose his mind even further. “And I conducted most of the actual explosions out of doors.” Now was probably not the time to mention that he had blown the roof off the conservatory.

“All I’m suggesting is a sort of secretary.” Halliday was dangerously unaware of how close he was to witnessing an explosion of the metaphorical variety. “Somebody to keep records of what you’ve mixed together and whether it’s likely to”—he puffed his cheeks out and made a strange noise and an expansive gesture that Lawrence took to represent explosion—“ignite.”

The Reverend Arthur Halliday did not know what was good for him. If he did, he would have fled the room as soon as he saw Lawrence reach for the inkwell. Lawrence’s fingers closed around the object, preparing to hurl it at the wall behind the vicar’s head. Sod the man for even suggesting Lawrence didn’t know how to cause an explosion. He hadn’t invented Browne’s Improved Black Powder or even that bloody safety fuse through blind luck, for God’s sake.

“Besides,” Halliday went on, “you said you need an extra set of hands for this new device you’re working on.”

Oh, damn and blast. Lawrence knew he shouldn’t have told the vicar. But he had hoped Halliday might volunteer to help with the device himself, not badger Lawrence into hiring some stranger. The vicar was convenient enough, and when he wasn’t dead set on sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, he wasn’t entirely unpleasant company.

“I’ve had secretaries,” Lawrence said from between gritted teeth. “It ends badly.”

“Well, obviously, but that’s because you go out of your way to terrify them.” Halliday glanced pointedly at the inkwell Lawrence still held.

And there again was Halliday missing the point entirely. Lawrence didn’t need to go out of his way to frighten anyone. All he had to do was simply exist. Everyone with any sense kept a safe distance from the Mad Earl of Radnor, as surely as they stayed away from rabid dogs and coiled asps. And explosive devices, for that matter.
Except for the vicar, who came to Penkellis Castle three times a week. He likely also called on bedridden old ladies and visited the workhouse. Maybe his other charity cases were grateful, but the notion that he was the vicar’s good deed made Lawrence’s fingers curl grimly around the inkwell as he plotted its trajectory through the air.

“I’ll take care of the details,” Halliday was saying. “I’ll write the advertisement and handle the inquiries. A good secretary might even be able to manage the household a bit,” the vicar said with the air of a man warming to his topic, “get it into a fit condition for the child—”

“No.” Lawrence didn’t raise his voice, but he slammed his fist onto the desk, causing ink to splatter all over the blotter and the cuff of his already-inky shirt. A stack of papers slid from the desk onto the floor, leaving a single dustless patch of wood where they had been piled. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a spider scurry out from under the papers.

“True,” Halliday continued, undaunted. “A housekeeper would be more appropriate, but—”

“No.” Lawrence felt the already fraying edges of his composure unraveling fast. “Simon is not coming here.”

“You can’t keep him off forever, you know, now that he’s back in England. It’s his home, and he’ll own it one day.”

When Lawrence was safely dead and buried, Simon was welcome to come here and do what he pleased. “I don’t want him here.” Penkellis was no place for a child, madmen were not fit guardians, and nobody knew those facts better than Lawrence himself, who had been raised under precisely those conditions.

Halliday sighed. “Even so, Radnor, you have to do something about this.” He gestured around the room, which Lawrence thought looked much the same as ever. One hardly even noticed the scorch marks unless one knew where to look. “It can’t be safe to live in such a way.”

Safety was not a priority, but even Lawrence wasn’t mad enough to try to explain that to the vicar.

“Villagers won’t even walk past the garden wall anymore. And the stories they invent…” The vicar wrung his hands.

“A secretary. Please. It would ease my mind to know you had someone up here with you.”

A keeper, then. Even worse.

But Lawrence did need another set of hands to work on the communication device. If Halliday wouldn’t help, then Lawrence had no other options. God knew Halliday had been right about the local people not wanting anything to do with him.

“Fine,” he conceded. “You write the advertisement and tell me when to expect the man.” He’d say what he needed to in order to end this tiresome conversation and send the vicar on his way.

It wasn’t as if this secretary would last more than a week or two anyway. Lawrence would see to that.

GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CatCat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

You can connect with Cat at: Website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads

To Tame a Wild Lady (Duke-Defying Daughters #2) by Ashlyn Macnamara

to tame a wild lady

Purchase Now from Amazon

Lady Caroline Wilde is expected to ride sidesaddle, but she’s not about to embrace convention. She’s also expected to keep a chaste distance from men like Adrian Crosby, the new estate agent, yet she cannot cease her ogling—which is especially irksome considering their ongoing feud. Adrian insists that the fields must be planted; Caro needs those same fields to train her horses. But whenever she tries to put him in his place, Caro looks into his steely gaze and her words simply … disappear.

A bastard son who grew up on the Wyvern estate, Adrian was lucky enough to receive an education at the behest of the late marchioness. Now that he has set out on his own, Adrian knows better than to fall for Lady Caroline, the Duke of Sherrington’s daughter. Caroline is at once a thorn in his side and an exquisite temptation, especially when she’s playing the feisty daredevil. Adrian would give anything for a chance to tame her—and with Caro in the saddle, he just might get his wish.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, January 2017

Time and setting:  1822, Suffolk, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Vikki

This second book in Ashlyn Macnamara’s Duke Defying Daughters series, To Tame a Wild Lady is well-written with engaging characters, a great storyline and a fast pace. While there are no explosive, action-packed scenes, I did not miss them. This novel is an excellent example of why I love to read historical romance so much.

Lady Caroline loves riding astride with the wind tossing her curls about her face. Unfortunately, a duke’s daughter is expected to exhibit exemplary decorum, always. Her hoydenish ways get in the way of that much of the time.  The new estate agent is the type of man her father would never want her to acknowledge let alone find attractive, but she disagrees. He’s exactly the kind of man she wants.

Adrian Cosby arrives at Sherrington Hall, ready to take up the management of the duke’s estate. The previous steward was embezzling funds,  and now it’s Adrian’s responsibility to make sure the property becomes solvent again. What he does not count on is the duke’s hoydenish middle daughter trying to circumvent him at every turn.

Can he remember his station and deny his attraction when the lady is determined to capture his attention?

Lady Caroline’s character is charming in a different way. She is not interested in society. She loves her horses and wants to participate in a hunt desperate, which is not done by gently bred ladies during this history time. I loved her fierce determination to accomplish her goal. Her love for her sisters is endearing. I enjoyed her inner-turmoil over her growing feelings for Adrian. Ms. MacNamara writes with just the right amount of emotion, making me fall in love with Lady Caroline, even though, she is not my favorite character arch. Well done!

Who does not love an underdog? Adrian Crosby’s character fits that description perfectly. He is the son of a tenant and has no knowledge of his father. The steward at the Wyvern estate took him under his wing with the blessing of the late marchioness. Now he has a chance to fulfill a dream by taking the position of estate agent to the Duke of Sherrington. He has a problem. He is vastly attracted to the duke’s middle daughter, Lady Caroline, a hoyden to the extreme. I loved the inner-workings of his mind as he tries to push away the desire he feels for the lady. He is my favorite kind of hero, an honorable man.

Ms. MacNamara’s writing flows smoothly, it is descriptive without going too far, and she writes with plenty of heart. I now plan to read the first book in this series – not sure how I missed it. I highly recommend To Tame a Wild Lady to anyone who loves historical romances. This is one for my keeper shelf!

Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal by Virginia Heath

miss bradshaw
Purchase Now from Amazon

She’d done it! Plain, invisible Evelyn had escaped…

Fed up with being a doormat to her evil stepmother, heiress Evelyn Bradshaw pays a dissolute rake to pose as her betrothed so she can secure her freedom. But then her fake fiancé leaves her with his estranged brother Finn Matlock and disappears!

Having withdrawn from the world the last thing Finn needs is the temptation of a woman, especially one like Evie. She has an irritating habit of causing chaos wherever she goes and being in places she shouldn’t…including, as he soon learns, his heart!

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin/Mills and Boon Historical, January 2017

Time and Setting: London and Yorkshire, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

In Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal, Virginia Heath offers an enjoyable re-working of the Cinderella story in which our downtrodden – but determined –  heroine is a fully-rounded character with a nicely fleshed-out backstory who doesn’t need to rely on her Prince not-so Charming in order to effect her escape from her horrible relatives.  Prince –or rather, Lord – Grumpy is, however a rather attractive consequence of that escape, and watching the sparks fly as they gradually and quite plausibly fall in love makes for a lovely, romantic read.

Miss Evelyn Bradshaw is twenty-six, plump, frumpy and firmly on the shelf.  Having spent the best part of the last decade nursing first her mother, and then her father when he fell ill some years later, she feels that youth has passed her by and that love and marriage are no longer things to which she can aspire.  Her father’s remarriage to a selfish money-grabber with two equally unpleasant daughters saw Evelyn – Evie – constantly belittled and thrust into the background to the extent that even she believes herself to be practically invisible; but his death offers her the prospect of freedom.  Mr. Bradshaw has left his considerable fortune to Evie, and she is finally determined to escape her step-mother’s orbit, leave London for good and make a life for herself somewhere else.  All Evie has to do is scrape up the courage to announce her plans, but even though Hyacinth Bradshaw has not treated Evie well (although she’s stopped short of getting her to clean the grates and scrub the floors!), Evie has never been able to forget her father’s insistence that she treat her stepmother with respect, and has always done whatever it took to ensure a quiet life.

Unable to just come out and tell Hyacinth of her determination to set up her own home, Evie instead offers the sum of five thousand pounds to the handsome but dissolute Fergus Matlock, Marquis of Stanford, if he will pretend to be her fiancé for the next few months.  The Marquis, who is deeply in debt, agrees to the scheme, and Evie is set to travel to his Yorkshire estate on the pretext of preparing for their wedding. In reality, she will look about for a house to purchase and once she has found one, the betrothal will quietly be ended, and Evie will remain in Yorkshire, well away from London and her stepmother’s constant bullying.

Arriving at Stanford Hall a few days later in the company of her elderly aunt, Evie is pleasantly surprised to discover the place in a much better state of repair than she had been led to believe.  Later that night, when Evie can’t sleep, she wanders down to the library, only to come across Fergus, who is supposed to be staying at a local inn in order to observe the proprieties.  But something is not quite right about him and Evie soon discovers why; he’s not Fergus at all, but his identical twin brother Finnegan, and this is Matlock House, not Stanford House.  It’s clear there is no love lost between the brothers, and Finn makes very clear his displeasure at his twin’s presumption in dumping his fiancée at his house, but Evie refuses to be intimidated by his ungracious manner. Nonetheless, she feels she should remove to Stanford House as soon as possible, but true to form as a cad of the first order, Fergus has already left Yorkshire with the advance on the “fee” Evie had given him.  Finn is not surprised – he tells Evie (not for the first time) that his brother is an unreliable wastrel and that she shouldn’t marry him, but this is the new Evie, the Evie that sticks up for herself and doesn’t cower when confronted with the scowling, brusque brother of a marquis, and she insists that she knows perfectly well what Fergus is and that he suits her well enough.

Finn Matlock is a widower of some three years, and since his wife’s death, has buried himself in this corner of Yorkshire, his life consisting of seeing to his estate business and not much else.  He doesn’t socialise, he doesn’t have guests  – until now – and he wants to keep it that way – so the stirrings of attraction he feels towards his brother’s voluptuous fiancée are both unexpected and unwelcome.  Yet very soon, he finds himself admiring her backbone and determination as much as her lush body and, though he’d never admit it, looking forward to breakfast each day, as that’s the only time of day he dares to let himself spend with her.  Every morning, he not-so-subtly baits her, enjoying her completely unfazed responses to his jibes about his brother and his attempts to persuade her not to marry him, her casual manner of taking no notice of his heavy hints about her departure and the way she ignores his regular criticisms of her – admittedly horrible – clothes (a leftover from the days of Hyacinth’s influence over her wardrobe).

This daily ritual becomes important to Evie, too, as she likes the way Finn challenges her and the person she is when she’s with him. She is sure that a handsome, wealthy man like him could have no real interest in an overly plump, aging spinster like her – even if he wasn’t still in love with his late wife – and recognises that falling for him is a terrible idea.  But even as she realises that, she knows it’s too late for caution; the real Finn, the kind, protective man who hides his deep hurt and true nature beneath that outer shell of bad-temper and cynicism has stolen her heart.

Away from London, Evie transforms from the doormat she’s always describing herself as into a more confident, independent young woman who is looking forward to the rest of her life because it will be one she has built on her own terms.  This is one of the things that makes this version of the fairy tale so appealing;  Evie finds the wherewithal to go out and make a life of her own from within and doesn’t need a man to rescue her – although she does, of course find true love along the way.  And for all his outward grumpiness, Finn is perfect for her.  He is determined to fight his ever growing attraction to Evie, but her vitality and her growing self-confidence are so completely enticing that it eventually proves irresistible; so not only is Evie changed by their association, but Finn also comes to accept that the guilt he still feels over his wife’s death is misplaced, and that he is allowed to be happy and move on with his life.

This is – I think – the fourth book of Ms. Heath’s I’ve read and I continue to be impressed by her strong storytelling and thoughtful characterisations.  While Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal undoubtedly treads a well-worn path, the author has managed to keep it fresh by throwing in a number of small, but satisfying twists that add depth and insight to this familiar tale.  She writes with a great deal of warmth and humour, creating the most wonderful chemistry between her principals as well as treating us to some moments of poignancy and emotional truth that quite took my breath away.

If you haven’t yet tried a book by Virginia Heath, then you have a treat in store.  I guarantee that if you read this one, you’ll want to go back to read her others and then, like me, will be eagerly awaiting whatever she comes up with next.

The Harlot and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #3) by Marguerite Kaye

the harlot and the sheikh

Purchase Now from Amazon

A defiant woman… in a desert king’s world!

Inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow – to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced… as Miss Stephanie Darvill!

Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind – she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways…dare she give in to her wildest desires?

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, February 2017

Time and Setting: Arabia 1815
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

If there’s one thing readers can be sure of with a Marguerite Kaye novel it’s superb writing, in-depth and expert research and captivating storytelling. In The Harlot and the Sheikh the third in her Hot Arabian Nights series we meet another of Ms. Kaye’s capable, independently-minded heroines. And even though I’ve never been attracted to ‘sheikh’ stories in general – I adored this one with its delectable but flawed leading-man and a heroine ahead of her time with nothing left to lose but maybe everything to gain if she can only pull off her audacious ploy.

Miss Stephanie Darvill has left home under a cloud after a liaison with an officer in her father’s regiment left her reputation in tatters. Her father has a considerable reputation as a veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars and Stephanie has worked alongside him most of her life and is now almost as knowledgeable as he. Prince Rafiq al-Antarah’s string of valuable blue-blooded race horses are in danger from a mysterious disease which has beset his stud and which thus threatens his bid to win the prestigious Sabr, the famous endurance race that is key to the prosperity and prestige of his people. Some years earlier, Rafiq’s father lost the race in a moment of madness which has had far-reaching consequences not only for Bharym, but for Rafiq personally. Forced to make a decision based on his father’s actions, the prince is now severely troubled and feels that winning the race is the only way to make amends for his own actions.

When Stephanie arrives and declares herself to be at the palace at his invitation Rafiq is astonished and not a little displeased, because he had expected her father to respond to his request for help.  Stephanie persuades him that she is up to the job and as time is short and there is no one else he can call on, Rafiq gives her a contract as his Royal Horse Surgeon. Besides which, he is not a little impressed by her temerity, determination and strength of character not to mention her attractiveness and an ability to speak his language like a native, a fact for which she can thank her Egyptian mother.

These are two of Marguerite Kate’s most compelling characters yet. Stephanie has been badly hurt but is strong and determined to gain her independence, a fact she thinks will help her to rise above her fall from grace and repay the faith her parents’ have placed in her. She is highly intelligent, determined and shows she is no pushover as she fronts up to the prejudices she faces in Rafiq’s stables where a woman’s presence is considered to be unlucky. Rafiq is immediately struck by her uncompromising honesty, not a quality he has experienced much in his dealings with others. Stephanie doesn’t promise to save his beloved horses but she promises to try. Rafiq is utterly honourable as well as being the most deliciously handsome man that she has ever encountered and it isn’t long before the two are exploring their physical attraction to each other, although after her previous experience, Stephanie is naturally wary and anxious not to make this relationship into something it is not.

I loved the way Ms. Kaye developed the romance between Rafiq and Stephanie; the attraction between them simmers from their first meeting and builds slowly and sensually. He winkles out her past – bit-by-bit – and shows her by word and deed that he is not remotely shocked, and gradually helps her to rebuild her sense of her self-esteem by his actions and attentions to her. In turn she teaches him a little about bending his long held views and rules and relaxing the strictures in his everyday life and in his palace. In short, Rafiq begins to see Stephanie as a breath of fresh air and she quickly becomes a necessity in his life.

Marguerite Kaye has a special ability to drop the reader into place and time, the sights, smells, soft sand beneath feet, even the tinkling of water from a fountain – all are an experience one can almost see, smell, feel and hear – it is one aspect of her writing that I have always admired.   The Harlot and the Sheikh boasts a beautifully crafted romance between two captivating characters and a clever, plausible plot which Marguerite Kaye has backed up in her author’s notes showing us her extensive research into many of the areas covered in this story. I highly recommend this novel and after meeting Christopher Fordyce towards the end of novel I am really looking forward to meeting him again when he gets his own story in the last of the series.

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn

a-perilous-undertakingPurchase Now from Amazon

Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution, who stands accused of the brutal murder of his mistress Artemisia. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

add-to-goodreads-button
Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, January 2017
RHR Classifications: Historical Mystery/Adventure with a hint of romance to come
Time and Setting: London, 1888
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Veronica Speedwell returns for her second adventure with Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known to all (except his family) as Stoker. Veronica, who has made a career of sorts of lepidoptery, is the natural daughter of a Very Important Person, as revealed in the first book, A Curious Beginning. Stoker is a viscount’s younger son, who fled his unhappy home as a young man, became a doctor in the Royal Navy, and now has a significant reputation as a naturalist. (He also practices taxidermy, which makes for a couple of fairly gross scenes.)

Veronica and Stoker are true soul mates, minus the romance (mostly). In the first book, Veronica mused,

“I recognized his nature as my own. It was as if we were two castaways from a far-off land, adrift among strangers whose ways we could not entirely understand. But something within us spoke the same language, for all our clashes of words.”

Both are committed non-conformists who disdain the rules of Victorian society. They are witty, highly intelligent, fearless, strong, and loyal, and they have come to trust one another. In a neat role-reversal, however, Veronica is the more plain-spoken, logical one, while Stoker is reticent, more emotional, and more easily embarrassed. Although he agrees to pose nude for a sculptor/suspect, Veronica often shocks him with her forthright attitudes about sex. Their conversations, and frequent arguments, crackle with intelligence and plenty of humor.

Both of these books are mysteries, but the stories are really about Veronica and Stoker and the emerging personal and professional relationships between these brilliant, eccentric people. Don’t get me wrong – the mystery here is quite good and full of palace intrigue, decadent noblemen, bohemian artists, gothic secret societies, and politics.

The characters, however, drive the story. After an inauspicious beginning in the first book, Veronica and Stoker are now fast friends and colleagues. Their patron, Lord Rosemorran, has employed them to catalogue his vast collection of “art, artifacts, natural history specimens, [and] mementos.” They live in separate out-buildings on Rosemorran’s Marylebone estate and work in the Belvedere, “built as a sort of freestanding ballroom and storehouse for an eccentric Rosemorran ancestor.”

Even though they spend their days together, neither Veronica nor Stoker has opened up to the other about their past lives. Each has many secrets, and Raybourn gradually reveals bits and pieces to the reader. Nor have they acknowledged the underlying sexual attraction between them, although there are baby steps in that direction in this book. We yearn to know more, but she gives us enough to satisfy, at least until the next book.

When Veronica insists upon investigating the murder for which Miles Ramforth has been convicted, despite Stoker’s deep reservations, he goes along, mostly out of a sense of protectiveness. I won’t go into the twists and turns in the plot; there are so many and, besides, the book will be more enjoyable not knowing what happens next. I did not figure out the truth on my own, and I caution readers that some characters are hiding a lot more than you think.

Raybourn also populates her book with a roster of characters who are, well, characters. She excels at this, and I am always entertained by the unusual people who surround the main couple. Lord Rosemorran is eccentric, but not nearly as colorful as his elderly visiting aunt, Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk. She is not exactly the dragon aunt often found in historical novels – she’s clearly fond of Veronica and flirts with Stoker – but she is fierce nonetheless. Scotland Yard’s Special Branch is ably led by the secretive Sir Hugo Montgomerie, who finds Veronica infuriating, while the “charmingly ambitious” Inspector Mornaday finds her alluring (and Stoker does not like it). The coterie of artists surrounding Sir Frederick Havelock, the greatest painter of the day, are appropriately unusual. Along with the murder victim, they all live at Havelock House, so Veronica and Stoker have lots of suspects to investigate.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but could not give it five-stars for one simple reason: Veronica is incredibly irritating, even though it isn’t always her fault. I think that Raybourn has overdone it in her effort to show how much of a non-conformist she is. Everyone reacts to her, so we hear too often about her professional achievements, her subtle beauty, and her shocking behavior. This is not a major criticism, and indeed a reader who has not read A Curious Beginning might not notice it. I expect Raybourn was attempting to include sufficient detail for new readers; I simply found it more than sufficient.

That minor quibble aside, this is a delightful book. Deanna Raybourn is an excellent writer has become one of my auto-buy authors. Readers who enjoy mystery with a touch of romance definitely should give this series a try.

Trusting Miss Trentham (Baleful Godmother #3) by Emily Larkin

trusting-miss-trentham

Purchase Now from Amazon

Letitia Trentham is noteworthy for three reasons. One, she’s extremely wealthy. Two, she can distinguish truth from lies. Three, she’s refused every man who’s ever proposed to her.
Until Letty receives a proposal she can’t turn down.

Icarus Reid barely survived the Battle of Vimeiro. He lives for one thing-to find the man who betrayed him to the French. He doesn’t want to marry Miss Trentham; he wants to use her talent for uncovering lies.

Suddenly, Letty finds herself breaking the rules, pretending to be someone she’s not, and doing things a lady would never do. But her hunt for the truth may uncover more than one secret-including the secret that haunts Icarus day and night. The secret he intends to take to his grave…

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, January 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical/Paranormal Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

Emily Larkin is an author I’ve quickly come to admire. The men and women who populate her Baleful Godmother series are allowed to be plain in looks or sometimes broken in spirt but their stories are layered and compelling. In Trusting Miss Trentham the journey for the main characters to find love and redemption is difficult yet the payoff was considerable.

Miss Letitia Trentham knows when someone is lying. It’s an ability she chose on her twenty-first birthday from a fairy required to grant one wish to the female members of her family. Ever since that night Letitia has used her gift to weed out unwanted suitors and for six seasons it’s revealed the bitter truth that all of the men asking for her hand are more interested in her fortune than her heart. After declining yet another proposal Letitia’s night is off to a poor start when she’s approached by a soldier who seems to know about her truth-telling ability and has an unusual request for her: help him find justice for his men who were betrayed by one of their own. Torn between doing the proper thing of dismissing him or helping a man clearly in distress, Letitia takes the chance to use her ability to do something important.

Icarus Reid, recently retired from the King’s army, has one last mission to carry out and he’s willing to use whatever means necessary to discover who betrayed him and his men to the French. When a friend mentions Miss Trentham’s unique ability to sense lies he approaches her, desperate to use that skill while questioning the two most likely suspects. He’s surprised when she agrees to his plan despite the risks it poses to her reputation but Reid won’t allow this chance to find justice for his men slip away. Their first interview with a former soldier clears the man but their second interrogation reveals more suspects but no clearer a picture of who sold out his countrymen.

Dismayed that Reid’s quest could meet a dead end without her assistance Letitia arranges for them to travel together without anyone knowing she’s gone. The man that Reid once was would have immediately baulked at the idea of taking Letitia anywhere unchaperoned; however that person was lost forever on the banks of a river in Portugal. Now, he’s haunted nightly by memories of their senseless deaths and the torture he faced at the hands of French soldiers. Those nightmares make him cry out, alerting Letitia to his suffering. Unwilling to let her companion face another sleepless night Letitia finds a way to care for him that would scandalize her family but is necessary to give Reid some peace.

Their nightly routine allows Reid to rest but each morning after he senses just how much his presence jeopardizes Letitia’s good name. His mind tries to keep her at arm’s length but his heart needs her by his side as he faces the demons that have possessed him for months. Little by little their relationship moves from just a partnership to one that is completely new for Letitia. She loves Reid despite his wounded soul; but how can she plan a future with a man who has given up on living?

Trusting Miss Trentham has some dark undercurrents and can be quite heart-wrenching as readers are pulled deeper into Reid’s despondency. For a man driven by ideals such as duty and honor, his anguish at believing those have been stripped from him is palpable. It takes Letitia’s forceful approach of confronting that pain and looking at it from another angle for him to even begin to crawl out of the darkness. Reid is an interesting mix-up of hero types in a romantic story; he’s alpha-like in his relentless drive and his refusal to confront his feelings but those emotions lie so close to the surface that at other times he’s a beta-like man overwhelmed by how much he does care. His healing process over the course of the story feels realistic for what Reid endured and one can see that there is still a long way to go; however that he trusts Letitia and lets her help him are the most important steps.

I love Letitia for her indomitable spirt and her innocence. Her truth-sense may have protected her but it also put her into a gilded cage that not much could penetrate. Letitia could only let her guard down around people like her cousins who don’t seek to use her for their benefit. Once she agrees to work with Reid it puts her on a path of discovery, where sometimes white lies are necessary and some people have to lie to themselves to protect important personal secrets. A strong facet of Letitia’s character is her unselfishness and drive to help Reid no matter the cost to herself. She makes some mistakes while on that path but her need to see him heal is a mission more important to her than finding Reid’s traitor. Each little concession Reid makes is a major victory in Letitia’s eyes and she comes to love the man uncovered as he lets go of the past.

The magical aspects of Trusting Miss Trentham are kept very low-key so everything hinges on the journey Reid and Letitia take together both in body and mind. Just like the first book of the Baleful Godmother series there are two secondary characters who I am eager to see get their own story told and perhaps get another glimpse of Reid and Letitia’s continuing road towards a happy ending.

Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J Charles

wantedagentleman_tourbanner

Purchase Now from Amazon

By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
***
In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

add-to-goodreads-button

How Many Miles?! – A Guest Post by K.J. Charles

My new book Wanted, A Gentleman, is a Georgian road-trip story. If that gives you visions of galloping freely through the great open roads, like Thelma and Louise with cravats, forget it. We’re in 1805 Britain. You might as well walk.

I’m hardly joking. One of the great irritants in historical or fantasy fiction for the literal-minded pedant such as myself is how easily some journeys fly by. The duke whisks the heroine into his well-sprung carriage on Pall Mall and the next thing you know they’re alone in his gothic estate on the Yorkshire Moors, listening to the mysterious howling of a spectral hound. This is very easily done for modern authors used to getting into a car, sticking on the radio, letting our minds wander and then finding ourselves where we want to be. And, let’s be honest, we’d rather be in the gothic estate, getting our fix of brooding, sexual tension, and running around in a nightie.

Nevertheless, even if you’re going to elide a Regency road trip with a sentence, that sentence probably has to begin, “After several days of an uncomfortable and tiresome journey…” because it was.

In Wanted, a Gentleman, our heroes Martin (reluctant pursuer of an eloping heiress) and Theo (his even more reluctant temporary sidekick) find themselves obliged to embark on a breakneck dash up north to catch the heiress before she and her swain cross the border to Scotland and get married. Martin has access, as they start their journey, to a state-of-the-art travelling chaise (what you might call a “high-speed chaise”, ahahaha) drawn by four horses. They are taking the Great North Road from London, one of the major roads in the country. You know how fast Martin and Theo are going to go, with all the resources wealth can throw at the journey in 1805?

About fourteen miles an hour.

Fourteen.

And 14mph is good. 14mph is what you can do on a good road with four horses, only not for long, because horses are not the same as internal combustion engines. To quote the great Diana Wynne Jones on horses in fantasy:

Horses are … capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  … Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.

Quite. Your actual horses had to be changed every 10-12 miles (that was a ‘stage’, and the stagecoach would stop at each staging post). This meant a stop, a wait for the ostler’s attention, hiring new horses which might well not be particularly good or energetic animals, getting them harnessed, and setting off again, only to repeat the whole procedure 10-12 miles later.

And this would not be comfortable. Coaches used springs and straps as a sort of suspension system but the roads were dreadful, full of ruts and potholes and rocks. Even 10mph would be dangerous, hard to achieve and hellaciously uncomfortable on many stretches of road.

It’s about 320 miles from London to Scotland. If you were on the road for twelve hours a day, in a good chaise and throwing money at the journey in order to go as fast as possible, that would still be a three-day journey of spine-jarring discomfort. Could be worse: in the stagecoach you’d be more likely to average 6mph in no more comfort at all.

On the plus side, this did mean that travellers had to spend an awful lot of time together, crammed onto a small seat, stuck in remote inns where they knew nobody, forced to share rooms in busy posthouses. Obviously that wasn’t much of a plus side for them, but it’s a boon for the historical romance writer. And who knows, Martin and Theo might even end up seeing the advantages…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, January 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

wanted-a-gentleman
This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.

The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.

Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner.  He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.

Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help.  A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.

Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.

This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel.  There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it.  Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:

“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”

“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”

“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”

And Theo gets it.  He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:

“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude.  Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest.  To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”

Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day.  Slavery had been abolished in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of it; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson.  Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.

Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona.  He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.

Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.

My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.

GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS; WINNER WILL BE DRAWN SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kj-magpieKJ Charles is a writer of mostly m/m historical romance, sometimes with fantasy. She has won several Rainbow Awards for her work and twice been voted Best LGBT+ Romance in the All About Romance annual poll. She is published by Loveswept and Samhain.

KJ is also a RITA-winning editor with twenty years’ publishing experience as a commissioning and line editor. She worked primarily in romance and children’s fiction, and is now freelance.

She lives in London with her husband, two kids, a wildly overgrown garden, and a cat with murder-management issues.

Connect with KJ at: www.kjcharleswriter.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Tumblr.

Resisting Miss Merryweather (Baleful Godmother #2) by Emily Larkin

resisting-miss-merryweather

Purchase Now from Amazon

She sees things no one else does…

Sir Barnaby Ware made a mistake two and a half years ago. A massive mistake. The sort of mistake that can never be atoned for.

He knows himself to be irredeemable, but the captivating and unconventional Miss Merryweather is determined to prove him wrong.

The daughter of a dancing master and a noblewoman, Miss Merryweather had an unusual upbringing. She sees things no one else sees—and she says things no one else says.

Sir Barnaby knows he’s the villain in this piece, but Miss Merryweather thinks he’s the hero—and she is damnably hard to resist…

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1807
Genre: Historical Romance (novella)
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With much trepidation, Sir Barnaby Ware is en route to visit his former lifelong best friend, Marcus Langford. A little over two years ago, Barnaby betrayed Marcus in the worst possible way, and immediately deeply regretted what he had done. His attempt at apologizing was angrily rebuffed by Marcus, who was still bitter and hurting from Barnaby’s actions and the resulting devastating effect on his life. Now that some time has passed, and Marcus has found happiness with his new wife and child, he’s ready to forgive and attempt to renew his friendship with the man who was once closer than a brother.

Anne Merryweather is cousin to Marcus’s wife, Charlotte, and she knows the history of the dissolution of Marcus and Barnaby’s friendship. She and Charlotte intend to do what they can to encourage a reconciliation. The problem is that Barnaby is now totally beaten down by the knowledge of what he’d done. When Marcus rebuffed him, he lost all sense of his own self-worth, and, in truth, doesn’t feel he deserves forgiveness, or even any good thing in his life, including love.

Anne possesses a keen intuition, and she can see that Barnaby only wants to leave and leave Marcus in peace . She tries to help Barnaby to accept Marcus’s overtures of friendship and forgiveness while also trying to help him see that he needs to forgive himself, and that one mistake needn’t define his whole life. It’s immediately obvious that Anne and Barnaby have a great rapport and are attracted to each other. Yet, Barnaby won’t take the relationship any further than friendship because he feels unworthy of Anne’s love.

Anne is a terrific heroine. I loved her attitude, her outlook, and her determination. She is also of Charlotte’s family line, and that means that on her upcoming twenty-fifth birthday, she will be gifted with a supernatural power, as dictated by the Fey tradition that has been handed down through the female line.  Barnaby’s remorse and pain are heartbreaking. While he certainly did commit a grievous transgression against his dearest friend, there were other contributing factors.

Although this novella can be read as a standalone, I definitely recommend reading Unmasking Miss Appleby, which is Marcus and Charlotte’s story, and shows the extent of hurt Marcus suffered. Resisting Miss Merryweather is a lovely story of redemption, forgiveness, love, and magic. Emily Larkin has a writing style that I adore, and I wholeheartedly recommend this novella, as well as the previous book.

Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt

duke-of-pleasure

Purchase Now from Amazon.

IN THE ARMS OF DANGER

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley-and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation . . .

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be-before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, November 2016

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

Review by Wendy

It’s difficult to believe that Elizabeth Hoyt has managed to keep interest in this series alive for so long, with readers continuing to eagerly await each new book. And surprisingly – because this has not always been my experience with other long running series – the stories seems to be getting stronger. I really enjoyed Duke of Pleasure, and in fact I think it is my favourite so far.

I loved the main protagonists – Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle is a charismatic, gorgeous man although perhaps Duke of Pleasure is an inappropriate moniker because he is actually quite a vulnerable and serious man. His main concern is to win the love and trust of his motherless sons but he has also been tasked, by his father King George II, with bringing down the Lords of Chaos. This secret society of depraved aristocrats is an evil force to be reckoned with, and as well as their nefarious activities, they wield immense power within the upper echelons of society. Then there’s Alf – street urchin/information dealer/gatherer by day, Ghost of St.Giles by night. Normally the trope of a girl passing herself off as a boy does not appeal to me but Elizabeth Hoyt pulls it off admirably here, and I adored the cheeky, cocky, girl/boy character who was tempted to kiss her duke.

Hugh had left England for the continent after his marriage – which had started out as a passionate love match – fizzled out, to be replaced by a soul destroying hatred, with fierce rows and his wife’s perfidy driving them apart. He left in order to preserve his sanity and only returns when he hears of his wife’s death and in order to comfort the small sons who barely remember him and are hurting and grieving for their mother. He has returned an embittered man, vowing never to allow love to cloud his judgement again. Mindful of his duty to his little boys, however, he has already chosen his wife’s replacement – that is until a tiny phantom throws a spanner in the works.

Alf, abandoned by her mother at the age of five, has learned to take care of herself. She was fortunate enough to be rescued and cared for in the early days  by the leader of a street gang, who reasoned that she would be more likely to survive if she dressed and acted like a boy. Consequently, this is the only life she has ever really known and now aged twenty-one, her cohorts and people around her in the slums of St Giles know her only as Alf – the boy. She has left the gang, and has an extraordinary talent for climbing and making a quick escape across the rooftops and overcrowded slums where she lives. She has also been taught to fence with much skill and success by a previous – now retired – Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St.John and has regular fencing lessons with him to hone her skills. It is on one of her nightly patrols of the slums as The Ghost that she comes into contact with Hugh Fitzroy who is investigating a lead to the Lords of Chaos and finds himself cornered in the filthy backstreets of St. Giles. She and Hugh fight together and defeat his attackers but before leaving to escape back across the rooftops Alf impulsively kisses Hugh before running off into the night.  He feels an immediate attraction to the lithe, slim body that is undoubtedly a woman beneath the mask and costume, and is confused by the stirring of excitement and interest that he hasn’t felt in a long while. The next day, by coincidence, Hugh sends one of his men to find Alf – the known information dealer – to see if the street boy can find any information on the Lords of Chaos, never guessing that she is the phantom fighter – and kisser – who saved his life.

From then on it is only a matter of time before the ghost and Alf are revealed as the lovely young woman she is beneath the boys trappings and Hugh is in a dilemma. On the one hand he relishes the excitement she stirs in him and which he thought was long gone, but on the other hand he wants peace and security for himself and his boys with the women he has chosen to be his wife.

Elizabeth Hoyt has an immense talent for drawing her readers into the world she has created. She is bold and outrageous, her sexy love scenes earthy but not crude, her storylines well-crafted and intriguing. There seems to be a duke on every street corner and – even more unlikely in this case – one who is seriously attracted to a girl who dresses and acts like a boy during the daytime and runs around in a ridiculous harlequin costume by night, fights like a man and drops her h’s! And yet we believe in these characters, love them, root for them and most of all, want them to be happy. This is the attraction in Ms. Hoyt’s writing – she doesn’t pretend to conform, she’s imaginative, her characters larger than life, compelling and likeable. Duke of Pleasure is a thoroughly enjoyable read with lovely characters and I’m eagerly looking forward to Duke of Desire next year.

The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham Hall #3) by Lorraine Heath

viscount-vixen

Purchase Now from Amazon.

Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print… and takes his father’s place!

Now the sedate — and, more importantly, secure — union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1882
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lorraine Heath is one of those writers whose work really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the emotional content of her books draws me to her time and time again, and I will often finish one of her novels feeling completely wrung out and unable to pick up another book for at least twenty-four hours. Such was the case with The Viscount and the Vixen, the final full-length novel in her Hellions of Havisham Hall series.

The Marquess of Marsden is a recluse, labelled mad by most because he is believed to have gone insane following the death of his beloved wife in childbed. Havisham Hall has been allowed to fall into disrepair over the years, and even though his son, Viscount Locksley has lived there exclusively for the past couple of years, he has made no improvements because his father dislikes change and he – Locke – doesn’t want to agitate him.

So when he arrives at the breakfast table one morning to find his father freshly shaved, smartly dressed and reading the paper, it’s a bit of a shock. Marsden usually takes his meals in his room and doesn’t bother much about his appearance, but when he tells Locke that his (Marsden’s) bride will be arriving later, Locke thinks his father is delusional and must be referring to his mother. But Marsden is perfectly lucid and explains that as Locke has so far neglected to find a wife and set up his nursery, it behoves him to marry a woman young enough to provide the necessary “spare” in order to secure the succession. And in order to do that, Marsden placed an advertisement in a newspaper which was answered by a Mrs. Portia Gadstone, with whom he has been corresponding ever since. Locke is flabbergasted, but also concerned for his father and worried that he has been taken in by a fortune hunter. When Mrs. Gadstone appears, he is knocked sideways even further; she’s luscious and he’s suddenly drowning in lust the like of which he can’t remember ever experiencing before. But even so – he’s sure she’s a gold digger and is determined to protect his father at all costs. And it quickly appears there is only one way to do that, which is to marry Portia himself.

Portia has been driven to the drastic step of marrying a man widely reputed to be insane because she’s in a desperate situation. She can’t deny that the prospect of marrying a wealthy man is an attractive one, but just as important as the marquess’ wealth is the fact that his title offers her the protection she seeks, and she is determined to be a good wife to him.

But her first sight of Marsden’s gorgeous, green-eyed son throws her for a loop, even though he makes it perfectly clear that he distrusts her and wants to stop her marrying his father. When Locke proposes she marry him instead, Portia is almost turned from her purpose, realising that her life with him will in no way fulfil her desire for quiet, rather dull existence she had envisaged having with his father. But that doesn’t alter the fact that she has imperative reasons for marrying and living in a remote location – and the deal is made.

The sexual tension between Locke and Portia is off the charts right from the start, and theirs is – to begin with – a relationship based purely on mutual lust, which suits both of them. Locke saw what his mother’s death did to his father and as a result, has no wish to experience love; and Portia doesn’t want to fall in love with a man upon whom she is practicing a serious deception. But as the story progresses, the lines between lust and affection become blurred and Portia starts to worm her way under the skin of father and son, both of whom are taken with her intelligence, wit and kindness. And for Locke, the fact that his wife is a woman whose capacity for passion matches is own is an unlooked for bonus.

Lorraine Heath has penned a lovely, tender romance that progresses at the same time as Locke and Portia are setting fire to the sheets (often!), and I particularly enjoyed the way that Portia’s gradual progress in restoring Havisham Hall, opening up long-closed rooms and making them habitable and welcoming again, mirrors her gradual unlocking of her new husband’s heart and her discovery that he is a man capable – and deserving – of a great deal of love and affection. There is never any doubt that Locke and Portia are falling in love; their actions often speak louder than their words as these two people who didn’t want love come to realise that it’s found them, regardless.

Portia’s backstory and her reasons for answering Marsden’s advertisement are drip fed throughout the book, and it’s a testament to the author’s skill that even though Portia has deliberately set out to deceive, the reader feels sympathy for her. At a time when women had no rights to anything, even their own bodies, she has had to make difficult choices and ended up living a life very different from the one she had envisaged. She owns her own mistakes, but when faced with an impossible choice, made the only decision she could live with, one which now looks set to ruin her life and happiness with the man she never intended to love.

Locke seems to be rather a stereotypical romance hero at first glance – tall, dark, handsome, cynical and a demi-god in bed – but there’s more to him than that. Underneath the veneer of charm and wicked sensuality, he’s a compassionate man with a strong sense of duty who is quite obviously fooling himself into believing he doesn’t want love when he is so clearly ready to embrace it. His relationship with Marsden is easily one of the best things about the book; the affection in which father and son hold each other leaps off the page and possesses just the right degree of exasperated tenderness. And Marsden is far more subtly drawn here than he has been in the other books; he’s unbalanced, but clearly not insane and appears to be subject to fits of melancholy rather than mentally unhinged.

When Locke discovers his wife’s dishonesty, there are, of course, some unpleasant things said, and later, Portia does perhaps forgive Locke a tad too quickly. But on balance, Locke’s willingness to listen to Portia’s story – something many men of the time would probably not have done – says much for him and about the strength of their relationship. It works in context, although I can understand that some may feel he wasn’t sufficiently remorseful and should have grovelled more.

The Viscount and the Vixen contains just about everything I want from an historical romance – complex, intriguing characters, scorching sexual tension, and a strong storyline that is firmly rooted in the era in which the story is set. Ms. Heath once again delivers those things along with finely observed familial relationships and a sexy, well-developed love story. I’ve enjoyed each of the books in this series and am looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next.