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Discovering Miss Dalrymple (Baleful Godmother #6) by Emily Larkin


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Who is he?

At the age of four Alexander St. Clare was stolen by gypsies and sold to a chimney sweep. At the age of five he was reunited with his father. His history is no secret—everyone in the ton knows of his miraculous rescue.

But when Alexander finds his father’s diaries, he discovers that there may be a secret buried in his past…

Georgiana Dalrymple knows all about secrets. She has several herself—and one of those secrets is her ability to find missing people.

When Alexander turns to her for help, Georgiana sets out to discover just who he actually is…

Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, October 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1814
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series has fun playing with the idea of a woman’s power. Each story focuses on how an intelligent, capable woman can handle the obstacles in her path towards happiness, but with a twist; sometimes overcoming those challenges means using incredible magical abilities, gifted to her by a Fairy Godmother. In Discovering Miss Dalrymple the heroine’s magic is the ability to locate anything in the world, including the truth about the man she loves.

Miss Georgiana Dalrymple has lost many things in her young life. Six years earlier, she lost her heart to Hubert Cathcart; however she soon lost her fiancé when Hubert traveled to Scotland and never returned. Suffering such devastating loss without knowing why colored Georgiana’s decisions on the night she turned twenty-three and was visited by Baletounge, her Fairy Godmother. Rather than just asking for knowledge of her fiancé’s whereabouts Georgiana asked for the ability to find something that was lost. Learning the truth about Hubert’s disappearance was painful but allowed Georgiana some peace and the chance to move on. Over time and with the help of her family Georgiana realized that her gift could answer many questions for her as long as they were prefaced with “Where.”

Alexander St. Clare, Duke of Vickery, is in need of some answers after discovering his late father’s journals. As the only child of his parents, Alexander was prepared from an early age to handle the responsibilities of his title and it was an honor to follow in his father’s footsteps. Having settled in his responsibilities Alexander is on the cusp of taking his own step towards happiness by proposing to the love of his life, Georgiana Dalrymple. His simple life is far from the excitement Alexander lived through when he was four years old and was carried away by gypsies. Fortunately, his father found him months later working as a chimney sweep and Alexander tried to put the memories of that time far behind him. Sadly, the words in the journal show that the duke never forgot and in his later years began to question if Alexander was truly his son.

Fearful that he’s been living a lie for years and that the true Duke of Vickery was lost somewhere in the world, Alexander turns to Georgiana for help. He knows it’s a long shot but Georgiana had once dreamed of Hubert’s final resting place and Alexander hopes that somehow she can dream again to learn if he’s truly his father’s son. Georgiana is surprised when Alexander tells her about his father’s journals and his fears about his true parentage. In the years since learning of Hubert’s fate, her relationship with Alexander has become stronger and she has fallen in love with him. Georgiana doesn’t think twice about asking herself where the former duke’s son is since she’s certain he’s standing right in front of her; however the answer she receives is devastating. Believing that honesty is best in the situation Georgiana puts her trust in Alexander by revealing not only her magical ability but the truth about who he really is.

Discovering Miss Dalrymple is a layered, emotional story tightly packed within a novella’s page count. Alexander goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning who he is when all of the trappings of his wealth and title are removed from the equation. Georgiana is with him each step of the way, showing herself to be supportive, patient and even a little forceful when necessary. While retracing Alexander’s past, the pair have a chance to really learn about each other on a deeper level than their friendship had ever shown. Georgiana takes the risk of sharing the truth of her ability with Alexander and he doesn’t run the other way when faced with something magical or unfamiliar in his normal life. He reluctantly exposes the anxieties and fears that arose as a result of his childhood experiences as a chimney sweep and Georgiana becomes a calming influence for him. Their love is a known quantity in the beginning but seeing them learn to trust unconditionally during their journey gives the reader a much better sense that their relationship will endure anything life can throw at them.

While I would normally point a new reader to the very first story so they can enjoy the different heroines and their abilities, I think that Discovering Miss Dalrymple is a story that will appeal to everyone. Each book in the Baleful Godmother series has an almost seamless blending of magical and historical elements that are a pleasure to read.

Dashing all the Way by Celeste Bradley, Eva Devon, Elizabeth Essex and Heather Snow

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A Rake for Christmas by Eva Devon

Lady Evangeline Pennyworth is done with being a wallflower and turns to London’s most notorious rake, demanding he teach her how to be desirable. After witnessing the love of his parents devolve into pain and anger, Anthony Basingstoke has vowed never to be swept away by passion, even if he finds himself taken by this wallflower in a way he’s never been before. Only a Christmas miracle will make true love a gift that will last forever.

Up on the Rooftops by Elizabeth Essex

Mischievous widow Caledonia Bowmont longs for London’s Christmas cheer, but a string of jewel thefts has brought the festive season to a standstill—and Society accuses the Scottish Wraith, Tobias McTavish. Toby is determined to clear his name and reclaim the life he’s built, so with Cally’s help, he heads up on the rooftops to trap the thief. Will they stop the high-carat crime, or find the hidden gem of lasting love instead?

The Very Debonair Lady Claire by Heather Snow

When Claire Barton’s twin is murdered, she takes his place in the War Department to flush out his killer. Her ruse works perfectly—until the man who once broke her heart becomes her new spymaster. The worst mistake of Andrew Sedgewick’s life was walking away from Claire that Christmas six years ago. Now that he’s found her again, he doesn’t intend to let her go—if they both survive this holiday season.

A Liar Under the Mistletoe by Celeste Bradley

Fearless Amie Jackham doesn’t attend balls to dance, she’s there for the thrill of robbing the lockboxes of the unscrupulous. With the notorious Vixen still at large, Liar’s Club spy Lord Elliot Hughes is taking the opportunity to clean out a few lockboxes for the good of Crown and Country—and leaving the Vixen’s trademark lacy handkerchief behind. Thief and spy can’t resist each other in this sexy, catch-me-if-you-can Liar’s Club holiday novella.

Publisher and Release Date: ERB Publishing, October 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jenny Q

I’m loving these Christmas anthologies because I get to try a bunch of new-to-me authors, and with my reading time growing scarcer, I can manage a novella at a time while getting in the holiday spirit!

Dashing All the Way features four extremely well written and satisfying Regency novellas. I will offer my thoughts on each story and then on the collection as a whole.

A Rake for Christmas: Two people feeling the lack of that “something more” in their lives find it in each other when they least expect it. The story could have spent more time exploring their backgrounds since their experiences have taken heavy tolls on them both, but they are both very likable leads, and this is a sweet and emotional love story that’s also and nice and Christmassy. (There are no sex scenes.)

Up on the Rooftops: Sparks fly between a bored widow and a reformed thief in this tale that features wonderful banter, a playful relationship, and possibly the hottest carriage sex I’ve ever read! It also features a dangerous mystery with lots of action and excitement. Though the climactic scene takes place during a masquerade ball, Christmas is only mentioned in passing with no depiction of traditions or holiday ambiance.

The Very Debonair Lady Claire: A grieving sister impersonates her twin brother and goes undercover in the Crown’s code-breaking office in an effort to discover who murdered him and why, but her plans threaten to blow up in her face when the new head of the intelligence department turns out to be none other than the man who broke her heart six years earlier. This is a smart and suspenseful espionage story featuring a sweet and sexy second-chance romance, and in a nice twist, the masquerade ball from the previous story serves as the backdrop for the climactic scenes. My favorite of the bunch for the characters and the love story, but again, very little by way of Christmas ambiance.

A Liar Under the Mistletoe: A thief desperately trying to support her family and a young spy for the notorious Liars Club target the same mark and realize they are a great danger to each other in spite of the sizzling attraction between them. This ended up being my least favorite of the bunch. There’s too much time spent on acquainting or re-aquainting the reader with numerous characters from previous books in the Liars Club series, and the hero and heroine hardly spend any time together as they are playing a game of cat-and-mouse, so their connection certainly seems more like lust at first sight rather than something more meaningful. But this one does feature a bit more Christmas than the previous two.

All four of these authors were new to me, and I was very impressed with the quality of the writing and their ability to spin a satisfying romantic tale in such a short space. A little more Christmas in a couple of them would have made the collection even better, but so far this is my favorite of this year’s Christmas romance collections.

 

At the Christmas Wedding by Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe

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Snowed in at a castle full of handsome lords, three young ladies are about to have the holiday of their lives…

Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden

The road to happily-ever-after… With Kingstag Castle full of guests and the snow falling, Viola Cavendish has her hands full making sure the Christmas house party runs smoothly. The unexpected arrival of the Earl of Winterton and his nephew Lord Newton upends everything. Not only is Lord Newton flirting with the young ladies Viola is supposed to chaperone, Lord Winterton himself makes her pulse race.
Always takes some twists and turns Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, has come to Kingstag Castle in search of a valuable atlas, and he refuses to be deterred by the snow, the house party, his nephew, or even the most ridiculous play ever staged. But before long the only map he wants is one that shows him the way to Viola’s heart…

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale

Jilted by a duke: Lady Serena Cavendish was born and bred to be a duchess. Too bad, then, that the Duke of Frye mysteriously and suddenly ended their betrothal.
Seduced by a Rogue: Greyson Jones, an agent of the crown, is the only one who thinks being jilted has made Serena more alluring. When he lucks into an invitation to a Christmas house party at Kingstag Castle to cheer her up—and perhaps find her a husband—he seizes the opportunity to win her heart before they might be parted forever.
On the way to the altar: Their journey to happily ever after involves a ridiculous play, a lovesick swan, a mysterious gift and, of course, a kiss.

Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe

The last time Lady Charlotte Ascot bumped into the Duke of Frye, she climbed a tree to avoid him. Sometimes it’s simply easier to run away than to face her feelings for him — overwhelmingly passionate feelings that no modest lady should have! Now, on her way to Kingstag Castle to celebrate the holidays with friends, Charlotte is trapped by a snowstorm at a tiny country inn with the duke of her steamiest dreams.
But Frye has a secret of his own, and Christmas is the ideal time to finally tell the woman he’s always wanted the whole unvarnished truth. Better yet, he’ll show her…

Publisher and Release Date: The Lady Authors, October 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance anthology
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars overall (4, 3 and 5 for the individual novellas)

Review by Em

I’ve enjoyed quite a few holiday themed stories in the latter half of 2017, so I picked up At the Christmas Wedding with high expectations. In this latest collaboration from Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe, a group of friends and strangers find themselves snowbound at Kingstag Castle for a holiday house party. Thus, a group of handsome lords and lovely ladies are afforded ample opportunity to make mischief whilst spending their free time staging an elaborate (ridiculous) play. The novellas comprising At the Christmas Wedding take place concurrently, and feature the same cast of characters – but that’s where their similarities end. Each romance is delightfully charming in its own way – but only one stole my heart. Romantic, festive, short and sweet… this is the perfect pick-up during a lazy holiday afternoon.

Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden (4 stars)

When the Duke and Duchess of Wessex are unexpectedly called away shortly before the start of their Christmas house party, responsibility falls to Viola Cavendish, the duchess’s secretary. Calm, unflappable Viola tries not to worry over the group of young people descending on the household, but with the duke and duchess away, the dowager duchess ill and unable to chaperone her three daughters and their guests, and an aunt who delights in all things naughty and wicked… well, Viola has doubts about her own abilities to manage the situation. She’s giving herself a mental pep talk when a pair of unexpected guests arrive. Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, accompanied by his nephew Lord Newton, has come to speak to the duke about a rare atlas he might have in his collection.

Wesley Morane is desperate to locate an atlas that formerly belonged to his father, and is convinced the duke is the new owner. He’s dismayed to learn the duke is away, but arriving in the midst of a house party – with guests of similar age to occupy the attentions of his bored, spoiled nephew – and an opportunity to peruse the duke’s library at his leisure, he’s not unhappy with the situation. He pays little heed to the ridiculous play being staged by the duke’s youngest sister, but nonetheless finds his search unexpectedly distracted by Viola.

Viola is irritated by the surprise arrival of the Earl of Winterton and his nephew, but unhesitatingly folds them into the assembled party. Unfortunately, however, Winterton is a handsome and distracting guest. She finds herself seeking him out when the group is assembled and caught out when he seems to return her interest. Following an early misunderstanding when Viola realizes Winterton inveigled an invitation to the house party under false pretenses, the two form a friendship of sorts. Viola is sympathetic to Winterton’s interest in the atlas, but unconvinced the duke will part with it.

As the house party continues apace, Viola and Wesley find reasons to be together. Viola, resistant to an affair with Wesley, inexorably finds herself drawn to him, and Wesley is similarly unable to resist her. Their longing for each other is intense and wonderful, and the passionate, clandestine love affair that follows is superbly done; I enjoyed every bit of it. Map of a Lady’s Heart is a sophisticated second chance love story, though I found the secondary plot – the bizarre and unfunny play (no matter how hard Ms. Linden tried to sell it) written by the duke’s youngest sister – distracting and unnecessary.

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale (3 stars)

Much like other novels by Ms. Rodale, I loved the idea of Hot Rogue on a Cold Night much more than the actual story. Greyson Jones, a close friend of the Duke of Frye, has long loved Lady Serena Cavendish, but her longstanding engagement to his friend meant he could never pursue her. When Frye inexplicably jilts Serena, Greyson adds further insult by insinuating, in public, that being jilted has finally made her interesting. When Mr. Jones shows up at Kingstag – without Frye -Serena tries hard to hide her dismay (and hurt), slighting Greyson and focusing her attentions on another, more eligible, gentleman in attendance.

Greyson – who is due to leave for India in a week’s time – regrets the words that hurt Serena and knows he will have to work fast to win her over. But he believes his life – as a diplomat destined to travel the world for Crown and country – will appeal to the much sheltered Serena. Clearly out of her depth as a house party hostess, curious about the world around her, Greyson sets out to show her all the amazing adventures she might miss in settling. The play, which was so irksome in the first novella, fortuitously places him in close proximity to Serena and chances to show her what a partnership between them might mean.

I liked all the elements that made up this story – including the ridiculous play – and Greyson, charming, suave, and supremely dry, is pure romance catnip. Unrequited love is a favorite trope of mine and he wears it well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as fond of the seemingly fickle Serena. She’s insecure, slightly silly and only starting to learn what kind of woman she wants to be. I never could see what (beyond her beauty) Greyson saw in her, but since I’m not marrying her, I wish him all the best.

Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe (5 stars)

Snowy Night With a Duke is the best and most romantic of the three novellas that comprise At the Christmas Wedding. I swooned, sighed and melted over this much too brief love story; if had to pick a favorite short story of 2017, this would be a frontrunner.

Charlotte Ascot, after a prolonged absence from England, is en route to Kingstag when her carriage gets trapped by a snowstorm and she’s forced to bide her time at a tiny country inn with other similarly stranded travelers. Charlotte has been (hiding) in America ever since a last painful encounter with the Duke of Frye wherein she climbed a tree in order to avoid him. The pain of her unrequited love and sadness over his betrothal – to her closest friend – was too much to bear. She’s determined to overcome her feelings for Frye… when, much to her surprise, she spots him in a battle of fisticuffs in the courtyard of the inn.

The Duke of Frye, masquerading as Mr. Horace Church, is enjoying a staged fight with good friend Lord Fortier when he spots Charlotte Ascot (whom he’s loved since childhood) standing on the threshold of the inn. Distracted, he misses his cue and takes a hard shot to the chin. Frye can’t believe his eyes; he thought Charlotte was still in America… but she’s here. When she approaches him in the stables (where he’s been tossed for fighting) to clean his wounds, and begins berating him for fighting, Frye isn’t quite sure how to handle her. Under the nomme de guerre Horace Church, he and Lord Fortier – who do the odd job on behalf of the Crown – are on the hunt for a con-man who takes advantage of elderly travelers. They think they have their man… but Frye can’t risk Charlotte revealing his identity and putting the investigation at risk.

Charlotte is undaunted by Frye’s vague responses to her questions, while he, thrilled that she is finally back in England, matches her quick wit and tough questions with his own delicious interrogation about where she’s been and why she hid from him. The conversation marks the start of a new slightly adversarial relationship between these star-crossed lovers.

The chemistry sparkles and snaps between Frye and Charlotte and fortunately for us, so does the passion. They finally stop fighting it and finally give in to the fantasy of loving each other that they’ve both nurtured in their secret hearts for years. But Frye is keeping one last secret from Charlotte and he’s determined to push her away.

Well folks, Frye is romantic, awesome, and sexy and Ms. Ashe gives him some of the best dialogue I’ve read this year. Charlotte, his similarly marvelous match, hears him out and then tells him how things are actually going to go. Yep, she sets him straight. It’s brilliant, they’re brilliant and if I have a complaint about Snowy Night With a Duke, it’s that I wish it were longer.

Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott

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One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare he try and tame her, or is a Christmas seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2017

Time and Setting: England, Christmas 1818
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars (4.5 and 3)

Review by Caz

Scandal at the Christmas Ball is the second collaboration between historical romance authors Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott, and, like their previous work, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, takes place at the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a widely liked, respected and highly influential couple who are regarded as powerbrokers within the ton and whose invitations are much sought after.

Among their guests this Yuletide are the duke’s nephew and heir, Vale Penrith, Lady Viola Hawthorne, a shockingly fast young woman who goes out of her way to do and say outrageous things, and a former officer of the Scots Guards, Drummond MacIntosh, whose army career ended somewhat ignominiously three years earlier, just after the Battle of Waterloo.


A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye (4.5 stars)

Ms. Kaye is one of the few authors of historical romance who regularly writes about untitled, non-aristocratic progatonists, and she continues that trend in this poignant, tender and sometimes heart-wrenching story about an ex-army officer and an ill-treated, down-on-her-luck governess who find each other one Christmas but who will face some difficult choices if they are ever to make a life together.

Drummond MacIntosh has lived a somewhat reclusive existence for the past three-and-a-half years owing to the huge scandal that attended his catastrophic fall from grace.  With his reputation in tatters, he has finally accepted that he needs help if he is ever going to claw his way back from ruin and carve out a new and useful existence.  No less a personage than the Duke of Wellington himself arranged Drummond’s invitation to the Brockmores’ Christmas house party, but as Drummond wryly notes, the Duke wouldn’t have done such a thing if it hadn’t been ultimately useful to himself; he needs a man of Drummond’s good sense, practicality and ability to lead men at his back and is presenting Drummond to Brockmore “for inspection” as it were.  The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in Drummond’s mouth; he doesn’t want to be beholden to Wellington (or to anyone) and certainly not on terms which attempt to brush years of exile under the carpet and blame Drummond for acting as his conscience dictated.

Drummond’s situation is mirrored by that of Miss Joanna Forsythe, a governess who has been invited to the party so she can meet a prospective employer.  Joanna had a comfortable position in the household of Lady Christina Robertson, but has been reduced to teaching at a ramshackle school in return for her bed and board, after she was wrongly accused of theft and dismissed without a character. Like Drummond, she has been invited to the Brockmores with a view to improving her situation, but also like him, the hoped for “improvement” falls short.  Joanna had hoped for an apology after her innocence was discovered and the real culprit owned up. But instead, her former employer wants to buy her off by the offer of an excellent new position and a sum of money.

Even before they know of the similarities of their respective situations, Drummond and Joanna are strongly drawn to each other and very soon find themselves exchanging confidences… and increasingly heated kisses.  I admit that the pair progresses to this stage rather quickly but Ms. Kaye creates such a strong emotional connection between them, and imbues their burgeoning relationship with such depth and longing that it’s possible to overlook its somewhat speedy beginning.  This story really brings home just how important it was for people who had to earn their living to maintain a spotless reputation – for without one there was little to no chance of their ever securing decent employment. And with Drummond on the verge of a prestigious appointment and a return from the cold, how can Joanna – and her tarnished reputation – stand in his way?

This is a beautifully wrought, heartfelt romance between two people in difficult circumstances.  I was completely gripped by Drummond’s story and applaud Ms. Kaye for the introduction of a character motivated by compassion whose actions were so misunderstood and reviled.  He’s not a character-type I’ve read in historical romance before, and I could be singing the author’s praises for that alone.  But added to a very well-crafted romance and a strong, determined heroine in the form of Joanna, A Governess for Christmas  makes my list of favourite seasonal reads.


Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott (3 stars)

In this story, a rather proper gentleman finds himself reluctantly fascinated by the most unsuitable sort of woman he could ever have imagined would attract him.  Vale Penrith, heir to the Duke of Brockmore, has still not recovered from the deaths of his father and older brother some years ago, and continues to find his role as a ducal heir somewhat ill-fitting.  He really would prefer to be left to his own devices in the library, but knows he will have to do his bit and take part in the various activities planned for the duration of the party.  He is also aware that while the Brockmores’ Christmas parties don’t have the same match-making reputation as their summer affairs, his uncle has a prospective bride lined up for him – something else he doesn’t want anything to do with.

Lady Viola Hawthorne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Calton, is a determined, high-spirited woman whose deepest desire is to go to Vienna to study music.  “The Shocking Beauty” as she is known, has quite the scandalous reputation, all of it designed to put off any suitors so she can remain unwed and pursue her dreams of Vienna and a musical career.  She reckons that one final, massive scandal at the Brockmores’ party should do the trick once and for all and cause her parents to give up on their attempts to marry her off.  Hence her decision to climb a ladder to hang mistletoe from a chandelier in the hall while wearing no underwear; perched at the top, affording the crowd of young men below a glimpse of her ankles (and possibly other things besides) she manages to achieve her end just before the ladder wobbles and she falls – literally – into the arms of Vale Penrith, who is appalled and annoyed at such reckless, outrageous behaviour.

Viola likes what she sees, but Penrith, while gorgeous, is a stuffed shirt and not at all the sort of man she’d be interested in.  But when her friend, Lady Anne, tells Viola that her parents are trying to arrange a match with Penrith while she – Anne – is in love with someone else, Viola agrees to help her out by providing a distraction.  The problem is that she finds herself being distracted by Vale – who is not at all the cold fish she had first imagined – as much as he is distracted by her, and the more time they spend together, the more they discover about what lies behind their social masks and the more they are drawn together.

I have to say straight off that I really didn’t care for Viola in this story.  I admired her desire to forge her own path in her life, but her methods – which are, basically, to shock as many people as often as possible – are childish, and she behaves more like a mistress or courtesan than a duke’s daughter, drinking spirits, smoking and playing billiards with the men.  I’m sure not all young ladies at this time were as pure and virginal as fiction would have us believe, but Viola goes a little too far in the opposite direction for my taste.  Vale is much more likeable, but because I disliked the heroine, it was difficult to understand what he saw in her beyond the physical and I found it difficult to believe that two people possessed of such opposing personality types could forge a lasting relationship.

If you’re more tolerant of the spoiled and outrageous type of heroine than I am, this story might work better for you than it did for me.


Ultimately, Scandal at the Christmas Ball is something of an uneven read, but is worth it for the Kaye story alone.

Kidnapped by the Pirate by Keira Andrews

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Nathaniel Bainbridge is used to hiding, whether it’s concealing his struggles with reading or his forbidden desire for men. Under the thumb of his controlling father, the governor of Primrose Isle, he’s sailing to the fledging colony, where he’ll surrender to a respectable marriage for his family’s financial gain. Then pirates strike and he’s kidnapped for ransom by the Sea Hawk, a legendary villain of the New World.

Bitter and jaded, Hawk harbors futile dreams of leaving the sea for a quiet life, but men like him don’t deserve peace. He has a score to settle with Nathaniel’s father—the very man whose treachery forced him into piracy—and he’s sure Nathaniel is just as contemptible.

Yet as days pass in close quarters, Nathaniel’s feisty spirit and alluring innocence beguile and bewitch. Although Hawk knows he must keep his distance, the desire to teach Nathaniel the pleasure men can share grows uncontrollable. It’s not as though Hawk would ever feel anything for him besides lust…

Nathaniel realizes the fearsome Sea Hawk’s reputation is largely invented, and he sees the lonely man beneath the myth, willingly surrendering to his captor body and soul. As a pirate’s prisoner, he is finally free to be his true self. The crew has been promised the ransom Nathaniel will bring, yet as danger mounts and the time nears to give him up, Hawk’s biggest battle could be with his own heart.

Publisher and Release Date: KA Books, October 2017

Time and Setting: 1710, The Caribbean Sea
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

I read a lot of romance, but I particularly love historicals and I’ll take them any way I can get them. Reading the blurb for Kidnapped by the Pirate I was intrigued. New-to-me author Keira Andrews writes gay contemporary and historical romance, but this is her first foray into the eighteenth century (my sweet spot). It also features pirates. I was concerned (on many levels) it would be a disaster, but I’m happy to tell you Kidnapped by the Pirate was entertaining, romantic and sexy. Ms. Andrews gets the time period and setting spot on, and I enjoyed every bit of it – despite its slightly bonkers premise, and predictable happily ever after. Our bad guy is villainous – but not when it comes to our hero, and our hero is virginal – but ready and willing to be debauched by our villain. Me hearties, this is the way a pirate love story should be written.

Nathaniel Bainbridge is enjoying his last few months of freedom. In the years since his father departed to establish himself in the New World, his life has been blessedly peaceful and quiet, and being out from under his father’s thumb at last, he hasn’t had to conceal his inability to read or repress his forbidden desire for men (although he’s yet to act on it). But as the story begins, Nathaniel’s future is bleak – he’s sailing with his sister to the fledgling English colony of Primrose Isle, where their father is Governor. Upon arrival, Nathaniel is expected to marry the daughter of a prosperous merchant, thereby increasing the fortunes of the Bainbridge family. Nathaniel desperately wishes he could live life on his own terms, free of his father’s despicable tyranny, even going so far as to wish pirates would capture their ship…

Well, you know what’s coming right? Nathaniel is belowdecks with his heavily pregnant sister Susanna when the ship is set upon by a pirates. Shortly thereafter, Nathaniel and his sister are marched up on the deck to meet the Sea Hawk, a legendary pirate who has a bone to pick with Walter Bainbridge. When he threatens Susanna’s life, Nathaniel offers himself in her place – he’s Bainbridge’s sole heir – Hawk agrees to take him in her stead. Hawk leaves the ship with a warning: Sail to Primrose Isle, inform Bainbridge that Hawk has his son and that if he doesn’t pay up, Nathaniel will be killed.

Hmmm… it all sounds so straightforward doesn’t it? Well, Hawk isn’t your typical pirate. After being pressed into service by the Royal Navy as a young boy, he overcame the hardships of his childhood to eventually captain his own ship. Walter Bainbridge changed his fortunes in an instant (I’m not telling you how), forcing him and his crew into piracy. Nathaniel is simply a means to an end – with a fortune in ransom, Hawk can finally quit the sea and live the quiet life he’s longed for. Unfortunately, shortly after Nathaniel comes aboard, Hawk realizes he’s rather inconveniently attracted (and increasingly obsessed) with his much younger, attractive, male captive. And with nowhere to put Nathaniel on deck, Hawk is forced to confine him to his own quarters. The arrangement quickly becomes problematic. Nathaniel is tempting – a plum ripe for the picking… who can’t seem to disguise his own interest in his captor.

Nathaniel is terrified when he’s marched aboard The Damned Manta – and worried that his father won’t be able to raise the ransom money needed to free him. Once fond of spending his days roaming and running in the fields around their family estate, he’s dismayed when Hawk limits his freedom to a corner of his cabin. Nathaniel grows increasingly unhappy and resentful of his captivity while at the same time, he’s intensely aware of Hawk, but is frustrated by the pirate’s unwillingness to allow Nathaniel above decks – despite his promises to behave. When the captain taunts him with threats of using his body as revenge on his father, Nathaniel is secretly thrilled; he can barely disguise his fevered response. Days pass… and Nathaniel eventually decides he doesn’t want to die a virgin. If Hawk – whose tough guy persona appears to be a façade he keeps in place in front of his crew – is a willing partner…

It’s clear early on that Nathaniel and Hawk are destined to be lovers, and Ms. Andrews – to her credit – doesn’t draw things out unnecessarily. Eighteenth century pirates – apparently – turned a bit of a blind eye to male/male relationships – which makes sense since the men lived at sea with only each other for company for large stretches of time – and Ms. Andrews doesn’t belabor the point. Instead, she focuses the narrative on the evolving relationship between Hawk and Nathaniel. Nathaniel is everything Hawk knows he shouldn’t want and he can’t have and he struggles with his attraction, masking it with pirate bravado. Nathaniel’s his prisoner. But it isn’t long before he finds any and every reason to be close to him. They become physically intimate in short order, but the quick emotional intimacy that springs up catches them both off guard. It’s also increasingly clear that Hawk isn’t the fearsome villain he’s purported to be – he’s a good man whose life was casually and needlessly destroyed by Nathaniel’s despicable father. Hawk realizes that Nathaniel – his “plum” – is nothing like the older Bainbridge, and that he’s falling in love with him, but finds himself in an untenable position: he’s promised his crew a ransom in exchange for giving up Nathaniel.

Obviously, Nathaniel’s sexual awakening comes courtesy of Hawk, and early on, their encounters are more lustful than loving. But gradually, their physical intimacy gives way to an emotional attachment and Nathaniel is powerless to resist it. He’s curious about his lover and how he came to be the dreaded Sea Hawk, and it slowly becomes clear there’s more to the man than meets the eye. I was particularly charmed by the scene in which Hawk finally realizes why Nathaniel won’t simply read a book to pass the time. Instead of grilling Nathaniel or pressing him for reasons, he casually reads aloud for both of them. It’s tender and bittersweet – much like their relationship. Nathaniel becomes increasingly desperate to come up with some way for them to be together after the ransom is paid.

I won’t spoil the resolution except to say Nathaniel’s father is every bit as despicable and evil as we’ve been led to believe, but he’s well balanced by the love and affection of Nathaniel’s sister Susanna, who plays a pivotal role in the climatic ending. There are a few surprise twists along the road to the sickly sweet happily ever after, but I felt very hopeful about this pair. Age gap aside (it’s a big one!) they seemed destined for each other.

Me hearties, Kidnapped by a Pirate is the tender, sexy and swashbuckling queer pirate love story you never knew you needed to read. I think you’ll enjoy it – I did!

Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies #1) by Lara Temple

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Betrothed…to the wrong man!

Building a life away from her bullying family, schoolmistress Helen Tilney now needs to convince her childhood sweetheart she’s a worthy bride. Standing in her way is Lord Hunter–the man Nell has just discovered she’s betrothed to!

Hunter’s offer of marriage to Nell came out of guilt, and now seems less than appealing! So when she asks for his help to win another man, he agrees. Until their lessons in flirtation inspire a raging desire that has Hunter longing to keep Nell for himself…


Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, October 2017

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

Review by Em

I enjoyed Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress, but it was nothing like I expected based on its long- winded misnomer of a title, and has very little in common with the Disney fairytale – and that’s a good thing!  Instead, in this sophisticated and sexy twist, our ‘Cinders’ lives with a spiteful aunt, and an overbearing, meddlesome father, finding joy and happiness in a love of horses and friends at school.  When first they meet, her “prince” is a mere blip in the fabric her life, but fate (and the delightful machinations of this talented author) bring them together years later.  It’s not quite a happy reunion – well, it’s actually the farthest thing from it – but Ms. Temple deftly steers her fated couple to a fairy tale ending anyway.

Helen “Nell” Tilney, returned to her family for the summer, is counting the days until her return to school.  Time spent at home is torturous; her evil aunt delights in tormenting and bullying her at every opportunity, and her seemingly oblivious father only notices her in order to criticize her or when he needs or wants something .  Happiness – and a reprieve from their machinations – comes from spending time with the horses her father raises on their estate or away at school.  Nell has spent the morning riding when she’s summoned to show off her favorite horse, Petra, to a potential buyer.

Gabriel, Lord Hunter, who lives on a neighboring estate, is surprised by the slight girl who emerges from the stable, horse in tow.  But he’s frankly astonished by her talent putting the horse through its paces.  Fierce and commanding, Nell is a revelation on horseback.  When she finally, reluctantly, hands off Petra to him, he demonstrates his own finesse as a horse rider.  Years spent in the saddle as a soldier have taught him to appreciate a horse of Petra’s quality, and he’s relieved by the sense of approval he sees in Nell’s eyes.  Nell is impressed with Gabriel’s skill – and intrigued by her handsome, though clearly weary, neighbor.  After spending an amicable afternoon together, they part – curious about each other – but with little expectation of meeting again.

Fate – and a spiteful aunt – have other plans.  That evening, Nell is summoned to dinner with her family and the handsome Lord Hunter. But the Nell that enters the drawing room is nothing like the fierce horsewoman Gabriel met earlier in the day.  Obviously reluctant to join their group, cowed and timid in the face of her aunt’s nastiness and her father’s obliviousness, Nell is a pale imitation of the girl Gabriel so admired earlier in the day.  The evening ends in disaster after Nell, who’s finally had enough, turns on her aunt.  Passionate, angry and fierce, Nell delivers a set down that Gabriel can’t help but admire.

Nell departs for school early the next morning, before Gabriel can congratulate her for standing up to her aunt.  But after a night spent reminiscing on Nell’s magnificent self-defense, and with thoughts of advantageously joining his estate to the Tilney’s, he approaches Sir Henry to ask for her hand.  Tilney agrees and promises to inform Nell of the agreement.  Lord Hunter departs.

Four years pass wherein Nell spends time away from home working as a schoolmistress – waiting to come of age and take ownership of the horse farm left to her by her beloved mother; by contrast, Gabriel enjoys the life of a notorious libertine and rake.  Privately, Gabriel still mourns the suicide of his younger brother, whose funeral he attended shortly before meeting Nell.  With the help of two close friends and former officers, he’s established safe havens for returning war veterans.  But Nell knows nothing of Gabriel’s secret benevolence, so when she discovers she’s betrothed to him – via a notice placed in the Morning Post by her father – she arrives in a fury on Gabriel’s doorstep demanding an explanation and a retraction.

Gabriel has no intention of ending their engagement in such a public manner.  After convincing Nell of the same, they agree to travel to the races at Wilton and speak to her father – together – about breaking off the longstanding engagement.  Gabriel enjoys his rakish lifestyle, the pleasure of his mistress, and his solitude.  Nell wants nothing more than to take ownership of the horse farm and possibly attract the attentions of a neighbour for whom she’s nurtured a tendre since childhood.  But reader, you (and I) already know it’s too late.  Once Gabriel meets this new incarnation of Nell – spirited, headstrong and beautiful – he’s smitten, though he fights hard to resist his attraction to her.  Nell, who’s secretly tracked Gabriel’s antics via the gossip pages, is similarly intrigued by her betrothed but determined to pursue a relationship with another man.  Fortunately for us, both the journey and the destination provide ample opportunity for our star crossed lovers to find and fall for each other.

As Gabriel and Nell spend time together, their chemistry is palpable.  Gabriel, knowledgeable about the physical aspect of loving, struggles to deal with the emotional intimacy Nell sparks deep within.  He suffered under the abuse of his father, and even after finally freeing his brother and mother, can’t help but feel he’s failed them after his brother commits suicide.  He blames himself for his brother’s death (I won’t say why here, but it is heartbreaking and understandable).  Despair and a feeling of unworthiness plague him in all his relationships, and in particular, keep him closed off from Nell’s kind spirit and instinctive desire to help.  He hides his vulnerability behind a suave veneer – but Nell sees glimpses of it and can’t resist attempting to draw Gabriel out.  Nell, physically naive, but emotionally strong, offers a compelling contrast to her betrothed.  She’s learned to believe in herself and her own power and strength, and wants Gabriel to lean on her.  Naïve about physical passion and intimacy, Nell is bewildered by her attraction to Gabriel – who isn’t the man she’s yearned for since girlhood.  Gabriel is similarly flustered by the emotional closeness he feels to Nell… together, they make a terrific pair, complimenting each other in every way, and Ms. Temple deftly plots their transition from strangers to foes to friends… and finally lovers.  I enjoyed every bit of their evolving relationship, though my major complaint about this novel is the author’s heavy handed hints at Gabriel’s prowess in bed.  We get it.  He’s good in the sack.  Enough.

Looking for a mature, sexy and modern twist on the classic knight in shining armor fairytale?  Well look no further – romantic, passionate, and sexy Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

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Previously titled Pistols for Two, this collection includes three of Heyer’s earliest short stories, published together in book form for the very first time. A treat for all fans of Georgette Heyer, and for those who love stories full of romance and intrigue.

Affairs of honour between bucks and blades, rakes and rascals; affairs of the heart between heirs and orphans, beauties and bachelors; romance, intrigue, escapades and duels at dawn. All the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has so triumphantly made her own are exquisitely revived in these wonderfully romantic stories of the Regency period.


Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2017
Time and Setting: Georgian & Regency England
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance – Short Stories
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

If you’re already a fan of the great Georgette Heyer – the author who pretty much invented the Regency Romance single-handedly – then it won’t take much persuasion from me to send you in the direction of this newly re-issued collection of the author’s short stories, most of them written for and published in prestigious women’s magazines of the 1930s. There are fourteen in this collection, of which eleven were previously published in the anthology Pistols for Two; Snowdrift contains those plus three that have been newly discovered by the author’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester. Is it worth obtaining this new collection to read those new stories? On balance, I’d say that yes, it is, especially as one of the new stories (Pursuit) turned out to be one of my favourites of the set.

I don’t plan on reviewing each individual story here, as that would take more space than I have, so instead I’ll cherry pick as, like most anthologies, there are some excellent stories and some not quite so good ones. Each one features character types and plot elements that will be familiar to regular readers of historical romance; cross-dressing heroines, elopements, mistaken identity, dashing military men, second-chance romance, duels, high-stakes card games, regency-slang and, best of all, those handsome, authoritative heroes and their intelligent, witty heroines. Fans of the author’s will no doubt recognise the seeds of some of the plots and characters who later appear in some of her full-length novels here, too. I’ll also add a couple of words of caution. While very enjoyable, this is an anthology best dipped in and out of rather than read all at once; and these are short stories, so some of the romances are fairly perfunctory and in many cases, rely on insta-love. I’m not a fan, but in this case, it’s mostly forgivable due to the short length and the fact that the stories are beautifully written and enjoyable for so many other things besides the romances, so full are they of Heyer’s trademark laser-sharp social observation, sparkling dialogue and clever characterisations.

And so to the cherry picking. Pistols for Two is a rather unusual story in that it turns a frequently used trope on its head. Two lifelong friends discover that they are in love with the same young woman – another childhood friend who has grown into a beauty – and through misunderstanding and mischance, end up facing each other on the field of honour. Told through both their points of view, the young lady in question is a peripheral character and the author does a terrific job of describing the prickly, adolescent pride of the two young gents.

In A Clandestine Affair, we have an older hero and heroine who clearly share some sort of romantic history. Elinor Tresilian’s niece, Lucy, wants badly to marry the man she loves, Mr. Arthur Roseby, who happens to be the cousin of Lord Iver – who is vehemently opposed to the match. As it happens, Miss Tresilian is not overly in favour either, but headstrong Lucy is determined to have her way. When the couple elopes, Elinor and Lord Iver set off in pursuit, bickering and sniping along the Great North Road until… they aren’t.

A Husband for Fanny sees the young widow, Honoria Wingham, shepherding her lovely daughter, Fanny through the Season and hoping to secure the best and wealthiest husband for her. The Marquis of Harleston is certainly most attentive and would be an excellent match… so why does Honoria feel just the tiniest pang of jealousy when she sees how well the marquis and her daughter get along? You can see the twist in this one coming a mile off, but it’s an engaging story nonetheless.

To Have the Honour. Newly returned from war, young Lord Allerton discovers he has inherited a mountain of debt along with his title. His mother, however, is still spending money at the old rate, because Allerton has been betrothed to his cousin Hetty since the cradle; as she is a great heiress, once they are married their money woes will be over. But Allerton dislikes the idea of marrying for money and, not realising that Hetty has been in love with him for years,  tells her that he will not hold her to the arrangement between their families and she is free to choose for herself. Some timely scheming behind the scenes means that all ends well.

Hazard is one of my favourites; in it a young woman is staked in a game of chance by her weaselly half-brother, and is ‘won’ by the very drunk Marquis of Carlington. Foxed though he is, Carlington admires Helen’s spirit and insists they leave for Gretna Green right away. Helen is remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and I loved the way she issued a little payback to her not-swain the next day. Their dash to Scotland is fortuitously interrupted – by Carlington’s fiancée, no less…

Of the three new stories, Pursuit, Runaway Match and Incident on the Bath Road, the first is my favourite, being another elopement story in which an older couple once again takes centre stage. Mary Fairfax and the Earl of Shane are pursuing his ward (and her charge) Lucilla, who has eloped with the man she loves, Mr. Monksley, who will shortly be shipping out to the Peninsula with his regiment. In Runaway Match, the lovely Miss Paradise convinces her friend, Rupert, to elope with her so she can foil her father’s plans to marry her to the old, odious Sir Roland. She has never met her intended, but is horrified to realise he has followed them all the way to Stamford. Or has he? And in Incident on the Bath Road, the handsome, wealthy but ennui-laden Lord Reveley (always courted, never caught) is on his way to Bath when he encounters a chaise accident and takes up the young Mr. Brown who explains that he has urgent business in the city. This urgent business turns out to be going to the aid of the lovely Miss X, who is going to be forced into a distasteful marriage… and Reveley’s life turns out not to be quite so boring after all.

While Georgette Heyer’s full-length novel allow her strengths – tightly-written plots, characterisation and witty banter – to shine fully, there are enough glimpses of all those things in these short stories to make them well worth reading, whether you’re a long-time fan (as I am) or a newcomer to her work. Snowdrift and Other Stories is just the book to have on hand when you don’t have time to settle into a full-length novel and want a quick romance fix.

A Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred #1) by Joanna Shupe


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Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match–leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own–one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.


Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2017

Time and Setting: New York, 1890
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Readers are always clamoring for something different when it comes to historical romance. Joanna Shupe has answered the call with her new book A Daring Arrangement; set during New York’s Gilded Age and using the extravagance and elegance of the time to create a sense that anything is possible, including a jaded heart finding true love.

For most young women the chance to mix and mingle with New York City’s upper class would be an incredible adventure, but for Lady Honora Parker it’s penance. When her father, the Earl of Stratton, caught Nora in the arms of artist Robert Landon he immediately shipped her off to America to spend time with her aunt and uncle. Having an ocean between them does nothing to cool Nora’s love for Robert and no soirée can distract her from her determination to find a way to return to England and his arms. Knowing that her father will not summon her back home without good reason, Nora concocts a plan to attach herself to the most scandalous man in New York, causing enough gossip that her father will have to take notice. To Nora’s mind the idea is foolproof. All she needs is the right kind of man, one who’ll get her name in the papers but won’t press for anything more than a business arrangement with her.

While out to dinner with her aunt and uncle, Nora is distracted by a loud ruckus in the ballroom above the dining rooms. A quick inquiry reveals that the party upstairs is being held for Mr. Julius Hatcher, an infamous financier on the stock market and an upstart in the eyes of the elite. The dining room begins to swirl with gossip about the man and for Nora it makes him the perfect candidate for her scheme. Excusing herself from the table Nora finds the ballroom and is shocked to see it filled with men attempting to hold a cocktail party while on horseback! Nora’s introduction to Mr. Hatcher goes poorly when he mistakes her as a woman hired as the entertainment; however his drunkenness makes him quite agreeable to her plans. With a shocking kiss to seal the deal, Nora secures the hand of a fake fiancé who’ll create a stir big enough to be felt across the Atlantic.

Waking up with a dreadful hangover, Julius’s headache only gets worse with the arrival of a proper English lady on his doorstep. The nonsense coming out of her mouth about fake betrothals makes Julius question his recollections of his birthday party the night before and a fuzzy memory of kissing a beautiful woman. Lady Honora’s plan to use the gossip surrounding his name for her benefit just reeks of foolishness, but her offer to use her connections within the Knickerbocker set to bring Julius into their fold is something he can’t ignore. He’s spent years trying to gain entrance into their exclusive clubs and gatherings in the hopes of finding the men responsible for his father’s ruin years before. Despite his wealth, Julius hasn’t managed to get his foot past the door, but an engagement to a society lady  like Nora will open those doors wide enough to see all the secrets hidden behind them.

A Daring Arrangement is the kind of romance where the main characters start off so at odds that you’re drawn in just to know how they’ll end up together. Nora is a romantic, seeing her love for her suitor Robert as pure and uncompromising, born from his ability to see her as an individual. Julius is practical, seeing things through a businessman’s eyes and having little care for attachments or sentiment. Their feelings stem from how they were raised; Nora being starved for love by a remote father and Julius poisoned by his parent’s damaged relationship. Neither one begins the arrangement with hopes that a connection will blossom; however in spending time with each other they each begin to see the flaws in their previous viewpoints.

Julius is a swoon-worthy hero who embodies some of the best (and worst) qualities of the American success story. He’s built himself from the ground up and his pride at his achievements borders on arrogance when he flaunts his scandals with no apologies. Meeting Nora and being her fake fiancé in public makes Julius reevaluate the importance of a man’s reputation when it spills over to those closest to him. He cleans up his act, at first to keep the society men eager to know him but then to prove to Nora that he’s more than just a walking target for gossip.

Nora’s journey from naïve, slightly impulsive girl to a courageous and responsible young woman is the heart of the story. Despite her feelings that only Robert understands her there are many signs that Nora doesn’t quite know herself yet. She manipulates situations to get what she wants, not understanding that a scandal large enough to get her father’s attention will also ruin her future. Julius confronts her about her behavior as well as Robert’s lackluster efforts in their relationship, explaining that words mean nothing if they’re not followed up by actions. Nora’s eyes are opened to what a real relationship feels like and what true love means as she sees her own value through Julius’ respect and attention towards her.

A Daring Arrangement is the first book I’ve read from Ms. Shupe and I’m already eager for more. Her world of Knickerbocracy and the glamor of 1890’s New York is easily my new favorite setting for historical romance and I’ll be checking out her backlist while I wait for what’s next in The Four Hundred series.

The Duke (Devil’s Duke #3) by Katharine Ashe

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Six years ago, when Lady Amarantha Vale was an innocent in a foreign land and Gabriel Hume was a young naval officer, they met . . . and played with fire.

Now Gabriel is the dark lord known to society as the Devil’s Duke, a notorious recluse hidden away in a castle in the Highlands. Only Amarantha knows the truth about him, and she won’t be intimidated. He is the one man who can give her the answers she needs.

But Gabriel cannot let her learn his darkest secret. So begins a game of wit and desire that proves seduction is more satisfying—and much more wicked—the second time around…


Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2017

Time and Setting: Jamaica and Scotland, 1817/1823
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

If you follow my reviews you already know I’m a big fan of Katharine Ashe.  The Falcon Club series is one of my favorites, and I’ve enjoyed each of the books in her spin-off Devil’s Duke series.  The Duke is yet another great addition to her catalog and I enjoyed most of it.  Unfortunately, Ms. Ashe tries to do a bit too much within the framework of her story – touching on abuse and slavery before the novel concludes – and seems to lose sight of the central plot, a second chance love affair between her very compelling principals.  But I liked it anyway!  The principal characters have great chemistry, their love affair spans years and oceans, and it’s another memorable addition to this marvelous series.

Lady Amarantha Vale grew up knowing exactly what kind of man she would one day fall in love with.  As a young girl, discussing love and marriage with her sister Emily, she didn’t worry about her father’s plans for her future; Amarantha was certain she would eventually meet and marry her true love.  At seventeen, she thought she’d found him – the Reverend Paul Garland, a young missionary bound for Jamaica.  Unfortunately for Amarantha, shortly after traveling across the ocean to marry Paul and begin their life together, she meets the true love of her life – naval officer Gabriel Hume, after she’s forced to shelter with him during a horrific hurricane.

When Lt. Gabriel Hume disembarked in Jamaica, he never expected to find himself alone in a cellar with a beautiful, unmarried woman.  Handsome and charming, Gabriel is immediately attracted to Amarantha, but recognizing how frightened she is, sets out to calm her.  The pair end up passing a companionable evening getting to know each other and keeping their fear at bay.  By the time the night ends, Gabriel knows he’s fallen in love with the lovely – engaged – Amarantha, and decides to do whatever he can to win her.

Emerging from the cellar, Gabriel and Amarantha discover an island ravaged by the effects of the hurricane.   Gabriel returns to his ship and Amarantha to Paul – only to discover him busy with plans to repair his damaged church.  She finds work volunteering at a hospital for the island’s poor, and it’s there that Gabriel locates her.  He sets out to woo her away from her fiancé – visiting her every day, lending her a hand whenever he can, and slowly but surely charming the lovely Aramantha.

It’s clear from the moment they meet that these two are destined for each other, but it takes time and patience for Gabriel to convince her to leave her fiancé.  She’s finally decided to break off the engagement when Gabriel receives orders to depart Jamaica.  Amarantha promises to wait for him, but shortly after he sets sail, she learns he’s lost at sea.  Devastated, Amarantha privately mourns Gabriel… until his cousin informs her that he’s alive and living with another woman.  Furious, heartbroken and alone, she marries Paul and vows to forget Gabriel.

This first (and best) part of The Duke is fabulous.  From the first moments in the cellar to their last moments together – when they can barely keep their hands to themselves and Amarantha promises to wait for Gabriel, I smiled and sighed and swooned as these two fell in love.  Gabriel is naughty, patient, kind and sweet, and he works hard to charm Amarantha and win her affections.  Amarantha knows she’s fallen for the handsome captain, but fights her feelings – she’s betrothed to Paul and plans to honor her commitment to him regardless of the love she feels for Gabriel.  When she finally decides to break her engagement and Gabriel begs her to wait for him… Oh reader!  It’s been such a delicious tease hoping for these two to get together… until Ms. Ashe dashes our hopes with the disappointing news that Gabriel has taken up with another woman.  Along with Aramantha, I WAS DEVASTATED.

Five years later, the widowed Amarantha is determined to find her friend Penny, who departed Jamaica for Scotland and hasn’t been heard from since.  She follows Penny’s trail to Leith, where she finds her friend and learns of the Devil’s Duke, a man rumored to kidnap vulnerable women and hold them captive in his remote castle.  Suspicious, Amarantha sets out to discover the truth about the Devil’s Duke and discovers… Well, reader, you know who it is, don’t you?   It’s Gabriel – the man she loved so long ago – but he’s not the man she once knew.

I’m not going to tell you what happens once Amarantha discovers that Gabriel is the Devil’s Duke – or even why and how he’s earned the nickname, because from the moment she discovers why Penny sought out Gabriel, Ms. Ashe’s story goes a bit sideways.  It’s convoluted and messy and difficult to explain without spoiling the plot.  Suffice it to say that while I do think the author makes it work, if the relationship between Gabriel and Amarantha weren’t so delicious, my feelings about this novel might be decidedly different.

But Gabriel and Amarantha are a dynamic and fiery pair.  She thinks he abandoned her; he thinks she gave up on him.  But shh…THEY STILL LOVE EACH OTHER ANYWAY!  From the very beginning, Amarantha demonstrated a willingness to follow her heart – even when it led her to mad, impetuous decisions.  She’s frustrating and difficult to like – because even though she’s loving and loyal to her friends (and her former husband), she’s blind to the hurt she caused Gabriel, and unwilling to accept the blame for their long separation.  She steadfastly followed Paul to Jamaica, only to realize she loved another man.  But then she gave up on Gabriel – with so little evidence of his guilt, and married Paul anyway… Yowsers.  I sympathized – she was young, alone and it looked like Gabriel had played her false, but she gave up so easily!  And Gabriel… when he courts Amarantha in Jamaica and then just patiently lets her burn out all that stubborn anger in Scotland.  Sigh.  I loved him.  I never felt like her let her get away with her selfish shenanigans – reader, he knew she was trying to fight through her feelings for him.  He did!  He took it and took it and then set her straight.  And once he sensed she was relenting, he didn’t let up.  Though I didn’t personally love Amarantha, Gabriel did – and through his eyes, I liked her anyway.  I loved this pair and their sexy love/hate relationship.

Once Amarantha arrives in Scotland and we begin to discover the secrets the Devil’s Duke is keeping, Ms. Ashe moves the plot forward at a furious pace.  It’s compelling reading, and though Ms. Ashe masterfully incorporates elements of slavery and domestic abuse into the narrative, the novel length prohibits her from fully exploring some of the more tantalizing storylines introduced via her secondary characters.  It’s a missed opportunity.

The Duke is sweeping, romantic… and sets the stage for the next book (and couple) to come.  It’s not my favorite in the series, but it’s a worthy addition, and as per usual with Ms. Ashe, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5) by Kerrigan Byrne

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Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, is a notorious Highlander and an unrelenting Lothario who uses his slightly menacing charm to get what he wants—including too many women married to other men. But now, Gavin wants to put his shady past behind him…more or less. When a fiery lass who is the heiress to the land he wishes to possess drops into his lap, he sees a perfectly delicious opportunity…

A marriage most convenient

Samantha Masters has come back to Scotland, in a pair of trousers, and with a whole world of dangerous secrets from her time spent in the Wild West trailing behind her. Her only hope of protection is to marry—and to do so quickly. Gavin is only too willing to provide that service for someone he finds so disturbingly irresistible. But even as danger approaches, what begins as a scandalous proposition slowly turns into an all-consuming passion. And Gavin discovers that he will do whatever is necessary to keep the woman he has claimed as his own…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, October 2017
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1880
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

The Scot Beds His Wife is fifth in Kerrigan Byrnes’ Victorian Rebels series and a sequel to the third book The Highlander. Gavin St. James is half-brother to previous hero Laird Liam MacKenzie but the two are hardly fraternal. It’s Gavin’s plans to dissolve ties to his brother’s clan that starts everything in motion and it takes a brash American to put the stubborn Scot on a different path.

Gavin St. James grew up desperate to extricate himself from the legacy of his cruel father, the late Marquess Ravencroft. The abuse Gavin lived through left physical and emotional scars that never healed enough for him to find peace within his family. He once thought that his older brother Liam was his ally against their father, but their relationship soured as the Marquess’ manipulations drove them apart. Gavin later escaped when he inherited the earldom of Thorne through his mother’s family; however he found it was an empty role as he was still dependent on the Mackenzie finances. Earning his own wealth could only come by expanding his landholding and the perfect parcel was right next door – the deserted Ross estate of Erradale. After receiving a quick influx of ready cash, Gavin makes an offer to the last surviving member of the Ross family, who has been living in America for ten years. The response he receives is a firm “No” but Gavin is undeterred. Using the law to press the issue, Gavin has his solicitor inform the expatriate Miss Alison Ross that if she does not take residence on her property the lands will be deemed abandoned and resold.

An ocean away, Samantha Masters thought marriage to Bennett Masters would be first step in a new life full of opportunities, yet she soon learned that her new in-laws were criminals. Their latest scheme has the Masters brothers holding up a train carrying government funds to San Francisco. When something goes wrong, Samantha makes a horrific choice that saves an innocent life but puts a price on her head. The young woman she saves is very forgiving and offers Samantha a chance to leave America if she’s willing to live a lie in a foreign land indefinitely. Grabbing the chance, Samantha leaves her old name behind and travels to Scotland to become Miss Alison Ross, taking possession of Erradale and halting the schemes of the enemy Earl of Thorne. Samantha is met at the Wester Ross train station by a handsome Scotsman who provides assistance when her handbag is stolen. She’s quick to learn her hero is in fact Gavin St. James, the very man the real Alison had warned her about. Sensing his helpfulness was all a trick to get “Alison” to surrender her lands in thanks for saving her, Samantha explains that she will never hand over Erradale and will turn the derelict lands into a thriving cattle ranch to rival those in the American West.

The adversarial relationship between Samantha and Gavin fuels them to push relentlessly for their own goals. Gavin is shocked that “Alison” doesn’t fall for his seduction but he is soon back on track to subvert her efforts to improve Erradale. Samantha tries to keep away from Gavin but each time they meet. their war of words hides an undercurrent of attraction. Everything changes when investigators from America show up at Erradale and Gavin saves Samantha from being killed in a fire. For the first time in their acquaintance, Gavin sees the frightened young woman hiding behind bravado and salty language. It awakens something inside him he was reluctant to admit; that this bonny lass had become someone that he cares for. Knowing he can’t ignore those feelings forever and seeing a way for both of them to get what they want, Gavin offers “Alison” the protection of his name. In turn, he’ll assume control of Erradale through their marriage of convenience. Samantha knows their marriage won’t be legal since she’s not the real Alison Ross but the unwelcome discovery that she’s pregnant pushes her to accept Gavin’s proposal to give her unborn child a better name than that of an outlaw family. She soon finds that lying to Gavin is the most difficult thing she’s ever faced as his flirtatious manner hides a man who deserves honesty and love to save him from the pain in his past.

The books in the Victorian Rebels series never fail to use the tortured past of the hero to create a rich, emotional story. Each man has their own ways to deal with their demons and Gavin hides behind his smile and uses women for temporary pleasure to escape his pain. When Samantha doesn’t fall for his charms Gavin has to dig deep inside of himself to find ways around her stubbornness. What he finds inside is a man who desires love but has never felt comfortable exposing himself to anyone. The prologue of The Scot Beds His Wife isn’t as disturbing as in some of the earlier books; however once the reader comes to understand how desperately Gavin has suppressed the romantic side of himself, those moments where his innocence was destroyed become all the more unsettling.

Samantha is also very different from previous heroines as she’s action oriented, direct, profane and has just as many walls around her heart as Gavin does. Samantha has been fighting for stability and a true sense of belonging ever since her childhood on a ranch in Nevada Territory with her adoptive family. Her marriage was an ill-conceived desire to create a family with someone she thought was devoted to her, and escaping to Scotland is a chance for Samantha to try one more time to restart her life. I loved her no-nonsense attitude and her need to build up Erradale for herself just as much as to protect it for the real Alison’s benefit.

The Scot Beds His Wife isn’t the strongest release within the Victorian Rebels series but the developments for the Mackenzie family and a few hints at what’s to come make this a must read for fans and a good entry point for new readers.


EXCERPT

Chapter Two

Union Pacific Railway, Wyoming Territory, Fall, 1880

Samantha Masters squeezed the trigger, planting a bullet between her husband’s beautiful brown eyes.

She whispered his name. Bennett. Then screamed it.

But it was the woman in his grasp she reached for as he fell to the ground.

Though they’d known each other all of twenty minutes, she clung to Alison Ross as though the younger woman were the most precious soul in the entire world, and they sank to their knees as their strength gave out.
Alison’s hold was just as tight around her, and their sobs burst against each other’s in a symphony of terror, shock, and abject relief.

What in the hell just happened?

Not twenty minutes ago, Samantha and Alison had been no more to each other than amiable fellow passengers on an eastbound train, chugging across the wintry landscape of the Wyoming Territory.

What were they now? Enemies? Survivors?

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Samantha repeated the words with every short, sobbing exhale. Though she couldn’t have said who the apology was to, exactly. To Alison? To Bennett? To whoever had been shot on the other railcars?
To God?

This morning she’d been the irate, disillusioned wife of a charming and dangerous man. An insignificant and unwilling member of the outlaw Masters Gang.

This afternoon, she’d been the new acquaintance and confidant to Alison Ross, commiserating over childhoods spent on secluded cattle ranches.

This evening, because of what she’d just done, of what they’d all just done . . . chances were good that she’d be hanged.

This train job was supposed to be like any other. Each of the Masters boarded on the last platform for miles and miles. To avoid detection or suspicion, Bennett, Boyd, and Bradley Masters would each take a seat in separate passenger cars.

Samantha would be placed in the least populated car, usually first class, as it was also the least dangerous. Once civilization completely fell away, the signal was given, and the men would strike, rounding up all passengers into one car.

This was done for the safety of the passengers as much as the Masters, themselves, as the gang didn’t generally rob people. Cash, jewelry, and personal items were never as valuable as actual cargo. The Union Pacific Railway didn’t only deliver citizens across the vast American continent. It delivered goods, sundries, and often . . . federal funds.

Even in these modern times, when it seemed all the gold had been mined from the rich hills of California, American currency was still minted in the east. Which meant everything from company payrolls, to government bonds, to cash and precious metals were transported by transcontinental railways.

And the Masters brothers, aspiring entrepreneurs, had decided that if the government wouldn’t allow them land, nor the banks grant them loans . . .

Then they’d take what they needed.

This was supposed to have been their fifth and final train job. It was supposed to have gone like the others.
No one harmed or robbed. Merely a bit inconvenienced and perhaps a little shaken. The Masters would escape with a few bags of money that the government could simply print again, a “frightened” female hostage as played by Samantha herself, and the papers would have an exciting story to publish in the morning.

The signal, both to each other and to the passengers, was one shot, fired at the ceiling, and then a command to disarm, get moving, and a gentle promise that all this would be over before they knew it. Samantha’s job was to act like any other passenger, and incite them to obey. Then, if necessary, act as the hostage to force compliance.

“People are sheep,” Boyd had always said. “They’ll follow a sweet thing like you to their doom.”

On this job, Samantha had been more comfortable than any other. At this time in October, with winter settling in but Christmas still a ways off, travel wasn’t foremost on the mind of the average American.

Her railcar had only two occupants other than herself. Alison Ross, a lively, bright-eyed San Franciscan socialite, and a well-dressed businessman more interested in his paper than conversation.

At first, Alison’s friendly overtures had vexed Samantha, as she found it hard to concentrate on responses when her blood sang with equal parts anticipation and anxiety. But, she realized, to not engage would be suspicious, and before long she’d found herself enjoying Alison’s company.

She’d not known many women her age, least of all friendly ones.

Samantha imagined that in another life, she and Alison could have, indeed, been friends.

Had she not been about to rob the train.

Had there not been more gunshots than were agreed upon . . .


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan Byrne uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in every book. She lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains with her handsome husband and three lovely teenage girls, but dreams of settling on the Pacific Coast. Her Victorian Rebels novels include The Highwayman and The Highlander.

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