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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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Caught by the Scot (Made to Marry #1) by Karen Hawkins


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When the dark Duke of Hamilton loses his beloved wife, he heeds her dying wish that he make certain her three brothers marry well for she fears they are all headed to ruin. Heartsick, the Duke approaches the task with a heavy hand, ordering the three brothers to marry within three months or forego their inheritance.

The middle brother, the dashing Conner Douglas, is not about to give up his independence, but he knows marriage doesn’t always mean one much change, does it? If anything, being married to a pliable sort of female would give him even more opportunity to seduce the married women of the ton. So he heads straight for the most pliable female he knows – a childhood acquaintance and now mousy spinster, the English born and bred Miss Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe.

Conner is so certain Theodora will joyously agree to marry him, that he takes his time traveling to her house and has only one month to secure her hand and marry. Yet when he arrives at her parents’ house he discovers that Theodora has just run away with a local landowner – a farmer, no less! Unknown to Conner, Theodora has been wildly, passionately in love with him for years. But she’s accepted he only sees her as a friend. Unable to sit forever in her parents’ front parlor and wait for what will never happen, Theodora decided to marry someone comfortable in the hopes they might at least become good partners.

Unaware of Theodora’s feelings, Conner isn’t about to let ‘the perfect wife’ get away so easily. But as Conner seduces Theodora, his own feelings stir. And after surviving a trip of mishaps and traps, he discovers that he can’t image her marrying anyone but him.

Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, September 2017

Time and Setting: Scotland, early 19th Century
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Caught by the Scot is the first in a new series from Karen Hawkins which features a trio of brothers who are given four months in which to get married if they are to receive their respective inheritances under the terms of their sister’s will.  It’s an undemanding and very readable friends-to-lovers story in which the principal conflict comes from the fact that the hero and heroine want different things from life, and it’s touch-and-go as to whether they are prepared to compromise in order to be together.

In a sombre, almost heart-breaking opening chapter, we learn of the death in childbed of Anna, the Duchess of Hamilton, who has left behind a baby son, a grieving widower and the three younger brothers to whom she was more of a mother than a sister.  One of Anna’s dearest wishes was to see her brothers happily settled with families of their own, and in order to honour that wish, her husband presents Connor, Jack and Declan Douglas with an ultimatum; get married within four months or forfeit the fortune left them by their sister.  The brothers aren’t best pleased and, as each of them is quite secure financially, they aren’t too worried at the prospect of forfeiting the money – until the Duke tells them that he will give it to their family’s greatest enemies, the Campbells, if they do not do as Anna wished.

The brothers agree to the terms and are discussing the sort of wives they want when Conner hits upon the perfect solution to his situation.  Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe, the sister of one of his best friends is well-born, practical and pretty enough, although rather quiet – and, as the daughter of a diplomat, will have no trouble managing his household in his frequent and lengthy absences overseas.  She’s on the shelf and is sure to be grateful for his offer, so Connor confidently expects to be able to do as his sister wanted within the time limit and decides to enjoy the last of his bachelorhood, nonchalantly waving off his brothers’ surprise that he isn’t going to propose to Thea straight away.  But Conner isn’t worried.  Thea’s safely stowed at her father’s house and will be waiting for him when he eventually shows up, right?

Wrong.

When Conner finally emerges from his month long carouse and arrives at Cumberbatch House, it’s to find the place in uproar following Thea’s elopement with a local squire.  Needless to say, Connor is shocked – and furious – that Thea hasn’t been calmly sitting there waiting for him, and sets off in pursuit, determined to bring her to her senses and make her his bride.

Thea has been in love with Conner for years, but knows he has never seen her as anything but his best friend’s little sister.  She also knows that Conner loves nothing so much as his career as a highly successful privateer; he loves the freedom to come and go as he pleases and doesn’t like staying in one place too long, things which are diametrically opposed to those Thea wants from life.  Having spent most of her life travelling with her parents as her father moved from one ambassadorial post to another, she is tired of not having anywhere she can really call home.  So when the handsome and very agreeable Squire Lance Fox starts courting her, she encourages his interest and accepts his proposal of marriage.

For once, Thea is going to do something exciting and unexpected… except she bargains without Lance’s inept driving which lands them in a ditch and their vehicle in need of repair.  This delay enables Conner to catch up with them at the first inn he comes to – and he almost immediately makes Thea the most arrogant, condescending marriage offer ever, to which she, not surprisingly, says an emphatic “no”.

Once Conner has recovered from the shock of being turned down in favour of another man he decides to try to convince Thea to break her engagement by proving to her that there is true passion between them.  But no matter how knee-weakening Conner’s kisses, Thea knows he’s wedded to the sea and is not the man to make her a home and spend his life at her side.  She continues to resist his sensual blandishments, at which point Conner realises he needs to change tack.  Rather than trying to sweep her off her feet, she needs to spend enough time with Lance to see what Conner has already seen – that she and her devoted fiancé are completely ill-suited.  Lance believes Thea to be something she’s not and Conner knows that he’ll drive her barmy within weeks.  Lance has the idea that Thea is a perfect specimen of demure womanhood and will meekly accept his every instruction and suggestion without complaint, whereas Conner knows all too well that Thea has a brain and knows how to use it; she’s not afraid to voice her own opinions and most definitely won’t appreciate being treated like some sort of delicate flower.

Conner’s machinations – which include engaging the most unsuitable chaperone in the history of chaperones – are devious and sometimes amusing, especially when they backfire and only make the likelihood of Thea’s changing her mind even more remote.  I liked that Thea is wise to his game, and also that as the ill-fated elopement continues, she sheds her rose-tinted view of Conner and sees him as the man he really is.  And Conner, well… he starts out seeming like a conceited git; he’s so sure that Thea will fall into his arms and weep with gratitude at the prospect of marrying him, yet it’s telling that she’s the first – and only – woman he thinks of when he learns he has to find a wife.  Of course, it takes the prospect of losing Thea to open Conner’s eyes to the truth of his feelings for her and for him to realise that he wants her enough to consider making some substantial changes to his way of life so that they can be together.

Ms. Hawkins writes with a very sure hand; the relationship between Conner and Thea is well drawn and the dialogue is sharp and often funny, but while I enjoyed Caught by the Scot, it didn’t have that certain something that elevated it from the merely “good”, and didn’t really offer anything I haven’t read hundreds of times before.  I also got very tired very quickly of the written out dialect; all the “dinnae”s and “cannae”s and “mon”s and “verra”s that are so often found in stories featuring Scottish characters, and which are completely unnecessary.  It’s not that I found the text difficult to read or understand, it’s just an affectation that annoys me; the author tells us this character is a Scot, so unless I’m told otherwise, they have a Scottish accent which I’m quite capable of imagining for myself.

With that said, fans of sexy Scottish heroes should find much to enjoy in Caught by the Scot, which is by turns poignant, sensual and funny.  I may well stick around for the next book to see how the next Douglas brother is Made to Marry.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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1296

Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands.

Deirdre MacCoinneach wishes to understand her unusual ability to sense others’ lifeblood energies…and vows to discover if her gift killed the men she married. Her father’s search for a new and unsuspecting suitor for Deirdre becomes complicated when rumors of witchcraft abound.

Under the façade of a trader, Alasdair Montgomerie travels to Uist with pivotal information for a Claimant seeking the Scottish throne. A ruthless baron hunts him and a dark past haunts him, leaving little room for alliances with a Highland laird or his tempting daughter.

Awestruck when she realizes that her unlikely travel companion is the man from her visions, a man whose thickly veiled emotions are buried beneath his burning lifeblood, Deirdre wonders if he, too, will die in her bed if she follows her father’s orders. Amidst magic, superstition, and ghosts of the past, Alasdair and Deirdre find themselves falling together in a web of secrets and the curse of a hundred kisses…

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EXCERPT

Deirdre’s cold, weekly baths were her refuge from the chaos of the village. The loch’s iciness was a thousand fingers prickling her skin, but she submerged farther as she entered in from the shore. The world’s humming and warm colors faded as the water consumed her. She let out a loud sigh, then inhaled and dunked her full body in, holding her breath.

For that brief moment, as air filled and expanded her chest and the world of the dark, shallow water swathed her, she felt free from her powers.

Dusk’s nip was a welcome from the heat that radiated off all the living during the day. It was as though the life force of every living being ceased during the hours when the sun set. Most importantly, she could no longer see him, and her vision of him—the man from the wood. The trees didn’t appear ablaze before her while the man cried out for help, his dark blue eyes filled with fear, his black hair catching aflame, and his vibrant red lifeblood draining.

She massaged her scalp, hoping to erase the image. It would never cease. It never did. The more she fought it, the more her powers gripped her. Oh, Mother, why couldn’t you be here to teach me how to control it? She trembled with grief as the chill sank into her bones. Her lungs grew empty, and she struggled to remain under. She didn’t want to face the world. Her ears rang, and with open eyes, a welcome blackness crept over her sight. Maybe she could stay under and let it take her.

Her only refuge from obligations as laird’s daughter danced around her with a chilling caress. Although she had escaped the village unnoticed, she knew by morning that somebody, most likely Crystoll, sent by her father, would be knocking on her door. Or Moreen would need her to taste a new recipe in the kitchen. Or Caite would want to whine about something. Nay, but not now. Now, she was alone. Her father had been too distracted with the news the sentry brought about Dunbar. This wet, numbing escape was not accompanied by one of her father’s soldiers for once. By God, she succumbed to it.

She sensed no colors in the murky, lifeless water, and it was freeing. All breath escaped her. Muted visions passed before her eyes—her mother, her father, Gordon, and Cortland. Just a moment longer, she thought…

Suddenly, a burst of warm light invaded her thoughts as air filled her lungs. Red-hot hands burned her shoulders and ripped her from her icy grave. She breathed life into her body. She coughed, gagging on the change.

Muffled words yelled at her.

Oh, God, so hot. His fingers were like hot pokers. Her head pounded as she slowly returned to the present. Heat radiated from her rescuer. Somebody had pulled her from the water.

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

His voice was as soothing as a warm cup of goat’s milk on a winter’s day. A red-hot glow emanated from his body. Never before had she felt such a strong lifeblood, and it nearly burned her. She struggled in his arms to get free. She blinked, only seeing a blurry form before her. “Release me!”

She splashed and wriggled, and he did as told. She clambered to the shoreline. Numb and shaken, she began to dress. It wasn’t easy as she fumbled with slick fingers to put dry clothes over wet skin. She instantly regretted her naked swim. She pulled on her long-sleeved white chemise first.

She faced the forest, away from her rescuer. He quietly splashed to shore. His lifeblood burned into her back. He wasn’t far behind, but he stopped. She refused to look at him until she was fully clothed, not out of embarrassment of her nudity, but for what had just happened. He released a groan and mumbled under his breath about wet boots. His voice was not one of her father’s soldiers.

When she put the last garment on, her brown wool work kirtle, she squeezed out her sopping hair and swept her hands through the knotty mess. She fastened her belt and tied the lacings up the front of the kirtle. Blood returned to her fingertips, and she regained her composure. Belated awareness struck her, and she leaned down and searched through her bag for her dagger. She spun around.

She gasped as she saw the man sitting on the stone-covered shoreline, his wet boots off. Confusion and the hint of a scowl filled his strong-featured face. She staggered back, caught her heel on a stone, and fell, dropping the dagger. Dirt and pebbles stuck to her wet hands and feet, and she instinctively scrambled away from him.

His glower, iridescent dark blue eyes, and disheveled black hair were not unfamiliar. Staring at her was the man she had seen in her dream—it was the man from the wood.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jean GrantJean is a scientist, part-time education director, and a mom to two active sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for inspiration. She enjoys writing non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines, and aspires to write children’s books while continuing to write novels. In 2008, she visited the land of her daydreams, Scotland, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Jean enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her sons, while daydreaming about the next hero to write about…

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Website: http://www.jeanmgrant.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Thief’s Countess (Border Series Book One) by Cecelia Mecca

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The Reiver

Sir Geoffrey has dedicated his life to exacting revenge on the men who killed his parents and stole his birthright. The son of a baron, he has been reduced to stealing the resources he needs to reclaim his family legacy. Just when he’s on the verge of success, his uncle asks him to put his plans on hold to help protect a wealthy countess. It’s a distraction Geoffrey resents, even more so when he meets Lady Sara. The gorgeous, complicated and alluring lady is everything he’d want in a woman—and everything he can’t have.

The Countess

With her betrothed coming to claim her hand in marriage and a distant cousin intent on usurping her earldom, Lady Sara Caiser feels beset by controlling, unwanted men. As if that weren’t enough, her father’s deathbed request was for two lawless border reivers to serve as her protectors. Despite her misgivings, an undeniable attraction pulls her into Sir Geoffrey’s arms. The man she thought nothing more than a thief is more dangerous than she believed, for he’s noble, caring and sinfully attractive. As the threats against her continue to mount, Sara must decide what’s more important—her duty or her heart.

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EXCERPT

Leaning slightly on the balustrade overlooking the hall, she gestured to the activity below. “These people, Sir Geoffrey, many of whom who have been in our family’s service for years, counted on my father for their well-being.”

Sara warmed to her topic. “The hundreds of knights sworn to service and those beyond these walls who’ve lived here for generations now rely on me.”

“Which is exactly why I need to be moved closer to your personal quarters,” Sir Geoffrey said. “My uncle is in your father’s debt. As an extension of that debt, I’ll give my life, if necessary, to protect you.”

Just as she was starting to think him noble, he added, “But make no mistake, I’m not happy about it.”

“Be that as it may, Sir Geoffrey, perhaps it’s best you move on and allow Kenshire to defend itself.”

For the second time that day, Sir Geoffrey grabbed her hand and forced her to face him. She should have pulled her hand back immediately—propriety dictated it—but she did not.

“We are here to stay,” he insisted. “Unfortunately my uncle has asked I guard your person as he assists with the gatehouse fortification.”

He had a battle-hardened face, the evidence in a faint mark extending from his cheek to his lower jawbone, a scar she hadn’t noticed before. His hand, calloused and strong but also warm and protective, held hers tightly.

“In that case—” Sara finally pulled her hand free. “We’ll make the best of a situation neither of us desires.”

“Aye.” His voice was low, reverberating.

“I’ll ask for your things to be moved to a chamber closer to my own.”

“The empty one across the hall.”

Startled, it was Sara’s turn to narrow her eyes at him.

“I’d ask how you know the chamber is empty, but I have a feeling you’re privy to more information than I would like.”

Why did he look guilty?

“You’ve already made arrangements to sleep there.” It was stated as a fact rather than a question—she didn’t expect a response, nor did she receive one. Disliking the turn of their conversation, she nodded her head and quickly walked away. She’d speak to Peter, the traitor, in the morning. The high-handedness of men never ceased to amaze her.

But Peter’s misguided loyalties would have to wait. For now, other thoughts occupied her mind.

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A WORD ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

cecelia meccaCecelia Mecca is the author of medieval romance and has loved all things medieval England and the romance genre for as long as she can remember. Though her actual home is in Northeast Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and two children, her online home is at CeceliaMecca.com.

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GUEST SPOT AND GIVEAWAY: Historical Hellions Box Set

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From bluestockings to scandalous heiresses, these strong-willed, unconventional historical romance heroines don’t let anything stand in their way when it comes to love and happily ever after. Featuring seven novellas and novels from award-winning and bestselling authors.

The Pursuit of Pleasure by Elizabeth Essex

Independent, politically-minded heiress Elizabeth Paxton has never wanted to marry, but longs for the freedom afforded to widows. The last thing she wants is dangerously attractive Captain Jameson Marlowe as a husband.

The Thief Steals Her Earl by Christina McKnight

The Earl of Cartwright is determined to find out who stole from his family. When he finds out the thief is the woman he’s fallen in love with, he must choose between duty and love.

Secrets in Scarlet by Erica Monroe

When a bluestocking with a scandalous past meets an idealistic sergeant, sparks fly as they work to solve a murder…but her secrets may lead to their undoing.

Sleeping Beau by Lila DiPasqua

Inspired by the tale of Sleeping Beauty–a scorching hot historical romance novella from the Fiery Tales series. One sleeping rake, one scorching kiss, one night of unforgettable passion…

The Art of Seduction by Eileen Richards

A spinster finds freedom as a theatre set painter until a chance meeting with the marquis who broke her heart has her questioning what she wants for her future.

The Madam’s Highlander by Madeline Martin

What’s the madam of a successful bawdy house in Edinburgh to do when she finds one of the English supported Black Watch soldiers needing to desert his post? She helps him, of course – but there’s a high price to pay.

Reckless Wager by Christy Carlyle

Victorian propriety and passions collide when a beautiful widow makes a wager with a wounded police detective bent on solving the Ripper mystery.


Heroines as Hellions: a Guest Post by Erica Monroe

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

erica monroeI have always been drawn to strong heroines. I am a child of the ‘90’s, growing up surrounded by American Girl dolls, highlighting women’s contribution to history, and stacks of Nancy Drew novels, teaching me that women could solve any problem with a bit of ingenuity and kindness. As I came of age, a plethora of television shows highlighting fierce women (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, Charmed, the X-Files all come to mind immediately) constantly reminded me that my value is not determined by the opinions of others, but by how I perceive myself. In college, I studied authors who changed the course of literature with their refusal to blindly follow society’s dictates that women could not possibly write as well as men. Jane Austen’s Emma, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch solidified not just my love for nineteenth century Britain, but for determined and smart, yet still flawed, heroines.

As I write this, Lady Gaga is blasting in my office, and I am surrounded by signs that say things like “like a boss” and “write your own life story” (as well as a gigantic poster from Rogue One with “Rebel” in big letters), all reminders to remain true to myself and my creative strengths. And indeed, I have forged a career for myself in writing dark, suspenseful historical romance, where the women are just as dangerous and capable as the men whose heart they capture. I write women who are survivors, who, despite many difficulties and obstacles, have fought tooth and nail to eke out a small place of happiness in a cruel world. When I write—and when I read for my own enjoyment—a book, I want the hero and heroine to be equal partners.

So it should come as no surprise that when my critique partner, Christina McKnight, and I sat down to outline a new historical romance boxed set, we chose “strong women” as our theme. Like me, Christina writes unconventional women, and heroes that embrace their uniqueness. Historical Hellions  contains seven novels and novellas (two of which have never been before published: The Madam’s Highlander and The Art of Seduction), all featuring revolutionary women blazing their own path. We’ve got a thief desperately trying to save her family from debt (The Thief Steals Her Earl), a woman who agrees to a marriage of convenience with her best friend in hopes she’ll become a widow (The Pursuit of Pleasure), a mysterious seductress (Sleeping Beau), and a widow who drives a hard bargain (Reckless Wager).

In my book, Secrets in Scarlet, my heroine Poppy has been shunned by her small English town because she had a child outside of marriage. Poppy moves to London, and begins working in a factory in the Spitalfields rookery under an assumed name—pretending to be a war widow, so that no one will know her daughter is illegitimate. But when another girl is murdered at the factory, the H-District Metropolitan Police’s investigation puts Poppy right in the crosshairs of Sergeant Thaddeus Knight… who would love nothing more than to solve the puzzle Poppy presents.

Secrets in Scarlet holds a special place in my heart because Poppy is somewhat of an unwilling rebel—her main concern is protecting her daughter. She thinks she’s cost herself her own happily ever after, because surely, no man would want a fallen woman. While Thaddeus’s love certainly strengthens Poppy’s sense of self-worth, she must learn for herself that her past does not weaken her. I think that’s one of the most important lessons I learned from growing up with so many excellent examples of strong women: strength manifests itself in many ways. Poppy is a quieter heroine, a bluestocking who’d rather spend her days at home surrounded by books. She struggles, and she has doubts and fears, but when it comes to seeking justice, she fights hard. In the end, she realizes that her past experiences have made her who she is today, able to empathize and love with great depth.

That’s what we hope to present to readers with the Historical Hellions set: women who are their own champions, who love passionately, who battle nearly impossible odds and still triumph. None of our heroines are perfect– just as none of us are—and it is their imperfections often that end up making them shine. We want readers to know that like these heroines, their uniqueness is wonderful, and they too can change the world.

Giveaway

Erica and her fellow authors are offering THREE (3) eCopies of the boxed set of Historical Hellions novels and novellas to three lucky winners. Enter at Rafflecopter below (no purchase is necessary). The giveaway is open for one week, and the winners will be notified shortly after the closing date.

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About the Authors

USA Today Bestselling Author Christina McKnight writes emotional and intricate Regency Romance with strong women and maverick heroes.
USA Today Bestselling Author Erica Monroe writes dark, suspenseful historical romance with an emphasis on women’s rights and social issues.
USA Today Bestselling Author Lila DiPasqua writes historical romances with heat, and her Fiery Tales features fairy tale reworkings.
USA Today Bestselling Author Madeline Martin heats up the Highlands with her historical romances.
USA Today Bestselling Author Christy Carlyle writes sensual historical romance set in the Victorian era.
RITA Award Nominee Elizabeth Essex writes award-winning historical romance full of adventurous heroines and their sea captain heroes.
Bestselling Author Eileen Richards writes lighthearted Regency romps.

The Highland Duke (Lords of the Highlands #1) by Amy Jarecki

the highland duke

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She’ll put her life on the line for him . . .

When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name.

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, March 2017
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1703
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

I was drawn to The Highland Duke for its promise of a hidden identity story. Once I began reading I discovered it was so much more and was quickly caught up in the adventure, danger and romance all set against the Jacobite uprisings of the early 1700’s.

The battle had been fierce but Akira Ayres had no concern over the political war being fought near her home in Dunkeld. All she knew was that there would be many wounded still left on the field who needed her help as a healer. Searching the grounds of Hoord Moor for survivors, Akira is drawn to a nearby clump of trees by the sound of someone in distress. Following the moaning she finds a man dressed much better than any of the dead or wounded men she’s seen on the field. Before she can question who he is, Akira sees that he’s been shot in the leg and realizes that her skills may not be enough to treat that kind of injury. Her patient seems more concerned about leaving the field of battle than his injury and he commands her to do what she can to remove the musket ball and get him mobile.

George, Duke of Gordon, came to Hoord Moor to support his cousin and the Jacobites who were rising up against the royalist Marquis of Atholl. His wounded leg is nothing compared to the death sentence he will likely face if the Marquis’ guardsmen find him on the field with the other surviving clansmen. His only chance is to retreat from Dunkeld and travel back into his own territory or at least to lands controlled by a clan allied with his own. The beautiful healer might be his only chance at escape but without knowing where her loyalties lie there is no way he can tell her who he really is. Calling himself Geordie, he sends her off to purchase a horse while he continues to hide. Upon her return, Geordie fully intends to leave her behind and make his way alone to a neighboring clan; however the Captain of the guard gets there before he can leave and his wounded leg makes riding almost impossible. Understanding in an instant that he still needs the woman’s healing touch, Geordie pulls her onto the horse and together they ride farther into the Highlands and away from danger.

Akira has never been more than a few miles away from her home but her dedication to her patient keeps her with Geordie during his flight. Their slow progress through the dense forests of the Highlands keeps the pair in close company even while Akira forces herself to remain detached from the handsome man she knows is keeping secrets from her. With Geordie’s health getting worse the longer they ride away from danger, the more important it is for Akira to remain by his side despite the jeopardy he’s put her in. Their journey reveals Geordie to be verydifferent from the overbearing man she first cared for on the battlefield. He is considerate of her comfort, he protects her even at a great cost to himself, and he seems to find her attractive despite her Gypsy heritage.

Taking a risk that his feelings for her are sincere, Akira succumbs to her own attraction to Geordie in an incredible moment of sexual release. Unfortunately, however, once she discovers the truth of his identity any future she might have hoped to have with her Highlander are dashed. His position as a duke and her own background as an uneducated “tinker” puts them leagues apart in social class and in expectations. Added to that problem is the fear that the soldiers are still chasing after Geordie to prove he was supporting the Jacobites and her presence on Gordon land is all the evidence they’d need. It is only Geordie’s constant reassurances that his feelings are true that keeps Akira by his side; however the more she tries to be comfortable in the lavish world of the Duke of Gordon the less sure Akira is that her Geordie – the man underneath it all – will remain faithful to her.

The Highland Duke is a rich, romantic story from start to finish. Both Geordie and Akira are fully developed characters who each take a very personal journey of discovery. The labels each of them carry in society mean nothing while they are on the run. Akira is used to fighting against the inherent mistrust people have for her because she is a Gypsy. While traveling with Geordie she is treated as a true Scotswoman and appreciated for her skills and kindness rather than suspected due to her heritage. For Geordie, hiding his title from Akira is initially a way to keep himself safe but an unintentional side effect is that Akira treats him as she would any other man. Her concern for him never comes from what she hopes the exalted Duke of Gordon can do for her but is a heartfelt sentiment he has never felt from a woman before. That sense that he could be himself is freeing and gives Geordie the chance to strip himself of behaviors that were more associated with his title than who he really is.

Ms. Jarecki does an incredible job of weighing everything Geordie does with the politics of the time. The danger constantly nipping at his and Akira’s heels keeps the story from ever slowing down, even when the two have to take a moment to think about their relationship. His position as Duke of Gordon is only by the grace of Her Majesty, Queen Anne, and if it’s learned he is a Jacobite sympathizer it will cost his family everything. Still, when Akira is put at risk because of her association with him, Geordie is willing to sacrifice himself to prove that his loyalty to her is stronger than towards any sitting or deposed monarch.

I loved reading The Highland Duke. The book’s pace moves quickly but I never felt the characters or their emotions were left behind just to keep the plot going. I am eager to read the next book in the Lord of the Highlands series but may find myself revisiting Geordie and Akira’s story a second time just to revel in their perfect romance.

Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

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Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand…and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly—though unwillingly—bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN, February 2017
Time and setting: Scottish Highlands, 1742
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3 stars

Review by Vikki

Sinful Scottish Laird is an entertaining read, although it is a little slow to start.

Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick packs up her household and young son and flees the unwanted advances of her many suitors while she awaits the return of her lost love. Although she must remarry or lose her son’s fortune, she wants love if possible. What she does not count on is the overwhelming attraction she feels for Cailean MacKenzie, the Laird of Arrandale, her closest neighbor.

Cailean is determined to remain a bachelor, and while the lassie on his neighboring estate is bonny, he has no use for her – after all, she’s English – but the attraction between them is too strong to ignore. Her suitor turns out to be a captain in the Royal Navy bent on bringing Cailean’s smuggling days to an end. He cannot stand the thought of the man touching Daisy, or any man for that matter, but he could never consider marrying a Sassenach.

Can Daisy convince him to change his mind, or will he remain a stubborn Scot to the end and deny them the chance of ever-lasting happiness?

I struggled with Daisy’s character for much of the book and never really connected with her, other than on those occasions when she was involved with her son, Ellis. Her love for him comes through loud and clear. She comes across as somewhat of a flake in her dealings with others, and she seems indecisive as well, vacillating between her feelings for Cailean and Robert, the man she thinks she wants to marry.

Cailean is a hero I could love. His tender care for Ellis won me over and his relationship with his family speaks well of his character. However, I did not feel the chemistry between him and Daisy, nor could I understand why he wanted her, which is probably my main problem with the book – the chemistry between Daisy and Cailean just wasn’t strong enough for my taste. One thing I love in a romance is the slow build of sexual tension between the hero and the heroine, and it was lacking here.

Nonetheless, I am glad I had the opportunity to read Sinful Scottish Laird. The pacing overall was a little slow, but it does have an excellent ending. I also quite enjoyed Ellis, who had surprisingly good character development, and there are several enjoyable secondary characters who help move the story along.

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

wild-wicked-scot

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN Books, December 2016

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIRTUAL TOUR: My Highland Rebel (Highland Trouble #2) by Amanda Forester

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A conquering hero
Cormac Maclean would rather read than rampage, but his fearsome warlord father demands that he prove himself in war. Cormac chooses what he thinks is an easy target, only to encounter a fiery Highland lass leading a doomed rebellion and swearing revenge on him.

Meets an unconquerable heroine
Jyne Cambell is not about to give up her castle without a fight, even though her forces are far outnumbered. She’s proud, hot-blooded and hot-tempered, and Cormac falls for her hard.

It’s going to take all of Cormac’s ingenuity to get Jyne to surrender gracefully—both to his sword and to his heart…

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EXCERPT

They sat at an old oak table and broke bread together. Cormac found goblets of wine for both of them and some food for a meal. It had been long since he had filled his belly, so he ate hungrily of the bread and the hearty stew before him. Jyne must have been reassured by his confidence, for the little crease on her forehead disappeared, and she began to eat and drink with him.

He liked this, sharing a meal with her. He could almost block out the sound of his men carousing in the great room next to them. She was a beautiful lass. She must have been thinking of other things when she’d gotten herself dressed this morn, for her veil was not securely fastened, causing her long, straight blond hair to fall out before her. The color of those errant strands was like gold. He longed to reach out and touch it. She absently brushed a lock of hair behind her ear with a careless finger, causing him to pause in his eating. Her blue eyes sparkled at him, and he noticed those blue eyes had flecks of hazel green.

A disturbance erupted in the dining hall, and one of the elderly matrons ran back into the kitchen.

“What is the matter?” cried Jyne, rising to her feet. “Are they no’ getting tired?”

The woman placed a hand over her bosom, her eyes wide. “Nay, they’re getting randy!”

“Pardon?”

“I had two o’ the men say they thought I was a vision o’ loveliness. Three done laughed so hard, they fell from their benches, and four others started a brawl o’er the right way to eat stew. They’ve gone mad, they have!” The matron threw her hands up in the air.

Before Core could make any sense of this, another elderly clanswoman, with thinning gray hair and a large goiter, shrieked as she scrambled back into the kitchen.

“What happened to ye?” asked Jyne. She ran to the elderly woman and helped her to sit on the bench she had just vacated.

“I dinna ken they’re about. One man dropped to his knees and began to recite poetry, or at least some¬thing like it. A few others started dancing, wi’ no music—wi’ each other! Another one demanded my hand in marriage. To me! What sort o’ mean-spirited shenanigans are these hooligans up to?”

Jyne’s face was one of complete loss. “Is this some sort o’ game?” she asked Core.

“If it is, ’tis unknown to me.” Cormac had seen quite a bit of rough play from his father’s men, but he had never heard of anything like that.

Core and Jyne peeked inside the great hall and were astounded at what they saw. Several of the men were having a heated argument as to which of the elderly servers was more beautiful. Some were dancing to no music. Some were running around the room, batting at the air, as if trying to catch invisible fairies. Others were fighting while laughing hysterically. Jyne and Core stared at each other.

“Why are they acting this way?” Jyne met his eye. He realized they were standing very close as they peeked into the hall. Her beautiful blue eyes widened, and she flushed, her cheeks a rosy hue. Her lips were the color of pale pink rose petals and appeared so soft and inviting, he wished to lean in for just one taste. She was beautiful. Truly beautiful.

“I dinna ken.” He had to remind himself to answer her question. It was the truth. He had never seen the men act in such a manner.

“Oh!” Jyne suddenly gasped. “The potion. It must have made them mad.”

Core couldn’t help but laugh. “Ye made them all act like fools? Och, I wish my father was here to see it!”

“Who is yer father?” she asked, turning her innocent blue eyes to him.

He realized in a flash he had made a slip. “No one. Just he would think it amusing, is all,” he said hastily. “Will the potion make them tired or just mad as imps?”

Jyne slapped a hand to her forehead. “Och, I’m a dunderhead, I am. Too much ale wi’ it can make a man lose his senses.”

“Ye gave my men something to make them witless?”

“Well I… It wasn’t what I intended… Wait, yer men?” She raised an eyebrow at him, and he knew he was in trouble.

“My men? I…I have no men.” He attempted nonchalance. It was not a natural state.

The little furrow between her brows reappeared. “But I thought I heard ye say—”

He kissed her.

It was the only thing he could think to do. The only thing he wanted to do. He was drawn to her by a power he could not deny. He embraced her and allowed his lips to melt onto hers. Nothing he had ever experienced before compared, but he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, waiting for the inevitable slap. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck, press¬ing herself against him and returning his ardor with a passion that lit an explosion within him. He did not care that his men were making fools of themselves next door. He did not care if the entire kitchen staff could see them. He had to kiss her.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

Time and Setting: Highlands 1362
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

When I first began reading My Highland Rebel, I had my doubts. It appeared rather flippant and also, having just had a run of Highland adventures, I wasn’t really in the mood for another. However, I persevered and I’m glad I did, because I wasn’t far into it before I realised that the light, witty style isn’t really flippant at all but is the author’s quite unique style which is easy to read and an enjoyable departure from my normal reading choices.

When Cormac Maclean happens across a beautiful damsel in distress one damp, foggy morning, literally up to her waist in a smelly bog, he little realises that he has met his destiny. Lady Jyne Campbell had always wanted adventure; as the second youngest of the large Campbell clan she was always considered the runt of the litter being tiny and more fragile than her hale, hearty and statuesque siblings – and consequently had been over-protected and smothered. Therefore she is very excited when her eldest brother, David, the Laird of the powerful Campbell clan decides to allow her to visit her dower lands at Kinoch Abbey which he has purchased from the monks who had inhabited it. Wandering off from their camp to carry out her early morning ablutions she had become lost in the thick fog. Cormac arrives in the nick of time and saves her from almost certain death and as is the way when a beautiful young woman and an attractive, personable young man meet – especially in such circumstances – each is smitten.

Cormac has been raised by monks after being abandoned by his father. Red Rex is a notorious war lord and in the absence of another, more acceptable heir, has decided that he wants to own his connection to his son after all and sets out to mould him into a mirror image of himself. Cormac is more like his deceased mother in countenance and manner than his tyrannical father; he is an educated dreamer and scholar with a love of books which his father only sees as a weakness.

Cormac sets out to extricate himself from the tangle of lies he tells after stealing two scrolls from a nearby monastery. He only succeeds in tying himself up in knots as he tries to protect not only himself but also the monk who had doggedly followed him back to Red Rex’s lair, and there follows a farcical comedy of errors, after which, and much to Cormac’s consternation, they end up on their way to Lady Jyne’s Abbey in search of a mystical – and mythical – Templar Knight’s treasure.

And so Cormac and Jyne are destined to meet again, but in less than auspicious circumstances. Jyne has travelled to her Abbey and dower lands with a small contingent of men whilst her brother, David, has gone off in search of Red Rex whom he has heard is on the rampage somewhere on his lands. On Jyne’s arrival she finds she has a collection of rag-bag squatters, a party of elderly and young folk abandoned by their own people who have set up home in the keep. Being the tender hearted girl that she is, Jyne embraces them in return for them swearing fealty to the Campbell clan; and then relishes her chance to finally become chatelaine of her own keep. When Red Rex’s son arrives with his father’s men in tow, she is determined to protect her people and property with a fierceness that her clan will be proud of. Cormac – or The Fire Lord – as he has named himself, dons a large helm with demonic horns to make him appear tough and strong but also to hide his identity from the Lady Jyne. Jyne is eventually forced to tolerate Red Rex’s son and men in her keep, meanwhile hoping that the man she sent off secretly to her brother will return with help. Cormac manages to keep his identity a secret with the help of the horned helmet but keeps popping up as himself, allowing Jyne to believe that he is living in the shadows somewhere and has arrived to help her. His double identity has hilarious results as he keeps forgetting who he is and nearly trips himself up upon numerous occasions.

This is quite a busy book with a lot going on. Cormac uses his education in the sciences to cause several explosions (hence his name of The Fire Lord). Along with the search for the treasure, Jyne managing to drug Red Rex’s men, the burgeoning romance between Jyne and Cormac and his forever switching between characters etc etc – I felt there was just a little too much going on. There is also a rather modern feel to the story in language and tone; and certainly little or no historic content even though it’s set in 1362. In spite of that however, My Highland Rebel is a light, witty read, with many genuinely funny moments and extremely likeable characters. I liked this author’s style and shall certainly look for more of her work.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

amanda-foresterAmanda Forester holds a PhD in psychology and worked many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance was way more fun. A Publishers Weekly Top Ten author, her books have been given starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews. Whether in the rugged Highlands of medieval Scotland or the decadent ballrooms of Regency England, her novels offer fast-paced adventures filled with wit, intrigue, and romance. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest outside Tacoma, Washington.

You can connect with Amanda at her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads.