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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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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…

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeanmgrantauthor/
Twitter: @JeanGrant05
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

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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

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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.

Looking Back at 2016 – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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Amazingly, another year has passed, and it’s time for us all to look back at the books we most enjoyed reading in 2016. Here are some of the books chosen by the RHR team as their favourites of the year; if you’ve read any of them do you agree with our assessment? What are your own personal favourites of 2016? Please stop by and tell us what you read this year that you loved!

 


Caz

I’ve had a pretty good year in terms of books; I’ve read and listened to more than 250 titles this year and have rated the majority of them at 4 stars or higher, which is a pretty good strike rate! That said, choosing favourites is always difficult and they change from day to day. So bearing that in mind, here goes…

 

 

A Gentleman’s Position by K.J Charles is the third book in her excellent Society of Gentlemen series, set in the final days of the Regency.  This story takes an in-depth look at the problems inherent in falling in love outside one’s class – as the two protagonists, Lord Richard Vane and his extremely capable valet, David Cyprian struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another with their relative social positions.  The story is compelling, the romance is beautifully written and developed and the sexual chemistry between the principals is absolutely smoking.  This series has without question been one of the best historical romance collections in recent years, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

Forevermore is the seventh and last book in Kristen Callihan;s wonderful Darkest London series of historical paranormals, and it brings this incredibly inventive series to an action packed and very fitting close.  The author skilfully draws together a number of plotlines sewn in earlier books, a real treat for those of us who have followed the series from the beginning; there’s plenty of action, steamy love scenes, a complex, fast-moving plot, heartbreak, angst … in short, Forevermore delivers all the things that have made all the books in this series such compelling reads.  I’m sorry the series has ended, but it ends on a real high, and I fervently hope that Ms. Callihan might one day return to this fantastical twilight world of shifters, angels, GIMs and demons.

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt.  I do love a bad-boy hero, and there’s no denying that Elizabeth Hoyt set herself quite the task when she decided to turn the gorgeous, manipulative, devious and dangerous Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery into a romantic hero.  But she does it with aplomb, and without turning Val into a different character in order to effect his redemption.  The sexy game of cat-and-mouse played between the completely outrageous duke who thinks nothing of wandering around naked (well, he’s gorgeous, so why should he deprive people of the sight of him?!) and having the most inappropriate conversations with his housekeeper; and said housekeeper who is by no means insensible to Val’s charms, but who is sensible enough to know that he’s trying deliberately to rile her and not to take the bait – is wonderfully developed, and the relationship that emerges is one of surprising equality.  Duke of Sin is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and the eponymous duke is one of the most charismatic characters ever to grace the pages of an historical romance.

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley has been one of my favourite historical romances for the past thirty years, so I was delighted when the audiobook version, narrated by the massively talented Alex Wyndham became available just before Christmas.  Set during the English Civil War, the book tells the true story of the small garrison of just over three hundred men who held the Royalist stronghold of Banbury castle in Oxfordshire against an opposing Parliamentary force of almost ten times their number.  Against this superbly presented historical background, Ms. Riley develops an unforgettable romance between cynical, Royalist captain, Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of  a die-hard Puritan.  This is a real treat for anyone who enjoys their historical romance with an emphasis on the historical; the characterisation is superb, the romance is beautifully developed, and the audiobook is performed by one of the best narrators around.  Seriously – don’t miss it.

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, narrated by Susie Riddell.  With the tagline – Reader, I murdered him – there’s no question that Jane Steele – the book AND the character – is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and there are a number of key moments and events during this book that relate directly back to the classic novel. But this is ultimately a refreshing and somewhat unusual tale that very quickly takes on a life of its own. Jane is a remarkable and compelling character; a quick-witted survivor who doesn’t take crap from anyone but who nonetheless feels like a woman of her time, and what keeps her the right side of the listeners’ sympathies is that she’s motivated by love and loyalty.  We follow her through her time at school, her subsequent life in London and thence to a position as governess to the ward of Mr. Charles Thornfield, a British, Indian-born ex-army doctor with whom she eventually falls in love.  The writing is fresh and witty and the story is a terrific mixture of gothic romance and detective story featuring a unique protagonist, and I highly recommend the audiobook, as the narration by Susie Riddell is very good indeed.


Heather C.

The Duke of Deception by Darcy Burke – I loved the secrets being kept between the hero and heroine and how that pushed the story forward.  They weren’t simply a complication to tangle over.

The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens- This is the third book in the series and the best so far in my opinion. It isn’t often I say that!  There is less mystery than in the previous books and more action/adventure – with dire consequences.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal by Kathleen Kimmel. The best romance I have read this year.  The romance felt so real and hot, the characters were infuriating (in the best way), and the story forced the heroine WAY out of her comfort zone! Made me immediately pick up the other books in the series.


Jenny Q

Forevermore by Kristen Callihan

I have been a big fan of the Darkest London series from the very beginning, and while I am sad to see it come to an end, Forevermore is one heck of a satisfying conclusion. If you’re a fan of historical paranormals, or if you’ve never read one and want to give the genre a shot, this series, (along with Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series), is a great place to start. It’s a complicated world of elementals, werewolves, demons, spirits, and fae, and revolves around the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, tasked with managing them all. Forevermore gives readers pretty much everything we want in a series finale. I love how this story brought some threads back together from previous books and showed how everything that has happened to our favorite characters was set in motion and why. It was really cool how Kristen Callihan sort of brought everything full circle, not just for the story world but for some of the characters. The ending made me cry, and the epilogue made me smile. Forevermore is a riveting tale from beginning to end, and a worthy, powerful, and emotional conclusion to an outstanding series.

Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Sally Christie’s debut novel, The Sisters of Versailles, about a family of five sisters, four of whom became mistresses of Louis XV, made my list of best books of 2015, and so I was anxiously awaiting my chance to read the sequel, The Rivals of Versailles. It picks up right where we left off, only now the story is being told by Jeanne Poisson, the young and beautiful commoner who will become known to history as the unparalleled Madame de Pompadour. Quickly rising from humble roots, she immerses herself in lessons and becomes the most elegant and cultured woman at Versailles, a patron of the arts and architecture, and a politically savvy negotiator, guiding Louis through two decades of wars and diplomatic relations. I highly recommend this series for lovers of French history and readers who love to read about real women who make their mark on the world against all odds. This book is so complex in its many layers and in its lush depictions of court life in all its beautiful ugliness that I don’t feel my review can do it justice. I can’t wait to see how Sally Christie will bring this chapter in French history and the glory days of Versailles to an end in the final book, The Enemies of Versailles.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, and Lauren Willig

This is an excellent collection of short stories by nine talented historical fiction authors. While the stories are not interconnected, they do all share a common theme, the Armistice that ended World War I, and these stories really capture the conflicting emotions that the end of the war brings. Of course, there is joy and celebration but also a sense of uncertainty. Is it really over? What comes next? What do we do now? What was it all for? How do we go on as before when none of us will ever be the same? The stories are wonderfully varied, giving the reader a glimpse into different aspects of the war and life on the home front in Britain, Belgium, and France. All nine stories are good. There’s not a weak offering among them, though some did resonate with me more than others. All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson, Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole, and Hush by Hazel Gaynor stand out as my favorites. These stories of love and war are beautifully written, encompassing the entire range of emotions and shades of humanity, and will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.


Lady Cicely

Wicked Highland Wishes by Julie Johnstone

Julie Johnstone has written a riveting tale of love, the desire to do what’s right and throws in some curve balls I didn’t see coming all to great effect.  Bridgette is a strong heroine who goes through ordeals that would truly break a lesser woman.  I bawled at what she goes through then bawled some more as she comes out even stronger.  And Lachlan?  I wasn’t prepared to fall hopelessly in love with this hero!  His adoration, love and patience is what true heroes are made of.

This is one of those rare stories that will sit with you long after you have read it.

Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

Ms. Walker hits the ground running with this tale of love among war, politics, and betrayal. Her ability to infuse history into her tales without overwhelming the reader is a wonderful talent to have.  Rebel Warrior is an engaging tale that will have the reader thinking they have it figured out only to have the hero and heroine be given a story hiccup and the reader thinking “now I’m not sure” which only fuels the reader’s desire to find out what happens next.

Rescued by a Lady’s Love by Christi Caldwell

Christi Caldwell takes a slight departure from her usual writing style by going a little over to the dark side.  This little trip is a heart wrenching tale of two people who have every right to hate the world and the circumstances that have forced them into that world.  While keeping with the description of the Duke of Blackthorne from previous stories Ms. Caldwell slowly peels the layers back revealing how and why he is the way he is.  She makes the reader feel every ounce of pain and self-loathing both characters suffer and at the same time giving hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Blythe: Schemes Gone Amiss by Collette Cameron

Another hit by the extremely talented Collette Cameron that will have you laughing & crying all at the same time. Her wit combined with the strength of her characters will draw you in and not let you go.  Looking forward to her next installment to see which Culpepper Miss has me laughing out loud.

Lady Wesley

My favorite reads of 2016 include some old best-loved romance writers and a new-to-me author of mystery/romance stories.

After a fairly ‘meh’ first book in The Ravenels series, Lisa Kleypas got her groove back with Marrying Winterbourne. Rhys Winterbourne joins the ranks of Derek Craven (Dreaming of You) and Lord St. Vincent (Devil in Winter) as one of her most memorable and enticing heroes. I listened to the audio version narrated by Mary Jane Wells, who gets 10+ stars for her performance. Her Rhys Winterbourne is simply the sexiest, swoonworthiest hero I’ve ever heard from a female narrator, and I’m reliably informed that her Welsh accent is excellent. (It is – Ed.)

Once Upon a Dream was a triple delight for me. Two of my favorite authors: Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes. One of my favorite settings: country house parties. My favorite duke – the Duke of All Dukes: Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. No way was I not going to like these two novellas. Balogh’s story takes us back Bedwyn World, a place that I came to love when reading her Slightly and Simply series. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Thompson, played a secondary role in Slightly Dangerous, when her sister Christine married the top-lofty Duke. Eleanor appeared again in Simply Perfect, when Claudia Martin married the Marquess of Attingsborough, and Eleanor took over Claudia’s role as headmistress of a girls’ school in Bath. It was great fun to see this forty-year-old lady get her HEA. Burrowes gives us a widowed father of young boys who play matchmaker for their father and the daughter of an immensely wealthy cit. As usual, Burrowes excels at writing adorable yet realistically mischievous and exasperating children.

Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series of four novels and one novella – each of them first-rate – features Keira Darby and Sebastian Gage. Now comes the fifth novel in the series, As Death Draws Near, and I believe it is the best yet. Keira and Gage interrupt their honeymoon to investigate the murder of a nun at a convent in Ireland. Although the mystery drives the plot, this book is also a strongly character-driven love story. It is absolutely lovely to watch Keira and Gage navigate through the early days of their marriage. Keira has grown since we met her in The Anatomist’s Wife, but she still harbors insecurities relating to her unhappy first marriage, the notoriety resulting from her work, and her rejection by society. As for Sebastian Gage, he remains handsome, stalwart, and devoted to Keira. His character is not as inclined to introspection as hers, but we do see him trying to navigate, not always successfully, between being Kiera’s husband and being her partner in investigation. Anna Lee Huber is a supremely talented author, and these books are complex, impeccably plotted, and clearly well-researched.


Sara

Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

The idea of a Regency era “Fixer” who is both a peer and a woman shouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Kelly Bowen allows readers to quickly forget the implausibility of her storyline by engaging us with two highly intelligent characters who match wits, clash over control and somehow fall in love while searching for a kidnapped woman. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the investigation underlying all of their interactions but the story works best in the small moments where the heroine Ivory is allowed to be both strong and independent but still have a woman’s heart to be lost to the right partner.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

I didn’t believe that Kerrigan Byrne could create a darker and more tortured hero than she did in last year’s The Highwayman but somehow she turned a sociopath into a man to fall in love with. The emotional walls Christopher Argent has erected to protect himself slowly crumble when he interacts with his target Millie LeCour and he begins to see the value of living through her eyes. Mille has her own problems to overcome but the brilliance of her character is that she meets her challenges with courage and never lets them damage her spirit. The mix of his dark soul to her inner light makes their relationship all the more intense. Twists in the story show a reader that sometimes true evil can hide behind the friendliest of faces while true love can heal over scars built from a lifetime of pain.

To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn Macnamara

This book introduced me to one of my favorite characters of the year. Dysart starts off as a snarky Bow Street Runner full of contempt for the nobility but is slowly revealed to be a principled and honorable man. This story also had one of the best romantic partnerships with Dysart and his heroine Lizzie investigating the suspicious illness of her father along with other problems around the estate. I was reminded of the TV show Castle and the partnership of Castle/Beckett in how well Dysart and Lizzie work together but also tease and dance around their intense sexual chemistry. Dysart’s cleverness and dry wit alone make this book a keeper and the romance he finds with Lizzie made it all the more enjoyable.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

In a year full of drama Tessa Dare delivers a romantic-comedy that merges two separate series into a satisfying conclusion for them both. It’s a meeting of opposites when a buttoned-up former spy tangles with a spirited woman to solve a whodunit and save their reputations. Seeing the long suffering Charlotte Highwood all grown up and finding her match was so much fun! The lighter tone of the storyline allows for outrageously humorous moments such as a regency sex-ed discussion full of modern iconography, a child detective on the trail of a “murderer” and a completely garbled declaration of love. There are serious moments too but they never detract from the pure entertainment value of the book.

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

This was the surprise hit of 2016 for me. Emily Larkin mixes Historical and Paranormal elements into a book that never skimps on characters to sell the fantasy. Pushing the limits of the “woman in pants” storyline by adding the quirk of magic, the title character Charlotte Appleby experiences life for a few weeks as a woman embracing her sexuality and as a man understanding friendship and cameraderie. Charlotte’s physical transformation rather than just a disguise adds a subtext (perhaps inadvertently) about the nature of attraction and of gender being something intrinsic to the person rather than how they look on the outside. I loved seeing Charlotte discover that magic comes in many forms, from the supernatural kind to the type that sparks between people perfect for each other.


Wendy

There was never any doubt that a Stella Riley novel would feature in my ‘best of books published in 2016’ but which to choose? It was extremely difficult as she has had four audio books and one print published this year. In the end I settled on the long awaited Lords of Misrule, the fourth in her Civil War series. And my reason? It’s simply fabulous – a great feast of a book combining what I love best, terrifically researched historical content and a subtle but beautifully developed romance.

Lucinda Brant will always have a place on any ‘best of’ list of mine if she’s had something published within the year. This time she has brought together her fabulous Salt Hendon books in a boxed set in both a print version AND an audio version with the stupendously talented Alex Wyndham narrating it. With both being published within 2016 I’ve had the loveliest of times both reading and listening, and being transported back in time to Ms. Brant’s knowledgeably written and extensively researched, opulent and exciting Georgian world.

One of the queens of historical romance began a new series this year and in her usual understated, subtle manner, Mary Balogh has hooked me in. Someone to Love is an original and fascinating start to her new series and I was thrilled to not only read it but but also to have the pleasure of discussing the characters personally with Ms. Balogh at the Historical Romance Retreat. This author doesn’t need to rely on complicated plot lines to sell her books – her strengths lie in her years of writing and life experience which I feel always comes across, and I love everything she produces.

One of my greatest reading pleasures has always been historical fiction and in particular books about the Plantagenets. There are no historical fiction writers whom I enjoy more than Elizabeth Chadwick and The Autumn Throne, the third and final book in her fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine series is quite simply superb. Ms.Chadwick’s knowledge of the period and scholarship is mind boggling. All of her books are eloquently written, with exceptional attention to detail, but this series in particular really struck a chord with me and I finished it with a thirst to learn as much as I could about this fascinating historical character.

My final choice is a bit of a departure for me. K.J Charles is a new-to-me author in 2016 and was recommended by a respected reviewer friend. M/M historical romance is not something I had ever considered trying, nor to be honest, even knew existed. But I’m so glad I gave this author a try because I loved her Society of Gentlemen series and in particular, A Gentleman’s Position. This is such a clever story, taking place at a time when gentlemen could be executed for their predilections. But this story is about so much more than that, and the way the author develops the plot and brings it all to a satisfactory and plausible conclusion is very skilful. The love between her characters is tender and believable and the historical content is in-depth, real and fascinating.


All books in this list are linked to Amazon, so click to find out more!

 

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Highlander Who Loved Me by Tara Kingston

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Johanna Templeton is on a life-and-death quest. Swept into an intrigue that rivals the tales she pens, she joins forces with a Highland rogue to find the treasure that will save her kidnapped niece—a prize the Scot seeks for reasons that have nothing to do with ransom. Engaging the Highlander in a sizzling battle of the sexes, Johanna shields her heart.

Connor MacMasters, spy for Queen Victoria, is a man on a mission—keep a legendary gemstone from an evil man. Trailing an American novelist who holds the key to the treasure should’ve been simple, but Johanna awakens feelings he’d long thought dead. Torn between duty and desire, he wants her in his bed, but loving her would be a fool’s game. Blasted shame his heart doesn’t agree.

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EXCERPT

“My, lass, this is a surprise.” His husky burr was slow and deliberate and so very male.

Johanna lowered the lamp and slowly pivoted to face him. Oh, my!

Connor MacMasters stood before her. Fully, gloriously naked.

Gulping a breath, she forced her gaze to remain above his waist. His hair was damp, and he hadn’t shaved yet. Thick, dark stubble accented the strong contours of his jaw. Her gaze trailed lower. A slight sheen glistened on his broad, muscular shoulders while tiny beads of moisture dotted the dark hair on his chest.

That full, sensuous mouth of his quirked at one corner. “Have ye come to show yer appreciation for my chivalry? Or have ye decided my company is preferable to the specters that roam this old house?”

Liquid warmth filled her, a longing that penetrated to the bone. For a moment in time—a heartbeat, perhaps—she could think of nothing but the taste of his kiss, the feel of his lips against hers, the sound of her name in his raspy burr, whispered in a moment of passion.

That hint of a smile broadened. “Something wrong, Miss Templeton?” His tone faintly teasing, he put undue emphasis on her state of wedlock—or lack of. “Am I to believe ye werenae expecting me?”

She forced her head to shake in weak denial. “I…I wondered where you were. I heard noises.”

“Noises, eh?” He arched a dark brow. “The rattling of chains? Ghostly moans? Or weighted footsteps, perhaps?”

“Nothing like that. Probably just a mouse.”

His other brow lifted. “After all ye’ve been through, a mouse sends ye running?”

“I detest the filthy little creatures.” That, at least, came out with the conviction of truth. “I thought you’d gone to sleep.”

“Not yet.”

Damn him, the Scot made no move to put on a stitch of clothing. Not so much as a towel. Unable to help herself, her gaze dipped lower to the etched, muscular plane of his abdomen. A line of sable hair traced a decadent path from his navel lower, to a thick patch of hair even darker than that on his head.

She snapped her eyes up. He caught the motion, his mouth twisting with wry amusement he made no effort to hide.

“Am I to believe ye entered my chamber—searching for me, no less—because you feared a rodent might launch an attack?”

“I feared no such thing,” she countered. Her pride chafed at the incredulous humor in his voice. “I was alarmed. Nothing more.”

He folded his arms at the waist and rocked back on his heels, infuriatingly casual for a man who stood without a stitch to cover him. “By the saints, I’m the one should be alarmed. ’Tis not often that I emerge from my bathing chamber to find a comely lass beside my bed, threatening to compromise my fine reputation.”

“Compromise…your reputation?” The words plopped from her tongue like the last stubborn drops of molasses in an upended jug.

“Aye. I am an unmarried mon. What would anyone think, finding me alone in this room with a bonny lass who’s gone to such lengths to seduce me?”

“Seduce…seduce you?” Dash it all, she sounded like a parrot that had fallen off its perch and landed on its head.

“I can think of cruder terms. Would ye enjoy that?” He prowled toward her, his toes sinking into the plush carpet with each step. Lamplight gleamed over the contours of his chest, warming his skin with soft, golden rays.

She gave her head an urgent shake, as if to clear it. Stiffening her spine, she held his gaze. “I assure you there’s no need.”

His head moved slowly up and down in agreement. “Verrae true. Who needs talk at a time like this?”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tara-kingstonAward-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern-belle-out-of-water in a quaint Pennsylvania town, she lives her own love story with her real-life hero and a pair of deceptively innocent-looking kitties in a cozy Victorian. The mother of two sons, Tara’s a former librarian whose love of books is evident in her popping-at-the-seams bookcases. It goes without saying that Tara’s husband is thankful for the invention of digital books, thereby eliminating the need for yet another set of shelves. When she’s not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys movie nights, cycling, hiking, DIY projects, collecting dolls, and cheering on her favorite football team.

The Rebel of Clan Kincaid (Highland Warrior #2) by Lily Blackwood

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LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD

Since childhood, Magnus has been led to believe he is the Laird Alwyn’s bastard, and raised to hate the Clan Kincaid. But when he learns he is without a doubt the son of the murdered Laird Kincaid, his life as he has always known it is shattered. Now, hiding his knowledge and his fury, he returns to Burnbryde Castle, awaiting the chance to strike against the man whose treachery robbed him of his legacy. His first act of rebellion: to steal a kiss from the redheaded beauty who’s betrothed to the Alwyn’s eldest son and heir.

Since her arrival at Burnbryde, Tara Iverach has been confined to a tower to guard her virtue before she marries. But after a surprise embrace with a lean, bare-chested Highlander who claims to be the Alwyn’s oldest son, she can’t contain her excitement over her good fate. Unfortunately, he is the wrong eldest son, and she is set to marry his cruel and lecherous half brother, Hugh. Can Magnus conquer his rivals and claim his Kincaid destiny before the woman who’s captured his heart becomes his sworn enemy’s bride?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, December 2016

Time and Setting: 14th Century Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I do enjoy a Scottish Highlands tale, and the description of this one really intrigued me. Who doesn’t like a good tale of betrayal and vengeance? The Rebel of Clan Kincaid is second in a series, following right on the heels of The Beast of Clan Kincaid, and while I may have understood some of the politics and secondary characters better had I read it, this one stands alone just fine.

The story begins with Magnus, raised as the bastard son of the Laird Alwyn, discovering that he is really the son of the murdered Laird Kincaid and that he has been serving his parents’ murderer all his life. Initially thrown for a loop, Magnus soon develops a burning desire for vengeance and vows to bide his time until the day he can prove Alwyn guilty and avenge the death of his parents and the loss of their ancestral lands. As a fierce warrior and chief of the laird’s war band, he is in the ultimate position to enact his plan with the help of his newfound brother, Niall. But the arrival of his half brother Hugh’s betrothed threatens everything when Magnus falls in love with the vulnerable yet surprisingly brave beauty.

Tara Iverach, ward to the powerful Earl of Buchan, has spent the past five years in a priory. When the earl pays her a surprise visit, Tara hopes for a life outside the convent, and she is about to receive her wish, but at a terrible cost. Her beloved older sister, Arabel, has died, and Buchan needs Tara to take her place in a wedding designed to strengthen his alliance with Alwyn. But life at the Alwyn stronghold of Burnbryde turns out to be a nightmare rather than a dream. Locked in a tower, deprived of companionship except for a maid and the ailing Lady Alwyn, Tara quickly becomes suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death. Her betrothed is a malicious, angry man who takes pleasure in terrifying her, and Buchan’s intentions and ambitions prove to be less than honorable. The only bright spot is her growing attraction to her betrothed’s half brother, the handsome and noble Magnus. But their illicit romance is fraught with danger, and though Magnus promises to help her escape marriage to Hugh, when his ulterior motives come to light, Tara realizes the only person she can rely on is herself. But will she be able to pull off a daring escape by herself? And if she does, will she be able to leave Magnus to his fate?

There were some things I loved about this book and some things I did not. What it has going for it: a good bit of history, following the warring of the clans after King David II’s death and featuring the real figures of the Earls of Buchan and Carrick; likeable and compelling characters in Magnus and Tara; and some last-minute twists I didn’t see coming that really bumped the story up in my estimation. What I’ve marked against it: the romance is more of a love-at-first-sight thing, which doesn’t allow for much relationship development; too much internal dialogue that grows repetitive over the course of the story; a couple of cliched plot devices that cheapen the story, including the big misunderstanding; and villains that were too over-the-top to be believable – although one of them eventually merited some compassion and understanding when one of those big twists was revealed at the end.

The unpredictable resolution of the plot threads and an incredibly romantic ending satisfied me and cemented The Rebel of Clan Kincaid as a book that I can recommend to my fellow romance lovers despite my complaints. If you’re a fan of Scottish romances, this one has a more unique setting and underlying historical thread than most. I was so intrigued by Niall and the mystery surrounding the third long-lost Kincaid brother that I do plan to read the other books in the series.