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The Star in the Meadow (Spanish Brand #4) by Carla Kelly

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Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader. Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall.

When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1785
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With this fourth book of the Spanish Brand Series, Carla Kelly concludes the ongoing saga of Marco Mondragon, an Spanish official in 1780’s New Mexico.  When we first met him, he was heartbroken over the deaths of his beloved wife and twin sons.  After a time, he found happiness with a new love, Paloma, and they began to build a future together.  They now have two children, and Paloma has just given birth to their second son.  Although she is overjoyed at having been delivered of a healthy child, Paloma doesn’t bounce back.  She is restless, overwhelmed, tired, and confused.  She tries to put on a brave front, but Marco realizes something is wrong.  After learning that this condition happens occasionally to a woman after giving birth, Marco decides to send Paloma away to his sister’s home for a couple of weeks, where she can just relax and have no responsibilities.

Disaster strikes when Paloma and her companion are kidnapped while travelling.  The kidnappers originally targeted someone else, but upon learning that Paloma is Marco’s wife, they decide to keep her, as they have a grudge against him.  To make matters worse, Marco is scheduled to attend a very important meeting with the Comanche to discuss peace.  Marco has earned their respect, and there will be no talks without him there.  While he desperately wants to search for his missing wife, he is forced to let others search while he attends the gathering.

While the previous books in this series have been fraught with conflict and danger, I found The Star in the Meadow to be the most heartbreaking.  Marco and Paloma are apart for most of the book, and both have to make hard and distressing decisions, including one about their newborn child.  Throughout all this darkness, Carla Kelly manages to inject moments of light humor, and when the lovers are finally reunited, each unsure of their reception from the other, their love and passion burns brighter than ever.  This couple has a genuine goodness about them, which seems to enfold their family and friends, and makes them all the better for it.  The Star in the Meadow is beautifully written, and a satisfying conclusion to the series, though I hate to see it end.  I was left with a great feeling of warmth and optimism for their future, and I recommend this series highly.

Loving the Lost Duke (Dangerous Deceptions #1) by Louise Allen

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A duke confronting his demons. A beauty resisting love.

Almost seven years ago the young Duke of Calderbrook left England for the self-imposed exile that seemed the only way to save his life. Now Cal is back, a grown man bent on taking back his birthright and discovering who so nearly killed him – even if they prove to be someone he loves.

The truth, revenge, then a suitable marriage are Cal’s aims, but his determined quest is stopped in its tracks by Society beauty Sophie Wilmott. He wants Sophie and Sophie, armoured against love by her own secrets, wants Cal. He needs to keep her safe, she needs to guard her heart – but death is waiting at the heart of the Duke’s great house and only courage and love are going to give them the strength to overcome it.

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Publisher and Release Date: Louise Allen, January 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

It’s time for Gareth Thorne, the “lost” Duke of Calderbrook to return home. Cal, as he is called by his family and friends, inherited his title as a young boy, and was raised by his uncle, whom he loved and considered a second father. Yet accident after accident happens to the young duke, causing broken bones and injuries that narrowly missed being fatal. He also suffered agonizing bouts of illness which left him weak and defenseless. When Cal overhears a conversation in which someone thinks he is being poisoned, he knows he needs to take action to save his life. Since he’s too weak to fight, he makes a plan to leave his home and stay one step ahead of anyone who might want to track him down. He arranges careful management of his estates and interests and writes regular letters to his uncle and cousin to ensure that he is not declared dead. Now, almost seven years later, Cal returns, a strong, determined man. He’s ready to claim his dukedom and find out whether it was his uncle or his beloved cousin, Ralph, who was trying to kill him.

Sophie Wilmott is having a private conversation with her dear friend, Toby, at a ball, and they’re discussing her requirements for marriage. Now twenty-four-years-old, she has been out for seven years and has not accepted any proposals. In addition to her exacting list of requirements, Sophie also has a scandalous incident from her début year, one which she has hidden from everyone. When Toby leaves her, she is shocked to find that another man had been behind them, listening to their whole conversation. While being embarrassed at having her list known to someone else, she is even more surprised to find that this gentleman is none other than the “lost” Duke of Calderbook, returned home at last.

Rather than being put off by Sophie’s requirements, Cal admires her method, and the fact that she doesn’t want or expect love to be part of the equation. Due to Cal’s experiences, he has no desire for love either, he’s not even sure he believes in it. Still, he does want to marry and produce an heir, and the beautiful and interesting Sophie seems to be an ideal candidate. Sophie’s experience with first love at the age of seventeen has left a bitter taste in her mouth, and she wants to select a spouse based on practical factors. She also needs someone who will be understanding and forgiving, as she won’t deceive her future spouse into believing that she is innocent.

Cal begins to court Sophie in earnest, and they genuinely like each other and have a sizzling chemistry. When Cal is finally ready to propose, Sophie confesses her secret, letting Cal know that she understands if he can’t accept her past. While inwardly Cal is gravely disappointed, he still wants to marry Sophie, and they become engaged. He also has yet to confess his own secrets to her, but he plans to do that at the upcoming houseparty.

Author Louise Allen has crafted a pair of outstanding protagonists in Loving the Lost Duke. Cal is intelligent, resourceful, brave, honorable, kind and sexy. When I saw his willingness to accept Sophie’s past, I fell a bit in love with him myself. Sophie is his perfect match. I love the fact that she was too honorable to try to deceive him, and how she was willing to help him find the truth about his family. This book had it all for me – an intriguing mystery, a delicious hero, subtle humor, a surprising resolution, steam, and a very satisfying romance.

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

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She sees things no one else does…

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

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, December 2016

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

Review by Lady Blue

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

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

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

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

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

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

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February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia—and a woman of scrupulous character—Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke’s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown.

An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max’s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions—about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2016

Time and Setting: 1906, England and various locales in the Mediterranean
Genre: Historical mystery with paranormal elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

The beloved Duke of Olympia is dead, and his great-nephew and heir is nowhere to be found. The duke’s grieving duchess calls upon Emmeline Truelove, the late duke’s secretary, to travel to the Mediterranean, find the heir, and bring him home to his new dukedom. The duchess has also arranged for the Marquess of Silverton to accompany Emmeline, which does not make her happy, as her first impression of him is that he’s a shallow wastrel. The marquess (Freddie) is, in fact, a rakish, witty man, but he’s also an excellent fighter and a trained agent. Emmeline, who is called by her last name “Truelove” for most of this story, is not at all delighted with this situation, but agrees to travel with Freddie to find the missing Mr. Haywood, now the new duke. Truelove’s agreeing to go on this quest is also against the advice (demand) of the deceased Queen Victoria, who regularly appears to have conversations with her. Yes, Truelove communicates regularly with the former monarch, as well as with her own deceased father.

During the course of their travels, the prickly Truelove fends off any flirtatious attempts by Freddie with biting remarks, which he happily volleys. It soon becomes apparent that Haywood has not just gone off on his own – there is some nefarious plot afoot. The current events happening are directly related to a mythological tale (or is it?) from the past – and even involves the future.

This adventurous story is certainly a departure from previous books by Juliana Gray, and I give her credit for this intricate and detailed plot. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit undoubtedly held my attention and entertained me, but I did not become invested in the protagonists and their almost-sort of-romance. When I don’t find myself rooting for the characters to be together, or truly care for their future, the book doesn’t touch my emotions, and isn’t my preferred type of read. There are many unanswered questions, which I’m sure will be addressed in future books featuring Emmeline Truelove. If you enjoy a rollicking adventure with a bit of time-travel, some paranormal elements and plenty of witty banter, I believe this might well hit the spot.

‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

til death do us part

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Calista Langley operates an exclusive ‘introduction; agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning – a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.

Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.

But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past – and that only her death will satisfy the stalker…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, 19th April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Victorian London
Genre: Historical Mystery/Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4

Review by Lady Blue

Calista Langley and her younger brother were orphaned as children and sent to live with their joyless grandmother, who died several years later, leaving them a large house, but no funds to maintain it. In an effort to keep a roof over their heads, Calista established a discreet business in which single people could attend salons at her home, and meet like-minded singles for friendship and possibly romance. Because the house is so fine and large, it gives the impression that Calista is a wealthy heiress. A year earlier, Calista was about to become engaged to Nestor Kettering, but when she told him the true state of her finances, he jilted her and almost immediately married another woman, this time a genuine heiress. Suddenly, Nestor has come back into Calista’s life, professing his regard and regret at leaving her. He won’t take no for an answer, and becomes almost stalkerish.

Trent Hastings is a very popular and successful writer. He’s concerned about the salons his sister, Eudora, has been attending, afraid that she’s being taken advantage of. He decides to check out Calista for himself. In the process, he learns of Calista’s stalker, as well as some other disturbing events that have been happening to her, and decides to help her investigate. Though usually self-sufficient, Calista is shaken, and glad of Trent’s help and protection. She’s not at all put off by the scars Trent bears and finds him very attractive.

I found Trent to be a very intriguing man. He’s not bitter about the scars that mar his jawline, arm and hands, though he knows that some people will reject him because of them. He’s confident, intelligent, and has a good heart. He’s also good friends with a crime lord, who is helpful to Trent’s investigation. But lately, he has been somewhat reclusive and lonely, and Calista seems to have inspired him to rejoin the living. When Trent realizes Calista is not turned off by his appearance, he acts on their mutual attraction, and they indulge their passion.

While Calista and Trent are very likeable and engaging characters, I feel that the romance takes second place to the mystery in ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Still, the story is well developed and engrossing. Amanda Quick continues her trademark writing style, which left me not wanting to put the book down until I finished it. I enjoyed this read very much, and recommend it to those who like historical romantic with a heavy dose of suspense. Oh, and expect the unexpected.

Regency Christmas Gifts (anthology) by Carla Kelly

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In the first of these stories set in Regency England, an impoverished war widow returns a misdelivered parcel and attracts the interest of a well-to-do retired sailing master and his sister. In story two, a self-made man returns to Scotland to marry the woman he has corresponded with ever since he left as a boy, little knowing the letters were written by another. In story three, a man visits the estate of his relatives to comfort his lovely second cousin, who is unhappy that Christmas has been usurped by her sister’s nuptials.

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency Era, England and Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance Anthology
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Blue

Carla Kelly has penned three heartwarming short stories which have the Christmas holiday as a backdrop to the romance. The title of the book is significant, as each story focuses heavily on giving and generosity. The romances are sweet (kisses only – definitely no Christmas spice here) yet effective.

The Lasting Gift
Mary Anne Poole has been widowed for seven years, having lost her soldier husband right after their marriage. Since then, she and her daughter have been barely scraping by, and now, she is about to lose her secretarial job on Christmas Eve. A package is delivered to her home in error, and she decides to return it to the sender who happens to be Thomas Jenkins, a sailing master. Thomas is itching to get back to the sea, as between journeys he is bored and restless. He is happy to entertain his unexpected visitor, and he soon is aware of the dire straits she’s in. Thomas has accumulated quite a bit of wealth over his career, and he is more than happy to help Mary Anne, who has caught his fancy. Rather than let false pride keep her from accepting aid, Mary Anne is grateful for Thomas’ help, and soon she finds herself falling for this kind and generous man. It’s tragic that he has signed up for another voyage that will take him away for at least a year. Or, will there be some Christmas magic?

Faithfully Yours
This exceptionally short story was a delight to read. When impoverished, eighteen-year-old John McPherson was about to leave for America to try to make his fortune, Margaret Patterson played a cruel jest by saying she would write to him. Margaret had no intention of corresponding, so she coerced Sally Wilson (who is a genuine friend of John’s) to respond to his letters, signing Margaret’s name. Much correspondence and many years later, John has made his fortune and is returning home, throwing Margaret into a panic, until she learns he’s now a wealthy man. This story takes an unexpected and delightful turn, when we find that John is no one’s fool, and has suspected who his real correspondent has been all these years.

Lucy’s Bang-Up Christmas
Lucy’s life is in an uproar – she recently lost her beloved mother, her sister is getting married on Christmas Eve, the household is a shambles, and she is going to have to make her début in a few short months. Enter Miles Bledsoe – Lucy’s second cousin and lifelong friend – to lend his support. Miles’ humor and good sense help calm Lucy, and start her thinking about the real meaning of Christmas. Truth be told, over the last year, Miles has come to see Lucy in a new light, and hopes to court her. While Lucy is a little slower in coming to realize that she loves Miles in a whole new way, she grows up quite a bit as she learns to care and give and listen. This friends to lovers romance is slow building and satisfying while being interwoven with the true spirit of Christmas.

I enjoyed reading all three of these stories. They are unashamedly sentimental and romantic, and even occasionally tear inducing. Regency Christmas Gifts is full of holiday cheer, warmth and love.

The Mackenzie’s Stolen Bride (Mackenzies & McBrides #8) by Jennifer Ashley

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1745, Scotland: The youngest son of the scandalous Mackenzie family, Malcolm is considered too wild to tame…until he meets a woman who is too unattainable to resist.

Lady Mary Lennox is English, her father highly loyal to the king, and promised to another Englishman. But despite it being forbidden to speak to Malcolm, Lady Mary is fascinated by the Scotsman, and stolen moments together lead to a passion greater than she’d ever dreamed of finding.

When fighting breaks out between the Highlanders and the King’s army, their plans to elope are thwarted, and it will take all of Malcolm’s daring as a Scottish warrior to survive the battle and steal a wife out from under the noses of the English.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1745
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

Malcolm (Mal) Mackenzie is the ancestor of all the Mackenzies we’ve come to know and love in Jennifer Ashley’s books set in the Victorian era. He was the first Duke of Kilmorgan, having received the title after it had been stripped from his family after the Jacobite uprising. Before the uprising, Mal, his father and four brothers have differing opinions as to who they should be backing, and how they should show their public support. Mal does his best to keep all his options open and not show favor to either side.

When Mal first sees Mary Lennox, he is smitten. The fact that she is English and engaged to a high ranking supporter of the English king doesn’t deter him, and he decides she’s the one for him forever. Mary is resigned to her fate, and plans to marry the man her father has chosen for her. Though intrigued by Mal, she has no thought to changing her marriage plans, until Mal arranges to help Mary’s younger sister elope. Mary would never have been able to provide assistance on her own, so she’s very grateful to Mal, and becomes more attracted to him.

As tension between the English and the Scots escalates and more skirmishes ensue, circumstances put Mary, her father, and her fiancé in the hands of the Mackenzie family. Soon Mal and Mary have pledged themselves married, with plans to formalize it with a binding legal union as soon as it can be arranged. As the battle of Culloden rages, all the Mackenzies find themselves forced to take part. Mal and Mary are separated, neither knowing if the other is alive. Mal appears to lead a charmed life, as time after time, he is able to escape seemingly impossible circumstances.

This book is somewhat of a departure from the others in the Mackenzie family series. The story is very heavy on the history, with much of the politics and battles described in detail. Some of the fighting is graphic, and the losses to the family quite heartbreaking. The romance seems to take second place and I never got the sense of a deep love between the central couple, although their feelings do grow over time. If you’re a follower of this series, this is a must read, and I look forward to upcoming books which will fill in the generations between here and the Victorian era. History buffs, especially those with an interest in this time period are bound to find this story compelling.

Paloma and the Horse Traders (Spanish Brand #3) by Carla Kelly

paloma and the horse traders

As the eighteenth century draws to a close, the Kwahadi Comanches seem to be making their peace with the settlers of the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco Mondragón and his adored wife Paloma Vega, whose ranch, the Double Cross, sits on the edge of Comanchería. Their tranquility is short-lived, however, for other Comanches are terrorizing the plains, led by the ruthless renegade, Great Owl.

At the annual fair in Taos, Marco and his Comanche friend Toshua arrange to buy a team of bays from horse traders who sometimes wink at the law. Marco can’t complete the purchase because he spends all his money to buy a slave from Great Owl, thus saving her life. Graciela accompanies them back to the Double Cross, along with Diego Diaz, one of those traders Marco still owes for the team.

Great Owl’s threat to tentative peace between the Kwahadi and the Spanish must be squelched. Marco and Toshua bolster their small army of two with an unexpected ally in Joaquim Gasca, a disgraced former lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. They are joined by Diego Diaz, who turns out to be a key figure from Paloma’s past. Adding two shady horse traders and the secretive Graciela, Marco leads his small but determined army north to land contested by both Utes and Comanches. Though woefully outnumbered, they must defeat Great Owl or die trying.

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, September 2015
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Late 1700’s, New Mexico
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Blue

Paloma and the Horse Traders the third book in Carla Kelly’s Spanish Brand series, continues the story of Marco and Paloma Mondragon, who are forging a life together in New Mexico in the late 1700’s when times are hard and dangerous, and life uncertain. In the previous two books we witnessed their overcoming tragedy, grief, and abuse to find each other, fall in love and begin married life. Then came infertility, smallpox, and facing – up close and personal- the dreaded Comanches.

Now there is a fragile peace, and Marco and Paloma have been blessed with a son, as well as an adopted daughter. They have fallen deeply in love and are enjoying their life and their children. Everything changes in a moment when Marco makes a routine trip to the annual fair to purchase a pair of horses from the horse traders. Great Owl, a fierce Comanche who wants no part of peace, comes to the fair with a band of his warriors, looking to sell three slaves. Marco’s soft heart breaks, and he uses the money he had set aside for the horses to buy the young woman slave, who Marco knows would have suffered the greatest at the hands of Great Owl and his men. Marco then manages to convince one of the horse traders to follow him back home with the horses he wanted, where he’ll be able to pay him. On the way home, they are followed by Great Owl and his men, and eventually an arrow is shot, targeting the slave, Graciela, but hitting the horse trader instead. The group manages to make it back to Marco’s ranch without further incident or injury.

Thus the short lived peace is broken, and Marco realizes that if Great Owl isn’t stopped now, things will only escalate. Marco has no army, and he won’t take any of his men away from his ranch, because he wants to be sure Paloma and the children are protected. So he sets off with his friend Toshua and one disgraced soldier, to end Great Owl’s threat, knowing very well that he’s placing all their lives in jeopardy.

Once again, Carla Kelly has kept me up late, reading into the wee hours to finish this book. This is not usually a time and place that I like to read about, but I am totally captivated by this series. Marco and Paloma have formed such a strong love, that it’s breathtaking. The descriptions of the characters and places are vivid. The plot is riveting and the action is exciting. I am totally invested in this couple, and I’m thrilled to hear that there is at least one more book coming in the series. I would recommend reading the first two books of this series to get the maximum enjoyment. Paloma and the Horse Traders is pure artistry and a sheer delight. I give it my highest recommendation.

Only a Kiss (Survivor’s Club #6) by Mary Balogh

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The Survivors’ Club: Six men and one woman, injured in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendships forged in steel and loyalty. But for one, her trials are not over….

Since witnessing the death of her husband during the wars, Imogen, Lady Barclay, has secluded herself in the confines of Hardford Hall, their home in Cornwall. The new owner has failed to take up his inheritance, and Imogen desperately hopes he will never come to disturb her fragile peace.

Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford, has no interest in the wilds of Cornwall, but when he impulsively decides to pay a visit to his estate there, he is shocked to discover that it is not the ruined heap he had expected. He is equally shocked to find the beautiful widow of his predecessor’s son living there.

Soon Imogen awakens in Percy a passion he has never thought himself capable of feeling. But can he save her from her misery and reawaken her soul? And what will it mean for him if he succeeds?

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Publisher and Release Date: Signet, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Post Napoleonic Wars, Cornwall
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4

Review by Lady Blue

Percival Hayes, the recently named Earl of Hardford, is celebrating his thirtieth birthday in a state of inebriation, surrounded by his cronies, all in a similar state. For the last several years, Percy has been living the good life, drinking, womanizing, and pursuing the idle pleasures typical for a wealthy young nobleman. But something about this birthday is making Percy think about his life, and he decides it’s time to pay a visit to the estate he inherited in Cornwall. He arrives at the estate to find it in good repair, but inhabited by two older ladies, a menagerie of misfit animals, and Imogen Hayes, the widow of his cousin, who would have inherited the title Percy now has if he had survived the war.

Imogen is the only female member of a group who call themselves the Survivor’s Club, because though they survived the Napoleonic wars, they did not do so unscarred. With Percy’s arrival, Imogen is anxious to move back into the dower house, where she had been staying until the leaking roof made living there impossible. She has no desire to be around the handsome young lord, and looks forward to his leaving so that she can get back to her normal, placid life.

At first, Percy finds Imogen only mildly attractive and much too stern. He can’t imagine why he even travelled to the wilds of Cornwall, and plans to return to town immediately. Those plans get thwarted when he learns that his mother is en route with an entourage of relatives in tow to plan a big birthday celebration for him. Though horrified at the prospect, Percy knows he can’t leave, so he begins to inspect his estate. While at first he mocks country squires who enjoy running their remote estates and staying away from town, he soon finds himself enjoying the bucolic life. Thoughts creep into his mind of improvements he could make, and what life would be like if he actually did reside here. The frivolous young man without a purpose in his life seems to have found one rather quickly.

The more time Percy and Imogen spend together, the more attracted they become to each other. Imogen remains an enigma for much of the book. She appears cold, and is determined to avoid love, though she’s not averse to an affair. As Percy matures, he also falls genuinely in love for the first time in his life. We see occasional, little cracks in Imogen’s hard shell, and it becomes obvious that something very devastating happened in her past that caused her to vow to never love again.

It was a joy to watch Percy grow up from a frivolous, careless boy to a responsible, caring man. All of the relatives and the assorted animals added a charming and light touch to the darkness surrounding Imogen. I also enjoyed how many times Percy just let the wrong thing flow from his mouth, almost as if he had no control over what he said. His oft repeated, “I can’t believe I said that,” was good for many chuckles.

This book has a slightly different feel than the previous ones in the series. Despite Imogen’s mysterious bleakness, there was much to smile about while reading. I did believe that Percy and Imogen had a genuine love, but somehow, I didn’t feel it as intensely as in Only Enchanting, or The Escape, or The Arrangement. Still, it’s a very enjoyable, well written, and highly recommended addition to the Survivors’ Club series.

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath

TheDukeandtheLadyInRed-LorraineHeath

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When Rosalind Sharpe gains the attention of the deliciously wicked Duke of Avendale, she’s torn between her distracting attraction to the notorious rogue and the knowledge that he—rich as Croesus—is the perfect target for a deception that will put her swindling days behind her.

However, Avendale is no fool. After he discovers the tantalizing lady packing up to leave London with his coins in tow, he confronts her with a scandalous proposition: she can have all the money she requires…for a week in his bed.

Desperate for the funds, Rose agrees, but on one condition: he must never question her motives. Avendale quickly sees beneath her mask and discovers she is more than passion and pleasure—she is everything he has ever desired. But claiming her requires he unveil her secrets and lose her forever. Unless he can put his own dark past aside and risk everything for a chance at love.

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EXCERPT

His dark eyes never left hers. She was acutely aware of his blatantly assessing her. Every strand of hair, every eyelash, every blush. Which was only fair as she was assessing him. Not a strand of his dark brown hair was out of place. Sometimes when the light hit it just so, she thought she detected shades of red in it, but mostly the dark had its way. She suspected it dominated all aspects of his life.

Nothing about him seemed light or carefree. Everything was intense. While others conversed and smiled at their partners, he merely studied every line and curve. She could tell that he preferred the curves. She was accustomed to that when it came to men. Her bosom was her finest asset, and she took great pains to show it off. She’d long ago shed the mantle of timidity.

His face was comprised of hard lines and harsh angles. He would never be considered beautiful, and yet there was beauty in the ruggedness of his features. Handsome, manly. Appealing. He appealed to her in ways no other man ever had.

That made him very dangerous indeed. She kept a wall between herself and men. They were to be used, then discarded.

She didn’t think this man would be easily tossed aside. She needed to escape his company as quickly as possible, while she could. She was far too attracted to him. That would not suit her purposes at all. He would not suit.

The final strains of the waltz drifted into silence.

“That was lovely,” she said. “Thank you. I shall leave you to enjoy the remainder of your evening now.”

His eyes narrowed. “I thought we had agreed to two dances.”

“I don’t wish to dominate your time.”

“There is no one else I would rather dominate it. Is someone expecting your company?”

She should say yes. But then he would no doubt keep an eye on her to discern who was of interest to her. She didn’t want him observing her. Best to give him a bit more time tonight and then move on. “No.”

“Then it seems another dance is in order.”
The music began. Another waltz. Did the orchestra know naught but waltzes? Did her skin have to welcome the press of his hands? Did she have to feel his touch cascading through her entire being? She was not usually so affected. It was at once disconcerting and exciting to have these reactions to his nearness. What was it about him that affected her so? It was more than his handsome features, something deep within him that was calling to something in her, something that had been dormant, that was awakening. She needed a distraction from these unsettling thoughts.

“Where is your estate?” she asked.

“Cornwall.”

Yes, she could see that. His being part of the rugged coast. Perhaps he was even descended from pirates. She could well imagine thievery and plundering in his heritage.

“You’re not one for conversing, are you?” she asked.

“Not with words, no. I prefer other means of communication, especially when a lady is involved.”

She was losing her edge with him. She didn’t know how to get it back. “That sort of communication deals only with the surface. There is no depth to a relationship of that nature.”

“I care for only one sort of depth.” His eyes smoldered with his innuendo and she nearly stumbled.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, April 28, 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1874
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level:2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

THE DUKE AND THE LADY IN REDThe Duke of Avendale is bored, and getting tired of his dissolute lifestyle. Truth be told, he’s also tired of seeing his rakish friends happily entering the state of matrimony. One night, his attention is caught by a woman in red who enters the room, carrying herself like a queen. Avendale doesn’t immediately find her beautiful, but rather striking, and heads over to introduce himself. Rosalind (Rose) Sharpe is a con artist. She wangled an invitation here, hoping to make the acquaintance of several members of society, with the intention of swindling them. When Avendale approaches her, she almost rubs her hands together in glee, thinking that she will land one big fish. Rose is passing herself off as a widow, waiting for her late husband’s estate to be settled. She plays it very cool, and doesn’t fawn all over Avendale, which intrigues him even more. Between her attitude and her voluptuous figure, Avendale wants Rose to become his latest lover, so he begins his pursuit.

There would not be much of a story here if Rose and Avendale were only what they appear to be on the surface, but that’s not the case. Avendale suffered a severe trauma as a child, something that he has always kept inside. This has caused him to push his family away, and to reject any hint of love. Rose is the support of her little family, not all of them being blood relatives. The only way she knows to get money is through a con, so she’s made a career of it. She is constantly on the move, to stay one step ahead of those she has swindled.

She finally gets to Avendale, and he gives her a sum of money, but to her surprise, he shows up as she is in the process of leaving. Avendale is enraged that he has been taken in, and threatens Rose with prison unless she agrees to spend a week as his lover. While Rose has certainly conned and swindled before, she has never had to use her body, but now she sees no way out and agrees.

During their time together, they not only share a very passionate relationship, but they connect on an emotional level. Both Rose and Avendale are flawed, and are carrying serious baggage, yet they are good for each other. Soon they are both in love, though neither admits it as such, and neither wants their time together to end. Avendale has such a low opinion of his own worth, yet he is constantly showing kindness to Rose and her little family. His generosity and thoughtfulness show the kind of man he truly is. As we learn more about Rose, and her reasons for living the kind of life she does, she is only deserving of admiration, as well. Yet how can a duke have a future with a thief who is being hunted by the law?

In addition to the relationship between Avendale and Rose, there is another very important part of this story. There is a secondary character, who is surely one of the most beloved I’ve ever encountered in a book. His story is so heartbreaking and emotional that it was almost unbearable. I guarantee that tears will be flowing, until Lorraine Heath, in her usual skilful way, delivers a happy ever after that will bring back the smiles. I went through an emotional wringer while reading this book, but every tear was worth it. This will be one of my top books for this year, and is an absolute must read.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LorraineLorraine Heath always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals and computer code, but something was always missing. After reading a romance novel, she not only became hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards, including RWA’s RITA® and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Her novels have appeared on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists.

You can connect with Lorraine at: www.lorraineheath.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads