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

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

A marriage most convenient

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

OUR REVIEW

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

Review by Sara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


EXCERPT

Chapter Two

Union Pacific Railway, Wyoming Territory, Fall, 1880

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

She whispered his name. Bennett. Then screamed it.

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

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

What in the hell just happened?

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

What were they now? Enemies? Survivors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then they’d take what they needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had she not been about to rob the train.

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


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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A Dance With Seduction (A Spy in the Ton #3) by Alyssa Alexander

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Vivienne Le Fleur is one of London’s most sought after opera dancer and one of England’s best weapons: the spy known as the Flower. When a French agent pressures her to change allegiance by abducting her sister, Vivienne is forced to seek the help of the only man in London who doesn’t want her.

Maximilian Westwood, retired code breaker, doesn’t like surprises or mysteries and The Flower is both. When she sneaks into his study in the middle of the night with a coded message, he’s ready to push her out whatever window she arrived through. Except Maximilian is unable to turn away a woman in trouble. Determined to rescue Vivienne’s sister, they engage in a game of cat and mouse with French spies that requires all of Vivienne’s training and Maximilian’s abilities. Bound together by secrecy, they discover there is more between them than politics and hidden codes, but love has no place among the secrets of espionage…

Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Select Historical, July 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Alyssa Alexander returns to her world of spies and intrigues in A Dance With Seduction, matching a code breaker hero with a seductive agent of the crown. It’s a mix of danger, drama and just the right touch of deception to draw readers in.

Vivienne Le Fleur was literally plucked from obscurity to become one of England’s best spies. Hidden in plain sight posing as a courtesan, Vivienne uses her beauty and charms to learn men’s deepest secrets. Throughout the war with Napoleon she was the Home Office’s best weapon, as she could get into places a man couldn’t enter without suspicion. After the war ended, her efforts domestically have been to seek out those who supported the French from England’s shores and uncover their treason. It’s not the life Vivienne would have chosen for herself years before; however continuing to serve gives her the chance to protect her young sister from having to struggle in life as Vivienne did. Unfortunately, however, the illusion of safety is broken when she is contacted by a French agent known as The Vulture who knows about her hidden sister as well as Vivienne’s investigations into certain English nobles. Hoping to turn Vivienne into a double-agent he threatens her sister unless she follows the instructions left in a coded message. Code breaking was never one of the skills than Vivienne mastered but she knows of someone who can easily unlock The Vulture’s secrets.

Maximilian Westwood did his service for King and Country by using his cryptology skills to break French codes during the war and help the Home Office in an administrative role. He was never a field agent and actually disliked dealing with spies and their duplicitous ways. Now the war is over, Max has happily removed himself from the world of spies and returned to an academic life translating texts for paying clients. His world away from political intrigues is interrupted late one evening by the arrival of the beautiful agent he’s known as “The Flower”. Her request that he help her translate a coded message is a seemingly easy task but not one he’s eager to accept as getting involved with her can only spell danger. She assures him it’s a one-time request and he agrees – but when he sees who has sent her the message his senses go on high alerts. The Vulture was one of the greatest threats to England’s spy network in the war and seeing him active again in peacetime could be a precursor to something terrible. Needing to know how Vivienne is involved with a dangerous French spy, Max puts himself directly in her path to get answers.

Their shared mission to expose The Vulture’s plans and prevent him from making a move to disrupt English affairs pulls both Vivienne and Max out of their comfort zones to form a lasting partnership. Vivienne has been a loner by necessity, only interacting with her handler and showing others the false personality of a practiced courtesan. Max has become a man of books and learning, eschewing any vices so as to distance himself from his wastrel brother’s reputation around London. Neither is living for themselves and Vivienne isn’t even certain where the real woman begins under all of the façades she’s adopted in order to survive. Working together makes Max and Vivienne face a mirror of sorts to discover depths they’ve never known. They each have skills that complement the other person, with Max being the analytical one and Vivienne having the strength and intuition to solve problems as they appear. The bond that grows from their working relationship slowly feeds into the attraction the pair have felt since their earliest interactions during the war.

Max is a wonderful Beta hero who isn’t threatened by Vivienne’s skills but still can be assertive when the moment calls for it. He fights to keep their relationship professional but cannot ignore the moments where Vivienne’s confidence slips and he sees the woman beneath the spy. Only then does he allow her to know of his insecurities and provide a safe place where she can drop the act of polished courtesan or skilled agent and just be herself. For Vivienne, her life was basically rewritten at a young age by those who always seemed to know better than her. Max never treats her in that fashion and tends to depend on her experience, letting her take the lead to show that she is more than who she was molded to be. As they uncover The Vulture’s network and follow the clues to protect her sister, Vivienne learns what is truly important to her in life. During the war it was always the mission, but in peacetimes it could be family, belonging and having the courage to fight for things that she wants for herself.

The slow pacing of A Dance With Seduction seemed incongruous when compared to the danger and stakes of Max and Vivienne’s mission. I had trouble completely losing myself in the story but felt that the plot, the characters and the consequences of their choices were all well described and meaningful. Overall the book works best to showcase two capable people learning to trust themselves while finding understanding in love with the last person they would expect.

Traitor in Her Arms (The Scarlet Chronicles #1) by Shana Galen

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After her late husband leaves her in debt to some dangerous people, Lady Gabrielle McCullough is forced to become a thief. In the intervening years, her skills have not gone unnoticed. After being recruited by the Scarlet Pimpernel, the mysterious do-gooder spiriting aristocrats out of revolutionary France, Gabrielle crosses the Channel for the most daring mission of her life. Accompanying her is the Earl of Sedgwick, a thief in his own right and an enticingly masculine presence. The man is not to be trusted—nor is Gabrielle’s body when he’s near.

Ramsey Barnes would not say he is an honorable man. His whole life has been based on a lie; why change now? Although it pains him to deceive the tantalizing Gabrielle, he’s working toward an altogether different objective: unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel. If Ramsey fails, his blackmailer will ruin him. But when Ramsey’s confronted with the carnage of the Reign of Terror, he seeks refuge in Gabrielle’s heated embrace. Now he faces a terrible choice: betray the woman who’s stolen his heart—or risk losing everything.

Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, August 2017

Time and Setting: Paris, 1793
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

In Shana Galen’s latest book Traitor in Her Arms the legendary Scarlett Pimpernel and his mission to save French nobles during the Revolution is the catalyst to many events in the story. I was surprised how little we see of the man himself but he still plays a very important role. Two secret quests, one to save an innocent woman’s life and the other to learn the Pimpernel’s true identity bring heroine and hero together under the best and worst of circumstances.

Lady Gabrielle McCullough has a secret. The debts her late husband left behind put her on the verge of ruin but she’s been hiding the truth with the assistance of a wealthy friend. When selling paintings and family heirlooms wasn’t enough to settle things with a few unscrupulous money lenders, Gabrielle turned to thievery. Her skills have grown over time and she’s managed to grab more than a few choice pieces while attending the social gatherings of the Season. Her next target is an antique lapis lazuli necklace that belonged to Cleopatra which should earn her enough to pay off the final creditor. Breaking into the owner’s room to collect the necklace wasn’t a problem; however her task is complicated when she finds another thief is already in the room and has grabbed the jewels.

Ramsey Barnes, the Earl of Sedgewick hasn’t been very honest with the ton himself. Most of his deceptions are fairly harmless but when someone learns his deepest secret, Ramsey could face ruin. Unwilling to risk his lands and the people who depend on the earldom, Ramsay hopes that he can steal the rare and valuable necklace to bribe his blackmailer to give up her evidence against him. With the piece in hand Ramsay never expected Gabrielle McCullough to appear in the room on a similar mission to take the necklace. Ramsey distracts Gabrielle with a kiss and leaves the building with the jewels but all his effort is pointless when his blackmailer refuses to trade. Instead she uses her power over Ramsey to force him on an almost impossible mission with the promise of his freedom when the task is complete. With no other options Ramsey accepts her challenge to learn the true identity of the elusive Scarlett Pimpernel.

Gabrelle’s anger at losing the necklace to Ramsey is paired with frustration at her own attraction to the man. Her financial crisis hasn’t left Gabrielle any time to play the merry widow and any interest in Ramsey would distract her from collecting enough money to settle Lord McCullough’s debts. Fearing she’s out of time and options Gabrielle is saved from penury when she’s invited into a darkened drawing room and a stranger offers her the chance to become a heroine. The Scarlet Pimpernel is thought to be a myth in Gabrelle’s social circles but the man is real and he knows all about her skills at obtaining rare objects. He tells Gabrielle a tale of a Frenchwoman and her daughter who are slated for execution unless he can find and collect the precious Le Saphir Blanc bracelet. The Pimpernel believes that Gabrielle’s familiarity with Paris and her lock-picking skills will enable her to find the Le Saphir Blanc and negotiate for the woman’s release from prison. Gabrielle is hesitant to accept the Pimpernel’s mission but she cannot ignore the horrors happening on the Continent.

Traitor in Her Arms gets off to a slow start while Gabrielle and Ramsey’s different paths are laid out; however they quickly converge as the reality of the Revolution is revealed to them both. In the style of many an adventure, the couple soon find themselves protecting each other from unexpected dangers and complications to both of their missions. Ms. Galen pulls no punches when describing the fervor of the French citizens to destroy the nobility and some of the atrocities committed are very hard to digest. Both Ramsey and Gabrielle initially approach their tasks as either impersonal transactions or noble quests to save innocent lives, but when they see what the French are doing to their own it changes that perspective for them both and it forces them to reevaluate what is important in their own lives. The relationship between them grows from that new perspective and they each learn to trust despite Ramsey telling Gabrielle that it’s dangerous to put any faith in him.

The story requires a suspension of disbelief that can get in the way of the romance and the dual missions surrounding the Scarlet Pimpernel. Gabrielle may have good intentions in going to Paris but she’s completely out of her depth when it comes to the deceptions and maneuvering it takes to complete her job. Ramsey and other characters must come to her aid more often than not and it becomes frustrating to see just how useless she really is. It’s also somewhat disturbing to have Ramsey following along with Gabrielle and pushing her to succeed when we know that his motivations are mostly selfish. Their love story is awkwardly woven throughout important plot points and I cringed at a completely inappropriate sex scene while they’re running for their lives. Too much of the story’s focus is on the Revolution and the madness that had overtaken the French, giving less time for a believable romance to develop.

I’ve always enjoyed Shana Galen’s books for their romantic adventures but Traitor in Her Arms seems more intent on exploring the Scarlet Pimpernel’s legacy than showcasing its own main couple. I plan on continuing with the Scarlet Chronicles series but with an understanding that the books are historical fiction with a romantic slant.

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1) by Tessa Dare

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When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, August 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Tessa Dare’s brand of historical romance is always a mix of fairy tale, romantic comedy and a light, airy tone. The Duchess Deal has fun pairing its grumpy, reclusive duke with a kind and sensible young woman who is ill-suited to the ton but perfect for him.

Emma Gladstone isn’t normally the type to arrive uninvited at someone’s home but there are times when desperation will make a woman do many things. Dressed in a luxurious – if a tad ostentatious – wedding gown, Emma knocks on the door of the Duke of Ashbury’s town house intent on collecting on a debt incurred by his former fiancée. The gaudy dress was to be the showpiece for the duke’s bride and no expense was spared; however when their engagement was broken, Emma was left with a completed gown and an unpaid bill. Showing up at the duke’s home wearing the garment in question, Emma hopes she can guilt him into paying for her services. The duke isn’t quite the man that she expected and she’s initially put off by his rather blunt demeanor but when he attacks her work and insults the dress it lights a fire within Emma. Making it very clear that she will not leave without payment, Emma prepares to do battle with the surly and scared man before her.

The interruption by a woman dressed in a monstrosity of a wedding gown would have been comical to Lord Ashbury years ago, but now it seems like fate. Arriving back in London after a long recuperation from injuries sustained at Waterloo, Ash has been working to plan for the future of the dukedom up to and including finding a wife and creating an heir. He’d already drafted a letter to his solicitor asking him to find a woman willing to enter a marriage of convenience so when a ready-made bride shows up in his study it’s a perfect solution. Ash shocks the beautiful seamstress by offering her either the three pounds she wanted for the dress or the chance to become his duchess. She balks at his offer and leaves with the money; however Ash is not deterred now that he’s found the perfect woman. In his mind a seamstress should be happy to accept his terms of a marriage to beget an heir after which she will have the freedom to live as she sees fit at one of his country estates.

Ash finds out which modiste Emma works for and shows up on the doorstep to propose a second time, fulling expecting her to accept. Emma is shocked that Ash would go to such lengths to offer a loveless marriage to a virtual stranger and she’s ready to decline again; however his plan to give her a property outside of London falls in with her own need to find somewhere to hide a friend and client dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Emma decides to marry Ash but counters his rules for their relationship with a few conditions of her own. Before she’ll accept his proposal Emma asks him for one kiss, believing that they both deserve a pleasant moment together before they turn the marriage into a business arrangement. Ash agrees and the kiss quickly turns passionate as their mutual attraction for each other starts to surface. He is stunned to realize that the unassuming seamstress has a sultry side that’s just begging for release. In the long-locked part of his heart, Ash is excited to find a woman who can look past his scars and find enjoyment in a physical relationship; however the sting of society’s cruelty about his appearance makes him wary of trusting her affection.

The Duchess Deal certainly has shades of Beauty and the Beast throughout, but Emma and Ash are much more than their fairy tale counterparts. Emma’s backstory is filled with betrayals and pain that she’s used to strengthen herself. She’s fiercely independent and has no problem questioning a duke to his face or forcing him to concede to her wishes rather than the reverse. That challenging approach to their relationship is what attracts Ash to her rather than a bland lady of the ton. In Emma, he sees someone to spar with intellectually and someone who comes to match him in appreciating the physical pleasures two people can find together. Once Ash is comfortable around his wife, his true personality begins to shine, revealing a man who cares very deeply but protects himself with sarcasm and feigned indifference to what others think of him.

Some of the secrets running in the background of Ash and Emma’s marriage complicate their romance but it’s nothing that ruins their story. Ash’s means of blowing off steam is to go out walking at night and his appearance starts to generate some unwanted attention. The newspapers label him the Monster of Mayfair and embellished stories of his attacking men in the streets or scaring young children create a divide between him and Emma when she begs him to take the headlines seriously and stop his behavior. Emma isn’t completely frank with Ash about her plans to help her pregnant friend without betraying the woman’s secret to her father and she manipulates Ash into venturing back into society all so that the woman’s father will accept his daughter traveling with the new duchess. When Emma’s plans are revealed at the same time that the authorities call for the capture of the Monster it becomes harder for Ash and Emma to trust that their spouse will support and protect them if needed.

I’ve long been a fan of Tessa Dare’s books and I’m very happy that The Duchess Deal follows her style to a tee. It’s very easy to get swept up in Emma and Ash’s romance and enjoy just how well they’re suited. I’m not certain what’s next in the Girl Meets Duke series but I’m already eager for its release.

Catching Captain Nash (Dashing Widows #6) by Anna Campbell


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Home is the sailor, home from the sea…
Five years after he’s lost off the coast of South America, presumed dead, Captain Robert Nash escapes cruel captivity, and returns to London and the bride he loves, but barely knows. When he stumbles back into the family home, he’s appalled to find himself gate-crashing the party celebrating his wife’s engagement to another man.

No red-blooded naval officer takes a challenge like this lying down; but five years is a long time, and beautiful, passionate Morwenna has clearly found a life without him. Can he win back the wife who gave him a reason to survive his ordeal? Or will the woman who haunts his every thought remain eternally out of reach?

Love lost and found? Or love lost forever?
Since hearing of her beloved husband’s death, Morwenna Nash has been mired in grief. After five grim years without him, she must summon every ounce of courage and determination to become a Dashing Widow and rejoin the social whirl. But she owes it to her young daughter to break free of old sorrow and find a new purpose in life, even if that means accepting a loveless marriage.

It’s like a miracle when Robert returns from the grave, and despite the awkward circumstances of his arrival, she’s overjoyed that her husband has come back to her at last. But after years of suffering, he’s not the handsome, laughing charmer she remembers. Instead he’s a grim shadow of his former dashing self. He can’t hide how much he still wants her—but does passion equal love?

Can Morwenna and Robert bridge the chasm of absence, suffering and mistrust, and find the way back to each other?

Publisher and Release Date: Anna Campbell, June 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance (novella)
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Throughout Anna Campbell’s Dashing Widows series readers have seen love come in many forms. Friends become lovers, two people get a second chance at a relationship and an unlikely pair find they have much in common. Catching Captain Nash is a reunion between a man thought forever lost and the woman who mourned the loss of her true love. Their romance tugs at a different set of heartstrings and is an emotional way to end an enjoyable series of books.

Morwenna Nash was married at a young age to the man of her dreams. The dashing, handsome Captain Robert Nash made her laugh and was her perfect match for the months they were together before he shipped out with his crew to South America. When the news came that her husband had been lost along with his crew, Morwenna was devastated. She had just learned that she was pregnant with Robert’s child, and days later she was a widow mourning the loss of her husband as well as the future they’d planned together.

After five years, the pain of losing Robert hasn’t quite gone away but with the encouragement of his family Morwenna decides to marry again in order to provide her daughter Kerenza with a father-figure. Reluctantly pushed into a Season in London, Morwenna has seen her two closest friends find love again and she begins a courtship with the amiable Lord Garson. Their relationship has none of the passion that Morwenna shared with Robert, but Lord Garson is a nice enough man who loves her and is good to Kerenza. Moments away from pledging her life to a new husband Morwenna is shocked when the ceremony is interrupted by Robert Nash, returned from the dead and furious to see his wife marrying another.

Robert’s return to England is a miracle but Morwenna can see right away that the man who has come back to her isn’t quite the same Robert Nash who left five years before. This new Robert is withdrawn, edgy and seems a shell of the vibrant man she fell in love with. Their first night together is an awkward evening full of stilted conversations that provide Morwenna with little information about where her husband has been or what he endured to come back to her. The physical connection she and Robert shared flares to life; however it’s a test of Morwenna’s love and patience to find her husband within the wounded soul who is now virtually a stranger to her.

Catching Captain Nash is unusual for a romance novella in that all of the light, warm emotions of a love newly discovered are absent. Instead readers experience the heavier, deeper sense of an enduring love that can motivate people into doing incredible things. Morwenna has held her memories of Robert close to her heart for the five years she thought him dead and has used that love to give her the strength to raise her daughter alone. She has refused to open herself up to another man and is uncertain about her remarriage right up until the moment that Robert reappears. As he slowly opens up to her and Morwenna sees that there’s a future again for them it gives her hope, which she’d all but abandoned years before.

Robert’s love for Morwenna is what kept him sane during his imprisonment and torture at the hands of pirates. When Robert comes back to England a small part of him is ready to slip back into the life that he’d left five years earlier; however he’s quick to discover that life has continued without him and he’s no longer the Captain Nash everyone around him remembers. There are no resources for someone with PTSD so Robert has to find ways to heal himself and rediscover where he fits in Morwenna’s life. His surprise at learning he’s a father motivates Robert to push through the difficult memories and reconnect with his wife. He too begins to hope that he’ll once again be the kind of man that Morwenna can love despite his physical and emotional scars. As they move closer towards a full reconciliation it’s incredibly moving to watch Robert crawl out of the darkness towards Morwenna’s light.

Unfortunately, all of the emotional breakthroughs that Morwenna and Robert experience seem dictated less by how things unfold in the story and more by the author’s design.  As I was reading, I was completely engaged with the characters and happy for their reunion but once I was finished with the novella I felt like I had been manipulated to feel that way.  Once I separated the romance from the rest of the story I saw that there’s nothing else there.  No real plot and no growth for either character, except for Robert’s amazing ability to manage his PTSD in record time.  The story’s flow is character-driven only in that we finally see a happy ending for the last Dashing Widow but that’s about all we get.  The novella’s short length is the most likely culprit as to why a skilled author like Ms. Campbell would resort to telling over showing but it was definitely noticeable.  Catching Captain Nash may not be the strongest story within the Dashing Widows series but it is still one that I can recommend.

Confessions of a Dangerous Lord (Rescued from Ruin #7) by Elisa Braden

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Never judge a man by his cover…

Society knows the affable Earl of Dunston for his flashy waistcoats and rapier wit. Lady Maureen Huxley knows him as Henry Thorpe, her best friend—an irresistibly kissable, strictly platonic friend. Which means her dreams of marriage, motherhood, part-time cookery, and full-time domestic bliss must be fulfilled elsewhere. But after three seasons and a parade of fickle suitors, Maureen’s hopes are fading. Worse, she suspects Henry is to blame.

Never trust a man with too many secrets…

Years spent hunting his father’s murderer through London’s dark underworld have honed Henry Thorpe into a deadly blade with one purpose—catching a killer of fathomless evil. Nothing mattered more until Maureen Huxley came along. To keep her safe, he must keep her at arm’s length. Yet he can’t resist drawing her close, making her laugh, dreaming of doing wicked things to her lush body. Very well, perhaps he also dissuaded some of her suitors. But what’s a little deception between friends?

Never provoke a man as dangerous as this one…

With his enemy growing bolder and Maureen contemplating marriage to another man, Henry is caught in the crossfire between his mission and his heart. Any move could exact a devastating cost. But losing the woman he loves is one price he refuses to pay.

Publisher and Release Date: Elisa Braden, June 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 5 stars TOP PICK

Review by Sara

Elisa Braden isn’t quite a new-to-me author, but after reading a book in the Rescued from Ruin series two years ago she sort of dropped off my radar. What a mistake that was! After reading an extremely positive review for Confessions of a Dangerous Lord I knew this was my chance to rediscover her world of noble spies and deadly secrets.

The last few London seasons haven’t been as successful as Lady Maureen Huxley would have hoped. She’s watched her older sister and good friends find love and marry their perfect match while Maureen has seen her own suitors lose interest. The only bright spot in continuing to attend the balls and receptions in town is meeting up with her best friend Henry Thorpe, Lord Dunston. Their private in-jokes and easy dialog have kept Maureen from getting deflated when men seem to dance around her rather than choosing her for a partner. Once upon a time Maureen dreamed of sharing a life with the handsome, dashing earl but Henry made it devastatingly clear that he was not looking for a wife. That should have been the end of their relationship, yet Henry has continued to be a friendly presence in her life and Maureen was reluctant to push away the only man she really cared for.

With the current season in full swing, and with her mother pushing her towards the newly arrived and eligible Lord Holstoke, Maureen risks her heart one last time to see if Henry returns her affections. Though there is no shortage of sparks between them he still tells Maureen that friendship is all that he can offer. Disheartened, Maureen tries her best to push her feelings for Henry aside so she can stop comparing each new man against the one she can never have. When Lord Holstoke begins to show some interest in Maureen she doesn’t experience the same deep feelings for him as she does for Henry, but his kisses are pleasant and she hopes that their companionship will be enough to sustain her.

Henry Thorpe has sacrificed many things in order to pursue the man responsible for his father’s murder. For years Henry has played the carefree fop while out among the ton, all the while hiding his true purpose of gathering clues towards capturing the criminal mastermind known only as The Investor. The first time he ever met Maureen Huxley he was capivated by her beauty as much as her open and innocent nature. In a perfect world, Henry would never have had to choose between her and his pursuit for justice, but his foe is a master of manipulating people and hurting them where it counts. From experience, Henry knows that if The Investor ever learned how important Maureen is to him, her life would be in danger. Rather than declaring just how much he loves her, Henry has contented himself with being her friend and not so gently discouraging any man who might take her away from him. Everything in Henry’s life comes into sharp focus the night that Maureen tells him “goodbye” and means to move on with her courtship with Lord Holstoke. If he continues his current path and keeps searching for The Investor it will cost him the only woman he’s ever loved; however to finally open himself up to her love means exposing all of the darkness and lies he’s hidden from her to keep her safe.

Coming into the series as a new-ish reader, I was unaware of Lord Dunston’s role in several of the other stories as an important secondary character. His pursuit of The Investor has been a thread running in the background of a few other main character’s stories, but through it all Henry has remained steadfast. In Confessions of a Dangerous Lord readers are finally allowed to know his thoughts, his motivations and understand everything his hunt has cost him. Maureen is the one thing in his life that Henry has refused to part with, accepting their limited relationship while wishing for a life where he was free to marry her. Seeing Maureen moving forward and pursuing her own goals of a happy marriage and children is painful for him and we see his struggle to retain that steadfast resolve while his heart and head battle. I love any story that has a hero so devoted to his love that he’ll move mountains for her, and here Henry has that same dedication, even though Maureen can never know it.

Maureen could have easily fallen into the standard character outline of a naïve woman whose emotions overwhelm her common sense when it comes to the man she loves. I’m so happy to say that she never crosses that line. She is more open with her feelings as she is experiencing them, whether it’s sadness at Henry pushing her away or anger when he reveals some of the lies he’s told her for years. That Maureen doesn’t fly off the handle and sulk or even make things worse for their relationship by completely pulling away when she learns of Henry’s deception, shows that she’s more self-aware than Henry or her family give her credit for. Ms. Braden’s skills are on full display by balancing the angst levels required when a reader is already clued into a character’s true feelings. We know that Henry and Maureen are destined for each other; however the threat of The Investor is so palpable that even I was questioning how they would find happiness.

I regret that I haven’t been reading the Recued from Ruin series all this time as it seems like I’ve been missing out on some incredibly detailed and captivating stories. Confessions of a Dangerous Lord reads perfectly on its own but I know I’ll be seeking all of the books I’ve missed to get the full story of Henry’s search for The Investor and to know some of Maureen’s friends and family more intimately. I highly recommend this story and hope that Ms. Braden has more intrigues to come for her cast of characters.

Duke With Benefits (Studies in Scandal #2) by Manda Collins

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LADY + DUKE = TRUE LOVE?

Lady Daphne Forsyth is a brilliant mathematician with a burning passion for puzzles. When she learns that the library belonging to her benefactress houses the legendary Cameron Cipher—an encrypted message that, once solved, holds the key to great riches—Daphne is on the case. Unfortunately, her race to unlock the cipher’s code is continually thwarted by a deliciously handsome distraction she hadn’t counted on. . .and cannot resist.

Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, is curious as to why Daphne is spending so much time snooping around his aunt’s bookshelves. He’s even more intrigued by her bold yet calculating manner: She is unapologetic about her secret quest. . .and the fiery attraction that develops between them both. But how can they concentrate on solving a perplexing enigma once the prospect of true love enters the equation?

Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, June 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Manda Collins’ Studies in Scandal series focuses on four young women brought together as co-heiresses to an eccentric bluestocking’s estate. Lady Celeste Beauchamp never met the ladies before she died but had handpicked them for their achievements in academic fields normally dominated by men. It’s an interesting premise for a series and one that worked well in the first book Ready, Set, Rogue – one of my favorites so far this year – but may have already run its course by this second story. I wanted to be wowed by Duke with Benefits and instead feel a little underwhelmed.

Lady Daphne Forsyth is a mathematical genius with a special gift for cracking codes and seeing patterns in the simplest of tasks. Being named as one of Lady Celeste’s heirs was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, because the terms of the will requiring Daphne to reside at Beauchamp House for a year has given her the chance to escape her father’s house and his schemes to use her talents to cheat at cards. Living alongside three other women has been a learning curve for Daphne as her way with numbers doesn’t necessarily translate into a way with words. Her direct manner of speaking has managed to shock and confuse her roommates on more than one occasion and remembering to filter her responses is something she’s yet to master. The only resident of the house who accepts Daphne’s pointed approach to things is Lord Dalton Beauchamp, Duke of Maitland.

Dalton originally came to Beauchamp House at the request of his cousin the Marquess of Kerr when the man believed all the spinsters-turned-heiresses had somehow manipulated Lady Celeste (their aunt) to name them in the will. While Kerr was more aggressive in challenging the women’s claim on Beauchamp House (and managed to fall in love with his main adversary), Dalton felt that getting to know them was the better way to understand why they had been chosen. He is very quickly drawn to the beautiful Lady Daphne and is more amused than offended by her plain way of stating things. That amusement quickly changes to shock when Daphne approaches Dalton to discuss her attraction to him and suggests that they embark on a sexual relationship with each other. Unwilling to take advantage of Daphne, Dalton takes a step back from his flirtations but still wants to have Daphne in his life. Remaining at Beauchamp House gives him the chance to convince the fiercely independent woman that their mutual feelings are worth more than just a fling.

Feeling rejected by Dalton, Daphne throws herself into solving a mystery left for her by Lady Celeste in a letter only delivered when Daphne arrived at Beauchamp House. The Cameron Cipher was a puzzle left by a Scottish lord who supposedly hid a fortune in gold intended for the Jacobite cause. For decades, fortune hunters and fame seekers have looked for clues or evidence that the cipher and the treasure were real, most with no success. Daphne grew up hoping that she would be the one to find the cipher and decrypt it, not for the money but for the idea that a woman could solve the unsolvable. When a man from Daphne’s past shows up at Beauchamp House sniffing for clues about the Cameron Cipher she gets a little suspicious; however when he ends up dead in the library Daphne realizes she’s closer to finding the treasure than anyone before her.

Duke with Benefits is a fairly good story that uses the mystery of the Cameron Cipher to pull Dalton and Daphne together as a team. Lady Celeste’s clues about the document’s whereabouts are written as riddles that encourage Daphne to keep up the hunt but also force her to seek help in the task. It’s a difficult road for Daphne because she’s been forced through experience to depend on no one but herself, and it takes Dalton’s patience to show her that assistance doesn’t always come at a price. Their partnership works well as she’s the analytical one and he’s the people pleaser; where Daphne sees the patterns within the riddles and understands Lady Celeste’s thinking, Dalton is charming and knows how to get past a servant’s cool demeanor or a protective daughter’s defenses so they unwittingly help in the search for the cipher. Another reviewer likened the pair to the main characters of the TV series Bones and it’s an apt description. The duo can bounce ideas of each other, get annoyed and even find happiness in solving a difficult task and they’re always a team.

So why the low rating? Unfortunately it comes down to my feelings for both main characters. Daphne is somewhat dispassionate in her relationship with Dalton. She’s attracted to him and eventually realizes that she loves the man; however she remains aloof and marginalizes what Dalton might be feeling about her. Dalton’s motivations and feelings for Daphne are pretty straightforward but there’s very little depth to him. He tries to be a perfect gentleman and a protector of women so as to distance himself from his father’s reputation as a womanizer and that’s what defines his character. Most of Dalton’s scenes in the book are reacting to something Daphne says or does and he doesn’t carry many scenes on his own. In a romance I need the character’s emotions or their personal journey to move the story along but in the case of this book, it’s the mystery keeping them motivated, not their relationship.

My disappointment in Duke with Benefits isn’t enough for me to give up on the series but I may be more guarded with my expectations for the next book. Readers who appreciate a more plot-driven story over a romantic character based one should find a lot to enjoy and may be more forgiving in their rating.

A Warriner to Rescue Her (Wild Warriners #2) by Virginia Heath

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Tempted by the damsel in distress!

Captain James Warriner is startled to find a curvaceous beauty caught up a tree in his orchard! Despite his shattered leg, he rescues Miss Cassandra Reeves, then is determined to have nothing more to do with the enticing vicar’s daughter.

Except when Cassie seeks Jamie out to apologize, they find themselves persuaded to work together on her storybook. Secret liaisons with the dashing soldier make Cassie wish Jamie would rescue her once more… by making her his wife!

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, July 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1814
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 STAR TOP PICK

Review by Sara

I selected A Warriner to Rescue Her because of the high marks awarded this author’s work by my fellow reviewers, who, I’m happy to say, didn’t steer me wrong!. The four Warriner brothers are outcasts in their community due to the sins of their forefathers and no matter how hard they work to redeem the family’s name it’s an uphill climb. Things are made worse when a militant reverend moves into their town and is set on making an example of the scandalously Wild Warriners.

Captain James Warriner is back home recovering from a debilitating leg wound that nearly cost him his life. The injury has left him with deep physical scars as well as the nightmares associated with how he was hurt which continually plague him. Jaime’s only comfort recently has been his love of painting and riding on his brother’s lands. While out riding through the family’s orchard Jamie is surprised to hear a woman’s voice calling out for help. Searching the area he comes across a pony wandering the path and a pair of stocking-clad legs hanging from the branches of a tree. Jamie is reluctant to help the woman out of the tree as his leg injury will make it difficult to support her weight, but his gentlemanly honor won’t let him leave. The rescue attempt goes about as poorly as Jamie predicted and he soon finds himself down on the ground with the distressed woman falling on top of him. Uncomfortable with being seen as a hero by the beautiful – if chatty – young woman, Jamie excuses himself from the scene and hopes the whole thing will be quietly forgotten.

Miss Cassandra Reeves cannot forget the handsome man who saved her from her own silliness. Her own Sir Galahad wasn’t too happy when she landed on him and Cassie feels guilty about possibly injuring him during the rescue. It’s not the impression Cassie hoped to make with the first person she’s met in Retford since she and her father, the Reverend Reeves, moved to the small town. Hoping to apologize for trespassing on the Warriner lands – and perhaps make a better impression – Cassie walks to the Markham Manor the following day and is met by the very friendly Countess of Markham and the still gruff Captain Warriner. In her nervousness, Cassie becomes a fount of information about the incident in the orchard, her recent move from another city and her love of writing stories.

The countess is charmed by Cassie and sees that Jaime’s interest in the young woman isn’t as well disguised as he believes. After hearing Cassie share her latest story – a vivid retelling of the events at the orchard from her pony’s viewpoint – the countess suggests that Jaimie could supply illustrations for the tale and together they could submit the work to a publisher. Jamie is not amused by his sister-in-law’s blatant matchmaking and is certain that Cassie, who is so effervescent and lively, would never look twice at a broken soldier who can offer her nothing. He’s sure that their parting will be the last time he’ll share a moment with Cassie and a small part of his heart is saddened by the thought. Unfortunately divine intervention, through the fire and brimstone approach of Reverend Reeves, will bring Jamie and Cassie closer together than they can even imagine.

A Warriner to Rescue Her opens with such a meet-cute moment for Jamie and Cassie that I was certain that the rest of the book would follow this light and frothy approach to their romance. Little did I realize that Ms. Heath was just softening her readers for the real emotional wallops to follow. Cassie’s bright and cheery demeanor is hiding such pain that it actually hurt to hear everything she’s lived through under the thumb of her radical and controlling father. Reverend Reeves is fanatical about his religion, his piousness and the belief that his daughter bears the sins of the mother who ran away from their family. As Cassie has grown up she’s learned to hide her true personality from her father or else suffer punishments that range from cruel indifference to psychological torture. When the Reverend’s focus is turned on the Warriner family Cassie is appalled to see her new friends judged and berated from gossip and hearsay. Sadly, when she tries to defend the family in just the smallest way she is made to pay the price.

Jamie truly becomes Cassie’s white knight in that he offers her support and doesn’t judge her by the terrible words her father spreads about his family. He gets to be the hero for Cassie without intending to and being there for her awakens something that he had thought long dead from his experiences during the war – a purpose. That small spark reawakens dreams of a wife and family of his own as well as thoughts of the future rather than being mired in the past. Each time he and Cassie meet Jamie lets her see a little more of his own true self – a romantic at heart – and a man who can appreciate the beauty in the simplest of things. As much as I shared in Cassie’s pain from her father’s abuse I reveled in Jamie’s reawakening to life and how much he still had to give to the right partner.

A Warriner to Rescue Her has so many of the story elements that I adore in romance. Through humor, warmth and understanding, two lonely souls find their perfect match and it creates a wonderful reading experience. I will be going back to read the first book of the Wild Warriners series as soon as I can and will eagerly look for the next Warriner brother’s story.

The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

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When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expects his secret love, Brilliana Trevor, to go with him, or at the very least wait for him. To his shock, she does neither and sends him off with no promise for the future. Seven years and one pardon later, Niall returns to England disillusioned and cynical. And being blackmailed by the government into working with his former love to help catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood any. But as his role as Brilliana’s fake fiancé brings his long-buried feelings to the surface once again, he wonders who is more dangerous—the counterfeiter or the woman rapidly stealing his heart.

Forced to marry another man after Niall was exiled, the now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life. So having to rely on him to save her father is the last thing she wants, much less trusts him with….But as their scheme strips away the lies and secrets of their shared past, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? Or will the pleasures of their renewed passion finally enable them both to rediscover love?

Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, June 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1830
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

The Pleasures of Passion surprised me. I didn’t expect to end up liking the story for its heroine, Brilliana Trevor. Bree was introduced in The Danger of Desire, book three of the Sinful Suitors series as a widow and mother trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her husband died unexpectedly. She didn’t come across as especially sympathetic considering that she admits to her sister-in-law that she never loved her husband. I felt Bree was a weak character and wasn’t very excited to read a whole story about her reuniting with the man she’s always carried a torch for. Fortunately Sabrina Jeffries does a good job within the first few pages of Bree’s story to show just how strong a person she could be.

Miss Brilliana Payne was only seventeen years old when she fell in love. While visiting Bath so her invalid mother could take the waters, Bree met Niall Lindsey at one of the few social gatherings she was allowed to attend. Niall was everything that Brilliana had hoped for in a suitor; kind, attentive and he made her feel that her middle-class upbringing was not a problem for him as the heir to an earldom. The one flaw in Niall’s perfection was his reluctance to introduce her to his family or to meet with her father to ask for her hand. When she receives an urgent message from Niall, Bree is certain that he will finally declare himself and they can begin planning for a future together. Sadly, Niall’s reasons for a quick meeting are because he was involved in a duel and has to flee the country to protect himself. Bree’s heart is torn in two when Niall pleads for her to go with him; however she cannot leave her sick mother alone with her feckless father. Unable to choose between her family and her future, Bree tells Niall that she won’t leave England with him now but hopes they can be reunited soon.

Months after Niall’s departure, Bree’s life takes an unexpected turn. Her father’s gambles and loses big to another gentleman who suggests that he’ll forgive the debt if Brilliana marries his son, Reynold Trevor. With no word from Niall and hoping to protect her mother from ruin, Bree has no choice but to accept the marriage. The intervening years are difficult for Bree as, while she likes her new husband, she can’t love him. The best thing to come from their marriage is a son; however his arrival is bittersweet as Reynold dies not long after his birth. As a widow, Bree gains a bit of freedom, but years of protecting herself from men who took advantage of her (like her father) have made Bree reluctant to begin a new relationship. Nothing can prepare her for the shock she experiences when she is suddenly reunited with the one man she’s spent seven years trying to forget.

Niall Lindsey, now the Earl of Margrave, spent his years in exile working with the Home Office as a spy within the social circles of Spain. When his superior, Lord Fulkham, finally found a way to get him pardoned it was a welcome relief to escape the world of espionage. Of course, a great spymaster never really lets an asset get away and Niall is soon recruited to uncover evidence of a counterfeiter passing fake banknotes at several gambling hells. All signs point to Sir Oswald Payne being the culprit and Niall is tasked with getting close to the man to find proof of his counterfeiting. Lord Fulkham tells Niall that the easiest way to gain the man’s trust is to use his daughter as a means of introduction and doesn’t give Niall any chance to escape a reunion with the former Miss Payne. Seeing Brilliana again after seven years brings back all the painful memories of her betrayal when he needed her support. Learning from his father that Brilliana married another while Niall was alone on the Continent was a crushing blow to his heart from which he has never quite recovered.

Reluctantly, Niall and Bree agree to fake an engagement as cover for their mission to ingratiate themselves with Sir Oswald. Their forced closeness reopens many old wounds but also triggers a re-examination of the misunderstandings and actions that led to their separation years before. What is quickly discovered is that the love Bree and Niall held for each other never really died; however it may be impossible to rekindle as Niall is still holding some secrets close to his chest and Bree finds it very hard to trust him with her heart a second time.

The Pleasures of Passion is a good story that sometimes gets lost in its repetitiveness. Brilliana and Niall have trust issues in their early relationship and once they’re reunited those same trust issues are the obstacle in the way of their rekindled romance. Niall withholds things from Bree right up until the bitter end rather than taking a leap of faith that she would understand why he had kept her in the dark for so long. One could argue that he had lived for seven years protecting his family’s honor and it was a difficult habit to break; however it unnecessarily strains their relationship. Bree finds it hard to let go of the past as a small part of her feels the life for which she was destined was taken away because of her father’s, her husband’s and even Niall’s actions. There wouldn’t be a story if Bree just fell over and accepted Niall’s apologies and let him back into her heart, but she is constantly wondering if Niall really loves her or will be there if things go wrong in the case against her father. Fortunately, readers know from Niall’s viewpoint that he’s ready to commit to her no matter the circumstances, so we play along with her uncertainties until she can see that, too.

The counterfeiting storyline is actually a great way to get Niall and Brilliana to talk to each other and Ms. Jeffries keeps the reader guessing about the identity of the real criminal. Having the investigation always a part of the conversation works to move the story further but also lays the groundwork for the next two books in the Sinful Suitors series. The Pleasures of Passion is a stronger story than the last book and I hope to see this upward trend continue.

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Heiresses #1) by Janna MacGregor

the bad luck bride

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IS MARRIAGE A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

A man of honor, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he exacts revenge on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece must fall into place for him to succeed he needs to convince his enemy s fiancee, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire s curse has always left her one misstep away from social ruin her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth is headed in the same direction. . .until Alex, a man she barely even knows, shocks the ton and Claire by announcing their engagement. What begins as a sham turns into something deeper, and more passionate, than either Claire or Alex could have imagined. But when their secrets are revealed, will the truth behind their union scandalize them both or is their love strong enough to break the curse and lead them toward their happily ever after?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1812
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

The Bad Luck Bride is an uneven story about love and revenge and in which luck, whether good or bad doesn’t really come into play for the main characters’ issues. Their problems mainly stem from misunderstandings and an unwillingness to listen to the good advice of others. Fortunately, author Janna MacGregor brings a vulnerability to both the hero and the heroine that compelled me to finish their story.

Lady Claire Cavensham has waited what seems like an eternity to get married. With three prior engagements broken due to unusual circumstances, Claire is all but convinced that the gossip about her being cursed must be true. Accepting the suit of fiancé number four was motivated more out of friendship and little bit of desperation, but Claire is ready to make the best of her upcoming marriage. With the announcement of her engagement to Lord Paul Barstowe scheduled for later that evening, Claire is hoping that her unlucky streak is finally at an end. Unfortunately the whispers in the ballroom about Lord Paul’s absence at the event and the note she receives from her missing fiancé quashes that dream. Mortified that she’s been jilted again so publicly, Claire makes her way out of the ballroom and is met by the handsome and friendly Marquess of Pembrooke. He offers her a sympathetic ear and a warm embrace just when she needs it the most. Bolstered by his calming presence, Claire prepares herself to reenter the fray but things go sideways as she’s discovered in Pembrooke’s arms. Suddenly the engagement announcement she anticipated is made, but with an entirely different fiancé!

Alexander Hallworth, Lord Pembrooke, couldn’t have planned the evening’s events any better. Hours before the ball ever started Alex had put the wheels in motion to secure Lady Claire as his betrothed and to humiliate Lord Paul in the bargain. The announcement of their engagement is the final piece in his revenge against the man who had been one of his closest friends until he betrayed Alex’s trust and in turn destroyed the life of Alex’s youngest sister. Now, all Alex has to do is marry the delightful Lady Claire and watch Lord Paul’s ruin as he now has no way to pay his outstanding gambling debts. Believing that he has the moral high ground, Alex allays Claire’s fears that she’s cursed to remain unmarried by wooing her and agreeing to the settlement demands she makes. There’s no need to let Claire know that their marriage was a set-up from the beginning if she’s happy with the final result.

Alex’s perceptions about his marriage and Claire change after they leave London for his ancestral home. There Claire finds little ways to heal some of the pain he’s held onto from memories of his sister’s tragedy. She becomes more important to him because of who she is rather than what she represented in his revenge against Lord Paul. Claire herself struggles to believe that her marriage to Alex is real and will last through any curse she carries. Hoping to break any spell she might be under, Claire forces herself to confront her own past, with varying results. It’s only Alex’s strong presence that lets Claire imagine she will overcome her fears to find happiness in the arms of someone who loves her. Sadly, when the truth of Alex’s revenge plot is revealed it breaks Claire’s heart and she runs from him. With his own heart firmly in Claire’s hands Alex has find a way to regain Claire’s trust before he himself is cursed with a lonely future.

The Bad Luck Bride starts off fairly strongly with Alex’s almost Shakespearean revenge plot and Claire’s wistful dream of finding a love that’s stronger than the demons she carries with her. The storyline unfolds much more dramatically than I expected from the cover description and I was ready to take the plunge with both characters into the darker sides of their psyches. Unfortunately once they are married things never quite get as deep or angsty as I thought they should have given all the emotional suffering Claire and Alex have lived through. Alex refuses to hear the advice from his best friend that his anger at Lord Paul is misplaced – or at the very least misconstrued from the facts he had about his sister’s tragedy. He pushes forward to influence Claire’s life without ever considering her feelings on the matter. Towards the end as he tries to reconcile with her Alex adjusts things to suit himself, not seeing how badly Claire has been affected by all of his manipulations.

I had more compassion for Claire throughout the story, but she, too, acts in ways that made it hard for me to completely side with her way of seeing situations. Claire is written as an intelligent and resilient young woman, and yet she is quick to believe in a curse that will eventually destroy any happiness in her life. After marrying Alex she suddenly becomes stubborn to the point of petulance and it strips her of all the definition she’s gained by staying strong in the face of gossip and unkind words. When she realizes that Alex has been steering their marriage from the beginning she fails to fight back and instead runs away to lick her wounds and turn to her uncle to fix the situation. I missed the plucky woman from the beginning of the book who stood up for what she wanted in her marriage even if the circumstances were out of her control.

While I had problems with The Bad Luck Bride I feel that Ms. MacGregor has some good stories to tell. The Bad Luck Bride just needed a bit of tightening of the loose threads and a clearer path towards Claire and Alex’s happy ending. Hopefully the series will improve upon this shaky start and another good voice in historical romance will be heard.