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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.

Romancing the Rogue (Passion & Promises #3) by Erica Ridley

romancing the rogue

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When the new earl inherits, poor relation Miss Rebecca Bond must wed immediately or be out on her ear. The only man she’s ever loved is summoned to hear the will—but he already rejected her so soundly that they haven’t spoken in years. Yet who better than a rakish Viscount to teach her how to snare a gentleman who appreciates her charms?

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North Barrows, regrets nothing more than the lost friendship with the one woman who treated him like a man, not a title. Fate has given him the perfect pretext to win her forgiveness—even if it means having to matchmake her to someone else. But now that she’s back in his life, he’ll do anything to convince her to choose him instead…

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Publisher and Release Date: Webmotion, March 2017

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

Review by Sara

Romancing the Rogue was originally one of the novellas featured in The Haunting of Castle Keyvnor anthology. The collection is set in and around a long neglected castle in the north of England where all manner of spooks and spirits resided along with a few living but forgotten souls. Author Erica Ridley finds some hopefulness within the bleak and gothic setting with a story of young friends reunited to find love.

The servants of Castle Keyvnor have learned to ignore many of the peculiarities that lurk within the haunted walls of the estate. Sadly, Miss Rebecca Bond has become just another spirit to the men and women who serve the elder Earl of Banfield. Rebecca was once a welcomed guest of the earl, along with her parents and younger sister, but when they were tragically killed in a carriage accident Rebecca was left alone and quietly forgotten by her distant relation. With nowhere else to go, she made herself useful to the staff and the earl’s steward by being as unobtrusive as possible. Soon, Rebecca was just another ghost within the castle even though she is very much alive.

Her situation changes when the old earl dies and his heir arrives at the castle to take on the title. An introduction between Rebecca and the new Earl of Banfield does not go in her favor as he already has several daughters to bring out this Season and is unwilling to add Rebecca to his list of obligations. He decides right away that Rebecca should be married off as soon as possible to a man of his choosing so she’ll become her husband’s responsibility. Rebecca is scared to leave the comfort of the castle but even more frightened of marrying a man she doesn’t know or care for. In desperation she decides to reach out to the only man of her acquaintance who might help her.

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North-Barrow has fallen into the snare that many young, rich and titled gentlemen do when they arrive in London. The allure of entertainments and willing women has changed Daniel from the caring and dedicated person he used to be into a known rake. The summons he receives from Castle Keyvnor for the reading of the old earl’s will is unexpected as the man wasn’t a close relative or even friendly with Daniel. The only thing prompting Daniel to return to the castle is memories of his old friend Rebecca Bond who he treated very poorly the last time he saw her. As a newly minted baron, Daniel was vain and full of his own pretensions when he attended a local dance where Rebecca was also a guest. When she approached him, Daniel gave her the cut direct so as to distance himself from a silly young girl. In his heart Daniel knew his actions were cruel but he soon moved away to London and had no chance to rectify the situation. A visit to Castle Kevynor will be an opportunity to find Rebecca and finally apologize for his mistake.

Romancing the Rogue is a sweet story at its core, with Rebecca and Daniel reuniting as older and wiser individuals. Their time apart changes them both, with Daniel becoming jaded at the lifestyle he’d adopted in London and Rebecca retreating from the vibrant girl she used to be into a shadow. The novella builds their relationship as they each rediscover the part of themselves that had been lost. While spending time with Daniel, Rebecca begins to thrive again and long for more than just a contented life in the castle. As she blossoms, Daniel is caught up in his affection for both the girl he left behind and the woman she’s become. She has no regard for his ton polish and forces him to act with his heart. There are several scenes in which the descriptions of where Daniel and Rebecca’s new awareness of each other had me swooning.

Unfortunately, the gloominess of Rebecca’s life prior to Daniel’s arrival is laid on rather thick so it’s difficult to see how she could switch from a depressed and downtrodden character into a happy and contented person. If the story had a longer page count, those transitions may have been clearer; however with the limited amount of time that Rebecca has with Daniel the reader has to make several leaps of faith that they’re together for the long haul.

I haven’t read many of Erica Ridley’s stories and Romancing the Rogue was perhaps not the strongest introduction to her material. Fortunately she has an extensive back catalog of full-length novels that may give me a better insight into her style. For now, this is a nice, clean story of love reunited that passes the time well.

Marry in Haste (Marriage of Convenience #1) by Anne Gracie

Marry in Haste

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Major Calbourne Rutherford returns to England on the trail of an assassin, only to find he’s become Lord Ashendon, with the responsibility for vast estates and dependent relatives. Cal can command the toughest of men, but his wild half-sisters are quite another matter. They might just be his undoing.

When he discovers that Miss Emmaline Westwood, the girls’ former teacher, guides them with ease, Cal offers her a marriage of convenience. But strong-minded and independent Emm is neither as compliant nor as proper as he expected, and Cal finds himself most inconveniently seduced by his convenient wife.

Emm knows they didn’t marry for love, yet beneath her husband’s austere facade, she catches glimpses of a man who takes her breath away. As pride, duty and passion clash, will these two stubborn hearts find more than they ever dreamed of?

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, May 2017

Time and Setting:England (London & Bath), 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

Anne Gracie tells stories about relationships. Not only do her books focus on the love that develops between the main couple but just as much time is spent on how the bonds of friendship and family can evolve. A title like Marry in Haste would lead one to believe that the story is quick to throw characters into contrived situations. Instead the story takes its time, showcasing the intricate emotional connections that will forever join one person to another.

Upon his return to England, Major Calbourne Rutherford planned on making his report on the deadly assassin he’d been tracking in Spain and then returning to the field to capture his foe. He didn’t count on life altering his plans; however with the news that his dissolute elder brother had died, Cal is thrust into the role of a titled gentleman. Finding himself the new Lord Ashendon is more of an inconvenience than an honor as the title means a responsibility to his lands and taking care of his two younger half-sisters. The two girls have been living with their aunt in Bath for years and Cal hasn’t been home to see them in over a decade. His reintroduction to his family goes poorly as the little girls he remembers have blossomed into two beautiful but headstrong young women who are not particularly pleased to see him.

The Rutherford family dynamic changes again when Cal’s solicitor uncovers proof that his brother wed in secret and may have a legitimate heir. Traveling to Alderton believing he’s searching for a nephew named George, Cal instead is greeted by his angry and unkempt young niece Georgiana. With three young women now under his care and absolutely no knowledge about how to prepare them for a London season, Cal is desperate. He needs to find a suitable woman who can take over full responsibility for his charges when he returns to the field. Fortunately Cal knows the perfect candidate for the job. Unfortunately she’s already told him “No” on two separate occasions.

Miss Emmaline Westwood remembers the Rutherford girls when they attended the Bath finishing school where she’s been teaching. Her first encounter with the new Lord Ashendon was a brief conversation after he begged the school’s proprietress to take his sisters back. Emm’s physical response towards the man was overwhelming but she knows that lustful attraction can be dangerous and she has more pressing concerns than mooning over a handsome face. Her second meeting with Cal comes on the heels of receiving the offer of becoming headmistress at the school so his job offer to become a governess for the now three Rutherford women holds no appeal. Emm can see how urgently Cal needs to find someone to care for his sisters and niece; however his offer would expire once the women are married and as a single woman Emm needs the long term security of the school position. When Cal comes knocking on Emm’s door a third time she expects to gently turn him down again. Instead he comes with an offer that will give her something she’s desperately craved since leaving her own home in disgrace – the chance to be part of a family again.

Cal didn’t plan on proposing to Emm but a recent conversation with an acquaintance opened his eyes to the possibility that a new Lady Ashendon would solve all his problems. It doesn’t hurt that Emm is beautiful, intelligent and has an easy manner with the girls that he could never hope to achieve. Thinking that their marriage must benefit the ladies of the house, Cal is surprised by the little ways that Emm incorporates herself into his daily routine. His convenient wife becomes anything but when Cal finds himself torn between his drive to return to his life in the field and the desires Emm awakens in him. For a man used to serving King and Country, his next critical mission may be the one that benefits his home and heart.

There are so many wonderful introductions within Marry in Haste that any synopsis will fall short on explaining how closely each of the characters are connected and how the greater story unfolds. The opening chapters of the story barely touch on the romantic side of Cal and Emm’s relationship, instead it allows readers to get to know the Rutherford family inside and out. At first this was a little frustrating as Emm is there in Bath with the family but very separate from all the drama unfolding as Cal gets to know his sisters and niece. Once Emm is brought into the family as Cal’s new bride, the reason for keeping her separate is made clear as she becomes the peacemaker. Emm sees the fractures within the family dynamic and uses her gifts of patience and caring to mend the bonds. As a woman who knows herself she becomes a role model for the girls who are still struggling out of their adolescence to discover who they are as adults. Each girl blossoms under her guidance and it’s a joy to see how that in turn helps Emm feel wanted and loved for herself.

Another interesting part of Marry in Haste was how much of the story is told from Cal’s viewpoint. I am a very hero-centric reader, so spending page time understanding his motivations and learning who he is as a character made it special as I watched him grow and change through the influence of his family and with Emm by his side. I never saw Cal as selfish but he was always trying to ignore the obstacles that life put in his path in favor of getting to his goal. Upon becoming Lord Ashendon, Cal can no longer keep those blinders on and he’s awakened to a whole other life that is possible when he slows down and enjoys the smaller, quieter accomplishments in life.

I loved reading Marry in Haste! I’m very curious to know what happens next for the Rutherfords since there were almost no clues about which of the girls might be next for a marriage. Hopefully her Marriage of Convenience will be a benefit for all involved.

I Dared the Duke (Wayward Wallflowers #2) by Anna Bennett

I dared the duke

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Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, is known throughout the ton for three things: the burn scars on his neck, his ornery disposition, and the trail of broken hearts behind him. None of which would concern Miss Elizabeth Lacey in the least—if she weren’t living under his roof. As his grandmother’s companion, Beth is all too concerned with the moody and compelling duke. Incensed by his plans to banish the sweet dowager duchess to the country, Beth refuses to do his bidding. If Alex wants her help, he’s going to have to take her dare…and grant her three wishes.

Alex adores his grandmother, which is precisely why she must leave. A string of unfortunate incidents has him worried for the safety of everyone around him—including the dowager’s loyal and lovely companion, Beth. But the notorious wallflower isn’t as meek as she appears, and as their battle of wills heats up, so does Alex’s desire. He’s dangerously close to falling in love with her…and revealing secrets he’d rather keep hidden. How can he convince her that his darkest days are behind him—and that, for the first time in forever, his heart is true?

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

Time and Setting: London, 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

I Dared the Duke continues the story of the three Lacey sisters, known as The Wilted Wallflowers after they were cruelly teased during their first season in London. Middle sister Beth Lacey gets the spotlight here and her story is enjoyable enough and a marginal improvement from the series’ début My Brown-Eyed Earl.

Miss Elizabeth Lacey hasn’t quite found her footing since her family’s social change of fortune. For years she and her sisters were cruelly teased for their unfashionable appearance, lack of fortune and their uncle’s eccentricities. Her sister’s recent marriage to an earl has raised their standing within the ton, but even with their newfound wealth, Beth isn’t comfortable facing the same people who so easily scorned her, so she offers herself as a companion to the elderly Dowager Duchess of Blackshire. The arraignment makes Beth feel needed and the duchess benefits from Beth’s attention. Everything is comfortable for Beth until the duchess’ grandson, the current Duke of Blackshire arrives home. Alexander Savage is strikingly handsome, even with the scars on his neck, but his attitude towards Beth is anything but attractive. He’s curt, dismissive and seems put-out that his grandmother has hired a companion without his knowledge.

Alex has arrived back at his London town house with the singular task of moving his beloved grandmother away from possible threats to his person. Over the last few weeks, Alex has fallen victim to more than a few accidents under very suspicious circumstances. The idea that someone is targeting him has him fearful that the perpetrator will shift their attention to the only person left that he cares for. Coming home to find that his grandmother has brought in a companion is an inconvenience and Alex makes it very clear to the pretty, young Miss Lacey that her services are no longer required. He doesn’t count on Beth digging in her heels about not leaving the duchess’ side and instead accuses Alex of neglect towards the only family he has left. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, yet to reveal his fears or his plans about capturing the person threatening him to Beth isn’t something Alex can do.

Beth and Alex are at loggerheads until he changes tactics on her. Rather than seeing Beth as an impediment to his plans, he instead asks for her help to convince his grandmother that moving to the country would be beneficial. Beth, still believing Alex to be a rogue who cares little for the aging duchess, adds the condition that she’ll help him if he’ll grant the older woman three wishes to make her remaining time in London more memorable. The requests the dowager makes seem easy enough for Alex to facilitate; however in spending time with his grandmother he is also enjoying Beth’s company and soon a friendship of sorts develops between the pair. It isn’t long before their closeness gives way to the attraction that’s been simmering since their first meeting, yet they are each reluctant to pursue a relationship for differing reasons. Alex still fears that anyone close to him could be in mortal danger, while Beth doesn’t want to give herself over to a man reputed to be a bed-hopping libertine.

I Dared the Duke is more light and fluffy than it is deep and character driven. Beth and Alex are easy to read about but they’re not very substantial past their interactions with each other. The gossip has painted Alex as a promiscuous rake; however he’s anything but. It’s never made 100% clear why Alex would want to have that kind of reputation follow him around London and it really only serves as a motivation for the accidents that have been following him. Otherwise, Alex is a fairly well adjusted individual and it makes him a little boring. There isn’t much of an edge to him or anything underneath the role he’s adopted as London’s greatest lover. A small secret about his awareness of Beth before meeting her is folded into his backstory but it only becomes a conflict for about a page. Then it’s dismissed in the name of love.

Beth’s misperceptions of Alex’s character are there so she doesn’t immediately swoon for him. She’s unwilling to be just another notch on his bedpost so she keeps him at arm’s length in order to protect her heart. When Beth discovers why Alex is so keen to have the duchess out of London she quickly drops her prejudices and wants to be a part of his investigation into who’s been threatening him. It’s a nice way to further the relationship building but once again it falls on the airy side of storytelling. Beth’s need to be needed is a character flaw; however everyone around her seems to think it’s her singular strength. Instead of being comfortable in her own skin, Beth needs the constant reassurance that she’s made a difference for someone else. It’s difficult to get behind a character who defines herself by how others see her.

Readers looking for an easy, light read will find that I Dared the Duke fits the bill nicely. The story has its charms and the emotions expressed towards the end of the book are heartwarming. I’m not compelled to continue The Wayward Wallflowers series past this story but it was a nice diversion between the more dramatic and weighty romances.

You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne

you may kiss the bride

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Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow the ‘Penhallow way’: find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, April 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Author Lisa Berne had a great idea creating a series revolving around a wealthy and influential family without a peer in the mix. Her début ,You May Kiss the Bride is a throwback to the classics where characters like Mr. Darcy were a catch without a title in front of their names. Unfortunately the author’s inexperience shines through more than her unique ideas, with poorly rendered characters and a rather juvenile storyline.

Livia Stuart is constantly making the best of the circumstances she’s been dealt in life. When her parents died in India she was shuffled off to her aunt and uncle’s home in Wiltshire but their care has been anything but attentive. Their neighbor Lady Glanville’s daughter Cecily is a constant thorn in her side, parading her wealth and beauty in front of Livia at any social gathering and gifting Livia with her old dresses in the name of Christian charity. Livia has tried to remain above Cecily’s pettiness but it’s becoming harder to swallow her envy when the girl and her mother are always visiting her home to share news of their good fortune.

Their latest visit brings news that the esteemed Mrs. Penhallow has chosen Cecily as the perfect bride for her grandson, Gabriel. The Penhallow family is one of the wealthiest in England and an association with them will bring prestige to any young woman lucky enough to marry the heir. Lady Glanville brags that Mrs. Penhallow and her grandson are visiting their estate so that Cecily can be presented to Gabriel and their betrothal made official. Livia finds herself a little jealous of Cecily’s betrothal but is happier that the neighborhood mean girl will be off to marry and will leave Wiltshire behind.

Gabriel Penhallow isn’t thrilled at the idea of marrying a woman hand-picked by his grandmother but the time has come for him to continue the family’s legacy. It’s expected that all the Penhallow men will marry, sire an heir and use their wealth and connections to influence noblemen around England. Gabriel escaped the pressures of his name for a time by working abroad as a diplomat, but his grandmother has started reminding him that it’s his duty to continue the Penhallow tradition. Arriving at the Glanville estate, Gabriel is unimpressed by his potential bride but figures that one debutante is much like another and their marriage will be comfortably convenient. When he leaves the house for a walk, Gabriel gets lost in the unfamiliar lands where he meets a beautiful woman walking through a wooded area and he’s immediately attracted to her. From her dress and her manner of speaking Gabriel sees that she’s a servant and isn’t be the sort of woman he could dally with.

Livia is furious when the handsome man she meets in the forest arrogantly assumes she’s an uneducated servant. From his fashionable clothes and haughty manner Livia is certain this is Mr. Penhallow, but rather than correcting his presumption, Livia acts up the role of a servant and gives Gabriel confusing directions back to Cecily’s home. Later than evening when her aunt is discussing their invitation to Lady Glanville’s ball, Livia sees a chance to get one-up her neighbor and throw Gabriel’s arrogance back in his face. She creates a stunning gown from Cecily’s cast-offs and makes a dramatic entrance at the ball. Gabriel notices her right away, and is angry at her deception as well as aroused by her beauty. When he catches Livia leaving the ballroom with their host’s son it bothers Gabriel more than it should, but he follows her out onto the terrace where he interrupts her conversation and then rashly allows his temper and attraction to get the better of him. He kisses her in full view of the ballroom and soon he and Livia have an audience of his almost-betrothed, her mother and his grandmother. The last witness is Livia’s uncle who insists his niece is now ruined and must marry Gabriel.

What should follow this episode is the standard romantic storyline of a marriage of convenience between two enemies, soon to be lovers. It doesn’t quite work out that way and most of that can be attributed to Livia and Gabriel’s childish behavior. Livia doesn’t want to be married to an arrogant ass like Gabriel so she runs away. His pride gets in the way of managing Livia’s own anger and fear at their situation so he makes a rash declaration that they will marry but in name only. Within a matter of chapters Gabriel has taken sex off the table when that was the only motivation he had for getting married in the first place. These two knuckleheads have a very hard time talking without taking petty jabs and exploiting the insecurities they can see in their partner. As they are forced into each other’s company, lust seems to take over all the decision making. Gabriel’s no-sex policy is quickly thrown out the window, but they still don’t seem to see eye-to-eye on anything important between them.

The story picks up a bit when Gabriel and his grandmother are faced with evidence that the Penhallow legacy is rather hollow. Livia then becomes the strongest character because of her experience having to take control and reshape her life in unfortunate circumstances. Both Gabriel and Mrs. Penhallow come to appreciate Livia for the kind and loving woman she really is underneath all the emotional walls she’s had in place since her parents death years before. She holds the family together through the crisis and Gabriel discovers that giving his heart over to his wife is a long buried tradition within the Penhallow family that should be revived.

While there are some problems in You May Kiss the Bride I feel like the story should be graded on a bit of a curve as this is the author’s first published work. The characters could have used just a tad more common sense; however there was still a romantic side of the story that I liked. I will reserve my judgement on Ms. Berne and the entire Penhallow Dynasty series until the next book is released.

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

the highland duke

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

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

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

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

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

Review by Sara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor Before Heart (Emerald Belles #1) by Heather McCorkle

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Risking it all for love and valor . . .

When Corporal Sean MacBranian awakens after being injured in battle, he is sure the luck o’ the Irish has run out on him. Or that he’s died and gone to Heaven. There can be no other explanation for the blond-haired, blue-eyed angel standing before him. But his “angel” is a truehearted lass named Ashlinn, and she wears a nurse’s uniform. Her tender ministrations have brought him back from the brink of death—and have given him a new reason for living.

Ashlinn knows their parting is inevitable; her handsome hero must return to the 69th infantry of the Union army, and there are no guarantees of his safe return. With most of her family already destroyed by the war ravaging America, she is sure she cannot survive another loss. Yet she feels powerless against the draw of Sean’s strong and steady heart. Neither time nor distance nor the danger of battle seems to lessen their bond. But when their secret letters are intercepted, the devoted nurse’s love will face the ultimate test . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, March 2017

Time and Setting: Virginia, 1862
Genre: American Historical Romance (Civil War period)
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Honor Before Heart is a sweetly romantic story set against the horrors of the American Civil War. McCorkle has definitely done her homework to show the brutality and personal cost faced by those who fought or lost someone in the war, although I wish that a bit more had been done to develop the characters past their basic outlines and turn them into a man and woman I could fully connect with.

Ashlinn O’Brian’s life has been changed forever by the war. Her three brothers heard the call to arms and enlisted in the Northern army. After two of them died from poorly treated wounds Ashlinn has been desperately searching the battlefields to find her youngest brother to hopefully save him from dying too. Ashlinn learned everything she could from her parents, a progressive doctor and a midwife, and her skills at keeping patients alive has made her more than a few enemies in the army camp hospital she works in. The latest battle on the shores of the James River has littered the ground with the bodies of dead Union and Confederate soldiers but Ashlinn’s prayers are answered that none of the men she finds are her brother. Before returning to the safety of the army camp Ashlinn’s attention is drawn to her faithful dog Cliste dragging something by the river bank. Getting closer to the water Ashlinn sees that the dog is trying to help a Union soldier who is unconscious but bleeding heavily from a gut wound. Knowing she’s the man’s only hope for survival, Ashlinn gets him into a makeshift shelter and treats his injuries using the supplies she always carries with her.

Corporal Sean MacBranian had escaped injury during the battle only to be caught by a Rebel soldier he found abusing a dog. He managed to kill the Southerner but not before the man got a few good hits on Sean’s person. The pain of his injuries knocks him out and for a moment Sean is certain he’s died when he wakes up to the beautiful face of a guardian angel leaning over him. Fortunately for Sean, his angel is a nurse who knows better ways to heal severe injuries than slicing and dicing up a patient. Ashlinn’s skills at suturing his wounds and keeping them clear of infection allow him to regain some of his strength so they can move out of enemy territory. As they travel Sean finds that Ashlinn is a well-spoken young woman but every so often he can hear a bit of a brogue seeping into her words. As an immigrant from Ireland, Sean is drawn to that little hint of Ashlinn’s own background as it’s something special they share.

Upon arriving safely at the army’s encampment Sean and Ashlinn try to keep their relationship on a cordial level since the war could separate them at any moment. Ashlinn has already learned the difficult lesson that caring for someone makes it agonizing to watch them march into an uncertain future on the battlefield. Sean, too, has seen many good men die and fears that his growing feelings for Ashlinn might become a distraction when his focus should be on the soldiers who serve under him. What neither of them counted on was how strong their bond had already become after Ashlinn saved his life and Sean protected her from the unwanted advances of the camp’s brutal doctor. They become inseparable after Sean is deployed into another battle and Ashlinn knows she would be lost if he were killed in action. Their new relationship is tested when Ashlinn discovers proof that her brother is alive but the circumstances of his disappearance may make her choose between her family and a future with Sean.

Honor Before Heart is tonally perfect for the period –  I could almost see everything happening to Ashlinn and Sean through a sepia-colored lens. One would think that the importance of social status would be something easily ignored while living in an army camp; however Ashlinn’s background as a wealthy Northerner is something that matters to Sean. He is aware that his own status as an Irish immigrant puts him much lower in class than her family even thought they, too, had immigrated generations earlier. There is also a black mark on his family’s name that Sean is hesitant to reveal since it was part of the reason he came to America to start a new life. Once he decides to pursue Ashlinn he adjusts their situation within the camp to always provide a chaperone or keep their meetings within the bounds of propriety. It makes their romance very sweet for most of their courting.

Unfortunately those sepia-colored lenses cannot hide the fact that Sean and Ashlinn never seem to grow or change much throughout the course of the story. Sean is a noble man who fights for the Union to bring freedom to the Southern slaves. Ashlinn is an intelligent and enlightened woman far ahead of her times when it comes to the care of the sick and injured in the field. Those two ideas are discussed between characters many times and serve as the major points of conflict when Ashlinn’s methods are challenged by the male doctors or Sean is captured by a Southern plantation owner. Long passages of the story paint vivid pictures of the brutal conditions Ashlinn is fighting against in the field hospitals, yet that’s all she seems to be fighting for. We don’t really know why her family joined the fight or what her thoughts are about the political side of things.

With that said, I enjoyed enough of Honor Before Heart to recommend it. The calm pace of the story creates the perfect conditions for a romance to thrive but the darkness of war is always present. It’s nice to believe that something as beautiful as love will survive past all of the hate.

A Lady Without a Lord (Penningtons #3) by Bliss Bennet

a lady without a lord

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A viscount convinced he’s a failure

For years, Theophilius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .

A lady determined she’ll succeed

Harriot Atherton has a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?

As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father and discovering the missing money, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?

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Publisher and Release Date: Bliss Bennet, February 2017

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

Review by Sara

A Lady Without a Lord is the third in Bliss Bennet’s Penningtons series and the first book I’ve read by this author. The story she’s created has a lot of good character moments that kept me reading from cover to cover; however her distinctive writing style was a bit harder to engage with.

Lord Theophilius Pennington is charming, witty and always makes a good impression on everyone – except the members of his family. Growing up as heir, Theo was pressured from an early age to take an interest in the family’s properties as well as follow his father into the political arena. Unfortunately, difficulties with numeracy gave Theo’s family the impression that he was lazy or not suited to the tasks required of a future viscount. When their father died, Theo’s younger sister Sibilla worked to maintain the family’s political activism by marring a man whose drive for social change mirrored her own ambitions. Meanwhile Theo was content to allow his land steward to manage the books and keep him informed of problems while he lived a carefree life in London. Everything changes when it’s time to pay out Sibilla’s dowry and it’s discovered that the Pennington family accounts are barely solvent. Hoping to hide this new problem from his sister, Theo swears his new brother-in-law to secrecy while he makes an emergency trip to meet with his steward for an explanation.

Miss Harriot Atherton is surprised and just the smallest bit alarmed when the new Lord Saybrook comes back to his estate wanting to meet immediately with her father. Mr. Atherton is the long serving steward for the Pennington family but for the last year it’s really been Harry keeping accounts and reporting everything in her father’s name. She has been hiding the fact that her father’s mind has been slipping and he can no longer manage his responsibilities without help. When Harry learns that Theo’s unannounced visit to the country is motivated by the shocking loss of over four thousand pounds, she is scared that her father’s disability will be discovered as well as her own interference in the running of the estate.

Living at his estate again reminds Theo that the responsibilities of his title are not limited to just having a seat in parliament. There are many people who depend on the Saybrook viscountcy for their livelihood and it’s been his error to ignore how important his involvement in local matters is. Theo finds himself discussing many community concerns with Harry and rekindling their childhood friendship. Their closeness stirs an attraction between the pair that is initially viewed as an inconvenience by them both. As they work to find the missing dowry, Theo’s interest for Harry becomes focused on her other qualities, such as her intelligence and her patience, while Harry is drawn to Theo’s amiable nature. Swaying even his staunchest critics with charm is something she would have difficulty doing but for Theo it is second nature. Unfortunately the secrets she’s keeping from Theo could derail the trust they’ve built and the new emotions he brings out in her.

Both main characters in A Lady Without a Lord are written to allow them their normal human insecurities while still building up their appeal as romantic leads. Theo’s difficulties with mathematics are drawn from a real life condition called dyscalculia, which, in a family of high achievers this disability forced him to hide behind a nonchalant disposition. Harry’s self-doubts are also deeply rooted, as the result of losing her mother at an early age and never quite catching on socially. Each of them has learned to become a people-pleaser in order to mask their fears or disappoint those closest to them. In partnering together to find the missing money or by forcing each other to work outside of their comfort zones, Theo and Harry discover there’s much more to their personalities. Harry helps Theo understand that his charm can be used to get things done while he shows her it’s alright to have aspirations of her own outside of what others may want from her.

I enjoyed A Lady Without a Lord but found it a challenge to get excited for Theo and Harry’s love affair. Passions are kept at a cool or warm level throughout their courtship and I found myself missing some of the sparks – either real or manufactured through events – that ignite a romantic relationship. Since I liked both characters I have to put some of this dispassion at the door of Ms. Bennet’s style of writing. Things are described well and events flow smoothly, but there’s an almost clinical approach to how things unfold. The skewed focus is almost like the author wants to show readers just how much research she did on conditions such as dementia, and I dislike feeling like I’m being schooled while I’m being entertained. But with that said, my curiosity about the next couple to be featured in The Penningtons series and a hope of seeing more of Theo and Harry’s HEA motivates me to give this author another try.

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne

the duke

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He is noble, notorious, and takes no prisoners…

They say that now His Grace, Collin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth has only one hand, he might finally be a mere mortal, but no one seems willing to test the theory. Rich as Midas, big as a Viking, beautiful as Adonis, and lethal as a feral wolf, he is the English Empire’s golden son. But now he’s lost everything. Most of his family died in a terrible accident, his protégé and closest friend betrayed him on the battlefield, and his left hand was cut off while he was a prisoner of war. The only thing that’s kept him going until now is the memory of a night spent in the arms of a mysterious raven-haired woman almost a year ago…

Imogen Pritchard is a nurse by day, but a fallen woman—and a spy—by night. Seduced on the job years ago by a Duke who mourned for the loss of his family, Imogen has never shaken the memory of the man’s despair—or the fathomless depths of pleasure he brought to her. But as the threat of betrayals, blackmail, and secrets abound, Imogen and Collin are thrown back together in a dizzying swirl of dangerous games and earthshattering desire. But can their love overcome the everything that threatens to tear them apart?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1879
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series brings to life dangerous men who are always one heartbeat away from succumbing to their darkest impulses. The love they find in the arms of their perfect women saves their souls. In The Duke, the formula is changed just slightly to introduce a man whose heart is so hardened he almost misses his chance at salvation.

Collin Talmage was never supposed to be the Duke of Trewyth. Knowing he was the spare to his father’s legacy gave Cole the freedom to join the military where he has used his strength and intelligence to good effect. His career as a soldier and spy comes to a tragic halt when his family is killed in an accident, immediately elevating him to one of the highest peerages in the realm. On the eve of his final assignment, Cole hopes to escape from the reality of his life for just a few moments in the company of his fellow soldiers. Their group arrives at the Bare Kitten Dance Hall where Cole quickly notices the beautiful barmaid serving the men. Pulling her away from the attentions of his closest companion, Cole arranges for Ginny to remain at his side for the rest of the evening and later to join him in his bed.

Imogen Pritchard, hiding her true identity under a black wig and a false name, wasn’t a whore and should never have been in a place as seedy as the Bare Kitten. Inheriting her father’s debt to the club’s proprietor forced her to work off the amount owed but she was promised she would never have to pay by working on her back. Unfortunately Cole’s money is more important to the owner than any agreement made with Imogen. With no option but to comply, Imogen is surprised by Cole’s care and lover-like treatment. His caresses and kisses ignite passions Imogen wasn’t aware she could feel, and in a single night her heart is lost to the man with eyes filled with a sorrow that Imogen wishes she could take from him.

A year passes before Imogen and Cole’s paths cross again. Cole disappears soon after leaving England and it’s feared he was killed or captured in the line of duty. Imogen can only hope he’s alive as she works at the Bare Kitten each night while maintaining her day job as a nurse at St. Margaret’s hospital. Starting a shift, she finds the hospital abuzz with the news of the arrival of an important patient – none other than the Duke of Trewyth – whom the doctors fear is dying from typhus. Imogen’s experience with the disease makes her question the diagnosis and she risks her position to have another doctor treat Cole. Her decision saves his life but the attending physician fires Imogen for insubordination. Things only get worse when a patron at the Bare Kitten tries to rape her, and she kills him in self defence. Imogen’s desperation leads her back to the hospital where the elderly Earl of Anstruther catches her stealing. The kind earl’s act of altruism saves Imogen and changes her life forever.

Once the real cause of his distress is discovered Cole’s body heals but his mind and spirit take another two years to recover. The torture he endured was only bearable by clinging to the memory of Ginny and the perfect night they shared before his life became a living hell. It’s the hope of finding his angel that becomes an obsession for Cole; so much so that he has little patience for any other women who cross his path. His main frustration comes in the form of his new neighbor Imogen, Lady Anstruther. Her ideas about social reform as well as her informality and common background all pick at Cole’s high principles. His attraction to the beautiful woman is something to be endured rather than embraced. However, when the young widow finds herself in mortal danger Cole is, surprisingly, the first one to offer his protection.

I am a die-hard fan of Ms. Byrne’s writing but I had some problems as I read The Duke. Imogen is a wonderfully fhree-dimensional character, full of compassion and grace while having to hold her family together against dire circumstances. Cole on the other hand remains aloof, bitter and angry from almost the first moments of his introduction right up the final pages of the story. Everything seems to happen around him while he remains rooted in place, stuck there by outdated ideals and a stubborn refusal to open his eyes to the gift he’s been given in Imogen. She has always been a balm to his wounded heart and yet when that healing happens without him realizing she is the same woman he’s been searching for, Cole pushes her away in the most crushing manner.

While not as compelling a story as the other books in the Victorian Rebels series, I would still recommend The Duke to readers who appreciate their heroes a bit on the dangerous side but dedicated to the happiness of their heroine.