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VIRTUAL TOUR: It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian

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Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

Helping his poor parishioners

Baby animals

Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

His ship

People doing precisely as they’re told

Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, December 2017
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Em

A few of my favorite things:

Cat Sebastian

Queer historical romance

But not, I’m sad to say, It Takes Two to Tumble.  In this first book of Cat Sebastian’s new series, Seducing the Sedgwicks, a stern, widowed naval captain returns home to find his three wild and wayward children under the care of the local vicar.  A relationship that begins in animosity quickly transitions into a love affair…which somehow makes everything wrong in life, right.  Though I found much to like here, I struggled with the pacing of the central plot and with the development of the secondary storylines.

Ben Sedgwick is happy.  After an unconventional childhood as one of five children raised by eccentric, bohemian (and neglectful) parents, he finds fulfillment in his quiet, predictable life as country vicar in the bucolic village where he was raised.  Though he’s frustrated by the recent suffering of his flock at the hands of their landlord Martin Easterbrook, his faith is less dogmatic than pragmatic, and he offers what comfort he can. Betrothed to his closest friend, Alice Crawford, he’s surprised when her father asks a favor. Could he possibly step in and check the wayward behavior of absent naval captain Phillip Dacre’s children?  Since the death of their mother two years ago, the children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors, and their wild behavior grows worse every day.  With future familial harmony in mind – and the expected arrival of Captain Dacre in the next two weeks –  Ben reluctantly agrees to the request.  He decamps for Barton Hall, to see what can be done.

Phillip Dacre has made a life for himself at sea. Although he knows it’s long past time he visited his children, and his sister’s last letter has left him deeply concerned about their well-being, the thought of being away from his ship fills him with dread.  Only a promised visit from the ship’s surgeon – his closest friend since the death of his beloved lieutenant, McCarthy, provides any relief from the bleakness of his thoughts.

Sending word of his arrival ahead, he hopes to be greeted by his children, but instead finds an empty house.  When a servant informs him they’re in the orchard with the vicar, he expects to find them in prayer or singing hymns; instead, they’re up in the cherry trees – as is the vicar.  When the handsome clergyman drops to the ground with a curse and introduces himself, Phillip struggles to control his temper.  The meeting goes from bad to worse as Ben informs him just why he’s been watching the children -.and then has the temerity to suggest how Phillip might approach them moving forward.

After this less than auspicious beginning, Ms. Sebastian positions Ben and Phillip as quasi-adversaries who unfortunately, also suffer an inconvenient attraction to each other.  The novel unfolds in their alternating PoVs as each tries to do what he feels is right. Phillip, who still mourns the loss of McCarthy, and regrets he never confessed the truth of his feelings to him, is adrift without his late wife who managed the children and the estate.  He loves his children, but he doesn’t know how to be a father to them.

Ben has always known and suppressed his attraction to men – but something about Phillip staggers him.  He doesn’t castigate himself for his lustful thoughts about the other man, but he’s overwhelmed by his feelings, which put his previously orderly, predictable world in turmoil.  Phillip is in his thoughts, his dreams, his heart… and everything he wants from Phillip feels like a betrayal of his commitment to Alice.  He suffers that too.

Both Phillip and Ben struggle with their lustful feelings for each other, but they go from wanting to having in the blink of an eye.  Days after their first meeting, the sexual tension between them – characterized by heated/longing glances, angry conversations about the children and Ben’s faith, and brief and (not so) inadvertent touches – gives way to passionate kisses and frantic, furtive couplings whenever and wherever they can sneak away.  Phillip leads and Ben exuberantly follows, and the lead-up to their love affair is nicely fraught with tension and angst.  They’re both flawed, likeable – loveable – men, but too much of their story is wrapped in their sexual relationship, and it’s difficult to see when they actually get to know the person they’re falling for.

Meanwhile, there are several additional narratives that Ms. Sebastian fails to adequately develop. Philip’s children suddenly become lovable and better behaved, Alice conveniently falls in love with a visiting friend, and a beloved brother shrugs off a painful sacrifice he made years ago for the good of the family.   Now reader, you and I both know there are MANY successful romance novels wherein the principal couple fall in love quickly, the romance evolves in a brief span of time and love conquers all somehow rings true.  But not this time.  I have no quibble with the short length of time it takes for Phillip and Ben to fall in love; unfortunately, it’s everything else – the resolution of so many complex secondary plotlines – that felt rushed and contrived.  That said, though I disliked the plot deus ex machina that simultaneously resolves Ben’s professional future and Easterbrook’s storyline, I liked how the author dovetailed Phillip’s inability to read (which his son Jamie has inherited) with Ben’s future plans.  It’s a sympathetic and brilliant merging of the two storylines.

It’s been a struggle to grade It Takes Two to Tumble.  The writing is strong, the setting is beautifully realized and the principals are appealing.  But in this awkward mash-up?  Homage? to The Sound of Music and Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox, the author can’t seem to decide whether she’s writing a disney-esque fairy tale, a story of forbidden love or both.  It’s a seductive premise, but I didn’t find this happily ever after believable – or plausible.  Really, it was all much too much, and despite the authors typical lovely writing, It Takes Two to Tumble is overstuffed and underdeveloped.

EXCERPT

After the fact, Phillip thought he might have handled the situation a bit more gracefully if the children hadn’t been in a tree. But he was not at his best, having walked the distance from the coaching inn to the house, with each step growing more disoriented by the sheer familiarity of the terrain. Surely the place ought to have changed. But every rock and tree aligned precisely with memories Phillip hadn’t even realized he still had.

Despite having sent a messenger ahead with the approximate time of his arrival, the children were not waiting in the hall to greet him. Of course they wouldn’t be, he told himself. That had been Caroline’s doing, and she was gone. Their failure to appear was just further proof of how badly Phillip’s intervention was needed. He needed to get to work turning them into well-behaved, competent midshipmen. Children, he corrected himself. Yes, children.

The servant who opened the door told Phillip he’d find the children in the orchard with the vicar. Phillip found this surprising, as nothing in Ernestine’s final letter had indicated religiosity as part of the children’s reign of terror. But instead of discovering the children at work in prayer or singing hymns, he found them high up in a cherry tree.

The plain fact of the matter was that children did not belong in trees, at least not when they ought to be in the hall awaiting their father’s return. Nor did vicars belong in trees at any time whatsoever. He might not have much experience with either, and thank God for it, but he knew trees were not the natural habitat of either class of person. He had expected to see his children for the first time in two years in a setting that was slightly less arboreal. Somewhere he could properly see them and they could properly see him and they could all say whatever the hell they were supposed to say in this situation without Caroline to manage things. Instead all he got was a glimpse of booted feet vanishing higher into the branches accompanied by the sound of stifled laughter.

The vicar spotted him first, and promptly swung down from the tree to land at Phillip’s feet. At least, Phillip assumed it was the vicar, and not some stray stable hand who had taken to capering about the orchard. But didn’t vicars wear uniforms of some sort? Special hats or black coats? The chaplain on the ship always had. This fellow was in his shirtsleeves, and if that weren’t bad enough, his sleeves were rolled up. The chaplain had never done that. The chaplain had been about sixty. And bald. This fellow had wheat-colored hair that needed a cut and freckles all over his face. He was nothing like the chaplain. Unacceptable.

“Oh damn,” the vicar said. Phillip gritted his teeth. Swearing was another thing the chaplain had never done. “I mean drat,” the man said, his freckled face going pink. “Bother. You must be Mr. Dacre.”

“Captain Dacre,” Phillip said frostily. This fellow had to go. No discipline. No sense of decorum. No wonder the children ran amok if they spent time in this man’s company. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, not bothering to conceal his frown. He never did.

“Ben Sedgwick,” the vicar said, smiling in a lopsided, bashful way. He stuck his hand out, and Phillip had no choice but to take it. The vicar’s hand was warm and his grip was firm, and Phillip’s gaze automatically drifted down to the man’s exposed forearm, sun-burnished and dusted with light hair.

“Thank you, Mr. Sedgwick,” Phillip said. “You may take yourself off.” His effort to dismiss this careless young vicar was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and the thud of a child landing at his feet.

The child was tall, lanky, and excessively rumpled. “Edward,” Phillip said, briefly startled by the changes a lapse of two years wrought in children. Phillip had last seen his older son as a coltish child of eleven. Now Phillip could discern two things—one, that he looked very much like Caroline, and two, that he was not best pleased to see his father. For an instant, Phillip could hardly blame him. Phillip had never much enjoyed seeing his own father either. When the navy had taken his own father away for years at a time, Phillip had rather thought they had all been the better for it.
He held out his hand and noticed the barest hesitation before his son took it. “You look so much like—”

“I know I look like Mama,” Edward said coolly, dropping his father’s hand. “I have a looking glass.” His scowl was so intent that Phillip opened his mouth to scold the boy. “Mr. Sedgwick,” Edward said, turning to the vicar, “I’m going to finish my history lesson.” Without waiting for a response from Sedgwick or so much as a by-your-leave from Phillip himself, the child dashed off towards the house.

While Phillip had always striven to keep order on his ship in less brutal ways, some captains wouldn’t have hesitated to have boys flogged for even less blatant insubordination. Phillip swallowed his anger and turned his attention to the tree, where he could see two pairs of dangling feet.

“Margaret,” Phillip called up into the tree. “James.”

“Oh, they won’t come down,” Sedgwick said cheerfully. “Not a chance.”

“Excuse me?”

“I wouldn’t even bother calling them. They’ll stay up there until the sun sets or until the spirit moves them otherwise.” He seemed utterly undisturbed by this. His eyes were actually sparkling, for God’s sake.

“And you permit this?”

Sedgwick’s brow furrowed. This was the first lapse in the blithe and idiotic good cheer he had displayed since Phillip’s arrival. “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. Rope them like a couple of stray sheep? They’re safer up there than they are getting into whatever devilry they might seek out elsewhere. Really,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning close in a way that made Phillip instinctively mirror the pose until he realized what he was doing and straightened up. Proximity was the last thing he needed with this man. “The tree’s been a godsend.

They haven’t been capering about the rooftops even once since they discovered how climbable the cherry trees are.”
Phillip blinked. “What I meant,” he said slowly, “was that perhaps you would like to tell them to come down.”

“Tell them?” the vicar repeated, as if Phillip had suggested a satanic ritual. “Won’t do a blessed thing other than inspire them to more mischief, I’m afraid. No, no, leave them safely up there, and when they’re hungry they’ll come inside.”

“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Phillip said in precisely the tone he’d use towards a sailor about to be assigned morning watch for the foreseeable future. “But now that I’ve returned I’ll see to engaging a proper tutor.”

The man had the nerve to look hurt. Really, what had he expected? If Phillip had wanted his children to run about like South Sea pirates, he could have stayed on his ship where he belonged, thank you very much. But instead he would hire a tutor for the boys and a governess for Margaret. And when they were ready, he’d send them off to school, where they belonged.

“About that,” the vicar said slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll find a tutor. They’ve run through a good half dozen and I fear that well has run quite dry.”

“A half dozen!” Ernestine hadn’t mentioned that in her last letter. Or at least he was fairly certain she hadn’t. He knew there had been some trouble engaging suitable help, but quite possibly she had obscured the details. Well, it was a good thing he was here, then. He would see to it that his household was as it ought to be, that his children were on a safe course, and then he’d go back to sea. Two months. He had turned far more insalubrious characters into perfectly disciplined first-rate sailors in less time than that, hadn’t he? He was used to commanding dozens of men in clockwork precision. Surely he could make a couple of children—his own children, at that—fall in line.

“Never mind that,” he said. “I have everything in hand. Good day,” he added when the vicar didn’t seem inclined to take the hint and leave.

“Good luck,” the vicar said, gathering his discarded outer garments and carelessly dropping his hat onto his head.

Phillip thought he heard the man laugh as he made his way towards the house.

Ben gave it fifteen minutes before Captain Dacre came begging for help. Half an hour at the outside.

Likely as not, the captain would be tied to a burning post before Ben had his valise packed.

GIVEAWAY – CLICK HERE

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/15/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

You can connect with Cat at: her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon * ~ * Newsletter

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes #1) by Loretta Chase

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Not all dukes are created equal. Most are upstanding members of Society. And then there’s the trio known as Their Dis-Graces.

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1833
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 STAR TOP PICK

Review by Em

Charming, clever, funny and romantic in equal parts, A Duke in Shining Armor is a wonderful start to Ms. Chase’s newest series, Difficult Dukes.  The difficult duke in this case is trying, for the first time in his life, to do the right thing.  Unfortunately for our beleaguered hero, he’s trying to do the right thing on behalf of a bewildered heroine, who’s become hopelessly entangled in trying not to do the wrong thing.  Confused?  So was he.  Marvelously so.  Our principals are forced together on the road trip from hell, wherein everything that can go wrong, does.  Except, it doesn’t.  Because when the couple finally reaches what they think is the end of the road, their arrival marks the start of a very different kind of journey – a lifetime together.  Just as fate intended.

When Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, returns to England after a year abroad, he’s surprised to discover his boon companion, the Duke of Ashmont – aka ‘His Grace with the Angel Face,’ – engaged to be married.  Pressed by Ashmont to act as his best man, Ripley applies himself to the role with gusto – ensuring Ashmont makes it to the altar after a night of carousing and a brief street brawl.  Unfortunately, and despite his best efforts, things quickly go awry.  The bride, Lady Olympia Hightower, is nowhere to be found, and Ashmont is steadily drinking himself into a stupor. Hoping to avoid a scene and eager to move things along, Ripley takes it upon himself to track down the missing bride.  When he does, he’s completely unprepared for the sight that greets him:  Lady Olympia Hightower, dressed in a frothy concoction of lace and tulle and beads, balanced on the window ledge.  After spotting Ripley, she tells him she just needs a breath of air, drops out of the window and starts running; Ripley, the ever dutiful groomsman, is forced to follow. In the rain. Without his hat.

Lady Olympia isn’t quite sure how she found herself on the run from her own wedding. After spending the majority of seven London Seasons as a perpetual wallflower, voted Most Boring Girl of the Season seven years in a row, Olympia had little hope of landing one of the eligible bachelors who paid her little notice.  But when the handsome and wealthy Duke of Ashmont asked her to marry him, Olympia didn’t hesitate to do her duty.  The only daughter of the spendthrift Duke of Gonerby, sister to six brothers, Olympia quickly grasped that marriage to Ashmont was an answer to her family’s unspoken prayers.  Her parents are ecstatic, Ashmont is smitten, and Olympia… well, she’s been having serious second thoughts.  So that’s why, on the morning of her wedding, bolstered by several cups of brandy-laced tea, Olympia finds herself with one foot on either side of the open library window, plotting her escape.  She’s in the midst of a tipsy pep talk when the Duke of Ripley opens the door and spots her.  Fueled by liquid courage, Olympia drops to the ground and takes off.

Olympia tries hard to shake Ripley.  As their road trip from hell gets underway, she’s slightly drunk, frustrated by her uncomfortable attire, and annoyed by her handsome companion.  He refuses to simply let her go and insists, between entreaties to return to the wedding ceremony, on accompanying her to her aunt’s home in Twickenham – where she hopes to hide and ride out the disgrace of bolting from her own wedding.  To her dismay, it soon becomes clear to her that Ripley is nothing like she assumed.  He’s intelligent, clever, funny – his wicked and dry sense of humor is simply delicious – and once she gets a glimpse of him sans clothes (you’ll see), she can’t shake a very inconvenient attraction to… well, every single thing about him.  A sober Olympia finds herself daydreaming about her very stubborn champion, wishing he was the man she was destined to marry.  But after a lifetime spent on the shelf, unnoticed and underappreciated, Olympia’s skewed vision of herself leaves her with all kinds of doubt about her own appeal to a man like Ripley.  Certain she offers little that would appeal to the handsome rake, Olympia is resigned to a life of infamy after jilting the Duke of Ashmont.

Ripley is determined to return Olympia to Ashmont, and even as each of his overly optimistic plans fail, he’s relentlessly hopeful that things will somehow turn out in the end.  He can’t quite believe Ashmont landed Olympia for his duchess, but he tries to do right by his friend.  Meanwhile, as the trip progresses and he’s forced to spend time with Olympia, Ripley begins to recognize she’s everything he never realized he wanted and needed in his own life.   Ripley starts to resent Ashmont, wanting beautiful, funny, sharp and intelligent Olympia for himself.  He’s frustrated by Olympia’s self-doubt and insecurity, and annoyed at the part he played in making her feel that way. She’s magnificent and he can’t help his attraction to everything about her – her mind, her body, her sense of humor, her beauty… Ripley, world renowned rake, falls hard for his bespectacled companion and it’s awesome.

When all his best laid plans go awry, and Ashmont fails to catch up to them, Ripley eventually steers them to the home of his favorite aunt, Lady Charles Ancaster.  Aunt Julia, who practically raised the three Dis-Graces (Ripley, Ashmont, and their friend, Blackwood), is quick to chastise her nephew for his role in the debacle of Olympia’s wedding day… but she also sees what Ripley and Olympia try hard not to – that they’ve fallen in love.  She’s a terrific secondary character, playing a pivotal role in the second act/resolution of the story.  If she wasn’t a fictional character, I’d be tempted to high-five her.

Reader, because the journey – with all of its highlights and lowlights (and there are many) – is such a delightfully entertaining trip, I’m reluctant to spoil it for you.  So I won’t.  Suffice it to say that nothing goes as planned, and in the span of a few short days, Ms. Chase somehow crafts a love match between Olympia and Ripley that feels profoundly real, romantic and special.  Meanwhile, Ashmont and Blackwood desperately try to track the pair down – and Ripley, determined to honor his friendship, tries valiantly not to fall for Olympia.  His friendship and loyalty are tested as the novel comes to a close, but Ms. Chase deftly delivers a happily ever after that honors both.  I’m eager to find out just who the sweetly befuddled Ashmont ends up with – and to discover what’s led to the estrangement between Blackwood and his wife, Ripley’s sister.  Ripley’s story is a marvelous introduction to the trio, and I can’t wait for more of these Difficult Dukes.

Loretta Chase was a favorite historical romance author before I picked up A Duke in Shining Armor. But this romantic, funny, enchanting and redemptive road trip from hell is simply terrific and her best, most memorable work to date.   A Duke in Shining Armor is one of my favorite novels of 2017.


EXCERPT

Prologue
London
Early morning of 11 June 1833

The Duke of Ashmont was not a very good duke—rather an awful one, actually. And so nobody could be in the least surprised to see him, drunk as an emperor—that was to say, ten times as drunk as a lord—staggering down the steps of Crockford’s Club on the arm of one of his two best friends.

This one was Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley. Where Ashmont was fair-haired, blue-eyed, and angelic-­looking, Ripley was dark. Unlike Ashmont, he did not appear to be spun of dreams and gossamer, and women did not follow his movements with the moonstruck expressions they accorded His Grace with the Angel Face.

On a good day, someone had said once, Ripley’s face resembled that of a wolf who’d been in too many fights.

Furthermore, though his slightly older title ranked him a notch or two higher in precedence than Ashmont, Ripley was merely as drunk as a lord. He could still distinguish up from down. When, therefore, His Grace of Ashmont showed an inclination to stumble in the downhill direction, toward St. James’s Palace, Ripley hauled him about.

“This way,” he said. “Hackney stand up ahead.” “Right,” Ashmont said. “Can’t miss the wedding.

Not this one. It’s me doing it. Me and Olympia. Have to be there. Promised.”

“You will be,” Ripley said as he led his friend across the street. The wedding had been news to him, the choice of bride a shock: Lady Olympia Hightower, of all women. She was the last girl on earth he’d thought would marry Ashmont—or any of them, for that matter.

Not that Ripley knew her very well. Or at all. They’d been introduced, yes, years ago. That was in the days when respectable persons still introduced Ripley and his two friends to innocent girls. But those were not the kinds of girls the ducal trio wanted. Gently bred maidens were for marrying, and marriage was sup-posed to be years away, sometime in the dim, distant future.

Apparently, the future had arrived while Ripley wasn’t looking.

First the Duke of Blackwood, the other of his two boon companions, had married Ripley’s sister over a year ago, a few days before Ripley left for the Conti-nent. Now Ashmont was doing it. Ripley had heard the happy news mere hours after his return to London yesterday.

No, he’d returned the day before, because today was yesterday now. He’d come to Crockford’s because he wanted a decent meal, and Crockford’s Ude was the next best thing to Ripley’s own chef, Chardot, who’d come down with a foul cold sometime during the Channel crossing.

Chardot went with him everywhere because he was amply paid to do so, and Ripley liked his comfort. Having been forced, for no sane reason, to live like a pauper during his boyhood, he lived like a king now.

Ripley was debating with himself whether, on the whole, he’d better have stayed abroad, when four men spilled out of a narrow court, one crashing into Ash-mont, with force enough to dislodge him from Ripley’s light grasp and push him into a shop front.

Ashmont bounced back with surprising energy. “You clumsy, bleeding, half-­wit! I have to get married, you bloody arsehole!” At the same moment, he drove his fist at the fellow’s face.

One of the man’s friends tried to butt in. With a sigh, Ripley grabbed him by the back of the collar. The fel-low swung at him, obliging Ripley to knock him into the gutter.

What happened after that was what often happened when Ashmont was about: a lot of filthy language and filthy fighting, and men rushing out of the clubs, shout-ing bets, and a female or two screaming somewhere.

Then it was over. Their foes lay strewn about the pavement. Ripley didn’t wait to count or identify them. He collected Ashmont from the railing he’d slumped against and trudged to the corner with him. He sig-naled, and the first in line of the hackneys plodded their way. He threw Ashmont into the decrepit coach and directed the driver to Ashmont House.

Servants waited up, as they were accustomed to do, for Ashmont. They bore him up the stairs to his bed-room and undressed and washed him without fuss.


GIVEAWAY – CLICK HERE

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A Duke In Shining Armor by Loretta Chase.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/5/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Loretta Chase has worked in academia, retail, and the visual arts, as well as on the streets-as a meter maid-and in video, as a scriptwriter. She might have developed an excitingly checkered career had her spouse not nagged her into writing fiction. Her bestselling historical romances, set in the Regency and Romantic eras of the early 19th century, have won a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s Rita. For more about her past, her books, and what she does and doesn’t do on social media, please visit her website www.LorettaChase.com.

You can also connect with Loretta at: Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon

VIRTUAL TOUR: It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke (Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #4) by Maya Rodale

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Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke-while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms…and in his bed. Soon he must choose-between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

EXCERPT

Though Miss Meredith Green lacked birth, or wealth, or many other qualifications one would assume of a gently bred lady, she had been raised to be one. She could curtsy with the best of them, expertly arrange both flowers and seating arrangements for dinner parties, and could recite pages from Debrett’s Book of the Peerage. These were just a few of her accomplishments.

As such, she should not be here, in the public room of the Queen’s Head Tavern and Coaching Inn. Especially not alone and especially not at night, where any old ruffian might think he could take a liberty with her, to put it nicely.

Which is why she should not have allowed the barmaid to add a generous splash of whiskey to her tea.

Which is probably why she was encouraging the ocular advances of a handsome man with whom she was not acquainted.

Meredith had noticed him the moment he walked in, tall and lanky but strong, with unfashionably long brown hair that fell rakishly in his eyes. What color were they, she wondered? She didn’t need to know. There was nothing she could do with this information. There was absolutely no point to her knowing.

She badly wanted to know.

So she dared one glance, then another.

Do not look. Do not look. Do not look.

Her better judgment was roundly ignored. Before she knew it they were somehow flirting from opposite sides of the room without even saying a word.

It was the sort of thing that made a girl’s heart beat giddily and her toes start to tap under her skirts. Thanks to years of training, she kept her posture poised and her movements elegant, but under her skirts, her toes were tapping.

This, this was what she need tonight: a distraction. The past few months had been trying, and the next few promised to be challenging as well, albeit in a different way. She had only tonight to live for herself.

She darted another look in his direction.

He was watching her. This truth elicited a slight smile from her lips. But she shouldn’t take pleasure in this.

She ducked her head.

But her heart beat quickly and she wondered: Would he come over?

He shouldn’t. He really should not. She absolutely should not encourage him. But life was full of should-nots, and tonight Meredith wanted to say yes.

It had been a bit of a day—on top of quite a week, and one hell of a month. Or two or three. Her visit to her ailing mother in Hampshire revealed a dispiriting truth: the life choices of Miss Meredith Green were few, and less than thrilling. Nevertheless, she had made her choice to return to London and live the restrained and dignified life of a lady’s companion.

Emphasis on restrained. When one relied on one’s spotless reputation for her very existence, one comported herself accordingly. One did not give or receive heated glances across crowded rooms.

But Meredith embarked on a little whiskey-infused rationalization: until she stepped foot in London, she could afford to live a little loosely. For one night, she might indulge in the sort of wicked behavior—and passion—that she’d have to refuse forevermore.

That was just the splash of whiskey talking, she told herself. It was just the strain of recent events wreaking havoc with her common sense. It was her mother’s bad influence. She’d had the great luck to be raised to be A Lady. She oughtn’t forget that.

Do not look. Do not look. Do not look.

She looked. Oh, she looked.

His gaze sparkled. Like he knew what inner turmoil and rationalization his glances inspired. This time, she didn’t look away.

Oh, goodness, he was coming over. Her heart beat faster and faster as his long strides brought him closer and closer until he was standing beside her, leaning casually against the bar.

Gentlemen did not lean.

“What is a beautiful woman like you doing alone in a place like this?”


GIVEAWAY: Click HERE to enter

TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the first three books in the Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series by Maya Rodale. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 12/12/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MAYA RODALE began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence. She is now the bestselling and award winning author smart and sassy romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

You can connect with Maya at: her website * ~ *  Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon


BOOK BLAST: The Painter’s Apprentice by Laura Morelli

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Star-crossed lovers with a costly secret. As the plague grips Venice, more than a quarantine divides them…

Venice, 1510. Maria Bartolini wants nothing more than to carry on her father’s legacy as a master gilder. Instead, her father has sent her away from the only home she’s ever known to train as an apprentice to Master Trevisan, a renowned painter.

Maria arranges to leave the painter’s workshop to return to her family workshop and to a secret lover waiting for her back home. But the encroaching Black Death foils her plans…

When the painter’s servants uncover the real reason why Maria has been sent away to train with Master Trevisan, they threaten to reveal a secret that could tear down her family and the future of their trade. She is forced to buy the servants’ silence, but as their greed steadily grows, Maria resorts to more desperate measures. She questions whether her heart’s desire is worth risking her family, her trade, and her future, but Maria’s sacrifices may amount to nothing if the plague arrives on her father’s doorstep and steals away everything she’s ever loved…

From the author of the award-winning The Gondola Maker comes a rich tale of Renaissance Venice, a heroine with a lust for life, and love against all odds.

Pre-Order Promotion

Author Laura Morelli is offering a set of great bonuses exclusively to her readers! If you like to delve deeper into the “story behind the story,” you’ll want to take advantage of Laura’s pre-order package, which takes readers behind the scenes of The Painter’s Apprentice with videos, pictures, commentary about Renaissance Venice, and other exclusive content.

Learn more HERE.

Praise for The Gondola Maker

“I’m a big fan of Venice, so I appreciate Laura Morelli’s spe

cial knowledge of the city, the period, and the process of gondola-making. An especially compelling story.” -Frances Mayes, author, Under the Tuscan Sun

“Laura Morelli has done her research, or perhaps she was an Italian carpenter in another life. One can literally smell and feel the grain of finely turned wood in her hands.” -Pamela Sheldon Johns, author, Italian Food Artisans

“Sixteenth-century Venice is the star of Morelli’s well-crafted historical novel about Luca Vianello, the eldest son of the city’s most renowned gondola builder.” -Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

“The heir to a gondola empire rejects his birthright but comes full circle in this fascinating glimpse into late-Renaissance Venice by art-historian-turned-novelist Morelli (Made in Italy).” -Kirkus Indie Book of the Month

“The Gondola Maker is historical fiction at its best.” -Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.

For more information, please visit Laura Morelli’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

 

VIRTUAL TOUR: Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt

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A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping.  Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos.  When one of the masked-and-nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them.  Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans.  But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER… AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involes herself in his life—and bed.  Soon he’s drawn to both to her quick wit and her fiery passion.  But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters.  Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, October 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1742
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series has had an impressive run, managing to captivate and entertain readers over a dozen uniformly good novels.  More recently, she’s seamlessly merged the long-running Ghost of St. Giles storyline into a new mystery surrounding the secretive and depraved Lords of Chaos.  This group has plagued Maiden Lane heroes and heroines over the last three books, but in the excellent Duke of Desire, the Lords finally get their comeuppance.  Although I’m sad that Duke of Desire represents an end to the series, I’m happy to tell you this last novel is romantic and profoundly moving, and concludes the series on a high note.  A note of caution before I continue:  The Lords of Chaos are a depraved and sadistic lot who regularly host revels in which their masked members rape and abuse men, women and children.  The hero of Duke of Desire is the son of their former leader, and the victimization of children and rape of women drive the narrative in this book.

The story opens in the midst of a revelry hosted by the Lords of Chaos.  They’ve kidnapped and held captive the Duchess of Kyle, and on this evening she’s to be violated and sacrificed as a form of revenge on the group’s hunter and nemesis, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle.  Unfortunately, they’ve kidnapped the wrong woman.

Lady Iris Jordan was returning home from Kyle’s wedding when she was forcibly taken from her carriage.  Bound, dirty and hungry, she’s terrified of the naked men in masks arrayed around her in the firelight, diverted only  after their leader, Dionysus, introduces her as the Duchess of Kyle.  She’s quick to correct him, and then listens as a man wearing a wolf mask approaches Dionysus and claims her for himself.  Her original kidnapper attempts to intervene and keep her for the group, but Dionysus allows the wolf to take her away after promising to kill her when he’s done.  Iris is marched to a carriage and angrily tossed in – but she hasn’t given up on hopes of escape.  She frantically searches under the carriage seats for a weapon and when the wolf returns and reveals himself, she shoots him.

Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has finally infiltrated the Lords and plans to destroy them for good.  But he had to abruptly change strategy when he recognized the woman bound before him.  Since meeting her at a ball a few short months ago, he hasn’t been able to put Lady Iris Jordan out of his mind.  Claiming her for himself is the only way to save her.

Bleeding and hurt from the bullet wound to his shoulder, Raphael explains to Iris that he was only trying to rescue her, and that when the Lords discover she’s alive, she’ll be in even more danger.  Desperate to protect her and destroy their common enemy, Raphael, in a desperate solution to buy them more time, proposes they marry.  As his wife, he (and his loyal group of bodyguards) can offer Iris protection as he pursues his revenge on the Lords of Chaos.   After arriving home, a clergyman is summoned and before Iris quite knows what’s happening, she’s married.

The revelry, escape and marriage happen in the opening chapters of Duke of Desire, and Ms. Hoyt somehow managed to convince this reader that it all made sense.  It’s a bit insane and frantic, but much like her heroine, Iris, I decided to go with it and you should too.  The marriage provides the means for Ms. Hoyt to unite two souls who belong together.  Raphael is tortured by memories of his father (a former Dionysus), and a childhood trauma that scarred him for life.  He’s powerful, cold and consumed with plans for revenge on the Lords of Chaos, but he’s also deeply attracted to and affected by Iris and he’s determined to keep her close and safe.  Iris was married to an indifferent, older husband and then after his death, she’s lived a quiet life in her older brother’s household.  She’s alarmed by her attraction to her husband – a virtual stranger – but something about him calls to her.  She’s determined to demand more from this second marriage despite its less than auspicious beginning, and she’s unwilling to meekly follow Raphael’s directions.

As the novel unfolds, Raphael continues his attempts to infiltrate and destroy the Lords of Chaos, but Ms. Hoyt wisely focuses her attention on developing Iris and Raphael as individuals, and then as a romantic couple once it’s clear they’ve fallen for each other.  Duke of Desire deals with some heavy subject matter and Raphael’s secrets aren’t your typical romance novel fare – his past is marked by a deeply troubling climatic event, and even after Iris convinces him to reveal his past, he struggles to overcome it.  Though Iris hasn’t ‘suffered’ at quite the same level her husband has, she’s still damaged by her past as the wife of an indifferent husband.  I found the relationship between these two profoundly moving, and the way they inch towards each other – physically and emotionally – satisfying on every level.  Their physical relationship is particularly well done – they have a passionate attraction to each other – and I loved Iris’s willingness to seduce her husband and satisfy her own curiosities about lovemaking.  Raphael is overwhelmed by his attraction to Iris, and his futile attempts to resist her bold attempts to seduce him are priceless.  He can’t resist her, and when he allows himself to give in… it’s sexy and naughty and wonderful.  They’re a terrific match-up and perhaps one of my favorite Maiden Lane pairings.

I won’t spoil who Dionysus is, or reveal how Raphael’s investigation into the Lords of Chaos eventually concludes, except to say the resolution is a bit convoluted, and the final revelation of Dionysus is anticlimactic.  After a three novel build-up, and chapters detailing Dionysus’ machinations against Raphael, I wish Ms. Hoyt had spent a bit more time developing the leader and his backstory.  We know a bit about his awful history – enough to feel some sympathy for what he’s become – but the ending to this MAJOR storyline is rushed and unsatisfying.

While Duke of Desire is ostensibly about Raphael’s efforts to destroy the Lords of Chaos, it’s the redemptive love affair – passionate, tender and perfect – forged in a desperate attempt to thwart the depraved Lords of Chaos, that, quite rightly, takes centre stage.  It  shouldn’t work – but it does.  He’s damaged, she’s determined, and though the premise of their marriage seems ludicrous, Ms. Hoyt capably navigates their tricky road to happily ever after.


EXCERPT

Desperately she flung herself at the opposite seat and tugged it up. Thrust her hand in.

A pistol.

She cocked it, desperately praying that it was loaded.

She turned and aimed it at the door to the carriage just as the door swung open.

The Wolf loomed in the doorway—still nude—a lantern in one hand. She saw the eyes behind the mask flick to the pistol she held between her bound hands. He turned his head and said something in an incomprehensible language to someone outside.

Iris felt her breath sawing in and out of her chest.

He climbed into the carriage and closed the door, completely ignoring her and the pistol pointed at him. The Wolf hung the lantern on a hook and sat on the seat across from her.

Finally he glanced at her. “Put that down.”

His voice was calm. Quiet.

With just a hint of menace.

She backed into the opposite corner, as far away from him as possible, holding the pistol up. Level with his chest. Her heart was pounding so hard it nearly deafened her. “No.”

The carriage jolted into motion, making her stumble before she caught herself.

“T-tell them to stop the carriage,” she said, stuttering with terror despite her resolve. “Let me go now.”

“So that they can rape you to death out there?” He tilted his head to indicate the Lords. “No.”

“At the next village, then.”

“I think not.”

He reached for her and she knew she had no choice.

She shot him.

The blast blew him into the seat and threw her hands up and back, the pistol narrowly missing her nose.

Iris scrambled to her feet. The bullet was gone, but she could still use the pistol as a bludgeon.

The Wolf was sprawled across the seat, blood streaming from a gaping hole in his right shoulder. His mask had been knocked askew on his face.

She reached forward and snatched it off.

And then gasped.

The face that was revealed had once been as beautiful as an angel’s but was now horribly mutilated. A livid red scar ran from just below his hairline on the right side of his face, bisecting the eyebrow, somehow missing the eye itself but gouging a furrow into the lean cheek and catching the edge of his upper lip, making it twist. The scar ended in a missing divot of flesh in the line of the man’s severe jaw. He had inky black hair and, though they were closed now, Iris knew he had emotionless crystal-gray eyes.

She knew because she recognized him.

He was Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, and when she’d danced with him—once—three months ago at a ball, she’d thought he’d looked like Hades.

God of the underworld.

God of the dead.

She had no reason to change her opinion now.

Then he gasped, those frozen crystal eyes opened, and he glared at her. “You idiot woman. I’m trying to save you.”

 

GIVEAWAY

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

You can connect with Elizabeth at:

Her website * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Facebook * ~ * BookBub * ~ * Amazon.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Stars in Their Eyes by Pema Donyo

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This beautifully sweeping story of dueling ambitions and restless hearts in the roaring twenties will captivate fans who loved the romance of La La Land.

The bohemian salons and wild cabarets of 1920s Paris are just the place for Owen Matthews to pursue his writing and make the right connections in the literary scene. But six years after leaving Los Angeles and the love of his life, he still strives for success. Penning a new screenplay for his friend’s film might just help keep the lights on a bit longer in the City of Lights.

Iris Wong is used to sacrifice and rejection as an Asian-American actress. She’s determined to take full advantage of her new leading role in a Parisian silent film—and the director’s romantic interest in her. Playing the game almost guarantees she’ll be able to break through the industry’s racism and become the silver screen star she’s dreamed of being since she earned her first nickel as a Hollywood extra.

When these two star-crossed lovers unexpectedly reunite, they get a second chance to reconcile their hearts’ desires with their dreams of fame and fortune.

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EXCERPT

A group of women in cloche hats giggled over coffees at a table. Beside them stood a group of children covered head to toe in wool clothes, selling lilies from woven baskets, waving the fresh flowers toward the women.

A clink of glass hitting marble jerked her attention back to Pierre. He swore in French and grabbed a napkin, dotting his lap. He must have knocked over the wine bottle; the red liquid streamed over the tablecloth and toward him. She righted the bottle as he pushed his chair away from the table.

“Forgive me, excusez-moi . . . ”

“It’s fine; accidents happen.”

“No, no, clumsy of me, I apologize.”

She caught a glimpse of the dark stain on his plum trousers before he headed inside the café, likely to find a sink or at least a pail of water to wash it out.

She traced a finger around the rim of her nearly full wine goblet. The children moved farther down the avenue and passed by her. The mother wielded the largest basket of flowers and used it to gesture across the street. She crossed, and three of the children followed. The youngest, a girl wearing a bright red beret, trailed behind her siblings. Iris winced as the girl tripped against a raised cobblestone and fell forward, scattering her flowers on the ground. Her family ahead of her didn’t seem to notice. The girl started to gather the lilies, one by one placing the delicate stems back into her basket.

A canary-yellow roadster sped down the road. Its speed was dangerous on such a crowded street. The girl needed to move. Yet she plucked the flowers from the road without a glance upward. The hairs on the back of Iris’s neck stood up. Why didn’t anyone help her? The driver made exaggerated gesticulations as he spoke to the woman in the passenger seat, both more absorbed in each other than the road ahead.

Across the street, a tall man angled his head toward the child’s direction. He started walking toward the girl, his pace quickening as the car came closer. Iris stepped toward the road, too, yelling at the girl. The child looked up at her. Before Iris could reach her, the man broke into a sprint and pushed the girl out of the roadster’s way. The vehicle brushed past them moments afterward, speeding ahead in a tremendous gust of air.

The driver swore and honked his horn. “Get out of the road!” he yelled.

She ran toward them both. The girl was crying, and her remaining lilies lay flattened in the center of the road. Iris crouched down and held her hands.

“Are you all right, dear?”

She nodded, wiping away her tears with the flat ends of her palms.

Quick footsteps followed a cry of Romanian words as her mother joined the party.

She said something to the girl, and the child pressed her face into her mother’s thick skirt.

“Thank you,” she said to Iris.

Iris shook her head. She wasn’t due any thanks.

“Don’t thank me, thank . . . ” Her voice trailed off as she pointed toward the man.

Iris supposed she had looked at him before he crossed the street, but she hadn’t really seen him. His light brown hair fell over his forehead in soft waves, appearing almost fluffy under the sun’s rays. Blue eyes stared back at her in recognition. His shoulders looked broader than she remembered, and light stubble grazed his jaw and upper lip.

“No need to thank me,” he said to the woman. He held up his hands as if he wanted no praise. Once the child and her mother started back to the other side of the road, he met Iris’s gaze.

He chuckled. “It’s been a damn long time.”

She nodded, a lump rising in her throat. She had rehearsed so many lines to say to him if they ever saw each other again. An endless cache of words—gone. Images crossed her mind instead: standing on the dim street as his car pulled away. She had waited until it disappeared around the bend of the road and the rumble of its engine faded away. She would see him again, she’d told herself. Paris was an ocean away; he wouldn’t really leave. It couldn’t be over. Her legs had burned to run after the car.

“Owen! Is that you?” Pierre waved at them both and gestured to them to join him at the table.

Iris moved as fast as her T-strap heels would take her. Against her better judgment, she placed her palm against one of her cheeks. Burning hot. Hopefully, Owen wouldn’t notice. At the table, she ignored the slight shaking of her hands as she poured herself a glass of water.

Pierre clapped a hand on Owen’s back. “This is my friend Owen Matthews, our film’s screenwriter.”

He had changed a bit, at least physically. His arms appeared more muscular. She’d sworn he had been incapable of growing facial hair back in the days when they used to steal kisses on his parents’ porch. And the deep tan that had settled over his skin was gone. Or perhaps her recollection of him betrayed her. Her memory blurred the edges, making her unsure of what she remembered.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pema Donyo lives in sunny Southern California, where she balances plotting her next novel and watching too many Bollywood movies. Find Pema Donyo at https://pemadonyo.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @PemaDonyo.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love and Mayhem by Luanna Stewart

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Sybil is happily on the shelf, tending to her sheep. But she fears she’ll depart this life without experiencing physical love, which she suspects is rather enjoyable. When her long-lost fiancé returns from sea, she decides he’s the lucky man who’ll receive her virginity.

Max is eager to return to his sugar plantation and has no intention of remaining in London. However, he didn’t bargain on a wilful, pretty, exasperating spinster determined to take him to her bed.

He insists on marriage, but she wants only his body. Her heart is not part of the deal. Unfortunately, love doesn’t always follow the rules.

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EXCERPT

Kissing Max was delicious, and she was eager to continue. When they returned home, she’d invite him into the study. Or they could go to his house. Did she dare?

Their inconvenient audience had not taken itself off as evidenced by the approaching swish of skirts.

She pushed against his chest again, harder. “Please, this has gone far enough.”

“I would argue, but apparently this is neither the time nor the place.” He placed one last kiss on her forehead before stepping back, though he kept one arm around her waist, preventing her escape. “Is there something you needed to say, madam?” He spoke to the interlopers, for there were indeed two matrons approaching, in a frosty tone.

Sybil would be hesitant to intrude further if faced with his scowl. And she knew him. At least, she thought she did. But during the last few days she’d discovered more than a handsome face, an admirable physique, and a charming smile. Here was a man who listened to her ideas and considered her opinions. A man who made her feel safe and comfortable. A man who could fill her days and weeks with delicious kisses.

The two women who had stumbled upon their tryst got rather red in the face and pursed their lips. The taller of the two took a step closer. “Who are you, sir? And what do you mean by manhandling this poor child?” She fairly bristled with indignation and outrage.

He sketched a brief bow. “Maxwell Bretherton at your service. Allow me to present my affianced bride, Miss Sybil Woodbridge.”

“I’m not marrying you.” She finally broke free of his hold and attempted to straighten her hat. He’d surely become addled from all his years under the tropical sun. Not only had he not properly proposed marriage, but she’d not said yes. Nor would she. She didn’t want a husband. And certainly not one who would think nothing of ordering her about. Even if it was Max. With his kisses.

“We’ll discuss this later.” Max’s breath tickled her ear, his voice a low growl. “I don’t want these fine ladies to fall under a misapprehension.”

“I think they interpreted the situation quite accurately.” With her hat firmly in place she faced the women, determined to brazen this out. What a lot of fuss and bother over an unimportant embrace. She smoothed her gloves. Yes, unimportant. Well, to anyone else but her, certainly. But it didn’t mean anything. Mutual attraction. And if she wanted to explore that attraction further, it was no one’s concern but hers. And Max’s, of course. She glanced at him quickly, fearing she’d ventured beyond mutual attraction.

“Shall we summon a constable, miss?” The short, plump woman clearly wanted to leave the awkward scene, but didn’t want to abandon Sybil to potential ravishment.

“No, you needn’t summon help.” Max appeared to be talking through clenched teeth. He put his arm around her again, scandalously higher than her waist. In fact, his thumb touched her breast. The heat of his hand seeped through his glove and her gown, chemise and corset. Her nipples tightened. Her private parts tingled as she imagined his bare hand touching her bare skin, smoothing over all areas seldom exposed.

The tall, horsey looking woman grabbed Sybil by the elbow and pulled her from Max’s embrace, propelling her along the path. “We will escort you home, young lady. There has been more than enough of this foolishness.”

Max grasped Sybil’s other arm and pulled her to a stop. She stood suspended between the two like a marionette. “I told you, madam, we are to be wed. There is nothing improper about us spending time alone together.” Max attempted to pry the woman’s fingers from Sybil’s arm.

“Max, stop it.” Sybil swatted at his hand. “You are causing a scene. Ma’am, I am quite safe with this gentleman. He is a friend of my brother. He is returning me to my home right this minute.”

“The hell I am. We aren’t finished here yet.”

“We are quite finished. We were finished nine years ago when you disappeared at sea.”

The plump woman gasped. “It is you, the one they were talking about in Teacher’s Tea Room. Hester, he’s known to Lady Arabella. He’s the man who became a pirate rather than marry some grasping chit.”

Sybil spun on the interfering busybody. “I was not some grasping chit. He made a promise and broke it. Not so much as a letter did I receive.”

The tall woman finally released Sybil’s arm. “I am acquainted with Lady Arabella.” She looked down her long nose, a gleam in her eye. “And now you mean to trap this man into marriage. Is that the plan, girl?”

“I mean no such thing. I have no intention of marrying this—him.” Just her luck to run into one of the few people in London acquainted with her family. The woman’s nose twitched, no doubt excited to be near the center of a scandal.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Luanna Stewart has been creating adventures for her imaginary friends since childhood. As soon as she discovered, and devoured, her grandmother’s stash of medical romance novels, all plots had to lead to a happily-ever-after.

Luanna writes full time, concentrating on sexy romantic suspense, steamy paranormal romance, and spicy historical romance.

Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Luanna now lives in Maine with her dear husband, two college boys, two cats, and one surviving gold fish. When she’s not torturing her heroes and heroines, she can be found in her kitchen whipping up something chocolate.

Visit Luanna on her website: http://www.luannastewart.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Hidden Duchess by Bree Verity

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Celeste, Duchesse de Saint Tours, is forced into hiding when she is falsely accused of the murder of her husband. She flees to the south of France, where her distant cousin, Marcel Daunou reluctantly agrees to hide her in plain sight on his farm. However, she must learn to live as a peasant farmer to complete the deception, a feat which appears next to impossible to the haughty Duchess. Especially knowing that the unsettling Marcel is watching over her at every turn. She can’t wait to return to her beloved Paris, and the exquisite, hedonistic lifestyle she has left behind.

Marcel knows that he places his loved ones in danger when he agrees to hide Celeste. However, his committee has agreed to hide her in exchange for a large sum of money that will assist their gravely poor community, and since she is his family, he takes responsibility for her. But Republican fervor is running high and Marcel knows if the Duchess is found out, she will be marched back to Paris, and to the guillotine. And his family will face harsh retribution from the agitating revolutionaries for hiding a member of the despised nobility.

Forced to work together, Celeste and Marcel discover a passion that they cannot resist. And Celeste discovers a feeling of belonging and acceptance from the people of the village that she has never felt before. She begins to dream about a future with Marcel.

When her well-meaning lawyer appears in the village and gives her identity away, it isn’t only Marcel that Celeste stands to lose – it’s her life as well.

How can a noble Duchess and a peasant farmer find their happily ever after?

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EXCERPT

Celeste ducked her head to avoid the low door frame as she was ushered into the cellar. Standing up on the other side, she faced around a dozen sizeable men squeezed into a tiny room. And they were all staring at her.

Unable to catch more than snatches of their rumbling conversations, Celeste consoled herself with determining the mood of the room by what she could see in their candlelit faces. Out of the dozen men, she could make out only two who regarded her with any kindness.

One was an old man, Celeste thought he looked the oldest in the group. Perhaps age had rewarded him with understanding, because he seemed to be arguing her case to the stony-faced man beside him. Celeste graced him with a small, grateful smile and he winked back.

The other kind eyes belonged to her cousin.

The rest looked her over with various expressions—thoughtfulness, curiosity, embarrassment, even hostility. The words “murderess” and “duchess” reached her ears, and she inwardly cringed. The contempt in their voices seemed the same whether they were speaking of one or the other. Her stomach gurgled, thankfully it stayed quiet enough that the muttered conversations of the men covered the noise. They didn’t need to know she hadn’t been able to eat all day.

Certain that catching the eye of the hostile men would betray her trepidation, Celeste avoided their faces after a single glance. Appearing assured and self-contained in front of the peasants was paramount, even if her stomach was roiling and her heart pounding. She blinked rapidly, willing herself not to cry.

An unpleasant, dizzy feeling passed over her, and the conversation around her dulled as a greyness entered her vision. She almost lurched, feeling as if she had lost her balance for a moment. Thankfully, the dizziness passed as quickly as it had appeared.

“We’ve come to a decision, Madame.” Her cousin’s deep, serious voice boomed through the room, despite him speaking quietly. Monsieur Daunou reminded Celeste of a bear; enormous, black haired and barrel-chested, with onyx eyes that had glinted with suspicion when he first spoke to her earlier, but which seemed to have softened in the candlelight of the timbered cellar.

Celeste tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. Even running her tongue over her parched lips was impossible. All her actions of the past days—her horror at learning she was accused of murder, her hurried exit from Paris, and the agonizing tediousness of her journey to the tiny village of Danguin had led to this one moment.

Time seemed to stand still. The candle, guttering only a moment before, shone clear and bright. The smoke from the men’s pipes hung motionless in the air. She stood perfectly immobile, even the soft swish of her dark green worsted travelling dress against the stone floor stopped. For a long moment, the only thing Celeste was aware of was her heart, beating an unsteady tattoo. She held her breath, her eyes meeting Monsieur Daunou’s for a suspended moment that felt like forever. Then a half-smile crossed his face.

“We’ve decided you can stay. The price’ll be five hundred louis.”

She let out her breath, closing her eyes as she did so. Her entire body unclenched. From what seemed a long way away, she heard her own voice.

“Thank you, Messieurs. I appreciate your consideration.”

And with that, all the emotions of the past days crashed in on her—the fear, the distrust, the apprehension, along with the new feelings of giddy relief and happiness. She heard herself say in a strange, slurring tone, “I wonder if I could have something to eat, please?” before she felt herself falling, and the world went black.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bree Verity grew up on a diet of tea and crumpets, dancing, Regency novels, old movies and musicals. It’s no wonder she has ended up writing love stories. She lives in Perth Western Australia with her teenage son, her long-suffering, patient and wonderful partner, and her two writing buddies, Millie and Boofhead. She keeps it very quiet from them that she is equally a cat person. She is horribly charmed by the tiny house movement and, although she realizes she would very quickly go crazy in such a confined space, she will watch anything and everything about building tiny houses. If there was a way to directly infuse tea into the veins, she would sign up for it immediately.

Bree loves to hear from her readers and can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website: http://www.breeverity.com

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Mad for the Marquess (Reluctant Hearts, Volume 1) by Jess Russell

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James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, had everything—until he was found covered in blood, standing over a dead girl. Now locked away in a madhouse, he has one short year to recover his memories and prove his sanity, or be condemned for life. But the demons inside Devlin’s head are far easier to battle than the evil surrounding him at Ballencrieff Asylum.

Anne Winton hardly expects to find her calling—or love—while working in a lunatic asylum. But despite all warnings, the “Mad Marquess” proves dangerously fascinating to innocent Anne. She vows to save him not only from his adversaries, but from himself.

Initially, Anne is only a pawn in Devlin’s bid to gain his freedom, until he begins to see her not just as a means to an end, but as a beautifully passionate woman. He must choose: compromise the woman he loves, or languish forever in hell.

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EXCERPT

Very well, she would let her hair down. Really, men could be children at times. She pulled the first pin and slid it into her pocket. By the second, he had stopped dead and stood watching her as if something crucial might be lost if he moved. It finally dawned on her thick brain in the middle of removing the third that she had his entire attention. Of course that knowledge made her fumble the fourth. As she scrambled to pick it up, her hair fell in a rush, the ends brushing the rug.

“I have been aching to see that since I knocked your bonnet off in the great hall the first day you came.”

He was so close, nearly face to face with her. Taking the pin from her shaking fingers, his hands framed her face and then brushed over her head, searching for more pins. When he found them all, he released her hair. It fell heavy and swinging down her back and over her breasts.

Wishing to hide or to savor this moment, she closed her eyes. He smelled of linseed oil and cloves. And something else that was deep and earthy, as if he had just sprung from the ground.

His hand brushed her skirt. She blinked. He dipped into her pocket and then dropped the pins. The bone of his knuckle hovered next to her thigh. Only one thinnish petticoat between them.

She would slip her hand in with his and then lift her mouth—

He jerked the delicious heat away and then yanked her to her feet.

“Stop looking at me that way, for God’s sake. How am I to concentrate on anything?”

Stupid tears pricked at her eyes. So foolish, persisting in the belief that his smallest gesture might be one of seduction. Steeling herself she met his gaze.

His breath came fast, and the hand he had just withdrawn from her clenched white with tension. Not just in anger, but something else as well.

She would find out what the something was. Insolent and stubborn, Mrs. Abbot had called her. Her knees still bore the scars from being made to kneel on sharp stones from morning prayers until tea. Lord Devlin would find out his Owl, as he called her, could be tenacious as a hawk when she truly wanted something.

“Sit down. Quickly.”

She did so. But not quickly.

“Lie back in the chair. Yes… No! Don’t touch your hair. Now drape yourself over the chair’s arms. Yes, exactly, your head back like that. Now, lick your lips and look at me.”

She loved these orders. He exuded power in giving them, but she had learnt a valuable lesson today.

She had a bit of power as well.

Waiting until his full attention was back on her, only then did she lick her lips and arch her back ever so slightly.

“Yes. All right.” His Adams Apple bobbed in his neck. “Now you may resume your story. I think we left off yesterday just when the Troll-Lord was about to remove Cristabelle’s wings. And don’t skimp on the details. You know how I like seeing everything.”

“My stories are no longer free.” His gaze snapped to meet hers. “But I am prepared to trade you for the next installment.” Flirting with disaster she was. Not only her position here at Ballencrieff, but something more dire, her heart. So be it. She would suffer the consequences of both.

His eyes were entirely fixed on her lips. His chain clanked against the bare floor. “A trade?” He flicked his paintbrush against his open palm. “It would appear, Miss Owl, you are learning the ways of the world. Very well, I am open to a fair trade. What would you have of me?”

She sat up straighter, struggling to maintain her new-found power. “A kiss.”

His brush dropped to the floor.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

As a girl Jess escaped the world of rigorous ballet class and hideous math homework into the haven of toe wriggling romance novels. Now she writes them! Jess lives in New York City with her husband and son and disappears to the Catskill Mountains whenever she can. She is a sometime actress, award-winning batik artist, and accomplished seamstress. Along with her sewing machine, she loves power tools, and, what’s more, she knows how to use them. Jess is currently working on renovating a condo in uptown Manhattan (The Lipstick on a Pig Project) and writing two other stories for the Reluctant Hearts series, Captivated by the Countess, and Daft for a Duke.

Visit Jess at https://jessrussellromance.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: My Hellion, My Heart (Lords of Essex #3) by Amalie Howard & Angie Morgan

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He fought battles for crown and country. She waged war for his heart.

Lord Henry Radcliffe, the scarred but sinfully sexy Earl of Langlevit, is a beast. The only way Henry can exorcise the demons of his war-ravaged past is through intense physicality. In and out of bed. An endeavor that has no shortage of willing participants.

Intent on scandalizing London, Princess Irina Volkonsky is a hellion and every gentleman’s deepest desire…except for one. Irina knows better than to provoke the wickedly forbidding earl, but she will stop at nothing short of ruination to win the heart of the only man she’s ever loved.

But when one scandalous kiss makes dangerous passions ignite, neither of them can fight their sizzling attraction. When a sinister plot emerges to threaten them both, they will have to fight one last battle, this time for the ultimate prize…love.

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EXCERPT

“You’re good with children,” her sister commented as they left. “You should think about having some of your own.”

“I am content with yours, thank you.”

“Irina—”
She stood, raising a hand and strode back to the window.

“I don’t want to fight with you about this, Lana. The truth is I have no interest in marrying anyone. And, yes, I do intend for London to be a repeat of Paris: diverting and fun. I won’t be anyone’s trophy.”

“Is it because of Lord Langlevit?”

Irina’s breath halted painfully in her lungs. She turned to face her sister, composing her face into a mask of indifference. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve carried a tendre for him for five years,” Lana said quietly. “Ever since you were fourteen. I suspect you still carry it, which is why no one else can measure up.”

A hundred reasons, excuses, words popped into Irina’s brain. Her sister had always been able to see right through her. She settled for four hard ones. “You mean my infatuation.”

“That doesn’t mean your feelings weren’t real.” Her sister rose unsteadily and met her at the window as Irina’s fingers wound into the folds of her skirts. “Certain events draw people close, tying them together in inexplicable ways. It’s not surprising that you…cared for Henry.”

“Hopelessly unrequited, as it were.”

“Be that as it may,” Lana said. “Henry is not the same man you knew, and I know you can see that for yourself. He has changed.”

“Because of France,” Irina whispered.

Lana nodded. “He’s never confided in me, but yes, Lady Langlevit has suggested that what happened to him is beyond understanding. I fear much of him was lost there.” She pulled Irina close. “I don’t want you to lose your heart to him and have it broken. You cannot save him, no matter how much you may wish to.” Her voice wavered. “Trust me, Henry does not want to be saved.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he told me so.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the author of My Rogue, My Ruin, the first in the Lords of Essex historical romance series, as well as several award-winning young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, School Library Journal, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.

Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of MY ROGUE, MY RUIN, the first book in the Lords of Essex historical romance series, as well as several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.AngieMorganBooks.com