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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.”

 

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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:

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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

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Scandalous Mrs. Wilson by Laine Ferndale

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Jo Wilson has seen her share of tragedy, but she’s determined to keep her late husband’s bathhouse afloat, even if her all-female staff raises eyebrows. She’s holding her own against the Fraser Springs society ladies’ public scorn, but a handsome new customer poses a different threat.

Bored with writing adventure novels, author Owen Sterling arrives in the tiny Canadian town hoping to launch a serious journalism career with an exposé on the titillating rumors swirling around Wilson’s Bathhouse. But the beguiling Jo is honest and upright and her respectable business is not at all what he expected.

When the town’s small-mindedness lights a literal fire under their feet, Jo and Owen must choose what’s most important: tending to their careers or surrendering to their bubbling emotions.

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EXCERPT

If Fraser Springs held a dirty looks contest, Mrs. McSheen would be the reigning champion. Josephine Wilson swept the wooden planks of the bathhouse’s porch as she considered the list of other likely entrants. Mrs. McSheen would face stiff competition from the ladies of the First Presbyterian congregation, the Ladies’ Charitable Club, and the Society for the Advancement of Moral Temperance. World-class scowlers, every one. There were probably more societies in this tiny town than there were ladies to fill them. Heavens knew how they found the time to play bridge in between all of the meetings.

It was a beautiful morning. The sharp, mineral tang of the springs felt invigorating in the breeze, not oppressive as it could on a hotter day. The rhododendrons in front of the bathhouse were fat and rosy. There was no reason for scowls. But Mrs. McSheen was intent on showing little Emma McSheen, dressed in a starched white pinafore with a pink sash, how a true lady treats a woman like Josephine.

“Can … may I have a flower?” little Emma asked.

“Any flower grown from this soil is not fit for good little girls such as yourself, dearest,” Mrs. McSheen said, proffering Josephine another of her world-famous sneers as she clomped down the wooden boardwalk towards the general store. “And at any rate, those gaudy red things smell like cheap perfume.”

In the years since her husband died and she took over the bathhouse, Josephine had received more dirty looks than she could count. Scowls, muttered curses, raised eyebrows; someone had even gone so far as to throw a rock through one of her windows. Mostly, however, the townspeople’s outrage took the form of anonymous letters slipped under her door or left in her mailbox. She was a whore, apparently. A harlot. A murderess. A temptress. A jezebel. A “shrew sent from the environs of hell to cast ruin and immorality upon the weak.” (It was clear Fraser Springs had at least one aspiring poet among its citizens.) She called them her love letters and kept them all tied with a red ribbon in the top corner of her husband’s old desk as a daily reminder of how important it was to maintain a thick skin.

But the hot springs looked lovely today. The surface roiled in shades of silver, purple, and blue. Mist swirled in tendrils towards the rocky shore of the lake, and somehow its color made her think of opals. Josephine had never actually seen an opal, but with the hot springs reflecting the sun into pools of light on the boardwalk, it wasn’t hard to imagine. After each day’s work ended, there wasn’t much to do in Fraser Springs besides imagine.

The town was little more than a cluster of wood-framed houses huddled around its namesake hot spring, the rickety structures leaning towards the water like old hens huddling together for warmth. In recent years, a few lucky mining operations and health-seeking tourists had provided the money for a fancy brick bank and the St. Alice Hotel with its marble floors and formal dining room. It was a town at a crossroads, and it was clear which way Mrs. McSheen and her cronies wanted it to go. The improvements had drawn a whole class of respectable women intent on scrubbing out the traces of the Canadian wilderness. Never mind that the town was a seven-hour steamboat ride from Vancouver or that their closest neighbours were bears or that the main patrons of the springs’ bathhouses were still loggers and miners hoping to soothe a year’s worth of aches and injuries.

“Miz Jo, customer!” Ilsa’s call drew Josephine out of her daydreaming. She’d poached Ilsa from a dance hall in Gastown, but though she was no longer earning her living by charming men into buying overpriced drinks, no amount of training could rid her of her sultry voice. She could make an advertisement for dentures sound like a provocation.

When Josephine’s husband had passed away suddenly, the staff he’d spent a lifetime cultivating had taken the next boat back to Vancouver. She had been faced with a choice: close the bathhouse or find new staff as quickly as possible. She’d chosen the latter and assembled a cadre of equally desperate women who she’d trained in the healing art of massage—and massage only. The women were quick learners and keen to start new lives, and the lure of an all-female staff had paid off. Soon, Wilson’s Bathhouse had become so successful that the husbands of the Society Ladies started becoming patrons. Now, however, business was down, and nasty letters were the order of the day.

Jo propped the broom against the wall, pulled off her apron, and tucked a stray curl back into her chignon. Whatever the McSheens of this town might think, her customers would meet a polished and respectable proprietress when they arrived.

She took a breath and straightened her posture. There, that was better. In a business like this, you never knew who was going to be on the other side of the door: maybe an old miner, maybe a local businessman who’d snuck in through the side entrance to avoid suspicion. Either way, Jo was ready.

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Laine Ferndale teaches literature and writing to pay for a fairly serious chai latte habit. She lives with her husband and her adorably needy cat. Find Laine Ferndale on Facebook and on Twitter @laineferndale.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: West of Forgotten by Lynda J. Cox

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Banished from civilization to the Wyoming Territory, U.S. Marshal Harrison Taylor holds a deed to half the Lazy L. He isn’t sure why his beautiful new partner, Rachel Leonard, doesn’t trust him. He has to convince her he is nothing like the man who abused her and he must earn her trust before the escalating attacks at the Lazy L turn deadly.

For six years, Rachel has worked to repair a shattered life. Caring for her son and invalid father leaves little time to keep the Lazy L profitable. She doesn’t want a business partner simply because her father gambled away half of her beloved ranch, and most certainly doesn’t desire a husband. Unfortunately, she’s stuck with the former and can’t trust Harrison as the latter.

But unless she can learn to trust him, everything and everyone Rachel loves will be lost.

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EXCERPT

Rachel continued to watch the play of light in the depths of the clouds. She tried to puzzle out why Harrison was engaging in trivial small talk. Perhaps he was on the same uncertain footing she was about their marriage, about Sam’s sudden death, even what it was married couples talked about. “I don’t think so. I think that one is going to miss us. We might get a few drops, but it will rain out before it gets here.”

“Joshua asleep?”

She nodded. “I suppose we should discuss sleeping arrangements.” Just saying those words twisted her stomach with painful knots. “My father’s old room on the second floor hasn’t been used since his accident.” She had to stop thinking of that room as her father’s. It hadn’t been Sam’s room since the day she had found him nearly crushed under the rubble of the mine collapse. There had been no manner to navigate him up and down the stairs.

“We don’t have to discuss anything permanent tonight.” The chair creaked with his shifting weight. He rose from the chair and set his coffee cup on the porch railing, then crossed the distance to her. Without a word, he took her hand and pulled her closer to him. He looked down into her face. “I can continue to sleep on the chesterfield for a few more nights. Not that it would be my first choice…” His voice trailed off.

“I will need to air the room out, change the bed linens, and dust in there, but it would be senseless for you to continue to sleep in the parlor.” She freed her hand and walked a few paces away. She was talking nonsense, hoping to quell her unease. Even the most hastily arranged marriage had a wedding night. Yet he had agreed that for now, they would have a marriage in name only.

Harrison’s boot heels echoed on the porch floor. She startled when his hands came to rest on her shoulders.

“You’re terrified,” he said.

“What makes you think that?” She couldn’t make herself look at him. The knots in her stomach drew tighter, making breathing naturally more difficult, and forcing her heart to race.

He drew his hands down her arms and back to her shoulders. “Let’s start with how stiff your spine is. Or that your voice is shaking. Every time I’ve touched you, you’ve either frozen or you panic.” His breath whispered across the nape of her neck and ruffled the tendrils escaping her severe chignon. He turned her to him and caught her chin on the back of his hand, tilting her head up. “I made a promise, Rachel, and I will not break my word. You have to change the terms of our marriage.”

She forced herself to draw a deep breath when his arms wrapped around her waist and he exerted gentle pressure to bring her against his chest. He enveloped her within his embrace and this time there wasn’t panic or the desperate need to break free hammering in her. Rachel allowed herself to relax.

His cheek pressed into her crown. A self-deprecating laugh broke from him, and she admitted she liked how that sound rumbled in the depths of his chest.

“I really should have my head examined for agreeing to all of that.”

His arms tightened around her. She forced herself to remain within the circle of his arms, the side of her face against him. He must have sensed her sudden unease as he loosened his hold.

“You are an interesting woman. Beautiful, fascinating, and so full of contradictions.” He levered back from her and lifted his hand to cradle the side of her face, the pad of his thumb feathering along the slope of her cheek. “A seemingly very strong woman and yet terrified of a kiss.”

Rachel’s lips went dry and she couldn’t pry her tongue from the roof of her mouth. Her limbs trembled. Surely he had to hear how fiercely her heart was pounding, so loudly she heard it echoing in her ears.

His voice deepened, grew quieter until it was almost a whisper and she fought the urge to close her eyes and let the warmth in his voice wash fully over her. “A woman with a child but so frightened of intimacy.” He leaned even closer to her, his mouth almost on hers, yet not touching her except where his warm palm held her face.

In the darkness, she could just make out his features. Her hands slid up his chest and she didn’t know if it was to push him away or pull him closer. She was aware her breathing was shallow and she held her breath when he brushed the pad of his thumb against her lower lip.

“You have a mouth made for kissing, my beautiful wife, but I’m not going to kiss you. Not until you ask me. And, I promise, when that time comes, you’ll be asking me to do a whole lot more than just kiss you.”

He straightened and released her, moving away in the same fluid motion. His long strides carried him to the house, up the steps, and then through the door. Rachel sagged, pulling in a ragged, deep breath. A strange ache filled her lower belly, not painful but entirely confusing for its origin. She ran her tongue over her dry lips, staring into the night.

She twisted her head to the house. Part of her wanted to know if this time would be different. Fear of discovering that it wouldn’t be kept her feet frozen, unable to move forward.

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Once upon a time there was little girl who fell in love with the wide open spaces of the American West, cowboys, horses, and collies. She blames a steady diet of syndicated Western programs and John Wayne movies as well as Lassie for these loves. That girl grew up but never outgrew her first loves. Lynda J Cox writes predominantly western historical romance. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on the road, travelling to the next dog show to exhibit her award winning collies. She loves to talk about books, writing, the allure of the vastness of the American West landscape, the mythos of the cowboy, and the insanity which is the sport of showing dogs. She can be reached at www.facebook.com/LyndaJCox or through her website at http://www.lyndajcox.com

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Day of the Duchess (Scandal & Scoundrel #3) by Sarah MacLean

L

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The one woman he will never forget…

Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, has lived the last three years in self-imposed solitude, paying the price for a mistake he can never reverse and a love he lost forever. The dukedom does not wait, however, and Haven requires an heir, which means he must find himself a wife by summer’s end. There is only one problem—he already has one.

The one man she will never forgive…

After years in exile, Seraphina, Duchess of Haven, returns to London with a single goal—to reclaim the life she left and find happiness, unencumbered by the man who broke her heart. Haven offers her a deal; Sera can have her freedom, just as soon as she finds her replacement…which requires her to spend the summer in close quarters with the husband she does not want, but somehow cannot resist.

A love that neither can deny…

The duke has a single summer to woo his wife and convince her that, despite their broken past, he can give her forever, making every day… The Day of the Duchess.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, June 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1836
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

Fans of Ms. MacLean rejoice: The Day of the Duchess is a terrific conclusion to her Scandal & Scoundrel series.  In it, the author returns to the intriguing scene that opened The Rogue Not Taken, when, in front of large and captive audience, Sophie Talbot shoved her brother-in-law Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, into a fishpond after witnessing him in flagrante delicto with a woman other than his duchess, her sister, Seraphina.  I re-read the the scene to remind myself of how haughty, vile and despicable Haven was, and I suspect I’m not the only person who picked up The Day of the Duchess certain there was no way to redeem him.  But I’m here to tell you you’re wrong and Ms. MacLean’s redemption of this character is nothing short of miraculous.  I loved him by the time this story concluded, and you will too.  Ms. MacLean pulls out all the big guns in this emotional, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting love story.

When The Day of the Duchess opens, it’s been two years and seven months since Haven last saw his wife.  He’s spent part of every day missing her, wanting her, and searching for her, but she’s vanished.  From the first, it’s clear Haven regrets their past and he wants Seraphina back.  Though we know what happened at the disastrous party when Sophie pushed Haven into the pond, we know nothing of their relationship before this.  On this morning, Haven is in his chambers reflecting on his efforts to find Sera and making plans to resume his search the moment the Parliamentary session closes.  He takes his seat in the House of Lords and just as the Lord Chancellor calls an end to the season, an entrance in the hall disrupts his speech.  Haven ignores the interruption until a loud voice – a voice he recognizes – raises the hairs on the back of his neck. When he finally spots impeccable dressed, tall and beautiful woman on the floor he already knows who it is.

Christ.  She was here.

Here.  Nearly three years searching for her, and here she was, as though she’d been gone mere hours.  Shock warred with an anger he could not have imagined, but those emotions were nothing compared to the third feeling.  The immense, unbearable pleasure.

She was here.

Finally.

Again.

It was all he could do not to move.  To gather her up and carry her away.  To hold her close.  Win her back. Start fresh.

Except she doesn’t seem to share the sentiment and instead, after watching him for a moment, she declares, “I am Seraphina Bevingstoke, Duchess of Haven.  And I require a divorce.”

A story like The Day of the Duchess is a challenge to review for several reasons.  Told in chapters that alternate between Haven and Seraphina’s PoV, and the past and present, it’s nearly impossible to review it without spoiling its secrets.  So I won’t.  Suffice it to say, the relationship between Haven and Seraphina masterfully illustrates the power of a misunderstanding to morph into something so big and so damaging it destroys everything and everyone in its path. The dissolution of their relationship, the scene at the fishpond, Haven’s effort to win back his wife and her affections – all are all plagued by misunderstandings – and as Ms. MacLean flips back and forth in time and PoV, it’s easy to see how and why.  Understanding, however, does nothing whatsoever to diminish the heartbreak and sadness you feel as the author slowly and painfully peels back the layers of Haven and Sera’s relationship.  In flashbacks we witness their first meeting (it’s brilliant and wonderful and funny and romantic), how deeply and intensely they fall in love and then how quickly it all falls apart.  Seraphina, after misunderstanding Haven’s intentions, makes a decision that painfully and irrevocably changes everything.  Their passionate love affair abruptly turns into something tawdry, ugly and miserable, and it’s difficult to convey the whiplash of emotions I experienced reading it. Your heart will ache as their history is slowly revealed, and after Sera’s declaration in the House of Lords, it’s difficult to see how Ms. MacLean will effect a second chance at love for these two.

But she does! To refresh, it’s clear from the start that Haven wants Seraphina back – as his wife, lover and friend – and that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win her back.  But Sera, despite her inconvenient attraction to THE LOVE OF HER LIFE, doesn’t want a reunion – she wants a divorce.  So Haven decides to give her one – IF she’ll attend a house party and help him select her replacement and his next duchess.  Seraphina is desperate, Haven is devious – and similarly desperate (for her lurve), and this is a writer who knows how to make magic out of a mess.  Seraphina agrees to his plan, but she brings protective reinforcements – her sisters – who’ve never forgiven Haven.  Careful reader – I can imagine your eyes rolling.  Yes, it’s silly and ridiculous.  But, it’s so well done, you enjoy every moment anyway.  Haven makes a move, Seraphina checks it, and the game continues apace.  This plot device (the fake find-a-wife-house party) wherein Haven slowly woos his reluctant wife, paired with well-drawn secondary characters – women with whom Haven pretends to have an interest and Sera’s fascinating and devious sisters, keep this clever conceit afloat long after it should have grown tiresome, and provides ample time for these two to rediscover their love and affection for each other.

Obviously, all the plotting and scheming in the world wouldn’t hold our attention if the principals weren’t equally compelling.  Haven – Mal to Sera – cheated.  It is difficult to get past that.  However, once Ms. MacLean finally slots into place Mal’s childhood and the events that preceded his MASSIVE MISTAKE, I understood it – even if I didn’t like it.  Yes, I’m being deliberately vague.  You’ll see.  The Mal we get to know in this story is appealing, charming and chock full of regret.  He’s also a handsome, wealthy and powerful duke.  Reader, when he sets out to make amends and prove to Sera he’s worthy of her love, he’s irresistible.  Sera is similarly appealing.  Haven is smitten from the moment he meets her – and so are we.  She’s delightful, charming, mysterious… and she keeps him on his toes.  The moment (oh, it’s awful) when she decides to leave Haven and any hope for a reconciliation, her pain and heartbreak are palpable.  But the Sera that emerges is like a phoenix from the ashes, and she makes Haven work hard for her forgiveness – and I was glad of it.

The Day of the Duchess isn’t perfect.  The house party drags out a bit too long and Sera’s sisters – though loyal and entertaining – are a bit too conveniently ‘just what Seraphina needs’ at any given moment; though they’re still a likeable lot.  The happily ever after is hard earned and well deserved by the time it arrives, although again, I wish Ms. MacLean hadn’t drawn it out quite so much.  The pacing in the second half is the only reason I’m not giving the book five stars.

Slow pace aside, The Day of the Duchess ends the Scandal & Scoundrel series on a high note.  Every chapter – past and present – resonates emotionally and viscerally, and this romance and relationship stayed with me long after the last page was read.  This is Ms. MacLean at her best.


EXCERPT

Chapter 1

DESERTED DUKE DISAVOWED!

August 19, 1836

House of Lords, Parliament

She’d left him two years, seven months ago, exactly.

Malcolm Marcus Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven looked to the tiny wooden calendar wheels inlaid into the blotter on his desk in his private office above the House of Lords.

August the nineteenth, 1836. The last day of the parliamentary session, filled with pomp and idle. And lingering memory. He spun the wheel with the six embossed upon it. Five. Four. He took a deep breath.

Get out. He heard his own words, cold and angry with betrayal, echoing with quiet menace. Don’t ever return.

He touched the wheel again. August became July. May. March.

January the nineteenth, 1834. The day she left.

His fingers moved without thought, finding comfort in the familiar click of the wheels.

April the seventeenth, 1833.

The way I feel about you . . . Her words now—soft and full of temptation. I’ve never felt anything like this.

He hadn’t, either. As though light and breath and hope had flooded the room, filling all the dark spaces. Filling his lungs and heart. And all because of her.

Until he’d discovered the truth. The truth, which had mattered so much until it hadn’t mattered at all.

Where had she gone?

The clock in the corner of the room ticked and tocked, counting the seconds until Haven was due in his seat in the hallowed main chamber of the House of Lords, where men of higher purpose and passion had sat before him for generations. His fingers played the little calendar like a virtuoso, as though they’d done this dance a hundred times before. A thousand.

And they had.

March the first, 1833. The day they met.

So, they let simply anyone become a duke, do they? No deference. Teasing and charm and pure, unadulterated beauty.

If you think dukes are bad, imagine what they accept from duchesses?

That smile. As though she’d never met another man. As though she’d never wanted to. He’d been hers the moment he’d seen that smile. Before that. Imagine, indeed.

And then it had fallen apart. He’d lost everything, and then lost her. Or perhaps it had been the reverse. Or perhaps it was all the same.

Would there ever be a time when he stopped thinking of her? Ever a date that did not remind him of her? Of the time that had stretched like an eternity since she’d left?

Where had she gone?

The clock struck eleven, heavy chimes sounding in the room, echoed by a dozen others sounding down the long, oaken corridor beyond, summoning men of longstanding name to the duty that had been theirs before they drew breath.

Haven spun the calendar wheels with force, leaving them as they lay. November the thirty-seventh, 3842. A fine date—one on which he had absolutely no chance of thinking of her.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

New York Times, Washington Post & USA Today bestseller Sarah MacLean is the author of historical romance novels that have been translated into more than twenty languages, and winner of back-to-back RITA Awards for best historical romance from the Romance Writers of America.

Sarah is a leading advocate for the romance genre, speaking widely on its place at the nexus of gender and cultural studies. She is the author of a monthly column celebrating the best of the genre for the Washington Post. Her work in support of romance and the women who read it earned her a place on Jezebel.com’s Sheroes list of 2014 and led Entertainment Weekly to call her “gracefully furious.” A graduate of Smith College & Harvard University, Sarah now lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Seduce a Lady’s Heart (Landon Sisters #3) by Ingrid Hahn

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Lord Jeremy Landon, Earl of Bennington, spent the last ten years rebuilding the ruined earldom he inherited from his scandal-ridden uncle. He has one final debt to repay. In lieu of money, though, he is manipulated into marrying a spinster…

Lady Eliza Burke is tired of living under the rule of a tyrannical mother. She’ll do anything to escape, even marry a man she doesn’t know—and a man her mother despises. Eliza doesn’t believe herself destined for love. Lord Bennington doesn’t believe he’s destined for happiness. Both are about to be tested by a scandal that could tear them apart forever.

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EXCERPT

She reached out to take his hand, warmth swirling in his veins at the unanticipated intimacy.

“Nothing more than too much coffee at breakfast, I’m sure.”

“You like your coffee, don’t you? At least you have that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean you’ve got nothing in your life that you really live for.”

The pronouncement rankled. “I’ve worked—”

“Yes, I know.” She waved. “You have much to be proud of, my lord, that I would never dispute. But the only thing you do is work.”

“That’s the only thing for which I’ve had any time.”

“That’s the only thing for which you’ve given yourself any time. You treat life like it’s a game of subterfuge.”

“I suppose I’ll take your word for that one, my lady. Since you’re the resident expert on subterfuge.”

She colored.

They went on in silence. His shoulders ached from tension. “I used to play the violin.” Lord save him. He didn’t need to tell her this—he hadn’t spoken of it in years. He had nothing to prove. Whatever she thought of him…he didn’t care.

“You did?”

He scowled and sighed. “I started lessons when I was a lad. And I hated them—every last second. I nally wore my mother down and nagled her help in convincing my father to let me abandon music all together. It wasn’t easy. My father was…a dif cult man.”

Eliza’s eyes were full of tender concern. She said nothing. Only waited.

Jeremy looked away and continued. “No sooner had I put down the instrument—forever, I’d thought—than I longed to pick it up again. After a year, I could stand it no longer, and demanded to resume lessons. But on my own terms and with a new master.”

That’s when they’d found Mr. Oswald, a man with a deep passion for music instead of a deep passion for petty punishments.

With Eliza’s hand over his, Jeremy allowed himself to feel the full measure of the guilt he’d pushed away for years, telling himself it no longer mattered because the estate and the family name were more important than anything else.

He didn’t want to let go, though—didn’t want to admit that perhaps he’d taken things too far. He raised his chin and withdrew his hand. “Music is nothing more than a frivolity.”

When she reached for him again, he pulled away.

“My lord…” Her was face full of concern, her voice soft. It would be so easy to kiss her now. To capture her lips with his and drink her long and deeply, inhaling the rosy scent of her. “I don’t think those things are frivolous. Least of all music. You’re entirely wrong on that score. Perhaps you should think about taking it up again.”

“It’s too late for that.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ingrid Hahn is a failed administrative assistant with a B.A. in Art History. Her love of reading has turned her mortgage payment into a book storage fee, which makes her the friend who you never want to ask you for help moving. Though originally from Seattle, she now lives in the metropolitan DC area with her ship-nerd husband, small son, and four opinionated cats. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves knitting, theater, nature walks, travel, history, and is a hopelessly devoted fan of Jane Austen. Please connect with her on social media!

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