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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall

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Hide from the thief-taker, for if he finds you, he will take you away…

Eighteenth-century Cornwall is crippled by debt and poverty, while the gibbet casts a shadow of fear over the land. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.

Terrified by a thief-taker’s warning as a child, Jenna has resolved to be good. When her brother, Silas, asks for her help to pay his creditors, Jenna feels unable to refuse and finds herself entering the dangerous world of the smuggling trade.

Jack Penhale hunts down the smuggling gangs in revenge for his father’s death. Drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre, they discover their lives are entangled. But as Jenna struggles to decide where her allegiances lie, the worlds of justice and crime collide, leading to danger and heartache for all concerned…

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EXCERPT

A variety of faces were turned to watch the sale. Men, women and children craned their necks for a better view, eager to see what was happening. Only one man, who stood on the edge of the crowd and casually leaned against a cart, had no interest in the farce. From his stance and jet-black hair, Jenna instantly recognised him as the man who had helped her escape. There was no mistaking him, as there were few men with such well-balanced features that held strength and kindness in equal measures. He was looking at her intently through narrowed eyes and she wondered if he recognised her, too. Heat rushed to her face, making her feel exposed and a little panicked. Furtively, she moved her mop in front of her face hoping to block his view. The last thing she needed while she was trying to be hired was him asking questions.

Keeping her eyes lowered, she heard the wife sale progress as the men agreed a price of two shillings and a quart of beer, and the lover emerged victorious. The crowd erupted about Jenna, but she dared not look up in case the stranger was still looking at her. Instead she remained rooted to the spot hoping that he would soon be on his way.

The wife sale completed, the woman and her lover walked through the crowd, their noses tilted upwards, their arm interlinked and both with a slight swagger to their step. The crowd was delighted at the unplanned entertainment and even broke into a spontaneous applause when the pair granted them a joint bow before finally exiting the square. The fayre slowly returned to normal and Jenna took the opportunity to furtively glance up. She saw him moving through the thinning crowd, and then she lost sight of him. He is gone, she thought, relieved, but she should have known better. His earlier attention had indicated an interest in her, and when she heard a man’s boots climb onto the left side of the stage, she did not need to look to know it was him.

The woman with the florid complexion ordered Jenna to show her hands. Obediently Jenna held one out, whilst trying to keep the mop head in the right position to obstruct the stranger’s view of her face. When the man’s well-shaped hand suddenly closed around the handle of her mop and brushed against hers, a wave of unfamiliar sensations swept over her. They caught the breath in her throat and slowed her mind to that of a drunkard, leaving her little choice, but to allow him to take it. With her mop in his hand, the dark-haired stranger watched in silence as the woman examined her.

The larger woman looked at her now free hand. Satisfied, she ordered Jenna to open her mouth and show her teeth, before checking for lice in her clothes and hair. Jenna closed her eyes in shame at being examined like livestock. The man continued to say nothing, even when he handed the mop back to her when the examination was complete. His brows furrowed deep in thought, and for the briefest of moments she wondered if he was considering hiring her. However, when the woman offered a price he remained silent and when the ribbon was pinned onto Jenna’s dress to confirm that she was hired, he turned and walked away.

Jenna frowned as she watched him leave. His presence had unnerved her, but strangely, now that he was leaving, she felt disappointed that he had not bothered to barter for her. Had he come onto the stage to hire her, but on closer inspection thought better of it? The truth was, the handsome stranger had rejected her, and rejection is never a pleasant feeling to have.

*****

From a short distance away, Jack watched the woman lead Jenna Kestle away. He had been shocked to see her again and found himself marvelling at life’s habit of tossing coincidences in one’s path. Moments before he caught sight of her he had been thinking about her, and then she was there, standing on a makeshift stage waiting to be hired.

At first he put it down to mistaken identity, or worse his imagination playing tricks on him, but the longer he watched her, the more he was convinced it was her.

The woman’s hair, previously hidden below a battered tricorn, was in fact long. Today, it was neatly plaited and lay over one shoulder. The last time he saw her, her feminine shape was hidden under boy’s clothing. Now it captivated his attention and drew him towards the stage, while a devil on his shoulder whispered in his ear and encouraged him to hire her. Jack almost succumbed, but thankfully saw sense and walked away. He knew that having an extra pair of ears beneath his roof was far too dangerous. It was best he kept his distance until he had completed what he had come here to do.

He watched her body sway to the movement of the cart as her new employer took her away from him. For a brief moment he felt a strange sense of loss for a woman he knew so little about. True, she had never been far from his thoughts. The last time he had seen her she was being chased by a crowd. It was only natural that he would feel concern for her welfare, he thought. He need not have worried as he remembered their hands briefly touching. Although her hand felt tense, during her examination she had a tilt to her chin, which showed determination – a trait he recognised in himself. He knew in that moment that he need not be concerned for her, for he saw that she was of strong character which would bode well for her future.

This newly acquired knowledge freed him from feeling concern for her and he found himself laughing a little too loudly at his earlier foolishness

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

victoria cornwallVictoria Cornwall grew up on a farm in Cornwall. She can trace her Cornish roots as far back as the 18th century and it is this background and heritage which is the inspiration for her Cornish based novels.

Victoria is married, has two grown up children and a black Labrador, called Alfie. She likes to read and write historical fiction with a strong background story, but at its heart is the unmistakable emotion, even pain, of loving someone.

Following a fulfilling twenty-five year career as a nurse, a change in profession finally allowed her the time to write.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: In Search of Love by Kate Loveday

InSearchofLove

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They shared one night of love.

When Kitty Barron and Rufe Cavanagh meet sixteen years later, Kitty wonders if they might have a second chance at happiness. Rufe is determined they will.

Kitty’s teenage daughter, Joy, and Rufe’s daughter, Lily, are school friends. While Joy embraces the idea of uniting their families, Lily burns with jealousy at the thought of sharing her father’s affection, and schemes to keep them apart.

When Joy and Lily go to London for a Season, they find that beneath the gaiety and excitement not everything or everybody is as it seems. Their romances bring problems that have far-reaching effects for Kitty and Rufe, and their happiness.

Can Kitty and Rufe withstand Lily’s manipulative efforts to keep them apart? Is their love strong enough?

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EXCERPT

Rufe recovered his composure. “We’ve been enjoying a walk, so I suppose I must say that you can do the same, as it’s such a lovely night. But don’t go beyond sight of the house.”

He stood aside to let them pass. “Off you go then. But don’t be too long. Mrs. Barron and I are going to have a nightcap. Come in to the drawing room and say goodnight when you come back.”

Lily scowled at Kitty, who put out her hand, and touched Joy briefly on the arm as she passed. “Don’t take Lily far, it’s getting late. I’ll see you when you come back.”

“Yes, Mother.”

The girls swept down the steps and raced off along the path. Rufe held the door open for Kitty and followed her into the drawing room.

“Oh dear,” Kitty said, turning to him. “I’m afraid we’ve upset Lily.”

“Nonsense. She saw nothing to upset her. I simply escorted you up the steps.”

“Do you think she believed that?”

Rufe crossed the room and splashed brandy into two glasses. “If it comes up, which I doubt, I’ll make sure she understands it.” He handed her one of the drinks with a smile. “Now sit down, and we’ll have our nightcap very circumspectly, until our children are safely in bed.”

As Kitty sipped her drink, she worried that Lily had seen Rufe’s arm around her, and that it had upset her. Whatever would Lily think if she found out about their previous relationship? Or if they were to resume it? From the look on Lily’s face, Kitty didn’t believe she would be happy about it. For that matter, how would Joy feel? Oh dear, it’s all so difficult. Twisting the glass in her fingers, she watched the light reflecting from the crystal goblet.

“Kitty. What’s the matter?”

“I’m concerned at what the girls must be thinking.”

“We don’t have to worry about what they’re thinking. We’re their parents, and we don’t need their approval for our actions.”
“That’s all very well, but I don’t want either of them to be upset.”

“There’s nothing for them to be upset about.”

“But if they hadn’t come out just then…”

Rufe interrupted her. “If they hadn’t come out just then, you and I would now be discussing our feelings for each other, instead of our children’s feelings, and I would be much happier.”

“But…”

He reached across and touched her hand. “No buts. When they’ve gone to bed, we can talk. For now, we just drink our nightcap.”

“Very well.”

They had only minutes to wait before they heard the front door open and close, and the girls entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your moonlight walk?” Rufe asked them.

“Yes,” Joy replied. “We went down to the river. It looks beautiful at night. All silvery.”

“You looked as if you enjoyed your walk,” Lily added. “Did you go as far as the river?”

“Not quite,” Rufe answered. “And now it’s time you were in bed, young lady.”

“Would you like a glass of milk first?” Kitty asked.

“Yes, please,” Joy replied. “And some cake, too. How about you, Lily?”

Lily hesitated then nodded. “Yes, please.”

“No, don’t you bother, Mother,” Joy added, as Kitty started to rise. “We’ll go down to the kitchen, and I’ll get it. Then we’ll go to bed. Come on, Lily.”

When they had gone, Kitty and Rufe sipped at their drinks, and waited until they heard them go into Joy’s bedroom.

After listening for a few minutes, Rufe stood and came to stand in front of Kitty. Smiling down at her, he reached out his hands.

“Come with me.”

Kitty shook her head. “No, Rufe, I can’t.”

His smile faded. “You don’t want to?”

“It’s not that—it’s the girls. Lily looked daggers at me when she saw you had your arm around me.”

“She’s safely in bed by now, and Joy, too.”

“But what if they come out for something? What if they were to discover us together?”

“Kitty, darling, we can’t have our lives dictated by our children.”

“It would be too sudden for them—they’re still so young—they wouldn’t understand.”

Rufe dropped her hands and took a step back. His lips twisted wryly. “I see the magic hasn’t come back for you.”

“It’s not that. When we were outside, I felt all the old feelings, but now I’m too concerned about how the girls would feel. They’d both be shocked. We need to take more time.”

“And what about how I feel?” He frowned down at her. “Doesn’t that count?”

“Of course it counts, but we need to let them get used to the idea first, to accept that we both care for each other. Surely you can see that.”

“I can see that you put their feelings before mine.” His voice hardened. “If we were together, is that how it would always be?”

Kitty shook her head, a ball of misery forming inside her. “No, of course not. But we have to let them become accustomed to the idea first. We need to let them see gradually, that we care for each other.”

Rufe narrowed his eyes as he looked down at her. “So, you want me to woo you, do you? To court you like some lovesick young swain. Don’t you think we’re a bit old to be playing such games?”

“Is that what love is to you? A game?”

“You’re twisting my words, Kitty. That’s not what I meant.” He turned toward the door. “All right. I’ll play it your way. I’ll woo you. But don’t try my patience too far.”

With that, he turned and strode to the door. And slammed it behind him as he left.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Loveday

Kate Loveday

Kate Loveday grew up in a seaside suburb of Adelaide, South Australia, in a family with six brothers. Her two passions as a child were to spend as much time as possible at the beach, mostly with a couple of younger brothers in tow, and to curl up with a book.

Her love of books never left her, and she always wanted to write. But it was not until an extended caravan holiday around Australia with husband Peter that she began writing in earnest. She started with travel articles about places visited, and when these were accepted for publication by travel magazines, she began to think about writing a novel.

She now writes Australian contemporary and historical fiction, and has published six books. She says as long as her readers continue telling her, in reviews and emails, that they enjoy what she writes, she will continue doing so.

She loves chocolate, fine wines, dogs, music, and seeing new places.

In her past life she was a bookkeeper and a beauty therapist. Now she enjoys spending time with her husband, family, and friends… Oh yes…and reading and writing!

http://kateloveday.com/
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple by K.A. Merikan

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“How does one start a relationship with another man when it is forbidden?”

“One needs to decide that the other man is worth dying for.”

Cornwall, 1785

Sir Evan Penhart. Baronet. Highwayman. Scoundrel.
Julian Reece. Writer. Wastrel. Penniless.

No one forces Julian Reece to marry. Not his father, not his brother. No one.

When he is thrust into a carriage heading for London to meet his future bride, his way out comes in the form of an imposing highwayman, riding a horse as black as night. Julian makes a deal with the criminal, but what he doesn’t expect is that despite the title of baronet, the robber turns out to be no gentleman.

Sir Evan Penhart is pushed into crime out of desperation, but the pact with a pretty, young merchant’s son turns out to have disastrous consequences. Not only is Evan left broke, but worse yet, Julian opens up a Pandora’s box of passions that are dark, needy, and too wild to tame. With no way to lock them back in, rash decisions and greedy desire lead to a tide that wrecks everything in its way.

But Julian might actually like all the sinful, carnal passion unleashed on him. How can he admit this though, even to himself, when a taste of the forbidden fruit could have him end up with a noose around his neck? And with highway robbery being a hanging offense and the local constable on their back, Julian could lose Evan before he can decide anything about the nature of his desires.

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EXCERPT

Evan’s grip on the nightshirt tightened. Oh, what he’d now give for being a valet not a baronet. “Since when does a merchant’s son need a valet?” he asked, already imagining unbuttoning the embroidered buttons of the vest, and leaning in for—

“Since he can afford one,” said Julian coolly and stretched his throat, approaching the fire. “I am your guest, and yet so far I’ve been only offered discourtesy. Or do you not know that you are being rude?”

Julian was a spoiled idler, but it was himself that Evan despised most right now, because with all his attitude, and the outlandish idea to strip his own father of money, Julian was still the most beautiful creature that had graced this house in years. Standing there by the fire, the rich green color of his outfit complemented the flames as if he’d gotten dressed today, knowing he’d be here in the evening.

Evan lost patience. For Julian, for himself, for the whole situation dragging out and testing him.

He walked past the armchair, and approached Julian without a word. He pushed him at the warm wall by the fireplace, and his fingers went straight for the buttons of Julian’s waistcoat.

A sharp gasp left Julian’s lips, and he remained frozen, slim, graceful fingers trailing along the faded tapestry depicting the battle of Troy. He stopped resisting, as if Evan’s impudence left him weaponless. He stared at the wall, possibly frightened but unresisting.

So Evan carried on. Pulled off the coat. Unbuttoned the waistcoat. When the shape of a stiffened nipple appeared where the shirt clung to Julian’s body, Evan was ready to eat Julian alive. But he would not. He’d stay calm and move past all this.

Julian’s breath wheezed, and he clawed his fingers into the tapestry, his body hot like nothing else Evan had touched in years. Even the fire burning so close couldn’t compare to the warmth streaming from underneath the fine linens.

“How am I doing?” Evan asked when the tension became too much. He pulled on the silk of Julian’s cravat, untying it from around his neck, and his heart was speeding up at the sight of the throat underneath the thin fabric.

“Dreadfully,” said Julian through his teeth and still refused to look at Evan. “I wouldn’t let you near me with a razor, but maybe you’d like to blacken my boots once you’re done.”

Evan backed away half a step and pulled on Julian’s shirt. “Do you want to borrow my nightshirt, or would you rather sleep naked?”

The flush on Julian’s cheeks darkened, and his nostrils flared as he finally met Evan’s gaze with a fiery passion. “What was your profession before you chose this walk of life? Certainly not service.” He frowned, glancing at Evan from head to toe. “The black… a rogue clergyman perhaps?”

Evan shook his head, proceeding to pull off the shirt. “Wrong, Mr. Reece. I am a sinner.”

Julian didn’t resist anymore and pulled up the stained shirt. When the fine fabric stretched over his face, the pale, flawless chest came into view. There was a pleasant definition to Julian’s muscles, but his body was doubtlessly one that had never been forced to do physical labor, and had instead gained the harmonious shape through sports and other leisure activities. The short bristle of hair on his chest was a reminder that Julian wasn’t a boy anymore, and as he stretched to finally untangle himself out of the shirt, his abdomen became a bundle of the most delicious muscle. Evan barely suppressed a moan.

“Sin is but a man’s invention to keep the masses from straying off the path they’re meant for, Mr. Noir,” Julian said, bright red. He spun around and reached back his hand. “The shirt, please.”

Evan took his time watching every inch of skin on show, but passed the garment to Julian. “Not in need of my services anymore, I presume?” He would not mind pulling off Julian’s breeches as well and getting to see what a fine ass hid underneath, but that would have been a stretch for his patience.

“You’re a worse valet than I’d ever be.” Julian promptly pulled the linen over his head, obscuring his fair skin and shape, and only then did he begin unfastening his breeches.

Evan kept silent, anticipating the faint shape he’d get to see underneath the shirt, courtesy of the fireplace behind Julian. This sudden infatuation felt childish, yet he still couldn’t resist the butterfly that got caught in his net instead of a grasshopper.

Julian pulled off his stockings, breeches, linen drawers, and there it was, the shadow of his graceful ass peeking through the nightshirt. Evan chewed on his lip, watching Julian storm through the room and climb into bed without a word.

Evan’s heart thudded with bloodlust, as if he were a wolf following a deer. At this moment, he didn’t even regret his robbery being a failure, because he hadn’t felt this alive in years.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

K. A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are taken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite pushing thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

Visit Kat and Agnes at http://kamerikan.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love Beyond Measure by Elizabeth Boyce

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Harrison Dyer left England to escape his painful past, but a storm at sea sweeps him into a world he never imagined. In the ancient kingdom of Siam, he meets Lamai, an alluring translator with scars of her own. To earn his way home, Harrison agrees to work for Lamai’s employer, a wealthy Portuguese businessman with dark appetites.

Abandoned by her father, the half-English, half-Siamese Lamai isn’t sure she fully belongs anywhere. She’s remained in Siam in hopes that her father will one day return, but her position leaves her in an apprehensive state of limbo. Surprisingly to both Lamai and Harrison, their tentative working relationship is a comfort and soon blossoms into a richer, more complicated connection.

But when he makes a shocking discovery of abuse and corruption, Harrison must risk his own freedom and a chance at happiness with Lamai for a greater cause. Only if they put their heads—and hearts—together can they finally find the peace and love they’ve been seeking.

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EXCERPT

Somewhere in The Gulf of Siam, June 1818

In the end, Harrison mused, it figured that a woman would end his life. For more than half of his twenty-nine years, he’d had a nagging suspicion that a female would be the death of him. There was surprise in the lady’s identity, for he’d assumed it would be a woman of a human persuasion that would do him in.

But then, blindness had always been his downfall. He should have known, should have at least given credence to the possibility of danger. She’d killed so many of her lovers before him, the sea had, and she’d kill countless more after he was gone.

“Mea culpa,” he whispered hoarsely through lips parched and peeling.

Eyes half-blinded by the relentless glare of the sun roved the clearest blue water he’d ever beheld. Tender puffs of cloud lazed their way across the sky. A steady, fine wind ruffled his hair and bobbed his lifeboat up and down. Too bad he’d no means of steering the fifteen-foot craft. No sign lingered of the typhoon that had overtaken Brizo’s Woe and dallied with the merchant vessel for days as if it were no more than a toy in a tub. A field of debris surrounded his rowboat, ragged lengths of plank dark with pitch, a grim honor guard that had escorted him since the accident.

Harrison scratched his bristled cheek; his sun-scorched skin smarted, tight and hot. Rocked by the sea, his lids slid closed against the merciless sun. One arm draped over the rail, his fingers trailing through the water. It was invitingly cool. How simple it would be to slip into the sea, to disappear beneath the surface with barely a ripple. Drowning was not an easy death—that knowledge won by witnessing it dozens of times in a single, harrowing day—but it would be quicker than this slow death by heat and starvation. He’d lingered on two weeks. The days had blurred into a singular episode of mundane terror.

Evaporating salt water caused his wrist to itch. Harrison pulled his arm back and rubbed idly, his dirty nails following the linear paths of scars carved into his skin. The nine months he’d spent aboard Brizo’s Woe as it voyaged eastward had finally freed him from the periods of despair that had plagued him since adolescence. Now that he’d come to value his life, he found it was abruptly over. The old habit of picturing—and planning—his exit from the mortal realm returned with ease, though he did so now with a sense of regret.

He would’ve liked to have completed the trade expedition, to have returned to England in triumph with a cargo of riches that would be the making of him and Henry De Vere, the friend who had employed him. He could’ve bought the land and breeding stock needed to begin the horse stable he used to imagine when his spirits were brighter. Or he could have returned to sea, helped De Vere and Sons Shipping Company become a force to rival the East India Company.

The nanny goat bleated. Begrudgingly, Harrison opened his eyes and turned to regard his companion. Tilda the goat picked her way through an assortment of tin cups and a cooking pot set out to capture rainwater. He set the cooking pot at her feet. “Here now, have a drink.”

Collecting a little water daily had been no hardship; it had rained every afternoon since the storm. Even now, nonthreatening clouds gathered on the horizon, heavy with the day’s allotment of moisture. Harrison wondered, not for the first time, whether or not this ready supply of water was a mercy. Perhaps it only delayed the inevitable, but he could not stop himself from swallowing the life-sustaining fluid, even as he questioned the wisdom of it.

Pivoting, he made his unsteady way on hands and knees to mid-ship, to the chest his friend, Lord Sheridan Zouche, had gifted him upon Harrison’s departure from England. He’d spotted it bobbing in the water when the rowboat was lowered into the frothing chop and dragged it into the little vessel, rescuing it from the watery grave from which he could not save so many men.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth BoyceElizabeth Boyce had a lifelong dream: to be an astronaut. She has recently made peace with the fact that this dream is unlikely to come to fruition. Good thing, then, she had another dream: to be an author. This dream comes true every single day, and she couldn’t be more grateful. Ms. Boyce lives in South Carolina with her husband, children, and her personal assistant/cat.

Find Elizabeth Boyce on Facebook, on Twitter @EBoyceRomance, and via email at bluestockingball@gmail.com.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Darcy’s Hope: Beauty From Ashes (Great War Romance #1) by Ginger Monette

Darcy's Hope

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Heartbroken. Devastated.

WWI Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy was rejected by the woman he loved and left grief-stricken over the loss of his men. “Enough!” Darcy vows, “No more sentimental entanglements. No comrades, no dog, and certainly no woman!”

But a covert assignment at a chateau-turned-field-hospital brings him face to face with his beloved Elizabeth–who’s working with a dashing American doctor and embroiled in the conspiracy he’s been sent to investigate.

Working side-by-side with her, Darcy is forced to examine his own heart and grapple with his feelings for her while searching for the traitors.

When a near-miraculous incident shatters the ice encasing his heart, he can only think of winning Elizabeth back. Will he be able to prove her innocence and build a lasting bridge with her before she’s condemned to a traitor’s noose?

Darcy can only hope….

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EXCERPT

Elizabeth Bennet raised her chin and gazed over the distant meadow. The morning sun shimmering off the water in the canal below and the quaint windmill on the adjacent rise beckoned her. She had never ventured down the face of the bluff to the canal, but she had plenty of time today, and the May weather was glorious.

Inching her way down, she steadied herself on rocks and branches protruding here and there, nearly losing her balance on the loose embankment. Finally reaching the bottom, she started towards the waterway. Rounding a knoll, she squinted into the sun at a tall silhouette of an officer peering down the canal through field glasses. Whatever he saw must have been intriguing, as he surveyed the horizon for quite some time. Nearing him, she opened her mouth to call out a greeting when a stick snapped under her foot. In one deft motion, the soldier whirled around and levelled his revolver at her.

“Don’t shoot!” Elizabeth cried, pleading her hands in surrender. It was Captain Darcy.

“What are you doing here?” he barked, lowering the firearm and glaring at her with flashing eyes of steel.

Her heart pounding, she bit back, “Perhaps I could ask the same of you.”

“That is not the point.” He reached out and grabbed her arm above the elbow, nearly shaking it in rage. “A lady has no business out here alone. There are men roaming about who have no thought for their future and would be only too happy to ravage an attractive woman such as yourself.”

She jerked her arm away. “I appreciate your concern, but I am quite capable of looking after myself. But it’s nice to know you now consider me attractive as there was a time I wasn’t handsome enough to tempt you.”

His face hardened. “If you were this obstinate towards your father’s authority, it is no wonder he gave up on your sisters and retreated to his stud—”

His eyes widened in shocked contrition, and his manner softened. “Forgive me. That was uncalled for and unkind. Please…trust me in this.”

“Trust you? You are asking me to trust you? After your reprehensible treatment of Lieutenant Wickham and your calculated separation of Charles from Jane, I have no reason to trust you.”

Darcy clenched his fist. “Perhaps had you read my letter explaining myself, you might think differently.”

“Letter? What letter?”

“The one I sent to Longbourn from London after our…encounter at the Hunsford parsonage. It detailed my dealings with Wickham and your sister. I suppose you were too prejudiced against me to even open it.”

She opened her mouth, then shut it, dumbfounded. Was it possible he had an explanation? She stayed an extra two weeks with Charlotte after the captain’s departure, but surely had a letter arrived at Longbourn, it would have been left with her other correspondence. Wouldn’t it?

He released a defeated sigh and broke the silence. “Although I no longer adhere to my principle that my good opinion once lost is lost forever, I suppose I cannot fault you for abiding by it. Good day, Miss Bennet.” He turned on his heel and strode away.

Elizabeth stepped back, wilting as she released a breath. Why did every encounter with him leave her breathless and weak-kneed? The tension that radiated between them was unlike anything she’d experienced before. It was somehow entrancing—both repelling and tantalising at the same time.

She headed towards the chateau and shook off the thoughts, not wanting to think on it any more.

…It is no wonder your father gave up on your sisters and retreated… She winced at the grain of truth. But she wasn’t the obstinate one, her sisters were.

She hastened her pace, but his words crept through to her consciousness again. A lady has no business out here alone….

She huffed at his presumptuousness. What made him such an expert on everything? She’d never seen anyone out here except the children who played with her stuffed dog, an occasional wagon on the road, or Sapper and his men at the cemetery. Under the captain’s authority, she’d already surrendered the dowager house and the annexe. She had no intention of following his every whim as if he were an omniscient god.

Besides, what was he doing out here gazing down the canal? Didn’t he go to the ward at the school every day?

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ginger monetteGinger Monette won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize for her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey.

She lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Tempt a Viscount (Entangled Nobility #1) by Naomi Boom

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Lady Laura Rosing knows two things: first, she will marry for love, and second, she detests rakes. When she meets Lord Gavin Farris, she understands immediately that he fails both her criteria, and worse yet, he is an absolute cad who refuses to leave her be.

Lord Farris has always appreciated women and cannot understand why Lady Laura is so resistant to his charms. While pretty, she is not his usual type, but something about her intrigues him. Much to his chagrin, he finds himself desperately in love with her, but he may be too late. His adamant refusal to marry just might have planted her firmly in the arms of another.

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EXCERPT

A large, intimidating figure stood framed in the doorway. She feared the erratic thumps of her heart would betray her apprehension as the notorious Lord Farris stepped into the library. He had clearly just come in from the outdoors, as he was still attired in his greatcoat and perfectly polished Hessian boots. The smell of the frigid fall air and an enticing male scent of horses and cigars wafted to where Laura was standing. Her nostrils flared slightly as she caught the pleasant aroma, but aside from that one slight movement, she remained rooted in her place.

Lord Farris stood momentarily still in the door frame. His bold, dark eyebrows slanted across his face above dark and foreboding eyes, which currently assessed her. Laura had never been so nervous in her life or more annoyed that she was now alone with a renowned rake.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” he lazily drawled as his eyes took in her fully-clothed, albeit messy, figure. His appraising look changed to a charming smile. “Tell me your name, darling.”

Laura stood transfixed as a smile transformed his face. The stirrings of an unfamiliar emotion began to build in her stomach, but she shook herself from her trance. She absolutely detested rakes. Not that she had met many, but she had seen Lord Farris at a ball once and had been ashamed for the multitudes of women who had swooned over him. Rakes held no allure for her, especially alone at night. “I will not,” she finally said frigidly as she stepped toward the door. “Now, kindly remove yourself from my path so I may leave.”

Lord Farris ignored her request and bowed elegantly. “Well, let me start off the introductions then. I am Lord Farris.” Somehow his demeanor managed to convey what an honor it was to meet him, all while acting as though he did not care.

Laura continued her approach until she was standing in front of him. Placing a hand firmly on her hip, she looked up at him and said haughtily, “I guess we are bypassing all rules of etiquette tonight.”

He appeared to consider her words momentarily until a smirk appeared on his overly handsome face. “All rules?”

Blood rushed to Laura’s face as she processed the meaning of his words. She had never been so insulted in her life. For once, she wished Eleanor was here. Her cousin would know just what to say to a cad such as Lord Farris.

Laura did not want to be the sort to crumble in the face of adversity, so she mustered her courage and said, “Hardly, my lord. A lady does not do such things.”

He raised a skeptical eyebrow at her while his eyes skimmed her from head to foot. “A lady?”

She stiffened. Why was he questioning her status? She knew her appearance was somewhat lacking presently, but she was certainly a lady. Anger coursed through her, overtaking common sense and her tongue. “Yes, a lady. And this lady knows you are not as attractive as you think, so please remove yourself from my path.”

Lord Farris’s dark eyes bored into hers before he stepped predatorily closer to her. He gazed down at her with his dark, smoldering eyes and said, “You do not truly believe that. Judging by your dilated pupils and the blush on your skin, you find me incredibly attractive.”

Laura scoffed and backed up a step. She needed room to breathe. “You would like that, wouldn’t you?” She gulped nervously as his eyes narrowed, and he took a step closer to her. Naturally, she continued to reverse her step until her back hit the bookcase.
He smiled as he slowly removed the glass of water from her hand and set it on the bookcase. He then brought his hands to either side of her and leaned in until their faces were mere inches apart. “Yes, I would like that very much. Unfortunately, I am too much of a gentleman to act on our mutual attraction.”

As he spoke, Laura could not seem to take her eyes away from his full lips, at least until his words sank in. Her eyes regained their focus as she realized he was standing much too near. This was precisely why she preferred normal gentlemen. They did not act strangely.

“Are you sure you are a gentleman?” Laura asked derisively. She immediately regretted her impulsive retort. He was just too near to her for her mind to perform rationally, otherwise she was sure she would have behaved herself.

One eyebrow lifted in question as he grinned wickedly. “Are you asking me not to conduct myself as a gentleman?”

His dark smile and wicked words made Laura pause as she stared at his lips, so near to her own. Her stomach was in knots, and she did not know if she should slap him or kiss him. She had never been kissed, but right now, she wanted his lips on hers more than anything. In Laura’s heart of hearts, she wished, just a little bit, that he would not behave as a gentleman. She could not form words, however, and only managed to shake her head slightly as common sense prevailed.

“In that case, my dear, I suggest you run along.” His feet moved silently as he stepped away from her, but Laura could not budge until he growled, “Go, or we both shall regret what happens.”

Her feet grew wings as she flew out the door and down the dark hallway. As she rounded a corner, she realized she had left her water on the bookshelf, although her bread and book were still clutched in her other hand. No matter how strong her thirst, she would never return downstairs now. Not when he was there.

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NaomiBoompicNaomi Boom is a 27-year-old stay-at-home mom with a newly discovered love for writing. Her inspiration struck when she was searching for the perfect historical romance novel to read. Nothing sounded appealing, so she decided she would write her own. That one novel has morphed to a series and, hopefully, many, many more.

She currently resides in Kansas with her family but has her eyes firmly planted on an acreage in eastern South Dakota. Once her husband retires from the United States Army, they will return to her home state.

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VIRTUAL TOUR: The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

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An earl hiding from his future . . . 

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least, that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.

A swindler haunted by his past . . . 

Georgie Turner has made his life pretending to be anyone but himself. A swindler and con man, he can slip into an identity faster than he can change clothes. But when his long-dead conscience resurrects and a dangerous associate is out for blood, Georgie escapes to the wilds of Cornwall. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl.

Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives? 

Challenging each other at every turn, the two men soon give into the desire that threatens to overwhelm them. But with one man convinced he is at the very brink of madness and the other hiding his real identity, only true love can make this an affair to remember.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, February 2017
Time and Setting: London and Cornwall, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lawrence Browne Affair CoverCat Sebastian’s wonderful début historical romance, The Soldier’s Scoundrel, in which former thief-turned-valet-turned-private investigator, Jack Turner, was called upon to investigate a nasty case of blackmail and found love along the way in the unlikely form of Oliver Rivington, younger son of an earl  – was one of my favourite books of 2016.  Historical romance as it should be done, the book has a sharp eye for period detail and some degree of social comment as well as strong characterisation and, of course, a beautifully written romance between two characters that hold the readers’ attention and, in this case, gained my affection, too.

Naturally, I’ve eagerly been looking forward to Ms. Sebastian’s next novel and hoping for more of the same – and I’m pleased to report that she doesn’t disappoint.  While The Lawrence Browne Affair doesn’t quite top the appeal of the previous book, it’s nonetheless a superbly written story which addresses some difficult themes while showing, at its heart, that everyone needs love, acceptance and understanding, even though it’s sometimes difficult to believe one is deserving of it.

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is plagued by a family history of madness.  He lives alone in his dilapidated castle in the wilds of Cornwall, where he devotes his life and entire focus to scientific pursuits, and, at the moment, is working on a method of conveying messages through a complicated system of wires; what we might today call a primitive method of telegraphy.  His experiments have resulted in explosions, fires and other mayhem, and as a result of that, and the rumours that he is unhinged, the locals give him a wide berth.  Lawrence also thinks that the fact that he is attracted to men is yet more proof of his affliction and he fully expects that the madness that claimed his father and brother will eventually do for him, too.  He has given up on ever living a normal life; he doesn’t bother about his appearance, hardly remembers to eat and doesn’t care about his home or estate – and the only person with whom he has any regular interaction or something approaching friendship is the local vicar, the Reverend Halliday.  He genuinely cares for Lawrence, and when he hears rumours that Lawrence’s family may be taking steps to have him legally declared incompetent and locked up, he writes to his old school friend, Oliver Rivington, to ask him to find the earl a secretary, someone who can vouch for him if his sanity is ever called into question – and because Lawrence badly needs a secretary.

The vicar’s request arrives at an opportune time for Georgie Turner, thief, swindler and con-artist extraordinare who is also Jack Turner’s younger brother.  His latest scam has gone badly awry, with the result that the local crime lord is out for revenge – so when Jack asks him to go to Cornwall to see what he can find out about the Mad Earl, Georgie is only too pleased to get out of London.  He’s not really qualified to be a secretary, but he needs to get away from town to think things through and besides, Radnor might prove an easy mark.  Once a con-man, always a con-man…

Arrived at the crumbling Penkellis Castle, Georgie is utterly horrified at the state of both the earl and his home, unable to believe that a gentleman would want to live in such a mess and be so careless of his wardrobe and personal hygene.  Nonetheless, he sets to work straight away, starting to organise Lawrence’s letters and papers even though the earl, who is resistant to any kind of change, tries to get him to leave by behaving aggressively and unpleasantly.  But Georgie has quickly realised that while Lawrence is different, surly and quite brilliant, he is not insane; and also discovers that he actually enjoys his secretarial duties and is very good at them.  Once Lawrence accepts Georgie’s presence, the pair strikes up a comfortable working relationship that soon grows into a genuine friendship.  There’s also a strong undercurrent of mutual attraction, but Lawrence believes his madness means he cannot have a relationship with anyone, and in any case, he refuses to allow himself to be attracted to a man.  Georgie realises that Lawrence struggles to accept change and the reader will recognise that what Lawrence sees as episodes of madness are in fact, intense panic attacks whenever he is confronted with the prospect of something that doesn’t fit into his established patterns.  Cleverly, Georgie begins to make small, subtle changes to Lawrence’s daily life in order to make things easier for him, but he never attempts to change the man himself.  Sure, he needs a shave, haircut, new clothes, servants and a stable, ordered environment, but most of all, he needs to recognise that he is not mad and to see that he is entitled to love and be loved.

There are a couple of intriguing secondary plotlines in the book running alongside the romance, but this is essentially the story of two people who have to make a major re-evaluation of their self-perception if they are going to be able to accept love and make a future together.  Georgie has spent most of his twenty-five years cheating and swindling, having done whatever it took to get out of the poverty into which he was born and determined never to go back there.  He’s always compartmentalised his life and likes it that way, but the sudden and unwelcome intrusion of a conscience casts all that to the winds, and he’s left wondering exactly who he is – and whether he will ever be able to go back to his old life.  Or if he even wants to.

The relationship between them is beautifully drawn, and Ms. Sebastian does a terrific job showing their growing understanding of each other.   Lawrence realises that Georgie is trapped by his view of himself as nothing but a worthless thief; Georgie wants to free Lawrence from the restrictions and judgements he has imposed upon himself due to his supposed madness.  Each helps the other to begin to see himself in a different light, and it’s wonderful to watch that happening at the same time as the attraction and affection between them deepens into love.  It’s perhaps true that Lawrence’s turn-around from believing his attraction to men is part of his madness to embarking upon a physical relationship with Georgie happens a little quickly, but that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a very well-developed romance.

The Lawrence Browne Affair is only Cat Sebastian’s second published novel, yet her writing is so accomplished and assured that it’s almost difficult to believe that to be the case.  If you enjoy historical romances with a strong sense of period, fully-rounded, complex characters, a sensual love story and a nice dash of humour, then this book – and its predecessor – is highly recommended.

EXCERPT

Cornwall, 1816

All this fuss about a couple of small explosions. As far as Lawrence cared, the explosions were entirely beside the point. He had finished experimenting with fuses weeks ago. More importantly, this was his house to burn to the ground if that’s what he wanted to do with it. Hell, if he blew the godforsaken place up, and himself right along with it, the only person who would even be surprised was the man sitting before him.

“Five servants quit,” Halliday said, tapping Lawrence’s desk in emphasis. Dust puffed up in tiny clouds around the vicar’s fingertips. “Five. And you were woefully understaffed even before then.”

Five fewer servants? So that was why the house had been so pleasantly quiet, why his work had been so blissfully undisturbed.

“There was no danger to the servants. You know I keep them away from my work.” That was something Lawrence insisted on even when he wasn’t exploding things. The very idea of chattering maids underfoot was enough to discompose his mind even further. “And I conducted most of the actual explosions out of doors.” Now was probably not the time to mention that he had blown the roof off the conservatory.

“All I’m suggesting is a sort of secretary.” Halliday was dangerously unaware of how close he was to witnessing an explosion of the metaphorical variety. “Somebody to keep records of what you’ve mixed together and whether it’s likely to”—he puffed his cheeks out and made a strange noise and an expansive gesture that Lawrence took to represent explosion—“ignite.”

The Reverend Arthur Halliday did not know what was good for him. If he did, he would have fled the room as soon as he saw Lawrence reach for the inkwell. Lawrence’s fingers closed around the object, preparing to hurl it at the wall behind the vicar’s head. Sod the man for even suggesting Lawrence didn’t know how to cause an explosion. He hadn’t invented Browne’s Improved Black Powder or even that bloody safety fuse through blind luck, for God’s sake.

“Besides,” Halliday went on, “you said you need an extra set of hands for this new device you’re working on.”

Oh, damn and blast. Lawrence knew he shouldn’t have told the vicar. But he had hoped Halliday might volunteer to help with the device himself, not badger Lawrence into hiring some stranger. The vicar was convenient enough, and when he wasn’t dead set on sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, he wasn’t entirely unpleasant company.

“I’ve had secretaries,” Lawrence said from between gritted teeth. “It ends badly.”

“Well, obviously, but that’s because you go out of your way to terrify them.” Halliday glanced pointedly at the inkwell Lawrence still held.

And there again was Halliday missing the point entirely. Lawrence didn’t need to go out of his way to frighten anyone. All he had to do was simply exist. Everyone with any sense kept a safe distance from the Mad Earl of Radnor, as surely as they stayed away from rabid dogs and coiled asps. And explosive devices, for that matter.
Except for the vicar, who came to Penkellis Castle three times a week. He likely also called on bedridden old ladies and visited the workhouse. Maybe his other charity cases were grateful, but the notion that he was the vicar’s good deed made Lawrence’s fingers curl grimly around the inkwell as he plotted its trajectory through the air.

“I’ll take care of the details,” Halliday was saying. “I’ll write the advertisement and handle the inquiries. A good secretary might even be able to manage the household a bit,” the vicar said with the air of a man warming to his topic, “get it into a fit condition for the child—”

“No.” Lawrence didn’t raise his voice, but he slammed his fist onto the desk, causing ink to splatter all over the blotter and the cuff of his already-inky shirt. A stack of papers slid from the desk onto the floor, leaving a single dustless patch of wood where they had been piled. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a spider scurry out from under the papers.

“True,” Halliday continued, undaunted. “A housekeeper would be more appropriate, but—”

“No.” Lawrence felt the already fraying edges of his composure unraveling fast. “Simon is not coming here.”

“You can’t keep him off forever, you know, now that he’s back in England. It’s his home, and he’ll own it one day.”

When Lawrence was safely dead and buried, Simon was welcome to come here and do what he pleased. “I don’t want him here.” Penkellis was no place for a child, madmen were not fit guardians, and nobody knew those facts better than Lawrence himself, who had been raised under precisely those conditions.

Halliday sighed. “Even so, Radnor, you have to do something about this.” He gestured around the room, which Lawrence thought looked much the same as ever. One hardly even noticed the scorch marks unless one knew where to look. “It can’t be safe to live in such a way.”

Safety was not a priority, but even Lawrence wasn’t mad enough to try to explain that to the vicar.

“Villagers won’t even walk past the garden wall anymore. And the stories they invent…” The vicar wrung his hands.

“A secretary. Please. It would ease my mind to know you had someone up here with you.”

A keeper, then. Even worse.

But Lawrence did need another set of hands to work on the communication device. If Halliday wouldn’t help, then Lawrence had no other options. God knew Halliday had been right about the local people not wanting anything to do with him.

“Fine,” he conceded. “You write the advertisement and tell me when to expect the man.” He’d say what he needed to in order to end this tiresome conversation and send the vicar on his way.

It wasn’t as if this secretary would last more than a week or two anyway. Lawrence would see to that.

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CatCat 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.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: And Then Mine Enemy (Feathers in the Wind #1) by Alison Stuart

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A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first-hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.
Having escaped a loveless marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

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EXCERPT

July 1642

A shudder of rain slewed across the sodden countryside, sending its cold fingers cutting through Adam’s already saturated cloak. He huffed out a misty breath and straightened his aching shoulders. Not for the first time he cursed his brother for summoning him to a meeting Adam knew would inevitably end in grief and recrimination.

The remote inn loomed out of the gloaming and led on by the cheerful light spilling through the front windows, Adam urged his weary horse forward. The miserable beast, the mud dragging at its every step, plodded forward.

A young boy ran from the stable, a sack over his head and shoulders. Adam threw him the reins and, taking a deep breath, strode into the inn. He tossed his hat and gloves to the innkeeper, his numbed fingers fumbled at the ties of his cloak

‘His Lordship’s in the private parlour.’ The innkeeper scowled as he held the dripping garb at arm’s length.

Adam pushed open the door the man indicated. The two men seated beside a cheerful fire that burned in the wide hearth rose to their feet. His half-brothers schooled their faces to a neutrality that Adam knew would not last. As they faced him across the room, a growing sense of despondency gripped him as he stood before them. Once more the cuckoo in the nest, always the acknowledged baseborn son but not even given the protection of his father’s name.

Denzil Marchant, just as Adam remembered him, tall and powerful, with a mane of tawny hair like his father, and his younger brother Robin, as tall but of a slighter, elegant build, his hair more auburn and sleekly curling.

‘Denzil, Robin,’ Adam acknowledged them as he stepped into the room. ‘I wish I could say, well met, but I would be lying.’

‘Adam Coulter.’ The deliberate use of his full name jarred, as Denzil no doubt intended. ‘I would scarcely have recognized you. Hardly the darling of the court now, are you?’

‘I found lovelocks and pearl earrings something of a hindrance to the life of a soldier.’ Without waiting to be invited, Adam poured himself a full measure from the bottle of wine that stood on the table, hoping that they would not mark that his hand shook.

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Alison Stuart picAward winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion for history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Heart You Need by Diane R. Jewkes

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When society reporter Adeline Ellsworth’s cousin, a police inspector, is murdered in 1896 San Francisco, she immediately sets out to uncover the truth. This could be her chance to leave frivolous fashion gossip behind for a career reporting on important issues. But her investigation leads to danger—and she wakes up tied to Alec McCairn, Lord Peyton.

In California to set up a new office, the Scottish peer definitely wasn’t looking for a romantic entanglement, especially with an independent, opinionated reporter. But he suspects the beguiling Adeline is in over her head and too proud to ask for help. He vows to protect her, no matter how hard she balks.

A widow, Adeline guards her heart carefully and doesn’t want Alec ruining her chance to expose this corruption, no matter how attractive or charming he is. But then the main suspect kidnaps her younger brother and demands Adeline’s research as ransom. To save him and crack the case, they must work together. But the biggest mystery they end up solving might just be how to capture each other’s heart.

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EXCERPT

San Francisco, 1896

Opening his eyes, Alec MacCairn groaned. Pain radiated from the lump on the back of his head. A lantern hanging from a hook gave off a dull yellow glow that did little to light the room. Rough wooden walls, some crates, and bits of broken wood didn’t offer many clues, though the quiet slapping of waves against a wooden hull and a small porthole on one wall gave him an idea of where he might be. Flexing his arms, he knew they were tied behind him and someone was at his back. What the hell happened? he thought, anger roaring through him.

“This is all your fault,” a familiar female voice said. “You do know that, don’t you?”

Dropping his chin to his chest, he realized he was not alone—and just whom he was bound to.

“How in that twisted brain of yours can you possibly think that?” he asked. “In no way did my attempt to stop your meddling get us here. I can assure you, Miss Ellsworth, this sits squarely on your shoulders.” He had approached her at the mayor’s party earlier in the evening. He’d recognized her as the reporter who’d interviewed him for the society column of her newspaper. He still didn’t know why she had been acting so secretive, hiding behind columns and scribbling notes on a small pad. He had pulled her aside to ask what she was doing, when they’d been attacked.

Pain ripped through his shoulders. He knew Adeline Ellsworth was twisting her body around as much as the ropes would allow, trying to look at him. “Of all the … If you hadn’t alerted those miscreants to our presence, we wouldn’t be in this conundrum now!”

“I was trying to protect you from yourself.”

“And see how well that worked.”

Alec could feel her against his back, wriggling like a worm on a hook, trying to loosen the ropes that bound them together.

“Stop squirming so I can think,” he snapped. “When we are out of this, you have a great deal of explaining to do.”

“You have ruined months of investigation. I’ll never find out what really happened.” The anger in her voice was palpable.

“It was your blasted eavesdropping that got us in this mess,” Alec grumbled. “If you hadn’t tried to listen to conversations not meant for you, we wouldn’t be here now.”

“That’s what I do, Lord MacCairn.” He could hear the disdain in her voice as she used proper address. Even though he had told her when they first met it was unnecessary, she persisted. At first she’d called him Viscount Peyton until he made it clear he would not accept the address from an American. “I am a reporter. I try to tell the world of the injustices being done.”

“I’m sorry, aren’t you a society photographer and reporter? I didn’t know I was in the presence of Nellie Bly.”

“I am working toward being taken seriously as a journalist. This investigation is part of that.”

“Well that won’t help get us out of these ties, now will it?” Alec flexed his wrists, trying to stretch the ropes. He could feel Miss Ellsworth trying to follow suit.

He noted that while their hands were tied to each other, their legs were tied separately. Hers were tied together, while his were stretched to the sides and tied to the chair legs. If one of them could reach down and get the sgian-dubh from his boot, he could cut them loose. Twisting against the ropes, he tried to see her over his shoulder.

“Miss Ellsworth, do you think you can lean to your left and reach my ankle?”

“Why?”

“There is a small knife tucked into the top of my boot.” He felt himself being pulled to the side as she stretched to reach his calf. As her fingers crawled down his leg, the random thought crossed his mind of how pleasant that would be in another time and place.

“I’ve got it!” she cried triumphantly as she straightened back up, instantly easing the ripping pain in his shoulder. “Can you feel it?”

He stretched and twisted his fingers until he felt the smooth steel of the knife blade. Wrapping his fingers around it carefully, he took the knife from her, rotated it until he grasped the handle, and positioned the blade alongside her wrist.

“Try not to move, so I don’t hurt you.” Alec closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of the blade, keeping it from twisting and cutting into her skin. After what seemed an eternity, the rope parted and their arms separated. He pulled his arms up, removing the remnants of rope dangling from his wrists. Leaning over, he cut the ropes binding his ankles, stood, and turned to free Miss Ellsworth. When he saw the raw red skin where the rope had chafed her, his temper flared.

“Hold still while I cut the ropes on your ankles.” He leaned down, gently grasping her leg. “Are you injured?” The knife easily sliced her free.

“Other than a little stiffness and raw skin, I am fine. Thank you.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DianeJ2Diane grew up in the deserts of New Mexico, riding her horse for hours and creating characters and stories along the way. After graduating with a degree in journalism and a minor in history, she married and had two wonderful children. Now a grandmother of three and living in Colorado, she has brought those characters to life in her books.

She is a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Hearts Through History Romance Writers (HHRW), and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW).

Find Diane R. Jewkes at www.dianerjewkes.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @DianeRJewkes.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love and the Shameless Lady by Barbara Monajem

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Disgraced lady Daisy Warren serves ale in a tumbledown inn, sings crude songs for the smugglers, and writes romantic novels in her spare time. Shunned by her own class, she’s resigned to her lowly life—until someone tries to kill her.

Gentleman spy Sir Julian Kerr noses out seditionists and traitors. When he visits the inn to investigate two suspicious Frenchmen, he meets the lovely but hostile Daisy. He doesn’t intend to get involved with her—but then he learns that someone is threatening her life.

He wants to find out more—it’s part of his investigation.
He wants to protect her—he’s a chivalrous man.
He just wants her.
But will Daisy’s bitter past allow her to risk love again?

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EXCERPT

Julian intended to find out whether the Frenchmen were spies. In the meantime, he played darts middling well and got mildly soused on ale.

“Daisy! Daisy!” One of the locals pounded the table with his empty tankard.

Another joined in. “Aye, play for us, Daisy!”

Julian raised his brows at Mr. Bennett, who returned the slightest shrug.

Daisy opened the kitchen door and scowled at them, arms akimbo. “I’m busy, you louts. Do you or don’t you want bread to eat?”

“Aw, leave the baking to Sally,” said the one who’d called her first. “Play for us, love.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. “I’m writing a recipe. I can’t play just now.” She rejected their pleas with a swing of the hips that would have done justice to any tavern slut.
Julian wondered if perhaps he’d drunk too much ale.

“Daisy! Daisy!” Soon they were all banging the tables with tankards and fists.
Appalled, Julian felt himself darkening with rage. He caught the amused gaze of Mr. Bennett, who shook his head. “Leave them be.”

Devil take him, he was as bad as the rest. Julian half stood, fists clenched. He would knock a few heads together, throw a few punches . . .

A pair of firm hands pushed him into his chair again. Behind him, his fingers gripping Julian’s shoulders, Mr. Bennett called out, “Come, Miss Daisy, kindly grace us with your presence.”

“Go,” Sally said from behind the kitchen door. “I’ll take care of the bloody bread.”

Daisy muttered something unintelligible.

“I’ll take it out when it’s done. I’ll write down how long it took.”

“But—” Daisy began.

“Coward,” Sally said in a stage whisper.

Julian shoved Mr. Bennett off and leapt to his feet.

“You’ll regret this, Sally.” Daisy stormed into the room.

***

Pure humiliation.

Daisy glowered at the drunken revelers. One would think she’d be accustomed by now, but no. She was used to playing for the smugglers. She even enjoyed it. Liked acting coy and mock-threatening Sally for teasing her. But to play and sing bawdy songs while Sir Julian Kerr watched . . . oh, the mortification was enough to make her ill.

Which was absurd, as she didn’t give a hedgehog’s arse what the man thought of her. She’d been nowhere near as mortified in front of that Frenchman, Bonaventure, who often came to stay for a few days. Perhaps this was because Sir Julian knew she was a lady, whilst the Frenchman didn’t. Damn Mr. Bennett for introducing her properly.

Sir Julian rose to his feet upon her entrance, a fearsome scowl on his handsome face.

Oh, God, he probably thought she’d been insulted. Well, to hell with him. She didn’t need defending. She would show him just how low she had become.
She sashayed over to the frightful old pianoforte. She had become quite accomplished at swaying her hips like a lightskirt. With a murmured apology for displacing it, she pushed the kitchen cat gently off the bench and sat down.

Whoops and cheers greeted her. She ran her fingers up and down the keys and played the opening bars of “Watkin’s Ale,” which was the least bawdy song they might enjoy. It even had a moral, one that didn’t quite apply to her, as she luckily hadn’t become pregnant when she’d given in to her lust for a smuggler.

She led them through all eight verses, glancing after three or four at Sir Julian. He was slouched in his chair, eyeing her with . . . what? Disbelief? Disgust?

She’d give him something to truly disgust him. She didn’t always take requests, but tonight, why not? Most of the men were smugglers, many of them sailors, so their taste in songs was horrid.

With a flourish, she played the final chords of “Watkin’s Ale.” “What next, boys? Tonight it’s your turn to choose.”

They roared with approval and shouted their requests.

***

Julian stared, both aroused and appalled. She was behaving like a common whore.

No, perhaps not a common one. Most whores couldn’t play the pianoforte so very well. She had a pleasant singing voice, too, although after leading them through “Watkin’s Ale,” she merely played the accompaniment.

Rightly so. Any decent woman, and many an indecent one, would balk at some of those lyrics. More than bawdy, they were downright vile, which was hardly surprising considering how many of the men were sailors. Good God, someone had even put a lewd poem by the Earl of Rochester to music.

He watched Daisy’s face for some sign of mortification. None. She was extremely competent on the keyboard, hardly glancing at it as she moved from one key to another, one song to the next. The instrument was out of tune, but that didn’t seem to matter. She smirked and winked at the men, jested at their requests, glowered at Mr. Bennett, and avoided Julian’s eyes entirely.

Did that mean she was embarrassed by his presence? Perhaps. Or perhaps because he was so strongly attracted to her, he was seeking redeeming qualities where there were none.

In any event, it was his mission to fit in, so he clapped and cheered with the rest, even joining in when he knew the lyrics.

At last, when they were all uproariously drunk on songs and ale, she played “Hush-a-Bye Baby.” They all laughed. Evidently a lullaby meant she was done. She ignored the few desultory pleas for more, curtsied lavishly, and was gone.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winner of the Holt Medallion, Maggie, Daphne du Maurier, Reviewer’s Choice and Epic awards, Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to paranormal mysteries and Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa).

Barbara loves to cook, especially soups. There are only two items on her bucket list: to make asparagus pudding (because it’s too weird to resist) and succeed at knitting socks. She may manage the first but doubts she’ll ever accomplish the second. This is not a bid for immortality but merely the dismal truth. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

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