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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: How to Bewilder a Lord (How To #3) by Ally Broadfield

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Gavin Corey, the Earl of Thornbrook, has shed his rakish ways in the hope of winning Lady Louisa Adair’s heart, but neither she nor her parents consider him a suitable match. He convinces her to join forces with him to locate a missing family treasure by proposing a wager: if he finds the jewels, Lady Louisa must allow him to court her, but if she prevails, he must reveal the secret he’s keeping from her.

Lady Louisa might be the most sought after lady on the marriage mart, but she values her independence above all else and has no interest in giving up her inheritance to marry. As she spends more time with the charming earl, however, she starts to wonder if he’s worth risking her inheritance and her family’s disapproval… until she’s confronted with a scandal from his past.

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EXCERPT

Louisa had ordered tea to be served in the library. Thornbrook picked up a biscuit and popped it into his mouth, perhaps to delay reading more awkward passages. She contemplated doing the same.

“Is love really any different from lust?”

He coughed, and she thought for a moment she might have to pound on his back to free the obstruction. She poured tea into a cup and handed it to him. Nodding his thanks, he took a large gulp. Luckily it had been steeping for some time, so it hadn’t been too hot.

“I think this is an inappropriate conversation that would cause your father to throw me out of the house if he caught wind of it.”

She raised a brow. “But he’s not here.”

He glared at her. “Let’s just stick to the clues and ignore everything else.”

Louisa snorted. “Certainly, because that will be easy.”

He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Behave.”

She shivered at his warm breath tingling across the shell of her ear.

After settling back into his spot, he picked up the journal again. “Didn’t the woman have any hobbies? Household responsibilities maybe?” He pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his brow. “I think I miss the boring recitations of the household accounts.”

Louisa narrowed her eyes. “Just read the next passage.”

He sighed dramatically. “‘He kissed his way down my neck. Liquid heat pooled between my legs, and when his hand slid up between my legs and touched my—’ I cannot read the rest to you.”

Louisa opened her mouth to speak. He jumped up and clamped his hand over the entire lower part of her face.

“Don’t. Say. A. Word. Not one.”

“But I don’t understand.”

Thornbrook made a strange, squeaky sound, then fell facedown onto the sofa. His body shook. “I should hope not,” he said, his voice muffled by the cushion.

Her stomach dropped. “Are you laughing at me?” It wasn’t her fault she didn’t have any knowledge of these sorts of things. Ladies weren’t supposed to, were they? Her confidence shattered, she turned away from him.

He popped up and pushed his hair back from his face, then took her hand. “I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at the absurdity of our situation, with me reading the wildly inappropriate musings of your granny to you, a proper lady and the daughter of a duke. If they knew, your entire family would be lined up, each awaiting their turn to fillet me.”

She refused to meet his eyes. “No one seemed to mind when Isa read the journal.” She sounded like a petulant child, even to her own ears, but she couldn’t help it.

He brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “That’s different. She wasn’t family yet. I suspect her father and brother would have minded very much if they had known.”

“Her father died several years ago.”

“Yes, well, your father is very much alive and won’t hesitate to kill me.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ally has worked as a horse trainer, director of marketing and development, freelance proofreader, and a children’s librarian, among other things. None of them were as awesome as writing romance novels (though the librarian gig came closest). She lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, four dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and assorted reptiles. Oh, and her husband.

Ally likes to curse in Russian because very few people know what she’s saying, and spends most of what would be her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She has many stories in her head looking for an opportunity to escape onto paper. She writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia.

You can find Ally on her website, Facebook, and Twitter, though she makes no claims of using any of them properly. For information about contests and new releases, join her mailing list.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Romance Readers Guide to Historic London by Sonja Rouillard

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Written specifically for the 30 million historical romance fans in U.S., the Romance Readers Guide to Historic London offers everything you want to know about the famous London sights in romance novels. In the “Then and Now” chapter (nearly half the book), learn the back-stories of places such as Almack’s, Bedlam, and White’s, and whether they’re still around or can be visited. Hear fascinating anecdotes, like which princesses stayed where or which upstairs maid married up. More than 130 photos and “Then and Now” illustrations show how these places have changed over the centuries. There’s a foreword by NY Times best-selling author Sabrina Jeffries, and romance excerpts by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and today’s best selling authors to add delightful flavor to the places described (included are Victoria Alexander, Mary Balogh, Lynne Connolly, Tessa Dare, Elizabeth Hoyt, Erin Knightley, Johanna Lindsey, and Delilah Marvelle).

The Guide is an entertaining read for the armchair traveler curled up by the fire with a warm cup of tea. But, it’s an essential resource for anyone who wants to experience old-world London first hand. Enjoy an authentic Afternoon Tea in a charming salon or play princess sleeping in a four-poster bed or even a castle! With historical maps, insider tips, and “~for the guys” highlights, the Guide will make it easy for even a rookie traveler to hit all the historic-romance highlights. The Romance Readers Guide to Historic London is your companion to the London of Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency, and Victorian times, whether in the comfort of your own home or on that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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EXCERPT

Chapter 3: Then and Now

~ Famous historical sites mostly from romance novels and what they are now

Historical romance novels come to life for readers partly because they are set in places that were a real part of the culture of the period. When I first started reading them, I wondered whether these settings were genuine historical places or just representational—and mostly they are, or were at one time, real. More recently, I’ve wondered which ones still exist and whether I can visit them. The answer to that is yes and no—read on to find out which ones are still around. Here are the stories of these fascinating places, in alphabetical order:

“A’s”

The Albany: 1774–present

THEN: Built originally as a three-story mansion in the Palladian style, it was twice sold when the owners, first Viscount Melbourne and later Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (supplier of the building’s moniker) fell short of money. In 1802, it was converted into 69 “sets,” and thus was launched what is believed to be the first apartment block in London. The Albany has a place in literary history, serving as bachelor residences to many writers, artists, and later photographers over its 250-year life. Fictitious gentlemen—by Dickens, Wilde, and the lesser-known Hornung—have resided here as well. The “place for the fashionable thrifty” wrote Marmion Wilard Savage in his 1848 The Bachelor of Albany and, as such, has been home to a number of aristocratic men, both wealthy and not: in total, 2 earls, 1 baron, 6 knights, 5 lords, and even a prime minister. “Men” is the operative word here, as women weren’t allowed inside the front door until after 1880. Sounding like the plot of a romance novel, Lady Caroline Lamb snuck into the Albany dressed as a pageboy to get around the no-women rule hoping to see her former lover Lord Byron, c.1815. She didn’t. In response to the note she left, pleading, “Remember me!” Byron wrote this enchanting ditty:

Remember thee! Aye, doubt it not.
Thy husband too shall think of thee:
By neither shalt thou be forgot,
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!

There are real-life connections to romance fiction as well. Jane Austen’s favorite brother Henry had his banking concern there for a time. But most exciting for me, Georgette Heyer—the author often credited with creating the Regency romance genre—lived in flat F.3 from 1942 to 1966. During these 24 years, Heyer penned 19 novels—among them, such famous works as Arabella, The Grand Sophy, and Frederica—while literally walking in the footsteps of Regency bucks who had roamed there more than a century earlier.

NOW: The Grade I listed Albany is occasionally referred to in current romances as the abode of an impoverished noble, and in actuality continues to exist as an apartment complex of the “utmost gentility and refinement,” literally. A board of trustees enforces the requirement that tenants comport themselves to this high standard. While nowadays women may live there, rules forbidding children and pets remain along with, reportedly, no whistling and no publicity. Rarely a “set” sells on the open market for £2 million plus, but the truly fortunate live there at rent-controlled rates that would turn any big city dweller green with envy.

Lucky is the guest that is invited inside to visit a friend in this peaceful oasis in the heart of London complete with a garden in the center and a 100-foot covered walkway called the Rope Walk. This author had the pleasure of a very brief visit—upon hearing about my research mission a kindly porter gave me a quick tour through the mansion’s lobby and down the famous Rope Walk. It was exciting to make it past the front door, but alas no photos could be taken. So, intrepid travellers, you can certainly walk into the front courtyard on Piccadilly Street and climb the stairs to peer in the door as I did—who knows, perhaps someone will allow you a quick trip inside as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sonja Rouillard is a successful writer of fiction and non-fiction. Recently, she launched an erotic romance career under the name Kate Allure with two books from Sourcebooks (Playing Doctor and Lawyer Up), receiving high praise: “The sensuality and sexuality are palpable…4 Stars!” & “Escapism of the richest, most decadent variety.” —RT Book Reviews. “Intense chemistry, great characterization, and a kinky page-singeing ending will have readers clamoring for more.” —Publishers Weekly. Besides being a huge fan of historical romance, Sonja’s other great love is travel and seeking unusual, off-the-beaten-path experiences. China, Monte Carlo, Bora Bora, Mexico, and Poland are among the many foreign countries she’s visited. Sonja lives in California with her husband of 26 years, 3 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a Flemish Giant rabbit.

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VIRTUAL TOUR: Loveweaver by Tracy Ann Miller

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The year is 895. Slayde’s job as an top military leader of Kent is to rid England of the last of the Viking raiders. But Llyrica is no ordinary Viking. She’s a beauty with a mysterious past … and a talent for weaving song spells. Even as Slayde saves her from drowning, he knows Llyrica will be a dangerous distraction.

Llyrica is now a stranger in a strange land on a mission to fulfill a deathbed promise. But she must also find her missing brother. This man, Slayde, known as The StoneHeart in his country, seems determined to block her at every turn. And yet she can’t help but be drawn to the affectionate, loving side of him that awakens when he sleeps – The sleepwalker.

Unknown to both Llyrica and Slayde, each will use the other to accomplish their quests. Both will also fall under the song spell that she wove into the braid of his tunic.

Will her Lovespell ensure a happily ever after for them? Or condemn them to a love that was never meant to be?

EXCERPT


“I have learned that a woman will use her soft curves, tender touches and sweet voice to drive a man to do her bidding. Just as you think to do now.” Slayde flung her linen shroud aside, and caught her up in his arms to pull her against him. A black lock of his hair fell unto his brow. “And these silks you wear. Know it will not work on me, vixen.”

She drew a deep breath when he indicated no knowledge of her crimes. But her awareness that the sleepwalker dwelt beneath StoneHeart’s clothes and weapons quickened her pulse in the most tantalizing places. “A mishap brought me here for sure. But I have no notion to what you now refer. I merely sit here, in my everyday garments, in your house and weave. If I have insulted you again by teaching Elfric something other than what you and your father deem proper for a man to know, I pray your pardon.”

“I may grant it if the other boys do not bloody his nose when they find he has been at a female craft.” He crushed her closer until impulse dictated she slip her arms around his waist. The thick muscles of his back tightened under her splayed fingers.

“That is an odd fear of yours, I think, that you will appear as less than a man. But it is an unfounded fear given the size of your … when I see evidence of your …” Her face heated. “Your height and large hands and shadowed jaw and chin.”

His mouth twitched almost imperceptibly in one corner. “I was taught to be a man and so should Elfric. Our father is gone, so I am in his stead. Every boy needs a father to raise him thus, or a man to take the father’s place.”

On her brother’s behalf, Llyrica felt keenly this lack of father. If Haesten had been a different man, she would not be cast alone on foreign turf in search of him, or under an obligation to avenge her mother’s beatings at his hand. A rare tear glazed each eye.

“You will neither change our arrangement, nor try and be rid of me. I have Father Byrnstan’s vow and the asylum of his church.” In a short time, she would also have a braid imbued with a lovesong.

“You give a fine example of how a woman works. You say one thing, but by the soft molding of your body, the pout on your lips and tears in your eyes, you plead for another.”

“I sat at the loom with no intention of pleading anything from you. Until you came, hauled me against you, and said you would throw me out. You then reminded me that my brother and I have been without a father. If this is an example of how a man works, then I may not praise the job that Ceolmund did in raising you.”

He straightened with new intensity, his arms muscles flexed around her, his chest, abdomen and thighs turned to stone. His manpart pressed so hard against her that Llyrica felt it throb. “This is how a man works, vixen. This is how I work.”

About the Author

Although Tracy Ann Miller is primarily a graphic designer, (see her work at tracymillerdesigns.com) she has been writing novels for over 20 years.

She was an active member of the National Romance Writers of America with her local chapter, The Virginia Romance Writers. It was there she honed her craft by attending workshops, conferences, and by coordinating The VRW’s Fool for Love Contest.

Before being published, she entered and won numerous writing contests, including The Fool for Love Contest for Loveweaver, and the Between the Sheets best love scene contest for The Maiden Seer.

She writes to keep the hero and heroine interacting in story as much as possible (no long separations) and of course they get a spectacular happily ever after.

For more information, please visit Tracy Ann Miller’s blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Wedding Code (Code Breakers Series) by Jacki Delecki

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Miss Amelia Bonnington’s wedding to Lord Derrick Brinsley is the most anticipated event of English Society. As an artist and arbiter of fashion, Amelia is sidetracked from planning her perfect wedding by an abduction and an assassination attempt. Can the lady outwit the French spies and still have her fairy tale wedding?

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EXCERPT

Miss Amelia Bonnington dropped the tangle of wedding ribbons and rushed into the morning room to assist Lady Henrietta Rathbourne. Amelia winced in sympathy at the valiant, but unsuccessful attempts by Hen to adjust her very large and very pregnant abdomen into a comfortable position on the settee.

Grabbing a pillow from a chair, Amelia tucked the cushion under Hen’s swollen feet. “Darling, does this help?”

Not wanting to burden her best friend’s sensitive feelings, Amelia tried hard not to stare at the massive round hump straining against Hen’s morning gown. Amelia wasn’t sure she wanted her body to grow and distort in this most uncomfortable manner. “Would another pillow behind your back help?”

“Nothing helps. I’m the size of a whale. It’s not surprising that I’m having a big baby with Cord being a large man.” Hen could barely wrap her arms around stomach.

Amelia didn’t want to think about the imposing size of her fiancée, Lord Brinsley, and how large Derrick’s babies would be. Although Amelia was inches taller than Hen, Derrick was a giant, the tallest and broadest man of her acquaintance.

Hen fanned her flushed face. “The entire family and staff are tiptoeing around me as if I might explode at any moment like a Guy Fawkes’s firecracker.”

It was true. The usual calm and composed Hen would tear up at the most unpredictable moments, leaving everyone around her baffled at how to respond.
Amelia squeezed her friend’s hand. “Everyone is concerned. And it’s obvious that you’re uncomfortable now that your time is near.”

Henrietta stroked her abdomen in a protective and soothing circular motion. “Cord is constantly monitoring my growth. Every time he looks at me, I see that he is estimating the size of the baby. My enormous expansion has cracked his imitable confidence. He doesn’t say anything, but I can see that he is worried that the baby is too big for my small frame. And when my husband, the bravest and most fearless leader of our country, looks afraid, I feel a need to protect him.”

Amelia shook her head. “But my dearest, you know Cord likes to be in control of everything and everyone. I’m sure he is struggling with this birthing business.”

“My husband is used to bending all of England, even the King, to his will. His inability to control nature is driving him mad.” Hen shifted on the settee, looking miserable with the heavy weight of the large baby pressing upon her.

Amelia jumped back up from her chair and repositioned the pillow under Hen’s feet. “Does that help?”

Hen winced with the movement. “And Michael, you know my brother can’t hide a blasted feeling. It’s all there on his face—fear and worry.”

“It’s normal for the men to worry. Besides what other part can they play in the pregnancy?”

Hen rolled her bright green eyes toward the ceiling. “Well, we know what part Cord played in my condition.”

The childhood friends laughed together. And Amelia was relieved to see Hen able to have some semblance of her usual wit.

“I think I’m very close which means I’ll be able to attend your wedding.”

Amelia didn’t want to think about her best friend missing her wedding which was just three days away. Hen refused to follow convention and planned to attend despite her pregnant state and Amelia supported her decision. She and Hen had always planned to play a part in each other’s weddings. They had shared their fantasies of romance, their future husbands, and dream weddings since they were eight years old.

“I’m so very weary of discussing the size of my abdomen and ankles. How are all the wedding details coming?”

“You don’t have to pretend interest. I know you could care less about colors, fabrics, or flowers.”

“That’s true. I was very grateful that you did everything for my wedding. How is Derrick faring with your need for perfection?”

Amelia had orchestrated Hen’s, then Gwyneth’s, and, most recently, Gabby’s weddings. The brides were dramatically in love and barely cared about the details that turned a simple wedding into a glorious affair.

Their weddings had been the talk of all of London because of Amelia’s eye for design and color. After Beau Brummel, Amelia was considered to be the highest arbitrator of women’s fashion.

Amelia grumbled. “I really don’t need to have everything perfect.”

Hen shifted on the settee and raised both eyebrows accenting her round green eyes. “You changed the ribbon on my wedding dress at least five times to get the exact color of green moss. And the color of the hydrangeas and the candles…Should I go on?”

Amelia didn’t point out that Hen had looked magnificent on her wedding day because of Amelia’s attention to every aspect of the event.

“You did a remarkable job with all of our weddings, but left you exhausted and barely able to enjoy the festivities. I want you to enjoy your time as the bride.”

Amelia had relished doing her close friend’s weddings. But for her own dream wedding, she envisioned a thousand ways she wanted it to be perfect. And there lay the problem, she couldn’t decide. Every small detail became exaggerated and daunting, and she perseverated for hours over everything.

Amelia gave a half-hearted laugh. “I’m driving Derrick mad. He might decide not to marry me.”

“The giant growling bear of a man only smiles and laughs when you’re near. He isn’t going to change his mind. He loves you.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jacqueline DeleckiAbout the Author: Jacki Delecki is a Best-Selling, Romantic Suspense writer. Delecki’s Grayce Walters Series, which chronicles the adventures of a Seattle animal acupuncturist, was an editor’s selection by USA Today. Delecki’s Romantic Regency The Code Breaker Series hit number one on Amazon. Both acclaimed series are available for purchase at http://www.JackiDelecki.com.

To learn more about Jacki and her books and to be the first to hear about contests and giveaways join her newsletter found on her website: www. JackiDelecki.com. Follow her on Facebook Jacki Delecki; Twitter @jackidelecki.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Scandal of the Season by Liana LeFey

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Five years ago, Lord Sorin Latham fled England’s shores to avoid heartbreak and scandal in the form of one Lady Eleanor Cramley. On returning home, he finds the young miss he used to scold for lack of decorum is now a stunning woman who fires his blood. But he must resist temptation or risk losing his honor as a gentleman and the friendship of those he holds dear, including Eleanor.

Lady Eleanor is determined to be the paragon of propriety Sorin urged her to become. But now that he’s back, the man she once thought of as an older brother makes her long to be anything but proper. She must make Sorin see her as worthy of his heart and his desire without losing his good opinion, or her Season will end in disgrace.

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EXCERPT

“Eleanor, Charles has told me of your many rejected suitors. You have, to his utter bewilderment and despair, refused to consider any and every gentleman that has expressed interest in you, and I cannot help but feel that the fault is in some way at least partly mine. While it is true that I’d hoped to impart to you a sense of decorum, I never intended that you should withhold yourself so entirely as to become isolated.” In the silence that followed, Sorin braced himself.

But in spite of her reddening face, she spoke with chilling calm. “You confuse reserve with a lack of feeling. Reserve is the veil behind which we conceal those sentiments inappropriate to display, is that not what you said?”

“It was indeed,” he replied, now regretting the fact that he’d ever broached the subject.

“Then consider it fortunate that I maintained my reserve, because to have displayed my true feelings for those so-called suitors would have been insulting to their dignity and very likely ruinous for me.” Her eyes flashed, belying her cool tone. “I’ve given every gentleman before which Charles has paraded me an opportunity to prove himself worthy of my regard. It’s not my fault that all have failed to meet my standards. If I’ve been reserved, it is because I have yet to find a gentleman possessing the qualities necessary to engender my trust and affection.”

Prudence warred with curiosity—and promptly lost. “Might I inquire as to these…standards you’ve set forth? Because it seems to me you’ve set some lofty requirements, if indeed no less than four—six if you count the good reverend’s repeated attempts—proposals of marriage have been turned down due to lack of their fulfillment. Are you certain the fault lies with the gentlemen?”

In an instant, he knew he’d gone too far. Her eyes widened, and the flags in her cheeks brightened to a cherry red that spread to the tips of her ears.

“Perhaps I am too harsh a critic,” she said a bit unsteadily. “My only excuse is that my expectations have been set by the examples with which I was provided in my youth. My father, Charles, and…” A suspicious brightness rimmed her lower lashes for a bare instant before she averted her gaze.
Comprehension dawned. “If you mean to say that I am at fault for—”

“Who else was there?” she snapped, glaring at him through leaf-green eyes that glittered with unshed tears. “Had I been exposed to lesser men, I should perhaps be more willing to accept such a one. However, as I was not, I shall continue to hope for better. Had you been here to see what has presented itself thus far, I would like to think that you would agree with my decision.”

The words had been spoken softly, and yet they cut like the sharpest steel. He took a step toward her, intending only to offer comfort and reassurance, but she quickly edged away.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Liana LeFey delights in crafting incendiary tales that capture the heart and the imagination, taking the reader out of the now and into another world. Liana lives in Central Texas with her dashing husband/hero and their beautiful daughter. She’s also privileged to serve one spoiled rotten feline overlord. Liana has been devouring romances since she was fourteen and is now thrilled to be writing them for fellow enthusiasts.

Twitter: @LianaLeFey
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6547003.Liana_LeFey

VIRTUAL TOUR: From Duke Till Dawn (The London Underground #1) by Eva Leigh

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Years ago, the Duke of Greyland gave his heart—and a princely sum of money—to a charming, destitute widow with unparalleled beauty. But after one passionate night, she slipped from his bed and vanished without a trace. And just when he’s given up hope of ever seeing her again, Greyland finds her managing a gaming hell. He’s desperate to have her… until he discovers everything about his long-lost lover was a lie.

In truth, Cassandra Blake grew up on the streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a mark—to be fleeced and forgotten—but her feelings for the duke became all too real. Once he learns of her deception, however, the heat in his eyes turns to ice. When her business partner absconds with the gaming hell proceeds—leaving unsavory investors out for blood—Cassandra must beg the man she betrayed for help.

Greyland wants compensation, too, and he’ll assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid. But it’s not long before the real Cassandra—the smart, streetwise criminal—is stealing his heart all over again.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about other books by this author is the way she manages to create strong, intelligent heroines who are assertive and independent while still continuing to function in a society that essentially thought women were lesser beings and wanted to shove them into a corner marked “seen, not heard”.  It’s a difficult line to tread; if you go too far, your heroine is shrewish and difficult to like, if you don’t go far enough, your heroine may be too much of a doormat to appeal to a modern audience.  But Eva Leigh manages to get the balance just about right, mostly because she writes about women who are not just decorative ornaments; her heroines often have to make their own livings and have learned the hard way that the one person they can always rely on (until they meet their hero, that is!) is themselves – and she does this without making them so modern as to require too much suspension of disbelief that they could exist in Regency England.  Cassandra Blake, her heroine in From Duke Till Dawn is one of those women, someone who has used her wits and intelligence to make a life for herself in a hostile world.

Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland has been brought up to be perfect.  The perfect duke.  The perfect gentleman.  The perfect… everything.  Even at thirty-eight, he still hears his father’s booming strictures about the importance of duty and responsibility, and he has done everything possible to live up to his sire’s expectations.  But he’s hit a snag in terms of fulfilling one of the most important duties to his dukedom in that the demure and very eligible young lady to whom he had betrothed himself has just run off to Gretna Green with the another man.  While there’s nothing Alex would rather do than slope off home to lick his wounds in solitude, he knows he has to put on a brave face and be seen out in society to show that the young woman’s actions have not affected him.  In truth, they haven’t much – Alex wasn’t in love with the girl, he’s just annoyed and embarrassed at being jilted.

He’s in this morose state when his two best friends find him and insist on taking him to the newest gambling den in London.  Alex’s heart isn’t in it, but he goes anyway – and is astonished when he hears a voice he’d thought never to hear again, the voice of the woman he’s nicknamed his Lost Queen. Two years earlier while in Cheltenham, Alex met and fell for a lovely widow named Cassandra Blair, a woman possessed of a quick mind as well as great beauty, and felt a intensely strong connection to her.  She disappeared after their one night together, and although he never expected to see her again, Alex has never forgotten her.  Yet now, here she is, as beautiful and poised as ever and Alex is smitten all over again.

Cassandra Blake is shocked at seeing the Duke of Greyland again and berates herself for returning to London where she’d known she would run the risk of meeting him again.  But when her old mentor, Martin Hughes, offered her a job in which she could earn enough money to leave her life of swindling behind her and go legitimate, she couldn’t turn it down.  She’s tired of the constant dishonesty and wants to live honestly – but first needs to be able to afford to do so.

Alex was supposed to have simply been a mark, a rich man she could take for a few hundred pounds, yet their brief time together meant something to Cassandra, so she falls back into her role of the beleaguered widow and makes up a story to account for the fact she left Alex so precipitately. Naturally, however, secrets such as these will out, and when Alex overhears Hughes suggesting that Cassandra try to fleece him again, he is furious and hurt by her betrayal, swearing to make her pay for her crimes.

Cassandra is completely unprepared for the visceral hurt she experiences at the disgust and betrayal in Alex’s eyes, but she has done what she has done in order to survive and doesn’t back down in the face of his angry accusations.  She can’t help being afraid of his threats of retribution; but when she discovers that Hughes has done a bunk with all their money, she has more pressing concerns to face. Hughes borrowed a lot of money from a lot of shady characters in order to set up the club, and the moment news of his disappearance gets out, Cassandra knows her life will be worth less than nothing if she remains alone and unprotected.  Terrified, she realises that she knows only one person in London she can trust absolutely – but he hates her and may well decide to leave her to her fate.

Alex is astonished when Cassandra arrives at his home begging for his help and has half a mind to have her thrown out – but then he realises that she is genuinely distressed, and while he is still deeply hurt by her deception, he certainly doesn’t want her dead.  Believing that now he knows the truth he will be able to stop himself falling for her all over again, he agrees to help her to find Hughes, and in the process, discovers much about himself and the sort of man he really is and wants to be.  I loved this aspect of the story and watching Alex gradually become his own man in truth, shedding much of his reserve and preoccupation with propriety and perfection, while retaining the parts of his character that make him a truly wonderful and memorable romantic hero.

Cassandra, too, finds her perceptions changing, her mentor’s betrayal finally opening her eyes to the truth about the hurt she must have caused those she had targeted and stolen from in the past.  More than that, though, now that she is no longer part of the underground criminal community, she is forced to deal with her mistakes and face the consequences rather than running from them and jumping into the next con.

Ms. Leigh’s depiction of London’s criminal underworld is one of the book’s many strong points.  Once Alex agrees to help Cassandra, he is plunged into a world he had never really known existed, one which has its own rules and pecking order, where morality is fluid and where nothing is ever black and white.  It’s a real eye-opener for Alex, who soon discovers that he has to set aside some of his most deeply entrenched beliefs if he is to protect Cassandra, and ends up asking himself some difficult questions about what is truly important to him as a man versus the Greyland title.

Alex and Cassandra’s romance is imbued with sensuality and a palpable longing which builds deliciously to a fever pitch and some nicely steamy love scenes.  But their emotional connection is strong, too, with both of them gradually lowering their defences to allow the other to see them as they truly are.  There’s a real sense of honesty between them once they start to work together, with  Alex even coming to respect and understand some of Cassandra’s choices while she recognises this new blossoming of trust for the gift it is.

From Duke Till Dawn is a terrific read, and one I’m happy to recommend most strongly.  I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through the London Underground, and I’m eagerly looking forward to more.

EXCERPT

London, England
1817

A woman laughed, and Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland felt the sound like a gunshot to his chest.

It was a very pleasant laugh, low and musical rather than shrill and forced, yet it sounded like The Lost Queen’s laugh. Alex could not resist the urge to glance over his shoulder as he left the Eagle chophouse. He’d fancifully taken to calling her The Lost Queen, though she was most assuredly a mortal woman. Had she somehow appeared on a busy London street at dusk? The last time he’d seen her had been two years ago, in the spa town of Cheltenham, in his bed, asleep and naked.

The owner of the laugh turned out to be a completely different woman—brunette rather than blonde, petite and round rather than lithe and willowy. She caught Alex staring and raised her eyebrows. He bowed gravely in response, then continued toward the curb.

Night came on in indigo waves, but the shops spilled golden light in radiant patches onto the street.
The hardworking citizens of London continued to toil as the upper echelons began their evening revelries. Crowds thronged the sidewalk, while wagons, carriages, and people on horseback crammed the streets. A handful of pedestrians recognized Alex and politely curtsied or tipped their hats, murmuring, “Good evening, Your Grace.” Though he was in no mood for politeness, responsibility and virtue were his constant companions—had been his whole life—and so rather than snapping, “Go to the devil, damn you!” he merely nodded in greeting.

He’d done his duty. He’d been seen in public, rather than disappearing into the cavernous chambers of his Mayfair mansion, where he could lick his wounds in peace.

The trouble with being a duke was that he always had to do his duty. “You are the pinnacle of British Society,” his father had often said to him. “The world looks to you for guidance. So you must lead by example. Be their True North.”

This evening, before dining, Alex had taken a very conspicuous turn up and down Bond Street, making certain that he was seen by many consequential—and loose-lipped— figures in the ton. Word would soon spread that the Duke of Greyland was not holed up, sulking in seclusion. His honor as one of Society’s bulwarks would not be felled by something as insignificant as his failed marriage suit to Lady Emmeline Birks. The Dukes of Greyland had stood strong against Roundheads, Jacobites, and countless other threats against Britain. One girl barely out of the schoolroom could hardly damage Alex’s ducal armor.

But that armor had been dented by The Lost Queen. Far deeper than he would have expected.

Standing on the curb, he signaled for his carriage, which pulled out of the mews. He tugged on his spotless gloves as he waited and adjusted the brim of his black beaver hat to make certain it sat properly on his head. “Always maintain a faultless appearance,” his father had reminded him again and again. “The slightest bit of disorder in your dress can lead to rampant speculation about the stability of your affairs. This, we cannot tolerate. The nation demands nothing less than perfection.”

Alex’s father had been dead for ten years, but that didn’t keep the serious, sober man’s voice from his mind. It was part of him now—his role as one of the most powerful men in England and the responsibilities that role carried with it. Not once did he ever let frivolities distract him from his duties.

Except for one time . . .

Forcing the thought from his mind, Alex looked impatiently for his carriage. Just as the vehicle pulled up, however, two men appeared and grabbed his arms on each side.

Alex stiffened—he did not care for being touched without giving someone express permission to do so. People on the street also did not normally seize each other. Was it a robbery? A kidnapping attempt? His hands curled instinctively into fists, ready to give his accosters a beating.

“What’s this?” one of the younger men exclaimed with mock horror. “Have I grabbed hold of a thundercloud?”
“Don’t know about you,” the other man said drily, “but I seem to have attached myself to an enormous bar of iron. How else to explain its inflexibility?” He tried to shake Alex, to little avail. When he wanted to be, Alex was absolutely immovable.

Alex’s fingers loosened. He tugged his arms free and growled, “That’s enough, you donkeys.”
Thomas Powell, the Earl of Langdon and heir to the Duke of Northfield, grinned, a flash of white in his slightly unshaven face. “Come now, Greyland,” he chided. A hint of an Irish accent made his voice musical, evidence of Langdon’s early years spent in his mother’s native County Kerry. “Is that any way to speak to your oldest and dearest friends?”

“I’ll let you know when they get here.” Alex scowled at Langdon, then at Christopher Ellingsworth, who only smirked in response.

Alex took a step toward his carriage, but Ellingsworth deftly moved to block his path, displaying the speed and skill that had served him well when he’d fought on the Peninsula.

“Where are you running off to with such indecorous haste?” Ellingsworth pressed. He held up a finger. “Ah, never tell me. You’re running back to the shelter of your Mayfair cave, to growl and brood like some big black bear in a cravat.”

“You know nothing,” Alex returned, despite the fact that Ellingsworth had outlined his exact plans for the rest of the night.

Ellingsworth looked at Langdon with exaggerated pity. “Poor chap. The young Lady Emmeline has utterly shattered his heart.”

Alex shouldered past Ellingsworth, only to have Langdon move to stand in his way.

“My heart is not shattered because of Lady Emmeline,” Alex snapped. At least that much was the truth.

“But why shouldn’t your heart be strewn in pieces throughout Regent’s Park?” Langdon mused. “You courted the young lady for several months, and you told Ellingsworth and I that you’d already received her father’s grateful acceptance of a marriage offer.”

“She never agreed to anything,” Alex said flatly.

“A modest girl, that Lady Emmeline.” Ellingsworth nodded with approval. “She wouldn’t have said yes right away. They never do. Nothing to be alarmed by.”

“How would you know?” Alex’s voice was edged. Ellingsworth had little experience with offering for ladies’ hands, committed as he was to a life of reckless pleasure.

Langdon added, “It’d be unseemly for an earl’s daughter to eagerly snap up a marriage proposal the moment it was offered.”

Alex scowled. Despite the fact that, at thirty-eight, he was sixteen years her senior, they would suit well as a wedded couple. Lady Emmeline had been perfectly trained in the responsibilities of an aristocratic wife. Though he wished she stated her own opinion rather than constantly agreeing with him, there were worse faults one could find in a prospective bride.

They could marry at Christmas, eight months from now. It would be a small but elegant wedding, followed by a lavish breakfast and a wedding journey in the Lake District. And then, if everything went well, in less than a year, Alex and Lady Emmeline might welcome their first child—hopefully a boy so the line would be secure. It would’ve been precisely the sort of match Alex’s
father would have approved, considering Lady Emmeline’s faultless background and her spotless reputation.

“Look at him now, mooning away,” Langdon sighed, smugly thwarting Alex’s attempts to step around him. “He looks poorly.”

It would be bad form to knock his friend to the ground. Damn the social niceties that dictated a man couldn’t punch another without repercussions.

“Perhaps he should be bled,” Ellingsworth suggested with his habitual smirk. It was his constant companion since returning from the War, as if he refused to take anything seriously.

“I am perfectly well.” Alex looked back and forth between these two rogues whom he called friends. “No need to call for a quack.”

“He’s already had an amputation,” Langdon noted, raising a brow as he always did. “One prospective bride—gone.” He made a sawing motion at his ankle, as if cutting the shackles of matrimony.

Alex glanced down at his own lower leg, as if he could see the invisible links that might have bound him to Lady Emmeline. He’d come so close to becoming a married man and sharing the rest of his life with one woman—the faultless duke his father had bred him to be. It hardly mattered that Alex felt nothing for the gel other than a sense of distant respect. She would have made a fine duchess.

“We were at White’s yesterday when we heard about what happened,” Langdon said with disapproval. “Didn’t even tell your two closest friends that Lady Emmeline had run off with a cavalry officer. No, we had to hear it from Lord Ruthven, of all people.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eva Leigh is the pen name of a RITA® Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from the ’80s. Eva and her husband live in Southern California.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Only a Viscount Will Do (To Marry a Rogue #3) by Tamara Gill

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Lady Alice Worthingham never conforms to Society’s norms. Ever. She loves adventure, new experiences, and approaches life with a sassy attitude Society can take or leave. But even for her, robbery by a highwayman is a bit much.

Lord Arndel, Lady Alice’s neighbor, is playing a dangerous game—acting the proper viscount by day and the Surrey Bandit by night. And to brazenly steal from the woman who’s captured his attention is no mean feat, or the wisest of moves.

When Lady Alice learns the truth, the viscount finds that when a well-bred woman seeks revenge, she’ll make a gentleman thief pay for his crimes with everything…including his heart.

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EXCERPT

She pulled back and stepped out of his arms altogether. Callum let her go with regret and consoled himself with the fact that her eyes looked heavy with desire and, if he wasn’t incorrect, a little awe.

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Why not?” He shrugged, the action in some way releasing his taut muscles. “You’re not worried about your reputation, are you? I thought you were a highwaywoman and nothing else.”

“I am, but I’m also a woman who should not have done that.”

“Are you a woman of rank?” Callum watched are her eyes darkened in warning. He smirked. “Preferably, I would like you to come back here and do it again.” Her mouth opened on a gasp, and he strode up to her, clasped her face, and kissed her hard, quick, and deep, before pulling back and bowing. “I hope we see each other again.”

Alice nodded and walking over to her horse in what looked like a daze, mounted quickly, and joined her sister. “I’m sure we will, Lord Arndel, and sooner than you’d like, if you continue this type of thieving lifestyle. Do I make myself clear?”

“Very,” he said, watching as the women turned their mounts and cantered down the road before turning into the trees. Callum swore, running a hand through his hair. For all his teasing of the little minx, she’d still run off with his portable blunt and now he would have to send word to London and notify those his deceased cousin owed money to, that the debt would not be paid. Not with the jewels that had been required, at least. Damn it!

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Tamara is an Australian author who grew up in an old mining town in South Australia, where her love of history was founded. So much so, she made her darling husband travel to the UK for their honeymoon, where she dragged him from one historical monument and castle to another. A mother of three: her two little gentlemen in the making, a future lady (she hopes), and a part-time job keep her busy in the real world, but whenever she gets a moment’s peace she loves to write romance novels in an array of genres, including regency, medieval, and time travel. Tamara loves hearing from readers and writers alike. You can contact her through her website, and sign up to follow her blog or newsletter: www.tamaragill.com

Twitter: @Tamara_Gill
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

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

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

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EXCERPT

Seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne shoved the note from Lord Margrave’s heir—Niall Lindsey—into her pocket. Then she slipped into her mother’s bedchamber. “Mama,” she whispered. “Are you awake?”

Her mother jerked her head up from amid the satin covers and feather pillows like a startled deer. Brilliana winced to see her mother’s lips drawn with pain and her eyes dulled by laudanum, even in mid-afternoon.

“What do you need, love?” Mama asked in her usual gentle voice.

Oh, how she loathed deceiving Mama. But until her suitor spoke to his parents about their marrying, she had to keep the association secret.

“I’m going for my walk in Green Park.” Where Niall, my love, will join me. “Do you need anything?”

Despite her pain, Mama smiled. “Not now, my dear. You go enjoy yourself. And tell Gilly to make sure you don’t stray near the woods.”

“Of course.”

What a lie. The woods were where she would meet Niall, where Gilly would keep watch to make sure no one saw him and Brilliana together. Thank heaven her maid was utterly loyal to her.

Brilliana started to leave, then paused. “Um. Papa said he won’t be home until evening.” Which meant he wouldn’t be home until he’d lost all his money at whatever game he was playing tonight. “Are you sure you don’t need me?”

She dearly hoped not. Niall’s note had struck her with dread, partly because he rarely wrote to her. Usually he just met her at Green Park for her daily stroll when he could get away from friends or family. Something must be wrong.

Still, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to find out what. And perhaps let him steal a kiss or two.

She blushed. Niall was very good at that.
“I’ll be fine,” Mama said tightly. “I have my medicine right here.”

Guilt swamped Brilliana. “If you’re sure . . .”

“Go, dear girl! I’m just planning to sleep, anyway.”

That was all the encouragement Brilliana needed to hurry out.

A short while later, she and Gilly were in Green Park waiting at the big oak for Niall.

“Did he say why he wanted to meet, miss?” Gilly asked.

“No. Just that it was urgent. And it had to be today.”

“Perhaps he means to propose at last.”

Her breath caught. “I doubt it. He would have approached Papa if that were the case.”

Gilly’s face fell. “Then you’d best take care. ’Cause if he spends as much time with the soiled doves as I’ve heard—”

“He’s not like that,” Brilliana said. “Not with me.”

Except for those lovely kisses. But he was respectful otherwise. Besides, the gossips always painted a scandalous picture—that’s why they were called gossips—but through weeks of secret meetings, she’d seen his character, and it was a good one. She was sure of it.

“There you are,” said a masculine voice behind them. “Thank God you came.”

Her heart leapt as she turned to see Niall striding up to them. At twenty-three, he was quite the handsomest man she’d ever known—lean-hipped and tall and possessed of the most gorgeous hazel eyes, which changed color from cedar-brown to olive-green depending on the light. And his unruly mop of gold-streaked walnut-hued hair made her itch to set it to rights.

Though she didn’t dare be so forward in front of Gilly. Not until she and Niall were formally betrothed. Assuming that ever happened.

Offering Brilliana his arm, he cast Gilly a pointed glance. “I’ll need a few minutes alone with your mistress. Will you keep watch?”

Gilly curtsied deeply. “Of course, my lord.”

Normally, her maid balked a little at that, though she gave in at the end, but she was obviously eager to give Niall a chance to propose.

Indeed, his behavior did signal that today wasn’t like their usual meetings. Without any of his usual pleasantries, he led Brilliana into the woods to the little clearing where they usually talked.

All her joy in the meeting vanished. “You do realize how fortunate we are that Gilly is a romantic. Otherwise, she would never let us do these things.”

“I know, Bree.” Though he was the only one to call her that, she rather liked the nickname. It made her sound carefree when she felt anything but.

He halted well out of earshot of Gilly. “And then I wouldn’t get the chance to do this.”

He drew her into his arms for a long, ardent kiss, and she melted. If he was kissing her, he obviously didn’t mean to break with her. As long as they had this between them . . .

But it was over far too soon. And when he drew back to stare at her with a haunted look, her earlier dread returned.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

Glancing away, he mumbled a decidedly ungentlemanly oath. “You are going to be furious with me.”

She fought to ignore the alarm knotting her belly. “I could never be furious with you. What has happened? Just tell me.”

“This morning I fought a duel.”

“What?” Her heart dropped into her stomach. Good Lord. How could that be? “I-I don’t understand.” She must have heard him wrong. Surely the man she’d fallen in love with wasn’t the violent sort.

“I killed a man, Bree. In a duel.”

She hadn’t misheard him, then. Still scarcely able to believe it, she roamed the little clearing, her blood like sludge in her veins. “What on earth would even make you do such a thing?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He threaded his fingers through his sun-kissed hair. “It’s done, and now I risk being hanged.”

Hanged? Why would he be—

Of course. Dueling was considered murder. Her heart stilled. Her love was a murderer. And now he could die, too!

“So I’m leaving England tonight,” he went on. “For good.”

The full ramifications of all he’d told her hit her. “You . . . you’re leaving England,” she echoed hollowly. And me.

His gaze met hers. “Yes. And I want you to go with me.”

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Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas).

At home in front of a crowd, Jeffries is a sought-after speaker, as evidenced by her 2010 gig as emcee for the National Romance Writers of America’s 30th Anniversary Awards Ceremony.

Whatever time not spent speaking to organizations around the country or writing in a coffee-fueled haze is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music.

With over 9 million books in print in more than 20 languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics (she has a Ph.D. in English literature) for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world.

She always dreams big.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands.

Deirdre MacCoinneach wishes to understand her unusual ability to sense others’ lifeblood energies…and vows to discover if her gift killed the men she married. Her father’s search for a new and unsuspecting suitor for Deirdre becomes complicated when rumors of witchcraft abound.

Under the façade of a trader, Alasdair Montgomerie travels to Uist with pivotal information for a Claimant seeking the Scottish throne. A ruthless baron hunts him and a dark past haunts him, leaving little room for alliances with a Highland laird or his tempting daughter.

Awestruck when she realizes that her unlikely travel companion is the man from her visions, a man whose thickly veiled emotions are buried beneath his burning lifeblood, Deirdre wonders if he, too, will die in her bed if she follows her father’s orders. Amidst magic, superstition, and ghosts of the past, Alasdair and Deirdre find themselves falling together in a web of secrets and the curse of a hundred kisses…

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EXCERPT

Deirdre’s cold, weekly baths were her refuge from the chaos of the village. The loch’s iciness was a thousand fingers prickling her skin, but she submerged farther as she entered in from the shore. The world’s humming and warm colors faded as the water consumed her. She let out a loud sigh, then inhaled and dunked her full body in, holding her breath.

For that brief moment, as air filled and expanded her chest and the world of the dark, shallow water swathed her, she felt free from her powers.

Dusk’s nip was a welcome from the heat that radiated off all the living during the day. It was as though the life force of every living being ceased during the hours when the sun set. Most importantly, she could no longer see him, and her vision of him—the man from the wood. The trees didn’t appear ablaze before her while the man cried out for help, his dark blue eyes filled with fear, his black hair catching aflame, and his vibrant red lifeblood draining.

She massaged her scalp, hoping to erase the image. It would never cease. It never did. The more she fought it, the more her powers gripped her. Oh, Mother, why couldn’t you be here to teach me how to control it? She trembled with grief as the chill sank into her bones. Her lungs grew empty, and she struggled to remain under. She didn’t want to face the world. Her ears rang, and with open eyes, a welcome blackness crept over her sight. Maybe she could stay under and let it take her.

Her only refuge from obligations as laird’s daughter danced around her with a chilling caress. Although she had escaped the village unnoticed, she knew by morning that somebody, most likely Crystoll, sent by her father, would be knocking on her door. Or Moreen would need her to taste a new recipe in the kitchen. Or Caite would want to whine about something. Nay, but not now. Now, she was alone. Her father had been too distracted with the news the sentry brought about Dunbar. This wet, numbing escape was not accompanied by one of her father’s soldiers for once. By God, she succumbed to it.

She sensed no colors in the murky, lifeless water, and it was freeing. All breath escaped her. Muted visions passed before her eyes—her mother, her father, Gordon, and Cortland. Just a moment longer, she thought…

Suddenly, a burst of warm light invaded her thoughts as air filled her lungs. Red-hot hands burned her shoulders and ripped her from her icy grave. She breathed life into her body. She coughed, gagging on the change.

Muffled words yelled at her.

Oh, God, so hot. His fingers were like hot pokers. Her head pounded as she slowly returned to the present. Heat radiated from her rescuer. Somebody had pulled her from the water.

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

His voice was as soothing as a warm cup of goat’s milk on a winter’s day. A red-hot glow emanated from his body. Never before had she felt such a strong lifeblood, and it nearly burned her. She struggled in his arms to get free. She blinked, only seeing a blurry form before her. “Release me!”

She splashed and wriggled, and he did as told. She clambered to the shoreline. Numb and shaken, she began to dress. It wasn’t easy as she fumbled with slick fingers to put dry clothes over wet skin. She instantly regretted her naked swim. She pulled on her long-sleeved white chemise first.

She faced the forest, away from her rescuer. He quietly splashed to shore. His lifeblood burned into her back. He wasn’t far behind, but he stopped. She refused to look at him until she was fully clothed, not out of embarrassment of her nudity, but for what had just happened. He released a groan and mumbled under his breath about wet boots. His voice was not one of her father’s soldiers.

When she put the last garment on, her brown wool work kirtle, she squeezed out her sopping hair and swept her hands through the knotty mess. She fastened her belt and tied the lacings up the front of the kirtle. Blood returned to her fingertips, and she regained her composure. Belated awareness struck her, and she leaned down and searched through her bag for her dagger. She spun around.

She gasped as she saw the man sitting on the stone-covered shoreline, his wet boots off. Confusion and the hint of a scowl filled his strong-featured face. She staggered back, caught her heel on a stone, and fell, dropping the dagger. Dirt and pebbles stuck to her wet hands and feet, and she instinctively scrambled away from him.

His glower, iridescent dark blue eyes, and disheveled black hair were not unfamiliar. Staring at her was the man she had seen in her dream—it was the man from the wood.

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Jean GrantJean is a scientist, part-time education director, and a mom to two active sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for inspiration. She enjoys writing non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines, and aspires to write children’s books while continuing to write novels. In 2008, she visited the land of her daydreams, Scotland, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Jean enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her sons, while daydreaming about the next hero to write about…

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Blackburn Castle by (Tortured Souls #2) R.C. Matthews

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Victor Blackburn is living on borrowed time. An ancient curse violently claims the life of each Blackburn male on his twenty-seventh birthday. As his approaches, his only hope of survival is a witch who vanished long ago without a trace.

Mercy Seymour eagerly counts down the days until the curse will claim Victor’s life. She watched him murder her mother, and only his death will free her of the hatred and anger she harbors.

When fate throws them together in Devil’s Cove, desire simmers between the handsome pirate and the spirited barkeeper’s niece until they learn the truth about each other. Desperate for her cooperation, Victor spirits her away to Blackburn Castle in the Scottish Highlands, where forces of magic and mists from beyond the grave weaken her resolve, opening her eyes to the truth of the past.

As Victor and Mercy unearth the fabled stones needed to break the curse, they discover that the only weapon powerful enough to destroy hate is love. But will they have to sacrifice their relationship to save what means the most to them?

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EXCERPT

1864
Blackpool, England

Victor cowered deeper into the corner of the study, his legs threatening to crumple.

The Butcher growled in his brother’s ear, holding the man captive by the sharp edge of a blade pressed against his neck. “Tell me where you’ve hidden your daughter and the stones, Thomas, or I’ll slit your throat.”

Victor wished to help Thomas, but at ten years old, he was no match for the Butcher, a ruthless pirate. Only a month had passed since the pirate had abducted Victor, but it was long enough to know that he never issued empty threats. The red, angry welts crisscrossing Victor’s back were proof enough that the Butcher always fulfilled his wicked promises.

Thomas clamped his lips shut, and his eyes pleaded for his wife to remain silent. She bit her white-knuckled fist, her eyes fluttering between her husband and the pirate. The Butcher flicked his wrist, nicking Thomas’s throat, and a strangled cry erupted from the woman as a trickle of blood rolled down her husband’s neck.

The pirate tilted his head in the direction of the weeping woman across from him. “Cat caught your tongue, Maude?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

The pirate snorted, his eyes glazing over with greed. “Imagine my delight when I heard the tale of your ancestry on my last voyage. You’re a descendant of Freya, Norse goddess of love, and one of her bastard twin daughters, Elizabeth. My brother regaled me with tales of the amber stones of Freya, passed down through the generations. All the way down to your daughter, my darling niece.”

“No, you misunderstood,” Maude said. “It’s naught but a fairy tale we tell Mercy at bedtime.”

“I think not, dear sister-in-law. Otherwise there would be no need to hide her from me. I’m willing to do anything to get my hands on the stones.”

“In one swift movement, the Butcher slit Thomas’s throat, flooding the air with the pungent stench of blood. Red liquid gurgled out of the man’s neck, soaking his pristine white shirt.

Bile lurched in Victor’s stomach, and he squeezed his eyes shut. But Maude’s screams forced him to face the gruesome scene again. Was the Butcher murdering her, too? Her body shook with unbridled fear as the corpse of her husband slumped to the ground in an ignoble heap.

“Come now,” the pirate said, wiping the blade of his knife on a white handkerchief. The Butcher’s dispassionate eyes roved over his brother’s prone form before resting on Maude’s crumpled shoulders. He clucked his tongue. “You needn’t cry, woman. Tell me where your daughter and the amber stones are hidden, and I won’t slit your throat.”

Maude wiped away her tears and screamed, “Monster! How could you murder your brother? He trusted you!”

The corner of the Butcher’s mouth twitched. “Pity for Thomas. He always was a stupid, trusting fool. Now, tell me what I want to hear, and I promise I won’t slit your throat.”

“Liar!” she spat. “You’ll kill me and my daughter after you get your filthy hands on the stones. I’ll never tell you!”
The Butcher sighed. “I don’t need to kill your precious child to get the answers I seek.” He crooked his finger at Victor in a silent command.

Victor’s knees wobbled as he ambled forward, his eyes downcast. He swallowed past the lump forming in his throat. Lord, help him. Disobeying the pirate wasn’t an option. And he was going to die.

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A WORD ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

R.C. Matthews lives in Michigan where she enjoys the four seasons and indulging her imagination while writing romances. Find R.C. Matthews at www.rcmatthews.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @RCMatthews123.