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VIRTUAL TOUR: Lord Sebastian’s Secret (The Duke’s Sons #3) by Jane Ashford

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Proud. Cunning. Battle-hardened. Lord Sebastian Gresham is the epitome of military might and excellence. He’s wealthy. The son of a Duke. There’s just one problem: he can’t read. It’s those damned words. He doesn’t see them in the same way everyone else does. It’s a secret he’ll never tell, certainly not to his new bride-to-be.

Brilliant. Witty. Beautiful. Lady Georgina Stane has always known she’d make the perfect bride, that is, if her eccentric family didn’t scare off every potential suitor from London to Bath. After carefully orchestrating a London season with her parents out of the picture, she secured an engagement to an impeccable gentleman. And when Lord Sebastian arrives at her family’s estate to meet her parents, she’s not about to let their antics ruin her perfect marriage.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

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

Review by Lady Cicely

Can love survive secrets? Lord Sebastian Gresham is madly in love with Lady Georgina Stane and she with him; however, they both harbor secrets.

Georgina’s secret comes to light the moment Sebastian steps foot in her family home. Georgina fears it will affect Sebastian enough for him to call off the wedding, and it soon appears her fears may be well founded.

Sebastian is terribly ashamed of his secret. So ashamed his family isn’t aware of it, and it’s something only his trusted valet knows. It’s a secret he prays his beloved will never uncover, for if she does he worries she will no longer love him. When Sebastian’s secret comes to light will it cement the love between them or break them apart?

A pack of pugs, an eccentric family (and that’s putting it mildly), mischievous sisters, and a loon governess provide added stress to the lovebirds while entertaining the reader.

Lord Sebastian’s Secret is the third in Jane Ashford’s series The Duke’s Sons. Ms. Ashford writes a sweet tale of love no matter the circumstances, and her writing style pulled me into feeling each character’s fears. She had me laughing at the antics of Georgina’s family, holding my breath in anticipation of Georgina’s reaction when she learns Sebastian’s secret and weeping when Georgina learns what it is and the way she handles it.

This is the first book I have read of Ms. Ashford’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her mention of Sebastian’s family, their suspicions of his difficulty and the way they handle it has me wanting to go back and read the rest of the series.

EXCERPT

Sebastian closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could all too easily picture the astonishing news that he had eloped running through his family—the letters flying back and forth, the disbelief and consternation. The surreptitious brotherly smirking. An image of his mother’s astonished face made him wince.

“Some people think I don’t care about convention,” muttered the marquess. “Not true. And this was too much. An elopement!”

“Except that it wasn’t, Papa,” Georgina pointed out. “It was an unfortunate accident. I think you might have had more faith in my character.”

Frowning at the floor, the older man said something too softly to be heard. Sebastian thought it might have been,

“It wasn’t you I was worried about.”

“The duchess is sending your brother,” said Georgina’s mother. She tried to speak blandly, but Sebastian got a clear sense of a woman getting the better of an argument at last.

The marquess glared at the group with a mixture of defiance and contrition.

“Which brother?” Sebastian asked.

“Randolph,” supplied his hostess.

Sebastian groaned softly. If anything could have killed his appetite at this point, the news that a brother had been dispatched to sort him out would have done it. He supposed this was his mother’s idea of just retribution for what she probably characterized as “antics.” She would have known that he would never elope.

If she’d had to send a brother, she could’ve drafted Robert. He’d have made a joke of the whole matter and charmed everyone so thoroughly that they saw it the same way. Alan or James might have refused to be embroiled in such a tangle at all. Nathaniel was still on his honeymoon. Mama couldn’t order him and Violet about quite so easily, anyway.

Randolph, though. Sebastian nearly groaned again. Randolph was usually glad for an excuse to take a few days’ leave from his far-northern parish. And he positively delighted in helping. Sebastian supposed that was why he’d become a parson. Part of the reason. He’d also been asking “why” since he could speak. According to family legend, that had been the first word Randolph learned. Sebastian certainly remembered being followed about by a relentlessly inquisitive toddler.

Nathaniel, a responsible six-year-old, had become so tired of saying he didn’t know that he’d taken to making things up. Sebastian still sometimes had to remind himself that discarded snakeskins were products of reptilian growth rather than intense surprise. Sebastian smiled. Randolph had spent several months trying to startle snakes out of their skin after that tale.

Then Sebastian’s smile died, and he put down his last sandwich. Randolph would revel in Mr. Mitra and the marquess’s lectures on reincarnation. There would be no end to his questions, or to the incomprehensible discussions after the ladies had left the dinner table. Sebastian only just resisted putting his head in his hands.

Georgina was looking at him, though, her expression anxious. He tried a reassuring smile. From her response, he judged that it was only marginally effective. He bolstered it, vowing to deal with Randolph. He would face anything to save her distress.

Georgina stood, holding her still half-full plate to her chest. “I believe I’ll go to my room now,” she said. “I’m quite tired.”

Her father looked guilty, her mother approving. Sebastian wondered at the determination on her face. It seemed excessive for a walk up a few steps. Was her leg hurting? One look at her father told him he would not be allowed to assist her to a bed.

Night had deepened by the time Georgina managed to hunt down Hilda and corner her in a little-used reception room, where she’d apparently been holed up for a good while, judging from the cake crumbs. Georgina stationed herself between her youngest sister and the door and confronted her with hands on hips. “Have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

For a moment, it seemed that Hilda might deny everything, but then she slumped back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “I only meant to leave you overnight, but everything went wrong from the very first. Whitefoot didn’t like being led. He jerked the rein right out of my hand and ran away. I had to take your Sylph to the Evans farm before I could chase after him. It took hours before I got him there as well.” She paused and looked indignant. “Emma abandoned me! She turned tail and rode home. And she’s been practically hiding in her bedchamber ever since.”

“Perhaps she feels a sense of remorse for having done something absolutely outrageous,” Georgina suggested.

Hilda wrinkled her nose. “Well, we came back first thing the next morning to get you.”

“That does not excuse…”

“And you were gone!” Hilda actually dared to look reproachful. “As if you’d vanished into thin air.”

“Thick mud, more like,” said Georgina.

“If you had just waited, or only walked a little way along the trail, we would have found you. And there wouldn’t have been such a very great fuss. Why didn’t you? How could you be so clumsy as to fall into a gully?” Hilda cocked her head. “I never even knew it was there.”

“Don’t even dream of blaming this on me!” Georgina gazed at her sister. They were alike in coloring and frame, but apparently their minds ran on entirely different paths.

GIVEAWAY

There are TEN (10) copies of the first book in The Duke’s Sons series – Heir to the Duke up for grabs – enter the giveaway at Rafflecopter!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jane-ashford_-author-photoJANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

You can connect with Jane at www.janeashford.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Goodreads

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight by Christina Courtenay

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“As the velvet cloak of moonlight settled over the ruined towers of Raglan Castle, the shadows beneath them stirred…”

When newly widowed Tess visits Raglan Castle, she experiences an extraordinary vision that transports her to seventeenth-century Wales and a castle on the brink of a siege.

Even when Tess leaves Raglan to return to Merrick Court, her late husband’s home, the strange dreams continue as her life becomes increasingly intertwined with the past. And when the new owner of the estate arrives – New Zealander Josh Owens – the parallels become even more obvious.

But perhaps the visions aren’t just trying to tell their own story, maybe they’re also giving a warning…

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EXCERPT

Deep in thought, Tess rounded a corner of the brick wall that enclosed the vegetable patch and almost rammed into a man who was bent over, pulling at a sapling that clearly shouldn’t be there.

‘Whoa!’ Tess swerved, then stopped dead as the man straightened up.

Tall, with black hair that was shaggy and tousled, and with matching dark stubble, he had the kind of face that could sell millions of bottles of aftershave. Clear green eyes under perfectly sculpted eyebrows – Tess could picture them staring moodily out of an advert in a glossy magazine – and if he hadn’t oozed masculinity, she would have sworn he was wearing mascara, so thick were his eyelashes. He was lean and rangy, but not too thin – his shoulders and arms powerful – and as he was shirtless she could see that his upper body was nicely defined under a stunningly deep suntan. There was some sort of tribal tattoo high up on his left arm and his faded and torn black jeans showed that his legs were as muscular as the rest of him.

‘Who the hell are you?’ she blurted out, then felt her cheeks heat up. Not exactly a subtle way to greet one of the hottest men she’d ever met, but he had no business being in her garden. Well, Merrick Court’s garden. And she had no business finding him attractive – she was recently widowed, for heaven’s sake, and the last thing she needed at the moment was a man to complicate her life.

‘And g’day to you too. I could say the same, eh?’ He leaned on the spade he’d been using to dig out the root of the sapling and regarded her with his head to one side as if he was wondering what she was doing there. His accent was Australian, or maybe New Zealand – Tess had had both Aussie and Kiwi friends at art college but could never tell which was which. Deliciously Antipodean in any case – she was a sucker for accents.

She ignored his greeting. ‘I’m sure Bryn knows there’s no money to pay for help in the garden at the moment.’ Although in truth she couldn’t actually remember the last time she’d talked to the old gardener. She had been kind of a hermit of late.

‘Oh, yeah? Well, I don’t need paying,’ he said, with a smile that she found both infuriating and amazingly alluring. Yep, definitely model material. Was that why he didn’t need to be paid? He was already rich? But he wasn’t exactly dressed like a millionaire.

‘I’ll have to discuss this with Bryn.’ She picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow and almost overbalanced it in her haste to get away from this man. He was disturbing her equilibrium and he shouldn’t be in her garden. Damn it, Merrick Court’s garden. When would she stop thinking of it as hers?

‘I’ll come with you. I want to hear this.’ The guy fell into step beside her, walking with long unhurried strides. ‘Want any help with that?’ Again, that annoying smile and his eyes were twinkling too as if he was amused by her efforts to stay calm.
‘No, thanks, I can manage.’

She did, but only just, and she ended up panting with the effort of upending the barrow onto the compost heap, which didn’t help. Nor did the stranger, who followed behind her but didn’t offer assistance again. Instead he crossed his arms, making his biceps bunch up in the most eye-catching way. Annoying man, he was probably doing it on purpose so she’d look at him. She didn’t want to but Tess had to force herself not to stare at the tattoo, which was strangely fascinating. By the time they got to the potting shed, where Bryn could usually be found if he wasn’t outside, she was ready for some answers.

‘Bryn, are you there?’

‘In yere.’ The old man’s Welsh lilt was one of the things she loved about him. That and his ready smile. ‘Just making tea. Would you like some, my lovely?’

Tess walked into the shed, closely followed by the shirtless stranger. ‘Yes, please, but Bryn ―’ She didn’t have time to finish her sentence.

‘Oh, there you are, er … Josh. Come and have a cuppa as well, won’t you?’

‘Sure, sweet.’

Bryn looked from one to the other. ‘So you’ve met his lordship then.’ It was a statement, not a question.

Tess swivelled towards the younger man. ‘L-lordship? What do you mean?’

‘The new owner of Merrick Court,’ Bryn explained patiently. ‘Josh, he says to call him, but I don’t know…’ He scratched his balding head.

But Tess wasn’t looking at him. She glared at the newcomer. Josh, Lord Merrick? He couldn’t be, could he? ‘Why didn’t you mention that?’

He grinned. ‘You didn’t ask.’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake…’ Tess stared at the man. Why hadn’t he told her who he was instead of letting her think he was just some workman? But then she had been rather rude so perhaps he’d wanted to punish her a little? She felt her cheeks heating up, embarrassed now by her lack of manners.

‘And who are you?’ Josh said. ‘I thought no one else worked here.’ He raised his eyebrows at the old man as if they’d been discussing this earlier.

‘Oh, didn’t I say?’ Bryn tutted at himself. ‘This yere is Lady Merrick.’

‘What?’ Josh’s eyebrows shot up even further. ‘But I thought…oh, bollocks.’

‘Er, would you care to explain that eloquent statement?’ It was Tess’s turn to cross her arms.

He looked a bit sheepish. ‘Uhm, well, I was expecting what the lawyer called a “dowager”. I mean…’

Tess cottoned on. ‘Ah, an old-age pensioner? Sorry to disappoint you.’

‘I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed exactly.’ Josh grinned briefly again as his gaze travelled the length of her body, lingering on her curves and long, honey-gold hair which was currently piled on top of her head and fastened with a clip. But then he seemed to recollect that he was talking to a widow and the smile disappeared. ‘That’s to say, your age doesn’t matter to me. I was just surprised, is all.’

‘I should hope not too.’ Tess was annoyed to find that the warmth in his eyes as he’d given her the once-over made her hot and flustered. He was disturbingly handsome. How old could he be? Probably in his early thirties, although possibly younger as he was so fit. It was hard to tell.

‘Come and have some tea and then you can get to know each other,’ Bryn suggested.

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ENTER TO WIN A PAPERBACK COPY OF THE VELVET CLOAK OF MOONLIGHT. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christina Courtenay lives near Hereford, England and is married with two children. Although born in England she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, the family moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East.

Christina’s debut Trade Winds was short listed for the 2011 Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Pure Passion Award for Best Historical Fiction.The Scarlet Kimono won the 2011 Big Red Reads Best Historical Fiction Award. Highland Storms (in 2012) and The Gilded Fan (in 2014) won the Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year award and The Silent Touch of Shadows won the 2012 Best Historical Read Award from the Festival of Romance.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Highlander Who Loved Me by Tara Kingston

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Johanna Templeton is on a life-and-death quest. Swept into an intrigue that rivals the tales she pens, she joins forces with a Highland rogue to find the treasure that will save her kidnapped niece—a prize the Scot seeks for reasons that have nothing to do with ransom. Engaging the Highlander in a sizzling battle of the sexes, Johanna shields her heart.

Connor MacMasters, spy for Queen Victoria, is a man on a mission—keep a legendary gemstone from an evil man. Trailing an American novelist who holds the key to the treasure should’ve been simple, but Johanna awakens feelings he’d long thought dead. Torn between duty and desire, he wants her in his bed, but loving her would be a fool’s game. Blasted shame his heart doesn’t agree.

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EXCERPT

“My, lass, this is a surprise.” His husky burr was slow and deliberate and so very male.

Johanna lowered the lamp and slowly pivoted to face him. Oh, my!

Connor MacMasters stood before her. Fully, gloriously naked.

Gulping a breath, she forced her gaze to remain above his waist. His hair was damp, and he hadn’t shaved yet. Thick, dark stubble accented the strong contours of his jaw. Her gaze trailed lower. A slight sheen glistened on his broad, muscular shoulders while tiny beads of moisture dotted the dark hair on his chest.

That full, sensuous mouth of his quirked at one corner. “Have ye come to show yer appreciation for my chivalry? Or have ye decided my company is preferable to the specters that roam this old house?”

Liquid warmth filled her, a longing that penetrated to the bone. For a moment in time—a heartbeat, perhaps—she could think of nothing but the taste of his kiss, the feel of his lips against hers, the sound of her name in his raspy burr, whispered in a moment of passion.

That hint of a smile broadened. “Something wrong, Miss Templeton?” His tone faintly teasing, he put undue emphasis on her state of wedlock—or lack of. “Am I to believe ye werenae expecting me?”

She forced her head to shake in weak denial. “I…I wondered where you were. I heard noises.”

“Noises, eh?” He arched a dark brow. “The rattling of chains? Ghostly moans? Or weighted footsteps, perhaps?”

“Nothing like that. Probably just a mouse.”

His other brow lifted. “After all ye’ve been through, a mouse sends ye running?”

“I detest the filthy little creatures.” That, at least, came out with the conviction of truth. “I thought you’d gone to sleep.”

“Not yet.”

Damn him, the Scot made no move to put on a stitch of clothing. Not so much as a towel. Unable to help herself, her gaze dipped lower to the etched, muscular plane of his abdomen. A line of sable hair traced a decadent path from his navel lower, to a thick patch of hair even darker than that on his head.

She snapped her eyes up. He caught the motion, his mouth twisting with wry amusement he made no effort to hide.

“Am I to believe ye entered my chamber—searching for me, no less—because you feared a rodent might launch an attack?”

“I feared no such thing,” she countered. Her pride chafed at the incredulous humor in his voice. “I was alarmed. Nothing more.”

He folded his arms at the waist and rocked back on his heels, infuriatingly casual for a man who stood without a stitch to cover him. “By the saints, I’m the one should be alarmed. ’Tis not often that I emerge from my bathing chamber to find a comely lass beside my bed, threatening to compromise my fine reputation.”

“Compromise…your reputation?” The words plopped from her tongue like the last stubborn drops of molasses in an upended jug.

“Aye. I am an unmarried mon. What would anyone think, finding me alone in this room with a bonny lass who’s gone to such lengths to seduce me?”

“Seduce…seduce you?” Dash it all, she sounded like a parrot that had fallen off its perch and landed on its head.

“I can think of cruder terms. Would ye enjoy that?” He prowled toward her, his toes sinking into the plush carpet with each step. Lamplight gleamed over the contours of his chest, warming his skin with soft, golden rays.

She gave her head an urgent shake, as if to clear it. Stiffening her spine, she held his gaze. “I assure you there’s no need.”

His head moved slowly up and down in agreement. “Verrae true. Who needs talk at a time like this?”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tara-kingstonAward-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern-belle-out-of-water in a quaint Pennsylvania town, she lives her own love story with her real-life hero and a pair of deceptively innocent-looking kitties in a cozy Victorian. The mother of two sons, Tara’s a former librarian whose love of books is evident in her popping-at-the-seams bookcases. It goes without saying that Tara’s husband is thankful for the invention of digital books, thereby eliminating the need for yet another set of shelves. When she’s not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys movie nights, cycling, hiking, DIY projects, collecting dolls, and cheering on her favorite football team.

VIRTUAL TOUR : Lady Claire is All That (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #3) by Maya Rodale

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Her Brains

Claire Cavendish is in search of a duke, but not for the usual reasons. The man she seeks is a mathematician; the man she unwittingly finds is Lord Fox: dynamic, athletic, and as bored by the equations Claire adores as she is by the social whirl upon which he thrives. As attractive as Fox is, he’s of no use to Claire . . . or is he?

Plus His Brawn

Fox’s male pride has been bruised ever since his fiancée jilted him. One way to recover: win a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, Society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel. But Claire has other ideas—shockingly steamy ones. . .

Equals A Study In Seduction

By Claire’s calculations, Fox is the perfect man to satisfy her sensual curiosity. In Fox’s estimation, Claire is the perfect woman to prove his mastery of the ton. But the one thing neither of them counted on is love . . .

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EXCERPT

“Just who does she think she is?” Fox wondered aloud.

“She’s Arabella Vaughn. Beautiful. Popular. Enviable. Every young lady here aspires to be her. Every man here would like a shot with her,” Mowbray answered.

“She’s you, but in petticoats,” Rupert said, laughing.

It was true. He and Arabella were perfect together.

Like most men, he’d fallen for her at first sight after catching a glimpse of her across a crowded ballroom. She was beautiful in every possible way: a tall, lithe figure with full breasts; a mouth made for kissing and other things that gentlemen didn’t mention in polite company; blue eyes fringed in dark lashes; honey gold hair that fell in waves; a complexion that begged comparisons to cream and milk and moonlight.

Fox had taken one look at her and thought: mine.

They were a perfect match in beauty, wealth, social standing, all that. They both enjoyed taking the ton by storm. He remembered the pride he felt as they strolled through a ballroom arm in arm and the feeling of everyone’s eyes on them as they waltzed so elegantly.

They were great together.

They belonged together.

Fox also remembered the more private moments—so many stolen kisses, the intimacy of gently pushing aside a wayward strand of her golden hair, promises for their future as man and wife. They would have perfect children, and entertain the best of society, and generally live a life of wealth and pleasure and perfection, together.

Fox remembered his heart racing—nerves!—when he proposed because this beautiful girl he adored was going to be his.

And then she had eloped. With an actor.

It burned, that. Ever since he’d heard the news, Fox had stormed around in high dudgeon. He was not accustomed to losing.

“Take away her flattering gowns and face paint and she’s just like any other woman here,” Fox said, wanting it to be true so he wouldn’t feel the loss so keenly. “Look at her, for example.”

Rupert and Mowbray both glanced at the woman he pointed out—a short, frumpy young lady nervously sipping lemonade. She spilled some down the front of her bodice when she caught three men staring at her.

“If one were to offer her guidance on supportive undergarments and current fashions and get a maid to properly style her coiffure, why, she could be the reigning queen of the haute ton,” Fox pointed out.

Both men stared at him, slack jawed.

“You’ve never been known for being the sharpest tool in the shed, Fox, but now I think you’re really cracked,” Mowbray said. “You cannot just give a girl a new dress and make her popular.”

“Well, Mowbray, maybe you couldn’t. But I could.”

“Gentlemen . . .” Rupert cut in. “I don’t care for the direction of this conversation.”

“You honestly think you can do it,” Mowbray said, awed.

He turned to face Mowbray and drew himself up to his full height, something he did when he wanted to be imposing. His Male Pride had been wounded and his competitive spirit—always used to winning—was spoiling for an opportunity to triumph.

“I know I can,” Fox said with the confidence of a man who won pretty much everything he put his mind to—as long as it involved sport, or women. Arabella had been his first, his only, loss. A fluke, surely.

“Well, that calls for a wager,” Mowbray said.

The two gentlemen stood eye to eye, the tension thick. Rupert groaned.

“Name your terms,” Fox said.

“I pick the girl.”

“Fine.”

“This is a terrible idea,” Rupert said. He was probably right, but he was definitely ignored.

“Let me see . . . who shall I pick?” Mowbray made a dramatic show of looking around the ballroom at all the ladies nearby. There were at least a dozen of varying degrees of pretty and pretty hopeless.

Then Mowbray’s attentions fixed on one particular woman. Fox followed his gaze, and when he saw who his friend had in mind, his stomach dropped.

“No.”

“Yes,” Mowbray said, a cocky grin stretching across his features.

“Unfortunately dressed I can handle. Shy, stuttering English miss who at least knows the rules of society? Sure. But one of the Americans?”

Fox let the question hang there. The Cavendish family had A Reputation the minute the news broke that the new Duke of Durham was none other than a lowly horse trainer from the former colonies. He and his sisters were scandalous before they even set foot in London. Since their debut in society, they hadn’t exactly managed to win over the haute ton, either, to put it politely.

“Now, they’re not all bad,” Rupert said. “I quite like Lady Bridget . . .”

But Fox was still in shock and Mowbray was enjoying it too much to pay any mind to Rupert’s defense of the Americans.

“The bluestocking?”

That was the thing: Mowbray hadn’t picked just any American, but the one who already had a reputation for being insufferably intelligent, without style or charm to make herself more appealing to the gentlemen of the ton. She was known to bore a gentleman to tears by discussing not the weather, or hair ribbons, or gossip of mutual acquaintances, but math.

Lady Claire Cavendish seemed destined to be a hopeless spinster and social pariah.

Even the legendary Duchess of Durham, aunt to the new duke and his sisters, hadn’t yet been able to successfully launch them into society and she’d already had weeks to prepare them! It seemed insane that Fox should succeed where the duchess failed.

But Fox and his Male Pride had never, not once, backed away from a challenge, especially not when the stakes had never been higher. He knew two truths about himself: he won at women and he won at sport.

He was a winner.

And he was not in the mood for soul searching or crafting a new identity when the old one suited him quite well. Given this nonsense with Arabella, he had to redeem himself in the eyes of the ton, not to mention his own. It was an impossible task, but one that Fox would simply have to win.

“Her family is hosting a ball in a fortnight,” Mowbray said. “I expect you to be there—with Lady Claire on your arm as the most desirable and popular woman in London.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, December 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1824
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

The books in Maya Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up With the Cavendishes are all loosely based on well-known movie plots. The first book, Lady Bridget’s Diary… well, that’s pretty obvious. The second, Chasing Lady Amelia is a retelling of Roman Holiday and Lady Claire is All That is a reworking of the popular teen-movie from 1999, She’s All lady-claire-is-all-mm-cThat, which is itself described as a revamp of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. This seems to be a bit of a trend in historical romance at the moment – if we’re not bombarded by overly-cutesy (and mostly ridiculous) song title-titles, we’re getting recycled plots from a medium that wasn’t even around at the beginning of the 19th century; and that makes it really hard to maintain any level of historical accuracy, as characters have to be made to think and do things to fit the plot that vary from “unlikely” to “implausible” to “Just – No.”

That doesn’t mean this isn’t an enjoyable book, because it is. I breezed through it in two sittings; it’s well-written, the two progagonists are engaging and Ms. Rodale has some good points to make about how we sometimes need to adjust our perceptions of self and others if we’re going to be true to ourselves and be the people we’re meant to be. I often find myself saying of this author’s books that they’re ones I will pick up when I want to read something light-hearted and fun and am prepared to check my “historical accuracy” hat at the door. And if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’ll likely work for you.

The Cavendish family – three sisters, one brother – moved to London when James Cavendish unexpectedly inherited a dukedom. The three books in the series so far comprise the sisters’ stories, and the storylines run more or less concurrently – which means they can be read in pretty much any order. Their chaperone in London is the Dowager Duchess of Durham, and she is doing her best to ensure that the siblings are accepted into London society. That’s not an easy task, given the rigidity of English society of the time, and the propensity to look down noses at those uncouth, brash Americans – but it’s also true that the Cavendishes aren’t making it all that easy on themselves either. Youngest sister Amelia is impatient with all the rules and conventions and does her best to deliberately flout them, and oldest sister Claire has only one purpose in mind – to meet the renowned Duke of Ashbrooke and discuss advanced mathematics with him. To deter any potential suitors, Claire talks about maths to anyone who will listen – which isn’t anybody for very long.

Lord Fox is very much the equivalent of the US college Jock in the film. He’s gorgeous, fit and excels at pretty much every physical activity he puts his mind to; hunting, fencing, boxing… women… you name it, he’s the best at it. He readily admits that he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and doesn’t see the trap being set for him when Lord Mowbray wagers that Fox can’t take a wallflower and turn her into the darling of the ton. Fox, whose equally lovely fiancée recently dumped him to run off with an actor, is feeling a little bit bruised – he’s a winner, not a loser – and only realises what he’s let himself in for when Mowbray insists on choosing the recipient of Fox’s assistance – Lady Claire Cavendish.

The plotline is straightforward and proceeds as expected, but what makes the book readable is the way Ms. Rodale handles the gradually evolving perceptions of Fox and Claire, both in terms of how they think of themselves and how they see each other. Not to put too fine a point on it, Claire thinks Fox is stupid; and even though, as the story progresses, she starts to see that his is a different kind of intelligence, she continues to believe that because they don’t match each other intellectually, they don’t belong together. And while Fox is initially all about the wager, he’s impressed by Claire’s “brainbox”; even when he has no idea what she is talking about, he likes the sound of her voice and way her passion for her topic animates her. He comes to appreciate her for what and who she is and doesn’t want her to change, even though it means losing the wager.

On the downside, however, Claire is fairly self-obsessed, and she’s the sort of person who keeps having to remind everyone how smart she is in order to validate her own sense of self-worth. And she’s pretty hard on Fox, making it clear that he’s too dumb for her even though she’s happy to snog and grope him at every available opportunity. He is, however, clever enough to recognise that she’s only interested in his body.

Fox isn’t perfect, either, and his constant refrain of “I win at everything” gets irritating fast, but he’s rather endearing for all that. He is what he is and doesn’t try to be something he’s not – and I liked that he is prepared to go out on a limb for what he wants and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Another flaw is that while the couple does get to know each other well enough to begin to reassess their opinions, there’s no real sense of their actually falling in love. One minute, they’re not in love, and the next they are – and it’s something we’re told rather than shown.

In spite of those criticisms, there’s no question Ms. Rodale is an accomplished author and she writes the familial relationships in this story very well. This is very much a wallpaper historical though, so if you like historical romance that has a strong sense of period, in which the characters speak and act as though they could plausibly come from the 19th century instead of the 21st, then it might not work for you. And then there is the usual complement of Americanisms – by far the worst of which is the constant use of the word “math”. Given that Claire is a mathematician, this is only to be expected, but in England we refer to “mathS” with an “s” on the end (it’s a contraction of mathematicS, after all). It got very annoying very quickly.

Ultimately, Lady Claire is All That is a well-written piece of romantic fluff that’s entertaining and easy to read. Anyone in the mood for something in that line could do a lot worse than to pick it up.

 

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maya-rodale-colourMaya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: His Lordship’s Wild Highland Bride by Kathleen Bittner Roth

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A match made for mayhem.

Far from her beloved Highlands, Lainie MacGregor’s fate is sealed.

Ridley Malvern, Lord Caulfield, desperate for her dowry, agrees to marry a wealthy Scot’s daughter sight unseen. He is unaware his tantalizing bride is running from the law. Despite their sizzling attraction, all Lainie desires is to return to her clan. Attempting to make things right, Caulfield takes his wife back to the Highlands only to discover why her father sought the marriage—Lainie is wanted for murder. For her safekeeping, they must remain in England. Now Ridley needs to win her affections and prove that a wild Highland lass and an English lord, can find a love match, after all.

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EXCERPT

Ridley Malvern, Lord Caulfield—given the title of baron by the queen for saving her favorite son from drowning—was about to marry a total stranger.

He stood at the altar of the small chapel located on his parents’ estate, doing his best to appear the eager groom. As the organist played the first notes of a tune he failed to recognize, and his heavily veiled bride started down the aisle on the arm of her strapping older brother, Ridley’s gut wrenched. It was all he could do to keep from bolting. His eldest brother, Lord Eastleigh, stood beside him acting the part of groomsman. Eastleigh tilted his head toward Ridley and spoke through his teeth. “Do you think she might resemble her sibling?”

“God, I hope not. Look at his hair and beard, would you? They’re so orange and thick, he could hide a carrot with none being the wiser.”

Eastleigh’s lips twitched. “I doubt she sports a beard. But then, one never—”

“Sod off.”

Jamie MacGregor strode down the aisle with his sister on his arm as if heading into battle, his red and green plaid kilt fluttering about his bare knees. He was a broad-shouldered man with legs thick as tree trunks. A small knife tucked into the top of MacGregor’s heavy knit stocking reminded Ridley that a Scot was always prepared.

Ridley let out a soft groan. “Why the bloody hell did I agree to this charade?”

“Because you were too bloody stubborn to accept my offer of a loan.”

“Bugger me.”

“Thank you, no.”

When he’d been swimming in wealth, Ridley had halfheartedly engaged London’s ton in his quest for a proper wife, yet none had met his stringent requirements. Now that he’d lost everything he’d worked so hard to achieve, he was about to wed Lainie Margaret MacGregor, a Highland lass he’d never set eyes on until this very moment. He had to remind himself that the marriage would make him fabulously wealthy.

But at what price—my soul?

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kathleen-bittner-rothKathleen Bittner Roth is an award winning author who creates passionate stories featuring characters faced with difficult choices, and who are forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love.

Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. However, she still keeps one boot firmly in Texas and the other in her home state of Minnesota.

A member of Romance Writers of America®, she was a 2012 Golden Heart® finalist.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Tempting Mr. Jordan by Marin McGinnis

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After four unsuccessful London seasons, Lady Julia Tenwick despairs of ever making a love match. With spinsterhood looming on the horizon, she and a friend set sail for America on one last adventure. When her travels take her to northern Maine, Julia meets a reclusive but handsome artist, whose rudeness masks a broken heart Julia feels compelled to mend.

Still haunted by the betrayal and death of his pregnant wife two years before, Geoffrey Jordan is determined never to risk his heart again. Certainly not with the gorgeous and impetuous aristocrat who intrudes upon his small-town solitude, and is far too similar to his late wife to tempt him to take another chance on love.

But when Julia and Geoffrey find themselves united in a reckless plan to save Julia’s friend from ruin, they discover that temptation is impossible to resist.

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EXCERPT

Julia pulled her cloak around her shoulders and left by the kitchen door. Soft snowflakes danced lightly around her head as she made her way toward the water. She loved the crisp air, the snow, the scents of wood smoke, salty waves, and pine. She walked around toward the lighthouse, imagining how much her brother would love it here. He’d have his sketchbook tucked under his arm, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice when the mood struck.

The snow began to fall faster, swirling around as she clambered over the large rocks at the water’s edge. The sky was streaked with red, orange, blue, and gray, and she stopped, perched, just to watch.

“Get out of the way!”

She jumped at the strident tone, nearly toppling into the water. Regaining her balance, she turned carefully, and sighed.
Geoffrey Jordan sat on a neighboring rock behind her, sketchbook in hand. His expression was darker than the sky had been when she started on this walk. Julia was unable to stop herself from stepping back in surprise. Apparently there were bears near the shore as well.

“You’re blocking my view.” The muscles of the man’s face settled into a grimace which Julia found only marginally less frightening than his scowl.

“All right, I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there.” Julia took another step back and cried out in pain as her foot slipped into a crevice between the rocks.

Geoffrey swore and tossed his sketchbook to the side. He strode over to her and held out a hand.

Given his expression, Julia considered whether it might be safer to remain where she was. Geoffrey stuck his hand out again, waving it impatiently.

Julia finally realized she was more annoyed than afraid. “How am I supposed to grab your hand when you wave it about like that?”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” He reached down with both hands and grabbed her waist, pulling her to her feet. She ignored the tingling of her skin where he touched her and focused on her anger instead.

“I don’t know why you’re so angry at me. It’s not my fault I fell. You startled me.”

“You stepped into my line of sight. And now the sunrise is nearly gone, I’ve missed it, and it’s entirely your fault.”

Julia realized his hands still rested on her hips, and she pushed them away. “You sound like a petulant child.”

He returned to his sketchbook and sat down again. He started scribbling, ignoring her. She ignored him as well and gingerly ran a hand over her throbbing ankle. Her stocking was torn, and a shallow cut showed through it. Deciding she should return home to clean the wound, thanks to this odious man, she slowly made her way across the rocks past him. She caught a glimpse of his sketch as she passed. Intrigued, she stopped and bent at the waist, looked over his shoulder.

“You’re barely drawing anything at all. What does that say?”

He scowled again, but he answered, “Scarlet.”

She pointed at the corner of the drawing. “And that?”

“Azure. I thought all proper English ladies could read.”

“Your handwriting is terrible. What does that say?” She pointed again.

“Orange.”

She peered closer. “It does not. It looks like ‘crindle.’”

He laughed, and she turned her head to look at him. He was much less frightening when he laughed. Handsome. She blinked and unbent.

“‘Crindle’? What on earth does that mean?”

Her cheeks warmed. “Well, I don’t know, do I? It’s your drawing.”

“And it says ‘orange.’ What are you doing out here anyway?”

“I wanted to go for a walk.”

“At the crack of dawn?”

“I didn’t think I would see anyone.”

“Why didn’t you want to see anyone?”

She sighed. “Because conversation tires me, sometimes. This one in particular.”

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marinmcginnisClevelanders are tough, a bit cynical, and just a little crazy, and Marin McGinnis is no exception. When she’s not chasing after big dogs or watching tweens skate around hockey rinks, she is immersing herself in romantic tales of years gone by. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with her husband and son. You can find her hanging out at www.marinmcginnis.com, on her group blog at www.throughheartshapedglasses.com, on Twitter @MarinMcGinnis, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarinMcG

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Rendezvous With Yesterday by Dianne Duvall

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Modern-day bounty hunter Bethany Bennett helps her brother track two fugitives to a forest outside of Houston, Texas. But what should have been a routine apprehension of two bail skippers spirals out of control and ends in violence. After Beth and her brother are both seriously injured, a mysterious figure suddenly looms over her. And, when the smoke clears, Beth finds herself not only in another place, but in another time.

As Lord Robert, Earl of Fosterly, attempts to identify and track down the nameless enemy who has been plaguing his lands and people with violence, the most peculiar woman stumbles into his path. Small, vulnerable, yet possessed of a bold, fiery spirit and wicked sense of humor, she persists in dubbing Robert and his men members of something called a medieval reenactment group . . . until she sees his castle and labels herself mad. It seems bounty hunter Bethany Bennett has come to him from the future, bringing with her laughter and chaos, swiftly winning the hearts of his people and inspiring within him a love he thought he would never experience again. But when Robert discovers a way for her to return to her time, will the love they share be enough to keep them together?

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EXCERPT

“I can’t bathe with you here,” she protested.

“I will not watch you, Beth,” he informed her patiently. Though the temptation would be great, he felt confident he could resist it.

“Then go wait for me at the campsite. I can find my way back.”

“I cannot leave you unprotected.”

“Have you forgotten this?” Reaching down to her ankle, she removed the smallest of her weapons from her boot. “I have my twenty-two. I’ll be perfectly safe.”

He eyed the silvery object doubtfully, unsure exactly what such a weapon did. “You are not familiar with these woods and know neither the dangers they possess nor how swiftly they can come upon you. I will not leave you alone.”

Her expression darkened with a mixture of frustration and dismay.

He loosed a heavy sigh. “I am here to protect you, Beth, not ravish you. Had the latter been my intention, I would have already done so. I vow I have never taken a woman by force in my life.”

A flush mounted her cheeks.

“I have already told you I will turn my back. If ’twill make you feel better, then leave your undergarments on, though I assure you such is not necessary.”

A moment passed. “Fine,” she grumbled, scooting off the rock and stepping onto the grassy bank. “I guess it’s nothing you haven’t seen before anyway. Just don’t take this as an invitation.”

“As you wish.”

Robert learned something new about her then. When Bethany decided to place her trust in someone, she gave her full trust.

After placing her twenty-two on the ground a few feet from the water’s edge, she proceeded to disrobe without even asking him to give her his back. She discarded her boots and odd, thick, ankle-high white hose first. Then she parted her long-sleeved tunic down the middle and shrugged out of it.

He stepped forward and extended one hand.

A question in her gaze, Bethany handed him the jacket, he thought she called it.

“I thought to wash it for you whilst you bathe.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you’re real?”

“I do not understand.”

Shaking her head, she lowered her hands to the sides of her odd vest. “You’re too good to be true, Robert. First you say you would give your life to protect me.” Rrrrip. “Then you kneel in icy water and wash my hair.” Rrrrip. “And now you’re offering to wash my filthy clothes for me.” Rrrrip. Rrrrip. She lifted the vest over her head. “No man is that nice.” Tossing it aside, she reached for her belt. A few nimble pulls and it joined her vest at her feet.

Robert stood rooted to the spot, his mouth dry, breath quickening, as she tucked her fingers beneath the hem of her tiny sleeveless tunic, then dragged it up and over her head.

Heat seared him, racing through his veins and pooling in his groin.

Was that a bra? Those two tiny scraps of sleek black fabric that cupped her full breasts the way his hands itched to, barely covering the pale pink crests and held in place by the thin black straps whose purpose had eluded him earlier? More plump, pale flesh than he had anticipated rose above the edges, the shadowed valley between them drawing his hungry gaze.

Despite the fact that almost every inch of her skin was coated with dried blood, Robert found himself consumed with lust the likes of which he had not experienced in years.

“Mayhap I am not as honorable as you think I am,” he admitted hoarsely.

Unconcerned, she handed him the sleeveless tunic, then started unfastening the front of her breeches.

“Mayhap I only offered to wash your garments in hopes of distracting myself from”—his gaze returned to her breasts—“other things.”

Her eyes met his, then slid away. “Oh.” He thought her cheeks darkened a bit. “Well, just pretend we’re at the beach and this is a bathing suit,” she mumbled, tucking her thumbs in the waistband of her breeches.

“You make a habit of walking along the shore garbed so— By the saints!” he practically bellowed.

Bethany jumped. “What?” Eyes wide with alarm, she scanned their surroundings.

Try though he might, Robert could not look away. He knew he should, but he could not. Nor could he pick his jaw up from where it had landed on the ground. All he could do was stand and stare and go up in flames.

Bethany’s breeches now lay bunched around her ankles, leaving her long, slender legs and almost everything else bare. The only thing that shielded her… modesty… was a V-shaped piece of shiny black material that formed a triangle at the juncture of her thighs and narrowed to two thin strips that disappeared over her hips.

“Robert?”

For a moment, he thought he would not succeed in dragging his gaze away.

How those black scraps tempted him, beckoning him to abandon all honor and let his hands and mouth go exploring.

“Robert? You’re starting to make me a little nervous.”

He imagined so, slavering over her the way he was, like a wolf wishing to dine on a ewe.

“Not to mention self-conscious,” she added.

At last, he managed to close his mouth. Clearing his throat, he tried to remember what he had been saying. “You wander along the shores garbed so sparsely?”

She glanced down and stepped out of the breeches. “Actually, no. I sunburn too easily. But I’ve seen women at the beach who wore less.”

“Less than that?” he asked incredulously.

Her brow crinkled slightly. “Aye. Lots of times. Especially during spring break.”

He did not know what spring break was, but surely she jested.

“Are you all right?” she asked, eyeing him dubiously.

All right? Nay, he was not all right. He trembled with need. He was on fire. He was a breath away from losing both his control and his sanity. And she seemed completely oblivious to the effect her near nudity had on him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

dianne_duvall_authorpicDianne Duvall is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Immortal Guardians series and The Gifted Ones series. Reviewers have called Dianne’s books “fast-paced and humorous” (Publishers Weekly), “utterly addictive” (RT Book Reviews), “extraordinary” (Long and Short Reviews), and”wonderfully imaginative” (The Romance Reviews). Her books have twice been nominated for RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards and are routinely deemed Top Picks by RT Book Reviews, The Romance Reviews,and/or Night Owl Reviews.

Dianne loves all things creative. When she isn’t writing, Dianne is active in the independent film industry and has even appeared on-screen, crawling out of a moonlit grave and wielding a machete like some of the vampires she so loves to create in her books.

For the latest news on upcoming releases, contests, and more, please visit Dianne online . . .

Website — http://www.DianneDuvall.com
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Real Earls Break the Rules (The Infamous Somertons #2) by Tina Gabrielle

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1816 England

Brandon St. Clair, the Earl of Vale, has never been one to follow the rules. Even though he must marry a wealthy heiress so that he can be rid of the pile of debt he inherited with his title, he can’t stop thinking of another. Amelia Somerton is the daughter of a forger and is not a suitable wife. But that doesn’t stop Brandon from making Amelia a different offer, the kind that breaks every rule of etiquette…

Sin runs in Amelia’s family. And even though she now rubs elbows with the aristocracy, she knows the truth—she has the ability to forge priceless works of art. She’ll never be seen as an acceptable wife, not that she wants to marry, anyway. So when the earl scandalously offers her the one thing she’s always dreamed of, she can’t help but take it. But what begins as a simple arrangement, soon escalates into much more, and as the heat between them sizzles, each encounter becomes a lesson in seduction…

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EXCERPT

Amelia looked away. This wouldn’t do at all. She hadn’t drawn a single charcoal line and already she was craving the forbidden. She cleared her throat and stood. “I often work on more than one painting at a time and plan on painting the Cuyp landscape and your portrait simultaneously. I thought to start with your portrait tonight. Have you given any thought of how you would like to pose?”

Lord Vale rose to his feet. “What is your professional opinion as an artist?”

A reproduction of Michelangelo’s statue of David she had once seen in a museum rose in her mind. Magnificent in its naked splendor, the statue’s muscles and sinew had portrayed a beautiful male form. Her pulse beat in her throat, and she tried to assume an ease she didn’t feel as she faced him. She had been raised unconventionally in an artist’s household. Her father’s studio contained all types of art, including nude drawings and sketches, and she had studied them in order to sketch realistic people in her works. The print shop also had a vast variety of prints and paintings for sale, some of nudes or half-dressed subjects. But she shouldn’t be thinking of that artwork now. Not when the strikingly handsome Earl of Vale was staring at her and waiting for her response.

Her hands, hidden from sight, twisted nervously in her skirts. “Do you prefer any of the portraits of the prior Earls of Vale you had shown me?”

“I thought I discussed not wanting to look like them.”

Oh, you could never look like them. Not if she was the artist.

She was distracted when he reached up to unbutton and remove his jacket, then drape it across the armchair. Next, he shed his waistcoat and tossed it to join the jacket. Broad shoulders strained against the fabric of his shirt. She could make out muscles and a narrow waist where his shirt tucked into his breeches.

“What are you doing?” she asked, alarmed.

“All my ancestors are dressed formally. I don’t want to be remembered as earlish, remember?”

Had she ever used that term to describe him?

He looked about the room “Hmm. Now how should I pose?”

Her gaze lifted to his, and she searched for some hint that he knew her reaction to his state of undress. All she found was a guiltless concentration, like he was struggling to decide how best to pose for her study.

Heat rushed to her cheeks. She wracked her mind for something to say to distract her from his masculinity.

“You said you are in your study every evening. What do you spend most of your time doing here?” she asked.

“That’s easy.” He motioned to the large desk and the piles of paper upon its surface. “I work.”

“Every night?”

“Long into every night.”

She chewed her lip. She thought that most of the gentlemen of the beau monde spent their nights at their London clubs or, if in the country, drinking with their friends. A house party offered ample opportunity for him to be in the billiard room with Lord Huntingdon. Once the other gentlemen arrived, she imagined they would all drink and play billiards.

“What do you work on?” she asked.

“This and that. The old earl died a year ago. I’m sorting through his affairs.”

It was a vague answer to be sure. It was also none of her concern. He was hiring her to paint him, not delve into his affairs. He may not be paying her in banknotes, but the letter in her skirt pocket promising art lessons from a Royal Academy painter was as good as gold in Amelia’s opinion.

“I have an idea,” she blurted out. “Since you spend so much time at your desk, I’d like to paint you there.”

“Behind the desk?”

“No. In front of it.” She pointed where she wanted him to stand in front of the massive pearwood desk. “Lean back against the desk and place a hand on either side of you for support.” She took one of his hands and showed him. His hand was much larger than hers, the fingers long, tapered, and strong. He wore no gloves and she’d left hers in her room. No sense wearing them when she painted. The simple act of touching his hands was intimate and made her cheeks flush.

He leaned back, his hands on either side as she’d requested. She looked up and met his gaze. They were close…too close. For a heart-stopping moment she read longing in his eyes—pure and undisguised.

She froze. He wasn’t as guiltless or unaffected as she’d thought. Her heart pounded in her chest, beating so hard and loud that she feared he could hear. She took a quick step back.

“Anything else?” he asked.

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tina gabrielleBest-selling author Tina Gabrielle is an attorney and former mechanical engineer whose love of reading for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. She often picked up a romance and let her fantasies of knights in shining armor and lords and ladies carry her away. She is the author of adventurous Regency historical romances for Entangled and Kensington Books.

Publisher’s Weekly calls her Regency Barrister’s series, “Well-matched lovers…witty comradely repartee.” Tina’s books have been Barnes & Noble top picks, and her first book, Lady Of Scandal, was nominated as best first historical by Romantic Times Book Reviews. Tina lives in New Jersey and is married to her own hero and is blessed with two daughters. She loves to hear from readers. Visit her website to learn about upcoming releases, join her newsletter, and enter free monthly contests at www.tinagabrielle.com

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: My Rogue, My Ruin by Amalie Howard & Angie Morgan

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The beau monde has always had it all—money, pride, titles—while the needy die on their doorsteps. So I don a mask, steal from the rich, and give to the poor. I am no longer the son of a duke.

I am the Masked Marauder.

My only rule: never let anyone close enough to know my secret. So I’m cold and hard and scare everyone away. That’s just what it takes if I hope to make a difference in this world.

Until one woman, pitied by the ton, sees through my defenses, and I can’t help the heat between us. Everyone sees her as quiet and frail, but I see the spark behind her eyes and I’m like a moth to her flame. For a moment, I think I might be able to keep her and my secret.

But I was never meant to have it all…

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EXCERPT

The bandit had pulled her flat against his chest and stomach, bringing his masked face mere inches away from hers. His eyes were still wild and wandering so she could only hope he hadn’t yet focused on her face. Would he recognize her, even disguised as she was?

“Release me so I can bandage you,” she said, the husky tone of her voice not entirely put on. Goodness, he was virile, even woozy from a shot to his leg. He held her arm like a vise.

“Shot me,” he whispered, incredulous.

“Yes well, what did you expect? You’re a highwayman,” Brynn replied, attempting to wrench her arm away and pull back to a safer distance.

“No bullets,” he breathed.

“Just one, and it barely grazed you,” she explained, still wiggling toward freedom.

He finally released her, and she tumbled back, right onto her rump.

The distant whinny of a horse and the steady clomp clomping of horse hooves had her up and on her feet again. Someone was coming. One of the bandit’s cohorts? Another criminal? What was this place, a hideout? She hadn’t stopped to wonder before. There were a number of abandoned cottages and stone ruins scattered throughout the woods of her own estate, and she imagined the neighboring duke’s estate as well.

If the bandit and his allies had set up in one of them, she most certainly did not want to be discovered. The Masked Marauder had been shot, and he was weak and clumsy from blood loss, but this new arrival would not be.

Brynn hurried for the door, taking a last glance at the bandit as she whipped it open. He was lying on the cot, his chest rising steadily with each breath. The mask. She’d spent ages ogling the bulge of his masculinity underneath his smalls, and yet she hadn’t lifted the slip of black silk to reveal his identity. There was no time now, not that she had any inclination to match a face to the ample…body part she’d gotten an eyeful of. If he turned out to be an aristocrat as she suspected, she’d never be at ease in polite society for fear of recognizing the man. She flushed and once again, her knees went inexplicably weak. Blast it twice on Sundays.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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

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

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Passionate Pursuit (Clifton Chronicles #1) by Gloria Burland

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Notoriety is better than failure, witty and unconventional Rowena Fallows resolves not to marry wealthy aristocrat Thomas Brickdale.

Pressured by his family to marry and produce an heir, Brickdale exudes the kind of danger a wise woman avoids. He, too, has no wish to marry, but he’s not indifferent to the beautiful Rowena. He wants no more than to put this wayward girl in her place—and in his bed.

In desperation, Rowena challenges fate, gambling her reputation by fleeing to Paris but is soon plunged into a terrifying vortex of danger.

Destiny threatens to tear them apart, but in a shattering conflict of fury and desire, will Rowena and Brickdale surrender to love?

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EXCERPT

“The man is a rake!” Rowena Fallows turned to glare at her mother. “Whether Lord Brickdale is expected to attend the ball at Clifton House is of little consequence to me.”

“Mon Dieu! Of little consequence!” Lady Fallows’ gaze sharpened. “Have you taken leave of your senses? Think, girl! Think!”

Rowena braced herself for what she knew would follow. Her mother was never short of words and rarely paused for breath.

“The man is heir to Meadlow Court, which to my certain knowledge is the finest estate in Gloucestershire—twenty thousand acres no less! And let us not forget the very fact he is also in possession of a considerable fortune. Make no mistake; every single female will be casting an eye in his direction at Lady Mortimer’s ball.”

Rowena paced the room; her mother viewed every situation as a battle to win. But she was ready to do battle. “Not every single female, Mama. I, for one, will not be fluttering my lashes in his direction, no matter how vast his fortune.”

“Do not contradict me, Rowena, and do stop marching around the room. Now, as I was about to tell you, I have secured the services of Madam Arpel—at no mean expense I might add. I declare; her prices rise every time we visit. But no matter, she will create the very finest gown for you to wear to the ball. I shall make her well aware how important it is for you to outshine all the others.”

“Important? Important to whom, pray? Not me. I would as soon throw myself to the wolves than catch the eye of such a man.”

Rowena stopped pacing and regarded her mother with a bitter smile. “Am I to believe that you wish me to be paraded like one of the prize heifers in Papa’s herd? If so I would be wise to practice now. Moo-oo.”

Despite her jesting, Rowena felt a curl of mortification in her stomach. She hoped one day to marry, but to a man of her own choosing, a man she loved and who loved her and her alone, a man who would have eyes for no other woman. From all she had heard about Thomas Brickdale, he was certainly not that man.

Lady Fallows raised her hand in protest. “That’s enough! You are being ridiculous and I will listen to no more of this nonsense. How you form such opinions of a man with whom you have never been acquainted is beyond my comprehension.”

Still indignant, Rowena’s retort was quick. “I am saying nothing which has not already been said many times by people who are acquainted with him. Lord Brickdale and his pursuits are the talk of every social gathering, every coffee house. It’s no secret that he has kept company with a multitude of women, each of whom have, no doubt, desired to become the next Lady Brickdale, and all have said the same—he doesn’t have a heart. This man regards every woman as fair game. He toys with a woman’s affections for his own amusement. Mama, I have no intention of being listed amongst his conquests.”

“Enough of this nonsense. Really, Rowena, I blame your father for this propensity of yours to speak as you do. Never once has he attempted to restrain or discipline your waywardness. Therefore I must take it upon myself to make sure that you know what is proper to your position in society. Too long have you embarrassed your father and me with your outrageous antics. Too long have we made excuses for your behavior. But no more! You will conduct yourself in an appropriate manner when introduced to Lord Brickdale. Is that understood?”

For a moment, Rowena made no reply.

“Well?”

“Yes, Mama.” This battle would not be won today. But win it she would.

“That’s settled then.” Lady Fallows nodded. “Now I’m going to my room. It is unseasonably warm today and far better to be indoors with the drapes drawn against the sun. I suggest that you do likewise.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

gloriaburlandI was born in Clifton, Bristol which is the setting for my Clifton Scandals series. I now have a home in France and although I’ve learned much about French history, it’s the Regency era, which I feel that I have the greatest affinity. This I attribute to my Clifton roots and a passion for the novels written in that time. I love the eloquence of speech and the manners of that time, and the characters portrayed. I am grateful to all those authors who have fed my passion, authors like the late, great Georgette Heyer, but, for me, Jane Austen reigns supreme, and Mr Darcy will always be THE perfect romantic hero. I always have my copy a Pride and Prejudice with me when I’m travelling and I never tire of reading it. I worked as a journalist for many years with the ATHENS NEWS, GREECE and have interviewed television stars in Hollywood. I now spend my time in France and England.

Visit Gloria on her website: http://gloriaburland.com