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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Black Sheep and the Rotten Apple by K.A. Merikan

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

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

Cornwall, 1785

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love Beyond Measure by Elizabeth Boyce

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

Somewhere in The Gulf of Siam, June 1818

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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Heartbroken. Devastated.

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

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

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

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

Darcy can only hope….

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Letter? What letter?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

Website: GingerMonette.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Ginger-Monette-Author-612096318934524/

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

Find out more about Naomi at:

http://www.naomiboom.com/
https://twitter.com/NaomiMBoom
https://www.facebook.com/NaomiMBoom
https://www.pinterest.com/nmboom/

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

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An earl hiding from his future . . . 

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

A swindler haunted by his past . . . 

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

Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives? 

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

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

Review by Caz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT

Cornwall, 1816

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A keeper, then. Even worse.

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

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

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

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

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

and then mine enemy

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

July 1642

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

San Francisco, 1896

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

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

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

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

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

“I was trying to protect you from yourself.”

“And see how well that worked.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love and the Shameless Lady by Barbara Monajem

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daisy muttered something unintelligible.

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

“But—” Daisy began.

“Coward,” Sally said in a stage whisper.

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

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

***

Pure humiliation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They roared with approval and shouted their requests.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Tempt an Heiress (Runaway Desires #2) by Susanna Craig

to tempt an heiress
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After her beloved father dies, Tempest Holderin wants nothing more than to fulfill his wish to free the slaves on their Antiguan sugar plantation. But the now wealthy woman finds herself pursued by a pack of unsavory suitors with other plans for her inheritance. To keep her from danger, her dearest friend arranges a most unconventional solution: have Tempest kidnapped and taken to safety.

Captain Andrew Corrvan has a reputation as a ruthless, money-hungry blackguard—but those on his ship know differently. He is driven by only one thing: the quest to avenge his father’s death on the high seas. Until he agrees to abduct a headstrong heiress…

If traveling for weeks—without a chaperone—isn’t enough to ruin Tempest, the desire she feels for her dark and dangerously attractive captor will do the rest. The storm brewing between them will only gather strength when they reach England, where past and present perils threaten to tear them apart—even more so than their own stubborn hearts…

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EXCERPT

Near English Harbour, Antigua
October 1796

Captain Andrew Corrvan would never claim to have always acted on the right side of the law, but there were crimes even he would not stoop to commit.

Kidnapping was one of them.

This conversation ought to have been taking place in some dark dockside alley, not in the sun-dappled sitting room of the little stone house occupied by the plantation manager at Harper’s Hill. Andrew had never met the man before today, although he knew him by reputation. Throughout Antigua, Edward Cary was talked of by those who knew him, and by many more who didn’t, as a fool. As best Andrew had been able to work out, he had earned the epithet for being sober, honest, and humane—a string of adjectives rarely, if ever, applied to overseers on West Indian sugar plantations.

As the afternoon’s exchange suggested, however, even a paragon of virtue could be corrupted by a villainous place. Why else would Cary be attempting to arrange the abduction of a wealthy young woman?

“So, the talk of valuable cargo was just a ruse to lure me here?” Andrew asked.

“Not at all,” Cary insisted with a shake of his head. “Between her father’s private fortune, which she has already inherited, and Harper’s Hill”—he swept his arm in a gesture that took in the plantation around them—“which she will inherit on her grandfather’s death, Miss Holderin is worth in excess of one hundred thousand pounds.”

Despite himself, Andrew let a low whistle escape between his teeth. The chit would be valuable cargo indeed. “And how do you benefit from sending her four thousand miles away?”

“I don’t,” Cary said, and behind that rough-voiced admission and the mournful expression that accompanied it, lay a wealth of meaning. So the man had taken a fancy to his employer’s granddaughter, had he? “She has always been like a younger sister to me,” he insisted; somehow Andrew managed to contain his scoff. “When Thomas Holderin was on his deathbed, I gave him my solemn oath I would do all in my power to look after his daughter.”

“And now you wish to be rid of the obligation.”

“I wish—” he began heatedly. But apparently deciding his own wishes were beside the point, he changed course and said instead, “I believe she will be safer in England.”

“Then book her passage on the next packet to London.” Andrew thumped his battered tricorn against his palm, preparatory to placing it on his head and taking his leave. At his feet, his shaggy gray dog rose and gave an eager wag of his tail, bored with all the talk and ready to be on his way.

“If I could, I would. I have tried many times to reason with her. But Miss Holderin is…reluctant to leave Antigua. She believes she is more than a match for the dangers the island presents.” Cary turned toward the window. “She is wrong.”

Andrew followed the other man’s gaze. Fertile fields, lush forest, and just a glimpse of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea where they touched a cerulean sky. It would have been difficult to imagine a less threatening landscape, but Andrew knew well that appearances could deceive. The dangers here were legion.

“Why me?” Andrew asked after a moment, folding his arms across his chest and fixing the other man with a hard stare. “Do you know the sort of man I am?”

Unexpectedly, Cary met Andrew’s gaze with an adamant one of his own. “I do. You are said to be a ruthless, money-hungry blackguard.”

Andrew tipped his chin in satisfied agreement. He had spent ten years cultivating that reputation.

“But of course, the sort of man you are said to be might not be entirely accurate, I suppose,” Cary continued, steepling his fingers and tilting his head to the side. “Your crew tells a slightly different story, Captain.”

Despite himself, Andrew shifted slightly. The movement might have gone unobserved if not for the dog, whose ears pricked up, as if awaiting some command.

One corner of Cary’s mouth curled upward as he glanced at the mongrel. “Most of the sailors on your ship were admirably tight-lipped, rest assured,” he said. “But then I happened to make the acquaintance of a fellow called Madcombe. New to your crew, I believe.”

Andrew jerked his chin in affirmation. There was no denying Timmy Madcombe was a talker. He might have told Cary anything, and probably had.

“He seemed most grateful to find himself aboard a ship captained by what he called a ‘r’al gent,’ you will be pleased to know. ‘Good grub, a fair share, an’ no lashin’s, neither,’” Cary added, mimicking Timmy’s voice—right down to the boyish crack. “If that proves true, such a style of shipboard management would make you rather unusual among your set.” This time, Andrew was careful not to move, offering neither acknowledgment nor denial. Still, Cary seemed to read something in him. He nodded knowingly. “Yes. Madcombe’s story, and the vehemence with which the rest of your crew attempted to keep him from telling it, made me wonder whether you are quite as ruthless as you wish to seem.”

“If you are willing to take the word of that green boy, you must be desperate, indeed,” Andrew said, pushing back against Cary’s probing.

“I am.” Cary flicked his gaze up and down, taking in every detail of Andrew’s appearance. “Desperate enough to hope that in some ways at least, you are as ruthless as you look—despite any assurances I may have received to the contrary. For it will take a ruthless man to succeed.”

“I take it Miss Holderin’s is not the only resistance I can expect to encounter if I take her away.”

“Hers will be formidable,” Cary warned. “Do not underestimate it. You may be required to use some rather creative measures to get her aboard your ship.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

susanna craigA love affair with historical romances led Susanna Craig to a degree (okay, three degrees) in literature and a career as an English professor. When she’s not teaching or writing academic essays about Jane Austen and her contemporaries, she enjoys putting her fascination with words and knowledge of the period to better use: writing Regency-era romances she hopes readers will find both smart and sexy. She makes her home among the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country, along with her historian husband, their unstoppable little girl, and a genuinely grumpy cat.

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Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J Charles

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By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
***
In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

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How Many Miles?! – A Guest Post by K.J. Charles

My new book Wanted, A Gentleman, is a Georgian road-trip story. If that gives you visions of galloping freely through the great open roads, like Thelma and Louise with cravats, forget it. We’re in 1805 Britain. You might as well walk.

I’m hardly joking. One of the great irritants in historical or fantasy fiction for the literal-minded pedant such as myself is how easily some journeys fly by. The duke whisks the heroine into his well-sprung carriage on Pall Mall and the next thing you know they’re alone in his gothic estate on the Yorkshire Moors, listening to the mysterious howling of a spectral hound. This is very easily done for modern authors used to getting into a car, sticking on the radio, letting our minds wander and then finding ourselves where we want to be. And, let’s be honest, we’d rather be in the gothic estate, getting our fix of brooding, sexual tension, and running around in a nightie.

Nevertheless, even if you’re going to elide a Regency road trip with a sentence, that sentence probably has to begin, “After several days of an uncomfortable and tiresome journey…” because it was.

In Wanted, a Gentleman, our heroes Martin (reluctant pursuer of an eloping heiress) and Theo (his even more reluctant temporary sidekick) find themselves obliged to embark on a breakneck dash up north to catch the heiress before she and her swain cross the border to Scotland and get married. Martin has access, as they start their journey, to a state-of-the-art travelling chaise (what you might call a “high-speed chaise”, ahahaha) drawn by four horses. They are taking the Great North Road from London, one of the major roads in the country. You know how fast Martin and Theo are going to go, with all the resources wealth can throw at the journey in 1805?

About fourteen miles an hour.

Fourteen.

And 14mph is good. 14mph is what you can do on a good road with four horses, only not for long, because horses are not the same as internal combustion engines. To quote the great Diana Wynne Jones on horses in fantasy:

Horses are … capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  … Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.

Quite. Your actual horses had to be changed every 10-12 miles (that was a ‘stage’, and the stagecoach would stop at each staging post). This meant a stop, a wait for the ostler’s attention, hiring new horses which might well not be particularly good or energetic animals, getting them harnessed, and setting off again, only to repeat the whole procedure 10-12 miles later.

And this would not be comfortable. Coaches used springs and straps as a sort of suspension system but the roads were dreadful, full of ruts and potholes and rocks. Even 10mph would be dangerous, hard to achieve and hellaciously uncomfortable on many stretches of road.

It’s about 320 miles from London to Scotland. If you were on the road for twelve hours a day, in a good chaise and throwing money at the journey in order to go as fast as possible, that would still be a three-day journey of spine-jarring discomfort. Could be worse: in the stagecoach you’d be more likely to average 6mph in no more comfort at all.

On the plus side, this did mean that travellers had to spend an awful lot of time together, crammed onto a small seat, stuck in remote inns where they knew nobody, forced to share rooms in busy posthouses. Obviously that wasn’t much of a plus side for them, but it’s a boon for the historical romance writer. And who knows, Martin and Theo might even end up seeing the advantages…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, January 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

wanted-a-gentleman
This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.

The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.

Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner.  He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.

Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help.  A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.

Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.

This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel.  There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it.  Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:

“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”

“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”

“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”

And Theo gets it.  He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:

“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude.  Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest.  To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”

Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day.  Slavery had been abolished in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of it; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson.  Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.

Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona.  He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.

Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.

My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.

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THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS; WINNER WILL BE DRAWN SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kj-magpieKJ Charles is a writer of mostly m/m historical romance, sometimes with fantasy. She has won several Rainbow Awards for her work and twice been voted Best LGBT+ Romance in the All About Romance annual poll. She is published by Loveswept and Samhain.

KJ is also a RITA-winning editor with twenty years’ publishing experience as a commissioning and line editor. She worked primarily in romance and children’s fiction, and is now freelance.

She lives in London with her husband, two kids, a wildly overgrown garden, and a cat with murder-management issues.

Connect with KJ at: www.kjcharleswriter.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Tumblr.