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I Dared the Duke (Wayward Wallflowers #2) by Anna Bennett

I dared the duke

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Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, is known throughout the ton for three things: the burn scars on his neck, his ornery disposition, and the trail of broken hearts behind him. None of which would concern Miss Elizabeth Lacey in the least—if she weren’t living under his roof. As his grandmother’s companion, Beth is all too concerned with the moody and compelling duke. Incensed by his plans to banish the sweet dowager duchess to the country, Beth refuses to do his bidding. If Alex wants her help, he’s going to have to take her dare…and grant her three wishes.

Alex adores his grandmother, which is precisely why she must leave. A string of unfortunate incidents has him worried for the safety of everyone around him—including the dowager’s loyal and lovely companion, Beth. But the notorious wallflower isn’t as meek as she appears, and as their battle of wills heats up, so does Alex’s desire. He’s dangerously close to falling in love with her…and revealing secrets he’d rather keep hidden. How can he convince her that his darkest days are behind him—and that, for the first time in forever, his heart is true?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, April 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

I Dared the Duke continues the story of the three Lacey sisters, known as The Wilted Wallflowers after they were cruelly teased during their first season in London. Middle sister Beth Lacey gets the spotlight here and her story is enjoyable enough and a marginal improvement from the series’ début My Brown-Eyed Earl.

Miss Elizabeth Lacey hasn’t quite found her footing since her family’s social change of fortune. For years she and her sisters were cruelly teased for their unfashionable appearance, lack of fortune and their uncle’s eccentricities. Her sister’s recent marriage to an earl has raised their standing within the ton, but even with their newfound wealth, Beth isn’t comfortable facing the same people who so easily scorned her, so she offers herself as a companion to the elderly Dowager Duchess of Blackshire. The arraignment makes Beth feel needed and the duchess benefits from Beth’s attention. Everything is comfortable for Beth until the duchess’ grandson, the current Duke of Blackshire arrives home. Alexander Savage is strikingly handsome, even with the scars on his neck, but his attitude towards Beth is anything but attractive. He’s curt, dismissive and seems put-out that his grandmother has hired a companion without his knowledge.

Alex has arrived back at his London town house with the singular task of moving his beloved grandmother away from possible threats to his person. Over the last few weeks, Alex has fallen victim to more than a few accidents under very suspicious circumstances. The idea that someone is targeting him has him fearful that the perpetrator will shift their attention to the only person left that he cares for. Coming home to find that his grandmother has brought in a companion is an inconvenience and Alex makes it very clear to the pretty, young Miss Lacey that her services are no longer required. He doesn’t count on Beth digging in her heels about not leaving the duchess’ side and instead accuses Alex of neglect towards the only family he has left. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, yet to reveal his fears or his plans about capturing the person threatening him to Beth isn’t something Alex can do.

Beth and Alex are at loggerheads until he changes tactics on her. Rather than seeing Beth as an impediment to his plans, he instead asks for her help to convince his grandmother that moving to the country would be beneficial. Beth, still believing Alex to be a rogue who cares little for the aging duchess, adds the condition that she’ll help him if he’ll grant the older woman three wishes to make her remaining time in London more memorable. The requests the dowager makes seem easy enough for Alex to facilitate; however in spending time with his grandmother he is also enjoying Beth’s company and soon a friendship of sorts develops between the pair. It isn’t long before their closeness gives way to the attraction that’s been simmering since their first meeting, yet they are each reluctant to pursue a relationship for differing reasons. Alex still fears that anyone close to him could be in mortal danger, while Beth doesn’t want to give herself over to a man reputed to be a bed-hopping libertine.

I Dared the Duke is more light and fluffy than it is deep and character driven. Beth and Alex are easy to read about but they’re not very substantial past their interactions with each other. The gossip has painted Alex as a promiscuous rake; however he’s anything but. It’s never made 100% clear why Alex would want to have that kind of reputation follow him around London and it really only serves as a motivation for the accidents that have been following him. Otherwise, Alex is a fairly well adjusted individual and it makes him a little boring. There isn’t much of an edge to him or anything underneath the role he’s adopted as London’s greatest lover. A small secret about his awareness of Beth before meeting her is folded into his backstory but it only becomes a conflict for about a page. Then it’s dismissed in the name of love.

Beth’s misperceptions of Alex’s character are there so she doesn’t immediately swoon for him. She’s unwilling to be just another notch on his bedpost so she keeps him at arm’s length in order to protect her heart. When Beth discovers why Alex is so keen to have the duchess out of London she quickly drops her prejudices and wants to be a part of his investigation into who’s been threatening him. It’s a nice way to further the relationship building but once again it falls on the airy side of storytelling. Beth’s need to be needed is a character flaw; however everyone around her seems to think it’s her singular strength. Instead of being comfortable in her own skin, Beth needs the constant reassurance that she’s made a difference for someone else. It’s difficult to get behind a character who defines herself by how others see her.

Readers looking for an easy, light read will find that I Dared the Duke fits the bill nicely. The story has its charms and the emotions expressed towards the end of the book are heartwarming. I’m not compelled to continue The Wayward Wallflowers series past this story but it was a nice diversion between the more dramatic and weighty romances.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Upon Your Love (Heiresses in Love #3) by Marie Lavender

upon your love

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The Hill family saga concludes as loyalties are questioned, faiths will be tested and undying love may come at a terrible cost…

Fara Hill, mother and faithful wife, is torn between her family at home and her urge to be at sea. Soon, she learns some disturbing truths. Was the past a fairy tale instead of reality?

Chloe Hill, loving wife and young mother, questions her faith when her husband sets an ultimatum she cannot meet. Will she be able to keep her marriage from falling apart?

Adrienne Bellamont Hill, born of a valiant captain and a fiery redhead, is untamed to her core and will bow to no man. Then Christian du Plessis enters her life with an offer she can’t refuse. Discovering the man behind the polished gentleman, she is drawn to him in many ways. Holding out for love is a family tradition, but can she resist the temptation of passion?

Christian finds this young woman to be a fascinating challenge, and is torn between keeping his distance from her and succumbing to her charms. A fierce battle of wills ensues as he sees she is much more than he ever imagined.

But danger lurks, threatening to destroy everything…

Can these two strong-willed individuals unite in the cause before time runs out?

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EXCERPT

Christian scanned the wall and came to rest on a woman whose face was obscured by the way she stood. She was turned slightly away, in conversation with another girl. She had long, dark wavy hair and a nice form. When she turned back towards him, he caught his breath at the stunning figure she posed. Her eyes were a violet color; he could tell because the gas lights in the room caught them like fine gemstones. She was also fairly tall for a woman. Her skin was a fine, light golden shade, which didn’t detract from her beauty at all. Most of her contemporaries avoided direct sunlight. It was clear that her skin tone was natural, perhaps with a hint of being blessed by the sun’s rays. He wondered what sort of woman would place herself in the elements while the other women in her circle managed to elude such avenues.

His gaze continued to travel over her strange perfection. Her décolletage dipped to the tops of her full breasts, hinting at pleasure, and she was dressed in a long gown of pale blue. The shape of the gown gave off the suggestion of ample curves beneath. What kind, he could only guess. He imagined the costume was an heirloom because most women’s fashions these days weren’t so revealing. “Who is that?” he pointed.

“Mademoiselle Bellamont Hill.”

“I haven’t seen her before.”

“It is past her season. She hasn’t been to a function in a couple of years, I believe. Something about a mourning period.”

“But, isn’t she from around here?”

“Yes, in a way. Her family travels often. Her father is a captain, and so is her brother. When she is here, she lives with her mother and aunt.”

“Why hasn’t she married?”

Pierce shrugged. “It could be any number of reasons. Why? Do you want me to ask her to dance?”

“No, not her. Perhaps her companion would be interested.” He referred to the blonde woman at Mademoiselle Hill’s side. Christian didn’t allow himself to wonder why he thought the other girl would not suit his friend.

Pierce agreed, and they both started in that direction. When they approached the ladies, Christian took the first woman’s hand, brushing his lips over it. He observed that her skin was incredibly soft and had a tantalizing sweet scent. He curbed the urge to explore it further.

She gasped, a flush staining her cheeks. “Monsieur?”

“Forgive me for the abrupt entrance. I am Christian du Plessis. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mademoiselle.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I am Adrienne Nicolette Bellamont Hill.” She looked over at her companion. If she noticed the impropriety of not being introduced by a common acquaintance, she did not say. “This is my good friend, Elena Wyndham. She’s visiting from England.”

Though he’d blinked as she gave her full name, he managed, “Oh? It is so good to have your acquaintance. Ladies, this is my ami, Pierce Laroque.”

“Hello, Pierce,” both girls chimed and shook his hand alternately.

Pierce looked flustered as he murmured a greeting.

“I hope you’ll take good care of my friend here. He is rather shy with women. Perhaps you might make him feel welcome,” he whispered, leaning in close to Elena with a smile.

She gave him a conspiratorial smile, and then turned to Pierce. “Might you dance with me, Monsieur? I can’t stand here and simply watch this gaiety.”

Pierce readily agreed and escorted Elena to the dance floor just as the music for another waltz began.

The woman named Adrienne frowned, looking up at Christian. “What was that? What are you up to?”

“Just a little matchmaking,” he shrugged.

“Perhaps your friend wouldn’t be pleased with your interference.”

Christian took her hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm. “Shall we walk?” At her nod, he led her in a stroll around the edges of the room. As they ambled along, the heavenly scent of blended flowers and honey drifted into his nose. He struggled with the desire to lean closer so that he could breathe more of her in. “I’m sure he would welcome it. Pierce is rather reserved, and not at all used to conversing with women.”

She nodded. “He asked for your help then.”

His mouth twisted. Pierce would never have asked; he was far too honorable a man for that, which was why he’d volunteered. “In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“I suppose I cannot reprimand you for assisting a friend,” she sighed. “For a moment, I simply thought you had ulterior motives.”

“To pair myself off with you?”

She lifted a brow. “You can’t blame me for the assumption.”

“No, I cannot. Don’t take this the wrong way, Mademoiselle Hill. You are very tempting, and I am more drawn to you than I should be. But, my purpose in coming here tonight wasn’t self-serving. It was to help Pierce find a wife.”

She stumbled a little, and he clasped her arm in time. “A wife? Surely you cannot be serious.”

“Deadly.”

“But, Elena wouldn’t… she would never—”

“No? And why not? Pierce is a good man.”

“So? What woman would agree to marry a man after one night?”

“Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.”

Her beautiful, dark brows drew together and even her apparent perplexity appealed to him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 23 other books. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title – winner of the “Broken Heart” themed contest and the “I Love You” themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers’ Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 24 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several multi-author anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series, The Blood at First Sight Series and The Code of Endhivar Series.

Links:

http://marielavender.com/
http://iloveromanceblog.wordpress.com/
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Surrender to the Marquess (Herriard Family #3) by Louise Allen

surrender to the marquess

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A battle of wills!

When Lady Sara Herriard’s husband dies in a duel, she turns her back on the vagaries of the ton. From now on, she will live as she pleases. She won’t change for anyone – certainly not for the infuriating Lucian Avery, Marquess of Cannock! Lucian must help his sister recover from a disastrous elopement and reluctantly enlists Lady Sara’s help. She couldn’t be further from the conventional, obedient wife he’s expected to marry, but soon, all he craves is for her to surrender – and join him in his bed!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting:  England 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Surrender to the Marquess ticks all the boxes of a well-written regency romance; the author’s attention to detail is excellent, the setting perfect and so well communicated that one feels the waves on the Dorset beach, hears the seagulls and smells the saltiness of an English seaside. Even the cover is perfect, with the balcony and the sea in the background… add in well developed, three dimensional characters and all is in place for a satisfying read.

Lady Sara Harcourt has escaped to the quiet seaside town of Sandbay in Dorset after her scholastic husband’s tragic death in a duel. By day she is Mrs Harcourt, owner of a shop that sells art and craft supplies, and by night she reverts to being Lady Sara. The locals know who she is,and her connection to the aristocracy has never been a secret, and I admit that while I understood her need to escape after her shocking bereavement, I wasn’t quite sure why she needed to maintain two different identities.

Then we have ‘Mr L.J.  Dunton Esquire’ otherwise known as Lucian John Dunton Avery, Marquess of Cannock. He has taken his unwell young sister to the seaside town not only to attempt to heal her in body and mind but also to try to salvage what’s left of her reputation after a disastrous elopement with his private secretary left her alone and bereft on the continent. She miscarried a child and her erstwhile swain mysteriously disappeared, leaving her sick and without the benefit of a wedding ring. It’s imperative that brother and sister keep a low profile in order to protect Marguerite, but it isn’t long before his identity is uncovered by Sara who, recognising a fellow aristocrat by his manner and demeanour, confirms who he is after looking him up in Burke’s Peerage. Before that, however, Lucian asks Sara if she might have anything in her shop that might interest his sister, and Sara, a forthright, managing kind of female, suggests she come to their hotel to visit the young woman.

Lucian and Sara feel an immediate frisson of attraction from their first meeting and I must say that the author develops their relationship well although it isn’t long before the difficulties they face start to look quite insurmountable. Both are extremely attractive, independent people – Sara’s freedom has been hard won and she does not wish to be bound by convention. Lucian would like nothing more than to have a passionate affair with the intriguingly beautiful widow and eventually they do succumb to the overwhelming attraction between them but it is difficult to carry it on when she has become his sister’s champion. Society would not approve of his lover being his sister’s friend or chaperone.

There is a battle going on throughout the book which is the real gist of the story. Lucian is the epitome of an honourable aristocrat, brought up to protect his womenfolk whatever the consequences. Sara started out her life with a fair amount of freedom; her mother is half-Indian of superior birth, and her father was a major in the British army until he inherited a marquessate – and she spent the earlier part of her life with her happily married parents and brother in India living a fairly relaxed and normal life. On her father’s accession to his title, the family was obviously obliged to return to England. Sara was allowed to choose her own husband – a scholar – and lived a quiet but happy existence with him until he too was smitten by the honour bug and fought a duel to protect a perceived slight to her honour, and died in the process. As a result she is well and truly against anything that compromises her freedom and will not tolerate any man’s protection.  Duels are anathema to her and she won’t countenance them for any reason.

Lucian and Sara, it seems, will always be at odds over his uncompromising over-protectiveness and her independent streak and I wondered how they would ever be able to reconcile their differences. And that’s my dilemma and the reason I haven’t awarded the book a higher grade  – they do get their HEA but I still felt that the issues between them were not, nor ever would be, totally resolved. They simply had to agree to disagree.

The book is very well written, and although I had issues with certain aspects of this story, I plan to read more by this author, starting with Forbidden Jewel of India, which tells the love story of Sara’s parents.

 

When a Laird Finds a Lass (Highland Fairy Tales #2) by Lecia Cornwall

laird-lass

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She is his greatest enemy and his only salvation.

Malcolm MacDonald, a lawyer in Edinburgh, unexpectedly inherits his father’s title of Laird of Dunbronach, forcing him to return to a place he hasn’t seen since he was a small child. To gain the trust of a wary clan, Malcolm must act upon their insistence that he cast aside his English betrothed and marry a Highlander.

However, they have one condition—no lasses of the barbaric clan MacLeod.

When he finds an unconscious woman in the sea, he brings her back to his clan but not before doing the one thing that could save her life—hiding her all too telling MacLeod plaid. When she wakes with no memory of who she is, Malcolm vows to keep the little he knows about her identity a secret. As new dangers threaten his clan, the mysterious lass teaches Malcolm some very important lessons about how to be a Highlander and a laird.

But secrets never stay secret for long, and when she finds her plaid, her memory returns and she flees. Malcolm is forced to make a difficult choice to win her back, facing his darkest fears and his worst enemy for a chance at true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Swerve/St. Martin’s Press, November 2016
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1707
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Lecia Cornwall has set her stories in the Scottish Highlands but the characters and their struggles to find love ever after are very familiar. In When a Laird Finds a Lass there are some parallels to the story of The Little Mermaid; however the spin here is that the young heroine finds her true voice rather than sacrificing it to find her hero.

Marcail MacLeod’s heart is broken when she discovers the man she hoped would marry her having sex with another woman. With her pride just as bruised as her heart, she makes the mistake of accepting another man’s offer of marriage just to escape humiliation and take back control of her future. On the way to his lands Marcail learns that her new betrothed has no intention of being faithful to her either. She risks everything by jumping into the sea to escape an unhappy marriage.

On the shores of Dunbronach the new laird, Malcom MacDonald, discovers an unconscious young woman wrapped in the plaid of his clan’s enemy, the MacLeods. Malcom was raised as a lowlander in Edinburgh and has only recently assumed the leadership of the impoverished clan after the death of his estranged father, who insisted that Malcom become laird. The elders of the clan want Malcom to continue the old ways and feel that the next step is for him to marry but they warn him away from any woman from the MacLeod clan. Fearing that his people will reject helping the unconscious woman strictly because of her clan association, Malcom hides her plaid before taking her to the healer.

Awakening in a strange place, the woman has trouble remembering her name or the circumstances that brought her to Dunbronach. Some of the people believe she could be a selkie and give her the name Ronat which means “seal.” Others believe she could be a spy and are wary of trusting her. Only Malcom knows the truth of her affiliation and protects her as much as he can by keeping her close. He is attracted to her and enjoys their conversations as she recovers physically but he is aware that her lost memories could hide more than just her name. She could be married or may not wish to associate with a MacDonald because of the enmity between their clans.

As Ronat finds her place within the MacDonald clan she sees the struggles Malcom faces almost daily to lead his people. He wants to do what is right for the community and the land but is untried as a leader and is seen as an outsider from the Highland way of life. Ronat’s memories may have gaps but in her heart she knows how to approach the situation from a highlander’s perspective. She shows Malcom that he can make important changes by listening to his people and showing them that his ideas will gain them exactly what they need. Together they become a team but there is still that uncertainty of who Ronat truly is. Malcom wants her in his life but still fears his people could refuse to have a MacLeod as the laird’s wife.

When a Laird Finds a Lass takes its time developing the relationship between Malcom and Marcail (Ronat) to allow a reader to get a true sense of their growing partnership. The challenges Malcom faces with his clan keep him on shaky footing until Ronat is there to keep him secure his position. As he finds his strength as a leader she is right there, finding her voice as a woman. The community accepts her, Malcom listens to her and she is allowed to flourish because she has no memory of her previous life as daughter of the MacLeod leader. Marcail comes to love Malcom while watching him embrace his inner highlander and trust in the traditions of his clan while still folding in his knowledge of the modern way of doing things. He tries to fight his feelings for Marcail because there of the question mark about her identity, yet Malcom is at his best when he lets her get past those defenses.

I appreciate that the obstacles in front of Malcom and Marcail being together aren’t artificially put in their way. Clan politics and loyalties mean something to both characters and cannot be ignored just because of their attraction. I also liked that the fairy tale undercurrent of the story is brought forth through the Dunbronach peoples’ belief that the laird will be granted a wish for his people by a princess of the sea. When a Laird Finds a Lass shares a setting with the previous book in the Highland Fairy Tale series but stands alone with its storyline and resolution. I enjoyed the subtle sense of magic that brings Malcom and Marcail together and hope there will be more to come in the next book.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: No Conventional Miss by Eleanor Webster

No Conventional Miss
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She’s always been different…

Amaryllis Gibson is an unlikely debutante. She favors fact over fashion, cares not for “proper” conversation and is haunted by ghostly visions which could land her in the madhouse! Marriage is definitely the last thing on Rilla’s mind…

But when she’s caught in a compromising position with Viscount Wyburn, suddenly she finds herself betrothed! And worse, his powerful presence only increases her visions. By shedding light on the viscount’s past, can Rilla gain his trust and win him round to her more…unconventional traits?

EXCERPT

Lyngate Estate—1817

‘This sounds like yet another of your ill-advised schemes,’ said Paul Lindsey, Viscount Wyburn, with as much patience as he could muster.

‘Piffle,’ his stepmother retorted, shaking her grey ringlets. ‘It would be a crime to allow such delightful girls to languish in the country.’

‘But hardly incumbent upon you to rectify the situation.’ Paul stood by the mantel. His gaze drifted from the china figurines to the requisite pink, dimpled Cupids depicted across the drawing-room ceiling.

‘Who else will take them in hand? Their dear mother is dead, and Sir George has a predilection for horses and cards. Very sad.’ Lady Wyburn bent with apparent diligence over her needlework.

Turning, Paul sat across from his relative and studied her more closely. He drummed his fingers on the low rosewood table. Lady Wyburn was the only person on God’s earth he gave tuppence for, and he’d not allow some sticky-fingered squire to rob her blind.

‘Stepmother.’ He leaned forward on the ludicrously low sofa. ‘People tend to take advantage of you. If you recall, your young nephew—’

‘Not the same thing.’ She fluttered her hand in front of her face as though shooing a non-existent pest. ‘Rilla and her younger sister, Imogene, are charming. Imogene’s looks are exceptional and Rilla is refreshing. Not beautiful exactly, but exotic and interesting.’

‘Admirable attributes in a book or a flower.’

‘Don’t be flippant, dear.’ She waved her needlepoint, a colourful object of pinks and purples with no discernible pattern. ‘Anyway, Sir George hasn’t a clue how to find them suitable husbands and lacks the funds—’

‘And sees you as a lucrative prospect, I suppose.’ Paul shifted his legs, moving them away from the fire’s warmth, again drumming his fingers. He stopped. The noise irritated and revealed an emotional response he would not allow.

‘Nonsense. Sir George is an academic of repute. The only prospects that interest him involve ancient Greeks or Romans.’

‘Except for the occasional English racehorse. What about their dowries? Will you contribute to that charity?’ he questioned.

‘Dear Sir George would not agree. Besides, Rilla would create a rumpus. She is proud and not at all keen on marriage.’

‘That will be a change. Rilla? An unusual name.’ ‘Short for Amaryllis.’

‘How unfortunate. Her mother was in a botanical mood, I presume.’ But the name was unforgettable. He’d heard it before.

Good God!

‘Not that girl who rode the pig through Lady Lockhart’s garden at that party we attended before I went to the Continent?’ he asked with dawning comprehension.

‘A goat, actually. And she was younger then.’

‘You plan to present this…urn, young lady?’ A smile tugged at his mouth.

‘Rilla is much improved. And we all fall into scrapes in our youth.’

‘I do not remember riding stray barnyard animals.’

‘You were always a responsible youth. Besides, as I recall, you said it was the best part of the day.’

‘That was a long time ago.’ Paul stood and walked to the window, stifling a yawn.

‘You’re tired.’ Lady Wyburn spoke sharply. ‘You did not sleep well.’

Of course he had not slept well. He’d been at Wyburn, hadn’t he? He never slept well at his estate. Or within a ten-mile radius of that cursed lake.

He rolled his shoulders. ‘It is more likely the heat in this room and not my sleeping habits which make me yawn. Might we return to the subject of your neighbours?’

‘Delightful girls.’

‘Generally people you find delightful prove unscrupulous.’ He turned from the window with sudden decision. ‘I will pay my respects to the Gibsons this afternoon. I trust you will take note if I am dissatisfied with their character.’

‘I always listen to your insights. Ride over now, dear.’ Lady Wyburn waved a hand in the direction of the French window as if expecting him to leap through it on his mission.

Paul preferred a more conventional exit. ‘Goodbye, Stepmother,’ he said, kissing her cheek. ‘Enjoy yourself.’

‘As I would a visit to the tooth extractor,’ he muttered, striding from the room.

Miss Amaryllis Gibson sat on the wooden swing that hung from the lowest limb of the chestnut tree. She scuffed her feet. This was her favourite spot on the estate. She liked the view of their solid red-brick house. She enjoyed the ramshackle shapes of the dairy, wash house and stable. She even appreciated the smell, a sweet mix of soap, grass and horses.

But today, none of this helped. She poked the toe of her shabby black-buttoned boot into the earth.

She’d woken with one of her feelings.

Rilla hated her feelings. No, hatred would be a far preferable emotion. She feared them. They made goosebumps prickle her arms and her shoulders tense. She wanted to run or gallop, as though with enough speed she could escape from her own mind.

Pushing the swing higher, she breathed deeply. Her petticoats billowed as she stretched too-long legs, gaining height and speed. Loose strands of hair tickled her face and the fields blurred.

Briefly, her stomach lurched as she hung at the highest point, only to fly down in tumultuous descent. Momentum, it was called. Momentum fascinated her.

Many improper things fascinated Rilla: Roman aqueducts, force, gravity, Sir Isaac Newton’s theories and her mechanised butter churn. Unfortunately, no one appreciated such items, and her water-powered churn had only succeeded in flooding the dairy.

Rilla frowned. Of course, in London she’d have little time for her inventions. Proper ladies did not develop churns.

Or flood dairies.

Or have feelings.

Sliding to a stop, Rilla jumped from the swing. Even thinking about London bothered her. She had no desire for the city with its meaningless social niceties and the constant pressure to find a husband, which was, of course, the one thing she must not do.

How she’d always loved this tree. She liked its thick, sheltering canopy of green and the feeling of her own strength and invulnerability as she pulled herself, branch by branch, through its foliage. It was even the site of her first pulley. She could see it now, the wooden wheel and rope partially entangled within the twigs and leaves.

Could she? Just once more? After all, the rope should be removed for safety’s sake. With a thrill of forbidden pleasure, she looked about the still garden and drive.

Nothing and no one.

Stepping forward, she touched the trunk. The bark was rough under her fingertips. She inhaled. The air smelled wonderful, of wood, and earth, and mushrooms.

Scooping up the loose cloth of her skirt, she tucked it into the sash around her waist and grabbed the lowest branch. With strong, quick movements, she reached the pulley and, leaning forward, untangled the rope and tossed it to the ground below.

Done. She exhaled, allowing herself a moment to relax in this world of green light and dappled sun. A late-spring breeze touched her cheeks and the leaves rustled.

She would have stayed longer if she hadn’t heard the rhythmic clip-clop of a horse’s hooves. She stiffened. They seldom had guests, unless they were of the card-playing variety, but Father had given that up two months since.

Bending, she squinted through the leaves.

A gentleman approached along their rutted drive. He stopped his horse under her tree and dismounted with elegant, long-limbed grace. He was tall and lean with hair so dark it looked black.

Then it came.

The sensation was of loss and pain so intense her world spun. Branches and leaves joggled in a blur of green. Rilla gulped for air.

The world turned dark, as though night had descended.

Dimly she saw a lake, ink black and spattered with raindrops. So cold her fingers numbed and her grip loosened. She reached out, snatching a twig.She missed and, with a cry, fell through the sharp, splintering branches to the ground below.

She landed with a jarring jolt and gasped in shock and pain.

‘What –? Miss, are you all right?’ The voice came as if from a distance.

She opened her eyes. Daylight reappeared.

A man bent over he, a man different than any she had met before. The straight dark brows, unyielding jaw and mouth gave her the confused impression of harsh strength. Briefly, his stark silhouette seemed mythical – Hades searching for Persephone.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor WebsterEleanor Webster loves high-heels and sun, which is ironic as she lives in northern Canada, the land of snowhills and unflattering footwear. Various crafting experiences, including a nasty glue-gun episode, have proven that her creative soul is best expressed through the written word. Eleanor is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and holds an undergraduate degree in history and creative writing. She loves to use her writing to explore her fascination with the past.

You can connect with Eleanor at her website * ~ * ~ * Goodreads.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Avelynn by Marissa Campbell

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One extraordinary Saxon noblewoman and one fearless Viking warrior find passion and danger in this dazzling and sensuous debut.

Marissa Campbell’s debut novel is a winning combination of romance, history, and adventure sure to appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon.

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn’t yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it’s more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?.

EXCERPT

A coarse, bloodcurdling shout reverberated through the mist. The drum silenced. I froze. My heart took up a thunderous beat as if a thousand starlings’ wings beat in my chest. Something was terribly wrong. I turned my gaze to the sea, frantically scanning the swirling, ebbing mass of gray, willing the mist to lift.

Shades and shadows melted away. The outline of a Viking ship materialized before my eyes. A blood-red sail pierced the gloom, a black bird emblazed upon the fabric. A beast of a man ran toward me, a painted shield in one hand, an axe in the other. He stepped over the circle and grabbed my arms. I could smell the fetid reek of his breath, the unwashed sweat and sea spray on his filthy clothes. I screamed. He snarled, covered my mouth, and thrust me to the ground. I kicked and thrashed as he fumbled one-handed with the drawstring on his trousers.

Then he stopped, a look of surprise etched in his wide eyes. Blood sputtered out of his mouth, and he fell sideways.

I scrambled back as his body twitched, my breath ragged. An axe was stuck fast in his spine.

I screamed again as another Viking appeared before me. Taller than Glastonbury Tor, he wore a silver helmet with nose and cheek guards and full mail. The same black bird as on the ship’s sail stretched its wings across the battered wooden surface of his shield. A sword and a knife, cradled in their scabbards, hung from a leather belt on his waist. He grabbed one of the dead Viking’s feet and hauled him out of the circle. He jerked the axe free of the body and tucked the weapon into a sling that hung on his back.

I found my feet, spinning to discover the extent of my trouble. Were there more invaders? Did the Viking know I was alone with no chance of aid? Were his men scoping the surrounding area even now? Did they find our campsite with only two horses and two bedrolls? Where was Bertram?

The Viking looked down at the circle drawn in the sand and bowed. With his body still bent, he raised his head, blue eyes regarding me. “I apologize for the disruption to your ritual, Seiðkana,” he said, speaking in the Norse tongue.

I narrowed my eyes at him. Seiðkana? I wasn’t sure of the translation of the word, but I thought it meant witch.

“Who are you?” I asked in Norse, earning a look of shock.

“I am Alrik the Bloodaxe, your servant.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 869, England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

There was no future for us. He was a Viking, I was a Saxon.

At seventeen, Avelynn is almost past her time for marriage. She has been waiting for a love match, similar to that of her mother and father. But with the threat of an imminent invasion by Viking hordes, her father wants to see her safe, and arranges a betrothal to the wealthy Demas of Wareham.

02_Avelynn_CoverIn a land that has been Christianised for generations, Avelynn is a pagan, a secret worshipper of the Goddess, like her mother before her. Unimpressed and suspicious of Demas, Avelynn travels to a mystical place on the west coast of Somerset to celebrate the equinox, and to ask the Goddess’s blessing and guidance. There on the shores of the sea she comes face-to-face with Alrik, the Bloodaxe.

Set in England 869AD, this is Marissa Campbell’s debut and overall it’s a pretty fine read. The strength here might be the descriptions of the era, setting and culture of the 9th century. Well-paced, with a flowing narrative, she captures the spirit and life of the times when England had been invaded by the Great Heathen Army. The historical details combine deftly with the romance.

Narrated in first person from Avelynn’s point-of-view, we don’t get to see a lot of pillaging by these Vikings, unfortunately. With the story viewed through Avelynn’s eyes, we do get to see her view of life in Britain at the time, and the mysticism and supernatural world of the pagan. Avelynn has been given a fair amount of freedom by her father, the Earl of Somerset. But with the spread of Christianity, with women made subservient to men and women’s rights diminished, she bristles at not being allowed to choose her own husband, own her own land, and to be respected.

Despite being a Viking, Alrik is not quite the bloodthirsty Norseman that one normally reads about, at least with Avelynn. He is a considered warrior-lite compared to his brothers, Ivan, Ubbe and Halfdan. Under Ivan’s leadership the Vikings had marched into East Anglia more than four years before. With a cruel and mostly absent father, Alrik was raised by his mother and a Christian priest who educated him in languages, mathematics and morality, but he was also taught to fight by his father.

My only real complaint here, is that the romance between Alrik and Avelynn leans towards the insta-love kind. Although it took Avelynn a little longer, it didn’t take too long for Alrik to fall for her.

In all, Avelynn is a very strong début. And one that would suit fans of both romantic historical fiction and Viking romances, rather than readers of straight historical fiction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

03_Marissa Campbell_AuthorMarissa Campbell is a published freelance author, and co-author of the award-winning, spiritual self-help book Life: Living in Fulfillment Every Day.

Look for her debut historical fiction Avelynn coming September 8th, 2015, from St. Martin’s Press. Currently, hard at work on the second book in the Avelynn series, she is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, Writer’s Community of Durham Region, and local critique group B7.

When she is not writing, she is busy looking after her wonderful children, spending time with her fantastic husband, hanging out with her awesome friends, teaching yoga, dancing, laughing, and having fun!

For more information visit http://marissacampbell.com. You can also follow Marissa Campbell on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Duke’s Daughter by Sasha Cottman

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When handsome army officer Avery Fox unexpectedly inherits a fortune, he instantly becomes one of the season’s most eligible bachelors. More accustomed to the battlefield, he has no patience with the naive debutantes who fill the ballrooms of London.

Honest and impetuous Lady Lucy Radley is a breath of fresh air, guiding him through the season and helping him to avoid any traps. So when Avery is left with little option but to marry Lucy, he can’t help but feel he’s been manipulated. Nor can he shake the feeling that a duke’s daughter should be out of his reach.

From the wildly beautiful Scottish Highlands to the elegant soirees of Paris, Avery and Lucy go on a journey that is full of surprises for them both. But will their feelings for each other be strong enough to overcome the circumstances of their marriage and survive the ghosts of Avery’s past?

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TRAILER

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EXCERPT

By every measure of her own behaviour, Lady Lucy Radley knew this was the worst.

‘You reckless fool,’ she muttered under her breath as she headed back inside and into the grand ballroom.

The room was a crush of London’s social elite. Every few steps she had to stop and make small talk with friends or acquaintances. A comment here and there about someone’s gown or promising a social call made for slow going.

Finally she spied her cousin, Eve. She fixed a smile to her face as Eve approached.

‘Where have you been, Lucy? I’ve been searching everywhere for you.’

‘I was just outside admiring the flowers on the terrace.’

Eve frowned, but the lie held.

Another night, another ball in one of London’s high-society homes. In one respect Lucy would be happy when the London social season ended in a few weeks; then she would be free to travel to her family home in Scotland and go tramping across the valleys and mountain paths, the chill wind ruffling her hair.

She puffed out her cheeks. With the impending close of the season came an overwhelming sense of failure. Her two older brothers, David and Alex, had taken wives. Perfect, love-filled unions with delightful girls, each of whom

Lucy was happy to now call sister.

Her newest sister-in-law, Earl Langham’s daughter Clarice, was already in a delicate condition, and Lucy suspected it was only a matter of time before her brother Alex and his wife Millie shared some good news.

For herself, this season had been an unmitigated disaster on the husband-hunting front. The pickings were slim at best. Having refused both an earl and a viscount the previous season, she suspected other suitable gentlemen now viewed her as too fussy. No gentleman worth his boots wanted a difficult wife. Only the usual group of fortune-hunters, intent on getting their hands on her substantial dowry, were lining up at this stage of the season to ask her to dance. Maintaining her pride as the daughter of a duke, she refused them all.

Somewhere in the collective gentry of England there must be a man worthy of her love. She just had to find him.

What a mess.

‘You are keeping something from me,’ Eve said, poking a finger gently into Lucy’s arm.

Lucy shook her head. ‘It’s nothing. I suspect I am suffering from a touch of ennui. These balls all begin to look the same after a while. All the same people, sharing the same gossip.’

‘Oh dear, and I thought I was having a bad day,’ Eve replied.

‘Sorry, I was being selfish. You are the one who needs a friend to cheer her up,’ Lucy replied. She kissed her cousin gently on the cheek.

Eve’s brother William had left London earlier that day to return to his home in Paris, and she knew her cousin was taking his departure hard.

‘Yes, well, I knew I could sit at home and cry, or I could put on a happy face and try to find something to smile about,’ Eve replied.

Eve’s father had tried without success to convince his son to return permanently to England. With the war now over and Napoleon toppled from power, everyone expected William Saunders to come home immediately, but it had taken two years for him to make the journey back to London.

‘Perhaps once he gets back to France and starts to miss us all again, he shall have a change of heart,’ Lucy said.

‘One can only hope. Now, let’s go and find a nice quiet spot and you can tell me what you were really doing out in the garden. Charles Ashton came in the door not a minute before you, and he had a face like thunder. As I happened to see the two of you head out into the garden at the same time a little while ago, I doubt Charles’ foul temper was because he found the flowers not to his liking,’ Eve replied.

It was late when Lucy and her parents finally returned home to Strathmore House. The Duke and Duchess of Strathmore’s family home was one of the largest houses in the elegant West End of London. It was close to the peaceful greenery of Hyde Park, and Lucy couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

As they came through the grand entrance to Strathmore House she was greeted by the sight of her eldest brother David seated on a low couch outside their father’s study. He was clad in a heavy black greatcoat and his hat was in his hand.

‘Hello, David; bit late for a visit this evening. I hope nothing is wrong,’ said Lord Strathmore.

‘Clarice?’ asked Lady Caroline.

‘She’s fine, sleeping soundly at home,’ he replied.

Lucy sensed the pride and love for his wife in her brother’s voice. He had found his true soulmate in Lord Langham’s daughter.

David stood and came over. When he reached them, he greeted his mother and sister with a kiss. His dark hair was a stark contrast to both Lady Caroline’s and Lucy’s fair complexions.

He turned to his father. ‘Lord Langham’s missing heir has been found, and the news is grave. My father-in-law asked that I come and inform you before it becomes public knowledge. A rather horrid business, by all accounts.’

‘I see. Ladies, would you please excuse us? This demands my immediate attention,’ Lord Strathmore said.

As Lucy and Lady Caroline headed up the grand staircase, he and David retired to his study. As soon as the door was closed behind them, David shared the news.

‘The remains of Thaxter Fox were retrieved from the River Fleet a few hours ago. His brother Avery, whom you met at my wedding ball a few weeks ago, has formally identified the body. Lord Langham is currently making funeral arrangements,’ David said.

His father shook his head. It was not an unexpected outcome of the search for the missing Thaxter Fox.

He wandered over to a small table and poured two glasses of whisky. He handed one to David.

‘Well, that makes for a new and interesting development. I don’t expect Avery Fox had ever entertained the notion before today that he would one day be Earl Langham,’ Lord Strathmore replied, before downing his drink.

‘Perhaps, but he had to know the likelihood of finding his brother in one piece was slim at best. From our enquiries, it was obvious Thaxter had a great many enemies,’ David replied.

‘Including you,’ said the duke.

David looked down at his gold wedding ring. It still bore the newlywed gleam, which made him smile.

‘He and I had come to a certain understanding. If he stayed away from Langham House and Clarice, I would not flay the skin off his back. No, someone else decided to make Thaxter pay for his evil ways.’

The Langham and Radley families held little affection for the recently deceased heir to the Langham title. After Thaxter had made an attempt to seize Clarice’s dowry through a forced marriage, both families had severed all ties.

Thaxter had disappeared not long after.

David would do everything in his power to protect Clarice. With a baby on the way, he was fully prepared to stare down the rest of the town if it meant keeping his wife safe. As the illegitimate, but acknowledged, son of the duke,

David had overcome many of society’s prejudices in order to successfully woo and wed Lord Langham’s only daughter.

‘Unkind as it sounds, I doubt many at Langham House will be mourning the demise of the eldest Mr Fox,’ his father replied.

‘No.’

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TO WIN A COPY OF THE DUKE’S DAUGHTER, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER. 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

sasha cottman author picBorn in England, but raised in Australia, Sasha has a love for both countries. Having her heart in two places has created a love for travel, which at last count was to over 55 countries. A travel guide is always on her pile of new books to read.

Her first published novel, Letter from a Rake was a finalist for the 2014 Romantic Book of the Year.
Sasha lives with her husband, teenage daughter and a cat who demands a starring role in the next book. She has found new hiding spots for her secret chocolate stash. On the weekends Sasha loves walking on the beach while trying to deal with her bad knee and current Fitbit obsession.

You can connect with Sasha at: www.sashacottman.com * ~ * ~ * Blog * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * ~ * Pinterest.