A Lady’s Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless #5) by Meredith Duran

a lady's code of misconduct

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A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL…
Trapped in the countryside, facing an unwanted marriage and the theft of her fortune, Jane Mason is done behaving nicely. To win her freedom, she’ll strike a deal with the most dangerous man she knows—a rising star in politics, whose dark good looks mask an even darker heart.

…NEVER GOES TO PLAN.
The bitter past has taught Crispin Burke to trust no one. He’ll gladly help a lovely young heiress, provided she pays a price. Yet when a single mistake shatters his life, it is Jane who holds the key to his salvation. And in a world that no longer makes sense, Crispin slowly realizes that she may be the only thing worth fighting for…

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, February 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1860
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

Fans of Meredith Duran have had a fairly long time to wait between the publication of her last novel – Luck Be a Lady – and this new one, which is billed as the fifth in her Rules for the Reckless series, but I’m pleased to report that the wait, while frustrating, was well worth it. In A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, she has once again dazzled me with the beauty and focus of her writing, and her ability to craft a tightly-knit, intriguing plot and wonderfully complex, imperfect and highly intelligent characters who very quickly take on lives of their own in the mind of the reader.

The story centres around the political career and machinations of Mr. Crispin Burke MP, the second son of Viscount Sibley and most definitely the black sheep of his family. With ambitions to become Prime Minister, Burke has steadily drawn many in the Commons to his side by means of threats, blackmail and bribery; his name is a byword for corruption in parliamentary circles and it seems as though he is about to achieve his goal. His Penal Reform bill, a punitive, unfair piece of legislation, has enough support to defeat the government and unseat Palmerston.

Burke’s closest ally is Philip Mason, a man with as black a heart and as few principals, and who is currently supporting himself and his family at the expense of his niece, Jane, whose father left his considerable fortune to her at his death. Mason is unable to touch the principal amount, but has been syphoning off everything he could for years, and intends to marry her to his son in order to keep the money in the family. Jane is twenty-three, but has never had a season and is not allowed to go beyond the gates, so she has, in effect, been a prisoner for the past six years. But worse than all that is the fact that she has had to pretend to be a brainless ninny for all of that time. Her late parents were progressive, so she was well-educated and brought up to think for herself and not to be afraid to express her opinions – but her uncle believes women should be seen and not heard and Jane has had to suppress that side of herself while she has bided her time and waited for an opportunity to escape.

Finally, that opportunity has arrived – only to be thwarted by the odious Crispin Burke. Even though Jane has encountered him numerous times over the years, this is the first time she has really talked to him or even been close to him, and she is simultaneously surprised and repelled to discover that he holds a strange fascination for her. He’s a beautiful man, no question, but he’s ruthless, amoral and rotten to the core and his methods disgust her – but he offers her some advice and a way of avoiding her uncle’s wrath, in exchange, naturally, for something he wants – information on something involving Mason. Jane has no alternative but to agree to do as he asks.

Not long after this, and shortly before the final reading of his bill, Burke is attacked and left for dead on the London streets. Having taken his advice and inveigled her uncle into bringing her to London, Jane hatches an audacious plan, one that was also suggested to her by Burke, albeit with a different outcome in mind. She uses a fraudulently obtained – but legitimate – marriage certificate and announces that she and Burke were recently – and secretly – married. She will shortly be a widow according to the doctors, and her marriage will release her father’s fortune into her hands, meaning that she can finally achieve her dream of travelling to New York and making a new life for herself.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan and Crispin survives – although there are big gaps in his memory and he can remember little of what happened over the past five years. Now caught in a lie, Jane feels guilty and unsure, but decides that she needs to play along with the fake marriage, at least until the legalities surrounding the release of her inheritance are completed. I’m normally a little sceptical about amnesia plots, but didn’t blink when I learned that this book used one, because I knew that Meredith Duran would make it work. She does that and then some; the way she transforms Crispin from a ruthless, conscienceless politician to a man of honour and sound principles who genuinely wants to make the world a better place is brilliant, but more importantly, it’s believable. There are still facets of the old Burke remaining – the keen mind, the devilish sense of humour, the aura of implacability and sense of his being a dangerous man, but the more he finds out about his old self, the more determined he becomes to face the demons of his past, eradicate them and move on.

Because he can’t afford others to see how much his injuries have affected him, Crispin asks for Jane’s help in navigating his way through all his political alliances and connections. She can’t deny that being able, after so long, to use her brain and have her opinions listened to and respected is incredibly flattering and freeing, or that the ‘new’ Crispin is compassionate, thoughtful, unexpectedly vulnerable and incredibly attractive.

Jane is just as satisfyingly complex a character as Crispin, and her story of self-discovery is equally compelling. Her situation as the virtual prisoner of her uncle evokes sympathy, and her character is set up as a kind of representation of truth and justice… yet as the story progresses, she is shown to have been as deceitful and secretive in her way as Crispin has been in his. The way that she comes to understand herself more, and also to understand what drove Crispin to take the path of blind, conscienceless ambition is superbly done, as is Crispin’s conviction that no matter what he can or cannot remember, his feelings for Jane won’t change. I loved that Jane tries to spare him learning the worst of himself and that when he does, it just makes him stronger and all the more determined to become a better man.

The chemistry between the protagonists is intense, and their romance develops believably and at a realistic pace. Jane gradually overcomes her suspicions and opens herself to the attraction she realises she has long felt for Crispin, even though she can’t quite let go of her fear that the ‘old’ him could return at any moment. And I loved that Crispin never questions his marriage; for him, Jane is his rock from the moment he awakens, building on the hints of interest she sparked in him even before his attack and showing clearly but subtly that his feelings for her run deep.

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is a must-read for fans of this author and of historical romance in general. The political background is interesting, well-researched and smoothly incorporated so the reader never feels as though they are being given a history lesson, and the plot which gradually emerges – relating to the information the ‘old’ Crispin was seeking from Jane – is intriguing and suspenseful. Add in the wonderful romance and two compelling but vulnerable and flawed protagonists, and you’ve got an un-put-downable book which I’m already sure will go down as one of my favourite books of the year.

Historical romance really doesn’t get better than this.

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/

Passion Favors the Bold (Royal Rewards #2) by Theresa Romain

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DESPERATE MEASURES
Georgette Frost’s time is almost up. On her twenty-first birthday, the protections outlined in her late parents’ will are set to expire. With prospects for employment or marriage unfavorable at best, she decides to leave London and join her brother, Benedict, on a treasure hunt for gold sovereigns stolen from the Royal Mint.

DANGEROUS LIAISONS
Lord Hugo Starling has always felt protective of his friend Benedict’s sister, Georgette. So when he discovers her dressed in ragged boy’s clothes, about to board a coach for parts unknown, he feels duty bound to join her search. But mystery piles upon mystery as they cross England together, not least of which is the confounded attraction between them. As Georgette leads him to a reward he never expected, Hugo realizes he’s embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime…

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Publisher and Release Date: Zebra, February 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I’ve been hearing lots of good things about Theresa Romain, and I’m always down for a good treasure hunt, so I decided to make her Royal Rewards duology my introduction to her work. While I can find no fault with her writing, and she created some very intriguing characters in Benedict and Charlotte in Fortune Favors the Wicked, I thought their backstories needed more fleshing out to make them fully plausible, and the plot didn’t turn out quite as I expected, though it had a wonderful ending that made me cry. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed the sequel, Passion Favors the Bold, much more.

All of England is talking about the crime of the century, the theft of fifty thousand newly minted gold coins from the Royal Mint, and those that aren’t simply talking about it are trying to find it in order to claim the five thousand-pound reward. Suddenly, the English countryside is swarming with fortune hunters, and the merest hint of a gold sighting attracts them in droves. When Georgette Frost pieces a few clues together from newspaper reports and realizes her brother, Benedict, is right in the middle of the action, she determines to join him. But she doesn’t count on Lord Hugo, her brother’s best friend, thwarting her plans when he discovers her in a coaching yard, dressed as a boy and preparing to traverse the countryside unescorted. Unwilling to give up on her dream of leaving her sheltered existence in her family’s bookstore behind, she convinces Hugo to escort her to her brother, and thus begins her hopeful adventure.

Lord Hugo Starling is an unapologetic scholar, preferring the company of books and blueprints to that of people. On the outs with his father ever since a medical error led to the untimely death of his twin brother, he has devoted his life to the study of medicine and dreams of opening a state-of-the-art hospital. But he can’t do so without funds, and without his father’s support or that of the royal societies, finding the stolen money and claiming the reward could be his only chance to see his dreams realized. But what starts out as a plan to drop Georgette off with her brother and strike out on his own quickly becomes something else. Drawn to Georgette’s unfettered joy at being out of the city, befuddled by the feelings she elicits from him, and thinking they have stumbled onto the right track when they cross paths with a Bow Street Runner, Hugo decides to keep Georgette by his side and search for the gold together. They are each determined to go their separate ways once the gold has been found, but as they travel from village to village in search of clues, learning more about each other in the process, their partnership of convenience turns into much more. And as they close in on the stolen gold, he finds himself not only fighting his feelings for Georgette, but fighting for their very lives.

This was a really fun read. Georgette is my kind of heroine. After years spent as little more than a housemaid, although a well-loved one, helping in the bookstore formerly owned by her parents and caring for her cousin’s children, with little prospects for anything else, she decides to take her future into her own hands, to step out of her comfort zone and into adventure, and I admire that. I loved her cheeky wit and the banter between her and Hugo. And I loved how she brought out another side to him, though often very much against his will. Watching her run circles around him as he tried to remain in control was great fun. But her joy was often tempered by the reminder of the future she faced if they were unsuccessful in finding the gold, and her insecurities and self-doubt are things all women can relate to.

My only real complaint is that, as in the first book, I was expecting much more of a treasure hunt, but, as in the first book, they spend a lot of time doing other things and getting sidetracked and sort of accidentally stumble onto it. So that aspect of the plot was a bit disappointing for me. And of course it takes Hugo too long to realize what he’s got going with Georgette, that what he thinks he wants is not necessarily what he needs. But I did not figure out who the villain behind the theft was before the reveal, which was a pleasant surprise, and I really liked how everything came together in the end. Overall, this is a fun Regency romp with engaging characters, and something a bit different in historical romance.

AUDIO REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyhdham

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For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance… but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

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Published and Release Date: Stella Riley, December 2016

Time and Setting: Banbury, Oxfordshire, England 1642-4
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction/ Audiobook
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content, 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

If you are a fan of historical fiction or historical romance, then you must, must, must, read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. (Our review of the book is HERE.) It was this story and another of the author’s books – The Marigold Chain – that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both are superbly researched standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to improve upon my enjoyment of the print version of A Splendid Defiance but by employing the superbly talented Alex Wyndham to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that, because Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, wonderfully romantic feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose is moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire owing to having made an ill-judged remark about one of the King’s favourites. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally he feels resentful at being stuck in such a backwater. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford is a young, sweet, and innocent seventeen year old when this story begins. She lives and works in the home and drapery shop owned by her older brother, Jonas, but this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to his bones – completely and unwaveringly dedicated to his King and cause; and a man who has sworn off love and marriage. At his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t really see her as anything more than a terrified girl. It takes time and several more unplanned meetings before he notices that beneath the extremely plain clothing and white puritanical cap, there is a rather attractive young woman. Any possible furtherance of their acquaintance is delayed by the arrival in Banbury of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the Radford home. And the first siege of the castle begins. I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all of her novels but particularly in this one; understated and plausible, it is entirely in keeping with unfolding events. After the first siege is over, the Roundheads ousted and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of normality. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the growing attraction between Justin and Abby, throwing them together in various situations which further advance their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. His is such a believable character, especially when one finds oneself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as though he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, one finds oneself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and by God he certainly can turn it on when he chooses! Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from the timid girl we meet at the outset to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to, and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. But in the end, he’s hoist by his own petard, finding himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heartwarming, tender and all the better for the waiting. And as is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes – instead sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day and I was left with a warm glow as she eventually brought these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could have tackled such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as though they are listening to a rather superior radio play with numerous actors rather than one man’s narrative of a story. As this is a story set in time of war, it features a large number of male characters, but this poses no difficulty as Mr. Wyndham switches effortlessly between a variety of accent, tone and timbre to give each of them a distinct interpretation. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance. Filled with atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and a spine tingling romance, A Splendid Defiance has to be awarded a straight 5 star rating for both content and narration, although quite honestly that doesn’t seem high enough. But whatever the star rating, this is another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team.

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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.

Only a Duke Will Do (To Marry a Rogue #2) by Tamara Gill

only a duke will do

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Without a Season, Lady Isolde Worthingham captured the Duke of Moore’s heart at a country dance. But on the eve of her wedding, a scandal that rocked the ton and sent her fleeing to Scotland alone and unwed, leaves her perfectly planned future in a tangle of disgrace and heartbreak.

Merrick Mountshaw, the Duke of Moore, loathes the pitiful existence he portrays to the ton. With a scandalous wife he never wanted, who flaunts her many indiscretions, life is a never-ending parade of hell. When the one woman he loved and lost returns to London, he knows he can no longer live without her.

But vows and past hurts are not easily forgotten. Love may not win against the ton when a too proper lord and lady play by the rules.

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Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Publishing, February 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

On the eve of her wedding, Lady Isolde is thrown a major curveball when her fiancé Merrick, the Duke of Moore is found in a compromising position with another woman, who happened to have been one of her closest friends. Merrick had no alternative but to call off his wedding to Isolde and marry her friend instead. Isolde ran away to Scotland to lick her wounds, but now, five years later she has come out of hiding from the shame of that ignominious day determined to find happiness again and move beyond the love she still feels for Merrick. But her every step is plagued by the machinations of the wife who stole her place, and the continuing presence of Merrick in her life. Because her heart still belongs to him, Lady Isolde must find out if she can move on and be content in a marriage without love while also discovering if it is possible for her to have any type of relationship with the man she almost married.

It’s obvious, right from the first pages of Only A Duke Will Do, that the romance is going to be an uphill battle. The heroine loses her man to someone she thought she could trust, so not only does she lose the love of her life, but also loses a long-established, close female bond. Isolde is crushed, to say the least. Her decision to return to society after five years is a brave one, but she wants the security of a husband and family and going about in London society is the best way to find both those things, even if love is no longer possible. Isolde is one strong woman as she handles seeing her former love move among her friends, deals with the hatred that his wife spews her way, and tries to balance the expectations of the ton. I give her kudos for not falling apart completely, because I would have! We also see things from Merrick’s point of view and learn of the poisonous relationship that his marriage has become. He loves Isolde even now and while he wants the best for her, it also kills him to see her moving on. The back and forth of wills between these two is well done as they both struggle to do what is right.

The relationship, or what remains of it, between Isolde and Merrick is the driving factor in this novel. The romance is primarily the smolder, the yearning, and the question of whether they can ever find their happily ever after. I was rooting for these two from the beginning, but even more than halfway through I wasn’t sure if there was any future for them.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book is that the drama and conflict are established right from the start. The reader doesn’t really have a chance to get behind Isolde and Merrick as a couple before they are ripped apart, and it’s natural to side with Isolde in the early stages. As the book progresses, Merrick’s situation begins to become clearer, and that’s when you start to want to see them together; I believe that this mirrors Isolde’s understanding of her situation nicely. (I should probably point out here that there is no cheating in this story; Merrick and Isolde still love each other, but they don’t commit adultery). While there is no defined “good” character in the novel, although I suppose it could be argued that Isolde is representative of it, there is a very defined “bad” character and she just oozes malice with her every word and move. I was not a fan and was very happy with her character’s outcome.

I raced through the pages of this novel, staying up much later than I should have to finish reading it because I needed to know if Isolde and Merrick would work it out or not. I will be looking forward to the next novel that Tamara Gill puts out as I have thoroughly enjoyed her work thus far.

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne

the duke

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He is noble, notorious, and takes no prisoners…

They say that now His Grace, Collin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth has only one hand, he might finally be a mere mortal, but no one seems willing to test the theory. Rich as Midas, big as a Viking, beautiful as Adonis, and lethal as a feral wolf, he is the English Empire’s golden son. But now he’s lost everything. Most of his family died in a terrible accident, his protégé and closest friend betrayed him on the battlefield, and his left hand was cut off while he was a prisoner of war. The only thing that’s kept him going until now is the memory of a night spent in the arms of a mysterious raven-haired woman almost a year ago…

Imogen Pritchard is a nurse by day, but a fallen woman—and a spy—by night. Seduced on the job years ago by a Duke who mourned for the loss of his family, Imogen has never shaken the memory of the man’s despair—or the fathomless depths of pleasure he brought to her. But as the threat of betrayals, blackmail, and secrets abound, Imogen and Collin are thrown back together in a dizzying swirl of dangerous games and earthshattering desire. But can their love overcome the everything that threatens to tear them apart?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1879
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series brings to life dangerous men who are always one heartbeat away from succumbing to their darkest impulses. The love they find in the arms of their perfect women saves their souls. In The Duke, the formula is changed just slightly to introduce a man whose heart is so hardened he almost misses his chance at salvation.

Collin Talmage was never supposed to be the Duke of Trewyth. Knowing he was the spare to his father’s legacy gave Cole the freedom to join the military where he has used his strength and intelligence to good effect. His career as a soldier and spy comes to a tragic halt when his family is killed in an accident, immediately elevating him to one of the highest peerages in the realm. On the eve of his final assignment, Cole hopes to escape from the reality of his life for just a few moments in the company of his fellow soldiers. Their group arrives at the Bare Kitten Dance Hall where Cole quickly notices the beautiful barmaid serving the men. Pulling her away from the attentions of his closest companion, Cole arranges for Ginny to remain at his side for the rest of the evening and later to join him in his bed.

Imogen Pritchard, hiding her true identity under a black wig and a false name, wasn’t a whore and should never have been in a place as seedy as the Bare Kitten. Inheriting her father’s debt to the club’s proprietor forced her to work off the amount owed but she was promised she would never have to pay by working on her back. Unfortunately Cole’s money is more important to the owner than any agreement made with Imogen. With no option but to comply, Imogen is surprised by Cole’s care and lover-like treatment. His caresses and kisses ignite passions Imogen wasn’t aware she could feel, and in a single night her heart is lost to the man with eyes filled with a sorrow that Imogen wishes she could take from him.

A year passes before Imogen and Cole’s paths cross again. Cole disappears soon after leaving England and it’s feared he was killed or captured in the line of duty. Imogen can only hope he’s alive as she works at the Bare Kitten each night while maintaining her day job as a nurse at St. Margaret’s hospital. Starting a shift, she finds the hospital abuzz with the news of the arrival of an important patient – none other than the Duke of Trewyth – whom the doctors fear is dying from typhus. Imogen’s experience with the disease makes her question the diagnosis and she risks her position to have another doctor treat Cole. Her decision saves his life but the attending physician fires Imogen for insubordination. Things only get worse when a patron at the Bare Kitten tries to rape her, and she kills him in self defence. Imogen’s desperation leads her back to the hospital where the elderly Earl of Anstruther catches her stealing. The kind earl’s act of altruism saves Imogen and changes her life forever.

Once the real cause of his distress is discovered Cole’s body heals but his mind and spirit take another two years to recover. The torture he endured was only bearable by clinging to the memory of Ginny and the perfect night they shared before his life became a living hell. It’s the hope of finding his angel that becomes an obsession for Cole; so much so that he has little patience for any other women who cross his path. His main frustration comes in the form of his new neighbor Imogen, Lady Anstruther. Her ideas about social reform as well as her informality and common background all pick at Cole’s high principles. His attraction to the beautiful woman is something to be endured rather than embraced. However, when the young widow finds herself in mortal danger Cole is, surprisingly, the first one to offer his protection.

I am a die-hard fan of Ms. Byrne’s writing but I had some problems as I read The Duke. Imogen is a wonderfully fhree-dimensional character, full of compassion and grace while having to hold her family together against dire circumstances. Cole on the other hand remains aloof, bitter and angry from almost the first moments of his introduction right up the final pages of the story. Everything seems to happen around him while he remains rooted in place, stuck there by outdated ideals and a stubborn refusal to open his eyes to the gift he’s been given in Imogen. She has always been a balm to his wounded heart and yet when that healing happens without him realizing she is the same woman he’s been searching for, Cole pushes her away in the most crushing manner.

While not as compelling a story as the other books in the Victorian Rebels series, I would still recommend The Duke to readers who appreciate their heroes a bit on the dangerous side but dedicated to the happiness of their heroine.

An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities #1) by K.J Charles

an unseen attraction

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Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

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Publisher and Release Date:Loveswept, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, October 1873
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I’m a recent convert to the talented writing skills of KJ Charles, my initiation being her magnificent Society of Gentleman series. I was therefore very pleased when given the opportunity to read and review An Unseen Attraction, the first in her new Sins of the City series. I admit that I approached it with a little trepidation, because not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that I could enjoy a story about a cockney Victorian taxidermist and an Anglo-Indian lodging-house keeper. I guess it’s testament to the author’s original and arresting style of writing that I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t put the book down. An Unseen Attraction is an engrossing and plausible story which only just touches on the aristocracy which in itself is a refreshing change in an historical romance. This story – and the two books we still have to look forward to in this trilogy – is about real people, with real personal problems and real jobs and I absolutely loved it.

Clem Talleyfer keeps a lodging house for skilled artisans, and prides himself on his standards. His lodgers like and respect him and that’s understandable because he is an extremely likeable young man; well spoken and with the darkly handsome good looks associated with his mixed race heritage – an Indian mother and an aristocratic English father. Rowley Green has taken the shop next door and has set himself up as a preserver – or, as we’d call him today, a taxidermist. Rowley is a quiet, unassuming and unexceptionable young man, whose dark past is reason enough for him to wish to blend in quietly and lead a non-confrontational lifestyle; another reason he prefers his rather solitary profession. He is neat and tidy, slight of stature, with a mop of tow-coloured hair and wire-rimmed spectacles – and Clem has been drawn to the quiet dignity of the man and more than a little attracted to him since he joined the lodgers at Talleyfer’s eight months previously. Unbeknownst to Clem, the attraction is mutual and their joint dilemma is how to discover if each feels the same about the other and how to make a move or declaration at a time when men such as they had to hide their sexual preferences for fear of prosecution. The two begin to explore their liking for each other in the simple domesticity of sharing a cup of tea by Clem’s parlour fireside of an evening in quiet companionship.

The author does a terrific job in developing these two characters and I found myself drawn to the very ‘unusual-ness’ of them. It was obvious to me from early on in the story – and the author confirmed it in her notes at the end – that Clem suffers from dyspraxia. KJ Charles’ explanations of his foibles; his difficulty concentrating on a subject, his clumsiness – which some mistake for stupidity, his dislike at being part of a jostling crowd, his inability to understand a double-entendre, sarcasm or to take a hint – are spot-on. I have a friend whose child suffers with this condition which is why I recognised it immediately and it underscored to me how very thorough the author’s research is and how interesting and touching to give her character this very real problem which often goes undiagnosed, even in this day and age. Clem’s vulnerability only heightens his appeal – who couldn’t love him? And the fact that Rowley loves Clem – understands his idiosyncrasies and helps him to cope without being judgemental or critical only serves to endear him to me more; and it wasn’t long before this quiet, plain little man had wiggled his way into my affections along with the gorgeous Clem – two adorable, out-of-the-ordinary characters who are quite clearly made for each other.

The only fly in Clem’s ointment is the elderly, drunken vicar, Lugtrout, who lives at Talleyfer’s under sufferance, his presence being a condition of the lease set up by Clem’s aristocratic half-brother who owns the lodging house and employs Clem as its manager. There is an excellent plot going on at the same time as Clem and Rowley are discovering each other and making tentative steps in their love affair. The drunken vicar is delivered – extremely dead – onto the lodging house doorstep; there are empty teeth sockets in the vicars gaping mouth and some finger tips missing too – so this is definitely no accidental death! As well as this mystery, Rowley’s shop is illegally entered and searched and then later on in another incident it is set on fire and Rowley attacked. It isn’t long before Clem and Rowley accept that the crimes are connected and the two become even closer as they put their heads together to solve the mystery that is scaring them both to death.

An Unseen Attraction is a most unusual and compelling story and extremely well researched too – I know an awful lot more regarding the recording of births deaths and marriages in England than I ever did before! Plus the amount of research the author must have undertaken in order to write with such authority on a subject like taxidermy is phenomenal – lets face it, it’s not a subject that would appeal to the average reader – and her extensive research served its purpose because I was intrigued by Rowley’s craft; the skill and talent involved, and shall now look at stuffed animals with new eyes and added interest when next I visit the Natural History Museum. The murder/mystery is gripping and plausible and the setting sinister and threatening with the tension ratcheting up as a deadly fog descends and cloaks Victorian London in a pea-souper which thickens and obliterates the daylight to hang in the atmosphere and render visibility to nigh on nil. And the terror and fear felt by our two unlikely detectives as they finally discover the identity of the murderer and the reasons surrounding all that has befallen them is palpable. An Unseen Attraction is a fascinating page turner of a story with never a dull moment, some genuinely amusing ones and a charmingly tender romance between two ordinary yet extraordinary characters. My guess is that K.J Charles has another winner under her belt and I shall wait in anticipation for the next in what promises to be an excellent trilogy.

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

Darcy's Hope

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Heartbroken. Devastated.

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

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

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

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

Darcy can only hope….

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Letter? What letter?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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
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The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge by Elisabeth Hobbes

the saxon outlaw's revenge

At the mercy of her enemy!

Abducted by Saxon outlaws, Constance Arnaud comes face-to-face with Aelric, a Saxon boy she once loved. He’s now her enemy, but Constance must reach out to this rebel and persuade him to save her life as she once saved his

Aelric is determined to seek vengeance on the Normans who destroyed his family. Believing Constance deserted him, he can never trust her again. Yet, as they are thrown together and their longing for each other reignites, will Aelric discover that love is stronger than revenge?

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1068
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Heather C.

The Normans have recently defeated the Saxons and the bad blood is still brewing between those in charge and those who are subjugated. Aelric, a Saxon, lost his whole family when they were hung as traitors by the local baron, who just happens to be the brother-in-law of Constance, the girl with whom he is in love. Aelric subsequently goes on the run and his relationship with Constance abruptly ends, but years later when they have a chance encounter they have to work through their feelings to determine what – if anything – still remains between them.

There is not nearly enough historical fiction, romantic or otherwise, set around the time of the Norman invasion of England, a time full of so much upheaval and change that it is ripe for storytelling. Hobbes takes advantage of this upheaval and uses it to create the conflict between the main couple in this story. They are from two very different worlds and the place they live in is still very volatile and they must tread carefully.

Aelric and Constance have not seen or heard of each other for eight years.  While they remember the youthful love they shared, so much has changed in the time they have been apart; they have grown up and lived through many life experiences.  Can they get past all of the hurt and the secrets that have built up over time? Constance and Aelric are well-crafted characters; they are multidimensional and one can feel their emotions, the hurt and anger most keenly, and it’s easy to understand how difficult it will be for them to put the past behind them. For what they went through it would be very difficult to put the past behind them. I can’t say that I could identify with either of them exactly, but I found them realistic and interesting. The author has chosen to give Constance a physical disability, but while that makes the character unique,  I would have liked it to maybe have had more of an importance given that it was pointed out extensively early on. The peripheral characters are not as well fleshed-out as the two princials, but there are enough details to give the reader a sense of who they are, which was enough to enable me to keep track of who’s who.

The romance is primarily an emotional one as the Constance and Aelric rebuild their relationship and determine what they mean to each other. Although there are a couple of sex scenes – which have vastly different tones from each other – sex definitely takes a backseat in this novel. Beyond the romance, this story is chock full of drama right from the first scene. There is an ambush, a hostage situation, a mass execution, some spying, and a foiled plot that unfolds in an awesome way. The best part is that none of this felt out of place; the characters still acted very much the way I would expect them to for the time in which they live.

If you are looking for a book that is more of the action packed variety and lighter on the romance, or if you are looking for something set in an oft overlooked setting, The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge this might be one to consider. It kept my attention all the way through and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.