SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Scandal of the Season by Liana LeFey

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys #2) by Julia Quinn

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While you were sleeping…

With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He’s unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier’s life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie…

I told everyone I was your wife

When Edward comes to, he’s more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out six months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is—even if he does not recall her face—and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he’d always assumed he’d marry his neighbor back in England.

If only it were true…

Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself—completely—to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.

Publisher and Release Date:  Avon, 30 May 2017

Time and Setting: 1779, New York Town
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

Amnesia, war, a long distance attachment, a Big Misunderstanding… Julia Quinn juggles all of the above in this entertaining second book in the Rokesby series.  The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is another enjoyable and engaging romance from Ms. Quinn; our hero is swoony – a classic British gentleman who’s also charming and likes to flirt, and our heroine is pragmatic, bold and brave, with a subtle beauty that steals our hero’s heart, and I happily traveled with them on their road to happily ever after.

Cecilia Harcourt has spent the last few years living quietly with her father in Derbyshire.  She spends her days corresponding with her beloved brother, Thomas – a soldier fighting in the Colonies –  and taking care of their father.  Through their letters, she knows much about Thomas’ life abroad, and about his closest friend, Edward Rokesby, to whom she’s also started writing. But the book begins, Cecilia’s life is in turmoil.

Shortly after receiving word that Thomas has been injured, their father dies.  Orphaned, and with her only brother injured and abroad, Cecilia’s is left with two equally unappealing options:  move in with her maiden aunt or marry her odious cousin Horace.  Desperate, Cecilia rejects both options and instead travels across the Atlantic, intending to nurse Thomas back to health. Unfortunately, when she arrives in the Colonies, her brother is missing.  A week of searching fails to turn up any news of him, but instead leads her to Edward Rokesby, who’s been hospitalized with a head trauma. Desperate to help him and stonewalled by senior officers, Cecilia makes another bold decision – she pretends she’s Edward’s wife in order to stay close to him.

Edward Rokesby awakens in a hospital bed confused, disoriented – and married.  He can’t remember the last six months of his life… which must be why he doesn’t remember his wife.  Though he does… vaguely.   He knows Cecilia Harcourt – she’s Thomas’s sister and faithful correspondent – so if everyone says she’s his wife, she must be.  Right?

Edward struggles to regain his memories and Cecilia struggles to reconcile herself to the lie she’s told.  From the very beginning it’s clear they like each other, and it’s a delight to watch them fall in love.  Ms. Quinn uses the correspondence between Thomas, Cecilia, and eventually Edward, to open each chapter and these snippets offer a lovely insight into their relationship before the make-believe marriage.  It’s obvious to the reader (and probably Thomas) they were falling for each other long before they met, and when they finally are together, it’s easy to believe it’s just a continuation of a love affair that started via their correspondence.

Though the relationship is a highlight – Edward is a charming husband, and Cecilia is a sweetly tart nursemaid and then shy, naïve wife – Ms. Quinn never lets the reader forget the lie at the heart of their make-believe union.  Even as Edward finds himself falling for Cecilia and pondering the logistics of their courtship and marriage, he’s constantly frustrated by his poor physical health and lack of memory.  Cecilia is conflicted by her feelings for Edward – she’s fallen in love with him, but doesn’t believe they can have a future together because of the lie – and desperate for news of Thomas.

As much as it was a pleasure to read about Edward and Cecilia, my enjoyment was diminished by the lie that unites them.  Cecilia’s persistent dishonesty overshadows every other element of the story, including their fragile happiness whenever they are together.  Her constant self-doubt and guilt, juxtaposed with Edward’s honest and candid affection, began to grow tedious.  I found myself wishing Ms. Quinn hadn’t made Edward quite so appealing right from the start, because it’s clear to the reader (though it isn’t to Cecilia) that if she simply confessed, Edward would have helped her – somehow.  But she persists in lying – even after the lie serves no discernible purpose but to make her suffer guiltily whenever Edward is close.

My dislike of the lie and how long Cecilia kept it going isn’t my only problem with the book.  Thomas’s disappearance is intriguing, mysterious, and suspicious, but after playing such a pivotal role in bringing Edward and Cecilia together, the resolution of his storyline is deeply unsatisfying. Edward and Cecilia continue to make inquiries, but no one seems to feel any urgency to discover why a soldier simply vanished.  Red herrings prove fruitless – and pointless. Instead of answers, Ms. Quinn gives us smug superior offers and an unsatisfying resolution.  What was Thomas doing when he went missing?  Was Edward with him?  Was he a spy?  Similarly, the backstory behind Edward’s head injury, gets short shrift – mostly because we’re constantly in Cecilia’s head as she struggles with her guilt and trying to find a way to tell Edward the truth.

That’s not to say that I disliked Cecilia.  She’s brave, tenacious and shows tremendous strength in the face of adversity.   Her love is strong and deep and she’s an appealing match for Edward. Unfortunately, Ms. Quinn diminishes all of that with Cecilia’s crushing insecurities, and it’s difficult to reconcile these conflicting elements of her personality.  It’s a treat to watch her fall for Edward – and how could she not?  He’s charming, flirtatious and not afraid to express his affection and I lived watching him fall for his make-believe wife.  Ms. Quinn also does a particularly good job of illustrating Edward’s frustration with the amnesia and his physical health as he tries to recover.  He’s alternately grumpy, angry and irritable – and it’s nice to see Cecilia manage all the good and bad facets of his personality with equal aplomb.

Ms. Quinn quietly, precisely and deliberately develops Edward and Cecilia’s growing love for one another… until Thomas’s fate is revealed.   The news about Thomas (OMG I HATED IT) opens the floodgates to more truths, and the novel becomes wholly engrossing as it races to its conclusion.  The final chapters are passionate, frantic and funny – and I loved them.

All in all, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is a tender, romantic slow burner that captivates – but also frustrates, because the lie central to the story overshadows and diminishes other intriguing storylines. I did enjoy it, however, and would say that it’s not necessary to read Because of Miss Bridgerton, the first book in the Rokesby series to enjoy it as it works both as a standalone or introduction to the series.


EXCERPT

Manhattan Island

July 1779

His head hurt.

Correction, his head really hurt.

It was hard to tell, though, just what sort of pain it was. He might have been shot through the head with a musket ball. That seemed plausible, given his current location in New York (or was it Connecticut?) and his current occupation as a captain in His Majesty’s army.

There was a war going on, in case one hadn’t noticed.

But this particular pounding—the one that felt more like someone was bashing his skull with a cannon (not a cannonball, mind you, but an actual cannon) seemed to indicate that he had been attacked with a blunter instrument than a bullet.

An anvil, perhaps. Dropped from a second-story window.

But if one cared to look on the bright side, a pain such as this did seem to indicate that he wasn’t dead, which was also a plausible fate, given all the same facts that had led him to believe he might have been shot.

That war he’d mentioned… people did die.

With alarming regularity.

So he wasn’t dead. That was good. But he also wasn’t sure where he was, precisely. The obvious next step would be to open his eyes, but his eyelids were translucent enough for him to realize that it was the middle of the day, and while he did like to look on the metaphorical bright side, he was fairly certain that the literal one would prove blinding.

So he kept his eyes closed.

But he listened.

He wasn’t alone. He couldn’t make out any actual conversation, but a low buzz of words and activity filtered through the air. People were moving about, setting objects on tables, maybe pulling a chair across the floor.

Someone was moaning in pain.

Most of the voices were male, but there was at least one lady nearby. She was close enough that he could hear her breathing. She made little noises as she went about her business, which he soon realized included tucking blankets around him and touching his forehead with the back of her hand.

He liked these little noises, the tiny little mmms and sighs she probably had no idea she was making. And she smelled nice, a bit like lemons, a bit like soap.

And a bit like hard work.

He knew that smell. He’d worn it himself, albeit usually only briefly until it turned into a full-fledged stink.

On her, though, it was more than pleasant. Perhaps a little earthy. And he wondered who she was, to be tending to him so diligently.

“How is he today?”

Edward held himself still. This male voice was new, and he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to know he was awake yet.

Although he wasn’t sure why he felt this hesitancy.

“The same,” came the woman’s reply.

“I am concerned. If he doesn’t wake up soon…”

“I know,” the woman said. There was a touch of irritation in her voice, which Edward found curious.

“Have you been able to get him to take broth?”

“Just a few spoonfuls. I was afraid he would choke if I attempted any more than that.”

The man made a vague noise of approval. “Remind me how long he has been like this?”

“A week, sir. Four days before I arrived, and three since.”

A week. Edward thought about this. A week meant it must be… March? April?

No, maybe it was only February. And this was probably New York, not Connecticut.

But that still didn’t explain why his head hurt so bloody much. Clearly he’d been in some sort of an accident. Or had he been attacked?

“There has been no change at all?” the man asked, even though the lady had just said as much.

But she must have had far more patience than Edward, because she replied in a quiet, clear voice, “No, sir. None.”

The man made a noise that wasn’t quite a grunt. Edward found it impossible to interpret.

“Er…” The woman cleared her throat. “Have you any news of my brother?”

Her brother? Who was her brother?

“I am afraid not, Mrs. Rokesby.”

Mrs. Rokesby?

“It has been nearly two months,” she said quietly.

Mrs. Rokesby? Edward really wanted them to get back to that point. There was only one Rokesby in North America as far as he knew, and that was him. So if she was Mrs. Rokesby…

“I think,” the male voice said, “that your energies would be better spent tending to your husband.”

Husband?

“I assure you,” she said, and there was that touch of irritation again, “that I have been caring for him most faithfully.”

Husband? They were calling him her husband? Was he married? He couldn’t be married. How could he be married and not remember it?

Who was this woman?

Edward’s heart began to pound. What the devil was happening to him?

“Did he just make a noise?” the man asked.

“I… I don’t think so.”

She moved then, quickly. Hands touched him, his cheek, then his chest, and even through her obvious concern, there was something soothing in her motions, something undeniably right.

“Edward?” she asked, taking his hand. She stroked it several times, her fingers brushing lightly over his skin. “Can you hear me?”

He ought to respond. She was worried. What kind of gentleman did not act to relieve a lady’s distress?

“I fear he may be lost to us,” the man said, with far less gentleness than Edward thought appropriate.

“He still breathes,” the woman said in a steely voice.

The man said nothing, but his expression must have been one of pity, because she said it again, more loudly this time.

He still breathes.”

“Mrs. Rokesby…”

Edward felt her hand tighten around his. Then she placed her other on top, her fingers resting lightly on his knuckles. It was the smallest sort of embrace, but Edward felt it down to his soul.

“He still breathes, Colonel,” she said with quiet resolve. “And while he does, I will be here. I may not be able to help Thomas, but—”

Thomas. Thomas Harcourt. That was the connection. This must be his sister. Cecilia. He knew her well.

Or not. He’d never actually met the lady, he felt like he knew her. She wrote to her brother with a diligence that was unmatched in the regiment. Thomas received twice as much mail as Edward, and Edward had four siblings to Thomas’s one.

Cecilia Harcourt. What on earth was she doing in North America? She was supposed to be in Derbyshire, in that little town Thomas had been so eager to leave. The one with the hot springs. Matlock. No, Matlock Bath.

Edward had never been, but he thought it sounded charming. Not the way Thomas described it, of course; he liked the bustle of city life and couldn’t wait to take a commission and depart his village. But Cecilia was different. In her letters, the small Derbyshire town came alive, and Edward almost felt that he would recognize her neighbors if he ever went to visit.

She was witty. Lord, she was witty. Thomas used to laugh so much at her missives that Edward finally made him read them out loud.

Then one day, when Thomas was penning his response, Edward interrupted so many times that Thomas finally shoved out his chair and held forth his quill.

“You write to her,” he’d said.

So he did.

Not on his own, of course. Edward could never have written to her directly. It would have been the worst sort of impropriety, and he would not have insulted her in such a manner. But he took to scribbling a few lines at the end of Thomas’s letters, and whenever she replied, she had a few lines for him.

Thomas carried a miniature of her, and even though he said it was several years old, Edward had found himself staring at it, studying the small portrait of the young woman, wondering if her hair really was that remarkable golden color, or if she really did smile that way, lips closed and mysterious.

Somehow he thought not. She did not strike him as a woman with secrets. Her smile would be sunny and free. Edward had even thought he’d like to meet her once this godforsaken war was over. He’d never said anything to Thomas, though.

That would have been strange.

Now Cecilia was here. In the colonies. Which made absolutely no sense, but then again, what did? Edward’s head was injured, and Thomas seemed to be missing, and…

Edward thought hard.

…and he seemed to have married Cecilia Harcourt.

He opened his eyes and tried to focus on the green-eyed woman peering down at him.

“Cecilia?”

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About the Author

Julia Quinn is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels for Avon Books, and one of only sixteen authors ever to be inducted in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.

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

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

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

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

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2017

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

Review by Caz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT

London, England
1817

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except for one time . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

Twitter: @Tamara_Gill
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4540408.Tamara_Gill

The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe #4) by Stella Riley

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Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, May 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1777
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

The Wicked Cousin is the fourth book in Stella Riley’s Rockliffe series of historical romances set in Georgian England, in which she once again presents readers with a gorgeous hero, an admirable heroine and a well-written, strongly developed romance that simmers with sexual tension and is deliciously, well, romantic. Add to that a delightful cast of familiar secondary characters, witty dialogue, wonderfully written friendships and a gently bubbling secondary romance with great potential for a future book… and Ms. Riley has another winner on her hands.

The eponymous cousin is the Honourable Sebastian Audley, only son and heir of Viscount Wingham. Following the tragic death of his beloved twin brother at the age of eight, Sebastian was wrapped up in several suffocating layers of cotton wool, mollycoddled and over-protected to such an extent that when he was finally able to, he went more than a little wild in his determination to experience life to the full. There was no wager too risky, no lady too unattainable and no bottle too undrinkable for Sebastian, and tales of his exploits as he cut a dash through Europe have spread far and wide, shocking (but secretly titillating) the ladies and entertaining the men, most of whom think Sebastian is a jolly fine fellow and would gladly slap him on the back if ever he stayed long enough in one place to allow them to do so.

The problem with a reputation of such magnitude, however, it that it tends to be both inflexible and impossible to dislodge, as Sebastian quickly discovers when, after an absence of several years (barring his annual and very quiet flying visit) he returns to England for good when he learns that his father has suffered an apoplexy and that his life is in danger.

Truth be told, Sebastian’s hellraisng lifestyle has begun to pall and at the age of twenty-eight he is ready to embark on another phase of his life – to start to learn how to manage the family estates and to ready himself to take on the responsibilities that will be his when he eventually inherits his father’s title. But he knows that he faces quite the task in terms of convincing society that he has thrown off his hellion ways and wants to settle down; the minute he is known to be in London, he’ll be besieged by young bucks vying for his attention and attempting to get him to wager on the most outrageous things, and while he isn’t going to agree to any of them, it’s going to be difficult to keep on turning them down without causing offence.

Fortunately, Sebastian’s good friend, Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player) comes up with a solution to that particular dilemma. If they make a private wager, it will preclude Sebastian from accepting any others, thus giving him a legitimate reason for declining any others offered him.

Sebastian is therefore set for his re-entrance into London society which, given he’s handsome as sin and twice as charming, welcomes him with open arms.

Miss Cassandra Delahaye, whom we met in The Player is getting tired of hearing of very little other than the wicked Mr. Audley – who happens to be a very, very distant relation of her family – from her younger sister and her friends, all of whom are swooning over the tales of his exploits printed in the scandal sheets. While constantly hearing about the dashing, handsome rake, Cassie is trying to work out how to gently reject yet another suitor who has asked her to marry him simply because she’s exactly the sort of girl one marries – pretty, sweet and well-bred. She’s not silly enough to expect to be swept off her feet and fall madly in love with the man she will eventually wed, but she would at least like to be chosen for herself and not just because she is regarded as “eminently suitable”.

Her first – accidental – meeting with her so-called wicked cousin is not an auspicious one and at first she thinks him arrogant and conceited. But she is forced to concede her error when further encounters prove him to be neither of those things; he’s funny, kind and clever and she finds herself enjoying both his company and his conversation, which is interesting and enlightening. But even more than that, he is probably the first man to take an interest in her opinions and what she has to say; in short, to see and appreciate Cassie rather than the demure Miss Delahaye, and it isn’t long before she is thoroughly smitten with the genuinely decent man she is coming to know.

For the first time ever, Sebastian is in love, and, in a touching and beautiful scene at his brother’s graveside, talks to him about the strength of his feelings for Cassie and the task he faces in convincing the woman he loves that he is a changed man. More difficult than that, however, he is going to have to prove to her father that he can be trusted with his daughter’s heart and happiness. But Sebastian is not one to give up easily and is determined to win Cassie’s hand.

The Wicked Cousin is a character-driven romance which has, at its heart, a tender and romantic courtship that is not without a few heated moments. But there is a lot more to enjoy as well, not least of which is meeting characters from the previous novels. We get to see the Duke of Rockliffe as a besotted new father, to witness Caroline, Lady Sarre, giving Adrian’s mother a well-deserved set-down and Adrian’s first, sartorially-challenged meeting with his wife’s bluff, yet kindly grandfather. We catch up with Amberley and Rosalind, Rock’s sister, Nell … and there is still something brewing between his younger brother Nicholas and the lovely Madeleine Delacroix (sister of Adrian’s business partner, Aristide). It’s also incredibly refreshing to read a story in which the heroine’s family is kind, fond and well-adjusted, and while Sebastian and his father have clearly butted heads over his life-choices in the past, Ms. Riley has very wisely opted not to have them at each other’s throats, and to show instead that there is affection and respect between them and to point the way towards an improvement in their relationship.

That’s not to say that everything in the garden is rosy, however. Sebastian’s relationship with his oldest sister, Blanche, is very strained and has played some part in his estrangement from his family; and his rakish past comes back to haunt him in the form of one of his past lovers, who is obsessed with him and refuses to believe he is no longer interested in her. The “evil other woman” plotline can be a difficult one to pull off and is one which I know some readers dislike, but it works well here, clearly showing how Sebastian has changed and become aware of the inadvisability of many of his past actions, while also injecting a bit of drama into the story.

If I have a criticism of the book overall, it’s that while Cassie is a lovely heroine and perfect for Sebastian, she is somewhat overshadowed by him. She’s not a shrinking violent by any means – she’s charming, intelligent and not afraid to stand up for herself – but Sebastian is so vital and charismatic that he steals pretty much every scene he’s in. But for a hero-centric reader like me, that’s no problem at all, and I was more than happy to be completely charmed by him in all his red-headed, blue-eyed glory.

All in all, The Wicked Cousin is a delightful read and one which is sure to please fans of intelligently written, strongly characterised historical romance. It’s a self-contained story, but as it’s the fourth book in a series, characters from the previous books are mentioned and many make cameo appearances, so if you haven’t read the others you might want to familiarise yourself with who is who. Or just read the first three books, which are every bit as enjoyable as this one.

More, please, Ms. Riley!

A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets and Spies #3) by K.C Bateman

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As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France — or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy — and into his arms.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.

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Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, May 2017

Time and Setting: England and France 1816
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

I counted K.C. Bateman as one of my “discoveries” of 2016 after I read her terrific début novel, To Steal a Heart, an action-packed, sexy, adventure story set in Napoleonic France. The book boasted many of the ingredients l love in historical romance – a central couple forced into proximity by circumstance, lots of sexually-charged and very funny banter, an intriguing plot, chemistry off the charts and a charming, deliciously dangerous hero. Ms. Bateman followed that with A Raven’s Heart and delivered another fabulous adventure story, this time featuring a couple who have loved each other for years, but have never owned up to it for fear of rejection. In A Counterfeit Heart, the third book in the author’s Secrets and Spies series, the action takes place almost entirely in England and the story draws on some of the real life plots made by Napoléon to destabilise the English economy by flooding the country with millions of pounds worth of forged banknotes.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, has appeared as a secondary character in the previous books, and we have learned that, like his brother Nicolas (To Steal a Heart) and his closest friend, William Ravenswood (A Raven’s Heart) he works for the British government. Even though Napoléon has been defeated, he still has many sympathisers who would like spark a revolution in England, and for the past few months, Richard has been tracking a group of anti-monarchists in London who are part of the old network of spies placed in England by the French. Richard has been trying to locate the elusive forger, Philippe Lacorte, with a view to engaging him to forge letters from Napoléon to his English sympathisers in order to lure them out, but Lacorte remains stubbornly hard to pin down and all Richard’s efforts to find him have so far been unsuccessful. Imagine his shock, therefore, when a young woman, a lovely, elfin creature, arrives at his London home late one night, introduces herself as Sabine de la Tour – and promptly announces that she is Philippe Lacorte.

For years, Sabine’s friend and partner, Anton Carnaud, acted as go-between for her and the man who had overseen Napoléon’s counterfeiting operation, General Jean Malet. With Napoléon now imprisoned on St. Helena, Malet is the only man at large who knows about the fake fortune Bonaparte had amassed – and he wants it for himself. Sabine’s home has been ransacked and Anton, as Malet’s only link to Lacorte, is in danger. Sabine decides to flee to England; the English have been trying to engage Lacorte’s services for months, and with the money she can earn working for them, she will be able to afford to buy passage to America for Anton and to make a new life for herself wherever she wants to go.

Stunned by Sabine’s announcement though he is, Richard is no fool and is naturally suspicious of her claim. Being young, handsome, wealthy and in possession of a title, he is used to women throwing themselves at him and at first suspects that some sort of entrapment scheme is afoot, but when Sabine writes a note in a perfect copy of his own hand in front of his very nose, he can’t deny that she’s who she says she is and demands to know what she wants in exchange for her services as a forger.

Even though desperation has led her to Richard Hampden’s door, Sabine is not naïve enough to believe that he will meekly agree to her ten-thousand pound price. She is well aware that she is facing a wily, clever man, and calmly explains that she is still in possession of the half a million pounds in forged notes with which Napoléon had planned to flood Britain, and that if Richard does not agree to her terms, then she will put the counterfeit notes into circulation.

What ensues is a sexy game of cat-and-mouse between two equally sharp-witted, devious opponents whose intense attraction to each other burns up the pages. Sabine is brave and smart, matching wits with Richard every step of the way and holding her own against him in their battle of wills, while he, having believed her at first to be a blackmailing baggage, is surprised to find himself utterly captivated by her sneaky, conniving brain every bit as much as he lusts after her body. The chemistry between the couple is scorching, and Ms. Bateman once again proves herself a master of the art of sexually-charged banter and saucy double-entendre. Both protagonists are strongly drawn and well-rounded, and I enjoyed the way Sabine is gradually disabused of her belief that Richard is little more than an arrogant, self-entitled aristocrat, discovering that he is also incredibly resourceful, useful in a fight and not above getting his hands dirty – literally and metaphorically – when the need arises. As the story progresses, the real Richard emerges as a deeply loyal and honourable man who is dedicated to rooting out evil and protecting his countrymen and who will stop at nothing to protect his country and those close to him.

The other main relationship in the book is the one between Richard and his brother-in-law, Raven, which is characterised by sharp insight and brotherly mockery as Raven watches his friend finally succumb to the thrall of the one woman stubborn and infuriating enough to capture his heart. It’s nicely written with just the right amount of teasing on Raven’s part and sardonic denials on Richard’s, and there’s no question that these two will always have each other’s backs.

If I have a criticism, it’s that in the early stages of the story, the relationship between Sabine and Richard relies rather too heavily on insta-lust; the pair of them are pretty much panting for each other from the off, which felt rather overdone. But that’s really the only thing that didn’t work for me; the romance is otherwise well developed, with Richard and Sabine gradually coming to recognise and value the person behind the prickly forger and the haughty aristocrat as they get under each other’s skin and allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable in a way they have done with no-one else.

A Counterfeit Heart is a treat of a read for anyone who enjoys a well-plotted romantic adventure featuring a plucky heroine and a dangerously sexy hero who match wits and fall in love while foiling dastardly plots and rooting out the bad guys. I have enjoyed each book in the Secrets and Spies series and am looking forward to reading more by this talented author in the near future.

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was all the encouragement Brilliana needed to hurry out.

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

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

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

“Perhaps he means to propose at last.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

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

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

“This morning I fought a duel.”

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

“I killed a man, Bree. In a duel.”

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

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

Hanged? Why would he be—

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

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

She always dreams big.

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The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

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England, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. They are not what they seem, but colleagues from a technologically advanced future, posing as a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team of time travelers, their mission is the most audacious yet: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common except their extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile her true self with the constrictions of 19th century society. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history as they found it…however heartbreaking that proves.

Publisher and Release Date: Harper Perennial, May 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1815
Genre: Historical/Time-Travel Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

I liked The Jane Austen Project. The premise – that two time travelers go back to 1815, and insinuate themselves into Jane Austen’s life – is fascinating and intriguing. Austen acolytes will no doubt love this fictional interpretation of her. Other readers (me) who find her less compelling – even in this flattering iteration – may be less enthused. Therein lies my difficulty with the grade and why I’ve only given the book four stars. It’s smart, well written and the premise is entertaining… but if you don’t believe the minutiae of Austen’s life makes for fascinating reading (me again), it’s also slightly dull.

Told exclusively in the point of view of Doctor Rachel Katzman, The Jane Austen Project explores the idea of time travel, and the ability of time travelers to affect changes in the future by altering past events in the context of one year in Jane Austen’s life. Rachel, a globe-trotting physician and Austen devotee, is one of two people specially selected by the The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics to travel back in time to 1815. The mission? To befriend the Austen family and obtain (steal) lost correspondence between Jane and her sister Cassandra, and bring back (again, steal) a copy of The Watsons, a novel she wrote and never published. Researchers believed The Watsons unfinished, but new information indicates Ms. Austen completed the novel and subsequently destroyed it. If Rachel, with her medical expertise, can also deduce why Ms. Austen died prematurely at the relatively young age of forty-one… even better.

Prior to their departure, Rachel and her traveling partner, actor-turned-academic Liam Finucane, spend a year together rigorously training and meticulously planning for the trip. Their backstory, that Doctor William Ravenwood and his spinster sister, Mary, have returned to England from Jamaica after selling their coffee plantation and divesting themselves of slaves, is specific enough to satisfy the mildly curious, but vague enough that any further inquiries about them would require time and effort to pursue.

When the book opens, Rachel and Liam have jumped back to 1815 from the future (it’s never specified when) and landed disheveled and disoriented in a field on the outskirts of the town of Leatherhead in Surrey. After a quick survey to ensure they haven’t suffered any adverse effects from the trip and that the large volume of counterfeit banknotes concealed in their clothing remains in place, they set off for a nearby inn. Unfortunately, the innkeeper is suspicious about their appearance when they arrive without any visible transport (if he only knew!) and without any bags, and declines to give them a room. When Liam flashes him a gold coin, he’s more than willing to arrange a post chaise to take them to London.

Once Rachel and Liam arrive in town, they set about securing themselves an entrée into the Austen family via Henry Austen, a banker, and Jane’s favorite brother. Posing as distant Austen relatives, Liam easily finagles a meeting with Henry and it isn’t long before Henry invites Doctor Ravenwood and his sister to dinner at his home. The evening is Rachel’s first opportunity to meet Henry and when she does, he’s everything she expected: handsome, charming, and friendly. He’s also flirtatious and clearly interested in her. Following the dinner the pair is welcomed into Henry’s circle of friends, and when Henry falls ill, Liam (as Doctor Ravenwood) is perfectly situated to offer him care and further insinuate himself in Henry’s life. The illness provides context for regular visits and, more significantly, opportunity for the Ravenwoods to meet Henry’s extended family. Shortly after Henry falls ill, Jane arrives, and when he doesn’t appear to improve, she summons the rest of the family to join her.

Though Henry is enthusiastic about the Ravenwoods, his family is less so. Cassandra is welcoming but remote; Jane is curious but guarded. Their relationship with Henry and his obvious affection for Rachel helps, but it isn’t until Rachel and Liam travel to the countryside with the family that a more profound friendship develops between them and Jane. But their deepening friendship also alters Rachel’s perspective on the mission. What kind of friend is she to admire and like Jane, all the while lying and plotting to steal from her? As the book progresses, Rachel and Liam struggle to reconcile their mission with their 1815 personas and relationships with the Austen family. When the book ends, I’m not sure Ms. Flynn ever satisfactorily answers those questions. Liam and Rachel are torn by their feelings about the mission and Jane, but the mission rapidly spirals out of control shortly before their planned departure date, and their hasty retreat robs them of any choice in the matter.

Rachel and her insightful point of view are particularly well done. Though her affection for Jane borders on creepy, I loved the contrasts between her various identities: past (spinster sister), present (bohemian physician), and future (murky). Frankly, she’s a much more interesting character than Ms. Austen. She struggles with her friendship with Jane, but also with her role on the mission. Single, independent, educated, and sexually liberated – Rachel is a model of modernity when she jumps through time. Forced to watch Liam ‘treat’ his patients, Rachel is a patient and curious doctor/coach. Though it’s obvious she longs to ask the questions Liam doesn’t think to ask, I thought she did an admirable job letting him lead. If I have any complaint about her, it’s that perhaps her transition to a woman’s life in 1815 happens a bit too easily. When she makes mistakes, they’re easily explained away by her experiences in Jamaica, and I never felt her identity – or their subterfuge – was at risk. I was more interested in the ways Rachel’s inherent goodness and some of her more impulsive decisions impacted the future.

As well developed as Rachel is, Liam remains an enigma from start to finish. Rachel’s impressions of him – so specific, so admiring during their time together – coupled with Ms. Flynn’s descriptions (he’s slightly obsessed with his clothing and vague about his past), made him a particularly curious and intriguing character. I think I like him?

Time travel is a curious business. On the one hand, it provides the traveler with a past – or future – they can live and experience themselves. On the other hand, it provides the traveler with the opportunity of altering events in ways they can’t predict or prevent. Ms. Flynn touches on these bigger picture issues, but she doesn’t offer any easy answers. The final chapter of the book – after such a terrific premise for the story – left this reader unsatisfied with the answers she does provide.

If it sounds like I really liked this book, you’re right – I did! But I suspect the difference between liking and loving The Jane Austen Project is less about the story and the quality of Ms. Flynn’s writing (both good), than a simple question of just how interested in Jane Austen’s life you are. I’m not especially, and though Ms. Flynn’s fictionalized version of Jane is appealing, I didn’t find her nearly as compelling as most every other character in this story. Perhaps her brilliance was too subtle for me?

The Jane Austen Project is good or great depending on how you feel about Jane Austen. For me, it’s good – just not great.

AUDIO REVIEW: Fair, Bright and Terrible (Welsh Blades #2) by Elizabeth Kingston, narrated by Nicholas Boulton

fair bright and terrible

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Wales is conquered, and Eluned has lost everything: her country, her husband, her hope. All that remains is vengeance, and she will stop at nothing to have it.

When Robert de Lascaux is asked to marry the woman he has loved for eighteen years, he never hesitates. No wealth has ever mattered to him as much as Eluned has. But she, it seems, does not want him at all. Trapped in a web of intrigue, revenge, and desire, they cannot forget their past – but can they dare to share a future?

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Publisher and Release Date: Elizabeth Kingston, April 2017

Time and Setting: Wales, 1282
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content; 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

In my opinion, Elizabeth Kingston is one of the best – if not THE best – newly published author writing in the historical genre. Fair, Bright and Terrible, the second in her Welsh Blades series ticks every single box on my list of requirements for a stimulating, entertaining and engrossing read/listen. With narrator Nicholas Boulton added into the mix I was quite literally in book heaven – enthralled from beginning to end. This story follows directly on from The King’s Man and covers the true and bloody period in Welsh/English history where the last Welsh Prince Llewelyn is ruthlessly disposed of in the most barbaric of medieval methods.

In book one of the series, we met Eluned of Ruardean who was a strong driving force in the life of her daughter, Gwenllian whom she relentlessly controlled. I disliked Eluned intensely and she didn’t grow on me one iota, so when I realised that Fair, Bright and Terrible was Eluned’s story, I approached it with trepidation and some pre-conceived prejudices. I carried on disliking her, especially after she marries the compellingly likeable and adorable hero of the story, Robert de Lascaux. How, I wondered, could this gorgeous man have loved this woman for eighteen years? And this is where Elizabeth Kingston shows her immense talent for character development – because by the end of the story I understood, respected, and actually liked and admired Eluned.

As the story begins, Eluned’s dreams of a successful uprising to bring independent sovereignty back to Wales is in tatters following King Edward I’s ruthless suppression of the recent rebellion. Coming hard upon the heels of this defeat is the news that her long absentee husband has died in the Holy Land and her son is eager for her to remarry in order to augment his lands and standing. Her husband-to-be is none other than Robert de Lascaux, with whom she had a passionate affair some eighteen years earlier. She put this behind her long ago, but Robert is delighted and immediately agrees to the match, hoping to take up where they left off. Throughout the story, Eluned appears as a woman who does nothing without good reason; she always comes across as cold, calculating and controlling, and her marriage to Robert is no different. Overjoyed at being re-united with his former love, he is destined to be disappointed as he quickly realises that the love he has nurtured is not returned. It quickly becomes apparent that Eluned has a hidden agenda, her goal being admittance to the court of Edward and his inner circle.

I continued to dislike Eluned, especially as she treats the sweet natured and utterly honourable Robert with such cold disdain. But, slowly and cleverly over the course of the story, Ms. Kingston peels away, layer by layer, Eluned’s prejudices and shows her reluctant and hidden love for Robert, well buried under the baggage her life has acquired over the past eighteen years. Ironically it is the appearance and actions of her despised Norman son-in-law, Ranulf (The King’s Man), which finally knocks down the walls she has erected and we are finally allowed to see the woman she really is. Bravo Elizabeth Kingston – what a compelling, clever story and the fact that you persuaded me to like and admire this woman whom I had disliked for the best part of two books is quite remarkable.

As to the narration – what can I say other than that as usual, Nicholas Boulton gives a faultless performance and shows what a first rate actor he is? His voice is smooth, pleasing and utterly addictive to the listener; anything with his name on it is always going to get my attention. My initial dislike for Eluned was perpetuated by the exceptional manner in which he portrays her cold disdain, the emptiness and hopelessness she feels and can’t change… but then, as her defences begin to crumble, he effects a subtle softening of tone; her voice still recognisable but transformed from cold disdain into loving warmth. Mr. Boulton is one of only a handful of narrators who is equally good at portraying men and women. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Robert – at first buoyant and happy as he meets his beloved after eighteen years apart, but then as he realises his love is not returned, quiet, wary and subdued. And of course, a particular favourite of mine is the fierce Norman lord, Ranulf Ombrier – a fierce man brought to his knees by the love of his warrior wife, Gwenllian and their two little boys. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I hope that this isn’t the last in the series. Hopefully we may get to see what happens to William, Eluned’s sixteen year old son.

Fair, Bright and Terrible is an exciting, heart warming piece of historical fiction with a beautiful romance at its centre and is strongly recommended.

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Heiresses #1) by Janna MacGregor

the bad luck bride

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IS MARRIAGE A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

A man of honor, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he exacts revenge on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece must fall into place for him to succeed he needs to convince his enemy s fiancee, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire s curse has always left her one misstep away from social ruin her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth is headed in the same direction. . .until Alex, a man she barely even knows, shocks the ton and Claire by announcing their engagement. What begins as a sham turns into something deeper, and more passionate, than either Claire or Alex could have imagined. But when their secrets are revealed, will the truth behind their union scandalize them both or is their love strong enough to break the curse and lead them toward their happily ever after?

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

Time and Setting: London, 1812
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

The Bad Luck Bride is an uneven story about love and revenge and in which luck, whether good or bad doesn’t really come into play for the main characters’ issues. Their problems mainly stem from misunderstandings and an unwillingness to listen to the good advice of others. Fortunately, author Janna MacGregor brings a vulnerability to both the hero and the heroine that compelled me to finish their story.

Lady Claire Cavensham has waited what seems like an eternity to get married. With three prior engagements broken due to unusual circumstances, Claire is all but convinced that the gossip about her being cursed must be true. Accepting the suit of fiancé number four was motivated more out of friendship and little bit of desperation, but Claire is ready to make the best of her upcoming marriage. With the announcement of her engagement to Lord Paul Barstowe scheduled for later that evening, Claire is hoping that her unlucky streak is finally at an end. Unfortunately the whispers in the ballroom about Lord Paul’s absence at the event and the note she receives from her missing fiancé quashes that dream. Mortified that she’s been jilted again so publicly, Claire makes her way out of the ballroom and is met by the handsome and friendly Marquess of Pembrooke. He offers her a sympathetic ear and a warm embrace just when she needs it the most. Bolstered by his calming presence, Claire prepares herself to reenter the fray but things go sideways as she’s discovered in Pembrooke’s arms. Suddenly the engagement announcement she anticipated is made, but with an entirely different fiancé!

Alexander Hallworth, Lord Pembrooke, couldn’t have planned the evening’s events any better. Hours before the ball ever started Alex had put the wheels in motion to secure Lady Claire as his betrothed and to humiliate Lord Paul in the bargain. The announcement of their engagement is the final piece in his revenge against the man who had been one of his closest friends until he betrayed Alex’s trust and in turn destroyed the life of Alex’s youngest sister. Now, all Alex has to do is marry the delightful Lady Claire and watch Lord Paul’s ruin as he now has no way to pay his outstanding gambling debts. Believing that he has the moral high ground, Alex allays Claire’s fears that she’s cursed to remain unmarried by wooing her and agreeing to the settlement demands she makes. There’s no need to let Claire know that their marriage was a set-up from the beginning if she’s happy with the final result.

Alex’s perceptions about his marriage and Claire change after they leave London for his ancestral home. There Claire finds little ways to heal some of the pain he’s held onto from memories of his sister’s tragedy. She becomes more important to him because of who she is rather than what she represented in his revenge against Lord Paul. Claire herself struggles to believe that her marriage to Alex is real and will last through any curse she carries. Hoping to break any spell she might be under, Claire forces herself to confront her own past, with varying results. It’s only Alex’s strong presence that lets Claire imagine she will overcome her fears to find happiness in the arms of someone who loves her. Sadly, when the truth of Alex’s revenge plot is revealed it breaks Claire’s heart and she runs from him. With his own heart firmly in Claire’s hands Alex has find a way to regain Claire’s trust before he himself is cursed with a lonely future.

The Bad Luck Bride starts off fairly strongly with Alex’s almost Shakespearean revenge plot and Claire’s wistful dream of finding a love that’s stronger than the demons she carries with her. The storyline unfolds much more dramatically than I expected from the cover description and I was ready to take the plunge with both characters into the darker sides of their psyches. Unfortunately once they are married things never quite get as deep or angsty as I thought they should have given all the emotional suffering Claire and Alex have lived through. Alex refuses to hear the advice from his best friend that his anger at Lord Paul is misplaced – or at the very least misconstrued from the facts he had about his sister’s tragedy. He pushes forward to influence Claire’s life without ever considering her feelings on the matter. Towards the end as he tries to reconcile with her Alex adjusts things to suit himself, not seeing how badly Claire has been affected by all of his manipulations.

I had more compassion for Claire throughout the story, but she, too, acts in ways that made it hard for me to completely side with her way of seeing situations. Claire is written as an intelligent and resilient young woman, and yet she is quick to believe in a curse that will eventually destroy any happiness in her life. After marrying Alex she suddenly becomes stubborn to the point of petulance and it strips her of all the definition she’s gained by staying strong in the face of gossip and unkind words. When she realizes that Alex has been steering their marriage from the beginning she fails to fight back and instead runs away to lick her wounds and turn to her uncle to fix the situation. I missed the plucky woman from the beginning of the book who stood up for what she wanted in her marriage even if the circumstances were out of her control.

While I had problems with The Bad Luck Bride I feel that Ms. MacGregor has some good stories to tell. The Bad Luck Bride just needed a bit of tightening of the loose threads and a clearer path towards Claire and Alex’s happy ending. Hopefully the series will improve upon this shaky start and another good voice in historical romance will be heard.