Tag Archive | Darcy Burke

The Duke of Defiance (The Untouchables #5) by Darcy Burke

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Difficult and defiant as a child, Bran Crowther, Earl of Knighton left England as a young man to pursue independence and adventure. He never expected to inherit the title and when duty calls him home, he still finds Society’s codes constricting and others’ expectations oppressive. Nevertheless, he needs a wife to be a mother to his young daughter, preferably a woman of intelligence and warmth who is, above all, immune to his idiosyncrasies—and to falling in love.

Widow Joanna Shaw isn’t interested in a second marriage, not after the loveless, passionless union she endured. She’d much rather dote on her young niece and nephew since they will likely be the only children in her life…until she meets a precocious girl, in desperate need of a mother. But her father, the so-called Duke of Defiance, is as peculiar as he is handsome, and Jo won’t take another risk with her heart. Their rules, however, are made to be broken, even when the consequences could destroy them both.

Publisher and Release Date: Darcy Burke, June 2017


Time and Setting: London, 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

I haven’t read all the books in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, but I’ve enjoyed those I have read and can confidently say that each book works as a standalone.  The Duke of Defiance features a new central couple and briefly re-introduces readers to the “Untouchables”, gentlemen so named by their heroines because their lofty positions in society meant they were well beyond their touch.  Although as things have turned out, they obviously weren’t 😉

Mrs. Joanna Shaw is the widowed sister of Nora, the Duchess of Kendal, who was the heroine of book one, The Forbidden Duke.  Joanna – Jo – was unhappily married to a country clergyman for around eight years, and is now living with Nora while she decides what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  At thirty-one, she is still lovely and her position as the sister of a duchess gives her a certain cachet in society – but she is not sure if she wants to remarry.  Her late husband’s emotional cruelty has naturally soured her view of the institution, and her inability to conceive a child during eight years of marriage makes her a less attractive prospect as a wife.

Bran Crowther, the Earl of Knighton was a third son who never expected to inherit his father’s title.  But the recent deaths of his two elder brothers necessitates his return to England from the successful life he had built for himself in Barbados, and he and his five-year-old daughter, Evie, are finding it difficult to adjust.  Fortunately, however, Evie has found a good friend in Becky, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kendal, and when Bran arrives to collect Evie from a play date, he meets Mrs. Shaw and is immediately struck by her wit and good sense, as well as by her beauty.

Bran and Jo are attracted to each other, and their interactions are nicely judged and generally very honest.  They are initially brought together when Nora offers to help Bran to find a new nurse for Evie and then has to send Jo in her stead.  Bran is pleased to discover that Jo’s views fit with his own, and also finds her comments about the dos and don’ts of London society very helpful as he tries to settle into his new life.  When he – and Evie – practically beg Jo to become Evie’s governess, she finds she cannot refuse, even as she knows that being in close proximity to Bran day after day is not a good idea.  But she has come to love Evie as she is coming to love the girl’s father, and agrees to a trial period, trying not to think about what will happen when Bran eventually takes a wife who will be able to give him more children and, most importantly, an heir.

Jo’s concern about her lack of fertility is the main source of conflict in the romance, and it’s one I’m not particularly fond of.  The women in such stories always blame themselves without any reason to do so other than that they’re women and therefore the fault must lie with them!  Bran at least has the sense to suggest that it might not be Jo’s fault, but she is naturally very sensitive about it, and isn’t prepared to let him take the risk that she won’t be able to give him any more children.  Her belief is not helped by the insecurities about her womanliness fostered in her by her late husband, but it’s nonetheless a plot point that always makes me roll my eyes.

Bran is a no-nonsense sort of person, and his years of living away from the strictures of London society have made him careless of convention and proper behaviour.  He thinks nothing of allowing Evie to go without shoes when they are at home – to the intense disapproval of some of his starchier servants – or of divesting himself of cravat and coat in front of Jo, when it is certainly not the done thing to ‘disrobe’ in front of a lady.  (Not that Jo minds, of course😉)  When he describes how clothes make him “itchy” and then explains how, as a child, his mother regarded him as defiant because he refused to wear clothing or eat what he was given; how he could never sit still or remain in bed all night, I thought Ms. Burke may have been setting him up as someone with a condition such as ADHD or on the Autistic Spectrum, but this is never made clear.  Jo comes to recognise and accept Bran’s quirks, but other than having been brought up by an extremely harsh, unforgiving mother and a father who didn’t bother with his third son, we’re not really given much of an explanation for them, and for the most part they are just glossed over.  There’s an implication that Evie, too, has anxiety issues, but these are handled in more or less the same way.

And on the subject of Evie, much of the time she comes across as much older than the five years of age she is supposed to be.  At one point, she tells her father: “I was certain you might be falling in love” – which sounds more like a teenager, for instance, and she reads as more of a plot-moppet than a real child.  Children are hard to write well (Grace Burrowes is one of the very few romance authors who is able to get it right) and I’m afraid Ms. Burke has missed the mark. She’s also way off the mark when it comes to the master/servant relationship that should exist between Bran and Jo.  He pretty much treats her as the mistress of the house as soon as she sets foot in it, assigning her a bedchamber in the family wing, a maid of her own, and insisting upon her eating meals with him, to name just a few things no over governess would have been granted.  I get that Bran is supposed to be unfamiliar with society customs but Jo should know better and allows Bran to wave aside her very weak protests.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the book does work as a standalone, but information about previous characters and situations is given in obvious info-dumps, rather than evolving naturally; and while the good-natured teasing between the four heroes of the previous books is one of the best things about the this one, it felt like overkill for all four of them to just happen to be around in order to meet Bran.

While the writing is strong and the love scenes are sensual, The Duke of Defiance is, sadly one of the weaker entries in this series. I do plan to read more by Darcy Burke, but I’m going to chalk this one up as a misfire.

Looking Back at 2016 – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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Amazingly, another year has passed, and it’s time for us all to look back at the books we most enjoyed reading in 2016. Here are some of the books chosen by the RHR team as their favourites of the year; if you’ve read any of them do you agree with our assessment? What are your own personal favourites of 2016? Please stop by and tell us what you read this year that you loved!

 


Caz

I’ve had a pretty good year in terms of books; I’ve read and listened to more than 250 titles this year and have rated the majority of them at 4 stars or higher, which is a pretty good strike rate! That said, choosing favourites is always difficult and they change from day to day. So bearing that in mind, here goes…

 

 

A Gentleman’s Position by K.J Charles is the third book in her excellent Society of Gentlemen series, set in the final days of the Regency.  This story takes an in-depth look at the problems inherent in falling in love outside one’s class – as the two protagonists, Lord Richard Vane and his extremely capable valet, David Cyprian struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another with their relative social positions.  The story is compelling, the romance is beautifully written and developed and the sexual chemistry between the principals is absolutely smoking.  This series has without question been one of the best historical romance collections in recent years, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

Forevermore is the seventh and last book in Kristen Callihan;s wonderful Darkest London series of historical paranormals, and it brings this incredibly inventive series to an action packed and very fitting close.  The author skilfully draws together a number of plotlines sewn in earlier books, a real treat for those of us who have followed the series from the beginning; there’s plenty of action, steamy love scenes, a complex, fast-moving plot, heartbreak, angst … in short, Forevermore delivers all the things that have made all the books in this series such compelling reads.  I’m sorry the series has ended, but it ends on a real high, and I fervently hope that Ms. Callihan might one day return to this fantastical twilight world of shifters, angels, GIMs and demons.

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt.  I do love a bad-boy hero, and there’s no denying that Elizabeth Hoyt set herself quite the task when she decided to turn the gorgeous, manipulative, devious and dangerous Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery into a romantic hero.  But she does it with aplomb, and without turning Val into a different character in order to effect his redemption.  The sexy game of cat-and-mouse played between the completely outrageous duke who thinks nothing of wandering around naked (well, he’s gorgeous, so why should he deprive people of the sight of him?!) and having the most inappropriate conversations with his housekeeper; and said housekeeper who is by no means insensible to Val’s charms, but who is sensible enough to know that he’s trying deliberately to rile her and not to take the bait – is wonderfully developed, and the relationship that emerges is one of surprising equality.  Duke of Sin is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and the eponymous duke is one of the most charismatic characters ever to grace the pages of an historical romance.

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley has been one of my favourite historical romances for the past thirty years, so I was delighted when the audiobook version, narrated by the massively talented Alex Wyndham became available just before Christmas.  Set during the English Civil War, the book tells the true story of the small garrison of just over three hundred men who held the Royalist stronghold of Banbury castle in Oxfordshire against an opposing Parliamentary force of almost ten times their number.  Against this superbly presented historical background, Ms. Riley develops an unforgettable romance between cynical, Royalist captain, Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of  a die-hard Puritan.  This is a real treat for anyone who enjoys their historical romance with an emphasis on the historical; the characterisation is superb, the romance is beautifully developed, and the audiobook is performed by one of the best narrators around.  Seriously – don’t miss it.

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, narrated by Susie Riddell.  With the tagline – Reader, I murdered him – there’s no question that Jane Steele – the book AND the character – is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and there are a number of key moments and events during this book that relate directly back to the classic novel. But this is ultimately a refreshing and somewhat unusual tale that very quickly takes on a life of its own. Jane is a remarkable and compelling character; a quick-witted survivor who doesn’t take crap from anyone but who nonetheless feels like a woman of her time, and what keeps her the right side of the listeners’ sympathies is that she’s motivated by love and loyalty.  We follow her through her time at school, her subsequent life in London and thence to a position as governess to the ward of Mr. Charles Thornfield, a British, Indian-born ex-army doctor with whom she eventually falls in love.  The writing is fresh and witty and the story is a terrific mixture of gothic romance and detective story featuring a unique protagonist, and I highly recommend the audiobook, as the narration by Susie Riddell is very good indeed.


Heather C.

The Duke of Deception by Darcy Burke – I loved the secrets being kept between the hero and heroine and how that pushed the story forward.  They weren’t simply a complication to tangle over.

The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens- This is the third book in the series and the best so far in my opinion. It isn’t often I say that!  There is less mystery than in the previous books and more action/adventure – with dire consequences.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal by Kathleen Kimmel. The best romance I have read this year.  The romance felt so real and hot, the characters were infuriating (in the best way), and the story forced the heroine WAY out of her comfort zone! Made me immediately pick up the other books in the series.


Jenny Q

Forevermore by Kristen Callihan

I have been a big fan of the Darkest London series from the very beginning, and while I am sad to see it come to an end, Forevermore is one heck of a satisfying conclusion. If you’re a fan of historical paranormals, or if you’ve never read one and want to give the genre a shot, this series, (along with Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series), is a great place to start. It’s a complicated world of elementals, werewolves, demons, spirits, and fae, and revolves around the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, tasked with managing them all. Forevermore gives readers pretty much everything we want in a series finale. I love how this story brought some threads back together from previous books and showed how everything that has happened to our favorite characters was set in motion and why. It was really cool how Kristen Callihan sort of brought everything full circle, not just for the story world but for some of the characters. The ending made me cry, and the epilogue made me smile. Forevermore is a riveting tale from beginning to end, and a worthy, powerful, and emotional conclusion to an outstanding series.

Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Sally Christie’s debut novel, The Sisters of Versailles, about a family of five sisters, four of whom became mistresses of Louis XV, made my list of best books of 2015, and so I was anxiously awaiting my chance to read the sequel, The Rivals of Versailles. It picks up right where we left off, only now the story is being told by Jeanne Poisson, the young and beautiful commoner who will become known to history as the unparalleled Madame de Pompadour. Quickly rising from humble roots, she immerses herself in lessons and becomes the most elegant and cultured woman at Versailles, a patron of the arts and architecture, and a politically savvy negotiator, guiding Louis through two decades of wars and diplomatic relations. I highly recommend this series for lovers of French history and readers who love to read about real women who make their mark on the world against all odds. This book is so complex in its many layers and in its lush depictions of court life in all its beautiful ugliness that I don’t feel my review can do it justice. I can’t wait to see how Sally Christie will bring this chapter in French history and the glory days of Versailles to an end in the final book, The Enemies of Versailles.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, and Lauren Willig

This is an excellent collection of short stories by nine talented historical fiction authors. While the stories are not interconnected, they do all share a common theme, the Armistice that ended World War I, and these stories really capture the conflicting emotions that the end of the war brings. Of course, there is joy and celebration but also a sense of uncertainty. Is it really over? What comes next? What do we do now? What was it all for? How do we go on as before when none of us will ever be the same? The stories are wonderfully varied, giving the reader a glimpse into different aspects of the war and life on the home front in Britain, Belgium, and France. All nine stories are good. There’s not a weak offering among them, though some did resonate with me more than others. All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson, Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole, and Hush by Hazel Gaynor stand out as my favorites. These stories of love and war are beautifully written, encompassing the entire range of emotions and shades of humanity, and will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.


Lady Cicely

Wicked Highland Wishes by Julie Johnstone

Julie Johnstone has written a riveting tale of love, the desire to do what’s right and throws in some curve balls I didn’t see coming all to great effect.  Bridgette is a strong heroine who goes through ordeals that would truly break a lesser woman.  I bawled at what she goes through then bawled some more as she comes out even stronger.  And Lachlan?  I wasn’t prepared to fall hopelessly in love with this hero!  His adoration, love and patience is what true heroes are made of.

This is one of those rare stories that will sit with you long after you have read it.

Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

Ms. Walker hits the ground running with this tale of love among war, politics, and betrayal. Her ability to infuse history into her tales without overwhelming the reader is a wonderful talent to have.  Rebel Warrior is an engaging tale that will have the reader thinking they have it figured out only to have the hero and heroine be given a story hiccup and the reader thinking “now I’m not sure” which only fuels the reader’s desire to find out what happens next.

Rescued by a Lady’s Love by Christi Caldwell

Christi Caldwell takes a slight departure from her usual writing style by going a little over to the dark side.  This little trip is a heart wrenching tale of two people who have every right to hate the world and the circumstances that have forced them into that world.  While keeping with the description of the Duke of Blackthorne from previous stories Ms. Caldwell slowly peels the layers back revealing how and why he is the way he is.  She makes the reader feel every ounce of pain and self-loathing both characters suffer and at the same time giving hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Blythe: Schemes Gone Amiss by Collette Cameron

Another hit by the extremely talented Collette Cameron that will have you laughing & crying all at the same time. Her wit combined with the strength of her characters will draw you in and not let you go.  Looking forward to her next installment to see which Culpepper Miss has me laughing out loud.

Lady Wesley

My favorite reads of 2016 include some old best-loved romance writers and a new-to-me author of mystery/romance stories.

After a fairly ‘meh’ first book in The Ravenels series, Lisa Kleypas got her groove back with Marrying Winterbourne. Rhys Winterbourne joins the ranks of Derek Craven (Dreaming of You) and Lord St. Vincent (Devil in Winter) as one of her most memorable and enticing heroes. I listened to the audio version narrated by Mary Jane Wells, who gets 10+ stars for her performance. Her Rhys Winterbourne is simply the sexiest, swoonworthiest hero I’ve ever heard from a female narrator, and I’m reliably informed that her Welsh accent is excellent. (It is – Ed.)

Once Upon a Dream was a triple delight for me. Two of my favorite authors: Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes. One of my favorite settings: country house parties. My favorite duke – the Duke of All Dukes: Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. No way was I not going to like these two novellas. Balogh’s story takes us back Bedwyn World, a place that I came to love when reading her Slightly and Simply series. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Thompson, played a secondary role in Slightly Dangerous, when her sister Christine married the top-lofty Duke. Eleanor appeared again in Simply Perfect, when Claudia Martin married the Marquess of Attingsborough, and Eleanor took over Claudia’s role as headmistress of a girls’ school in Bath. It was great fun to see this forty-year-old lady get her HEA. Burrowes gives us a widowed father of young boys who play matchmaker for their father and the daughter of an immensely wealthy cit. As usual, Burrowes excels at writing adorable yet realistically mischievous and exasperating children.

Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series of four novels and one novella – each of them first-rate – features Keira Darby and Sebastian Gage. Now comes the fifth novel in the series, As Death Draws Near, and I believe it is the best yet. Keira and Gage interrupt their honeymoon to investigate the murder of a nun at a convent in Ireland. Although the mystery drives the plot, this book is also a strongly character-driven love story. It is absolutely lovely to watch Keira and Gage navigate through the early days of their marriage. Keira has grown since we met her in The Anatomist’s Wife, but she still harbors insecurities relating to her unhappy first marriage, the notoriety resulting from her work, and her rejection by society. As for Sebastian Gage, he remains handsome, stalwart, and devoted to Keira. His character is not as inclined to introspection as hers, but we do see him trying to navigate, not always successfully, between being Kiera’s husband and being her partner in investigation. Anna Lee Huber is a supremely talented author, and these books are complex, impeccably plotted, and clearly well-researched.


Sara

Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

The idea of a Regency era “Fixer” who is both a peer and a woman shouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Kelly Bowen allows readers to quickly forget the implausibility of her storyline by engaging us with two highly intelligent characters who match wits, clash over control and somehow fall in love while searching for a kidnapped woman. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the investigation underlying all of their interactions but the story works best in the small moments where the heroine Ivory is allowed to be both strong and independent but still have a woman’s heart to be lost to the right partner.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

I didn’t believe that Kerrigan Byrne could create a darker and more tortured hero than she did in last year’s The Highwayman but somehow she turned a sociopath into a man to fall in love with. The emotional walls Christopher Argent has erected to protect himself slowly crumble when he interacts with his target Millie LeCour and he begins to see the value of living through her eyes. Mille has her own problems to overcome but the brilliance of her character is that she meets her challenges with courage and never lets them damage her spirit. The mix of his dark soul to her inner light makes their relationship all the more intense. Twists in the story show a reader that sometimes true evil can hide behind the friendliest of faces while true love can heal over scars built from a lifetime of pain.

To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn Macnamara

This book introduced me to one of my favorite characters of the year. Dysart starts off as a snarky Bow Street Runner full of contempt for the nobility but is slowly revealed to be a principled and honorable man. This story also had one of the best romantic partnerships with Dysart and his heroine Lizzie investigating the suspicious illness of her father along with other problems around the estate. I was reminded of the TV show Castle and the partnership of Castle/Beckett in how well Dysart and Lizzie work together but also tease and dance around their intense sexual chemistry. Dysart’s cleverness and dry wit alone make this book a keeper and the romance he finds with Lizzie made it all the more enjoyable.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

In a year full of drama Tessa Dare delivers a romantic-comedy that merges two separate series into a satisfying conclusion for them both. It’s a meeting of opposites when a buttoned-up former spy tangles with a spirited woman to solve a whodunit and save their reputations. Seeing the long suffering Charlotte Highwood all grown up and finding her match was so much fun! The lighter tone of the storyline allows for outrageously humorous moments such as a regency sex-ed discussion full of modern iconography, a child detective on the trail of a “murderer” and a completely garbled declaration of love. There are serious moments too but they never detract from the pure entertainment value of the book.

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

This was the surprise hit of 2016 for me. Emily Larkin mixes Historical and Paranormal elements into a book that never skimps on characters to sell the fantasy. Pushing the limits of the “woman in pants” storyline by adding the quirk of magic, the title character Charlotte Appleby experiences life for a few weeks as a woman embracing her sexuality and as a man understanding friendship and cameraderie. Charlotte’s physical transformation rather than just a disguise adds a subtext (perhaps inadvertently) about the nature of attraction and of gender being something intrinsic to the person rather than how they look on the outside. I loved seeing Charlotte discover that magic comes in many forms, from the supernatural kind to the type that sparks between people perfect for each other.


Wendy

There was never any doubt that a Stella Riley novel would feature in my ‘best of books published in 2016’ but which to choose? It was extremely difficult as she has had four audio books and one print published this year. In the end I settled on the long awaited Lords of Misrule, the fourth in her Civil War series. And my reason? It’s simply fabulous – a great feast of a book combining what I love best, terrifically researched historical content and a subtle but beautifully developed romance.

Lucinda Brant will always have a place on any ‘best of’ list of mine if she’s had something published within the year. This time she has brought together her fabulous Salt Hendon books in a boxed set in both a print version AND an audio version with the stupendously talented Alex Wyndham narrating it. With both being published within 2016 I’ve had the loveliest of times both reading and listening, and being transported back in time to Ms. Brant’s knowledgeably written and extensively researched, opulent and exciting Georgian world.

One of the queens of historical romance began a new series this year and in her usual understated, subtle manner, Mary Balogh has hooked me in. Someone to Love is an original and fascinating start to her new series and I was thrilled to not only read it but but also to have the pleasure of discussing the characters personally with Ms. Balogh at the Historical Romance Retreat. This author doesn’t need to rely on complicated plot lines to sell her books – her strengths lie in her years of writing and life experience which I feel always comes across, and I love everything she produces.

One of my greatest reading pleasures has always been historical fiction and in particular books about the Plantagenets. There are no historical fiction writers whom I enjoy more than Elizabeth Chadwick and The Autumn Throne, the third and final book in her fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine series is quite simply superb. Ms.Chadwick’s knowledge of the period and scholarship is mind boggling. All of her books are eloquently written, with exceptional attention to detail, but this series in particular really struck a chord with me and I finished it with a thirst to learn as much as I could about this fascinating historical character.

My final choice is a bit of a departure for me. K.J Charles is a new-to-me author in 2016 and was recommended by a respected reviewer friend. M/M historical romance is not something I had ever considered trying, nor to be honest, even knew existed. But I’m so glad I gave this author a try because I loved her Society of Gentlemen series and in particular, A Gentleman’s Position. This is such a clever story, taking place at a time when gentlemen could be executed for their predilections. But this story is about so much more than that, and the way the author develops the plot and brings it all to a satisfactory and plausible conclusion is very skilful. The love between her characters is tender and believable and the historical content is in-depth, real and fascinating.


All books in this list are linked to Amazon, so click to find out more!

 

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Duke of Daring (The Untouchables #2) by Darcy Burke

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PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon * ~ * B & N * ~ * iTunes * ~ * Kobo

Miss Lucinda Parnell is out of money. A dismal failure at the Marriage Mart, she’d just as soon leave Society far behind. Desperate to earn funds to retire with her grandmother to the country, Lucy disguises herself as a man to gamble in London’s hells. But the Earl of Dartford, an Untouchable she never imagined speaking to let alone spending time with, is onto her in a trice. When he insists on acting as her protector, Lucy fears her chance to remain an independent woman is destined to go up in flames.

After losing his entire family, Andrew Wentworth, Earl of Dartford built a wall to keep attachments at bay. He believed he could keep Miss Parnell safe without compromising his defenses, but she’s exciting and irresistible. Their deepening relationship makes him even more determined to push her away. Nothing will stop him from trying to avoid reliving the anguish of loss. Love is the one risk he doesn’t have the heart to dare.

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EXCERPT

“Yes, let’s be direct with one another, shall we?”

Lucy blinked at him. “I am always direct.”

“Unless you’re trying to fool people into thinking you’re a man.” His sarcasm was simultaneously annoying and charming.

“Yes, that. A necessary transgression, I’m sure you agree.”

His brow arched. “I hardly think you care whether I agree.”

He had her there. She grinned. “Maybe a little. I mean, I do care. A little.” She’d come to like Dartford during their brief acquaintance, in spite of his moments of arrogance and imperiousness. She looked forward to another adventure or two with him. “You have my word that I won’t venture out without your assistance. Shall we set our next appointment?”

His eyes widened briefly. He seemed a bit surprised at the ease with which she’d agreed. “Excellent. Tell me when, and I’ll meet you as I did tonight.”

“Four nights hence, at half past eleven.”

The hackney drew to a halt on Bolton Street, but not in front of her house. They stepped out of the cab, and Dartford paid the coachman.

With her house in sight, weariness seeped into Lucy’s frame. She longed to pluck all the padding from her body and scrub her face clean after discarding the fake sideburns.

Dartford walked with her toward the house. “What would your grandmother say if she knew you were doing this?”

Lucy suffered a pang of guilt. “She’d be horrified.”

“What does she think you’re going to do once she retires?”

They’d reached her house. Lucy stopped and turned toward him. “She expects me to marry.”

“And is that a possibility?” he asked. Shadows played across his face, but she could see his eyes clearly. They were dark, intelligent, often filled with humor. His cheekbones gave definition, while his chin, square with a slight cleft, provided character. He bore an appealing countenance. No, that wasn’t at all fair. He was exceptionally handsome. And an earl. Precisely the kind of man her grandmother had hoped she would marry but who’d consistently ignored her the past five years. An Untouchable.

She tamped down a scowl, suddenly annoyed anew at her predicament, which was silly since she’d abandoned the idea of marriage. A choice she didn’t regret in the slightest.

She gestured to her costume and the sideburns stuck to her face, currently making her itch. “Would I be doing this if it were?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps it is possible, but you don’t wish to marry, so you choose this instead.”

That actually summed up her current attitude quite accurately. She would choose this over marriage. “As it happens, I don’t wish to marry.”

“Indeed?” He cocked his head to the side. “How surprising. We are alike, then, because I don’t wish to marry either. Some distant cousin will need to inherit the title.”

She wanted to ask why but didn’t. That would encourage him to ask her the same, and she had no intention of explaining that to him. Besides, it was best if they didn’t become too…close. This was a necessary partnership, but they weren’t going to be lifelong friends.

“Are those comfortable?” He reached out with his fingertips and brushed the sideburn glued along her right jawline.

She ignored the frisson of delight that sparked down her neck. “Not particularly. In fact, I’d like a few days to recover from wearing them.”

“I should like to see you without them.” His dark gaze penetrated through her carefully constructed wall, and his deep voice shot straight into her chest, stirring the inconvenient attraction she felt toward him.

Her breath caught. “I doubt you ever will.”

His mouth ticked up in a half smile. “Don’t tease me. Please. Not when I’ve been so helpful. Think of all you won tonight.”

All she’d won. It wasn’t just the money. Not to her. She’d won respect with her shooting, even if she couldn’t tell them she was a woman.

She took a step back, determined to put space between herself and this suddenly dangerous man. “I appreciate your help, but I won’t share credit for my winnings. They are mine alone.”

He gave a slight bow. “My apologies,” he murmured.

“I’ll see you in a few days.” She turned from him.

“Not if I see you first,” he said.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Darcy Burke, July 2016
Time and Setting: 1816, London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Burke, Darcy- The Duke of Daring (final)I have always been charmed by stories where a heroine dresses as a man. The Duke of Daring is an enjoyable book that has some fun with the “girl-in-pants” plotline but also touches on deeper things that can touch a person and affect their lives.

Lucinda Parnell has a plan for her future and it is very different to what most young women in England would come up with. If it were up to her grandmother, Lucy would be trying her hardest to find a respectable husband and marry just for the security that it would bring. Lucy, however, never wants to marry after witnessing the irresponsible behaviors of her father and grandfather before him. She would much rather take control of her own financial security and will do so by using the only skill her wastrel father ever taught her; the ability to gamble and do it well.

Donning a padded men’s outfit and disguising her face with long sideburns and hat, Lucy is a rather small but somewhat convincing picture of a young London buck. She finds some early success at the tables but her luck soon runs out when she meets the handsome and observant Earl of Dartford. Unmasked for the woman she is, Lucy is annoyed and then intrigued when Lord Dartford offers to help her in her scheme rather than expose her. Over the next few nights Lucy, in her disguise of “Smitty,” gains access to a whole other world of entertainments and opportunities to wager and win big.

The idea of a young woman masquerading as a man is so absurd to Andrew that he cannot help but want to help her succeed. Lucy’s willingness to try anything speaks to Andrew’s own desire to find adventures that defy how a peer of the realm should behave. His latest undertaking is the chance to take flight in a hot air balloon, living out the unfulfilled dream of his late younger brother. As he spends more time in “Smitty’s” company Andrew’s desire to know the woman underneath becomes an adventure in itself. Yet getting close to Lucy and knowing there is a connection growing between them goes against Andrew’s hard and fast rule to never let anyone close to him.

Andrew and Lucy may come together under strange circumstances, what with her dressed as a man and all, yet her disguise is probably one of the best things to happen for their relationship. The anonymity of the “Smitty” persona lets Lucy be herself more than being in a ballroom or sitting room would allow. She gets to show off the skills and ideas that make her a unique person and she makes friends with men who come to respect those attributes. Andrew, alongside her for all of those moments, sees the joy and excitement Lucy finds in activities he’d long taken for granted. He is first attracted to her exuberance but also to the practical side of her that is doing it all so that she can have a future under her own terms.

Where the story changes from just a lighthearted romance is when Andrew’s demons begin poisoning his budding feelings for Lucy. Losing his entire family at a young age tainted his ideas about love or allowing anyone into his heart. Andrew has become an adrenaline junky, seeking out riskier adventures if only to feel anything but crushing survivor’s guilt. He will not let anyone – even Lucy whom he comes to admire greatly – past the walls he’s put in place to guard against ever being deeply hurt again. What makes Andrew’s journey so compelling is that there are moments where his love of his friends and Lucy are visible though these walls. It makes the love story all the more interesting to wait and see how Lucy will circumvent his defenses, and how he will get past her fears of dependency on a man, and they will each be better for the experience.

Darcy Burke is a new author for me and I enjoyed the characters brought to life in The Duke of Daring. Lucy and Andrew have more to offer than just a woman in disguise and the man who falls for it. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next story in The Untouchables series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darcy BurkeDarcy Burke is the USA Today bestselling author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily-ever-after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations.

A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids-who each seem to have inherited the writing gene in some form-and two Bengal cats. In her “spare” time Darcy is a serial volunteer enrolled in a 12-step program where one learns to say “no,” but she keeps having to start over. Her happy places are Disneyland and Labor Day weekend at the Gorge.

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The Forbidden Duke (The Untouchables #1) by Darcy Burke

the forbidden duke
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Spinster Miss Eleanor Lockhart is suddenly homeless and employment is her only option. Ruined after succumbing to a scoundrel’s excessive charm nearly a decade ago, she’s lucky to obtain a position as a paid companion and committed to behaving with the utmost propriety. She definitely shouldn’t be in the arms of a man capable of utterly destroying what little remains of her reputation…

Titus St. John, Duke of Kendal, is known as the Forbidden Duke, a mysterious, intimidating figure who enters Society just once each year at his stepmother’s ball. A decade ago, he was a devil-may-care rake until his idle roguery brought about the ruin of Eleanor Lockhart—and his resulting self-imposed isolation. Now she’s back, and she needs his help. But by “saving” her, he may just ruin her life all over again.

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Publisher and Release Date: Darcy Burke, March 2016
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1811 England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Cicely

One social faux pas leads to a life as a pariah for one. Guilt leads to a life of solitude for another.

Miss Eleanor (Nora) Lockhart has accepted her banishment to her father’s house, minimal contact with her beloved sister, and few friends. What she isn’t prepared for is the announcement that she will no longer have a home. With her father making bad investments he is forced to move to a cottage on his sister’s estate, a cottage too small for Nora to be able to join him. Living with her sister will be forbidden by her husband, the vicar. Returning to the aunt who sponsored her first Season is out of the question as Nora was vehemently told to never return. Her only option appears to be to find a situation as a lady’s companion; as long as her past doesn’t get in the way.

Titus St. John, fifth Duke of Kendal, lived a life as a rake of the first order until one night a decade earlier forever changed the life of a young debutante. Feeling partly responsible, Titus has spent the last several years as something of a recluse, making one social appearance each year – at his stepmother’s annual ball where he dances one dance with a female who is in need of a boost in society then he takes his leave. This social avoidance has earned him the nickname “The Forbidden Duke”; a position he embraces fully until fate brings the past roaring back to him.

Hired at her first interview, Nora is determined to do her job while hoping no one remembers her. Alas, life is not so kind; although no remarks are made directly there are much twittering and laughing behind fans. Knowing of Titus’ reputation, Nora is surprised when he asks her to dance; is this at his stepmother’s request or a decision of his own? Whatever the reason, the dance leaves her a little flustered and reminding herself it is just a dance and she is no longer the naïve girl she was a decade ago.

Titus attributes his choice of Nora as his dance partner to the guilt he feels at his part in her being shunned by society, not the fact that she fascinates him. But it is a fascination that has him deviating from his normal routine and remaining for the duration of the ball, although alone in the study and not in the ballroom. He’s conflicted to learn that his dance with Nora caused others to notice her – which was the point, but still, he is taken off guard when his stepmother announces she wants to give Nora the season she deserves. He vows to help give her the type of life she deserves which has him making appearances in society he would normally shun.

Nora is appreciative of the season sponsored by Lady Satterfield but soon realizes she misses the quietness of her life before being forced to return to London. She’s unsure of the attentions she’s receiving from two gentlemen; all she can think about is Titus, especially when he keeps turning up at society events he would normally avoid.
The Forbidden Duke is the first in Darcy Burke’s new series The Untouchables. It is a well written tale of how one’s choices affects the lives of many. Nora is written as a strong woman who has accepted what her choices have cost her without wallowing in pity. Ms. Burke could have written Titus as man consumed with guilt who projects himself as untouchable and left it at that; however, she adds subtle layers to allow the reader to see the man inside and how his guilt has affected his life.

The epilogue gives hints of more stories to come and I, for one, am looking forward to reading about the next Untouchable.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend to fans of the author, new readers and lovers of historical romance in general.

Romancing the Earl (Regency Treasure Hunters #2) by Darcy Burke

romancing the earl

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Major Elijah Hollister never wanted to be an earl, particularly not when it meant losing his brother. When a bold adventuress shows up at his door seeking a treasure map, Elijah suspects his brother’s death may not have been accidental and that the lady knows more than she’s willing to share. Whether she’s a friend or foe, Elijah plans to keep her close—and hope the temptation of her kisses doesn’t ruin them both.

Miss Catriona Bowen can almost taste the fruits of her years-long quest to find one of Britain’s greatest treasures. The discovery will deliver the recognition and respect she deserves as an antiquary, despite the fact that she’s a woman. However, to find the map that will lead her to success, she must ally herself with a stoic, yet provocative gentleman with a different goal. And when a villain threatens their lives, she realizes too late that love is the greatest treasure of all.

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Publisher and Release Date: Intrepid Reads, April 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England and Wales, 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Romancing the Earl is the second book in Ms Burke’s Regency Treasure Hunters series, which began with The De Valery Code. That story is set some twenty-two years earlier and tells the story of Rhys and Margery Bowen, whose daughter, Cate, is the heroine of this book. While there are a couple of references to some of the elements of the storyline in book one which are carried over, Romancing the Earl works well as a standalone, with a nicely built romance and an intriguing adventure plot.

Major Elijah Hollister has recently returned to England from Australia, where he was stationed for a number of years. His return was occasioned by the recent and unexpected death of his brother Matthew, the Earl of Norris, which has left Elijah both bereft and in possession of an earldom he doesn’t want.

Completely out of the blue, he receives a visit from a lovely young woman who introduces herself as Catriona Bowen. She loses no time in informing him that she wishes to purchase a medieval tapestry she believes is part of the collection of antiquities Elijah has inherited from the distant cousin who was the holder of the title before Matthew. When she goes on to explain that the tapestry may well contain a clue as to the location of a priceless Arthurian artefact known as the Sword of Dyrnwyn, Elijah is suspicious of her true intent – and when, during the course of their conversation, Catriona explains that she is not the only person interested in the tapestry and the information it may contain, Elijah comes to the realisation that perhaps his brother’s death was no accident.

While he has no real interest in the tapestry other than as it relates to his brother’s death, Elijah is determined to investigate and find out the truth. He and Catriona form an uneasy alliance; if Matthew was murdered by whoever was after the tapestry, then helping to recover it may provide clues as to the identity of his brother’s killers.

What follows is a road-trip story during which the Earl and Catriona – accompanied by their respective servants, Wade and Grey – travel from his Wiltshire home to Harlech in Wales, finding clues and confronting the dangerous gang who are also in pursuit of the treasure.

While the story is perhaps a little slow to start, spending time as it does introducing the reader to the various players in the story and explaining the legends behind the Arthurian treasures of which the Sword of Dyrnwyn is one – once the journey really gets underway, the pacing picks up, and I found myself much more drawn in.

The two principals are attractive, engaging characters whose past experiences (him) and unconventional lifestyle (her) have decided both of them against long-term entanglements, but who are nonetheless unable to ignore the growing attraction between them. The romantic and sexual tension between them is built up very well, and even though Cate’s attitude towards sex is rather too modern for the time, I nonetheless enjoyed how her forwardness was contrasted with Elijah’s insistence on propriety and the way she could throw him completely off balance with a veiled suggestion or look.

In fact, Cate is a very forward-thinking young woman who wants nothing more than to be taken seriously as an academic in a time when women weren’t supposed to have brains or to be able to think for themselves. I did find it a little hard to believe that her parents would have allowed her to gallivant about the country with only her companion in tow; regardless of their confidence in Cate’s common sense and her resourcefulness, the middle of nowhere in the English countryside could be a very dangerous place to be.

Elijah is slightly less well defined, although Ms Burke adds some lovely little touches to his backstory which help to flesh him out. He’s charming, dependable and possesses the kind of quiet competence that is very attractive, as well as being the sort of hero who may be a bit uptight on the surface but is a bit of a devil between the sheets 😉 I was, however, rather surprised by his actions towards the end of the story, when the conclusions he reaches about his brother’s death cause him to act in a way that’s completely out of character.

There are a few inconsistencies in the story (like the fact that Bradford is nowhere near Bath; the author obviously means Bradford-upon-Avon, but this British reader had to think about it, because to us, Bradford is “up north”) and the reasons behind Elijah’s poor relationship with his mother are never fully explored or given closure. Cate’s stated determination never to disgrace her family name is somewhat at odds with the way she travels around independently all the time. And personally, I have a problem with the concept that King Arthur actually existed. The treasures which are being sought during this series are all reputed to be artefacts that were owned by Arthur and his knights, thus proving the legendary king’s existence. I know this is fiction, but that requires me to stretch my credulity just a bit too far.

Apart from those things, though Romancing the Earl is a well-written, enjoyable romp, featuring a couple of likeable protagonists, a sensual romance and a nicely-crafted adventure plot. Ms Burke has set things up well for the next couple of books in the series, and I’m sure I’ll be checking them out.

VIRTUAL TOUR: The De Valery Code by Darcy Burke

ThedeValeryCode-BT

Miss Margery Derrington and her dear aunts are in dire straits. Their discovery of a rare medieval manuscript will hopefully stave off their creditors—if it’s worth what they hope. Margery reluctantly allies with a reclusive scholar to use the book to pursue a treasure that could exceed her expectations. Amidst danger, secrets, and an insatiable attraction, is Margery gambling just her financial future . . . or her heart?

Academic Rhys Bowen can’t believe he has his hands on the elusive de Valery text. Solving its hidden code and unearthing its legendary treasure would establish him as one of Britain’s leading antiquarians, finally casting him out of his brilliant late father’s shadow. But when a centuries-old organization convinces Rhys of the perils of disturbing the past, he must choose between his conscience…and the captivating woman he’s sworn to help.

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EXCERPT

ThedeValeryCode_finalRhys turned his attention to Miss Derrington. She appeared fresh and lovely today, garbed in a blue traveling costume edged with black velvet. A wide-brimmed bonnet shielded her blond hair, but a few curls brushed her temples.

He oughtn’t look at her so closely. They were business associates at best. At worst, adversaries vying for the same treasure, which she didn’t even know existed. Yet. He’d thought about whether he should have told her, but until he was certain there was even a code to decipher, why bother?

“We should discuss our visit,” he said. “You must never go anywhere alone, and you mustn’t do anything to encourage Stratton’s interest.” Though she’d likely do that by simply breathing.

Miss Derrington eyed him inquisitively. “I’m well aware of your cousin’s reputation. I shall be on my guard.”
“You must be. Stratton is a dissolute fiend. Make sure Mrs. Edwards is with you at all times. In fact, I will insist that you sleep in the same chamber.”

“There you go with ‘must’ and ‘insist.’ Have you always been so dictatorial?” she asked.

Mrs. Edwards shrugged. “It’s no trouble; we shared a room at the White Lady.”

Rhys gave Miss Derrington a look that communicated something to the effect of, not everyone thinks I’m dictatorial.

Miss Derrington exhaled softly. “I suppose adjoining chambers will suffice. Thank you so much for consulting with us,” she said with false sweetness.

He ignored her sarcasm. Protecting her was his responsibility while they were traveling together, and Stratton was a legitimate threat to a young lady like herself. “I worry that I should have come alone,” he muttered.

“With my book?” She shook her head. “There was never any chance of that.”

Right. “Then you must adhere to my guidelines. You’ll leave the door between your adjoining chambers open so that Mrs. Edwards can hear you if you need assistance.” Rhys would request a nearby chamber as well, though that would undoubtedly pique Stratton’s curiosity.

In fact, perhaps Rhys ought to infer that Miss Derrington was already taken. It wouldn’t be foolproof—things such as marriage and engagements hadn’t always prevented Stratton from attempting scandalous behavior—but it might work. There had to be some honor among families, even for Stratton, didn’t there?

Was there honor in keeping a man’s son from him? For the boy’s well-being, yes.

Miss Derrington set her hand atop the bag that held the book nestled beside her. “I shall be cautious.”
They fell into silence for a good quarter hour or longer. Soft snores emanated from Mrs. Edwards’s corner.
Miss Derrington turned her head from the window to look at Rhys. “Are you and Stratton close? While you possess a somewhat irritating predilection for condescension, your behavior is at complete odds with his scandalous reputation.”

Rhys fought the urge to smile at her description of him. He ought to find her irritation annoying, but was instead charmed. He decided he might enjoy tormenting her—at least a bit. “Our familial connection is distant. I’ve only visited him a handful times: a few occasions as a child, his weddings, and once with my father to see his de Valery manuscript. I did attend one of his house parties, left early, and swore never to repeat the mistake.”

“I see. I understand Lady Stratton simply disregards his mischief?” Her tone held a strong note of disbelief.
Rhys had met her twice—the wedding and the house party—and found her to be lovely, if withdrawn. He felt sad for her lot and wondered what she would say if she knew the first Lady Stratton was still alive—at least for now. “She has little choice in the matter, unfortunately.”

“Indeed,” Miss Derrington murmured. “It doesn’t recommend the institution of marriage, does it? Is that why you are unmarried, Mr. Bowen?”

Her gaze found his, and he was struck by the frank curiosity in its depths. There was something more. Her eyes reminded him of a hothouse—a mix of earthy brown and vivid green. Exotic. Sultry. Perhaps he’d been reading too much romantic poetry of late.

“I haven’t felt the need to take a wife.”

She cocked her head to the side. “Too wrapped up in your books?”

“Perhaps.” Definitely. “And why do you remain unwed? I can’t believe you haven’t had offers.” She was far too lovely, too intelligent, too bewitching.

Bewitching?

“Believe it or not, I haven’t,” her answer came quick and carried a touch of irritation. “Furthermore, I haven’t felt the need to marry either.”

He’d been jesting with his answer. It wasn’t so much that he hadn’t felt the need, just that he hadn’t considered it at all. But with her, he imagined she had to have considered it—women in her position really had no other choice. Sooner or later, she’d likely marry. And he suddenly envied that faceless man.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

darcyburkeauthorpicUSA Today bestselling author Darcy Burke wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Darcy writes hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance.

A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her devoted husband, their two great kids, and two Bengal cats. In her “spare” time Darcy is a serial volunteer enrolled in a 12-step program where one learns to say “no,” but she keeps having to start over. She’s also a fair-weather runner, and her happy places are Disneyland and Labor Day weekend at the Gorge. Visit Darcy online at her website * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * ~ * Newsletter Sign-Up