Tag Archive | Historical romance

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Dressmaker’s Duke by Jess Russell


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Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned, he must have this fiercely independent woman.

Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.

As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?

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EXCERPT

What did he expect? Yards of ribbons, ruffles and bows? The demimonde was her niche. And rather than sell herself on her back she chose instead to clothe the women who did.

She raised her chin. “As you see, Your Grace, there is nothing inferior here. I am quite proud of my workmanship, and this design in particular is a favorite of the gentlemen.

“The gentlemen?” The gape collapsed into a scowl.

“Yes. And the ladies as well—my patronesses. In Paris I was quite sought after. I’m sure I will have the same following here in London, as soon as I can properly circulate.”

“Circulate?”

Was he addlepated? He seemed capable of only one-word rejoinders.

“Yes.” She tried speaking to him as if he were a small child incapable of comprehension. “Mrs. Battersby was a great coup for our shop. But now she has lost your protection, Mrs. Wiggins and I will simply have to begin anew. Now, Your Grace, will you take the gown?”

Reason told her only a few seconds could have passed as they stood, his gaze locked to hers in a stalemate, but it seemed interminable.

Finally his jaw twitched.

“Could you move, please?” Was it her imagination, or was his voice higher than usual? Then what he actually said registered.

“Move?”

“Yes. Could you move across the room? I find to judge a garment, or anything properly, one must see it in motion.” Her face must have reflected horror, for he hastened on, “You would not expect me to buy a horse simply by looking at its lines would you, Mrs. Weston? I would wish to see it run as well. I’m sure you understand.”

Blast him and his bloody horses. She strode forward, happy to vent some of her anger in movement; however, she realized a split second too late there was nowhere to move. The receiving room was not large and was mostly taken up with the cutting table. The only area with any appreciable room was at the far end of the shop where the huge paneled mirrors stood. He was standing directly in the path that would be her best direction. Consequently, she found herself almost flush up against him.

She knew he was tall. Any fool could see the man was at least two or more inches over six feet, but from this vantage point—directly beneath him—he was so very tall. She could smell the starch of his shirt mixed with a faint whiff of smoke and possibly brandy. She slid her gaze over the shirt and waistcoat to his cravat—a conservatively tied Oriental—to the firm, slightly cleft chin, moving on to the lips, very swiftly past those, and finally resting on his eyes. Pure molten gold. Yes, exactly like those of the Burmese tiger she had seen at a menagerie in Paris. His bearing was just as predatory.

“It would appear, sir, in order for me to move, as you require, you will have to bestir yourself as well.”

She thought she saw one side of his mouth shift ever so slightly upward into what might be the merest twitch of a smile. She could not be one hundred percent sure because, to do so, she would have to look at his lips. The duke shifted his weight and made a small bow. Her shoulder brushed the superfine of his midnight blue jacket as she hurriedly squeezed past him.

She strode almost to the mirrors before wheeling around and giving him what she hoped was an accusatory look.

“Well, Your Grace. I hope you are satisfied.”

“Satisfied, Mrs. Weston?” He raised that infernal eyebrow. “Oh no, madam, I am very far from satisfied. However, I am hopeful I will be, in the not so distant future.” Again his gaze raked over her. “Yes, I do live in hope.” He turned and began to gather his things. “You may send this gown to me in the morning.”

“But won’t you want the young woman to come in for a fitting?”

The duke stopped in the middle of donning his left glove. He looked at her as if she was being deliberately obtuse or worse, coy, and once more raised that bloody eyebrow. She chose to ignore his rapier-like weapon.

“Your Grace, this gown is deceptive in its simplicity. It looks uncomplicated, but in fact it requires, at the very least, one fitting to assure it hangs properly. I will not send out a gown that does not fit perfectly. You must understand I have my reputation to think of.”

Hot brandy eyes seared hers. “Madam, believe me, I am very cognizant of your reputation. As a modiste you need not fear,” he said as he slowly drew on his left glove and flexed his fingers. “I assure you the gown will fit like this glove.”

With that, he turned and opened the door.

“I will be back for the next gown tomorrow. Shall we say at the same time?”

He clearly did not need or require an answer. Olivia’s mouth dropped open as the shop door closed, its jangle of bells mocking her frayed nerves.

Oh God, it was not over. Not nearly over. In fact, it seemed the Duke of Roydan had just begun.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jess Russell now Multi-Award Winning and Best-selling author!

As a girl Jess escaped the world of rigorous ballet class and hideous math homework into the haven of toe wriggling romance novels. Now she writes them!

Jess lives in New York City with her husband and son and disappears to the Catskill Mountains whenever she can. She is a sometime actress, award winning batik artist, and accomplished seamstress. Along with her sewing machine, she loves power tools and, what’s more, she knows how to use them.

Jess is currently working on renovating a condo in uptown Manhattan (The Lipstick on a Pig Project) and writing two other stories for the Reluctant Hearts series, Captivated by the Countess and Daft for a Duke.

Jess Russell is a member of RWA, as well as the Beau Monde and the NY chapters of RWA.

http://jessrussellromance.com

THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE was a double finalist in the National Readers Choice Awards for Best First Book and Best Historical. Also finaled in the Heart of Excellence Readers Choice Contest. The book came in first in the Fool for Love Contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving Contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest and the Golden Rose Contest (also winning the best of the best). And finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City Opener, and the Lone Star Contests.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Virtue: Sons of Scotland #1 by Victoria Vane


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A man without a past…

Abandoned at a monastery as a young child, Alexander serves two masters—God and the fading memories of his past life—the one he never got to live. As he nears the day to take his vows, he’s sent on a last sojourn into the real world, but what begins as a test of faith becomes a journey to manhood.

And a woman who doesn’t know her own heart…

Born from the line of two kings, Lady Sibylla Mac William is abandoned by her sire as a child and then ruled illegitimate. Though she lives a happy life under her uncle’s protection, Sibylla craves something more, but never could she imagine losing her heart to the would-be monk who unexpectedly arrives to tutor her brother.

Together, they will forge the future of a kingdom…

When dark secrets from the past come to light, Alex and Sibylla’s fates become inextricably entwined. Will Alex choose the safe and secure path he knows, or will he reject holy orders to embrace his true destiny… and the woman he loves?

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EXCERPT

Twilight made a rapid descent on Cnoc Croit na Maoile, cloaking the forested part of the path in deep shadow and making the way difficult. Twice, she stumbled and a short while later, caught her foot on a root that sent her sprawling to the ground.

Alex was there swiftly to help her back up. “Are ye a’right, lass?”

“Aye. I’m nae hurt,” she lied.

He could clearly see that her face was scratched, her palms were scraped, and her tunic had been torn by a limb. He gently brushed away the dirt and tenderly kissed her palms before entwining his fingers with hers. “’Tis best if I lead ye now.”

Although the rest of the way was easier, Alex was reluctant to release her hand.

“Ye still havena told me what troubles ye, Alexander,” she said, breaking the silence.

“I’ve learned some things about my family since coming here,” he said.

“Aye?” She stopped to face him. “How did this come about?”

“Yer uncle recognized my sgian-dubh. He says he kent my faither.”

“He did? How? What did he tell ye?” she asked.

Alex drew a great breath into his lungs and released it on a sigh. There was so much he wished to confide, but what could tell her? How much did he dare to share? “Only that my faither was an enemy of the king.”

“The king has many enemies,” she replied, “especially in Moray. Did ye ken my máthair’s faither was a king in his own right? His lands stretched from one sea to the other, but his son, Angus, forfeited everything when he rebelled against the crown.”

“My faither found himself in a similar situation,” Alex said. “There was substantial… property… that should have come to him by right through his faither, but the king disagreed.”

“’Tis the Cenn Mór way to do such things,” she said.

“Dinna ye also carry Cenn Mór blood?” he asked.

“Only a quarter,” she corrected. “And I dinna regard that part of me any more than my sire regarded his Scots blood. He was a lowlander by birth who chose to be Sassenach. I, on the contrary, choose to be a Highlander.”

Her answer evoked a chuckle.

“Ye should do that more often,” she said.

“Do what?” he asked.

“Laugh. ‘Tis the first time I heard ye laugh.”

“Monasteries dinna encourage much laughter,” he said dryly.

“But yer nae there anymore, are ye?”

“I am nae.”

“Then ye need to laugh more freely,” she insisted.

They’d emerged from the forested path, Alex halted and turned to face her. “If ‘twill please ye,” he said. “I will try.”

“Aye,” she said. “But ‘twould please me even better if ye would kiss me again.”

Alex instinctively leaned toward her, wanting to give her the kiss, but knowing where it would lead. “I canna, Sibylla,” he said, stroking her cheek. “This should ne’er have happened between us.”

“But it did,” she said. “Do ye regret it so much, Alexander?”

“Regret? Nae.” He shook his head. “I only regret that it canna be.”

He’d gone to the promontory seeking solace for his distressed spirit, and found balm in Sibylla’s kiss. He knew it was far more than carnal lust, but it was futile to think they could ever be together. “I am no one with nothing,” he said. “This can go nowhere.”

“But things can change Alexander,” she said. “I believe our destinies lie in our own hands.”

“Ye do nae have faith in Divine Providence?” He wondered again at her lack of piety.

“I do. I believe God sets many things in motion but the choices we make, for better or for ill, are ours alone. I believe ye came here for a reason, Alexander. I believe our meeting was meant to be.”

Alex, once more, recalled the eerie words of her grandmother. “Lady Olith said as much.”

Her eyes grew wide. “My grandmother spoke of us?”

“Aye.” He hesitated to say more, but found himself compelled to ask, “Is she right in the head?”

“She’s a seer, Alexander,” Sibylla answered. “She has visions.”

“Have they ever proven true?” he asked.

“Many times. She kent her son, Angus, would be killed in battle. She also kent that Domnall and I would come here… what did she say to ye?”

“I dinna remember it well,” he lied. He remembered every word but speaking more of it would only give credence to what he could not, would not, believe.

“Surely ye recall something of her words,” she insisted, “else ye would nae have spoken of it.”

“Sibylla!” A shout startled them apart before Alex could respond; it was Domnall galloping toward them. “What is this!” He flung himself down from his mount with an accusing stare. “Where have ye been, Sibylla? The entire clan is looking for ye.”

His gaze darted from Sibylla to Alex and back again, and then narrowed in suspicion as he took in Sibylla’s torn gown and scratched face.

He took a step toward them with his hand on his sword. “What were ye doing with my sister?”

“Nae, Domnall!” Sibylla quickly interposed herself between them. “’Tis nae what ye think!”

His gaze narrowed. “I ken what I see.”

“Alex did nothing amiss,” she said. “I fell out of a tree.”

“Ye fell?” He snorted in disbelief.

“Aye,” she insisted. “I was in the great oak at the standing stones when Alexander came and—”

His raised a silencing hand. “Enough!” Domnall pierced Alex with a challenging look. “What have ye to say about this, monk?”

“I dinna dishonor yer sister,” Alex said. “I give ye my sacred vow.”

Domnall considered him for a long, tense moment. There was no sign of their earlier camaraderie in his expression. Would he draw his sword? Alex fingered his sgian-dubh, praying he wouldn’t be forced to defend himself.

“In my experience, a vow is only as good as the man who makes it. And I still dinna ken what to make of ye. Come, Sibylla,” Domnall commanded. “Ye will ride back with me.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Alex as she passed, her gaze downcast.

Alex warily watched as Domnall lifted her onto the horse. Of all the sins he’d committed in his life, some might be worthy of mortal punishment, but a kiss certainly wasn’t one of them. Then again, if he had perished under Domnall’s sword, he could never regret meeting death with Sibylla’s sweet kiss still lingering on his lips.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Victoria Vane is a bestselling, award-winning author of smart and sexy romance. Her books have received more than twenty awards and nominations to include the 2015 Red Carpet Award for JEWEL OF THE EAST, 2014 RONE Award for TREACHEROUS TEMPTATIONS, and 2012 Library Journal Best E-Book romance for THE DEVIL DEVERE series. Victoria also has a passion for historical fashion and lives in the beautiful upstate of South Carolina with her husband, two sons, a little black dog, and an Arabian horse.

Contact info:
Email: victoria.vane@hotmail.com Website: www.victoriavane.com
Blog: www.embracingromance.com Facebook: http://on.fb.me/YVeXrf
Twitter: @authorvictoriav Pinterest: http://bit.ly/1vONQZh
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Echoes of the Moon (Rhythm of the Moon #3) by Jennifer Taylor


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Bethan Owen would give her life for her identical twin. With the care of Elunid’s troubled mind resting on her shoulders, she knows the love of a man will never be possible. But she can’t fight her attraction to the mystifying Henry Stephens, who, despite his lowly occupation as a night soil man, captivates her with his courtly manners and vitality.

Henry’s entire life revolves around building a fulfilling life for his mentally challenged son. When the vibrant and beautiful Bethan captures his heart, his world changes, but the secrets he harbors remain. Will he be able to give himself completely to the one he loves?

When Elunid’s behavior becomes more unstable, she makes a vicious enemy. Bethan is forced to make the greatest sacrifice, exchanging her life for her sister’s. Can Henry save Bethan and keep their love alive? Or will the dangerous adversary destroy all that is dear to them both?

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EXCERPT

King’s Harbour, England 1736

Bethan Owen stood in the doorway of the Siren Inn, drawing dawn’s gray light around her like a cloak. She peered down the cobbled street at the English Channel, cool mist bathing her face and washing the sleep from her eyes. Patches of green churning sea sliced through the heavy fog, revealing a ribbon of pink and violet at the horizon. Her twin sister Elunid would be relieved when she awoke to see the sun in the sky, for every night at sunset she feared it would never return.

She sighed. If only her sister could break through the darkness like the sun. She straightened her shoulders, breathed in the fresh new day. She would draw strength from this moment of peace, for Elunid would require her utmost vigilance, and soon the inn would be bustling with customers. Who knew what new faces the tide would bring?

The squeak of wagon wheels on the next street over interrupted her reverie. Of course, who else would be working this time of day but Henry the night soil man and his son, George? Henry’s bass voice rumbled softly, making her ears tingle. Why did the accursed man have such an effect on her?

“The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out
And brings adventure with it.
Be it rowboat or frigate, or schooner
They’ve stories to tell, fine items to sell
And I wish they’d be getting here sooner.”

George joined in with his sweet tenor at a much higher volume.

“Too loud, Son. We mustn’t disturb the good people of King’s Harbour. They would not appreciate being awakened by the sound of their own shite hitting the barrel.”

George giggled. “Da!”

Henry laughed, and every bit of skin on Bethan’s body warmed in the cool air.

“Take a care, my boy. Lift with your legs. That’s right. Climb up now, you may take the reins. Do you know where to go next?”

“Yes, Da.”

She should go inside, have a peaceful cup of tea before Elunid awoke. Would her sister be defiant and fearful today? Or would she be like her old self, clever and funny with an intense artistic flair?

Instead she closed her eyes and leaned against the doorway, letting the man’s soft, yet curiously cultured words glide into her, unraveling the worry tangling her thoughts like fishing rope.

“That’s it. Easy there. You’ll get more from this fine lady horse with a firm but gentle touch.”

Like Henry’s touch upon her arm, mindful of her safety as they’d searched for Elunid a few months ago. A most noxious odor wafted up the street, quashing the memory of his touch. The wagon appeared around the corner at the bottom of the street, and the two hopped out.

Henry grunted as they lifted the yoke into their shoulders, the barrel at the end. “Remember what the old bard said?”

“I don’t know. He said a lot of things.”

“Oh, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”

Bethan forgot the stench upon recognizing the words of William Shakespeare. Measure for Measure? How did a night soil man come to quote the immortal words of the bard? Most puzzling, and likely the reason she couldn’t get Henry out of her mind.

They soon returned to the wagon, and Henry watched George, a small smile on his face.

George scratched the horse behind the ears. “Good girl. I shall never hurt you.”

They made their way up the street, and the closer they got, the more repulsive the odor became. She covered her mouth with a handkerchief but couldn’t take her eyes away from his broad shoulders and wide back, looking strong enough to carry any burden. Even hers. He waved at her and strode up the street.

He walks like royalty, not as if he has the most disgusting job in town. She lowered the cloth as curiosity got the better of her.

He stopped a good twenty paces from her, took off his work gloves, and bowed. “I shan’t get too close, Mistress Bethan. Good morrow.” He had eyes the color of Lena’s best summer ale. “You’re up early.”

She nodded. “It’s peaceful this time of day, when the town is still asleep.”

“Except for us.” He grinned. He wore no hat, and his black hair curled around his face. “I enjoy my work for the same reason.”

“You enjoy your work?” Was the man mad?

He nodded, his eyes darkening from summer ale to stout. “Why should I not, despite the nature of it? It’s honest and important work.” He turned toward his son. “And a good trade for young George to learn.”

What a snob she was. “I didn’t mean to insult.”

He stepped forward, and she stepped back, rapping her elbow on the door frame. “Ouch!”

He rushed toward her. “Are you all right?”

His fingers on her arm were warm and reassuring as she closed her eyes and waited for the stars to disappear from her vision. Then she came to her senses and recoiled from him.

He backed away. “I’m sorry to have disturbed your reverie, Mistress Bethan.” Formal, cold.

Emptiness echoed in the pit of her stomach; she had offended him. Why should she care? Nevertheless, she watched him retreat down the hill toward his son. Such a mystery.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jennifer Taylor spent her childhood running wild on an Idaho mountainside. Although she’s lived across the U.S., she’s still an Idahoan at heart and a notorious potato pusher. She has a degree in Human Services and has been a roofer, a hoofer, a computer data entry operator and a stay-at-home mom.

She’s dreamt of writing historical romances since reading WUTHERING HEIGHTS at the tender age of twelve, and is now living her dream of writing love stories set in 18th Century England. She feverishly lobbies for the return of breeches and would love to see her husband of thirty-four years in a pair.

Jennifer lives in rural Florida with her husband and enjoys the comings and goings of their three grown children and three grandchildren.

Visit Jennifer on her website www.jennifertaylorwrites.com

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: River Road (Tortured Souls #3) by R.C. Matthews

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When a pirate and voodoo priestess must lift a deadly curse on those they love, do they dare let a relationship blossom amid danger? River Road is the gothically satisfying end to this fan-favorite series!

Charles Moore relishes his dangerous life as the pirate Hatchet, since manning a clipper ship keeps his mind off the role he played in the brutal Civil War. But now an ancient curse has killed two of his loves, and he can’t ignore the whispers that New Orleans’s Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau herself, has hexed his family.

Creole widow Hope Leblonc bristles under the city’s Black Codes that have stripped her of so many freedoms and forced her practice of voodoo underground. When Hatchet treats her like the respectable woman she is, she offers him a deal: she’ll lift the curse if he’ll steal back a family relic she needs to become a mambo in her religion.

But they’re both holding secrets that endanger their lives. When ghosts from the past exact revenge for the skeletons in the Moore family closet, they reveal a connection between Hope and Hatchet that makes the curse more powerful than ever. Will they discover that love is worth the risk in time to survive the coming darkness?

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EXCERPT

“What nonsense do you speak of?” his father asked with a lift of his brow. “Charles is cursed? By whom?”

“Something about a voodoo queen,” Maribeth replied with a shrug. “I should like to meet her. Do you know her?”

“Certainly not,” his father said with a sniff. “Marie Laveau hasn’t been seen in more than a decade. She might be dead for all I know. Do not speak of her or this voodoo nonsense again unless you’re keen on spending the night in a dank jail cell.” His gaze met Hatchet’s. “That’s what happens these days to those who practice the dark arts.”

“Well, what’re we going to do with this baggage?” Victor asked, scowling. “Can’t very well send her back to England unattended.”

Father set her back on her feet. “She’s more than welcome to join us. Charles, your mother will return to the plantation after a short stay in the city. You and Maribeth should accompany her. Harmon Grove offers many amusements for a curious young lady.”

Hatchet could not commit to anything until he found a quiet moment to mull over the situation. Dammit! Maribeth’s presence was problematic, robbing him of hours that would be better served in pursuit of information on the curse.

“Let me think on it after we settle in. The girl is young and fragile, making her vulnerable to disease,” he said with a pointed look in her direction. “I don’t want her too close to Mother.”

His little charge growled. “I’m not fragile.”

Father waved his hand. “No worries on that front. Lucetta is already back on her feet and a woman about town. Been at least a week since she recovered. Only last evening, she prayed for your early arrival so we might celebrate your birthday. She’ll be delighted when I share the news.”

“Is that so?” Hatchet asked with a long drawl. “Your letter left no doubt as to her condition. ‘Mother lies on her deathbed and begs for your return.’ Those were your exact words.”

Brushing away an imaginary speck on his jacket, his father avoided his gaze. “Yes, a remarkable recovery. Well, I must be off. I’ll send the carriages around before noon. Please, do not dally. Your mother will be intolerable company until you arrive. Perhaps I shall keep your early arrival a secret.”

“Speaking of secrets,” Hatchet said, walking with his father to the gangplank, away from prying little ears. “What business do you have on The Angelica? The captain and crew are untrustworthy, the lot of them. Best not to be seen dealing with them.”

Father folded his arms and puffed out his chest. “You’re advising me? I’m rather more than seven, my dear boy. Did you fail to notice the early-morning hour of my visit or my black attire? The Moore-Lloyd Shipping Co. is the most successful shipping venture this side of the Gulf. Believe me when I say I know precisely what I’m doing. But I thank you for your concern.”

A few moments later, Father entered his carriage, and Hatchet let out a sigh as the horses clomped away.

“Yes, Father, I noticed both the early hour and your fine clothing, along with the company crest on your carriage.”

Little had changed in his absence. Mother still manipulated the people who loved her by any means available, and Father knew what was best for them all. Well, with his mother in good health, at least he would have plenty of time to investigate the rumors of the blasted curse. His Nicolette and Emma were dead, as well as the spouses of his siblings. With four deaths among them, Hatchet could no longer blame coincidence. He must rid his family of the hex. And then he would get the bloody hell out of New Orleans, again.

As he turned to attend his duties, another carriage rolled to a stop in front of The Angelica. The driver hopped to the ground and assisted a woman out. Unlike Isaac, this woman did nothing to disguise her appearance as she boldly boarded the pirate ship.

Even from a distance, Hatchet discerned her beauty: a rich, bronze skin tone and lustrous black hair. New Orleans had many attractive women, but the best among them were the Creoles, forbidden as wives but coveted as lovers. His loins stirred as his gaze roved over her full bosom, to her cinched waist and the gentle swell of her behind.

“I’ve sent Maribeth to break her fast with Mercy,” Victor said, leaning his hip against the rail. “We’ve a lot to accomplish before noon.”

His gaze followed Hatchet’s to the forecastle deck of The Angelica, and he whistled. “Captain Corbin doesn’t waste time. You should seek out female company while in town. Tomorrow is your birthday, after all. We buried Emma nearly six months ago. You must move on at some point, and a brothel poses no risk. You will not fall in love with a lady of the night.”

Lie with another woman? No, he could not. But as he watched an argument unfold between Captain Corbin and the exotic minx, he couldn’t deny her allure.

“Maybe,” Hatchet amended as the black-haired beauty slapped the captain then stomped down the gangplank. “I’ve never sought one night of pleasure in the arms of a comely wench. Perhaps I must accept that as my fate, because falling in love three times in one lifetime seems against all odds.”

At least he had that going for him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

R.C. Matthews lives in Michigan where she enjoys the four seasons and indulging her imagination while writing romances. Find R.C. Matthews at http://www.rcmatthews.com/, on Facebook, and on Twitter @RCMatthews123.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Heart and Dagger by Holland Rae

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Armand never expected the captain of the most notorious mercenary crew in the Spanish Main to look so familiar…

Lady Charlotte Talbot hasn’t seen Armand Rajaram de Bourbon, her oldest childhood friend and once betrothed, since his family returned to India when she was fifteen. Since then, she has left a groom at the altar, changed her name to Catalina Sol, opened a house for unwed mothers and orphans, and captained a ship, the Liberté, crewed by the best fighters in the Spanish Main. She’s no longer the lady he left behind, not that she’d admit to wishing he’d return.

When Armand’s brother is kidnapped, he breaks his rule of never engaging with pirates. But desperation drives him to the Liberté and a life he thought he’d left far behind. He’d do anything to save Henri, but Armand never expected to find Charlotte here, and now that’s he’s found her, he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it.

Together, they must face kidnapping, pirate captains, blackmail, and themselves. The Liberté may sail thousands of miles from the shores of England, but that might not be far enough to escape the past.

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EXCERPT

Catalina had faced down more swords in her life than half the British Navy. She had fired pistols, fired cannon, swung by unraveling rope onto burning ships. She had dueled, fenced, boxed, and seen more than her fair share of shocking, violent, maddening events in her relatively short life. But nothing short of the literal end of days could have been cause for more surprise than what awaited her under the hood. For sheer lack of other response, she let out a scream that could far more easily have belonged to Charlotte Talbot than the mercenary captain of the Liberté.

“Armand!” Her voice—was that her own voice?—burned with shock and excitement and confusion and all manner of emotions she had long since left behind when earning her own ship and setting for the horizon.

His shock seemed as true as her own, and she surmised that he really hadn’t been able to see much behind the veil of his cloak.

“Charlotte.”

She wanted to nod. She wanted to do something, but she was frozen to the spot, her feet sinking into the floor and her body paralyzed.

“What the devil are you doing?” he asked. “And where the hell is Catalina Sol?”

She shook her head, finally able to get some movement into her frozen limbs.

“Armand,” she whispered his name in shock. “I am Catalina Sol.”

For a moment, the two of them simply stood, facing each other. Catalina took a deep breath, but it did little to steady the racing of her mind and the pounding of her heart against her ribs. It was as if she had seen a ghost, standing just before her in the flesh, as if her dear mama had risen from the grave and sung her a nighttime lullaby. For all she had heard, before taking to the seas, Armand and his family had perished in a fire set by pirates. She had never believed it, not really, but neither had she set about disproving it, either. Armand was a memory, a part of her past best left to the nurseries and schoolrooms of a London townhouse, to the fields and pastures of a countryside estate.

But the Armand who stood before her now—magistrate, she supposed—was not the boy she had waved goodbye to at the docks. With a bite of laughter that she nearly choked on, Catalina knew that her information had been shockingly accurate. This man did have far too many titles to his name. Good lot it seemed to be doing him now. No, this Armand was not a boy at all. He was a man, in the truest sense of the word. His skin was darker than she remembered, likely turned that golden brown by the brush of the sun, and his hair was longer with a silky thickness to it. He even had a small beard growing in, though Catalina got the distinct impression that he was not in the best of states at the moment, and that it was far more likely he was always clean shaven.

And by God, he was tall. His shoulders were wide, stretching that drab cloak, and he towered over her as if she were the size of a sea mite. For a fleeting second, Catalina considered what could have been her husband all those years ago and allowed herself to feel the aching twinge of regret that came with the truth. But then she rallied, pulling herself together and staring him directly in the eye.

“What the devil are you doing here?” she asked him, her voice far calmer than she felt. Her insides were crashing like a great ocean storm against a weak hull, and Catalina knew if she didn’t remove herself from his presence soon, she risked ruining everything she had worked so very hard for.

“I could ask you the same question,” he growled. Ah, of course she had recognized his voice. There was no mistaking the hybrid of accents now, the French lilt to his gentleman’s English, and the way he rolled his letters in imitation of his mother’s native Indian tongue. Yes, it was a distinct combination, and it almost relieved Catalina to know that she had not fabricated it from her mind, when she had first heard him speak from under the hood.

“I’m working,” she replied stiffly, desperately wanting for another mug of ale. Dirty dishrag or not, she could use the liquid courage right now.

“As a pirate.” His words were seething, no less dangerous than a snake spitting poison. Catalina had heard that tone before, and she would hear it many times again, no doubt.

“Did you have a job for a nun, then?” she asked, deciding not to worry over the point of piracy. He would make the assumptions and waste both of their time, or they could simply move on with the business of the day, mainly, her leaving.

“I wish you had become a nun.” He nearly growled it, and a pang of guilt and sadness crashed over her. Truly, they had both faced many trials in the years since they had seen each other last. What was there to be fighting over now, in this impromptu reunion?

“I’m terribly sorry for having disappointed you, then,” she replied. “The church was full.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Holland Rae was born in Manhattan, and considers herself a New Yorker, even though she spent most of her life in New Jersey. She recently moved home from Boston, Mass., where she finished her education in journalism and magazine writing, with a focus on the automotive industry.

She is an avid writer, and has been for years, studying at Emerson College, with writer’s retreats at Kenyon College, Duke University and Simon’s Rock. She loves to travel, and spent her semester abroad living in a 14th century castle in the Netherlands. In her free time she enjoys dreaming up stories, eating spicy food, driving fast cars and talking to strangers.

Visit Holland Rae at https://hollandrae.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Surrendering the Past (The Granville Legacy Series Book 1) by Pamela Lynne

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In a world of honor and obligation, falling in love can be a dangerous game. Captain Richard Granville has returned to London after serving the Crown in perilous missions fighting Napoleon’s army. Bone weary and distrustful of all around him, the captivating Jane Dawson awakens his long dormant desire for more than a solitary existence. When he learns she is betrothed to his father, the conniving and dangerous Earl of Litchfield, shadows of the past descend upon Richard, bringing along memories of a tortuous childhood and his failure to protect the person he had loved most.

Jane Dawson would pay any price to renew her family’s happiness, but is the cost of marrying Lord Litchfield too high? A woman of virtue and honor, she cannot break a promise once given, especially when doing so would ruin those she seeks to protect. But can she ignore the connection she feels to the wild soldier who understands both her duty and her heart?

Follow the men of the Granville family in this suspenseful Regency romance series as they discover that their family legacy is much darker than they realized, and that the future holds treasures they can only grasp by surrendering the past.

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EXCERPT

The short walk to Litchfield House served to be enough to numb the gentlemen in both body and spirit. The cold wind whipped around and through them, preparing them for the chill they were likely to find inside that evening. The convivial spirit the two enjoyed earlier was gone as each prepared to thwart whatever Lord Litchfield’s machinations would be. Though Richard was sure the evening would bring news of his brother’s betrothal, his father would never miss the chance to manipulate all those around him, even if only for his own amusement.

As they entered, a shrill, cackling laugh descended upon them, greeting them in much the same way the wind had earlier. The butler did not react to the sound as he took their outwear and handed them to a footman.

Richard raised his eyebrows and turned to Julian as they descended the steps into the grand hall. “It seems my father brought a harpy back with him from his last trip to hell.”

Julian barely smiled as they stepped toward the closed doors of the drawing room, where the butler was leading them. When the doors opened and they were announced, Richard scanned the room in his usual eagle-like fashion. His father’s men dotted the perimeter of the room. These were burley men who guarded the earl at all times. Richard did not recognize the faces, but he did not need to. He knew who they were and what their job was. He wondered briefly how his father always managed to find these men, always with the same look about them—mean, solid, yet short in stature. The earl would never have a subordinate looking down on him, not even one meant to intimidate.

Richard’s eyes next landed on his brother, Wesley, standing in the middle of the room surrounded by beautiful women whom Richard did not immediately recognize. He made a step toward the group when his father intercepted him.

“Ah, my son and my nephew. You have finally joined us.” The earl’s voice held a sickening sweetness that made Richard want to run. It was the voice Litchfield always gave when he was up to something vile—the performance before the mask was removed to reveal the evil underneath. Richard began to question his belief that the purpose of the evening was simply to celebrate Wesley’s betrothal, but rather something far more sinister.

Neither man responded but stood as the earl’s icy gaze trailed over his son. “It is good of you to make an appearance, Richard. I did not know if you were alive or dead these last two years.”

Richard’s outward appearance did not change as his father spoke. He retained the cold, emotionless expression he held when he walked through the door. Inside, he was reminding himself that he was no longer a child, and that voice need not send a bolt of fear straight through him. “You seemed to know enough to find me last week.”

“Yes, well, London is my town, is it not? I have many acquaintances here who like to fill me in on all the goings on. I am not fortunate enough to have friends in France or wherever it was you were all this time.” He paused once more to search Richard’s expression. Knowing full well what he was doing, Richard kept his gaze hard and unyielding. “Well, it is of no matter now. Your brother will be happy to see you.”

As the earl’s attention turned to Julian, Richard’s eyes once again wandered to his brother. Wesley seemed to stand straighter than the last time he saw him. As the eldest and heir to the considerable Litchfield estate, Wesley, Viscount Ashly, certainly had reason to be proud. However, it was not pride Richard read in his eyes as Wesley stared into his own, though, but curiosity mixed with something Richard could not name.

He father’s voice resonated beside him, but Richard barely heard him as the women in Wesley’s company came into focus. He recognized Rachel by the way she smiled sweetly in his direction. The years had been good to her. He remembered her as a slightly mousey, and mouthy, young lady, but the woman standing there was beautiful. He assumed the lack of a husband had kept her young and strong.

He nodded to her and turned his eyes to a smaller woman with many of the same features standing between Rachel and Wesley. She had a grip on his brother’s arm that left no doubt who she was. Kathleen. My future sister. The possessiveness in her expression hardened her otherwise lovely features, and Richard wondered at the cause of the protective stance. A slight look to the left of Wesley gave him his answer.

Captain Richard Granville was not often in the company of women. He had no sisters or any living female relations. He had often thought this was because the Granville men were so large and consuming that there was no room for delicacy, and the women just could not survive among them. There were, of course, the whores who followed the encampments along the battlefields and the occasional female spy who could never be trusted. But having so little experience with ladies in polite society, he was at first surprised and then gratified as a blush crept up this woman’s features as he held her eyes in his own. He heard the cackling laugh once more and watched as her blush intensified and turned into one of shame. She turned away, and Richard immediately missed having her eyes upon him. What was this angel doing in the den of the devil?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pamela Lynne grew up in the American South, surrounded by Southern Gothic works by Faulkner, O’Connor and the like. These authors helped shape her evolving mind and continue to influence everything she produces as an adult. It was a Regency-era wit from across the Atlantic, however, who lit a life-long interest in 19th Century England.

Pamela cites Jane Austen as her primary literary influence and she delves into the darker aspects of Regency life in all her novels, most particularly in The Granville Legacy Series, where she explores the bonds of family and what it costs to break them.

Dearest Friends: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, Pamela’s debut work, won the Independent Publishers 2016 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal for Romance.
Pamela currently lives in the rolling hills of Tennessee with her husband of more than a decade, three kids, two cats, and one very blond dog. She is still a Marianne hoping to grow into Elinor, or Clairee from Steel Magnolias.

Twitter: @pamelalynne1
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Queen of Paradise Valley by Cat Dubie

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Diana Rennie, daughter of a wealthy rancher, attempts to persuade mystery man Del Russell to leave his grievances behind and forgive her father for past mistakes. Her careful plan goes awry and results in a shotgun wedding and a prison sentence for Del.

Four years later, Del is back in her life with a vengeance—back for his rightful share of Diana’s ranch, back to prove he isn’t the criminal she thought he was, back to finish what the two of them started years ago in a passionate daze. And he isn’t going anywhere, no matter what beautiful, treacherous Diana does or says to try to get rid of him.

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EXCERPT

Proper ladies didn’t go calling on men alone, even in a safe town like Rennieville. She needed to douse his suspicion. If he saw her as a friend and ally, her chances of success would increase, wouldn’t they? Though she’d never tasted whiskey, she said, “Yes, I’ll have a drink.” A surprised frown notched his brow. She added, “If you put on a shirt.”

“Only business I’m interested in is bed business. Why would I get dressed just to undress again?” Eyes skeptical, he offered her the bottle.

Very well. She wouldn’t look at his chest, however tanned and hard-muscled, however taut and—oh, damn. She lifted the bottle to her lips and swallowed a big mouthful, then gagged and coughed as the whiskey boiled up in her throat.

He jerked the bottle away and held it to the light. “Take it easy.”

Eyes watering, she forced the liquor down and composed herself. A deep breath, a nervous swallow. Yes, better. Her face and body hot, she doffed her gloves and cape, dropped them on a chair, and swept a hand across her burning brow.

His gaze again moved from her feet to her head, pausing on her silky white shirt. “Did the old man send you, China Doll?” A silver flare beneath those thick lashes, a quick feral show of teeth. He took another, longer drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

She took a steadying breath. “My name is Diana. Miss Rennie to you.” Did that sound too challenging? “Um, my father doesn’t know I’m here.” She sensed his rising animosity and forced herself to meet his belligerent gaze. They must seem to be on the same side. “He hasn’t been himself since the day you came to our house.”

“Must be his conscience getting after him. He tell you how he caused my father’s death?”

“He told me nothing. Whatever Owen did—”

His black brows lifted. “Owen?”

“Owen. My father.” Defensiveness would only stir his hostility. Time for a little history, enough perhaps to gain some sympathy. She paced a slow circle. “I was born on the ranch. When I was three, my mother took me to New York. I returned nearly four months ago upon Mother’s passing.” Seeking his gaze, she added, a small throb in her voice, “I was lost all those years, lost in a big cold city until I found my home again and my beloved father.” She swallowed. “Yet—I couldn’t call him that, so we settled on his given name for now.”

Was there even a smidgen of empathy in his eyes? She couldn’t tell by his stony expression. He set the bottle down with a thump and leaned back against the table, arms out at the sides, hands resting palm down on the plank surface. The lantern dropped a beacon of light on him, capturing her attention despite her vow not to look at his body. There was insolence in his stance, an overt display of virility. She stared at his muscular thighs and the coarse hairs rising above his breeches.

“Yeah, it’s a sad story. I’ve got one too, because when I was ten I watched your old man send my father to his death. But you, miss well-bred, didn’t come here to chat about your past. What’s your real reason for this visit?” He picked up the bottle and took a deep swallow, eyes on her the entire time.

Controlled anger seemed to roll off him in waves. This wasn’t working as she had planned. She stepped to him. “May I have another drink?”
He passed her the bottle, then crossed his arms over his chest and watched her. Eyes squeezed shut, she took another mouthful and felt the same slow burn as before. She managed not to gag this time but couldn’t stop from grimacing.

“All right.” She spoke with careful precision. “Mr. Russell, um, Del, when you said you might kill Owen, I grew afraid. Terribly afraid. I came here to appeal to you to leave Rennieville, leave my father in peace. He—he’s very torn up about this business. He’s remorseful and sad and ashamed, and—oh—it breaks my heart to see him that way.” Was this working? One more mouthful of whiskey. God, it was awful. She shuddered and scrubbed her mouth with the heel of her hand.

He grabbed the bottle and set it away. “You’ll be on the floor if you keep drinking.”

She gazed at him with what she assumed was earnest trust, her hands clasped as if in prayer. “Will you leave town? What would your father want you to do?” Damn. Did that sound right? Her cheeks burned hotter. Would a tear be too much? Shouldn’t have had that last drink. She was losing direction, grasping for words. “Um, didn’t you say he forgave Owen? Can’t you do that too, for your father?”

Outside, the rising wind gusted around the eaves and skidded along the roof, flapping loose wooden shingles. He looked up and listened to the low thrum of the wind as if it were speaking to him.

“And,” she added, “you can look for his remains. Why, I’ll help you.”

He stared at her. “Hell, you must really want me gone.”

“I—I want peace for my father. Can you understand that?”

Another gust of wind scuffled the shingles and tossed some to the ground, while in the stove burning wood crackled and hissed. He rubbed a hand over his chin and up the side of his face. He was thinking, considering, weighing; his jaw tightened, then relaxed. “The hardest thing in the world is watching your father die. After all these years it’s damn hard to let it go—”

A chink had formed in his armor. Time to strike. Her voice soft, she said, “But you will, won’t you?” She thrust out her hand.

“You’ve had enough.”

“No. I want us to shake hands on our agreement that you’ll leave.”

One side of his mouth twitched into a half-smile. “If it’ll get rid of you so I can go back to bed…” He clasped her hand, his palm rough and calloused, and she felt a curious vibration in her fingers. Their gazes locked, and she was transfixed by his eyes of pebbled slate webbed with silver. Without another word he placed her palm flat on his chest and covered it with his hand.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Cat Dubie moved to Canada from Austria at the age of four, grew up on the wide-open prairies, and traveled extensively through cowboy country. An avid reader and writer since young, when she read her first historical romance she knew what she must write. After raising three children and working as a technical writer for the government, she moved with her family to the Pacific coast and follows her dream of sharing her stories.

RETRO REVIEW: Miss Truelove Beckons by Donna Lea Simpson

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When Truelove Becket’s betrothed went missing in a naval battle, she vowed never to marry unless she found someone she loved as much. In the seven years since then, the quiet vicar’s daughter has lived a simple and contented life helping the poor people of her village. But now another man has asked for her hand in marriage and, unsure if she is ready to commit to him, she agrees to accompany her beautiful cousin Arabella on a trip to visit friends so she can take time to think it over.

Viscount Drake cut a dashing figure when he returned from war to a hero’s welcome, but the Battle of Waterloo left him a shattered and haunted man. As his dreams are invaded by the terrors of war he becomes a sleepless shell of a man, and as his torment grows he begins to wonder if marriage to the lovely Arabella will help restore him again. But as Arabella coquettishly flirts to secure Drake’s hand and his riches, it is the pretty and practical True he turns to for solace.

With the weight of her marriage proposal bearing down on her, True finds herself irresistibly attracted to Drake’s quiet dignity and genuine distress, just as he finds himself drawn to her honest nature and soothing compassion. When a spark of passion ignites between these two who have both lost so much to war, they will have to confront their biggest fears—and everyone else’s plans for their futures—to discover if love can truly cure all ills.

Publisher and Release Date: Originally published by Zebra in 2001.  Digital reissue, Beyond the Page, 2015

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Regency Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

The story of the poor relation who falls in love with the well-to-do handsome hero destined to marry another (who is completely wrong for him) is a familiar one, but while Donna Lea Simpson’s Miss Truelove Beckons ostensibly follows that pattern, the author actually subverts the trope of the “evil other woman” and crafts a story of more weight and substance than is found in many other Regency romances.

Major General Lord Wycliffe Prescott, Viscount Drake, son and heir of the Earl of Leathorne, joined the army when he was just eighteen, and served for a number of years before almost meeting his end at the Battle of Waterloo.  He was lauded as a hero on his return to England, but he couldn’t feel less like one; he saw too much death, bloodshed and wanton destruction, killed too many men and came too close to death himself to feel anything but disgusted by the war and his part in it.  Fortunately for Drake, the only outward evidence of his long service is a bad leg injury which has left him with a slight limp, but on the inside he’s a mess, haunted by memories and worn down by dreams and nightmares he experiences on a nightly basis.  His parents love him dearly but don’t know what to do to help him; naturally, it’s something Drake doesn’t discuss with them, but his mother can hear him screaming at night and is desperately worried for him.

In an attempt to divert Drake’s attention, Lady Leathorne decides it’s time to further a match between her son and Miss Arabella Swinley, the daughter of one of her oldest friends.  Although nothing has been settled officially, the ladies have long cherished the idea of such a thing coming to pass, so the countess invites Lady and Miss Swinley to Lea Park for a few weeks, sure that an engagement will shortly ensue.

The Swinley ladies duly arrive, accompanied by their cousin, Miss Truelove Beckett, the daughter of the country vicar and in whose house Arabella had spent much of her childhood.  She and Truelove – True – used to be very close, but in the years since Arabella’s come-out (and since she has been wholly subject to her mother’s influence) True has sadly noticed her younger cousin becoming more and more spoiled and more and more like her mother, who is sharp, haughty and not always kind.

True has come to Lea Park at Arabella’s request, and also because she needs time to consider the proposal made her by the local curate, Mr. Bottleby.  Seven years earlier, the man True loved was killed and she vowed never to marry unless it was to someone she loved as much as she’d loved Henry.  But she doesn’t want to be alone forever or be a burden on her father; Mr. Bottleby is a good man and True yearns to be useful… but she isn’t sure he will provide the sort of companionship she longs for.

Drake and True are almost immediately drawn to each other and Drake is surprised to find himself telling True things he’s never told anyone about the memories that haunt him and the guilt he carries.  She is a good listener and never judges him, knowing the right things to say and when to ask questions and when to remain silent. Her calm, rational demeanour has a strong effect on Drake, who finds her presence to be the one thing that can truly soothe him; their friendship definitely has a positive effect on Drake and she helps him to realise that he needs something useful to occupy him. This takes the form of a school which will employ veterans skilled in various trades to train other veterans so that they can find work – and for the first time since he returned from war, Drake is finally starting to feel like a whole person once more.

The growing friendship between Drake and True is not looked upon with favour by either his mother or Lady Swinley, although as Lady Leathorne begins to see the improvement in her son’s manner and health, she realises that the most important thing is that he is well and happy – and if Miss Becket is the woman to make him happy, then her social status is of no matter.  Lady Swinley, however, is a different matter; Drake is to marry Arabella, and she is not about to let her mousy cousin cut out her daughter, an acknowledged diamond of the first water.  Arabella at first comes across as a spoilt brat.  She simpers, swoons and pretends to be a dim-wit in the attempt to display all those qualities that so enamour gentlemen of the ton, but none of this has any effect on Drake, who thinks she must be a ninny.  But recognising that his mother’s heart is set on his marrying Arabella, he makes an effort to talk to her and actually finds that she’s not at all as empty-headed as she seems.  Unlike many other books in which the heroine’s rival is a nasty piece of work, Arabella really isn’t; as True has seen, she’s too much influenced by her mother’s mercenary nature, and by Lady Swinley’s constant harping at her about what she should be doing to attract Drake’s interest.

True is terribly torn.  She has fallen in love with Drake, but can see that Arabella is bewildered and disgusted by any mention he makes of the war while recognising that Arabella will make him a much better viscountess than she ever could.  Yet she also knows that Drake needs someone who will understand and love him in a way Arabella is unlikely ever to be able to.  And then there’s Mr.  Bottleby, who is awaiting her answer to his proposal…

Miss Truelove Beckons is a charming and well-written romance that tackles the difficult subject of PTSD in a sensitive way.  So many historical romances set during this period feature heroes returned from war with physical and/or mental injuries which are often glossed over, but that’s not the case here.  Drake is clearly a very troubled man; he suffers sleep deprivation because of his horrific dreams and frequently withdraws into himself during the day… and the reader really feels his pain and desperation.  True is good and kind, but she’s not a doormat; perhaps she’s a bit too good to be true (!) but she’s never overly sweet or cloying.

Although Lady Swinley is a bit of a caricature, the other secondary characters are well-drawn and contribute much towards this book being a cut above average.  Drake’s parents are especially well-done, and the brief insights we are given into their marriage are very poignant, while Arabella becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.  The writing is excellent and the central relationship is nicely developed, although if you like a bit of steam in your romances, this might not be the book for you, as things are fairly low-key with only a few kisses exchanged.  There’s no question that True and Drake are attracted to each other and that their romance is one born of friendship – but while I don’t need to read sex scenes in a romance novel, I do like there to be a decent amount of sexual tension and there isn’t a great deal of that here, which is why I knocked half-a-star off my final rating.

Nonetheless, Miss Truelove Beckons is definitely worth checking out if you are after a well-written, character-driven romance with a bit more heft than is normally found in the genre.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Brambles and Thorns by Jocelyn Kirk

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Elena Bellwood’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother dies and leaves her penniless. She is forced to move from her beloved home in New York City to live with an aunt in Connecticut—an aunt she never knew existed. During her journey north, she meets Benjamin Garrick, a blunt-spoken gentleman with a strange hobby. Against her will, Elena finds herself attracted to his manly demeanor, and she is both pleased and flustered to learn he is a close friend of her aunt and lives in the same village.

In her new life with Aunt Rosalie, Elena begins to question her past. Why had she never been told of her aunt? What is the significance of the odd items she found in her mother’s bedroom? Who is the stranger in town that seems always to be staring at her? To answer these questions, Elena must explore past secrets that tear apart her world.

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EXCERPT

The duke took her hand and kissed it.

“Thank you for coming, Your Grace.” She seated herself and the duke did likewise. Willa entered, and Elena ordered tea.

“I owe you an apology,” the duke began, “for not attending your mother’s funeral. I was out of the city for a few days on business, and the weather forced me to stay in Queens for an extra day.”

“Pray do not distress yourself. No one can stop snow when it decides to fall. You are here now, and I am deeply grateful for it.”

Willa came in with tea, and Elena served it. The duke sipped the hot liquid and devoured two of the sweet buns Willa placed on the table. He said nothing while he ate, rather surprising Elena with his silence.

Perhaps, she reasoned, he is gathering his courage for the presentation of his proposals. She attempted to wait patiently.

Finally, he spoke. “Miss Bellwood, what are your future plans?”

A thrill ran through her. “I…am not certain.”

“Have you no family to go to? You are not contemplating remaining in New York alone, I trust.”

“No. I have an aunt in Connecticut. I suppose I must go to her, unless…”

The duke started to speak but halted his words. He sighed and took her hand.

“I am fond of you, Elena, and because I care for you, I cannot be satisfied with being less than honest. To you I will speak the truth.”
“My dear duke, what do you mean?”

“I believe—correct me if I am mistaken—my attentions to you may perhaps have given rise to expectations…”

Elena instantly decided to be as frank as he. She took a deep breath and attempted to speak calmly. “Yes, perhaps they did, on my mother’s part, if not quite certainly my own.”

“If you recall, I was going to wait upon you on the day of your mother’s death.”

“Yes.”

“My purpose in calling was to request a private interview with you…”

“A private interview?”

“Yes. I feared that there had been some talk about us, and I wanted you to know, to forewarn you before the news broke.”

“Forewarn me? Your Grace, what do you mean?”

He smoothed his trousers. “Elena, a few days before your mother died, I engaged myself to Miss Julia Howarth—”

“Engaged yourself! Do you mean…?”

“Engaged to be married, yes.”

“Dear God! You were dancing with me—flirting with me—while engaged to another woman! That is despicable!”

He shrugged. “When you are in my arms, Elena, I find it impossible to think of anyone but you. I am not quite in love with you, but very near.”

She stared at him in horror and disbelief. “You are half in love with me, but then you—but why not…?”

He answered her unarticulated question. “My dear, you have no dowry, whereas Miss Howarth will bring the equivalent of thirty thousand English pounds. I am thirty-six years old, not a foolish young blade who would marry out of unalloyed devotion to the object of his desires. My inquiries as to your inheritance were met with the shocking information of your mother’s indebtedness. And now…rumor has it that you are destitute.”

“Good God!” Elena cried, unable to control her tongue. “You, with your wealth, would spurn me because my mother left no money?”

“Calm yourself, my dear, I pray you. The reason I am wealthy—and my family is wealthy—is because we never take any material step without a consideration of the financial aspects of it. I find you extremely charming and attractive, and I was willing to make you my choice even if your mother’s estate had been moderate. But no man in my condition of life would be so foolish as to take a bride who brings nothing to the marriage—not wealth nor noble blood nor future property. I would be a laughingstock.”

Elena leaned back in her chair, barely able to breathe from the shock of his revelations. She felt giddy and faint. She opened her mouth to speak but was unable to find breath to form words. The duke poured sherry and attempted to hold the glass to her lips, but she pushed his hand away with such force that the sweet wine spilled on the settee and splashed her silk gown.

“Elena, I beseech you, calm yourself. I am here to offer you a different type of proposal, and you may very well find this one equally to your liking.”

She raised her eyes to his face and stared at him. A cold chill ran down her back, and she shivered.

“Surely you are aware that most men in my position in life marry for wealth or family considerations, often to women for whom they have little desire. In such cases, it is customary for a gentleman to…to…”

“To keep a mistress?” Elena gasped, able to speak at last.

He shrugged. “To put it plainly, yes.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jocelyn’s fascination with life in the 1800s began when she was a teenager and started reading historical novels. She was influenced by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Winston Graham’s Poldark series. Jocelyn resides in the historic town of Mystic, Connecticut.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Three Abductions and an Earl (Parvenues & Paramours #1) by Tessa Candle

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London-hating dreamer, Lydia Norwood, has failed spectacularly as a débutante. Now an encoretante whose family has lost a fortune, Lydia discovers that the beau monde is hard on a nouveau riche social climber, particularly one who is no longer riche and only wants to climb trees. Lydia must stave off effrontery and conniving competitors long enough to make a good match, or else incur society’s scorn by earning her own money. Falling for the unattainable Lord Aldley is a distraction she cannot afford. But they share such an enchanted history, how can her heart resist?

The tragically virtuous Earl of Aldley is tired of ambitious families hurling debutantes at his head, but cannot hide in France forever. He returns to London to seek out the mysterious tree-climbing girl who once saved him from a scheming chit, and finds more than he bargained for. Abductions, seductions, trickery and injury all endanger Lydia, but Lord Aldley’s heart is imperiled beyond rescue. He has only just found her; will he lose her forever to his enemy, his best friend, or his own dangerous mistake?

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EXCERPT

Lydia Norwood was not quite the thing with her freckles and red hair, and she knew it. But Lydia did not want to be a débutante. She wanted to be left in peace in the countryside.

Her mother’s eager anticipation of the season had propelled the Norwood family to London in early September while the weather was still warm, and in time to escape the stink of fall agricultural activities at Nesterling Lodge.

Yet Lydia quickly found that she preferred the smell of freshly applied manure to the stench of the ton’s superiority over the nouveau riche. She preferred her horse to high society, where the company, like the flow of weak tea, was as insipid as it was abundant.

It was getting harder to slip away somewhere quiet to read, but the day’s trip with her mother to a pleasure garden outside of the city gave her just such an opportunity. While her mother was engrossed in inspecting the many rare varieties of rose bush within the gardens, Lydia quietly sneaked off down one of the promenades into the woods.

She trailed her fingers over bark and leaves, inhaling the life-affirming sylvan fragrance as she ambled along, finally deciding upon the perfect tree to climb. It had a limb ideally angled for propping her back against the trunk, and from the upper branches she was mostly invisible to the promenade below.

The warm air brought the scent of some flowering bush—she knew not what kind, for she simply could not attend to such irrelevancies, but it was pleasant. She settled into a contented slouch and found her page in The Necromancy of Abruggio. Then voices interrupted her solitude.

“Listen, we have not much time, Mrs. Havens. He should be coming along this way any minute. Here are two guineas. You may keep them if you agree to assist me.”

“What shall I do, Miss Worth?”

“When we meet him and turn back to walk with him, you will lose the heel to your boot right about here. Bang at it with this rock, that should loosen it. Then I shall send you back to the hall by the fastest path. He might offer to accompany you, but you must refuse all assistance, and be very persuasive.”

“Of course, Miss Worth. I understand completely.”

Lydia could not help spying on this exchange, and watched Mrs. Havens tuck the coins into the handle of her parasol. She thought it was an incredibly foolish scheme. And what was the point of having a duenna or companion or whatever she was, if she could so easily be bribed to abandon her post. How did this lend countenance to anyone?

The two schemers passed out of her hearing. She dismissed it as more of the stupidity inherent in society, and returned to her novel.

To her irritation, her repose was shortly interrupted again.

“These gardens are heavenly, are they not?” Miss Worth had returned.

“I should say that they fall rather into the realm of earthly delights. That is their design, it would seem.” It was a man’s voice, deep and strong and smooth, and, Lydia thought, quite bored.

Anyone with such a voice would have a distinct advantage in the world, an ability to influence the listener with the pure beauty of the sound. Indeed, she found herself a little spellbound by it. Who was he?

“Oh, quite right. How clever!” Miss Worth simpered. “According to the on-dits, the master has actually constructed these ruins and temples that you see scattered around the grounds to lend romance to the landscapes. But they look for all the world like they are authentic. Delightful, is it not?”

Lydia winced. This was just the sort of inane prattle that she was trying to escape, and now she was a captive audience, for she could hardly shuffle out of the tree, excuse herself and scurry away. Could she? No, no. Of course not.

“I suppose the romance is diminished somewhat by the knowledge that they are recent artifices rather than ancient artefacts.” The beautiful voice vibrated through Lydia. It was terribly distracting.

“Oh, how you have a way with words, my lord!”

The party was coming into view, and Lydia peeked through the branches of her perch to spy upon them. Mrs. Havens dawdled behind and appeared to be fidgeting with her boot. She was sensibly dressed, with mousy hair, and when she stood up she revealed a remarkably plain face. An ideal companion for the other lady, then.

Miss Worth wore a pink day dress, rabidly frothing with lace, and held a matching parasol, which was unnecessary in the shade of the trees.
The young lady was decidedly pretty—that is, her prettiness was the product of decision. She had some natural appeal, with blue eyes, blond curls, and a slightly up-turned nose, but her hair, dress, bearing, and way of lowering her lashes demurely all fixed her as pretty in a premeditated sort of way.

Lydia wondered if it were having the desired effect on the gentleman, or whether the romance were diminished somewhat by the knowledge of the artifice.

“Miss Worth, my lord, forgive me. I am afraid that I must turn back.” Mrs. Havens interrupted the tête-à-tête.

“Whatever is the matter, Mrs. Havens?” Miss Worth’s mouth formed a dainty rosebud O of concern.

“My boot heel has come free. I shall turn back. Perhaps there is a servant at the hall who might fix it. If so, I shall catch up with you later.”

Lydia wished she could see the face of the lord, but as he was a great deal taller than the ladies, any view of his head was entirely blocked. She could not make out anything aside from well-tailored clothes and broad, nicely shaped shoulders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tessa Candle is a lawyer, world traveler, and author of rollicking historical regency romance. She also lays claim to the questionable distinction of being happily married to the descendant of a royal bastard.

When she is not slaving over the production and release of another novel, or conducting research by reading salacious historical romances with heroines who refuse to be victims, she divides her time between gardening, video editing, traveling, and meeting the outrageous demands of her two highly entitled Samoyed dogs. As they are cute and inclined to think too well of themselves, Tessa surmises that they were probably dukes in a prior incarnation.

Those wishing to remain apprised of the status on her patent for the Rogue-o-matic Self-ripping Bodice should subscribe to Tessa Candle Updates on her website.

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