Tag Archive | Historical romance

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

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

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

Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, June 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1830
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

The Pleasures of Passion surprised me. I didn’t expect to end up liking the story for its heroine, Brilliana Trevor. Bree was introduced in The Danger of Desire, book three of the Sinful Suitors series as a widow and mother trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her husband died unexpectedly. She didn’t come across as especially sympathetic considering that she admits to her sister-in-law that she never loved her husband. I felt Bree was a weak character and wasn’t very excited to read a whole story about her reuniting with the man she’s always carried a torch for. Fortunately Sabrina Jeffries does a good job within the first few pages of Bree’s story to show just how strong a person she could be.

Miss Brilliana Payne was only seventeen years old when she fell in love. While visiting Bath so her invalid mother could take the waters, Bree met Niall Lindsey at one of the few social gatherings she was allowed to attend. Niall was everything that Brilliana had hoped for in a suitor; kind, attentive and he made her feel that her middle-class upbringing was not a problem for him as the heir to an earldom. The one flaw in Niall’s perfection was his reluctance to introduce her to his family or to meet with her father to ask for her hand. When she receives an urgent message from Niall, Bree is certain that he will finally declare himself and they can begin planning for a future together. Sadly, Niall’s reasons for a quick meeting are because he was involved in a duel and has to flee the country to protect himself. Bree’s heart is torn in two when Niall pleads for her to go with him; however she cannot leave her sick mother alone with her feckless father. Unable to choose between her family and her future, Bree tells Niall that she won’t leave England with him now but hopes they can be reunited soon.

Months after Niall’s departure, Bree’s life takes an unexpected turn. Her father’s gambles and loses big to another gentleman who suggests that he’ll forgive the debt if Brilliana marries his son, Reynold Trevor. With no word from Niall and hoping to protect her mother from ruin, Bree has no choice but to accept the marriage. The intervening years are difficult for Bree as, while she likes her new husband, she can’t love him. The best thing to come from their marriage is a son; however his arrival is bittersweet as Reynold dies not long after his birth. As a widow, Bree gains a bit of freedom, but years of protecting herself from men who took advantage of her (like her father) have made Bree reluctant to begin a new relationship. Nothing can prepare her for the shock she experiences when she is suddenly reunited with the one man she’s spent seven years trying to forget.

Niall Lindsey, now the Earl of Margrave, spent his years in exile working with the Home Office as a spy within the social circles of Spain. When his superior, Lord Fulkham, finally found a way to get him pardoned it was a welcome relief to escape the world of espionage. Of course, a great spymaster never really lets an asset get away and Niall is soon recruited to uncover evidence of a counterfeiter passing fake banknotes at several gambling hells. All signs point to Sir Oswald Payne being the culprit and Niall is tasked with getting close to the man to find proof of his counterfeiting. Lord Fulkham tells Niall that the easiest way to gain the man’s trust is to use his daughter as a means of introduction and doesn’t give Niall any chance to escape a reunion with the former Miss Payne. Seeing Brilliana again after seven years brings back all the painful memories of her betrayal when he needed her support. Learning from his father that Brilliana married another while Niall was alone on the Continent was a crushing blow to his heart from which he has never quite recovered.

Reluctantly, Niall and Bree agree to fake an engagement as cover for their mission to ingratiate themselves with Sir Oswald. Their forced closeness reopens many old wounds but also triggers a re-examination of the misunderstandings and actions that led to their separation years before. What is quickly discovered is that the love Bree and Niall held for each other never really died; however it may be impossible to rekindle as Niall is still holding some secrets close to his chest and Bree finds it very hard to trust him with her heart a second time.

The Pleasures of Passion is a good story that sometimes gets lost in its repetitiveness. Brilliana and Niall have trust issues in their early relationship and once they’re reunited those same trust issues are the obstacle in the way of their rekindled romance. Niall withholds things from Bree right up until the bitter end rather than taking a leap of faith that she would understand why he had kept her in the dark for so long. One could argue that he had lived for seven years protecting his family’s honor and it was a difficult habit to break; however it unnecessarily strains their relationship. Bree finds it hard to let go of the past as a small part of her feels the life for which she was destined was taken away because of her father’s, her husband’s and even Niall’s actions. There wouldn’t be a story if Bree just fell over and accepted Niall’s apologies and let him back into her heart, but she is constantly wondering if Niall really loves her or will be there if things go wrong in the case against her father. Fortunately, readers know from Niall’s viewpoint that he’s ready to commit to her no matter the circumstances, so we play along with her uncertainties until she can see that, too.

The counterfeiting storyline is actually a great way to get Niall and Brilliana to talk to each other and Ms. Jeffries keeps the reader guessing about the identity of the real criminal. Having the investigation always a part of the conversation works to move the story further but also lays the groundwork for the next two books in the Sinful Suitors series. The Pleasures of Passion is a stronger story than the last book and I hope to see this upward trend continue.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Romance Readers Guide to Historic London by Sonja Rouillard

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Written specifically for the 30 million historical romance fans in U.S., the Romance Readers Guide to Historic London offers everything you want to know about the famous London sights in romance novels. In the “Then and Now” chapter (nearly half the book), learn the back-stories of places such as Almack’s, Bedlam, and White’s, and whether they’re still around or can be visited. Hear fascinating anecdotes, like which princesses stayed where or which upstairs maid married up. More than 130 photos and “Then and Now” illustrations show how these places have changed over the centuries. There’s a foreword by NY Times best-selling author Sabrina Jeffries, and romance excerpts by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and today’s best selling authors to add delightful flavor to the places described (included are Victoria Alexander, Mary Balogh, Lynne Connolly, Tessa Dare, Elizabeth Hoyt, Erin Knightley, Johanna Lindsey, and Delilah Marvelle).

The Guide is an entertaining read for the armchair traveler curled up by the fire with a warm cup of tea. But, it’s an essential resource for anyone who wants to experience old-world London first hand. Enjoy an authentic Afternoon Tea in a charming salon or play princess sleeping in a four-poster bed or even a castle! With historical maps, insider tips, and “~for the guys” highlights, the Guide will make it easy for even a rookie traveler to hit all the historic-romance highlights. The Romance Readers Guide to Historic London is your companion to the London of Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency, and Victorian times, whether in the comfort of your own home or on that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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EXCERPT

Chapter 3: Then and Now

~ Famous historical sites mostly from romance novels and what they are now

Historical romance novels come to life for readers partly because they are set in places that were a real part of the culture of the period. When I first started reading them, I wondered whether these settings were genuine historical places or just representational—and mostly they are, or were at one time, real. More recently, I’ve wondered which ones still exist and whether I can visit them. The answer to that is yes and no—read on to find out which ones are still around. Here are the stories of these fascinating places, in alphabetical order:

“A’s”

The Albany: 1774–present

THEN: Built originally as a three-story mansion in the Palladian style, it was twice sold when the owners, first Viscount Melbourne and later Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (supplier of the building’s moniker) fell short of money. In 1802, it was converted into 69 “sets,” and thus was launched what is believed to be the first apartment block in London. The Albany has a place in literary history, serving as bachelor residences to many writers, artists, and later photographers over its 250-year life. Fictitious gentlemen—by Dickens, Wilde, and the lesser-known Hornung—have resided here as well. The “place for the fashionable thrifty” wrote Marmion Wilard Savage in his 1848 The Bachelor of Albany and, as such, has been home to a number of aristocratic men, both wealthy and not: in total, 2 earls, 1 baron, 6 knights, 5 lords, and even a prime minister. “Men” is the operative word here, as women weren’t allowed inside the front door until after 1880. Sounding like the plot of a romance novel, Lady Caroline Lamb snuck into the Albany dressed as a pageboy to get around the no-women rule hoping to see her former lover Lord Byron, c.1815. She didn’t. In response to the note she left, pleading, “Remember me!” Byron wrote this enchanting ditty:

Remember thee! Aye, doubt it not.
Thy husband too shall think of thee:
By neither shalt thou be forgot,
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!

There are real-life connections to romance fiction as well. Jane Austen’s favorite brother Henry had his banking concern there for a time. But most exciting for me, Georgette Heyer—the author often credited with creating the Regency romance genre—lived in flat F.3 from 1942 to 1966. During these 24 years, Heyer penned 19 novels—among them, such famous works as Arabella, The Grand Sophy, and Frederica—while literally walking in the footsteps of Regency bucks who had roamed there more than a century earlier.

NOW: The Grade I listed Albany is occasionally referred to in current romances as the abode of an impoverished noble, and in actuality continues to exist as an apartment complex of the “utmost gentility and refinement,” literally. A board of trustees enforces the requirement that tenants comport themselves to this high standard. While nowadays women may live there, rules forbidding children and pets remain along with, reportedly, no whistling and no publicity. Rarely a “set” sells on the open market for £2 million plus, but the truly fortunate live there at rent-controlled rates that would turn any big city dweller green with envy.

Lucky is the guest that is invited inside to visit a friend in this peaceful oasis in the heart of London complete with a garden in the center and a 100-foot covered walkway called the Rope Walk. This author had the pleasure of a very brief visit—upon hearing about my research mission a kindly porter gave me a quick tour through the mansion’s lobby and down the famous Rope Walk. It was exciting to make it past the front door, but alas no photos could be taken. So, intrepid travellers, you can certainly walk into the front courtyard on Piccadilly Street and climb the stairs to peer in the door as I did—who knows, perhaps someone will allow you a quick trip inside as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sonja Rouillard is a successful writer of fiction and non-fiction. Recently, she launched an erotic romance career under the name Kate Allure with two books from Sourcebooks (Playing Doctor and Lawyer Up), receiving high praise: “The sensuality and sexuality are palpable…4 Stars!” & “Escapism of the richest, most decadent variety.” —RT Book Reviews. “Intense chemistry, great characterization, and a kinky page-singeing ending will have readers clamoring for more.” —Publishers Weekly. Besides being a huge fan of historical romance, Sonja’s other great love is travel and seeking unusual, off-the-beaten-path experiences. China, Monte Carlo, Bora Bora, Mexico, and Poland are among the many foreign countries she’s visited. Sonja lives in California with her husband of 26 years, 3 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a Flemish Giant rabbit.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Wedding Code (Code Breakers Series) by Jacki Delecki

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Miss Amelia Bonnington’s wedding to Lord Derrick Brinsley is the most anticipated event of English Society. As an artist and arbiter of fashion, Amelia is sidetracked from planning her perfect wedding by an abduction and an assassination attempt. Can the lady outwit the French spies and still have her fairy tale wedding?

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EXCERPT

Miss Amelia Bonnington dropped the tangle of wedding ribbons and rushed into the morning room to assist Lady Henrietta Rathbourne. Amelia winced in sympathy at the valiant, but unsuccessful attempts by Hen to adjust her very large and very pregnant abdomen into a comfortable position on the settee.

Grabbing a pillow from a chair, Amelia tucked the cushion under Hen’s swollen feet. “Darling, does this help?”

Not wanting to burden her best friend’s sensitive feelings, Amelia tried hard not to stare at the massive round hump straining against Hen’s morning gown. Amelia wasn’t sure she wanted her body to grow and distort in this most uncomfortable manner. “Would another pillow behind your back help?”

“Nothing helps. I’m the size of a whale. It’s not surprising that I’m having a big baby with Cord being a large man.” Hen could barely wrap her arms around stomach.

Amelia didn’t want to think about the imposing size of her fiancée, Lord Brinsley, and how large Derrick’s babies would be. Although Amelia was inches taller than Hen, Derrick was a giant, the tallest and broadest man of her acquaintance.

Hen fanned her flushed face. “The entire family and staff are tiptoeing around me as if I might explode at any moment like a Guy Fawkes’s firecracker.”

It was true. The usual calm and composed Hen would tear up at the most unpredictable moments, leaving everyone around her baffled at how to respond.
Amelia squeezed her friend’s hand. “Everyone is concerned. And it’s obvious that you’re uncomfortable now that your time is near.”

Henrietta stroked her abdomen in a protective and soothing circular motion. “Cord is constantly monitoring my growth. Every time he looks at me, I see that he is estimating the size of the baby. My enormous expansion has cracked his imitable confidence. He doesn’t say anything, but I can see that he is worried that the baby is too big for my small frame. And when my husband, the bravest and most fearless leader of our country, looks afraid, I feel a need to protect him.”

Amelia shook her head. “But my dearest, you know Cord likes to be in control of everything and everyone. I’m sure he is struggling with this birthing business.”

“My husband is used to bending all of England, even the King, to his will. His inability to control nature is driving him mad.” Hen shifted on the settee, looking miserable with the heavy weight of the large baby pressing upon her.

Amelia jumped back up from her chair and repositioned the pillow under Hen’s feet. “Does that help?”

Hen winced with the movement. “And Michael, you know my brother can’t hide a blasted feeling. It’s all there on his face—fear and worry.”

“It’s normal for the men to worry. Besides what other part can they play in the pregnancy?”

Hen rolled her bright green eyes toward the ceiling. “Well, we know what part Cord played in my condition.”

The childhood friends laughed together. And Amelia was relieved to see Hen able to have some semblance of her usual wit.

“I think I’m very close which means I’ll be able to attend your wedding.”

Amelia didn’t want to think about her best friend missing her wedding which was just three days away. Hen refused to follow convention and planned to attend despite her pregnant state and Amelia supported her decision. She and Hen had always planned to play a part in each other’s weddings. They had shared their fantasies of romance, their future husbands, and dream weddings since they were eight years old.

“I’m so very weary of discussing the size of my abdomen and ankles. How are all the wedding details coming?”

“You don’t have to pretend interest. I know you could care less about colors, fabrics, or flowers.”

“That’s true. I was very grateful that you did everything for my wedding. How is Derrick faring with your need for perfection?”

Amelia had orchestrated Hen’s, then Gwyneth’s, and, most recently, Gabby’s weddings. The brides were dramatically in love and barely cared about the details that turned a simple wedding into a glorious affair.

Their weddings had been the talk of all of London because of Amelia’s eye for design and color. After Beau Brummel, Amelia was considered to be the highest arbitrator of women’s fashion.

Amelia grumbled. “I really don’t need to have everything perfect.”

Hen shifted on the settee and raised both eyebrows accenting her round green eyes. “You changed the ribbon on my wedding dress at least five times to get the exact color of green moss. And the color of the hydrangeas and the candles…Should I go on?”

Amelia didn’t point out that Hen had looked magnificent on her wedding day because of Amelia’s attention to every aspect of the event.

“You did a remarkable job with all of our weddings, but left you exhausted and barely able to enjoy the festivities. I want you to enjoy your time as the bride.”

Amelia had relished doing her close friend’s weddings. But for her own dream wedding, she envisioned a thousand ways she wanted it to be perfect. And there lay the problem, she couldn’t decide. Every small detail became exaggerated and daunting, and she perseverated for hours over everything.

Amelia gave a half-hearted laugh. “I’m driving Derrick mad. He might decide not to marry me.”

“The giant growling bear of a man only smiles and laughs when you’re near. He isn’t going to change his mind. He loves you.”

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Jacqueline DeleckiAbout the Author: Jacki Delecki is a Best-Selling, Romantic Suspense writer. Delecki’s Grayce Walters Series, which chronicles the adventures of a Seattle animal acupuncturist, was an editor’s selection by USA Today. Delecki’s Romantic Regency The Code Breaker Series hit number one on Amazon. Both acclaimed series are available for purchase at http://www.JackiDelecki.com.

To learn more about Jacki and her books and to be the first to hear about contests and giveaways join her newsletter found on her website: www. JackiDelecki.com. Follow her on Facebook Jacki Delecki; Twitter @jackidelecki.

An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities #2) by K.J. Charles

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In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.

Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.

Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.

But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.

Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, June 2017

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

Review by Caz

The feeling that washed over me when I finished An Unnatural Vice isn’t one I experience all that often, but I suspect we all know what it is; that wonderful sense of awe and sheer elation that settles over you when you’ve just read something incredibly satisfying on every level.  A great story that’s excellently written and researched; characters who are well-drawn and appealing; a book that stimulates intellectually as well as emotionally… An Unnatural Vice has it all and is easily one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

The Sins of the Cities series has been inspired by author K.J. Charles’ love of Victorian Sensation Fiction, stories full of intrigue, murder, blackmail, missing heirs, evil relatives, stolen inheritances… I’m a big fan of the genre, and I absolutely love the way the author has brought its various elements into play in terms of the plot and overall atmosphere. The events in An Unnatural Vice run concurrently with those of book one, An Unseen Attraction, so while this one could be read as a standalone I’d definitely recommend reading the series in order.

Handsome, well-educated and wealthy, Nathaniel Roy trained in the law, but now works as a crusading journalist, dedicated to exposing social injustice and waging campaigns against industrial exploitation.  His editor has asked him to write an article about the mediums who prey on the wealthy, and as part of his research, he arranges to attend a séance held by the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus.  Highly sceptical and determined to expose him as a fraud, Nathaniel is nonetheless fascinated by the man’s skill at what he does while being frustrated at not being able to work out how the hell he is manipulating the various objects in the room without touching them.  Worse still, however, is the unwanted spark of lust that shoots through him when he sets eyes upon the Seer for the first time, a visceral pull of attraction he hasn’t felt in the almost six years since he lost the love of his life; and the way Lazarus seems able to see into the very depths of Nathaniel’s soul is deeply unnerving and intrusive. He hates it at the same time as he is fascinated by the things Lazarus tells him and finds his convictions shaken and his thoughts consumed by the man over the next few days.

As far as Justin Lazarus is concerned, the gullible and credulous who make up the bulk of his clientele get exactly what they deserve and he refuses to feel guilty over giving them what they want – deceit and lies and sympathy – while they watch the people around them steal, whore or starve in the streets.  But a sceptic like Nathaniel Roy represents the sort of challenge Justin can’t pass up; he isn’t surprised when the man requests a second, private, meeting, and he uses it to push all Roy’s buttons, opening up the not-fully healed wounds of his grief while playing on the lust Justin had recognised at their first meeting.  The air is thick with suppressed desire and not-so-suppressed loathing as the two men trade barbs and insults – and even Justin recognises that this time, he’s probably gone too far and made an implacable enemy.

Mutual enmity notwithstanding however, Nathaniel and Justin are destined to be thrown into each other’s orbits once again when Justin receives a visit from two men who are trying to locate the children of a woman named Emmeline Godfrey who, they tell him, had been part of their “flock” until they ran away aged fourteen.  Justin recalls the desperate woman who visited him a year earlier asking about her twins, and the men want him to find them.  Sensing an opportunity, Justin puts on a show without telling them anything and thinks that’s that – until he remembers seeing an advertisement in the newspaper offering a reward for information about the same twins, giving Nathaniel Roy’s name as the person to contact. Always on the lookout for a way to make money, Justin decides to approach Roy with what he knows – but their discussion quickly descends into an erotically charged slanging match in which the mutual lust and hostility that has hung in the air between them since their first meeting boils over into a frenzied sexual encounter.  Despite having been turned inside out by “one of the better fucks of the nineteenth century”, Justin is still keen to focus on what he can get for his information, while Nathaniel just wants him gone, berating himself for having been so damned stupid as to have let things go so far.

Readers of the previous book will recall that Emmeline Godfrey was the name of the woman the now-deceased Earl of Moreton married in secret some years before contracting a later, bigamous marriage.  This means that the male twin is now the rightful earl, but with money and estates at stake, someone is going to great lengths to silence those who could reveal the truth – and now, Justin Lazarus has unwittingly put himself in the firing line.  A solitary man who has built a life in which he answers to and depends on nobody, Justin has no-one to turn to when he finds himself on the run from the men threatening him – no-one, that is, apart from the man who despises him and has sworn to expose him as a fraud – Nathaniel Roy.

On the most basic level, this is an enemies-to-lovers romance, but in the hands of K.J. Charles it is so much more than that.  Nathaniel is a man who is going through life by the numbers and doesn’t quite realise it; frozen by grief, he doesn’t expect ever to feel love or desire again and certainly not for a shifty bastard like Justin Lazarus.  Nathaniel finds it difficult to understand why a man gifted with such perspicacity and insight would choose to make a living by cheating the weak and vulnerable; but when Justin turns to him for help and Nathaniel glimpses the clever, amusing and desperately lonely man lying beneath the tough, prickly exterior, he is unable to deny the truth of his feelings any longer and admits to himself that he is coming to love Justin in spite of everything.  Justin is unapologetic and suspicious at first; born in a workhouse to a mother he never knew, his has been a hard life and he’s done what he had to in order to survive. He’s made something of himself through hard work, quick wits and sheer strength of will and doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone.  He tries to push Nathaniel away and dismisses his assertions that Justin is a better man than he believes himself to be, but Nathaniel’s obvious belief in him gradually starts to break down his emotional barriers.  The chemistry between the pair is off the charts, but amid all their snarling, vitriolic banter, come moments of real tenderness and understanding and watching these two damaged and very different men fall for each other is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. By the end of the book there is no doubt that they are deeply in love and in it for the long haul.

The writing is exquisite and the book is full of incredibly evocative scenes, whether it’s the descriptions of the thick, poisonous pea-souper that envelops London or the excitement of the opening séance, which is a real tour-de-force.  The mystery of the missing Taillefer heir is smoothly and skilfully woven through Justin and Nathaniel’s love story and the ending brilliantly sets up the next book, An Unsuitable Heir, due for release later this year.  But while the mystery is certainly intriguing, the real heart of the book is the complicated, messy but glorious romance between two bitter enemies.  An Unnatural Vice is a must-read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Scandal of the Season by Liana LeFey

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

Twitter: @Tamara_Gill
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The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe #4) by Stella Riley

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, May 2017

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

Review by Caz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More, please, Ms. Riley!

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was all the encouragement Brilliana needed to hurry out.

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

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

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

“Perhaps he means to propose at last.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

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

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

“This morning I fought a duel.”

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

“I killed a man, Bree. In a duel.”

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

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

Hanged? Why would he be—

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

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

She always dreams big.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: House of Dark Envy by Juli D. Revezzo

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When Sarahjane attends Lady Morville’s costume party, she never expects to learn her old beau Felix Gryffith is under the illustrious woman’s patronage and stands on the cusp of making a world-changing discovery. Felix, whose lies disgraced her in the eyes of the London elite by labeling her a flirt.

Felix’s love for Sarahjane has never wavered, despite the scandal that forced them apart. He’s desperate to tell her the truth, if he can convince her to listen.

Fate lurked in the shadows that night, years ago. Has it returned to grant Sarahjane and Felix their wishes, or terrorize them?

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EXCERPT

1884

Sarahjane twirled under Felix’s arm and tried to release his hand. He wouldn’t let her. “Felix, I can’t teach you the steps if you don’t let me go.”

“I don’t want to,” he said, his finger caressing up to her cheek. “Ever.”

But too soon, she broke away from him and approached the refreshment table. Relief and a little superiority filled Felix to know she only gave the other young men momentary glances. It wasn’t long before she left her friends and returned to him. “I need air,” she said.

Concern flooded Felix. “Are you unwell?”

“I won’t be if you get me out of here.”

Felix scanned the partygoers, seeking out her father, and his uncle and aunt. His parents had sent him to London not long after his accident, hoping the doctors here would be of more help than their own in Dublin. He owed his Aunt Penelope much for opening her doors to him.

Where were they? Ah, there. His beloved guardians stood to the far side of the ballroom, backs to them. They wouldn’t protest if he helped Sarahjane. He hoped.

So many of his uncle’s friends had also attended this party. He wished they hadn’t, or found other places in the large house—somewhere away from him—to congregate. Too many of them asked how he was doing with sympathy-laced voices he’d heard frequently, since his accident. Though years had passed since that awful day, he grew stronger.

He knew how to hide what needed hiding. He peered through the windows at the sky. No lightning rippled in the clouds overhead.

Sarahjane laid a hand on his arm. “Are you not feeling well, Felix?”

He met her gaze, could easily stand here all night studying her: her long, straight hair draped around her creamy skin, the light blush along her bosom a nice contrast to the dark, soft tendrils. Though he longed to brush just one lock away, propriety drew his hand to hers. “I’m all right.”

Her laughter sounded, soft and melodious. “No you’re not. You’re bored. Who can blame you?” Her smile turned mischievous. “What would happen if you set off one of your fireworks here?”

“Besides a headline?”

“No such thing will happen.”

“Won’t it?” he said. “I see something along the lines of ‘The House at Samhain Hedge lit up like a candle.’”

“It might put some life into this dull party.”

“Sarahjane.” He took her arm and led her onto the patio. The oil lamps from inside the house barely overtook the moonlight.

The façade of the house disappeared at the end of a sturdy blackthorn hedge. No flowers bloomed on the dark branches, but the scent of Mrs. Floyd’s late summer roses made Felix want to sneeze. He snorted, hoping to forestall the urge…

“You’re stalling!” she cried. “Show me your … fire, flares, whatever you call them. Please?”

“I’ve no idea what you mean.”

She poked a finger into his ribs. Her touch tickled. “Yes you do.”

He rubbed his temples as if his head hurt. “Sarahjane.”

“I said please. Shall I beg?”

Though he’d scolded her, he obliged her a little. A thin line of light traveled up the torch nearby, and flared.

Sarahjane gasped and laughed.

Her joy was worth the strain and flicker of pain in the scar across his back. He rolled his shoulders, gritted his teeth, until the shiver of it subsided.

“Did you do that?” she asked. “Truly?”

Felix shrugged. At least he hadn’t blown the thing up, this time. He hoped he’d get his new oddness under control, soon. By Taranis, I don’t need anyone finding out how different I am!

“But that’s not what I meant,” Sarahjane said. “The last time you did—” She wiggled her fingers. “—the thing you can do, the flare had a particular shade of orange in it I can’t quite reproduce properly.”

“What do you mean reproduce?” he asked.

“With my pigments,” she said. “Show me again?” She threaded her arm through his. “Please?”

“What will Mrs. Floyd think if I set her house on fire?”

“You won’t.” She slid her arm out of his and ran.

He followed her. She slipped into the garden, grabbing onto a wrought iron lattice to steady herself. Her laughter rang through the air. She swung herself around the lattice, and stopped before him, resting her delicate hand on his chest.

Her touch warmed him.

Sarahjane lowered her eyes. “Do it for me, Felix. I’ll give you a kiss, if you do.”

Felix swallowed back surprise and longing, glanced around the garden. Everyone was still inside. He ran a hand down her arm. “I’d love to kiss you,” he said. “But not after. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t.”

He feared it might be possible. His worry darkened as if storm clouds filled him. “I might.”

Sarahjane laced her arms around his neck. “Now, then. But don’t disappoint me.”

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watchmaker's heart JuliDRevezzobJuli D. Revezzo loves fantasy and Celtic mythology and writing stories with all kinds of fantastical elements. She is the author of the Antique Magic series and the Paranormal Romance Celtic Stewards Chronicles series, Gothic fantasy romance, Lady of the Tarot, Victorian romance Watchmaker’s Heart, and more. She is also a member of the Independent Author Network and the Magic Appreciation Tour. To learn more about this and future releases, visit her at: https://www.julidrevezzo.com/
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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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1296

Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands.

Deirdre MacCoinneach wishes to understand her unusual ability to sense others’ lifeblood energies…and vows to discover if her gift killed the men she married. Her father’s search for a new and unsuspecting suitor for Deirdre becomes complicated when rumors of witchcraft abound.

Under the façade of a trader, Alasdair Montgomerie travels to Uist with pivotal information for a Claimant seeking the Scottish throne. A ruthless baron hunts him and a dark past haunts him, leaving little room for alliances with a Highland laird or his tempting daughter.

Awestruck when she realizes that her unlikely travel companion is the man from her visions, a man whose thickly veiled emotions are buried beneath his burning lifeblood, Deirdre wonders if he, too, will die in her bed if she follows her father’s orders. Amidst magic, superstition, and ghosts of the past, Alasdair and Deirdre find themselves falling together in a web of secrets and the curse of a hundred kisses…

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EXCERPT

Deirdre’s cold, weekly baths were her refuge from the chaos of the village. The loch’s iciness was a thousand fingers prickling her skin, but she submerged farther as she entered in from the shore. The world’s humming and warm colors faded as the water consumed her. She let out a loud sigh, then inhaled and dunked her full body in, holding her breath.

For that brief moment, as air filled and expanded her chest and the world of the dark, shallow water swathed her, she felt free from her powers.

Dusk’s nip was a welcome from the heat that radiated off all the living during the day. It was as though the life force of every living being ceased during the hours when the sun set. Most importantly, she could no longer see him, and her vision of him—the man from the wood. The trees didn’t appear ablaze before her while the man cried out for help, his dark blue eyes filled with fear, his black hair catching aflame, and his vibrant red lifeblood draining.

She massaged her scalp, hoping to erase the image. It would never cease. It never did. The more she fought it, the more her powers gripped her. Oh, Mother, why couldn’t you be here to teach me how to control it? She trembled with grief as the chill sank into her bones. Her lungs grew empty, and she struggled to remain under. She didn’t want to face the world. Her ears rang, and with open eyes, a welcome blackness crept over her sight. Maybe she could stay under and let it take her.

Her only refuge from obligations as laird’s daughter danced around her with a chilling caress. Although she had escaped the village unnoticed, she knew by morning that somebody, most likely Crystoll, sent by her father, would be knocking on her door. Or Moreen would need her to taste a new recipe in the kitchen. Or Caite would want to whine about something. Nay, but not now. Now, she was alone. Her father had been too distracted with the news the sentry brought about Dunbar. This wet, numbing escape was not accompanied by one of her father’s soldiers for once. By God, she succumbed to it.

She sensed no colors in the murky, lifeless water, and it was freeing. All breath escaped her. Muted visions passed before her eyes—her mother, her father, Gordon, and Cortland. Just a moment longer, she thought…

Suddenly, a burst of warm light invaded her thoughts as air filled her lungs. Red-hot hands burned her shoulders and ripped her from her icy grave. She breathed life into her body. She coughed, gagging on the change.

Muffled words yelled at her.

Oh, God, so hot. His fingers were like hot pokers. Her head pounded as she slowly returned to the present. Heat radiated from her rescuer. Somebody had pulled her from the water.

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

His voice was as soothing as a warm cup of goat’s milk on a winter’s day. A red-hot glow emanated from his body. Never before had she felt such a strong lifeblood, and it nearly burned her. She struggled in his arms to get free. She blinked, only seeing a blurry form before her. “Release me!”

She splashed and wriggled, and he did as told. She clambered to the shoreline. Numb and shaken, she began to dress. It wasn’t easy as she fumbled with slick fingers to put dry clothes over wet skin. She instantly regretted her naked swim. She pulled on her long-sleeved white chemise first.

She faced the forest, away from her rescuer. He quietly splashed to shore. His lifeblood burned into her back. He wasn’t far behind, but he stopped. She refused to look at him until she was fully clothed, not out of embarrassment of her nudity, but for what had just happened. He released a groan and mumbled under his breath about wet boots. His voice was not one of her father’s soldiers.

When she put the last garment on, her brown wool work kirtle, she squeezed out her sopping hair and swept her hands through the knotty mess. She fastened her belt and tied the lacings up the front of the kirtle. Blood returned to her fingertips, and she regained her composure. Belated awareness struck her, and she leaned down and searched through her bag for her dagger. She spun around.

She gasped as she saw the man sitting on the stone-covered shoreline, his wet boots off. Confusion and the hint of a scowl filled his strong-featured face. She staggered back, caught her heel on a stone, and fell, dropping the dagger. Dirt and pebbles stuck to her wet hands and feet, and she instinctively scrambled away from him.

His glower, iridescent dark blue eyes, and disheveled black hair were not unfamiliar. Staring at her was the man she had seen in her dream—it was the man from the wood.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jean GrantJean is a scientist, part-time education director, and a mom to two active sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for inspiration. She enjoys writing non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines, and aspires to write children’s books while continuing to write novels. In 2008, she visited the land of her daydreams, Scotland, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Jean enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her sons, while daydreaming about the next hero to write about…

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