Tag Archive | Victorian England

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne

the duke

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He is noble, notorious, and takes no prisoners…

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

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

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

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

Review by Sara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn

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Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution, who stands accused of the brutal murder of his mistress Artemisia. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, January 2017
RHR Classifications: Historical Mystery/Adventure with a hint of romance to come
Time and Setting: London, 1888
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Veronica Speedwell returns for her second adventure with Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known to all (except his family) as Stoker. Veronica, who has made a career of sorts of lepidoptery, is the natural daughter of a Very Important Person, as revealed in the first book, A Curious Beginning. Stoker is a viscount’s younger son, who fled his unhappy home as a young man, became a doctor in the Royal Navy, and now has a significant reputation as a naturalist. (He also practices taxidermy, which makes for a couple of fairly gross scenes.)

Veronica and Stoker are true soul mates, minus the romance (mostly). In the first book, Veronica mused,

“I recognized his nature as my own. It was as if we were two castaways from a far-off land, adrift among strangers whose ways we could not entirely understand. But something within us spoke the same language, for all our clashes of words.”

Both are committed non-conformists who disdain the rules of Victorian society. They are witty, highly intelligent, fearless, strong, and loyal, and they have come to trust one another. In a neat role-reversal, however, Veronica is the more plain-spoken, logical one, while Stoker is reticent, more emotional, and more easily embarrassed. Although he agrees to pose nude for a sculptor/suspect, Veronica often shocks him with her forthright attitudes about sex. Their conversations, and frequent arguments, crackle with intelligence and plenty of humor.

Both of these books are mysteries, but the stories are really about Veronica and Stoker and the emerging personal and professional relationships between these brilliant, eccentric people. Don’t get me wrong – the mystery here is quite good and full of palace intrigue, decadent noblemen, bohemian artists, gothic secret societies, and politics.

The characters, however, drive the story. After an inauspicious beginning in the first book, Veronica and Stoker are now fast friends and colleagues. Their patron, Lord Rosemorran, has employed them to catalogue his vast collection of “art, artifacts, natural history specimens, [and] mementos.” They live in separate out-buildings on Rosemorran’s Marylebone estate and work in the Belvedere, “built as a sort of freestanding ballroom and storehouse for an eccentric Rosemorran ancestor.”

Even though they spend their days together, neither Veronica nor Stoker has opened up to the other about their past lives. Each has many secrets, and Raybourn gradually reveals bits and pieces to the reader. Nor have they acknowledged the underlying sexual attraction between them, although there are baby steps in that direction in this book. We yearn to know more, but she gives us enough to satisfy, at least until the next book.

When Veronica insists upon investigating the murder for which Miles Ramforth has been convicted, despite Stoker’s deep reservations, he goes along, mostly out of a sense of protectiveness. I won’t go into the twists and turns in the plot; there are so many and, besides, the book will be more enjoyable not knowing what happens next. I did not figure out the truth on my own, and I caution readers that some characters are hiding a lot more than you think.

Raybourn also populates her book with a roster of characters who are, well, characters. She excels at this, and I am always entertained by the unusual people who surround the main couple. Lord Rosemorran is eccentric, but not nearly as colorful as his elderly visiting aunt, Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk. She is not exactly the dragon aunt often found in historical novels – she’s clearly fond of Veronica and flirts with Stoker – but she is fierce nonetheless. Scotland Yard’s Special Branch is ably led by the secretive Sir Hugo Montgomerie, who finds Veronica infuriating, while the “charmingly ambitious” Inspector Mornaday finds her alluring (and Stoker does not like it). The coterie of artists surrounding Sir Frederick Havelock, the greatest painter of the day, are appropriately unusual. Along with the murder victim, they all live at Havelock House, so Veronica and Stoker have lots of suspects to investigate.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but could not give it five-stars for one simple reason: Veronica is incredibly irritating, even though it isn’t always her fault. I think that Raybourn has overdone it in her effort to show how much of a non-conformist she is. Everyone reacts to her, so we hear too often about her professional achievements, her subtle beauty, and her shocking behavior. This is not a major criticism, and indeed a reader who has not read A Curious Beginning might not notice it. I expect Raybourn was attempting to include sufficient detail for new readers; I simply found it more than sufficient.

That minor quibble aside, this is a delightful book. Deanna Raybourn is an excellent writer has become one of my auto-buy authors. Readers who enjoy mystery with a touch of romance definitely should give this series a try.

Sweetest Regret (novella) by Meredith Duran

sweetest-regret
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At a house party in the countryside, the joyful spirit of the Christmas season threatens to sweep Georgiana Trent under the mistletoe—and back into the arms of the dashing rogue who broke her heart two years ago. Little does she know that Lucas Godwin has no intention of leaving until he has reclaimed her as his own.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Star, November 2016 – published originally in the Christmas themed anthology, What Happens Under the Mistletoe in 2015.
Time and Setting: England, 1885
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Sweetest Regret has had mixed reviews but personally I was rather pleased with my first foray into this author’s work. Not normally a fan of novellas, I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of Meredith Duran’s writing and the content.

Georgiana Trent has been left high and dry by her father and instructed to host a Christmas house party for his diplomatic colleagues while he travels to Constantinople. She has always been her father’s ‘right hand man’ so this poses no real problem for her although she is less than impressed to be abandoned by him – yet again – and with his normal high handed manner.

Georgiana had met her father’s subordinate, Lucas Godwin two years earlier in Munich and had harboured secret hopes of a romantic alliance between them. Even though she has always believed herself to be unattractive to the opposite sex – he had, to her delight, singled her out and shown a public and marked preference for her company during the month of their acquaintance. The budding romance had never went further than shared confidences and dances, but still it seemed as though he was as attracted to her as she was to him. Then, quite abruptly and without even a note of explanation – he was gone. Georgiana was left broken-hearted and quite naturally thought he had been toying with her affections.

Two years later he is summoned to the house party by Georgina’s father with instructions to help her find a missing, potentially sensitive letter which has apparently been stolen by one of the house guests. Georgiana is not at all pleased at being pushed back into Lucas’ orbit, and the two continue their renewed acquaintance with veiled animosity, neither initially wishing to broach the subject of their past history.

Still the pull of attraction between them is tangible and as they are thrown together in their quest to find the missing letter the facts of what happened two years earlier are revealed, bit by bit, and here, the author uses flashbacks to their time in Munich really well. This enables Ms. Duran to avoid the pitfall of trying to pack too much into a short word-count; by giving her thwarted lovers a past together – albeit a brief one – creates a framework for a far more believable scenario which flows fluidly so that we don’t get a rushed 0-60 insta-lust. These two people had been in love and as it turns out, still are.

There are a couple of glaring errors in the story. At one point we’re told that a couple of characters are out at 5.45am looking for a Christmas tree, but we have the longest of nights during December so they’d have been stumbling around in the dark for over two hours until sunrise! Also, Sir Phillip is incorrectly referred to as ‘Sir Trent’, which is a silly mistake for a writer of historical romance to make. Those criticisms aside, though, Ms Duran achieves a sweet and plausible love story, with well developed, likeable characters, and a believable plot. All in all I really enjoyed Sweetest Regret and will definitely read more of this author’s work.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: His Lordship’s Wild Highland Bride by Kathleen Bittner Roth

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A match made for mayhem.

Far from her beloved Highlands, Lainie MacGregor’s fate is sealed.

Ridley Malvern, Lord Caulfield, desperate for her dowry, agrees to marry a wealthy Scot’s daughter sight unseen. He is unaware his tantalizing bride is running from the law. Despite their sizzling attraction, all Lainie desires is to return to her clan. Attempting to make things right, Caulfield takes his wife back to the Highlands only to discover why her father sought the marriage—Lainie is wanted for murder. For her safekeeping, they must remain in England. Now Ridley needs to win her affections and prove that a wild Highland lass and an English lord, can find a love match, after all.

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EXCERPT

Ridley Malvern, Lord Caulfield—given the title of baron by the queen for saving her favorite son from drowning—was about to marry a total stranger.

He stood at the altar of the small chapel located on his parents’ estate, doing his best to appear the eager groom. As the organist played the first notes of a tune he failed to recognize, and his heavily veiled bride started down the aisle on the arm of her strapping older brother, Ridley’s gut wrenched. It was all he could do to keep from bolting. His eldest brother, Lord Eastleigh, stood beside him acting the part of groomsman. Eastleigh tilted his head toward Ridley and spoke through his teeth. “Do you think she might resemble her sibling?”

“God, I hope not. Look at his hair and beard, would you? They’re so orange and thick, he could hide a carrot with none being the wiser.”

Eastleigh’s lips twitched. “I doubt she sports a beard. But then, one never—”

“Sod off.”

Jamie MacGregor strode down the aisle with his sister on his arm as if heading into battle, his red and green plaid kilt fluttering about his bare knees. He was a broad-shouldered man with legs thick as tree trunks. A small knife tucked into the top of MacGregor’s heavy knit stocking reminded Ridley that a Scot was always prepared.

Ridley let out a soft groan. “Why the bloody hell did I agree to this charade?”

“Because you were too bloody stubborn to accept my offer of a loan.”

“Bugger me.”

“Thank you, no.”

When he’d been swimming in wealth, Ridley had halfheartedly engaged London’s ton in his quest for a proper wife, yet none had met his stringent requirements. Now that he’d lost everything he’d worked so hard to achieve, he was about to wed Lainie Margaret MacGregor, a Highland lass he’d never set eyes on until this very moment. He had to remind himself that the marriage would make him fabulously wealthy.

But at what price—my soul?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kathleen-bittner-rothKathleen Bittner Roth is an award winning author who creates passionate stories featuring characters faced with difficult choices, and who are forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love.

Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. However, she still keeps one boot firmly in Texas and the other in her home state of Minnesota.

A member of Romance Writers of America®, she was a 2012 Golden Heart® finalist.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Tempting Mr. Jordan by Marin McGinnis

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After four unsuccessful London seasons, Lady Julia Tenwick despairs of ever making a love match. With spinsterhood looming on the horizon, she and a friend set sail for America on one last adventure. When her travels take her to northern Maine, Julia meets a reclusive but handsome artist, whose rudeness masks a broken heart Julia feels compelled to mend.

Still haunted by the betrayal and death of his pregnant wife two years before, Geoffrey Jordan is determined never to risk his heart again. Certainly not with the gorgeous and impetuous aristocrat who intrudes upon his small-town solitude, and is far too similar to his late wife to tempt him to take another chance on love.

But when Julia and Geoffrey find themselves united in a reckless plan to save Julia’s friend from ruin, they discover that temptation is impossible to resist.

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EXCERPT

Julia pulled her cloak around her shoulders and left by the kitchen door. Soft snowflakes danced lightly around her head as she made her way toward the water. She loved the crisp air, the snow, the scents of wood smoke, salty waves, and pine. She walked around toward the lighthouse, imagining how much her brother would love it here. He’d have his sketchbook tucked under his arm, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice when the mood struck.

The snow began to fall faster, swirling around as she clambered over the large rocks at the water’s edge. The sky was streaked with red, orange, blue, and gray, and she stopped, perched, just to watch.

“Get out of the way!”

She jumped at the strident tone, nearly toppling into the water. Regaining her balance, she turned carefully, and sighed.
Geoffrey Jordan sat on a neighboring rock behind her, sketchbook in hand. His expression was darker than the sky had been when she started on this walk. Julia was unable to stop herself from stepping back in surprise. Apparently there were bears near the shore as well.

“You’re blocking my view.” The muscles of the man’s face settled into a grimace which Julia found only marginally less frightening than his scowl.

“All right, I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there.” Julia took another step back and cried out in pain as her foot slipped into a crevice between the rocks.

Geoffrey swore and tossed his sketchbook to the side. He strode over to her and held out a hand.

Given his expression, Julia considered whether it might be safer to remain where she was. Geoffrey stuck his hand out again, waving it impatiently.

Julia finally realized she was more annoyed than afraid. “How am I supposed to grab your hand when you wave it about like that?”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” He reached down with both hands and grabbed her waist, pulling her to her feet. She ignored the tingling of her skin where he touched her and focused on her anger instead.

“I don’t know why you’re so angry at me. It’s not my fault I fell. You startled me.”

“You stepped into my line of sight. And now the sunrise is nearly gone, I’ve missed it, and it’s entirely your fault.”

Julia realized his hands still rested on her hips, and she pushed them away. “You sound like a petulant child.”

He returned to his sketchbook and sat down again. He started scribbling, ignoring her. She ignored him as well and gingerly ran a hand over her throbbing ankle. Her stocking was torn, and a shallow cut showed through it. Deciding she should return home to clean the wound, thanks to this odious man, she slowly made her way across the rocks past him. She caught a glimpse of his sketch as she passed. Intrigued, she stopped and bent at the waist, looked over his shoulder.

“You’re barely drawing anything at all. What does that say?”

He scowled again, but he answered, “Scarlet.”

She pointed at the corner of the drawing. “And that?”

“Azure. I thought all proper English ladies could read.”

“Your handwriting is terrible. What does that say?” She pointed again.

“Orange.”

She peered closer. “It does not. It looks like ‘crindle.’”

He laughed, and she turned her head to look at him. He was much less frightening when he laughed. Handsome. She blinked and unbent.

“‘Crindle’? What on earth does that mean?”

Her cheeks warmed. “Well, I don’t know, do I? It’s your drawing.”

“And it says ‘orange.’ What are you doing out here anyway?”

“I wanted to go for a walk.”

“At the crack of dawn?”

“I didn’t think I would see anyone.”

“Why didn’t you want to see anyone?”

She sighed. “Because conversation tires me, sometimes. This one in particular.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

marinmcginnisClevelanders are tough, a bit cynical, and just a little crazy, and Marin McGinnis is no exception. When she’s not chasing after big dogs or watching tweens skate around hockey rinks, she is immersing herself in romantic tales of years gone by. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with her husband and son. You can find her hanging out at www.marinmcginnis.com, on her group blog at www.throughheartshapedglasses.com, on Twitter @MarinMcGinnis, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarinMcG

The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham Hall #3) by Lorraine Heath

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Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print… and takes his father’s place!

Now the sedate — and, more importantly, secure — union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1882
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lorraine Heath is one of those writers whose work really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the emotional content of her books draws me to her time and time again, and I will often finish one of her novels feeling completely wrung out and unable to pick up another book for at least twenty-four hours. Such was the case with The Viscount and the Vixen, the final full-length novel in her Hellions of Havisham Hall series.

The Marquess of Marsden is a recluse, labelled mad by most because he is believed to have gone insane following the death of his beloved wife in childbed. Havisham Hall has been allowed to fall into disrepair over the years, and even though his son, Viscount Locksley has lived there exclusively for the past couple of years, he has made no improvements because his father dislikes change and he – Locke – doesn’t want to agitate him.

So when he arrives at the breakfast table one morning to find his father freshly shaved, smartly dressed and reading the paper, it’s a bit of a shock. Marsden usually takes his meals in his room and doesn’t bother much about his appearance, but when he tells Locke that his (Marsden’s) bride will be arriving later, Locke thinks his father is delusional and must be referring to his mother. But Marsden is perfectly lucid and explains that as Locke has so far neglected to find a wife and set up his nursery, it behoves him to marry a woman young enough to provide the necessary “spare” in order to secure the succession. And in order to do that, Marsden placed an advertisement in a newspaper which was answered by a Mrs. Portia Gadstone, with whom he has been corresponding ever since. Locke is flabbergasted, but also concerned for his father and worried that he has been taken in by a fortune hunter. When Mrs. Gadstone appears, he is knocked sideways even further; she’s luscious and he’s suddenly drowning in lust the like of which he can’t remember ever experiencing before. But even so – he’s sure she’s a gold digger and is determined to protect his father at all costs. And it quickly appears there is only one way to do that, which is to marry Portia himself.

Portia has been driven to the drastic step of marrying a man widely reputed to be insane because she’s in a desperate situation. She can’t deny that the prospect of marrying a wealthy man is an attractive one, but just as important as the marquess’ wealth is the fact that his title offers her the protection she seeks, and she is determined to be a good wife to him.

But her first sight of Marsden’s gorgeous, green-eyed son throws her for a loop, even though he makes it perfectly clear that he distrusts her and wants to stop her marrying his father. When Locke proposes she marry him instead, Portia is almost turned from her purpose, realising that her life with him will in no way fulfil her desire for quiet, rather dull existence she had envisaged having with his father. But that doesn’t alter the fact that she has imperative reasons for marrying and living in a remote location – and the deal is made.

The sexual tension between Locke and Portia is off the charts right from the start, and theirs is – to begin with – a relationship based purely on mutual lust, which suits both of them. Locke saw what his mother’s death did to his father and as a result, has no wish to experience love; and Portia doesn’t want to fall in love with a man upon whom she is practicing a serious deception. But as the story progresses, the lines between lust and affection become blurred and Portia starts to worm her way under the skin of father and son, both of whom are taken with her intelligence, wit and kindness. And for Locke, the fact that his wife is a woman whose capacity for passion matches is own is an unlooked for bonus.

Lorraine Heath has penned a lovely, tender romance that progresses at the same time as Locke and Portia are setting fire to the sheets (often!), and I particularly enjoyed the way that Portia’s gradual progress in restoring Havisham Hall, opening up long-closed rooms and making them habitable and welcoming again, mirrors her gradual unlocking of her new husband’s heart and her discovery that he is a man capable – and deserving – of a great deal of love and affection. There is never any doubt that Locke and Portia are falling in love; their actions often speak louder than their words as these two people who didn’t want love come to realise that it’s found them, regardless.

Portia’s backstory and her reasons for answering Marsden’s advertisement are drip fed throughout the book, and it’s a testament to the author’s skill that even though Portia has deliberately set out to deceive, the reader feels sympathy for her. At a time when women had no rights to anything, even their own bodies, she has had to make difficult choices and ended up living a life very different from the one she had envisaged. She owns her own mistakes, but when faced with an impossible choice, made the only decision she could live with, one which now looks set to ruin her life and happiness with the man she never intended to love.

Locke seems to be rather a stereotypical romance hero at first glance – tall, dark, handsome, cynical and a demi-god in bed – but there’s more to him than that. Underneath the veneer of charm and wicked sensuality, he’s a compassionate man with a strong sense of duty who is quite obviously fooling himself into believing he doesn’t want love when he is so clearly ready to embrace it. His relationship with Marsden is easily one of the best things about the book; the affection in which father and son hold each other leaps off the page and possesses just the right degree of exasperated tenderness. And Marsden is far more subtly drawn here than he has been in the other books; he’s unbalanced, but clearly not insane and appears to be subject to fits of melancholy rather than mentally unhinged.

When Locke discovers his wife’s dishonesty, there are, of course, some unpleasant things said, and later, Portia does perhaps forgive Locke a tad too quickly. But on balance, Locke’s willingness to listen to Portia’s story – something many men of the time would probably not have done – says much for him and about the strength of their relationship. It works in context, although I can understand that some may feel he wasn’t sufficiently remorseful and should have grovelled more.

The Viscount and the Vixen contains just about everything I want from an historical romance – complex, intriguing characters, scorching sexual tension, and a strong storyline that is firmly rooted in the era in which the story is set. Ms. Heath once again delivers those things along with finely observed familial relationships and a sexy, well-developed love story. I’ve enjoyed each of the books in this series and am looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next.

How to Impress a Marquess (Wicked Little Secrets #3) by Susanna Ives

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TAKE ONE MARQUESS: Proper, put-upon, dependable, but concealing a sensitive artist’s soul.

ADD ONE BOHEMIAN LADY: Creative, boisterous, unruly, but secretly yearning for a steadfast love, home, and family.

STIR in a sensational serialized story that has society ravenous for each installment.

COMBINE with ambitious guests at an ill-fated house party hosted by a treacherous dowager possessing a poison tongue.

SHAKE until a stuffy marquess and rebellious lady make a shocking discovery: the contents of their hearts are just alike.

Take a sip. You’ll laugh, you’ll swoon, you’ll never want this moving Victorian love story to end.

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EXCERPT

George stared at a painting of what appeared to be the blurred image of a woman with flowing hair. Or was that a flowing gown? In any case, something was flowing around her. Blobs of blue and green paint were splattered along her feet and around her head—if that indeed was her head and not another random blob.

“Good heavens, what blind sot vomited that?” George wondered.

The man’s jaw dropped. Tears actually misted his eyes. “I—I did.”

Damn. George should have known as much. “I’m sorry, my good man, I didn’t mean… It’s most colorful,” he grappled.

“I admire the subtle depth in the shades of blue and so much symbolism in those…well, whatever those splotches are at the bottom.”

“Water lilies, Lord Marylewick,” a familiar dusky voice said. Behind the man, Lilith materialized in all her brilliance. “It’s A Muse Amongst the Water Lilies,” she stated as if it were readily apparent Dutch realism.

Whenever Lilith appeared, George had the sensation of walking from a pitch-black room into the piercing sunshine.

He needed time for his eyes to adjust. When they did, he didn’t approve of what he saw. Her lustrous auburn locks, adorned with flowers, were loose and flowing over her azure robe and gauzy shawl. From the way the thin silk of her robe rested on her ripe contours, he could only guess that she wore no semblance of undergarments. That tiny vein running over his temple began to throb, as did another part of his body.

“There, there.” She hugged the distraught artist. “Don’t let the horrid Lord Marylewick distress you. He has the sensibilities of a dishcloth.”

She impaled George with a glare. “You see, Lord Marylewick, it’s about capturing the ethereal and fleeting. Those moments when the beautiful morning light illuminates the garden in all its blues, greens, and golds. It is not a representation of reality, but a sensation captured in time. A sensual impression of a moment. And philosophically, we could argue that all we have are mere impressions of a greater reality.”

George’s mind had left off after the “impression of a moment” part. With Lilith now standing beside the painting, he could see the resemblance in the flowing gown and hair and splotches.

“Lilith!” he barked. “That had better not be your impression in those ethereal blobs.”

By God, she was a grown toddler. He couldn’t turn his back on her for a moment or she would be playing near fire or gleefully shedding her clothes for some filthy-minded artist. He didn’t wait for her answer but seized her wrist and dragged her through the nearest door, which led to a paneled study with a leather sofa stacked with pillows.

Cluttering the walls were paintings of pale-skinned, nude ladies gazing off to some sorrowful horizon. Luckily,
these paintings appeared to be from King George III’s reign, when Lilith hadn’t been born yet to pose for them.

He shut the door behind them. She sauntered to the mirror and began to curl her locks around her finger and then let them unfurl in spirals about her cheeks. There was a dangerous, ready-for-battle tilt to the edge of her mouth, lifting the little mole above her lip.

“Lilith, did you pose for that…that…Tart Amid Blue Pigeon Cack painting? And in a rag even a Covent prostitute would think twice about wearing for fear of attracting the wrong clientele?”

Anger flashed in her eyes for a half second, and then a delicious smile curled her lips. A warm shiver coursed over his skin.

“And what if I did?” Her eyes, the color of coffee, gazed at him from under her thick lashes. He couldn’t deny their sultry allure. “What would you do? Tuck me away to another boarding school? But I’m all grown up.” She shook her head and made a clucking sound. “What to do with a grown woman who dares to have a mind of her own?” She snapped her fingers. “Ah, why not control her by taking away her money?”

With gentlemen and ladies of his set, he might say that he “spoke on the level” or “gave the news straight.” There was nothing straightforward or level about Lilith. She was all curves and turns. Conversing with her was akin to Spanish flamenco dancing with words.

“I never took your money away,” he said, feeling like a weary father cursed with an errant, irresponsible child.

“And if I truly controlled you, I would never have consented to your living with your father’s cousins. Your grandfather warned me about the Dahlgrens. Nor would I have consented to use his hard-earned money for this ridiculous party. Or allowed you to pose for illicit impressions of fleeting moments.”

“Good heavens, I never posed for anyone! The painting was in the man’s imagination—that mental faculty you are woefully missing, darling. I merely dressed as the muse in the painting as a lark for the exhibit opening.” She tossed back her wrists. “You know, a muse who inspires artists to great heights of fancy.”

“Lilith, the only people you are inspiring are unsavory men to low depths of debauchery.”

“Unsavory men?” She raised her arms and draped her gauzy shawl across his head and over his eyes. “I didn’t know you found me inspiring, Georgie.” The peaks of her unbound breasts lightly brushed against his chest. Ungentlemanly desire pooled in his sex.

“Lord Marylewick,” he corrected in a choked voice and pulled her garment from his person. “And try to behave with some semblance of propriety.”

“Propriety, propriety, propriety.” She tapped her finger on the side of her mouth, as if she were searching her memory for the meaning. “I remember now. It’s when you address a lady, such as myself, as Miss Dahlgren.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize I had addressed you inappropriately. But if one insists on acting like a child… You are, what? Three and twenty, and continuing to romanticize this ramshackle lifestyle that any lady of good sense would—”

“It’s the Lord Marylewick patronizing play!” She clasped her hands. “I adore it! In fact, I know every line. Wait. Wait. No, don’t continue.” She withdrew the cane and hat from his hand, letting her fingers flow over his skin.

“Allow me.” She placed the hat over her head, the flowers sticking out around the brim. She scrunched her eyebrows.

“It’s high time you grew up, my little lamb, and threw yourself to the wolves of high society.” She croaked like a stodgy man of seventy-five, not George’s thirty-one years.

He regretted coming here. He should have driven home to gentle, fictional Colette. And when they hauled Lilith into police court, he would say to the judge, “You see what I must suffer?”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, November 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1879
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

I began reading this book expecting great things, especially with a foreword by Eloisa James telling us that the characters reminded her of Julia Quinn’s, whose stories and characters I love. The writing is good and there are some interesting characters in the story, but they didn’t resonate with me and given the story touches on some fairly serious issues, there was the potential for more layers and depth to be added. Instead there is so much inconsequential dialogue that I could hardly concentrate on what was important, and the overall effect is one I can only describe as trite.

George, Marquess of Marylewick has the unenviable task of keeping his ward, Lilith Dahlgren, in order and that young lady has no intention of making his life easy. He controls the fortune left to her by her grandfather and would be happy to relinquish responsibility of Lilith to a husband of whom he approves. The thing is, Lilith is an self-confessed Bohemian and supporter of artists on whom she generously but naively spends her limited funds. George can see that she is being taken advantage of by her late father’s unscrupulous cousins and their artistic cohorts, and therefore keeps her on a fairly tight rein; Lilith resents his intrusion and control in her life.

George – on the surface – is a rather stuffy, unbending, aristocrat who takes his many responsibilities to extremes. He is everyone’s rock, his mother’s, his sister’s, his tenants and albeit, unwillingly, Lilith’s. He especially takes his loyalty to Disraeli, the prime minister to extremes and what he sees as his duty to his country – very seriously. As a result, George’s sensitive, artistic nature has been tamped down, although we do get glimpses of his sensitivity through a series of flashbacks to his youth. And Lilith, with her perceptiveness and love of the arts, soon uncovers George’s well buried secret and when she does is determined to free him from the confines of duty.

Lilith was pretty much abandoned as a child when her father was killed in a duel and her mother re-married George’s Uncle. When their new young family started arriving she was sent off to boarding school and forever after felt unwanted and unloved by George’s family. Lilith supplements her allowance by secretly writing a serialised story under an assumed name which is published in a magazine, a story that has become very popular. In fact Colette, the heroine, has become something of an icon and more than one gentleman is in love with the fictitious character, including the staid and starchy George. He is unaware that the writer bases the Sultan – the villain of the ongoing saga – on him. Each time he does something which she considers high-handed Lilith further denigrates him in her writing and society hates the Sultan even more. I found this fictitious storyline running parallel with Lilith’s and George’s own lives to be irritating and slightly ridiculous; are we really expected to swallow the fact that intelligent men and women slavishly follow or are in love with Colette and hate the despised Sultan to the point where it is openly discussed? We only need a pantomime audience to be catcalling to complete the silliness!

I never felt George’s attraction to Lilith, even though I did feel sorry for the way he had been treated and bullied as a child. I kept hoping that I would feel some real empathy for him, but it never happened. Lilith, abandoned and apparently unloved, should have evoked some sympathy but I just found her attention-seeking and down right annoying – rather like a spoilt child. As to the supposed growing attraction between Lilith and George; it comes over more as a bad case of growing lust, especially on George’s part, as we are constantly told how a certain part of his anatomy is behaving when he sees Lilith. The first kiss takes place very early on, comes completetly out of nowhere and feels completely wrong and out of place. There are also far too many Americanisms and modern terms for my liking. Maybe there are some who might enjoy Ms. Ives’ writing style and find it amusing but How to Impress a Marquess is not a book that I will retain for my keeper shelf.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

susanna-ives_-author-photoSusanna Ives started writing when she left her job as a multimedia training developer to stay home with her family. Now she keeps busy driving her children to various classes, writing books, and maintaining websites. She often follows her husband on business trips around Europe and blogs about the misadventures of touring with children. She lives in Atlanta.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Perfect Plan (Wiltshire Chronicles #1) by Alyssa Drake

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Samantha Hastings lived a quiet, peaceful life on her family’s country estate. With no man to order her around and no stifling society rules to follow, she considered herself blessed. However, when her brother’s ship sinks during a short trip to France, Samantha receives a request from her sister-in-law to return to town and manage the late Earl’s finances. Suddenly thrust into society, Samantha faces an unfamiliar world and a pair of very familiar green eyes.

Lord Benjamin Westwood never intended on following through with his rash promise to his best friend. Now, with Edward’s death, Benjamin becomes the unwilling guardian to Edward’s bratty little sister, who has grown up considerably since the last time they met. His intention to marry her off to the first available suitor is thwarted when he finds himself falling for Samantha’s unique demeanor. He lights upon the perfect plan; a marriage of convenience, giving him the opportunity to romance Samantha without distraction.

However, when they discover Edward’s disappearance was due to foul play, Benjamin’s prefect plan begins to quickly unravel. Now, Samantha is in more danger than either of them realized and Benjamin is running out of time

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EXCERPT

She glanced back at Benjamin, who was staring at her intensely, his green eyes burning. She shivered again, even though the fire continued to warm her skin. “He does not really trust you, does he?”

Benjamin’s eyes continued their passionate glare. “He has his reasons.”

Sam decided her best defense would be to try and distract Benjamin until she found the opportunity to replace the brick. While her intentions had been innocent, she was unsure if he would appreciate her snooping through his private memories.

“Are they well founded?” she inquired, in what she hoped was a convincing tone.

Benjamin smirked, his mouth pulling up at one corner. “Miss Hastings, I am not as easily sidetracked as your brother.”

Sam raised her eyebrows innocently. “My Lord?”

“I am curious to learn what did make that sound.” His stare deepened as he leaned closer. “I see nothing broken.”

So much for distractions, she gulped. Sam stared down at the floor, unwilling to meet his prying gaze, her toe dug into the carpet. “I dropped something.”

“Indeed,” whispered Benjamin, moving again until he was inches from her face. His hot breath tickled her lips. “What did you drop?”

Sam raised her eyes to his face as color rouged her cheeks. “A brick.”

“A brick,” repeated Benjamin skeptically. He stepped back and studied her for a moment. Then understanding flitted across his face. “Ahh, I see.”

“I am very sorry,” Sam began, her voice wavering. “I was just curious and it slipped out of my hand as I was removing it. I should not have invaded your privacy.”

“Stop,” Benjamin placed his finger against Sam’s babbling lips. An electric spark traveled through her body like lightning.

Sam looked up at him with wide eyes. She nudged the brick forward from its hiding place under the hem of her nightgown. “I did not get a chance to see anything hidden in the cubby,” she whispered.

Benjamin leaned over and reached for the brick. His fingers lingered a moment on her foot, tracing light lines across the surface. Another spark shot through Sam’s body. “There is nothing else in the space,” he replied tersely. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” answered Sam in a meek voice as she watched him shove the brick back into the side of the fireplace.

Once it was flush against the hearth, Benjamin turned toward Sam. “Have you been awake long?”

“I never went to sleep,” replied Sam.

“A shame to waste such a nice bed,” answered Benjamin, struggling to appear playful.

“I was worried.”

“About?”

“You.”

Benjamin considered her answer. “There is no need to worry about me.”

Sam laughed. The hollow sound barely reached her ears. “Benjamin, someone tried to massacre our family tonight.”

Fire burned once again in his liquid emerald pools. “It appears as though I have underestimated your inquisitiveness. Perhaps we can put it to better use.”

Sam opened her mouth to speak, but Benjamin held up his hand. Sam bit her tongue and waited with uncertainty. She watched quietly as Benjamin strolled languidly over to the open chamber door and closed it with a light click.

“Edward would not approve,” clucked Sam. Apparently Benjamin determined the best way to avoid Sam’s questions was to divert her attention.

“I have no doubt there are a myriad of things I have done which Edward would not approve,” grinned Benjamin wickedly.

He crossed the room in two long strides. The heat radiating off of his skin made the fire behind her feel like a cool breeze. He lifted his hand, running it lightly over the tendrils escaping from her braid. A tremble danced over her skin. He was clearly intent on distracting her from her current line of thought.

Benjamin captured her mouth in a soft feathery kiss. Her mind went blissfully blank. Slowly his lips traveled down her neck, nibbling lightly until a moan escaped from Sam’s mouth. His sinful grin flashed in the moonlight. “What a delightful sound. I wonder how many times I can make you moan before the sun rises.”

Sam’s mouth fell open with a pop. “Benjamin,” she spluttered, but the rest of the sentence was muffled as Benjamin resumed his sensual assault on her mouth.

The fire, which originally coursed through her body from Benjamin’s earlier caress, burned over every inch of her skin. She felt as though she would shatter into a million pieces. Wrapping her arms securely around his neck, she moaned again against his lips.

Benjamin deepened the kiss, his tongue pushing into her mouth. He pressed against her body, allowing her to feel the muscles beneath his clothing. She pulled him closer, wanting to ignite the same passionate moan from his mouth. Biting on his lower lip, Sam slid one hand into Benjamin’s hair. She nestled against him, until her body molded into his body. Her hands wandered under his shirt, skimming across his smooth skin and brushing down his stomach.

A sharp intake of breath caught her attention. Pulling away with a sigh, Benjamin shook his head. “Slow down Samantha.”

He took several steps away, standing in the beam of moonlight still shining through the open drapes.

“Why?” she pouted, feeling rejected by the distance he now placed between them.

Benjamin pursed his lips, as if searching for the right explanation.

“For a self-proclaimed rake, you are behaving exactly like a gentleman,” accused Sam, still annoyed by his sudden detachment.
Benjamin snorted. “I believe that particular moniker was given to me by someone else.”

Sam glared at him, still stinging. “Apparently I was wrong in my earlier assessment.”

“Samantha, I have been trying my damnedest to be a gentleman, but you seem intent on making that particular endeavor extremely difficult.”

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alyssa-drakeAuthor Alyssa Drake has been creating stories since she could read, preferring to construct her own bedtime tales instead of reading the titles in her bookshelves. Enraptured with all types of writing, Alyssa has tried her hand at short stories, collaborations and poetry. However, her first love has always been books. She thoroughly enjoys strong heroines and often laughs aloud when visualizing conversations between her characters.

She believes everyone is motivated by love of someone or something. One of her favorite diversions is fabricating stories about strangers surrounding her on public transportation. Alyssa can often be found madly scribbling notes on a train or daydreaming out the window as the scenery whips past.

Website: http://www.alyssadrakenovels.com
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Mission Improper (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #1) by Bec McMaster

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Three years ago, London society changed forever, with a revolution placing the widowed Queen firmly on the throne her blue blood husband tried to take from her. Humans, verwulfen and mechs are no longer considered the lesser classes, but not everybody is happy with the new order…

Entire families have gone missing in the East End. When Caleb Byrnes receives an invitation to join the Company of Rogues as an undercover agent pledged to protect the crown, he jumps at the chance to find out who, or what, is behind the disappearances. Hunting criminals is what the darkly driven blue blood does best, and though he prefers to work alone, the opportunity is too good to resist.

The problem? He’s partnered with Ingrid Miller, the fiery and passionate verwulfen woman who won a private bet against him a year ago. Byrnes has a score to settle, but one stolen kiss and suddenly the killer is not the only thing Byrnes is interested in hunting.

Soon they’re chasing whispered rumours of a secret project gone wrong, and a monster that just might be more dangerous than either of them combined. The only way to find out more is to go undercover among the blue blood elite… But when their hunt uncovers a mysterious conspiracy, Byrnes and Ingrid must set aside their age-old rivalry if they have any chance at surviving a treacherous plot.

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Publisher and Release Date: Lochlaber Press, August 2016

Time and Setting: Alternate Victorian England
Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance/Steampunk
Heat Level: 1.5 Stars
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

As a huge fan of Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series, I was sorry to see it come to an end, especially since I felt a certain pair of characters had not yet had their story told (I’m looking at you, Charlie and Lark), and the story world was so rich with opportunities for more novels. My prayers were answered when Mission: Improper was announced, the first book in a spin-off series set in the same world with new leading characters and featuring appearances from some of our favorite characters from the previous series!

Mission: Improper begins with Nighthawk Caleb Byrnes – a member of the supernatural police force – receiving a summons to a mysterious meeting. He arrives to find that himself, three other blue bloods (including Charlie Todd, yay!), a mech, and the only woman to truly ever get under his skin, Ingrid Miller, a verwulfen, have been carefully selected by the Duke of Malloryn to investigate a series of murders and disappearances that seem to be designed to incite a riot. It’s been three years since the revolution that took down the blue blood elite and placed all supernaturals on equal footing, but a shadowy group has emerged that is bent on bringing down the new order and returning to the old ways. If that wasn’t already enough, there are vampires on the loose, controlled by a new and deadly creature the likes of which none of them have encountered before. Begrudgingly partnered together, Caleb and Ingrid will have to use all of their skills to unearth the players in this new game, uncovering a conspiracy far more ambitious and deep-rooted than first suspected, while fighting an intense attraction to each other as they race the clock to stop a group of madmen from destroying the world as they know it.

I so loved being back in this story world! And I love the characters. As usual, McMaster has created a deep and multi-dimensional hero and heroine; both are brave, smart, and tough, yet at times vulnerable, and both have overcome heartbreaking childhood trauma, building up protective walls while still allowing their hearts to be generous and hopeful. Watching them work together on this case was a joy. My only real complaint here is that the romance takes a little bit of a backseat in this story, and that’s mainly because a lot of things have to be set up to form the foundation of the entire series. which, like its predecessor, will feature an overarching plot throughout all of the books. And while I found it refreshing that Caleb and Ingrid actually talked to each other about what they were thinking and feeling rather than keeping it to themselves, I got to a point where I just wanted them to shut up and do it already! And after they finally did, I wanted more of them together before the story raced along to its conclusion.

The epilogue, which takes place in the future and was satisfying in and of itself, made me wish I’d gotten to see what happened between the end of the story and that point. But since these two should feature in future books, I’m hoping I will get a chance to do that.

I’m sure Mission: Improper is intended to serve as a stand-alone for those who haven’t read the previous series, and some backstory is included, but you just won’t be able to grasp the full meaning of who the different species are, how they relate to each other, and what’s at stake if you haven’t read the other books. (And they’re so good that you really should go and read them first!) Mission: Improper is an action-packed start to a new series in a beloved story world, introducing some new characters on both sides of the conspiracy that I am looking forward to getting to know better in future books. I am anxiously awaiting book two, The Mech Who Loved Me.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel by Jennifer McQuiston

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Every girl dreams of a hero . . .

No one loves books more than Miss Mary Channing. Perhaps that’s why she’s reached the ripe old age of six-and-twenty without ever being kissed. Her future may be as bland as milk toast, but Mary is content to simply dream about the heroes and adventures she reads about in her books. That way she won’t end up with a villain instead.

But sometimes only a scoundrel will do.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of Geoffrey Westmore, London’s most notorious scoundrel, it feels a bit like a plot from one of her favorite novels. Suddenly, Mary understands why even the smartest heroines can fall prey to a handsome face. And Westmore is more handsome than most. But far worse than the damage to her reputation, the moment’s indiscretion uncovers an assassination plot that reaches to the highest levels of society and threatens the course of the entire country.

When a tight-laced miss and a scoundrel of epic proportions put their minds together, nothing can stand in their way. But unless they put their hearts together as well, a happy ending is anything but assured.

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EXCERPT

London, May 29, 1858

The smell should have been worse.

She’d expected something foul, air made surly by the summer heat. Just last week she’d read about the Thames, that great, roiling river that carried with it the filth of the entire city and choked its inhabitants to tears. Her rampant imagination, spurred on by countless books and newspaper articles, had conjured a city of fetid smells, each more terrible than the last. But as Miss Mary Channing opened her bedroom window and breathed in her first London morning, her nose filled with nothing more offensive than the fragrance of . . .

Flowers.

Disconcerted, she peeked out over the sill. Dawn was just breaking over the back of Grosvenor Square. The gaslights were still burning and the windows of the other houses were dark. By eight o’clock, she imagined industrious housemaids would be down on their knees, whiting their masters’ stoops. The central garden would fill with nurses and their charges, heading west toward Hyde Park.

But for now the city—and its smells—belonged solely to her.

She breathed in again. Was she dreaming? Imagining things, as she was often wont to do? She was well over two hundred miles from home, but it smelled very much like her family’s ornamental garden in Yorkshire. She didn’t remember seeing a garden last night, but then, she had arrived quite late, the gaslight shadows obscuring all but the front steps. She’d been too weary to think, so sickened by the ceaseless motion of the train that she’d not even been able to read a book, much less ponder the underpinnings of the air she breathed.

She supposed she might have missed a garden. Good heavens, she probably would have missed a funeral parade, complete with an eight-horse coach and a brass band.

After the long, tiresome journey, she’d only wanted to find a bed.

And yet now . . . at five o’clock in the morning . . . she couldn’t sleep.

Not on a mattress that felt so strange, and not in a bedroom that wasn’t her own.

Pulling her head back inside, she eyed the four-poster bed, with its rumpled covers and profusion of pretty pillows. It was a perfectly nice bed. Her sister, Eleanor, had clearly put some thought into the choice of fabrics and furniture. Most women would love such a room. And most women would love such an opportunity—two whole months in London, with shops and shows and distractions of every flavor at their fingertips.

But Mary wasn’t most women. She preferred her distractions in the form of a good book, not shopping on Regent Street. And these two looming months felt like prison, not paradise.

The scent of roses lingered in the air, and as she breathed in, her mind settled on a new hope. If there was a flower garden she might escape to—a place where she might read her books and write in her journal—perhaps it would not be so terrible?

Picking up the novel she had not been able to read on the train, Mary slipped out of the strange bedroom, her bare feet silent on the stairs. She had always been an early riser, waking before even the most industrious servants back home in Yorkshire. At home, the cook knew to leave her out a bit of breakfast—bread and cheese wrapped in a napkin—but no one here would know to do that for her yet.

Ever since she’d been a young girl, morning had been her own time, quiet hours spent curled up on a garden bench with a book in her lap, nibbling on her pocket repast, the day lightening around her. The notion that she might still keep to such a routine in a place like London gave her hope for the coming two months.

She drifted down the hallway until she found a doorway that looked promising, solid oak, with a key still in the lock. With a deep breath, she turned the key and pulled it open. She braced herself for knife-wielding brigands. Herds of ragged street urchins, hands rifling through her pockets. The sort of London dangers she’d always read about.

Instead, the scent of flowers washed over her like a lovely, welcome tide.

Oh, thank goodness.

She hadn’t been imagining things after all.

Something hopeful nudged her over the threshold of the door, then bade her to take one step, then another. In the thin light of dawn, she saw flowers in every color and fashion: bloodred rose blooms, a cascade of yellow flowers dripping down the wrought iron fence. Her fingers loosened over the cover of her book. Oh, but it would be lovely to read here. She could even hear the light patter of a fountain, beckoning her deeper.

But then she heard something else above those pleasant, tinkling notes.

An almost inhuman groan of pleasure.

With a startled gasp, she spun around. Her eyes swam through the early morning light to settle on a gentleman on the street, some ten feet or so away on the other side of the wrought iron fence. But the fact of their separation did little to relieve her anxiety, because the street light illuminated him in unfortunate, horrific clarity.

He was urinating.

Through the fence.

Onto one of her sister’s rosebushes.

The book fell from Mary’s hand. In all her imaginings of what dreadful things she might encounter on the streets of London, she’d never envisioned anything like this. She ought to bolt. She ought to scream. She ought to . . . well . . . she ought to at least look away.

But as if he was made of words on a page, her eyes insisted on staying for a proper read. His eyes were closed, his mouth open in a grimace of relief. Objectively, he was a handsome mess, lean and long-limbed, a shock of disheveled blond hair peeking out from his top hat. But handsome was always matter of opinion, and this one had “villain” stamped on his skin.

As if he could hear her flailing thoughts, one eye cracked open, then the other. “Oh, ho, would you look at that, Grant? I’ve an audience, it seems.”

Somewhere down the street, another voice rang out. “Piss off!” A snigger followed. “Oh, wait, you already are.”

“Cork it, you sodding fool!” the blond villain shouted back. “Can’t you see we’re in the presence of a lady?” He grinned. “Apologies for such language, luv. Though . . . given the way you are staring, perhaps you don’t mind?” He rocked back on his heels, striking a jaunty pose even as the urine rained down. “If you come a little closer, I’d be happy to give you a better peek.”

Mary’s heart scrambled against her ribs. She might be a naive thing, fresh from the country, and she might now be regretting her presumption that it was permissible to read a book in a London garden in her bare feet, but she wasn’t so unworldly that she didn’t know this one pertinent fact: she was not—under any circumstances—coming a little closer.

Or getting a better peek.

Mortified, she wrapped her arms about her middle. “I . . .that is . . . couldn’t you manage to hold it?” she somehow choked out. There. She’d managed a phrase, and it was a properly scathing one, too. As good as any of her books’ heroines might have done.

A grin spread across his face. Much like the puddle at the base of the rosebush. “Well, luv, the thing is, I’m thinking I’d rather let you hold it.” The stream trickled to a stop, though he added a few more drips for good measure. He shook himself off and began to button his trousers. “But alas, it seems you’ve waited too long for the pleasure.” He tipped a finger to the brim of his top hat in a sort of salute. “My friend awaits. Perhaps another time?”

Mary gasped. Or rather, she squeaked.

She could manage little else.

He chuckled. “It seems I’ve got a shy little mouse on my hands. Well, squeak squeak, run along then.” He set off down the street, swaying a bit. “But I’ll leave you with a word of advice, Miss Mouse,” he tossed back over one shoulder. “You’re a right tempting sight, standing there in your unutterables. But you might want to wear shoes the next time you ogle a gentleman’s prick. Never know when you’ll need to run.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 27, 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1858
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

A few years ago, I read and loved Jennifer McQuiston’s debut, What Happens in Scotland. It was an original and well-written page turner and, since then, she has consistently contributed to the historical romance genre with interconnected novels (and a charming novella) set in early Victorian England.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is the third in her newest series, the Seduction Diaries, featuring the younger brother of Clare (heroine of the first book). Geoffrey Westmore once held much promise and a looked towards a bright future. But his time in the Crimea changed all that as war often does.

Mary Channing is a bookish spinster quietly and contentedly living in Yorkshire when she is summoned to London by her twin sister, Eleanor, to be with her for Eleanor’s final months of pregnancy. Mary is ambivalent because she would much rather stay at home with her books and quiet life but feels she cannot refuse because it is her beloved sister. But, as Mary notes in the very first entry in her diary, she’s also afraid to see Eleanor’s fulfilling life, with her anticipated child and her loving husband, a life she secretly longs for but assumes will never ever be hers.

The novel is interspersed with diary entries that Mary faithfully writes every chance she gets. On her very first morning in London, however, when she has just discovered a lovely patch of garden where she might spend her quiet morning in blissful solitude, she is rudely interrupted by a drunken stranger urinating on her sister’s flowers! This reader admits to feeling every bit as shocked as Mary but I do appreciate the authenticity and realism that Ms. McQuiston introduces in her colorful and very human stories. The odors of London (with its polluted Thames) opens the story and Mary’s first day in the city along with the urinating stranger who turns out to be our hero, Mr. Geoffrey Westmore.

It seems to me to be a bit of a new trend in historical romance – at least the ones I’m reading lately – that historical romance now add a dash of mystery to the love story. Juliana Gray did it in her most recent novella (The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match) and Ms. McQuiston does it here with the hero and heroine accidentally overhearing a plot to assassinate the Queen Victoria when they are caught in a library together and sharing several stolen and passionate kisses.

Geoffrey was once a happy-go-lucky young man, fond of pranks and with an ambition to study architecture. But his dreams crashed down during the war in the Crimea and he has tried to forget it by becoming an irresponsible wastrel, much to the dismay of his loving and loyal valet, Wilson. Wilson is a character who is extremely familiar and informal toward Geoffrey – he still calls him “Master Geoffrey” for example – and also admonishes his disgusting habits and lifestyle. This is not something most servants would ever do so either Ms. McQuiston took some liberties here or there possibly may have been some servants who were almost like family.

Geoffrey spends his days sleeping off his long nights of drinking and whoring with his best friend, Grant, with whom he also experienced the horrors of war. Both are troubled young men and this is the part of the story that didn’t quite work for me. Geoffrey’s turnabout in the face of being caught with Mary seems much too fast. I can kind of see how his loving and close family may have some influence on him – he doesn’t want them to be ashamed of him – but it’s hard to believe that an uptight and proper spinster would be the impetus for his sudden volte face.

Mary has her own melancholy past with great loss and grief that has made her afraid to experience life; she’d much rather read about the world and adventures in books. Her time in London is her one chance to break out of her shell but, until she overhears the scheme with Geoffrey, she isn’t motivated enough to make her life better. When she meets Geoffrey, she is attracted to him but I don’t quite feel the sparks and sexual tension between them. It feels more like Mary is desperate for a change and it’s an opportunity for Geoffrey to reform.

In stereotypical male fashion, however, Geoffrey doesn’t want Mary’s help in uncovering the traitors conspiring to murder the queen even though she has some pretty darn good ideas. But he discovers he likes her determination and willfulness – even if it drives him nuts – and she eventually becomes attractive to him. For her part, Mary is simultaneously attracted to and shocked by Geoffrey’s colorful past, something a good girl has no experience with. I guess you could say opposites attract.

Eventually, Geoffrey begins to question his dissolute life while Mary contemplates her boring one as they work together to uncover truth about the assassination plot. The mystery part of the story is engaging and lively and the ultimate villain is a surprise. I like the unexpected and unique plot twists that Ms. McQuiston creates.

But what I like best about this book – and the entire series – is the strong sense of family that is depicted realistically and lovingly. I did not read the second book in the series but I don’t think you need to read them in order to appreciate and follow the thread of the novels.

I enjoy Ms. McQuiston’s writing style; it flows nicely, her plots are fresh and imaginative, and her characters rich and likable. I just didn’t quite believe what seemed like Geoffrey’s speedy transformation from debauched aristocrat to devoted husband.

If you enjoy heroes and heroines working together to solve a mystery as they fall in love, you will like this story.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jen-highres-90218417464A veterinarian and infectious disease researcher by training, Jennifer McQuiston has always preferred reading romance to scientific textbooks. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, their two girls, and an odd assortment of pets, including the pony she promised her children if mommy ever got a book deal.

You can connect with Jennifer at: her website * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Facebook.