Tag Archive | Victorian Historical Romance

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Brambles and Thorns by Jocelyn Kirk

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

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

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EXCERPT

The duke took her hand and kissed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

“A private interview?”

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

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

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

“Engaged yourself! Do you mean…?”

“Engaged to be married, yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless #5) by Meredith Duran

a lady's code of misconduct

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A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL…
Trapped in the countryside, facing an unwanted marriage and the theft of her fortune, Jane Mason is done behaving nicely. To win her freedom, she’ll strike a deal with the most dangerous man she knows—a rising star in politics, whose dark good looks mask an even darker heart.

…NEVER GOES TO PLAN.
The bitter past has taught Crispin Burke to trust no one. He’ll gladly help a lovely young heiress, provided she pays a price. Yet when a single mistake shatters his life, it is Jane who holds the key to his salvation. And in a world that no longer makes sense, Crispin slowly realizes that she may be the only thing worth fighting for…

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, February 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1860
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

Fans of Meredith Duran have had a fairly long time to wait between the publication of her last novel – Luck Be a Lady – and this new one, which is billed as the fifth in her Rules for the Reckless series, but I’m pleased to report that the wait, while frustrating, was well worth it. In A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, she has once again dazzled me with the beauty and focus of her writing, and her ability to craft a tightly-knit, intriguing plot and wonderfully complex, imperfect and highly intelligent characters who very quickly take on lives of their own in the mind of the reader.

The story centres around the political career and machinations of Mr. Crispin Burke MP, the second son of Viscount Sibley and most definitely the black sheep of his family. With ambitions to become Prime Minister, Burke has steadily drawn many in the Commons to his side by means of threats, blackmail and bribery; his name is a byword for corruption in parliamentary circles and it seems as though he is about to achieve his goal. His Penal Reform bill, a punitive, unfair piece of legislation, has enough support to defeat the government and unseat Palmerston.

Burke’s closest ally is Philip Mason, a man with as black a heart and as few principals, and who is currently supporting himself and his family at the expense of his niece, Jane, whose father left his considerable fortune to her at his death. Mason is unable to touch the principal amount, but has been syphoning off everything he could for years, and intends to marry her to his son in order to keep the money in the family. Jane is twenty-three, but has never had a season and is not allowed to go beyond the gates, so she has, in effect, been a prisoner for the past six years. But worse than all that is the fact that she has had to pretend to be a brainless ninny for all of that time. Her late parents were progressive, so she was well-educated and brought up to think for herself and not to be afraid to express her opinions – but her uncle believes women should be seen and not heard and Jane has had to suppress that side of herself while she has bided her time and waited for an opportunity to escape.

Finally, that opportunity has arrived – only to be thwarted by the odious Crispin Burke. Even though Jane has encountered him numerous times over the years, this is the first time she has really talked to him or even been close to him, and she is simultaneously surprised and repelled to discover that he holds a strange fascination for her. He’s a beautiful man, no question, but he’s ruthless, amoral and rotten to the core and his methods disgust her – but he offers her some advice and a way of avoiding her uncle’s wrath, in exchange, naturally, for something he wants – information on something involving Mason. Jane has no alternative but to agree to do as he asks.

Not long after this, and shortly before the final reading of his bill, Burke is attacked and left for dead on the London streets. Having taken his advice and inveigled her uncle into bringing her to London, Jane hatches an audacious plan, one that was also suggested to her by Burke, albeit with a different outcome in mind. She uses a fraudulently obtained – but legitimate – marriage certificate and announces that she and Burke were recently – and secretly – married. She will shortly be a widow according to the doctors, and her marriage will release her father’s fortune into her hands, meaning that she can finally achieve her dream of travelling to New York and making a new life for herself.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan and Crispin survives – although there are big gaps in his memory and he can remember little of what happened over the past five years. Now caught in a lie, Jane feels guilty and unsure, but decides that she needs to play along with the fake marriage, at least until the legalities surrounding the release of her inheritance are completed. I’m normally a little sceptical about amnesia plots, but didn’t blink when I learned that this book used one, because I knew that Meredith Duran would make it work. She does that and then some; the way she transforms Crispin from a ruthless, conscienceless politician to a man of honour and sound principles who genuinely wants to make the world a better place is brilliant, but more importantly, it’s believable. There are still facets of the old Burke remaining – the keen mind, the devilish sense of humour, the aura of implacability and sense of his being a dangerous man, but the more he finds out about his old self, the more determined he becomes to face the demons of his past, eradicate them and move on.

Because he can’t afford others to see how much his injuries have affected him, Crispin asks for Jane’s help in navigating his way through all his political alliances and connections. She can’t deny that being able, after so long, to use her brain and have her opinions listened to and respected is incredibly flattering and freeing, or that the ‘new’ Crispin is compassionate, thoughtful, unexpectedly vulnerable and incredibly attractive.

Jane is just as satisfyingly complex a character as Crispin, and her story of self-discovery is equally compelling. Her situation as the virtual prisoner of her uncle evokes sympathy, and her character is set up as a kind of representation of truth and justice… yet as the story progresses, she is shown to have been as deceitful and secretive in her way as Crispin has been in his. The way that she comes to understand herself more, and also to understand what drove Crispin to take the path of blind, conscienceless ambition is superbly done, as is Crispin’s conviction that no matter what he can or cannot remember, his feelings for Jane won’t change. I loved that Jane tries to spare him learning the worst of himself and that when he does, it just makes him stronger and all the more determined to become a better man.

The chemistry between the protagonists is intense, and their romance develops believably and at a realistic pace. Jane gradually overcomes her suspicions and opens herself to the attraction she realises she has long felt for Crispin, even though she can’t quite let go of her fear that the ‘old’ him could return at any moment. And I loved that Crispin never questions his marriage; for him, Jane is his rock from the moment he awakens, building on the hints of interest she sparked in him even before his attack and showing clearly but subtly that his feelings for her run deep.

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is a must-read for fans of this author and of historical romance in general. The political background is interesting, well-researched and smoothly incorporated so the reader never feels as though they are being given a history lesson, and the plot which gradually emerges – relating to the information the ‘old’ Crispin was seeking from Jane – is intriguing and suspenseful. Add in the wonderful romance and two compelling but vulnerable and flawed protagonists, and you’ve got an un-put-downable book which I’m already sure will go down as one of my favourite books of the year.

Historical romance really doesn’t get better than this.

The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne

the highlander

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They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As Laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated Marquess has vanquished his foes with all rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent. . . in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the Laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena—and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart . . . without surrendering his own?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, August 2016

Time and Setting: London and Scotland, 1878
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series has been a breath of fresh air in this genre. It has everything that I love in an historical romance; darkness, angst, sparkling dialogue and most importantly, a bone deep, spine-tingling romance with characters I adore and care about. All three novels in the series are beautifully and eloquently written but my favourite by a whisker has been The Highlander; from the first page to the last, I was completely enthralled.

Laird Liam Mackenzie, Marquess of Ravencroft has a fearsome reputation which is well earned. He is a warrior in the true sense of the word and has recklessly risked his life on the battlefield for many years. Now he has returned home to tend to his lands, his people and more importantly, his motherless children who have been left to their own devices for too long.

As a girl, Lady Philomena St.Vincent, Viscountess Benchley had an idyllic lifestyle, with a father who doted on her indulged and educated her, but for the five years of her marriage she has suffered horribly at the hands of her sadistic, dissolute husband. Now – apparently barren, and her money spent – she has been consigned to Belle Glen asylum a sadly convenient way for men to get rid of unwanted women at this time. Mena (to her friends) has been dropped in the midst of a terrifying, living nightmare, one that even her dreadful marriage hasn’t prepared her for. Having been subjected to the most degrading atrocities, she is at her wits end – subjugated, violated and beaten. I take my hat off to Kerrigan Byrne; she has a unique ability to draw the reader into the world she describes, in this case, one of unbearable suffering and hopelessness. I read on in horrified fascination, unwilling to put my kindle down but willing Mena to beat her persecutors. It was with some relief then, when at her lowest ebb, Christopher Argent (The Hunter) and Dorian Blackwell (The Highwayman) arrive in the company of the Chief Inspector of police to spectacularly rescue her.

Blackwell and Argent are tied by their violent pasts. Each has found love and it is because of the friendship their ladies share with Mena and also because of a service she rendered to them at the expense of her own safety, that they facilitate her rescue. Now she must be hidden from her violent husband while these powerful men start proceedings to clear her name.

Liam Mackenzie is in need of a governess-come-social-instructor for his children, who have pretty much run wild in the absence of their father. Dorian’s wife, Farah, Countess Northwalk, decides that the depths of Scotland is the perfect hiding place for a runaway wife, so Mena becomes Miss Philomena Lockhart, spinster governess, and travels to Scotland to work for the man commonly known as The Demon Highlander – Lt. Col. William Grant Ruaridh Mackenzie, Marquess Ravencroft. I loved their first meeting – there is much hilarity amongst the Highlanders when Mena regally instructs them in the repairing of a broken wheel. I can see in my mind’s eye, this bevy of rough, tough men with their hair in muddy rats tails, staring slack jawed at the beautiful, curvaceous English lady telling them what to do!

The attraction between the large, gorgeous barbarian who believes himself to be unworthy of love, and the luscious but insecure red-head who is completely unaware of her own innate elegance and sensuality simply leaps off the page and never wanes; these two people are beautifully developed characters and I loved them both. There are some fantastic secondary characters too, not least Andrew and Rhianna, Liam’s children, and Jani, the Laird’s colourful, Hindu valet.

As the story reaches its climax, Kerrigan Byrne ratchets up the sexual tension but also the drama as Liam’s and finally, Mena’s secrets, are revealed in a shocking culmination of revenge and justice involving a host of characters. This has been a fantastic series, very different from others I’ve read recently, in its dark, eloquently written melodrama and I highly recommend it. Even the few Americanisms didn’t annoy me, so drawn into the story was I. The Highlander is a real winner, Ms. Byrne.

One Dangerous Desire (Accidental Heirs #3) by Christy Carlyle

one dangerous desire

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In a bet between two old flames . . .

Rex Leighton dominates the boardroom by day and prowls the ballroom at night. Searching for the perfect bride to usher him into the aristocracy, he abandoned the idea of love the last time he saw the delicious May Sedgwick. But when he’s roped into a bet, where the prize is the means to fund his greatest ambition and the stakes are a marriage he’s already planning for, Rex is willing to go all in. There’s just one problem—he’s competing against the only woman he’s ever loved.

Only love can take it all…

May Sedgwick could be the belle of the season . . . if she cared. She is more interested in the art studio than the marriage market and her craving to pursue her passion far outweighs her wish for a titled husband. Winning this bet will finally allow May to follow her true artistic desires. Rex losing is just a side benefit, as are his breathtaking kisses that she just can’t resist.

When May is forced to choose between the dream she never knew she wanted and the man she’s never been able to forget, Rex must convince her desire is worth a bit of danger.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, April 2016

Time and Setting: Victorian England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I was drawn to One Dangerous Desire for several reasons: it takes place in the late Victorian period, it features Americans in London, and the hero and heroine are competing against each other to win a bet. May Sedgwick, daughter of an American department store baron, came to London for one purpose: to find a titled husband. But, raised in her father’s business world, she also has dreams of running her own business one day. A talented artist, May has a passion for interior design, but it’s unlikely any English husband would approve of his wife being in trade. However, opportunity comes her way in the form of her best friend’s father, the Duke of Ashworth, who is thinking about redecorating his Mayfair mansion and is willing to consider May for the job. But there’s someone else angling for his patronage, self-made tycoon Rex Leighton, who dreams of building the grandest hotel in London and needs Ashworth’s investment to make it a reality.

May is shocked to see her first love in London, the young clerk who abandoned her and broke her heart six years ago in New York. Rex knew May was in London, but he vowed to stay away from her, believing himself to be unworthy of her affection and not wanting to interfere with her future. But neither is prepared for the rush of feelings that accompany their re-acquaintance. The duke, being a bit of a romantic and a trickster, and sensing something between May and Rex, offers them a chance to compete for his patronage. Knowing that both are seeking titled spouses to further their positions in society, he challenges them to find their future mates, and the first one who does will win the bet. Both May and Rex have prospects in mind, but over the course of the next few weeks, seeing each other at every social function on the arms of others makes them realize that, after all these years, they still only have eyes for each other. May finally learns the reason Rex left her behind and comes to understand the demons from his childhood that drive his ambition, and Rex recognizes May’s talent and applauds her dreams for a career of her own. But before they can act on their feelings for one another, they have to re-evaluate the futures they’ve chosen for themselves and determine what’s most important to them. Do they stick with their sensible plans or take a chance on love?

This was my first time reading Christy Carlyle, and I was very impressed with the writing and the dimensional, intriguing characters, including several secondary ones whom I’m hoping will feature in future books. But the story itself fell a bit short for me. From the description, I was really looking forward to a battle of wills where Rex and May would try to out-do each other in a game of one-upmanship as they battled to win the bet. But since it turns out that to win the bet all one of them has to do is get engaged before the other, that intense competition doesn’t happen, especially since neither of them really wants to be with anyone else anyway. I also expected their reunion to take a bit longer. Six years apart is a long time, and while the author does a good job of letting us see glimpses of the past and the young love they shared, I expected May to put up more of a fight when the man who broke her heart suddenly reappears and wants another chance. There are a couple of subplots involving their fathers and their attempts to use their children for their own gain, but overall, I found the story to be a little plain and ho-hum. But I give it big props for its business-minded slant, for endearing characters, and for a sweet epilogue that left me with a big smile on my face.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Common Scandal (Grantham Girls #2) by Amanda Weaver

VT-ACommonScandal-AWeaver_FINAL

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Finishing school taught Amelia Wheeler how to put on a well-mannered performance—when she’s not bored and looking for trouble. Lady Grantham’s is behind her and now it’s time for Amelia to keep her promise to her dying mother: marry a title and leave her wild days behind.

That promise would be much easier to keep if Nate Smythe hadn’t just reappeared in a London ballroom. The son of an impoverished sailor, Nate—Natty, as he used to be called—has grown up to become handsome, rich and polished. He claims to be looking for a proper bride who can advance his business interests, but that doesn’t stop him from seeking out Amelia every chance he gets. Challenging her. Kissing her.

Suddenly, struggling against her simmering passion is the least of Amelia’s problems—one of her titled suitors is hiding a desperate secret that could stop Amelia from pleasing her parents or finding happiness with Nate. As a weeklong house party threatens to derail her hard-won future, Amelia must decide: fight against disaster or act like the lady she’s promised to become?

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EXCERPT

Despite knowing the sort of marriage she was destined for, she’d resisted making a choice for so long because she’d hoped in time she might encounter a suitable man who sparked some kind of fire in her. But not once, in all her forays into Society, had she met a man who raised more than mild curiosity. She’d read about flaming passions and heated kisses in the lurid, forbidden novels she had traded with Vic and Grace, but her blood had never been stirred by a flesh-and-blood male. She’d begun to think those passions were the invention of novelists and no man could ever make her feel that way. And now one had, and he was hopelessly out of her reach. It was wretched, wanting something she couldn’t have.

“What’s the verdict? Does Cheadle love you madly or not?”

She didn’t trust herself to look at Natty, knowing her insides would plunge in an unwelcome, delicious way. When he came near her, it was as if her whole body stretched luxuriously and unfurled. Terribly unhelpful, when she was determined to send him packing and behave.

“I’m sure the answer will always be ‘not’, regardless of the state of the petals and irrespective of whatever he might proclaim. Isn’t Lady Julia waiting for her glass of punch or something?”

“Pardon?”

“The lovely Lady Julia Harrow. I saw you sitting with her. Surely she’s missed you by now.”

“Somehow I doubt it,” he muttered. “And what of Cheadle? Surely he’s climbing the walls pining after you.”

She sighed and turned to face him, tossing the last of the ruined flower to the ground and brushing her gloved fingers together. “You know he’s not, Natty. Men don’t pine after me, only my money. The only reason anyone at these things speaks to me is because of my fortune.”

“I’m speaking to you and I have my own fortune, thank you very much.”

“You only speak to me to tease me.”

“You used to like it when I teased you.”

“I’m not a child anymore.”

“Obviously.”

The word hung between them for a moment, rife with meaning. He might have only meant she was all grown-up and out in Society, except his eyes made a lightning- fast perusal of her body as he said it, so fast, he was likely unaware he’d done it. In a rush, it broke over her that Natty was aware of her in the same way she was aware of him. Not as an old playmate from his childhood. As a woman. He was as affected as she was, even if he was spending his evening paying court to Julia Harrow.

His eyes made their way back to hers and they both held the gaze. This newly discovered knowledge sizzled through her body. Her skin flushed and her breaths grew shallow. Natty’s eyes stared into hers. His lips parted slightly, as if he, too, was baffled by this sudden shift in the air. The atmosphere around them felt charged, the way it did when thunder began rattling the windows and lightning lit the night sky, but still the rain refused to fall. At any minute the clouds could collide and deluge the world, but until then, all the energy of the universe danced on the breeze.

She wanted to tease and flirt with him to see how far things would progress. She wanted to see the skies open up.

She wanted to be drenched by the rain.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, May 2016

Time and setting: England, 1896
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Cicley

A Common Scandal_coverAmelia Wheeler, a wealthy tradesman’s daughter, is everything the simpering misses of London are not – bold, outspoken, and not afraid of taking care of herself. With her father threatening to choose her husband if she’s not married by the end of the season and her promise to her mother to marry soon, Amelia takes matters into her own hands. What she hasn’t counted on is the return of her childhood friend, Nate, or the feelings he arouses in her.

Invited to a house party, Amelia is sure the invitation was only offered so she will be the source of entertainment; after all. everyone expects her to cause a scandal. Determined to put her relationship with Nate behind her, Amelia sets in motion her plan to snare a quiet, unassuming Lord, someone who will bore her to tears but who will make her mother happy. All Amelia needs to do is avoid the smarmy Cheadle – and Nate. Both are easier said than done.

Nathaniel Smythe is a dock rat who has now made his way up in the world. Even though he is now a wealthy businessman Nate is not fully accepted into society, but he has a plan to rectify that – marry the daughter of a peer. He has the perfect woman picked out in the form of Lady Julia Harrow, daughter of the Earl of Hyde who owns the only shipping company that rivals his own. What he never expected was coming face to face with his childhood friend or the way she sets his blood on fire.

Attending a house party where Lady Julia and her father will be in attendance will afford Nate the perfect opportunity to woo Julia. His only problem is that Amelia is attending the same party and no matter how he tries he cannot seem to stay away from her.

I adored Amelia’s strength and her determination when she sets her mind on something and her ability to get into trouble without even trying had me laughing out loud. While I wanted to rail at Nathaniel for some of the things he did, I do admire his resolve is trying to obtain what he desires.

As Amanda Weaver is a new to me author, my plan was to read A Common Scandal over a couple of days so that I could process the storyline and her writing style. But I found myself so strongly drawn into Amelia’s turmoil and mishaps while falling in love with Nate that I finished it in one day!

A Common Scandal is the second book in Amanda Weaver’s The Grantham Girls series, although it works perfectly as a stand alone. The author’s writing style will draw you in and have you feeling each emotion the hero and heroine do. My only complaint – now I have another author to add to my “must read” list. Overall, it’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AmandaWeaverAmanda Weaver has loved romance since she read that very first Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel at fifteen. After a long detour into a career as a costume designer in theatre, she’s found her way back to romance, this time as a writer.

A native Floridian, Amanda transplanted to New York City many years ago and now considers Brooklyn home, along with her husband, daughter, two cats, and nowhere near enough space.

 

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The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2) by Kerrigan Byrne

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They’re rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards–dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the women who love them, a hint of danger only makes the heart beat faster…

A scandalous proposal…

Christopher Argent lives in the shadows as the empire’s most elite assassin. Emotion is something he tossed away years ago, making him one of the most clear-eyed, cold-hearted, wealthiest, and therefore untouchable men in London. But when his latest target turns out to be London’s own darling, Millicent LeCour, Christopher’s whole world is turned upside down. Overwhelmed by her stunning combination of seduction and innocence, Christopher cannot complete the mission. She has made him feel again. Now, he will do anything to save her life, even if it means risking his own…

A perilous passion…

When Millie learns what Christopher was hired to do, she is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this notorious hunter’s arms may be her only path to safety–even if doing so could be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. But how can she resist him? As the heat between her and Christopher burns out of control, danger lurks in the shadows. Is their desire worth the risk? Only the enemy knows what fate has in store…

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1877
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Sara

Author Kerrigan Byrne unwittingly created a very big challenge for herself with The Hunter. Not only did the book have to follow The Highwayman, one of the most highly regarded releases of 2015 (on my “best of” list and those of many other reviewers) but the hero she introduced was a cold-blooded killer with little remorse for the job he does. How do you make an assassin into a man worthy of love?

Christopher Argent was briefly seen in The Highwayman as something of a lieutenant for crime boss Dorian Blackwell. When the men escaped Newgate prison and took control of the London underworld, Christopher used his skills as a master assassin to kill targets who threatened the group’s rise to power. With control of the city firmly in the hands of Blackwell, Argent takes contracts for anyone who can afford his services with no care about the target, save small children. His latest job, to kill actress Millicent LeCour, is nothing out of the ordinary and Christopher begins his work by observing his target to find the best way to kill without drawing attention. Watching her on stage and then seeing how she engages a room full of strangers triggers something within Christopher, making him risk interacting with his victim before taking her life.

For Millie LeCour, the best way to connect with her audience is to find one face in the crowd and perform her role as if only for them. Catching the focused gaze of a man with pale blue eyes, Millie finds herself drawn by his attention. Seeing him again at a theater party, giving her the same direct attention as before, is exhilarating enough for her to take a chance to know her silent admirer better. Millie finds herself giving into a passionate kiss in the shadows that leaves her breathless and wanting more, yet he leaves her before their encounter can go much further. Millie’s euphoria at a successful début and a romantic encounter is short-lived when her mysterious stranger appears in her apartments later that evening prepared to finish what he had started; not her seduction but her murder.

Needing to complete his job despite the strange awareness he has around Millie, it is her selfless concern for her son that stays Christopher’s hand at her throat. Unable to reconcile the image of a loving mother with the kind of woman who would warrant a contracted hit, and with his lust for her adding to his confusion, Christopher decides that there must be something more to Millicent LeCour. Believing that slaking his lust for the woman will clear his mind and refocus him, Christopher offers Millie a devil’s bargain to protect her from whoever wants her dead in exchange for one night in his bed. Without knowing who could want her murdered Millie has no choice to accept Christopher’s terms for protection. Unfortunately he cannot know how high a price he’s asked her to pay.

It is a difficult feat to make an assassin the hero of any kind of media and it is here that Ms. Byrne flexes her writing muscles. Many of Christopher’s behaviors would indicate that he’s a sociopath, detached wholly from his actions to the point where he describes himself as being outside of his body observing himself going through the motions of living; however there are small hints that Christopher does feel things in his own disconnected way. It begins when he sees Millie “die” on stage and it pricks at emotions long buried. The longer he keeps himself in Millie’s company the more he begins sensing her reactions or emotions, which causes his own untried feelings to manifest. Christopher transitions over the course of the story from wanting to possess Millie as an object of lust to needing her for their emotional connection and the life she brings back to him.

Just as The Highwayman used darkness and light to distinguish the traits of the main characters, in The Hunter it’s Life and Death that color Millie and Christopher. Using her talents on the stage, Millie breathes life into the characters she portrays, drawing in her audience to believe that those fictional struggles are important. As a mother she nurtures and protects her son Jakub, giving him every advantage in his life that she can provide. Millie’s soul is such that past tragedies or a real and present threat to her life are not enough to extinguish her love of the life she has built for herself. It is that spark and joy of being alive that calls to Christopher like a siren’s song, beating back all of the death and horrors he has lived and inured himself to.

I loved so much of The Hunter and it served as a wonderful follow-up in both tone and storytelling to the previous book. In the end however, there is a small part of me that couldn’t quite believe that one woman could turn a man like Christopher around so fully in only a matter of weeks. There are clues sprinkled within the text to show that he was changing even before knowing Millie; forming a brotherhood of sorts with Blackwell and having a code about the kinds of jobs he would take, but one can see there is still much more work to do in saving his soul. I can hope that as the series progresses we will revisit Christopher and Millie to see some of those developments in their life together.

A Duchess in Name (Grantham Girls #1) by Amanda Weaver

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After graduating from British finishing school, an American heiress fulfills her duty and weds a destitute earl. A lie brought them together, but will it also tear them apart? Find out in this can’t-miss Victorian marriage-of-convenience story from a compelling new voice in historical romance.

Victoria Carson never expected love. An American heiress and graduate of Lady Grantham’s finishing school, she’s been groomed since birth to marry an English title—the grander the better. So when the man chosen for her, the forbidding Earl of Dunnley, seems to hate her on sight, she understands that it can’t matter. Love can have no place in this arrangement.

Andrew Hargrave has little use for his title and even less for his cold, disinterested parents. Determined to make his own way, he’s devoted to his life in Italy working as an archaeologist. Until the collapse of his family’s fortune drags him back to England to a marriage he never wanted and a woman he doesn’t care to know.

Wild attraction is an unwanted complication for them both, though it forms the most fragile of bonds. Their marriage of convenience isn’t so intolerable after all—but it may not be enough when the deception that bound them is finally revealed.

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Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, 18 January 2016

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: London, 1895
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

“Her sole purpose on earth was to unite her large fortune to a title, the grander the better.”

Victoria Carson, daughter of an American manufacturing magnate has been schooled all her life for one thing: to marry an English title, and the higher the rank the better. When she is nineteen, an agreement is made between Victoria’s father and the current Duke of Waring for their children to wed.

At twenty-seven, Andrew Hargrave, Earl of Dunnley, and heir to the Duke of Waring, is of a marriageable age. When his older brother died, his accession to the position of heir landed with an unwelcome thud on his broad shoulders. Having never been tutored for the role, his real interests lie in archaeology. When he receives word at his dig in Italy to return home, he is greeted with the news that his family is destitute, his father having lost their wealth. It is now expected of Andrew to marry well to revive the family fortune and wealth.

Resentful but duty-bound, Andrew agrees to the marriage-of-convenience, if only for the sake of his sisters. After meeting the lovely and gracious Victoria, both she and Andrew hope that theirs could at least be a civil and perhaps happy union, if not a love match. But the hopefulness doesn’t last long, when Andrew becomes convinced that Victoria is as conniving and as ambitious to gain a title as are her parents. Feeling trapped and manipulated, any trust or hope for a successful union is quashed.

Rarely does a heroine overshadow the hero in a romance for me. But Victoria is a complete delight. After being abandoned straight after her wedding night and left with the servants on her husband’s derelict estate, Victoria proceeds to roll up her sleeves and get on with the restoration of his ancestral home and lands. Realising she’s not up to the task alone, she goes ahead and hires the proper help. She writes beautiful, engaging letters to Andrew overseas, detailing the work and her life. Which he doesn’t bother to answer.

Now, given that Andrew is misinformed about Victoria, and given that he felt cornered into an arranged marriage, as well as the dysfunction he saw in his own parents’ marriage and therefore hoped to avoid, it’s certainly possible to have some sympathy for him. But he simply assumes, without ever truly finding out for himself, that what he’s been told of Victoria is indeed true and returns to Italy and to his mistress. For those who dislike adultery in their romances, this may be another strike against our hero. Finally, when he does come to his senses and tries to do the right thing by Victoria, it’s almost too little, too late for her. She really is wary and I can’t blame her.

However, putting aside my issues with the hero, A Duchess in Name is a well-written and very enjoyable historical. Ms Weaver has written a lovely romance with a particularly wonderful heroine. This is the first in The Grantham Girls series, and I look forward to reading about Victoria’s friends, Amelia and Grace.

A Mackenzie Clan Gathering (MacKenzies & McBrides #8.5) by Jennifer Ashley

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Ian Mackenzie is awakened at Kilmorgan Castle one night to find robbers stealing the priceless art collection of his oldest brother, Hart. Since Ian and Beth are the only ones in resident at Kilmorgan at the moment, Ian decides he must find the art and the culprits before the family shows up for Hart’s birthday gathering. With Inspector Fellows and Beth, he investigates, though Ian is somewhat worried by Beth’s late husband’s brother, a retired missionary, who decides to visit. Does John Ackerley hold the “cure” to Ian’s madness? And can Ian discover what has happened to Hart’s treasures, and who is targeting the Mackenzies before the enemy strikes again?

Return to Kilmorgan Castle to visit the Victorian branch of the Mackenzie family, and catch up on the brothers and friends, their children, and their lives.

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1892
Genre: Victorian historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

It is no secret that the MacKenzies are my favorite historical romance family, so naturally I quickly devoured this novella. Jennifer Ashley has written that she originally planned this book to be about the entire family – something like Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift – but Ian just took over things. He and Beth and Ian’s half-brother Inspector Fellows are the main characters. Given that the events take place ten years after Ian and Beth married, we also get glimpses of their three children – Jamie, 10, Belle, 9, and Megan,7. Not surprisingly, Ian is a hands-on, devoted father, and the scenes with the children are delightful.

All of the other MacKenzies make brief appearances, but the only new character is John Ackerly, the brother of Beth’s first husband, who pays a visit after retiring from years as a missionary. A dabbler in the emerging field of psychiatry, Ackerly thinks he can “cure” Ian’s supposed madness, and Ian’s willingness to try to be more “normal” is touching.

The plot revolves around the shocking theft of priceless artworks from Kilmorgan Castle. Since Ian and Beth were the only family members at home at the time, Ian feels responsible and puts on his sleuthing hat to help Scotland Yard’s Inspector Fellowes. The ultimate resolution is a bit strange, but let’s face it: we’re not reading A MacKenzie Clan Gathering for the plot. We’re reading it for the sheer joy of watching the odd, amazing, and loveable Ian MacKenzie do his thing. And a joy it is indeed.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson

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Years ago, Owen Renderwell earned acclaim – and a title – for the dashing rescue of a kidnapped duchess. But only a select few knew that Scotland Yard’s most famous detective was working alongside London’s most infamous thief…and his criminally brilliant daughter, Charlotte Walker.

Lottie was like no other woman in Victorian England. She challenged him. She dazzled him. She questioned everything he believed and everything he was, and he has never wanted anyone more. And then he lost her.

Now a private detective on the trail of a murderer, Owen has stormed back into Lottie’s life. She knows that no matter what they may pretend, he will always be a man of the law and she a criminal. Yet whenever he’s near, Owen has a way of making things complicated…and long for a future that can never be theirs.

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Alissa Johnson Has A Talent For Trickery

Hello Readers!

I’m delighted to introduce A Talent for Trickery, the first book in my new Victorian-set Thief-takers series. Our hero, Private Investigator Owen Renderwell, is on the hunt for a thief and murderer. And he knows just how to catch his man. All he needs is a little help from our heroine, Miss Charlotte Walker-Bales. The daughter of an infamous confidence man, Lottie is in a unique position to offer insight into the mind and motives of a hardened criminal. There’s just one flaw in Owen’s otherwise excellent plan. Lottie hasn’t spoken to him in eight years. She has no interest in working alongside a man of the law, and certainly not the one who betrayed her trust, endangered her family, and broke her heart.

Lottie did agree, however, to deliver a brief message to those readers who claim no affiliation with The Thief-takers, Scotland Yard, or any other investigative or law enforcement agency.

To whomever it may be of interest,

I have received of late a fair number of requests for advice on how best to lie, cheat, steal, and swindle one’s way to fame and fortune.

Obviously, I have never personally engaged in such reprehensible behavior.

I will admit, however, to being the eldest daughter of the late Mr. William Walker, who was alleged (but never officially proven) to have been a successful thief and trickster. You will find below a page taken from one of his journals.*

William Walker’s Guide to Trickery and Deceit.

Lessons for my darling [name redacted]

1. Pick your mark carefully. Don’t toy with a tiger when a kitten will do.

2. Know your mark well. Learn his fears, his desires, his strengths and weaknesses. One cannot manipulate a man without first having a firm grasp of him.

3. Never take from a mark more than he can afford to lose. Steal a hundred pounds from a prince, and it’s unlikely he’ll report the crime. He would prefer to quietly suffer the inconvenience than admit to the shame of having been duped. Steal a shilling from a pauper, and he’ll hunt you down like a dog. Which is why you must always…

4. Use an alias, change it often, and never stay in one place for too long. Don’t make it easy for your enemies to find you.

5. Be careful of the lies you tell. But more importantly…

6. Be careful with the truth. Nothing will land a body in hot water quite so quick as too much honesty.

7. There is no honor amongst thieves. If you must work with accomplices, then make certain that, no matter how many parties are involved, you are the least trustworthy of the lot. In this way, you will always know from which direction betrayal is most likely to arise.

8. Disregard 7 if your accomplice is also your father.

9. Carry upon your person a set of lock picks at all times. One never knows when one might need entrance through a barred door, or exit from set of manacles.

10. Know when to give up on a scheme. No plan is fool-proof. You cannot possibly account for every conceivable obstacle and danger. When the odds of failure outpace the chances of success, walk away. No amount of coin is worth your freedom, or your life.

*This material is offered only as an example of my father’s creative musings on a theoretical life of crime. It is not an admittance of actual criminal activity undertaken by any member of my family.

However, were I the sort of woman inclined to take such instructions to heart, I believe I would pay particular attention to lesson number 6.

With Kindest Regards,

Miss Charlotte Walker-Bales

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 3 November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1872
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

ATalentForTrickeryIt has been eight years since Owen Renderwell has seen Charlotte Walker – now Charlotte Bales – since he was Detective Inspector Renderwell of Scotland Yard, and she was the accomplice and daughter of one of London’s most infamous thieves. Now a private investigator, Viscount Renderwell arrives at Charlotte’s home in Norfolk, where she lives with her sister, Esther and brother, Peter. Accompanying him are his partners Sir Samuel Brass and Sir Gabriel Arkwright. Owen is in need of Lottie’s help. Investigating a series of burglaries and a murder where the culprit has left cryptic letters at the scene, he believes that her father’s old journals may hold the key to decoding them.

A renowned and infamous thief and conman, William Walker wrote everything down in his journals – his activities, his codes, his encryptions. When he was caught he chose to work with the police rather than face prosecution, and had worked with Owen before his death eight years previously. Due to her father’s death, Owen and Charlotte parted on unfriendly terms, and Owen knows that his arrival at her home will be neither warm nor welcome.

Set in Victorian England, A Talent for Trickery is Alissa Johnson’s first new novel in three years, and as a big fan of her previous historical romances, I’ve been keen to read this new series. This is yet another warm and delightful romance between the thirty year-old Charlotte, now living a respectable life in the country with her younger siblings, and the honest, down-to-earth Owen, who doesn’t particularly relish the status to which he’s been elevated.

Given that Owen is an investigator, unravelling the mystery is a large part of the plot. As usual with Ms Johnson’s writing, the characterisations of both protagonists and secondary characters are fleshed-out. The dialogue is realistic and imbued with touches of subtle humour. Owen is honorable and level-headed; Lottie is smart and independent. Their attraction is still there when they first meet again, yet Ms Johnson thankfully takes her time rebuilding their relationship.

I’m looking forward to the next title in this series which I should imagine will feature either of Owen’s partners, Gabriel or Samuel. With the same deft touch of her previous novels, A Talent for Trickery is another wonderful historical romance and an enjoyable opening to her new Thief-Takers series. Recommended for readers who enjoy superior writing, an engrossing mystery and a lovely romance.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AlissaJohnsonAlissa Johnson is a RITA-nominated author of historical romance. She grew up on Air Force bases and attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She currently resides in the Arkansan Ozarks where she spends her free time keeping her Aussie dog busy, visiting with family, and dabbling in archery.

You can connect with Alissa at: www.alissajohnson.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads.

Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

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A twist of fate…

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own.

A clash of wills…

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she’s ever known?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Hampshire and London, 1875
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lisa Kleypas makes a very welcome return to the world of the historical romance with her latest book Cold Hearted Rake, the first in a new series set in the late Victorian era. It’s been around five years since Ms Kleypas last published an historical and I suppose what everyone is dying to know is – was it worth the wait? The answer has to be YES, absolutely – although the book isn’t without its faults and the central romance, while satisfyingly steamy, is a little inconsistent, and isn’t my favourite thing about the novel as a whole.

Devon Ravenel and his younger brother, Weston, are a pair of rather dissolute young men who have had nothing and nobody to look after but themselves for pretty much their entire lives, until, at twenty-eight, Devon is stunned – and furious – to learn that he has inherited an earldom owing to the sudden death of a distant relation. He doesn’t want the title, the estate, the responsibilities and, most importantly, the crushing debts, and is determined to sell everything off as soon as possible and return to his unencumbered bachelor existence.

Along with the aforementioned burdens, Devon is faced with the prospect of dealing with his predecessor’s widow of three days, and his three sisters – all of whom Devon wants out of the house quickly so that he can realise his capital and leave.

Kathleen, Lady Trenear, is not at all pleased on learning of Devon’s plans when it comes to the estate, but not for her own sake or that of her sisters-in-law. She had expected she would have to leave Eversby Priory and hopes to be able to support the four of them on her jointure; her concerns are mainly for the some two hundred tenants who live and work on the estate, many of whom have served the Ravenels for their whole lives and are unlikely to be able to find alternative employment.

Devon and Kathleen clash immediately and often, both of them finding themselves reluctantly attracted to the other. Their bickering is imbued with sexual attraction, and the friendship and respect which gradually develop between them are well-written, but I never quite bought into them as being in love. Devon is one of those types of heroes so often found in the pages of romance novels whose parents’ disastrous marriage put him firmly off the idea of love – yet he wavers back and forth between wanting Kathleen in his life permanently and then just for a transient affair. The physical relationship upon which they embark is a deliciously passionate one, but Devon’s attitude towards Kathleen is somewhat inconsistent and thus a little frustrating.

That said, all the other elements that make up this story are so thoroughly engaging as to make that issue a little less problematic. The characterisation is strong all-round, and there is a terrific cast of supporting characters, not least of which is Devon’s wastrel brother who manages to turn his life around and find himself in the process. Ms Kleypas also sets up the rest of the series brilliantly, and in fact, she sets up the next book – Marrying Mr Winterborne – so well, that I found myself rather more invested in the secondary characters of Lady Helen Ravenel and the self-made, hard-nosed businessman, Rhys Winterborne, than in Devon and Kathleen!

One of the things I liked most about the story is that Ms Kleypas has once again written a bad-boy hero who turns things around as much for himself as for the woman he is coming to love, and it’s the first part of that sentence that’s the most important. After all, making a change to please someone else is a change unlikely to last, while making it for oneself is an entirely different matter. Devon certainly does do that – he decides that it’s time for him to step up and face the challenge of the estate head-on, and considering the challenges he’s facing, it’s an incredibly brave – and maybe stupid – thing to do. But his intelligence, pragmatism and determination serve him well, and, in the same way as West, Devon finds his purpose in life. He’s an attractive hero; handsome, witty, clever, incredibly sexy and – deep down – a kind and compassionate man, not that he’d ever admit to it! And even though I wasn’t completely convinced by the romance, Kathleen’s equally strong personality makes her a good match for Devon.

Cold Hearted Rake may not be the best of Lisa Kleypas’ historical romances, but it’s certainly a very strong start to her new series and has much to recommend it. It’s beautifully written, well-plotted and makes excellent use of its historical setting; and whether you’re a fan of hers, or have never read her work before, I’m sure you will find much to enjoy.