In the war against France, Heloise Hampden is a high-value asset to the Crown. She’s cracked the enemy’s most recent communication, and for that, someone is trying to kill her. However, it’s the agent assigned to protect Heloise who poses the greatest threat to her heart: William de l’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood. Heloise has quarreled with the man they call Raven since childhood, yet always maintained a chaste distance. She’s sure nothing will change, thanks to the disfiguring scar on her face. So why is she so enchanted by the sight of Raven’s jet-black hair, rakish smile, and wicked green eyes?
Nothing has changed. Raven still wonders how Hell-cat Hampden’s lithe body would feel pressed against his, but for the mission he must remind himself that the woman takes more pleasure in ancient languages than she does in seduction. His imprisonment six years ago broke him in a way that makes the prospect of love impossible. Still, his heart beats like mad whenever he’s within ten paces of Heloise, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe—even if that means taking her to Spain as an unwilling hostage. Protecting her from danger will be a challenge; protecting her from desire will be pure agony.
England, June 1816
“I’m a spy, not a bloody nursemaid!”
William de l’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood, glared across the desk at his mentor, Lord Castlereagh.
The older man shook his head, supremely unmoved by his outburst. “Miss Hampden needs immediate protection. Someone’s targeting my code breakers and whoever killed Edward could also have discovered her identity. I can’t afford to lose her, too.”
Raven narrowed his eyes. “Use another agent.”
Castlereagh gave him one of those level, penetrating looks he so excelled at. “Who? Neither of her brothers are here; Nic’s in Paris, and Richard’s following a lead on that French forger he’s been after for months. Who else is left?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “We’ve lost too many good men. First Tony got himself killed in France, then Kit disappeared. There’s been no news of him for months.”
Raven frowned. He refused to consider the distasteful probability that his friend was dead. Kit was like him, a master of survival. He could be deep undercover. But with every week that went by with no word it became harder and harder to stay positive.
“And now another good man, Edward Lamb, had been murdered,” Castlereagh sighed. “I don’t want Miss Hampden to be next.”
The older man was a master of applying just the right amount of pressure and guilt. He hadn’t made it to head of the Foreign Office without knowing how to manipulate people.
“You think I should entrust her to a less competent operative?” Castlereagh mused softly. “You’re not burdened by false modesty, Ravenwood. You know you’re the best I have. I was hoping you’d use your exceptional talent for survival to keep Miss Hampden alive, too.”
Raven sighed, well aware he was being backed into a corner. If it had been anyone else he wouldn’t have hesitated.
But Heloise Hampden was the fly in his ointment. The spoke in his wheel.
A total bloody menace.
Hellcat Hampden had been the subject of his guilty daydreams for years. What had started out as adolescent musings had matured into fevered erotic fantasies that showed absolutely no sign of abating. He’d told himself the attraction was because she was forbidden, tried to lose himself in other, far more available women. Nothing had worked. And while he’d rarely paid much attention to the monotonous sermons preached by the clergy, he was fairly sure there was something in the bible that said “thou shalt not covet thy best friend’s little sister.” Or words to that effect.
He was the last person she should be entrusted to. He’d sworn to stay away from her. Had avoided her quite successfully—give or take a few blessedly brief skirmishes—for the past six years. Hell, he’d traveled to the far corners of war torn Europe to try to forget her.
And now here he was, drawn back to her by some malevolent twist of fate.
As if his life wasn’t cursed enough already.
Over the past few years they’d settled into an uneasy, albeit barbed, truce; it was a sad reflection on his twisted nature that he preferred sparring with her to holding a reasonable conversation with anyone else.
His blood thrummed at the prospect of seeing her again and he smiled in self-directed mockery. Few things increased his heartbeat anymore. In combat he was a master of his emotions, sleek and deadly and efficient. Fighting barely elevated his pulse. He could kill a man without breaking a sweat. But put him ten paces away from that slip of a girl and a furious drummer took up residence in his chest, battering away against his ribs.
He shook his head. Being near her was a torture he both craved and abhorred, but he had a duty to keep her safe. A duty to her family, to Castlereagh, to the whole damn country. Much as he’d like someone else to deal with her, he didn’t trust anyone else. She was his to torment.
Castlereagh, the old devil, smiled, as if he already sensed Raven’s grudging acceptance. “That’s settled, then. She’s safe at home right now. You can go over and get her in the morning.”
He rose and strode to the door of the study, then flashed an amused glance at Raven’s immaculate evening attire and the mask resting on the desk. “I apologize for interrupting your evening, Ravenwood. I’ll leave you to your entertainments.”
Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, October 2016
Time and Setting: England and Spain, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Wendy
A Raven’s Heart is both the second in K.C. Bateman’s Secrets and Spies series and her second published book – and what an exciting new addition to the genre she is. I was originally urged to read her début novel To Steal a Heart when it was first published by a respected friend/reviewer who was extremely impressed by it, but for various reasons, kept putting it off; now I’m wondering why on earth I didn’t jump to it immediately, because my friend knew me better than I knew myself and I was quite blown away by A Raven’s Heart.
William de l’lsle, Viscount Ravenwood, is an embittered and changed man since he was kidnapped six years earlier in an attempt to blackmail his grandfather, the Duke of Avondale. The duke, however, refused to pay the ransom demanded by the blackmailers, and misguidedly attempted to thwart the plot by employing his own investigators. Eventually, Ravenswood effected his own rescue and revenged himself upon his grandfather by refusing to have anything to do with him. Raven (as he is commonly known) then became an agent for the crown, a role for which he is well suited having gained confidence, fearlessness and ruthlessness whilst in captivity where he faced death on a daily basis. He fully accepts the new darker side to his character, but he can do little about the simmering attraction he feels for Heloise, a girl who can’t simply be seduced and left.
Heloise Hampden is highly intelligent with an unusual gift for intricate code breaking. Her talent has been discovered and utilised in the continuing war against the French who are anxious to liberate Bonaparte from exile and return him to power. As a result of her success at breaking the complex coded messages intercepted by English agents, her life is in danger, and Raven is assigned by Lord Castlereagh, head of the Foreign Office, as her protector.
Raven grew up as a friend to Heloise’s brothers, and the strong bond of friendship continues given that they are all in the same dangerous business. There has always been a spark of attraction between Raven and Heloise which they don’t acknowledge but which they keep under wraps by sniping at each other with petty insults. Heloise deciphers a message from the French which relates to a friend of Raven’s – fellow spy, Kit Carlisle – who is being held prisoner by the French. The message speaks of the possibility of an exchange of prisoners – Kit, for one of their valuable operatives; the exchange to take place in a village in Spain near the French border. And Raven, ruthless though he is, is also a man of integrity and loyal to a fault, so there is no question that he will do all in his power to rescue his friend; and as he must protect Heloise – she will travel with him.
The sexual tension between the two main protagonists fairly sizzles from beginning to end; Ms. Bateman has a rare talent for character development, they are superbly drawn – realistic and plausible. I just loved the tortured and damaged, but utterly gorgeous, Raven – what’s not to love about this charismatic hunk, flaws and all? Heloise – or Hell-cat as Raven refers to her – is a feisty, beautiful, headstrong and perceptive young woman. She is in love with Raven and always has been, but recognises the need to keep this revelation to herself. Instead she chips away at his defences and forces him to face up to his own shortcomings and feelings. These are two of the most likeable characters I have encountered recently in HR; although Heloise is an enlightened and strong young woman, she still retains her vulnerability and femininity; and although Raven is a cynical, fearless, arrogant, alpha male, he still has that little-boy-lost feel to his personality that we all love to love.
I thoroughly appreciated Ms. Bateman’s eloquent writing style and her scholarship is evident in many subjects, but in particular, I loved her references to characters and languages from classical civilisation, which added another layer to an already fascinating and intriguing story. I found myself constantly referring to the kindle dictionary and actually learned a lot. I was impressed by the well researched, historically correct background to the story and the non fictional historical characters interwoven with the fictional. The story is romantic, witty, tense, funny and interesting and kept me enthralled to the end. Ms. Bateman certainly hit the ground running with this, her first series, Secrets and Spies and I look forward with anticipation to more from this talented author. Highly recommended.
K.C BATEMAN IS OFFERING A COPY OF TO STEAL A HEART (BOOK ONE IN THE SECRETS AND SPIES SERIES TO THREE LUCKY WINNERS! ENTER THE GIVEAWAY AT RAFFLECOPTER, BELOW.
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About the Author
Kate Bateman (writing as K. C. Bateman) wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong with a historical set in the Italian Renaissance. Now writing for Random House Loveswept, her ‘Secrets & Spies’ Regency-era trilogy features her trademark feisty, intelligent heroines, wickedly inappropriate banter, and heroes you want to alternately strangle and kiss—all mixed up in the intrigue and turmoil of the Napoleonic wars.
When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, Kate leads a double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK. She splits her time between Illinois and her native England and writes despite three inexhaustible children and a husband who has flatly refused to read any of her books ‘unless she hits the NY Times Bestseller list.’ It is—naturally—her fervent desire to force the semi-illiterate, number-loving cynic to do so. He still owes her that dollar.