Tag Archive | England

VIRTUAL TOUR: It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian

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Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

Helping his poor parishioners

Baby animals

Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

His ship

People doing precisely as they’re told

Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, December 2017
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Em

A few of my favorite things:

Cat Sebastian

Queer historical romance

But not, I’m sad to say, It Takes Two to Tumble.  In this first book of Cat Sebastian’s new series, Seducing the Sedgwicks, a stern, widowed naval captain returns home to find his three wild and wayward children under the care of the local vicar.  A relationship that begins in animosity quickly transitions into a love affair…which somehow makes everything wrong in life, right.  Though I found much to like here, I struggled with the pacing of the central plot and with the development of the secondary storylines.

Ben Sedgwick is happy.  After an unconventional childhood as one of five children raised by eccentric, bohemian (and neglectful) parents, he finds fulfillment in his quiet, predictable life as country vicar in the bucolic village where he was raised.  Though he’s frustrated by the recent suffering of his flock at the hands of their landlord Martin Easterbrook, his faith is less dogmatic than pragmatic, and he offers what comfort he can. Betrothed to his closest friend, Alice Crawford, he’s surprised when her father asks a favor. Could he possibly step in and check the wayward behavior of absent naval captain Phillip Dacre’s children?  Since the death of their mother two years ago, the children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors, and their wild behavior grows worse every day.  With future familial harmony in mind – and the expected arrival of Captain Dacre in the next two weeks –  Ben reluctantly agrees to the request.  He decamps for Barton Hall, to see what can be done.

Phillip Dacre has made a life for himself at sea. Although he knows it’s long past time he visited his children, and his sister’s last letter has left him deeply concerned about their well-being, the thought of being away from his ship fills him with dread.  Only a promised visit from the ship’s surgeon – his closest friend since the death of his beloved lieutenant, McCarthy, provides any relief from the bleakness of his thoughts.

Sending word of his arrival ahead, he hopes to be greeted by his children, but instead finds an empty house.  When a servant informs him they’re in the orchard with the vicar, he expects to find them in prayer or singing hymns; instead, they’re up in the cherry trees – as is the vicar.  When the handsome clergyman drops to the ground with a curse and introduces himself, Phillip struggles to control his temper.  The meeting goes from bad to worse as Ben informs him just why he’s been watching the children -.and then has the temerity to suggest how Phillip might approach them moving forward.

After this less than auspicious beginning, Ms. Sebastian positions Ben and Phillip as quasi-adversaries who unfortunately, also suffer an inconvenient attraction to each other.  The novel unfolds in their alternating PoVs as each tries to do what he feels is right. Phillip, who still mourns the loss of McCarthy, and regrets he never confessed the truth of his feelings to him, is adrift without his late wife who managed the children and the estate.  He loves his children, but he doesn’t know how to be a father to them.

Ben has always known and suppressed his attraction to men – but something about Phillip staggers him.  He doesn’t castigate himself for his lustful thoughts about the other man, but he’s overwhelmed by his feelings, which put his previously orderly, predictable world in turmoil.  Phillip is in his thoughts, his dreams, his heart… and everything he wants from Phillip feels like a betrayal of his commitment to Alice.  He suffers that too.

Both Phillip and Ben struggle with their lustful feelings for each other, but they go from wanting to having in the blink of an eye.  Days after their first meeting, the sexual tension between them – characterized by heated/longing glances, angry conversations about the children and Ben’s faith, and brief and (not so) inadvertent touches – gives way to passionate kisses and frantic, furtive couplings whenever and wherever they can sneak away.  Phillip leads and Ben exuberantly follows, and the lead-up to their love affair is nicely fraught with tension and angst.  They’re both flawed, likeable – loveable – men, but too much of their story is wrapped in their sexual relationship, and it’s difficult to see when they actually get to know the person they’re falling for.

Meanwhile, there are several additional narratives that Ms. Sebastian fails to adequately develop. Philip’s children suddenly become lovable and better behaved, Alice conveniently falls in love with a visiting friend, and a beloved brother shrugs off a painful sacrifice he made years ago for the good of the family.   Now reader, you and I both know there are MANY successful romance novels wherein the principal couple fall in love quickly, the romance evolves in a brief span of time and love conquers all somehow rings true.  But not this time.  I have no quibble with the short length of time it takes for Phillip and Ben to fall in love; unfortunately, it’s everything else – the resolution of so many complex secondary plotlines – that felt rushed and contrived.  That said, though I disliked the plot deus ex machina that simultaneously resolves Ben’s professional future and Easterbrook’s storyline, I liked how the author dovetailed Phillip’s inability to read (which his son Jamie has inherited) with Ben’s future plans.  It’s a sympathetic and brilliant merging of the two storylines.

It’s been a struggle to grade It Takes Two to Tumble.  The writing is strong, the setting is beautifully realized and the principals are appealing.  But in this awkward mash-up?  Homage? to The Sound of Music and Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox, the author can’t seem to decide whether she’s writing a disney-esque fairy tale, a story of forbidden love or both.  It’s a seductive premise, but I didn’t find this happily ever after believable – or plausible.  Really, it was all much too much, and despite the authors typical lovely writing, It Takes Two to Tumble is overstuffed and underdeveloped.

EXCERPT

After the fact, Phillip thought he might have handled the situation a bit more gracefully if the children hadn’t been in a tree. But he was not at his best, having walked the distance from the coaching inn to the house, with each step growing more disoriented by the sheer familiarity of the terrain. Surely the place ought to have changed. But every rock and tree aligned precisely with memories Phillip hadn’t even realized he still had.

Despite having sent a messenger ahead with the approximate time of his arrival, the children were not waiting in the hall to greet him. Of course they wouldn’t be, he told himself. That had been Caroline’s doing, and she was gone. Their failure to appear was just further proof of how badly Phillip’s intervention was needed. He needed to get to work turning them into well-behaved, competent midshipmen. Children, he corrected himself. Yes, children.

The servant who opened the door told Phillip he’d find the children in the orchard with the vicar. Phillip found this surprising, as nothing in Ernestine’s final letter had indicated religiosity as part of the children’s reign of terror. But instead of discovering the children at work in prayer or singing hymns, he found them high up in a cherry tree.

The plain fact of the matter was that children did not belong in trees, at least not when they ought to be in the hall awaiting their father’s return. Nor did vicars belong in trees at any time whatsoever. He might not have much experience with either, and thank God for it, but he knew trees were not the natural habitat of either class of person. He had expected to see his children for the first time in two years in a setting that was slightly less arboreal. Somewhere he could properly see them and they could properly see him and they could all say whatever the hell they were supposed to say in this situation without Caroline to manage things. Instead all he got was a glimpse of booted feet vanishing higher into the branches accompanied by the sound of stifled laughter.

The vicar spotted him first, and promptly swung down from the tree to land at Phillip’s feet. At least, Phillip assumed it was the vicar, and not some stray stable hand who had taken to capering about the orchard. But didn’t vicars wear uniforms of some sort? Special hats or black coats? The chaplain on the ship always had. This fellow was in his shirtsleeves, and if that weren’t bad enough, his sleeves were rolled up. The chaplain had never done that. The chaplain had been about sixty. And bald. This fellow had wheat-colored hair that needed a cut and freckles all over his face. He was nothing like the chaplain. Unacceptable.

“Oh damn,” the vicar said. Phillip gritted his teeth. Swearing was another thing the chaplain had never done. “I mean drat,” the man said, his freckled face going pink. “Bother. You must be Mr. Dacre.”

“Captain Dacre,” Phillip said frostily. This fellow had to go. No discipline. No sense of decorum. No wonder the children ran amok if they spent time in this man’s company. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, not bothering to conceal his frown. He never did.

“Ben Sedgwick,” the vicar said, smiling in a lopsided, bashful way. He stuck his hand out, and Phillip had no choice but to take it. The vicar’s hand was warm and his grip was firm, and Phillip’s gaze automatically drifted down to the man’s exposed forearm, sun-burnished and dusted with light hair.

“Thank you, Mr. Sedgwick,” Phillip said. “You may take yourself off.” His effort to dismiss this careless young vicar was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and the thud of a child landing at his feet.

The child was tall, lanky, and excessively rumpled. “Edward,” Phillip said, briefly startled by the changes a lapse of two years wrought in children. Phillip had last seen his older son as a coltish child of eleven. Now Phillip could discern two things—one, that he looked very much like Caroline, and two, that he was not best pleased to see his father. For an instant, Phillip could hardly blame him. Phillip had never much enjoyed seeing his own father either. When the navy had taken his own father away for years at a time, Phillip had rather thought they had all been the better for it.
He held out his hand and noticed the barest hesitation before his son took it. “You look so much like—”

“I know I look like Mama,” Edward said coolly, dropping his father’s hand. “I have a looking glass.” His scowl was so intent that Phillip opened his mouth to scold the boy. “Mr. Sedgwick,” Edward said, turning to the vicar, “I’m going to finish my history lesson.” Without waiting for a response from Sedgwick or so much as a by-your-leave from Phillip himself, the child dashed off towards the house.

While Phillip had always striven to keep order on his ship in less brutal ways, some captains wouldn’t have hesitated to have boys flogged for even less blatant insubordination. Phillip swallowed his anger and turned his attention to the tree, where he could see two pairs of dangling feet.

“Margaret,” Phillip called up into the tree. “James.”

“Oh, they won’t come down,” Sedgwick said cheerfully. “Not a chance.”

“Excuse me?”

“I wouldn’t even bother calling them. They’ll stay up there until the sun sets or until the spirit moves them otherwise.” He seemed utterly undisturbed by this. His eyes were actually sparkling, for God’s sake.

“And you permit this?”

Sedgwick’s brow furrowed. This was the first lapse in the blithe and idiotic good cheer he had displayed since Phillip’s arrival. “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. Rope them like a couple of stray sheep? They’re safer up there than they are getting into whatever devilry they might seek out elsewhere. Really,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning close in a way that made Phillip instinctively mirror the pose until he realized what he was doing and straightened up. Proximity was the last thing he needed with this man. “The tree’s been a godsend.

They haven’t been capering about the rooftops even once since they discovered how climbable the cherry trees are.”
Phillip blinked. “What I meant,” he said slowly, “was that perhaps you would like to tell them to come down.”

“Tell them?” the vicar repeated, as if Phillip had suggested a satanic ritual. “Won’t do a blessed thing other than inspire them to more mischief, I’m afraid. No, no, leave them safely up there, and when they’re hungry they’ll come inside.”

“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Phillip said in precisely the tone he’d use towards a sailor about to be assigned morning watch for the foreseeable future. “But now that I’ve returned I’ll see to engaging a proper tutor.”

The man had the nerve to look hurt. Really, what had he expected? If Phillip had wanted his children to run about like South Sea pirates, he could have stayed on his ship where he belonged, thank you very much. But instead he would hire a tutor for the boys and a governess for Margaret. And when they were ready, he’d send them off to school, where they belonged.

“About that,” the vicar said slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll find a tutor. They’ve run through a good half dozen and I fear that well has run quite dry.”

“A half dozen!” Ernestine hadn’t mentioned that in her last letter. Or at least he was fairly certain she hadn’t. He knew there had been some trouble engaging suitable help, but quite possibly she had obscured the details. Well, it was a good thing he was here, then. He would see to it that his household was as it ought to be, that his children were on a safe course, and then he’d go back to sea. Two months. He had turned far more insalubrious characters into perfectly disciplined first-rate sailors in less time than that, hadn’t he? He was used to commanding dozens of men in clockwork precision. Surely he could make a couple of children—his own children, at that—fall in line.

“Never mind that,” he said. “I have everything in hand. Good day,” he added when the vicar didn’t seem inclined to take the hint and leave.

“Good luck,” the vicar said, gathering his discarded outer garments and carelessly dropping his hat onto his head.

Phillip thought he heard the man laugh as he made his way towards the house.

Ben gave it fifteen minutes before Captain Dacre came begging for help. Half an hour at the outside.

Likely as not, the captain would be tied to a burning post before Ben had his valise packed.

GIVEAWAY – CLICK HERE

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/15/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

You can connect with Cat at: her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon * ~ * Newsletter

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes #1) by Loretta Chase

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Not all dukes are created equal. Most are upstanding members of Society. And then there’s the trio known as Their Dis-Graces.

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1833
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 STAR TOP PICK

Review by Em

Charming, clever, funny and romantic in equal parts, A Duke in Shining Armor is a wonderful start to Ms. Chase’s newest series, Difficult Dukes.  The difficult duke in this case is trying, for the first time in his life, to do the right thing.  Unfortunately for our beleaguered hero, he’s trying to do the right thing on behalf of a bewildered heroine, who’s become hopelessly entangled in trying not to do the wrong thing.  Confused?  So was he.  Marvelously so.  Our principals are forced together on the road trip from hell, wherein everything that can go wrong, does.  Except, it doesn’t.  Because when the couple finally reaches what they think is the end of the road, their arrival marks the start of a very different kind of journey – a lifetime together.  Just as fate intended.

When Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, returns to England after a year abroad, he’s surprised to discover his boon companion, the Duke of Ashmont – aka ‘His Grace with the Angel Face,’ – engaged to be married.  Pressed by Ashmont to act as his best man, Ripley applies himself to the role with gusto – ensuring Ashmont makes it to the altar after a night of carousing and a brief street brawl.  Unfortunately, and despite his best efforts, things quickly go awry.  The bride, Lady Olympia Hightower, is nowhere to be found, and Ashmont is steadily drinking himself into a stupor. Hoping to avoid a scene and eager to move things along, Ripley takes it upon himself to track down the missing bride.  When he does, he’s completely unprepared for the sight that greets him:  Lady Olympia Hightower, dressed in a frothy concoction of lace and tulle and beads, balanced on the window ledge.  After spotting Ripley, she tells him she just needs a breath of air, drops out of the window and starts running; Ripley, the ever dutiful groomsman, is forced to follow. In the rain. Without his hat.

Lady Olympia isn’t quite sure how she found herself on the run from her own wedding. After spending the majority of seven London Seasons as a perpetual wallflower, voted Most Boring Girl of the Season seven years in a row, Olympia had little hope of landing one of the eligible bachelors who paid her little notice.  But when the handsome and wealthy Duke of Ashmont asked her to marry him, Olympia didn’t hesitate to do her duty.  The only daughter of the spendthrift Duke of Gonerby, sister to six brothers, Olympia quickly grasped that marriage to Ashmont was an answer to her family’s unspoken prayers.  Her parents are ecstatic, Ashmont is smitten, and Olympia… well, she’s been having serious second thoughts.  So that’s why, on the morning of her wedding, bolstered by several cups of brandy-laced tea, Olympia finds herself with one foot on either side of the open library window, plotting her escape.  She’s in the midst of a tipsy pep talk when the Duke of Ripley opens the door and spots her.  Fueled by liquid courage, Olympia drops to the ground and takes off.

Olympia tries hard to shake Ripley.  As their road trip from hell gets underway, she’s slightly drunk, frustrated by her uncomfortable attire, and annoyed by her handsome companion.  He refuses to simply let her go and insists, between entreaties to return to the wedding ceremony, on accompanying her to her aunt’s home in Twickenham – where she hopes to hide and ride out the disgrace of bolting from her own wedding.  To her dismay, it soon becomes clear to her that Ripley is nothing like she assumed.  He’s intelligent, clever, funny – his wicked and dry sense of humor is simply delicious – and once she gets a glimpse of him sans clothes (you’ll see), she can’t shake a very inconvenient attraction to… well, every single thing about him.  A sober Olympia finds herself daydreaming about her very stubborn champion, wishing he was the man she was destined to marry.  But after a lifetime spent on the shelf, unnoticed and underappreciated, Olympia’s skewed vision of herself leaves her with all kinds of doubt about her own appeal to a man like Ripley.  Certain she offers little that would appeal to the handsome rake, Olympia is resigned to a life of infamy after jilting the Duke of Ashmont.

Ripley is determined to return Olympia to Ashmont, and even as each of his overly optimistic plans fail, he’s relentlessly hopeful that things will somehow turn out in the end.  He can’t quite believe Ashmont landed Olympia for his duchess, but he tries to do right by his friend.  Meanwhile, as the trip progresses and he’s forced to spend time with Olympia, Ripley begins to recognize she’s everything he never realized he wanted and needed in his own life.   Ripley starts to resent Ashmont, wanting beautiful, funny, sharp and intelligent Olympia for himself.  He’s frustrated by Olympia’s self-doubt and insecurity, and annoyed at the part he played in making her feel that way. She’s magnificent and he can’t help his attraction to everything about her – her mind, her body, her sense of humor, her beauty… Ripley, world renowned rake, falls hard for his bespectacled companion and it’s awesome.

When all his best laid plans go awry, and Ashmont fails to catch up to them, Ripley eventually steers them to the home of his favorite aunt, Lady Charles Ancaster.  Aunt Julia, who practically raised the three Dis-Graces (Ripley, Ashmont, and their friend, Blackwood), is quick to chastise her nephew for his role in the debacle of Olympia’s wedding day… but she also sees what Ripley and Olympia try hard not to – that they’ve fallen in love.  She’s a terrific secondary character, playing a pivotal role in the second act/resolution of the story.  If she wasn’t a fictional character, I’d be tempted to high-five her.

Reader, because the journey – with all of its highlights and lowlights (and there are many) – is such a delightfully entertaining trip, I’m reluctant to spoil it for you.  So I won’t.  Suffice it to say that nothing goes as planned, and in the span of a few short days, Ms. Chase somehow crafts a love match between Olympia and Ripley that feels profoundly real, romantic and special.  Meanwhile, Ashmont and Blackwood desperately try to track the pair down – and Ripley, determined to honor his friendship, tries valiantly not to fall for Olympia.  His friendship and loyalty are tested as the novel comes to a close, but Ms. Chase deftly delivers a happily ever after that honors both.  I’m eager to find out just who the sweetly befuddled Ashmont ends up with – and to discover what’s led to the estrangement between Blackwood and his wife, Ripley’s sister.  Ripley’s story is a marvelous introduction to the trio, and I can’t wait for more of these Difficult Dukes.

Loretta Chase was a favorite historical romance author before I picked up A Duke in Shining Armor. But this romantic, funny, enchanting and redemptive road trip from hell is simply terrific and her best, most memorable work to date.   A Duke in Shining Armor is one of my favorite novels of 2017.


EXCERPT

Prologue
London
Early morning of 11 June 1833

The Duke of Ashmont was not a very good duke—rather an awful one, actually. And so nobody could be in the least surprised to see him, drunk as an emperor—that was to say, ten times as drunk as a lord—staggering down the steps of Crockford’s Club on the arm of one of his two best friends.

This one was Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley. Where Ashmont was fair-haired, blue-eyed, and angelic-­looking, Ripley was dark. Unlike Ashmont, he did not appear to be spun of dreams and gossamer, and women did not follow his movements with the moonstruck expressions they accorded His Grace with the Angel Face.

On a good day, someone had said once, Ripley’s face resembled that of a wolf who’d been in too many fights.

Furthermore, though his slightly older title ranked him a notch or two higher in precedence than Ashmont, Ripley was merely as drunk as a lord. He could still distinguish up from down. When, therefore, His Grace of Ashmont showed an inclination to stumble in the downhill direction, toward St. James’s Palace, Ripley hauled him about.

“This way,” he said. “Hackney stand up ahead.” “Right,” Ashmont said. “Can’t miss the wedding.

Not this one. It’s me doing it. Me and Olympia. Have to be there. Promised.”

“You will be,” Ripley said as he led his friend across the street. The wedding had been news to him, the choice of bride a shock: Lady Olympia Hightower, of all women. She was the last girl on earth he’d thought would marry Ashmont—or any of them, for that matter.

Not that Ripley knew her very well. Or at all. They’d been introduced, yes, years ago. That was in the days when respectable persons still introduced Ripley and his two friends to innocent girls. But those were not the kinds of girls the ducal trio wanted. Gently bred maidens were for marrying, and marriage was sup-posed to be years away, sometime in the dim, distant future.

Apparently, the future had arrived while Ripley wasn’t looking.

First the Duke of Blackwood, the other of his two boon companions, had married Ripley’s sister over a year ago, a few days before Ripley left for the Conti-nent. Now Ashmont was doing it. Ripley had heard the happy news mere hours after his return to London yesterday.

No, he’d returned the day before, because today was yesterday now. He’d come to Crockford’s because he wanted a decent meal, and Crockford’s Ude was the next best thing to Ripley’s own chef, Chardot, who’d come down with a foul cold sometime during the Channel crossing.

Chardot went with him everywhere because he was amply paid to do so, and Ripley liked his comfort. Having been forced, for no sane reason, to live like a pauper during his boyhood, he lived like a king now.

Ripley was debating with himself whether, on the whole, he’d better have stayed abroad, when four men spilled out of a narrow court, one crashing into Ash-mont, with force enough to dislodge him from Ripley’s light grasp and push him into a shop front.

Ashmont bounced back with surprising energy. “You clumsy, bleeding, half-­wit! I have to get married, you bloody arsehole!” At the same moment, he drove his fist at the fellow’s face.

One of the man’s friends tried to butt in. With a sigh, Ripley grabbed him by the back of the collar. The fel-low swung at him, obliging Ripley to knock him into the gutter.

What happened after that was what often happened when Ashmont was about: a lot of filthy language and filthy fighting, and men rushing out of the clubs, shout-ing bets, and a female or two screaming somewhere.

Then it was over. Their foes lay strewn about the pavement. Ripley didn’t wait to count or identify them. He collected Ashmont from the railing he’d slumped against and trudged to the corner with him. He sig-naled, and the first in line of the hackneys plodded their way. He threw Ashmont into the decrepit coach and directed the driver to Ashmont House.

Servants waited up, as they were accustomed to do, for Ashmont. They bore him up the stairs to his bed-room and undressed and washed him without fuss.


GIVEAWAY – CLICK HERE

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A Duke In Shining Armor by Loretta Chase.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/5/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Loretta Chase has worked in academia, retail, and the visual arts, as well as on the streets-as a meter maid-and in video, as a scriptwriter. She might have developed an excitingly checkered career had her spouse not nagged her into writing fiction. Her bestselling historical romances, set in the Regency and Romantic eras of the early 19th century, have won a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s Rita. For more about her past, her books, and what she does and doesn’t do on social media, please visit her website www.LorettaChase.com.

You can also connect with Loretta at: Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon

VIRTUAL TOUR: It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke (Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #4) by Maya Rodale

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Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke-while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms…and in his bed. Soon he must choose-between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

EXCERPT

Though Miss Meredith Green lacked birth, or wealth, or many other qualifications one would assume of a gently bred lady, she had been raised to be one. She could curtsy with the best of them, expertly arrange both flowers and seating arrangements for dinner parties, and could recite pages from Debrett’s Book of the Peerage. These were just a few of her accomplishments.

As such, she should not be here, in the public room of the Queen’s Head Tavern and Coaching Inn. Especially not alone and especially not at night, where any old ruffian might think he could take a liberty with her, to put it nicely.

Which is why she should not have allowed the barmaid to add a generous splash of whiskey to her tea.

Which is probably why she was encouraging the ocular advances of a handsome man with whom she was not acquainted.

Meredith had noticed him the moment he walked in, tall and lanky but strong, with unfashionably long brown hair that fell rakishly in his eyes. What color were they, she wondered? She didn’t need to know. There was nothing she could do with this information. There was absolutely no point to her knowing.

She badly wanted to know.

So she dared one glance, then another.

Do not look. Do not look. Do not look.

Her better judgment was roundly ignored. Before she knew it they were somehow flirting from opposite sides of the room without even saying a word.

It was the sort of thing that made a girl’s heart beat giddily and her toes start to tap under her skirts. Thanks to years of training, she kept her posture poised and her movements elegant, but under her skirts, her toes were tapping.

This, this was what she need tonight: a distraction. The past few months had been trying, and the next few promised to be challenging as well, albeit in a different way. She had only tonight to live for herself.

She darted another look in his direction.

He was watching her. This truth elicited a slight smile from her lips. But she shouldn’t take pleasure in this.

She ducked her head.

But her heart beat quickly and she wondered: Would he come over?

He shouldn’t. He really should not. She absolutely should not encourage him. But life was full of should-nots, and tonight Meredith wanted to say yes.

It had been a bit of a day—on top of quite a week, and one hell of a month. Or two or three. Her visit to her ailing mother in Hampshire revealed a dispiriting truth: the life choices of Miss Meredith Green were few, and less than thrilling. Nevertheless, she had made her choice to return to London and live the restrained and dignified life of a lady’s companion.

Emphasis on restrained. When one relied on one’s spotless reputation for her very existence, one comported herself accordingly. One did not give or receive heated glances across crowded rooms.

But Meredith embarked on a little whiskey-infused rationalization: until she stepped foot in London, she could afford to live a little loosely. For one night, she might indulge in the sort of wicked behavior—and passion—that she’d have to refuse forevermore.

That was just the splash of whiskey talking, she told herself. It was just the strain of recent events wreaking havoc with her common sense. It was her mother’s bad influence. She’d had the great luck to be raised to be A Lady. She oughtn’t forget that.

Do not look. Do not look. Do not look.

She looked. Oh, she looked.

His gaze sparkled. Like he knew what inner turmoil and rationalization his glances inspired. This time, she didn’t look away.

Oh, goodness, he was coming over. Her heart beat faster and faster as his long strides brought him closer and closer until he was standing beside her, leaning casually against the bar.

Gentlemen did not lean.

“What is a beautiful woman like you doing alone in a place like this?”


GIVEAWAY: Click HERE to enter

TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the first three books in the Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series by Maya Rodale. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 12/12/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MAYA RODALE began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence. She is now the bestselling and award winning author smart and sassy romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

You can connect with Maya at: her website * ~ *  Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon


No Other Duke Will Do (Windham Brides #3) by Grace Burrowes

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Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, is barely keeping his head above water in a sea of inherited debts. Though he has a long-term plan to restore the family finances, his sister has a much faster solution: host a house party for London’s single young ladies and find Julian a wealthy bride.

Elizabeth Windham has no interest in marriage, but a recent scandal has forced her hand. As much as she’d rather be reading Shakespeare than husband-hunting, she has to admit she’s impressed by Julian’s protective instincts, broad shoulders, and, of course, his vast library.

As the two spend more time together, their attraction is overwhelming, unexpected… and absolutely impossible. With meddling siblings, the threat of financial ruin, and gossips lurking behind every potted palm, will they find true love or true disaster?

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, November 2017

Time and Setting: Haverford Castle, Wales, 1820s
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

If you grow weary of reading about rakes and villains and the seamier sides of 19th century Great Britain, turn to a Grace Burrowes book for a change of pace. I suggest No Other Duke Will Do (ignore the silly title) for the story of two good and honorable people who find their way to a happy ending despite bumps in the road. They come from warm, loving families whose members appear as engaging secondary characters. There are no deep dark secrets. No Big Misunderstandings. No kidnappings. Just two adults who talk to one another like adults and who listen to one another and who fall in love. Nobody tells these stories of romantic and familial love better than Grace Burrowes.

Elizabeth Windham is the eldest daughter of Lord Anthony Windham, the younger brother of Percival Windham, Duke of Moreland. Burrowes’ Windham Series told the stories of the Duke and his beloved Duchess and their five daughters and three sons, with the duke constantly attempting to interfere in their romantic pursuits. Now that Percival has gotten his own children married off, he and the duchess have turned their attention to their four nieces. In two previous Windham Brides series, the two youngest girls have married a Scottish duke and the duke’s heir apparent, respectively.

As the book opens, the London season has ended, prompting Elizabeth and spitfire sister Charlotte to agree, somewhat reluctantly, to take part in a house party at Haverford Castle in Wales, the country seat of Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford. The party has been organized by Julian’s sister Glenys in hopes of turning up a suitable duchess for her brother. For his part, Julian has no intention of marrying any time soon, but he hopes the party will produce a husband for his sister.

Julian’s marriage plans are on hold because he is virtually penniless. For decades, both his father and grandfather had spent lavishly to acquire rare books and manuscripts, depleting the estate’s assets to do so. Now, Haverford Castle is home to some 30,000 volumes, but the carpets are threadbare and the furniture is worn. Julian has calculated that it will take him eight years to pay off his debts, so until then he will remain single, weighed down with a burden that he did not deserve. That is unless he marries an heiress. But Julian is an honorable, loving man, and the notion of marrying for money is distasteful to him.

Elizabeth is a lover of books, so her motive for visiting Haverford Castle is not to get married but to explore the fabulous library. She feels no burning desire to be married but neither does the role of “spinster aunt” appeal. Elizabeth is strong, level-headed, competent, and kind, and she immediately likes both Julian and Glenys. They quickly take to her as well, but Julian realizes that even though Elizabeth has a generous dowry she would not bring enough money to save his estate. Besides, he shies at the idea of spending all of his wife’s dowry and leaving her no provision after his death.

Most of Julian’s debt is in the hands of his vulgar, social-climbing, immensely wealthy neighbor Lucas Sherbourne, who is as close as we get to a villain in this story. Sherbourne would like to marry Glenys, but if he can’t he is determined to call in Julian’s debts and ruin him. He would also like to establish coal mines in the area, but Julian has managed to block his plans. When Sherbourne crashes the house party, Julian is too much of a gentleman to send him packing, and before the book ends, there are hints of a tendre between him and Charlotte. (We shall have to wait for the next book to see what happens there.)

One of the things that I enjoy about house party romances is how the main couple is able to come together slowly and naturally, and in this book, it is not just Julian and Elizabeth who are headed toward a happy ending. Glenys has an admirer in the form of the Marquess of Radnor, Julian’s closest friend and owner of the neighboring estate. Despite his wealth and attractive presence, Radnor is reluctant to offer for Glenys because he believes that she views him merely as a friend. He is right about that, but then Glenys doesn’t think of love and marriage for herself, only for her brother. Then there is Julian’s cousin Hugh St. David, whose wife Delphine is a comet streaking across the firmament of willing young men. Elizabeth observes that if the fossil-hunting Hugh didn’t totally ignore his wife she might behave differently.

The story of Julian’s younger brother Griffin is the most moving of the secondary characters. Griffin is mentally challenged; today we might call him autistic, but I won’t attempt a diagnosis. Once Griffin reached adulthood Julian set him up in a cottage on the estate, with elderly Abner Jones and his young niece Biddy to look after him. Griffin is a lovely, gentle man, and a gentleman despite his limitations. He loves to walk the estate with his faithful dog King Henry, and he knows every plant and animal. The love between him and Julian is deep, and Julian worries because Griffin is his heir yet he is completely unsuited to taking on the responsibilities of a dukedom. Griffin wants to marry Biddy, but of course, the situation is complicated by Griffin’s condition and the chasm between their positions in a class-bound society.

Finally, we get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s and Charlotte’s elderly Aunt Arabella, the Marchioness of Pembroke, who is their chaperone at the house party. Those who have read the Windham books know that Percival was a younger son, sent off to Canada as a soldier. Peter Windham was the eldest son, married to Arabella, but he died very young. There is a touching scene where she confronts Julian about his intentions toward Elizabeth, only to be given the standard speech that Julian is not in a position to marry. Aunt Arabella then recounts the story of her short marriage, and I must admit that it brought tears to my eyes. “By the time he was your age, he could no longer sit a horse for even an hour, and we’d danced our last waltz. You are wasting time, Haverford.”

Now that I’ve mentioned all of these characters, it may seem like they overshadow the main couple, but that is not the case. This is primarily Julian’s and Elizabeth’s story, with concerns about Julian’s financial situation lurking behind all of their interactions. Their attraction is bound up in mutual respect, wit, and intellectual compatibility. Ironically, Julian, who has grown to hate the millstone created by his 30,000 books, falls for a woman who loves books above all else, and the fate of the books is key to their happily ever after.

If I have one criticism of the plotline, it is Julian’s refusal to raise funds by selling some of the books. In this regard, he has rather naively relied upon the advice of London solicitors rather than seeking out knowledgeable bibliophiles. Ultimately, it is a small niggle, as the financial barriers to the couple’s marriage are handled neatly and believably.

As I have said repeatedly, Grace Burrowes is a consummate storyteller, and her talents are evident on every page of this book. If like me, you have enjoyed excursions into Windhamworld, this book provides yet another view of the extended family. If you have never read a Burrowes novel, No Other Duke Will Do is an excellent place to begin.

This Side of Murder (Verity Kent #1) by Anna Lee Huber


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England, 1919. Verity Kent’s grief over the loss of her husband pierces anew when she receives a cryptic letter, suggesting her beloved Sidney may have committed treason before his untimely death. Determined to dull her pain with revelry, Verity’s first impulse is to dismiss the derogatory claim. But the mystery sender knows too much—including the fact that during the war, Verity worked for the Secret Service, something not even Sidney knew.

Lured to Umbersea Island to attend the engagement party of one of Sidney’s fellow officers, Verity mingles among the men her husband once fought beside, and discovers dark secrets—along with a murder clearly meant to conceal them. Relying on little more than a coded letter, the help of a dashing stranger, and her own sharp instincts, Verity is forced down a path she never imagined—and comes face to face with the shattering possibility that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was. It’s a truth that could set her free—or draw her ever deeper into his deception . . .

Publisher and Release Date: Kensington, September 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1919
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Mystery
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Em

Anna Lee Huber is a new to me author, though I’m fond of mysteries and historical romance, so it’s no surprise that many of my friends have recommended her books to me.  Unfortunately, my TBR pile somehow precluded me from reading her books each time I’ve made the attempt, so I was happy to get this first book in her new Verity Kent series for review.

Widowed when her husband Sidney was shot in a skirmish at the end of the World War I, Verity has spent the past year and a half trying to dull the pain of her loss in parties and evenings out with friends.  When she receives an invitation to an engagement party for one of Sidney’s fellow officers, an emotionally fragile Verity initially intends to decline.  But shortly after she receives the invitation, a cryptic letter arrives referencing her work for the Secret Service (a secret she kept from everyone, including Sidney) and suggesting Sidney might have committed treason before his death.  Shocked and unwilling to believe her husband guilty of treason, Verity decides to attend the weekend house party and do some investigating of her own.

As This Side of Murder opens, Verity – lost in thoughts of her husband, the letter, and the houseparty – nearly collides with another car.  When the handsome driver emerges, they engage in a flirtatious exchange about her driving and the driver’s own car – a pale yellow Rolls-Royce – and soon realize they’re both on their way to Walter Ponsonby’s engagement party.  After her companion introduces himself as Max Westfield, Earl of Ryde, Verity is startled when he asks if she’s Sidney Kent’s widow.  He reveals that he knew her husband – they attended Eton at the same time and served together during the war.  When they finally part and head to Poole Harbour, Verity finds herself wondering about Max and their meeting.  Why is he attending the party?  How well did he know her husband?  Could he be the letter writer?

Boarding the yacht that will take them to Umbersea Island for the party, Verity makes yet another discovery.  Though she expected the guest list to include some of Sidney’s fellow officers, it appears to be made up almost entirely of them.  It’s an odd group to invite for an engagement party, and, suspicious and overwhelmed by fresh grief for her husband, Verity climbs aboard determined to get to know the men who once fought alongside him – and to determine, once and for all, if he committed treason.

When she arrives on the island, Verity is greeted by her hosts and handed another letter. Exhausted by the journey and the prospect of the weekend ahead, she retreats to her room to read it – only to discover someone was there before her.  A battered copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress, which bears an inscription from her to Sidney, lies on the counterpane with yet another note tucked inside.  Verity is convinced the author is one of her fellow guests, but a separate discovery – intentionally hidden in the binding of the book? – seems to suggest Sidney might have been passing coded messages.  Verity isn’t sure whether her secret correspondent is working with – or against – her as she searches for the truth.

The initial trip to Umbersea Island casts a pervasive sense of foreboding and disquiet that runs throughout the book. Verity is suspicious of the other guests, and it’s obvious they are tense and ill at ease with each other. Something seems off, and it seems like the only person she can trust is Max – but even then, she’s unclear as to whether he can be trusted or not.  Most of the guests have history, and it soon becomes apparent that the men of the former Thirtieth Company have dark secrets they’ve kept hidden until this weekend.  As the engagement party continues apace, Verity simultaneously tries to crack the code contained in The Pilgrim’s Progress, get to the bottom of the tension between the guests, and determine if there’s a traitor in their midst.  No one is above suspicion, and when guests begin dying, Verity becomes desperate to discover what really happened to Sidney in his last days.

Ms. Huber paints Verity as an intelligent and independent woman who passionately loved her husband and hoped for a happily ever after with him following the war.  She alludes to Verity’s secret life working for the British Secret Service – but for some reason, she keeps the specifics of her work deliberately vague.  I never felt like I got to know Verity, aside from her feelings for Sidney (and maybe Max), and rather than leading an investigation, Verity seems more often to be in the right place at the right time to move the narrative forward.  When she cracks the code hidden in Sidney’s book, I sighed.  With only vague references to a history with the Secret Service, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe she knows so much about code breaking – and frankly, the skill just read like a convenient plot device.  We get to know the other guests at the party through the lens of Verity’s thoughts, but frankly, it was hard to keep track of all of them.  The guests each briefly star in the narrative, and then Ms. Huber focuses our attention on someone else. I never felt like I knew any of them well enough to suspect them as they were all – with the exception of Max – awful in their own way!  I liked Max despite Ms. Huber’s obvious efforts to make him a suspect, but without him, I’m not sure Verity would have ever ‘solved’ this case.  He’s definitely the more aggressive investigator – even though Verity kept information from him – and he rather conveniently ensures Verity is in the right place at the right time to discover new clues.  I had high hopes for him and Verity in future books… but, well, let’s just say I don’t believe Ms. Huber does.

I’m reluctant to spill any details of the house party only because I don’t want to reveal any secrets that might spoil the story.  That said, I’m not sure how my telling you – in detail – everything leading up to the denouement would really ‘spoil’ it for you.  Ms. Huber slowly but surely reveals the secrets that bind the guests together (there is an intrigue that links them to each other – and to Sidney) and ratchets up the tension…but when she introduces a ridiculous, convoluted plot twist ending, it just made me mad.  In hindsight, I see some of the clues she spread in the text… but really, if someone saw this coming, bravo.  I didn’t, I don’t see how you could, and I hated it.

Hmm… so would I recommend This Side of Murder?  Oh reader!  I’m torn.  I liked it, but I was easily and often distracted from it.  I wanted to like Verity, but I never really connected with her or the mystery and found it difficult to keep up with the secondary characters – about whom we know very little aside from their relationship to Verity’s dead husband.  It seems like Verity’s (very interesting) past will be more fully explored in future novels, and I’m curious about it.  But if those books feature her passively watching and waiting for events to unfold,  I’ll pass.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society #1) by Madeline Hunter

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NOTORIOUS NOBLEMAN SEEKS REVENGE
Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton.
Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes.
Family history: Scandalous.
Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge.
Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon.
Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

FAINT OF HEART NEED NOT APPLY
Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Publisher and Release Date: Zebra, May 2017

Time and Setting: Warwickshire and London, 1822
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

The Most Dangerous Duke in London gets Madeline Hunter’s new Decadent Dukes Society series off to a strong start with an extremely readable and engaging tale of a man seeking revenge, an old family enmity and the woman caught in the middle. The romance is a delightful, sensual slow-burn, and in addition, there’s mystery and intrigue, a whiff of espionage, lots of witty banter and a wonderfully written friendship between the hero and his two closest friends (both of whom will feature in future books).

Adam Penrose, the Duke of Stratton has recently returned to England after living in for the past five years, during which he has acquired a reputation for having a quick temper and for fighting and killing his opponents in duels – thus earning himself him the moniker of “The Dangerous Duke”. Adam left the country following his father’s death, which is widely thought to been at his own hand following rumours that he was engaged in treasonous activities, rumours Adam believes were fuelled by the hints and accusations of the late Earl of Marwood. There has long been bad blood between the two families, and now Adam is determined to find out if his suspicions about Marwood are true and to make someone pay for driving his father to his grave. Given the long-standing enmity between the Penroses and the Cheswicks, Adam is therefore surprised to receive an invitation to visit the dowager Countess of Marwood, who states her belief that it’s time the two families patched up their differences.

Adam is highly sceptical, but plays along until the countess proposes that he should marry her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, thus burying the hatchet in the time-honoured tradition of marital alliance. Lady Emilia is pretty and amiable, but Adam isn’t interested in a schoolroom chit – he prefers spirited women with minds of their own, and when he meets Lady Clara, the current earl’s half-sister, Adam decides straight away that she will suit him very well indeed.

Lady Clara Cheswick is the only child of her father’s first marriage and was his favourite among his children. He left her very comfortably off when he died, so Clara doesn’t need to marry if she doesn’t want to, and, at twenty-four, she is on the shelf and quite happy to keep it that way. She’s intelligent, strong-willed and independent, and is content to focus her considerable energies on her publishing venture, Parnassus, a magazine written and produced by women for women which is starting to achieve success. When Adam proposes marriage, Clara doesn’t take him at all seriously, telling him that she isn’t interested in marrying him or anyone, but Adam won’t take no for an answer and sets about courting her.

Clara can’t deny that Adam is a very attractive man, or that she’s drawn to him; he’s sexy and witty and clever and makes it very clear that the qualities that her family regard as problematic and unladylike – her desire for independence and the fact that she not only has her own opinions but makes no bones about voicing them – are qualities he likes and admires. He is genuinely interested in what she has to say about any number of topics, and doesn’t talk down to her or treat her as though she’s a hothouse flower. Adam insists his proposal of marriage was quite serious – and as Clara spends time with him and gets to know him, she is increasingly tempted to believe him, but can’t quite shake her suspicions that there is something else behind his stated intention. Perhaps, given her close relationship with her late father, Adam is primarily interested in getting close to her in order to find out if she knows anything about the late earl’s possible involvement in his father’s death? Or maybe he wants to use her – somehow – as an instrument of revenge?

The sparks fly between Adam and Clara right from their first meeting, and their relationship unfolds gradually and deliciously as Adam finds ways to spend time with Clara – to her initial exasperation – and they slowly come to appreciate each other’s wit, intelligence and sense of humour. These are two mature adults who never underestimate each other as they match one another quip for quip, their verbal sparring a deliciously sensual courtship and prelude to a later, more intimate relationship. The romance is very well-developed; there’s none of the immediate and anachronistic bed-hopping or insta-lust that characterises so many historical romances these days, which is always a refreshing discovery. Adam never wavers in his determination to marry Clara, and his persistence is charming and often funny; he’s generous and forthright, answering Clara’s questions about his motivations honestly and is never less than charming and gentlemanly towards her. I was also impressed with the way that Ms. Hunter has managed to create a credibly independent heroine who is not too modern; Clara wants to make her own way in the world, but is also mindful of her reputation and knows she has to at least appear to operate within the confines of society.

The plotline that revolves around Adam’s search for the truth about his father is well set up and executed, weaving in and out of the romance but never overwhelming it; and when the resolution comes it’s unexpected and quite clever.

With two multi-faceted and strongly characterised principals, an entertaining and well-drawn secondary cast, a sensual romance and a dash of intrigue, The Most Dangerous Duke in London is a thoroughly engaging read and one I’d recommend to fans of the author and of historical romance in general.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Lord Sebastian’s Secret (The Duke’s Sons #3) by Jane Ashford

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Proud. Cunning. Battle-hardened. Lord Sebastian Gresham is the epitome of military might and excellence. He’s wealthy. The son of a Duke. There’s just one problem: he can’t read. It’s those damned words. He doesn’t see them in the same way everyone else does. It’s a secret he’ll never tell, certainly not to his new bride-to-be.

Brilliant. Witty. Beautiful. Lady Georgina Stane has always known she’d make the perfect bride, that is, if her eccentric family didn’t scare off every potential suitor from London to Bath. After carefully orchestrating a London season with her parents out of the picture, she secured an engagement to an impeccable gentleman. And when Lord Sebastian arrives at her family’s estate to meet her parents, she’s not about to let their antics ruin her perfect marriage.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

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

Review by Lady Cicely

Can love survive secrets? Lord Sebastian Gresham is madly in love with Lady Georgina Stane and she with him; however, they both harbor secrets.

Georgina’s secret comes to light the moment Sebastian steps foot in her family home. Georgina fears it will affect Sebastian enough for him to call off the wedding, and it soon appears her fears may be well founded.

Sebastian is terribly ashamed of his secret. So ashamed his family isn’t aware of it, and it’s something only his trusted valet knows. It’s a secret he prays his beloved will never uncover, for if she does he worries she will no longer love him. When Sebastian’s secret comes to light will it cement the love between them or break them apart?

A pack of pugs, an eccentric family (and that’s putting it mildly), mischievous sisters, and a loon governess provide added stress to the lovebirds while entertaining the reader.

Lord Sebastian’s Secret is the third in Jane Ashford’s series The Duke’s Sons. Ms. Ashford writes a sweet tale of love no matter the circumstances, and her writing style pulled me into feeling each character’s fears. She had me laughing at the antics of Georgina’s family, holding my breath in anticipation of Georgina’s reaction when she learns Sebastian’s secret and weeping when Georgina learns what it is and the way she handles it.

This is the first book I have read of Ms. Ashford’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her mention of Sebastian’s family, their suspicions of his difficulty and the way they handle it has me wanting to go back and read the rest of the series.

EXCERPT

Sebastian closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could all too easily picture the astonishing news that he had eloped running through his family—the letters flying back and forth, the disbelief and consternation. The surreptitious brotherly smirking. An image of his mother’s astonished face made him wince.

“Some people think I don’t care about convention,” muttered the marquess. “Not true. And this was too much. An elopement!”

“Except that it wasn’t, Papa,” Georgina pointed out. “It was an unfortunate accident. I think you might have had more faith in my character.”

Frowning at the floor, the older man said something too softly to be heard. Sebastian thought it might have been,

“It wasn’t you I was worried about.”

“The duchess is sending your brother,” said Georgina’s mother. She tried to speak blandly, but Sebastian got a clear sense of a woman getting the better of an argument at last.

The marquess glared at the group with a mixture of defiance and contrition.

“Which brother?” Sebastian asked.

“Randolph,” supplied his hostess.

Sebastian groaned softly. If anything could have killed his appetite at this point, the news that a brother had been dispatched to sort him out would have done it. He supposed this was his mother’s idea of just retribution for what she probably characterized as “antics.” She would have known that he would never elope.

If she’d had to send a brother, she could’ve drafted Robert. He’d have made a joke of the whole matter and charmed everyone so thoroughly that they saw it the same way. Alan or James might have refused to be embroiled in such a tangle at all. Nathaniel was still on his honeymoon. Mama couldn’t order him and Violet about quite so easily, anyway.

Randolph, though. Sebastian nearly groaned again. Randolph was usually glad for an excuse to take a few days’ leave from his far-northern parish. And he positively delighted in helping. Sebastian supposed that was why he’d become a parson. Part of the reason. He’d also been asking “why” since he could speak. According to family legend, that had been the first word Randolph learned. Sebastian certainly remembered being followed about by a relentlessly inquisitive toddler.

Nathaniel, a responsible six-year-old, had become so tired of saying he didn’t know that he’d taken to making things up. Sebastian still sometimes had to remind himself that discarded snakeskins were products of reptilian growth rather than intense surprise. Sebastian smiled. Randolph had spent several months trying to startle snakes out of their skin after that tale.

Then Sebastian’s smile died, and he put down his last sandwich. Randolph would revel in Mr. Mitra and the marquess’s lectures on reincarnation. There would be no end to his questions, or to the incomprehensible discussions after the ladies had left the dinner table. Sebastian only just resisted putting his head in his hands.

Georgina was looking at him, though, her expression anxious. He tried a reassuring smile. From her response, he judged that it was only marginally effective. He bolstered it, vowing to deal with Randolph. He would face anything to save her distress.

Georgina stood, holding her still half-full plate to her chest. “I believe I’ll go to my room now,” she said. “I’m quite tired.”

Her father looked guilty, her mother approving. Sebastian wondered at the determination on her face. It seemed excessive for a walk up a few steps. Was her leg hurting? One look at her father told him he would not be allowed to assist her to a bed.

Night had deepened by the time Georgina managed to hunt down Hilda and corner her in a little-used reception room, where she’d apparently been holed up for a good while, judging from the cake crumbs. Georgina stationed herself between her youngest sister and the door and confronted her with hands on hips. “Have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

For a moment, it seemed that Hilda might deny everything, but then she slumped back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “I only meant to leave you overnight, but everything went wrong from the very first. Whitefoot didn’t like being led. He jerked the rein right out of my hand and ran away. I had to take your Sylph to the Evans farm before I could chase after him. It took hours before I got him there as well.” She paused and looked indignant. “Emma abandoned me! She turned tail and rode home. And she’s been practically hiding in her bedchamber ever since.”

“Perhaps she feels a sense of remorse for having done something absolutely outrageous,” Georgina suggested.

Hilda wrinkled her nose. “Well, we came back first thing the next morning to get you.”

“That does not excuse…”

“And you were gone!” Hilda actually dared to look reproachful. “As if you’d vanished into thin air.”

“Thick mud, more like,” said Georgina.

“If you had just waited, or only walked a little way along the trail, we would have found you. And there wouldn’t have been such a very great fuss. Why didn’t you? How could you be so clumsy as to fall into a gully?” Hilda cocked her head. “I never even knew it was there.”

“Don’t even dream of blaming this on me!” Georgina gazed at her sister. They were alike in coloring and frame, but apparently their minds ran on entirely different paths.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jane-ashford_-author-photoJANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

You can connect with Jane at www.janeashford.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Goodreads

VIRTUAL TOUR : Lady Claire is All That (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #3) by Maya Rodale

vt-ladyclaireisallthat-mrodale_updated

PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon * ~ * B&N * ~ * Google Books * ~ * iBooks * ~ * Kobo.

Her Brains

Claire Cavendish is in search of a duke, but not for the usual reasons. The man she seeks is a mathematician; the man she unwittingly finds is Lord Fox: dynamic, athletic, and as bored by the equations Claire adores as she is by the social whirl upon which he thrives. As attractive as Fox is, he’s of no use to Claire . . . or is he?

Plus His Brawn

Fox’s male pride has been bruised ever since his fiancée jilted him. One way to recover: win a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, Society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel. But Claire has other ideas—shockingly steamy ones. . .

Equals A Study In Seduction

By Claire’s calculations, Fox is the perfect man to satisfy her sensual curiosity. In Fox’s estimation, Claire is the perfect woman to prove his mastery of the ton. But the one thing neither of them counted on is love . . .

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EXCERPT

“Just who does she think she is?” Fox wondered aloud.

“She’s Arabella Vaughn. Beautiful. Popular. Enviable. Every young lady here aspires to be her. Every man here would like a shot with her,” Mowbray answered.

“She’s you, but in petticoats,” Rupert said, laughing.

It was true. He and Arabella were perfect together.

Like most men, he’d fallen for her at first sight after catching a glimpse of her across a crowded ballroom. She was beautiful in every possible way: a tall, lithe figure with full breasts; a mouth made for kissing and other things that gentlemen didn’t mention in polite company; blue eyes fringed in dark lashes; honey gold hair that fell in waves; a complexion that begged comparisons to cream and milk and moonlight.

Fox had taken one look at her and thought: mine.

They were a perfect match in beauty, wealth, social standing, all that. They both enjoyed taking the ton by storm. He remembered the pride he felt as they strolled through a ballroom arm in arm and the feeling of everyone’s eyes on them as they waltzed so elegantly.

They were great together.

They belonged together.

Fox also remembered the more private moments—so many stolen kisses, the intimacy of gently pushing aside a wayward strand of her golden hair, promises for their future as man and wife. They would have perfect children, and entertain the best of society, and generally live a life of wealth and pleasure and perfection, together.

Fox remembered his heart racing—nerves!—when he proposed because this beautiful girl he adored was going to be his.

And then she had eloped. With an actor.

It burned, that. Ever since he’d heard the news, Fox had stormed around in high dudgeon. He was not accustomed to losing.

“Take away her flattering gowns and face paint and she’s just like any other woman here,” Fox said, wanting it to be true so he wouldn’t feel the loss so keenly. “Look at her, for example.”

Rupert and Mowbray both glanced at the woman he pointed out—a short, frumpy young lady nervously sipping lemonade. She spilled some down the front of her bodice when she caught three men staring at her.

“If one were to offer her guidance on supportive undergarments and current fashions and get a maid to properly style her coiffure, why, she could be the reigning queen of the haute ton,” Fox pointed out.

Both men stared at him, slack jawed.

“You’ve never been known for being the sharpest tool in the shed, Fox, but now I think you’re really cracked,” Mowbray said. “You cannot just give a girl a new dress and make her popular.”

“Well, Mowbray, maybe you couldn’t. But I could.”

“Gentlemen . . .” Rupert cut in. “I don’t care for the direction of this conversation.”

“You honestly think you can do it,” Mowbray said, awed.

He turned to face Mowbray and drew himself up to his full height, something he did when he wanted to be imposing. His Male Pride had been wounded and his competitive spirit—always used to winning—was spoiling for an opportunity to triumph.

“I know I can,” Fox said with the confidence of a man who won pretty much everything he put his mind to—as long as it involved sport, or women. Arabella had been his first, his only, loss. A fluke, surely.

“Well, that calls for a wager,” Mowbray said.

The two gentlemen stood eye to eye, the tension thick. Rupert groaned.

“Name your terms,” Fox said.

“I pick the girl.”

“Fine.”

“This is a terrible idea,” Rupert said. He was probably right, but he was definitely ignored.

“Let me see . . . who shall I pick?” Mowbray made a dramatic show of looking around the ballroom at all the ladies nearby. There were at least a dozen of varying degrees of pretty and pretty hopeless.

Then Mowbray’s attentions fixed on one particular woman. Fox followed his gaze, and when he saw who his friend had in mind, his stomach dropped.

“No.”

“Yes,” Mowbray said, a cocky grin stretching across his features.

“Unfortunately dressed I can handle. Shy, stuttering English miss who at least knows the rules of society? Sure. But one of the Americans?”

Fox let the question hang there. The Cavendish family had A Reputation the minute the news broke that the new Duke of Durham was none other than a lowly horse trainer from the former colonies. He and his sisters were scandalous before they even set foot in London. Since their debut in society, they hadn’t exactly managed to win over the haute ton, either, to put it politely.

“Now, they’re not all bad,” Rupert said. “I quite like Lady Bridget . . .”

But Fox was still in shock and Mowbray was enjoying it too much to pay any mind to Rupert’s defense of the Americans.

“The bluestocking?”

That was the thing: Mowbray hadn’t picked just any American, but the one who already had a reputation for being insufferably intelligent, without style or charm to make herself more appealing to the gentlemen of the ton. She was known to bore a gentleman to tears by discussing not the weather, or hair ribbons, or gossip of mutual acquaintances, but math.

Lady Claire Cavendish seemed destined to be a hopeless spinster and social pariah.

Even the legendary Duchess of Durham, aunt to the new duke and his sisters, hadn’t yet been able to successfully launch them into society and she’d already had weeks to prepare them! It seemed insane that Fox should succeed where the duchess failed.

But Fox and his Male Pride had never, not once, backed away from a challenge, especially not when the stakes had never been higher. He knew two truths about himself: he won at women and he won at sport.

He was a winner.

And he was not in the mood for soul searching or crafting a new identity when the old one suited him quite well. Given this nonsense with Arabella, he had to redeem himself in the eyes of the ton, not to mention his own. It was an impossible task, but one that Fox would simply have to win.

“Her family is hosting a ball in a fortnight,” Mowbray said. “I expect you to be there—with Lady Claire on your arm as the most desirable and popular woman in London.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, December 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1824
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

The books in Maya Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up With the Cavendishes are all loosely based on well-known movie plots. The first book, Lady Bridget’s Diary… well, that’s pretty obvious. The second, Chasing Lady Amelia is a retelling of Roman Holiday and Lady Claire is All That is a reworking of the popular teen-movie from 1999, She’s All lady-claire-is-all-mm-cThat, which is itself described as a revamp of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. This seems to be a bit of a trend in historical romance at the moment – if we’re not bombarded by overly-cutesy (and mostly ridiculous) song title-titles, we’re getting recycled plots from a medium that wasn’t even around at the beginning of the 19th century; and that makes it really hard to maintain any level of historical accuracy, as characters have to be made to think and do things to fit the plot that vary from “unlikely” to “implausible” to “Just – No.”

That doesn’t mean this isn’t an enjoyable book, because it is. I breezed through it in two sittings; it’s well-written, the two progagonists are engaging and Ms. Rodale has some good points to make about how we sometimes need to adjust our perceptions of self and others if we’re going to be true to ourselves and be the people we’re meant to be. I often find myself saying of this author’s books that they’re ones I will pick up when I want to read something light-hearted and fun and am prepared to check my “historical accuracy” hat at the door. And if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’ll likely work for you.

The Cavendish family – three sisters, one brother – moved to London when James Cavendish unexpectedly inherited a dukedom. The three books in the series so far comprise the sisters’ stories, and the storylines run more or less concurrently – which means they can be read in pretty much any order. Their chaperone in London is the Dowager Duchess of Durham, and she is doing her best to ensure that the siblings are accepted into London society. That’s not an easy task, given the rigidity of English society of the time, and the propensity to look down noses at those uncouth, brash Americans – but it’s also true that the Cavendishes aren’t making it all that easy on themselves either. Youngest sister Amelia is impatient with all the rules and conventions and does her best to deliberately flout them, and oldest sister Claire has only one purpose in mind – to meet the renowned Duke of Ashbrooke and discuss advanced mathematics with him. To deter any potential suitors, Claire talks about maths to anyone who will listen – which isn’t anybody for very long.

Lord Fox is very much the equivalent of the US college Jock in the film. He’s gorgeous, fit and excels at pretty much every physical activity he puts his mind to; hunting, fencing, boxing… women… you name it, he’s the best at it. He readily admits that he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and doesn’t see the trap being set for him when Lord Mowbray wagers that Fox can’t take a wallflower and turn her into the darling of the ton. Fox, whose equally lovely fiancée recently dumped him to run off with an actor, is feeling a little bit bruised – he’s a winner, not a loser – and only realises what he’s let himself in for when Mowbray insists on choosing the recipient of Fox’s assistance – Lady Claire Cavendish.

The plotline is straightforward and proceeds as expected, but what makes the book readable is the way Ms. Rodale handles the gradually evolving perceptions of Fox and Claire, both in terms of how they think of themselves and how they see each other. Not to put too fine a point on it, Claire thinks Fox is stupid; and even though, as the story progresses, she starts to see that his is a different kind of intelligence, she continues to believe that because they don’t match each other intellectually, they don’t belong together. And while Fox is initially all about the wager, he’s impressed by Claire’s “brainbox”; even when he has no idea what she is talking about, he likes the sound of her voice and way her passion for her topic animates her. He comes to appreciate her for what and who she is and doesn’t want her to change, even though it means losing the wager.

On the downside, however, Claire is fairly self-obsessed, and she’s the sort of person who keeps having to remind everyone how smart she is in order to validate her own sense of self-worth. And she’s pretty hard on Fox, making it clear that he’s too dumb for her even though she’s happy to snog and grope him at every available opportunity. He is, however, clever enough to recognise that she’s only interested in his body.

Fox isn’t perfect, either, and his constant refrain of “I win at everything” gets irritating fast, but he’s rather endearing for all that. He is what he is and doesn’t try to be something he’s not – and I liked that he is prepared to go out on a limb for what he wants and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Another flaw is that while the couple does get to know each other well enough to begin to reassess their opinions, there’s no real sense of their actually falling in love. One minute, they’re not in love, and the next they are – and it’s something we’re told rather than shown.

In spite of those criticisms, there’s no question Ms. Rodale is an accomplished author and she writes the familial relationships in this story very well. This is very much a wallpaper historical though, so if you like historical romance that has a strong sense of period, in which the characters speak and act as though they could plausibly come from the 19th century instead of the 21st, then it might not work for you. And then there is the usual complement of Americanisms – by far the worst of which is the constant use of the word “math”. Given that Claire is a mathematician, this is only to be expected, but in England we refer to “mathS” with an “s” on the end (it’s a contraction of mathematicS, after all). It got very annoying very quickly.

Ultimately, Lady Claire is All That is a well-written piece of romantic fluff that’s entertaining and easy to read. Anyone in the mood for something in that line could do a lot worse than to pick it up.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

maya-rodale-colourMaya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

You can connect with Maya at: www.mayarodale.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads

The Earl (Devil’s Duke #2) by Katharine Ashe

the-earl

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How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…

Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.

Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2016
Time and Setting: England and Scotland, 1822
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I had not read Katharine Ashe before, and I found the description of The Earl so intriguing that I jumped at the chance to review it. This is the second book in the Devil’s Duke series, which is a spin-off of the popular Falcon Club series; and while some brief snippets of backstory are included for new readers like me, I did find myself a tad confused as a lot of names and incidents were mentioned throughout that I was unfamiliar with. Though I probably would have had a bit more understanding and appreciation for the backdrop this story is set against had I read the previous books, the main story and romance in The Earl was able to stand alone just fine.

The story begins with a heartbreaking prologue featuring Colin Gray, the future Earl of Egremoor, as a child who cannot speak, and I was instantly sucked into the story, burning through the early pages as Colin, aka Peregrine, and Emily, aka Lady Justice, are introduced, and we learn that though they don’t know each other’s true identities, these two enemies share a long and troubled history. Having been abandoned by her only friend at the age of nine, Emily has forged her own path in life, championing women’s and working class rights while eschewing the traditional role of wife and mother society expects of her. Her alter ego – crusading pamphleteer, Lady Justice – has made quite the name for herself, and she’s also made a few enemies, including Colin, who she calls out in her pamphlets for refusing to support her causes. She has also struck up a correspondence with the mysterious Peregrine, member of a shadow group that specializes in finding lost people, and now she needs his help. Her own sister has gone missing, and Emily is determined to find her. But the price may be too high to pay: Peregrine wants to meet Lady Justice face-to-face. She finally agrees to a nighttime meeting in a shadowy park, and manages to hide her identity; but during the brief and intense exchange, she discovers a shocking truth: Peregrine is none other than Colin Gray, the man who broke her heart and never looked back so many years ago, a man who represents everything she hates about English society. Emily abruptly tells him she’s changed her mind and no longer needs his help and flees before he can discern who she is.

Though the lady insists she no longer needs his help, Colin is determined to find the woman anyway, and when he does, he will finally unmask Lady Justice and expose her for the charlatan she is. He begins his journey in Scotland, planning to travel to the woman’s last-known location, when he runs into the last person he ever expected to see on the road, Emily Vale, his best friend from childhood, and a woman he has tried to hard to forget. She’s not best pleased to see him either. After realizing she can’t count on Peregrine to help, she’s taking finding her sister into her own hands and is answering a mysterious summons to visit Castle Kallin, home of the maligned “Devil Duke.” Unfortunately, she and Colin are quickly thrown into close quarters when they are mistaken for a pair of highwaymen wreaking havoc on the countryside, going so far as to murder an innocent woman, and all while one dresses like a woman and the other uses Colin’s name. On the run from vengeful villagers, the two try to stay a step ahead of vigilante justice as they make their way to the castle, Colin determined to find out why Emily holds such a grudge against him and Emily determined to fight her growing attraction to him. But danger and desire have a way of thwarting the best-laid plans…

This story has an interesting premise, and it does stand out as being different from your average Regency romance, but I found the execution a little disappointing. After a compelling beginning and an intense start to the adventure, the story grew repetitive. Colin and Emily run, they argue, they’re attracted to each other, they’re found, they escape, and repeat. Over and over again. I liked both characters, and they had interesting backgrounds, but they were both so stubborn, and they held on to their grudges and secrets for too long. However, when they finally did give in to their attraction, I found those scenes to be some of the sweetest, sexiest, and most romantic I’ve read in quite some time. And the descriptions of the Scottish countryside they are running through are thoroughly transporting. But the mystery of Emily’s sister is not resolved; in fact, it seems to be a setup for the next book in the series, so not getting a payoff there was rather disappointing. I found the resolution of the case of mistaken identity to be very predictable, as was the behavior of both Colin and Emily when Lady Justice’s identity was finally revealed. But I give Colin big props for calling Emily out on her hypocrisy in passing judgment on everyone else while she hides in anonymity, causing her to do some real soul searching and achieve true character growth; and his actions at the end are swoon-worthy.

So as you can see, I have mixed feelings about this book. If you’ve read the previous books, of course you have to read this one, and knowing more than I did about the backdrop, you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. It’s well written, and I was able to follow along well enough, but what started out as exciting and unique slowly grew tedious and predictable. But The Earl is saved by a good ending, and I was intrigued enough by the members of the Falcon Club to go back and add the other books to my reading list.

SPOTLIGHT: A Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters #4.5) by Eloisa James

a gentleman never tells

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Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again….and unfortunately virginal.

Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.

When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.

Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behavior… once again.

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EXCERPT

August 13 1826
Telford Manor
Fontwell, Sussex

“I would prefer to take supper on a tray.” Lizzie didn’t look up from her book, because meeting her sister’s eyes would only encourage her.

She should have known Catrina wouldn’t back down. “Lizzie Troutt, your husband died over a year ago.”

“Really?” Lizzie murmured, turning a page. “How time flies.” In fact, Adrian had died eighteen months, two weeks, and four days ago.

In his mistress’s bed.

“Lizzie,” Cat said ominously, sounding more like an older sister—which she was—with every word, “if you don’t get out of that bed, I shall drag you out. By your hair!”

Lizzie felt a spark of real annoyance. “You already dragged me to your house for this visit. The least you could do is to allow me to read my book in peace.”

“Ever since you arrived yesterday, all you’ve done is read!” Cat retorted.

“I like reading. And forgive me if I point out that Tolbert is not precisely a hotbed of social activity.” Cat and her husband, Lord Windingham, lived deep in Suffolk, in a dilapidated manor house surrounded by fields of sheep.

“That is precisely why we gather friends for dinner. Lord Dunford-Dale is coming tonight, and I need you to even the numbers. That means getting up, Lizzie. Bathing. Doing your hair. Putting on a gown that hasn’t been dyed black would help, too. You look like a dispirited crow, if you want the truth.”

Lizzie didn’t want the truth. In fact, she felt such a stab of anger that she had to fold her lips tightly together or she would scream at Cat.

It wasn’t her sister’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault except her late husband’s, and he was definitely late—i.e., dead.

“I know you feel ashamed to be in company,” her sister continued, energetically digging her own grave, as far as Lizzie was concerned. “Unfortunately, most people are aware the circumstances of your marriage, not to mention the fact that Adrian was so imprudent as to die away from home.”

That was one way of putting it.

Imprudent.

“You make it sound as if he dropped a teacup,” Lizzie observed, unable to stop herself. “I would call the fact that Adrian died in the act of tupping Sadie Sprinkle inconsiderate in the extreme.”

“I refuse to allow you to wither away in bed simply because your husband was infatuated with Shady Sadie,” Cat said, using the term by which the gossip rags had referred to Adrian’s mistress. “You must put all that behind you. Sadie has another protector, and you are out of mourning. It’s time to stop hiding.”

“I am not hiding,” Lizzie said, stung. “I take fresh air and moderate exercise every day. I simply like reading in bed. Or in a chair.”

Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. Reading in a peaceful garden was an excellent way to take fresh air.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, June 2016

Time and Setting: Sussex, 1826
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

This charming novella is loosely related to Eloisa James’ Essex Sisters series by virtue of the fact that the heroine’s sister is friends with Josie, Countess of Mayne. The central romance develops quickly – over the space of a couple of days – but it’s well done, with plenty of humour and crackling chemistry between the two leads which enables the reader to buy into this whirlwind courtship without the need for the suspension of too much disbelief.

Lizzie, Lady Troutt has been a widow for just over eighteen months. Not unusually for the time, her father chose her husband for her and chose badly; Adrian Troutt only wanted Lizzie’s money so that he could continue to live with his long-term mistress. Poor Lizzie had no idea of that until her wedding day, when her new husband unceremoniously dumped her at his mother’s home, told Lizzie to look after her and waved goodbye. Hurt and disillusioned, Lizzie ran back to her father – who sent her right back and basically told her to get on with it.

Adrian’s unorthodox living arrangements were widely known, which naturally made Lizzie into a figure of fun or pity, and his death ‘on the job’ only served to increase her notoriety. In the year and a half since his death, all Lizzie has wanted to do is to fade into the background, stay at home and read her beloved books.

Her older, happily married sister Cat, Lady Windingham, is worried about her, though. Lizzie used to be vibrant and quick-witted but has become entirely self-effacing and reclusive; she seems to be holding herself responsible for her late husband’s faults, and Cat wants to shake her out of her gloom. She extracts a promise from Lizzie to attend the house-party she and her husband are holding and hopes to find a way to bring Lizzie out of her shell.

Oliver Berwick still feels guilty over some youthful indiscretions that caused hurt to a couple of young women in society. When the opportunity to offer both ladies an apology presents itself, he grabs it, accompanying his fifteen year-old niece (and ward) to Lady Windingham’s houseparty. Cat makes Oliver very welcome, but Lizzie is quiet and aloof, making a reluctant appearance at the dinner table that first evening and skipping breakfast the next day, simply to avoid meeting him again. Oliver is funny, charming and far too handsome for Lizzie’s peace of mind; and besides, she doesn’t want a man. Widowhood comes with certain benefits, one of which is not having to be subject to the dictates of any man ever again, even a gorgeous, amusing and surprisingly straightforward one.

Both Lizzie and Oliver are such well-rounded, engaging characters, that it’s not hard to get to know them quickly and to feel that they’re part of a longer story. It’s easy to understand what has driven Lizzie to want to hide herself away and to sympathise with her insecurities; and it’s clear that Oliver has grown up to be a conscientious, caring man. He is sweetly smitten with Lizzie from the start and determined to coax her out of herself and show her that not all men are selfish bastards. Lizzie is wary and at first wants nothing more than to hide away; but – and here I thoroughly applaud the author – Lizzie starts to realise ON HER OWN that she is doing herself down by dressing in drab clothes and living vicariously through the books she loves. I loved watching her succumbing to the warmth of Oliver’s personality and his gentle teasing, but I also loved that she was finally standing up for herself and discovering the women she was supposed to be.

In spite of the short page count, Ms. James manages to create a genuine connection between her central couple and to add in some swiftly but ably drawn secondary characters, too. A Gentleman Never Tells is a fun, quick read that can be enjoyed by fans as well as those new to the author’s work.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ejamesELOISA JAMES is a New York Times best-selling author and professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. She is the mother of two and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight. Visit her at www.eloisajames.com

Connect with Eloisa James

Website – http://www.eloisajames.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/eloisajames

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/eloisajames