Tag Archive | Scotland

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Virtue: Sons of Scotland #1 by Victoria Vane


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A man without a past…

Abandoned at a monastery as a young child, Alexander serves two masters—God and the fading memories of his past life—the one he never got to live. As he nears the day to take his vows, he’s sent on a last sojourn into the real world, but what begins as a test of faith becomes a journey to manhood.

And a woman who doesn’t know her own heart…

Born from the line of two kings, Lady Sibylla Mac William is abandoned by her sire as a child and then ruled illegitimate. Though she lives a happy life under her uncle’s protection, Sibylla craves something more, but never could she imagine losing her heart to the would-be monk who unexpectedly arrives to tutor her brother.

Together, they will forge the future of a kingdom…

When dark secrets from the past come to light, Alex and Sibylla’s fates become inextricably entwined. Will Alex choose the safe and secure path he knows, or will he reject holy orders to embrace his true destiny… and the woman he loves?

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EXCERPT

Twilight made a rapid descent on Cnoc Croit na Maoile, cloaking the forested part of the path in deep shadow and making the way difficult. Twice, she stumbled and a short while later, caught her foot on a root that sent her sprawling to the ground.

Alex was there swiftly to help her back up. “Are ye a’right, lass?”

“Aye. I’m nae hurt,” she lied.

He could clearly see that her face was scratched, her palms were scraped, and her tunic had been torn by a limb. He gently brushed away the dirt and tenderly kissed her palms before entwining his fingers with hers. “’Tis best if I lead ye now.”

Although the rest of the way was easier, Alex was reluctant to release her hand.

“Ye still havena told me what troubles ye, Alexander,” she said, breaking the silence.

“I’ve learned some things about my family since coming here,” he said.

“Aye?” She stopped to face him. “How did this come about?”

“Yer uncle recognized my sgian-dubh. He says he kent my faither.”

“He did? How? What did he tell ye?” she asked.

Alex drew a great breath into his lungs and released it on a sigh. There was so much he wished to confide, but what could tell her? How much did he dare to share? “Only that my faither was an enemy of the king.”

“The king has many enemies,” she replied, “especially in Moray. Did ye ken my máthair’s faither was a king in his own right? His lands stretched from one sea to the other, but his son, Angus, forfeited everything when he rebelled against the crown.”

“My faither found himself in a similar situation,” Alex said. “There was substantial… property… that should have come to him by right through his faither, but the king disagreed.”

“’Tis the Cenn Mór way to do such things,” she said.

“Dinna ye also carry Cenn Mór blood?” he asked.

“Only a quarter,” she corrected. “And I dinna regard that part of me any more than my sire regarded his Scots blood. He was a lowlander by birth who chose to be Sassenach. I, on the contrary, choose to be a Highlander.”

Her answer evoked a chuckle.

“Ye should do that more often,” she said.

“Do what?” he asked.

“Laugh. ‘Tis the first time I heard ye laugh.”

“Monasteries dinna encourage much laughter,” he said dryly.

“But yer nae there anymore, are ye?”

“I am nae.”

“Then ye need to laugh more freely,” she insisted.

They’d emerged from the forested path, Alex halted and turned to face her. “If ‘twill please ye,” he said. “I will try.”

“Aye,” she said. “But ‘twould please me even better if ye would kiss me again.”

Alex instinctively leaned toward her, wanting to give her the kiss, but knowing where it would lead. “I canna, Sibylla,” he said, stroking her cheek. “This should ne’er have happened between us.”

“But it did,” she said. “Do ye regret it so much, Alexander?”

“Regret? Nae.” He shook his head. “I only regret that it canna be.”

He’d gone to the promontory seeking solace for his distressed spirit, and found balm in Sibylla’s kiss. He knew it was far more than carnal lust, but it was futile to think they could ever be together. “I am no one with nothing,” he said. “This can go nowhere.”

“But things can change Alexander,” she said. “I believe our destinies lie in our own hands.”

“Ye do nae have faith in Divine Providence?” He wondered again at her lack of piety.

“I do. I believe God sets many things in motion but the choices we make, for better or for ill, are ours alone. I believe ye came here for a reason, Alexander. I believe our meeting was meant to be.”

Alex, once more, recalled the eerie words of her grandmother. “Lady Olith said as much.”

Her eyes grew wide. “My grandmother spoke of us?”

“Aye.” He hesitated to say more, but found himself compelled to ask, “Is she right in the head?”

“She’s a seer, Alexander,” Sibylla answered. “She has visions.”

“Have they ever proven true?” he asked.

“Many times. She kent her son, Angus, would be killed in battle. She also kent that Domnall and I would come here… what did she say to ye?”

“I dinna remember it well,” he lied. He remembered every word but speaking more of it would only give credence to what he could not, would not, believe.

“Surely ye recall something of her words,” she insisted, “else ye would nae have spoken of it.”

“Sibylla!” A shout startled them apart before Alex could respond; it was Domnall galloping toward them. “What is this!” He flung himself down from his mount with an accusing stare. “Where have ye been, Sibylla? The entire clan is looking for ye.”

His gaze darted from Sibylla to Alex and back again, and then narrowed in suspicion as he took in Sibylla’s torn gown and scratched face.

He took a step toward them with his hand on his sword. “What were ye doing with my sister?”

“Nae, Domnall!” Sibylla quickly interposed herself between them. “’Tis nae what ye think!”

His gaze narrowed. “I ken what I see.”

“Alex did nothing amiss,” she said. “I fell out of a tree.”

“Ye fell?” He snorted in disbelief.

“Aye,” she insisted. “I was in the great oak at the standing stones when Alexander came and—”

His raised a silencing hand. “Enough!” Domnall pierced Alex with a challenging look. “What have ye to say about this, monk?”

“I dinna dishonor yer sister,” Alex said. “I give ye my sacred vow.”

Domnall considered him for a long, tense moment. There was no sign of their earlier camaraderie in his expression. Would he draw his sword? Alex fingered his sgian-dubh, praying he wouldn’t be forced to defend himself.

“In my experience, a vow is only as good as the man who makes it. And I still dinna ken what to make of ye. Come, Sibylla,” Domnall commanded. “Ye will ride back with me.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Alex as she passed, her gaze downcast.

Alex warily watched as Domnall lifted her onto the horse. Of all the sins he’d committed in his life, some might be worthy of mortal punishment, but a kiss certainly wasn’t one of them. Then again, if he had perished under Domnall’s sword, he could never regret meeting death with Sibylla’s sweet kiss still lingering on his lips.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Victoria Vane is a bestselling, award-winning author of smart and sexy romance. Her books have received more than twenty awards and nominations to include the 2015 Red Carpet Award for JEWEL OF THE EAST, 2014 RONE Award for TREACHEROUS TEMPTATIONS, and 2012 Library Journal Best E-Book romance for THE DEVIL DEVERE series. Victoria also has a passion for historical fashion and lives in the beautiful upstate of South Carolina with her husband, two sons, a little black dog, and an Arabian horse.

Contact info:
Email: victoria.vane@hotmail.com Website: www.victoriavane.com
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The Duke (Devil’s Duke #3) by Katharine Ashe

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Six years ago, when Lady Amarantha Vale was an innocent in a foreign land and Gabriel Hume was a young naval officer, they met . . . and played with fire.

Now Gabriel is the dark lord known to society as the Devil’s Duke, a notorious recluse hidden away in a castle in the Highlands. Only Amarantha knows the truth about him, and she won’t be intimidated. He is the one man who can give her the answers she needs.

But Gabriel cannot let her learn his darkest secret. So begins a game of wit and desire that proves seduction is more satisfying—and much more wicked—the second time around…


Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2017

Time and Setting: Jamaica and Scotland, 1817/1823
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

If you follow my reviews you already know I’m a big fan of Katharine Ashe.  The Falcon Club series is one of my favorites, and I’ve enjoyed each of the books in her spin-off Devil’s Duke series.  The Duke is yet another great addition to her catalog and I enjoyed most of it.  Unfortunately, Ms. Ashe tries to do a bit too much within the framework of her story – touching on abuse and slavery before the novel concludes – and seems to lose sight of the central plot, a second chance love affair between her very compelling principals.  But I liked it anyway!  The principal characters have great chemistry, their love affair spans years and oceans, and it’s another memorable addition to this marvelous series.

Lady Amarantha Vale grew up knowing exactly what kind of man she would one day fall in love with.  As a young girl, discussing love and marriage with her sister Emily, she didn’t worry about her father’s plans for her future; Amarantha was certain she would eventually meet and marry her true love.  At seventeen, she thought she’d found him – the Reverend Paul Garland, a young missionary bound for Jamaica.  Unfortunately for Amarantha, shortly after traveling across the ocean to marry Paul and begin their life together, she meets the true love of her life – naval officer Gabriel Hume, after she’s forced to shelter with him during a horrific hurricane.

When Lt. Gabriel Hume disembarked in Jamaica, he never expected to find himself alone in a cellar with a beautiful, unmarried woman.  Handsome and charming, Gabriel is immediately attracted to Amarantha, but recognizing how frightened she is, sets out to calm her.  The pair end up passing a companionable evening getting to know each other and keeping their fear at bay.  By the time the night ends, Gabriel knows he’s fallen in love with the lovely – engaged – Amarantha, and decides to do whatever he can to win her.

Emerging from the cellar, Gabriel and Amarantha discover an island ravaged by the effects of the hurricane.   Gabriel returns to his ship and Amarantha to Paul – only to discover him busy with plans to repair his damaged church.  She finds work volunteering at a hospital for the island’s poor, and it’s there that Gabriel locates her.  He sets out to woo her away from her fiancé – visiting her every day, lending her a hand whenever he can, and slowly but surely charming the lovely Aramantha.

It’s clear from the moment they meet that these two are destined for each other, but it takes time and patience for Gabriel to convince her to leave her fiancé.  She’s finally decided to break off the engagement when Gabriel receives orders to depart Jamaica.  Amarantha promises to wait for him, but shortly after he sets sail, she learns he’s lost at sea.  Devastated, Amarantha privately mourns Gabriel… until his cousin informs her that he’s alive and living with another woman.  Furious, heartbroken and alone, she marries Paul and vows to forget Gabriel.

This first (and best) part of The Duke is fabulous.  From the first moments in the cellar to their last moments together – when they can barely keep their hands to themselves and Amarantha promises to wait for Gabriel, I smiled and sighed and swooned as these two fell in love.  Gabriel is naughty, patient, kind and sweet, and he works hard to charm Amarantha and win her affections.  Amarantha knows she’s fallen for the handsome captain, but fights her feelings – she’s betrothed to Paul and plans to honor her commitment to him regardless of the love she feels for Gabriel.  When she finally decides to break her engagement and Gabriel begs her to wait for him… Oh reader!  It’s been such a delicious tease hoping for these two to get together… until Ms. Ashe dashes our hopes with the disappointing news that Gabriel has taken up with another woman.  Along with Aramantha, I WAS DEVASTATED.

Five years later, the widowed Amarantha is determined to find her friend Penny, who departed Jamaica for Scotland and hasn’t been heard from since.  She follows Penny’s trail to Leith, where she finds her friend and learns of the Devil’s Duke, a man rumored to kidnap vulnerable women and hold them captive in his remote castle.  Suspicious, Amarantha sets out to discover the truth about the Devil’s Duke and discovers… Well, reader, you know who it is, don’t you?   It’s Gabriel – the man she loved so long ago – but he’s not the man she once knew.

I’m not going to tell you what happens once Amarantha discovers that Gabriel is the Devil’s Duke – or even why and how he’s earned the nickname, because from the moment she discovers why Penny sought out Gabriel, Ms. Ashe’s story goes a bit sideways.  It’s convoluted and messy and difficult to explain without spoiling the plot.  Suffice it to say that while I do think the author makes it work, if the relationship between Gabriel and Amarantha weren’t so delicious, my feelings about this novel might be decidedly different.

But Gabriel and Amarantha are a dynamic and fiery pair.  She thinks he abandoned her; he thinks she gave up on him.  But shh…THEY STILL LOVE EACH OTHER ANYWAY!  From the very beginning, Amarantha demonstrated a willingness to follow her heart – even when it led her to mad, impetuous decisions.  She’s frustrating and difficult to like – because even though she’s loving and loyal to her friends (and her former husband), she’s blind to the hurt she caused Gabriel, and unwilling to accept the blame for their long separation.  She steadfastly followed Paul to Jamaica, only to realize she loved another man.  But then she gave up on Gabriel – with so little evidence of his guilt, and married Paul anyway… Yowsers.  I sympathized – she was young, alone and it looked like Gabriel had played her false, but she gave up so easily!  And Gabriel… when he courts Amarantha in Jamaica and then just patiently lets her burn out all that stubborn anger in Scotland.  Sigh.  I loved him.  I never felt like her let her get away with her selfish shenanigans – reader, he knew she was trying to fight through her feelings for him.  He did!  He took it and took it and then set her straight.  And once he sensed she was relenting, he didn’t let up.  Though I didn’t personally love Amarantha, Gabriel did – and through his eyes, I liked her anyway.  I loved this pair and their sexy love/hate relationship.

Once Amarantha arrives in Scotland and we begin to discover the secrets the Devil’s Duke is keeping, Ms. Ashe moves the plot forward at a furious pace.  It’s compelling reading, and though Ms. Ashe masterfully incorporates elements of slavery and domestic abuse into the narrative, the novel length prohibits her from fully exploring some of the more tantalizing storylines introduced via her secondary characters.  It’s a missed opportunity.

The Duke is sweeping, romantic… and sets the stage for the next book (and couple) to come.  It’s not my favorite in the series, but it’s a worthy addition, and as per usual with Ms. Ashe, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5) by Kerrigan Byrne

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Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, is a notorious Highlander and an unrelenting Lothario who uses his slightly menacing charm to get what he wants—including too many women married to other men. But now, Gavin wants to put his shady past behind him…more or less. When a fiery lass who is the heiress to the land he wishes to possess drops into his lap, he sees a perfectly delicious opportunity…

A marriage most convenient

Samantha Masters has come back to Scotland, in a pair of trousers, and with a whole world of dangerous secrets from her time spent in the Wild West trailing behind her. Her only hope of protection is to marry—and to do so quickly. Gavin is only too willing to provide that service for someone he finds so disturbingly irresistible. But even as danger approaches, what begins as a scandalous proposition slowly turns into an all-consuming passion. And Gavin discovers that he will do whatever is necessary to keep the woman he has claimed as his own…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, October 2017
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1880
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

The Scot Beds His Wife is fifth in Kerrigan Byrnes’ Victorian Rebels series and a sequel to the third book The Highlander. Gavin St. James is half-brother to previous hero Laird Liam MacKenzie but the two are hardly fraternal. It’s Gavin’s plans to dissolve ties to his brother’s clan that starts everything in motion and it takes a brash American to put the stubborn Scot on a different path.

Gavin St. James grew up desperate to extricate himself from the legacy of his cruel father, the late Marquess Ravencroft. The abuse Gavin lived through left physical and emotional scars that never healed enough for him to find peace within his family. He once thought that his older brother Liam was his ally against their father, but their relationship soured as the Marquess’ manipulations drove them apart. Gavin later escaped when he inherited the earldom of Thorne through his mother’s family; however he found it was an empty role as he was still dependent on the Mackenzie finances. Earning his own wealth could only come by expanding his landholding and the perfect parcel was right next door – the deserted Ross estate of Erradale. After receiving a quick influx of ready cash, Gavin makes an offer to the last surviving member of the Ross family, who has been living in America for ten years. The response he receives is a firm “No” but Gavin is undeterred. Using the law to press the issue, Gavin has his solicitor inform the expatriate Miss Alison Ross that if she does not take residence on her property the lands will be deemed abandoned and resold.

An ocean away, Samantha Masters thought marriage to Bennett Masters would be first step in a new life full of opportunities, yet she soon learned that her new in-laws were criminals. Their latest scheme has the Masters brothers holding up a train carrying government funds to San Francisco. When something goes wrong, Samantha makes a horrific choice that saves an innocent life but puts a price on her head. The young woman she saves is very forgiving and offers Samantha a chance to leave America if she’s willing to live a lie in a foreign land indefinitely. Grabbing the chance, Samantha leaves her old name behind and travels to Scotland to become Miss Alison Ross, taking possession of Erradale and halting the schemes of the enemy Earl of Thorne. Samantha is met at the Wester Ross train station by a handsome Scotsman who provides assistance when her handbag is stolen. She’s quick to learn her hero is in fact Gavin St. James, the very man the real Alison had warned her about. Sensing his helpfulness was all a trick to get “Alison” to surrender her lands in thanks for saving her, Samantha explains that she will never hand over Erradale and will turn the derelict lands into a thriving cattle ranch to rival those in the American West.

The adversarial relationship between Samantha and Gavin fuels them to push relentlessly for their own goals. Gavin is shocked that “Alison” doesn’t fall for his seduction but he is soon back on track to subvert her efforts to improve Erradale. Samantha tries to keep away from Gavin but each time they meet. their war of words hides an undercurrent of attraction. Everything changes when investigators from America show up at Erradale and Gavin saves Samantha from being killed in a fire. For the first time in their acquaintance, Gavin sees the frightened young woman hiding behind bravado and salty language. It awakens something inside him he was reluctant to admit; that this bonny lass had become someone that he cares for. Knowing he can’t ignore those feelings forever and seeing a way for both of them to get what they want, Gavin offers “Alison” the protection of his name. In turn, he’ll assume control of Erradale through their marriage of convenience. Samantha knows their marriage won’t be legal since she’s not the real Alison Ross but the unwelcome discovery that she’s pregnant pushes her to accept Gavin’s proposal to give her unborn child a better name than that of an outlaw family. She soon finds that lying to Gavin is the most difficult thing she’s ever faced as his flirtatious manner hides a man who deserves honesty and love to save him from the pain in his past.

The books in the Victorian Rebels series never fail to use the tortured past of the hero to create a rich, emotional story. Each man has their own ways to deal with their demons and Gavin hides behind his smile and uses women for temporary pleasure to escape his pain. When Samantha doesn’t fall for his charms Gavin has to dig deep inside of himself to find ways around her stubbornness. What he finds inside is a man who desires love but has never felt comfortable exposing himself to anyone. The prologue of The Scot Beds His Wife isn’t as disturbing as in some of the earlier books; however once the reader comes to understand how desperately Gavin has suppressed the romantic side of himself, those moments where his innocence was destroyed become all the more unsettling.

Samantha is also very different from previous heroines as she’s action oriented, direct, profane and has just as many walls around her heart as Gavin does. Samantha has been fighting for stability and a true sense of belonging ever since her childhood on a ranch in Nevada Territory with her adoptive family. Her marriage was an ill-conceived desire to create a family with someone she thought was devoted to her, and escaping to Scotland is a chance for Samantha to try one more time to restart her life. I loved her no-nonsense attitude and her need to build up Erradale for herself just as much as to protect it for the real Alison’s benefit.

The Scot Beds His Wife isn’t the strongest release within the Victorian Rebels series but the developments for the Mackenzie family and a few hints at what’s to come make this a must read for fans and a good entry point for new readers.


EXCERPT

Chapter Two

Union Pacific Railway, Wyoming Territory, Fall, 1880

Samantha Masters squeezed the trigger, planting a bullet between her husband’s beautiful brown eyes.

She whispered his name. Bennett. Then screamed it.

But it was the woman in his grasp she reached for as he fell to the ground.

Though they’d known each other all of twenty minutes, she clung to Alison Ross as though the younger woman were the most precious soul in the entire world, and they sank to their knees as their strength gave out.
Alison’s hold was just as tight around her, and their sobs burst against each other’s in a symphony of terror, shock, and abject relief.

What in the hell just happened?

Not twenty minutes ago, Samantha and Alison had been no more to each other than amiable fellow passengers on an eastbound train, chugging across the wintry landscape of the Wyoming Territory.

What were they now? Enemies? Survivors?

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Samantha repeated the words with every short, sobbing exhale. Though she couldn’t have said who the apology was to, exactly. To Alison? To Bennett? To whoever had been shot on the other railcars?
To God?

This morning she’d been the irate, disillusioned wife of a charming and dangerous man. An insignificant and unwilling member of the outlaw Masters Gang.

This afternoon, she’d been the new acquaintance and confidant to Alison Ross, commiserating over childhoods spent on secluded cattle ranches.

This evening, because of what she’d just done, of what they’d all just done . . . chances were good that she’d be hanged.

This train job was supposed to be like any other. Each of the Masters boarded on the last platform for miles and miles. To avoid detection or suspicion, Bennett, Boyd, and Bradley Masters would each take a seat in separate passenger cars.

Samantha would be placed in the least populated car, usually first class, as it was also the least dangerous. Once civilization completely fell away, the signal was given, and the men would strike, rounding up all passengers into one car.

This was done for the safety of the passengers as much as the Masters, themselves, as the gang didn’t generally rob people. Cash, jewelry, and personal items were never as valuable as actual cargo. The Union Pacific Railway didn’t only deliver citizens across the vast American continent. It delivered goods, sundries, and often . . . federal funds.

Even in these modern times, when it seemed all the gold had been mined from the rich hills of California, American currency was still minted in the east. Which meant everything from company payrolls, to government bonds, to cash and precious metals were transported by transcontinental railways.

And the Masters brothers, aspiring entrepreneurs, had decided that if the government wouldn’t allow them land, nor the banks grant them loans . . .

Then they’d take what they needed.

This was supposed to have been their fifth and final train job. It was supposed to have gone like the others.
No one harmed or robbed. Merely a bit inconvenienced and perhaps a little shaken. The Masters would escape with a few bags of money that the government could simply print again, a “frightened” female hostage as played by Samantha herself, and the papers would have an exciting story to publish in the morning.

The signal, both to each other and to the passengers, was one shot, fired at the ceiling, and then a command to disarm, get moving, and a gentle promise that all this would be over before they knew it. Samantha’s job was to act like any other passenger, and incite them to obey. Then, if necessary, act as the hostage to force compliance.

“People are sheep,” Boyd had always said. “They’ll follow a sweet thing like you to their doom.”

On this job, Samantha had been more comfortable than any other. At this time in October, with winter settling in but Christmas still a ways off, travel wasn’t foremost on the mind of the average American.

Her railcar had only two occupants other than herself. Alison Ross, a lively, bright-eyed San Franciscan socialite, and a well-dressed businessman more interested in his paper than conversation.

At first, Alison’s friendly overtures had vexed Samantha, as she found it hard to concentrate on responses when her blood sang with equal parts anticipation and anxiety. But, she realized, to not engage would be suspicious, and before long she’d found herself enjoying Alison’s company.

She’d not known many women her age, least of all friendly ones.

Samantha imagined that in another life, she and Alison could have, indeed, been friends.

Had she not been about to rob the train.

Had there not been more gunshots than were agreed upon . . .


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan Byrne uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in every book. She lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains with her handsome husband and three lovely teenage girls, but dreams of settling on the Pacific Coast. Her Victorian Rebels novels include The Highwayman and The Highlander.

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Caught by the Scot (Made to Marry #1) by Karen Hawkins


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When the dark Duke of Hamilton loses his beloved wife, he heeds her dying wish that he make certain her three brothers marry well for she fears they are all headed to ruin. Heartsick, the Duke approaches the task with a heavy hand, ordering the three brothers to marry within three months or forego their inheritance.

The middle brother, the dashing Conner Douglas, is not about to give up his independence, but he knows marriage doesn’t always mean one much change, does it? If anything, being married to a pliable sort of female would give him even more opportunity to seduce the married women of the ton. So he heads straight for the most pliable female he knows – a childhood acquaintance and now mousy spinster, the English born and bred Miss Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe.

Conner is so certain Theodora will joyously agree to marry him, that he takes his time traveling to her house and has only one month to secure her hand and marry. Yet when he arrives at her parents’ house he discovers that Theodora has just run away with a local landowner – a farmer, no less! Unknown to Conner, Theodora has been wildly, passionately in love with him for years. But she’s accepted he only sees her as a friend. Unable to sit forever in her parents’ front parlor and wait for what will never happen, Theodora decided to marry someone comfortable in the hopes they might at least become good partners.

Unaware of Theodora’s feelings, Conner isn’t about to let ‘the perfect wife’ get away so easily. But as Conner seduces Theodora, his own feelings stir. And after surviving a trip of mishaps and traps, he discovers that he can’t image her marrying anyone but him.

Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, September 2017

Time and Setting: Scotland, early 19th Century
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Caught by the Scot is the first in a new series from Karen Hawkins which features a trio of brothers who are given four months in which to get married if they are to receive their respective inheritances under the terms of their sister’s will.  It’s an undemanding and very readable friends-to-lovers story in which the principal conflict comes from the fact that the hero and heroine want different things from life, and it’s touch-and-go as to whether they are prepared to compromise in order to be together.

In a sombre, almost heart-breaking opening chapter, we learn of the death in childbed of Anna, the Duchess of Hamilton, who has left behind a baby son, a grieving widower and the three younger brothers to whom she was more of a mother than a sister.  One of Anna’s dearest wishes was to see her brothers happily settled with families of their own, and in order to honour that wish, her husband presents Connor, Jack and Declan Douglas with an ultimatum; get married within four months or forfeit the fortune left them by their sister.  The brothers aren’t best pleased and, as each of them is quite secure financially, they aren’t too worried at the prospect of forfeiting the money – until the Duke tells them that he will give it to their family’s greatest enemies, the Campbells, if they do not do as Anna wished.

The brothers agree to the terms and are discussing the sort of wives they want when Conner hits upon the perfect solution to his situation.  Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe, the sister of one of his best friends is well-born, practical and pretty enough, although rather quiet – and, as the daughter of a diplomat, will have no trouble managing his household in his frequent and lengthy absences overseas.  She’s on the shelf and is sure to be grateful for his offer, so Connor confidently expects to be able to do as his sister wanted within the time limit and decides to enjoy the last of his bachelorhood, nonchalantly waving off his brothers’ surprise that he isn’t going to propose to Thea straight away.  But Conner isn’t worried.  Thea’s safely stowed at her father’s house and will be waiting for him when he eventually shows up, right?

Wrong.

When Conner finally emerges from his month long carouse and arrives at Cumberbatch House, it’s to find the place in uproar following Thea’s elopement with a local squire.  Needless to say, Connor is shocked – and furious – that Thea hasn’t been calmly sitting there waiting for him, and sets off in pursuit, determined to bring her to her senses and make her his bride.

Thea has been in love with Conner for years, but knows he has never seen her as anything but his best friend’s little sister.  She also knows that Conner loves nothing so much as his career as a highly successful privateer; he loves the freedom to come and go as he pleases and doesn’t like staying in one place too long, things which are diametrically opposed to those Thea wants from life.  Having spent most of her life travelling with her parents as her father moved from one ambassadorial post to another, she is tired of not having anywhere she can really call home.  So when the handsome and very agreeable Squire Lance Fox starts courting her, she encourages his interest and accepts his proposal of marriage.

For once, Thea is going to do something exciting and unexpected… except she bargains without Lance’s inept driving which lands them in a ditch and their vehicle in need of repair.  This delay enables Conner to catch up with them at the first inn he comes to – and he almost immediately makes Thea the most arrogant, condescending marriage offer ever, to which she, not surprisingly, says an emphatic “no”.

Once Conner has recovered from the shock of being turned down in favour of another man he decides to try to convince Thea to break her engagement by proving to her that there is true passion between them.  But no matter how knee-weakening Conner’s kisses, Thea knows he’s wedded to the sea and is not the man to make her a home and spend his life at her side.  She continues to resist his sensual blandishments, at which point Conner realises he needs to change tack.  Rather than trying to sweep her off her feet, she needs to spend enough time with Lance to see what Conner has already seen – that she and her devoted fiancé are completely ill-suited.  Lance believes Thea to be something she’s not and Conner knows that he’ll drive her barmy within weeks.  Lance has the idea that Thea is a perfect specimen of demure womanhood and will meekly accept his every instruction and suggestion without complaint, whereas Conner knows all too well that Thea has a brain and knows how to use it; she’s not afraid to voice her own opinions and most definitely won’t appreciate being treated like some sort of delicate flower.

Conner’s machinations – which include engaging the most unsuitable chaperone in the history of chaperones – are devious and sometimes amusing, especially when they backfire and only make the likelihood of Thea’s changing her mind even more remote.  I liked that Thea is wise to his game, and also that as the ill-fated elopement continues, she sheds her rose-tinted view of Conner and sees him as the man he really is.  And Conner, well… he starts out seeming like a conceited git; he’s so sure that Thea will fall into his arms and weep with gratitude at the prospect of marrying him, yet it’s telling that she’s the first – and only – woman he thinks of when he learns he has to find a wife.  Of course, it takes the prospect of losing Thea to open Conner’s eyes to the truth of his feelings for her and for him to realise that he wants her enough to consider making some substantial changes to his way of life so that they can be together.

Ms. Hawkins writes with a very sure hand; the relationship between Conner and Thea is well drawn and the dialogue is sharp and often funny, but while I enjoyed Caught by the Scot, it didn’t have that certain something that elevated it from the merely “good”, and didn’t really offer anything I haven’t read hundreds of times before.  I also got very tired very quickly of the written out dialect; all the “dinnae”s and “cannae”s and “mon”s and “verra”s that are so often found in stories featuring Scottish characters, and which are completely unnecessary.  It’s not that I found the text difficult to read or understand, it’s just an affectation that annoys me; the author tells us this character is a Scot, so unless I’m told otherwise, they have a Scottish accent which I’m quite capable of imagining for myself.

With that said, fans of sexy Scottish heroes should find much to enjoy in Caught by the Scot, which is by turns poignant, sensual and funny.  I may well stick around for the next book to see how the next Douglas brother is Made to Marry.

AUDIO REVIEW: Provoked (Enlightenment #1) by Joanna Chambers, narrated by Hamish McKinlay

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David Lauriston is struggling to build his reputation in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. His humble origins are enough of a hurdle, never mind his recent decision to defend a group of weavers accused of treason, prompting speculation that he may harbour radical sympathies. The last thing he should be doing is agreeing to help the brother of one of the convicted weavers find the government agent who caused his brother’s downfall.

David’s personal life is no more successful. Tormented by his forbidden desires for other men, and the painful memories of the childhood friend he once loved, David tries his hardest to live a celibate existence, castigating himself whenever his resolve slips.

But then into David’s repressed and orderly world bursts Lord Murdo Balfour.

Cynical, hedonistic, and utterly unapologetic, Murdo could not be less like David. Whilst David refuses to entertain the prospect of entering into a loveless marriage for propriety’s sake, Murdo is determined to wed one day – and has no intention of giving up the company of other men when he does so. But as appalled as David is by Murdo’s unrepentant self-interest, he cannot resist the man’s sway.

Murdo tempts and provokes David in equal measure, distracting him from his promise to find the agent provocateur responsible for the weavers’ fate, and forcing him to acknowledge his physical desires.

But is Murdo more than a mere distraction?

Is it possible he could be the very man David is looking for?

Publisher and Release Date: Joanna Chambers, August 2017

Time and Setting: Scotland, 1820 
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Running Time: 5 hours 52 minutes
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

I’ve read the Enlightenment trilogy three times – it’s one of my most favorite historical series, queer or straight.  I love how Ms. Chambers paces the central relationship over the course of the trilogy, neatly dovetailing it with an intriguing subplot that similarly plays out over the three books, while also linking the actions of her principal characters to the time period.  Well drawn secondary characters play central roles in the progress of the story, but the focus remains on the romantic relationship at its heart.  Although Provoked is my least favorite of the three books that comprise the trilogy, it’s still tremendously compelling and entertaining.  To my happy surprise, narrator Hamish McKinlay’s terrific narration further elevates this moving, frustrating story; I’m delighted to tell you he does a marvelous job bringing the characters and novel to life.  Provoked is provoking… and a wonderful prelude of what’s to come.

David Lauriston is slowly and steadily building his reputation as an advocate in Edinburgh.   Despite humble origins and a lack of family connections, he’s managed to make a place for himself in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world.  However, when Provoked opens, his loyalty to crown and country is in question.  He’s spent the past months unsuccessfully defending a group of weavers accused of treason.  On this day, he’s witnessed the execution of two of the men he defended, and though he’s convinced of their innocence, he’s aware that the case has raised concerns that David similarly harbours radical sympathies.  Stopping overnight at an inn on his way back to Edinburgh, he enters the dining room and to his dismay, discovers it full of locals and travelers discussing the case.  Fortunately, the innkeeper spots him lurking in the doorway and directs him to a private room.

Left on his own and lost in his thoughts, a somber David is surprised by the arrival of another dinner guest. Murdo Balfour is also staying at the inn, and after the two men introduce themselves, he joins David for dinner.  Mr. Balfour is handsome, urbane and charming, and David finds himself – against his better judgement – captivated and attracted to his companion.  The air is electric as an undercurrent of attraction pulses between them; after a couple of drams of whisky, a few charged glances, and a whispered exchange of words, David finds himself on his knees in a dark alleyway sucking Murdo’s cock.  But unlike most of David’s furtive, shameful experiences with men, the encounter doesn’t end there.  Instead, Murdo pulls him up, kisses him – whispering all the naughty things he’d like to do with David – and brings him off with his hand.  David knows he’ll hate himself for lapsing soon enough, but for now, just the memory of Balfour and his dark, dirty words is enough to inflame him again… and again… and again.

David returns to Edinburgh determined to put the night behind him, but even new professional opportunities aren’t enough to enable him to forget Balfour.  He’s consumed with thoughts of the man… until he’s approached by Euan MacLennan, brother of one of the convicted weavers, who believes a government agent betrayed the convicted men.  Armed with a vague idea of what the man looks like and a possible connection to the daughter of a senior advocate, Euan is desperate and determined to track down the agent and avenge his brother; David, fearing what Euan might do if he locates the man, cautions him to be careful – but offers to help.

Shortly after Euan’s visit, Ms. Chambers reunites David with Murdo when they find themselves guests at the same dinner party.  David’s intense attraction to Lord Balfour is undiminished, but he’s distracted when he uncovers a possible connection between his host and the man Euan seeks.  The men retire for drinks and David over imbibes in an attempt to distract himself from the effects of Balfour’s proximity, but he’s thwarted when Balfour departs at the same time.  What follows – a passionate interlude and heated words – sets the tone for each of their future encounters – which happen more often than David would like.  Balfour wants David and has no qualms pursuing him while publicly courting a woman.  David’s unwillingness to do the same – or to even entertain the possibility – angers and frustrates Balfour.  Mr. McKinlay does a marvelous job voicing both Balfour’s cynicism and David’s bewildered confusion over his erstwhile lover’s anger.

Told exclusively through David’s point of view, Ms. Chambers uses the dinner party to masterfully link the two central plot lines – David’s tumultuous relationship with Murdo and the search for the government agent who betrayed Euan’s brother.  The intricately plotting coalesces against the backdrop of the Scottish Enlightenment, and it’s a clever bit of storytelling as the author uses David and Murdo to mirror what’s happening in Edinburgh.  Even as David struggles with guilt over his forbidden desires, he’s willing to question his government and its leaders; conversely, Murdo has no guilt or moral shame over his sexual desires, and though he recognizes the plight of the poor and unfortunate, he has no desire or interest in changing the status quo.  David and Murdo – enlightened in very different ways – are a fascinating match-up.  The combination of their scorching chemistry, intense attraction and clear affection  – though they try to disguise it – is richly compelling.  Their passion for each other is so well done.

I started listening to Provoked very familiar with the story, and unsure whether the audio version could anything new to my perceptions of it.  It did.  Although I struggled early on with Mr. McKinlay’s narration, it didn’t take long for me to begin to enjoy it – and to FINALLY begin to see David in a more sympathetic light. I, much like Murdo, struggled with what I perceived as David’s goody-two-shoes, self-righteous and sanctimonious persona.  But Mr. McKinlay somehow imbues the character with a kindness and sweetness, and an underlying sense of bewilderment over Murdo – he can’t reconcile how he feels for the man with his moral compass, and he really can’t understand what about him seems to trigger Murdo’s mercurial emotions when they’re together.  I finally LIKED David listening to him.  I particularly loved the narrator’s portrayal of Murdo in all his Provoked incarnations – charming, playful, naughty, angry, and even petulant – especially in his last encounter with David.  He’s a gorgeous character on the page, and in Mr. McKinlay’s voice he’s even more wonderful.  I’m not as fond of the narrator’s female voices – they just made me uncomfortable – but his portrayal of David and Murdo transcends these issues.

I didn’t think I could love the Enlightenment trilogy any more than I do, but Hamish McKinlay’s voice truly elevates Provoked.  I will anxiously await book two, and prepare to be beguiled (wink) by his voice all over again.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands.

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muffled words yelled at her.

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

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Highlander Who Loved Me by Tara Kingston

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Johanna Templeton is on a life-and-death quest. Swept into an intrigue that rivals the tales she pens, she joins forces with a Highland rogue to find the treasure that will save her kidnapped niece—a prize the Scot seeks for reasons that have nothing to do with ransom. Engaging the Highlander in a sizzling battle of the sexes, Johanna shields her heart.

Connor MacMasters, spy for Queen Victoria, is a man on a mission—keep a legendary gemstone from an evil man. Trailing an American novelist who holds the key to the treasure should’ve been simple, but Johanna awakens feelings he’d long thought dead. Torn between duty and desire, he wants her in his bed, but loving her would be a fool’s game. Blasted shame his heart doesn’t agree.

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EXCERPT

“My, lass, this is a surprise.” His husky burr was slow and deliberate and so very male.

Johanna lowered the lamp and slowly pivoted to face him. Oh, my!

Connor MacMasters stood before her. Fully, gloriously naked.

Gulping a breath, she forced her gaze to remain above his waist. His hair was damp, and he hadn’t shaved yet. Thick, dark stubble accented the strong contours of his jaw. Her gaze trailed lower. A slight sheen glistened on his broad, muscular shoulders while tiny beads of moisture dotted the dark hair on his chest.

That full, sensuous mouth of his quirked at one corner. “Have ye come to show yer appreciation for my chivalry? Or have ye decided my company is preferable to the specters that roam this old house?”

Liquid warmth filled her, a longing that penetrated to the bone. For a moment in time—a heartbeat, perhaps—she could think of nothing but the taste of his kiss, the feel of his lips against hers, the sound of her name in his raspy burr, whispered in a moment of passion.

That hint of a smile broadened. “Something wrong, Miss Templeton?” His tone faintly teasing, he put undue emphasis on her state of wedlock—or lack of. “Am I to believe ye werenae expecting me?”

She forced her head to shake in weak denial. “I…I wondered where you were. I heard noises.”

“Noises, eh?” He arched a dark brow. “The rattling of chains? Ghostly moans? Or weighted footsteps, perhaps?”

“Nothing like that. Probably just a mouse.”

His other brow lifted. “After all ye’ve been through, a mouse sends ye running?”

“I detest the filthy little creatures.” That, at least, came out with the conviction of truth. “I thought you’d gone to sleep.”

“Not yet.”

Damn him, the Scot made no move to put on a stitch of clothing. Not so much as a towel. Unable to help herself, her gaze dipped lower to the etched, muscular plane of his abdomen. A line of sable hair traced a decadent path from his navel lower, to a thick patch of hair even darker than that on his head.

She snapped her eyes up. He caught the motion, his mouth twisting with wry amusement he made no effort to hide.

“Am I to believe ye entered my chamber—searching for me, no less—because you feared a rodent might launch an attack?”

“I feared no such thing,” she countered. Her pride chafed at the incredulous humor in his voice. “I was alarmed. Nothing more.”

He folded his arms at the waist and rocked back on his heels, infuriatingly casual for a man who stood without a stitch to cover him. “By the saints, I’m the one should be alarmed. ’Tis not often that I emerge from my bathing chamber to find a comely lass beside my bed, threatening to compromise my fine reputation.”

“Compromise…your reputation?” The words plopped from her tongue like the last stubborn drops of molasses in an upended jug.

“Aye. I am an unmarried mon. What would anyone think, finding me alone in this room with a bonny lass who’s gone to such lengths to seduce me?”

“Seduce…seduce you?” Dash it all, she sounded like a parrot that had fallen off its perch and landed on its head.

“I can think of cruder terms. Would ye enjoy that?” He prowled toward her, his toes sinking into the plush carpet with each step. Lamplight gleamed over the contours of his chest, warming his skin with soft, golden rays.

She gave her head an urgent shake, as if to clear it. Stiffening her spine, she held his gaze. “I assure you there’s no need.”

His head moved slowly up and down in agreement. “Verrae true. Who needs talk at a time like this?”

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tara-kingstonAward-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern-belle-out-of-water in a quaint Pennsylvania town, she lives her own love story with her real-life hero and a pair of deceptively innocent-looking kitties in a cozy Victorian. The mother of two sons, Tara’s a former librarian whose love of books is evident in her popping-at-the-seams bookcases. It goes without saying that Tara’s husband is thankful for the invention of digital books, thereby eliminating the need for yet another set of shelves. When she’s not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys movie nights, cycling, hiking, DIY projects, collecting dolls, and cheering on her favorite football team.

The Rebel of Clan Kincaid (Highland Warrior #2) by Lily Blackwood

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LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD

Since childhood, Magnus has been led to believe he is the Laird Alwyn’s bastard, and raised to hate the Clan Kincaid. But when he learns he is without a doubt the son of the murdered Laird Kincaid, his life as he has always known it is shattered. Now, hiding his knowledge and his fury, he returns to Burnbryde Castle, awaiting the chance to strike against the man whose treachery robbed him of his legacy. His first act of rebellion: to steal a kiss from the redheaded beauty who’s betrothed to the Alwyn’s eldest son and heir.

Since her arrival at Burnbryde, Tara Iverach has been confined to a tower to guard her virtue before she marries. But after a surprise embrace with a lean, bare-chested Highlander who claims to be the Alwyn’s oldest son, she can’t contain her excitement over her good fate. Unfortunately, he is the wrong eldest son, and she is set to marry his cruel and lecherous half brother, Hugh. Can Magnus conquer his rivals and claim his Kincaid destiny before the woman who’s captured his heart becomes his sworn enemy’s bride?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, December 2016

Time and Setting: 14th Century Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I do enjoy a Scottish Highlands tale, and the description of this one really intrigued me. Who doesn’t like a good tale of betrayal and vengeance? The Rebel of Clan Kincaid is second in a series, following right on the heels of The Beast of Clan Kincaid, and while I may have understood some of the politics and secondary characters better had I read it, this one stands alone just fine.

The story begins with Magnus, raised as the bastard son of the Laird Alwyn, discovering that he is really the son of the murdered Laird Kincaid and that he has been serving his parents’ murderer all his life. Initially thrown for a loop, Magnus soon develops a burning desire for vengeance and vows to bide his time until the day he can prove Alwyn guilty and avenge the death of his parents and the loss of their ancestral lands. As a fierce warrior and chief of the laird’s war band, he is in the ultimate position to enact his plan with the help of his newfound brother, Niall. But the arrival of his half brother Hugh’s betrothed threatens everything when Magnus falls in love with the vulnerable yet surprisingly brave beauty.

Tara Iverach, ward to the powerful Earl of Buchan, has spent the past five years in a priory. When the earl pays her a surprise visit, Tara hopes for a life outside the convent, and she is about to receive her wish, but at a terrible cost. Her beloved older sister, Arabel, has died, and Buchan needs Tara to take her place in a wedding designed to strengthen his alliance with Alwyn. But life at the Alwyn stronghold of Burnbryde turns out to be a nightmare rather than a dream. Locked in a tower, deprived of companionship except for a maid and the ailing Lady Alwyn, Tara quickly becomes suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death. Her betrothed is a malicious, angry man who takes pleasure in terrifying her, and Buchan’s intentions and ambitions prove to be less than honorable. The only bright spot is her growing attraction to her betrothed’s half brother, the handsome and noble Magnus. But their illicit romance is fraught with danger, and though Magnus promises to help her escape marriage to Hugh, when his ulterior motives come to light, Tara realizes the only person she can rely on is herself. But will she be able to pull off a daring escape by herself? And if she does, will she be able to leave Magnus to his fate?

There were some things I loved about this book and some things I did not. What it has going for it: a good bit of history, following the warring of the clans after King David II’s death and featuring the real figures of the Earls of Buchan and Carrick; likeable and compelling characters in Magnus and Tara; and some last-minute twists I didn’t see coming that really bumped the story up in my estimation. What I’ve marked against it: the romance is more of a love-at-first-sight thing, which doesn’t allow for much relationship development; too much internal dialogue that grows repetitive over the course of the story; a couple of cliched plot devices that cheapen the story, including the big misunderstanding; and villains that were too over-the-top to be believable – although one of them eventually merited some compassion and understanding when one of those big twists was revealed at the end.

The unpredictable resolution of the plot threads and an incredibly romantic ending satisfied me and cemented The Rebel of Clan Kincaid as a book that I can recommend to my fellow romance lovers despite my complaints. If you’re a fan of Scottish romances, this one has a more unique setting and underlying historical thread than most. I was so intrigued by Niall and the mystery surrounding the third long-lost Kincaid brother that I do plan to read the other books in the series.

When a Laird Finds a Lass (Highland Fairy Tales #2) by Lecia Cornwall

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She is his greatest enemy and his only salvation.

Malcolm MacDonald, a lawyer in Edinburgh, unexpectedly inherits his father’s title of Laird of Dunbronach, forcing him to return to a place he hasn’t seen since he was a small child. To gain the trust of a wary clan, Malcolm must act upon their insistence that he cast aside his English betrothed and marry a Highlander.

However, they have one condition—no lasses of the barbaric clan MacLeod.

When he finds an unconscious woman in the sea, he brings her back to his clan but not before doing the one thing that could save her life—hiding her all too telling MacLeod plaid. When she wakes with no memory of who she is, Malcolm vows to keep the little he knows about her identity a secret. As new dangers threaten his clan, the mysterious lass teaches Malcolm some very important lessons about how to be a Highlander and a laird.

But secrets never stay secret for long, and when she finds her plaid, her memory returns and she flees. Malcolm is forced to make a difficult choice to win her back, facing his darkest fears and his worst enemy for a chance at true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Swerve/St. Martin’s Press, November 2016
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1707
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Lecia Cornwall has set her stories in the Scottish Highlands but the characters and their struggles to find love ever after are very familiar. In When a Laird Finds a Lass there are some parallels to the story of The Little Mermaid; however the spin here is that the young heroine finds her true voice rather than sacrificing it to find her hero.

Marcail MacLeod’s heart is broken when she discovers the man she hoped would marry her having sex with another woman. With her pride just as bruised as her heart, she makes the mistake of accepting another man’s offer of marriage just to escape humiliation and take back control of her future. On the way to his lands Marcail learns that her new betrothed has no intention of being faithful to her either. She risks everything by jumping into the sea to escape an unhappy marriage.

On the shores of Dunbronach the new laird, Malcom MacDonald, discovers an unconscious young woman wrapped in the plaid of his clan’s enemy, the MacLeods. Malcom was raised as a lowlander in Edinburgh and has only recently assumed the leadership of the impoverished clan after the death of his estranged father, who insisted that Malcom become laird. The elders of the clan want Malcom to continue the old ways and feel that the next step is for him to marry but they warn him away from any woman from the MacLeod clan. Fearing that his people will reject helping the unconscious woman strictly because of her clan association, Malcom hides her plaid before taking her to the healer.

Awakening in a strange place, the woman has trouble remembering her name or the circumstances that brought her to Dunbronach. Some of the people believe she could be a selkie and give her the name Ronat which means “seal.” Others believe she could be a spy and are wary of trusting her. Only Malcom knows the truth of her affiliation and protects her as much as he can by keeping her close. He is attracted to her and enjoys their conversations as she recovers physically but he is aware that her lost memories could hide more than just her name. She could be married or may not wish to associate with a MacDonald because of the enmity between their clans.

As Ronat finds her place within the MacDonald clan she sees the struggles Malcom faces almost daily to lead his people. He wants to do what is right for the community and the land but is untried as a leader and is seen as an outsider from the Highland way of life. Ronat’s memories may have gaps but in her heart she knows how to approach the situation from a highlander’s perspective. She shows Malcom that he can make important changes by listening to his people and showing them that his ideas will gain them exactly what they need. Together they become a team but there is still that uncertainty of who Ronat truly is. Malcom wants her in his life but still fears his people could refuse to have a MacLeod as the laird’s wife.

When a Laird Finds a Lass takes its time developing the relationship between Malcom and Marcail (Ronat) to allow a reader to get a true sense of their growing partnership. The challenges Malcom faces with his clan keep him on shaky footing until Ronat is there to keep him secure his position. As he finds his strength as a leader she is right there, finding her voice as a woman. The community accepts her, Malcom listens to her and she is allowed to flourish because she has no memory of her previous life as daughter of the MacLeod leader. Marcail comes to love Malcom while watching him embrace his inner highlander and trust in the traditions of his clan while still folding in his knowledge of the modern way of doing things. He tries to fight his feelings for Marcail because there of the question mark about her identity, yet Malcom is at his best when he lets her get past those defenses.

I appreciate that the obstacles in front of Malcom and Marcail being together aren’t artificially put in their way. Clan politics and loyalties mean something to both characters and cannot be ignored just because of their attraction. I also liked that the fairy tale undercurrent of the story is brought forth through the Dunbronach peoples’ belief that the laird will be granted a wish for his people by a princess of the sea. When a Laird Finds a Lass shares a setting with the previous book in the Highland Fairy Tale series but stands alone with its storyline and resolution. I enjoyed the subtle sense of magic that brings Malcom and Marcail together and hope there will be more to come in the next book.

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.