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Dair Devil

(Roxton Series, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

 Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive.
A dashing and rugged facade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart.
Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love.

One fateful night they collide.
The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound…

London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair ‘Dair’ Fitzstuart; nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora ‘Rory’ Talbot; spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.

Awards for this Book
2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Medalist: Romance-Historical
2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Finalist: Fiction-Historical

Book Details
Series: Stand-alone fourth book in the highly acclaimed ROXTON family saga
Classification: Parental Guidance Recommended (mild sensuality)
Style: Classic romance with a modern voice.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A beautifully crafted, deliciously romantic love story from Lucinda Brant, superbly performed by the hugely talented Alex Wyndham – what more could I ask for?

Dair Devil is the fourth book in the Roxton series and, although it can be read/listened to as a standalone, I cannot recommend the other books in the series highly enough.

Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart, cousin to Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, is a former major in the British army who fought bravely during the American Revolutionary War and survived despite having a reckless disregard for his own safety. Since returning from the war, he has garnered a reputation for drinking to excess, womanising, never refusing a bet and involving his friends, Cedric Pleasant and Lord Grasby, in all sorts of outlandish pranks. Not commonly known is the fact that he works for Lord Shrewsbury, England’s Spymaster General, as a spy for the Crown. Although Dair is heir to the Earl of Strathsay, his father, who has lived on his sugar plantation with his mistress for years, has given the Duke of Roxton control over Dair’s inheritance and all decisions regarding the estate.  In the meantime, the estate is falling into disrepair, his father refusing to allow any money to be spent on it, and Dair is left playing a waiting game…

Waiting for his father to die. Waiting to inherit. Waiting to do something other than wait.

Aurora Christina Talbot is Lord Shrewsbury’s granddaughter and Lord Grasby’s sister. Born with what we now know as a club foot, Rory walks with a pronounced limp.  At the age of 22, she has no expectations of every marrying , instead…

With no fortune and not enough beauty to overcome a meager dowry, Rory was resigned to living her days as she had begun them, as her grandfather’s dependent.

Both her grandfather and brother love her very much but are often overprotective. So she lives a safe, boring, conventional existence, only alleviated by her interest in the cultivation and caring of her precious pineapple plants.

I love the scene at the beginning where Rory and Dair get all tangled up (literally), Rory having become innocently involved in one of Dair’s escapades which goes dramatically wrong. I won’t spoil it for you because this scene is hilarious and reminded me of one of the old slapstick comedies. Of course, although they have met on occasion socially, Dair has never taken much notice of Rory and fails to recognise her. He is totally captivated by the lovely, witty, honest young woman in his arms and they share a passionate kiss… a kiss that that will turn both their worlds upside down.

I totally fell in love with Dair and Rory and watching their romance gradually unfold was a delight… unashamedly romantic but with just enough hurdles confronting the couple to maintain an element of tension. Rory sees through Dair’s devil-may-care façade to the vulnerable man beneath, whose childhood experiences, especially the reason for his fear of rowing Rory across the lake, are truly heart-breaking. Dair sees past Rory’s disability to the wonderful woman she is and realises how much she has changed his view on life.

Here was a young woman who, through no fault of hers, lived with an impediment every day. It was a circumstance out of her control, and yet she had not allowed it to rule how she viewed the world. She was not bitter. She did not blame others. She was joyful and full of optimism. He needed that in his life. He needed her in his life.

I love the scene on Swan Island where Dair and Rory finally consummate their love because Ms Brant weaves a lovely romantic, playful and sensual atmosphere without being explicit. I also love the story of the tapestry which has special significance having read Noble Satyr.

Dair and Rory have a champion in Antonia, now Duchess of Kinross, and when Lord Shrewsbury refuses to allow the marriage, she is more than a match for the England’s Spymaster General. As she tells Dair – “All men have secrets, Alisdair. Even spymasters.” –  and when she confronts Shrewsbury with his secrets, she is just magnificent.

I thought that Dair’s interactions with the Banks’ family and his acknowledgement of his illegitimate son showed what an honourable man he is. At the same time, I was very relieved that the storyline didn’t veer in the direction of a Big Misunderstanding.

Ms Brant has drawn together an excellent cast of secondary characters, all adding colour and depth to the story. There is also an element of mystery and intrigue as Dair works to uncover the identity of a traitor within Lord Shrewsbury’s spy network, and someone thought long dead is very much alive.

As other reviewers have commented, it is impossible to think of superlatives to describe Alex Wyndham’s performance that have not already been said. He does an amazing job of giving each character their own distinctive voice and literally breathes life into Ms Brant’s characters making listening to her books such a wonderful experience.

MY VERDICT:  Another winner from the magical team of Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read/Listened to August 2016

 

Roxton Series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda Brant Midnight Marriage (Roxton Series #2) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series #3) by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga Books 1–3 by Lucinda Brant

 

**I received a free download of this audiobook from the author in return for an honest review**

MY FAVOURITE QUOTES

Scandalous Desires

He treasured her, treasured her tears, treasured her love for others. Her heart might even be big enough to fill that empty space in his own chest. Perhaps she could be his heart as well.

(Charming Mickey O’Connor and Silence Makepeace)

Katherine - Anya Seton

Genre: Historical Romance (England 1366-1403)

Cover Blurb:

This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Anya Seton’s Katherine has pride of place on my bookshelf. Its hard-backed cover is tatty and falling apart; I ‘borrowed’ it from a communal bookshelf in my WRNS quarters when I was a seventeen year-old girl and herewith confess my crime – I never returned it. It’s THAT book, that ONE book that one never forgets, the one that started my fascination with the Plantagenet dynasty and John of Gaunt in particular, and it is a fascination that has never faded. It says a lot about a book when it has rarely been out of print in over sixty years and whose heroine has her own followings, FB groups and associations.

Katherine Swynford was a living, breathing person and her love affair with one of the most powerful men of his time is unforgettable. Obviously Anya Seton ‘padded-out’ the story of this insignificant girl and the glorious Duke of Lancaster but there can be little doubt that this golden god of a man, third son of Edward III, actually loved the woman whom he eventually married.

Anya Seton became intrigued by the story of this little known medieval woman after reading mention of her in a biography about the poet and writer Geoffrey Chaucer, to whom Katherine’s sister, Phillippa was married. She is the ancestor of not one but FOUR great Royal houses, and luckily for us, Ms. Seton travelled to England from America to carry out her research and to tell what I believe to be one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.

Katherine de Roet was the daughter of a Flemish herald and although beautiful (so we’re told by Chaucer and other contemporary sources) was as poor as a church mouse and as insignificant as one too, especially in comparison to the courtiers of Edward III’s entourage. At that time she would have been well below the notice of the great John of Gaunt who had married for dynastically advantageous reasons, as was most often the case with the nobility. Blanche of Lancaster was both beautiful and well dowered, in riches and lands. The sixteen-year-old Katherine was married off to Sir Hugh Swynford, a lowly knight in Lancaster’s retinue and was sent off to live at his run-down Manor House in Lincolnshire – the gatehouse of which still stands today. Blanche of Lancaster bore the Duke three children, including the future Henry IV, but she died at an early age of the plague, and it is believed that Katherine Swynford nursed her until her death, or, at least, this is how Anya Seton explains Katherine becoming known to the Duke. At some point after Blanche’s death and later Hugh Swynford’s too, Katherine and John of Gaunt became lovers and she bore him four illegitimate children over a period of approximately ten years, who became known as the Beauforts.

John still had his duty to perform and whilst carrying on his affair with Katherine, he married Constanza of Castille who bore him one child, a girl, Catherine, who was to become the ancestor of the Royal Line of Spain.

These were hard times in England and Richard II, just a boy when he inherited the throne following the premature demise of his father, the Black Prince, was supported by his rich, powerful though unpopular uncle, The Duke of Lancaster. After this tumultuous period in British history, Katherine and John’s affair appears to have ended and there were no more recorded children. He devoted himself to his Spanish wife and child and although generally unpopular with the people of England, nevertheless continued to be the right hand-man of his nephew, King Richard II. After her high profile as the Duke’s mistress, Katherine disappeared from public view with her children by Hugh Swynford and her brood of illegitimate children. It is believed that Katherine retired to care for her children, her deceased husband’s estate and most importantly, to repent of her/their sins which had had a bad effect on the popularity of both herself and the duke.

To me though, the most compellingly romantic aspect of the story is how John reacted after his second wife died. At the age of fifty five, he was at last relatively duty-free and able to follow his heart; he returned to marry his Katherine, and the king legitimised their four Beaufort children, by then all fully grown. This was quite an unprecedented move, and the family went on to became very powerful and rich. Their descendants fought for power amongst themselves, a result of which was the Wars of the Roses. Eventually from these family traumas, the Royal lines of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor were born. Quite a woman, our Katherine! From nobody to Royal Duchess and the ancestress of so many great and powerful people. My favourite trope in an historical romance is a rags-to-riches story and this one has to be the most spectacular of all, and not a figment of the imagination either as history shows…“Thou shalt get kings though thou be none.”

If anyone has the opportunity to see Katherine’s final resting place, it’s in beautiful Lincoln Cathedral, surrounded by Cathedral Close, where she often stayed and where the local people took her to their hearts as I took her to mine. She died in 1403 and is interred with her daughter, Joan Beaufort/Neville, Countess of Raby.

MY VERDICT: For anyone out there who has not read Katherine and is a lover of romance and dazzlingly vibrant, well-researched history, I urge you to read this fantastic novel about one of the greatest love stories of all time. 


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STELLAR STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read May 2016

 

This review was originally posted on Historical Romance Reviews:

RETRO REVIEW: Katherine by Anya Seton

The Hunter

(Victorian Rebels, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

They’re rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards—dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the proper Victorian-era ladies who love them, a hint of danger only makes their hearts beat faster…

A scandalous proposal.

As one of London’s most elite hunters, Christopher Argent never misses his mark and always gets his man. But when his latest target turns out to be a woman—the popular, and stunningly beautiful, actress Millie LeCour—it turns his whole world upside-down. Overwhelmed by the heat that simmers between them, Christopher can’t complete his mission. On the contrary, he’ll do anything to save Millie’s life—even if it means risking his own…

A dangerous passion…

When she learns what Christopher was hired to do, Millie is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this dangerous man’s arms may be her only path to safety—but giving in to her desire may be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. With both of their lives in jeopardy, Millie and Christopher must learn to trust the real feelings they’re hiding—to find the true love they’re looking for…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading The Highwayman, the first book in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series last year, I knew I had found an author who was willing to push the established boundaries of historical romance with her dark, gritty, compelling stories and dangerous, tormented anti-heroes. The Hunter certainly didn’t disappoint.

 We were introduced to the mysterious Christopher Argent, in The Highwayman as Dorian Blackwell’s business associate and a cold, ruthless assassin who kills for money without either emotion or remorse. He has accumulated so much wealth that he has no need to accept any more contracts, but killing is all he knows and he’s an expert at what he does. His latest target is Millicent (Millie) LeCour, a popular actress, but when he sees her on stage he is affected in a way he has never experienced before.

It happened again. That curious little jolt in the cavern of his ribs. It was the same when she’d smiled at him from the stage. A startle of sensation. A current of awareness that singed along the nerves beneath his skin with warmth and maybe a touch of pleasure.

Christopher is still determined to fulfil the contract, but ultimately he cannot bring himself to take Millie’s life. Instead, he offers her a bargain – he will protect Millie and her son, Jakub, for one night in her bed. It is a bargain that is to change his life irrevocably.

Millie is a beautiful, talented and popular actress who thrives on the adoration of her audience but she has secrets which force her to keep everyone, other than her son, at arm’s length. Thoughts of marriage or even taking a lover are out the question because her secrets could endanger both her own and her son’s life. Jakub is the most important person in her life and she will do anything to protect him, even make a pact with the devil himself…no matter that the devil comes in the form of a man who has made a number of attempts on her life. She has no reason to trust Christopher Argent and every reason to fear him but…

Millie acknowledged that, in the instance, she didn’t need a white knight, but a shadow that could traverse the darkness with cunning and speed of that lethal viper.

 I went into this book with doubts that Ms Byrne could make me sympathetic towards a stone-hearted killer like Christopher Argent but, from the moment I’d finished reading the powerful and gut-wrenching Prologue, my heart ached for the young Christopher. No-one could endure everything he did and retain any shred of humanity.

It (killing) was all he knew. All he was good at.  And never in his life had he questioned his place, never looked back into the abyss of the past. Never thought of that pathetic, powerless boy he’d once been.
Or of that night he’d lost his soul.

Meeting Millie has him confused and unable to understand what’s happening to him because, until now, he has cut himself off from all human emotions. Watching him struggle with his newly discovered feelings is so compelling and one of my favourite scenes is where Dorian describes to him what love feels like. I love how we see small glimpses that show Christopher still has a shred of humanity in him; his overwhelming need to protect Millie and her son and how gentle he is with Jakub. The scene where Christopher sings the same lullaby to Jakub that his mother used to sing to him was so poignant.

I love Millie’s warmth, strength, intelligence, courage and her overwhelming love for her son. Her life hasn’t been easy but she had the determination and passion to achieve her ambition of becoming an actress.  This makes her a worthy match for Christopher. She may fear him but that doesn’t stop her threatening him, as she does when he tries to wake her at what she considers to be an ungodly hour.

“And if you wake me before nine in the morning again, I’ll pâté your liver and have it with my breakfast. Now get out.”

 Millie feels compassion for Christopher when she discovers everything he suffered as a young boy; it helps her understand him more and what horrors made him into the heartless killer he became. She also realises that he must break the chains of the past before he can tread a different path in life. I like how Ms Byrne doesn’t try to redeem Christopher because nothing can ever erase his past deeds. Intrinsically, she doesn’t change who he is but offers him in the words of Inspector Morley…

“A different life. A better path. The chance to be a force for good. To be a better man.”

The love scenes are steamy, intense and often explicit but I think they perfectly reflect Christopher’s changing emotional state. I especially love the scene where Christopher believes he is making love to Millie in a dream…a dream that always turns into a nightmare but this time it doesn’t. It is such an emotional scene revealing Christopher’s fears and vulnerability when it comes to Millie.

I loved Jakub, Millie’s son, who is such an intelligent and inquisitive child. There are some delightful scenes between Jakub and Christopher including this one when Jakub announces…

“I like you, Mr. Argent,” he announced. “I like that you don’t lie to me because I’m not yet a man. You can go on kissing my mother if you want, so long as you don’t ruin her.”

Dorian and Farah (The Highwayman) play an important role in the story and I enjoyed seeing them still very much in love. I also enjoyed the scenes between Dorian and Christopher which provide some light-hearted moments.  It is wonderful to see a genuine friendship forming between these two.

I found the mystery plot engrossing but there are some realistically brutal and violent parts which may not be to everyone’s taste. One of the villains commits crimes that are particularly heinous and there are some twists and turns before the identity of the person who wants Millie killed and the fate of the missing boys are revealed.

 Although there is no Epilogue (but perhaps we will see more of Christopher and Millie in the next book), I did love the ending with some heart-felt, romantic words from Christopher and a little drollery from Millie and Welton, the butler.

 MY VERDICT: If you are in the mood for something compelling and intense with a suspenseful plot, fascinating characters and a darkly emotional romance, I can definitely recommend The Hunter.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Read August 2016

 

Victorian Rebels series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

The Highwayman (Victorian Rebels, #1) by Kerrigan Byrne The Hunter (Victorian Rebels, #2) by Kerrigan Byrne The Highlander (Victorian Rebels, #3) by Kerrigan Byrne The Duke (Victorian Rebels, #4) by Kerrigan Byrne

 

**I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in return for a honest review.”

Lords of Misrule

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – London 1653, 1654)

 Cover Blurb:

 Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives.  On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task.  Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

It’s always difficult to come to a series of books part-way through, so when I knew I was going to review Lords of Misrule, I decided to quickly acquaint myself with some of the background information of the series and about the English Civil War, my knowledge of which was sketchy to say the least. I was advised to read The Black Madonna (first in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series) and was very glad I did, as it’s here that we first meet Eden Maxwell, who is the hero of Lords of Misrule.

Married young to a woman who was completely wrong for him, his early experience of love and marriage has left Eden deeply mistrustful, embittered and unable to show love to his son and resentful of the little girl he realises he did not father. He rarely returns home even though his wife disappears with her lover soon after discovery, and his continuing absence drives a wedge between himself and his family although it is not what he wishes. A decade later, older and wiser, he has vowed never to trust love and absolutely never to marry again. By now a confident and battle-scarred soldier, Eden is also a man who does not suffer fools or trust easily. I adored the tetchy, vulnerable, overprotective, charismatic character that Eden has become – and then there’s that devastating smile!

These are serious times and England has been in the grip of civil war for well over a decade. Families are split, the Country is short of money and the anointed King has been executed. Oliver Cromwell has been named Lord Protector – king in all but name – and parliament is attempting to bring some order to a divided country. Eden Maxwell has become a discontented and disenchanted man, and, owing to his inborn integrity and sense of justice, is finding himself frequently in sympathy with both sides. Employed as an Intelligence officer and code breaker at the Tower of London, Eden reports directly to Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. Eden is first and foremost a soldier, and having fought in and survived three civil wars, is not happy with his current role as paper pusher and glorified errand boy.

When a brick is hurled through a window of recently widowed Lydia Neville’s workshop in a seemingly random attack, she is thrown into the orbit of Colonel Eden Maxwell and he instantly becomes interested. Lydia, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has continued with the work she began with her now deceased husband. They had intuitively recognised a need to provide opportunities for honest employment for wounded and disabled soldiers, casualties of both sides of the war, and also for the widows of soldiers who are left with families to care for. At first Lydia and Eden strike sparks off of each other. He is overbearing, cynical and dismissive while she is independent, feisty and not about to allow any man to control her or her actions. Worthy adversaries both, it isn’t long before their antipathy turns to reluctant attraction, drawn to each other firstly by their joint empathy for Lydia’s workforce and then by the threats and intimidation levelled at Lydia herself.

The challenge presented by the ever increasing threats to Lydia and her workforce is something that Eden relishes and embraces with enthusiasm, as well as bringing out his inborn desire to protect. The romance, which develops slowly over the entire story, sends shivers down the spine, but in Stella Riley’s inimitable style is never allowed to take-over, this being very much a historical romance with the emphasis on ‘historical’. Ms. Riley’s characters are superbly well drawn and they quickly become our friends. We love them, admire them, feel for them and worry for them. It’s something the author does incredibly well. She incorporates actual people, who lived and contributed to the past, but so well developed are her fictitious personalities, that it’s easy to forget which are historical and which are figments of her very fertile imagination.

Stella Riley’s story has encompassed everything; fantastically well researched and richly described historic detail, characters to love and swoon over and an incredibly well devised plot that had me guessing until the end. It’s intricate, plausible and intelligent, displaying her unique talent for ratcheting up the drama until we’re left gasping from the sheer ingenuity and thrill of it all. As is always the case with any story written by this author, the relationships between her characters, especially the men, are sensitively and tenderly developed; their camaraderie often moving but, at other times, extremely funny. Ms. Riley has a very dry wit and some of the scenes between Eden and his brother, Tobias, are especially touching and amusing in turns.

What a fascinating period the seventeenth century was, and since embarking on my Stella Riley binge, I am continuously asking myself how I could have failed to be interested in this vital period in English history. Ms. Riley’s scholarship is incredible; this is such a complicated period to get to grips with and her descriptions, knowledge and quite obvious love for it shines through. How can we, the reader, fail to be infected by this author’s hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge and outstanding writing skill?

MY VERDICT: I cannot recommend the Roundheads and Cavaliers series highly enough and fully intend to go back and read Garland of Straw and The King’s Falcon because they are not to be missed.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STELLAR STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read May 2016

 

Roundheads and Cavaliers series to date (click on the book covers or more details):

The Black Madonna (Civil War, #1) by Stella Riley Garland of Straw (Civil War, #2) by Stella Riley The King's Falcon by Stella Riley Lords of Misrule by Stella Riley

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review. **

A Lady Awakened

 (Blackshear Family #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

In Cecilia Grant’s emotionally rich and deeply passionate Regency romance debut, a deal with a rumored rogue turns a proper young woman into . . . A Lady Awakened.

Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was Cecilia’s Grant’s debut novel in 2011 and it has to be one of the most unconventional Historical Romances I have read. While the premise bears similarities to other books I have read, it is Ms Grant’s unique voice and wonderfully flawed and interesting characters that make this book exceptional.

When Martha Russell’s husband is killed in a riding accident, she knows that, as a childless widow, Seton Park will pass to her late husband’s brother, James Russell. With very little means of supporting herself, she has no option but to live as her brother’s dependent. Then her solicitor advises her that it is normal to wait sufficient time to ensure that she is not carrying her late husband’s son and heir. She knows full well she is not pregnant but it offers her a few more weeks or a month at Seton Park. She is not only concerned for the future of her tenants and servants but she has given her support to the building of a new school for the local children. This could be in jeopardy because James Russell will decide whether it is to be built or not and Martha also learns of his reputation for taking advantage of female servants. Desperate to protect both the tenants working on the estate and the females of her household, she formulates a plan…to get pregnant. All she needs is a gentleman who is willing to have sex with her once a day for a month, for which service she is willing to pay five hundred pounds regardless of whether it is a boy or girl, and fifteen hundred pounds more if she gives birth to a son. Learning of his disreputable reputation, newly arrived Theophilus Mirkwood seems like the perfect candidate.

This could end in a dozen different kinds of disaster. There’d be no guarantee of success. And how to get through it without losing all claim to principle, she couldn’t begin to imagine.
So be it. She could wait for Providence to come to these women’s aid, or she could make use of what Providence had already put in her path. “Sheridan.” She twisted to face her maid squarely. “Tell me again about Mr. Mirkwood.

Tired of his son’s spendthrift and dissolute ways, Theophilus (Theo) Mirkwood’s father has stripped him of his allowance and banished him to the country estate in Sussex in the hope that Theo can improve himself by learning some land management skills. Theo is surprised to receive a request that he call on his neighbour, the widowed Mrs Russell, but he is totally unprepared for what follows!

“I can get you funds, Mr. Mirkwood, in exchange for something from you. I need to conceive a child.”
Only by heroic will and quick use of his napkin did he prevent a mouthful of tea from spewing straight into his lap. He choked and sputtered, and groped for the fresh napkin she held out to him as his teacup met its saucer
all clumsy and percussive.

Somehow the prim, stern widow, dressed head to toe in black, intrigues him and he finds himself fantasising about what she would be like in bed. Despite her insistence that this is purely a business arrangement from which she has no wish to derive any pleasure, Theo is sure that, as an experienced lover, he will be able to seduce her. But Martha seems completely immune to all his efforts and, if he is to fulfil their bargain, he may have to rethink his strategy.

What I love about this book is the understated way in which Ms Grant builds the relationship between these two disparate people. Theo is charming, funny and good-natured with the ability to put people at ease, but he is honest enough to admit to being a spoiled, lazy wastrel because that’s all anyone had ever expected of him. Martha is the complete opposite – serious, stubborn, highly principled with a genuine desire to better the lives of her tenants and provide education for the young estate girls.

Their ‘afternoon appointments’ are awkward and totally unsexy. Martha wants Theo for one thing only…his seed and nothing else. I’m so pleased Ms Grant didn’t make Martha frigid. She has experienced pleasure (albeit at her own hand) but she refuses to compromise on her principles. Although she comes to like Theo, she can never have any emotional connection to a man she cannot respect and whose sole purpose in life is the pursuit of pleasure. I admire how Martha stays true to her principles throughout the story. Poor Theo. The one thing he really excels in is knowing how to please a woman but having Martha shrinking from his every touch has him questioning his own self-worth.

Surprisingly, Ms Grant imbues these impersonal sex scenes with considerable humour and these inner thoughts of Martha’s are my particular favourite.

Where she was molded, he was rough-hewn. Where her form curved with logic and precision, not to mention breeding parts tucked neatly away, he looked rangy, haphazard, his male parts an ill-placed afterthought. Like the last leftover bits of clay scraped together, rolled into primitive forms and stuck onto the middle of him, the stones in their rough red sack and that improbable appendage dangling to the fore.

Through their regular after-sex discussions, they get to know each other better and an unlikely friendship develops. They take walks and start to learn from and help each other. Although initially feigned to gain Martha’s approval, Theo’s interest in land management and his tenants becomes genuine and Martha encourages him to believe in his own abilities, something no one has ever done before. Martha’s reserved nature means that she finds it difficult to socialise and when Theo discovers that she has no friends, acquaintances or callers, he arranges for people to call and I loved Martha’s response when Theo asks her…

“And what worthy things did you accomplish today?”

I didn’t accomplish a thing.” Her smile deepened, sweet and bracing as a bite of lemon cake. “I had callers.”

Gradually this friendship grows into affection, admiration and finally love and I like how their sexual encounters undergo subtle changes to reflect their evolving relationship.

It seems improbable that such a morally principled woman like Martha would be willing to cheat a man out of his inheritance but, for her, it is the only way to protect her female servants, her tenants and ensure that the school is built. When she meets James Russell’s wife and children, I could feel that she is troubled over cheating these boys out of their future inheritance and has great sympathy for Mrs Russell.

The secondary characters, Mrs Weaver and her children, Mr Barrow and Mr Atkins, the curate, all add depth to the story and highlight the ways in which Theo and Martha grow and change in the course of the story. Look out for the Weaver’s devious pig who steals the show with his antics every time he makes an appearance.

I like how Ms Grant portrayed the villainous James Russell as an “unimpressive figure”. As was frequently the case with such men, it was his position and power which allowed him to prey on the women in his employ.

I thought the ending was well thought out with everything tied up in a satisfactory and believable way and allowing Martha and Theo to finally marry. As a devotee of the Epilogue, the lack of one was my only gripe, but not enough for me to give the book less than 5 stars.

I can’t end this review without reference to Ms Grant’s wonderful writing and here are a few of my favourite quotes.

“Shouldn’t you have seduced me first? Or drugged my tea, and let me wake up chained to a bed?”
She colored, and looked more disapproving yet. “This is a business arrangement. I should like to conduct it accordingly.”

★✩★

The pig heaved forward, but Theo blocked it with one boot. “May I present Mr. Mirkwood, the proprietor’s eldest son? I’m showing him round the estate today.” With surprising agility, the pig feinted left and then surged right. He just managed to get his boot in front of it again, prompting an indignant barrage of squeals and grunts to round out the general cacophony.

★✩★

 His blood hummed and tingled as though tiny benevolent hornets were racing through his body.

 ★✩★

Damnation, but she did make him feel like a king. She made him feel as though he’d always been one, muddling along just waiting for her to kiss him out of some enchantment into his birthright.


MY VERDICT: Definitely recommended and I look forward to reading the other books in the series with relish.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read July 2016

 

 Blackshear Family series (click on the book covers for more details):

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong (Blackshear Family, #0.5) by Cecilia Grant A Lady Awakened (Blackshear Family, #1) by Cecilia Grant A Gentleman Undone (Blackshear Family, #2) by Cecilia Grant A Woman Entangled (Blackshear Family, #3) by Cecilia Grant

 

 

I’m delighted to welcome National Bestselling, RITA-nominated author KATE NOBLE to Rakes and Rascals today for an exclusive interview.

Thank you for having me!

~~~~~~~


R&R:

Could you tell us where you were born and what it was like growing up there?

Kate:
I was born in Oakland CA, but I grew up in the Navy – we moved around a lot until we landed in Annapolis, MD, where I spent the majority of my formative years.
It’s a beautiful town, with a ton of history. Do you like cobblestone streets, sailing, crab boils and men in uniform? You’ll like Annapolis.

Kate Noble Interview - Annapolis_street
Annapolis


R&R
:
How would you describe yourself – temperamental or easy-going?

Kate:
I am easy-going about most things, because I don’t really care about the little stuff.  I mean, if someone has a very specific brand of potato chip they want, I’m not going to stand in their way.  I save all my fight to hold the line on what’s important – stuff about my kid, my job, my family.   That stuff, I’ll go 10 rounds with you all day long.

 

R&R:
When it comes to food do you like sweet or savoury or both?

Kate:
SWWWWWWWEEEEEEETTTTTTTT.  Anything with sugar is my (and my dentist’s) friend.

 

R&R:
What is your most treasured possession?

Kate:
That’s hard to say, because ever since I had my son, I feel like there’s only one thing I would grab in a fire, and it would be him (which is totally cheesy, but that’s hormones for you). I have a stuffed dog that was in my crib when I was born, a couple pieces of jewelry from my grandmother and an 1890 copy of Pride and Prejudice that I picked up in Notting Hill when I was a student.  But I might have to say my computer, since it has every single thing I’ve ever written on it (don’t worry, though, I have backups upon backups).

 

R&R:
If you were able to afford a second home anywhere in the world where would you choose and why?

Kate:
Cape Cod.  And hopefully I’d be able to avoid all the cross country plane fare to get there.

 

R&R:
Finally, what has been your most embarrassing moment?

Kate:
Also tough to say, since I have dozens of minor embarrassments every day that I constantly play over and over in my head, so every embarrassing moment grows in scale until its exactly the same level of embarrassing as anything else.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Thank you for taking time out to be here today and sharing these interesting facts about yourself, Kate

Thank you for having me!  And thank you for finding my utter mundane-ness interesting!

 


If you would like to find out more about Kate and her books, here are the links:

Website

Goodreads

Facebook

Twitter

 

 

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