Archive for January, 2018

Elisa Braden Interview -Author Photo

I’m delighted to welcome Historical Romance Author ELISA BRADEN to Rakes and Rascals today for an exclusive interview.

Thank you so much for having me! It’s a delight to be here.



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

I was born and raised in northeast Washington State, which many people fail to realize exists. Sounds funny, but it’s true. It’s a rural area dotted with small, snail-paced towns along the Columbia River. People unfamiliar with the region assume it’s either Washington D.C. (opposite side of the country), Seattle (opposite side of the state), Idaho (neighboring state), or southern Alaska (not even close). Public school geography instruction clearly needs improvement.

To be fair, Washington State has only a few major cities, of which Seattle is the best known. The state also boasts an astoundingly diverse landscape, ranging from sea coasts and rain forests in the west; Alp-like, jagged peaks blanketed with emerald fir forests running like a spine down the middle; rolling wheat fields and boundless vineyards and red-rock canyons at its heart; and, in the northeast, older, gentler mountains topped by remote lakes, cascading creeks, and towering pines.

Elisa Braden Interview - Cascades
The majestic Cascade Mountains separate hot-summered, long-wintered Eastern Washington from the mild, rainy, gray west side, where Elisa now lives. Because Elisa prefers rain.

Where I grew up, it was slow and sleepy, scented with pine, populated with families and churches and local watering holes (lots of those). Dry, hot summers were spent near the lake or floating the rivers. Long, snowy winters were spent finding a good hill for sledding and trying to avoid driving on black ice or in freezing fog.

Elisa Braden Interview - Me with Mom and Granny
Elisa’s mom and granny stand knee-deep in an epic Eastern Washington winter. Elisa prefers rain.

That last bit is why I ended up on the western side of the state, where snow and ice are a novelty. Who needs the stress? I like rain just fine.


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

My dad once told me if I was any more laid back, I’d be dead. He was kidding (sorta), but I’d say I’m far more easy-going than not. That’s not to imply I don’t get uptight (deadlines—ugh) or that I don’t have my prickly moments (mostly before coffee or after someone pushes my last button), but generally speaking, I prefer peace and happiness over chaos and drama.


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

Yes. All of the above. I love food in general and rich, bad-for-me food in particular. Except fish. Blech. Many people have tried to convince me to like fish by suggesting, “Try it. It doesn’t even taste like fish.” My answer is this: If I want to eat something that doesn’t taste like fish, I’ll eat chicken. My second answer: The problem with fish is that it smells like fish. As you might imagine, I’ve had this conversation more than once. I even incorporated the no-fish preference into one of my characters. Sneaky little writer.

Elisa Braden Interview -Little Elisa
Toddler Elisa kicks back with a plate of spaghetti, proving she has been both easygoing and a fan of food since birth.


What is your most treasured possession?

I’ve never been overly sentimental about material things, but if my house were on fire, I’d grab my purse (replacing your driver’s license alone takes a trip to the DMV, which is like hell, only more stultifying), and my laptop. That’s my practical streak talking, of course. Okay, if you twist my arm, I do have a sentimental attachment to my new house, but reportedly, grabbing your entire house while it’s on fire defies the laws of physics.


If you could afford a second home anywhere in the world where would you choose and why?

Ah, now we come down to it. I mentioned how much I like rain earlier, and then I mentioned my new house, which is in a rainy location. So, I’m pretty darned pleased with my current abode. However, this time of year (winter), the daylight hours are short and the gray goes on forever. Gray. Wet. Rainy. Cold. Did I mention gray? So, if I could have a second home, it would be someplace sunny and warm and hospitable with handsome pool boys and gorgeous, bad-for-me drinks. Baja, maybe. Or Belize. Or Bora Bora. Sigh. There must be something magical about the letter B.


Finally, what has been your most embarrassing moment?

Embarrassment is the enemy, as far as I’m concerned, and I go to great lengths to avoid it. I have the deepest admiration for those who can throw caution to the wind, but there’s a huge part of me that clutches caution like a greedy toddler with a favorite doll and screams, “I love caution! You can’t throw it away!”

So, for example, I’m slower than a sloth in rigor mortis when composing my tweets or Facebook posts. My fear is that I’m going to say something stupid and be publicly embarrassed. Another way to put it is that I’m careful. Because I care. Plus, caution has saved my behind many, many times.

On the other hand, even caution is no cure. Life is embarrassing sometimes. You trip on your own feet and knock down a photography backdrop (done that). You hit send and then realize you got the recipient horribly, horribly wrong (done that). You innocently use the word “fanny” in the sentence “kiss my fanny” to a co-worker from London (done that), thinking it’s the mild equivalent of “backside” everywhere English is spoken. (Note to my fellow Americans: It’s not.)

Still, I’ve learned and grown. Gotten better. Besides, I think many readers appreciate how flubs and foibles help enrich my characters, making them seem more real. It’s hard to accurately portray embarrassment if you’re immune to it, so having plenty of red-faced moments of my own has served a purpose, I suppose. Thank goodness for silver linings, because I am far from perfect, despite what that greedy toddler would have you believe.


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

You’re most welcome. It’s been a genuine pleasure.


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




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The Lost Letter

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1860. An impoverished Victorian beauty is unexpectedly reunited with the now beastly earl who once broke her heart. Will they finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

Society beauty Sylvia Stafford is far too pragmatic to pine. When the tragic death of her gamester father leaves her destitute and alone, she finds work as a governess in a merchant’s household in Cheapside. Isolated from the fashionable acquaintance of her youth, she resigns herself to lonely spinsterhood until a mysterious visitor convinces her to temporarily return to her former life–and her former love.

Colonel Sebastian Conrad is no longer the dashing cavalry officer Sylvia once fell in love with. Badly scarred during the Sepoy Rebellion, he has withdrawn to his estate in rural Hertfordshire where he lives in near complete seclusion. Brooding and tormented, he cares nothing for the earldom he has inherited–and even less for the faithless beauty who rejected him three years before.

A week together in the remote Victorian countryside is the last thing either of them ever wanted. But when fate intervenes to reunite them, will a beastly earl and an impoverished beauty finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?


I loved this tender, emotional and romantic debut novel from Mimi Matthews which features a second chance story, one of my favorite themes. 

Colonel Sebastian Conrad followed the career expected of all the second sons of the Earls of Radcliffe and became a soldier. Orderly, disciplined and rather serious, life as a career cavalry officer suited Sebastian perfectly. While on leave in London, he accepts an invitation to a musical evening where he is captivated by the lovely Sylvia Stafford.

With her genuine warmth and kindness, baronet’s daughter, Sylvia Stafford, is very popular and has attracted many suitors. However, it is the rather serious and aloof Colonel Conrad to whom she is attracted.

Over the next two months, they meet ‘by accident’ at various events and it is obvious that they have fallen in love. Sylvia anticipates that Sebastian will propose, especially when he asks for a lock of her hair and they kiss, but Sebastian does not propose, fearing rejection. The following night, he is ordered back to his regiment in India to assist in putting down a rebellion. When Sylvia’s numerous letters to Sebastian go unanswered and Sebastian’s letters to Sylvia are returned unopened, both feel hurt and betrayed by the other.

Three years have passed, and both have experienced dramatic changes in their lives. After Sylvia’s father, an inveterate gambler, lost everything on a hand of cards, he committed suicide and, because of the ensuing scandal, Sylvia’s remaining family and her society friends deserted her. Forced to fend for herself, she obtains a position as governess to a merchant family’s children. It has taken a long time to recover from the pain and hurt of Sebastian’s rejection but now she is happy and contented with her new life.

Terribly scarred and blind in one eye, Sebastian has returned to England to find that both his father and elder brother have died of fever and he is now the Earl of Radcliffe. In continual pain, he lives a lonely and isolated existence in his apartments at Pershing Hall with no interest in running the estate and totally disconnected from his former life. I can understand Sebastian’s reasons for wanting to hide himself away; even his own sister, Julia, screamed when she first saw his face and he fears his tenants’ reactions should they see him.

It was too easy to imagine their horrified reaction to the sight of his scarred face. Granted, he had known most of his father’s tenants since his youth, but mere familiarity was no guarantee that they would not respond to him with pity and disgust.

Julia, however, is determined to draw her brother out of his state of apathy and, when she sees the lock of hair he always keeps with him, she will leave no stone unturned to find its owner.  Having discovered her identity, Julia visits Sylvia and is not above telling a few white lies to persuade a very reluctant Sylvia to return to Pershing Hall as her guest for a few weeks.  It is Julia’s fervent hope that spending time together will rekindle the love that Sebastian and Sylvia once shared. Even though she fears the reception she might get, I admire Sylvia for her courage and compassion in agreeing to accompany Julia.

No matter how cruelly Sebastian had treated her in the past, he did not deserve to be suffering in such a dreadful manner. No one did. If her presence could alleviate even a fraction of his pain, she must go to him.

I like how Ms. Matthews creates a palpable tension between Sebastian and Sylvia in the library scene. Driven by his feelings of hurt, bitterness and anger for having been shunned in such a heartless way, Sebastian is cold and distant towards Sylvia. Knowing of her reduced circumstances, he believes the worst…that her motives are purely mercenary now that he is an earl. While Sylvia is sure that her father’s scandalous death and her bold first letter to Sebastian offended him, and they were the reasons for him not answering her letters.

It is obvious that they are still very much in love, but the past remains an ever-present obstacle until the truth concerning the letters finally comes to light. Someone had deliberately set out to mislead them into believing they had forgotten each other and I felt so much sympathy for Sylvia, knowing that this person had deceived her for their own selfish motives with no thought for her happiness. This is a turning point for them because they are now able to talk openly. I like how Sebastian apologizes for his previous cruel and uncivil behaviour and Sylvia is determined that Sebastian will no longer hide himself away in darkened libraries and shadowy portrait galleries. He is fearful that, seeing him in the light of day, will drive Sylvia away and I love the poignant scene that follows.

…then she set her fingertips very gently on the scar at the side of his eye. Her touch was warm and soft and heart-breakingly tender. He tried to concentrate on his breathing. An impossible task as she began to trace the path of his scar down his cheek.

The romance is beautifully written – sweet, tender and romantic, with only one passionate kissing scene, which fits the mood of the story perfectly.

As in all good romances, the course of true love doesn’t run completely smoothly when Sylvia misconstrues something Sebastian says. It takes the discovery of the ‘Lost Letter’ to put them back on track for a Happy Ever After. It is such a touching moment when Sebastian reads the letter, sealed with a thousand sweet kisses only for him and I love the scene when he finally responds to her letter in person. So romantic!

I like how the secondary characters play an important role in the story, especially Julia and Sebastian’s valet, Milsom. Julia maybe annoying at times and her methods rather questionable, but her heart is in the right place and it’s obvious that she loves her brother very much. I like the genuine affection between Sebastian’s and Milsom. Julia and Milsom’s various ploys to bring Sebastian and Sylvia together are amusing and provide some lighter moments in the story.

I like Ms. Matthews’ elegant writing style and the story has an authentic Victorian feel to it.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven love story. Highly recommended.



**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. ** 








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Due to time constraints, Wendy and I will now only be reviewing books that we have personally chosen to read.

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Scandal at the Midsummer Ball

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?


Last year, I read and very much enjoyed Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, the previous collaboration between Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott. Once again, the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, forms the backdrop for both stories. The couple is holding their prestigious Christmas house party culminating in the Christmas Ball on Twelfth Night. Unlike their Midsummer House Party, this is not a matchmaking event, but it seems that cupid’s arrow can strike the most improbable couples at any time.


Three and a half years ago, army major, Drummond MacIntosh, was cashiered from the army for refusing to follow a direct order. Shunned by society, he has been forced to lead a purposeless existence until the Duke of Wellington approaches Drummond to say that he wants him to serve as his aide. This would give Drummond the opportunity to forge a new life, but first he must attend the Brockmore Christmas festivities and impress his hosts enough to earn their patronage. It is well-known that the Duke and Duchess have great influence over society… where the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore lead, all of society follows. Their support would be instrumental in repairing his damaged reputation and smoothing his way back into society.

Joanna Forsythe was employed as governess to the eldest daughter of Lady Christina Robertson until wrongly accused of theft and dismissed on the spot.  Lady Robertson did not inform the authorities in view of Joanna’s previously unsullied reputation. However, with her reputation now in tatters, no respectable school will employ her, and she is forced to take a post which provides only bed and board and where she is treated as little more than a drudge when she isn’t teaching. Knowing that the Duchess of Brockmore is a close friend of Lady Christina’s, when Joanna receives an invitation to the house party, she believes that the real thief will confess, thereby establishing Joanna’s innocence and restoring her reputation. Instead, Lady Christina tries to buy her off with financial recompense for the loss of her reputation and the offer of a new position.

Often it is difficult for an author to create characters with any real depth and a believable romance within the constraints of a novella, but I feel that Ms. Kaye does this admirably.

When Drummond and Joanna first meet, they talk and share confidences, discovering   that they are each looking for a fresh start, and I felt a genuine affinity between them which made the budding romance believable. Drummond is a man of principle and I admire him for choosing to follow his conscience, knowing full the consequences of his actions. I love Joanna’s selflessness in her determination that Drummond should not jeopardise his opportunities for her sake.

They share some passionate interludes but there seems no future for them because neither can afford to have any further scandal attached to their name. Ms. Kaye conveys their longing for something they cannot have so well, and I really wanted them to find a way to be together. It takes some soul-searching before a Happy Ever After is within their grasp, although they are fully aware that their life won’t be all plain sailing, but I felt as Drummond does…

“I can’t help but feeling absolutely sure that together we can do anything we want.”





Following the death of his father and older brother four years ago, Vale Penrith, the Duke of Brockmore’s nephew, had become the duke’s sole heir. It is a position he didn’t want and one he feels ill-fitted for.

He was a politician by conscience when the occasion demanded it, an anthropologist by choice. He was not a duke.

He has shut himself off from the world since losing his father and brother, preferring to spend his days in his library – reading, researching or writing. However, Vale has no choice but to accompany his mother to his uncle and aunt’s annual Christmas house party and knowing his uncle’s notorious reputation for matchmaking at such events, he is sure that the duke has already selected a suitable lady for him. Vale certainly has no immediate plans to marry but, when he does, it will be to a lady of his own choice.

Independently minded Lady Viola Hawthorne has no desire to marry, a state she considers nothing more than enslavement to the whims of a man. She dreams of travelling the Continent and studying music in Vienna, where she believes a woman can enjoy greater freedoms. To achieve her dreams, she has indulged in the most scandalous behaviour, earning her the title ‘London’s Shocking Beauty’, thereby discouraging ny would-be suitors. However, Viola’s parents refuse to give up hope of their daughter finding a husband, and their hopes are raised when an invitation to attend the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore’s Christmas house party arrives. Having already had three seasons with no husband in sight, Viola knows that, if she can sustain her outrageous behaviour for one more season, she will be officially ‘on the shelf’ and able to pursue her dreams.

This was the last year she had to maintain her reputation. After this Season, she’d be a candidate for the shelf—out three Seasons and no husband in sight. She could get on with her dreams.

I like Vale and could sympathise with his feelings of loss, sorrow and guilt following the tragic death of his father and brother. He had been thrown into a role that he neither expected nor wanted and felt inadequate to fulfil, and he has dealt with it by closing himself off from everyone. There is a particularly poignant scene where his uncle hugs him which conveys Vale’s emotional vulnerability.

“My boy, it is good to see you,” he said simply before wrapping him in his arms. For just a minute, he wasn’t the heir, but simply a beloved nephew and this man was not the mighty Brockmore, a powerful duke, but his uncle, his father’s older brother, a living link to the man he’d lost. And Vale savoured it.

Generally, I love unconventional, outspoken heroines, but I just didn’t like Viola.  While I understood her desire to be independent and pursue her dreams, her outrageous behaviour – the casual sex, drinking, smoking and playing billiards alone in the company of several men – seemed totally unrealistic. She behaved more like a member of the demimonde than a duke’s daughter!

I know opposites attract but the idea of Vale falling for someone like Viola stretched credulity a little too far for me. It is only towards the end of the story that Viola shows some redeeming qualities, but this felt too contrived and didn’t really convince me that these two were meant for each other.



General Thoughts

Once again, there is a lovely Epilogue, courtesy of the Marcus and Alicia, the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore and I hope, at some point, they will have their own story. I would love to know how they met and fell in love, especially as Marcus tells Vale he had proposed to Alicia twice and she had refused him each time. I also like how Marcus really cares for his nephew and only wants to help him rediscover a zest for living again.

MY VERDICT: Marguerite Kaye always delivers a well-written and emotionally satisfying love story. Although I found Bronwyn Scott’s story disappointing, I very much enjoyed the one in SCANDAL AT THE MIDSUMMER and will certainly be reading more of her books.


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








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The Wicked Cousin - Audio

(Rockliffe, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.


The Prologue to The Wicked Cousin, the fourth in Stella Riley’s magnificent Georgian Rockliffe series, is moving and poignant, and sets the scene for the string of events which will forever change Sebastian Audley’s life. As the story unfolds and we learn more about the life of this charismatic character, I fell for him hook, line and sinker.

On a scorching August day in 1757 when he was eight years old, Sebastian Audley’s life changed. And though he didn’t know it, that change was to last for the next thirteen years…

It was the day that a distraught child lost his beloved twin brother, the other half of himself; no one understood his grief. The boys had been inseparable – intuitively knowing each other’s thoughts in a way that only identical twins can. But, in Sebastian’s emotionally underdeveloped child’s mind, he believed he had failed Theo when he needed him the most. Locked in his room, he cried out his despair and felt his brother’s pain… and then…the silence…when he knew that part of him was gone forever and, from that moment on, Sebastian’s charmed, carefree life ended. He blamed himself for living when Theo had died, which was only reinforced by the diatribe hurled at him by his eldest sister, Blanche, who had irrationally never cared for the younger of her twin brothers. Theo’s early and tragic death shaped the way the adults in Sebastian’s life treated him, albeit believing they were keeping him safe. Their actions also impacted on the way he himself behaved for the best part of seven years, after finally escaping the strictures imposed on him by his grief-stricken father – actions that this autocratic man was to come to bitterly regret.

Sebastian’s first acts of defiance – refusing to be ‘chaperoned’ by the local vicar’s son, or to study the subject chosen for him by his father – came when he was finally allowed to leave home to study at Cambridge. Instead, he diligently and quietly applied himself to studying the law, which he saw as a way of eventually becoming independent of his father’s claustrophobic control. He obtained an honours degree but never actually had to practise law because an unexpected, small but adequate bequest from a great-aunt left him financially independent and, more importantly, it freed him from familial restraint. During his time at university, he worked hard, denying himself the fun and frolicking other undergraduates enjoyed. Instead, he discovered a love and quite remarkable talent for the intricacies of chess, which he had once enjoyed playing with his twin. This talent was to serve him well in later years.

As sole heir to his father, Viscount Wingham, Sebastian had to be kept safe for the succession at all costs but, by the time he reached his majority, he was determined to escape the suffocating over protectiveness of his family. After years of compliance, Sebastian about-faced and embarked on an extraordinary catch-up of everything that had previously been denied him; his exploits becoming the talk of London society before he disappeared to the continent to continue his outrageous lifestyle. All the girls he had never kissed or bedded became a part of his new life, and his adrenalin seeking exploits were salaciously reported in the gossip rags. Whatever challenge or wager the rumour mill insisted he had accepted – no matter how ridiculous, or even whether fact or fiction – was avidly reported and devoured by the ton. His notorious reputation, coupled with his lauded and extraordinary good looks, bluer than blue eyes, glorious hair of a rich burgundy/garnet and impressive physique, set him apart from his peers.  Sebastian Audley had become a living legend.

After seven years of self-imposed exile, wandering from place to place, and now desperate to escape the determined pursuit of a spurned lover turned stalker, Sebastian’s nomad life had become intolerable. During the last couple of years on the continent, he had already considerably toned down his behaviour and, with little else to do, his beloved chess became his only real enjoyment in life. Time and practice had honed his skills with remarkable results and, in fact, such a talent never did equate with his rakehell reputation, which was more a few years of madness than a character trait.

Though reluctant to return home to his father’s controlling orbit, he still felt a strong sense of familial duty. In all the years apart, he never stopped loving his father, and without fail made the long and arduous journey home once a year to see him. However, the cruel jibes of his sister, Blanche, whose unreasonable dislike of him has not abated with the years, were the catalyst that always drove him away again. Sebastian hides the hurt she causes him beneath a devil-may-care attitude which only serves to compound her dislike of him. One of the many things I love about Sebastian’s character is that he is an honourable young man who always knew that one day he would return to his responsibilities. However, who could blame him for staying away when his sister is the unmarried matriarch presiding over his ancestral home? Eventually, it is an imperious letter from Blanche informing him that his father has suffered an apoplexy that gives him the excuse he needs to return home for good.

Sebastian arrives home to find his father well on the road to recovery, and after spending some private time together, they finally make their peace; his father admitting to his earlier failures with regard to his son.  Sebastian is still not entirely convinced of his father’s ability to let him run his own life, but I began to warm to the viscount as his obvious pride in his son was rather touching. Whether in spite of or because of his reported escapades I’m not sure.

With his father out of danger and the decision all but made to remain in England, Sebastian decides to go to London in an attempt to convince society that he is a reformed character. There he seeks the help of Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player), the two men having met and become close friends whilst both were exiled on the continent. Adrian proposes a plan in the form of a private wager placed in the betting book of his gaming club. With this in place, Sebastian is protected, at least in the short term, from ridiculous wagers by immature young bucks. His first tentative steps are fraught with pitfalls, especially as he has recently gained the moniker of, The Wicked Cousin, courtesy of Olivia Delahaye, the rather silly younger sister of Cassandra (Cassie), whom we met in previous books as a secondary character. Cassie’s father, a close friend of the Duke of Rockliffe, plays quite a prominent part in this story and I liked his quiet, reasonable character and wise council, especially regarding Sebastian. The familial relationship between the Delahaye’s and Audley’s is tentative but nevertheless one in which Olivia is more than happy to bask in among her bevy of young female friends.

Sebastian’s initial, accidental meeting with Cassie is brimming with misunderstandings and only serves to reinforce her pre-conceived opinion of him as an arrogant, feckless, philanderer whom she could never like. However, after several more encounters, Cassie reluctantly begins to see why he is so popular with and intriguing to the men and women of society; he is witty and amusing but in a kindly, non-mocking way, with no apparent artifice and more importantly, he seems genuinely interested in her as a person. Then, with some simple, sweet gestures, Sebastian has Cassie hooked along with the rest of society and by now she is already half-way in love with him. In Cassie’s experience, she has only ever attracted dull dogs and then only because their mothers think her suitable daughter-in-law material. Never in her wildest dreams does she imagine that her feelings could be returned by this gorgeous young man who could, quite frankly, have his pick.

But they are returned because Sebastian is utterly smitten. He sees – through the eyes of a man in love – the beautiful, captivating and interesting girl that other less discerning suitors have failed to see. From the moment the two acknowledge that they are meant to be together, Cassie is loyal to a fault, refusing to believe anything to Sebastian’s detriment and, when his spurned ex-lover tries to make trouble for him, she fights tooth and nail for him regardless of the opinion of others. Charles and Serena Delahaye are nonplussed by the change in their previously gentle, biddable daughter and, in the words of her father:

“You, Mr. Audley, have turned my lovely girl into a damned Valkyrie.'”

Cassie’s parents have always appreciated her worth, never pressuring her into settling for second best. So, when Sebastian requests permission of her father to pay his addresses to Cassie – with her approval – the astute Charles Delahaye is more than happy, especially as his daughter has never sent a young man to him before. Despite Sebastian’s reputation, Sir Charles has always known there were valid reasons for his past behaviour and has some sympathy for the young man.

The Wicked Cousin is very much a beautifully crafted love story, with interesting and likeable characters. I particularly like the author’s unique way of taking apparently ordinary women and showing us that we all have hidden depths and just need the right man to see them as Sebastian does with Cassie. I adored both of these characters; Cassie is sweet, determined and loyal and Sebastian, kind, protective and with a generosity of spirit one cannot help but be drawn to.  His outward carefree attitude hides a depth of grief for his twin that Cassie sees and understands. I thought Stella Riley rather clever in her pairing of these two – so different and yet so right for each other. Sebastian’s rather naughty sense of humour and Cassie’s whole-hearted acceptance of it is amusing and a little risqué, but not too much, because, true to her style, Ms. Riley allows us just enough to wet our appetite and no more.

The unforgettable Duke of Rockliffe (The Mésalliance) again leads the group of friends that Stella Riley has cultivated and grown since the beginning of the series. They are once more in action as they close ranks to protect one of their own. Amusingly, at one point in the story, ‘the friends’ take the normally calm and collected Rock away to entertain him at the request of their wives to give his wife, Adeline, some respite from his fussing as she awaits the arrival of their first child. When, at last the child arrives, my heart just melted. Imagine the perfectly controlled, formidable Rock as a doting papa; Stella Riley is one of only a few authors who can reduce me to mush, and she always succeeds in one way or another:

…his Grace was walking back and forth by the windows holding a small bundle wrapped in a lacy white shawl…

I was very happy to see the return of Adrian Deveraux, one of my favourite characters in this series. His story is told in The Player, which is one of the best and most intriguingly complex stories I have read in Historical Romance, the genius of which is captured to perfection by Alex Wyndham in his splendid audio performance of the various personas and voices of Adrian. I loved seeing more of Adrian and how his marriage to Caroline, his countess, has progressed, but also how he plays such a pivotal role in helping Sebastian and Cassandra attain their own HEA.

As always, the recording of one of Ms. Riley’s books into audio by her chosen narrator, Alex Wyndham, is a treat worth waiting for. Mr. Wyndham has a unique talent whereby he transforms anything this author writes from wonderful to extraordinary. Actor and author are completely in tune as he interprets her words with perfect precision, sometimes bringing something to my notice I had missed in the reading of it.

Every character is easily distinguishable – male or female, old or young. The male cast of friends has become larger and more complex as the series has progressed, yet this appears to pose no dilemma for Mr. Wyndham, as yet again he manages to pull another voice out of his ever-deepening hat. For instance, this is the first we have heard of Sebastian in the series; his ‘voice’ is perfectly pitched to indicate the light, buoyant, slightly amused and occasionally naughty tones of Sebastian, which I imagined when I first read his story. There are a few occasions where Adrian and Sebastian are in conversation and I wondered how Alex Wyndham would deal with these two equally charismatic characters to my satisfaction. How could I question his ability because he flawlessly delineates between the two men, with never a doubt as to which one is speaking, and, all the time, still retaining the exact voice he used for Adrian in The Player.

I can’t complete my analysis of Mr. Wyndham’s performance without mentioning his superior portrayal of Nicholas Wynstanton, younger brother of the Duke of Roxton. In previous books, this young man has been easy-going and ebullient but now, smitten by a young woman who is resisting his advances, he has become grumpy and short-tempered, whilst still remaining very recognisable as himself. Another thoroughly enjoyable and faultless performance from this supremely talented actor.

This series is really addictive and I’m particularly fond of a saga where we see the return of family and friends in high-profile. These people have become so special to us as readers that we feel invested in their lives. Ms. Riley has done this to such great effect that these men and now their women too, feel like old friends.

Ms. Riley infuses the story with her customary wit and humour and I was particularly entertained by the scene where Sebastian ties up his ex-mistress and cuts off her hair (this scene is captured admirably by Mr. Wyndham, who sounded as though he was enjoying himself immensely).

As is the case with any Stella Riley novel, her research is so impeccable that we can be sure she has it right, whether it is the intricacies of chess or the cut and thrust of a tense and exciting fencing match. I highly recommend Stella Riley’s work to the uninitiated because, in my opinion, she is consistently a 5 star writer and each of her stories is special in its own right. I would recommend starting at the beginning of this series, mainly to gain a perspective and understanding of how Ms. Riley has developed her intriguing group of friends and relatives, and to see how their loves and lives intertwine, but more importantly how they all support one another. However, it isn’t necessary, as each story is unique and different to the previous books in the series.

MY VERDICT: The audio of THE WICKED COUSIN, narrated by Alex Wyndham, is a terrific listen and another worthy addition to the author’s fabulous Rockliffe series. Stella Riley never disappoints, and I always look forward with eager anticipation to a new release and with HAZARD, the next in the series, nearing completion, we won’t have long to wait.





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

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player (Rockliffe, #3) by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe) (Volume 4) by Stella Riley


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