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Posts Tagged ‘Regency Era’

A Counterfeit Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France—or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy—and into his arms.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.

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This is the third book in K. C. Bateman’s entertaining, witty and sexy Secrets and Spies series and I loved it just as much as the other two books. 

It is usually the hero who first captures my interest but, in A Counterfeit Heart, Sabine is truly a force to be reckoned with and I admire her intelligence, courage, resourcefulness and resilience. Her life has been far from easy, but Sabine has used her skills to survive and thrive in a difficult and dangerous situation, to become France’s greatest forger and scourge of the British Secret Service. I like how, despite everything, she retained her own moral compass and I admire her loyalty to and concern for her best friend, Anton Carnaud.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, Nicholas and Eloise’s older brother, was a secondary character in the previous two books but, to be honest, he didn’t leave a great impression on me.  Apart from his work as an agent for the British Crown, he seemed typically handsome, wealthy and self-possessed, with a bevy of ladies ready and willing to indulge in a no strings attached affair. In fact, ‘he had never met a woman he couldn’t walk away from’, until he meets Sabine of course. Well, I quickly changed my opinion of Richard in this book because he is incredibly sexy!

At first, Sabine sees Richard as everything that she dislikes about the aristocratic class, overbearing, lazy and dissolute, but gradually discovers that he is resourceful, loyal and protective of those he cares for, including herself. She also admires his steadfast determination to right wrongs and the way he champions those caught up in the political machinations.

“I don’t give a stuff about the politics, but I do care about all the innocent people who will be caught up in the subsequent violence.”

I love how he is more than willing to get his hands dirty literally, and his disguise as Sabine’s dumb brute cousin Jacob is a performance not to be missed.

Richard doesn’t trust Sabine and thinks she’s nothing more than a ‘blackmailing little crook’ but he can’t help being impressed and enthralled by her. She is unlike any of the other women he has known; she’s not afraid to challenge him and, where he is used to people treating him with envy and respect, Sabine is neither in awe of his title nor impressed by his wealth which he finds refreshing.

I love their verbal to-and-fro and Richard’s deliciously wicked innuendos.

“It’s amazing how attractive a man appears when viewed through the lens of an unencumbered estate and twenty thousand pounds a year.” ​
Hampden chuckled. “It’s closer to thirty thousand, actually. And I’m pretty sure it isn’t the size of my inheritance they’re interested in.”

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“Where do you want me? On the bed? The chair? The floor?” His eyes gleamed with teasing merriment at his deliberate double entendres. “Feel free to arrange me however you like. I’m completely at your mercy. Any position you choose will be perfectly acceptable.”
(Richard proposes Sabine paints him)

Ms. Bateman develops the relationship between them perfectly. I could feel their deepening attraction and the sexual tension positively sizzles as they struggle with their feelings for each other.

Awareness thickened the air between them, a bright, expectant tension, like the hush before a thunderstorm.

It was fun to see the interactions between Richard and his brother-in-law Raven, who is amused by Richard’s predicament and teases him mercilessly about Sabine.

Raven let out a long whistle and leaned back in his chair. “Oh, this is priceless. The great Lord Lovell bested by a French pixie.” He shook his head with a gleeful chuckle. “Do you know how long I’ve prayed for you to meet your match? Years, my friend. Years.”

I like the warmth with which Richard’s family treat Sabine and I enjoyed seeing the budding friendship between Sabine and Richard’s sister Heloise.

One of my favourite scenes is where Sabine orders all sorts of items in Richard’s name so that, in all the ensuing mayhem, she can sneak out of the house unnoticed. It is just hilarious, particularly the foul-mouthed parrot! I also became very fond of Argos, Richard’s ‘tongue-lolling, tail-thumping cross between a greyhound, a Bedlington terrier and a lurcher’.

The danger and intrigue are woven into the fabric of the story in a way that never overshadows the romance. In fact, the nail-biting climax and subsequent events are what propel Richard and Sabine to finally admit their love for each other and pave the way for this heartfelt proposal from Richard.

“Useless, disobedient organ that it is. My heart wants you. Needs you. And since I need it to keep on beating, you’re just going to have to marry me. That’s all there is to it.”

I love the way the author uses her knowledge of the antique and art world to incorporate fascinating details into her stories; such as cartographers’ ‘paper dolls’ and painting techniques. I always discover something new whenever I read one of Ms. Bateman’s books.

The Epilogue provided a most heart-warming ending to Sabine’s family’s story.

MY VERDICT: A worthy end to a wonderful series which I can wholeheartedly recommend. I’m now looking forward to Ms. Bateman’s new Desperate Desires series.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Secrets and Spies series (click on the book covers for more details):

To Steal a Heart (Secrets and Spies, #1) by K.C. Bateman A Raven's Heart (Secrets & Spies, #2) by K.C. Bateman A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets & Spies, #3) by K.C. Bateman

 

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

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A Duke in Shining Armor

(Difficult Dukes #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Regency, 1833)

Cover Blurb

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

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

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

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

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A Duke in Shining Armor, the first book in Loretta Chase’s new Difficult Dukes series, is simply delightful and filled with all the elements I love so much about her books – an entertaining story, sparkling wit and a captivating romance. The series features the Dukes of Ripley, Blackwood and Ashton, commonly referred to as ‘Their Dis-Graces’ because of their notorious, rakish behaviour. All three had suffered miserable childhoods but formed an enduring friendship whilst at Eton and the three have been inseparable ever since.

After attending his sister Alice’s marriage to Blackwood, Ripley had spent a year on the Continent and, on his return, he is shocked to discover that Ashton is about to marry Lady Olympia Hightower. Furthermore, Ashton is relying on him to ensure that everything goes without a hitch – not an easy job when the bride fails to make an appearance and Ashton is imbibing too much, with the result that he would either ‘sink into a stupor and subside ungracefully to the floor‘ or ‘he’d pick a fight with someone.‘  When they go in search of Ashton’s elusive bride, Ripley finds her climbing out of the library window in all her wedding finery. True to his promise to Ashton, Ripley follows her out of the window, determined to bring her back.

Lady Olympia had not received a single offer of marriage in the past seven years of being out in society, and her only claim to fame was being voted the Most Boring Girl of Year for those years. Her parents are loving but, when it comes to money, they are not financially astute. Her father had wasted vast amounts of money on seasons for Olympia with the view to finding her a husband. Not once had he considered the adverse financial implications for his eldest son and heir, or his other five sons. So, when Olympia catches the eye of the Duke of Ashton and he proposes, it is the answer to her prayers. He might be a notorious libertine, but he is also wealthy, handsome, charming and he seems to like her. It is only on the day of the wedding that doubts, fuelled by rather too much brandy, start to set in and she runs away with Ripley in hot pursuit.

At first, Ripley has every intention of persuading Olympia to return to her fiancé but soon finds himself falling in with her plans to go to her aunt’s. It’s a journey that will change their lives for ever.

I love a good road-trip romance especially when it involves assorted mishaps and misadventures along the way, including a dunk in the river, a runaway dog, a naked duke and more-than-friendly kisses in a post-chaise. The delightful banter between Ripley and Olympia is full of Ms. Chase’s trademark wit and humour which I love so much about her books.

He blinked. “Remarkable. You have a plan.”
“Yes. I only needed the mental stimulation of your stimulating company.”
“Any chance of stimulating you into telling me what, exactly, you’re running from?” he said. “Better yet, any chance of your changing your mind, like a good girl, and turning back? Any chance of something, oh, you know, bordering on reasonable?

Although of short duration, the journey creates a sense of intimacy between Ripley and Olympia. They talk and get to know each other in a way that would not have happened in the normal course of things, given the constraints of society. Ripley discovers that Olympia is far from the boring person she believes herself to be. She is clever, spirited and funny, with a passion for rare books. Olympia discovers that beneath that rakish exterior (a lifestyle which had already begun to pall, according to his Aunt Julia) lies a man who is charming, kind, astute, witty and, most surprising of all, he reads romances!

I love the way in which Ms. Chase gradually builds the sexual tension between Ripley and Olympia, but both are determined not to succumb to temptation. Ripley’s sense of honour prevents him from stealing his best friend’s fiancée, however much he might believe that Ashton doesn’t deserve her. While Olympia doesn’t want to destroy the lifelong friendship between Ripley and Ashton and neither does she want to hurt Ashton.  But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I was delighted to see Olympia throw away the rule book and be the one who takes the initiative. Poor Ripley doesn’t stand a chance!

There she was, the spirited general of a girl who’d mowed down a bully. There she was, in a lot of white underthings and a naughty corset, the most deliciously irresistible thing he’d ever seen.
Ripley never resisted temptation. He hardly knew how.
He couldn’t look away or run away or do the right thing. He’d never been a saint and he wasn’t about to start now, of all times.
She said, “Is this too subtle for you?”
“No,” he managed to choke out. “Dammit, Olympia.”
Two limping strides closed the space between them. Two more brought her up against the wall
.

Sometimes the scenes are so vividly written that they conjured up all sorts of wonderful images in my mind. I think my favourite scene must be the one with the mechanical invalid chair which Ripley is reluctantly using after he sprains his ankle. It’s had me laughing out loud at Ripley’s antics.

It is obvious that Ashton will not take kindly to his best friend running off with his fiancée and marrying her, and matters have to be settled in the time-honoured way. Luckily, this is a romance and therefore all ends happily.

With his excessive drinking and volatile temper, it seems Ashton will have a difficult journey ahead before he attains his Happy Ever After. I am intrigued by the reason for the obvious estrangement between Blackwood and his wife, and there is definitely some history between Ripley’s Aunt Julia and Ashton’s Uncle Frederick that I am keen to learn more about.

MY VERDICT: This is a delightful story filled with fascinating characters, sparking wit, laugh-out-loud moments and a captivating romance. I am certainly looking forward to the other books in the series. Highly recommended.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes, #1) by Loretta Chase

 

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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?

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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.


REVIEW OF A GOVERNESS FOR CHRISTMAS BY MARGUERITE KAYE

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.”


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

REVIEW OF DANCING WITH THE DUKE’S HEIR BY BROWEN SCOTT

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.

REVIEW RATING: 3/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM


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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His Mistletoe Wager

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

“Five berries equal the five separate kisses I challenge you to steal.” 

Notorious rake Henry Stuart, Earl of Redbridge, is certain he’ll win his Christmas bet—until he learns he’ll be stealing Lady Elizabeth Wilding’s kisses. A woman who refuses to be charmed!

Once jilted, Lizzie must guard her heart, because the ton is unaware of her scandalous secret—her son! Despite their increasing attraction, she can’t risk the persistent Hal bringing down her defenses. But when her former fiancé returns, Lizzie realizes that perhaps Hal’s the one man she can trust—with her heart and her son…

Mistletoe 2

What a delightful, romantic and heart-warming Christmas story!

Henry (Hal) Stuart, only son and heir to the Earl of Redbridge, hated everything his mean, dictatorial father stood for and adopting a rakish lifestyle was his way of annoying his father. After inheriting the earldom, Hal finds that his old life has lost its appeal and he is more interested in running the estate, reading the financial news and listening to debates in the Lords. He isn’t looking forward to the approaching Christmas season because it means he will be obligated to continue the family tradition of attending every festive event for a month culminating in a ball hosted by himself on Twelfth Night. Since rejecting his old lifestyle, Hal feels that something is missing in his life and when his brother-in-law and best friend, Aaron Wincanton, Viscount Ardleigh, suggests a wager – steal 5 kisses, one for each berry on the sprig of mistletoe Hal is holding, in five different locations before Twelfth Night, with the usual stake of the loser mucking out the other’s stables single-handed – it’s a wager that Hal has every confidence in winning…

“I can assure you. I am the single most eligible man at this ball. I am phenomenally wealthy, devilishly handsome, totally charming and, as you have quite rightly pointed out, I’m an earl. There isn’t a young lady in that ballroom who would not welcome my advances.”

Maybe his confidence might be a little premature when Aaron names the lady he has chosen for the wager…the frosty, unapproachable Lady Elizabeth Wilding.

Lady Elizabeth (Lizzie) Wilding’s world was shattered when her fiancé jilted her on their wedding day, leaving her not only broken-hearted but pregnant as well. Her father used his political connections and respected position in society to protect his daughter’s reputation and Lizzie has emerged a stronger and harder woman. Her father refuses to give up hope that she might find a suitable husband but nothing will tempt her to ever marry again.

She was no longer a dreamer but a realist whose eyes had been opened to the harsh realities of life.

Lizzie has been able to keep her son George’s (Georgie) existence a secret, but he has led an isolated existence well away from the eyes of the ton. Now he is older, Lizzie wants Georgie to have a normal childhood; to go school, make friends and grow up free from the stigma of his illegitimacy. She has purchased a cottage in Yorkshire with an inheritance from her grandmother and, once the Christmas festivities are over, she intends to start a new life there as Mrs Smith, a young war widow. The only thing Lizzie dreads is telling her father who has always stood by her and adores his grandson.

It is wonderful to see how much Lizzie loves her son Charlie and the sacrifices she is willing to make to protect him. She is also selfless in her love for and loyalty to her father and her determination that her foolish indiscretion will not bring scandal to the family. I admire Lizzie’s father who clearly loves his daughter very much and gives her his unconditional support when so many girls in her situation would have been shunned by their family and forced to give up their baby.

I love how the relationship between Hal and Lizzie develops slowly. I anticipated that their initial meeting at the ball would be full of witty banter and I wasn’t disappointed. When Hal’s tactics fail, and Lizzie gives him short shrift, he is not one to admit defeat where a wager is concerned, even if it means confronting the Wilding’s large, imposing butler, Stevens, who looks more like a prize fighter than a butler. Their various exchanges are pure delight.

Hal edged into the room as her bodyguard glared at him murderously. ‘I will be just outside the door. Just outside the door.’
‘Message received and understood, Stevens. Whilst you are out there, I don’t suppose you could rustle up some tea?’ Hal grinned cheekily, and she quite admired his bravado. ‘Only it’s dashed cold outside and I could do with something to warm me up.’

I ADORE Hal and totally fell in love with him. Beneath all that flippant, roguish charm is an honourable, intelligent and kind man. He sees beyond Lizzie’s ironclad façade to the beautiful, intelligent, loyal and witty woman beneath, whose company he enjoys and is determined to discover the secret he knows she is hiding, even if it involves risking life and limb scaling an ancient wisteria bush! When he finds out about Georgie, initially he has mixed emotions, but ultimately he realises that…

Lizzie was his friend. 
She was in trouble.
An innocent little boy was in trouble, too.

I enjoyed seeing Lizzie gradually softening towards Hal and recognising that he is more than just a charming rake lacking in substance and purpose; he is a strong, honourable and loyal man, willing to defend her against the evil machinations of the odious Lord Ockenden and his associate, Lizzie’s former fiancé, the dissolute Marquess of Rainham

Her knight in shining armour smiled, although there was ice in his eyes and a hardness about his jaw she had never seen before. Physically he appeared to have grown. Devoid of his veneer of charm, he was huge. Menacing. Ready to charge into battle like one of the lead soldiers he had picked out for her little boy.

Hal has such a natural way with children which is evident in the way he strikes up an immediate rapport with Georgie and their scenes together are charming. I also love how he insists on teaching his nieces to be hellions much to the chagrin of his sister, Connie.

I feel that Ms. Heath handles the solution to the potential scandal surrounding Georgie in a clever and believable way and paves the way for a well-deserved Happy Ever After for Hal and Lizzie.

MY VERDICT: If you are looking for a delightful, witty, romantic and passionate romance to read over the festive period, then I can most definitely recommend His Mistletoe Wager.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

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

 

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A Raven's Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

August 1815. The war with France is officially over, Napoleon’s an exile on St Helena, but Europe is still a very dangerous place to be.

Kidnapped and held for ransom at nineteen, ducal heir William Ravenwood knows the only person he can rely on is himself. Now part of a spy ring that includes his friends Nicolas and Richard Hampden, he’s the smuggler known as The Raven, a ruthless agent who specializes in rescuing hostages and prisoners of war from captivity.

Raven longs to discover the fate of his colleague, Christopher ‘Kit’ Carlisle, who’s been missing, presumed dead, for over two years. He’s also equally determined to stay away from the one thing he knows is dangerous to his health – the bane of his life, his best friends’ infuriating and provocative little sister, Heloise.

Heloise is a brilliant code breaker, one of the English government’s most valuable assets. She’s also loved Raven for years, but considering that he rejected her at sixteen, before her face was scarred rescuing her brother from an icy river, she’s certain he doesn’t want her now, despite his outrageous flirting.

But when Heloise decodes a message that proves Kit is alive and a prisoner in Spain, Raven realizes she’s in grave danger. With French agents determined to silence her, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe – even if that means taking her to Spain with him as an unwilling hostage.

As they face French deserters and Spanish freedom fighters, Raven and Heloise try to ignore the simmering attraction that’s been building between them for eight long years. The differences between them are striking but they’ve always had a strange underlying bond. Heloise might be scarred outwardly, but Raven’s wounds are all on the inside. He knows he’s not worthy of her love—a shadowed Hades pining for sun-kissed Persephone—but he’s not above showing her passion for the short time they’re together.

A master at decoding complex messages, Heloise finds Raven frustratingly hard to read, but as their lives hang in the balance she’s determined to unravel his secrets and unlock his dark, elusive heart…

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I loved TO STEAL A HEART, Ms. Bateman’s debut novel, and the first book in her Secrets and Spies series. I was hoping that A RAVEN’S HEART would be just as good, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. 

Six years ago, nineteen-year-old William de L’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood (Raven), was kidnapped and held for ransom. A proud and stubborn man, his grandfather, the Duke of Avondale, refused to pay the kidnappers, hoping to thwart their plans by hiring Bow Street Runners to find his grandson.  Meanwhile, William endured eight weeks in captivity, facing beatings and potential death every day. Finally, he managed to escape by killing one of the guards, but the experience left him a changed man. He has never forgiven his grandfather, refusing to have anything to do with him and rejecting the titles due to him following his father’s death.  Instead, he joined Lord Castlereagh’s spy network, working alongside his childhood friends and fellow spies, Richard and Nicolas Hampden. Ruthless, deadly and efficient, it is a job he excels at, killing without guilt or remorse.

Heloise Hampden, Richard and Nicolas’s younger sister, has always had a rebellious streak, hating the restrictions placed on women by society and longing for freedom and adventure. When her face is scarred trying to save her brother from drowning, thus curtailing her marriage prospects, her life becomes one of scholarly pursuits. Her skill at code-breaking brings her to the attention of Lord Castlereagh and she relishes the opportunity of serving her country decoding French messages. When a fellow code-breaker is murdered, and an attempt is made on Heloise’s life, Castlereagh assigns Raven to protect her.

However, Raven and Heloise (or Hellcat as he calls her) grew up on neighbouring estates and, as her brothers’ friend, he was a frequent visitor to the Hampdens. There has always been a strong spark of attraction between them that neither would acknowledge. They managed to conceal their true feelings by exchanging barbed insults, but the mutual attraction shows no sign of abating.

Hellcat Hampden had been the subject of his guilty daydreams for years. What had started out as adolescent musings had matured into fevered erotic fantasies that showed absolutely no sign of abating.

♥♥♥

She was fluent in five different languages, but in Raven’s presence she could barely string a coherent sentence together.

Heloise decodes a letter suggesting that Raven’s friend, Kit Carlisle, who has been missing for two years, is alive and an exchange of prisoners is possible. This exchange is to take place in a small Spanish village just over the French border and Raven is determined to rescue his friend, but he must also protect Heloise and there is only one way to do that – take her with him.

Raven is one of those gorgeous, cynical, arrogant, tormented heroes that I can’t resist, while Heloise is my sort of heroine – intelligent, headstrong, stubborn and unconventional, although she does have one sinful extravagance which Raven certainly approves of!

These two have an amazing chemistry and I enjoyed their entertaining and witty repartee.

He chinked the rim of his own glass against hers and downed the contents.“Bottoms up.” 

With a mental shrug Heloise did the same. Her throat caught fire. Tears sprang to her eyes. When she could catch her breath she croaked out, “Good Lord! That’s vile.” Raven grinned and took her empty glass. “Good girl. Now, as you rightly said, I have to ‘go captain.’ Is there anything else you require?” 

“Only your absence,” she managed. 

He backed out the door with a mocking flourish. “Your humble servant.”

He took two more glasses from a servant. “Here, drink this.”

 She accepted it without thinking. A drunken reveler jostled her arm and a cold wash of champagne splashed onto her chest and trickled down between her breasts. “Oh, bugger-and-arse!” she muttered.

 “That’s what I love about you, Hellcat. Always so ladylike. Just when I despair that the impulsive hellion I grew up with has vanished, you say something like that and the world rights itself again.” 

She growled at him. Actually growled. 

“You shouldn’t do that, either,” he admonished gently. “It makes little wrinkles in your nose.”

Every scene just sizzles with sexual tension and their feelings of frustration, longing, fear, regret and desire are palpable. Ms. Bateman creates a delicious sense of anticipation and when they finally make love, it just feels right. The love scene is beautifully done – tender, romantic, sensual and laced with moments of humour. There is just the right balance between the action and romance and the dangers Raven and Heloise face along the journey only serve to heighten the sexual tension.

Raven believes that because he embraced his darker emotions, he is unworthy of someone as good as Heloise. When he tells Heloise of everything he endured during his imprisonment, it gave me a real understanding of the deep emotional impact it had on him and how he was changed by the experience. Only Heloise can cut through the anger and bitterness to convince him that he is loyal, brave and fearless; willing to do whatever it takes to protect those he loves and cares about. Heloise is his anchor and keeps him grounded.

I like how Raven doesn’t see Heloise’s scar as ugly but as proof that she is a survivor and I love his words to her.

“You’re like the moon. IT has craters and scars and shadows. But only an idiot would deny that it is beautiful.”

The scene between Raven and his grandfather is an emotional one. Raven comes to realise that his grandfather is only human and made mistakes just as he himself has. He now sees rejecting his father’s titles as an insult to his parents’ memory and to everything he could be.

Ms. Bateman has obviously undertaken a lot of research to create a real sense of the period and I love how she weaves fascinating historical details, mythology and real people into the story. I particularly like how her expert knowledge of antiques comes into play  where she refers to the ancient Japanese art of Kinstukuroi, cleverly revealing how much Raven cares for Heloise.

MY VERDICT: A well-written and engaging story with fascinating characters, adventure, danger, sizzling sexual tension and witty repartee. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Secrets and Spies series (click on the book covers for more details):

To Steal a Heart (Secrets and Spies, #1) by K.C. Bateman A Raven's Heart (Secrets & Spies, #2) by K.C. Bateman A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets & Spies, #3) by K.C. Bateman

 

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of an honest review**

 

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Mistletoe and the Major

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Cover Blurb:

 Previously published in the anthology Under the Kissing Bough. 

The Major is home from the wars at last… 

Edmund Sherritt, Major Lord Canforth, has devoted eight tumultuous years to fighting Napoleon. Finally, Europe is at peace, and he can retire to his estates and the lovely wife he hasn’t seen since their brief, unhappy honeymoon. The innocent girl he loved from the first moment he saw her, but who shied away from him on their wedding night.

The beautiful woman who greets him at Otway Hall on Christmas Eve is no longer the sweet ingénue he remembers. This new and exciting version of his beloved countess is strong, outspoken, and independent, and she’s willing to stand up for what she wants. The question is—does she want the husband who returns to her arms more as a stranger than a spouse?

Now the real battle begins. 

Felicity, Lady Canforth, has had eight long years to regret that she sent her husband from a cold marriage bed to face brutal combat, danger and hardship. The only child of elderly parents, Felicity came to marriage innocent and ignorant, and unable to conceal her shock at the sensual power of the earl’s caresses. Before she found the nerve to offer Canforth a more generous welcome, he was called away to war. The Major left behind a countess who was a bride, not a wife; a woman unsure of her husband’s feelings, and too timid to confess how fervently she desires the man she wed.

Fate has granted an older, wiser Felicity a second chance to win her husband’s heart. Now nothing will stop her from claiming victory over the famous war hero. This Christmas, she’ll deploy every ounce of courage, purpose and passion to seize the life and love she’s longed for, ever since Canforth left to serve his country. Whatever it costs, whatever it takes, she’ll lure the dashing Major back into her bed, where she means to show him he’s the only man she wants as her lover—and her love.

After years of yearning and separation, will a Christmas miracle heal the wounds of the past and offer the earl and his bride a future bright with love? 

❄❄❄❄❄


I started my Christmas reading early this year with a lovely, heart-warming second-chance short story from Anna Campbell.

It was love at first sight for Edmund and Felicity (Flick), but they had only been married for two weeks when Edmund received orders to join his regiment. In their short, awkward time together, they had never felt at ease enough with each other to openly discuss their true feelings and were still little more than strangers when Edmund left. After eight long years, Edmund is finally able to return home and is determined to build a real marriage.

Even within the constraints of a short story, Ms. Campbell can still pack a real emotional punch. She made me feel Edmund and Flick’s initial feelings of uncertainty, regret and fear after their long separation. The years running the estate have given Flick a degree of confidence lacking in her younger self. The only child of elderly parents, she was shy and inexperienced when she married and regrets not having been braver and more responsive to her husband’s lovemaking. I like how she is determined to seize this second chance.

Edmund has his own fears. War has changed him, and he is uncertain of the welcome he will receive from Flick, but she sees that he is still the same kind, considerate man she remembers. I like the scene involving the ‘burnt letters’, when Flick’s misunderstanding of the situation leads them to finally talk openly about their feelings for each other and confess their love.

MY VERDICT: A delightful start to my Christmas reading.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

 

 

 

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Angel Comes to Devil's Keep

(Twins’ Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb:

Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart—and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I have regularly followed her blog with its fascinating and informative posts but ANGEL COMES TO THE DEVIL’S KEEP is the first book I have read by Regina Jeffers and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I like Hunt for wanting to do more than just being the heir apparent to the Duke of Devilfoard. He takes real pride in the secretive work he does for the Home Office which gives him an additional purpose in life and an element of independence too.

It was not much, this bit of public duty he performed, but Hunt took a certain pride in doing more than being the Duke of Devilfoard’s heir apparent–more than being the Devil’s cub.

His father is pushing him to marry Lord Sandahl’s daughter, Lady Mathild, but while fully aware of his responsibilities to the dukedom, Hunt refuses to marry some green girl straight from the schoolroom; he wants a woman who will love him wholeheartedly and share his passion for life, learning and adventure.

I like Angel who is intelligent, independent, outspoken and with a real zest for life – a perfect match for Hunt. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, as gentlemen of the ton, intent on pursuing her for her beauty and large dowry alone, soon discover.  Despite her distaste for ‘a bland lifestyle wrapped in formality’, her determination to succeed in society for her father’s sake shows her love and concern for him.

The image of her father’s worried brow and the knowledge of his declining health drove her response. She must succeed in London’s Society for her father to know peace. 

I was rather cautious about the amnesia plot line, but Ms. Jeffers uses it effectively. Hunt’s memory loss and Angel’s ignorance of his true identity allows their attraction to flourish, unfettered by any preconceptions or prejudices, as they spend time with the Wendts while Hunt recovers. It also reveals Angel’s caring and compassionate nature. She risks her own life to rescue a stranger and refuses to desert him, and believing him to be either a gentleman farmer or a man of business, she even considers asking her father to offer him a position.

When Hunt’s brother, Harry, and his friend, Lord Remmington, find him and he discovers his real identity, it’s natural that he feels angry, hurt and disappointed, believing that the woman who had stolen his heart connived to take advantage of  him. I was pleased that Ms. Jeffers did not prolong this misunderstanding and Harry and Lord Remmington soon convince Hunt that he is wrong about Angel and she only had his interests at heart.

Despite Hunt’s marriage proposal, Angel is practical enough to know that she could never be the sort of duchess his position requires. My heart ached for them when they are forced to accept that they can never be together.

He wanted to be this woman’s everything–to turn the sun back four and twenty hours and reclaim the anticipation of knowing her intimately. To be her first. Her last. It was a lovely fantasy, one upon which reality would too soon intrude.

“There will be more than enough time to relive each moment of the past few days. A whole lifetime to know your ideal match does exist. He will simply belong to another.”

There are many trials and tribulations before their Happy Ever After seems assured, including poisoning, murder, intrigue, long-hidden family secrets and a rival for Angel’s affections in the form of Hunt’s best friend, Lord Remmington. I like how it is Hunt’s father who gives him a ‘good kick up the backside’, figuratively speaking.

I thought Ms. Jeffers portrayed Hunt’s reactions to his amnesia in a realistic way. I sensed his fears and uncertainties and how vulnerable he feels.

…he had yet to recognize one servant or family portrait or even the house’s furnishings. He remained a first time guest in his childhood home. The tightness in his chest had nothing to do with his injury and everything to do with his vulnerability.

I also liked how she doesn’t have Hunt miraculously regaining his complete memory, but certain things trigger a particular memory.

The plotline called for a large number of secondary characters and, at times, I found it difficult to keep a track of everyone and the various family relationships. I was intrigued by Lord Remmington whose story is told in book 2, The Earl Claims His Comfort. I liked Angel’s father, a congenial man, but not when it comes to protecting his family.

Ms. Jeffers’s tightly woven mystery certainly kept me guessing, with plenty of red herrings, some unexpected twists and turns and the revelation of long-hidden family secrets. The unmasking of the true villain certainly came as a big surprise.

MY VERDICT: An extremely enjoyable story with appealing characters, suspense, intrigue and a heart-warming romance.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Twins’ Trilogy so far (click on the book cover for more details):

Angel Comes to the Devil's Keep by Regina Jeffers The Earl Claims His Comfort by Regina Jeffers

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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