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The Sins of Lord Lockwood - Meredith Duran

(Rules for the Reckless, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – Scotland 1857, England 1861 and the Isle of Rawsey 1869)

Cover Blurb:

Steamy romance sizzles between a resurrected earl and his repentant bride in USA TODAY bestselling author Meredith Duran’s latest historical romance.

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Liam Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood, Julian’s friend and Emma’s patron in DUKE OF SHADOWS, certainly sparked my interest. I was intrigued by Liam’s mysterious four-year absence from society and the obvious tension between himself and his estranged wife, Anna. Once again, I was totally riveted to every page of this dark, compelling and emotionally charged love story.

While at home on the Isle of Rawsey in Scotland, Anna, Countess of Lockwood, discovers from a newspaper headline that her husband, who abandoned her on their wedding night four years earlier, has been back in London for the last eight months but has never bothered to contact her. Furious, she heads for London.

Liam never abandoned Anna. His jealous, scheming cousin and heir, Stephen, had arranged to have Liam abducted and put on a prison ship bound for a penal colony in New South Wales. Certain that he would never survive, Stephen planned to have Liam declared dead and claim his title. After a hellish three years, with only the thought of revenge to keep him going, Liam escaped with a small band of fellow convicts and returned to England. With the help of his friends, Julian, Duke of Auburn, and Crispin Burke MP, Liam has set in motion his plans to wreak revenge on Stephen. With no direct evidence to implicate Stephen to his abduction, Liam must use devious methods to bring about Stephen’s complete financial and social ruin. Then Liam will kill him.

His wife’s unexpected arrival stirs up feelings he would much rather forget because he is no longer the man she married – that man is dead.

She was looking at him as though she knew him, when in fact the boy she’d married was dead now.

His years in the prison colony have left Liam profoundly changed but he will never tell Anna what really happened on that night – he simply couldn’t bear her pity. So, he does and says everything to convince her that he is nothing more than the uncaring fortune hunter she clearly believes him to be, but if he hopes his attitude will drive Anna away, he is seriously mistaken. As Countess of Forth, a Scottish title she holds in her own right, Anna needs a legitimate heir to the earldom which is something only her husband can give her and she has no intention of leaving.

“I am here. I am certainly staying.”
He blinked several times—seeming confused by how closely she suddenly loomed. For she was not a small woman; on her tiptoes, she was nearly eye level with him, which gave her an opportunity to deliver him a fulminating glower.

I loved the complexity of Liam’s character. The brutality and humiliation he suffered at the hands of his guards have left him profoundly scarred, both mentally and physically. Tormented by dark, harrowing memories, he is convinced that he is mad. Ms. Duran conveys his emotional turmoil with such realism that I could feel his pain, fear, anger and desperation.

Anna is independent and out-spoken but also vulnerable. After her mother’s death, her father could not cope with raising a young daughter and sent her to live with her aunts. She never had real home and the abandonment by her father, whom she loved, left her believing that anyone she loved would leave her. It isn’t difficult to understand why she readily accepted, without question, that Liam had abandoned her just as her father had, especially given the terms of their marriage.

Ms. Duran employs a series of flashback chapters which show how Liam and Anna met, their courtship and gradual falling in love. Neither one was willing to confess their true feelings, pretending that theirs was just a marriage of convenience. We see Liam as a charming, affable young man who manages to capture the heart of the independently minded Anna. These delightful flashbacks provide a poignant contrast to their current painful relationship. It is heart-breaking to know that their lives were irrevocably changed by envy and greed. I think that, without these flashbacks, it would have been impossible to appreciate the extent to which Liam was changed by his experiences and how deeply Anna was affected by Liam’s ‘abandonment’.

It is obvious that Liam and Anna are still very much in love, but Liam’s belief that he is a broken man, his feelings of shame and his thirst for revenge all seem impregnable barriers. But when Anna discovers the truth of what really happened, she becomes a veritable tigress. I love her strength, her unflinching belief in Liam and her determination to show him the man he truly is.

How was it that all the world saw Liam’s courage, his strength and his worth, save he?

He is a survivor; a man who was willing to protect his fellow prisoners regardless of the cost to himself. He promised to take care of those who escaped with him and provide them with a home and work – a promise he keeps. The loyalty and respect this rag-tag band of prisoners show Liam goes a long way to affirm his true worth.

The love scenes are sensual but they also reveal so much of Liam’s and Anna’s emotions, fears, vulnerabilities and their overwhelming desire for each other.

I like how Julian and Emma (Duke of Shadows) both play an important role in Liam and Anna’s story. Borne of their own personal experiences, they are able to offer wise counsel which is so significant in Liam’s journey to healing. But, before he can finally exorcise the past, Liam needs to exact his revenge on Stephen and I love how Ms. Duran handles this scene in a way that leaves Liam and Anna free to find their Happy Ever.

…this was life, his life, like a gift delivered unto him, which he would guard henceforth for her sake, for their family’s sake, for his own sake. This was his. “I love you,” he said into her mouth.

I know Epilogues are an anathema to some readers, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I love them. Revisiting characters, especially ones who have overcome tremendous odds to find happiness, leaves me with a feeling of contentment as I close the final page of the book.

This is the sixth book in the Rules of the Reckless series but I think it can be easily read as a standalone.  However, I would recommend reading Ms. Duran’s debut book, DUKE OF SHADOWS first, because, not only is it a fabulous book in its own right, but I believe it would enhance the reader’s enjoyment of THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD.

MY VERDICT: If you enjoy a superbly written, compelling, angst-filled romance with unforgettable characters, then I can definitely recommend this book.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Rules for the Reckless series (click on the book covers for more details):

Your Wicked Heart (Rules for the Reckless, #0.5) by Meredith Duran That Scandalous Summer (Rules for the Reckless, #1) by Meredith Duran Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless, #2) by Meredith Duran Lady Be Good (Rules for the Reckless, #3) by Meredith Duran Luck Be a Lady (Rules for the Reckless, #4) by Meredith Duran A Lady's Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless, #5) by Meredith Duran The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless, #6) by Meredith Duran

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Hazard - Stella Riley

(Rockliffe, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – Paris, 1770 and London, 1777 )

Cover Blurb

Hazard: a game of Chance and Luck, made riskier when Fate is rolling the dice.

For Aristide Delacroix, the first throw summons shades from his past. A man he had met, just once, over a card-table … and the lovely girl indirectly responsible for plunging his life into catastrophe.

For Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, tired of waiting for Madeleine Delacroix to make up her mind, it slyly suggests he begin a whole new game with loaded dice; while for Madeleine, it devises a terrifying lesson in missed opportunities and the uncertainty of second chances.

And for Genevieve Westin, hoping widowhood will be happier than marriage, it brings a rude awakening – leaving a single, wild gamble her only option.

A cardsharp turned businessman, a duke’s charming brother, a stubborn, razor-edged beauty and a desperate widow.

Four players in a game of Hazard … all playing for very high stakes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

In HAZARD, the 5th book in Stella Riley’s wonderful Georgian Rockliffe series, Ms. Riley gives her readers two equally captivating romances which play out in tandem but are very different in tone. The tender romance between Aristide and Genevieve forms a nice contrast to the volatile one between Nicholas and Madeleine.

From their first meeting in The Player, the attraction between the charming, good-natured Lord Nicolas Wynstanton, the Duke of Rockliffe’s younger brother, and the stubborn, prickly Madeleine Delacroix, Aristide’s sister, has been palpable. It is obvious that Nicholas is head over heels in love with Madeleine but she pushes him away at every opportunity with her sarcasm. Although she has deep feelings for Nicholas, Madeleine sees their unequal stations in life as an insurmountable barrier, despite Nicholas’ protestations to the contrary. The situation comes to a head at the end of The Wicked Cousin when a thoroughly frustrated Nicholas issues Madeleine with an ultimatum…

…this is the last time I’ll ask. I’ve made a cake of myself over you for long enough. If you don’t want to know me, say so and I’ll walk away.’
Colour bloomed along her cheekbones. ‘That sounds like an ultimatum.’
‘It is an ultimatum.  Choose.’

Nicholas has given Madeleine the opportunity to cut him out of her life completely but she simply cannot do it. The knowledge that she is not indifferent to him makes Nicholas determined to break down the defences she has built around herself and claim her as his wife.

Madeleine’s attitude towards Nicholas annoyed me so much at times, that I was beginning to believe that perhaps Nicholas deserved someone better. However, the Prologue in Hazard gave me a real insight into both Madeline and Aristide’s characters and events in their pasts which were to affect each of them so profoundly. I saw the insecurity and vulnerability beneath Madeleine’s tough exterior and understood the reasons why…

She surrounded herself with an invisible thicket of thorns and a big ‘Keep Out’ notice for good measure.

I love how Madeleine, with no thought for her own safety, protects Nicholas when he is attacked. She is just magnificent!

 ‘Like a tigress, she was – and not a thought for her own safety.  You’ve got to admire a woman like that.’

I couldn’t help but be touched by her heart-felt words as Nicholas lies unconscious. All her defenses are down and the barriers she has erected around herself have finally fallen.

Nicholas has always been regarded as loveable and good-humoured with a dislike of dancing because of his unfortunate habit of stepping on ladies’ toes. Now we see a man who is relentless in his pursuit of the woman he loves.

It has been a bumpy ride, with lots of ups and downs, but I was delighted to see Nicholas and Madeleine finally get their hard-won Happy Ever After.

Ms. Riley creates a truly heart-warming romance between Aristide and Genevieve. Like his sister, past events have led Aristide to build emotional barriers around himself and I enjoyed seeing those barriers gradually start to crumble as he falls under his wife’s spell.

His awareness of his wife increased with every passing day and not merely when she was within touching distance.  He’d developed a habit of watching her across a room and thinking about her when she wasn’t there.

He may not be aware of it himself, but his love shines through in the patience, understanding and kindness he shows Genevieve. The scene where he buys her the little puppy is particularly telling because he realises just how devoid of kindness her life has been. Her late husband’s emotional and mental cruelty had destroyed Genevieve’s self-esteem but Aristide gradually restores her confidence in herself as a beautiful and desirable woman.

Genevieve gradually discovers that lurking behind that reserve, Aristide is a very different man …honourable, kind, patient, understanding, and someone she can trust; not to mention the other benefits!

That cool, business-like façade hides all manner of things … such as when he’s teasing or joking … and the wickedly seductive Frenchman who knows exactly where to touch me and how.

I admired Genevieve for her courage when she stands up to her odious brother, Ralph, and champions her husband…

‘Birth and title don’t make a gentleman, Ralph. Character and manners do that and Aristide has both.  Also, although you sneer at him from your aristocratic pedestal, he’s already achieved more than you will in a lifetime.  He started with nothing and made it into something.  You started with every advantage – and wasted all of them. In short, he’s worth a dozen of you

Sir George Braxton’s accusation of cheating with regard to Aristide is resolved in a satisfying way and also adds some dramatic events to the story which are integral to moving one of the romances forward. It also provides one of my favourite scenes where Aristide and the unflappable Rockliffe confront Braxton and the duke scares him (Braxton) half out of wits with just the tone of his voice.

One of the highlights for me in this series is the mutual love, loyalty and friendship between the Rockliffe circle of family and friends. I am always guaranteed some delightful scenes, memorable moments, and witty banter. Among my favourite moments are:

  • Cassie’s warm and unquestioning acceptance of Genevieve.
  • Nicholas teasing Sebastian about arriving late to Adrian’s party…

My apologies.  We were … delayed.’
‘Yes – and I can guess by what.’
Sebastian didn’t reply but the look in his eyes said something along the lines of, Shut your mouth before I put my fist in it … which only increased Nicholas’s amusement.

  • Aristide’s embarrassment and his friends’ knowing looks when they hear the story of him saving the puppy for his wife.


MY VERDICT
: Beautifully written, with memorable characters, a well-plotted story and two captivating romances, this is another wonderful addition to this addictive series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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 Volume 4 (Rockliffe) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley

 

 

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Duke of Shadows

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – Delhi, 1857 and London, 1861)

Cover Blurb:

In a debut romance as passionate and sweeping as the British Empire, Meredith Duran paints a powerful picture of an aristocrat torn between two worlds, an heiress who dares to risk everything…and the love born in fire and darkness that nearly destroys them.

From exotic sandstone palaces…

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé’s betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.

To the marble halls of London…

In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous — and that a single decision can alter one’s life forever.

Destiny follows wherever you run.

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned…and some passions never die.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to read DUKE OF SHADOWS, Meredith Duran’s much-praised 2010 debut novel, because I was totally swept by this powerful and beautiful love story.

Accompanied by her parents, Emmeline (Emma) Martin is on her way to Delhi to marry her fiancé Marcus Lindley, an army colonel employed by the British East India Company. Tragedy strikes when the ship sinks in a storm, leaving Emma as the sole survivor. She is rescued by a passing freighter, but the knowledge that she has spent time alone with a crew of rough and ready sailors leaves her reputation, among the Anglo-Indian, tainted by association. Emma discovers that her fiancé is no longer the charming man she knew back in England; he is now a philanderer, gambler and only interested in marrying her for her money. Emma is determined to break off the engagement.

Julian Sinclair, Marquess of Holdensmoor and heir to the Duke of Auburn, has mixed blood – his father was British and his mother was of mixed British and Indian descent. He is torn between two worlds, neither of which he feels he truly belongs to and both cultures regard him with suspicion and disdain. Julian is aware that there is unrest among the Indian troops (sepoys) in the service of the British East India Company and fears a mutiny. However, the British authorities consider Julian an alarmist and fail to heed his warnings.

From their initial meeting, it is obvious that Julian and Emma share a mutual attraction and I love how Ms. Duran develops their romance in the first part of the book. It is so beautifully done and I really believed in their falling in love.

She stirred, small twitches and movements. Soft, sleepy noises. He kissed her again, more deeply this time, and ran a hand down her side, to the swell of her hip. Her eyelashes fluttered up; color came into her cheeks. He smiled against her. Fairy tales were wasted on children. Until this moment, even he had not fathomed the power of waking someone with a kiss.

I could feel how torn Julian is when he makes the difficult decision to leave Emma in Sapnagar. He wants to protect the woman he has come to love and also ensure that his Indian family are safe but, most importantly, he sees it as his duty to try to stop the bloodshed between the two sides. He is a honourable man and does what he believes to be right, unaware of how much it will cost him personally.

Ms. Duran doesn’t shy away from portraying the horror and brutality following the uprising and some of the scenes are harrowing to read., but I feel this is crucial to understanding Emma’s emotional state and her motivations in the second half of the book.

The second half, which takes place in London 4 years later, is such an emotional roller-coaster and I felt as though I was living every moment with Julian and Emma, such was the power and skill of Ms. Duran’s writing. Julian is full of guilt for having left Emma and there is so much anger on Emma’s side, believing that Julian had broken the promise he made and deserted her. I could understand Emma’s anger towards Julian, knowing all the horrific sights she saw and everything she had endured. It is heart-breaking to see how emotionally fragile she is and her paintings seem to represent a way of purging herself of those terrible memories.

When Julian sees Emma for the first time in 4 years, his pain and yearning is a palpable thing but I love him for being so patient with Emma and refusing to let her go. Emma fears that should he learn the truth about her, he would surely reject her.

He was so sure his opinion would be unaffected by anything she told him. But he could not know what was in her head. What was in her. And he would not like it. He would recoil and she would not be able to bear it. Seeing him leave again.

There is no doubt that they still love each other, but it seems that the past will always remain an insurmountable obstacle. Only when they are forced to work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Emma are they able to talk openly and honestly and shed the darkness of the past to find the happiness they truly deserve.

Marcus Lindley was truly despicable in his actions towards Emma and his betrayal and gets a suitable comeuppance in the end.

I was especially intrigued in Julian’s friend and Emma’s patron, Lord Lockwood, whose story is told in Ms. Duran’s latest release The Sins of Lord Lockwood.

MY VERDICTIf you are in the mood for something dark and intense with an original plotline, fascinating characters, suspense and a heart-stopping romance, I can definitely recommend this book.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello Stranger UK
(UK Cover)

(The Ravenels, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb

A woman who defies her time

Dr. Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in England, is as daring and independent as any man—why not take her pleasures like one? Yet she has never been tempted to embark on an affair, until now. Ethan Ransom, a former detective for Scotland Yard, is as gallant as he is secretive, a rumored assassin whose true loyalties are a mystery. For one exhilarating night, they give in to their potent attraction before becoming strangers again.

A man who breaks every rule

As a Ravenel by-blow spurned by his father, Ethan has little interest in polite society, yet he is captivated by the bold and beautiful Garrett. Despite their vow to resist each other after that sublime night, she is soon drawn into his most dangerous assignment yet. When the mission goes wrong, it will take all of Garrett’s skill and courage to save him. As they face the menace of a treacherous government plot, Ethan is willing to take any risk for the love of the most extraordinary woman he’s ever known.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the fourth book in Lisa Kleypas’ The Ravenels series and highly anticipated by many readers, including myself. I admit to being intrigued by the unlikely pairing of the level-headed Doctor Garrett Gibson and the mysterious government agent Ethan Ransom.

Ms Kleypas has created some of the most memorable heroes ever and Ethan certainly deserves to join that illustrious group. He is everything I look for in a hero – strong, flawed, passionate, smart, intriguing, honourable, loyal, tender and prone to saying the most heart-melting words.  I love how, from the first moment he set eyes on Garrett two years earlier, he was totally bewitched by her…

She was sunlight and steel, spun into a substance he’d never encountered before. The mere thought of her left him like a stray coal on the hearth.

and is determined to protect her from harm during her weekly rounds to dangerous parts of London. Garrett is far from defenceless as she is taking fencing lessons, but I enjoyed seeing Ethan castigate the fencing master, Monsieur Baujart, for not instructing Garrett how to defend herself properly against the likes of himself.

“I suppose when she’s lying on the street with her throat slit, at least she’ll be able to console herself that she didn’t score any illegal points.”

Not only that, but he arranges to have all the locks on her father’s house changed because they are inadequate.

I love how he accepts Garrett for who she is, admires and respects her abilities and encourages her to be herself.

I couldn’t help but love Garrett from the moment she said these words to Severin in MARRYING WINTERBORNE…

(Severin) “This is Mr. Winterborne. The one with the department store. He needs to be treated by a real physician with experience and proper training, not to mention—”
 “A penis?” she suggested acidly. “I’m afraid I don’t have one of those. Nor is it a requirement for a medical degree. I am a real physician, and the sooner I treat Mr. Winterborne’s shoulder, the better it will go for him.”

She had to be tough, resilient, independent and determined to succeed in a male dominated world. Her medical career has been the main focus of her life and she has steered clear of any emotional attachments which might have interfered with her work. At boarding school, she learnt endurance and self-reliance which has always made her keep people at a distance, afraid to let her guard down and trust anyone. She has always yearned to experience what it is like to be desired and loved but Ethan is the only man who has ever tempted her into such a relationship. I enjoyed seeing her throw caution to the wind and experience everything she has been missing.

Ms. Kleypas often pairs the most unlikely couples but the romance always works so beautifully. She can make a simple kiss feel so sensual…

His head dipped lower, until she felt a soft, hot pressure at the side of her neck. A shiver went through her, as fine and distinct as the vibration of a harp string. His mouth found an unbearably sensitive place and lingered in an erotic caress that made her toes curl inside her sensible walking boots.

and include lovely touches of humour…

 “Good heavens.”

Ethan lifted his head and gave her a questioning look.

“Your trapezius and deltoids are remarkable,” she said dreamily, her hands wandering over him. “And your latissimus dorsi are so perfectly defined.”

Ethan is the bastard son of the old Earl of Treanor and has always hated the Ravenels because of the way his mother was treated. I enjoyed seeing his attitude gradually soften towards the Ravenels when he realises that Devon and West’s lives have been far from easy. It was heart-warming to see Ethan feeling part a family for the first time in his life.

They exchanged grins. The grip of their hands felt warm and solid. Safe. This must be a brotherly feeling, Ethan thought, this sense of camaraderie and connection, this unspoken understanding that they would always take the other’s side.

I have a HUGE crush on West Ravenel (so looking forward to his book) who always brings a smile to my face with his irreverent humour. Here are two of my favourite examples.

“Mrs. Abbot, I’m going to the kitchen to wash. You’ll want to warn the housemaids to shield their eyes from the sight of my manly torso.”

“I’ve always been skeptical when people say, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ It’s only true if the pen is glued to the handle of a German steel cutlass.”

The extent of Ms. Kleypas’ research is always impressive and I was fascinated by the details of the medical procedures carried out in the 1870s, as described in the book. I was interested to discover that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to openly qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain as well as becoming the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain, was Ms. Kleypas’ inspiration for Garrett.

The suspense and drama never overshadow the romance but do highlight Ethan’s moral dilemma when he has to choose between betraying his mentor, the man who has been like a father to him, and saving innocent lives.

I’m ending this review with my favourite, swoon-worthy, romantic quote.

“The first moment I saw you, I knew you were my share of the world. I’ve always loved you. If I could choose my fate, I’d never be parted from you. Acushla… pulse of my heart, breath of my soul… there’s nothing on this earth more fair and fine than you. Your shadow on the ground is sunlight to me.”

MY VERDICT: HELLO STRANGER combines everything you could wish for – a deeply romantic story, unforgettable characters, humour, passion and drama. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels, #1) by Lisa Kleypas Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels, #2) by Lisa Kleypas Devil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3) by Lisa Kleypas Hello Stranger (The Ravenels, #4) by Lisa Kleypas

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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.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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.”

♥♥♥

“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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Hazard - Stella Riley

(Rockliffe, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Paris, 1770 and London, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

Hazard: a game of Chance and Luck, made riskier when Fate is rolling the dice.

For Aristide Delacroix, the first throw summons shades from his past. A man he had met, just once, over a card-table … and the lovely girl indirectly responsible for plunging his life into catastrophe.

For Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, tired of waiting for Madeleine Delacroix to make up her mind, it slyly suggests he begin a whole new game with loaded dice; while for Madeleine, it devises a terrifying lesson in missed opportunities and the uncertainty of second chances.

And for Genevieve Westin, hoping widowhood will be happier than marriage, it brings a rude awakening – leaving a single, wild gamble her only option.
A cardsharp turned businessman, a duke’s charming brother, a stubborn, razor-edged beauty and a desperate widow.

Four players in a game of Hazard … all playing for very high stakes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Stella Riley’s stunning Rockliffe series has kept me entranced from the first page of The Parfit Knight, the first book in the series, in which she begins introducing her tremendous cast of characters, one of whom is the enigmatic Duke of Rockliffe (aka Rock) who plays an almost patriarchal role in each story. In fact, all of society respect and look up to him, hence the series name. Now with book five, Hazard, we are treated to another addictive page turner and two equally spine-tingling romances playing out in parallel. As its title suggests, the story is set in part against the backdrop of a gaming club, and, as in the game of hazard, has four players. Two of the main protagonists, brother and sister, Madeleine and Aristide Delacroix, at last get their HEA, and so too does Nicholas Wynstanton, Rock’s younger brother, who has long been smitten with the prickly Madeleine. By the time we reached the end of The Wicked Cousin, Nicholas was becoming more and more frustrated and Madeleine more difficult than usual. However, fans of the series probably knew that Stella Riley would find a way for this unlikely pair to overcome their apparent difficulties. Aristide’s love interest comes to him from a totally unexpected quarter and ties his earlier life in nicely with the series and his connection to Adrian Deveraux, Earl of Sarre (The Player).

As always, one of Stella Riley’s greatest strengths lies in her characterisation. The people she ‘creates’ take on a living, breathing persona, and, in Hazard, Nicholas Wynstanton, who has been around as a secondary character since the first book, is developed fully into a larger than life, loveable and honourable man; not just the happy-go-lucky, younger brother of a duke, but a man in his own right, and not one to be trifled with either. Nicholas’ aim is to knock down the walls Madeleine Delacroix has erected around her heart. Madeleine’s arguments against the match stem from her own insecurities – her earlier life in Paris where she had lived a hand-to-mouth existence with her brother and mother, and the unrequited girlish infatuation she had felt for her brother’s friend, Adrian Deveraux. Being the proud young woman, she is, Adrian’s rebuttal was all the more devastating and she has never fully recovered her composure, resulting in her unfortunate stand-offishness with the opposite sex.

Her brother, Aristide, has always been a cool and mysterious figure; even the author’s description of him conjures up mystery… long blonde hair, eyes the blue of a cloudless winter sky and neatly tailored bones. He says little but, through his inner musings, we get a great deal of insight into the man he is, and we are privy to his frustrations and anger, emotions he keeps locked away from the outside world. Aristide, on the face of it, seems to be calmly and emotionlessly going about his business, but he too has a bruised heart from which he has never fully recovered. His carefully locked away hurt comes back to haunt, but also intrigue him. It is this ‘barely there’ love from his earlier life – before his affluence as a partner in one of London’s premier gaming/gentleman’s clubs – that suddenly re-appears, and we see the cool aloofness slowly disintegrate before the onslaught of the attraction he had felt as a younger man and discovers he still feels, albeit reluctantly.  I think Stella Riley has this sibling relationship between Aristide and Madeline just right. Both are a little bruised because of earlier young love and, although nothing to be ashamed of, both are very aware of their humble beginnings and both wary of letting anyone beneath their self-erected defences. An intriguing pair and therefore the final capitulation to their respective loves is all the more satisfying.

The beautiful and sweet Genevieve who has burst back into Aristide’s life after seven, long, eventful years, is a well-rounded and likeable character who has herself suffered much in the interim years and is therefore extremely vulnerable. In fact, her very vulnerability and sufferings are just what the calmly controlled Aristide needs as a salve to the perceived injustices he believes her responsible for in his past life. But, he is the kind of man who needs to be needed, and Genevieve Westin certainly fits that bill and so he crumbles. It puts me in mind a little of The Mésalliance in which we see Rock lose his legendary ‘cool’. I love these hard to read, mysterious men.

There is a plausible plot running throughout the story which involves most of the main characters but has its roots in Paris and Aristide’s earlier life.  As usual the utterly delectable Rock strolls in and takes centre stage at just the right moments – urbane, and cool-as-cucumber, he steals every scene he is involved in. With just a few carefully selected words designed to defuse, he delivers a set-down, often without the recipient being aware he or she has been insulted. His character is one of Stella Riley’s triumphs and this series is well named because Rock’s unfailing omniscience and his ability to always be in the right place at the right time is something I have come to look forward to with much anticipation in every book, and I’m never disappointed.

Hazard follows on within weeks of the end of The Wicked Cousin. Cassie and Sebastian are back in circulation after their recent honeymoon and are evidently very-much-in-love newlyweds. They run the gauntlet of the usual banter and risqué comments which only close friends can get away with. Sebastian’s wicked and naughty sense of humour is very much in evidence, and this is yet another area in which Stella Riley excels. Her wit and humour are always lurking in the background, adding another dimension to her intriguing characters and expertly researched Georgian world. One feels very much a part of this group of close friends and relatives and, as we near the end of the series, it is going to be sad to say goodbye…but not yet! Ms. Riley is busy writing the final book in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to another lovely Rockliffe, and maybe Ms. Riley will tie off a few loose ends, such as, will Rock get his heir and let Nicholas off the hook?

New readers of Stella Riley’s books may be a little overwhelmed by the amount of characters. This is book five and it could be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but my advice would be to start at the beginning. Trust me, it’s no hardship, as I said in my opening chapter, this series is addictive. Now we must wait for Alex Wyndham to work his magic on Hazard and I believe he is busy in his recording studio as I write this review. How will I find the time to listen? Who needs to do housework etc. when there is a new Wyndham/Riley collaboration in the offing?

MY VERDICT: Another stellar five stars read for me. I might have my favourites in the series, but each book is as well written as the last and I can’t penalise the author for making me prefer one character or storyline over another, and besides which, I love them all!  


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Rockcliffe
series so far (click on the book cover 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 Volume 4 (Rockliffe) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley

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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…?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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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