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Duke of Desire

(Maiden Lane, #12)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1742)

Cover Blurb:

A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude! Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

PUBLICATION DATE: 17th October 2017

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the final full-length book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s fabulous Maiden Lane series but there are two novellas to come – ONCE UPON A MAIDEN LANE (14th November) and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS EVE (5th December).

From the moment he made his first appearance in Duke of Pleasure, I was intrigued by the scarred Raphael de Chartres, Duke of Dyemore, who recently returned to England to claim the dukedom, following the death of his estranged father, former leader of the evil Lords of Chaos, Mystery surrounds Raphael’s whereabouts during his years of absence and rumours abound concerning how he acquired the scar on his face. It quickly becomes clear that he is driven by a relentless determination to destroy the Lords of Chaos.

Raphael was obsessed with the Lords. He let nothing stand in the way of his revenge.

Lady Iris Jordan has been a widow for five years and although her late husband, twenty years her senior, had been a good and kind man, their three-year marriage had been a miserable one for her.

He’d never loved her, never cherished her, and never spoken to her as an equal.

She has lived with her older brother and his wife since her husband’s death but longs to be part of a family with children of her own. She has always hoped to remarry for love but is willing to settle for affection provided the gentleman enjoys the same things she does.

Throughout this series, I have admired Ms. Hoyt’s ability to pair the most improbable heroes and heroines and create the perfect couples, as she does here. Iris’s warmth, intelligence, patience, caring and quiet strength are the perfect foil for the dark, autocratic, unsmiling, stubborn Raphael.

I think Raphael is the most tormented and complex of all the heroes in this series. It is not only revenge that drives his obession to destroy the Lords of Chaos but also a deep sense of guilt. In all the years since he left England, he never tried to stop his father or eradicate the society, even knowing the evil they perpetrated. Raphael fears that, carrying his father’s blood in his veins, he will one day become a monster just like him and has vowed that the bloodline will end with him, but Iris will test this resolve. He has never met anyone as pure as Iris before and needs her to bring light into his dark world of despair, but is determined to distance himself from her rather than see Iris tainted in any way.

He’d vowed that he wouldn’t corrupt her, and he’d keep that vow no matter what it cost him.

I love how Iris refuses to allow Raphael to dictate the terms of their marriage and is resolved to try to make it a real marriage, with or without sex. Realising that he keeps all his thoughts and emotions carefully hidden, she is determined to break through his ‘frozen exterior’ and discover the real man beneath. I love how she refuses to give up on him no matter what he says or does.

When Raphael tells Iris of the traumatic events that happened all those years ago when he was twelve years old, it was so heart-wrenching knowing what he had endured and how it had left him so emotionally damaged. When Raphael fears that Iris will be repulsed by him, I love how she believes in him and convinces him that he could never be like his father.

“You are not a demon or a beast. You are my beloved husband. I know you, and you are not your father. You are good and kind and valiant. You are stubborn and intelligent and sometimes very witty. You will never hurt a child of ours, I promise.

I felt that the romance was somewhat overshadowed by the prominence of the darker elements in the book and found it difficult to feel the all-important emotional connection between Iris and Raphael. The love scenes tended to be raw and earthy and perhaps I was looking for something with a little more warmth and tenderness, although the lovely Epilogue did go a long way to appeasing me.

I liked Raphael’s brave and loyal Corsican servants who were willing to defend Iris with their lives. I also adored his Aunt Donna Pieri who had rescued Raphael from his father’s clutches and obviously loved her nephew. With various twists and turns, Ms. Hoyt kept me guessing as to the identity of Dionysus, the leader of the Lords of Chaos, and the final reveal definitely came as a surprise. 

MY VERDICT: DUKE OF DESIRE is a worthy addition to the superb Maiden Lane series. This series is a MUST read for anyone who loves unforgettable characters, compelling plots and sensual romances.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Maiden Lane series (click on the book cover for more details):

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3) by Elizabeth Hoyt Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane, #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt Darling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt Sweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth HoytDuke of Sin (Maiden Lane, #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane, #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane, #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane, #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane, #12.6) by Elizabeth Hoyt

 

 

**I received a complimentarycopy of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. **

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Not Quite a Husband 2

(The Marsdens, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – North-West Frontier of India and England 1897)

Cover Blurb:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I wasn’t surprised that it won the RITA Award for Best Historical Romance in 2010.  I LOVED it and was totally swept away by this intensely emotional, second-chance love story.

I understood the importance of the Prologue in revealing Bryony as a woman who feels deeply, and not the cold, unfeeling and often unlikable person she appears to be in the story. Without this glimpse of Bryony’s vulnerability, it would have been hard for me to empathise with her. I also understood how Bryony’s childhood experiences shaped the person she became; not quite two when her mother died, she knew nothing but neglect from her absentee father and desperate loneliness. That all changed with the arrival of her stepmother, Toddy, who became her friend and companion and…

…her fairy godmother who’d dispelled loneliness and breathed magic into her life.

I could only imagine how devastated Bryony was when her beloved Toddy died in childbirth but, later in the story, Toddy’s daughter, Callista, provides some idea of how it affected Bryony.

“All your emotions were so intense—your anger like daggers, your unhappiness a poisoned well. Even your love had such sharp corners and dark alleys.

Eventually, Bryony left home to focus on becoming a doctor with a cool, impersonal dedication and, by the age of 28, she has had an illustrious career, although most of society disapprove of her occupation considering it, or any employment, as inappropriate for a gentleman’s daughter.

Leo is a handsome, charming, witty and extremely popular – a veritable Adonis. He is also greatly admired as a mathematical genius, a budding playwright and an explorer. From the first moment Bryony meets Leo, she falls hopelessly in love with him and can’t believe that such a gorgeous man could be interested in a spinster like herself. What she doesn’t realise is that Leo, who lived on the neighbouring estate, has been in love with her since he was a boy of eleven, 4 years her junior, but she had never even noticed him. When she proposes to Leo, it is the happiest moment of his life but, after the marriage, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong.  Bryony becomes cold, frigid and indifferent to Leo, eventually locking him out of her bedroom. Leo has no idea what the problem is and does everything he can to please Bryony but to no avail, and when Bryony asks for an annulment, Leo agrees.

In the intervening 3 years, after working in various parts of the world, Bryony is running a clinic in the North-West Frontier region of India. The last person she expects to see in this remote part of the world is Leo. Callista has sent him to escort her back home because her father is ill. During the arduous and dangerous journey, Ms. Thomas gradually reveals their past in flashbacks woven into the fabric of story, and these finally shed light on the reason for Bryony’s dramatic change of attitude towards Leo. I felt heartbroken for Bryony discovering that the man she idolized and loved was ultimately flawed. Forgiveness is not in her nature. Toddy had become the yardstick by which she measured everyone and Bryony couldn’t accept anyone who was less than perfect.

I felt Leo’s shame and self-loathing when he finally discovers the real reason for the deterioration of their marriage; knowing that his stupid youthful decision had shattered everything between them and caused Bryony such pain and heartache. But Leo more than redeemed himself in my eyes, because of his continuing love for and his to devotion to Bryony; following her around the world to ensure that she had someone close by if she ever needed help.

Each love scene is beautifully crafted and perfectly reflects Bryony and Leo’s emotional state and I especially love the ‘tub’ scene which is deliciously erotic.

It is obvious that these two still love each other but it is only when they are facing possible death that they are finally able to talk openly and honestly for the first time and realise that they both need to face their fears head on and put their trust in each other.

 She rested her head against the bedpost and gazed at him. “Your trust gives me courage.”     He understood her perfectly. “And your courage gives me faith.”
   She smiled a little. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” he answered without any hesitation.
“Then trust me when I say that we will be all right.”
He trusted her. And he knew then that they would be all right, the two of them. Together.

The North-West Frontier of British India provides an unusual setting for the story, and I feel it adds an additional and fascinating layer to the story.  The difficult and dangerous journey seems almost to mirror Bryony and Leo’s turbulent relationship.

Having read the fascinating story behind the book, which Ms. Thomas features on her website, I appreciated her extensive research into the various regions traversed during their journey, the costumes, the culture, the politics and the various factions competing for control in the region. I would recommend visiting Ms. Thomas’s website (link below) before starting the book, because there are various photos including ones of the places mentioned on the journey together with a map.

http://sherrythomas.com/not-quite-a-husband.php

I absolutely love Ms. Thomas’s beautiful, emotive and evocative prose and here are just a few of my favourite quotes.

 To look upon her and know that he’d lost her through his own misdeed—love had become a thing of nails and spikes, every breath a re-impaling, every pulse a bright, sharp pain.
♥♥♥

She glowed. There was no other word for it, as if the walls around her heart had at last crumpled enough to reveal her hidden capacity for joy, for life. And what a radiant thing it was.
♥♥♥ 

“You were the moon of my existence; your moods dictated the tides of my heart.”
 ♥♥♥ 

She wanted them to grow old together, to gaze into each other’s clouded eyes and peck each other on the cheeks with lips sunken over toothless gums.
♥♥♥

The Epilogue provides one on those lovely moments when I knew that Bryony and Leo are assured of a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

On Sunday afternoons, rain or shine, Professor and Mrs. Marsden take a walk along The Backs, and treasure growing old together.

MY VERDICT: Complex, flawed characters, emotional intensity, powerful sexual chemistry and a fascinating historical backdrop all combine to make this an outstanding second chance love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT


The Marsdens
series (click on the book cover for more details):

Delicious by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

 

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The Duchess Deal

(Girl Meets Duke, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules… 

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Whenever I pick up a Tessa Dare book, I know that I’m going to be enchanted by a story rich in warmth, emotion and humour; one that is romantic, sexy and full of endearing characters. THE DUCHESS DEAL, the first book in her new Girl Meets Duke series, certainly didn’t disappoint

Ash is an ill-tempered, brooding, cynical man, convinced that no woman could ever want an embittered, scarred wretch like him; something he has every reason to believe to be true, as I discovered later in the story. However, beneath his gruff exterior lies an honourable and caring man which is evident in his genuine concern for those people who work on his estate and in his need to protect and care for Emma. I love the scene where Ash puts the fear of God into Emma’s father and I totally agree with Ash’s opinion of the sanctimonious vicar – “You crusty botch of nature. You poisonous bunch-backed toad.”

So often the hero’s father is cruel or abusive and it was a refreshing to know that Ash’s father was such wise and loving father whom Ash wanted to emulate. My heart ached for Ash when he says he would not want to see his own son or want his son to see him because he fears he could never be like his own father.

Ash’s son could never admire him the way Ash had worshipped his own father. His father had been unfailingly wise, good-natured and patient. Not ill-tempered and bitter, as Ash had become.

I adore Emma for her courage and resilience. Despite being thrown out by her father for a youthful discretion, with nothing but the clothes she stood up in, she walked all the way to London in the height of winter and succeeded in building a life for herself as a seamstress to society ladies. I also admire her genuine compassion for and desire to help her friend, Davina Palmer, because she doesn’t want another young woman to face the sort of rejection she had.

Emma hadn’t landed in Miss Palmer’s delicate situation, but she, too, had been punished for the simple crime of following her heart.  The memories still pained her – and the thought of watching the same cruel fate befall another young woman? It made her quake with anger at the injustice of it all.

Emma and Ash have such wonderful chemistry and their romance is funny, poignant, romantic and sexy. I love how Emma more than holds her own against Ash and even challenges his ‘house ’ rules with ones of her own. The banter between them sparkles and I love how Emma refuses to call him Ashbury or Duke and keeps coming up with pet names which Ash hates.

“If I choose to make a darling of you, there is nothing you can do about it.”
   “Of course, there’s something I can do about it. I can have you sent to an institution for the feebleminded and insane.”
She shrugged. “If you say so, cherub.”

Ash’s habit of cursing in Shakespearean quotes was priceless and this is my favourite, aimed at the ‘hellion cat’.

“Do you hear me? Get out. ‘Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle.’ King Lear, Act Two.”

I love how Emma gradually captures Ash’s heart with her warmth, wit and passion. She sees beyond his scars to the person he truly is behind the gruff exterior – someone funny, patient and passionate. In Emma, Ash sees a woman who doesn’t shy away from his scars; a woman who ‘touched him, kissed him, made him feel human and wanted and whole’.

I love the ballroom scene towards the end of the book where Ash makes such a memorable entrance with the words:

 “Yes, I know,” he said impatiently, turning the scarred side of the face to the room. “Faulty rocket at Waterloo. You have precisely three seconds to move past it. One. Two. Right. Now where is my wife?”

Ash’s long-suffering servants are hilarious with their mad-cap plots to throw Emma and Ash together in the hope that they will fall in love.

There is a colourful cast of secondary characters including…

  • Penelope, Nicola and Alexandra, the unusual trio of ladies who befriend Emma and Ash, and are, I’m sure, future heroines of this series.
  • Khan, Ash’s devoted butler, who isn’t afraid to give him a good rollicking…
    “You’re going to lose her. And when you do, you are losing me too. I’ve served your family for thirty years. I’m due a pension, and I’m not enabling this self-pitying codswallop any further. I wish you all happiness living alone and growing old with your twenty cats.”
  • Trevor, the young lad whom Ash meets on his nocturnal sorties around London
  • Last, but not least, Emma’s cat, Breeches

The charming Epilogue is just a delicious topping on this delightful confection.

VERDICT: Tessa Dare continues to captivate me with her heart-warming stories, endearing characters and sparkling humour and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Girl Meets Duke series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) by Tessa Dare

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the-highlander

 (Victorian Rebels, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

Can the fiercest master of battle conquer a woman’s heart?

They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As Laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated Marquess has vanquished his foes with all rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent… in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the Laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena—and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart… without surrendering his own?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Once again, I was completely immersed in the dark, intense and compelling world of Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels and the passionate love story between Liam and Mena.

The story opens with a powerful Prologue that had me totally riveted to the pages. Ms. Byrne does not shy away from depicting the harrowing events of Liam’s youth and how his violent, abusive, sadistic father tried to shape Liam in his own image. It isn’t easy reading but it gave me a real understanding of Liam’s character; his fear that the same tainted blood runs through his veins and that he would one day become a monster just like his father; the decision he is forced to make to protect is brothers; his belief that by becoming a soldier he could expunge his violent tendencies on the battlefield but all the violence and bloodshed only serves to confirm his belief that he is unworthy of peace or happiness.

The scars he carried upon his soul were horrid and deep as those on his back. Some of the wounds remained open and bleeding, poisoning his chances at happiness or peace.

Mena’s life has been hellish too. Mentally and physically abused by her husband for the past five years, he has now had her committed to an asylum (the reason forms part of the plot of the previous book, The Hunter, and, for those who haven’t yet read that book, I am avoiding spoilers). Once again, Ms. Byrne conveys the chilling reality of Mena’s suffering and abuse in graphic realism and it is not for the faint hearted. These scenes are a powerful indictment of Victorian society, where those without a voice could be committed to such a terrible fate without redress.

I love the scene where Mena is on her way to Ravencroft Keep, Liam’s home, and the carriage wheel fractures. The driver sets off to the keep to get help and, in the meantime, a group of dirty, bedraggled highlanders appear. Liam demands she open the door but Mena refuses point blank, not believing for one minute that he is the marquess. Their exchanges are so funny but, more than anything, I  love how Mena has the courage to refuse to do as Liam says, particularly as he shows every sign of exploding at any moment!

“Do you happen to have any proof of your lordship or nobility?” she suggested, blinking pleased, expectant eyes at him as though she’d offered some sort of foolproof plan. “A signet ring, perhaps, or a seal of—”

  “The fact that I havena torn this carriage apart with my bare hands is proof enough of my nobility,” he growled through lips drawn tight over his teeth. “Now open the bloody door.” 

“I’m sorry, but no.” She shut the window.

It’s obvious that Liam loves his children and has done everything he could to protect them but, after such a long absence, he doesn’t know to relate to his grown-up son and daughter. I love the scenes between Mena and Liam’s children, especially the one where she has a rather clever way of persuading Andrew to read the three classics. I also enjoyed seeing the loving relationship flourishing between Liam and his children.

I like how Ms. Byrne builds the romance slowly. Yes, there is lots of sizzling sexual tension, desire and passion…

The moment they’d met had been like the whisper of a storm kissing a hot, humid day with a blessed chill. The promise of something dark and exciting gathered on the horizon, and Mena had watched that storm rumble closer with every instant they’d spent together. Every time she’d banked the fires that blazed in his eyes. Every time he’d ignited heat into her cold heart.

but they also get to know each other and share their tragic pasts. I love how two such mismatched people are so perfect for each other. Mena finds a man she can trust who will protect and cherish her and allow her to be strong, while Liam finds a woman who accepts him for who he is and offers him the chance to protect rather than hurt and finally find peace.

I liked the secondary characters especially Jani, Liam’s Indian valet, Liam’s children and Liam’s brother, Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, whose story will be told in THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE (October 3rd 2017). I was also intrigued by the references to the Duke of Trewyth and look forward to reading his story in THE DUKE.  

While the main focus of the story is the romance, there is an element of drama in the form of a malevolent force within the keep and Mena’s husband’s attempt to institutionalize Mena again. Dorian Blackwell (The Highwayman) and Christopher Argent (The Hunter) prove their worth as allies for Liam and this fearsome trio show no mercy when exacting revenge on those who have harmed Mena.

MY VERDICT: Another superb addition to this darkly compelling series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Victorian Rebels series to date (click on the book covers for more details):

The Highwayman (Victorian Rebels, #1) by Kerrigan Byrne The Hunter (Victorian Rebels, #2) by Kerrigan Byrne The Highlander (Victorian Rebels, #3) by Kerrigan Byrne The Duke (Victorian Rebels, #4) by Kerrigan Byrne The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels, #5) by Kerrigan Byrne – October 3rd 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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a-gentleman-undone
(Blackshear Family, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A seductive beauty turns the tables on a gentleman gaming for the guiltiest of pleasures in this rich and sensual Regency romance from beloved newcomer Cecilia Grant.
 
Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm’s length.

A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading A Lady Awakened, I knew I had found an author who wasn’t afraid to push the recognised boundaries of Historical Romance with her daring, unique stories and unconventional, flawed characters. I found A Gentleman Undone just as original and engrossing.

I admire Ms. Grant for her unflinching and gritty characterisation of Lydia, whose very flaws make her such a complex, unconventional and fascinating heroine. I admit that it is difficult to like the bold, ruthless, cold-hearted, sexually aggressive woman we see at the beginning of the book; a woman who has no time for tenderness or emotion.

Tenderness was a rat whose neck she wrung with her own hands before hurling it over the hedge to rot with feelings.

I love how Ms. Grant shows the subtle changes in Lydia, as fractures begin to appear in the walls she has built around herself, and I saw a softer Lydia emerging. For me, one moment in particular illustrates the change in Lydia more than any other. It is when she gives Mrs Talbot the money which will secure not only that lady’s financial security but also a place of her own. In doing this, Lydia is willing to relinquish her own chance of financial security and her response to Mrs Talbot’s reaction is a far cry from the woman devoid of all feelings.

It was wonderful, one of the most wonderful things Lydia had ever seen. Her foolish heart felt like a teacup into which someone had forgot to stop pouring.

The key to understanding Lydia lies in her past and, as her darkest secrets are revealed, I saw a vulnerable woman desperate to expunge the guilt she feels over her parents’ death. She had tried to destroy herself layer by layer but when that failed, she found the will, the strength and the ruthlessness to survive.

Out of the ashes of catastrophic misfortune she’d reinvented herself as something formidable, honed and tempered by each disaster she weathered.

Will has his own demons, having returned from the Napoleonic Wars burdened with a deep sense guilt over the death of Talbot, one of his men. Plagued by black moods, he sometimes feels that he has lost the ability to enjoy himself.

Let them come, the sorrow and anger and bleakness and oh, the tireless self-recrimination that swirled up from the pit of his stomach like plumes of coal dust. He was nothing if not accustomed to their company.

He resists his sister’s attempts to draw him back into the family circle, in the hope of restoring him to the carefree brother she once knew.

Although he believes otherwise, Will is essentially a good and honourable man as shown in his determination to ensure that Talbot’s wife and child are financially secure and independent of the relations she currently lives with. He is patient and understanding and protective of those he cares for, even though his willingness to be Lydia’s knight in shining armour does not exactly provoke the right response!

“I’m not some bedraggled kitten for you to rescue from a ditch.”

I love how Will comforts Lydia when she has nightmares and wants to discover the real Lydia behind the belligerent stranger he has come to care for. I love how he defends Lydia and the choices she was forced to make and is willing to suffer estrangement from his family rather than abandon her.  I also like his reference to the double standards of society.

“I cannot seem to find my place any longer in a society where to keep a woman in sin is a more respectable path than to give her my hand and my name.”

Ms Grant took me on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey. Their romance is passionate with lots of sizzling sexual tension. At times, the sex scenes are raw, earthy and explicit but reflect Lydia’s belief that she is unworthy of tenderness and that rough, impersonal sex is a way of making her forget the guilt she feels over the death of her parents…a way of punishing herself.

The fact that Lydia continues to consort with Edward, her protector, at the same time as her relationship with Will is developing might be unacceptable to some readers. However, I saw it as realistic because Will could not afford to keep Lydia as his mistress and, if she was no longer under Edward’s protection with no way to support herself, she would most likely find herself back in a brothel.

Will and Lydia have to fight every step of the way for their Happy Ever After but I felt that their love would endure.

Happiness still felt, at odd moments, like something with which she oughtn’t to be trusted. A delicate and costly music box put into the hands of a maladroit child. Yet happiness felt, too, like a prize she and Will had fought for and seized. An edifice they’d built with their own bare hands out of the scrap heap of mistake and misadventure.

I like how Martha, Will’s sister, and her husband, Mirkwood, (A Lady Awakened) are sympathetic towards Lydia and Will because Martha knows from her own experience that people in desperate circumstances do what they must and she also married a “black sheep” whom her family disapproved of.

I was quite fascinated by the card-playing aspects of the book, probably because I played vingt et un (or twenty one as we called it) in my much younger days.

Once again, I loved Ms. Grant’s beautiful, evocative writing.

She would lay waste to him tonight. To herself as well. She would hurl herself against him like a wave breaking over a rock. She would claw her way to oblivion as many times as she must, until no fragment of human feeling remained.

♥♥♥

Here after all was their condition, perched on their separate wind-whipped summits, in view of each other, but too distant to reach.

♥♥♥

He was a man, for Heaven’s sake. Men liked bedsport wherever they could get it. Why the devil should his plain statement of the fact make her insides race and wheel about like a frantic flock of swallows? 


MY VERDICT: Another outstanding book from Cecilia Grant. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

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

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

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duke-of-pleasure

(Maiden Lane, #11)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1742)

Cover Blurb:

IN THE ARMS OF DANGER

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?


**PUBLICATION DATE: 29th November 2016**

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the 11th book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s fabulous Maiden Lane series and it still amazes me that she can consistently enthral me with her fascinating characters, engrossing plots and sensual romances.

Ms Hoyt excels in writing unconventional heroines, none more so than Alf who first appeared in Lord of Darkness where it was revealed that this young street urchin is in fact a woman. Alf survived the dangerous streets of St Giles, where she was born and bred, by disguising herself as a boy.  Bold, tenacious and quick-witted, she had made a living as an informant. Godric St John (hero of Lord of Darkness and retired Ghost of St Giles) saw her potential and trained her to become the Ghost of St Giles. During the day, she is Alf, but at night she is the Ghost of St Giles, willing to put her life on the line to protect those weaker than herself.

At night she was the Ghost of St Giles. She protected the people of St Giles—her people, living in the big, dark woods. She ran out the monsters—the murderers and rapists and robbers. And she flew over the roofs of the city by moonlight, free and wild. During the day she was Alf, a boy. 

I was pleased to see the return of the Ghost especially as Ms Hoyt chose a woman for the role. I had this wonderful vision of Alf gracefully “darting, wheeling and spinning” whilst wielding her two swords.

Hugh is the illegitimate son of King William but had been formally acknowledged by his father and granted the title of Duke of Kyle, together with considerable land, money and an education befitting a duke. The King has now charged Hugh with destroying the Lords of Chaos, a secret club committing terrible acts of debauchery.

Hugh suffered emotionally in the past. A man of deep passions, he married Katherine with whom he was besotted, but it wasn’t long before he realised that he a had made a terrible mistake. Desperate to get away, he took a commission in the army and went abroad; his only regret was leaving his two young sons, Christopher and Peter. When news reaches him that his wife has died after falling from her horse, he resigns his commission and returns home. He has vowed never again to be swept away by passion for a woman.

…never let passion for a woman sweep away reason, self-preservation, and sense, for that way led to devastation.

I like how Hugh’s relationship with his sons is explored because it gives his character greater depth. It is obvious that he loves them but both boys are still coping with the recent loss of their mother and he doesn’t know how to reach out to them. The eldest, Christopher, hates his father for not being there for them, while the youngest, Peter, suffers from terrible nightmares. Some of the scenes where Hugh tries to comfort Peter are heart-rending to read.

In this series, Ms Hoyt always pairs the most unlikely hero and heroine but she makes the romance work beautifully. A duke and a street urchin shouldn’t work on many levels but it does, and I was rooting for Hugh and Alf to find the happiness they deserve.

I understood why Hugh fights his feelings for Alf but it is a lost cause because…

She made his heart beat fast. Freed all those wild emotions he thought he’d safely locked away when he’d left England three years ago.

and Alf’s feelings are just as potent…

She wanted him with every breath she drew, a painful longing inside her lungs, until it felt as if she’d break apart and shatter into tiny pieces of glass if she could not touch him.

The air positively sizzles when these two are together and there is a particularly erotic scene where Alf has a rather inventive way of evading capture when they are being chased by members of the Lords of Chaos!

I love the scenes between Alf and Hugh’s children. She connects with them in a way that he hasn’t been able to, but she also paves the way for Hugh to reconcile with his children. It also gives Alf something she has never had before – a family.

It was as if her heart had been a tiny seed, alone in a dark box, and Hugh and his boys had shone light on it.

Murder, kidnapping and code-breaking – there’s plenty of action, danger and mystery to keep the story moving as Hugh and Alf work to track down the Lords of Chaos.

Godric St John and his wife, Megs, make an appearance and two new characters are introduced.

  • The widowed Iris Daniels, Lady Jordan, a friend of Hugh’s who takes Alf under her wing when plans require Alf to dress as a woman for the first time.
  • The mysterious, scarred Raphael de Chartres, Duke of Dyemore

After reading the Epilogue, I can’t wait to read their story in Duke of Desire!!

MY VERDICT: Another highly recommended addition to this outstanding series.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

The Maiden Lane series so far (click the book cover for more details):
Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3) by Elizabeth Hoyt Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane, #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt Darling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt Sweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane, #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane, #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt– 29th November 2016

**I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. **
 

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A Lady Awakened

 (Blackshear Family #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what worthy things did you accomplish today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

★✩★

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

★✩★

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

 ★✩★

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


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

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read July 2016

 

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

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

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