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Posts Tagged ‘Sensuality-Warm’

Mistletoe and the Major

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Cover Blurb:

 Previously published in the anthology Under the Kissing Bough. 

The Major is home from the wars at last… 

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

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

Now the real battle begins. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY VERDICT: A delightful start to my Christmas reading.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

 

 

 

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Angel Comes to Devil's Keep

(Twins’ Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Than a Mistress

(Mistress Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

An arrogant duke does the unthinkable-he falls in love with his mistress.

She raced onto the green, desperate to stop a duel. In the melee, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, was shot. To his astonishment, Tresham found himself hiring the servant as his nurse. Jane Ingleby was far too bold for her own good. Her blue eyes were the sort a man could drown in-were it not for her impudence. She questioned his every move, breached his secrets, touched his soul. When he offered to set her up in his London town house, love was the last thing on his mind….

Jane tried to pretend it was strictly business, an arrangement she was forced to accept in order to conceal a dangerous secret. Surely there was nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she got past his devilish facade and saw the noble heart within, she knew the greatest jeopardy of all, a passion that drove her to risk everything on one perfect month with the improper gentleman who thought love was for fools.

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I loved this book! Mary Balogh captivated me from the start with this unusual, intelligently written, emotional and sensual love story. 

When we first meet Jocelyn, he is arrogant, cynical, bad-tempered and domineering and revels in his rakish reputation even when it is undeserved. He treats lesser individuals with disdain including his long-suffering servants.

Joselyn jerked impatiently on the bell rope beside his bed and vented his irritability on his vale, who had not brought his shaving water up.
  ‘I thought you would wish to rest this morning, your grace, ‘he said.
‘You thought! Do I pay you to think, Barnard?’
‘No, your grace,’ his man replied with long-suffering meekness.

Despite the desperate situation she finds herself in, Jane is a strong-willed, clever and independent woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, their verbal sparring providing some delightful dialogue. I love how Jane refuses to be intimidated by Joselyn, even at his most toplofty, and it brought a smile to my face when Jocelyn’s brother, Ferdinand, receives a scolding from Jane regarding the duel, prompting the following observation from Jocelyn…

‘She comes equipped with a mind, you see, Ferdinand,’ Jocelyn explained with studied boredom, ‘with a double-edged tongue attached.’

I love how Ms. Balogh develops the relationship between Jocelyn and Jane and I could feel their attraction and the growing sexual tension as they spend time together during Jocelyn’s convalescence. When Jane discovers Jocelyn playing the piano one night, she sees a sensitive and artistic side he has kept hidden from the world. I felt a subtle change in their relationship when Jocelyn confides in Jane that his father had considered his artistic talent effeminate and had been determined to beat it out of him, and Jocelyn discovers that Jane has a beautiful singing voice. It creates an intimate moment between them leading to their first kiss.

As the end of Jocelyn’s convalescence draws near, Jane does not want to leave any more than Jocelyn wants her to leave. Jocelyn’s solution is to ask her to be his mistress in his typical autocratic way.

‘I am offering you a proposition, a business one, if you wish. You need a home and a source of income beyond what you already have. You need some security and someone to take your mind off your loan state, I daresay. You are a woman with sexual needs, after all, and you are sexually drawn to me. And I need a mistress…’

I like how Jane still gets the last word by stipulating that there would be a contract drawn up between them.

I love how Jane describes the house that Jocelyn provides for her as sleaze and fluff and sets about making the house a home.  The time they spend in Jane’s ‘den’ is my favourite part of the book. Jocelyn sees the den as a haven where they can be themselves; where he can do all those things that he longed to do as a boy. I loved the charming picture Ms. Balogh creates of Jane embroidering and Jocelyn playing the piano and painting in companionable silence. Jocelyn confides his innermost secrets to Jane and I could understand how they had shaped him into the man he became and tainted his life.  Jane sees behind the mask to a vulnerable man in need of friendship, acceptance and love.

I could feel how deeply in love they were but Jane still harbours a secret but, before she can tell Jocelyn the truth, he discovers her real identity. I could understand his anger and sense of betrayal; he had trusted her enough to confide his innermost most self and she had shared nothing of herself but most of all…

She had taken everything from him, even the love of which he had though himself no longer capable.
He hated her for fooling him into hoping that after all life was worth living.

My one criticism is that I found the ending rather confusing, as though something was missing. When I discovered that the editor had suggested that certain scenes be deleted to provide a more effective ending, I bought a copy of Now a Bride, in which Mary Balogh has provided readers with the three missing scenes. I understand the element of surprise the editor was aiming for but, having read the deleted scenes, personally I feel that the book would have benefited from the emotional punch of The Proposal scene where Jocelyn finally expresses his feelings for Jane.

I liked Jocelyn’s sister, Angeline, a veritable whirlwind of chatter, with terrible dress sense and an even worse taste in bonnets and his carefree, charming younger brother, Ferdinand, with his penchant for wagers. I also enjoyed the banter between Jocelyn and his circle of friends.

MY VERDICT: As always, Mary Balogh delivers a beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Mistress Trilogy (click on the book covers for more details):

More Than a Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #1) by Mary Balogh No Man's Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #2) by Mary Balogh The Secret Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #3) by Mary Balogh

Now a Bride (Mistress Trilogy #2.5) by Mary Balogh – Contains never-before-published scenes from More than a Mistress and No Man’s Mistress — plus Mary Balogh’s new epilogue for the series.

 

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An Affair With a Notorious Heiress

(Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – London 1872)

Cover Blurb:

The son of a duke and an infamous mother, Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton, fought his way to respectability. Now, the most eligible bachelor in London, marriage-shy Rexton will take only a wife with an impeccable reputation, good breeding, and a penchant for staying out of the gossip sheets. But when he strikes a deal to be seen “courting” a sweet young debutante whose notorious older sister has blemished her chances for marriage, Rexton is unexpectedly drawn to the highly inappropriate, calamitous Tillie, Lady Landsdowne herself.

After a scandalous incident that sent shockwaves throughout society and disgraced her, Tillie refuses to cower in the face of the ton. Instead, she will hold her head high as she serves as chaperone for her younger sister, but Tillie is convinced Rexton’s courtship is shrouded with secrets—ones she vows to uncover. However, doing so requires getting dangerously close to the devilishly handsome and forbidden marquess…

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This is the 4th book in Ms. Heath’s Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series and, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel it had the same emotional intensity which I found so satisfying in the other books in the series.

As heir to the Duke of Greystone, Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton (Rex) enjoys a life of wealth and privilege but, at an early age, he learned that respect didn’t come automatically, it had to be earned. He loves both his parents but, at school, he had been subjected to bullying and insults because of his mother’s scandalous past, but with physical maturity came the ability to fight back and he gradually earned the respect of his fellow pupils. He is determined that his own children will never suffer the same way he did and when he finally chooses a wife, she will be someone ‘with an impeccable reputation, good breeding, and a penchant for staying out of the gossip sheets’.

American heiress, Mathilda (Tillie) Paget, Countess of Landsdowne, caused a scandal when she was caught kissing a footman, leaving her husband no choice but to divorce her. Further scandal ensued when the divorce courts agreed, at Landsdowne’s request, to strip her of her title, but she had the audacity to appeal to a higher court and won her case.  Appalled by her behaviour, society has shunned her, friends have abandoned her, and she has become the target for gossip and disdain. Only her sister, Gina, has remained loyal to her. Tillie is determined to protect Gina and ensure her sister does not make the same mistake she did.

She wanted to help Gina find the right man to wed. She wanted nothing more than she wanted her sister’s happiness.

After seeing, Gina settled, Tillie has every intention of returning to America and making a new life for herself.

The sisters’ uncle, Garrett Hammersely, is aware that Tillie’s notoriety is having an adverse effect on Gina’s chances of finding a titled suitor and persuades Rex to feign and interest in Gina. Mr Hammersley hopes that, as Rex is the most sought-after bachelor in London and well respected by his peers, his attentions will pique the interest of other suitable gentlemen. If he succeeds, Rex will acquire the stud services of Hammersley’s prize Arabian stallion. It’s an agreement he simply can’t refuse. Rex and Tillie, who is acting as Gina’s chaperone, are frequently thrown into each other’s company and soon an undeniable attraction flares between them.

Unaware of the arrangement between Rex and her uncle, Tillie feels guilty because Rex is courting her sister and she would never jeopardise Gina’s happiness. Even when she discovers the true situation, she is wary of ever trusting a man again, which I could understand given her husband’s infidelities. Tillie is just the sort of woman Rex has sworn to avoid but he is fascinated and intrigued by her.

Rex comes to appreciate how difficult it must be for Tillie to chaperone her sister, leaving herself open to society’s censure and wants to protect her from the unkindness of others. I loved him for wanting to do things that bring Tillie joy, especially in the scene where he takes her to a secret destination and she is expecting something nefarious, only to find something magical.

I loved Tillie’s unconditional love for her sister and her determination that Gina would have the happiness she never did. I also admired her for having the strength, courage and determination to fight in any way possible to escape her unhappy marriage, knowing full well the personal cost to herself.

She’d sacrificed her reputation, her standing, her place in Society for a chance to be free of Landsdowne. She’d forced a life of solitude, an absence of friends, onto herself.

Landsdowne’s mother and sister always made it clear that they didn’t consider Tillie good enough for him and treated her atrociously. So, I loved seeing Rex’s sister Grace, the Duchess of Lovingdon, spike the sister’s guns, when she tries to have Tillie and her sister removed from The Royal Tea Palace.

“Come along,” the duchess said to Tillie and Gina.

 Lady Blanford had the audacity to step in front of them. “Mr. Wadsworth, I must insist you prevent this rabble from entering.”

“Come now, Countess,” the duchess said, her voice tight but controlled, “do you really think he is going to adhere to your wishes when doing so will mean that my party immediately leaves to never return? And let’s not forget Lady Landsdowne’s pistol. Scars can be a symbol of courage but I’m not certain that would hold true in your case. Now step aside and do not make a further fuss or you will find yourself being the one escorted out.”

What makes Ms. Heath’s books so special for me is her ability to write beautiful and emotionally moving love stories, but the romance between Rex and Tillie didn’t elicit the same strong emotions that I felt when reading the other books in this series. For me, there were no moments when I thought my heart might break or tears streamed down my face.

I liked Gina who is much wiser than anyone appreciates and I’m looking forward to following her own journey to a Happy Ever After in Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses. I loved how Rex’s family and friends offered their unconditional support for Tillie and it was wonderful to see Rex’s parents, Frannie and Sterling and know that their love is as strong as ever despite the obstacles they face. Their story is told in Surrender to the Devil, the third book in the original Scoundrels of St. James series.

I like how Ms. Heath highlights the unfairness of Victorian society where a divorced wife would be ostracised while her unfaithful husband could carry on as before without any repercussions.

As with all the books in this series, Ms. Heath ends with a lovely Epilogue.

MY VERDICT: This may not be my favourite book in this series but there were still many things I enjoyed about it.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series (click on the book covers for more details):

When the Duke Was Wicked (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #1) by Lorraine Heath Once More, My Darling Rogue (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #2) by Lorraine Heath The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #3) by Lorraine Heath An Affair with a Notorious Heiress (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4) by Lorraine Heath Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4.5) by Lorraine Heath

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Mad for the Marquess

(Reluctant Hearts, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1863)

Cover Blurb:

James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, had everything—until he was found covered in blood, standing over a dead girl. Now locked away in a madhouse, he has one short year to recover his memories and prove his sanity, or be condemned for life. But the demons inside Devlin’s head are far easier to battle than the evil surrounding him at Ballencrieff Asylum.

Anne Winton hardly expects to find her calling—or love—while working in a lunatic asylum. But despite all warnings, the “Mad Marquess” proves dangerously fascinating to innocent Anne. She vows to save him not only from his adversaries, but from himself.

Initially, Anne is only a pawn in Devlin’s bid to gain his freedom, until he begins to see her not just as a means to an end, but as a beautifully passionate woman. He must choose: compromise the woman he loves, or languish forever in hell.

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AMAZING – that’s the first word that came to mind after I’d finished reading MAD FOR THE MARQUESS.  Ms. Russell drew me into this compelling, dramatic and intensely emotional romance from the very first pages and kept me totally immersed in the story right up to the last page.

Ballencrieff’s walls pressed more firmly in on him. If he didn’t get out soon, they would crush him into oblivion.

James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, and heir to the Malvern duchy, has enjoyed a life of excess – drinking, gambling, taking opium and enjoying the company of beautiful women. He is also a gifted painter who has exhibited his paintings. However, everything changes when he is found next to the body of a young girl, covered in her blood. He has no memories of the past and his mind has become unbalanced. To secure the succession, his ailing father has James committed to Ballencrieff Asylum for a month, hoping that a cure can be found. Drugged, constrained with chains and manacles and confined in a straight-jacket, James struggles with his inner demons and fears that, unless his memories return and he can prove his sanity, he will never leave the asylum. His salvation comes in the unlikely form of an innocent, naïve and drab young woman.

She squeezed her eyes shut. There was no going back. Her fate lay within the walls of this madhouse

Anne Winton, who was orphaned at the age of four, spent 15 years at Ardsmoore Charitable School. At first, her unusual gift for healing made her the subject of malicious gossip and earned her the name The Witch. Slowly she comes to be accepted by most of the other girls but one jealous, spiteful girl fabricates an incident and accuses Anne of witchcraft. The kindly vicar arranges for her to work at Ballencrieff Asylum as a general companion to two lady inmates, but fate, in the form of the ‘Mad Marquess’, steps in to take her life in a direction she never thought possible.

I loved the complexity of James’ character and Ms. Russell conveys his seeming ‘madness’ with such chilling realism. I felt his pain, fear, anger and desperation; experienced his harrowing nightmares and watched him battle his inner demons. James needs a special kind of heroine and Anne is just that… kind, caring and with a quiet inner strength. I like how she uses her healing powers to bring James an inner peace he has never felt before and understands him in a way no one else does.

You believe the answer to my demons lies in my dreams?”
“I do. Perhaps not all the answers, but dreams are a window into greater clarity.”

I love how she believes in him, challenges him and gives him strength and hope.

Anne has always thought of herself as plain but James sees her with an artist’s eye; he sees beyond her drab appearance to the woman beneath.

Despite her drab feathers, this woman was color, all color. He wanted to show her what he saw. To see herself in glorious color.

I enjoyed seeing James becoming a better man as he recovers. He intends to marry Anne as a means of gaining his freedom from the asylum but, ultimately, he is willing to let her go because she deserves to be loved. It is Anne who willingly sacrifices her freedom to set him free.

The romance provides a sharp contrast to the darker elements of the story. It is tender, poignant and sensual but, not without its problems. Neither are willing to confess their love for each other and Anne believes that James still loves his former mistress, Nora. It is James’ painting that finally brings them together and I love the scene where Anne goes to view the portrait James is exhibiting at The Queen’s Charity Exhibition, believing his model to be Nora.  It is such a beautiful, romantic scene which had me all watery eyed.

He smiled his pirate smile, and her breath hitched. “Not Nora. Never Nora. She is not you. She is not my little Owl. My heart.” She dashed at the tears streaming down her cheeks. Soon her nose would be dripping. This would not do.
His heart. He had painted what was in his heart.

As the story unfolds, it is evident that James has a malicious enemy who will do anything to sabotage his bid for freedom and keep him in the asylum permanently, where an unfortunate fatal accident might befall him. I feel that Ms. Russell maintains the suspense well until the dramatic scene where the villain’s identity is finally revealed. I also like how realistically the villain still has the power to hurt a certain someone from beyond the grave.

There are moments of humour which act as a welcome counterpoint to the darker tone of the story and one of my favourites is…

“What you perceived is a weapon—one Dev is all too adept at using—but it will not kill.” He turned away, shaking his head. “Perhaps slay, á la petit mort, but not kill.”
Little death? Her rudimentary French did not help. “I am not used to riddles, sir. I am afraid I do not understand.”
“No. Better you don’t, Miss Winton. Much better you don’t
.”

The secondary characters all add colour, interest and richness to the story including my particular favourites –  Ivo, James’ gentle giant of a keeper, whose most treasured possession is his pet mouse, and asylum inmate, Lady Matilda (Maddie) Tippitt, who tends to have a penchant for lewd displays, but later proves to be a staunch friend to Anne.

Ms. Russell concludes with a charming Epilogue and there is a rather cheeky reference to an earlier scene in the book.

She dusted off her skirts and then turned to her husband. “Lord Devlin, I believe I feel a cold coming on.”
 “Indeed, my dear?” Ellie reached out a hand trying to remove her father’s nose.
“Yes, I have an irresistible urge to sneeze. I am hoping you might provide some sort of relief.” 

If you want to know its relevance, I’m afraid you will have to read the book!

MY VERDICT: A compelling, intensely emotional and beautiful love story. A MUST READ!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Mad for the Marquess (Reluctant Hearts Book 1) by Jess Russell

 

**I received a complimentary copy the author in return for an honest review**

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Pursuing Lord Pascal

(Dashing Widows, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

Golden Days… 

Famous for her agricultural innovations, Amy, Lady Mowbray has never had a romantical thought in her life. Well, apart from her short-lived crush on London’s handsomest man, Lord Pascal, when she was a brainless 14-year-old. She even chose her late husband because he owned the best herd of beef cattle in England!

But fate steps in and waltzes this practical widow out of her rustic retreat into the glamour of the London season. When Pascal pursues her, all her adolescent fantasies come true. And those fantasies turn disturbingly adult when grown-up desire enters the equation. Amy plunges headlong into a reckless affair that promises pleasure beyond her wildest dreams – until she discovers that this glittering world hides damaging secrets and painful revelations set to break a country girl’s tender heart.

All that glitters… 

Gervaise Dacre, Lord Pascal needs to marry money to rescue his estate, devastated after a violent storm. He’s never much liked his reputation as London’s handsomest man, but it certainly comes in handy when the time arrives to seek a rich bride. Unfortunately, the current crop of debutantes bores him silly, and he finds himself praying for a sensible woman with a generous dowry.

When he meets Dashing Widow Amy Mowbray, it seems all his prayers have been answered. But his mercenary quest becomes dangerously complicated when he finds himself in thrall to the lovely widow. Soon he’s much more interested in passion than in pounds, shillings and pence. What happens if Amy discovers the sordid truth behind his whirlwind courtship? And if she does, will she see beyond his original, selfish motives to the ardent love that lies unspoken in his sinful heart?

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Anna Campbell continues her delightful Dashing Widows series with three more young, widowed friends – Amy, Lady Mowbray, Sally Cowan, Countess of Norwood and Morwenna Nash – who decide they need a little adventure in their lonely lives and this is Amy’s story.

Ever since she was a girl, Amy had been interested in the scientific farming, publishing her first article on animal husbandry when she was not much more than sixteen.  At the age of eighteen, her prime reason for choosing to marry her neighbour, Sir Wilfred Mowbray, forty years her senior, was the chance to be involved in his farming experiments. Although her husband’s infrequent attentions were not onerous, there was never any passion in her marriage and Amy thought of him as more of a friend and mentor than a husband. Since her husband’s death five years ago, Amy has been content to run the estate and continue writing her articles on new farming methods. She had never considered herself beautiful or been in love, but as a graceless fourteen-year-old, Amy had suffered an adolescent crush on Lord Pascal, considered the handsomest man in London.

When the story opens, Amy is in Leicestershire at the home of her brother, Silas and his wife, Caroline (The Seduction of Lord Stone), for the christening of their fourth child. It is there that a reluctant Amy, her sister-in-law, Morwenna, and Morwenna’s friend, Sally, decide to follow in the footsteps of the original Dashing Widows and head off to London.

“Then I hereby declare the return of the Dashing Widows. Watch out, London. We’re on our way.”

While attending a ball one evening, Amy finds herself face to face with none other than the man of her adolescent fantasies, Lord Pascal. When he shows a definite interest in her, Amy, aware of his reputation, is distrustful and wants to get to know him first before making any rash decisions and therefore insists that he courts her.

A storm has left Gervaise’s estate in ruins and he needs cash urgently for repairs. Hence, he is in London to find a wealthy wife. At a ball one evening, he despairs of ever finding an alternative to the pretty, empty headed heiresses he is forced to dance with; that is until he spots a certain lady across the ballroom.

How could he concentrate on half-baked girls when that luscious banquet of a woman wandered into sight?

He discovers the beguiling lady is widowed Lady Amy Mowbray who is not only wealthy but also intelligent and funny, attributes he finds very appealing. He is determined to pursue her but Amy isn’t about to fall at his feet and, for once in his life, Gervaise will have to work hard if he wants to win this lady’s heart.

Amy and Gervaise are such likeable characters and watching their romance unfold was delightful. I cheered Amy for not having her head turned by his handsome face and obvious charm, and wanting a proper courtship to get to know him better before risking her reputation. For a man who is used to having any woman he wants, this is a new and intriguing experience for Gervaise.

I like how the courtship not only heightens the sexual tension but also acts as a catalyst for a growing sense of trust and intimacy between them; enough to share things they have never shared with anyone else. Gervaise reveals the pain of his bleak and loveless childhood and Amy starts to see the real man beneath the handsome face. Amy reveals intimate details of her marriage and Gervaise realises that Amy has never known desire or passion in her marriage, something he is determined she will experience in his arms.

I love a story where the hero pursues a reluctant heroine, but there were times when I felt sorry for Gervaise. At the age of thirty, he has finally met a woman he really cares for who doesn’t seem to want him. But “faint heart never won fair lady” and he is willing to do anything to please Amy and I especially love the thoughtful but unusual gift he gives her.

Despite her apprehensions, Amy is not immune to Gervaise. She sees how caring and considerate he is and how cherished he makes her feel and I cheered her on when she decides that she wants a taste of the passion she has always been denied. Ms. Campbell always succeeds in writing love scenes that emotional, tender and sensual.

“I want to please you.”
“You do.” He ran his hand down her arm, delighting in her silky skin, and laced his fingers with hers. “You will.”
Her fingers twined around his with a swift trust that made his heart somersault. Pascal leaned in and placed his lips on hers, leashing his ravenous passion.
   She responded with the sweetness so essential to her nature. Under his gentle exploration, she sighed, and the tension gradually seeped from her body. Taking exquisite care, he began to touch her, finding the places that made her tremble.

However, some overheard gossip seems set to destroy their new-found happiness but Amy is mature enough to listen to what Gervaise has to say and consider everything she has learnt about him, before making a decision. Bravo to Ms. Campbell. How refreshing to find a heroine who doesn’t storm out as so many other heroines would have done.

I enjoyed the witty dialogue between Gervaise and Amy:

“I can’t think when you kiss me.”
  He liked the sound of that even better. He smiled smugly. “Then clearly kisses must be allowed.” She cast him a repressive glance.
“Clearly they mustn’t.” He closed his eyes and groaned.
“You’re going to kill me.”
“That would be a pity when you’re so spectacular to look at. Every lady in London will weep at your funeral.”

and the lovely touches of humour too:

 “Who knows?” Morwenna sent Amy a sly glance. “Perhaps you’ll find Lord Pascal more entertaining than a field full of fat Herefords.” 
“He’s definitely prettier than a Hereford,” Sally said.
“Sally, you have no idea how beautiful a fine cow can be,” Amy said with perfect sincerity.
Morwenna threw up her hands. “Amy, you’re utterly hopeless.”

We learn some interesting facts about the other Dashing Widows, Sally and Morwenna, which provide intriguing teasers for their own books. I am also curious to know what mischief Sally’s niece, Meg, is up to.

This novella can be read as a standalone but it would be a pity to miss the other novellas in this series.

MY VERDICT: Another charming novella to add to this delightfully entertaining series which I can definitely recommend.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Dashing Widows series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Seduction of Lord Stone (Dashing Widows, #1) by Anna Campbell Tempting Mr. Townsend (Dashing Widows, #2) by Anna Campbell Tempting Mr. Townsend (Dashing Widows, #2) by Anna Campbell Pursuing Lord Pascal (Dashing Widows, #4) by Anna Campbell Charming Sir Charles (Dashing Widows, #5) by Anna Campbell Catching Captain Nash (Dashing Widows, #6) by Anna Campbell

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

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The Wicked Cousin

(Rockliffe, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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I absolutely love Stella Riley’s Rockliffe series and THE WICKED COUSIN is another wonderful addition to the series.  At its heart is a gentle, heart-warming, funny and beautifully written, traditional love story.

Ms. Riley drew me into the story from the first page with a powerful and heart-breaking Prologue. I could feel the eight-year-old Sebastian’s intense feelings of pain, guilt, anger and bewilderment, following the loss of his beloved twin brother, Theo. His family do not realise just how deeply he has been affected, that, for Sebastian, it was like losing the other half of himself. As the only remaining heir, his father takes every precaution to keep Sebastian safe, wrapping him in a cocoon of overprotectiveness for the next thirteen years. Even at university, where Sebastian hoped to enjoy freedom for the first time, he couldn’t escape his father’s control entirely. So, when the opportunity finally arises, I could perfectly understand Sebastian’s desire to ‘kick over the traces’ and enjoy all the things he had been denied.

The Honourable Mr Audley didn’t give a damn about the gossip and rumours or what anyone said.  After thirteen years in the cage he was entitled to enjoy his freedom and do what the hell he liked.
So he did.

In the next few years, he cuts a swathe across Europe and the gossip sheets eagerly report his daredevil exploits and success with the ladies. However, when he receives a curt letter from his eldest sister, Blanche, advising him that his father has suffered an apoplexy, he is ready to return home as his life of excess had started to pall some time ago. Now he is back in England, Sebastian hopes to live down his reputation with some help from his good friend, Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player).

Despite everything, Sebastian still loves his father and makes annual trips home hoping that his father’s attitude might change, but it never does. He is also subjected to Blanche’s bitter and cruel words which still have the power to hurt, and his trips home over the years have always been brief ones. When Sebastian finally returns home, I was touched by the scene where his father admits that he had only himself to blame for his son’s actions and I liked that they made tentative steps towards a reconciliation. I also enjoyed seeing Sebastian’s interactions with the other members of his family and couldn’t help feeling satisfaction when he took his subtle revenge on his hateful sister, Blanche.

Cassandra (Cassie) Delahaye, the eldest daughter of Sir Charles Delahaye, has always been the perfect daughter; biddable, gentle and demure. Among the ton, she is considered a lady of ‘impeccable behaviour and perfect propriety’ – just the perfect daughter-in-law for all those matching-making mothers with marriageable sons. However, Cassie seems to attract nothing but mild-mannered, dull suitors whom she is constantly having to reject in a kindly way. Her younger sister, Olivia, has been constantly bombarding Cassie with all the latest gossip regarding ‘Wicked Cousin’ (a very distant relative) Sebastian’s exploits abroad, and is in a flurry of anticipation because of his return to London.  Cassie, however, is not at all impressed:

‘If you ask me, all those duels and love-affairs and ridiculous wagers make him sound like an idiot.

Sebastian and Cassie are such engaging characters and watching them falling in love was just delightful. I enjoyed the animated exchanges between them in their unconventional, first meeting, which only serves to confirm Cassie’s opinion of Sebastian as both arrogant and conceited, but she is not completely unaffected by the experience…

As for the interlude in the library … it had been the most peculiar, alarming and exhilarating half-hour of her life and she still didn’t know what to make of it.

As they meet at various functions, Cassie finds Sebastian dangerously easy to like with his charm, intelligence and humour. She also notices his kindness in dancing with Harry Caversham’s cousin, Henrietta, who is in her third season and so often left on the side-lines with the chaperones…not to mention his smile which makes her nerve-ends tingle. Sebastian realises how much he has come to like Cassie and enjoy her company and, unlike the other men, he sees the real Cassie, a lovely, intelligent and witty young woman. It isn’t long before they are both smitten and there is a very moving scene at Theo’s graveside where Sebastian talks about his feelings for Cassie.

She makes me want the things that are meant to go with it; things I’ve never wanted before.  Love, I suppose – though I know damn all about it. All I do know is that I’ve got this all-encompassing sense that she’s mine but nobody knows it, not even her. How stupid is that?’

There is drama in the form of Sebastian’s venomous, former mistress, who has become obsessed with the idea that he still wants her, and a scandalous accusation made against Sebastian. I love how Cassie believes in Sebastian in spite of what the rumours say and is a veritable Valkyrie in her defence of him. I also like how Sebastian is open and honest with Cassie and there are no secrets or misunderstandings between them.

Families are often portrayed as dysfunctional in historic romances and it was refreshing to see such a loving family like the Delahayes. I really like Cassie’s father because he appreciates his daughter’s worth and wants her to marry the man of her choice. He also understands that Sebastian had valid reasons for his wild behaviour and is ready to believe that he can put his past behind him. He is also astute enough to realise the significance of Sebastian being the first man that Cassie has ever sent to him to ask for leave to court her.

One of the joys of reading this series is seeing the characters from the previous books. The wonderful camaraderie and easy rapport between the Rockliffe circle of family and friends always produces some delightful scenes, memorable moments, and witty banter. Among my favourite moments are:

  • Adrian, usually the epitome of sartorial elegance, having to meet his wife’s grandfather for the first time, looking as though he’d been rolling in a ditch.
  • Adrian’s wife, Caroline, giving her odious mother-in-law a well-deserved set-down.
  • The normally sophisticated Rockliffe with his baby daughter dozing contentedly in the crook of his arm.

I am also intrigued by the situation between Nicholas Wynstanton (Rockliffe’s younger brother) and Madeline Delacroix ( Aristide’s sister) and I hope their story is next.

I like how Ms. Riley gives the reader snippets of information which, on the surface, seem unimportant but only later in the story does their relevance become significant.

MY VERDICT: Another beautifully written story from Stella Riley. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

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