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Posts Tagged ‘Sensuality-Warm’

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 ams.

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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Traitor in Her Arms

(The Scarlet Chronicles #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (French Revolution – Paris during The Reign of Terror)

Cover Blurb:

Two morally compromised souls wage a battle of wits—and seduction—against the backdrop of the French Revolution in this thrilling romance from bestselling author Shana Galen.

After her late husband leaves her in debt to some dangerous people, Lady Gabrielle McCullough is forced to become a thief. In the intervening years, her skills have not gone unnoticed. After being recruited by the Scarlet Pimpernel, the mysterious do-gooder spiriting aristocrats out of revolutionary France, Gabrielle crosses the Channel for the most daring mission of her life. Accompanying her is the Earl of Sedgwick, a thief in his own right and an enticingly masculine presence. The man is not to be trusted—nor is Gabrielle’s body when he’s near.

Ramsey Barnes would not say he is an honorable man. His whole life has been based on a lie; why change now? Although it pains him to deceive the tantalizing Gabrielle, he’s working toward an altogether different objective: unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel. If Ramsey fails, his blackmailer will ruin him. But when Ramsey’s confronted with the carnage of the Reign of Terror, he seeks refuge in Gabrielle’s heated embrace. Now he faces a terrible choice: betray the woman who’s stolen his heart—or risk losing everything.

Publication Date: 22 August 2017

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I really enjoyed this first book in Shana Galen’s new The Scarlett Chronicles series. Set during the French Revolution, it combines a well-written, action-packed story, with intriguing, flawed characters and a passionate romance. I have always loved the idea that the Scarlet Pimpernel actually existed and the fact that Ms. Galen uses that premise in this new series, only enhanced my enjoyment of this book.

Gabrielle
Gabrielle is not a thief by choice but by necessity. Her late husband was a heavy gambler and left large gambling debts and his creditors are hounding her for payment. If he doesn’t receive payment, one particularly unsavoury creditor has threated to exact payment in another way. It is either stealing or end up in a brothel!

Her expertise as a thief has been noticed by the Scarlet Pimpernel who wants her to travel to Paris to rescue the wife and daughter of the compte de Tonnerre, a close friend of the King. I love Gabrielle’s courage and compassion in agreeing to do it.

How could she refuse this desperate man? How could she allow a woman to be murdered and her child orphaned in a cold, harsh prison?

Ramsey
Ramsey has a secret which, if revealed, would cost him his life and bring suffering to those he loves. Unfortunately, a certain Madame Fouchet has incriminating documents which she is using to blackmail him into doing her bidding. He hates being under her control but has no choice because he will do whatever it takes to protect his family and those who depend on him. His latest assignment is to discover the identity of the Scarlett Pimpernel.

There had once been an undeniable attraction between Gabrielle and Ramsey and, after they shared a passionate interlude together, Ramsey was on the verge of asking her to marry him. However, when he failed to declare his intentions, Gabrielle married his best friend, George. Now, events are about to throw them together again which only serves to reignite and intensify that attraction.

When Ramsey discovers both he and Gabrielle are both going to Paris, he persuades her that she needs his help but intends to use her to uncover the Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity. I enjoyed seeing Ramsey’s struggle with his conflicting emotions. He has never thought of himself as loyal, noble or honourable but he is. Time and again, he could leave Gabrielle but he can’t because she means too much to him.

At some point, protecting her had become more important than protecting himself.

Some reviewers have criticised the book for its lack of romance, but I can’t imagine anything more romantic than a man willing to give his life for the woman he loves.

By his own admission, Gabrielle should not trust Ramsey, but his actions are continually at odds with his words. He is always there to protect her when she needs him, and shows compassion for people in a Paris prison whom he has never met. I like how she realises that she had no right to pass judgement on Ramsey for stealing and lying, when she has been guilty of the same thing herself, and his motives were far nobler than her own.

Who was she to judge? And hadn’t his motives been much nobler than hers? She had only wanted to save herself. He had an entire family, an entire estate, to think of.

The sexual tension between these two is palpable…

He rose hastily, fists clenched and jaw tight, and she realized he was angry. “Neither are you. You practically attack me when we come in here, and when I resist, you stand naked before me.” He paced, speaking quick, clipped English. “And then when I capitulate, you tell me no. What the hell is this?”

…and the danger only intensifies their desire for each other culminating in some highly charged love scenes.

I like how Ms. Galen includes moments of humour in the story which help to provide a welcome counter-balance to the darker elements of the story. My favourite scene is where Ramsey becomes somewhat distracted by Gabrielle’s disguise.

“I thought it might make movement easier in case we need to leave quickly.”
You’re wearing breeches. He almost said it again before he realized he’d already pointed that out.
“Don’t you agree?” she asked.
“I . . .” You’re wearing breeches. He finally looked up. She was wearing a man’s shirt and coat as well. “Where are your…?” He gestured helplessly at her shirt.

The plot has plenty of suspense, action and danger, and there were times when I was literally holding my breath, wondering what would happen next. I felt Ms. Galen resolved the issue of Ramsey’s ‘secret’ in a believable way.

Ms. Galen brought the chilling horrors of the Reign of Terror vividly to life and I could feel the blood lust of the crowd as the tumbrels rolled past and share the despair and hopelessness of the poor prisoners.

Certain members of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s League are introduced including Alexandra Martin (Alex), Gabrielle and Ramsey’s contact in Paris, who plays an important role in the story and really impressed me as a very smart and brave woman, worthy of her own story.

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Gabrielle couldn’t help but wonder to whom the Pimpernel’s note was addressed – my sentiments exactly!

MY VERDICT: If you are looking for a fast-paced adventure combined with a passionate romance, then you will enjoy TRAITOR IN HER ARMS.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Traitor in Her Arms (The Scarlet Chronicles, #1) by Shana Galen

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. **

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A Woman Entangled

 (Blackshear Family, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

An ambitious beauty seeking a spot among the elite is thwarted by a most disruptive gentleman in Cecilia Grant’s witty, elegant, and exquisitely sensual novel.

Kate Westbrook has dreams far bigger than romance. Love won’t get her into London’s most consequential parties, nor prevent her sisters from being snubbed and looked down upon—all because their besotted father unadvisedly married an actress. But a noble husband for Kate would deliver a future most suited to the granddaughter of an earl. Armed with ingenuity, breath-taking beauty, and the help of an idle aunt with connections, Kate is poised to make her dreams come true. Unfortunately, a familiar face—albeit a maddeningly handsome one—appears bent on upsetting her scheme.

Implored by Kate’s worried father to fend off the rogues eager to exploit his daughter’s charms, Nick Blackshear has set aside the torch he’s carried for Kate in order to do right by his friend. Anyway, she made quite clear that his feelings were not returned—though policing her won’t abate Nick’s desire. Reckless passion leads to love’s awakening, but time is running out. Kate must see for herself that the charms of high society are nothing compared to the infinite sweet pleasures demanded by the heart.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the final book in Cecilia Grant’s Blackshear Family series and it has everything that made the other books in this series so outstanding – a unique writing style, a thought-provoking storyline and seriously flawed and interesting characters

Like Ms. Grant’s heroines in the previous books, Kate is difficult to like at first. She gives the appearance of being a superficial, selfish social climber who is willing to use her beauty to ensnare a wealthy, titled gentleman into marrying her.  However, it soon becomes clear that her motives are far from selfish because she cares deeply for her family and will do anything she possibly can to achieve the social acceptance they deserve.

Her father, Charles Westbrook, caused a scandal when he married an actress and, although she was a woman of character and intelligence from a proud theatrical family, Charles’ family disowned both him and his family and have had no further contact since. Kate has worked hard to capture the attention of her father’s family with the hope of not only healing the rift between them but also of making an advantageous marriage which would provide opportunities for her sisters to have a better life. I like how Ms. Grant shows glimpses of a very different Kate in her protective concern for her sister, Rose, and the kindness she shows her friend, Louisa. I particularly loved how she decided not to make a certain choice because she knew it would have been hurtful to Louisa.

Like Kate, Nick is also hoping to restore his family’s respectability. A respected barrister, Nick had ambitions of one day becoming an MP, that is until his brother, Will, brought the family name into disrepute by not only marrying a courtesan, but fighting a duel over her as well (A Gentleman Undone). Nick has tried to repair the damage by publicly cutting off all contact with his brother, but many of the solicitors have stopped sending him clients because of the stain on the Blackshear family name. Nick sees his chance of having enough money to purchase the land needed to qualify him for a seat in Parliament slipping away. Then his close friend and mentor, Charles Westbrook, recommends Nick to Lord Barclay, who is looking for someone to tutor him in the art of public speaking, before he takes his seat in the House of Lords. The honorarium from Lord Barclay will hopefully provide the necessary funds Nick needs. Nick has been a good family friend to the Westbrooks and had once harboured hopes of marrying Kate, but she had made it very plain that she had set her sights on someone of higher social standing than a mere barrister

I love Ms. Grant’s flawed heroes and heroines because they always seem more human. They make misjudgements and mistakes as I’m sure we all do, and it those very fragilities that make them interesting and their journey to finding what they really want in life more emotionally satisfying.

Having believed that the only way to attain what she wants is through an advantageous marriage, Kate comes to realise that the very same things can be attained through friendship without sacrificing her own happiness.

Nick has always felt guilty about cutting himself off from his brother, whom he still loves, whilst still keeping the familial connection with his sister, Martha, who herself had been guilty of scandalous impropriety (A Lady Awakened). The only difference being that Martha and her husband had been discreet and avoided steeping the family name in scandal as Will had done.  Nick has always regarded himself as a man of integrity, but his actions force him to question that integrity and the choices he has made, not only regarding his brother, but also his failure to tell Lord Barclay about his family scandal for fear of jeopardising his political aspirations.  I like how Nick reaches out to his brother and there are definite signs of a reconciliation and his honesty in telling Lord Barclay the truth regardless of the consequences.

The romance is intelligently written and I enjoyed watching it unfold. They have remained friends and Nick has tried to put all thoughts of marrying Kate out of his head, aware that someone with such social aspirations would never make a suitable barrister’s wife, but it’s obvious that he is still in love with Kate. It’s only when her father asks Nick to keep an eye on Kate at the social events she is attending, and they are constantly thrown together, does Kate realise that she loves Nick and it may be too late. She has to learn to think with her heart rather than her head and decide where her happiness lies. I like how she comes to the realisation that life married to a titled gentleman would be exceedingly dull but, married to Nick, she could play an active role in his life in so many ways.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story. I especially liked Kate’s sister, Viola, a bluestocking with definite opinions on women’s rights and some of their conversations made me smile; Louisa who is a true friend to Kate and genuinely has her interests at heart, and the liberal-minded Lord Barclay. I also enjoyed seeing the other members of the Blackshear family who play an important role in the decisions Nick must make.

I love how the Epilogue offers of a positive glimpse of the future for both Nick’s and Kate’s immediate families.

Wedding breakfasts usually were, of course, and indeed this one celebrated the commencement of their married life. However, it also sketched a tentative outline of how their two families would fit together. And how Nick’s own might come to be whole once again.

MY VERDICT: Ms. Grant’s books are ones you don’t simply read; they are ones you savour like the finest wine. This is a series that shouldn’t be missed and I am now waiting patiently for Cecilia Grant to publish more books!

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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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