Once More My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath

ONCE MORE MY DARLING ROGUE

Born to the street but raised within the aristocracy, Drake Darling can’t escape his sordid beginnings. Not when Lady Ophelia Lyttleton snubs him at every turn, a constant reminder he’s not truly one of them. But after rescuing her from a mysterious drowning he realizes she doesn’t remember who she is. With plans to bring her to heel, he insists she’s his housekeeper—never expecting to fall for the charming beauty.

While Ophelia might not recall her life before Drake, she has little doubt she belongs with him. The desire she feels for her dark, brooding employer can’t be denied, regardless of consequences. So when her memory returns, she is devastated by the depth of his betrayal. Now Drake must risk everything to prove she can trust this rogue with her heart once more.

Rating: B

Drake Darling – born Peter Sykes and son of a convicted murderer – is now a successful businessman and, as the adopted son of the Duke and Duchess of Greystone, has been fully accepted into London society. Being both attractive and wealthy, Drake is never short of female admirers, although there is one woman who refuses to see him as anything other than a lowly street-rat and who treats him at every opportunity as though he’s worse than anything she could want scraped off the bottom of her shoe.

Lady Ophelia Lyttleton is beautiful and much sought after, but she’s cold, standoffish and, to Drake, downright unpleasant and rude. She has been brought up to be very mindful of her standing in society and to look down on those who are of lesser station, although right from the start, it’s clear that there is something else fuelling her intense dislike for him.

On a late night walk, Drake pulls an unconscious woman from the Thames, not realising until he gets her home that it is Lady Ophelia. When she eventually comes round, she has no idea who she is or why she was in the river – and doesn’t recognise Drake either. He knows it’s not kind, but he decides to exact a small revenge on her for her horrible treatment of him, and tells her that she’s his housekeeper. He only intends the deception to last for a day, after which he will return her home. But when he realises that Ophelia – Phee – may be in danger from someone in her family, he decides to delay her return while he investigates. In the time they spend together, he finds himself becoming fascinated by the young woman who is emerging from behind the previously iron-clad exterior.

And Phee, while she is initially dismissive of Drake’s assertion that she is his servant, soon finds enjoyment in her new role, discovering a joy and freedom she’s never experienced before in doing things for others. She is also more than a little attracted to her employer – a complicated man who insists he is not kind or good, but whose actions towards her and others continually prove otherwise.

I confess I’m wary of stories which use amnesia as a plot device, but having very much enjoyed the previous book in this series (When the Duke Was Wicked) and others by this author, I trusted that Ms Heath would be able to make it work – and that trust was not misplaced.

Right from the first moment we meet the snobbish, shrewish Ophelia, the author drops hints that perhaps there is something more to her than meets the eye;

No man would ever love her enough to forgive her for what she’d once done, and it was a secret she could not forever keep from a husband.

The reader is obviously meant to dislike her intensely because of the way she treats Drake, but I found her intriguing and almost deserving of sympathy because in spite of her beauty and social advantages, she is clearly a very unhappy young woman.

And Drake, who has made something of himself in spite of his humble origins, is also struggling with his own inner demons, never feeling that he is good enough for the position he occupies, persisting in believing himself tainted by his father’s heinous crimes and thus not worthy of the deep affection shown him by his family – and most definitely not deserving of affection of a more romantic nature.

The thing about this particular amnesia plotline is that it doesn’t work in quite the way one would expect it to. Of course, it gives Phee a chance to look at Drake with a fresh pair of eyes, free from prejudice and prior knowledge of him, and allows her to own her attraction to him and come to know the kind and honourable man he truly is. More importantly, however, it enables Phee to come to him with a clean slate. Freed from the awful memories which have cheated her of happiness and the ability to enjoy her life; freed from the memories of her authoritarian father’s strictures, she can finally let her true self have free rein, and we see her transformation from the emotionally crippled woman we first met into a funny, kind-hearted and compassionate woman who is able to love without shame or fear.

Drake’s manipulation of Ophelia into believing herself his servant may have been unkind, but it seems to me to be a very human reaction. Who wouldn’t want to get their own back after receiving such treatment as Ophelia meted out to him? The fact that he allows the deception to continue beyond his original intentions is perhaps not the most honourable thing he has done – but then Drake doesn’t consider himself an honourable man, and deep down, knows he will deserve every horrible epithet Ophelia can throw at his head when all is revealed.

And he has an emotional journey to make, as well. I don’t mind admitting that the part near the end when he finally comes to understand the truth about his fathers brought tears to my eyes.

Once More My Darling Rogue is an emotionally satisfying read which features two flawed characters who have to confront dark events in their pasts if they are to move forward both individually and together. Drake and Phee are strongly drawn characters, the romance develops at a steady and believable pace, and Ms Heath writes with a lot of tenderness and gentle humour. I enjoyed reading it and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series.

The de Valery Code (Regency Treasure Hunters #1)by Darcy Burke

ThedeValeryCode

Miss Margery Derrington and her dear aunts are in dire straits. Their discovery of a rare medieval manuscript will hopefully stave off their creditors—if it’s worth what they hope. Margery reluctantly allies with a reclusive scholar to use the book to pursue a treasure that could exceed her expectations. Amidst danger, secrets, and an insatiable attraction, is Margery gambling just her financial future…or her heart?

Academic Rhys Bowen can’t believe he has his hands on the elusive de Valery text. Solving its hidden code and unearthing its legendary treasure would establish him as one of Britain’s leading antiquarians, finally casting him out of his brilliant late father’s shadow. But when a centuries-old organization convinces Rhys of the perils of disturbing the past, he must choose between his conscience…and the captivating woman he’s sworn to help.

Rating: C+

This is the first in a new series of books from Ms Burke, under the title of Regency Treasure Hunters, and it’s a fast-paced mixture of adventure and romance, very much in the mould of Romancing the Stone or Indiana Jones. But with more sex!

The story opens with Miss Margery Deringham and her two great aunts searching their attic for things of value that they can sell in order to stave off financial ruin. When they stumble across an old, illuminated manuscript storybook entitled The Ballads of Sir Gareth, Margery is spellbound. Her aunts tell her that they remember the book from their childhoods, and that it contains stories of bold knights, beautiful damsels and derring do.

The ladies decide to have the book valued – they can’t afford to be blinded to their precarious monetary situation by sentimentality – and write to Alexander Bowen, widely known to be an expert on medieval manuscripts to request his assistance.

Margery travels to meet with Mr Bowen and is surprised to discover the elderly scholar she had expected to meet is in fact a much younger man – Mr Rhys Bowen, the scholar’s equally knowledgeable son. Not only is he younger, he’s gorgeous – but Margery finds his rather commanding manner off-putting and senses that he is not telling her the whole truth about her book.

When Margery turns down Rhys’ more than generous offer for the manuscript, he realises that the only way he is going to be able to study it at any length is to share some of his knowledge with her. He tells her that her book is one of two written by the medieval poet Eugene de Valery, that the other book is in the possession of his cousin, the dissolute Earl of Stratton, and that the books are worth far more as a pair than individually.

What he doesn’t tell her is that the books together are rumoured to contain a code which, when broken, will lead to a great treasure. Rhys has no idea what the code is, how to break it or what the treasure is – he is more interested in the scholastic value of said treasure than in any monetary gain, and in the challenge presented by the need to find and then break the code.

Thoroughly intrigued by the history of the manuscript and by the prospect of seeing another like it, Margery is not about to give her book into Rhys’ charge and insists on accompanying him to his cousin’s estate in Leominster, a day’s journey away.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

TBR Challenge: The Duke’s Holiday by Maggie Fenton

dukeshol

The Duke of Montford, cold, precise, and more powerful than the Prince Regent himself, wants things the way he wants them: cross-referenced, indexed, and at his beck and call. And he always gets what he wants.

Until he meets Astrid Honeywell. And a giant pig. And a crooked castle in the middle of Yorkshire.

Astrid Honeywell, staunch bluestocking, has struggled for years to keep her family together by running the estate and family brewery after her father’s death. She is not about to let the tyrannical Duke of Montford steal away all she has worked for because of some antiquated contract between their families. So when the priggish Duke comes to call, she does everything in her power — including setting the family pig on him — to drive him away.

She didn’t expect him to be so … well, infuriatingly attractive. Every time he scowls at her, she has the most improper desire to kiss him — and a whole lot more.

Montford can’t decide whether to strangle Astrid or seduce her. The one thing he knows for a fact is that he must resist his powerful attraction for her at all costs. He has a very proper, very demure fiancée waiting for him back in London, after all. But when Astrid is kidnapped by a disgruntled suitor and whisked off to Gretna Green, Montford will do anything to get her back.

Will these two drive each other to Bedlam … or can they make it to the altar without killing each other?

Rating: C-

September’s prompt for the TBR Challenge was to read a book that had been recommended to me by someone. A good friend on Goodreads recommended this book to me a while back, and quite a few of my other GR friends enjoyed it very much, so I settled in to enjoy.

It’s a light-hearted “romp” (the cover even boasts that it’s part of the author’s Regency Romp series – just in case I hadn’t realised) in which a very handsome, very rich, very proper, very aloof and very lonely duke (although he doesn’t actually admit the lonely part, of course) has his comfortable and orderly existence completely overturned when he travels to Yorkshire in order to investigate the goings-on at one of his properties there.
Cyril, Duke of Montford (and yes, he’s been given a very un-romantic-hero-like name on purpose) likes everything to be Just So. His pens have to be lined up in a certain way, his boot tassels must face one way and not another, and at meals, no food on his plate can be allowed to touch another food. The book synopsis indicates he has OCD, and clearly this is what the author is getting at, but at the risk of being a party-pooper, I used to know someone with OCD and it wasn’t quite like that.

But anyway. Dramatic license.

The duke dislikes travelling immensely, but circumstances conspire to force him to travel to Rylestone in Yorkshire, an estate he owns, but which has been inhabited for the last two hundred years by the Honeywell family, whose principal occupation is the manufacture of the popular and rather splendid Honeywell Ale. There is some kind of family feud dating back a couple of centuries, too, which I imagine is supposed to prime the reader for the ensuing conflict.

The story is a simple one – Astrid wants to get rid of the duke as soon as possible. He is immediately aware that all is not as it should be and wants to know what’s going on. Astrid tries to pull the wool over his eyes several times and discovers he’s much more canny than she’d given him credit for. And all the while, the pair are fighting a reluctant attraction. The author manages that part of the story quite well – the sexual tension bubbles along nicely, although the sex scenes themselves are nothing special.

[Seriously - what is it with sex scenes on horseback? Or in this case, a not-quite sex scene on horseback? Okay, so let’s be blunt here – a scene involving mutual masturbation in which the hero comes in his trousers (the “moist warmth” seeps through his breeches!) – on horseback. I presume the entire point of that was because the author thought it would be funny to have him fall off the horse because, as in the way of all men, he falls asleep after having an orgasm.

Er – no, it isn’t.]

I confess that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I’d hoped or expected to. The author certainly has potential, and I may be tempted to seek out the next book in the series, as I liked the way the two principal characters were being set up – but when it comes down to it, this book is a comedy and I didn’t find it all that funny. And in some places, what the author no doubt intended as humour was actually rather crass; for example, Montford finds the fact that Astrid has one blue eye and one brown one to be very unsettling, and in his extreme annoyance one evening, finds himself thinking that he’d like to gouge one of them out with a soup-spoon and replace it with another of the right colour. (Eeeew!) Although, of course, the problem is deciding which one to keep…

I’ve seen the book likened to a screwball comedy, which is a genre I adore. But I can’t see the similiarity, because The Duke’s Holiday completely lacks the sophistication one would find in the best screwball comedies. This is slapstick which is completely different. There are a couple of faintly amusing set-pieces in the book, such as the foot-and-ale race, and late on, an abduction and rescue, but nothing that really made me giggle.

But my biggest problem with the book is this – I just couldn’t warm to or like the heroine. She’s a woman in a man’s world, trying to run a business, a home, bring up a family and support the local community, which are all laudable things. But I couldn’t reconcile that woman with the one whose behaviour is so frequently infantile, childish and downright stupid that she quickly becomes intensely annoying rather than charmingly eccentric. For a woman whose intelligence is mentioned frequently (clearly a case of TELLING rather than SHOWING), she is disturbingly oblivious to the fact that the duke has the law completely on his side and no matter of moral right or obligation gives her the right to behave in the way she does.

If she’d been as intelligent as the author claims, Astrid would have tried to charm Montford and work out a compromise – which is when she would have discovered that he actually had no intention of throwing her and her family out of their home. After all, he’s got 27 (or is it 37?) houses in England alone, so he is perfectly able to continue to let this one out; but he quite naturally wants to make sure that it’s being properly run and cared for. And clearly, it isn’t.

But no – intelligent Astrid decides to behave outrageously and repeatedly tries to throw him off his OWN PROPERTY. And then she refuses to show him the ledgers and account books – which, again, as the owner, he is perfectly entitled to see – which leads to an overly long scene in the library during which the pair engages in a heated tussle which Astrid seeks to end by putting the ledger in her drawers (yeah, must’ve been large drawers or a small book!) – which is very mature.

When everyone around her is pointing out the folly of her actions – they’re all wrong and Astrid is the only one with the strength of purpose to do what must be done. Even when her sister Alice points out how Astrid’s unconventional attitude and behaviour has affected her and everyone else, Astrid STILL can’t be brought to see another point of view.

“I had no idea the opinions of small-minded gentry were so important to you,” she huffed.

Alice groaned in frustration. “You just don’t understand, Astrid. You never think beyond this pile of stones. Whether you like it or not, the opinions of other people matter. You’ll discover this soon enough when we’re tossed out of here.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“What? It’s true. The duke has the right. And the way you’ve treated him thus far does nothing to help our case. We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t put us all in the workhouse.”

[…]

“I don’t need saving. I am the one trying to save the lot of you!” Astrid cried.

“How can you do it when you won’t accept the truth? Rylestone doesn’t belong to us anymore.”

In this, (which is the next part of the scene I’ve quoted at length below), Astrid sounds and acts like a petulant child stamping her foot and sulking because they know they’re in the wrong but can’t admit it.

Astrid is difficult to like and is just TOO whacky. It feels like the author is trying too hard to make her funny and loveable, but for most of the time, I couldn’t help sympathising with the duke, who thinks she’s completely bonkers and out of control and, when he doesn’t want to shag her, wants to throttle her. I get that the idea was to take the most proper and aloof aristocrat in the history of historical romance and take swipes at him so that bit by bit, he becomes human like the rest of us, but the method of doing so just didn’t work for me. Astrid treats him as a pariah from the get-go, and while he certainly is a bit of a stuffed shirt who needs to loosen up a bit, being unreasonably hostile and downright unpleasant isn’t the way to go about it. And if Montford really does have a form of OCD, flinging him into constant contact with someone as chaotic as Astrid doesn’t seem to me to be the way to devise useful coping mechanisms!

Montford is rather more engaging, although he doesn’t really rise above the two-dimensional, and I actually found myself a little confused by the author’s description of him. To start with, he’s described as incredibly fastidious in everything he does, including his appearance, so he’s well-dressed and never has a hair out of place. This fastidiousness, combined with his tendency to swoon at the sight of blood and his distaste for travel because it makes him throw up, gave me the picture of him as a bit of a fop. But then Ms Fenton turns him into your standard tall, dark, handsome, well-muscled, well-endowed historical hero, and as a result, I found it very difficult to get a handle on him. He’s given a backstory of sorts that is never really fleshed out, which is a missed opportunity. We’re told that Montford lost his parents in a carriage accident when he was four years old, and this is clearly meant to account for his dislike of travel and the sight of blood. I confess, I immediately thought of Colin Sandhurst in Tessa Dare’s A Week to be Wicked – who had to fend off wild dogs aged 8 when his parents were killed in a similar manner. But the big difference (besides AWtbW being a MUCH better book!) is that we are SHOWN how this event affected and continues to affect Colin throughout that story – here, Montford faints at the sight of blood and throws up in carriages. And that’s about all we get.

The Duke’s Holiday isn’t a terrible book by any means, but it would have benefited from some judicious editing and proof-reading. There is a lot of repetition within scenes which disrupts the pacing and delays the story progression, so there is a lot of pruning and tightening up needed. There are a number of typos and errors, the most obvious of which was the mention of a character wearing a crinoline in the Regency period. Also, Ms Fenton’s grasp of the conventions of the period is a little tenuous and the language and overall style is rather too modern.

I don’t have too much of a problem with that in certain circumstances. I enjoy books by Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale, for example, both of whom write romantic comedies which require one to check one’s “historical accuracy hat” at the door. But Ms Fenton isn’t in that league in terms of either her characterisation or writing to bring out the humour.

I thought the best parts of the book were actually the more introspective and character-based ones. One scene which has stuck in my mind is the one in which Alice (younger than Astrid by three years) finally tells her some home truths:

“No, Astrid,” Alice cried… “I’m twenty-three years old and had no offers, and do you want to know why? Because of you. No respectable man dare approach me because they think my sister is a … a hoyden. A shocking, forward, proselytizing hoyden.”

[…]

“You show no one the slightest deference, attend church infrequently, argue with the vicar. You curse in company, converse with the farmhands and wear trousers.”

“I never wear trousers in public!” she interjected. “Only around the castle. And in the garden.”

Alice gave her a doubtful look. “You ride about the country astride.”

“Sidesaddle is dangerous.”

“It is when you tear off hell-for-leather like you’re riding into battle. Which you do all the time.”

“I wear a perfectly respectable habit.”

Alice snorted. “Which comes up past your ankles.”

“What is so shocking about ankles? I’ll never understand it.”

“Nor I, but that is just the way things are. …”

“What would you have had me do? Let our family starve?” Astrid burst out. “Someone had to run the estate when father cracked. Someone had to take care of you and the girls. Who else was going to do it? Aunt Anabel?”

Alice blanched at Astrid’s harsh tone. “You make me sound like an ungrateful wretch.”

“Perhaps that is because you are! I have done everything for this family, and you chastise me for it.”

“No! I am merely pointing out that your manner of doing things for this family is so very … blatant. Do you really need to wear trousers to save the estate? Really, Astrid?”

“I wear trousers because they are comfortable and practical, and I ride astride because it is also eminently practical. All of these petty rules and codes restricting the behaviour for ladies are destined solely to subjugate our sex.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Of course they are, but flaunting [I think the author means “flouting”] those rules is not going to earn you any friends. Or a husband.”

“I don’t want a husband.”

“But I do! And what of Antonia and Ardyce [younger sisters]? What’s to become of them when they’re grown? Your conduct reflects on all of us. It’s a wonder we’re still received as it is.”

In fact, re-reading that passage makes me think Alice would have made a far better heroine –one who also chafes against the restrictions imposed upon her as a woman yet who is clear sighted enough to see that she needs to work within them in order to get what she wants.

Anyway, this review is already very long, so I’ll finish by saying that although I like the “opposites attract” trope as a rule, Montford and Astrid are two are polar opposites in so many ways that it’s hard to see how a relationship between them is going to work long-term. It’s certainly true that Montford needs loosening up, but I like to believe that a couple in a romance has potential beyond the HEA at the end of the book; and if he really does have some form of OCD, Astrid is going to drive him up the wall.

Seriously, Felix and Oscar look like soul-mates compared to this odd couple!

Summerset Abbey by T.J Brown (audiobook) – Narrated by Sarah Coomes

summersetaudio

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society and the distant rumblings of war?.

Rowena Buxton

Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the underclass in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic rebels, Rowena must decide where her true passions and loyalties lie.

Victoria Buxton

Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret – Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever.

Prudence Tate

Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society as lady’s maid to her beloved sisters. But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she?ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.

Rating: Narration C+; Content: C

Summerset Abbey seems to have been clearly aimed at the Downton Abbey market, and not just because of the similarity in the names. Summerset is set in 1913, and is the first of a trilogy that follows events in the lives of three young women – sisters Rowena and Victoria Buxton and their informally adopted sister, Prudence Tate.

The story opens with the funeral of Philip Buxton, younger brother of the Earl of Summerset, and father of Rowena and Victoria. Philip was a progressive who ensured his daughters were well educated and brought them up to be unconstrained by class differences. It comes as an incredibly harsh blow when Rowena is told by her uncle and her father’s solicitor that their home does not actually belong to them, as it’s part of the earl’s estate, and that, as Rowena’s money is in trust until she is twenty-five (two years away), they will have to make their home at the Abbey from now on. Not only that, but as Prudence is nothing but the daughter of their former governess, she is not the earl’s responsibility and will not be accompanying them. Trying to deal with her grief and shock, Rowena panics and suggests the first thing that occurs to her – Prudence should stay on as hers and Victoria’s lady’s maid.

When they arrive at the Abbey, Prudence is hurried off into the servants’ quarters and given a long list of do’s and don’ts by the housekeeper, who is clearly not disposed to like her. Many of the other servants are similarly inclined, feeling that Prudence has ideas above her station, and poor Prudence finds herself in the unenviable position of being “between stations” – thought too posh for “downstairs” and not posh enough for “upstairs”.

The earl and countess are not thrilled at having Prudence under their roof, and clearly want to be rid of her. Their attitude serves to emphasise the precarious nature of the situation faced by a woman like Prudence who has no male relatives to speak up for her. She is going to have to make her own way in life from now on, and it’s clear that it’s not going to be easy.

Each of the three principal female roles possesses certain defining characteristics, although I wouldn’t say that each is particularly strongly characterised. Victoria has been defined all her life as being “sickly” (she suffers from asthma), but fortunately is not one to let herself be beaten down by it, as her aunt observes, Victoria’s stubbornness “no doubt came from being infirm so much of her young life. If you were sickly, you either overcame it or it overcame you. It gave one a sense of strength.” Prudence is “good” – she’s always been able to handle Victoria when she gets in one of her pets, and even though she fumes inwardly, she hardly ever complains about the situation into which she has been forced.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rogue in Red Velvet (Emperors of London #1) by Lynne Connolly

rogue red

When respectable country widow Connstance Rattigan finds herself in a notorious London brothel instead of at the altar, only one person can save her from the auction block.

Alex Vernon, Lord Ripley, walked away from Connie once before, when he discovered she was engaged. Now that her fiancé has betrayed her, he doesn’t intend to leave her again.

Once he has made love to her, Alex feels the situation is resolved. He’ll marry her. But Connie has other ideas.

Only three problems to solve—Connie signed a marriage contract as binding as the marriage ceremony with someone else, she’s disgraced in the eyes of society, and she won’t marry him until her name is cleared.

Rating: B-

I was initially drawn to Rogue in Red Velvet because of its setting of London in the 1750s, which makes a nice change from my regular diet of Regency and Victorian set stories. It’s the first in a new series from Ms Connolly featuring the so-called Emperors of London, a group of men (all related) who are rich and powerful movers and shakers in society.

Lord Alexander Ripley is young, handsome, wealthy – and thus a prime target for marriage-minded young ladies and their equally determined mamas. Trying to hide from one particular young woman who can’t seem to take “no” for an answer, Alex stumbles into the library of the house he’s staying in and meets Mrs Constance Rattigan, the goddaughter of Lord Downholland. She is eschewing the house-party and is currently engaged in seeking out and cataloguing all the documentation she can find which relates to the family’s long history and traditions. Immediately struck by Connie’s good sense and complete lack of artifice, Alex offers his help, which Connie gratefully accepts – some of those books are bloody heavy!

Connie has noticed Alex before, of course, but being a widow of advanced years (she’s twenty-eight!) knows she’s never going to be able to do more than look. Even though she’s about to sign the contracts for her betrothal to Jasper Dankworth, her godmother’s nephew, she decides to live a little and enjoy Alex’s company for the brief period they can spend together. Alex proves to be a good companion – kind, intelligent and deeply honourable, in spite of his rakish reputation with the ladies.

Their brief idyll ends and Alex returns to London on the same day as Connie’s soon-to-be-betrothed arrives. Connie married for love the first time, but things did not work out at all well, so she has determined that her second marriage will be for more practical reasons. Dankworth is young and good-looking, although known to be a little unsteady. Lord and Lady Downholland think that marriage to Connie will settle him down, and are keen to promote the match, which will also keep their property in the family, as they have no children of their own and Connie is the closest thing they have to a daughter.

The contracts are signed and a date for the wedding is set. Connie travels to London in order to make her own preparations – but never reaches her destination. Dankworth’s need for money has become desperate and he has found himself a bigger prize, but breaking his contract with Connie will ruin him. So he comes up with a vile plan which will enable him to legally rid himself of any obligations. He has Connie drugged, abducted and taken to a Covent Garden brothel, there to be publicly auctioned off to the highest bidder.

This aspect of the plot may seem a little far-fetched at first glance, but it’s true that these sorts of auctions did take place at the time and that the “auctioneers” were less than scrupulous about the provenance of their “goods”.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Not Quite a Wife by Mary Jo Putney

notquitewife

Marry in haste, repent at leisure. James, Lord Kirkland, owns a shipping fleet, half a London gaming house, and is a ruthlessly effective spymaster. He is seldom self-indulgent. . .except when it comes to the gentle, indomitable beauty who was once his wife.

Laurel Herbert gave James her heart as an innocent young girl–until she saw him perform an act of shocking violence before her very eyes. That night she left her husband, and he let her go without a word of protest.

Now, ten years later, a chance encounter turns passionate, with consequences that cannot be ignored. But as they try to rebuild what was broken, they must face common enemies and a very uncommon love. . .

Rating: C-

This, the sixth book in Ms Putney’s Lost Lords series tells the story of a couple who have been estranged for over a decade. I’m a sucker for a good second-chance romance, so this book seemed as though it would be right up my alley – and while it did tick a few of my favourite boxes, there are some really big flaws that I found it impossible to ignore, and which kept pulling me out of the story.

James, Lord Kirkland, and his wife Laurel fell in love at first sight and were married in their teens. They parted after only a year of marriage and have lived separate lives for over a decade when they are unexpectedly reunited. On a visit to Bristol, Kirkland is beset by a malaria attack, and, in his weakened state, is set upon by thieves. Bruised, battered and bloody, he is found in the street and taken to the local infirmary, which is run by Daniel Herbert – a former friend – and his sister, Laurel, who is known by everyone as Miss Herbert, having kept the fact of her marriage a secret. Needless to say, she is not only stunned to see her husband injured, she is astonished at seeing him at all, given they have not had anything to do with each other for such a long time.

Later that night, having treated Kirkland’s physical injuries and given him something to lower his fever, an accidental touch ignites something long denied in both of them, and they indulge in a completely unexpected act of passion. The next morning, Laurel’s hopes that Kirkland will remember nothing of their lovemaking are realised, and she sends him on his way as soon as his manservant arrives to assist him.

Laurel’s life since she left her husband has been filled with work. She assists her brother – a doctor – at the infirmary they have established, and also runs a refuge for women escaping abusive relationships called Zion House. She enjoys her work and her life – although Kirkland’s reappearance has awaked something in her she had thought long since buried. But her work at the infirmary and the refuge keep her very busy – so busy, in fact, that she doesn’t immediately realise that her body clock is off. But when she does notice, she knows that there is only one possible explanation.

Even though she knows that, once born, Kirkland will have the right to take the child away from her should he so wish, Laurel has no thoughts of concealing her pregnancy. When he is informed of it, James rushes immediately to Bristol, suggesting to Laurel that they should try to find a way to live together amicably for the sake of the child. They agree to a compromise that will see Laurel spending most of her time in Bristol and visiting London occasionally; and Kirkland asks her to spend a month in London with him straightaway. The fact that there has actually been a Lady Kirkland for the last decade is bound to cause rather a stir and James wants to start to introduce her to society. Because Laurel left him very shortly after their extended honeymoon, nobody knew of the marriage except immediate family.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

Mastering the Marquess by Lavinia Kent

mastmarq

One night of fierce passion and unbound pleasure leaves two strangers craving much more in Lavinia Kent’s sumptuous novel of sensual discovery.

The time has come for the widow Louisa, Lady Brookingston, to move on, but she refuses to remarry at the cost of shaming her late husband’s memory. Their six years together were wedded bliss—even if a war injury prevented him from fulfilling his marital duties. Only one woman can help Louisa: Madame Rouge, the discreet proprietress of a club where London’s elite explore their wildest fantasies.

Geoffrey, the Marquess of Swanston, has no intention of agreeing to deflower an anonymous virgin. But when Madame Rouge tempts him with the absolute power he’ll have over a woman who knows nothing of carnal delights, he’s intrigued. Control is the one thing he cannot resist—and control is what he loses during his night with the blindfolded beauty. He longs to take her further, to leave his mark upon her perfect behind, but the mystery woman refuses to see him again. Instead Geoffrey reluctantly agrees to take a wife, the widow of his dear friend, Lord Brookingston—fating them both to a wicked surprise.

Rating: B-

Mastering the Marquess is an erotic historical romance (strictly M/F) in which a young widow’s sexual awakening at the hands (and other body parts!) of a man who values control in all aspects of his life proves to him that maybe allowing someone get close to him isn’t such a bad thing.

Lady Louisa Brookingston is that rare thing – a virgin widow. Her late husband – her childhood sweetheart – was badly injured in the war, so badly that he was left unable to perform his husbandly duties. Louisa is still young enough to have a family of her own and wants to remarry, but doesn’t want to tarnish her husband’s reputation by going to her second husband in her untried state. She seeks help from a discreet madam – Madame Rouge – whose select, high-class brothel she knew her husband had visited regularly during their marriage. Louisa wants to divest herself of her maidenhead, and wants to do so discreetly before she begins to look about her for a suitable husband.

Madame has just the man – one she knows will be considerate and sure to give the virginal Louisa the best night of her life. Geoffrey Danser, Marquess of Swanston, is a man who exerts an iron control over all facets of his life – and especially enjoys doing so in the bedroom. At first, he is disinclined to deflower a virgin but Madame entices him by reminding him of how much he enjoys instructing his partners in the delights of bedsport, and by suggesting how much more exciting he will find it to initiate a partner who has no idea of what is “normal” and what isn’t.

The assignation is arranged. Neither party will be made privy to the other’s identity, and will be masked or blindfolded during their encounter in order to ensure their anonymity. After her initial nervousness, Louisa realises the inability to see her partner is strangely freeing, and finds herself at last able to indulge her sexual curiosity. Geoffrey finds himself responding to her in a way he hadn’t anticipated and the pair discovers a completely unexpected companionship which leaves them unable to forget their night together.

Louisa can now embark upon her search for a husband in earnest and Geoffrey can go back to his highly controlled life and his discreet sexual liaisons – except for the fact that his father’s latest ridiculous scheme sees him needing to find a large sum of money quickly if he is to avert disaster – and the only way he can lay his hands on a fortune that fast is to marry one.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.