The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife (Sisters of Scandal #2) by Julia Justiss

The obvious solution:

A marriage of convenience!

Temperance Lattimar is too scandalous for a Season, until finally she’s sponsored by Lady Sayleford. The whole charade feels wrong when she doesn’t want a husband, but Temper feels awful when MP and aristocrat Gifford Newell is appointed to “protect” her at society events. With her past, she knows she’s not an ideal wife…but then a marriage of convenience to Giff becomes the only option!

Rating: B+

The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife is the second in Julia Justiss’ duology about the Lattimar sisters, twins Prudence and Temperance, who have been dubbed the Sisters of Scandal not because they’ve ever done anything scandalous, but because of their mother’s notoriety.  It’s the companion novel to A Most Unsuitable Match, which saw Prudence finding her happy ever after; now it’s the turn of Temperance (and I have to say here that I really didn’t care for her shortened name of Temper), whose ambitions run towards travel and adventure – and most definitely not towards marriage.

Temper’s determination not to marry is one she’s long held, so in some ways, her mother’s tarnished reputation may work in her favour, as it means Temper will not be received in the best society or attract any respectable suitors, which is fine by her.  What she truly wants to do is to persuade her father to release the funds set aside for her dowry so that she can travel the world – and perhaps collect precious artefacts on his behalf.  Lord Vraux is a distant, unemotional man who barely acknowledges his daughters’ existence; and secretly Temper is not especially surprised that his disinterest drove their mother into the arms of other men. His passion is his collections and it’s that that Temper hopes to use in order to obtain her funds.   Sadly, however, he will hear nothing of it, and instead insists that Temper makes her début and has a season.  He wants her to find a husband and doesn’t seem to take into account the difficulty presented by her lack of reputation; so Temper decides she’ll do what he asks and have her season, fully intending to make sure she ends the season unwed.

The most recent scandal involving her mother – which was actually none of her making – is fresh in the minds of society, but Temper is determined to go her own way and make her début in London rather than in Bath, as Prudence is going to do.  When her brothers express their concern, their friend, Gifford Newell – whom Temper has known forever – says he will speak to his godmother Lady Sayleford, one of the doyennes of society – to see if she will sponsor Temper.  Lady Sayleford is a force to be reckoned with, and although her countenance will not whitewash Temper’s name in society, it will at least ease her way a little.  Temper agrees… but hadn’t accounted for the fact that Lady Sayleford would pull Giff into the mix by insisting that he be present at events Temper attends in order to scare off the disreputable men who will do doubt flock to her a beautiful, well-dowered young woman whose mother’s reputation for being ‘fast’ means she’s viewed as loose-moraled and easy prey.

Giff is an upcoming, hard-working MP who is part of the group known as Hadley’s Hellions (who featured in the author’s recent series of books of the same name).  He’s the second son of an earl whose parents have never had time for him, instead lavishing all their affection and attention on the heir, his brother Robert, so he’s made his own way in life and is content with his lot.  For the most part.  He’s known Temper for years, but recently has begun to see her as different eyes; no longer is she the annoying younger sister of his closest friends, but a lovely, desirable young woman he has no business thinking about in that way.  The trouble is that he senses that his attraction to her isn’t one-sided, and that she is fighting her feelings for him every bit as hard as he is fighting his for her. But to think of anything other than friendship is impossible. Not only does Temper never intend to marry, when Giff takes a wife, he needs to marry someone who will make a good political wife and hostess, someone who can help and support him in his work – not someone like Temper, who has always been headstrong and impulsive.

The friends-to-lovers trope is a particular favourite, so I had expectations going in that this would be a story I’d enjoy – and it was.  Temperance and Giff are likeable, intelligent and sincere characters and I appreciated that they both took each other’s aims and ambitions seriously – especially Giff, who never dismissed Temper’s desire to travel and went out of his way to provide opportunities for her to further her interest and discuss far-flung places and cultures with those who had experienced them.

As always with this author, her story and characters remain very much in and of their period.  Temper may have ambitions different from those of many well-bred young women, and may be more forthright than most, but she’s never TSTL or prancing around asking us to look at how unconventional she is.  Given Giff’s position as an MP, there are interesting snippets about the politicial situation of the time, and I particularly liked the subtle way Ms. Justiss incorporates some pertinent observations about marriage at the time, mostly through her depiction of the sad union between Lord and Lady Vraux (and her portrayal of Temper’s mother, a woman who has suffered for behaviour that wouldn’t have rated the merest batt of an eyelash had she been a man) – and of the way society has received the news that upcoming marriage of a widowed viscount – father of Ben Tawny from Convenient Proposal to the Lady – to the woman he has always loved but could not marry before (Ben’s mother).

It’s not a spoiler to say that Temper and Giff end up married – thanks to the machinations of a spoiled society miss who manoeuvres them into a compromising situation – or that Giff’s personal situation undergoes a material change (it’s obvious from the book’s title).  Both these events mean that the plans he and Temper had held to so hard are going to have to undergo drastic changes, but fortunately, the strong friendship that has always existed between them enables them to face them together and grow closer as they do so.  I really liked the way they worked as a couple; they communicate well and even though Temper is quite young (she’s only twenty, I think) she and Giff handle their altered prospects with maturity, with Temper displaying a strength of character and competence that Giff had perhaps not previously suspected she possessed.  Ms. Justiss writes their relationship and romance really well, establishing a deep friendship between them but also adding those touches of longing and attraction which grow as the story progresses.

The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife is a well-developed, well-written romance with likeable characters and a strong sense of time and place that I’m sure all fans of historical romance will enjoy.

Fire and Granite (Carlisle Deputies #2) by Andrew Grey (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The heat is growing from the inside, but danger is building on the outside.

Judge Andrew Phillips runs a tight ship in his courtroom. He’s tough, and when he hands down a sentence, he expects to be obeyed. So when a fugitive named Harper escapes and threatens his life, Andrew isn’t keen on 24/seven protection…especially not from Deputy Clay Brown. They have a past, one that could cause problems in their careers.

But with Clay assigned to Andrew and the two of them together every minute, there’s nowhere to hide from their attraction – or from the fact that there’s much more than chemistry blooming between them. As the threat intensifies, Clay knows he’ll do anything it takes to protect the people who are taking their places in his heart: Andrew and his young niece and nephew.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B-

I listened to Fire and Flint, the first book in Andrew Grey’s series featuring the sheriff’s deputies in Carlisle, PA, last year and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to listen to another book in the series. Fire and Granite is book two, and like its predecessor, it’s a fairly low-angst, low-drama listen with a tender and rather sweet romance at its centre.

Deputy Clay Brown is one of a team escorting a high-risk, dangerous criminal from prison to the courthouse when their vehicles are ambushed, and the prisoner – who by a weird quirk of fate happens to be Clay’s cousin Harper Grange – is sprung in what is clearly a well-planned operation. Clay is frustrated at being on the other end of the investigation rather than being out there looking for the escapee, so he’s not too pleased when he’s handed a different assignment. Judge Andrew Phillips was responsible for putting Grange behind bars, and less than an hour after the ambush, received a phone call threatening his life. Clay is assigned as his protection detail while Grange is at large – but as he doesn’t exactly get along with “Judge Moody and Superior” or like him very much, it’s going to be a difficult few days.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hide and Seek (Criminal Profiler #1) by Mary Burton

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She’s hunting. He’s watching.

Special Agent Macy Crow is a survivor. After a vicious hit-and-run nearly kills her, she gets right back to work, and now she’s gunning for a spot on the FBI’s elite profiling team. As an audition, she offers to investigate the recently discovered bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared fifteen years ago.

While investigating with local sheriff Mike Nevada, a former colleague and onetime lover, Macy discovers a link between Tobi’s case and several others that occurred around the same time as her disappearance. As Macy interviews victims and examines old cases, she uncovers a sinister picture of a stalker who graduated to sexual assault—and then murder.

Macy and Nevada race to put this monster behind bars before he can come out of hiding. But the murderer’s had years to hone his skills, and soon Macy herself becomes a target. She’s no stranger to pain and terror, but will Macy’s first profiling case be her last?

Rating: B

Hide and Seek is the first book in the new Criminal Profiler series from popular romantic suspense author Mary Burton. This story features FBI agent Macy Crow, who was first introduced in the author’s last book, Cut and Run, where Macy was the victim of a serious hit and run accident she barely survived – but it’s not necessary to have read it in order to enjoy and understand this one.

When Hide and Seek opens, Macy has been working a desk job since being cleared to return to work some months after being discharged from hospital, and is keen to get back to work in the field.  She’s applied to join the small but legendary team that tackles violent crime and is given a case file to review as part of her interview, that of a teenaged girl named Tobi Turner who went missing around fifteen years earlier.  The previous week, the girl’s skeletal remains were found during a renovation project on an old barn in Deep Run in the Shenandoah Valley, and the local sheriff – a former FBI agent named Mike Nevada (with whom Macy had a brief fling before the accident) – requested the bureau’s assistance after DNA evidence suggested a link between Tobi’s death and the activities of an unknown serial rapist who’d been active around the same time.

The team leader isn’t offering any guarantees, but gives Macy an assignment – five days in Deep Run to find out everything she can about the case followed by a debrief in Quantico the following week – after which he’ll make a final decision about her application.  It’s what Macy had hoped for – she’s good at her job and she’s ready to get back in the game; now she just needs to prove it.

Mike Nevada hadn’t intended to run for sheriff in his old home town, but after receiving an anonymous tip off about the fact that the incumbent had failed to submit a number of rape kits for testing, and a meeting with the man that left Nevada furious and frustrated, he’d immediately declared his intention to run for the post – and surprising even himself, had won.  One of the first things he did after taking over as sheriff was to have those rape kits tested – and of the eight kits, three of them contain DNA that is a match to that found on the backpack belonging to Tobi Turner. But that DNA isn’t on file anywhere.

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

Under Fire (Love Over Duty #1) by Scarlett Cole (audiobook) – Narrated by Amelie Griffin and Alexandre Steele

This title may be downloaded from Audible US, via Amazon

Hot, hard-bodied Sixton Rapp is a former SEAL who’s raring to begin his brand-new civilian life. He and his Navy “brothers” start a security firm that offers the kind of services only a team of military-trained professionals can provide. But nothing prepared Six for his new client: an innocent woman on a mission to improve thousands of lives…unless someone takes hers first.

Dr. Louisa North knows time is against her as she tries to create a “miracle” medical treatment for a disease with no known cure, until she creates a sample so powerful that the wrong people want to use it as a chemical weapon. At first, Six is unwilling to accept Louisa as his client. But soon he realizes that the danger is real and that there’s much more to this plain-Jane scientist…including a burning passion between them that neither of them can resist.

And now that an enemy is on Louisa’s trail, Six will do whatever it takes to protect her – or die trying.

Rating: Narration – C/B-: Content – C

Scarlett Cole’s Under Fire is the first in her Love Over Duty trilogy of romantic suspense novels featuring three friends – all former military – who throw in their lots together to form a high-end private security company. The author and both narrators are new-to-me (although I think I may have heard Alexandre Steele before under a different name), so this was one of those times I took a chance because I liked the sound of the synopsis, which promised a nerdy scientist heroine teaming up with a hot former SEAL in order to prevent one of her experiments falling into the wrong hands and being developed as a chemical weapon.

Well… that is a fairly accurate outline of the plot, but what should have been an exciting, high-stakes tale full of action and danger turned out to be a bit of a yawn-fest.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Claiming of the Shrew (The Survivors #5) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

What happens when a marriage of convenience isn’t so convenient?

Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Draven has retired from the army and spends most of his days either consulting for the Foreign Office or whiling away the hours at his club with his former comrades-in-arms. He rarely thinks about the fiery Portuguese woman he saved from an abusive marriage by wedding her himself. It was supposed to be a marriage in name only, but even five years later and a world away, he can’t seem to forget her.

Catarina Neves never forgot what it felt like to be scared, desperate, and subject to the whims of her cruel father. Thanks to a marriage of convenience and her incredible skill as a lacemaker, she’s become an independent and wealthy woman. But when she’s once again thrust into a dangerous situation, she finds herself in London and knocking on the door of the husband she hasn’t seen since those war-torn years in Portugal. Catarina tells Benedict she wants an annulment, but when he argues against it, can she trust him enough to ask for what she really needs?

Rating: B-

Shana Galen’s series featuring The Survivors, a group of men who survived being part of a specially selected suicide squad during the Napoleonic Wars, continues with The Claiming of the Shrew, which tells the story of the squad’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Draven, and his Portuguese wife, Catarina.  I’ve read the first couple of books in the series – although I missed the last two – so I knew who Draven was and was eager to read his story, especially as he’d been present but rather enigmatic  in the other novels and was clearly highly respected and well-regarded by his men. Plus, he’s in his mid-forties and I’m always up for a romance featuring a more mature hero.

In her introduction to the novel, Shana Galen explains that it began life on her website/newsletter as a short story showing how Draven met and married Catarina.  That is included in The Claiming of the Shrew as a kind of prologue, with the story then continuing five years after the couple parted following their hasty marriage in Portugal.

Amid the battlefields of Portugal in 1814, Benedict Draven has orders to create a company of thirty men who will be used to go on the most dangerous of missions.  He knows it’s akin to forming a suicide squad, but orders are orders, and he sets about making a list, putting Major Neil Wraxall (Earls Not Allowed) in command.  Draven already feels weighed down by guilt at the prospect of sending many of these men to certain death, and a bad day is made worse when a young woman manages to sneak into his tent, points a gun at him and demands that he marry her.

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

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Rating: A

The Austen Playbook, the fourth in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, is one of the most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2019 – and I’m here to tell you your patience will most definitely be rewarded when it comes out.  It’s got all Ms. Parker’s trademarks; the two principals are wonderfully appealing, the secondary cast is well-drawn, the dialogue is snappy – and most importantly, it’s got the depth, emotional resonance and soul-deep connection between the leads she’s so good at creating (and which I felt was missing in the previous book).

Frederica – Freddy – Carlton is the youngest member of an acting dynasty whose members have been treading the boards in the West End for the last four hundred years.  She’s been acting since she was a child, and although she made her name performing in a string of popular comedies and musicals, she’s now turned her hand to more serious pieces at the urging of her manager – who also happens to be her father Rupert, whose acting career came to an end following an accident years earlier.  But Freddy’s heart isn’t really in the meaty, dramatic roles she’s being urged to undertake. Her real love is for lighter theatre – musicals, rom-coms, physical comedy – and she knows that’s where her real talent lies, in performing pieces that leave the audiences feeling better at the end of the evening than they did at the beginning.  Yet although she recognises that Rupert is living vicariously through her, she can’t bring herself to disappoint him by refusing to go along with his plans for her. He’s pushing her to audition for the leading role in The Velvet Room, the masterpiece that catapulted her grandmother Henrietta into the history books as both actress and playwright – and in Freddy’s opinion, another piece of weepy philosophical introspection that just isn’t her cup of tea.

The fact that Freddy isn’t suited to the heavier roles hasn’t escaped the extremely perceptive – and extremely annoying – theatre critic, James Ford-Griffin, Grumpiest TV presenter in the UK. And the witty wanker behind the scathing theatre reviews in the Westminster Post.  She’s having a drink with friends after a rather disastrous performance when she overhears him talking to someone in the next booth in the pub, uncomfortably aware that his cutting remarks are right on the nose:

“For some reason, she’s pursuing a determined line in high-brow dramas, when she’d clearly rather be stamping about in puddles in Singin’ in the Rain.”

It’s completely unnerving that this man, whom she doesn’t know, has seen through her façade, and more unnerving still is the way her stomach suddenly feels like it’s full of butterflies when she ends up standing next to him at the bar.  Sure, he’s good-looking, but sadly, behind those compelling dark eyes, that platinum blond hair and majestic nose lurks a frosty demeanour and all the personality of an iceberg.

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

Blind Justice (Men of Steele #5) by Gwen Hernandez

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Tara Fujimoto’s quest to avenge her sister’s death makes her a target, a sexy security specialist steps in to watch her back, but his quiet appeal threatens her carefully guarded heart. Can she resist their lightning-hot attraction, and stay alive long enough to expose her enemy?

Former military special operator Jeff Patarava has good reasons to keep his distance from his impossibly perfect coworker, but when her life is threatened, his resolve is shot to hell. Forced into close proximity, sparks fly as he learns she’s far more than her flawless appearance suggests. Now, he’ll put everything on the line to keep her alive.

Rating: B

Blind Justice is the fifth book in Gwen Hernandez’s Men of Steele series of romantic suspense novels centred around the men – and in this book, women – who work for the high-end private security firm owned by Kurt Steele.  I’ve read some – but not all – of the previous books in the series (I reviewed book three, Blindsided) but Blind Justice works perfectly well as a standalone, so readers new to this series and author can jump in here without feeling lost.

Tara Fujimoto is Steele Security’s business manager.  She’s smart, tough and determined;  she’s worked hard to put her messed up past and poor choices – especially in men – behind her, and is finally in a place where she feels comfortable with herself and who she is.  She’s happy in her work, thinking of the guys at Steele as brothers, men she can admire from a safe distance – and they all view her as a kind of ‘office mom’, someone who won’t let them get away with any crap and who tells it like it is.  Her job doesn’t involve field work, but as the book opens she’s mounted an operation of her own to bring down the man she holds responsible for her sister’s recent suicide, a photographer named Mars, who promised modelling careers to young women and then forced them into having sex with him.  Although it’s not a Steele Security operation, she’s asked one of the team – recent addition Jeff Patarava – to provide back-up, and while they’re waiting for the police to arrive, Tara examines the camera to see how many shots of her were taken. As she’s flicking through the files, she sees an image that makes her feel even sicker than she already did, a picture of a man having sex with a girl who can’t be more than fourteen.  The man in the picture has a distinctive tattoo that seems oddly familiar, but before Tara can think more about it, the police arrive, and she and Jeff become involved in giving statements.

Jeff, a former Air Force combat weatherman (and yes, we do find out more about that job later in the book!) hasn’t been with Steele Security very long, but he’s slotted into the team really well and gets along with everyone – although he can never quite relax around Tara, the tension of an attraction he doesn’t want or need seeming to weigh in the air between them whenever they’re in proximity to one another.  He enjoys his job, but his stint with Steele is only meant to be temporary, something to provide an income while he focuses on his one and only priority – finding his four-year-old son Evan, whom he hasn’t seen in months.  Finding out he was a Dad was the reason Jeff left the military, but the boy’s mother moves them around a lot and hasn’t been in touch for ages; now she’s disappeared and Jeff is desperate to find his son.

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