Her Enemy at the Altar by Virginia Heath

Her Enemy at the Altar

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

An unexpected end to the Wincanton–Stuart feud…?

Scandal broke last night when Lady Constance Stuart was discovered in the arms of Aaron Wincanton, the son of her family’s greatest enemy! But now we can reveal an even more shocking development. Our sources say a special license was obtained and the two were married before sunrise!

It’s been confirmed that Aaron has stolen his new bride away to the country to begin their unexpected marriage. We’ll be watching closely to see exactly what happens when a gentleman invites his enemy into his bed…

Rating:B

This is the second book from new-to-me author Virginia Heath, whose début for Mills and Boon – That Despicable Rogue – was published in May this year, and which I somehow missed but definitely intend to go back to. Her Enemy at the Altar is a simple but well-written enemies-to-lovers story inspired, she says in her author’s note, by the time her daughter came home from school upset because her handprints/footprints were bigger than those of all her classmates.

Lady Constance Stuart, daughter of the Earl of Redbridge, is too tall, her hair is too red, her figure is too straight, her tongue is too sharp and her mind too apt to form opinions of its own. Cruelly nicknamed “the ginger Amazonian” in her first season, she is still unmarried five years later and is widely regarded as a bit of a joke throughout the ton. Even her own father thinks she is useless if he can’t marry her off for his own gain. Over the years, Constance has developed a defence mechanism to cover her insecurities and the continual hurt and humiliation she suffers, with the result that most in society now gives her a wide berth, fearing to come within striking distance of her withering sarcasm and haughty demeanour.

The only man who doesn’t seem to care about earning her censure is Aaron Wincanton, son and heir to Viscount Ardleigh, whose estate borders that of the earl. The Wincantons and the Stuarts despise each other and have been at each other’s throats for the past three hundred years; and the viscount and the earl are continually attempting to best each other in whatever way they can. Recently returned from the war in Spain, Aaron realises his father’s estate is not being well-run and knows that before long, they are going to be bankrupt. He is courting an heiress whose dowry will go a long way towards solving the family’s financial problems, but Aaron knows that if things are to improve, he must find a way of ending the enmity between his family and the Stuarts, as his father is only too ready to throw money away if he thinks it will gain him the upper hand.

Constance’s father has recently engineered her betrothal to a handsome, impoverished, marquess; and while she knows he doesn’t love her, she can’t help hoping that perhaps, one day, that will change. But when he wastes no time in making clear to her that all he wants from her is money, Constance is hurt at his bluntness even though, she tells herself, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t want her – what man would, with her horribly vibrant hair and gangly, unfashionably tall body?

Aaron and Constance don’t like each other, although Aaron can’t deny that he likes teasing her and watching her temper fire up. But when he finds her, alone, desolate and hiding away during a ball, it’s not temper that fires up between them. What begins as an attempt at consolation explodes into an almost uncontrollable passion that lands them both into hot water when they are discovered in an extremely compromising position.

Aaron is left with little alternative but to offer for Connie’s hand, but just to make life extra uncomfortable – because he is a Wincanton – her father withholds her dowry and makes it clear that Connie is no longer welcome in his house. She tries to refuse the match, but the earl gives her an incredibly cruel ultimatum threatening her mother and younger brother and she has no alternative but to agree.

Ms. Heath does a very good job of describing the uncomfortable relationship between these two people whose families have been at loggerheads for years. Aaron thinks he might as well make the best of things – he’s attracted to Connie and wants to see if he can rouse her to more than passionate kisses – and tries to make his new wife comfortable and to show her courtesy and consideration, but it is all thrown back in his face. So, with bigger problems concerning the estate to occupy him, Aaron distances himself, leaving his bride to ponder a future with a man she despises and who despises her, and without the comfort and support of her family. She and Aaron agree to seek an annulment, but even then, Connie will not be able to return home; the best she can hope for is to change her name, go far away and try to find employment to support herself.

As time passes, Aaron and Connie begin to thaw a little towards each other. Having previously had no interest in estate management and then been away in the army, Aaron is struggling to work out how to turn things around, and is surprised and impressed at the way his wife is able to understand the salient details and work with numbers. And Connie realises that she has been so wrapped up in her own thoughts and negative emotions that she has failed to realise how much strain Aaron is under; not only because of his financial problems, but also because of his father’s failing health.

Their gradual rapprochement is well done, the growing physical attraction between them being complemented by their increasing understanding of each other. There’s strong chemistry between them from the start, and Ms. Heath keeps it bubbling nicely beneath the surface, building it skilfully so that when the couple finally consummates their marriage, it feels like the natural culmination of everything they’ve been through rather than just a casually dropped in sex scene because it’s time for one.

The author’s presentation of Connie’s low self-esteem and the methods of self-protection she has adopted are spot on. Anyone who has been called names will know that the development of a thick skin is absolutely necessary, and then you show the bullies that you don’t care and develop ways of getting your own back. But deep down, it hurts and it sticks – and that aspect of Connie’s character rings completely true. I was also grateful that Ms. Heath didn’t fall into the trap of having the characters believe that non-consummation of a marriage was grounds for an annulment, a common mistake in many historical romances.

There are a couple of small sub-plots which work well within the context of the larger story, and Ms. Heath writes with warmth, humour and intelligence, putting her own stamp on a couple of well-used tropes. I spotted a few incorrect word choices and the odd turn of phrase that wasn’t quite right, but overall Her Enemy at the Altar is an enjoyable romance and one I’d certainly suggest is worth your consideration if you’re looking to try an author new to the genre.

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Sheik’s Mail Order Bride (Hot Arabian Nights #2) by Marguerite Kaye

sheikh's mail order bride

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sailing to India to marry a stranger, Constance Montgomery is shipwrecked off the Arabian coast of Murimon. The world believes her lost at sea, and only the kingdom’s ruler, Kadar, knows the truth. She’s honour-bound to leave, but the brooding Prince tempts Constance to stay…

Kadar knows that no matter how beautiful Constance is she is forbidden. But every moment with her seduces him, until temptation becomes torment! Kadar thinks he has no heart left to offer any woman…can Constance prove him wrong?

Rating:B-

Having loved the previous book in this series – The Widow and the Sheikh – I was eagerly looking forward to this second book in Ms. Kaye’s Hot Arabian Nights series, but while it contained many of the ingredients that I so enjoyed in the first book, this one doesn’t work quite so well.

The heroine is travelling to India in order to marry a man she has never met who is paying her father a large sum of money in exchange. Supposedly, her father will use the money to get out of debt, but Constance doubts he will – he’ll just make more dodgy investments and before long he and her mother will be back where they started. But Constance is a dutiful daughter and knows what is expected from her. But a violent storm during the journey wrecks the ship on which she is travelling and she ends seeking shelter in the Arabian kingdom of Murimon. She is taken to the capital and to the palace of Prince Kadar, who affords her a warm welcome and explains that she will have to remain in Murmion for at least a couple of months as there are no ships expected before then that will be able to carry her either back to England or on to India.

Kadar has been away from the kingdom for seven years, forced to return owing to the recent death of his brother. Along with his brother’s kingdom, Kadar has also inherited his brother’s bride, who, it seems is as reluctant to marry him as he to marry her. But tradition demands he fulfil his brother’s promise to wed her.

Of course, Kadar and Constance are attracted to each other, and as is always the case with this author, she really knows how to make the sparks fly and makes the most of the slightest looks and touches to turn up the heat between her central couple. Kadar is haunted by more than his brother’s marriage contracts, however, as Constance gradually uncovers the truth about the reasons he left Murimon. Like Azhar in the previous book, Kadar is torn between love and duty; unlike Azhar, Kadar has to solve his kingdom’s financial difficulties by marrying money, which makes his feelings for Constance even more impossible.

Maggie Boyd and I discussed the book in a joint, Pandora’s Box review for All About Romance. We both ended at more or less the same conclusion and rating.

Simply Unforgettable (Simply Quartet #1) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

simply unforgettable
This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

They meet in a ferocious snowstorm. She is a young teacher with a secret past. He is the cool, black-caped stranger who unexpectedly comes to her rescue. Between these two unlikely strangers, desire is instantaneous…and utterly impossible to resist.

Stranded together in a rustic country inn, Lucius Marshall, who is the Viscount Sinclair, and Frances Allard share a night of glorious, unforgettable passion. But Frances knows her place, and it is far from the privileged world of the sensual aristocrat. Due to begin her teaching position at Miss Martin’s School in Bath, Frances must try to forget that one extraordinary night – and the man who touched her with such exquisite tenderness and abandon.

But Frances cannot hide forever. And when fate once again throws them together, Lucius refuses to take no for an answer. If Frances will not be his wife, he will make her his mistress. So begins an odyssey fraught with intrigue, one that defies propriety and shocks the straitlaced ton. For Lucius’s passionate, single-minded pursuit is about to force Frances to give up all her secrets – except one – to win the heart of the man she already loves.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

Mary Balogh’s Simply series, in which the heroines are four teachers working at a select school for young ladies in Bath, was originally recorded in the mid-late 2000s, but has been unavailable for some years and was never – as far as I know – made available digitally. After years of wishing on my part – and that of a number of fellow Balogh/Landor audiobook enthusiasts – these recordings are at last being re-released, and I have to say a big and public “Thank You” to Tantor for making them available once more.

Simply Unforgettable opens as Frances Allard is travelling back to Miss Martin’s School in Bath following the Christmas holiday she has spent with her great aunts. The typically English non-White Christmas is followed by a sudden snowstorm during which her somewhat elderly, lumbering coach is overtaken by a much smarter vehicle carrying a fashionable gentleman whose disregard for the safety of others infuriates Frances to no small degree. When both coaches are forced to stop, Frances makes her feelings on the matter very clear to the occupant, an irritable, somewhat abrasive man who introduces himself as Lucius Marshall. They immediately rub each other up the wrong way; he thinks she’s a harpy, she thinks he’s an arrogant arse, but they recognise that the bad weather isn’t going to suddenly disappear and that they need to seek shelter.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? (Dukes Behaving Badly #4) by Megan Frampton

Why do dukes fall in loveThis title may be purchased from Amazon.

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, has the liberty of enjoying an indiscretion . . . or several. But when it comes time for him to take a proper bride, he ultimately realizes he wants only one woman: Edwina Cheltam. He’d hired her as his secretary, only to quickly discover she was sensuous and intelligent.

They embark on a passionate affair, and when she breaks it off, he accepts her decision as the logical one . . . but only at first. Then he decides to pursue her.

Michael is brilliant, single-minded, and utterly indifferent to being the talk of the ton. It’s even said his only true friend is his dog. Edwina had begged him to marry someone appropriate–—someone aristocratic . . . someone high-born . . . someone else. But the only thing more persuasive than a duke intent on seduction is one who has fallen irrevocably in love.

Rating:B

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? asks the overly cutsey title of this, the fourth book in Megan Frampton’s Dukes Behaving Badly series.  Before I answer that, I’m going to ask a question of my own.  Is there anyone out there who isn’t fed up with the current vogue for horribly contrived romance novel titles based on song/movie appellations?

Fortunately, the first answer to the first question (there are a number given throughout the story) – Because it’s better than falling into a muddy ditch – sets the tone for this particular book, which is deftly written and strongly characterised with a nice line in deadpan humour and a well-matched central couple who are a little out of the ordinary.

Mrs Edwina Cheltam’s late husband has left her practically destitute; and with a young daughter to provide for, she needs to find a way of supporting them, and quickly.  She turns to a close friend for advice; a friend who runs an employment agency which, in her more prosperous past, Edwina had used in order to find suitable domestics.  Now the boot is on the other foot, and it’s Edwina who needs to find a job.  Fortunately, she is clever; up until the year before his death, she had managed all her husband’s business interests and her excellent stewardship had grown his investments considerably.  Unfortunately, she is also female – and there is no place for intelligent, business-minded women in the strict society of the mid-nineteenth century.  Mr Cheltam married his much younger wife simply because she was beautiful and he liked schmoozing with her on his arm.  In the last year of his life, he had transferred the management of his affairs to his younger brother, with the disastrous results that now mean Edwina has nothing.

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, is precise, controlled, blunt and honest to a fault.  He doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, and has no patience with meandering small-talk or the little white lies that keep the wheels of society turning.  He’s undoubtedly the sort of man who would simply reply “yes” when asked “does my bum look big in this?”.  He’s also fiercely intelligent and ruthlessly dedicated to running his many and varied business interests which range from agriculture to railways and he has no time or patience for flattery, sycophancy or anything that embellishes the plain and simple facts of whatever it is that interests him.  At first, I wondered if his excessive orderliness and his seeming inability to understand or offer what most of us would regard as normal responses to personal and social interaction were an indication that he might have sociopathic tendencies, or perhaps be a high-functioning autistic.  Obviously, neither of these were conditions that would have been understood at the time the book is set, so the author doesn’t attempt to classify Hadlow’s reactions in those terms.  He does eventually develop an awareness of others and of the need for empathy through his association with Edwina, so I suppose he could just as easily be a man whose inheritance of a lofty social position at an early age meant he never had to bother with simple manners or to worry about how his no-nonsense attitude would be received by others.

As the story opens, the Duke of Hadlow’s orderly existence stands in real danger of becoming disorderly, owing to the fact that he is currently without a secretary.  Fourteen candidates have been and gone and he despairs of finding anyone suitable when one more possibility presents itself – in the form (the rather delightful form) of Mrs Edwina Cheltam.  Edwina very quickly shows herself to be intelligent, resourceful and, more importantly, able to keep up with him mentally, so Hadlow hires her on the spot.  The fact that she’s a woman is by the by – she’s the best ‘man’ for the job and that’s all there is to it.

Once Edwina gets over her astonishment at having been taken on, she settles in quickly.  The duke allows her to engage a governess for six-year-old Gertrude and Edwina can finally start to breathe easy.  She is earning a good living, she and her daughter have a roof over their heads, and she enjoys working with the duke, who is clearly brilliant and visionary, if somewhat socially inept.  He’s also gorgeous, which is the sort of distraction Edwina could do without, especially when he shows signs of being as smitten as she is.  She’s not of his class, and besides, Hadlow is not a man likely to choose emotions over practicalities. Eventually he’ll have to find himself a suitable, aristocratic bride, even though one of those will likely bore him silly within minutes.  But until then… perhaps a little self-indulgence might not be such a bad idea.

The story is a simple one, but it’s very well told and both central characters are easy to like, even Hadlow, whose seeming rudeness might have made him unpleasant.  The author skilfully tempers his abrasiveness with glimpses of other aspects of his character and his past which mitigate his less endearing traits, painting a strong portrait of a man who really IS an island.  His only friend appears to be his dog, and he attends the occasional social event purely because he knows he needs to mix occasionally with those of his peers from whom he will at some point, need to secure cooperation for a parliamentary bill or other such political manoeuvre.  The death of his older brother when he was just four years-old affected him profoundly as did the fact that his parents seemed only ever to value his achievements and not Hadlow himself; so he made the decision long ago that emotions were inconvenient things that served no purpose and needed to be shut away. Besides, he has no idea what to do with them.

The romance proceeds at a good pace and the couple’s decision to become lovers is not taken without either of them being aware of all the potential pitfalls.  I enjoyed the way they became friends first, both of them coming to admit to being lonely and then to delight in the discovery of another person with whom they can talk and exchange ideas and who, most importantly, has some sort of insight into their thought processes.  Edwina’s intelligence might not be quite the equal of Hadlow’s in some areas, but in others she’s way ahead of him, which leads me to the thing I appreciated most about the book.  Whatever the reasons for his behaviour, by the end, he’s still essentially the same man, but one who has started to develop some degree of empathy.  His brain still works a hundred times faster than anyone else’s, he still gets impatient waiting for people to catch up and he still doesn’t really understand the concept of idle pleasantries or the social niceties.  But under Edwina’s influence, he starts to understand that perhaps his words and manner have been hurtful in the past, and he begins to make the attempt to change.  And that’s the important thing.  He doesn’t have a personality transplant and suddenly turn into Lord-transformed-by-love; but he is trying to change.

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? is very much a character-driven story, and I raced through it in a couple of sittings.  I wasn’t wild about the blackmail sub-plot that is shoe-horned in near the end or about the other last-minute attempt to create some uncertainty, both of which caused me to lower my final grade a little. Ultimately, though, this is a solidly enjoyable read, and one I’m happy to recommend.

The Rogue (Devil’s Duke #1) by Katharine Ashe (audiobook) – narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

the rogue (2)
This title is available to download from Audible.

Lady Constance Read is independent, beautiful, and in need of a husband – now. The last man on earth she wants is the rogue who broke her heart six years ago, never mind that his kisses are scorching hot.

Evan Saint-André Sterling is rich, scarred, and finished with women forever. He’s not about to lose his head over the bewitching beauty who once turned his life upside down. But Constance needs a warrior, and Saint is the perfect man for the job. Only as a married woman can she penetrate Scotland’s most notorious secret society and bring a diabolical duke to justice.

When Constance and Saint become allies – and passionate lovers – he’ll risk everything to protect the only woman he has ever loved.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

I was so pleased when I saw that The Rogue was coming out in audio format. I read and loved the book earlier this year; it’s a beautifully written, sensual and tender romance combined with a dash of mystery and boasts one of the most wonderful romantic heroes I’ve read in quite some time. While it’s a continuation of the author’s Falcon Club series, the book also marks the beginning of the Devil’s Duke trilogy; so while some of the characters from the earlier books are referenced and make cameo appearances, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy The Rogue as a standalone.

Six years before the start of the story proper, Lady Constance, eighteen-year-old daughter of the Duke of Read, meets and falls in love with a mysterious, stunningly handsome young man. They enjoy a gentle flirtation and exchange some passionate kisses during the two weeks they manage to meet in secret, but it’s not long before they are discovered and Constance’s love is sent away.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Virgin and the Viscount (Bachelor Lords of London #2) by Charis Michaels

the virgin and the viscount

This title is available to purchase from Amazon.

The Virgin

Lady Elisabeth Hamilton-Baythes has a painful secret. At fifteen, she was abducted by highwaymen and sold to a brothel. But two days later, she was rescued by a young lord, a man she’s never forgotten. Now, she’s devoted herself to save other innocents from a similar fate.

The Viscount

Bryson Courtland, Viscount Rainsleigh, never breaks the rules. Well, once, but that was a long time ago. He’s finally escaped his unhappy past to become one of the wealthiest noblemen in Britain. The last thing he needs to complete his ideal life? A perfectly proper wife.

The Unraveling

When Bryson and Elisabeth meet, he sees only a flawless candidate for his future wife. But a distant memory calls to him every time he’s with her. Elisabeth knows she’s not the wife Bryson needs, and he is the only person who has the power to reveal her secret. But neither can resist the devastating pull of attraction, and as the truth comes to light, they must discover that an improper love is the truest of all.

Rating:B

The Virgin and the Viscount is the second book in the Bachelor Lords of London Series, and although I haven’t read the first book, this works perfectly well as a standalone.  Ms Michaels is a new-to-me author and while the premise of this story – a man trying to rebuild his family’s shattered reputation falls for a woman who may tip the scales the wrong way – isn’t one I’m normally drawn to, this book turned out to be a lot better than I’d expected and I was fairly confident I’d be rating it highly.  Or so I thought, until around the last twenty percent or so, when the story veered off in a different direction, as though the author suddenly realised she had another story to tell about these characters and had to squash it in before the end.

Fifteen years earlier, the coach carrying Lady Elisabeth Hamilton-Baythes and her parents home from an engagement was set upon by highwaymen.  Her parents were shot and killed and Lady Elisabeth was taken away and sold to a brothel, where her youth (she was just fifteen) and virginity would fetch a high price.  Just a few hours after her arrival she was paraded before a group of men who said they would return for her and who, the following night did just that.  Although earmarked for the bed of the notorious libertine, Viscount Rainsleigh, one of the girls saved Elisabeth by switching places with her and sending her instead to the room of the viscount’s nineteen year-old son.

Having been drugged by his father and cousin, who think the entire thing a great joke, but with absolutely no desire to spend an evening at a brothel, the young man helps Elisabeth to escape and to find her way to her aunt’s Mayfair home.  Lady Elisabeth has lived there ever since, but she has never forgotten her ordeal, or the dashing young man who rescued her.  Determined to help other women who have fallen or been forced into prostitution, she sets up and runs a charitable foundation which finds such girls, takes them in, educates them and eventually finds them respectable employment.  As for the young man… well she has discovered from the newspapers that he has now become Viscount Rainsleigh and that he has worked incredibly hard to make something of himself and to do his utmost to erase society’s memories of the myriad indiscretions and the depravity regularly practiced by both his parents.

Bryson Courtland has most certainly made something of himself.  Over the past fifteen years, he has earned himself a fortune from his numerous and varied business interests, and has lived his life as differently from his parents as he possibly could.  He is a model of propriety, a young gentleman who indulges in none of the vices so loved by other men of his station – including his rogue of a younger brother – and who is keen to return to society and to walk through the many doors which his parents’ reputations ensured have been closed to him for many years.  At thirty-four, he knows it is time for him to find a wife and sire an heir, so he initially tasks his secretary with finding him a list of suitable candidates from among the marriageable young ladies of the ton.  Rainsleigh thinks it would probably be for the best were his wife not to inspire passion in him – he doesn’t want to find himself “consumed” by the same strong emotions that were the cause of his parents’ licentious ways.

But on the very same evening he doles out this assignment, he encounters a woman who meets his requirements.  Lady Elisabeth Hamilton-Baythes is no empty-headed schoolroom miss, but a woman of maturity and intelligence, a beautiful woman, it is true, and one with whom Rainsleigh feels an immediate sense of connection.  He decides she is the woman for him and sets out immediately to win her.

The thing that sets this story apart from others that I’ve read with a similar premise is the honesty with which the two protagonists treat each other.  That sounds strange, I know, given that Elisabeth is keeping a big secret, but it’s one she knows she must reveal and is prepared to do so, even though  it may cost her dearly.  And her reasons for keeping it are understandable; she is falling in love with a decent, kind and honourable man and doesn’t want to lose him.  In every other part of her life, she is transparent, and Rainsleigh is similarly up-front with her.  He tells her the truth about his upbringing, the neglect and abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents and makes no bones about the fact that: “After a lifetime of disgrace, debauchery and lies, I want faithfulness, purity and honesty.” The openness between them is quite refreshing and their interactions are laced with tenderness and humour.

Something else I particularly appreciated was Rainsleigh’s genuine contrition when he realises that he has treated Elisabeth very badly indeed following his discovery of the truth.  Assailed by emotions he never expected or wanted, he doesn’t quite know what to do and while he does put his foot in it it several times, there is never any question that he’s a good man trying to find his way.  Elisabeth struggles with marriage to a man who wants to compartmentalise and order their lives to a ridiculous extent; and I reached the last quarter of the book eager to find out how they would reconcile their different ideas about what they wanted from their relationship and regain the honesty and openness that I’d enjoyed so much earlier in the story.

And that brings me to the “veering off” I mentioned at the beginning of this review.  It’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, but Rainsleigh is suddenly confronted with information about his past that has a profound effect on his view of himself, his relationship with Elisabeth and his position in society.  My biggest issue with this is that it seems to be based on an inaccurate assumption or a misconception of the law of the time, and as a result, I was completely taken out of the story.  But even without that, Rainsleigh and Elisabeth had enough problems to contend with in their fledgling marriage and didn’t need any complications from an external source. While I was glad to see the couple get their HEA by the end, it rankles that they were driven there by external factors rather than by discussions about what they wanted and expected from each other.

Had The Virgin and the Viscount continued as it began, I’d probably have given it a B+, perhaps even an A-.  The writing is strong, the author can obviously create engaging and sympathetic central characters, and she can tell a good story.  There are a few minor historical inaccuracies – like the fact that Elisabeth wears her hair down in public on several occasions, which was a big no-no at the time – but that final, unnecessary plot twist is something I can’t ignore. Even though that section has a couple of  lovely moments, I can’t help feeling that I was cheated out of what should have been a return to honesty and mutual understanding motivated by the characters’ love for each other and not by a sudden adverse turn of fate.

Grading the book has proved difficult, but I’m going for a B overall.  The first eighty percent deserves a higher grade than that, but the last part was disappointing so I can’t grade more highly.  Anyone looking for a new author to try might consider The Virgin and the Viscount because the good is very good; and even taking my reservations into account, Ms Michaels is going on my list of authors to watch.

The Fairest of Them All (Marrying the Duke #2) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

fairest of them all audo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The penniless orphan of a disreputable earl, Lady Charlene Blanchard thrives on the adventure of picking the pockets of unsavory gentlemen to survive. But due to her extraordinary beauty and prized bloodlines, she is hand-chosen as a potential bride for the Duke of Baynton, who is on the hunt for a suitable wife to provide heirs. All Char has to do is act the part she was born to play and charm a duke she’s never laid eyes on into proposing. Except the duke turns out to be the tall, dark and sexy stranger who just caught her red-handed as a thief!

Or is he? Jack Whitridge is the duke’s twin who had “gone missing” over ten years ago. Now back in England, he knows that the supposed Lady who has his brother’s love is hardly duchess material—except he needs her to save his adopted country from war. He is willing to bargain with her heart, until he finds himself falling for Char . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C-

I’m going to confess upfront that the only reason I chose to listen to this second book in Cathy Maxwell’sMarrying the Duke series, The Fairest of Them All, is because Mary Jane Wells is the narrator. I was singularly underwhelmed by the first book, The Match of the Century, which was where we first met Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton. That book tells the story of Gavin’s younger brother, Benedict, and Elin Morris, the young lady to whom Gavin had been betrothed for a number of years. Ben and Elin had been young lovers who were torn asunder when their fathers discovered them, and the book tells the story of their finding their way back to each other.

Although he genuinely cared for Elin, Gavin clearly saw that she and Ben were meant for one another and graciously stepped aside. But he is still in the market for a wife, and in the manner of handsome princes everywhere, holds a ball to which all the eligible young ladies of the ton are invited. He is instantly captivated by the most beautiful young woman he has ever seen, Lady Charlene Blanchard, the daughter of an earl who gambled away everything he owned and then took his own life, leaving his wife and daughter practically destitute. Even so, Charlene is lovely, demure, poised and everything Gavin is looking for in a duchess. He quickly secures her hand for the first dance, but things don’t get that far because the ball is suddenly interrupted by a group of American gentlemen, one of whom turns out to be Gavin’s long-lost twin brother, Jack, who disappeared from Eton when they were fifteen and from whom nothing has been heard for the last seventeen years.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.