A Duke in the Night (Devils of Dover #1) by Kelly Bowen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known—and reviled—for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.

Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August, all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good.

Rating: A-

In the years since the publication of her début novel, Kelly Bowen has become an auto-read author and has a few books on my keeper shelf. Her writing is assured and intelligent, she comes up with intriguing, well thought-out plots, and her characters are engaging and often just that bit different to the norm for the genre. In A Duke in the Night, the first book in her new Devils of Dover series, her gift for characterisation is showcased in her heroine, Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhill School for Young Ladies. In Clara, Ms. Bowen has succeeded where many authors of historical romance have failed; she has created an independent, forward-thinking, proto-feminist heroine who nonetheless operates within the boundaries of the society to which she belongs and feels like a woman of her time. Clara is comfortable in her own skin and knows who she is; she doesn’t feel the need to prove herself all the time or show every man she comes across that she’s just as good (if not better) than he is – she knows she is and doesn’t feel the need to flounce around reminding everyone around her (and the reader) that she is Spirited and Unconventional.

For that alone, Ms. Bowen merits All The Awards.

Of course, Clara deserves a hero who not only understands her but loves her for who she is, and I’m happy to say that in August Faulkner, Duke of Holloway, she finds just that, a man who is willing to listen, evaluate and learn.

August wasn’t born to be a duke. He and his sister spent their childhoods in extreme poverty, and when, by virtue of a keen mind and sheer hard work, he managed to find a way out, his one guiding light has been that his family – his younger sister, Anne – should never know such squalor and privation again. Even his unexpectedly acquired ducal status hasn’t stopped him from continuing with his business interests, although as his empire expanded, he took care to act through intermediaries, so the full extent of his holdings remains a mystery to all but himself and his trusted man of business.

After trying – and failing – several times to purchase the Haverhill School for Young Ladies and its surrounding lands, August’s most recent offer has been accepted and his plans to develop the property are now underway. But seeing Clara Hayward’s name on the deeds has sparked long-buried memories of the one time they danced together, a decade ago, when a much younger – and, he admits, stupider – August had invited the renowned wallflower to dance having been egged on by a group of similarly stupid and thoughtless young bucks. During the dance, August discovered something he had not expected; an intelligence, poise and confidence which completely captivated him and left him somewhat bemused.

Although ten years have passed since then, he still remembers how Clara felt in his arms, how his world had tilted on its axis in the middle of a ballroom floor… and he finds himself wondering why she has finally agreed to sell Haverhall. A few judicious enquiries by his man of business reveal that the Hayward’s shipping company is on the verge of collapse and that the proceeds of the sale of Haverhill will not be enough to save it. Seeing his chance, August decides to purchase the company as quickly and quietly as possible, before anyone else gets wind of the situation and pre-empts him. Learning that Harland Haywood and his sisters are usually to be found at the British Museum on Wednesday afternoons, August plans to ‘accidentally’ bump into the man and try to gauge his receptiveness to a possible buyout – but before he can find him, he sees Clara – and is instantly smitten all over again.

Clara Hayward hopes that once their ships come in (so to speak) she will be able find somewhere else to continue her life’s work of teaching. She is pondering the loss of the school that has been her life’s work on one of her regular visits to the British Museum when a voice she’d never thought to hear again intrudes on her thoughts and she turns to find August Faulkner, the man who’d all but stolen her heart a decade ago, standing by her. She has to struggle to maintain her composure as he rather clumsily apologises for his behaviour ten years earlier and then engages her in a somewhat awkward conversation about the piece of sculpture in front of them. She is puzzled, however, when he asks if he can call upon her the next day; each year, Clara hosts an out-of-town summer school for a hand-picked group of young ladies – and given that Anne Faulkner is one of the party, surely her brother must know that their departure is scheduled for the following day? Before Clara can say something to this effect, however, they are interrupted and part shortly after, but when August discovers, two days later, that Anne has gone to attend the Haverhill Summer School, he immediately assumes that Clara had deliberately kept the knowledge from him and is furious.

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, August follows, determined to keep an eye on Anne and then take her back home, but also intending to speak to Clara’s brother about the shipping business and to persuade him to sell it… plus he can’t deny that the prospect of seeing Clara again is an extremely enticing one.

August’s arrival shakes Clara’s equanimity. She feels an intense attraction to him and knows it would be all too easy to succumb to it, but she can’t afford to jepoardise her position as an educator of young women – so an affair is out of the question. In any case, her first loyalty must be to her pupils – all of whom are exceptional young women to whom she affords the chance to engage in the study of professions not normally open to them. Her brother – a practicing physician – tutors those interested in medicine; another longs to be a landscape gardener, and Anne Faulkner wants to be an hotelier, but is constantly frustrated by the well-meaning but unwanted interference of her brother who insists she need never bother her head about anything ever again. Clara and August play a sensual game of cat-and-mouse as they dance around their attraction to each other and try (and fail spectacularly) to fight it. As they become closer, Clara patiently challenges him over some of his most deeply entrenched beliefs and encourages him to really think about the way he, as a man, has so many avenues and options open to him that women – and in particular, Anne – do not. He struggles and he makes mistakes, but he is intelligent enough and honest enough to admit the truth of much of what Clara says, and finally to see that by wanting to ensure his sister has the best of everything, he has been stifling her. A prison with golden bars is a prison nonetheless.

Clara and August are a perfectly matched couple; both fiercely intelligent, quick witted and determined – and the sexual chemistry between them is scorching. As I’ve already said, Clara is an exceptionally realised heroine, and August’s journey from ignorance born of male privilege and his almost single-minded drive to protect those he loves is extremely well done.

A Duke in the Night is a fabulous read and a terrific start to this new series. My one, small, quibble is that it’s just a teeny bit difficult to believe that Clara and August are able to connect so passionately and on such a deep emotional level based on just one dance ten years earlier, especially as they haven’t seen each other at all during that time. That said, however, Ms. Bowen imbues their connection with such fervour and obvious sincerity that there is never any question that these two are meant to be.

If you’ve never read one of Kelly Bowen’s books before, then this is a good starting point; and if you have, then be prepared to kick back and enjoy one of what is sure to turn out to be one of the best historical romances of 2018.

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His Convenient Marchioness (Lords at the Altar #2) by Elizabeth Rolls

This title may be purchased from Amazon

With this ring… I thee claim!

After the loss of his wife and children, the Marquess of Huntercombe closed his heart to love. But now that he must marry to secure an heir, he’s determined that the beautiful, impoverished widow Lady Emma Lacy should be his…

Emma has vowed never to marry for money so must refuse him. But when her children’s grandfather sets to steal them away from her, she has no other option: she must become the marquess’s convenient bride!

Rating: B+

The first thing that attracted me to His Convenient Marchioness was the cover image, which indicates that the central couple is slightly older than the norm for romance novels. I’m always ready to read a romance between more mature people, and sure enough, I quickly discovered that the hero – a widower who lost his wife and three children to smallpox on one devastating day eleven years earlier  – has just turned fifty, and the heroine, a widow with two children aged ten and six,  is thirty-two.  Giles, the Marquess of Huntercombe (known as Hunt) had not planned on marrying again, but the recent death of his remaining heir (his nineteen-year-old half-brother) means that re-marriage is no longer optional – as his two sisters take great pleasure in constantly pointing out.  But Hunt has no intention of marrying one of the schoolroom misses they keep parading before him, telling them instead that a woman – perhaps a widow – in her thirties would be much more to his taste and be more likely to understand that he is offering a marriage of convenience only.

Lady Emma Lacy lost her husband over a year earlier and is living with her two children, Harry (ten) and Georgina (six) in very straitened circumstances.  While both she and her late husband hail from noble families (he was the second son of a duke, she the daughter of an earl), the long-standing enmity between their respective fathers meant their runaway match saw them both cast out and cut off financially. The ensuing scandal meant the couple lived on the fringes of society; they were happy together, but now Lacy is dead and Emma can barely make ends meet.

Hunt and Emma encounter each other in Hatchard’s bookshop where she has taken Harry and Georgie to choose books from the library.  Hunt recognises Emma but cannot place her, and is surprised at the frisson of attraction he feels towards her; and later, when the children discover his dog waiting for him outside he is further surprised to find himself suggesting they walk in the park together so that the children can play with the hound.  Emma is guarded and careful to remain somewhat aloof during their walk – and it’s only afterwards that Hunt realises she must have thought he was assessing her suitability as a potential mistress.  Wanting to correct her error, Hunt decides to make a brief call to set things right – and even though he knows he should not even be considering the idea, finds himself suggesting to Emma that she might be what he’s looking for in a wife.  Somewhat stunned, Emma isn’t quite sure what to think, although she can’t deny that Hunt is a charming, attractive man, whose smile melts her insides – and she agrees to a meet him again.

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

Compromised by the Prince’s Touch (Russian Royals of Kuban #1) by Bronwyn Scott

compromised by the prince's touch

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An irresistible royal seduction…

Daring Prince Nikolay Baklanov feels London is worlds away from his life of battle and revolution in Kuban. But then the Russian ambassador’s daughter, beautiful Klara Grigorieva, approaches him with her father’s dangerous proposition…

Since her mother’s death, Klara has complied with all her father’s wishes. She’s virtuous, polished – a Society lady through and through. But meeting dashing Prince Nikolay awakens a rebellious passion in Klara…a passion that only this man can satisfy!

Rating: B

I’ve had a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with Bronwyn Scott’s books. I’ve enjoyed some and been less enthused about others, but I’m pleased to say that Compromised by the Prince’s Touch – which is the first book in her new Russian Royals of Kuban series – falls very squarely into the ‘hit’ column. Ms. Scott has crafted a story of romance and intrigue boasting a well-constructed a plot full of political scheming and high-stakes manouevering that skilfully blends fact and fiction to create a highly entertaining story.

Exiled from his home of Kuban (in Southern Russia on the Black Sea and bordering the Crimean Peninsula) Prince Nikolay Baklanov now lives in London with three of his closest friends, all of whom have also been banished from their homeland. He wants to make a new life for himself in England, although he feels as though he is merely treading water; he misses Kuban – the language, the food, the traditions, the people – and the knowledge that he can never go back still rankles, especially as his exile was forced upon him by the actions of others. He currently works as a riding instructor at a prestigious London stable and plans to set up his own riding school as soon as he can find an appropriate property. His clientele seems mostly to consist of young debutantes who can barely sit a horse properly and seem to think they’re there to giggle and cast flirtatious glances his way, so when he sees that the daughter of the Russian ambassador has booked a lesson with him, he anticipates more of the same.

He quickly discovers his error, however, when he returns to the training arena to find his pupil already mounted – and wearing breeches, no less – more than competently putting a splendid black mare through her paces. Nikolay is immediately suspicious; this young woman is already an extremely good rider, so what can she expect him to teach her? As the daughter of a powerful Russian diplomat, could she have an ulterior motive? Are the Kubanians searching for him? Could she have been sent to smoke him out?

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

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke (Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #4) by Maya Rodale

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms… and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

Rating: B+

I seem to have spent a bit of time lately saying “don’t let the stupid title put you off reading this book because it’s really good” – and now I’m saying it again.  This fourth book in Maya Rodale’s Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series is the best of the set once you get past yet another vomit-inducing excursion into Craptastic-Titles-R-Us, so try not to let it put you off reading what is actually a very well-written, tender and poignant story that is as much about the two central characters working out what it really means to be true to oneself as it is about their love for each other.

Readers who have been following the series will know that the four Cavendish siblings – James and his sisters Claire, Bridget and Amelia – have recently come to London from their home in America owing to the fact that James has unexpectedly inherited a dukedom he doesn’t want.  He would be more than content to remain at the family ranch doing what he does best and what he loves – breeding and raising horses – but is prompted to come to England because of his concern for his sisters.  All of them are no longer young (by early nineteenth century standards!) and perilously close to being on the shelf; and James thinks that perhaps moving to England will improve their prospects of making a good marriage.  He also thinks he should at least keep an open mind about the dukedom and what it entails – but the closer he gets to English shores, the more anxious and uncertain he becomes.

He and his sisters are to stay the night at an inn in Southampton before resuming their journey to London.  When they’ve gone to their rooms, James stays downstairs in the tap-room and is pondering his fate, when he notices a lovely young woman sitting alone at the bar.  He can’t keep his eyes off her, and her shy glances indicate some interest on her part, too.  James approaches her, they strike up a conversation and agree to spend the night together, ‘Just James’ and ‘Just a girl’ he’s met at a bar.

Yes, the idea that a respectable young woman at this period would sit alone at a public bar and then agree to a one night stand with a man she just met is a bit of a stretch of credulity, but it’s worth getting past it in order to enjoy the rest of the story.

If you’ve read the synopsis, then you’ll already know that James’ ‘Just a girl’ is, in fact, Miss Meredith Green, companion to his aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Durham.  On the way back to London after a visit to her sick mother (who has dementia), she is weary and heartsick, looking ahead to years of a life lived for others and needs, just once, to feel fully alive and as though someone truly sees her, Meredith, not just another trusted servant.

James is, of course, shocked to realise that Meredith is his aunt’s companion, but also delighted to see again the young woman with whom he’d shared such pleasure and to whom he feels such a strong connection.  At first, he actively pursues her – as far as he is able under his aunt’s close scrutiny – but Meredith takes pains to point out to him that she owes everything to the duchess and the last thing she wants or can afford to do is to anger her by indulging in some sort of clandestine relationship with him.

The dowager is intent on getting James and his sisters ready to make their débuts as quickly as possible before the speculation already circulating that they are uncouth savages who are not fit for English society becomes worse.  Realising she has quite the task on hand in preparing Claire, Bridget and (especially) Amelia, the duchess asks Meredith – to whom she has given the education afforded daughters of the nobility – to help James to acquire the necessary polish while she concentrates on the girls.

James finds all the rules and strictures exasperating and makes it clear that he’s only giving this duke business a trial and that if he decides it’s not for him, he’ll be heading back across the Atlantic. As it is, the only thing keeping him in England is Meredith; but as James begins to realise that there is more to being a duke than escorting his sisters to balls and parties and driving in the park, he also starts to see that Meredith is right about the impossibility of there being anything further between them.  He bears a responsibility to all those who depend upon the dukedom for their livelihood, a responsibility that was neglected following the deaths of his uncle and father; and James gradually finds himself assuming the ducal mantle in more ways than one.  He even accepts that his aunt’s insistence on his finding a suitable bride from the ranks of the ton is one of those duties he must discharge – and even though he is deeply in love with Meredith, determines to find someone he can at least be comfortable with for the sake of his title, his duty – and the happiness of his sisters.

The author does a very good job here of showing how James grows into his role as duke without fundamentally changing the essence of the man he is.  He’s not a surly, brooding hero with intimacy issues; he’s a kind, decent and loving man who wants to do the right thing for those who depend on him, especially his sisters, who annoy the hell out of him but whom he adores anyway.  The emotional connection between him and Meredith is very strongly wrought and leaps off the page and their longing for one another is palpable.  Meredith could have been a bit of a doormat given her situation as neither family nor servant, but she isn’t.  She’s aware of her place and very conscious of the debt of gratitude she owes the dowager, but she’s her own woman; warm, intelligent and intuitive, she becomes a friend to Claire, Bridget and Amelia, all of whom are well aware of the way the wind is blowing and see no reason why their brother should not be happy.

The two central characters are immensely likeable without being saccharine, and while Josephine, Dowager Duchess of Durham, initially comes across as a stuck-up, interfering biddy who cares only for the title and not the man holding it, that is soon shown to be a misconception. She’s concerned about the fate of the dukedom, yes, but for reasons that are far from superficial.

The storyline runs concurrently with those in the previous books, but you don’t need to have read them in order to enjoy this one as it works perfectly well as a standalone.  Ms. Rodale’s writing is intelligent and engaging, and I’m pleased to say that I didn’t find myself having to suspend my disbelief too often, probably because, as a man, James isn’t bound by the same constraints as his sisters (sad, but true) so there’s less of a ‘wallpaper’ feel to the novel overall.

There’s a bit of a hiccup towards the end involving a disclosure that isn’t really necessary in terms of the plot, but I appreciated the way that James and Meredith find a way to be together while keeping in sight what is most important to them and remaining true to themselves.  It’s Hard Out Here for a Dukeis a tender romance and a fitting way to wave farewell to the Cavendish siblings.

The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding by Amanda McCabe


This title may be purchased from Amazon

A country Christmas at Barton Park

Plain, sensible Rose Parker is a self-proclaimed wallflower, but she’s always dreamt of dancing with Captain Harry St George…

Once, Harry wouldn’t even have noticed Rose. But now, after a hard war, Harry’s knows he’s a different man. Shy, sweet Rose intrigues him more than any gregarious young lady – but he must marry a rich bride to save his mortgaged estates – and Rose is no heiress. Now, more than ever, Harry needs the magic of a mistletoe kiss…

Rating: C

The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding is a pleasant, light-hearted story set in an English country home at Christmastime in which two lonely people find love amid the hustle and bustle of a family house party. It’s an easy read to which the word ‘nice’ can be frequently applied; the hero and heroine are nice people, their hostess is nice, the hostesses children are nice, the book as a whole is nice… I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s one of those books that has nothing wrong with it, but which isn’t going to set the world alight, either.

In the prologue – which is set three years before the rest of the story – Miss Rose Parker, her mother and younger sister, Lily, are attending a summer party at Barton Park the large estate owned by their cousins, the Bancroft family. The recent death of Mr. Parker has left them with large debts which meant they had to leave their home in order to repay them. They live quietly in a small cottage, but the Bancrofts continue to invite them to Barton Park from time to time, and it’s at this particular gathering that Rose first meets Captain Harry St. George, the handsome but somewhat retiring owner of the neighbouring estate, Hilltop Grange. Harry and Rose talk briefly, dance together and recognise that they have made some sort of connection; and Rose, normally a very pragmatic young woman, starts to dream, just this once, of a different life and a home of her own. Sadly, however, her girlish musings soon come to an end when she overhears that the Captain is to marry the lovely and sophisticated Miss Helen Layton.

Moving forward three years, we find Rose living with her overbearing Aunt Sylvia as her paid companion. Rose’s sister, Lily, married the man she loves – the local curate – and now has two small children, and their mother continues to live in her tiny cottage; the money Rose earns in her position is enough to make sure she can live reasonably comfortably. Sylvia is cantankerous and exacting, so Rose can’t deny the relief she feels when she receives a letter from her cousin Jane inviting her to Barton Park for Christmas, ostensibly to help with the children and give them some music tuition.

Harry St. George has left the army, no longer eligible for active service following the loss of one eye. All the while he was in the army, he dreamed of coming home to Hilltop Grange and living the quiet life of a gentleman farmer, but with the place in a serious state of disrepair, it seems he will have to marry for money if he is to restore it and fulfil his responsibilities to his dependents.  His brother Charles reminds him that Lady Fallon – formerly Miss Layton, who married a much older man shortly after Harry embarked on his most recent stint in the army – is now a widow and has been left very well provided for;  perhaps she may be the solution to Harry’s money worries.

When Rose and Harry are reunited at Barton Park, it’s almost as if the intervening years have never happened, and they very quickly pick up where they left off, conversing easily and without embarrassment or any of that stiltedness that often attends the building of a new friendship.  Rose and Harry are decent, intelligent and compassionate people and developing emotional connection between them is well drawn. Their romance is sweet and tender, and there’s no question they are perfect for each other – apart from the fact that Rose hasn’t a penny to her name and Harry needs money.

While the couple is falling more and more deeply into love, the author is also setting up a potential romance between Charles and Helen, both of whom are obviously dragging a lot of emotional baggage and who were – at times – more interesting than the two principals. I assume their story will be told in a future book.  In the final stages of this one, Ms. McCabe employs one of my least favourite plot points, the ‘I love you too much to ruin your life by marrying you’ cliché, and the only point of conflict in the romance – Rose’s lack of funds – is easily solved by the wave of the fairy godmother’s wand (or in this case, an aunt’s sweep of the pen).  On the plus side, however, the author does a terrific job of describing the Christmas parlour games and traditions, the decorations and the food, injecting her gathering with an engaging degree of Yuletide spirit and cheer.

The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding is a well-written story which is ultimately somewhat bland.  As I said at the beginning, it’s not bad, but it’s not especially memorable either, and I suspect that its low-angst, low-drama storytelling may appeal to some readers more than others.

Provoked (Enlightenment #1) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Hamish McKinlay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

David Lauriston is struggling to build his reputation in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. His humble origins are enough of a hurdle, never mind his recent decision to defend a group of weavers accused of treason, prompting speculation that he may harbour radical sympathies. The last thing he should be doing is agreeing to help the brother of one of the convicted weavers find the government agent who caused his brother’s downfall.
David’s personal life is no more successful. Tormented by his forbidden desires for other men, and the painful memories of the childhood friend he once loved, David tries his hardest to live a celibate existence, castigating himself whenever his resolve slips.

But then into David’s repressed and orderly world bursts Lord Murdo Balfour.

Cynical, hedonistic, and utterly unapologetic, Murdo could not be less like David. Whilst David refuses to entertain the prospect of entering into a loveless marriage for propriety’s sake, Murdo is determined to wed one day – and has no intention of giving up the company of other men when he does so. But as appalled as David is by Murdo’s unrepentant self-interest, he cannot resist the man’s sway.

Murdo tempts and provokes David in equal measure, distracting him from his promise to find the agent provocateur responsible for the weavers’ fate, and forcing him to acknowledge his physical desires.

But is Murdo more than a mere distraction?

Is it possible he could be the very man David is looking for?

Rating: Narration – A- Content: B+

Joanna Chamber’s Enlightenment trilogy was originally published in print in 2013/14, and as the books are among my favourite historical romances, I was delighted when I learned they would be coming to audio with a carefully selected – Scottish – narrator. Set in Edinburgh in the 1820s, the three books in the series chart the relationship between hard-working advocate David Lauriston and Lord Murdo Balfour, two men of very different social standing and outlook. Their romance (which develops across the series, so it’s necessary to read all three books in order to reach the HEA) is set against a very strongly written historical backdrop in which the atmosphere of political unrest and uncertainty prevalent at the time is splendidly evoked. Scotland chafes under English rule, the new monarch, George IV, is deeply unpopular, and right from the start, the listener is left in no doubt that these are very troubled times.

David Lauriston is the son of a tenant farmer who, by dint of his own hard work and talent, has put himself through university, qualified as an advocate (the Scottish equivalent of an English barrister) and is now slowly building a practice in Edinburgh. One of his most recent cases was to represent a group of weavers accused of treason – in spite of the fact that their conviction was a foregone conclusion – and the book opens on the day two of the group are sent to the gallows. David has travelled to Stirling to witness the execution as a mark of respect to the two men, and finds himself almost caught up in an altercation when the crowd turns ugly.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, was forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expected Brilliana Trevor to wait for him. Seven years later, Niall has returned, disillusioned and cynical – so being blackmailed by the government into helping his former love catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood.

The now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life, but she will do anything to save her father. Yet as their fake engagement brings long-buried feelings to the surface, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? And will the pleasures of their renewed passion enable them both to rediscover love?

Rating: C+

The Pleasures of Passion is the fourth book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series, and it brings to a close the plotline that has run through all the books so far, that of Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave who, seven years before this book opens, killed a man in a duel and was forced to flee the country as a result. Because parts of Niall’s story were revealed in the other books – most notably book two, The Study of Seduction – there will be spoilers in this review.

Before the fateful duel took place, Niall had met and fallen in love with seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne, but because she was not yet out in society they kept their relationship a secret. Niall planned to ask for her hand as soon as he could court her openly, but because of the duel, he instead asks her to leave with him that very day as he cannot afford to linger in England. Brilliana – or Bree, as Niall nicknames her – is distraught and confused as well as concerned for her mother’s failing health and in the end tells him she can’t go with him – but they part with a sort of vague agreement that she will join him as soon as it’s possible for her to do so.

When, just a few months later, Niall learns that Bree has married someone else, the suspicions planted by his father before he left – that she didn’t want to accompany him because she would then be unable to enjoy her position as a viscountess and move about in society – took root, and over the years of his exile he became accustomed to thinking of her as having wanted him for his rank and fortune rather than himself.

For her part, Bree hears the rumours that quickly begin to circulate after Niall’s flight – that he and his opponent had duelled over another woman – and believes he had been merely toying with her affections. Nonetheless, she can’t stop loving him, and rejects other offers for her hand, until her father promises her to Reynold Trevor as payment for the large gambling debt he owes the man’s father.

Seven years later, Bree is a widow with a young son, and Niall has secured a pardon thanks to the intervention of a high-ranking Home Office official, Lord Fulkham, the spymaster for whom Niall had worked on numerous occasions while living abroad. We witnessed the first, awkward meeting between the former lovers in the previous book, The Danger of Desire, and at the opening of this one, they are still wary of each other and labouring under the misapprehensions fostered by Niall’s late father and society gossip.

Even though Niall and Bree are linked by ties of family and friendship, they are determined to keep away from each other and not to fall under the other’s spell once more – a plan which is destined to be unworkable when they are asked by Lord Fulkham to help him to track down a counterfeiter.  Bree wonders what that can possibly have to do with her, when Fulkham explains that his main suspect is her father, and that he needs her and Niall to pretend to be betrothed in order for Niall to get close to Oswald Payne and ferret out the truth.  Not sure she will be able to withstand being so close to Niall without falling for him all over again, Bree refuses, but when Fulkham explains that counterfeiting is tantamount to treason and thus punishable by death, she relents.  She has no great love for her father, but doesn’t want to see him hang, and, deciding they might as well get started at once, she and Niall announce their engagement that very evening.

The book utilises some tropes I’m fond of – the fake relationship and the second-chance romance – but sadly, both fall flat because there’s little chemistry between the protagonists and for at least the first half of the story, we’re in Big Mis territory – a plot device I really dislike.  Niall and Bree think the worst of each other based on no more than seven-year-old assumptions and make hardly any attempt to look beyond them, even though they are still desperately yearning for each other.  Ms. Jeffries does begin to unravel the web of lies surrounding them by around the half-way point, and I’ll give her credit for that;  but by then my interest in them as a couple had waned and I couldn’t bring myself to care very much whether they got together or not.  Bree was hung up on the fact that Niall wouldn’t tell her the real reason he fought the duel and continued to mistrust him because of it; and trying to explain that away by having Bree suffering from abandonment anxiety – her mother left her (died) her husband left her (committed suicide) and her father didn’t care for her much (that’s true) – didn’t wash.

Niall is a fairly colourless chap, really, when all’s said and done.  He believed what his father insinuated about Bree being a fortune hunter in the absence of other information, and her marriage so soon after his departure only seemed to confirm it.  He’s determined not to fall in love with her  again, but he can’t help it, especially once he uncovers the truth about her marriage and his father’s deception.  He desperately wants to tell Bree the truth about the duel, but gave his word never to tell anyone so as to protect Clarissa; and I found Edwin’s request that Niall continue to conceal the truth from Bree strange – and ultimately, it’s just another way of prolonging that particular plotpoint.

The mystery plot is weak, and the identity of the villain is obvious from the moment he steps on to the page; and while there is nothing especially wrong with either Niall or Bree, they are bland and their romance is uneventful and unmemorable.  Because they’re so obviously already in love there’s no romantic tension or looking forward to the first kiss – and more – and the fact that Bree succumbs so easily doesn’t say much for her resolve not to let Niall into her life again.

I’ve enjoyed other books in this series, most notably The Study of Seduction, which remains one of my favourite novels by of Ms. Jeffries. Unfortunately, The Pleasures of Passion lacks both pleasure and passion and I can’t recommend it to anyone other than die-hard fans of the author’s or those following the series who simply must read every book for the sake of completeness.