A Lady Becomes a Governess (Governess Swap #1) by Diane Gaston

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Rebecca Pierce escapes her forced betrothal when the ship she’s on is wrecked. Assuming the identity of a governess she believes has drowned, she enters the employ of brooding Lord Brookmore, who’s selflessly caring for his orphaned nieces. Inconveniently, she’s extremely attracted to the Viscount…but her only chance of happiness is tied to the biggest risk: revealing the truth about who she really is…

Rating: C-

In this latest offering from Diane Gaston, two women from very different stations in life swap roles and, as promised by the book’s title, The Lady Becomes a Governess . The premise intrigued me, but misgivings set in early on when the two ladies, Lady Rebecca Pierce and Miss Claire Tilson, who meet while on a voyage from Ireland to England, discover their uncanny (and hugely convenient) resemblance to one another. As I read on, I was confronted by a series of contrivances, unlikely circumstances and clichés; the characters were dull as ditchwater, the romance non-existent, and the only spark of life in the whole novel was provided by the hero’s horrid fiancée, a stereotypical evil-other-woman type whose machinations, while predictable and ridiculously hackneyed, did at least provoke a reaction other than boredom.

Lady Rebecca is being forced by her half-brother, the Earl of Keneagle, to marry the elderly Lord Stonecroft and is en route to England for her wedding. Needless to say, she’s not looking forward to her life as the wife of an elderly baron who only wants a young brood-mare, but the earl wants his half-sister off his hands and marrying her off is the easiest way to do it. As a caper to take their minds off the fates awaiting them, she and Clare – who is travelling to England in order to take up a post as a governess – swap clothes and pretend to be each other, even going so far as to fool Rebecca’s starchy maid (who is laid low by mal de mer) into believing that Claire is Rebecca. What larks!

Until, that is, the ship is hit by a terrible storm. Around three-quarters of the passengers are lost, and Claire is one of them. Rebecca remembers getting into a small rowing boat and then falling into the sea, but nothing more when she awakens in a soft bed in an unfamiliar room to find an equally unfamiliar gentleman sitting at her bedside. Assailed by guilt that she survived where others did not, Rebecca is at first not at all sure what to do, and then realises she has been presented with an opportunity to escape her unwanted marriage. Learning that the gentleman at her side is Garret, Viscount Brookmore, who had engaged Claire as governess to his two recently orphaned nieces, Rebecca decides to continue the deception she and Claire had practiced aboard ship. After all, she’s doing the poor little girls a kindness by not being yet another person supposed to look after them who has abandoned them by dying.

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

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A Warriner to Seduce Her (Wild Warriners #4) by Virginia Heath

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A sensible schoolmistress…

Awakened by the notorious rake!

In this The Wild Warriners story, schoolmistress Felicity Blunt feels old beyond her years―and desperately dull. Meeting confirmed rake Jacob Warriner brings her gloriously alive, and yet no matter his allure she must remain immune to his obvious charms and unashamed flirtation. But is Jacob merely a mischievous scoundrel? Or is there much more to this Warriner than meets the eye…?

Rating: A-

This final book in Virginia Heath’s thoroughly enjoyable series featuring the four Warriner brothers focuses on the youngest, Jacob – or Jake, as he is more commonly known.  We’ve met him in the previous books in the series, and unlike his siblings – Jack, the Earl of Markham and head of the family, Jamie, a former soldier and Joe, a doctor – he’s a bit of a wastrel and spends most of his time amid the hedonistic delights of London, where he’s acquired quite the reputation as a ladies’ man.

Ms. Heath has dropped the odd subtle hint that there’s more to Jake than meets the eye, and in A Warriner to Seduce Her, we find out exactly what that is.  While his brothers eye him with fond exasperation and despair of his ever marrying and settling down, the truth is that Jake was recruited by the British Government when he left Cambridge and has been working for them ever since.  A member of a small team known as the King’s Elite, Jake and his colleagues have been tasked with discovering the identity of the man behind a large-scale smuggling operation that is trying to destabilise the British economy by flooding the market with illegal goods and channelling funds to an organisation determined to return Napoléon from exile.  But in spite of their best efforts, the identity of the lynch-pin remains as elusive as ever.

The last few months have been exhausting and Jake is looking forward to heading home to Markham Manor for some well-earned leave.  He’ tired, he misses his family a great deal and longs for:

Three months of being himself, no hidden agendas, no danger, no responsibilities and no web of lies.

(Except the one.)

… and feels keenly the gulf that has opened between himself and his brothers in recent years because of the secrets he has to keep.  So he’s none too pleased when his boss tells him that his leave is cancelled because there’s a new lead in their search for the boss of the smuggling ring.  Suspicion has fallen upon Lord Crispin Rowley, whose fortunes have recently taken  a sudden and unexpected upturn – and Jake is tasked with the seduction of Rowley’s niece, a country miss fresh out of Sister Ursuline’s School for Wayward Girls in Cumbria who will surely be an easy target for his masculine charms.

The letter summoning twenty-five-year-old schoolmistress Felicity Blunt to London came completely out of the blue.  It seems that her uncle, Lord Crispin Rowley, had finally decided to fulfil the promise he made her dying mother to give Fliss a Season – but she isn’t interested.  She doesn’t want a Season and she doesn’t want a husband, but Sister Ursuline insists she should travel to London and have an adventure – which has, so far, proved to be a huge disappointment.  Rowley hasn’t taken Fliss anywhere she wants to go, insisting instead on dragging her to boring balls and parties, but being leered at and squinting at blurry figures (Rowley insists she leave off her spectacles) from the sidelines of a ballroom isn’t exactly the type of adventure she had in mind.

Jake is pleasantly surprised when he discovers that the lovely woman he’d been observing from his vantage point at the edge of the ballroom at Almack’s is none other than the woman he’s been instructed to seduce.  He’d been expecting a dowdy, nunnish-type, not a lush beauty with honey-gold hair, a spectacular figure and a dry sense of humour, who is nowhere near as impressionable as he’d been led to believe.  They converse amiably for a short while, until Jake, still tired and annoyed at the cancellation of his leave, makes a misstep and attempts to soften her up too quickly. Fliss’ warm, friendly manner evaporates and she makes it clear she’s seen through Jake’s practiced charm and hackneyed compliments and has no further interest in conversing with him.

Jake is – reluctantly – impressed.  And intrigued.  And just a bit ashamed. For the first time, he feels an element of distaste about the fact that he uses sex as a means to extract information – although he can’t allow himself to dwell on it as he still has a job to do.  Fliss’ summary dismissal of him may have stirred the first genuine interest he’s felt in a woman in years, but he can’t lose sight of his mission; so over the next few days, he contrives to encounter her on several occasions in an attempt to wear down her resistance and to see what she can be induced to tell him about her uncle.

Fliss can’t deny that she’s been attracted to Jake since the first time they met, but she’s not interested in charming, sexy and gorgeous, she wants respectable and dependable.  She is determined to steer clear of him, but somehow, he’s always there when she needs help, and keeps turning up at the social events her uncle insists she attend… and the more time she spends with Jake, the more Fliss can’t help liking him.  She sees something – very occasionally – behind the suave, rakish façade that interests her, the possibility that there lies a man of more substance than he is willing to reveal to the world; he’s amusing, self-deprecating and genuinely charming, and she can’t help falling for him.

Jake is similarly smitten, finding Fliss’ lack of artifice totally refreshing and admiring her honesty – she’s “Blunt by name and blunt by nature” – even if it is a but brutal at times.  He finds it harder and harder to reconcile his growing feelings for her with his instructions to use her in order to get close to her uncle, but Rowley is obviously up to his neck in something both nefarious and dangerous, and Jake has no choice but to continue with his deception.

One of the many things I’ve really enjoyed about all the books in the Wild Warriners series is the family dynamic the author has created between the brothers.  They’ve not had it easy, courtesy of generations of scandalous, spendthrift relatives, and until recently, they’ve struggled to make ends meet – yet the love they bear towards each other is unstinting and permeates all their scenes together.  In the book’s prologue, we learn of a long-buried and painful secret Jake has carried since childhood, which has set him apart from his brothers to an extent and has obviously shaped the man he has become.  Ms. Heath doesn’t allow it to turn Jake into one of those ‘woe-is-me’ overly brooding types, but it has obviously informed many of his choices as an adult, and she very skilfully brings us full-circle towards the end of the novel as Fliss and Jake’s brothers finally help him to overcome it and put it to rest.

Boasting a strong plotline, two attractive central characters with scorching chemistry and a wonderful cast of secondary characters, A Warriner to Seduce Her is a superb end to an excellent series, and is the third (or fourth?) novel of Ms. Heath’s to grace my Keeper shelf.  And there’s more good news;  her next series, featuring Jake’s colleagues from the King’s Elite, is on the way – I can’t wait to meet The Mysterious Lord Millcroft in August.

No Other Duke Will Do (Windham Brides #3) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, is barely keeping his head above water in a sea of inherited debts. Though he has a long-term plan to restore the family finances, his sister has a much faster solution: host a house party for London’s single young ladies and find Julian a wealthy bride.

Elizabeth Windham has no interest in marriage, but a recent scandal has forced her hand. As much as she’d rather be reading Shakespeare than husband hunting, she has to admit she’s impressed by Julian’s protective instincts, his broad shoulders, and, of course, his vast library.

As the two spend more time together, their attraction is overwhelming, unexpected…and absolutely impossible. With meddling siblings, the threat of financial ruin, and gossips lurking behind every potted palm, will they find true love or true disaster?

Rating: Narration – C+: Content – B

For this third book in her Windham Brides series, Grace Burrowes moves to Wales and the home of Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, whose estate is so encumbered by the debts accrued by his father and grandfather – their passion for collecting books creating a massive library at equally massive expense – means he is one step away from bankruptcy.

As No Other Duke Will Do opens, Julian’s sister, Glenys, has organised a large – and expensive – house-party to which she has invited a number of eligible young ladies in the hopes of finding her brother an heiress to marry. Julian is a loving man with a lot to offer, but she knows he is unlikely to marry while the state of their finances remains so dire – ergo, she will find him a wife who has money. Julian, who has not been involved in the planning or even consulted about the party, is naturally horrified at the cost, but as he is presented with a fait accompli sees no alternative but to allow things to proceed as planned… and perhaps there will be a gentleman among the invited bachelors who will catch his sister’s eye. Just because – according to his calculations – he can’t afford to marry for another eight years or more doesn’t mean Glenys should be mouldering away at Haverford Castle with him, after all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.

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.

Emma’s life is suddenly upended by an unexpected visit from her mother – whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade – and then by the appearance of her father-in-law, the Duke of Keswick, who tells her that owing to the death of his eldest son, Harry is now his heir and should go to live with him.  Emma refuses unequivocally, but Keswick is prepared to fight dirty; even though Lacy’s will stipulated that Emma was to be their children’s sole guardian and Keswick was to have nothing to do with them, it’s unlikely a court of law will favour Emma – a woman rumoured to have loose morals – over a duke.  Terrified, Emma turns to Hunt, who insists that the surest way he can protect Emma and the children is by marrying her; but Emma is reluctant to embroil him in the gossip that will no doubt follow the news of his marriage to a woman dogged by scandal.   But Hunt is persistent, reminding himself, when Emma finally accepts him, that he’s about to embark on a practical, sensible partnership of the sort he has been looking for.

Marriage of convenience stories are my catnip, and I particularly liked the set up for this one, which isn’t one I’ve come across recently – if ever.  It’s obvious that Hunt and Emma are smitten with each other right from the start, but Hunt believes his capacity for love died along with his family, and Emma, who had dearly loved her first husband, is not sure a marriage without love is right for her.  She also knows the gossip circulating about her could tarnish Hunt’s good name and is reluctant to have it dragged through the mud, but her father-in-law’s threats make it impossible for her to refuse Hunt’s proposal.  She is, at least, safe in the knowledge that Hunt is an honourable, kind man who will be a good father to her children and will provide a strong male role model for Harry as he grows to manhood.

Ms. Rolls does a very good job of developing the romance between Hunt and Emma, even though I found his mentioning marriage at only their second or third meeting to be a bit of a stretch.  Thankfully, however, the courtship itself isn’t quite so rushed and the couple are able to spend time getting to know each other a little before the author cranks up the drama with the intrusion of Keswick and his nasty threats into Emma’s life.  Hunt – of course – deals with those threats admirably, and is then able to go about the business of adjusting to his life as a husband and step-father, which is again not something I’ve often come across in an historical romance, and is one of the parts of the story I enjoyed most.  He isn’t perfect and he makes mistakes, but there’s no question he wants the best for both Harry and Georgie, and that he cares deeply for Emma, in spite of his continual reminders to himself that his is a marriage made for mutual convenience.  The fact he desires his wife – and she him – is a nice bonus, of course, but he has no wish for any emotional entanglements… yep, like so many other heroes of his ilk, he can’t see what’s staring him in the face.  I’ll also add that I’m not normally a fan of children in romances, but Harry and Georgie are well–written and have key roles in the story rather than just existing as precocious plot-moppets.

The one false note in the novel is struck when the author divulges the degree of guilt Hunt carries over the death of his half-brother and the reasons behind it.  It’s an unnecessary plot point; there is already enough going on in the story and it felt as though the author was throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure simply to give Hunt something to beat himself up about (as if losing his wife and children to disease wasn’t hard enough).

Apart from that, though, His Convenient Marchinoness is a lovely example of a favourite trope and the two principals read as people who are mature in their outlook as well as in years.  It’s an easy, entertaining and well-put together read, perfect for curling up with on a dull winter’s afternoon.

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?

Klara Grigorieva has indeed been sent by her father to ‘vet’ Nikolay.  The prince has been in London for two months, and has not yet called on the ambassador – but Grigoriev wants information about his intentions and his loyalties.  The ambassador is at the head of a small group of disaffected Russian nobility and military men who are planning to engineer a revolution and having a man like Nikolay as one of their number – a man of great courage, a natural leader able to inspire loyalty in the troops – would give them a massive advantage.  It will also give them an obvious scapegoat should things go awry.

But Nikolay is far from stupid and is well aware of the reasons for which he is being ‘courted’.  He is reluctant to be dragged back into Russian politics, but recognises that it may be impossible to avoid it or simply refuse to take sides. Much as he wants to see the outmoded, backward ways of his beloved country changed and modernised, he knows he is likely being set up to take a fall; but if he declines to involve himself, he stands – at best – to lose the new life he has envisaged for himself and at worst, to lose his life altogether.

Since the death of Klara’s English mother, it has been her father’s aim to bring up and educate his daughter as befits her station as a member of the English ton and then to secure her an excellent marriage.  Intelligent, quick-witted and a good judge of character, Klara has proved herself to be extremely useful to Grigoriev in his work, her ability to draw people out and to assimilate and relay information providing insights that he might not be able to obtain from other sources.  She has always taken pride in the fact that her father includes her in his life in this way – which is unusual among people of her station – but when she begins to realise exactly why she has been sent to get to know Nikolay, and the danger their acquaintance poses to him, Klara begins to reassess her situation and to wonder if she is merely a pawn in her father’s schemes and not a beloved daughter after all.

Nikolay and Klara are attracted to each other from their very first meeting, but both are guarded, Nikolay especially, as he is immediately suspicious of Klara’s motives for seeking him out.  For her part, Klara is enjoying her role as her father’s confidante and the chance it gives her to flirt with such a dangerously attractive and vital man.  But as the story progresses, and Klara begins to realise that her association with Nikolay has drawn him into a life-threatening situation, she becomes determined to protect him at all costs – even if it means she can never see him again.

There’s a lot of plot going on in this novel, but I enjoy stories featuring politics and intrigue and Ms. Scott does a very good job of keeping the storyline focused and of continually raising the stakes for our two protagonists.  Nikolay is reluctant to lower his guard around Klara, but the more he gets to know her as opposed to the ambassador’s daughter, the more he finds to like and admire about her.  The romantic chemistry between the couple is strong and the love scenes are sensual, but the best parts of their relationship are those snatched moments when they can just be together, such as the night Nikolay takes Klara into the Russian ex-pat community in Soho, which is full of local colour and vivid descriptions that paint a wonderfully detailed, exotic picture in the mind’s eye.

Such stories usually demand a villain, and there’s a particularly nasty one here in the form of the Duke of Amesbury, an unscrupulous and ruthless man who is set to make a huge profit by selling arms to the revolutionaries and who is determined to obtain the spirited Klara for himself.  There are a few times he’s in danger of veering into cartoonish, moustache-twirling territory, but  mainly, he’s nasty and creepy; it’s clear he poses a very real threat to Klara and is prepared to ruin Nikolay by any means necessary.

I suspect that some may feel the romance is a little overshadowed by the other plot elements in this book, but speaking as one who enjoys romantic suspense novels, the balance between the romance and the intrigue here is just about right.  I enjoyed Compromised by the Prince’s Touch and will definitely be on the lookout for subsequent books in the series.

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.