Scandalous (The Outcasts #3) by Minerva Spencer

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“Have you no decency?”

Straight-laced missionary Sarah Fisher has never met a man like Captain Martin Bouchard. He is the most beautiful person—male or female—she’s ever seen. Overwhelmingly masculine, elegantly attired despite months at sea, he is in complete command of everyone and everything around him: everyone, that is, except Sarah. But that’s about to change, because Sarah has bought Bouchard’s mercy with the only thing she has to sell: her body.

“None at all…”

In spite of her outrageous offer, Martin has no doubt Sarah is a virgin, and a most delectable one at that. But instead of bedding her, he finds himself staring down the muzzle of his own pistol. Clearly, the longer she stays on his ship, the greater the chances that she’ll end up its damned captain! Most infuriating of all, she looks past his perfect exterior to the wounded man inside. Can Martin outrun his scandalous past in time to have a future with the first woman to find and capture his heart?

Rating: B-

Scandalous is the third book in Minerva Spencer’s series The Outcasts, and it takes as its hero Martín Etienne Bouchard, the beautiful , enigmatic and seductive privateer who was introduced in the previous book, BarbarousMs. Spencer’s sophisticated, precise prose continues to impress, as does her ability to tell a compelling story and create complex characters, but something about the principals and romance in Scandalous didn’t quite gel for me.  The heroine is determined and independent of spirit in a way that feels perfectly right for the story and the period, but the hero, while he has a truly traumatising backstory, spends much of the novel behaving like an emotionally stunted adolescent. The author skilfully makes the reader aware that there are good reasons for Martín’s behaviour and actually manages (sometimes) to make him into a fairly sympathetic character – even before we find out the true extent of what he went through (which doesn’t happen until fairly near the end) – but there were still times I came perilously close to losing patience with him.

Martín Bouchard is a former slave who is now a wealthy privateer who has built himself a fearsome reputation as a cold, hard killer who was more concerned with his cravat than his life. Not surprisingly, Martín hates those who buy and sell slaves with a passion, so he has little sympathy for the crew of the Blue Bird, a Dutch Ship with a hold full of slaves, when he captures it off Africa’s Gold Coast.

The daughter of missionaries, Sarah Fisher was born in Africa – in the village of N’Goe – where she’s lived all her life.  Her parents died after contracting a sickness that killed many in the village, and since their deaths some two years earlier, Sarah has acted as the village’s healer.  When the slavers arrived in N’Goe and captured all its inhabitants, Sarah went with them, which is how she comes to be aboard the Blue Bird when it is attacked by the Golden Scythe, a British privateer, at the same time as the crew is on the verge of mutiny.

To try to avert the latter, Sarah and the ship’s captain Mies Graaf go aboard the Golden Scythe to parlay with its captain – who is the most beautiful man Sarah has ever seen.  But Captain Bouchard is as intractable as he is handsome; he refuses to allow the Blue Bird to return to port to return its ‘cargo’ and has no patience with Graaf’s protests that the slaves were purchased without his consent or knowledge.

When the woman who accompanied Graaf enters the discussion, Martín finds himself liking her spirit as well as the way the snug breeches she’s wearing are clinging to her legs.  He’s far more used to women throwing themselves at his feet than arguing with him and prefers it that way – although the way this particular woman refuses to back down certainly enlivens the discussion; she’s not especially attractive in the way Martín usually appreciates, but he’s nonetheless sufficiently interested to suggest he’ll show mercy to the crew of the Blue Bird if she’ll share his bed.  But when what should have been a night of pleasure is interrupted and Martín finds himself looking down the barrel of his own pistol, he decides Sarah is more trouble than she’s worth and just wants to get her off his ship.

Roughly half the book is taken up with the journey to England, and the rest sees Sarah connecting with long-lost relatives and deciding what she wants to do with her life.  Throughout the story, Sarah and Martín move towards each other and then away in a continual (and frustrating) dance, Martín clearly infatuated with Sarah and in deep denial about it, Sarah telling herself a man like Martín can’t possibly be interested in a woman like her.  Martín hates the way Sarah seems able to see through his tough outer shell to the parts of himself he’s carefully hidden away and tries desperately to convince himself he wants nothing more than to be rid of her.  He continually pushes Sarah away, treating her with disdain and wounding her with insults and rudeness.  But Sarah keeps trying to reach him – certainly going beyond the point at which my patience would have snapped! – with kindness and compassion, until someone tells her that Martin doesn’t react well to either of those things and that she should instead treat him as badly as he has treated her if she really wants to get through his defences.  After they arrive in England things between them don’t change much.  Martín keeps trying to keep his distance, but gets all caveman when other men take an interest in Sarah; he keeps trying (and failing – little Martín refuses to perform with anyone except her) to assuage his lust elsewhere, and telling himself she’ll despise him if she finds out the truth about his past.  He seems to prefer to wallow in his own fears of inadequacy than to see what’s under his nose and acknowledge the truth of Sarah’s feelings for him and his for her.

Minerva Spencer is a gifted storyteller and in Scandalous, has crafted a compelling and very readable tale featuring characters who, while not particularly likeable, are flawed and complex.  But no matter how well characterised or how vibrantly written – and both those things are true here – a romance stands or falls upon how the hero and heroine interact, how strong the chemistry is between them and on readers being able to buy into their relationship –  and I’m afraid that’s where the book falls down.  The author does a good job of making it clear that Martín is a very damaged individual, but his poor behaviour towards Sarah goes on for too long, and by the time he finally does start to show a bit of maturity, it’s too little too late. (I actually felt as though he’d had an overnight personality transplant.) He spends most of the book denying his attraction to Sarah – an attraction I never quite understood – and actively avoiding her; and while Sarah is an admirable character to start with – strong, determined and courageous – as the story progressed, I couldn’t understand what she actually saw in Martín and what drove her to forgive him over and over again other than his looks and abilities between the sheets.

Scandalous is obviously going to be polarising as some readers will be completely turned off by Martín’s behaviour towards Sarah, while others will be prepared to cut him some slack given his traumatic background. It’s not a perfect novel by any means, but it stands out from the current – rather disappointing – crop of historical romances due to its superb prose, well-developed characters, and interesting and unusual plotline.  I’d have rated it more highly had the romance been more convincing and the leads more appealing, but ultimately, it engaged me and held my attention for the duration, so I’m giving it a cautious recommendation.

Murder at Kensington Palace (Wrexford & Sloane #3) by Andrea Penrose

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Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.

Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim…

Rating: B+

In Murder at Kensington Palace, the third book in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series, the author once again sets an intriguing, well-conceived mystery against the backdrop of the scientific discovery and innovation taking place during the Regency era while also continuing to explore the shifting relationship between Mrs. Charlotte Sloane (aka satirist A.J. Quill) and the darkly sardonic Earl of Wrexford.  As the pair work together to clear the name of a young man accused of murdering his twin brother, Charlotte is forced to face the prospect of discarding her carefully guarded anonymity, while the Earl, a man who has always prided himself on his logical mind, finds himself in an unusual position of frustration and uncertainty.

Charlotte is working on her latest project when she hears that the murderer nicknamed the ‘Bloody Butcher’ has struck again, this time killing a young aristocrat whose body was found that morning in the gardens of Kensington Palace.  When one of her young wards explains that the victim had been in attendance at a scientific gathering hosted by the Duke of Sussex the previous evening, Charlotte immediately wonders if Wrexford had been there and if he might know something about it.  But she feels strangely awkward about asking the Earl for information; in fact, she hasn’t seen him for a couple of weeks, since their investigation into another murder (Murder at Half Moon Gate) almost cost Wrexford his life and led to their expressing certain … sentiments that perhaps neither of them were ready to bring out into the open.

“What a pair we are,” she muttered.  “Prickly, guarded, afraid of making ourselves vulnerable.”

When Wrexford arrives some time later, it’s with news that will quickly distract Charlotte from any ponderings over the nature of her feelings for him.  The murder victim was Cedric, Lord Chittenden, a young man from the North of England who had only recently come into his title; and his twin brother, Nicholas, has been arrested for the crime on account of their having been overheard having a disagreement at some point during the course of the previous evening.  Charlotte is adamant in her belief that the wrong man has been accused and that Nicholas could never have harmed his brother – but she won’t explain further or tell Wrexford what makes her so sure.

Like Charlotte, Wrexford is reluctant to look too closely at the things they said to each other in the heat of the moment, but her apparent lack of trust in him causes him to wonder if Charlotte may be having regrets and is now trying to put distance between them.  Not wanting her to retreat further, Wrexford decides not to push for information, instead deciding to wait until she’s ready to tell him what she needs to.  She has already revealed something of her past to him – she’s the daughter of an earl who, chafing at the restrictions and expectations constantly placed upon her, ran away with her drawing master and whose family subsequently disowned her.  Charlotte knows Wrexford can be trusted, but even so, is struggling to reconcile her need to remain independent and her need for help to prove Nicholas innocent.  Realising she can’t afford to hold back any longer, she tells Wrexford the truth – that Cedric and Nicholas are her cousins and that the three of them were childhood playmates.

Feeling as though they’re back on more of an even keel, Charlotte and Wrexford start to ask questions, Charlotte seeking information from the network of informants from whom she collects the gossip making the rounds on the London streets, and Wrexford in the scientific circles in which Chittenden and his brother moved since coming to London.  His own standing in the scientific community naturally opens doors, and his enquiries reveal a worrisome picture of Chittenden as a young man possessed of an almost fanatical desire to push scientific boundaries and prepared to go to extreme lengths in order to do so.  He also discovers that Chittenden had a rival for the affections of a certain young lady, and that he was owed a large sum of money by a man who seemed to be having trouble paying his gambling debts… could his murder have been motivated by love? Or money? Or are there darker, more clandestine forces at work?

Andrea Penrose has found a rather unique hook for this series in the way she incorporates an aspect of the Regency era that readers of novels set during that time don’t often come across; namely the fervour for scientific knowledge and advancement that was prevalent at the time.  Many of the characters featured in Murder at Kensington Palace are specifically interested in the experiments of Luigi Galvani and Giovanni Aldini, who had explored the possibility that electricity could be used to reanimate the dead – a concept made famous by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein (1817).

Through all of this is woven the continuing development of the relationship between Charlotte and Wrexford, both of whom are gradually acknowledging (to themselves) that they feel something more than friendship for each other, but are reluctant to take that first step towards becoming more.  Their feelings for one another are made clear through their thoughts and actions, although I have to say that I’d have liked things to have become a little more concrete by this stage. Still, there are positive developments in this book that make me think that’s not far off now.

The novel boasts a colourful secondary cast, including Charlotte’s two wards, Hawk and Raven (aka the Weasels) her housekeeper, McLellan, who is as much bodyguard as she is servant,  Wrexford’s friend  Kit Sheffield and his valet/assistant, Tyler; and they’re joined by the formidable Dowager Marquess of Peake, Charlotte’s aunt, a wonderfully forthright and shrewd lady I hope we’ll meet again in future books.

While the mystery in Murder at Kensington Palace is wrapped up by the end and the book could be read as a standalone, I’d recommend that anyone interested in trying this series should start at the beginning with Murder on Black Swan Lane in order to get the full picture of the relationship between the two principals.  Wrexford and Sloane make a great team, personally as well as investigatively, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment in the series.

Someone to Honour (Westcott #6) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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Abigail Westcott’s dreams for her future were lost when her father died and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. Indeed, she’s grown confident enough to scold the careless servant chopping wood outside without his shirt on in the proximity of ladies. But the man is not a servant. He is Gilbert Bennington, the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother, Harry, home from the wars with Napoleon.

Gil has come to help his friend and junior officer recover, and he doesn’t take lightly to being condescended to – secretly because of his own humble beginnings. If at first Gil and Abigail seem to embody what the other most despises, each will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearances of the once-grand lady and the once-humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B-

The heroine of Someone to Honor, the sixth book in Mary Balogh’s series about the Westcott family is Abigail Westcott, the younger daughter of the late Earl of Riverdale. She was approaching her come out and her eighteenth birthday when her father was discovered to have married her mother bigamously, meaning that she and her siblings – sister Camille and brother Harry – were illegitimate and that Harry could not inherit the Riverdale title (which passed to their cousin, Alex). Abby is now twenty-four, and has spent most of the six intervening years resisting her family’s urging to resume her life in society and find a husband. Although at the time, the news of her family’s change of status was hugely upsetting, she now realises that what happened has set her free in a way she could never have imagined being before. Without the pressure of having to conform to society’s expectations of the daughter of an earl, Abby has been able to take the time to discover who she truly is as a person and to work out what she really wants in life – and has found that the idea of remaining unmarried is no longer as scary as it was six years earlier when she was expected to make a match befitting her status. As her mother and siblings had to forge their own paths to happiness, so Abby has begun to forge hers – the trouble is convincing her loving, well-meaning but sometimes misguided family that she knows what she’s doing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Surrender of a Siren (Wanton Dairymaid #2) by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Gabrielle Baker

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Desperate to escape a loveless marriage and society’s constraints, pampered heiress Sophia Hathaway jilts her groom, packs up her paints and sketchbook, and assumes a new identity, posing as a governess to secure passage on the Aphrodite. She wants a life of her own: unsheltered, unconventional, uninhibited. But it’s one thing to sketch all her wildest, most wanton fantasies, and quite another to face the dangerously handsome libertine who would steal both her virtue and her gold.

To any well-bred lady, Benedict “Gray” Grayson is trouble in snug-fitting boots. A conscienceless scoundrel who sails the seas for pleasure and profit, Gray lives for conquest—until Sophia’s perception and artistry stir his heart. Suddenly, he’ll brave sharks, fire, storm, and sea just to keep her at his side. She’s beautiful, refined, and ripe for seduction. Could this counterfeit governess be a rogue’s redemption? Or will the runaway heiress’s secrets destroy their only chance at love?

Rating: Narration: B; Content: C

Originally published in 2009, Surrender of a Siren is the second book in Tessa Dare’s Wanton Dairymaid trilogy, and is her second published novel. It was released in audiobook format earlier this year, and although I’ve never listened to narrator Gabrielle Baker before, I decided to pick it up for review. In fact, the narration turned out to be the best thing about the listening experience; Ms. Baker’s delivery and speech patterns reminded me very much of Mary Jane Wells (who is narrating Ms. Dare’s current Girl Meets Duke series), and although I had issues with certain aspects of her performance, I enjoyed listening to her and will definitely seek out more of her narrations. When it comes to the story, however… well, it’s an early work and it shows, especially in terms of the plot and the characterisation of the heroine, who annoyed me for something like ninety percent of the book.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Marry in Secret (Marriage of Convenience #3) by Anne Gracie

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Lady Rose Rutherford—rebel, heiress, and exasperated target of the town’s hungry bachelors—has a plan to gain the freedom she so desperately desires: she will enter into a marriage of convenience with the biggest prize on the London marriage mart.

There’s just one problem: the fierce-looking man who crashes her wedding to the Duke of Everingham — Thomas Beresford, the young naval officer she fell in love with and secretly married when she was still a schoolgirl. Thought to have died four years ago he’s returned, a cold, hard stranger with one driving purpose—revenge.

Embittered by betrayal and hungry for vengeance, Thomas will stop at nothing to reclaim his rightful place, even if that means using Rose—and her fortune—to do it. But Rose never did follow the rules, and as she takes matters into her own unpredictable hands, Thomas finds himself in an unexpected and infuriating predicament: he’s falling in love with his wife….

Rating: C

I enjoyed the first two books in Anne Gracie’s Marriage of Convenience series – in fact, the first, Marry in Haste, was a DIK (Desert Isle Keeper) at AAR – but this third book proved to be something of a disappointment.  The premise – a young woman about to make an advantageous, but loveless, marriage is unexpectedly confronted by the man she married years before and believed dead – sounded as though it might make for a good read, but sadly, after the initial excitement of the opening chapters, things fizzled out.  The main characters were bland and didn’t grab my interest, and instead of a rekindling relationship, I got a couple who, after a bit of angsting over whether they wanted to be together, resumed their marriage and shagged a lot, and a story that revolved more around a rather weak whodunnit than a romance.

Twenty-year-old Lady Rose Rutheford is due to marry the Duke of Everingham in what has been hailed as the match of the year. Her sister Lily and cousin George (Georgiana) aren’t happy about the match; Everingham is handsome, wealthy and titled, for sure, but he’s a cold fish and they think Rose is making a huge mistake.  But Rose is adamant.  She doesn’t want a love match and she and the duke have reached an agreement – she will give him his heir and he will give her the freedom to live as she wants.  When, however, the ceremony is interrupted by a gaunt, dirty and dishevelled man insisting that Rose is already married – to him – the reasons for Rose’s choice become apparent.  When she was sixteen and still away at school she met and fell in love with Thomas Beresford, a young naval officer.  They married secretly just a couple of weeks before Thomas was was due to go to sea  – and just a few weeks later, Rose learned that his ship had been sunk and everyone aboard had died.  Numbed with grief, and concerned for her sister Lily, who was recovering from a serious illness, Rose doesn’t tell anyone about Thomas or their short-lived marriage, and the more time passes, the more she thinks there’s no point in saying anything.

The first quarter or so of the story captured my interest.  Rose, shocked beyond belief, doesn’t know how to feel or what to do while her brother Cal and her snooty Aunt Agatha insist Thomas is nothing but a liar and schemer out to get his hands on Rose’s fortune.  When Rose fails to acknowledge him – to be fair, she doesn’t deny him either – Thomas is hurt and angry, and is determined to stand his ground and claim his wife.  But after Rose says she doesn’t want the marriage annulled and that she will honour her marriage vows, he starts to see that perhaps he’s wrong and that staying married to him – especially give how much he’s changed over the past four years – isn’t the best thing for Rose. After this, Thomas tries to discourage Rose from her determination to remain his wife while Rose – who has miraculously turned back into the lively, headstrong and flirtatious young woman he met four years earlier (and whom her family believed had disappeared) – seems to grow only more intent on remaining by his side (and getting him into her bed!)

While Thomas continues to be torn over his relationship with Rose, we learn something of what happened to him in the years he was gone.  He and a number of his crewmates were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves after Thomas’ plea to his uncle for ransom was denied.  It took him years to escape, but now he has, he’s determined to find the men who were captured with him and free them – and to find out why his uncle denied him.  When Thomas visits his bank in London and discovers a number of irregularities in his finances, he realises that something underhand is going on; someone is stealing from him and it’s obviously been going on for some time.  But who?  And why?

Thus, what could have been a second chance romance about two people who married impulsively  getting to know each other after their enforced separation and really learning to love each other turned out to be a not-very-mysterious mystery with no romantic or character development whatsoever.  Thomas indulges in a lot of hand-wringing of the I-do-not-wish-to-sully-your-purity-with-my-degradation sort, while Rose is relentlessly cheerful and pretty much bulldozes her way through everything he says.  Thomas’ experiences as a captive and slave have obviously affected the way he treats servants and others who are regarded by those of his class as beneath them, and he clearly feels shame about what happened to him, but there’s not much depth to his character or Rose’s; neither is especially memorable or engaging and I didn’t connect with either of them.  I liked the relationship between Cal and Ned (heroes of the previous books) and the one that was developing between them and Thomas, but the ladies were thinly sketched and the identity of the wrong-doer was obvious.

Marry in Secret is an exercise in wasted potential in just about every way.  The romance is non-existent, the mystery is weak and the characterisation is uninspired.  I may pick up the next (and final) book in the series because I’m intrigued at the prospect of the pairing of the cold fish duke with the I’m-never-getting-married-and-handing-over-control-of-my-life Lady Georgiana, but I really can’t recommend this instalment.

Mrs Sommersby’s Second Chance (The Sommersby Brides #4) by Laurie Benson

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She’s played Cupid for others

Now she’s met her own unlikely match!

Widowed society matchmaker Mrs Clara Sommersby thinks handsome self-made businessman Mr William Lane is just the man for her neighbour’s overlooked daughter. He’s successful and confident, if somewhat emotionally distant, until suddenly—shockingly—his attention turns to Clara herself! She thought her days of romance were over, but is this dashing younger man intent on giving her a second chance?

Rating: B

Since we ran our feature on Seasoned Romances over at AAR, I’ve been keeping an eye out for romances featuring more mature heroines, who seem to crop up less frequently in historical romances than in other sub-genres.  I was pleased to learn that Laurie Benson’s Mrs. Sommersby – eponymous heroine of the final book in her Sommersby Brides series – is an independent widow in her forties.  Having spent the previous books in the series seeking out suitable matches for her beloved nieces, in Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance, she gets her own happily ever after with a handsome and successful businessman eight years her junior.

William Lane has travelled to Bath in order to pursue an investment opportunity and goes to the famed Pump Room to do a bit of research.  He owns the coffee house next door to the popular Fountain Head Hotel (where he is staying while in the city) and recently having discovered the existence of an underground (and capped off) hot spring in the coffee house’s cellar, intends to make the hotel’s owner an offer to purchase the establishment so he can develop both properties into a spa. Bath may not be the magnet it once was for members of the ton, but the new and upcoming middle classes are visiting in increasing numbers and Lane is keen to attract a wealthy investor or two.

In the decade since she was widowed, Mrs. Clara Sommersby has discovered she possesses sound business sense and the ability to make shrewd decisions.  Married for a number of years to a man who was hopeless with money, they were on the verge of financial ruin when he died, and Clara is determined never to find herself in such a position again.  After her husband’s death, she decided to invest the money she had left rather than dwindle into the life of a paid companion or dependent relative, and purchased the Fountain Head Hotel.  For the sake of her reputation as a gentlewoman, Clara keeps her ownership of the hotel a secret, and the day to day management is undertaken by her cousin, Mr. Edwards.

She and Lane meet in the Pump Room, where she observes him closely scrutinising his glass of mineral water and after they catch each other’s eye, they strike up a conversation about the health benefits of the spring water and the hot baths.  There’s a definite frisson of attraction between them  but they are separated before they can learn each other’s names or how they might find each other again.

Both Lane and Clara find themselves dwelling on that meeting over the next few days, and luckily for them, fate – in the form of Clara’s boisterous puppy, Humphrey – brings them together once more when Lane is able to help untangle Clara from a too-long leash and some bushes when her dog becomes a little too enthusiastic on his walk.  From then on, both of them find themselves consciously looking out for each other at the various events and entertainments they attend; even though Clara insists she’s too old for Lane, and that she has no intention of marrying again and surrendering her hard-won independence to a husband, she can’t deny her growing attraction to and desire for him.

Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance is a low-drama, character-driven romance between a mature couple who have a lot in common, despite the personality and class differences lying between them.  Clara isn’t titled, but she moves in the best social circles while Lane is a foundling – an illegitimate orphan – who is in trade; she’s outgoing and bubbly while Lane is perhaps a little too serious – yet they have both worked hard for what they have and are determined to succeed in their future ventures.  The chemistry between them simmers nicely, the romance evolves subtly and naturally as their friendship deepens and while the single love scene near the end is fairly brief, it doesn’t lack heat. The reader knows from the start that there’s conflict on the horizon and wonders how Clara and Lane will handle it, and I was pleased when Ms. Benson wisely opted not to put them through some big bust up when they find out the truth – that Clara is the owner of the hotel key to Lane’s business plans, and that he is the man behind the purchase offer.  After their initial shock, they talk things through and find a way forward together – but then, a couple of chapters before the end,  an eleventh-hour conflict is inserted which is based purely on an assumption made by Clara which has very little foundation and is certainly not rooted on something Lane has ever said.  So I had to knock a grade point or two off for that, which is a shame, as it was the only false note struck in the book.

Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance is a charming historical romance featuring an engaging secondary cast and a pair of attractive, down-to-earth leads.  If you’re looking for a story devoid of overblown drama and characters who act their ages rather than their shoe-sizes, it’s definitely worth checking out.

One Night of Temptation (Wicked Dukes Club #6) by Darcy Burke

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Faced with a marriage she can’t abide, Lady Penelope Wakefield takes drastic measures to preserve her freedom. Her brilliant plan is foolproof until a sexy but imperious rector “rescues” her.

Rector Hugh Tarleton has no patience for the Society philanthropists who seek to bestow their pity—and not much else—on his oppressed flock in one of London’s worst neighborhoods. When the daughter of a marquess is kidnapped and brought to the rookery, he vows to protect her, but the temptation to surrender to their mutual desire will certainly ruin them both.

Rating: C-

I’ve enjoyed a number of Darcy Burke’s historical romances in the past and have reviewed a number of them favourably, but I’m afraid I can’t do that for her latest release, One Night of Temptation.  The book is the sixth in the Wicked Dukes Club series which Ms. Burke has co-authored with Erica Ridley (they have written alternate books with Ms. Ridley penning the odd numbered ones and Ms. Burke the even) – featuring a group of friends, not all of whom are dukes, who meet regularly at their favourite watering hole in St. Giles – The Wicked Duke.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but they’re designed to work as standalones, so potential readers can jump in anywhere and not have to worry about feeling lost.

What they do need to worry about with this book, however, is its utter flimsiness.  One Night of Temptation is short for a novel, coming in at under two hundred pages, but there’s not even enough plot to fill that short a page count.  The romance is basically love at first sight, the principals are bland and there’s little to no chemistry between them, and the whole story is wrapped up in about a week.

Lady Penelope Wakefield, daughter of the Marquess of Bramber is fleeing an unwanted marriage to an unpleasant lecher old enough to be her grandfather.  She’s hatched a plan together with a young woman she met and befriended on a charitable errand at a church in St. Giles; Penelope is going to be abducted (but not really) and spend a night away from home which, when word gets out, will be enough to ruin her reputation, and the old goat won’t want to marry her after that.  But it turns out that poor naïve Pen was duped, and the woman she thought of as a friend had made plans for a real kidnap and ransom.  Fortunately for Pen, the men trying to hustle her away are prevented from doing so by the timely intervention of Hugh Tarleton, Rector of the parish of St. Giles who, learning of her situation, takes her to a decent inn he knows and arranges for them both to spend the night there (in separate rooms of course).  But while the inn is decent, the area is rough and after a fight breaks out downstairs, Hugh decides it would be safest if they shared a room – Pen taking the bed, he in the chair by her side, naturally.  They work out a plan by which Pen can be returned to home and safety now that she’s been publicly ruined, and even though her father will be furious and will probably send her to the family’s remote estate in Lancashire, that’s better than being married to the obnoxious Earl of Findon. During the course of the evening, however, she becomes aware that an even better alternative would be marriage to Hugh… but of course, that’s impossible.  She’d never be allowed to marry so far beneath her, even if Hugh were interested.

About half the book is taken up with the Night of Temptation that Pen and Hugh spend holed up at the inn.  They talk and get to know each other a bit, and Pen realises she’s experiencing attraction for the first time.  Hugh is good looking, yes, but he’s also kind, strong and exudes confidence – and he’s unlike any man she’s ever met.   Hugh is smitten as well and longs to protect Pen from her unfeeling parents, but knows he can’t possibly aspire to the hand of the daughter of a marquess.

One Night of Temptation was a quick read, but a dull one.  Caring, stalwart Hugh (who, incidentally, is described in the blurb as “imperious” but is nothing of the sort) had the potential to be a lovely hero, but Pen was almost a blank slate; all we knew about her was that her parents were shits, she was afraid of her father and she liked embroidery and cream cheese.  She seems to have no relationships outside her immediate family and to have led a very sheltered life – yet of course she has the instincts of a temptress.

Ultimately, I’m afraid I was bored, and the only temptation I experienced while reading was to put the book down and not pick it up again.