The Lady’s Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger & The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everhart (Lady Travelers Society #2 &#1.5) by Victoria Alexander (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure – a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.

He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright – including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?

Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (which I’m henceforth going to refer to as LTGLDS) is book two in Victoria Alexander’s current Lady Travelers Society series, and the audiobook edition also includes the preceding novella, which is a nice bonus for listeners – who are getting one-and-a-half books for the price of one! As the events of the novella don’t relate to those of the book, it can be listened to completely independently, and I’ll touch upon it briefly at the end of this review.

In LTGLDS, we meet the widowed Lady Wilhemina Bascombe, whose husband, George, died a couple of years earlier and left her in straitened financial circumstances. Willie and George had married against the wishes of her parents, but they were happy, enjoying a carefree, somewhat extravagant lifestyle and ran with a fast set. When George died, Willie was left with debts and a less-than-pristine reputation for being daring and reckless; and although she has just about scraped together enough money to pay off his creditors, once they’re paid she will have very little left. Her one remaining hope is to liquidate her one remaining asset – a painting by the Renaissance artist, Portinari – which was given to her by her grandmother. The problem is that George used it as collateral for a loan from an art collector – an Italian count – and while Willie has just about enough money left to repay the loan, she doesn’t have enough to be able to buy passage to Venice in order to meet with the Conte di Sarifini.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Dangerous Promise (The Protector #1) by Megan Hart

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Nina Bronson used to be all human — until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

Rating: B

I don’t read much sci-fi romance, but I like it occasionally, and when I read one of my fellow AAR reviewers’ take on Dangerous Promise, it sounded really intriguing.

Set in a near future (a date is not specified, but I’m guessing late 21st/early 22nd century), Dangerous Promise introduces readers to kick-ass female bodyguard Nina Bronson, one of fifteen former soldiers who were all ‘enhanced’ using newly invented nano-technology which both saved their lives and has given them greater strength and stamina and the ability to control their physical and emotional reactions and bodily functions.  When Nina joined the army at nineteen and signed documents allowing her body to be used in the event of her death, she’d assumed it meant organ donation – not that she’d be brought back from the dead by having a number of nanochips implanted in her brain and nervous system.

Not long after she and her fellow ‘enhanced’ were created and the implications of the tech were fully understood, laws were passed outlawing any further implantations or any further development of the tech.  Nina and her fellows are thus the only enhanced humans in existence, and as the tech gradually decays, so will they, as they’ve effectively been denied access to the necessary upgrades.

Billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue is the highest-profile, most vocal of those who oppose the development of enhancement technology, and he’s a very visible target for those who believe the tech should be available to others – especially one organisation who wants to use it to build legions of super soldiers.  Being threatened is nothing new to him, but when the number of death threats he receives increases, leading to the deaths of not one, but two of his bodyguards, he approaches the elite ProtectCorps agency and hires Nina as his personal protection.

Both are well aware of the dichotomy inherent in their situation and make no bones about it.  But what Nina doesn’t know is that while Ewan now speaks out against the enhancement tech, he’s the one responsible for developing it in the first place.  Desperate to help his sister Katie, who was dying of Dementia, he invented and programmed the original software that connected to the brain and nervous system that should have allowed Katie to regain control of her mind and body… but sadly, the breakthrough came too late to save her.  After her death, and finally realising the implications of what he’d done, Ewan came back to reality with a thud and realised how messed up it was to want to play god with people’s lives – and made sure the program was shut down.

But their positions on either side of the debate don’t prevent a powerful attraction developing between them.  They are together 24/7 and spend a lot of time talking about many different things, including the ethical implications of the enhancement tech and Nina’s very existence.  Nina finds Ewan very attractive and her enhanced abilities allow her to work out that that feeling is mutual.  She isn’t averse to having a sexual relationship with him and is safe in the knowledge that she can turn off her emotions and just enjoy the sex… but for Ewan, it’s different. He’s come to know and like Nina as a person, and is falling in love with her, deeply and completely.  There are a number of superbly-written steamy scenes between them, and before very long, Nina starts finding it more and more difficult to keep herself aloof and begins slowly to open up and allow herself to have the sort of feelings for Ewan she’s never had for anyone.

Of course, the path of true love can never be allowed to run completely smooth, and with Ewan’s secret hanging in the air between them, the book concludes on a dramatic and heart-rending cliff-hanger with the story to picked up in book two, Wicked Attraction.

Ms. Hart establishes the background to her story brilliantly, and her world-building is superb.  The earth of the time the book is set is recognisable, but has suffered a second Cold War, environmental disasters as the result of an abortive attempt to colonise the Moon, and something called Gray Tuesday, when an unknown hacker destroyed ninety percent of the world’s servers and back-up data, wiping out bank accounts, personal data and generally causing untold chaos.  She also explores the importance of memory to who we are – the nanochips that give the enhanced their increased abilities can also be reprogrammed so parts (or all) of the person’s memory can be erased – and the idea that Nina and those like her are regarded with suspicion and hatred, and that they are somehow ‘lesser’ because of what they have become.

Dangerous Promise is an action-packed, sexy read based on a well-developed and intriguing premise which features two flawed, interesting characters with great chemistry.  I’m hooked, and will definitely be snapping up books two and three to find out how everything turns out.

Anything but a Gentleman (Rescued from Ruin #8) by Elisa Braden

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A spinster hatches a plan (with a smattering of blackmail)
Miss Augusta Widmore has no time for proprieties. She must force her sister’s ne’er-do-well betrothed to the altar with all haste—or watch her sister bear the scandalous consequences. But with the blackguard resisting his duty, she needs leverage. And only one man can provide it.

A giant holds all the cards (or so he thinks)
Sebastian Reaver has no time for presumptuous women. He has a club to run. So, when a perfect nuisance invades his office, demands a fortune in markers, and refuses to leave until he relinquishes them to her, he knows just the thing to send her scurrying back to Hampshire: Exact a price this prim country spinster would never agree to pay.

A fiery battle begins (with both sides playing for keeps)
Ordinarily, Augusta would never agree to become the mistress of a notorious club owner—whether he’s a lowborn ruffian or the wealthiest man in London or the most intriguing, ill-tempered giant she’s ever encountered … or all three. Calling his bluff raises the stakes (and the heat), but retreat will mean ruin for Augusta. Now, Sebastian wants her total surrender, and he has a few tricks up his sleeve—soul-stealing kisses, unexpected honor, and electrifying persuasion for the woman he never saw coming.

Rating: B-

In Elisa Braden’s Anything but a Gentleman, readers are treated (finally) to Sebastian Reaver’s story, which sees the gruff, brooding giant of a man meet his match in the form of a woman who refuses to be cowed by either his size or his manner.  Sebastian – the owner of one of London’s most popular and exclusive gaming clubs – is a self-made man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and prefers to turn a deaf ear to the matchmaking attempts of his friends and the advice from the redoubtable dowager Lady Wallingham (his aunt) whose letters he mostly ignores.  In a previous book, Sebastian, who had believed himself to be a lowborn ruffian or some nobleman’s by-blow, discovered he was in fact Elijah Kilbrenner and heir presumptive to his (distant) cousin James Kilbrenner, Earl of Tannenbrook.  Sebastian has no interest in being an heir, an earl or in getting married so he can start producing babies; Tannenbrook and his wife are young and sure to fill their nursery with strapping boys, and besides, Sebastian likes his life just the way it is.  Even if he has been feeling a little restless recently.

Augusta Widmore has repeatedly requested an appointment with Sebastian and repeatedly been refused.  But she is undeterred and instead, resorts to sneaking into the club (with the aid of a street urchin who distracts the doorman) and making her way to his office.  She can’t take no for an answer if she’s to save her sister Phoebe from ruination; she needs to obtain the markers (for gambling debts) signed by Lord Glassington in order to force him to do the right thing by Phoebe, who is pregnant with his child.  Sebastian holds those markers, and Augusta is willing to do anything in order to obtain them – but she can’t tell him why she needs them and risk her sister’s already shaky reputation.  When Sebastian catches Augusta sneaking into the club a second time, he’s annoyed and angry and hits upon an idea to get rid of her once and for all.  Assuming Augusta wants to force Glassington into marriage herself, Sebastian makes an outrageous demand; he’ll allow her to make use of the markers if she’ll be his mistress for six weeks.  Of course, he’s bluffing.  Augusta is clearly a respectable female who will naturally be horrified at such a disgraceful suggestion and will run away screaming – but Sebastian has reckoned without Augusta’s determination or deep love for her sister and is stunned when she agrees to his proposition.

Now his bluff has been called, Sebastian can’t back down, so he installs Augusta in the almost empty town house he owns but never spends time in, intending to leave her to her own devices.  The few times they’ve met, Augusta’s luscious, Junoesque figure and her willingness to stand up to him have him thoroughly fascinated, but he believes she is angling to marry Glassington; and besides, Sebastian is married to his business and has no desire for a wife. Or so he tells himself.  Until he doesn’t.

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

If Ever I Should Love You (Spinster Heiresses #1) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once upon a time there were three young ladies who, despite their fortunes, had been on the marriage mart a bit too long. They were known as “the Spinster Heiresses”….

He’s inherited a title, but not a penny to speak of, so the Earl of Rochdale knows he must find a wife – preferably one tolerably pretty and good-tempered but definitely wealthy, and who will exchange her fortune for his family name.

His choice: Leonie Charnock, one of the season’s “Spinster Heiresses”. Years before, the earl had saved the dark-eyed beauty’s reputation, and she is still breathtakingly lovely, leading Rochdale to hope that their marriage will be more than in name only.

However, Leonie doesn’t want to be anyone’s wife. Nearly destroyed by the secrets in her past, Leonie agrees to their union with one condition: There will be a wedding but no bedding. But it’s a condition the new Countess Rochdale isn’t sure even she can keep…

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – B

Given my disappointment with Cathy Maxwell’s last series (Marrying the Duke), I wasn’t sure I was going to read or listen to any of her new Spinster Heiresses novels, but Mary Jane Wells’ name on the cover meant that I couldn’t resist picking up book one for review. If Ever I Should Love You proved to be a stronger book than any in Ms. Maxwell’s previous series, telling the story of a couple with a shared secret in their past which has affected them both profoundly in very different ways. The author tackles some difficult issues with insight and sensitivity as our hero and heroine discover that secrets thought long buried have a way of bleeding through into the present.

Former army officer Roman Gilchrist inherited the earldom of Rochdale on the death of his uncle, and is dismayed to discover that the title is an empty one (i.e., there is no money to go with it) and that he is expected to honour his uncle’s massive gaming debts. Without the funds to do that, or to run his Somerset estate of Bonhomie, Roman has no alternative but to consider marring a wealthy heiress – after all, it’s a common enough practice for men in his situation. The idea sticks in Roman’s craw, but he listens grudgingly to his solicitor – who is also his godfather – extolling the virtues of the three so-called ‘Spinster Heiresses’, three attractive, extremely wealthy young women who are still unmarried because their fathers are holding out for a duke or marquess – but who might accept the holder of one of the oldest titles in England even though he is a mere earl. Roman’s ears prick up when he hears the name of the last of the three – Miss Leonie Charnock. Miss Charnock is beautiful, charming and rich as Croesus, but she is also the woman responsible for ruining Roman’s army career; he was serving in India when they first met, and he killed a fellow officer in a duel over her. Recalling her loveliness, Roman admits it will be no hardship to marry a woman he finds attractive – and deciding that Leonie owes him, Roman determines to marry her. Or rather, to marry her money.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Trouble With True Love (Dear Lady Truelove #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Dear Lady Truelove,

I am a girl of noble family, but I am painfully shy, especially in my encounters with those of the opposite sex . . .

For Clara Deverill, standing in for the real Lady Truelove means dispensing advice on problems she herself has never managed to overcome. There’s nothing for it but to retreat to a tearoom and hope inspiration strikes between scones. It doesn’t—until Clara overhears a rake waxing eloquent on the art of “honorable” jilting. The cad may look like an Adonis, but he’s about to find himself on the wrong side of Lady Truelove.

Rex Galbraith is an heir with no plans to produce a spare. He flirts with the minimum number of eligible young ladies to humor his matchmaking aunt, but Clara is the first to ever catch his roving eye. When he realizes that Clara—as Lady Truelove—has used his advice as newspaper fodder, he’s infuriated. But when he’s forced into a secret alliance with her, he realizes he’s got a much bigger problem—because Clara is upending everything Rex thought he knew about women—and about himself. . .

Rating: B+

In book one of Laura Lee Guhrke’s Dear Lady Truelove series, we were introduced to the Deverill sisters, owners of The Weekly Gazette, the single remaining newspaper in what used to be a stable of them until their father pretty much ran the business into the ground after their mother’s death.

The sisters couldn’t be more different. Irene is opinionated, outspoken, progressive and fiercely independent, an advocate of reform and women’s suffrage, while Clara is quiet, reserved and wants the more traditional things from life, like love, romance, a home, husband and family. She has grown up very much in Irene’s shadow and has little faith in her own judgement and abilities; but Irene’s marriage (The Truth About Love and Dukes) and subsequent honeymoon mean that Clara is tasked with running the Gazette, and she worries she is not up to the task.

To make matters worse, at the beginning of The Trouble with True Love, Clara receives a telegram saying that Irene and her new husband are extending their trip by a month and that Irene is confident that Clara can handle everything until their brother Jonathan arrives to take up the reins. But Jonathan isn’t coming; he is in America, where he has struck silver and intends to stay and work his claim – which leaves Clara to deal with the obnoxious editor Irene appointed before she left for her wedding trip, AND to write the weekly column in which the famously anonymous Lady Truelove offers advice to the lovelorn. With her first deadline looming, Clara decides to head to her favourite tea-room, hoping it’ll be quieter than her office and that she’ll somehow find some inspiration.

Clara finds just that in the form of an overheard conversation between the two gentlemen at the next table. One of them – Lionel – is complaining to the other that the woman with whom he is having an affair has made clear her desire to marry him, but he isn’t sure he wants to marry her. The other man – who is easily the handsomest man Clara has ever seen – quickly disdains the idea of marriage and suggests a way in which Lionel can talk his lady love into carrying on as before without the promise of a trip to the altar.

The longer she listens to this outrageous outpouring of male connivance and duplicity, the more incensed Clara becomes. She decides there and then to use Lady Truelove’s next column to warn the woman concerned about the deception about to be practiced upon her.

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

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons #1) by Lorraine Heath

This title may be purchased from Amazon

At birth, Mick Trewlove, the illegitimate son of a duke, was handed over to a commoner. Despite his lowly upbringing, Mick has become a successful businessman, but all his wealth hasn’t satisfied his need for revenge against the man who still won’t acknowledge him. What else can Mick do but destroy the duke’s legitimate son—and woo the heir’s betrothed into his own unloving arms . . .

Orphaned and sheltered, Lady Aslyn Hastings longs for a bit of adventure. With her intended often preoccupied, Aslyn finds herself drawn to a darkly handsome entrepreneur who seems to understand her so well. Surely a lady of her station should avoid Mick Trewlove. If only he weren’t so irresistible . . .

As secrets are about to be exposed, Mick must decide if his plan for vengeance is worth risking what his heart truly desires.

Rating: B

Lorraine Heath kicks off her new Sins for All Seasons series with Beyond Scandal and Desire, the story of a man intent on revenge upon the father who abandoned him and the young woman he intends to use as part of the scheme he has concocted in order to achieve that end.  I’m not a great lover of the heroine-as-instrument-of-revenge trope, but I trust Lorraine Heath to deliver an engaging and emotionally rich story and know that she has the writing chops to turn a hackneyed plotline into something a little different.  She certainly manages that here and crafts an intense, sensual character-driven romance with a final twist I didn’t quite see coming.

Mick Trewlove has known for many years that his mum isn’t his biological parent, and discovered the identity of his father, the Duke of Hedley, when he was fifteen.  Knowing he had been consigned at birth to the not-so-tender mercies of a baby farmer (a terrible practice whereby women took in illegitimate children of the nobility and often ensured they did not live), Mick – who has worked hard to make something of himself and is now a successful businessman – is still fuelled by anger at the man who threw him away like so much rubbish.  He is determined that his father should publicly acknowledge him,  admit him to be worthy and regret his decision to cast him aside, but other than one unequivocal refusal,  Mick’s written requests have all gone unanswered.  Furious at the duke’s dismissal, Mick sets in motion his plan to destroy Hedley’s legitimate son and heir, the Earl of Kipwick and ruin his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings – who happens to be Kipwick’s intended. “She’d be to him (Mick) whatever the woman who had given birth to him had been to his father, and he’d throw the similarities into the duke’s face.”

Lady Aslyn’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Eames, were killed in a train crash when she was just a girl.  She has led a very sheltered life with her guardian and his wife, who rarely goes out into society and is of a delicate constitution.  The two are clearly devoted to one another, and Aslyn can’t help but hope that her own marriage will prove equally felicitous. Although nothing is official, it’s widely known that Aslyn has been destined for Kipwick since the cradle.  But Aslyn has become rather restless of late, and is chafing at the restrictions that are constantly imposed upon her by her gender, her position and the duchess, who dislikes going out and encourages Aslyn to remain home as often as possible.  Thinking that perhaps an evening visit to the Cremorne pleasure gardens will yield a glimpse of something exciting, she hopes to persuade Kipwick to remain there until after dark, when, according to the gossip rags, the naughty undertakings that have titillated her imagination are… undertaken.   Sadly however, it seems as though the place is rather staid, and she has just owned to Kip that Cremorne isn’t quite what she expected when a young woman accidentally bumps into them and promptly introduces herself as Miss Fancy Trewlove.  When a tall, handsome, dark-eyed gentleman emerges from the shadows and is introduced as her brother, Aslyn – whose ‘understanding’ with Kipwick means she has never been courted or even experienced the mildest of flirtations – is struck by the sheer force of his presence and shocked at the strength of her physical reaction to him.

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

Touch of Red (Tracers #12) by Laura Griffin (audiobook) – Narrated by Tavia Gilbert and George Newbern

This title may be downloaded from Audible

When crime scene investigator Brooke Porter arrives at the home of a murdered woman, the only thing more shocking than the carnage is the evidence that someone escaped the scene. But where is this witness now? A thorough search of the area yields more questions than answers, and before Brooke even packs up her evidence kit, she’s made it her goal to find the witness and get them out of harm’s way.

Homicide detective Sean Byrne has seen his share of bloody crime scenes, but this one is particularly disturbing, especially because Brooke Porter is smack in the middle of it. Sean has had his eye on the sexy CSI for months, and he’s determined to help her with her current case—even if it means putting his attraction on hold so he and Brooke can track down a murderer. But as the investigation—and their relationship—heats up, Sean realizes that keeping his work and his personal life separate is more complicated than he ever imagined; especially when the killer sets his sights on Brooke.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

Touch of Red is the twelfth book in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of standalone romantic suspense novels, and is one of only four titles in the series available in audio (the others are books one, two and eight – I have no idea why those in particular). While that’s rather frustrating for anyone wanting to embark upon a long-running series, it could actually turn out to be a good thing, because if the publisher is planning on recording the other books, there’s the chance that they’ll use the same excellent dual narrator team of Tavia Gilbert and George Newbern to perform them.

Each book in the series boasts a self-contained suspense plot and a romance that reaches an HFN or HEA by the end, so there is no need to worry about cliffhangers; and although characters from earlier books do make an appearance – par for the course with series books – the author gives the listener enough information to explain how they relate to the current story and its characters, so it’s not strictly necessary to have listened to or read the previous books. Linking the books together is the Delphi Center, a high-end, high-tech forensics facility that is usually called in by the San Marcos PD to help with their biggest and most difficult cases.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.