Playing the Rake’s Game (Rakes of the Caribbean #1) by Bronwyn Scott (audiobook) – Narrated by Antony Ferguson

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Ren Dryden has a spark she can’t risk igniting…

Emma Ward is in trouble. The devilishly handsome part-owner of her beloved Caribbean sugar plantation has arrived, and clearly he doesn’t trust her. But his eyes promise pleasures she can only imagine. Maybe there’s a way to get him onside…

Ren Dryden may be fresh off the boat from London, but he knows when a woman is playing him—and when she’s as intriguing as the alluring Emma, he’s more than happy to play back! But several sultry nights and secrets shared later, Ren realizes just how high the stakes are in this game of seduction!

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – C+

I’ve read a number of books by this author and have generally enjoyed them, and I selected to review this title because of that, and because the story is set somewhere other than 19th century England. Not that I object to 19th century England as a setting of course, but sometimes I like to immerse myself in a tale set somewhere else, and Playing the Rake’s Game, with its Caribbean location, fit that bill.

Renford Dryden, the Earl of Dartmoor, has recently inherited fifty-one percent of a sugar plantation (Sugarland) on the Caribbean island of Barbados, and is somewhat relieved at the opportunity the bequest offers him to leave England. He hopes that the profits from the plantation will help to shore up the depleted family finances and enable him to provide his sisters with suitable dowries as well as make much needed improvements to his estates. His mother is pressuring him to marry an heiress who has made it clear that all she wants from him is his title, but Ren is unwilling to face the prospect of such a bloodless union, so the news of the inheritance comes at an opportune time.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Unbuttoning the Innocent Miss by Bronwyn Scott

unbuttoning innocent miss

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Simple in theory, but how can the ton’s most eligible catch, Jonathon Lashley, concentrate on his French lessons with Miss Claire Welton when all he wants is to claim that delectable mouth with a heart-stopping kiss?

Wallflower Claire has loved dashing Jonathon for years—and this Season, she’s finally doing something about it! Except the closer she gets, the more she realizes how little she really knows him, and how much he has to teach her… especially about the art of seduction!

Rating:C-

I’ve enjoyed a number books by Bronwyn Scott in the past and have generally rated those I’ve reviewed in the B range, but for some reason her latest title, Unbuttoning the Innocent Miss, which is the first in a new series, proved to be big disappointment. The writing is good, the characters are attractive, and the love scenes are nice and steamy, but the story is rather disjointed and ultimately the whole thing just doesn’t gel.

Miss Claire Welton is the daughter of a viscount, but, like her three friends, Bridget, May and Evie (who I assume will feature in the other books in the series), is something of a wallflower. A disastrous incident which saw her wearing a dress identical to the one worn by the belle of the ton, at her début and the fact that the only marriage proposal she has ever received was from a pompous baron who didn’t want a wife with a brain badly dented her confidence and made her decide that life was safer viewed from the sidelines. But Bridget, who at the beginning of the book announces that she’s pregnant – has decided that enough is enough and that it’s time for her friends to get out there and show society what they’re made of. Evie is too shy and retiring, May is too outspoken and Claire’s intelligence intimidates most men, but as Bridget rightly insists, “nothing will change until we do” and they shouldn’t be content to live the life that society is going to impose upon them. It’s Post-Regency Girl-Power.

Jonathon Lashley is one of society’s darlings. Handsome, intelligent, charming, and heir to a title, he’s an extremely eligible bachelor and is on the verge of securing a prestigious diplomatic post in Vienna, one which will enable him to take part in important negotiations designed to keep the peace in Europe. With the support of Lord Belvoir, whose daughter, Cecilia – a cartoonish, curl-tossing spoilt bitch – will make the ideal diplomatic wife, Jonathon’s appointment is all but assured, except for one thing. While he can understand French and write it fluently, his ability to speak it has deserted him, and as French is the international language of diplomacy, without facility in the spoken language, he will not be offered the post.

Claire has been in love with Jonathon since she was nine years old, but he barely notices her. That said, she has made an art out of not being noticed, so I suppose one can’t exactly blame him for that. With Bridget spurring her on, and some nifty needlework from Evie who makes over some of her dreary frocks, Claire attends a dinner at May’s home at which Jonathon is also in attendance, and is rather alarmed when she discovers that May has manipulated the seating plans so that they are seated opposite one another. When Claire hears him mangling some French, she instinctively corrects him, which is somewhat of a faux-pas, but he doesn’t take it badly, and in fact, thinks that perhaps she is just the person he needs to help him to improve his spoken French.

Jonathon is intrigued and just a bit smitten with this new, bolder Claire, and naturally the time alone afforded by their lessons gives them the opportunity to talk and get to know each other a bit. The author draws an interesting parallel between Claire’s lack of choices – or any woman’s for that matter – and Jonathon’s restlessness at doing nothing other than being charming in ballrooms and his feeling that he’s just waiting for something to happen, and I did like the underlying message that life is what you make it.

The main problem with the book, though, is that Ms. Scott has tried to cram too much into it, and the romance comes across as rather superficial because not enough time is devoted to developing it. Early on in their relationship, Jonathan wonders if Claire is interested in someone; Claire allows him to think that she is and Jonathon suggests that perhaps their being seen spending time in each other’s company will pique the other man’s interest. This plot-point goes nowhere – the two of them are spending time together anyway, so there no need for them to invent reasons to be together. Jonathon’s almost overwhelming need to get to Vienna and recent inability to speak French are tied up with the guilt he feels over his younger brother’s disappearance – likely his death – at the Battle of Waterloo, but it all feels very wishy-washy. Claire very quickly realises that Jonathon’s problem is exacerbated when he sees French written down because he can’t make the words he sees sound right, and then, hey-presto! within a very short time his spoken French is back to normal even though he’d worked for months before with another tutor to no avail.

Confession time; I make my living teaching languages (mostly French) so I did roll my eyes at some of the issues that came up with Jonathon’s pronunciation, and struggled with the concept that he could speak French provided he didn’t have to read out loud. I don’t know, perhaps that really is a thing; and I suppose that I should remember that this is a romance novel, and this is the device by which the author contrives to throw the hero and heroine into each other’s company on a daily basis – and not think about it too much. But I can’t deny that it bothered me enough to take me out of the story a few times.

While both Jonathon and Claire are reasonably engaging, neither is especially memorable, and it has to be said that Claire is rather too good to be true; the worst that can be said of her is that she has allowed herself to be intimidated into fading into the background. I did, however, like the idea of her emerging from the shadows to find herself and put her life back on track, but then she had to go and ruin it by pulling the “I’m leaving you for your own good” card, something I hate, especially when, as here, it’s nothing but an obvious plot device used to try to inject a bit of uncertainty about the outcome.

Unbuttoning the Innocent Miss – and I’m sorry to once again complain about something over which the author may have had no control, but I can’t figure out what the hell that title has to do with ANYTHING about the actual story! – is a rather weak start to Ms. Scott’s new series, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend it. She’s an author I generally enjoy, but the underdeveloped romance and overall lack of depth to the story mean I’m putting this one down as a misfire.

Scandal at the Midsummer Ball by Marguerite Kaye & Bronwyn Scott

scandal at the midsummer ball

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Two forbidden relationships…one house party to remember!

THE OFFICER’S TEMPTATION by Marguerite Kaye

Colonel Fergus Kennedy must make a suitable match at the Midsummer Ball. But when this officer encounters sultry acrobat Katerina Vengarov, he finds himself torn between duty…and heart-stopping, irresistible passion!

THE DEBUTANTE’S AWAKENING by Bronwyn Scott

Kael Gage is the last person at the Midsummer Ball Miss Zara Titus should speak to—and anything more is definitely off-limits! But the notorious rake seems determined to awaken this innocent debutante’s every desire…

Rating:B-

These stories from two of my favourite Harlequin/Mills and Boon Historical authors take place at a house-party renowned as much for the matchmaking and political deals struck under its roof as it is for the excellence of its food and the high quality of the entertainment provided. The stories run concurrently so that we get to take a look at the events of the party at different times, although the stories are not so closely woven together as to give the reader a sense of dejà-vu. It’s an interesting device and one I actually wish had been made a little bit more of, as I’ve enjoyed other stories where the author chooses to present the same events from different viewpoints.

The Officer’s Temptation by Marguerite Kaye. Grade: B-

The annual midsummer ball held by the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore Is one of the most exclusive events of the year, and invitations are highly sought after. The Duke is a powerful man, and the guest list is chosen carefully and with an eye to creating advantageous alliances, both political and matrimonial.

Life for a soldier during peacetime is not an easy one, and Colonel Fergus Kennedy is restless and frustrated at being confined to a desk job. When he is offered the chance of a diplomatic posting to Egypt he is more than eager to accept it, but it comes with a price tag. A diplomat needs a suitable wife, so Fergus is ordered to attend the houseparty by the Duke of Wellington with a view to making an offer for the Duke of Brockmore’s niece. Lady Verity Fairholme, is beautiful and poised, so Fergus is not completely opposed to the prospect of marrying her, in spite of the blackmail – but when she practically refuses to speak to him and is little more than barely civil when she does so, he realises that perhaps she is as unhappy about the situation as he is, and that he might as well say goodbye to his prospects.

Low in spirits, he is wandering the grounds when he strays into the secluded area set aside for practice by the acrobatic team of Alexandr and Katerina Vengarov, who have been engaged by the duke and duchess to provide entertainment at the party. Fascinated, he watches Katerina practicing her tightrope act, and the two fall into conversation, with Fergus gradually realising that Katerina attracts him far more than Lady Verity or any of the other young debutantes at the party.

Ms Kaye pens a sweet, nicely steamy romance between two people from completely different worlds who would never have met but for a simple accident. Katerina and her brother are outsiders; the equivalent of royalty in their own sphere, but mere servants in the rarefied atmosphere of the English haut-ton, and Fergus is not wealthy or titled, but a man who has worked hard and earned his position through his own merits. The thing I liked most about the story was the way in which Katerina helps Fergus to remember this and to bolster his sense of self-esteem at a time when he most needs it. Yet even then, their path is not clear; neither Fergus nor Katerina is wealthy and will have to work in order to support themselves and it seems impossible that they will be able to do that and be together. The author’s solution to their problems is perhaps a little audacious, but is actually perfect for this unusual, hard-working couple.

The Debutante’s Awakening by Bronwyn Scott. Grade: C+

Lady Zara Titus was recently jilted when her fiancé realised he loved someone else, and while Zara was not in love with him, she is frustrated at the situation she now finds herself in. She has to find herself a husband quickly in order to counter the gossip that is bound to ensue – after all, it was not the done thing for a gentleman to jilt a lady, so the assumption will be that she must somehow have been at fault. Her mother insists that Zara must behave with the utmost propriety, but Zara has had enough of conforming to the accepted view of what a young lady of good birth and breeding should be, and decides that if she must accept the rather staid gentleman who has been chosen for her, she’s going to have some fun first.

Kael Gage may be the grandson of an earl, but his father had more sons than he could provide for, and Kael is possessed of a small property but is otherwise improverished. He’s an all round scoundrel, a known womanizer and had to leave London quickly in order to avoid a scandal – which is perhaps why Zara is initially attracted to him. Or perhaps it’s his dark good looks and the fact that he exudes sex-appeal – and is exactly the sort of man to whom a young lady intending to break the rules would turn for assistance.

Kael has little time for well-bred virgins, preferring to take his pleasures with experienced woman, but he can’t deny that Zara’s mix of innocence and untapped sensuality attracts him. He quickly recognizes a kindred spirit in her, someone who doesn’t quite fit the pattern and who carefully masks her vulnerability beneath a veneer of confidence; and decides that he’ll abet her in her desire to take a few risks. But the more time he spends with her, the more he comes to appreciate her for her strength of character and her intelligence; and incredibly he finds himself regretting that he can offer her nothing more than the thrill of the forbidden for the duration of the house party. And for all her determination to live a little, Zara can’t quite shake off the shackles of convention and turn her back on the life she is expected to live.

Both stories are very readable, with sets of engaging protagonists and a group of well-drawn secondary characters. I would certainly have liked to know more about the flamboyant and enigmatic Timothy Nightingale, for example, or to have spent more time with the duke and duchess, an older couple who are clearly very much in love – but neither of those things was within the remit of this particular book. The central relationships have to evolve quickly given the time-span during which they take place, but both authors create a convincing emotional connection between their leads, so that the speed at which the romances develop is not too much of a problem.

Scandal at the Midsummer Ball isn’t something I’ll be putting on my keeper shelf, but it’s still an enjoyable piece of well-written froth. It lacks the depth normally to be found in novels by these authors, but is certainly something to consider when you’re looking for a quick but emotionally satisfying and sensual read.

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Rake Most Likely to Seduce (Rakes on Tour #3) by Bronwyn Scott

rake most likely to seduce

This title may be purchased from Amazon

‘All gamblers are alike in luck…’

Although when Nolan Gray enters a high-stakes game in Venice, facing a ruthless opponent, he’ll need more than just luck. He can’t start losing now…especially when the virginity of the enthralling Gianna Minotti hangs in the balance!

Fate is on his side, and Nolan seizes victory. But leaving in a gondola with Gianna and not collecting on his tantalising prize pushes Nolan to his limits! Can he help her claim her freedom when really he wants to claim her for his own?

Rating: B-

There’s one thing to be said for Harlequin book titles – they’re very much WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) – so the hero of Rake Most Likely to Seduce, the third book in Bronwyn Scott’s Rakes on Tour series, is pretty much just that – a man who likes his drink, his gambling and most definitely his women. Nolan Gray embarked upon a Grand Tour of Europe with his three best friends, but has reached Venice accompanied by only one of them, as the other two have recently married.

Unlike his friends, Nolan is not independently wealthy and supports himself by his efforts at the card tables, which are usually met with a large degree of success; indeed the only time he ever loses is if he wants to as his excellent memory and knowledge of strategy give him the edge over his opponents. Nolan looks set for another lucrative night at the tables until Count Agostino Minotti makes one desperate bid to win their current game, wagering the only thing he retains of value – his daughter’s virginity. Nolan is aghast. For one thing, he has no need to win a woman and for another, what kind of callous bastard would do such a horrible thing? Thinking he is doing the young woman a favour by getting her away from a father who would treat her so badly, Nolan accepts, wins, leaves with his winnings, and then says goodbye to the lovely Gianna Minotti, having no intention whatsoever of becoming any further embroiled in what is clearly an unpleasant family situation.

But Gianna has other ideas. She has no desire to belong to any man, but leaving with the handsome Englishman might buy her the time she needs in order to secure her independence. In just under four weeks, she will turn twenty-two and will gain control of the significant inheritance left to her by her mother, a former courtesan who married a nobleman in an attempt to secure respectability for her children. Since her death five years earlier, Gianna has been at the mercy of the count, who, in his desperation to get his hands on her money is trying to force her into marriage. If she can evade him for a few more weeks she will be safe, so she grabs the chance to get away from him, if only for a few days, while she lays her plans. Those plans, however, seem as though they will be thwarted before they have been fully formed when Nolan tells her that she is free to go and that he has no intention of bedding her. Gianna is dismayed – not so much at the not-bedding part, but because she has nowhere else to go in Venice. Her treatment at the hands of the count has made her very wary of trusting any man, so she is faced with trying to inveigle Nolan into helping her without revealing too much about herself and her situation.

Even though Gianna is a virgin, she isn’t clueless about sex and thinks to use the strength of the attraction that flares between her and Nolan to distract him and stop him asking too many questions. But Nolan is a highly intelligent and resourceful man, and much as he would like to take Gianna to his bed, he quickly realises that there is more to her situation than she is telling him and that she is in serious trouble.

Over the course of the few days they spend together, the couple discovers they have more in common that they could ever have imagined. The son of a puritanical father, Nolan feels responsible for events he could not have prevented, but for which he nonetheless feels himself obliged to atone. This gives him a unique perspective on Gianna’s situation and serves to deepen the already strong connection between them. The storyline has plenty of action as the pair races to stay a step ahead of the count, and the final confrontation is suitably climactic and fraught with danger.

Both Nolan and Gianna are attractive characters and I enjoyed watching them gradually begin to trust each other enough to open up about their pasts and for Gianna to trust Nolan with her greatest secrets. For all his protestations that he’s not the sort of man who looks after anyone other than number one, Nolan is revealed through his actions to be the opposite. Even when he is suspicious of Gianna’s motives, he wants to help and protect her, sometimes against his better judgement. I wasn’t wild about the way Gianna takes so long to trust him and keeps trying to manipulate him, but given her experience of men up to that point consisted of a man who threatened and beat her, I can understand why she acted as she did.

Bronwyn Scott’s historicals are at the hotter end of the HH/M&B scale, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department; the chemistry between Nolan and Gianna is terrific and the love scenes are nice and steamy. Gianna may be a virgin, but as the daughter of a courtesan it’s easy to believe she’s a little more clued up about sex than the average virginal young woman at the time. Ms Scott’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of La Serenissima, from the canals and gondolas to the piazzas and markets are wonderfully evocative and round out the story nicely.

Rake Most Likely to Seduce is a quick and enjoyable read, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for an historical romance with a dash of adventure in a setting that’s slightly different to the norm.

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Secrets of a Gentleman Escort by Bronwyn Scott

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He’s the talk of the ton for all the wrong reasons!

Society’s most outrageous and popular escort Nicholas D’Arcy is renowned for his utmost discretion. So when he suddenly finds himself named and shamed by a jealous husband, he reluctantly accepts a summons to the countryside a fate worse than death!

Annorah Price-Ellis isn’t what Nick is used to innocent, feisty and decidedly uncomfortable with the spontaneous heat between them! Suddenly, London’s most audacious lover is out of his depth, and in danger of revealing the real man behind the polished façade.

Rating: B

I seem to have read a number of books over the last year in which the hero has been a man who is paid for sexual services, either as a way of making his living, or for some other reason, such as getting the heroine pregnant, as in Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened.

In Secrets of a Gentleman Escort, Nicholas D’Arcy is the former, a man who, for the past few years, has made his living as a high-class, highly paid prostitute. For the most part, he enjoys his life in the hurly-burly of London, although it seems that his job isn’t quite as satisfying as it once was, even though he’s extremely good at it.

Along with a number of other men – some of whom are down-on-their-luck gentlemen of good birth, some of whom are in it for the kicks – Nicholas is a member of the League of Discreet Gentlemen, an agency which provides male companionship mostly to bored wives and widows, for a fat fee. The existence of the League is a rumour in society and nothing more. The husbands of the straying wives may suspect that such a thing exists, but there is no proof and the League’s founder, Channing Deveril, wants to keep it that way. After all, their clientele come to them because they want to have a little fun on the side without being found out; the men involved want to preserve a degree of anonymity – mutual discretion is ensured.

Nicholas is one of the agency’s most sought-after escorts. He’s gorgeous, charming and witty, and – naturally – knows what women want and how to provide it. The trouble is, he provides it too well, and one night is almost caught on the job by a client’s husband. He manages to evade exposure by the skin of his teeth. A jealous husband on the warpath is a threat not only to Nicholas, but to the League’s very existence, so Deveril sends Nicholas on a five-day assignment out of London to give things time to cool off.

But Nick is dismayed. For one thing, he grew up in the country and has too many unhappy memories for him to feel comfortable at spending time away from the city; and for another he feels like he’s being punished for a situation over which he had no control. But he has little alternative other than to accept the job and head off into Sussex post haste.

His client, Miss Annorah Price-Ellis is incredibly wealthy, but will not remain so if she remains unmarried. The terms of her father’s will state that if she is unwed on her thirty-third birthday, the bulk of the fortune she inherited will be given to charitable organizations, allowing Annorah a small property in the north of England and just enough money to live on. Having been relentlessly pursued for her fortune and suffered the humiliation of discovering that the men who expressed an interest in her were just after her money, she eventually withdrew from society, unwilling to risk that sort of hurt and mortification again. Her avaricious aunt repeatedly throws suitors at her, obviously expecting to reap some of the financial rewards should Annorah marry one of them; and time has slipped by, leaving Annorah with Hobson’s Choice. She can marry a man she does not love who just wants her money, or she can eke out a meagre existence far from the home she has lived in all her life.

But before she does either of those things, she has decided it’s time to live a little. Reasoning that, if she’s to give herself to a man she doesn’t know or love, it should be a man of her choosing who will at the very least ensure she finds pleasure in the experience, she writes to the League of Discreet Gentlemen requesting a companion for five nights.

I thought the way the relationship between Annorah and Nicholas developed was very well done, even though they spend only a few days together. The romance is tender and very sensual – there are a number of love scenes, none of which is especially graphic – and I really felt that here was a relationship that was about much more than the lust which had been its impetus. While Annorah had thought all she wanted was a few days of sex-without-strings, Nicholas is perceptive enough to realize that what she really wants (as well as the sex) is romance. He’s good at both things – when women want to enact out a Prince Charming fantasy, he’s the one they send for – but it’s immediately clear to him that his “usual routine” isn’t going to be enough to provide what Annorah wants. Doing that, however, is going to cost him the detachment he holds dear – because in his line of work, emotional involvement is something he can’t afford.

Annorah too is very torn. She knows that when Nick flirts with her, she’s getting what she’s paid for. But she’s spent a lifetime avoiding the superficial compliments of fortune hunters and soon realizes that she doesn’t want empty words and meaningless sex from this man, despite his reasons for being with her. On the other hand, she’s tempted to surrender to the fiction he’s offering her – a fiction which Nick is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain, because he’s finding something with Annorah that he’s never before experienced with a woman; friendship and possibly something more.

Annorah has hidden from society for years in an attempt at self-protection while Nicholas lives in the social whirl of London and keeps his true self well hidden, preferring instead to inhabit his persona of “every woman’s dream man”. I really liked the way Ms Scott had both characters gradually emerge from their respective shells under the tutelage of the other. Nick, especially, begins to reveal more and more of himself, and what we see is a decent and honorable man who, for reasons of his own, has embarked upon this particular way of life because there were few alternatives. And while Annorah helps Nick to “find” himself again, he helps her to rediscover many of the simple joys of life that, in her isolation, she had forgotten.

I enjoyed the book very much, but there was one thing about the plotline that bothered me somewhat. Almost from the outset, it’s clear that Nick harbors a sense of worthlessness and guilt over an event which devastated his family, and that the reason he embarked on his current course of employment is because he needs to be able both to support them, and to stay as far away from them as possible. When Nick’s reasons for running away and staying away were made clear, I couldn’t help thinking they were somewhat anti-climactic.

But that aside, Secrets of A Gentleman Escort is well-written and the two leads are very engaging and well-matched. It’s also one of the most sensually romantic stories I’ve read in a while, and one I’d certainly recommend for one of those dull winter afternoons which could do with a bit of warming up!

Also – I think this is one of the loveliest covers I’ve seen recently. Someone over at the We Love Stepback Covers group (I think it was) on GoodReads posted the cover photo a few days back, so I hope they’ll forgive me for stealing it to post here.