Unmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters #1) by Cat Sebastian

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

Rating: B-

Unmasked by the Marquess, the first in Cat Sebastian’s new Regency Imposters series, marks something of a departure for her in that, unlike her previous books, it isn’t a male/male romance. The two protagonists are a man and a woman – but the fact that this isn’t a standard m/f romance quickly becomes apparent when we learn that our heroine – a former housemaid named Charity Church – has actually been living as a man for the past six years and feels far more ‘right’ in herself dressing, acting and living as a man than she ever did as a woman.

(I’m using ‘she’ and ‘her’ in this review, even though Charity is non-binary; the author uses those pronouns throughout the book for reasons she explains in her author’s note, so I’m going to follow her lead).

Robert Selby and his sister Louisa have come to London with the object of securing an advantageous match for Louisa. Unfortunately however, coming from rural Northumberland makes an entrée into the right circles in London rather difficult as they know no one who can introduce them. Remembering his father’s old friend, the late Marquess of Pembroke, Robert hits upon the idea of asking the current marquess for help; if a man of his standing is seen to take notice of Louisa, then surely other men will follow and a proposal will ensue.

Alistair de Lacey has spent the years since the death of his profligate father working hard to rebuild the family finances and to claw back the respectability the late marquess threw away in favour of a life filled with excess and dissolution. When a charming and rather attractive young man named Robert Selby is ushered into his library, Alastair expects to be tapped for money, so is surprised when Selby tells him that the late marquess stood godfather to his (Robert’s) sister, and asks for Alistair’s assistance in launching her into society. But Alistair – who has just received (and turned down) a similar request from his late father’s mistress on behalf of her eldest daughter (Alistair’s half-sister) – isn’t inclined to help and sends the young man on his way.

Charity – the author has her think of herself as Charity in the chapters from her PoV, while Alistair thinks of her as Robert and later, Robin – is disappointed and isn’t sure how to proceed. The next day, however, an unexpected encounter with Pembroke and his younger brother, Lord Gilbert, engenders a remarkably quick volte-face on Pembroke’s part and soon, Charity – as Robert – and Louisa become part of Pembroke’s small circle.

After this, things move very quickly – rather too quickly in fact, because in no time at all, Alistair and Robert are the best of friends, and while we’re told this friendship develops over a couple of weeks, on the page there’s a big jump from their not knowing each other at all to being extremely comfortable with one another. Given that Alistair has been established as overly cautious and very proper, the way he so easily befriends Robert feels somewhat out of character. The way they seem to just ‘click’ is nicely conveyed, but it’s still quite a leap from there to bosom-buddies, and I couldn’t really buy it in context.

Alistair is well aware that he can feel sexual desire for both men and women – although this being the nineteenth century, he hasn’t acted on his attraction to men – so it’s not the fact he’s attracted to Robert that gives him pause. It’s the way Robert has so quickly worked his way under his skin, the way his presence in a room can light it up and the way Alistair feels so much more alive when Robert is with him. So it comes as a huge disappointment when, on the morning after their first kiss, Alistair learns that Robert lied to him about Louisa’s being the old marquess’ goddaughter. He lashes out angrily, even going to far as to accuse Robert of intending to blackmail him over their kiss – and the only thing Robert can think of to allay Alistair’s fears on that score is to confess that he’s not Robert, but Charity.

Of course Alistair is even more furious at this deception – but after a few miserable days and weeks alone, decides that having Robert – as Charity, Robert or whoever she wants to be – is preferable to not having her in his life at all. He doesn’t care what’s under her clothes; it’s the person inside he’s interested in, but the trouble really begins when he asks Charity to marry him. Charity insists Alistair hasn’t thought it through; how can a marquess – especially one as concerned with reputation and propriety as he is – possibly marry a former housemaid? And not only a former housemaid, but a former housemaid who doesn’t intend on living the rest of her life as a woman and will be damned if she’s going to give up the freedoms she’s enjoyed for the past six years?

There is a lot of plot and backstory stuffed into the book, and I have to admit that sometimes it felt like overkill. Charity’s reasons for becoming Robert Selby are good ones, but it’s complicated, and becomes moreso when an important fact of which Alistair – and the reader – has been ignorant, is suddenly thrown into the mix near the end of the book. The strongest part of the story is actually Alistair’s progress from curmudgeonly stick-in-the mud to a man who is much more forgiving of the foibles of others and comes to realise the importance of love and the difference between living and merely existing. He’s become aloof and inflexible, but once he becomes involved with Robert, the real Alistair, the man who is decent, kind and funny, begins to emerge, and Ms. Sebastian does a very good job of having him recognise just how far from his true self he had strayed. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Alistair and Gilbert, which is well done and feels very ‘brotherly’. It’s clear that the two care for each other very much, but have lost some of that feeling in recent years because Alistair’s need to be all that is respectable and proper has caused him to lose sight of what’s really important in life. I liked Charity and her determination to hold on to her independence; I liked her gumption and the way she forces Alistair to see that the rules that govern his life don’t work for everybody.

There are some good, meaty points being made about what it’s like not to fit into established roles, about how few options were available to women and the way society treated those who didn’t wish to conform – which is why I was disappointed when the conflict in the romance boiled down to a very old chestnut, and one I’m not particularly fond of – the ‘I will not let you sacrifice yourself by marrying me because I am not suitable’ one, which always feels as though one person is telling the other that they’re stupid and don’t know their own mind. It’s not that Charity is wrong to point the problems out to Alistair – they’re undoubtedly bigger problems than face many a cross-class couple in historical romance – it’s that she’s prepared to ride roughshod over his feelings rather than try to hash out a solution that will work for both of them that I didn’t like. I also found it more than a little jarring that a man who was trying so hard to be as unlike his father as possible didn’t think twice about the fact that he would be doing to his own (future) children exactly what his father had done in making his children a topic of gossip and scandal in a society that, sadly, did visit the sins of the father upon subsequent generations.

Even with those reservations, I liked – although I didn’t love – Unmasked by the Marquess and am going to give it a cautious recommendation. The writing is sharp and witty, and I liked the principals and secondary characters. But while the relationship between Alistair and Charity has plenty of sexual tension and their verbal exchanges are entertaining, the romance is somewhat lacking in the early stages and I never got rid of that feeling that I’d missed something amid all the busy-ness of the rest of the plot.

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It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

His ship
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Rating: B+

It Takes Two to Tumble is the first book in a new series from Cat Sebastian entitled Seducing the Sedgwicks, which features a group of siblings who had a most unconventional, bohemian upbringing in a household comprising their father, his wife, his mistress and various itinerant hangers-on.  This first instalment features the eldest son, Benedict, the vicar of the parish of St. Aelred’s in Cumberland, a deeply compassionate, kind, sensitive man who yearns for the ‘normal’ life he never had while growing up.  The arrival at nearby Barton Hall of gruff, authoritarian naval captain Philip Dacre sees Benedict  gradually coming to the realisation that perhaps he needs to re-define exactly what ‘normal’ means to him, in this touching, beautifully written, character-driven romance from the pen of Cat Sebastian.

Benedict Sedgwick is content with his lot.  He is very well-liked by his parishioners, he has a secure living, and he is looking forward to marrying Alice Crawford, a young woman he has known since his youth and whom he regards as his best friend.  For many years, the Crawfords:

… were his second family, had been from the time Ben realized that his own family was decidedly inadequate, and what was worse, not normal.  The Crawfords had been fantastically normal: there was a sensible number of parents (two), a reasonable number of children (one) and, best of all, the desired number of those artistic hangers-on who seemed to colonize his father’s home (zero).

Alice and her parents were thus Ben’s refuge from the chaos and unpredictability of his own home when he was growing up. He cares greatly for them all, although while he loves Alice, he isn’t IN love with her… yet many couples marry without love, and his and Alice’s friendship is, surely, a strong basis for a lasting marriage.  He firmly suppresses that little niggle at the back of his brain that tells him he is drawn to men rather than women; not that he’s ashamed of his preferences, it’s just he’s never really allowed his desires to take shape beyond that nebulous admission of a truth he has learned to supress in order to pursue his goal of living an unexceptional, ordinary life.

Philip Dacre, a captain in the Royal Navy, has spent the majority of his life at sea and has carved himself a successful career.  But his childhood memories are tainted by his struggles with a learning difficulty and the feelings of inadequacy that rarely bother him aboard ship resurface at the prospect of returning home – something he has managed to avoid as often as possible.

He is also still grieving the death, just over a year before, of a fellow officer he very obviously loved; and while he misses his late wife, Caroline (who died a couple of years earlier while Philip was at sea), it’s clear that theirs was a marriage of mutual convenience.  This is the first time Philip has been home since her death, and he’s completely adrift; he has seen his children only rarely since they were born (his eldest son is thirteen, the twins are nine) and he has no idea how to interact with them. All he really knows of them is from the reports he has received from his sister telling him that they are uncontrollable, unruly hellions who terrorise the neighbourhood and have run off countless governesses.

Both Ben and Philip have risen beyond their difficult childhoods, but have been shaped by them nonetheless, Ben learning early on that the only person he could depend upon was himself, and Philip that the best way to avoid disappointing those around him was to avoid them altogether.  He’s the dark to Ben’s light, his taciturn, brooding presence a strong contrast to Ben’s sunnier open-heartedness, and I enjoyed watching Philip gradually – and sometimes rather begrudgingly – fall under the other man’s spell.  Both are strongly written, three dimensional characters, but Ben is the star of the show and I loved him to bits. This is a man whose faith really is love and for whom  doing actual good – visiting the sick, helping those in need and shepherding stray sheep – is every bit as important as sermonising from his pulpit.  It is probably something of a stretch to believe that a man of the cloth at this point in time could accept his sexuality without a crisis of conscience, but I’m choosing to believe that there were open-minded, enlightened men like Ben in existence – and given his upbringing, perhaps it’s understandable that he would be more progressive than not.

As is obvious from the references to ‘favourite things’ in the book blurb, there’s a bit of a Sound of Music vibe going on here, what with the stern sea captain, the warm-hearted vicar and a bunch of unruly and rather neglected children who need to be loved.  I smiled at that little homage, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface – possibly a little too much at times.  My biggest reservation is to do with the speed at which the romance develops; Ben and Philip go from dislike to attraction to acting on that attraction before the half-way point of the book, and the pivotal point (Philip makes an offhand comment to Ben regarding his affections for ‘his’ lieutenant while inebriated) seems rather unsubtle, although there’s no question that the build-up – all those longing, heated glances, and accidental and not-so-accidental touches – is done very well indeed.  The chemistry between the couple and their sheer likeability go a long way towards downplaying that particular problem, but I can’t deny that the author has tried to cram too much into her story by including several under-developed sub-plots and overly contrived solutions to them.  Phililp’s children, for instance, are quickly rehabilitated, and the problem of Ben’s engagement to Alice is very easily and conveniently dealt with.

The ending is a little too pat as well, but in spite of all those things, I enjoyed the book a lot.  The writing is warm, intelligent and engaging, and the two protagonists are so compelling and – ultimately – charming, that it’s impossible not to be captivated by them and their story. It Takes Two to Tumblehas a number of flaws, but I found myself so drawn in by the writing and characterisation that it was easy for me to see past them and enjoy the book regardless.  It may not quite reach the standards of The Soldier’s Scoundrel or The Ruin of a Rake, but it’s a lovely read and still a head and shoulders above so many of the other historical romances currently on offer.

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

Rating: A-

Cat Sebastian completes a hat-trick with her latest Regency romance, making a total of three winners in a row.  Like her previous books, The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Lawrence Browne Affair, The Ruin of a Rake is hugely entertaining; witty, sexy and poignant it’s the story of a rake in the process of reforming and the starchy, acerbic man given the task of helping him.  The trope –  rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold meets the uber-proper gentleman – plays out to wonderful effect; a superbly written clash of personalities that sees both men having to reassess their opinions of themselves as well as each other – and discovering that love really can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Lord Courtenay, whom we met in The Lawrence Browne Affair, has spent the last decade living abroad with his sister Isabella and her young son, Simon, who is heir to the Earl of Radnor (the Lawrence Browne of that book’s title).  Courtenay is more handsome than any man has a right to be, ineffably charming and game for almost anything; his indulgences – high-stakes gambling, strong drink and lots and lots of sex (with men and women) – mark him as a debauched rake of the highest order, and he has quite happily lived down to the expectations of his disapproving mother and of society in general.  But when his sister dies, he decides it’s time for him to return to England with his nephew who, as heir to an English earldom, should grow up there and receive the education accorded to every English gentleman.  Radnor is not best pleased to see Courtenay, but Simon adores his uncle and the two men reach an uneasy détente.

That changes, however, with the publication of a gothic novel in which the villain’s good looks, raven-dark hair, piercing green eyes and sardonic manner are quickly likened to Courtenay, and society being what it is, it is just as quickly assumed that the evil deeds of the dissolute Don Lorenzo are, in fact, Courtenay’s own.  For Radnor, it’s the last straw.  Knowing his brother-in-law is a libertine is one thing, but having his name bandied about and associated with a scandalous novel is quite another, and he bans Courtenay from having any contact with Simon.

Courtenay is seriously upset by this.  He more or less raised the boy, who is the last link to the sister he loved and feels he failed to adequately protect; but more importantly, Courtenay genuinely loves his nephew and wants to be part of his life.  Having spent the last of his money on getting Simon back home, he’s now stuck in a city populated by people who shun him and where the ghosts of bad decisions and past debaucheries conspire to haunt him.  He knows he has nobody to blame but himself – but self-awareness isn’t going to help either the state of his finances or his relationship with his brother-in-law.  Fate is ready to step in, however, in the form of his friend, Eleanor, Lady Standish, who decides it’s time Something Was Done and asks – or rather, tells – her brother, Julian Medlock, widely regarded as the most proper man in London, to help Courtenay get back into society’s good graces.

The Medlock siblings grew up in India where their grandfather was a wealthy merchant and shipping magnate. Regarding his own son as a worthless wastrel, Medlock senior instead trained his grandson to run the business and left everything to Julian when he died.  From the age of about sixteen, Julian shouldered the responsibility for both business and family, but his failing health (he suffers from Malaria and was having increasingly virulent attacks) saw Eleanor insisting on moving to England in the hope that the milder climate would benefit him.  Unfortunately, it also meant that his sister was separated from her husband, who, after six years, has still not joined her.  Julian feels increasingly guilty for Eleanor’s obvious unhappiness, which is one of the reasons he accedes to her request that he help rehabilitate Courtenay.

In the years since they came to England, Julian has steadily and carefully turned himself into the perfect gentleman, the very picture of respectability and an expert on manners and the social graces.  He is invited and welcomed everywhere – even though he often feels like he’s on the outside looking in, but that suits him.  He prefers to hold himself aloof and guard his secrets; friendships mean opening oneself up, warts and all, strong emotions risk a loss of control, and that’s not for him. Even when it comes to sex, he prefers his liaisons to be warm and controlled, rather than desperate and hot and full of unbridled passion.  Unfortunately, Courtenay seems just the man to provoke the latter sentiments – and the fact that Julian has secretly lusted after him for six years is just going to make things even more difficult. They’re like chalk and cheese and, right from the start, Courtenay seems instinctively to know how to raise Julian’s hackles.  And… other things.

Fireworks ensue as the buttoned-up, sharp-tongued Julian attempts to rein in the congenial, emotionally open Courtenay, who takes great delight in needling his ‘mentor’.  Both are strongly characterised, complex individuals who carry some fairly weighty emotional baggage, and Ms. Sebastian crafts a marvellous story full of humour, tenderness and – sometimes – raw emotion about two men coming to terms with their pasts, adjusting their self-perception and learning to accept that they’re worthy of the friendship and love of others.

I adored both characters individually and loved them together.  Courtenay may be a rake, but he’s also an absolute darling; easy going and charming, he has become so accustomed to giving that he has almost forgotten how to ask for what he wants and dismisses his own desires as unimportant.  He cares a great deal for those closest to him and even continues to support the mother who shuns him, constantly belittles him and blames him – unjustly – for his father’s death.  Courtenay has become so used to being thought worthless and to blaming himself for the death of his sister that he believes he doesn’t deserve happiness or to have anything good in his life.  His surprise when Julian actually takes his part is honest and touching; nobody has ever stuck up for him before and his realisation that this must be what friendship feels like pulled at my heartstrings a little.

Julian is prickly to the nth degree, possessed of a mind like a steel trap, a head for figures and a kind of sixth sense where the workings of society are concerned.  He doesn’t want to be attracted to Courtenay, he doesn’t want to feel anything for Courtenay and he most definitely doesn’t want to fall in love with Courtenay – but as Julian comes to know him better and to understand what his life has really been beneath the endless carousing, he discovers a kind, thoughtful man with a good heart, who sincerely wants to change his life and do better… and it’s impossible for Julian to remain aloof.

The verbal sparring between this mis-matched couple is funny, naughty and delightful, and the author creates a strong emotional connection between them as well as injecting their relationship with some scorching sexual chemistry.  The Ruin of a Rake is sweet, wickedly funny (and sometimes just plain wicked!), romantic and moving – and another DIK for Cat Sebastian.  Keep ‘em coming!

One for the Rogue (Bachelor Lords of London #3) by Charis Michaels

one-for-the-rogue

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Beauregard “Beau” Courtland has no use for the whims of society and even less for aristocratic titles. As a younger son, he travels the world in search of adventure with no plans to settle down. Even when the title of Viscount Rainsleigh is suddenly forced upon him, he will not bend to duty or decorum. Not until an alluring young woman appears on the deck of his houseboat, determined to teach him propriety in all things and tempting him with every forbidden touch…

Lady Emmaline Crumbley has had a wretched year. Her elderly husband dropped dead without naming her in his will and she’s been relegated to the life of a dowager duchess at the age of 23. She has no wish to instruct a renegade viscount in respectability, but desperate to escape her greedy stepson, Beau’s family makes her an offer she cannot refuse: teach the new lord to behave like a gentleman, and they’ll help her earn the new, self-sufficient life of her dreams. Emmaline agrees, only to discover that instructing the viscount is one thing, but resisting him is quite another. How can she teach manners to the rakish nobleman if he is determined to show her the thrill of scandal instead?

Rating: C

I enjoyed the previous book in Charis Michaels’ Bachelor Lords of Londonseries (The Virgin and the Viscount) and was impressed with the author’s ability to craft a strong story and create sympathetic  characters.  I was less impressed with the fact that the story went off the rails in the last twenty percent with a completely unnecessary – and inaccurate – twist which was there only to set up the next book.  I wasn’t able to discuss that in my review, as it came late in the book and was thus a big spoiler, but as it is revealed at the beginning of One for the Rogue, I’m going to talk about it here.

Having suddenly come into a viscountcy that he doesn’t want and never expected to inherit, Beau Courtland has decided to ignore it and continue with his life as if nothing has happened.  This life has included a lot of travel abroad, a lot of women and a lot of getting himself into scrapes, but Beau is the charming scapegrace younger brother – or he was until his brother Bryson, who had held the title Viscount Rainsleigh since the death of their irresponsible, debauched sire – discovered that the late viscount was not, in fact his father.  An upstanding, fair minded man, Bryson was not prepared to continue to bear a title to which he was not, well, entitled, and abdicated it in favour of his brother, who is his father’s true son.

There is a massive problem with that and it’s why the ending of the last book made no sense and the   premise of this one is just plain wrong. In English law at this time, if you were born in wedlock, you were legitimate, regardless of who provided the sperm.  Anyone who reads historical romance on a regular basis – or who does the slightest bit of research – will be aware of this.  The previous Viscount Rainsleigh was married to Bryson’s mother at the time of Bryson’s birth and publicly acknowledged him as his son – ergo, Bryson is legitimate in the eyes of the law, and there is no reason for him not to continue to hold his title.  Yes, his actions are prompted by his personal code of honour, but that doesn’t trump the law. It would have taken an act of Parliament to strip him of the title, and for his desire for such a thing to have been taken seriously, Bryson would have had to have committed treason or done something equally terrible.  I know this is fiction and there will be some who think I’m being needlessly pedantic.  But as K.J. Charles recently pointed out in an excellent blog post, “Britain is a real country and our history actually happened” and ignoring that in order to suit a plotline is problematic, to say the least.

Okay, coming down off my soapbox, here’s the rest of the review.

Emmaline, the dowager Duchess of Ticking, is in dire straits.  Married at nineteen to a man old enough to be her grandfather, she is, at twenty-three, a widow who has been left with nothing and is living off the allowance left her by her parents before they were tragically drowned some years earlier.  The new duke has an eye to her younger brother’s fortune – Emma’s family was wealthy even though their money came from trade – and is having her watched and keeps trying to persuade her and her brother to move in with his large family where, it’s clear, she’ll be put to work as little more than a servant.

A glimmer of hope is offered her when Bryson Courtland casually mentions that his brother – the new Viscount Rainsleigh – needs someone to educate him in the ways of polite society.  Having already come up with an idea that should help her and Teddy gain their freedom – which will involve transporting both themselves and a lot of saleable goods to New York – Emma thinks that taking the new viscount under her wing could persuade Mr. Courtland – who owns several shipping companies – to help her to bring her scheme to fruition.

The problem, of course, is that said new viscount has no intention of mingling with polite society.  Although once he gets a good look at Emma, Beau is perfectly happy to form other sorts of intentions in relation to her, none of them polite.  All that changes, though, as soon as he learns that while Emma is a widow, her marriage was never consummated.  Virgins are strictly off-limits so he tries to distance himself from her.  It goes without saying that he isn’t very successful.

The romance is fairly lukewarm, and while I did get a sense of Emma’s coming to a greater understanding of Beau and why he acts the way he does, I didn’t feel that Beau was much more than physically attracted to Emma, at least not until fairly late on in the story.  In the second half of the book, the storyline surrounding the new Duke of Ticking’s attempts to get his hands on Emma’s brother’s money is more interesting – until Ms. Michaels once again makes use of another historically and, I believe, legally inaccurate scenario to bring that plotline to a close.

Emma is an engaging heroine and I liked the way she gets on with things without relying on others to do them for her.  She’s strong, determined and clever – and I have to agree with Beau that he isn’t good enough for her.  Beau has (or thinks he has) good reasons for not wanting anything to do with the peerage, and steadfastly refuses to use his title or to take responsibility for the lands and estates that his brother worked so hard to rebuild.  An incident when he was nineteen gave him a distaste for the aristocracy, and admittedly what happened – Beau and a group of his friends unintentionally caused a distressing incident which the nobs covered up rather than admit to – wasn’t right.  But rather than using his position as the brother of a viscount to do something about it, he just decided he was useless and that whatever he did was bound to fail so he didn’t bother to try.  Quite honestly, I wanted to slap him, tell him not to be so selfish and to grow a pair!

You may ask why, given the massive inaccuracy upon which the story is based, I wanted to review this book at all.  The answer is because I enjoyed The Virgin and the Viscount in spite of the problems that arose near the end and I wanted to see where Ms. Michaels was taking that part of the story.  As I said at the outset, she’s a good writer and creates interesting characters, but the story in One for the Rogue wasn’t quite strong enough to hold my interest, and while I liked Emma, Beau is far too spineless and insipid to be the hero of a romance novel.

One for the Rogue sees Ms. Michaels’ Bachelor Lords trilogy limping to the finish line, rather than crossing it with arms outstretched in triumph. She’s a talented writer, so I will probably pick up her next book, but I’ll be doing so with fingers crossed she can resist the temptation to contort facts in order to fit her plotlines.

The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham Hall #3) by Lorraine Heath

viscount-vixen
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print… and takes his father’s place!

Now the sedate — and, more importantly, secure — union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

Rating: B+

Lorraine Heath is one of those writers whose work really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the emotional content of her books draws me to her time and time again, and I will often finish one of her novels feeling completely wrung out and unable to pick up another book for at least twenty-four hours. Such was the case with The Viscount and the Vixen, the final full-length novel in her Hellions of Havisham Hall series.

The Marquess of Marsden is a recluse, labelled mad by most because he is believed to have gone insane following the death of his beloved wife in childbed. Havisham Hall has been allowed to fall into disrepair over the years, and even though his son, Viscount Locksley has lived there exclusively for the past couple of years, he has made no improvements because his father dislikes change and he – Locke – doesn’t want to agitate him.

So when he arrives at the breakfast table one morning to find his father freshly shaved, smartly dressed and reading the paper, it’s a bit of a shock. Marsden usually takes his meals in his room and doesn’t bother much about his appearance, but when he tells Locke that his (Marsden’s) bride will be arriving later, Locke thinks his father is delusional and must be referring to his mother. But Marsden is perfectly lucid and explains that as Locke has so far neglected to find a wife and set up his nursery, it behoves him to marry a woman young enough to provide the necessary “spare” in order to secure the succession. And in order to do that, Marsden placed an advertisement in a newspaper which was answered by a Mrs. Portia Gadstone, with whom he has been corresponding ever since. Locke is flabbergasted, but also concerned for his father and worried that he has been taken in by a fortune hunter. When Mrs. Gadstone appears, he is knocked sideways even further; she’s luscious and he’s suddenly drowning in lust the like of which he can’t remember ever experiencing before. But even so – he’s sure she’s a gold digger and is determined to protect his father at all costs. And it quickly appears there is only one way to do that, which is to marry Portia himself.

Portia has been driven to the drastic step of marrying a man widely reputed to be insane because she’s in a desperate situation. She can’t deny that the prospect of marrying a wealthy man is an attractive one, but just as important as the marquess’ wealth is the fact that his title offers her the protection she seeks, and she is determined to be a good wife to him.

But her first sight of Marsden’s gorgeous, green-eyed son throws her for a loop, even though he makes it perfectly clear that he distrusts her and wants to stop her marrying his father. When Locke proposes she marry him instead, Portia is almost turned from her purpose, realising that her life with him will in no way fulfil her desire for quiet, rather dull existence she had envisaged having with his father. But that doesn’t alter the fact that she has imperative reasons for marrying and living in a remote location – and the deal is made.

The sexual tension between Locke and Portia is off the charts right from the start, and theirs is – to begin with – a relationship based purely on mutual lust, which suits both of them. Locke saw what his mother’s death did to his father and as a result, has no wish to experience love; and Portia doesn’t want to fall in love with a man upon whom she is practicing a serious deception. But as the story progresses, the lines between lust and affection become blurred and Portia starts to worm her way under the skin of father and son, both of whom are taken with her intelligence, wit and kindness. And for Locke, the fact that his wife is a woman whose capacity for passion matches is own is an unlooked for bonus.

Lorraine Heath has penned a lovely, tender romance that progresses at the same time as Locke and Portia are setting fire to the sheets (often!), and I particularly enjoyed the way that Portia’s gradual progress in restoring Havisham Hall, opening up long-closed rooms and making them habitable and welcoming again, mirrors her gradual unlocking of her new husband’s heart and her discovery that he is a man capable – and deserving – of a great deal of love and affection. There is never any doubt that Locke and Portia are falling in love; their actions often speak louder than their words as these two people who didn’t want love come to realise that it’s found them, regardless.

Portia’s backstory and her reasons for answering Marsden’s advertisement are drip fed throughout the book, and it’s a testament to the author’s skill that even though Portia has deliberately set out to deceive, the reader feels sympathy for her. At a time when women had no rights to anything, even their own bodies, she has had to make difficult choices and ended up living a life very different from the one she had envisaged. She owns her own mistakes, but when faced with an impossible choice, made the only decision she could live with, one which now looks set to ruin her life and happiness with the man she never intended to love.

Locke seems to be rather a stereotypical romance hero at first glance – tall, dark, handsome, cynical and a demi-god in bed – but there’s more to him than that. Underneath the veneer of charm and wicked sensuality, he’s a compassionate man with a strong sense of duty who is quite obviously fooling himself into believing he doesn’t want love when he is so clearly ready to embrace it. His relationship with Marsden is easily one of the best things about the book; the affection in which father and son hold each other leaps off the page and possesses just the right degree of exasperated tenderness. And Marsden is far more subtly drawn here than he has been in the other books; he’s unbalanced, but clearly not insane and appears to be subject to fits of melancholy rather than mentally unhinged.

When Locke discovers his wife’s dishonesty, there are, of course, some unpleasant things said, and later, Portia does perhaps forgive Locke a tad too quickly. But on balance, Locke’s willingness to listen to Portia’s story – something many men of the time would probably not have done – says much for him and about the strength of their relationship. It works in context, although I can understand that some may feel he wasn’t sufficiently remorseful and should have grovelled more.

The Viscount and the Vixen contains just about everything I want from an historical romance – complex, intriguing characters, scorching sexual tension, and a strong storyline that is firmly rooted in the era in which the story is set. Ms. Heath once again delivers those things along with finely observed familial relationships and a sexy, well-developed love story. I’ve enjoyed each of the books in this series and am looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next.

The Danger of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

To root out the card cheat responsible for her brother’s death, Miss Delia Trevor spends her evenings dancing her way through high society balls, and her late nights disguised as a young man gambling her way through London’s gaming hells. Then one night, handsome Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious member of St. George’s Club, recognizes her. When he threatens to reveal her secret, she’s determined to keep him from ruining her plans, even if it means playing a cat-and-mouse game with the enigmatic rakehell.

Warren knows the danger of her game, and he refuses to watch her lose everything while gaining justice for her late brother. But when she starts to delve beneath his carefully crafted façade, can he keep her at arm’s length while still protecting her? Or will their hot desires explode into a love that transcends the secrets of their pasts?

Rating: B

This third book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors features Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a man whose many and varied amorous exploits have earned him the reputation as a scoundrel of the highest order. Readers met Warren – briefly – in the previous book, The Study of Seduction, when he asked his best friend, Edwin, the Earl of Blakeborough, to keep an eye on his ward, Clarissa while he (Warren) saw to some important business abroad. Warren and Edwin are old friends and members of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s club like most others but whose members banded together with the aim of protecting their female relatives from fortune hunters, gamblers, womanisers and other unscrupulous men by regularly sharing information about the men of their acquaintance.

When Warren’s cousin Clarissa – now happily married to Edwin – asks him to see if any of the club members has heard any gossip about her friend, Delia Trevor, he is not keen at first, believing her request to be a poorly disguised matchmaking attempt. But when Clarissa explains that she is concerned because her friend has been behaving rather oddly of late, Warren takes notice and agrees to help. Having recently discovered what befell Clarissa in her début Season (she was stalked and assaulted by a suitor), Warren feels guilty for not having protected her, and, determined never to let another woman go through something similar, he agrees to see what he can find out.

Miss Delia Trevor has come to London for the Season not, as her aunt believes, to find herself a husband, but in order to discover the identity of the man who cheated her late brother out of a large sum of money and drove him to suicide. The only information she has to go on is the name of the gambling den at which Reynold last played and the fact that his lordly opponent had a sun tattoo on his wrist. So every evening, she disguises herself in man’s attire and sneaks out of the house, making her way to the hell accompanied by a trusty servant in the attempt to draw out the card cheat.

Delia is annoyed, therefore, when the Marquess of Knightford starts to take an interest in her and starts popping up at inconvenient moments and asking awkward questions. She knows she isn’t the sort of woman likely to attract him – her bosom is too small, her hips too wide and she has gone out of her way to dress in the most unflattering manner possible to put off any potential suitors – so she is immediately suspicious of his motives for flirting with her and singling her out.

Warren quickly discovers that Miss Trevor is not at all the simpering miss he had expected and is immediately intrigued by her reluctance to have anything to do with him. He finds he rather likes her waspish tongue, and her attempts to put him off only serve to put him on the alert as he realises that Clarissa’s concerns are not unfounded. Suspicious of Delia’s interactions with a servant, he waits outside her townhouse at night in the belief she has arranged an illicit assignation, only to be confused when the servant appears accompanied by a shabbily dressed boy. He follows the pair, ending up at one of London’s less salubrious gaming establishments where he discovers the reasons behind Delia’s evasiveness – the shabbily dressed boy is not a boy at all, but Miss Delia Trevor in disguise.

Warren is furious with Delia for putting herself in danger both physically and in terms of her reputation, and irritated that she will not confide in him or let him help. He is also aware that what began as curiosity liberally sprinkled with a helping of lust is turning into something else. He can’t stop thinking about Delia or stop wanting her, and while he’s bedded more than his fair share of women, he doesn’t dally with marriageable debutantes or respectable ladies, so he can’t understand his sudden fascination with a woman who is both those things. And Deila’s reaction to the handsome Marquess – most especially to his delicious, arousing kisses – is something she had never expected to experience, but once sampled, is quite helpless to resist.

The romance between Warren and Delia is nicely done, with plenty of verbal sparring and crackling sexual tension between them. While Warren is determined to discover Delia’s secrets, he is equally determined to prevent her from discovering his own, which have resulted in the debilitating nightmares he has suffered for most of his life. Believing them to be a sign of weakness, he has concealed them even from his own family, preferring instead to spend his nights in the company of whores or out gaming or drinking and then to sleep during the day when the dreams do not assail him. But when he and Delia are discovered in a compromising position and forced to marry, keeping his darkest fears from his new wife is going to be an enormous challenge, and one that could potentially derail their fledgling marriage before it has really begun.

While the romance is the main focus of the novel, Delia’s search for the card cheat is not forgotten, although the resolution to that plotline comes rather out of left-field, and is quite convoluted. There is no real build-up to the discovery of that person’s identity, and while explanations are given, anyone who hasn’t read the previous book might end up feeling confused, as the reasons behind the cheater’s actions relate directly to a character who has been hovering “off screen” in the background in the last two books, and whose story we will be getting in the next in the series. So while on the one hand, it’s quite a clever idea to relate the stories in this way, on the other, it feels somewhat contrived and as though it has been done purely to set up the next book. It also negates much of what Delia has gone through in her quest for justice for her brother and denies her any real sense of closure about his death; forgiveness comes very easily in order to satisfy the demands of the plot.

The Danger of Desire doesn’t break any new ground, but is nonetheless an entertaining read that is populated by well-drawn, attractive characters who are just a little different from the norm. While Warren is a rakish, marriage-avoidance minded bachelor, his motivations for eschewing the married state are other than the usual miserable-example-provided-by-parents, or earlier-relationship-gone-sour; and Delia’s talents at the card-table and her backstory as the daughter of a gambler lend depth to her character and explain her reluctance to trust. The ending is somewhat rushed, but the romance is given time to develop and Delia and Warren make a well-matched couple. I enjoyed the story in spite of my reservations, and am looking forward to the final book in the series.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel (Seduction Diaries #3) by Jennifer McQuiston

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

Every girl dreams of a hero . . .

No one loves books more than Miss Mary Channing. Perhaps that’s why she’s reached the ripe old age of six-and-twenty without ever being kissed. Her future may be as bland as milk toast, but Mary is content to simply dream about the heroes and adventures she reads about in her books. That way she won’t end up with a villain instead.

But sometimes only a scoundrel will do.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of Geoffrey Westmore, London’s most notorious scoundrel, it feels a bit like a plot from one of her favorite novels. Suddenly, Mary understands why even the smartest heroines can fall prey to a handsome face. And Westmore is more handsome than most. But far worse than the damage to her reputation, the moment’s indiscretion uncovers an assassination plot that reaches to the highest levels of society and threatens the course of the entire country.

When a tight-laced miss and a scoundrel of epic proportions put their minds together, nothing can stand in their way. But unless they put their hearts together as well, a happy ending is anything but assured.

Rating: B

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is your basic rake-meets-wallflower story, and while that’s a very oft-used trope, Jennifer McQuiston has done an excellent job of creating a readable, light-hearted romp that has just enough depth to keep it from feeling insubstantial.  There’s an element of mystery to the story, too, which is well played-out and which doesn’t get in the way of the progression of the romance or detract from it.

Readers of the first book in this series, Diary of an Accidental Wallflower, will probably remember the heroine’s younger brother, Geoffrey Westmore, as a teenage terror; forever getting into scrapes, playing practical jokes and generally causing mayhem.  Around a decade later, with university and a short stint in the Navy (during which time he saw active service in the Crimea), behind him, not very much has changed.  Geoffrey – or West, as he now prefers to be known – is still a hellraiser although the nature of some of his exploits has changed somewhat, as the eagerness displayed by half the ladies in theton to leap into his bed will testify.  That’s not to say he’s lost the taste for playing practical jokes, though.  Many of those are as legendary as his reputation with women, with the result that there is a two-inch thick file with his name on it in the office of the local constable

From that description, West sounds an absolute fright and the sort of “hero” one might not want to touch with the proverbial ten-foot-pole.  Fortunately however, for all his inappropriate behaviour, he’s a loveable rogue; there is something endearing about him which saves him from coming across as a complete arsehole, and, as soon becomes clear, there is more substance beneath those rakehell ways than it would at first seem.

Miss Mary Channing (sister of Patrick Channing, hero of Moonlight on My Mind) has left her Yorkshire home and travelled to London to be with her very pregnant twin sister in the final months of her confinement.  Mary is quiet and self-effacing, much preferring to immerse herself in the romance and adventure she finds in her favourite books than to get out there and live her own life.  To be fair, she has some reason for her caution, having lost both her eldest brother and father to violent deaths and almost having lost Patrick when he was accused of murder.  But she has become extremely introverted over the years and has, as her sister remarks “lost her spark.”

At Eleanor’s insistence, Mary attends a literary salon at which Mr. Dickens will be in attendance, but before she can greet the great man, she slips away from the crush, needing to find some peace and quiet. Finding the comfort of the library, she starts to relax, only to discover she is ensconced in a darkened room with a veritable scoundrel. Mary isn’t partial to scoundrels, recognising that the villains in her books are almost always handsome, charming and up to no good – and she is sure that this man, with his golden good-looks and raffish smile is a complete villain. When he whisks her behind a curtain she is even more sure of it – until a group of people enters the room and starts to discuss a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria (which isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds – she actually survived several attempts on her life during her long reign).

Once the schemers have left, Mary wastes no time in making her escape – only to run into several people in the doorway who immediately assume her to have been alone in the room with one of the worst rakes in London – Geoffrey Westmore.

If Mary is not to be ruined, West will have to offer for her – which he duly does, only to be soundly rejected. Mary is far more interested in discovering who is behind the assassination plot and wonders why West hasn’t already gone to the police. In fact, West has done that very thing – only to discover that his reputation for playing outrageous practical jokes has preceded him and that no-one at Scotland Yard will take him seriously. When Mary tried to explain to Eleanor, she accused Mary of having her head too stuffed-full of plots from her books and refused to believe her, which leaves West and Mary with only one alternative.

They will have to find the wrong-doers themselves.

While West is keen to keep Mary out of his investigations because he doesn’t want her to come to any harm, he soon realises that her insight and general knowledge – gleaned from books, of course – is useful and that she is probably safer by his side than left to her own devices. The sexual tension between them bubbles along nicely, their verbal sparring – peppered with West’s naughty double-entendres – is fun and their romance proceeds at a sensible pace, although I admit that West’s transformation from bed-hopping lady-killer to one-woman-man does happen rather quickly. I do, however, applaud the author for including the fact that West’s brother-in-law is a physician who made sure he knew about the importance of using condoms! It’s not something that comes up all that often in historicals so readers often have to ignore the probability of the experienced hero’s having caught something nasty in the course of his – er – exploits. Thankfully, there’s no need to suspend disbelief on that count here.

The identity of the plotters is fairly easy to work out, but there’s a nice twist at the end which reveals that there was rather more going on than West and Mary had at first thought. And while the book is a fairly light in tone overall, the emotional depth I mentioned earlier comes from the way in which Ms. McQuiston takes a look at the trauma faced by combatants returning from war. Once an easy-going young man with a bright future and ambitions to study architecture, West’s year in the Navy affected him profoundly; and once that becomes apparent, it makes it easier to understand his unwillingness to grow up and act like a responsible adult. Mary, too, has her demons to conquer and the way she and West support each other to help overcome their fears is very well done.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is an entertaining, well-paced story told with intelligence and humour and I’m sure anyone looking to read a scoundrel/bluestocking romance with an added dash of mystery will enjoy it.