The Gangster (Magic & Steam #2) by C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Declan Winters

The Gangster

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

1881 – Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.

The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.

This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A-

I read The Gangster, book two in C.S Poe’s Magic & Steam series earlier this year and really enjoyed it, so I decided to experience it again in audio format. I’d already listened to the first book – The Engineer – and enjoyed the narration by Declan Winters, so I was pretty sure of a good listen.

Because The Gangster is a direct sequel, I’d strongly recommend starting the series with The Engineer; it’s novella-length (just over two-and-a-half hours) and provides an excellent introduction to the alternate vision of 1880s New York the author has created, and the central characters of the series, Special Agent Gillian Hamilton of the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, and Gunner the Deadly, the legendary outlaw Gillian meets while on assignment in Arizona. The story is fast-paced and exciting with plenty of sizzling chemistry between Gillian and Gunner – who agree to a temporary truce and join forces in order to defeat a bonkers mad-scientist type. The Engineer ends on a strong HFN, with the promise of more to come, and C.S. Poe certainly delivers on that promise in The Gangster, with a full- length story that continues to develop the romance between these two very unlikely men while also telling an action-packed, well-paced story and keeping listeners guessing about… nope, not telling. But be prepared – the book ends on one helluva cliffhanger. I believe book three is due later this year, but at time of writing, there’s no date set.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

An Heiress to Remember (Gilded Age Girls Club #3) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Can a scandalized heiress…

Beatrice Goodwin left Manhattan a duchess and has returned a divorcée, ready to seize control of her fate and the family business. Goodwin’s Department Store, once the pinnacle of fashion, has fallen from favor thanks to Dalton’s, its glamorous competitor across the street. But this rivalry has a distinctly personal edge….

And a self-made tycoon…

For Wes Dalton, Beatrice has always been the one – the one who broke his young heart by marrying a duke, and now, the one whose cherished store he plans to buy, just so he can destroy it. It’s the perfect revenge against a family who believed he’d never be good enough for their daughter – until Beatrice’s return complicates everything….

Find happily ever after at last?

While Goodwin’s and Dalton’s duel to be the finest store in Gilded Age Manhattan, Beatrice and Wes succumb to a desire that has only deepened with time. Adversaries by day, lovers by night, both will soon have to decide which is sweeter: winning the battle or thoroughly losing their hearts….

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C+

An Heiress to Remember, book three in Maya Rodale’s Gilded Age Girls Club series, is a second-chance, antagonists-to-lovers romance set in vibrant, bustling turn-of-the-century New York City. The story of young lovers torn asunder who reunite later in life is a familiar one, but while it’s fairly well done, the main story here is really that of a woman coming fully into her own, and sometimes the love story feels as though it’s been put into the back seat.

Eighteen-year-old department store heiress Beatrice Goodwin has fallen in love with her father’s protégé, Wes Dalton, son of an Irish immigrant family, but when we first meet them, she’s about to say goodbye. Her family is pressuring her to marry an English duke; Wes urges Beatrice to reject the duke’s offer and run away with him instead – but Beatrice is terribly torn. She loves Wes, but where will she be if she disobeys her parents? How can she refuse to do the thing she’s been brought up to do – make a prestigious marriage and do her duty to her family?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work–the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

Rating: B+

A Notorious Vow is the third book in Joanna Shupe’s The Four Hundred series, and quite possibly my favourite of the three.  In it, the daughter of a debt-ridden peer falls for a reclusive inventor who lost his hearing due to illness at the age of thirteen; it’s a bit trope-y, but the central love story is sensual and romantic as we witness the hero trying to talk himself out of love while the heroine tries to escape the self-doubt and insecurities that plague her as a result of her mother’s continual bullying and criticism.  I don’t think I’ve read a romance that features a deaf hero before; I can’t speak from experience as I’m not hearing impaired and don’t know anyone who is, but the author’s treatment of Oliver’s deafness and his reactions to the things he experienced as a result feel completely plausible and she pulls no punches when it comes to showing how misunderstood the condition was and the prejudice the deaf had to endure at the time the novel is set.

Lady Christina Barclay is viewed as nothing more than a means to an end by her parents, the Earl and Countess of Pennington.  Beautiful, well-mannered and demure, she has been brought up to obey her parents in all things and has been browbeaten by her mother for practically her entire life.  The family has fled to New York amid great scandal, and Christina knows her parents are planning to solve their financial worries by selling her off to the highest bidder. To escape her oppressive thoughts and her mother’s bullying, she spends a few hours every morning walking in the large, empty garden of the house next door, enjoying the peace and quiet for a few hours. She is aware she’s trespassing, but nobody has seen hide nor hair of the house’s owner in years, so it stands to reason she’s unlikely to do so.  Although she’s reckoned without the large dog, who, on this particular morning, bounds up to her and knocks her down, smacking her head against a bench and knocking her out.

Oliver Hawkes lost his hearing at thirteen and although he tried hard to assimilate into the hearing world, he was so often rejected and ridiculed that he eventually stopped trying.

He’d tried to carry on with what gentlemen considered a “normal” life after school. It had resulted in being called “dumb” and “broken” at every turn. Why should he try to fit into a society that so readily dismissed him?

Now aged twenty-nine, he keeps himself to himself, and is working on a device of his own invention that he hopes will eventually help those with hearing difficulties – not the completely deaf, like him – to hear more clearly.  He is very close to applying for a patent, but before he does that, wants to find a way of making certain parts of the device cheaper so its availability will not be limited to the wealthy.  He no longer leaves the house and interacts only with his friend – the doctor, who taught him to sign – and his butler, Gill, who has been with Oliver since childhood. But when he finds an unconscious young woman lying in his garden, he has no alternative but to carry her to the house and send for the doctor.

There’s an immediate frisson of attraction between Christina and Oliver despite the awkwardness of their first meeting.  And although Oliver tells her he doesn’t want her to visit his gardens again, he finds it impossible to be angry with her when, a few days later, he sees that she’s returned. He starts thinking over some of the things she’d said and realises that perhaps she’s unhappy… and discovers, to his surprise, that he wants to make her smile.

Oliver and Christina start spending a few hours together each day; she watches as he tinkers with his invention, he teaches her some basic sign language, and their mutual attraction deepens.  But then the thing Christina has dreaded happens –  she’s told she must marry a man old enough to be her grandfather who makes no bones about the fact that he wants a nubile, biddable young wife to hear him children.  Miserable, she tells Oliver what her parents have planned for her; he is appalled but tells himself he can’t get involved and merely suggests she should show her prospective bridegroom that she’s not as meek and biddable as he’s been led to suppose.  But when, a day or so later, Christina arrives in tears, clearly in acute distress, Oliver is forced to admit to himself that wants to protect her from anyone who would hurt her – and when her parents burst in on them,  they accuse him of compromising her and insist he marries her, having (of course) learned he’s incredibly wealthy beforehand.

Oliver resents the idea of being forced into anything.  It’s not that he doesn’t care about Christina or want to help her – he does, very much – but to be insulted in his own home and then forced to upend his life in a way that will undoubtedly distract him from his experiments … it’s not what he wants or had planned for himself.  But he can’t stand seeing Christina so upset, and he is eventually persuaded (by Christina’s cousin) to agree to the marriage.

The ceremony takes place that very night on the understanding that Christina’s parents are not to contact her afterwards and that as soon as the settlements are drawn up and paid, they will return to England.  Christina is almost unable to believe her sudden change in fortune – instead of marriage to an unpleasant, lecherous old man, she’s married to Oliver, a man she likes and is attracted to.  But Oliver, adamant he doesn’t want to be distracted from his work or to have his life change in any way decides that they should live separate lives, remain married for a year and then divorce (sigh – the let’s-get-married-and-then-get-it-annulled/divorced plotline has been done to death.).

Christina is disappointed and hurt when Oliver explains this to her, but she tries not to show it and determines to show her gratitude by doing exactly as her new husband wants.  Their romance is well-developed, growing out of a friendship that sprang up quickly but which is no less genuine for that.  They talk and laugh about many things, and discover that they’re both rather inclined to a quiet life and aren’t all that interested in the social whirl.  But after they’re married, Oliver spends a lot of time saying one thing and doing another, confusing Christina by giving off mixed-signals.  He tells her they needn’t interact, but then invites her to dine with him.  He sends her off to have dinner with a friend and then changes his mind and turns up at the restaurant – and soon he can’t help but admit to himself that wants Christina, as more than a friend.  Their romance isn’t all hearts and flowers though, and Oliver and Christina have some adjustments to make as they navigate their fledgling marriage.  Christina’s frustration at having her life dictated to her by others is starting to bubble over, and Oliver has to learn to step back and allow her to know what is best for her.  But most importantly, they are holding themselves back – not necessarily from each other, but from truly living their lives; they’ve become accustomed to playing it safe, and it takes an unexpected (and shocking) development to shake both of them out of their somewhat complacent attitudes.

One criticism I’ve made about other novels by this author is that she tends to throw in an eleventh hour suspense plot that is resolved rather too quickly and can feel a bit contrived.  There’s a similar final act drama enacted here, but because of the way it’s foreshadowed throughout the book, it feels more integral to the story, even though it’s resolved quickly and somewhat improbably.  In the grand scheme of things however, it was a minor issue and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel.  A Notorious Vow is a gorgeously romantic, character driven love story featuring a pair of quietly appealing protagonists whose HEA is more than well-deserved.

Duchess by Design (Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion.

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker – not a duchess – and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan – as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all, do not lose their hearts.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Duchess by Design is the first entry in Maya Rodale’s new Gilded Age Girls Club series of historical romances, set – not surprisingly – in New York’s Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century. While the premise – an impoverished duke who needs to marry money falls for a penniless woman instead – is a well-worn one, Ms. Rodale gives it a fresh coat of paint while also encompassing the many changes in society that were happening at the time and providing a solution to the central dilemma that is completely and absolutely right for this story.

Brandon Fiennes, Duke of Kingston, inherited a pile of debts along with his title, and is now faced with the time-honoured method of restoring the family finances, his crumbling estates, his tenant’s livelihoods and providing a dowry for his sisters. He must marry an heiress. On the advice of his cousin, Freddie, Lord Hewitt, Kingston travels to New York where his title will gain him an entrée in to the highest society and thus present him with his choice of current crop of Dollar Princesses – heiresses whose families have made huge sums of money from railways, manufacturing, real-estate and so on. It might not be what he wants for himself, but it’s the only way he can provide for all those who depend on him; even if he can’t marry for love, it will at least mean that his sisters will have the chance to do so.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred #2) by Joanna Shupe

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They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable – and more alluring – than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” make it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her – even if it requires a scandalous deal…

Rating: B

This second book in Joanna Shupe’s The Four Hundred series introduces readers to Lady Eva Hyde, an intelligent and ambitious young woman who longs to make a career designing buildings. Her father, the world’s most famous architect, Lord Cassell (otherwise known as E.M. Hyde) has tutored her since she was a teenager, and she has studied and worked hard to hone her craft, but this is 1890, and she is barred from properly entering the profession because she is female. E.M. Hyde has recently been commissioned to design what is going to be America’s biggest, most modern and most luxurious hotel, the Mansfield, to be named after its owner, hotelier and millionaire, Philip Mansfield – but what the world at large does not know is that for the past two years, Eva’s father has been seriously ill, and in order to preserve his legacy and keep them afloat financially, his most recent designs – including those of the Mansfield Hotel – have been Eva’s work.

A Scandalous Deal opens as Eva is travelling to New York to meet with Mr. Mansfield and to oversee the project’s initial stages. Her plan is to explain that her father has been taken ill and is unable to make the trip to America and that she is fully versed on her his work and will act in his stead. The ship is not far from land when a bad storm blows up, leaving Eva and only one other passenger – a gentleman she’d met briefly a day or so earlier – prepared to brave the conditions and find themselves something to eat and drink for dinner. By the end of the evening, Eva is a little tipsy, but is still well able to appreciate the man’s handsome face and impressive physique – plus, the way he speaks to her, like an actual, intelligent person rather than as a delicate flower with nothing between the ears, makes her feel valued in a way no other man ever has. Deciding to throw caution to the wind – her marriage prospects in England are zero anyway, given she’s been nicknamed ‘Lady Unlucky’ due to the fact that she has been engaged three times and all her fiancés died – Eva has her first taste of real passion that night, although in the cold light of morning she realises she has perhaps been rather incautious.

It’s not going to come as a surprise (especially if you’ve read the book synopsis!) that the handsome stranger Eva met on the voyage turns out to be none other than Philip Mansfield himself. The mutual attraction that flared between them on the ship has not gone away, but given the circumstances – Eva is Philip’s employee and he’s not happy about the fact that she’s there and her father isn’t – both of them agree to put it behind them and to maintain a professional distance. Even so, Eva is somewhat dismayed when she learns that Philip is a very ‘hands on’ owner and manager, who spends most of his time at his sites; in her previous experiences, she, as her father’s representative, has been more or less left to oversee the work being undertaken, and she is unnerved at the prospect of having to maintain her deception on a day to day basis… as well as of seeing Philip every day and having to ignore the way he makes her feel. And Philip looks forward to the day that E.M Hyde is well enough to travel so that he will no longer need to see the infuriatingly desirable Eva every day.


But not seeing Eva and not thinking about her very soon becomes impossible and Philip finds it difficult to concentrate on anything else.  It’s clear to him from her reactions that the desire he feels for Eva is reciprocated, so from then on there is only one solution.  His proposal that they become the sort of friends who “on occasion, might not go home separately” is both scandalous and tantalising to Eva, who longs to experience again the passion she’d felt in Philip’s arms, but is also aware that she has a lot to lose should anyone find out.

There’s a lot to like about A Scandalous Deal.  Eva and Philip are strongly drawn, attractive characters, the setting and the architectural details are lovingly described and have clearly been well researched and I really enjoyed the subplots concerning the corruption rife in the city at the time, the difficulties with the unions and Eva’s wonderfully inventive solution to the problems that arise as a result.  The problem, though, is that there are too many subplots in the story – there’s one concerning the young woman Philip’s parents want him to marry and her father’s revenge when Philip makes it clear it’s not going to happen; another concerning a number of ‘accidents’ at the hotel site which threaten Eva’s safety and another about a commission from Philip’s formidable mother – that there’s not all that much room left over for the development of the central romance or for the principals to interact outside of the bedroom.  The author establishes the attraction between Eva and Philip very well and there’s no question they have great chemistry; the love scenes are sensual and well-done, and I liked the way Eva wasn’t prepared to settle for anything less than a man who loved her for what she was and who would support her ambitions.  I did, however, get annoyed with her when she jumped to conclusions about what Philip must be thinking simply because he looked or sighed the wrong way after they’d been intimate.  It’s so transparently a plot device in a book that doesn’t need any more plot and makes Eva seem judgmental and unreasonable.

I did like the way that Philip is suddenly brought to realise that he had been applying one set of standards to one of his female friends and another to Eva, that he had ignored the importance she placed on retaining her independence and individuality. When he finally realises that he’s gone about things the wrong way, he’s big enough to admit his mistake and go all out – in a rather unusual but contextually appropriate Grand Gesture – to correct it and prove to Eva that he wants to support her in whatever she chooses to do.

A Scandalous Deal is an engaging and entertaining read, and Joanna Shupe continues to be one of the strongest writers of historical romance around.  While there’s a lot of plot in the book, it’s all handled very well and there are no loose ends, but I can’t deny that I’d have liked the romance to have been more strongly developed in a more organic way.  Nonetheless, it’s a solid addition to her current series, and I’ll definitely be looking out for book three later this year.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig (audiobook) – Narrated by Barrie Kreinik

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: He’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairy-tale romance in London, they have three-year-old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and named it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors, and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball; Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned; and the papers go mad.

Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to try to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

Rating: Narration – A+: Content – B+

I’ve read and/or listened to a number of the books in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but for some reason haven’t yet read or listened to anything she’s written since. Nothing against the author – it’s my fault for having so little time to partake of books I’m not reviewing! – but the buzz about her latest novel, The English Wife, and good reports of it from friends whose opinions I trust, made me determined to experience it in one format or another, so I was pleased when I saw it would be coming out in audio and that Barrie Kreinik was on board as narrator. I’ve only listened to her once or twice before, but I remember being impressed with the quality of her performance in general and her English accent in particular, so that was a win-win.

The book opens on the night of the Twelfth Night ball being given by Annabelle and Bayard van Duyvil, in January 1899. The van Duyvils are a golden couple, he the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she a daughter of the English aristocracy, and they seem to have everything – good looks, a pair of lovely children (twins), wealth and social position. But secrets lurk beneath the surface; rumours abound about the close relationship between Bay and his cousin Anne, and there is much gossip about affair rumoured to be going on between Annabelle and David Pruyn, the architect who has spent the last eighteen months overseeing the work on the van Duyvil’s new house, a grand reproduction of Annabelle’s stately home in England.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred #1) by Joanna Shupe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match–leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course…

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own – one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

Rating: B+

I’ve read all of Joanna Shupe’s novels (I believe) and have enjoyed them to differing degrees.  Looking back at my review of her début novel, The Courtesan Duchess, I said that while flawed, it was an engrossing read and that I was looking forward to reading more of her work.  Several books later, I’m still reading her and while we’ve had our ups and downs, she’s firmly on my radar and is pretty much a ‘must read’ author for me these days.  A Daring Arrangement, the first in her new Four Hundred series, tells the story of the fake-engagement between an English Lady and an American scoundrel and is quite possibly her best novel yet.

Lady Honoria (Nora) Parker, the daughter of the Earl of Stratton was sent to New York in order to avoid scandal after she was caught in a clinch with the man she loves, Robert Landon, an aspiring – and penniless – artist.  Nora is currently staying with her aunt and uncle, James and  Beatrice Cortland, a thoroughly amiable couple who are only too delighted to have her with them, and Nora is enjoying the chance to get to know her aunt, but unhappy at being separated from Robert, to whom she writes almost daily.  She is determined to get back to England as quickly as possible, and to that end has come up with a plan; she will find the most disreputable man in New York and enter into a false betrothal with him.  Once news of it reaches her father’s ears, he will summon her home immediately and she hopes she will be able to persuade the earl to permit her to marry Robert.

First of all, however, she has to surmount the major problem of not knowing any suitably debauched men; she can hardly ask her aunt to introduce her to some, after all.  But one night at dinner at an exclusive restaurant, she learns that the raucous party taking place on the floor above is being hosted by the well-known financier, Julius Hatcher and it seems as though she’s found the answer to her prayers.  She has been in New York for only one month, but is already familiar with Hatcher’s name because it is rarely absent from the gossip columns.

A handsome, brash swell with more money than sense, he threw elaborate parties and associated with a string of high-profile actresses… he’d even built a replica of a sixteenth-century French castle on Upper Fifth Avenue – complete with a moat.

Naturally, while high society looks down its collective nose at Hatcher’s exploits, its members are only too happy to be entertained by them while simultaneously denying him entrée to their sacred halls, so Nora hasn’t actually met the man.  But she can’t let this chance slip by, so makes an excuse to her party and immediately hurries upstairs – to discover the ballroom full of men on horseback!  When Nora finally manages to locate her quarry, he is more than three sheets to the wind, but she is undeterred.  He’s also utterly gorgeous, but she refuses to let that worry her, either.  She quickly outlines her proposal –  if he will agree to pose as her fiancé long enough to garner her father’s ire, in exchange, she will gain him entry to all the society events from which he has so far been barred – and is relieved when he accepts.  Just before he passes out.

Julius Hatcher is a mathematical genius with a real talent for reading the markets and making shrewd investments.  He’s a self-made man who has worked hard for his success and has, for the past thirteen years been trying to uncover the identities of the three society gentlemen who screwed over his father in an investment deal.  With the entrée to the higher echelons of society provided by his new not-fiancée, Julius hopes to find those men and somehow punish them for what they did to his father.  Unfortunately, his desire to gain society’s acceptance is diametrically opposed to Nora’s desire to cause a ruckus; her plan hinges on the fact that Julius is a walking scandal, but obviously she forgot the old adage that one shouldn’t believe everything one reads in the papers, because it very quickly becomes apparent that there’s much more to Julius Hatcher than she’s read in the gossip rags and that he’s far from being as black as he is painted.

I’m always up for a good fake-relationship story, and this is a very good one that came quite close to being a DIK.  The writing is excellent, the chemistry between the leads is fabulous and Ms. Shupe develops their slow-burn romance beautifully.  Her descriptions of New York’s Gilded Age are evocative and vivid, putting the reader firmly in the midst of glittering society ballrooms and the seedier venues down in the Tenderloin district.  Julius is a swoonworthy hero; handsome, sexy as hell and highly intelligent, he is quick to work out Nora’s reasons for wanting a fake-engagement and is determined to save her from herself by protecting her reputation even though she is equally determined to throw it away if it will get her what she wants.  But he’s yet another marriage-shy bachelor who avoids anything long term because he doesn’t want that sort of responsibility and believes it will only lead to disappointment.  (Although to be fair, once we meet his mother his position becomes more understandable.)  Nora is a spirited, intelligent young woman, and for the most part, I liked her; yet she puts herself and others in danger because of her desire to marry a man the reader knows from page one is not worthy of her.  Fortunately, she does learn from her mistakes and exhibits character growth as the story progresses; I ended up admiring her for her honesty and the fact that by the end, she is unwilling to settle for anything less than a man who loves her for herself.

The sub-plot relating to Julius’ search for the men who destroyed his father is nicely done, too, but my biggest issue with the story overall is with the final section, which risks over-egging the dramatic pudding by adding on a hero/heroine-in-peril type of plotline.  The tacking-on of a mystery or melodramatic dénouement is something that seems to be almost de rigueur in historical romance these days, but rarely do such things feel integral to the story, and often they smack of contrivance. Whereas up until this point the characters have been driving the story, here, the plot takes over, and it’s a noticeable shift in gear which I found somewhat jarring.

Overall though, A Daring Arrangement is a great read, packed with wonderful dialogue, strongly-drawn secondary characters, a well-developed romance and sensual love scenes.  I’m more than happy to recommend it to others and am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.