The Rake’s Enticing Challenge (Sinful Sinclairs #2) by Lara Temple

the rake's enticing proposal uk

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The rake has a proposition…

Will she accept?

Part of The Sinful Sinclairs. When globe-trotting Charles Sinclair arrives at Huxley Manor to sort out his late cousin’s affairs, he meets practical Eleanor Walsh. He can’t shake the feeling that behind her responsibility to clear her family’s debt, Eleanor longs to escape her staid life. Chase can offer her an exciting adventure in Egypt… But that all depends on her response to his shocking proposal!

Rating: A-

This second instalment of Lara Temple’s three-book Sinful Sinclairs series focuses on Charles – known as Chase – Sinclair, whom readers met briefly in the first book, The Earl’s Irresiststible Challenge. Rather like his older brother Lucas, Chase is handsome, witty and charmingly self-deprecating, but behind the nonchalant, rakish façade he shows to society lies a man with emotional scars that make him restless and unwilling to make real and deep personal connections with anyone other than the siblings he loves so dearly.  Until, that is, a cryptic deathbed message from the man who was more of a father to him than his own father ever was sends Chase to Huxley Manor – and (almost literally) into the arms of a most unusual young woman.

Ellie Walsh comes from a family almost as frequently beset by scandal as the Sinclairs.  Thanks to her wastrel father, who gambled away a fortune and then died, drunk in a ditch, her family is in danger of losing its home. For the last five years, Ellie has managed to keep Whitworth afloat and keep the creditors at bay, but following a poor harvest there are no more funds and the banks are about to foreclose.  As a last-ditch attempt at saving her home and staying out of debtor’s prison, Ellie has agreed to a three-month fake betrothal with her friend Henry – the new Lord Huxley – who believes he can help her to raise the funds necessary to save Whitworth.  In return, she’ll be his ‘shield’ against his formidable Aunt Ermintrude’s plans to marry him to one of her nieces.

When Chase arrives in response to his late cousin’s missive, he makes a short detour to the old Folly tower on the estate, and is surprised to find a young woman within, looking through some papers on the late Lord Huxley’s desk.  Chase can’t help wondering if the man’s message – “There is something I have but recently uncovered that I must discuss with you” – relates to some newly discovered and unpleasant revelation about his family, so finding a complete stranger looking through Huxley’s personal papers is a most unwelcome sight.  He makes his presence known and challenges the woman, who he can now see is a little older than he’d thought, and whose demeanour is that of a very proper governess or schoolmistress; calm, a little impatient and intractable – and is surprised when she introduces herself as Henry’s betrothed and then challenges Chase to explain his own presence there.  Chase is immediately intrigued – and more than that, something about her sets him off-balance and makes him feel at a disadvantage – which he dislikes intensely.


When the high-handed Lady Ermintrude decrees that, as she has nothing better to do, Ellie should help Chase to go through his late cousin’s papers and possessions, Ellie knows there’s no point in objecting, and soon finds herself fascinated by the baron’s travel journals and collections of ancient artefacts.  She also finds herself just as fascinated by Chase Sinclair, who, during their many conversations – some serious, some not – gradually reveals himself to be a very different man to the one his reputation had led her to expect, an extremely sensitive, perceptive man with a great capacity for love and affection he seems to want to deny.  At the same time, Chase comes to appreciate Ellie’s strength, her wit and her determination – and also to sense that there’s a deeply passionate woman lurking beneath her tightly controlled exterior, a woman who longs to reach for more, to escape the rigidly confined life she’s currently living.

The Rake’s Enticing Challenge is character-driven romance at its best. Chase and Ellie are wonderfully drawn, wonderfully real, complex characters who are wary of opening up and who have cultivated the art of masking their thoughts and feelings to a very high level.  They deflect deeper questions using sharp barbs or dry humour, always circling around each other and never saying what they mean for fear or rejection or worse; what if they do get what they want and it’s not enough?  Ms. Temple does a terrific job of developing their romance, slowly building a strong and genuine rapport between them as they move from initial wariness to gentle teasing and then to a greater level of intimacy as they start to reveal things about themselves they’ve never shared with anyone else.  At the same time, their physical awareness of each other grows, the air between them becoming charged with longing and want and desire in a way that’s almost palpable and is far sexier than many full-on love scenes I’ve read;  it’s incredibly well done and extremely poignant, Ellie realising that she’s falling in love for the first time in her life while Chase steadfastly refuses to acknowledge he’s head-over-heels because of the danger he believes love brings with it.

The scenes set in Egypt are richly detailed and evocative, and the secondary plot line, concerning Chase’s search for whatever Huxley discovered before his death, is nicely done and also (I suspect) forms part of the set up for the next book, which will feature Lucas and Chase’s widowed sister, Samantha.

Featuring a pair of engaging, strongly characterised leads, intelligent, insightful writing and a superbly developed romance, The Rake’s Enticing Proposal is intense, heartrending, gloriously romantic and easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read this year.

The Earl’s Irresistible Challenge (Sinful Sinclairs #1) by Lara Temple

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Could this infamous rake…

…finally have found his Countess?

When Lucas, Lord Sinclair, receives a mysterious summons from a Miss Olivia Silverdale he’s sceptical about helping her. But Olivia, although eccentric, is in earnest about her quest to restore her late godfather’s reputation. Lucas’s curiosity is piqued—and not just by Olivia’s intelligent eyes and lithe form. A new challenge quickly presents itself: keeping Miss Silverdale at arm’s length!

Rating: B+

Lara Temple, one of the strongest on the current roster of Harlequin/Mills & Boon Historical authors, begins her new Sinful Sinclairs series with The Earl’s Irresistible Challenge, the first of three stories about siblings whose irresponsible, ne’er-do-well forebears have tarnished the family name and put a blemish on the reputation of the younger generation.  It’s a terrific read that hooked me in right from the start as our sarcastic, world-weary hero comes up against a different kind of heroine who won’t let him – or his conscience –off the hook.

The eldest of the siblings is Lucas, Lord Sinclair (Chase and Samantha are his younger brother and sister), and he is rather wondering at his lack of sense for turning up to a clandestine meeting at a dingy church on a rainy winter’s afternoon simply because he’d received a letter suggesting that the sender has information relating to the death of Lucas’ father.  Lucas wonders even more when the young woman he meets, Miss Olivia Silverdale, explains that she has travelled to London from her home in Yorkshire in order to uncover the truth about the recent death of her godfather, Henry Payton, and during the course of her enquiries, came across a note in Payton’s hand that said “Howard Sinclair was terribly wronged and something must be done.”

Lucas listens to Miss Silverdale’s recitation with growing incredulity and shock as she explains how she has recruited the help of a Madam by masquerading as a spiritualist, and becomes more and more convinced he’s dealing with a madwoman or a very creative liar.  He gives little credence to either the note or Miss Silverdale’s suggestion that they join forces to obtain answers to the truth about her godfather’s death and the question posed by his words concerning Lucas’ father – but ends their unorthodox encounter by telling her that he will think about what she has told him.

Two days later, Lucas has come to decision and tells Olivia that he won’t allow her to make enquiries which could embroil his family name in more scandal than is already attached to it, making it clear that he will put a stop to her investigation if she will not desist.  Yet he finds it impossible to completely dismiss the bright, intriguing and infuriating young woman whose quick mind and ready wit attract and annoy him in equal measure.  Rather against his better judgement, he decides that “If anyone is to continue tarnishing our name, I prefer [the] remaining Sinclairs do it ourselves”  and finds himself agreeing to ‘allow’ her investigation to continue provided she agrees not to do anything further without informing him in advance of her plans.

Olivia Silverdale isn’t the slightest bit intimidated by Lord Sinclair’s veiled threats, although his sardonic, disparaging attitude toward her attempts to help him and his family exasperate her no end.  She is surprised at his lack of interest in unravelling the mystery suggested by Payton’s note but determined to pursue her own enquiries with or without his help.  Henry Payton was more of a father to her and her siblings than their own father, who spent most of his life abroad pursuing his interest in the natural sciences, and the story she’s been told – that Henry died in the bed of a courtesan – doesn’t add up.

Lucas is intrigued and exasperated by Olivia from the very start, and it doesn’t take long for him to become well-and-truly smitten.  She’s like no woman he’s ever met – which is a well-worn romance-novel cliché most of the time, but not here, because Olivia is a refreshingly different heroine.  She’s independent and certainly pushes her boundaries, but she doesn’t do it in that obtrusive ‘look at me!’ way that so often characterises those curl-tossing TSTL heroines I can’t stand.  She’s unconventional and Lucas is right when he calls her relentless, but she’s quietly so; she doesn’t make a fuss, she just makes it clear she’ll do what she believes she must with or without Lucas’ help or sanction, but not in a brash or snide way.  He knows full-well his strings are being pulled, but there’s no question he does what he does because he wants to. The more time he spends with Olivia, the harder it is for him to step back, and his protests become token as he falls more and more deeply in love with her.  The main conflict in the novel arises from the fact that Olivia doesn’t actually realise the extent of her tunnel-vision or how her determination to do what she perceives as The Right Thing is actually manipulative.  Lucas sees it, and even goes along with it, telling himself it’s because he wants to stop her from further besmirching the Sinclair name, whereas we know it’s because he’s falling hard for her and because he wants to protect her from gossip and the disappointment he fears is in store.

Lucas’ self-deprecating humour and self-awareness are very attractive, and I always enjoy watching the confident, worldly hero losing his head over his heroine, especially when, as is the case here, he’s the first to own to the truth and depth of his feelings.  Olivia’s realisation that she’s fallen in love is quite matter-of-fact, whereas Lucas struggles to reconcile his instinct to do the honourable thing and keep Olivia at a distance so as not to taint her reputation by association while being so in love with her that he just can’t stay away.  Olivia, on the other hand, is more inscrutable.  She has had years of practice at hiding her feelings, which causes Lucas to doubt she feels anything more for him than physical attraction .

The Earl’s Irresistible Challenge is a beautifully developed, wholly absorbing romance featuring two strongly drawn protagonists who are clearly made for each other.  Lara Temple once again demonstrates her gift for humorous, insightful dialogue – Olivia can more than hold her own against Lucas’ sardonic wit, while he knows exactly which buttons to push in order to get a reaction – and I lapped up each of their witty, astute conversations and observations.  It’s a very strong start to a new series, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with the Sinful Sinclairs.

Lord Stanton’s Last Mistress (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies #3) by Lara Temple

This title may be purchased from Amazon

She saved his life…

Now he can’t resist her!

Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies story: Lord Stanton’s stay on the island of Illiakos is shrouded in memories of fever and his mysterious nurse. Years later, an Illiakan royal visit to Stanton Hall reveals the princess’s chaperon Christina James is the woman who saved his life! Alexander is a master of control, but Christina makes him long to unleash the sinful side he’s buried…and unlock her passionate nature too!

Rating: B-

Lord Stanton’s Last Mistress is the final book in Lara Temple’s Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies trilogy, which features the members of the ‘Wild Hunt’, three men who have been friends since their schooldays and who served together during the Napoleonic Wars.  In books one and two, Gabriel, Lord Hunter and Alan, Marquess of Ravenscar met their matches, and now it’s the turn of the enigmatic Alexander, Lord Stanton, a man whose iron self-control has been hard won and whose coolly confident demeanour hides a wealth of hurt and self-recrimination.

When we meet him in the prologue, Alex has been shot and wounded and is being cared for in the palace of King Darius of the small Mediterranean island of Illiakos.  His wound is severe, and as he drifts in and out of consciousness, Alex registers he is being cared for by a woman shrouded in a voluminous veil. Once he’s regained sufficient strength to tease and flirt, Alex tries to get the woman to remove her ‘tent’, but she refuses and continues to tend him from beneath her covering.  In spite of the fact that he can’t see her face, Alex is drawn towards the young woman who so cheerfully disagrees with him and puts him in his place, so much so that he impulsively asks her to leave the island with him when he is well enough to travel.

Christina James is an Englishwoman by birth who has lived at the court of Illiakos for the last eight years.  After the death of her mother when she was ten, she accompanied her father to the island, and quickly became a dear friend and companion of the young Princess Ariadne who was then just four-years-old.  Christina remained on Illiakos following her father’s death, and now aged eighteen, she is bound by ties of love and gratitude to Ari and her father, who has asked Christina (who has inherited her father’s skill as an herbalist) to tend to the wounded Englishman – and insists on her wearing veils to preserve her modesty and reputation.  Rumour has it that the wounded man is as handsome as Apollo, and on first sight of him, Christina has to agree.  But she’s drawn to him for more than his looks; he’s charming, vibrant and funny and Christina is very soon completely infatuated with him.

Six years later, and the impetuous, smilingly flirtatious young man of the prologue has disappeared.  Alex got out of the spying game not long after he left Illiakos, but continues to work for the British government as a diplomat under the auspices of his uncle, Sir Oswald Sinclair.  When Sir Oswald tasks Alex with hosting the upcoming talks between England, Austria, Russia and Illiakos that are designed to secure Illiakos as a naval base in the Mediterranean, Alex is not pleased at the prospect of opening his family home to the delegations.  But his father, the Marquess of Wentworth, has agreed to the idea, so Alex has little choice but to agree and, a few days later, leaves London for Stanton Hall in Berkshire.

Arrived at the Hall in the company of King Darius and his daughter, Christina is dismayed to learn the identity of their host. She had only known Alex’s first name when she nursed him and had no idea that the Lord Stanton whose hospitality the royal party is to enjoy is the man on whom she’d had such a silly, girlish crush. With any luck, his lordship won’t realise who she is, given he never saw her unveiled, and she hopes fervently that he will remain in ignorance… but of course, it doesn’t take Alex too long to figure out that Christina was the ‘nurse’ he’s never quite been able to forget.

As Alex and Christina spend time with each other over the next few days and weeks, they begin to open up to each other about their pasts, and about their hopes and fears. I liked both of them, and had been intrigued by the glimpses of Alex we were given in the earlier books, but I have to admit to being a little disappointed when he turned out to be yet another of those stereotypical, marriage-shy bachelors damaged by his past that are so frequently found in historical romances. Much is made of the scandal surrounding his maternal family, the Sinclairs, and the fact that his mother ran off with her lover; we’re given to understand that Alex used to be somewhat wild, but since his return from Illiakos, he’s become a man who keeps himself under the strictest control. A love affair of his own that went badly wrong and ended with a duel seems to have been the catalyst for his reformation, and now he is continually at pains to suppress his scandalous Sinclair side in favour of the starchy Stanton one.

But somehow it’s all a bit… tepid. The battle between Alex’s warring natures is overwrought, and as a point of romantic conflict, it’s rather flimsy. His reactions and responses – his annoyance at the fact he’s fallen for Christina when he didn’t want to, for instance – seem disproportionate, and the idea of his having to continually smother his ‘sinful Sinclair’ side make little sense. He was a bit wild in his youth, but as far as I could see, he did nothing terrible – and then he grew up and started to think more about his actions. Isn’t that what adults are supposed to do?

Christina is a much more well-defined character whose motivations make a lot more sense. Neglected by her parents, she was brought up alongside Princess Ariadne; the young women share a sisterly affection, although of course, Christina is in that awkward situation of being neither flesh nor fowl, part of the family, but not part of it at the same time. Having spent most of her life being an afterthought, it’s not surprising that she is unwilling to throw caution to the wind and risk the life she has built for herself by running away with Alex when he asks her in the prologue, and it also explains her caution when she meets him again years later and realises that her fascination with him is as strong as it ever was. She’s sensible and practical; but finds the courage to reach for what she wants, and I appreciated the way the author shows that Christina is very well aware of the limitations imposed upon her by her sex and by her dependent situation.

I enjoy Lara Temple’s assured and intelligent writing, and I was pleased to note that she continues to display the talent for realistic, witty dialogue that I’ve mentioned in other reviews. The principals have strong chemistry and the secondary characters – King Darius, Ari and especially Alex’s aunt Albinia – are adroitly drawn. But while Lord Stanton’s Last Mistress was a pleasant read, I just couldn’t buy Alex as a deeply damaged hero, so the reasons separating him from Christina lack credibility and the romance is weakened as a result. Ms. Temple is a talented writer and I’ll continue to read her work, but this one didn’t grab me as much as some of her other books.

Lord Ravenscar’s Inconvenient Betrothal (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies #2) by Lara Temple

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The Marquess of Ravenscar…

‘Women either run from him or run to him.’

Part of Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies. Alan, Marquess of Ravenscar, is furious when unconventional heiress Lily Wallace refuses him purchase of her property. He can’t even win her over with his infamous charm. But when fever seizes him and they’re trapped together Alan realises Lily’s attentions will compromise them both! His solution? To take Lily as his betrothed before desire consumes them completely…

Rating: B

In this second book of Lara Temple’s Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies series, attention turns to Alan Rothwell, Marquess of Ravenscar, a former officer who, along with his friends Lord Hunter (Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress) and Lord Stanton fought in Spain and Portugal and is a veteran of Waterloo. All three gentlemen are handsome, wealthy and have cut a dash through society since their return from the war; they’re known as rakes and scoundrels of the highest order, although their wartime experiences and hardships have driven them to try to make things better for the many veterans who returned from the war unable to find work. It’s not widely known that they run a charity called the Hope House Foundation, which provides accommodation and employment for former soldiers and their families; there are a number of Hope Houses across England now, but unfortunately, one of them – the one in Bristol – recently burned down meaning that its inhabitants have had to be temporarily re-housed. The gentlemen are planning to purchase an alternative property in Somerset when the owner – a childhood friend of Alan’s – dies unexpectedly and throws their plans into disarray.

Alan avoids Somerset like the plague, even though – in fact, precisely because – it’s the location of his ancestral home, Ravenscar Hall. He and his sister, Catherine, spent a miserable childhood there under the tyrannical rule of their grandfather after the deaths of their parents; and although the man is long dead, Alan can’t forgive his grandmother for the way he and his sister were treated and interacts with her as little as possible. He does, however, have very fond memories of the neighbouring Hollywell House, where he spent many happy hours as a boy, bathed in the warmth and comfort of friends – and his happy memories are, in part, what prompt him to propose the place as a suitable site for a new Hope House.

He arrives at Hollywell – not in the best of tempers, as is always the case when he’s close to Ravenscar – and strides into the library only to find it in complete chaos – and in the midst of it, an auburn-haired, rather pretty young woman wielding … a mace.

Heiress Lily Wallace is just as surprised as her unexpected visitor to discover she has inherited Hollywell House, but she has hopes it will mark the beginning of her life as an independent woman. Recently arrived in England, she had lived abroad with her parents all her life, firstly on the remote Isla Padrones in Brazil and then, after her mother’s death, in Jamaica, where she found the strictures imposed upon her by the ex-pat British community to be unbearable. After her father’s death, she discovered his fortune was tied up in such a way as to make it impossible for her to access it without months of legal wrangling, and the only thing she can currently say belongs to her is Hollywell House. She is presently a guest of Lady Jezebel Ravenscar (the dowager marchioness), a friend of her family, and is now secretly contemplating removing there from Ravenscar Hall while she decides what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Not surprisingly, the unwanted intrusion of an undeniably handsome stranger who seems to think she is responsible for the mess in the library immediately puts her on her guard, and she and the gentleman – who also seems to think he has some claim on the house – embark on a round of evasive remarks and sharply honed barbs which only ends when Lady Jezebel enters and furiously demands to know what on earth her grandson is doing with her guest.

Wanting nothing to do with his grandmother, Alan immediately assures her he is leaving – but when she tells him that his old nurse and his niece are unwell, he finds he can’t leave without visiting them; and in spite of his determination to stay away, he ends up staying at the Hall for a few days.

The sparks fly between Alan and Lily right from their very first meeting, and the air is thick with sexual tension as they match wits and hurl verbal daggers at each other. Alan is disgruntled because she doesn’t show the slightest inclination to throw herself at him as most women do, and later, Lily admits to herself that she’d been a bit put out that, on discovering her to be an heiress, he had shown no signs of wanting to pursue her. They both try hard to deny the strength of their mutual attraction, and they tread carefully around each other over the next few days, telling themselves they will be glad when Alan’s visit is over and he returns to London. Fate has other plans however, and when Alan is unexpectedly taken ill, he and Lily end up spending a few days together, unchaperoned. He may be a rake and a scoundrel, but he’s not unaware of the likely consequence of such an occurrence. Alan has actively avoided marriage all his adult life, but he could do worse than leg-shackle himself to a spirited beauty who challenges his mind and fires his blood, and he bows to the inevitable. But Lily insists she won’t be forced into anything. She has options and she will make up her own mind, especially when Alan insists their marriage will be on HIS – extremely selfish – terms. Both characters have sound reasons for being wary of marriage, but while Lily is prepared to open herself up to the possibilities, Alan wants to remain closed off – and Lily isn’t sure if loving him will be enough.

Lily is a terrific heroine; she’s smart, independent and determined, she gives as good as she gets and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, and while Alan is perhaps somewhat stereotypical – the rake whose terrible childhood/tragic background causes him to swear off close personal relationships – he is, for the most part, an attractive hero. I have to admit, though, that the speed at which he reverses his position on matrimony and goes from confirmed bachelor to determined – and somewhat jealous – suitor could cause whiplash, and I wasn’t wild about the fact that he doesn’t tell Lily the reason he wants to buy Hollywell House until fairly late in the book. It’s a too-obvious contrivance, dragged out simply to satisfy the demands of the plot.

Even taking those reservations into account, the story is well-written, the chemistry between the protagonists is palpable and Lara Temple excels when it comes to writing believable, snappy dialogue. While I don’t think it’s quite on a par with the previous book in the series, Lord Ravenscar’s Inconvenient Betrothal is nonetheless an enjoyable romance featuring a couple of strongly drawn, engaging characters, and is well worth your consideration if you’re looking for a relatively short, but emotionally satisfying read.

Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies #1) by Lara Temple

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Betrothed…to the wrong man!

Building a life away from her bullying family, schoolmistress Helen Tilney now needs to convince her childhood sweetheart she’s a worthy bride. Standing in her way is Lord Hunter–the man Nell has just discovered she’s betrothed to!

Hunter’s offer of marriage to Nell came out of guilt, and now seems less than appealing! So when she asks for his help to win another man, he agrees. Until their lessons in flirtation inspire a raging desire that has Hunter longing to keep Nell for himself…

I saw that. I saw you rolling your eyes and saying “another Cinderella book?!” In principle, I’m with you – while Harlequin/Mills & Boon book titles are (thankfully) bereft of cutesy song lyrics and faux film titles, they can sometimes be rather dreadfully unimaginative. But, much as with the case of another Harlequin Historical I reviewed recently (Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance), Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress is a much better book than the title suggests and I’d urge you – strongly – not to let it put you off reading it.

Lara Temple is a relative newcomer to the Harlequin/M&B stable – this is, I think, her fourth novel – but I’ve enjoyed the other books of hers I’ve read, which have been distinguished by strongly characterised, attractive principals, lashings of lovely sexual tension and excellent dialogue. I knew that at some point she’d come up with a book which would knock my socks off – and this is it.

Our titular Cinders is Miss Helen (Nell) Tilney, who lives with her overbearing, brutish father and an obnoxious aunt who is forever finding fault with her. The only times Nell is truly happy are when she’s away at school or when she’s working with her father’s horses – and it’s in this capacity she first meets Gabriel, Lord Hunter. He is interested in purchasing Petra – a thoroughbred of which Nell is especially fond – and Nell reconciles herself to parting with her when she sees that Lord Hunter is a man who appreciates good horseflesh and will treat the animal well. Nell puts the horse through her paces and afterwards, retires to her room thinking she will never see him again. Unfortunately, however, her aunt has other ideas and summons Nell to dinner, knowing full well that Nell will hate it.

When a willowy, wan and very timid young woman enters the drawing room before dinner, Hunter can’t believe this is the intrepid horsewoman who rode Petra so skilfully and with such joy earlier in the day. He also can’t help but notice the way Sir Henry treats his daughter and her aunt’s continual bullying; and when Nell finally snaps and tells her aunt she wants nothing more to do with her, he is impressed by her show of spirit and silently cheers her on. It’s this, together with the thought that allying the Hunter and Tilney estates might not be a bad idea – plus that fact that Hunter is one of life’s protectors – that prompts him to ask Tilney for Nell’s hand the next day. By then however, Nell has fled back to school so isn’t privy to the discussion, but given Hunter is in mourning for his younger brother and Nell has to complete her schooling, there is no question of a wedding in the near future. Tilney undertakes to explain matters to Nell and Hunter takes his leave.

Four years later, a furious Nell Tilney arrives at Hunter’s door without warning, demanding to know what is meant by the announcement of their betrothal in the Morning Post.  She has no wish to have her name linked to that of a man whose debauched exploits provide regular fodder for the gossip columns, and insists he arranges for a retraction to appear as soon as possible, telling him that if he won’t do it, then she will.  Hunter draws the line at this – their engagement might not have been made under the best of circumstances and perhaps now, they both wish to withdraw from it, but doing so in such a public manner will create a full-scale scandal that will do neither of them any good.  Nell suggests they need to speak with her father, who has gone to the annual horsebreeder’s fair at Wilton, and, prior to depositing her with his aunts for the night, Hunter agrees with this idea.

Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress is, without doubt, one of the most romantic romances I’ve read this year.  Lara Temple builds the relationship between her two principals with skill and insight and the sexual tension between them crackles and sizzles throughout.   The author once again shows just how skilled she is at writing dialogue that is entertaining and naturalistic as Hunter teases Nell and Nell insults Hunter right back – well, he says she insults him, but really she’s giving him as good as she gets and he knows and enjoys it.

“Would you care for a rug?”

“Yes. No.  Is this a custom-built curricle? It feels very light on the road, even with the two of you in it.”

“Do you hear that, Hidgins?  Miss Tilney thinks we are fat.”

Nell glanced over her shoulder at Hidgins [the groom] with a complicit smile.

“No, no.  Large boned.  There are benefits to that, like the difference between an Arabian and a cob. Keeps you more firmly on the ground. But I’m not sure I’d like to race with you in the curricle.”

“As the saying goes, no one asked you; and annoying me is not likely to convince me to let you drive my horses.”

“Are you saying there is something I could do that might?”

While their love story takes place over just a few days, the relationship is written so well that it never feels rushed or forced, and  along the way, Ms. Temple tackles some serious subjects in a manner that evolves organically and is completely in keeping with the story.  We learn early on that when Hunter paid his visit to Sir Henry, he had just buried his younger brother, Tim, who had returned from war broken in both mind and body and who, unable to bear his physical pain and mental agony had taken his own life.  Hunter blames himself; he should never have allowed Tim to join the army, he should have done a better job looking after him when he came home… he should have done more, full stop.  Hunter has also been badly affected by his wartime experiences, but is unwilling to allow anyone close enough to discover that he still suffers violent nightmares;  having responsibility thrust upon him at an early age has led him to believe that while others need him, he doesn’t need anyone and that’s how he likes it.

I defy anyone not to be cheering on the inside (at least) when Nell finally faces down her horrible aunt, and to applaud her determination not to allow herself to be bullied ever again.  When we meet her again in the first chapter, she’s a rather formidable young woman and it’s easy to see exactly why Hunter is so strongly attracted to her. As for Hunter, well he’s quite the swoonworthy hero – a bit rakish perhaps, but honourable, protective to a fault, intelligent, intuitive and funny; I think I fell for him every bit as hard as Nell did.

The secondary characters of Hunter’s friends, Stanton and Ravenscar are skilfully drawn and have already intrigued me sufficiently that I can say with certainty that I will be reading their stories when they appear.  My one tiny niggle with the book as a whole is to do with Hunter’s reasons for trying to keep Nell at arm’s length in the latter part of the story (which are rather clichéd), but that didn’t affect my enjoyment, and I have no hesitation in giving Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress a very strong recommendation.

The Duke’s Unexpected Bride by Lara Temple

This title may be purchased from Amazon

From country miss… to London duchess!

Sophie Trevelyan has been enjoying her visit to London, even if her closest companion is an overweight pug! Then she encounters the dashing Duke of Harcourt, who intrigues her more than is strictly proper…

Max knows he must marry. He’s looking for the opposite of his high-spirited fiancée, who died some years ago, so he tries to keep his distance from bubbly Sophie. But when her life is endangered, Max feels compelled to rescue her…with a very unexpected proposal!

Rating: B

In The Duke’s Unexpected Bride, Lara Temple has created a charming and entertaining riff on the “stuffy aristocrat meets breath-of-fresh-air heroine” trope in which the hero and heroine find themselves unexpectedly betrothed and having to find a way to reconcile their very opposite personalities.

Miss Sophie Trevelyan is enjoying the temporary escape from her overcrowded family home in the country afforded by her current visit to London to act as companion to her eccentric Aunt Minnie. Her aunt rarely rises from her bed so there is little for Sophie to do, but she is nonetheless enjoying having space and time to herself for a change, and is determined to beat the previous record for a Stay With Aunt Minnie (two weeks) set by one of her cousins.

Deciding that one of the most likely ways to earn her aunt’s approbation will be to take care of her overweight pug, Sophie manages to coax the dog out of the house and get him to waddle across to the gardens opposite her aunt’s town house, where, in spite of his bulk, he promptly discovers a liking for chasing birds. Unfortunately, he gives her the slip, running right into the path of a fashionable couple out for a stroll, who turn out to be her aunt’s neighbours. Chatting happily away, explaining who she is, why she’s in the garden and apologising for the dog’s escape, Sophie doesn’t notice that the gentleman is rather taken aback at her lack of propriety in speaking thus to a couple of perfect strangers – and cheerfully makes her way home, thinking that the couple are the most elegant people she has ever seen.

Max, Duke of Harcourt is simultaneously fascinated and irritated by the young woman’s lack of decorum, finding her outspoken friendliness and the absence of any trace of artifice in her manner refreshing while also thinking her rather too forward. Realising she must be one of Lady Minerva Huntley’s many relations, Max’s sister, Lady Hetty, suggests she might call upon the her at some point, after which they resume their discussion about Max’s search for a bride.

Bound by a promise to his late father to marry by his thirty-first birthday, Max is seeking a wife who is the epitome of modest womanhood and correct behaviour, someone who will never cause him a moment’s unease – in short, a woman the complete opposite of his previous fiancée, who was unconventionally lively, impetuous and highly-strung. The betrothal ended tragically, and Max has eschewed anything and anyone that smacks of impulsiveness or recklessness ever since. Yet when, a day or so later, he sees the young woman with the pug sitting in the gardens, sketching, he finds himself stopping to speak with her. And when, the next day, he meets her on the street, apparently on the way to see the exhibition at the Royal Academy, he offers to take her there himself, he’s unable to account for his behaviour. They haven’t been properly introduced, he had absolutely no reason to converse with her and none – other than concern for her safety and reputation – to act as her escort. Max still doesn’t know whether to be annoyed or amused by Sophie’s lively conversation and her disregard for – or lack of knowledge of – proper behaviour, but there’s no question that he’s well and truly smitten.

Having seen some of Sophie’s sketches, Max already knows that she is a talented artist, but during their visit to the exhibition, and as their conversation begins to take a turn from the awkward to the mutually enjoyable, he also realises she’s intelligent, witty and insightful. He enjoys both the afternoon and her company, until they are approached by Lord Wivenhoe, who proceeds to flirt with Sophie, much to Max’s annoyance.

When the rumour mill starts grinding with the news of Max’s having escorted an unknown young woman about, he chastises himself for his impulsive behaviour. But he can’t seem to help himself around Sophie; something about her has utterly bewitched him and he thinks that the sooner he is married to a suitably demure, ladylike young woman, the better. The problem is, however, that the ladies whom he is considering for the position of his duchess have all begun to seem stiff and uninteresting, and although he tries to tell himself that his desire for Sophie is simply a momentary aberration, he can’t quite convince himself and determines that the safest course is to stay away from her.

This proves to be more difficult than he had anticipated, however, especially when Lord Wivehnoe seems determined to pursue Sophie, in spite – and probably because – of Max’s attempt to warn the man off. When Sophie is placed in a very uncomfortable situation, Max declares publicly that she’s his betrothed – and their fate is sealed. Max is torn. On the one hand, he’s appalled at the sort of rash behaviour he thought he’d left behind him long ago, and on the other, he’s pleased at the knowledge that Sophie is now his and that he will soon be able to slake his lust for her in all sorts of extremely pleasurable ways.

I admit that during the early stages of the story, I had reservations about both protagonists. I wasn’t wild about Sophie because her innocent, quirky, girl-from-the-country-who-doesn’t-know-what’s-what persona rang slightly false; and while Max is presented as the model of propriety, he is fairly quick to break his own rules when it comes to Sophie, spending time alone with her and escorting her about unchaperoned – all of which made it difficult to completely accept him as the uptight, stuffy aristocrat he is supposed to be. Fortunately, however, my apprehensions were quickly dispelled, because Sophie is revealed to be clever, self-aware and perceptive; she knows she’s not perfect but doesn’t feel the need to apologise for her shortcomings and is all the more likeable because of it. And as the story progresses, Ms. Temple clearly shows that Max is struggling to work out what he truly wants as opposed to what he thinks he wants. His insecurities about the past are impinging upon his present and he has to decide what type of man he wants to be; one who embraces his present and looks forward to the future, or one who allows his past to push him down a path which isn’t right for him. Ms. Temple does an admirable job of flipping the “sophisticated hero/innocent heroine” trope on its head here, by having Sophie’s empathy and love for Max take the lead in their relationship, gradually bringing him to see that he can’t continue to look back, and I loved watching him come to thoroughly appreciate Sophie’s unique personality and to realise that he loves her because of it, rather than in spite of it.

The one false note struck in the book is in the final plot twist, which is somewhat melodramatic, and felt like it had simply been included in order to introduce a bit of last minute tension into the story.

In spite of the reservations I’ve expressed, I enjoyed The Duke’s Unexpected Bride and would definitely recommend it to others. The romance is superbly developed, the chemistry between Max and Sophie is palpable and the love scenes are sensual and well-written. This is the second book I’ve read and enjoyed by Lara Temple, and she’s earned herself a place on my list of authors to watch.

The Reluctant Viscount by Lara Temple

The Reluctant viscount

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A decade ago, wallflower Alyssa Drake’s heart broke when Adam Alistair was banished from Mowbray. Now, he’s back – wealthy, titled, and more cynical than before! And Alyssa’s determined not to fall under this notorious rake’s spell ever again…

Reluctant viscount Adam knows only betrayal. But Alyssa proves herself an unexpected ally when he finds his life endangered, and they are forced into a sham engagement. Their betrothal may be fake, but there’s no denying the very real passion that explodes between them!

Rating: B

The Reluctant Viscount is Lara Temple’s second book for Harlequin Historical, and while it is a little uneven in terms of the pacing and plotting, I enjoyed it sufficiently to want to read more of her work. The central relationship is very well written and the verbal exchanges between the hero and heroine are often funny and have a naturalistic feel to them that not many authors can achieve. But the mystery that is introduced in the latter part of the book is not as successful, and the shift in focus from romance to mystery left me feeling a little disappointed overall.

Some ten years before the story starts, eighteen year-old Alyssa Drake was heartbroken when her beloved childhood friend Adam Alastair was banished from their village of Mowbray. Her cousin Rowena, a manipulative young woman, made it seem as though Adam had compromised her so that she could secure the hand of another, wealthier suitor, and with everyone – including his family – believing the worst of him, Adam left England and hasn’t been back since.

Alyssa has spent the last ten years living with her neglectful father, a well-known poet who only remembers her existence when he wants something – and watching her siblings make happy marriages. When she was younger, she had been as much of a tearaway as her brothers and sisters, running wild with nobody to supervise them, but after Adam left, she realised such behaviour was unacceptable and started to bring her siblings into line, seeing to their educations and manners as well as turning herself into a proper young lady. A decade and more later, her transformation has been so successful that most of the village has forgotten the breeches-wearing, tree-climbing hoyden Alyssa used to be, and she is regarded as a model of propriety and is well-liked and respected in Mowbray.

She’s someone who has spent most of her life watching out for and taking responsibility for others, and it’s something she can’t quite stop doing. Her latest mission brings her to the door of the newly-minted Viscount Delacort with a request for help; his dandified, fortune-hunting cousin has set his sights on her father’s ward, Mary, who is supposed to be marrying her brother Charlie, and she wants the viscount to warn him off.

But this Adam Alistair is not the one Alyssa remembers. In place of the warm, friendly young man she knew is a cold cynic, one who has not forgotten his humiliation at Rowena’s hands and who clearly wants to be anywhere other than Mowbray.

At first, Alyssa wonders if Adam even remembers her, but that impression is quickly dispelled as Adam comments that Alyssa hasn’t lost her penchant for wanting to organise everyone, and she hits back by taking him to task about his principles – or lack thereof.  This initial exchange sets the tone for many of their subsequent encounters, which contain a mixture of insight, humour and forthrightness that clearly shows that these two have each other pegged. As I said at the beginning of this review, the dialogue between the protagonists is superbly executed and is one of the book’s strengths; there’s a real sense of the strong emotional connection between them and the underlying romantic and sexual tension bubbles along nicely.

A couple of hints are dropped early on in the story that someone is not at all happy at Adam’s return and his inheritance of his lands and title, but in the second half,  this plotline assumes greater importance and takes over from the romance as the driving force of the story.  When Adam is falsely accused of murder – or attempted murder – Alyssa steps in and provides him with an alibi, telling everyone that they were together at the time of the attack, and had just become engaged.  I rather like the fake-relationship trope in romances, and it’s done well here, with Adam coming to the realisation that he actually wants to marry Alyssa, and she still determined to stay single rather than subject herself to the rule of a man when she’s had enough of that from her egotistical father. I really enjoyed watching Adam gradually fall in love while Alyssa tells herself to be sensible and resist him, but the mystery is the weakest part of the book, the identity of the villain isn’t too hard to guess and the denouement is rather OTT.  I wanted more of Adam and Alyssa and their delicious banter and wonderful sexual tension; instead I got a predictable mystery that detracted somewhat from their burgeoning romance.

But with that said, The Reluctant Viscount is still getting a strong recommendation because the things about the book that DO work – the dialogue, characterisation and romance – work very well indeed. Even with the reservations I’ve expressed, I would definitely suggest that anyone looking for a new voice in historical romance could do worse than give this one a try.