The Scoundrel in Her Bed (Sins for All Seasons #3) by Lorraine Heath (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The bastard son of a nobleman, Finn Trewlove was a shameful secret raised by a stranger. As Finn came of age, he had secrets, too – the clandestine nights spent with an earl’s daughter. But her promise of forever ended in betrayal.

Driven by a past that haunts her, Lady Lavinia Kent seeks redemption in London’s underworld, engaged in a daring cause inspired by the young man to whom she gave her innocence and who then proved himself a scoundrel by abandoning her.

When their paths cross again, they can’t deny the yearning and desire that still burns. As they discover the truth behind the deceptions that tore them apart, Finn and Lavinia must fight to reclaim what they’ve lost, no matter how dangerous – because love is worth the risk…

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy meets girl for the first time in eight years and she knees him in the nads after he defends her from some unsavoury characters. Okay, so that last bit might be a bit of a deviation from the tried-and-tested trope, but the rest is a fairly accurate description of the first part of the plot in Lorraine Heath’s The Scoundrel in Her Bed, book three in the Sins for All Seasons series.

If you’ve read or listened to the previous book (When a Duke Loves a Woman), you may recall that its hero, the Duke of Thornley, was jilted at the altar by his intended, Lady Lavinia Kent. Thornley’s search for Lavinia – because he wanted to make sure she was alright, not because he wanted to force her to marry him – was the starting point for his romance with Gilly Trewlove, owner of the Mermaid and Unicorn Tavern in Whitechapel. In that novel, we learned that Finn, one of Gilly’s four brothers, had a history with Lavinia – and in this one, we learn more about that history and follow them on a difficult and sometimes painful journey as they discover the truth of what happened to separate them, come to know who they are now, and rekindle their romance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons #2) by Lorraine Heath (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Gillie Trewlove knows what a stranger’s kindness can mean, having been abandoned on a doorstep as a baby and raised by the woman who found her there. So, when suddenly faced with a soul in need at her door – or the alleyway by her tavern – Gillie doesn’t hesitate. But he’s no infant. He’s a grievously injured, distractingly handsome gentleman who doesn’t belong in Whitechapel, much less recuperating in Gillie’s bed….

Being left at the altar is humiliating; being rescued from thugs by a woman – albeit a brave and beautiful one – is the pièce de résistance to the duke of Thornley’s extraordinarily bad day. After nursing him back from the brink, Gillie agrees to help him comb London’s darker corners for his wayward bride. But every moment together is edged with desire and has Thorne rethinking his choice of wife. Yet Gillie knows the aristocracy would never accept a duchess born in sin. Thorne, however, is determined to prove to her that no obstacle is insurmountable when a duke loves a woman.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

The first two books in the author’s Sins for All Seasons series – Beyond Scandal and Desire and When a Duke Loves a Woman – have been released simultaneously as audiobooks, and as I read and reviewed the first book earlier this year, I opted to review the second in audio. It’s a low-angst, low-conflict Cinderella story which is well written, boasts a couple of engaging central characters and a romance that feels very mature – but ultimately, it lacks the emotional punch I’ve found in other books I’ve read by this author, and I came away from it feeling a little disappointed.

Antony Coventry, Duke of Thornley, is some way into his cups when he decides to make his way to Whitechapel, the last known destination of the woman who jilted him at the altar that morning. While there, Thornley – Thorne – falls foul of a bunch of footpads who rob him and beat him quite badly. He just about recalls hearing a low, melodious voice yelling at the men to leave him alone and moves in and out of consciousness as his rescuer, gets him to her flat, has the doctor called, and then takes care of him until he is well enough to be able to return home.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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

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

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

Rating: B

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

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

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

While Mick hadn’t planned for his sister to engineer the meeting, he makes the most of the opportunity, rather surprised to find that Lady Aslyn is not what he expected; unlike most young ladies of her class, she is approachable and easy to talk to.  She is also, Mick notes with satisfaction, intrigued by him and has hardly taken her eyes off him since he first appeared – which is all to the good as far as his plans go.

This is the first of many encounters Mick contrives with Aslyn, over the course of which he finds himself growing reluctantly fascinated by her mix of intelligence, innocence and curiosity about the world around her.  Before long, his desire for the woman herself far outstrips his desire for revenge against his father – but even if Aslyn were not promised to Kipwick, there is no possibility that the daughter of an earl and a bastard – even one with noble blood running through his veins – can have a future together.

The revenge plot hums along in the background but Ms. Heath focuses firmly on the developing relationship between Aslyn and Mick, whose immediate fascination with each other soon goes beyond infatuation and physical attraction and turns into a deep emotional connection that neither had expected.  Both are engaging, well-rounded characters and I particularly enjoyed watching Aslyn coming to realise that while she cares for Kip, he is not the man who makes her heart race and her blood pound.  Even before meeting Mick, she had begun to question the nature of Kip’s feelings for her and wonder why he’s never attempted to steal so much as a kiss – but her visceral reaction to Mick makes her start to question her situation even more.  Mick is good-looking, self-assured, solicitous and charming; he’s like no-one else Aslyn has ever met but just as important as the physical attraction that draws her to him is the way he actually converses with her frankly, opening up a world of which she has largely been ignorant and showing her just how narrow her world-view really is.  More than that, he listens to her and encourages her in her own opinions, something the men of her own class never do.

Mick is a sexy, diamond-in-the-rough hero who is perhaps just a little too good to be true in spite of his plan to use Aslyn, bring down Kipwick and force Hedley to recognise him.  Everything Mick has, he’s worked bloody hard for, and his many business interests encompass housing, hotels and shops, the latter two providing badly-needed employment for people living in the less prosperous areas of London.  He is devoted to his ‘family’ – other illegitimate children ‘farmed’ out to Ettie Trewlove – and believes everyone deserves a chance.  But Mick doesn’t see himself as a philanthropist or benefactor – he just thinks he’s a bloke who did what he needed to do to get on in life, and is touched when Aslyn calls his achievements – calls him – remarkable.  The trouble is though, that I couldn’t quite credit that a highly successful, self-made man of thirty-one with so much going on in his life would still be craving validation from someone who had made his disinterest so clear.  I suppose one could argue that revenge is never rational, but Mick’s determination to get the duke to acknowledge him didn’t really ring true, and as that’s the driving force behind plot, I’ve knocked my final grade down a notch.

In spite of that, however, I enjoyed the book, and am intrigued enough by Mick’s ‘siblings’ to want to continue with the series.  Beyond Scandal and Desire is a solid, if slightly flawed start, and I’m sure fans of the genre and the author will enjoy it.

A Christmas to Remember (anthology) by Lisa Kleypas, Lorraine Heath, Megan Frampton & Vivienne Lorret

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Romance stars Lisa Kleypas, Lorraine Heath, Megan Frampton, and Vivienne Lorret prove in this collection of stories that love is the most magical during Christmas…

“I Will” by Lisa Kleypas

To be reinstated into his father’s will, Andrew, Lord Drake, must court a respectable woman-his friend’s spinster sister, Miss Caroline Hargreaves. After he blackmails Caroline into helping him, the charade begins-but is it really a charade once love takes hold of their hearts…?

“Deck the Halls With Love” by Lorraine Heath

Alistair Wakefield, the Marquess of Chetwyn, devastated Lady Meredith Hargreaves when he proposed to another. But when he becomes free to pursue her, it’s too late for she’s on her way to the altar….. As Christmas approaches, Chetwyn vows to lure Lady Meredith back into his arms.

“No Groom at the Inn” by Megan Frampton

James Archer detests his mother’s matchmaking ways. When ordered to attend a Christmastime house party filled with simpering maidens, he produces a fiancee-Lady Sophronia Bettesford. James and Sophronia pretend to be in love for one month. But their pact soon turns into love.

“The Duke’s Christmas Wish” by Vivienne Lorret

To the Duke of Vale, science solves everything-even marriage. When the impulsive Ivy Sutherland makes him question all of his data, he realizes that he’s overlooked a vital component in his search for the perfect match: love.

Rating: C+

Note: A Christmas to Remember is a collection of four Christmas-themed novellas that have been previously published elsewhere.

Anthologies are, by their very nature, a mixed bag, and I usually find they consist of perhaps one excellent story, one poor one and a couple in between. In the case of A Christmas to Remember, however, while there is one poor story (the last) the quality of the others is fairly consistent in that the grades all fall within the mid-range, but that does mean that the anthology as a whole lacks that one outstanding tale that makes the whole thing worth the price of admission.


I Will by Lisa Kleypas

Grade: C   Sensuality: Warm

When I started reading I Will, I immediately thought – “this is the one.  This is going to be the best of the bunch” – and that thought stayed with me for around the first half of the novella.  It’s a classic bluestocking-meets-rake story in which our hero, Lord Andrew Drake (legitimate half-brother of Logan Scott from Because You’re Mine), an unrepentant rake, needs to convince his terminally ill father that he is a reformed character in order to inherit the family fortune and intends to do so by pretending to be betrothed to a thoroughly unobjectionable and respectable young woman.  Andrew, whose relationship with his father has always been strained and who has no intention of reforming once he inherits, approaches Lady Caroline Hargreaves, the sister of one of his friends, and pretty much blackmails her into agreeing to become his fake fiancée.

Caroline has never liked Andrew and likes him even less now because he is leading her brother into bad company and habits; Andrew has never liked Caroline because she is opinionated and starchy and not at all his type.  Yet as he starts to really look at her during their discussion, he starts to see things about her he’s never noticed before and to realise, to his shock, that he desires her.

The novella comes in at just under a hundred pages, but the events within span a few weeks during which Andrew eschews his normal rounds of drinking and depravity so as to make his performance as a reformed character more convincing.  I really liked the way that Caroline comes to see the real Andrew beneath the rakish façade and how the strength of her belief touches Andrew and gives him the confidence he needs to be able to reform in truth, but unfortunately, it’s not long after this that things take a very different direction and the whole thing falls apart.  There’s an extremely awkward sex-scene (which comes very close to being non-consensual – on his part, not hers) and a hurried and somewhat silly blackmail plot which I could have done without.  I Will stars very promisingly, but ends up as a bit of a mess.

Deck the Halls with Love by Lorraine Heath

Grade: B-   Sensuality: Warm

This novella is book 2.5 in the Lost Lords of Pembrook series and tells the story of Alastair, the Marquess of Chetwyn, who was betrothed to Lady Anne, heroine of Lord of Temptation.  Upon realising his betrothed was in love with someone else, Chetwyn released her from their engagement, and now, he is intent on pursuing the woman he has always loved.  The problem is that she is due to marry another man just after Christmas, so Chetwyn is facing an uphill struggle if he is to convince her that he is – they are – worthy of a second chance.

A year or so earlier, Lady Meredith Hargreaves (no relation to Caroline, above!) had been on the verge of falling in love with Alastair Wakefield when he turned his attention to another lady.  Meredith told herself – or tried to – that she had had a lucky escape and that it was as well his defection had happened before she could fall for him completely.  She is now happily engaged to be married, although she can’t deny that her intended has never made her pulse race or her stomach flutter.  Still, it’s a good match, and no matter that seeing Chetwyn again has churned up all her emotions, she can’t afford to be charmed by him all over again.

Chetwyn is in deadly earnest over his pursuit of Meredith, but he’s not pushy or possessive; in fact what he wants is for her to be able to follow her heart and choose freely.  There’s a nice frisson of sexual tension between the pair and the fact that they share a romantic history means that their rekindled relationship doesn’t feel quite so rushed as it could have done.  Deck the Halls with Love is a charming story, and while it’s the shortest in the collection, it’s the one I enjoyed the most.

No Groom at the Inn by Megan Frampton

Grade: C+    Sensuality: Warm

Here we have another fake-betrothal story, this time between an earl’s daughter and a gentleman desperate to avoid his mother’s matchmaking schemes.  Lady Sophronia Bettesford has been left almost destitute by her late father, who cared far more for his books and his studies than for anything remotely practical such as making sure his daughter was provided for after his death.  No longer able to support herself, all she has to look forward to is a life of drudgery living with a distant cousin – which is why, when a strikingly handsome stranger asks her to marry him – or at least, to pretend to be engaged to him – she doesn’t immediately dismiss him as some sort of madman.  When he offers to buy her a cottage –an attractive alternative to living with her cousins, their children and their chickens – Sophronia agrees to a month-long pretend engagement.

James Archer sounds to me like he has a serious case of ADHD!  He can hardly sit still and dislikes remaining in one place for any length of time, spending most of his life travelling and collecting, buying and selling the artefacts (or “arty facts” as his mother calls them) he finds on his travels.  His mother loves him dearly and he loves her; he doesn’t want to settle down but can’t face telling her so, hence his need for a fake fiancée who can accompany him to an upcoming house party he has learned will be comprised mostly of young, eligible females.  I have to say that I wasn’t wild about the deception being practiced upon James’ mother, who really didn’t deserve it, and his initial exit-strategy is just plain dumb.

The attraction between James and Sophronia is built well considering the limits imposed by the page-count, and I liked the way their characters are shown to balance each other.  James yearns to get away – which makes sense given his family history – while Sophronia wants to settle somewhere quiet and peaceful, yet both of them start to wonder if, perhaps, there is something to the other’s lifestyle.  James wonders if perhaps, with someone like Sophy at his side, he could be content to wander less, while she thinks that perhaps mouldering away in a remote cottage for the rest of her life without love isn’t perhaps all it’s cracked up to be.

No Groom at the Inn is a light-hearted, easy read, although I found it difficult to connect with the characters.  Ms. Frampton is an accomplished writer and I’ve read and enjoyed a number of her other books, but the humour in this often felt forced and at times, the heroine’s internal monologues waffled on too long.

The Duke’s Christmas Wish by Vivienne Lorret

Grade: D   Sensuality: Kisses

The weakest story in the anthology features a scientifically minded duke who has invented a formula for creating successful marriages (or so he thinks) and a young woman who thinks he should marry her best friend in order to help her to secure her inheritance.  After having spent most of the first chapter reading about how the heroine (Ivy) was desperate to pee owing to having imbibed one too many cups of tea, and then spent the next two chapters watching the duke and Ivy desperately avoiding each other because of the confusing emotions they each evoked in the other, I was bored and probably wouldn’t have continued reading had this not been the final novella and if I hadn’t been reviewing it.  Our hero is sweet if somewhat clueless, but ultimately both central characters are bland, there is no chemistry between them whatsoever and though the writing is decent, not having your principals interact for three chapters out of ten is a bad move.


I don’t read a great many anthologies as I find that the majority of novellas I’ve read have tended to be fairly average, but they’re useful for those times you’re busy and want to read something that satisfies the appetite for an HEA when you don’t have time to commit to a full-length novel.  A Christmas to Remember is actually fairly un-memorable, but if you’re in a forgiving mood, it delivers a quick romance-fix with a nice side order of Festive spirit thrown in for good measure.

 

When the Marquess Falls (Hellions of Havisham Hall #3.5) by Lorraine Heath

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The Marquess of Marsden always follows the rules. Expected from birth to adhere to decades of tradition, he plans to marry a proper young woman from a good family. But when a beautiful, and completely unsuitable, woman snags his heart, he begins to realize that to get what you want, sometimes you have to break the rules.

Linnie Connor dreams of the independence of running her very own bakery. And while she may be allowed to be a marquess’ childhood companion, the baker’s daughter never ends up with the handsome nobleman. Determined to achieve at least one of her dreams, Linnie makes plans to leave her sleepy village for London, intent on purging him from her heart. And yet, when an invitation to the Marsden annual ball arrives, she can’t refuse her one chance to waltz in his arms.

It will be a night that stirs the flames of forbidden desires and changes their lives forever.

Rating: B-

I knew, when I picked up this coda novella to Lorraine Heath’s Hellions of Havisham series, that I was going to be reduced to a quivering wreck by the end of it. I suppose that’s a considerable achievement on the part of the author – zero-to-sobbing in under 100 pages!

If you’ve read the final book in the trilogy, The Viscount and the Vixen, then you’ll know where When the Marquess Falls is going to end up, but I nonetheless appreciate the fact that Ms. Heath decided to tell the story of Marsden and his Linnie, which is very sweet and very sad – although don’t despair, there IS an HEA (albeit a slightly different sort of one). In terms of the structure, it’s more of a series of vignettes than a cohesively plotted novella, but that format works well here.

By the time we met George St. John, Marquess of Marsden in Falling into Bed with a Duke, he had already lost the love of his life following the birth of their son six years earlier. He stopped all the clocks, stopped caring about anything very much, and acquired the sobriquets the “mad marquess” or “mad Marsden” because the few remaining servants at Havisham Hall often heard him talking to his dead wife.

But it wasn’t always that way – and in this novella, we get to see George and Linnie’s first meeting when he’s twelve and she’s eight, and how, in spite of the massive differences in their stations (he’s a peer, she’s a baker’s daughter) they forge a friendship that remains steadfast as they grow older. By the time they’re in their twenties, friendship isn’t all they want from each other – but nothing else is possible, and in any case, Linnie has plans to move to London and set up a bakery of her own and George must find a suitable lady to marry.  The strength of the connection between them is impossible to deny – but finding a way to be together might be just plain impossible.

Ms. Heath paints George and Linnie with broad brushstrokes, but they’re both warm and engaging characters and you are just rooting for them to be together.  The glimpses we got of Marsden in The Viscount and the Vixen as a man capable of great charm and warmth are borne out here, as George emerges as an honourable, kind man who is prepared to fly in the face of convention for the woman he loves.  And Linnie is… well, she’s a bit too good to be true, to be honest, but she’s lovely; brave, intelligent and loving, it’s easy to see why, after a few years of marriage, she won over all but the biggest sticklers in the neighbourhood.

I enjoyed the story, but given that Lorraine Heath is one of those authors who usually finds a way to rip out my heart and stomp on it, I had to make sure I had the Kleenex handy.  If you haven’t read any of the books to which this novella is related, then it won’t make much sense to you – and please take note that even though it is set partly before the Hellions series begins, it’s NOT a prequel.

A quick read, and a nice way to round out the series, When the Marquess Falls really is one for the fans.  If you’ve read the series and want to find out a little more about Marsden, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, but you can leave the series at The Viscount and the Vixen without missing anything.

NB: The final 10% of the Kindle edition is a preview of Ms. Heath’s forthcoming novel, An Affair With a Notorious Heiress.

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

best-of-2016-covers

Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016

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.