Lady Be Bad (The Duke’s Daughters #1) by Megan Frampton (audiobook) – Narrated by Jilly Bond

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the first book of The Duke’s Daughters series, the Duke of Marymount’s eldest daughter, Lady Eleanor, knows the burden of restoring her family’s good name is hers to bear. So a good but loveless match is made, and her fate is set. But then Eleanor meets her intended’s rakish younger brother. With his tawny hair, green eyes, and scandalous behavior, Lord Alexander Raybourn makes her want to be very bad indeed. And since his very honorable sibling is too busy saving the world to woo Eleanor, Alexander is tasked with finding out her likes and dislikes on his behalf. But the more time Alexander spends with the secretly naughty Eleanor, the more he knows that what they both want and need is each other.

Rating: Narration – B-: Content – C-

I’ve enjoyed some of Megan Frampton’s historical romances in print, so when I saw her latest book, Lady Be Bad, pop up in audio format, I decided to give it a listen. Ms. Frampton’s work is in similar vein to that of authors such as Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale; generally light-hearted and peppered with witty dialogue and with a slightly more serious undercurrent that lends a bit of depth and colour to the story overall. In the case of Lady Be Bad, that undercurrent is to do with the lack of options available to well-born young women in the early nineteenth century and how stifling it was to know that one was being brought up to have no individuality, no opinions and no choice in the direction of one’s own life. That’s a theme often explored in historical romance, but it’s been done much better than it is here, and this first instalment in Ms. Frampton’s The Duke’s Daughters series falls very flat. The storyline is clichéd and predictable, the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes, the writing is stodgy and repetitive; and while Jilly Bond is a very experienced narrator, her somewhat quirky delivery generally proved to be more hindrance than help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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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.

 

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? (Dukes Behaving Badly #4) by Megan Frampton

Why do dukes fall in loveThis title may be purchased from Amazon.

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, has the liberty of enjoying an indiscretion . . . or several. But when it comes time for him to take a proper bride, he ultimately realizes he wants only one woman: Edwina Cheltam. He’d hired her as his secretary, only to quickly discover she was sensuous and intelligent.

They embark on a passionate affair, and when she breaks it off, he accepts her decision as the logical one . . . but only at first. Then he decides to pursue her.

Michael is brilliant, single-minded, and utterly indifferent to being the talk of the ton. It’s even said his only true friend is his dog. Edwina had begged him to marry someone appropriate–—someone aristocratic . . . someone high-born . . . someone else. But the only thing more persuasive than a duke intent on seduction is one who has fallen irrevocably in love.

Rating:B

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? asks the overly cutsey title of this, the fourth book in Megan Frampton’s Dukes Behaving Badly series.  Before I answer that, I’m going to ask a question of my own.  Is there anyone out there who isn’t fed up with the current vogue for horribly contrived romance novel titles based on song/movie appellations?

Fortunately, the first answer to the first question (there are a number given throughout the story) – Because it’s better than falling into a muddy ditch – sets the tone for this particular book, which is deftly written and strongly characterised with a nice line in deadpan humour and a well-matched central couple who are a little out of the ordinary.

Mrs Edwina Cheltam’s late husband has left her practically destitute; and with a young daughter to provide for, she needs to find a way of supporting them, and quickly.  She turns to a close friend for advice; a friend who runs an employment agency which, in her more prosperous past, Edwina had used in order to find suitable domestics.  Now the boot is on the other foot, and it’s Edwina who needs to find a job.  Fortunately, she is clever; up until the year before his death, she had managed all her husband’s business interests and her excellent stewardship had grown his investments considerably.  Unfortunately, she is also female – and there is no place for intelligent, business-minded women in the strict society of the mid-nineteenth century.  Mr Cheltam married his much younger wife simply because she was beautiful and he liked schmoozing with her on his arm.  In the last year of his life, he had transferred the management of his affairs to his younger brother, with the disastrous results that now mean Edwina has nothing.

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, is precise, controlled, blunt and honest to a fault.  He doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, and has no patience with meandering small-talk or the little white lies that keep the wheels of society turning.  He’s undoubtedly the sort of man who would simply reply “yes” when asked “does my bum look big in this?”.  He’s also fiercely intelligent and ruthlessly dedicated to running his many and varied business interests which range from agriculture to railways and he has no time or patience for flattery, sycophancy or anything that embellishes the plain and simple facts of whatever it is that interests him.  At first, I wondered if his excessive orderliness and his seeming inability to understand or offer what most of us would regard as normal responses to personal and social interaction were an indication that he might have sociopathic tendencies, or perhaps be a high-functioning autistic.  Obviously, neither of these were conditions that would have been understood at the time the book is set, so the author doesn’t attempt to classify Hadlow’s reactions in those terms.  He does eventually develop an awareness of others and of the need for empathy through his association with Edwina, so I suppose he could just as easily be a man whose inheritance of a lofty social position at an early age meant he never had to bother with simple manners or to worry about how his no-nonsense attitude would be received by others.

As the story opens, the Duke of Hadlow’s orderly existence stands in real danger of becoming disorderly, owing to the fact that he is currently without a secretary.  Fourteen candidates have been and gone and he despairs of finding anyone suitable when one more possibility presents itself – in the form (the rather delightful form) of Mrs Edwina Cheltam.  Edwina very quickly shows herself to be intelligent, resourceful and, more importantly, able to keep up with him mentally, so Hadlow hires her on the spot.  The fact that she’s a woman is by the by – she’s the best ‘man’ for the job and that’s all there is to it.

Once Edwina gets over her astonishment at having been taken on, she settles in quickly.  The duke allows her to engage a governess for six-year-old Gertrude and Edwina can finally start to breathe easy.  She is earning a good living, she and her daughter have a roof over their heads, and she enjoys working with the duke, who is clearly brilliant and visionary, if somewhat socially inept.  He’s also gorgeous, which is the sort of distraction Edwina could do without, especially when he shows signs of being as smitten as she is.  She’s not of his class, and besides, Hadlow is not a man likely to choose emotions over practicalities. Eventually he’ll have to find himself a suitable, aristocratic bride, even though one of those will likely bore him silly within minutes.  But until then… perhaps a little self-indulgence might not be such a bad idea.

The story is a simple one, but it’s very well told and both central characters are easy to like, even Hadlow, whose seeming rudeness might have made him unpleasant.  The author skilfully tempers his abrasiveness with glimpses of other aspects of his character and his past which mitigate his less endearing traits, painting a strong portrait of a man who really IS an island.  His only friend appears to be his dog, and he attends the occasional social event purely because he knows he needs to mix occasionally with those of his peers from whom he will at some point, need to secure cooperation for a parliamentary bill or other such political manoeuvre.  The death of his older brother when he was just four years-old affected him profoundly as did the fact that his parents seemed only ever to value his achievements and not Hadlow himself; so he made the decision long ago that emotions were inconvenient things that served no purpose and needed to be shut away. Besides, he has no idea what to do with them.

The romance proceeds at a good pace and the couple’s decision to become lovers is not taken without either of them being aware of all the potential pitfalls.  I enjoyed the way they became friends first, both of them coming to admit to being lonely and then to delight in the discovery of another person with whom they can talk and exchange ideas and who, most importantly, has some sort of insight into their thought processes.  Edwina’s intelligence might not be quite the equal of Hadlow’s in some areas, but in others she’s way ahead of him, which leads me to the thing I appreciated most about the book.  Whatever the reasons for his behaviour, by the end, he’s still essentially the same man, but one who has started to develop some degree of empathy.  His brain still works a hundred times faster than anyone else’s, he still gets impatient waiting for people to catch up and he still doesn’t really understand the concept of idle pleasantries or the social niceties.  But under Edwina’s influence, he starts to understand that perhaps his words and manner have been hurtful in the past, and he begins to make the attempt to change.  And that’s the important thing.  He doesn’t have a personality transplant and suddenly turn into Lord-transformed-by-love; but he is trying to change.

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? is very much a character-driven story, and I raced through it in a couple of sittings.  I wasn’t wild about the blackmail sub-plot that is shoe-horned in near the end or about the other last-minute attempt to create some uncertainty, both of which caused me to lower my final grade a little. Ultimately, though, this is a solidly enjoyable read, and one I’m happy to recommend.

Put Up Your Duke (Dukes Behaving Badly, #2) by Megan Frampton

Put up your duke

To keep his estate afloat, the new Duke of Gage must honor an agreement to marry Lady Isabella Sawford. Stunningly beautiful, utterly tempting, she’s also a bag of wedding night nerves, so Nicholas decides to wait to do his duty—even if it means heading to the boxing saloon every day to punch away his frustration.

Groomed her whole life to become the perfect duchess, Isabella longs for independence, a dream that is gone forever. As her husband, Nicholas can do whatever he likes—but, to Isabella’s surprise, the notorious rake instead begins a gentle seduction that is melting every inch of her reserve, night by night . . .

To his utter shock, Nicholas discovers that no previous exploits were half as pleasurable as wooing his own wife. But has the realm’s most disreputable duke found the one woman who can bring him to his knees— and leave him there?

Rating: B+

Although this is part of Ms Frampton’s current Dukes Behaving Badly series, Put Up Your Duke doesn’t seem to involve characters from previous books and can easily be read as a standalone. I was between books when the offer of a review copy reached me, and as I’m pretty much unable to resist any story in which the protagonists are forced into a marriage of convenience, it solved the problem of my temporary booklessness and did it in a most enjoyable manner.

Nicholas Smithfield knows he’s damn good at two things – pugilism and sex. As the book opens we meet him during an evening spent at a favourite house of ill repute in company with three delectable ladies, but before he can get very far his younger brother, Griff, interrupts him with some amazing news. Due to a series of completely unexpected and freakish circumstances, it turns out that Nicholas is, in fact, the rightful holder of the title and estates of the Duke of Gage. Even the pleasures to be found in the arms of three lusty ladies can’t quite top that, and Nicholas – very regretfully – departs with his brother in order to find out exactly what is going on and if he really has just become a duke.

Nicholas discovers there’s no question about it – he is the lawful duke even if the previous incumbent, usually referred to as “the duke that was” is not at all happy about being suddenly deprived of his position and threatens to make trouble. He aiso discovers that he has not only inherited a dukedom, but he has inherited a fiancée as well, Lady Isabella Sawford, the daughter of the Earl of Grosston.

Even less prepared for matrimony than “dukehood”, Nicholas is at first determined to see if he can break the betrothal – after all, the young lady was betrothed to a man, not a title. But meeting with her father, it quickly becomes apparent that the betrothal is so watertight that to break it would almost certainly ruin Nicholas – and by extention, the dukedom – financially, and he has no alternative but to honour the agreement. Upon meeting the beautiful Isabella, Nicholas decides that being married to her might not be such a bad thing after all.

Isabella has been brought up to be perfect. Beautiful, poised, demure, the model of decorum, she has been bred to be the perfect duchess by parents who see her as nothing more than a highly valuable commodity. She has spent her entire life doing as others have dictated and fulfilling their expectations, the slightest hint of resistance immediately quashed by her mother’s threatening to send away her sister, Margaret, whom she loves dearly – and whom her parents treat almost as though she doesn’t exist.

Isabella is no more enthusiastic at the prospect of being married than Nicholas, although she is relieved, upon meeting him, to discover that he is incredibly attractive and seems kind, completely unlike her previous fiancé on both counts. The wedding takes place, and both Nicholas and Isabella find themselves completely unprepared as to what to do next. Well, Nicholas knows what he would like to do next – but realising he and his bride are all but strangers, manfully decides that they should get to know each other better before consummating the marriage. It’s going to take incredible fortitude on his part to wait and he has no intention of dishonouring his wife by slaking his lust with other women, so instead, he attempts – mostly unsuccessfully – to work off his frustrations in the boxing ring.

I enjoyed the story very much. Ms Frampton displays a lovely deftness of touch and a sense of humour that reminded me of writers such as Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale, and she has created a couple of very engaging characters in her two principals. Nicholas is such a loveable rogue that he’s impossible to dislike; he is desperate to get Isabella into bed, but does the gentlemanly thing and waits until she’s comfortable with the idea, even though he is unaware that his bride is perhaps not taking his gentlemanliness in the manner in which it is intended. Isabella has grown up in a cage, albeit a gilded one, and finds it difficult to express her own wishes and desires, which makes perfect sense, given the way she has been treated by her odious parents. It’s almost as though she has been institutionalised, her own decision making tools have been taken away from her and she has learned to do and to want what is expected of her regardless of her own opinions. I liked the way Ms Frampton has addressed the idea that even the most beautiful among us can have insecurities and neuroses, and that Isabella has to learn slowly to express herself truthfully and own her own desires. Nicholas is an absolute sweetie, but he, too, has a lot to learn about marriage, never having been one for sharing his thoughts and emotions, yet he is blessed with an instinctive emotional intelligence which enables him to discern that there is more to Isabella than the icy, always proper façade she presents to the world – and I will admit to raising a small, inward cheer each time he stood up to Isabella’s parents.

Put Up Your Duke hit the spot for me; it doesn’t depend on anything other than the central romance to drive the story forward, and that romance is well put-together as Nicholas and Isabella are allowed to get to know each other before getting frisky between the sheets. That’s not to say that there is a dearth of steaminess – not at all, but the romance is paramount and, well, you know what they say about delayed gratification! If I have a complaint it’s with the fact that Nicholas is so very, VERY sex-obsessed. I know he’s determined to wait for Isabella to want him and has thus condemned himself to an indeterminate period of celibacy, but almost every internal monologue and thought he expresses has a sexual overtone which, while often quite funny, does get a bit wearing after a while.

All in all, however, Put Up Your Duke is an enjoyable, light-hearted and often humorous read which features a well-drawn secondary cast and an engaging central couple. It’s definitely a good bet for whiling away a few hours on the beach this summer.

Baring it All (short story) by Megan Frampton

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“It is with great discretion that this columnist discusses the sensitive topic of undergarments. Some ladies, it seems, do not pay strict attention to what they wear under their gowns. A crucial error, my ladies.”

Lady Violet knows Lord Christian Jepstow is interested in women. The problem is, he hasn’t seemed to realize that Violet is a living, breathing woman—a woman with needs. Which is a huge problem, considering the fact that Violet and Christian are betrothed. Violet has no intention of saying her vows without knowing if her husband has the capacity to love her properly, so she does what anyone would do in her situation—she steps into his study and offers to take off her clothes. What happens next could be an utter disaster . . . or it could be surprising, seductive, and sizzlingly sexy.

Rating: C-

I think the best thing I can say about this short story is that it had no pretentions to be anything other than it was – which is basically an extended sex-scene.

Violet has been in love with Christian for years, but he never noticed her until one day out of the blue, he proposed to her. So now they’re engaged, but she is worried that her bookish fiancé doesn’t really see her and that he’s not even aware of her as a woman.

So she decides to try to seduce him, and they end up shagging each others’ brains out on the divan, the end.

It was well-written and there were some nice touches of humour, but I have to ask myself – what was the point, really?

With thanks to Loveswept and NetGalley for the review copy.

Hero of My Heart by Megan Frampton

hmh

In this emotional and powerfully erotic tale of love and redemption, a tender vicar’s daughter and a tortured war hero discover that sin may be their only salvation.

When Mary Smith’s corrupt, debt-ridden brother drags her to a seedy pub to sell her virtue to the highest bidder, Alasdair Thornham leaps to the rescue. Of course the marquess is far from perfect husband material. Although he is exceedingly handsome, with a perfect, strong body, chiseled jaw, and piercing green eyes, Alasdair is also too fond of opium, preferring delirium to reality. Still, he has come to Mary’s aid, and now she intends to return the favor. She will show him that he is not evil, just troubled.

Mary was a damsel in need of a hero, but Alasdair’s plan is shortsighted. He never foresaw her desire to save him from himself. Alasdair is quite at home in his private torment, until this angel proves that a heart still beats in his broken soul. The devil may have kept her from hell, but will Mary’s good intentions lead them back to the brink—or to heaven in each other’s arms?

Rating: C+

Hero of My Heart began very promisingly indeed. I liked the set-up, the hero was immediately established as broken yet honorable with an air of instability about him, and the story proceeded to develop strongly and at a good pace. It wasn’t long before the hero was revealed to be not all he seemed to be, and the dynamic between him and the heroine was subject to frequent shifts which served to heighten my interest and keep me on my toes when reading.

Unfortunately, those things weren’t sustained throughout the novel, and around the halfway mark the pace began to slacken. I often found myself wondering if the hero and heroine were ever going to stop having sex long enough for them to attend to other matters.

The story opens with Alasdair Thornham, Lord Datchworth, being rather the worse for drink in a tavern where there is about to be an auction. It’s no ordinary auction however, as the “lot” is a young woman, a virgin, who has been put up for sale by her unscrupulous half-brother who is desperate for money. He may be drunk, but Alasdair is not completely incapacitated, and so he outbids everyone else, wins the young lady – Mary Smith – and carts her off upstairs so she can sleep off whatever she was given to ensure her docility during the auction and he can sleep off the effects of the drink.

Having ascertained she is a respectable vicar’s daughter, Alasdair insists they get married. She’s spent the night in his room and is therefore irretrievably compromised and if they do not marry, her reputation will be in tatters. Reluctantly, Mary agrees to this, and the two get ready to head off to Gretna Green, but not before Mary’s half-brother arrives to try – unsuccessfully — to force her to return home with him. Alasdair arrives in time to prevent her being carried off, and they make for Scotland. The trip doesn’t go smoothly, but they arrive in one piece, only to be confronted by Alasdair’s cousin, Hugh, and a mysterious doctor.

All through these first few chapters there are hints that something is not quite right with Alasdair. He’s prone to mood swings and sudden attacks of acute pain and feverishness which the reader — although not Mary – quickly discerns are symptoms of withdrawal.

A veteran of Salamanca who lost his elder brother on the battlefield and whose remaining family is also dead, Alasdair is addicted to opium. At first, he took it for pain relief after having been seriously wounded, but has continued to take it as a way of dulling his pain and feelings of survivor’s guilt. In his addled state, he has decided to perform one last service – to save Mary, marry her, leave her all his money and estates – and then surrender to his addiction until it kills him.

Mary does not learn of Alasdair’s condition until later, when he tells her of his cousin’s plan to supply his addiction, discredit him in the eyes of society, have him put away, and then inherit his property and title.

Having disposed – temporarily – of Hugh and the doctor, the couple are married – and agree not to consummate the union, although I don’t quite know why, because they’re so hot for each other, it’s going to be impossible. Needless to say, the agreement was short lived, because Mary decides she wants a wedding night after all and it doesn’t take much for her to get her own way.

The rest of the story concerns their journey from Scotland to London to locate Mary’s mother, whom she had previously believed dead. She also believed herself to be illegitimate, but discovers that isn’t the case and that her mother is alive and well and now happily married to Lord Stainton and living in tonnish circles in London.

I thought the idea of the addicted hero who needed saving from himself was a good one. The writing was generally good and the hero and heroine were engaging characters. But as the story progressed, I began to notice holes in the storytelling which prevented me from enjoying the novel as much as I might otherwise have done.

Alasdair’s addiction is presented fairly realistically at first, I thought. I have no knowledge of how opium pills work, but he seemed to function almost normally once the drug had taken effect and the initial effects worn off, and his withdrawal symptoms seemed fairly accurate. He tries to hide his dependency, he lies, he breaks promises. Later, his lapse, his self-hatred, and belief in his worthlessness were all well written and had a real emotional impact. Mary finds out what he’s done and leaves him, and Alasdair suddenly realizes he can’t do without her. When he catches up with her, he promises once again to fight his addiction and – suddenly, he’s clean. No more stomach cramps or sweats; no more attempts to sneak off to find a supply of opium or even to buy some laudanum (in which opium is an ingredient) as a way to take the edge off.

Mention is made of the fact that Alasdair has merely swapped one addiction (opium) for another (Mary). He believes that she is “saving” him by being with him and believing in him, but I doubt that chemical dependency can be replaced by the power of luurve.

Something else that had me scratching my head was the fact that they agreed to have a sexless relationship and within no time at all were at it like bunnies. In fact, I felt as though the second half of the book had been padded out with sex scenes because there were so many of them. I have no objection to the characters getting it on, but it felt as though the sex was there just for the sake of it and I found myself glossing over the sex scenes to get to the next part of the story. But what, I wondered, had been the point of the agreement in the first place? They were married – and given Alasdair’s initial plan to get Mary settled and then spend his remaining days off his face on opium – clearly intended to remain married. Even after they’ve consummated their marriage several times, they continue to talk about and try to act upon the “no sex” rule and fail miserably each time.

And on the subject of sex – Mary is a vicar’s daughter and a virgin, who is surprisingly forward about asking for what she wants in bed and who makes the transition from vicarage virgin to sexy siren in an astonishingly short time. The book is set at a time when young women were kept in virtual ignorance of what went on in the bedroom and not only that, were brought up to think it shameful and not something women were supposed to want. I can certainly believe that a sexual awakening by a generous lover would disprove those pronouncements, but to be able to overcome a lifetime of conditioning almost immediately stretched my credulity too far.

Mary spends most of the book convinced that Alasdair doesn’t really care for her all that much and is merely using her body to satisfy his desires, a belief he reinforces when he admits to her that he needs her because she’s able to help keep his pain at bay. And when he finally decides that he loves her too much to ruin her life and that he needs to set her free (although there is no mention made of divorce) his method of pushing her away is drastic and cruel, when a simple conversation would have set all to rights.

It’s a shame, but this book didn’t live up to expectations. I realize it’s a romance and that therefore an HEA is expected, but it comes at the expense of believability in the ways I’ve suggested above. Despite his failings, Alasdair was a very attractive hero. When not under the influence, he was decisive, witty, and kind, and I liked the idea that the hero and heroine were saving each other. But it quickly became clear that the saving was heavily one-sided, with Mary acting as a kind of talisman for Alasdair as he overcame his addiction. The ending, with Alasdair visiting opium dens to rescue addicted soldiers and their families felt rushed and a bit far-fetched as was the way in which Mary simply turned up at one of them and told him she’d worked out why he’d pushed her away.

The writing was generally good, and there was some nice banter between the hero and heroine, but as a whole, I felt the story was unbalanced and that the pacing in the second half was poor.