I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

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Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

The Princess Plan (Royal Weddings #1) by Julia London

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London’s high society loves nothing more than a scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefited from an anonymous tip off about the crime, forcing Sebastian to ask for her help in his quest to find his friend’s killer.

With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more dangerous than a prince socialising with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And soon, as temptation becomes harder to ignore, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.

Rating: D+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Julia London’s books in the past, so I thought I’d give her latest title a try.  The Princess Plan is billed as a mixture of mystery and romance, in which a visiting prince teams up with a lively spinster to solve a murder and falls in love along the way.  It seemed as though it might be an enjoyable romp, but sadly wasn’t.  The mystery wasn’t mysterious, the romantic development was non-existent, it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t a romp.  Unless you define a romp as pages of inane chatter and un-funny attempts at banter that seem to exist only as a way of padding out the page count.

Miss Eliza Tricklebank is twenty-eight years of age, and a spinster who keeps house for her father, a Justice of the Queen’s Bench (who has recently lost his sight) and mends clocks to earn a little something on the side.  Her sister Hollis is a widow who inherited a publishing business from her late husband and now publishes Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies, and her best friend Lady Caroline Hawke is a debutante (well, she’s described as such, but if she’s the same age as Hollis or Eliza then she’s quite an elderly debutante!), and together the three of them spend lots of time chattering about nothing in particular while also deciding what to put in the next edition of the Gazette.  Under discussion when the book opens, is the visit to London by a delegation from the small (fictional) country of Alucia, in London in order to negotiate a new trade agreement at the behest of its crown prince, who is rumoured to be in search of a bride.

Caroline – who, we’re told, knows everybody in London – is able to secure invitations to the masked ball held in honour of the visit for herself and her friends, and it’s here that Eliza, quietly getting tipsy on the rum punch, makes the acquaintance of a gentleman she later realises is none other than Crown Prince Sebastian.

You’re shocked, I can tell.

Flirting and silliness ensure until Sebastian has to go to put in an appearance at the meet and greet portion of the evening, after which he finds himself a woman for the night.  This means Sebastian never does go to meet with his secretary and dear friend Matous, who had told him he needed to see him as a matter of urgency.

And who turns up dead the next morning, his throat cut.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential #3) by Diana Muñoz Stewart

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He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica—face to face with the woman of his dreams…

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they’ll demand something in return—something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

Rating: D+

The Cost of Honor is book three in Diana Muñoz Stewart’s Black Ops Confidential series about a group of adoptive siblings (twenty-eight in total, all but two of them female) who were adopted by one of the world’s wealthiest women and trained in badassery to be warriors in her social justice crusade.  The story picks up after the end of the first book, I Am Justice, and focuses on one of the only male members of the Parrish ‘family’, Tony, who has got himself into hot water by going against orders so as to save his sister Justice from the possibly fatal consequences of her own rash actions.  Knowing the rest of the family will see this as a massive betrayal, he has only one way to keep body, soul and, most importantly, mind together; he fakes his own death to avoid being hauled back to the family HQ to have his memories altered.

Even though he’s managed to get away, Tony knows it’s just a matter of time before the family tracks him down, so he’s determined to keep moving.  Shortly after his escape, he travels to Dominica, where he (stupidly) goes kite boarding during a storm, gets wiped out and is saved by Honor Silva, a young woman who owns a cocoa farm where she manufactures high-grade, boutique chocolate and runs an island tour business on the side.

Having seen Lazarus Graves (as Tony has styled himself) is safe in hospital, Honor returns home to discover that someone has made an offer for the farm, hotel and tour business for an amount way in excess of what it’s actually worth, but she turns it down.  She has no desire to sell and besides, such an offer is extremely suspicious – why anyone would want to pay well over the odds for a business that is just about breaking even?  But when all but one of her regular tour guides fail to show for work and a number of ‘accidents’ start to occur on the tours,  it becomes clear that whoever made that offer is prepared to get their hands on the business by whatever means necessary.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Cold Conspiracy (Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding #3) by Cindi Myers

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The body count is mounting.

And a deputy is the killer’s next target.

Capturing the Ice Cold Killer is the greatest challenge Eagle Mountain has ever seen. Thankfully, Deputy Jamie Douglas is determined to see justice done. Nate Hall is visiting for a wedding, and the vacationing lawman is more than willing to help. As a blizzard ravages the town, keeping everyone trapped with a killer, evidence begins to accumulate about a mysterious conspiracy. Can Jamie and Nate get to the truth before more innocent people wind up dead?

Rating: D+

When I first started reviewing for All About Romance, I reviewed mostly historical romance – which has always been my favourite genre – and added in the odd romantic suspense title here and there for a bit of variety.  These days I read a lot more RS, although most of it is m/m, as I have found only a small number of authors (Loreth Anne White and Rachel Grant, to name but two) who can successfully (and consistently) combine both romance and suspense into a satisfying m/f story without compromising on either element. I suspect the prevalence – in m/m – of series with long running story arcs which allow for more plot and romantic development may have something to do with that, but whatever the reason, that’s my precursor to saying that much of the m/f romantic suspense I read these days isn’t particularly romantic or suspenseful, and  Cold Conspiracy by Cindi Myers is yet another example of RS-fail.

It’s the third book in the Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding series, and the suspense plot centres around the search for a serial killer who is targeting young women and who leaves a calling card on each victim with the words “Ice Cold” printed on it.  I haven’t read the previous two books in the series, but in this one, the community of Eagle Mountain is cut off due to heavy snow, and while it’s believed that the main suspects in the murders had left before the roads had to be closed, the discovery of a new victim shows that not to be the case.

Sheriff’s deputy Jamie Douglas and her younger sister Donna are driving home when they come across a car stopped at the side of the road.  Jamie – who is off duty – is reluctant to stop, given there’s a murderer at large, but Donna is adamant that they must, so they backtrack and discover the Ice Cold Killer’s latest victim – the sixth – laid back in her car seat, her throat cut.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Scandalous (The Outcasts #3) by Minerva Spencer

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“Have you no decency?”

Straight-laced missionary Sarah Fisher has never met a man like Captain Martin Bouchard. He is the most beautiful person—male or female—she’s ever seen. Overwhelmingly masculine, elegantly attired despite months at sea, he is in complete command of everyone and everything around him: everyone, that is, except Sarah. But that’s about to change, because Sarah has bought Bouchard’s mercy with the only thing she has to sell: her body.

“None at all…”

In spite of her outrageous offer, Martin has no doubt Sarah is a virgin, and a most delectable one at that. But instead of bedding her, he finds himself staring down the muzzle of his own pistol. Clearly, the longer she stays on his ship, the greater the chances that she’ll end up its damned captain! Most infuriating of all, she looks past his perfect exterior to the wounded man inside. Can Martin outrun his scandalous past in time to have a future with the first woman to find and capture his heart?

Rating: B-

Scandalous is the third book in Minerva Spencer’s series The Outcasts, and it takes as its hero Martín Etienne Bouchard, the beautiful , enigmatic and seductive privateer who was introduced in the previous book, BarbarousMs. Spencer’s sophisticated, precise prose continues to impress, as does her ability to tell a compelling story and create complex characters, but something about the principals and romance in Scandalous didn’t quite gel for me.  The heroine is determined and independent of spirit in a way that feels perfectly right for the story and the period, but the hero, while he has a truly traumatising backstory, spends much of the novel behaving like an emotionally stunted adolescent. The author skilfully makes the reader aware that there are good reasons for Martín’s behaviour and actually manages (sometimes) to make him into a fairly sympathetic character – even before we find out the true extent of what he went through (which doesn’t happen until fairly near the end) – but there were still times I came perilously close to losing patience with him.

Martín Bouchard is a former slave who is now a wealthy privateer who has built himself a fearsome reputation as a cold, hard killer who was more concerned with his cravat than his life. Not surprisingly, Martín hates those who buy and sell slaves with a passion, so he has little sympathy for the crew of the Blue Bird, a Dutch Ship with a hold full of slaves, when he captures it off Africa’s Gold Coast.

The daughter of missionaries, Sarah Fisher was born in Africa – in the village of N’Goe – where she’s lived all her life.  Her parents died after contracting a sickness that killed many in the village, and since their deaths some two years earlier, Sarah has acted as the village’s healer.  When the slavers arrived in N’Goe and captured all its inhabitants, Sarah went with them, which is how she comes to be aboard the Blue Bird when it is attacked by the Golden Scythe, a British privateer, at the same time as the crew is on the verge of mutiny.

To try to avert the latter, Sarah and the ship’s captain Mies Graaf go aboard the Golden Scythe to parlay with its captain – who is the most beautiful man Sarah has ever seen.  But Captain Bouchard is as intractable as he is handsome; he refuses to allow the Blue Bird to return to port to return its ‘cargo’ and has no patience with Graaf’s protests that the slaves were purchased without his consent or knowledge.

When the woman who accompanied Graaf enters the discussion, Martín finds himself liking her spirit as well as the way the snug breeches she’s wearing are clinging to her legs.  He’s far more used to women throwing themselves at his feet than arguing with him and prefers it that way – although the way this particular woman refuses to back down certainly enlivens the discussion; she’s not especially attractive in the way Martín usually appreciates, but he’s nonetheless sufficiently interested to suggest he’ll show mercy to the crew of the Blue Bird if she’ll share his bed.  But when what should have been a night of pleasure is interrupted and Martín finds himself looking down the barrel of his own pistol, he decides Sarah is more trouble than she’s worth and just wants to get her off his ship.

Roughly half the book is taken up with the journey to England, and the rest sees Sarah connecting with long-lost relatives and deciding what she wants to do with her life.  Throughout the story, Sarah and Martín move towards each other and then away in a continual (and frustrating) dance, Martín clearly infatuated with Sarah and in deep denial about it, Sarah telling herself a man like Martín can’t possibly be interested in a woman like her.  Martín hates the way Sarah seems able to see through his tough outer shell to the parts of himself he’s carefully hidden away and tries desperately to convince himself he wants nothing more than to be rid of her.  He continually pushes Sarah away, treating her with disdain and wounding her with insults and rudeness.  But Sarah keeps trying to reach him – certainly going beyond the point at which my patience would have snapped! – with kindness and compassion, until someone tells her that Martin doesn’t react well to either of those things and that she should instead treat him as badly as he has treated her if she really wants to get through his defences.  After they arrive in England things between them don’t change much.  Martín keeps trying to keep his distance, but gets all caveman when other men take an interest in Sarah; he keeps trying (and failing – little Martín refuses to perform with anyone except her) to assuage his lust elsewhere, and telling himself she’ll despise him if she finds out the truth about his past.  He seems to prefer to wallow in his own fears of inadequacy than to see what’s under his nose and acknowledge the truth of Sarah’s feelings for him and his for her.

Minerva Spencer is a gifted storyteller and in Scandalous, has crafted a compelling and very readable tale featuring characters who, while not particularly likeable, are flawed and complex.  But no matter how well characterised or how vibrantly written – and both those things are true here – a romance stands or falls upon how the hero and heroine interact, how strong the chemistry is between them and on readers being able to buy into their relationship –  and I’m afraid that’s where the book falls down.  The author does a good job of making it clear that Martín is a very damaged individual, but his poor behaviour towards Sarah goes on for too long, and by the time he finally does start to show a bit of maturity, it’s too little too late. (I actually felt as though he’d had an overnight personality transplant.) He spends most of the book denying his attraction to Sarah – an attraction I never quite understood – and actively avoiding her; and while Sarah is an admirable character to start with – strong, determined and courageous – as the story progressed, I couldn’t understand what she actually saw in Martín and what drove her to forgive him over and over again other than his looks and abilities between the sheets.

Scandalous is obviously going to be polarising as some readers will be completely turned off by Martín’s behaviour towards Sarah, while others will be prepared to cut him some slack given his traumatic background. It’s not a perfect novel by any means, but it stands out from the current – rather disappointing – crop of historical romances due to its superb prose, well-developed characters, and interesting and unusual plotline.  I’d have rated it more highly had the romance been more convincing and the leads more appealing, but ultimately, it engaged me and held my attention for the duration, so I’m giving it a cautious recommendation.

Murder at Kensington Palace (Wrexford & Sloane #3) by Andrea Penrose

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Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.

Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim…

Rating: B+

In Murder at Kensington Palace, the third book in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series, the author once again sets an intriguing, well-conceived mystery against the backdrop of the scientific discovery and innovation taking place during the Regency era while also continuing to explore the shifting relationship between Mrs. Charlotte Sloane (aka satirist A.J. Quill) and the darkly sardonic Earl of Wrexford.  As the pair work together to clear the name of a young man accused of murdering his twin brother, Charlotte is forced to face the prospect of discarding her carefully guarded anonymity, while the Earl, a man who has always prided himself on his logical mind, finds himself in an unusual position of frustration and uncertainty.

Charlotte is working on her latest project when she hears that the murderer nicknamed the ‘Bloody Butcher’ has struck again, this time killing a young aristocrat whose body was found that morning in the gardens of Kensington Palace.  When one of her young wards explains that the victim had been in attendance at a scientific gathering hosted by the Duke of Sussex the previous evening, Charlotte immediately wonders if Wrexford had been there and if he might know something about it.  But she feels strangely awkward about asking the Earl for information; in fact, she hasn’t seen him for a couple of weeks, since their investigation into another murder (Murder at Half Moon Gate) almost cost Wrexford his life and led to their expressing certain … sentiments that perhaps neither of them were ready to bring out into the open.

“What a pair we are,” she muttered.  “Prickly, guarded, afraid of making ourselves vulnerable.”

When Wrexford arrives some time later, it’s with news that will quickly distract Charlotte from any ponderings over the nature of her feelings for him.  The murder victim was Cedric, Lord Chittenden, a young man from the North of England who had only recently come into his title; and his twin brother, Nicholas, has been arrested for the crime on account of their having been overheard having a disagreement at some point during the course of the previous evening.  Charlotte is adamant in her belief that the wrong man has been accused and that Nicholas could never have harmed his brother – but she won’t explain further or tell Wrexford what makes her so sure.

Like Charlotte, Wrexford is reluctant to look too closely at the things they said to each other in the heat of the moment, but her apparent lack of trust in him causes him to wonder if Charlotte may be having regrets and is now trying to put distance between them.  Not wanting her to retreat further, Wrexford decides not to push for information, instead deciding to wait until she’s ready to tell him what she needs to.  She has already revealed something of her past to him – she’s the daughter of an earl who, chafing at the restrictions and expectations constantly placed upon her, ran away with her drawing master and whose family subsequently disowned her.  Charlotte knows Wrexford can be trusted, but even so, is struggling to reconcile her need to remain independent and her need for help to prove Nicholas innocent.  Realising she can’t afford to hold back any longer, she tells Wrexford the truth – that Cedric and Nicholas are her cousins and that the three of them were childhood playmates.

Feeling as though they’re back on more of an even keel, Charlotte and Wrexford start to ask questions, Charlotte seeking information from the network of informants from whom she collects the gossip making the rounds on the London streets, and Wrexford in the scientific circles in which Chittenden and his brother moved since coming to London.  His own standing in the scientific community naturally opens doors, and his enquiries reveal a worrisome picture of Chittenden as a young man possessed of an almost fanatical desire to push scientific boundaries and prepared to go to extreme lengths in order to do so.  He also discovers that Chittenden had a rival for the affections of a certain young lady, and that he was owed a large sum of money by a man who seemed to be having trouble paying his gambling debts… could his murder have been motivated by love? Or money? Or are there darker, more clandestine forces at work?

Andrea Penrose has found a rather unique hook for this series in the way she incorporates an aspect of the Regency era that readers of novels set during that time don’t often come across; namely the fervour for scientific knowledge and advancement that was prevalent at the time.  Many of the characters featured in Murder at Kensington Palace are specifically interested in the experiments of Luigi Galvani and Giovanni Aldini, who had explored the possibility that electricity could be used to reanimate the dead – a concept made famous by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein (1817).

Through all of this is woven the continuing development of the relationship between Charlotte and Wrexford, both of whom are gradually acknowledging (to themselves) that they feel something more than friendship for each other, but are reluctant to take that first step towards becoming more.  Their feelings for one another are made clear through their thoughts and actions, although I have to say that I’d have liked things to have become a little more concrete by this stage. Still, there are positive developments in this book that make me think that’s not far off now.

The novel boasts a colourful secondary cast, including Charlotte’s two wards, Hawk and Raven (aka the Weasels) her housekeeper, McLellan, who is as much bodyguard as she is servant,  Wrexford’s friend  Kit Sheffield and his valet/assistant, Tyler; and they’re joined by the formidable Dowager Marquess of Peake, Charlotte’s aunt, a wonderfully forthright and shrewd lady I hope we’ll meet again in future books.

While the mystery in Murder at Kensington Palace is wrapped up by the end and the book could be read as a standalone, I’d recommend that anyone interested in trying this series should start at the beginning with Murder on Black Swan Lane in order to get the full picture of the relationship between the two principals.  Wrexford and Sloane make a great team, personally as well as investigatively, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment in the series.

Marry in Secret (Marriage of Convenience #3) by Anne Gracie

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Lady Rose Rutherford—rebel, heiress, and exasperated target of the town’s hungry bachelors—has a plan to gain the freedom she so desperately desires: she will enter into a marriage of convenience with the biggest prize on the London marriage mart.

There’s just one problem: the fierce-looking man who crashes her wedding to the Duke of Everingham — Thomas Beresford, the young naval officer she fell in love with and secretly married when she was still a schoolgirl. Thought to have died four years ago he’s returned, a cold, hard stranger with one driving purpose—revenge.

Embittered by betrayal and hungry for vengeance, Thomas will stop at nothing to reclaim his rightful place, even if that means using Rose—and her fortune—to do it. But Rose never did follow the rules, and as she takes matters into her own unpredictable hands, Thomas finds himself in an unexpected and infuriating predicament: he’s falling in love with his wife….

Rating: C

I enjoyed the first two books in Anne Gracie’s Marriage of Convenience series – in fact, the first, Marry in Haste, was a DIK (Desert Isle Keeper) at AAR – but this third book proved to be something of a disappointment.  The premise – a young woman about to make an advantageous, but loveless, marriage is unexpectedly confronted by the man she married years before and believed dead – sounded as though it might make for a good read, but sadly, after the initial excitement of the opening chapters, things fizzled out.  The main characters were bland and didn’t grab my interest, and instead of a rekindling relationship, I got a couple who, after a bit of angsting over whether they wanted to be together, resumed their marriage and shagged a lot, and a story that revolved more around a rather weak whodunnit than a romance.

Twenty-year-old Lady Rose Rutheford is due to marry the Duke of Everingham in what has been hailed as the match of the year. Her sister Lily and cousin George (Georgiana) aren’t happy about the match; Everingham is handsome, wealthy and titled, for sure, but he’s a cold fish and they think Rose is making a huge mistake.  But Rose is adamant.  She doesn’t want a love match and she and the duke have reached an agreement – she will give him his heir and he will give her the freedom to live as she wants.  When, however, the ceremony is interrupted by a gaunt, dirty and dishevelled man insisting that Rose is already married – to him – the reasons for Rose’s choice become apparent.  When she was sixteen and still away at school she met and fell in love with Thomas Beresford, a young naval officer.  They married secretly just a couple of weeks before Thomas was was due to go to sea  – and just a few weeks later, Rose learned that his ship had been sunk and everyone aboard had died.  Numbed with grief, and concerned for her sister Lily, who was recovering from a serious illness, Rose doesn’t tell anyone about Thomas or their short-lived marriage, and the more time passes, the more she thinks there’s no point in saying anything.

The first quarter or so of the story captured my interest.  Rose, shocked beyond belief, doesn’t know how to feel or what to do while her brother Cal and her snooty Aunt Agatha insist Thomas is nothing but a liar and schemer out to get his hands on Rose’s fortune.  When Rose fails to acknowledge him – to be fair, she doesn’t deny him either – Thomas is hurt and angry, and is determined to stand his ground and claim his wife.  But after Rose says she doesn’t want the marriage annulled and that she will honour her marriage vows, he starts to see that perhaps he’s wrong and that staying married to him – especially give how much he’s changed over the past four years – isn’t the best thing for Rose. After this, Thomas tries to discourage Rose from her determination to remain his wife while Rose – who has miraculously turned back into the lively, headstrong and flirtatious young woman he met four years earlier (and whom her family believed had disappeared) – seems to grow only more intent on remaining by his side (and getting him into her bed!)

While Thomas continues to be torn over his relationship with Rose, we learn something of what happened to him in the years he was gone.  He and a number of his crewmates were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves after Thomas’ plea to his uncle for ransom was denied.  It took him years to escape, but now he has, he’s determined to find the men who were captured with him and free them – and to find out why his uncle denied him.  When Thomas visits his bank in London and discovers a number of irregularities in his finances, he realises that something underhand is going on; someone is stealing from him and it’s obviously been going on for some time.  But who?  And why?

Thus, what could have been a second chance romance about two people who married impulsively  getting to know each other after their enforced separation and really learning to love each other turned out to be a not-very-mysterious mystery with no romantic or character development whatsoever.  Thomas indulges in a lot of hand-wringing of the I-do-not-wish-to-sully-your-purity-with-my-degradation sort, while Rose is relentlessly cheerful and pretty much bulldozes her way through everything he says.  Thomas’ experiences as a captive and slave have obviously affected the way he treats servants and others who are regarded by those of his class as beneath them, and he clearly feels shame about what happened to him, but there’s not much depth to his character or Rose’s; neither is especially memorable or engaging and I didn’t connect with either of them.  I liked the relationship between Cal and Ned (heroes of the previous books) and the one that was developing between them and Thomas, but the ladies were thinly sketched and the identity of the wrong-doer was obvious.

Marry in Secret is an exercise in wasted potential in just about every way.  The romance is non-existent, the mystery is weak and the characterisation is uninspired.  I may pick up the next (and final) book in the series because I’m intrigued at the prospect of the pairing of the cold fish duke with the I’m-never-getting-married-and-handing-over-control-of-my-life Lady Georgiana, but I really can’t recommend this instalment.