Slightly Wicked (Bedwyn Saga #2) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

With his laughing eyes and wild, rakish good looks, Lord Rannulf Bedwyn is a hard man to resist. To Judith Law, a woman in need of rescue when her stagecoach overturns, Rannulf is simply her savior, a heroic stranger she will reward with one night of reckless passion before she must become a companion to her wealthy aunt.

Imagine Judith’s shock when the same stranger turns out to be among England’s most eligible bachelors, and when he arrives at Harewood Grange to woo her cousin. Certainly, they had made no vows, no promises, but Rannulf never did forget his uninhibited lover – nor did she forget that one delicious night. And as scandal sets the household abuzz, Rannulf proposes a solution. But when Judith refuses to have him – in love or wedlock – Rannulf has only one choice: to wage a campaign of pure pleasure to capture the heart of the woman who has already won his.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B

One of the many things I love about audiobooks is that they’re a great way for me to catch up with older titles that, with the best will in the world, I’m unlikely to get around to reading for at least the next ten years or more. Another great thing is that it’s such a treat when books you’ve really wanted to listen to are finally recorded and made available. Last year – at long last – Mary Balogh’s popular Slightly series (originally published between 2003 and 2004) was given the audio treatment, and thankfully, production company, Tantor audio, had the very good sense to employ the incredibly talented Rosalyn Landor as narrator.

Book two in the series, Slightly Wicked is a variation on the Cinderella trope and while it’s perhaps a little clichéd, I enjoyed it and was reminded of how a truly great narrator can elevate a story so that it ultimately transcends the sum of its parts.

Our hero is Lord Rannulf, brother to the Duke of Bewcastle and one of the six Bedwyn siblings. He is on his way to visit his ailing grandmother, Lady Beamish, at Grandmaison Park when he comes across an overturned coach and stops to see what is to be done. The weather is inclement and Rannulf is travelling alone, so all he can really do is ride to the nearest town or village and send help and transport for the passengers as quickly as possible. A man with an eye for the ladies, Rannulf quickly spots a lovely, red-headed woman among the group and offers to take her with him to the inn; after all, someone has to be able to give clear instructions to the rescue party.

The woman introduces herself as Claire Campbell, an actress on the London stage who is taking a bit of a break. Rannulf tells her he is Mr Ralph Bedard, and they set off, both of them feeling an intense spark of attraction to the other and Rannulf, especially, thinking that this lovely armful of curvy, warm woman will provide a satisfying diversion for the night.

But just as Rannulf is concealing his true identity, so is Claire, who is actually Miss Judith Law, the daughter of an impoverished country parson. With her younger brother – who is their parents’ only son – living well beyond his means and beggaring his family in order to do so, Judith’s parents can no longer afford to support their whole family, so she is being sent to live with her aunt Effingham, where she will live out the rest of her life as an unpaid drudge with no prospects for love, marriage or a family of her own.  So when the chance is offered her to spend the night with an attractive, charming man who desires her intensely, and knowing she is unlikely to ever again have the opportunity to experience passion, she decides to take it.  Nobody will ever know, and it will be a memory she can cherish forever.

Of course, this is Romancelandia, so the idea that ‘nobody will ever know’ is doomed the moment it is thought or uttered.  Because of course, ‘Claire’ and ‘Ralph’ are destined to meet again in their true guises.

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

Passion Favors the Bold (Royal Rewards #2) by Theresa Romain

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

DESPERATE MEASURES
Georgette Frost’s time is almost up. On her twenty-first birthday, the protections outlined in her late parents’ will are set to expire. With prospects for employment or marriage unfavorable at best, she decides to leave London and join her brother, Benedict, on a treasure hunt for gold sovereigns stolen from the Royal Mint.

DANGEROUS LIAISONS
Lord Hugo Starling has always felt protective of his friend Benedict’s sister, Georgette. So when he discovers her dressed in ragged boy’s clothes, about to board a coach for parts unknown, he feels duty bound to join her search. But mystery piles upon mystery as they cross England together, not least of which is the confounded attraction between them. As Georgette leads him to a reward he never expected, Hugo realizes he’s embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime…

Rating: B+

Passion Favors the Bold is the sequel to Theresa Romain’s thoroughly enjoyable romance-cum-treasure hunt, Fortune Favors the Wicked, wherein a blind former naval officer teams up with a former courtesan to locate the six missing crates of gold sovereigns that have been stolen from the Royal Mint in order to claim the hefty finder’s fee. The events of this book run more or less concurrently with this one, so it’s not really necessary to have read that first – and in fact, the books can be read in any order.

Georgette Frost will, on her twenty-first birthday, likely become homeless. After her parents died in an accident, the conditions of their will stipulated that the relatives who took over the family bookshop would house her until she was of age. Her birthday is approaching, and while her aunt and uncle have never been unkind to her, Georgette knows that they need space for their own, growing family, and having to keep her fed and housed has been a drain on their resources. Knowing that her brother, Benedict, has travelled to Derbyshire in search of the missing coins, Georgette decides to join him there and help if she can. She doesn’t know him well as he has been at sea for most of her life, but he’s her only family, and Georgette yearns to be part of something and to find a purpose in life.

Sir Hugo Starling, younger son of the Duke of Willingham is a friend of Benedict’s, having studied medicine with him in Edinburgh. Medicine is not a typical profession for a man in Hugo’s position – in fact, his family intended him to go into the Church – but the loss of his twin brother more than a decade earlier led Hugo to take a different path, no matter that it put a strain on his relationship with his family. Firmly believing that his brother’s life could have been saved had the duke employed a physician selected because of his knowledge and skill rather than his reputation in society, Hugo became determined to prevent others from suffering such devastation and loss and trained as a doctor. He continues to practice, but his driving passion now is the creation of a brand new hospital in London, but he is having trouble getting the needed financial backing. When he encounters his friend’s sister – dressed in ragged, boy’s clothes and insisting on travelling to meet up with her brother in Derbyshire – Hugo wants to take her to stay with his mother until he can contact Benedict, but Georgette is adamant, telling Hugo that “being in [Benedict’s] company would be better than being alone”. When she learns of Hugo’s difficulty in persuading anyone to invest in his hospital plan, she tells him that if he were to be instrumental in finding the gold, the publicity that will attach to his name can only help him in his cause – and realising that she’ll go with or without him, Hugo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her.

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

Surrender to the Marquess (Herriard Family #3) by Louise Allen

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A battle of wills!

When Lady Sara Herriard’s husband dies in a duel, she turns her back on the vagaries of the ton. From now on, she will live as she pleases. She won’t change for anyone – certainly not for the infuriating Lucian Avery, Marquess of Cannock!

Lucian must help his sister recover from a disastrous elopement and reluctantly enlists Lady Sara’s help. She couldn’t be further from the conventional, obedient wife he’s expected to marry, but soon, all he craves is for her to surrender – and join him in his bed!

Rating: A-

Surrender to the Marquess is the third book in Louise Allen’s series about the Herriard family which began in Forbidden Jewel of India. That book told the story of Major Nicholas Herriard and Anusha Laurens, the Anglo-Indian daughter of an East India Company merchant and a high-born Indian lady. After their marriage, the couple remained in India and brought up their two children there, but when, a couple of years before this book opens, Herriard became Marquess of Eldonstone, the family relocated to England.

Not long after their return, their daughter, Lady Sarisa, fell in love with and married a young Cambridge scholar, Dr. Michael Harcourt. He was certainly an unusual choice for the daughter of a marquess, but her parents only wanted Sara to be happy, and the couple was certainly that – until one tragic night when her husband and his best friend imbibed too much and got into an argument. A challenge was issued, the duel was fought, and Michael was killed, leaving Sara a young widow burdened with guilt at the fact that the argument had been about her and furious at the stupid, careless way that men resort so quickly to violence in order to defend their honour and avenge any slight, no matter how insignificant.

Following her loss, Sara decided she needed time to work out what she wanted to do with her life. She went to stay at a quiet seaside resort in Dorset and ended up purchasing a small shop that sells artist and craft supplies. Twice a week, she also opens it as a tea room for the local ladies, where they can meet to discuss their projects and congregate somewhere they are not expected to confine themselves to idle chit-chat or to sit about looking decorative. Everyone knows that Mrs. Harcourt is also Lady Sarisa, but she is well-liked and respected within the community and they are happy to indulge her whim of maintaining her two separate personalities; as a shopkeeper by day and a well-born lady at local assemblies and other social events.

Sara is naturally able to spot a well-to-do gentlemen when she sees one, and that’s exactly what she sees when the sinfully handsome Mr. Dunton enters her shop one day, looking, he tells her, for something to amuse and occupy his younger sister, who has been ill and is not recovering well. Sara suggests that perhaps she could visit Miss Dunton and take along some samples of her arts and crafts supplies to see if she can find something to interest the young lady. Mr. Dunton readily agrees, and on meeting Marguerite, Sara sees that her brother’s descriptions were not exaggerated, and suggests that perhaps she might like to attend her tearoom that afternoon. Very soon, the ladies have fallen into friendship, and Sara learns the truth of the situation, that Marguerite had fallen in love and eloped with her brother’s secretary, that she lost a baby and that her lover has unaccountably disappeared.

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

Convenient Proposal to the Lady (Hadley’s Hellions #3) by Julia Justiss

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

‘Duty can also be pleasure, Lady Alyssa…’

When politician Benedict Tawny set out to save Lady Alyssa from a nefarious plot, he never expected to find himself trapped in a compromising situation with the alluring lady! Now duty demands he propose…and claim her as his bride! Tainted by his illegitimacy, Ben knows he can’t give Alyssa the life of luxury she deserves. But if he can convince her to succumb to the undeniable heat between them, their convenient marriage might just lead to the love of a lifetime!

Rating: A-

Convenient Proposal to the Lady is the third book in Julia Justiss’ series featuring Hadley’s Hellions, four young men who forged strong friendships at school and university and who are now united in their dedication to bringing about political reform. While the romance in each book is most definitely to the fore, there’s enough social and political detail to add depth and an extra layer of interest to each story. That, combined with my favourite trope of a marriage of convenience made this entry in the series an especially enjoyable one.

Benjamin Tawny was born on the wrong side of the blanket to a viscount and a former governess. His father publicly acknowledges him, and has always provided for Ben and his mother, enabling Ben to go to school and university, which has helped him to make the sorts of connections necessary for him to pursue his chosen career. But Ben has never been particularly well-disposed towards the viscount, believing him to have been a heartless seducer who left the woman he had ruined to social ostracism and censure.

In spite of being base born, Ben is, like his fellow Hellions, a rising star in the political firmament; he has represented his parliamentary seat for almost eight years, has earned the respect of his constituents and has a reputation for being honest, determined, hard-working and above all, honourable. So when he overhears a group of men making a wager as to who can seduce and ruin a young lady, and knowing the sort of treatment meted out to ‘fallen’ women, he can’t stand by and do nothing. He decides to seek out Lady Alyssa Lambourne and warn her that she has been made the target of a plot by Lord Denbry solely because of the enmity that lies between him and Lady Alyssa’s brother.

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

A Lady Without a Lord (Penningtons #3) by Bliss Bennet

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A viscount convinced he’s a failure

For years, Theodosius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .

A lady determined she’ll succeed

Harriot Atherton is trying to keep a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?

As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father, discovering the missing money, and keeping all her secrets, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?

Rating: B+

This third book in Bliss Bennet’s series about the Pennington siblings turns its attention to the eldest, Theodosius (Theo), who became Viscount Saybrook on the death of his father just over a year earlier. On the surface, it’s a simple story about childhood friends coming together after a number of years and starting to see each other in a different light, but there’s a lot more to it than that. One of the things I have enjoyed about this author’s other books is the way she has incorporated a sound historical background into the story in a subtle and informative way. The previous book, A Man Without a Mistress, featured a couple who were very involved in politics, and here, Ms. Bennet takes a look at the importance of community, the responsibility of landowners towards their dependents, and throws in a dash of local politics without any of that overshadowing the development of the romance or the personal issues faced by both protagonists.

Since inheriting his title, the new viscount has made no move to assume the responsibilities that go with it, or to visit his estate, preferring instead to continue to live it up in London, bedding beautiful women and carousing with his many friends and acquaintances. But the recent marriage of his sister (in A Man Without a Mistress), suddenly brings Theo’s unfettered existence to an end; a meeting with his solicitor in order to arrange the payment of Sybilla’s dowry reveals that something is badly wrong with the family finances, and he realises that if he’s to do right by his sister and her new husband – who are intending to use the money to finance his bid to enter parliament – Theo will have to leave London, head to Lincolnshire and try to find out what has happened to the missing money.

He is not an uncaring man. He knows he has people depending on him, but told himself he was doing the right thing by leaving things in the very capable hands of his father’s – now his – steward, Mr. Atherton. Theo has never had a head for numbers; in fact, his father believed him to be little more than an imbecile because Theo struggled with even the most basic of calculations as a boy, and his father’s disgust very quickly turned to disapproval of practically everything else about his heir. So when he was old enough, Theo decided he might as well live down to expectations and took himself off to London where he very soon acquired himself a reputation as a cheerful, good-hearted wastrel.

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

Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal by Virginia Heath

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

She’d done it! Plain, invisible Evelyn had escaped…

Fed up with being a doormat to her evil stepmother, heiress Evelyn Bradshaw pays a dissolute rake to pose as her betrothed so she can secure her freedom. But then her fake fiancé leaves her with his estranged brother Finn Matlock and disappears!

Having withdrawn from the world the last thing Finn needs is the temptation of a woman, especially one like Evie. She has an irritating habit of causing chaos wherever she goes and being in places she shouldn’t…including, as he soon learns, his heart!

Rating: B+

In Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal, Virginia Heath offers an enjoyable re-working of the Cinderella story in which our downtrodden – but determined –  heroine is a fully-rounded character with a nicely fleshed-out backstory who doesn’t need to rely on her Prince not-so Charming in order to effect her escape from her horrible relatives.  Prince –or rather, Lord – Grumpy is, however a rather attractive consequence of that escape, and watching the sparks fly as they gradually and quite plausibly fall in love makes for a lovely, romantic read.

Miss Evelyn Bradshaw is twenty-six, plump, frumpy and firmly on the shelf.  Having spent the best part of the last decade nursing first her mother, and then her father when he fell ill some years later, she feels that youth has passed her by and that love and marriage are no longer things to which she can aspire.  Her father’s remarriage to a selfish money-grabber with two equally unpleasant daughters saw Evelyn – Evie – constantly belittled and thrust into the background to the extent that even she believes herself to be practically invisible; but his death offers her the prospect of freedom.  Mr. Bradshaw has left his considerable fortune to Evie, and she is finally determined to escape her step-mother’s orbit, leave London for good and make a life for herself somewhere else.  All Evie has to do is scrape up the courage to announce her plans, but even though Hyacinth Bradshaw has not treated Evie well (although she’s stopped short of getting her to clean the grates and scrub the floors!), Evie has never been able to forget her father’s insistence that she treat her stepmother with respect, and has always done whatever it took to ensure a quiet life.

Unable to just come out and tell Hyacinth of her determination to set up her own home, Evie instead offers the sum of five thousand pounds to the handsome but dissolute Fergus Matlock, Marquis of Stanford, if he will pretend to be her fiancé for the next few months.  The Marquis, who is deeply in debt, agrees to the scheme, and Evie is set to travel to his Yorkshire estate on the pretext of preparing for their wedding. In reality, she will look about for a house to purchase and once she has found one, the betrothal will quietly be ended, and Evie will remain in Yorkshire, well away from London and her stepmother’s constant bullying.

Arriving at Stanford Hall a few days later in the company of her elderly aunt, Evie is pleasantly surprised to discover the place in a much better state of repair than she had been led to believe.  Later that night, when Evie can’t sleep, she wanders down to the library, only to come across Fergus, who is supposed to be staying at a local inn in order to observe the proprieties.  But something is not quite right about him and Evie soon discovers why; he’s not Fergus at all, but his identical twin brother Finnegan, and this is Matlock House, not Stanford House.  It’s clear there is no love lost between the brothers, and Finn makes very clear his displeasure at his twin’s presumption in dumping his fiancée at his house, but Evie refuses to be intimidated by his ungracious manner. Nonetheless, she feels she should remove to Stanford House as soon as possible, but true to form as a cad of the first order, Fergus has already left Yorkshire with the advance on the “fee” Evie had given him.  Finn is not surprised – he tells Evie (not for the first time) that his brother is an unreliable wastrel and that she shouldn’t marry him, but this is the new Evie, the Evie that sticks up for herself and doesn’t cower when confronted with the scowling, brusque brother of a marquis, and she insists that she knows perfectly well what Fergus is and that he suits her well enough.

Finn Matlock is a widower of some three years, and since his wife’s death, has buried himself in this corner of Yorkshire, his life consisting of seeing to his estate business and not much else.  He doesn’t socialise, he doesn’t have guests  – until now – and he wants to keep it that way – so the stirrings of attraction he feels towards his brother’s voluptuous fiancée are both unexpected and unwelcome.  Yet very soon, he finds himself admiring her backbone and determination as much as her lush body and, though he’d never admit it, looking forward to breakfast each day, as that’s the only time of day he dares to let himself spend with her.  Every morning, he not-so-subtly baits her, enjoying her completely unfazed responses to his jibes about his brother and his attempts to persuade her not to marry him, her casual manner of taking no notice of his heavy hints about her departure and the way she ignores his regular criticisms of her – admittedly horrible – clothes (a leftover from the days of Hyacinth’s influence over her wardrobe).

This daily ritual becomes important to Evie, too, as she likes the way Finn challenges her and the person she is when she’s with him. She is sure that a handsome, wealthy man like him could have no real interest in an overly plump, aging spinster like her – even if he wasn’t still in love with his late wife – and recognises that falling for him is a terrible idea.  But even as she realises that, she knows it’s too late for caution; the real Finn, the kind, protective man who hides his deep hurt and true nature beneath that outer shell of bad-temper and cynicism has stolen her heart.

Away from London, Evie transforms from the doormat she’s always describing herself as into a more confident, independent young woman who is looking forward to the rest of her life because it will be one she has built on her own terms.  This is one of the things that makes this version of the fairy tale so appealing;  Evie finds the wherewithal to go out and make a life of her own from within and doesn’t need a man to rescue her – although she does, of course find true love along the way.  And for all his outward grumpiness, Finn is perfect for her.  He is determined to fight his ever growing attraction to Evie, but her vitality and her growing self-confidence are so completely enticing that it eventually proves irresistible; so not only is Evie changed by their association, but Finn also comes to accept that the guilt he still feels over his wife’s death is misplaced, and that he is allowed to be happy and move on with his life.

This is – I think – the fourth book of Ms. Heath’s I’ve read and I continue to be impressed by her strong storytelling and thoughtful characterisations.  While Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal undoubtedly treads a well-worn path, the author has managed to keep it fresh by throwing in a number of small, but satisfying twists that add depth and insight to this familiar tale.  She writes with a great deal of warmth and humour, creating the most wonderful chemistry between her principals as well as treating us to some moments of poignancy and emotional truth that quite took my breath away.

If you haven’t yet tried a book by Virginia Heath, then you have a treat in store.  I guarantee that if you read this one, you’ll want to go back to read her others and then, like me, will be eagerly awaiting whatever she comes up with next.

Between the Devil and the Duke (Season for Scandal #3) by Kelly Bowen

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Their love was always in the cards.
He should have thrown her out. But when club owner Alexander Lavoie catches a mysterious blonde counting cards at his vingt-et-un table, he’s more intrigued than angry. He has to see more of this beauty—in his club, in his office, in his bed. But first he’ll have to devise a proposition she can’t turn down.

Gossip said he was an assassin.
Common sense told her to stay away. But Angelique Archer was desperate, and Lavoie’s club offered a surefire way to make quick money—until she got caught. Instead of throwing her out though, the devil offers her a deal: come work for him. Refusing him means facing starvation, but with a man so sinfully handsome and fiercely protective, keeping things professional might prove impossible.

Rating: A-

Kelly Bowen is one of the best of the bunch of new authors of historical romance to have emerged in the last couple of years, and she continues to show herself more than deserving of the praise her novels have received. I’ve reviewed a few and rated them highly, impressed by her ability to craft strong plotlines and characters, and to imbue her dialogue with unforced humour and realism. Best of all, she writes a strong, well-developed romance that sizzles with sexual tension while also showing the protagonists becoming emotionally intimate. Her current Season for Scandal series makes use of an unusual premise, and, in the last two books (Duke of My Heart and A Duke to Remember) she’s allowed her heroines to positively shine as independent, intelligent women who make their own rules while continuing to live within the bounds set by society. Not for Ms. Bowen the curl-tossing, foot-stamping, annoying “feisty” heroine; no, her ladies are clever, pragmatic, determined, and – when called for – devious; qualities which make them irresistibly attractive to their heroes, men who are secure enough in their masculinity to be able to appreciate their unique talents.

In Between the Devil and the Duke, the third book in the series, we meet Lady Angelique Archer, a young woman carrying the weight of her family’s responsibilities on her slim shoulders. Her father, the Marquess of Hutton, died recently in a carriage accident, but left very little money to his four children; and her older brother, the new marquess, is very quickly spending what little there is on drink, women, gambling and dodgy investments. Angelique is at her wit’s end. Her younger twin brothers risk being kicked out of Harrow if she can’t find the money to pay their fees; the household bills are mounting and she has already sold everything of value that isn’t nailed down. Her brother shows no sign of relinquishing his dissolute – and expensive – lifestyle, so it’s up to her to find a solution. While she’s very beautiful, Angelique never “took” during her one season, acquiring herself a reputation as The Marble Maiden owing to her inability to dance or make small talk or display any of the accomplishments required of a débutante. So given that reputation and that her current state of impoverishment is unlikely to remain a secret for long, marrying money is not an option. Not that she wants to sell herself off to the highest bidder anyway. An almost-betrothal to one of her brother’s closest friends, was a near escape and it’s one she has no wish to repeat.

We met Alexander Lavoie in Duke of My Heart, and learned that he is a partner in Chagarre and Associates, the business run by Ivory Moore (now Duchess of Alderidge), which is one of the best kept secrets in London.  The firm specialises in fixing the seemingly disastrous and making scandal disappear, and is discreet, efficient and very expensive.  Alex is also the proprietor of a highly successful gaming establishment, and thus very well placed to learn the sorts of secrets in which the firm trades. Rumoured to have been both a spy and an assassin, he is charming, clever, manipulative, and dangerously sexy – but completely unprepared for the sudden fascination he experiences for the anonymous woman playing quietly at the vingt-et-un table who wins a lot more than she loses.

She hasn’t gone unnoticed by him on her previous visits, but on this particular night, she is on the receiving end of some unwelcome attention from one of the men at her table,  so Alex steps in to politely but firmly encourage him to desist.  Alex is already curious about her – she obviously knows what she’s doing at the card table, but isn’t blatant about it; she loses small amounts, wins large ones and knows how to use her physical assets to distract a man and put him off his game.

When Alex realises that behind Angelique’s lovely exterior lies a brilliant mathematical mind, he offers her a job.  He can tell that she’s not at his club for fun or to indulge in the thrill of the forbidden; she needs the money, but he doesn’t know why, and is determined to ferret out the truth.  He knows a woman in trouble when he sees one; and when he encounters her brother and two of his inebriated friends, he begins to have an inkling of its source.

The story that follows is well-plotted and nicely paced, as Alex and Angelique – with the help of Ivory and Max – start to piece together the truth concerning the late marquess’ finances, uncovering a trail of smuggling,  blackmail and murder.  It’s an intriguing and thoroughly entertaining story, and I was completely caught up in it and anxious to know what was going to happen next.

The romance is very well done, too. The sparks fly between Angelique and Alex right from the start; the tension between them at their first meeting is thick enough to be cut with a knife and the connection between them is intense.  I love a smitten hero in a romance, and there’s no doubt that Alex is well and truly bowled over by Angelique – but what I loved even more is that while he’s undoubtedly physically attracted to her, he’s just as wowed by her mental acuity.  Following on from his offer of employment, Angelique presents him with a proposal as to how she can maximise the profits from her vingt-et-un table – and for Alex, it’s a real coup de foudre; he is “rather afraid he had just fallen in love.” 

Angelique is just as strongly attracted to Alex, although her experience with the men in her life who were supposed to look after her and didn’t – her father, her brother – makes her understandably cautious about trusting anyone but herself.  She tries to keep Alex out, but his kindness and his persistence gradually break down her barriers until she realises she can trust him absolutely. They are a very well-matched couple, not just mentally, but in the way they are able to provide something the other has been missing. Alex encourages Angelique to be herself in a way that nobody else ever has and I really enjoyed watching her self-confidence blossom as the result of his love and acceptance; and Alex, who has preferred to remain aloof and never shared much of himself with anyone, finds the sort of contentment with Angelique that he’d never expected to feel.

Between the Devil and the Duke is a really enjoyable story, and I loved every minute of it.  The story is engrossing, the characterisation is excellent and the love scenes are sensual and romantic. Kelly Bowen has further cemented her place as one of the best of the historical romance authors currently writing, and I’m eagerly looking forward to her next book.