The Duke of Danger (The Untouchables #6) by Darcy Burke

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After killing his opponent in a duel, Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, is known as the Duke of Danger. Tortured by guilt, he shields himself with a devil-may-care attitude. However, when he kills another man in another duel, he’s beyond redemption, even though it wasn’t his fault. He refuses to smear a dead man’s name, especially when he’s left behind a blameless widow who doesn’t deserve an even bigger scandal.

Widowed and destitute, Lady Emmaline Townsend must marry the man of her parents’ choosing or beg unsympathetic relatives for support. The only way out is to ask for help from the one man she’s sworn to hate, the man who owes her anything she asks, the man who killed her husband. They strike a devil’s bargain in which passion simmers just beneath the surface. But her dead husband’s transgressions come back to haunt them and threaten their chance at love.

Rating: B

I’ve been enjoying Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, although I’ll admit I was rather disappointed in the last instalment, The Duke of Defiance and wasn’t sure I was going to read further. But I decided to put that one down as an aberration and I’m glad I picked up The Duke of Danger, which is a much more strongly-written and well-conceived story than the previous one. The eponymous duke isn’t actually a duke, but the ducal nicknames were invented – tougue-in-cheek – to show that the gentlemen in question were of the highest echelons of society and far above the touch of the young ladies who coined them – as well as to be alliterative ;). The Duke of Danger shows a different side to the dashing hero who has fought many duels and escaped with nary a scratch; Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, is a man of great integrity and honour who has acquired his moniker because of his involvement in a couple of duels in which he either killed or badly wounded his opponent, but who in in no way sees these events as badges of honour. Instead, he is haunted by the fact he has taken life in cold blood and hates himself for it.

It’s with a heavy heart, and as a last resort, that Lionel calls out Viscount Townsend for threatening to besmirch the honour of a lady who is one of Lionel’s oldest and dearest friends. He gave Townsend every chance to recant, but the man refused, leaving Lionel with one alternative – he will shoot wide in order to merely graze his opponent and take whatever comes his way. But when Townsend turns and fires before the end of the count, Lionel reacts instinctively and out of self-preservation – and shoots the man in the leg instead. It’s believed the wound is not a fatal one – but days later Townsend dies and impulsively, Lionel pays a visit to his widow, telling her she can call on him if there is ever anything she needs. After that, as he has done before, Lionel leaves England to escape the gossip and in an attempt to dull the agony of regret.

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

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My Fair Lord (Once Upon a Bride #1) by Wilma Counts

My Fair LordThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Henrietta Parker, daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, has turned down many a suitor for fear that the ton’s bachelors are only interested in her wealth. But despite the warnings of her dearest friends, Harriet and Hero, she can’t resist the challenge rudely posed by her stepsister: transform an ordinary London dockworker into a society gentleman suitable for the “marriage mart.” Only after a handshake seals the deal does Retta fear she may have gone too far . . .

When Jake Bolton is swept from the grime of the seaport into the elegance of Blakemoor House, he appears every inch the rough, cockney working man who is to undergo Retta’s training in etiquette, wardrobe, and elocution. But Jake himself is a master of deception—with much more at stake than a drawing room wager. But will his clandestine mission take second place to his irresistible tutor, her intriguing proposal . . . and true love?

Rating: C-


The first in her new Once Upon a Bride series, Wilma Counts’ My Fair Lord is exactly what one would infer from such a title; a Pygmalion inspired tale with the principal roles reversed. Our Covent Garden flower-seller is morphed into a London dockworker by the name of Jake Bolton and our professor is Lady Henrietta (Retta) Parker, eldest daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, who is goaded into accepting a wager proposed by one of her sisters, that she – Retta – could transform “any worker off the London docks” into “your typical gentlemen of the ton.” It’s a popular trope (and the best version of it in historical romance, to my mind, is still Judith Ivory’s The Proposition), but unfortunately, in Ms. Counts’ hands it makes for rather a dull, pedestrian read, mostly because there’s a lot of telling and not much showing and there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the principals.

Lady Henrietta is the only child of the Earl of Blakemoor from his first marriage, and she is several years older than her younger half-siblings, twins Gerald and Richard, and daughters Rachel and Miranda. The countess – her step-mother – resents Henrietta and, of course, favours her own children, something which wouldn’t bother Retta quite so much if it weren’t for the fact that her father knows it and does nothing about it. Disgruntled because the countess prevented her accompanying them to Vienna (where the Earl is to attend the Congress) and needled by the constant catty remarks made by her sisters over the fact that Retta is more or less on the shelf, she allows her irritation to get the better of her and is manoeuvred into making the above mentioned wager with spiteful Rachel. While her eldest brother, Gerald, urges caution, Retta’s stubborn streak won’t allow her to back down in the face of her sisters’ mockery, and the bet is made, even as Retta’s common sense tells her it’s a bad idea.

The search for a suitable subject starts the following day down at the docks and eventually settles upon Jake Bolton, who is, to say the least, surprised at the proposal set before him. But as luck would have it, his being installed in the London home of the Blakemoors could be just the thing Jake needs in order to uncover the identity of the person – or persons – responsible for leaking important government information which could undermine England’s negotiations in Paris and Vienna. For Jake is no dockworker; he’s Major Lord Jacob Bodwyn, a military officer and third son of the Duke of Holbrook who has been temporarily seconded to the Foreign Office on the orders of his commanding officer, the Duke of Wellington. The Blakemoors, along with several other prominent families, all of whom have varying degrees of access to sensitive information, have been under discreet surveillance for a while, and his removal to Blakemoor house will allow Jake to do some more close-up snooping.

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

Wanted: A Gentleman by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Patmore


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wanted, a Gentleman, or Virtue Over-Rated.

The grand romance of Mr. Martin St. Vincent – a merchant with a mission. Also a problem, Mr. Theodore Swann – a humble scribbler and advertiser for love.

Act the first: the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London, where lonely hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling.

Act the second: a pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts) featuring a speedy carriage, sundry rustic, a private bedchamber.

In the course of which are presented romance, revenge, and redemption, deceptions, discoveries, and desires – the particulars of which are too numerous to impart.

Rating: Narration – A- Content: B+

Wanted: A Gentleman is a standalone novella from the pen of K.J. Charles in which two very different men undertake a journey to foil an elopement and, along the way, discover that perhaps they’re not so very different after all. The audiobook clocks in at around four-and-a-half hours, but a thoroughly entertaining four-and-a-half hours it is, packing in plenty of social comment, witty dialogue, engaging characters, steamy love scenes and fascinating facts about the rigours of coach travel in Regency England.

Jobbing writer and part-time scribbler of romantic novels, Theodore Swann is the proprietor of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a weekly newssheet in which, for the price of a shilling, men and women can place advertisements extolling their virtues and setting out their requirements for a life partner. Into his dingy office one day bursts Martin St. Vincent, a tall, handsome and obviously well-to-do black man who makes it immediately clear that he is in no mood for pleasantries and explains that he wants to know the identity of one of his advertisers, a man calling himself “Troilus”. This individual has been corresponding with “Cressida”, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant who is his former owner, and her father wants to put a stop to it. St. Vincent is brusque and to the point, cutting through Theo’s sales patter and asking him to name a price for his assistance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Rogue’s Conquest (The Townsends #2) by Lily Maxton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Wallflower Eleanor Townsend is not like most women. She has no interest in marriage, the ton, or fashion. Instead, her heart lies with science. And when the opportunity to present a paper arises, she takes it, even though it means dressing as a man. But her disguise doesn’t quite work. Someone notices—and the brute intends to blackmail her!

Former prizefighter James MacGregor wants to be a gentleman, like the men he trains in his boxing saloon. His first step is gaining a beautiful, wealthy wife. Eleanor Townsend is not that woman, but a chance encounter gives him the leverage he needs. She’ll gain him entry to high society and help him with his atrocious manners, and in return, he won’t reveal her secret. It’s the perfect arrangement. At least until the sparks between them become more than just their personalities clashing. But there’s too much at stake for James to give in to his growing attraction.

Rating: C+

I loved Enchanting the Earl, the first book in Lily Maxton’s series about the Townsend siblings, which I called a “sweetly sensual character-driven romance” between a reclusive war hero and the free-spirited young woman who shows him that he’s a man worthy of love and acceptance.  I was impressed by the way the author balanced the various elements of her story and by the strong characterisation – which extended to the secondary cast as well as the principals – so I eagerly snapped up the next in the series, The Rogue’s Conquest, in the hopes of finding it to be an equally satisfying and enjoyable read.

As is shown by my grade, that wasn’t quite the case.  I didn’t dislike the story, but I didn’t really warm to either of the leads and never felt there was a strong romantic connection between them.  The pacing is off, too, with most of the emotional weight of the story coming well into the second half, and I suspect that wasn’t helped by the fact that the book is quite short – something between a long novella and a short novel. The protagonists and their relationship are not given time to properly develop, plus, when it’s time for the hero to admit his perspective has been completely wrong, he is able to shed the beliefs and ambitions he’s held for pretty much all his life in less time than it takes to blink the proverbial eye.

With their brother, the Earl of Arden, now happily married and residing with his wife at his remote castle in the highlands, his siblings Robert, Eleanor and Georgina, have removed to Edinburgh.  As close relations of an earl, they move in good society but Eleanor isn’t very interested in that; she is more concerned with the societal habits of insects – specifically, beetles – than the societal habits of humans. She has written several papers on entomology which have been published by the Natural History Society and has been invited to give a lecture – but of course, the society does not allow women members and Eleanor had to present her work as that of a man – Cecil Townsend – rather than as herself.

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

Scandal and Miss Markham (Beauchamp Betrothals #2) by Janice Preston

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A scandalous journey…

Glassmaker’s daughter Thea Markham is devastated when her brother Daniel goes missing. Then a mysterious lord turns up asking questions about Daniel and offers to find him. Unsure she can trust the handsome peer, Thea dresses up as a boy and follows him!

Lord Vernon Beauchamp feels his life lacks direction. Meeting Thea gives him a renewed purpose. And when they are thrown together on their scandalous adventure, friendship soon gives way to desire…

Rating: B

Scandal and Miss Markham is the second book in Janice Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series, and picks up the story of Lord Vernon Beauchamp, the younger brother of Leo, the Duke of Cheriton whose romance was featured in the previous book, Cinderella and the Duke.  Rather like his brother, Vernon meets his match in a most unexpected place and falls in love with a young woman not from his social class; but unlike the previous book, there is less drama and angst and the story – a road-trip romance – feels more cohesive and its events less episodic.

Miss Dorothea Markham (Thea) is the daughter of a successful glass manufacturer who lives with her parents and brother, Daniel, in Worcestershire.  Her father has been unwell for some time following a stroke a few years back, and her mother – who holds Thea partly responsible for her husband’s illness – spends almost all her time caring for him and has little time to spare for her children.  Between them, Daniel and Thea now run the family business, but Daniel had begun behave oddly of late, and now hasn’t been home for five days and Thea is worried.  Not wanting to stir up unnecessary trouble for Daniel or for word to get out about his disappearance to adversely affect the business, Thea doesn’t call in any help; she doesn’t even tell her parents because she doesn’t want to worry her father – but by the fifth day she is practically frantic and berating herself for not trying to find him sooner.

The arrival of an unexpected – and unknown – visitor who insists on seeing Daniel interrupts Thea’s self-recriminations and increasingly agitated train of thought.  By his clothes and bearing, Thea sees instantly that this is a gentleman, although she has never seen him before and can’t think what he could want with her brother.  The visitor introduces himself as Lord Vernon Beauchamp, explaining that he seeks to investigate the contents of a letter Daniel wrote to Vernon’s brother, the Duke of Cheriton, in which he expressed concern about a distant cousin of the Beauchamps, one Henry Mannington.  Thea has never heard of Mannington and is anxious to get rid of her unwanted visitor, but he is quick to sense something is not right and she ends up telling him about Daniel’s disappearance.  Vernon is immediately drawn to this petite spitfire of a woman who clearly views men of his class as useless for anything but the pursuit of their own selfish depravity, and, with a shock, realises that he actually wants to help; his position as a ducal ‘spare’ leaves him playing second fiddle most of the time, and while he loves his brother and family, it does mean that Vernon has struggled to find his own place in the world.  Now, though, he senses an opportunity to actually do something useful, so he offers to help Thea to find her brother.  Or rather, he offers to find her brother while Thea sits at home and waits – which won’t do for her at all.

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

TBR Challenge – My Lady Thief by Emily Larkin

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Lady by day, Robin Hood by night…

Arabella Knightley is an earl’s granddaughter, but it’s common knowledge that she spent her early years in London’s gutters. What the ton doesn’t know is that while Arabella acts the perfect young lady by day, at night she plays Robin Hood, stealing from the wealthy to give to the poor.

Adam St Just is one of Society’s most sought after bachelors. He’s also the man responsible for Arabella Knightley’s nickname: Miss Smell o’ Gutters—a mistake he regrets, but can never erase.

Bored by polite society, Adam sets out to unmask the elusive thief … but he’s not prepared for what he discovers.

Rating: A-

The Historicals prompt in the TBR Challenge is my Busman’s Holiday, but it can nonetheless be quite difficult to choose a book from the many still sitting unread on my Kindle. In the end, I decided to go for something I was pretty certain would be a winner and picked up Emily Larkin’s My Lady Thief, a standalone title that was first published as The Unmasking of a Lady in 2010, under her Emily May pen-name. Every book I’ve read by this author has proved to be extremely enjoyable and well-written; she creates attractive, well-rounded characters and puts them in interesting situations and her romances are always well-developed and laced with sexual tension. My Lady Thief most ably continues that impressive track record.

Miss Arabella Knightley is beautiful, poised, intelligent, self-assured and the granddaughter of an earl – a most eligible parti were it not for the fact that her early years were spent in the London slums owing to the fact that her father, the second son of an earl, was cast off by his father for marrying her mother without permission. When, after her husband’s death, Arabella’s mother, Thérèse, approached the earl for help, he agreed to take in the daughter but not the mother. Unwilling to be parted from her child, Thérèse took Arabella to live with a friend of her late husband’s and became the man’s mistress. After this, she was rumoured to have had a number of protectors, but eventually she and her daughter ended up in the slums. After her death when Arabella was twelve, the old earl took his granddaughter in and made her the heir to his fortune after his sons all died without issue. So not only is Arabella beautiful, on her twenty-fifth birthday, she will inherit a considerable fortune – but she is not interested in marriage and intends instead to retire to the country and run the girl’s school she has secretly set up. Good society tolerates her because of her lineage and wealth, but she knows she is not really accepted, and, for the most part, doesn’t care. She presents a calm, unruffled exterior to the ton, the veiled and not-so-veiled insults she elicits merely glancing off her façade of tough insouciance and affecting her not at all. Apart from that one time six years earlier when she’d learned that Adam St. Just – handsome, wealthy, charming and one of the ton’s most eligible bachelors – had described her to his set as smelling of the gutters, and the nickname had stuck. She is still referred to behind hands and fans as “Miss Smell O’Gutters”.

Adam St. Just heartily regrets his actions that day, which had been borne of anger and frustration after his callous father had taken him to task about the fact that he had singled out “the daughter of a French whore” for his attentions. Adam had neither known nor cared about Miss Arabella Knightley’s origins, having been struck by her beauty and intelligence – but his father’s disdainful interference had sent Adam to the bottle and he’d been well into his cups when he’d made that damaging, crass remark. In the intervening years, he and Miss Knightley have done their best to avoid contact with each other, although moving in the same circles means that they are often present at the same events. Adam is therefore surprised –and not especially pleased – to see Arabella sitting with his sister one evening and to note that whatever Miss Knightley is saying to Grace is being well received and seems to have bolstered her spirits, which have been somewhat dampened of late.

Adam is very protective of his sister, and it worries him that she does not appear to be enjoying the season as so many other young ladies are. When he discovers the cause – that she has been blackmailed over some letters she wrote to a young man with whom she’d believed herself in love – Adam is furious with the man and the blackmailer, guilty that he had not seen how miserable Grace was and curious as to the identity of the person – identified merely as “Tom” – who has returned the letters and the jewellery with which Grace had bought the blackmailer’s silence.

Given that readers are privy to Tom’s true identity from the start, it’s not a spoiler to say that Arabella quickly emerges as a kind of Robin Hood figure, who goes one step further from stealing from the rich to feed the poor. She uses the proceeds from her thefts to finance the school she has set up outside London for girls who might otherwise be forced into prostitution AND chooses as her victims those members of the ton who have been cruel, duplicitous or just downright mean to those weaker than themselves.

Adam becomes determined to discover the identity of the mysterious Tom, and finds himself developing a sneaking respect for the man, who seems only to steal from people who can a) afford it and b) deserve it. It’s only when he starts to look deeper that he begins to suspect Tom’s true identity – and once all is revealed to him, his respect for Tom – Arabella – only increases.

Both central characters are extremely likeable and engaging, and their romance is beautifully written. The way these two circle around each other warily, alternately flirting and mocking and then retreating when threatened with exposing their vulnerabilities had me glued to the pages and their progression from suspicious enmity to admiration to love is perfectly paced and wonderfully romantic. I particularly liked the way Adam is gradually shown to be altering his perceptions of Arabella; to start with he admits he is strongly attracted to her, but that there can be no question of his marrying her, but as the story progresses and he comes to know and understand her better, he is entirely captivated by her; her intelligence, her spirit and her compassion – and sees her for the woman she really is. As Arabella starts to let Adam know her, she shows him something of what her life was like as a child, and exposes him to a side of London he has never seen or really considered. What he sees appals him, and he is genuinely motivated to do something positive and practical to help, while also being more impressed than ever by Arabella’s determination and strength of character.

The chemistry between Adam and Arabella is sizzling, although I have to say that the first sex scene (which comes quite late on) is a little off-key and that, together with a very poor decision Arabella makes near the end, accounts for this book not getting a straight A grade. Otherwise, My Lady Thief is a terrific read that features two fully-rounded and sympathetic central characters, a strong secondary cast and an intriguing storyline. If you’ve never read this author before, this would be a great place to start; and if you’re familiar with her work, it most certainly won’t disappoint.

The Rogue and I (Must Love Rogues #1) by Eva Devon (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A Lady Ready for Battle

Miss Harriet Manning once made the mistake of falling completely, totally, and irreversibly in love with a duke’s son. It’s a mistake she won’t repeat twice. Truly. Especially since he abandoned her just when they were about to elope to Gretna Green. Five years later, Harriet hasn’t forgotten the way Lord Garret’s smoldering gaze and wicked sense of humor touched her soul. Still, there’s no way she’ll forgive the traitorous libertine, no matter how he stirs her passions. Now, Harriet is determined to show him she doesn’t care, and never did, by making merry right under his nose but a tragic turn of events at her cousin’s wedding has her wondering if just maybe, love deserves one last chance.

A Lord Who Lost His Heart

Lord Garret Hart, second son of a duke and now brother to the present Duke of Huntsdown, is never ever EVER getting married. Bachelorhood is for him. After all, women are the very devil. Especially one woman. Miss Harriet Manning is Garret’s own personal Medusa and she has turned his heart to stone. Indeed she has, but not before she absolutely ripped it to shreds, leaving him a complete wreck. Nothing will ever induce him to matrimony or nauseating protestations of boyish love again. But when he is forced into close proximity at his brother’s wedding with the woman who first taught him to dream and see the world as a wondrous place, sparks flash and passions explode. Still, Harriet is not to be trusted. She callously betrayed him once. So how can he ever allow himself another chance at love when love always seems to hurt so much?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – C+

Eva Devon (who has also written as Maire Claremont) opens her Must Love Rogues series with The Rogue and I, a story she says in her author’s note is an homage to her favourite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing (which is one of my favourites, too). Many, many romances feature couples who bicker à la Beatrice and Benedick, but Ms. Devon has taken that one step further and the first part of her story follows the plotline of the play fairly closely, mirroring some scenes and adapting dialogue to fit characters of the nineteenth rather than the sixteenth century. I enjoyed spotting those similarities (such as, when faced with confronting the heroine, the hero says “Send me anywhere… anywhere but here”, while Benedick begs: “Will your grace command me any service to the world’s end?”), although I felt that sometimes the implied bawdiness didn’t quite fit the regency setting.

As the play is a well-known one, I think it’s probably pointless for me to try to avoid spoilers in this review. The plot of the book and the plot of the play do diverge after the half-way point, however, so I’ll keep those events under wraps as far as possible for the potential listener.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.