The Bachelor by (Duke Dynasty #2) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick


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Lady Gwyn Drake has long protected her family’s reputation by hiding an imprudent affair from her youth. But when her former suitor appears at Armitage Hall, manhandling the heiress and threatening to go public with her secrets, it’s Gwyn who needs protecting. Her twin brother, Thorn, hires Joshua Wolfe, the estate’s gamekeeper, to keep her safe in London during her debut. As a war hero, Joshua feels obligated to fulfill the assignment he has accepted. But as a man, it’s torment to be so very close to the beauty he’s fought to ignore….

With handsome Joshua monitoring her every move, Gwyn would prefer to forget both the past and the parade of money-seeking bachelors at her coming out. But Joshua is unmoved by her attempts at flirtation, and the threat of blackmail still hangs over her. With danger closing in, Gwyn must decide which is the greater risk: deflecting a scoundrel’s attempts to sabotage her – or revealing her whole heart to the rugged bodyguard she can’t resist….

Rating: Narration – B; Content – D

The Bachelor is book two in Sabrina Jeffries’ Duke’s Dynasty series, which features the offspring of a duchess who was married three times, to three different dukes. I’d planned to review book one, Project Duchess, when it came out last year, but problems with my review copy meant I wasn’t able to finish it. I believe there are overarching plotlines relating to a mystery begun in book one, but those don’t come into play here until fairly late on and don’t have any real bearing on the central storyline or romance.

I’ve read and listened to a number of books by this author and have enjoyed them, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same of The Bachelor, which is short on plot, shorter on romantic chemistry and long on boredom.

The heroine of this book is Lady Gwyn Drake, twin sister of the Duke of Thornstock and the only female of the duchess’ five children. Gwyn and her brother have spent most of their lives in Berlin and returned to England only recently; she is thirty-years-old and doesn’t expect to marry, but as the sister of a newly-minted duke, is preparing to make her début in London society. When the book opens, she has agreed to meet with a former… er… acquaintance, Lionel Malet, in response to the letter he sent demanding money to keep quiet about the secrets which could ruin her good name. It’s not explicitly stated at this stage what those secrets are, but it’s easy to guess.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of Flirting (Sinful Suitors #5) by Sabrina Jeffries


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When spymaster Baron Fulkham meets the stunning Princess Aurore of Chanay, he’s sure he’s met her before . . . in Dieppe . . . where she was an actress. As he pursues his suspicions, he uncovers a plot of attempted assassination and betrayals that could very well destroy his career, expose his own dark secrets . . . and ruin the woman he’s rapidly falling for.

Forced by her great-uncle to cover for a cousin she’s never met, stage actress Monique Servais is playing the role of a lifetime as Princess Aurore. If the handsome but arrogant Lord Fulkham recognizes her, he could ruin everything. Will the curtain be drawn on this charade before she can convince Fulkham to keep her secret? Or will they both find a love to transcend the truth about their carefully guarded pasts?

Rating: B

Although The Secret of Flirting is the fifth instalment in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series, it can easily be read as a standalone, as none of its storylines is related to the other books. Previous heroes and heroines make appearances within its pages, but they are brief cameos and no prior knowledge of their stories is required in order to make sense of this one.  Gregory Vyse, Lord Fulkham, undersecretary of state for war and the colonies – and unofficially one of England’s most successful spymasters – appeared as an important secondary character in the previous book (The Pleasures of Passion), and now takes centre stage in a story of international politics and intrigue.

Gregory is driven, astute and ambitious, and hopes for a prestigious appointment in the new government that will shortly be formed under Lord Grey. He is currently heavily involved in the conference that has been convened in London in order to select a ruler for the new country of Belgium, formed when it was granted independence from the Netherlands. In fact, with the Foreign Secretary indisposed, the organisation of the conference and the endorsement of the chosen candidate falls wholly on Gregory’s shoulders, and he is a man who takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.

Princess Aurore of Chanay is one of the front runners for the monarchy, but has been suddenly taken ill at Calais and is unable to travel to London – which is potentially disastrous.  But all is not lost – in a stroke worthy of Alexandre Dumas or Anthony Hope, the princess’ great uncle, the Count de Beaumonde, comes up with a plan to have Aurore’s second cousin, actress Monique Servais, impersonate the princess in London until she recovers and can resume her royal position and duties.

Monique Servais has trod the boards for some years at theatres in Dieppe, where she lives with her elderly and infirm grandmother Solange, a princess of the house of Chanay who was cut off by her family when she scandalously ran away with an actor. Neither Monique nor her grandmother has had any contact with the family since, and with Solange’s health deteriorating, Monique is her sole support. When Beaumonde appears and proposes that Monique should take the place of the princess for the duration of the London conference, Monique is wary – until he explains that in exchange for her co-operation, she and Solange will be welcomed back to Chanay, the old lady will be taken care of and Monique need never worry about her – or anything else – again. The promise of care for her grandmother is too much of a temptation to resist, so in spite of her misgivings, Monique agrees to the plan.

Over the next few says, she prepares herself to nod and smile and say the right things, act the part of a princess and do her best to show Aurore to be worthy of the crown of Belgium. The masquerade begins well – until she arrives at a banquet in London and comes face to face with the handsome but cynical Lord Fulkham, whom she’d met three years earlier in Dieppe when he’d come to visit her, at the behest of a friend, after a performance. Even though they haven’t seen each other in the intervening years, Monique has never forgotten his snide remarks about comedy and the theatre and she gets angry just remembering how he’d looked down his nose at her. He could expose her and the whole charade if she lets slip even for the merest instant that she is not who she says she is – which means the discovery that he is just as handsome and far more charming than she remembers poses a danger to her. She cannot allow herself to be distracted from her role, no matter how attractive the distraction.

Even though her resemblance to the princess (of whom he has only seen a portrait) is uncanny, Gregory recognises Monique immediately. Suspicion gnaws at him, and he determines to expose her, trying to trip her up whenever they converse – but she’s as good at dissembling as he is and he realises it’s not going to be easy. Also not easy is the strong desire he feels for her, which, for a man who prides himself on his self-control, is inconvenient and unwelcome. But he has never forgotten Monique, the way her beauty and intelligence had caught him by surprise or the way she had managed to ruffle his normally un-rufflable emotions and respond so archly to his unflattering remarks.

The attraction between Gregory and Monique intensifies over the next few days as they carefully circle each other, sizing up and second-guessing one another all the time. But the stakes are raised when, on a drive through Hyde Park, shots are fired at Monique, bringing home to Gregory that it doesn’t matter if she is an actress or a princess – whoever she is, the thought of her being hurt is unbearable and he is determined to protect her at all costs.

Sabrina Jeffries often includes a mystery as a secondary plotline in her historical romances, and I confess that not all of the ones I’ve read have worked for me, but this one did. The political backdrop is interesting (the author’s note at the end is worth reading) and Gregory and Monique are a well-matched couple. The chemistry between them sizzles right from the start, their verbal sparring is witty and spry and I was pleased with the way the author addressed the issue of consent and the power imbalance between them. Both are well-drawn and likeable, and although Gregory comes from the my-father-was-a-total-git-and-my-parents-were-miserable-so-I-am-emotionally-stunted school of romance heroes, the author puts a slightly different spin on his background which turns out to have an important part to play in the story, and I was glad to see that he was prepared to go all out for what he wanted (once he’d admitted to himself what that was!). The romantic conflict is born largely of the difference in station between Monique and Gregory – a man of his political ambitions cannot possibly expect to advance in his career if he marries a woman deemed ‘unsuitable’ – and is not overplayed; both parties accept it as the way things have to be, until Gregory swings into politician/spymaster mode and solves his Monique-shaped problems at a single stroke.

My main criticisms of the book are twofold; the pacing starts to flag a little early in the second half of the novel and the first sex scene feels oddly out of place, almost as though the author thought it was about time to include one rather than because that was where it actually needed to be. And the other is that the climactic scene where all is revealed is rather overblown and whiffs of weeks old camembert.

Those criticisms apart, The Secret of Flirting is an undemanding, quick read featuring two attractive principal characters, a well-drawn secondary cast and an intriguing plot. It’s a solid addition to the Sinful Suitors series and I enjoyed it in spite of my reservations.

The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

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When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, was forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expected Brilliana Trevor to wait for him. Seven years later, Niall has returned, disillusioned and cynical – so being blackmailed by the government into helping his former love catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood.

The now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life, but she will do anything to save her father. Yet as their fake engagement brings long-buried feelings to the surface, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? And will the pleasures of their renewed passion enable them both to rediscover love?

Rating: C+

The Pleasures of Passion is the fourth book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series, and it brings to a close the plotline that has run through all the books so far, that of Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave who, seven years before this book opens, killed a man in a duel and was forced to flee the country as a result. Because parts of Niall’s story were revealed in the other books – most notably book two, The Study of Seduction – there will be spoilers in this review.

Before the fateful duel took place, Niall had met and fallen in love with seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne, but because she was not yet out in society they kept their relationship a secret. Niall planned to ask for her hand as soon as he could court her openly, but because of the duel, he instead asks her to leave with him that very day as he cannot afford to linger in England. Brilliana – or Bree, as Niall nicknames her – is distraught and confused as well as concerned for her mother’s failing health and in the end tells him she can’t go with him – but they part with a sort of vague agreement that she will join him as soon as it’s possible for her to do so.

When, just a few months later, Niall learns that Bree has married someone else, the suspicions planted by his father before he left – that she didn’t want to accompany him because she would then be unable to enjoy her position as a viscountess and move about in society – took root, and over the years of his exile he became accustomed to thinking of her as having wanted him for his rank and fortune rather than himself.

For her part, Bree hears the rumours that quickly begin to circulate after Niall’s flight – that he and his opponent had duelled over another woman – and believes he had been merely toying with her affections. Nonetheless, she can’t stop loving him, and rejects other offers for her hand, until her father promises her to Reynold Trevor as payment for the large gambling debt he owes the man’s father.

Seven years later, Bree is a widow with a young son, and Niall has secured a pardon thanks to the intervention of a high-ranking Home Office official, Lord Fulkham, the spymaster for whom Niall had worked on numerous occasions while living abroad. We witnessed the first, awkward meeting between the former lovers in the previous book, The Danger of Desire, and at the opening of this one, they are still wary of each other and labouring under the misapprehensions fostered by Niall’s late father and society gossip.

Even though Niall and Bree are linked by ties of family and friendship, they are determined to keep away from each other and not to fall under the other’s spell once more – a plan which is destined to be unworkable when they are asked by Lord Fulkham to help him to track down a counterfeiter.  Bree wonders what that can possibly have to do with her, when Fulkham explains that his main suspect is her father, and that he needs her and Niall to pretend to be betrothed in order for Niall to get close to Oswald Payne and ferret out the truth.  Not sure she will be able to withstand being so close to Niall without falling for him all over again, Bree refuses, but when Fulkham explains that counterfeiting is tantamount to treason and thus punishable by death, she relents.  She has no great love for her father, but doesn’t want to see him hang, and, deciding they might as well get started at once, she and Niall announce their engagement that very evening.

The book utilises some tropes I’m fond of – the fake relationship and the second-chance romance – but sadly, both fall flat because there’s little chemistry between the protagonists and for at least the first half of the story, we’re in Big Mis territory – a plot device I really dislike.  Niall and Bree think the worst of each other based on no more than seven-year-old assumptions and make hardly any attempt to look beyond them, even though they are still desperately yearning for each other.  Ms. Jeffries does begin to unravel the web of lies surrounding them by around the half-way point, and I’ll give her credit for that;  but by then my interest in them as a couple had waned and I couldn’t bring myself to care very much whether they got together or not.  Bree was hung up on the fact that Niall wouldn’t tell her the real reason he fought the duel and continued to mistrust him because of it; and trying to explain that away by having Bree suffering from abandonment anxiety – her mother left her (died) her husband left her (committed suicide) and her father didn’t care for her much (that’s true) – didn’t wash.

Niall is a fairly colourless chap, really, when all’s said and done.  He believed what his father insinuated about Bree being a fortune hunter in the absence of other information, and her marriage so soon after his departure only seemed to confirm it.  He’s determined not to fall in love with her  again, but he can’t help it, especially once he uncovers the truth about her marriage and his father’s deception.  He desperately wants to tell Bree the truth about the duel, but gave his word never to tell anyone so as to protect Clarissa; and I found Edwin’s request that Niall continue to conceal the truth from Bree strange – and ultimately, it’s just another way of prolonging that particular plotpoint.

The mystery plot is weak, and the identity of the villain is obvious from the moment he steps on to the page; and while there is nothing especially wrong with either Niall or Bree, they are bland and their romance is uneventful and unmemorable.  Because they’re so obviously already in love there’s no romantic tension or looking forward to the first kiss – and more – and the fact that Bree succumbs so easily doesn’t say much for her resolve not to let Niall into her life again.

I’ve enjoyed other books in this series, most notably The Study of Seduction, which remains one of my favourite novels by of Ms. Jeffries. Unfortunately, The Pleasures of Passion lacks both pleasure and passion and I can’t recommend it to anyone other than die-hard fans of the author’s or those following the series who simply must read every book for the sake of completeness.

The Danger of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

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This title is available to download from Audible.

To root out the card cheat responsible for her brother’s death, Miss Delia Trevor spends her evenings dancing her way through high society balls, and her late nights disguised as a young man gambling her way through London’s gaming hells. Then one night, handsome Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious member of St. George’s Club, recognizes her. When he threatens to reveal her secret, she’s determined to keep him from ruining her plans, even if it means playing a cat-and-mouse game with the enigmatic rakehell.

Warren knows the danger of her game, and he refuses to watch her lose everything while gaining justice for her late brother. But when she starts to delve beneath his carefully crafted facade, can he keep her at arm’s length while still protecting her? Or will their hot desires explode into a love that transcends the secrets of their pasts?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

The Danger of Desire is the third in Sabrina Jeffries’ current Sinful Suitors series, and while not as strong as the previous book (The Study of Seduction), it’s nonetheless an enjoyable and sensual tale of an unlikely couple struggling to keep their secrets in the face of an unexpected and almost overwhelming attraction.

Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford is widely known to be a rogue of the first order. His reputation as a womaniser is well-deserved, and he is usually to be found traipsing around the stews of London every night, patronising the brothels and drinking establishments until the early hours. He’s also cousin to Clarissa, Countess of Blakeborough and, like her husband, Edwin, is a member of the St. George’s Club, a gentlemen’s club much like all the others, except that its members have banded together with the aim of protecting their female relatives from fortune hunters and other unscrupulous men. When Clarissa asks Warren to ask around about her friend, Miss Delia Trevor, he initially suspects her of matchmaking. But when she explains that Delia has been behaving oddly of late, Warren realises Clarissa’s request originates from concern for her friend and agrees to see what he can find out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Danger of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

To root out the card cheat responsible for her brother’s death, Miss Delia Trevor spends her evenings dancing her way through high society balls, and her late nights disguised as a young man gambling her way through London’s gaming hells. Then one night, handsome Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious member of St. George’s Club, recognizes her. When he threatens to reveal her secret, she’s determined to keep him from ruining her plans, even if it means playing a cat-and-mouse game with the enigmatic rakehell.

Warren knows the danger of her game, and he refuses to watch her lose everything while gaining justice for her late brother. But when she starts to delve beneath his carefully crafted façade, can he keep her at arm’s length while still protecting her? Or will their hot desires explode into a love that transcends the secrets of their pasts?

Rating: B

This third book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors features Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a man whose many and varied amorous exploits have earned him the reputation as a scoundrel of the highest order. Readers met Warren – briefly – in the previous book, The Study of Seduction, when he asked his best friend, Edwin, the Earl of Blakeborough, to keep an eye on his ward, Clarissa while he (Warren) saw to some important business abroad. Warren and Edwin are old friends and members of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s club like most others but whose members banded together with the aim of protecting their female relatives from fortune hunters, gamblers, womanisers and other unscrupulous men by regularly sharing information about the men of their acquaintance.

When Warren’s cousin Clarissa – now happily married to Edwin – asks him to see if any of the club members has heard any gossip about her friend, Delia Trevor, he is not keen at first, believing her request to be a poorly disguised matchmaking attempt. But when Clarissa explains that she is concerned because her friend has been behaving rather oddly of late, Warren takes notice and agrees to help. Having recently discovered what befell Clarissa in her début Season (she was stalked and assaulted by a suitor), Warren feels guilty for not having protected her, and, determined never to let another woman go through something similar, he agrees to see what he can find out.

Miss Delia Trevor has come to London for the Season not, as her aunt believes, to find herself a husband, but in order to discover the identity of the man who cheated her late brother out of a large sum of money and drove him to suicide. The only information she has to go on is the name of the gambling den at which Reynold last played and the fact that his lordly opponent had a sun tattoo on his wrist. So every evening, she disguises herself in man’s attire and sneaks out of the house, making her way to the hell accompanied by a trusty servant in the attempt to draw out the card cheat.

Delia is annoyed, therefore, when the Marquess of Knightford starts to take an interest in her and starts popping up at inconvenient moments and asking awkward questions. She knows she isn’t the sort of woman likely to attract him – her bosom is too small, her hips too wide and she has gone out of her way to dress in the most unflattering manner possible to put off any potential suitors – so she is immediately suspicious of his motives for flirting with her and singling her out.

Warren quickly discovers that Miss Trevor is not at all the simpering miss he had expected and is immediately intrigued by her reluctance to have anything to do with him. He finds he rather likes her waspish tongue, and her attempts to put him off only serve to put him on the alert as he realises that Clarissa’s concerns are not unfounded. Suspicious of Delia’s interactions with a servant, he waits outside her townhouse at night in the belief she has arranged an illicit assignation, only to be confused when the servant appears accompanied by a shabbily dressed boy. He follows the pair, ending up at one of London’s less salubrious gaming establishments where he discovers the reasons behind Delia’s evasiveness – the shabbily dressed boy is not a boy at all, but Miss Delia Trevor in disguise.

Warren is furious with Delia for putting herself in danger both physically and in terms of her reputation, and irritated that she will not confide in him or let him help. He is also aware that what began as curiosity liberally sprinkled with a helping of lust is turning into something else. He can’t stop thinking about Delia or stop wanting her, and while he’s bedded more than his fair share of women, he doesn’t dally with marriageable debutantes or respectable ladies, so he can’t understand his sudden fascination with a woman who is both those things. And Deila’s reaction to the handsome Marquess – most especially to his delicious, arousing kisses – is something she had never expected to experience, but once sampled, is quite helpless to resist.

The romance between Warren and Delia is nicely done, with plenty of verbal sparring and crackling sexual tension between them. While Warren is determined to discover Delia’s secrets, he is equally determined to prevent her from discovering his own, which have resulted in the debilitating nightmares he has suffered for most of his life. Believing them to be a sign of weakness, he has concealed them even from his own family, preferring instead to spend his nights in the company of whores or out gaming or drinking and then to sleep during the day when the dreams do not assail him. But when he and Delia are discovered in a compromising position and forced to marry, keeping his darkest fears from his new wife is going to be an enormous challenge, and one that could potentially derail their fledgling marriage before it has really begun.

While the romance is the main focus of the novel, Delia’s search for the card cheat is not forgotten, although the resolution to that plotline comes rather out of left-field, and is quite convoluted. There is no real build-up to the discovery of that person’s identity, and while explanations are given, anyone who hasn’t read the previous book might end up feeling confused, as the reasons behind the cheater’s actions relate directly to a character who has been hovering “off screen” in the background in the last two books, and whose story we will be getting in the next in the series. So while on the one hand, it’s quite a clever idea to relate the stories in this way, on the other, it feels somewhat contrived and as though it has been done purely to set up the next book. It also negates much of what Delia has gone through in her quest for justice for her brother and denies her any real sense of closure about his death; forgiveness comes very easily in order to satisfy the demands of the plot.

The Danger of Desire doesn’t break any new ground, but is nonetheless an entertaining read that is populated by well-drawn, attractive characters who are just a little different from the norm. While Warren is a rakish, marriage-avoidance minded bachelor, his motivations for eschewing the married state are other than the usual miserable-example-provided-by-parents, or earlier-relationship-gone-sour; and Delia’s talents at the card-table and her backstory as the daughter of a gambler lend depth to her character and explain her reluctance to trust. The ending is somewhat rushed, but the romance is given time to develop and Delia and Warren make a well-matched couple. I enjoyed the story in spite of my reservations, and am looking forward to the final book in the series.

Stormswept by Sabrina Jeffries

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The first wedding night that Lady Juliana St. Albans spent with the dark and daring Rhys Vaughan was intoxicating, the heady culmination of her new husband’s driving hunger and her own awakened sensuality. When he mysteriously disappeared the next morning, she waited for him in hope and desperation. And when he was finally proclaimed dead in a shipwreck, she bitterly mourned the loss of her love.

The second wedding night that Juliana spent with Rhys Vaughan was six years later, after he returned to claim her just as she was about to wed another. This Rhys was different—bolder, harder, and convinced that she’d betrayed him. Only their blazing passion remains from their years apart. But is it enough to light their way through the maze of mystery, menace, and mistrust—to the love they once shared and would have to find again?

Rating:B-

Sabrina Jeffries’ Stormswept is a revised reissue of a novel initially published in 1995 under the name of Deborah Martin. According to the publisher’s blurb, the novel has been newly revised for today’s audience; I haven’t read the original, so I can’t make comparisons, but I can say that there is definitely an “old skool” feel to many of the hero’s actions (nothing rape-y, I hasten to add) which is often extremely frustrating and there are a couple of minor plot points I didn’t particularly care for. That said, however, the book as a whole proved to be surprisingly readable, and while I can’t say that I loved it, I also can’t say that I feel I wasted the time I spent reading it.

When Lady Juliana St. Albans, daughter of the Earl of Northcliffe, meets Rhys Vaughan, it’s love – or at the very least, lust – at first sight. But she is the daughter of an English peer and Rhys is Welsh, a race whose culture and language are looked down upon by the English and seen by them as little more than barbaric. Then there’s the fact that Rhys’ father lost his estate, Llynwydd, in a card game – to the earl – depriving Rhys of his birthright. Even so, and with young love being what it is, the couple meets secretly for a couple of weeks, at the end of which Rhys proposes and asks Juliana to run away with him. Juliana never finds the right time to tell Rhys that his father lost Llynwydd to hers and that her father has given the estate to her, but then figures it doesn’t matter anyway; they love each other and things will all come right. Unfortunately, however, her idyll is shattered almost immediately after the highly enjoyable consummation of her marriage when Rhys suddenly disappears and her brothers show up, telling her that her husband got what he wanted – Llynwydd – and has abandoned her. The truth is that her eldest brother, Darcy, whose political ambitions will be ruined should it be discovered his brother-in-law is a Welsh activist, has sold both Rhys and Rhys’ closest friend to a press-gang, but not before telling Rhys that Juliana changed her mind about her hasty marriage and begged her brothers to get her out of it.

Dejected, Juliana allows herself to be taken home, but she refuses to be brow-beaten into submission by her father or brothers, who are pushing her to get her marriage annulled. Having discovered that Rhys has been impressed and knowing there is little prospect of escape for him, she agrees to keep her marriage a secret while she waits for him to return, but only if her family allows her to live independently at Llynwydd. The years pass and she hears nothing from Rhys, until some five years after his disappearance, she is told of his death.

One year later, at the party being held to announce her betrothal to a marquess, an unexpected guest turns all her plans upside down and inside out. Three years at sea followed by three years as a privateer and fighting as a mercenary in America have made Rhys a rich man and gained him some influential friends. And now, an older, harder and furious Rhys is determined to claim back what is his – and that includes the wife who betrayed him.

I enjoy second chance romances, and the premise of Stormswept is a good one that provides an excellent opportunity for the development of a romance between two people who have spent years apart and who have undergone significant character growth in those years. That is certainly true of Juliana; she begins the book as a somewhat immature twenty-one year-old who gets herself into situations from which she needs rescuing, but when we meet her again, she has become a confident young woman and proved herself to be a very able manager, renovating and restoring Llanwydd and bringing it into profit once again. Rhys is a different matter, however, and that’s the big sticking point. When he reappears at the beginning of the story, he confronts Juliana in front of her brothers and throws her betrayal in her face. Juliana naturally insists she did no such thing, but even in the face of her denials and Darcy’s blatant lies, Rhys persists in believing the worst of her, which he does for practically the entire book. It’s true that he was thrust into life-threatening circumstances and forced to endure some truly horrific treatment, and this makes his anger and his almost overwhelming desire for revenge understandable. But what isn’t understandable is the way he directs that anger in completely the wrong direction time and time again, even given what he knows about Darcy’s propensity for underhandedness and in the face of his closest friend’s belief in Juliana’s innocence.

Rhys’ refusal to listen or to admit the possibility that Juliana is telling the truth is what I meant when I said there is an “old skool” feel to the book; he’s intractable, goes out of his way to be unpleasant and quickly deprives Juliana of her responsibilities and the freedoms she has enjoyed, insisting that until she does exactly what he wants, she will have no say in what goes on at Llanwydd. Fortunately, Juliana’s quiet dignity and her determination to prove him wrong and regain his trust provide a balance in terms of the story; she’s no doormat, but she is prepared to fight to save her marriage and to wait for Rhys to realise that he is wrong about her. Yet it’s difficult at times to see anything in Rhys – other than his hotness, of course – that would make Juliana want to remain with a man who insists on thinking the worst of her. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that he does eventually see the error of his ways and that the realisation is handled well, but if you’re someone who likes heroes of his type to grovel big-time, then you’re going to be disappointed.

There are a couple of secondary plotlines in the book that kind of fizzle out part way through, and which would perhaps have benefitted from a little more attention during the revision process; but on a positive note, I liked the Welsh setting and the glimpses we are given of the uneasy political situation between England and Wales at this point in history.

The overall tone of Stormswept is rather different to that of the author’s recent books, but the writing is strong and while Juliana is perhaps a little too good to be true, I really liked her level-headedness and strength of character. There is a raw quality to the emotion that works in the context of this particular story, but there is less humour and a definite emphasis on angst which might not be to all tastes. Yet in spite of my reservations, I was engaged enough to want to keep reading to see how everything was going to work out, which is probably testament to Ms. Jeffries’ ability to tell a good story and to create an interesting conflict between her characters.

The Study of Seduction (Sinful Suitors #2) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

the study of seduction audio

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When Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, agrees to help his best friend’s impetuous ward, Lady Clarissa Lindsey, in her time of need, he knows that he’s in for trouble. He’s been hunting for someone to wed, and she’ll just get in the way. Although captivated by the witty, free-spirited beauty, he fears that she’d be all wrong as a wife…if she would even take such a gruff cynic for her husband. Yet he wants nothing more than to have her for his own.

Clarissa has no intention of marrying anyone – not Edwin, whom she’s sure would be an overbearing husband, and certainly not the powerful French diplomat stalking her. But when matters escalate with the diplomat, she chooses Edwin’s gallant offer of a marriage between friends in hopes that it will deter her stalker. She expects nothing more than an amiable union, but their increasingly tempestuous kisses prove more than she bargained for. When her stalker’s vow to expose the lovers’ deepest secrets threatens to destroy their blossoming attraction, will their tenuous bond withstand public ruin, or will Edwin lose all that’s important to him to protect his bride?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

The Study of Seduction is the second book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series, but we have met Edwin Barlow, Lord Blakeborough a few times before, in both the previous book (The Art of Sinning) and in the author’s previous series, The Duke’s Men. In the final book in that series, If the Viscount Falls, Edwin – a decent, if rather staid young man – was jilted by his fiancée, so I hoped that at some point, Ms Jeffries would pen a story for him and give him his HEA, too. And I have to say that the author has done him proud, revealing him to be a deliciously sexy hero and matching him with an equally engaging and strongly drawn heroine.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The Study of Seduction (Sinful Suitors #2) by Sabrina Jeffries

the study of seduction
This title is available to purchase from Amazon

When Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, agrees to help his best friend’s impetuous ward, Lady Clarissa Lindsey, in her time of need, he knows he’s in for trouble. He’s been hunting for someone to wed, and she’ll just get in the way. Although captivated by the whip-smart, free-spirited beauty, he fears she’d be all wrong as a wife … if she would even take such a gruff cynic for her husband. Too bad he wants nothing more than to have her for his own.

Clarissa has no intention of marrying anyone—not Edwin, whom she’s sure would be an overbearing husband, and certainly not the powerful French diplomat stalking her. But when matters escalate with the diplomat, she chooses Edwin’s gallant offer of a marriage between friends in hopes that it will deter her stalker. She expects nothing more than an amiable union, but their increasingly tempestuous kisses prove more than she bargained for. When her stalker’s vow to expose the lovers’ deepest secrets threatens to destroy their blossoming attraction, will their tenuous bond withstand public ruin, or will Edwin lose all that’s important to him to protect his bride?

Rating: B+

This second book in Sabrina Jeffries’ current Sinful Suitors series picks up the story of Edwin Barlow, Lord Blakeborough, who appeared as a secondary character in her earlier Duke’s Men books. Although he came across as somewhat staid, Edwin is a kind, decent and honourable man, and, mindful of the fact that it’s time for him to do his duty to his family and his title, is looking about him for a wife. The future Lady Blakeborough will ideally be a quiet, sensible young woman who will peacefully and contentedly grace his home and table, warm his bed and bear his children.

His estate adjoins that of his closest friend, Warren, the Marquess of Knightford. Edwin, Warren and Warren’s cousin, Lady Clarissa Lindsey, more or less grew up together, and Edwin and Clarissa have always had a tendency to rub each other up the wrong way. Clarissa is very lovely but is otherwise everything Edwin tries to tell himself he doesn’t really appreciate in a woman; she’s flighty, lively and opinionated and takes delight in needling him, mocking his steadiness and his unsociability while she cuts a dash through society, a coterie of adoring swains in her thrall. An inveterate flirt, she keeps them dangling after her even though she has not the slightest interest in marrying any of them.

When Warren receives bad news about Clarissa’s brother Niall – who had to flee the country seven years ago following a duel in which he killed his opponent – he wants to leave immediately to see what can be done to help. But he is worried about Clarissa, who is being relentlessly pursued by a young French diplomat, and he doesn’t want to leave her without protection. To that end, he asks Edwin to stand in his stead and squire her around in his absence.

Neither Edwin nor Clarissa is particularly pleased at the arrangement, but they agree to it in order to put Warren’s mind at rest, and soon find themselves actually enjoying each other’s company while their mutual but unacknowledged attraction deepens. But the reappearance of Count Durand, whose desire for Clarissa borders on obsession, forces them into a faux-engagement in an attempt to get him to leave Clarissa alone – and when the Frenchman resorts to blackmail in order to force Edwin to abandon her to his blandishments, Edwin can see only one way to keep Clarissa safe. He must marry her himself, and quickly.

Such a plotline – long-standing-friends-who-are-secretly-crushing-on-each-other AND a forced marriage – is like catnip to yours truly, and both tropes work really well here. It was clear in the previous book (The Art of Sinning) that there was something bubbling just under the surface between Edwin and Clarissa, although Edwin was rather sweetly clueless about it; and Ms Jeffries builds skilfully on that, bringing both characters gradually to acknowledge the depth of the attraction between them but determined to keep it hidden for fear of rejection. And on Clarissa’s part, it’s quickly obvious that there is more to it than that. It’s fairly easy to guess what must have happened to her to have made her so wary of intimacy, and although there were times I really wanted to yell at her to just TALK to Edwin, I could understand her reluctance to do so. Ms Jeffries handles the subject of Clarissa’s experience sensitively, and in a way which feels fairly realistic; it’s always difficult to judge such things in books, as I’m not an expert and no one person will react in the same way, but I give the author credit for having done her homework so that Clarissa’s thoughts and fears (that what happened was all her fault) carry an appropriately strong resonance for the modern reader.

But it’s Edwin who is the star of the show. Handsome, honourable and endearingly geeky, he’s honest to the point of bluntness, finds it difficult to make small-talk, doesn’t suffer fools and isn’t particularly comfortable in social situations. Yet he’s a wonderfully sexy beta-hero and easily my favourite of all the heroes of Ms Jeffries’ I’ve encountered so far. The back-and-forth between him and Clarissa is well-written and often amusing, revealing Edwin to have a clever, dry sense of humour and to be much more sharply observant than many would believe. He’s intuitive and compassionate, but his parents’ disastrous marriage has led him to believe that romantic love is not something he really wants to experience. He cares very much for his family and friends, but his wariness of strong emotional attachments has led him to play up his gruff, serious manner as a way of keeping people at arm’s length. Yet Clarissa has been under his skin for longer than he has admitted to himself, and when he falls, he falls hard. I always love to see the grumpy hero falling head-over-heels, but what puts Edwin head-and-shoulders above so many other romantic heroes is the understanding and patience he shows Clarissa when he finds out what is causing her to hold herself back from him, and even more than that, the way in which he helps her to understand that it wasn’t her fault.

But fond as I am of Edwin, I can’t deny there are a couple of bumps in the story that brought my final grade down a little. I didn’t like the fact that he deliberately decided to keep some important information from Clarissa when he married her and effectively took away her ability to choose, even though his principal motive was to ensure her safety. And the villain of the piece only needs a cape to swirl, a moustache to twirl and an evil laugh to put him into the pages of “Evil for Dummies”.

In spite of those criticisms – which didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book at all – The Study of Seduction is a thoroughly engaging read. The air between Edwin and Clarissa crackles whenever they’re on the page together and the chemistry between them makes for some nicely sensual love scenes. It’s not absolutely necessary to have read the previous book or series in order to enjoy this, although reading If the Viscount Falls and The Art of Sinning might be necessary after you’ve fallen in love with Edwin and want to meet him again.

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If the Viscount Falls (The Duke’s Men #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

if viscount falls

The heir presumptive to the Viscount Rathmoor, Dominick Manton once had his heart’s desire within reach—a bright future as a barrister and engagement to Jane Vernon, a wealthy baron’s daughter. Then a shattering betrayal by his vindictive brother George snatched away Dom’s inheritance and his hopes of offering Jane a secure future. Brokenhearted, and attempting to end their engagement without destroying Jane’s reputation, Dom staged a betrayal of his own to convince her that he’s not the husband-to-be that she thought.

Now George is gone and the viscountcy restored to Dom, since his brother’s widow, Nancy—Jane’s cousin and closest confidant—never bore an heir. But when Nancy goes missing, a panicked Jane calls on her former fiancé to track down her cousin. Dom knows the mistakes of the past may be unforgiveable—but now, entangled together in mystery and danger, will they rekindle a passionate longing that was never lost to begin with?

Rating: B

This is the fourth and final book in Ms Jeffries’ current series, The Duke’s Men, and tells the story of Dominick Manton, second son of Viscount Rathmoor, former Bow Street Runner and spy, and now the owner of a successful firm of private investigators.

Readers were introduced to Dom in the first book (What the Duke Desires) when we learned that his older brother George disinherited him after their father’s death because Dom chose to defend the actions of his half-brother, Tristan Bonnaud. Very unusually, the older viscount’s illegitimate children and Dom were very close, but George wouldn’t have anything to do with them, holding them responsible for his mother’s untimely death giving birth to his brother.

If the Viscount Falls opens with a much younger Dom attempting to get his fiancée to jilt him following his sudden change in circumstances. He has nothing to offer her now, and can’t bear the thought of dragging her down with him; living in dingy rooms and not having enough to eat is no way for a lady to live, and Dom is adamant that she’d be better off without him.

He engineers a situation which will shock Jane and force her into breaking off their engagement, because while a lady is allowed to cry off, for a gentleman to do so would cause her ruin.

Twelve years later, George is dead (this happened at the end of the previous book, How the Scoundrel Seduces), and Dom is heir presumptive to the viscountcy, given that George died without issue. Dom is struggling to adapt to his new role when Jane Vernon, his ex-fiancée suddenly reappears back in his life, wanting to avail herself of his expertise as an investigator. George was married to Jane’s cousin, Nancy – who has disappeared, and Jane is concerned for her safety.

The story surrounding Nancy’s disappearance and the reasons behind it is very well put-together, and intriguing. Dom suspects Nancy is complicit in a deception which could ultimately defraud him; Jane is adamant she’s not capable of such a thing, and the two clash repeatedly, Jane accusing Dom of being overly suspicious, he accusing her of not being suspicious enough and of being blinkered when it comes to her cousin. Both of them have a good point – and there’s a great deal of passion underlying their many disagreements.

In the twelve years since their parting, Jane and Dom have seen each other only once – which was enough for him to admit that he never really got over her. He suspects that Jane feels the same way; except that she’s given up waiting for him to come for her and has become betrothed to another man.

It’s perhaps a little difficult to believe that Jane would have waited for twelve years before accepting another man’s proposal, and that Dom could be so instantly desperate to make her his, when he’s managed perfectly well without her for the past twelve years. But I always enjoy a good “second chance” story, so I’m prepared to give the author a free pass on that. And in all fairness, she actually does a good job of explaining Jane’s situation; after her initial fury at the fact that Dom had manipulated her into jilting him, she was dismayed to think that he didn’t trust enough in her love for him to believe that she’d be prepared to endure hardship for him as long as they were together. Over the years, she’s come to see his reluctance to expose her to what he rightly thought would be a very difficult way of life as a lack of confidence in her rather than concern for her. Most of all, however, Jane – whose father was harsh and dictatorial – bitterly resents that Dom made that decision for the both of them without even consulting her.

Setting aside the twelve-years-thing, Ms Jeffries has written a very convincing relationship between two people whose emotional baggage continually trips them up in their dealings with each other. Dom is used to doing things his own way and playing his cards close to his chest – even with his own family, whom he loves and wants to protect at all costs. But he has to learn that trust is an important part of any relationship and that he needs to open up a little and let people in. Jane needs to learn that Dom is not a carbon copy of her father – a man whose emotional cruelty towards her mother and desire to control Jane’s every action, even from beyond the grave, means that she often shoots first and asks questions later because she sees Dom’s attempts to protect her as controlling.

It’s not untrue to say that Dom is a control freak, but given his background, it’s not surprising. He’d been brought up to the life of a gentleman and had aspirations to study the law, but after being cast off by George, had to make his own way in the world from scratch. Along the way, he had to do some things he’s not proud of which have affected him profoundly, and which, being the sort of man he is, he believes are faults in him and failures that could cause his loved ones to feel differently about him – which is why he hides so much of himself from them.

Jane and Dom’s individual hang-ups mean that conflict is never far away, but the last third of the story, in which they both come to see exactly what makes the other person tick, is well done, and shows character growth. I did sometimes think that there was a little too much navel-gazing, though – I understood the first time that Jane’s father was tyrannical and domineering which accounted for her frequent over-reaction to what she perceived as Dom’s controlling tendencies – and didn’t need it explained repeatedly.

Dom, perhaps by virtue of the fact that the reader has known him for four books, is the more well-rounded character of the two, and the one to whom I was more strongly drawn. He’s a noble, honourable and sexy hero, and the sparks between him and Jane literally fly off the page.

If the Viscount Falls is one of the stronger books in this series, and I enjoyed this final outing with The Duke’s Men. If you’ve been following the series, you won’t want to miss out on Dom’s story.

How the Scoundrel Seduces (The Duke’s Men #3) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Corrie James

how scoundrel audio

Investigator Tristan Bonnaud has one aim in life–to make sure that his half-brother George can’t ever ruin his life again. So when the pesky Lady Zoe Keane, the daughter of the Earl of Olivier, shows up demanding that the Duke’s Men find a mysterious gypsy woman, he seizes the opportunity to also hunt for a gypsy friend who knows secrets about George. Tristan doesn’t expect to uncover Lady Zoe’s family secrets, as well . . . or end up falling for the woman who will risk all to discover the truth.

Rating: A for narration; B for content

In the first book in this series, What the Duke Desires, we learned that Viscount Rathmoor had two families – two sons (George and Dominick) by his late wife, and a son and daughter (Tristan and Lisette) by his French mistress of twenty years. The viscount’s failure to provide for all his children leads to a last-ditch death-bed attempt to add a codicil to his will, but he is thwarted by George, who destroys it in front of Tristan and then orders him, his mother and his sister to leave the estate before his father’s body is even cold.

In How the Scoundrel Seduces, we see those events and subsequent fall-out from Tristan’s point of view, as narrator Corrie James paints a truly vivid picture of the dying viscount and his two sons, with George sounding immediately unpleasant and Tristan youthful and somewhat naïve.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.