His Countess for a Week by Sarah Mallory

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A pretend marriage to the Earl

Sharing everything—except a bed…

To uncover a ruthless killer, Arabella Roffey masquerades as the Countess of Westray—never expecting her ‘husband’ suddenly to appear! He could expose her, but instead he agrees to continue her ruse for a week. Randolph is brooding, handsome, and Bella likes him more than she should. Pretending to be his wife, she shares everything with him—except a bed—but the temptation to do so is becoming all too real…

Rating: C+

Sarah Mallory’s His Countess for a Week is a mix of mystery and romance featuring an appealing hero who, when the book opens, has just returned to England after having been pardoned of the crime for which he was transported to Australia six years earlier. Randolph Kirkster, the new Earl of Westray (who originally appeared in the author’s Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance),has endured much and has emerged as a better man for it, one who is determined to make up for the idleness of his youth and to fulfil his responsibilities to those dependent upon him.   Sadly, however, his heroine is far less interesting and engaging, which made it difficult to become invested in the romance.

After arriving in Portsmouth, Randolph (mostly shortened to Ran, which I really didn’t like), decides to visit one of his smaller estates, Beaumont Hall in Devon, before making his way to his principal seat in Oxfordshire.  Accompanied by his manservant, Joseph Miller – really his best friend  – whom Ran credits with saving his life on more than one occasion – Ran arrives at Beaumont and is surprised when the housekeeper informs him that his countess – who has been in residence for the past two weeks – is out for the evening and is staying the night at neighbouring Meon House.

Curious to discover both the identity of the lady masquerading as his wife and her reasons for doing so, Ran makes his way to Meon House, and is immediately conveyed to his ‘wife’ – who promptly faints at the sight of him.

When she’d hatched her scheme to find the person responsible for the death of her husband George, Arabella Roffey had believed the Earl of Westray to be far, far away and that there was no chance of her deception being exposed.  When told her husband had arrived, for a brief second, Arabella had expected to see her beloved George, not an austerely handsome stranger – but knowing the game is up, she does not attempt to excuse her behaviour or deceive him as to her purpose and explains she has reason to suspect that something happened to her husband on his most recent visit to Meon House.  Realising she was unlikely to learn anything as plain Mrs. Roffey, she decided the best way to gain entrée to the circles George was moving in was to pretend to hold a title – and this evening was her first opportunity to meet some of the people in attendance at the house at the time of George’s last visit.

To her surprise, not only does the earl not immediately expose her as an imposter, he offers to help her in her quest for the truth – help she accepts rather begrudgingly.  Arabella returns to Beaumont Hall with Ran, and during the next week, tells him more about her husband and her suspicions that he did not die of natural causes.  She believes he was a victim of Lady Meon and her set, who lure young men to her remote house, likely drug them and fleece them when they’re not in their right minds.  It’s obvious to the reader – and to Ran – that Arabella is in deep denial where George is concerned, and that she has no idea of his true nature, but at this point in the story, Ran recognises the futility of attempting to enlighten her.

While Arabella’s persistence in believing the best of George – who clearly doesn’t deserve her regard – does become irritating quickly, the author does a good job of showing why the character thinks as she does and how she is holding on to her belief as something of a defence mechanism.  What I found less easy to excuse was Arabella’s treatment of Ran; her constant reminders to herself of his past as a convict may have been her way of denying her attraction to him, but she spends a lot of time avoiding Ran or deliberately pushing him away, which seemed rather ungrateful considering his offers to help and his understanding of her situation.

Ran is a marvellous hero who oozes vitality and confidence, a far cry from the feckless, unstable young man we met in the earlier book. Kind, honourable and compassionate, he’s comfortable in his own skin and knows who he is; he’s put his wild youth behind him but takes responsibility for his actions and is genuinely determined to live a better life.  But as I said at the beginning, I found Arabella a lot less appealing, and it’s hard to root for a couple when you believe one half of it doesn’t deserve the other.

The identity of the villain(s) of the piece is signalled fairly early on, but they’re such lip-smacking, cape-twirling baddies that I found myself eagerly awaiting their comeuppance and caught up in Ran and Arabella’s search for proof.

His Countess for a Week boasts a gorgeous hero and a decent suspense plot, but I didn’t warm to the heroine for well over half of the book, which is kind of a death knell for any romance.  I’m a fan of the author’s and will continue to read her books, but I can’t, in all honesty, quite recommend this one.

Beauty and the Brooding Lord by Sarah Mallory

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Ruined by a rake…

Rescued by the reclusive Baron!

Following the death of his fiancée, Lord Quinn has sworn off all matters of the heart. But when he happens upon an innocent lady being assaulted his sense of honour insists he step in and rescue her…even if that means marriage to protect Serena’s reputation! However, his new wife remains distant—a stranger to his bed. Can Quinn help Serena fight her demons and finally defeat his own?

Rating: B+

I’ve been bemoaning the fact for months that 2018 has been a pretty poor year for historical romance.   Thankfully, however, some authors are bucking that trend and many of those write for Mills & Boon (Harlequin) Historical.  Authors such as Louise Allen, Marguerite Kaye, Virginia Heath and Janice Preston have provided some excellent reads lately, and to that list, I’m adding Sarah Mallory, whose latest release, Beauty and the Brooding Lord is a rather lovely compromised-into-marriage tale in which a society beauty and a brusque, somewhat anti-social lord have to work at a relationship formed under difficult circumstances.

Serena Russington (whose half-brother, Charles, was the hero of The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake) is in her second Season and has yet to choose a husband.  She’s beautiful and has a considerable dowry so has no shortage of suitors… the trouble is that they’re all rather dull and she can’t face the prospect of spending a lifetime with a man who bores her and has no interest in her beyond her money and value as a potential brood-mare.  Having seen Charles fall in love and settle down, she has the (rather ill-conceived) idea that perhaps a rake – who will reform, of course – will make her a good husband, and to that end, arranges to attend an event at Vauxhall Gardens with the handsome Sir Timothy Forsbrook.  Unfortunately, however, she fails to take into account that his intentions may not be honourable, and instead of a trip to Vauxhall, finds herself being borne off to Gretna and to a hasty marriage.  It’s a long journey though, and when they stop for the night at an inn, Forsbrook is intent on sealing the deal by rape if necessary – but Serena’s screams are heard by another traveller who bursts into the room, sees immediately what’s going on, knocks Forsbrook out and takes Serena away.

This traveller is Lord Rufus Quinn, whom Serena had met briefly at a ball earlier that week and with whom she’d had a brief exchange during which she’d thought him rude and boorish.  But Serena is too shaken up and scared to think of anything but the terrible events that have overtaken her;  and as there is no suitable female to remain with Serena until such time as her family can collect her, Quinn takes her to his home – which is close by – where he entrusts her to the care of his housekeeper.  But while he has ensured Serena’s physical safety, keeping her reputation intact could prove problematic.  Quinn sends for her brother and sister-in-law – who doesn’t stop haranguing Serena about her thoughtlessness and ruined reputation – and they take her back to London, hoping that other scandals will prove juicier than any she has created, but word soon gets out that Serena was away overnight and it’s not long before the gossip starts.  Forsbrook is putting it about that Serena persuaded him to an elopement, and it doesn’t help that her mother – her father’s second wife – infamously ran away with her Italian lover, and society is quick to paint Serena with the same brush.  There’s only one thing to be done – Serena must be married off and removed from London until things die down and she can be made respectable again.

Through all this, nobody but Quinn notices how entirely subdued Serena has become.  Their one previous encounter showed her to be a lively, spirited young woman, but since the night he rescued her from Forsbrook, she’s been a pale shadow, self-effacing and drab – and he’s surprised to discover how much he wants to see the vivacious side of Serena again.  After a couple of weeks in the country, hearing from friends how much worse things are getting for her, Quinn heads to London to see for himself – and ends up offering for her.

Sarah Mallory does an excellent job in this novel of developing the relationship between Quinn and Serena and of getting across just how badly her near-rape has affected her.  The plotline of the heiress being abducted and compromised into marriage is a common one, but often, the villain is foiled before he can force himself upon the heroine; here, however, even though Ms. Mallory doesn’t show the violence brought to bear on her, the danger to Serena feels real, as do its after effects.   She loses herself for a while, attempting to fade into the background and to turn herself into the sort of quiet, biddable wife her sister-in-law insists men want.  She knows she behaved irresponsibly and now doubts her every instinct as a result, allowing her sister-in-law’s harsh criticisms to inform her decisions and mistrusting her new husband’s words and gestures of affection.

Quinn might have a reputation for being the rudest man in London, but when it comes to Serena he’s nothing but kind and thoughtful.  The majority of the book is dedicated to building the relationship and the trust between Quinn and Serena and it’s beautifully done.  Quinn’s kindness and attentiveness gradually coax Serena out of the protective shell she’s drawn around herself, and their affinity for one another and the emotional connection between them is palpable.  Sadly, however, the final few chapters of the book suddenly shift the focus away from the romance to a somewhat convoluted revenge plot which gives rise to a Big Mis on Serena’s part.  It’s a big tonal shift and if felt rather out of place, coming as it did at the end of what had been a gently moving, character-driven romance; I knocked off half a star/grade point as a result.

Even so, I’d definitely recommend Beauty and the Brooding Lord to historical romance lovers for its engaging and well-rounded principal characters and superbly developed romance.

The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake by Sarah Mallory

ton's most notorious rake

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She’s vowed to stay clear of men…

But can she resist the ton’s most notorious rake?

Alone in the dirt, her ankle in agony, the last person Molly Morgan wants to come to her rescue is the handsome yet infuriating Beau Russington. Molly does her utmost to avoid scandalous rakes like Russ, and his dangerous allure shakes up her quiet country life. But the sparks between them could be explosive if Molly only dares to surrender…

Rating: B

Sarah Mallory is someone whose work I enjoy, so I was pleased to pick up The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake, a charming, standalone historical romance that warns about the unfairness of judging people based on their reputations rather than by their actions. Our hero may be the most notorious rake, but notoriety and actuality are very different things, and it’s a distinction that our heroine initially fails or refuses to recognise as she jumps to conclusions based on hearsay and her own fears and prejudice.

Mrs. Molly Morgan is only twenty-four years of age, but has been a widow for a number of years.  Since the death of her husband, she has made her home with her brother, Edwin Frayne, who is the vicar of Compton Parva, and has used some of her widow’s jointure to set up Prospect House, a place of refuge for young women in difficult situations.  The place now houses ten inhabitants, some of them women who were ruined by unscrupulous men, some, women who ran away from unwanted marriages, some who were unfairly dismissed from their employment – whatever the reason, the women run the house and the farm, supporting themselves by growing their own produce and selling the excess at market, along with other sundry items produced by members of the household.

Prospect House is Molly’s pride and joy, and she is perturbed when Edwin tells her that Sir Gerald Kilburn has come to stay at the neighbouring property of Newlands with a large party of friends.  Molly is immediately on the defensive and worried for the virtue of the ladies of Prospect House; Sir Gerald is reputed to run with a fast set and he and his friends have reputations that indicate they are everything Molly despises.  Edwin assures her that everything is most proper; Sir Gerald’s sister is one of the party, there is an older lady who acts as her chaperone and there are a number of other, respectable ladies there, too, suggesting it is “not a party of rakish bucks intent upon setting the neighbourhood about by the ears.” Molly is unconvinced however, especially given that Sir Gerald’s oldest friend, Mr. Charles Russington, is also at Newlands, a man reputed to be so incredibly attractive that “no lady in town is safe.”

Edwin’s laughing suggestion that perhaps, if he is so irresistible, Mr. Russington has fled to the country to escape the ladies isn’t so far from the truth. A second son with an independent fortune of his own, Russ has become rather bored with the usual round of pleasures available to him. High-stakes gaming and heavy drinking have never been his style, and almost all the women setting their caps at him are more interested in his money than in him. Watching his father marry a new young wife who bled him dry and then ran off with her Italian lover has made Russ determined to avoid a similar fate – yet he can’t deny that the idea of finding someone with whom to share his life is one that has been occurring to him more and more often of late.

When he first meets Molly Morgan, he is taken with her sweet smile and laughing eyes – until, that is, she realises who he is and her regard changes to one of open dislike and disdain. Russ can’t understand it – he’s not personally vain, but he knows that those aren’t the normal reactions his attentions provoke in women, and he at first wonders if her attitude is a ruse to pique his interest. But then his sense of humour kicks in, and he allows that some of her not-so-veiled insults were amusing – as well as quite cutting.

Molly is certainly guilty of making hasty judgements about their new neighbours, as her brother points out more than once. It’s clear early on that while she is concerned for the reputation and safety of the residents of Prospect House – which can exist within their small community only as long as its respectability is unquestionable – she is also motivated by her own experiences and has formed very strong prejudices as a result. But as time passes and she sees more of Russ, the harder it is for Molly to continue to believe him to be the man rumour paints him. He’s kind, honourable and genuine and they develop a friendship based on mutual interest and affinity; Molly enjoys conversing with Russ, and likes his quick mind and sense of humour, while Russ admires Molly’s quiet efficiency and her dedication to protecting the women at Prospect House.

There’s a strong undercurrent of attraction running between these two, and Ms. Mallory takes her time developing their relationship and bringing them together. This is a romance which concentrates fully on the love story with little extraneous action or filler (although there are actually a couple of secondary romances in the book, one of which has a part to play in the main storyline) and the conflict arises almost exclusively from Molly’s prejudices and insecurities. There are a couple of times she veers dangerously close to being unlikeable, but fortunately, the author manages to pull her back from the brink, even when she makes a grave error that almost destroys her friendship with Russ. He’s furious, but when he calms down, he realises there is more to Molly’s distrust of men than mere hearsay, and his concern for her – even though she’s hurt him – is wonderful to see.

The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake is, to put it simply, a lovely read. Russ is a gorgeous hero; handsome and charming of course, but more than that, he’s a decent, caring man who realises that he wants something else from life – and when he finds it, isn’t about to let it slip away. Molly is generous and warm, but experience has taught her distrust and wariness, and the way Russ gradually breaks down her barriers and gets beneath her skin is extremely well done. Their romance develops over time, and there’s a real sense of their discovering something new about one another with each subsequent meeting. The ending is just a tad contrived, with Russ jumping to unfortunate conclusions of his own, but that’s a minor criticism of what is essentially a tender, emotionally satisfying love story that deserves a recommendation.

Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance by Sarah Mallory

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Beneath that puritanical dress she was quite beautiful

Viscount Gilmorton had never seduced a woman before but, as the only way to avenge himself on her deceitful brother, he was prepared to disgrace the buttoned-up Deborah Meltham.

He was planning nothing more than to shame her, but not beyond repair. Gil would ensure that she came to him willingly, because if Deborah was as lonely as he thought, she should be receptive to him. Only Gil hadn’t counted on his feelings for her changing – nor her reaction when she realised he’d been deceiving her from the start…

Rating: A-

I’m going to start this review by saying the first thing that came into my head when I sat down to write it, which is this: don’t let the somewhat hackneyed title put you off reading this book.  Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance is a much better story than the title might indicate, and author Sarah Mallory does a great job of turning what sounds like something that has been done many times before into something quite different.

James Laughton, Viscount Gilmorton – Gil – returns from the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars to discover that his two younger siblings are dead.  Wracked by grief, seething with fury and mired in the guilt he feels because he wasn’t there when his family needed him, Gil vows to exact revenge upon the man he holds responsible for their deaths, Randolph, Lord Kirkster.  He spends months plotting ways to destroy Kirkster, but when investigation proves that he is deeply in debt and pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle that means it is unlikely he will live for much longer,  Gil discounts issuing a challenge or orchestrating the man’s financial ruin as a suitably painful method of avenging his siblings.

Kirkster does, however, have a sister, Deborah, to whom he seems to be very close, and Gil, determined that Kirkster must suffer as he has suffered, decides to make her the instrument of his revenge.  It goes against the grain; he’s a decent, honourable man and has never set out to seduce a woman with a view to effecting her ruin, but he is determined to hit Kirkster where it will most hurt him – and besides, there’s a kind of poetic justice in the thought that Gil is going to do to Kirkster’s  sister, what Kirkster did to his.

Travelling as plain Mr. Victor, Gil makes his way to the village of Fallbridge, and spends a little time observing his quarry.  Deborah Meltham is not especially prepossessing; she’s twenty-four, practically on the shelf, and, as far as Gil can tell, organises her life around her brother.  But when he finally comes face-to-face with her, he is surprised to discover that there is a lovely woman beneath the dowdy clothes, one whose smile transforms her and whose cool façade can’t quite disguise the hints of a passionate nature beneath. Gil realises almost immediately that if he could find another way to achieve his ends, he would take it, but it’s too late to go back, and, reflecting that it won’t be a hardship to court Miss Meltham, Gil sets about doing just that.

Ms. Mallory does a splendid job of building the relationship between Gil and Deborah in this first part of the story. It’s clear that Gil is in over his head; he’s falling hard for Deborah, in spite of his belief, fostered by long, harsh years in the military, that love only leads to pain and loss. Deborah – who spends most of her time worrying about her brother and trying to keep him on the straight and narrow – can’t help but be charmed by Gil, whose care and attention are things she’s not experienced for a very long time. They have great chemistry and the strength of their mutual attraction is palpable, which makes Deborah’s discovery of Gil’s true intent all the more devastating – for her and for the reader.

I said at the outset that Ms. Mallory has turned what could have been a fairly run-of-the-mill revenge story into something quite different, and it’s in the depiction of Deborah’s brother and his role in the story that this is most apparent. It’s obvious, in the first part of the book, that Randolph is in a pretty bad way – too much drink and too much high-stakes gambling has landed him in serious debt and had a deleterious effect on his health. When one of his so-called friends, Sir Sydney Warslow arrives, things between Deborah and Randolph – which are always somewhat fraught – get difficult quickly, as Warslow is bent on encouraging Randolph’s addictions – to laudanum as well as drink and gaming – and Deborah is more or less powerless in the face of his influence. It’s clear from the moment he appears that Warslow is up to no good, and the eagle-eyed reader will no doubt guess at some of his villainy, but then the author introduces a strong secondary plotline which ups the ante considerably, and which really brings home the truly precarious nature of Deborah’s situation, dependent as she is on a brother who is losing an already feeble fight against addiction.

Revenge stories are difficult to pull of successfully, especially when it’s the hero using the heroine as a pawn in a plot to injure someone else. Here, however, Ms. Mallory manages to avoid making Gil too unsympathetic by showing that he isn’t completely without a conscience and, later, that he doesn’t turn his back on Deborah when she really needs him. Deborah is a terrific heroine and I loved the way Gil gradually coaxes her out of her self-adopted role of ‘drudge/nurse’ to become a vibrant, confident woman who is prepared to stand up for herself and to admit to her own needs and desires. I also liked that she was sensible enough to realise when she needed help and wasn’t too foolishly stubborn or proud to ask for it.

At just 288 pages, Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance has quite a lot going on, but none of the storylines – the revenge plot, the romance, Warslow’s scheming – feel rushed or underdeveloped. There’s even an unexpected twist just before the end that works very well, and while the epilogue is perhaps a little too sweet, that’s really my only complaint about the book as a whole. With intriguing storylines and an attractive central couple who share a strong emotional connection, if you’re looking for a fresh take on a familiar trope you should consider picking this one up.

The Duke’s Secret Heir by Sarah Mallory

the-dukes-secret-heir

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

“This, madam, changes everything.”

Years ago, in the Egyptian desert, Ellen Tatham fell wildly in love and exchanged vows with Max Colnebrooke. But, when made to believe Max could not be trusted, she fled…

Now, Max is back in England to take up the reins as Duke of Rossenhall. And when he spies Ellen at a ball, the sparks are hard to contain! Little does Max know, though, that Ellen has a secret… And soon, he must learn to embrace an unexpected heir, and an unexpected—and disconcertingly defiant—duchess!

Rating: B

The Duke’s Secret Heir is a second-chance romance that is loosely related to Sarah Mallory’s previous series, The Infamous Arrandales by virtue of the fact that its heroine appeared as a secondary character in The Chaperone’s Seduction. Miss Ellen Tatham as she then was, was a wealthy heiress of just seventeen, and her good-humoured level-headedness was a refreshing change from the sort of immature tantrum-throwing-teens often found within the pages of romance novels.

Having her own fortune – albeit one that came from trade – enabled Ellen to live an independent life and she spent some time after her come-out travelling with her former teacher and friend, Mrs. Ackroyd. While in Egypt some four years earlier, Ellen met and fell in love with Major Max Colnebrooke, and after a two-week, whirlwind romance, married him.  After just a few weeks, the uncertain military and political situation in the region meant that it was unsafe for Ellen to remain with Max, so he arranged for her to travel back to England with the assistance of a fellow officer, and they agreed that she would wait for Max in Portsmouth.

Unfortunately, however, amid all the confusion of the British occupation of Alexandria, Ellen and her companion were unable to adhere to Max’s plan, and instead left Egypt with the assistance of the French Consul who saw them safely to France and then arranged for them to be smuggled back to England.  On her return, Ellen is shocked to discover that there is no record whatsoever of Max’s presence in Egypt; there were no regiments stationed south of Cairo and most certainly there was no military chaplain in the area.  Devastated, she concludes she has been duped, believing that Max arranged a fake marriage just so he could get her into bed.

When Max learned that Ellen had left Egypt with the French Consul, he immediately assumed the worst and believed that she had deserted him for a new lover.  Mired in grief and rage, Max recklessly undertook increasingly dangerous missions, many of which resulted in loss of life or serious injury to others while he himself remained unscathed and for which, years later, he now carries a huge burden of guilt.

In the four years since her marriage, Ellen has made a life for herself in the Northern spa town of Harrogate, where she is widely liked and respected.  But her settled existence is thrown into chaos one evening at a ball, when she is introduced to the Duke of Rossenhall – who is none other than her estranged husband, the man she had known as Max Colnebrooke.  Both she and Max are completely unprepared for such an event, and their meeting is fraught with thinly veiled hostility.  When they are able to have a conversation, it becomes very clear to Ellen that Max is labouring under a misapprehension about the circumstances of her departure from Egypt, and that he is extremely bitter and furiously angry. He informs her that their marriage was legal and that she is his duchess – for as long as it will take him to procure a divorce.  He doesn’t care about the cost or the scandal; he just cannot countenance being married to a woman who betrayed him so easily.  Ellen quickly admits that she had jumped to the wrong conclusions, but Max is adamant – until confronted with something he had not even considered, a little boy of around three years of age who addresses Ellen as “Mama”. Max knows not even a moment’s doubt; the boy’s resemblance to him is too great for him to believe otherwise than that he is looking at his son.

The existence of James – Jamie – changes everything. Max may not care about damaging Ellen’s reputation, but he is not prepared to tarnish his heir’s name with scandal, and he coldly informs his wife that they are to remain married for the sake of the boy.  Ellen is genuinely repentant for having so easily believed the worst of Max and hopes that perhaps they can eventually become friends, even if there is no longer the possibility of there being any deeper feeling between them.  But Max is bitter and aloof – and angry at the idea that Ellen had deliberately concealed the fact of his son’s existence from him, making the likelihood of amicable co-existence recede even further.

While the story is based around a Big Misunderstanding, Ms. Mallory doesn’t allow it to go on for too long so that after the first few chapters, both Max and Ellen know that what they believed about the circumstances surrounding their marriage and Ellen’s departure to have been erroneous.  Ellen wants to apologise and move forward, but Max is unable to get past his resentment, blaming his devastation at her desertion for his willingness to throw himself into the path of danger over and over again, his despair driving him to undertake the most difficult and life-threatening missions available.  He can’t deny that he is still strongly attracted to his wife, but because he blames himself – and indirectly, her – for the deaths and injuries sustained by many of his comrades, he cannot find it in himself to let go of his guilt and admit the possibility of reconciliation.

Max blaming Ellen for HIS recklessness is distasteful; his resentment has little foundation and while Ms. Mallory doesn’t try to make his position acceptable or palatable, it’s difficult to have any sympathy for him, especially in the early stages of the book when he is thoroughly disagreeable to Ellen.  What the author does very well, though, is to show the real affection that grows between Max and his son, and the way in which Ellen so quickly makes herself an indispensible part of the life of his home and his estate.  She is intelligent, sensible and unfailingly polite to everyone, no matter what their station; and that includes putting up with her miserable, stuck-up sister-in-law, the dowager Duchess, who believes almost everyone to be beneath her notice and does not hesitate to make it clear that she considers the daughter of a tradesman unfit to be a duchess. It’s clear that neither Ellen nor Max has stopped loving or desiring each other – but the question is whether Max can ever put his own prejudices aside and allow himself to love Ellen and make a life with her.  His internal struggles are well done; the author expertly conveys how torn he is between the guilt he stubbornly tries to cling to and the truth he sees every day – Ellen’s love for and care of their son, her excellent management of his home and her essential goodness.  My main criticism of this aspect of the story is that the ending is rather rushed;  Max has had plenty of time, it’s true, to realise that he is tormenting himself for no good reason, but it takes him a little too long to admit it.

The Duke’s Secret Heir is well-written and the motivations and emotions of the characters are shown and explained really well; even though, as with Max’s issues, I couldn’t agree with them.  I enjoyed the book, but I can’t deny that Max’s determination to shut Ellen out because of his own faults and misconceptions caused me to lower my final grade a little.  Even so, it’s an entertaining, angsty read, and one that should appeal to those who enjoy second-chance romances.

The Outcast’s Redemption (Infamous Arrandales #4) by Sarah Mallory

the outcasts redemption
This title is available to purchase from Amazon.

Ten years ago, Wolfgang Arrandale was discovered standing over the body of his wife. Forced to run, he has lived as a fugitive ever since, doing anything to survive. But now the revelation that he’s a father compels him to prove his innocence!

Parson’s daughter, Grace Duncombe, is intrigued by the wild stranger who arrives one night seeking refuge. It’s clear Wolf hides many secrets, but she’s drawn to him like no other. And soon she must defend this honourable outcast whatever the cost!

Rating:B

This final book in Sarah Mallory’s series about the Infamous Arrandales focuses on the eldest of the siblings, Wolfgang, who, we learned back in The Chaperone’s Seduction, had been accused of murdering his wife and stealing a fortune in jewels some ten years previously, and is living in exile on the Continent. In his absence, his younger brother, Richard, has struggled to maintain the family home and lands, but even though it’s made his life difficult, he has never made moves to have Wolf declared dead or lost his belief in his brother’s innocence.

After ten years abroad, Wolf has returned to England following the discovery that he has a daughter, and is determined to clear his name. When his wife died, she was pregnant, but Wolf was hustled away so quickly at the insistence of his family that he never realised that although his wife eventually died, their child did not.

As he is still wanted for theft and murder, Wolf travels under an assumed name and arrives back in Arrandale calling himself Mr. Peregrine. He seeks aid from the local vicar who insists that Wolf stay at the vicarage while he determines his course of action. But when Grace Dunscombe learns that her father has taken in yet another stray, she is immediately on her guard. The tall, darkly handsome Mr Peregrine, with his disheveled hair and rumpled, travel-stained clothing looks like he’s up to no good and Grace hates the idea of her father’s being taken in by some ruffian who is clearly taking advantage of his good nature.

Wolf immediately senses Grace’s animosity and tries to reassure her that he is no threat to her or her father, but for all his charm, Grace continues to treat him with thinly veiled hostility. She has no idea of his true identity of course; she was away at school when he fled the country and now, Wolf and the vicar believe that the fewer people who know Mr Peregrine’s true identity, the safer it will be all round. But still, Grace can’t help thinking it curious that the servants are bending over backwards to make their unwelcome guest… welcome.

Wolf begins his quest to prove his innocence by returning to the scene of the crime, Arrandale Hall, to see if he can locate any of the old servants who may have been there that night. At the time, Wolf had been so distraught on discovering the blood-covered body of his wife that he was unable to take note of much going on around him; all he does remember is that his father seemed in no doubt of Wolf’s guilt and urged him to leave the country before he could be arrested. Yet he learns now that it was actually his cousin, Charles Urmston, who had put the idea into his father’s head, suggesting that it would be better for Wolf to be out of harm’s way until they could find out what really happened. But when the famous Sawston diamonds were discovered missing after Wolf’s flight, that put the seal on the belief of his guilt.

While the mystery element of the plot is fairly predictable, it’s nonetheless enjoyable, and the romance between Wolf and the prickly Grace is well realised. Much of Grace’s initial hostility stems from the strong pull of attraction she feels towards Wolf, something she strives to ignore, not only because she is betrothed to the local magistrate, but because she still carries in her heart the memory of her first love, who died before they could be married. Not wanting to face the prospect of such shattering loss again, she wants a safe, quiet life, which is exactly what she will have when she marries her fiancé. Yet there’s something about Wolfgang Arrandale that stirs her in a way she’s never experienced, and the intensity of it frightens her. So when Wolf announces he is leaving Arrandale for London, Grace should be delighted… and would be were it not for the fact that she has just made arrangements to travel there herself in order to avoid him and now she can’t back out. The story moves to London as Wolf continues to seek information to help his cause, but a sudden and potentially life-threatening setback means that Grace must risk more than her heart in order to keep him safe.

The Outcast’s Redemption is a simple, but well-told story and I enjoyed it. The identity of the villain is obvious, but this isn’t really a whodunit so much as it is a whydunnit, howdunnit and what-do-we-do-now?-dunnit, so that isn’t a problem; and the mystery is decently wrought. More importantly, Wolf and Grace are engaging, well-rounded characters who act and think like adults, and the chemistry between them leads to some deliciously sensual moments. I do, however, take issue with the placement of the book’s single sex scene right at the end; it’s as though Ms. Mallory felt she had to throw one in somewhere and it was the only place to put it. (In that she was partly right – it wouldn’t have worked elsewhere, either). To be honest, I’d have been quite happy had it not been in there at all; the story is complete without it.

That fact aside, the novel is well written and conceived, and although it’s the last in a series, it works perfectly well as a standalone. Anyone looking for a quick, emotionally satisfying read with a dash of mystery could do a lot worse than pick this one up.

Snowbound with the Notorious Rake by Sarah Mallory

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This title is currently available in Kindle edition as part of a double book set: One Snowy Regency Christmas: A Regency Christmas Carol / Snowbound with the Notorious Rake

One wicked Christmas night…

Trapped by a blizzard, the sight of notorious rogue Sir Lawrence Daunton almost makes schoolteacher Rose Westerhill turn back into the snow! When it becomes apparent she has nowhere else to go Rose accepts his offer of shelter, vowing to remain indifferent to his practiced charm.

But as the temperature outside drops, she finds the wicked rake’s sizzling seduction impossible to resist. For one stolen night Rose abandons her principles—and her body!—to his expert ministrations. Christmas with the rakish Lawrence promises to be a thoroughly improper yuletide celebration….

Rating: B-

I picked up Snowbound With the Notorious Rake because I generally enjoy books by Sarah Mallory and because I was in the mood for something wintry right after Christmas. Although the story begins during a Yuletide snowstorm, it actually spans a year and isn’t especially Christmassy, so I didn’t feel weird reading it in January! It’s a fairly predictable story but a well-written one and the relationship between the central characters is imbued with a real sense of longing and sensuality.

The eponymous rake is Sir Lawrence Daunton, who has holed himself up at his hunting box in the wilds of Exmoor in order to avoid spending Christmas with his family. They love him and he loves them, but since the death of his fiancée fourteen months previously, he has found it difficult to spend time with them because they suffocate him with their sympathy and condolences, and because he feels incredibly guilty at having neglected Annabelle while he lived a life of dissipation and idleness in London.

He’s settling in for an evening by the fire with a bottle, when a knock at the door throws his plans for a quiet, gently drunken mope into disarray. An attractive young woman is on the doorstep, her coach having taken a wrong turn in the snowstorm, and by now, the weather is so bad that it is not possible for her to continue her journey.

Rose Westerhill is a widow who lives in the village of Mersecombe some ten miles away, where she is the local school teacher. She is initially alarmed at the prospect of spending time alone with a man whose name regularly appears in the gossip rags, but is soon surprised to discover that Lawrence is nothing like she would have supposed. He’s kind and funny, and while he does make a few flirtatious remarks, she knows she is safe with him. Over the few days they are stuck together, they talk and laugh and get to know each other a little, and Rose is disturbed to find that she is very attracted to him. The feeling is most definitely mutual, and the couple agrees to one night together, after which they will go their separate ways.

But next morning, Lawrence finds it isn’t easy to let Rose go, and wants to see her again. However, she is adamant. She has a respectable life in Merescombe and her young son to look after; and besides, she doesn’t believe that a man of Lawrence’s reputation can reform. Her late husband was a womaniser and gambler, and she has first-hand experience of the misery that can accompany loving such a man.

Rose returns home to her school, her son Sam, and her fiancé, shipping merchant, Magnus Emsleigh, haunted by dreams of the handsome rake she thinks never to see again. So ten months later, the last thing she expects is to come face to face with Lawrence in her own sitting room.

Lawrence has been busy during those ten months, attending to business and to his estates, his previous lifestyle having lost its attraction for him. When a friend – the brother of Lawrence’s late fiancée – asks him to look into the matter of a ship lost in suspicious circumstances, he is initially dismissive, wondering how he can have anything to contribute to such an investigation. But when he discovers that the ship was owned by Magnus Emsleigh, and that many of the crew lived in and around Merescombe, he changes his mind in the hope of seeing Rose again.

The story proceeds fairly much as one might expect, with Lawrence striking up a friendship with Sam, something Magnus has never managed, believing that children should be seen and not heard, and coming to realise, from talking to the locals and the captain and crew of the Sealark that something is indeed not quite right, and that there is an insurance fraud being perpetrated. Rose avoids him when she can, afraid of her growing feelings for a man whose past is far from a shining example of respectability. Her fears are natural given her past experiences, but she is a little too intractable, seeming to want to believe the worst of Lawrence, even though he is doing his best to show her that he is a changed man. Yet the attraction between them is impossible to deny, and Rose eventually comes to admit that perhaps she was wrong and that it IS possible for a man of dissolute habits to reform.

The book is well-written and the central characters are engaging and well developed, in spite of Rose’s insistence on believing the worst of Lawrence until fairly late on in the story. On the downside, the identity of the villain is fairly obvious and the ending is overly dramatic, but that didn’t take anything away from my overall enjoyment. Most of all, I liked that while Rose was the catalyst for Lawrence’s decision that he wanted to live a different life, she wasn’t the only reason and it was a change he wanted to make for himself as well.

Snowbound with the Notorious Rake isn’t a taxing read, but it’s an enjoyable one, and I certainly didn’t regret the couple of hours I spent on it.

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This book seems now only to be available to buy as part of a duo, One Snowy Regency Christmas with A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill.