Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Sunday Spotlight: All Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne

Posted September 27, 2020 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 5 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

I haven’t read a lot of historical romance in the past few years, but Kerrigan Byrne is one of the few I’ve tried to keep up with. I haven’t read the first book in this series yet, but it’s close to the top of my TBR pile.

Sunday Spotlight: All Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan ByrneAll Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Devil You Know #2
Also in this series: How to Love a Duke in Ten Days
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 416
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars

They are a dangerous duke, a fierce lord, and an infamous earl—dark, bold, brave men who know exactly what they want. And there is only one woman who can bring them to their knees...

He is first and foremost—at everything. A man who's made his own way in the world through ruthless cunning and sheer force of will. A strong and imposing Scot who can turn on the charm but does not suffer fools. His title: Lord Chief Justice of the High Court. His name: Cassius Gerard Ramsay. His mission: To investigate the goings-on at London's most notorious gaming hell, owned and operated by one of the most intriguing and desirable women he's ever met.

IN THIS GAME OF LOVE, THE RULES DO NOT APPLY

Cecelia Teague was an orphan facing a rather dire future—until a secret benefactor from her mother's scandalous past swept into her life. Sent to prestigious boarding school and later to university, Cecelia believed high society was at her fingertips...Then, from out of nowhere, she became the inheritor of a gambling establishment.

Now Cecelia must live two lives: one as a proper lady who finds herself undeniably drawn to Lord Ramsay and the other as a savvy gaming hell owner trying to save her business from the very same man. He has no idea she is both women...and Cecelia would like to keep it that way. But what happens when consuming passion and escalating danger threaten to reveal the truth?

Excerpt

From All Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Chapter 3

An unsettling awareness paralyzed Cecelia as she stared into the eyes of her enemy.

Awareness of the child hiding at her feet. Of the book containing possibly lethal secrets clutched in her innocent hands. Of the expectation and caution in Genny’s demeanor.
Of everyone’s gaze glued to her, waiting to see what she’d do next. What she’d say to the brutishly large and powerful man leaning over her desk.

His nostrils flared and a vein pulsed at his temple be- fore disappearing into his thick, luminous hair.

She could almost feel the heat of his breath, like that of a dragon. A dragon, she noted, who’d dined on something sweet for his last meal and washed it down with coffee rather than tea.
Strange that they should both prefer coffee in the morning. What else did they have in common, she and her adversary? Must they be adversaries at all? If she revealed herself, explained her situation, might he soften?

No. No, his expression was diamond-hard and uncompromising, as was his reputation. He was the Vicar of Vice, the sworn enemy of her aunt. And just because his brother was a good man didn’t mean he was.

As she well understood, so many men used piety to disguise their cruelty.

In that case, she decided, if this man insisted upon being her adversary, she’d have to kill him.

With kindness.

Drawing on every bit of her finishing school education, she did her level best to smother her panic with politeness. She pressed her hands flat on the desk and forced herself to remain still.
“You may call me Hortense Thistledown.” She plucked her mother’s name out of pure desperation, hating that it would become a blasphemy on this man’s tongue.

What would her name sound like in that graveled brogue of his? Cecelia.

As soon as the unwanted thought filtered into her mind, she shook her head to be rid of it.

“Might I invite you to sit down, my lord, whilst I peruse your documents?” She gestured to one of three dainty chairs facing her desk, belatedly concerned for their structural integrity against his impressive bulk. “Genny, would you please fetch His Worship and associates some tea and refreshments?”

Genny looked as though she’d asked her to consume the contents of a chamber pot.

A few of the constables brightened at the mention of food and tea, immediately deflating when Ramsay put up a staying hand. “Doona be absurd. This isna a social call, madam.” His eyes flickered around the room, his expression suggesting he would rather be surrounded by a Whitechapel cesspool than her aunt’s tasteful décor. “I’m inclined to touch as little in this place as possible. Who kens what depravities have occurred on which surfaces?”

“Oh come now, what sort of wickedness could possibly be conducted upon such dainty furniture?” She gestured to the Louis XIV settee and chairs, genuinely stunned when a few of the constables muffled a chuckle or two.

Heat spread to Sir Ramsay’s eyes as he glanced at the furniture in question and then back to her. Her question had angered him. She read something else in the heat, as well. A banked emotion beneath the anger, something leashed. Chained.

Dangerous.

“It is not in yer best interest to mock me, woman.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” she answered, bemused. “But I vow the only blasphemies this room is subject to are taxes and paperwork.” She summoned what she hoped was a charming smile, though her mind whirred with unknowns—she couldn’t have said for certain the surfaces hadn’t been sullied.

“And whilst this visit of yours might not be social,” she added, “we can still be civilized, can we not?”

His eyes narrowed. “Search everything.”

The constables made quick work of the room. They pulled books from shelves, turning them upside down to leaf through pages; took drawers from sideboards, looking beneath them; and upturned the furniture.

Ramsay stood with his arms locked behind him, completely still in the midst of the chaos, his eyes never leaving her. “Civilized,” he scoffed. “Nothing about ye belongs in a civilized society.”

“Upon that, we must disagree.” It was perhaps the most argumentative statement she’d ever made in her life, but the circumstances of the day had frayed her nerves to the snapping point. “As most of civilized society seems to spend their leisure time here.”

His glare was so full of enmity, Cecelia couldn’t bring herself to look at him any longer. How strange, that a man possessed of such a savage countenance could accuse her of being uncouth.
To cover her cowardice, she reached for the warrant, swallowed a lump of trepidation, and began to read.

“Hortense Thistledown,” he said, echoing her pseudonym, thus calling her attention before she’d gotten through the first line. “Ye are related to Henrietta, then? I was unaware she had family. Hid you away in France, did she?”

Smythe had been their family name. Thistledown must have been another of Henrietta’s facades, much like the wigs and masks and makeup.

Cecelia wasn’t ready to answer the question, and so she didn’t. She searched through the legal documents until reaching the appropriate charge.

According to the warrant, the police were searching her property for evidence in connection with the disappearance of a young girl named Katerina Milovic. A Russian immigrant who’d been taken from the streets of Lambeth just yesterday. She was the sixth in a string of missing maidens. All aged about thirteen.

“How did ye come to be in charge after Henrietta’s death?” Ramsay demanded. “I’ve not seen ye on the premises before. I always assumed Miss Leveaux would take up the mantle of the Scarlet Lady once Henrietta—”

Cecelia held up one finger as she scanned the rest of the warrant, her eyes snagging on the distressing pertinent information.

From All Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Devil You Know

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: September 2020

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Kerrigan Byrne

Kerrigan Byrne headshot

Kerrigan has done many things to pay the bills, from law enforcement to belly dance instructor. Now she’s finally able to have the career she’d decided upon at thirteen when she announced to her very skeptical family that she was going to “grow up to be a romance novelist.” Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in almost every story.

She lives in a little Victorian coast town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State with her wonderful husband. When she’s not writing you can find her sailing, beach combing, kayaking, visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants with friends, and hiking…okay…wandering aimlessly clenching bear spray in the mountains.


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Joint Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy

Posted April 28, 2020 by Rowena in Reviews | 1 Comment

Joint Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe KennedyReviewer: Ames, Holly, and Rowena
The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy
Series: Forgotten Empires #1
Also in this series: The Orchid Throne
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Point-of-View: Alternating First
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Holly's 2020 Goodreads Challenge, Rowena's 2020 Goodreads Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
three-half-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

Welcome to the world of Forgotten Empires from award winning author Jeffe Kennedy that begins with The Orchid Throne.

A PRISONER OF FATEAs Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MENConrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

The Orchid Throne (Forgotten Empires #1) first came on my radar last year. I thought the cover was gorgeous and the premise intrigued me. It fell by the wayside until I saw the second book was going to be published soon. I asked Rowena and Amy if they wanted to read the first book with me, and they agreed.

Queen Euthalia was promised in marriage to the evil emperor of the realm in order to keep their island – and secrets – safe. For years she’s lived under the threat of their engagement, but she’s managed to keep him at bay by projecting a carefree, vapid image and playing a very delicate game of politics behind the scenes.

Now, a new threat has come to the shores of Calanthe….a changed wolf of a man, who is determined to avenge his family by murdering the Emperor. Conri needs Lia to agree to marry him….because prophecy says in order to defeat the emperor, he’s going to need her help.

Holly: This was different than I expected. It started really slow for me, and it took almost half the book before it picked up. What did you two think?

Ames: I agree, the beginning was slow for me too. But I was sucked into it when I realized Con had to go to Calanthe for magical reasons and that would make him and Lia meet. They were two strong characters and I liked them together.

Rowena: This one started off a bit slow for me too and even, in the end, I thought the world was interesting but I don’t know, in the end, I still didn’t completely connect with any of the characters and what was going on. I also wasn’t a fan of the jumping first-person POV business. In the beginning, it took me out of every chapter and I played catch up a lot.

strong>Ames: Lia is a true queen, worrying about her land and her people. This puts her at odds with Conri’s path of revenge because she sees his way as putting Calanthe in danger. And Conri wants revenge against the evil emperor Anure, who is responsible for his father’s death. And Conri’s own enslavement.

Holly: I do wonder how things are going to work out for them in the future. Lia’s sole focus is protecting Calanthe, and at times I wondered if her loyalty to the Island itself would put her at odds with Con. Even though they seemed to come to an understanding, I doubt it’s going to be smooth sailing going forward.

Holly: What did you think of Lia’s best friend, Tertulyn? She was obviously up to some shady stuff. Do you think she’s loyal or do you think she’s conspiring against Lia?

Ames: I don’t want Tertulyn to be a betrayer. But the way she was acting was so shady! I honestly thought she was there for Lia.

Rowena: I definitely think that Tertulyn is doing some shady shit right now. She’s too mad about Con and his men overtaking her family’s home and she thinks they’ve killed her family. I bet you she’s gone to Anure to betray Euthalia. I’m Enter ominous music here I’m not a fan of the way that Tertulyn acts and treats Euthalia, it doesn’t feel sincere to me so I’m thinking she’s definitely going to betray her.

Holly: I want Tertulyn to be loyal, but she’s definitely acting shady right now and I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to come out looking good in this.

Rowena: I agree with you, Holly. I just don’t have a good feeling about her so I’m counting on the betrayal. She’s gonna try and make a run of it as Anure’s wife, watch.

Ames: Also, how hilarious was Ambrose and his bird? That scene in the garden and then afterwards with the guards? I was cracking up!

Holly: I loved Ambrose and his bird. That scene in the garden was hilarious.

Rowena: I really liked Ambrose and his bird (and the staff) as well. He definitely marches to his own tune and seeing him annoy the snot out of Conri and then, later on, Euthalila, it was great.

Rowena: I am curious to see where their story takes them in the next book so I’m definitely interested in continuing the series. What about you guys?

Holly: I’m definitely interested to see where the story goes. I do wonder if the second book will also end in a cliffhanger. I haven’t heard how many books are planned for this series.

Ames: I’m definitely interested in reading more from this series. Lia and Con are going to argue over every step they take going forward. But I think they’ll make a good team when it comes time to fight Anure.

I know there’s a third book coming out next year – but I’m not sure how many books are planned in the series overall though.

Rowena: I do plan on reading the other books in this series but I have to say, I wasn’t all that jazzed about the ending of this book. I’m hoping that there won’t be any more of that nonsense.

Overall, this was an interesting start to a new series and I’m curious enough to want to continue so I’ll definitely be reading but I wasn’t a huge fan of the pacing of this story, the constant whiplash I got from the changing POV and that ending wasn’t my favorite either. I’d give this one 3 stars, what about you guys?

Holly: I agree, the premise was interesting and I like the world, but the pacing was off and the ending frustrated me. I’m going to read the next book, but I think I’ll wait until we know how many are planned before I pick it up.

I’d give it 3.5 out of 5.

Ames: I agree with you guys – the pacing was a bit off and the beginning was very slow. However once things picked up I was into it right to the end. Yes the ending was abrupt and if I had read this book when it came out, I would have been super frustrated to wait a year to read the next one. LOL So knowing that’s how this book ended, I kind of want to wait until book 3 is released before reading book 2.

I really enjoyed the characters and once we got into the world-building, I liked that too. I’m giving The Orchid Throne 3.75 out of 5.

Final Grades

Ames: 3.75 out of 5
Holly: 3.5 out of 5
Rowena: 3 out of 5

Forgotten Empire

three-half-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Wild, Wild Rake by Janna MacGregor

Posted February 23, 2020 by Casee in Features, Giveaways | 4 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight: Wild, Wild Rake by Janna MacGregorWild, Wild Rake by Janna MacGregor
Series: The Cavensham Heiresses #6
Also in this series: The Luck of the Bride (The Cavensham Heiresses #3)
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 368
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars


Her first marriage was an epic failure.

Lady Avalon Warwyck never did love her husband. Arrogant, selfish, and cruel, it’s a blessing when she’s widowed and left to raise her son all by herself. Finally, Avalon can live freely and do the work she loves: helping fallen women become businesswomen. She’s lived these past ten years with no desire to remarry―that is, until Mr. Devan Farris comes to town.

Can he convince her to take another chance at happily ever after?

Devan Farris―charming vicar, reputed rake, and the brother of Avalon’s son’s guardian―is reluctantly sent to town to keep tabs on Avalon and her son. Devan wishes he didn’t have to meddle in her affairs; he’s not one to trod on a woman’s independent nature and keen sense of convictions. But she’ll have nothing to do with vicar with a wild reputation―even though he’s never given his heart and body to another. If only he could find a way to show Avalon who he really is on the inside―a good, true soul looking for its other half. But how can prove that he wants to love and care for her. . .until death do they part?

Excerpt

Avalon read the first line in the letter from her son’s guardian, Gavin Farris, the Earl of Larkton. By all appearances the words resembled something innocuous, purely designed to lull a person into thinking it contained real concern with a touch of whimsical affection.

My dearest lady, I do hope this finds you and your intrepid son well.

“Avalon, did you hear the news?” Seventeen, on the cusp of eighteen years of age, Avalon’s sister, Lady Sophia Cavensham, looked up from her embroidery and smiled. Her gaze darted to her friend Miss Penelope Rowley, the one and only niece of the wealthiest gentry landowner in the shire. Though she was two years older than Sophia, Penelope had become somewhat of a fixture at Warwyk Hall over the last six months since she’d moved to her aunt and uncle’s home. The two women were inseparable.

Penelope let out a dramatic sigh then collapsed in a swoon across the pink-and-gold brocade sofa. In the process, she kneed the table, upsetting the delicate pink china cup and saucer. “Oww.”

Avalon tried to ignore their chatter. The Earl of Larkton’s correspondence had increased in frequency over the last several months. The weekly letters were turning into biweekly posts. Each one wanted more and more control over the Warwyk estate and more decision-making control over her ten-year-old son, Thane Pearce, the Marquess of Warwyk. She doubled her concentration on the letter as she read the entire first paragraph.

The purpose of my correspondence is to inform you that I’ve appointed a new vicar for the village of Thistledown. The man comes with impeccable standing and experience. In addition, his educational training is second to none. He’s a protégé of Lord Bishop Marlowe.

“He’s extraordinary.” Sophia’s dreamlike whisper floated through the air like a dandelion seed.

“He’s . . . simply exquisite.” Penelope’s voice joined Sophia’s in a chorus of dazzled fascination.

My dear Marchioness, it’s my pleasure to announce that my brother—

Avalon swallowed the sudden onrush of bile that marched up her throat. It couldn’t be. Fate was not that hateful.

“Mr. Devan—” Sophia sighed.

“Farris.” Penelope finished the sentence and slowly drew her hand against her forehead as if saying his name caused her to faint.

“No. Not him.” Avalon murmured the words aloud. The sanctimonious prig had arrived to make her life a living hell. Avalon grimaced to keep from casting her accounts. Now she was just exaggerating like the girls. She wasn’t really physically sick, but the news could make a person ill. “When did he arrive in the village?”

Clueless as to how the news affected her older sister, Sophia scooted to the edge of the crimson-and-white striped club chair that sat adjacent to Avalon’s matching one. “Two days ago. Penelope and I just happened to be walking in front of the vicarage when we saw the Earl of Larkton’s coach arrive. The new vicar followed behind on horseback.”

Penelope nodded vigorously as if Sophia’s story needed affirmation.

Avalon wanted to roll her eyes. The two women “never just happen” to do anything. They orchestrated and connived everything from shopping to men. God save anyone who crossed their paths. If one of the girls took a shine to any of the ton’s marriageable men, then London’s finest would soon understand what it meant to be hunted.

As the girls continued their chatter, Avalon devoted her full attention to the rest of the letter. Better to finish the horrid task, then take a long walk through her gardens. Though it was January and bitterly cold outside, a brisk hour of exercise would help Avalon clear some of her unease at the news that Mr. Devan Farris had invaded her village.

I’ve considered your request that the young marquess continue his studies at home, but at the age of ten, his interests would best be served by attending Eton sooner rather than later. That’s where boys turn into men. Your suggestion that he attend Harrow won’t do. His father had insisted that I promise he attend Eton. However, since his Latin skills are somewhat lacking, I’ve decided to hire my brother, Mr. Farris, to tutor him in the subject.

Her blood simmered at the words. The earl’s declaration was nothing more than gilding the lily. Everyone within fifty miles of London knew that Devan Farris sought to marry an heiress. Until he found one, the fortune-hunting vicar thought to use her son’s marquisate to pay double for his services. Since her son’s estate paid for the vicar’s wages, Mr. Farris would receive another wage from the coffers for tutoring lessons.

But what really brought her blood to boil was that the smug vicar would be nosing into her business, and that wouldn’t do at all. She and only she ruled the parish with a fair and impartial hand. No one, including Devan Farris, would upset her world.

The Cavensham Heiresses

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: February 2020

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Janna MacGregor

Janna MacGregor author photo

Janna MacGregor was born and raised in the bootheel of Missouri. She credits her darling mom for introducing her to the happily-ever-after world of romance novels. Janna writes stories where compelling and powerful heroines meet and fall in love with their equally matched heroes. She is the mother of triplets and lives in Kansas City with her very own dashing rogue, and two smug, but not surprisingly, perfect pugs. She loves to hear from readers.


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Review: Smitten by the Brit by Melonie Johnson

Posted December 30, 2019 by Holly in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: Smitten by the Brit by Melonie JohnsonReviewer: Holly
Smitten by the Brit by Melonie Johnson
Series: Sometimes in Love #2
Also in this series: Getting Hot with the Scot
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: May 28, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 376
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Holly's 2019 GoodReads Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
three-stars
Series Rating: three-stars

DEFINITELY, MAYBE...OR LOVE, ACTUALLY?
English professor Bonnie Blythe expects her life to play out like her favorite novels, especially now that her long-term boyfriend has finally proposed. So when a shocking discovery leads Bonnie to end her engagement, she decides to close the book on love. But the plot thickens when a brand-new character enters the scene—and quickens Bonnie's heart.
With his brilliant blue eyes, sexy accent, and irresistible charm, Theo Wharton is like a romantic hero straight out of a Jane Austen novel. When fate places Bonnie in England for a summer—conveniently close to Theo—she realizes a hot friends-with-benefits fling is exactly what she needs to start a fresh chapter. Just as Bonnie begins to believe she's falling in love, an eye-opening revelation into Theo's life makes Bonnie feel like she's wandered into one of her favorite books. Will Bonnie have the courage to risk her heart and turn the page with the dashing Brit to find her true happy ending after all?

I didn’t love the first book in this series, but I was very interested in finding out more about Bonnie and Theo, whom we met in Getting Hot with the Scot. I really liked the chemistry between them, but overall I found the romance lacking. There wasn’t the emotional pull I expected after their scenes in the previous book and the early part of this novel.

They didn’t spend a lot of time together on page, and I think that’s why the romance didn’t pull me in. I enjoyed their personal journeys, but overall I was pretty underwhelmed. Johnson shows flashes of brilliance here, and I’m sure she’ll only improve as time goes on. In the meantime, I think I’ll hold of on continuing the series for now.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Sometimes in Love

three-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Forever My Duke by Olivia Drake

Posted December 29, 2019 by Holly in Reviews | 3 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight: Forever My Duke by Olivia DrakeForever My Duke by Olivia Drake
Series: Unlikely Duchesses #2
Also in this series: The Duke I Once Knew
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 384
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: three-stars

“I find Miss Fanshawe to be quite charming—for an American.”—The Prince Regent
Hadrian Ames, the Duke of Clayton, needs a bride. He even has the perfect one picked out. That is, until he meets the lovely, free-spirited Natalie Fanshawe. She’s the opposite of what a man of his high rank should desire in a wife—an outspoken American who has never even set foot in a London ballroom.
But Natalie doesn’t have time to be swept off her feet by a handsome duke who must be a spoiled scoundrel like every other British lord. And she couldn’t care less about Hadrian’s title. After all, it’s not as if he actually worked to attain his wealth and status. He surely can’t understand what it’s like to be a busy woman, planning to open a school while trying to reunite a six-year-old orphan with his English relatives. Nevertheless, Hadrian launches his campaign to win her heart. Can the utterly delightful American beauty ever find a way to love him…despite his being a duke?

Excerpt

Excerpt from Forever My Duke by Olivia Drake

Reaching up, the boy tugged the tablecloth back down to conceal himself. Hadrian was tempted to haul him out by his ear and frog-march him out of the room. But it was too late, for the door was already opening. A woman stepped into the parlor.

His heart rocked in his chest. The world faded as he stared at the vision standing before him.

Pretty seemed too tame a word to describe her. Appearing to be in her mid-twenties, she had a frank gaze and an aura of distinction that set her apart from the ladies of his acquaintance. She was tall and willowy, her chin held high, as if to take pride in her height. In the glow of the firelight, several curls of dark sable hair had escaped her chignon to frame her face with its pert nose and rosy lips. Her skin had a healthy glow as if she’d spent a good deal of time outdoors without a parasol. The cinnamon-hued gown with its long sleeves and plain scoop neckline would be considered pitifully drab by London standards, yet it skimmed her feminine curves in a way that lent her a natural flair.

Hadrian tried to put his finger on precisely why she fascinated him. He had seen plenty of other lovely women over the years, but none of those others had affected him on quite such a visceral level. Perhaps it was her eyes. They were a deep, vibrant green that lit up like sunlight on emeralds when she smiled.

As she did now. “Pardon me for intruding, sir. I’m looking for a little boy.”

Her melodious voice held a faintly foreign flavor which he tried to place. Not Welsh or Irish or Scottish or even Cornish. It was as mysterious and appealing as the woman herself.

As she gazed inquiringly at him, Hadrian realized he was still sitting and gawking like a dolt. He shot to his feet. If that scruffy imp belonged to her, he could not imagine she was one of the upper ten thousand, yet he felt compelled to show her the respect afforded a lady.

He bowed. “Ma’am.”

She gave him a distracted look and then ventured closer, gazing around the small parlor. “Leo? I know you’re in here. I saw you go through this door when I was coming down the stairs.”
Hadrian held an inward debate. As much as he admired this splendid creature, he had a gentleman’s distaste for tattling. It was an unwritten rule that males did not betray one another’s secrets. Especially not to the female of the species.

Or did that honor exclude disobedient cubs like Leo? Fortunately the dilemma was resolved without any duplicity on his part. With a small cry, she sprang forward and lifted the edge of the tablecloth to peer underneath it.

“There you are, you naughty child!” she said on a trill of laughter. “That’s quite the clever hiding spot.”

“It wasn’t very clever since you found me,” Leo griped. “Well, come out of there at once,” she said, watching as he scrambled to his feet. “And next time, mind that your toes don’t stick out.

Now, pray make your apologies to the gentleman for disturbing his dinner.”

“Sorry, mister.”

“There’s no harm done,” Hadrian said, forgetting that he’d chastised the lad for that very thing only moments ago.

“Sometimes Leo doesn’t stop to think about his actions,” the woman said ruefully. “It is a trait we are working on modifying. In the meantime, I must thank you, sir, for being so understanding.”

Her mouth curved in that appealing smile, she leaned over the table and extended her hand to Hadrian.

Startled, he realized that she meant for him to shake it as a gentleman would do to his equal. Not even the grandest grande dame of society would commit such a faux pas with a man of his rank. A lady might offer the back of a gloved hand to be kissed, but only after having curtsied to him. Nevertheless, he found himself clasping her hand, keenly conscious of the warmth of her slim fingers.

“It was my pleasure,” he murmured.

The feel of her bare silken skin heightened the intensity of her effect on him. He felt as giddy as a school- boy meeting his first pretty girl. It made no sense, for he prided himself on being a man in firm control of his emotions and somewhat jaded by the allures of the fairer sex.

She must have sensed his reaction, for her gaze widened slightly and a rosy blush tinted her cheeks. Her expression held a frank curiosity about him, as if she, too, were puzzled by the unseen energy of attraction. As they stared at each other for timeless moments, Hadrian felt as if he were drowning in those gorgeous eyes. He had the strongest urge to reach out and unpin her hair, to see those sable tresses tumble around her shoulders and bosom.

It was only when she gave a tug that he realized he was still gripping her hand. He loosened his hold, and she stepped back, the sparkle of warmth on her features dimming to a mask of politeness. She lowered her gaze to the boy, who had wandered to the hearth and picked up a stick of kindling to poke at the fire.

“Put that away, Leo, and come along. Your bath is growing cold.”

He abandoned the stick, but dug in his heels. “Don’t want no bath.”

“Proper grammar, please. And the bath is necessary, for tomorrow you are to meet your grandfather.” She took hold of Leo’s hand and guided him away, pausing only to toss a quick, heart-stopping smile over her shoulder. “Good evening, sir. Do pardon us again for the intrusion.” A moment later, they disappeared out into the corridor and shut the door. The muffled grumble of Leo’s protests gradually died away.

It took a moment for Hadrian to feel like himself again. A trace of her alluring feminine scent lingered in the air. Now that she was gone, it seemed ludicrous that a stranger could affect his equilibrium to such a degree. Her poised manner did not fit the lower orders, so he had been wrong about the boy being the offspring of servants. Rather, she must be an overnight lodger here, another traveler stranded by the freezing rain. He hadn’t noticed a wedding ring, yet it seemed reasonable to assume that a husband awaited her upstairs.

Logic dispelled the remainder of Hadrian’s undue reaction. She was the very opposite of his preferences, for he liked women who were dainty and sophisticated. Her appeal perhaps could be explained away by the fact that he’d discharged his latest mistress a fortnight ago and had been on the lookout for another to catch his interest. But he strictly confined his liaisons to willing widows and discreet courtesans.

Not mothers with young children.

He resumed his seat at the table and took up his newspaper, though the printed words failed to hold his attention. Instead, he frowned into the dying flames of the fire while his mind continued to mull over the intriguing encounter. Despite the faint accent, she had a refined mode of speech, possessed a natural grace, and displayed a charming blush.

Yet the handshake was curious behavior, indeed. She was clearly a rustic who was unfamiliar with the protocol of curtsying to a gentleman. Even if she was unaware that he was the Duke of Clayton, she ought to have recognized him as a man of consequence. He wasn’t offended, only baffled as to what it might reveal about her background.

Devil take it. She would have to remain a mystery. Tomorrow, they’d each set forth to different destinations, never to cross paths again. He wouldn’t waste another thought on a fleeting encounter with a nameless beauty.

Especially not when he was on his way to acquire the perfect bride.

Unlikely Duchesses

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Sunday Spotlight: December 2019

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About Olivia Drake

Shortly after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism, Olivia Drake sold her first novel two weeks after sending it to a publisher. She now lives in Texas in a cozy cottage with a feisty cat, a loving husband, and two wonderful daughters who still come back whenever they want a home-cooked meal.

Many of you already know Olivia as Barbara Dawson Smith, author of 24 historical romance novels. She is a New York Times bestseller and winner of numerous honors, including the Golden Heart Award and the coveted Rita Award for excellence in the historical romance genre.


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