Publisher: Harper Collins

Sunday Spotlight: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Posted May 10, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 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. 🙂

We had a system glitch and this didn’t post as scheduled yesterday. Let’s hear it for Sunday Spotlight on Monday!

Sunday Spotlight: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlaneJust Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Publisher: Harper Collins, William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 416
Add It: Goodreads
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Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.

But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction...

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?

Excerpt

Excerpted from the book JUST LAST NIGHT by Mhairi McFarlane. Copyright © 2021 by Mhairi McFarlane. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

 

Before

“We’re going to win tonight,” Ed says. “I can feel it. I can smell it. I could slice it like a frittata. The air is thick with the odor of our imminent victory. Breathe it in, my bitches.”

He pretends to scent the air.

“Are you sure that’s not Leonard?” Justin says. “He had chili con carne for tea. Got up on the counter and had his face in the saucepan before I could stop him, the fool. He’s been farting in spicy beef flavor ever since.”

“Maybe victory smells exactly like mince and kidney beans working its way through a very small dog’s digestive system,” I say, as Susie says: “BLURGH.”

“How would we know how it smells, after all? None of us have ever been successful,” I say, directing this at Ed.

“Speak for yourself. My GP said my hemorrhoids were the most prominent he’d seen in thirty years practicing medicine.”

I guffaw. (This is a standard joke format with Ed; I assume his bum is fine.)

I reflexively reach out to pet Leonard, who has his own chair, sitting atop Justin’s coat, protecting the upholstery.

Leonard is a “Chorkie”—a Chihuahua crossed with a Yorkshire Terrier. He has beady eyes peering out from under a comical fringe of gray-white hair, spiky in the middle like he’s had Paul Weller’s Mod cut, bat ears, and a lopsided little grin, full of toothpick teeth.

He looks, as Ed says: “Like an enterprising cartoon rat doing some kind of stealthy cosplay as a canine. We’ve been infiltrated by a rodent master criminal.”

Leonard, an omnivorous eater and troublesomely impromptu urinator, is one of the loves of my life. (The rest of them are around, and also sometimes under, this table.)

“You say we’re going to win this quiz every week, Ed,” Susie says, worrying at a coaster, shredding it into a pile of soft cardboard shards. “And we are always fucked by the same five determined men in Lands’ End packable anoraks.”

“Describing my best holiday in Wales, there,” Justin says. Justin is a self-proclaimed “tiresome show-off and performative middle child” and one of the funniest men you’ll ever meet, but you absolutely do not go to him for good taste.

The quizmaster’s voice booms out, cutting through conversation, like the Voice of God:

“Question TEN. Who is Michael Owuo? Who is, Michael Owuo?

The usual seconds of post-question hush fall.

“Is he . . . the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East?” Ed whispers, faux-earnestly.

“Seriously?” Susie says.

“No,” I say, rolling my eyes, and Ed taps the pen on his lips and winks at me.

“You three do know who he is, right?” Justin says, doing a double take. “UGH. So we are the millennial cast of Last of the Summer Wine.”

“Did he play the villain in the last Bond?” I ask, and Ed says: “YES! ‘Doctor Pardon.’ What was his gimmick again?”

“He had bejeweled ear gauges,” I say. “And a walker, with tinsel wound ’round it.”

Ed laughs. I love the way he laughs: it starts in his shoulders.

“OK, who is joking, and who isn’t?” Susie says. “I mean obviously, they are,” she grimaces at myself and Ed. “Do you genuinely know who he is, Justin?”

“He’s Stormzy,” Justin hisses. “God, you can tell you lot are thirty-four.”

“You’re thirty-four, Justin,” Susie says.

“There’s thirty-four and then there’s, like, ‘Who are the Stormzys?’ thirty-four,” Justin says, pulling an “old geezer” rubbery face.

“A ‘stormzy,’ you say,” Ed says, in a creaky High Court judge voice. “Whatever a Stormzy is,” and writes “Mr. Storm Zee” on the paper.

Ed has really nice hands; I’m a sucker for nice hands. He cycles a lot and can mend things, and I am now mature enough to appreciate practical skills like that.

Susie takes the pen from Ed, scribbles his words out, and writes Stormzy correctly.

“Don’t your pupils keep you up to date with this stuff?” I ask Ed. “Hip to the jive, daddio?”

“It’s my job to teach them Dickens, not theirs to teach me grime.”

Ed is head of English at a nice county school. You know how they say some people look like police? Ed looks like a teacher—a film or television, glossy young teacher—with his unthreatening, handsome solidity, strawberry-blond, close-cropped hair. In a crisis in a situation full of strangers, Ed’s would be the kind, reliable face you’d hope to see. He’d be the guy offering his necktie as a makeshift tourniquet.

Part of the pleasure of this weekly pub appointment to lose the pub quiz, I think, is it brings out and defines all the roles in our foursome. Ed and I clowning around together, Justin refereeing, with his caustic wit, Susie playing exasperated mother.

Sometimes I stop participating in the conversation and just hum happily inside myself, enjoying our togetherness, reveling in the way we all broadcast on the same frequency. I watch us from the outside.

. . . didn’t she marry the singer from the Mumfords? I’d rather be a Sister Wife. (Susie)

. . . this cherry Stolichnaya that Hester brought back from duty-free, it’s amazing, tastes like baby medicine. Or so babies tell me. (Ed)

. . . he was a right grumpy carrot top. I said to him, do you know why gingerism is the last acceptable prejudice? Because it’s acceptable. (Justin, of course)

“Shhhhh,” I say, as I can see the quizmaster adjusting his readers, as he squints at a piece of paper.

“Question ELEVEN. The word ‘CHRONOPHAGE’ is an Ancient Greek word for what is now an idiomatic expression in English. But what does it mean? Clue: your mobile phone may do this. That does not mean you can check your phones, hahaha!”

The quizmaster blows air out of his nostrils in a windy gust, directly into the bulb, and you can hear his spit.

The looks on the faces of our hiking anorak nemeses suggest they’re considerably more confident about this than they were about Mr. Stormzy.

“Chrono means time . . . ,” Ed whispers. “Chronograph watches.”

“Chronological.” Susie nods. “In order of timing.”

“Phage,” I say. “Hmmm. Coprophagic is eating poo. Fairly sure the copro’s poo, so the phagic must be eating.”

“Eve!” Susie barks, with a potato chip halfway into her mouth. “How do you even know that?”

“I’ve lived a full life.”

“I’ve been around for most of it so I know that isn’t true. A quarter full, at best.”

“. . . Eating time?” Justin hisses. “It must mean eating time. Your phone does that. Boom. Write it down.”

Ed obliges.

We come to The Gladstone every Thursday. I would say without fail, but we are thirty-somethings with lives and jobs and other friends and—some of us—partners, so there are some fails. But we’re here more often than not.

“Question TWELVE, before we take a short break. What do Marcus Garvey, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Cooper have in common? I’ll give you a clue. It involves a mistake.”

We stare blankly at each other. Packable Anoraks are frantic-whispering instead of writing or looking sneaky-smug, which means they’re not sure either.

“Is it choice of first wife? As in they’ve all had more than one?” Ed says.

“We don’t call people we divorce mistakes now,” Susie says.

“My mum does,” I say.

“Remember when our religion teacher said, ‘People are too quick to divorce nowadays,’ and you said, ‘I think they’re too slow,’ and you got a detention for it?” Susie says and I guffaw.

“Ah, there she is,” Ed says, as the door slaps open and his girlfriend, Hester, appears, her nose wrinkling in distaste at the slight stench of “armpit.”

My heart sinks a notch, but I ignore that it has done this and paste on a strong, welcoming smile.

To be fair, The Gladdy does have a bit of an aroma sometimes, what with the sticky floor, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a dartboard-and-devoted-regulars pub.

I love it, year-round, with its scrappy concrete beer garden with flower planters on the fire escape. I think they are supposed to simulate “verdant urban oasis” in a yard full of lager and smokers. But it’s at its best in autumn and winter. Frosted-leaf mulch and dark skies with bright stars on the other side of the steamed-up panes. Serious hygge to be had, on this side of the window.

Well, mostly.

Hester moved to Nottingham for Ed, a fact she likes to relitigate about once a month.

She looks like a colorized picture has walked into a black and white, kitchen sink realism film: skin the color of ripe peaches and shimmering champagne-blond hair. She’s like a human Bellini.

Her balled fists are thrust in her coat pockets, a Barbour with a fawn cord collar, as if she’s smashed into a saloon in a Western and going to draw two guns.

It’s not that I don’t like Hester . . .

“Are you all drunk by now, then?” she says, bullishly. She glances at me. “Eve looks drunk.”

Oh, why do I bother. It’s absolutely that I don’t like Hester.

 

“And once again for the cheap seats! What do Marcus Garvey, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Cooper have in common? It involves a mistake. A mistake. An error. OK, back soon.”

“Hemingway was in a plane crash, were any of the others?” I whisper.

“Bit of a stretch to call a plane crash ‘a mistake’ though?” Ed whispers back and I shrug, nodding in concession.

“And Rudyard Kipling’s a bit too yesteryear for planes, isn’t he?” Justin says. “Not exactly doing his Instagram Story with a Prosecco claw holding a flute aloft in the airport bar.”

He mimes trying to photograph his pint glass, and Susie snorts.

“They were wrongly given awards that had to be taken back,” Hester says, dragging her coat off her shoulders. “Where’s the pen?”

Justin makes a skeptical face and Ed tries to look persuadably neutral as he hands it over. His sense of humor doesn’t evaporate, exactly, around Hester, but he goes more no absolutely of course I didn’t mean that formal.

Hester’s late joining tonight as she’s been out with friends at a tapas restaurant, and understandably, given the number of babies that the rest of the circle have between them, they wind things up by nine p.m. Hester only joins us at The Gladdy quiz intermittently, anyway. “Sometimes it gets wearying, with all your in-jokes,” she says. Even though she’s known us all for so long as Ed’s girlfriend, I am not sure how there’s an “in” she’s outside of.

“Are you sure?” Susie says.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Hester says. Qualifying: “. . . Well, have you got anything better?”

“Sure, sure—or four-Proseccos-deep-and-we-haven’t-got-anything-better-yet, sure?” Susie persists, smiling in a “Wicked Queen with a red apple” sort of way.

She dares with Hester in ways I absolutely do not dare. Susie dares with most people. Most people don’t dare back.

Susie has long, thick blond-brown hair she wears in a horse-mane-length ponytail, or loose and bunched up into a scarf like she’s Streisand in a seventies film. She has a full mouth with an emphatic pout to her top lip, which looks as if it’s being pulled upward by her tilted nose, which I think is a thing called “retroussé.”

“What award did Marcus Garvey get?” Justin says.

“Rear of the Year?” I say, and Ed hoots. Hester’s fuming, I know.

“OK, ignore me then!” Hester says. “Pardon me for trying to participate, guys.”

“No, no! It’s good! I think you’re right,” Ed says, hastily. “None of us have anything better. Write it down.”

I always respect Ed for leaping chivalrously to Hester’s defense, while wishing it was for someone who better deserved it. Hester scribbles while Justin, Susie, and I try not to meet each other’s eyes.

“More drinks I think, what’s everyone having?” Justin says and gets up to go to the bar.

I go to the loo and, after I flush, I see I have a text from Susie. (Not a WhatsApp, because it would risk appearing in full on a lock screen. Canny.)

When I open it, I see it’s been sent to myself and Justin. I know how they’re triangulating the signal, next door—Justin nonchalantly studying his handset while waiting to be served, Susie slightly angled away from the couple, feigning picking up her messages.

 

Susie: WHY IS SHE SUCH A BOSSY ARSEHOLE THOUGH

Justin: She can get away with anything due to the fabulous breasts, darling

Susie: I have great tits and you don’t see it affecting my personality. That answer is SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG. And why is Ed such a wimp about it. Oh yes write that bollocks down, my precious little poison dumpling. ARGH

Justin: Again, boobs

Eve: The poisoned dumplings

Susie: I swear she knows it’s the wrong answer and is doing it to fuck with us

 

I lean against the pleasantly chilly wall in the loo and type, grinning.

Having been in stone-cold love with Hester’s other half for the best part of two decades means I never know how much of my dislike is plain old envy. Susie and Justin continually—and inadvertently, because they absolutely don’t know—reassure me I’d have disliked her anyway. I often play Nice Cop in regards to Hester, to further throw everyone off the scent.

 

Eve: You wait, she’ll be right and that’ll show us

Susie: She’s not right, she doesn’t even know who Marcus Garvey was, you could see that when Justin challenged her

Justin: She probably thinks he won Best Video 2007 at the Grammys

Susie: Lol. And I’d just point out that Eve’s suggestion got shot down and she didn’t get the hump

Eve: Does this say anything bad about my breasts

Susie: Only that they’re not a carbon offsetting scheme for being a horror

Justin: Sigh. Let us get drunk.

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: May 2021

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 Mhairi McFarlane

Author headshot

Mhairi was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1976. She went to school in Nottingham, studied English Literature at Manchester University and then returned to Nottingham to delight its citizens with her journalism. After roles as trainee reporter, reporter, feature writer and columnist, she realised she’d climbed to the very top of the mountain at the Nottingham Post and at age 31 decided to write a novel. Some very skint years followed, during which she thought she might’ve made a huge mistake.

Her debut novel, the romantic comedy You Had Me At Hello, was an instant hit upon being published in December 2012. It’s since become HarperCollins’ best selling ebook to date, has been translated into 16 languages and is being developed as a major feature film, with Mhairi writing the screenplay. The follow up, Here’s Looking At You, was published in December 2013 and made the Sunday Times Bestseller list.

Mhairi’s first hardback title for HarperFiction, It’s Not Me, It’s You, is published on November 6th 2014.

She’s currently working on her fourth novel, adapting You Had Me At Hello for screen and developing a comedy-drama script for television.


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Throwback Thursday Review: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah McLean

Posted April 15, 2021 by Holly in Reviews | 4 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah McLeanReviewer: Holly
Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Love by Numbers #3
Also in this series: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2), Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2), Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3), Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3), Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers, #1)
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: April 26th 2011
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 384
Add It: Goodreads
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four-half-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

She lives for passion.
Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society's rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London's most practiced gossips . . . and precisely the kind of woman The Duke of Leighton wants far far away from him.
He swears by reputation.
Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening—risking everything he holds dear—he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety. She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion.

This review was originally posted on April 27, 2011.

I was somewhat disappointed with the 2nd book in this series, Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord, but this was much more on par with MacLean’s first release, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. I really enjoyed it. The characters came across well and the storyline was lively and fun.

Juliana has been feeling like an outcast since she left Italy to live with her brothers in England. The English are so reserved, so passionless. She longs for the day when she can leave and go back to Italy. Except..she can’t quite get over this small attraction she has to Simon Pearson, The Duke of Leighton. She shouldn’t be interested in him, he’s haughty and cold..except when he’s not. She wants to break through that icy exterior to find the heat beneath.

Simon is in a desperate rush to save his family reputation. Thanks to a reckless act by his sister, he must marry as quickly as possible – to someone with unimpeachable character. The frustrating Juliana Fiori is about as far as he can get from propriety. But when she stows-away in his carriage he has a hard time resisting temptation. Especially once she throws down a challenge – daring him to unleash the passion inside him. But Juliana doesn’t understand what’s at stake – passion could ruin his entire family.

Simon and Juliana have been dancing around each other since the first book. It seemed there was more to him than The Duke of Disdain, but he proved us wrong in the second book with his actions toward his sister. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this novel. While there were times I wanted to kosh him over the head with a chamberpot, I eventually came to love him just as much as Juliana did. The weight of his responsibilities sat very heavily on him, which made him a more likable character.

With Juliana, I was worried she’d be one of the harebrained women who acted first and thought later..but that wasn’t really the case. Yes, she wanted passion, but she wasn’t reckless. And most of the scandals she found herself wrapped up in – or almost scandals – were not of her making. Her attraction to Simon frustrated her, but she wasn’t afraid to confront him about it. I think that’s what I loved best about her..she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, or tell others what she wanted. Simon might have been a stick-in-the-mud, but Juliana called him on it.

They had chemistry in spades, but as we all know, chemistry isn’t enough. I think MacLean did a good job of showcasing that for us here. Yes, they were attracted to each other, but duty and honor played a large part in their actions. So did friendship and mutual respect. They really came to rely on one another, which was touching.

I’m disappointed that MacLean didn’t tie up all the loose ends. Since this is to be the end of the series I expected everything would be cleared up. Why did she bother to introduce Juliana’s mother into the story if she was going to leave it unresolved?

Despite a few issues, overall this was a fun, sexy read. I found the story engrossing and the characters flawed but lovable.

4.5 out of 5

Love By Numbers

four-half-stars


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Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Posted April 5, 2021 by Casee in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsReviewer: Casee
Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #4
Also in this series: Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1), Wildfire, White Hot, White Hot (Hidden Legacy, #2), Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1), White Hot (Hidden Legacy, #2), Wildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3), Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1), Wildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3), Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5), Sapphire Flames, Diamond Fire, Wildfire, Emerald Blaze
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Point-of-View: First
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 359
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Casee's 2021 Goodreads Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars
Series Rating: five-stars

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrew comes an enthralling new trilogy set in the Hidden Legacy world, where magic means power, and family bloodlines are the new currency of society…

In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.

But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.

To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.

Catalina Baylor is the head of House Baylor. When her sister married Rogan, the mantle of running the house passed down to Catalina. She doesn’t feel qualified enough to run a House, especially a relatively new one. When Runa Etterson, a Prime and ally of House Baylor comes to her asking for help. Runa’s mother and sister have been murdered. Runa wants to know who killed her loved ones so she can exact her revenge. Runa begs Catalina to take the case and Catalina can’t turn her down. She knows that if it was her sister and mother murdered, she would stop at nothing to find out who was responsible.

The case is suspicious from the beginning. The DNA of Runa’s sister doesn’t match the burnt corpse that was at the scene. It appears that her sister is alive, but has been kidnapped. Now that Runa and Catalina know this, they know it’s only a matter of time before they kill her. Catalina’s plans to find the killer all go to hell when Alessandro Sagredo shows up on the scene. Before he jumps out of the building of the morgue that Catalina has gone for answers, he tells her to stop looking for the killer or she will get hurt. Of course Catalina doesn’t listen to Alessandro and it’s not long before he pops back into her life.

I didn’t think I would enjoy Catalina as much as I did in this book. I liked her in the first three books of the series, but Diamond Fire was just not very impressive. It’s clear that in the time between Diamond Fire and Sapphire Flames, Catalina has grown up. She is strong enough to run House Baylor, she just questions herself constantly. That was pretty annoying. I really enjoyed the character growth in this book.

Catalina and Alessandro have a contentious relationship. They are very attracted to each other but they are from different Houses. That’s only one reason it will never work. Another is because Catalina is a Siren. She can lure men to her with just her voice and Alessandro is no exception. Catalina has had several mishaps with people that she accidentally used her voice on. Her life hasn’t been easy, but now she controls it and she can use it as a defensive weapon. An offensive one too.

I just adore the Baylor family. I love Penelope and Leon and Arabella. I love everyone in this series. It was nice that Nevada popped back in though it was just via a brief phone call. This book really focused on Catalina. I thought it was very well written.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Hidden Legacy

four-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Scoundrel of My Heart by Lorraine Heath

Posted March 28, 2021 by Holly 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. 🙂

I’ve been dying for this book since I finished Beauty Tempts the Beast, where we were introduced to Althea and her brothers. Their father, the duke, was hanged for treason and their circumstances drastically changed as a result. I can’t wait to read more about them here.

Sunday Spotlight: Scoundrel of My Heart by Lorraine HeathScoundrel of My Heart by Lorraine Heath
Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #1
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: March 30, 2021
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 368
Add It: Goodreads
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Lorraine Heath begins an exciting new series with a breathtaking romance about a young woman who must marry a titled gentleman to obtain her inheritance and the usuitable man she begins to fall madly in love with...
She is desperate to wed a duke...
Lady Kathryn Lambert must marry a titled gentleman to claim her inheritance and has finally gained the attention of a duke. Yet she is unable to forget the scandalous second son who aided in her achievement—or his betrayal.
He wants what he can never possess...

Lord Griffith Stanwick is tormented by the bitter truth that as a “spare,” he will never be able to give Kathryn what she yearns to possess. But when his father is found guilty of treason, Griff detours into the dark and dangerous corners of London, haunted by memories of the woman lost to him forever.

Love not to be denied...

As the duke’s courtship intensifies, Kathryn discovers Griff has become a man to be reckoned with. When old passions flare and new desires ignite, she must decide if sacrificing her legacy is worth a lifetime shared with the scoundrel of her heart.

Excerpt

“Griff? What the devil are you doing sprawled out over the ground back there?”

Squinting—was the morning sun always this bright?—he peered up at Althea. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure, but it does appear I got turned about returning home last night.” For some inexplicable reason he’d not used the front door. Perhaps he’d been unable, with clumsy fingers, to grasp the key nestled in his waistcoat pocket. Although, patting said pocket now, he found it empty. Had he misplaced the bit of brass?

“You were well in your cups again, weren’t you?”

“I do seem to recall some celebrating going on.” For a while the games had favored him . . . until they hadn’t. What was a man supposed to do when fortune slipped away except seek solace in drink?

“Well, stir yourself and come out of there,” she ordered briskly, as though she wasn’t three years his junior but was instead his elder.

With a great deal of effort, he shoved himself to his feet, pressed his back to the brick, and crept out through the narrow space between wall and foliage, trying to avoid getting snagged by the sharp-edged leaves of the hedges. When he reached his sister, she scrunched up her entire face. “You smell like a distillery.”

“How do you know how a distillery smells?” Looking past her to the two ladies sitting at the white linen-covered round table, he forced his most charming grin to form, a smile he didn’t feel like granting, not only because of the increased ache in his head but because of what he’d overheard.

“Ladies, how are you this fine morning?”

“I daresay better than you,” Lady Kathryn retorted, using the tone she seemed to reserve only for him.

“Here,” Althea said, reaching quickly for the teapot. “Have a spot of tea. You look as though you could use it.”

Tea was nowhere on the list of things he could use. A hot bath — he did indeed smell like a distillery, along with a cheroot factory — a shave, and the blackest coffee would serve him better. If the other ladies hadn’t been staring at him with twin expressions of disgust, he might have made his excuses and headed straight to his most urgent need: a soft bed. But knowing he’d take some perverse delight in irritating them by delaying his escape and joining them, he dragged back a chair, dropped into it, and took the offered cup and saucer. “You are indeed kind, dear sister.”

It was so like her, looking out for others. He really didn’t deserve to have a sister so generous of spirit. Peering through the steam rising from the brew, he took a long, slow swallow. She’d laced it with an abundance of sugar, and his body reacted with gratitude, the ache behind his eyes dissipating a fraction so the day seemed at least survivable.

Lady Kathryn looked on disapprovingly, a tightness to her mouth, and he wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d announced, “You’re better than this.”

Only he wasn’t. Precisely because of what she had voiced earlier. No one wanted the spare. Not the ladies of the ton. Not his father. Not his mother. Even the heir, two years older than he was, had little time for him. But scotch, cards, and actresses seldom turned him away.

“Perhaps your brother’s presence here is fortuitous,” Lady Jocelyn said. “You no doubt overheard what we were discussing.”

“I apologize, ladies, as it was not my intention to eavesdrop, but you did manage to garner my undivided attention with your dulcet tones.”

While Lady Kathryn fairly glowered, signaling she’d caught the sarcasm in his tone, Lady Jocelyn smiled as though he’d handed her one of the Crown Jewels. She’d never struck him as being particularly cognizant of subtleties. “Then perhaps you would be good enough to share with us how we might impress upon the duke that we are worth considering for courtship.”

“How would he know what a duke wants?” Lady Kathryn asked.

He allowed a corner of his mouth to ease up provocatively, sensually. “A duke wants what any man wants. A woman who is a saint in society and a wild wanton in the bedchamber.”

Her hazel eyes narrowed until they resembled the finely honed blade of a dagger. She riled so easily, and for some inexplicable reason, he’d always taken great delight in pricking her temper. “That is hardly helpful,” she snapped.

“But ’tis true.”

“We are genteel ladies of good breeding, and as such, we’ve hardly been bedded so can offer no insight into our capabilities beneath the sheets, as it were.” He imagined her beneath the sheets, with him stirring her until she fully comprehended her capacity for pleasure. As his body began to respond to the images, he shoved them back. Whatever was wrong with him to even contemplate an intimacy with her? “Besides, it is for our husband to tell us what he wants regarding that particular aspect of our marriage.”

“Why?” he asked, truly befuddled. “Why should he be the only one to have a say? Surely, Freckles, you’ve given some thought to what you might enjoy.”

“I have not,” she countered testily.

“ ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ ”

“Don’t be absurd. Ladies do not sully their minds by thinking carnal thoughts.”

“If you’ve never thought them, how do you know they’d sully your mind?”

“You’re being preposterously difficult.”

“No, I’m actually curious as to what you envision happens between a man and a woman that would be so lurid as to tarnish an otherwise pristine brain if pondered or mulled over.”

She looked as though she’d like to toss her tea on him. “You know well enough.”

Her voice had gone lower, more gravelly, causing his belly to tighten. “Caresses along bare skin, the nip of a collarbone, a squeeze here, a rub there? Kisses along curves, hollows, and dips? How is any of that sordid?”

Her lips had slowly parted, and her cheeks had deepened from an enticing rose into a lovely crimson. He wondered if, like him, she was now imagining his bare hand, fingers splayed, on her bare thigh, slipping up toward that heavenly apex where paradise waited, previously untouched and unexplored. Christ. What the devil was wrong with him? She was the very last woman he had any interest in bedding. It didn’t matter that her coppery hair turned the shade of fire when lit by the sun, and that he had, on occasion and much to his chagrin, wondered if it would be as hot to the touch, if it would spark pleasure. It didn’t matter that her fragrance was more spicy than sweet, and he’d always enjoyed foods with a great deal of seasoning. It didn’t matter that her lips were more pink than red, and on the rare occasion he painted, he preferred the subtle allure of pastels.

“Griff, I’m not quite certain this is an appropriate topic of discussion considering the company,” Althea remarked hesitantly.

“But that is my point.” He did hope they’d attribute the croak of his voice to his having recently been pulled from slumber and not the fact that his mouth had suddenly gone as arid as a desert. “It shouldn’t be taboo. Men are allowed to think about it, discuss it, experience it—without benefit of marriage. Why shouldn’t women?”

A series of gasps met that pronouncement. He shook his head. “Even if a woman is not to experience it without marriage” — although he didn’t agree with that belief — “she should at least be able to think about it and discuss it without shame, without fearing she has mired her mind.” He gave his attention back to Lady Kathryn. “You never think about it?”

“I do not.”

“Then, how can you know what you want, what you might enjoy?”

“As I stated earlier, it is for my husband to show me.”

“You have never struck me as a woman without an opinion on any matter.” He leaned forward. “I would wager a month’s allowance that you have thought about it, and quite thoroughly.”

That her nostrils flared and her breaths seemed to slow only served to tighten his belly more. What images did she conjure in that mind of hers?

“Griff, I do believe you have just called our guest a liar,” Althea said, her upset evident in her tone.

Because she was. Not that he was going to call her on it again, but damned if he didn’t want to uncover her fantasies. “My apologies. It seems I am not yet fit for company as my indulgences from last night are still having their way with me.” He shoved back his chair and stood. Then he turned his attention to Lady Jocelyn, who had first posed the question, because studying Lady Kathryn was beginning to make him feel light-headed as blood wanted to rush where it shouldn’t. “Write to the duke of your comely features, mastery of etiquette, interests, and accomplishments.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

He offered her a small smile. “And may the best lady win.”

With that, he left them and strode into the residence, knowing the hot bath he’d craved earlier would have to wait. Lady Kathryn might not allow thoughts to sully her mind, but now his was filled with a sordid display of her body writhing against his that required he plunge into a bitingly cold tub of water first.

From Scoundrel of My Heart by Lorraine Heath, published by Avon Books. Copyright © 2021 by Jan Nowasky. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers.

Once Upon a Dukedom

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About Lorraine Heath

Lorraine Heath has always had a soft spot for emotional love stories. No doubt because growing up, watching movies with her mom, she was taught that the best movies "won't half make you cry."

She is the daughter of a British beauty (her mom won second place in a beauty contest sponsored by Max Factor® during which she received a kiss from Caesar Romero--Joker on the original Batman TV series) and a Texan who was stationed at Bovingdon while serving in the air force. Lorraine was born in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, but soon after moved to Texas. Her "dual" nationality has given her a love for all things British and Texan, and she enjoys weaving both heritages through her stories.

When she received her BA degree in psychology from the University of Texas, she had no idea she had gained a foundation that would help her to create believable characters—characters that are often described as “real people.” Her novels have appeared on bestseller lists, including USA Today, Waldenbooks, and most recently, the New York Times.


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Throwback Thursday Review: Guarding a Notorious Lady by Olivia Parker

Posted March 25, 2021 by Tracy in Reviews | 3 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: Guarding a Notorious Lady by Olivia ParkerReviewer: Tracy
Guarding a Notorious Lady by Olivia Parker
Series: Devine and Friends #3
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: May 31, 2011
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Point-of-View: No
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 384
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-half-stars
Series Rating: five-stars

Exquisite trouble...

A woman of pristine breeding, Lady Rosalind Devine is also an unrepentant meddler and snoop—which is why her brother refuses to leave her to her own devices while on his wedding trip. But Rosalind will not make things easy for any unseen, unwanted "nursemaid"—and vows to use her considerable wiles to expose her mystery guardian.
Nicholas Kincaid, the Marquess of Winterbourne, agreed to secretly guard his friend's spoiled, stubborn sister, though her infuriating penchant for mischief is causing him to question his decision. Though bound by the rules of society—and friendship—Rosalind's spirit and sensuality have sparked a fierce desire in Nicholas to play a very different role in her life, one that entails passion, ecstasy...and unavoidable scandal.

This review was originally posted on May 27, 2011.

Rosalind’s brother, Gabriel, is going on his wedding trip for three months. Gabriel knows that his sister is very sought after and that the minute he leaves town the men that have been after her beauty and money will come calling. All those men that Gabriel has been successful in keeping away will now pounce since he’s gone. So he decides to get someone to watch over Rosalind while he’s gone.

Rosalind is determined to find out who her guardian is so that she can either charm him into laying off his guard – or paying him off. But when she finds out that her guardian is Nicholas Kincaid, the man she’s been in love with for years, she realizes that her hopes of shaking the man are completely dashed.

For Nicholas the whole guarding of Rosalind is complete torture. He has to watch a woman that he’s been in love with for years – even though he won’t admit to himself that’s he’s in love with her – and it’s making him a crazy man. He tries to keep his distance but Rosalind draws him like a bee to honey. Even though he knows that at times he’s unnecessarily mean he can’t seem to be completely cruel when all he wants is to be near her.

Do you ever read that just hits all your buttons and you end up finishing it with a great big smile on your face? This was that type of book for me. I really liked book one in this series and book two was good too, although not as good as the first for me…but this one just worked for me in almost every way.

I loved Nicholas – he was gorgeous and strong but he could be gentle and humble as well and it made his character on the page just come alive that much more for me. Rosalind was so much more fun in this book than she seemed in other books because we got to know her better and we didn’t just see the face that she was showing to the world. She was only 24 but had been out for so many seasons. Sure she’d gotten marriage offers but she had been in love with Nicholas for years and wasn’t willing to marry anyone, including Nicholas unless she knew that the man truly loved her. Parker showed us Rosalind’s vulnerability and I really liked that about this book. The banter back and forth between the h/h was just fantastic and made me laugh on occasion.

Just a great love story that I will definitely be reading again in the future.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Devine & Friends

four-half-stars


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