‘Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom’ by Vanessa Kelly

vk coarbSTORY: They are the Renegade Royals, illegitimate sons of the Royal Princes, each finding his rightful place in society—and the woman destined to be his perfect match…

Some men are born into scandal. Others pursue it with a passion. Griffin Steele, secret son of the Duke of Cumberland, is guilty on both counts. Yet somehow London’s most notorious scoundrel has been saddled with an abandoned baby boy—and with the unflappable, intriguing spinster summoned to nurse him…

Justine Brightmore may be a viscount’s niece, but she’s also a spy’s daughter, determined to safeguard the infant when his suspected royal parentage makes him a target. Yet how to protect herself from the rakish Griffin? Marriage might shield her reputation, but it can only imperil her heart, especially with a groom intent on delicious seduction…

REVIEW: In this second book of the Renegade Royals series, we meet Dominic again as he’s older and wiser; someone that’s taken interest in Griffin, our hero of this tale. We get to know Griffin’s background and at the same time we meet Justine who is on hand to help him take care of a little ‘package’ that’s delivered to his establishment.

Once more Ms. Kelly manages to suck me in and take me along on an intriguing ride through many obstacles thrown in the way of these two interesting and enjoyable characters. I found the story well told, fast paced and the romance sweet and sensual.

She never fails to take me away to another time and place. Every character she creates never fails to intrigue and her plots easily draw me in to a point that I’ve burned a few dinners.

The stories in this series are all written as stand alone, but for your best understanding of these renegades, men that have been fathered by Royalty but never acknowledged and left to find their own way; I do recommend you read them all. Read in order, [Intro novella is Lost in a Royal Kiss; 1st book is Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard; 2nd book is Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom and Tall, Dark and Royal, is another novella and Dominic’s story, which will be out in November; Book 3:  How to Plan a Wedding for a Royal Spy, coming in January, 2015 and Book 4:  How to Marry a Royal Highlander, coming in July, 2015.] they’ll enhance your reading enjoyment.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘Secrets For Seducing A Royal Bodyguard’ by Vanessa Kelly

SFSARB VKSTORY: In this witty, sensual new series, Vanessa Kelly introduces the Renegade Royals, illegitimate sons of the Royal Princes who are finding their rightful places in society…

Accomplished spy Aden St. George prefers to stay away from the frivolous ton, especially after the way his mother was used by the Prince Regent. But his latest mission compels him to guard unconventional, vibrant Lady Vivien Shaw. Rescuing her from kidnappers was easy. Resisting her beauty is not. Duty demands he keep an eye on her—and naturally, his lips soon follow. For someone who views entanglements as a weakness, this is pure, delicious folly…

Though grateful for Aden’s help, Vivien has secrets she must keep hidden. Yet with her abductors still at large, she needs Aden’s protection almost as much as she craves his touch…

REVIEW: England 1814

Aden St. George is sent by Sir Dominic Hunter to rescue Lady Vivien Shaw from some smuggling caves. He finds her drugged and carries her to safety. On the ride from the caves to the tiny hamlet where a coach is waiting, they find their attraction for each other growing. Vivien hasn’t had a man care about her welfare or make her feel safe since her father died.

Her family treats her horribly. Her older brother denies any payment for ransom even before it’s asked for. Her mother and younger brother repeatedly get themselves into debt gambling, knowing Vivien will find a way to pay them off.

Aden works for Dominic who is a most powerful spymaster in England under the guise of working for the Home Office. He is Lady Thornbury’s bastard child with the Prince of Wales, now England’s Regent. His mother and Vivien are close and, deep inside, Aden resents his mother’s closeness to her having never had it himself. Dominic gives him orders to stay close to Vivien as she goes about her life in the ton. They will try to figure out who is behind her kidnapping.

Prince Ivan of Russia (Ivan the Terrible) has his sights set on Vivien and Aden is having none of it. These two are constantly at each others throats when it comes to her. Her older brother gives his consent for Ivan to court Vivien and she refuses to do this.

Aden tells Vivien to stay at home and out of trouble until they can find who is behind her kidnapping. He will escort her to every function and she’s to stay put when he’s not with her.

Griffin Steele, Aden’s cousin and another bastard with royal blood simmering in his veins, sends Aden a note telling him Vivien was in his gaming hell. Aden literally runs over to snatch her out of there. Aden takes her out of the gaming hell, into his carriage, and leaves her younger brother who had been with her to find his own way home.

Vivien is a spitfire. Very good at gambling, very protective of her family and always into something that has Aden slapping his forehead. She’s going to send him to Bedlam with her antics yet. They both have fallen hard for each other at this point and Aden is fighting it hard.

I’ll stop here and leave you read the book to find out what happens

The story ends with Linnet and Anthony Tait, from Lost In a Royal Kiss, telling Dominic they hope he can find his happiness someday. Dominic has taken it upon himself to help all the royal bastards. He has his sights set on Griffin next. But first he is going to find Griffin’s mother, the woman Dominic loves and he will find her if he has to search every inch of England.

Dominic is a common thread through this series and will get his own book. Griffin’s story, Confessions Of a Royal Bridegroom is next and I am trying desperately to find patience to wait for it.

I loved the banter between all the characters. The story was well paced and I felt each character held their own. I had a true sense of anger and dislike for the villains. I also could have throttled Vivien’s mother and younger brother at times but loved how Vanessa kept me coming back rooting for them. I laughed and felt my heart tug, felt anger, and happiness while reading this. There are some really loveable characters and some major villains. This is one series you do not want to miss!

*Leah for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley

‘Lost in a Royal Kiss’ by Vanessa Kelly

LIARK VKSTORY: In this thrilling introduction to her Renegade Royals series, Vanessa Kelly transports readers to the court of King George III—where a London street urchin unwittingly plays Cupid, ushering in a new era—and ultimately a new kind of royal…

With her widowed mother working long hours as governess to the royal children, Linnet St. Clare must look after her siblings and run the household. Now she must add to her worries the fate of Dominic, a poor orphan who has inspired the wrath of the king himself. Clearly Linnet has no time to consider her own desires—much less notice the attentions of a certain handsome, powerful magistrate…

Sir Anthony Tait is at a loss for how to capture Linnet’s interest. If only she would be still long enough for courting. Outright seduction seems the only answer. But will his kisses be enough to persuade her—or might Anthony have something to learn from young Dominic about matters of the heart? And in saving the boy’s future, might Anthony and Linnet at last create their own?

REVIEW: This was a great intro into the new series, although I really wished it was just a bit longer.

My thinking is that the length would have allowed our couple to grow on us more, but I do understand the author’s dilemma in this particular case.

To introduce us to her new series, she chose a couple, Sir Anthony Tait and Linnet St. Claire, both attached to the royal court. He is King’s chief magistrate and she is a daughter of a woman who is summoned to court as the governess to the royal children, leaving Linnet the responsibility of raising her siblings.

Basically, you have two main plots and a couple of subplots within constraints of a novella, and Ms. Kelly did what she does best: She poured her heart into giving us the best characterization of both couples that she could.

The story opens up with our young heroin coming to Sir Anthony with a problem that she believes can only be dealt with common sense and strong hand.

As Sir Anthony comes to grips with the situation of a teenage prince having relations with a young daughter of his tutor and a young Dominic, an orphan and a commoner who the Queen brought to court in order for her sons to develop some humility, he realizes that the time to finally declare himself to Linnet has come.

At thirty-seven, and two years of yearning for her, he believes that the time has come for them to admit and accept their admiration and attraction for each other.

Chloë, a daughter of the tutor to the Royal prince Ernest, is only fourteen when she is seduced by him, and the deed is discovered by both Linnet and Dominic, who are dealing in different ways to protect Chloë’s reputation. He by beating the stuffing out of Ernest to begin with and later by offering to marry her, and she by approaching Sir Anthony for help and guidance in protecting both, Dominic and Chloe.

Ms. Kelly does a wonderful job with both couples as their emotionally charged stories take shape and take us on an intriguing and entertaining journey through the maze of a Royal Court.

I liked the introduction very much and am looking forward to the new series.

*Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

‘His by Christmas’ by Kaitlin O’Riley

HBC KOSTORY: She’s all he wants this holiday season…

Yvette Hamilton knows just what she wants for Christmas—a dazzling marriage. And if marrying the ton‘s catch at the height of the Yuletide season is how she can prove herself, she’ll be the most respectable of the many ladies competing for his hand. But one accomplished rake has other, much more tempting ideas…

The illegitimate son of a duke, Lord Jeffrey Eddington knows society will never truly respect him. He thought he’d found acceptance as a friend of the Hamiltons, but Yvette’s seeming snobbery makes him wager to win her hand no matter what it takes. Too late, he finds her frivolity conceals an intelligent, appealing woman. Now they face a hard choice between the holiday dreams they think they want most…and the very real love they can’t resist.

REVIEW: Yvette Hamilton, the youngest of five daughters is ready for her turn to find a husband and hopes to do so by Christmas.  She is currently living with her sister and brother-in-law in London.  However, they must leave London for some weeks and want to be sure that Yvette is looked after properly.  Although she has servants to care for her, her brother-in-law calls upon his good family friend, Lord Jeffrey Eddington to make sure she is watched after properly in their absence.  Jeffrey is the illegitimate son of a duke but has been “recognized” by his father.  His father’s wife has died but his real parents are still living.

Yvette is vying against the equally lovely, but snide, Miss Fairmont to receive a proposal from William Weatherly, Marquis of Shelley, Earl of Cheshire, and the future Duke of Lansdowne to become the next Duchess of Lansdowne.

As Yvette and Jeffrey see more and more of one another, he realizes that she is a truly intelligent and funny lady and not the frivolous girl he originally thought her to be.  Realizing he is falling in love with her, his work is cut out for him as he strives to prove that he is the man she wants instead of the Duke.

This novel is the last of the series about the Hamilton sisters and while I have not read the others, I was still able to keep up with the sisters mentioned in the book and got an understanding of their stories.

The twists and turns and clever humor knitted into this novel by the author kept my attention and many events added to my amusement as well.  I look forward to reading more novels by Kaitlin O’Riley.

*Conie for b2b.

*Book provided by my local library.

Leah’s Push-a-Book is…

‘Lost in a Royal Kiss’ by Vanessa Kelly

LIARK VKBOOK BLURB: All It Takes Is One Kiss…

In this thrilling introduction to her Renegade Royals series, Vanessa Kelly transports readers to the court of King George III—where a London street urchin unwittingly plays Cupid, ushering in a new era—and ultimately a new kind of royal…

With her widowed mother working long hours as governess to the royal children, Linnet St. Clare must look after her siblings and run the household. Now she must add to her worries the fate of Dominic, a poor orphan who has inspired the wrath of the king himself. Clearly Linnet has no time to consider her own desires—much less notice the attentions of a certain handsome, powerful magistrate…

Sir Anthony Tait is at a loss for how to capture Linnet’s interest. If only she would be still long enough for courting. Outright seduction seems the only answer. But will his kisses be enough to persuade her—or might Anthony have something to learn from young Dominic about matters of the heart? And in saving the boy’s future, might Anthony and Linnet at last create their own?

BUY IT HERE:

EXCERPT:

Predictably, Sir Anthony resumed perusing her garb. His eyes glittered with masculine appreciation as they traveled over her, and a blush burned up her neck to her cheeks.

“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here.” She pulled her wrapper more tightly around her, struggling since quite a bit of it had become trapped under her bottom. She let out a dismayed squeak when she glanced down and noticed that both night rail and wrapper were bunched up around her knees, leaving her feet and calves naked. She snapped her gaze back up to find Sir Anthony inspecting her bare legs.

“Yes,” he answered in a distracted voice. “I was just getting to that.”

Linnet wanted to squirm, but instead she wrapped her arms defensively around her body. That movement had the unfortunate effect of bringing his gaze up from her lower limbs, where it settled on her breasts. To her undying horror she could feel her nipples bead, instinctively pulling tight in response to his heavy-lidded gaze.

“I couldn’t sleep in this dreadful heat,” she said, jerking her arms up over her chest. “I thought I might find a book in Lady Farnsworth’s study to occupy my time.”

“Ah. That explains it.”

He sat on the bench, propping his shoulders into the corner of the bay, looking entirely at his ease. Linnet, however, was anything but, since the seat was not nearly big enough for both her and his powerful frame. She tried to edge backward, but had nowhere to go. His long legs stretched in front of her, blocking her in. If she wanted to escape she’d practically have to leap over him.

But she didn’t want to escape, even though every moral precept she’d ever learned insisted she flee.

“Didn’t you have anything in your room?” he asked. “I brought your book back to the house this morning after your rather precipitous exit from the gazebo. I made certain the butler brought it to your room.”

Was he teasing her? He sounded amused, but she couldn’t really tell. If anyone had the ability to mask what he was thinking, it was Sir Anthony.

“Yes, thank you, but I was looking for something else,” she said in a polite voice.

“Something that would help me to sleep.”

He tilted his head, studying her.

Definitely amused.

“And was it only the heat that kept you awake?” His voice held a husky note that made all her muscles want to go slack.

She shrugged. “I can’t think what else it could be.”

Her attempt at a casual gesture made her breasts jiggle under the light fabric of her nightclothes, and drew his attention back to her chest. She winced, painfully aware of her immodest appearance. Her lamentably plump breasts bordered on the indecent, and she always made sure to keep them chastely covered.

He reached out and trailed a finger along her shoulder to her neck. “I can think of one other reason why you couldn’t sleep, can’t you?”

MINI REVIEW: I loved the way all the characters interacted. I enjoyed watching Anthony on the prowl for what he wanted and smiled as he became truly frustrated at times with Linnet. I’m sure he wanted to go all caveman on her but held back for decency’s sake.

She, however fought her own self over her feelings. She couldn’t get around him without blushing and felt she wasn’t good enough for him. When these two finally came together, it was like taking a deep breath and releasing a happy sigh.

This novella did not feel rushed and it had a good pace which kept me happily in the story and eagerly awaiting the next book, ‘Secrets For Seducing a Royal Bodyguard’ and the one after that ‘Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom’.

I liked the way it ended it with letters exchanged between Chloe and Dominic which is a great set up for the new four book series that follows, The Renegade Royals. Dominic Hunter’s story continues in this series and I look forward to following him on his journey.

Leah for b2b

*Book provided by the author.

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Vanessa KellyAUTHOR INFO: Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.”  Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance.  Her third book, My Favorite Countess, was nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Regency Historical Romance.

Vanessa spends most of the year in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband, but she’s lucky enough to spend some of the winter near lovely Amelia Island, Florida.  When she’s not dreaming of plots for her next Regency novel, she’s writing USA Today Bestselling contemporary romances with her husband, under the pen name of V.K. Sykes. 

Visit Vanessa’s Books page to find out all about her new series, The Renegade Royals! And be sure to visit her Blog for her latest writing news and for guest appearances by a host of wonderful authors.

Vanessa is a member The Jaunty Quills, a group blog composed of fabulous authors like Shana Galen and Kristan Higgins.  She’s also a member of Rock*It Reads. You can find out all about this collective of NY published authors who also self-publish on Vanessa’s Rock*It Reads page.

And join Vanessa on FacebookTwitteror her Blog for daily updates and news about her books!

Don’t miss out on any news about Vanessa’s books. Sign up for her newsletter, and she’ll keep you up to date on her releases!

Vanessa Kelly stops by b2b…

Today we’re welcoming two authors and two books and first one up is Vanessa Kelly with Mia Marlowe’s book. You can check out my review of it here.

‘Plaid Tidings’

PT MMBOOK BLURB: Christmas in the Highlands. . .

Not any dashing English lord’s idea of a good time. But now that Lord Alexander Mallory has won a Scottish estate in a hand of cards, he is the unlikely laird of the wild, snowy Bonniebroch.

Worse yet, the ancient pile of stones comes with a betrothal. To a fiery red-headed virgin. And a curse. Alex will have his hands full honoring the first, seducing the second and breaking the third . . . all by Twelfth Night.

EXCERPT:

December 1821
Somewhere off the coast of Scotland

The Agatha May rolled with a monstrous swell. Lord Alexander Mallory splayed his hand across the coins and banknotes in the center of the table to keep them from cascading to the plank floor. It was a good thing the table was bolted to the teak or the whole thing might have toppled over.

“That’s one hundred pounds to you, MacMartin,” he said. The stakes of this poque game were ridiculously high, but Alexander had his reasons for allowing it to spiral out of control.

Sir Darren MacMartin dabbed his face with a perfumed handkerchief. At any other time, Alexander might have had sympathy for MacMartin since he suffered so from mal de mer; the man had spent the better part of the voyage leaning over the gunwale. But MacMartin’s seasickness made it more difficult for Alexander to read him when he bluffed.

MacMartin tossed down the required bet and stared at his cards, his face immovable as Gibraltar despite the pinpricks of perspiration blooming on his brow. “So what will you do with yourself in Edinburgh, Mallory?”

“Clarindon and I will help Lord Rankin prepare for the royal progression next August,” Alex said cautiously. “What’s your interest in a Christmastide visit to Scotland?”

“I’ve an estate there which requires my immediate attention,” MacMartin said, frowning at his cards. “Bonniebroch. Means ‘lovely tower,’ or some such silly thing. All in all, it’s a tidy barony, though.”

Alexander already knew that. The estate was the whole point of the game.

“So while you’re in Scotland, you’ll go by Lord Bonniebroch instead of Sir Darren?” Alexander asked.

“I should, especially once the king arrives next summer, in order to show that I hold honors on both sides of the border. He likes that sort of thing, I’m told,” MacMartin said. “I suspect Lord Rankin picked you for this assignment because of your Scottish connections. Should smooth the way, what? If memory serves, your mother was a MacGregor, wasn’t she?”

Alexander’s mouth tightened. The man knew damned well she was. His friend Clarindon tried to change the topic of conversation, but MacMartin returned to worry it like a dog on its last bone.

“Surely that whole sorry business doesn’t still distress you, Mallory. My apologies, if it does. Didn’t mean to bring up . . . I mean, I didn’t think you’d be bothered after all this time.”

Of course, you did. Distracting other players from their hands was MacMartin’s gaming strategy. Alexander waved away the false apology. Besides, it really shouldn’t matter anymore.

Except that it did. And for a blinding second, he was four years old again, weeping over the bit of unconsecrated ground that was his mother’s grave.

“Stop your sniveling,” his father had growled at him. “She doesn’t deserve your tears. Remember, your mother chose to leave us.”

Alexander ran a hand over his eyes and consigned the memory back to the vault where he kept all such disturbing recollections. Occasionally, they crept out to torment him, but he always shoved them away. Someday he hoped he’d be able to make sense of his mother’s end, but he doubted it.

Clarindon tossed in his hand, leaving just MacMartin and Alex still playing. Alexander upped the bid by another two hundred pounds.

“I shall give you my vowels,” MacMartin said as he pulled out a scrap of paper and began to scribble an IOU.

“Sorry, old chap,” Alexander said. “We agreed to a cash in hand game.” Then he purposely scratched his nose, the gesture he’d been using as his tell throughout the game and hoped Sir Darren would rise to the bait.

The man scowled furiously, twisted off his signet ring and slammed it down on the pile of bank notes. It was a barbaric piece, fashioned of heavy gold with a cabochon ruby carved intaglio style. “I will not allow you to buy this pot. That ring signifies the title and estate of Bonniebroch, which is better than cash. Now throw down.” He tossed his cards onto the table face up.

“Three queens,” Alex said with a gulp. “A formidable hand.”

Sir Darren flashed an oily smile. “Show your cards, sir.”

Alex laid them down one at a time, four eights in a lovely row, which handily beat three queens. Then he picked up the signet ring and slipped it on his forefinger. It was much heavier than he expected.

Scottish titles at the rank of baron weren’t dependent upon bloodlines. They could be bought, sold or won in a game of chance, as Alex had just done. The estate at Bonniebroch would give him the pretext he needed to remain in Scotland till the royal visit next August. And would mask his true purpose for being there.

Sir Darren stared at the cards in disbelief. Then he rose shakily to his feet, his eyes narrowing. “Enjoy your winnings while you can, Mallory, much good may they do you.”

“That sounds suspiciously like a threat. Do you feel yourself ill-used? If it’s satisfaction you crave, as soon as we reach dry land, I’m at your disposal.”

“My satisfaction will come from seeing how poorly you fare as Lord Bonniebroch,” MacMartin said. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Alex chuckled. “Warn me of what? Is the ‘tidy barony’ nothing but a tumbled down croft with sheep grazing on the roof?”

“You may laugh now. You won’t be laughing after you’ve spent a few nights with the weeping woman. You may not believe in Scottish curses, but I promise you, they are real. Clarindon, I bid you good day.” He bowed to Alexander’s friend and weaved from the cabin, looking greener around the gills than usual.

“Hope he makes it to the rail this time,” Clarindon said as he helped Alex scoop up the impressive pile of winnings. “What do you make of his talk of curses?”

“We’re within spitting distance of Scotland, aren’t we?” Alex glanced out the porthole, catching a glimpse of the hazy coastline of his mother’s homeland before another swell washed over the heavy glass. “I’d only be surprised if there was no talk of a curse.”

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Vanessa KellyAUTHOR INFO: Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her sensual, Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her third book, My Favorite Countess, was nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Regency Historical Romance.

Vanessa’s next series, The Renegade Royals, is due to hit the shelves in November with an introductory novella,Lost in a Royal Kiss. Book One in the series, Secrets For Seducing a Royal Bodyguard, will release in January, 2014.

Social media: Website  /  Facebook  / Twitter  /  Vanessa’s blog

Mia Marlowe stops by b2b…

Today we have two authors, two friends that are sharing their love of each others work. And while Vanessa Kelly is telling you about Mia Marlowe’s book, here’s Mia Marlowe telling you about Vanessa’s book….AND you can read my review of it here.

HMB VK‘His Mistletoe Bride’

BOOK BLURB: Blame It On The Mistletoe–

When Major Lucas Stanton inherited his earldom, he never dreamed his property would include the previous earl’s granddaughter. Phoebe Linville is a sparkling American beauty, yes, but with a talent for getting into trouble. Witness the compromising position that forced them into wedlock. Whisked away to Mistletoe Manor, his country estate, it isn’t long before she is challenging his rules–and surprising him in and out of bed–

Phoebe has no intention of bowing to Lucas’s stubbornness even though he offers all that she wants. His kisses and unexpected warmth are enticing, but Phoebe is determined to show the earl of Merritt what real love is all about. And if that takes twelve nights of delicious seduction by a roaring fire, she’s more than willing to reveal her gifts very slowly–

EXCERPT:

The maid led her downstairs and through a simply ornamented entrance hall to the door of the drawing room.  “There, miss.  They’re waiting for you.”

Phoebe nodded, suddenly so nervous her knees shook.  She silently ordered the starch back into her muscles and opened the door.   What she saw brought her up short.

Mrs. Tanner sat in a low chair by the fireplace.  A very tall, broad shouldered man stood opposite her, on the other side of the chimneypiece.  He was very handsome—quite the handsomest man Phoebe had ever seen.  And when his attention, narrowed and intense, jumped to her it struck her with an almost physical force.

Alarm skittered along her nerves.  Absurdly, she had the impulse to back out of the room as quickly as she could.

Silly.  Why be afraid of someone you have never met?

But as they stared at each other, she sensed some ill-defined peril, and she instinctively knew something dreadful was upon her.

Mrs. Tanner rose from her seat, momentarily splintering the tension.  “Phoebe, please come in.  This is a member of your grandfather’s family, Major Lucas Stanton, come to welcome thee to London.”

Phoebe slowly entered into the room, trying to shake the notion that she was approaching something awful and irrevocable.  The guarded expression on Mrs. Tanner’s face did nothing to dispel that impression.

Major Stanton took a step forward, looming—and looming seemed the only correct description—over her.  He was broad across the chest and shoulders, and every part of him looked hard and muscular.  Phoebe did not make a habit of dissecting the male figure, but he wore a well-tailored dark coat, pale, skin tight breeches, and tall leather boots, all of which showed off every line of his impressive physique.  Just looking at that brawny, masculine strength made her body hum with tension.

Cheeks flushing, she fixed her gaze on his face.  She found it disconcerting too, since his hard-cut, impassive features served as a stark contrast to eyes the color of a stormy sea.  The emotions she thought she perceived in their depths struck her as dangerous as the gales that had bedevilled her trip across the Atlantic.

“Major Stanton,” said Mrs. Tanner, “This is Miss Phoebe Linville.”

Phoebe stared up at him a moment longer, transfixed by his slashing cheekbones and the granite line of his jaw.  All the men she knew were farmers and shopkeepers, simple men who dressed plainly and looked nothing like this man.  Next to them, he resembled…well, she did not know what.  But she knew she had never met anyone like him, though they had yet to exchange even a simple greeting.

His gaze, somber and wary, turned to one of puzzlement, jolting her into motion.  The poor man must think she was a wordless half-wit.

Though Quakers generally made it a point not to bow or curtsy before those of higher station, she dipped low, ignoring Mrs. Tanner’s tsk of disapproval.  Why risk offending the first relative coming to greet her?  “Major Stanton, thank you for coming to meet me.  It was kind you to do so,” she said, offering her hand in greeting.

His big hand closed around hers and he lifted it to his lips, brushing a lingering kiss across her sensitive skin.  The breath seized in her throat.  Quaker men did not go around kissing hands, much less making a show of it.

Fortunately, he returned her hand and her lungs recommenced function.

“Phoebe,” said Mrs. Tanner, sounding horrified, “please sit.”

Her friend nudged her to a sturdy, brown-colored sofa next to the fireplace.  With a severe nod, Mrs. Tanner indicated to the major that he should take the seat facing them.  He did not bother to repress a low sigh as he carefully settled on a small caned chair that gave an alarming creak in response.  The sofa would have been a more appropriate choice for his large frame, but Mrs. Tanner clearly intended to punish him for his forward behavior.

“Major Stanton, how is my grandfather?” Phoebe asked impulsively.  “Did he ask you to fetch me?”

The swift glance he exchanged with Mrs. Tanner brought Phoebe’s anxiety rushing back.  Its chokehold tightened when the older woman reached over and took her hand in a comforting clasp.

“Phoebe, thee must prepare for unfortunate news.  But I ask thee to remember that the Father’s hand is in all things, and that he will watch over thee always.”

Fear swept through her.  “What are you talking about?”

When Mrs. Tanner hesitated, Phoebe shook off her restraining hand and jumped up.  The major rose immediately.

“Please, sir,” she implored.  “Take me to my grandfather.”

Compassion softened the grim lines of his face.  He struck her as a man not much given to that tender emotion, so whatever the cause it must be dire.

He stepped closer, reaching out to take her hand in a gentle grip.  “Miss Linville, you must sit.”   He had a firm, deep voice that held a compelling note of authority.  As it washed over her, she had to resist the impulse to automatically obey.  He smiled, as if to soothe her, and one finger stroked lightly over the back of her hand.  “I’m certain you should have a cup of tea before we have any further discussion.”

Unnerved by his touch, she pulled her hand away.  “I do not want a cup of tea.  I want you to tell me about my grandfather.”

He ran a thoughtful gaze over her face, as if taking her measure.  “Very well.  Miss Linville, it grieves me to inform you that your grandfather—my great uncle, Lord Merritt—died from an infection some weeks ago.  I didn’t write to you, since my letter would not have arrived prior to your departure.  I hope you will believe I would have spared you this trip, if it at all possible.”

A strange buzzing noise arose in her ears, then her knees buckled and she sank onto the sofa.  Her heart throbbed in her chest, straining against the shock.  For a terrible moment, she could not draw a breath.

Mrs. Tanner gasped her name and Major Stanton let out a low curse.  Swiftly, he came down on one knee before her and gripped her shoulders, holding her steady.  Until he touched her, Phoebe had not realized she needed someone to keep her upright.

“Hold her while I get some water,” exclaimed Mrs. Tanner as she rushed from the room.

“Steady on, Miss Linville,” Major Stanton murmured in her ear.  “Just lean against me.”

Coming up onto the sofa, he eased her into his embrace, resting her head against his broad chest.  As if controlled by some unseen force, her eyelids fluttered shut as, for the first time in her life, she found herself in the arms of a man other than her brother or father.  Her morals registered a faint objection, but her body wanted nothing other than to collapse against that solid wall, her cheek nestling comfortably against the soft wool fabric of his coat.  Tumult swirled in her brain, but his gentle embrace staved off the screeching panic that hovered at the edge of thought.

The door opened.  Footsteps hurried across the floorboards, as Mrs. Tanner rustled up to them with a glass of water in her hand.  “Major, thee must allow me to tend to Miss Linville.  Please let her sit up.”

Phoebe flinched at the note of censure in her friend’s voice.  Mrs. Tanner had every right to be offended because Phoebe had no business clinging to a man, no matter what the circumstances.  But she could not help shrinking further into his embrace.  Her stunned brain had latched onto the idea that as long as she remained in his arms she would be safe, that all the hurtful things in the world could not harm her.

Ridiculous, whispered the voice of reason.  She started to pull away, but Major Stanton gently adjusted his hold to keep her close.  Phoebe had to bite down on the whimper of relief that almost escaped her lips.

“I assure you, Mrs. Tanner,” he said, “I will release my cousin as soon as I know she won’t keel over in a dead faint.”

Phoebe frowned.  She never fainted.  And now that her wits were slowly returning, she felt the first flush of humiliation that she had allowed a perfect stranger to hold her so intimately.  Pushing herself upright, she began to withdraw from his arms.  For a second he resisted, keeping her fast in his embrace.  And, for a second, she did not want him to let go.

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Mia MarloweAUTHOR INFO: Award winning author Mia Marlowe writes historical romance for Kensington Publishing and Sourcebooks. Her debut title received acclaim from romance luminaries. #1 New York Times bestseller Victoria Alexander says Mia’s Touch of a Thief has “adventure and heat and everything I want in a great story!” UK’s BooksMonthly has crowned Mia Marlowe “the queen of saucy historical romance.”

Mia learned much of what she knows about storytelling from singing. A classically trained soprano, she won the District Metropolitan Opera Auditions and shared a stage with Placido Domingo. As she prepared for operatic roles, she devised back stories for her characters. Since she’s worn a real corset, and had to sing high C’s in one, she empathizes with the trials of her fictional heroines. But in Mia’s stories, they don’t die in a Parisian garret. They get to live and keep the hero!

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