‘Christmas in the Duke’s Arms’ by Grace Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, Miranda Neville , Shana Galen,

citda gb cj mn sgSTORY: An anthology of Regency novellas by Grace Burrowes, Shana Galen, Carolyn Jewel and Miranda Neville.

The Duke’s Arms is an undistinguished little inn in the tiny village of Hopewell-on-Lyft. But one Christmas season sees both inn and village seething with adventure, intrigue, rabbits, and, above all, love as four couples find Yuletide happiness. 

Grace Burrowes – A Knight Before Christmas

With her year of mourning at an end, Penelope Carrington must remarry in haste, or her portion of her late husband’s estate won’t be enough to dower her younger sisters. Shy, handsome man of business Sir Leviticus Sparrow longs to give Penelope a marriage proposal for Christmas – and his heart – but Sir Levi must first foil the other bachelors scheming to meet Penelope under the mistletoe in his place.

Carolyn Jewel – In The Duke’s Arms

What’s a Duke to do when he’s made an awful impression on the love of his life?

The Duke of Oxthorpe lost his intensely guarded heart to Miss Edith Clay when Edith’s rich cousin sought to attach the duke’s marital interest. So smitten is Oxthorpe with the former poor relation that he’s gone through intermediaries to sell Edith a property adjoining the ducal seat.

Edith doesn’t much care for the haughty duke, but as Christmas approaches, Oxthorpe reveals himself to be reserved rather than arrogant, considerate, and – blame the mistletoe! – an accomplished kisser. Will Edith hold Oxthorpe’s earlier behavior against him, or will she learn that the best holiday gifts can be the most unexpected?

Miranda Neville – Licensed To Wed

If Lord Carbury could learn to take no for an answer, his marriage proposal might earn him a yes!

Wyatt, Viscount Carbury is much too busy to court a bride, but when his childhood neighbor, Robina Weston, is left orphaned and penniless, Wyatt dutifully adds marrying Robina to his list of responsibilities.Wyatt is dismayed to learn that for Robina, poverty and pride are preferable to sharing life with an arrogant, infuriating man who always thinks he knows best.

When Wyatt and Robina must endure Christmas in the country together, antipathy turns to interest, and then to unexpected attraction. Will they fight their feelings, or yield to the surprising gifts the holidays offer?

Shana Galen – The Spy Beneath The Mistletoe

Fledgling spy Pierce Moneypence seeks a highwayman and the key to Eliza’s heart…

When weapons designer Eliza Qwillen (Q) and clerk to the mysterious M, Pierce Moneypence, arrive in the English countryside, they’re unprepared for the dangers that await. The operatives are intent upon capturing the highwayman styling himself as the New Sheriff of Nottingham. Secret rendezvous, mistaken identities, and cat-and-mouse games challenge these fledgling agents, but rediscovering their passion for each other is the most rewarding mission of all.

REVIEW: ‘A Knight Before Christmas’ by Grace Burrowes

Sir Leviticus (Levi) Sparrow is a widowed friend and financial advisor to Mrs. Penelope Carrington who was widowed nearly a year ago when her much older husband, Sixtus, passed away right before Christmas. He left her quite wealthy. One stipulation of his will is that if she agrees to marry again within a year of being widowed, she will gain even more of his holdings.

At first, Penelope had decided that she was content as she was and did not feel the need to marry right away. That is until some of her family members approached her with the fact that they were now in debt and needed quite a large sum of money from her to settle their debts. Therefore, she is now feeling the pressure to find a husband and very soon as Christmas is quickly approaching.

When Penelope confides her dilemma to Levi, he wants to tell her how he has always adored her and would love to marry her. However, he does not want to pressure her. Penelope has always enjoyed his friendship but always thought he was engaged to be married. Amanda Houston has told many people that she is engaged to Levi but he has never confirmed it. It turns out that she had found some poems Levi had written to his dead wife and she claims that he wrote them to her! Despicable woman!

Penelope has her own business of raising rabbits and selling them for the meat and fur. While most are kept in pens, some are allowed to roam the house. This is something she truly enjoys and it has been quite profitable for her.

Will Penelope and Levi be able to confess their affection to one another? What about Amanda? Will Levi be able to convince society that Amanda is lying?
This is a clever story and I loved picturing the rabbits hopping through a huge mansion.

‘In the Duke’s Arms’ by Carolyn Jewel

1817, The Duke’s Arms, Nottinghamshire England

Miss Edith Clay, 27, has come into some money which has allowed her to buy a home and furnish it. If she is careful with her funds, she should be able to support herself for sometime. On the Cook’s night off, she and her maid like to walk to The Duke’s Arms Inn to pick up their dinner. The weather has been very cold and now it is beginning to snow. As she has no other mode of transportation, she has decided to walk.

The Duke of Oxthorpe lives nearby in Killhope Castle. A very wealthy man, he has no living family and chooses to live alone with his servants. He rarely socializes. His father died before he was born and ignored by his mother, he was raised by tutors. His mother also died when he had just reached his majority.

The Duke of Oxthorpe happens to be at The Duke’s Arms and when he saw Edith walking home, he leaves and insists on giving her and her maid a ride in his coach. The Duke is aware of the windfall that she has received and offers to help her buy a curricle and a horse as she had had no experience with that.

As Christmas is approaching, Edith joins a committee that organizes quarterly assemblies. She agrees to make mistletoe balls for the next assembly scheduled for December 22nd. Edith is hoping that the Duke will attend. Their encounters increase when he helps her cut mistletoe for the ball and he finds a curricle she would like. Each encounter finds them getting to know one another better as they become friends. Will their friendship turn into love?  I found this to be a delightful story that I enjoyed immensely.

‘Licensed to Wed’ by Miranda Neville

August 1817

Wyatt Herbert, Viscount Carbury, age 33, is the pillar of his family and very organized. Each month, he makes a list of tasks to accomplish and checks them off when completed. However, there is one task that he never gets to and it just floats over to the following month. What is that you ask? Well, it is for him to propose to Robina Weston.

Miss Robina Weston, age 25, is a single young woman living at the largesse of her godmother since the death of her parents. She knows that she cannot stay with her godmother much longer and is soon to accept a position as companion to a curmudgeonly old lady. Robina and Carbury have been friends since childhood. Their families were friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, both of their fathers were not good money managers.

Each month, Carbury visits Robina and chats with her for an hour or so but can never bring himself to propose until one day he finally gets his nerve up. It is approaching Christmas time and he feels they could be married and have a quick sojourn at his home outside London, Bourton Hall. Afterward, they can return to London and his usual schedule will not be interrupted. Ah – perfect planning for his structured life.

Unfortunately, when his proposal is put forth in a non-romantic and matter-of-fact manner, Robina is angered that he assumes she will automatically accept him. Instead, to his utter shock, she declines. Carbury heads home to Bourton Hall anyway to spend Christmas with his grandfather. Added to his already busy schedule, Carbury has recently taken over the guardianship of his late cousin’s four children. His plan is to stop by there on his way home to consult with the widow regarding the children. As her year of mourning is nearly at an end, she is ready to find another husband and has her eyes set firmly on Carbury.

Enroute to her new position, Robina is stranded at The Duke’s Arms Inn after the coach she was riding in was robbed by the new Sheriff on Nottinghamshire who has wreaked havoc in the area. As Carbury is staying nearby at the widow’s home, he learns of Robina’s situation and arranges for her to stay with the widow. What will come of this threesome together in the same house? Jealousy? Will Robina and Carbury be able to mend fences?

This was a delightful novella and one I enjoyed very much. Robina is a strong heroine and Carbury is a man who needs a woman like her to make his life complete.

‘The Spy Beneath the Mistletoe’ by Shana Galen

Christmas has just passed and Miss Elina Qwillen, age 35, is staying at The Duke’s Arms Inn. Her job as a covert spy and weapons engineer is very exciting and she is extremely satisfied with her life. She loves her work and is always looking forward to more missions.

Pierce Moneypence happens to be staying at the same Inn. He is also a spy and they are well acquainted with one another. As a matter of fact, at one time he had asked her to marry him but she refused because she felt he just wanted a wife like her to further his career.

As it turns out, they both have been assigned to find the highwayman known as The New Sheriff of Nottinghamshire that has terrorized the area. He has held up coaches and robbing the passengers of their money and treasures.
Together, they begin watching the people coming and going, plus those staying at the Inn to try and find anyone if a local person could be the highwayman. Their days at the Inn put them in close contact with one another which causes their old flame to spark again. Will they be able to find love in their lives? Will The New Sheriff of Nottinghamshire finally be apprehended?

This is a cute romantic story. The descriptions of the cold and snow were perfectly written to the point I nearly needed to grab a sweater!

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the authors

Featuring Illustrator of Romance Novels…

Jon Paul

JPF

It is no secret that I adore every cover ever illustrated by this talented man. I dare you to watch this video and not come up with at least one of these books.

I don’t have all of them, but I bet that most of my Keeper Shelf books are Jon Paul covers. These are not your ordinary pictures…these works of art never fail to amaze me. They make me gasp and leave me breathless, as much as the stories depicted by these covers.

My thanks go to Mr. Mario Sorcinelli for putting this vid together. It’s amazing!

ENJOY!

Jon Paul FerraraARTIST BIO: Jon Paul is one of the most talented artist/photographers in the Romance Novel Cover Art industry. The covers of Jon Paul appear regularly in books issued by the leading romance novel publishing houses. In the mid-80’s, Jon Paul was one of sixteen art students chosen worldwide to participate in a nine-month program at the prestigious New York Academy of Fine Arts. He also attended the National Academy of Design under Nelson Shank, the official portrait painter of the late Princess Diana. Jon Paul has received more than thirty awards for excellence from the Romance Writers of America, often placing in two or more of the top ten positions. His work has appeared on the cover of Zink (September 2004), one of the leading fashion industry magazines.

Jon Paul also painted an advertisement for Chopard , a world famous jewelers who designs jewelry for celebrities. In 2005 Jon’s work was showcased on a True Romance gaming machine which was distributed in casinos worldwide. In 2006 he completed an advertising campaign for Oral-B which included portraits of celebrities like Fabio. His portrait of Fabio appeared on Valentine’s Day 2006 on the NASDAQ Billboard in Time Square NYC. Jon Paul was commissioned to design the artwork for the tombstone of Anna Nicole Smith and was unveiled on what would have been her 41st birthday. Ever vigilant to expand his horizons, Jon Paul pursues his fine art along with his commercial ventures, both are enjoyed by millions of fans that visit his site every year.

Social Media: Website /  Facebook /

‘The Bridegroom Wore Plaid’ by Grace Burrowes [Audiobook]

TBWP GBBOOK BLURB: In an effort to preserve the family estate, Ian MacGregor, the Earl of Balfour, must marry for money. When a promising match emerges in the form of Genie Daniels, a rich English heiress, Ian begins devising a strategy to woo her.

When he meets Genie’s poor cousin Augusta, he discovers a new avenue to Genie’s heart. But after spending time with Augusta and falling for her charms, Ian begins to question whether or not he’s willing to forfeit his heart to save the family name…

REVIEW: Reading, or in this instance listening to Grace Burrowes story,Emun Elliott and Elaine Cassidy as Ian and Augusta is a pleasure I never want to give up. It really doesn’t matter whose story she tells, because she tells it so well that I’ve become a part of every story and every family she introduces me to.

She creates a world that I as a reader do not want to leave. And now that I can ‘hear’ the words acted out, it’s become even harder to leave that world behind once the story is finished.

I think all her books should be turned into a TV series, and every book she’s written so far, I’ve tried to imagine as a TV movie.

This particular story would have been a pleasure to cast because of so many wonderful characters, especially the MacGregor brothers. Can you imagine all those men in kilts?!

I envision  Emun Elliott and Elaine Cassidy from 2012 TV series ‘Paradise’ as Ian and Augusta. If you haven’t caught this wonderful series yet, please try to catch up with it on You Tube. It really is fascinating.

And here’s my Audible review of ‘The Bridegroom Wore Plaid’.

Enter a headline for your review:

Romantic; Intriguing; Entertaining

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Without a doubt! My main reason for recommending it would be the solid writing of this interesting love story, and the second would be narration. I truly enjoyed Roger Hampton’s narration and talent in covering multitude of characters.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Bridegroom Wore Plaid?

There really are many, but the first one to come to mind is the scene from Chapter One in which Ian is showing Augusta the taps in the water closet. His thoughts about her were very entertaining and revealing, but the narration of that scene was priceless!

“The next few moments happened in a series of impressions.

First came the sensation of the door thwacking into Ian from behind. A stout blow more unexpected than painful, but enough to make him stumble forward.

Then, Fiona’s voice, muttering the Gaelic equivalent of “Beg pardon!” followed by a patter of retreating footsteps.

And then, in Ian’s male brain, the woman with the pretty, anxious eyes became the woman who was soft, lush, and still beneath Ian’s much greater weight.

She didn’t push him away. She didn’t even touch him. The sole indication that his weight was any imposition as he flattened her to the wall, that the impropriety of the moment was any imposition, was her closed eyes.

The final impression threatened to part Ian from his reason: her breasts, heaving against his chest. In preparation for her bath, she’d left off her stays, and the feminine abundance pressed against Ian ambushed his wits.

Shrewd, noticing, and astoundingly well endowed.

When he wanted to press closer, Ian pushed himself away with one hand on the wall and made sure both feeder taps were open. “I do beg your pardon, Miss Merrick.”

 “A mishap only. I stumbled upon leaving the coach.”

She would recall that, while Ian had thought nothing of it. His damned male parts were thinking at a great rate now, and all because…”

What does Roger Hampton bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Mr. Hampton did an excellent job with Scottish accent and that’s something I could never manage! I also loved the way he portrayed the villain of the story, Willard Daniels, Baron of Altsax and Gribbony.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but alas it was not to be. I did listen to it within two days.

Any additional comments?

This book’s well written story and Mr. Hampton’s brilliant interpretation of multiple characters had contributed to some hours of priceless entertainment for me.

TBWP GBUNABRIDGED

by Grace Burrowes

Narrated by Roger Hampton

Series: MacGregor Trilogy, Book 1

Whispersync for Voice: Enabled

‘The Bridegroom Wore Plaid’ by Grace Burrowes

TBWP GBSTORY: In an effort to preserve the family estate, Ian MacGregor, the Earl of Balfour, must marry for money. When a promising match emerges in the form of Genie Daniels, a rich English heiress, Ian begins devising a strategy to woo her.

When he meets Genie’s poor cousin Augusta, he discovers a new avenue to Genie’s heart. But after spending time with Augusta and falling for her charms, Ian begins to question whether or not he’s willing to forfeit his heart to save the family name…

REVIEW: The first line in this novel states the plot perfectly:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single, reasonably good-looking earl not in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wealthy wife.”

Ian MacGregor is a Scottish Earl now head of his family searching for a wealthy heiress to add “coin” to the family coffers.  Therefore, Willard Daniels, Baron of Altsax and Gribbony, brings his wife, daughters, Eugenia and Hester Daniels, his sister-in-law, the widowed Mrs. Julia Redmond and niece, Augusta Merrick to stay as guests at the MacGregor home with an eye toward marrying Eugenia to Ian.  Sharing the MacGregor home are Ian’s brothers, Gilgallon, Connor and his sister, Mary Frances.

As the reader is drawn into the story, we find that sometimes love cannot be arranged because the heart finds its own path.  As the characters get to know one another, attractions build and love finds its way.  But, there is evil in the mix which takes the story on another turn.

I admit that it took me awhile into the book to figure out which character was which.  One of my pet peeves with a novel is trying to “digest” a lot of characters thrown at me right at the beginning of a book.  It’s aggravating and frustrating to keep them separate.  However, Grace Burrowes’s talent at creating real characters and expressing their personalities and feelings once again comes through beautifully in this novel.

Connie for b2b

*Book provided by the author.

‘Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait’ by Grace Burrowes

LJCP GBSTORY: What Lady Jenny wants for Christmas…

For Christmas, soft-spoken Lady Jenny Windham craves the freedom to pursue her artistic ambitions, though it will mean scandalizing her ducal parents and abandoning all hope of a family of her own. She confides her plans to successful artist Elijah Harrison when he’s commissioned to paint a portrait of her small nephews, because assisting Elijah will bring Jenny that much closer to her heart’s desire—won’t it?

…Will break both their hearts.

Elijah Harrison finds in his unlikely assistant not only an inspiring muse and unappreciated talent, but also a lovely and passionate woman. If Elijah supports Jenny’s career, his own professional interests will suffer, but more significantly, he will lose Jenny forever. Both Jenny and Elijah must choose between true love and a lifelong dream

REVIEW: Well, it looks like we’ve come to the end of Grace Burrowes’ Windham series, and I for one am already feeling the loss of this unique, entertaining and fun family.

In ‘Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait’ we get to know better Lady Jenny and we welcome back all the Windham brood as they try in their own way to help their youngest sister to decide which one of her dreams she should embrace.

As usual, Ms. Burrowes continues to successfully mix her flowery prose with unique characters and entertaining and interesting plots.

I loved everything about this story but what impressed the most is how accurately the author portrayed the life of the youngest sibling who albeit loved by everyone in her family, was misunderstood and lonely most of the time. Her talent was obvious, yet it was overlooked because she was a female. This is where our hero comes in handy, and with his help, she is finally ready to accept and embrace her dreams.

Reading Grace Burrowes tales can only be described as being enveloped in your favorite quilt and the feeling of security and warmth, familiarity and love is palpable and ever-present.

To be honest, I’m not ready to say goodbye to any of the Windhams…

I want to bide with them some more, so if this truly is the last of the tales, I’m comforted by knowing that they’re only as far from me as my book shelf.

Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Here come the Lonely Lords…

D GBDarius

Lord of Pleasures/Book 1 of Lonely Lords Series

Though there are lines he will not cross, Darius Lindsey has become the favored plaything of bored, titled society ladies. He contracts one final engagement with the pretty, sweet, Lady Vivian Longstreet, hoping that meeting his obligations to Vivian will free him from the financial constraints making his life hell. Darius finds instead that the bargain he thought would cost him the last of his self-respect instead resurrects both his honor and his heart.

MINI REVIEW: This story was a gamble for sure. The hero is not what is expected in the romance-land, and you’ll either love him or hate him, but one thing’s for sure, you won’t find this lonely, cynical, self-deprecating and remote man boring.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this first book of the series, and least of it is the sexual escapades of the hero. I think I said this before, and it bears repeating if you haven’t heard it from me, that I really like the writing ‘voice’ of this author. She has a penchant of creating characters that ‘feel’ like real, flesh and blood people facing some real hard choices in their lives.

Ms. Burrowes’ books have a steady pace, although to some it might appear slow, yet to me it is just perfect as it gives me time to acquaint myself with the characters, their surroundings.

Another thing in this story I liked was the dialogue, which was exactly as it should have been between two strangers: awkward, slow and probing at times as these two started to get to know each other and grow to like one another after they’ve already had sex together.

I found both characters and their story compelling and highly recommended to anyone that’s ready for a grown-up, sensual and at times heart breaking tale.

Read an excerpt »

April 2013

N GBNicholas

Lord of Secrets/Book 2 of Lonely Lords Series

Heir to the Bellefonte earldom, Nick Haddonfield has made a promise to his dying father that he’ll marry before the Season’s over. When Nick meets Lady Leah Lindsey, he realizes he’s found not only a damsel lady in need of rescuing, but also a perfect countess of convenience. Then he spoils everything by falling in love with his wife…the one woman he can never, ever have.

MINI REVIEW: I liked this second book in Lonely Lords series, and Nicholas’ story tugged at my heartstrings as well.

Ms. Burrowes does it again by creating another couple that is compelling, nurturing and loving.

As they slowly question if the union between them might work, we get a glimpse of their lives and are convinced that it would be the best thing that happened to them.

This author can sure write hurt, broken and disillusioned characters that are faced with insurmountable obstacles.

Recommend it to all Grace Burrowes fans, but if you’ve never read this author before, I think you might want to start of with THE HEIR before you get to the these lonely men.

May 2013

Read an excerpt »

E GBEthan 

Lord of Scandals/Book 3 of Lonely Lords Series

At the age of fourteen, Ethan Grey was banished by his titled father into a hell his legitimate siblings never learned of. Now that the old earl is dead, and Ethan is a widower with two children to raise, he finds himself attracted to Alice Portman, the boys scholarly, reserved governess. Alice also has a shadowed past, and she and Ethan must face the demon haunting them both if they’re to win their chance for a happily ever after.

MINI REVIEW: With Ethan, Grace Burrowes continues her Lonely Lords series and I must say, if you’re not into complex and complicated, emotionally, sexually and physically abused characters, this one will not be for you. However, I love reading about those kinds of characters as they strive to overcome the hardships they were put through. I think I’d rather read dysfunctional family then belong to one, although come to think on it, I think most of us do.

Again, Ms. Burrowes does something in this book that not many authors feel comfortable writing about and readers reading about and that’s the male friendships. For the life of me I can’t believe that it doesn’t occur to many of you out there that male friendships in Regency and Victorian times are actually more accepted and cultivated.

This one is so far my favorite Lonely Lords book.

I do recommend this book to all her fans, but if you’re not familiar with this author, please get acquainted with her through some of her novellas, before you tackle this one.

June 2013

Read an excerpt »

B GBBeckman

Lord of Sins/Book 4 of Lonely Lords Series

Beckman Haddonfield has always solved his problems by moving on. When he’s given the job of restoring a family estate, he finds in Sara Hunt the one woman who makes him want to put down roots—if he can convince her not to abandon him when she seeks to run from her past.

MINI REVIEW: We are now well vested in these lonely men and here comes Beckman who’s a fourth hero of Grace Burrowes’ Lonely Lords series.

Beckman is another widower with personal issues and secrets. As in previous books from this series, both characters are plenty flawed and are dealing with a lot of emotional baggage that needs to be resolved before they can let go and love each other fully.

I should mention another thing I appreciate from this author and that’s her writing of family relationships, be it brothers and sisters, Aunts, cousins, fathers and sons, or even children in her books. She literally breathes life into them all that ‘feel’s real and potent. It’s like they’re right there in my room. When I read Grace Burrowes books, I ‘hear’ a totally different ‘voice’ in my head than any other voice before.

Please pay close attention to two secondary characters in this book, Gabriel and Polly, who are a sister and a steward of the heroine, Sara and will have a book of their own.

Again, highly recommending it, but if you’re new to her, here are some books you may want to start off before you read the Lonely Lords.

The Heir (The Duke’s Obsession)The Soldier (The Duke’s Obsession)The Virtuoso (The Duke’s Obsession)Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal.

July 2013

Read an excerpt »

G GBGabriel

Lord of Regrets/Book 5 of Lonely Lords Series

After years in hiding, when Gabriel Wendover leaves behind the woman he loves to resume his place as Marquis of Hesketh, he finds the lady herself already ensconced his household, and the mysterious danger still stalking him. Gabriel loves Polonaise Hunt (Polly) and is both upset and thrilled to find that she’s been hired by his brother to paint the family portraits. He must keep himself, his brother and Polly safe, but there’s nothing he can do to safeguard his own heart…

MINI REVIEW: We met the fifth lonely man of Grace Burrowes’ series Lonely Lords in Beckman’s story and he was an enigma to our heroine Polly.

This book is no surprise to me as I continue to thoroughly enjoy this author  and her writing style and voice.

If you’re looking for one of those saccharin tales, these books are not for you. Grace Burrowes writes characters that are unconventional, complex and maybe just too close for comfort to many of us as we in one way or another can relate to them and their problems.

She also can write sensual scenes to make you want to take a cold shower!

As series go, this one is very well written, researched and plotted. The pace of it might be a tad slow for some, but to those of us that appreciate character development, is just right.

Now I’m eagerly awaiting the other four lonely men and pondering who will make them happy.

Read an excerpt

September 2013

And these are only five to start us off… another four are to follow, leading with Gareth, Lord of Rakes, in November, Andrew in December, Douglas in January and David in April, just to wish me a Happy Birthday!

To all of them I say, let the Lonely Lords descent! I’ll be here to make sure they’re not lonely for long!

Melanie for b2b

*Books provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spotlight on Anna Cowen and…

UNTAMED!

U ACBOOK BLURB: Outspoken and opinionated, Katherine Sutherland is ill at ease amongst the fine ladies of Regency London. She is more familiar with farmers and her blunt opinions and rough manners offend polite society. Yet when she hears the scandalous rumours involving her sister and the seductive Duke of Darlington, the fiercely loyal Katherine vows to save her sister’s marriage – whatever the cost.

Intrigued by Katherine’s interference in his affairs, the manipulative Duke is soon fascinated. He engages in a daring deception and follows her back to her country home. Here, their intense connection shocks them both. But the Duke’s games have dangerous consequences, and the potential to throw both their lives into chaos…

EXCERPT: 

The Duke of Darlington was sitting in the bow window at Whites, when the Earl of BenRuin entered. The man was huge – almost ugly with it.

‘We’ll need another pot of coffee, after last night,’ Darlington said to Jewellyn, who sat beside him comparing three silk handkerchiefs.

‘Mother says the daffodil yellow makes me look consumptive, but the pale is just so joyless.’

‘Your mother knows best, darling.’ He took another sip of coffee, and didn’t look around. But he felt BenRuin’s eyes on him. He heard a hush follow the Earl through the room as he made his way over.

‘Darlington.’ BenRuin spat his name with a thick Scottish R.

He looked up and smiled sunnily. ‘What ho, old boy!’

BenRuin looked as though he wanted to crush Darlington’s throat and stop him from ever speaking again. Something woke, and shivered through Darlington, and he despaired because it was not fear.

He brushed a speck of lint from his cuff. ‘Coffee?’

BenRuin stared at him. ‘I am going to kill you,’ he said slowly, every word clear. Men looked up from their papers, frowning. BenRuin gripped the back of an empty chair, his hand a powerful, blunt instrument.

Darlington lowered his cup and wondered that his hands didn’t shake at all. He had been waiting so long for this. A month ago he had been given an old iron key that unlocked his father’s private papers with his father’s things. The key might as well have unlocked this sick, loose delight in him. It had brought him to this moment.

He screwed up his brow, and turned to Crispin, who sat at his feet on an ottoman. ‘Was I supposed to meet this man in a duel today?’

The boy looked back at Darlington with perfect trust, undiminished by the slight confusion on his face.

‘I don’t think so. No one’s come to see me about being your second. Unless—’ Crispin flushed and turned to Hopwell, across the table. ‘Hopwell, you rotter, you’ve not been approached, have you?’

Hopwell drew himself up. ‘And if I had? Are you the only one who could possibly represent him?’

‘But you know that I—’

BenRuin’s face clearly spoke his frustration – his disbelief that these boys, these butterflies would ignore him. His huge frame bunched and he threw the chair at the wall so hard it broke. Muted conversations broke off, and a footman’s half-sobbed apologies limped alone into the silence. Men rose from their seats, but left a wary space around BenRuin. Darlington couldn’t look away from BenRuin’s pale eyes.

He smiled as if his patience was wearing out. ‘Why do you suppose you want to kill me, old boy?’

‘You.’ BenRuin forced a couple of heavy breaths through his nose, like speaking the words was a feat of strength. ‘And my wife.’

‘Ah.’ Darlington let understanding dawn in his voice and spread his manicured hands out before him. At last. At last they had come to it. All this violence was his for the taking. ‘Look, she told me it was one of those marriages, you know. That you both found pleasure where you could.’

For a moment BenRuin couldn’t speak, like Darlington had cut his tongue out of his mouth. Then, ‘Stop talking,’ he said.

‘But I’m sure she…wait, so you’re back from your trip to South America, then? Did you collect any interesting new specimens?’

‘Stop talking,’ BenRuin said. ‘Stop.’

Crispin leapt up, relief clear in his smile, his voice. ‘You’re thinking of Lady Drysdale, Your Grace!’

‘Of course!’ The Duke placed slim fingers against his brow and made an apologetic face at BenRuin. At last. ‘All a misunderstanding, old boy!’

‘Call me old boy one more time,’ BenRuin said, his brogue making him almost unintelligible, ‘and I won’t wait to hear your explanation.’

‘Explanation?’ He had begun to shake with a kind of excitement. ‘Lady Drysdale and I had an understanding, and I don’t see that it’s any of your concern!’

‘And your carriage – in my driveway?’

He had forced a proud man to say this in front of other men. It was despicable. He would do it again in a heartbeat for what he wanted – needed.

‘Which driveway would that be, old – er.’ Darlington leaned down to Crispin and said, ‘Do you know who he is? I’m not sure what name to address him by.’

And then it came. So fast that for a moment his whole body felt the shock of not being ready. Of needing a moment to think.

BenRuin came at him, all muscle and murderous intent, his eyes fixed on Darlington’s face.

And Darlington was greedy, his whole being a gruesome invitation. Everything he normally hid flared to life within him.

BenRuin saw it. He faltered.

The men who had leapt into action had their arms about BenRuin, their hands gripping him wherever they found purchase. BenRuin’s knife never reached Darlington’s throat.

Darlington felt so bereft that for a moment he couldn’t breathe.

A man was hurrying through the room. Perhaps someone had sent a boy to find him, because he spoke in BenRuin’s ear and BenRuin listened. Tension leeched out of BenRuin’s huge body, and he began to shake, like a horse after a hard race.

He pointed a finger at Darlington. ‘I’ll not hang for the sake of seeing your pretty blood,’ he ground out. ‘This time. But the next time you trespass against me, you will know what I mean to do.’

BenRuin left, and Darlington fluttered his hands about his throat, and went into mild hysterics and allowed Crispin to fuss over him.

REVIEW: You’re either going to love it or hate it. I don’t think there’s a middle of the road for this novel. I more than loved it! I adored the hero, heroine, plot…oh and the prose is so good that it borders on poetic. It brings to mind Julie Anne Long’s and Grace Burrowes’ writing.

As soon as I was done with it, I had to Tweet the author. My Tweet was “I am in awe of it. It’s intriguing, clever & exciting; romantic & sensual; breathtakingly delightful!”

This was one of those stories that made you unknowingly hold your breath, and then slowly exhale as you go from page to page. At the end of it, it brought to mind two movies I am such a fan of: “Pretty Woman” and “An Interview with a Vampire”.

“Pretty Woman” because of its ending as the heroine ‘rescues’ the ‘hero’, and “An Interview with a Vampire” because for some reason the Duke reminded me of Lestat [no he wasn’t a Vampire, just the characterization].

Let me also say that if you’re a stickler for historical detail, you might have to suspend your disbelief and ignore a couple of things in it [notably reform of the Corn Laws and Parliament’s involvement in the divorce] to enjoy the rest of the story. I had no problem with it.

Story’s prose and especially characterization of the hero and heroine, was what engaged me emotionally.

It really was a breath of fresh air. For a change we have an author that gave us a cross-dressing hero instead of a heroine, and the result was entertaining, intriguing and engaging.

It was a risk, but I think it paid off big time!

I recommend it whole heartedly!

ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

You can buy Untamed at Amazon | Kobo | iTunes | Google | txtr | JB HiFi | Sainsbury’s | Destiny Romance (ePub)

Anna CowenAUTHOR IN HER OWN WORDS: I started writing when I was eight and my heroine thought the likeliest place to buy a horse was the pet shop.

I stopped writing when I was fifteen and my teen angst was too much, even for me. Also, boys.

Now I’m An Adult, and I’ve never wanted to work so hard at anything.

I live in a beautiful flat in the middle of Melbourne with special k – husband / coffee mogul / love of my life. We’ve started having weekly managers meetings where he says things like, “This is work, so there are no feelings, okay?” and I quake in my writerly boots. I couldn’t have done any of this without him.

This blog is where I think out loud about writing. I break down the things I watch and read – I try to figure out how they work, or don’t work. It tends to centre around love, romance, gender, feminism and writing.

I hope you enjoy the conversation!

You can catch Anna on: Tweeter / Website