‘The Beautiful Pretender’ by Melanie Dickerson

tbp mdSTORY: What happens when a margrave realizes he’s fallen in love with a servant?

The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble-born ladies from around the country to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina is only responsible for two things: making sure her deception goes undetected and avoiding being selected as the margrave’s bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?

REVIEW: Thornbeck Forest – 1363 – Roman Empire

Reinhart Stolten, Margrave of Thornbeck, is out riding on his vast property chasing away a pack of wolves in an effort to keep everyone in the area safe. Once a powerful knight, he is now reduced to using a cane to walk. When he returns to his castle, he finds he has received a missive from the King requesting that Reinhart get married and suggests the daughters of the Duke of Geithart and the Earl of Plimmwald as possible brides. It happens that the fathers of these men had fueded with the previous Margraves of Thornbeck and the King wants to unite these families and thus ensure peace. While Reinhart would rather ignore the request, his aide, Jorgen, encourages him to comply with the King’s wishes. So, Jorgen and his wife, Odette, begin planning the ball. It is decided that there will be a two-week party and ball at Thornbeck Castle. These two ladies and others will be invited so Reinhart can meet them and decide which one best suits him.

Avelina is a lady’s maid to Lady Dorothea, daughter of the Earl of Plimmwald. Dorothea is hoping that her father doesn’t find out about her trysts with his Knight, Sir Dietric, and now she is carrying his child. When her father orders her to go to the Margrave’s ball, she runs away with her Knight. Upon learning what she has done, her father decides to send Avelina to attend the party and pretend that she is Dorothea.

Upon arrival at the castle, Avelina feels out of place but is befriended by a lovely woman also attending the party and works hard to keep her true identity secret. It becomes more difficult for her when she realizes that Reinhart seems to be quite taken with her.

But mischief is afoot and someone is trying to get her out of the way. As there has been bad blood between the families before, it looks like more problems may be coming.

This was a good story that stayed well with the time period. I enjoyed it and I know other readers will as well.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘My Highland Spy’ by Victoria Roberts

mhs vrSTORY: This Highland Laird won’t bow to the Crown

Laird Ruairi Sutherland refuses to send his only son away to be educated by the English. And he most definitely will not appear in Edinburgh to pay homage to a liege who has no respect for Scotland. So he does what any laird would do—he lies to the king. The last thing Ruairi expects is a beautiful English governess to appear on his doorstep.

But this lady spy might make him…

Lady Ravenna Walsingham is a seasoned spy who is sent to the savage Highlands to uncover a nefarious plot against the Crown. Playing the part of an English governess—a job easier said than done—she infiltrates the home of Laird Sutherland, a suspected conspirator.

If she doesn’t betray him first

Ravenna soon discovers that the only real threat Sutherland poses is to her heart. But will the proud Highland laird ever forgive her when he discovers the woman he loves is an English spy?

REVIEW: Victoria Roberts had me at a “Highlander”!

I found this story to be very easy to read and I think that was because the plot was interesting and intriguing, but I also credit the characterization of the hero and the heroine for the story being such a pleasure to read. Their banter alone is worth a read!

Putting together two strong characters can sometimes backfire, but not in this case. I loved the reversal of roles, of sorts. This time around we had the heroine in a role of a spy and she was so good! I don’t think our hero, as Alpha as he was, had a chance!

If you love medieval Scotland and men in kilts, if you love spy stories that are chock full of intrigue, with some betrayal and sensual romance in it, this one is not to be missed.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘A Rogue’s Rescue’ by Donna Lea Simpson

arr dlsSTORY: Despite her vast wealth, Miss Ariadne Lambert, at the ripe old age of thirty-three, is a plain and aging spinster with little but a fading hope that a knight in shining armor will come to sweep her off her feet. Which makes her the perfect prey for the unscrupulous “Dapper” Dorsey, who would stop at nothing to seduce a needy and wealthy woman and then coldly fritter away her funds in the gaming halls of London. As Ariadne succumbs first to his wily charms and then to his kisses, will her need for affection rob her of her dignity—and her fortune?

Viscount Ingram, whose soiled reputation from one especially salacious incident has left him exiled to the sidelines of society, marks his time as a dark and brooding man, tolerated more for his title than his merit. But even he has his standards, and when he learns of a rival’s plot to seduce and then steal from a helpless spinster, he vows to stop him.

Ingram’s noble sentiments and uncharacteristic sincerity are in for a shock, however, as he discovers that the hopelessly gullible Ariadne is in fact a clever and shrewd woman who’s got more than a silly giggle up her sleeve. As the two team up in a devilish scheme to bring about the final undoing of Dorsey, cooperation turns to admiration and then attraction, and they discover that their last chance to repair their reputations may also be their first chance at finding true love.

* First published in the anthology, Untameable.

REVIEW: This little novella [a bit over 80 pages long] was so much fun, I beg you to read it!

I loved the plot and the fast pace, but I adored the heroine and the hero equally. It’s refreshing to read about a coupe that’s a bit older, and our heroine was thirty-three, which definitely made her a spinster.

I loved the fact that both were not the “dead-gorgeous” sort and that both had a wonderful sense of humor. It was such a pleasure to read a story that depicted a romance of two people that were “grown-up”! Despite this being set in regency era, the characters were so well drawn out, that they felt very real.

Highly recommending this little gem!

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘Dawn at Emberwilde’ by Sarah E. Ladd

dae selSTORY: Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.

For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady yet unexciting role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would provide her a steady environment to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.

The unexpected arrival of a striking stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.

At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with mysterious rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. And perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.

At Emberwilde, Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.

REVIEW: Surrey England – 1817

Mrs. Brathay, Headmistress at Fellsworth School, is calling Miss Isabel Creston age 20, and a junior teacher at the school, to report to Mr. Langsby, the school superintendent. She is told that there is a messenger waiting to see her. Hoping this means she might be offered a position as a governess, she is pleased to meet Mr. Bradford who is the superintendent of the Founding Home in Northrop. That is when Isabel learns that her aunt, Mrs. Margaret Ellison of Emberwilde Hall, wants her to come and live with her. Her sister, Mrs. Anna Creston, was Isabel’s mother. Both of Isabel’s parents have passed away and she and her half-sister, Lizzie, have been at Fellsworth School for some years – Lizzie as a student and now Isabel as a teacher. Isabel is quite surprised to learn of the existence of Mrs. Ellison and is willing to go live with her but insists that she take Lizzie as well.

When Isabel and Lizzie arrive at Emberwilde Hall, Isabel is somewhat taken aback at her aunt’s over-enthusiasm of her. Lizzie was unexpected by Margaret, but is welcomed too. Isabel meets her cousin, Constance, and learns that her cousin has 3 other sisters who are married but not living in the area, and a brother who was killed in the war.

Margaret and Constance help out at the Foundling Home which relies on the Ellison family for most of its support. The Home is on the same property as Emberwilde.

Charles Ellison, the master of Emberwilde Hall, is working with Colin Galloway, who is the magistrate for the area. They have found proof of trespassers on the property, along with some smuggled items hidden there by someone. Not only is Colin the local magistrate, but also a solicitor and owner of Darbenton Court, which has fallen into disrepair. Colin hopes to save enough money to restore his home again. Privately, Mr. Ellison would like to matchup Isabel with Colin Galloway as he likes and respects the man very much. Secretly, the Ellisons are having financial problems. When their own son died, that left them without an heir meaning that Emberwilde will go to a nephew leaving Mrs. Ellison without a home.

Isabel is shocked to find her bedroom windows nailed shut. It has been that way for many years. There is an old legend that says gypsies put a curse on the forest that the window faces. After a fire that killed some of the gypsies, ghosts are supposed to enter through open windows and enact revenge for the deaths of the gypsies so the windows have been kept shut and nailed.

As Isabel and Lizzie settle in, they soon find they enjoy reading to the children at the Foundling Home. When Isabel suggests to Mr. Bradford that teaching the children at the home, not just caring for them, would make their futures better, he agrees. He soon becomes quite possessive of Isabel and she and her aunt tend to push her toward marrying him. This upsets Isabel. She has a good friendship with Colin Galloway and both Bradford and Galloway are at loggerheads with each other.

As the smuggling increases, danger threatens and Isabel realizes that the home she has come to live in is not all that it seems.

This is a rather long novel that was a bit slow in starting, but I think it is because the author was setting the background for the plot. The characters are good, the suspense is nail-biting at times, and the book is clean.

I have enjoyed the author’s books in the past and this is yet another terrific one. I look forward to reading more from her.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘The California Wife’ by Kristen Harnisch

tcw khSTORY: It is 1897, and Sara and Philippe Lemieux, newly married and full of hope for the future, are determined to make Eagle s Run, their Napa vineyard, into a world-renowned winemaking operation. But the swift arrival of the 20th century brings a host of obstacles they never dreamed of: price wars and the twin threats of phylloxera and Prohibition endanger the success of their business, and the fiercely independent Sara is reluctant to leave the fields behind for the new and strange role of wife and mother.
An invitation to the World s Fair in 1900 comes just in time to revive the vineyard s prospects, and amid the jewel-colored wonders of Belle Epoque Paris, Sara and Philippe s passion is rekindled as well. But then family tragedy strikes, and, upon their return to California, a secret from Philippe s past threatens to derail their hard-won happiness in one stroke.

Sara gains an ally when Marie Chevreau, her dear friend, arrives in San Francisco as the first female surgery student to be admitted to prestigious Cooper Medical College. Through Marie, Sara gets a glimpse of the glittering world of San Francisco s high society, and she also forges friendships with local women s rights advocates, inciting new tensions in her marriage. Philippe issues Sara an ultimatum: will she abandon the struggle for freedom to protect her family s winemaking business, or will she ignore Philippe and campaign for a woman s right to vote and earn a fair wage?
Fate has other plans in store in the spring of 1906, which brings with it a challenge unlike any other that the Lemieux family or their fellow Northern Californians have ever faced. Will the shadow of history overwhelm Sara and Philippe s future, despite their love for each other?

REVIEW: Vouvray France – 1897

Sara Thibault has just agreed to marry Philippe Lemieux, the owner and respected vigneron of Eagle’s Run, a very large vineyard in Napa California. Sara grew up in Vouvray France on a vineyard in Saint Martin. Although rather small, it produced lovely chenin blanc grapes. But, two years ago, the vines were destroyed by the phylloxera louse and her family is anxious to replant the vineyard with American rootstock. She and her family don’t want to waste more time before replanting because they know it will take 3-5 years before the vines produce good grapes. Sara had left Napa some weeks before where she had lived and worked with Philippe. It appears that her sister, Lydia, passed away after giving birth to Luc. His father, Bastian, Philippe’s brother, erupted into a night of violence attempting to attack her. Sara accidentally killed him to save herself. Bastian also burned down her family’s home.

A note here: “The California Wife” is a sequel to “The Vintner’s Daughter” and evidently takes up where it leaves off. Since I did not read “The Vintner’s Daughter,” I had a difficult time trying to piece together the first part of this book. So, my first paragraph is what I gleaned happened in the first book.

Philippe’s father was an abusive man who used to beat he and Bastian. He is still alive but is an angry, hateful man and Philippe avoids him.

Napa California

After Sara and Philippe marry, they settle at Eagle’s Run in Napa. They are faced with how all of the wineries are seeing price cuts making it very difficult to make a profit. When word comes of the upcoming World’s Fair in Paris, they decide to enter their California wines against the French wines.

Linnette Cross is a harlot working at a Napa brothel. Philippe had taken her on as his mistress when he was single. When he fell in love with Sara, he ended his relationship with Linnette. Soon after, she discovered she was pregnant with his child. Recently she has given birth to their daughter, Phillippa Mary, Pippa for short. Sadly, Pippa was born with a cleft lip. Now, Linnette wonders if she should tell Philippe about their daughter. When Linnette becomes ill and dies, Philippe learns about Pippa and adopts her.

Vintner jealousy has reared its ugly head and a devastating fire breaks out at Eagle’s Run which nearly destroys everything. But they persevere.

The story continues with different family members who join them and all of the difficulties that they face with the winery and in their own personal lives. The book is chock full of actual historical events of that time period woven into the book which makes it even more interesting. I know that readers will enjoy following this hard-working family.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘Daring Miss Danvers’ by Vivienne Lorret

dmd vlSTORY: It’s all fun and games . . . until someone falls in love.

Oliver Goswick, Viscount Rathburn, needs money—and soon. With time ticking away and his inheritance held hostage until he’s properly wed, Rathburn’s slim options point to a single solution: a faux engagement. In need of the perfect bride, he knows of only one candidate: his best friend’s wallflower sister. The plan seems flawless, except for one problem . . . He can’t help falling in love with her.

Poised, polished Emma Danvers knows nothing good can come of Rathburn’s scheme. Spending the next two months engaged in a mock courtship is not what she’d imagined for her final season. Yet, charmed by his roguish ways and the inexplicable hammering he causes in her heart, she accepts his challenge.

For Emma, keeping the secret seemed easy when it was just a game . . . But as Rathburn begins to see past her reserved exterior to the passionate woman within, the risk of losing her heart becomes all too real.

REVIEW: Awhile back I read this collection of short stories, Five Golden Rings, and I liked the story Vivienne Lorret wrote, so I was looking forward to this story.

I wasn’t surprised to find it one of the sweetest stories I’ve read. Everyone in it was interesting and likable, especially our hero and heroine.

Emma was such a sweetheart! No wonder Oliver picked her for his pretend betrothed. His grandmother was sure to love her!

He was such a rascal and a wonderful man. I loved the way he approached a problem, and the obstacles to his plans.

I also enjoyed their romance and the chemistry was undeniable. It fairly jumped off the pages.

I highly recommend this fast-paced, well written and charming romance.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘An Improper Proposition’ by Amy Rose Bennett

aip arbSTORY: Widowed countess Lady Bianca Wells secretly lusts after her much younger, rakishly handsome footman Harry Blake. Even though he has been in her employ for six months, she has not succumbed to her indecorous urges to take him as a lover…until one wicked night at an isolated country inn when she throws caution to the wind and offers Blake a wholly improper proposition.

Harry Blake, the bastard son of a duke and governess, is the epitome of the perfect footman, except for one thing—he fantasizes about seducing his beautiful mistress. When Lady Wells proposes that they become lovers for one night only, he is torn. Even though he wants her with every fiber of his being, he suspects that forbidden fruit once tasted, can be awfully addictive. He wonders if one night of passion will be enough, for either of them—especially now that he realizes he might very well be falling in love with his bella Bianca.

But when all is said and done, Blake can hardly refuse such a tempting proposition, no matter how unwise or improper. He just prays that he can put a smile on his mistress’s beautiful face…

REVIEW: Lincolnshire England – 1818

Bianca, The Dowager Countess of Wells, has just fought off an attacker with the help of her footman, Harry Blake. She is spending the night at an Inn as she is traveling back home after staying for some time with her friend, Lady Jameson. Blake is very solicitous of her as he helps her to her room. An extremely attractive young man, Bianca knows she should send him on to his own room. But instead, he stays to stoke the fire in her room and accepts a glass of sherry from Bianca.

It has been three years since Bianca’s husband, Algernon, passed away and she is realizing that she is in need of intimacy with a man. The very nearness of Blake has her panting for him so she poses an improper proposition to him. While he desires her, he realizes that he is just a footman even though he is the bastard son of a duke and a governess.

After a night of the most incredible sex, Bianca is back home in London in the middle of the Season. She finds herself still attracted to Blake but tries to ignore it. Blake feels the same and has decided it might be best to seek employment elsewhere because he is truly falling in love with Bianca.

Is there any way there can be a future for them? Will society snub Bianca should be choose to be with Blake?

This is a short story that sizzles all the way through. If you like hot, steamy, and sexy, this is the book for you.

I liked both Bianca and Blake as they are portrayed as genuine people.

Complimentary copy provided by the author

Connie for b2b