Review: Devil in Spring

Review: Devil in SpringDevil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on February 21st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 370
Goodreads
five-stars

“You do not want to marry me, my lord. I would be the worst wife imaginable. I’m forgetful and stubborn, and I can never sit still for more than five minutes. I’m always doing things I shouldn’t. I eavesdrop on other people, I should and run in public, and I’m a clumsy dancer. And I’ve lowered my character with a great deal of unwholesome reading material.”  Pausing to draw breath, she notice that Lord St. Vincent didn’t appear properly impressed by her list of faults. “Also, my legs are skinny. Like a stork’s.”

FINAL DECISION:  So rarely does a highly anticipated sequel live up to expectations.  While not as good as DEVIL IN WINTER, this book is a worthy successor.  Will take a place on my favorites’ shelf.

THE STORY: Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent has accidentally compromised an unusual young lady, Lady Pandora Ravenel.  Neither, however, wants to marry — Gabriel because he sees that Pandora is completely unsuitable to be the type of dignified wife he needs; Pandora because she has no intention of allowing any man to control her fate and life.  Gabriel is fascinated with Pandora and finds himself drawn to her.  Pandora finds in Gabriel a man who listens to her and respects her opinions, but the risk of becoming essentially his to control is something she doesn’t want to risk even as she falls for him.

OPINION:

“No matter how she had tried to make herself want what she should want, she knew she would never be happy in a conventional life.”

Pandora is an amazing creation.  She is neurotic, opinionated, intelligent, oh so clever and yet sweet in a unique way.  I loved just about everything about her.  She is a different kind of wallflower.  A woman who is so brilliant that she has difficulties with the social niceties that society demands. Always the odd person in the group, she has managed to forge a future for herself as a game designer. (I absolutely loved her devotion to her budding career).  Everything about her character felt fresh and new and oh so lovely, especially for all of us who feel out of step with what people expect from us.

Gabriel is a hero who is so different from his father and yet has the best qualities of both his parents. He manages to be so incredibly caring and supportive of Pandora.  She is a special person and Gabriel knows exactly how to care for her. He is kind and so so dreamy.  Sexy and definitely a man in charge, he also has the gentleness of his mother and the benefit of having grown up in a loving family. He is a man who doesn’t need to be reformed to be a wonderful man — he just is.

“Your problem,” his sister continued, “is that you’re too good at maintaining that facade of godlike perfection. You’ve always hated for anyone to see that you’re a mere mortal. But you won’t win this girl that way.” She began to dust the sand from her hands. “Show her a few of your redeeming vices, dear. She’ll like you all the better for it.”

I rarely love a book as much as I loved this one primarily because Gabriel was such a warm loving man and he made it his mission to balance out all the jagged edges of Pandora’s life. His giving nature and willingness to put his own needs and desires aside to help fulfill Pandora was so wonderful to read about.  He finds Pandora incredibly charming and she brings something to him that makes him want to protect her.  And yet, he cannot crush her by forcing her to conform and be “safe”.

“It was insane to let a creature so perfectly beautiful and artlessly spirited and vulnerable as his wife venture out into the world that could crush her with casual unconcern, and he had no choice to but allow it. For the rest of his life, he would feel a stab of dread every time she walked out the door, leaving him there with his heart wide open.”

I loved this book and if I liked it a smidgen less than the book on Gabriel’s parents it is only because the timeless trope of that book — wallflower and rake — is probably my favorite.  But this one is original and fresh and very wonderful.

“Their marriage would be a partnership, just like their waltzing…not perfect, not always graceful, but they would find their way together.”

Just incredibly lovely!

WORTH MENTIONING:  I would buy this book for the Prologue alone where Evangeline and Sebastian from DEVIL IN WINTER are most prominent.  One of my all time favorite books and the prologue shows why.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DEVIL IN SPRING is the third book in the Ravenels series.  This book is much better if read as part of the series, but a new reader should also include DEVIL IN WINTER which is from Kleypas’s Wallflowers series.  This book is a direct sequel from that book as it tells the story of the son of the DEVIL IN WINTER couple (who make appearances of their own).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Wait for Dark

Review: Wait for DarkWait for Dark (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit #17) by Kay Hooper
Series: Bishop/Special Crimes Unit #17
Published by Berkley on March 7th 2017
Genres: Paranormal, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 304
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This is a weird and creepy story (a good thing in this series!) but what I love best is getting more character development from Hollis and more about her relationship with Reese.

THE STORY:  Hollis Templeton has progressed from being a victim to now becoming a team leader for the SCU.  She and her partner Reese DeMarco come to Clarity, North Carolina in order to investigate a series of deaths that appear to be accidents and yet seem like something much more sinister when the sheriff discovers that each victim received a text message stating “Wait for Dark” before their deaths.  Not only is the team investigating strange crimes but Hollis’s paranormal senses are continuing to evolve as she has to confront her own past as a victim.

OPINION:  I really liked this one because while the focus was appropriately on the suspense story and the investigation, there was quite a bit about Hollis’s own struggles.  I have loved reading about Hollis’s development throughout the series and this book takes her development to another level.  Just a warning though — things are not completely resolved and I expect we will get more Hollis books in the future.

What I like best about this book is that there is a real question about what is going on for a good portion of the book.  That builds drama and interest.  This is not a mystery book. You are not going to be able to gather suspects and evidence and find out what is happening.  This story is just creepy and strange and filled with scary images and possibilities.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I was glad to see Bishop and Miranda.  I keep wishing for another book with the two as the focus.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  WAIT FOR DARK is the seventeenth book in the Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series.  This book really needs to be read in context of other books in the series to truly appreciate it.  It is not necessary to read all the books in the series first, but I recommend reading TOUCHING EVIL, SENSE OF EVIL, BLOOD DREAMS, BLOOD SINS, BLOOD TIES, HAVEN, HOSTAGE, and HAUNTED first.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Tamed by the Earl

Review: Tamed by the EarlTamed by the Earl (Regency Unlaced 9) by Carole Mortimer
Series: Regency Unlaced #9
Published by Carole Mortimer on February 24th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 99
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This is a nice story that wraps up the series in a satisfactory fashion, but it is not among the best of the series.  The length of the novella made the relationship too quick and the sexual relationship felt rushed.  Good one time read.

THE STORY:  Lord Daniel Somersby, Earl of Latham survived a miserable marriage.  Since he has an heir, he has no intention of marrying again.  Returning home, Daniel runs into a fight among his stable boys.  The newest boy is causing trouble and something about his intrigues Daniel.  Disguised as a boy, Lady Josephine Kendall is running from her cousin who has tried to sexually abuse her and marry her off to settle his gambling debts.  Temporarily residing as a stablehand, Jo is fascinated by Daniel but trying desperately to maintain her disguise.

OPINION:  This novella fits right into the rest of the series.  The emphasis in the book is on the relationship between the characters and the plot does nothing more than serve that end.  I appreciate books that focus on characters because that is the reason I love romances.  This story is short so the character development is not too deep, but the story plays on some classic tropes that I enjoy.  The woman disguised as a boy is always a fun one.  Here Jo is a thorn to Daniel because he can’t seem to get her out of his mind despite believing her to be a boy.  The story is straightforward and a quick read.

If you have read the others in the series, you should finish out with this one.  There is a small payoff in the end.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book is the last in the series and gives a little peek at the other characters at the end.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  TAMED BY THE EARL is the ninth book in the Regency Unlaced series.  It can be read as a standalone although there is information about other characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Encounters with a Rogue

Review: Encounters with a RogueEncounters With a Rogue by Deb Marlowe
Series: Half Moon House #1.5, #1.8
Published by Deb Marlowe on March 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-half-stars

This book is a compilation of two separate novellas from the Half Moon House series.  These are my first foray into this series and I did not feel that I needed to read the other books before appreciating these books.  These novellas were so good that I purchased the other books in the series to enjoy.

The novellas have been published previously, so check before purchasing.

These books are a nice complement to one another as the hero of the second novella appears as a secondary character in the first.  Readers get to see his growth and redemption by reading both novellas.

AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER:  Miss Elizabeth Moreton has run off to London to avoid her step-father’s plan to marry her off to a local squire in exchange for breeding stock for his cattle.  Unfortunately, she is abandoned by the person she expected to help her.  Instead, she ends up pretending to be a governess for a young orphaned girl.  The girl is the ward of Lord Edmund Cotwell, a gruff man who has cut himself off from society.  Lisbeth finds herself mending the hearts of both Edmund and his ward and finding a purpose of her own.

Novellas are difficult creatures.  Compared to full length novels, they often feel incomplete and shallow.  On the other hand, they give authors a chance to tell stories of beloved characters who might not otherwise have their tale told.  I very much enjoyed this novella because I thought the characters were well drawn, their story was tightly told and engaging and I left the story satisfied with the whole. I really thought the characters were sweet and I admit I am a sucker for the historical guy who is interested in things other than drinking, whoring and socializing.  Edmund’s scientific interests made him sexier and far more intriguing than he would have otherwise been.  I liked that all the characters here: Edmund, Lizabeth and the ward are out of step with what would be expected in society.  They are so clearly meant for one another.  Rating: 4 stars.

A WALTZ IN THE PARK: Two people holding themselves out to society with a mask for their own purposes.  James Vickers wants to be as scandalous as possible in order to frustrate his despised father.  Even though he has reformed himself from his wild and rakish days, he doesn’t want his father to know.  James knows his father is an abominable man and wants to find out what he is hiding.  This season, James meets Miss Adelaide Stockton who knows she must act with utmost propriety in order to live down her mother’s scandal and find a husband of her own.  The two should have nothing to do with one another and yet cannot help but be attracted.

This was my favorite of the two stories because it had a a beautiful and unexpected arc to the story ending up with the title-tease waltz in the park. From the beginning, there was such a unique connection between the two main characters.  James is a man who struggles with his demons and needs to find out who he can be apart from his desire to frustrate his father’s ends. Addy doesn’t know what she wants from life and slides into her family’s expectations. The relationship between Addy and James manages to free them both to be who they want to be. The story has humor and drama and even some well placed angst.  But what I loved most was the blatant romantic climax of the story. This was a story that I wished were longer, but I’d rather have the story than not.  Rating: 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: The Daring Duke

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Daring DukeThe Daring Duke (The 1797 Club 1) by Jess Michaels
Series: The 1797 Club #1
Published by The Passionate Pen on March 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A pretty straight forward historical romance, the story of these characters is complicated by miserable families which have hurt them and made them question the institution of marriage.  A good beginning of a new series premised on the improbable coincidence of a number of eligible dukes available for marriage at the same time.

THE STORY:  James, Duke of Abernathe, is a founding member of the 1797 Club — a group of young dukes who work together and help one another navigate their positions.  A central part of being a duke is marrying to carry on the family, but James intends never to marry even though no one knows why.  Miss Emma Liston is a bluestocking and wallflower and in four seasons has not found a spouse.  She asks James to help her by pretending to be interested in her in order to increase her popularity among the other men of the ton.

OPINION:  This is a book with immensely likeable main characters.  Both Emma and James have been hurt by their dysfunctional families which has made both wary of marriage.  Yet they quickly find in one another passion and friendship and eventually love.

Emma is a bluestocking and wallflower who wants love and marriage but has a father who threatens all her possible happiness.  The book manages to keep the exact nature of her father’s threat secret and gently moves toward the crisis in the book.

James is a man who is determined never to marry in revenge on the father who abused him as a child.  James is a kind man who wants the best for his family but cannot forget the neglect and active abuse of his father who never wanted James as his heir.  James wants Emma and uses the excuse of “helping” her find another man as an excuse to get closer to her — even though James himself doesn’t recognize that fact.

The book is highly focused on the couple in this book and the plot is really designed to bring these two together and thus doesn’t have much impact other than that purpose.

My one complaint about the story is that Emma quickly agrees to engage in sexual acts with James without any intention of marriage. While the intense sexuality is expected in a Jess Michaels book, I thought that the innocent Emma too quickly agrees to allow James to debauch her as long as she remains technically a virgin.

This one complaint doesn’t impair my overall enjoyment of the story primarily because the characters are so likeable.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I can’t wait to read James’s sister’s story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DARING DUKE is the first book in the 1797 Club series which tells the story of ten dukes.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE:  I received and ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: The Deed

Review: The DeedThe Deed (Deed, #1) by Lynsay Sands
Series: Deed #1
Published by Avon on August 30th 2011
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The story is uneven and while it has some very funny parts, I ultimately found it pretty average.  It was okay as a one time read but I don’t think I would read it again and I’m not excited about reading further in the series.

THE STORY:  Emmaline Eberhart has to petition the King to get her husband to consummate their marriage.  When her husband dies on his way home to do his duty, Emmaline is widowed and now in a vulnerable position.  The King sends Lord Amaury de Aneford to marry her.  He doesn’t want to, but agrees to in order to gain the estate.

OPINION:  This book had great promise based on its blurb.  The book has some great humorous moments surrounding Emmaline’s innocence regarding sex.  I liked how she tries to grieve her dead husband by dying every single piece of cloth in the castle black.  She doesn’t even really understand that her prior marriage was not fully consummated and that leads to some humorous moments.  But at times, her innocence and naive nature got annoying to me.  It is a one joke story that never really gained any depth to the story after the punchline was told.  I did like the story one time going in but those little issues are what I remember about this story rather than the romance.  I really like medieval stories so I wanted to like this one, but I just found it average.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book was originally published in 1997 and has been republished with a new cover.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DEED is the first book in the Deed series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars

Review: Stormchaser

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: StormchaserStormchaser (Cutter Cay #4) by Cherry Adair
Series: Cutter Cay #4
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on March 7th 2017
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 352
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A story with lots of lies and deceit on the heroine’s part, the connection between the characters really works.  My complaint about the book is that her lies are forgiven way too soon.

THE STORY: Jonah Cutter is the illegitimate brother of the Cutter clan. He has a lot to prove to himself and to make himself feel that he belongs in the family. He believes he has found Atlantis and brings the skeptic Dr. Calista West aboard to prove it. Calista has agreed to come onto the project for only one reason — she is working with the Cutter’s enemy and intends to thwart Jonah’s project.  But that was before she met Jonah and begins to have her loyalties challenged.

OPINION:  This book was a fun read as it twisted in ways that I did not expect when it began.

Calista is a woman who intends to help her only family with his revenge against his enemies, the Cutters. She will help him sweep in and steal Jonah’s find.  She is a widow, but pretends to be married in order to keep herself safe from any advances by Jonah. But she doesn’t expect to find a man who she can admire and a project that might actually be the find of the century.  Nor does she expect to begin to fall in love with the one man she should keep away from.

Jonah can’t keep his eyes off Calista, but he has no intent of making any moves on a married woman.  His own family history protects him from the moral hazard — or so he believes.  Even as he knows that Calista is off-limits, he cannot stop thinking about her.

I enjoyed this book which has a twisty and unexpected plot. What Jonah has discovered and the crew’s attempts to uncover its secrets keeps moving the story forward.  I liked the chemistry between these characters and I especially liked Jonah who was a nicer guy than I expected in the beginning.

And that leads to my complaint about the book.  Calista lies to Jonah throughout the book but when her lies are uncovered, there are no real consequences for her. She is forgiven after only a short time and after no groveling on her part. Although a huge part of the plot of the book, there is no confrontation with the enemy and no serious consequences for Calista.  I just think there needed to be more considering the magnitude of the deception.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book really made me want to read the next book in the series which will be about the Cutter family’s enemy.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  STORMCHASER is the fourth book in the Cutter Cay series.  It not not necessary to read the other books first, however, because I haven’t and I didn’t feel that I missed anything.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

three-stars

Review: Someone to Love

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Someone to LoveSomeone to Love (Darling, VT #2) by Donna Alward
Series: Darling, VT #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on March 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The story of two damaged people who are survivors of some of life’s tragedies, this book dwells not on the sadness of their lives but how they can move forward to find joy in one another.

THE STORY:  Ethan Gallagher is a widower with two young boys.  Having met, married and lost the love of his life, Ethan is dwelling in his grief and has no intention of falling in love again.  When he meets his sister-in-law’s best friend, the two rub each other the wrong way.  Willow Dunaway is too much of free spirit according to Ethan.  From her dyed hair to her tattoo, Willow is not serious according to Ethan.  When his sons take to Willow, however, Ethan finds himself spending more time for Willow and finding out that that former high achieving high schooler has rebuilt herself after her life was shattered.  Willow is herself afraid of falling in love, but this firefighter and his two adorable children call to her heart.

OPINION:  Can I admit to really liking stories where the main characters get each other completely wrong in in the beginning?  And boy do Ethan and Willow see one another in a warped way in the beginning. Assumptions, stereotypes and just plain misunderstandings abound in the beginning.  The two end up fighting and arguing and just purely want to dislike one another.  Because, of course, they are perfect for one another but neither wants that to be true.

Ethan is a good and honest man who loved his deceased wife tremendously.  The two made promises on the infamous kissing bridge (which promises love for life), but the lifetime the two expected ended far too soon.  Buried in grief since her death, Ethan finds himself being pulled, unwillingly, into life again. Willow touches something in Ethan that he believed broken and he finds himself resenting it. He doesn’t want to feel again and he certainly doesn’t want to love.  But despite himself, he begins to fall for Willow.

Willow, herself, is closed off to the possibility of love.  A youthful mistake almost destroyed her and caused her to reinvent herself. Her safe and comfortable self discounts the possibility of truly opening herself up to weakness and love.  It is much easier for her to keep her relationships constrained and herself in control. Quirky and unique, Willow demonstrates the dangers of assuming you know someone’s story based on appearances or superficial knowledge. As Ethan (and we the readers) learn, Willow has deep reasons for being who she appears to be on the outside. Ethan and his sons begin to break down the protective walls that Willow has built and he thus challenges her control.

The romance between Willow and Ethan is so powerful because these two seem to have no chance as the book begins. They learn that they are more similar than they expected and liking one another turns to a powerful sexual attraction and eventually they have to make the leap of faith to trust love.  Even if there are no guarantees.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For fans of the first book SOMEONE LIKE YOU, there is a little special surprise for you too!

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SOMEONE TO LOVE is the second book in the Darling, VT series.  The romance in this book is independent of the other book in the series, but the main characters of this book do appear in the prior book.  This book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Blog Tour Excerpt: How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days

How To Tame a Beast in Seven Days
The Embraced Series
By Kerrelyn Sparks

Kerrelyn Spark’s previous series, Love at Stake, constantly hit the New York Times bestseller list and created a massive fan following for her witty vampires. With the end of her vampire series, comes the start of an extraordinary new fantasy romance series called The Embraced beginning with HOW TO TAME A BEAST IN SEVEN DAYS (St. Martin’s Paperbacks; March 7, 2017). Set in a medieval mythical world, the series explores a special group of people with powers born when the two moons of the world form an eclipse. In the start of the series we meet Luciana, who can speak to the dead, and the Beast of Benwick who can controlling lightening.

Luciana grew up on the Isle of Moon, hidden away because of her magical powers. But when her father arrives, he offers her a choice: remain on the island or return with him and marry the Beast of Benwick in order to save their legacy – and her father’s life.

Lord Leofric, the Beast of Benwick, has not been touched since he was a child. Born with the power to harness lightning, he is a danger to everyone he touches. When he meets his betrothed, he expects a loveless, lonely marriage…until he discovers she’s vastly more powerful than he realized. But is she strong enough to withstand his touch?

If they can survive, their love will alter the future of the kingdom. But will their extraordinary powers cost them everything?

Filled with romance, humor, and a beautifully imagined new world, HOW TO TAME A BEAST IN SEVEN DAYS is a fantasy in the vein of Game of Thrones with all the fun of The Princess Bride. Luciana is a vibrant leading lady that will have readers rooting for her spunk and devotion to her family while the Beast is a swoon worthy hero worth taming.

About the Author

KERRELYN SPARKS is the New York Times bestselling author of the Love at Stake series. Visit her online at www.kerrelynsparks.com.

And Now an Excerpt from the new book:

As Leo and his companions rode north, the rain began, and the rolling green landscape gave way to increasingly taller hills. Their horses went at full gallop, eating up the miles before the rain could turn the dirt road into a sea of mud.

By the time they passed the second beacon, the rain was pounding on them. Their uniforms were drenched, their hair plastered to their heads. The hills had become mountains, and flocks of sheep huddled in the narrow glens where a few trees could give them shelter.

Thunder clapped overhead, and Leo spotted the first flash of lightning to the west. Good. He was going to need all the power he could get. Normal people didn’t stand a chance against the winged creatures that breathed fire. People like his father.

Leo had heard the story many times over a campfire. His father’s last battle had been against the Norveshki. Cedric had plowed through a dozen of their fierce warriors, but when a dragon had attacked, all his bravery and expertise had been in vain.

Another flash of lightning, this one a little closer. Leo would need to break off from the group soon. As they neared the village, a mountain loomed to the right, topped with craggy cliffs and a beacon tower. It was Mount Baedan, which the village was named after. He spotted a cliff that overlooked the village. That was the perfect place.

“My lord.” Nevis drew his attention to a horseman charging toward them. A scout.

Leo and his companions slowed to a stop. “Report,” he said, loud enough to be heard over the pouring rain.

The scout bowed his head, causing a puddle of rain to slosh off the brim of his cap onto his chest. “Four dragons from Norveshka have attacked the village of Mount Baedan.”

“No warriors?” Leo asked.

“None, my lord. Just the dragons. They swooped into the valley and set the village ablaze to force the people from their homes. While the villagers ran to a nearby cave, two of the dragons captured two small children and flew away.”

Leo stiffened, his hands tightening on the reins, as the men around him cursed under their breaths. Ten years ago, the dragons had started snatching sheep. Now they were nabbing small children.

He glanced westward, hoping to see another flash of lightning streak across the sky. He needed the power now. “The rain put out the fires,” the scout continued. “The villagers are starting to leave the cave. A group of men

rode out, hoping to rescue the two children.”

Leo swallowed hard as bile rose up his throat. The rescue attempt would be in vain. Men on horseback could not cross the mountains as fast as a dragon could fly.

Thunder cracked overhead so loud, the men flinched. “Ride on to the village,” Leo shouted at them. “The last

two dragons could still be close by. I’ll take care of them. You protect the people.” He turned his horse and started up the slope of Mount Baedan.

Higher and higher his horse climbed, but eventually the path became too muddy. Leo dismounted and patted the horse, the quilted material now drenched through.

“Go join the others.” He gave the horse a slap on the rump, and it started down the mountain.

Leo abandoned the muddy path that snaked back and forth up the mountainside. Instead, he scrambled straight up the rocky slope. He was halfway up when a bolt of lightning shot from the sky and struck the ground thirty yards away, blasting a boulder into bits.

Yes! The lightning had found him and was zeroing in. Energy from the blast rolled toward him, seeking him out in waves he couldn’t see, but could feel. His skin tingled. His hair, which had been plastered to his head, now crack- led as it lifted into the air.

Thunder boomed overhead, sending another wave of energy toward him. It slithered under his damp clothes, giving him a slight shock. Then an increase in power. And speed. He charged up the mountainside faster than any human could go.

Anticipation swelled inside him as he reached the first set of cliffs. Another lightning bolt ripped through the sky, this one hitting only fifteen yards away. It blasted through the rocks, causing the cliff to crumble away. As the ledge beneath his feet trembled, he ran and leaped.

He landed on the next cliff six feet away as thunder cracked and the first cliff tumbled down the mountainside. More energy surged into him, and he scrambled higher up the mountain. Faster. In a race against the next strike.

He reached the highest cliff. Nearby on the mountain summit, the beacon tower stood, deserted in the storm, its flame long smothered by the rain. The village lay nestled in the valley far below. He spotted houses built of stone with their thatched roofs burned away. The chapel of Enlightenment partially destroyed. The village lookout tower stood as high as the chapel bell tower and was manned by a lone villager. No doubt, he was keeping an eye out for the last two dragons.

Nevis and his troop arrived, and the villagers poured from their homes to welcome them. Leo winced at the sight of small children running about. Dammit, Nevis, get them back into the cave.

A rumbling noise echoed through the valley, sounding much like thunder, but Leo knew better. It was the beat- ing of dragon wings. The last two dragons had waited for the people to reappear.

Leo ripped off his gloves and threw them down, along with his bow and quiver. Then he drew his sword and pointed it to the sky. “Now!

Lightning broke through the dark clouds, racing toward him. He widened his stance and braced for impact. It struck his sword, fracturing so that a dozen smaller streaks shot off in a circle around him.

The major portion of the lightning sizzled down his sword, eager to reach his flesh. It hit his bare hand and jolted him so hard he fell to his knees and dropped the sword. The dozen fractured shards rebounded, drawn to him like a magnet. They pounded into him, jerking him back and forth. Thunder cracked over him so loud his ears rang.

Power surged through him, so fierce and scorching he thought his skin would melt, his guts would boil, and his head burst like a kernel of corn dropped into a fire. Pain and power, power and pain, he could no longer tell the difference. He only knew he wanted it, wanted to drink it in, soak it up, and claim it all.

The fiery torture eased to a warm, buzzing sensation, and he found himself on all fours, gasping for air. How many times had he endured this? And it still hurt like hell. He rested back on his knees and splayed his hands in front of him. Sparks skittered around his fingers like a host of fireflies.

Good, but not enough. The Beast wanted more.

He grabbed his sword and hefted himself to his feet. “More, dammit!” He lifted his sword in the air.

Lightning struck again, driving him to his knees and knocking the sword from his grip. He cried out as both pain and power ripped through him. Nevis was right. Someday he would explode.

Thunder cracked around him as if he’d become the center of the storm. His ears grew numb, only hearing the buzz of energy pulsing around him. This time, when he examined his hands, streaks shot out a few yards. Not enough to kill a dragon.

He fumbled for his sword once again. Nevis’s question reverberated in his head, bouncing off the inside of his skull. Do you enjoy courting death? Over the years, he’d found he could take in more power each time, but what was the limit? How would he know when it was too much?

He stumbled to his feet and slowly lifted the sword. When he had the weapon only waist-high, the lightning streaked toward him. Like a desperate lover, it pounced, not even waiting till he was fully cocked. It struck hard, flinging him through the air into the wall behind him. His head cracked against stone, and he crumpled into a heap.

Rain splattered on his face, keeping him conscious. The pain was merely the price he paid for the ability to protect his people. The pain would be fleeting.

The power he could keep for months.

He rose to his feet. If he were normal, he’d have suffered a concussion and some broken bones. Hell, if he were normal, he’d be dead. But instead, he swelled with strength and power. Tiny streaks of lightning swirled around him so fast, he appeared to glow.

He strode to the edge of the cliff to see what was happening. The dragons were flying low, probably to avoid the lightning. They swooped down at the screaming villagers, herding them away from the cave. Making them easy to prey upon.

With the superfast speed he now possessed, Leo pulled a length of coiled rope from his sword belt and tied one end loosely to a tree deeply rooted in the rock wall of the cliff. The other end, he tied to one of his metal arrows. He grabbed his metal bow, nocked the arrow, and imbued them with some of his energy. Now, when he shot the arrow, it would fly faster and farther.

He aimed for the lookout tower and let the arrow fly. It whistled through the air and struck the top wooden beam of the tower, embedded deep. Continuing at his fast speed, Leo tightened the rope, tossed his bow and quiver over his shoulder, sheathed his sword, then looped the sword belt over the rope. He ran to the cliff’s edge and pushed off.

Hanging on to the belt, he careened down the length of the rope. Just before crashing into the tower, he swung his legs up and over the top beam and landed on the top plat- form. The lone villager gaped at him.

“Go!” he shouted. With lightning sizzling around him like a golden nimbus, he didn’t need to speak twice.

The villager scrambled down the ladder, yelling that the Beast had arrived.

After dropping his sword belt on the platform, Leo quickly readied another arrow and pivoted, searching for the dragons. Even though it was possible for him to simply shoot a lightning bolt from his hand, he’d learned from experience that raw power didn’t always go exactly where he wanted it to go. Since there was a chance of hitting innocent bystanders or setting their homes on fire, he preferred to use a metal arrow imbued with his power so he could control the force and trajectory.

There, through a steady sheet of rain, a pair of red, glowing eyes was glaring at him. The dragon was perched on the bell tower of the chapel. It sat up, expanding its chest, a sure sign it was about to breathe fire.

Leo released enough energy to make sparks pop and crackle around the metal arrow. When he shot it, the arrow would fly with enough speed and power that it would actually pierce the dragon’s scaly skin and release an electric shock wave through the creature’s body.

He aimed for the dragon’s chest, but just as he let the arrow fly, the dragon pushed off, flying straight at him. Fire erupted from the dragon’s mouth, forcing him to drop flat onto the platform. Flames shot over him, missing him by a few inches. Meanwhile, the arrow hit the dragon’s hip.

Sparks spread from the arrow, jerking the dragon around in midair. It shrieked, then shot up into the sky and turned north toward Norveshka. Leo notched an arrow to shoot again, but screams below made him look down.

The second dragon had grabbed a child. “Nevis!” Leo shouted. “Catch it!”

Nevis spurred his horse and galloped after the dragon. It was gaining altitude, now higher than the rooftops of the houses.

Leo sent a surge of energy into his bow and arrow and aimed, trying to keep a safe distance from the child. The arrow zipped through the air. Direct hit to the dragon’s tail. Sparks exploded around the wound, racing up the dragon’s body, and it jolted, bellowing in pain and dropping the child. A dress flapped in the wind. It was a little girl.

Nevis charged onward as she tumbled from the sky. Villagers screamed, then let loose a round of cheers as Nevis managed to catch her.

The dragon flew away, filling the sky with an angry roar.

Leo lowered his bow and arrow and watched through the rain as the villagers crowded around Nevis. The little girl was safely deposited in the arms of her crying mother. Nevis glanced back at Leo and gave him a thumbs- up before being dragged off his horse by a swarm of happy villagers.

With a cheer, the villagers led Nevis and his men into the cave. Boys led the horses, including Leo’s horse, to the stables. Women dashed into their homes to gather cups and jugs of beer and wine. A few men rushed into a nearby pen to slaughter a lamb. Leo wasn’t sure if the village was celebrating the rescue of one child or drowning their sorrows for the two who were lost, but clearly they intended to partake of food and drink. And even more clearly, it was a celebration he could not attend.

He glanced at his hands. Sparks still shimmered around his fingers. One false move, and lightning would streak from his fingertips, possibly killing someone. He’d been in such a hurry he’d left his gloves on the cliff. With a sigh, he picked up his sword belt, then buckled it on.

The rain was still pelting him, so he climbed down the ladder to a second platform just below. Drops of rain leaked between the wooden planks overhead, and the wind blew more rain at him, but it was an improvement. He sat in the driest corner and rested his back against a wooden pillar. For a short while, because he had released so much energy, he would feel all right. But soon the pain would start again.

He spotted two men rolling a cask toward the cave. The villagers must have run out of beer. Sounds of laughter emanated from the cave. Soon he could smell the scent of a lamb roasting over a fire. His stomach grumbled. A quick search of his pockets came up empty.

With a sigh, he leaned his head against the pillar. Alone again. It was always this way. He was too damned dangerous to be near anyone. Even Nevis had learned to stay away from him when he had this much power.

He closed his eyes as a memory flitted across his mind. The first time lightning had found him, he’d been only five years old. One strike had sent him flying, and he’d crumpled onto the ground, twitching uncontrollably. His nanny had run to him. Calling out to him, she’d touched his face. Then a surge of energy had shot through her, and she’d col- lapsed beside him dead.

His first victim. Someone he’d dearly loved.

“I didn’t mean to . . .” Leo whispered, the sound whisked away with the wind. “Forgive me.”

Since then, everyone had known to keep their distance. And if a stranger didn’t know, he soon learned when he heard the new name Leo had been given.

Never touch the Beast.

Never let the Beast touch you.

The rain continued to fall. The energy inside him spread throughout his body, expanding, rebelling against the narrow confines of his human shell, demanding to be released and used. Not now. He had to keep as much power as possible so it would be available whenever he needed it.

The sun lowered in the sky, and the wind became more chilled against his wet clothes. He welcomed the cold. It made it easier to deal with the energy boiling inside him, threatening to escape like steam from a kettle.

The strains of a pipe and fiddle came from the cave. The people were dancing, their music accentuating the thud- ding rhythm in his head. The energy kept expanding, pushing against the inner walls of his skull, pushing so hard he expected to hear the sound of bone cracking. He squeezed his eyes shut, gritting his teeth against the pain.

Sometimes he thought this was the worst part about his gift. The headaches would torture him until either he released some power or it managed to escape on its own.

“My lord?” a female voice spoke below.

He opened his eyes

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Last Night with the Duke Blog Tour

Last Night with the Duke Blog Tour

We are pleased to be part of the blog tour celebrating the release of LAST NIGHT WITH THE DUKE.  Our review can be read in full here.

We also bring you an excerpt:

His praise pleased her. She smiled and remained quiet. “Most of our guests would end up being so flustered by seeing double that they wouldn’t try to get their names right. They would just say ‘my lady.’ ” “Unfortunately, I wasn’t given that option.”

“After you’ve been around for a few more days, you’ll be able to tell them apart no matter how they are dressed.”

“It’s already getting easier.”

“Good. They may look exactly alike at times, but they have different natures. Vera’s nature is more forceful and cantankerous. Sara’s sweeter.”

Esmeralda started to say she agreed completely, but then thought better of it, and simply replied, “But both are lovely.”

The duke faced her. “Did Miss Fortescue teach you how to be so diplomatic?”

“No,” she answered with a teasing smirk. “It’s my nature.”

His smile was natural as he said, “And a temperamental nature it is at times.”

She frowned. “I’ll ignore that comment.”

“But you know it’s true. I’m glad you suggested bringing the girls to the park and so is my aunt. And I see you brought Josephine and Napoleon along too.

“You don’t mind, do you? I supposed I should have cleared it with you first.”

“I don’t mind. I can see you aren’t neglecting Sara and Vera. They are enjoying the show too.”

“I think so. Vera showed Josephine how to play throw and fetch with a stick. Napoleon was already quite familiar with what to do, so his former owners must have taught him. And the twins were very accommodating to him on our walk over here. They didn’t get upset when Napoleon wanted to check out every doorway, hitching post, and tree along the way.”

He chuckled. “Living a protected life at Griffin for so many years, Sara and Vera have had few occasions to enjoy friendships or relatives their own age. It will be good for them to have you as their chaperone. Except for me, my aunt, and the servants, they’ve had only each other to get to know. It’s made them close, but it also, regrettably, causes a fierce competitiveness from time to time.”

Including the pianoforte and Lord Henry, Esmeralda wanted to say but decided that Griffin didn’t need to know about the earl’s son.

“I’m rather glad they have someone else in the house to interact with now other than each other.”

“And that will change after they meet young ladies at the various parties.”

“Which reminds me,” he added. “I looked into your suggestion of finding out which young ladies who were a part of the wager hadn’t married and also had brothers, uncles, or fathers.”

“Who did you come up with?” she asked anxiously. “Only two names.”

“But didn’t Sir Welby think there were more than two at White’s?”

He nodded. “He did but admitted he couldn’t be sure of anything other than the comments that perhaps the way to get back at me was through my sisters. If you listen carefully enough in a taproom, you can overhear a lot of conversations.”

“But you’re saying we have two young men to watch carefully, right?”

“Yes. For now, anyway. Sir Charles Redding and Mr. Albert Trent are the only gentlemen who have sisters who received a secret admirer letter but never married.”

Esmeralda repeated the names in her mind. They weren’t on any of Lady Evelyn’s lists. And they wouldn’t be. She wouldn’t consider either of them high enough in the heel to offer for the twins.

Why did Esmeralda keep forgetting all she’d been taught when she was living in her uncle’s home? She knew all about the snobbery of Polite Society. She just hadn’t been a part of it for a long time. And now she was on the other side of it.

“I will keep a steady eye on the two should they get near Lady Sara or Lady Vera even for a dance.”

The duke’s eyes swept up and down her face. Fluttering began in Esmeralda’s chest. It was madness that whenever he looked at her with that intimate intensity radiating from him, she wanted him to pull her into his strong arms, nestle her to him, and kiss her eager lips. She knew he was attracted to her. He had admitted that. But surely she was more aware of his every breath than he was of hers.

“Did you know that out in the sunlight your eyes lose all their brown coloring and are golden?”

With that question, Esmeralda felt the atmosphere change. The noise of the crowd faded away, the cool breeze stilled, and the sun heated her face. It was as if she and the duke were the only two people in the park.

“How could I possibly know that? I have never seen my eyes outside a house.”

“I thought perhaps someone might have told you—your parents, possibly a beau?”

“I’m sure you’ve had countless ladies tell you that your eyes are as blue as a summer sky.”

He ignored her comment and said, “You skillfully deflected my question, but I’m not going to let you get by with that.”

She evaded him again by saying, “Did you ask one? I thought you were making a statement.”

He gave her an amused smile. “It’s always a challenge with you, Esmeralda. I like that.”

She gasped. “You can’t call me by my given name.”

“I can and will when we are alone and no one around to hear but you. Now, here is a direct question for you, Esmeralda. Have you ever been kissed?”

Her immediate instinct should have been to shy away from such intimate conversation once more and insist he call her Miss Swift at all times. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him she was outraged he’d ask her some- thing so personal, but staring into his striking gaze as it brushed down her face to her mouth, she knew she didn’t want to resist him in that way or any way.

Maybe she wanted him to call her Esmeralda and to know that her lips had never been touched by another’s. Maybe she wanted him to know she’d welcome his kiss.

Still, her practical, survival nature came to her rescue and she resisted what her heart desired and said, “I’ve not had time nor opportunity for such things as hugs and kisses.”

“Twenty-five and never been kissed.” His voice was low, and soft. “I find that very intriguing.”

His hold over her intensified. There was something about his unobtrusive interest in her that stirred her womanly passions to an anticipation she couldn’t have known existed.

Her throat ached with an increasing need that was al- ways denied—to feel his lips caress hers. Perhaps he found it intriguing she’d never been kissed, but she found it discouraging that she’d never had the opportunity to know what it felt like to be kissed. She wanted to know.

Putting all her sensible, inner declarations aside, and willing her voice not to quiver, she asked, “Are you offering to change that, Your Grace?”

Copyright © 2017 by Amelia Grey and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

PRAISE FOR AMELIA GREY:

“I loved The Duke In My Bed! Great characters! Amelia Grey never fails to entertain. She just keeps getting better and better.” —New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin

“A fun and absorbing read.”—Kirkus Reviews on Wedding Night with the Earl

The Duke In My Bed is Amelia Grey at her best: witty, delightful, and sensuous! This story has heart-stealing characters that will stay with you long after the last page.” —Joan Johnston, New York Times bestseller of Montana Bride

“Sweet, gentle…lovely romance.” —RT Book Reviews on The Earl Claims a Bride

“[A] very charming story.” —BookPage on The Earl Claims a Bride

“A touching and emotional love story.”—RT Book Reviews on Wedding Night with the Earl

LAST NIGHT WITH THE DUKE

Amelia Grey

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Amelia Grey is back with the first installment of her new Rakes of St. James series: LAST NIGHT WITH THE DUKE (St. Martin’s Paperbacks; March 7, 2017; $7.99; 978-1-250-10249-2)!  Enthralling and enticing, Grey weaves together the seductive story of a naughty Duke and the enchanting woman he falls for.

Could finding love be his greatest scandal of all? 

The Duke of Griffin has never lived down his reputation as one of the Rakes of St. James. Now rumors are swirling around London that his twin sisters may bear the brunt of his past follies. Hiring a competent chaperone is the only thing Griffin has on his mind–until he meets the lovely and intriguing Miss Esmeralda Swift. In ways he could never have expected, she arouses more than just his curiosity.
Esmeralda Swift considered herself too sensible to ever fall for a scoundrel, but that was before she met the irresistibly seductive Duke of Griffin. His employment offer proves too tempting for her to resist. She can’t afford to be distracted by his devilish charms because the stakes are so high for his sisters’ debut Season. . .unless one of London’s most notorious rakes has had a change of heart and is ready to make Esmeralda his bride.

 

LAST NIGHT WITH THE DUKE

By Amelia Grey

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-10249-2

Price: $7.99

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Amelia Grey read her first romance book when she was thirteen and she’s been a devoted reader of love stories ever since. Her awards include the Booksellers Best, Aspen Gold, and the Golden Quill. Writing as Gloria Dale Skinner, she won the coveted Romantic Times Award for Love and Laughter and the prestigious Maggie Award. Her books have sold to many countries in Europe, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, and most recently to Japan. Several of her books have also been featured in Doubleday and Rhapsody Book Clubs. Amelia is the author of twenty-five books. She’s been happily married to her high school sweetheart for over thirty-five years and she lives on the beautiful gulf coast of Northwest Florida. Her first book with St. Martin’s was The Duke in My Bed.

 

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