Review: Big Duke Energy

Review: Big Duke EnergyBig Duke Energy (Seasons of Sin Anthology Collection, #1; Victorian Rebels, #8) by Amalie Howard, Christi Caldwell, Janna McGregor, Kerrigan Byrne, Stacy Reid
Published by Oliver-Heber Books on March 29, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 610
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of five novellas that are not connected to one another. The conceit of the collection is that these are the stories of secondary characters from each author’s other series.

THE EARL ON THE TRAIN by Kerrigan Byrne (Victorian Rebels) — Sebastian Moncrieff has been the villain and when he runs into Veronica Weatherstoke again (and whom he kidnapped in the past), Veronica knows that he is up to no good. Indeed, he is but he can also be convinced to be helpful to Veronica’s own plans. This is a hot little story, and I loved this “epilogue” of a sort to the Victorian Rebels story as it resolves these two minor characters’ story in a satisfying manner. Readers of that series should definitely pick this one up. I loved these two. The “plot” is completely irrelevant and that is fine. The story wisely just focuses on the relationship between Sebastian and Veronica. Rating: 4.5 Stars.

THE WOLF OF WESTMORE by Amalie Howard (Regency Rogues) — Lady Jocelyn Capehart is to be married off by her father to a disgusting man. So she decides to have a night to herself and attend an auction at the notorious club of Wulfric Bane, Duke of Westmore who is the avowed enemy of her family — and the man she buys in the auction for herself. I loved this story. It is hot and sexy and has hints of both Romeo and Juliet and also Little Red Riding Hood. I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I understood enough for this story and this book made me want to read the other books (as characters make an appearance here). Jocelyn is very active and determined to live her own life. Does the book feel like much of the character’s thoughts and motivations are too contemporary — yes — but I took this more like a historical fantasy for those who need to be coddled with modern tropes. Rating: 4.5 stars.

PUT UP YOUR DUKES by Janna MacGregor (Cavensham Heiresses) — Amelia and Martin Richmond have been married and estranged for five years. Martin’s work publishing The Midnight Cryer the famous gossip pamphlet keeps them apart as Amelia cannot live with Martin destroying people with gossip. A threat to Martin’s business, however, brings the couple under the same roof for the first time since right after their marriage and challenges whether they can live together or must part for good. I really enjoyed the setup for this story. The situation and characters seemed well constructed for a great story. However, I got annoyed with Amelia’s nagging after a while. The story became “she is perfect” and “he must concede everything”. I was annoyed and the rest of the story was not satisfying to me. Rating: 2.5 stars.

DUKE OF EVERY SIN by Stacey Reid (Unknown Series) — Ethan Benedict, Duke of Bainbridge one night finds a baby left on his doorstep. When Lady Verity Stanton comes to claim the child who is her illegitimate nephew, the Duke refuses to return him and instead proposes a marriage of convenience between the two. The boy is Verity’s sister’s child with Ethan’s deceased friend. I wish I knew what series this book is connected with (if any) it would give me somewhere to begin reading Reid’s works. I enjoyed the emotional connection between Ethan and Verity. Yes, the setup is a bit ridiculous, but how it works out was pretty great. Rating: 4 stars.

LOVED AND FOUND by Christie Caldwell (Scandalous Affairs/Heart of a Scandal) — Lady Edith Peregrine, the Marchioness of Bouchier after years of marriage to a man she despised is now free. Lieutenant Thaddeus Phippen has returned from war and encounters Edith whom he loved until she married. Secrets are revealed in this story. I absolutely loved the setup of this story, but the resolution was too quick and didn’t really feel like a resolution. I needed 20 more pages with this couple in their happiness. Almost really good. Rating: 3 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Treacherous Trade

Review: A Treacherous TradeA Treacherous Trade (The Fiona Mahoney Mysteries, #2) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: The Fiona Mahoney Mysteries #2
on March 8, 2022
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Goodreads
three-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: Better than the first book in the series, it is more polished and cohesive. I enjoyed the mystery but the middle of the book dragged for me. Definitely reading the next in the series.

THE STORY: The second book in the series where Fiona is continuing her search for Jack the Ripper. Again prostitutes are ending up dead, but is it Jack or someone else preying upon the women? Fiona continues to interact with the men who were introduced in the first book. This is not a romance, but there are romantic elements.

OPINION: Fiona’s investigation is less bloody and more traditional detective in this book — although she doesn’t really figure out the villain until the villain is basically revealed to the reader. That being said, I enjoyed this book more than the first. What I did miss were more relationships. Instead, we got a slew of new characters to interact with which made the ending somewhat too mysterious.

The storyline here was certainly intriguing. I enjoy that Fiona goes to the less savory areas of London appropriate for someone whose obsession is a murderer who hunts prostitutes and whose job is cleaning up after death.

The book started well and ended well this time, but the middle was a bit bloated and dragged. However, I enjoyed the book as a whole and look forward to reading the next book in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book ends on a personal cliffhanger for Fiona.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A TREACHEROUS TRADE is the second book in the Fiona Mahoney Mystery series. The books are connected and should be read in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

 

three-half-stars

Review: The Devil in Her Bed

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


Review: The Devil in Her BedThe Devil in Her Bed (Devil You Know, #3) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Devil You Know #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on March 9, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 357
Goodreads
four-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: This book was almost a great book. Unfortunately, the ending when the final secret was revealed with completely unsatisfying. The amazing journey was not ended well. But there is much to love about this book.

THE STORY: Countess Francesca Cavendish is not who she appears. The survivor from a massacre that left her alone in the world, she assumed a new identity to hunt those responsible. In her search, she crosses paths with the Devil of Dorset, mysterious and solitary, he has his own agenda. But the two of them are connected in ways that neither expected. As each pursues their goals, the question is whether either can trust the other when so many lies and secrets are between them.

OPINION: This was almost my favorite of the series — for 90 percent of the book that was true. Then the ending came and the resolution of the final secret between these characters was poorly handled. Instead of drama and resolution, the author went simplistic and trite. Definitely unfortunate and it left me questioning the long happily ever after. Just not enough resolution for me.

The rest of the book was magical. The two characters are so well matched. The lies and secrets between them seemed reciprocal and thus there was no shame in each deceiving the other — rather than betrayal, there was respect. These two are in the mold of spies that are both doing their job on opposite sides. There is nothing personal about the deception. Thus, the great competition between them was deeply satisfying. As they both reveal themselves to the other, the intimacy of knowledge and being themselves worked so well.

Francesca is a great heroine. Strong and determined and independent. She doesn’t put up with the hero’s bull, but at the same time, the connection between the two felt genuine and deep.

Perhaps that is why the ending upset me. The final secret between these two was serious and needed real resolution. The work was not done in this book rather it was rushed and unconvincing. But the book is still a good story…I’ll just have to imagine my own resolution.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book involves characters who are often lying to one another and concealing secrets.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DEVIL IN HER BED is the third book in the Devil You Know series. The series has some overlapping storylines, but the individual romances mean that each book can be read on its own.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

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

 

four-stars

Review: The Business of Blood

Review: The Business of BloodThe Business of Blood (Fiona Mahoney Mysteries, #1) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Fiona Mahoney Mysteries #1
Published by Oliver Heber on November 8, 2019
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 308
Goodreads
three-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: This is not a romance! It is a mystery but it is dark and very bloody for a historical mystery. The book doesn’t fit well within any genre, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t really intrigued by it. The book doesn’t always work, but I see something really fresh and interesting struggling to be revealed — and Fiona is compelling. I would definitely keep reading this series.

THE STORY: Fiona Mahoney makes her way in life by — literally — cleaning up after violence and death. Haunted by the Jack the Ripper murders, Fiona continues to search for the killer. Her activities in London bring her in contact with men of various stations of life who have their own secrets. When murders that appear connected with the Ripper murders occur, Fiona’s own life appears threatened.

OPINION: I really wanted to love this book. Victorian mystery around the Jack the Ripper murders — definitely catnip for me. But this book was so uneven. Perhaps because the author is breaking out from her own typical book and crossing genres, the book doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

The mystery was meh. The reveal was shocking which isn’t always good because it felt like a bit of a cheat. The best mysteries surprise but are obvious upon reflection — this book didn’t work like that. It felt more like a thriller at that point. Also, the exposition of the book dragged the story — for me, it needed more drama and tension.

The resolution of the story was amazing well done — tension, drama, emotion, and perfect pitch. I just wish more of the book was that well done. But I did like the book overall and am definitely willing to read more of the series to see if the author finds a true voice for the story.

I really did like the character of Fiona which along with the end of the book was a highlight for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: Jack the Ripper, need I say more?

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE BUSINESS OF BLOOD is the first book in the Fiona Mahoney Mysteries series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

 

three-stars

Review: All Scot and Bothered

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


Review: All Scot and BotheredAll Scot and Bothered (Devil You Know, #2) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Devil You Know #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on September 29, 2020
Genres: Historical
Pages: 395
Goodreads
one-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I was bored by this book. The story, the hero and heroine, nothing interested me. I felt the story was more interested in complaining about women’s role in the world rather than the romance.

THE STORY: Cecelia Teague has a secret benefactor from whom she inherits a girls’ school — and a gambling establishment. This unwittingly places her in opposition to one of her best friend’s brother-in-law, Cassius Gerard Ramsay, Lord Chief Justice of the High Court, who has made it his mission to investigate the establishment and bring to justice those who are engaging in illegal activities. Taking on a disguise, Cecelia confronts Ramsay who finds himself attracted to both the innocent Cecelia and her alter ego.

OPINION: Disappointing book. There is no fire here. The book was dull and so were the characters. The book feels like the author wanted to tell a story about a woman rejecting conventions of her time and then grafted the romance upon the story. As a result, neither the characters nor the romance had any interest.

I read romance books for the romance between the characters — not about the self-actualization of women or their feminist ideas. I’m not against either of those things, but if the romance is not primary, then it is not really a romance to me. Yes, there is the relationship focus in the book, but the characters felt bland.

This is the worst of Byrne’s books I’ve read. The decline from the Victorian Rebels series is serious and I would not recommend reading this one. It seemed rather pointless.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a darling little girl who is central to the story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ALL SCOT AND BOTHERED is the second book in the Devil You Know series. The romance here is self-contained and while characters from the first book are in this book, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 1.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC via Netgalley in order to prepare this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

one-half-stars

Review: A Dark and Stormy Knight

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


Review: A Dark and Stormy KnightA Dark and Stormy Knight (Victorian Rebels, #7) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #7
Published by Gnarly Wool Publishing on June 2, 2020
Genres: Historical
Pages: 266
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: A great payoff for those who have followed the Victorian Rebels series from the beginning. Loved, loved the dark and tormented Carlton with his hidden past and Pru who is going to take something for herself before being forced into marriage.

THE STORY: Sir Carlton Morley lives a double life. The stiff-lipped respected Chief Investigator of Scotland Yard is also the vigilante by night who assures that justice is done. His night investigations take him to a pleasure garden where he encounters Prudence Goode who has come to take her pleasure before being married off to a man who has betrayed her.

OPINION: I have been waiting for this book since the first in the series. It was always clear that there were depths to Carlton’s characters. The upright investigator is haunted by his past and the lack of justice he can see in his job. I loved how it is clear that he is beloved by his men who see his thirst for justice and doing right.

Pru is a woman who believed she had the perfect engagement until she finds out the truth. That is the beginning of Pru leaving the expectations of a woman of her time and taking her life into her own hands.

After the first encounter between Carlton and Pru, they next meet when Pru becomes a suspect that Carlton must investigate. The combination of the personal relationship with Carlton’s suspicions of Pru made this book very interesting to me. I enjoyed the back and forth and difficulties these two have in finding a happy ending.

What elevates this book is the appearances of characters from the Victorian Rebels series. I loved seeing them again and having them play a role in Carlton’s romance after his interference in theirs. The interaction between the men was especially humorous.

I’m glad that Carlton had his story told at last.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book introduces characters who will appear in the Byrne’s next series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DARK AND STORMY KNIGHT is the seventh book in the Victorian Rebels series. The romance here is self-contained, but some of the best part of this story is the development of Morley’s character through the series so I recommend reading from the beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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

 

five-stars

Review: How to Love a Duke in Ten Days

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


Review: How to Love a Duke in Ten DaysHow to Love a Duke in Ten Days (Devil You Know, #1) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Devil You Know #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 27, 2019
Genres: Historical
Pages: 448
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: A hard book for me to get started reading because of the violence in the first chapter, I started and stopped the book several times. But I’m so glad that I continued the book. Is there darkness? Yes, but utimately, this is a book of strength and prevailing over the darkness for both the hero and the heroine.

THE STORY:  Lady Alexandra Lane has built a life for herself. When one of her best friends asks for her help, Alexandra rushes to her. She meets her friend’s intended fiance, Piers Gedrick Atherton, the Duke of Redmayne. In a twist, Alexandra ends up proposing a deal with Piers, they will marry and Alexandra’s family will be saved and he will have heirs as his revenge against his cousin and the woman Piers loved but who betrayed him. But their respective pasts cause problems between them.

OPINION: I really loved the relationship between Alexandra and Piers. These two people are almost undone by their pasts. But each are intelligent and compassionate people and find a way to close the distance between them. At times dark, the relationship between the two is surprisingly sweet.

Alexandra is a woman trying to deal with her violation in a time when there was little support and much condemnation for women. She has managed to build a life for herself. Brilliant, she has gotten a doctorate in archaeology. She has traveled the world and made a career when such things were frowned upon. What she hasn’t been able to do is have any romantic entanglements. Until she meets Piers…

Piers is struggling with trust issues especially related to unfaithful women, so he does not react well to Alexandra’s secrets. And yet, he ends up being a wonderful guy, thoughtful and caring and, most importantly, he appreciates Alexandra. I especially loved how he recognizes his own selfishness and turns on a dime to support Alexandra.

Stories built upon misunderstandings, when one character keeps a secret that could be resolved by just telling the truth are not my favorite, but it works here because I understand why Alexandra keeps her secrets.

I thought that with difficult subject matter, this book did extremely well in representing both Alexandra and Piers’ viewpoints. It was nuanced and blunt and depicted the pain and lasting damage done by sexual assault.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book depicts and has as a central part of the story, the rape of the heroine (not by the hero).

CONNECTED BOOKS: HOW TO LOVE A DUKE IN TEN DAYS is the first book in the Devil You Know series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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

five-stars

Review: The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo

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


Review: The Duke with the Dragon TattooThe Duke with the Dragon Tattoo (Victorian Rebels, #6) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #6
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 28, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

 

“There are only two indisputable facts in the world: The sun will rise in the west, and I’ll come for you. Always.”

FINAL DECISION: My favorite book since the first two in the series, this book took my breath away and I fell in love with the main characters. Passionate and dramatic with humor and underlying sweetness, the story fulfilled all the promises that began in the first book of the series.

THE STORY: The notorious pirate is known only as the Rook. A man without a past, without a name. Twenty years ago, he awoke in a mass grave and was pulled from death by Lorelei Weatherstoke. The Rook was once given the name of Ash by Lorelei who nursed the young man back to health and began to dream of a future with him. Until the moment that they were betrayed in an act which separated them for two decades. Now the Rook has returned for his revenge and to claim the woman who he has never forgotten. Lorelei, however, finds that the young man she once loved has now become someone that she should fear and flea at all costs.

OPINION: The first romance book I ever read was A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey in the 1980s. Since that first taste, I’ve always had a soft spot for pirate heroes and I have read a lot in the intervening years. But many of those pirate hero books are problematic bodice rippers. The book (whether intentional or not) is a re-imagining of the old trope.

Here, the Rook is a notorious, dangerous and murderous villain on the high seas. He has done horrible things, but we also get to see the events which sent him on the path he is on. Significantly, however, this is not excuse but understanding. Like the other heroes in this series, the Rook has been damaged by his past. Poverty, desperation, physical and mental torture, rape and constant violence has created a man with only one weakness — the sweet and innocent woman who cared for him and brought him back from the dead.

And this is why the power dynamic is so different in this story. The Rook can abduct Lorelei and keep her captive on a ship where his word alone rules, but he cannot impose his will upon her. Both because Lorelei is stronger than one might expect (after having survived her own trials) and the Rook cannot possess the woman he wants if he crushes everything about her that he desires. Lorelei, however, will also not be placed on a pedestal for the Rook to admire from afar. She is a woman who wants to make her own stand by the man she loves.

There were so many good moments in this book that had humor, drama, mystery, murder, betrayal and a deep and abiding romantic love between the main characters. There are significant appearances by characters from prior books. Although I had figured out some of the Rook’s secrets, the reveal was so well done that I had a great sense of relief in that something from the beginning of the series was finally fulfilled. (I have to add that I love that long time readers of the series get closure on some issues without impeding new readers enjoyment).

This book reminds me of how amazing the first two books in this series was. Indeed, although the last three books were good, this book feels like the completion of a trilogy that began with the first two books.

This book goes immediately on my keeper shelf.

WORTH MENTIONING:Sometimes I read these books with great despair because almost every book introduces characters for whom I would love to read their story, but as the author turns to a new series, I fear that some of these stories might go untold. .

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DUKE WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the sixth book in the Victorian Rebels series. This book can be read as a standalone, but is much more satisfying after reading the entire series. This book pays off stories that began in the first book in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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

 

five-stars

Review: The Scot Beds His Wife

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


Review: The Scot Beds His WifeThe Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels, #5) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #5
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 394
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“He was no barbarian. And certainly no gentleman. He had to be a Celtic god.”

FINAL DECISION: Kerrigan Byrne, who is a master at depicting broken and flawed people gives an unflinching story of two people who think themselves too broken for love but who find that the broken jagged parts of each fit together.

THE STORY: The Highlander Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, has a plan. He intends to buy the Ross cattle ranch and finally separate himself from the Mackenzies who have never brought anything but pain to him and his mother. The son of the evil and depraved former Laird of the Mackenzies, Gavin will do anything to get control of the Ross property even if it means engaging with the most difficult woman he has ever met. Samantha Masters has come to the Scotland running from her past filled with dangerous secrets. The passionate arguments between Gavin and Samantha turn into another kind of passion and when her past threatens her once again, Sam agrees to marry. But the secrets she is keeping might destroy everything she is building.

OPINION: This book is a good example to me of why I should stay away from spoilers. I happened to read one of the central secrets in this book and really wish I hadn’t. It happens to be one of my least favorite tropes in romance novels and it made me delay reading this book because I love this series so much and I didn’t want to hate this book.

Despite this fact, I ended up loving this book and I think I might have enjoyed it even more if I didn’t create a negative expectation for myself. (As a review style point, that is why I try so hard not to give away secrets in books without really good reasons and certainly not without warnings).

Throughout this series, Kerrigan Bryne has taken characters with painful destructive pasts and given them their happy endings. Characters that in less skillful hands would be irredeemable and unsympathetic become understandable and shown to be worthy of their own redemption through love. The beauty of this book is that the jagged lives of Sam and Gavin manage to make them fit together in a way that completes each of them and soothes their wounded souls.

Gavin is a man who, like his brothers, is haunted by the monstrous actions of his father. Rather than the physical violence which follows his brother Liam (hero of THE HIGHLANDER), Gavin has been been tilted towards the sexual excesses (certainly not the rape and sexual violence of his father). A charming “ladies man” Gavin is known for seducing his own brother’s wife and plenty of other women. Gavin’s charming handsome facade hides the same darkness that follows the other men in his family. (Readers of the series will recall that he is not only Liam’s younger half brother but also the half brother of Dorian). I especially enjoyed how his softer qualities do not negate his darker ones. The balance works here.

Samantha is brash and bold and foul mouthed and insecure. An American from the west, she is a survivor. Used to taking care of herself, she does what is necessary to get through the next crisis on her life on her own terms. Even worse, she has trusted unwisely before and thus is gun shy for trying again. She challenges Gavin and doesn’t back down from him.

The combination of the richly combative exchanges and the sweet understanding between Samantha and Gavin made this a gentler story than I expected in some ways. There are quite a few secrets and deceptions and violence and darkness in this story, but as is true with every book in this series there is also hope and redemption. For readers who have read the prior books in this series, this book is not as dark as the prior book, but for me, the heroine’s actions were more difficult to understand. But understand I did.

There is a lot going on in this book. Various characters and motives are interwoven in the story. Some side romance, some ongoing stories, some appearances by prior characters. This book covers a lot of territory.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it makes me look at and question my own assumptions and prejudices. Irredeemable people and actions might be understandable and capable of being forgiven.

Now that I’ve read it and enjoyed it, I look forward to reading it again without my preconceived fears and prejudices. It will give me something to do until the next book in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: The Rook.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE is the fifth book in the Victorian Rebels series. While the romance in this book is self-contained, there are complicated relationships that only make sense within the context of the whole series. If you want to start here to try out the series, go ahead, but you will want to go back and start from the beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

four-half-stars

Review: The Duke

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


Review: The DukeThe Duke (Victorian Rebels, #4) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #4
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Life, with all its perils and torments, still belongs to the living. We have a responsibility to live it. You should not waste it by giving over to bleak despair.”

FINAL DECISION:  Once again a wonderful exploration of the darkness that lies in men’s souls and the possibility of love and hope to heal.  A battle between two strong characters make this a worthy addition to the Victorian Rebels series.

THE STORY:  Three years ago, the life of Collin “Cole” Talmage, Duke of Talmage, seemed charmed until his family was killed and he ended up betrayed by one he trusted and imprisoned for a year in a Ottoman cell. What kept him sane during that year was his memory of his encounter with “Ginny” a sweet prostitute with whom he spent his last night in England.  When he is returned to England, emaciated, recovering from torture, and missing hand, he almost dies until an impertinent nurse Imogen Pritchard risks her position to get him the treatment he needed.  Now two years later, Cole has learned to live with his missing hand but his spirits reside in darkness.  He has been searching unsuccessfully for Ginny. He has also been watching the widow next door, Lady Anstruther, who managed to convince an elderly man to marry her with him dying soon after.  Ironically, Lady Anstruther is the nurse who saved his life. What Cole doesn’t know is that Imogen is also the “Ginny” for whom he has been searching.

OPINION:  Another fabulous entry in the amazing Victorian Rebels series, Byrne continues her exploration of the darkness in the human soul and how that darkness can be softened with the power of love and hope.

“I’ve spent so long searching for her, and yet I fear that I’d pass her in the street and not recognize her.”

As the book opens, Cole has just begun to take the hits to his golden boy status.  He inherits the title because of the death of his family.  When he meets and beds Ginny, he doesn’t recognize her as the frightened and desperate woman she is, but he does find something peaceful and comforting with her.  Enough such that a year of torture and hellish conditions made her his touchstone. He has never forgotten her and is determined to find and rescue her.   Perhaps because the memory of Ginny was what helped Cole keep his sanity.  The year in prison changed Cole.  And he is still suffering from the emotional after effects of his horrendous experiences.

“He didn’t need the help of the devil. Case in point, these fits of wrath and unreasonable terror that made Cole want to do unspeakable things. These moments when what he feared the very most was himself…He was barely keeping himself together. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt peace or pity. No, that wasn’t true. He could remember. It has been precisely three years ago. With Ginny.”

Although people see the physical results of Cole’s time as a prisoner, it is the emotional damage that is the most significant. He has been keeping himself together by way of “regulation, convention, and order.”  It is ironically Imogen who threatens to break Cole’s will.  She challenges him by shaking his control. Cole first attacks her because he believes her a villain for marrying a sick and elderly man. She is a woman who should not be living next door to him at all. She seems to be flaunting the very rules that Cole wants to rely upon. While she shakes his control, she also is giving him purpose and a sense of hope even as they argue and engage in combat.

“But the countess Anstruther met his dark look with a mulish one of her own. God, it had been a long time since he’d felt so frustrated, so infuriated. It was…rather glorious.”

I loved Cole. He is a good man who was drawn far into the darkness. He has struggled to survive and doesn’t know how to begin to live again. Although he has relied upon order to control his anger and pain, he really is an unconventional soul who responds to Imogen’s own unconventional nature.  What he really needs is for Imogen to gather him into her arms and comfort him…he just doesn’t know it.

I usually love the heroes most in a romance, but in this book, I think Imogen was my favorite character. She begins the story by allowing herself to be a victim, but gains strength and purpose as the events of her life spiral out of control. By the time she and Cole meet again, Imogen has found a purpose in her life. She is determined to do all she can to help those who need a hand up — especially vulnerable women and children. Acutely recognizing her own savior in her deceased husband, she will use everything she gained as a result of her marriage to help others.  But, that comes with a cost.  She must keep secret from Cole her beginnings as Ginny because she fears that the revelation of her secret will destroy all her good works. Because she must keep her secrets, there is no chance for her and Cole to have a relationship, no matter how much she wants one.

Imogen has managed to keep hold of her hope and lightness despite the pain and travails of her life. It is her kindness and gentleness that calls to the pain in Cole and it is his pain that calls to her to comfort him. From their first meeting, she feels his pain (which only increases due to his capture and torture). Her spirit is called to him to heal and protect. But I also loved that Imogen is no pushover.  She is determined to do her charity work (even if it costs her Cole). She is stubborn and artistic and fierce. She will do what she must to protect those she loves.

“if she believed in everything, it was that everyone deserved a second chance.”

The journey that Cole and Imogen take involves chance.  The chance to reveal their true damaged selves to one another. The chance to move from darkness into light and hope.  These two need three chances to actually find their happy ending, but by the time it comes, the two have earned their peace and happiness.

This was a beautiful romance and a great addition to a series that I have loved. I was also gratified to see all the couples from the previous books make appearances here. There is a real community of people developing and I hope that this trend continues in future books.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For fans of Inspector Morley, there are indications that his story is turning in new directions.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DUKE is the fourth book in the Victorian Rebels series.  This romance is self contained although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 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-half-stars