Review: Forever My Duke (Unlikely Duchesses, #2) by Olivia Drake

Print Length: 384 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (December 31, 2019)

From  Hadrian Ames, the Duke of Clayton, needs a bride. He even has the perfect one picked out. That is, until he meets the lovely, free-spirited Natalie Fanshawe. She’s the opposite of what a man of his high rank should desire in a wife—an outspoken American who has never even set foot in a London ballroom.

But Natalie doesn’t have time to be swept off her feet by a handsome duke who must be a spoiled scoundrel like every other British lord. And she couldn’t care less about Hadrian’s title. After all, it’s not as if he actually worked to attain his wealth and status. He surely can’t understand what it’s like to be a busy woman, planning to open a school while trying to reunite a six-year-old orphan with his English relatives. Nevertheless, Hadrian launches his campaign to win her heart. Can the utterly delightful American beauty ever find a way to love him…despite his being a duke?


My Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

While this is billed as Unlikely Duchesses #2, you do not need to have read the first book in order for this one to make sense. In fact, although I admit it has been a while since I read book one, I don't remember any of these characters having made an appearance. 

This novel was.... interesting. And while I never fully became invested in these characters, the story was just interesting enough to keep me reading.

To begin with, I found it hard to believe that a self-proclaimed stuffy, stick in the mud Duke would be so willing to risk everything for someone just because he "wants her". Time and again he tells Natalie not to worry because people will do as he says, or he will make them accept her, or some variation of the two. It just seemed... off to me.  And while I did enjoy Natalie's rather apt view on the aristocracy, to see her succumb to him so completely, giving up her own dreams (yes, I know it was mentioned that he would support her endeavors in England, she is never shown to have done so) seemed very out of character to me. 

It's a sad day indeed when after reading I book I can honestly say that Leo (the young boy that brings them together), Lizzie (Hadrian's sister) and Ellen (Hadrian's chosen potential wife and second cousin) are more interesting than the love story. 

There were times when I wanted to throttle them both. Hadrian for not reeling in his family, knowing how uncomfortable it would make Natalie, and her for meddling in Leo's life once her obligation was fulfilled. Sure, I get that she loved him and wanted what was best for him, but for every time she said he needed to "fit in", she was trying to prevent it from happening. Also, the fact that we never really find out what happens to Leo is irksome. 

Overall though, I know this story will do well. The author has a fluid writing style (even if they are given to repeating themselves often), and there is just enough going on in the background to keep the reader interested. I would read more from this author! 

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                               Forever My Duke is available from


Review: Wrong Victim (DCI Rachel King Book 3) by Helen H. Durrant

Print Length: 257 pages
Publisher: Joffe Books (December 5, 2019)

From  A man is found dead in his bed, suffocated, covered in confetti and with his ring finger missing. Detective Rachel King informs his daughter and takes her to identify the body.

But she’s never seen the man before in her life.


Then a second murder. This time a woman, Alison, also suffocated and with her finger severed and confetti is strewn over her body. The team desperately searches for a link before anyone else dies. Meanwhile, someone has been running a property scam, selling dream houses that will never be built. And the love of Rachel’s life has disappeared. Is he really the mastermind of a people-trafficking gang? Or does Rachel have enemies on her own team?



My Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This is the third book in the DCI Rachel King series, and while I believe it technically could be read as a stand-alone novel, this one does mention several aspects of the last book which may be confusing to a first-time reader. 

This is one of those stories that draws you in from the beginning and has you guessing throughout. There are a lot of questions that pop up, not only during the course of Rachel's investigation, but in other areas as well. What is Keaton up to? Does Rachel really have a mole in her department? 

When you factor in Jed and his complicated relationship with Rachel and her youngest daughter, this a book that pulls no punches. The characters are complex (Rachel more so than any of the others, although we do get glimpses of the various personalities of the other cops in her unit), this story is fast-paced, but interesting enough to keep you reading to find out what happens next. 

One of the things I like most about this series is the way that while there are several offshoots of both the investigation as well as goings-on in the personal life of the characters, somehow they all (for the most part) manage to be interconnected. A blackmail threat here turns into a lead there, a stranger in a town car turns into an unforeseen threat, etc. Even when it seems like something might be completely random, the author has a purpose to everything she does. 

Overall, these books are perfect for someone who enjoys a good police novel with twists and turns. I will definitely continue not only with this series, but with other books by this author.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                                  Wrong Victim is available from


Review: Avoiding Temptation (A Bro Code Standalone) by Rachel Van Dyken

Print Length:  pages
Publisher: Van Dyken Enterprises INC (December 23, 2019)

From  I hit on her first.

Realized she was my best friend Finn's little sister second.

And got a bloody nose third — compliments of Finn after he watched me nearly score with the new underclassman.

After all I did have a reputation on campus, word on the street was that a girl could orgasm within one minute just watching me eat Lucky Charms.
You can't make this stuff up — even though it was at least four minutes and included outside circumstances. Ahem, I digress.

Point is, not only did I earn the attention of the worst sort of girl for me — my best friend's only sibling — but now she's out to seduce me.

Me! One of the most famous Pleasure Ponies of them all!

I can't shower — she follows me to the bathroom. Literally.
I can't sleep — Lucky me, she lives in the same dorm.

And I can't focus on anything except for her taunting eyes every single time something goes her way.

I want her, but I don't want her to know I want her, and I definitely don't want to die before graduation, which is looking more and more likely considering we can't keep our hands off each other.

Something's gotta give, and I have an inkling I should probably start writing my eulogy now because that something is probably going to be me.

My Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Admittedly, I have had such a love/hate relationship with this series. 

And while this one wasn't bad by any means, I just couldn't take these two seriously because of some major sexual happenings too early on. To be fair, they don't actually go all the way, but things happened that I feel would have been better off happening later in the story. Once we got to see them interact with each other more. And while yes, I can see where those moments would add to the guilt and the tension between them, for me, it just didn't work. It made their entire relationship seem cheap. 

Now aside from that? I enjoyed the rest of this novel. I adored the tension between Slater and Tatum, the way they tried to be friends, the way they tried to adhere to Finn's strict hands-off policy. I liked the way Kora and Leo made an appearance (even more so because I immediately understood what they were up to). And I LOVED seeing Grandma Nadine in all her glory (also there is definitely something to be said for how the author brings back old familiar faces from other novels). 

I definitely think this novel is going to entertain a lot of people, and those little things that annoyed me will probably not bother others. I would read more from this author, and I can't wait to finish out this series with Finn's book (as I have a feeling it's going to be amazing considering what he put poor Slater through).

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                           Avoiding Temptation is available from


Review: Trace of Evil (Natalie Lockhart #1) by Alice Blanchard

Print Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (December 3, 2019)

From  Natalie Lockhart always knew she was going to be a cop. A rookie detective on the Burning Lake police force, she was raised on the wisdom of her chief-of-police father. These cases will haunt you if you let them. Grief doesn’t come with instructions.

But the one thing her father couldn’t teach her was how to handle loss. Natalie’s beloved sister was viciously murdered as a teenager, and she carries the scars deep in her heart. Although the killer was locked up, the trace evidence never added up, and Natalie can’t help wondering―is the past really behind her?

As the newest member on the force, Natalie is tasked with finding nine missing persons who’ve vanished off the face of the earth, dubbed “the Missing Nine.” One night, while following up on a new lead, she comes across a savage crime that will change everything.

Daisy Buckner―a popular schoolteacher, wife to a cop, and newly pregnant―lies dead on her kitchen floor. As Natalie hunts for Daisy’s killer in the wake of the town’s shock, her search leads to a string of strange clues―about the Missing Nine, about Daisy’s secret life, and reviving fresh doubts about her sister’s murder.

As the investigation deepens, Natalie’s every move risks far-reaching consequences―for the victims, for the town of Burning Lake, and for herself.


My Rating: 2 stars out of 5

I love a good police novel! And considering the thriller authors that I usually read are all in between books right now, I was super excited to find this one. After all, the synopsis was engaging, and it's the start of a brand new series. What could be more perfect? 

Unfortunately, this wound up being a tedious novel with too much "tell" and not enough "show". I never connected with any of the characters, not even the main character, Natalie. It would have been okay, had it not been for the glaring errors in the actual police work. Polygraphs that require answers above/beyond the standard yes or no? And by this, I mean full paragraphs? The lead investigator sharing in-depth details about the case with people she considers suspects? 

I found myself skimming entire chapters, just to get through it. Which was a shame as when I first picked up this novel, it started off pretty strong. I will admit there were a couple of decently executed plot twists, but overall, everything about this just missed the mark for me. 

In the end, while I most likely will not be continuing on with this series, I do believe there are people out there to whom this novel will appeal.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                                     Trace of Evil is available from


Review: Seducing Mrs. Robinson (A Bro Code Standalone) by Rachel Van Dyken

Print Length:  pages
Publisher: Van Dyken Enterprises INC (December 18, 2019)

From  We've all been there, some more than others, you know what I'm talking about, where you have the hots for the new business teacher.

I was one hundred percent that guy. I shamelessly flirted with her my senior year, only earning her irritation more and more. On graduation, I stood up to her husband after he got violent, and I'll never forget the look in her eyes when she told me it wasn't my place.

Fast forward to my senior year of college and what do you know, the new adjunct professor is the one and only Mrs. Robinson, she's eight years older than me and smoking hot. Did I mention divorced?

She looks at me like I'm trouble, and I'm only happy to deliver on that promise. I'm going to show her how a real man treats a woman and use every weapon in my Pleasure Pony arsenal to do it.

Go big or go home.


My Rating: 4 stars out of 5

I will admit, at first I was very skeptical about reading a story where a student (even a college one) seduces his teacher. I know that's a pretty common fantasy for people, it's just something that has never worked for me. I feel like that is a line that should never be crossed as that teacher is still technically in a position of power, and I like couples to be equal. 

However, this was a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass the time. I felt that even though the story does deal with a very difficult topic, it was done in such a way that even if the reader has personal experience, it won't be too triggering for them. Kora is written in a way that makes her relatable in spite of the things she has suffered. It also helped that she wasn't written as someone who came across as even older than she was due to the trauma she suffered. In fact, it was stated that she is eight years older than Leo, but I never really felt that which I liked. 

As I was already acquainted with the guys that make up this story, I didn't have very high hopes for my enjoyment. The first stand-alone book in this series was not one of my favorites for a number of reasons. However, I felt as though this one showed a different side of the guys. Rather than the caveman type personalities I expected, this time around there was more of the playful banter that I associate with Rachel's books. This time around, they were three-dimensional characters instead of the stiff cardboard cutouts I remembered. 

As for the story itself, I did feel as though it was very fast-paced with things moving at warp speed which did make it a little hard to get into. It was enjoyable, and a great way to spend the afternoon, but it made the romance aspect of it feel more rushed than I would have liked (especially towards the end). When you take into consideration what she had been through, and the demons she was battling within herself, it didn't seem to fit with her character. The background characters, the banters between the guys, and the way they rallied around Kora to help her were all very enjoyable. Oh, and when she finally stood up to her ex? PRICELESS. But that's all I can say about that. 

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                            Seducing Mrs.Robinson is available from


Review: Contracted as His Countess Louise Allen

Print Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Historical (December 1, 2019)

From  From a recluse secluded in a castle…

…to his countess!

Cloistered away in a castle since birth, Madelyn Aylmer must now fulfill her eccentric father’s dying request: wed nobleman Jack Ransome! She has what Jack needs—land—and so he accepts their marriage of convenience and vows to introduce this sheltered innocent to society. But what Madelyn hadn’t expected was the way her body reacts to Jack, especially to his promise of a union filled with unbridled passion!


My Rating: 3 stars out of 5

This book was very hard to get into. In fact, I almost marked it as DNF on more than one occasion. The sad thing is, there was nothing wrong with the author's writing style. It was the fact that there was NOTHING between the two leads. 

Jack continually thinks of Madelyn as "plain", he even goes so far as  to wonder if she performed some type of witchcraft as he's not even attracted to her. AT ALL.  He laments that she will do something to embarrass him, he even becomes angry with her on occasion and for what? He knew she was not accustomed to the life he had thrust her in. And even when she tried? It didn't seem to be enough. She wasn't what he thought she should be, so he was only interested in getting between her legs. 

It was ridiculous. At some point I expected them to have a revelation. And yet, they remained distrustful of each other. And yet, instead of talking like rational adults, they argued, they went against each other. I got to read once again how much of a "scandal" she was going to cause. Or how he thought she was "purposely" doing something to hurt him.

In my opinion, there was nothing to sell this story or this relationship. And I'm not sure if I would read more from this author, no matter how good she is -  if all of her relationships are this vexing, no thanks.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                     Contracted as His Countess is available from


Review: Angel in a Devil's Arms (The Palace of Rogues #2) by Julie Anne Long (The Palace of Rogues #2) by Julie Anne Long

Print Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Avon (October 29, 2019)

From  He has devil's blood in his veins. At least, that's always been the legend. How else could the Duke of Brexford's notorious bastard son return from the dead? The brutal decade since Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt, allegedly drowned in the Thames forged him into a man who always gets what—and who—he wants. And what he wants is vengeance for his stolen birthright...and one wild night in Angelique Breedlove's bed.

Angelique recognizes heartbreak when the enigmatic Lord Bolt walks into The Grand Palace on the Thames, and not even his devastating charm can tempt her to risk her own ever again. One scorching kiss drives home the danger.

But in the space between them springs a trust that feels anything but safe. And the passion—explosive, consuming—drives Lucien to his knees. Now his whole life depends on proving his love to a woman who doesn't believe in it...because his true birthright, he now knows, is the guardian of Angelique Breedlove's heart.


My Rating: 2 stars out of 5

It didn't matter how hard I tried, I just could not get into this story. I would read it for a while, get bored, put it back and come back to it later. There were pages of the story that didn't seem to move the plot along and that epilogue? In my opinion, was unnecessarily long and drawn out. 

I liked the main characters well enough, although I definitely feel as though I missed a lot having not read the first story in this series (apparently Angelique was the mistress of Delilah's husband, although the woman are best friends now). The secondary characters, however? Felt like cardboard cutouts. As though I was watching a cheap play and instead of hiring seasoned actors to fill the roles, they hired high school kids (and please don't take that the wrong way as I was definitely a drama kid in high school). 

It's hard to put my finger on exactly why this didn't work for me, but in the end, the word that comes to mind is tedious. There was nothing that really made this book interesting. Nothing that made it stand out from any of the other novels released on the same day. 

All things considered, I have enjoyed other works by this author. And the things about this novel that I didn't like? Someone else may enjoy. In the end, while this one wasn't for me, I would read more from this author.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                         Angel in a Devil's Arms  is available from

Review: Garden of the Lost by D.J. Donaldson

Print Length: 241 pages
Publisher: Dingbat Publishing (May 29, 2019)

From  Is Conrad Green alive? The answer seems obvious. He moves, he breathes, he occasionally takes food. But inside, he’s dead, unable to write a word on his next novel, barely able to take care of himself, ruled by despair over the sudden death of his beautiful wife, Claire, six months ago. Since that dreadful day, he’s done only one significant thing. Feeling strangely drawn into a salvage yard, he discovers and buys an antique wrought iron fence that he installs around Claire’s beloved iris garden.

That night, at precisely 1:00 a.m., a little boy shows up in the garden. He’s holding onto the fence, looking inside at the flowers, and sobbing with such intensity, it pierces the gloom around Conrad’s heart. Conrad goes outside to help, but by the time he reaches the garden, the boy is gone. The same thing happens the next night. On the third night, when the boy reappears, a shocking event sends Conrad on a crazy quest that ultimately rocks his small town, uncovers its deepest secrets, and shows him there’s a lot about life — and death — he hasn’t understood.

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5

It isn't often that I read paranormal stories. Mainly because they are usually so far fetched that I find myself putting them down and walking away in annoyance.

However, was not the case with this story. I was completely engrossed in this story from the very start. And while yes, there were certain elements of this one that I found very hard to believe, those instances didn't overshadow the rest of the book. On the whole, this story felt more a story about grief, and how one man's struggle for closure can affect his entire life. 

Maybe having just lost my own husband nearly a year ago, I could relate a little too much to Conrad. His grief, his loss of interest in pretty much everything, even his guilt over the things he could have done differently. 

I will say my one big complaint with this story were the moments when something happened that wasn't necessary to the plot. The "ghosts" were one thing. I can understand where they were needed to make this story happen. What worked for me with this story is that once they got started on the path to the truth, it was good old fashioned detective work that solved the mystery. It was those still among the living that managed to unravel the threads of corruption and coverups that happened all those years ago. It was when "supernatural" things started happening just as a way to explain an otherwise unexplainable event that I lost interest. There were a million other ways that scene could have played out. 

But on the whole? I believe this story will definitely appeal to fans of paranormal mysteries. And even those few, like me, who can look beyond the paranormal aspect to the story that lies beneath.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                           Garden of the Lost is available from


Review: Winter Tales by Tiffany Reisz

Print Length: 318 pages
Publisher: 8th Circle Press (November 19, 2019)

From  Return to USA Today bestseller Tiffany Reisz's Original Sinners series with Winter Tales, a collection of three fan-favorite Christmas novellas plus a brand-new novella exclusive to this anthology. 

In December Wine, the long-awaited story of Nora Sutherlin's first meeting with Nico can finally be told. Nora enlists her editor (and sometimes lover) Zach Easton on a mission to track down Kingsley's long-lost son. Nicolas "Nico" Delacroix turns out to be young, strikingly handsome, and very French. He wants nothing to do with his father...but everything to do with Nora.

This special holiday-themed collection also includes the novellas Poinsettia, The Christmas Truce, and The Scent of Winter(previously available only as ebooks). A bonus short story starring Søren rounds out the Winter Tales anthology.


My Rating: 5 stars out of 5

DISCLAIMER #1: Honestly, I didn't think this would have to be said considering this is billed as a RETURN to the Original Sinners as well as a collection of FAN FAVORITE novellas. Still, I have already seen complaints from people who, for some reason, know nothing about this series, but for some reason, requested to read this story anyway. However, IF YOU ARE NOT FAMILIAR WITH OUR SINNERS THAN YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND THIS COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. 

And now on to my review.

I have said it before, and I will repeat it. I will NEVER tire of the unholy trinity that is Nora, Kingsley, and Søren. Nor will I ever tire of Mistress Tiffany and her Christmas gift to her faithful readers. 

With the exception of December Wine, and the bonus Søren short at the end, the other three novellas were published in e-book format only as special gifts to her readers over the years. Therefore, this anthology spans decades. 

Decades of love, of loss, of betrayal. 

That is the thing when you pick up a story by Tiffany Reisz. It doesn't matter that the subject matter includes things that are definitely not everyone's cup of tea. The erotica doesn't take center stage, even when it does. There is always so much more. The depth to these characters, their feelings, the convoluted world they navigate, you FEEL them. You are able to experience their pain, their love, their frustrations. Even when you want to hate them, you can't help but love them. 

If you worship at the altar of Søren, you will enjoy this anthology. If you haven't yet fallen at his feet? Read The Siren, and then join the rest of us.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                                       Winter Tales is available from


BOOK BLAST & GIVEAWAY!! Angel in a Devil's Arms by Julie Anne Long

Print Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Avon (October 29, 2019)
Genre: Historical Romance
Tour Organized by: Pure Textuality PR


He has devil’s blood in his veins. At least, that’s always been the legend. How else could the Duke of Brexford’s notorious bastard son return from the dead? The brutal decade since Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt, allegedly drowned in the Thames forged him into a man who always gets what—and who—he wants. And what he wants is vengeance for his stolen birthright . . . and one wild night in Angelique Breedlove’s bed.

Angelique recognizes heartbreak when the enigmatic Lord Bolt walks into The Grand Palace on the Thames, and not even his devastating charm can tempt her to risk her own ever again. One scorching kiss drives home the danger.

But in the space between them springs a trust that feels anything but safe. And the passion—explosive, consuming—drives Lucien to his knees. Now his whole life depends on proving his love to a woman who doesn’t believe in it . . . because his true birthright, he now knows, is guardian of Angelique Breedlove’s heart.



Mrs. Angelique Breedlove stared at the little token—a sort of half unicorn, half lion—nestled in the man’s palm. The firelight nicked a glint off the signet ring gleaming around one of his long fingers.
The kind of fingers poets and musicians are said to possess.
And excellent lovers.
Also, probably stranglers and pickpockets.
For God’s sake. Fingers were just fingers. It was just that staring at the token was easier than looking into the man’s face. She still had vertigo from the last time she’d done it—thirty seconds ago.
“I don’t know what he is, Mrs. Breedlove, but I don’t think I shall ever forget seeing him” was how their maid Dot had described the man when she’d admitted him to The Grand Palace on the Thames all of minutes ago.
Normally Angelique and Delilah would meet with potential new guests in the reception room, but in the parlor across the foyer the party celebrating three marriages was still underway, and everyone was just drunk enough to think that a round of pianoforte and singing was a good idea. She turned her head and was treated to a view of the vast dark O of Mr. Delacorte’s wide-open mouth, through which a surprisingly decent, albeit loud, baritone poured. Everything Mr. Delacorte did lacked nuance.
She’d warrant the man in front of her was all nuance.
Suddenly the black-and-white marble foyer floor between her and the party and the parlor seemed like an ocean.
She cleared her throat. “I’ll allow this token bears a close resemblance to half of the token Mrs. Hardy and I have in our possession here at The Grand Palace on the Thames, sir. Of course, I suppose it’s always possible you’ve murdered our mystery guest and stolen his half of the token, and then came straightaway to The Grand Palace on the Thames to take up our best room.”
Well. That emerged a little more waspishly than she’d intended. Apparently her senses were overwhelmed and were mounting a defense.
“Do I look as though I’m capable of such a thing?”
He sounded as though he genuinely wanted to know.
Angelique raised her eyes and found his expression oddly grave. His eyes were a crystalline green, like moss agate, or mist over a moor. It was as peculiarly difficult to hold his gaze as it was to hold a lit coal. It was far too . . . alive . . . and complicated. He aimed this gaze out over cheekbones that called to mind a pair of battle shields arrayed side by side. His mouth was a long, sensual curve. Not a classically beautiful face. It was something better, or perhaps worse: it was fascinating.
She flicked her thoughts away from that notion the way she would flick her skirts away from an open flame.
“Rather,” she said shortly. “But then, I suspect we all are, given the right circumstances,” she added. “Humans are capable of so many things.”
“You begin to interest me, Mrs. . . .”
She tipped her head pityingly. “Begin?”
Was she flirting? Surely not. She would no sooner do that than blithely step out in front of a runaway barouche. In her life, the consequences would have been identical, at least metaphorically.
But all at once she could feel the difference in the quality of his attention. As if someone had lit a candle in a pitch-black room.
When he began to smile she redirected her gaze to a safer place, which turned out to be the flowers in the vase on the mantel, which were drooping as if they’d all been dosed with laudanum. She enjoyed a bracing dose of exasperation for Dot, whose job it was to make sure they were fresh.
Where the devil was Dot?
Ah, she could hear her now, as a rattle of teapot and cups on a tray approaching. It was a perilous journey for Dot every single time. Dot and gravity had an uneasy alliance.
At last she appeared in the doorway.
Thus began the slow, delicate journey to settling it on the table between the settees.
The man watched this with apparent fascination.
“I don’t believe you mentioned your name, Mr. . . .”
“It’s Lord, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, of course it is. Who but a lord would find it amusing to communicate through tokens.”
“Necessary,” he corrected evenly, sounding as insufferable as that supercilious little man who’d appeared one night weeks ago with half of a token and paid them three guineas to hold a room for a mysterious stranger. “Necessary to communicate through tokens. My name is Lucien Durand. Viscount Bolt.”
The tea tray crashed noisily into place.
The perfidious Dot’s shoes were already clicking across the foyer at a run.
Leaving Angelique alone with a madman.
“I agree that humans are capable of nearly anything, given the right set of circumstances,” he said conversationally, as though he hadn’t just claimed to be someone the entire ton knew had been dead for a decade, and who, before that, had taxed the broadsheets’ ability to come up with hysterical adjectives. “Although murder certainly seems a good deal of effort to go through for an opportunity to stay here at the . . .”
A faint puzzled frown settled between his eyes as he took in the pretty but well-worn settees facing each other before the fire, arrayed atop the thick but faded rug (frays artfully hidden beneath furniture legs); all of those in shades of rose, the hearth facade fashionable decades ago, the table with its nick out of one leg, also skillfully disguised.
Since they’d combined talents a few months prior, Angelique and Delilah had seen any number of people glance around just that way: bemused, but not necessarily censorious. As if wondering at the source of the room’s charm. One could not place a finger on its source any more than one could bottle sunshine or air. Its charm was that it was well-loved and it knew it.
Madman or not, it seemed her pride was at least as powerful as her sense of self-preservation. She would not sit idly while someone criticized their beloved room.
She cleared her throat. “Lord . . .”
On the off chance she’d heard him wrong the first time.
“Bolt,” he confirmed, pleasantly.
Hell’s teeth. She drew a sustaining breath.
At best he was a charlatan.
A gorgeous, gorgeous charlatan.
“The comfort and security of our guests is paramount at The Grand Palace on the Thames, so Mrs. Hardy and I—we are the proprietresses—typically like to have a conversation with a potential guest to ascertain whether someone is mad or otherwise unsuitable before we invite them to stay.”
He studied her.
“Invite them, do you?” His tone was skeptical. But his voice was suddenly startlingly soft.
Instantly, alarmingly, it was easy to imagine that voice in her ear, from the next pillow, whispering the things he’d like to do to her.
“Yes.” The word emerged absurdly huskily. It sounded rather like she was giving permission to something. “Yes,” she repeated firmly. “Ultimately we give careful consideration to who we invite to stay, as we’d like all of our guests to feel comfortable and safe. And our business is thriving, much to our gratitude. We’re even contemplating a little expansion. And in case you’ve any doubts, the king himself sat just there not long ago.”
His eyes followed her gesturing hand to the pink settee.
He examined it a moment.
He turned back to her.
“Now who’s mad?” he said gently.

“Excuse me, Lady Der—Mrs. Hardy.”
Delilah—the former Lady Derring and new Mrs. Hardy—gave a start when Dot stage-whispered hotly next to her ear. She was panting as though she’d come at a run.
“What is it, Dot?”
“A man has arrived to inquire about a room and Mrs. Breedlove is speaking with him, but . . .”
She sank her teeth worriedly into her bottom lip and said nothing more.
Delilah’s eyebrows arched aggressively, prompting Dot to continue.
“Well, I think perhaps you ought to join her.”
Delilah exchanged a swift glance with her husband. He was planning to leave for Dover with Sergeant Massey for a short spot of business in an hour or so, and she wanted to soak up his presence.
But Dot was not in the habit of making recommendations. Cheerfully following orders, and occasionally getting them right, was her forte.
She had proven to be rather a savant at describing guests, however.
“Is he behaving in an . . . ungentlemanly manner, Dot?”
“Well, no. He is one of the most gentlemanly gentlemen I’ve seen, but not in the way you’d expect. His kit is very fine and his boots, well, they’re Hoby, and the way he stands is very . . . and you know how they are, Lady Derring—I mean Mrs. Hardy. Gentlemen, that is.”
“I do indeed know how they are.”
“He has only said a few words. His voice is very fine and low. He is merely standing there, mostly.”
“So the trouble is . . .” Delilah coaxed. She could feel the fine strands of her patience groaning like the buttons on Mr.Delacorte’s vest.
“Well, there are two troubles. Mrs. Breedlove’s cheeks have gone pink.”
This was fascinating.
“Where are they pink?” Delilah asked swiftly.
“Here and here.” Dot pointed to places high on her cheekbones.
Angelique typically sailed through her days like a swan on a sea of jaded wit and cool aplomb, all born of worldly experience. Very little occurred to change the color of her face, unless it was the heat of the kitchen on baking day.
“I see. What was the second thing, Dot?”
“Oh, you’ll think me silly . . .”
“I would never dream of thinking such a thing,” Delilah lied.
“I believe I saw the letter ‘B’ on his ring!” she said excitedly. “Oh, Lady Der—that is, Mrs. Hardy—do you suppose he could be . . .” she lowered her voice to another stage whisper, pressed her knuckles to her lip “. . . the Lord Bolt? It’s just he looks so . . . so . . .”
She clasped her hands together and gazed at her mutely, blinking her huge pale blue eyes.
Apparently not even the broadsheets—which Dot read with religious fervor—could provide her with a sufficiently hysterical word.
Delilah silently counted to three to fortify her patience. Ten would have been better but time seemed of the essence.
“That poor misguided young man drowned in the Thames a decade ago. A life wasted. Unless you’re a newspaper that peddles gossip, in which case they profit from him still.”
“But the broadsheets said someone who looked just like him walked into Mantons last week and shot the heart out of every target and walked out again without saying a word. Scared everyone silly, they said!”
“But, Dot—”
“And that someone who looked just like him walked into his favorite glove maker in the Galleria and paid for a pair that Lord Bolt had ordered specially just before he died, black with brown wrists, and walked out again! Right dear they were, too.”
“And that Lady Wanaker claimed her loins had started up a burning out of nowhere like they always did when Bolt was—”
“Dot, please!”
“. . . and that a mysterious wager appeared in the betting books at White’s, signed and dated with the word ‘Bolt,’ and it said ‘I wager every penny I possess I will have revenge.’ I ask you! It fair made me shiver, it did! And no one saw who did it.” She pressed her knuckles against her teeth.
Dot raised her eyebrows as if she’d made her point.
Delilah sighed. “Oh, Dot. Didn’t we discuss the wisdom of believing all the gossip you read? I admire your enthusiasm for reading, but might I suggest something more calming? Mr. Miles Redmond’s book about the South Seas usually puts me right to sleep. It might be just the thing.”
Dot looked crestfallen. “Yes, Mrs. Hardy. Of course you’re right. It’s just he told Mrs. Breedlove that his name was Lord Bolt, you see. So I just assumed.”
Delilah went still.
She darted another glance at her husband. Who arched a brow.
“We won’t be longer than a few minutes,” she told him.
And if they were, he would be there in moments, because Captain Hardy’s unique gift was knowing when she needed him.
Lucien was accustomed to the stares of beautiful women. Countless times he’d watched conclusions made and discarded scud across their faces like clouds on a breezy spring day. They noted the flawlessly sleek black coat, clearly sewn by the lads at Weston. The gold watch fob. The signet ring. The English accent so elegant and precise every consonant seemed to have been turned on a lathe. The exquisite manners, the charm precisely calibrated to weaken feminine knees.
But then there were the contradictions: the childhood French that haunted the contours of his words and syntax. The long, lean body clearly not raised on great platters of English roast beef. And no proper Englishman went around with eyes like his: Vert, comme un chat, one woman, tangled in his sheets, had purred on a memorable occasion. “Like a devil,” another had hissed on a very different memorable occasion. There was indeed something just shy of feral about him, something that implied that one could never predict what he’d get up to, and the fact that this unpredictable man was dressed up in aristocratic finery made them deliciously uneasy.
He had once cared that he did not fit anywhere.
Until he’d learned that he could use this to his advantage.
He was not in the business of making anyone feel more comfortable about anything.
So he let the beautiful ladies of The Grand Palace on the Thames stare, and he said nothing.
On the little table between them, the two pieces of the token lay locked together like lovers, reunited at last. Mrs. Hardy had fetched the other half from upstairs.
Mrs. Hardy’s dark eyes were soft and curious and she wore a gentle smile. Mrs. Breedlove seemed to actually be pressing herself back against the settee. Her chin was up a little, and her hands were folded perhaps more tightly than they ought to be, though her expression was decidedly cool. As though nothing ever surprised her. Their dresses, one red, one golden, overlapped in a shining spill of silk on the seat between them.
Mrs. Hardy’s eyes went to his new gloves, which he’d removed and laid aside on the settee next to him. Black leather, with brown wrists.
They fixed there for a time.
He spoke first.
“I should have thought you’d surround the settee with velvet rope and erect a plaque if the king sat here.”
“Ah. Well, we’ve only the two pink settees at the moment, you see,” Mrs. Hardy said.
She poured the tea from a pot painted all over with periwinkles.
“Ah,” he said, taking great pains to sound fascinated.
She eyed him sardonically as she handed his tea to him. They both knew this exchange was inane.
He took it with a gracious nod. He drank it without sugar, without cream. It was a habit of childhood he could not abandon and it niggled him a bit. It spoke to a time when such things, the niceties and enhancements of life, simply could not be had.
“I once, in fact, sat on the king’s knee. At the sort of party ladies such as you would certainly not be invited to attend. I was three years old.”
It was a deliberate, testing bit of wickedness.
Neither of them even blinked.
Which he liked.
“Lord . . .”
“Bolt.” He’d happily say his name just like that, all day long, knowing full well the impact it had and not giving a damn anymore.
“Very well. We thought we’d perhaps have a conversation before we admit you to The Grand Palace on the Thames, since we know only what we’ve read about you, you see,” she said.
“You have me at a disadvantage, then, as I have read nothing about you.”
They didn’t laugh.
Mrs. Breedlove gave him a tolerant little smile. “And it is such a struggle to remain out of the broadsheets.”
When he grinned at this, she turned her head away ever-so-slightly from him, toward the mantel. The line of her fine jaw and the slope of her throat, and the way her skin took the light like a pearl, suddenly struck him as almost insufferably lovely. It made him feel fleetingly restless, as if someone had dragged a hand over his fur backward.
“Perhaps the most pertinent thing we’re read about you is that you’re dead,” Mrs. Hardy pressed on.
“Boo, I’m a ghost,” he said mildly and fanned his fingers in mock fright.
Two strained smiles greeted this.
“Lord . . .” This was from Mrs. Hardy.
“May we presume that you’re claiming to be the very same Lord Bolt who raced a high flyer down Bond Street?”
“Not at all.”
There was a pause.
“You’re not claiming to be the same Lord Bolt who fought a duel with the Earl of Cargill and shot him in the shoulder?” Mrs. Breedlove also had an interesting recollection of his exploits.
“And you’re not the Lord Bolt who wagered a thousand pounds by writing in the White’s betting book that a hummingbird would—”
“Or that you wagered five hundred pounds that you could get a donkey to kick Lord—”
“But . . . then . . .” This was Mrs. Hardy.
“It’s the word ‘claim’ I feel I must take issue with,” he clarified. “It rather implies a defense must be mounted, wouldn’t you say, in support of an assertion? Shall we choose a different verb? I was born Lucien Durand. My father is the Duke of Brexford. He was not married to my mother. My mother, Helene Durand, was beautiful, kind, and a bit of a fool. Hence my existence in the world.” He gave them what was meant to be a bit of a self-deprecating smile. “For which I am certain you are grateful.”
They regarded him with tiny polite smiles of their own.
He had the sense they wouldn’t have minded sliding the hairpins from their coiffures and jabbing him.
He liked their composure and their obvious intelligence. It wasn’t boring. He loathed boredom and he found it more and more difficult to tolerate dull people with anything like grace.
“To further expound, my father, the Duke of Brexford, persuaded the king to confer upon me the title and the modest lands when I was ten years old. I was in favor then, you see.” He said this very, very ironically. “It’s safe to say I am no longer. But I am still a viscount.”
“I feel I must point out that this portion of Lord Bolt’s . . . history is rather widely known in London and in other parts of England,” Mrs. Breedlove said gently. “Among those who read the broadsheets, most particularly.”
Bolt gave this the tiny taut smile it deserved. “Some weeks ago you decided to choose to accept one half of the token on the table and three guineas from a small, maddeningly efficient, nondescript, supercilious man, the sort who manages the sorcery of both blending into the wallpaper and nettling like a burr beneath a saddle, to hold your finest room for his employer, who would be me. His native dialect is irony, which you would probably come to understand if you spent a few years working for me as well.”
Their silence told him they remembered him well.
“I don’t believe that was mentioned in the broadsheets,” he concluded.
“Does this supercilious man have a name?” Mrs. Hardy said suddenly.
“Exeter. Mister Exeter.”
“Mister E,” Mrs. Hardy repeated, wonderingly, on a hush. The women shared a secret, a swift little mirth-filled glance he could not quite interpret. “And he’s your . . .”
“Solicitor. After a fashion.”
“Are we given to understand that you did not, indeed, drown in the Thames? There was a funeral, you know.”
“More after the fashion of a celebration, in some quarters,” he said calmly. He was certain he knew precisely who celebrated. Just as he knew precisely how he’d wound up in the Thames.
“It was reported that some women rent their garments,” Mrs. Hardy told him, dryly.
He smiled placidly. “They generally do when I’m about.”
Mrs. Breedlove had turned to study the flowers on the mantel with a little frown.
He knew this because he’d looked immediately for her reaction.
Mrs. Breedlove leaned forward a little. “Help us to understand something, Lord Bolt . . . If you didn’t drown, then . . .”
“As I was leaving a gaming hell I was accosted by two men and hurled into the Thames. I survived. Don’t know who the poor bloated soul was who was fished from the river and presented as proof of my demise, but it wasn’t me. I was on my way to China by then on a serendipitous clipper ship. Scooped from the water. I’m fortunate I did not wind up in a pie, like an eel.”
“This is London. One should never take for granted what winds up in a pie,” Mrs. Breedlove said evenly.
Frankly delighted by this, he transferred the whole of his attention to her. The later afternoon light through the window burnished her hair the color of an old doubloon, a shade or two darker than her gown.
“Words to live by,” he said gravely.
She turned ever so slightly away again, as though he were the sun, and not the great orb aiming beams through the window.
A silence ensued.
The room was comfortable, he’d grant it that. The proportions were gracious and pleasing. Through the sturdy closed doors came the strains of a muffled reel. A bit like the way it would sound if ghosts were having a party. Lucien had reached adulthood feeling both on the outside of things and at the center of things (usually gossip), and for an instant he felt that way again.
“As for that duel . . . It takes particular skill to avoid a target as big and black as the Earl of Cargill’s heart. He can still use his shoulder, but I’ll warrant he thought twice about using his mouth that carelessly again.”
They went perfectly still.
Mrs. Breedlove leaned forward just a little, and it took every scrap of breeding his father had insisted he acquire to keep his eyes on her face and not where they yearned to go, the expanse of creamy décolletage. “Lord . . .”
“Bolt. Or Viscount Bolt, if you prefer.”
“If you could help us understand why you’ve chosen to . . .” she paused ostentatiously “. . . favor . . . our establishment with your resurrection? And what are your plans for the future?”
Oh, well done, Mrs. Breedlove, he thought. He had a weakness for a good, irresistibly subtle piss-taking.
He met her direct gaze evenly. Her eyes were hazel, full of soft greens and golds, a surprisingly gentle color in such a coolly possessed woman. A bit like a spring dawn. The gears of time suddenly slipped. ...

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To celebrate the release of Angel is a Devil's Arms we’re giving away a paperback copy of Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long!

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About the Author:
 USA Today bestselling author JULIE ANNE LONG originally set out to be a rock star when she grew up (and she has the guitars and fringed clothing stuffed in the back of her closet to prove it), but writing was always her first love. Since hanging up her guitar for the computer keyboard, her books frequently top reader and critic polls and have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Rita, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice, and The Quills, and reviewers have been known to use words like “dazzling,” “brilliant,” and “impossible to put down” when describing them. Julie lives in Northern California.

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