Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane 12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Finally, FINALLY, we get the story of Mary Whitsun! If you don’t know who Mary Whitsun is, either you’re not a true “Maiden Lane” fan or it’s time to go all the way back to the beginning and start rereading!

Once Upon a Maiden Lane cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: I honestly just don’t want to give too much away here. Mary Whitsun was one of the original children in the foundling home run by Temperance Dews, Winter Makepeace, and their family way back at the beginning of the series. You know, when the Ghost of St. Giles was  running around. Now grown, Mary has become a nursemaid to the children of Temperance, Lady Caire. In this novella, her true origins are revealed. (Or are they? Wait…yes, they are.) And her true identity may win her an unexpected true love…or will it? (Maybe.)

MY TWO CENTS: So I didn’t totally love the last full-length Maiden Lane book, Duke of Desire (reviewed here), but I DID love this novella! I was partially disappointed in Duke of Desire because we didn’t see many of the other characters. It didn’t make me want to go back to the beginning and read the whole series over. This story definitely does that! (Yes, you get to see the Duke of Montgomery from Duke of Sin, previously reviewed here). And on a related note, if you’re a Loki fan and haven’t seen Thor: Ranarok yet, do go.)

Readers have been asking for a long time for grown-up Mary to get her own story, and Hoyt delivers. It’s a darling story for a character who’s been with the series from the beginning. It’s also a reminder that the “Maiden Lane” series covered all classes. Sure, lots of characters were dukes or otherwise noble, but not everyone was. Some were servants. Some were illegitimate. We even had a pirate. So why not explore the story of a foundling girl who maybe goes from rags to riches? (And that’s all I’m going to say.)

If you want to know the timeline here, this story is chronologically the last in the Maiden Lane universe. Book 1, Wicked Intentions, starts in February 1737. Book 12, Duke of Desire, takes place in April 1742. Once Upon a Maiden Lane is set in September 1747, while the very last novella, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, jumps back to Christmas 1741. (Review coming soon!)

COVER NOTES: This is likely a gown that Mary wears in the course of the story. Also, that gown is just stunning. LOOK at the fabric in that skirt.

BOTTOM LINE: LOVED IT. Mary Whitsun’s long-awaited story doesn’t disappoint! It made me think it’s time to start over with Wicked Intentions and reread the entire series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 14, 2017, in eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The very last “Maiden Lane” entry will be Once Upon a Christmas Eve, available December 5, 2017. I’m going to be devastated when this series is over.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Right Kind of Rogue (Playful Brides #8) by Valerie Bowman

If you’re not familiar with the “Playful Brides” series, all the books are based (loosely) on famous plays. Book #8 is based on Romeo and Juliet (although obviously not a tragedy, because…romance.) This one gives us the story of Hart and Meg, first introduced in Book #6, The Legendary Lord (previously reviewed here). I was really looking forward to this particular couple, but did it meet my expectations?

The Right Kind of Rogue front cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Macmillan)

THE PLOT: Poor Meg Timmons has been in love with her best friend’s brother, Hart, forever. Too bad their families are enemies for a mysterious reason (actually, there are enough clues to figure it out before the big reveal). Meg’s family is dirt poor, so Meg can’t afford the kind of wardrobe it would take to really capture Hart’s interest at balls…or anyone else’s interest, for that matter. Hart’s sister Sarah tells Meg that Hart has finally decided to find himself a wife, but Meg despairs of ever winning him. Enter meddler extraordinaire Lucy Hunt, Duchess of Claringdon (star of Book 1, The Unexpected Duchess).

Lucy takes Meg under her wing, dressing her in new gowns and jewels designed to capture Hart’s attention, and drags her to society balls and parties. Hart takes the bait, and a relationship begins to develop…just not quickly enough for circumstances. So when the meddling eventually goes too far, misunderstandings and mixed messages may tear the lovers apart.

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me get this out of my system: This book suffers from a surplus of Lucy Hunt. I know, she’s known for being kind of a lovable manipulator, but in this story she gets downright annoying. I’ve never been a fan of how she calls everyone “dear,” the way a diner waitress will refer to customers as “hun,” but it seems especially overdone in this title. Plus, she just couldn’t quit and wouldn’t butt out the two or three times Meg told her to.

Second, I was really enjoying this book right up until Hart became an ass. For the first half of the book, Hart defends Meg from her horrible family. He offers to dance with her at balls, thereby making her more visible to eligible gentlemen. He likes her. They develop a friendship. He confides to her the horrible thing that caused him to break up with the woman he almost married. This is all fun relationship building. So you would think the rapport Hart and Meg have developed before the “big misunderstanding” occurs would see them through…but it doesn’t. Hart takes the first opportunity to turn against Meg, and I never forgive him for that.

I really thought after a scene of our duo being safely rescued after “accidentally” being locked in the silver closet, and after Hart confessing how much he’s afraid of being trapped into marriage, that we would not get the “trapped into marriage” trope. And that even if we did, Hart would realize that gentle Meg, his friend, would not be the architect of that trap. Nope; we get Hart raging around like an animal for the second half the book while Meg doesn’t know what to do.

I have no patience with this. If I were Meg, the conversation on their wedding night would have gone something like this:

Hart: I refuse to consummate the marriage! Therefore, you will never have the happy marriage you want, or children, or a family!

Meg: But what I really wanted was to be rich, stay in London, be free of my parents, and never have a man touch me, so actually I have everything I want. Toodles.

Hart: Well…in that case, we WILL consummate the marriage!

Meg: So you’re so much like your father that you’ll do the exact opposite of whatever anyone tells you just to be contrary, even if it’s something you don’t want?

Hart: … (disappears in a puff of logic)

So yeah, first half, good (as a bonus, there’s lots of descriptions of gorgeous gowns…I was really loving the Cinderella aspect of the story!) but second half…I’m not a fan.

Is it like Romeo and Juliet? Well, the families are enemies. A surplus of interference almost does them in (metaphorically). And there’s plenty of verbal poison floating around. Romeo and Juliet is even mentioned a few times, which makes sense in the context of the time period.

COVER NOTES: Between this one and the one for the next book, it looks like the series theme was reinvented again, somewhat. Still a clinch couple, back to more of the headless man pose of the first five books, but with a lush landscape added instead of the one solid color. The colors and florals are pretty and romantic. I like the cover on its own; less so when I realize this is probably the pivotal scene that turns the tide of the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Good up until the hero was a jerk and a friend became downright annoying.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  A Duke Like No Other, focusing on Mark Grimaldi, will be available May 1, 2018.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’m so sad that we’re at the last full-length novel in the “Maiden Lane” series! In my opinion, though, this one plays out very much instead like the end to the miniseries focusing on the Lords of Chaos instead of the full series finale. Maybe it’s because of the two novellas still to come in the next months.

Duke of Desire front cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: The Lords of Chaos (an extreme, sexually violent kind of Hellfire Club) have kidnapped Iris, Lady Jordon, mistakenly believing that she is the new bride of the Duke of Kyle. Raphael, the new Duke of Dyemore, is attending the revel to save the woman he believes is the Duchess of Kyle, but also to find out the identity of the group’s new leader. Raphael’s father had been the previous “Dionysus” of the Lord of Chaos (you may remember him from Book 7, Duke of Sin, previously reviewed here.) Raphael plans to destroy the group once and for all, even if he dies in the process.

Raphael claims Iris as “his” plaything for the night in order to rescue her. Iris doesn’t get his intentions right away, though. She doesn’t take to the “lady in distress” role, and ends up shooting her would-be rescuer. The two of them escape to his estate, but Raphael is in a weakened condition. He’s afraid the Lords of Chaos will pounce on them both if they realize he’s in a vulnerable state. Iris is doing her best to nurse him back to health, but of course she’s drawn to the enigma that is Raphael. But Raphael has been so damaged by his father that he has no intention of entering into any kind of relationship with anyone, ever. He insists on marrying Iris immediately to make sure she’s protected, but he doesn’t want her getting close, emotionally or physically.

MY TWO CENTS: If it weren’t for the Lords of Chaos connection, this would almost read like a standalone book and not part of a series…let alone the series finale. I was a little disappointed that more series characters weren’t involved (for example, we do get Kyle at some point, but not Alf).

Let me make this clear: this book is absolutely about sexual violence. Raphael has been very, very damaged by his father. He also has a massive scar on his face (although you’d never know it from the cover), and it’s a bit of a mystery about how the scar was inflicted. But everything is tied to the Lords of Chaos, which is clearly why Raphael wants to end them.

His relationship with Iris is more of a breakthrough on his part, a march back to humanity. He really has no urge to become a person again, but feeling responsible for Iris is the first step. That is one thing that doesn’t thrill me about this book: Iris doesn’t really grow as a character on her own. Her character is pretty much just a catalyst to Raphael’s growth.

This is not a “fun” romance. It’s dark. In fact, Raphael thinks of himself as the darkness and identifies Iris with light. If this weren’t a romance novel, you would sincerely wonder if both characters will survive the book. It’s a good story and a fitting ending to the Lords of Chaos arc. I just don’t love it as the end to the “Maiden Lane” saga, which is why I’m thrilled that two more novellas are coming. We better get a “and here they all are together” wrap-up. I know we had something like that with the last Christmas story, but the series wasn’t over yet, so…yes, please.

COVER NOTES: The model is attractive enough and I like the coloring, but…WHERE IS THE SCAR??? If they didn’t want to show on the scar on the cover, use a profile shot! I think about the cover for Kerrigan Byrne’s The Duke, cleverly shot to hide the missing hand. I also dislike that the publisher is reissuing all the previous books with the “single man” cover. I’m very “eh” about that. I like consistency in a series, and I guess they’re going back to make it consistent with the way the series has evolved over the years…it’s fine. I liked the old covers.

BOTTOM LINE: A good finale to the Lords of Chaos arc, but not a fitting finale to the series. It’s full of darkness, violence, and a romance that helps heal the damaged main character.

TEACUP RATING: I’m wavering between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR:  I will shortly be reviewing the penultimate novella in the series, Once Upon a Maiden Lane, which is at long last Mary Whitsun’s story and releases November 14. Then I’m assuming we’ll get the real series wrap-up in the final novella, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, which releases December 5.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5) by Kerrigan Byrne

I can’t believe we’re already at the fifth installment of the “Victorian Rebels” series. This one is the first to go in a completely different direction with the title (more on that later). I’ve blogged about all the other previous books in the series, but this one links most directly to Book 3, The Highlander, previously reviewed here.

The Scot Beds His Wife front cover (St. Martin’s Paperback/Macmillan)

THE PLOT: Gavin St. James was horribly abused by his father, just as his brother Liam was. But his reaction was to divorce himself from the Mackenzie clan while trying to become self-sufficient by acquiring the property next to his. It belongs to Alison Ross, a young woman who moved to America as a child.

In the American wild west, Samantha Masters has just saved Alison Ross’s life by killing her own husband who, with his brothers, were robbing the train on which Alison was traveling. To repay and help Sam, Alison sends her to Scotland, as Alison Ross, to save Alison’s property from being taken by the horrible Mackenzies. Since Alison left as a child and has no intention of returning, no one will ever know that Sam isn’t Alison. She can use Alison’s identity to safely hide from her husband’s vengeful brothers, and the law, while holding on to Alison’s property.

Gavin assumes he’ll be able to smooth talk, or seduce, Alison into selling him her property. He is stunned by the crass, sharp-shooting, pants-wearing girl who immediately becomes his enemy. But as they clash they’re  fighting their intense attraction. Sam knows she can’t keep her true identity from Gavin forever. And another secret Sam is keeping will surely tear their fragile new love apart.

MY TWO CENTS: If you’ve never read a “Victorian Rebels” book, know this going in: they are not gentle, well-mannered romances. They are gritty and grimy and harsh.They use what some would consider foul language, and there are very little boundaries in the sex scenes, which are quite graphic.

Sam is a very different heroine for Byrne’s “Victorian Rebels” series. Often the heroine is more ladylike to offset the brutality of the hero. But in this instance, the heroine stuns the hero with her swearing, shooting, pants wearing, and other shocking bad-assery. I really liked Sam. Her backstory made her a sympathetic character, and her bravery, quick thinking, and capability made her someone to admire. All of these were more important than the lies about her identity, which she sees as a necessary evil to staying alive.

In contrast to other previous Rebels heroes, Gavin is a little more bad-boy, a little less violently dangerous and damaged. Yes, he definitely still has issues. But butting heads with Sam turns his world upside down, and he starts rethinking all the barriers he’s set around his life.

You get to visit a bit with the characters from The Highlander, and also get to witness what may be the funniest wedding ceremony in romance history. (Someone can disagree…I’d be very interested in comments on hilarious weddings.)

If you’ve been reading the series (and The Highlander in particular), then you’ve already made your peace as a reader with Liam. But Gavin has not, so that adds some interesting tension to the storyline. We also see the setup for the Rook’s story as sort of a framing device here. It’s not really necessary to read the other books before reading this, but if you’re not already hooked into the series, you’ll probably want to check out Liam’s story and go on to the Rook’s, which we don’t see wrapped up within the course of this story.

A note on the title: This is the first title that is longer than two words, the previous books being The Highwayman, The Hunter, The Highlander, and The Duke. Byrne had announced previously that her next books were going to have titles like The Rogue and The Sinner, and then The Rook’s book would be The Savage. I’m not sure why changes were made; maybe because too many romance books already have those exact titles? I don’t mind breaking the pattern so much within the series; see Elizabeth Hoyt’s “Maiden Lane” series…each set of three books within the twelve of the complete series go together. And that’s where I figured we were going when this was announced along with Inspector Morely’s book, The Rogue Takes a Wife.  But it doesn’t look like Morley’s book is up next, again. And I really, really despise this book’s title. First, I hate “beds” as a verb. It’s crass without being as crass as the language used in the book, which I find much more honest. It’s like they couldn’t put **** on the cover, so they used this mamby-pamby synonym instead. Second, I hate that the title is like, “LOOK! This book is about SEX!” It’s really about a lot more than that. I won’t deny that the sex is hot and very earthy, but both characters have had plenty of sex before they ever meet each other. That’s not what this is about. But I guess “The Scot Realizes He Can Open Himself Up to Emotional Connections” isn’t going to grab as many readers.

Further title notes: Byrne had previously announced in an interview on Fresh Fiction (link here) that The Rook’s book would be called The Devil Steals a Bride, and then Morley’s book would be The Thief Takes a Lady. But it looks like those plans have been changed again (see below in Next Up).

COVER NOTES: I had complained previously about this cover being far too much like two other St. Martin’s releases this year. It’s the first one in the series that shows the couple from farther away, showing their full bodies. I think the blue is lovely, and the swatch of Mackenzie plaid at the bottom is a nice touch. I wish we’d seen Sam in something a little less girly…her riding clothes, maybe? Complete with guns?

BOTTOM LINE: A good read with an interesting heroine who is very different from the other Victorian Rebels heroines so far. I was actually more interested in her solo story arc than the hero’s.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR:  The book advertised in the back of The Scot Beds His Wife is The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo. Is this the next “Victorian Rebels” book? The heroine is named Lorelai, who I can’t find in any of the other books. Is it about the Rook (and we all know his real identity, right?) And THEN maybe we’ll get Morley’s book? And then I’m crossing my fingers for a book about Callum and the real Alison. There’s definitely a story there.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Talent for Temptation (Sinful Suitors #4.5) by Sabrina Jeffries

Baron Fulkham has been lurking around for most of the “Sinful Suitors” series, but we just met his sister-in-law/spy assistant in Book 4, The Pleasures of Passion, previously reviewed here. This 82-page novella fleshes out the bits of story we got about Meriel Vyse and Quinn Raines in that book.

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A Talent for Temptation front cover (Pocket Star, Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Meriel was married to Baron Fulkham’s brother, but it was mostly a marriage of convenience as part of the spy network. But Meriel felt indebted to her brother-in-law even after her husband was killed in the line of duty, so she’s kept on working for him. She’s now in love with banker Quinn Raines but can’t tell him she’s a spy.

For his part, Quinn is terrified that Meriel won’t commit to him because he’s a boring banker. He sets up a stupid scheme for her to be “kidnapped” so he can rescue her and see her as a dashing hero. But Meriel believes she’s brought this on herself as some part of her current assignment, and she accidentally shoots Quinn.

Now they’re both feeling guilty and trapped by lies. Is there any way to a happily ever after for this couple?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a quick little read that is pleasant and steamy, but doesn’t add a lot to the overall series. If you were intrigued by the snippets about Meriel and Quinn in the previous book, then you’ll definitely want to snag this.

This novella may also offer us a little more insight into the character of Gregory Fulkham. It also serves as a teaser for his book, which will wrap up the series. So essentially it’s a bridge between books that serves up an independent love story.

As far as the series titles go, I like this one much better than “The Secrets of Flirting.” Between the alliteration and the meaning, it fits in better with the other titles. I almost wish they’d saved it for Book 5 and used “The Secrets of Flirting” for the novella.

COVER NOTES: Although I like this dress, it’s apparently held up by magic, so the extreme low cut doesn’t appeal to me. I’m also sorry it doesn’t follow the pattern of the other titles in the series of the hero saucily breaking the fourth wall.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun, quick read clocking in at 82 pages. May add a tiny bit of personality to Baron Fulkham, who will be the next book’s hero.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The final book in the “Sinful Suitors” series, The Secret of Flirting,  will release on March 27, 2018.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed #2) by Mary Jo Putney

Once a Rebel is the second book in the “Rogues Redeemed” series, which is also directly connected to Putney’s previous series, “Lost Lords.” This series follows five men who together escaped certain death from Portugal in 1809 (described at the beginning of Once a Soldier, previously reviewed here). This book’s hero is Gordon, first introduced in Not Quite a Wife (previously reviewed here) as Lady Agnes’s only failure at Westerfield Academy. But his real name is Lord George Gordon Richard Audley, third son of the Marquess of Kingston.

Once a Rebel front cover (Zebra/Penguin Random House)

THE PLOT: Richard and Catherine Callista “Callie” Brooke were childhood best friends, a pair of innocent troublemakers completely hated by their horrible noble families. When Callie’s father plots to marry his troublesome daughter off to a West Indies plantation owner, the teenagers run away together to elope in Scotland. But they’re caught, and while Richard’s own father would have no trouble allowing his son to be put to death, Callie makes a deal with her father: she’ll peacefully marry the plantation owner if he allows Richard to live. Richard is therefore transported to Australia instead, but Callie believes he died on the voyage.

Years later, Richard, now calling himself Gordon, is hired to find and save a widow from Washington, DC in August 1814.  The city is about to be attacked by the British, and the family of “Mrs. Audley” wants her brought back to England. It’s not until he’s rescuing her from British soldiers that Richard realizes his charge is actually his childhood friend. But she’s not ready to return to London just yet; she’s sent her surrogate family of former slaves ahead to Baltimore, straight into another battle. Joining them means waiting out the attack of Fort McHenry, and Richard and Callie begin to reconnect and become more than friends. But a few more rounds of danger wait for them. Callie is actually on the run from her stepson, who wants his “stolen” slaves back; and Richard’s family is still hoping they’ve heard the last of him.

MY TWO CENTS: There’s a lot to say about this book. First, it’s mostly a love story about the American national anthem. Francis Scott Key appears as a character (Callie’s lawyer), and he shows Callie and Richard his new poem about the battle of Fort McHenry right after he’s written it. The author even incorporates some of the phrases into Callie and Richard’s own vigil at dawn as they wait for the outcome of the battle…whose flag is flying over the fort? If you’re American and have an iota of patriotism, especially regarding “The Star Spangled Banner,” you will really feel this part. I also enjoyed reading about a piece of history not usually included in historical romance (call me out if I’m wrong here, but I just don’t remember every reading any!)

I also like that Putney continues her trend from other books of discussing the horrors and repercussions of slavery. Callie’s family consists of two children her husband fathered with his slave mistress (now deceased), and the children’s grandparents. Callie’s husband wasn’t actually cruel and horrible (except for the whole owning slaves things, of course); he didn’t abuse them. (Other than, you know, his mistress not really having a true choice about having an affair because he owned her.) He “meant” to free his children before he died; he just didn’t get around to it. So Callie has taken the teenagers and their grandparents to America, but because they’re still technically the property of Callie’s aggressive stepson, they’re all in danger.

Any disappointment I feel toward the novel is focused on the very polite, mannerly love story between the two leads. We were previously introduced to Gordon as something of an anti-hero, and yet here, most of his wildness is behind him as he’s bought a house and all but given up adventuring; this rescue is kind of his last hurrah. He’s presented as pretty much just a victim of his family. Obviously we know he’s going to redeemed by the end of the book, hence “Rogues Redeemed,” but he was pretty redeemed already…and also was apparently never really much of a bad guy to begin with.  Callie, too, starts out as a bit of a free spirit, and yet she’s burdened with adult responsibilities when we meet her as an adult. I was expecting a love story a bit out of the ordinary for author Mary Jo Putney, but these characters are as sensible and mature as her other characters. They rationally discuss their attraction to each other, and reasonably decide marriage is the obvious choice. There’s really not much of the rebel about these two. Oh, Callie has to defend herself, and Richard eventually performs what basically amounts to an execution, but you can’t blame him too much.

Callie doesn’t even react much to finding out that her childhood friend, for whose death she blamed herself, is alive and well. To be fair, at first she’s overwhelmed by the moment as he rescues her in the nick of time from soldiers. But she falls easily enough into playacting that he’s her husband whom she thought dead. She never really loses her mind or shows a lot of stunned emotions later after the danger has passed. It’s almost…stereotypically British. “Oh, I say, what a jolly good time for you to turn up alive. Well done, you.” (I exaggerate, but…I really wanted her to freak out, faint, keep hugging him, something…and she just doesn’t.)

COVER NOTES: If you’ve read my other entries, you know I want series books to all have matching covers. So of course I love that this cover matches the cover of the first book, only Callie is holding a pistol, her own weapon of choice. I’m not sure the dress is entirely accurate to the period, but it’s pretty and covers most of her body parts, so yay. The detail of the fabric is gorgeous.

BOTTOM LINE: I really wanted this book to be wilder, and Gordon to be much edgier. But I very much enjoyed the historical aspect.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available August 29, 2017, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The preview for the next novel in the series, Once a Pirate, focused on the heroine; but I’m assuming this will be Captain Hawkins’s book since he played a role in Once a Rebel. No date yet, but I’d look for it in Fall 2018. EDIT: The author has announced that the name of the next book has been changed to Once a Scoundrel.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors, #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

I owe author Sabrina Jeffries and readers a huge apology…I started this review over a month ago, got sick, and never finished it. So without further ado…

The Pleasures of Passion front cover (Pocket Books/Simion & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Niall and Bree were young lovers separated when Niall killed a man in a duel and had to leave the country. He couldn’t share with Bree that the duel was fought over the sexual assault of his sister, so she was led to believe it might have been over another romantic partner. When Niall asked Bree to run away with him, she refused because her mother was dying. But Niall’s father managed to poison the young couple against each other by telling Niall that Bree wouldn’t go with him because he wouldn’t be a rich earl once he was in exile. He encouraged Bree to believe that the duel was fought over a woman shared by the men.

When they meet up years later, both are cynical toward the other. Niall believes Bree jumped into marriage immediately after his exile as an opportunist. She was really forced into it by her father’s gambling debts. Now, a spymaster is making them pretend to be engaged to find out if Bree’s father is involved in a counterfeiting ring. Bree agrees in order to protect her father and the reputation of her young son. Niall owes the spymaster for granting his pardon and allowing him to return to England. But of course, throwing this couple together will result in all kinds of romantic shenanigans, AND the opportunity to finally clear the air…if they’re brave enough to take it.

MY TWO CENTS: I can see where some readers might be annoyed by one thing: “If this couple would just TALK to each other honestly, none of the misunderstandings would happen.” But here’s the thing: they were very young when the first break took place. That situation continued to breed distrust. And even after all the secrets are finally out, it still takes some time to re-establish trust. So no, just talking to each other doesn’t solve ALL the problems. I also love romances that emphasize how sex doesn’t just solve everything.

One thing I love about Sabrina Jeffries: she’s great for pointing out all the reasons why a storyline is ludicrous and letting the characters argue them out right on the page. For example, when Bree and Niall are coerced into working together, they hash through all the “couldn’t we just do this instead…” and “no, we can’t do that because…” So Jeffries is well aware of how a plot line may seem stretched AND believable at the same time. I like it.

COVER NOTES: One thing I often note from my Goodreads list is how color schemes seem to go in cycles, especially for romance novels. This gray and red scheme is the same being used on Sarah MacLean’s The Day of the Duchess, also released in June. I honestly wish he wasn’t holding her bare leg, but otherwise, another fun “breaking the fourth wall” cover. Do you prefer it when series covers match? I really, really want them to match because I’m weird that way.

BOTTOM LINE: Another enjoyable entry in this series. I love “young lost love found again” stories.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  An e-novella, A Talent for Temptation, is coming October 2, 2017. The final book in the series, The Secrets of Flirting, will be available March 27, 2018.

Note: Review is based on ARCs provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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