The Secrets of Flirting (Sinful Suitors #5)

Another review of a book that’s been out for a while as I try to clear up my backlog. This is the last full-length book in the “Sinful Suitors” series.

The Secrets of Flirting front cover (Pocket Books/Simion & Schuster)

THE PLOT: When British spymaster Gregory, Baron Fulkham first meets actress Monique, it’s hate at first sight. Something about her sass sticks with him, though, and years later, he’s sure that Monique is now playing the role of a princess vying for the throne of Belgium.
Monique is masquerading as her sick cousin, Aurore of Chanay, until Aurore is well. If Monique can claim the throne of Belgium on behalf of Aurore over Prince Leopold, then Monique’s grandmother will be cared for in Chanay for the rest of her life. Monique will be able to go back to the acting life she loves.
Unfortunately, Baron Fulkham is involved in security for the meetings in London, and he knows darn well that “Aurore” is really Monique, whose memory has been under his skin all these years. He just can’t get her to break character…unless maybe he seduces her into forgetting her role.

MY TWO CENTS: Cards on the table here: I didn’t like Gregory. He turned me off in his very first scene with his grumpy picking on Monique and he never won me back over. I really wanted a book on “flirting” to have a light-hearted feel to it, but Gregory was just so heavy and serious! He was so hell-bent on “catching” Monique that I never believed he fell in love with her. She was an obsession or a puzzle to him, almost more like a criminal he longed to nab, but not a romantic partner.

I liked Monique much more; she was just trying to do the best she could for her grandmother. BUT, here’s something that’s been annoying me from a couple different authors now. When the female character is French, they suddenly throw in “Mon Dieu!” Or “merde!” And just these two phrases are supposed to remind the reader over and over that the character is French…even though everything else they say and think is in English. “Mon Dieu!” is especially distracting to me during love scenes; it just seems so artificial that it pulls me right out of the action.

Now that I’ve been totally negative, let me say that did not HATE this book or anything. I especially liked the historical aspect involving Belgium and Leopold I. The mystery of who was trying to kill Aurore was interesting, too.

BOTTOM LINE: I just didn’t like the hero, but the historical setting of the story was good.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback, audio, and eformats.

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.


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.

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.

The Dangers of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries

I can’t believe we’re already on to Book 3 of Sabrina Jeffries’ “Scandalous Suitors” series. I’m starting to lose track of who’s related to whom at this point, so I’ll try to step it out in “My Two Cents” down below. You know, in case that’s the kind of thing that boggles your mind, too.

The Danger of Desire front cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

The Danger of Desire front cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

THE PLOT: Miss Delia Trevor is trying to find the man who cheated her brother out of all the family’s money, causing her brother to kill himself and leave his wife and infant son behind. All she has to go on is that the other gambler was a nobleman with a tattoo of the sun on his wrist. Disguised as a young man, Delia has been roaming the gambling hells of London, searching for this man. And her gambling winnings are helping to hold off foreclosure of the family estate.

Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, is still feeling guilty over what happened to his cousin Clarissa before her marriage. So when Clarissa asks him to find out if any scoundrel is hounding her friend Delia, he agrees, although he’s afraid Clarissa is also trying to push an unmarried friend into his path. And Warren is determined to remain a carefree bachelor for as long as possible. More importantly, he doesn’t want a wife who would realize he suffers from recurring night terrors, which makes him feel like a coward.

When Warren discovers what Delia is really up to, he’s both horrified and intrigued. She would be ruined in an instant if she were discovered masquerading as a male, and he knows she’s still keeping some crucial piece of the puzzle from him. Together, they might be able to find out the truth about what happened to Delia’s brother…but they might be sorry they did.

MY TWO CENTS: All right, here’s where we’re at with this series. Book 1, The Art of Sinning (reviewed here), was about Jeremy Keane (who was related to the author’s previous series) and Yvette Barlow. Then there was a short story, “The Heiress and the Hothead” (reviewed here), which featured Jeremy’s sister Amanda Keane and Lord Stephen Corry, Warren’s brother. Book 2, The Study of Seduction (reviewed here), was about Yvette’s brother Edwin and Clarissa, cousin of Warren and Stephen. Got all that?

This tone of this book was a little bit lighter than that of Book 2. Granted, there is still a man who drowned himself, but it wasn’t one of the main characters (obviously). Delia isn’t a perfectly gorgeous heroine with the figure of a model, which is always nice. And if Warren is a typical “I’m not getting married, no way…until I meet this particular woman” hero, at least there’s another layer in his avoidance of marriage. Layers are good.

I think the romance came together pretty well. Delia and Warren seem well matched. And once she finds out his secret, they can overcome the “he married me, but he’ll never love me” nonsense that sometimes seems required in romance. (WHY aren’t there more romances where the man professes undying love the whole time, but the woman is standoffish? Who cares about realism?)

What interested me the most was the “man with the tattoo” mystery, and that didn’t disappoint. It also helped set up at least the next book in the series, if not more.

COVER NOTES: Carrying on with the theme of the hero staring directly at the fourth wall, this one isn’t as entertaining as Book 1’s cover. The colors are pleasing pastel, and the fabric of her dress is awesome. The hero is pretty darn attractive.

BOTTOM LINE: Lighter in tone than the last book, with an ending I didn’t see coming from the beginning. (Well, except for the part where the couple ends up together!) Totally enjoyable.

TEACUP RATING: Four plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 22, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The Pleasures of Passion, about Delia’s sister-in-law Brilliana and Clarissa’s brother Niall, will release June 20, 2017. Then, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a book on Warren’s brother Hart, but that hasn’t actually been announced to my knowledge.

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

The Study of Seduction (Sinful Suitors #2) by Sabrina Jeffries

In her second full-length book in the “Sinful Suitors” series, Sabrina Jeffries turns toward some serious topics you don’t often see in light-hearted regency romances: stalking and sexual assault.

The Study of Seduction Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

The Study of Seduction Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Readers who read the first book in the series (The Art of Sinning, reviewed here) as well as the previous “Duke’s Men” series, know this couple. Lady Clarissa has been sassing everyone for a while, and Edwin was previously engaged to Jane in If the Viscount Falls (reviewed here.) Clarissa, who has vowed to never marry, still wants to be social and enjoy the season. But she’s been avoiding a French diplomat who’s been stalking her. When Clarissa’s cousin Warren needs to leave town, he asks Edwin to escort Clarissa and keep her safe from Count Durand.

But as readers know, Edwin has been showing interest in Clarissa for some time. When the two are forced into announcing a fake engagement to get the Count to back off, Edwin doesn’t need much incentive to offer marriage for real. But Clarissa has some demons that she’s been hiding from everyone, and she’s fairly certain she can never be a proper wife to Edwin. And she may be in even more danger from Count Durand than anyone originally thought.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a delicately handled romance. First, it’s really no secret to the reader that Clarissa has had an unfortunate sexual experience, and this time period was not exactly kind to victims of rape. Clarissa sees herself more as naively seduced than sexually assaulted, but it’s clear to readers (and eventually Clarissa herself) that she was assaulted, not seduced. She certainly sees herself as “damaged goods,” and is understandably fearful of the marriage act. Even though she’s outwardly strong and impertinent, that exterior hides her vulnerability.

Being stalked by Durand (who did not commit the previous crime) allows Edwin to prove himself Clarissa’s staunch friend and, eventually, her hero. He protects her against Durand, even going so far as to proclaim them engaged to dissuade him. But the real test comes after they are married. Somehow, Edwin must convince his traumatized bride that sex can be more than the brutality she’s known. Adding love into the mixture can help her healing begin.

BOTTOM LINE: Jeffries continues to dig deeper in this emotional, touching love story. Edwin is sure to be a fan-favorite for his gentleness, patience, and understanding.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available March 22, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Warren’s book, The Danger of Desire, will be available in October 2016.

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

What Happens Under the Mistletoe (Anthology)

How did Christmas sneak up so fast? I can’t believe it’s almost here. But now is the time for Christmas-themed books! If you’re a romance reader, here’s another anthology from four popular authors.

What Happens Under the Mistletoe Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

What Happens Under the Mistletoe Front Cover (Pocket Books)

THE PLOTS (by story):

“The Heiress and the Hothead” by Sabrina Jeffries: Jeremy Keane’s sister Amanda, an American mill owner, butts heads with Lord Stephen Corry, a radical newspaper writer fighting against bad mill conditions in London.

“Twelve Kisses to Midnight” by Karen Hawkins: A Scottish duke is stranded in a snowstorm with a widow who is also his former fiancé.

“By Any Other Name” by Candace Camp: A young lady gets more than she bargained for when she dresses as a boy to search gambling clubs for her missing brother.

“Sweetest Regret” by Meredith Duran: A couple separated by misunderstanding and meddling find their way back to each other.

MY TWO CENTS: I read this mainly for the Sabrina Jeffries story, which is connected to the “Sinful Suitors” series (Amanda’s brother Jeremy’s story, The Art of Sinning, is reviewed here). I have read Candace Camp’s “Mad Morelands” series, but that’s all. I haven’t read any Karen Hawkins or Meredith Duran before this, but I may be interested in checking out some of their books after reading this anthology.

I was a little disappointed that Amanda only got a novella instead of her own book, but the story was well developed even though it was short. I felt like Amanda and Stephen got a sufficient amount of time, and probably better (in my opinion) to not spend too much time talking about the plight of mills in a Christmas story anyway. My one real disappointment with this book was the love scene. Everyone knows I LOVE Sabrina Jeffries, but this may have been the most ill-timed sex scene in history. I get it, I just don’t think it worked. (To say any more would be to introduce spoilers, so I won’t.)

The couple in Karen Hawkins’s story were likable enough, and their story was able to move quickly because they already knew each other well. I was very drawn to the supporting characters, enough that I’ll probably be checking out her “Princes of “Oxenburg” series.

Candace Camp provided a sweet story. Her heroine is spunky, and the hero is protective yet unorthodox. You can tell from the start they were made for each other.

Maybe not quite as much as the couple in Meredith Duran’s story, though. That poor couple, Georgie and Lucas, also knew each other previously and should have been married for years. But their own self-esteem issues and some meddling made each think the other had abandoned them. Thrown together at a house party, they have to wend their way through a tangled mess to the truth. I may have rooted hardest for this couple, who clearly belong together.

BOTTOM LINE: Mistletoe plays a role in all four stories, which are long enough to be fairly well developed. I may be hooked enough to check out the other series books connected to these stories.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

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

The Art of Sinning (Sinful Suitors #1) by Sabrina Jeffries

This cover CRACKS. ME. UP. The male model breaking the fourth wall, as if to say, “Look how naughty I am, heh heh heh!” Makes me giggle every time I see it. In actuality, the hero is not NEARLY as naughty as he’s led everyone to believe.

The Art of Sinning Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

The Art of Sinning Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Readers met both halves of this couple during the previous “Duke’s Men” series. Artist Jeremy Keane was introduced as Zoe’s cousin in How the Scoundrel Seduces (reviewed here), and Lady Yvette Barlow was Jane’s almost-sister-in-law in If the Viscount Falls (reviewed here.) Both are attending Dominick and Jane’s wedding breakfast when Jeremy spots Yvette and falls instantly in…well, artist-lust with her. He’s been looking for a model for his new painting, and Yvette is absolutely perfect. But she’s a lady, and Jeremy is used to using prostitutes as his subjects (although he lets everyone believe he’s visiting brothels for an altogether different reason, which has led to his horrible reputation).

To get in the household and gt around Yvette’s stodgy brother, Edwin, Jeremy agrees to paint a portrait of Yvette that will actually help her find a husband, since the unconventional lady has yet to find the right man, and her brother is concerned. But while they work on the portrait during the day, at night, Yvette poses for “Art Sacrificed to Commerce.” What’s in it for Yvette? Jeremy has promised to take her hunting in the London brothels for the illegitimate child her other brother, the villain Samuel, left behind when he was transported.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s no surprise that the posing sessions lead to romance. What IS surprising is that it’s a bit more complicated than you might think. At first, Jeremy is almost completely wrapped up in the art. While he’s attracted to Yvette, it’s much more about her “character” than her as a person. Jeremy also has a bit of a dark past. He was married before, and there’s some trauma having to do with his wife and parents that are keeping him from being able to move forward emotionally.

At the same time, Yvette has her own dark secrets. She’s trying to find her nephew, all the while thinking of the past indiscretion that her brother Samuel helped save her from. Maybe Samuel wasn’t always a villain…or wait, WAS he?

Finally, I love stuffy Edwin forming a club for exasperated men trying to save their sisters from rogues. All the while eyeing up his friend’s sister.

BOTTOM LINE: Slightly deeper than the usual fun Sabrina Jeffries romp. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Edwin and Clarissa’s book.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available Juy 21, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

If the Viscount Falls (Duke’s Men #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

First of all, thank you to all my readers for your support in 2014! I’m looking forward to all the new books already on my “to read” list for 2015!

What makes this final entry in the Duke’s Men series rock? The heroine, Jane. Thank you, Sabrina Jeffries, for writing an intelligent, non-dishrag of a heroine for modern readers to enjoy.

If the Viscount Falls Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

If the Viscount Falls Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

SPOILER WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the other “Duke’s Men” novels, previously reviewed at the following links: What the Duke Desires, When the Rogue Returns, and How the Scoundrel Seduces.

THE PLOT: When Dominick Manton was disinherited by his evil brother, George, for siding with his illegitimate siblings,  he lost everything except his young fiance. Dom didn’t want Jane to marry him anyway and live in poverty and uncertainly, but Jane, firmly in love with Dom, refused to break the engagement. That’s when Dom decided to do what was best for Jane (in his high-and-mighty male opinion) and set up Jane to find him mauling her own cousin, Nancy, at a party. The trick worked, except he DIDN’T plan for George to marry Nancy.

Now, George is dead, and Dom is finally restored as the viscount, but Jane is engaged to someone else. However, she asks for Dom’s help as a private detective in finding the widowed Nancy, who has disappeared. The reader knows that these shenanigans are a setup to a reunion, but the mystery of what’s happening with Nancy is deeper than one would think.

MY TWO CENTS: There are a few things I loved about this book. As previously, mentioned, topping that list is Jane’s character. She’s known for years that Dom set up the trick with Nancy to get Jane to end their engagement. This isn’t a case of, “If she knew the truth, everything would be fixed.” It’s more that she’s angry at him for being high-handed enough to choose her future for her…but she doesn’t let on at first. She lets him twist in the wind to see how long it will take him to admit the truth to her. She even refers to him as “Dom the Almighty,” but Dom is so clueless that he doesn’t get it at first. He’s a guy who’s smart about everything except women.

The storyline seems obvious, but it really isn’t. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out Nancy is pregnant, which could effectively disinherit Dom and put him back to square one. But there are other factors here. What is really going on? If Nancy IS pregnant, is the baby George’s? Who would even want to disinherit Dom,and how far would that person go?

BOTTOM LINE: Feminists who enjoy a good romance with sizzling love scenes and a twisty mystery will eat this book up. Also, I’m always glad that Sabrina Jeffries connects all her series. Even the the “Duke’s Men” series is ended, it will transition to the new series, the “Sinful Suitors” series, using characters we’ve already met…namely, Jeremy Keane from How the Scoundrel Seduces and Yvette Barlow, who we meet in this book.

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

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and eformats on January 27, 2015.

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

When the Rogue Returns (The Duke’s Men #2) by Sabrina Jeffries

Front Cover for When the Rogue Returns (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

Front Cover for When the Rogue Returns (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

Don’t let the cover fool you: while this book does contain some steamy romance scenes, it’s primarily about rebuilding a marriage in which trust was utterly destroyed by a third party.

THE PLOT: Victor Cale (who readers met at the end of book 1 in the series, “What the Duke Desires”) and Isabella are a newly married young couple torn apart by Isa’s plotting sister Jacoba and brother-in-law Gerhart. Isa is an expert at making paste jewelry, and Victor is  guarding some important diamonds.  Jacoba and Gerhart steal the jewels, and also A) convince Isa that Victor helped them and has now abandoned Isa with his share, and B) convince Victor that Isa has left him and set him up to take the fall for the jewelry theft she planned. Neither actually took part in the robbery, but each is left believing that the other used and abandoned them. All that young love is turned to hatred, and they spend 10 years apart…until Victor finally tracks his wife down by accident. He’s hired as a private detective to investigate a Scottish baron’s future intended. When he realizes this questionable woman is Isa, at long last, he plans to make her pay for her crimes.

MY TWO CENTS: This is the kind of romance book I love, where two lost people somehow have to find their way back to each other. Isa escaped her family years ago, but has long since given up hope of reuniting with Victor. Plus, she’s afraid of what he wants from her now…and his reaction to finding out another secret she has hidden all these years. Victor is sure his wife is out to steal more jewels. How can they possibly learn to trust each other enough to rebuild their relationship? (Here’s a hint: It starts with realizing their marriage wasn’t that strong to begin with if they could be turned against each other so easily.) Their reunion is very gradual as they are forced to work together to escape from Isa’s villainous family once and for all.

THE BOTTOM LINE: This book is perfectly paced. It didn’t linger too long at any of the stages in this journey. For example, Victor and Isa realize they’ve been duped about a third of the way through. it takes another third for all the other secrets to come tumbling out. Finally, the last third is about them strengthening their relationship into a true marriage that will last. I never felt like any part of it was rushed or took too long.

TEACUP RATING: I love characters that really make you feel. Five teacups, no question. I hope all readers hurt and rejoice along with Isa and Victor as much as I did.

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

What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries

What the Duke Desires Front Cover

What the Duke Desires Front Cover (Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster)

I’ve been trying to get really tough when grading romance novels on other sites; it’s got to be a really special book to get a full five-star rating…but I think this book pulls it.

This new series, “The Duke’s Men,” is loosely linked to Jeffries’s other series; for example, there are some references to Jackson Pinter from the “Hellions of Halstead Hall” series. So you know it’s set in the same world as “School for Heiresses” and the “Royal Brotherhood” series. This first book starts off with a dastardly villain that you really loathe right off the bat.

THE PLOT: When Viscount Rathmore dies, his heir, George, burns his father’s hastily written will, thus cutting off his father’s illegitimate children. George’s legitimate younger brother, Dominick, sides with their half-brother Tristan and half-sister Lisette, so George disowns him as well. Tristan steals the valuable horse his father intended to leave to him, making himself a fugitive from the law…and from a vengeful George.

I’m sure this story will play out through the entire series. Despite some resolution at the end of this book, there is still the question of why George hated his siblings enough to disown them to begin with.

MY TWO CENTS: Lisette is the female lead of this book, and she’s a breath of fresh air. Being both half-French and illegitimate frees her from the social conventions that usually confine romance heroines. The male protagonist is Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons. He’s awfully angsty for a duke, which is also fun. The two meet when Max receives a note from Tristan claiming to have found Max’s presumed-dead older brother…who would then be the actual duke. But now Tristan has disappeared. Max wants to know the truth, and Lisette wants adventure as well as to find her brother, so they pose as a married couple to travel together looking for the missing Tristan and Max’s brother Peter.

I won’t give anything away, but I will say that toward the end of the novel, Max says something so horrific that I gasped and smacked my head. Then, later, he was so awesome that I was smiling like a loon. Characters who elicit real responses are the ones you tend to remember.

BOTTOM LINE: I wish I’d bought this one in paperback instead of Kindle, and I may still pick it up in that format. This is the kind of book I want to reread, hold in my hands, and keep in a physical format.

TEACUP RATING: A rare full five teacups. Enjoy with sweet tea and some smooth, rich chocolate.

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