Sunday Spotlight on Broken Things

Broken Things is Meg Henshawe’s book. Hers and Jake Cohen’s. If you’ve read the early books in Jessica Cale’s Southwark Saga (especially Virtue’s Lady), you’ll remember Meg. Loud, coarse, ready to trample over everyone to get what she wants, known far and wide for her beauty and her lovers. And if you haven’t read the earlier books, get them first, because this book will change everything you thought you knew about Southwark’s favourite whore.

Cale takes us into London’s worst slum in the years after the Great Fire. Her characters are irreverent, coarse, often violent, always real and compelling. Her training as an historian shows in the depth and texture of the life she portrays. Her skill as a novelist means we simply enter that life, never aware of Cale the scholar as we live the story with Meg and Jake.

What’s broken in this book? Meg and her hopes for the future. The Rose and Crown, the inn that she runs with those of her sisters still under her fierce protection. Her relationship with her son’s father. Jake’s hands, his job (for a second time—in the Great Fire, he had lost his family, his betrothal, and his future as a goldsmith), his sense of himself.

This book is about two people who have little to lose, and that about to be ripped from them. Alone, Jake is ready to give up and Meg can see no way out. Together, they find a reason to hope; a reason to keep fighting and to win.

If you read only one book this month, make it this one.

About Broken Things

Rival. Sister. Barmaid. Whore.

Meg Henshawe has been a lot of things in her life, and few of them good. As proprietress of The Rose and Crown in Restoration Southwark, she has squandered her life catering to the comfort of workmen and thieves. Famous for her beauty as much as her reputation for rage, Meg has been coveted, abused, and discarded more than once. She is resigned to fighting alone until a passing boxer offers a helping hand.

Jake Cohen needs a job. When an injury forces him out of the ring for good, all he’s left with is a pair of smashed hands and a bad leg. Keeping the peace at The Rose is easy, especially with a boss as beautiful—and wickedly funny—as Meg Henshawe. In her way, she’s as much of an outcast as Jake, and she offers him three things he thought he’d never see again: a home, family, and love.

After Meg’s estranged cousin turns up and seizes the inn, Meg and Jake must work together to protect their jobs and keep The Rose running. The future is uncertain at best, and their pasts won’t stay buried. Faced with one setback after another, they must decide if what they have is worth the fight to keep it. Can broken things ever really be fixed?

Content notes: Diverse characters, profanity, violence, graphic sex

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Sunday Spotlight on What the Scot Hears

Amy Quinton has produced another fun romp in her Agents of Change series. MacLeod, the Scot of the title is superb: gloomy, pessimistic, suspicious, and totally befuddled by the brash American woman who keeps stumbling across his work as a spy for the British Crown.

For all her cheerful outgoing personality, Amelia hides secrets of her own, not least her identity and her background.

Read this book to discover how this mismatched pair discover they are perfect for one another, while negotiating people determined to kill them and MacLeod’s reaction to Amelia’s lies. Better still, read the series. Two other couples already matched are in this novel, and it was fun to see them again. I very much enjoyed What the Duke Wants, and am now itching to read What the Marquis Sees, which I’ve skipped. See? The books can be read independently and out of order, but I want to see how Beatrice won her man. I’ve a suspicion she may be my favourite of the three heroines so far.

I’d have loved a bit more of a sense we were in 1814. The voice is very modern, and there’s little period detail. But still a rollicking good yarn, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

What the Scot Hears

Agents of Change, Book 3

England 1814: Reticent Scottish Lord pursues Mouthy, Independent, American Woman… She is an outspoken American orphan with a questionable past and a dubious purpose. He is a man of few words on the lookout for a traitor. How could they NOT get along?

Mrs. Amelia Chase is a highly-opinionated, 23-year-old woman from America on the run from her past with a penchant for self-preservation and a healthy love for Shakespearean insults. Much to a certain Scotsman’s dismay:

She isn’t:

  • Quiet – not with her tendency to talk to everyone about anything…
  • Demure – highly overrated if one cannot wear red and show off one’s curves…
  • Equine-savvy – she once fled some currish, toad-spotted, coxcombs – er, villains – in a stolen carriage at a pace slower than a meandering walk. Oh, and mistook a common mule for a thoroughbred. But other than that…

And she is:

  • Brave – Smart, Loyal, Witty. Er, charming. Plus, Modest, Lonely, Secretive – Um, forget that last part…
  • And In love – with a distrustful Highlander of all things…

Lord Alaistair MacLeod is an agent for the Crown and a man with secrets. He doesn’t speak of them, he doesn’t dwell on them, and he certainly doesn’t let them define his future. Much. One thing is for certain, he definitely doesn’t share his confidences with a peery, outspoken American woman who is obviously trouble, acts highly suspicious, and is far too nosy for her own good… No matter:

He is always:

  • Focused – men who cannot stay to task are foolish…
  • Pointed and Reserved – enough said…

And he isn’t:

  • Cheeky – like a certain American firebrand…
  • Led by his… ahem…even when following on the heels of a curvy, red-wearing… ahem
  • Or In love… especially not with a Troublesome, Meddlesome, so-called Independent American Woman…

Can he trust enough to embrace such an enigmatic woman? Can she awaken the passions of such an intensely private man?

Amazon ☼ Barnes & Noble ☼ KOBO ☼ iBooks

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Spotlight on Nothing But Time

In today’s Sunday Spotlight is Sherry Ewing’s Nothing But Time.

This short Regency novel is the tale of Gwendolyn, married despite her protests to a nasty old man who bullies and abuses her, and cuts her off from contact with her friends. It’s also the story of Neville, the successful investor and rising aristocrat who falls in love, quite against his will, with another man’s wife.

Adultery is a daring topic for a romance. To keep our sympathy, the writer needs to give us extenuating circumstances, and Ms Ewing does so to the max. The story has it all: thwarted love, a villain,  a mad chase north, a heart-wrenching  separation, and a few passionate interludes to give us hope that all will be well.

I liked Gwendolyn’s compassion for her ungrateful spouse, and how hard she tried to be true to the vows she didn’t want to make. But Neville was my favourite of the two. He was not an innocent, but he was in love for the first time, and he was putty in Gwendolyn’s hands, as well as charming, determined, faithful, and brave.

The book was short and the characters only lightly painted. The horrible husband was a caricature, but the boorish elder brother and the mischievous younger one both show promise. I look forward to more stories of the Worth family.

They will risk everything for their forbidden love…

When Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington is forced to marry a man old enough to be her father, she concludes love will never enter her life. Her husband is a cruel man who blames her for his own failings. Then she meets her brother’s attractive business associate and all those longings she had thought gone forever suddenly reappear.

A long-term romance holds no appeal for Neville Quinn, Earl of Drayton until an unexpected encounter with the sister of the Duke of Hartford. Still, he resists giving his heart to another woman, especially one who belongs to another man.

Chance encounters lead to intimate dinners, until Neville and Gwendolyn flee to Berwyck Castle at Scotland’s border hoping beyond reason their fragile love will survive the vindictive reach of Gwendolyn’s possessive husband. Before their journey is over, Gwendolyn will risk losing the only love she has ever known.

 

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Neville’s first glance at Gwendolyn

He held her stare. How could he not when he had been admiring her beauty just a short while ago? He did not dally with women whose husbands were living, and certainly not one who was associated with a potential business associate. The last thing he needed was some man breathing down his neck challenging him to a duel, and that most assuredly included her brothers as well as her husband.

To say she was beautiful would not have done the lady justice. She was young, perhaps no more than twenty. Her light brown hair was swept up into a pleasing coiffure and one long curling ringlet cascaded down her left shoulder. He could not tell the color of her eyes from this distance but they were framed in a round face with a clear complexion. Neville should not let his gaze linger on those lips for long. They were meant to be kissed and kissed often.

Something about the lady continued to pull at his heart, and, for the life of him, he could not look away. She seemed sad, and he could only ponder the cause. Why her disposition was important to him he could not say, and yet, he had a sudden desire to sweep her away and fill her days with happiness. He squashed down the notion of what he would like to do with her nights.

They continued staring, one to the other, and he watched in fascination as her chest rose and fell as if she were attempting to catch her breath. Neville had been tempted long enough and he gave into the impulse by offering her the slightest of nods. She must have at last come to her senses at his gesture, for she quickly turned away, but not before Neville witnessed a lovely blush rising to color her cheeks.

Meet Sherry Ewing

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical & time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. Always wanting to write a novel but busy raising her children, she finally took the plunge in 2008 and wrote her first Regency. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Beau Monde & the Bluestocking Belles. Sherry is currently working on her next novel and when not writing, she can be found in the San Francisco area at her day job as an Information Technology Specialist. You can learn more about Sherry and her published work at www.SherryEwing.com.

Website & Books: http://www.SherryEwing.com

Email: Sherry@SherryEwing.com

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Sunday Spotlight on The Reluctant Wife

Caroline Warfield writes a superb book, and has had me as a devoted fan since Dangerous Works, the first in her Dangerous series. The Reluctant Wife is her best yet.

The hero, Fred, is one of the boys from Dangerous Nativity, all grown up and following his boyhood dream of being a soldier. But his dreams have turned sour. We meet him in a village in Benghal, drinking his sorrows after the sudden death of the local woman who was his housekeeper and mistress.

No better able to bear injustice and bullying than he was as a child, he has spoken for those without a voice, protected those without power, and been rewarded by demotion and sidelining. In his eyes, he’s a failure; a failure, furthermore, faced with responsibility for his two mixed-race daughters.

The heroine, Clare, bursts in on his life at that moment. She is the sister of his supervising officer, who is a pompous idiot, and bears deep scars of her own. In India only to get her brother’s signature on papers that will give her financial independence, she is still grieving the loss of her only child, and sees herself as a failed wife, and a failed mother.

From the first, Clare understands that what the girls need is their father.  Fred takes some more convincing: across the Indian Ocean and the Egyptian desert, and on into England, where he and Clare must confront their doubts and fears, as well as facing down a bully from Fred’s past in India; a bully who means murder.

Fred’s cousin Charles, Duke of Murnane, has an important role to play in this book, and we see some more healing from the damage his wife did years before to the relationship between Fred, Charles, and Fred’s brother Rand (hero of The Renegade Wife). Charles stars in The Unexpected Wife, due out later this year, and I can hardly wait.

Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B06Y4BGMX1/

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Review: The Master of Strathburn

MasterOfStrathburnFINALFor her newest release, Amy Rose Bennett has returned to Scotland, this time in the years after the failure of the Jacobite rebellion that resoundingly defeated in 1746. I loved Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal, and this novel is even better.

The eldest son of the Earl of Strathburn has returned home. But it won’t be fatted calf on the spit if his stepmother and younger half-brother gets his way. Robert Grant was spirited away ten years ago, just ahead of arresting soldiers, after he led men in the disaster that was Culloden. And if Simon and the redcoats catch him, the charge of treachery still stands.

Jessie Munroe is in hiding from Simon, too. He is determined to make the lovely girl his mistress, and if she is unwilling, so much the better. In Simon’s view, that adds a bit of spice.

When Robert and Jessie both choose to hide in the same place, the sparks we’ve come to expect from Ms Bennett set fire to the page. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can tell you to expect misunderstandings, a noble warrior protector with a hot body, a determined intelligent heroine, and a couple of truly nasty villains. Simon is the kind of horrid person who pulled the wings of flies when he was a boy.

But his mother is well and truly worthy of the tradition of Lady Macbeth and the wicked stepmother trope. She is not at all concerned about her son’s fondness for raping the help, gambling and spending away the estate’s income, and drinking himself blind. He is her boy, and should be allowed to have what he wants.

Ms Bennett has given us a thrilling romance with an historical background that feels authentic, a couple of chase scenes with cliff-hanger consequences, some clever plot twists, and plenty of passion. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to review an advance reader copy.

See Amy Rose Bennett’s New Sexy Novel for more about the book, and some buy links.

 

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Amanda Mariel’s witty Scandalous Intentions

AM_ScandalousIntentions_Front_600x900Today, I’m pleased to welcome Amanda Mariel to the blog.

On 18 March, Amanda released Scandalous Intentions, the second book in her Ladies and Scoundrels series. Below, I introduce you to the book and its author, and give you an excerpt.

Scandalous Intentions

When faced with losing his inheritance, notorious rake Lord Julian Luvington sets his sights on Lady Sara. She’s as respectable as they come, just what his father ordered. But the lady shall not be easily won.

She’s determined to marry for love or not at all, and she’ll do anything to obtain the freedom granted to men. A blackguard like Lord Luvington could destroy her hard-won reputation, but marriage to him also offers her the opportunities she can’t achieve on her own. What’s a lady to do?

When Lord Luvington refuses to abandon his pursuit, Lady Sara proposes an arrangement. Only the price may be more than either bargained for. Lady Sara could lose more than her social standing and Julian could lose his heart.

SI RQ newExcerpt

Sarah pushed out a sigh as Lord Luvington lead her toward a stone bench nestled among the lush green hedge.

“Shall we sit for a moment? I wish to explain.” He pressed his arm against her hand then loosened it again.

She looked away. “Very well. Though I cannot imagine what you might say to change things.” Sarah hesitated for a moment, reluctant to release her grip on him before she lowered herself onto the bench. The stone’s cool exterior seeped through her skirts, a welcome contrast to the warmth radiating through her. She rested one hand on her lap and waved her fan with the other.

Lord Luvington positioned himself on the bench a smidgen closer than was proper, angling himself so that he faced her. The fresh spring scents of foliage and flowers took on a heady intensity. She stared fixedly at the hedge in front of her. Her face flamed though she could not credit it to the heat of the atmosphere.

She needed to take control of the situation before it swept her away. “Speak your piece and be done with it. I do not wish to linger here over long.” He flashed a toe-curling grin just before she glanced away.

“What I said in the park was the truth. Is the truth. But there is more to it than just my need of a respectable wife.”

“Do tell.” She lowered her fan to her lap, its ribbons trailing in the breeze, and locked her gaze with his.

“I have come to care for you, admire you, even. You’re a fascinating and attractive woman.”

She plucked at her satin skirts as the heat climbed back into her face.

“It is true that I will not inherit the duchy without a proper society wife. It is the very reason I began looking for one. I shall not deny it, but nor is it the reason I continue to pursue you.” He reached up and brushed a curl that had escaped her bonnet away from her cheek.

His fingers left a tingling trail in their wake, and something inside Sarah began to crumble. She glanced down at the path they had just walked.

“I would like the chance to make this right. Allow me to court you, Lady Sarah. Let us discover if there might be something real between us.”

Cause A ScandalthsthsfShe glanced at him, unsure how to respond. Her mind screamed no, but her heart and soul begged for him. She wanted to reach out and run her hand across his strong jaw, feel his lips pressed against hers, discover what it felt like to be in his arms.

“Spend the rest of the party in my company, Lady Sarah. Grant me one afternoon to change your mind.”

A wave of tingles ran down her and congregated in her abdomen at his smile. This was dangerous, and she knew it. And yet…

Buy Links:

Amazon * Amazon.UK * All Romance * Kobo

Meet Amanda Mariel

author poicAmanda Mariel dreams of days gone by when life moved at a slower pace. She enjoys taking pen to paper and exploring historical time periods through her imagination and the written word. Her hobbies include reading, writing, crocheting, traveling, photography, and spending time with her family. Some of Amanda Mariel’s favorite places in the continental U.S. are Harper’s Ferry West Virginia and Sea Brook New Hampshire. She loves the history that surrounds them and visits every chance she gets.

Amanda Mariel lives along the Lake Huron shore line in northern Michigan with her husband and two kids. She holds a Master of Liberal Arts Degree with a concentration in literature and has a long standing love affair with sugary junk food.

Facebook * Blog * Email * Twitter * Amazon Author Page * Goodreads * Street Team * Website:  * Newsletter

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Review of Dangerous Secrets

Dangerous secretsI’ve just finished Dangerous Secrets, by Caroline Warfield. Here’s the blurb:

When a little brown wren of an Englishwoman bursts into Jamie Heyworth’s private Hell and asks for help he mistakes her for the black crow of death. Why not? He fled to Rome and sits in despair with nothing left to sell and no reason to get up in the morning. Behind him lie disgrace, shame, and secrets he is desperate to keep.

Nora Haley comes to Rome at the bidding of her dying brother who has an unexpected legacy. Never in her sunniest dreams did Nora expect Robert to leave her a treasure, a tiny black-eyed niece with curly hair and warm hugs. Nora will do anything to keep her, even hire a shabby, drunken major as an interpreter.

Jamie can’t let Nora know the secrets he has hidden from everyone, even his closest friends. Nora can’t trust any man who drinks. She had enough of that in her marriage. Either one, however, will dare anything for the little imp that keeps them together, even enter a sham marriage to protect her.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Dangerous Secrets ever since I read Dangerous Works, and I was not disappointed. In the last week, I’ve fallen a little in love with Jamie, with his secret sorrow, his roguish twinkle, and the bone-deep sense of honour that would not let him forgive himself for the past but also would not let him abandon a woman in trouble.

And Nora, the woman he reluctantly came to adore: as a person who want strong determined heroines, I could not wish for a better one.

Caroline Warfield tells an exciting tale. With the well-being and even the safety of a little child at stake, our hero and heroine need to begin a deception that quickly becomes a reality. But Jamie is hiding more secrets than Nora knows, and those who seem friends may truly be enemies.

Compelling characterisations in secondary characters as well as protagonists, descriptions so real I could smell the paved courtyards in the hot sun, and one realistic crisis after another. Thank you, Caroline, for a great read. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve done with the third in the trilogy.

Note: Caroline Warfield and I belong to the same writers’ co-operative, The Bluestocking Belles. This review is, however, my honest and unvarnished opinion.

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Our choices create us

La Déesse Noire is one of those novels you keep thinking about long after you put it down. To me, the crux of the story is how the four main characters are defined and directed by the choices they make.

Kali Matai was born and raised a tawaif; one of the women entertainers who served those of the highest rank in the Murghal Empire of India. Her life was shaped by the choices made by her tawaif mother and the English peer to whom her mother was given. In England, she is the pawn of powerful men, but when all she loves is at risk, her choices give her a future she believed could never be.

Lord Birchbright once loved a tawaif and gave her two daughters. Given a choice between his forbidden family and the wealth and power waiting for him if he returns to England without them, he abandons them. His choice is to pursue power at all costs.

The book unusually has two male protagonists: Fitz and Rook. They, too, must choose between love and position. One chooses a lonely and ultimately self-centred life. The other is prepared to abandon everything he knows for the woman he loves. I loved them both, but I know which one was the hero.

Kali is one of the most engaging heroines I’ve read. I loved her dignity, her self-respect, her quiet humour, and her sharp intelligence. And I loved how hard it was for her to let her armour down; to become vulnerable; so that she could reach for her dreams. Her happy ending gave me goosebumps. I also very much enjoyed the interesting and believable secondary characters, both the villains and the friends and allies of the heroine.

Mariana Gabrielle has written a book about people on the edges; people discriminated against and even persecuted because they are different. She has done so with skill, sensitivity, and wit. She left me wanting more. I thoroughly enjoyed her Royal Regard and gave it five stars. La Déesse Noire is better. I wish I could give it seven on Amazon and Goodreads, but this is my blog, and my star system can be anything I like. So seven it is.

Disclaimer: I am a member of the same writers’ group as Mari Christie, who writes Regency novels as Mariana Gabrielle, and I was proof-reader for La Déesse Noire. This did not influence my enjoyment of my book. But don’t believe me. Read it for yourself.LDN meme

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Why book reviews matter

Book-review-imageWhen I published Candle’s Christmas Chair as a free Novella way back in the middle of December last year, I set myself a stretch target. 10,000 downloads by the beginning of April when Farewell to Kindness was published? Unlikely, I thought, but wouldn’t it be magical?

As readers of this blog know, my expectations have been blown out of the water by the actual figures. I was at 10,000 by halfway through January, and today’s download figures stand at just over 44,000. That’s a lot of books!

Now, Candle is a free book, and it’s impossible to know how many of those copies are languishing in a TBR dungeon on someone’s Kindle or iPad.  But let’s say that a quarter of the people who downloaded the novella have actually read it. Let’s say 13,000, just so my next piece of arithmetic is easy.

So how is it doing in the review stakes? Duplicates make it hard to get an exact figure, but between the various Amazon sites, Goodreads, and other book eretailers, Candle has around 130 to 140 reviews. (Hah! Now you know why I picked 13,000!)  It’s all very rough, of course, but I’m guesstimating that one reader in 100 has written a review.

How reviews help readers

Do you read reviews? Lots of people do. Finding out whether someone else liked or disliked a book (and, more importantly, why) can help you to choose between the huge array of books available. With over a million fiction ebooks on Amazon, some sort of filtering system is essential.

Here’s a comment from a reader I found when researching for this article:

As a reader, I tend to look at the range of ratings for a book, in the first instance. If they are wide-ranging, to me that says, ‘this could be a good book, but just doesn’t float everyone’s boat’. If they are all of a low-rating, then chances are the book might be missable! Difficult however, when there ARE only one or two reviews – it is good to see a number of reviews to get a feel for the book’s reception.  [Cathy Speight commenting on Book reviews: are they important)

How reviews help writers

Reviews offer writers a lot. Reviews (good, bad or indifferent) make a book easier to find by pushing it up through the rankings in google search and on the sites of eretailers. Good reviews encourage writers to keep writing. When someone in a review mentions something that shows they know what I was trying to do, the glow can last for days. For example, I loved the review that mentioned my favourite gift that Candle gave to Min, and said how romantic the reader found it. I thought it was romantic, too! I loved that bit. I’m so glad the reader did.

Bad reviews help writers too. I wrote about this in another blog, but suffice to say I can learn from valid criticisms, and simply accept that tastes differ and not everyone will like what I write. Bad reviews still count for search rankings, and a well written bad review that says why a reader didn’t like a book may even attract a reader who enjoys what the review writer didn’t.

How to write a review

So please, if you’ve read a book (not just mine, any book), write a review. Especially, write a review if you have strong feelings about the review. Here are some tips from Amazon on how:

  • Include the “why”: The best reviews include not only whether you liked or disliked a product, but also why. Feel free to talk about related products and how this item compares to them.
  • Be specific: Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. For video reviews, we recommend that you write a brief introduction.
  • Not too short, not too long: The ideal length is 75 to 500 words. Video reviews have a 10-minute limit, but we recommend 2 to 5 minutes to keep your audience engaged.
  • Be sincere: We welcome your honest opinion about the product–positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions.
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Dangerous Works by Caroline Warfield

Bluestocking BellesI bought Dangerous Works a few days ago so that I would be able to read it before the next in the series was published, and I devoured it in two bites (going and coming on my commuter train). It is one of those books where the writing is so good you don’t notice it. I was immersed in the story, and time flew by. I dragged myself from the world of Andrew and Georgiana with difficulty, and couldn’t wait to plunge back in.

Georgiana is a woman in her mid-30s living alone because the only man she ever wanted (and the only man who ever wanted her) left without explanation years earlier. She lives for her scholarship – translating and giving a voice to the women poets of ancient Greece. When she finds that her suitor – the only person ever to encourage her work – has returned, she seeks his help with her translation.

Andrew joined the army many years earlier because he couldn’t marry Georgiana. Scarred and still suffering from his most recent injury, he is unhappy to find that the old feelings are still there, stronger than ever.

I sympathised with Andrew, I understood Georgiana, and suffered with them both as they faced gossip, scandal, her powerful family and their own misconceptions. Thank you, Caroline, for a thoroughly satisfying read. Now for Dangerous Secrets!

Disclaimer: Caroline and I are both members of the Bluestocking Belles, a group of 8 regency writers. And I’m so glad to be associated with such a good writer!

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