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I’m Only Wicked With You

5 Hallelujah Stars

A man who has lost everything and a woman who wants to be valued for herself, not her beauty or her wealth or her social cachet, are irrevocably drawn to one another.

In the third book of Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series, a blunt, brave, self-made man unlocks the heart of an ice princess. Hugh Cassidy makes the best of his life. He has endured his share of the bitter and longs to savor the sweet. But first, everything must go according to plan. He is building an empire, and his latest goal is one of the final steps to ensure it becomes a reality. From the moment he finds her wreathed in cheroot smoke, she is a distraction he can ill afford. They come from different worlds, and the future her family envisions for her does not involve a brash American.

Lillias is attracted to his wide shoulders and glorious grin. She pokes and prods at him, determined to burrow beneath his calm surface. She loathes him because he is judgmental and self-righteous. She loathes him because he challenges her toe-to-toe, and always manages to have the last word. The barbed words they hurl at each other are thinly disguised as polite conversation, and they count coups and hoard the satisfaction of the ones that draw blood.

The constant sparring is a form of self-defense. The latent desire that simmers beneath their exchanges threatens to pull them under its spell. Like a match to tinder, each insult deepens the fascination and attraction and undermines the lies they tell themselves. He has a goal with a finite timeline. She and her family will move back to their glittering ballrooms when the repairs on their mansion are completed.

One parlor discussion of Persephone’s plight reveals what they truly want. Rooftop moonlight confessions make them equally vulnerable. Hugh’s soft, simmering kisses that can excavate a soul, and the touch of his calloused hand – these are the haunting moments that shape the evolution from loathing to necessity. Hugh is scarred, and raw and determined to build his life again. Lillias teeters on the edge of grasping what she wants and defying social expectations. Her beauty has confined her to a box she no longer wants to inhabit, and the love that grows between she and Hugh is the catalyst for her self-acknowledgment and self-empowerment.

This enemies to lovers story had me turning pages all night, scrawling seven pages of excerpted quotes, and weeping at its beauty and pathos. The sparkling banter, the glorious character arcs that ensure we see into the chaotic hearts of the hero and heroine, the rich, descriptive, language. The whole story is seeded with humor and perfect portrayals of the resilience and buoyancy of love. It is a reminder that falling is something you are powerless to fight – and the one who is meant to catch you may not be whom you have dreamed of, but they are exactly who you need.

My Favorite Quotes:

“He had looked into the barrel of enemy rifles, the slavering jaws of a furious bear, the lifeless faces of his father and brother. He could build a home from the stripped timbers on up, shoot to kill nearly anything, expertly hold a newborn baby. He figured he’d been tested in more ways than Hercules, and in the end he supposed he was grateful that the war had sorted the entirety of his life into two categories for him: what was worth living for, what was worth dying for.”

“The nerve of him, looming up out of the dark like a cliff, the sort ships founder on in storms. Shoulders blocking the light, the shadows clinging to the valleys created by his cheekbones and jaw sculpting him rather starkly, and when he’d come closer – she perhaps should not have allowed him to get so close, but then, he’d felt like a dare from nearly the moment he’d appeared, —”

“Broke in two’ made heartbreak sound as simple as treading on a twig – snap! She could now speak with some authority that the sensation in the actual moment – two months and two days ago, to be precise- was less a break and more of a swift harpooning – she had full access to her father’s library and read a good deal; she was good at choosing words. And there was nothing simple about it. It wasn’t just one emotion. A whole flapping Pandora’s Box full of them had been released: astonishment, wounded pride, mordant amusement about the wounded pride, mordant amusement about the astonishment, confusion, scalding grief, a flailing loss.”

“And…well he recalled hearing that Sir Galahad had been speechless when he’d first clapped eyes on the grail. It was a bit like that. Words seemed both pointless and impossible. But Galahad had allegedly been pure of heart, and that’s where the comparison ended. Hugh’s thoughts were anything but.”

“His smile was slow, and contained such a combination of genuine amusement, self-deprecation, and appreciation for her that for an instant every part of her felt illuminated, warmed, and too exposed.”

“Hugh sought the right words. “It’s just that…” He pushed his hair back. And then he sighed. “I feel that if one is properly living life…an excess of rumination and metaphor can put you at a remove from all that’s beautiful about it. If one takes advantage of all the senses – breathing, feeling, seeing… touching…tasting…” he tried not to look at Lillias “…then merely being alive is poetry.”

“He felt feral, standing naked – clearly the word of the day – and perspiring at an open window, irritable and restless, acutely aware of every inch of his skin, or, more accurately, the full contours of his being. As though it had been coiled into a cramped place and newly freed, and now was needling him as the blood flowed again. Skin was useful for more than being the thing between his viscera and bullets, for instance. It was capable of knowing glories.”

“She gazed up into his face, and he gazed down into hers as if she were a landscape he was inspecting for hidden enemies. Or perhaps hidden wonders. Lost. His voice lowered conspiratorially. “Would you like your hand back?” The right words to say were bobbing around somewhere in the syrup her brain had become; she couldn’t quite fish them out. The truth was, at the moment, her hand seemed to rightly belong to him. As though it were a trophy he’d won for snatching arrows out of air.

“How he felt (hard as a wall, safe as a house, dangerous as a wild animal), how he smelled (sweat, sawdust, smoke, musk, sex), how he tasted (like sin, if sin was a liqueur)- taken together they should have all comprised an adventure. And then a lesson. And then be rapidly consigned to history.”

“Once I have the target in my sights,” he said, close to her ear, “I think of what I love most in the world. What will happen if I miss? Will they be harmed? Will they go hungry? Will I see them again?” He paused at length. “Because I’ve learned that once you know what truly matters in life, and once you know who and what you truly love, then you know who you are…and your aim will always be true.”

“I thought love was meant to be an easy, peaceful thing, Lillias. But it’s like life itself. It’s maddening. And beautiful. And changeable and funny and passionate. It’s…like a Hudson River Valley sunset. Underneath all that fire and glory the sky is ever constant. It’s like you. For me, it is you.”

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A Duke Worth Fighting For

The sparks fly between a wounded warrior and a courageous widow.

Margery has already experienced the love of her life – and was profoundly devastated by its loss. She is absolutely certain that she will never find its equal, and has resigned herself to a life spent caring for others and burying her dreams. A malicious letter changes that. Suddenly, Margery must navigate an impending scandal and begins to question all of her own assumptions about the past.

Margery has no resources of her own. She is desperate to meet the demands of her blackmailer but has nowhere to turn. Enter Daniel. The enigmatic, battle-weary veteran whose social awkwardness is hampering his search for a wife. Daniel is a reluctant duke. He wants a wife for more than duty, but is convinced that his emotional and physical scars are repulsive. He knows that his situation is hopeless. Margery strikes a bargain with him – she will find him a suitable wife in exchange for a fee. The problem is that Margery has captivated him, even though she’s made it abundantly clear she is unavailable.

Margery is far from immune to the allure of the tall, imposing duke with the voice that is “dark and deep, with a delicious timbre that is as rich and mouthwatering” as the chocolate she consumes every morning. His injuries do not bother her- she finds him compelling and irresistible. And Daniel finds it harder and harder to suppress his yearning for the sweet, solicitous, entrancing widow.

I adored this slow burn romance with a scarred hero and a mature widow. I was heartbroken by the fact that Daniel’ s experiences in war have left their stamp on him – his use of a cane and his self -doubt were extremely realistic depictions of the emotional trauma inflicted on soldiers. I was touched by Margery’s realization that love doesn’t just come once, that the heart is open and resilient and has an endless capacity for care.

Their relationship is gentle and consuming and brings the solace and fulfillment they both needed.

These two broken souls who have seen the world trample on their dreams finally surrender to the possibility between them. They are forced to acknowledge it will change the course of their lives, and nothing – not blackmail, not self-doubt, not social expectations- can keep them apart.

West End Earl

They don’t expect to find their HEA…

Ophelia has known nothing in her life but loss, denial and hardship. Until she is rescued by Calvin, the enigmatic Earl of Carlyle, and given a job as his land steward. Under an assumed identity and an assumed gender, she becomes an indispensable part of his inner circle. She assists him in the running of his financial empire by managing a network of informants and spies. She adroitly bests him in regular bouts of fencing. She becomes a trusted confidante and adeptly avoids pursuits and situations that would sabotage her masquerade.

But one of Ophelia’s guilty pleasures is staring at his profile – and thank goodness he’s oblivious to her scrutiny. When her life is threatened by a series of unfortunate accidents, her employer insists that she take up residence in his luxurious townhome.

Ophelia’s disguise is revealed when she has no choice. But the Earl’s treatment of her doesn’t change. Until he can’t stop thinking about her. Or staring at her profile. And wondering at his previous blindness.

They begin a clandestine affair that is all Ophelia has ever dreamt of. But she knows they only have this moment, and is determined to make a new beginning once she buries the demons in her past. It’s up to Calvin to use all of his powers of persuasion to convince her that the only new beginning she should choose is one by his side.

I loved this story so much! Ophelia’s fierce independence and Calvin’s equally fierce protective nature were the perfect halves to a whole. I loved the fact that Ophelia didn’t conform to the traditional view of beauty, but was irresistible to Colin because of her courage and spirit. I loved the fact that Colin was a cinnamon Teddy Graham- he acknowledges his shortcomings, is loyal to a fault, and is not afraid to give his heart to a woman who is both strong and broken.

5 Stars!!!!

A Duke In Time

An independent widow and a stoic duke find their HEA.

I dare you not to swoon over the sweet, supportive romance that blooms between Kat and Christian. 

Kat is a self-made woman. She has concealed her ignominious past from the ton, and launched a successful business with her savvy and insight. Her husband’s death doesn’t bring the closure she had hoped for. Instead it brings new obstacles and challenges she never could have foreseen. She digs in her heels and takes off her gloves to force his dukish half-brother into helping her clean up the mess. 

Christian has never met a woman like Kat. He expunged his brother and his wild antics from his life when he joined the army. And now his delectable, infuriating widow has gotten under his skin and his skill as a tactician on the battlefield was no preparation for her siege.

They begin a reluctant partnership that unfolds into a shared presence of mind and determination to make the world a better place. Christian wants her in his bed, and is lost at the first fleeting touch of her lips. But he cannot offer her more. And Kat finds him fiercely irresistible- but cannot allow her secrets to cloud his future. 

Every moment they spend together is fraught with temptation. Kat is determined not to cloud Christian’s prospects with her humble origins and Christian is convinced he is not a suitable candidate for marriage. 

The quest for Christian’s brother’s legacy, the shared investment they have in improving the lot of others, and the fiery attraction that burns between them become impossible to resist. They are inexorably drawn to each other- and find safety and solace in each other’s embrace. Their journey to incandescent joy is a sweet, saucy surrender. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes.

Her mellifluous voice wrapped around him as the word mine burrowed into the recesses of his mind. For a wild moment, he wanted nothing more than to make her his. Ch. 4

It was foolhardy to be kissing her when anyone could walk in, but a small growl of need rose within his chest. This woman made him want all the wonderful things that life had to offer, like the comfort of holding another. Ch. 13

If any soldier had deserted him like his well-bred willpower just had, he would have called for a court martial of the fugitive. Ch. 13

“There are no guarantees that any of us will experience or even find love in this life. But if we’re lucky enough to obtain it, we must protect and nourish it, much like a seedling until it can stand on its own and weather the elements. Love, if allowed to grow, develops deep roots, whether from a father, mother, husband, wife, or even our own children, that will last for a lifetime and beyond.” Ch 15

I want to be the man who lays a rose on your pillow in the morning, holds your hand in the dark, and kisses you as the sun rises. Ch 21

“It’s a powerful word. For instance, nothing will ever keep me from you. Nothing will keep us apart. Nothing will keep me from giving you my heart. Nothing will keep me from showing you my deepest abiding love every day. Nothing will keep me from making love to you. Nothing will keep me from begging you to marry me every hour until we say, ‘I do.’” Ch 26

The Devil and the Heiress

She never imagined he would be both the villain and the hero of her story…

Violet has always played the role of dutiful daughter. Quiet, biddable, accommodating and inobtrusive. Until she discovers that her parents’ indulgence is outweighed by their mercurial nature. After her sister was offered to a duke like a sacrificial golden lamb, Violet mistakenly assumed that the family had secured the status it had been denied because of the gleam of its new money.

“Her parents wanted her to host dinner parties and show Mrs, Astor that they were very much worthy of her guest list. … She would be pretty and mild and never utter a word that would cause anyone the slightest discontent.” (Ch. 5)

Violet must make a choice : to marry the odious Lord Ware or to run away. “The red shone bright against the white of her palm. In that moment, that’s how she felt. A tiny bloom of insurrection in the midst of conformity.” (Ch. 5)

Her choice is clarified by the alluring, inscrutable Lord Leigh. He is reputed to be a scoundrel. Yet she dreams of kissing him. When he offers his assistance in the guise of a getaway conveyance, she reluctantly accepts it. After all, they are not bound for the same destination, and she does not have the wiles to tempt him.

But Christian, Earl of Leigh, is not immune to her wiles. He is simply adept at hiding his attraction. He has nefarious plans, and he will not compromise Violet until forcing her hand is unavoidable. But all of his plans go awry when they meet with tragedy on the road. Christian’s purpose and desire coalesce when the possibility of losing Violet because of his selfish, reckless behavior becomes all too real.

I loved watching the growth of feelings between Violet and Christian. I loved his empowerment of her and the ways that she soothed his battered heart and dug her way beneath his armor. This wonderful story has so many of my favorite romance tropes: roadtrip, forced proximity, courageous rescue, reforming the rake, writer heroine.

The author’s meticulous research into the rights and situations of women in the late nineteenth century, the intricacies of the transatlantic trade as the Industrial Age reached its heyday, and the very real bargains that happened between Gilded Age American heiresses and members of the English aristocracy is evident on every single page. I highly recommend this beach read if you want to lose yourself in a story that celebrates true love as the only gold worthy of appreciation.

4.5 Stars.

Lady August

A heroine who is content to be a governess – at least that’s what she tells herself. She’s far too independent, and, after all, she’s ruined and inured to the stigma of her illegitimacy and the complications it has caused in her life. Even though a family of her own would be wonderful, that means she would have to find a man she’s willing to take on.

In an uncanny twist of unexpected fortune, she is suddenly an heiress and the world is her oyster. It’s the last thing August expected. She’s now subjected to waltz lessons and interminably boring dinners. Her pragmatism is not appreciated and is viewed as an obstacle to be overcome rather than an asset to be cultivated. And then there’s her stoic solicitor….

Firstly, he’s a lot more appealing than the doddering old man she has met with in the past. Secondly, he has shoulders that take up the entire doorway. Thirdly, he has a mesmerizing blue gaze and a cleft chin she has an insatiable urge to press her thumb into. She is inexorably drawn to him. She much prefers his company to being thrown into the ton’s pool of ravenous sharks and reeled in like a fat worm on a hook.

And Brooks can’t stay away from this contradictory woman. She plagues him with her insouciance. She bedevils him with her laughter. She asks far too many questions and goads him to uncomfortable self-examination.

“He did not want her to look at him that way. Soon she would start asking all sorts of questions in an attempt to get to the core of him, to find out what made him “him”. He was unsure if he knew the answer himself, and he would rather August not get to it first.”

I loved this delightful, slow burn, clean regency romance. It features a hero with motion sickness and a penchant for whiskey and a heroine who has no qualms whatsoever about remaining true to herself. There is a vividly portrayed cast of side characters, sparkling dialogue, and a sufficiently abhorrent villain. Best of all, it is a luscious gem of a story about falling in love about falling in love because of, and despite, your best intentions.

4.5 Stars.

The Sweet Rowan

You’ll need something to hold onto….

Keira has done it again. This sweet, slow burn romance snagged me hook, line and sinker.

Penny is pretty certain that her purpose in life is to rekindle her magic. She thinks a sojourn in Scotland, masquerading as a governess under an assumed identity, is the answer.

But her charges prove to be a bit intractable, and are much harder to win over than their beguiling father. Malcolm of sly humor and mussed hair, of doting fatherhood and conscientious stewardship made me crave my own Scottish sojourn.

This gorgeous love story unfolds with a tender poignancy that nearly made an extended bout of sighing and pearl grasping a reality. (The sighing happened, but I didn’t have any pearls on hand🤣).

I absolutely adored the arch looks over the shoulder, the brushing of fingers against wool coats, and the teasing banter between the hero and heroine.

If you need a reminder of how hearts can be healed, what the power of true magic is, and how to find a place your heart calls home, then this is the book for you!

One Thing Leads to a Lover

A huge thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

I loved the fact that this book featured a mature hero and heroine. Amanda is a devoted mother who has lived a shrouded life since her husband’s death. But Amanda is sick and tired of shadows. She is sick and tired of decisions being made on her behalf about what she can wear, how she raises her children, even what she instructs her cook to prepare for dinner.

When she opens up the birthday present she purchased her son, she is confused to discover the bookshop wrapping concealed a cookbook written entirely in French. When a mysterious gentleman appears demanding an exchange happen, Amanda is intrigued. Finally, a bit of excitement has landed in her lap!

The only life Langley Stanhope knows is one of espionage and subterfuge. He is determined to retrieve the seemingly innocuous cookbook and redeem himself in the eyes of his comrades in arms. His retrieval is thwarted by a series of mishaps and contrivances, and he and Lady Amanda are thrown into situations of forced proximity and assumed identities.

The closer they become, the more he unravels. He cannot resist her caring, brave heart and she tumbles head over heels for his deceptively impenetrable mask.

The plot was deftly executed, the characters were fully developed and compelling, the love story unfolded with both steam and tenderness, and the dialogue was filled with lovely innuendo.

The Devil in Her Bed

Childhood friends find one another after years of loneliness and desperation.

She loved him from the first moment she saw him. A hungry, beautiful, broken boy. She nurtures her dreams and affection in secret as they grow because she is acutely aware the depth of her feelings is unreciprocated. He only has eyes for her best friend.

Unspeakable tragedy obliterates their home and their safety – and they are the only survivors. They make an anguished escape into the forest. But the villains who have stolen everything are determined to erase all evidence of crime. Their pursuit ends in separation.

When they meet two decades later, neither bears any resemblance to the child the other knew. Pippa has assumed an identity that has ensured her financial security and her survival. And the only person alive who can refute her identity and thwart her plans for revenge is the boy who left her sheltered beneath a tree in a long ago, far away wood. They share a cold-hearted desire to exact vengeance. They both want to expose the monsters that hide behind gilt masks of civility and propriety.

As they grow closer, their deceptions and their secrets build walls between them. Even as they fall inexorably, irrevocably into one another’s arms, they are aware that one word can destroy the fragile foundation between them. This is a gorgeous slow burn love story about learning to lean on someone else and trusting them to protect both your heart and your future.

There are many instances of Byrne’s lush, evocative writing. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“Trust mirrors life, I’m coming to understand. Some get to build on pristine new ground, and others…have to sift through the ruins and the rubble.”

Experience the wonder and magic as Pippa and Declan sift through the shards together.

5 Stars