AustenStudent

I read and study Jane Austen obsessively,
love British and American history,
and adore historical romance novels.

Read: BOUND TO BE A GROOM by Megan Mulry

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Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on …

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with …

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet …

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

I’ve read sensual historical romance at varying degrees of heat, all of them heterosexual. Monica Burns, Sabrina Darby, Kate McKinley are the first names that come to mind. But Megan Mulry's saucy novella explores homosexuality, bisexuality, submission and domination in an erotic historical romp set in 1808 Spain. But it isn’t just about the sex—which is scorching—it’s also about four loving and vulnerable people who dare to live their deepest and darkest dreams.

Anna Redondo—a close friend to Isabella (the heroine of Bound to Be a Bride) is a strong and independent woman bound by the strict conventions of society in the early nineteenth century. Born to a titled father “on the wrong side of the blanket (p1) and raised in a convent in Spain, she fiercely desires to live an unconventional life with, Pia, her beloved companion, friend, and lover.

At the novella’s beginning, Anna is leaving Pia and the convent to become a courtesan where she hopes to settle well enough so that she can eventually be with Pia forever and they can live together freely. On the way to England, she stops to attend Isabella’s wedding and meets the very handsome and very sweet Sebastian de Montizon, the wealthy and titled son of a Spanish peer. She bravely propositions him for some much-needed experience with men and he is only too happy to comply.

"Sebastian had swept into the main hall shortly before supper three days ago, looking like he had spent the past month splitting his time between a bar and a brothel."(p2)

When Sebastian unexpectedly proposes marriage and generously offers to make Pia a part of their marriage—in every way—Anna is beyond happy. She is wary, however, of Pia’s reaction, especially since Anna has discovered that Sebastian sparks something in her that she wishes to share not only with Pia, but also with him. Sebastian is beyond generous and loving to Anna; it’s a dream come true. And so, after their marriage, they travel to the convent to bring Pia into their lives and create their unconventional and very happy household.

"For the first time in her life, Anna felt like she could breathe without the pressing need to worry about her future or calculate her prospects." (p53)

Both Sebastian and Anna live hidden behind carefully constructed facades, concealing their true and passionate natures.

I see you use a convent education and a pale dress to disguise yourself, much as I use a family name and a sword.” (p5)

Anna was a lady, no matter how lowly a miss she claimed to be, and it was as if his two distinct worlds were colliding. Social obligation and base desire were finally making one another’s acquaintance, like two people who turn a corner into each other.” (p8)

When they reach England, however, they meet up with the dashing and exciting Fairleigh, Duke of Mandeville, Sebastian’s former lover and one he still holds strong feelings for. At first, Anna is jealous but then realizes her selfishness as Sebastian has only been kind and selfless to her and Pia and would not take up with Fairleigh again if she did not approve. And so they then accept Fairleigh into their domestic arrangements.

All four agree to a life together of exterior propriety while fulfilling their deepest sexual desires. 

“‘Are not all marriages a mutual manipulation?’” (p57)

What is unique about this well-written and engaging novella is that Mulry creates emotional tenderness along with a graphic and erotic love story, the buttoned-up and oh-so-proper façade of the early nineteenth century with the authenticity of those who desire a little more in their sex lives. It isn’t just about the very sensual sex—as many heterosexuals believe—it’s about accepting people as they are and loving them nonetheless, about being free to be one’s self in private while showing the expected proprieties in public. Another unique facet is its setting in 1808 Napoleonic Spain, with all its exotic flavors.

And, let’s face it, homosexuality, bisexuality, and sexual domination and submission have been going on since long before the Romans, so don’t kid yourself that the twenty-first century came up with this stuff. It is also nice to see that Fairleigh’s mother is an unconventional woman herself who dearly loves her son, no matter his sexual preferences.

At times shocking, this sexy, original, and heartwarming novella is not for the faint of heart as there are loving, erotic, and very descriptive group sex scenes. Mulry makes you feel for her characters and the unorthodox life they choose to live together. Those who proceed will be rewarded.

Read: SECOND CHANCE BOYFRIEND by Monica Murphy

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Lost. That one single word best describes my life at this very moment. I lost the last games of the season and both my team and my coach blame me. I lost the last two months because I drowned in my own despair like a complete loser. And I lost the only girl who ever mattered because I was afraid being with me would destroy her.

But now I realize how truly lost I am without her. She has become my story…and even though she acts like she’s moved on, I know she still thinks about me just as much as I think about her. She’s beautiful, sweet—and so damn vulnerable, all I want to do is help her. Be there for her.

Love her…

If only I could convince Fable to give me a second chance. Then I wouldn’t feel so lost anymore, and neither would she. We could be found together.

Forever.

The second novel in the new adult One Week Girlfriend series by Monica Murphy.

There is a lot of angst in this novel and, if it wasn’t a romance with a guaranteed happy ending, I would probably not have read it. Drew and Fable are so young to know such emotional pain but they are both beautiful people and you are assured it will turn out all right in the end. My heart hurt at times to read their love story.

Fable’s new boss, Colin—who is featured in the next book in the series, Three Broken Promises—sees her potential where she just sees a paycheck to pay the rent and take care of her younger teenaged brother, Owen.

Drew comes from money and his father has his own stereotypes about Fable, who he sees as working class. Drew only sees Fable’s kindness, strength, and beauty.

The love between Fable and Owen is lovely and poignant to read. He defends her when he thinks Drew hurts her and she in turn demands the most from Owen. They are all each other has as their mother has definitely checked out of their lives.

This entire book is told in the first person point of view, alternating between Drew and then Fable’s perspectives. But then we get a surprise point of view in the villain, Adele, Drew’s horrid and extremely misguided stepmother.

The sex is very graphic but it is sensually and tastefully portrayed. Murphy aptly evokes the strong and often overwhelming emotions of first love and that first mad rush of romantic feeling.

I look forward to more in this series and also to reading more by this writer to watch.

“Emma’s project of forgetting Mr. Elton for a while, made her rather sorry to find, when they had all taken their places, that he was close to her.”

– Jane Austen, Emma(1815)

Read: RIVETING HIS ATTENTION by May Williams

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Note: page references are from a Kindle version.

Lady Ella Harwich is capricious. At least that’s what her older brother thinks. However, when it comes to Jim Ferguson, Lady Ella is quite serious. One long, lingering kiss put Jim at the center of her romantic desires and at the top of her list of suitors. And she plans to keep him there. Unfortunately, Jim wants off her list because of a secret past, a career as a shipbuilder instead of a gentleman, and his own inability to resist her. Proving her love—and his worthiness for her love—is Ella’s only way to rivet his attention.

The first heroine to surprise and charm me with her extremely determined pursuit of the gentleman of her dreams (and, thus, her own fate and happiness) was Teresa Finch-Freeworth in Katharine Ashe’s novella, How to Marry a Highlander.  Initially, the heroine’s brazen forthrightness made me cringe, but her innocence and guileless confidence that the hero was the only man for her had me cheering long and loud for her by the end of the story. New-to-me author May Williams has created another confident and headstrong heroine in Lady Ella Harwich in Riveting His Attention, the second book in her Impressions series.

A charming and quirky little romance, this story features an heiress’ pursuit and courtship of an ordinary working class man in the Victorian era. Though the second book in a series—Ruffling Her Skirts features Ella’s sister, Annabelle and her husband, Edmund, who are prominent secondary characters here—it can be read on its own.

Lady Ella is only nineteen but knows exactly who she wants for her future husband: Jim Ferguson, Edmund’s brilliant and up-and-coming designer in his shipbuilding firm. Ella has absolutely no interest in other men (well, except to help make Jim jealous) and she walks a fine line between propriety as demanded by her station and her unabashed quest for Jim.

'I'll flirt with the others and make Jim jealous, and he'll see that he can't live without me. It happens all the time in the novels.” 

Ella doesn’t care in the least that she and Jim are from different classes or that Polite Society will not approve a match between them. She boldly plans situations to get Jim alone and declares her love for him and she writes him letters, too. At first, this sounds almost like stalking behavior, but the humorous situations and the charming writing make it often adorable and hilarious. For his part, Jim is very attracted to Ella but feels she is too far above him socially. He also holds a painful secret that he feels makes him unworthy of her love.

But it is a new era in England, when working for a living still holds the stigma of trade and the upper classes did not mingle with merchants. But Edmund, Ella’s progressive brother-in-law, is a peer who also owns a shipbuilding company. Edmund enjoys the work and isn’t afraid to “dirty his hands” making a living. Ella is a peer’s daughter and used to the finer things in life but she wants to be happy in her marriage above all else.

Edmund and Annabelle approve Ella’s choice but Jim Ferguson, a self-made man with a mysterious past, isn’t so sure. At times, his reluctance is vexing to read in my free-spirited twenty-first century context, but he possesses great strength of character that is honorable in relation to its time period. In these delightful moments of the story, when Jim shows Ella the strong and brave man he is—by capturing her in his arms for a passionate kiss or defending her against danger, for example—his charisma and appeal shine through and take Ella (and the reader) by surprise.

When a series of dangerous incidents threatens to sabotage the shipbuilding enterprise’s newest and revolutionary venture, and Jim’s unknown past becomes linked to it, Ella assuredly plunges ahead. She fearlessly—and, perhaps, carelessly—pursues the mystery and figures it out, along with Jim’s past, adding some nice tension and drama to the romance.

There are some hilarious diary entries written in the first person by Ella sprinkled throughout the story that made me laugh out loud and I had to admire her single-minded and often outrageous determination.

Disaster. Tragedy. Calamity. A marriage proposal.”

If you love an unconventional heroine who takes her destiny into her own hands, you will enjoy this light and breezy romance.

Memorable moments:

He gestured to the vertical lines of the ruins and held his arm toward her, but his eyes focused somewhere over her head as though looking at her would be the equivalent of falling down a badger hole.”

"Although he hadn’t been exceptionally pleasant to her, his obvious jealousy toward Lord Spencer confirmed her belief in his love."

“‘Logic and Ella rarely go together.’”

A modified version of this review first appeared on Romantic Historical Reviews.

Read: THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS by Madeline Hunter

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When Lady Lydia Thornton is blackmailed over the shocking contents of a manuscript she once wrote, she must go to the most desperate of measures to raise the money to buy back the ill-considered prose: agreeing to an old wager posed by the arrogant, dangerous Duke of Penthurst. At least Penthurst is a man she wouldn’t mind fleecing—and she’s confident she’ll win.

Penthurst long ago concluded Lydia was a woman in search of ruinous adventure, but even he is surprised when she arrives at his house ready to bet her innocence against his ten thousand pounds—a wager he only proposed to warn her off gambling.

When she loses to a simple draw of the cards, Lydia is shocked. Now, her problems are twofold: a blackmailer determined to see her pay and a duke determined to tame her rebellious ways. One misstep and Lydia could find herself ruined—or bound to the seductive man who would make her his duchess.

Lady Lydia Thornton is a bluestocking and the extremely independent-minded sister of Darius, the hero from The Surrender of Miss Fairbournethe first book in The Fairbourne Quartet series by Madeline Hunter. The series features four unconventional and headstrong women who find love and happiness in early nineteenth-century England. All the books are interconnected and are best read in order for character development and plot progression. Lydia’s unconventional and impetous character stood out in that story, so I was very happy to read more about her.

As a young girl, Lydia once wrote a provocative story which also featured the names of ships—this, in a time of war with France. At the beginning of this novel, she is blackmailed by an acquaintance from the gaming tables, Algernon Trilby, a rather sleazy and weak man. This plot brought to mind the Sherlock Holmes’ short story, "The Adventure of the Second Stain." In that story, a politician’s wife is blackmailed with sensual letters she wrote as a young girl. Also like Lady Louisa from Grace Burrowes’ Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight.

The Duke of Penthurst, an old friend of Lydia’s brother, was once promised to Lydia when they were children, something of which she knows nothing about. But he dismissed the idea so it never came to fruition. He rescues her from dangerous situations with Trilby during critical points in the story, partly in deference to her brother but also because he has a heart, honor, and a conscience. Also, he is very attracted to her yet her independent and impulsivity also exasperate him.

Lydia wants to believe she is an independent woman in Regency England. She wants more from life than to be beholden to a man, she wants to experience life and be her own woman. She loves to gamble but, instead of pocketing the money, she gives it to charity. Yet she is still constrained by societal strictures and is prone to melancholy and contemplative moods.

She had been an imp as a girl. Animated, loud, and often naughty. Very different from the Lydia she showed the world now. Unless she was gambling. Otherwise, she hid behind that aloof mask and cloaked herself in a hard shell.” (p40)

People assumed the worst of her, when she had never even had the opportunity to be bad! Somehow she had become the problem sister of Southwaite, simply because she avoided marriage and wanted a bit of—something different. Anything less predictable. A reason for excitement. Was she so wicked for desiring some experiences out of the ordinary ones decreed for a woman of her birth?” (p33)

I felt Lydia’s vulnerability throughout the story, despite her exterior toughness. She is an innocent but longs to be a “woman of the world.” I had to laugh at a fanciful image she has of Penthurst, reminiscent of the young Catherine Morland from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey:

She always thought he would look more at home in a dark castle than a Grosvenor Square mansion. She could picture him in the castle’s great hall with his hounds, tall and disheveled from riding, the fires of the hearth roaring behind him.” (p58)

In a drastic attempt to quickly acquire money, she renews an old and outrageous wager with Penthurst: her virtue for 10,000 pounds. And so begins a captivating story filled with tension and danger as Lydia walks a fine line between daring and decorum.

Penthurst is an enigmatic man and honorable man. His well-timed rescues of Lydia, his determination to do the right thing, and even his willingness to work his own land speak of a man who is comfortable with himself, instead of what society expects of him.

The life she had known might be over, but this marriage affected his, too.” (p198)

Kendale, the hero from The Counterfeit Mistress (book three) is ever rough around the edges, with his usual impertinent and improper observations. Along with the other two heroes from the first two books, they contribute much humor to the story.

The romance between Lydia and Penthurst simmers with passion and their sharp and often caustic dialogue is the best part of the story as it reveals both her vulnerability and his honor.

"Did he like her? Was their growing comfort more than just two people accommodating the inevitable, or the result of the physical intimacies of marriage?" (p311)

And so ends a wonderful series by a highly accomplished and entertaining author. Highly recommended.

Read: WED AT LEISURE by Sabrina Darby

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Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

In all of Sussex—scratch that—in all of England, there is no one prettier than Kate Mansfield, and Peter Colburn, heir to the Duke of Orland, has known that since the age of 15. But since her vivacious nature comes with a temper to match, Peter has always masked his hunger for her behind ruthless teasing.

As far as Kate is concerned, there is no one as annoying or as incredibly handsome as Peter. So when he surprises her with a sudden and romantic courtship, Kate is sure this must be his idea of a sick joke. After all, he’s the one man who knows how flawed she really is. And the only man to whom she has ever been so attracted. It’s only after she rejects him that she realizes he might actually have been serious. And she just might be regretting her hasty decision.

As Kate’s determination wars with her traitorous heart, it may be too late. Now she’s putting everything, including her reputation, on the line to give this accidental tragedy a happy ending.

Book number two in the Taming series by Sabrina Darby, this is a very sweet yet complex novella, based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Kate Mansfield has a shrewish reputation but, in actuality, she suffers from very low self-esteem. As a young child, she felt unloved by her beautiful mother who favored Kate’s beautiful, fair, and sweet younger sister, Bianca.

As children, Peter (a duke) and Kate often stumbled upon each other by their favorite spots on their families’ adjoining properties, usually when Kate or Peter were upset about something and soothing their wounds. They formed a kindred connection many years ago that has evolved into an attraction neither openly acknowledges. In fact, their witty banter is a shield they wield to avoid acknowledging their true feelings.

Until it’s time for Kate to marry. Peter becomes entangled in an unfortunate scheme involving the friend of his younger and irresponsible brother, Reggie. But what starts out as a favor quickly evolves into something far more serious.

What struck me most about this little story is the beautiful way that Darby captures Kate’s very low self-confidence. As someone who suffers from this I completely related to her, painful as it is to read.

And it is lovely to encounter a hero who truly  the heroine, who sees the person underneath the fear, the anxiety, and the protective shell.  In this way, Peter reminds me of Shaw, the hero in the new adult romance, Tease by Sophie Jordan. The conversations between Peter and Kate are some of the best I’ve ever read, though also very frustrating as two people desperately try to communicate their true and hidden feelings.

As in the last novella, Woo’d in Haste (Bianca’s story), there is no sex scene, just searing sexual tension and a very tender romance. I mention this because some of Darby’s earlier works do feature graphic yet very sensual sex scenes which are beautifully and tastefully written.

Sabrina Darby writes elegant, sexy, and intelligent stories that I love to read and I can’t wait to read more.

Read: WHAT A LADY CRAVES by Ashlyn Macnamara

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Note: references are from an ARC Kindle version of the book.

Henrietta Upperton is about to marry Alexander Sanford, when he rushes off to India to salvage his family’s fortune. Then comes the devastating news that he has wed another. Eight agonizing years later, a storm washes Alexander ashore—injured, widowed, and hunted—and one glimpse of his ruggedly handsome face reawakens the desire Henrietta thought she had buried deep inside. Her body still yearns for his touch, but she’s determined not let him wound her again … not this time.

For Alexander, honor always comes first. But only now does he realize that when given the choice between two virtuous deeds, he picked the wrong one. On the run with his life in tatters and a pair of daughters in tow, Alexander burns for Henrietta. He knows he does not deserve forgiveness. And yet he longs to wrap his arms around her warm body once again. What’s more, he is sure the lady craves the same.

Henrietta Upperton has suffered the terrible humiliation of a broken engagement to Alexander Sanford. As lady’s companion to Lady Epperley, Alexander’s imperious aunt, she frequently takes comfort in the words of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. She is also the sister of George Upperton—the hero from A Most Devilish Rogue, the second book in Macnamara’s debut series. This historical romance is the first in her newest Eton Boys’ series.

Lady Epperley claims she took Henrietta on as a paid companion to make amends for the family as well as Alexander’s scandalous dishonor. When he returns unexpectedly, eight years later, she demands he atone for his horrible behavior to Henrietta and tries to force the two of them together, much to Henrietta’s dismay. She’s still attracted to him but, after her painful experience, she wants nothing to do with him or love ever again.

Henrietta has taken her life and fate into her own hands, instead of wallowing in self pity, something I greatly admire about her. She once truly believed Alexander would return to her and marry her after his abrupt journey to India to save his family’s finances. He never did, instead marrying another. As a jilted woman, she is now ruined as no one else would have her. She also lost the friendship of Alexander’s sisters, Jane and Cecilia and, as a paid companion, she descended from the life of a genteel lady to that of a servant; she is essentially alone. Such is life for a spurned woman in early nineteenth century England.

Alexander tries to save his family’s precarious finances and in the process, nearly ruins his life. Now he’s back, a broken man, after eight long years and he brings danger with him. At first, I was as appalled and angry as Henrietta is but, when I learned why he did what he did and the background for his actions, I did feel sympathy for him. This is a testament to the skill of a writer to make a sympathetic character out of a reprehensible hero.

Alexander holds several secrets and they unfold at a nice pace throughout the story, building reader curiosity and empathy.

Henrietta is a very strong woman as is Alexander’s sister, Cecilia, a direct and bold woman who doesn’t let Alexander get away with anything. She is a future Lady Epperley.

The sexual tension between Henrietta and Alexander is vivid and also supplemented by tender and sensual flashbacks to their romantic courtship days. But when they finally make love, it is a little disappointing.  

I admit that it is not my favorite trope when the hero has a love child. This is very hard to swallow but I commend Macnamara’s handling of a disturbing and realistic situation. She makes Alexander’s intelligent and well-rounded daughters seem real, not cutesy, and she portrays Henrietta’s great initial reluctance to get to know them well.

Albemarle, Lady Epperley’s beloved cat, is a minor but important character in his (her) own right. She has the run of the house:

“Albemarle sat in her usual spot at the head of the table, lapping at a porcelain soup plate full of cream.”

Alexander’s aunt, Lady Epperley, is quite the harridan. She reminds me of the outspoken Lady Catherine DeBourgh from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but instead with her heart in the right place.

There are also some nods to Jane Austen, such as in this reference:

“‘…a man, if unattached, must be in want of a wife.’ In another moment, she’d be spouting off about universally acknowledged truths.”

I very much enjoyed the picturesque descriptions of the Cornwall coast, bringing a nice sense of place to the story.

“A salty breeze off the Channel disturbed the worn curtains and bore the cry of a few gulls. The gray water glinted with deceptive calm in the sunlight as it hissed over the pebbled beach below. Only yesterday, storm winds had whipped that water to boiling fury, enough to dash ships upon rocks.”

I didn’t much care for the climax and resolution scene toward the end with the villains, especially their rather silly nicknames. It makes it seem almost comical when the effect is supposed to be serious.

While not my favorite story plot-wise by Macnamara—it is a little too serious for my personal tastes—the writing, pacing, and characterization are impressive and Henrietta is a memorable and admirable heroine; her hero, not so much. And I prefer my romances with more humor, like A Most Scandalous Proposal, Macnamara’s sparkling debut.

A modified version of this review first appeared on Romantic Historical Reviews.

Listened to: DANGEROUS IN DIAMONDS by Madeline Hunter, read by Kate Reading

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The Duke of Castleford has been so bad for so long that scandal can’t be bothered to rise up around him anymore. To alleviate the boredom of his privileged life, he occupies himself with drinking and whoring, not to mention the occasional duel. When something piques his interest, however, he has been known to emerge from his ennui and employ his considerable mental faculties to finding answers to the questions that fascinate him.

When Daphne Joyes rejects this notorious hedonist’s seduction, she assumes that he will forget about her and continue on his path to hell. Instead her beauty, grace and formidable composure captivate him, and she becomes one of those fascinations to him. That he intends to have her, and soon, is actually the least of the dangers that his pursuit of her presents. More troublesome is his interest in her past and her history, and the way he keeps poking his nose into the secrets behind the distant relative’s bequest that gave him ownership of the property where she lives.

Finally, finally! We get the story of the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”* Duke of Castleford, whose debauchery, humor, and wily intelligence has tempted readers throughout an entire series. This is book four in Madeline Hunter's intelligent and thoroughly entertaining Rarest Blooms series

The Duke of Castleford is brought to his knees by a brave and shrewd woman, Daphne Joyes, proprietor of the Rarest Blooms. He begins a calculated strategy to seduce her after she flatly refuses his offers at her house in Cumberworth.

He holds great power over her as he has inherited the land on which her house and business sit. This is Regency England and women have no rights; it is often painful to watch Daphne steer her way around his manipulative machinations to get her into his bed. She needs a roof over her head but she refuses to be his whore.

Castleford himself is the ultimate man-whore. He sleeps around atrociously—he’s lucky he doesn’t have the pox—gambles, and drinks himself to oblivion daily. Except on Tuesday. Tuesday is the one day of the week he allows himself to soberly attend his ducal duties, leaving him free to fool around in mindless pleasures the rest of the week.

But he is not merely a hedonist. He is also an intelligent man whose interest in Daphne goes beyond seduction. He’s overly confident he can get her into his bed, but her hidden and very secret past, her strong-willed determination to stand up to him, and her pale and ethereal beauty fascinate him.

This entire story is a gripping game of sexual tension. He is single-mindedly intent on getting her into his bed at all costs. As he lowers her defenses one by one, Daphne fears more his discovery of her secret past than falling for his irresistible charms.

She tries to resist him at almost every opportunity. She puts him off as much as possible, adding to his increasing dual frustration, at his impatience at how long this seduction is taking and that he is also dissatisfied sexually. I thought it humorous he felt he couldn’t bed other women while he on the chase for this one woman. He can’t even write his titillating book about a gentleman’s guide to London brothels—he finds he’s adjusting its tone so as to not offend a lady, drat it! He takes to staying sober on other days of the week besides Tuesdays. In short, she completely upends his life and people are beginning to talk.

Daphne Joyes is a mystery woman. An enigmatic widow, she has lived quietly in the country, in a house of her own tending to her gardens and her very successful business, the Rarest Blooms. Pale blonde with grey eyes, her beauty and charm devastate and confound him. I love how her cool personality discomfits him; it’s delicious to read.

Castleford has control of Daphne’s house and lands and, essentially, her fate. To entice her to stay in London so that he can seduce her, he tells her he must have the lands inspected and evaluated, the proceeds to tell his man of business, Mr. Edwards, to take his own sweet time in doing so. To her dismay, she feels she must acquiesce.

To say this is manipulation is beside the point. Daphne feels she must be polite to Castleford as he can turn her out of her home at any moment. Yet she is attracted to him almost against her inclination but, at the same time, wary as he can promise her nothing more than pleasure. 

Their cat and mouse game is a delight to read, very exciting, and well drawn out with searing sexual tension throughout. I love how Daphne keeps Castleford guessing but, at the same time, I did hope for their happy ending. More for her as she has so much to lose as a woman alone.

Castleford surprises me toward the end, but in a good way. Daphne is the one woman who will always keep him on his toes because, just when he’s sure of her, she surprises him. And Daphne, too, is full of surprises and secrets of her own. Yet I can’t help but doubt that a man who has slept around his entire life will really and truly settle for just one woman. They might be happy for a few years, but long term? I somehow doubt it.

This is narrated by the cool and sophisticated voice of Kate Reading. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the switch as I had been listening to this series read by Polly Lee. But I have enjoyed other audio recordings by Reading in the past, most notably Julia Quinn’s books.

This story has been a long time coming and the mystery of Daphne and the debauchery of Castleford are a continuous and exciting thread throughout the entire series. It has been very fun and entertaining to read.

I highly recommend this romance and series to those who enjoy their romance on the sensual side with a dash of mystery.

*Lord Byron

Read: LOVE AND LET SPY by Shana Galen

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Note: page references are from an ARC Kindle version.

Her name is Bonde, Jane Bonde …

A beautiful and eligible member of the ton, Jane has more than a few secrets: she’s one of the Crown’s most elite agents. She may be deadly, but she doesn’t know a thing about fashion, flirtation, or love … until Dominic Griffyn shakes up her carefully stirred world and asks her to be his bride. He’s exactly the kind of man she’s not looking for. And he’s dangerous, because falling into his arms is so much more satisfying than saving England from her enemies.

He’s an improper gentleman who needs a wife…

Talk, dark, and tortured, Dominic Griffyn is haunted by demons from his past. When his stepfather insists that he marry, Dominic allows himself to hope that the beautiful but mysterious Miss Bonde might help him forget his troubles. As they grow closer, it’s clear that there’s more to Jane than danger. She might be just what his neglected heart needs.

The third and final entertaining book in the Lord and Lady Spy series by Shana Galen, this story is a spoof on the popular James Bond series of by Ian Fleming but set in Regency London, 1816.

I really felt this romance was more about Jane Bonde, a strong and admirable heroine who is a spy. It’s fabulous to see a woman in Regency England kicking some spy ass while falling in love and being able to keep her position despite the conventions of the time. Realistic? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I’m sure there were unconventional marriages and relationships then just as there are now.

The allusions to the Ian Fleming James Bond stories are fun to read, especially since the spy is a woman. What’s unique about Jane is that she isn’t a girl-in-pants spy. She’s every inch a gorgeous and accomplished lady. She also happens to be unconventional, fearless, and smart.

"What she would not give for a night of quiet and a good book on ancient weapons or deadly poisons."

"It wasn’t that she didn’t like children. She did like them, but she also liked traveling the world, hunting double agents, and priming a pistol."

"She objected to marriage and the freedoms it would curtail."

We meet Baron and Butterfly (True Spies) as well as Wolf and Saint (Lord and Lady Spy) from the previous books, all members of the Barbican group, a spy network for the home office, run by Melbourne, aka M., and Jane’s uncle and guardian. He has raised her since she was orphaned and groomed her to be a spy and she’s one of the best. Oh, and let’s not forget the enigmatic and ever fashionable Blue! (I think he’s my favorite Barbican spy).* 

At the beginning of the story, as in all the books, they are on the hunt for Foncé, a dangerous French nemesis. 

When M. tells Jane that she must marry, he arranges a match with Dominic Griffyn, the son of an actress friend from M.’s past. Dominic has dark and disturbing secrets, but Jane is the right woman for him as nothing shocks or surprises her. Both are immediately attracted to each other even as they both resent the forced betrothal. Their romance is highly-charged with eroticism and attraction. Dominic breaks all his rules for her.

I liked Dominic very much, but this is really Jane’s book to shine; this is not a criticism in the least. Most of the story is told from Jane’s point of view. In other words, she steals the show. Brilliantly.

Dominic loves horses and breeds them and his kindness and handling of them provide clues to his inner nature for Jane as she gets to know him. Dominic wants to uncover Jane’s secrets but also greatly fears her discovery of his own.

"Griffyn wasn’t a threat to her life, but he was a threat nonetheless. He wouldn’t take her life, but he might just take her heart."

If you enjoy Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, you will enjoy discovering all the minute references from that series including Moneypence, Miss Qwillen, and M. And, of course, Jane Bonde. I’m sure I missed several.

As in all of her fast-paced and entertaining books, Galen writes the very best fight scenes, though there aren’t as many as in True Spies—my favorite if the series. I think the best part about her stories is the poignancy and authenticity she evokes in her characters. There’s danger and daring and excitement, but there’s also deep pain and emotion. She really makes you feel for her heroes and heroines.

There is also a nice little secondary romance for the lovesick Moneypence and we learn a surprising truth about the devious and lethal Foncé.

Just one more thing, I would like to make a call for Galen’s publisher to take more care in the creation of her books’ covers. They’re not terrible but they’re not “wow!” either. Galen’s stories deserve far better attention to its cover presentations than they’re getting and I am sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

A highly original, fun, and sparkling romantic adventure.

*Blue’s love story is The Spy Wore Blue.