A Regency Christmas Novella

Lady Sarah Milton, the heroine of Cheryl Bolen’s His Lady Deceived, has had numerous offers of marriage since her presentation at court five years earlier, but none of those men made her heart sing. She’s reserved that feeling for a man she’s never even spoken to, Alfred Wickham, the son of Viscount Landis. When Lady Landis invites Sarah and her family to spend Christmas at Hedley Hall, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Radcliff, Sarah agrees, but she’s cautious. Lady Landis is convinced that Sarah would be the perfect wife for her only son, Alfred. Sarah longs to meet Alfred at last—but won’t be a party to any marital trap set by his mother.

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Alfred Wickham (known to his friends as Wick) has made it to the age of thirty without a wife, and he’s happy that way. When he gets wind of his mother’s Christmas plans, he agrees to go to Hedley Hall, but enlists his best friend, Lord Hugh Pottinger (known as Potts) to accompany him. Wick claims he doesn’t want to leave Potts to spend Christmas alone in London, but Potts knows better. Wick wants something.

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Wick does indeed want something. He wants Potts to convince Lady Sarah that Wick is a poor marital candidate. He makes Potts (who is hopelessly shy around women) promise to tell the lady that Wick wagers on everything—and always loses, that he fences without a mask, and, worst of all, that he has an “understanding” with an actress. The third, at least, is not true.

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What Wick has failed to realize is just how attractive Lady Sarah is. Alas, Potts finds her attractive, too, and Potts believes that Wick is not interested. Meanwhile Sarah isn’t sure what to think about either one of them. Surely Wickham is out of the question (that actress!), but maybe there’s more to Hugh Pottinger than meets the eye.

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Mix in a house party and a blizzard, a variety of eccentric guests, and a child with a secret identity, and you have a Christmas Regency romp. And if you want to know how the Duke and Duchess of Radcliff (the Duchess is Wick’s cousin) met and fell in love, pick up Bolen’s A Duke Deceived.

Romance!

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Trouble brings together Scarlett Hall from Texas Lightning and Ethan Calhoun from Bartlett’s earlier Texas Heat trilogy–and a whole lot of trouble. Scarlett is doing her best to recover from a traumatic encounter with a knife-wielding criminal when she learns that Knife Guy has escaped from prison, and just might be looking for her. Meanwhile Ethan’s mother has escaped from a mental hospital, demanding help from him.

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Texas Trouble has lots of action, sizzling romance, some very scary villains, a talented tattoo artist, Scarlett’s brother (named, surprise, Rhett), a motorcycle riding PI, a sometimes exasperated Texas Ranger, and one very small but very brave dog. What more could we ask for in romantic suspense? (Rumor has it that Rhett Hall will be getting his own happy ending come December–I’m looking forward to that one.)

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I’m not an avid reader of historical romance, but I picked up (or rather downloaded) Zana Bell’s Fool’s Gold on the strength of its setting, New Zealand in 1866, definitely something different. Gwen (Lady Guinevere) Stanhope is an English woman left on her own in New Zealand after her father dies on the long sea voyage to the colony. Gwen has very little money, but she does have the photographic equipment with which her father had hoped to capture a picture of the (alas, extinct) moa and make enough money to buy back the mortgage on the family estate. Gwen is very nearly swept away by a sudden flood, only to be rescued by Quinn O’Donnell, an Irishman who arrived in New Zealand after serving as a surgeon in the American Civil War.

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Gwen wants only to return to Maidenhurst, the family home in England, even if she has to marry the man who holds the mortgage (her father’s back up plan). Quinn hates the English and wants to build a new life in New Zealand. But this is a romance novel, so we know something’s gotta give.

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Along the way, Gwen tackles a number of jobs, even working briefly as a housemaid, learning quite a bit about herself and about the people she never noticed when she was a pampered lady in England, while Quinn learns what he is really meant to do with his life. Their romance grows slowly (heat level sweet) and believably.

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The New Zealand setting is fascinating (and I assume authentic, as the author lives in New Zealand), the characters are likeable, and the story held my attention.

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Shelly Chalmers’ Must Love Plague is the first book in her Sisters of the Apocalypse series. Piper Bane, descendant of the Pestilence clan, returns to the small paranormal town of Beckwell, Alberta, for the wedding of her best friend, Ginny (heiress of Famine, who loves to bake) and a reunion with their friends Anna (heiress of War, currently the town librarian) and Nia (heiress of Death, who speaks to ghosts). Piper has spent ten years trying to avoid her heritage—and her propensity for making others ill. Now she’s faced with the rumor that she and her friends are about to rise as the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse, bringing on the End of the World.

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As if that wasn’t annoying enough, the first person she runs into when her car lands in a ditch going through the supernatural barrier that protects the town is her one-time fiance, Daniel Quillan, town doctor and sometime Fomorian (yes, I had to look that one up—definitely bad-ass guys). She’s also being stalked by a large brown toad. And the barrier that has protected the town and its not quite human inhabitants for a century has suddenly turned into a prison dome.

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What’s a girl to do? Piper and her friends are determined to avoid the Apocalypse, but the citizens of Beckwell aren’t making that easy.

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Chalmers’ imaginative approach to a wide range of mythology makes for an entertaining read, to be continued as the rest of the Four Horsewomen take their turns.

New From Cheryl Bolen: Last Duke Standing

Alex Haversham, much to his own surprise, is the Last Duke Standing in the third tale in Cheryl Bolen’s Lords of Eton trilogy. Recently returned from service in the Peninsular War, he is stunned when his brother Freddie, the eighth Duke of Fordham, dies in his sleep, leaving Alex as the ninth Duke. As the third son, Alex never expected—nor wanted—to inherit the title.

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Now he is faced with all the responsibilities of his new position, including breaking the sad news to Freddie’s fiancée, whom Alex has never met.

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Lady Georgiana Fenton can hold her own in any situation, even the sudden death of the fiancé she was fond of, if not in love with. But she’s not sure what to think of this new Duke who looks so much like Freddie—but behaves so differently. And who seems to be the only person who would benefit from Freddie’s untimely, and perhaps suspicious, death.

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Despite their prickly relationship—Georgiana is a Tory and Alex is a Whig—the two team up to discover the truth behind Freddie’s death, and the even more important matter of their future.

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Cheryl Bolen spins a delightful tale of mystery, politics, and (of course) romance, in a most satisfying conclusion to the story of three men who bonded as boys in school and rushed to one another’s aid as adults.

The Earl, the Vow, and the Plain Jane

The second installment in Cheryl Bolen’s Lords of Eton series finds Jack St. John, known to his friends as Sinjin, elevated to the title Earl of Slade. Lord Slade has enthusiastically taken his place in the House of Lords as a Whig, and has made a success of his public life, but his personal life is something else. The family coffers are lower than low, and Slade has three sisters to present and dower, and a crumbling ancestral home, not to mention the promise he made to his dying father. He’s leased out the family’s London house and rented rooms for himself, but he can’t even afford to keep a carriage. It seems the only solution must be to marry an heiress. A very wealthy heiress.

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The Earl the Vow the Plain JaneMiss Jane Featherstone has long felt a tender admiration for Lord Slade, but she and her father, a leading Whig in the House of Commons, are poor as the proverbial church mice, and Jane believes herself to be hopelessly plain. Her cousin and dearest friend, Lady Sarah Bertram, however, is beautiful, extremely wealthy, and about to be presented to society.

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Small wonder Lord Slade should focus his interest on Lady Sarah.

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As if that weren’t distressing enough to Jane, Slade proceeds to ask for her help in courting her cousin.

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Heartbroken in spite of her conviction that a poor plain Jane could never be the wife of an earl, Jane agrees to help, on the condition that Slade refrain from offering for Lady Sarah until he can honestly say that he loves her.

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As Slade finds himself in competition with the many young men swarming around the gorgeous Lady Sarah, he spends more time than he should with Jane, with whom he shares many political and intellectual interests, while Sarah seems rather taken with Slade’s younger brother, Captain David St. John. And Jane finds herself seriously considering the worth of a successful businessman and would-be politician, Mr. Cecil Poppinbotham.

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Add an inside look at period electioneering, an amusing cast of supporting players, and the support of Slade’s long-time friends Harry and Alex, and you have another entertaining tale of life, love, and politics under the Regency.

 

The Portrait of Lady Wycliff

Cheryl Bolen begins a new series (The Lords of Eton) with The Portrait of Lady Wycliff, the story of Harry Blassingame, the Earl of Wycliff, as he searches for the missing portrait of his late mother. Harry has spent the last eight years restoring the family fortunes lost by his late father, a decent man sorely lacking in ability as a gambler. Harry would prefer to keep his own counsel as to exactly how he has refilled the Wycliff coffers, but it wasn’t through gambling. Well, not exactly, anyway.

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The Portrait of Lady WycliffThe last property on Harry’s list is the London house on Grosvenor Square, now in the possession of a young widow, Louisa Phillips. Surely it won’t be difficult to convince her to sell.

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Louisa holds no admiration for the aristocracy, and no grief over the loss of her much older and unloved husband, who bought her from her unscrupulous father when she was fifteen years old. In fact, she holds very little admiration for men in general. She prefers to be an independent woman, with a secret of her own.

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But, she discovers to her great distress, she can’t sell the house to Harry because she doesn’t own it. How will she and her younger sister Ellie manage now?

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Against her better judgment, Louisa teams up with Harry to peel an onion of mysteries: Who is the shadowy “benefactor” who actually owns the house and apparently owned Louisa’s husband, too? Did Phillips and his secret backer deliberately set out to ruin the Wycliff family? And what has become of the missing portrait of Lady Wycliff, which should have been hanging in the Grosvenor Square house?

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Louisa and Harry set off on a wild tour of Cornwall in search of answers, posing as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and (definitely against Louisa’s better judgment) sharing rooms—and, chastely, beds—in country inns along the way, fighting their growing admiration for each other, convinced an aristocrat and a bluestocking have no future together.

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Will they find the benefactor? The portrait? The answers? True love? Well, this is a romance, of course, but the road to Happily Ever After is always an adventure. In this case, a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, populated with charming characters—Louisa’s sister Ellie and Harry’s cousin Edward have a few adventures of their own—and the always interesting background of Regency England.

 

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Pride

In Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Pride, Shannon Calhoun is reeling from the revelations dogging Calhoun Petroleum, not to mention the terms of her father’s will, which have her working in a cubicle in the public relations department of the now-shaky family business. How is she going to tell her contacts in the world of high society fund raising that Calhoun can no longer afford to support their causes?

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Texas PrideThings only get stranger when Shannon walks into her sister’s office to see Billy Pagan, the boyfriend she dumped in college, now a high-powered criminal attorney brought in to help with Calhoun Petroleum’s legal woes. The old sparks are still there, but have Shannon and Billy grown up enough to fan those embers into a lasting fire–without burning each other?

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Texas Pride is full of action, from motorcycle gangs to an airplane crash, moving from high-rise Houston to rough neighborhoods and biker bars, and a cast of characters ranging from Billy’s orange-haired grandma to his Harley-riding investigator. But at the heart of the book are Shannon and Billy, searching for a path through life that they can travel together.

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It’s always fun to read a book set in a familiar place, and those of us in the Houston area will enjoy looking in on the city, the oil industry, and even an East Texas Indian reservation and casino. Gerry Bartlett is a life-long resident of the region, knows it well, and clearly enjoys writing about it.

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More books set in the world of the Calhouns, featuring some characters we’ve met and some we haven’t, will becoming from Kensington next year. I’m looking forward to more Texas suspense.

 

Nina Bangs’ Forever Wicked

Forever Wicked is the eighth installment in Nina Bang’s Castle of Dark Dreams series, but even if you’ve missed the earlier Wicked books, you can jump right into this one and enjoy it. If you are a long-time fan of cosmic troublemakers Ganymede and Sparkle Stardust, you’ll find some old friends here, but Forever Wicked is Ganymede and Sparkle’s story, as they deal with memories from the past, enemies and dangers in the present, and hopes for the future.

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Forever WickedGanymede has problems. He’s dodging the Big Boss, but he knows a confrontation is coming—his latest, frustration-spurred round of cosmic mayhem has attracted too much attention. His attempt to reach his creator, revenge in mind, backfires, and he finds himself saddled with a brand-new untrained cosmic troublemaker. He’s beginning to feel sorry for the humans who get caught up in the mayhem he causes. Perhaps worst of all, he’s on the outs with “that woman,” Sparkle Stardust, his companion for much of his long immortal existence.

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Sparkle isn’t ready to give up on Mede. She’s on the road looking for him (attracting his attention with Facebook posts). Her trouble-making talent involves creating sexual chaos, but somehow she’s lost control of her own love life, and she wants Mede back. After all, it was just a stupid argument. And what power, cosmic or otherwise, can keep Sparkle from going after what she wants?

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Even Sparkle is surprised when she tracks Ganymede to a beautiful (but haunted, and very hard to find) house in Cape May, New Jersey, a long way from the Castle of Dark Dreams, her home (in her adult theme park) in Galveston. She’s even more surprised at Ganymede’s collection of adolescent troublemakers. Are Sparkle and Mede really cut out to train them?

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But they will need the help of the children, along with some of their old friends (and frenemies) to face the confrontation that awaits them back at the Castle—almost as much as they need each other. Sometimes even cosmic troublemakers find themselves in cosmic trouble!

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I don’t want to give away the twists and turns of Sparkle and Ganymede’s adventures as they deal with enemies and dangers that threaten far more than their own lives and happiness, but let me just say that Forever Wicked is exciting, romantic, and often very funny.

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