Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: How To Blow It With A Billionaire by Alexis Hall

How to Blow It with a Billionaire (Arden St. Ives, #2)How to Blow It with a Billionaire by Alexis Hall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since reading How To Bang A Billionaire, I've been waiting patiently for book two in the Arden St. Ives trilogy and after finishing I can say; Alexis Hall manages to deliver a truly magnificent second instalment.

This novel picks up where we left off in book one as we catch up with Arden and Caspian in rural Scotland as they salvage their relationship. We see a softer, caring side of Caspian as he convinces Arden to come back to London. If you haven't read the first book, It is possible to pick up the story here, but I recommend you read HTBAB first to truly appreciate the foundations of Arden and Caspian's relationship.

I loved the author's writing in the first novel in this series and yet he manages to exceed my expectations this time around. The narrative's littered with witty dialogue and observations which had me laughing out loud.

"Notorious Wild Child Eleanor Hart Spotted with New Mystery Man at Proms" because the internet murdered brevity the way video killed the radio star.

Some of the humour is more subtle but kept me entertained the whole way through as Arden pushes Caspian's boundaries until he can't.

The character development is exquisite and the chemistry between the is protagonists is palpable always. Arden gains the confidence to systematically coerce Caspian in a direction he wants; for him to trust him. It's done in his own unique way with outrageous humour. Equally, Caspian encourages Arden to take chances to achieve his career goals. In addition, we also see a heart-warming glimpse of his compassionate side and willingness to help the man he loves. It works fine until a face from the past highlights issues Caspian is deceitfully keeping from Arden.

With notable appearances from Ellery and Nik, the novel ends with uncertainty and a yearning to find out what happens next in the life of Arden. You're guaranteed to run through a whole spectrum of emotions as these two very different men try to find a common ground to exist upon.

If you are looking for an exceptionally written M/M erotic romance, I highly recommend this compelling Arden St. Ives series based on what I've read so far.

***arc generously received courtesy of Forever via NetGalley***

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New Release Spotlight & Review: Only For You by Melissa Foster

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Only for You
Sugar Lake #2
By: Melissa Foster
Releasing Dec 5, 2017
Only for You

Sugar Lake series

Love only works when your heart is in the right place. Hers could be right next door…
Single mom Bridgette Dalton doesn’t have time to stop and smell the roses—not even in her own flower shop. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t noticed Bodhi Booker. Her ruggedly handsome next-door neighbor would be the perfect candidate for a no-strings fling. Having loved and lost, Bridgette’s not ready to hand over her heart…but she could use a distraction.
Bodhi has one rule: never leave anyone behind. As a special operative, he knows that each new mission is more dangerous than the last. He’s never made a promise of forever to a woman, not even to the beautiful widow who has him tied in knots. And if there were anyone who could tempt him into putting down roots, it would be Bridgette and her adorable son.
But as his next deployment nears, they make a startling discovery. Their passion, meant only for the here and now, might already be blossoming into something more…
**ONLY FOR YOU is published by Montlake (an Amazon imprint) and won’t be available on other ebook retailers, but you can download a FREE ereader app to read it HERE, or order the paperback.


I really enjoyed The Real Thing, the first book in the Sugar Lake series so picking this one up was no effort at all as I'm blown away by Bridgette and Bodhi's emotional journey to a Happy Ever After.

Bridgette Dalton, a single mum and owner of the flower shop in Sweetwater has little time for herself after working and caring for her young son. When, someone new moves into the house next to her, she can't help but notice the handsome man…Her family are supportive and suggest she starts looking for someone new since five years have passed since her husband died. Only, the new neighbour is only around temporarily and she doesn't want her son to become attached to him before he leaves for good.

Taking a break from his job as a special operative, Bodhi Booker is using the time to fix up the house he's bought his mother in Sweetwater. The next door neighbour is a woman he'd like to get to know more intimately, but with his departure looming shortly, anything more than a fling isn't possible because he's seen first hand the upset and devastation families face when a love one doesn't come home. Something he's not prepared to do himself.

Bridgette and Bodhi's story is both heart-warming and heartbreaking in equal measures, including times of pure happiness as well as incredible sadness as the pair decide to 'live for the moment'. It's a refreshing, yet emotional journey they make, naively believing they can walk away and continue their lives when Bodhi leaves.

I'm not a fan of children in adult books but Louie is an integral and sweet addition and Bodhi's interaction with him melts your heart as well as his own.

Like a master magician, Melissa Foster always manages to bring something new to her writing with every novel she publishes and Only For You is no exception. She draws you into the narrative with multi-faceted protagonists so it's easy to become invested in their lives. Both Bridgette and Bodhi are adorable and relatable in their own way, showing courage and compassion when making difficult decisions concerning real-life issues. All this wrapped around a cosy and welcoming small town setting with well developed and lovable secondary characters.

This, like The Real Thing, is a standalone novel. If you are unfamiliar with the author's books, These Sugar Lake novels are a fabulous place to start.

***arc generously received courtesy of Montlake Romance via NetGalley***

She wrapped her hand around his long fingers, and his eyes heated, never wavering from hers. She’d never met a man so intense. Her nerves were on fire as she led him toward the table where some of her family members were talking. Awareness of the significance of her decision, of the signals she was sending, slammed into her, and she slowed to catch her breath. Was she ready for this?
He put a finger beneath her chin and lifted, as he’d done at his front door, gazing thoughtfully down at her. “Would you rather I leave?”
She shook her head. “No. I’m just . . . I’m good.” And she was. She’d needed that pause to acknowledge and accept what she was feeling. She was nervous, but she wanted this. She wanted him. Her smile came genuinely, and earned her one in return. “Come on.”
She became more nervous as they approached the table. Willow was practically sitting in Zane’s lap as they mooned over each other. Piper and Talia were scoping out some guy across the room, and Ben was in a heated discussion with Aurelia. She shouldn’t be nervous. This was her normal.
Except normal didn’t usually include holding hands with a man she wanted to strip naked and devour. 
Well, well, well. If it isn’t the naked neighbor.” Mischief danced in Piper’s eyes as she pushed to her feet and strutted around the table in her skinny jeans and slinky little blouse. She set her hands on her hips, running an assessing eye over Bodhi.
His jaw clenched.
Bodhi, this is my sister Piper. She works in construction and is around guys all day, which means she has absolutely no filter. Please take her with a grain of salt.”
He flashed a cocky grin. “For the record, I had a towel on.”
For the record,” Piper said, “she wished you didn’t.”

Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance and new adult romance with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Melissa’s emotional journeys are lovingly erotic and always family oriented–perfect beach reads for contemporary romance lovers who enjoy reading about wealthy heroes and smart, sassy heroines.

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Monday, 11 December 2017

New Release Spotlight & Review:It Takes Two To Tumble by Cat Sebastian

It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian
Series Seducing the Sedgwicks
Genre Adult; Historical Romance; LGBTQ Romance
Publisher Avon Impulse
Publication Date December 12, 2017

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
His ship
People doing precisely as they're told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

After the fact, Phillip thought he might have handled the situation a bit more gracefully if the children hadn’t been in a tree. But he was not at his best, having walked the distance from the coaching inn to the house, with each step growing more disoriented by the sheer familiarity of the terrain. Surely the place ought to have changed. But every rock and tree aligned precisely with memories Phillip hadn’t even realized he still had.
Despite having sent a messenger ahead with the approximate time of his arrival, the children were not waiting in the hall to greet him. Of course they wouldn’t be, he told himself. That had been Caroline’s doing, and she was gone. Their failure to appear was just further proof of how badly Phillip’s intervention was needed. He needed to get to work turning them into well-behaved, competent midshipmen. Children, he corrected himself. Yes, children.
The servant who opened the door told Phillip he’d find the children in the orchard with the vicar. Phillip found this surprising, as nothing in Ernestine’s final letter had indicated religiosity as part of the children’s reign of terror. But instead of discovering the children at work in prayer or singing hymns, he found them high up in a cherry tree.
The plain fact of the matter was that children did not belong in trees, at least not when they ought to be in the hall awaiting their father’s return. Nor did vicars belong in trees at any time whatsoever. He might not have much experience with either, and thank God for it, but he knew trees were not the natural habitat of either class of person. He had expected to see his children for the first time in two years in a setting that was slightly less arboreal. Somewhere he could properly see them and they could properly see him and they could all say whatever the hell they were supposed to say in this situation without Caroline to manage things. Instead all he got was a glimpse of booted feet vanishing higher into the branches accompanied by the sound of stifled laughter.
The vicar spotted him first, and promptly swung down from the tree to land at Phillip’s feet. At least, Phillip assumed it was the vicar, and not some stray stable hand who had taken to capering about the orchard. But didn’t vicars wear uniforms of some sort? Special hats or black coats? The chaplain on the ship always had. This fellow was in his shirtsleeves, and if that weren’t bad enough, his sleeves were rolled up. The chaplain had never done that. The chaplain had been about sixty. And bald. This fellow had wheat-colored hair that needed a cut and freckles all over his face. He was nothing like the chaplain. Unacceptable.
“Oh damn,” the vicar said. Phillip gritted his teeth. Swearing was another thing the chaplain had never done. “I mean drat,” the man said, his freckled face going pink. “Bother. You must be Mr. Dacre.”
“Captain Dacre,” Phillip said frostily. This fellow had to go. No discipline. No sense of decorum. No wonder the children ran amok if they spent time in this man’s company. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, not bothering to conceal his frown. He never did.
“Ben Sedgwick,” the vicar said, smiling in a lopsided, bashful way. He stuck his hand out, and Phillip had no choice but to take it. The vicar’s hand was warm and his grip was firm, and Phillip’s gaze automatically drifted down to the man’s exposed forearm, sun-burnished and dusted with light hair.
“Thank you, Mr. Sedgwick,” Phillip said. “You may take yourself off.” His effort to dismiss this careless young vicar was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and the thud of a child landing at his feet.

The child was tall, lanky, and excessively rumpled. “Edward,” Phillip said, briefly startled by the changes a lapse of two years wrought in children. Phillip had last seen his older son as a coltish child of eleven. Now Phillip could discern two things—one, that he looked very much like Caroline, and two, that he was not best pleased to see his father. For an instant, Phillip could hardly blame him. Phillip had never much enjoyed seeing his own father either. When the navy had taken his own father away for years at a time, Phillip had rather thought they had all been the better for it.
He held out his hand and noticed the barest hesitation before his son took it. “You look so much like—”
“I know I look like Mama,” Edward said coolly, dropping his father’s hand. “I have a looking glass.” His scowl was so intent that Phillip opened his mouth to scold the boy. “Mr. Sedgwick,” Edward said, turning to the vicar, “I’m going to finish my history lesson.” Without waiting for a response from Sedgwick or so much as a by-your-leave from Phillip himself, the child dashed off towards the house.
While Phillip had always striven to keep order on his ship in less brutal ways, some captains wouldn’t have hesitated to have boys flogged for even less blatant insubordination. Phillip swallowed his anger and turned his attention to the tree, where he could see two pairs of dangling feet.
“Margaret,” Phillip called up into the tree. “James.”
“Oh, they won’t come down,” Sedgwick said cheerfully. “Not a chance.”
“Excuse me?”
“I wouldn’t even bother calling them. They’ll stay up there until the sun sets or until the spirit moves them otherwise.” He seemed utterly undisturbed by this. His eyes were actually sparkling, for God’s sake.
“And you permit this?”
Sedgwick’s brow furrowed. This was the first lapse in the blithe and idiotic good cheer he had displayed since Phillip’s arrival. “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. Rope them like a couple of stray sheep? They’re safer up there than they are getting into whatever devilry they might seek out elsewhere. Really,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning close in a way that made Phillip instinctively mirror the pose until he realized what he was doing and straightened up. Proximity was the last thing he needed with this man. “The tree’s been a godsend. They haven’t been capering about the rooftops even once since they discovered how climbable the cherry trees are.”
Phillip blinked. “What I meant,” he said slowly, “was that perhaps you would like to tell them to come down.”
“Tell them?” the vicar repeated, as if Phillip had suggested a satanic ritual. “Won’t do a blessed thing other than inspire them to more mischief, I’m afraid. No, no, leave them safely up there, and when they’re hungry they’ll come inside.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Phillip said in precisely the tone he’d use towards a sailor about to be assigned morning watch for the foreseeable future. “But now that I’ve returned I’ll see to engaging a proper tutor.”
The man had the nerve to look hurt. Really, what had he expected? If Phillip had wanted his children to run about like South Sea pirates, he could have stayed on his ship where he belonged, thank you very much. But instead he would hire a tutor for the boys and a governess for Margaret. And when they were ready, he’d send them off to school, where they belonged.
“About that,” the vicar said slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll find a tutor. They’ve run through a good half dozen and I fear that well has run quite dry.”
“A half dozen!” Ernestine hadn’t mentioned that in her last letter. Or at least he was fairly certain she hadn’t. He knew there had been some trouble engaging suitable help, but quite possibly she had obscured the details. Well, it was a good thing he was here, then. He would see to it that his household was as it ought to be, that his children were on a safe course, and then he’d go back to sea. Two months. He had turned far more insalubrious characters into perfectly disciplined first-rate sailors in less time than that, hadn’t he? He was used to commanding dozens of men in clockwork precision. Surely he could make a couple of children—his own children, at that—fall in line.
“Never mind that,” he said. “I have everything in hand. Good day,” he added when the vicar didn’t seem inclined to take the hint and leave.
“Good luck,” the vicar said, gathering his discarded outer garments and carelessly dropping his hat onto his head.
Phillip thought he heard the man laugh as he made his way towards the house.
Ben gave it fifteen minutes before Captain Dacre came begging for help. Half an hour at the outside.
Likely as not, the captain would be tied to a burning post before Ben had his valise packed.

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I've read all Cat Sebastian's novels and she is one of only a few go-to authors I always read. This first book in the Seducing The Sedgwicks is a highly anticipated M/M romance and a new favourite.

Widower, Captain Phillip Dacre prefers spending his time sailing the world at the helm of his ship Patroclus, than at home. So when news of chaos at
Barton Hall, Cumberland reaches him, he's not looking forward to going back and spending time with his children whilst his ship is in dry dock for two months. To his dismay, his children's behaviour is worse than he thought but surprised and unhappy they respect and trust the local vicar who stepped in to temporarily take care of them. In addition, this man awakens desires he's tried to bury along with his grief creating a dilemma, when he'll soon leave again for his ship?

Benedict 'Ben' Sedgwick
is vicar at St. Aelred's parish church in Kirkby Barton and betrothed to Miss Alice Crawford. He enjoys his chosen vocation and associated work so, when he's asked to try to keep the children of Captain Dacre under control, he's happy to oblige. With news of the impending return of Captain Dacre, he views tutoring the children a temporary necessity to keep them from wreaking havoc in the village. Only, when their father returns, it ignites a desire he's trying to suppress and this makes him realise he can't continue with his current life choices.

Even without knowing the Sound of Music link, this novel has a wonderful feel-good wholesomeness about it, complete with farmyard animals. I'm not a fan of children in adult books, but the author manages to weave them effortlessly within the narrative to keep them relevant within the tentative relationship between the captain and the vicar. Christopher Plummer in Captain von Trapp mode is a perfect visual for Phillip Dacre especially when we witness his tough outer fa├žade crack to reveal a caring and compassionate man. Ben shows an admiral inner strength of knowing what's right by sticking to his principles to achieve what he desires. Their coupling is both explicit and romantic as both confess their limited physical experience, leading them to share new experiences together. It's charming, sexy and heart-warming.

This novel isn't as gritty and worldly as the author's previous works but retains the same effortless charm and attention to detail I love about her work. The supporting cast is a colourful bunch of well rounded, fun and entertaining characters and I particularly loved Ben's father and his forthright manner.

If you enjoy historical romance and M/M romances and haven't discovered Cat Sebastian, It Takes Two To Tumble is a great place to start. I know, I can't wait for the next instalment in this series.

***arc generously received courtesy of Avon via Edelweiss+*** 

Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

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GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 12/15/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

New Release Blitz: Mine To Save by Diana Gardin

by Diana Gardin 
(December 8, 2017; Forever Yours eBook; $3.99; Rescue Ops Series Book 3)

This time, he'll have to save one of his own...

I make everything complicated. Instead of being content owning a bar, I accept a job with the Rescue Ops team at Night Eagle Security. Apparently, guys with Special Forces explosives training are hard to come by. And instead of hooking up with one of the many women who flirt with me, I have to fall for hacker Sayward Diaz. Not only is she one of my new co-workers, she's also just become my first assignment. Like I said, complicated.

When Sayward's father dies and his secret ties to the Columbia cartel put her in danger, it's my job to keep her safe at all costs. For a woman who's more comfortable with computers than humans, she's not exactly thrilled to have me as her bodyguard--or by our undeniable spark. And with threats coming at us from all sides, I can't let our attraction compromise her safety. Because if I do, my first mission might be my last…

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Diana Gardin is a wife of one and a mom of two. Writing is her second full time job to that, and she loves it! Diana writes contemporary romance in the Young Adult and New Adult categories. She's also a former Elementary school teacher. She loves steak, sugar cookies, and Coke and hates working out.

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Thursday, 7 December 2017

New Release Spotlight: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes

Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes is a must read!

More than love is in the air …

Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

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England, 1820.
Comfortably seated at a dining room table that seemed to stretch toward infinity, Fiona Heartly considered the people who’d been invited to visit Thorncliff Manor during the holidays. Due to the group’s intimate size, only a fraction of the table had been set for the evening, while most of the chairs remained eerily empty. Pleasantly, however, five large oranges pricked with cloves and strategically placed in the center of the table infused the air with a seasonal fragrance of citrus and spice. The lady of the manor, the Dowager Countess of Duncaster, looked as formidable as ever. Placed at the head of the table, she wore an elaborate wig that had long since gone out of fashion. But she was known to have several eccentric bones in her body, so nobody ever minded. Rather, Fiona suspected she was considered all the more interesting on account of her peculiarities.
To Lady Duncaster’s right sat the Duke of Lamont, a middle-aged gentleman whose demeanor was always perfectly somber. Fiona had yet to see him smile, but then again, she had also to spend more than one minute in conversation with him. A long-time friend of Lady Duncaster’s, the pair had apparently been spending the holidays together for almost six years now. Ever since the duke inherited his title with the sudden passing of both his father and brother.
Leaning forward, Fiona glanced toward the seat at Lady Duncaster’s left. Lamont’s cousin Viscount Belgrave sat there, amicable as usual. He’d always struck her as being exceptionally kind and good natured, though not the sort of man who would ever stir an amorous interest in her. She needed someone more challenging – a scoundrel with a good heart. Not that she had any intention of marrying any time soon. As the youngest of her siblings, she knew she still had a year or two ahead of her before seeking a husband became a necessity. In the meantime, she meant to enjoy what remained of her independence – the final moments of her youth.
That particular thought had her looking directly across the table at one of her favorite people, the Earl of Chadwick. He’d always humored her hoydenish streak, and he never failed to enjoy a bit of mischief as much as she did. He’d been a part of her family for as long as she could remember – ever since her brother Christopher, Viscount Spencer, or Kip as his family called him, had brought the earl home with him for a visit one year during the school holidays. They were all exceedingly fond of Chadwick. His positive outlook on life was so infectious it was impossible to be grumpy while keeping his company.
Meeting Fiona’s gaze, he smiled warmly. A couple of seconds elapsed, and then he suddenly snatched up his napkin and started dressing his fork as if it were a lady putting on an extravagant ball gown. Fiona’s lips quirked, more so when the fork began dancing along the edge of the table.
Oh,” Lady Duncaster said, “How utterly delightful!”
Had they been anywhere else, his behavior would have been considered incredibly improper. But here nobody minded. Rather, they all appeared quite entranced by Chadwick’s little performance, which now included a softly hummed tune as his knife swept in to partner with the fork in a waltz.
I suppose it’s no wonder you are so good at charades and other parlor games,” Rachel observed. “Playing pretend comes so naturally to you, I almost envy your ability.” Exceptionally fond of mathematics and science, she rarely found anything amusing since all jokes were usually ruined for her on account of their nonsensical facts. But with Chadwick, she often made an exception. It seemed he had a style that appealed to pretty much everyone.
Speaking of which,” Lady Duncaster said, taking a sip of her wine, “I would like to discuss our holiday schedule. Montsmouth has yet to arrive of course, but I see no reason why we cannot agree on a few diversions without his presence.”
Fiona instantly frowned. She vaguely recalled seeing the Earl of Montsmouth when she’d last visited Thorncliff during the summer, but he’d always lingered in the background, so she hadn’t paid him much mind. It never would have occurred to her that he might be a good enough friend of Lady Duncaster’s for her to include him in this private holiday gathering. No doubt he’d been delayed on account of the weather.
When she’d arrived that afternoon with her parents and her sisters Emily, Laura, and Rachel, snow had already begun to fall. Her other siblings, Christopher, Chloe, and Richard, had chosen to spend Christmas at their individual estates with their spouses, no doubt so they could have the privacy newly wedded bliss required. Not that Fiona minded since her brothers’ absences, in particular, would allow her to move about Thorncliff more freely and to continue her search for the treasure she still believed to be hidden there.
It hadn’t been found yet, but certain clues had, like a diamond earring linked to her own family, a code book outlining a conspiracy within the aristocracy, and a letter tying her great-aunt to the late Earl of Duncaster’s father and to some sort of strange resistance movement that had been active during the time of the French Revolution.
Is he the gentleman who lost his snuff box in the conservatory this summer?” Laura asked, still speaking of Montsmouth.
Yes,” Fiona’s father said.
I find he’s always standing on the outside of things,” Lady Duncaster added, “and with both parents dead and no siblings to speak of, I thought he might like some company for Christmas.”
How good of you to take such notice,” Fiona’s mother said, smiling.
Lady Duncaster chuckled. “Oh, I am always taking notice.” She glanced at each of them in turn, her lips curling into a secretive smile that made Fiona suspect they weren’t here by chance but that Lady Duncaster had taken particular care in selecting each of her guests. The lady regarded them each with her piercing blue eyes and then quietly asked, “How about skating for a diversion?”
The question came so suddenly, Laura looked as though she might choke on her wine. “Right now?” A touch of alarm tightened her words.
Don’t be absurd,” Lady Duncaster admonished. Stabbing at her food, she selected a piece of meat and popped it into her mouth.
Fiona decided to return her attention to her own plate. She didn’t quite manage it, though, before catching a glimpse of Chadwick, who was now making odd expressions with his eyes. Biting her lip, she forced back a laugh and shook her head. His pout only made him look all the more ridiculous. Honestly, he could be such a child sometimes.
I am simply trying to determine which activities you might enjoy while you’re here,” Lady Duncaster continued. “Since the lake is solidly frozen, it might be fun for all of you to go for a spin on it.”
I would love to,” Laura said. She’d always been good at skating. Much better than Fiona, at any rate.
Lamont frowned. “I see no need to risk a broken limb.”
It sounds as though you might have had a bad experience once,” Laura said with compassion. He paused for a moment before saying, “I simply wish to be careful.”
Laura stared at him briefly and then quietly nodded. “I understand.”
This seemed to surprise him. “You do?”
Of course. I fell from a tree once and broke my ankle. It took forever before I chose to go climbing again.”
At least a year,” Fiona said. She recalled the incident well enough, since she’d been up in the tree as well when the blasted branch had snapped beneath her sister’s weight.
That was quick,” Lamont remarked.
Laura shrugged. “I realized watching my brothers and sisters enjoy the activity was worse than any fear I had of falling again.”
Still,” Lamont murmured, “I think I’d prefer to watch the skating rather than participate in it myself.”
Have you ever actually tried it?” Laura asked.
A look of discomfort crossed the duke’s face. He sipped his wine and then turned toward Lady Duncaster. “How about a sleigh ride?” he asked, avoiding Laura’s question. “Might that be possible?”
As long as we get enough snow,” Lady Duncaster said. She smiled openly at everyone. “We should also try to find a yule log soon and make some more decorations. There are pine trees and pinecones out in the woods, and the ladies will probably enjoy shopping for ribbons in the village.”
If we gather the pine before going to town, we’ll be able to estimate the exact length of ribbon we need for making garlands,” Rachel said. She glanced about the room, her gaze assessing.
What a practical suggestion,” Belgrave murmured.
I see no reason not to strive for efficiency when one is able to do so,” Rachel said, arching a brow. The expression made her look more like a critical matron than a marriageable young lady.
Fiona almost groaned. She’d tried to advise her sister many times before on her hair styling, clothing, and social skills, but Rachel refused to let anything but practicality and fact guide her. It made Fiona wonder if her sister knew what it meant to have fun – a thought that saddened her since having fun was so vital to her own existence.
She glanced across at Chadwick once more, unable to stop herself from smiling as she watched him tell Laura a joke. Perhaps the two would develop a tendre for each other during the next couple of weeks and eventually marry. It was something Fiona had considered more than once after noticing how animated her sister became when keeping Chadwick’s company. It would certainly be wonderful to finally make him a definite part of the family.
So now that your three oldest children are settled, Lady Oakland,” Lady Duncaster said, “one cannot help but wonder who might be heading for the altar next.”
Not me,” Rachel said with immediate swiftness. She glanced around before explaining, “I’ve more important matters to see to than courtship.”
All you need is to meet the right gentleman,” Laura told her dreamily. Having embarked on her second romantic novel, she loved the idea of happy endings and forever afters.
As I’ve pointed out before, statistics have proven it is unlikely he even exists. And if he does, he is undoubtedly so far removed from my little part of the world, meeting him would prove rather improbable.”
Good lord, Rachel,” Laura huffed. “Matters of the heart cannot be reduced to numbers and equations. You’ll see when love strikes you. It will happen when you least expect it and probably with a man you would never have considered.”
That is how it happened for your mother and me,” Lord Oakland said. He directed a wink and a smile at his wife.
I was supposed to marry my husband’s friend through an arranged marriage,” Lady Duncaster put in. “He escorted me back to England from India, though, and we fell in love during the voyage.”
And look at Spencer, Chloe, and Richard. None of them came here looking for romance,” Lady Oakland pointed out.
I will admit, Richard has surprised me,” Rachel said. After he had lived in seclusion for five years, nobody had expected him to marry, let alone find an opportunity to meet a wife. And yet, against all odds, his wife, Mary, had captured his heart.
It only goes to show there is hope for all of you,” their father said. “Even you, Rachel, despite your obvious resistance to the issue.”
Very well,” she agreed. “Find me a man who will enjoy conducting scientific experiments with his wife and who would be proud of her publishing mathematical theories, and I might consider falling for him.”
Hear, hear,” Fiona said. She’d decided to support her sister in this, for if there was one thing she truly believed in, it was finding commonality in a relationship. Without it, such a relationship would surely flounder.
Leaning forward a little, Belgrave gave Rachel a curious look. “If I might ask, what sort of experiments are you working on exactly?”
Rachel froze. Her lips parted, and it occurred to Fiona this might be the first time anyone outside the family had bothered to show an interest in her sister’s work. Rachel blinked twice, set down her fork as if doing so would help her regain her composure, and finally said, “Presently, I’m following Sir Humphrey Davy’s instructions on how to make an electric arc.”
The silence that followed was palpable, until Belgrave eventually said, “As I understand it, you will need to build a battery in order to accomplish such a goal.”
Yes. I am aware,” Rachel said, her focus on the earl more intense now than it had been before. “I’ve purchased most of the items I require, but I am still waiting for the oil of vitriol to arrive. It should have arrived by the time I return home from here.”
I thought your focus was mainly on,” Lady Oakland waved one hand as if the air would provide the answer, “the movement of slugs, as I recall.”
Fiona groaned and as she did so, she saw Chadwick conceal a smile. He leaned forward, narrowing the space between them as much as possible. “Parents can be so ignorant sometimes when it comes to their children.”
I wonder what they imagined might have been in all of those boxes Rachel’s been purchasing recently,” Fiona whispered back.
Slugs, from the sounds of it.”
Doing her best to stop from laughing resulted in a loud, indelicate snort. Fiona pressed her hand over her mouth in time to catch a look of disapproval in her father’s eyes. He frowned and shook his head, silently warning her to behave. She glanced back at Chadwick, whose expression had transformed into one of pure, innocent ignorance.
I’ll get you later,” she mouthed.
He merely shrugged.
“—something for me to do while away for the summer,” Rachel was saying. “But it’s hardly going to get me a fellowship at the Royal Society.”
The Royal Society?” Lord Oakland stared at his daughter. “That is quite ambitious of you since I don’t believe they admit women.”
Someone has to be the first,” Rachel told him, as if the society’s exclusion of the female sex was only a minor inconvenience.
I completely agree with you there,” Lady Duncaster said, “but you will likely have to make an impressive contribution of your own to even be considered. Copying someone else’s experiment is hardly going to suffice.”
I know,” Rachel said. She set her napkin beside her plate. “Recreating the arc is only the beginning. What I plan to do is invent an electrical lamp.”
Another moment of silence descended on the room while everyone tried to process this bit of information. Fiona smiled in Rachel’s direction. Her sister might own a rigid personality, but she loved how easily she’d stunned her family and friends this evening.
Do you think anyone would want to use such a thing?” Emily asked. “It sounds as though you’re making it more complicated for people to get light into their homes, rather than simplifying the issue. Striking a flint is such an easy task, but batteries with oil of vitriol and whatever else might be required…nobody will want to bother with that, surely.”
Perhaps not,” Rachel said. “The only way to know is to try.”
Fiona glanced around the table and wondered what the rest of the dinner party might be thinking – if they saw how imaginative Rachel truly was. Her ability to envision the need for a new invention and her intention to try and create it were nothing short of impressive. It made Fiona wish she had such a purpose in life, something besides being a proper lady and marrying well. Recalling the Thorncliff treasure, she determined more than ever to find it over the course of the next two weeks. Doing so would be an incredible victory for her family since it would, hopefully, see her great-aunt’s jewelry returned.
You may adjourn to the library for your after-dinner drinks, if you like,” Lady Duncaster told the gentlemen when they eventually rose from the table. “The ladies and I will take our tea in the music room in case you wish to join us there later.”
Fiona followed the group out into the hallway, her thoughts on her upcoming treasure hunt. She could scarcely wait to retire for the evening so she could set her mind more fully to the task. Perhaps if she—
The touch of a hand against her arm made her flinch, and she instinctively turned to find Chadwick walking beside her. His eyes met hers with a spark of amusement, and the edge of his mouth kicked up to form his signature smile. “I don’t believe I’ve told you how fetching you look this evening, Fiona.”
You don’t look half bad yourself,” she replied, offering him the typical sort of rejoinder that had set the tone for their relationship over the years.
He linked his arm more fully with hers, bringing them closer until their shoulders touched. “I’ve missed you, you know.”
His voice was warm, his breath even warmer as it brushed along the side of her neck, producing a spark in the pit of her belly – a sudden awareness that had never existed before.
Unnerved by it, she tugged her arm away from his. “Yes.” Good lord. Why on earth did she sound so breathless?
Confused, she crossed her arms, hugging herself as they walked and effectively preventing further physical contact. Hesitantly, she glanced up at him, only to be met by a pair of inquisitive eyes – eyes that seemed to be filled not only with Chadwick’s usual good humor but with something else as well…something she could not quite define.
We’ve missed you too,” she told him hastily. “A pity Kip and Richard won’t be joining us. I’m sure you would have liked to see them.”
Of course.” A touch of humor trembled upon his lips, and for some absurd reason, it made her feel more uncomfortable than she’d ever felt before in his company. It was almost as if he knew a secret he’d chosen to keep from her, one that might see her made the subject of some wild and ridiculous joke. “But,” he added in a hushed whisper as he suddenly turned quite serious, “I was actually more interested in seeing you.”
And since they’d arrived at the music room, he did not linger to elaborate on his cryptic comment, but strode off, following the rest of the gentlemen to the library. Fiona stared after him, unable to comprehend the sudden tightening of her stomach or the pattering of her heart. He was like a brother – a dear friend and partner in mischief. Except she felt as though something between them had changed in the last second, and it bothered her to no end that she couldn’t quite figure out what that something might be.

Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian.

She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.

While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing.

When she’s not busy, dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading. She currently lives on the East Coast.

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