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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review: An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

An Uncertain Choice (An Uncertain Choice #1) by Jody Hedlund
Genre: Young Adult (Historical Romance/Christian Fiction)
Date Published: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Zondervan

Due to her parents' promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, a month before her birthday, a friend of her father's enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents' will left a second choice. If Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow. 

Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the competition for her heart seemingly results in a knight playing foul, she begins to wonder if the cloister is the best place after all. If only one of the knights the one who appears the most guilty had not already captured her heart.

An Uncertain Choice is the first book in the An Uncertain Choice series by Jody Hedlund. This was a sweet story. With Rosemarie having a choice of three knights who take part in different activities with her each day to try to win her affections, it felt almost like a medieval Bachelorette episode. I thought that whole idea was cute. I had a favorite among the guys very early on. Sure, it was predictable (I knew who the bad one was the moment that person made an appearance), but it was a pleasant read nonetheless. I will be reading the next book, because sometimes, I just want to read something fun and lighthearted, and this book fits the bill.

Montfort Castle, Ashby In the year of our Lord 1390

My slippered feet slapped the dirt road, and my heart hammered against my chest like a battering ram.

"Wait, Lady Rosemarie," my nursemaid called from the narrow alley far behind me.

But I couldn't wait. I lifted my silky gown higher and pushed my feet faster, straining to reach the town square before it was too late. I raced past the one-room thatched homes of the poor peasants, doors ajar and deserted.

Now I knew why everyone was gone, except for the bedridden and one lame beggar child who'd finally had the courage to tell me what no one else would. The entire town had gathered in the market square to watch several men receive punishment for their crimes. Only it wasn't the usual stocks or pillory, which I allowed. Nor even someone being placed in jail. No. This time, someone had apparently given the bailiff permission to boil the criminals alive.

Revulsion spread throughout my body. And anger. Why was the bailiff blatantly disregarding my law against cruel tortures?

I rounded the massive grain storage building and stumbled out of the dark alley and onto the cobbled street that led to the market. Almost immediately, I hit a wall of bodies—craftsmen and merchants who'd left their shops to watch the public punishment. My breath burned in my chest from my frantic run through town, and I gasped a lungful of the sourness that came from the unwashed bodies sweating in the merciless late-morning sun. The odor soon mingled with the stench of pigs and chickens brought to market, and the rottenness of overripe produce.

But fury mastered my nausea. I wouldn't tolerate cruelty on my lands, among my people. I hadn't allowed it in the years since the Plague had taken the lives of my dear father and mother. And I wouldn't start today.

With a flare of indignation, I stood on my toes, straining to see above the caps and wimples of all those who resided in my walled town. At the billows of black smoke arising from the center green, the ramming of my heartbeat doubled its pace. The smoke could mean only one thing—that an enormous fire had indeed been lit. And that a large cauldron had been suspended above it, filled with well water and set to boil ... with one of the poor criminals inside.

Panic rose to choke me as surely as smoke. "Cease this instant!" I cried. But amidst the clamor and shouts of those gathered, my voice only added to the confusion.

"I command you to release the criminals at once," I called again, louder.

My orders drifted into nothingness. At the back of the crowd, I was invisible. The townspeople were too intent on the cruel scene before them—some curious, others shocked. But mostly afraid. I could see the flickering lines of fear etching the weathered faces, the wrinkled brows, and the hunched shoulders. I needed to make my way to the front, to the bailiff, and demand that he stop the proceedings.

I tapped the back of one of the men standing before me. "Please. Let me pass."

Without a glance, the man shrugged away my touch as if it was nothing more than a pesky fly. I waited for him to turn around and see that it was I, Lady Rosemarie Montfort, the ruler of Ashby and all the many lands and estates beyond. If he would but take notice of me and realize who I was, he would fall to his knee before me. But he didn't budge. Like everyone else, he was too focused—too horrified—to see me.

With a breath of frustration, I stepped toward a group of women huddled together and attempted to wedge my way through their midst. But they only squeezed closer, blocking my way, shutting me out as effectively as the city gate.

With a desperate glance around the market, I caught sight of the steep steps that led to the guildhall's arched doorway. Bunching my gown, I worked my way around the edge of the gathering until I reached the large stone building. I wove through the children who crowded the steps, patting their bare heads tenderly as they bowed before me. When I finally climbed to the landing, the market spread before me. There, in the very heart of the green, was the bonfire. And suspended above the blazing heat was a large cauldron hanging from a metal tripod, with an old man cramped inside. The steam rising from the water told me it wouldn't be long before it began to bubble at an unbearable temperature. The old man's screams would soon fill the air as his skin blistered and flesh cooked. Even now, his exposed chest shone as red as freshly butchered beef. Beneath a mop of dirty gray hair, his eyes were wild.

To the side, another criminal was sprawled on the ground, his hands tied to stakes above his head. Ropes bound his feet, and the petty constable was cranking a lever that was slowly stretching the man, nearing the point where his arms and legs would pull from their sockets.

I spotted the dark cloak and hat of the bailiff, and found he was adding more kindling to the fire.

"Bailiff!" I shouted. "You must stop this cruelty."

Only the children on the steps heard me. They lifted their faces to watch me expectantly. I cupped the cheek of the nearest urchin and smoothed my fingers over his filthy skin. He peered up at me with adoration, and I managed a small smile for him. He shouldn't have to witness such a display of inhumanity. No one should. Ever.

With a shudder, I crossed my arms over my chest and attempted to ward off the dark chill that came from remembering the torture I'd witnessed four years ago after my parents' funeral. The gruesome picture was stitched into my memory like embroidery threads within a tapestry. I wanted no more memories like that one.

"Stop!" I yelled again. "As Lady Rosemarie Montfort, your ruler, I command you to cease. Immediately."

This time, my declaration caused heads to turn my direction. The women closest to the guildhall began to whisper and grab the arms of those around them. Some of the men bowed. But the petty constable continued to crank the rope, and the bailiff tossed another log onto the fire, sending sparks shooting high into the air.

I uttered an unladylike cry of frustration and raised my eyes to the grand castle on the bluff that towered as a lord over the town. The outer walls rose as if one with the rocky cliffs, making the fortress impenetrable on three sides. A moat and the town provided the defense on the fourth side.

If only I'd thought to bring one of my guards. Even now, I could make out the gleaming helmet of the soldier on duty at the gatehouse. But I'd never had need of protection in my town, among the people who loved me.

A glint of silver along the fringes of the gathering caught my eye. A short distance from the guildhall stood a war horse mounted by a knight. Dressed in his plate armor, the coat of arms on the horse's blanket was unfamiliar—red with a fire-breathing dragon emblazoned upon it.

How long had the warrior been watching the proceedings?

A shimmer of unease slipped up the veil trailing over my plaited hair and pricked the back of my neck. None of the neighboring lords had threatened Ashby. The land had been at peace. So who was this knight, and what did his presence in my town mean?

As if sensing my question, the knight shifted to face me. Through the narrow slit in his steel helmet, his eyes were dark and unreadable. Even so, there was something kind and respectful about his posture. He surprised me by bowing his head and paying me homage.

Then he lifted the long halberd at his side, dug his spurs into his horse, and charged forward toward the center green. At the heavy thudding of his steed and the sight of his weapon, those in his path fell back to make room for him. He thrust forward like a knight at a jousting tournament.

My muscles tightened. What did he intend to do? I wanted to call out, to question him, to demand that he explain his presence in my town. But as he made a direct path to the cauldron of bubbling water, I found myself praying he'd succeed where I had failed to bring an end to the torture.

With a precision and strength that no doubt came from years of training, the knight slashed the halberd's axe-head into the knotted rope binding the criminal on the ground, freeing first one hand then the other. Within seconds, the man was sitting and frantically working to unbind his feet.

The knight shifted to the bubbling cauldron. Again, he lifted his halberd, and this time swung around the fluke that hooked into the metal chain suspending the pot from the tripod. The knight gave his horse a kick that caused the beast to jolt forward. The swift jerk was all it took for the tripod to tip and then topple to the ground. As the cauldron crashed, boiling water splashed over the fire and onto the bailiff and other townspeople, who jumped back with cries. The poor old man who'd been inside, naked except for the breech cloth at his waist, rolled into a quivering heap.

"What do you think you're doing?" the bailiff called, brushing at the splatters of hot water soaking into his hose.

The knight steered his horse toward the newly freed criminal. The old man pushed himself up and held out shaking hands that were tied together at the wrist. His face was wreathed in gratitude. "Thank you, sir," he croaked.

Before the bailiff could protest further, the knight unsheathed his sword and slit the rope at the man's wrists. Then he reached down, clasped the old man's arm, and hoisted him onto the horse behind him. Though red and raw, the criminal wrapped his arms around the knight's armor and clung to him.

Only then did I dare to take a breath. The old man suffered burns and blisters from his ordeal, but he was free from his torture at last.

The bailiff pointed his dagger at the knight. "By whose authority are you disrupting this execution of justice?"

The knight said nothing. Instead he urged his horse away from the bailiff and trotted along the path he'd already made through the crowd. The townspeople were too stunned by his display of strength, just as I was, to utter a word.

With the pointed tip of his halberd, he caught the cloak of a merchant in passing, lifted the flowing garment, and held it out to the criminal so that the man could shield his unclad body from onlookers.

The bailiff's indignation rose in the now silent square. But the knight didn't stop until he reached the guildhall. Only then did he sidle his horse against the tall stairway and help the criminal dismount so that the old man slid to his knees before me.

At the sight of me standing at the top of the guildhall steps, gasps wove through the marketplace, and soon every person, young and old, bowed to one knee. From atop his steed, the knight, too, lowered his head.

"Thank you, my lady," the criminal spoke through cracked lips. I recognized him as one of the men I'd recently pardoned. He'd been accused of stealing out of the parish coffers so that he could pay his rent and provide food for the numerous orphan children he kept in his care. I'd determined then, as I did now, that he didn't deserve punishment but rather benevolence.

I tucked the cloak more securely around his shuddering body before rising to my full height and straightening my shoulders with frustration. Who had dared to override my compassion? And why?

I narrowed my eyes on the bailiff and constable, who had knelt along with the rest. "Bailiff," I called. "I shall require an answer for this blatant disregard of my laws."

He lifted his head, and fear flashed across his countenance. "I was only carrying out the sheriff's orders, my lady."

My frustration fanned hotter. I should have known. The sheriff hadn't approved of my leniency among the populace. But with two recent outbreaks of a mysterious illness in outlying areas, the poor were dying, and I had no choice but to bestow more compassion.

"Tell the sheriff I request his presence at the Great Hall this very day. And you will accompany him."

The bailiff lowered his head in acquiescence.

Inwardly, I sighed at the confrontation that was to come. The sheriff had never liked me, even though he'd saved me from a plague-stricken peasant several years ago. He was the kind of man who thought women were useless. And now that I'd inherited Ashby, his dislike had only grown, as had his resistance to taking orders from me. Of course, I hadn't yet become full ruler of my lands. I was still under the guidance and leadership of Abbot Francis Michael until my eighteenth birthday. But in a month, I would be able to rule on my own, even if it would be from the convent as a nun. The sheriff would eventually have to learn to accept my decisions. No matter how much he disliked the idea of having a female ruler, I was the only and rightful heir to Ashby.

The warhorse in front of me snorted, shifting my attention back to the knight, who was obviously waiting, as he should, for me to speak first and acknowledge his presence.

"Sir," I started. "I owe you my deepest gratitude." Only then did he straighten. Through the eye slits, his guileless gaze met mine and radiated with approval. And somehow I knew he was a friend, not a foe.

"My lady." His voice echoed behind the hollow metal. "You owe me nothing."

If only he would remove his helmet so I could see his mouth, to know whether he offered me a smile. Although I wasn't sure why that should matter.

He shifted in his saddle, his steed tossing its head and growing restless.

I was tempted to order him to dismount and show his face. Who was he? A lord from one of the neighboring lands? But before I could speak, he shied back a step. "For one as fair and kind as you, my lady, whatever you wish shall always be my command."

With that, he bowed one last time. Then, tucking his halberd under his arm, he gave rein to his horse, allowing the beast to twist and rear away. Before I could tell him to stop, he galloped across the square and veered down the main street that led to the city gates.

Like everyone else, all I could do was stare after him until he disappeared.

Check out my review of other books in this series!

Winner of the 2016 Christian Book Award for fiction and Christy Award for historical romance, best-selling author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romances for both youth and adults.

Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).

When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.

To learn more about Jody Hedlund and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spotlight! My Sister’s Intended by Rachael Anderson

My Sister’s Intended by Rachael Anderson
Genre: Adult Fiction (Historical Fiction/Romance)
Date Published: March 2018
Publisher: HEA Publishing

For as long as Prudence can remember, it has been understood that her sister will one day wed the eldest son of their nearest neighbor. Such an alliance will benefit both families and bring a great deal of joy to all parents involved.

Unfortunately, Prudence has never been able to feel as joyful. She believes her sister is mad to consider marrying a man she hardly knows, even if he will one day make her a countess. Titles and wealth shouldn't factor into matters of the heart, and as an aspiring romance novelist, Prudence cannot fathom how anyone could even think of settling for less than love. She certainly wouldn’t, and she doesn't want her sister to either.

Unable to stand by and do nothing, Prudence sets out to help the awkward couple discover the best in each other with the hope that they will eventually find love. What she neglected to foresee, however, was the possibility that she might fall in love with her sister's intended. 

When Prudence lifted her eyes to his again, they sparkled with a challenge. “I was going to save this question until later so as not to shock you from the get-go, but I really do need to know . . . What does it feel like to kiss a woman?”

A large lump formed in Brand’s throat, and his mouth went dry. What the deuce? She had promised not to ask questions that would make him uncomfortable, but already he wanted to flee like a frightened kitten. How could he possibly explain how it felt to kiss a woman?

Brand searched his mind for a way to avoid answering until he heard a snicker escape her lips. She was laughing at him. Him! Hildebrand Ethan Cannon, Viscount Knave—a man at least eight years her senior and a great deal higher in social standing.


 “You are teasing me,” he said, hoping it was true. If she’d posed the question to make him squirm—and perhaps make him more inclined to answer her other questions—then she wouldn’t be expecting an answer.

She shook her head, still smiling. “I’m afraid not, my lord, although I did find the look of terror on your face vastly amusing.”

“I’m glad I could entertain you.”

“I hope you will be equally glad to instruct me on a few things as well. The first scene in my book will include a kiss, and I have no idea how to describe the experience. Do a woman’s lips feel warm or soft or even moist? Would your pulse quicken? Aside from touch, what other senses are engaged? How would it make you feel and what would you notice when you held a woman in your arms?”

If she thought he’d appeared terror-stricken before, there would be no word for how he looked now. Did she earnestly expect him to answer such questions? Surely even she knew how inappropriate it would be to discuss such things, her being an innocent.

“I cannot say,” he finally muttered.

Her brow puckered in confusion. “Have you never kissed a woman, my lord?”

Brand was sorely tempted to lie and say he had not, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Any man of six-and-twenty who had never experienced a kiss would be laughed out of his manhood. Women were expected to remain innocent until married. Men were not.

“Yes, I have kissed a woman,” he finally admitted, “but I have no intention of discussing any of the details with you.”

“Why not?” she asked, her large brown eyes blinking at him curiously. “Would you rather I invent the information?”


She obviously didn’t appreciate his retort because she scowled. “Can you not tell me at least a little?”



“Because a kiss could never be described with any sort of accuracy, at least not by me. It involves too many feelings and sensations and complexities of thought. If you wish to know what a kiss feels like, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.”

Too late, Brand realized his mistake. Her expression became contemplative, as though she was actually considering doing just that. Good gads, had he really just encouraged an innocent young woman to go hunting for a kiss? Who would she ask? A groom? Stablehand? The next peddler that came to town?

“I think you are right,” she said at last. “I really must experience a kiss for myself if I am to describe it with any sort of accuracy.” She blinked up at him with that innocent expression again. “Will you kiss me Lord Knave? No, how silly of me. You are to marry my sister, so that would never do.” She pursed her lips for a moment before musing, “Perhaps one of the footmen would be kind enough to show me how it’s done.”

Kind enough? Brand could think of a great many reasons a footman would comply with such a request, and kindness did not factor into any of them. Brand would kiss her himself before he allowed a footman near her.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. “Perhaps I can try to explain what it feels like after all.” Better that than having her chase after a footman.

“But you only just said you couldn’t do it justice,” she pointed out. “I realize I sound dreadfully forward, but I really must know, and experience is the best teacher, is it not?”

“No, it isn’t,” he lied. “And you are not going to kiss a footman.”

“Then who? Felix or Lionel, perhaps? I’m fairly certain I can convince one of them to do it, if given the opportunity. The question is how to go about it?”

It was plain to see by the firm set of her jaw that she would not rest until she had experienced a kiss of her own. She didn’t seem to care who did the deed, only that the man did a thorough job of it. A quick peck on the lips wouldn’t satisfy her curiosities.

“Perhaps I could send a note to Felix and ask him to call on me,” she continued to muse. “We could take a stroll through the maze in the gardens. There is a hidden alcove on the south side, which could be quite perfect. We would have to evade Ruth, obviously, but—”

“Devil take it,” Brand growled as he pulled her to him. Her quick intake of breath was the only sound she made before his mouth covered hers. 

Check out my reviews of  more books by Rachael Anderson!! 

A USA Today bestselling author, Rachael Anderson is the mother of four and is pretty good at breaking up fights, or at least sending guilty parties to their rooms. She can’t sing, doesn’t dance, and despises tragedies. But she recently figured out how yeast works and can now make homemade bread, which she is really good at eating.

To learn more about Rachael Anderson and her books, visit her blog.You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.

Ends 4/22/18
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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Release Day Review! Something of Substance Tia Souders

Something of Substance by Tia Souders
Genre: Young Adult (Contemporary)
Releasing: March 28, 2018
Publisher: Self

Seventeen-year-old Grace Michaels is determined to be thin, even if she dies trying.

Part of the in-crowd at Providence High, she is steps away from being asked out by the most desired guy at school, winning a prom queen nomination, and her parents’ approval. If she can just get skinny enough, be pretty enough, and popular enough.

But Grace is thin on the outside and fat on the inside. No amount of weight-loss ever seems enough. Convinced the melting pounds will solve her problems, every pound lost brings her closer to her goals. But flesh and bone can only hide the weight of her secret for so long.

Fans of the emotional and thought-provoking contemporary YA fiction, such as Before I Fall, Tell Me Three Things, and All The Bright Places will fall in love with Souder’s heart-wrenching novel, SOMETHING OF SUBSTANCE.

Something of Substance by Tia Saunders is a powerful story. I don't think there's a single girl out there who can't relate to Grace in some way. I know I did. While I don't have the same issues she has, food is an ongoing problem for me. I completely understood the taunting voice in her head. It was very real. It's very real for a lot of people, and I think this book will help others see that and not feel so alone. This sheds light on many issues, not just self image. I think it's a must read for teens and adults alike, because although we get older, I don't think our insecurities and doubts ever truly go away. We just become better at hiding them sometimes. 

The ARC of Something of Substance Tia Souders was kindly provided to me by the author for review. The opinions are my own.

For a moment, I want to say to him all the things I’ve never spoken out loud. All the things I think about myself that I’ve never had the guts to voice before. I want to ask him if he ever feels like he’ll never be good enough. Like no matter what he does, how much weight he loses, or how much time he spends on trying to change who he is, he’ll never be the person people want him to be. Even if he does everything he can to be something—someone—in the end, it won’t even matter.
My acceptance will always be teetering on the edge because there will always be someone thinner, prettier, and better than me standing by to take my place.
The girl in the window blinks, staring back at me, and I want to take it one step further. Tell him I’m afraid. Of what people think of me. Of what I think of myself when I look in the mirror. Tell him I want to scream because no matter how popular I become, deep down, I’ll always be fat, unlovable Grace. The girl with the big legs and bad skin.

Tia Souders is the author of bestselling women’s fiction novel, Waiting On Hope and the upcoming award-winning young adult novel Better Than This (formerly titled Freedom Road). When she isn’t writing, she’s likely renovating their century home. She’s a wine-loving, coffeeholic, with a sweet tooth and resides on a farm in rural Ohio with her husband and children.

To learn more about Tia Souders and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebookFacebook Street TeamInstagram, and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Teaser Tuesday! Phoenix Fire by S.D. Grimm

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share  doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser this week is from Phoenix Fire by S.D. Grimm

It wasn’t the only thing that separated me from being normal, but truthfully, having someone else’s flashbacks while in the middle of an argument with my foster parents was a bit more than I could handle right now. Especially when the memories involved me dancing around some maypole with my eyes on a guy I’d never seen before.

After spending her life in foster care, Ava has finally found home. But all it takes is a chance encounter with hot nerd Wyatt Wilcox for it to unravel.

Now, things are starting to change. First, the flashes of memories slowly creeping in. Memories of other lives, lives that Wyatt is somehow in. Then, the healing. Any cut? Gone.

But when Cade and Nick show up, claiming to be her brothers, things get even weirder. They tell her she’s a Phoenix, sent to protect the world from monsters—monsters she never knew existed. It’s a little hard to accept. Especially when they tell her she has to end the life of a Phoenix turned rogue, or Cade will die.

With Wyatt’s increasingly suspicious behavior, Ava’s determined to figure out what he’s hiding. Unless she can discover Wyatt’s secret in time and complete her Phoenix training, she’ll lose the life, love, and family she never thought she could have. 

Do you have a blog? Post a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in the comments.

No blog? Post a Teaser in the comments anyway!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review! A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean 
Genre: Adult (Historical Romance)
Date Published: August 30, 2016
Publisher:  Avon

Lonesome Lily Turned Scandalous Siren
Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn't hesitate...until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke
The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town
Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else's problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It's the perfect plan, until Lily declares she'll only marry for love...and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much... 

A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean is the second book in the Scandal & Scoundrel series. Lily and Alec were at odds from the start. He didn't want to be there, and she definitely didn't want him there. These two have loads of chemistry though, so all that anger makes for some steamy scenes once they start to get over themselves. Lily's thoughts on women and society are ahead of her time. Of course, she's had a little help developing these beliefs with her own scandal brewing. Like the other books in this series, there's never a dull moment. You don't have to read the books in this series in order, but I definitely recommend that you do read them.

A ward. Worse, an English ward.

One would think Settlesworth would have told him about that bit.

One would think that among the dozens of homes and scores of vehicles and hundreds of staff and thousands of tenants and tens of thousands of livestock, Settlesworth would have thought it valuable to mention the existence of a single young female.

A young female who, despite her utter lack of propriety on paper, would no doubt swoon when she came face-to-face with her Scottish guardian.

Englishwomen were consummate swooners.

In four and thirty years, he’d never met one who didn’t widely, loudly and ridiculously threaten the behavior.

But Settlesworth hadn’t mentioned the girl, not even in passing, with a “By the way, there’s a ward, and a significantly troublesome one at that.” At least, he hadn’t mentioned it until she’d been so troublesome as to require Alec’s presence in London. And then, it was Your Grace this, and scandal that, and you must come as quickly as possible to repair her reputation in conclusion.

So much for Settlesworth being the best solicitor in history. If Alec had any interest in aiding the peerage, he’d take out an advertisement in the News of London to alert them to the man’s complete ineptitude.

A ward seemed the kind of thing a man should know about from the start of his guardianship, rather than the moment the damn woman did something supremely stupid and ended up in desperate need of rescue.

If he had any sense, he’d have ignored the summons.

But apparently he lacked sense, all told, and Alec Stuart, proud Scotsman and unwilling twenty-first Duke of Warnick, was here—on the steps of number 45 Berkeley Square, waiting for someone to answer the damn door.

He considered his watch for the third time in as many minutes before he set to knocking once more, letting all his irritation fall against the great slab of mahogany. When he completed the action, he turned his back to the door and surveyed the square, perfectly manicured, gated and just blooming green, designed for the residents of this impeccable part of London and no one else. The place was so damn British, it made his skin crawl.

Curse his sister.

“A ward!” Catherine had crowed when she’d heard. “How exciting! Do you think she is very glamorous and beautiful?”

When he’d told Catherine that, in his experience, beauty was the reason for most scandals, and he wasn’t interested in dealing with this particular one, his sister had insisted he immediately pack his bags, playing him like a fine fiddle, the baggage. “But what if she’s been greatly maligned? What if she’s all alone? What if she requires a friend? Or a champion?” She’d paused, blinking her enormous blue eyes up at him, and added, “What if I were in her place?”

Younger sisters were clearly a punishment for ill deeds in former lives. And current ones.

He crossed his arms over his chest, the wool of his jacket pulling tight across his shoulders, constricting him just as the architecture did, all ironwork and stone fa├žade. He hated it here.

England will be your ruin.

Next door, a gaggle of women exited number 44 Berkeley Square, making their way down the steps to a waiting carriage. A young lady saw him, her eyes going wide before she recoiled in shock and snapped her gaze away to hiss a whisper at the rest of the group, which instantly turned in unison to gawk at him.

He felt their stares like a blazing heat, made hotter when the oldest of the group—mother or aunt, if he had to guess—said loudly, “Of course she would have such a man waiting for an audience.”

“He looks veritably animalistic.”

Alec went instantly cold as the group tittered its amusement. Ignoring the wash of fury that came over him at the assessment, he returned his attention to the door.

Where in hell were the servants?

“She’s probably renting rooms in there,” one of the girls said.

“And other things as well,” came a snide reply. “She’s outrageous enough for it.” What on earth kind of scandal had the girl gotten herself into?

Settlesworth’s letter had been perfunctory in the extreme, apologizing for not apprising him of the existence of the ward and laying the girl at Alec’s feet. She is at the heart of a scandal. A quite unsurvivable one, if you do not arrive. Posthaste.

He might hate all things English, but Alec wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t about to leave the girl to the damn wolves. And, if the she-wolves next door were any indication, it was a good thing he was here, as the poor girl was already their meal.

He knew what it was to be at the hands of Englishwomen.

Resisting the urge to tell the women they could pile into their carriage and drive straight to hell, he raised his fist to pound once more.

The door opened in an instant and, after impressively recovering from his shock, Alec glowered down at the woman standing before him, wearing the drabbest grey dress he’d ever seen.

He imagined she was no more than five and twenty, with high cheekbones and porcelain skin and full lips and red hair that somehow gleamed like gold despite the fact that she was inside a dimly lit foyer. It was as though the woman traveled with her own sun.

Drab frock or no, it was not beyond hyperbole to say she was easily the most beautiful woman in Britain.

Of course she was.

Nothing made a bad day worse like a beautiful Englishwoman. “It’s about bloody time,” he growled.

It took the maid several seconds to recover from her own shock and lift her eyes from where they had focused at his chest up to his face, her eyebrows rising with every inch of her gaze.

Alec was transfixed. Her eyes were grey—not slate and not steel, but the color of the darkest rainclouds, shot through with silver. He stiffened, the too-small coat pulling tight across his shoulders, reminding him that he was in England, and whoever this woman was, she was irrelevant to his interests. With the exception of the fact that she was standing between him and his immediate return to Scotland.

“I suggest ye let me in, lass.”

One red brow rose. “I shall do no such thing.” She closed the door.

Alec blinked, surprise and disbelief warring for a fleeting moment before they were both overcome by a supreme loss of patience. He stepped back, sized up the door, and, with a heave, broke the thing down.

It crashed to the foyer floor with a mighty thud.

He could not resist turning to the women next door, now frozen in collective, wide-eyed shock. “Animal enough for you, ladies?”

The question spurred them into action, sending them fairly climbing over each other to enter their carriage. Satisfied, Alec returned his attention to his own house and, ignoring the pain in his shoulder, crossed the threshold.

The maid stood just inside, staring down at the great oak slab. “You could have killed me.” “Doubtful,” he said. “The door is’nae heavy enough to kill a person.”

Her gaze narrowed on him. “Number Eighteen, I presume.”

The words could not have held more disdain. Ignoring them, Alec lifted the door from its resting place and turned to lean it against the open doorway. He deliberately thickened his accent. “Then ye ken who I am.”

“I’m not certain there’s a person in London who wouldn’t easily ken you. Though you might learn the word know if you wish them to understand you.”

He raised a brow at her smart mouth. “I don’t care for being left waiting at the door of my own home.”

Her gaze moved pointedly to the door, removed from its hinges. “You make a habit of destroying things when they displease you?”

Alec resisted the urge to deny the words. He had spent the majority of his adult life proving that he was not coarse. Not rough. Not a brute.

But he would not defend himself to this woman. “I pay handsomely for the privilege.” She rolled her eyes. “Charming.”

He refused to reveal his shock. While he had little to no experience with aristocratic servants, he was fairly certain that they did not make a habit of sniping at their masters. Nevertheless, he did not rise to the bait, instead taking in the impeccable home with its broad, sweeping center staircase, stunning and massive oil landscapes on the walls, a touch of gilt here and there, indicating modernity rather than garishness. He turned in a slow circle, considering the high ceilings, the massive mirrors that captured and reflected light from the windows high above, casting the whole space in natural light, and offering a glimpse of a wide, colorful carpet and a roaring fireplace through a nearby open door.

It was the kind of house that should belong to a duke with impressive pedigree, no doubt decorated by some previous duchess.

He stilled.

Was there a previous duchess? With seventeen dead dukes, Alec would bet there was more than one previous duchess.

He growled at the thought. All he needed was a widow to deal with on top of the scandalous ward and the petulant staff.

The staff in question heard the sound of displeasure. “I knew they called you the diluted duke, but I did not think you would be so …”

The impertinence trailed off, but Alec heard the unspoken worlds. Beastly. Coarse.

Unrefined. He lost his patience. “I suggest you fetch Lady Lillian. Immediately.” “It’s Miss Hargrove. She’s not highborn.”

He raised a brow. “This is England, is it not? Have they changed the rules, then? You gleefully correct dukes now?”

“I do when the duke in question is wrong,” she said, “Though you should be fine, as few will understand enough of your monstrous accent to know if you are right or wrong.”

“You seem to understand me well enough.”

She smiled too sweetly. “My vast good fortune, I suppose.”

He resisted the urge to laugh at the quick retort. The woman was not amusing. She was moments from being sacked. “And what of the respect that comes with the title?”

“It comes from people who are impressed by said title, I imagine.” “And you are not?”

She crossed her arms. “Not particularly.” “May I ask why?”

“There have been eighteen of you in five years. Or, to be more precise, seventeen in two weeks, followed by you for five years. And despite this being the first time you’ve set foot in this house, it—and all its contents—belong to you. Are cared for. For you. In absentia. If that’s not evidence that titles are ridiculous, I’m not sure what is.”

She wasn’t saying anything he didn’t believe. But that did not mean she was not maddening—likely just as mad as the other woman in the house. “While your insubordination is impressive and I do not entirely disagree with your logic, I’ve had enough,” he said. “I intend to speak with Miss Lillian, and your task, whether you like it or not, is to fetch her.”

“Why are you here?”

He let stony silence stretch between them for a long minute, attempting to intimidate her into doing as he asked. “Fetch your mistress.”

She was not intimidated in the slightest. “I think it amusing that you refer to her as mistress of the house. As though she isn’t a prisoner of it.”

That’s when he knew.

His ward was not the swooning type, after all.

Before he could speak, however, she continued. “As though she were not a belonging just like the door you summarily destroyed like a great Scottish brute.”

He didn’t mean to hear the word.

But somehow, standing here, with this impeccable Englishwoman in this impeccable English town house in this impeccable English square, wearing an ill-fitting suit, barely fitting in the open doorway, feeling big and out of place, he couldn’t help but hear it.

Couldn’t help but feel it, close and unsettling, like the tight cravat around his neck.

How often had he heard it from beautiful women? Whispered in awe, as though they were too busy imagining the fine, deep notch he would make in their bedposts to keep their innermost thoughts to themselves. When one came in the size he did, women tended to desire it, like a prize. A bull at the county fair.

Massive and beastly.

The word honored their desire even as it demeaned his own.

Just as it had demeaned him on his mother’s lips, marking her regret as she’d spat it at him— always too large to be fine enough for her. Too big to be worthy of her. Too coarse. Too Scottish.

Too much a reminder of her disappointing life.

She’d loathed his size. His strength. His inheritance from his father. Loathed it so much that she’d left, that single word her parting gift to her only son.


And so, when he heard it here, in this place, on the lips of another beautiful Englishwoman, with such thorough disdain, he was unable to avoid it.

Just as he was unable to resist retaliating. “I had hoped you wouldn’t be beautiful.” She narrowed her gaze. “The descriptor does not seem a compliment on your lips.”

A vision flashed, this stunning woman laid across a bed, hair spread like fire and gold across white linen, long limbs beckoning, pink lips parted. Desire shot through him like pain, and he forced himself to remember his place.

He was her guardian. She was his ward. And English at that.

She was not for him.

“It’s not,” he said. “It makes it far more likely you did it.”

Her eyes were glorious, more expressive than he would ever have imagined, and filled instantly with challenge. “Did what?”

“Ruined yourself.”

The anger changed to something else, gone so quickly that he might not have recognized it if it were not so unbearably familiar to him.


And in her shame, in the way it bore the shadow of his own, he instantly regretted his words.

And he wished them gone. “I should not have—” “Why not? It is true.”

He watched her for a long moment—taking in her straight spine, her square shoulders, her high head. The strength she should not have, but carried like honor, nonetheless.

“We should begin again,” he said.

“I would prefer we not begin at all,” she said, and turned away from him, leaving him in the hallway, with nothing but the sounds from the square beyond floating through the permanently open doorway to keep his company.

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Sarah MacLean grew up in Rhode Island, obsessed with historical romance and bemoaning the fact that she was born far too late for her own season. Her love of all things historical helped to earn her degrees from Smith College and Harvard University before she finally set pen to paper and wrote her first book.

Sarah now lives in New York City with her husband, baby daughter, their dog, and a ridiculously large collection of romance novels. She loves to hear from readers. Please visit her at

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