The Duke of Lies BLOG TOUR!!

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The Duke of Lies was released recently, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt!

MEET THE AUTHOR

740B2310 DarcyDarcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of sexy, emotional historical and contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Join her reader club at http://www.darcyburke.com/readerclub. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, two Bengal cats and a third cat named after a fruit.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Verity Beaumont has suffered domineering men most of her life, first with her father and then with her husband. Free from both men, she has finally found peace. Even meeting a kind and hard-working gentleman who just might be the perfect father her young son so desperately needs. But as she dares look to the future, her carefully ordered world is shattered when her dead husband returns.

Imprisoned in America during the war, Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, wants nothing more than to return to his native England. He longs for comfort and safety away from the horrors of battle, only the life he returns to is not the life he left. He must convince his wife that their marriage is worth fighting for, that he’s not the man he was. But when the truth about what happened to him leaks out, he must prove that not everything about him, especially his love for her, is a lie.

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EXCERPT

Burke, Darcy- The Duke of Lies (final) 800 px @ 300 dpi high resThe day was warm and bright, and she was looking forward to being outside. The door she’d come through suddenly burst open. Beau dashed out, his laughter immediately filling the courtyard.

He was quickly followed by Rufus, who chased him along the edge of the garden to the center path. Beau didn’t slow as he rounded the corner, and his feet slipped on the cobblestones. He fell down, landing on his side.

Verity dropped the blanket and ran toward him, but Rufus beat her by quite a bit. It was then that she realized he hadn’t been using his top speed to chase the boy. She’d seen that when he’d caught Racer that day at Mr. Maynard’s farm.

Rufus picked Beau up and set him on his feet and squatted down in front of him.“All right?”

Verity had expected Beau to cry, and his face had gone slightly pale. She lowered herself next to Rufus.“Did that scare you?” she asked, stroking Beau’s arm from shoulder to elbow and back again.

Beau nodded. Then a moment later, he ran to the top of the stairs leading to the courtyard.“Comeon, Papa, catch me!”

Rufus stood and offered his hand to Verity to help her rise. She wasn’t wearing gloves, and neither was he. It was the first time their flesh had touched, and it was like grabbing lightning. Or how she imagined it to be—electrifying and hot, and it left a lasting impression.

“Please don’t chase him down the stairs. He already fell once.” She turned to Beau and called,“Please be careful.”

“I am being careful, Mama. And don’t worry about the stairs. I ran down them to the kitchen passage and didn’t fall.”

She looked over at Rufus.“Isthat right?”

His gaze drifted to the side, and he hesitated a moment.“Er,yes. We were playing knights and villains.”

“Which one were you?”

“It was my turn to be the knight.”

Verity frowned and shifted a glance toward Beau.“Idon’t like thinking of my boy as a villain.”

“It’s pretend,” Rufus said.“But if it makes you feel better, he only chooses to be the villain because he likes to be chased.”

“Can’t the villain chase the knight?”

His mouth tipped into a crooked smile, and her stomach did a flip. It was as if lightning had struck again.“It’s pretend. We can do whatever we like.” He looked back toward the basket and the blanket on the ground.“I’ll get the things for the picnic.” He turned and started along the path.

“I can grab the blanket,” she offered.

He waved a hand.“I’ve got it.”

Verity went to Beau instead. She took his hand, and they descended into the courtyard, then veered right toward the gateway to the stable yard.“Perhaps I should play knights and villains.” She wondered why they hadn’t done that before and felt bad. It was a stark reminder of how much he’d missed not having a father.

“But you’re a girl.” Beau sounded scandalized.

Rufus met them as they approached the gate.“What’swrong with your mother being a girl?”

“She wants to play knights and villains.” He made a face that clearly showed what he thought of that idea.

Verity was caught between laughter and disappointment.

“It would be better if she joined us,” Rufus said, drawing Beau’s sharp attention.“A knight needs a fair maiden to rescue.”

“Then I am definitely going to be the villain. I don’t wanna rescue a girl.” He frowned, then sent his mother an apologetic glance.“ExceptI do want to save you, Mama.”

Verity surrendered to the laughter. “Thank you.”

“But Papa should be the one to save you. That’s what dukes do, right?”

“That’s what husbands do,” Rufus corrected,“whether they are a duke or not.”

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A Duke Like No Other BLOG TOUR!!

Duke_Like_No_Other,A_FB_Cover_AVAILABLE_NOW

A Duke Like No Other was released this past Tuesday, May 1st, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site. See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a good read and I would recommend checking it out!

SUMMARY

First comes love, then comes marriage. Unless it’s the otherway around. . .

General Mark Grimaldi has sacrificed everything for his military career, working his way through the ranks without the benefit of a nobleman’s title. Now, his years of dedication are about to pay off—with an offer for a prestigious promotion to Home Secretary. There’s only one condition: Mark must be married. Aside from the small matter of not actually wanting to be wed, Mark faces another troubling problem: he already has a wife.

Nicole Huntington Grimaldi has spent ten contented years in France without her husband—and without regret. When Mark asks her to return to London and play the part of his beloved wife, she sees her chance. But neither of them is prepared for news that will throw Mark’s future into chaos…nor the undeniable desire they’ve rekindled. Maybe happily-ever-after can happen the second time around in A Duke Like No Other, the next Regency romance from Valerie Bowman.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Valerie BowmanVALERIE BOWMAN grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her mini-schnauzer, Huckleberry. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is the author of the Secret Brides and Playful Brides series.

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EXCERPT

51zwYAwGydLCHAPTER THREE

Mark quirked his mouth into a half smile. Nicole had always been direct. It was one of the things that had first drawn him to her. She wasn’t about to let him get away with arriving unannounced without admitting that he wanted something. Good, because he liked to be direct too. “You’re right. I do want something from you.”

“Say it.” She crossed one leg over the other and for the life of him he couldn’t stop staring at how those breeches hugged her long legs. Outside, he’d been slightly obsessed with how they hugged another part of her anatomy. And that shirt . . . the one that was exposing her chest in a way that made the back of his neck sweat. Leave it to Nicole to have her hair down and to be wearing breeches while riding around a French château on a horse named Atalanta. She’d been besting the comte in the race they’d been engaged in. That was also like her. She adored competition and hated to lose at anything. If he had any hope of her saying yes to his proposal, he needed to make certain he didn’t become her adversary . . . again.

He glanced around the drawing room. Outfitted in rose and cream silks with the occasional hint of green, the room was tastefully decorated. The château itself was large and well appointed without being ostentatious. She had access to his money but had never spent a shilling of it. No, this was all a result of her own money or her family’s.

He spread his arms wide along the back of the settee. “No reminiscing? No catching up? No discussing the good times?”

Her dark red eyebrow inched even higher. “Were there good times? I seem to recall those being few and far between.”

“There were a few.” In bed. He tugged at his collar.

She poked at the chignon on the back of her head. Only she could make a quickly put-together hair arrangement look effortlessly gorgeous. Several tendrils of the long red locks fell to frame her face, which wore a decidedly disgruntled look. “Out with it. I’m quite busy. I’m attending a dinner party this evening and I must dress.”

Mark bit the inside of his cheek but ultimately he couldn’t keep the comment that had sprung to his lips to himself. “A cleaner pair of breeches?” Damn, she looked good in those breeches. She looked good altogether. Better than good. The years had been kind to her. The fresh-faced plumpness of her cheeks had given way to a slenderness that made her cheekbones prominent. Her lips were still full and pink and inviting. Her hair luxurious, soft and smooth. Her eyes looked more world-weary, to be sure, but their sea-foam-green depths were still astute and intelligent. Her body was still trim and fit. Her thighs looked even fitter, probably from riding astride. Ahem. What he wouldn’t give to see those thighs once more, to have them wrapped tightly around his—

“Despite my present appearance, I do own a gown or two.” Her words snapped him out of his indecent line of thought. She gave him another tight smile.

He stood, crossed to the nearby sideboard, and poured himself a brandy. “Going to meet the comte again?”

“Careful,” came her throaty voice from the settee. “It’s nearly sounding as if you’re jealous.”

Still facing the sideboard, he cocked his head to the side. “Jealous? Whatever does that word mean?”

“The comte is a friend, nothing more.” Her voice sounded dismissive. He didn’t believe her, however.

Mark splashed more brandy into his glass. “I’m certain you’d tell me if he weren’t.”

“I’m certain you’d care.”

Mark turned back toward her and took a healthy swig of his drink. “A man doesn’t like to think of his wife in the bed of another.”

She actually rolled her eyes at that comment. “Oh, you’ve been celibate all these years then?” she countered, her voice dripping with skepticism.

He had been, but he’d die a slow death back in the French prison camp before he told her that. However, he wasn’t so unrealistic as to think Nicole would have remained untouched. They had agreed to part ways, hadn’t seen each other in ten years. She was a beautiful woman in the prime of her life. Still, the notion of punching the comte dead in the face held a great deal of appeal at the moment. “I’ve never been one to kiss and tell, love.”

She gave him a tight smile, which clearly indicated she didn’t believe him, either. “You’re a general now?” she asked abruptly, clearly ready to change the subject.

“I am.” He moved to the window and looked out across the lavender fields, one arm held behind his ramrod-straight back as if he were surveying a battlefield. The stance was still comfortable for him even after all these years of working for the Home Office.

“I suppose congratulations are in order.” The tea arrived and Nicole poured a cup for herself and splashed in a liberal amount of cream. He remembered that about her. She took her tea with no sugar, just cream.

“No congratulations needed,” he intoned, taking another swig of brandy.

The silver spoon she used to stir her tea clinked against the delicate china teacup. “I must admit, I’ve often wondered when I’d get a missive that you’d been killed.”

His chuckle was humorless. He turned to face her. “Such little faith in me? Or wishful thinking?”

“Neither,” she replied, lifting the cup to her pink lips. “Just a profound knowledge of how reckless you are.”

He inclined his head. “Used to be.”

“Really?” She raised a brow. “Is that why you’ve come? To tell me you’ve changed?”

He chuckled. “I haven’t changed that much.”

“I’m not surprised.” She set down her teacup and crossed her arms over her chest. “Tell me, Mark, why have you come?”

He saluted her with his glass, the amber-colored liquid shining in the afternoon sunlight. “You were right. I need a favor from you.”

She didn’t so much as bat an eyelash. “Of course you do. What’s the favor?” She picked up her cup once more and took a sip.

He downed the final splash of brandy and met her gaze. “I need you to return to England with me for a few months and pretend to be my loving wife.”

 

Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Bowman in A Duke Like No Other and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

 

The Duke of Ruin BLOG TOUR!!

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The Duke of Ruin was released recently, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site. See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a good read and I would recommend checking it out!

MEET THE AUTHOR

Darcy BurkeDarcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of sexy, emotional historical and contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Join her reader club at http://www.darcyburke.com/readerclub. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, two Bengal cats and a third cat named after a fruit.

ABOUT THE BOOK

With her betrothal to a duke in tatters and scandal imminent, Diana Kingman has two choices: live in certain ignominy or flee into obscurity. Diana wants solitude. She never wished to wed in the first place. However, her father will stop at nothing to betroth her to one of the finest titles in the realm…no matter how loathsome the bearer. Escape is Diana’s only option, and she’ll pay any price to achieve freedom.

Universally blamed for the death of his wife and unborn child, Simon Hastings doesn’t dispute his guilt over an accident he cannot even remember. He hasn’t had a drink since, nor a moment’s peace. Determined to be a better man, Simon rescues a young woman in need—only to be accused of kidnapping. They must marry to save him from prison. But how can a man haunted by the love he lost and a woman afraid to get too close find happiness together?

DB_DOR_AVAILABLE NOW

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EXCERPT

51qpbLOiCqL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_He turned from the fire and contemplated the bed. It was neither big nor small and would support a blanket between them. However, there was no dressing screen to allow for privacy.

He wasn’t entirely sure how to broach the sensitive topic of disrobing, but since they would be spending several nights together, it had to be done. He looked back at her over his shoulder. “You aren’t planning on sleeping in your clothes again, are you?”

She turned in front of the fire but didn’t come toward him. “I’d rather not. But I’m afraid I’m in need of assistance. Unfortunately, my wardrobe depends upon a maid.”

“I’d be happy to provide help. Just remember I’ve no experience as a ladies’ maid.”

“Did you never undress your wife?” She looked away, angling herself back toward the fire. “Forget I asked that.”

He went back toward her and spoke softly. “Don’t.” She turned her head, her blue eyes dark and vivid in the firelight. “We are going to get to know each other much better than we ought, and I don’t want you to regret things you might say. I assumed you would be curious about my wife. Yes, I undressed her. Many times. If I close my eyes, I can still feel her skin.” But he didn’t close his eyes. He couldn’t. She—Miss Diana Kingman—held him captive with her gaze.

Miss Kingman exhaled. “You must promise not to look. Aside from what you must do to unlace my gown.

“I promise.” He kept his voice and his gaze steady. “We must trust each other on this journey. Implicitly. That’s why I won’t shy away from your questions.”

She nodded, then presented her back. “Will you leave while I undress? I’ll need ten minutes or so. I’ll be in bed when you return and will close my eyes while you disrobe.”

It was a good plan, particularly since he thought a walk outside in the cold might do him some good. A beautiful woman’s back presented to him for the purpose of assistance with disrobing was too reminiscent of a time gone by and yet wholly new. Miss Kingman wasn’t Miriam, nor did he want her to be.

Simon quickly unlaced her gown and helped lift it over her head. He laid it across one of the chairs set at a small table and returned to help her remove her petticoat and unlace her corset. When he finished, he dropped his hands to his sides.

“I can finish,” she said, without looking back. “Thank you.”

He left without a word, closing the door firmly behind him. He inhaled sharply, taking perhaps the deepest breath he had in the last ten minutes.

Thankfully he didn’t encounter anyone on his walk. He wasn’t in the mood to made idle chatter. His thoughts were bad enough—railing at him for being attracted to someone who wasn’t his wife.

But how could he expect to go through life as he had the past two years? A self-hating, forlorn monk. Oh, he put on a good face for everyone else, but no one knew how acutely his pain cut.

Tomorrow, they would be on their way to Northampton, and hopefully, things would go as smoothly as they had so far. But first he had to spend the night in her bed. Again. Only with less clothing.

Thinking it had been well more than ten minutes, he made his way back upstairs. The lantern next to the bed had been extinguished, leaving just the light from the fire to illuminate the room.

Simon looked toward the bed. Miss Kingman lay near the edge of one side—as close as she could get without falling off, he noted—her back to the center of the bed, where it looked as though she’d rolled one of the blankets and placed it between them. He hoped there were enough coverings on the bed to keep them warm. Last night, they’d worn more clothing to bed.

Hell. He wore a nightshirt to sleep in or, most often, nothing at all. Tonight, he should probably keep his smallclothes on.

Shrugging out of his jacket, he hung it on a hook in the wall. He sat down to remove his boots, working as quietly and quickly as possible. When he’d removed everything but his shirt and smallclothes, he went to his side of the bed and crawled between the icy covers. He shuddered involuntarily and felt her jerk.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “Cold bed.”

“Very,” she responded, her low, feminine voice rustling over him like a fine silk.

He considered making an offer to warm them both up—body heat would be most beneficial. But that was likely a bad idea. For so many reasons.

He turned to his side, away from her, but snuggled his back against the rolled-up blanket. That would help with the cold. And the warmer he got, the more easily he would fall asleep. And the sooner he fell asleep, the sooner he could put the proximity of Miss Kingman out of his mind.

Too bad none of that happened very quickly at all.

The Crown Prince’s Bride RELEASE DAY BLITZ!!

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The Crown Prince’s Bride is out TODAY (January 9th)!! This was a quick read with a sweet story and I enjoyed it! You’ll also see my review of this book later today so make sure to check back. See below for more information about the book, a short bio for the author and an excerpt from the book as well!  

SUMMARY

A Crown Prince gets a second chance at love with the woman who’s always been there – in the next book in the prince duology from Donna Alward!

The Crown Prince of Marazur is suffering from a broken heart. After losing his wife and future queen, he knows he’ll never find love again with a partner as wonderful as her. He’s thrown himself into his duties and is trying to be a better father to his two children, but he’s lonely. Even though falling in love seems impossible, so does spending the rest of his life alone.

Stephani has been Raoul’s assistant for years. Smart, loyal, and discreet, Stephani is fantastic at her job. Except for the fact that she’s been in love with her boss since her first week of employment, not that she would ever act on it. Besides, Raoul is first in line to the throne and she’s his assistant. If Raoul ever marries again, it’ll be with someone who can be a future queen. Not someone like Stephani.

When Raoul’s date for a state dinner is unable to attend, he invites Stephani. She’s well-versed on the issues and castle protocol, and Raoul’s always been comfortable with her. But when Stephani arrives, Raoul hardly recognizes her. Is this stunning woman the same one who’s run his office for years?

The Crown Prince’s Bride
is the ultimate fairytale for readers looking for Cinderella to get her prince—and be able to keep him past midnight.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A busy wife and mother of three (two daughters plus the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist. Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly twelve years in Alberta where her romance career began, writing about cowboys and the west. She is the author of Somebody Like You, Somebody’s Baby, and Someone to Love.

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EXCERPT

51rLBEd6MTLLate August

Stephani surveyed the ballroom, ensuring everything was running smoothly and to her satisfaction. As the executive assistant to the Crown Prince of Marazur, it was her job to make sure that Raoul Navarro’s birthday party went off without a hitch.

So far the dinner had been delicious, the traditional almond cake devoured, and the music and dancing had begun. She started to breathe a bit easier now.

“Señorita Savalas? Champagne?”

She turned to the footman who carried several full glasses on his silver tray. “Sí, gracias.” She smiled and took a flute from the tray,then sipped gratefully. The dry, fizzy liquid delighted her tongue. By royal standards, the party was small, but no expense had been spared. Including this particularly fine vintage.

Raoul deserved a wonderful party after the year he’d had.Considering this was the first real event at the palace since his wife,Princess Cecilia, had tragically died, Stephani had pulled out all the stops.

It was her job. And it was more than just a job, too.Because for the last seven years, she’d been in love with her boss.

Her boss, who had been married to her cousin.

Her boss, who was now a widower with two small children.

Right now Raoul was mingling with a group that included the finance minister and the gentleman’s twenty-something daughter. The girl looked up at Raoul with something like hero worship, and Stephani smiled to herself.He was at least ten years too old for her, but he was extraordinarily handsome with his black hair and dark, soulful eyes. New lines had appeared at either side of his lips, but Stephani thought they only added to his allure.

She joined the group and smiled at everyone, then spoke briefly before turning her attention to the Italian attaché. There was also a representative from the French tourism ministry and she switched languages effortlessly.

“You’re exceptionally good at that.”

Raoul’s deep voice vibrated at her ear and she suppressed adelighted shiver. She pasted a platonic smile on her face and turned around.“Oh, hello. Having a good time?”

“More than I expected. And what about you? Are you enjoying yourself? Or just working the room?” He lifted an eyebrow.

“Just making everyone feel welcome.”

“And showing off the fact you can speak . . .” He counted silently on his fingers. “Five languages? Six?”

“Five,” she confirmed. “My Russian and German are more of a danger than an asset. I could ruin diplomatic relations in two sentences.”

He chuckled, and she let herself enjoy the sound. Raoul didn’t laugh much at all recently, but the wine pairings at dinner and the open bar had loosened him up considerably.

She hadn’t seen him this relaxed since . . .

A confusing wave of grief swept over her. Maybe she’d had a secret thing for Raoul for ages, but she’d also loved her cousin deeply.Everyone had loved Ceci. And Stephani missed her. Ceci would have loved a party like this. She would have sparkled like the diamond she was. Stephani was far better behind the scenes. It had always been that way, even when they were kids.

“It’s good to hear you laugh, Raoul.”

His eyes met hers. “It’s good to laugh again. It’s been awhile.”

“Of course.” She didn’t want to dampen the mood of the evening, so she smiled instead and nodded toward a woman skirting the dancefloor. “Look. Rose has come back. The children were lovely at dinner, don’t you think?”

His gaze followed the new nanny. “You helped with her dress for the evening?”

“I did.”

“My brother can’t take his eyes off of her.”

“I think Diego has finally met his match. Do you approve?”

“Yes and no?” He shrugged. “My first priority is the children, and they seem to adore her.”

“Of course.”

“But she is also a lovely person.” He sent her a sideways smile. “Better than Diego deserves.”

She laughed a little. “You don’t really believe that.”

“No, I don’t. He’s been . . . different. Especially the last few months. Since . . .”

His voice trailed off, but she knew what he’d meant. Since Ceci died.

Everything was different since Ceci had died.

He nudged her elbow. “I don’t want to drag down the party.Do you want to dance, Steph?”

Did she? She’d only imagined it a million times.Particularly at every palace function when she’d stood on the sidelines with her clipboard while Ceci held Raoul in her arms. The perfect couple, a prince and princess, utterly in love.

She hesitated long enough that he stepped back. “Lo siento.I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t,” she hurried to assure him. “I’d love to dance.” It might be her one and only chance. She put her champagne down on a nearby table and smiled up at him. “Shall we?”

The band had switched to a slower song, and he led her to the polished parquet and took her in his arms. She swallowed tightly . . . ohmy. He was smooth, effortless, and his hand was warm against the hollow of her back. His fingers tightened over hers and she bit down on her lip. Raoul, she thought, wondering why on earth she insisted on torturing herself day in and day out. Why couldn’t she manage to shake this silly attraction? Besides, he only ever saw her as his assistant. If he had any idea of her feelings . . .Ugh. Work would be unbearably awkward.

“You look lovely tonight,” he said, his lips only inches from her ear. “The little black dress was a good choice.”

“It’s Versace.” She strangled out the words.

Their feet kept moving, and their bodies seemed to drift closer, until the lapels of his jacket brushed against her breasts. She could feel his heat, smell his cologne.

She should resign. Find another position somewhere, away from the longing for what she could never have. Except this was the perfect job. Wonderful pay, wonderful perks, and . . . well, the family relied on her.She knew that. It was more than a job, and more than just Raoul. She cared about them all. King Alexander, Diego, the children . . . they were her family now that Ceci was gone. She had no immediate family of her own. What remained of the Savalas family was spread out over Greece and Spain. She didn’t even know half of them. Ceci had been her anchor, and in her absence, the Navarros had become her surrogate family.

The song ended and Raoul stood back, but his face had lost the relaxed easiness of before, and a small furrow had appeared between his brows. “Is everything okay?” she asked, suddenly panicked that maybe she’d been the one to drift closer and inadvertently created an awkward moment between them.

“Diego danced with Rose, and she’s just left him standing in the middle of the floor,” he said quietly.

“Maybe there’s trouble in paradise.”

“You should talk to him.”

“I know. It’s never been easy, though. We’re so different.We always seem to cross swords.”

“That’s because you’re more alike than you think. You have to start giving him a chance. He’s more reliable than you give him credit for.”

Back to business. She felt on solid ground when she could focus on business.

She patted his arm. “I’m going to check on the kitchen staff. Señora Ortiz is planning a smaller buffet close to midnight.”

She went to leave and he reached for her hand. “Stephani?”

She focused on his face, because the fact that he was holding her hand was doing funny things to her insides. “Yes?”

“Thank you, for all this. I know I’ve been difficult the last few months. Tonight, having people and music in the house again . . .”

The butterflies in her belly grew heavy. “It must be difficult.”

“Yes. No. I mean, it’s been good. I can’t live my life being gloomy and unhappy all the time. This wouldn’t have happened without you.”

She smiled. “The people need to see that you’re still okay.”

He squeezed her fingers. “I need to know I’m okay. Thishelped. Thank you.”

And he leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

His breath was warm against her skin, and she might be mistaken but she would swear his mouth lingered there just a moment longer than necessary. Heat rushed to her face and she muttered a hasty “you’re welcome”before darting away. She didn’t want him to see her blush. Or the fact that his casual touch had the power to make her normal unflappable reserve desert her completely.

* * *

Raoul downed his fourth—or was it fifth?—Scotch and put the cut crystal glass down on a table. The midnight buffet had been set out, a light meal for those partygoers working up an appetite on the dance floor.Diego had disappeared ages ago, chasing after Rose.

His brother was in love. The real thing. And Raoul had congratulated him and wished him well, when all he could think of was how horrible it felt to have his heart ripped out of his chest in the actions of a moment. That perhaps love wasn’t worth it. He might actually believe that if it weren’t for Emilia and Max. The children were all he had left of Ceci, and he wouldn’t trade his marriage with her for anything.

Not even the pain of losing her.

They hadn’t let him go to the scene of the accident, but he didn’t have to. The news had shown the mangled wreck in full detail. A leaked phone video had shown the paramedics taking Emilia and Max from the car, and their driver, Marco, sitting with a white bandage on his uncommonly pale face.And there’d been a glimpse of the body bags, too—Ceci’s, and Mariana’s, the royal family’s nanny.

He went to the bar and got another Scotch. He was a year older, and life did go on. He even had moments of happiness. Tonight had been fun, but now that the evening was winding down, he was missing Ceci more than ever.

Would it be very bad form for him to leave the party before his guests? He suspected it would.

As he took a drink of his Scotch, he spotted Stephani across the room. She didn’t look tired at all, even though he knew she’d been here since about seven this morning and hadn’t stopped all day. He wasn’t sure where she got her stamina, but she was the best assistant he’d ever had. She’d been working for him long enough that she anticipated his needs. Hiring Ceci’s cousin had started out as a favor to his wife. Stephani had graduated from university but was working as an event server at a resort in Barcelona to make ends meet. She hadn’t had the resources Ceci did—she’d been the poor cousin who’d had to work her way through. Ceci had known Stephani wouldn’t take a handout, and Raoul had reluctantly agreed to give her a chance. It turned out to be a brilliant business decision.

He sipped again. Didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous, either.Her silky hair was the same inky color as her black dress and she wore heels that showed off her very fine legs. Stephani worked the room like the greatest of ambassadors and hostesses rolled into one. She was so like Ceci in that regard,warm and generous. But different, too. Focused, sharp. Ceci’s biggest quality had been her capacity for love and kindness. Stephani’s was to take that warmth and use it to its best advantage—while staying out of the spotlight.

She laughed and he swore he heard it across the room, above the music and the chatter. His body tightened in response, an uncomfortable and yet somehow welcome experience. He was thirty-seven, for God’s sake, and heir to the throne. Unlike his brother, he didn’t have the luxury—or the inclination—to play the field. But he was still a man. A young man, really.What was he going to do, stay a widower for the rest of his life? Stay celibate? It was utterly unrealistic.

Maybe he shouldn’t have had so much Scotch. He should go. No one would miss him now, would they? Particularly not Steph. He’d thanked her and kissed her cheek, and she’d literally run off. What had he been thinking?

He left the ballroom and headed for the stairs, then reconsidered. He’d rather get some fresh air and clear his head after all the alcohol.

The hall to the back entrance of the castle was narrow and once he descended the steps, he reached a stone-encased alcove. Fresh air filtered in, moist and balmy in the summer heat, and he shrugged off his jacket and dropped it in a corner. It would be dusty but he didn’t care. Instead he leaned back against the cool stone and closed his eyes. His head swam instantly and he opened them again, seeking equilibrium.

And there she was.

“I brought you a bottle of water,” Stephani said softly. She uncapped it and held it out. “You need to rehydrate.”

He took it and drank deeply. “How did you know I was here?”

She met his gaze evenly. “Your Highness, it’s my job to know where you are at all times. Even more than your security.”

“Thass right. You’re my right hand.” He heard the slur andwas mortified. He never got drunk. Never. But he had tonight. It was definitely a good thing he’d left the party.

She smiled at him. “Oh my. You did hit the Scotch ratherhard, didn’t you?”

He didn’t answer. Didn’t know how to answer.

“Slurring in front of the finance minister wouldn’t be a smart move.”

He looked over at her. “Really? I doubt he’d notice.”

“Oh, he’d notice. Rumor has it he addressed his own alcohol issues a few months ago and has been dry ever since. I watched. He didn’t take any wine at dinner.”

And this was one of the reasons Steph was so valuable. She always had her ear to the ground. Always seemed to know what was going on and with whom.

Which made him look at her a little more closely. “So, Miss Observant, how long did you know about Diego and Rose?”

She laughed. “Almost from day one.”

“I like it when you laugh.”

Her smile faded. “Sir?”

“Don’t ‘sir’ me, Steph. We’ve been past that for years.You’re family.”

A strange look passed over her face and he wondered what it meant, but then she was smiling again and he thought he might have imagined it.“I’m Ceci’s cousin, that’s all. We’re not blood relatives.”

“No,” he said quietly. “We’re not.”

And the strange feeling he’d had while dancing with her returned. Like his skin was somehow shrinking, taut with . . . damn, he couldn’t be feeling attraction. That would just be wrong.

And yet . . . he dropped his gaze to her lips. They were plump and red, fuller than Ceci’s had been, and right now they opened just a little as Stephani inhaled sharply.

“Raoul,” she cautioned.

He dragged his gaze back up to her eyes, expecting to see disapproval, but instead they were wide with what he could only figure was equal awareness. He stepped closer, testing her, and watched as her pupils dilated.

“Raoul,” she repeated, an edge of desperation in her voice.But not fear. He was clear-headed enough to recognize that wistful sound of longing, and when he lifted his hand and placed it along her cheek, her breath came out in a rush against the pad of his thumb.

And then he kissed her.

She tasted like dry champagne and a trace of almonds and citrus from the cake earlier, plus a darker flavor that was sultry, sexy woman.The little dress she wore was utterly appropriate, even conservative, but the woman inside it was so very alive and responsive. Her tongue met his as he deepened the kiss, and with a sigh of surrender she curled her arms around his shoulders and melted into him.

His body responded, and he was just man enough—just drunk enough—to be grateful. For the first time since Ceci’s death, he was happy he hadn’t died with her.

Ceci.

He stepped back from Stephani, breaking the kiss and putting a few feet between them. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, her lips were slightly swollen and parted. It would be so easy to step forward and take her in his arms. Press her against the stone wall, feel her body beneath his.

But she was Ceci’s cousin.

And she was too valuable . . . no, too important for him to treat her in such a cavalier, self-indulgent way. She was Stephani. The person he counted on most.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Steph, I . . . I have no excuse. That was so wrong of me.”

Her lips closed and she lifted her chin, though he thought,for just a fleeting second, that her lower lip quivered a bit. “Think nothing of it, sir,” she said firmly. “It was the Scotch talking, that’s all.”

“Yes, the Scotch . . .” His voice trailed off for a moment.“Forgive me, Steph.”

“There’s nothing to forgive.” Her voice sounded oddly thick,but he thought maybe it was because they were still ensconced within the stonewalls of the alcove.

“You put together this wonderful party. You always have my back. You must know how I appreciate all you do.”

She met his gaze and smiled a little. Was she sad? Why wasn’t she angry? He took a breath, then remembered the little sound of acquiescence she’d made as she wrapped her arms around his neck and the word she had been going to say stuck in his throat.

She had welcomed the contact. Wholeheartedly. What the hell did this mean?

He wasn’t sure how to ask, and after too long of a hesitation, she put her hand on his arm and gave a little squeeze. “It’s my job,” she said softly. “Try to sober up. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow.”

Then she slipped away, her footsteps echoing on the stone steps.

Raoul had no desire to go back to the party. Instead he picked up his dusty jacket, made his way into the garden—Ceci’s garden—and found a vacant bench.

Then he took the little silver flask from his jacket pocket,unscrewed the cap, and took a big swig.

Stephani was off-limits. Tomorrow he’d reset the boundaries and they’d go back to normal. And if he ever did decide to . . . have a romance again, it wouldn’t be with his assistant.

No matter how alluring she’d turned out to be.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Donna Alward in The Crown Prince’s Bride and reprinted by permission of Swerve.

 

The Duke of Ice BLOG TOUR!!

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The Duke of Ice was released this past Tuesday, December 26th, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site. See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a good read and I would recommend checking it out!

MEET THE AUTHOR

Darcy BurkeDarcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of sexy, emotional historical and contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Join her reader club at http://www.darcyburke.com/readerclub. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, two Bengal cats and a third cat named after a fruit.

ABOUT THE BOOK

51u6sa8zp+LEveryone Nicholas Bateman ever loved has died. Except Violet Caulfield, which must mean he never loved her. Eight years after she threw him over to marry a viscount, Nick is a widowed duke who prefers isolation. When a friend convinces him to leave his lair of self-imposed solitude, he considers taking another wife, provided she agrees to his terms: no emotional attachment of any kind.

Now widowed, Lady Violet Pendleton hopes for a second chance with the man she’s always loved. But she isn’t prepared for the desolation in his soul or the animosity he still bears toward her. Despite those obstacles, it’s clear their passion hasn’t dimmed. However, the heat between them isn’t enough to melt the Duke of Ice, and this time Violet may find herself the jilted party. Can love, once so tragically lost, finally be found?

Read Today!

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2AHu8eE
Amazon Universal: http://mybook.to/DukeofIce
iBooks: http://apple.co/2Ap6DD8
Nook: http://bit.ly/2BkW3Rn
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2zcHSf5
Add to GoodReads: http://bit.ly/2ytxfRD

EXCERPT

DoIce Teaser ALL.jpg

“Looks like it’s you and Lady Pendleton,” Simon said. His voice carried a hint of something.

Nick snapped his head toward his friend and detected the glimmer of a smile in his gaze. He was enjoying this. He was playing matchmaker. And he had his sights set on Nick and Violet. Bloody hell.

Nick wanted to be angry, but his pull toward Violet was too strong. He’d felt it last night and again today when Simon had asked if it would be odd for him to pursue her. Nick had been jealous. Shockingly, blood-boilingly, desperately jealous.

The realization shook him to the core.

“Who’s to be the crier?” Simon asked.

“Why not Mr. Adair since he won Kiss the Nun?” Seaver suggested.

With everyone in agreement, Violet and Nick moved to the center of the room.

“Is this awkward?” she whispered.

“No.” His pulse quickened. Should he kiss her or should he fail?

His mind screamed the latter. And really, that was for the best. Jealousy aside, he and Violet had no future, not when their past was so painful.

And yet when they knelt with their backs to each other, he caught her scent of rose and an earthy spice. It was wholly feminine yet slightly wild. He hadn’t smelled a rose in the past eight years without thinking of her. His body reacted, heating at her proximity.

“Make ready,” Adair said.

Nick looked over his right shoulder and felt the air move as she looked over her left.

“Present.”

Nick leaned close to her cheek. He could feel her warmth, and his skin tingled.

Fire.”

He moved closer, but she sprang up. Instinctively, he reached for her, his arm curling about her waist. He pulled her back down. To stop her from hitting the floor, he spun to his back and sprawled, bringing her down on top of him. He cupped the side of her face and kissed her, his lips sliding over hers for a brief but delicious moment.

“The cheek,” she murmured, her gaze locked with his.

He leaned up and brushed his mouth against the soft flesh of her cheek. His lips lingered perhaps a second too long, but he didn’t care. Desire coursed through him, and for the first time in years, he felt alive.

 

Romancing the Scot BLOG TOUR!!

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Romancing the Scot was released TODAY Tuesday, November 14th, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site (hopefully within the next day!). See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a good read and I would recommend checking it out!

SUMMARY

Hugh Pennington—Viscount Greysteil, Lord Justice of the Scottish Courts, hero of the Napoleonic wars—is a grieving widower with a death wish. When he receives an expected crate from the continent, he is shocked to find a nearly dead woman inside. Her identity is unknown, and the handful of American coins and the precious diamond sown into her dress only deepen the mystery.

Grace Ware is an enemy to the English crown. Her father, an Irish military commander of Napoleon’s defeated army. Her mother, an exiled Scottish Jacobite. When Grace took shelter in a warehouse, running from her father’s murderers through the harbor alleyways of Antwerp, she never anticipated bad luck to deposit her at the home of an aristocrat in the Scottish Borders. Baronsford is the last place she could expect to find safety, and Grace feigns a loss of memory to buy herself time while she recovers.

Hugh is taken by her beauty, passion, and courage to challenge his beliefs and open his mind. Grace finds in him a wounded man of honor, proud but compassionate. When their duel of wits quickly turns to passion and romance, Grace’s fears begin to dissolve…until danger follows her to the very doors of Baronsford. For, unknown to either of them, Grace has in her possession a secret that will wreak havoc within the British government. Friend and foe are indistinguishable as lethal forces converge to tear the two lovers apart or destroy them both.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

May McGoldrick author pic.jpgAuthors Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick (writing as May McGoldrick) weave emotionally satisfying tales of love and danger. Publishing under the names of May McGoldrick and Jan Coffey, these authors have written more than thirty novels and works of nonfiction for Penguin Random House, Mira, HarperCollins, Entangled, and Heinemann. Nikoo, an engineer, also conducts frequent workshops on writing and publishing and serves as a Resident Author. Jim holds a Ph.D. in Medieval and Renaissance literature and teaches English in northwestern Connecticut. They are the authors of Much Ado About Highlanders, Taming the Highlander, and Tempest in the Highlands with SMP Swerve.

BUY IT HERE! 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746MLYFZ
B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/romancing-the-scot-may-mcgoldrick/1126839723
iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781250166906
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/romancing-the-scot
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=7v8tDwAAQBAJ

EXCERPT

51HC8Rw+H2LExcerpt: Romancing the Scot by May McGoldrick

Looking the shipping crate over for damage and seeing none, he retrieved an iron crow from a workbench. Jo was standing inside the doors, eyeing the box doubtfully from a safe distance.

“Come closer. It won’t bite.”

“Not a chance. From the smell of that thing, a person would think you’re importing cadavers. Have you also taken up being a Resurrectionist as a hobby?”

He patted the crate affectionately. “This sweet thing has been sitting in the bowels of a ship from Antwerp. You know what the hold of a ship smells like?”

“Actually, I don’t.” She held a handkerchief to her nose and drew closer. “But I think you’re correct with the reference to ‘bowels.’”

Hugh took the first nail out. “Well, stand back, since you’ve become so prissy. Though I recall a younger version of you leading the rest of us through bogs and marshes that smelled no better.”

“Of course! But as I recall, we had frogs and turtles and the occasional dragon that needed hunting,” she replied with a smile. “Very well. Open it and let’s see this treasure of yours.”

Prying off the top took him only a moment. Throwing it to the side, he pulled back the tarp that covered the basket and then stared curiously at the dark green rags bundled at the bottom.

Leaning in, Hugh’s enthusiasm evaporated as a horrid realization settled in. This was no pile of old clothing. A shock of blond hair. A shoe. A hand. The body of a dead woman lay curled up in the gondola.

“Bloody hell.”

“What is it?” Immediately, Jo was at his side. “Good God!”

Hugh climbed in and crouched beside the body. He took her hand. She was cold to the touch. His heart sank. The crate had been shipped from Antwerp. To be trapped for so many days with no water, no food, in the cold and damp of the ship’s hold. He had no idea who this woman was or how she came to be in here.

The thought struck him. Perhaps it wasn’t an inadvertent act. Perhaps she was murdered and her body had been dumped into the crate.

Dismay and alarm clawed at him as he pushed away the matted ringlets of golden hair. She was young. He lifted her chin. The body had none of the stiffness of postmortem. He stared at her lips. He may have imagined it but they seemed to have moved.

“Bright . . .” The whisper was a mere rustle of leaves in a breeze.

The fingers jerked and came to life, clutching at his hand.

“She’s not dead,” he called to Jo, relieved. “Send for the doctor. I’ll take her to the house.”

His sister ran out, calling for help, and he lifted the woman. She emitted a low groan. Her limbs had been locked in the same cramped position for so many days. Hugh propped her over the side of the gondola.

“Stay with me,” he encouraged. “Talk to me.”

Holding the woman in place, he clambered from the basket and then gently lifted her out, cradling her in his arms. She weighed next to nothing.

As they went out into the rain, he feared she was about to die. The exertion of trying to breathe showed on her face. He’d seen this on the battlefield. The final effort before death.

Starting up the path, he stumbled, not realizing the woman’s skirts were dragging on the ground. He staggered but caught himself before they went down. Her head lolled against his chest, her face gray and mask-like. She appeared to be slipping away. It would be a shame that she’d survived the crossing only to perish now.

A dagger point of anger pierced Hugh’s brain as he recalled another dismal day when he’d lifted two other bodies, wrapped in burial shrouds, from a wooden box.

“Talk to me,” he ordered. “Say something.”

As he made his way up the hill toward the house, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky above Baronsford. Thunder shook the ground and the sky opened, unleashing fierce torrents of rain on them.

His wife. His son. Hugh hadn’t been there for them. They’d died as he and the British army were being chased by the French across Spain. He’d been trying to save his men’s lives, not knowing that those most precious to him were suffering.

“You’ve survived a horrifying ordeal. Give me the chance to save you.”

The woman struggled weakly in Hugh’s arms, and her head tipped back. He watched as her lips parted, welcoming the wetness of the falling rain.

“We’re almost there.”

“Bright . . .” she murmured.

He looked into her face and saw she was trying hard to open her eyes.

“Yes, brighter than that crate,” he said, encouraged by her effort. Any movement, however small, gave him hope. “And you’ve been in there for Lord knows how long.”

The Right Kind of Rogue BLOG TOUR!!

BLOG TOUR BANNER

The Right Kind of Rogue will be released this Tuesday, October 31st, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! If you haven’t already seen it, you can find my review of the book under Book Reviews on my site (hopefully within the next day!). See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt! This was a good read and I would recommend checking it out!

SUMMARY

Can two star-crossed lovers come together—until death do they part?

Viscount Hart Highgate has decided to put his rakish ways behind him and finally get married. He may adore a good brandy or a high-speed carriage race, but he takes his duties as heir to the earldom seriously. Now all he has to do is find the right kind of woman to be his bride—ideally, one who’s also well-connected and well-funded. . .

Meg Timmons has loved Hart, the brother of her best friend, ever since she was an awkward, blushing schoolgirl. If only she had a large dowry—or anything to her name at all. Instead, she’s from a family that’s been locked in a bitter feud with Hart’s for years. And now she’s approaching her third London season, Meg’s chances with him are slim to none. Unless a surprise encounter on a deep, dark night could be enough to spark a rebellious romance. . .for all time?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Valerie BowmanVALERIE BOWMAN grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her mini-schnauzer, Huckleberry. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is the author of the Secret Brides and Playful Brides series.

BUY IT HERE! 

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million
Indie Bound
Powells

EXCERPT

51nxLUiM5GL CHAPTER TWO

“How in Hades’s name can you drink at this hour of the morning, Highgate?”

Hart tossed back his brandy, swallowed, and laughed at his brother-in-law’s words. The two sat across from each other at Brooks’s gentlemen’s club. It was decidedly before noon. The only reason Hart was up at this hour was because he’d promised to meet Lord Christian Berkeley. His brother-in-law rarely asked for favors and Hart suspected this meeting was his sister Sarah’s doing, but he would humor the viscount just the same.

“Berkeley, old chap, you don’t know the half of it.” Hart clapped the viscount on the back. “Helps with the devil of a head left over from last night, don’t ya know?”

Berkeley lifted his teacup to his lips. “No. I don’t. But I’ll take your word for it.”

That reply only made Hart laugh harder, which made his head hurt more. Hart liked his brother-in-law a great deal, but the man was decidedly humdrum when it came to amusements. Berkeley rarely drank, rarely smoked, and preferred to spend his time at his estate in the north of England or his hunting lodge in Scotland. Berkeley enjoyed quiet pursuits like reading or carving things out of wood much more than the amusements London had to offer. But Viscount Berkeley was a good man and one who clearly adored Hart’s sister, and that was what mattered.

The viscount had gone so far as to dramatically interrupt Sarah’s wedding to a pompous marquess and claim her for himself, thereby not only proving his commitment to Sarah but also saving Hart from having the self-involved Marquess of Branford as a brother-in-law. Overall it had been quite a fortunate turn of events for everyone. Everyone except Hart and Sarah’s enraged, thwarted parents, that is.

Berkeley tugged at his cravat. “How are your—ahem— parents getting on?”

Hart cracked a smile. “Still angry, of course, even after all these months. You and Sarah made a good decision, staying up north for the winter. Gave Father and Mother time to calm down.” His father’s anger at having a scandal mar his family name and his daughter marry a mere viscount as opposed to a marquess who had the ear of the Prince Regent had barely abated over the winter, but no need to tell Berkeley as much.

Berkeley leaned back in his chair and crossed one silk-stockinged ankle over an immaculately creased knee, his hands lightly clutching the arms of his chair. He shook his head. “They’re not calmed down, are they?”

“A bit.” Hart stopped a footman and ordered another brandy. “Don’t worry. They’ll be civil when they see you. For Sarah’s sake.”

“Well, that’s something. Are you seriously ordering another drink?”

“Are you seriously surprised?” Hart scratched his rough cheek. He’d been running late and hadn’t bothered to ask his usually drunken valet to shave him this morning. For Christ’s sake, that man drank more than he did. Not exactly someone he wanted near his throat with a straight razor. “Besides I have quite a good reason to drink today.”

“Really?” Berkeley tugged at his cuff. Ever since Sarah had taught him how to dress properly, the viscount was much more attentive to his clothing. He was downright dapper these days. “Why is that?”

“I’m getting married.” Hart emitted a groan to accompany those incomprehensible words.

Berkeley’s brows shot up. He set down his cup and placed a hand behind his ear. “Pardon? I must have heard you incorrectly. I thought you said married.”

The footman returned with the drink and Hart snatched it from the man’s gloved hand and downed nearly half of it in a single gulp. “I did,” he muttered through clenched teeth, wincing.

“You? Married?” Berkeley’s brow remained steadfastly furrowed, and he blinked as if the word were foreign.

“Me. Married.” Hart gave a firm nod before taking another fortifying gulp of brandy.

“Ahem, who is the, uh, fortunate lady?” Berkeley lifted his cup back to his lips and took a long gulp, as if needing the hot drink to banish his astonishment.

“I haven’t the first idea.” Hart shook his head. He was giving serious thought to the notion of ordering a third brandy. Would that be bad form? Probably.

“Now you’re simply confusing me,” Berkeley said with an unmistakable smile on his face. With his free hand, he pulled the morning’s copy of the Times from the tabletop next to him and scanned the headlines.

Hart took another sip of brandy and savored it this time. “I haven’t made any decisions as to the chit yet. I’ve merely announced to Father that this is the year I intend to find a bride. The idea of marriage has always made my stomach turn. After all, if my parents’ imperfect union is anything by which to gauge the institution, it’s a bloody nightmare.”

“Why the change of heart?” Berkeley asked.

Hart scrubbed a hand through his hair. The truth was, he wasn’t less sickened by the prospect of marriage these days, but he couldn’t avoid the institution forever. At some point he’d have to put the parson’s noose firmly around his own throat and pull. Wives were fickle, and marriages meant little other than the exchange of money and property. His own father had announced that fact on more than one occasion. His parents treated each other like unhappy strangers, and his father had made it clear that they were anything but in love. That, Hart supposed, was his fate. To live a life as his parents had in the pursuit of procreating and producing the next future Earl of Highfield. So be it, but was it any wonder he’d been putting it off?

“Seeing Sarah marry had more of an effect on me than I expected,” Hart admitted, frowning at his notquite-empty glass. “And if you ever tell anyone I said that, I’ll call you out.” He looked at Berkeley and grinned again.

“You have my word,” Berkeley replied with a nod. “But may I ask how it affected you?”

Hart pushed himself back in the large leather chair and crossed his booted feet at the ankles. “I started thinking about it all, you know? Life, marriage, children, family. I expect you and Sarah will be having a child soon, and by God I’d like my children to grow up knowing their kin. My cousin Nicole was quite close to Sarah and me when we were children. Nicole’s marriage isn’t one to emulate, either. She hasn’t even seen her husband in years. Last I heard, she’s living somewhere in France, childless. By God, perhaps I should rethink this.” Hart pulled at his cravat. The bloody thing was nearly choking him what with all of this talk of marriage.

Berkeley leaned back in his seat, mirroring Hart. “Perhaps you should focus on the positive aspects of marriage. I assure you, there are many.”

“Believe me, I’m trying,” Hart continued, reminding himself for the hundredth time of the reasons why he’d finally come to this decision. God knew it hadn’t been an easy one. “Whether I like it or not, it’s time for me to choose a bride. Sarah is my younger sister. While she wasn’t married, it all seemed like fun and games, but now, well, seems everyone is tying the proverbial knot these days what with Owen Monroe and Rafe Cavendish marrying. Even Rafe’s twin, Cade, has fallen to the parson’s noose.”

Just this morning when Hart had woken with a splitting head for the dozenth time in as many days, he’d thought yet again how he needed to stop being so reckless. He wasn’t able to bounce back from a night of debauchery nearly as quickly as he used to when he was at university. Seeing Sarah marry had made him consider his duties, his responsibilities, and his . . . age. For the love of God, he was nearly thirty. That thought alone was enough to make him want another brandy. It was his duty to sire the next Earl of Highfield, and duty meant something to him. What else mattered if he didn’t respect his duty? Hadn’t that been hammered into his head since birth by his father, along with all the dire warnings not to choose the wrong wife?

“It’s true that several marriages have taken place lately in our set of friends,” Berkeley replied, still leisurely perusing the paper while sipping tea. “But I thought you were immune to all of that, Highgate.”

“I have been.” Hart sighed again. “But I’ve finally decided it’s time to get to it.”

Berkeley raised his teacup in salute. “Here’s to the future Lady Highfield. May she be healthy, beautiful, and wise.”

“Thank you,” Hart replied. He tugged at his pythonlike cravat again.

Berkeley regarded Hart down the length of his nose. “Any ladies catch your fancy?”

Hart shook his head. He braced an elbow on the table beside them and set his chin on his fist. “No. That’s the problem. I’m uncertain where to begin.”

Berkeley let the paper drop to his lap. “What sort of lady are you looking for?”

Hart considered the question for a moment. What sort of lady, indeed? “She’ll need to be reasonable, well connected, clever, witty, a happy soul. Someone who is honest, and forthright, and who isn’t marrying me only for my title. Someone who doesn’t nag and has an indecently large dowry, of course. Father puts great stock in such things. Not to mention if I’m going to be legshackled, I might as well get a new set of horses out of the bargain. I’m thinking a set of matching grays and a new coach.”

“Oh, that’s not much of a list,” Berkeley said with a snort. “

I don’t expect the search to be a simple one, or a quick one.” The truth was Hart had no earthly idea who he was looking for. He only knew who he wasn’t looking for . . . someone like his mother. Or the treacherous Annabelle Cardiff. He wanted the exact opposite.

Berkeley tossed the paper back onto the tabletop. “Knowing your father’s decided opinions on such matters, I’m surprised he hasn’t provided you with a list of eligible females from which you may choose.”

Hart rolled his eyes. “He has. He’s named half a dozen ladies he would gladly accept.”

Berkeley inclined his head to the side. “Why don’t you choose one of them then?”

Hart gave his brother-in-law an are-you-quite-serious look, chin tucked down, head tilted to the side. “I’m bloody well not about to allow my father to choose a bride for me. Besides, after seeing you and Sarah, I hold out some hope of finding a lady with whom I’m actually compatible.”

“Why, Highgate, do you mean . . . love?” Berkeley grinned and leaned forward in mock astonishment.

“Let’s not go that far.” Hart took another sip of his quickly dwindling brandy. That’s precisely what confused him so much. He knew love matches existed. He’d witnessed one in his sister’s marriage. On the other hand, her choice had so enraged his parents, they still hadn’t forgiven her. Hart didn’t intend to go about the business of finding a wife in quite so dramatic a fashion. Love matches attracted drama. However, his parents’ unhappy union was nothing to aspire to, and he’d nearly made the mistake of marrying a woman who wanted nothing more than title and fortune before. It was a tricky business, the marriage mart, but he’d rather take advice from Sarah and Berkeley than his father. The proof of the pudding was in the eating, after all.

Berkeley laughed. “What if you fall madly in love and become a devoted husband? Jealous even. Now, that would be a sight.”

“Jealous? That’s not possible.” Hart grinned back at Berkeley. “I’ve never been jealous. Don’t have it in me. My friends at university used to tease me about it. No ties to any particular lady. No regrets.” He settled back in his chair and straightened his cravat, which was tighter than ever.

“We’ll see.” Berkeley took another sip of tea. His eyes danced with amusement.

“I was hoping you and Sarah might help me this Season.

Sarah knows most of the young ladies. She also knows me as well as anyone does. Not to mention, the two of you seem to have got the thing right.”

Berkeley glanced up. “Why, Highgate, is that a compliment on our marriage?”

“Take it as you will.” Hart waved a noncommittal hand in the air. He avoided meeting Berkeley’s eyes.

Berkeley settled further into his chair. “I shall take it as a compliment, then. I have a feeling Sarah would like nothing more than to help you with such an endeavor. She fancies herself a matchmaker these days.”

“Will you two be staying in London for the Season?”

“Yes. Sarah wants to stay and I, of course, will support her, at least as long as I can remain in the same town as your father without him calling me out.” A smirk settled on Berkeley’s face.

Hart eyed the remaining liquid in his glass. “I’ll be happy to play the role of peacemaker to the best of my ability.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Berkeley inclined his head toward his brother-in-law.

“Who else is Sarah matchmaking for?” Hart sloshed the brandy in the bottom of the glass.

“She’s not merely matchmaking. No. To hear her tell it, she has an important mission this Season.”

Hart set down the glass and pulled another section of the Times off the table and began scanning it. He’d talked enough about marriage for one day. Odious topic. “A mission? What mission?” he asked, merely to be polite.

“To find Meg Timmons a husband.”

Hart startled in surprise, grasping the paper so tightly it tore in the middle. Tossing it aside, he reached for his glass and gulped the last of his brandy.

Meg Timmons. He knew Meg Timmons. She was Sarah’s closest friend, the daughter of his father’s mortal enemy, and a woman with whom Hart had experienced an incident last summer that he’d been seriously trying to forget.

Copyright © 2017 by Valerie Bowman and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Paperbacks.