Keep Calm and Read This: The Demon Duke by Margaret Locke

Keep Calm and Read This: The Demon Duke by Margaret Locke

This week I extend a warm welcome to romance author Margaret Locke, who’s celebrating the release of The Demon Duke. This is the first in her new series – a series with the best title ever – Put Up Your Dukes. Read on to find out more, and for a chance to win an autographed copy of her new book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man tormented by a painful secret meets the bookish miss who just might save him from himself…

Behind every good man is a great secret.

Banished to Yorkshire as a boy for faults his father failed to beat out of him, Damon Blackbourne has no use for English society and had vowed never to return to his family’s estate at Thorne Hill, much less London. However, when his father and brother die in a freak carriage accident, it falls on Damon to take up the mantle of the Malford dukedom, and to introduce his sisters to London Society-his worst nightmare come to life.

He never planned on Lady Grace Mattersley. The beautiful debutante stirs him body and soul with her deep chocolate eyes and hesitant smiles. Until she stumbles across his dark secret.

Bookish Grace much prefers solitude and reading to social just-about-anything. Her family may be pressuring her to take on the London Season to find herself a husband, but she has other ideas. Such as writing a novel of her own. But she has no idea how to deal with the Duke of Malford.

Will she betray him to the world? Or will she be his saving Grace?

Chapter 1

 

Blackwood Abbey, Yorkshire, England
Late October, 1813

Please come home. Your father and brother are dead. Carriage accident. You are Duke now. We need you. Come quickly, Damon.
– Mama

Damon Blackbourne, youngest son of Silas Blackbourne, Duke of Malford, stared at the note without seeing it. He didn’t need to; he’d read it a hundred times already. He balled up the paper and threw it to the floor.

“Home?” he snarled out loud, although the room, as usual, was empty. “Home, Mama?”

He had no home. None other than Blackwood Abbey, at least—the cavernous abode to which he’d been banished seventeen years ago. Seventeen years. More than half of his lifetime—nearly two-thirds, seeing as he was now twenty-seven.

He paced the room, a library brimming with books, a place he’d long claimed as his own. Not that he’d had competition, given his only company was a few servants.

And Hobbes. Thank God for Hobbes.

A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, its warmth soothing him. It had turned unseasonably cold for October, a cold that now seeped into his bones, freezing his soul from the inside out.

He stopped in front of the flames, their flickering captivating him. What should he do? He hadn’t been to Thorne Hill, hadn’t seen his family since that awful day; the day he’d turned ten and his father turned him out.

“No son of mine shall exhibit such evil behaviors,” Silas had roared. “You are possessed by the devil. I cast you out. Do not show your face to me again. You are not my son.”

Not even the sound of his mother’s weeping had turned Damon around as he’d climbed alone into the carriage, numbness enveloping him. It was a welcomed state, the lack of feeling. It had dulled the pain of his back, which bore witness to the intense lashings his father had laid upon him, a desperate attempt to exorcise the demons Damon knew only too well.

His sisters had been mere babes in arms. They hadn’t even been present. But Damon would never forget the look on his beloved older brother’s face. It was the look of a boy torn—no, a man, perhaps, considering his brother at fourteen no longer had had the body of a child. Moisture had filled Adam’s eyes as their father had raged, but he’d raised no voice in Damon’s defense, made no attempt to stop the man. Adam had always been too dutiful for that.

Damon sighed. Should he go? Did he owe his mother—or anyone—that?

He’d never gone south, even though he’d come of age years ago. What would have been the point? And what would he have faced? More ridicule? Possibly Bedlam? His father never would have countenanced his return. Damon had been dead to Silas, dead to everyone, as far as he knew.

Except Adam and his mother, Felicity. She penned letters as often as she could, Adam less often, though both without his father’s knowledge. Silas certainly had never written. But Mama told the mundane details of life at Thorne Hill, of how his brother had fared with the estate’s management, how his sisters loathed practicing the pianoforte and hated their dance tutor.

He’d never had such things. A tutor came for a while—at whose bidding, he didn’t know—but Mr. Jensen had long since left, disturbed not only by Damon’s defiant manner but also by his rages.

For Damon had long struggled with his temper. It sometimes superseded even his odd body movements and frequently got him into trouble, which was one of the reasons he avoided company.

“Not like being exiled to Hell would assuage anyone’s anger,” he muttered as he reached for the glass of brandy he’d set on the side table.

Then it sank in. He was now the Duke of Malford. Unless his father had disinherited him. Was that possible? If so, his uncle, Fillmore Blackbourne, would be Duke.

And yet, his mother had written to him. Why?

Even if he were the legal heir, why would she want him back? Did she not fear he would be worse than before? Though he’d written her once, years ago, of how he’d mastered his demons, the physical ones, at least, in hopes of being called home. Had that been enough to convince her he could manage in polite society?

But he’d wanted the summons then. Not now.

He walked over to the window, staring out at the craggy moors glistening with snow. He knew in his heart what he had to do. For his mama, who’d done the best she could, he supposed, in circumstances beyond her control. For his sisters, whom he only remembered as tiny tykes who loved to pull his black hair. And for himself. To prove once and for all he was no devil. None beyond his own making, at least.

“Hobbes,” he bellowed.

A short man with thinning brown hair entered the room. Stiff-backed and with his nose in the air, he was the quintessential butler, who served also as Damon’s valet. Though his main role over the years had become that of friend. Despite the difference in age and status, they’d bonded, two lonely people bumbling about in this monstrous abbey, each with no family to call his own.

Still, the man loved to put on airs, to remind Damon both of his status as a ducal family’s servant—and Damon’s status as Lord. “Yes, my lord?”

“For Pete’s sake, Hobbes. It’s Damon. Damon.” Or rather now, Your Grace.

“I know.” The grin that cracked Hobbes’s cheeks softened his expression. “It merely amuses me to bait you.”
Damon smirked. “Ready the horses and coach.”

Hobbes’s eyebrows reached skyward. Damon nearly laughed out loud, which would have been quite the rarity, at the comical expression on the butler-come-valet’s face.

“We’re going to Thorne Hill.”

At that, Hobbes’s jaw literally dropped. He looked out at the snow-blanketed expanse of the abbey’s grounds. “In this weather?”

“Why not? If I’m going back home, it’s only fitting that Hell has frozen over.”

Grab your copy of The Demon Duke today!

 

 

 

Want to win an autographed paperback of The Demon Duke?

Just drop Margaret a line at AuthorMargaretLocke@gmail.com (please mention Renee Reynold’s blog so I know how you found me!) and you’re entered to win. Contest closes June 29th, 2017; winner announced on my Facebook page and contacted via email by July 1st, 2017.

 

As a teen, Margaret pledged to write romances when she was older. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to be doing grownup things, not penning stories. Thank goodness turning forty cured her of that silly notion.

Now happily ensconced again in the clutches of her first crush (romance novels!), Margaret is never happier than when sharing her passion for a grand Happy Ever After. Because love matters.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and three fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact she’s not an outdoors person.

Connect with Margaret at her website, Facebook, Goodreads, GooglePlus, Instagram, Twitter, and Amazon, and sign up for her Newsletter.

She’s also been known to pin a thing or three over on Pinterest!

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: True As Fate by Laurie Alice Eakes

Keep Calm and Read This: True As Fate by Laurie Alice Eakes

I’m so pleased to welcome romance author Laurie Alice Eakes this week. She let me ask her all manner of impertinent questions, and I get to share her new release, True as Fate . . .

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I have spent anywhere from days, to years researching a book. Yes, I said years. My American-set midwife series—three historicals and one contemporary—was just an insane amount of research from reading original documents published in the seventeenth century and imported through Interlibrary Loan from Great Britain, to talking to midwives practicing in the field today. I wanted to write the series, but just had to read one more diary or something until I was ready. Once I was ready, the books just flowed from my fingertips.

I did a great deal of research for My Enemy, My Heart and True as Fate also, for the entire Ashford series. Probably enough to add up to years. I needed to know about ships and went sailing on a tall ship, about prisoners of war in England, about noncombatant prisoners like women captured, and the everyday Regency stuff, which I will never know enough of.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I torture myself over names. Sometimes I write entire scenes of the book and end up changing the names. I try to make them appropriate to the time period, and yet appropriate to the character as well. Oddly, though, with True as Fate, I always knew the names of the main characters. The only ones that changed were those of two secondary characters.

What was your hardest scene to write?

I’ve pondered this question for quite a while and think the most difficult scene was about three-fourths of the way through when they both have reason to believe the other is acting in bad faith. They are literally locked in a room together, desperately hurt in an emotional way, desperately angry, and desperately in love. I wanted to get this all across without going over the top or letting the tension drop too soon. Just remembering writing that scene makes my breathing quicken with remembered tension of my own.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

I went to grad school for writing popular fiction. That taught me how to discipline my writing, how to analyze it for ridiculousness and stupidity—as much as anyone can do for their own work—and be disciplined about my process. I could come up with ideas, but struggled to turn them into actual novels. We had to write a thesis novel. When I started, I had a vague idea and a setting and little else. No wonder my first line of True as Fate, the thesis novel was:

Seventeen miles of barren moorland lay between Ross Trenerry and freedom.

I thought I would never get through it, but True as Fate is published next week.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between them?

I am hoping to build a world around my current series, The Ashford Chronicles. Once upon a time, I wrote the prequel to the first book in the series, My Enemy, My Heart. That prequel is Georgian, though, and no one wanted Georgian, not set during the American Revolution, despite the story primarily taking place in England. So I started on the Regency era books. I have two published; True as Fate releases June 6, and the third comes out this autumn. I want to continue the series and would love to incorporate these characters as secondaries in other series. I’m quite attached to all of them.

Tell us something about your new release that is NOT in the blurb.

My hero, Ross Trenerry, is an angry and bitter man. He isn’t unkind because of it: he’s just hard and distrustful. His life has been pretty rough, from his family disowning him, to going to a British prison—not fun—then a worse prison, then his own country turning on him despite what he did for it during the war. He is out for blood, or at least revenge, not knowing that Chloe, our heroine, is one of the people who has done him the most harm.

Yes, I love to torture my characters.

Lady Chloe Ashford detests going to balls, loathes social pretense, and finds the very idea of hunting for a husband obscene. But she has an even more scandalous secret: she once helped an American—the enemy—escape from Dartmoor Prison. Now, nearly three years later, Ross Trenerry is back—and in trouble again. So is her traitorous heart. He doesn’t know she’s the one responsible for sending him to a second prison, and she has no intention of telling him.

A former privateer, Ross has finally run out of his legendary luck. Only one woman lies between him and freedom. He desperately needs Chloe’s help to prove he hasn’t committed treason, but he’s distracted by the passion that flares between them.

They set out on a cross-country adventure together to prove Ross’s innocence, but peril soon dogs their heels. As they race to reach their appointed rendezvous on time, they must fight their growing attraction and focus on discovering who is behind this deadly plot. Will they finally admit their love and put the pieces together before it’s too late?

 

 

 

About Laurie Alice Eakes

“Eakes has a charming way of making her novels come to life without being over the top,” writes Romantic Times of  bestselling, award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes. As a child, Eakes began to tell herself stories. Since then, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with more than two dozen books in print. Accolades for Eakes’s books including winning the National Readers Choice Award and Rita finalist status.

She has recently relocated to a cold climate because she is weird enough to like snow and icy lake water. When she isn’t basking in the glory of being cold, she likes to read, visit museums, and take long walks, preferably with her husband, though the cats make her feel guilty every time she leaves the house.

You can read more about Eakes and her books, as well as contact her, by clicking the links below.

 

 

 

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker

Keep Calm and Read This: Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker

It’s my pleasure to welcome author Regan Walker to the blog this week. She has a brand-spanking-new release, Echo in the Wind, book two in her Donet Trilogy. Regan shares her formula for Rogues to Make Readers Sigh . . .

I like my heroes to be alpha males, manly men who know how to take care of themselves (and the heroine, of course). They might appear to be rogues but, in their hearts, they are vulnerable to the woman they would love. I don’t care if my heroes dress like dandies. I just don’t want them to be dandies.

So, here’s my checklist for rogues who make readers sigh.

1. Make him handsome, preferably a bit rugged. A scar wouldn’t go amiss. And make him sexy, the way he walks, his dominating presence as he enters a room, the way he looks around like he owns the place.

2. Give him an edge. Could be bitterness from his past, an attitude from being wronged by a woman, a temper, or a confidence from having proven himself in a test. A touch of the dangerous.

3. Make him manly, athletic or at least able to handle himself in a fight. A few weapons on his person, a knife in a boot, make him seem lethal. Even better if, added to that, he’s respected by other men.

4. Make him arrogant (at first). He knows what he wants and lacks no confidence that he can get it. No beta males need apply.

5. Give him a soft underbelly, love for an animal (his horse?), or perhaps a soft heart for a kid. An orphan is even better. And, of course, eventually he must have a weakness for the heroine (which, all things considered, will bother him the most).

6. Give him an obstacle to overcome, a title to regain, a mystery to solve or a dangerous mission. Make it important.

7. Make him slow to see that he needs a good woman in his life. He must come to the knowledge he can’t live without the heroine, but not too quickly, lest we think he’s a pushover. The bigger rogues they are, the harder they fall.

8. Make him reluctant to admit he is wrong (he’s a guy, after all).

9. Tell us how wonderful he is but only through the eyes of others.

10. Make him good at making love. If he’s new at it, make him a natural.

Jean Donet, on the deck of his ship. Yes, I believe he makes us sigh!

The heroes in my Agents of the Crown series are all alpha males who meet these criteria. Same with those bold knights in my Medieval Warriors series.

Perhaps my new Georgian romance, Echo in the Wind, book 2 in the Donet Trilogy, provides the most striking example. Here’s the way the heroine, Lady Joanna West, initially sees Jean Donet, comte de Saintonge, a ship’s captain, former pirate and privateer, now a smuggler:

Suddenly, a man appeared at the doorway staring into the parlor with cold detachment. His dark eyes seemed to be searching for someone. His tanned olive skin was a stark contrast to the pasty white complexions of most of the men in the room. He wore his black hair unpowdered and tied back at his nape. His features were bold: a high forehead, black eyebrows, a straight nose and prominent cheekbones.

He cut a striking figure in a dark blue coat edged in cream silk flowers. At his throat and cuffs was a great mound of lace. Beneath the frock coat, an ivory silk waistcoat, embellished in the nattiest of fashion, shimmered.

She knew instantly he could not be English. Such ornate embroidery and so much lace would never be seen in Westminster where the current fashion for men favored a certain austerity. An Englishman attired like this one would be considered a popinjay. But to Joanna, his brooding dark elegance spoke of an uncommon masculine style.

He strode into the parlor, drawing curious glances from the gentlemen and nervous twitters from the ladies. Passing through the crowd, his searching gaze met Joanna’s for only a moment yet, in that moment, excitement coursed through her veins. His obsidian eyes flashed with an intensity she had not encountered before. When his gaze moved on, she felt a keen disappointment.

His dark brows lifted as he headed for someone he appeared to recognize.

“Who is he?” she asked her brother.

Richard turned from his conversation with Addington to follow the subject of her attention. “Oh. If I am not mistaken, Sister, that is the new comte de Saintonge.”

A French comte. Yes, he quite looked the part.

Addington huffed. “You invited a Heathen Frog to your reception for the Prime Minister?”

“Careful, old boy,” chided Richard. “Pitt speaks well of his travels in France and ’tis rumored the comte was once a pirate. You wouldn’t want him to get wind of your views or he might slit your throat some starless night.”

“Walker sweeps you away to a time and place you’ll NEVER want to leave!”
~ NY Times Bestselling author Danelle Harmon

England and France 1784

Cast out by his noble father for marrying the woman he loved, Jean Donet took to the sea, becoming a smuggler, delivering French brandy and tea to the south coast of England. When his young wife died, he nearly lost his sanity. In time, he became a pirate and then a privateer, vowing to never again risk his heart.

As Donet’s wealth grew, so grew his fame as a daring ship’s captain, the terror of the English Channel in the American War. When his father and older brother die in a carriage accident in France, Jean becomes the comte de Saintonge, a title he never wanted.

Lady Joanna West cares little for London Society, which considers her its darling. Marriage in the ton is either dull or disastrous. She wants no part of it. To help the poor in Sussex, she joins in their smuggling. Now she is the master of the beach, risking her reputation and her life. One night off the coast of Bognor, Joanna encounters the menacing captain of a smuggling ship, never realizing he is the mysterious comte de Saintonge.

Can Donet resist the English vixen who entices him as no other woman? Will Lady Joanna risk all for an uncertain chance at love in the arms of the dashing Jean Donet?

The story begins on the West Sussex coast at twilight. Take a peak:

Bognor, West Sussex, England, April 1784

Except for the small waves rushing to shore, hissing as they raced over the shingles, Bognor’s coast was eerily bereft of sound. Lady Joanna West hated the disquiet she always experienced before a smuggling run. Tonight, the blood throbbed in her veins with the anxious pounding of her heart, for this time, she would be dealing with a total stranger.

Would he be fair, this new partner in free trade? Or might he be a feared revenue agent in disguise, ready to cinch a hangman’s noose around her slender neck?

The answer lay just offshore, silhouetted against a cobalt blue sky streaked with gold from the setting sun: a black-sided ship, her sails lifted like a lady gathering up her skirts, poised to flee, waited for a signal.

Crouched behind a rock with her younger brother, Joanna hesitated, studying the ship. Eight gun ports marched across the side of the brig, making her wonder at the battles the captain anticipated that he should carry sixteen guns.

She and her men were unarmed. They would be helpless should he decide to cheat them, his barrels full of water instead of brandy, his tea no more than dried weeds.

It had been tried before.

“You are certain Zack speaks for this captain?” she asked Freddie whose dark auburn curls beneath his slouched hat made his boyish face appear younger than his seventeen years. But to one who knew him well, the set of his jaw hinted at the man he would one day become.

“I’ll fetch him,” Freddie said in a hushed tone, “and you can ask him yourself.” He disappeared into the shadows where her men waited among the trees.

Zack appeared, squatting beside her, a giant of a man with a scar on the left side of his face from the war. Like the mastiffs that guarded the grounds of her family’s estate, he was big and ugly, fierce with enemies, but gentle with those he was charged to protect.

“Young Frederick here says ye want to know about this ship, m’lady.” At her nod, Zack gazed toward the brig. “He used to come here regular with nary a con nor a cheat. He’s been gone awhile now. I heard he might have worked up some other business—royal business.” He rolled his massive shoulders in a shrug. “In my experience, a tiger doesn’t change his stripes. He’s a Frog, aye, but I trust the Frenchie’s one of us, a free trader still.”

She took in a deep breath of the salted air blowing onshore and let it out. “Good.” Zack’s assurance had been some comfort but not enough to end her concerns. What royal business? For tonight, she need not know. “Give the signal,” she directed her brother, “but I intend to see for myself if the cargo is what we ordered.”

Without seeking the position, Joanna had become the smugglers’ master of the beach, responsible for getting the cargo ashore and away to inland routes and London markets with no revenue man the wiser. She took seriously her role to assure the villagers got what they paid for. Their survival depended upon it.

 

 

 

Regan Walker is an award-winning, #1 Amazon bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romances. She writes historically authentic novels in which readers experience history, adventure and love. You may find Regan at her website.

She also has a fascinating storyboard for Echo in the Wind on Pinterest.

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman

Keep Calm and Read This: A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman

Today I’m rubbing my hands together with glee as Kate Bateman stops by to share some fascinating historical details about counterfeiting in the Regency era! She’s also sharing a sneak peak of her upcoming release — coincidentally featuring forgery . . .

Historical research; Real-life counterfeiting in the Regency Era

Many of the events in my regency-era novels are based on real-life historical facts. For example, Sabine, the heroine of A Counterfeit Heart, is a Napoleonic French counterfeiter, and I unearthed some amazing real-life stories of wartime forgery during my research into the subject.

Just as in A Counterfeit Heart, Napoleon really did employ a team of forgers to print fake currency to ruin his enemies. (Letters written by him survive to prove the existence of a counterfeiting operation set up on his orders.) He used fake currency to pay his own soldiers in Russia, and sent large quantities of fake Austrian banknotes into the country to try to destabilize the Austrian economy. As I also mention in the book, Napoleon’s counterfeiting of Austrian currency put him in an awkward position a few years later when he married his second wife, the Austrian archduchess Marie-Louise. He was forced to issue a public ban on printing counterfeit money against her country, but of course, by then it was rather too late!

The use of counterfeit money has been a strategy in warfare for centuries. The idea is to flood the enemy’s economy with fake money, thus devaluing the real money and causing an economic collapse, rendering the enemy unable to fund their side of the war.

During the American Revolutionary War, for example, the Continental Congress decided to create a new Continental currency to fund the fighting. Among the people enlisted to print this new currency was Paul Revere. To counter this, Great Britain enlisted teams of counterfeiters to travel throughout the American Colonies, placing their counterfeits into circulation in the hopes that it would cause an economic disaster. These counterfeiters were known as “shovers,” presumably for their ability to “shove” the fake money into everyday use. David Farnsworth and his partner John Blair were among the best-known of these counterfeiters, having been caught with over $10,000 in fake Continental dollars in their possession. They were eventually hanged for being foreign agents and loyalists.

Counterfeiting was a problem in Georgian England, too. The Bank of England – the “head of all circulation” – took counterfeiting very seriously and employed a team of lawyers at great expense to ensure prosecutions. The statistics are dramatic: the period 1783-1797 saw only four prosecutions for forgery, but 1797-1821 saw over 2000 prosecutions and over 300 executions. The Bank spent thousands of pounds to secure these executions, and in some years, such as 1819, this amounted to more than was lost through forgery. Almost one third of all executions at this time were for forgery, but the vast majority of these were concentrated in the post-Napoleonic war period, when economic depression and the demobilization of thousands of troops and sailors produced ever greater incentives for the forger. In 1818, when almost 30,000 fake banknotes were in circulation, public sympathy for the hapless plebeian forger led to numerous acquittals.

Doubts were regularly expressed about the competence of the Bank of England in recognizing a fake from the real banknote, and the topic features in many of the satirical cartoons of the time. (Richard and Sabine, the hero and heroine in A Counterfeit Heart, make use of the printing press and premises of such an engraver in the story.)

In 1814 an anonymous caricature called A Peep into the Rag Shop in Threadneedle Street highlighted the theme. The print (below) shows a poor forger pleading with Bank of England directors who are examining a bank note. As the speech bubbles make clear, behind their callous bluster is dire ineptitude:

“Upon my soul I have my doubts but at all events—we had better declare it bad.”
“Take him out Thomas !!! he has a d——d hanging look.”
“Away with the Vagabond! Do you think we sit here for nothing!”

A Peep into the Rag Shop in Threadneedle Street, anonymous, 1814.

And this cartoon, by the well-known satirical illustrator George Cruickshank, also shows forged notes, and hints at the fact that paper currency was often considered untrustworthy in comparison to solid gold coins.

Johnny Bull and his Forged Notes!! or Rags and Ruin in the Paper Currency by George Cruikshank, published by J. Sidebotham, January 1819. (British Museum Satires 13197. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum.)

In France, too, forgery was a very serious offence. Note what it says on the very top line of this French Assignat: ‘the law punishes the counterfeiter with death’. (La loi punit de mort le contrefacteur)


Here are some examples of both real and forged early 19th century banknotes:

A real 1818 Bank of England bank note, one pound.

A forged GB banknote of 1812.

A real British Banknote from 1811: one pound note with printed serials and date, signed in ink by the cashier.

And just to prove that ‘plus ça change,’ almost a hundred years after Napoleon’s attempts, another leader, Adolf Hitler, tried something very similar during the second World War, forcing prisoners to fake thousands of British banknotes in a plan called Operation Bernhart. The initial plan was to drop the notes by plane over Britain to bring about a collapse of the British economy. It was directed by, and named after, SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from other camps, to forge British currency.

So as you can see, history is full of extraordinary examples of counterfeiting, and for A Counterfeit Heart I employed the age-old authorial tactic of wondering ‘what if . . ?’ What if Napoleon were defeated before he could put his plans to flood Britain with counterfeits into action? What if one of his forgers was a feisty young woman named Sabine de la Tour? What would she do with a fortune in fake money? A Counterfeit Heart is my answer.

A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman ~ Medium Heat Level ~ Historical Regency Romance

A feisty counterfeiter and a cocky British agent clash in this sultry Secrets and Spies novel by K. C. Bateman, whose witty, intelligent, and sexy historical romances have become her signature.

As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France—or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy—and into his arms.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.

Chapter 1

Bois de Vincennes, Paris, March 1816

It didn’t take long to burn a fortune.

“Don’t throw it on like that! Fan the paper out. You need to let the air get to it.”

Sabine de la Tour sent her best friend Anton Carnaud an exasperated glance and tossed another bundle of banknotes onto the fire. It smoldered then caught with a bright flare, curling and charring to nothing in an instant. “That’s all the francs. Pass me some rubles.”

Another fat wad joined the conflagration. Little spurts of green and blue jumped up as the flames consumed the ink. The intensity of the fire heated her cheeks so she stepped back and tilted her head to watch the glowing embers float up into the night sky. It was a fitting end, really. Almost like a funeral pyre, the most damning evidence of Philippe Lacorte, notorious French counterfeiter, going up in smoke. Sabine quelled the faintest twinge of regret and glanced over at Anton. “It feels strange, don’t you think? Doing the right thing for once.”

He shook his head. “It feels wrong.” He poked a pile of Austrian gulden into the fire with a stick. “Who in their right mind burns money? It’s like taking a penknife to a Rembrandt.”

Sabine nudged his shoulder, well used to his grumbling. “You know I’m right. If we spend it, we’ll be no better than Napoleon. This is our chance to turn over a new leaf.”

Anton added another sheaf of banknotes to the blaze with a pained expression. “I happen to like being a criminal,” he grumbled. “Besides, we made all this money. Seems only fair we should get to spend it. No one would know. Your fakes are so good nobody can tell the difference. What’s a few million francs in the grand scheme of things?”

“We’d know,” Sabine frowned at him. “‘Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.’”

Anton rolled his eyes. “Don’t start quoting dead Greeks at me.”

“That’s a dead Englishman,” she smiled wryly. “Geoffrey Chaucer.”

Anton sniffed, unimpressed by anything that came from the opposite—and therefore wrong—side of the channel. He sprinkled a handful of assignats onto the flames. “You appreciate the irony of trying to be an honest forger, don’t you?”

It was Sabine’s turn to roll her eyes.

Anton shot her a teasing, pitying glance. “It’s because you’re half-Anglais. Everyone knows the English are mad. The French half of you knows what fun we could have. Think of it, chérie—ballgowns, diamonds, banquets!” His eyes took on a dreamy, faraway glow. “Women, wine, song!” He gave a magnificent Gallic shrug. “Mais, non. You listen to the English half. The half that is boring and dull and—”

“—law-abiding?” Sabine suggested tartly. “Sensible? The half that wants to keep my neck firmly attached to my shoulders instead of in a basket in front of the guillotine?”

She bit her lip as a wave of guilt assailed her. Anton was only in danger of losing his head because of her. For years he’d protected her identity by acting as Philippe Lacorte’s public representative. He’d dealt with all the unsavory characters who’d wanted her forger’s skills while she’d remained blissfully anonymous. Even the man who’d overseen the Emperor’s own counterfeiting operation, General Jean Malet, hadn’t known the real name of the elusive forger he’d employed. He’d never seen Sabine as anything more than an attractive assistant at the print shop in Rue Pélican.

Now, with Napoleon exiled on St Helena and Savary, head of the Secret Police, also banished, General Malet was the only one who knew about the existence of the fake fortune the Emperor had amassed to fill his coffers.

The fortune Sabine had just liberated.

Anton frowned into the flames. The pink glow highlighted his chiseled features and Sabine studied him dispassionately. She knew him too well to harbor any romantic feelings about him, but there was no doubt he had a very handsome profile. Unfortunately, it was a profile that General Malet could recognize all too easily.

As if reading her mind he said, “Speaking of guillotines, Malet would gladly see me in a tumbril. He’s out for blood. And I’m his prime suspect.”

“Which is why we’re getting you out of here,” Sabine said briskly. “The boat to England leaves at dawn. We have enough money to get us as far as London.”

Anton gave a frustrated huff and pointed at the fire. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a pile of money right—”

She shot him a warning scowl. “No. We are not using the fakes. Its high time we started doing things legally. This English lord’s been trying to engage Lacorte’s services for months. One job for him and we’ll be able to pay for your passage to Boston. You’ll be safe from Malet forever.”

“It could be a trap,” Anton murmured darkly. “This Lovell says he wants to employ Lacorte, but we’ve been on opposite sides of the war for the past ten years. The English can’t be trusted.”

Sabine let out a faint, frustrated sigh. It was a risk, to deliver herself into the arms of the enemy, to seek out the one man she’d spent months avoiding. Her heart beat in her throat at the thought of him. Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell. She’d only seen him once, weeks ago, but the memory was seared upon her brain.

He, of anyone, had come closest to unmasking her. He’d followed Lacorte’s trail right to her doorstep, like a bloodhound after a fox. She’d barely had time to hide behind the back-room door and press her eye to a gap in the wood before the bell above the entrance had tinkled and he’d entered the print shop.

It had been dark outside; the flickering street lamps had cast long shadows along Rue Pélican. Sabine had squinted, trying to make out his features, but all she could see was that he was tall; he ducked to enter the low doorway. She raised her eyebrows. So this was the relentless Lord Lovell.

Not for the first time she cursed her short-sightedness. Too many hours of close-work meant that anything over ten feet was frustratingly blurry. He moved closer, further into the shop—and into knee-weakening, stomach-flipping focus.

Sabine caught her breath. All the information she’d gleaned about her foe from Anton’s vague, typically male attempts at description had in no way prepared her for the heart-stopping, visceral reality.

Technically, Anton had been correct. Richard Hampden was over six feet tall with mid-brown hair. But those basic facts failed to convey the sheer magnetic presence of his lean, broad-shouldered frame. There was no spare fat around his lean hips, no unhealthy pallor to his skin. He moved like water, with a liquid grace that suggested quietly restrained power, an animal at the very peak of fitness.

Anton had guessed his age as between twenty-eight and thirty-five. Certainly, Hampden was no young puppy; his face held the hard lines and sharp angles of experience rather than the rounded look of boyhood.

Sabine studied the elegant severity of his dark blue coat, the pale knee breeches outlining long, muscular legs. There was nothing remarkable in the clothes themselves to make him stand out in a crowd, and yet there was something about him that commanded attention. That drew the eye, and held it.

Her life often hinged on the ability to correctly identify dangerous men. Every sense she possessed told her that the man talking with Anton was very dangerous indeed.

Sabine pressed her forehead to the rough planks and swore softly. The Englishman turned, almost as if he sensed her lurking behind the door, and everything inside her stilled. Something—an instant of awareness, almost of recognition—shot through her as she saw his face in full. Of all the things she’d been prepared for, she hadn’t envisaged this: Viscount Lovell was magnificent.

And then he’d turned his attention back to Anton, and she’d let out a shaky breath of relief.

She’d dreamed of him ever since. Disturbing, jumbled dreams in which she was always running, he pursuing. She’d wake the very instant she was caught, her heart pounding in a curious mix of panic and knotted desire.

Sabine shook her head at her own foolishness. It was just her luck to conceive an instant attraction to the least suitable man in Europe. The thought of facing him again made her shiver with equal parts anticipation and dread, but he was the obvious answer to her current dilemma. He had money; she needed funds. Voilà tout.

At least now she was prepared. One of the basic tenets of warfare was ‘know thine enemy,’ after all. Sabine drew her cloak more securely around her shoulders and watched Anton feed the rest of the money to the flames. The embers fluttered upwards like a cloud of glowing butterflies.

When this was all over she would be like a phoenix. Philippe Lacorte would disappear and Sabine de la Tour would emerge from the ashes to reclaim the identity she’d abandoned eight years ago. She would live a normal life. But not yet. There was still too much to do.

Sabine brushed off her skirts and picked up the bag she’d packed for traveling. There was something rather pathetic in the fact that her whole life fit into one single valise, but she squared her shoulders and glanced over at Anton. “Come on, let’s go. Before someone sees the smoke and decides to investigate.”

They couldn’t go home, to the print shop on Rue Pélican. Malet had already ripped the place apart looking for ‘his’ money. Her stomach had given a sickening lurch as she’d taken in the carnage. Books pulled from the shelves, paintings ripped from the walls, canvases torn. Old maps shredded, drawers pulled out and upended. Their home, her sanctuary for the past eight years, had been utterly ransacked.

But there had been triumph amid the loss. Malet had found neither Anton nor the money. And if Sabine had anything to do with it, he never would.

Anton hefted the two bags of English banknotes that had been spared the flames as Sabine turned her back on Paris. For the first time in eight long years she was free. It was time to track down Lord Lovell.

 

 

 

Kate Bateman (writing as K. C. Bateman) wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong with a historical set in the Italian Renaissance. Now writing for Random House Loveswept, her latest ‘Secrets & Spies’ Regency-era series features her trademark feisty, intelligent heroines, wickedly inappropriate banter, and heroes you want to alternately strangle and kiss—all mixed up in the intrigue and turmoil of the Napoleonic wars.

When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, Kate leads a double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK, each of which has up to 2.5 million viewers. She splits her time between Illinois and her native England and writes despite three inexhaustible children and a husband who has flatly refused to read any of her books ‘unless she hits the NY Times Bestseller list.’ It is—naturally—her fervent desire to force the semi-illiterate, number-loving cynic to do so. He still owes her that dollar.

Kate loves to hear from readers. Contact her via her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Amazon Author Page.

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: The Reluctant Wife by Caroline Warfield

Caroline Warfield is over the moon to finally be able to release The Reluctant Wife into the wild. She joins me here today to share all about her newest release … and her Grand Prize Giveaway.!

Title: The Reluctant Wife
Children of Empire, Book 2
Heat Level: Medium
Genre: Historical Romance, Pre-Victorian

When all else fails, love succeeds…

Captain Fred Wheatly’s comfortable life on the fringes of Bengal comes crashing down around him when his mistress dies, leaving him with two children he never expected to have to raise. When he chooses justice over army regulations, he’s forced to resign his position, leaving him with no way to support his unexpected family. He’s already had enough failures in his life. The last thing he needs is an attractive, interfering woman bedeviling his steps, reminding him of his duties.

All widowed Clare Armbruster needs is her brother’s signature on a legal document to be free of her past. After a failed marriage, and still mourning the loss of a child, she’s had it up to her ears with the assumptions she doesn’t know how to take care of herself, that what she needs is a husband. She certainly doesn’t need a great lout of a captain who can’t figure out what to do with his daughters. If only the frightened little girls didn’t need her help so badly.

Clare has made mistakes in the past. Can she trust Fred now? Can she trust herself? Captain Wheatly isn’t ashamed of his aristocratic heritage, but he doesn’t need his family and they’ve certainly never needed him. But with no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

The author dedicates this book to her father, the constant soldier, who understood duty and loyalty as few people do.

The ballroom at Government House, Calcutta, 1835

Clare had stopped listening. A prickle of awareness drew her gaze to the entrance where another man entered. He stood well above average height, he radiated coiled strength, and her eyes found his auburn hair unerringly. Captain Wheatly had come. The rapid acceleration of her heart took her off guard. Why should I care that he’s here?

“Clare? The lieutenant asked you a question.”

Lieutenant? Clare blinked to clear her head, only to see Mrs. Davis’s icy glare turned on Captain Wheatly. “Is that your strange captain from the black neighborhood?” she demanded in a faux whisper.

The lieutenant’s avid curiosity added to Clare’s discomfort. “Is that Wheatly in a captain’s uniform? I thought they might demote him after the business with Cornell,” he volunteered.

Clare forced herself to turn to the lieutenant. “Cornell?” she asked to deflect Mrs. Davis’s questions.

Collector at Dehrapur. Wheatly assaulted the man. Unprovoked, I heard,” the lieutenant answered.

She looked back, unable to stop herself. Merciful angels, he’s seen me. She watched the captain start toward them. At least Gleason could make introductions.

The lieutenant went on as though he had her full attention. “He was in line for promotion, the one that went to your brother instead. Philip posted over there right after it happened.”

Clare found it impossible to look away. The captain gave an ironic smile when he saw her watching. Mrs. Davis gave a sharp intake of breath when she realized Wheatly’s intent. “He’s coming here? Clare, I think I should warn you that a man who has been passed over as this one was—”

Before she could finish, Colonel Davis, who had been coming from the other direction, met the captain and greeted him with a smile. Clare couldn’t hear the words, but Captain Wheatly’s self-deprecating grin seemed to indicate at least a modicum of respect. The two men approached together.

“Captain Frederick Wheatly, may I present my wife, Mrs. Davis.” The captain bowed properly, and the colonel went on, “And our house guest, Miss Armbruster.”

This time the captain’s eyes held a distinct twinkle. “Miss Armbruster and I are acquainted. I met her when she visited her brother in Dehrapur.”

“Of course, of course! I should have remembered,” the colonel said jovially. He leaned toward Clare and winked. “He’s a catch, this one. Doesn’t like to boast of his connections, but earls and dukes lurk in his pedigree. His cousin stepped down from Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies just last year!”

Captain Wheatly looked discomfited by that revelation.

Gleason looked skeptical. “The Duke of Murnane?” he gasped.

Before anyone could answer, the small orchestra hired for the occasion began to play, and the captain cocked an eyebrow as if to ask a question.

“I think the captain wants a dance, Miss Armbruster. It’s your patriotic duty to see to the morale of the troops,” the colonel said coyly.

Captain Wheatly put out a gloved hand, and she put her equally gloved hand in his. Walking away from Gleason and the Davises, she admitted two things to herself. She was glad he came, and she planned to enjoy the dance.

 

 


The Reluctant Wife is book 2 in the Children of Empire Series ~ Three cousins, torn apart by lies and deceit and driven to the far reaches of the empire, struggle to find their way home.

The prequel to this series, A Dangerous Nativity, is always **FREE**. Click here for your copy.

 

Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

Caroline is a RONE award winner with five star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Night Owl Reviews, and InD’Tale, and an Amazon best-seller. She is also a member of the writers’ co-operative, the Bluestocking Belles. With partners she manages and regularly writes for both The Teatime Tattler and History Imagined.

You may find Caroline at her website, Facebook, TwitterAmazon, and Goodreads. Or drop her a line via email.

And now for the Giveaway!

Caroline is sponsoring a Grand Prize Giveaway in celebration of her release. To enter, click here

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: A Wedding Code by Jacki Delecki

Keep Calm and Read This: A Wedding Code by Jacki Delecki

This week I’m honored to have best-selling romantic suspense author Jacki Delecki visit. She has a new release coming out next week on April 25th ~ book five in The Code Breakers Series. Not only can you pre-order now, but there’s a giveaway…


Title: A Wedding Code
Heat Level:  Medium
Genre: Regency Romance Suspense

 
 
 
 

As a renowned arbiter of fashion and design, Miss Amelia Bonnington’s upcoming nuptials to Lord Derrick Brinsley have become the most anticipated event of English society. Her plans to create the perfect wedding must be cast aside, however, when her best friend’s brother, a member of England’s top code breaking family, disappears.

When his fiancée meddles in dangerous spy activity, Derrick, an undercover agent for His Majesty, must intervene. Now, it’s up to Amelia and Derrick to safely locate the missing brother, prevent another abduction, and thwart an assassination. Can they outwit the French spies and still have Amelia’s fairy tale wedding?

Miss Amelia Bonnington dropped the tangle of wedding ribbons and rushed into the morning room to assist Lady Henrietta Rathbourne. Amelia winced in sympathy at Hen’s valiant but unsuccessful attempts to adjust her very large and very pregnant abdomen into a comfortable position on the settee.

Grabbing a pillow from a chair, Amelia tucked the cushion under Hen’s swollen feet. “Darling, does this help?”

Not wanting to burden her best friend’s sensitive feelings, Amelia tried hard not to stare at the massive round hump straining against Hen’s morning gown. Amelia wasn’t sure she wanted her body to ever grow and distort in such an uncomfortable manner. “Would another pillow behind your back help?”

“Nothing helps. I’m the size of a whale. It’s not surprising that I’m having a big baby, since Cord is such a large man.” Hen could barely wrap her arms around her middle.

Amelia didn’t want to think about the imposing size of her fiancé, Lord Brinsley, and how large Derrick’s babies would be. Although Amelia was inches taller than Henrietta, Derrick was a giant, the tallest and broadest man of her acquaintance.

Hen fanned her flushed face. “The entire family and staff are tiptoeing around me as if I might explode at any moment, like a Guy Fawkes firecracker.”

It was true. The usually calm and composed Hen would tear up at the most unpredictable moments, leaving everyone around her baffled as to how to respond.

Amelia squeezed her friend’s hand. “Everyone is concerned. And it’s obvious that you’re uncomfortable now that your time is near.”

Henrietta stroked her abdomen in a protective, soothing circular motion. “Cord is constantly monitoring my growth. Every time he looks at me, I see him estimating the size of the baby. My enormous expansion has cracked his impenetrable confidence. He doesn’t say anything, but I can see he is worried that the baby is too big for my small frame. And when my husband, the bravest and most fearless leader of our country, appears fearful, I feel a need to shelter him from what comes next.”

Amelia shook her head. “But my dearest, you know Cord likes to be in control of everything and everyone. I’m sure he is struggling with this birthing business.”

“My husband is used to bending all of England, even the king, to his will. His inability to control nature is driving him mad.” Hen shifted on the settee, looking miserable.

Amelia jumped back up from her chair and repositioned the pillow under Hen’s feet. “Does that help?”

Hen winced when Amelia moved her feet. “And Michael,” she continued. “You know my brother can’t hide a blasted feeling. It’s all there on his face—fear and worry.”

“It’s normal for the men to worry. Besides, what other part can they play in the pregnancy?”

Hen rolled her bright green eyes toward the ceiling. “Well, we know what part Cord played in the onset of my condition”

The childhood friends laughed together. And Amelia was relieved to see Hen able to muster some semblance of her usual wit.

“I still have days before the birth, according to Dr. Oglethorpe, which means I’ll be able to attend your wedding.”

Amelia didn’t want to think about her best friend missing her wedding, which was but two days away. Hen refused to follow convention, and planned to attend despite her pregnant state, and Amelia supported her decision. She and Hen always planned to play a part in each other’s weddings. They had shared their fantasies of romance, their future husbands, and dream weddings since they were eight years old.

“I’m so very weary of discussing the size of my abdomen and ankles. How are all the wedding details coming?”

“You don’t have to pretend interest. I know you couldn’t care less about colors, fabrics, or flowers.”

“True. I was prodigiously grateful when you did everything for my wedding. How is Derrick faring with your need for perfection?”

Amelia had orchestrated Hen’s, then Gwyneth’s, and, most recently, Gabby’s weddings. The brides were all dramatically in love and could scarcely be bothered with the kind of details that could turn a simple wedding into a glorious affair.

Their weddings were the talk of all London because of Amelia’s eye for design. After Beau Brummel, Amelia was considered the highest arbiter of women’s fashion. Although she hated the image of herself as another boring society woman whose only interest was fashion. She was an artist who saw color and shapes in everything around her.

Amelia grumbled. “I really don’t need to have everything perfect.”

Hen shifted on the settee and raised both eyebrows, accenting her round emerald eyes. “You changed the ribbon on my wedding dress at least five times to get the exact color of green moss. And the color of the hydrangeas and the candles… Should I go on?”

Amelia resisted pointing out that Hen looked magnificent on her wedding day because of Amelia’s meticulous attention to every aspect of the event.

Hen fingered the sleeve of her gown. “And your protégé is worse. He couldn’t be more persnickety.”

“Pierpont is a wonderful help. He knows a great deal about fabrics, flowers, and proper etiquette.” Amelia wanted to bite her tongue. She sounded like the snobbish society ladies she detested.

“I can’t like him. There is something very cagey about him,” Hen added.

“You’ve been listening to Derrick, haven’t you?”

Hen shook her head. “Derrick hasn’t said a word to me.”

Amelia raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure?”

“Derrick barely speaks to me. I think he’s intimidated by my size and my waddle.”

Amelia snickered. “You might be right. It is rather startling to think that the two bravest men in England are afraid of one pregnant woman.”

 

 

 

Jacki Delecki is a Best-Selling, Romantic Suspense writer. Delecki’s Grayce Walters Series, which chronicles the adventures of a Seattle animal acupuncturist, was an editor’s selection by USA Today. Delecki’s Romantic Regency The Code Breaker Series hit number one on Amazon. Both acclaimed series are available for purchase at JackiDelecki.com.

To learn more about Jacki and her books, and to be the first to hear about contests and giveaways, join her newsletter found on her website. You can also follow Jackie on Facebook and Twitter.

 

And now for the giveaway…

Bouquets are a wedding tradition that have been around for a long time, including in Regency weddings. What is your favorite type of wedding flower?

Drop your answer in the comments below to be entered for a chance to win an ebook copy of A Wedding Code and a $10 Amazon gift card!

 

And don’t forget to always #ReadARegency!

 

Keep Calm and Read This! ~The Matchmaking Game by Donna Hatch~

Keep Calm and Read This! ~The Matchmaking Game by Donna Hatch~

I’m honored to have best-selling author Donna Hatch visit today. She has a new novella debuting April 18th, but we get a sneak peek here … and it’s available for preorder!


Title: The Matchmaking Game
Heat level: Sweet (clean)
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: Novella ~ 126 pages

 
 
Rowena’s childhood friend, Evan, has returned home from war a handsome, but mysterious stranger. In an effort to bring happiness to her father, not to mention uncover the Evan she remembers from their youth, Rowena seeks to unite their parents. Who better to match a lonely widow and widower together than their adoring children? Her matchmaking game could help their parents find happiness and draw out her childhood friend buried beneath Evan’s new reserve … or it could break more than one heart.

With a gesture at a basket tied to the saddle, she said, “I had Cook pack plenty of those seedcakes Nurse Murray likes so well, as well as lemon tarts for you.” She made a face. “I’ll be sure to grab one before you devour them all and leave me with nothing but crumbs.”

He laughed softly. “Would I do that?”

Her impish grin filled him with sunshine. “It was your habit.”

With a flippant shrug, he teased, “It was for your own good. I didn’t want you to get too fat.”

She made a gesture to her waistline. “Do I look like I need someone to monitor my eating habits?”

He made a perusal of her, letting his gaze travel from her face downward, slowly, but forgot he was supposed to be teasing her. Instead, he took a really good look. Fourteen-year-old Rowena had been as curvy as a blade of grass. Twenty-three-year old Rowena, with her figure accentuated by her fitted riding habit—so much more flattering than the normal, high-waisted gowns of the day’s fashions—had the graceful, generous curves of a Greek statue of Aphrodite. A new tightness formed inside his chest.

Rowena looked at him as if she’d never seen him before. Surprise, and something almost smug, deepened the gray of her eyes. She put a hand on a hip. “Like what you see, Captain?”

He tugged at a suddenly strangling cravat and cleared his throat. “Forgive me. You’ve changed.”

“How kind of you to notice,” she said dryly. “Give your major a leg up?”

With a smile at her reference to the honorary rank he’d given her, Evan dismounted. He laced his fingers together so she could mount her horse. A pert smile came his way before she placed her left foot in his cupped hands. She put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself as he boosted her up. Her soft body brushed his arm and chest. Her scent, something soft and feminine he could not name, tingled his senses. Mere inches away, her smooth cheek and moist lips taunted him. His chest squeezed, and his knees wobbled. Awareness of her, of the desirable woman she had become, rendered him immobile. She glanced at him, one brow raised, and a half smile curving those luscious lips. A burning energy formed in the middle of his stomach and shot outward like sunbursts.

She parted those lips and spoke. “Am I too heavy for a big, strong man like you?”

“Er, no. Of course not.” He cleared his throat again and boosted her up with a bit too much force.

Despite his aggressive boost, she placed her right leg over the leg rest of the sidesaddle and found her balance. She settled the long, heavy skirts of her riding habit around her, while he helped position her left foot in the stirrup.

With the reins in one hand and her riding crop in the other, she eyed him with an expectant lift to her brows. “Shall we?”

He shook his head, stopped staring, and mounted Otoño. It must be all Winnie’s talk about courting Rowena that had him so rattled. He couldn’t entertain such an idea. He’d made a vow to Joseph and all but promised himself to Cynthia. Besides, as an additional benefit, Cynthia’s dowry could restore the family fortune without having to sell off some of its most precious assets and break up generations of holdings. His path was already paved. Honor and duty dictated his next move.

Click Here to Pre-order on Amazon today!

Donna Hatch, author of the best-selling “Rogue Hearts Series,” is a hopeless romantic and adventurer at heart, the force that drove her to write and publish seventeen historical romance titles, to date. She is a multi-award winner, a sought-after workshop presenter, and juggles multiple volunteer positions as well as her six children. Also a music lover, she sings and plays the harp, and she loves to ballroom dance. Donna and her family recently transplanted from her native Arizona to the Pacific Northwest where she and her husband of over twenty years are living proof that there really is a happily ever after.

Click HERE to receive the first novel in her Rogue Hearts series for free.

Click HERE to subscribe to Donna’s newsletter.

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And don’t forget to always #ReadARegency!