Series: Scandalous Highlanders (Book .5)
Duncan Lenox lives surrounded by enemies, a MacLawry in a land of Campbells. But when an English beauty has nowhere else to turn, he feels obligated to help. Now that they must spend a night together in an abandoned cottage while a storm rages on, will their mutual passion save -- or doom -- them both?
Very short, but very fun story. Julia was visiting Aberdeen with her family when an overzealous suitor kidnapped her in an attempt to force a marriage between them. Though somewhat naive, she isn't stupid and bides her time. When they arrive at his home she takes the first opportunity to steal a horse and attempt to escape. This attempt doesn't go as planned and she stumbles on Duncan Lenox, who is bathing naked in the lake. This could have been a case of going from bad to worse, but Duncan turns out to be the rescuer she needs.
I really loved these two characters. Even though the story is short, I felt like their characters were well developed. Julia is somewhat impulsive, which is what got her into trouble, but smart enough to know she needs to get away. Once she does, even when she ends up on foot, she knows she needs to make it hard for her kidnapper to find her. I loved her first encounter with Duncan and the impression he made on her. She wasn't going to be too trusting to begin with, having learned her lesson, but was willing to be convinced.
When Duncan spies a bedraggled English lass wrapped in his kilt as he finishes his swim, he has no idea what to make of her. Once he hears her story, he knows she needs his help and feels compelled to give it. I loved the way he tries so hard to put her at ease, but lets her know that he needs the truth of what happened to her. The scene in the cabin as he's trying to get to that truth was pretty funny. When he finds out what happened to her, his protective instincts kick in. There's something about her that really calls to him. I really enjoyed his confrontation with the kidnapper that night.
I was a bit surprised at what Julia did, but she seemed to know just what she wanted and was willing to go after it. Duncan also seemed to be willing to take the risk, knowing that it could end badly. Once they arrived at his home, I really enjoyed seeing what transpired. I loved the solution he came up with to save Julia when the bad guy returned with reinforcements. I loved the way the story ended and hope to see them again in a later book.
ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS SCANDAL by Alexandra Hawkins
Series: Lords of Vice (Book 8)
Lady Ellen is outraged when she learns her dowry's been increased by her dad, eager to draw every bachelor in England to her front door. So when Lord Swainsbury comes knocking, Ellen assumes he's another dreadful fortune hunter. Little does she know that Swainsbury has completely fallen for her -- body, heart, and soul....
Lady Ellen is furious with her parents, who have tripled the size of her dowry. Her father is very ill and wants her settled before he dies. Unfortunately, all Ellen sees are men who are more interested in the money than in her. She would much rather continue to stay at home and help care for her father. Her mother has planned a large house party for over the holidays, and many of those same bachelors have been invited. Ellen is determined to avoid being caught by any of them.
Derrick has wangled an invitation to the party through an acquaintance of his. That man thinks Derrick is another who is interested in Ellen's dowry, but Derrick actually has a far different agenda. Several years earlier his sister had married a man while he was out of the country. By the time he returned, his sister was dead, her husband and all her money had disappeared. Derrick wants to find that man and see him punished, and thinks that Ellen is a prime target for a repeat performance. He is determined to protect Ellen from the danger he sees.
I liked the relationship that grew between Derrick and Ellen. I enjoyed their first meeting in the conservatory. Their conversation was proper but seemed to have some undertones to it, especially from Derrick. He found her far more attractive than he expected. His plan is to give the impression that he is one of those courting her for her dowry, but he finds himself truly attracted to her. Ellen did not expect to find herself attracted to one of the men she sees as fortune hunters. She's not one to just sit back and take what others intend for her, and when she goes to Derrick's room to see what she can find out about him, she discovers he's not what she expected. This intrigues her even more as he tells her why he is really there.
I really liked the way that Derrick's protectiveness turned to more. When her father had an attack, I loved seeing Derrick take care of Ellen, trying to relieve some of her distress. The passion that followed brought them closer as they wait to see if his suspicions are correct. I enjoyed the scene between Derrick and her brother and his friends just before the villain made his move. I loved what he said about the dowry. One of the best parts about the confrontation with the bad guy was Ellen's ingenuity and how she didn't wait to be rescued.
THE SCANDAL BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Elizabeth Essex
Series: Reckless Brides (Book 3.5)
Lieutenant Ian Worth needs a wife by Christmas. He has to find her, woo her, and wed her before he goes back to sea. Anne Lesley is a shy spinster with no prospects, so she accepts Ian's hasty offer only for the security it will bring. But when a midwinter storm rolls in, things start to heat up between them... and they might just find true, honest-to-goodness love....
I really liked this story a lot, though I wasn't too sure I would at the beginning. Ian is a young naval officer, second son to a viscount. One day near Christmas his father shows up at Ian's home in Portsmouth, demanding that Ian leave the navy and get married. It seems that Ian's older brother has been badly injured, and if he lives at all, may never walk again, leaving it up to Ian to secure the family line. Dear old dad is really obnoxious, and before he knows it, Ian is telling him that he's already married, even though he isn't. This means that he has to find a marry a woman asap. As he's sitting in a local tavern wondering what he's going to do, he encounters a former colleague who is leaving the service and going home to his family. It just so happens that he has a daughter who is the quiet type who would be happy with solitude when Ian isn't around. Ian makes arrangements for the colonel to bring his daughter to his home for the marriage to take place.
When the colonel, his wife and his daughter arrive, Ian is dismayed. Anne is so quiet and plain that she all but disappears when anyone else is around. Quiet he wouldn't mind so much, he feels, but how can he possibly consider being with someone he can't even look at? When Anne accompanies her parents to their rooms, Ian begins to complain and make disparaging comments to his friend and servant, Pinky, not knowing that Anne had started back down the stairs and heard everything he said. Anne then exited the house, furious and hurt and wondering how she could possibly marry such a man. At this point I was totally disgusted with Ian and his selfish attitude and wondered if there was any hope for him at all.
Fortunately, Ian redeemed himself rather quickly. I liked the fact that he immediately followed her and apologized for his rudeness. He admitted to her that he considers himself to be rather shallow, but will do his best to be worthy of her if she will just give him a chance.
I liked Anne very much. She is a young woman who is happiest when she is being quiet and still, reading or thinking or just entertaining herself. She likes being outdoors rather than spending too much time inside. Her appearance of fading into the background is a self-defense mechanism, as her mother is one who couldn't be still or quiet to save her life. Anne looks at marriage to Ian as her only hope for a life of her own. She is somewhat overcome by Ian's good looks and obvious charm as she has never been around anyone like him. She starts out barely able to look at him or talk above a whisper and a few words at a time. But Ian puts some real effort into trying to make amends and by the time they go back in the house he feels that he's making some progress. He also thinks that maybe there is more to Anne than he first thought.
I really enjoyed seeing Ian exert himself to bring Anne out of her shell. In doing so he discovered that they had more in common than he had originally thought. He also finds that he is, quite surprisingly, attracted to her, which he considers a bonus. He realizes that she is quite innocent and sets out to flirt with her and try to make her more comfortable with him. The scene in the library when Ian shows her his books was fantastic. Things are going quite well in that regard, until Ian's father shows up, making rude comments about her looks, and whether or not she's pregnant yet. Ian confesses to Anne about his lies, and she agrees to uphold the deception if they can just keep his father and her parents apart. Unfortunately a storm strands his father there, making keeping the secret difficult at best.
I really enjoyed seeing Anne gain confidence in herself and the relationship between her and Ian. There were some really fun parts as they tried to keep their secret, and were aided and abetted by Ian's servant. I loved seeing the two of them grow closer and happier with the prospects for a good marriage. There comes a point when Ian's father goes too far and I absolutely loved seeing Ian face him down calmly and firmly, leaving no question about what was going to happen. The ending was fantastic.
I also liked the way the secondary characters were portrayed. Anne's mother was silly and thoughtless and seeing the type of person she was made it clear why Anne is the person she is. I loved Ian's friend and servant Pinky. He's quite a character, being a retired seaman, but he is also really sweet. He goes to a lot of trouble to make Anne feel comfortable. He also is terrific at anticipating Ian's needs, and always seems to be one step ahead of Ian. I loved his part in the activities of Christmas morning. Ian's father is the character that I detested the most. His callous attitude about his older son's injuries was disgusting. His attempts to force Ian to give up the life he loved were incredibly selfish, and his rudeness to Anne and her father was awful. The best thing he had ever done was send Ian off to the navy when he was a boy, though that comes back to bite him in the butt.
IT HAPPENED UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Valerie Bowman
Series: Secret Brides (Book 3.5)
Oliver Townsende intends to avoid the hordes of marriage-minded misses at a friend's holiday party. When he meets Miss Cerian Blake, who's dodging her own unwanted set of admirers, the two decide to join forces and fake an infatuation to keep their suitors at bay. But when mistletoe becomes involved, will their Christmastime prank turn into a love to last all seasons?
Very fun story of two people who come to each other's rescue and find love at the same time. Both Oliver and Cerian are guests at a Christmastime house party who find themselves under siege by members of the opposite sex. Oliver has recently inherited his title of duke and has found himself the target of a particularly aggressive young lady. As he is literally running from her, he takes refuge in a silver closet, hoping to hide from her, only to discover that the closet is already occupied. Cerian is a young lady with an impressive dowry who is being pursued by several gentlemen who seem more interested in her money than herself. She wants the chance to fall in love with someone who doesn't care about the money, but her mother is set on Cerian marrying a title. After discovering their common problem, Oliver suggests that they pretend an interest in each other for their mutual protection.
I really liked both Cerian and Oliver. He knows he needs to marry, but he would really like to find someone who doesn't care about the title. Unfortunately, since inheriting, it's impossible for him to tell the difference. Finding Cerian seems like the answer to a prayer because she really doesn't want to marry a man with a title. He also discovers that pretending to be interested in her isn't hard at all. In fact, he finds he doesn't have to pretend at all. I loved watching him get closer to her as the week went on, while trying to convince himself that he is still pretending. He tries to do what he thinks is right when threats are made against her, but that only makes him more miserable. I loved the conversation between him and Medford in the barn, when he finally faces his feelings and realizes what he has to do.
Cerian is quite at odds with her mother. Mom wants her to marry a man with a title, but the idea of it terrifies Cerian. She is used to her simple life in Wales and the prospect of having to deal with the complexities of a society life in unthinkable. Though Oliver is a duke, as they are only pretending, she feels quite comfortable with him - at least until the first time he kisses her. Suddenly she's feeling things she's never felt before, and has to keep reminding herself they are only pretending. By the end of the week she has quite fallen for him, but can't believe he would really be interested in her. I loved the ending and how Oliver made his feelings clear in front of everyone.
I really enjoyed seeing Oliver and Cerian thwart Lady Selina and her attempts to capture Oliver. I detested her mother and the threats she made and thought they both got what they deserved at the end. I loved the gray cat and its matchmaking efforts.