5. Waking Up with the Duke by Lorraine Heath. When I finished this book, my immediate reaction was to admit that I was simply impressed by the risks Heath took in writing about a couple who deliberately commit adultery. I'm writing this several months after having read it, and I'm still ambivalent as to whether I consider it a "phave" or not. In case you missed it, Jayne is married and her husband (Wolfort) is paralyzed from a carriage accident several years previously. His health is (conveniently) declining as well. Wolfort wants Jayne to be able to have a baby and he suggests that Jayne and his cousin (and best friend, Ainsley, the Duke) have an affair in hopes that she would become pregnant. Since this is set in a time when divorce was this close to impossible, you know going in that Jayne's husband will have to die in order for there to be a happy ending between she and Ainsley. And how happy a future can you envision when a relationship begins in such a way? Was Jayne emotionally coerced? Will guilt tarnish their future relationship? Oh, and it turns out Wolfort and Ainsley have been keeping a Big Secret. Lots of interesting questions are raised by this book to the point where it certainly stuck with me and I think that counts for a lot. Parts of it were quite emotional. Near the end, though, it went a little over the top. And now that I write this, I think that had July been a better reading month, I may not have included it here. Nonetheless, if you're a fan of Heath, it may well be worth a read. In the end, I am actually glad I read it.
4. The Eyes of Love by Katherine Storm. Katherine Storm is a pen name used by Karen Ranney for some self-pubbed ebooks. TEoL is a contemporary romantic suspense about a modern-day Duke and an American woman who meet when they are both seeking some solitude on a small island off the Texas coast. Maggie is recovering from a serious accident and Richard is with his two young children hiding from the tabloid press. To put it very simply, they become involved. At the same time, Richard becomes the target of a Scottish radical. I am such a fan of Ranney's work and I love the emotional nature of her writing. It was fun to read something by her in a different sub-genre and I enjoyed the blend of romance and suspense in this book.
3. You Belong to Me by Karen Rose. I think I say the exact same thing every time I mention one of Rose's books. They're fast-paced, tightly plotted books that always have me thoroughly engrossed to the exclusion of all else until I finish them. It's exhausting I tell you. As usual, the villain is a sick psychopath and so this is not a book for the faint of heart. Lucy is a medical examiner and J.D. is a Baltimore homicide detective. Together they investigate a series of murders that appear to be tied to Lucy in some way. It's a race against time. Deftly woven into the suspense is the romance between Lucy and J.D. This is the first book in a new series and would be an excellent introduction to Rose if you've never read her before.
2. Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase. It's such a treat when Chase has a new book out and this was no exception. I remember just inhaling this and was so sorry to see it end. Marcelline is co-owner with her two sisters of a London dress shop and they are striving to become the number one shop in town. Marcelline decides that the best way to attract clients is to become the dressmaker for the Duke of Clevedon's future bride, Clara. Marcelline does this by chasing down Clevedon in Paris and making herself known to him. She's very clear that she asprires to be Clara's dressmaker. Clevedon, attracted to her bold beauty, wants more. This is a very clever story that deftly compares and contrasts the lives and lifestyles of aristocrats vs. those who have to work for a living. There's never anything preachy in the tone, nor is there a false sense of egalitarianism. There are wonderful layers here as well. For example, Clevedon is passionate about very little while Marcelline is passionate about her work. They each have a lot to teach the other and since it is told with Chase's inimitable wit, it's great fun to watch them change and grow. Now I want to go back and re-read it!
1. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville. This book just barely nudges past Silk is for Seduction for top spot this month. Both were such entertaining reads! Celia and Tarquin find themselves caught up in an adventure together. Celia had been kidnapped and is being held in a small cottage not too far from Tarquin's estate. On his way home, Tarquin is attacked and beaten when he accidentally stumbles upon the place where Celia is held. The two had met previously in London; it had not gone well when the fashionable Tarquin had insulted Celia. Now Tarquin has amnesia and Celia has the chance for a bit of revenge. With nothing more than the clothes on their back, the two of them need to run for their lives. As they do so, they fall in love. Tarquin's amnesia doesn't last long, but now enough has happened between the two of them that they are forced to re-examine their beliefs about the other. I really appreciated how Neville used the first part of the book to strip both characters down to essentials. As the book continues they both have to deal with what they learned about themselves and one another. This is Neville's 4th book and all have landed in my list of "phaves."