I’ve read two books back to back that were excellent. Not only were they excellent, they focused on a topic that is still very much a problem today – abuse towards women. It’s hard to imagine loving books were the heroines are very damaged by the actions of men who are supposed to love and cherish them, but it is a sad reality since the start of time. What was so uplifting about these books is that the women get the happily ever after you want for them. They have been through hell, literally and figuratively and come through it stronger and loved. I highly recommend these books. It’s not often you find a really well-crafted story that engages you as a reader but also provokes you to look outside the book to reality and see things for how they are.
I’ve Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm by Kelly Bowen
Overview by Amazon:
WHERE SECRETS SMOLDER . . .
Calm. Cool. Collected. Gisele Whitby has perfected the art of illusion-her survival, after all, has depended upon it. Years ago, to escape an abusive husband, Gisele “disappeared.” Now she must risk revealing her new identity to save another innocent girl from the same fate. But she needs a daring man for her scheme, and the rogue in question shows a remarkable talent . . . for shattering Gisele’s carefully constructed facade and igniting her deepest desires.
. . . PASSION IGNITES
This isn’t the first time Jamie Montcrief has awakened naked and confused from a night of drinking. It is, however, the first time a stunningly beautiful woman offers him payment afterward. Gisele has a business proposition for him, a mission involving cunning thievery and a brazen rescue. How can he say no to a plot this dangerous . . . and a woman this delectable?
This story opens with Gisele looking for a man to pose as gentlemen. She finds scruffy Jamie in an inn and reluctantly takes him on as her employee for the dangerous mission she has in mind. Along with Sebastien her faithful friend, they make a memorable first appearance with Jamie.
Jamie passes muster and they head off on a trial mission with him. He is so intrigued by the beautiful Gisele. She is not what she appears and he is desperate to know more about her and why they are doing on this mission. He finds out quickly that they are saving a young pregnant girl from her abusive husband. He can’t fathom that this is what they spend their time doing. But quickly Jamie learns that Gisele won’t be stopped, as she is a force to be reckoned with and has done this many times.
However the next mission is deeply personal for Gisele. She is returning to London, a place she swore she would never return. Her husband is about to remarry. He believes she is dead as she faked her death to escape the horrid abuse she endured during their four year marriage. She has to save his new bride from him, and that is where Jamie comes in to play.
Gisele and Sebastien lucked out when they selected Jamie. Not only is he a highly decorated Calvary officer, he is the bastard son of a duke. However, it’s an interesting twist to his story. He is a bastard by two hours. His parents wed right after his birth, went on to have more children and remained happily married for their lives. He should have been the duke, was raised in the family home obviously and was treated as a full son. His younger brother now has the title and there is a family falling out that has him wallowing in his grief and despair. However he is the perfect man for their plan, as he has access to the ton without having to don a disguise.
Gisele has a benefactor in the Duchess of Worth. She was such a riot and a great form of comedic relief as this book had some heavy content. She pretends to be an old bitty, yet she is sharp as a tack. She pretends to have an obsession with chickens in order to deflect attention to her other interests. She even brings a live chicken with her to a ball. I almost choked at the shenanigans she gets into. She helps Gisele with her missions and helps her when she returns to London.
Things get hot between Jamie and Gisele. He is charged with entering London society and meeting Gisele’s husband, the Marquis of Valence and his new fiancé. Gisele hasn’t put abducting her or ruining her off the table, which horrifies Jamie, but as he gets to know Gisele he sees the depth of the Marquis depravity.
The Marquis was obsessed with Gisele. He abused her in every way possible. He controlled her life to the inch and made her suffer. Gisele is really scared because for the first time she feels attraction. She wants Jamie like he wants her. As the reader, you totally understand where Gisele is coming from. To give up control to another man, to feel attraction must be petrifying and to succumb to passion must be the ultimate in trying to move beyond the memories of abuse.
The sex scenes between Gisele and Jamie were smoking hot! The author creates a combustible passion between the two that burns up the pages. The passion never detracted from the story, but only added to the importance of freeing Gisele.
You know that now that Jamie is out in society and that he loves Gisele, he can’t marry her as she is already married. Even if she was willing to be a bigamist, Gisele is too well known to reappear amongst the ton. So as the reader, you know that something has to happen to the evil Marquis.
That was the tense, enjoyable time of the book. How would they get the Marquis? The anticipation of the plans Gisele puts in place to drive Valence mad were ingenious and scary. I was on the edge of my seat to see what would happen next. I loved how the story unfolded and the bravery Gisele shows when confronting her demons.
This could just be a story about an abused woman, but rather it is a great love story with a side of revenge. The passion of Jamie and Gisele was really well written and I loved them as a couple. While Jamie may never be a duke as the title of the book suggests, he is her knight in shining armour. This is a great story and I highly recommend this book.
The Other Duke by Jess Michaels
Overview by Netgalley:
For years Serafina McPhee has been engaged to marry the heir to the Duke of Hartholm and for almost as long, she has been struggling to find a way out of that engagement. When he suddenly dies, she does not mourn but thrills at the idea that she will be free. Unfortunately, best laid plans go awry when the next in line for the title, her intended’s cousin, Raphael “Rafe” Flynn is forced to take over the engagement. But Serafina knows Rafe’s reputation as a libertine and wants nothing to do with him, either, even if he is devastatingly handsome.
She proposes an arrangement: she will agree to the marriage and provide Rafe with his heir and spare. Once she has done her duty, he will let her go. Rafe is intrigued both by her beauty and by her utter disgust with the idea of being his bride. Women normally fall at his feet, not cringe away from him. However, since their arranged marriage is not something he can escape, he agrees to her terms.
But when he finds out on their wedding night the truth about her torture at the hands of his predecessor, he finds himself driven not just to fulfill his bargain with his new bride, but to introduce her to desire. While they move closer together, surrendering to wicked pleasures, dangerous emotions may violate every agreement they’ve made.
I really enjoyed this book. It was another hit for Jess Michaels, as all her books are! She creates compelling characters that make you care about them and their happiness. As you read the story, it’s like an onion that you peel away layers getting closer and closer to knowing the true depth of Rafe and Serafina. I fell more and more in love with both of them then more I read.
Serafina is a beautiful woman. A truly beautiful woman that holds you eye and your breath when you look at her. She has been sold by her father into an unholy union with Cyril, the Duke of Hartholm as a child. She has been prepared all her life for the role of duchess. It appears and is described as a shallow, lonely existence that she has lived.
Rafe comes from the ‘Infamous Flynn’ family and inherits the title after Cyril dies in a very
scandalous carriage accident. His side of the family has been the black sheep and had very little to do with the duchy. All of a sudden Rafe is thrust into the role of Duke. Something he never wanted or aspired to. It’s not just the duchy with its empty coffers, but also a marriage arrangement that he can’t break. He must fulfill Cyril’s obligations and marry Serafina.
We get to meet Rafe’s family right away and they are as lovely as they are infamous. His family cares deeply for him and worry intensely that the new role of Duke will change him and force him into a life he is not happy with. Rafe existed on the fringes of society, gambling, wenching and making a fortune as he saw fit. He doesn’t need the role of Duke or a bride, but he has little choice, especially with Serafina’s horrible father bleating his displeasure about Cyril’s death to anyone who will listen.
Serafina shows more intellect and cunning then she is given credit for. She asks Rafe to negotiate with her. They negotiate that they will have a marriage in name only. They will remain together to let gossip die down and come together to create an heir and spare, then Serafina will have her freedom and her own home.
It seems inconceivable that Serafina would want this arrangement. She barely knows Rafe. He could be a good guy for all she knows, but as the reader gets to know Serafina and the life she has lived you understand why freedom is so important to her. Eventually the question becomes freedom or love, but the author takes you on a journey before she faces that choice.
On the wedding night, we learn that Serafina is not a virgin. For years she has been tormented and abused by Cyril. Your heart breaks for Serafina as you imagine the horrible images that torment her. This is where Rafe truly shines. He takes Serafina back to him home as soon as she utters the truth and admits she is tormented by the ducal bedroom. He immediately recognizes that Serafina is scarred by the actions of her family’s neglect and Cyril’s abuse. He is immensely attracted to her body, but also her courage.
And so begins the hottest love scenes I have read in a while. Over the next week, Rafe promises to go slow and teach Serafina about passion. He gives her control to say when, where and no. This is something she has never had. I adored that Rafe gave her the consideration of being in charge of her body and passion. They start with long slow kisses, progress to touching and caressing and eventually to mind-blowing orgasms. Rafe nurtures her fledgling passion and strokes her to heights she never imagined could exist. With all this wonderful intimacy and likely lots of feel good hormones, they develop a friendship together. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a historical romance novel that features such a lovely breakfast scene of two people figuring out life together.
Rafe needs Serafina to help steer his way in society. He must help the gossip die down and learn his responsibilities as a Duke. She has been trained for this her whole life and wants to be his partner. It truly did feel as though they were each other’s mentors. Rafe tutored her in passion and family and her in the role he had assumed.
Of course it’s not all roses and sunshine. There are mysterious events that put Rafe’s life in jeopardy. He brushes them off at first, but eventually he can’t deny that someone is out to get him. Who knew being a Duke could is so life threatening? This is a great twist in the plot line that provides the impetuous for Serafina and Rafe to face their issues.
The issues they face are the choice Serafina must make. Does she want a life with love and the chances that go along with it or the freedom she negotiated before she knew Rafe? As the reader, you are rooting for Rafe and yelling at Serafina not to let something go as special as their intimate bond. That is when you know you are reading a book that catapults you into the story and pulls at your heart strings.
I adored this book. I loved the characters and the plot. I thought that Rafe was a wonderful man. I did wonder about his life before he meets Serafina. Some of it is referenced, but I wanted to know where he went and who his friends were, but in the end, it didn’t matter as he helps to heal Serafina and bring her into the light. I strongly recommend this book when it is published in January. Another great hit for Jess Michaels!