Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt


Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt
Book Twelve of the Maiden Lane series
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Rating: 5 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael's irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he's drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael's past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael's own demons?

What I Liked:

This book. Was. Perfect. Friends, I wanted to weep after finishing it. It was so excellent for so many different reasons - I can't even begin to describe how wonderful this book was to me. I definitely won't do the story justice with this review. You all know how much I love this series? This is only the third of twelve books that I've rated five stars. It's definitely tied with the other two as my favorite. I will be thinking about this one for a long time.

We met Raphael and Iris in Duke of Pleasure, in which Iris and the Duke of Kyle (Hugh) are friends. Iris attends Hugh's wedding and they fool society into thinking that they (Iris and Hugh) got married, because they don't want anyone to know that Hugh married Alf... at least not yet. Little does Iris know that the Lords of Chaos have it out for Hugh, and they kidnap her, thinking that she is the new Duchess of Kyle. But she is rescued by a man whom she never would have expected - the Duke of Dyemore. Raphael de Chartres wants no part of the Lords of Chaos, but he does want to destroy them. Rescuing Iris from them isn't part of his revenge plan, and it only makes things harder, because he must defy the Dionysus (the leader of the Lords of Chaos). He does not kill her - instead, he marries her, to protect her. Iris slowly learns more about her new husband, and she finds out that his past is even darker than she might have imagined. 

This book broke my heart and made me swoon at the same time, which is pretty difficult to do. The story is darker than any of the other Maiden Lane books, with the heart of it involving the horror of the Lords of Chaos. Raphael's father used to be the Dionysus, and Raphael was to be initiated into the Lords. The tone of this book is bleaker than any other book in this series, but this makes the book so much more compelling and intriguing. I enjoyed it so much, darkness and all. Much like Raphael.

I'd go as far as to say that this book is Raphael's (as opposed to it being Raphael's and Iris's). Yes, both have POVs in the story. But this story is one of growth and healing for Raphael. He went through a horrible, traumatic event during his childhood, and it affected him through adulthood. It broke my heart to see him react to certain things, because of this event. He doesn't like this or that, he doesn't want children, he never planned on getting married. Raphael thinks he is such a monster, and he shrouds himself in darkness, but really he is a good man. He is bent on revenge, trying to take down the Lords, but he is a selfless, good person. 

Iris is hands-down one of my favorite heroines of the Maiden Lane series, just like Raphael. Both are in my top three for sure. Iris... she isn't a plucky, feisty, outspoken heroine. She isn't brash and loud, opinionated and demanding to be heard in any way. She is soft and quiet and caring, a light to Raphael's darkness. But she is so strong in her caring, loving nature. She isn't an alpha female and she doesn't need to be - her whole self is just as tough and assertive as an alpha female, except she is Iris Daniels, a loving, gentle soul. I adored her. I especially loved her for sticking with Raphael, for never running away or giving up on him. There is so little drama in this book because Iris had the strength to be patient with Raphael. Every time he told her to leave him, she never did.

There is a certain amount of angst in this book that I loved so much. I know, it's weird for me to be loving angst. But it was so perfect. Raphael and Iris are nearly strangers when they get married. Iris doesn't know anything about Raphael's past, the scar on his face, why he won't have sex with her like any husband would. Every time Iris would learn something new about Raphael, my heart would break a little. The angst in this book is so perfect. Raphael is so complicated, with layers and layers of hurt from many years of build-up, and it's beautiful and heartbreaking to see Iris slip through those layers one by one.

That being said, the execution of the "tough issues" of this story was excellent. The execution of the story in general was excellent. Hoyt's writing is superb as always, her world-building flawless, and her craftsmanship solid. This story is so much darker, because of the Lords of Chaos and because of Raphael's past, and Hoyt did an amazing job with bringing across the story without depressing readers. The tone of the story is darker, but it's also hopeful. 

The romance is so sweet and slow-burn. I loved watching Raphael and Iris fall for each other - especially Iris falling for Raphael. How she learns more about him and is still drawn to him. How she grows to care about him more and more, with every secret she uncovers. Raphael can't help but fall for her, because she becomes a constant that he wants, needs, and loves.

This book is quite steamy, which I appreciated! I mentioned earlier in my review that Raphael refused to have sex with Iris (at first). He has his reasons. But that doesn't mean they couldn't do... other things. The sexy times get creative, before there is "actual" sex. I was all for it!

This book has an edge and an excitement to it that isn't as present in the other books. Likely because this book deals with a man who wants revenge and he is out for blood. Taking down the Lords of Chaos is everything to Raphael. There is a lot of blood and murder in this book. There are a lot of high stakes. But this book ends extremely well, so don't worry about the HEA. It's an awesome ending to a wonderful series. Yes, this is the end of the series!

What I Did Not Like:

I can't think of anything I didn't like!

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book, and the entire series in general. The Maiden Lane series is quite possibly my favorite historical romances series ever. I've never stuck it out with a twelve-book series before, but there is no way I would have missed any of the books in this series. This final book is particularly good, a masterpiece that Hoyt has perfected for readers. It's worth all of the pain and hurt and angst, because this book is still a sweet novel, above all of that. If you don't want to read the entire series (you should though!), read Duke of Midnight, Duke of Sin, and Duke of Desire.

Rating:

5 stars. Hoyt has outdone herself with this conclusion novel. I am so happy with this book, and the series, and I'm also so sad to see the series end. I am definitely excited about new projects that Hoyt might be working on though!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#248)


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!


So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, September 17th to Saturday, September 23rd?


(all links to Goodreads are provided!)


In the mail:


An ARC of My New Crush Gave to Me by Shani Petroff

This package is so adorable! Thank you, Swoon Reads!



I. Am. OBSESSED! Thank you, Daphne! 😍😍


From Edelweiss:

  
  


Phew! I went a little click-happy with the Harper books! Auto-approval is so dangerous. I'm excited about all of these!


Reviews from this week:

  
  
(Click on the covers to go to my reviews!)


Favorite Instagram post from this week:


This weekend features the Baltimore Book Festival, and the Kristin Cashore event at Fairfax! Unfortunately I'll only be at the BBF for one day - yesterday. You can check out my Instagram story and Twitter for updates. I'll be attending the Cashore event in Fairfax, and I'll be updating during that event too! I can't wait. She is my favorite!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey


Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Book Four of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Forever Romance
Publication Date: September 26, 2016
Rating: 2 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley 

Summary (from Goodreads):

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

What I Liked:

I have so many mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it wasn't horrible, and I can see readers enjoying it. On the other hand, I didn't really like it. I love Tessa Bailey's books, and I have been a huge fan of hers for a long time. But this book just didn't do it for me.

This is the fourth and final novel in the Romancing the Clarksons series, and it features Belmont Clarkson and Sage Alexander. They have been circling each other during this entire series, but never together romantically. At the start of this book, it's just Belmont and Sage, since the other three Clarksons have taken detours during the trip, and will meet Belmont in New York for the Plunge. But Sage knows she can't stay with Belmont for this trip - she needs to take care of some business at home. Business that she knows Belmont won't like. She uses their dependency on each other as an excuse, but really, she needs to go back to her sad, terrible life in Sibley, Louisiana, so she can make things right. But Belmont will follow Sage to the ends of the earth, and he stops at nothing to help her when he learns of her situation. They both have a lot standing between them, but their love is stronger than they know.

Things I liked about this book: the characterization. I may not have loved Belmont like most readers of this series, but I can really appreciate how unique and different he is. Bailey has made him stand out completely, compared to the rest of her heroes of her various romance books, and in the romance world in general. Belmont is one of a kind. We can clearly see his character development in this story; he goes from putting Sage on a pedestal, to understanding her and loving her all the same. He overcomes some of his fears, and begins to understand his own self better.

The same can be said about Sage. She goes through a lot in this book, and she learns a lot about herself, and about Belmont. From start to finish, she is working towards a healthier, stronger relationship with Belmont. She also works through a lot of feelings she had stored up from her past, dealing with her parents and her childhood. She didn't have a traumatic or "terrible" childhood, but let's just say she had to come to terms with forgiving her parents, for a lot.

As always, Bailey writes a good romance. The chemistry between these two was always there, from the beginning of the series. This romance was interesting because Belmont and Sage clearly already love each other, but they were never together, so it's not a second-chance romance. They are a simmering fire together, and there is a pretty awesome part of the romance that I loved (but I won't say because it's something cool to discover). I wouldn't say this is one of Tessa's hottest books, but the chemistry is still good.

I liked how the book ended, for Belmont and Sage, and for the rest of the characters. We always expect a HEA from romance novels, but this book (and series) had a great HEA, and for everyone. This book was a quick read and while I didn't totally love it, I'm glad I gave it a chance.

What I Did Not Like:

If I'm being honest (which I always am!), I never really loved Belmont, like most readers I've seen. People were dying to read his story and I was just... kind of ambivalent? I didn't really care to read his story. The whole I'm-so-devoted-to-her thing that Belmont has going on was strange and sometimes a turn-off, because it was too intense. You'd have to read one of the books to know what I mean. Belmont is obsessed with Sage's well-being, her happiness, her family's situation. All of this sounds good on paper, but it's weird and a little unhealthy.

Cue my next complaint: how Belmont decides to take on Sage's burden himself (and the fact that she let him). The whole thing is that Sage goes home because her father is physically unwell, because his mining job is too demanding. So Sage goes to his employer (a mean, spiteful man) and offers to work in her father's place. And guess what Belmont does, when he shows up to Sibley? He offers to take Sage's place. I hated this. Keep in mind, Sage felt responsible because she borrowed money years ago from the man in order to get out of Sibley and to San Diego, and didn't pay him back. Her father took on her debt, as well as added his own, and he worked for the man in the deep of the mines.

It seemed incredibly unfair and unrealistic that Belmont would take Sage's place in the mines. And the fact that she let him? That's honestly ridiculous. I would never in 1000 years let a friend or a friend's brother do that (which was what Belmont was to her, at the time - not "boyfriend" yet). I definitely wouldn't let my boyfriend or husband do that. It's my responsibility, and no one would talk me out of it. Not even creepy Belmont who was obsessed with Sage's well-being. He'd have to suck it up and deal with the fact that I will pay off my and my family's debts. By myself. I would never endanger my partner like that, especially knowing he hates underground.

And to begin with - there were SOOOO many options such that Sage wouldn't have to take her father's place and work in the mines? Like, get a loan from a larger bank? From Sallie Mae? Bring in law enforcement or a legal team? Better yet - take your family and move? Or even better - pay your debts? It would be hard to leave family to suffer, but that's an option too (not a good one, obviously). My point is, there were so many better options than offering to take someone's place in the mines. And then there is the fact that Sage got a day's worth of training, before going into the mines. You need licenses and certifications to operate heavy equipment and machinery and whatnot... Sage couldn't have obtained any of that in a day. That just isn't plausible. And even if the owner were doing some illegal/shady business by letting Sage go into the mines with one day of training, that's when I would bring the law into it. You see how this makes no sense?

AND there is the fact that Belmont ended up working for MONTHS in the mines, while Sage went back to San Diego to do her wedding planning business thing. (I think? This wasn't entirely clear but that was the impression I got.) You're joking, right? I wouldn't let anyone replace me for any of my debt to begin with, but even if I did, I wouldn't just leave the man in my hometown and go? I would stay with him? This literally made no sense. 

In essence, nothing about the plot made sense. This whole plot could have been dismissed, had Sage paid the debts back, or called the police, or simply walked out of there and let her parents reap what they sowed (most of the debt came from her parents and their alcohol addiction). 

Would I Recommend It:

I don't really recommend this book. It's not a steamy, swoony love story. It's not even a satisfying story in general. The story frustrated me to no end and I couldn't connect with Belmont, or Sage. I liked how Tessa Bailey developed their characters and shed a lot of insight into their personalities and minds, but I just didn't connect. This romance novel didn't do anything for me. It wasn't enjoyable and I don't even know how I would recommend the book (like, in what situation or context). I feel like only fans of Tessa Bailey would try this book? It's not that compelling of a story if you're not a die-hard Bailey fan. Which I am. I'm so sad I didn't really like this book.

Rating:

2.5 stars -> rounded down to 2 stars. It's a shame. I started the review thinking that I would give this book a 3-star rating. But the more I think about it, the less I enjoyed the book. I wanted to like it, but I pretty much knew, as soon as Sage offered to take her father's place, that I wouldn't enjoy this book (because I knew that Belmont would offer to take hers, and the whole story was doomed from there). At least the story ends well... to a point. I'm glad this series is over because I don't think I would read the next book (if there were a fifth book).


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#243): Devils & Thieves by Jennifer Rush


- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting


This week, my swoon is from Devils & Thieves by Jennifer Rush!


(I've chosen two swoons! This first one is an "almost" swoon between Crowe and Jemmie. I found it swoony. Just me?)

I cut him off. "I should have walked home."

I moved past him for the living room. His hand snapped out and grabbed me by the wrist. Heat spread out from his touch, engulfing me, and I wondered if he felt it, too, this volcano that erupted between us whenever we touched. Only some of it had to do with magic, but I was already breathing it in as it snaked out in amber streaks around us, dark and dangerous and pulsing. 

He hadn't touched me purposefully in a long time.

- ARC, pages 59-60


(This is from Crowe and Jemmie's past - a flashback!)

"I miss this," I'd told him that night. "I miss you."

He'd glanced at me, his stupidly handsome face painted in the glow of the moon. I recognized that glint in his eyes right away because I felt it, too. I even had a name for it: hunger.

"Oh, Jemmie Carmichael," he'd said, and then he kissed me, hard and fast, his hands ghosting over my skin.

When he pulled away, just enough to get a breath, lick his already wet lips, I shivered and tangled my fingers in his hair, pulling him back in. 

- ARC, page 167




I adored this book! It has been a while since Jennifer Rush published a new one, and this one did not disappoint. Check out her Altered trilogy too!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout


Happy Wednesday! I'm so excited to share the cover of the third book in the Wicked Saga trilogy by Jennifer L. Armentrout. The book is called Brave, and it has been eagerly awaited by many fans. Are you ready to see the cover?

First, let's take a trip down memory lane...

  

Aaaaand here is the cover of Brave!


Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Book Three of the Wicked Saga series
Publication Date: December 11, 2017

Official Summary:

Ivy Morgan hasn't been feeling like herself lately. Not like anyone can blame her. After all, being held captive by a psychotic fae prince hell-bent on permanently opening the gates to the Otherworld is bound to leave some mental scars.

It’s more than that, though. Something dark and insidious is spreading throughout Ivy, more powerful than she could ever imagine... and it’s coming between her and the man she’s fallen deeply in love with, elite Order member Ren Owens. 

Ren would do anything to keep Ivy safe. Anything. But when he makes a life altering choice for her, the fallout of his act has far reaching consequences that threaten to tear their lives apart.
If Ivy is going to have any hope of surviving this, she must put aside the hurt and betrayal she feels, and work with not only those she loves, but with an enemy she would rather kill than ever trust. War is coming, and it soon becomes clear that what Ivy and Ren thought they knew about the Order, themselves, and even their enemies, has been nothing but a cluster of dangerous, deadly lies. Ivy knows she must be more than just brave to save those she loves--and, ultimately, to save herself. 

Because behind ever evil fae Prince, there’s a Queen…



The Series:



About the Author:


# 1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. She spends her time reading, working out, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, and hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki.



The Virtual Signing:

To celebrate the upcoming release of Brave, Jennifer is offering an exclusive virtual signing! Through this virtual signing, you will be able to order SIGNED & PERSONALIZED copies of Wicked, Torn, and Brave!

And best of all -- This is OPEN INTERNATIONALLY! 

- Virtual Signing opens 9/21/17 at 11AM ET
- Virtual Signing ends 11/17/17
- Open Internationally

Click HERE for more information on the Apollycon site!


The Giveaway:

Prize: Surprise signed prize pack (containing multiple signed books & swag)
• Open internationally
• Ends 10/02/17

Waiting on Wednesday (#247): The Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.


This week, I'm featuring:


The Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson
Book One of The Diminished duology
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Publication Date: April 10, 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the Alskad Empire, nearly all are born with a twin, two halves to form one whole…yet some face the world alone. 

The singleborn 

A rare few are singleborn in each generation, and therefore given the right to rule by the gods and goddesses. Bo Trousillion is one of these few, born into the royal line and destined to rule. Though he has been chosen to succeed his great-aunt, Queen Runa, as the leader of the Alskad Empire, Bo has never felt equal to the grand future before him. 

The diminished 

When one twin dies, the other usually follows, unable to face the world without their other half. Those who survive are considered diminished, doomed to succumb to the violent grief that inevitably destroys everyone whose twin has died. Such is the fate of Vi Abernathy, whose twin sister died in infancy. Raised by the anchorites of the temple after her family cast her off, Vi has spent her whole life scheming for a way to escape and live out what's left of her life in peace. 

As their sixteenth birthdays approach, Bo and Vi face very different futures—one a life of luxury as the heir to the throne, the other years of backbreaking work as a temple servant. But a long-held secret and the fate of the empire are destined to bring them together in a way they never could have imagined. 



This book was new to me until recently! It sounds really cool and the cover is stunning. I also love the fact that it is part of a duology - less waiting! :D

Excerpt Reveal: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt


Good morning and happy Wednesday! Today, I'm sharing an exclusive excerpt from Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt. This is the twelfth and final book of the Maiden Lane series. I've read each of the previous eleven books (plus the novella... plus the shorts... you get the idea). This is one of my favorite historical romance series. With it ending, now is the perfect time to binge-read!


About the Book:


Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt
Book Twelve of the Maiden Lane series
Publisher: Forever Romance
Publication Date: October 17, 2017

Official Summary:

A LADY OF LIGHT
Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping.  Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos.  When one of the masked-and-nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS
Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them.  Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans.  But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER…AND DESIRE
Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involes herself in his life—and bed.  Soon he’s drawn to both to her quick wit and her fiery passion.  But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters.  Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?



About the Author:


Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing "mesmerizing." She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.



The Excerpt:

Iris tasted of red wine—the red wine she must have drunk at dinner—and all the reasons he shouldn’t do this fled his mind. A vital chain broke in his psyche and everything he’d held back, everything he’d restrained with all his might, was suddenly set free. He surged into her mouth, desperate for the feel, for the taste of her, his wife, his duchess, his Iris. She was soft and sweet and warm and he wanted to devour her. To seize her and hold her and never let her go. The deep unfathomable well of his urges toward her frightened him, and he knew that if she became aware of them, they would frighten her as well.

But that was the thing—she wasn’t aware of them. She thought she was simply consummating their marriage or some such rot, God help them both.

She gripped his naked arms and the beast within him shuddered and stretched, claws scraping against the ground.

Dear God, he wanted this woman.

But he had to remember—to keep that human part of his mind awake and alive—that he mustn’t seed her.

Must never do as his cursed father had done.

He broke from her mouth, feeling the pulse of his cock against his breeches, and trailed his lips across her cheek to her ear. “Come with me, sweet girl.”

She blinked up at him, wide blue-gray eyes a little dazed.

He covered her mouth again before she could speak—either to consent or decline—and drew her slowly backward, step by step, toward the bed, until he hit it with the backs of his legs. He broke the kiss, looking down at her, her wet ruby lips parted, her cheeks flushed pink.

She looked edible.

“Raphael,” she whispered, his name on her lips like a plea, and something within him broke.

This wasn’t what he wanted. This wasn’t right. But it was the only thing possible and it would have to suffice because it was all he could do.

And trying to resist was killing him.

He traced a hand up her arm, over her shoulder, to her neck, and from there touched her bound golden hair. “Will you take down your hair for me?”

She gasped—a small, quick inhalation—and nodded.

He watched as she raised her arms, her stormy eyes locked on his, and withdrew the pins from her hair one by one until the heavy mass fell like a curtain around her shoulders. He bent then and gathered the locks in his hands, burying his face in her neck, inhaling her.

His woman.

He felt her tremble against him and then her fingers speared through his hair. “Raphael.”

He lifted his head.

Her hands fell away and she began undressing, her head bent down as she unhooked her bodice. He saw that her fingers fumbled and he knew that a better man would turn aside. Would give her privacy to collect herself and disrobe with modesty.

But he wasn’t such a man. He wanted all of her—her mistakes and her private moments, her shame and her worries—everything she held back from the rest of the world. As he wanted this. This moment of fumbling.

This moment of intimacy.

She pulled the bodice from her arms. Untied her skirts and let them pool around her feet before kicking them aside. Glanced up at him and then worked at the laces to her stays.

Her unbound hair fell over her shoulders, nearly to her waist, thick and swaying gently as she moved.

Beautiful.

She was beautiful.

She pulled her loosened stays off over her head and stood in chemise, stockings, and shoes. The tips of her breasts peeked out from beneath the thin cloth.

She began to bend for her shoes, but he stopped her. “No. Let me.”

He grasped her by the waist and lifted her to the bed.

Carefully he drew off her slippers, letting them drop to the hardwood floor before running his hand up her left calf. The room was so quiet he could hear each breath she drew. She watched him as he reached under her chemise, into that warm spot behind her knee, tugging at the ribbon of her garter.

Her breath hitched.

He glanced up at her as he found bare skin. Hot, so hot under her skirt. He could almost imagine he smelled her, standing between her bent legs. He pulled the first stocking off and moved to her other foot, smoothing his thumb over her arch, over that high instep, that sweet, delicate ankle. The curve of her calf—one of the loveliest curves in nature—elegant and perfect. Someday he’d like to draw her nude.

The faint, almost inaudible whisper as he pulled the ribbon off raised the hairs on the back of his neck. His nostrils flared and he couldn’t wait any longer. He lifted her bodily, moving her farther up on the bed, placing her head and shoulders against the pillows, and then pushed up her chemise, crawling between her spread thighs and settling to enjoy what he’d found.

There. There she was, her pretty, pretty pink cunny, all coral lips and wispy dark-blond curls. He hiked her trembling legs over his arms, ignoring her gasp of shocked surprise. He glanced up once and saw wide, wondering eyes gazing back at him. Her gentlemanly first husband had evidently never done this to her.

More fool he.