Christie Ridgway

A duke falls in love with his secretary, a fairy-tale romance gets a second chance and fate brings two people together in this month’s romance column.

The Duchess Hunt

A no-nonsense duke is secretly crushing on his no-nonsense secretary in Lorraine Heath’s utterly delicious Victorian romance The Duchess Hunt. Upon becoming Duke of Kingsland, Hugh Brinsley-Norton built back the family fortune with the help of his trusted and long-serving secretary, Penelope Pettypeace, who has quietly become his best friend. Now he’s asked her to find him the perfect duchess, even though he’s increasingly fascinated with Penelope. Penelope knows she’s in love with Hugh, but her loyalty to him means she will dedicate herself to selecting the wife of his dreams from the eager ladies of high society, despite the fact that it will break her heart. With desperate secrets on the verge of being revealed and an engagement announcement ball on the horizon, will true love win? Smart characters with shadowy pasts, great sexual tension and steamy love scenes create a grand romance.

Eight Perfect Hours

As Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis begins, Londoner Noelle Butterby is just getting by. She deferred her dreams of becoming a florist several years ago in order to take care of her mother after she had a stroke, and now Noelle has also recently ended a serious relationship. Under it all, the loss of her best friend, Daisy, when they were teenagers has troubled her for years. Out of the blue comes a charming meet cute: During a snowy traffic jam, her car is stopped beside that of Sam, an American on his way out of the country. They hit it off, talking for hours until they’re free to go their separate ways. Noelle can’t stop thinking of him, and then he serendipitously comes back into her life. Again. And again. Until they both begin to wonder if something larger is at work. Louis’ sense of place is marvelous, vivid and lived-in, whether the couple is stuck on a road or sharing confidences in a laundromat. Suspend disbelief and just sit back for this tender kisses-only journey from heartache to happily ever after.

Once More Upon a Time

Bestselling YA fantasy author Roshani Chokshi pens her first adult romance in Once More Upon a Time. Married and enchanted with each other, Prince Ambrose and Princess Imelda thought they had it all, until Imelda fell ill and Ambrose gave up their love to a witch in order to save Imelda’s life. A year and a day later, the same witch offers them a chance to recover their lost love if they’ll retrieve a potion for her. Ambrose and Imelda aren’t completely convinced they want to fall in love with each other again, but as they team up to fight cannibals and changelings, they come to appreciate things they never really knew about each other. Amusing and imaginative—particular proof is a dry-witted horse of many uses and a walnut that opens to reveal magic dresses—this novella is told from the perspective of the lovers but also that of the witch, who has fabulous taste in handbags and looks great for her age (or so she says). This kisses-only fantasy road trip is lots of fun.

A duke falls in love with his secretary, a fairy-tale romance gets a second chance and fate brings two people together in this month’s romance column.

A queer romance threatens to upend a reality dating show in this month’s romance column.

★ I’m Only Wicked With You

Historical romance doesn’t get more glorious than Julie Anne Long’s I’m Only Wicked With You, the third book in her Palace of Rogues series. While residing at a genteel London boardinghouse, self-educated and ambitious American Hugh Cassidy meets Lady Lillias Vaughn, an earl’s sheltered daughter. Hugh’s on a mission for a friend and has no time for or interest in aristocratic debutantes, but he’s fascinated by Lillias’ beauty and quiet strength. Lillias is equally struck by Hugh’s handsome face and clever ways, but she’s also nursing a secret heartache. The pull between them is undeniable, and though they try to ignore it, the attraction proves overpowering. The slow burn flares to fire, and then they’re in real trouble. Filled with witty banter, yearning and lush descriptions of passion, as well as wonderful, fully drawn secondary characters, this romance hits every note just right. Readers will be sighing in satisfaction at the gratifying happily ever after.

The Charm Offensive

Alison Cochrun twines an earnest exploration of mental health and sexuality through a truly memorable love story in The Charm Offensive. Dev Deshpande works as a producer on the reality dating show “Ever After.” It’s a dream job until he’s assigned to be handler of this season’s “prince,” germaphobic and touch-wary tech whiz Charlie Winshaw. Diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety, Charlie hopes his TV stardom will erase his reputation of being difficult to work with. But he’s not particularly attracted to any of the women vying to become his soulmate, and he can’t stop thinking about Dev, with his busy brain and big heart. Can Charlie blow up his chance at a professional second act to reach for a different kind of future? Cochrun has a lot of fun with the behind-the-scenes glimpses of “Ever After,” but it’s The Charm Offensive’s tenderness and deep, believable emotion that will linger in readers’ hearts. 

Breaking Badger

There are no dull pages in Breaking Badger by Shelly Laurenston. Siberian tiger shifter Finn Malone learns no good deed goes unpunished when he comes to the aid of a band of honey badger shifters under attack. They’re energetic, unpredictable and impossible for him to understand, but then he discovers that these women might be the key to finding out who’s responsible for the murder of his father. He and his brothers try to enlist their help, leading to more chaos as well as a surprising attraction to badger/hyena hybrid shifter Mads Galendotter. As usual, readers entering a Laurenston universe will find themselves immersed in a strange world full of family, friends and shifter dynamics that never fail to amuse. Secondary characters with smart mouths and interesting abilities boost the high-octane entertainment. There’s nonstop banter, plenty of blood and gore and flaming-hot lovemaking as the intrepid Mads battles her dangerous relatives while learning that teammates can be friends and that your true family is the one you choose.

A queer romance threatens to upend a reality dating show in this month’s romance column.

Cults, fairy godmothers and a lot of Scottish whisky! This month’s romance column is sure to liven up your TBR list.

Men Are Frogs

Love proves truly magical in Men Are Frogs by Saranna DeWylde. After wedding planner Zuri Davis’ latest event goes awry, she leaves Chicago for Ever After, Missouri. Her new job at Fairy Godmothers, Inc. sounds promising, and her first glimpse of Ever After almost makes her believe that magic is real. And in DeWylde’s world, it is! There are enchanted castles, talking beasts and a charming prince cursed to be a frog from sundown to sunup. It takes time for Zuri to believe what’s before her eyes, and readers will enjoy watching her learn to accept her new fairy-tale surroundings. She even falls for the prince, only to (of course) discover he’ll stay a frog forever unless saved by true love’s kiss. There’s so much delightful imagination at play here; every page sparkles with fun and clever wordplay. A modern romp with Grimm throwbacks, Men Are Frogs has a decidedly poignant side that touches the heart even as it incites smile after smile.

Devil in Disguise

An aristocratic widow and a Scottish whisky distiller make an unexpected match as Lisa Kleypas continues her Ravenels series with Devil in Disguise. The head of her late husband’s shipping business, Lady Merritt Sterling meets Keir MacCrae when he’s recently arrived in London and in a well-deserved bad mood. But she’s instantly fascinated with the big and beautiful Keir, who is equally smitten with the composed, capable Merritt. She’s far above him socially, and he vows to keep his distance, though such vows never prevail against the will of a woman and sizzling mutual desire. Merritt and Keir succumb to a single night of passion that only serves to nourish their growing love. But besides issues of class, wealth and geography, there is the slight problem of someone trying to kill Keir. The unraveling of that mystery will please Kleypas fans as favorite former characters get involved in the story. But Devil in Disguise truly stands out thanks to Kleypas’ masterful blend of blazing ardor and tender yearning. Readers will bask in this lovely romance that hits every emotion just right.

Say Goodbye

Karen Rose pens a thrilling conclusion to her Sacramento series in Say Goodbye. Former pro basketball player-turned-FBI agent Tom Hunter is on the case of the cult known as Eden, which is hiding somewhere in the rural Pacific Northwest. Hayley Gibbs, a young pregnant woman, is being held by the cult against her will, and Tom and his team are determined to find her before she gives birth. To make matters more dangerous, DJ, a ruthless member of Eden intent on taking control of the group, is piling up bodies and threatening the lives of those Tom cares about—including his best friend, Liza Barkley. Can he concentrate on the crimes at hand even as his relationship with Liza begins to shift? Multiple viewpoints, including those of DJ and Hayley, ratchet up the tension. Chock-full of twists and scares, this is spine-chilling and heart-satisfying romantic suspense.

Cults, fairy godmothers and a lot of Scottish whisky! This month’s romance column is sure to liven up your TBR list.

Two Regency romances and a Western friends-to-lovers tale will charm with their good-natured characters.

★ West End Earl

A Regency-era aristocrat finds love right under his nose in West End Earl by Bethany Bennett. Calvin, Earl of Carlyle, enjoys his life and his friends, one of whom is Adam Hardwick, a young man whom he took under his wing. After a childhood of scandals, handsome and clever Cal works to keep his days drama-free. Then he discovers that “Adam” is actually Ophelia, who created the disguise to save herself from a dangerous uncle. This revelation turns Cal’s world on its axis, and as he takes a second and then third look at his friend, his feelings become the opposite of platonic. Ophelia desires him, too, but can they keep their new relationship secret? Between Cal’s wayward younger sister and his father’s attempts to marry him off, all looks lost for true love. Ophelia is just as clever as Cal (as a particularly delightful stratagem near the end of the book more than proves), but can they overcome all the obstacles standing in the way of happily ever after? Damsels donning trousers to hide their identities is a beloved romance novel trope—These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer springs to mind—and it provides delicious, sexy fun in West End Earl.

Hope on the Range

Hope on the Range by Cindi Madsen takes readers west to find love. Cowboy heroes and a friends-to-lovers plot tick a pair of popular romance boxes, and Madsen’s take on them doesn’t disappoint as next-ranch neighbors Tanya Greer and Brady Dawson finally discover that just being buddies isn’t enough. Tanya has been aware of her feelings for a while, and when she at last decides to speak up, their mutual passion is unleashed. But they’re not in clover quite yet, as Tanya dreams of a career that might take her away from home . . . and away from Brady. Beyond the central love story, there’s also romance between the teens at Brady’s horse therapy ranch, rodeo events to win and heart-tugging horses in need of rescue. Madsen writes with an assured, warm voice that matches this life-affirming love story. Optimism abounds in this sunny romance that will surely leave Western romance fans smiling.

A Duke in Time 

A veteran duke is determined to help his fellow soldiers as they return home in A Duke in Time by Janna MacGregor. But first, Christian, Duke of Randford, must deal with the mess his deceased half-brother, Meri, left behind: three wives, each unaware that her husband had married other women. Their scandalous predicament can’t be ignored, and neither can Christian’s immediate attraction to Katherine “Kat” Vareck, Meri’s first wife. While Christian would prefer to focus on helping his regiment, he’s distracted by Kat, a self-made businesswoman who sells fine linens to the aristocracy. But after he realizes Kat’s expertise might help his charity efforts, they spend more time together and begin to fall in love. There’s more at stake than hearts, however: Kat, Christian and Meri’s other two “widows” have their reputations and livelihoods to worry about, as well as past sorrows to come to terms with. This excellent Regency romance, the first in the Widow Rules series, stands out thanks to its detailed love scenes and swoon-inducing dialogue. 

Two Regency romances and a Western friends-to-lovers tale will charm with their good-natured characters.

The myth of Hades and Persephone gets a sexy, modern update in this month’s romance column.

 Neon Gods

The Hades-Persephone myth gets a modern spin in Katee Robert’s imaginative retelling, Neon Gods, the first book in the Dark Olympus duology. In this clever and sexy tale, Persephone is a socialite forced into an unwanted engagement to the murderous Zeus. In her flight from the announcement party, she runs across the River Styx and into the arms of Hades. She thought he was dead, or a myth, but he’s very much alive, attractive and determined to hate Zeus. They make a mutually beneficial bargain to enter into a (sometimes very public) sexual relationship, hoping to humiliate the man they both despise. But the brooding Hades finds the sweet and sunny Persephone appealing in other ways, and they soon find common ground, along with a fiery passion. They don’t believe it can last, and Robert conveys the sense of impending doom looming over their uncommon, forbidden love. Peppered with sizzling erotic scenes, Neon Gods is dangerous, fun and difficult to put down.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Why Katee Robert's written not one, but two romances inspired by Hades.

Heart and Seoul

In Heart and Seoul by Jen Frederick, 25-year-old Hara Wilson heads for South Korea to seek out her birth parents after a lifetime of feeling ambivalent about her cultural identity. Apprehensive but ready for adventure, she steps off the plane and right into a meet cute with a young businessman, Choi Yujun. Discovering her roots takes precedence over a fling, of course, but then Yujun makes himself available as tour guide and explainer of Korean culture. Hara finds herself fascinated and enchanted with it all—including Yujun. Frederick shows Hara’s burgeoning appreciation for her birth country through lush descriptions of the food and sights of Seoul. But as Hara’s search for her roots begins to pay off, she’s left feeling more muddled about her place in the world. And the vacation romance is splendid until the ties that bind Hara and Yujun are revealed to be more tangled than they could imagine. Heart and Seoul is bittersweet (don’t worry—there’s a sequel set for later this year), but Hara and Yujun are a swoon-worthy couple, and there’s longing, loss and love on every page of their story.

How to Survive a Scandal

A lady marries a commoner to avert destructive gossip in How to Survive a Scandal, the first book in Samara Parish’s Rebels With a Cause series. Lady Amelia leads Regency society as an accomplished beauty and has recently become engaged to a duke. But when she’s discovered in a compromising position with Benedict Asterly, a brash but successful manufacturer of steam locomotives, that engagement is off. Amelia finds herself married instead to the unpolished Benedict and living in a large but neglected house far, far from her previous life in London. The pair is like the proverbial oil and water and must grapple with matters of class, wealth and power on their path to love. Amelia and Benedict are an appealing pair, and watching them become their better selves—the heartbeat of all satisfying romances—is delicious and thoroughly gratifying.

The myth of Hades and Persephone gets a sexy, modern update in this month’s romance column.

These three love stories combine beloved tropes (marriage of convenience! fake engagement!) with pitch-perfect pacing.

 The Secret Bridesmaid

The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall provides charming entertainment, British rom-com style. In a breezy first-person voice, the narrator (Sophie Breeze, ha!) relates her adventures as a professional bridesmaid—or rather, an incognito wedding planner for brides who want to claim they organized their own nuptials. As Sophie embarks on her most high-profile gig yet, emails, voicemails and texts offer hilarious snapshots of the problems she tackles and the solutions she devises. The bride is horrid, her brother is an attractive and good-natured modern Mr. Darcy, and their aristocratic circle is way out of Sophie’s league, but it’s impossible not to root for her to win the day—and the guy. This kisses-only romance is a pure delight that will leave a smile on readers’ faces and in their hearts. 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Katy Birchall on the joys of weddings and why she's anti-canapé.

A Wicked Bargain for the Duke

An aristocrat seeking a particular kind of duchess discovers the perfect woman for him instead in A Wicked Bargain for the Duke by Megan Frampton. In this third installment of the Hazards of Dukes series, the new Duke of Hasford, Thaddeus, has decided to do his duty by finding a wife and conceiving an heir. Lady Jane Capel appears perfect for him—beautiful and biddable—but he can’t look away from her fiery sister, Lavinia. When circumstances force them to marry (a popular trope), the two strike a bargain that is undermined by their growing feelings for each other and Lavinia’s scandalous secret occupation as a novelist. Readers will fall for the likable, laudable Thaddeus and Lavinia as they fall for each other, discovering the joys of the marriage bed through several scorching love scenes. There are compelling secondary characters and a lot of romantic satisfaction in this sweet happily ever after.

The Lady Has a Past

Travel to 1930s Southern California in Amanda Quick’s The Lady Has a Past. The latest Burning Cove romance begins with newbie investigator Lyra Brazier on the hunt for her boss, Raina, who has mysteriously left town. Lyra teams up with private eye Simon Cage, and by posing as newlyweds, the pair infiltrates the exclusive hotel and spa where Raina was last seen. Simon is a good man for Lyra to have at her side as the mystery and danger grows. Not only is he wildly attractive, but he also possesses a paranormal gift for uncovering secrets. But for all his expertise, Simon is new to the ways of the heart, and his transformation from man above the emotional fray to dedicated lover is delicious. Stylish and sophisticated, The Lady Has a Past is pure fun spiced with spine-tingling suspense. Vile villains, clever characters and a glamorous desert resort setting all come together to provide a great escape. This romantic mystery is a first-rate example of Quick’s expertise at spinning an enthralling tale.

These three love stories combine beloved tropes (marriage of convenience! fake engagement!) with pitch-perfect pacing.

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