Christie Ridgway

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The Boyfriend Candidate

Fans of the fake-dating trope will love The Boyfriend Candidate, Ashley Winstead’s charming rom-com. When her cheating boyfriend dumps her, librarian Alexis Stone dons a red dress and heads to a swank bar to find a one-night stand. All goes well, until a fire alarm leads to her being caught on camera with the man she’s about to bed: Logan Arthur, a politician who’s running to be the governor of Texas. Logan and his team persuade Alexis to pretend she’s his longtime, previously secret girlfriend until the election. Luckily, Logan is extremely attractive and his progressive policies match her own. Cue shy Alexis finding her voice and the brash Logan continually getting distracted by the enchanting librarian. Told in Alexis’ fresh first-person voice, this heartwarming romance has both poignant introspection and a hero who sacrifices his dignity when faced with kittens and gerbils.

The Secret Service of Tea and Treason

The Secret Service of Tea and Treason, India Holton’s delightful third installment in her Dangerous Damsels series, takes place in a fantasy version of Victorian England populated by pirates, witches and spies. Alice Dearlove is a top operative with a dangerous new assignment: Find a secret weapon and stop the assassination of Queen Victoria. But to do this, she must pretend to be the wife of her professional rival, Daniel Bixby. The highly entertaining adventure that follows includes flying houses, cutthroat pirates, scary witches, farcical fun, whimsical wordplay and a castle with secret passages and professional ghosts. Daniel and Alice race around England to try and solve the case, all while putting out (literal) fires, falling in love and engaging in tender scenes of sensual awakening.

Sugar, Spice, and Can’t Play Nice

Family pressures and personal ambition clash in Sugar, Spice, and Can’t Play Nice by Annika Sharma. Fashion designer Payal Mehra has a spectacular no-strings-attached night with Ayaan Malhotra, the son of family friends and someone who is as commitment-averse as she. Unfortunately, the morning after is such a disaster that both assume they’ll never see each other again. Then their families put forth a business proposition to the couple—one that will be sealed with an arranged marriage. While both initially loathe the idea, Ayaan and Payal realize how beneficial their union could be. She’ll get funding for her clothing line and save her family’s business, while he’ll get 50% of his family’s company. They decide to go ahead with the engagement, believing they can break things off before they get dire. Readers will root for Payal and Ayaan, both of whom are buffeted by family expectations and disappointment yet persevere. Their slow journey to confidence in themselves and contentment in each other is layered with lush descriptions of South Asian fashion and food.

The pining, the will-they-won’t-they, the “Oh no, guess we have to kiss now”: Nothing beats a good fake-dating romance.
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Hotel of Secrets

In Hotel of Secrets, Diana Biller whisks readers away to 1878 Vienna. Hotel Wallner is Maria Wallner’s somewhat tarnished family legacy, thanks to her unmarried parents’ decadeslong affair. She’s determined to help the place regain its former glory during Vienna’s traditional ball season. American Secret Service agent Eli Whittaker arrives at the hotel to investigate the theft of secret codes but is soon beguiled by the beautiful, sophisticated Maria and her glittering city. This delightful, highly recommended romance is chock full of fascinating history as it enchantingly depicts late 19th-century Austria, and its secondary characters are just as three-dimensional and as appealing as the leads.

Ana Maria and the Fox

Three Mexican heiresses make a splash in British high society in Liana De la Rosa’s endearing Victorian romance, Ana Maria and the Fox. When France invades Mexico, Ana Maria Luna Valdés and her sisters are sent to London for their safety. Once there, Ana Maria makes the acquaintance of Gideon Fox, an ambitious member of Parliament. The grandson of a formerly enslaved woman, Gideon is passionate about ending the slave trade and finds a sympathetic ear in Ana Maria. Sparks fly between the pair, even though Ana Maria’s already engaged to a man her powerful father approves of. But then political machinations put Ana Maria in danger, and she must turn to Gideon for help. The Lunas are a welcome addition to historical romance, and as series starring sisters are always fan favorites, readers will surely anticipate more happily ever afters from De la Rosa.

Romantic Comedy

A sketch comedy writer finds love in the time of COVID-19 in Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld. Sally Milz writes for a weekly late-night comedy show—think “Saturday Night Live.” During the frantic pace of production, she finds herself crushing on the show’s latest guest host, popular singer-songwriter Noah Brewster. Sally’s convinced she’s too average to keep his attention, and she smothers the smoldering attraction. But two years later, an email from Noah shows up in Sally’s inbox, and they become pandemic pen pals. Might they make a go of it after all? Sittenfeld does a stellar job making the reader feel not just the hectic excitement of comedy show life and Sally’s surges of adrenaline as she interacts with Noah, but also the wistful, heartfelt hope of two people sharing their pasts and their dreams via email. Noah and Sally are a charming and, of course, funny pair who are easy to root for all throughout this delightful read.

Eligible author Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book takes inspiration from “Saturday Night Live”—plus, two unabashedly glamorous historical romances.
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Liar City

Allie Therin’s instantly intriguing Liar City is set in an alternate Seattle where some people are empaths, able to read others’ emotions just by touching them. The story begins when Reece, an empath and part-time police consultant, receives a mysterious phone call telling him that Reece’s detective sister, Jamey, needs his help. When Reece arrives at Jamey’s latest murder investigation, he also encounters the caller: empath hunter Evan Grayson, also known as the Dead Man. Enigmatic and relentless, Evan is on a mission to stop the killings, which may have something to do with the imminent passage of an anti-empath law. Reece is a very appealing viewpoint character, and chapters from Jamey’s perspective are equally engaging. Evan and Reece’s chemistry crackles throughout Liar City’s nonstop action, but be warned that they do not exchange even one intimate touch. However, as this fantastic paranormal is the first installment in Therin’s Sugar & Vice series, hopes abound for the future.

The Portrait of a Duchess

An aristocratic title reunites an estranged couple in The Portrait of a Duchess, Scarlett Peckham’s hotly anticipated second book in her Society of Sirens series. When she was young, Cornelia Ludgate secretly married horse breeder Rafe Goodwood, which freed her from the strictures of high society and allowed her to pursue painting. Twenty years later, Cornelia is an established artist and an activist for women’s rights. But when her long-estranged husband unexpectedly inherits a dukedom, he proposes that they go public with their marriage. Doing so would provide Cordelia with extra income to devote to her cause and would grant Rafe instant notoriety, which he intends to parlay into governmental reform. Though the iconoclastic pair deny their feelings, their attraction sizzles and they enjoy a mutual understanding when it comes to their desire to take lovers of all genders, both together and apart. Scorching love scenes make this white-hot read a standout.

Cold-Blooded Liar

Karen Rose begins an exciting new romantic suspense series with Cold-Blooded Liar. An anonymous tip leads San Diego detective Kit McKittrick to a body wearing a pair of pink handcuffs, echoing a murder spree 15 years earlier. To solve this latest killing, Kit must first uncover the identity of the tipper. It turns out to be do-gooder psychologist Dr. Sam Reeves, whom Kit instantly likes but must consider a suspect all the same. Kit is not a trusting woman, but as more deaths occur and the murderer hits closer to home, she must turn to Sam to help her nab the killer. The crimes are brutal, but Rose balances the story with a heroic team, lovable dogs and Kit’s warmhearted foster parents. It’s a gripping and satisfying tale, even if Kit has yet to kiss the good doctor by story’s end—which readers will surely be rooting for in the next installment.

Scarlett Peckham’s long-awaited sequel to The Rakess is here! Plus, two suspenseful series get off to a thrilling start.
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In many romance novels, love requires exposure: of one’s true desires and inner secrets, often of one’s most vulnerable self. In this month’s best romances, characters can only find happiness after first finding themselves—and sharing that truth with their partner.

Behind the Scenes

Karelia Stetz-Waters pens a tender love story in Behind the Scenes. Director Ash Stewart is preparing to pitch a movie near and dear to her heart—a rom-com about two lonely women who fall in love—so she turns to successful business consultant Rose Josten for help polishing the proposal she’ll present to movie executives. While the entertainment industry is not Rose’s forte, she’s intrigued by the idea of the film as well as by the cool yet vulnerable Ash. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace that suits the cautious main characters; while Rose and Ash fall fast, they don’t trust that their attraction will result in anything real. Readers will cheer for these capable, talented and mature women, both of whom have fascinating careers and interesting hobbies. They just need to find the right person to help them fill the empty spaces and heal their wounds. Rose and Ash’s feelings for each other are never in doubt thanks to Stetz-Waters’ expertly written longing and lush love scenes. And a fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned.

Also in BookPage: Read our review of the Behind the Scenes audiobook.

Not Your Ex’s Hexes

After Rose Maxwell’s sister took over her role as witch leader-in-waiting, Rose is in need of some new life goals. An ill-advised horse-napping at the beginning of April Asher’s dashing and delightful paranormal romance Not Your Ex’s Hexes results in Rose sentenced to community service at an animal sanctuary under the close supervision of half-demon vet Damian Adams. All kinds of sparks fly between them, but he’s grumpy and she’s not interested in relationships. But a friends-with-benefits arrangement seems possible and maybe even sensible until they must face danger—and all the emerging emotions they’ve vowed not to feel. In fact, Damian is sure he can’t actually be feeling them, having been hexed as a teen, but all signs are pointing to the opposite. Asher’s second installment in the Supernatural Singles series is full of action and well-constructed characters. Heart-tugging animals and steamy love scenes make this otherworldly romance a charmer.

Do I Know You?

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have written an intriguing twist on the second-chance romance in Do I Know You? In honor of their fifth anniversary, Eliza and Graham Cutler head to a luxury resort in Northern California, hoping a vacation might revive their stalled marriage. Upon learning that there’s been a hotel mix-up and they have two rooms booked instead of one, Eliza impulsively proposes that they sleep separately. Moreover, she suggests they take on new personas so they can meet as strangers and possibly rediscover a spark between them. While hiking, eating and exercising together as their alter egos, Graham and Eliza each come to value new things about the other and recall what led to their original commitment. Readers will root for both characters in this mature and intimate examination of a relationship.

The Duke Gets Even

A happy ending seems impossible in Joanna Shupe’s The Duke Gets Even. Andrew Talbot, the Duke of Lockwood, is desperate to wed an heiress and fill his family’s coffers. But then his antagonistic relationship with free-spirited American Nellie Young transforms into a burning passion. The duke lost out on love in the previous installments of Shupe’s Fifth Avenue Rebels series, and it doesn’t seem like his luck will change: He needs to marry for money, and Nellie can’t imagine life as an English duchess. An affair with Andrew as he seeks the right bride will have to be enough, except, of course, it quickly isn’t. The appealing Nellie wants more for herself and other women of her time, and she’s not at all ashamed of her sexual appetites. Honorable Andrew feels the weight of his responsibilities, yet the fiery ardor he shares with Nellie—featured in feverish love scenes—turns his world upside down. Sensuous and sophisticated, The Duke Gets Even is a satisfying climax to a wonderful and romantic series.

Make a Wish

Romances between a single father and a nanny are a beloved genre staple, but author Helena Hunting explores the trope sans rose-colored glasses in Make a Wish. When she was 20 years old, Harley Spark worked as a nanny for newly widowed Gavin Rhodes. She fell in love with his baby daughter, Peyton, and perhaps with him, before Gavin and Peyton moved away. Seven years later, Gavin and Harley reconnect—and there is an obvious attraction between them. Their happily ever after appears inevitable, until grief, guilt and in-laws step in. Make a Wish chronicles Gavin and Harley’s authentic doubts and fears, with sizzling love scenes and sweet moments creating a sigh-worthy love story.

In this month’s best romances, characters can only find true love after first finding themselves.
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A Love by Design

Elizabeth Everett’s praiseworthy Secret Scientists of London series returns with the third installment, A Love by Design. Engineer Margaret Gault has recently returned to London from Paris and is intent on opening her own firm, despite all the struggles that await a businesswoman in Victorian England. Maggie quickly finds a promising and exciting commission, but she cannot avoid George Willis, the Earl Grantham, who broke her heart years ago. Unfortunately, George has grown into an extraordinarily handsome man with extraordinary goals—including educating children, regardless of gender. But Maggie can’t allow her still-strong feelings for him to get in the way of her dreams. After all, an engineer can’t be a countess and a countess can’t be an engineer . . . or so she thinks. It’s easy to sympathize with brainy Maggie and her quest for independence, and George proves to be a hero worthy of her. The fight for women’s rights is front and center, giving heft to this otherwise lighthearted romance.

Lunar Love

As Lauren Kung Jessen’s Lunar Love begins, Olivia Huang Christenson has just assumed responsibility for the titular matchmaking business, which is based on the Chinese zodiac. Her grandmother built Lunar Love from the ground up, and Olivia is determined to put its success above everything else, including her heart. But both are at risk when she has a meet-cute with charming startup advisor Bennett O’Brien. Lunar Love relies on personal touches like dating coaching, and Olivia thinks Bennett’s app takes all the humanity out of romance. To prove whose method works best, they make a very public bet to find matches for each other. Along the way, they bond over their multiracial heritages (she’s Chinese, Norwegian and Scottish; he’s Chinese and Irish) while enjoying some absolutely mouthwatering dates, like Chinese baking classes and a dumpling and beer festival. Told in Olivia’s fresh first-person voice, this story will have readers rooting for her to realize that even though their signs are incompatible, everything else points to Bennett being her perfect match.

The Heretic Royal

A princess struggles to find her place in her family in G.A. Aiken’s latest entry in the Scarred Earth Saga, The Heretic Royal. Ainsley Farmerson has been overshadowed by her older sisters all her life—two are now queens (one is, unfortunately, extremely evil), and a third is a ruthless war monk—so Ainsley decides to step up. At her side is rugged centaur Gruffyn, and as they face down dragons, demons and her evil sister’s machinations, Ainsley and Gruffyn forge an unbreakable bond. This tale of magic and mayhem is told from multiple perspectives, and readers will need to keep their wits about them as the action speeds along and the dialogue pings among sarcastic dragons, earnest fathers and obnoxious siblings.

Need a great new enemies-to-lovers romance? How about one between two rival matchmakers, or a Victorian nobleman and a female engineer?
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Love stories set during the holidays are almost always good-natured, but this year’s standouts take good cheer and good will to another level. Personal transformations and turning points abound in these empathetic and festive happily ever afters.    

So This Is Christmas

Author Jenny Holiday takes readers on a third trip to the fictional country of Eldovia in So This Is Christmas. Management consultant Cara Delaney arrives in the small Alpine country to modernize the operations of a luxury watch company partly owned by the royal family. Matteo Benz, equerry of the king (think executive assistant), has been tasked with helping Cara but gives her a cold welcome. A traditionalist, he’s concerned her proposed changes might adversely affect his beloved country and its citizens. They parry, they clash, they kiss and find themselves consumed with thoughts of each other even as they investigate problems at the company. There’s time for hot chocolate and admiring the snowy beauty of Eldovia, but can two high-powered professionals from different countries admit to love and find a way to be together? This delightful charmer is the ultimate holiday escape. 

Kiss Her Once for Me

Comics artist Ellie Oliver is at a low point in her life when she agrees to marry Andrew, a near-stranger, in Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun. He needs a wife to secure his inheritance, and she desperately needs the money he offers her to become that wife. What could go wrong? Only that Andrew’s sister, Jack, is none other than the woman Ellie fell in love with over one magical night the year before—and now they have to spend the holidays together. To make matters even worse, Ellie and Jack’s fling didn’t end well and Ellie has promised Andrew she’ll pretend they’re marrying for love. From there, Cochrun piles on the rom-com fun: stranded at a snowy cabin with a single bed, the obligatory admiring of wood-chopping prowess, the “we better get out of these wet clothes” gambit. It’s not all holly jolly, however. Ellie’s vulnerable first-person voice gives readers intimate insight into a mind and heart prone to second-guessing, and the family drama that occurs during the merriest season is a reminder that Christmas rarely proceeds as planned. It’s a satisfying romance with a few tears to balance its fresh-baked sweetness.

A Merry Little Meet Cute

A plus-size adult film actor stars in a Christmas TV movie in A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone. Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) hopes to keep her sexy alter ego secret from everyone at the decidedly PG-rated Hope Channel, including her co-star, former boy band wild child Nolan Shaw, who is trying to take his personal brand in a more straight-laced direction. Nolan was Bee’s biggest teenage crush, and unbeknownst to her, he is one of Bianca Von Honey’s biggest fans. They keep those truths from each other for a short while, but soon their mutual attraction is burning up the set. What happens next is as predictable as it is enjoyable: multiple fiery love scenes and hilarious attempts to fool their co-workers. Bee and Nolan are energetic, self-deprecating and honest narrators, and a fab cast of supporting characters add more sparkle to this spicy holiday fare.

Just Like Magic

Sarah Hogle’s Just Like Magic is the type of book the words over the top were made for. Narrator Bettie Hughes unwittingly summons the Holiday Spirit—call him Hall—just in time for a Christmas vacation with her dysfunctional extended family. Bettie is way, way down on her luck, so she’s elated when Hall tells her that he will make all her wishes come true . . . until she’s expressing sufficient holiday cheer, of course. (Bettie mischievously supposes that accomplishing that task could take just about, oh, forever.) The plot’s frenetic pace matches Hall’s feverish ideas for how to make this Christmas the best ever; as a human for the first time, he wants to experience it all. Bettie and her relatives are insufferable at first, but as Hall’s magic takes hold, their charm begins to shine through. It’s impossible to predict where this clever romance will go next. Bettie and Hall are an unlikely pair, and their unlikely story will steal hearts. 

Season of Love

A Jewish artist gets a chance to save the family Christmas tree farm in Season of Love by Helena Greer. When her estranged but still beloved Great-Aunt Cass dies, Miriam Blum discovers that Cass named her part-owner of Carrigan’s, a tree farm and inn that caters to uber-fans of the holiday season. The other owners include Miriam’s childhood BFF and Noelle Northwood, the farm’s manager. Noelle sees Miriam as an interloper and is resolved to dislike her, no matter how sexy Noelle may find her. While determining what to do with the property, Miriam and Noelle are forced to face their pasts and end up intimately connecting over family, regrets and momentous mistakes. Told from both women’s perspectives, Season of Love is an emotionally driven holiday romance with definite heft. Miriam and Noelle both have baggage to unpack before they can risk falling for someone, and Greer shows how the season of snow and hope can also be a time of self-reflection. Readers will root for Miriam and Noelle to heal their hearts and begin to fully live—and love.

Whether you like your love stories merry or melancholy, these books will make the season bright.
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Never Rescue a Rogue

Virginia Heath’s Never Rescue a Rogue is a sophisticated Regency gem. In this second entry in the Merriwell Sisters series, world-weary nobleman Giles Sinclair battles ennui by trading barbs with journalist Diana Merriwell, his best friend’s sister. Though their charming family and friends think they would make a perfect pair, they both disagree and are firmly entrenched in their singleness. But when Giles becomes a duke, a discomfiting lack of information on his real parentage could spell disaster. There’s no one better at uncovering the full truth than Diana, so Giles enlists her help—and subsequently loses his heart. Giles introduces the jaded Diana to passion and she steadily overcomes her fear of losing her independence, all while their slow-burn attraction blooms into steamy love scenes. The dialogue is delightful and the wordplay a pleasure to read, and the well-developed and heart-tugging backstories of both leads give this romance an authentic heft.

Better than Fiction

A woman reexamines her ideas about love in Better Than Fiction by Alexa Martin. Drew Young’s self-deprecating, humorous, first-person narration lets readers know unequivocally how she feels about her late grandmother (admiration and loyalty, which explains Drew’s determination to keep open the bookstore her grandmother left her) and about love (doesn’t trust it an inch, thanks to her deadbeat dad who left Drew and her mom for another family). When successful and sexy romance author Jasper Williams arrives for a special event at the bookstore, Drew is sure he’s too good to be true. But he’s also too attractive to resist. As they become better acquainted, Martin revels in the requisite rom-com scenes, including the delicious fan favorite that is “There’s just one bed.” Romance readers will feel vindicated by Drew’s growing appreciation of feel-good fiction, and will root for her and Jasper to get a happy ending equal to those in his novels.

Some Dukes Have All the Luck

Some Dukes Have All the Luck, the first entry in Christina Britton’s Synneful Spinsters series, stars a most unlikely pair. Ash Hawkins, Duke of Buckley, travels to the Isle of Synne to reclaim his wayward young wards after they flee London. Once there, he encounters naturalist Bronwyn Pickering, who has always been more interested in beetles than becoming a bride. The striking and sexy Ash ignites something in Bronwyn, and when he offers a marriage of convenience—promising she can continue her scientific studies, something her domineering parents have tried to prevent her from doing—she seizes her chance at greater independence. Of course, the marriage is soon complicated by feelings, Ash’s recalcitrant wards and a roaring sexual attraction. Bronwyn is easy to admire, especially as she overcomes her social awkwardness to care for the three girls entrusted to her. Ash is a classic “I’m not good enough for anyone” hero; it’s always gratifying when they’re proved wrong. With its bookish heroine, brooding hero and smoking love scenes, Some Dukes Have All the Luck is sigh-worthy fare.

Bookish meets brooding and optimist meets cynic in these opposites-attract love stories.
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A Curse of Queens

The world continues to roil with the whims of the gods in A Curse of Queens, the action-packed fourth installment in Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles. When her pregnant sister is cursed, gifted healer Jocasta concocts a plan to lift the magic. A team is assembled to embark on the dangerous quest, and Jocasta is both thrilled and dismayed to learn that Flynn of Sinta will be part of the expedition. Jocasta has loved him since childhood, and unbeknownst to her, his heart belongs to her as well. But after losing his entire family, Flynn believes he protects them both from inevitable pain by not declaring himself. Bouchet excels at developing grounded characters with relatable frustrations and desires, even amid the adventure and magic of fantasy romance. Flynn’s longing for Jocasta is tender and touching, and Jocasta’s determination to succeed is understandable and admirable. Bouchet strikes a perfect balance between evocative Greek mythology-inspired world building and grand romance in this fabulous adventure.

The Belle of Belgrave Square

Romance blooms within a marriage of convenience in The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews. Socially awkward heiress Julia Wychwood dreads balls and parties. When her manipulative parents make it clear that they intend to marry her to a widower she feels nothing for, Julia impulsively turns to the only man she does feel something for: the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt. He’s known for being the Hero of Crimea . . . but also for his illegitimate children and the dark rumors surrounding his family estate. Julia elopes with him anyway, and they try to build a life together in the quiet Yorkshire countryside, but Jasper’s murky past stands between them. His secrets ignite Julia’s curiosity, and the man ignites her in other ways, too. Will Jasper reveal enough of himself to win her love? A bookish heroine readers will identify with, subtle love scenes and some impish children make this romance a true delight.

Bad Girl Reputation

Author Elle Kennedy explores what happens when a party girl and her bad boy first love grow up in Bad Girl Reputation. After her mother dies, Genevieve West temporarily returns home to the small coastal town of Avalon Bay, which she’d fled a year before to escape her self-destructive lifestyle. Having remade herself in the time since then, Gen doesn’t dare fall back into bad habits—especially her ex, Evan Hartley. She knows they’re bad for each other, but she can’t seem to stop having hot and heavy hookups with him while she’s in town. As she becomes further enmeshed with family and friends, Gen wonders if she can stay in Avalon Bay and stay true to her new, better self. These imperfect, honest characters are trying to figure out life, and their vibrant personalities burst onto the page. Thanks to Kennedy’s easy, breezy dialogue, readers will feel like they’re elbow-to-elbow with Gen and Evan at the bar and the poker table in this vibrant, feel-good and fresh romance.

True love is hard won but all the more precious in this month's best love stories.
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Ruby Fever

In Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, the world is dominated by magical families known as Houses. Catalina Baylor is the Deputy Warden of Texas and a Prime, an extremely powerful magic user. She’s moving her House and her fiancé, assassin Alessandro Sagredo, into a new compound when an important politician is killed and a powerful family friend is severely injured. An assassin kingpin is responsible for both events, and now he has his sights set on Alessandro. Can they stop him before he succeeds? Ruby Fever starts with a bang and races on from there. This installment has everything Andrews’ readers love: a large cast of magical characters, fast-paced plot and dialogue, and imaginative scenes of electrifying combat described in technicolor detail. Told in Catalina’s engaging first-person voice as she capably handles all that’s thrown at her, this superlative romance doesn’t have a single dull moment. Sit back and happily immerse yourself in Andrews’ unparalleled paranormal world.

Do You Take This Man

The central couple of Denise Williams’ Do You Take This Man doesn’t really have a meet cute. In fact, it’s more of a meet mad. RJ Brooks is a high-powered, ambitious divorce attorney with a surprising side gig: She officiates marriage ceremonies. Which is why she keeps meeting and mutually antagonizing event planner Lear Campbell again, and again, and again. The enemies-to-lovers trope is a romance fan favorite for a reason, and when RJ and Lear finally succumb to their attraction, their love scenes sizzle. There’s enough authentic angst between the two, both of whom have been hurt badly in the past, to keep the reader doubting and wishing for their happily ever after in equal measure.

Aphrodite and the Duke

First loves try to get it right the second time around in J.J. McAvoy’s “Bridgerton”-esque Regency romance, Aphrodite and the Duke. Aphrodite Du Bell can’t help but feel her acclaimed beauty might be something of a curse. The only man she ever cared for, Evander Eagleman, the Duke of Everely, married someone else. In the four years since, she’s retreated from society. But when it’s her sister’s turn to hunt for a husband, Aphrodite gets dragged back to the London season. There, she’s reunited with Evander, who’s newly widowed and immediately begins to pursue Aphrodite. She thinks she’d be mad to trust him again with her heart, until he reveals what prompted his first marriage and they begin to work through their differences. However, new dangers await the couple. The characters’ somewhat formal voices lend a verisimilitude that balances the enjoyable escape of McAvoy’s Regency world of balls, gowns and romance.

Ilona Andrews' Hidden Legacy series returns! Read our romance columnist's review of Ruby Fever.
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★ Wolf in the Shadows

Maria Vale sweeps readers into a compelling paranormal world in her fifth entry in the Legend of All Wolves series, Wolf in the Shadows. Julia Martel, pampered shifter princess of Montreal, has been kidnapped by the Great North Pack, who live apart from human society and ritualistically shift to their wolf forms every full moon. Though she was raised to be “exquisitely inconsequential,” Julia finds her inner strength as she lives with the pack and gets to know Arthur, a wolf at the bottom of the pack’s hierarchy. Vale’s storytelling is immersive and fascinating as she chronicles Julia’s metamorphosis from plaything to predator. And Arthur is a uniquely appealing love interest: keenly attentive, sensitive and always willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Lushly described set pieces, from Julia’s embrace of her animal nature to the couple’s smoking hot love scenes, make for a fiercely beautiful read.

Husband Material

A couple grapples with life, love and being true to themselves in Husband Material by Alexis Hall. It’s been two years since Lucien “Luc” O’Donnell and Oliver Blackwood got together in Boyfriend Material, and the opposites-attract pair are happy together—and happy to witness the people around them tie the knot. But does that mean they should follow suit? Narrated by Luc in a self-deprecating and often sarcastic first-person voice, the next phase in the men’s romance plays out with the help of their loyal but sometimes screwball friends. Family drama adds serious layers and provides an opportunity for soul-searching, even as Hall’s bouncy dialogue tumbles along through plenty of rom-com fun. As they grapple with their future, examining both compatibility and commitment, Luc and Oliver are amusing, authentic and eminently deserving of their happily ever after. 

Quarter to Midnight

Karen Rose’s latest romantic suspense novel, Quarter to Midnight, begins a new series set in New Orleans. When his father, a former police officer, dies under suspicious circumstances, chef Gabe Hebert hires a PI agency to look into the matter. Molly Sutton, former cop, former Marine and forever badass, takes on the case. A patron of Gabe’s renowned restaurant, she’s long admired his culinary skills and his good looks, and she’s committed to getting answers for him, no matter what she may uncover in the process. Rose always constructs an appealing team to aid her main couple and further engage the reader’s emotions; this time, the crew includes a brave young med student, a pair of canny brothers and two witty and determined older women. It’s a twisty, dangerous ride all the way to the end, with the French Quarter setting and the descriptions of Gabe’s food adding an extra je ne sais quoi to this entertaining read.

The long-awaited sequel to Boyfriend Material is finally here, plus two thrilling love stories in this month's romance column.
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Maggie Moves On

Maggie Moves On by Lucy Score is a rom-com that will especially delight lovers of HGTV and will charm practically everyone else. Happy-to-wander Maggie Nichols makes a living as a house flipper and documents her success on a popular YouTube channel. When she selects a mansion in Kinship, Idaho, as her next fixer-upper, she meets hunky landscaper Silas Wright and promptly loses her heart. Can she learn to settle down with a man who’s firmly rooted in his charming hometown? An Old West-style myth (lost gold!) adds to the fun, which also includes hilarious family group texts and a real standout of a hero. Silas oozes confidence and charm, especially when he’s crooning impromptu with his stepmother on a bar stage. Maggie Moves On is a sexy, sweet and easy read, but readers may still find themselves wiping away sentimental tears at its unabashed and all-encompassing happily ever after. Relax and enjoy this one while dreaming of dream houses, blissful blended families and Idaho finger steaks.

You Were Made to Be Mine

Julie Anne Long offers a historical romance to savor with You Were Made to Be Mine. Former British spy Christian Hawkes is fresh out of prison and out of funds. For an exorbitant fee, he agrees to find Lady Aurelie Capet, the Earl of Brundage’s runaway fiancée. Christian has his suspicions about the earl, suspicions that prove horribly true when he tracks down the beautiful Aurelie, who has taken a new name and is hiding out at the Grand Palace on the Thames boarding house in an effort to escape from her wicked fiancé. As with the four previous novels in the Palace of Rogues series, this book is teeming with fascinating characters, and every paragraph crackles with life. Long’s third-person narration allows for entertaining glimpses into the cast, from would-be footmen to the delightful proprietresses of “TGPOTT” (as embroidered on signature handkerchiefs). Christian and Aurelie are a couple that is eminently worth rooting for, and their desperate yearning and aching tenderness are sure to linger long in readers’ hearts.

The Romance Recipe

Two women deal with career, family and romantic turmoil in The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett. Amy Chambers, the owner of struggling restaurant Amy and May’s, and Sophie Brunet, the restaurant’s chef, are each harboring a secret crush on the other. Sophie has recently realized that she’s bisexual, and Amy’s confidence in herself makes her as intimidating as she is alluring. Amy isn’t wont to open up to anyone, especially someone like Sophie, who Amy worries might be looking for new experiences instead of commitment. But even as they attempt to keep things between them casual, Amy and Sophie’s potent physical chemistry draws them together. Sensual feasts abound, both in luscious culinary creations and detailed sex scenes, as Barrett masterfully portrays the sensation of infatuation growing into true love.

Dive into two romances that are as emotional as they are steamy, plus a sweet and sexy rom-com for HGTV lovers.

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