Long gone—and little missed—are the days when historical romance meant timid, angelic female leads swooning in the arms of dastardly, irresistible rogues we were told were heroes. These days, we have clever, witty authors crafting bold, charismatic heroines who are far more likely to seize a good brandy than clutch at their smelling salts.
Lily Hartley, of Anna Bennett’s The Duke Is But a Dream, knows quite a bit about style. At least, she knows enough to have all of the ton breathless with eagerness for her guidance. As the anonymous author of the wildly popular column The Debutante’s Revenge, she has created a scandal with her frank, liberal-minded advice, but her life away from the page is remarkably quiet—too quiet, tempting her to seek an adventure when she goes to deliver her column while disguised as a messenger boy. She couldn’t have known that her spontaneous jaunt would leave her knocked unconscious, or that she’d wake in the home of her rescuer, Eric Nash, Duke of Stonebridge, with her memory entirely gone. As she struggles to piece herself back together, Lily finds unexpected comfort in the friendship of the duke and his sister, Delilah—and unexpected passion in Nash’s arms. Meanwhile, although Nash and Delilah start out as rescuers, it’s lovely to see how Lily rescues them in turn, lifting them out of their sadness and breathing new life into their home. In this story of finding yourself, it’s the family the central characters create together that’s the most satisfying discovery of all.
Satisfaction is exactly what Brazen and the Beast’s Lady Henrietta Sedley is after on the eve of her 29th birthday—the commencement of what she’s christened the “Year of Hattie,” when she’ll finally go after what she wants: a career, a home of her own, financial security and a bright future. And to kick it off, she plans to discard her troublesome virginity so that she can close the book on ever becoming a bride. Always a wallflower and never a rose, Hattie’s resigned herself to the idea that she’s too tall, too big, too forthright and too indecorous to ever be the demure beauty men in her circle seem to want. She never thought to look outside her circle until she found a fierce, gorgeous beast of a man—Covent Garden crime lord Whit—tied up and unconscious in her carriage. And thus begins a merry chase as they battle and bargain and banter over what has been done to them, what they wish to do to each other and whether it’s more fun to fight with each other or fight for each other and for their rapidly growing love. Funny, playful and vivid, Sarah MacLean’s latest romance samples the best of both worlds with the earthy vigor of the slum’s crafty, loyal lower classes and the juicy intrigue of high society scandal.
Scandal and intrigue are the bread and butter of Miss Wilhelmina Penny’s world of spy craft and reconnaissance in Lenora Bell’s One Fine Duke. Or they would be, if her overprotective uncle—spymaster Sir Malcolm—would give her a chance. Secluded “safely” in the countryside, she’s spent years longing for the chance to take a bite out of life and swallow it whole; to become sophisticated and elegant like her lovely late mother, who died in service to the crown. Mina’s taught herself to pick locks, create weaponry and crack codes, but in order to escape her uncle’s well-meaning dictates, she’ll need to use the one tool he’s helpless against: an eligible duke. Determined to see her well married, Sir Malcolm has put together a “Duke Dossier” of the matches he thinks would take proper care of her. Topping the list is Andrew Bentley, Duke of Thorndon. Her uncle’s approval is enough to convince Mina that Drew could never be the man for her, and yet when they meet, sparks fly. They join forces to investigate a mystery surrounding his scapegrace brother, and yet the solution to her own personal puzzle surprises even Mina when she comes to learn that the duke she never thought she wanted was the secret key to her happiness all along.