This anthology is comprised of 5 romance novellas. One of them is a modern romance (Elaine Fox), one is a contemporary paranormal romance (Jeaniene Frost), and the other three are historical romances. The individual styles and quality of writing vary greatly from story to story. Below are mini-reviews for each of the stories. The overall rating is a compilation of the individual rating for each story – see below.
Cathy Maxwell – The Irish Duke (1 star)
Horrible writing. Very blah.
Elaine Fox – The Duke Who Came to Dinner (4 stars)
I liked it a lot. I’ve read many other books by this author and enjoyed most of them. In this contemporary romance, a young teacher, Gray, comes to a small town on Cape Cod to escape her joyless life elsewhere. She meets a fascinating set of characters, including a ghost of a long-dead duke and a strange white dog. And of course, a tall and handsome music critic Sam. With the romantic ocean shore as the background, love has no choice but to flourish.
The story is written with skill and humor, and I have to share a couple of quotes from it. The first one is how the story starts:
Distracted, Sam Gregory... stared out the window into the dawn light of the village street.
Pedaling a bicycle with all the determination of Dorothy’s Wicked Witch of the West was a slender, fair-haired, stark-naked woman.
Stark, he marveled, forgetting his coffee.
In the next snippet, which happens a couple hours later, Sam finds a woman’s dress in his backyard, just after his dog Duke came in from his solitary morning outing.
He looked from the dress in his hand toward the back door of his house, putting two and two and two together. And getting a mess.
Low laughter started in the back of his throat. A runaway dog, a naked bicyclist, and the sudden appearance of a dress all pointed to one thing: somehow Duke had stolen that poor woman’s clothes. No wonder she’d been pedaling so fast. She wasn’t an exhibitionist; she’d been robbed.
After that, the story really takes off and becomes a swift and charming tale of love and self-discovery. My one objection: it is too short and ends too abruptly. I wanted more.
Jeaniene Frost – Devil to Pay (3.5 stars)
Here we have a paranormal romance. A few months ago, Blake was possessed by a powerful demon. Once in a while, the demon seizes Blake’s mind and goes on a killing spree, spreading blood and destruction. Although Blake himself blacks out during such episodes, he is aware of the consequences and terrified of what he had become. His only way out is death, but the demon wouldn’t let him kill himself.
Elise is a vampire, has been for 70 years. She is a recluse and lives in an abandoned tunnel under a New York metro station. When she meets Blake, she recognizes his evil rider. Her emotions, which have been dormant for many years, stir at Blake’s plight. She wants to help this particular human. Blake pulls at the strings of her heart she had thought extinguished for half a century. Unfortunately, to exorcise such a powerful demon is not easy, even for a mighty vampire. The demon fights back, and the passion that springs between these two doomed lovers seems hopeless until the very end.
The narrative flows, and the tension builds quickly, as Blake and Elise explore their ill-fated, horribly-timed attraction, all the while resisting the demon’s tricks.
I’m glad this poignant story of the two wounded people finding solace in each other’s arms had a happy resolution. I cared for the protagonists and I enjoyed reading their tale.
Sophia Nash – Catch of the Century (3 stars)
In this historical romance, a handsome and rich duke of Beaufort is en route to his estate in Derbyshire, when his carriage almost runs down a young, badly-dressed teacher with three young boys. Beaufort doesn’t know what they are doing trudging along a country road in the middle of nowhere but he can’t leave them there. He feels compelled to help them.
From the moment he stops his carriage, all his carefully laid plans go astray, and the beautiful teacher finds her way into his heart, no matter how much he resists it.
Victoria, a sharp-tongued spinster, is used to managing classrooms of boisterous children in the orphanage where she works. She resists her attraction to the duke as much as he does. After all, she knows that nothing will come of it. Dukes and teachers don’t mingle, but her heart has other ideas. And so does her treacherous body.
This one was a classic Cinderella story, average in every way but still a nice read.
Tracy Anne Warren – Charmed by her Smile (3 stars)
Not bad but nothing special about this historical romance. Unlike the previous novellas in the anthology, India, the heroine of this tale, is very young, not yet 18, and hasn’t had her first London Season yet. The hero Quentin is much older, over 30. Another difference: by the end of this story, India is still a virgin, although there were a few torrid kisses along the way. The wedding bells were tolling just as the story ended.