Valentine’s Day appears on our calendars amid the chill winds of winter, just when we’re apt to be longing for a break from cold and snow. It’s the perfect time to celebrate with heart-shaped greeting cards, decadent chocolate truffles and a sinfully delicious romance novel. We’ve chosen three such romantic tales from authors Anne Barton, Anne Gracie and Beverly Jenkins—each the perfect prescription to chase away the winter doldrums. So brew a hot mug of Tazo tea, break out the chocolates, settle into your favorite cozy chair, and prepare to be enthralled.    

ROMANTIC EXTORTION

In the normal course of events, it is highly unlikely that a talented seamstress such as Anabelle Honeycote would cross paths with a duke in London of 1815—unless, of course, she were so unwise as to attempt to blackmail him. Anabelle does just that in When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton, though she quickly rues her choice of victim when the Duke of Huntford captures her and does some blackmailing of his own. The seamstress quickly finds herself living in the duke’s beautiful Mayfair home and creating elegant wardrobes for his two younger sisters. But all is not as it seems, for Anabelle is not merely a seamstress, nor is she an unprincipled extortionist. The duke soon learns his life has become much more complicated—and enriched—by the arrival of the lovely Anabelle. Despite the strict rules of Regency society that forbid their friendship, neither Anabelle nor the duke can deny the attraction that draws them together. The question is whether they can find a way to bridge their worlds without mutual heartbreak.

This delightful debut novel introduces readers to the Honeycote and Huntford families and launches a series of stories featuring four sisters. These women are distinctly different but equally intelligent, and their heroes promise to be strong-willed and committed. Both Anabelle and her duke have a powerful sense of justice that make them irresistibly cheer-worthy. The romance between the two is passionate and Anabelle’s world of Regency fashion is well drawn and detailed. 

UNEXPECTED SPOILS

Survival is difficult for young women without family in Regency-era London, as we learn in The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie. Late one night in 1816, Abigail Chantry finds herself climbing through the window of a rundown home—once elegant—to commit thievery. Abigail needs food, and she’s desperate enough to steal. To her shock, she finds the house isn’t deserted, for an elderly woman is in the bedchamber. They carry on a strangely normal conversation and Abigail learns that Lady Beatrice lives alone, with only servants to care for her. Appalled at the neglect and the bedridden woman’s fragile state, Abigail returns for a second visit. Unable to turn her back on the situation, she marches into the home to champion the sharp-witted old lady. All goes well until Lady Beatrice’s long-absent nephew, Max, returns home from the East Indies. Abigail is indignant that he had abandoned his aunt to the care of servants; Max is highly suspicious of Abigail’s motives for befriending his aunt. Despite their mutual antagonism, however, they’re drawn together by an attraction neither can deny.  

There’s action and adventure aplenty in this well-written story, together with a heroine to root for and a strong, honorable hero. The witty dialogue and humor, in addition to an interesting mystery for the hero and heroine to solve, guarantee readers will eagerly look forward to the next installment in the Chance Sisters Romance series. 

LOVE IN THE WEST

In Destiny’s Embrace, the first novel of a planned series, best-selling author Beverly Jenkins takes readers to a California rancho in 1885, where matriarch Alanza Yates wants her three sons to marry. The men aren't interested, but the oldest, Logan, reluctantly agrees to let his mother find a housekeeper for him. In Philadelphia, seamstress Mariah Cooper wants to leave behind an unhappy life as an unpaid servant, and the advertisement for employment in California seems heaven sent. But Mariah wasn’t expecting the handsome man that meets her at the railroad station. Despite Logan Yates’ good looks and charm, however, the two argue almost from the first moment they meet. Logan is a man accustomed to beautiful women falling at his feet, and for the first time in his life, he must contend with a woman who insists on respect. He quickly learns that Mariah inspires not only lust, but genuine liking, affection, and finally, love.

The hero and heroine in Destiny’s Embrace are endearing and it’s a pleasure to watch them struggle as they come to grips with an attraction so powerful that it creates a sea change in both their lives. Logan gives Mariah the acceptance she’s never before felt, while she makes him realize he’s ready for home and family. The novel is filled with interesting snippets of California history and life in the American West just before the turn of the century. Readers will be delighted to know future books in the series will feature Logan’s brothers.

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