Contemporary romance fans know Susan Mallery's fictional town of Fool's Gold well, and the fun continues with our June Top Pick in Romance, Just One Kiss. For single mom Patience McGraw, Justice Garrett is the one who got away. When he returns, she can't resist allowing him back into her life. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway writes, "An endearing romance and intriguing new characters make Mallery’s latest a must-read."
In a 7 questions interview, we asked Mallery why readers love returning to Fool's Gold with each new romance. Her answer:
"Fool’s Gold is about more than the central romance. It’s about the community. Readers love to see who has gotten married, who’s pregnant, who has babies. (Not to mention, they love to see what the septuagenarian troublemakers Eddie and Gladys have been up to!) The Fool’s Gold romances allow readers to see what happens after the happily ever after."
Fifteen years ago...
Patience McGraw couldn't breathe. She placed her hand on top of her chest and wondered if it was possible to have a heart attack and die from fear. Or maybe anticipation. Her mind raced and her throat was tight and here she was on possibly the most significant day of her life and she couldn't catch her breath. Talk about lame.
"The snow's melting," Justice said, pointing toward the mountains just east of town.
She looked up and nodded. "It's getting warmer."
It's getting warmer? She held in a groan. Why did she have to sound so stupid? Why did she have to be so nervous? This was Justice, her best friend since he'd moved to Fool's Gold at the beginning of October last year. They'd met in the school cafeteria and they'd reached for the last cupcake. He'd let her have it, she'd offered to share. She'd figured because he was older, he would have refused, but he'd smiled instead and that day they'd become friend.
She knew him. They hung out together, played video games together, went to the movies together. It was fun. It was easy. Or it had been until a few weeks ago when she'd suddenly looked into Justice's dark blue eyes and felt something she'd never experienced before.
Her mom had reassured her it was normal. Patience was fourteen, Justice was sixteen and it was unlikely they would stay friends forever. But Patience wasn't sure she liked the change. Before, she hadn't had to think about everything she said or worry about what she wore, or how her hair looked. Now she was always thinking, which made it hard to just hang out.
After two months of sweating every word, every thought, every action, she was done. She was going to tell Justice the truth. That she liked him. That she wanted him to be more than her best friend. If he liked her back, well, she didn't know what would happen then, but she was sure it would be wonderful. If he didn't, she would probably die of a broken heart.
Miss Daphne Dale responds to a newspaper advertisement looking for a “sensible lady of good breeding for correspondence, and in due consideration, matrimony." Writing as “Miss Spooner," she strikes up a practical correspondence with “Mr. Dishforth." However, when she meets charming bad boy Lord Henry Seldon, she finds herself torn between the two men.
Writes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "What transpires is an engaging comedy in which words and deeds sometimes confuse minds and hearts, and the happily-ever-after seems just out of reach. A charmer."
In a 7 questions interview, we chatted with author Elizabeth Boyle about all the fun she has while writing historical romances:
"Truly, who wouldn’t want to spend their days wrangling dukes? But I love the writing process—the nuts and bolts of a discovering a story idea/characters, pondering the what-ifs and weighing the story potential, and then exploring those characters by telling their story. Adding the historical elements is like the frosting on cupcakes—so many choices and always the chance to toss in some sprinkles."
And tonight, Daphne carried high expectations she would be . . . would be . . . She glanced over at her dear friend, and whispered a secret prayer that when she found her true love, she might be as happy.
And how could she not with Mr. Dishforth somewhere in this room?
Yes, Mr. Dishforth. She, Daphne Dale, the most sensible of all the ladies of Kempton was engaged in torrid correspondence with a complete stranger.
And tonight she would come face to face with him.
Oh, she would have stared down an entire regiment of Seldons tonight if only to attend this ball. To find her dear Mr. Dishforth.
“Who looks a bit pink?” Miss Harriet Hathaway asked, having just arrived from the dance floor, looking altogether pink and flushed.
Meanwhile, Lady Essex was growing impatient. “Miss Manx, how many times do I have to remind you how imperative it is to keep one’s vinaigrette close at hand?”
Harriet cringed and asked in an aside, “Who is the intended victim?”
Tabitha pointed at Daphne, who in turn mouthed two simple words.
And being the dearest friend alive, Harriet did. “It is just Daphne’s gown, Lady Essex. The pink satin is giving her a definite glow. A becoming one, don’t you think?”
Bless Harriet right down to her slippers, she’d tried.
“She’s flushed, I say,” Lady Essex averred. Then again, Lady Essex also like any opportunity to bring out her vinaigrette, and had even now taken the reticule from Miss Manx and was searching its depths herself. “I won’t have you fainting, Daphne Dale. It is nigh on impossible to maintain a lady-like demeanor when one is passed out on the floor.”
Tabitha shrugged. It was hard to argue that fact.
Yet Harriet was ever the intrepid soul and refused to give up. “I’ve always found, Lady Essex, that a turn about the room is a much better means of restoring one’s vitality.” She paused and slanted a wink at Daphne and Tabitha while the lady was still engrossed in her search. “Besides, while I was dancing with Lord Fieldgate, I swore I saw Lady Jersey on the other side of the room.”
“Lady Jersey, you say?” Lady Essex perked up, immediately diverted. Better still, she failed to remember that she should probably be chastising Harriet for dancing with the roguish viscount in the first place.
“Yes, I am quite certain of it.” Then Harriet did one better and looped her arm into the spinster’s, handed the hated reticule back to Miss Manx and steered the old girl into the crowd. “Weren’t you saying earlier today that if you could but have a word with her, you’d have our vouchers for next Season?”
Just like that, the hated vinaigrette was utterly forgotten and so was Daphne’s flushed countenance.
A Lady Jersey sighting trumped all.
With Harriet and Lady Essex sailing ahead, Daphne and Tabitha followed, albeit at a safe distance so they could talk.
“You are taking a terrible risk,“ Tabitha whispered to Daphne. “If Lady Essex were to find out--“
“Sssh!“ Daphne tapped her finger to her lips. “Don't even utter it aloud. She can hear everything.“
It was a miracle as it was that the old girl hadn't discovered Daphne's deepest, darkest secret—that she’d answered an advertisement in the paper from a gentleman seeking a wife.
There it was. And the gentleman had answered her. And then she had replied in kind. And so the exchange had gone on for the last month, all anonymous and mysterious and most likely beyond the pale and ruinous if anyone discovered the truth.
Certainly, if Lady Essex found out that such a scandalous correspondence had been carried out right under her nose, then the only notes Daphne would be composing would answering the messages of condolences for Lady Essex’s fatal heart ailment.
“Do you think he’s here yet?” Tabitha asked, looking around the room.
Daphne shook her head, glancing as well at the crush of guests. “I have no idea. But he’s here, I just know it.”
Her own Mr. Dishforth. Daphne felt that telltale heat of a blush rising in her cheeks. At first their letters had been tentative and skeptical, but now their correspondence, which was carried out in a daily flurry of letters and notes, had suddenly taken a very intimate turn.
I would write more but I have obligations this evening at an engagement party. Dare I hope my plans might intersect with yours?
Daphne pressed her fingers to her lips. An engagement party. Which could only mean, he was here.
Mary Burton's new romantic suspense The Seventh Victim is our Top Pick in Romance for February! Romance columnist Christie Ridgway promises it "will keep readers up all night."
Lara Church was the only surviving victim of a Seattle serial killer. Now, the killer is back, and it looks like he's found her in Texas—and Texas Ranger James Beck is determined to keep her safe. If you love books that turn up the sexual tension with plenty of danger, this one's for you.
Read our 7 questions interview with Burton, where we talked about the romantic suspense genre, sexy scenes, her career and more.
Also, read on for an excerpt from The Seventh Victim, when Lara Church and Texas Ranger James Beck meet for the first time (read more here):
In the distance he heard a dog bark. Judging by the animal’s deep timbre, it was big and running in Beck’s direction. Absently, he moved his hand to the gun on his hip. Nice places like this could turn nasty or even deadly in the blink of an eye.
The dog’s barking grew louder. Tightening his hand on the gun’s grip, he scanned the wooded area around the cabin until his gaze settled on a path that cut into the woods. In a flash, a large black and tan shepherd emerged from the woods, its hair standing on end. The animal glared at Beck, barking and growling. The animal was a beauty, but he’d shoot if it attacked.
Seconds later a woman emerged from the woods. She carried a shotgun in her hands and the instant she saw Beck she raised the barrel.
Beck didn’t hesitate. He drew his gun and pointed it directly at the women. “Texas Ranger. Drop the gun now!”
The woman stared at him, her gaze a blend of surprise and wariness.
“Put. The. Gun. Down.” Each word was sharpened to a fine point.
She lowered the tip of the barrel a fraction but didn’t release the gun. “How do I know you’re a Texas Ranger?”
The Texas Ranger uniform was easily recognizable to anyone who’d been in Texas more than five minutes. But that discussion came after she released the weapon. “Put the gun down, now.” He all but shouted the command over the dog’s barking. “Now!”
Carefully, she laid the barrel down and took a step back as if she was ready to bolt into the woods. The dog bared its teeth, but she made no move to calm the animal. She might have surrendered the gun, but the dog remained a threat.
He braced his feet. “If your dog lunges at me, I will shoot him.”
Her gaze flickered quickly between the dog and his gun. She understood he’d meant it. “Okay.” She looped her fingers through the dog’s collar and ordered him to heel close at her side.
“You and the dog step back.”
“Do it!” He glanced at the shotgun, knowing he’d not breathe a sigh of relief until he had it in hand.
“I am not turning around.” Her raspy voice stutter- stepped with panic. “I want to see your badge.”
He studied her. If this was Lara Church and she’d survived the Strangler, fear would be a logical response. “Step away from the gun.”
She drew in a breath and moved back with the dog. He picked up the shotgun and holstered his gun. Slowly, he pulled his badge from his breast pocket and held it up to her.
“Sergeant James Beck,” he said.
He opened the break-action shotgun and found two shells in the double-barreled chamber. The safety was off. He removed the shells. “You always greet people with a shotgun?” He glanced from her to the growling dog.
“When I’m alone, yes. And it is registered, and I am on my land, so I’m well within my rights to carry a weapon.”
As he held her rifle, he glared at her and the barking shepherd. “You know how to shoot it?”
Blue eyes held his. “I sure do.”
Will you check this one out?
Robyn Carr has been sharing the stories of heartwarming romances in her wildly popular Virgin River series for 30 years. The 20th book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, is our December Top Pick in Romance. It's a tale of the fierce attraction between Navy pilot Patrick Riordan and Angie LeCroix (Jack Sheridan’s attractive niece, if you're familiar with the series), both of whom have survived serious trauma.
We chatted with Carr in a 7 questions interview about favorite characters, the Virgin River setting and much more.
My favorite question to ask romance authors is always, "What are the sexiest scenes to write?" And if you weren't reading Carr before now (first off, you're crazy), her answer will probably convince you to start:
"Not the sex scenes, actually, but the scenes that lead up to the sex scenes—the caress, the touch, the shiver of expectation, the kiss. The seductive words and the growing expectation that it's the right match, the perfect possession."
There was one thing Angie did remember—almost dying. Seeing her grandmother on the other side. Seeing herself lying in an emergency room covered with blood. The only person she told was her neurosurgeon, Dr. Temple, because she wanted to know if she was crazy. He had said, “I hear that sometimes, about deceased loved ones helping with the crossover.”
“Is it real?” she had asked him.
“I don’t know,” he had answered.
She hadn’t told anyone else in the family.
Angie had been the passenger in a car one of her classmates had been driving on a cold, drizzly, slick March evening. A car on the opposing interstate lane had lost control, crossed the median and hit two oncoming cars. It could’ve been a flat tire or avoiding another car, but there was no villain; no alcohol or drugs to blame; it was an accident. That driver had been killed, everyone else injured, Angie the worst. Her classmate, Shelly, had multiple broken bones but was fully recovered now except for an ankle she said got strangely cold—she blamed the plates, screws and pins.
Angie had a couple of serious fractures for which surgery had been required, she lost a spleen, there was a collapsed lung and she had a titanium rod in a femur, but the big issue was the head injury—there had been an impressive laceration on the back of her head and while there was no open fracture, her brain began to swell and the neurosurgeon implanted a shunt to drain the edema. She had some memory loss which had slowly come back, except, thankfully, not the details of the accident. She had been in a coma for three days and then had to fight her way back to the world through a post anesthetic and pain med haze. They had wondered for weeks if this bright, driven young medical student would have any mental handicaps.
She did not.
She was forever changed, however.
This was where she and her mother had their impasse. Her parents were educators, professors, and the parents of three very smart daughters. To say they monitored their education and pushed them along trajectories they thought were in line with their desires and skills would be an understatement. And Angie had been happy to meet their expectations—she was proud of her academic accomplishments. She often felt it was the singular thing she could be proud of—she wasn’t athletic, musical or pretty. The only place she had real confidence was in her intellectual achievement.
She was fully recovered from her accident and could have gone back to school in September, but she chose not to. Her father, sitting cautiously on the fence, thought a brief break was within reason but her mother disagreed and wanted her back on that horse.
Angie wasn’t sure any more. Of anything. For one thing, she was done having her parents, mostly her mother, decide things like this for her. Angie grew a backbone and said, “I might not want to continue medical school! I might want to make macramé flower pot holders for the rest of my life! Or grow herbs! Or hitchhike across Europe! But whatever it is, it’s going to be up to me!” Donna accused her of undergoing a personality change because of her head injury and Angie suggested she’d finally found her personality and it was remarkably like Donna’s.
No one else in the family thought she was different excepting the fact she had grown wonderfully stubborn. And having Jack, Mel and Brie on her side didn’t thrill Donna.
Angie didn’t go back to medical school, though the dean did tell her she would still have a place with them if she didn’t wait too long. She didn’t discuss it with her parents or her Virgin River cheering section. She’d had a close-up of how unpredictable and tenuous life could be. One minute you’re buzzing along the freeway, singing with the radio, the next you’re looking down on yourself, watching as medical staff frantically worked to save your life and you see your dead grandmother across a chasm of light.
Once she realized she had barely survived, every day dawned brighter, the air drawn into her lungs more precious, the beat of her heart weighing heavy in colossal importance. She was filled with a sense of gratitude and became contemplative, viewing the smallest detail of living with huge significance. Things she took for granted before had grown in magnitude. There was no detail she was willing to miss; she stopped to have long conversations with grocery store bag boys, corner flower peddlers, librarians, booksellers and school crossing guards.
Romance columnist Christie Ridgway calls Megan Mulry's debut, A Royal Pain, "a modern love story fizzing with bubbles of Cinderella fantasy."
She isn't kidding about the "modern": Bronte Talbott is a classically independent American woman, and when she finds out that the guy she's dating—cute British doctoral student Max Heyworth—is actually the Duke of Northrop, she's not exactly ready to be swept off her feet. Amid all the falling-heads-over-heels for each other, there are financial differences, a disapproving mother and a ocean-sized question of trans-Atlantic distance.
We chatted with author Megan Mulry—who is not British, by the way—about royal gossip, sexy scenes and what she's reading in a 7 questions interview. When it comes to dinner party guests, I like her style:
"All the best people, darling! Julia Child, Christopher Hitchens, Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess of Devonshire, Caitlin Moran, Colin Firth, Anthony Bourdain, Vita Sackville-West and some of my real-life friends to round out the numbers. David Gandy would be the waiter."
It was hard to say which one of them had been more flummoxed by the other’s transformation. Having only seen each other in a parade of T-shirts and jeans for the previous days and weeks, when Max opened the door to Bronte’s flat and saw her in the little red Valentino dress, he clasped both hands over his heart, as if to stave off an attack. Bronte was similarly stunned by Max in full, debonair splendor.
His broad shoulders and trim waist were even more appealing in his perfectly tailored navy suit, a few curls of brown hair touched the collar of his crisp white shirt, and he had finished it off with a pale-green Hermès tie. (They were going to have fun with that tie later, Bronte promised herself.)
Max hired a car and driver to chauffeur them around for the night, and Bronte winced slightly at the needless expense. He called her out.
“If you are constitutionally unable to enjoy spending a little bit of dosh on a night out, we need to have a talk.”
She laughed and decided, for one night at least, to let go of her financial hang-ups. “Fine! All right! I give in. Go ahead and spend. I’ll do my best to turn a blind eye to all this wild extravagance.” He obviously wasn’t the starving student she thought he was if that suit was any indication.
Max looked out the window of the relatively grimy dial-a-car and hid his amusement at Bronte’s idea of extravagance. She was in for a few surprises when she came to London. And it was definitely when she came, because as far as Max was concerned, there was no if about it.
They arrived at a small French restaurant and Bronte gave a brief note of thanks to the powers that be that she had never been wined and dined by any Texan suitors at this particular establishment.
“Since you have rescinded financial equality,” Max said after they were settled side by side in an intimate booth and looking over the outrageously expensive menu, “I was thinking maybe I should just take the reins altogether. I think I’ll order for you, feed you, intertwine my arms through yours as we drink a memorable bottle of Léoville-Las Cases . . .”
He brought his water glass to his lips and watched her face transition from brief, affronted shock, to humor, to something seductive and willing.
Right before he took a sip, he said, “Oh, Bron, please don’t look at me like that until we’re finished with dessert.”
"Okay,” she purred with false compliance. “Whatever you say, Your Grace.”
He almost spewed his water at her offhand remark, but instead pretended it had gone down the wrong tube and brought his napkin to his eyes to conceal his surprise.
She patted him on the back gently. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he sputtered, “fine, just excited I guess.”
Bronte finished rubbing his back then put both of her hands in her lap. “Me too. And nervous all of a sudden.”
He took one of her hands in his and gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t say that. It’s one of my favorite things about you. You are never nervous.”
Her blood sped at the idea that he already had a favorite thing about her—one of many, apparently—then she swatted herself back into reality.
“Everybody’s nervous sometimes.” Bronte reached for her water glass. “Even Kate.”
Max looked at her with confusion. “Who?”
“You know, the Duchess of Cambridge.”
If he had been drinking water that time, Max would have spewed that mouthful for sure. The way Bronte had phrased the sentence made it sound like you know the Duchess of Cambridge. Whom he did, in fact, know.
He paused again, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either Bronte had spent the past two days scouring the Internet and knew all about his family and connections and had decided to taunt him into confessing, or she just happened to be stumbling blindly into it.
Bronte burst out laughing. “I mean, of course you don’t know her know her. But you know what I mean. She’s always so authentic and calm and pretty and smiling and, you know, perfect.”
How the hell was he supposed to reply to that? Silence was always one of his best allies.
“Oh forget it. You men are all the same, pretending it’s all silly princess worship or whatever. Still, I bet it’s hard work being perennially cheerful all the time, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that in a million years.”
Well, Max thought, that wasn’t an acceptable alternative either. He smiled suggestively. “I’m sure her position has its . . . advantages, wouldn’t you say?”
Bronte took the bait. “Oh, all right. William is pretty cute, I’ll give you that.”
Max didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that the future king’s cuteness was at the top of Bronte’s list of royal inducements.
Eloisa James has put her Regency romance twist on a handful of fairy tales: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Princess and the Pea. Her newest novel and our Romance of the Month, The Ugly Duchess, puts a sexy spin on that unattractive duckling (technically—spoilers!—a cygnet) with the story of childhood friends Theodora Saxby and James Ryburn.
Theo and James marry in their teens—Theo for love, but James to save his family's reputation. When Theo discovers the truth, she tosses James out. Years later, James has become a pirate, and Theo is a successful fashion leader. Describes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "Time brings wisdom, and James returns to his wife, determined to heal the rifts of the past. Can Theo recognize the boy she loved in the commanding man who has returned? Dare she risk her heart once again?"
Author Eloisa James answered a 7 questions interview, where she shares her choice for Shakespeare's most romantic line and this explanation for her love of romances:
"The simple answer is that I love a happy ending. But a more complicated answer is that romance has a rhythm and a promise to it that appeals to me. I know the world is a tough and cold place; I’ve lost my mother and I have a child with a chronic illness. But—and this is a big but—I also know that love and joy make all the difference. Romance reminds me that if there’s a pattern to the universe, it’s one shaped around and by love. We can all use that reminder now and then."
"She loathed her profile almost as much as she loathed the dress. If she didn’t have to worry about people mistaking her for a boy—not that they really did, but they couldn’t stop remarking on the resemblance—at any rate, if she didn’t have to worry about that, she would never again wear pink. Or pearls. There was something dreadfully banal about the way pearls shimmered.
For a moment she distracted herself by mentally ripping her dress apart, stripping it of its ruffles and pearls and tiny sleeves. Given a choice, she would dress in plum-colored corded silk, and sleek her hair away from her face without a single flyaway curl. Her only hair adornment would be an enormous feather—a black one—arching backward so it brushed her shoulder. If her sleeves were elbow-length, she could trim them with a narrow edging of black fur. Or perhaps swansdown, with the same at the neck. Or she could put a feather trim at the neck; the white would look shocking against the plum velvet.
That led to the idea that she could put a ruff at the neck and trim that with a narrow strip of swansdown. It would be even better if the sleeves weren’t opaque fabric, but nearly transparent—like that new Indian silk her friend Lucinda had been wearing the previous night—she would have them quite wide, so they billowed and then gathered tight at the elbow. Or perhaps the wrist would be more dramatic …
She could see herself entering a ballroom in that costume. No one would titter about whether she looked like a girl or a boy. She would pause for a moment on the top of the steps, gathering everyone’s gaze, and then she would snap open her fan … No, fans were tiresomely overdone. She’d have to come up with something new.
The first man who asked her to dance, addressing her as Miss Saxby, would be treated to her slightly weary yet amused smile. “Call me Theo,” she would say, and all the matrons would be so scandalized they would squeak about nothing else the whole night long.
Theo was key: the name played to all those infatuations men formed on each other, the way their closest relationships were with their friends rather than with their wives. She’d seen it with James: when he was thirteen he had positively worshipped the captain of the cricket team at Eton. It stood to reason that if she wore her hair sleeked back, along with a gown that faintly resembled a cricket uniform, all those men who had once adored their captains would be at her feet.
She was so caught up in a vision of herself in a severely tailored jacket resembling the Etonian morning coat that at first she didn’t even hear the pounding on her door. But an insistent “Daisy!” finally broke through her trance, and she pushed herself up from the settee and opened the bedchamber door.
“Oh hello, James,” she said, unable to muster much enthusiasm at the sight of him. The last thing one wants to see when in a melancholic fit is a friend who refuses to attend balls even when he knows perfectly well that all three weeks of her first season had been horrific. He had no idea what it was like. How could he? He was devastatingly handsome, rather charming when he wasn’t being a beast, and a future duke, to boot. This embarrassment of riches really wasn’t fair. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
“How could you not realize it was me?” James demanded, pushing open the door and crowding her backward, now that he knew she was decent. “I’m the only person in the world who calls you Daisy. Let me in, will you?”
Theo sighed and moved back. “Do you suppose you could try harder to call me Theo? I must have asked you a hundred times already. I don’t want to be Theodora, or Dora, or Daisy either.”
James flung himself into a chair and ran a hand through his hair. From the look of it, he’d been in an ill humor all morning, because half his hair was standing straight up. It was lovely hair, heavy and thick. Sometimes it looked black, but when sunlight caught it there were deep mahogany strands too. More reasons to resent James. Her own hair had nothing subtle about it. It was thick, too, but an unfashionable yellowy-brown mixture.
“No,” he said flatly. “You’re Daisy to me, and Daisy suits you.”
“It doesn’t suit me,” she retorted. “Daisies are pretty and fresh, and I’m neither.”
“You are pretty,” he said mechanically, not even bothering to glance at her.
She rolled her eyes, but really, there was no reason to press the point. James never looked at her close enough to notice whether she’d turned out pretty … why should he? Being only two years apart, they’d shared the nursery practically from birth, which meant he had clear memories of her running about in a diaper, being smacked by Nurse Wiggan for being smart."
Romance fans: Why are romances your favorite books?
Our Romance of the Month is the fourth installment in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, Thief of Shadows. This historical romance is all double identities, forbidden romances and really hot love scenes.
Writes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "A sophisticated widow and a younger man with a dangerous secret clash . . . Winter tries to distance himself from the sensual lady. Not only is he beneath her socially, he’s determined to remain celibate to devote his energies elsewhere. But Isabel proves impossible to resist, even as she discovers his secret—one that threatens their safety."
Read on for an excerpt from Thief of Shadows:
“Moo,” Isabel muttered to herself just as the carriage door opened to admit her lady’s maid, Pinkney.
“Ma’am?” Pinkney asked, her blue eyes wide and startled. Of course, Pinkney’s blue eyes were nearly always wide and startled. She was one of the most sought-after lady’s maids in London and a paragon of the latest fashion, despite being barely past one and twenty and somewhat naïve.
“Nothing,” Isabel said, waving aside her bovine utterance. “Did you find out why it’s taking so long to move the dead man?”
“Oh, yes, my lady,” Pinkney said. “It’s because he’s not dead.” Her pretty dark blond brows drew together. “Well, not yet anyway. Harold the footman is having a time pulling him aside, and you wouldn’t credit it, ma’am, but he’s a comic actor.”
It was Isabel’s turn to blink. “Harold?”
“Oh, no, my lady!” Pinkney giggled until she caught Isabel’s steady gaze. “Er”—the maid cleared her throat—“the not-yet-dead man is. A comic actor, that is. He’s dressed as a harlequin, mask and all…”
Isabel was no longer listening. She’d opened the door and climbed from the carriage. Outside, the gray day was growing grimmer with the advent of nightfall. Fires flared to the west, and she could hear the rumbling of rioters from that direction. They were very near. Isabel shivered and hurried to where Harold and the other footman were bent over a figure on the ground. Pinkney had probably mistaken the costume or the man or the mask or—
Isabel drew in a sharp breath. She’d never seen the notorious Ghost of St. Giles in person, but she had no doubt at all that this must be him. The prone man wore black and red motley. His floppy brimmed black hat had fallen from his head, and she could see that his brown hair was tied back simply. A short sword was sheathed at his side and a long sword lay by one broad hand. A black half-mask with a ridiculously long nose covered the upper half of his face, leaving his square chin and wide mouth revealed. His lips were parted over straight white teeth, the upper lip a little bigger than the bottom.
Isabel snapped her attention up to her footman. “Is he alive?”
“He’s still breathin’ at least, m’lady.” Harold shook his head. “Don’t know for how long, though.”
A shout came from nearby and the sound of smashing glass.
“Put him in the carriage,” Isabel said. She bent to pick up his hat.
Will, the second footman, frowned. “But, m’lady—”
“Now. And don’t forget his sword.”
Already she could see a mass of people rounding the corner down the street. The footmen glanced at each other then as one lifted the Ghost. Harold grunted under the weight, but he made no complaint.
A crowd gathered at the end of the street and someone gave a shout.
The rioters had spotted the carriage.
Is Thief of Shadows on your TBR list?
You'll never guess which fictional character Suzanne Brockmann would choose to have stranded on an island with her.
"Mr. Spock. And I’ll take him as played by either Leonard Nimoy or Zachary Quinto. Both versions rock."
Romance columnist Christie Ridgway promises "this sizzling story will draw readers into a world of frightening evil and heroic action" as an ex-SEAL and a super-human temptress risk their lives to take down a criminal organization.
Enjoy an excerpt from Born to Darkness (read more here):
Shane was winning when she walked in.
His plan was a simple one: spend a few hours here in this lowlife bar and win enough money playing pool to take the T down to Copley Square, where there was a cluster of expensive hotels. Hit one of the hotel bars, where the women not only had all of their teeth, but they also had corporate expense accounts and key cards to the comfortable rooms upstairs.
But drinks there were pricey. Shane had spent his remaining fifty-eight seconds at the Kenmore comm-station checking menus, and he knew he'd need at least twenty dollars just to sit at the bar and nurse a beer. Fifty to buy a lady a drink. And expense account or not, you had to be ready to start the game by buying the lady a drink.
But then she walked in—or rather limped in. She was smaller than the average woman, and slight of build. She'd also injured her foot, probably her ankle, but other than that, she carried herself like an operator. She'd certainly scanned the room like one as she'd come in.
Which was when Shane had gotten a hit from her eyes. They were pale and he couldn't tell from this distance whether they were blue or green or even a light shade of brown. But the color didn't matter, it was the glimpse he got of the woman within that had made him snap to attention—internally, that is.
She looked right at him, gave him some direct eye contact, then assessed him. She took a very brief second to appreciate his handsome face and trim form, catalogued him, and finally dismissed him.
Anna Randol's debut romance novel, A Secret in Her Kiss, is our Romance of the Month!
Major Bennett Prestwood is ordered to Constantinople to act as protector and chaperone to beautiful British spy Mari Sinclair, who isn't interested in having a guardian. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway loved it for its exotic locale and the constant threat of danger.
Check out an excerpt from A Secret in Her Kiss, when Bennett is meeting who he believes to be Mari (read more here):
Bennett studied the woman before him--or at least what little he could see--a grand total of two brown eyes. Not even her eyebrows showed under the garish golden silk that swathed her entire form. Her native garb stood in awkward contrast to the traditional English decor of the ambassador's parlor, clashing horribly with the pink embroidered flowers on the chair beneath her. A dandelion in one of his mother's rose beds. "So you agree to the conditions?"
Miss Sinclair dipped her head, shrinking even further into the overstuffed chair. "Yes." Her words fluttered the fabric of her veil.
"I know it might be a bother to write out an hour-by-hour itinerary every morning, but it is for your safety."
"Yes, sir." She darted an anxious glance at the closed door.
Bennett paced in front of the large marble fireplace, then tapped his fingers on the mantel. Both of his sisters would've laughed in his face if he'd dared to make such a suggestion to one of them. He'd expected at least some protest. The sum the government was paying her must be substantial indeed.
Silence hung awkwardly in the stifling room. He eyed the shut windows. He still couldn't think of words to adequately describe the city of Constantinople spread out beneath them. The city resembled nothing so much as an aging courtesan's dressing room table overflowing with rouge pots and cream jars and a few candlesticks interspersed throughout.
He cleared his throat and forced his attention back to the woman in front of him. They could discuss the rest of his plans during the next few days. Now that they could claim an acquaintence, he could call on her without attracting undue attention. "That will be all for now, Miss Sinclair, it's been a pleasure meeting you."
She sprang to her feet in an eruption of silk and fled toward the door. Bennett scrambled to open it for her. The woman's work involved two of the most vindictive nations in Europe. He'd expected her to have more pluck.
Interested in even more romance? This month is full of great books to get excited about: romance trends, new series here and here, great romances for Valentine's Day and a guest post from Larissa Ione.
Our November Romance column features Jaci Burton's newest romantic suspense, The Heart of a Killer. It's a story of murder and gritty romance featuring Special Forces soldier Dante Renaldi and police detective Anna Pallino. Columnist Christie Ridgway loved it: "These are lovers to root for and worry over as violent death dogs their every step."
We chatted with Burton about hot guys and all the many reasons she loves to be a writer. I just love her description of the sexiest type of hero! Read our 7 Questions interview.
The following excerpt gives you just a taste of the tension in The Heart of a Killer (read more at Jaci Burton's website):
Anna Pallino's steps faltered when she entered the alley.
First, because she was in this godforsaken alley again, a place she hadn't set foot in since that night twelve years ago. Now she was back again, and someone was dead in the alley. Again.
Second, Dante Renaldi was back.
Those were enough to justify the stutter in her step.
Roman greeted her.
"What the hell is this?" she asked as she caught sight of Gabe standing next to Dante. "Old-home week? Dante comes back and you three decide to have a reunion here?"
"Then why am I here?" Something had obviously happened, but why would Roman call her to this crime scene? Because Dante was here?
And why the hell was Dante here?
She hated questions with no answers.
"Thought you'd want to know. That's George Clemons back there."
Third reason she almost tripped over her own feet. "George? Oh, my God, Roman. I'm so sorry. What happened?"
He laid his hand on her arm to halt her forward progress. "You need to know, Anna. He's been beaten to death."
She sucked in a breath and grabbed onto Roman, fighting to stay in the here and now. "And? There's more. Tell me."
She saw the reluctance in his eyes. "Tell me."
"Someone carved a heart in his chest. Right where..." He glanced down at her shirt, at her left breast.
Oh, God. No. The heart carving just like hers. Her scar throbbed and she resisted the urge to touch it, to rub the ache away.
George Clemons, beaten just like the guys had beaten Tony Maclin that night.
She took a slow long breath, then let it out. "I don't understand."
Dante appeared beside her, but she had no time for him. Not now, not when her vision was nothing more than a pinpoint of light.