Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Coming Attractions

Okay, raise your hands if you can't believe 2015 is already half over. How can this be possible? I still have too many January - June books to read! Ah well, no matter how hard I try to slow down time, the calendar pages keep flipping and here we are welcoming the month of July. Here's what's on the Romance Dish schedule.

Thursday, July 2 brings RITA® nominee Patience Griffin back to the Dish. Griffin's debut, To Scotland with Love is a double finalist for Best First Book and Best Contemporary Romance:Long. Her newest book, Some Like it Scottish is the third book in her Kilts and Quilts series and hits the shelves July 7.

On Friday, July 3, I'll be sharing photo memories of the 2010 RWA National Conference at Disney World. There be prizes. :)

On Monday, July 6, Janga will share her most anticipated historical romances being published from July - December, 2015. I can feel my bank account draining already!

I go back to New York City and the 2011 RWA National Conference on Wednesday, July 8 with this week's stroll down a pictorial memory lane.

The Jill Shalvis Second Chance Summer tour rolls into town on Thursday, July 9. This contemporary romance about second chances kicks off Shalvis' new Cedar Ridge series.

Janga returns Wednesday, July 15 with a review of a reissued romance in her July On Second Thought column.

Don't miss my Q&A with RITA® finalist, Nancy Herkness on Thursday, July 16. Herkness is a finalist in the Contemporary Romance:Long category with her novel, The Place I Belong. She'll be joining us on the 16th to talk about her new book, The CEO Buys In which kicks off a new series on July 21.

Vanessa Kelly stops by on Friday, July 17 to talk about the newest addition to her Renegade Royals series, How to Marry a Royal Highlander. The book hits stores today!

On Saturday, July 18, I wrap up my look back at RWA National with photo highlights of the 2013 conference in Atlanta.

The week of July 20th I'll be in New York City for the 2015 RWA National Conference. Be sure to follow me during the conference at the Romance Dish Facebook page and stop by the last week of the month for my conference recap.

Kick back, grab a cold drink, a good book, and let's have a great month of July!


Monday, June 29, 2015

Today's Special - - Summer at the Shore Tour

Morgan Merrifield sacrificed her teaching career to try to save her family's bed-and-breakfast and care for her younger sister. She can't let herself get distracted by Ryan Butler. After all, the rugged ex-Special Forces soldier is only in Seashell Bay for the summer. But her longtime crush soon flares into real desire-and with one irresistible kiss, she's swept away.

Ryan values his freedom. As much as he wants Morgan, he's not ready to settle down with anyone, much less in sleepy Seashell Bay. But his code of honor doesn't allow him to leave a woman in distress-and she's in desperate need of help to fix the inn. It only takes one day working under the same roof and Ryan is already hoping for a lifetime of hot summer nights . . .


Morgan told herself that her rapidly beating pulse as she watched Ryan disappear below was simply a coincidence. Most übermasculine guys in their early thirties tended to swagger, especially around women. Ryan though . . . he moved with a quiet yet powerful grace that was a wonder to behold. His body was pretty damn wonderful too, with broad shoulders tapering to the classic six- pack and long, muscular legs. His Red Sox Tshirt hugged his brawny chest and showcased his cut biceps. That amazing body was the product of years of military training and his beloved kayaking, and it was all too easy to imagine how it would feel wrapped around her.
She breathed a tiny sigh and slumped against the back of the bench, turning her face up to the warm June sunshine. She’d spent hours rushing around Portland to pick up supplies. Normally she gave herself enough time before the boat’s departure to use the cargo service for her goods, but too many errands today and a fender bender near the parking garage had delayed her. So it was really great that, after her mad dash, Ryan had appeared to help her. The fact that he liked to rattle her chain spoke to the easy friendship that still existed between them.
Her thoughts about Ryan had often strayed from friendship into fantasy territory over the years, and their encounter at last summer’s festival dance had done nothing to change that. The two of them had ended up in a slow dance at the end of the evening, egged on by their friend Laura Vickers. A little drunk by then, Morgan had found it all too easy to melt into the dangerous shelter of Ryan’s embrace.
It had been a culmination of a stressful evening, brought on by a horrible and very public confrontation between Lily Doyle’s father and his longtime enemy, Sean Flynn. Morgan had been so rattled and worried for Lily that she’d responded by drinking more than she normally did, which had lowered her staunch defenses against her supersecret crush on Ryan. Her heart had pounded like a battering ram as he held her close—too close. His bristled jaw had rubbed gently over her cheek, and she’d thought he was going to kiss her right there on the crowded dance floor. Under the influence of alcohol and nerves—and yes, sheer lust—her smarts had evaporated in the heat of Ryan’s mysterious gaze.
At precisely the same moment, they’d both snapped out of it. By some sort of unspoken but clear mutual agreement, she and Ryan had derailed the makings of a runaway train. Even in her instinctive relief, Morgan had been shaken to realize how good it felt to be held by him. How thrilling the moment had been in its raw sexual power


Summer at the Shore
By V.K. Sykes
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: June 30, 2015

V.K. Sykes' Seashell Bay is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional places to visit. In Summer at the Shore, the second book in this heartwarming series, this talented writing team brings us the story of Morgan and Ryan, lifelong friends who have always had feelings for one another simmering below the surface but have never acted upon them. Until now, when circumstances bring both of them home for the summer.

One of the things I most enjoy about Sykes' writing is their ability to create complex, fully-dimensional characters. Ryan and Morgan face the daily dilemmas and decisions that many of us have to deal with. Ryan is at a crossroads in his career and must choose the direction that will be best for him while Morgan's beloved teaching career has been derailed when she's forced to return home to help her special-needs sister try to save the family's struggling B&B following their father's unexpected death.  Adding the growing feelings between them makes the decisions they must make even more difficult, as would be the case in real life. Sykes has given us realistic characters facing everyday challenges, heartaches and joy.

As with the first book in the series, Meet Me at the Beach, this new book is not only about the hero and heroine.  Sykes has created a community of hard-working, sometimes quirky, characters who are seamlessly interwoven throughout Morgan and Ryan's story, exactly as would be the case in any small town. We catch up with main characters from the first book and meet characters who will undoubtedly star in future books without ever losing focus of the main couple in this book. Seashell Bay is a community, with all it's pros and cons, and Sykes captures that beautifully. Each visit to this fictional island off the coast of Maine only makes me more excited for the next one.

I highly recommend Summer at the Shore for your summer reading list.


What are your favorite fictional places to visit this summer? The beach? Mountains? Somewhere exotic?

Have you visited Seashell Bay yet? 

I'll be taking lots of books along (on my Kindle) when I go to the beach this summer. Where's your favorite place to read during these hot months?

V. K. Sykes is a wife/husband writing team -Vanessa Kelly and Randall Sykes - who write romantic suspense and single-title contemporary romance.  One of the great things they appreciate about being writers is that they can work anywhere so Vanessa and Randy split their time between Ontario, Canada, in the summer and Florida in the winter. Both locations have shores just as beautiful as the imaginary Seashell Bay.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday Winner

Thanks for traveling back to the 

2009 Washington, DC RWA National Conference with me.

The winner of this week's package of books is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to me at:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

(U.S. addresses only)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review - - Put Up Your Duke

Put Up Your Duke
By Megan Frampton
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 30, 2015


Nicholas Smithfield has a well-deserved reputation for excelling in the bedroom and in the boxing ring. His enjoys his activities and his reputation, and, aside from his affection for his younger brother Griff, he has no ties that require a commitment and no responsibilities. His life changes radically when the discovery of a bigamous marriage in his family history results in Nicholas becoming the current Duke of Gage. To his dismay, Nicholas finds that he has not only inherited the title with all its concomitant responsibilities but also a prospective duchess. Nicholas’s efforts to escape marriage to the oh-so-perfect Lady Isabella Sawford prove futile. Even his brother admits that the agreement forged with the former duke is binding on Nicholas, and the lady’s parents promise financial and social ruin if Nicholas fails to marry their eldest daughter.

Isabella enjoys a brief dream of freedom when she learns of the changing of the dukes, but she is not really surprised when she learns that she is expected to accept the new duke as unquestioningly as she did the old. After all, Isabella has been reared to be the perfect duchess since her parents realized her beauty could be used as social capital. Only with her sister Margaret has Isabella ever dared to be herself. In all other respects, she is the personification of the icy perfection her parents have demanded. Her future as the Duchess of Gage promises more of the same.

Nicholas is not immune to the beauty of his bride, but her obvious fear of the marriage bed acts as a brake on his desire. What follows is a rare romance in which Nicholas slowly seduces the innocent Isabella as they gradually get to know one another. In the process, they each also learn more about themselves even as they grow and change. Nicholas learns what it means to place someone else’s interests ahead of his own, and Isabella discovers what it means to be her own person, one capable of independent thought and action.

Put Up Your Duke is the second novel in Frampton’s Dukes Behaving Badly series. However, the series title is misleading in this case since Nicholas’s rakish behavior ends with his marriage. He lacks the usual dukely arrogance and instead is defined by his willingness to listen to others and an endearing sense of humor. As a husband, he is surprisingly caring and patient.

“Listen to me, and know this, Isabella.” He paused. “Wife.” He glanced down at their entwined fingers. “I want you to be who you are. Not who you think you should be, or who you think I want you to be.”

 She felt the sting of tears in her eyes.

 “It might end up that we – well, that we find we don’t have that much in common after all. But one thing we should have in common is that both of us should be free to be whoever we truly are.”
Seeing Isabella slowly believe in that freedom and release the self that she has hidden with the gloss of perfect conformity is as rewarding as seeing the protagonists recognize their love for one another.

With minimal external conflict, the focus is on the growing relationship between Isabella and Nicholas. Each chapter is introduced with a brief passage from a serialized story in which elements of the relationship between the hero and heroine parallel elements in the relationship of Nicholas and Isabella. Nicholas reads the serial and even reads parts of it aloud to Isabella. The authorship of the stories was for me a delightful surprise.

The secondary characters also add layers of interest. Griff and Margaret, both something of misfits in their world who have found roles that provide them with confidence and satisfaction, are appealing characters, and I for one hope we see more of them. The “villains” here are not evil monsters but rather flawed human beings governed by greed and self-interest.

Overall, this is a not-so-convenient marriage tale that showcases the careful creation of physical and emotional intimacy between two people who marry with little knowledge of one another. The story is seasoned with humor and filled with a mix of introspection and near perfect dialogue. It is an amusing story that also possesses real substance.  If you like historical romance that blends humor and heart, along with sizzle that is artfully used to reveal character rather than merely to titillate, I highly recommend Put Up Your Duke


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday - - RWA National

Three years after my initial RWA experience in Atlanta (click here to read), I traveled to Washington, DC to attend my first complete conference as a registered participant. By the time July, 2009 rolled around, I had been reviewing books at an online site for almost a year and was excited to learn as much as I could from workshops while also meeting the authors whose books I'd enjoyed reading and other readers I'd "met" online. I volunteered to work the registration desk at that first conference and I strongly encourage anyone attending a conference for the first time to consider doing the same. It's a great way to meet people as they check in for the conference, especially when you're wearing that "first-timer" ribbon! Here are a few of the many highlights of my Washington, DC RWA National Conference.

They traveled from the other side of the world and I'm not sure anyone there was more excited to meet them in person than I was. Here's a picture of me with two of my favorite Aussies, the incomparable Anna Campbell and Christine Wells/Christina Brooke. Have you checked out Anna's new novella, Three Proposals and a Scandal? It's deliciously good!

You can not spend time with Cathy Maxwell, Suzanne Enoch and Karen Hawkins without smiling. It just isn't possible. 

The lovely Robyn Carr treated Virgin River fans to a Jack's Bar luncheon and a fabulous time was had by all! Robyn's upcoming Thunder Point novel, A New Hope was reviewed by Janga yesterday.

I stalked...er...um...stumbled upon...that's right...I stumbled upon the fabulous J.R. Ward while  
walking down the hallway between workshops and begged...no, that sounds desperate...graciously asked...yeah, that's better...I graciously asked her to sign a book for my niece. At least I think that's what I asked. My memories are clouded by the babbling...lots of babbling. Thankfully, she took pity on me, agreed to sign the book and also posed for a photo. She rocks! She also has a new contemporary series kicking off this summer with the July 28th release of The Bourbon Kings. I've read an advanced copy of the book and it is fabulous!

Toni Blake and Julie Anne Long are people I always look forward to seeing and their books are at the top of my "must read" lists. This was my first time meeting them in person and they both treated me as if we were long-time friends. They're just the best!

Joanna Bourne with the RITA she won for My Lord and Spymaster. She was a double finalist that year. What a fascinating woman and exceptional author!

With Victoria Alexander at one of the publisher parties. Such a lovely lady!

I adore Anne Gracie. Not only is she one of my favorite authors but she's also one of the nicest and most interesting people I've had the pleasure of meeting. And she has that wonderful love of life and sense of humor that seem to be woven into the DNA of all our friends from Down Under. Are you reading her Chance Sisters series? The third book in the quartet, The Spring Bride was released earlier this month and it's wonderful. The hero, Zachary Black stole my heart!

Kristan Higgins, who not only writes great books but also gives great hugs!

Marie Force with the book that started it all. She's worked hard for her success and I couldn't be happier for her!

Tessa Dare and Goddess of the Hunt. What fun to have your debut book sell out at your first RWA Literacy Signing!

The Romance Bandits know how to write great books and they especially know how to party!

Those are a few of the highlights from today's Throwback Thursday to RWA 2009. Be sure to stop by next Friday for a look back at 2010's RWA Disney!

What's your favorite romance sub-genre? Historical? Contemporary? Something else?

Have you ever been to Washington, DC? What was your favorite part of the trip?

What author would you most like to stalk...er...meet in person?

What's the farthest you've traveled?

I have a package of books for one person who leaves a comment on today's post. (U.S. addresses only)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review - - A New Hope

A New Hope
By Robyn Carr
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date: June 30, 2015

With the help of her cousin, Ray Anne Dysart, and her boss, Grace Dillon, Ginger Dysart has conquered the depression that almost destroyed her after the death of her infant son from SIDS. Ray Anne’s indefatigable optimism, Grace’s kindness, her job at Grace’s flower shop, and the supportive community that Thunder Point, Oregon, offers even to newcomers have helped Ginger restart her life. Although the loss of her child has left a hole in her heart that can never be filled and she still questions her sanity in falling for her former husband, a self-absorbed singer/songwriter unprepared for fatherhood, Ginger has found that it is still possible to find joy and purpose in life.

Joy is certainly the mood of the day at the Lacoumette farm where the wedding reception of Peyton Lacoumette and Dr. Scott Grant takes place. Ginger helped Grace with the flower arrangements, but she skipped the wedding. However, the wonders of Basque food, music, and dancing and the warm welcome of Peyton’s large extended family make Ginger glad that she attended the reception. With a new dress and more invitations to dance that she can count, she is even feeling pretty for the first time in a long while. But the magic of the evening ends when a good-looking Basque refuses to accept her refusal to dance or pursue other, more interesting options. When he gropes her, Ginger is forced to give him a shove that leaves him on the floor, drunk and unconscious.

Part-time professor and full-time farmer Matt Lacoumette knows that he was a jerk, but his sister’s wedding reception on the exact site of his own wedding two years earlier was just too much for him to handle sober. As a result, the asshat behavior that has become his modus operandi ruled the occasion. Less than a year after his wedding, Matt’s marriage was over, and he is still filled with bitterness over his ex-wife’s inability to adapt to life as the spouse of a farmer, still filled with mixed emotions about her, and still dealing with anger over the choices she made. His siblings may have christened him “Mad Matt” since his divorce, but Matt is sane enough to know that his drunken behavior was inexcusable. He owes apologies to his parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and to the woman he accosted.

His memories of the episode with Ginger are dim, and Matt is pleasantly surprised by how attractive he finds her when he visits the Thunder Point flower shop to make his apology. He never intended to make an invitation to dinner part of his grovel scene, but he wants to see more of Ginger. Dinner is a success: “He made her laugh and he was mesmerized by her sweetness and charm.”  An easy friendship develops between Ginger and Matt as they share bits of their lives and pieces of their hearts with one another through long, nightly phone calls and occasional dates. Ginger fits in beautifully with Matt’s family, comfortable with farm life and with the exuberant Lacoumettes. But when the relationship turns romantic, Matt’s doubts surface and he runs. Even when he realizes his error, complications from his marriage and divorce, heavier than even his family knows, shadow his relationship with Ginger. Matt must deal with his past and his residual anger before he can build a future with the woman who has totally claimed his heart.

As is typical with Carr’s books, the central romance unfolds against a backdrop of community life that includes secondary plots and appearances by a score of characters, most of them familiar from earlier books. Fans of the series will be pleased that A New Hope allows them to attend the beach wedding of Grace Dillon and Troy Headly (One Wish). The book also shows couples from earlier books as they prepare to become parents, and Grace’s mother, Winnie Dillon, an ALS patient, as she prepares to spend the final stage of her life as part of the Thunder Point community and in a less fraught relationship with her daughter.

A New Hope is the eighth Thunder Point book, a series which promises to be as long-lived and beloved as Carr’s trend-setting Virgin River series. This book  proves once again what a consistently good writer Carr is. She is particularly effective in creating communities peopled with characters whose lives realistically mirror ordinary life and who prevail over their problems with the support of family, friends, and community.  Ginger and Matt are engaging additions to Carr’s cast of characters. If you are a Carr fan, if you are a reader who can’t get enough of small-town romance, or if you search for stories in which the wounded are healed, the lonely find love, and lovers find a deserving and credible HEA, you should add A New Hope to your to-be-read shelf ASAP.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sabrina Jeffries ARC Winner

The randomly chosen winner of an ARC of 

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to us at:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

(US / Canadian address only)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Today's Special - - The Art of Sinning Excerpt and ARC Giveaway

If you read Sabrina Jeffries' How the Scoundrel Seduces (Book 3 in the Duke's Men series) then chances are you were as intrigued by Lady Zoe Keane's American cousin, Jeremy as I was. I just wasn't ready to say good-bye and, thanks to Jeffries' upcoming book, The Art of Sinning, I don't have to! I hope you enjoy this excerpt from the book where Jeremy and Lady Yvette first meet. Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win an ARC (advanced reading copy) of The Art of Sinning

The Art of Sinning
The Sinful Suitors, Book 1
By Sabrina Jeffries
Pocket Paperback
On sale July 21, 2015
ISBN-10: 1476786062
ISBN-13: 978-1476786063

At St. George’s Club, guardians conspire to keep their unattached sisters and wards out of the clutches of sinful suitors. Which works fine…except when the sinful suitors are members!

American artist Jeremy Keane refuses to return home and take over his father’s business. He’d much rather sample bevvies of beauties abroad, in search of a model for the provocative masterpiece he’s driven to paint. When he meets Lady Yvette Barlow at a London wedding, he realizes she’s perfect for his work—and determines to capture the young heiress’s defiant spirit and breathtaking sensuality on canvas.

No stranger to scandal, Yvette agrees to be Keane’s subject—in exchange for his help gaining entry to the city’s brothels he knows intimately, so she can track a missing woman and solve a family mystery. But when their practical partnership leads to lessons in the art of sinning, can they find a bold and lasting love?

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries Excerpt

Lady Yvette Barlow stood at the edge of the duke’s ballroom watching the dancing with a hollow ache of envy in her stomach. She loved to dance. And the chances of her being asked were slim to none. She towered over half the men in the ballroom. Not to mention that the whole world had recently learned of her youngest brother Samuel’s perfidy. Even her eldest brother Edwin, the Earl of Blakeborough, couldn’t avoid being tarred by that brush.

As if she’d conjured him up, Edwin’s voice sounded behind her. “Yvette, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

Good Lord. He’d been trying to cheer her up ever since they’d arrived, and he was very bad at it. Heaven only knew whom he thought might serve the purpose.

Pasting a smile to her lips, she faced him and his companion. Then her heart dropped into her stomach.

Standing beside Edwin was the most attractive man she’d ever seen—a golden-haired Adonis with eyes as deep a blue as the estate’s prize delphiniums. Indeed, she could tell the hue because the man stared at her with an intensity that quite sucked the air from her lungs.

Heavenly day. He was tall, too, and dressed on the daring end of fashionable—in a brown tailcoat, waistcoat of black cut velvet, and Tattersall trousers, topped off with a blood-red pongee cravat. Interesting. And a decided improvement over the gentlemen Edwin usually foisted on her.

“May I introduce my new friend, Mr. Jeremy Keane?” Edwin said.

The man bowed. “I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, Lady Yvette.”

His deep voice resonated through her like a piece of delicious music. Even his accent was compelling. American perhaps? Oh, she did like Americans. They were so refreshingly forthright. And used such fascinating slang, too.

She dipped her head. “The pleasure is mine, Mr. Keane.” But even as she said it, she put together the accent and the name. Oh dear, he had to be that Mr. Keane.

As if to confirm her realization, the man raked her in a blatantly admiring glance. A rogue’s glance.

Not again. Why must she always attract scoundrels? And be attracted to them in turn? Hadn’t she learned her lesson with her former suitor, Lieutenant Ruston?

Apparently not, for already Mr. Keane’s glance was warming her most scandalously. Curse him.

Edwin went on. “Keane is an artist from—”

“I know all about Mr. Keane.” When Edwin scowled, she caught herself. “From the exhibit of his works, of course.”

Mr. Keane’s warm gaze poured over her like honey. “I don’t recall ever seeing you at my exhibit. And trust me, I would have remembered.”

A shiver danced down her spine before she could steel herself against reacting. Very nicely done. She’d have to be on her toes with this one. “We attended it in the morning. I daresay you were still lying foxed in some gaming hell or nunnery.”

“Good God, here we go,” Edwin muttered under his breath, recognizing the vulgar slang for bawdyhouse.

“I am rarely foxed and never in a nunnery,” Mr. Keane retorted, “for fear that it might tempt the ‘nuns’ to bite me.”

“I should love to know what you consider ‘rarely,’” Yvette said. “That you even know that ‘bite’ means ‘cheat’ in street cant shows how you must spend your days.”

“And how you must spend yours,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “After all, you know the terms, too.”

She stifled a laugh. Mustn’t encourage the fellow. Still, she was impressed. Rogues always fancied themselves wits but seldom did she meet one who really was.

“Mr. Keane has kindly agreed to paint your portrait, Yvette,” Edwin cut in. “Assuming that your tart words haven’t changed his mind.”

The scoundrel had the audacity to wink at her. “Actually, I like a little tart with my sweet.”

“More than a little, I would say, having seen your paintings,” she shot back.

Suddenly he was all seriousness. “And what did you think?”

The question caught her off guard. “Are you fishing for compliments, sir?”

“No. Just truthful opinions.”

“That’s what everyone always says, though they never mean it.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Lady Yvette?” he said in that deadly tone men use when their honor is questioned.

“Of course not,” she said hastily. A man’s honor was nothing to be trifled with. “As for your work, I would say that your idea of ‘tart’ borders on the ‘acidic.’”

“It does indeed,” he drawled. “I prefer to call it ‘real life.’”

“Then it’s no surprise you’ve taken up with Edwin. He considers real life to be acidic, too.”

“Oh, no, don’t drag me into this,” Edwin put in.

Mr. Keane’s gaze searched her face. “And you, Lady Yvette? Do you consider real life acidic?”

My, my. Quite the persistent fellow, wasn’t he? “It can be, I suppose. If one wants to dwell on that part. I’d rather dwell on the happier aspects.”

A sudden disappointment swept his handsome features. “So you prefer paintings of bucolic cows in a field.”

“I suppose. Or market scenes. Or children.”

The mention of children sparked something bleak in the depths of his eyes. “Art should challenge the viewers, not soothe them.”

“I’ll try to remember that when confronted at my breakfast table by a picture of vultures devouring a dead deer. That is one of yours, isn’t it?”

Mr. Keane blinked, then burst into laughter. “Blakeborough, you forgot to tell me that your sister is a wit.”

“Trust me,” Edwin said wearily, “if I’d thought it would get you to agree to our transaction sooner, I would have mentioned it.”

“Transaction?” She stared at her brother. “What transaction?”

Edwin turned wary. “I told you. Mr. Keane is going to paint your portrait. I figured that a well-done piece of art showing what a lovely woman you are . . . might . . . well . . .”

“Oh, Lord.” So that was his reasoning. A pox on Edwin. And a pox on Mr. Keane, too, for agreeing to her brother’s idiocy. Clearly, the artist had been coerced. Mr. Keane was well-known for not doing formal portraits. Ever.

She fought to maintain her composure, to act nonchalant, though inside she was bleeding. Did Edwin really think her so unsightly that she needed a famous artist to make her look appealing?

“Forgive my brother, sir,” she told Mr. Keane with a bland smile. “He’s set on gaining me a husband, no matter what the cost. But I’ve read the interview where you said you’d rather cut off your hands than paint another portrait, and I’d hate to be the cause of such a loss to the world.”

Mr. Keane gazed steadily at her. “I sometimes exaggerate when speaking with the press, madam. But this particular portrait is one I am more than willing to execute, I assure you.”

“Eager for the challenge, are you?” Such raw anger boiled up in her that it fairly choked her. “Eager to try your hand at painting me attractive enough to convince some hapless fellow in search of a wife to ignore the evidence of his eyes?”

Belatedly, her brother seemed to realize how she’d taken his words. “Yvette, that’s not what I was saying.”

She ignored him. “Or perhaps it’s the money that entices you. How much did my brother offer in order to gain your compliance in such an onerous task? It must have been a great deal.”

“I didn’t offer him money, Yvette,” Edwin protested. “You misunderstand what I—”

“I want to paint you,” Mr. Keane snapped even as he glared Edwin into silence.

With betrayal stinging her, she gathered the remnants of her dignity about her. “Thank you, but I am not yet so . . . so desperate as to require your services.”

She turned to leave, but Mr. Keane caught her by the arm. When she scowled at him, he released her . . . only to offer her his hand. “May I have this dance, Lady Yvette?”

That took her by surprise. Only then did she notice the strains of a waltz being struck. She had half a mind to stalk off in a huff. But that would be childish.

Besides, other people had begun to notice their exchange, and she could not endure the idea of people gossiping about her making a scene at the wedding breakfast of her friend . . . who happened to have jilted her brother.

“Lady Yvette?” Mr. Keane prompted in a steely voice.

She cast him the coolest smile she could muster. “Yes, of course, Mr. Keane. I would be delighted.”

Then she took his hand and let him sweep her into a waltz.

As soon as they were moving, he said, “You have every right to be angry with your brother.”

“My feelings toward my brother right now are none of your concern.”

“I was telling the truth about wanting to paint you.”

She snorted. “I don’t know how much money Edwin promised—”

“But not for a portrait.” He bent close enough to whisper in her ear, “Though he doesn’t know that.”

That caught her so off guard that when Mr. Keane pulled back to fix her with an serious gaze, she couldn’t at first summon a single answer.

“I see I finally have your attention,” he said.

“Oh, you always had my attention,” she said testily. “Just not the sort of fawning attention you probably prefer.”

A faint smile crossed his lips. “Tell me, Lady Yvette, do you have something against artists in general? Or is it just I who rub you the wrong way?”

“I don’t trust charming rogues, sir. I have encountered enough of your kind in my lifetime to know all your tricks.”

He arched one eyebrow. “I seriously doubt that.”

When he then twirled her in a turn, she realized with a start that they’d been waltzing effortlessly all this time. That almost never happened with her. Few men knew how to deal with an ungainly Amazon like her on the dance floor. But clearly he was one of them.

That softened her toward him a little. A very little. “So what exactly do you want to paint me for, anyway?”

“An entirely different work,” he said. “And agreeing to your brother’s request seemed the only way to get close enough to you so I could arrange that.”

She eyed him skeptically.

“Ask Blakeborough if you don’t believe me. Before I knew who he was, who you were, I wanted you to sit for me. I decided it the moment I saw you enter the room. I asked your brother who you were, he asked why I wanted to know, and I told him.”

His gaze locked with hers, as sincere a one as she’d ever seen. But then, Lieutenant Ruston had seemed sincere at first, too. “Why on earth would you want to paint me?”

“No clue. I never know why particular models intrigue me; just that they do. And I always follow my instincts.”

Yvette blinked. He could have claimed it had something to do with her looks. The fact that he hadn’t lent more credence to his assertion. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” Yet a tiny part of her found it enormously flattering.

“It is ridiculous, isn’t it? But true, I swear.”

“So what exactly are the terms of your ‘transaction’ with my brother?”

He flinched. “Your brother is an ass.”

“Not really. Just rather oblivious to other people’s feelings sometimes.” She cast him a hard stare. “Answer the question.”

With a long-suffering sigh, he tightened his grip on her hand. “I am to paint your portrait. In exchange, he is to drum up some gentlemen who might be interested in courting my sister.”

She gaped at him. “What a pair of nodcocks you are! Has it occurred to either of you that your sisters are perfectly capable of finding husbands on their own if they so choose? That perhaps we— Wait a minute, I thought your sister lived in America.”

“She’s on her way here. She means to drag me home to help her with the family mills.” He cracked a smile. “I mean to fob some other fellow off on her who can go in my stead.”

His look of boyish mischief seduced her. Briefly. Until she put herself in his sister’s shoes. “First you abandon her to go flitting about Europe. And now that she has tired of waiting for your return, you think to get rid of her by marrying her off.” She shook her head. “Your poor sister.”

“Trust me, there is nothing ‘poor’ about my sister. Amanda can take care of herself.” His smile smoldered. “As, it appears, can you. Which is probably what made me want you for my painting in the first place.”

She fought not to be intrigued. “What is this painting about, anyway?”

“It’s allegorical, about the sacrifice of Art to Commerce.”

That took her by surprise. “Something like Delacroix’s paintings?”

“You’re familiar with Delacroix?”

His voice held such astonishment that it scraped her nerves. “I do read books, you know. And attend exhibits and operas with my brother . . . when I can drag him to town.”

“Operas, eh? Better you than me,” he teased. “I can’t imagine anything more tedious than an evening of such screeching.”

“My point is that I’m not some ninnyhammer society chit who only keeps abreast of fashions.”

“I didn’t think you were.” He bent close enough to say in a husky tone, “Unlike your brother, I am fully aware of your attractions.”

The words melted over her skin like butter. And when he then tugged her slightly closer in the turn, she let him.

Not because of his devastating attractiveness, no. Or his deft ability to dance. Or the glint of awareness in his startling blue eyes. None of that had any effect on her. Certainly not.

Fighting to keep her mind off the breathlessness that suddenly assailed her, she said, “So, which character would I play in this allegorical painting of yours?”

One corner of his mouth tipped up. “Does that mean you agree to sit for it?”

“Perhaps. It depends on your answers to certain questions.”

The music was ending. Oh dear, and just when the conversation was getting interesting. Unfortunately, it would be highly improper of him to ask her for another.

But apparently he’d thought of that, for he waltzed her toward a pair of doors that opened to reveal a set of steps descending into the sunlit garden. And almost as soon as the notes died, he offered her his arm.

Cursing the curiosity that prompted her to take it, she let him lead her outside, but she was relieved to see that they weren’t the only people strolling about. At least she needn’t worry about rousing further gossip.

Besides, she was ready to be out of the stuffy ballroom. Here in the brisk autumn air, she could breathe at last.

“Now, then, madam,” he said. “Ask me whatever you wish.”

“Who am I to play in your painting? What am I to wear? Will sitting for your picture ruin me for life? Is that why Edwin would only agree to a respectable portrait?”

“That’s quite a lot of questions,” he said dryly. “Let’s start with the last. Your brother and I didn’t get as far as my describing the concept of my work. The minute I said I wished for you to model for me, he flat out refused to let you be part of any painting that wasn’t dull as dirt, even though I told him you wouldn’t be recognized.”

“Won’t I?” She felt a stab of disappointment at the thought that he didn’t really want to paint her, as she was. And why did she care, anyway? “So I’m to be wearing a mask or a cloak or something?”

“No, indeed. But you will be in a Greek costume quite different from your normal attire. I can even change your hair color if you wish. And you’ll only be in profile, anyway. I doubt anyone will realize it is you.”

She gave a harsh laugh. “Right. Because no one will notice that the woman in your painting happens to have my ungainly proportions.”

“Ungainly!” He shook his head. “More like ‘queenly.’ ‘Majestic,’ even.”

The compliment came so unexpectedly that it startled her. She was used to being teased for her height, not praised. She had to turn her head so he wouldn’t see how very much the words pleased her.

She’d swear that he meant every word. Then again, she’d also believed Lieutenant Ruston’s compliments, though they’d been far less original and far more dubious. At least Mr. Keane wasn’t calling her “a great beauty” and “a delicate flower.” She couldn’t believe she’d fallen for that last one. She’d never been delicate a day in her life.

“But your proportions are unlikely to signify, anyway,” he went on. “You’ll be lying down.”

That arrested her. How had she managed to forget he was a rogue? “Why would I be lying down?”

He gazed at her as if she were witless. “‘Art’ sacrificed to ‘Commerce’? Were you even listening? Damn, woman, I can hardly show a sacrifice without laying you across an altar.”

Stunned by his matter-of-fact tone, as if it were perfectly obvious to anyone with sense, she mumbled, “Oh, right, of course. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Actually she did know. She thought him quite mad. When he spoke of his art, there was no trace of the rakehell in him. Was it by design? Was he trying to rattle her?

Because he was certainly succeeding.

“Will you do it?” he asked. “Assuming we can manage it?”

“Managing it isn’t a problem,” she said, thinking aloud. “Artists doing portraits generally reside with the family during the process. So if you come to our estate for the portrait, we can arrange some way to meet for the painting you wish to do for yourself.” She slanted a glance at him. “If you’re willing to leave London for a bit, that is.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He stopped beside a marble fountain to smile teasingly at her. “It would take me away from all those gaming hells and nunneries. However will I survive?”

“I’m sure you can find a sympathetic tavern maid or two in nearby Preston to tide you over,” she said dryly.

“So, no nunneries in your neck of the woods?”

“Trust me, if there had been, my other brother would have uncovered them long ago.”

When he looked at her oddly, a blush rose in her cheeks. She didn’t know why she’d mentioned Samuel’s proclivities. She couldn’t seem to put his request out of her mind.

“I’ll be fine, I promise,” he said silkily. “Though you still haven’t given me your permission to paint you. For either work.”

And suddenly it hit her—the solution to her problem with Samuel. “I haven’t, have I?” She stared him down. “Tell me something, Mr. Keane. Are you as willing to make a bargain with me for your painting as you were to make a bargain with Edwin for my portrait?”

His gaze turned wary. “It depends. What sort of bargain do you mean?”

Avoiding his gaze, she twirled the water in the fountain with one finger. “I will sit for you—clothed, of course. You may draw as many pictures of me as you please.”

“And in exchange?” he prodded.

“You will find some way to get me inside a Covent Garden nunnery.”

Have you ever sat for a portrait?

Do you like American heroes in your English historical romances?

Are you as excited to read this story as I am?

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