by Senior Reviewer Miranda Owen
Haven’t we met?
Some kind of beautiful stranger
You could be good for me
I’ve had the taste for danger
If I’m smart then I’ll run away
But I’m not so I guess I’ll stay
Haven’t you heard?
I fell in love with a beautiful stranger
–Beautiful Stranger, Madonna
Two of my favorite romance authors are Mary Balogh and Jennifer Ashley. Both authors write well-crafted character-driven stories that capture the imagination. Both authors also write about extremely close yet also extremely complicated families. Two of my all-time favorite books are both by these authors and are both about characters who meet under unusual circumstances, but who find something compelling and experience an unexplainable initial attraction. I’ve always maintained that AT LAST COMES LOVE by Mary Balogh has one of the best introduction scenes and “getting to know you” dialogue I’ve ever read. The scandalous Duncan Pennethorne, the Earl of Sheringford and beautiful yet very respectable Margaret Huxtable collide at a time when they each have something the other desires. Duncan is looking for a well-connected wealthy wife to satisfy his grandfather and secure his inheritance and, and that particular moment, Margaret needs a fake beau to get some annoying exes off her back. What follows is a divine and witty verbal exchange of flirting verbal fencing. This is everything I long for in a romance – excellent storytelling and engaging dialogue.
Years ago, before I had ever read anything by Jennifer Ashley, fellow readers kept telling me how I just had to read THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE because the hero was something special. I was not disappointed. Ian Mackenzie has Asperger’s Syndrome and therefore views the world a little differently. When Ian first spies widow Beth Ackerley, he is smitten. More than that, Ian views her with a kind of wonder and finds her totally compelling. With this story, Jennifer Ashley has created an iconic figure for romance readers. Ian is a character who has had his share of pain in life, but has proven to be resilient, formidable, and it is a precious thing to be the recipient of his love or loyalty. For Beth, Ian is unpredictable, delectable, and different than any other man she’s known. Over the course of the book, Beth turns out to be strong enough to love Ian and let him love her, without being unintentionally steamrolled by him. The romance at the heart of this story is terrific, but the mystery the characters become wrapped up in is fascinating as well.
But it was her eyes that drew him in, the blue of the hottest flames dancing upon a hearth, and he had the unsettling thought that with her he could get burned. —THE DUCHESS IN HIS BED, Lorraine Heath
The couples in THE DUCHESS IN HIS BED by Lorraine Heath and BLOOD TRUTH by J.R. Ward meet under highly unconventional circumstances but both heroes were instantly spellbound by the heroines. I have been a Lorraine Heath fan for many years. Her books take you on the same emotional rollercoaster the characters do. Her books often involve characters in difficult and tangled situations that you can’t see how they’d get out of until they miraculously and beautifully do. Lorraine Heath’s books are the only books I’ll read that make me shed a tear or do, but they make it all worth it in the end. In THE DUCHESS IN HIS BED, we meet another one of this author’s complex and fantastic heroes. Aiden Trewlove has the outward guise of a player, but he has a soft heart deep down and a deep loyalty to his family. Selena goes to Aiden’s club looking to get something from him, but she finds that she doesn’t have to work very hard to entice him. This author is a master at creating magical chemistry between two characters and the electric moments between Aiden and Selena are many in THE DUCHESS IN HIS BED. Eventually, Selena becomes caught in the same web of attraction that Aiden is, and the feelings just increase and become deeper the longer they know each other.
I rarely read a series in order, but the first book I ever read by J.R. Ward was the first book in her “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series. In DARK LOVER, vampire king Wrath and half-vampire Beth become physical quickly, but something about their chemistry just clicks and the sexual tension is maintained throughout the entire book. In her most recent series installment, BLOOD TRUTH, has a noir flair and vampire warrior trainee Boone meets Helania as she’s fleeing a murder scene. I love this classic film noir vibe and good guy vampire hero. I prefer a sweet hero rather than a cocky guy with lots of swagger. Boone is at a point in his life, after the recent murder of his estranged father, where he has had enough of artifice and longs for something real. Helania is in avenger mode after her sister was recently murdered. They two are over the moon for each other and I love how they work together in the book to figure out the mystery and help in the different ways each of them can. J.R. Ward mixes the sweet with the sexy in BLOOD TRUTH.
No, stay. Let me stare into your beautiful eyes for the rest of my life. Yeah, because that’s not creepy at all. —HANDLE WITH CARE, Marie Harte
Marie Harte and Kristen Proby write some of my favorite contemporary romances, and a lot of them include wonderful “meet-cute” scenes in which the two main characters are introduced to each other. In HANDLE WITH CARE by Marie Harte, accountant Evan Griffith meets Kenzie Sykes while he’s doing his other job and helping her friend move. The emotional craziness he encounters, along with a phone mishap, don’t distract Evan from being captivated by Kenzie’s loveliness. Although initially wary of relationships and men in general after being burned before, Kenzie can’t deny that Evan is super duper sexy. It’s equally adorable and agonizing watching the relationship between Evan and Kenzie play out. They are both really good people and obviously crazy about each other, but Kenzie struggles to let go of her baggage from a past relationship in order to take a chance on a new one. Thankfully, Marie Harte injects enough humor and sexiness into this story to lighten things up as Kenzie goes on her emotional journey and working through things.
In ALL IT TAKES by Kristen Proby, Quinn Cavanaugh and Sienna Hendricks are lawyers who are on opposing sides of an issue but end up having to work together. The attraction is instant although, like Kenzie in HANDLE WITH CARE, Sienna is a little cautious about becoming emotionally involved with Quinn. Like in the Marie Harte book, family plays a big role in ALL IT TAKES. Like Evan, Quinn finds he has to work hard to earn Sienna’s trust and her affection, but he finds it all worth it. I love stories in which the guy is a sweetheart who pursues the heroine and these two books are amazeballs. Both heroines are strong yet realistically flawed characters and the heroes are yummy with a heart of gold who put family first.
But it wasn’t her beauty that was calling to him. It was something else. It was something that couldn’t be seen with his eyes. It was something that he felt down in his soul. —SOUL CRUSHING, L.P. Maxa
In SOUL CRUSHING by L.P. Maxa and FIGHTING FOR HER by Cynthia Eden, the heroes in those stories are struck by a very unwanted yet powerful attraction to complicated women who are in a desperate situation. One story is a paranormal romance and one is romantic suspense, and one is about two 18-year-olds while the other story has main characters who are about twenty years older. In SOUL CRUSHING, wolf shifter Jace Franklin has seen a lot in his eighteen years and learned to compartmentalize or suppress his emotions. Axie and the problems she brings to his door are a whole lot of “messy”, but he realizes that she is something he needs in his life and she is worth fighting for. In FIGHTING FOR HER, Kat is very similar to the heroine in SOUL CRUSHING in that their fathers are both evil men in charge of criminal organizations. Living in a constant state of fear is their normal. When Rick becomes her new bodyguard, sparks fly and it becomes a battle of wills as well as both of them trying to battle their attraction. I consider both of these books to be “enemies to lovers” stories simply because of all the friction at the start of these two relationships, even though there is the instant obvious physical attraction.
THE BOOKS RECOMMENDED IN THIS ARTICLE:
. . . and a seduction worth waiting for. Margaret’s story. . .
Step into a world of scandal, intrigue, and enthralling passion as New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh sweeps us into the lives of an extraordinary family: the Huxtables.
Margaret, the eldest, embarks on the most risqué adventure of her life and agrees to marry the most notorious man in London. . .
Only desperation could bring Duncan Pennethorne, the infamous Earl of Sheringford, back home after the spectacular scandal that had shocked even the jaded ton. Forced to wed in fifteen days or be cut off without a penny, Duncan chooses the one woman in London in frantic need of a husband.
A lie to an old flame forces Margaret Huxtable to accept the irresistible stranger’s offer. But once she discovers who he really is, it’s too late—she’s already betrothed to the wickedly sensual rakehell. Quickly she issues an ultimatum: If Duncan wants her, he must woo her. And as passion slowly ignites, two people marrying for all the wrong reasons are discovering the joys of seduction—and awaiting the exquisite pleasure of what comes after….
Romance Historical [Dell, On Sale: April 28, 2009, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780440244240 / ]
It was whispered all through London Society that he was a murderer, that he’d spent his youth in an asylum and was not to be trusted–especially with a lady. Any woman caught in his presence was immediately ruined. Yet Beth found herself inexorably drawn to the Scottish lord whose hint of a brogue wrapped around her like silk and whose touch could draw her into a world of ecstasy. Despite his decadence and intimidating intelligence, she could see he needed help. Her help. Because suddenly the only thing that made sense to her was. . . THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE
Romance Historical [Berkley, On Sale: August 2, 2011, Paperback / e-Book (reprint), ISBN: 9780425244463 / eISBN: 9781101529317]
For a duchess with practical desires, falling in love is an inconceivable part of her plan. . .
As owner of the Elysium Club which caters to women’s fantasies, Aiden Trewlove is accustomed to introducing adventurous ladies to sin and vice. But he is uncharacteristically intrigued by the mysterious beauty who visits his club one night, yearning to indulge in the forbidden–with him. Drawn to her indomitable spirit, he breaks his rule of never becoming personally involved with his clientele and is determined to fully awaken her desires.
A recent widow, Selena Sheffield, Duchess of Lushing, has never known passion, not until Aiden’s slow, sensual seduction leads her on a journey of discovery and incredible pleasure. But her reasons for visiting the notorious club are not all that they seem.
As Selena’s motives become complicated by love, she finds herself with a most unexpected choice: forge ahead with a secret plan that could secure her future–or follow her heart which could prove ruinous.
Romance Historical [Avon, On Sale: August 20, 2019, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062676061 / eISBN: 9780062676078]
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Savior brings you the next sizzling and passionate paranormal romance in the Black Dagger Legacy series.
As a trainee in the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s program, Boone has triumphed as a soldier and now fights side by side with the Brothers. Following his sire’s unexpected death, he is taken off rotation against his protests–and he finds himself working with Butch O’Neal, former homicide cop, to catch a serial killer: Someone is targeting females of the species at a live action role play club. When the Brotherhood is called in to help, Boone insists on being a part of the effort—and the last thing he expects is to meet an enticing, mysterious female…who changes his life forever.
Ever since her sister was murdered at the club, Helaine has been committed to finding the killer, no matter the danger she faces. When she crosses paths with Boone, she doesn’t know whether to trust him or not–and then she has no choice. As she herself becomes a target, and someone close to the Brotherhood is identified as the prime suspect, the two must work to together to solve the mystery. . . before it’s too late. Will a madman come between the lovers or will true love and goodness triumph over a very mortal evil?
Veteran Movers #3
Evan Griffith has had a hell of a day. . .
And that was before he met the stunning, sexy woman having a meltdown.
Evan Griffith has had many careers in his life. But who knew working for his family’s moving company would hold just as much action as his stint in the Marine Corps? On an unforgettable job, Evan finds himself taken by a teenage conman and confronted by a woman wielding a knife–and promptly falls head over heels for her.
Kenzie Sykes is doing her best to raise her little brother and keep him out of jail–all while dealing with her own broken heart that just hasn’t healed. She doesn’t have time for romance. He’s not asking. . . Until he is, and she finds herself saying yes.
Veteran Movers series:
The Whole Package (Book 1)
Smooth Moves (Book 2)
Romance Contemporary [Sourcebooks Casablanca, On Sale: August 27, 2019, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781492670506 / eISBN: 9781492670506]
In Kristen Proby’s second novel in her Romancing Manhattan series, a playboy vows never to commit–until he meets the one woman he’s tempted to break his promise for.
Quinn Cavanaugh doesn’t do anything halfway. He drives fast, works hard, and plays even harder. And the word “commitment” doesn’t exist in his dictionary. He has no plans of settling down with one woman for he needs to be free to move on to the next big thing–whatever or whoever that may be. Each party knows the score going into it, and it’s all been working out fine. That is, until a sexy new colleague enters the scene.
Sienna Hendricks doesn’t give much thought to Quinn and the revolving door leading to his bedroom. She’s way too picky about who she shares her time or her body with and screwing around with a colleague isn’t part of her plan either. Quinn doesn’t intimidate her. And unlike most other members of her sex, she doesn’t melt into a puddle at his feet whenever he’s near. Most importantly, she has no issues telling him no.
But for a man who has the world at his feet, Quinn isn’t accustomed to being rejected. And he’s not about to let that change–no matter how persistent Sienna is. To his surprise, Sienna is everything he thought he’d never find. Pursuing her, and convincing her he’s changed, is going to be the
biggest challenge of his life. One he’s completely up for. . .
Romance Contemporary [Avon, On Sale: July 30, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062892676 / eISBN: 9780062892690]
St. Leasing Book 5
INVITING IN THE WILD
Having been raised by an evil, vile man – his father – Jace, who has finally found a home with his chosen family, will do anything to protect his pack even at the expense of his own happiness. But when wild, reckless, unbelievably gorgeous, Axie Contreau puts herself in his path, his world is turned upside down. He can’t have what he should claim, and when he learns she’s betrayed him and brought danger to his pack’s doorstep, he won’t allow her to jeopardize the lives of the people he loves. Complications have no place in his well-ordered world, yet Axie wedges her way into his life forcing him to eliminate the threat to his pack once and for all. Now, he has to decide if he can endure risking his heart.
Romance Contemporary [Boroughs Publishing Group, On Sale: August 20, 2019, e-Book, ISBN: 9781951055066 / ]
Wilde Ways #5
Beauty and the Beast? Nah. . . this isn’t some sweet fairy tale. FIGHTING FOR HER is about danger, action, and a whole lot of hot romance.
He’s been called a beast. . . and he likes the title.
Rick Williams is big, bad, and not someone you want to have as an enemy. As an agent with Wilde Securities, his job is to kick butt and take names. Protecting and defending–that’s part of his package deal, but his cases don’t usually involve him protecting someone like her.
A crime princess with a body made for the sweetest sin.
Kathleen O’Shaughnessy is the daughter of an infamous mob boss. Her father made sure that she was locked away from the world so Kat didn’t exactly have easy street growing up. Now that her father is dead, she’s suddenly out on her own–and she’s the target of every enemy that her father made in his very long career.
Keep the princess alive. Keep his hands off her.
The government wants to use Kat as a witness to take down what’s left of her father’s organization. To do that, though, Kat has to stay alive. She’s not big into the whole witness protection scene. Boring guys in cheap suits aren’t her thing. Kat needs protection that’s a bit. . . Wilder. Good thing Rick is up for the challenge. One look at Kat, and her protection—and her pleasure–are at the top of his to-do list.
It’s not the beast that needs taming. It’s the princess.
There are seven days until the trial. Seven days in which Rick has to keep Kat at his side day and night. It should be an easy enough task. . . but when the bullets start flying and they have to go on the run, Rick finds out that the protected “princess” isn’t who he thought. Kat is about to wreck his world, and it’s gonna be one heck of a wild battle.
He’ll do whatever it takes. . .
He’ll fight hard and he’ll fight dirty to keep her alive. And he’ll also fight with every bit of his strength to win Kat’s heart. The beast is falling hard and fast. . . and his princess holds his battered heart in the palm of her hand.
Author’s Note: Are you up for a twisted and hot take on a wild fairytale? Rick might be a fierce beast, but when the man falls, he falls hard. Prepare for an alpha hero, dangerous fun, hot romance, and some bad guys that are on the scary side. FIGHTING FOR HER is a stand-alone read, no cliff-hangers.
Romance Contemporary [Hocus Pocus Publishing, Inc., On Sale: August 27, 2019, e-Book, ISBN: 9781942840619 / eISBN: 9781942840619]