Finding the Path to a BETTER PLACE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M romance newly released from Jay Northcote. BETTER PLACE is the third book in his Rainbow Place series set in Porthladock, Cornwall. It’s a fun series, though this book features a man in an emotionally abusive relationship finding the courage to seek a new and better love.

About the book:
Joe deserves better. Meeting Dylan helps him see that.
After a recent redundancy, Joe takes a few months off to try and make it as a writer. His partner, Harry, is less than supportive but Joe is used to that after ten years together, just like he’s used to Harry’s controlling nature and his drinking habit.

Dylan, a server at Rainbow Place, is fascinated by Joe as he sits in the café and works on his laptop. His attempts to flirt are met with awkwardness at first, but gradually Joe opens up. Dylan is disappointed when he learns Joe isn’t single. As their friendship develops he begins to worry about the nature of Joe’s relationship, especially when he witnesses Harry’s behaviour in person. Abuse isn’t always physical, and Dylan knows that from experience. His concern helps Joe see his relationship for what it is, and gives him the courage to end things with Harry.

Free to act on their mutual attraction, Joe and Dylan dive headlong into something that becomes serious fast. Joe revels in the passion and intimacy he’s been missing out on for so long, but Dylan is worried that Joe is on the rebound. He puts on the brakes, knowing that they need to slow down to make this last. For this new relationship to work, Joe needs to show Dylan that he’s ready to move on from the past.

Although this book is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone and has a satisfying happy ending.

My Review:
Joe and Harry have been monogamous partners for the past ten years. Recently, Joe was laid off from his position at the university, and he’s taking several months before looking for a job to write a novel. This decision was agreed upon by Harry, but Harry’s not totally happy about it. He feels Joe is wasting his time on a lark, and he’s not shy about letting his feelings known–even in public.

The time off has allowed Joe the opportunity to see how skewed the roles have become in their relationship, and he’s not happy about Harry treating him like an errand boy and housekeeper–these are two men in their forties. While in the Rainbow Place cafe writing, Joe meets Dylan, a server. Dylan’s totally attracted to Joe, and he makes some attempts to let Joe know this–which makes things awkward.

Dylan, a survivor of an abusive partner, sees the dangerous situation Joe is in, before Joe does. Joe had thought himself simply dissatisfied, but Harry’s drinking, coupled with his controlling behavior and spiteful outbursts, are steps along the abuse continuum. Dylan speaks up as a friend, and Joe takes a critical look at his life. He’s not married to Harry, but they split the bills and their living arrangement. For Joe, it’s become little more than a roommates situation, as the emotional connection between he and Harry has withered–and is being ripped apart with each new fight. Joe makes the decision to separate…but he can’t really leave. This only feeds Harry’s growing rage, and leaves both Dylan and Joe vulnerable. Especially once Joe and Dylan begin dating.

There was a lot of great emotional connection points for readers in this one. Joe’s predicament, falling into a lackluster rut with a longtime partner, felt very real. As many times as he tried to address his feelings and needs with Harry was as many times as he was shut down and belittled. He was truly sympathetic, and I didn’t even mind how he was connecting so strongly with Dylan at this point. It felt very realistic for Joe to be introspective about his relationship with Harry when he’s being admired by a younger, sexier, man. He tried hard to mend things with Harry, but it wasn’t meant to be–and that’s just life. Dylan’s history of abuse was poignant, and allowed the reader to imagine how difficult it would be to fall for another person after the one you thought loved you became physically abusive. Personal judgment is really high on Dylan’s priorities, and he can’t rely on the excitement of new love to support him in the long run. Using his skills gained in years counseling, Dylan’s able to set reasonable boundaries that protect both him and Joe from careening into emotional disaster. Dylan’s boss and friends at Rainbow Place play a role in making life easier for Joe, especially. I expect to see more of all these guys in future stories.

Interested? You can find BETTER PLACE on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Coming Soon! HIS SCANDALOUS VISCOUNTESS

Hi there! Today I’m getting the word out about a sexy new historical romance coming soon from Sorcha Mowbray. HIS SCANDALOUS VISCOUNTESS is the third book in the Lustful Lords series, and one I’m eager to devour. I totally loved both HIS HAND-ME-DOWN COUNTESS and TAMING HIS HELLION COUNTESS, so I’m surely going to clear my book queue for this new addition when it releases February 15th.

About the book:
Once upon a time, a boy and a girl fell in love…but prestige, power, and a shameful secret drove them apart.

Julia fled abroad after the death of her husband, Lord Fallthorpe. She has finally returned to England, but little has changed.

Except for her.

As a dowager marchioness, Julia lives and loves where she pleases. And the obnoxious son of her dead husband does not please. But what can an independent woman do? Why, create a scandal, of course!

Viscount Wolfington is no stranger to the wagging tongues of the ton. Between being a Lustful Lord and the scandal of his birth, he learned long ago that society had little use for him. So when he walks into The Market and finds the woman who once stole his heart being auctioned for a night of debauchery, he jumps at another chance to hold her–even for just a single night.

As Julia and Wolf unravel their pasts, will villainy win again, or will love finally conquer all?

Interested? While HIS SCANDALOUS VISCOUNTESS won’t be out until Feb 15th, you can pre-order it on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and GooglePlay.

You can also find HIS HAND-ME-DOWN COUNTESS on Amazon (US, UK, CA and AU) Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo and GooglePlay.

And, don’t forget TAMING HIS HELLION COUNTESS on Goodreads, Amazon (US, UK, CA, and AU) Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and GooglePlay.

About the Author:
Sorcha Mowbray is a mild mannered office worker by day…okay, so she is actually a mouthy, opinionated, take charge kind of gal who bosses everyone around; but she definitely works in an office. At night she writes romance so hot she sets the sheets on fire! Just ask her slightly singed husband.

She is a longtime lover of historical romance, having grown up reading Johanna Lindsey and Judith McNaught. Then she discovered Thea Devine and Susan Johnson. Holy cow! Heroes and heroines could do THAT? From there, things devolved into trying her hand at writing a little smexy. Needless to say, she liked it and she hopes you do too!

For more information about Sorcha, please visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads. Join Sorcha’s newsletter to be the first to hear about upcoming releases. She’s loves hearing from her readers.

Out now–DUCHESS BY DECEPTION!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new historical romance from bestselling author Marie Force. DUCHESS BY DECEPTION is so different from the other books I’ve read from this author, including FATAL THREAT and CAN’T BUY ME LOVE.

About the book:
In New York Times bestselling author Marie Force’s dazzling historical romance debut, the clock is ticking for a wealthy Duke who must marry by his thirtieth birthday—or lose his title…

Derek Eagan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he’s not a man. He’s a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe’s disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke’s home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke’s estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek’s lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount’s pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

Interested? You can find DUCHESS BY DECEPTION on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Plus.

About the Author:
Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance, including the indie-published Gansett Island Series and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series. In 2019, her new historical Gilded series from Kensington Books will debut with Duchess By Deception.

All together, her books have sold 6.5 million copies worldwide, have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list many times. She is also a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller, a Speigel bestseller in Germany, a frequent speaker and publishing workshop presenter as well as a publisher through her Jack’s House Publishing romance imprint. She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award for romance fiction.

Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.

Join Marie’s mailing list for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram. Check out her website or join one of Marie’s many reader groups.

New Beginnings? LOCK NUT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly released contemporary M/M mystery romance from JL Merrow. LOCK NUT is the fifth book in the Plumber’s Mate series and I hope it isn’t the last. I adored PRESSURE HEAD, RELIEF VALVE and BLOW DOWN. For those who haven’t picked up these books, they feature a plumber with a knack for finding water and lost/hidden items–including dead or missing people, and his former bully who’s now his fiance. It’s set in England, and has some absolutely awesome vernacular.

About the book:
Still waters run deadly.
Tom Paretski, plumber with a talent for finding hidden things, and his private investigator fiancé Phil Morrison have been hired to locate a runaway husband, Jonathan Parrot. The job seems simple enough—until their quarry turns up dead in a canal, and a photofit of Tom’s face is splashed all over the news, making him chief suspect.

The widow, petite ex–porn star Lilah Lovett, is convinced her husband was killed by his gay lover, but Tom and Phil aren’t so sure. Worried they may have precipitated Jonathan’s death, they’re determined to find the real killer. But with a web of incestuous ties linking the suspects, it’s hard to know who to trust. Especially when a second victim dies a gruesome death.

Meanwhile, with their wedding looming and them sharing a house now, Tom’s worried it may all be too much, too fast. The last thing he needs are the mixed messages Phil seems to be sending out. They’ll need to get back on the same track if they want to make it to their honeymoon together—and alive.

My Review:
Tom Paretsky–maybe he is Polish–is a plumber with a unique knack for finding what’s hidden, including dead bodies. His fiance, Phil Morrison, is a private investigator, so it’s a handy skill to have. In this story Tom and Phil are planning their wedding, but it’s not going well, especially when Tom’s face gets put on the telly as a suspect in a murder.

Tom’s committed to finding the true killer before another death gets put on his head. And Phil’s determined to make it to the altar–with Tom intact. Though moving in together hasn’t been without issues. Tom’s a little territorial, and he’s slow to adapt to big changes. Like finding out about his paternity issues and building his familial relationships. Phil knows Tom needs nudging, even when Phil goes a bit far.

As with the other books in the series, the sexytimes are on the down-low but Tom’s raw wit keeps the pace cracking along and we know how very much he adores Phil. That’s totally reciprocated, too, even though Tom has self-esteem issues. Tom’s efforts to track down the killer are more personal this time. He’s making friends with the kooky family of the grieving widow, knowing that she’s the prime suspect. I did like all the misdirection, even if I had picked out the killer in the beginning. The harrowing bits have the appropriate amount of tension, and enough suspense to make me wonder if we’d hear those wedding bells pealing, or not. I loved how it ended, and I really hope to see more of these books in the future.

Interested? You can find LOCK NUT on Goodreads, <a href=”Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

Pop on over to my pal Joyfully Jay and leave a comment to be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and and mysteries, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy and her novella Muscling Through and novel Relief Valve were both EPIC Awards Finalists.

JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers’ Circle and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Find JL Merrow online on her website, twitter and Facebook.

Out Today! SECOND CHANCE


Hi there! Today I’m getting the word out for a new contemporary transgender M/M romance out now from Jay Northcote. SECOND CHANCE is a mature romance for two old mates who’ve reconnected under strained circumstances. Nate fell hard for Jack when they were schoolmates, but a lot has changed in twenty years…. Can their rekindled friendship ever be more?

About the book:
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Nate and his teenage daughter need a fresh start, so they move back to the village where he grew up. Nate’s transgender, and not used to disclosing his history, so it’s hard living where people knew him before. When Nate reconnects with Jack–his best friend from school and unrequited crush–his feelings return as strong as ever.

Jack’s returned home to get his life in order after an addiction to alcohol caused him to lose everything: his job, his driver’s licence, and nearly his life. He’s living with his parents, which is less than ideal, but rekindling his friendship with Nate–or Nat as Jack once knew him–is an unexpected benefit of being back home. Jack is amazed by Nate’s transformation, and can’t deny his attraction. Trying for more than friendship might ruin what they already have, but the chemistry between them is undeniable.

Doubting his feelings are reciprocated, Nate fears he’s risking heartbreak. Jack’s reluctance to tell his parents about their relationship only reinforces Nate’s misgivings. With both their hearts on the line and their happiness at stake, Jack needs to make things right, and Nate has to be prepared to give him a second chance.

How about a little taste?

A hint of cigarette smoke carried on the wind caught Nate’s attention, and he realised he wasn’t alone. A hunched figure sat on a bench by the church. Wearing a heavy coat with the hood up, their head hung low staring at the grass between their feet rather than at the landscape stretched out before them. A cigarette hung from bony fingers that protruded from black fingerless gloves. As Nate watched, the man—because Nate could see his face now—raised his head to take a long drag before stubbing the cigarette out on the bench.

A shock of recognition made Nate’s heart jump, thudding erratically. Jack.

Torn between conflicting urges to approach and flee, Nate stared at him, powerless to move.

How many years had it been since Nate had seen him? At forty-five Nate found each year passed faster than the one before. It must have been twenty years at least since he’d seen Jack, maybe more, and longer still since they’d spoken properly. Their last meeting had been nothing more than an awkward exchange of greetings when they ran into each other in the village pub one Christmas. The distance between them had cut Nate like a knife, so different to their teenage years when they’d been best friends, and almost inseparable.

Jack slumped forward again, letting the cigarette butt fall from his fingers. He put his hands over his face and Nate recognised despair and hopelessness, because they’d been his companions in the past. Acting on instinct, he approached.

“Sorry to intrude,” he said, pausing in front of Jack. “But are you okay? Is there anything I can do?”

Jack jerked his head up in surprise. His pale cheeks flushed as he shook his head. “Not really. Just having a bad day. You know how it is… or maybe you don’t.”

“I do.”

Nate studied him. The years had changed Jack, of course, but the essence of him was still the same. Sharp features, the strong nose Jack had always hated, even more defined with age, but more balanced now with dark stubble and the lines that the years were beginning to carve around his eyes and mouth.

As Jack stared back, Nate realised there was no recognition dawning on Jack’s face. To Jack, Nate was a stranger. Five years on testosterone had changed Nate to a point where Jack couldn’t see the person Nate had been before. Normally this was something Nate was glad about, but now he felt a pang of regret.

I’ve already finished reading this one, and loved it. I’ll share my review next week.

Interested? You can find SECOND CHANCE on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

Jay is transgender and was formerly known as she/her.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Starting Over: COUNT THE SHELLS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m wrapping up the spotlight on historical reads with a review for a recently published M/M historical romance from Charlie Cochrane. COUNT THE SHELLS is a bittersweet story of a WWI veteran coming to terms with his losses, and finding new love unexpectedly.

About the book:
Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.

Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.

When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.

My Review:
Michael Gray has had precisely five lovers in his short life, and he’s outlived them all. This is the time just after the Great War, and Michael is still plagued by memories of combat in Flanders and France. He’s come to holiday on the Cornish coast, with his sister’s family. There he relishes long days by the seaside with his young nephew, Richard, and pondering why he survived when all his lovers perished in the war times. His most dear memories are of Thomas Carter-Clemence, his first and only true love, and he’s anguished that they parted on bad terms, never having made up the fight that caused their rift.

While out walking with Richard when motorbike nearly hits them. Michale’s rocked to his core when he confronts the driver and feels as if he’s seeing Thomas’ ghost. Not far from the mark, Thoma’s younger brother, Harry, has taken possession of the family estate, Broch, and is happy to establish their previous friendship; their families were close, and Harry, four years younger, always wanted to tag along with Thomas and Michael on their adventures. As Thomas and Michael were spending their alone time in fast and furious sex, the annoying little brother was often brushed aside, but now he’s eager to establish an acquaintance.

Invitations are made for luncheons and visits, and Michael struggles to reconcile the guilt he feels over losing Thomas to the attraction he feels for Harry–and attraction that seems more than returned. As the days pass, Harry reveals his secret crush on Michael, from their childhood days, and more…secrets. And, Michael reveals his own secret surrounding his “friendship” with Thomas. Both men are astounded and hurt by the new information, and it causes a great deal of tension in their lives, not just their budding relationship.

I really loved the setting and characters in this one. I could see the old world charm, and feel Michael and Harry’s pain regarding their service, because Harry was in the naval service during the war, too. The issues that drive them apart aren’t discussed in malice, neither man expects the other didn’t already know. And that’s a pickle, indeed. It turns out the deepest secrets of their families aren’t actual secrets after all–that the main players already have the information they need, but aren’t sharing it with others openly. Still, it’s awkward, and tense. Michael and Harry seem to make the best of the difficult situation, recognizing that the past cann’t be changed and life is fleeting. If nothing else, Michael’s sixth lover may be his last. At least, if Harry has his way. Expect maudlin moments, and steamy encounters. Michael has a wry sense of humor and he and Harry engage in some rather fun banter laced with cricket innuendoes that made me smirk. The resolution is as good as one could expect, given the family skeletons that get aired out, but I’d expect that Harry and Michael find their new lives very much more satisfying than before.

Interested? You can find COUNT THE SHELLS on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I read a review copy through NetGalley.

About the Author:
Because Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. Her mystery novels include the Edwardian era Cambridge Fellows series, series, and the contemporary Best Corpse for the Job. Multi-published, she has titles with Carina, Samhain, Riptide and Bold Strokes, among others.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie regularly appears at literary festivals and at reader and author conferences with The Deadly Dames.

Catch up with Charlie on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Now Available! THE FORTUNE HUNTER-Review and Giveaway!

Hi there, and welcome to 2018! I’ve been enjoying a “human holiday” and digital disconnect for much of the holidays with my kids. But, now I’m back, and eager to share some more books with all of you. Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a new historical M/M romance from Bonnie Dee. THE FORTUNE HUNTER features a Great War veteran trying to make his fortune by marriage, and finding true love by mistake…with his fiance’s cousin. I really liked THE SHEPHERD AND THE SOLICITOR, so I couldn’t wait to step back in time once again.

Drop down and catch an excerpt and be sure to enter the book giveaway too!
About the book:
A man with nothing finds everything.
Abandoned at birth, WWI veteran Hal Stanton faces bleak employment prospects in post-war London. Desperation spurs him to reinvent himself to hook a wealthy wife, one he will be devoted to even if he feels no real passion. But when he meets his fiance’s cousin, Julian Needham, it’s all he can do to keep his heart in check and his eye on the prize.

From the moment he’s introduced to the charming stranger Margaret plans to marry, Julian suspects the man’s motives yet fights a relentless attraction. He’s determined to reveal Hal as a fraud but must handle the matter delicately to protect his sweet cousin’s feelings. A weekend at the family estate should allow time and opportunity for him to expose Halstead Wiley.

Even as the men match wits in a battle of attempted unmasking, powerful sexual attraction threatens to overcome them both and win the day. Can a true love connection possibly grow between these adversaries without destroying lives and loved ones?

How about a healthy tidbit?

Drawing up in front of the Needham house on the curved driveway, Hal felt as if he ought to be arriving in a carriage and four rather than Margaret’s Daimler motorcar. The sprawling limestone house was a convoluted collection of roof peaks, turrets, and wings added on over the years. It looked like a castle, proclaiming nobility dwelt within and an outsider like him would never belong.

Hal didn’t resent the upper class their wealth, power, and prestige. He merely wanted to become one of them. Was that so awful? A friend had once come to Hal’s flat begging a sanctuary to spend a night or two. The stay had turned into something more like two months. But Hal certainly understood that desire to lay down the burden of constant struggle to survive and find a quiet, comfortable resting spot.

Margaret would be his safe place, and he would be hers, making certain she never wanted for companionship. In return, he’d have a nice house, good food, and a fine wardrobe. He would guard her fortune as if it were his own, spending wisely and increasing it shrewdly. He wouldn’t be a burden but a life companion in an easygoing, if chaste, arrangement.

He got out of the passenger side of the car, and Margaret came around to join him. “What do you think? The house may appear grand, but don’t let the battlements fool you. Inside, it’s quite shabby. Despite a respectable family name, my aunt and uncle aren’t wealthy by any means.”

Hal tucked her hand through the loop of his arm. “I’m not nervous. I’m quite ready to meet them and explain why I’ve fallen in love with their one-of-a-kind niece. This must have been a wonderful place to grow up with all those nooks and crannies to explore.”

“It truly was. Mother and I could have afforded to stay in our own home after Father died. But I’m so glad we came to live with Aunt Agnes and Uncle Harold; otherwise, I never would’ve had brothers like Julian and James.” She frowned. “After nearly two years, I still have trouble thinking of James in the past tense.”

Hal recalled James had survived France but died in the influenza epidemic almost immediately upon his return home. He put an arm around Margaret and hugged her. “You must miss him terribly.”

“His passing has been difficult for me but nearly killed my aunt and uncle. They’re still mourning. And Julian…” She shook her head.

“Misses his brother and perhaps blames himself for being alive,” Hal guessed. “I understand that feeling, having lost many comrades at the front.”

Margaret stopped at the doorstep and turned to him, eyes shining. “You survived because God had more for you to do in this life. He brought you to me, for which I am ever grateful.”

Hal hated himself just a little more at her declaration. When he’d begun this plan, he’d imagined landing a wealthy older widow who knew the score and didn’t mind so long as she had a handsome young husband to show off to her friends like a trophy. But then he’d met Margaret. He’d been so taken with her blend of sweetness and assertiveness that it had seemed possible to make a sham marriage work. Now he was stuck with the plan he’d devised.

The door opened before they knocked. A stooped older man with a paunch swelling his waistcoat greeted them. “Welcome home, Miss Margaret.”

“Hello, Grover. You’re looking very dapper today. I’m so glad to be back. I’ve missed home these past months. May I present my fiancé, Mr. Halstead Wiley.”

The butler bowed. “Good day, sir. Welcome to Barton Park.”

Hal almost returned the bow, then recalled his proper standing and nodded politely instead. “I’m happy to be here.”

Grover escorted them to the drawing room, where Mr. and Mrs. Needham and Julian were already gathered. Hal assessed the room before following Margaret inside. Pale blue walls and rug offered a sense of tranquility and the room was not overly cluttered. The dark, heavy pieces of furniture from an older century didn’t fit the pale color palette that suggested a more chic, modern décor.

Margaret’s aunt and uncle rose to greet him. The outdated style of Mrs. Needham’s gown didn’t detract from her aura of grace and refinement as she offered her hand. “Mr. Wiley, we’re pleased you could come. Darling Margaret is the daughter we never had, and we were eager to meet the man she’s chosen.”

“Quite so,” Mr. Needham said.

Hal wasn’t certain if he was meant to shake Mrs. Needham’s hand or kiss it. The customs of the gentry weren’t familiar to him. He gave a polite press before letting go, then turned to offer a hearty shake to Mr. Needham. “The pleasure is mine. Your niece is a prize.”

“Yes, she is.” Mr. Needham gave Hal an assessing look with gray eyes very much like his son’s.

Hal scanned the rest of the room to find Julian standing near the window. Sunlight burnished his brown hair with golden highlights. His well-cut profile with its straight nose and strong jawline was haloed in light. When he turned his stern gaze toward Hal, a little hum of anticipation awoke within him.

Hal squelched this reaction to a man he considered an adversary. Needham had invited him here to poke holes in his story, so he must be on guard every moment not to give himself away. If this wedding were to be called off, he’d be jobless and desperate again. One would expect work to be plentiful in the aftermath of the Great War with so few veterans returning, but the economy was in shambles. Odd jobs were all Hal had been able to find, spurring him to his mad scheme to land a wealthy woman.

He offered a bright smile. “Good to see you again, Mr. Needham.”

As much as it wasn’t, it actually was. Needham intrigued Hal, not only his physical demeanor but his affectionate manner with Margaret and his magnetic presence. Had they met under other circumstances, he and Julian might have been friends—or probably something more than friends, for Hal guessed “confirmed bachelor” Julian shared his attraction to men.

Hal dragged his thoughts away from the sorts of activities they might have gotten up to in another time and place, as he sat beside his betrothed on a sofa. “You have a lovely home,” he complimented his hosts. “Its history must be fascinating.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Needham said. “Barton Park was built in 1640 and belonged to several families before the Needhams took possession.”

Her husband added dryly, “You may learn the entire history on every second Wednesday of the month, when the house is open. I daresay the tour guide is more educated on both the history and the architecture than we are.”

“Tours?” Julian abandoned his spot by the window to stride across the room with long-legged grace. “When did this begin?”

“Surely I mentioned this in one of my letters. A company that arranges tours approached us this past summer,” Mrs. Needham explained. “At first, your father refused to speak with their representative, but when we learned other owners of other estates were allowing tours, we decided to give it a go. It’s a respectable way to share one’s heritage and is little trouble at all. Thus far, the tourists, both domestic and foreign, have been orderly and respectful.”

“Not at all annoying having strangers troop through one’s home,” Mr. Needham continued in his sub-Saharan tone. “And you’d know about this if you paid the least attention to what your mother writes, or if you came for a visit every so often.”

Julian stood before his parents, scowling. “You did not mention this in any of your letters. I’d no idea you’d reached such a…” He glanced at Hal and seemed to reconsider airing his family’s financial business. “That you were considering such a thing.”

“It has become quite common these days for historical houses to be on display,” Mrs. Needham pointed out. “As you’ve said, times are changing.”

“More’s the pity,” the elder Needham growled.

Hal sat very still, wishing he were someplace else and not witnessing this family argument. He’d had no idea the Needhams were in such difficult straits until today. Apparently, their children hadn’t either. Surely Margaret would want to offer financial help, which would cut into the inheritance from her father’s side. He was a horrible person to immediately consider how the Needham family’s misfortune might affect him and his plans.

“Honestly, I think it’s rather brilliant to open the house to tours.” Margaret smoothed the folds of her modish knee-length dress. “Tourists enjoy seeing grand houses from a former century. The building should earn its maintenance at the very least. But if you require more financial assistance, please let me know. I want to do my part for the family.”

Julian Needham quickly added, “I can offer help as well. My investments are doing well enough.”

“We’re not quite destitute, although apparently our home has become a museum artifact to be gawked at by strangers,” Mr. Needham said.

“Thank you, my dears, for your generous thought. But such a discussion is most inappropriate at this celebratory occasion.” Mrs. Needham turned her attention to Hal. “Tell us how you two met.”

“We were both browsing at a bookstore. I shared a recommendation with Hal, and we talked for hours. You can see how that conversation ended.” Margaret turned her beaming smile on Hal. “Or never ended, for we always find something to discuss.”

“I was taken with Margaret from the moment we met. She manages to be both imaginative and levelheaded at the same time. One doesn’t let a quality woman like Margaret slip away.”

“Your family approves the arrangement?” Mr. Needham probed.

Hal seized a quick breath before plunging into his embroidered history. He hadn’t tried to pretend to Margaret that he came from any sort of gentility, instead inventing middle-class parents of modest means.

“My parents have passed, and I have no extended family. But I’m certain both Father and Mother would have welcomed Margaret with open arms.”

“Tell us about your parents,” Needham senior pushed.

“My father owned several shipping concerns. But in one year, a freighter was lost at sea and another seized by pirates. This put a great strain on his fortune and took a toll on his health.” Hal patted his chest, indicating possible heart failure or a broken heart. Let them decide which. “He passed away within a year, and my dear mother followed soon after. I believe she couldn’t face life without him.”

Mrs. Needham gave a soft murmur, and Margaret reached to pat Hal’s hand. He bowed his head, hoping he wasn’t overdoing the drama.

“Were you left penniless then?” Julian’s tone was cool and less than sympathetic.

“Julian!” Mrs. Needham exclaimed at his shocking ill manners.

“It’s all right, Mrs. Needham. It is quite reasonable to wonder about the stranger your niece has brought home. I should have followed custom and asked permission for her hand.” Hal offered an apologetic smile, then continued trying to reassure them he had nothing to hide.

“I invested the small inheritance I received and have increased it over the years, so I live quite comfortably. I won’t pretend to be more than I am. I come from a middle-class background, and I’m in love with a woman who is clearly above me. But I care for Margaret very much.”

The last part at least was true. Hal took her hand, gazed into her eyes, and prayed his selfish intentions could be forgiven.

Margaret smiled. “As I care for you.”

Julian made a small sound that might have signaled either acceptance or disgust.

Hal darted a sharp glance at him.

“It’s a lovely afternoon. I should like to take you on a tour of the land before supper,” Margaret said.

“Perfect weather for an invigorating walk,” Hal agreed and blessed her for freeing him from the relentless questioning.

“I’ll go with you.” Julian had not taken a seat during the entire conversation, and now he started for the door. “I should like to see how the farms are doing.”

They bid their elders goodbye and entered the hallway. Margaret excused herself to change into proper attire.

Hal had brought no walking shoes and lingered awkwardly with Julian, who scanned him up and down.

“You’ll want a pair of Wellingtons. The fields and woods are muddy. And a drover’s coat to cover this fine wool.” He fingered the lapel of Hal’s jacket, tailored for a gentleman and discovered by Hal in a secondhand store.

Julian stood so near, Hal felt the heat of his body and inhaled the scent of his shaving lotion. Did Julian mean to be intimidating? Probably, because he stared at Hal with the assessing eyes of judge, jury, and executioner.

When Julian at last stepped back, Hal took a deep breath. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t only a barrier to breach, he also unleashed attraction such as Hal hadn’t felt in a long time. Perhaps Julian sensed his desire and was baiting him to make an impulsive move.

But Hal wouldn’t reveal himself so foolishly. Nothing could come between him and the quiet, calm, comfortable life he craved. He must convince this doubting Thomas before he derailed Hal’s matrimonial plan.

My Review:
Hal Stanton was an orphan who ran away from the orphanage, where he and his fellows were essentially workhouse slaves, to join the British forces in the Great War back in 1916. It’s now the early 1920s. The war is passed and Hal survived both that and the great influenza epidemic. He has a good education, gained on his own devices, and served several gentlemen as a personal…attendant? Well, not what polite company would call it. And, he’s not willing to continue in that line, because it’s not very stable. So, he’s decided to pose as a merchant-class man down on his fortune, assuming the name of Halstead Wiley and a fabricated history, in order to land a war widow, or spinster of good standing. He isn’t inclined to women but is willing to be a faithful, if chaste, companion. And that is how he comes to make the acquaintance of Margaret Needham.

Margaret is a suffragette with strong ideas about woman’s autonomy. She was raised by her aunt and uncle, but has her own fortune left from her father. Margaret is also rather plain, and a spinster at 28 years old. Shunned by eligible gentlemen, she’d nearly given up on finding a suitor, but Hal seems to suit. He’s willing to let Margaret have her own life, championing women’s issues, and is even willing to help build her fortune using his skills as an investor. All he must do is convince Margaret’s aunt, uncle and cousin, Julian, that he’s a honest man who loves her dearly.

Julian, suspicious and unwilling to let Margaret be shamed or spoiled, invites Halstead to their family home to meet his parents over a long weekend. Which, naturally, turns into far longer what with Julian and Margaret recognizing that Julian’s parents are having trouble maintaining their estate. Julian welcomes the extra time, because he want’s his solicitor to finish investigating this upstart Wiley. That, and he’s noticing that Hal seems to share his own shameful inclination toward men.

I liked this one. It’s a slow burn with interesting twists. Hal really is a decent guy, despite his subterfuge. He has a deep affection for the idea of family, even if he’s sure he won’t be able to manage much physical love with Margaret. That said, he loves being in the country with Margaret’s extended family, and is excited to make a strong friendship with Julian–except for that pesky attraction. The feelings are returned, on Julian’s side. It’s an uncomfortable visit for Julian, and not only because he recognizes the way he’s closed himself off from his family over the last several years. He almost wants to allow Margaret to marry Hal, just so he can have a friendly companion. But, he can’t betray his family any further. Julian has a lot of guilt over the way he’s neglected his duties–duties that were supposed to be taken by his elder brother, James, who survived the war only to die from influenza. James was Julian and Margaret’s hero, and Julian never felt he could live up to the family’s expectations–especially being queer, er, a “confirmed bachelor”…

The romance isn’t overt at first, and the story plays out over the extended weekend, and longer as their visit extends, and then Margaret makes choices that alter Hal’s fortunes yet again. When Hal and Julian meet again, they have the ability to make a new life together in a way that will keep them both happy for years to come. It’s a happy ending in the best way possible for the time period.

Interested? You can find THE FORTUNE HUNTER on Goodreads and Amazon (US and UK). I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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About the Authors:
Bonnie Dee began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, she was the designated ghost tale teller. She still has a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for her own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, she dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in her life didn’t have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that she began writing again.

Bonnie enjoys dabbling in many genres. You can find her online on her website, twitter and Facebook.