4 solid stars for this one. A mostly character-driven story about a duke's bastard son and a woman from the gentry class whose wealth is pretty much wiped out and has to support herself and her sister by making copies of paintings by famous artists. Trouble is, she doesn't realize that the paintings she's copying (they're sitting in an attic) are stolen and the owners and government have been looking for them for years. The hero, who supports himself by being an art broker, has been assigned the task of figuring out what happened to the paintings, which apparently were stolen while being taken to be hidden in case of an invasion of Britain by Napoleon. He also just recently inherited a house from his father the duke which is very close to the heroine's home. Some of the coincidences in the book are a little too pat, but otherwise, it's a good, enjoyable romantic story with some mystery thrown in. No wonder Madeline Hunter is an auto-buy for me.
What a treat! I don't often come across romance anthologies with such a high, consistent level of quality. The stories are all connected, taking place in a village called Hopewell-on-Lyft in Nottinghamshire, England, and much of the action takes place in the local pub called "The Duke's Arms". There is also a subplot about a highwayman who calls himself the "New Sheriff of Nottingham" and who has been terrorizing the coaches that pass through Hopewell-on-Lyft.
Grace Burrowes' story is about a lady called Penelope Carrington (related to Joseph Carrington, the hero of "Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight") and her legal adviser Sir Leviticus Sparrow, or Levi for short. Besides being a widow with an urgent need to be married by Christmas, Penelope also raises Angora rabbits, a couple of whom almost steal the show from Penelope and Levi.
Carolyn Jewel's story is probably the most satisfying of the set, although Grace Burrowes' is very good too. The Duke of Oxthorpe, the highest-ranking person in the area, is hopelessly in love with Miss Edith Cray, who recently moved into a small property next to the Duke's. The story of how the shy but arrogant Duke finally convinces the retiring (but not shy) Edith, who believes that the Duke is actually interested in her cousin, that she is the woman for him, is delightful and just about as good as a story of this length could be.
Miranda Neville's story is about the (relatively) poor Robina Weston, who refuses an offer of marriage from the extremely well-organized, wealthy and responsible Lord Carbury even though she loves him, because she feels that his offer is only out of a sense of duty towards her. They both end up in Hopewell-on-Lyft, staying at the home of a relatively youthful but extremely snobbish widow who is the mother of Carbury's wards. The widow has designs on Carbury and the story is about how Carbury comes to realize that his true love is Robina and how he gets himself out of the clutches of the widow. The story has several laugh-out-loud moments but not as much emotional involvement as the first 2 stories in the book.
Finally, Shana Galen's story is about a female "weapons designer" and a "clerk to spies" in the Foreign Office, who are both sent to capture the highwayman of Hopewell-on-Lyft. This is the weakest story, mainly because I could not suspend my disbelief about the 2 main characters and their interaction.
Grace Burrowes' and Carolyn Jewel's stories get 5 stars, Miranda Neville's gets 4 stars and Shana Galen's gets 3.
Engaging, well-written story about a man who had been tortured (in many different ways, both physical and psychological) over several months in captivity, and a woman who suffered extreme abuse in her marriage to a much older man. The main characters, Christian Severn, the Duke of Mercia, and Gillian, the widowed Countess of Greendale, are great and I loved them both.
There is also a "suspense" plot, although the villain (the man who betrayed Christian to the enemy) is obvious to the reader almost from the start of the book. The only real mystery is why Christian could not connect the dots himself - I would have thought he had ample motivation and enough information to do so! This is a glaring weakness in the book. The other weakness is the depiction of Gillian as an abused woman - this didn't work for me. I never got the feeling that she had been injured emotionally by her experiences, except possibly by the betrayal of her parents. But as for her feelings about the marriage and her former husband - this came across to me as extreme annoyance a lot more than shame and pain. Not that I know anything about this type of abuse, but I would think that to fully heal from that type of treatment over 8 long years would take a lot more time and expert, loving care than is depicted in this book. Not that Christian is not loving, but he has so many of his own issues to deal with!
Lady Eve is the second youngest daughter of the Duke of Windham, but at age 23 she is dangerously close to being declared a spinster. In fact, she's decided she doesn't want to marry at all, because of an "indiscretion" when she was much younger that ruined her for marriage (according to her). She is also a fabulously talented horsewoman who hasn't ridden a horse in seven years, after a riding accident that almost crippled her permanently. So our hero Lucas Denning's task is to convince Eve that she can ride and that she can fall in love and marry (him, of course), and he does this just splendidly. Along the way there is a nail-biter of a steeplechase horse race (a horse race that involves not just running down a track, but also clearing the types of obstacles that you would associate with show jumping) between Lucas' champion stallion and Lucas brother-in-law's fine horse. And a villain to defeat, although this aspect of the plot was pretty ho-hum and the villain was easy to spot.
Grace Burrowes has written another delightful romance with this book. Great romantic chemistry between Eve and Lucas. The horse racing aspects were very interesting to read (because they were actually about the horses, not the "stud book" that bored me to sleep in a book by another author) and Grace Burrowes obviously knows her stuff in this area.. So this one's a keeper for me.