Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Finding Hollywood Nobody by Lisa Samson/4 Stars

About the book:

Prayer?  Really?

Scotty and Charley are headed for Marshall, Texas, with Biker Guy once more close on their trail. As Scotty tries to come to terms with the reality of her parents’ deaths, she grows friendly with the locals. That makes staying hidden challenging.

But there’s got to be more to life than fear, and through new friendships, Scotty learns that this prayer thing might work after all. Will prayer be enough when the situation is life and death? What happens when Biker Guy finally catches up to her?

My thoughts:

**I'm going to be mentioning things from this book as well as the previous book in the series, Hollywood Nobody, so be aware that you may come upon a spoiler or two.**

To be perfectly honest, I was a little hesitant to read the next book in the Hollywood Nobody Series.  I read book one, and while I loved the opening and Scotty's fun sense of humor, I just wasn't crazy about the religious portions of the book (more on that later).  But I'm a firm believer in giving an author a second chance, so I plunged ahead and read book 2, Finding Hollywood Nobody.

The opening of this book...awesome!  I couldn't believe it started out in Memphis, TN which, for one, was great for this local native, and for two, simply because it was set in the South.  Happy smiles all around.  :o)  I loved reading about Scotty's trip to Graceland, as well as trip to a local food joint, Pirtle's.  For some, seeing local places mentioned in a book may not be a big deal, but when you're familiar with an area, you like to see and hear about the *actual local places*.  So...for those of you that don't know, Pirtle's has GREAT fried chicken, and it was indeed a pleasure to see it get some love in this book.  ;o)

Scotty was her typical self in this book--pretty opinionated, maybe a little bit ADD, and frankly, more mature than most 16-year-olds that I know.  Sometimes, it was soooo hard to follow her train of thought because she kept jumping from one topic to the next.  It was more prevalent in the first book than in this book, so I was pleased that her character had a little more focus here.  I also missed the frequency of her "blog posts" in this book compared to the first, but as this book reached the end, it made perfect sense why they had slacked off.

The biggest thing I was happy about was her spiritual journey advanced a great deal in this book.  When I read book one, I won't lie....I was not crazy about how church/Christianity/denominations were portrayed.  I'm probably very much in the minority on that, but still...just my opinion.  See, I was raised in a Pentecostal church, complete with people speaking in tongues and everything else that goes with it.  As I've grown older, I've come to my own conclusions about their particular teachings, and it was just best that we parted ways.    So, when I started reading about Scotty's visits to a local tent meeting in book one, I was very surprised that a Pentecostal preacher was the one conducting the services....complete with the speaking in tongues and healing services.  You name it, it was there.  The reason it bothered me was that, for someone not familiar with all the many denominations there are (and yes, we all have some reason why we believe the way we do, or go to this church or that church), that particular denomination is so universally misunderstood.  I just think that the author didn't need to make it that complicated because even Scotty's character questioned whether or not they were legit.  I don't thing a YA book should be tackling those kinds of issues that early.  It can be overload.  Believe me, I know...I had the same questions when I was growing up and seeing it at church every week.  It wasn't that I was offended by the content...just very, very suprised.  Maybe I'm way off base here to some, and if I am, I apologize (especially if I've offended anyone...that is not my intention at all).  Maybe Scotty was more mature and discerning at that point in life than I was at her age...I don't know.

So, I said all that to say that Scotty figured out her place with God in book two, and it was written perfectly.  Her character even alluded to a bit of confusion from the services mentioned in book one, but I think it was just like water off a duck's back in her mind.  She figured out her own way to Christ...no denomination needed.  :o)

Now that I've gotten past all that I didn't like from book one, I'm really eager to read the rest of the series and find out what happens with Scotty.  Lesson for me--it just goes to show that you can never judge a book by it's cover, and just because one book experience was bad doesn't mean that all books by that same author will be bad, too.  :o) 

4 Stars

Southern?  Just enough  :o)
Sass?  Some

**Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy for review.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Another great week for me, mostly thanks to Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap..  I will forever be grateful for this site.  :o)

Larkspur Cove by Lisa Wingate (contest at Bluerose's Heart...thanks, Tammy!)
The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman (PBS)
The Lightkeeper's Bride by Colleen Coble (PBS)
Full Circle by Davis Bunn (Bookmooch)
Love, Charleston by Beth Webb Hart (PBS)
Miriam's Healing by Cynthia Davis (PBS)
My Abigail by Cynthia Davis (PBS)
The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker (PBS)
The Lady of Bolton Hill by Elizabeth Camden (publisher)
The Fine Art of Insincerity by Angela Hunt (publisher)
Forever After by Deborah Raney (publisher)

I love this past week's haul!  As a matter of fact, I've already read the new book by Deborah Raney, and boy, was it FABULOUS!!!!  :o)  I can't wait to share my thoughts with you later on in the month as a part of the blog tour by Glass Road PR. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad/5 Stars

About the book:

It is the beginning of a new century at Lake Manawa Resort in Iowa, but some things never change. When 22-year-old Emily Graham's meddlesome aunts and grandmother take it upon themselves to find her a husband among the resort guests, the spunky suffragist is determined to politely decline each and every suitor. She has neither the time nor the need for a man in her busy life.

Carter Stockton, a recent college graduate and pitcher for the Manawa Owls baseball team, intends to enjoy every minute of the summer at Lake Manawa, Iowa, before he is forced into the straitlaced business world of his father.

When Emily crashes into Carter at a roller skating rink, neither could guess what would come next. Will Carter strike out? Or will Emily cast her vote for a love that might cost her dreams?

My thoughts:

Ever since reading Making Waves last year by this very talented author, I have been eagerly anticipating a return to Lake Manawa with a book called A Great Catch.  Well....let's just say that I wish I could go back 100 years, and take up permanent residence there!  It's such a unique little place that is full of fun and adventure waiting to be experienced.

The beginning of this delightful story was laugh-out-loud hilarious!  Emily's two aunts were a piece of work with their matchmaking and nosiness...and boy, some of the fellas they wanted to set her up with had some of the goofiest names I've ever heard of!  Thank goodness that a certain Mr. Wormsley made a quick appearance along with a hasty exit because I knew he was not the one to assure Emily's future happiness. 

And then, there was Carter.  My, my, my...he'd make any girl's heart go to pitter-patterin'!  His attraction to Emily was the sweetest thing, too.  He didn't run off despite her horrible clumsiness, and even volunteered to teach her how to play baseball--definitely took a big risk there!

The biggest lesson I took from this book was that we should be cautious not to get too busy with "stuff."  For example, Emily was busy with being the president of her local suffragist organization, and that carried a load of responsibilities.  She was busy writing articles for local newspapers, giving speeches, and organizing a huge baseball event with a ladies baseball team.  Oh, and then there's Carter, and the makings of a promising relationship.  And through it all, her sweet grandmother kept asking her, "What about God, Emily?"  It took her awhile to recognize that God had fallen to last place on her list of priorities, but she soon realized that He had never left her side.

Lorna has created such an exciting place at Lake Manawa with neighborly people that are so much fun to read about!  I was so happy to read about some of the characters from book one, too...made me feel like I'd never left.  :o)  I imagine it'll be another year before I'll get to make another trip to Lake Manawa, but I'll have my bags packed and ready to go when the time comes!

5 Stars

Southern?  No
Sass?  Oh, yes!

**Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy for review.
**Click here to read my review of Lorna's first book, Making Waves.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mailbox Monday

I got some great books last week, not only from the mailbox, but also from the store, too.  :o)  Kinda bittersweet at the store as it was a sweet, Christian used bookstore at the mall that's going out of business...and they were practically giving the books away.  :o(

The books in the first stack came from the discount store, and the other half came from the used bookstore...with the exception of Shelley Rushing Tomlinson's book.  Had to splurge and buy that one full price based on the title alone!  You better believe I'll be writing up a review of that one when I finish it...it's a Southern book through and through.  :o)

What about you?  Get any great books last week?

Book Review: Secrets of the Heart by Jillian Kent/4 Stars

About the book:

Madeline Whittington, daughter of the deceased Earl of Richfield, emerges from English society's prescribed period of mourning in the winter of 1817. Madeline believes that she no longer belongs in a world of gossip and gowns after experiencing multiple losses. When she rescues a runaway from Ashcroft Insane Asylum, her life will be forever changed as she discovers the dark secrets within the asylum walls.

Because of his elder brother's unexpected death, Devlin Greyson becomes Earl of Ravensmoore and struggles between two worlds: one of affluence and privilege and one of poverty and disease. Torn between his desire to become a doctor and the numerous responsibilities of his title, he wrestles with God's calling for his future. Will he be able to honor this God-given gift and win the woman he falls in love with in a society that does not value gentlemen who work? And will Lady Madeline be able to honor her father's memory when she is attracted to the man she holds responsible for her father's death?

My thoughts:

From the description of this book, I figured I was about to enjoy another wonderful historical novel with a dashing hero and a lovely lady. What I didn't count on was that it was a much better novel than I ever expected to read! Seriously, how many books about insane people have you read? Me, next to none.

I applaud the author for going outside the box and writing such a novel. For years, our society has looked down on people who have mental illnesses, depression, and a whole host of other medical conditions that are frowned upon. This book shared the appalling history of abuse and mistreatment that I'm sure thousands of people suffered in insane asylums for years and years.

In addition to the subject matter, I also liked that the main male character, Devlin, wanted to be a doctor in spite of his societal status. That was something else I've never read before, and it added a whole new dimension to this story. The main female character, Madeline, was nothing out of the ordinary, but her bouts of melancholy did get a little old after awhile. I found myself more interested (at times) in her friend, Hally, and her blossoming relationship with one of Devlin's colleagues.

I'm curious to see what the author will come up with her next installment in this series. I'm hopeful that it will have as interesting of a side story as this one did with the asylum. My rating for Secrets of the Heart is 4 stars.

Southern?  No
Sass?  No

**Many thanks to the publisher through FIRST Wild Card Tours for providing a copy for review.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: A Heart Divided by Kathleen Morgan/4.5 Stars

About the book:

When fate brings them together, they must choose between family ties and love.
The Caldwells and Wainwrights have been feuding for decades. Still, Sarah Caldwell has misgivings when her father pressures her into distracting a ranch hand while he and her brothers rob the Wainwright place. When it becomes clear that hand is actually Cord Wainwright, heir of the Wainwright holdings, Sarah realizes things have gone too far.

As the feud boils over, Cord and Sarah make a most inconvenient discovery--they just might be falling in love. Can they betray their families to see where this attraction leads? Or will their families betray them?

Against the beautiful and wild backdrop of the Rocky Mountains in 1878 comes this sweeping saga of romance, betrayal, and forgiveness from beloved author Kathleen Morgan.

My thoughts:

What a wonderful experience I had with A Heart Divided!  Except for a very few pages early on, I read this book from start to finish, and loved it. Stories involving feuds are not something new to the world of fiction, but this one will surely rank high on my recommendations list.  The last feud story I read was a great deal more humorous than this one, so from the get-go, I appreciated the fact that I was in for an adventure all it's own.

I didn't have to wait long for things to grab my interest.  Right from the start, there was one heck of a kiss that was enough to make my hair stand on it's end!  (Well, not really...but you get the picture.)  :o)  Then, there was the introduction of a brother, which brought on a whole new set of decisions of the heart.  And if all that wasn't enough...there's the feud itself!  It was no wonder that I couldn't put the book down!

I'm no stranger to Kathleen Morgan's books, and without a doubt, A Heart Divided has to be one of her very best.  I'm quite curious what the next book in the series will be about, as this story had no loose ends.  So long as a certain girl named Allis and a certain fella named Spence are not part of it, I'll be a very happy reader.  :o)

4.5 Stars

Southern?  No
Sass?  You betcha!  Sarah was eat up with it!  :o)

**Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy for review.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: A Hopeful Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer/4 Stars

About the book:

Dowryless and desperate, Tressa Neill applies to the inaugural class of Wyatt Herdsman School in Barnett, Kansas, in 1888. The school's one-of-a-kind program teaches young women from the East the skills needed to become a rancher--or the wife of one. Shy and small for her twenty-two years, Tressa is convinced she'll never have what it takes to survive Hattie Wyatt's hands-on instruction in skills such as milking a cow, branding a calf, riding a horse, and cooking up a mess of grub for hungry ranch hands. But what other options does she have?

Abel Samms wants nothing to do with the group of potential brides his neighbor brought to town. He was smitten with an eastern girl once--and he got his heart broken. But there's something about quiet Tressa and her bumbling ways that makes him take notice. When Tressa's life is endangered, will Abel risk his own life--and his heart--to help this eastern girl?

My thoughts:

Ever since I read Courting Miss Amsel by Kim Vogel Sawyer earlier this year, I have been itching to go back and read some of her earlier novels.  I fell in love with her simple, yet emotional, style of writing, and knew that I had found a new favorite author.  A Hopeful Heart was another very good story!  Not quite as good as my first experience with Courting Miss Amsel, but still, very good nonetheless. 

I honestly had a tough time getting started with this one.  I've read one other "mail-order bride" story where there were several women (16, to be exact) that traveled together to the same town to be matched up to eligible bachelors, and frankly, it was not an enjoyable read.  So, my expectations were somewhat crushed from the beginning that I would be in for a similar story where 6 women traveled together to Kansas.  But I continued on, and was pleasantly surprised how much I started to like it. 

Tressa was the sweetest character.  Her demeanor was a little all over the place because she was trying so hard to fit in, and not let people in on the secret that she was really a refined young lady.  So, there were times when she was very timid, and other times when her fancy vocabulary would stun folks into silence (loved those parts the most, I must say).

I wasn't particularly crazy about the early development of Tressa and Abel's relationship.  It seemed to lack genuiness, as well as too much matchmaking on the part of Aunt Hattie.  BUT...everything slowly, but surely, started to come together by the end, and I was itching to see their relationship blossom.

Even though it had a slow beginning, I still really enjoyed this book.  I've read countless mail-order bride stories, and I've come to the conclusion that there needs to be something unique about it to set it apart from all the many others available.  This book had that unique quality in the form of a herdsman school (which I had never heard of before).  There was also a bit of mystery woven through the story which made it even more interesting.  I look forward to reading more of Kim's books in the future, and I happily give a rating of 4 Stars for A Hopeful Heart.

Southern?  No
Sass?  No

**Many thanks to Bethany House for providing a copy for review.

**Click here if you'd like to read my review of Courting Miss Amsel.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Secrets of the Heart by Jillian Kent

**I'm about 1/3 of the way through this book right now, and I'm really enjoying it.  Look for a full review to come very soon! :o)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms (May 3, 2011)

***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Charisma House | Charisma Media for sending me a review copy.***


Jillian has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers for several years. She has also been a member of Romance Writers of America for 20 years and a member of The Beau Monde, Kiss of Death, and Faith, Hope, and Love specialty chapters of RWA. With a master’s degree in social work, Jillian is employed as a counselor for nursing students, which reflects within the pages of her first novel, Secrets of the Heart, which won the 2009 Inspiration for Writers contest, previously finaled in the Daphne du Maurier, the Noble Theme, and Faith, Hope, and Love’s Touched by Love contests.

Visit the author's website.


Madeline Whittington, daughter of the deceased Earl of Richfield, emerges from English society’s prescribed period of mourning in the winter of 1817. Madeline believes that she no longer belongs in a world of gossip and gowns after experiencing multiple losses. When she rescues a runaway from Ashcroft Insane Asylum, her life will be forever changed as she discovers the dark secrets within the asylum walls.

Because of his elder brother’s unexpected death, Devlin Greyson becomes Earl of Ravensmoore and struggles between two worlds: one of affluence and privilege and one of poverty and disease. Torn between his desire to become a doctor and the numerous responsibilities of his title, he wrestles with God’s calling for his future. Will he be able to honor this God-given gift and win the woman he falls in love with in a society that does not value gentlemen who work? And will Lady Madeline be able to honor her father’s memory when she is attracted to the man she holds responsible for her father’s death?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (May 3, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 161638185X
ISBN-13: 978-1616381851



Yorkshire, England, 1817
Who’s there?” Lady Madeline Whittington reined her horse in and listened. She looked into the dense, wooded edge of the forest of Richfield, her family home. “Did you hear something, Shakespeare?” She petted her gelding’s neck. The horse’s ears pricked forward. She studied the fading sun. Darkness would close in soon. It would be unwise to tarry over long. The forest edges, thick with bare brambles now, would become heavy with foliage in the next few months. If she was fortunate, the blackberries would return. Last year’s winter had been harsh, and she’d had to go without that succulent treat. A shadow flitted from within, causing a branch to tremble. “Come out.” Madeline hardened her voice. “Come out at once.”

Papa had taught her to be firm and bold when encountering the unknown, but also cautious. She reached for the revolver in her pocket wishing she hadn’t sent Donavan, their groomsman, on ahead. But she’d desperately wanted to ride alone for a few short minutes.

Two huge brown eyes in a tear-streaked and muddy face peered between parted branches held back by long slim fingers. Blood trickled from scratches on the girl’s arms and hands.
“Who are you? Why did you not answer me?”

The eyes grew wider.
Madeline’s heart softened along with her voice.

“It’s safe. I won’t hurt you.” She tore a hunk of bread from a leather pouch strapped across her shoulder. “Are you hungry?” She offered a large portion. Crumbs fell.

The girl took a step toward her and bit her lower lip. Bruises colored the young woman’s wrists and ankles, her only covering a torn chemise and ill-fitting shoes with no laces.

“What’s your name? Can you understand me?”

Brown Eyes held out a hand.
“You are hungry. Of course you are. Come closer. I’m going to toss the bread to you. Is that all right?”

The pitiful creature nodded and held out both hands.

She understands me. Madeline aimed and carefully threw the bread.

The silent stranger caught it and stuffed the bounty into her mouth so fast that Madeline feared the girl might choke.

“Will you come with me?” Madeline held out her hand. “You may ride with me.”
Brown Eyes stepped back.
“Don’t go. It’s dangerous. You cannot stay here. I won’t hurt you.”

The girl looked into the woods at the lowering sun and then at Madeline’s outstretched hand. Brown Eyes stepped backward. One step. Two steps.

“Wait.” Madeline unbuttoned her cape. “Take this. It’s far too cold with only a chemise to cover you. You’ll freeze to death.” She threw the long, fur-lined wrap to Brown Eyes.

The girl gathered the offering and backed into the forest, keeping her eyes locked on Madeline’s until she turned and ran.

“No! Wait. Please wait.” Madeline searched for a way through the thicket. Not finding any, she pushed her mount farther north until she found an entry. How could she help this girl without scaring her out of her wits? She found the girl’s path. Darkness chased them.

“Where are you?” Madeline shouted. “It’s too dangerous.”

Shakespeare’s ears pricked forward, and she caught the sound of scurrying ahead and then spotted Brown Eyes. Low-hanging branches attacked Madeline, clawing her with their long-reaching arms as she herded the girl toward a nearby hunting cabin. Minutes

later they broke through the trees and entered a clearing where the outline of a small cabin was silhouetted against the fast-approaching night sky.
Pulling her mount to a stop, Madeline kicked her booted foot out of the stirrup and narrowly avoided catching her skirt on the pommel as she slid to the ground.
“I won’t hurt you,” Madeline called. The girl hesitated and then ran again. Gathering up her skirt, Madeline chased after the girl, grabbing for the cape that trailed behind. She easily caught the girl, who fell to the ground in a heap and rolled into a ball with the cape wrapped around her.

Madeline knelt beside her and spoke gently. “Please don’t run. I’m not going to take the cape from you. It’s yours. A gift.”

Brown Eyes panted with fear.
“It’s all right. I’m not going to hurt you. I want to help.” Madeline patted the girl’s shoulder.

She flinched.
“I’m sorry you are afraid. I want you to stay here. See the cabin? You can stay here.”
The girl peeked out from behind the cape, her ragged breathing easing from the chase through the woods. She looked at the cabin and then at Madeline.

“I know you’ve suffered something horrid. Come. You’ll be safe here. Trust me.” Madeline stood and offered a hand up.

Brown Eyes took her hand and followed her into the cabin.

Each one sees what he carries in his heart.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Have you ever made a mistake?” Madeline settled into her saddle, avoiding her friend’s probing gaze. Anxiety rippled through her as she stroked the neck of her large bay gelding while they waited for the hunting horn to sound.
“Not to my recollection.” Lady Gilling gathered her reins. “I’m quite good at avoiding them.”
“I shouldn’t have come.” Madeline’s gloved hands trembled. “I hate hunting.” She’d tried to avoid the ride today. She wanted to visit her brown-eyed fugitive, and she’d been unable to take food to the girl this morning because of the hunt. Mother had insisted she rejoin society this morning, and she’d enlisted her best friend Hally, Lady Gilling, to be certain that she rode today.

“You used to love the hunt.” Hally circled her dappled gray mare around Madeline’s horse, inspecting Madeline as though she were about to enter the ballroom instead of the final hunt of the season.

Madeline shook her head. “You’re wrong. I love riding, not hunting.”

“Perhaps. However, at one and twenty, you are far too young to give up on this world. And even though I’m only two years your elder, I’ve had my sorrows too, and I have found ways to battle the pain. You must do the same.”
“I’m sorry, Hally.” The heat of shame spiraled into her cheeks despite the sting of the cold, early spring air. She thought of her brother and sister who had died during the past two years and of Papa who had joined them last year. What could be worse—losing

siblings and a parent or a beloved husband, as Hally had only two years ago?
Madeline’s horse pranced in rhythm to her rising anxiety. “Easy, Shakespeare. Easy, boy.” She tried to focus on the gathering outside Lord Selby’s manor house where horses and riders crowded together in a flurry of anticipation. She took a deep breath to rein

in her frustration and hoped her mount would settle down along with her. “Hally, you pick the most difficult of times to discuss such personal issues.”
Hally edged her mount next to Madeline’s horse. “I do this because you have been in hiding ever since your father died. If you refuse to mix in polite society, they will refuse you.”

“Have I become a ghost?” Mist floated over the fetlocks on her horse, a dreamlike ground covering that made it seem like they waited in the clouds. “Do you not see me?” She wanted to slip away from this show of rejoining society. She wanted to check on the girl. She wanted to leave. “Does society not see me here today?”

“For the first time in a year at the hunt.” Hally reached over and pushed back the netted veil that covered Madeline’s face, tucking the material into her hat. “There, that’s much better. Now everyone can see you.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” She reached up to pull the veil back into place, but Hally stopped her.

“Your mother worries, Maddie. Since your father died, you have refused to mingle, you have refused to travel, and until today you have refused to ride with the hunt. Your father would have scolded you for such behavior.”
Madeline’s chin trembled. “That was cruel. I enjoyed the hunt because Papa loved it when I rode with him. He’s gone now. I don’t have to hunt to ride.”
Hally lowered her voice. “I’m sorry. I know you miss him, but society’s prescribed period of mourning is quite enough. I’ve always believed six months far too long, and here you are six months after that. You need not suffer further isolation.” She leaned closer and whispered. “For heaven’s sake, Maddie, your mother is out of mourning.”

“I’m afraid she thinks of allowing Lord Vale to court her.” There, she’d said it aloud. “May God forgive her. She dishonors Papa’s memory.”
“So that is what worries you. Your mother is interested in a man.”

“He’s not just a man, Hally. He’s Lord Vale, and there’s much speculation about his actions and investments. Yet here I am, pretending all is well.” Madeline lifted her chin and watched her breath dissipate like puffs of smoke on the wind.

“Pretending is a fine art.” Hally smiled. “Everyone must pretend to some extent, dear, or life would be far too complicated.”

“I wonder where life will lead now. Mother isn’t thinking clearly and allows Vale too much time with her at Richfield. I no longer know where I belong, but certainly not in this world of gossip and gowns.”

“We will discuss your fears later, my dear. But for now, your mention of gowns is a subject that warrants further consideration. I think it is time we turn our thoughts toward lighter matters, and talk of fashion will do nicely.”
“Fashion?” Madeline scrunched up her nose. “Please tell me you jest.”

“Fashion is always important.” Hally tilted her head in thoughtful study. “Your black wool riding habit does nothing to draw attention. Green would set your hazel eyes ablaze or, at the very least, a lush russet to show off the highlights in your hair.”

“Why does this matter so much to you?” For the first time that day, Madeline studied her friend in turn. A dark lavender velvet riding habit enhanced her figure. The fabric against the gray of her horse together with the soft early morning light provided Hally with an air of regal confidence, confidence Madeline envied. She was already looking forward to the end of this event.
“Because you are my friend, and melancholia does not become you.”

“Nonsense. I used that emotion up long ago.”

“So you say.” Hally scanned the area. “The chill has bestowed you with blushing cheeks, a most charming quality that will endear you to the male population. There are some very eligible and very handsome gentlemen here today. I shall be most pleased to make an introduction.”

Tentacles of panic snaked through her. “I don’t believe that is required today.” Nor any other day. The thought of an introduction to a gentleman terrified her. She’d witnessed Mother’s agony when she’d lost her children and then her beloved husband. Why allow the heart such vulnerability to begin with? “Really, Hally. Do you never grow weary of your matchmaking schemes? Do you not find such things awkward?”

“My James was a rare man. I’ll never stop missing him . . . and the children we might have enjoyed. I want you to experience that kind of love, Maddie.”
Sorrow shadowed Hally’s blue-green eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so selfish.” The last thing she had wanted to do was cause more heartache.
Hally waved a dismissive hand. “It’s all about love, dearest. Don’t forget that.”
“But love is—”
“Necessary. Not awkward. You must accept that. You missed your London season four years ago. I know many at this event. As a respectable widow I can be a great help.”
Madeline didn’t argue. “I appreciate your concern.” She hoped to get through the hunt and the social gathering unscathed by men and their unwanted advances. The gathering after the hunt could prove to be difficult. Many men would drink, and some would drink too much, making themselves perfectly obnoxious. “Perhaps we can just ride today and think on these matters another time.”
“Forgive me, dear. I’m overzealous when it comes to you. I will not speak of opportunities again this day. But I pray you’ll think about what you are doing, think about your future, think about your life. If you continue to hide yourself away, you will not be accepted by polite society. And since your mother is ready to begin living again, should you not as well?”
The budding tree branches swayed gently in the early morning breeze and, bending toward her, seemed to hesitate on the wind, awaiting her reply. “I am in no mood to meet anyone.”

“We’ll speak of your moods later.” Hally smiled. “Let’s enjoy the present.”
Bright streaks of sunlight burst through the cloudy, late March sky. Madeline contemplated her friend’s advice. “You’re right. It’s a beautiful morning. Time to imagine the future. As for now, I’m just not certain how to proceed.”
Hally reached across her mare and patted Madeline’s hand. “I’ll be happy to show you the way.”
Lord Selby’s raucous laughter roared through the crowd as he muscled his way through with his horse. Another rider crashed into her while trying to get out of Selby’s way, causing Madeline’s mount to lurch sideways into Hally, nearly unseating each of them.

Madeline’s breath caught, but she quickly tightened her reins and gained control.
“Easy, Shakespeare. It’s all right, boy.” She stroked the gelding’s neck to calm him and looked to see if the other rider had recovered his balance.
A pair of green eyes, wide with concern, locked on her. The beginning of a smile dimpled the man’s cheeks. A strong chin, straight nose, and clean-shaven face provided him with the good looks of a gentleman in a Van Dyck portrait. She felt the heat of a sudden blush and, not trusting her voice, held her tongue.
Apology etched his handsome face. “I beg your forgiveness.” He arched a single black brow. “Are either of you hurt?”

Madeline sucked in a deep breath to calm her nerves and brushed her skirt free of imaginary grime. “I am unscathed, sir,” she assured him, pulling her gaze away. “Lady Gilling?”

“No injuries here.” She pushed her purple plumed hat back into place.

Madeline turned back to him. The sudden urge to chuckle surprised her, but instead of laughing, she molded herself into a woman of politeness and poise. “It appears that we have survived the excitement.”

“I’m afraid Lord Selby is already in his cups this fine morning.” The charming stranger maneuvered his mount closer and lowered his voice. “Hippocrates here found Selby’s bellowing objectionable.” His smile radiated genuine warmth. “I must concur with his animal instinct.”

The blare of the hunting horn filled the air. The fine gentleman tipped his hat and disappeared into the crush of riders. A twinge of disappointment tugged at Madeline’s heart.

“Are you certain you are unharmed?” Hally asked as they trotted their horses out of the gate. “You look a bit pale.”

“I can’t help but think I’ve seen that man somewhere before.

Does he look familiar to you?” Madeline searched for him as they rode out.

“No. I don’t believe so. Could it be that you just met a gentleman of importance with no introduction from me at all?”

“Strange. I can’t recall where, but I’m almost certain.”

“The hounds are on the move,” Hally said. “We must discuss your newly made acquaintance later. We’re off!”

The baying hounds drowned out the possibility of further discussion. A glimmer of anticipation lightened Madeline’s heart. The challenge of the ride distracted her from other concerns and strengthened her spirit. Perhaps I have been a bit melancholy of late.

Her worries lessened with each stride of her horse and with each obstacle cleared, but flashes of the past whirred by her as swiftly as the hunting field. The horses in front of her threw clumps of dirt into the air as they pounded across the countryside in pursuit of a fox she hoped would evade them.
A pheasant burst from its nest. Startled, Shakespeare faltered as he launched toward the next stone wall. Madeline leaned far forward and gave him extra rein in an attempt to help him clear the barrier, but she knew immediately he was off stride.
The crack of rear hooves against the top of the wall thundered through her heart. Shakespeare stumbled and went down on his knees, tossing her over his head. Madeline landed with a jarring thud on her left side. She struggled to get up, but racking pain paralyzed any attempt at movement.

“Maddie!” Hally dismounted, ran to Madeline, and knelt at her side.

She rolled onto her back and groaned. A fine mess. “Shakespeare? Is he hurt?”
“Are you all right?” Hally clutched Madeline’s hand in her own. “Maddie?”
She lay still, trying to assess the damage. “I believe I may have broken my arm.” Tears stung her eyes. “Where’s Shakespeare?” She prayed he bore no serious injuries.
A shadow fell over Madeline. “I’ve already looked at him. He’s shaken, temporarily lame, but on his feet. He will be taken to Selby’s stables to begin the healing process. Unlike your horse, young lady, I suggest you not move.”
The gentleman had returned. And here she lay, flat on her back, her riding skirt disheveled, an indelicate position, indeed. She did not need a man now, especially this very interesting man.

She squeezed Hally’s hand. “I’m not presentable,” she whispered.

“This is hardly the time to be concerned about one’s appearance,” Hally whispered back, smoothing Madeline’s skirt down toward her ankles, a gesture that reminded Madeline of her maid making the bed. She’d have laughed if she weren’t completely mortified and on the verge of fainting. Her arm felt like glass under pressure, about to shatter.

“You took quite a tumble.” He dropped to his knees. “May I be of assistance?”
Madeline tried to sit up again, determined not to appear weak.She prided herself on her independence and strength, but her body rebelled and collapsed as if she were a marionette whose strings had suddenly been severed. “Who are you, sir?”
“I’m Devlin Grayson of Ravensmoore. Where does it hurt?”

“My arm.” Madeline gingerly cradled her left arm and tried to blink back the tears. “You’re Lord Ravensmoore?”

He nodded.
She felt suddenly vulnerable, looking into this stranger’s intense gaze. “I couldn’t prevent it.”

“Lie still, please.”
“Everything happened so fast. It’s been so long since I’ve been on the hunt field,” Madeline said, embarrassed. “Poor Shakespeare. I hope he’s not hurt. I’m such a fool.”

“You are no fool. This could happen to anyone. And your horse appears to be recovering from the shock. A fine horse. And you have given him a fine name.”
She gazed up into his caring green eyes. “Thank you.”

“May I ask your name before I examine you? That is, if I have your permission?”
She found it difficult to concentrate. “Lady Madeline Whittington.” Her head throbbed. “Examine me? Are you a doctor? No, that wouldn’t be right, would it? Not if you’re Ravensmoore.”

“I will be soon.”
Fleeting thoughts of Papa suffering in the hospital filled her mind with fear and anger. The doctors had not helped him. He had died under their care. The slightest of remembrances bubbled to the surface of her thoughts. She turned her face away from him and looked at Hally.

“Lady Madeline,” Hally pleaded, glancing across at Ravensmoore. “He is offering you his medical skills.”

Madeline turned back and looked him in the eye, trying to catch the elusive memory. Where had she seen him before? “Something is not right.” The memories, one after another, tumbled into her consciousness and revealed themselves as they broke through her defenses and exploded into the present. “I remember you.”
“Remember me?” He paused and studied her, searching her face for details, some recollection of the past.

“You were at the Guardian Gate when we took my father to the hospital.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “You killed him.”

Ravensmoore paled. “What do you mean?”

“Lady Madeline! What an unkind thing to say.” Hally looked at Ravensmoore. “She must have hit her head. Maddie, have you lost all reason?”

“My father, Lord Richfield, bled to death because of your ineptness.” A ripple of pain burst up her arm.

“Lady Madeline—of Richfield?” he asked, turning a shade paler. “Your father? I . . . I do remember. I’m very sorry.”

Hally gently touched Madeline’s cheek and wiped away a tear. “He is only trying to help you.”
“I don’t want his help.”
“I assure you, madam, I am not a murderer. I am most sympathetic to your loss. I promise to be gentle.”

“A fine promise,” she scoffed. “But I have no confidence in your abilities, sir. It is regrettable, but it is the truth.”

He pressed on. “The bone might be broken.”

“I do not need your attention,” Madeline snapped. “It’s most unnecessary.”
A pulse throbbed at his temple. “You don’t understand.” He recovered his composure. “If you refuse to let me examine you, then I must insist on escorting you to Lord Selby’s home where you can rest.”

Madeline groaned in frustration. “I refuse to return to that man’s home. He’s drunk.” The two of them outnumbered her. “I want to go home.” She allowed them to assist her to a sitting position.

“She accepts your kind offer, sir,” Hally put in.

“Lean against me, Lady Madeline, until we see if you can stand,” Ravensmoore said.
“I appear to have little choice.”

Ravensmoore put his arm around her waist and gently guided her to her feet. The strength of his body proved to be an unexpected comfort.

“That’s it. Keep your left arm pressed against your side,” he instructed.
The last thing she wanted to do was lean against this man who dredged up bitter memories of Papa’s death. “I’m fine, really,” she lied, in hope of escaping him. Her body betrayed her in a sudden burst of pain that forced her to stiffen. She repressed a moan and

fought to keep her balance. Emotions from the past and present collided in a haze of confusion.
Madeline pushed away from him. “Lady Gilling will assist me.” She held her hand out and stumbled. Ravensmoore caught her.

“And you will pull your friend to the ground with you.”

How could she have considered this man attractive? The thought made no sense now that she had put the pieces together. Yet, he seemed kind, not at all how she remembered him, wearing that horrible blood-spattered apron. Her father’s blood. She squeezed her eyes shut trying to ward off the image. “I don’t want your help,” she said through clenched teeth. “I can ride by myself.”

“You’re not strong enough. I’ll take you home.” Ravensmoore skillfully lifted her in his arms, careful to keep her injured arm protected. “You’ll ride with me.”
Madeline sat in front of Ravensmoore for the ride home. She tried not to lean against his chest for support but found the effort impossible. She’d never been so close to a man, his breath kissing her cheek. She straightened and had to smother a moan of agony when pain radiated through her arm.
When the high stone walls of Richfield came into view Madeline sighed in relief, grateful to be close to home. The great manor house spread before them, the additional wings on either side providing a sense of comfort and safety. A maze of hedges to the left of them and the soon-to-be-blooming gardens magnified the opulence of Richfield. To the right of the edifice stood stables and paddocks for the horses and housing for those who tended them.
Madeline swallowed hard. She’d just returned home with the man who’d killed her father, the man she held responsible for her father’s death. Betrayal weighed heavy on her heart, for this is where Papa had loved and raised his family.
Madeline longed to be in her bed as they drew near the entrance. She vowed to escape from this horrid day and to her room as fast as she could manage.
“Are you ready?” Ravensmoore asked.

Startled from her pain-filled thoughts she said, “Yes.” But that was a lie. Madeline’s head throbbed simultaneously with the beating of her pulse. She fought for control and blinked back tears when the three of them reached the steps leading into the arched entrance. She nearly crumpled when Ravensmoore dismounted, and she clung desperately to the pommel of the saddle. He reached for her. “It’s all right. I’ll help you.”
“There is no need to coddle me, sir. I assure you, once again, that I am perfectly able.”
“Excellent! Then this should not be too difficult for you.”

Madeline fell into his arms, light-headed and shaky. She wobbled when her feet touched the ground. He held her, keeping her safe.

“Allow me to carry you, Lady Madeline.”

Pain sliced through her arm from the jolting ride. “There’s nothing wrong with my legs, sir. I can walk.” She took two steps and swayed precariously.
“I think not.” Ignoring her protests, Ravensmoore scooped her into his arms again. His warmth and scent—spice, leather, and sweat—mingled together in a balm for her pain.

Her mother, Grace, the Countess of Richfield, ran down the steps to meet them. “Madeline, you’re hurt!” Her mother placed a hand on Madeline’s cheek. “What happened?”
Madeline bit her lip, trying not to reveal the depth of her pain. “It’s nothing, Mother. I took a spill off Shakespeare.” She would not be the cause of further anguish. Mother’s grief over the past two years had been more than many tolerated during a lifetime.

“She’ll be fine, Countess,” Hally said. “We’ve brought a doctor with us.”
“A doctor? Thank God. Follow me, sir.”

Now, beyond caring, she laid her head on his shoulder. Once again his breath whispered past her cheek as he took the stairs and delivered her safely into the embrace of her home.

“Phineas, bring some willow bark tea,” Grace instructed the butler. “Bring her into the sitting room, sir.” The countess continued her directions while fussing over Madeline. “The settee will do nicely. That’s it, gently.”
Ravensmoore’s hand lingered a moment on hers as Madeline sank gratefully into the plush green velvet cushions. Surely the man would leave her in peace now.
Her mother pushed back the gold damask draperies, and muted light filled the room. A fire burned in the hearth, and Madeline shivered, perhaps from the lack of the body warmth she had shared with her rescuer on the ride home.
The butler returned with a pot of tea. He poured the hot liquid into a rose-patterned cup and cautiously handed it to her. “There you are, Lady Madeline.”
“Thank you, Phineas.” Steam rose from the cup. Madeline watched her mother. “Please don’t worry so. It’s not serious.”

Ravensmoore knelt beside her. “I recommend you take a swallow of that tea as soon as you can.”
“Sir, your services are no longer needed. And I will drink my tea when I am good and ready, thank you very much.” Madeline spoke more curtly than she’d intended, but she longed to be alone.

“Drink the tea, young lady,” Mother ordered. “The willow bark will help you relax and ease your pain. And you will permit the doctor to examine you. Do not argue with me on this matter.”

“But Mother, you don’t understand. He—”

She touched her daughter’s hand and their eyes met. “I understand enough.” She turned to Ravensmoore. “What can we do, sir?”

“Allow her to rest a few moments. Then remove her riding jacket so I may examine her arm. Is there a place where I might wash up?

I must have left my gloves on the field, and I don’t want to cause further distress by smudging a lady’s clothing.”

“Of course. Phineas will show you the way.”

As soon as he’d left the room, Madeline looked at her mother. “Let me explain. You must know that he”—she pointed in the direction he’d just gone with cup in hand—“was the physician-in training who allowed Papa to bleed to death in York.”

“I didn’t recognize him.” A veil of sadness shrouded her mother’s eyes. “I didn’t think to see any of them again.” Even the worry lines that creased her mother’s brow could not diminish the sculpted features of a woman who resembled a Greek goddess, though she seemed utterly unaware of her beauty. The name Grace suited her.

“He’s not a doctor . . . yet.”

Grace plucked a pair of shears from a nearby sewing basket. “You have made that perfectly clear. Now, allow Lady Gilling and me to cut away your jacket. You might have broken your arm, and there’s no point in causing you any more pain.”
“You still want him to examine me?”

“Of course. I must think of your welfare. The past is the past.”

“He may be able to help you. It will take a servant a long time to ride into town, locate a physician, and return with him. Let this doctor help you.”
Madeline looked from one to the other, then handed Hally the teacup. “Do be careful.”
“Of course we’ll be careful, dear.” Grace cut away the jacket in moments.

“Oh, Maddie. I’m so sorry this happened.” Hally handed her the teacup again. “It’s entirely my fault.”

“That is not true.” Madeline finished the tea. “Don’t be silly.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I am quite dizzy.”