Madame's Deception (Pocket) by Renee Bernard is up first. Jocelyn Tolliver went from an innocent schoolgirl to madame of a successful bordello, the Crimson Belle, and completely unexpectedly when her mother fell fatally ill. While she's far from innocent in many ways nine years later, she has managed to keep her virtue, but now Alex Randall, Lord Colwick, tempts her to rethink that. And when Jocelyn finally agrees to his wicked proposal, her life turns upside down, and not only in good ways. Someone wants her brothel, and they'll stop at nothing to get it, including inflicting harm on Jocelyn's girls. Despite all that upheaval, she still has time to fall in love with the out-of-her-league Alex, who is going to have to marry someone of his own class, despite his own feelings for Jocelyn. Of course, he can't let anything happen to her, other than his own breaking of her heart. I didn't enjoy this one as much as Ms. Bernard's previous book. While there's plenty of heat in this one, I just didn't find these characters as engaging as her last couple. It just wasn't a keeper, and has earned only two and a half of Cupid's five arrows.
Bride for a Knight (Grand Central) by Sue-Ellen Welfonder is up next. Jamie Macpherson's return home is not under the best of circumstances: his nine brothers have all been killed in a horrible accident, and he's the last son left to a father who's never wanted him. On the other hand, he discovers he's bound to marry Aveline Matheson, the most beautiful woman he's ever seen, and it seems she's not all that unhappy about their wedding. But when they reach his home things are not quite right: his father claims to be haunted by his brothers' spirits, a claim Jamie doubts mightily, and one which he's determined to disprove. Of course, there's much meddling by everyone else involved as well, though of a delightful sort, rather than a truly intrusive variety. You'll get to revisit friends from stories past here, which is great fun. My biggest gripe with this story is that it isn't nearly as steamy as some of Ms. Welfonder's previous books. Jamie and Aveline are very sweet together, and clearly a couple readers will want to root for, they just don't strike sparks at hot as some of their predecessors. This one's earned three and a half arrows.
Until next time, happy reading!