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Book of the Month: A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

by Kristi Ann Hunter

Bethany House 

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Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, the Duke of Marshington. Since she's never actually met the man she has no intention of ever sending the letters and is mortified when her brother's mysterious new valet, Marlow, mistakenly mails one of the letters to the unsuspecting duke.

Shockingly, this breach of etiquette results in a reply from the duke that soon leads to a lively correspondence. Insecurity about her previous lack of suitors soon becomes confusion as Miranda finds herself equally intrigued by Marlow, a man she has come to depend upon but whose behavior grows more suspicious by the day. As the secret goings-on at her family's estate come to light, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

Scroll down the page to read a letter to readers and an excerpt! 


Read a letter to readers!

A Noble Masquerade is the first full-length novel in the Hawthorne House series. I simply adored this family when they marched their way into my novella, A Lady of Esteem, and fairly soon after their arrival they were each demanding a story of their own. (Note: Visit your favorite ebook retailer for a free copy of the novella.)

This book follows the oldest sister and next to youngest sibling, Miranda, a young woman with an excess of vibrant emotions and an insufficient amount of self-restraint. Having grown up with her mother’s voice in her ear, constantly telling her all the things a lady should and shouldn’t do, Miranda tries to live by the rules even when they grate against her natural inclinations.

Knowing how much I censor my own actions because of what I think others would expect of me, I have to think it would have been even more difficult to chafe against those expectations two hundred years ago, especially in a society where stepping outside of the accepted behaviors could get one ostracized. It was going to take a very special journey with a man as equally unusual as herself for Miranda to discover the freedom to be herself and live in a hypercritical world.

Ryland has gone out of his way to buck tradition, allowing him to meet Miranda in a most curious fashion by masquerading as the servant Marlow. This gives them a unique chance to get to know each other in a very real way outside of the veneer they present to society. The fact that their lives are in a bit of danger might have a little bit of an impact as well.

One of the most fun things about writing this book was discovering the very interesting people this couple has surrounded themselves with. Exploring the secondary characters was almost as much fun as delving into the relationship and lives of Ryland and Miranda. A few of them are so endearing that I can’t help but bring them back later in the series, perhaps even as a main character with a story of their own.

Miranda’s journey and realizations she makes about herself and the way God sees her were very personal, as I myself worked through similar issues a few years ago. Watching Miranda learn these lessons for the first time encouraged me with how far my own understanding had come since walking that same path.

I hope that while you escape to the beautiful world of Regency England and frolic along the rocky path to love with Ryland and Miranda, you will also find a bit of encouragement along the way.

Happy reading!


Read an excerpt!

Marlow entered the library with a loaded tea service.

“Your tea, my lady,” he said with a bow.

Miranda looked from the valet to the tea service. The comforting aroma of tea spread through her, making her more relaxed with every breath.

She should offer him a cup. It was the middle of the night, with no one around to see them, and if ever the rules of propriety could be bent it was now.

Then again, “A lady is always a lady.

Bother that. She shoved the memory of her mother’s frequent reprimand out of her mind, fighting a grin at the mental image. It would be a few hours yet before anyone else stirred in the house. Besides, there was something addicting about his grey gaze. Almost refreshing in its honest directness.

She moved from the desk to the settee, trying to subtly wipe her hands against her dressing gown. Had they been sweating while she wrote her letter? “Would you care to join me?”

His gaze snapped to hers.

Miranda’s heart gave a strange twist in her chest. They were alone. As alone as she’d ever been with a man, servant or otherwise.

She should recant her offer. The memory of those grey eyes had not accounted for how uneasy they made her feel. They seemed to see more than what was actually before him, as if he could look into her soul and pick apart her inner ponderings and motivations. What a ridiculous thought. Something about this man clearly brought out her fanciful side.

“I would be honored, my lady.” Even after answering in the affirmative, he hesitated before taking a seat across the low table from her.

Miranda began to pour the tea. She fixed his cup according to his stated preferences and then sat back with her own cup. She’d already thrown propriety to the wind; rigid posture might as well join it.

“How did you come to be in Griffith’s employ, Marlow? I wasn’t aware he had set about looking for a new valet, although it was high past time. Herbert must be sixty years old.”

“We happened upon each other in the village. I had, ah, been relieved of my employment. Your brother took a liking to me, however, and here I am.”

“Truly? That sounds so very unlike Griffith,” she murmured. Griffith never did anything without thinking it through and coming up with a good reason or twenty.

“Then I am even more grateful for the position.” Marlow quietly sipped at his tea, apparently waiting for her to guide the conversation, if there was to be any.

Did she want there to be any? Yes. Yes, she did. If for no other reason than to pretend she had control over something. “Did you work as a valet before?”

“Yes, my lady.”

Miranda took a large gulp of tea and tried desperately to think of something, anything, to ask that did not involve work. She really didn’t want to know what it was like dressing a gentleman for a living, and especially not in relation to her brother. Having decided that they were going to have a conversation mere moments before, she wasn’t quite ready to abandon the effort.

Her gaze drifted back to him, as if just looking at him would inspire an appropriate topic. All it did was make her realize that she’d been wrong when she thought no man could fill out a coat like her brothers did. Marlow was either padding his shoulders or his muscles were straining the seams of his tailored jacket. She cleared her throat and looked back to her teacup. Tiny blue flowers on white porcelain were considerably safer to look at. “Have you any family near here?”

“No, my lady. I am afraid it is only me. There may be a scattering of cousins over in Derbyshire, but I’ve lost touch with them over the years.”

“Did you grow up in Derbyshire, then?”

“No, Kent.”

She looked at him in confusion. It wasn’t unheard of for aristocratic families to become scattered, with so many of them traveling to London to marry, but the lower classes? “How in the world did you become so separated? Kent is nowhere near Derbyshire.”

“A small move here, a large move there, and you end up going wherever the work takes you.” He had a faraway look in his eye, and she suspected there was much more behind his statement than the scattering of extended family members. With a sad little smile and a shrug, he went back to sipping at his tea.

“I see,” Miranda said, although she really didn’t. A servant would have to change jobs quite a bit to jump from house to house and travel all the way to Derbyshire from Kent and then on to Hertfordshire—and Marlow couldn’t be much older than Griffith. She cast about for conversational inspiration and then remembered her entrance to the library had interrupted his reading. “What are you reading?”

Marlow glanced at the book open near the stack of boots he had been polishing while reading. “Shakespeare. Twelfth Night.

“Is that the one where the noblewoman pretends to be a servant to the duke?”

He nodded.

“I’ve never understood how that would work. I mean, I can’t even make myself a cup of tea, much less do things for someone else.” She glared at the teapot, as if her ineptitude was entirely its fault. “Aside from the practical aspects, there’s the fact that you’d have to go against everything you had been taught since childhood.”

Marlow cleared his throat. “I believe, my lady, that the idea is that someone will do whatever is needed when the situation calls for it. I think anyone, nobility included, can find hidden talents within themselves when it is required to accomplish their goals.”

After several moments of awkward silence, he placed his cup back on the tea tray. “If you have finished, I will see to the dishes, my lady.”

“Of course.” She quietly placed her cup down and stood. The smile she directed at the servant wasn’t as forced as she expected it to be. The interlude had been far from comfortable, but spending time with him intrigued her more than anything else of late. “Thank you for the tea.”

With a last questioning glance at the valet, she lit her candle and went back to her room. Amazing how such a little bit of light made the pathway so much easier to navigate.

Her nerves had settled and bed didn’t seem such a daunting place anymore. If part of her suspected it had more to do with the tea and conversation than the lateness of the hour, she refused to admit it.

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(Day 1) Special Edition Romance Previews: WYATT'S WAR by Myla Jackson


by Myla Jackson

July 8, 2014 Release

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Samhain Publishing | Amazon Kindle | Nook | Kobo


Hearts & Heroes, Book 1

After a particularly difficult operation in Somalia, Master Sergeant Wyatt Magnus is stuck with “light” duty providing anti-terrorist security for delegates at the International Trade Convention in San Antonio.

As he settles in for what he expects will be an easy assignment, he discovers he’s got a whole new kind of battle on his hands with the convention’s director, a tightly packaged, five-foot-nothing, sexy piece of work with an iron fist.

Under pressure to bring foreign dignitaries to the River Walk without a hitch, Fiona Allen doesn’t have time to babysit a Special Forces grunt with a superiority complex. Even if just looking at him makes her mouth water.

When a hotel snafu lands them in the same room, at first she’s steaming mad. Then burning up in smoking-hot desire. But even as she tells herself he’s a one-time ride, trouble is brewing behind the scenes. The kind of trouble with a vendetta—and a detonator.

Warning: Contains one hot hero with a gift for strategic placement of his hands, one fiery redhead who’d like to make a career out of exploring every rippling muscle, and one hotel room that’s about to see some serious action. Fire extinguisher recommended.

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Excerpt 1

Chapter One

Sergeant Major Wyatt Magnus pushed past the pain in his knee, forcing himself to finish a three-mile run in the sticky heat of south Texas. Thankfully his ribs had healed and his broken fingers had mended enough he could pull the trigger again. He didn’t anticipate needing to use the nine-millimeter Beretta tucked beneath his fluorescent vest. San Antonio wasn’t what he’d call a hot zone. Not like Somalia, his last real assignment.

It wouldn’t be long before his commander saw he was fit for combat duty, not playing the role of a babysitter for fat tourists, politicians and businessmen visiting the Alamo and stuffing themselves on Tex-Mex food while pretending to attend an International Trade Convention.

The scents of fajitas and salsa filled the air, accompanied by the happy cadence of a mariachi band. Twinkle lights lit the trees along the downtown River Walk as he completed his run around the San Antonio Convention Center and started back to his hotel. Neither the food, nor the music lightened his spirits.

Since being medevaced out of Somalia to San Antonio Medical Center, the combined armed forces’ medical facility, he’d been chomping at the bit to get back to where the action was. But for some damn reason, his commander and the psych evaluator thought he needed to cool his heels a little longer and get his head on straight before he went back into the more volatile situations.

So what? He’d been captured and tortured by Somali militants. If he hadn’t been so trusting of the men he’d been sent to train in combat techniques, he might have picked up on the signs. Staff Sergeant Dane might not be dead and Wyatt wouldn’t have spent three of the worst weeks of his life held captive. He’d been tortured: nine fingers, four ribs and one kneecap broken and had been beaten to within an inch of his life. All his training, his experience in the field, the culture briefings and in-country observations hadn’t prepared him for complete betrayal by the very people he had been sent there to help.

He understood why the Somali armed forces had turned him over to the residual al-Shabab militants that were attempting a comeback after being ousted from the capital, Mogadishu. He might have done the same if his family had been kidnapped and threatened with torture and beheading if he didn’t hand over the foreigners.

No, he’d have found a better way to deal with the terrorists. A way that involved very painful deaths. His breathing grew shallower and the beginning of a panic attack snuck up on him like a freight train.

Focus. The psych doc had given him methods to cope with the onset of anxiety that made him feel like he was having a heart attack. He had to focus to get his mind out of Somalia and torture and back to San Antonio and the River Walk.

Ahead he spied the pert twitch of a female butt encased in hot pink running shorts and a neon green tank top. Her ass was as far from the dry terrain of Somalia as a guy could get. Wyatt focused on her and her tight buttocks, picking up the pace to catch up. She was a pretty young woman with an MP3 device strapped to her arm with wires leading to the earbuds in her ears. Her dark red hair pulled back in a loose ponytail bounced with every step. Running in the zone, she seemed to ignore everything around but the path in front of her.

Once he caught up, Wyatt slowed to her pace, falling in behind. His heart rate slowed, returning to normal, his breathing regular and steady. Panic attack averted, he felt more normal, in control and aware of the time. As much as he liked following the pretty woman with the pink ass and the dark red, bobbing ponytail, he needed to get back and shower before he met the coordinator of the International Trade Convention.

Wyatt lengthened his stride and passed the woman, thankful that simply by jogging ahead of him, she’d brought him back to the present and out of a near clash with the crippling anxiety he refused to let get the better of him.

As he put distance between him and the woman in pink, he passed the shadow of a building. A movement out of the corner of his eye made him spin around. He jogged in a circle, his pulse ratcheting up, his body ready, instincts on high alert. The scuffle of feet made him circle again and stop. He crouched in a fighting stance and faced the threat, the memory of his abduction exploding in his mind, slamming him back to Somalia, back to the dry terrain of Africa and the twenty rebels who’d jumped him and Dane when they’d been leading a training exercise in the bush.

Instead of Somali militants garbed in camouflage and turbans, a small child darted out of his parents’ reach and ran past Wyatt, headed toward the edge of the river.

His mother screamed, “Johnnie, stop!”

By the time Wyatt grasped that the child wasn’t an al-Shabab fighter, the kid had nearly reached the edge.

© 2014 Myla Jackson

(excerpt continued on Tuesday)


Platinum Pleasures by Kate Deveaux


Read Chapter Sample: PROMISE ME TEXAS by Jodi Thomas

Read A Chapter Same  - an approximately 850 word sample of some of your favorite authors' new releases. Enjoy!


Berkley books | ISBN: 9780425250747

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Apple | Books a Million

On a midnight train, four hours away from her wedding, Beth McMurray discovers the devastating truth about the powerful senator she's about to marry. Convinced nothing could make this stormy night worse, the train wrecks, and she tumbles straight into the arms of an outlaw.

Andrew McLaughlin doesn't believe in loving; he loved deeply once and thinks he'll never survive another loss. Aboard a train heading toward Dallas, in the moment before it crashes, he saves a beautiful woman and is injured in the fall. When he wakes up, he finds that she’s claimed him as her fiancé—and now they’re both on the run, and destined to do everything it takes to make an unexpected promise of love come true.

Read Excerpt:

Chapter 3

Andrew McLaughlin struggled in and out of consciousness.  If it hadn’t been for the pain below his eye, he would have thought he was dreaming or living inside one of the stories he sometimes jotted down in his journal.  

A band of robbers.  A train wreck.  A beautiful lady curled up beside him.  

He’d been alone for so long the nearness of her was well worth the pain.  He could feel her breathing as her body rose and fell softly against his side.

    “Are you awake?” she whispered.

He felt the brush of her words near his ear but didn’t move.

    “Yes,” he managed.  He didn’t want to open his eyes and find he’d only been dreaming.  He wanted her near so he could memorize how she felt and smelled and moved.  One more memory, one more to save.

    “Thank you for saving my life.”

    “You’re welcome.”  He hadn’t given it much thought.  He’d been leaning on the corner of the platform preparing to jump before the robbery started when she’d almost bumped into him coming out of a freight car.  A moment later, the accident occurred and grabbing her had all been instinct.

    His confused mind wanted to ask her whether if he saved her, could he keep her, but she’d only think him out of his head and she wouldn’t be wrong.

    “I have to know your name.”  She nudged him lightly on the shoulder.  “They’ll ask me.”

    “Andrew,” he answered.  “Andrew McLaughlin.”  He was floating, feeling like his mind might go underwater and disappear any moment.  He wasn’t sure if he was talking to her, or simply hallucinating.  “What’s your name?”

    “Beth McMurray.”  Laughter filtered through her words.  “And, if you’ve no objection, Andrew, I’ve told people you and I are engaged.”

    Hallucinating, he thought, definitely hallucinating.  She might be a dream, but the pain in his muscles told him the wreck and the fall from a moving train had been real.  “I had a friend with me.  He may still be on the train.”

“I’m sorry, Andrew.  I saw the body of the man you climbed on the train with.”  She touched his chest as if to offer comfort.  “He’s dead along with most of the others.  Was he a good friend?”

    “No,” Andrew answered, “but, he was the only friend I had left.”

Without moving away, she told him of the wreck on the other side of the tracks.  He finally looked at her wondering how long it would be before she left.  She had pretty eyes, though, and a voice he could get used to hearing.

Only, she’d leave.  Everyone did.

    Maybe that was why he’d given her his real name, a name he hadn’t used in years.  Not that it mattered.  No one knew him by any name.  He’d changed it so often he wasn’t even sure sometimes what had been his family name.

    His earliest memory was of his mother dancing with a man as he watched from the stairs.  She’d stopped when she saw him and laughed saying, “Andrew, this is your new father.  We’re changing last names.”  And so it went throughout his childhood.  Every year or so, she’d change names and he was expected to go along.  It really didn’t matter because the names, like the men, were only temporary.  

    Between husbands his mother always went back to McLaughlin, so when she died, he went back to it as he packed his bag and left one of a long list of houses that weren’t home.

    “Beth,” he said when she finally stopped talking about all she’d seen.  “How long have we been engaged?”
    “Since we were children, dear.  I’ve always loved you.”

    He could hear others moving closer so he played along.  “Oh, yes, I remember.”

    Her hand moved along his arm.  “Just rest, Andrew.  The doctor from town is here to check your wounds.”

    Andrew put his fingers over hers.  “Don’t leave me too soon,” he whispered as two men knelt down beside him.  One, stout in build, wore a badge.  The other older with hard eyes carried a black bag.  Andrew had no doubt who they were.

    “I won’t leave,” she promised as she moved behind the men.

    Andrew felt the cold air where she’d been pressed against him as the doctor turned him on his back in the wet grass.  

    “He’s lost a lot of blood, Harris,” the older one said as he checked the bandages Beth had tried to put on.  “We need to get him on the wagon fast.  I can’t do much for these cuts out here.  They’re deep, but once they’re stitched he’ll live.”

    The doctor opened his bag as the sheriff walked away complaining about the train robbers.

    Andrew heard the woman called Beth telling the doctor his name and that they were headed to Dallas to marry.  He brushed his thumb over the two rings he wore on his left hand.  One ring to remind him he’d once known a real love and a smaller one next to it on his little finger so he’d remember to never fall again.