Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “While Passion Sleeps” by Shirlee Busbee

While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee published 1983 by Avon, Cover Artist Harry Bennett

While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“While Passion Sleeps” made me feel really old. It wasn’t the plot or the characters, it was the actual book itself. This just-under-500-pages of an epic is printed in a tiny font on yellowed-paper (my edition is 38 years old) and reading it strained my eyes something awful. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, but now things up close are getting blurry. I’ll be going to the eye doctor this week for a new Rx because I need bifocals. Sigh Damn you, passage of time!

Speaking of the passage of time, WPS features a macho hero who would be booed out of Romancelandia if he were to appear in a romance novel today. Rafael Santana, who’s one tough Texan (1/4 American, 1/4 Comanche, and 1/2 Spanish), was kidnapped by the Comanches as a child, living with them for years before being rescued by his Spanish relatives. He is a savage man, torn between two worlds, as he never fully adjusted to polite society. A forced marriage to a cold-hearted woman and several fleeting sexual affairs have jaded Rafael’s perspective about females.

“Women were such deceptive little bitches, [Rafael] thought viciously as he kicked his horse into a gallop. They had faces like angels and bodies to drive men wild, and yet they lie, cheated, and would merrily rip a man’s heart from his body for the sheer joy of watching him writhe.”

Besides being a founding member of “The He-Man Women’s Hater Club,” he’s capable of and has committed extreme violence:

“I was 12 the first time I went on a raid & yes, I did enjoy it,” Rafael interrupted coolly. “I was 13 when I stole my first horse and scalped my first white man and a year later I raped my first woman and took my first captive. By the time I was 17, I was raiding w/ the warriors for over five years, I owned fifty horses, had my own buffalo skin teepee, three slaves of my own & several scalps taken by my hand decorated my lance.”

(I can just hear the clacking sound of myriad strings of pearls being clutched by the “How dare you!” crowd.)

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is the heroine Beth. A beautiful violet-eyed, platinum-haired Englishwoman (are there really women who naturally look like that in real life? I’ve yet to see one.), she is made to marry a profligate gambler who drinks too much, as her father has no use for her now that he has a new wife and son. Nathan Ridgeway is handsome and, despite his errant ways, not that bad of a guy. The problem is Nathan has “teh ghey” and try and try as he might, he just can’t get a chubby for his sweet 16-year-old bride. Only hot, young twinks will do it for him and Beth ain’t that.

Dismayed at first by the inability to consummate their marriage, he and Beth fall into a contented, platonic arrangement, where Beth capably mages the household affairs while Nathan not-so-discreetly enjoys the company of his paramours. A whiff of potential scandal hits the air, so the pair hightail it off to the United States to make a new life for themselves. They move to Louisiana, then later to Mississippi, where eventually Beth, the super-perfect woman, manages a huge plantation that turns a tidy profit, while Nathan again not-so-discreetly enjoys the company of his paramours.

Let’s rewind a bit back to their time in Louisiana. There at a ball, Beth’s shimmering violet eyes met the passionate smoky-gray gaze of Rafael Santana. The attraction was instantaneous, leading Rafael to make a crude proposition. Beth wanted nothing to do with the married Rafael, being an honorable married woman herself, even if her marriage was not quite a “marriage.”

Jealous of the pair, Rafael’s wife then arranged for Rafael’s cousin to rape a drugged Beth, then have Rafael come upon the scene. Moments before the cousin could do the deed, an enraged Rafael enters the room, catching what he believes are two lovers in flagrante delicto. Furious that another man had his way with Beth, yet enchanted by her naked body, Rafael becomes maddened with lust. Under the influence of intoxicants, Beth’s only sensation is desire. She begs Rafael to take her, which he eagerly does. Thinking he’s having sloppy seconds and in a state of anger, somehow Rafael fails to notice that Beth’s a virgin, even though her hymen is still intact. (I always question when this sort of thing happens in romances: how can a man who’s been around the entire neighborhood not notice the major resistance a hymen makes upon entry? These heroes just plow through like it’s made of wet tissue paper.)

After their one night of passion, Beth flees in shame. She and Rafael don’t see each other until four years later when Beth decides to travel through Texas to visit an old friend. When they meet again, their lust can’t be controlled and they go at it again. And again. And again!

Rafael’s wife is now dead and he thinks Beth is a shameless adulteress, beguiling innocent men with her beauty. I’ve never read Gypsy Lady, but for those of you who have, it’s interesting to note that Sebastian, the son of that book’s protagonists, is featured in WPS as Rafael’s cousin. He, too, is mad about the lovely Beth. Sebastian is the only one who knows the true nature of Beth’s marriage, having witnessed Nathan in bed in the arms of another man. He vows to save Beth from her phony marriage and make her his bride.

In a powerful scene, Sebastian’s illusions are shattered after he catches Beth and Rafael in an embrace. Sebastian and Rafael, who are good friends, almost come to blows until Rafael claims Beth is his mistress. Sebastian leaves the field to his cousin, his heart broken.

Never having felt such deep emotion for a woman before, Rafael is conflicted. Not only is his cousin in love with her, but there is also the matter of her husband to contend with. In the end, he decides to make Beth his and his alone. Passion will find a way.

My thoughts about this one? Except for my eyes squinting in vain to read the words, WPS was an enjoyable ride. It is a bodice ripper that spans continents and years, has lots of steamy love scenes and plenty of violence. That’s enough for me to like it.

I did have an issue with the bad Spanish in this book. Rafael’s wife is named Consuela; it should be Consuelo. Rafael refers to Beth as “mi cara” which means “my face.” It should be “querida” as “cara” is Italian for “my beloved.” I’ve seen that mistake so many times in older romances when the hero speaks Spanish, especially in Harlequins. Fortunately, Rafael doesn’t call her that too often, preferring to call Beth his “English.”

Permit me to go over this for a moment. Any romance reader worth their salt should know how to say this to a woman in multiple languages. There are many ways to say “my beloved,” “my dear,” or “my love” in various languages, but here in random order are the ones I know off the top of my head:

Cariad – Welsh
Querida – Spanish & Portuguese
Cara – Italian
Chère – French
Habibti (or Habibi) – Arabic
Stór – Irish
Liebling – German
Agápi – Greek
Elsket – Norweigian

Okay, language lesson over.

There are times when this book lags, especially during the first half when Beth and Rafael don’t spend much time with each other. For some reason, Busbee went into extreme detail over the most unimportant things, like Beth and her husband traveling from New Orleans to Texas or about Comanche & Texas history. If these parts were removed, the book would feel crisper, moving at a more rapid pace.

Beth and Rafael had crazy, intense chemistry. You feel the heat coming off the pages whenever they are together and the love scenes, while a bit lavender, were sexy as hell. But… that’s all they have. They don’t really converse, don’t go through shared experiences (except for towards the end), they don’t really even argue that much. They have sex every chance they get when they’re alone. I would have preferred more time spent together bonding in a way that was more than physical.

Also, for some reason, I imagined Rafael with a mustache. Busbee makes no mention of one. Yet after reading this scene:

“Let me,” he muttered, roughly. “You are as beautiful there as anywhere, and I want the taste of you on my mouth, the scent of you in my nostrils. Let me!”

I couldn’t picture him without a flavor-saver on his face! Usually, mustaches are a turn-off, but imagining Rafael as Mexican actor Mauricio Islas, one of the few men who can pull it off, made it all good. Until I pictured another face. With the show “The Mandalorian” in the news lately, for some reason, Mauricio’s image kept morphing into actor Pedro Pascal’s face. Nothing against Pedro, he just looks exactly like my cousin Felix! Nice-looking enough, he is, but he’s not my idea of a brutal lover and killer, whose cold, pale eyes barely hide the passions which simmer beneath the surface.

That’s just my baggage. I’ve got to stop imagining actors as heroes. When the cover (sadly) fell off this book, I had no guy to look at and did some head casting.

This is the third Shirlee Busbee I’ve read, and definitely the best of the bunch. “While Passion Sleeps” has a hero you either love or hate, and I loved him in all his pigheaded, dark alpha-ness. Beth grows as a character, transforming from a naive, biddable housewife stuck in a loveless union to a fiery spitfire who endures trauma and hardship. As I said, if Busbee had tightened the manuscript a bit more by reducing the filler and added more emotionally intimate scenes between Beth and Rafael, this would have been so amazing. As it is, it’s still a very gripping read, even if at times I did skim a page or two.

3 1/2 stars rounded up to 4

Originally posted at Goodreads.com

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Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Stormfire” by Christine Monson

Stormfire by Christine Monson,
Cover Art Pino Daeni

Cover Art Pina Daeni

Stormfire by Christine Monson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, after a couple of decades of reading romance, I finally got around to “Stormfire.” Whew! They do not write them like this anymore. The ultimate in bodice-ripping, “Stormfire” is a tale of two mentally unstable people and their violent, intense love. And it’s great!

The main attraction of “Stormfire” is its writing. If it was a poorly written book no one would still be talking about it 20-plus years after it was published. The chapters each have their own titles such as “Silken Irons,” “Into Eden,” or “The Nadir.” When the heroine meets the hero her first thoughts are of Milton’s poetry: “His form had not yet lost/All his original brightness, nor appeared/Less than Archangel ruined…” The prose is evocative and compelling, but not purple. We agonize with Catherine’s enslavement, we feel the angry passion between the lovers, we grieve with Catherine’s loss, and suffer from Sean’s torture…how much misery can two people take? Then there is that intense love/hate. I wish writers of historical romances today wrote like this, deeply and intensely, if not necessarily the same plot.

But then, maybe I’m a sicko, but I like the plot. Yes, it’s epic and melodramatic: everything but the kitchen sink is in the plot including SPOILERS***: kidnapping, rape, starvation, forced slavery, multiple marriages, miscarriage, insanity, beatings, brothers fighting for the same woman, incest, castration, forcible sodomy, murder… To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of things in the book. Even so, Stormfire is enthralling. Even those who hate this book can’t say it’s boring.

There are a lot of detractors of Stormfire, so in its defense, I’ll say this: this isn’t a sweet romance; it’s a historical romance novel, a bodice ripper, and I use the term with great affection. It’s a fantasy. A dark one, definitely, but then some might say so are the vampire, werewolf, bestiality, BDSM, menage fantasies of today. This is a different kind of fantasy, where the greatest hate in the world can be turned into love. Would this relationship work in real life? Probably not. That’s why it’s a fantasy. Stormfire is very entertaining, emotional, and unforgettable. It falters a bit towards the end, so it’s not perfect. It’s not the best romance novel ever written, but for me, it’s up there.

I’d give it 5 stars or an A- rating.

Originally posted on Goodreads.com


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Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Skye O’Malley” by Bertrice Small

The legendary bodice ripper, “Skye O’Malley,” is a rip-roaring blast of an historical romance, full of passion, drama and OTT purple prose love scenes.

Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD:

Oh, never, ever was there a lass as lovely as Skye O’Malley. With raven locks, eyes as blue-green as the Kerry sea, tiny waist, impossibly long legs for such a wee girl, perfectly pert boobies, and a fantastically elastic vagina that bounces back to its teen glory no matter how many kids she births (she must’ve done her Kegels), Skye is the most beautiful, most desirable, most enchanting, the bestest evar! Any man who looks upon her nubile beauty will be inflicted with priapism, and the sole cure is a ticket of the old in and out of Skye’s mossy cavern of passion. Her weeping honey-oven. Her juicy love-grotto, as it were. Yup, only the most cringey, the purplest of euphemisms are here as the vintage Queen of Erotic romance, Bertrice Small, takes us across the seas and nations to experience the highs and lows, but mostly orgasmic highs, of Skye’s life. Women, be it the female pirate Grace O’Malley or the Queen of England herself, Queen Bee, are intimidated by her beauty and her fiery, passionate nature! And men… well, they all want to delve their pulsing lances into her dewy-petaled moist sheath.

Not one hero will do for our eponymous goddess of a heroine, Skye. She’s too hot and needs a lot of thick hose to put out her fires! The daughter of an Irish laird/pirate named Dubhdara, Skye is secretly in love with Niall, a powerful lord’s son. Alas, she is too saucy a wench and will never due for Niall. His parents connive to wed Skye to dumb Dom. Then our hero does something shocks everyone. On Skye’s wedding night, Niall stuns the revelers when he interrupts the festivities, points his finger at Skye, and says “I claim droit de seigneur of this woman!” Which is so goofy, and like the film “Braveheart,” ahistorical, but just go with it.

Afterward, Skye is left to live with Dom, who’s got a giant wang, but only teases Skye with it, as he never lasts long, and besides, it’s incestuous hook-ups with his sister, Claire, he prefers. Occasionally, Dom brings Skye into their little dalliances, although Skye is unwilling. She bares Dom’s 2 sons before he’s paralyzed and then eventually dies.

Niall, in the meantime, was married off to frigid, crazed Darragh, whom he eventually casts aside. She enters a nunnery, and now he and Skye are free to marry. Uh-uh-uh, not so fast. Our independent Skye demands to expand her father’s shipping business, and wouldn’t you know it, she gets shipwrecked and loses her memory. Skye ends up in Algiers to have yet another true love affair, this time with the Grand Whoremaster of Algiers, Khaled-El-Bey, because, for some reason, in Small’s corner of Romancelandia, Irish-Welsh-Scottish-English women from the Middle Ages to post-Enlightenment were drawn to harems like rusty nails to magnets (ouch, bad metaphor). Skye becomes one of his earthly houris, but strictly for his personal use, and not only that but his top bitch, her poon so fine, even the biggest pimp in all of pimpdom has to put a ring on it.

Niall is this time married off to a Spanish girl. The sweet, innocent virgin Niall seduces and then marries turns out to be the opposite of wife #1; she’s an insatiable nympho who becomes a secret whore because even with Niall giving it to her three times a night, it’s still not enough.

Yada, yada yada, Skye gives Khaled El-Bey a daughter, but he croaks due to harem machinations and jealousy. Skye, who’s so awesome she can always depend on the kindness of strangers to help her out, leaves for England, even though she still has amnesia.

There she is pursued by yet another true love, Geoffrey. The blond, green-eyed arrogant Lord Southwood bets that he can seduce the mysterious Skye, who spurns him, entices him, makes him fall for her until… she’s his! Oh, and he’s married. Skye doesn’t care. His wife dies, and eventually, Skye marries Geoffrey and is blissfully happy. Until that is, her memory returns when she sees Niall almost killed and screams out his name. But again, they’re married to different people, so they can’t be together.

I hated Geoffrey and was glad when he kicked the bucket. He blamed his first wife for being unable to bear sons and threw it in her face that’s why he abandoned her. His perfect Skye would have no trouble giving him sons, though. Her vagina is pH balanced to accept only the most macho of y-alleles (and only a rare x-swimmer). She bears Geoffrey two boys, one who dies with his father during the pox.

After Geoffrey dies, Skye is left unprotected, as the wicked Queen Bess forces Skye to be her beloved Earl of Lessessester, er, anywho, Lord Robert Dudley’s plaything. A little bestiality is hinted at as the awful Robert uses his servants as sex slaves to be used by his friends. But not Skye. Skye, he will abuse for his own purposes and not in a fun way. Dudley rapes Skye until he’s had his use of her, and she’s left traumatized.

After her awful arrangement with Dudley, Skye shies away from men—no, not really. She gets involved in some smuggling and shipping with another Lord, Adam De Marisco, an Englishman. For some reason, my favorite of Skye’s men was Adam, who was a nice, laughing guy with a beard who made sex pleasurable for Skye again (which to be fair, wasn’t that difficult of a task). He was like a big teddy bear, no arrogance, no baggage, just pure fun. Adam soothes Skye’s hurts and gives her passion without entanglements. Why she didn’t end up with him in this book is beyond me. But he’ll make a return in the series, and I like what happened with him in All the Sweet Tomorrows.

But remember that lusty wife Niall had? Well, now, she’s near-death because she’s suffering from the pox. Not Niall, though. He’s STD-free because that lucky guy gets to be this book’s hero, so having sex with a woman who had sex with hundreds of men doesn’t even make it hurt when he pees. Not even a weird itching!

All things fall into place, so Niall and Skye find their way back into each other’s arms. The dull, boring hero, Niall, gets his beautiful, perfect, sexual, rich, fecund, brilliant (yeah, that last one was a stretch) Skye O’Malley.

After bearing her assorted lovers and husbands (6 if you’re counting; it seems like more only because, to be fair, Skye does engage in a lot of sex) 5 children (and she’ll have more kids to come), her figure, and her moist cavern of love, remain tiny and petite, unchanging despite age, births or time. This book is a romp. Not meant to be taken deeply because if you do, you might experience heartbreak. Especially ***SPOILER ALERT***in book #2, where Niall passes away, Skye ends up with Adam. Not me; I hated Niall. He was dull as Q tip. Adam was definitely a better choice.

I am so glad I read this book when I was well into my twenties because if I had read this as a teen, my poor little heart wouldn’t have been able to take it. One woman having that many men she all truly loved and in such a short amount of time (relatively), in a romance novel! Thankfully, with maturity comes the ability to relax and not take everything so seriously, and “Skye O’Malley” is not a book to be taken seriously. It’s so bad, yet so good, yet so bad… which is the best of qualities in an old bodice ripper. I didn’t love this book, but I had a ball reading it, and that’s all that matters.

4 stars for the WTFery

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Originally reviewed at Goodreads.com

Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Lady of Fire” by Anita Mills

Lady Of Fire by Anita Mills

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lady of Fire” is one of my favorite historical romance novels. I fully admit that it has its flaws, especially toward the end, but even so, I love it. It takes place in Normandy, not long after William the Bastard has conquered England. Eleonor of Nantes is a renowned beauty, hungered by many and bartered as a political pawn. William’s son Henry desires her as his wife, but it’s the man she believes to be her half-brother, Roger Fitz Hugh, for whom she’s destined.

Roger knows Eleonor is not his sister and has always loved her. Eleonor doesn’t know, yet she desires Roger. This fact may be off-putting to some. But knowing they’re not siblings, it was easy for me to overlook this semi-incest.

For complete disclosure, let it be known that I love blond heroes. I married one in real life and adore them in fiction. Roger is one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving heroes I’ve ever read. His devotion to Eleonor is undeniable and he and Eleonor are meant to be. However… he is not the reason that I’m crazy about this book.

The villain Robert Talvas, Count of Belesme, with his black hair, green eyes, and evil, evil disposition positively steals the show. He is so hot that every scene with him singes the pages of this book. Robert is absolutely malevolent and beyond redemption. He coolly lies to priests and nuns, sleeps with his mother, rapes without remorse, and murders innocents. In the sequel Fire and Steel Robert is so evil he tears a baby out of his mother’s womb killing them both! Robert is the devil incarnate in this story and is based on a Medieval legend.

But there is more to Robert, whose obsession for the lady Eleonor drives the plot. His unwavering love and reverence for her are spell-binding and captivating. In a bodice ripper written ten years earlier, Robert might have even been the hero. Disturbingly, despite the fact that he kidnaps and ravishes Eleonor, I found myself hoping, “I know you love Roger, but Eleonor, just once submit to Robert!” That’s a little sick, but that what’s Belesme character made me feel. She never does give in and I think that is one of the reasons that the dark Lord Robert adores Eleonor so much: for her purity and her goodness. I am so glad Anita Mills never redeemed him nor gave him a sequel to find love with another woman. In his heart, Robert was eternally faithful to Eleonor.

Robert does find a salvation of sorts in the sequel, which is an entertaining, if not as enjoyable, read.

For a writer to allow the villain to overshadow the protagonists may be a source of frustration to some readers, but Anita Mills does it so skillfully that I fell for it from beginning to end. To Robert’s great unfortunate downfall, Eleonor and Roger are destined for each other and that’s the way it should be.


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Originally published at Goodreads.com

Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Escape Not, My Love” by Elaine Coffman

Escape Not My LoveEscape Not My Love by Elaine Coffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elaine Coffman’s “Escape Not My Love” was not my first venture into the world of romance, but it was my first historical romance novel. And for that, I am grateful.

Superficially, ENML drew me in from the outset. It had a stunning step-back cover, designed with a pattern of a woman’s purple and white flowered gown and opened to reveal the colorful protagonists clinched in a passionate embrace. (Thank God for that step-back! I first read this as I sat in church waiting for my turn to enter the confessional and talk to the priest. He didn’t know what kind of trashy book I was reading and I wasn’t about to volunteer that tidbit. Ha!)

The book quickly drew me in and I instantly fell in love with the genre. I found in historicals a frequent theme of this thrilling battle of the sexes that was lacking from most of the tame Harlequin Romances and modern Temptations I was used to. (I had yet to discover the Presents line).

While hardcore “bodice rippers” no longer dominated the market as they had in years past, in the early 1990’s most heroes in historical romances had not yet been gelded into modern-minded *ahem* wankers that are so prevalent today. I’m being snarky, and don’t mean to offend, but that’s just my no-holds-barred opinion. If contemporary readers prefer forward-thinking, sensitive gunslingers, Vikings, warriors, noblemen, etc., in their historicals, well as they say: Chacun à ses goûts, n’est-ce pas? I prefer my historical heroes to have a rougher edge.

Jay Culhane is a bounty hunter whose job is to travel deep into Mexico where armed criminals roam and bring home the well-meaning, but naive heroine, Jennifer Baxter, who moved from TX to open a school for underprivileged children. Jennifer is the youngest of 11 girls, spoiled and used to getting her way. So you know this book will be one loooong power play between the pair.

Jay kicks down the door of her little house when he first lays eyes upon her black-haired, violet eyed (of course!), lingerie-clad body. Lust takes over reason and he immediately orders Jenny to strip naked at gunpoint and then enjoys the show (‘cuz that’s the kind of guy he is).

Jay takes Jennifer on a long, arduous trip back to Texas. Yes, he’s occasionally violent, at times even abusive to Jenny (like tying her to the back of his horse and making her walk in the scorching midday sun, while he rides comfortably wearing a protective hat). He forces her to cook meals and punishes her with kisses (to which she responds with passion, of course!). Yet he also treats her sores and wounds with gentleness, not-to-mention some ill-hidden guilt. He kills snakes for her when she cries out in terror and unflinchingly murders renegade bandidos who try to kidnap and rape Jennifer.

When I first read this novel I was twelve years old, my parents had just divorced, so I had begun to immerse myself in books for escape. It sounds a bit trite to say a romance changed my life–and I won’t be so extreme as to go that far–but this book definitely influenced me in a profound way. It gave me something to look forward to and enjoy: hope. The love story between Jay and Jennifer is phenomenal.

Elaine Coffman’s writing is so rich and lyrical; I’m still moved by it every time I read it; and yes, I cry every time I read that beautiful, sweet ending.

I will mention that if you really want to see this old-school love story portrayed at its best, read the original, not the re-issue that came out several years later. “Jay-lite” isn’t as sexy as the tortured, lone-wolf of the 1990 version. I dislike the fact that many romance writers think readers are bored or offended by the “traditionally macho” heroes of old. Tortured, abusive man-hoes are accepted in dark eroticas, most contemporary New Adults and lots of paranormals–where anything can happen–while men who lived 100, 500, or 1,000 years ago all have to be represented as ultra-sensitive proto-feminists. The fact that historicals have SNAG-(Sensitive New Age Guys) type heroes is something that makes me very wary every time I read a book published in the new millennium.

Yup, I’m an old fart, what can I say?

Nostalgia may have a bit to do with my ratings of older books; nevertheless, as I’ve read this many times over the years, for me it holds up well. However, if you don’t like cruel heroes who treat the heroine nastily from the get-go, keep in mind that Jay was tormented by a devastating past. It his love for Jennifer that teaches him to let go of the old hurts. The epilogue might have you reaching for your hankies and make you smile at the same time witnessing how tough Jay Culhane has settled down into married life with children.

I wasn’t the only reader who loved this book. “Escape Not My Love” (in its original un-PC form) won the 1990 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Western Historical Romance.

5 stars for the major enjoyment of this, my first historical romance.

Originally posted at Goodreads.com
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