Duke of Sin

By Elizabeth Hoyt

Grand Central Publishing. 368 pp. $7.99.

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nolead ends Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is an unconventional choice as the focus of a romance. He is an amoral antihero. He is a ruthless blackmailer and kidnapper who will use any means he can to gain power over others. Though he looks like a golden Greek god, he can be deadly.

Bridget Crumb was recently hired as his housekeeper, but she is in his employ with an ulterior motive. She is the secret, illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic lady who is one of Valentine's blackmail victims. She seeks some letters that Valentine holds that would compromise her mother.

Unfortunately, Valentine finds her in his room during a search, and his interest is aroused. He starts drawing out Bridget and outrageously teasing and provoking her, mainly to relieve his boredom, but he is intrigued to find that she has wit and spunk.

Bridget soon discovers Valentine is not as villainous as he seems. When Valentine is poisoned by someone seeking revenge, she has to nurse him. In his delirium, he reveals some heartbreaking details about his childhood and why he keeps his heart encased in ice. She eventually recognizes the good buried inside him.

This is Elizabeth Hoyt's 10th book in her Maiden Lane series, which moves between the glittering world of society and London's squalid slums. Valentine has been featured as a villain before. In Duke of Sin, you can go from being appalled by him to being amused and even touched, all within the same chapter. The cynical Valentine becomes more and more likable as he sees beyond Bridget's facade of plain, pragmatic servant, and his heart begins to thaw. Can a deliciously devilish bad boy find redemption in love?

Tailored for Trouble

By Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Ballantine. 368 pp. $16

nolead ends Taylor Reed has started her own consulting business. She got the push needed to strike out on her own from a disastrous meeting with an obnoxious client at her previous job that forced her to quit after she denounced him for his behavior. But after sinking all she had into her training program to help executives become more compassionate leaders, her business is failing and she is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Taylor gets a call out of the blue from the very same man, Bennett Wade, an arrogant and wealthy (and ridiculously hot) corporate owner, who caused her so much trouble. He wants to hire her and undergo her training program. He seeks to acquire a company owned by a woman and thinks a makeover by Taylor will give him an edge in negotiations.

Taylor at first is outraged and refuses to help Bennett, but after some heavy-handed persistence from him and, being desperate for a paying client, she reluctantly agrees to take him on. If anyone needs an attitude adjustment, it would be Bennett, she thinks. She sees him as a pompous, domineering jerk, but she also can't stop seeing his wide shoulders and blue eyes.

Tailored for Trouble is the second in Mimi Jean Pamfiloff's Happy Pants series. The proprietor of the Happy Pants Cafe is said to be a real live Cupid, bringing love to those who partake of her sugar cookies. Bennett's mother, despairing of her son's ever finding love, has secretly asked for the baker's help and a cookie for her son.

Taylor and Bennett's efforts to get the upper hand in their interactions made for hilarious banter. And their struggles against the sizzling attraction between them creates some laugh-out-loud scenes. There's nothing like a well-written romance about two strong-willed characters fighting against the slow burn of desire.

Burn Down the Night

By M. O'Keefe

Loveswept. 344 pp. $4.99.

nolead ends The e-book Burn Down the Night was on best-books lists for August, and deservedly so. It delivers a thrilling, heartrending ride.

Deeply emotional, it's the story of two damaged people who struggle to break free from their troubled pasts. Olivia Matthews has been going by the name Joan as she works at a strip club seeking more information on Lagan, the leader of a backwoods cult, who has her younger sister. The cult leader is also a meth dealer who conducts business at the strip joint with members of a motorcycle club who sell his product. Olivia is desperate - she decides to ambush Lagan and threaten him to release her sister, or blow up a bomb and die along with him, ensuring her sister is free of him.

But her plan goes awry when Max Daniels is caught up in her ambush. He is the onetime reluctant leader of the Skulls motorcycle club. He left but was drawn back recently to help his brother.

During a struggle, Lagan gets away and Max is set upon by Skulls who see their chance to take him out once and for all, so Olivia sets off her bomb to create a diversion. She drags the injured Max with her because he may be a link to Lagan.

Olivia takes him to Florida to the only person who might help her - her aunt, a former Army combat nurse. Though they have a strained relationship, the aunt agrees to help.

Max wakes up and finds himself handcuffed to the bed, bandaged, and with an IV in his arm. The woman he knows as Joan tells him she saved his life so he can help her save her sister from Lagan. And thus begins a wary but erotically charged back-and-forth as the two try to keep their emotional distance and negotiate a truce. Damaged as they are, neither believes he or she is deserving of love, and they keep pushing others away. But they cannot ignore for long the attraction between them and their need to finally love and be loved.

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