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Overall rating – 4 silken sheets

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An eye for an eye, a sin for a sin…

Taken By The Duke (The Pleasure Wars, Book 1)

Taken by the DukeAmid all the lies and scandals that fuel Society’s gossip mill, one truth has stood out: House Rothcastle and House Windbury have always hated each other.

Lady Ava Windbury prays the feud will someday end, to no avail. One dreadful night, her brother accidentally causes the death of Christian Rothcastle’s sister, a tragedy that leaves both men maimed.

Consumed by grief, Christian makes a grim decision. He will kidnap Lady Ava so that her family will feel the pain of loss as keenly as he feels the loss of his own sister. But once he has Ava in his clutches, desire takes unexpected hold. Even more surprising, she willingly surrenders to his every sexual whim—after haggling over the terms of giving up her virginity.

Too late, he realizes she is using her body for peace, not war. But just as their affair of revenges turns into an affair of the heart, the past rears its ugly head to take matters into its own hands…

*

“Your brother owes me a debt.” (Christian Rothcastle)

*

I’m an unashamed fan of smutty historicals, and now I’m a fan of Jess Michaels’ take on them. Like Anna Campbell, one of my other favourite historical writers, she adds a dark twist to her stories and I found myself enthralled from the first page.

The Rothcastles and the Windburys have been feuding for so many years, nobody can remember how or why it first started, but each successive generation picks up the battle. Hatred and suspicion is ingrained into them, and society watches eagerly from the sidelines each time they come together. Christian Rothcastle is beside himself when his beloved sister, Matilda, elopes with Liam Windbury, and chases after them. In the tragic accident that ensued, Matilda was killed, while both Christian and Liam were severely injured, and the feud erupted to volcanic levels. In direct retaliation, Christian decided to kidnap Liam’s only sister, Ava. His intention – to make Liam understand the pain and grief of losing a sister. His plan – to carry Ava away to one of his most remote estates and keep her there for a month, just enough time to drive Liam Rothcastle to madness and destroy the virginal Ava’s reputation in one foul swoop.

All this happened in the opening chapter. You can understand why I was glued to my Kindle.

16038885_sHowever, things didn’t go quite to plan. The well-bred and beautiful Ava, had a steely confident core that Christian hadn’t been expecting.

*

Stealing her as an act of revenge had seemed so very reasonable when he initially planned it, but now, matching her even, cool stare, he couldn’t remember why.

Then her lip curled in a smile and his mind cleared. Was she smirking at him? Laughing at how she could take control? Of course she would, she was her father’s daughter, her brother’s sister. She was a Windbury to her core, no matter how pretty her wrapping or how unexpected her demeanour. She would manipulate to get what she desired.

He could not ever forget that.

*

She realises she has an opportunity to end the feud, or at least call a ceasefire, and she attempts to negotiate this with Christian. Her reputation is already sullied and she knows that sleeping with him with ruin her forever in society, but she is a brave girl and takes that risk. If nothing else, she needs to gain agreement that Christian will no longer pursue her brother.

*

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If he only ruined Ava in name alone, at least Windbury would know she had remained untouched. But now…

“No more revenge on your brother,” he said. “This will pay his debt, at least on this matter. He can live with knowing that your innocence was traded thanks to his cowardice.”

She shuddered ever so slightly. “Then I will do as you request. I turn my body over to you for your pleasure.”

*

As you might expect, once they sleep together, their perspectives change.

*

What in the world was the woman about? He could not deduce her thoughts, her motives. She was direct, she questioned, she seemed resigned to her fate, even cheerfully resigned.

And he could not, for the life of him, determine if those many facts were a weapon of war against him or simply character traits naturally belonging to her. Traits he would normally admire… if her family title were not Windbury.

*

Curiosity gives way to desire, passion… and love. But how can Ava give her heart to the one man she could never be allowed to marry, even if he wanted her. She’s painfully aware that they’ve hammered out an agreement and once that is complete, their relationship will end.

*

Something had changed between them. Ava knew that as she sat across from Christian that night at the supper table. Of course, their relationship had always been one built on shifting sands. A revenge plot, a kidnapping, a desperate bargain and then a connection neither of them had expected.

*

14710316_sI love tortured heroes in fiction and both Christian and Liam were racked by their personal demons. I enjoyed Ava’s forthright approach and determination to scrape happiness from her restricted life, and when she fell for Christian, I followed her.

*

She stared at him, so cold and hard in his demeanour, and yet sometimes so gentle and so giving in his actions. He was her lover, no matter how that fact had come about. She wanted him, even now when he was building a wall between them.

*

Add in a cast of strong supporting characters from Christian’s household staff through to Ava’s only friend and her horrible, cruel aunt, and there was a full and colourful backdrop to their story.

I wondered at first how far Christian would push Ava. If he’d force her to share his bed, but no, he was a gentleman and he decided early on to tutor her in the sexual arts… * fans myself * I wouldn’t mind taking lessons from him.

*

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He leaned forward and kissed her, a gentle act that took her by surprise. Then he shook his head. “Making love is supposed to empty your thoughts, not inspire more of them.”

“I was thinking what a strange world it is that I would know this kind of experience because of you.”

*

The sex was plentiful and varied, hot and sultry, and very enjoyable to read. It was delightful to watch as Christian slowly lowered his walls and relaxed his boundaries to let Ava into his heart. He’s been badly scarred in the accident and that added to his self imposed coldness.

*

The accident had scarred his body in ways he might never again allow another person to see. Certainly, the first person would not be Ava, the sister of the man who murdered his sister and maimed him. He would not allow her to go back to her brother and give him something to crow about.

*

On the whole, it was a great story and one that I would heartily recommend to any smut-loving historical fans. I shall be watching out for Jess Michaels from now, and hope the next in her Pleasure Wars series will feature Liam Windbury. He’s crying out for a book of his own 🙂

Overall rating – 4 silken sheets

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Sexy rating – 5 lips

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Plot – great

Characters – great

Warnings – none

DETAILS:

Genre: Historical erotic romance

Published: 2 July 2013  $4.24 (Amazon)

Publisher website: Samhain

Buy it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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