A woman uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her husband's family in this chilling page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf
Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.
Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago—barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia's accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack's past. But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.
I was so excited about this book, I was looking forwards to it, since I have enjoyed the author's previous novels, but this didn't live up to my expectations, and here is why.
The story was told on Sarah's point of view. She is the 'outsider' in the family and in the events. She doesn't know Jack's family members, nearly at all, and it seems she didn't know her husband Jack so well either. So immediately, I never felt like I was 'in the story', just rather cold, plain, emotionless look into the events.
And there was plenty of drama, danger, secrets, odd events, all that could bring the tension up, and make the story sizzle, but it never did, just telling it as it was. Yes, I need the emotional connection to the story I am reading, to enjoy it, and to be involved in it.
Also, Jack and Sarah themselves seemed, well, they didn't seem like a happy couple, married for 20 some years, there wasn't a connection between them, no chemistry, nothing. As soon as there was doubt brought to her mind, Sarah doesn't trust a word Jack says, or anything he does, because of things that happen before they met?! Sarah had worked as an investigative reporter before taking care of their daughters, and now she is collecting clues on the murders, getting help from a woman who works at the police station. The woman, Margaret, used to babysit Jack and his sister, and because of that connection, she hands over case files for Sarah, after knowing her for just a couple of days?!
Yes, there are lots of secrets, old murder, that seems to have a connection to the death of Jack's aunt. As those secret's are revealed, and evidence has brought to light, everyone is suspected, no one is in the clear, and trust is put into a hard test.
The story isn't a long one, or hard to read, but I struggled with it, mostly just couldn't connect with it, and the characters felt flat, some of the events unreal. So not quite my cup of tea, but it does seem to have a lot of fans, so maybe you should judge for yourself. My score is
~ Two Spoons
From rivals…to romance?
New doctor in town, Esme Peterson, is direct competition for GP Carson Ralston and he isn’t pleased.
Especially as her beauty and disarming manner threaten the barriers he’s carefully built around his heart…
Guarded Esme tries to keep Carson at a distance.
But as the battle for power between them heats up, rivalry soon turns to insatiable passion.
And a shock Valentine’s proposal changes everything!
A nice, quick read, with a perfect balance of medical drama and romance.
These two, Esme and Carson, they are the couple to most likely to deny themselves from everything. The push and pull is like anything I have seen, according to my memory. The attraction is there, they both like each other, admire each other, both as person and professionals, and they want each other, but...
They are also at the crossroads with their career paths, so they think. At first not willing to give up anything, then willing to give up everything, yes, like I said, lots of push and pull in all the fronts with these two.
The medical drama was intense, and nicely bound into the story.
So all together, a perfect story to get lost in for an evening, the romance is steamy, the drama acute, and the scenery just as beautiful as you can imagine it
~ Three Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
My American Duchess
By: Eloisa James
Releasing January 26, 2016
The arrogant Duke of Trent intends to marry a well-bred Englishwoman. The last woman he would ever consider marrying is the adventuresome Merry Pelford— an American heiress who has infamously jilted two fiancés.
But after one provocative encounter with the captivating Merry, Trent desires her more than any woman he has ever met. He is determined to have her as his wife, no matter what it takes. And Trent is a man who always gets what he wants.
The problem is, Merry is already betrothed, and the former runaway bride has vowed to make it all the way to the altar. As honor clashes with irresistible passion, Trent realizes the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined. In his battle to save Merry and win her heart, one thing becomes clear:
All is fair in love and war.
April 6, 1803
Lady Portmeadow’s ball in honor of the East End Charity Hospital
15 Golden Square
At 9 pm sharp, Lord Cedric Allardyce gracefully fell to his knees, signaling his intent to request Miss Merry Pelford’s hand in marriage.
Merry stared down at his buttery curls, scarcely believing this was actually happening to her. She had to force back a nervous giggle when Cedric complemented her finger for its slenderness before slipping on a diamond ring.
It felt as if she were on a stage, playing a role meant for a delicate, feminine Englishwoman. That actress hadn’t shown up, and storklike Merry Pelford had taken her place.
But at 9:02, after Cedric’s lyrical proposal drew to a close, she forced back a nervous qualm and agreed to become his bride.
Back in the ballroom, Merry’s guardian, her aunt Bess, didn’t seem to realize that Cedric and Merry were mismatched. “The two of you are exquisitely suited, like night and day,” she
said, eyeing Cedric’s yellow hair. “No, midnight and the dawn. That’s not bad; I’ll have to write it down.”
“My aunt is a poet,” Merry told Cedric.
Before Bess could prove her credentials by tossing out a line or two, her uncle Thaddeus—who was bluntly unsympathetic to rhymes of any kind—dragged Cedric off to the card room. Merry instantly pulled off her glove and revealed her diamond ring.
“Cedric is friends with the Prince of Wales,” she whispered.
Bess raised an eyebrow. “It’s always helpful to be acquainted with those in power, though I can’t say I view the man as a desirable acquaintance on his own merits.”
Merry’s aunt had grown up in that cradle of American high society known as Beacon Hill; her father was a Cabot and her mother a Saltonstall. Her staunch belief that she represented the pinnacle of society had remained unshaken in the presence of the most haughty noblemen.
“I am looking forward to meeting His Highness,” Merry said stoutly. She was marrying an Englishman, and that meant she had to adapt English ideas.
“The only prince I’ve met to this date is that Russian who courted your cousin Kate,” Bess said. “There’s nothing worse than a man who bows too much. He popped up and down like a jack-in-the-box; it gave me a headache just to look at him.”
“Prince Evgeny,” Merry said, nodding. “He was always wearing white gloves.”
“White gloves on a man have their time and place. But what with the gloves and the bowing, he was like a rabbit, one of those that flashes its tail before it runs off.”
Aunt Bess certainly had a lively gift for metaphor.
A New York Times bestselling author, Eloisa James is a professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but who can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. (Her husband is an honest to goodness Italian knight!) Eloisa’s website offers short stories, extra chapters, and even a guide to shopping in Florence. Visit her at www.eloisajames.com.
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Destroyed by the Bad Boy
By: Madison Collins
Releasing January 29, 2016
This book contains two complete erotic romance novellas with no cliffhangers.
On the way to our parents wedding in the mountains, the mother of all snow storms attacks, leaving me stranded in a remote cabin with my new stepbrother.
My hot as hell, I-need-to-change-my-panties because-they’re-soaked, cocky asshole of a stepbrother, Bentley McAllister.
The kicker of it all?
The only items he's packed are liquor and condoms, and he’s looking at me like he wants to put both to good use.
My name is Sierra, and my libido can only take so much.
Rising stars in the cage fighting circuit, Cage and Tripp Garrett are as close as two brothers can be. Fiercely competitive and smoldering with intensity, neither has ever lost a fight. Until they face their toughest opponent yet: Lily.
They both want her. But neither can have her. Lily is as off-limits as they come. They make a pact that the tough-as-nails daughter of their trainer will never come between them.
Until one of them begins to fall in love. Then all is fair in love and war.
Caged is a sexy, fast-paced love story with a punch.
Warning: Contains adult language and sexual content.
Madison Collins is the author of romantic short stories such as Caged, Stranded with My Stepbrother and the upcoming Monster Prick. She enjoys the occasional stiff cocktail, and watching romantic comedies. Most days you can find her curled up with a good book. She currently resides in New Jersey.
Author Link : GoodReads
The story of a woman desperate to escape her dangerous past and the navy SEAL who would lay down his life to save her.
Ash Hunter knows what it is to run. A SEAL gravely injured in Afghanistan, he’s gone AWOL from the military hospital. Physically and mentally scarred, he returns home to his grandmother’s isolated cottage—and finds a beautiful, haunted stranger inside.
Like recognizes like.
Lia Stewart’s in hiding from the cartel she barely escaped alive, holed up in this small Rocky Mountain town. Surviving, but only just. Helping the wounded warrior on her doorstep is the right thing to do…it’s loving him that might get them both killed.
Soon, Ash realizes he’s not the only one tormented by the past. Pushing the limits of his broken body, testing the boundaries of her shattered soul, he’ll protect Lia until his last breath.
Fascinating romantic suspense story, built in a fresh, unique way, giving a different look at the action, and the psychological angle to the terror and dread.
The story is told in the first person, from only Lia's point of view. Usually I'm not a big fan of that way to tell the story, but here it was done in a brilliant way, still giving a full rounded picture of the events, but in a rare way, giving a glimpse into Lia's mind, to the fear, horror she had lived through, to the panic and paranoia she suffered from, and to the love and passion, care and adoration she experienced, for the first time in her life, with Ash.
Also, the way Lia's voice was telling the story, the reader gets a chilling concept of her previous life in capture. Through her flashbacks, and memories, the cruel, harsh and sadistic handling she received is told in details, and not appropriate for the faint at heart.
Some of the twists in the plot comes from the fact, that the reader sees and knows only what Lia does, and surprises for her, are also surprises for the reader. But the suspense is intense, the whole story is wrapped around of feelings of urgency, threat, and deadly panic for the lives of the main characters.
The action comes with crimson, bloody, cruel violence, going into details, that will test the reader, taking the story into another level. I want to emphasize the fact, that if the reader has an issue, problem with violence towards a woman, this book might not be for them, no matter how well the matter is dealt with in the story.
The romance between Ash and Lia is fragile, because of Lia's past. There's patience, acceptance, caring, adoration, love, and passion. The feelings grow over time, while they both experience the healing of both mind and body within each others care. I loved how they came together, how they found the common ground, the way to communicate with each other, how they fought to survive, and seek more from life.
This story goes deep, with both suspense, and in romance. It has a unique tone, it has a different angle, it allures with the twists, it fascinates with the characters and their faith in life, and it makes you take notice with the intense, fiery, violent action. Highly recommend with
~ Five Spoons
Earning a Ring
More Than a Game #4
By: Kristina Mathews
Releasing January 19, 2016
For Rachel Parker, covering the San Francisco Goliaths is the perfect opportunity to launch her career as a serious reporter.
But she didn’t bargain on Bryce Baxter, the team’s star shortstop, tempting her more non-professional aspirations.
After tearing up the base paths with him, she finds herself with a little problem, and Bryce might be the only man who can save the game.
Bryce Baxter should be living the dream. His team just won the World Series and he just signed the multi-year contract of his career.
But his field of dreams has been overtaken by a fiery redheaded reporter, who’s bearing a news flash that will change both of their lives forever…
Bryce Baxter sat alone in the San Francisco Goliaths’ clubhouse. He didn’t want to go home and watch the replays of tonight’s game. There was enough of that going on in his head. He’d blown the game. How many times had he made that play since he first picked up a baseball at the age of five? A thousand? Ten thousand? Probably more. Not tonight. Tonight it was as if he’d forgotten everything he knew about the game. What should have been an easy double play ended up being the game-winning run.
The loss put his team even farther behind in their division going into the second month of the season and had reporters questioning the Goliaths’ chances of repeating a World Series run. Some were even questioning the team’s decision to re-sign Baxter to the big contract extension. The biggest one he’d ever inked. So naturally, he was having his worst start to the season ever. He couldn’t hit. Couldn’t draw a walk to save his life. And when he struck out, he did it in spectacular fashion.
Last November he’d been king of the world. San Francisco’s biggest hero since Willie Mays. As World Series MVP, he’d been awarded a brand new Corvette. His face had been on the cover of magazines. He’d made the talk show rounds. Met the President. Women had lined up outside his door. And he’d had his choice of endorsement deals, including a line of men’s hair care products. Now, if his game didn’t improve, his agent would be lucky to get him a spot peddling adult diapers.
Reluctantly, he headed toward the parking lot.
“Hey, Bryce, you got a minute?” He recognized the voice of the woman standing beside his car. A month ago, he would have been happy to see her. Professionally, personally, a little bit of both. But not now.
“Look, Rachel, I’m not giving any more interviews tonight.” He was so down, all he wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed. Alone.
“I’m not here for an interview.” She would have waited in the clubhouse if she were. He knew that. Rachel Parker was a professional, the in-game reporter for Bay Area Sports Network. “Can we go somewhere? Somewhere private?”
“I’m not giving that tonight either.” He waited for his body to protest, recalling the dozen or so encounters with the sexy journalist. She’d been hot. Real hot. Hot enough for him to forget his rule of one and done. They’d been hooking up off the record since before spring training of last season.
“Look, I really do need to talk to you.” She seemed a little nervous, not her usual confident, perky, and always upbeat self who was part bubbly cheerleader, part hard-hitting reporter. She was still hot. But instead of smoking, she was…
smoldering. His body stirred. Enough for him to think that maybe spending the next several hours in bed might not be such a bad idea.
But it probably wasn’t a good idea either.
The last time they’d hooked up had been intense. Almost too intense. Too real. But maybe he’d just been riding the high of signing his ridiculous contract. Or maybe he’d felt the pressure of the deal and had transferred it to his personal life. Something he could control.
“You know, I think maybe we should take a step back.” He raked a hand through his hair, still damp from his long shower after the game. “I’m not good for anyone right now.”
Rachel gave him a weird look, almost as if her eyes slipped out of focus. Her face drained of color. She turned and stumbled toward his car, bracing herself against the front fender. Then she threw up on the hood of his Corvette.
“Are you okay?” He took a step toward her.
“No, I’m not okay.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’m pregnant.”
Heartfelt and emotional story, filled with passion, family in all the different forms it comes, and baseball.
Bryce and Rachel, they have the connection, the chemistry, the spark, the passion. The over year long on-off hook ups now has consequences, Rachel is pregnant. I adored how Bryce reacted to the news, the bad boy has a heart of gold, and is a true, solid stand up guy. And he tries so hard, to do the right thing, to be good, to win Rachel's heart, to make a family, you name it, he is all in, but the more he tries, the more mistakes and misunderstandings are between him and Rachel.
Because Rachel just can't believe that he cares, isn't mad, angry, resentful. She has her trust issues, and is ready to see her worst fears come to life, and to run, because her heart has been broken so many times before.
So the fumble, stumble, and botch, but they are on the right path, and as long as they are willing to fight to stay together, for their family, they just might make it.
There's the issues of Bryce's past, his ex-wife, and young daughter. It was commendable how they both, Rachel and Bryce, reacted to that mess. I thought as a story, it wasn't maybe necessary to bring the mess with the ex, maybe there was enough of obstacles on their way already, and in the end, it didn't affect the story as a whole.
Most of the story is told by inner reflection of Rachel and Bryce. There's a little dialogue, I wish there would have been more. The long thoughts give a great insight to the characters, you see how they grow and develop, but too much of a good thing, and it can get a bit heavy to read.
I liked the amount of the actual baseball was part of the story, the moments and events at the ballpark were a big part how the story advanced, and you could feel the excitement and occasional disappointment of the fans and players.
The family of the team, of the people working in the park, how they pulled together, and took care of each other, was lovely. The humor and laughter brought lighter moments into the story, and the passion between Bryce and Rachel was blazing. Bryce with his daughter was just the sweetest thing, with his overly protective alpha male reaction to a nine year old.
This mesmerizing story pulled me in, and I couldn't put it down until the end. To live those moments of fumbling into love, family, and future with Bryce and Rachel were touching, so honest, and somehow raw, I couldn't help but root for them
~ Four Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
Kristina Mathews doesn't remember a time when she didn't have a book in her hand. Or in her head. But it wasn't until she turned forty that she confessed the reason the laundry never made it out of the dryer was because she was busy writing.
While she resigned from teaching with the arrival of her second son, she's remained an educator in some form. As a volunteer, parent club member or para educator, she finds the most satisfaction working with emergent and developing readers, helping foster confidence and a lifelong love of books.
Kristina lives in Northern California with her husband of more than twenty years, two sons and a black lab. A veteran road tripper, amateur renovator and sports fanatic. She hopes to one day travel all 3,073 miles of Highway 50 from Sacramento, CA to Ocean City, MD, replace her carpet with hardwood floors and serve as a “Ball Dudette” for the San Francisco Giants.
Author Links: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Grace Wade left Storybook Lake hoping to escape her crazy family and the demands of her job as a defense attorney.
But not twenty-four hours after landing in a small Texas town where she hopes to find new beginnings, Grace instead finds herself in the middle of an investigation that’s turning the town inside out.
Once she agrees to be the defense attorney on the case, Grace suddenly finds herself torn between twin brothers Blane Sheperd, the bad boy prosecutor on the case, and Jamie Sheperd, the sweetheart town Sheriff...
Grace thought life in a small town would be simple, but simple has a way of eluding her. To find her way to a happy ending, she’ll have to master the art of following her heart..
Ever finish a book, and wonder what did I just read?! That's the feeling I am having right now, as I am trying to find the words what I thought about the story.
It started strong, Grace is a string, capable, sassy, smart, and successful with her career. There's an interesting murder case she's handling, and an intriguing, if a little odd pair of twins interested in her. Even though the story was told in first person, and only from Grace's point of view (something I don't normally like), I thought this might be something.
But then, the twins, grown men, a lawyer and a sheriff, turn out to be just really weird, acting like teenagers, deceiving, lying, cheating. And Grace is handling her murder case in an odd and off matter, and soon the whole story just falls off. Grace isn't anything like she was at the beginning of the story, but now a sure mess, an alcoholic, and out of control, even though there was no evidence of that at the beginning, in her rambling thoughts.
The murder case wasn't such a mystery any more, at least to me, I guessed the murder case rather early on, and the rest of the story, something just went wrong, or took a wrong turn. If it would have continued as strong as it started, I think I would have enjoyed the story, but with the turns the tale took, how the characters changed suddenly, unfortunately, for me, it was a nose dive from there.
~ Two Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
The Knave of Hearts
Rhymes With Love #5
By: Elizabeth Boyle
Releasing January 26, 2016 Avon
In the fifth novel of the captivating Rhymes with Love series from New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Boyle, a young woman’s hopes of a match encounter a wickedly handsome complication…
Lavinia Tempest has been eagerly anticipating a spectacular Season. But one disastrous pile-up on the Almack’s dance floor derails all her plans. Add to that, the very stunning revelations about her mother’s scandalous past have become the ton’s latest on dits. Lavinia’s future has gone from shining bright to blackest night in one misstep.
Alaster “Tuck” Rowland admits he’s partly to blame for Lavinia’s disastrous debut. But it’s not guilt that compels him to restore her reputation. Rather, he’s placed a wager that he can make Lavinia into of the most sought-after ladies in London. Who better than an unrepentant rake to set Society astir?
Tuck’s motives are hardly noble. But in teaching the lovely Lavinia how to win any man she wants, he suddenly finds himself tangled in the last place he ever imagined: in love.
Lavinia walked down the aisle of the London church, her gaze searching every pew.
“Looking for this?” Up near the altar stood the charwoman, who’d come in right behind the wedding party. In her hands she held an elaborate bouquet of roses and peonies.
A bridal bouquet, to be exact.
“Oh, dear, yes. I don’t see how that could get left behind,” Lavinia exclaimed as she hurried forward to claim the lost treasure.
“Well, there were quite a few tears being shed, my own included,” the lady said, “so it isn’t hard to see why these beauties might be forgotten.” The old woman smiled. “’Sides, ’tis my experience that it’s a love match when so many have to reach for their hankies.”
“A love match? Oh, yes, decidedly,” Lavinia agreed as the lady handed over the mislaid bouquet.
“Still, such a fancy collection of posies. Would be a terrible shame for them to be left behind,” the old woman said, not even seeming to mind the petals falling where she’d been sweeping. She looked down at them and smiled. “I do like the roses, even when they leave a mess. Pretty bits of confetti, I like to say. I takes them home and dries ’em.”
Lavinia couldn’t help herself, she inhaled, and the sweet scent of roses surrounded her.
And just as quickly she found herself tearing up again. She dashed at her eyes with her sleeve, having already ruined two handkerchiefs.
“Oh, there now,” the old charwoman told her kindly. “Weddings do that to a soul. Leave one all tied up in knots. Why, when me sister got herself married, I cried for a week.”
“You did?” Lavinia began. “I suppose I am still in shock. When we came to London, my sister made it quite clear she had no intention of ever being wed … and now …”
Lavinia looked over at the altar.
“Glad tears, though,” the charwoman said. “Always glad tears at a wedding. Your sister seemed ever so happy when she married His Lordship. And everyone saying him a big brute, but he looked over the moon with her at his side, now didn’t he?”
Lavinia shifted the bouquet from one hand to another and looked away. “Yes, they are quite meant for each other.” And once again, a sheen of tears rose in her eyes.
Oh, the devil take her! Would she ever stop crying? Louisa had married her beloved Piers … and now …
“Those are tears of happiness I see, aren’t they?” the charwoman prodded.
Really, the woman was a terrible busybody, but having come from the village of Kempton, a place rife with such spinsters, Lavinia found the old lady’s inquiry oddly comforting.
So she leaned closer to the woman and said, “I have to admit, as I watched my sister marry her viscount, the tears you witnessed were hardly charitable ones.”
The charwoman prodded her toward a place in the pews. “Tell old Tildie all about it.” She plopped down in the front row and patted the space next to her.
Lavinia looked down the aisle toward the open door. Outside, the May sunshine shone brightly. Beckoning. “I really should be going—”
“Oh, come now, no one is going to leave without you. Besides, do an old woman a favor and tell her the story.” The woman winked with a cheeky glee. “I saw that kiss at the altar. I’d wager my broom there’s a bit of scandal and romance to all of this.” Then she looked at the door as well. “And more to come if I’m not mistaken.”
Lavinia smiled, for Tildie had the right of it. Everything about this wedding and the days leading up to it were filled with scandal … and romance.
ELIZABETH BOYLE has always loved romance and now lives it each and every day by writing adventurous and passionate stories that readers from all around the world have described as “page-turners.” Since her first book was published, she’s seen her romances become New York Times and USA Today bestsellers and win the RWA RITA Award and the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice awards. She resides in Seattle with her family, her garden and always growing collection of yarn. Readers can visit her on the Web at www.elizabethboyle.com.
Author Links: Website | Facebook| Twitter | Goodreads
Rescue Squad #1
By: Kimberly Kincaid
Releasing January 26, 2016
SOMEONE’S BOUND TO GET BURNED…
Zoe Westin may be a fire captain’s daughter, but feeding the people in her hometown of Fairview is her number one priority. Running a soup kitchen is also the perfect way to prove to her dad that helping people doesn’t always mean risking life and limb.
But when she's saddled with a gorgeous firefighter doing community service after yet another daredevil stunt, the kitchen has never been so hot.
Alex Donovan thrives on adrenaline, and stirring a pot of soup doesn’t exactly qualify. He’s not an expert at following the rules either, not even when they come from the stubborn, sexy daughter of the man who's not only his boss, but his mentor.
Determined to show Zoe that not every risk ends in catastrophe, Alex challenges her both in the kitchen and out.
One reckless step leads to another, but will falling for each other be a risk worth taking, or will it just get them burned?
Recalibrating her thoughts back to the task at hand, she pushed past the twin swinging doors leading from the back of the kitchen into the bare-bones dining room. Pale, earlymorning daylight filtered in through the oversized windows at the front of the long, rectangular space, offering just enough visibility for her to make her way behind the dinged up cafeteria-style counter set up along the rear wall. Not wanting to add injury to the insult she’d already racked up this morning, Zoe hit the panel of light switches by the commercial grade coffeemaker. She turned to grab the filters from the adjacent storage drawer and let the rhythm and the smells and the simplicity of the food soothe her like they always did.
But she wasn’t alone in the dining room.
Zoe’s heartbeat locked in her throat as she registered the man sitting at one of the tables closest to the counter, although sitting was actually pretty generous. His long, jeans-clad legs were kicked out in front of him, crossed one over the other at the ankles of his heavy-soled brown leather work boots. His chin lay tucked against the chest of his navy blue jacket, just enough for his fashionably tousled blond hair to obscure his face, and the soft sound rising up from his chest doubled the shock pumping through her veins.
Her party crasher was snoring.
“Okay, Sleeping Beauty. Time to rise and shine.” Zoe barked the words in her best drill-sergeant voice, although she kept her Danskos planted firmly on the business side of the counter. This guy was pretty horizontal for someone with bad intentions—not to mention far more well-kept than their average residents—but she was still on this side of the shelter all by herself. Looks could be deceptive as hell, and despite the security measures she and Tina had been scraping to put into place, Hope House wasn’t exactly in a pristine neighborhood. No way was she taking any chances by sounding too mousy or getting too close. “I don’t know how you got in here, but breakfast doesn’t start until seven. You’ll have to wait back in the residence until then.”
He woke up all at once, perfectly upright and focused with just two blinks, and holy cheese on a cracker, he was gorgeous. “I’m not here for breakfast. I’m—”
“Alex?” Recognition slammed into her senses, working on a five-second delay with her mouth. But this had to be a mistake. No way could Alex Donovan, the cockiest and most reckless firefighter in her father’s entire house, be standing here in front of her with shoulders twice as broad as the last time she’d seen him and a smile so sexy, the damn thing should come with a sternly worded warning label.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his Caribbean blue eyes tapering in confusion as they took a slow trip from her face to her feet and then back up again. “Do I know you?”
Zoe’s cheeks went hot, although whether it was from the way Alex was focused on her so intently or the fact that she was forgettable enough to go unrecognized, she couldn’t be sure.
“Zoe.” She paused, waiting out his continued lack of a light bulb moment for another few seconds before adding, “Westin.”
Alex’s eyes went as round and dark as ripe blueberries in August, and ding, ding, ding. They had a winner. “Holy shit. I mean—” He straightened, tugging a hand through his sun-kissed hair as his grin turned decidedly sheepish. “Your father mentioned you’d moved back to town, but I didn’t realize you were . . . jeez, didn’t you just graduate from college?”
Zoe’s defenses prickled to life. “Five years ago.” Two months before the last time she’d seen him, to be exact. Come to think of it, Alex had treated her like a little girl that day, too.
Right. Because just what her blush needed was more fuel.
“Oh. I guess time really flies, huh?” He tried on another smile, this one all sweet talk, and God, some things never changed. “Anyway, you might be able to help me out. I guess I’m looking for your boss.”
Alex pointed toward the painted cinder block wall that the soup kitchen shared with the shelter. “The only door that was open when I got here was the one to the shelter. The lady behind the desk walked me through the security doors and told me to wait here for the director of the soup kitchen. It’s kind of a long story, but I got stuck with this stupid community service assignment because of an even
more stupid work thing, and this was the first available placement. To be honest, I just want to get it over with.” He tipped his head at her, sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans like no great shakes. “What’d you do to land here, anyway?”
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Of all the possible community service assignments in the galaxy, this one took the freaking crown. She might not have clapped eyes on Alex Donovan since she’d made a colossal idiot out of herself in front of him at the Fairview Fire Department annual barbecue five years ago, but clearly, he hadn’t broken the firefighter mold, and she’d been around Station Eight enough to know his reputation by heart. Alex flew by the seat of his bunker pants twenty-four/seven, taking unnecessary risks the way most people took Motrin.
Not happening in her soup kitchen. She might be understaffed, but she wasn’t overstupid.
“The way I landed here was simple, actually,” Zoe said, knotting her arms over her chest tight enough to test the seams of her T-shirt. “I interviewed for the position as director and I got the job.”
The silence extended between them for a beat, then two, before . . . “Wait. You’re the director of the soup kitchen? As in, you run the whole program? I thought you went to some five-star culinary school.” Alex stared at her over the glass and stainless steel food service counter, and at least she’d found the antidote to his smirk.
“Surprise. But don’t worry. You won’t be stuck with this stupid community service assignment for long.”
Her pulse kicked into motion along with her feet, and she angled herself toward the darkly shadowed hallway leading to the pass-through to the shelter. With any luck, Tina would get to work early and could send his arrogant ass packing before Zoe served her first cup of coffee.
“Zoe, wait.” Alex’s long legs ate up the space between them before she could even make it halfway to the dining room door. “I think we got off on the wrong foot here.”
She gave him a tight smile without breaking stride. “At least being a firefighter has kept your observational skills sharp.”
His shoulders snapped into an unyielding knot, his stare flashing cool blue as he kept up with her, step for step. “You want to know what else I picked up with my keen observational skills? You’re in here by yourself, Gorgeous. And that tells me that like it or not, you need all the help you can get to run this place.”
Zoe’s gut took a downhill slide toward her hips, and she froze mid-pace on the threshold of the shadow-lined hallway. “Help from someone who isn’t serious about being here isn’t going to help at all.”
“Oh, I’m absolutely serious,” Alex said, triggering a borderline unladylike snort from her lips.
“You fell asleep on the job before you even started, then you called your assignment in the program I started from scratch ‘stupid.’ As far as I’m concerned, that makes you about as serious as a tabloid headline, no matter how shortstaffed I happen to be.”
One corner of his mouth lifted upward, disappearing briefly beneath his golden brown stubble before he folded his lips back to neutral-expression territory. “Look, you and I might not see eye to eye on the value of community service, but I can promise you this. I’m as determined to do my job as you are to do yours. The city sent me here for a reason. I can’t go back to Station Eight until I do my time, and you need a volunteer. So are we going to help each other out here, or what?”
Zoe opened her mouth, her own personal version of or what preloaded and ready to launch from her tongue. But if there was one rule she lived by above everything else, it was not putting what mattered most at risk, and what mattered most was feeding the residents at Hope House. As much as she knew firefighters—especially ones like Alex Donovan—were nothing but a great, big recipe for disaster, Zoe needed him.
And that meant she had no choice but to spend the next four weeks with the arrogant, impulsive firefighter in her kitchen and under her skin.
This story is on fire! Sorry the pun, but couldn't help. The connection between Zoe and Alex is smoldering, as they explore the attraction between them, while working on the kitchen.
There are so many things I loved in this story. First, the characters, the similarities between chefs and firefighters was eye opening, in a way. The search for adrenaline, the self assured personality one must have to survive the environment, always ready for action, always prepared. Top of that Alex's cocky attitude, and winning smile, Zoe's stubbornness, and the sparks fly. But as they get to know each other, and the outer layers are peeled off, it's not just about attraction and heat, they found true soul mates inside, someone they can share a future with.
Zoe, like all of us, seeks approval of her parents. Alex tries to keep his job, despite his impulse behavior. Zoe's father being Alex's boss, makes the fragile situation even more difficult. Working side by side in the kitchen, they share their dreams, and set goals, and challenge each other for new adventures, they would have never even thought of without each other's influence.
The story just pulled me in from the start, and it was a late night, until I could pull myself away from it. The environment, the characters, the events of the story with adrenaline spikes of danger, swoon worthy moments of bursting passion, the 'I got your back' motto the firefighters, and not only saying it, but living it through in everyday life, all of it made the story engaging, captivating, and lovable.
I enjoyed how the story flew off the pages, and invited me into the world the author had created, filled with dedication and devotion to the characters chosen careers and paths in life. This is the one book in the series, I can't wait to see, what more's to come, an intense start, for sure!
~ Five Spoons
Kimberly Kincaid writes contemporary romance that splits the difference between sexy and sweet.
When she's not sitting crosslegged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber,” she can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book.
Kimberly is a 2011 RWA Golden Heart® finalist who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love.
She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Mackenzie Walker's siblings have all found their happy-ever-afters, but she has everything a single girl needs in her California mountain hometown. Family, friends, a thriving business…and memories of Zan Elliott, her first love, whose touch—and betrayal—she's never forgotten.
Now, ten years after he left town, Zan returns to manage his late grandfather's estate…and flip Mac's life upside down with one heated glance.
Documentary filmmaking has taken Zan all over the globe, yet nowhere was far enough away to make him forget Mac. Seeing her ignites their incredible chemistry all over again.
Mac's trust won't be easily won, however, especially when Zan's inheritance jeopardizes her family's hard-earned dreams. But every moment together is challenging Zan to stop living life through a lens and dare to let his guard down for a chance at forever…
In this sweet book, two love stories, a different kind of second chances on both of them, are getting their chance to happily ever after of their own.
Mac and Zan, the legendary young lovers, whom broke up ten years ago, and the only contact they had, are the 117 postcards, Zan sent to her over the years. There's a lot of angst, past hurt, present hurt, remorse, and resentment between Mac and Zan. They spend considerable time going back and forth with their own, and each others feelings. Zan had been the brother of their heart for the Walker siblings, except for Mac, he had been her whole heart. But Zan had his demons from his childhood, and run around the world, carrying them with him, just to come back home to realize, they lived in his heart the whole time.
The other love story of young TIlda and Ash. It has its own demons as well. I think putting two love stories into one book takes away from both stories, the intensity is divided, and never full on one couple. Considering this is the last book on the Walker siblings, I don't see the point of that secondary tale in it, but it is sweet, with much less angst, than the main story.
Both Mac and Zan have kept their emotions close to their hearts, to survive from the pain. It was hard to connect with them, you get to know them, but I felt like especially Zan kept holding off. After all the back and forth, the ending came surprisingly easy and fast. So the epilogue definitely had a good place in the story. There's a lot of inner reflection, especially in the middle of the book, the story moves in slow, but thankfully picks up again towards the end. If you have been following the Walker siblings, and their journey to love, this will be an adorable ending to the series for you. And even though it is a stand-alone story, sort of, the previous cast has a prominent place in the story and reading the previous books, would be helpful to get the full aspect of the events.
Young lovers, soul mates, family of your heart, it all comes together in this emotional, passionate, and warm tale
~ Four Spoons