The Forever Christmas Tree by Sandra Hill
Series Bell Sound Series
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Avon Books
Publication Date September 25, 2018
The Christmas bells are chiming across the Outer Banks town of Bell Cove, North Carolina, but there’s one local ‘grinch’ who’s not listening . . .
He’s got bad-boy looks and a Bah Humbug attitude, so when the local paper asks the villagers to vote on the “Biggest Local Grinch” as a fund-raising project, Ethan Rutledge isn’t surprised to hear he’s made the ballot. He might own the local Christmas Tree Farm, but the holiday hasn’t been welcome in his home since Wendy Patterson left him heart-broken twelve years ago.
But now Wendy’s back, fresh from a tour of duty as a female Navy SEAL. She’s bold, beautiful, and has five Navy buddies trailing after her—as if she needs a bodyguard! And what’s all this about them wanting to start a treasure hunting company right here in Bell Cove’s failing bell factory? Then Wendy learns about how Ethan’s been nurturing the one thing he has to remember her by: a gorgeous Norway Spruce tree.
Can the magic of Christmas and the spirit of the town help rekindle the romance between two people who thought they’d left love behind years ago?
1 Chapter 1
She’ll be home for Christmas . . . unfortunately . . .
The Wet and Wild was hopping tonight with an overflow crowd of military men and women from Coronado, both the North Island Naval Station and the special warfare command center. Sure, it was TGIF, time for blowing off steam, and there was a live band. But, more than that, with only two weeks remaining till Christmas, the air reeked with joy. The Christmas spirit. Not so much, though, at the long table at the back of the tavern, where Lt. Wendy Patterson, U.S. Navy WEALS, sat with two of her teammates, and a half dozen Navy SEALs. Started about ten years ago, WEALS (Women on Earth, Land, and Sea) was the female version of SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land). They often bragged that they were as “hard-assed and ever battle ready” as their male counterparts “and looked hot- damn-better doing it.” Wendy had been with them for eight years. The band, with its female singer, was just finish-could tell under the burka she’d worn, but just in case she tripped over a rock and flipped her hem up to her butt, she supposed, or was captured. No, the reason these teams clung together was because of their shared experiences. They’d seen and done things no one else had. And, frankly, they were a little, or a lot, burned out by the constant missions to curb global terrorism. The images would give the average person nightmares. Like the recent pink mist involving one of their own. Like the reason for them being together tonight. The group of them here at the table had just returned from a memorial service for one of their fallen team members, Master Chief Travis Gordon. Flash had taken a hit from a suicide bomber in Baghdad ten days ago, leaving behind a wife and two kids.“Can you believe the music playing when they rolled Flash’s casket into the church?” Wendy re- marked, attempting to break the silence. “Should’ve Been a Cowboy’ is hardly the traditional hymn for a funeral.” Everyone grinned at her words, mostly somber grins if there was such a thing. She hadn’t realized she’d spoken so loud, but the band had just taken a break. It was one of those odd moments of quiet within a crowd.
Sitting on her right side was Lt. Commander Ja- cob Alvarez Mendozo, best known by his SEAL nickname JAM. She must have looked confused at the grins because he explained, “Unusual, maybe, honed her skills on grizzlies and other wild game. No wonder her nickname was Grizz. Silence followed Diane’s words for a moment as they contemplated the brother-and-sister bond that existed among them, even when they disagreed with each other, even if they didn’t like a particular person. When you worked in such close proximity, whether in a foxhole, or the jungle, or a Kabul stakeout, you came to know the other person very well. In fact, you came to recognize each other’s smell, the sound of their walk, even the way they breathed. “Well, I’m going on record here. The song I want played at my funeral is ‘Another One Bites the Dust.’ The pallbearers should be Dallas Cowboy cheer- leaders. You can tap a keg at the reception. On my tombstone you can chisel, ‘He laid one thousand chicks.’” Only Sr. Master Chief Petty Officer Frank Uxley would come up with this notion. FU was the most obnoxious, politically incorrect, horny SEAL in the world, and that was saying a lot, but he was an explosives expert with unmatched skills. You’d want him at your back in a Close Quarters situation or any live op. But make a move on me one more time, FU, and I am going to karate chop your favorite body part. Not that she was special in that regard. FU hit on anything with breasts.“What makes you think we would plan a funeral for you, asshole?” remarked Commander Luke Avenil, the highest-ranking and the oldest of their group at close to forty.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of THE FOREVER CHRISTMAS TREE by Sandra Hill, we’re giving away two paperback copies of Frankly My Dear by Sandra Hill!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Two winners will each receive a paperback copy of Frankly, My Dear by Sandra Hill. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 10/14/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Sandra Hill
SANDRA HILL is a graduate of Penn State and worked for more than ten years as a features writer and education editor for publications in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Writing about serious issues taught her the merits of seeking the lighter side of even the darkest stories.
THE BREAKDOWN DEEPENS...
Seven years ago, Dr. Dana Perkins came to idyllic Shutter Lake seeking safety from a traumatic experience in Phoenix.
She became the principal at Shutter Lake School—and found her refuge . . . until Sylvia Cole was killed and one of Dana’s best and brightest students, Vinn Bradshaw, confessed to the murder.
A murder Dana is certain he didn’t commit.
But who is he protecting? Why?
Seeking the truth shatters Dana’s safety. Yet who could have predicted proving Vinn innocent would jeopardize her friends and neighbors . . . and expose so many secrets?
Four Strong leading female characters, four different points of view to the murder in a small town and to the secrets revealed while solving the case, the Breakdown series is written by four suspense authors and introduces a new kind of serial novel type of series, each book with a new leading lady, published only a week apart from each other.
Dr. Dana Perkins is an intriguing woman. She is a strong leader of the community, her students adore her, respect her, and look up to her. She has the aura of cool, calm, and confidence, yet she too carries deep wounds from her past. The school shooting that she survived yet lost several of her young students in, has left a permanent mark on her mind and soul. That insight into the drama victim's troubled mind was heartbreaking, yet so realistic.
Dana is determined to find the answers behind the recent murder in the small town. She has no doubt that her bright and brilliant student who confessed didn't do it and she is willing to go to great lengths to find the truth, to find the real killer amongst them.
The more Dana digs into the past of the people who seemed to be involved with the case, the more secrets are revealed, more of the dark, not so pretty underbelly of the Shutter Lake community comes to light.
A mysterious and intriguing story of a small town, of the people and the secrets that lie within it, and the dynamics and characteristics of the community that comes to light when one of them is killed and another one of them confessed to the killing. While an arresting murder mystery, it is also a story about loyalty, hope, and the courage to face the truth. An interesting addition to the serial novel that is to be continued next week.
~ Four Spoons
NIGHT AND DAY
One Night in South Beach #5
by Andie J. Christopher
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pub Date: 9/18/2018
Letty Gonzalez is a true romantic. She’s spent her life waiting for flowers, poetry, the grand gesture that will finally sweep her off her feet—without any luck. After her latest dating fiasco, she’s ready to give up on the idea of Prince Charming—but not on down and dirty fantasies about her new boss—gorgeous, out-of-her-league Max Delgado.
Maxis more pragmatic than romantic—and with his looks and charisma, beautiful women usually fall at his feet. Bubbly, generously curvy Letty just isn’t for him, and maybe if he finally lets his grandmother set him up with someone new, Letty will finally believe it.
But the senior citizen’s matchmaking is trickier than anyone anticipated. And when Letty and Max find themselves stuck in Key West together for a seductively sexy weekend, one kiss is enough to light a fire neither of them wants to put out . . .
You can leave your clothes on the chair was the last thing Letty Gonzalez expected to hear on her first day of a new job. When she’d been rather forcefully thrust into starting her own business, she’d had no idea that nudity would be involved. If so, she’d started the wrong kind of business. That was more her sister, Elena-the-swimsuit-model’s area of expertise.
Perhaps she was in the wrong place? She’d double-checked the address her new—and first—client had sent her via e-mail. But maybe she should have had a phone conversation with the guy first. If so, she would have known that his voice was so deep and angry sounding that it would send a jolt of electricity straight from her ears into her girl parts. More importantly, she’d have realized that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill personal assistant or organizational job—that sexual favors would have been expected.
“I’m not—um—that’s not what—I think there’s been some confusion.” Her mouth was so dry. Why was this giant warehouse space in the design district the one place in Miami with no humidity? And, dear God, why was it so hot? She was glad she hadn’t worn a white blouse, because it would be pitted out right now.
Everything was hot and dry, except for in her underwear, because her client was insanely good-looking.
“What’s confusing?” The man sitting on a stool behind a table hadn’t even looked up at her; he’d just barked at her to enter and told her to get naked. Letty had never had to resort to sex work to make ends meet—at least not yet—but she wondered if all hooking was this impersonal. “Take off your clothes and get your ass on the platform.”
He made an impatient noise through his teeth. Sort of like a growl mixed with a sigh. He rubbed his temples with the thumb and forefinger on one of his large hands. That’s when she noticed the bottle of bourbon sitting next to him. And the two fingers of amber liquid in a glass right next to that.
And the question took her completely off guard. No one was ever aching for her to take off her clothes, even if that was what she wanted. If they’d met under different circumstances—like at a bar—she would have fantasized about taking off her clothes for this guy. But, if they were at a bar, he might totally ignore her, and be demanding that someone who looked more like her big sister take off her clothes.
The idea that she’d want that with anyone right now—especially someone she worked with—shocked her almost as much as his sexy voice had. Although she’d spent a lot of time around artists, they weren’t really her type. Too fucking broody. She was a happy-go-lucky kind of girl, and someone cutting her mood off at the knees with his constant existential dread was not something she looked for in a partner. Not that her choice in partners was great anyhow.
Her last choice had been the least winning of all, and he was only art industry-adjacent. Another reason why she shouldn’t be attracted to her only client so far; getting involved with her old boss had completely destroyed the life she’d built independent of her parents. And the kicker was that Simon had been more interested in her parents’ connections than he ever had been in her—or at least their money. It all would have been much easier had he skipped pretending to want to be her boyfriend and just asked for access to her parents’ checkbook.
Diana and Carlos Gonzalez were such social climbers that they would have opened up the coffers without Simon having “lower himself” to date Letty. The shame of him saying those words washed over her and made it even less likely that she would follow through with this getting naked with her new boss thing.
No matter how much her girl parts responded to the growly sculptor in front of her.
But a nun would find this guy nearly impossible to resist. Between the shaggy dark hair, the T-shirt straining muscles of his torso, and the denim-testing legs spread wide, it would take a saint not to want to slide right in there and put her mouth against his.
She squeezed the strap of her bag with her right hand and wiped the sweaty left palm on her jeans. The e-mail arranging for the job had indicated that the work might be physical, but she’d thought it was mostly clean-up and organization.
“You’ve never done this before?” Finally, he looked at her. His green eyes made the cement floor underneath her dip and sway. They should make a paint color out of that bright, clear green.
She’d seen a couple of pictures of him while doing research to make sure that she wasn’t showing up at the den of a serial killer. Part of her evergreen efforts to stay sexy and not get murdered. Of course, after she’d said yes to the job, she’d done a deep Google dive. And an image search. He was an up-and-coming-sculptor from a local Cuban-American family. But a photograph couldn’t depict the pure impact of being in the room with him. She couldn’t even hold his gaze, instead looking at his forearms. Mistake. Thick and roped with muscle from working clay and other media into abstract figure sculptures, they made her wonder what it would be like to have him touch her. She wondered what his blunt fingertips would do to her flesh, the dents it would make on her thighs.
Although she should have walked out the door as soon as he’d told her to take off her clothes, her feet seemed glued to the swaying floor. “I’m not here for sex.”
His face contorted in confusion. “Of course not.”
“But the clothes?”
“You’re here to model, right?”
A semi-hysterical laugh escaped her mouth before she could stop it. This whole interaction had been surreal. The idea that—for even a second—this perfect specimen of man would hire her to have sex with him was ludicrous.
The idea that she’d nude model was even more farfetched. The only times she’d gotten naked with anyone else in the room, they’d hadn’t seen her. Her college boyfriend hadn’t questioned her preference to get busy in the dark. And Simon had preferred sex in the dark, especially since—as he’d shared when breaking up with her—he apparently couldn’t stomach her stomach rolls. So, the idea that anyone would want to look at any kind of rendering of her—no matter how abstract—in a gallery or in their home made another crazed giggle bubble up in her throat.
“You’re not here from the agency, are you?”
She shook her head. Under his gaze, even the brush of her hair against the bare skin where the sleeve of her top ended registered as sensual. With him looking at her, she could feel everything in a way she’d never experienced.
Definitely not with Simon.
Thinking of her former lover and former boss doused the tingling sensations aroused by Max all at once. It wouldn’t do to forget that she was out of a job, becoming an entrepreneur, and close to the end of her savings account. If this didn’t work, she’d have to beg her parents for help. Or—shudder—move back into their mausoleum of a house.
Maybe she could get over her embarrassment about her body and do what he asked. Just this once. No one would ever recognize her.
Still, she needed to tell the truth. Too many lies had landed her in this tough spot. “No. I’m here to organize for you.”
Another confused look.
“You e-mailed my company.” She motioned around the cluttered warehouse studio. “You said you needed someone to get all your ‘stuff under control.’”
His jaw flexed underneath his thick, black beard. It was an angry gesture, but there was something so primal about this man that it turned her on. “I didn’t e-mail your company. I’m organized just fine.”
Her stomach dropped through the cement floor to the pits of hell. Without a reference from Simon, she’d been blackballed from every gallery in the city. No one was going to hire her on if the executive director of Art Basel refused to give her a reference. Never mind that it was his inattention and philandering that had lost them a couple of large sponsorships last year. No one would believe her. She was a nobody, and her parents were considered tacky.
If she’d just been able to establish herself as a competent personal assistant and professional organizer—sort of a Girl Friday—for a few local artists, she might have been able to repair her reputation enough to get a real job. Her plan as soon as she’d gotten the e-mail from Max, or apparently someone posing as him, had been to parlay working with him to working with his cousin’s new wife, Maya Pascual-Hernandez. With two clients, she would have been able to get back into a respectable gallery.
But, this was all just a joke. Max’s bewilderment at her presence meant that someone had posed as him just to fuck with her. Maybe Simon? But she couldn’t fathom him being that cruel, not even after what he’d done to her.
Hot tears threatened to flow down her face, but she rolled her shoulders back and pushed the tears away. She looked down to reach into her purse. The most hopeful scenario was that he’d forgotten sending the e-mail. In her experience, creative types sometimes got so lost in the work that things like e-mails didn’t register.
And Max Delgado didn’t even have a website. She could only pray that he was forgetful as well as a troglodyte.
She quickly scrolled through the e-mail on her phone, found his last message, and walked toward him, noticing him reaching for his whiskey glass and stiffening his spine as she approached. Had her whole plan for getting her life back on track not been crumbling around her ears, she would have giggled again. The idea that a man taller than her, who probably—in a surprise twist—weighed more than her, would shrink away when she walked toward him was as laughable as anything that had happened today. He was probably sure she was going to kiss him.
“I just want to show you the e-mail.”
He grimaced. “I told you. I didn’t send an e-mail.”
“Yes, you did.” Her mother had always told her that her stubborn streak would get her into trouble, but today it was going to save her. She had receipts and he was going to listen to her. Shaking her phone at him. “Here, read it.”
Given no other choice, he glanced at the phone and read the short confirmation e-mail he’d sent yesterday. “I didn’t send this.”
“So, someone hacked you and hired someone to help you clean up your studio and design a website?” That was almost as unbelievable as someone thinking that she should be a model.
“No. Not someone.”
“What are you talking about?” It was though they were speaking an entirely different language. Even though his speech revealed a subtle accent, something that made the cadence of his voice all the more appealing, she could understand his words, just not their meaning.
He made the growling sigh again and pushed her phone back into her hands, careful not to touch her. Somehow, the disappointment of that sunk in even though her panic was near total. “My grandmother.”
Previous Books in the Series:
“No. No ‘uh oh.’ You swore on your stack of Scientific Americans that this time your experiment would be fine. You assured me this trial had zero chance of failure.” Steph had also pulled the older sister guilt trip on me. Don’t be a baby, Rhia. Besides, you owe me for helping you pass organic chem in college.
“Just because you’re showing signs of anaphylaxis, doesn’t mean my experiment is a failure.” She frowned as she examined my face.
“Anaphylaxis? Don’t forget we had a deal. I agreed to help you if we swung by the Business Expo after. It closes in an hour, and I need to go apply for the ‘Pay it Forward’ grant. Today’s the last day for applications.”
“Why in the world did you wait until the last day?” Of course, I got the older sister eyebrow quirk from her. Because my sister, Steph, my whole family really, had no idea what it was like to second guess yourself. They came into the world with confidence, an agenda, and a to-do list.
“I wasn’t sure if I was ready to make that big of a commitment.” That was a lie. I was so ready to jump at the next step in my new business endeavor. What took so long was tackling my inner doubts first. And getting past all the doubts of my family.
“I don’t think you know what commitment is, Rhia. You only stuck out teaching English, what? Two years?”
See what I mean? I taught for two long years. In college, I’d kept my options open with a double major in business and English, but I tried my hand at teaching first. Turned out I wasn’t made for teaching. I fell for every excuse my students gave me. I was a sucker for a sob story. And once the kids figured that out, I lost control of the classroom.
I didn’t let myself get discouraged, though. No, ma’am. Instead of wallowing in my failure, I remembered I was the “go-to” person in my sorority for planning all the parties and events. In fact, I was the Event Planning Chair for two years running.
That’s how I came up with the idea of starting my event planning business, Seize the Day. I felt good about it. Like maybe I’d finally found something I could succeed at and feel passionate about. Just like the rest of my family. I was excited and inspired. Until I ran the numbers.
“You should have majored in one of the sciences like the rest of us,” Steph said while she jotted something down on her clipboard. She set her paperwork aside and moved up close to peer into my eyes. “Your pupils look normal. Maybe if you’d gone into a STEM program, you’d be employed right now.”
Or maybe not. “You do remember those agonizing hours of organic chem tutoring, don’t you?”
Steph winced at the memory. “Painfully so, but there were science degrees that didn’t require organic chem. Plenty of less rigorous programs even you could have managed.”
Even you. I only flinched a little at that. I knew my sister hadn’t meant it as an insult. It was simply a fact in my family.
“Besides, I do so have a job. I’m self-employed.”
The long-standing joke that I was adopted stopped being funny by middle school when my average grades became a source of friction in the family. If only you’d apply yourself, Rhia. If only you’d try harder, Rhia. Rhia, stop daydreaming and focus. Oh, I tried. But my brain simply wasn’t wired like the rest of the Hollis clan.
So, no, I’d never really fit in with my brilliant family. But that hadn’t stopped me from trying. I was tired of disappointing everyone. Especially myself. That’s why I was determined to make my event planning business a success.
“How’s your airway?” Steph placed her fingers on my wrist and glanced at her watch. “Breathing feel okay?”
Was my breathing okay? My family always told me I was overly dramatic, but I don’t know, maybe my throat did feel a little closed up. I swallowed to check. No. My throat felt fine. Must be that whole power of suggestion thing.
“I thing I’m othay.” Wait, what? That didn’t come out right. Probably because my tongue suddenly felt too big for my mouth.
“Uh oh. Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.” My sister’s face slid into her serious scientist expression, and she spoke into her mini handheld recorder. “Test subject number one is showing signs of glossitis and uticaria—one-inch diameter, bright red with a pale center.”
“Whath’s glossithith and uthitharia?” Dammit. My speech slurred even worse. And my head felt like it had last New Year’s Eve when I’d imbibed too much champagne. A giggle escaped past my thick tongue. Ha! Imbibed. “Imbibed ith a funny word, don’t you thinth?”
“Test subject is showing signs of slurred speech. Possible intoxication.” She clicked off her recorder and peered closer at my face. “Still breathing okay?”
“Yeth but I’m ithy.” I scratched a spot on my cheek and then noticed the same feeling on my forearms. I held my arms out in front of me to look. “Yithes! I’m going to thill you, Sthephanie. You promithed I’d be fine thith time. Promithed!”
“Apparently, I miscalculated on the formula. This is a great data set.” She spoke into her recorder again with way too much excitement. “Decrease amylase dehydrate by fifty percent for second set of trials.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. Except, I only had to narrow one eye because the other was already half swollen shut. “Fixth thith.”
“Right.” She searched through the drawer in her desk, coming up with a bottle of Benadryl. After shaking two out, she slapped them in my hand and handed me a bottle of water. “Take these. You’ll be back to normal in six to eight hours.”
Six to eight hours? I glared at her with my one good eye. And I kept on glaring at her as I swallowed down the antihistamines. I could kill my sister and hide the body somewhere here in her lab, but I needed her to drive me to the expo, since I didn’t trust driving under the influence of both whatever she tested on me and antihistamines. Plus, I loved her, dammit.
I picked my purse up from the top of a stainless steel storage bench with a sign Warning: Radioactive Waste Only and snatched out my phone and car keys. I tossed the keys over to Steph, catching her by surprise so that she juggled them before having them firmly in her grasp. Then I texted her, since my tongue now felt incapable of forming any actual words.
We need to head to the expo. Now. Before the Benadryl knocks me out.
“Or before you blow up like a polka-dotted puffer fish.”
I texted an angry smiley face emoji to stress my pissed off-ness in case my swollen eye and hives was disguising how upset I was with her. Although I should have known better. It was only a few months ago when the last trial she’d guilted me into had fried my taste buds. Everything had tasted like cardboard for a week.
“Okay, let’s go. And don’t give me that face.” She pointed at me as we exited the building. “We’ll make it in plenty of time for you to fill out the application and make a good impression.”
“A good imprethon?” It was my turn to give her the raised eyebrow, because I sounded like a drunk with a lisp. As soon as I let myself into the passenger seat and buckled in, I flipped down the visor to look at the damage.
“Ack!” The face staring back at me had leprosy. Or the plague. Or sadly and too true to be funny: I looked like I’d been created in a lab by a mad scientist. Just like Frankenstein.
I sent a text to myself. Stop saying yes to family.
And then I pulled out my concealer and did the best I could trying to cover the bright red hives on my face and neck. When we parked at the Raleigh Convention Center, I made Steph trade shirts with me, since hers was long-sleeved and covered the hives on my arms.
“I don’t like putting on a strip show for any perv walking by, Rhia.” Steph grumbled but complied, giving my shirt a disgusted loook before pulling it on. “Honestly, your wardrobe looks like the result of a sheep mating with a box of neon crayons.”
I might have rolled my eyes while I slipped on my sister’s neutral beige blouse. First, because that didn’t even make sense. Second, what was wrong with liking color? Bright colors made me happy. Except of course these bright red hives. Those made me unhappy. And very, very itchy.
Okay, yes, this situation was less than ideal. I’d done my research on Six Brothers Construction, the company offering the free office space for a year, and had planned on talking with them for a few minutes to highlight my passionate, goal-oriented, future-focused, tech-savvy personality. (All qualities listed in the book, Entrepreneur to Mogul in 37 Easy Steps.)
“Let’s go, Rhia. You have five minutes to fill out the application, and then we’re out of here.” Steph slammed the door and beeped the locks behind us. “I’d like to get out of here before someone sees me looking like My Little Pony threw up on my shirt.”
Like the necessity for swapping shirts was my fault? I seriously contemplated knocking my sister over the head and pushing her into one of the display model Jacuzzis usually set up at these shows. I’d pick one without water of course. The fact that I might need her to speak for me if they asked any questions helped me stifle that impulse. Barely.
“Fine. Leth’s do thith.” My eye was swollen shut, the full body hives itched like I was wearing fabric woven from poison ivy, and my tongue was still unable to form words discernable to a human ear. It was fair to say my confidence about getting this grant had decreased by about a thousand percent in the last hour.
Steph grimaced, her eyes avoiding mine. “It’ll be fine. Just fill out the form. I’ll do the talking if they have any questions. What kind of business is it again?”
Once inside the building, we rode the escalators up to the exhibit space. It was packed with every trade in the building industry pimping their wares like a modern-day bazaar. Rows upon rows, booths laid out into a giant maze throughout the immense space. There were home builders, interior decorators, garage door suppliers, roofers asking passersby how old their shingles were and were they interested in a low-maintenance, metal roof.
I brought up the map of the business expo on my phone to locate the SBC booth. Left side, halfway down over in the general contractor section. Jerking my head to direct Steph to the left, I maneuvered through the press of people in search of the lifeline I needed to secure my future.
A rough childhood tore Beckett and his brothers apart. It took everything he had to track them down and establish Six Brothers Construction. He only trusts them—and his drive to win. Now if SBC can build a billionaire team owner’s much-hyped new mansion, it will put them on the map—and finally fulfill Beckett’s promise to take care of his siblings. Too bad he’ll have to collaborate with hot new rival Samantha Devine, who’s throwing him curves on-site, out-the-box . . . and between the sheets.
Sam knows from experience that arrogant good-ole-boy Beckett is long, strong, and built to go the distance. But this is her only shot to prove she and her fledgling design company can succeed on her own terms. She’ll match Beckett’s expertise by day—and reignite the explosive heat between them by night. But when passion threatens to become real love, will this competition separate them for good . . . or make the sizzling collaboration of a lifetime?
Talk about a dream job. For sure my face looked like I’d just walked through a clearance sale of Jimmie Choo shoes, my smile flagrantly wide as I walked through the French doors of the sunroom to greet Lila.
That was where my dream turned into a nightmare. Because my gaze landed on a man in the room. Landed with a thud.
For the record, I’m not a man hater. I’m not. But I do have a hit list.
Not men I want to have killed. No. My hit list contained the men I wanted to hit. Right over their thick skulls.
Here’s my list:
- Dear old Dad
- Stepbrother #1 (Todd the bod. He seriously called himself that.)
- Stepbrother #2 (Justin the jerk. He did not call himself that, but he was.)
- Beckett Thorne
“There you are!” Lila walked to me, giving me cheek to cheek air kisses to not mess up her lipstick. My own Cherry Bomb lipstick was newly refreshed. Like extra armor before going into battle. “Sam, I think you already know Beckett Thorne.”
“Samantha.” He stood and reached out his hand, courteous and professional.
“Thorne.” I nodded, pretending I didn’t see his hand, bad-mannered and immature. His extended hand was a trick anyway. One I’d fallen for before. He tricked me into getting close enough to smell him. He smelled like cedar trees and hot sexy nights. It was subtle, but powerful. Like a breath-stealing punch that hit me right in the honey pot. Not kidding.
I’d learned to go into survival mode and protect myself around him. The problem was he was my sexual kryptonite. He could do things to my body with a simple look. And a touch…? I suppressed the shiver that wanted to rattle its way down my body with the thought of what his touch had done to me.
I’d met Beckett Thorne two years ago when I’d first moved to Raleigh. He’d come sauntering over at the Building and Design Expo, offering to show me around town. I’d been warned about him. Rumor was the offer to show me his bedroom would follow shortly after that. And then he’d show me the door even quicker.
I’m not saying it was easy to turn him down. In fact, I’m not saying that at all.
Because I didn’t. I couldn’t. Something about his blue eyes, his sexy smile, his work-hardened body, and his strong calloused hands had me saying yes. Only we skipped the tour around town.
That’s right. I’d taken my turn on the Beckett Thorne thrill ride. It was hot, mind-blowing, and everything a woman imagined when they looked at him. And more. Ride of a lifetime, but I was warned. Like most wild rides, a love affair with Beckett was said to be exhilarating but rumbled to an abrupt stop, before a woman could even catch her breath from the scream-inducing rush up and over the sky-high peaks. Nope. I’d had enough rejection from men in my life. My plan was to walk away after our one night together. And that’s what happened.
I’d one and done him.
That’s how I like to remember it went for the sake of my own dignity.
In reality, like an idiot, I’d waited for him to call all the next week. Not that he said he would. There was a vague mention of seeing me again, somewhere in the hot panting heat between round two and three. In my defense, I wasn’t exaggerating about the mind-blowing ride of a lifetime. Plus, I’m an optimist. And did I mention how amazing the sex was?
But when he didn’t call, I moved on. No big deal.
Luckily, even though the design world in Raleigh was small, we rarely ran into each other. Yet here we both were, and both, apparently, salivating for Lila’s job. Of course that was why I was salivating. Mr. Tall, Dark, and could-be-Bradley Cooper’s-stunt-double had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Nothing. Not his rugged looks, like a barely tamed tiger, almost too austere to call handsome. Not his dark blond hair, looking perpetually mussed like a woman had run her hands through it. Not the bump on his nose and jagged scar on his chin hinting at a wild past. And certainly not his electric blue eyes that gleamed with intelligence and cynicism. A dangerous combination.
So he could take his Southern manners and stick them where the--whoa, down girl. Sure our history was short—very short—but apparently it was seared into my memory. Possibly because I replayed that memory numerous times over the past two years. When I took a shower, or used my battery powered friend. Hey, those memories were mine fair and square. I was allowed to use them, especially when I was in the middle of a man-drought. It’s not my fault I hadn’t found a man I wanted to sleep with since my night with Thorne.
He stood staring across the room at me. God the man was too good looking for my own good. And far too cocky. I was just the woman to bring him down a peg.
What was he doing? Huh, what do you know… He was eye-fucking me. The man had some nerve. He couldn’t keep his gaze off my chest. I willed my nipples not to react. Don’t go perky. Don’t go perky. Don’t g—too late. Those damn eyes of his. Well, two can play at this game.
I let my gaze wander over his chest…and down. Down farther before dragging my gaze back up. His eyebrow quirked.
I quirked my eyebrow right back, making sure to roll my shoulders back, giving him an eyeful of my perky nipples. Both of his eyebrows rose.
That’s right, buddy. Suck it. I mean, no, there would be no sucking. None. Zero. No thinking about his lips at all. I had to exterminate that image from my brain before my pulse headed into defibrillation territory.
His eyebrows lowered from their sky-high perch on the ladder of cockiness. Looked like round one went to me. Ha!
“You’ve got a piece of lettuce on your…uh…top.” His face looked innocent but the laughter in his eyes was like a whipped cream pie to my face.
I looked down and sure enough a piece of lettuce clung to my chest like a bull’s-eye over my right nipple. Nice, Sam. Nothing said classy and professional like a lettuce leaf pastie!
I did what any crazy, trying-to-hold-on-to-her-dignity woman would do. I peeled off the lettuce and popped it into my mouth. I chewed and swallowed delicately. “One can never get enough fiber.”
Grant Dodge didn’t expect to find a woman sleeping in an abandoned cabin on his family ranch. Or to find her so intriguing. Unlike every other woman in town, McKenna Tate doesn’t know Grant’s a widower. There’s no pity in the looks she gives him. McKenna wants him, and Grant has forgotten what it’s like to feel like a man. A no-strings fling for Christmas might be the kind of holiday cheer Grant needs…
With only a suitcase to her name, McKenna came to Gold Valley to confront her birth father. She didn’t plan to work at the Dodge ranch or fall for the gorgeous cowboy who keeps his heart roped off. But there’s no denying the way their broken pieces fit together. Hope brought her to Gold Valley—but will it be the gift that could finally heal Grant, and McKenna’s own wounded heart?
I mean, it wasn't a surprise to me that Grant Dodge's story would bring me to tears, or that it would be a wild ride through some deep emotional waters. Also, I expected the lady to finally catch his eye to be something spectacular and nothing short of amazing. And then walks in McKenna Tate, and yes, she is a spectacular and amazing woman, she is strong, she is fierce, she is an independent woman who knows what she wants. And she is as broken inside as Grant is. Yes, the tears are still coming as I write this because I do not know if I have ever loved book characters as much as I love Grant and McKenna. I have read thousands of books, yet these two just walked right into my heart like no one else, and I wanted them to find peace, trust, love, home, family, and all the happiness that they deserve.
While no one had ever claimed McKenna as their family or loved her, Grant had loved greatly, been loved deeply yet lost it to all to cancer. Their stories are the opposite yet the same. There is that golden line that goes through both of their stories, that need to be loved, learning to trust those feelings, and daring to take the risk even with the possibility of losing it all.
McKenna and Grant's tale is a delicate and delightful love story, it is as fragile as it fierce, as ardent as it is alluring, and it does take a bit of the magic of the season to bring them the full circle back to the old, abandoned cabin again.
What brought McKenna into the town of Gold Valley is the search of belonging, an attempt to find her father and a family to belong to. That secondary storyline is no less touching as the romance developing between her and Grant, as turbulent, and much in need of a Christmas miracle as well.
Allround a poignant, passionate, and moving story. A captivating tale of love, family, and hope set to play out during the most special time of the year.
~ Five Spoons!
Since then it’s been a whirlwind of sexy alpha males and happily ever afters, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Maisey divides her writing time between dark, passionate category romances set just about everywhere on earth and light sexy contemporary romances set practically in her back yard.
She believes that she clearly has the best job in the world
Former Marine Axel Vaughn learned at a young age that the only person he can depend on is himself. He never allows emotions to interfere in his life; professionally or personally. But that all changes when he shows up to his newest assignment and a gorgeous, redhead answers the door.
He keeps to himself, but she can't stop thinking about him.
She's off-limits, but he can't he stay away from her.
Things in Whisper Lake are about to get complicated.
I loved just about everything in that story, and the wonderful thing about it is, it is so memorable, that even weeks after reading it, I still remember it, still cherish the warmth and depth, the crazy and fun, and the steam and heat of the moments.
The meet-cute between single mom Brynn Daniels and former marine Axel Vaughn is one of the funniest, craziest events that had me laughing out loud, hollering 'you go, girl'. And the rest of the story had me as engaged to the characters and events as the beginning did.
I loved that both Brynn and Axel had the strong bond to their closest family, Axel to his sister and Brynn to her son. Both of their dysfunctional families had shaped them to be who they are today, yet in the midst of the chaos, they had found their own inner strength and peace, being able to build the bonds to the kids.
I loved the sisterhood of the friends of Brynn, and the antics they get into. Melanie Shawn writes some of the best friendships I have read about in their book series, setting the 'goal' high and appreciating the friends in my own life who are sharing the path with me.
Brynn and Axel have one emotional roll-a-coaster road to their HEA. It is sweet, heartfelt, sexy, adorable, delightful, lovely, did I mention sexy..? And they are just so perfect for each other, with their past hurdles, and the present challenges, if they can just find a way to make their future goals line up together as well.
There is a touch of suspense in the story giving it even more dimension, spice, and action.
Whisper of Attraction is a perfect addition to my Melani Shawn collection. The charming characters, the deep emotions, the humorous moments, and the hot, sheets burning love scenes that are so well embedded to the plot, all contribute to the amazingly wonderful read that is just perfect to escape with even during the most difficult times in life when nothing else takes your thoughts away from the stress of life. Loved it!
~ Five Spoons!
NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY bestselling author Melanie Shawn is the writing team of sister duo Melanie and Shawna. Originally from Northern California, they now make their home in So Cal.
Growing up, Melanie constantly had her head in a book and was always working on short stories, manuscripts, plays and poetry. Shawna always loved romance in any form - movie, song or literary. If it was a love story with a happy ending, Shawna was all about it! They have joined forces to create a world where true love and happily ever after always has a sexy twist
Series The Duke's Daughters
Genre Adult Historical Romance
Publisher Avon Books
Publication Date September 25, 2018
It was easy for society to overlook Lady Ida Howlett; they found her bookish, opinionated, and off the marriage mart. But little did they know that behind a calm exterior beats the heart of an adventuress, one who, determined to discover her runaway sister’s whereabouts, steals a carriage and sets off on a daring mission. Then she discovers she’s not alone! Bennett, Lord Carson, is inside, and he refuses to leave.
Lord Carson’s plans had always been to find a soft, gentle wife who would run his home and raise his children. Still, he makes a bargain with Ida—he won’t desert her during her mad adventure. He’ll make sure she’s safe, and then find a suitable lady to fall in love with. But when rules (and garments) become discarded during this long, intimate journey, it’s soon clear that this surprisingly daring lady is the woman he’s needed all along.
From Chapter Seven
“This room is for the young lady,” Mrs. Hastings said, opening the second door on the right-hand side.
Ida looked inside, almost unable to process what she was viewing as the tumult of emotions swirled inside her brain. She shook her head, trying to clear the fog of whatever it was she was feeling.
He’d held her hand. And she had held his.
Her skin tingled where they’d touched.
And he’d joked with her. In Latin. No wonder she was all tingly.
The room was small, but tidy, the bed in the center made up with a floral counterpane. There was a table beside the bed, a screen in the corner, and a chair in front of one of the two windows.
“It’s not much, but it’s quiet,” the innkeeper said. “I’ll send someone up to help you with your gown, since your own servant hasn’t arrived yet. Do you expect them tonight, my lord?” she said, twisting to look at Bennett.
“Likely not. I told them to find lodgings elsewhere if they could not get here by this evening.”
“Ah, then you’ll be needing my Mary’s help. She’s Eustace’s younger sister, and she’s been helping out in the inn.”
“That would be excellent. Thank you for thinking of it,” Ida replied. She drew a coin from her purse and began to hold it to the innkeeper, who waved it aside.
“You’ll pay me tomorrow morning for the food and rooms. You can save that for Mary, if she serves well enough. And you’ll let me know if she doesn’t.”
The innkeeper stepped back out into the hallway. “I’ll show you your room, my lord, and then wish you and your sister good-night. It’s just two doors away,” she continued, gesturing to a door on the opposite side. “If you need anything in the night.”
He would be leaving her. Alone.
“Good night, Ida,” Bennett said. He stepped forward and gazed down at her face, an intense expression on his face.
“Good night,” she replied abruptly, shutting the door as she spoke.
She leaned against the door, her shoulders sagging. In fatigue? Relief?
For a moment, he’d looked at her as though he . . . appreciated her.
In a way she’d never been appreciated before.
In a way that looked as though he wanted to kiss her.
Ida had never been kissed. Obviously. Not only that, but she’d never even had the opportunity—she had yet to meet a gentleman she’d like to kiss, much less had one want to kiss her.
But she could imagine, just for a moment, what it would feel like to have Lord Carson kiss her.
To have all that sleek handsomeness focused on her, on her mouth, on her reactions to what their lips were doing.
She hadn’t been kissed, but she did know the mechanics of it all. She’d taken a peek at some naughty books her older sister Eleanor had in her possession, and had done some further research when Eleanor had turned bright red and refused to explain.
So she knew technically what it entailed, but she knew full well that knowing something and experiencing something were two entirely different things.
For example, one could describe the deliciousness of strawberry shortcake covered with freshly whipped cream, but one couldn’t understand just how delicious it was until one had tasted it.
Lord Carson wasn’t precisely strawberry shortcake. But Ida had the worrisome thought that kissing him would be altogether far more enjoyable.
Shortcake left crumbs, and there was never the correct balance between cake, fruit, and cream.
Lord Carson would likely know how to achieve the best balance in kissing. And there’d be no crumbs.
She jumped as there was a knock on the door. She turned to open it, hoping she wasn’t blushing.
It was him. Of course it was him. Lord Shortcake.
“Oh,” Ida said in what she hoped sounded like a surprised voice. “I thought it would be the girl come to help me with my gown.”
“I wanted to—look, might I come in for a moment?” he said, glancing down the hallway. “Just for a moment,” he repeated as she held the door open wider for him to step inside.
“Of course.” She closed the door. And then they were alone. Again. In the room that was technically,
for this evening at least, her bedroom.
Nothing she had ever read could have prepared her for how much she felt. She felt everything at this moment, so keenly aware and alive of the distance between them, how his eyes were focused on her, how much she longed to launch herself into his arms.
No launching, Ida, she admonished herself.
He leaned against the door, similar to her own position just moments before. “I just wanted to ask if you have everything you need to be comfortable.” He frowned in thought. “You don’t have any clothing with you, do you? What will you sleep in?”
Ida felt her cheeks heat. A gentleman was inquiring about her nightclothes.
Somehow, that felt more shocking than stealing a carriage and running away in search of an errant sister.
So much for her personal perspective.
“I’ll just—” she began, and gestured toward her body.
“We’ll buy clothing tomorrow. And not library clothing either,” he said with a grin.
She tried to laugh—she did find him humorous—but her mind was too engrossed in the current situation to actually emit any kind of chuckle at all.
Because she wanted, quite desperately, to kiss him.
Well. There it was.
And so here she was. And he was right there, so why shouldn’t she?
Ida’s first thought should have been, What am I doing?
But it wasn’t.
It should also have been the second, third, and fourth.
But it wasn’t.
Why haven’t I done this before? was what went through her mind as her mouth found his.
Dear lord, so this was kissing.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of LADY IS DARING, we’re giving away one paperback set of LADY BE BAD and LADY BE RECKLESS by Megan Frampton!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback set of Lady Be Bad & Lady Be Reckless by Megan Frampton. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 10/8/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Megan Frampton
MEGAN FRAMPTON writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction under the name Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.
Laney's past comes back to haunt her as she delves into the investigation of who murdered beautiful, young Sylvia Cole. But Laney's secrets aren't the only ones revealed as one by one the cracks in this perfect town start to show and the facade of perfection slowly begins to breakdown.
The Dead Girl delivers a riveting start to the intense suspense. The small town, where everyone knows each other, has a friendly vibe to it until Laney Holt starts the investigation to the murder of one of their own, Sylvia Cole. The more Laney digs into the past and life of Sylvia, the more secrets seem to be hidden, since no one can be as perfect as they say Sylvia was. Something is not right, the clues are right there but Laney has to figure out the direction they are pointing at. And while Laney is digging into the secrets the townfolks are hiding, her own secrets from her past are coming to the light as well.
The story starts with the dead body and from the investigation flows fluently off the pages, escalating the tension and keeping the interest high until the explosive ending that made me want to jump directly into the next book of the series.
Well written sharp suspense tale with vivid images, strong female lead, and mesmerizing plot wrapped around a murder in the small town of Shutter Lake. A potent start to the series.
~ Four Spoons
With more than four million books in print in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood when her mother bought her an old typewriter in a tag sale. Born in Alabama, Debra grew up on a farm. She spent every available hour exploring the world around her and creating her stories. She wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn’t until she spent three years working for the Commanding General of the US Army in Berlin behind the Iron Curtain and a five-year stint in NASA’s Shuttle Program that she realized her true calling. A collision course between suspense and romance was set. Since then she has expanded her work into some of the darkest places the human psyche dares to go.
Driving from Bend to the smokejumper base in Redmond, Oregon, was like traveling back in time. It only took a half an hour, but the trip set Meg Buchanan back ten years.
As she pulled into the parking lot of Redmond Air Center, the tires of her Forerunner crunching on the dirt and gravel drive, she repeated the pep talk she’d been giving herself the entire ride.
She had the job. She was officially an assistant trainer and safety instructor for this year’s Redmond smokejumper rookie training.
She wasn’t a firefighter, but she was a physician’s assistant with lots of practical medical knowledge. She was qualified. More importantly, she was a seasoned triathlete. She was in tiptop shape, and she definitely could run some rookies through their paces. Add her willingness to do the job for barely any money and her uncle’s glowing recommendation, and she’d been approved.
That was her mantra. She could do this. She had the skills. She’d been approved.
She refused to accept that she’d been given this job because of her last name.
Sure, Will, her oldest brother, was an active Redmond smokejumper, and Uncle Joe was the base manager. Her middle brother, Hunter, would be in this year’s rookie class. Together, they made a pretty impressive Buchanan family legacy at Redmond.
But, if she’d received preferential treatment, it was because her father’s name—Jason Buchanan—rested on the memorial wall at the base, along with the other firefighters who’d given their lives in sacrifice to this job.
After shifting the truck into park, Meg dropped her hands into her lap and abandoned that train of thought. No use tempting the universe by spilling doubt and negative energy all over it. She had the experience, and she was going to give this job everything she had.
This was her chance.
She’d never been able to become a firefighter like her brothers. After hours of counseling, she couldn’t overcome her paralyzing fear of fire. But, this? She could do this. These rookies were in for the training of their lives.
And she’d finally feel like she was honoring her birthright.
With a deep breath, she checked her reflection in the rearview mirror. She’d pulled her red hair into a low ponytail and applied light makeup. Dressed in tan slacks and a pale pink blouse, she looked more like she was seeing patients than reporting for a physical trainer position. She was more comfortable, though, professionally dressed, put together.
If things were orderly on the outside, the inside would follow. She’d learned that lesson years ago, after her father’s death. Her mother had cried, and their home fell to pieces. When people showed up with food and condolences, the disaster in the house amplified how broken they were. Dishes in the sink, overflowing laundry baskets. Sleep eluded Meg those first nights, so she washed dishes, did laundry, and dusted until her body gave out. The next day, she’d cooked to fill the silence. The days stretched on, and no one ate unless they were reminded.
Eventually, though, the movements of normalcy made her feel more normal.
Fake it ‘til you make it, her mom had joked. She’d never taken that advice, but it had worked for Meg. Pretend until the lie matched reality.
She exhaled slowly, pursing her lips. With shaking fingers, she smoothed her perfectly tidy hair once more, nodding at her reflection. She had this.
Snagging her wallet and phone off the passenger seat, she tossed them into her well-worn gym bag and zipped it up. Slinging it over her shoulder, she gripped the straps to her chest like a shield and opened the truck door.
Gravel bit into her ballet flats, but she ignored the discomfort. Around her, the parking lot was full of pickup trucks and Jeeps, a few larger SUVs and late-model sedans, and even an Econovan thrown in for good measure. The van had curtains. She wouldn’t be surprised if its owner lived out of it.
There were a few guys unloading their cars, yanking duffel bags and equipment from trunks. Most of them were in their twenties and thirties. All of them were in amazing shape. The uniform seemed to be a mix of camo, Under Armor, and facial hair. A couple of the men paused to watch her walk by.
Maybe she should have put on her running clothes, some track pants. She looked as out of place in her business clothes as a peacock at a rhino tea party.
Her eyes straight forward, she hiked her bag higher on her shoulder and picked up her pace. As she approached the door, her uncle stepped out.
“Meggy.” His smile, buried under a few days of beard growth, was as warm as always. Her shoulders relaxed in response. “You’re early.”
She stepped into his open arms. Uncle Joe gave the best hugs. “They pulled back on my hours last week in preparation for my time here. I finished earlier than expected today.”
He leaned out of their embrace, scowling at her. “You’re sure this won’t affect your position with Dr. Colman, right? They’ll let you return when training is over?”
She grinned at him. “I told you. Dr. Colman is happy that I’m helping. She’s fine.” It had taken a little sweet talking, playing up how good of a community outreach opportunity this was and promising to pick up shifts on the weekends while she was at the air center. Patrice Colman recognized a good deal when she saw it. She’d wanted to start opening on Saturdays for months, so she hadn’t passed up this opportunity. But, Meg wasn’t about to tell Uncle Joe that.
He patted her shoulder. “That’s good, then. I’m not going to answer to your mom if this impacts your career.”
Meg stiffened. “I’m twenty-five, Uncle Joe. I manage myself.” Besides, they both knew her mother hadn’t managed much of anything in years.
Joe nodded. “Right. Well, your brothers should be here soon. Do you want me to show you around?”
She laughed. “It’s been a while, but I think I know where I’m going.” She and her brothers had visited her father here often. Years ago, her mother would bring the smokejumpers cookies, muffins, whatever. She used to love to bake, and it gave her an excuse to see her husband. These days, the only time her mother’s oven heated was for the Sunday dinners Meg cooked for them.
Meg scanned the exterior of the air center. “Place hasn’t changed.” Ten years later, but the air center looked the same. Behind the hangar, the airfield stretched across the open field. The Cascade Mountains filled the horizon. Here, without the multi-story buildings in Bend, the peaks were in full, majestic view.
“Why ruin a good thing?” He chuckled, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get you settled.”
As he guided her to the door, the rumble of an engine made her pause.
Either the Jeep that turned into the parking lot needed a new muffler or its owner wanted everyone to hear him coming. As it parked, everyone in the lot had stopped to look. Which meant this truck wasn’t a regular fixture at the air center’s lot.
She sniffed. Apparently, the diva of this year’s class had arrived.
The Jeep’s engine died, and its doors swung open. Like the other men in the lot, the one who jumped down from the passenger side was in excellent shape. He was probably six-two or so, and his T-shirt did nothing to hide the cords of muscle on his wide shoulders. But, it wasn’t the passenger that snagged her attention.
The driver slammed his door and strode to the back liftgate. She didn’t see his face, only the back of him, but his gait was familiar, with more swagger than his passenger. He was as tall as the other man, and just as broad-shouldered and slim-hipped. The tilt of his head as he tossed a few bags onto the ground, the set of his shoulders as he closed the back of the Jeep, though…if returning to the Redmond base was a blast from the past, this man was a punch to the gut.
She didn’t realize she said his name out loud until Joe grunted. “Yes. Lance Roberts.”
Meg hadn’t needed his confirmation. She’d know Lance anywhere. After ten years, her body hadn’t forgotten watching him, wishing he was hers, with the added misfortune of embodying the “little sister in love with brother’s best friend” cliché.
Hard to forget embarrassment like that.
Lance the boy had been the stuff of her girlhood dreams, and more than a few other girls’ dreams, too. As she watched, he grabbed his bags off the ground and the muscles of his forearms tightened. Heat stretched up her spine, warming her stomach.
Lance the man probably occupied more than a few women’s dreams now as well.
Meg spun sideways, not wanting to be caught staring at him. “What’s he doing here?” she whispered. She smoothed the end of her ponytail, and then tugged at her blouse, straightening imaginary wrinkles.
Catching herself, she squeezed her fingers together in front of her, forcing them still.
“Now, Meggy. I need you to be open-minded. And, I need your help with your brothers…” Joe’s head dropped, and he rubbed the back of his head.
“Joe, what have you done?” There were only so many reasons that Lance would be here, at the air center, right now…
“I offered Lance a job, if he makes it through training.” His half grin looked pained. “He’ll be in this year’s rookie training class.”
Downtown Los Angeles alley, 2:18 a.m.
The rat grew frantic in its efforts to escape the trap, its front claws a blur as they scratched against the wire mesh. This one was older than the juveniles already collected, and showed the scars of a lifetime spent skulking through Los Angeles alleyways and sewers. Half of one ear had been torn off, its grayish-black fur matted, and a dozen wounds scabbed over. While the rat was larger than the others, it was still emaciated enough to be able to squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. Rats like this one were crucial for what was coming.
The newspaper stories from 2001 didn’t mention rats, and neither did the ones from 1984. That had to be because the reporters hadn’t been told about them, or really about any of the specifics. In 1984, the newspaper and TV reporters described the murders only as depraved and sickening.
A police officer must’ve given them that description, and someone with a touch of poetry in his soul named the killer the Nightmare Man. That name stuck—both in 1984 and in 2001—but it didn’t fully do the killer justice. While horrific, monstrous things were done to the victims, they were things that could only have come from the nightmares of a lunatic.
Just as some species of cicadas awaken only every seventeen years, the same was true of the Nightmare Man. October second would mark the seventeen-year anniversary of the start of the last killing spree, and new victims had already been chosen. They were both the least and most fortunate people alive. They would be dying the worst deaths imaginable, but they would have a kind of immortality, their fates forever entwined with the Nightmare Man. Because of that, they would never be forgotten.
The cage was picked up, and the rat inside backed up and got on its hind legs, its small black eyes shining with malevolence as it bared its teeth. It was an ugly thing and would do nicely for what was needed.
A homeless woman lay curled in a fetal position as she slept beside a dumpster. She stirred as the cage holding the rat was carried past her. Her red-rimmed eyes cracked open, her round, craggy face turning toward the soft padding of footsteps. In a raspy croak that sounded as if her throat had been scraped raw with sandpaper, she asked for money. Even from several feet away, the sour smell of cheap gin on her breath assaulted the senses. A decision now had to be made: whether to kill the old woman or ignore her. A moment of reflection revealed a third option—simply hand
the homeless woman a twenty-dollar bill, and that was what was done. The woman mumbled something unintelligible as she accepted the money. She turned away as she hid the bill within her layers of clothing, and then she presumably fell back to sleep.
That was how it needed to be. It wasn’t time yet for the Nightmare Man to awaken from his slumber. October second was still a full ten days away. That was when the killings would start again. Besides, snuffing out the life of this old woman wasn’t necessary. Her alcohol-addled mind wouldn’t later connect this late-night intrusion of her makeshift home with the Nightmare Man’s return.
But the Nightmare Man was coming.
And Los Angeles would soon be weeping tears of blood.
Cattleman Callen Laramie has no intention of returning to his hometown of Coldwater, Texas, until a Christmas wedding and a family secret convince him he has no choice.
And when he's reunited with his childhood crush, the girl who'd always been off-limits, Callen knows leaving might not be so easy this time.
Shelby McCall is as pretty as a Christmas snowfall, and Callen wants to kiss her under the mistletoe...and the Christmas tree...and the stars.
But once Shelby knows the whole truth behind this homecoming, will their holiday fling come to an abrupt end?
Or will she accept the gift of his heart?
Yes, I might have mentioned it many times that this series is my favorite cowboy series and this title just confirmed that top spot in my mind. From laughter to tears to smiles and to sighs to swooning, this story brought up, front, and center all the feels.
I absolutely adored Callen Laramie and Shelby McCall, as well all the other secondary cast and crew, especially the Laramie brothers - those brothers have that hot, complex hero thing going for them so strong and vivid, I can't wait to read their stories and destinies.
Callen and Shelby have had the hots for each other ever since the teenage years. The threat of castration and to save himself from his tragic past, Callen leaves the town at the age of 18, without looking in the rearview mirror. Now, years later, Callen and Shelby have the chance to live true those old (and not so old) fantasies, and oh boy, do they heat up the sheets and pages... Through those wildly passionate encounters, it comes tangible how the feelings between them start to grow, how 'no strings attached' comes to something much more, and how they count on each other to be there when the trouble comes knocking at the door.
I loved the story, from the very start Callen found his way to my heart with his conflicted family drama, and I found the book impossible to put down, keeping me up late into the night.
A marvelous Christmas romance novel, a fantastic family saga, and a deliciously desirous addition to the beloved series!
~ Five Spoons
USA Today bestselling author, Delores Fossen, is an Air Force veteran who has sold over 100 novels.
She's received the Booksellers' Best Award for romantic suspense, the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Rita ®.
Her books have been featured in Woman's Day and Woman’s World. In addition, she's had nearly a hundred short stories and articles published in national magazines.
A man who loves adventure and the open sea, Devin Murphy returns for a short Christmas trip to his small hometown of Eternity Springs. Immersed in the joy and magic of the holiday season all around him, he doesn't hesitate to play along when a young boy phones Santa to ask for a very special wish. Devin never guesses that a wrong number has the potential to make everything in his life so right.
Jenna Stockton adopted Reilly when he needed a mother and she intends to keep him safe. A small town across the country called Eternity Springs seems like a good place to hide from their past without any complications --until sexy Santa himself discovers her secrets. When Devin proposes a daring plan to face down the danger together and defeat it once and for all, she is tempted. Maybe Devin really is capable of making wishes come true? Perhaps in a Christmas wish they'll both find the miracle they've been looking for all along...
The story has such a solid, wholesome vibe to it, all the characters are likable, the romance takes its time to develop over a years time, the adults take the kid's needs into account, and respect him, setting boundaries for him, while building a life together that involves compromises while fulfilling life goals and dreams.
Some of the things that happen in the story raised my eyebrows, stretching my imagination, yet somehow it fits the environment the book creates.
Devin Murphy is a considerate, kind-hearted man, generous, and loving, the kind of man who will jump into a freezing water to save a neighbor's life, or pretend to be a Santa to a kid who needs a miracle on Christmas Eve.
Jenna Stockton is a dedicated mom to her son Reilly. Her job creates challenges and takes her away from her time with Reilly, but he is her heart and focus, the reason why she works so hard. Reilly just won my heart over. He is smart a young man, who knows what he wants and cares for his mom something fierce.
The story flows effortlessly from the pages and the stalker who has been harassing Jenna gives a slight edge to the cheerful, romantic holiday tale.
An entertaining and adorable story that delivers smiles, grants Christmas wishes and brings forward the magical, mystical ambiance of the yuletide.
~ Four Spoons
Emily March is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Eternity Springs series. Publishers Weekly calls March a "master of delightful banter," and her heartwarming, emotionally charged stories have been named to Best of the Year lists by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romance Writers of America. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Emily is an avid fan of Aggie sports and her recipe for jalapeño relish has made her a tailgating legend.
“Ahem... Heeeee’s heeeere.”
At her head vet tech’s declaration, Doctor Rayna Michaels looked up from the lab report she was reading in the back of the main treatment area and furrowed her brow. “I’m sorry. Who is ‘he’?”
Andrea leaned her hip against the counter and dipped her chin. “Seriously?”
“Always.” Careful to keep her expression blank, Rayna stared at the woman.
Andrea sighed and rolled her eyes. “He as in the hottest pet owner we have.” Even as Rayna returned her focus to the lab report in her hands, Andrea continued. “Come on, really? He as in ‘the cop’ who’s so freaking hot we could fry an egg on his unbelievable abs. We haven’t seen the abs, but we all know he’s got them. In spades. The same he who’s so totally into you—so into you that the rest of us are green with envy.”
He was not and they were not. Rayna sighed and set the report back on the counter. Yes, she knew exactly who Andrea was talking about, but no way was Rayna going to let her vet tech know that.
And yes, Officer Derek Hansen was handsome—very handsome in fact. The kind of handsome every hot-blooded woman, self-assured man, or more specifically a gay man—her receptionist Billy had pointed out last time Officer Hansen had been in—on the planet took notice of. If they didn’t, they were likely dead, because very handsome was not only accurate, it was also an incredible understatement.
Dark, close-cropped hair, just a little longer on top. Dark, straight brows. Green eyes. Full lips. Always clean-shaven, but Rayna bet he looked good with a five o’clock shadow, too. His nose wasn’t perfect, but it fit his face perfectly. And then there was his body...
Rayna sighed. Great. The mere thought of how good-looking Hansen was had heat spilling through her system like warm syrup. If she hadn’t put the report down, she could’ve used it as a fan—though that would’ve been way too obvious. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to be a bit more specific.”
“I swear, Doctor Michaels. Sometimes I don’t even know what to do with you.” She threw her hands up in the air with a harsh sigh, then let them flop back down at her sides. “Fine. Officer Derek Hansen is here with Axle for yet another ‘checkup.’ Specific enough?” Andrea smirked.
“Well then, let’s hope Axle is okay. I know Officer Hansen has been a tad...cautious, possibly overly so, since his canine partner was injured. But honestly, as you know, there is nothing wrong with taking good care of your animal. Especially one as important as Axle.” She smiled, knowing her statement was only going to annoy Andrea further. Which served as a fantastic distraction from the heat rising in her body. Rayna cleared her throat. “What room is he in?”
Andrea let out an exasperated groan and grabbed a file off the counter. “Exam room four. And not for anything, but he’s been in twice already this month. This makes visit number three. I think it’s a sign.” Andrea grinned and started to turn away, but then stopped. “All professionalism aside, enjoy the view for the rest of us, please? You know we’re all going to want a full report when you’re done in there.” After a wink, she headed for the short hallway leading to the front of the office.
Rayna watched her go before picking up the lab report and reading it over once more. Deep breaths, in and out. In and out. In and--
It wasn’t working. Desperate for some relief, she fanned herself with the lab report.
Around six months ago, Officer Derek Hansen’s canine partner, Axle, had been injured in the line of duty. Apparently, her clinic had been the closest place to where the injury happened, and when he’d burst in the front door, of course she’d immediately treated the animal.
The injury hadn’t been anything too serious, thank goodness. Axle had needed a small laceration stitched up, but the animal had also popped his kneecap out of joint on his left hind leg. Leg injuries could lead to hip issues with many big dogs, but shepherds especially. Ensuring Axle was healed properly was essential for his career as a police dog, but more importantly, the animal’s overall well-being and quality of life.
However, after the dog had healed, Officer Hansen continued to bring Axle into the clinic—to the tune of every three weeks, give or take, for what he called “regular checkups.” It didn’t mean anything more than that the man was caring for his animal. Rather typical for an officer and their canine partner. Those teams never left each other’s side.
Besides, who was she to turn away a patient?
Hansen wasn’t a man of many words, but he was always polite, respectful. And, of course, considering Rayna was counted as a red-blooded woman, she’d also noticed he was gorgeous. How could she not? She had a pulse, after all.
Still, checking out her patients’ owners wasn’t something she made a habit of, or ever did, so she made sure to keep their dealings strictly business. It would be unprofessional and highly inappropriate for her to act in any other way.
Every time he’d been in the office, Rayna tried for all she was worth to not focus on how beautiful he was or how incredibly well built his body was, but with each visit, she failed. Plus, whenever she was in one of the exam rooms alone with him, her skin got warm all over, and without a doubt her face was the shade of a fire truck, her spray of freckles becoming little red spotlights.
Worse, each visit, she emerged with the effects he had on her nervous system on display for all to see. As if she were having some sort of allergic reaction, the skin covering her sternum and neck was completely flushed and blotchy. Her entire office staff would not let her forget it.
Frankly, not noticing the officer wasn’t possible. After all, how could anyone with a set of functioning eyes not notice a well over six-foot-tall, hard-muscled, incredibly gorgeous cop?
The answer was plain and simple: they couldn’t.
Rayna grabbed her mini medical bag filled with doggie treats and moved to exam room four’s entrance. With another deep breath to cleanse her mind and hopefully cool down her body, she pressed her palm to the metal panel of the door.
As she was about to push it open, Andrea sauntered back into view, a stack of files in her arms. “Good luck! He looks really, really good today,” she whispered.
Rayna’s eyes went wide. She was going to kill Andrea if Officer Hansen heard the woman’s comment. “Are you done yet?”
Andrea grinned from ear to ear. “Nope. I have to get these files updated in the system.”
Reining in the nervous tension crawling up her spine, Rayna switched topics. “How many more appointments are on the schedule for today?”
“Lucky you, none. He’s your last one. You get to take all the time you need.” Andrea placed the files on the counter and sat in front of the computer.
“Great.” What on earth did luck have to do with it? And wait, he looked good today? How was that different from any other day? The man always looked good. Like when he crossed his thickly muscled arms over his very broad chest, the veins in his forearms stood out in harsh relief against his tanned skin.
A flash fantasy of running her tongue along all those perfect veins made—oh dear, she hoped like hell the heat rising from her stomach to her chest like a wildfire would settle enough for her to do her job.
And do it without her face glowing bright as the Arizona sun.
Series School For Dukes (Each book is a standalone story.)
Genre Adult Historical Romance
Publisher Avon Books
Publication Date September 18, 2018
Daniel Bonds, the Duke of Ravenwood, is a thrill-seeking antiquities hunter who only plays by one rule: Never fall in love. He’s in it for the fortune and glory. At least that’s what he wants the world to think. He’s sworn to hide his tangled web of secrets, especially from the one woman he cares about and will protect at any cost.
But when a priceless relic is stolen from the British Museum, the rivals must align forces. Racing to recover the stolen antiquity and avert an international disaster? All in a day’s work. Avoiding their buried feelings? More and more impossible. For love is about to become the greatest treasure of all. The grand adventure begins…now!
“We’ve reached an impasse.”
She brushed strands of dark hair away from her cheek with an impatient gesture. “As I predicted.”
“We’re like oil and water, you and I.” He drew a shaky breath. “Never the twain shall mingle.”
“You’re the North Pole,” she declared, “and I’m the South.”
“You’re fire and I’m ice.” He stared into her eyes, held her gaze locked with his.
She tilted up her chin, moving closer. “I hate you.”
He stayed completely still, not daring to breathe.
Stretched taut like a rope, fraying beneath the weight of his desire.
If he allowed himself to breathe, he would take her lips, as he’d dreamed of doing so many times, with fierceness and certainty.
Learn their lush contours by heart. Delve inside to taste her sweet, tart tongue. Swallow the I hate you and tease his name from her lips.
Say my name. Say you want me.
Raven. I want you.
He should say harmful, hurtful things. Push her away.
He wrapped his arm around her slender waist. Dragged her against him.
And kissed her.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of FOR THE DUKE’S EYES ONLY by Lenora Bell, we’re giving away a paperback set of the School For Dukes series thus far!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the School For Dukes series this far. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 10/1/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Lenora Bell
LENORA BELL is a USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of historical romances. She blames the long, dark winters in her tiny Alaskan hometown for making her a lifelong bookworm. A teacher with an MFA in Creative Writing who has lived on five continents, Lenora currently shares an old farmhouse in the Pacific Northwest with her carpenter husband and two tiger-striped rescue kitties. She loves to hear from readers!
Series Bad Boys Gone Good Series
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Avon Impulse
Publication Date September 18, 2018
Kellan Maguire was a semester away from becoming a lawyer when his life imploded. Now he’s in Witness Protection, hiding from the mob and mad as hell that his brothers lied to him about, oh, everything. The only bright spot in his new life is their drop-dead-gorgeous U.S. Marshal handler. Yeah, he wants to handle her... a lot.
Federal Marshal Delaney Evans has protected her fair share of dangerous criminals. But Kellan is a whole different kind of dangerous—dangerously hot, to be specific. The charming, handsome, and utterly law-abiding Maguire brother got under her skin the moment they met and the more time she spends with him, the harder it is to deny their attraction. Delaney’s willing to give Kellan one night—to get him out of her system—and then it’s over.
Except one night isn’t enough and soon they’re breaking every rule of WITSEC to be together. Kellan’s got it bad for her, but Delaney’s career, her entire life, would fall apart if anyone found out. And then the biggest complication of all hits…
“Great. The word of an almost lawyer,” Delaney said mockingly. “That and twelve dollars will buy me a martini.”
Then she instantly regretted pushing his buttons. It was habit. It was fun.
It was dangerous.
One thick, dark eyebrow winged up, like an arched frame around his stunning ice-blue eye. “First you call me spoiled, and now you’re insulting my near-lawyerness? If I didn’t know better, I’d say the lady doth protest too much.”
“The lady has her hands full dealing with your troublesome brothers. She doesn’t need to waste her energy constantly fending you off, too.”
“I think you do.” Kellan set his cup down.
Delaney gaped at him. Because she’d been oh-so-careful never to give away with so much as a flicker the fact the she was still interested. How could he tell something that Delaney barely admitted to herself? “You think I want to keep fending you off?”
“Yes.” Kellan stepped closer. In fact, he moved in way past what would be polite. Invaded her personal space just as much as he’d been invading her mind. “You like fighting with me. You could ignore my compliments, my flirty remarks. You don’t. You rise to the bait every time. I think you’re every bit as frustrated as I am.”
“You don’t know anything about my life outside the time I spend working on your case.” Heat flashed across her cheeks and chest. And she stepped in, too. To where the tips of her breasts brushed his chest, and her feet bumped against his. “Don’t begin to think you know me.”
“I don’t think. I know. I know that you may have been on dates since you met me. But none of them distracted you from whatever’s simmering between us. You want to turn back the clock to the day I asked you out and follow through on it.”
“I don’t.” Her words were the verbal equivalent of a foot stamp. Then, softer, as if she didn’t mean to speak it out loud at all, Delaney said, “We can’t.”
In response, Kellan framed her face with his hands, tilted her head back more, and kissed her.
Not the light, polite, introduction kiss they’d shared the first time. Delaney had obviously pushed him past that step. Kellan kissed as if he needed her to know just how badly he wanted her. His lips worked across her mouth, moving and kneading. Kellan nipped at her wide bottom lip. It felt like punishment for her making him wait so long
It also felt like a reward for waiting so long, and she rewarded him with a tiny moan.
Delaney’s hands fisted in his thick hair, pulling and tugging. It undoubtedly showed him the insta-heat burning her up inside as much as the way her leg wrapped around his calf.
She wanted more.
His tongue teased at the seam of her lips, and Delaney opened for him like they’d already done this dance a hundred times. She tasted the sweetness lingering from his drink. Desire rocketed through her, turning her nerves to lava. From the way his penis had hardened to pure steel against her belly, Kellan felt the same.
He streaked the backs of his knuckles down the undersides of her raised arms. Kept going to just lightly brush them along the sides of her breasts, her ribs, the flare of her hips to finally land on the curve of her ass.
Kellan dug his fingers in and lifted. Just high enough to press her center against his penis. Instantly, she got on board with the position, rocking against him even as her tongue twined and teased.
It was impossible to stop the little, breathy moans that kept escaping from her. It was impossible not to undulate against his rock hard abs and dig her fingers into the sculpted muscles of his back. Kissing Kellan wasn’t foreplay. It was a sex act all by itself. Utterly satisfying even as it drove her hunger up immeasurably.
And while Delaney would’ve sworn it was impossible, he was a million times better in reality than all the ways she’d fantasized being with him over the past months. Kellan ripped his mouth away to burn a trail of kisses down the side of her neck.
A semi rolled by, and the driver honked for a long time. It had been easy to ignore the white noise of the cars passing, but the horn broke through to Delaney. It reminded her they were on the edge of a green-scummed pond, across from a strip mall. The world could see them making out. And they’d already shot way past a reasonable stopping point.
So she unwound her leg and put her foot back down on the ground. Kellan seemed to get the signal. He dialed back the intensity on his kisses and rained them up the side of her face, down her nose, to end with a light peck on her mouth before easing back. Then he moved his hands to her shoulders.
It took a moment for her eyes to re-open. When they did, it took another moment before Delaney fully focused on him.
“Not only can we kiss,” Kellan said with enough authority to make her realize he wouldn’t allow her to pretend this hadn’t happened. To pretend that she hadn’t just climbed him like a tree and responded with a fervor that matched his own. “We’re absolutely doing it again.”
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of GOT IT BAD by Christi Barth, we’re giving away three paperback copies of Never Been Good!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of Never Been Good by Christi Barth. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 9/7/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Christi Barth
USA Today bestseller CHRISTI BARTH earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.
Christi can always be found either whipping up gourmet meals (for fun, honest!) or with her nose in a book. She lives in Maryland with the best husband in the world.